Thursday, May 31, 2012

The parts that have been difficult...

While the 'Show Me' state welcomed me into the genealogical journey with open arms, the 'Empire State' has proven to be a different adventure in exploration. Over the last 2 years while I have been consistently working on building my tree I have contemplated why this might be.

New York does provide access to old records including birth, marriage, and death certificates through the NYC Vital Records at the Municipal Archives (within the five boroughs) and the NY Department of Health (for the rest of the state). These records are not free, but the forms and process are well explained, and I look forward to trying this service in the near future.

I just know that a few vital pieces of information are buried away in these archives just waiting for me to find them...

Based on my own family structure I have come to the conclusion that how successful research is depends on a couple of factors.

1. How far back your line goes before you meet up with your immigrant ancestor (in my case, tracing things back to the person who entered North America/United States the earliest).

  • If I am the tree trunk and my parents are two branches above me, each side is a vastly different length. As I mentioned previously one side goes back 8, 9, 10 generations to the days before the American Revolution and the other goes back 2 and 3 generations to the time just before the Civil War.
  • The Mingus Family Web site provides a wonderful formula to determine how many ancestors you have in each generation. Using the formula 2^10 tells me that if you go back 10 generations you have a possible 1024 ancestors! Along this same line, going back 3 generations (2^3) gives me a possible 8 ancestors.
  • I have definitely not been successful in researching each of the 1024 possible people on my 'long branch side', but there are so many possibilities that it feels much more successful than having a total of 8 to start with like I do on the 'short branch side'.
2. How many other people who share your ancestors are doing genealogy.
  • Just based on numbers alone it is far more likely that other people on my 'long branch side' will be creating trees and swapping information. I have learned so many things and received so many tips from participating on message boards and emailing 'cousins' to share stories.
  • On ancestry's website there is a feature that links you up with other members who are researching the same individuals and invites you to examine their public trees. On my 'short branch side' I have hit a lot of walls. In the 2-3 generations that exist I have been able to find exactly zero other people researching my specific ancestors! I seem to have a monopoly on this section of the tree.
3. Luck!
  • I was so fortunate that the wife of a distant cousin researched her husband's family tree and complied a very detailed packet of information that made its way into my grandparent's hands. She included names, dates, pictures, addresses, and stories. Her research filled in a huge section of my own tree that I never would have figured out. Sadly I never got to meet her, but her hard work lives on!
A funeral card stored in my grandparents' belongings.

The parts that have been easy...

Missouri. The Show Me state!

A good bit of my family tree links to this portion of the nation...and fortunately Missouri really is the 'Show Me' state when it comes to genealogy records.

Missouri marriage records from 1805-2002 are available online to ancestry members. Marriage records are especially helpful in tracking down female family members because they give you a clear, documented source of the transition between maiden and married last names.

Another neat, though significantly less joyful, way that Missouri makes tracing family roots easy is the availability of death records as part of the Missouri Digital Heritage collection. With a minimal amount of searching you can get scanned copies of original death certificates for people (at least 50 years old) who died between 1910 and 1961. These are available online to anyone and can provide details about parents' names, occupation, address, illnesses, and accidents, among other things.

For me personally the resource that officially launched my genealogy hobby was the Green Hills Pioneers website! This vast collection focuses on three counties - Caldwell, Daviess, and Livingston in north-western Missouri. This was apparently THE place to be if you were related to me and alive in the 1800s.

Today my tree contains 1325 people and 1982 records.

When branches get tangled

I think one of the biggest challenges in doing genealogy research is keeping things organized.

I started out throwing fact after fact at my tree and things just stuck where ever they landed. That was when I started making mistakes. Branches growing up, branches growing down, branches growing inside out...stuff was everywhere!

I ended up with quite the stack of hand written notes and diagrams. Sometimes there is no substitute for taking a pencil and getting all of the thoughts onto a piece of paper. This is still my go to method when family relationships get confusing.

(that super far removed cousin who married one woman and then as a widower married his first wife's cousin...and they both had the same name? That got messy).

My newest tactic that I started about a month ago is to keep a word processing document open next to the window I am using for research. I make continual notes about everything I update. 

"Added 1860 census to John Smith"

"This census told me about 15 children I didn't realize John Smith had"It doesn't take that much longer to type out these little notes and it saves me valuable time when I need unravel a mystery...and the mistakes...that are bound to happen.It's also interesting to scroll back through and see what direction my research went in. Genealogy is full of tangents for me!

---Today my tree contains 1325 people and 1982 records.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How this 20-something developed an interest in genealogy

This may not be a newsflash to anyone else, but genealogy doesn't appear to be something many people my age are interested in. 

One of my grandmothers purchased Family Tree Maker - the first ever edition - when I was  a child. My googling leads me to believe this was around 1995. I would sit next to her while she typed names and dates...names and dates on an ancient computer. She would tell me elaborate stories about these people I had never met. It took a while, but I eventually began to feel like I did know these far away relatives and their stories.

In 8th grade I was given the assignment to ask my oldest available family member some genealogy questions. I interviewed my grandparents, ages 85 and 90, and recorded some wonderful stories about being a child during the early 1900s. I wish I could find that folder.

In 2007 I made a big move and set off for New York City. A new city to me...but not a new city to my genes. I joined in 2008 but did not purchase a membership right away. I spent hours and hours searching haphazardly for anything I could get my hands on. Surprisingly I was able to piece together a nice framework on which to build my tree.

It was quickly apparent that the branches on each side of my tree were going to look very different. One side reaching back to America before its Revolution and the other to a divided America at Civil War with itself.

My 7th great grandparents.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The beginning

I embarked down the genealogy trail in 2008 after discovering some old photos and papers my grandparents kept tucked away in a chest that had ended up in my attic (it pays to hold on to things other people would throw away!). 

My interest was piqued and I searched the internet for clues to the stories behind these objects - dates, shopping lists, unknown addresses, and streets I didn't recognize.

Over the last four years I have uncovered secrets and weaved together stories that are so unbelievable that they just have to be true.

Myself; and a whole new view of who I "am".

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott