Here is the final installment of my Genealogists [or Family Historians] and the Tech Tools They Use to Research week-long guest post series. I first met Donna Pointkouski at the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree last year, and we totally clicked, which makes sense because we're Pointer Sisters. No, not by blood, but by something much, much stronger ~ 5 letters at the beginning of our names. And I know when I finally start researching that small [and I mean, small] village in what is now Poland, I'm going to have questions for her. We also have another connection. She was a Shades of the Departed digital magazine columnist, and I am one now. So, yeah, we're definitely related. Today, Donna talks about the internet, and her preferred internet places that help her to get her genealogy job done. She is the the author of the blog What's Past is Prologue on which she just posted a phenomenal piece, His Name Was Józef Pater, that I highly recommend you read after you read her piece here, of course. Enjoy! ~Caroline
Genealogists and the Tech Tools They Use to Research
by Donna Pointkouski, What’s Past is Prologue
My “Pointer Sister” Caroline has asked me to write a guest post about the “tech tools” I use to research. Technology can mean different things to different people. When I think of tools I use to research, I don’t think of technological gadgets like my digital camera, Flip-Pal scanner, my laptop, or iPad (as much as I love them all). No, when it comes to research, I think of web sites that assist me, and the internet is a technology tool even though we sometimes take it for granted as if it has always
been there. But the internet is definitely a research tool
! Sites help me drill down
through names and data, pry open
a family mystery, or nail down
that elusive ancestor. In considering the internet as my best technology tool, here are the top sites I use to research: One-Step Web Pages by Stephen Morse – http://stevemorse.org/
Dr. Steve Morse, one of the true Rock Stars of genealogy, has recently experienced a surge in popularity due to the 1940 Census Enumeration District Finder pages he created in collaboration with Joel Weintraub. In fact, the pages are so awesome that both Ancestry and the National Archives sites are using them to help researchers find the right E.D. for the 1940 Census! But Steve’s One-Step pages have helped me for many years, long before the release of the 1940 Census. If you are researching immigrant ancestors who came through Ellis Island (or Castle Garden), the site is a must since the search parameters offer much greater variety than those found on the actual record sites. The One-Step census search tools likewise offer a greater variety in searching. Both helped me find my ancestor’s misspelled entries – I never would have found them otherwise. Księgi Parafialne – http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/
Polish vital records online? Who knew? Sure, this site is in Polish, but you don’t really need to be fluent to navigate. This site lists all of the towns (and corresponding years) in Poland that have either birth, marriage, or death records available ONLINE. Look for the correct province under “wojewóztwa” and see the current list – but be sure to check back if you don’t find what you’re looking for, because they are updated frequently. This site is just the list of who has what, but if a town has records available online a link to the record site is provided. Geneteka – http://geneteka.genealodzy.pl/
Geneteka is just one of a dozen or so sites that have Polish vital records online, but they seem to have the most (at least in the province I’m researching). Once again, it’s in Polish, but once you learn some key words it is not difficult to navigate. I wrote an article about it called Finding Polish Records online over at my blog: http://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/finding-polish-records-online/. Google Books
Although I really don’t know any German or Polish other than some genealogical words, I use Google Books to search for both ancestor and town names for more information. I’ve had great luck finding information on my German ancestors this way – many old German newspapers have been digitized! (Read about Bavaria’s Most Wanted! http://pastprologue.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/bavarias-most-wanted/ ) And the cool thing is that you can highlight a passage and use the built-in “translate” tool. The translation is definitely not as accurate as a “human” translation, but it will give you the general gist of the article (and may provide a few good laughs too).
Of course, the main internet research tool I use is a little site called Ancestry.com
. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s not free, but over the years I’ve decided it’s worth it as they add more and more records to their collection. Sure, they’re a big commercial corporation, but if the content is good, the digital images are high quality, and the servers are fast, it doesn’t matter much to a capitalist like me. Now you can add your family tree (keeping the living people private) and sync it to your iPad or iPhone – awesome! I appreciate the free sites above, but it’s the big sites like Ancestry that make me wonder how much more quickly I’d have “found” my ancestors if it had existed twenty plus years ago!
As the name of my blog says, what’s past is prologue (okay, Shakespeare said it first…). I can only wonder where the internet and technology will take our research in the future with great tools like this already helping us research, document, translate, and communicate in record time (no pun intended)!
Here is the 4th installment of my Genealogists [or Family Historians] and the Tech Tools They Use to Research week-long guest post series. Gavin Rymill is a masterful storyteller who can weave historical facts so that they read like a novel. If only all writers of history were capable of this feat, then there'd be more lovers of the study of history. Located in the UK, Gavin is the author of the blog The History Bystander, which, in my opinion, is an excellent name for his blog. Not only is he the history bystander telling his readers the story, but he's so good at it, he allows his readers to be history bystanders right along side of him. And he does no less in his guest post today. Follow along with Gavin as he illustrates how he uses tech to get the job done. You won't regret it. Enjoy. ~Caroline
Upon the wall of my study hangs a picture. Two girls kneel at the graveside of their father, in the shadow of an ancient and unusual church. The man they mourn is John Palmer who died in 1750 aged 43. He is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.
The image is fake - created through the wonders of Photoshop - but the church, the headstone and the man himself were entirely real. Thanks to the technological resources available, I got to know him a little, and this is how I sketched out his vanished life.
I find it hard to cope with a computer that has only one monitor. For me two is a minimum when doing anything of any complexity. I have three monitors at home which allow me to view several resources at once and cross-reference names and dates without constantly jumping between applications.
On the left-hand monitor I keep the Ancestry website open - usually two tabs at least, so that I have my tree handy and their search page ready. The right-hand monitor has a browser window open with FreeBMD and FamilySearch sites. Despite Ancestry now including BMD information, I prefer the simplicity of the FreeBMD search and I like the ease with which I can run down their results pages. Plus old habits die hard.
The middle monitor I reserve for Photoshop. In my professional life I use Photoshop every day and despite there being applications better-designed for collating information, drawing diagrams, creating trees and dealing with maps, there is nothing I can work more quickly and easily with. When I'm starting out on a piece of research, I create a big, blank canvas, map out my known family members, and leave lots of space for notes around the edge.
On this particular day I am investigating my Nan's Shropshire heritage. In embarking on this line of enquiry, I have already used the FreeBMD information to order the 1848 marriage certificate of her paternal grandparents via the GRO website. This has given me the maiden name Palmer, and the certificate also tells me the bride's father is Benjamin Palmer, a "Waterman."
I find him in the censuses via a quick Ancestry search: 1841, a Waterman; 1851, Barge Owner; 1861 Captain of a Vessel. From these entries I get his birth year of 1799 and his birthplace of Broseley.
I start to run his name through FamilySearch's parish records looking for his parents. I narrow it down to two results in the right county and then switch to the other vital tool without which much would be impossible: Google Maps.
I enter the name of one of the candidate villages and 'get directions' to Broseley. Thirty miles. I try the other one called Much Wenlock. Three miles! They're neighbouring villages. Perfect. I'm happy that I now know Ben Palmer's father was born in 1765.
I repeat this with great success for three more generations in a row, each time finding an extremely probable father only a few miles away, and the trail moves a little further south through the county of Shropshire. I arrive at a man called John Palmer, born in 1707, in a village called Ditton Priors. I like the name. I manage another leap backwards and find that John's father Francis was born on my birthday in Ditton Priors in 1683. This is the only ancestor I have ever found to share my birthday. I manage one final leap to find his parents were married in 1671 but thereafter the trail cools off. I leave the line there, happy with four hundred years' progress in one evening.
I switch Google Maps to StreetView and have a virtual drive through the winding lanes. The village is centered around crossroads. An old pub sits across from an even older church. I screen-grab the place and drop it into Photoshop alongside the name John Palmer on the family tree I have been building up.
I also have a quick Google look for images of Ironbridge - the town which the later Palmer descendants moved towards and ultimately lived in. The waterman lived in an area called The Lloyds and when I return to Google StreetView I see that The Lloyds is a road that runs directly alongside the river Severn, only a short distance from the famous bridge. These men were in the heartland of the industrial revolution.
The time for armchair research is over and only a field-trip will satisfy my need to understand the lives of these people better. The indispensable tool for the journey is the iPhone. The Ancestry app allows for quick reference to all the necessary information about the tree, but I also copy over my Photoshop notes page to the phone for reference as I always like to have my tree formatted my own way.
The other thing which goes without saying is a good camera. Mine is a Nikon D-75 which is getting on a bit and pretty low resolution but takes a great picture.
I collate a set of postcodes, one of each Ancestor, and begin with Ditton Priors entered into the Sat-Nav. And off I go to Shropshire.
The weather is beautiful (just as the Weather App promised) and the view is gorgeous as I wind my way down the tiny lanes knowing that the closer I get to the village, the more likely my ancestors knew the roads intimately.
Arriving at the crossroads of the tiny village of Ditton Priors, I park up and take some photos of the picturesque place. Eager to investigate the graves, I creak open the gate to approach the 12th century church.
Walking around the edge of the stocky building with its tall, pyramid spire, I snap away on my DSLR, and start to look at gravestones as I go. By the time I complete a circuit I am left disappointed that there are no signs of the Palmer name.
As I walk the path close to the church I cast my eyes down and I am suddenly struck by a mixture of horror and optimism. The flagstones on which I am walking show hints of lettering. They are not normal paving stones - they are recycled headstones!
All the stones in the middle of the path are too worn to make out any words but as I creep towards the wall of the church where the path is less walked, I could read more. I check each one, all the way into the corner, with hope draining away as the numbers dwindled. I reach the very last one, tucked away. It is preserved from the eroding effect of foot-fall but is still incredibly old and hard to read. As I strain against the sun I can make out large and ancient letters ...
"... body of John Palmer who departed this life Dece 14: 1750 Aged 43 Years."
I grab my family tree and check the name as I simply can't believe my luck. I'm not a mathematical genius but I am able to subtract his age from his death year and sure enough it is the 1707 man I am looking for. The bottom of the stone is badly worn and much of the middle is hard to make out.
I have brought with me some sheets of paper and delving into my pocket for a good, old-fashioned pencil I take a rubbing of the stone. It helps tease out a little more of the wording. I can see the words "so must you" and also "do not delay." I pull out my iPhone and type these fragments into Google (in inverted commas to ensure the phrases are searched as a whole) and I add the word "grave" for context. Sure enough the first result reveals it as a known monumental inscription, of which mine is a slight variation. The others on the internet allow me to work out what has been written:
"Juft as I am So Muft you be
Therefore Prepare to Follow me
Repent in time Do Not Delay
For in my Prime I was Snatched away"
In his prime he certainly was snatched away. Just 43 years old.
I sit and reflect on the stone for a while, looking up at the church. It is quite something to read the words chosen at great expense by your ancestors to remember a man they loved. To touch the very stone they would have touched. To sit where they would have mourned. They could not have begun to understand the future in which I live. They could barely have guessed at the industrial changes which were to take place in the hundred years after John's death, but only another hundred years after that would see the dawn of the age of electronics. The world would become filled with gadgets which would seem both incomprehensible and impossible. Tiny, magical devices which would lead me back to Ditton Priors.
This is what I do it for. To find them, to remember them, and to connect to them. To learn the names they spoke every day, and find out whose DNA I carry centuries later.
After considerable musing on times past and present, I eventually jump back into the car with the next postcode ready. I make my way up towards Ironbridge to follow John Palmer's descendants - but that's a story for another day.
Once home I take the photos of the headstone into Photoshop and ramp up the brightness and contrast, allowing for a better view of the lettering. I redraw the entire inscription clearer, as it might have looked when freshly engraved.
Sad at the fact the headstone had fallen and been moved, I decide to Photoshop it back into a standing position outside the church. And after a little image-searching for some suitably sad-looking girls, a picture is formed to show a sad scene. It's not very realistic, but it is evocative. And so it ends up on my wall to remind me of that little village in which John Palmer lived and died.
As more resources become available online, I hope to find out more about his life. I want to investigate the tantalising prospect that John's great, great grandfather may have married in Boston, Massachusetts only 17 years after the Pilgrim Fathers landed in Plymouth. Is it possible I will find my distant cousins in the Palmer family still living in Massachusetts today?
As we leave those simpler times behind, we also enjoy new surges of technology which makes accessing the past easier. I can't wait for the next wave of innovation which will take us even closer to our ancestors and the lives they lived.
Here is the 3rd installment in my Genealogists [or Family Historians] and the Tech Tools They Use to Research week-long guest post series
. Andrew Martin is the author of History Repeating the Family History Blog
. I believe 3 years ago he was one of the first Twitter accounts from the UK I followed and one of the first UK blogs I read. I distinctly remember being quite impressed with his website and research. In his guest post today, Andrew does a wonderful job describing how he technology can be used to have family history find you. So enjoy his guest post and find out how he uses tech to get the job done. ~Caroline
5 Ways To Get Your Family History To Find You Online
We lead busy lives, meaning that our time to research can be quite limited. I find it hard to juggle my research around the other things that I do during my free time.
I began publishing my family history research online in 1998, and I’ve found that this has vastly helped it by attracting other family historians researching the same or similar branches, who are then able to help correct or fill in parts of my tree.
Putting your family history online can open the door of opportunity. Suddenly an international audience can read your work and they can contact you to offer more information, photos, corrections, or even to reunite long-lost branches. This has helped me to smash through those dreaded genealogy brick walls, and unravel mysteries of sudden disappearances due to emigration.
So to help you benefit from this more ‘community’ approach to research, I’ve picked out five online tools that I use to help my family history find me: Blogging
Blogging is by far the best platform on which to share your own family research. Most blogging tools are free (like Wordpress, Blogspot and Tumblr) and they are also relatively easy to use – without having to download software or subscribe to some complicated and expensive packages. Most blogging tools allow you to blog on the go, so you could even blog from an archive on your smartphone to share a real-time eureka moment, or blog a photo of an amazing headstone during a graveyard search.
Blogs work well with search engines like Google and Bing, and the more established your blog gets (the older it is, and the more blog posts you publish), then the more likely search engines will lead people to your research.
So by showing off your latest success, or by publishing your latest search conundrum, you stand a good chance that someone will find it, read it, and leave you a comment that could give you that new lead to break through that research brick wall.
Think of your blog as the ultimate read – this is where you should regularly put in some hard work. You can write short or long posts, general or really niche posts – it really shouldn’t matter as long as you use the blog’s own ‘tag’ tools to help readers and search engines find your post. Twitter
The 140-character, ‘micro-blogging’ tool Twitter is always hitting the headlines, and this is because it is easy to use, short in content, and delivered in real time – resulting in some quickly evolving subjects being widely discussed by millions of people around the world at any one time.
Initially I was hesitant about how useful Twitter was going to be for genealogy, but I’ve since found it to be an excellent tool for networking with local and international experts across a range of subjects.
Twitter’s growing genealogy, history, architecture and archaeology users are a friendly bunch, and in my experience they are more than willing to help others find answers. Other Twitter users have helped me to decipher poor handwriting on death certificates (revealing a cause of death), they’ve helped me date photographs and find records, and they have helped me to find locations that have long since vanished from modern maps.
I’ve often discovered local genealogy and history events through twitter, and by using twitter whilst at events like Who Do You Think You Are? In London, I’ve managed to meet up (in real life!) with fellow genealogists – which really puts the ‘social’ into ‘social networking’.
With your blog as the ultimate read, your Twitter account is the ultimate net with which to catch your readers and bring them to see your research. This is why a blog is a crucial first step. Forums
Forums have been around for many years and these were my first port of call when starting out with my genealogy. RootsChat.com and RootsWeb.com have been incredibly helpful with finding answers to questions. My research has certainly benefited from the kindness of fellow users of both of these who seem ready to freely help where they can.
Of course, the more open you are to helping others with their research, then the more likely you will be able to call on a favour at a later date.
I have often received look-up help from people who have access to local knowledge or records in other counties and countries outside of the one that I’m researching and living in.
Forums are also great environments to bounce your latest family tree research theory and gain opinions from other interested people who have more than likely been there before. Flickr
Flickr has been established for many years now, and is the perfect place to upload your photographs. You can even use Flickr as the space where your photos are stored and then feed them through into your blog or website using their embeddable ‘widgets’.
I’ve been putting my family photos into collections on Flickr for some time and it always leads to people posting comments in response, and leading to email or offline conversations about the places or families. You can also pin your photos onto maps to help people find them. Like blogs, Flickr is very search engine friendly, so if you remember to add ‘tags’ to your images, then you’ll end up with lots of people looking at them.
Recently, some of my photos on Flickr that were taken at early 20th century weddings, were used (with my permission) in an online fashion gallery after being seen by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Pinterest
Pinterest, launched in 2011, is a new tool that a genealogist can seize to their advantage. Like Flickr, it’s a great place to find, share, and discuss images. You can ‘pin’ images you like on to your own ‘pin boards’ so that those following you can see them. Alternatively, you can ‘re-pin’ images that you’ve seen – instantly sharing them those who follow you.
Pinterest is currently riding the wave of popularity, meaning that a vast number of people are using it right now. It is commonly used to showcase images of baking and other home-crafts, but now is a great time to add your family photos to begin conversations with people and maybe find those long-lost relatives.
Essentially, with all five of these tools, the more you put in, then the more you’ll get out. If you can invest some time to regularly put content into one, some, or all of the above, you will find that the number of people coming forward with information will increase.
I’ve managed to receive photos and documents, met distant relatives, solved many seemingly impossible puzzles that had baffled me for years. None of this would have been possible without the kindness of the enthusiastic strangers (just like you and I) that use social networking tools. BIO
Andrew Martin is a 30-something British genealogist, who has been hooked on researching his family history since 1995, when he was given a scruffy hand-drawn tree of names he didn’t recognize and a few old photos. He owns www.familytreeuk.co.uk
website which focuses on his family in Cambridgeshire, England – where his family have lived since at least 1589. He also writes for www.andrewinthegarden.com
Welcome to the 2nd guest post in my Genealogists [or Family Historians] and the Tech Tools They Use to Research week-long series. Lisa Alzo is a well-known lecturer, author, and blogger. I first met her online on her blog, The Accidental Genealogist. I loved the way she wrote, and we had a good online rapport. Then I met her in person for the first time last year at the Southern California Genealogical Society's annual Jamboree conference where we shared laughs and appetizers with the girls. Then we met up again last year at the Federation of Genealogical Society's conference in Springfield, Illinois where more laughs and dinner this time was shared with the girls. Then we did it again at RootsTech in Salt Lake City. Genealogy, laughs, good food, and even better friends ~ does it get any better than that? [Um, no.] She's also an outstanding speaker, and I highly recommend if you ever get the chance to hear her speak, to do so. You won't regret it. I highly respect Lisa, and I'm so glad she agreed to share with y'all the tech she uses to get the genealogy and family history job done. Lisa talks about her favorite apps for writing about her family history and the strange phenomenon called GADD. I think I suffer from it. A lot. Now what was I talking about? Oh yes. Enjoy Lisa's post on apps. ;) ~Caroline
Screenshot courtesy of Lisa A. Alzo.
An “App for That”: My Remedy for Genealogy “ADD”
By Lisa A. Alzo, M.F.A.
When Caroline asked me to write a guest post on “Genealogists [or Family Historians] and the Tech Tools They Use to Research,” I wasn’t exactly sure what tool or tools I would choose to focus on. While I use many of the popular online tools and websites that other genealogists do, I don’t really consider myself a “genea-techie”. The truth is, when it comes to tech tools I confess that I suffer from GADD (Genealogy Attention Deficit Disorder). I tend to try new sites and tools as they come out, but there are probably only a handful that I stick with for a long period of time and I usually jump back and forth between several software programs, research trackers and writing tools. In addition, I was a writer before I was a genealogist (this is the reason I call my Blog “The Accidental Genealogist
”), and I consider myself more of a story gatherer as opposed to a name collector, so I’m always looking for the best ways to record, store, and share information. For this reason, I tend to be drawn to those tech tools that make my writing life easier. Lately, this means Apps that I can download and use on my iPad2.
Here are a few of my favorites: Dragon Dictation
– I use a full version of Dragon Naturally Speaking on my desktop computer but I like the free iPad version for dictation notes or short text for articles or book chapters. Dropbox
– This is the one application I can’t live without for my writing and my genealogy. I store just about everything in Dropbox—document files, scanned images, PowerPoint presentations for my speaking engagements. I used it so much that I purchased additional storage capability. This application has saved my behind more than once, and having it on the iPad enables me to access all of my important files when I travel and I don’t have to remember to bring a thumb/USB drive with me. Evernote
– While I admit I don’t use Evernote particularly for my genealogy research, I do use it for writing. I like being able to clip URLs /pages of research materials that I need for my articles and books. Sometimes I use the Text Notes feature to just type in text that I want to save rather than using Pages on my iPad. I also like the Voice Note capabilities for audio notes or recording interviews. The best part is that I can sync all of my notes and notebooks across multiple devices including my iPad. Penultimate
- It costs just $.99 cents but I like this little app and use it to take notes, keep sketches, and for mindmapping
(using diagrams for brainstorming ideas for articles, blog posts, books, and presentations). Writing Your Family History App
($5.99) by the Professional Writing Academy. For about the cost of specialty coffee drink, this little app packs a pretty good punch and I use it to flesh out ideas for writing ancestor profiles, magazine articles and family history books. The question and answer format helps me to think a project through and I also like all of the links to online resources.
What I like about these five apps is I can use some of them or even all of them together for a project. I can sketch out an idea with Penultimate, use Evernote to store research materials or notes for it, use Dragon for dictation of the text, the Writing Family History App to explore the idea in more detail, and Dropbox to store pieces of the project, drafts, and final text.
When it comes to technology, I prefer “plug and play” types of devices and applications that are easy to download/install and have a very small learning curve. Admittedly, patience is not one of my strong suits. I am always working on deadline and I don’t have hours or days to spend learning how to use a new software program or online tools. I need to gather my research materials and turn out copy pretty quickly. This is why “apps” work for me, and I will continue to try new ones to add to those I use on a regular basis.
Disclosure: I am not an employee or affiliate of any of companies who produce or sell any of the aforementioned apps and am receiving no monetary or other compensation for this post. I have chosen to write about these products simply because I like them.
Susan Clark is the author of the blog Nolichucky Roots. I first met Susan at the FGS Conference in Springfield, Illinois last year, and I have enjoyed following her blog for a while now. I love when Susan participates in the 48 Hour Ephemera Challenge because I know we are going to get sound analysis of the problem and excellent suggestions for whomever we are searching. Her contribution to the Tech Researchers Use to Get the Job Done Guest Post Series discusses wildcard searching, and how invaluable it has become in researching her Eastern European roots. Enjoy! ~CarolineSearching Outside the Box
*Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Jeffrey Beall
When Caroline asked me to write a guest post on the tech tools I use in my family history research several ideas ran through my mind. This is not unusual. Lots of things run through my mind, but most get away before being caught.
My research efforts the last few years have been internet based. I'm beginning to get back out on the road starting to use cameras, GPS, portable scanners and mobile devices. I love them. But what has been most valuable to me with internet research has been thinking outside the box
when it comes to search terms. Get Wild
I've needed to get very creative in order to catch sight of my elusive relatives and capture their online information. Half my tree is made up of lovely 20th century immigrants with lovelier Eastern European names. Names they, as well as many census enumerators and immigration officials, had trouble spelling consistently in English. Wildcards
, those wonderful symbols that replace one or more letters in a name, have been my salvation. The asterisk will replace up to 5 letters on Ancestry's search engines. A question mark will replace a single letter.
I looked repeatedly for my great-aunt Susanna Pereksta's immigration records. I found nothing until Ancestry.com
and Steve Morse's superb One Step
pages added the Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934
database. Using “Sus* Per*a” as a search term I found her indexed as Susie Perexta leaving Hamburg on Feb. 1, 1911. Those German indexers were pretty good spelling the Eastern European names. Not so for the American indexers. With a date I was able to search the other databases for an arrival record. When I searched for women with a surname of “Per*a” arriving in February, 1911 I found her. She was indexed as “Luria Peresla” in Ancestry.com's Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945
database. I love wildcards. Note that I had to drop her first name to find the record.
Wildcards work differently with Google and other internet search engines. The easiest way to find out what wildcards work with the engines you use is to search! A search of “wildcard search” and the name of the engine I want to use gives me a quick rundown of the options. Google, for instance, does not support the asterisk and question mark symbols in the same way as Ancestry.com. But you can use an asterisk to replace entire words in a phrase or put a search term in quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.
Before Google Books revised its format and restricted searches of many books, I was able to confirm that a Margaret Meredith living in Baltimore in the early 1800s was the widow of one of my husband's distant great-uncles by searching for her with a business name “ “Thomas Meredith * Co.” Margaret Baltimore.” I used the asterisk to allow for and or &. The search led me to a case cited in Monongalia County (West) Virginia, Records of the District, Superior, and County Courts: 1813-1817
by Melba Zinn (Heritage Books, 2009) where Margaret Meredith was named as a partner in the firm after the great-uncle's death. Get Narrow
Another successful search strategy I've used has been to look for names or phrases that are more unique
to narrow a search field. I found one of my Pereksta relatives in the 1930 census by searching for their youngest child at the time, their 2 year old daughter Olga. She turned up indexed as Olga Pereskata. Her father was indexed as John Pereskith and had eluded my previous searches.
My husband's ancestor Joseph Jones proved much easier to find when I searched using his daughters' names – Cansada, Brazilla and Talitha. Their names were rarely spelled the same way twice, so I again relied on wildcards. But I got far more targeted results than typing great-grandpa Joe's name.
I'm currently obsessed with searching Old Fulton NY Postcards
after one of Caroline's 48 Hour Ephemera Challenges
sent me there hunting for information about a dude with a long beard. “Dude with a long beard” didn't get me much, but I realized the collection of early 20th century New York newspapers might have information about my immigrant relatives. This website (as do many others) uses OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to search digital images of the newspapers which can get a little funky. I searched for a family named Tanch and got hundreds of real estate listings for small ranches. Not especially useful. My Sidor/Sedor/Szidor/Citar cousins can be a challenge since they took several generations to settle on a spelling.
Narrowing the searches to a specific city and date range helped, but it wasn't until I added the name of their church that I got useful results – and those results were a goldmine of information about the immigrant community. I stopped using surnames altogether and settled on searching for “St. Michael's” in Binghamton and for a given year. I found wedding announcements, death notices, youth group and fraternal organization activities. I got a sense of the church community that defined my grandparents lives in the United States.
I've used the same strategy to narrow newspaper searches for my Smith in-laws. Even in a small town there are lots and lots of Smiths. Lots. Adding "Dr." or "Catholic" or a street name to the searches has yielded far more useful results.
So get wild, but also get narrow when searching for your kinfolk. Add the name of your father's high school, your grandmother's business, the name of your cousin's college band or prize steer to your search terms. You may be amazed at what you find.Susa
n Clark*Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by Jeffrey Beall
Today, I'm guest posting over on the blog for Family Tree Magazine UK with a wrap-up of the RootsTech 2012 Conference
.So what are you waiting for? Go read it. ;)Also? Connect with Family Tree Magazine UK:~Caroline
[I first met Jennifer Wilson on Twitter. She started following me. Then I followed her back. Then we just started tweeting back and forth. One evening I tweeted about making my Paw Paw's Corn Chowder for dinner. And Jennifer replied back that it sounded delicious and would I mind sharing it. So I did. I tweeted my Paw Paw's Corn Chowder recipe. She laughed and remarked that that was the first time she'd seen someone tweet a recipe. <grin> Jennifer Wilson's family story is so amazing, and what she and her family did is so awe-inspiring. I highly recommend her book, and I feel honored and blessed to share her story with you. Once you start reading it, you won't be able to put it down until you're done. And then? Then you'll want to go find your family story too. But don't take my word for it. Listen to Jennifer's story... ~Caroline]
The day we left. [Used with permission.]
Off the Grid Genealogy
I set out to take a family sabbatical and write a nice travelogue. I ended up with a kamikaze genealogy mission haunted by dead ancestors, dark secrets, bootleg liquor and sheep on a spit.
By Jennifer Wilson “Radošević people, there are good and bad ones.” Viktor let out a slow, rumbling laugh that bordered on the diabolical. “Which Radošević are you?”
This is the kind of ominous taunt you encounter when you take your genealogy search out of the archives and into the analog world. An old man, laughing, hinting that your homeland village may or may not (but probably!) aligned with Nazis and Fascists in World War Two. And oh, by the way? We’re not sure if your people had anything to do with it (but probably!).
This was so very far from the pleasant, rustic tale I set out to discover when my husband Jim and our two young children returned to the ancient Croatian mountain village of my ancestors to live, recovering the lost lessons of my great-grandparents.
It wasn’t all roasted sheep on a spit and frolicking through meadow flowers, as you’ll find out in Running Away to Home
(St. Martin’s Press), my book about our crazy adventure. Though there is a decent amount of frolicking. And roasting things on spits.
But, as you know, genealogy isn’t for lightweights. When you go rooting around the ancestors’ stomping grounds, you find out things you weren’t expecting.
See, the tiny village of Mrkopalj is an odd place.
Oddly beautiful, tucked away in the evergreen-covered mountains of northern Croatia.
The region where it’s located is oddly empty, as in barely populated since even before the Turks tried to invade. When they did, the Habsburgs sent pirates and outcasts to live there just so the place didn’t look totally free for the taking (Recovered Family Fact Number One).
And, well, just standard-issue odd. Our drunken landlord Robert hadn’t finished our rooms when we arrived, jet-lagged and wary, unsure we wanted to spend the next several months in a Balkan construction zone. Which was, by the way, next door to neighbors who kept cattle on the first floor of their house. In the midst of a neighborhood where every single person
mowed their lawn with a slingblade.
You may be asking yourself why a mother would drag her family across the globe and back a century just to live like the ancestors.
Well, it’s because I’m odd, too.
(If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming we might be kindred spirits in the oddness department. Or maybe you’re just waiting for me to get to the point. Yes! The point! There is one. Here it comes.)
I’m odd because I love history. Adore antique things. My idea of a good time is interviewing old people. Instead of dating, my husband and I restored Victorian houses.
And yet, I can’t do traditional genealogy. I’m convinced I have some sort of genealogical dyslexia. One look at a family tree, a mere mention of the words “first cousin, twice removed,” and my brain goes into an opossum-like paralysis. I simply can’t comprehend the book work, and I don’t understand the protocol. My mind doesn’t operate that way. I’m jealous of those who do.
[Used with permission.]
And so, when my ancestors came calling (as dead ancestors do), I took a different tack. When someone with my special (lack of) skills becomes obsessed with the family tree, we have to flat-out climb the thing.
It began when my great aunt, Sister Mary Paula Radošević, passed away—the last of the immigrant relatives—I inherited her personal papers. On the night after her funeral, I got lost in the family history of the ancient mountain village of Mrkopalj, Croatia. The ancestors whispered in my ear, tempting my mom-frazzled brain with a simpler life in the Old Country. I wanted my kids out of soccer practice and ballet, and into the branches of apple trees. I wanted Jim back from his office computer, walking with me through the meadow.
So, with lots of weird and wonderful twists of fate in between, we returned to the same place Valentin and Jelena Radošević came from 100 years ago. We lived there for several months, immersed in that simple life I dreamed of. It’s a very special, thing to walk in the steps of the ancestors. To page through the ancient Book of Names in the church, or interview the old ones through my interpreter, Stefanija, who was also everybody’s favorite bartender at the local café.
Gathering tea with Manda [Used with permission.]
Which brings us back to Viktor’s kitchen, where his wife Manda is putting on tea from flowers she picked on the mountain. He’s telling me about the rough history of Mrkopalj, and reminding me that I would probably never know what happened to my people, because no one kept up with them (dammit, Mom!). But most certainly they’d been entwined in Croatia’s 1000-year history of war. That during World War Two they’d have been forced, like everyone, to choose between Communists and Nazis, if they wanted to survive. And no, I can’t tell you all the details. What? I can’t tell you every single thing, or my publisher would kill me!
But we also learned that the ancestors sang songs as they worked in the forest, and lived through a beautiful bustling age when the lumber mills were booming and everybody had a cow in the yard and chickens for the pot. They ski’d in the powder snow that fell from October to April, which was so deep they had to wear snowshoes to the mercantile.
I have a flimsy paper trail from that time, at best. But I (Jim) did just enough research to know that I’m probably related to most of Mrkopalj. I found a few long-lost relatives, but a village full of family that I’m still in touch with. And really, that’s good enough for me.
I believe I am my own version of a genealogist. Maybe just the Braille version, and an odd one at that.
Either way, we’ve all found our way home.
First shot, before arrival. [Used with permission.]
Jennifer Wilson is a writer for such magazines as Esquire, National Geographic Traveler, Better Homes & Gardens, Parents,Traditional Home, Midwest Living
and many national newspapers and magazines. Running Away to Home
is her first book.
Today's post is from guest poster Helen Spencer, who is the founder of SaveEveryStep.com a UK based site where you can capture family stories while traveling life's journey and share them in a timeline fashion online. She also blogs at saveeverystep.com/family-stories-blog.aspx where she currently is blogging the series 'Life's a Journey'. I encourage you to stop by her sites. She's got great blogging style because she's so personable. Don't take my word for it, though. Check her out. ~CarolineGuest Post by Helen Spencer of SaveEveryStep.com
My eldest son turns 12 next week. My millennium baby has managed to suck up 12 years of my life without me hardly noticing the time pass.
I imagine my own parents felt the same way about me when I turned 12, or 21, then 40.....
As a 12 year old child, my interest in my parents was minimal, to put it politely. (Here is the slightly less polite version
). I continued to take a nonchalant disinterest in their lives and stories throughout my childhood years and on into my teens. I saw them as historic. Ancient. Irrelevant.
This (at best) apathy, (at worst) mild contempt went on until I became a parent to the aforementioned Millennium Boy at the age of 32. At this point, I developed a sense of my own responsibility and awareness of my mortality which gave me the ability to recognise that my parents were real people, with real lives who had dutifully nurtured me for so many years.
The defining earthquake, however, arrived as an earth-shattering TEN on the Richter Scale in April 2006 when my mother went and died.
I finally wanted to know everything there was to hear about her life as a young woman, how she met my dad, her days at school, growing up in World War II Britain, her boyfriends, the fashions, her mistakes and her triumphs. But it was simply too late.
Stupid, stupid me.
I had spent countless hours researching our family tree's dead 'uns, without a moment's thought about the most precious people of all - those who were standing right beside me.
So, what of it? Well, I ain't dead yet.
My disinterested, contemptuous, apathetic children WILL have my stories preserved as a legacy for their future. I WILL capture each and every moment of their growth in a set of embarrassing photographs. I WILL spill my guts about the highs and lows of my existence in my narrative for them. I WILL leave them with the gift of memories.
So, assuming you ain't dead yet either (and not reading this from the Other Side), do yourself a favour and give the ancient historical family members a rest for a few days. Turn and concentrate on the living. Do the leg-work for the next generation and create a vault of your contemporary family memories so that they won't have to.
There are plenty of resources out there to help you, but for something different, try www.SaveEveryStep.com
- you can lay out your life memories on a chronological timeline in words and pictures, and it's free to use.
You can find more weekly Blog doses of family nostalgia
and the serialisation of letters home from World War II by following this link.
Please feel free to share this blog post with, like, everyone you know. And then?
Share it with everyone you don't know. If you want.
Today I'm guest blogging over at Betsy Cross' blog, Remember...a family history blog
. So go check out my post, With His Spoken Word
. And then? Go check out some of Betsy's posts.The must-reads on her blog?So. What are you still doing here? Go.~Caroline
Please feel free to share this blog post. Thanks!