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Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

Facts and figures make up the bulk of information that genealogists collect, chart, and savor. We’ve got those dates memorized, got the family names etched in our memories and we’ve got city, states and street names documented solidly on our family trees.

You may know that grandpa was a miller. Or grandma could have been the first female doctor in her county. But unless you are blessed with diaries and family papers, you don’t know much about the day-to-day lives of all those people who make us who we are. And you may never know. But with a little detective work you can find out what was happening around them while they went through life.

As an example let’s look at my great-grandfather who was a private in the Confederacy. I did find his army records in the national archives and paid a handsome price to get a copy of them. What I learned was shocking. It appears that every so often during the whole war, he went AWOL, then came back. What? How could that be? My ancestor a deserter? No way.

Enter a great magazine named Civil War Times. My local library has this magazine and it’s full of Civil War history as well as what was happening in communities both north and south during the war. What I found out was that in the South they thought the war would be short-lived. They only signed up for one year so they had to have all kinds of incentives to keep the boys fighting. I discovered that my ancestor like a lot of farmers, went home every spring to put a crop in the field. So he wasn’t a deserter after all. He was just a farmer who needed to provide for his family.

Another ancestor of an extended family member migrated from Ireland along with so many of his relatives. What was happening in his life to encourage them all to immigrate at the same time? A short history lesson about the potato famine answered that question fast. So now I had insight into his life. He lived in a rural area, probably a farmer and couldn’t feed his family because of the potato famine. So many Irish immigrated to the United States and Canada for the very same reason. Second only to the Germans, the Irish immigration was one of the largest groups of new citizens to North America.

So many magazines like Civil War Times, Military History, Colonial Times, WWII or Wild West will give you a peek into the life styles of our ancestors. You’ll find occupations, hair styles, fashion, and lots of little details that you just don’t know from reading facts and figures.  The larger bookstores like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble have huge magazine sections. You can sit there for hours, making notes and not spend a dime. But it is nice to buy at least one magazine so you don’t appear a total cheapskate.

Libraries also have many, many magazines of interest to the genealogist. And some libraries will get a subscription to one that you want to read if you ask them.

Civil War Wife

I know it’s not as great as finding diaries, family Bibles, journals and letters but magazines that tell the history of different periods when your ancestors were alive can help you put a little flesh on the bones of your research.

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I just love the digital age, don’t you? Technology improves, information on the internet swells and genealogy research becomes easier. A birth certificate here, a family tree with your ancestors in it there and your own tree grows and grows. It’s like watering weeds.

But can you trust the data you gather? If it proves to be wrong, how can you get it corrected? For several years I’ve been trying to get another generation back on a gg grandfather who lived in Virginia but was born in Maryland. In checking records on another ancestor, I found where this one was listed in several public family trees. I was so excited. It listed his parents, grand parents and siblings, etc. Then I noticed something that didn’t quite jibe. North Carolina was given as the birth place for this guy. So I started going forward and found that someone had taken my great grandmother and plugged her and her husband into their tree, showing her as the daughter of their gg grandfather with the same name as mine. John Hedrick’s a pretty common name. Especially in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Apparently in North Carolina as well.

So I checked several others and found they had all done the same thing. After contacting one of the owners of the tree, she responded that she had just copied the information from another tree. Advising her that the information was not correct and everyone descending from that mistake were now listed in her family tree and we were not related. Her response amazed me. “Oh well, I got it off the internet, so it must be right. I think you are wrong.” Really? I have asked her to remove it from her tree and have contacted several other tree owners but so far, no luck. I guess I’m going to share granny whether I like it or not, but I am sad for other researchers who will be misdirected.

Another case of misinformation that I contend with just cracks me up every time I think about it. I had heard rumors that my mother’s birth certificate was wrong so I got a copy of it for my records. Oh boy was it ever wrong!  According to the State of Pennsylvania, my mother was born in June, not July, and spelled her name with an i instead of an e. It also says she is a male. Yes, you are reading this correctly. It says she is a male. Please believe me when I say my mother was not a male and did not have a sex change. I don’t even think they had sex changes in the early 1900s.

Frances Claire Craven

Have you ever tried to convince the State of Pennsylvania or any other state for that matter, that they were wrong and could they please, just this once, correct a century old mistake? Forgetaboutit! 

So I live with these little gigglers, make notes on my own tree and not let it worry me. I can always use a good laugh.

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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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Of all my ancestors I’d like to go back in time to meet it would be my paternal great grandmother Catherine (Hedrick) Sipe. She married my great grandfather Archibald Hewston Sipe shortly after he came back from fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. She gave birth to my grandmother in January of 1869 and died in March the same year. I wonder if she died from complication of child birth. Seems possible but without documentation I’ll never know.

Catherine F. Sipe

A few things about her tombstone leave me with more questions than answers. For one thing it says Consort of Archibald  Sipe.  Unusual to use the word consort instead of wife. I do have a copy of their marriage bans so I am pretty sure they were married. Or did she change her mind and not to marry the man? Soon after she died the baby was left with Catherine’s parents to raise. Archibald moved on, finally marrying his third wife and settling in North Dakota not very far from the homestead of Catherine and her husband, my grandfather. But that’s a story for another day.

Also she is buried over by the fence of the cemetery instead of with her mother and father which is the German custom. Burials along the fence of cemeteries sometimes indicate a suicide, witch, harlot, take your pick. Several years ago the DAR mapped the entire cemetery but made no note of Catherine. What’s that all about? I only found it because another relative went to the cemetery to look for it and sent me the information.

In the dark and wondering why, I will continue to try to find the answers.

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I love Ebay.  I’m always amazed at the stuff ( junk) people buy. And what they pay for it. Now don’t get me wrong. I really do love Ebay and I’ve bought my share of stuff (junk) at some ridiculous prices. And I’ve sold some.

Antique bottle embossed with family surnames

With that said, I admit I get giddy when I  find things on Ebay containing my surnames. I’m always looking for Family Bibles hoping that there will be one that belonged to one of my ancestors. Rather than go through hundreds of new Bibles or Bibles with no genealogy information I just put “family bibles and genealogy” in the Ebay search engine, so the results are minimal. So far I’ve never found  a Bible for any of my families, but I keep on hoping and keep on trying.

Antique bottles from the early part of the last century will usually have embossing on them and humans being forever vain put their family names on their products. I’ve found bottles with Caldwell, Rothwell,  Shrader, Sipe, and Craven. I got a cigar box or most of a cigar box (no lid) with Sipe on it. That was a rush.

But by far the most exciting thing I ever got on Ebay  is a muscle shirt with Chidlow on it. Now Chidlow is the name of a town in Australia, near Perth. The story is that two brothers stopped there in their travels, dug a well, settled down and the area became known as Chidlow’s Well.  These days it’s just called Chidlow. Through a Chidlow in Virginia I’ve got pictures of some of the Australian Chidlows. Don’t know yet if they are related to my husband’s family but they all sure have the same nose. The muscle shirt was to commemorate a Motorcycle Fair in 1990 at the Chidlow Tavern.  I would have paid just about anything for it but I was lucky to win the auction for $4.50 US. However I had to pay $25 for shipping. Yeah, they got me.

But I was overjoyed.

Of course there is  no connection between any of the people’s names on my bottles and my actual family. The possibility is slim to none. Now the cigar box has more promise. The Pennsylvania Sipes and the Virginia Sipes are related several generations back but I haven’t tried to find out what that relationship is yet.

The thrill of seeing a family name on a bottle, post card, cigar box or muscle shirt is a fun sidebar to the craziness of genealogy. So next time you are on Ebay looking for another salt and pepper shaker to add to your collection, give your family surnames a search and see what pops up.

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One of my favorite online sites to explore regularly is Findagrave.comLike most super websites, Find A Grave was started by a guy with a weird hobby and nerdy tendencies.

His name is Jim Tipton

Jim created the Find A Grave website in 1995 because he could not find an existing site that catered to his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that there are many thousands of folks around the world who share his interests. What began as an odd hobby became a livelihood and a passion. Building and seeing Find A Grave grow beyond his wildest expectations has been immensely satisfying for Jim. Every day, contributors from around the world enter new records, thousands use the site as an educational reference tool, long-lost loved ones are located and millions of lives are fondly remembered. In what other line of work would Jim have met one of the last living munchkins, spoken to a gathering of grave enthusiasts in a Hollywood mausoleum and acquired treasures like his antique coffin screwdriver (it only screws in)?” reprint from Find A Grave bio.

Nowadays Find A Grave has evolved into one of the major genealogy sites. Thousands of volunteers all over the world go to cemeteries, record the graves and the information on the stones. Then they record it all on FindAGrave in an easily searchable format. Absolutely free. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that but basically that’s how it works.

Using my elusive ancestor George from a couple of posts ago, this is how I found where he was buried. George had 12 kids. Well, his wife Sabina had 12 kids. One of them was my grandfather who family lore said was the first generation to come here from Germany. BUT, a census said he was born in Philadelphia and that his father’s name was George. If that was the case then his father had to have come to this country and was buried somewhere in Philadelphia. Just guessing of course, but I always work my hunches. Sometimes they are successfully, other times – not so much.

So I jumped on FindAGrave.com put in his name, state of Pennsylvania and found several George’s. Narrowing it down to cemeteries in Philadelphia there were still several Georges. But, buried alongside someone named Sabina, I knew I had him.
And someone had kindly photographed the gravestone so I got that too. The FindAGrave information gave me a death date which led me to getting a notice of death.

What really amazed me about the whole discovery was that the cemetery was only a few blocks from where I grew up and I had passed it hundreds of times. I even rode my bike through it as a short cut home on summer evenings when I was late for dinner.  Now that’s spooky.

I like to call this approach, back door genealogy. I’ve since become a volunteer for FindAGrave and go all over my surrounding area taking pictures for other genealogists.  There’s so much to FindAGrave that space here does not permit me to cover it all. I can only suggest that you go to the website, explore it and make your own discoveries.  Happy hunting.

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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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Our ancestors had so many traditions it’s hard to keep up with them. They all did so and so for Christmas. They all ate such and such on Sunday after church. They all had naming patterns and we could just troll along down to our deepest roots if we only knew what their pattern was.

Fortunately for me, the Germans strickly kept to their naming patterns until the past few generations.  And someone very kindly posted that pattern online several years ago. Yahoo for me.

Basically this is how it goes. Try to keep up.

1st Son – Father’s Father; 2nd Son – Mother’s Father; 3rd Son – Father; 4th Son – Father’s Father’s Father; 5th Son – Mother’s Father’s Father; 6th Son – Father’s Mother’s Father; 7th Son – Mother’s Mother’s Father.

1st Daughter – Mother’s Mother; 2nd Daughter – Father’s Mother; 3rd Daughter – Mother; 4th Daughter – Father’s Father’s Mother; 5th Daughter – Mother’s Father’s Mother; 6th Daughter – Father’s Mother’s Mother; 7th Daughter Mother’s Mother’s Mother.

Got all that? If you had more than seven sons or daughters you were on your own. My father was the ninth son out of eleven children, and the baby, so as far as I know his name was pulled from a hat.  Or more than likely from the family Bible.

My great grandfather’s name was George. He was born in Germany but I have nothing on this line farther back than that. George’s first son’s name was also George. With that tidbit I could think that George was named after his grandfather, and therefore my great grandfather’s father’s name would be George.

I could…..but I won’t. It’s a good clue, but with further investigation I find that the 1900 Census says that George and his wife has 12 children but only 9 of them survived. They were married in 1856 and son George was born in May of 1859. Were they slow starters or did they have another son who died? Since they only list two daughter and neither are named for George’s wife, I am thinking that if they did have a child who died, it was a son. So I will continue to search for my George everywhere I go.

Now that everyone is confused I will leave you with this advice. Search out the naming pattern of your ethnic group. Work it through the information that you do have and you may find the name of that elusive ancestor who nags at you constantly to be found. Happy hunting.

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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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If money were no object, I could hire a professional genealogist to do all my research and I could surround myself with ancestors. Lots of them. If money were no object, a fledgling researcher could hire me to get them started.

But money is an object. A big, big object. And information on the internet usually comes with a price. Subscription sites can be extremely costly for a beginner. But with a little digging, a little good old-fashioned snooping and a little shoe leather you will make a good start before spending a lot of money.

One place I always look is FamilySearch.org.  Free to everyone, this website offers US Census, some  English census and some obscure records that you won’t find anywhere  else. I’ve even found something that wasn’t on Ancestry. Maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, it supports a very simple search engine. You can search either an exact match or a range of matches.

If you are fortunate enough to live near one of the church’s satellite libraries, call them. Find out their hours and get ready for a real treat. The volunteers are helpful and they have subscriptions to many of the payment sites like Ancestry.com and Archives.com. Each library has books, records, some magazines, microfilm readers. For a nominal fee you can rent microfilm, and other records from Salt Lake City. They will be delivered to your library and you will have a week or two to view them before they must be returned.

Google is another source of free information. Put in the surname you’re looking for and push enter. You many find  other people looking for the same name and they may have posted their family tree online. If you can make a connection you may find many, many generations.

GenForum.com supported by Genealogy.com has an incredible selection of surname and location forums. Periodically I go into the forums, put in a surname and look to see if anyone else is looking for the same branch of the tree. I’ve connected with three fourth cousins in one line, one fourth cousin in another and one third cousin in another. Each person had tons of information and were more than willing to share. The three fourth cousins and I are all great-grandchildren of the same couple. So exciting. You do have to register, but to my knowledge it is still free.

Google  state, city and county sites. Many of them are involved in the national GENWEB project and have searchable records online. Each state has a variety of different searchable records. For instance the state of North Dakota directed me to the Bureau of Land Management. I got records of my grandfather’s land that he homestead. Hopefully the state you search will have many for you. All for free.

Local libraries all have genealogy records in their reference section. The main library in the county will have more but each library system is different.  A few regional libraries like the Orange County Public in Orlando, FL have an entire floor devoted to genealogy with rolls of census microfilm, printers interfaced with the readers, rows and rows of books. Also most libraries have agreements with out of county facilities and can get a book for you from another state even.

State Universities allow access  to their libraries but you have to check to see if you need to apply for a temporary card. I’ve found microfilm of early, early census, newspapers and a lot of Civil War books. Living near the University of Florida, I’ve been to their libraries many times and did my earliest census work there. Finding a parking place on campus is much harder than finding ancestors.

There are other free information treasure chests but these are the ones I use the most.  Of course the ultimate is a trip to Salt Lake City, but that would involve air fare, hotels, meals, rental cars, etc. That would not be free. Therefore, that is not for me.

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