Friday, December 5, 2008

If Wishes Were.....


We all have certain presents we'd like to receive for Christmas but know that they'll probably never actually appear.

In 1986 I made slight detour coming home from business meetings in northern California and stopped in Angel's Camp, California to meet a long lost cousin. When I arrived, I found him teaching tennis to some youth on a tennis court, sweaty, a little winded and extremely busy.

The Diary

My cousin, Gerald Turner, had inherited two precious possessions from our common great grandfather. I asked to see David Lewis Drew's diary. He pointed toward his office and said go ahead look at them. The diary was small, about 4" x 6" and an inch thick. It was filled with entries from David's first year in California during the Gold Rush in Calaveras County. I took two photos of the pages with the little disposable camera I had purchased after my camera died two days earlier, hoping they would turn out and I'd at least have a sample of grandpa's writing. Neither of the photos were readable after the film was developed but the photo of the old secretary was ok.

I thanked Gerald for allowing me to see and handle them. During our closing remarks, I mentioned that I'd love have them if he ever decided to dispose of them and emphasized that the diary was especially precious in my opinion. He said that he'd like to see them stay in the family, shook hands and turned to greet the next tennis class that had just arrived.

Gerald died not too long afterward and I was called by his estate attorney asking if I wanted anything from his estate. I replied that I wanted the journal and would love to have the secretary. The phone was silent for a few moments and then he said that he was sorry, but that neither item was in the estate.

Where had they gone? He promised to look into it but was never able to find what happened to them. I had touched and briefly read pages in the diary. How I wish it would show up under the tree this Christmas. It is priceless to me but probably just junk to almost everyone else.

The Box of Records

While reading letters Gerald's sister, Hattie, had written to my mother, she mentioned that her mother had all of the genealogical records and documents that our great aunt, Julia Drew Tower had collected during her life including items given her by our Tirrill aunts in Stewartstown, New Hampshire.

They were stored in an old box in Hattie's mothers home. When she died the box disappeared. Hattie's letter listed the items in the box and I wished I could see and copy them. I'm sick that they were probably thrown away. Again, they were probably just trash to others, but would be like diamonds to me. I'd be ecstatic if the box and contents showed up under the tree this year. How I wish they would...

The Miracles

Walking down the hall to my office today, I stopped to look at all the large old photos of my ancestors hanging on the walls. I still can't believe that I have them.

When I was about seven, my mother took me with her to my grandfathers house. Her siblings were cleaning 'stuff' out of the old home and tearing down the old barn. The old trash wood from the barn and much of the 'stuff' from inside the home were tossed into a fire so it didn't have to be hauled off to a garbage dump.

Old magazines, clothing, stacks of family papers and other items were quickly dispatched before we arrived. My mother was disturbed that they had been destroyed before she had a chance to look through them for ancestral records and mementos from her youth. We wished we'd arrived earlier to intervene.

When were getting ready to leave, she suddenly had an idea. Maybe something was still left in the attic behind the trap door. Crawling up on the sink in the bathroom, I tipped the attic door open and crawled up into the dusty and dank attic space. I didn't have a flashlight, so I used my hands to feel around to find anything left there.

Mom's intuition was right. There were dusty old framed photos leaning against a rafter brace behind the door that you wouldn't see unless looking for them specifically. The photos were of my great grandparents and second great grandparents. Wow! I found treasure.

When lowering them down though the opening, I saw tears came to mom's eyes. She was delighted that they hadn't been burned. Eventually, she gave them to me, knowing how much I'd treasure them.

Ten years ago, my wife received a call from her great aunt saying that if she would come up to her home over the weekend she would give her some genealogy items that she would enjoy. Once again, good fortune came to our family. She received the same type of large old photos of her ancestors that I'd received years ago too.

Christmas came early when we received our respective ancestral photos. We couldn't imagine gifts of such magnificence. Treasure!

This holiday season, verbalize your own ancestral gift wishes. Some times, if wishes were .... they actually come true.

Start your list today. Dear Santa....... I want .....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No Passport. No Reservations.

I stopped living on a jet nine years ago and don't miss the constant hassle of airports, hotels and lost hours from home and family. The only trips I really enjoyed were those that involved family history research or visiting Disney. Why Disney didn't build a large complex in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, I'll never know, but it certainly would have been perfectly sited in my opinion..... at least in the summer....

When you don't live near the location where many if not most of your ancestors lived for generations, short visits just don't afford enough time to visit all the libraries, vital record centers, ancestral homes and cemeteries you'd like to see.

Before your research trip, you plan out everything you want to see and put a star by the things you have to see and do.

Your schedule goes exactly as planned and so there is little time required in those areas of your research again. Right?

I suppose that there is a statistical probability that is true for someone at sometime, but I probably wouldn't believe it even with proof.

In my last post, I talked about losing myself in Google Books. I didn't mention how much time I Google Earthspend using Google Earth in my ancestral research.

It is too bad that Google doesn't offer frequent flyer miles, because I'd never have to pay for a flight again in my lifetime.

I don't accomplish everything on my list when I travel on family history research trips. I always find ancestral families that lived in the area I just visited AFTER I get home. I never find all of the cemeteries and ancestral homes that I planned to visit.

What to do? Research trips are expensive. Talking momma into one more 'exciting' week browsing through dusty archives in the basements of a government buildings with walls covered by the requisite green tile is a tall order, even though she loves genealogy too.

There is at least a partial solution to my dilemma. I book the next flight on Google Earth and fly back to discover the cemeteries and buildings that I wish I'd found or known about when I was there in person.

Then I start creating pin markers for each of the locations with descriptive names and save them with descriptive file names. Soon, migration patterns emerge. They help me better plan my next research trip to the library or ancestral location.

I create multiple files that cover a variety of topics. One is completely comprised of cemeteries pins only. Another is comprised of the locations where my ancestors lived. By using different colored pins for each family, I can easily separate them into my various lineal families.

One file is based entirely on occupations and historical events. They help me understand why many of my ancestors were constantly on the move westward, often homesteading or claiming bounty land grants for military service. Yet another file shows me where the principal ports were located on the coast of New England and the number and color of pins tell me whether the ships based there were whalers, merchant or military ships.

With these maps, I have a quick visual reference that opens new vistas of contemplation regarding my ancestral quest. By zooming in, around and across the various pins, I see arenas of exploration that I haven't considered before.

Animating the burial location file allows me to visually observe migration patterns that aren't necessarily linear. Reading the burial locations in my database doesn't necessarily equate to envisioning the migration path moving west, then north, then south and even back east again. Why did they do that? Hmmmmm. It is time to rethink my research plan yet again.

I animate some of the files to help teach our grandchildren about their ancestors. They are young, but watching the flight from ancestral home to ancestral home around the world is second nature in their view of the world. They expect to have tools and presentations like this and hence pick up the meaning of what they are seeing almost immediately.

Within minutes, I have to surrender the mouse so they can run the show, explore the program and as if by osmosis, learn the interface and tools in Google Earth so they can start adding additional data points that I've overlooked or haven't considered.

The virtual world is theirs but I'm not ready to give up my seat in it. Neither should you. If you aren't using Google Earth in your own ancestral quest, download the free application today and get with it. It is easy to use and of course even if you get hung up a little, just ask your kids or grandkids to help and they'll have you up and flying in short order.

While writing this posting, Dan Lynch left a comment on my last posting about Google Books. He has written an excellent book called "Google Your Family Tree" that would be an wonderful addition to your library and research skills. Perhaps Santa will bring you a copy if you ask for it.

Post a note and let us know how you use Google Earth in your own ancestral quest. I'll bet there are hundreds of ideas that you've found that will benefit the entire family history community.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lost In Google Books

I've delved into Google Books since the first day they appeared on the web. Knowing that the collection grows continually, I set aside time every month to cruise the byways of the site looking for new attractions and new rare book shops. Window shopping never fails to result in a 'sale' during these excursions. I find titles and subjects related to my genealogy research that I would never know about without this great research tool.gbooks

Much of this long Thanksgiving weekend was spent reading the books on one monitor while I entered data in my database on a second monitor.

Yes, there were plenty of normal holiday busyness activities that could have occupied my time, but while others were out running into each other trying to find bargains, I enjoyed the greatest bargain around ... reading the pages of books I couldn't afford and probably wouldn't travel to find. No bumping. No traffic. No co$t.

Life is good.

I've added over 2,000 additional sources to my data in the past two days from the Massachusetts vital records books on Google. I've added over 500 new cousins names and information from historical records this weekend too. My family history knowledgebase has expanded measurably.

If you haven't taken the time to make your own tour through the site for a while, put it on your schedule. You may want to ask 'Santa' for some uninterrupted time to enjoy your own Google Books journey.

However you arrange for time to make your visit, don't hesitate to make it happen.

Just go to to start your journey with a keyword search. Stretch your smile muscles and kiss the hours goodbye.

I find a comfortable pair of P.J.'s to be the best attire for my own forays into Google Books Land. I think you'll find a similar attire works best for you too.

Thanks Google! Merry Christmas to all the elves toiling away in your notoriously wonderful facilities who bring so much joy to so many.