Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Techincal Difficulties

Sorry about the blog being down a few days but we seem to be having a few difficulties. As you have seen our wonderful background has changed. I logged in one day and it was just gone. I tried to upload it again but nothing seemed to be happening. So I had to find a new one that I'm not sure exactly how I feel about but we will try it for a few days and see how it works out. It might also change if I can't get the layout to my liking. Because as you can also see a few things have disappeared from our side list. I'm not happy about it but that is just the way that it goes sometimes.

Anyway, be patient and I will have us back up and running smoothly in no time. At least I hope ;).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Where In The World Is Henry?

I have a relative that I really want to find information on. He is my great, great grandfather. I can find him in 1910 but for some reason he seems to have disappeared from every other census. What is that about?

I've mentioned the show "Who Do You Think You Are" before and as I was watching the show with Matthew Broderick he had a similar problem. He had a relative that was in the 1850 census and then his wife was in the 1870 census but neither was in the 1860 census. Where did they go? They found out the relative was in the Civil War during the 1860 census. Still why wouldn't the rest of the family be on that census?

I joked with my father that maybe someone came by the house to record the family but since the father wasn't there they just kept on going. I like to hope that isn't what happened. Maybe they were out visiting or it was Sunday and they were at church. Either way you would think that they would send someone back later to make sure everyone was counted.

Think about it this way. Every time I watch any television show these days I see at least five to six commercials about how important it is to send in the census. How is it so important now but back then you could just skip whole families? Does that mean that not everyone will be counted this time either?

All I know is that when you come across some one like ol' Henry here it makes you want to throw your notebook across the room and stomp away vowing never to search for anyoen again. It's a lie and we al know it as soon as we say it. Why? Because secretly we love the Henry's. They challenges that they repersent and when we finally find that information there is a vindication that comes with it. A sense of beeting the odds and learning something more. And it's that why we all started researching in the first place?

On The Road Again

Everyone always says that to really call yourself a genealogist then you have to do the leg work. My father has done his trips and coming soon I will finally get to do one of my own.

Okay not just on my own but I will be going to another town and spending at least a day in a state archive building looking up as much information as I can. My father, cousin and I are heading into the south to get our hands dirty and the soles of our feet worn by doing what researchers do; research.

I am really excited. Who wouldn't be? I get to finally do the leg work. I feel like Indiana Jones or Alex Haley. Will I find the information that I want? What will the town look like? How many pictures will I take? What will I come back with? So many questions and soon I will have answers. Did I mention that I'm excited?

I will be keeping everyone posted on what I find and what I seek and whatever answers I find I'm sure that it will take me a few steps closer to my goal.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some Help Please

I meant to post this yesterday but I had a few birthdays and that took me away from the computer and my research and I guess I could have done it last night but I was way to tired to try to write anything. However the point of this post insist about my lack of time but about the new show on NBC called "Who Do You Think You Are".

It is a great show and showcases the search for ancestors. If you haven't seen it then here is a little recap. Every week a different celebrity searches for either their father or their mother's side of the family. They always find different things than they might have expected and they always travel around the country to find the answers.

My question after watching the episode with Emmitt Smith is where are all these people that help them? With every person they almost seem to have a genealogy "dream team" that knows which book to pull or has the papers already ready for them when they show up. Like with Lisa Kudrow. She went to Belarus in Europe wanting to find information about her great grandmother. When she got there she was taken to this state archives where she found the information that she wanted but then the next day the lady that was helping her had like a full transcript of the Holocaust in that part of the country and how it related to Lisa. Or with Matthew Broderick who found out that one of his relatives served and was killed in the Civil War. He met up with a man that took him to the spot where he was buried and together they figured out that Matthews relative was the last unknown soldier from that company. It's like who are these people?

I sit at my computer and I look through the records and what do I find? Half of what I am looking for. I know that everyone will tell you that you have to go to the city or state or archives in order to find everything but really; will I find my own "dream team" when I get there?

True it stands to reason that someone working in a historical library or state archive will know more than the average Joe fresh off the street, but if I walked in and said, "I was looking for Jerry Spralls who was born in 1926 in North Dakota" would even they be able to find him in the blink of an eye? And yes I know that what looks like a few minutes on television could actually be hours but I have been looking for one relative for three weeks and still haven't even found a birth date for him. This is why I wonder.

I think the show promotes some really great tools for looking into your genealogy. Like ancestry.com (who is one of their sponsors) and state libraries, genealogy societies and people that probably make their living doing this and only have like four customers a quarter. Still I also think that they make it look a little easy. With Sarah Jessica Parker they were all the way back to the 1700 by the end of the show. I am stuck in 1870. Help Dream Team?

The bottom line is that if you get a chance to watch it then I strongly suggest that you do but simply remember that unless you can probably afford those wonderful individuals they are promoting your search will likely take longer than an hour or even two.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We Are Family

I was talking to a family member and telling them about what wonderful strides I have been making and I said that I could understand why people give up when they get back into slavery and the early 1800s. This was the wrong thing to mention because they started telling me how they didn't understand why I even started because I was never going to find out where I came from.  Then they proceeded to let me know that genealogy was a waste of my time because they had saw a show on television that talked about how hard it was.  Now mind you I have been watching the same show and it took me a minute to realize that this person was combining three different genealogy shows into one as she spoke.  I simply shook my head and went on about my research.

Later I started thinking; do all people have someone in their family that isn't interested in the past or where they come from? 

I know that we all have people that aren't going to do more than tell us about any stories they might have heard a long the way or those that listen when you tell them about your research but wouldn't lift a finger to look up anything themselves.  And then there are those that will go on the trips with you to do research but they are really only after the free vacation and sit around at the hotel until your done.

These are what I like to call the history-loppers.  They are interested in the stories but not the work.  Sure they will pass along information that you gained and will be interested in anything you tell them but that is the extent of their involvement.  But my conversation with my family member lead me to come up with a new catagory; the "Spit on it" grooup.

You know how when you were younger there was always that one kid that no matter what anyone suggested at recess he or she just spit on the idea.  They wanted to play but at the same time they didn't.  They just wanted it to look like they wanted to play.  What they really wanted to do was ruin everyone's fun.  They weren't happy for whatever reason so then they didn't want anyone else happy either.  That is want I think this new group is about.

They aren't interested so they don't think anyone else should be interested either.  They think that the idea of looking into the past is boring or un-nessesary and so they are going to do what they can to ruin your fun.

Does that mean that you can't share with a "spit on it" person?  Absolutely not.  Of course you can share but just be prepared for them to shot down a lot of your ideas and I definately wouldn't talk to them when you have been having a bad day.  With their additude they could make you want to give up or see your journey as hopeless but just remember that is just their ideas and their opinions.  This is your journey into your past and don't let anyone derail it but you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Silly Post

I just had to post this because I thought it might be really funny. I was checking a few things on ancestry.com and I went back to the homepage and noticed that the search had changed. I thought that they had updated the website while I was on doing research. I spent two almost more hours using this before I realized that I had clicked a button to change the search screen. How silly did I feel? So I just figured that I needed to post that and laugh at myself.

Pause For A Commercial Break

Okay so I didn't want to do any post that seemed political or on a different subject here but I am thinking that this one relates so I will go ahead and add it.

Coming home today I stopped at our mailbox and low and behold our 2010 census was here. I did a little happy dance in my car and then proceeded inside. Why was I happy? Allow me to explain and this will also show how the topic is related to genealogy.

We fill out the 2010 census the same as they did in 2000, 1990, 1980, so forth and so on. Now I know that there has been much talk about the cost of this census being that we are in a recession and the government needs to trim whereever possible (this is the political) but lets imagine that during the great depression they felt the same way. When you start to trace back through census records, because that really is the best and only way other than word of mouth and that isn't always accurate, then you might have a relative that is listed in 1940 but not in 1920. Granted the 1940 census hasn't been released yet but if your mother told you that your grandmother was born in 1934 and seeing that she has passed away and your mother never knew her grandparents then you my friend or at a dead end unless you can find someone that could give you a name or a court record with her parents names listed. This might seem easy if you live in Kansas and your grandparents were born and raised in Kansas also but what if they were born in Ohio or Virginia or Tennessee. See where you would run into problems.

The census is not only good to track population increases and where federal money would be best spent but to track families and relatives and those that we might not find otherwise. Being African-American I can tell you that my search would be alot easier if African-Americans had been just that. Instead I have blacks, coloreds, negros, and in the case of where I am now not even a name. If they had been counted as people instead of proporty then I might know who my great, great, great, great grandfather was right now but that is a different blog.

My point is that although it might seem like time taken away from your busy life and possibly a complete waste of time; it isn't. Decades from now if no one follows your footsteps and doesn't continue keeping track of your genealogy then your decendents will be glad you took those few minutes out of your day and filled it out.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Got A Shovel?

My last post I was excited because I thought that I had found my great, great, great grandfather was a prisoner in the Civil War. Well, that didn't pan out. It is absolutely amazing that you can have a name and date of birth and still not have the right person. How did I figure this out you might ask? Let me tell you.

See my great, great, great grandfather was Sol; maybe short for Solomon I'm still checking. I found the Civil War record for him but when I really sat down and looked at the dates that he would have been imprisoned it didn't add up with when my great, great grandfather Porter would have been born. He would have been somewhere far from home for at during the time that not just Porter was concieved and born but also at least one of not two of his sisters. Now don't get me wrong, I know that not everyone was faithful and I have a whole other blog coming about the skeletons you will find, but to believe that he might have been away and my great, great, great grandmother Caroline might have been stepping out would just open a whole different can of worms. Plus being that we are African-American then it stands to reason that he would not have been kept alive and so that would mean that he shouldn't have been there for the 1870 or 1880 census and I have him on both. When you add all that up is leads to the believe that whoever this Sol was he was not the one that I was looking for.

That is the fustration part of this research. You get all excited and ready to add a link to your family tree but when you stop and really, really look at dates and places and the sporatic information that you have then you find that what you thought you knew you didn't know at all.

Now I am searching for any relatives to him that might give me an insight into his parents names. The only problem there is that the last census I have him on is 1870 and I think I remember hearing that African-Americans where included on any census past that unless they were slaves and listed as such. This is where it will get muddy. If Sol was born a slave then I have to figure out where, to whom, and what their names were. I have found a few white people around him with the same last name but again there are no guarentees. You just have to keep digging.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Have A Little Faith

So a few days ago I was really excited because I thought that I found a record of my great, great, great grandfather and he was a prisoner of war during the Civil War. I wasn't excited because he was captured and most likely tortured or killed. No, I was excited because it was more information on the man himself. I ran to tell my father and the first question he asked me was if I was sure it was the correct person. This killed my buzz because of course I wasn't sure. I have never met the man. If my great grandmother could cook, if my grandmother could sew, if my mother had a weird sense of humor; these are the things I'm sure about. That there are Native American roots on my mother's side and a strong military presence on my father's; these are the things that I'm sure about. But if a name that I found on a U.S. census in 1880 is the correct person just because he has a child with the same name as my great, great grandfather who happened to be born around the same time; not a clue.

It accured to me then that to go as far back as you can is going to require a little faith. There is going to be no way that I will or he will or any of us will be one hundred percent sure that the person we are look at is the correct relative. Names have changed and documents get smudged. I found my great, great grandmother on a 1910 census as Carrie when we had always called her grandma Cassie and looking at it I could see how it could be either one. So does that mean that I throw that census out and start again looking for Cassie. Absolutely not. That census had the correct husband for her and children listed as well as the correct area of the United States. That's almost like finding the triffecta; the holy grail. I just keep that one and look for a 1900 or 1920 census with the correct name or the misspelled one because that could be a clue as to why I wasn't finding any information on her originally.

Yes, it would be great to be sure that every relative you think you found is the right one but unforunately with the way that records were kept, especially if you were African-American, it just isn't possible. And lets face it, even if the records were maticulous when your looking in 1860 for someone that no one still alive remembers it's a guessing game. Does the names match up with what you have aready found out about their decendent? Do the dates line up within a five year grace period? Are they living in the correct state? Do they have the right siblings or parents? If you answered yes to all those questions then chances are you have the right person but are you a hundred percent sure? That is a question only you can answer but I would bet you answer with a little faith.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

The other day I was watching this webinar on Ancestry.com (they have great videos on genealogy) and I got some amazing tips but two really stood out and I wanted to share them here.

The first one was "don't get on the internet to quickly". My father also found this one helpful but mostly because it made him feel as if he had done his genealogy right. See it was years before he got on a computer to look but as he admitted most of that had to do with not understanding how to get on a computer.

I liked this one because it reminded me of what I had said a little here. That you need to speak to your relatives first to get all the information that you can. First because they are your best resource for living history and second because they probably know things you don't. But one of the best reasons is because right now if you are looking for information on anyone living past 1930 then they are almost all that you have.

The 1940 census won't be out until 2012 and you can always and should always go down to obtain court records for your immediate family but without dates, full names, and city's where they were born, lived or died then you still won't get very far and who do you think knows those things? However, don't take everything as hard facts. This leads into another tip that I had forgotten until now;"Don't take everything your family says as gospel". Not that your family would lie to you. More that they might be telling you what someone told them and that person might not have been sure. This is expecially true with African-American history. If someone was born during salvary your ancestors could have had everything wrong from the date of birth to the place. Records weren't kept even by the individual.

The best tip that I believe he shared was to "Record your interviews with your relatives". This was one that I hadn't thought of but as he said it I thought back to how great it would be to have a recording of my great grandmother telling her life and the lives of our family. That would top "Roots" and almost any other movie that thought to tell the history of our country or it's families. Think of those closest to you and those that you might not talk to all the time. How would you feel if something happened to them and the knowledge that they had was lost forever? But how would you feel if you not only had interviewed them but had a tape recording or video recording of them sharing all that they could about life and history, theirs and your family. I have lost many family members way to soon and I tell you if I had tapes of them somewhere speaking or a video that showed their personality as well as their life I would treasure them.

So that is my biggest tip that I can share and it wasn't even mine. Don't just interview your family; record them. You'll be glad you did. I know I will just as soon as I get a video camera :).

Ps. The webinar was called "Avoiding Traps of African-American Genealogy"(the photo is from there). It's with Tony Burroughs who is a well known genealogist and the author of "Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide To Tracing The African-American Family Tree". It is free as is all their webinars and you don't have to be a member to see them. They quite a few and I suggest you watch/listen to a few of them. The link is here for the webinars and here for Tony Burroughs website. He has some great videos that you can see as well as other helpful information.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Roots Or Branches

Once you are ready to get started you have to ask yourself the most important question you will ask during this whole process; at least to me. Am I going to track just my roots or do I want to know about the branches?

Let me explain using myself and my father. I want to know where I come from. I want to go as far back as possible. If I get all the way back to Africa or Italy (I'm convinced it's in there because I love pasta) that would be fabulous, but that isn't the main goal. I simply what to understand my past. My father however wants to know it all. He wants to find every person that we have ever been related to and those that we might be related to now. It's not enough for him to just research his parents and their parents and their parents and so on. He wants to find out about their siblings and their siblings and their children and their children and their grand children and their grand children. Are you confused yet? That is what I mean by roots or branches. To me just tracing your linear line is following your roots but to look for everyone in your family known and unknown that is searching for branches.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Like in the case of my father. I believe that he would be further back if he wasn't so concerned with every name he comes across but he also has a fuller tree. Whereas I have a straight tree but if I were to walk into a room and a distant relative was in there I wouldn't have any idea.

The bottom line is that you can do whichever works for you. My plan is to go as far as I can continually and then when that is done go back and fill in the missing pieces. That might take longer or not but when doing genealogy you have to learn to be patient. Did I mention that already? Just checking ;).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tools Of The Trade

I am a photographer and when going out to take pictures there is no way that I would leave without my camera, batteries, and flash card. Genealogy is the same way. Once you really get started there are things you find that you must have with you whenever you are doing research. They are simple things and you probably have them around your house but they aren't always the things that you would think that you need.

  1. NOTEBOOK: Once you start interviewing people you are going to be getting information left and right and you are going to need something to keep all that information in. A notebook is the easiest option. A lot of websites will recommend a tape recorder and that too can come in handy but you still are going to want to take notes and that is where paper becomes your friend. Plus with a notebook all the information is right there so when you start looking other places than your family you have what you need at your fingertips.
  2. PENCIL: This was a lesson learned for me. I have a slight pen addiction and I go nowhere with out at least three or five pens with me ranging in color, tip and usefulness. But after scratching out seven or eight pages worth of information and writing over top of what I already thought I had it became somewhat insane. Therefore, I recommend a pencil. You have a eraser if you get it wrong and if you still feel the need to scratch out anything it's not going through to the next page.
  3. CALCULATOR: This one you probably never thought about but trust me it is needed. When you run across a 1920 census where your relative is 27 and you are trying to calculate back to get an approximate date of birth you will thank me for this. Yes, we all took math and we can all add and subtract in our heads but at midnight why would you want to? And you will be up at midnight or later if you really get into it.
  4. FILE FOLDERS: There will be copies, printouts, and faxed pages as you go along and keeping them organized is important. You don't want to be looking for grandpa Peterson and find that you have put all your information on him in the file for grandma Thomas. You'll end up starting all over when you already have everything you need. This will drive you crazy and almost get you to stop.
  5. LAPTOP: Okay this one is a luxury but if you can manage then I would recommend it. If you start going out of town and to libraries to research the last thing you are going to want is to be waiting to use their computers if you don't have to. Not to mention that there are a number of softwares out there that will help with you put together your family tree and you might want to have that close by. It isn't a necessity but it will help.

There are other odds and ends but those are the ones that I fully recommend. Like I said they are simple but very important and like my camera; I wouldn't leave home without them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Just The Facts Ma'am

We have all watched a cop show at one point in our lives. If you haven't then what planet have you been living on? Just kidding. My point is that we all know about how they bring them in and sit them in the chair. They make small talk to get them comfortable or no talk at all to freak them out. They start off with the easy questions before they drop the bombshells on them and try to get the confession or the evidence that they need. Well, preparing to interview a relative is something similar.

See every family has someone who loves to talk. In my family that would be me :). But I'm not the only one. There are some people in my family that if you walked in and asked "Tell me about you parents?" you would get two hours worth of stories and nothing that helps your cause. They would tell you about their parents marriage and family trips and moms temper and dad's love of fishing. They would share about anniversaries and conversations and you would leave knowing them better as a person but with no real facts to follow up on. That is why you have to go in with a plan.

You have to know what you want to get out of them. You might be able to get the whole confession out of them or just evidence to lead you to the real culprit. What I mean by that is that this person might not be the one with the most family secrets but they might know who to ask without knowing it. However, if you just go in with simple open ended questions then you will never know.

There are dozens of websites out there that have list of questions that are good for interviewing relatives and I would recommend them all. They all have questions that overlap and those that are different but at the end of the day they all have questions that can help you. You more or less won't use ever question. Pick and choose which ones will work the best for you and what you want to figure out. I recommend questions about maiden names, full names, places of birth, anything with a date, children's names, and any moves to different states. Those will be life savers once your really get started.

You also what to make sure you have enough time to get all the information. Don't go when you have to pick up your kids in half an hour or when your on your lunch break. Conduct your interviews when you have time to spare. A Saturday when the kids are gone with friends or away at camp. Your day off when everyone else is busy. And please learn from my mistake. Holidays and family get togethers are not the best place either. With holidays everyone has their minds elsewhere. They are thinking about the food and gifts and enjoying the party or even football. They can't give you the focus that you will need. And with family get togethers it's to much. You know that saying "to many cooks spoil the meal"? Same thing. One person will start to answer your question and then someone else will jump in with their version of it and by the end you have one relative with six birth years and four different names. It's better to speak to each person individually that way even if you still end up with multiple information you know that it wasn't because they all thought they knew better but because that is what they were all told.

Interviewing can be tricky and there really is no right or wrong to it. When it is all said and done it is just about getting the information you need. If you accomplished that then you are way ahead of the game.

Friday, March 5, 2010


When you decide to drive to a city or state that you have never been what is the first thing you do? Besides google :). You pull out a map. You figure out the best route to take and how long it might take you. You look for detours and construction and then you set off for the journey ahead. Well I've come to realize that genealogy is sort of exactly like that. You have to have a road map and that road map is you.

You are the key. You know where your going in way and you know the pitstops. Think about it for a minute. You know if there might be something a little unseemly in your families past and you actually know more then you might think. So that is where you start. Sit down and interview yourself. Ask yourself these simple questions.
  • How many relatives can I name?
  • Where where my parents born? Grandparents? Great-grandparents and so on?
  • What stories do I remember hearing?
  • What kind of information do I already have? ie. funeral programs, pictures, certificates
  • What information can I find? ie. court records, documents
  • If someone else asked me where to start or who to talk to first where woud I send them?

That last question might be the best one of the list. Most do as I did. They start with their parents because we assume they know but most of the time they know about as much as we do. When you really sit and think about it who knows the most? If I had started with my great grandmother who was alive when I was in college then I might have more names then I do now. She could have possibly told me her grandparents names and their parents and maybe even their parents. She might have remembered last names that are harder to find now or actual names instead of nicknames that had been passed down from generation to generation. There was a fount of knowledge at my fingertips and I didn't take advantage of it. Sure I asked her a few questions but nothing like I would ask her if given the chance again.

So set out with a good roadmap and then move on to the next step. Talk to those you can while you can. For they are your window to the past.

Monday, March 1, 2010

And So It Begins

Someone said that to know where one is going you must know where you've been. Growing up I didn't understand that. Actually in all truth I didn't always understand it as an adult either, but then something happened that changed the course of my understanding. I was assigned a project during college right before Thanksgiving. I was to make a family tree. Simple enough, right? So I thought and so I was wrong. You would think that with parents and grandparents it would be easy to come home ask a few questions and write out who beget whom. And it probably should have been with the exception of the fact that they only knew of their grandparents and vague stories about their grandparents parents. There was no family bible with generations listed easily as reference, no stories of past generations to guide my story. There was nothing but tossed out names and unsure dates and comments of "let me know what you find out". I was surprised but more so saddened at the lost of history my family had. I must admit that this wasn't as a defining moment as it could have been. At eighteen I probably had more tenacity for uncovering the past then I do now. But what I lack in fortitude I find that I must now make up for in patience which honestly has never been my strong suite.

However, this moment did impact those around me. My dad took up the cause as well as one of my older cousins. They dug into the history of where we came from with gusto and a few months later put down their shovels with just as much energy. It was tedious work and with jobs and kids and life continuing to move researching our families roots became a weekend project that always got pushed to the side. They continued sporatically but not with any kind of purpose or map. When they thought to ask questions they did and when they passed a website that promised information they looked but nothing was really getting documented. Then one day not many years ago they decided to pull out their weekend project and make it a priority. They went to meetings and listened to ideas and even took a trip or two but still it was so going and I would listen with half an ear and contribute when I saw a chance.

Then I lost a family member. I wasn't as close to them as I should have been but it woke me up to what I was missing. As I stood there with my two female cousins and my one aunt we realized that between the four of us we were the only females left from my mother's side of the family. My mom, grandmother, and great grandmother had all passed on and we were it. Though our ages ranged from mid fifties to late twenties this was the end of a line. Sure I have male cousins to carry on the family line but as for women, the barrers and remembers of history, we were all that stood and we knew next to nothing.

I was sad that I when I had recieved my project in college I hadn't taken it as seriously as I should. Then I had other relatives that might have known more or at the very least had additional names to fuel my search but I had waited and I was fortunate that it wasn't to late. I started looking at my father's papers and realized that although he had looked into my mother's side most of his journey was on his side of the tree. This left branches full of information and no one pulling the fruit. I took it upon myself to begin again. I found my old tree that had as much information as I had tried to gather, barely three generations, and set out to begin again.

It had been almost a year and I can't say that I have gone all that much further than when I started and I began to think that maybe that had to do with not having a map; an idea if you will. So I decided that since everyone has a blog out in cyberland about every topic know to man I would start one too. This way I can keep myself on track and be able to look back at the progress I've made. I am also hoping that maybe through what I discover about researching genealogy I might just be able to help someone else.

We have to look back to understand and to know but mostly we have to look back to grow. That's my believe and my roadmap. I hope you will join me for the journey.