Monday, February 20, 2012

Learn To Expect The Unexpected

On the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are, Marisa Tomei went in search of the truth about the murder of her great-grandfather, Leopoldo Bianchi. According to family legend, Leopoldo was murdered either because he had an affair with a married women or because he owed someone money.
Maria had to go to Italy to find the truth but we can look at what she found and apply it to our own research here in the United States. In fact, it opened my eyes about the events surrounding my own grandfather's death. 

Marisa began her research at the cemetery. When you are researching cemetery and death records it is usually safe to assume that all information pertaining to the actual death of the deceased is accurate. This is because the record is created at the time of death and all information is current. 

In the case of Leopoldo, his death record said he died of an illness, but we eventually found out that this information on his death record was false. The program doesn't address the issue of why this misinformation was recorded on the death record. I can only assume they hit a brick wall here and I hope sometime in the future Who Do You Think You Are will deal with this and any other brick walls they might have encountered while researching celebrity family trees. After all, it is an important part of genealogical research.

During her research Marisa found the marriage certificate for Maria and Leopoldo which shows that they were married on June 25, 1904. This brings up a point about marriage records that we need to address. You need to understand that a marriage license is not proof that a couple was married. It only proves intent. You need the actual marriage certificate signed by the official who preformed the actual ceremony in order to prove that a couple actually wed. Other than that it only proves "intentions" which were or were not so honorable. 

Eventually Marisa found a newspaper article that described the circumstances surrounding Leopoldo's death. It confirmed the family legend that he was murdered. However, it had nothing to do with an affair or owing someone money. Instead it was a business partnership gone bad. And this is where I learned to "expect the unexpected." 

I was reminded of the death of my own grandfather.  My mother told me that he died on January, 23, 1927, as a result of injuries he sustained when he was hit by an automobile while changing a tire on his own car. I accepted it as fact (which it was) and never gave it another thought. Even years later when I found the death certificate, I never thought there was anything else to the story. Then, while watching Who Do You Think You Are, something clicked and I realized that this was an automobile accident so there must have been at least one other person involved. 

Since I was going downtown to the main library in Toledo, Ohio for a genealogical society meeting, I decided to go early and do some research. The library has local newspapers on microfilm and I was able to search the January 24, 1927 Toledo Blade. The first thing I found was an article about the cold weather.  The temperature hit 19 degrees that weekend and everything was frozen making walking and driving very dangerous. There were scores of accidents in the paper including reports of individuals falling and breaking arms and legs. Finally after about 45 minutes of searching, there it was -- the newspaper account of the accident. And it didn't agree with the death certificate! The date was wrong.

According to the death certificate, my grandfather died on Sunday morning; The Blade article said Monday morning. It stated that he was stooped over fixing a tire on his auto as my mother had told me. Now I had the names of the two patrolmen who took him to the hospital. I also had the name of the person who was driving the other car and the last sentence said he was released on his own recognizance. Was there a possible court trial involved? I took all my newly found information and went to the meeting. At the meeting I received a lot of ideas from other genealogists as to what other records I might find helpful. The total cost of my research trip was the cost of a few gallons of gas and some copies. Everything else from the library to my fellow researchers was free. Of course if I would have gone to Italy like Marisa Tomei, it would have been a little more pricey!

Now I have a lot of questions about my grandfather's death. There is an additional page with the death certificate requesting information from the coroner as to the location of the accident - city or county. Is there a coroner's report and, if so, can I get a copy? Will the funeral home have any additional information? If there was a trial, what was the verdict? I am now going to look into coroner's reports, funeral home records and of course another trip to the library to search for more clues in local newspapers. Also, the word is out now with some of my genealogy friends. They know what I am looking for and I am sure they will have new ideas for me at the next meeting. Living close to a library with an excellent genealogy department or having access to a local genealogical society is a tremendous asset for the family detective. 

Marisa Tomei said at the end of the show that the scene of the crime she pictured as a young girl is now very different. I, too, have experienced the same change of scenery. Now I picture a very cold, dangerous winter night when my grandfather had the misfortune of having a flat tire on his way home from work. Remember to expect the unexpected!

Next: More free stuff!

Don't forget to watch. Who Do You Think You Are on Friday night, February 24, 2012 at 8pm Eastern, 7pm Central Times. Blair Underwood travels to the southern United States and then to Cameroon in Africa in search of his ancestors.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's Free?

A word of caution is needed here before we go any further into online genealogy research. Regardless of whether you are on a free or a subscription website, make sure that any information submitted by an individual has been documented. Many family trees found online are nothing more than a collection of unverified "facts." For example: I have an "ancestor" who keeps showing up in family trees online. He was supposedly born in 1762  and died in 1764. During those two years he got married, had a family and moved to Ohio!! It amazes me how someone can honestly submit this type of misinformation. In this case the motivation is clear -- family ties to George Washington. This is an obvious mistake, but many more of these entries are more subtle, so be very cautious that all facts are supported by a source. 

Family Search. ( This is a free genealogy website, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which contains an incredible amount of information in its online databases. You will need to register for an account to gain access to the records and images on this website, but it is free. 

It has been a while since I have been on the Family Search website and I was amazed at how much it has changed. I do believe that it is a lot easier to use now since it appears to be condensed into one search format. I tried searching for a few of my ancestors and I found quite a bit of new information and images. You can search the site by name or location with many options to refine and narrow your results. No information is provided for living persons though.

For those of you new to Family Search there is an excellent help section. Click on Help at the upper right side of the search page. This will take you to the "help" page. Scroll down to Video Demonstrations. Click on "Click here to access all our video demos". This will take you to a list of excellent videos that will tell you everything you need to know to navigate this website.
I know it is so tempting to just jump in and start searching as soon as you find a new genealogy website. So go ahead, find a couple of ancestors, and then sit down and listen to the videos.

If the new site seems a bit strange to those of you who have used Family Search before, on the right side of the search page under What's New, you can click on a box that says "Go to previous site." 

You can't beat family search for free resources, information, databases, records, and images. The only drawback that I can see is not all census images are available. Family Search also gives you the opportunity to volunteer your time with their indexing projects. The biggest and most important project at this time is the 1940 census. Just click on the Help Index 1940 U. S. Census box on the right side of the search page. You will get a chance to do your part to provide free information and at the same time get a sneak peek at this eagerly awaited census.  

Find A Grave. ( I totally underestimated this website when I first heard of it. Once you get into the workings of this site you will see that it is a great example of genealogists helping genealogists. At last count there were 75 million grave records on this site. You can search by name or location. This is one of those websites that you keep tucked away in your memory and revisit every so often. Eventually you will find an ancestor. You can request that a volunteer find a grave site for you or you can be a photo volunteer and offer to find graves for others. All the information is submitted by volunteers and is easily verified. The website is easy to navigate and worth visiting.

Google. ( Of course everyone knows Google, but did you ever think of searching for your great-grandfather by name. I finally came to my senses and tried this. I found Civil War letters, pictures, and something I never expected. Give it a try, you might be well rewarded for your effort.

US Gen Web. ( All 50 states are represented at this volunteer website, however information varies according to state. The goal here is to provide free genealogical information thru queries, bulletin boards and ongoing projects. Most information is at the county level and even if there is not much data available for a county, most of the time you will be directed to other sources of information. Here again the focus is on volunteers.

Roots Web ( The first thing you will notice on this website is that Roots Web is affiliated with (see below). Here again though, this is a volunteer website. The homepage provides all the information you need to help you navigate the site. One thing you will want to check out is Other Tools and Resources. Here you will find blank charts and forms. You will want to print pedigree charts and family group sheets plus census forms for 1850 to 1930. We will take a look at these forms in the next few weeks. Once again this website provides an opportunity to volunteer and become involved in the genealogy community. 

What's Not Free? If I had to pick one website that is worth including in my genealogy budget, it would be this one. It will set you back a few $$$ but it is worth every penny. 

A Genealogy Conference. This can be a little pricey, but if you can swing it, you will learn a lot. Next week we will see how you can afford to attend a conference.

And How Do You Budget For That? 
In this economy, it is easy to become discouraged and decide that you will never be able to afford to attend a conference, visit a repository, or even walk on the ground where your ancestors lived. Gas prices are too high, you are on a fixed income, there is no extra $$. So what do you do?  You find ways to make and save money. 

Of course, the most popular money saving method today is couponing, but not the shelf clearing extreme couponing that you see on tv. Instead it is possible to cut your grocery bill in half and be able to put back some money for something on your genealogy wish list.  I find that everything runs in 3 month cycles, so it takes about that much time to actually see results. There are several good websites online that teach you how to make this work. I would only recommend this for retirees because it takes a lot of work to get started and you will have to devote one day a week to keep everything up to date and plan your shopping list. Trust me, it is worth it. My husband and I are retired and on a fixed income and couponing makes a huge difference in our monthly budget.

Another thing you can do is let your family know that you would rather have gift cards for birthday and holiday gifts -- gas cards or motel/hotel gift cards. A large amount of your expenses can be covered this way. 

Find fellow genealogists to travel with and split expenses. This will really cut expenses when you are thinking about attending a conference. And keep in mind there are often women who need a ride to a conference and are willing to share the cost of gas to get there. (More on this later.)

Learn to eat cheap. Pack your lunch with some of your coupon goodies. Look for specials at local restaurants. 

Discover the world of Bed and Breakfast!

**As we start to travel this spring, I will share what we find on the road. Our first trip will be to the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Each trip will include: Preparation. Actual Trip. Debriefing.

These are not the only freebies associated with genealogy. I will include more from time to time. If you know of any, please feel free to comment. As you can see family research depends on a network of genealogists helping other genealogists.

Next: Marisa Tomei learns to expect the unexpected.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Those Other Ancestors You Didn't Know You Had

On the first episode of the new season of Who Do You Think You Are, Martin Sheen searched for information about two of his uncles. One, on his mother's side of the family took him to Ireland. The other on his father's side of the family took him to Spain. Chances are you are not going to hop on a plane and head for Europe any time soon, especially since you are reading a blog based on frugal family research. So what is the one thing we can learn from this look into Martin Sheen's ancestry research and stay within our budget.

The answer is simple and, oh so, important. Collateral Ancestors. These are the ancestors not directly related to you. Direct ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. Collateral ancestors are those who fall into the categories of aunt, uncle, or cousin. This can also be referred to as sideways or cluster genealogy.

Many people who set out to research their family history only want to know who their
grandparent's parents were and that is fine. It is better than having no interest at all in your family. But one day you are going to come across that one particular record or set foot on the same ground where your ancestors walked a hundred years ago and all of a sudden you will want to know more. And how do you find that "more"? By looking at all the other people who made up their lives.  

This is what led Martin Sheen to an amazing discovery about the possible reason why his mother came to this country. Her brother was involved in the Irish Civil War in 1920 and it is possible that this was a factor that prompted her to leave Ireland. (This was not included in the final production, but you can find it in the deleted scenes on the NBC website. It is definitely worth watching and adds much to Martin's Sheen's story.)

So where do you find these collateral ancestors? The best place to start is census records. Let's take a look at the 1930 census. Here you are going to find your parents or grandparents and all their kids! One thing I love about this census is Column 9. Do you have a radio set? This was a big thing back then. Hey, I was born in 1940 and it was still a big thing when I was 10 years old. Then, of course, we got this thing called television with a few 15 minute shows and a lot of test patterns. Today,  things change so fast  that I think it would be impossible to have a Column 9 on any census form! 

But this is important: the 1930 census lists the relationship of each person to the head of the family as of April 1, 1930. This is going to give you spouse, daughter, son, grandchildren, brother, sister, mother, father, and various other relatives. These are all clues as to what is going on in the extended family and, trust me, at this point in time after the Great Depression, there were a lot of extended families. City directories around this time period are also great sources for locating family members. 

In my opinion, the biggest brick wall in genealogical research is that you don't know "what you don't know". And many times the solution to this problem lies with those other relatives and family friends  that you think don't play a major role in the story of your family. But everybody counts. No one is a minor player. 

Your grandmother's next door neighbor could be a relative or a friend who traveled from Europe to this country on the same ship. Clue: Country of origin.

Your dad's stepmother could be his mother's sister, a very common occurrence in the 19th century. Clue: Your grandmother's family and maiden name.

Witnesses on a will or baptism certificate could be a relative. Clue: Maiden names which can be very difficult to find.

Informant on a death certificate. Clue: Could be a family member you didn't know existed.

Letters and diaries. Clue: Will most likely talk about other family members. Best are Civil War letters that often talk about others on the battlefield and family and friends back home.

The possibilities are endless. It is important to remember that people - not names - create a family. And all of those people contribute to your family history. They will come together, disconnect , and reunite in the most unusual ways as Martin Sheen discovered when he decided to walk in the foot steps of his ancestors.

Next: What is free, what do you have to budget for, and how do you do that.

Don't forget to watch  Who Do You Think You Are on Friday night, February 10, 2012 at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central Times. Marisa Tomei will take a trip back into the past to investigate a family mystery.  We will see how her experiences can be applied to your family research.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A few $$ can get you an enormous amount of information.

You have searched high and low for records and information in your possession and picked the brains of most of your relatives and family friends. Now you have a list of surnames, a reasonable amount of "facts" about your ancestors, and you think you know who you are and where you came from. Maybe, maybe not, but regardless -- now the fun begins!!

As you were gathering facts and folklore about your family, you no doubt wondered, "How do I know this is true?" or "Where can I find a record to prove this?"  This is where your local genealogical society comes in. Normally these societies welcome guests to their meetings. In fact, it is safe to say they are always looking for new faces because that means new ideas, new research and new fellow genealogists. The meetings usually start with a program followed by a business meeting plus refreshments. A nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon or an evening and meet someone who just might turn out to be your cousin.

The first genealogy meeting I ever went to I was asked to stand and give my name and the surnames I was researching. When I mentioned my mother's maiden name, I noticed that the president turned and looked at one of the members. After the meeting that member asked me if I knew her great-grandfather. Of course I did. He was my mother's brother!! My mother had seven brothers and sisters. Unfortunately due to a family feud after my grandmother died, the daughters quit speaking to their two brothers. As a result my new found cousin missed out on all the big family parties we used to have and I spent the better part of a year filling her in on everything she had missed. Strangely enough, when we started sharing our research we found out that we both knew similar stories and rumors about our ancestors. Eventually we were able to combine and compare our facts and answer questions that were puzzling both of us.

But, other than finding long lost relatives, there are many advantages to joining a genealogical society and the dues at the local level are usually very reasonable -- especially when you consider the benefits of membership. As I mentioned earlier, meetings usually begin with a program. This could be a lecture on locating government records, understanding the census, technology, DNA, or local history. Granted, you could find a book at the local library or online information, but here you get to ask questions of the speaker, listen to what others have to add to the topic from their own experience, and exchange information with the person sitting next to you. Quite a bargain!

The business meeting, of course, will give you a look at how much or how little the organization is able to do outside of the monthly get-togethers. Some societies have limited membership so it is difficult for them to offer much more than a monthly meeting.  Others offer a wide range of opportunities for research and participation in genealogy projects. Many times this is due to location. For example, I am fortunate. I live in Ohio. A lot of people traveled through Ohio on their way to better opportunities, dropping off relatives along the way. This generated a lot of records. Unfortunately, many records were lost in courthouse fires, but at the same time many survived. Fortunately for me my father's side of the family settled in Clermont County in southern Ohio. They never had a fire and nobody ever threw anything away!! If you have or think you have ancestors Clermont County, this is a good organization to belong to. They have much to offer.

Regardless of the size of your local genealogy society, there are always benefits to be gained. Many have their own libraries. Most have a newsletter that contains information on meetings, local resources, transcriptions of old newspapers, family histories, and queries from members to name just a few. (Queries are submitted by members and request information from other members on surnames they are researching.) If you are fortunate to live near one of the larger groups, you will have an opportunity to participate in projects such as transcribing records or reading cemeteries. Both of these activities are great learning opportunities.

Regardless of what benefits your local organization offers,  it is money well spent.

Note for Snowbirds in Southwest Florida: Check out the Lee County Genealogical Society. This is a gold mine. A collection of genealogists from all over the country. I can see endless possibilities here. Plus they have a lot of activities!

Don't forget to watch Who Do You Think You Are on Friday night, February 3, at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central times. Martin Sheen will learn about both sides of his family with the help of well-known genealogists. Next week we will take a look at how you can do the same thing on a budget!