Friday, September 14, 2007

Finding Grandma and Grandpa

Some family researchers find that they descend from ancestors that are famous for one reason or another. The 'fame' of their ancestors aids researchers who are trying to find information about them, because their names and records are recorded both in numerous histories and in association with the cause of their 'fame'.

Let’s walk through the process of finding some well-known individuals who are famous because of their bad luck.

The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies were comprised of
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were migrating to Utah in the late summer – fall of 1856. Their ill-fated trek is well documented in numerous historical publications and on websites like this one and this one, as well as on the LDS Church Archives site which includes the members of the Martin Company and the Willie Company. Disaster struck the group when an early winter set in as they were still far from their destination.

How can we discover if our ancestors were among this group or another well documented group of immigrants? Let's use the members of these companies as our examples for this discussion. The discussion will necessarily be brief given the fact that this is a blog and not a study guide. Follow the links in this posting to find indepth guidance and research aids to find your own ancestors.

Start with the most basic family history research step:

Identify the ancestors you know starting with yourself, then your parents, grandparents, etc. Use the steps listed on FamilySearch to aid in your quest. Download a copy of the pedigree and family group charts on the site and print copies of them. Fill in the information you already know.

If you have a computer you'll probably want to use it to hold and organize your data. If you don't have family history software on your computer, you may want to download PAF or Legacy Family Tree. Both of these software packages are very good and offer a free version. But remember, you don't have to have genealogy software or a computer. Believe it or not, family history researchers didn't have computers until 'fairly' recently. However, I recommend using them if at all possible.

Fill out the pedigree chart with the names of your ancestors as far back as you know them. If you don't know very many generations, call your parents, siblings and extended family and ask if they have information about your ancestors that they will share with you.

Go to FamilySearch and search for the individuals who are in the last generation on the right side of your pedigree charts.

Hopefully, other individuals have submitted information about your lineage. You'll want to confirm that their information is correct by visiting a library that holds well-sourced records about your family. The library you visit may be located in your city, at a university such as at BYU, at a branch Family History Library or at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

We are using members of the Willie and Martin handcart companies in our discussion. If you are searching to find a tie to any of them, be sure to review their surnames and see if you recognize any of them when compared to the surnames on your pedigree chart. If there are matches, search for the name of that person(s) in the handcart company on FamilySearch and pay special attention to any listings that appear about them in the Ancestral File section in the results list of your query. Click on their descendants and look through their names and see if you can find any that correspond with your known lineage. (The Ancestral File section won't appear until you have made your search.)

If you find connections between yourself and a member of the handcart companies.... great! Copy the information and use the libraries near you to find other records such as birth, marriage, death, census and probate records to confirm the information.

If you don't find information that ties you to a member of the company, don't immediately give up your search. You've only just started an enjoyable quest. Use the tools found in the pages in the above links and those found on the Internet like Rootsweb and on family history related subscription sites to continue your search.

You can also use a search engine like Google or one of the many other engines to search for your information about your ancestors. Remember to put quotes around their names to get more specific hits... like "John Jones". If you want to add a date or place to the search, it would look like this: "John Jones" + 1846 or "John Jones" + "Cleveland, Ohio", etc.

Remember to read and include the wonderful Research Guidance publications on FamilySearch as tools in your quiver.

If you didn't find a link to the members of the handcart company, that is ok. Not many folks in the world descend from them, but we all descend from wonderful individuals. We just need to find them. Each generation of our ancestors is a full set of 'wonderful' people, regardless of their fame or entries in historical publications.

If you are of the LDS faith, you'll want to check any ordinance work for the people in your databases and family group sheets at a branch library or ask your ward family history consultant for assistance.

Remember to document all of the information you find. Without documentation, the data you collect makes a nice story, but that is all that it is -- a story. I recommend that you look at the excellent sourcing examples listed on the Legacy Family Tree site. The examples are applicable to both hard copy documents and genealogy software. Review these source formatting examples and implement something similar in your own databases or family group sheets. Whatever method you use, use it consistently so other researchers can follow the method you've used to record your sources.

As a quick review...

Look through your home and put all family history related documents, photos, etc. together in one box or two.

2. Ask your family for a copy of any ancestral information they have collected and offer to share your findings with them.

Use FamilySearch and other online ancestral data websites to help you research from home or another location with an Internet connected computer.

Visit a local library or branch family history library and search their resources for information about your family. Remember to ask the assistants at the branch family history library or those in your local community or church for research assistance and suggestions.

LASTLY, believe you are going to find information on your ancestors.

By acting on that belief, miracles often happen in our ancestral quest. Make it happen in your own quest. Family history research doesn't require advanced education, it just requires action by the researcher and the use of the many tools and guidance publications available to all of us on the Internet and at the branch family history libraries located around the world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Little Color

I've been working on family histories for the past few months. As I write the stories, I wish that I had more background 'color' to put in the stories so that they have more meaning to my descendants and other family members.

What kind of 'color' should we add to family histories or even our own life history? It seems that in our current generations, we need to add more historical, social and visual landmarks than ever. The modern world changes its 'skin' with ever increasing frequency.

We paid over $600 for a VHS video player not that many years ago. The blank tapes were $20 each and we were delighted to have such an innovation in our home. We then moved from our LP records to the miracle of CD's after spending a fortune on 8-track tapes somewhere in that brief interlude. Now CD's are all but obsolete. Music comes in digital files that we pack around in a tiny device that may be as small as a 50 cent piece.

A 50 cent piece? How many of you remember them? I can almost guarantee that my grandchildren have not seen one or have even heard of one.

I'm writing on this on a laptop computer, not physically connected to a power source or hardwired Internet connection, but nonetheless connected to the WORLD. Not that many years ago, I built the first kit computer ever offered - the IMSI 8080 if I remember the correct model. I flipped toggle switches to program it! Our children have no reference points to imagine such a contraption, yet I was one of a very small group in the world to have my own 'computer' ... seemingly not that long ago ... (once again.... if I remember correctly).

We need to put a lot of reference points in our personal histories with pictures, maybe audio and video recordings and similar multimedia documents. We always need to include some explanation of what the photos and other inserts represent along with a "when and where "statement. A photo of my IMSI 8080 wouldn't mean 'computer' to my grandchildren. They would probably puzzle over its metal case with its faceplate full of little switches wondering why grandpa included a photo of 'a box' in his history without the description associated with it.

Our latest batch of grandchildren are only nine years younger than their older cousins, but the truth is, they are a full generation or more younger in relation to the technology that they will use as they go to school and become teenagers. Will the cousins share
very many common technological reference points when they get together and the older ones talk about: "When I was a sophomore in High School, we had or used ....." and "Remember those quaint old times?" They may get blank stares from their younger cousins.

Reference points. Include lots of reference points in your
histories. My mother told me that she remembered visiting her grandparents by traveling in a sheep wagon with a little wood stove in it. Every visit was an overnight trip even though they only lived 6 or 7 miles apart. She was born long before automobiles were introduced, and her life spanned on through becoming a jet-setter herself, watching people go into space, walk on the moon and asking me to teach her how to use a computer for her genealogical data storage. How I wish I'd listened more intently and recorded more of her 'reference point' stories when she told them.

My grandfather hauled ore in a wagon with a team of horses for a living. Try explaining what that was really like to your grandchildren without a 'reference point' photo to go with the story.

How many reference points should I include in my mothers story so my grandchildren will have any comprehension of the radical technological and social changes that occurred in her lifetime? Without photos, sounds, movies, etc., will they have any idea what I'm describing in my text? Will they have any idea what I'm describing in my own life history? Probably not.

It is easier writing about my 2nd great-grandparents than about my parents or myself. Their environment changed but at a much slower rate than it did in the lives of their grandchildren and certainly than it does in the lives of their great-grandchildren. My 2nd great-grandparents need fewer overall reference points in their stories. They need less background 'color' about the change of technology, but maybe more reference points about history.

Many of my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. I often wonder how that impacted their lives and the lives of their families. Other ancestors were on the Mayflower. Did their move to Cape Cod change their 'world view' of their environment as much as the Revolutionary War did in the lives of their descendants? I don't know. I need to study their lives even more than I already have before I can offer an opinion..... But I do know this; if grandpa William Bradford hadn't written so much about the events in the Plimouth Colony, I would immediately say that the Revolutionary War produced the larger immediate impact in the lives of my ancestors than did the landing of the Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor.

However, grandpa Bradford offered many reference points in his writings to help me understand his environment, while my Revolutionary War Veteran ancestors left few, if any, written comments about their lives. So now, I have to read what historians have written and try to interpolate that information into an overlay of my ancestors lives. Who knows if my interpretation is correct. How much of the color of their lives have I lost from my remote vantage point? Probably a lot, but since they didn't write about their lives and photos of them don't exist, it is the best I can do. I need more Reference Points!

As an example, here's a great story that adds a lot of 'color' to memories about a grandmother.

Include lots of reference points in your own stories so younger family members and future generations have some method to aid them in understanding what your environment and life were like. Without the references, you'll become just another name, date and place in their genealogical databases.

Here's a reference point for my own children. I grew up singing these songs, because my parents sang these songs to each other and to me as a young man. Enjoy listening to Michael Buble croon a few tunes while you read this missive.