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Archive for August, 2012

I just love the digital age, don’t you? Technology improves, information on the internet swells and genealogy research becomes easier. A birth certificate here, a family tree with your ancestors in it there and your own tree grows and grows. It’s like watering weeds.

But can you trust the data you gather? If it proves to be wrong, how can you get it corrected? For several years I’ve been trying to get another generation back on a gg grandfather who lived in Virginia but was born in Maryland. In checking records on another ancestor, I found where this one was listed in several public family trees. I was so excited. It listed his parents, grand parents and siblings, etc. Then I noticed something that didn’t quite jibe. North Carolina was given as the birth place for this guy. So I started going forward and found that someone had taken my great grandmother and plugged her and her husband into their tree, showing her as the daughter of their gg grandfather with the same name as mine. John Hedrick’s a pretty common name. Especially in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Apparently in North Carolina as well.

So I checked several others and found they had all done the same thing. After contacting one of the owners of the tree, she responded that she had just copied the information from another tree. Advising her that the information was not correct and everyone descending from that mistake were now listed in her family tree and we were not related. Her response amazed me. “Oh well, I got it off the internet, so it must be right. I think you are wrong.” Really? I have asked her to remove it from her tree and have contacted several other tree owners but so far, no luck. I guess I’m going to share granny whether I like it or not, but I am sad for other researchers who will be misdirected.

Another case of misinformation that I contend with just cracks me up every time I think about it. I had heard rumors that my mother’s birth certificate was wrong so I got a copy of it for my records. Oh boy was it ever wrong!  According to the State of Pennsylvania, my mother was born in June, not July, and spelled her name with an i instead of an e. It also says she is a male. Yes, you are reading this correctly. It says she is a male. Please believe me when I say my mother was not a male and did not have a sex change. I don’t even think they had sex changes in the early 1900s.

Frances Claire Craven

Have you ever tried to convince the State of Pennsylvania or any other state for that matter, that they were wrong and could they please, just this once, correct a century old mistake? Forgetaboutit! 

So I live with these little gigglers, make notes on my own tree and not let it worry me. I can always use a good laugh.

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Genealogists are a ghoulish bunch. We talk about dead people all the time, we spend hours in cemeteries where we rarely know anyone buried there and we get absolutely silly about obituaries. If you find a printed obituary about one of your ancestors you may have hit pay dirt for information. One thing to remember about obituaries is that the person who gives the information out usually knew the deceased well and the data is pretty accurate. Mostly.

Looking for inspiration to make a hit one boring day, I called the library in the town where most of my father’s family are buried. I found that the library had copies of all the old newspapers and the research librarian spent about two hours on the phone with me, finding all the obituaries she could based on death dates I gave her. I immediately sent off a check to cover copies, postage and a small donation for the library since they didn’t charge for genealogy help. In a few weeks I received a large envelope full of goodies. I spent the better part of a day reading all the obituaries. It was just like Christmas. You know that feeling. You know you do.

A good example of serendipity is the obit I received for my Aunt Agnes (my father’s older sister). My aunt Agnes was a character. She was one of the oldest of the eleven kids and my father being the youngest, she practically raised him. She drove an automobile before you had to have a license in this country, picked wild Muscadine grapes and made wine every year, held every office a woman could in the VFW auxiliary, USO and always won the best hat award at her Half Century Club meetings. Her and my Aunt Mabel went to funerals for people she didn’t even know, and when one of my uncles died, she would stay at the funeral home all night long so they wouldn’t be alone. And when the funeral was over, she would go back to the cemetery and spend hours just sitting and talking to her brother.

Even with all I thought I knew about her, the obituary gave up some great stuff. I learned that she was born in Baltimore, MD, and I always thought she was born in Petersburg, VA. I knew her grandfather was from Maryland but didn’t know the city. On a hunch I started searching Baltimore and made a few connections. I also learned that she belonged to many more groups than I had thought.

Obituaries can reveal real treasure for the family historian. Read them carefully, they’re solid gold.

Agnes Whitt

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Of all my ancestors I’d like to go back in time to meet it would be my paternal great grandmother Catherine (Hedrick) Sipe. She married my great grandfather Archibald Hewston Sipe shortly after he came back from fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. She gave birth to my grandmother in January of 1869 and died in March the same year. I wonder if she died from complication of child birth. Seems possible but without documentation I’ll never know.

Catherine F. Sipe

A few things about her tombstone leave me with more questions than answers. For one thing it says Consort of Archibald  Sipe.  Unusual to use the word consort instead of wife. I do have a copy of their marriage bans so I am pretty sure they were married. Or did she change her mind and not to marry the man? Soon after she died the baby was left with Catherine’s parents to raise. Archibald moved on, finally marrying his third wife and settling in North Dakota not very far from the homestead of Catherine and her husband, my grandfather. But that’s a story for another day.

Also she is buried over by the fence of the cemetery instead of with her mother and father which is the German custom. Burials along the fence of cemeteries sometimes indicate a suicide, witch, harlot, take your pick. Several years ago the DAR mapped the entire cemetery but made no note of Catherine. What’s that all about? I only found it because another relative went to the cemetery to look for it and sent me the information.

In the dark and wondering why, I will continue to try to find the answers.

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I love Ebay.  I’m always amazed at the stuff ( junk) people buy. And what they pay for it. Now don’t get me wrong. I really do love Ebay and I’ve bought my share of stuff (junk) at some ridiculous prices. And I’ve sold some.

Antique bottle embossed with family surnames

With that said, I admit I get giddy when I  find things on Ebay containing my surnames. I’m always looking for Family Bibles hoping that there will be one that belonged to one of my ancestors. Rather than go through hundreds of new Bibles or Bibles with no genealogy information I just put “family bibles and genealogy” in the Ebay search engine, so the results are minimal. So far I’ve never found  a Bible for any of my families, but I keep on hoping and keep on trying.

Antique bottles from the early part of the last century will usually have embossing on them and humans being forever vain put their family names on their products. I’ve found bottles with Caldwell, Rothwell,  Shrader, Sipe, and Craven. I got a cigar box or most of a cigar box (no lid) with Sipe on it. That was a rush.

But by far the most exciting thing I ever got on Ebay  is a muscle shirt with Chidlow on it. Now Chidlow is the name of a town in Australia, near Perth. The story is that two brothers stopped there in their travels, dug a well, settled down and the area became known as Chidlow’s Well.  These days it’s just called Chidlow. Through a Chidlow in Virginia I’ve got pictures of some of the Australian Chidlows. Don’t know yet if they are related to my husband’s family but they all sure have the same nose. The muscle shirt was to commemorate a Motorcycle Fair in 1990 at the Chidlow Tavern.  I would have paid just about anything for it but I was lucky to win the auction for $4.50 US. However I had to pay $25 for shipping. Yeah, they got me.

But I was overjoyed.

Of course there is  no connection between any of the people’s names on my bottles and my actual family. The possibility is slim to none. Now the cigar box has more promise. The Pennsylvania Sipes and the Virginia Sipes are related several generations back but I haven’t tried to find out what that relationship is yet.

The thrill of seeing a family name on a bottle, post card, cigar box or muscle shirt is a fun sidebar to the craziness of genealogy. So next time you are on Ebay looking for another salt and pepper shaker to add to your collection, give your family surnames a search and see what pops up.

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One of my favorite online sites to explore regularly is Findagrave.comLike most super websites, Find A Grave was started by a guy with a weird hobby and nerdy tendencies.

His name is Jim Tipton

Jim created the Find A Grave website in 1995 because he could not find an existing site that catered to his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that there are many thousands of folks around the world who share his interests. What began as an odd hobby became a livelihood and a passion. Building and seeing Find A Grave grow beyond his wildest expectations has been immensely satisfying for Jim. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records, thousands use the site as an educational reference tool, long-lost loved ones are located and millions of lives are fondly remembered. In what other line of work would Jim have met one of the last living munchkins, spoken to a gathering of grave enthusiasts in a Hollywood mausoleum and acquired treasures like his antique coffin screwdriver (it only screws in)?” reprint from Find A Grave bio.

Nowadays Find A Grave has evolved into one of the major genealogy sites. Thousands of volunteers all over the world go to cemeteries, record the graves and the information on the stones. Then they record it all on FindAGrave in an easily searchable format. Absolutely free. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that but basically that’s how it works.

Using my elusive ancestor George from a couple of posts ago, this is how I found where he was buried. George had 12 kids. Well, his wife Sabina had 12 kids. One of them was my grandfather who family lore said was the first generation to come here from Germany. BUT, a census said he was born in Philadelphia and that his father’s name was George. If that was the case then his father had to have come to this country and was buried somewhere in Philadelphia. Just guessing of course, but I always work my hunches. Sometimes they are successfully, other times – not so much.

So I jumped on FindAGrave.com put in his name, state of Pennsylvania and found several George’s. Narrowing it down to cemeteries in Philadelphia there were still several Georges. But, buried alongside someone named Sabina, I knew I had him.
And someone had kindly photographed the gravestone so I got that too. The FindAGrave information gave me a death date which led me to getting a notice of death.

What really amazed me about the whole discovery was that the cemetery was only a few blocks from where I grew up and I had passed it hundreds of times. I even rode my bike through it as a short cut home on summer evenings when I was late for dinner.  Now that’s spooky.

I like to call this approach, back door genealogy. I’ve since become a volunteer for FindAGrave and go all over my surrounding area taking pictures for other genealogists.  There’s so much to FindAGrave that space here does not permit me to cover it all. I can only suggest that you go to the website, explore it and make your own discoveries.  Happy hunting.

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