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Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Here we go again. 2014 gave way to 2015 and I am no closer to becoming a consistent genealogist, a consistent blogger nor am I any closer to unraveling my family’s mysteries. Sound familiar? And now it’s August, 2015 and I have no idea where this year has flown to.

I once watched an Alan Alda movie called “Same Time Next Year”. The general story was that he met a woman at a resort/motel, fell in love, he was married, she was married, but they made a plan to meet at the same place, same time every year for their annual fling. So every year they met, every year a little different with each other and every year vowing to meet again the next year.

Well, this sounds like my commitment to my genealogy. Every year I get juiced up, make the right overtures for awhile and then fade away until the next year. So how can I and a lot of family historians keep going, making progress and not get sidetracked so easily?

First I think you have to write it down. Make yourself a note about your goals, post it on the refrigerator just like your diet goals and look at it every time you open the door. Everyone goes in the refrigerator at least once a day. Sometimes twice.

Tell someone what you plan. No, not the checkout girl at the grocery store. She doesn’t care. Tell someone who you talk to often, someone who will ask you about it and hold you accountable. You will get so tired of telling them, “no I haven’t had time”, that you will make time and get going.

Find a few new websites that you haven’t spent much time on but have bookmarked to get to “later” and make an appointment with yourself for a time and day that you can be online for a few hours. Wander around the sites, have some fun with your surnames and you will have good luck.

Go to your local library and check out their reference section. They may not have anything you need but the practice of researching is good exercise.

If there’s an LDS Library near you (and I am hoping there is) take some notes with you and go spend the afternoon going through their subscribed sites that you don’t own. A minor tidbit that you may find will whip you back up into a frenzy of action.

These are only a few ideas. I know there are dozens of inspiring tricks to get you going and keep you going. I think that’s good advice. I think I’ll take it.

 

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Every time I plan a trip to my local LDS library I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Anticipating revelations that will fill in the blanks in my family tree. Usually I come home frustrated,  feeling that I spent my time going in circles and not really getting what I went after. I had to make my time count and get the information I want so I asked the experts at the library what suggestions they had to help me and other researchers keep that Christmas morning high.
Helpful tips include the following.

First, ask what information they have and if it is on paper or computer. And if the information is on computer, what programs do they use to access it.  Make a point of using the programs they have that you do not have at home and the ones that cost. Their subscriptions are open and available to you for free.

Before you leave home make notes from your known information and what you hope to find to fill in the blanks. Remember, you can’t research everyone in one visit. Drill it down to one or perhaps two lines to concentrate on this time.

What are you looking for:

* Birth or christening (religion)

* Marriage

* Death or burial

* Parents Names

* Children or descendants

* Spouse

* Other

Try to learn something about the area where the ancestor lived. If you know the name of the village, county, state, parish or diocese where a person lived, it will be much easier to find records to use in your search. Gazetteers are good places to start learning about the area.

You can print directly from the library’s computers for a nominal fee (usually 10 cents a copy) so you don’t have to write everything down but take notes, lots of notes. I can’t emphasize this enough.  Some of them might not make sense to you at the time, but when you compare them to information you have at home, you might make connections. And that’s really what you want. Connecting one generation to the next.

Don’t be afraid to ask. The volunteers are there to help you make the most of your visit and go away feeling satisfied with the visit and anxious to return soon.

When you get home you can evaluate the material you found such as did you find the information you were looking for, is the information complete and does it conflict with information you already had?

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You know I love a good mystery but some mysteries will eventually drive me batty.  When I started my family history research it was because I wanted to find out about my mother‘s family. I naively thought that once I found out that I’d stop my research. Silly girl. For the first several years I couldn’t find anything beyond my grandfather‘s name and vitals. I knew he was born in England but his death certificate said he was born in Delaware County, PA. The information was given by Aunt Gert, someone I vaguely remember my mother mentioning a couple of times.

Frances Claire Craven Volz

I put his name in the search engine at Ancestry.com again and again and got nothing. One day I just went straight to the 1930 census, put his name in  and there he was, Arthur Craven, bold as you please. After that I found out more. His mother’s name was Asenath (widowed), he had two brothers and he lived in Delaware County, PA and they all lived together.

The family store goes that he was disowned when he married my grandmother. When my grandmother died, my mother was only thirteen years old and had to quit school to take care of her father and older brother. She always said that her father’s family never offered any help and she resented that all her life. So when my grandfather died, my mother decided to make sure his family could never find his grave and try to move him to rest with their family.

Now my mother was a very nice and gentle person. She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and never met a stranger. She was helpful to anyone who needed it and made sure that my brother and I grew up surrounded by her love.

So her resentment of my grandfather’s family was baffling to me. It was so out of character. Of course I never asked her about it when she was alive and my brother didn’t know and there was no one else to ask. Typically genealogy blunder.

Trying to piece together the facts I did have, I knew that my grandfather lived with his mother and two brothers. The three boys (men really) worked in one of the mills. Did Mama resent losing the income from Arthur when he married and moved away?

Another fact that I had is that my grandmother was Catholic. Arthur, being from the working class of England was probably a member of the Church of England. Did his family disown him because he married a Catholic?

The last fact I got was from the census of my grandmother’s family. Her mother’s birth is listed as Wales in one Census but Ireland in two others. Did the English/Irish multi century conflict figure into his being disowned?

Recently I did find out how my mother hid my grandfather’s grave from his family. Last year when I was in Philadelphia, my brother and I visited the cemetery where he is buried and found that my mother had all the stones removed. My grandmother’s, uncle’s and another sibling’s stones were all removed when my grandfather died. So there’s just an expanse of grass, no markings of any kind.

It drives me nuts that I will probably never find the answers I seek, and some days, that’s a short trip. I’m always open to suggestions of  other avenues of research. Any hints, anyone?

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You can’t go home again. Well….. you can but it’s a pretty bumpy trip. Things have changed, people have moved and you feel the disappointment of discovering that childhood is just a memory and you really are that old woman in the mirror. But I digress.

Last year when I visited my daughter in Pennsylvania, I also spent a few days with my brother and sister-in-law. Of course my brother and I had to do the sentimental journey and visit the old neighborhoods.

First row House

First place we visited was the house we lived in when my brother was born. The sad little row housewasn’t as big as he remembered. It was run down, in need of paint and the postage stamp sized front yard was full of weeds. It was just a big disappointment. But I took pictures for remembrance. I had never lived there but he had so that was important to me.

Second Row House

The second place we visited was the house where the family lived when I was born. I marched right up to the door to ask the resident if it would be o.k. to take some pictures. I was hoping he would ask us in but it was obvious from peaking in the door that he was awaiting the Horders TV production team to arrive any minute to start filming. We did chat for a while and I told him that the tree out front was planted by my father the year I was born. He said there used to be a lot of trees on the street but they had all died except for the one in front of his house. I took pictures of the house and the tree. We moved from there when I was about two years old.

Finally we went back to the old neighborhood, the house that I remembered growing up. It was gone. Just……  gone. It had been torn down years ago. I wasn’t shocked because my brother had told me it was gone. But it was startling to see that vacant lot where once a home had stood. I remember my Dad used to say that if they ever tore our house down the rest of the block would fall since we had a three store and the rest of the block was all two-story. But our house was gone and the rest of the block or row houses still stood. I saw that the first house’s address proved that three houses had been torn down, not just mine. They must have been very narrow houses even though I remember our house as being big. Very big. I scooped up a brick left behind on the vacant lot where my childhood home had been, (that gave TSA cause to pause when it showed up in my luggage x-ray), took a bunch of pictures, got back in the car and turned my back on the old neighborhood. I won’t go back.

Sad for sure, but a good way to remember that the people hold your heart and memories,  not the places. My brother and I spent the evening doing the  “remember whens” and the “remember whos” until tears ran down my face with laughter. It was a good journey down memory lane but I guess you really can’t go home again.

My Tree

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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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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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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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