Tuesday, July 29, 2014

All The Basics Plus Deceit and Murder!!

What a great beginning for the 5th season of Who Do You Think You Are. If this episode was any indication of things to come, this could turn out to be one of the show's best seasons. 

Cynthia Nixon, of Sex and The City, was the first celebrity to research her family this year in the popular genealogy series. Maybe I am getting used to the fast paced genealogy research, but it seemed like this episode was a little easier to follow. Yes, I know, she traveled around the country from New York to Missouri in search of her ancestors - something most of can't afford to do and one of the major complaints of viewers. But, it is necessary to show what research opportunities are available in the various libraries and repositories throughout the country.

One thing I noticed was the research was easy to follow and covered many basics for beginning genealogists. For example:  census records from 1850 on, marriage records, death certificates, military records and, cemeteries.

In addition it proved that newspapers are valuable tools for genealogical research. Social events, weather, local news, weddings, funerals, births, war casualties are all there within the pages of the local edition. And don't forget this is where you find all the misfits and scallywags in your family. Was there an abolitionist, suffragette, or prohibitionist in your family. Check your local newspaper.

Cynthia found that there were questions to be answered when she examined the census records for her family. Most census records are fairly basic: mom, dad, kids, and maybe an in-law or two. But occasionally there will be a census record that stands out as unusual. Like a few clergy with a bunch of young children. Orphanage perhaps? A couple with several men and women who have different surnames. A boarding house possibly.  An older women with a bunch of young women having different surnames. Definitely not a boarding house. There can be many clues to your ancestors lifestyles buried in the pages of the census records.

The questions that Cynthia found in the census led to research in military records, court records, and prison records. It also led to a discussion of women's rights and the difficulty of researching female ancestors.

So once again we encounter "the dash". That period of time between birth and death. In Cynthia Nixon's case we found the life of a very strong female ancestor. Since it is early in the season and I am sure this episode will be repeated, I am going to leave it here without a spoiler alert!  

If you want to see what happens you can wait for the repeat or check it out online.  http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are
The next episode with Jesse Tyler Ferguson will air on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. 9/8c.  


Monday, July 21, 2014

So where do you go from here?

Thinking back on my adventures in family history there were no steps, numbered one to ten, that I took in order to reach my goals. It was kind of haphazard. A little bit here; a little bit there. Fantastic discoveries. Huge brick walls. There is no check list when you are researching your ancestors. They didn't live by a "check list" and you won't find them by using  a check list. 

By the time you decide that you need to find your ancestors, most of your older relatives will have passed on. Don't feel bad, it happens to all of us. Just in case you have a few family members left who are older than you, this is your chance to get a lot of misinformation. I can hear you questioning this statement. Why would you want misinformation? Because it contains a lot of clues.

There are times when I really believe that family folklore and gossip have more bits and pieces of accurate information than those wonderful family biographies that you find in atlases and county centennial books. After all, our ancestors wanted to make their families look better than the family that lived next door or down the road. So, the authors embellished the family histories with war heroes and wealthy landowners. Yup, a lot of our great grandfathers were close personal friends of General Grant.

After you have found your oldest living relative, you will need to set up a time for a little get together and interview session. If you have an audio recorder, this is the best way to gather information. If your have to stop to take notes you are going to miss something. Also, with a recorder you can go back and listen to the recording in a month or year or two. Serendipity says your relative will add something you did not hear before. 

You can work from a form that you create or you can go to CyndisList.com and search for video or audio interviews with family members. I would suggest that you check what is on Cyndi's List and add your own questions. 

But what happens if you are your oldest living relative? Simple. You pick a form or two and answer the questions. And feel free to enter any other memories that pop into your mind. Also, think about some of those past Christmas dinners when your family was gathered around the table after dinner. If you had a big family like mine, this was the time when the aunts and uncles talked about the good old days. Write down everything you remember, no matter how trivial. Someday it may be the clue that breaks through a brick wall.

Of course the best oral history scenario is being able to gather together two or more older family members. That way you can just sit back and let them talk. Don't forget to encourage them to bring out their old family pictures from the closet -- that will trigger many memories. 

Once you have all the memories recorded, it is time to head to the next level. 

But instead, we are going to take a detour and head in another direction for a while -- into the world of the professional genealogist! The first episode of Who Do You Think You Are will air on TLC this Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 9/8c. Whether you are just beginning to trace your family or have been doing it for decades, there is always something new to learn. 

As usual I will comment on each episode and use it as a learning experience. Please remember this is an hour program with commercials and a lot of research is squeezed into that time period. WDYTYA only shows you what you can accomplish. It does not show you how many hours of research it takes to get there.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Back to the Basics!

Recently someone asked me a very simple question. "How do I get started in genealogy?" "Do local groups offer beginning genealogy classes online?"

Wow, that was a wake up call! I really had to stop and think about the answer and the more I explored it in my mind the more I realized that after almost 60 years of being exposed to my family history, I couldn't answer that question.

Well, yes of course, I could give the standard generic answer: Yes, I know a few people who give beginning genealogy courses at the local community colleges. These instructors are very good at what they do and I would highly recommend them.

But I didn't get started that way and in my mind I needed to know the difference. My family tree was mailed to me in an envelope. It contained all the names and dates and sources I needed to become a Daughter of The American Revolution (DAR). I am still not a member, but, today, I know a lot more about my ancestors than those few facts on that application. I know "the dash"!

So here is my advice if you are just starting out. You need to locate as much information about your family as you can get your hands on. Everything from facts to family folklore. How do you do this? Simple! 

Before you sign up for that beginning genealogy class -- declutter your house. I know, you are now saying that decluttering your house has nothing to do with family history. Bet me Buckwheat!

You get used to living with all that stuff! Like birth certificates, funeral home cards, letters, Christmas cards, pictures (maybe even some with the people identified), baptismal records, baby books, journals (if you're lucky), high school year books, envelopes with a name and address stuck in an old cookbook, post cards from World War I or II, naturalization papers, a receipt from a local store. It all depends on your family and hopefully they were all pack rats!

Once you have found all of these bits and pieces of information you will have a foundation on which you can build your genealogical research. You have yourself, your parents, hopefully your grandparents, and some locations and dates. Now you can go to a beginning genealogy class.

So, you are saying -- what is the difference. Why not go to the class first? Because if you have a little bit of research under your belt when you walk into that classroom, you can say - this is what I found - where do I go from here. And, also you know what a source of information looks like.

It is like you can't bake a cake unless you have some of the ingredients already in your pantry. Granted, you might have to run back to another store to get the rest of what you need. But you will know what you are missing and you will be able to figure out where you can get it. And eventually you will be able to have your cake and eat it too.

That is how genealogy research works. Some times it is two steps forward and one step back. 

Wait, I take that back -- it is always two steps forward and one step back.
So how do you deal with that problem? You connect with other genealogists!

Next: Where do I go from here?