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Archive for July, 2012

Have you ever felt sorry for your genealogical self because Aunt Pinch Your Cheek  never left a diary for you? How about Grandpa Drum His Fingers On The Table? Did he have the nerve to die and never tell you where the family papers were if there were any? I always fell extreme regret that when I finally decided to research my family history, everyone who knew anything about it was already gone. No, they didn’t move to Florida. They were permanently gone. Like, forever. Sometimes I just want to sit down and cry over my own lack of foresight. You too? All you ever got was a sentence here, a tidbit there? Why oh why didn’t they ever write that stuff down?

Well Pumpkin, how about you? You know those sentences and tidbits. Have you ever written them down? Remember how scared you were riding your bike through the cemetery at sunset? You remember that family get together when your aunt ate almost the whole chicken by herself, don’t you? Did you write it down for your descendants? Well of course not! Why not?

Time, Sweetcheeks, time. No one ever has enough of it they aren’t making more of it and it races by like a horse who smells the barn. No, we can’t make more time, but yes, we can use it better.

Let’s get tecky, huh? Digital recorders are so small, portable and easy to use. Even old folks like me can follow the instructions. Check out one of the great chocki emporiums or online sites to find the right one for you. I checked several places and prices run from $25.00 to $125.00 and every price point in between. A simple Google will get you tons of hits. Maybe a flea market trip would scare one up also.

If you get one, learn to use it. Carry it with you everywhere. I come up with some of the most creative blog post ideas when I’m zooming along in the car. Never remember them when I get home in front of the computer screen though. With a digital recorder you can just click it on, babble for awhile and click it off. Even if you never transcribe it, you’ll have those words for future generations. They can listen to them. And pass them on to the next generation.

My brother is six years older then me and he seems to remember more then I do about our childhood in Philadelphia. I’ve been nagging him to write the stuff down but he never has the time either. Maybe I should get him a digital recorder too and between the two of us we can piece together some family stories to leave to our children. Not that our children care about them. Not yet anyway. But one day they will and they too will regret that they never asked us who, what, where, when and most importantly, why?

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Our ancestors had so many traditions it’s hard to keep up with them. They all did so and so for Christmas. They all ate such and such on Sunday after church. They all had naming patterns and we could just troll along down to our deepest roots if we only knew what their pattern was.

Fortunately for me, the Germans strickly kept to their naming patterns until the past few generations.  And someone very kindly posted that pattern online several years ago. Yahoo for me.

Basically this is how it goes. Try to keep up.

1st Son – Father’s Father; 2nd Son – Mother’s Father; 3rd Son – Father; 4th Son – Father’s Father’s Father; 5th Son – Mother’s Father’s Father; 6th Son – Father’s Mother’s Father; 7th Son – Mother’s Mother’s Father.

1st Daughter – Mother’s Mother; 2nd Daughter – Father’s Mother; 3rd Daughter – Mother; 4th Daughter – Father’s Father’s Mother; 5th Daughter – Mother’s Father’s Mother; 6th Daughter – Father’s Mother’s Mother; 7th Daughter Mother’s Mother’s Mother.

Got all that? If you had more than seven sons or daughters you were on your own. My father was the ninth son out of eleven children, and the baby, so as far as I know his name was pulled from a hat.  Or more than likely from the family Bible.

My great grandfather’s name was George. He was born in Germany but I have nothing on this line farther back than that. George’s first son’s name was also George. With that tidbit I could think that George was named after his grandfather, and therefore my great grandfather’s father’s name would be George.

I could…..but I won’t. It’s a good clue, but with further investigation I find that the 1900 Census says that George and his wife has 12 children but only 9 of them survived. They were married in 1856 and son George was born in May of 1859. Were they slow starters or did they have another son who died? Since they only list two daughter and neither are named for George’s wife, I am thinking that if they did have a child who died, it was a son. So I will continue to search for my George everywhere I go.

Now that everyone is confused I will leave you with this advice. Search out the naming pattern of your ethnic group. Work it through the information that you do have and you may find the name of that elusive ancestor who nags at you constantly to be found. Happy hunting.

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God bless Google and all the other search engines for making the internet the amazing electronic encyclopedia that it is . Myth has it that Al Gore invented the internet. I doubt that seriously but he is credited with coining  the phrase “Information Superhighway”.  That’s about it.

I won’t bore you with the details but in a nutshell the first idea came from Leonard Kleinrock in 1961, the internet as we know it by a group of smart guys in 1969, the first email by Ray Tomlinson in 1972 and the first WWW by Tim Berners-Lee on August 6, 1991.

Personally I’d like to believe the internet was invented by two guys in their garage in California during a drunken weekend. That’s where most great things begin.

Google really was invented by two guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the term “to Google” is said to have started in 2004. Google truly was operated out of a friend’s garage in California and the rest, as they say, is history.

Because of the internet and because of Google and other search engines like it, genealogy research has become easier, less expensive and accessible to everyone. It is no longer necessary to travel to foreign lands to see into the lives of our ancestors. Wading through all the information available however is daunting. But it is possible to hone down the hits, reducing your stress level to a minimum.

Using one of my surnames as an example I put Sipe into Google. Results – 239,000. I’ll be someone’s ancestor before I could possibly get through all that. Typing Sipe and Genealogy, making sure to use the “and”,  I reduce the hits to 4,150. Still too many. A little more information for Google – Sipe and Genealogy and Virginia – I reduce the hits to 4,040. Good but not great.

Finally going with Sipe and Genealogy and Rockingham County and Virginia  the hits come down to 612. THAT I can manage. You and I both know, most of those 612 hits will be useless to me, but in there somewhere is a gem waiting for me and me alone. With only 612 I won’t lose patience (which I am known to do) I will find that one  piece of information that will put a smile on my face, maybe a tear in my eye and encourage my conviction to push on.

So God bless Google and the Internet and all the people who post information online. It’s out there waiting for you. Go get it.

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If money were no object, I could hire a professional genealogist to do all my research and I could surround myself with ancestors. Lots of them. If money were no object, a fledgling researcher could hire me to get them started.

But money is an object. A big, big object. And information on the internet usually comes with a price. Subscription sites can be extremely costly for a beginner. But with a little digging, a little good old-fashioned snooping and a little shoe leather you will make a good start before spending a lot of money.

One place I always look is FamilySearch.org.  Free to everyone, this website offers US Census, some  English census and some obscure records that you won’t find anywhere  else. I’ve even found something that wasn’t on Ancestry. Maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, it supports a very simple search engine. You can search either an exact match or a range of matches.

If you are fortunate enough to live near one of the church’s satellite libraries, call them. Find out their hours and get ready for a real treat. The volunteers are helpful and they have subscriptions to many of the payment sites like Ancestry.com and Archives.com. Each library has books, records, some magazines, microfilm readers. For a nominal fee you can rent microfilm, and other records from Salt Lake City. They will be delivered to your library and you will have a week or two to view them before they must be returned.

Google is another source of free information. Put in the surname you’re looking for and push enter. You many find  other people looking for the same name and they may have posted their family tree online. If you can make a connection you may find many, many generations.

GenForum.com supported by Genealogy.com has an incredible selection of surname and location forums. Periodically I go into the forums, put in a surname and look to see if anyone else is looking for the same branch of the tree. I’ve connected with three fourth cousins in one line, one fourth cousin in another and one third cousin in another. Each person had tons of information and were more than willing to share. The three fourth cousins and I are all great-grandchildren of the same couple. So exciting. You do have to register, but to my knowledge it is still free.

Google  state, city and county sites. Many of them are involved in the national GENWEB project and have searchable records online. Each state has a variety of different searchable records. For instance the state of North Dakota directed me to the Bureau of Land Management. I got records of my grandfather’s land that he homestead. Hopefully the state you search will have many for you. All for free.

Local libraries all have genealogy records in their reference section. The main library in the county will have more but each library system is different.  A few regional libraries like the Orange County Public in Orlando, FL have an entire floor devoted to genealogy with rolls of census microfilm, printers interfaced with the readers, rows and rows of books. Also most libraries have agreements with out of county facilities and can get a book for you from another state even.

State Universities allow access  to their libraries but you have to check to see if you need to apply for a temporary card. I’ve found microfilm of early, early census, newspapers and a lot of Civil War books. Living near the University of Florida, I’ve been to their libraries many times and did my earliest census work there. Finding a parking place on campus is much harder than finding ancestors.

There are other free information treasure chests but these are the ones I use the most.  Of course the ultimate is a trip to Salt Lake City, but that would involve air fare, hotels, meals, rental cars, etc. That would not be free. Therefore, that is not for me.

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My daughter saw this on Pinterest.com and told me it reminded her of advice I had given her when she was younger. It’s called Advice From a Tree, but I like to think that it’s also advice from a family tree.

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Genealogy is a serious research project. No one takes the journey lightly and no one gets through it unscathed. We chew our lips, knit our brows, scream in frustration and throw our hands up in exasperation. But as we climb up and down the tree, stretch way out on the limbs and do just about anything to find data, we find humor just about everywhere we look.

A friends of mine, a fellow genealogist and online buddy posted this poem on our discussion board a few years ago. She has joined her ancestors in that big LDS Library in the sky so I would like to reprint it here in her honor. For you Sissy.

Grandma Climbed The Family Tree

There’s been a change in Grandma, we’ve noticed as of late.
She’s always reading history, or jotting down some date.
She’s tracing back the family, we’ll all have pedigrees,
Grandma’s got a hobby, she’s Climbing Family Trees…

Poor Grandpa does the cooking, and now, or so he states,
he even has to wash the cups and dinner plates.
Well, Grandma can’t be bothered, she’s busy as a bee,
Compiling genealogy for the Family Tree.

She has not time to baby-sit, the curtains are a fright.
No buttons left on Grandpa¹s shirts, the flower bed’s a sight.
She’s given up her club work, the serials on TV,
The only thing she does nowdays is climb that Family Tree.

The mail is all for Grandma, it comes from near and far.
Last week she got the proof she needs to join the DAR.
A monumental project – to that we all agree,
A worthwhile avocation – to climb the Family Tree.

She wanders through the graveyard in search of dates and name,
The rich, the poor, the in-between, all sleeping there the same.
She pauses now and then to rest, fanned by a gentle breeze,
That blows above the Fathers of all our Family Trees.

Now some folks came from Scotland, some from Galway Bay,
Some were French as pastry, some German all the way.
Some went on West to stake their claims, some stayed there by the sea,
Grandma hopes to find them all as she climbs the Family Tree.

There were pioneers and patriots mixed with our kith and kin,
Who blazed the paths of wilderness and fought through thick and thin.
But none more staunch than Grandma, whose eyes light up with glee,
Each time she finds a missing branch for the Family Tree.

Their skills were wide and varied from carpenter to cook,
And one, alas, the records show was hopelessly a crook.
Blacksmith, farmer, weaver, judge, some tutored for a fee,
One lost in time, now all recorded on the Family Tree.

To some it’s just a hobby, to Grandma it’s much more.
She learns the joys and heartaches of those who went before.
They loved, they lost, they laughed, they wept – and now for you and me,
They live again in spirit around the Family Tree.

At last she’s nearly finished, and we are each exposed.
Life will be the same again, this we all suppose.
Grandma will cook and sew, serve crullers with our tea.
We’ll have her back, just as before that wretched Family Tree.

Sad to relate, the Preacher called and visited for a spell.
We talked about the Gospel and other things as well.
The heathen folk, the poor, and then ­ twas fate, it had to be ­
Somehow the conversation turned to Grandma and the Family Tree.

We tried to change the subject, we talked of everything,
But then in Grandma’s voice we heard that old familiar ring.
She told him all about the past, and soon twas plain to see,
The Preacher, too, was neatly snared by Grandma and the Family Tree.

by Virginia Day McDonald, Macon, GA

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Genealogy research has a nasty habit of changing long-held attitudes. My theory used to be “when in doubt, throw it out”. But that was then – and this is now. I occasionally come across a piece of information that to my eyes, just doesn’t fit anywhere. But I hang onto it long enough and eventually that piece fits into my puzzle. Perfectly.

Information you find, whether online or from a cousin, acquaintance or a complete stranger should be kept, cherished and brought out every once in a while to re-examine with fresh eyes.

Consider the mysterious ancestor who was in the 1910 census, unmarried and living at home in 1918 when she had a baby who was given up for adoption, and then she was gone from the 1920 census. My first guess was that she got married and moved away. And thinking that, I felt she was lost to me forever.

Visiting the local LDS library one day I casually mentioned this woman and how disappointed I was that I had reached a dead-end with her. One of the volunteers immediately said, “Well maybe she died in the flu epidemic”. Flu epidemic, what flu epidemic? He proceeded to explain to me about the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. News to me. That gem of information got filed away in the mental data base.

When I got home I immediately started searching Find-A-Grave for her name in Philadelphia. Not there. Then I just put in the surname in FAG’s search engine and BINGO. There she was. The first name was spelled slightly different, but there was an obituary in the listing naming her mother and father (which were correct) and that she died of pneumonia, a common complication of flu. A Google search about the Spanish influenza epidemic led me to discover that just short of 800 people died in Philadelphia on October 10, 1918. My poor lady was just one of the many.

Thinking more kindly of them now, I’d like to think that in their grief, the family just couldn’t see their way to raise the child, and gave her up for adoption.

Now I hang onto little tidbits of information, a name here, a date there. Filed away until one day to be brought out, re-examined and fit into my family puzzle. Perfectly.

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