Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Okay, So it's been a month

One of the more difficult things about blogging is trying to figure out just what to write about. For me, I'm kind of stuck. Work is starting to hit the busy season. (I work in retail.) The family tree needs some major pruning. (There are some pretty good errors that need attention.) Add the fact I hit a pretty good wall and that is where I am today.

I had hoped to add to this blog on a daily basis with my story and yours as the art of reconnecting and finding is a pure joy, but reality hits and that hasn't been possible. So, I will reconfigure and try to do something that advances our quest and is reasonable for me to do.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When should I shell out money? Part 2

Okay, you have made the investment in the software to keep track of where you are and bought access to a mega-database site that gives you more information than you can possibly handle at once. That's a good thing by the way. What do you do next?

In my case, I have to sift through the newly acquired information. First off, what is my goal in doing this research? How far back am I going and what can I reasonably expect to find? For me, my first goal is finding out who my 16 great-great grandparents are. It fills up a chart quite nicely, goes back about 125 years and surnames and census data are going to be easier to parse, and most of the research can be done from home. I know eight, the complete set from my mother's side. We know all 16 on my wife's side, even with her father's adoption. We can even add eight more to her side from tracing back her father's adoptive family.

In getting that core of sixteen, you are going to find lines that go back much further and others that dead end. Also, you can start to fill the blanks on the horde of cousins by filling in the blanks by going forward. Five generations have a lot of names, trust me.

What you have bought so far has helped a ton but, as with anything in life, when you answer a question, six more follow. The chances of hitting the wall, if you haven't already, increase the more branches you look into. I have two rather large walls myself. First, my relationship with my natural father's side of the family is strained. First hand information just is not coming from them. Second, the holes on my mother's side are from family that have left us.

The second hole is easier than the first as material from deceased loved ones becomes available online, census records, draft registration, graveyard locations. In my first hole, these people are still alive and are protected by privacy laws. (A good thing.) This is when you need to consider making the nickel and dime purchases.

A typical purchase would be an obituary. With the internet age fully in hand, most newspapers have some sort of archive online. I will use my Aunt Nancy Stoughton as an example, a great aunt by marriage on my mother's side. Her health had not been good for the last few years, but we had not heard whether she was still with us or not. Sadly for us, and hopefully happily for her as she had Alzheimer's, she passed away a couple of years ago. A search on the Social Security Death Index spotted her. (Remember, that is a free and public database. You can search it at Rootsweb.org) I got the death date, place of last known paymet, and not much else. My uncle had died back in 2000 and his obituary is nowhere to be found. (If you are reading from CT and have an obit for Ted Stoughton of Woodbury from October 2000, I would be eternally grateful.) My memory blanked on her maiden name and really one should never just be listed as their first name in a family tree, not even Pele or Madonna.

Her obituary was available in her hometown newspaper, the Waterbury Republican-American, for a small fee. Here was my chance to grab some vital information on her past and at least some names on cousins seldom seen. I forked over the $2.95 for the article and got a lousy paragraph instead. Normally, it would be easier to just buy a drink at the pub and forget it, but the one piece of information that I found made what seemed like a rotten deal on my end into a steal, her maiden name.

When I plugged her full maiden name into Ancestry, it found matches and within a few minutes had found six of her sixteen great-great grandparents. Pretty cool, huh. In this case, spending the extra money was worth it. I had a specific question that could be answered and from there, it was up to me to do the leg work to fill in the blanks. I am sure that everyone will have this question many times to be answered as you do your own quest.

There are many, many, places on the web where you can find free information. Cyndi's List is the best place to start, even this blog is listed there. When you start to put some branches on the tree, write down your questions and when they are answered to your satisfaction write down the new questions that come up. If you can answer those specific questions based on the volunter efforts of others, such as burial locations or indexed vital records, then great. If you are faced with having to pay for specific information, think of how many potential litle holes you can fill. There is no perfect answer to that, but any piece of the puzzle that can be filled is another step forward.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When should you shell out money? Part 1

One of the first things you realize when you seriously start to sit down and trace out your tree is that it comes with an actual cost. It can vary from the cost of using the copier or microfilm printer at the library to flying out to Salt Lake City, the mecca of American Genealogy, or overseas to hit the archives in the old countries. What should you spend your money on?

While the blog title says master, I am really not. I thought that I would share some of the places that do get my money on a regular basis. The first place that gets money is in the purchase of genealogy software. It is essential that you have researched organized somewhere that does not look like a scratchpad used to figure out tax rates. While a notepad or a word processor works fine for awhile, the amount of information you will have will make it very hard to organize unless you are a database wizard and can design one yourself.

I use Legacy 7. It was free to try and cost $29.95 to get all the features unlocked such as report making and search help. The other big player in the software market is Family Tree Maker. FTM is done by the folks at Ancestry. It is something that I have used and did like, but the fact you could get Legacy as a download was important to me and what I was doing. It is a very good program, as is Family Tree Maker for that matter, and works great for editing your research and making reports.

The other routine purchase I make is my subscription to Ancestry.com. Since I started using my monthly subscription to the site, I have grown my tree by 500 names, from 700+ to over 1200. I have also ran into others that are working the same lines on their trees as me. Ancestry is not the "be all and end all site" as you really need to make your own judgments on what you find and how it fits in what you are looking for, but the sheer tonnage of data on the site will save you an incredible amount of time and you will be amazed by what you find. It is well worth every penny.

We'll get into the nickel and diming part next time.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How I Started

My quest to find out my family history started with my then-fiance. Her father was adopted. He knew his birth name and his birth date and that was about it. His adoptive parents were rather quiet about the whole thing and the state had protected the name of the natural parents on the birth certificate.

My soon to be Mother-in-Law and Grandmother-in-Law had very good records of my wife's ancestors on her mother's side and on her adopted families side, but the rut had been long established and the needed break was not there.

We live in Vermont and in fact at the time we lived in Montpelier, the state capitol. Every town in the state publishes a town report on an annual basis. We do something called town meetings every March. For the smaller towns, the community gets together and discusses whether the school budget should be passed or whether the town needs a new road grader or donate money to the public library. They are quaint, efficient, and fun. For those of us in larger towns and cities, we just vote on issues like we do in November. Anyway, these town reports, besides having budget information and a list of teacher salaries, also publish birth, death, and marriage certificates filed in the town for the previous year.

A trip to the State Law Library revealed a huge archive of these town reports. We talked about it and decided to see if we could find anything. We looked in the 1953 Annual Report for Randolph, home of the hospital for the county, and by luck found him AND his birth parents on the first try. We had two names and like a good jigsaw puzzle, once we had the right piece we could connect a whole bunch more.

This story has a bittersweet turn. There was relief and excitement that my Father-in-Law's story ha been uncovered, but there would be no happy reunion. Sometime soon, I will tell you about how I found out about Rootsweb and how further digging would bring up a rather unhappy story.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's New? 8/27/2008

Here is what the Google Crawler thought you would like to know for the day:

The excellent Jewish genealogy blog, Tracing the Tribe, has posted that there will be an internet workshop in Montreal on September 9th at 7 at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors. A link is there with more information.

A hat tip to Tracing the Tribe is also in order for this announcement from the Olive Tree Genealogy. They report that the Canadian Ships Passenger Lists from 1865 to 1935 will be available and fully indexed on the popular Ancestry.com website. (Subscription required.) This list contains nearly 5.5 million names that entered the country during those seventy years. This looks lie a must for anyone that has lines that emigrated to Canada. I will check to see if this will be covered by those of us who just have access to the American records as the full package is $29.95 a month.

Elyse from Elyse's Genealogy Blog has a great story on why she does what she does. (It becomes habit forming.)

Midwestern Microhistory has a good piece today on land records. At some point, that information becomes vital to establish just where we came from. It also looks like a pretty good read if you have ties to the industrial Midwest.

If your lines go back to Colonial England or Ireland then you might be interested in the newly published or republished Calendar of marriage licenses issued by the Faculty Office, 1632-1714, now available through Ancestry.co.uk. (H/T from Lineages.co.uk)

Anything you want to see posted here, drop a note at sgsvtbub AT gmail.com and I'll post them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where Do I Begin?

From time to time, I'm going to post some beginning how-to tips. Since this is a new blog, I thought that the first tip should be a real basic one as well.

Step 1: Find a quiet place to write or type

A notebook or a word processor is great place to start. Genealogy is all about discovery and the best place to start is with yourself. Write down what you know. Where were you born and when? Ask yourself the same question about your parents and then any siblings you might have. If you know that information about your grandparents, add that as well then stop. Chances are that if you go any further, you are going to be guessing on information that you need.

Step 2: What to write down

Chances are that at some point, you will be sharing what you know with someone else looking for the same information. It is important from the start that you write this information down the right way. Here is a brief list of how to do that:

-The full name, first middle last, ladies maiden name when you can
-Date of birth and place of birth. (Formal trees list place of birth as town, county, and state such as Flushing, Queens, New York)
-Date of death and place of death and burial place. (Cemetery name is important)(If needed)
-Date and place of marriage. (Church name is important)(If needed)
-Date and place of baptism. (If needed)

Only write what you know for sure. Don't guess. Others can help you fill holes. If you do yourself, a souse, your kids, your siblings, your parents, and your grandparents, that is a minimum of eight people right there and the bedrock of the many people you will add in time.

Step 3: Show your work

After writing down what you know, show those you can on your list what you have. You are going to know your exact information and they are going to know their exact information and add to what you may be lacking, like where your Grandpa Ernie is buried or that your Grandma Jane's real first name is Edith (true story). The more facts you gather, the stronger your framework will be.

Everything you do from here on out is basically what you just did. It may seem like dry stats and figures about people, but in weaving the information together it turns into a living tapestry of where you come from. It gets exciting very soon.
-Date and place of


No, I'm not really a genealogy master, I just pretend I am.

If you ever have tried to search for where you came from, you have learned that the search of who you are has enough twists and turns to give Stephen King nightmares. Assembling your tree is a lifelong project. There is no definitive final answer on how it will come out. You will find out things that will just make you want to curl up in a fetal position and take a long nap. You will find a treasure trove of research that someone has taken hours upon hours to do, and realize it is seriously messed up. (How many nine year old kids do you know that have been married twice?)

Jigsaw puzzles are at least finite in the amount of pieces that they contain. Family trees are never-ending struggles to assemble and figure out how they go. Had relatives that were adopted or a parent that remarried and had more kids? You get more trunks and branches in your tree than a rainforest in the Amazon. That's before you find Uncle Leo's six bastard kids, not the cousins that ate all the white meat at Thanksgiving either, but illegitimate kids.

The internet has helped bring family history to the masses as databases, libraries, newspaper archives, and people can now come together and provide an endless supply of data to pick and choose from to find out were your mother's great-great grandfather went to school. The internet has connected people looking to do common research connect. The internet has also presented more questions than can ever be asked.

If the concept of finding your long lost cousin, Imelda Marcos, and how she and her 60,000 shoes are related to your Aunt Minnie with the 16 cats doesn't excite you, then perhaps this blog isn't for you. However, if you are stuck, and we are all stuck on some part of the tree, then this is worth your while to pass over, er, read once in a while. I've been working on my "tree", more like a giant bush, for the last decade on and off. I have enough unanswered questions to fill a few volumes of your favorite magazine and enough money spent in subscriptions that could buy some serious liquor that would drown out the volumes of unanswered questions. This is not a hobby, it's a lifelong inquisition.

Seriously, what you learn while doing the research and assembling the parts, or fining new research that demands you reassemble the parts, is extremely rewarding. You will learn a lot. Not only about yourself, but how we all fit in to the world we live in and where we came from. We all have a unique story waiting to be told. It certainly is not a best seller, unless you are able to decode George Clooney or Madonna's life history, but you will find it engrossing, rewarding, and very entertaining.

I'm not a master, but get better every day. By sharing what I know and use may not make what you do easier, but you will realize that your not alone.