Beneficial Conference Take Aways You Can Use, Too

Every conference is a learning experience and today was no exception.  My local genealogy society sponsored four presentations by Dr. Thomas Jones, PhD, CG, FASG, FUGA and one break out session by a local genealogist.  

I’ve lost count of how many in person and online presentations I’ve attended given by Tom.  In every one, he always makes the most difficult scenarios seem easy to resolve.  I enjoying following his logic in drawing a conclusion based on the records he has or has not found.  

The program today started with the beginner level, progressed quickly and then ended with an upbeat – you can (and should) do this approach.  Here’s my four biggest take aways that can help your research:

  • Tom lamented that he wasted nearly 20 years at the beginning of his family history career by not reading genealogical journals.  I made the exact same mistake.  If you’re a newbie, you will benefit from reading articles published by the National Genealogical Society, The American Genealogist, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New England Historic and Genealogical Society, your state societies and more.  No, the articles probably aren’t going to help you name your brick wall ancestor but they will provide the tools that others used to discover what you’re having difficulty locating.  No excuse if being a member of all of these societies aren’t in your budget; your local public library probably has a subscription. If not, ask for a year’s membership as a birthday gift.  Find a friend interested in genealogy and each of you become a member of one and share the journals.  Post on Craig’s List or go on eBay and search if someone is selling their collection.  I’m trying to be a good environmental steward so I’ve stopped getting hard copies in the mail and read the articles online. When I did get the paper version, I always donated to my local library when I was done. Pass yours on, too!
  • Tom reminded us to “consider everything and trust nothing.”  Personally, I think that’s good advice not just for genealogy.  He was referring to online family trees and in print family genealogies.  It’s not too difficult to tell which are well researched.  It is a must to check out the citations to confirm the accuracy.  
  • “Inconvenience is not a reason for drawing a conclusion; get as close as you can to original records.”  I’m blending Tom’s quote with the breakout session I attended on England and Wales records.  I do some, but not a whole lot, of English and Welsh research. I wasn’t aware that the British equivalent to the U.S. National Archives has only 5% of their records online. I don’t know what the latest percentage estimates are for U.S. records but whatever the amount, not everything is available from the comfort of your home computer. True, it’s not always convenient to have to do boots on the ground but it is necessary.  
  • “Gather the stories you’ve been told, write them down and share them.” Definite words of wisdom!  For my long time readers, you know that was one of the reasons why I started blogging. I wanted a place to connect with my far flung relatives by sharing the stories passed down to me by my maternal grandmother.  Every family has heartwarming tales and whispered lore.  Write it down, check it out and pass it on before it’s been forgotten.  Your descendants will be so thankful you did!

Last, as promised, here’s a shout out to one of my New Port Richey followers that happened to be in line in front of me today.  It was awesome meeting you in person.  Happy Hunting!

Stuck on Where to Find Family Records – Try This Underused Resource

Last week I blogged about obtaining school records to help identify parentage.  This week I’m thinking in reverse; say I know the parents names but I don’t know the children’s names.  Where to look if census records aren’t available?  Try church records.

Now wait, before you stop reading because you don’t know if the family was affiliated with a church, I’m going to tell you some tricks to discover that information.  

First look at the marriage license to see if there was a minister named.  You might get lucky and the church address was also recorded.  In that case, see if the church is still the same denomination and contact them.  

If you aren’t able to identify a church, then take the minister’s name and try to identify his religious affiliation from the previous census.  When researching a local family, I was able to look at the 1945 Florida State census to find the minister and his address.  Using property records, I could tell the denomination of the church he was affiliated with then – it was Baptist.  The marriage record from 1946 was in Tampa so it was probable that the family had married in that particular Baptist church.  They had records and I was able to confirm the marriage occurred at that site and several children, named, were inducted in the Cradle Club.  

This works, too, even if you’re looking for much older records for an elusive family.  If this was in the time of circuit riders, do a Google search to see if the minister named on the marriage license denomination shows up, then identify where those records may have been kept.  For example, I’m always interested in finding information about my Duer family living in what is now Ohio.  I was able to determine they were Presbyterian (after leaving the Quaker denomination).  I know where the circuit rider records are kept but they are not yet digitized or indexed so someday I’ll be visiting the repository to check them out.  

I’ve blogged in the past about obtaining a transcription of a diary written by one of my husband’s 3rd great aunts (yes, I extend searches to distant family – you never know what you’ll find and it’s usually awesome).  Mary Ann Eyster Johnson died in 1905 and descendant’s of her husband (they had no children) donated her diary to her rural church in St. Joseph County, Indiana.  While researching Mary Ann’s sister, Sara, in the hopes of identifying all of their children, I located Mary Ann’s diary and happily found she had recorded all of Sara’s children’s birth dates and in most cases, times.  This was long before birth certificates were available.  

My recommendation is always check out church records and if possible, go in person and bring chocolate.  It’s always worked for me!

An Overlooked Resource to Determine Parentage

Here’s an often overlooked resource to help identify parentage – school records.  I’m not talking about yearbooks on Ancestry.com.  I mean the enrollment and attendance records that schools had to maintain to receive state and federal funding.  

To acquire those records, which are not available online, visit the school district’s website.  If there is a search bar, simply type in “records” or “school records.”  Follow the link which usually is for recent graduates of the school district needing to get a transcript for further education or work.  Obviously, you are searching for old records so find the phone number and make a call to see what will be required for you to get the documents.

In my area, a death certificate by a relative is needed but an attorney’s representative for the estate handing the deceased’s probate is also acceptable to receive the records.

Most districts have microfilmed their older records so you will not have your request fulfilled immediately.  There’s no telling what you’ll receive, either, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check it out. I live in a state that has lots of record loss due to mold, flood damage, fires and insects.  Even with all the losses, there is usually some records that were able to be salvaged and scanned.

Recently, I assisted a client in obtaining school records from the 1950’s-1960’s in the hope of identifying parentage. The turnover time was a little over a week. Prior to the 1970’s, you’re not going to receive a birth certificate as most schools did not have a photo copier available to make a copy of that document at the time of enrollment.  The best you’re going to get is a check mark on a line that noted a birth certificate had been presented.  The name of the enrolling parent/guardian is then recorded on the document, along with the address where the student was residing.  You may even get lucky and have a telephone number recorded.

Once you have the parent/guardian name it’s time for you to check city directory records.  In my location, phone numbers were added in the mid-1950’s and I was able to match the telephone number on the school records to two different names not recorded in those records.  Was there an error in the school records in recording the phone number?  No, the information proved that the deceased had been involved with a social service agency and explained why the recorded schools’ names varied when the home address didn’t.  The student must have been temporarily living in either a foster home or with a relative but the parent still had the right to obtain school records so the enrollment address did not change.  The enrollment and withdrawal dates listed for the various schools attended provides evidence that the family was experiencing difficulty and gives more places, such as court records, to look for a better understanding of what was occurring.

In my situation, only one parent’s name was recorded in school records.  That individual was never found in the city directory but the name and telephone of the individual who purportedly lived at the address in school records was a clue to find the other parent’s name.  

The school records also contain a birth date for the student so a check of newspaper birth announcements for that date could lead to a further confirmation of parentage – or not.  In my case, there was no announcement so it was likely the student’s parents were not married at the time of birth as it was the local policy to not record in the paper the names of children of single mothers.  

School records will not provide every answer you seek but will point you in the direction of locating other records and help you gain insight into the life of the student and the parent/guardian.  

So, what do you do if the district says there are no records?  Don’t give up!  Next check Worldcat online to see if those records were published in a book and held at an archive somewhere.  On a trip to Boston a few years ago I spent a couple of hours at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. I decided to browse through the Indiana section.  I happily discovered a book that was a transcription of Lake County, Indiana school enrollments for the early 1900’s.  The book contained my husband’s grandmother’s name and who enrolled her in first grade – one of her older stepbrothers. That made sense, Elsie’s mother was a recent immigrant from Sweden with little knowledge of the school system.  The stepbrother, a graduate of that school district who was fluent in English was helping his stepmother with the enrollment while his father was at work.  I had tried to get Elsie’s school records from the county previously and was told they had been destroyed.  That was correct information; who knew that a transcription had been made of those records prior to their demise?  I later checked with the library in Lake County that has the largest genealogical section and they didn’t have a copy of the book that was sitting in Boston.  How strange that a record was located in a place the ancestor never visited.  Of course, original records are preferred but in this case, a transcription was better than nothing and did shed light on the family dynamics at the time of Elsie’s school enrollment.  Happy Hunting!

Genealogical Patterns – Are They Meaningful?

02/02/2020

Happy Palindrome Day!  Happy Ground Hog Day!  Happy Candlemas Day!  Happy Midway between Winter and Spring Day!  Happy 33rd Day of the New Year with 333 Days to Go!  Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Probably like you, most of those designations of today I don’t intend to celebrate but they are fascinating to me that someone, somewhere noticed a pattern. I bet you’ve noticed patterns in your genealogy research, too.  

When discovering information about a newly discovered relative I’m always struck by the significance of a date I find.  Hmm, I think, that person married on my birthday.  Wow, that ancestor was born on my anniversary.  Seems like such a weird coincidence but mathematically, it’s not.

Think about this – there are usually 365 days in a year (except for the few years like this one which is a Leap Year).  If you’re comparing days of similarities between a newly found ancestor and your own vital dates, you’re actually increasing the odds.  Think of it this way, you’re comparing your birthday and marriage to someone else’s birthday, marriage and death date.  When I think about adding in dates for my close family, such as my spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, it’s not a coincidence at all that dates are shared.  

If you’ve noticed this phenomenon and want to do the math yourself, check out this statistic site:  Same Birthday Odds.

I wish I had time, however, to actually compute seasonal births and deaths in my direct lines.  Although I could be wrong, it seems like there are more births in the spring/summer and more deaths in the fall/winter.  My mom was the first to make me aware of this family trend when my grandfather died in October 1970.  I asked her why that occurred and she said she didn’t know but had drawn that conclusion based on her grandparents’ deaths in winter and knowing she attended more funerals during those seasons.  I guess that stuck with me and as I’ve tabulated vital data for my family I see what she means.  Both my parents died in the fall; most of my grandparents and great grandparents did, too.  Only my paternal grandfather (August) and maternal grandmother (June) didn’t follow the death pattern.  

Then I came across a study that looked at data from a developing country and found that the trend was true. Then I found another to support the first study but a different one showed variations by country.  I also found an interesting study that showed, in the U.S., people who were born in the fall had a significant increase in living longer than those born in the first half of the year.  Who knew?!

Since the next palindrome day won’t occur for 101 years (12/12/2121) I’ve decided I’m putting aside my genealogical research on this sunny cold day and savoring the moment!  Looking backwards can wait another day.