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Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

I have to admit, I’m not a real good genealogist. So far I haven’t checked out any wills, deeds, property sales or anything like that. And I hop around a lot. When I get bored not finding anything on one ancestor I hop over to research another. All the books tell you not to do that. It’s a genealogy no-no. But I have a lot of fun with my family research. I mean, it’s all out there somewhere and as far as all that boring stuff is concerned, it’s not going anywhere. I am confident that it will still be there if I ever get around to going after it.

But talking to people, finding obscure jewels of gossip and factoids about the family makes me smile. It’s the detective spirit in me I guess. I love a good mystery. Here’s one thing I did early on in my journey that really paid off. At the time I didn’t have a lot of information. I knew where my grandparents were buried because I’d been to several family funerals there. My father is buried alongside them and his were the only dates I had.  One Saturday afternoon I got out my paper with the names on it and called the Blandford Cemetery office in Petersburg, Virginia. A very nice lady named Jackie answered the phone and I asked her if by any chance I could get some information from their files. She said “sure”.

I gave her the surname I was looking for and boy, did she give it to me! Every person in that cemetery with the same last name was fair game. Apparently it was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Petersburg and Jackie was bored. She gave me the names of all of them, birth dates, death dates and more information then I could have hoped for. Before the 1950s the cemetery records contained the place of birth and the cause of death for the deceased. The German tradition of everyone being buried together meant that most of the children were buried in the family plot. That is how I found out that my grandmother and several of the older boys were born in Rockingham County, Virginia. Never knew that. I thought they came from Petersburg,  Philadelphia or North Dakota. That’s the only  places I ever heard of when I was growing up.  She also gave me all their addresses when they died, funeral homes that took care of the arrangements, birth dates, etc. I ended that afternoon with a new best friend and tons of data to include in my family tree. I spent the rest of the day grinning like an idiot.

A few weeks later, trying to get my hands on my grandfather’s death certificate was proving to be a complicated chore. But because of my new friend Jackie, I knew the funeral home so I called them and asked if they had records that went back that far. Apparently they keep those records forever and the gentleman I talked to informed me that I wouldn’t find a death certificate in Virginia because my grandfather had died in Philadelphia and was shipped home to be buried in Petersburg. Well that little tidbit made all the difference in the world. With it I was able to find a death certificate. Never did find an obituary though.

So the next boring afternoon you’re sitting around wondering which direction to take your research, back up, regroup and do some thinking outside the box. The least normal idea just might pay off.

Grandmother Volz

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Facts and figures make up the bulk of information that genealogists collect, chart, and savor. We’ve got those dates memorized, got the family names etched in our memories and we’ve got city, states and street names documented solidly on our family trees.

You may know that grandpa was a miller. Or grandma could have been the first female doctor in her county. But unless you are blessed with diaries and family papers, you don’t know much about the day-to-day lives of all those people who make us who we are. And you may never know. But with a little detective work you can find out what was happening around them while they went through life.

As an example let’s look at my great-grandfather who was a private in the Confederacy. I did find his army records in the national archives and paid a handsome price to get a copy of them. What I learned was shocking. It appears that every so often during the whole war, he went AWOL, then came back. What? How could that be? My ancestor a deserter? No way.

Enter a great magazine named Civil War Times. My local library has this magazine and it’s full of Civil War history as well as what was happening in communities both north and south during the war. What I found out was that in the South they thought the war would be short-lived. They only signed up for one year so they had to have all kinds of incentives to keep the boys fighting. I discovered that my ancestor like a lot of farmers, went home every spring to put a crop in the field. So he wasn’t a deserter after all. He was just a farmer who needed to provide for his family.

Another ancestor of an extended family member migrated from Ireland along with so many of his relatives. What was happening in his life to encourage them all to immigrate at the same time? A short history lesson about the potato famine answered that question fast. So now I had insight into his life. He lived in a rural area, probably a farmer and couldn’t feed his family because of the potato famine. So many Irish immigrated to the United States and Canada for the very same reason. Second only to the Germans, the Irish immigration was one of the largest groups of new citizens to North America.

So many magazines like Civil War Times, Military History, Colonial Times, WWII or Wild West will give you a peek into the life styles of our ancestors. You’ll find occupations, hair styles, fashion, and lots of little details that you just don’t know from reading facts and figures.  The larger bookstores like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble have huge magazine sections. You can sit there for hours, making notes and not spend a dime. But it is nice to buy at least one magazine so you don’t appear a total cheapskate.

Libraries also have many, many magazines of interest to the genealogist. And some libraries will get a subscription to one that you want to read if you ask them.

Civil War Wife

I know it’s not as great as finding diaries, family Bibles, journals and letters but magazines that tell the history of different periods when your ancestors were alive can help you put a little flesh on the bones of your research.

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I used to think that I didn’t really have many family photos. I had a few and my Aunt Agnes game me some but it really wasn’t very many and I had none of my parents when they were young. But when I connected with a few fourth cousins online, they shared their pictures with me. Then my father-in-law made me the keeper of all his family photos including all the ones he took during WW II when he was in Italy. Plus I harassed a cousin of mine until she sent me her pictures so I could copy them. Really, I harassed her. I gave my genealogy guru a phone card and she called my cousin every three or four months for three years. Finally got the photos and you bet I took my sweet time getting them back to her.

Then the question became what to do with them all. Oh I could get really organized and scan them all and post them in my family tree. Boring!! (I really do plan to still do that). But I wanted to do something different. A neighbor of mine has an ancestor wall just inside their front door. Of course she has very expensive frames, real wood panelling as a background and it’s really first class all the way. I wanted to do the same thing but on a more limited budget. Like, no budget.

Never one to make a firm committment to color I decided to make my background temporary. So my daughter and I got a large piece of dry wall, covered it with a beautiful  piece of rusty tomato colored synthetic suede and my husband attached it to the wall. Wanting to keep some consistency and economy to the wall I haunted thrift shops, flea markets, yard sales and dollar stores and found all the frames I needed, painted them all black and framed pictures of both my husband’s and my families.

Then my daughter and I put a huge piece of craft paper on the floor and shuffled the frames around until we liked the composition. We drew outlines of all the frames, taped the craft paper to the material, put up the pictures and then tore off the craft paper.

I have to admit it looked really great and I’ve got so many complements on my wall. At a glance I could see where I came from. It seems to help me stay grounded to know where I’m going. Even my brother liked it when he came to visit.

Ancestor Wall

Since then, I have received more photos that I would like to put up. Plus I have become bored with the colors so I have started taking the frames down, and I plan to paint them all white, change the material to a light turquoise and put the frames back up in a different configuration. I’ve found some better quality frames at the thrift shops and antique malls so I will be changing out some of the old frames.

The main change I’m doing this time is hanging them with Command hangers. The newer ones that are kind of like Velcro work fantastic. I’ve hung stuff on them and they lay flush with the wall and they will hold a lot of weight. So I feel confident that they will hold my frames just great.

I’m confident you will find a unique way to showcase your favorite family photos. This is just the one I like.

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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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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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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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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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When someone asks what you do, what exactly do they mean? What do I do? I blog, I quilt, I haunt cemeteries, I research the family tree and a multitude of other things. Is that what they mean? No! The inquiry is about your occupation. What you do for a living. How you earn your bucks.

Now if you come from a long line of dirt farmers from Virginia like me, occupation won’t help much. Most everyone in the area with that line’s surname were farmers. But not too long ago I discovered that an ancestor’s occupation can be a big bonus in helping you find them in the census if it’s a bit different. Once you snatch that tidbit, you can get to other information.

A family member wanted to find her grandmother’s family roots but there were hiccups in the process. Her mother was adopted, in an orphanage from age six months to three years and her birth mother’s surname was the Irish equivalent of Smith.

On the plus side we knew where she was born, the birth mother’s name, birth grandparents’ names and the birth grandfather’s OCCUPATION. I decided to check the 1900 census for my Irish guy to see if he would show up. And he did – along with a few dozen other Patricks with the same last name, living in the same city. Not to be defeated that easily, I moved to the 1920 census, thinking I might find my Patrick with his unique occupation. And there he was. Patrick, Deputy Sheriff for the City of Philadelphia.

Of course this was only the start of the puzzle and since then a lot of pieces have been put in place. Naturally a lot more pieces elude me. But I never would have found him in the census and got me going if his OCCUPATION wasn’t just a little bit unique.

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