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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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I’ve been researching the family tree off and on for just over 20 years and it’s been extremely boring at times and a wild ride at others.
I mentioned to a friend of mine that I really would like to know something about my mother’s family. Her sister, who lived a hundred miles away at the time was “into genealogy” called me a few days later, gave me a thorough interview about what I knew and the rest as they say was history. I’ve often defined genealogy as a huge jig saw puzzle with no flat edges. The never ending “just one more generation” attitude has become my mantra.
It took almost ten years to find the information I was looking for but along the way I discovered that I had a passion for research (my husband says I’m just plain nosy). My father’s family, which I thought I knew just about everything turned out to be another mystery.
Like all hobbies the by-products seem to latch on and take hold. I’ve done research for complete strangers, extended family and close friends. Becoming a volunteer for a fine organization called Find A Grave, I’ve spent many hot and sweaty hours in cemeteries searching for the tombstone of the ancestors of people I’ve never met. Combining my love of quilting and genealogy nine folks have received quilted family trees as gifts. Of course I don’t have one of mine own. Started but still to be completed.
I intend to share with you my journey, trials and tribulations. Some tips work well and some just fall flat. But we’ll explore them together and perhaps you and I can help each other achieve the goal.

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© Photo Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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