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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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My daughter saw this on Pinterest.com and told me it reminded her of advice I had given her when she was younger. It’s called Advice From a Tree, but I like to think that it’s also advice from a family tree.

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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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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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