Monday, September 23, 2013

The Right Place at the Right Time

Sometimes we see our ancestors in ourselves. It could be as simple as a photograph or drawing where we recognize the family resemblance. Or as vague as a characteristic that has been passed down through the generations. When you look at Chris O'Donnell's family tree you get a strong sense of family loyalty. History repeated itself in his family, but in a good way. 

This episode of WDYTYA was, in my opinion, one of the best. Real people in the right place at the right time to witness history in the making. Nothing fancy. Nothing giving anyone a place in line to the British throne or a ride to the New World on the Mayflower. Just someone who had a small role in American history. And a lot of our ancestors have been there. In their own way.

Go back and look at a map of America in the early 1800's. There were not that many people and America wasn't very big. It wasn't that difficult to witness what most of us now take for granted. My 4X great grandfather was there when the British surrendered at Yorktown. He had just lost his ship and everything he owned was sitting at the bottom of the York River thanks to the British. I really don't think that he was concerned about being a part of history at that moment. Personally I think he was more interested in revenge. And he got it because he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

This is what makes Chris O'Donnell's family research so interesting.  Most of us can relate to him and his ancestors. He has an ordinary family and they did ordinary things. Not that difficult to research. We are not going back across the Pond. At least not right now. Maybe someday.

Census records, military records, city directories were used to research Chris' family. These are easy to understand and readily available to beginning genealogists both online and in libraries and repositories across the country. Combine this with a basic knowledge of history and we can understand what motivated the decisions that his ancestors made. This is basic genealogy with a kicker.

Most of us are going to find that we have ancestors who were affected by the cholera epidemics that occurred in the 1800's. Sanitation and location seem to determine how much your ancestors' lives were affected by this horrible disease. Cholera originated in Asia and spread westward through Europe. Eventually it was taken to America by immigrants. You can easily follow the path of this disease on a map. Once it entered the country, since it spread from person to person, it followed the migration paths of the westward movement.

Another problem with the cholera epidemics was slums. Many immigrants began their American dream in slums where living conditions were crowded and water was contaminated. They could see the epidemic coming, but could do little to avoid it. Fleeing only added to the problem since it merely spread the disease to other areas. Lower classes suffered the most. More affluent citizens were not hit as hard due to better living conditions.

As you can see cholera is a very good example of how events affected our ancestors' lives. It was reason for people leaving an area or in Chris' ancestor's case - a reason to return home. 

In researching the military records of Chris O'Donnell's family, the genealogists used a source called Fold3. I received a complimentary membership to this website at the FGS Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Of course I immediately started searching for my ancestors with amazing results. I don't recommend that because at some point you are going to have to take a break and visit the Training Center where you will learn how to get the best results from the website. You might as well go there first. (Look on the home page for a little picture of Uncle Sam pointing at you. That is where you will find directions to the tutorials and videos that will enhance your research.)

If you are wondering where the name Fold3 originated, it refers to the traditional flag folding ceremony. If you have ever been to a funeral with military honors, you will have witnessed this event. The flag is folded 13 times until it forms the shape of a three-cornered hat and then handed to the next of kin. The third fold is made to honor and remember the veteran. 

For more information about the 415,689,063 records available at Fold3 go to: 

In today's world with 24/7 cable news coverage we often ask each other, "Do you remember where you were when . . . . . . happened?" I wonder if our ancestors did that. Probably not! It was probably more like, "Grandpa, tell us the story about getting even with the British after they sank your ship."

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