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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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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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