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Category: History

Creating a Good Home Workspace

Posted in History

I love to do genealogical research and have created a home office for such a purpose along with all the other online projects I undertake. I like privacy and quiet while I work and great natural lighting. When I work during the day, the bright sun shines through the window and stimulates my mind. At night I have a floor lamp near my computer station and there is also an overhead fixture with a dimmer if that isn’t enough. I had given great thought to what I needed and where it was to go. The printer needed da stand and I desired shelves for storage. My desk has drawers for software and odds and ends. I have a container filled with pens and pencils so they are always within reach. What lacks is a touch of luxury. If I want something to eat or drink, I have to get up and go to the kitchen and raid the fridge.

So I decided to refashion my home office and make the workspace more comfortable. One of the big requirements was having the printer within closer reach. All the mistakes I made with the first workspace were going to be corrected. A big plus was to add a beer fridge so a cool brew would be readily on hand when I needed it. When you are deep into research, it is wonderful to sit back, take a break, and relax. The fridge was an inspiration I got from visiting the man cave of a friend. We were watching football and all of a sudden I had a beer in my hand. Now that is luxury and this is what my room needed. You don’t even have to have guests to merit a beer fridge. It can be just for you. Why not make life a bit more comfortable and enjoyable, especially when you are active doing something you are accustomed to doing.

The beer fridge is not huge and it fits nicely in a corner of the closet where I had cleared out some space by moving some storage boxes to the garage. It holds plenty of beer so I don’t often refill it. How many people have such an item in their home office? I venture to guess not too many. Now I am ready to say that my remodeling project is complete. I have everything I want. I reconfigured the location of the computer and printer and made storage items on the shelves above easier to reach. It is a room of convenience and functionality. Now I can go back to my genealogy and find out more interesting facts about my family’s history. They all love the information and gobble up every detail and photo I find. I am compiling the history so it is in a form easy for people to consume. It is my number one favorite pastime and no doubt will remain as such for some time. Once I got started, I was hooked.

When You Hit a Dead End

Posted in History

When You Hit a Dead End

Unfortunately, many family history searches hit a dead end or two.  This is especially common when families moved overseas, or when you are tracing a maternal line somewhere and she got married and changed names. When this happens, don’t despair. You have a few options.

You can do what I tend to do: leave it and go to another branch of the tree if you have other avenues to explore. Sometimes by tracing a sibling, you can surreptitiously find the information you were missing. More than once I have found the married name of a daughter or sister through an obituary, or the occasional cemetery plot location—people do tend to want to be buried near loved ones.

You can look in places people typically don’t: prison records. Military enlistment or pension records. Newspaper articles, especially marriage, death, or birth announcements. Society pages. Archive Finder. Anything might supply a clue. If you have access to personal effects, look in attics and trunks. Check things like bibles. Read old letters and look up any names or addresses you locate. Even if you feel like you are grasping at straws, there is the potential for it to lead you in the right direction.

Try alternate spellings, especially the further back you go. Some things were taken by dictation, and the way I spell Moseley may not necessarily be the way the census taker wrote it down when he visited my U.S. cousins and wrote it down back in 1930, making it seem as if they didn’t exist. Keep an eye out for these idiosyncrasies, especially if your name doesn’t sound the way it is spelled, or if you suspect relatives went through Ellis Island. Or, as terrible as this sounds, if your last name sounds very generic—Smith, or White, or something like that, it is possible that it was changed from a more “ethnic” sounding name during a war or for other reasons.

Some people do DNA testing to give them more of an idea on where to look when nationality might be a question. It can help, but remember that it is only as good as the DNA database the company has (in other words, if you are part Cherokee Indian and they do not have any identified Cherokee Indian on record, then they won’t know that is part of your genetic makeup). So do your homework on the company and don’t just go with the cheapest option or the one with the fastest turnaround time.

If you have the money and the time, travel to the place your trail ends. There might be information locally that you can get access to, whether it be talking to actual living relatives in the location, or maybe a church or library who does not have their town newspapers online accessible. If this isn’t feasible for you, at least call the local branch library. They might be willing to do some of the digging for you.

When you’re really stuck, you can hire a professional genealogist. They usually have specialties, and may have better contacts to access the type of records you will need to fill in those missing pieces.

Good luck, and I hope this helps!

Interesting Discovery Today!

Posted in History

A genealogical gold mine can sometimes be found in old family effects. I’ve gone through many of my family’s old belongings now in the hands of various cousins, but my mother has been resisting me a little. I have been begging her to go through my grandfather’s things. They are all up in the attic of her home and have at least six years’ worth of dust covering them.I know that his death was hard on my mom, and I totally understand and respect that. She would rather not touch his stuff, which I also understand. I’ve offered to do it instead, but she claims that she wants to do it so she can part with whatever she doesn’t want anymore. She keeps telling me that she will head up there to check everything out and then gets sidetracked with whatever else is going on. But she finally went up today and called me immediately.She found my great-grandmother’s bible, hidden inside a folded tablecloth in a chest of my grandfather’s stuff. This bible is something various family members have been searching for going back a while now, so it was nice to finally have it in our sights again.

My great-grandmother hada few obituaries pressed in between the first few pages of the bible. Luckily, she had saved one about an aunt whom I had not been able to locate. It turned out that everything had been stacked against me: apparently she had gotten married and moved. To my complete delight, my mother said she had also written down a family tree that went back four generations (and ahead all the way to my mother, it would seem). I was able to confirm some guesses thanks to the dates she had written down, and eliminate one or two suspected relatives who no longer fit the criteria. My mom promised to send some pictures because she knows how much I love to see research materials written in the person’s own handwriting—there’s something about it that just makes family history come alive for me, especially when I did not have the opportunity to meet the person in question. I feel like you can learn a lot about someone based on their writing, through their penmanship, word choice, and what they chose to write about and/or save.

But there was something else tucked into the pages of that bible. My great-grandfather’s proposal! It seems he sent her a telegraph while travelling back from the war that read, “Coming home. Buy a dress and I’ll meet you at the church.” My mom was quick to broadcast that story around to members of the family, and everyone thought it was both pretty typical of my not-very-subtle great grandfather and very plausible because it seems to correspond to family “legends” as well.

This was a surprising and interesting piece of information. I’m going to make a digital copy of the telegram the next time I am at mom’s house so that it can be preserved for future generations.

Online Resources to Try

Posted in History

If you want to do some research into your family history, the internet has become a powerful tool to help you. It cuts down on countless hours of legwork and untold savings in travel expenses. Some websites charge a membership fee and others don’t. Some libraries subscribe to these databases so you can use their machines to look up information and print out whatever you find, which may mitigate any costs involved. You have to do your homework and see what options you have.

As for the subscription sites, they compile everything quite nicely into one search engine. They are fairly easy to use and there are some options with the price point. Some come with a trial membership. So if you have two weeks and want to work out as much research as possible in that time, as long as you make your own copies of everything you find, you might get away with not having to pay. Ancestry.com might be the only way to access many of the UK census records, so keep that in mind. Most, however, will let you create a family tree that will help you link to the work of others as well as allow potential relatives to contact you for an information exchange. Some good options are:

https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk

http://www.ancestry.co.uk

http://www.findmypast.co.uk/

You may be able to find copies of some documents online for free, but it does depend on what you’re looking for and how old it is. The National Archives website has some searchable information about military service, wills, and naturalization information. They also have a lot of government documents. Some of these things are available online and others you would have to go to the building in Kew to see. If you can’t get it off their website, they do have many research guides online that can give you some pointers on what to look for and where you might be able to access it. Many charity sites are transcribing old information and it is a long, tedious, and ongoing process with the potential for transcription errors. But if you are lacking in funds and can’t travel to every parish in question, it is a worthwhile option to investigate. Some good sites:

http://www.freebmd.org.uk is an ongoing birth, marriage, and death certificate index project. They often have scans of the documents they used to base the transcription on, so you can confirm the information or correct it if necessary. You will be able to locate the index number of the certificate you are looking for, which you can then order through the General Register Office.

http://searcharchives.bl.uk has an impressive list of documents, as well as the GRO index. If you have relatives who went to India, this is a good place to start.

The Ministry of Defence website has forms available for download if you are trying to locate old military records from 1920 onward; they will give you only some information when you do not have permission or are not a direct next of kin if it has been less than 25 years; they are a little more free with the information the older the record is. There are some restrictions, so be sure to read the website carefully and fill out the correct form. This also costs money, so be sure that when you mail in your request, you also submit payment.

Hope these sites will get you started or help you if you get stuck! Good luck!

World War I Documents

Posted in History

World War I

World War I can be a tough one to research, unfortunately, I have discovered the hard way. It was so long ago that it is hard for personal documents—without great care having been taken for their preservation—to have lasted this long. Access to survivors, if there are any left, would be minimal and likely widely impractical. Interviews may survive, but may have nothing to do with the person or persons you are looking for. Of course, there was also the fact that the War Office was bombed during the second war. Many of the service records kept from the previous war were destroyed, and most of the information left is pulled from pension requests, so that can be a problem if the person you are looking for died either during the war or before they were able to request a pension. Unless they were Household Cavalry, then you are likely fine, as long as you don’t mind making a written request to view them and then going to the Cavalry Museum in Berkshire to see it. Some of the Guard Regimens also had records destroyed, but you have to contact the individual regime in question in order to see if your record was one of them. These records form two indexes, the “burnt documents” and “unburnt documents” such as the pension records.

The National Archives has most of what’s left on microfilm, accessible at their location in Surrey. If you cannot get there, never fear. They granted access rights to Ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.co.uk, and with a subscription, you can see the same documents without any traveling. Plus you can search for the people you are looking for first, for free. Saves you a trip if your family member was part of the burnt records.

However, even if the record you need was destroyed in the bombing, you have some other choices, as long as you think logically. The London Gazette has had a longstanding tradition of publishing every military appointment as well as awards, and most were eligible for some type of acknowledgement. You can visit the Imperial War Museum in London and look for it there, or search the archive online through the Gazette site. You can try your hand this way to locate someone and verify that they served. Also, the Medal Rolls themselves survived, and can provide a lot of information (although it does depend on how thorough the person who filled out the card felt like being at the time). Those have been digitized and scanned, so they are searchable and viewable on Ancestry.co.uk. These cards are considered a much more accurate representation of men and women who served, again the logic being that most people qualified for something during their time in service.

If you are finding yourself stuck for information during this time period, you are not alone. I would consider purchasing a reference guide to help or hiring a genealogy expert who has experience finding records of people who served in World War I. It can be difficult, but if you think outside the box enough, it is not impossible. Keep digging, and good luck.

Learning from Family History

Posted in History

I started getting interested in family history as a young boy. I have a large extended family and was always hearing about some relative’s exploits. I would have to ask, “Who is this? And how are we related?” and have someone try to break down the relationship for me.On the long car rides home, I would transcribe as much of each story as I could remember so that I could keep it all straight. I was always trying to understand why my relatives acted the way they did and if I would be such a carefree risk-taker when I grew up. I was desperate to know if was going to inherit my Aunt Lenore’s “travel itch” or become whatever an alcoholic was like Uncle Louis, or hefty in size like my cousin Big George. I got older and it fell by the wayside, first because it wasn’t nearly as cool to brag about your crazy family as a teenager and then because I went to university. I was too far away from my family, so I didn’t see them as much. My parents kept me fairly up to date, but many of the real legends had passed away by then, and some previously lauded behaviors started becoming “unseemly.” I studied more serious things, but nothing absorbed my mind nearly as much as those stories did when I was a child. Without that personal touch, it was all just facts. Disappointed, I got my degree in history and moved on. Then I got engaged, and I thought, “What better way to learn about my new family than creating a family tree?” Together with my fiancée, Emily, we dug into mountains of research and put together a combined family tree that went back several generations. We unveiled it at the wedding and it was quite a crowd pleaser. It definitely brought people together on a day that was designed to do just that.

By learning details about our families’ pasts, my wife and I have discovered several health problems that could be hereditary, which gives us a better idea of what might be coming down the line. I don’t think my wife is destined to get breast cancer just because her grandmother and great aunt did, but she can bring it up to her practitioner so that she maybe can start screening her earlier. Appendicitis to run in my family, which is something for me to keep an eye on. It’s just helpful information to have.

It also makes history more personal. I had a cousin who was a fighter pilot in World War II. My wife is related to an American who lost all his money in their stock market crash of 1929. We both had family who fought in World War I. Now those things have a more personal significance. I might not be interested in every battle of the first world war, but I am curious to do more research about the locations where our families served and what events took place there.

A shared family history also connects us to much more people than we realized. We have relatives scattered all over the globe. We’ve contacted a few of them and are attempting to contact more. A huge family reunion seems likely in the future. We hope to either use either a central location that is close to as many of us as possible or maybe we’ll choose a location that is appealing to the majority, like a nice beach or exotic city. The possibilities are endless.