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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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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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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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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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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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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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