Ten Places to Find Immigrant Origins, by Juliana Smith

James Kelly tombstone -Calvary Cemetery pic.bmpThere’s a unique thrill that comes when we identify an immigrant ancestor in our family tree. Someone long ago, an ancestor who was born in a foreign place, left their home and everything he or she knew. That decision had a huge impact on who we are today. It determines the label we put on ourselves, whether it be American, Canadian, British, or some other nationality. Sherry Irvine’s column on The English in Scotland was a good reminder to me that these decisions impact people in pretty much every country in the world.

It’s connections like these that the fuel our passion for family history, inspire us to stay up late searching the depths of the Web, schedule vacations around graveyard and courthouse visits, and grill Great-Aunt Madge at the family reunion, seeking that elusive town name in Germany where it all began. (Of course by “grill,” I’m speaking figuratively. Don’t throw Aunt Madge on the barbie at the family reunion. It will just make her mad and you’ll be less likely to get information from her in the future.)

But Madge may not have the answer for you. What then? Here are ten places to look to find that location in the “old world” where our immigrant ancestor made that fateful choice.
1. Family Correspondence and Memorabilia
As with many aspects of family history research, often the best place to start is at home (or Aunt Madge’s home, or Grandpa Joe’s home, etc.). A clue to your ethnic origins may lie in an obvious place like a family Bible, or something not as obvious like a piece of clothing or a piece of lace with a pattern that is native to a particular region. Photographs can hold surprising clues, again, sometimes as obvious as a name on the back as was the case when I identified my paternal great-grandfather’s hometown in Poland, or perhaps in some elements of the photograph like clothing, a sign in the background, the type of housing, or a photographer’s imprint.

2. Birth Records
Locate the birth records of all your immigrant ancestor’s children. While your direct ancestor’s birth record may only include a country of origin (or no information at all), a sibling’s record could include the name of the town or county. Continue reading

Ten Exercises to Jumpstart Your Research, by Juliana Smith

With the new school year fast approaching in just under three weeks, I’ve started prepping my daughter with some extra reading, math worksheets, and Internet research. Last week I had her investigate how garden pests keep finding my pine tree. I thought I was rid of them last year, but alas this year they’re back. Turns out the smaller larvae can be carried by the wind. Who knew?  Anyway, I’m hoping that these last-minute preparations will help her get off to a good start this year.

I’ve found that similarly, when we’ve been away from our research for a time, there are some exercises we can do to regain our momentum and jumpstart our research. Here are ten ideas you can try:

1.) Tackle Someone Else’s Problem.
Every so often I volunteer to do some work for friends and neighbors on their family history. This fine tunes my skills and gives me experience in new areas. Often while I’m solving other people’s problems, I get ideas for solving my own. If your friends aren’t open to the idea, check message boards or mailing lists for posts in which people are looking for assistance. In addition to honing your research skills, you’ll build up some karma points!

2.) Volunteer on an Indexing Project
A while back, we announced here on the blog that Ancestry was going to be launching a new volunteer indexing program. While it’s still not available to the public, at the time employees were asked to try out the tool. I spent several nights working with it and it was really interesting trying to decipher unfamiliar names and places as they were written. Check out volunteer indexing projects through societies, FamilySearch, and soon, through Ancestry and give them a try. In addition to the knowledge that you’re helping to preserve history, you really get a feel for the records you’re working with, and the skills you acquire are bound to help in your own research.

3.) Read History
In these dog days of summer when it’s too hot to be playing outdoors, curl up in front of a fan or next to the pool with a good historical read. Check for sales and in used book stores for good deals. Getting a closer look at historical events and social conditions of your ancestor’s era give you a better glimpse into what their lives were like, and the knowledge you gain will help you create a much more interesting family history. You may even find reasons for a sudden migration, economic downturn in the family fortunes, or some other unexplained event.

4.) Get Religion
Sometimes we tend to see our ancestral families with an isolated view–living and moving around in a new world full of strangers. But just as we interact with our neighbors and in our communities, our ancestors were part of a larger world of people who weren’t necessarily related to them. Many times these communities centered around religion. How much do you know about your ancestor’s place of worship? Have you looked into the history of the congregation? Checked for minutes of meetings in which your ancestor may have taken part? Were other members of the congregation mostly from a particular ethnic background? Learning about your ancestor’s religious community could open some new avenues for research. Continue reading

Your Ancestor’s Disappearing Act, by Juliana Smith

Last week my article focused on some of the frustrations I’ve run into researching ancestors who were a bit on the “casual” side when it came to listing their ages. And from the response we got on the blog from you, it’s very clear we’re all in the same boat when it comes to that particular problem. Thanks to everyone who shared their stories and the explanations you found for age discrepancies! They made for fascinating reading. I particularly enjoyed Barbara’s mother’s reasoning that incorrect ages were “to confuse the angel of death.” Hey, whatever works! (If you missed the last week’s column or want to see what other readers had to say, you can find the article on the blog.)

If there’s one thing worse than an ancestor with flexible birth dates though, it’s one who vanishes for no apparent reason. You’re cruising along finding him consistently where he’s supposed to be, and wham-mo! Suddenly he’s gone without a trace. So how do we pick up the trail again? While there’s no magic remedy, let’s look at some techniques that can help us locate ancestors with a disappearing act.

Make Sure He’s Really Gone
Before you call out the search party, make sure your ancestor is really gone. If you can’t find him in the census, try city directories or alternative sources. He may just be hiding behind a misspelled or mis-transcribed name, or perhaps the enumerator missed him entirely. Until 1920, the majority of Americans lived in what was classified as a rural environment, and in 1850, 84.6 percent of the population was in those rural areas. This meant that in many areas enumerators couldn’t just zip up and down the street gathering names. They had some serious ground to cover, and it’s not a stretch to think that they probably missed some remote residences.

If you haven’t already, create a timeline for the ancestor with an entry for each record you’ve collected, along with his location at that time. (More on creating timelines can be found in the Ancestry Library.) As you track them year by year, you may get a better feel for exactly when they disappeared and maybe even where they might have gone. Continue reading

Ancestors Who Lied About Their Age, by Juliana Smith

census taker.bmpSometimes I think my ancestors had psychic powers. I feel like they knew that someday I would be searching for them in the records they created, and that it would be fun for them to throw me a curve ball–or ten. Perhaps they thought it would be a good “character building exercise.” To them, let me just say, “I am not amused.”

I’ve been doing a little work on my Tobin family line and of the three family members for whom I have a good collection of census and other records, each of them routinely gave ages that conflicted with those in other records. For three of the five family members, birth years vary with a span of anywhere between seven and ten years. Interestingly, the mom of the family seems to age more than ten years with every census, while her sons, Peter and George, seem to age less with each enumeration.

So how do we reconcile these differences when we are trying to prove that the individual we found is one and the same as the person we’ve located in other records? And how do we determine how old the individuals really were? Here are some things I have found helpful:

Create a Chart
First, I like to create a chart that lists each record I have on the person, the age he/she gave, and an estimated year of birth based on that age. Here’s a chart I created for Peter Tobin:

Peter Tobin
1841 Passenger Arrival, age 16, born 1825
1850 U.S. Federal Census, age 20 = born 1830
1860 U.S. Federal Census, age 28 = born 1832
1870 U.S. Federal Census, age 38 = born 1832
1880 U.S. Federal Census, age 50 = born 1830
1893 Death certificate, age 68 = born 1825 Continue reading

A Quick, Easy Project with AncestryPress, by Juliana Smith

APress Timeline.bmpThis past Father’s Day, my dad asked for my help with a project on AncestryPress. When we started the project, I noticed something new—the ability to create a three-generation descendant book.

I really like this idea. I have several projects going that include extensive family history research, but they’re not quite ready for primetime. I would like to be able to put together smaller books to give as gifts to family members. These would make great birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gifts, and they can be created relatively quickly.

The descendant format was perfect for the project Dad and I are creating that celebrates our immediate family.

A Little Family History
We want the book to include a little family history, but go heavier on photographs, biographical info, and memories. Since we’re only dealing with twenty people, I was able to manually enter the data into a personal tree on Ancestry within an hour or so, rather than trying to graft a piece off our main family history file. (Personal trees can be created free without a subscription so anyone can create a similar project, regardless of whether they are a paid Ancestry member or a free registered user.)

Once the information was loaded, I selected the Publish and Print option. AncestryPress then created pages for the book using the information I had entered. Continue reading

Links to Your Revolutionary Past

GeoWashington.bmpThis week my brother-in-law and his wife will be in town so I’m taking a few days off to enjoy their company. But with Independence Day just around the corner, I thought I’d poke around a bit to gather some Revolutionary War articles and resources to help you uncover those Revolutionary ancestors in your family tree. Here are some resources to get you started:

Ancestry Resources

More Resources

Discussion: Preserving Electronic Diaries and Memorabilia

I got an interesting e-mail this morning and I thought I’d throw it out there for discussion. It brings up a very interesting and valid concern for all of us as we try to preserve the story of our families. Here’s what Jana had to say:

My adult children often say, “I’m blogging this!”  You know, we genealogists cherish old diaries, letters, family bibles, talking 8 mm film and photos and the like.  They all contain such useful information of a life lived.  I have old color slides and old video tapes that I need to digitize. 

But,  I wonder how we are going to incorporate e-mail, Facebook, My Space, Digg, the contents of iTunes or a MP3 player and countless other things, into our childrens’ growing electronic genealogy? Isn’t that part of their lives–“the Dash between the dates?” We need a magic, dynamic hyper-link!  

Let me give you an example. I have a daughter-in-law, a war widow from this current war, that blogged her courtship with her first husband–and so did he!  There was a gap of about two years, while she mourned, without any mention of his death in 2004 and then the blogging resumed when my middle son began dating her. It’s a part of her life, her recent past.  And for me, it is intertwined with my Family.  Not only is she my daughter-in-law, her late husband was my youngest son’s best friend–and my Grandson is named after him!  

Electronic records…it’s something to think about….and something that needs to be resolved.

Jana Wirch-Wright

So how are you preserving your family’s “electronic diaries” and memorabilia? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please post your ideas in the comments section.

Rochester, New York, Images and Local History Online

St. Patrick's Girls' Orphan Asylum (Postcard from the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.)A while back, I wrote an article about searching for historical images of ancestrally-related places–On the Street Where They Lived. This week, as I worked on another project, I was looking for a photograph of the Rochester orphanage where my second-great-grandmother and her sister had a brief stay after their mother died of tuberculosis. After unsuccessfully searching the usual places (Google Images, LOC Photo Collection, etc.), I remembered that the Rochester (Monroe County) Public Library has an extensive online collection of images online. I went to the library site and was thrilled to find this lovely postcard image of the orphanage where my Tobin ancestor and her sister were enumerated in the 1850 census. If you have ancestors from Rochester, be sure to check out the many collections they have available online. Click here to visit the library’s Local History and Genealogy page.

I want to send a huge thanks to the Rochester Public Library–and to all the libraries who work so hard to make these types of collections available to us!

This image is from the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Using Ancestry: Public Profiles, by Juliana Smith

Juliana Profile.bmpSome of the biggest family history breakthroughs are the direct result of connecting with a long-lost cousin who is working on the same family line. Not only is it great to reconnect with family members with whom you have lost touch throughout the years, but you never know what gems may have been passed down through their branches of the family tree. (One of these days I’m going to find someone who inherited the family Bible!) Plus, if your newfound cousin lives closer to the location where your research is centered or near a major genealogical facility, you may find a new partner for on-site research.

With all this at stake, it’s no surprise that since genealogy collided with the personal computer, tools that help connect family historians who share research interests have been a mainstay. Message boards, research registries, and online trees are all products of the desire to connect with others. Ancestry hosts all of these services, as well as the ability to post comments to many of the historical records found in its collections.

The recently-updated free Public Member Profile brings these elements together so that anyone who runs across one of the many breadcrumbs you have left on the site can–with a click–see if your research interests match their own. These breadcrumbs could be in the form of a post to a message board, a comment posted to a record, a profile in the Member Directory, or through your online tree.

What’s in a Public Member Profile?

~ Personal Info
You can choose how much or how little you want to reveal about yourself. In my profile, I’ve opted to share mainly information related to my research interests. You can also post your photograph. The photo I’ve chosen isn’t current, but rather, it’s my favorite baby picture. (If you want a good laugh, I posted it with last week’s quote. Click on the image to enlarge it.) For those of you who know me, you’ll note that my personality hasn’t changed much over the years, although thankfully I’ve been able to tame that wispy bit of hair on top of my head.

The profile also lets you add information about your experience in family history, display links to your homepage or blog, and share some of your favorite websites. Continue reading

Happy Father’s Day!

Dad.bmpJust a quick note to all the dads out there to wish you a very happy Father’s Day. May a brick wall tumble in honor of your special day!

I’ll be visiting my dad this weekend and we’re going to start work on an AncestryPress project for his family. I just sent him a link to an article from the Ancestry blog by Stefanie Condie that has some really cool tips for showing off family photos. For those who are interested, you can read it here.

And on a more somber note, to all of those who have been impacted by the recent Midwestern floods and storms, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you.