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Posts Tagged ‘Advise’

Holiday traditions connect us closer to our ancestors more than we realize. But why? Is it because they mean something to us personally or because we’ve always done them that way?  Or just because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings should we vier off course and do something different?

When I was little (long, long time ago), the tree was always put up on Christmas Eve after I went to bed and we believed that Santa Claus brought the tree with all the presents. Then my brother and I took the tree down on New Year‘s Day. When my daughter was little I did the same thing. She also thought Santa brought the tree with all the presents.

Now she is a parent herself and her family decorates their tree early. She and her husband sip hot cocoa between attaching the ornaments. Plus they leave some ornaments for their son to put on the tree with them the next day.  She has begun a Christmas tradition of her own.

Some traditions go way, way back into our family history and the origins have long been forgotten.  Being mostly German we have thpicklee pickle ornament tradition which supposedly meant that any child finding the pickle ornament got a special present. We never did that one though. I’ve tried to find a vintage pickle ornament for my own tree but they are costly and so far I have not popped for the price.

Swedish tradition dictates the sprinkling of bird seed in front of the house on Christmas Day for good luck.

Italians have a good tradition of seafood on Christmas. Six or seven courses of different fish. Sounds yummy to me.

Holding money in your hand at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s indicated prosperity throughout the year.

Having one parent from Virginia but living in the north I believe we  were the only citizens of Philadelphia who ate black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck throughout the new year.  Every ethnic group and geographical location has some tradition for the holidays.

One tradition I heard of recently was that of a new wife cutting off the end of the Christmas ham before baking it. When asked why, the answer was, “We always do it that way. It’s tradition.”  The young husband asked his mother-in-law “Why cut off the end of the ham?” The same answer “We always do it that way, it’s tradition.” Wanting to know the root of this tradition and its significance, the young husband then asked his wife’s grandmother. Surely she would know how the tradition came about. “Sure,” she said. “My pan was too small for the ham.”
Just a joke of course but you see how some holiday traditions mean something, other mean nothing. Our traditions and our ancestors’ traditions are important to continue and encourage on our younger generations. They remind us of who we are and where we came from. After all, how could I possibly start my new year without my black eyed peas?

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OMG, Thanksgiving is a week from tomorrow and families across the nation will be getting together for all the turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, pies, pies and more pies with lots and lots of Cool Whip. Football fans and parade watchers will clash unless there are more than one huge flat screen in the house and kids will develop and perpetuate those all important relationships with cousins. Mothers and grandmothers will pass along secret recipes, sisters will join each other in the kitchen to wash dishes, brothers will pound each other on the backs in greeting and an American tradition continues. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, the family.

Family Historians, RED ALERT, RED ALERT, RED ALERT. It is the PERFECT day of the year to corner those elusive relatives who won’t answer your emails, snail mails or phone calls with those all important pieces of information that you’ve been drooling to get your hands on. Now don’t get me wrong. None of my relatives would act like that. Yeah, right! My relatives run like hell when they see me approaching, but that’s another story.

As the family historian, you have to arm yourself with all the necessary tools to get the data that will push your research forward. Someday, maybe not in your lifetime, but someday your descendents will applaud your perseverance.

First, I would print up copies of a small questionnaire, asking for the basics. Print enough copies for everyone even if you think you have all their pertinent information. No one likes to be left out. Here’s a few questions I would ask.

Name: Full name, all of them, spelled correctly and including maiden name

Place of Birth: If their place of birth such as county, state or country changed since they were born (hey, it happens), make sure to ask what that was. The county I live in now didn’t exist until about 50 years ago and the county where my Virginia folks were born was part of another county when some of them were born. This can cause enormous confusion when you are trying to get statistical data.

Date of Birth: Come on Aunt Mary, no one really cares if you were born in 1942 or 1949. God knows the real date and anyway, you’ll get social security sooner if you tell the truth. Big bonus.

Mother’s name, place of birth and date of birth: Please, please, please ask for maiden names. Names and data on siblings both living and dead. It wasn’t until I started getting cemetery information that I found out my mother had a sister named Helen who died when she was ten years old. A shocker to me.

Father’s name, place of birth and date of birth: And the names of any siblings, living or dead. All those huge families way back when usually had a baby or two that did not reach the age of majority. It’s always good to have those names to fill out all those leaves on the tree.

Grandparents information is they know it. When families get together and do this together, they start talking, telling family stores and what one doesn’t remember, another one might.

Include plenty of space for a family story or two if the relatives remember any. Put a line on your questionnaire for them to note if they have any family photographs that you could copy. Be the trustworthy person who they believe would return their pictures in the same condition that they gave them.

Buy a dozen or so cute pencils or pens to give out. Tacky I know, but hey, whatever works.

Make Up A Game: Questions about the family that not all of them would know the answers to.  Competition is good and a small prize for the person knowing the largest number of correct answers would be fun.

Make sure you take your tape recorder, camera and plenty of batteries. Candid photos make the best rather than formal, posed ones and when you get home, please identify the people in the pictures. You all know why.

That’s probably about all you’ll get out of them in one sitting. Anything that feels like a chore will not endear you to the folks. You will probably not get a ton of information but there may be one or two tidbits that you didn’t know that will add to your process.

And remember, Christmas is coming. You might get another shot at them if they invite you.

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Family reunions are a blast. We all get together, have lots of food, talk about our childhoods and generally remember why we all love each other. Or not. This past weekend all my husband’s siblings except one got together at a nearby State Park for a six day camping fest. Starting to gather on Tuesday, they came from all over Florida and north Georgia, taking over one corner of the campgrounds. To say a good time was had by all would be an understatement. Just about every moment was filled lots of laughs.

Since we live nearby I was not going to camp, but rather work a few days and stay at night at the house with the dogs. I went out on Wednesday, hugs all around, gushing greetings and a good gossip session. One thing we never talked about in the entire six days was the family history, who’s who and who’s not. I learned at the last family reunion that this family couldn’t care less. So I bite my tongue, zip my lip and keep my mouth shut. I’ve seen too many of those glazed over eyes to realize they are not zombies (well maybe not) but only relatives, bored stupid.

Columbus Cemetery, Suwannee County, Florida

Not to have the week be a total loss for me, I found out that there was a small pioneer cemetery inside the state park about half a mile down one of the trails. My husband had been out there  the day before and said the name was Columbus Cemetery. So I looked it up on Find A Grave and sure enough there was a Columbus Cemetery in Suwannee County and there were 20 people buried there but there were no pictures. So I printed out the list of internments and decided to take pictures and post them on Find A Grave.

I couldn’t get anyone else except my husband to hike out the trail with me. When we got there, I started taking pictures and he kept saying that person wasn’t listed so I thought I had more people to post. However, it turned out that this was ANOTHER Columbus Cemetery and not the one listed on Find A Grave.

How exciting is that? Virgin territory, a whole cemetery that no one has mapped or listed on Find A Grave. You Find A Grave volunteers know what I mean. YUREKA!!! So I took pictures, wrote down all the information and had a thoroughly great afternoon. Too bad the family thought I’d lost it out in the noonday sun. They all spent the day watching golf on TV. Their loss I’m sure.

My advice is that just because the name of a cemetery is listed or familiar to you, check to make sure you have the right one. It just could be another cemetery with the same name hiding in plain sight. Now I need to go back out there and find the first cemetery and take those pictures.

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Do you have any clue how many articles, books and blogs I have read about how to organize my stuff? Too many I assure you. Here’s just a few suggestions I’ve seen.

* Color coded file folders for each family

* Three ring binder for each surname

* Alphabetical index cards kept in a little metal box

* Scan and store on CD discs

* A box for each family, loosely organized

* Hire a professional organizer (my personal choice)

* Separate files for documents, photos, census copies, letters

I actually bought color coded file folders a few years ago, and plastic color coded page dividers, different colored ink pens and all kinds of little doodads to help organize my research. I am a stationary junkie and could spend lots of money in Office Max. The color coded file folders are still in the box but the page dividers and ink pens and most of the doodads have been used for other projects.

So why are we all so against strict organization of our research data? I would be ecstatic to see it all nice and neat and be able to put my hands on just about anything. But I just can’t seem to get started. I’ve got three file cabinet drawers full of just about everything genealogy that I own including magazines and books. I do have a hanging file for each surname but they continually end up mixed up and I have a ton of small pieces of paper with a name or a name and date or some important piece of information that I just had to save. Not important enough to organize in files however so I am always digging when I need to find something.

I think my major problem is understanding how to divide up the stuff by surname. If I put George’s stuff in one folder and Sabina’s in another, what about the things that have both their names on it like marriage certificate, census copies and such?  Should I make duplicate copies and put one in each folder? That’s a lot of duplicates and much more paper and space involved.

And what about census records? I have them saved to my family tree as sources. Do I really need a hard copy of each report for each person? Or should I trash them since I have electronic copies. Before Ancestry.com and the available of instant census records, I was thrilled to print out a copy from the microfilm machine. Can I truly just abandon those now that I can see them on my own personal computer? Sure!!

It’s o.k. to throw things out. It’s therapeutic. It’s helpful to the de-clutter process. It’s cleansing to the soul. It’s SO HARD! But it’s o.k.
I think the mental exercise for me should be: Can I replace it? Can I see it online anytime I want to?  Can I live without this piece of paper? If I answer yes to at least two of these questions I should toss the paper.

Documents To Organize

Being able to put everything on a long table and leave it out to continue culling through it all is important to me as well. Once I put it back in the drawer to continue another day, I won’t be inspired again for a few years.

Now that I’ve announced the intended purge and organize publicly, I think I’m leaning towards the color coded file folders since I already have the file drawers and I do have the file folders. I’ll just have to go to Office Max for some new colored pens, color coded page dividers and lots and lots of new doodads.

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Genealogists worldwide salivated for months  in anticipation of the release of the 1940 US Federal Census Myself included. I’m not quite old enough to see myself in the census but I knew I would see my mother, father and my brother. Also a few grandparents would be listed and I would finally find out who they were living with in their old age as well as where. I kind of think there’s a little gypsy in some of my ancestors. They just couldn’t stay put for too long. And they kept bouncing back and forth from Virginia to Pennsylvania and back again if they didn’t have any other place to explore at the moment. I like that about them.

Of course the states I was looking for were not among the first few to be indexed so I still had a little wait beyond April 1, 2012. And wait I did, still salivating, wish and hoping until finally I could get my hands on that long awaiting electronic hoard of knowledge.

The 1940 Census, being the first that has been released electronically makes me  think of all the census gone before that were amassed on hundreds of thousands of rolls of microfilm. What a difference a decade makes.

First begun in 1790, the US Federal Census has evolved into a gold mine, and I do mean G-O-L-D -M-I-N-Eof data and information without which genealogy research would still be in the dark ages.

Census

1790 was just a list of the Heads of Households with tick marks for the sex and age group of all free persons in the house and the same for slaves. Following the tick marks you could figure if he had a wife and about how old the children were. With a little wishful thinking you could figure out if your ancestor was one of those tick marks. In 1840 they asked about Revolutionary War pensioners so that was helpful to find your war hero and in 1850 they finally asked for the names of all the persons in the household, as well as occupations, real estate values, etc.

In 1860 the first Slave Census was taken as well as the regular one. Unfortunately, a lot of slaves were not listed by name, only sex, age and some general description. 1890, the one census that so many of us want so badly, burned in a fire and was almost completely lost. Kind of like the Southern court records after the Civil War. There are some fragmental records but of course, none that I want.

Ancestry.com, in addition to all the US Federal Census has a collection of UK and Canadian Census. The United States was the first country to make sure that all their citizens were accounted for so they would receive the state and federal representation they were entitled to. Individual States (not all) took citizen census as well and I have found a few at FamilySearch.com

I remember when they took the census in 2010. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was one who received the long form census. At the time I thought it was a pain to fill out pages and pages of stuff.   But then I thought how convenient it was. It came in the mail, I could sit in the comfort of my air conditioned home, put it down whenever I wanted and come back to when I had time.

Our ancestors were treated differently. Someone came to the door or up the drive to the farm house, usually on horseback or on foot. Interrupting their day, they took up their time, asked a bunch of personal questions and then went away never to be seen or heard from again. If you remembered something later you should have reported it was too late. But they did it because they thought it was important. Being counted was important to them and it’s important to me. And I am so grateful to them all.

So when the next census comes along and you get that all important form in the mail, take the time to fill it out as accurately as you can and send it back. Stand up and be counted.  Some people didn’t even send the census form back in 2010 and their descendants are going to be real disappointed in them.

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My Aunt Min isn’t really my aunt. She was my grandmother’s aunt. That makes her my great aunt. Her sister Catherine was eighteen years older than her so she was nearer my grandmother’s age and lived with her when they were old ladies together. Aunt Min lived to be 99 years old and I was privileged to know her. I remember her as a little old lady with white hair and it wasn’t until I started my family history search that I came to know her as a real person who was a child at one time.

She was a young girl of five when the Civil War began. As an adult she had several tales to tell of the times. One was about Stonewall Jackson. Unbelievably I found the story in a book called Shenandoah Voices. Folklore, Legends and Traditions of the Valley, by John L. Heatwole. Like all genealogists (yes, you know you do this), when ever I see a book related to anywhere my ancestors lived I check out the index for their surnames. Lo and behold there was her name – TWICE. Ordered the book of course and devoured it as soon as it arrived. As well as Aunt Min, there was reference to another great aunt and my great great grandmother

Seems Minnie Hedrick (my aunt Min) was swinging in a pear treeone day in June of 1862 after several days of rain. Soldiers on horses paused to drink water from the well in the front yard. Min, being Min immediately went up to one of the big horses and told the soldier not to go up that road ’cause it was all muddy from the rain. He told her he’d been up many a muddy road and that wouldn’t bother him. As they left she asked another soldier who that was and he told her it was Stonewall Jackson. All through her life Aunt Min cherished the experience and told the story often. It was retold in her obituary when she died in 1956 at age 99.

Aunt Min second from the left

The second story involved apple butter (my favorite) and renegade soldiers. Minnie was only eight years old when Sheridan descended on the Valley. The family had such valuables as they owned and meager foodstuffs hidden away as did everyone in the Cross Keys, Virginia area. The farm had been searched more than once but one morning when the women were alone, a Union soldier came riding up to the gate. He demanded their silver or money. They told him they had none. As he went into a rage and started opening and emptying the kitchen cupboards, my grandmother Eliza, Min and her sister Lizzie went to hide in the attic.

When the boy in blue discovered them gone, he started to searching the house and eventually climbed the ladder to the attic. Terrified, Eliza grabbed the closest thing at hand, a gallon size crock of apple butter and threw it at his head. Her aim was true and the soldier died almost instantly.

Eliza and little Min dragged him out of the house and up to the orchard and buried him in a sinkhole. She never told anyone until she was very old. Unfortunately, there’s someone’s ancestor who will never be found.

She married and lived most of her life in Washington, DC, became widowed and lived for awhile with her unmarried son Earl. She had several children, all gone now but maybe I’ll find some of her descendents. I don’t remember when she died in 1956 although I should and she is not buried in the family plot in Petersburg, Virginia. That’s a mystery for another day and I do love a mystery.

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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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