Saturday, November 3, 2012

Discovering Our Roots

Ancient Gaelic Proverb

This post is going to be a little different than the previous ones.  Something I am very passionate about is genealogy.  I love discovering a part of who I am, where my family came from, how their lives crossed paths, and learning that I am not so different than my ancestors.  I love hearing stories about them.  I love the mystery.  And most of all, I love seeing my older relatives light up when talking about their childhood.  I could sit there all day and just absorb every word they say.

My very own
classic family photos
to come in this post!
I am pleased with my family.  My dad's side of the family has always kept great records of the family.  We can date back before my ancestors immigrated here.  My family even published a genealogical/historical book about my ancestors because they were so interesting.  One of my many great grandmothers was even written about in Jesse James's journal.  She treated runaways from war and crimes.  She had a talent for healing.  The deal was that they could stay in the barn until they healed, but then they had to leave.  She saved a lot of lives in that old barn out west.

My mother's side of the family have been known to save pictures, pass on photographs from the past, and even pass along many items from our ancestors down to younger generations.  My mom currently has a trunk FULL of cool stuff handed down to her by my grandmother.  Plus, many cousins, my aunt, and my mom have been very adamant about getting our genealogy.  It's been a real pleasure sharing with my family what we've all discovered.  Family reunions are all about sharing photographs of new ancestors we've discovered, sharing stories about our distant relatives we've found, and clarifying questions we all have about certain relatives.

Travis's side of the family has had some difficulty in tracing their family history.  Not going to lie, it's kind of like searching for a needle in a haystack.  Travis's grandmother was adopted, so it's not easy finding records of her mother and father.  Travis's grandfather on his father's side is getting older.  There are no other relatives his age still alive.  And when I talk to him about the family, he gets confused or lost in conversation sometimes.  Genealogy isn't always linear, so it's easy to get lost when talking.

My beautiful Greats.

Something I've always wanted to create are genealogical books about my family.  I want my children to know where they come from.  I'm proud of our ancestors.  And the more I learn about them, the more I wish I had known them because I grow to love them.  It's like falling in love with a character in a book, except this time, you know the character was once a living, breathing human being in this world in a another timeframe and that they are a part of you.

I haven't found the right albums yet to use.  I'm kind of picky because I want these suckers to last decades.  It'd be like scrapbooks that I can pass on to my children, they can pass on to their children, and so on.  I also thought about making a website for my family tree to help me keep track of information I find at the genealogical library, in microfilms, or from online forums.  That way, I can easily share this information with any of my family members.

My great-aunt Wanda with her brothers (my great-uncles).
I love this picture so much!
People tell me that's what is for - but to be honest, isn't 100% reliable.  People connect, share, and end up "barking up the wrong tree" as most genealogists would say.  Being a shared network is great because it opens up opportunities to connect with distance relatives and get more pictures and information about your ancestors than you would have ever gotten in books or research.  But there's a problem with this shared site.... People don't really know how to use it for appropriate genealogical research.  Say someone is looking for a man named Andrew Foster that was in the Civil War.  Can you guess how many men during that time were named Andrew Foster?  A LOT!  Just because you get a leaf about a person does not mean that is the person you are searching for.  PLUS, you get a lot of people writing LNU - meaning Last Name Unknown.  If you type that in for someone named Sylvia LNU - you are going to get a TON of Sylvia's that don't have a last name connected to them.  People get excited about that green leaf and accept every single thing listed for that person they think found for them - but then they find out that the person was married 4 times - once 10 years before they were born and another 3 years after they died; and they had 18 children, and 3 of those kids were born when the person was only 5 years old or not even born yet!  People don't always pay attention to those details, so it's easy to go "barking up the wrong tree" because it can be incredibly unorganized.  And I cannot tell you how many people I know are related to royalty through the King of France back in the 1400's and the woman that they stem from was his concubine.  I highly doubt that every person on is related to the EXACT same people.....  And the worst part is that this site isn't cheap - and there isn't anyone regulating genealogical research to help people find their true roots.  If you want that advice, you have to pay additional for it.  As someone that paid for the service, it really isn't that helpful.  They sell to you sometimes - trying to convince you to hire them to do the research for you.

The woman sitting down at the front right is Rebecca.
She is the Native American I was searching for.
My family found more information about her
through long distant cousins, older relatives,
a Native American chief and family friends
 than I ever found on
For example, I used this help option and paid for it because I wanted to find out more about my Native American great grandmother, Rebecca.  There is no information about her that I can find.  I was told by the "expert" that all Native American records are housed in Utah.  I had to go there to do research.  However, since I live in Indiana, I could just pay the expert so much money to do so many hours of research for me.  I think I'll save that money and head out to Utah myself where I can speak to genealogical experts there in person for free. isn't all that bad actually.  I found a long distant cousin that way.  However, don't believe everything you see.  Cross your T's and dot your i's.  Make sure it's the same person you are looking for.  The best way to get the right person is to work your way backwards.

Say you know the name of your grandfather's dad.  Start with his name and find out where the man is buried.  Grandpa more than likely knows!  You will get his birth date and death date from the headstone and if he was in the military forces, what type he was in.

Start with the death date and look for census records that co-orelate with your grandfather and the man you are searching for.  This will tell you where the man lived while your grandfather lived with him, who else lived with him and how old he was at the time of the census.

Here is the death certificate of my great-great grandmother Burzilla.
She is almost impossible to find because of her unique name.
Notice, her death certificate doesn't even provide her correct name.
Continue reading...

If you know his wife's name, which is probably on your grandfather's birth certificate, find the marriage certificate.

If there are any markings on the headstone for being in the military forces, find his military records.
My great-great-great grandpa "Andy" Foster was involved in the Civil War
but in a guerilla gang with the legendary Champ Ferguson.
Here is a copy of his military prison record.  He was a Confederate soldier.

Now that you have important documents to verify who it is you are searching for, search for a census record for every year the man was alive.  Start with the year he died and work your way backwards until he was born.  You will find his parents' names as well as his siblings, their ages, and where they lived.

The farther back you date your family, the harder it will be to find this information.  The headstone may not exist anymore.  If one does, you might not be able to read it (which is why you bring a paper and pencil to trace over the headstone).  If you still cannot read it, or no dates are listed on it, then you can resort to church records to find this information.  And don't forget, family friends are a resource!  We've met complete strangers that remembered our ancestors and told us stories and shared pictures of our own relatives.  It's amazing what family friends can provide about your own family.

Here is my great-great grandfather with his son (not my great grandfather).
This photo was given to me by this son's family line.

Another not-so-helpful tip - back in the day, not many people could read and write.  So names could possibly be spelled differently or entirely incorrect.  For example, my grandmother's name is Oleda.  It's spelled Oleta, Olida, and Oleda.  The one with the d is actually correct, but I research all spellings.  Another example is my great-great grandmother - whose headstone reads "Sylvia."  However, her name was Zilpha.  My family didn't have the money to change her headstone with the correct name.  With a deep southern accent, Zilpha sounded like Sylvia - and her nickname Zilph sounded like Jeff.  Totally confusing - but always be open to unique spellings of names and talk to family and friends about these individuals to find the correct names.  Remember, family knows best.  In the case of remembering those who have passed - your family will know who you should be researching.
Here is a great picture that my great-aunt Wanda gave to my mother
who then passed on a copy to me.  This is one of my favorite pictures
of my great-aunt Juanita with her husband, my great-uncle Keith
from when they were my age currently.
It's time consuming, but you will know first hand that the people you are tracing are your own flesh and blood.  Not someone who happens to have the same name....

If anyone has any questions about researching genealogy, feel free to ask me.  I love it - and I'll love to help in any way I can.  I don't know everything about genealogical research, but I know who to ask and where to go to help find that information.

For my birthday, people bought me gifts that would contribute to my genealogical albums.  I cannot tell you how excited I am.  It's going to take some time because I have about 1000 or more photographs to scan to put into these albums.  Then I have to organize all of my information into a legible book/scrapbook/documentation about each individual with photographs.  It's not going to be easy - but it will be so much fun!  I can't wait to get crackin'.

P.S.  If someone shares with you a professional picture - you cannot get a copy made at CVS, Wal-Mart or any other photo lab.  They require documentation from the photographer saying it is ok for you to make copies of the picture.  I know, it's ridiculous when you have a professional picture from 1880, but it's the rules to prevent copyright and to protect photographers.  As my mother put it when they denied her access to copy photos, she asked, "What do you want me to do?  Go dig him up?"  Haha - sorry mom, it's the rules.  You'll have to scan those and print them out at home.

This photo of one of my greats could not be printed
through a photo lab without permission
from the original photographer.

I'll end this post there as I could go on forever talking about my family history.  I am so excited to start putting my "Family Volumes" together.  It's going to take a while before it will be "perfect" enough to share with all of you.  Please be patient with me.  EEKK!

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