A Serendipitous Journey!

My entry into the realm of genealogy / family history research started many years ago with two very determined purposes. I wanted to learn about my dad's family and I wanted to learn about my maternal Grandma's family. Both were going to be the dickens to trace and even as a newbie I knew I had my work cut out for me! It's been a long journey - a prosperous one - full of many miracles I like to say arise from serendipity. I hope you'll enjoy my musings and meanderings.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Working in the Dark Ages

Sometimes I forget what research was like waaaaaaay back in the beginning.  There was a time of no computers except the one you could occasionally get your hands on at a library.  When I started doing research I didn't know how to use a computer and the most confounding thing in the world was the mouse!  I literally couldn't figure out how to use a mouse and there were times when people would show me (very quickly) how to use one and then leave the room.  There I'd be sitting alone trying to push the middle button and evenutally breaking down into tears.  

In those days there was genealogical information on CDs.  Most people couldn't afford to have a whole set of those CDs.  They were lucky if they had any libraries in the area that had bought the CDs and made them accessible to their patrons.  There were also the LDS research sites.  The LDS deserve much credit for all they've done over the years to attain and provide genealogical data.  Back then there were a lot of family trees available on those CDs that was very often inaccurate.  People had to provide family trees to the LDS and they often didn't care to get the facts straight.  Those were days of nightmares.  People would find what they thought were legitimate connections and everyone it seemed connected back to some kind of royalty way back in the days of yore.  I'm guilty.  I printed out endless pages of my supposed ancestry.  I get very embarrassed when I think back to those days but I know I wasn't the first or the last to make that mistake.  

I lived in a perfect area for doing early research - Virginia.  Many, many families came into America through Virginia.  I would go through every library I could get to in a driving area and one by one I'd go through books and look to see if any of my surnames were covered.  I did make some discoveries but mostly I wasted my time.  I wasn't going about it the right way.  I was trying to get the end product and quickly.  I had a lot of family pressure on me as well because some in the family wanted to claim membership in Native American tribes and they would hound me to death to try to find a way.

Only when I shut out the voices of the family and the desire to get to the end before working from the beginning did I begin to make progress.  I learned that the best way is to start with what you know and work back from there one step at a time.  

Other things that are helpful when beginning are genealogical societies - where you are and in the areas you're researching.  You can often find helpful genealogists who will do research for you for a nominal fee.  They can check old newspapers, court records, cemetery records and much more.  I owe a great deal to those wonderful researchers!

One thing many people did back in those days was to write to anyone with the same surname in the area they were researching.  There was always a chance of making a connection - and many did.  I didn't utilize that approach because at that time I didn't know what surnames I needed to research.  I would have been absolutely thrilled to have had family to turn to at that time - the kind of family who knew the answers I didn't know.  I can't imagine myself EVER turning away from any family who could provide information.  

The world has changed a lot since I started doing family history research.  People have gotten spoiled by being able to get on the internet and find a lot of info just waiting there for them.  Many take what they find and run and never give back.  It always shocks me to come into contact with actual family members and know that I have information that would help them and they flat don't even want contact.  They don't know what they're throwing away when they do that.  Just because they found a bit on the internet it doesn't mean they should put themselves on a pedastal and look down on anyone else doing research.  Think of all they miss........

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Branching Out

Branching out on my genealogy journey was like everyone else's.  You realize where the graphs come from that you've seen drawing out other people's family trees.  One name quickly turns into three.  One path quickly turns into three.  You have the original person plus the parents and now you're off and chasing new clues down new lines.  You're branching out!  Personally I felt quite scholarly!  (And very, very lucky!) 

It's important to document sources and to keep these people organized in some fashion.  This is your foundation.  Everything on this line starts from here and builds on the initial information.  

I researched how to obtain birth certificates for the three people I was now following.  I got my dad's from Idaho.  I got a great genealogy society to help me for a nominal fee in Montana and they sent me not only my grandmother's birth certificate but all of her siblings as well!  I've truly been blessed on this journey!  

Next major brick wall - how to get a birth certificate from Ireland???  Wow!  I was already stumped!  I didn't have a birth place other than Ireland.  Hmmmm.....

I read tips from other genealogists and found out that I could obtain Social Security Administration Applications.  I got my dad's and his dad's.  That was pretty awesome!  I got to see my dad's handwriting for the first time!  He was 16.  Funny what something as simple as handwriting can do to move your heart!  On my grandpa's (he had now become my grandpa lol) he listed his birth place as Belfast.  Eureka!  A home town!  Maybe I could do something with that!  I researched and found out about a company that would obtain an Irish birth certificate for a fee (a little more than I had hoped to spend but I needed it). 

They came back to me with the news that they couldn't find it.  I was desperate and determined and a stubborn fight came into me that just wouldn't let go.  I made my case and I made some threats.  They looked more - using the date not the place - and they found it!  He hadn't been born in Belfast!  I may never know why he said he was but at last the mystery was solved!  He had been born in a little town in County Down, Northern Ireland.  County Down?!  I'd heard of County Down!  Who hasn't heard that sweet little ditty about the "Star of the County Down"?  I was doing cartwheels (figuratively speaking of course).  When I received it and held it in my hands I thought it was the greatest document ever!  

Birth certificates are sooooo important!  Sometimes death certificates don't have the information you're looking for because they're filled in by people who just didn't know what to put in the blank spaces.  How often genealogists get death certificates that say "Don't Know", "Don't Know" all down the page.  It's very frustrating!  Birth certificates on the other hand are primarily done at the time of the birth by people who definitely know the correct information.  Parents of the child are listed as well as their ages and occupations.  My three people became seven!  I had my dad, his parents and each of their parents!  My tree was growing!  I love when trees branch out!