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 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.

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