Unlocking Doors in My Genealogy Research Monday, Feb 9 2015 

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland - circa 2004

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland – circa 2004

My genealogy search stalled once again due to employment necessity, or a lack thereof. Given the fact that I cannot quickly look something up without it turning into a few hours of family history research, I pushed it aside until I had ample time to focus on this project.

DOORS

If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts entry, you know that I’ve encountered one locked door after another with the Smith side of my family tree.  I have yet to find substantial proof of our rumored Native American lineage and the numerous marriages/remarriages of my great-grandfather and his father leave me searching for months on end.

OBITUARIES

So, you can imagine my elation when I found an “unlocked door”! Thanks to new documents available on FamilySearch, I found numerous obituaries for some of my Smith relatives in Michigan; my great-grandmother and her mother-in-law being two of the findings. I have not found my great-grandfather’s obit nor that of his father, but my search continues with renewed hope and focus that with a little determination, patience, and refocus, I’ll find those whom I seek.

 

Have you encountered similar struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

 

Happy searching from one family detective to another!

3 Tips for Genealogy Info Overload Tuesday, May 20 2014 

Overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of you and which branch of your family tree to focus on first? You’re not alone!

Before you stop the search altogether, take a breather and try the following:

  • NARROW YOUR SEARCH: Starting broad can lead to an overload of information.  Pick one branch and keep the search focused on that individual and their immediate relations.  Try alternate spellings of the last name and re-examine the records you already found for them.  You might just find a new connection in a census record that you overlooked the first time through.
  • BE NEIGHBORLY:  When you hit a roadblock in your search for a common surname (talking to you Smiths and Millers), step back and research a neighbor listed on a census record.  They could likely have been an in-law, cousin, or friend.  For example, it turns out the witness on my great-great grandfather’s Naturalization record was a neighbor.  In searching the name of the witness I found new details on my direct ancestor.
  • CHANGE IT UP: Don’t use only one website or genealogy software program.  When you rely too heavily on one, sometimes you can get frustrated at seeing the same records again and again.  Move over to a different site, like one with more specific type records.  For example, search a cemetery records/grave listing website or one that stores a collection of newspapers.  I’ve found this tip very helpful in my own searching.  I found an obituary listing in a 1899 newspaper that contained my ancestor’s address and listed him as a member of a fraternal organization – the former a confirmation and the latter information to me.

In summary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload.  Instead of getting frustrated, try a different tactic.  You just might create a crack in that roadblock!

 

HAPPY SEARCHING!!

History-Itis Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 

A severe case of “history-itis” – that’s what I have! Never really caring much about learning dates of pertinent events or what states are where on the US map, my level of “Social Studies” knowledge is quite low. Reading the textbooks and learning about moments that since passed was always done from one perspective. As such, it was merely a story…and most times, one not told very well.

However, give me a great Victorian novel, and my mind opened to understand the plights of others. When Charles Dickens described the deplorable surroundings and class structures, he did so through story. By creating characters that you cared about and situations that led you on an adventure. He didn’t just lay out a series of dates and facts. Instead, the brilliant author used the inspirational power of art to connect.

All these years later, my severe lack of history knowledge makes for minor hiccups in my genealogy search. It would be most helpful to understand why my great-great grandmother’s origin of birth varies by decade. If I knew the history of how her homeland changed owners and names then I’d have a clearer picture of where she came from. Now, I rely on Internet research to learn about Hungary/Austria/Czechoslovakia history.

That information matters to me now precisely because I’ve put a face to the place, so to speak (write). I want to know what her home was like as a child. What sort of environment did she live in? Was it a hostile time? Were the people struggling for food, money and shelter? Why did she choose to leave home and move to America? What did she think about the change of name/ownership of the land in which she was raised? Did her loyalty to her homeland remain firm?

All of the above leads to thoughts of “How difficult was it for her to acclimate to her new home? Did she ever want to learn English? What did she miss most about her former country? Were there fellow immigrants nearby that she befriended?” I wonder about her life and the choices she made. I care about her history because her path led to mine.

I’m making it a personal goal to study both American and European history. To familiarize myself with not only facts and statistics but to understand and appreciate the environment in which my ancestors lived.

The Cost of Ancestry Research Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I consider myself a family history detective, finding enjoyment and excitement by piecing together the puzzles in my genealogy.  Sometimes it’s highly frustrating hitting a roadblock but most times I’m challenged to keep digging.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cost of ancestry research.

MONEY:  There is absolutely a financial cost associated with genealogy research.  There are plenty of helpful family history sites online that do not charge you to search their collection of records.  One I find extremely beneficial is http://www.familysearch.org.  The range of records available includes marriage, birth, and census documents.  I have found a great many marriage records that helped connect the branches of my tree, especially when those records include the mother and father’s names.  I found half-siblings of my great-father that I never knew about and was able to verify the connection through other sources, on other ancestry search sites.  The other sites I primarily use in my search charge a fee.  However, the value outweighs the cut to my budget.

TIME:  I spend A LOT of time researching my family tree, more than I anticipated I would when I started.  It’s so easy to sit down at the computer and find one hint that leads you to another and another…before you know it, 3 hours have gone by and you’re so close to putting the piece in place!  As much fulfillment as I get from genealogy research, I  have a twinge of guilt when I think about the other projects I have in the works – my Young Adult fantasy novel, for instance.  Why am I not spending all of my free time to get my book done and published?!  That’s where my focus should be.  Shouldn’t it?  Do I spend a few hours learning about those who lived before me or use that time to write about an entirely fictional character?

SCANDAL:  Am I being selfish by asking the questions that makes family members uneasy to talk about?  What is the point of pushing for questions when the truth may reveal a path that you never intended to walk down?  Scandal, mysteries, long-buried truths – you’re likely to find any of the above if you go back far enough.  The question is…What do you do with the information once you have it?  Do you stuff it down until the subjects of said scandal have passed on?  Do you approach them with the knowledge and gently ask for their recollection of the events?  What is it that you seek to gain from prodding for the ‘truth’?  I haven’t encountered any jaw-dropping secrets so far in my search; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Perhaps, some of what I found out (like remarriages and half-siblings) were considered significant drama and scandal to those who lived it at the time period.

One of my goals with this ancestry journey is to actually take a journey.  To visit the key places in my lineage and write about them.  Document what it means to me to be present in a place that once held meaning to my ancestors.  For a brief time, to stand where they stood.  Of course, in order to take that trip I need both time and money. Who knows what kind of scandal I might find!

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