Genealogy

How to Begin Your Family Tree

Lately I have seen many posts in my genealogy group asking how to start in genealogy. I’ll admit I was puzzled the first time I saw the comment. Surely they were farther ahead than they realized as they found the genealogy groups in Facebook, I’d been doing my family tree for a couple of years before I began using Facebook and Twitter for my search.

But then I began really thinking about it. How did I start? I know I’ve commented before and it was just a day in August and I googled “Family Tree” or something like that and FamilySearch.org came up, I registered and began.

I knew nothing of the one big tree. I did know that Ancestry looked interesting but my husband and I weren’t in a place for us economically for me to join. So I utilized the plethora of free sites out there (and believe it or not there is a lot you can do for free).

It also made me think of the presentation I did for my son’s Boy Scout troop a month or so ago. It was all about the basics and though I’ve probably discussed various things individually on this blog of mine so far – here is a list of how I would suggest someone begin their family history journey.

Start With You!

Everyone thinks that starting your family tree is so hard but it’s really easy, it begins with you! Write down your own vital statistics – when you were born, where you were born, the time (if you know it). Then you go on and write the same information about your father, your mother and then move onto your grandparents.

It’s best to have at least 7-people to begin to find your ancestors, you will have a slightly easier time if you have the information for 15.

Ask Questions!

If you don’t know some of the answers, ask someone who may know. By the time I began getting serious about my family tree, all of my grandparents had passed away. Luckily I had an assignment in sixth grade to work on my family tree. I really didn’t have to do much at that time, the goal was for us to get to another state or country. On my dad’s side my entire family goes back to Pennsylvania by his parents (and technically he was born in Indiana so there is always that), and on my mom’s side her paternal grandparents came over from England in 1913 (James Fairhurst) and 1915 (Phoebe Boone). I’d found out my information by asking my grandparents questions. My Grandma Blair (aka Anna Maria Morgart) gave me the information I needed about my paternal side (everyone else had already passed away), my mom gave me the information as she knew a lot about her maternal mother’s side of the family. My Grandfather Fairhurst was living with our family at the time and told me about how his parents came over (he is the one who told me that his mother was supposedly going to come over on the Titanic but wasn’t feeling well, only for me to realize later that the Titanic sank 2-years before she was going to set sail).

Family Group Charts

Once you have the basic information about your family members it’s best to fill out a family group chart. These can be found online for free. It is just a worksheet that you use to give all the details you have about your family. If there is a record you are missing, you will clearly see what it is and be able to research the information you need. Below is a sample page 1 of the Family Group Chart that comes with the Legacy Family Tree software.

Use Online Genealogy Databases

If your family is like mine, you aren’t going to get very far learning about your family history from asking questions. My dad has surprised me by being able to name as many people in photographs than I ever thought he would know, but there is a great deal about the members of his family that he is just as surprised about as me.

Once you get to your great-grandparents there is a very strong possibility that this is where you need to start finding information online about your family (which is why I suggest the 15 family members). FamilySearch.org is a free site but the one big fact you have to recognize is that the person must be dead in order to find any information about them. Occasionally you may find a marriage license because it could reference the parents who have passed away, but that is it.

I always recommend using FamilySearch.org in the beginning as some of the other sites can be expensive and if you are unsure of how dedicated you are going to be to a hobby, go the free route in the beginning. Yes there are a bunch of records that even the FamilySearch.org wiki is going to direct you to on Ancestry – but if you can, go to the library and use the Ancestry Library Edition for free (until you know for sure – you can normally get a good deal on a membership your first time).

Below is the “Search” page for FamilySearch.org that you can plop your person’s name in along with when they were born, died or even married. I normally begin being as vague as I can, I will put in their first and last name (with women I start with their maiden name, but if it is death information I may put in her married name), but I put in years only (I love how you can control the span of years on FamilySearch) and for place I will often put a state only, I believe you can put in the city and state, but if I’m off on the precise city it’s easier to be a bit vague (putting in United States may be a bit too vague).

Once you start using the genealogy databases (FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com are the 4-big ones) you can start filling out the vital statistics you have already collected by adding census records, possibly marriage licenses, and even city directory pages. Census records and city directories both offer you addresses of where your people lived at a specific time.

Once you find the basic information you can go about finding the hard core records, such as wills, land documents, court records, possibly even church records. With this comes learning how to read handwriting which is another blog post in itself.

Why I Started Seriously Researching My Family

There are 2 main reasons why the third time was the charm for me with doing my genealogy. The first is that I was having a bad day almost 4 years ago and I was really missing my Grandma and I figured learning more about her and her family would allow me to feel closer to her. It worked, I only wish she knew all that I have found out. I also wish I had thought to ask more questions. I remember vaguely so many stories she shared but there are so many more questions I wish I’d asked – like how did my grandparents meet?

The second reason is that the internet provides you access to records to entice you for the search. You can’t do it all from the privacy of your own home, or even the local library, but you can do a great deal more than the patience those who have been working on their genealogy for decades did. The respect I have for those who have done this for so long, I salute them all.

Just remember, it may take a while to find specific information. Not everything can be found at the tip of your fingers. Document what you find as you find it! I know I may not have always wrote down where I found it (I did happen to find it again for citations in my Legacy Family Tree software) but I did download the copies of the census records and such and have them stored in an online filing system. I have a paper system made up but I find I really don’t use it much, but I should as I have copies of wills and land documents I obtained last July in Pennsylvania.

Eventually you may even come across brick walls (for example Andrew Blair and Suzanna Akers (???) for me, well, let’s not forget their son, George, too.

Genealogy is like a huge puzzle and it’s so exciting when you put all those pieces together. If you get stuck at a spot, just pick another person and work on finding out about them. In time you will find the all (or most) of the information you seek. Just learn patience.

Good luck!

Genealogy

Giving Your Ancestors a Life

A big difference between my husband and myself is how we relate to our families.  He has just started, so maybe I shouldn’t judge him so harshly, but he views his ancestors as names on a screen.

Names on a screen!

Then there is me, I sit there and though they may initially be names on my tree (I will confess my aunts, uncles and distant cousins I do refer to as filler people until I get to know them a little better), I enjoy finding out what I can on them, where they lived, how long, did they marry.  I especially try to find out as much as I can on the little ones.  You know, the ones who pass away before they ever have a birthday, I fear they may be the easiest for time to forget.

The more I research my ancestors, whether it be government documents, city directories, or newspaper articles, I enjoy getting a sense of who they are.

Harold Fairhurst – My Grandfather

Within the last few weeks Newspapers.com was free for a few days and I so enjoyed learning new things about my relatives.  One article that ran in the Akron Beacon Journal on September 17, 1964, referred to when my grandfather, an area golf pro, hit a hole in one.  It was interesting as when I had found it my Aunt Debbie had relayed how he had hit one and won a years supply of Pepsi. He had only hit a hole in one once, so this had to be the time.

The_Akron_Beacon_Journal_Thu__Sep_17__1964_

When I threw my grandfather’s name to find articles about him I was floored when I saw how many hits I received.  My mother had always told me he was a golf pro, but I never realized he held course records in my hometown and was a semi-serious contender.

Alberta Lou – My Grandmother

I found out some interesting bowling information on my mom’s mother too!  I knew my grandmother was on a bowling league but I never knew she was on a league of women bowlers where you had to bowl a 600 series.  My uncle (her son) he gave me the information after I found and shared the following article with him.  It was posted once again in the Akron Beacon Journal on March 14, 1971.

The_Akron_Beacon_Journal_Sun__Mar_14__1971_

Orienta Gustin Warner – My Great-Great-Great-Grandmother

I learned some juicy information about my relatives too.  Again, visiting my mother’s side of the family, this time it was my great-great-great-grandmother, Orienta Gustin Warner who is mentioned in the following article from the Potter Enterprise that ran on February 11, 1904, along with her daughter, Jeanette Warner (Nettie) my second great-great-aunt.

The_Potter_Enterprise_Thu__Feb_11__1904_

Real-life stories of your ancestors help to put them into perspective far more than just dates and names on a computer screen.  The aforementioned Orienta Gustin Warner lived here in Akron, Ohio for the last 6 years or her life.  She passed away at 644 Carpenter Street and I’ve driven past the house, which is less than 5 minutes from my own home.

I’ve used Google to see what all the houses look like (most are still standing, some have been torn down). Once I figure out locations for homes in other areas I plan on doing the same.  This is when technology is at it’s best.

Samuel & Mazie Randol

By using the city directories, I saw how my great-great-grandmother let her daughters move in with her when their marriages failed, I saw her and her husband, Samuel, finding a new house to live in while her daughters stayed in their old one with their new husband, and I saw the pattern repeat. So to me, this shows me Mazie was truly a good person, going out of her way for her girls.  And taking them back in when they needed help and support (and yes, after a while I got a little judgy as I think Mazie and Samuel might have had 2 years alone before he passed away in 1938).

Speaking of Samuel, my father gave me a box of mementos that belonged to my mother’s side of the family. He had no need for them after my mom passed last year, so about 2 months ago he handed the photos off to me.  Inside the box was the book from the funeral home from when Samuel Randol passed away.  He was a trucker when he died in Decatur, Illinois.  He apparently became ill, went to the hospital, and died within a short period of time.  I’ve not ordered up his death certificate yet, I may have difficulty as he is not a blood relative and I think Illinois laws may be a bit more strict than they are here in Ohio. Anyhow, never had I seen so many names in a book of those who visited the funeral home as those who paid their respects to Samuel.  I was dumbfounded.  To me, it’s further proof that he and Mazie were good people.

Ralph Reed

To be fair I’ll throw in the black sheep of my dad’s side of the family.  In the early months of my going to the library and using Ancestry Library Edition to search about my family, I came across the following death certificate for my second cousin twice removed.  His name is Ralph Reed.

RalphReedDeathCertificate

Notice his cause of death?  Electrocution by Legal Execution.  I used a link using my library’s resources which has an academic version of Newspaper Archive on their website.  It’s nice as I was able to use it for free from home using my library card number.

Turns out Ralph and his friends decided to rob a company payroll office one day when companies still paid with cash.  Problem was they beat the cash there, decided to rob the office workers and Ralph shot the one worker in the back (yes, the headlines were man murdered for $60).  They drove off in their getaway car but nearby some telephone repairmen were fixing a wire and watched exactly where they drove off too.  Ralph was sentenced to death while the others had life in prison.  I don’t think the punishment held for all of them though, as I believe at least 2 may have been released (I’ve not thoroughly researched them yet, I will need to take a day to travel to the Ohio History Center in Columbus to find out more details. In 1948 the accused were tried, sentenced and put to death all within a years time.  On May 4, 1949 Ralph was electrocuted. Below is his photo (courtesy of the Ohio Pentitentiary in Columbus, Ohio).

RalphReed-PrisonPhoto

Resources to Use

Maps, probate records, newspaper articles, city directories, all these useful sources can help provide background information on your ancestors.  Even if you can’t find stories directly about them, you can see where they lived using old maps, you can find out what the weather was like reading articles about the area, and if they fought in wars, even if it wasn’t their personal account, reading the diaries of others fighting in the same war can give you insight as to what they went through.

So take the time to search through newspapers, you can get a subscription to such sites as the aforementioned Newspapers.com, GenealogyBank.com or visit the free Library of Congress website ChroniclingAmerica.org to see if you can find some information (trust me, sometimes they just pop right out, other times you have to go through lots of names to find what you are looking for).

Check out your library to see if they give you access to resources such as Newspaper Archive that I mentioned previously.  Sometimes you can get access to library editions of other searching tools such as MyHeritage or Fold3 as well.

Government Records

Government records work too – the census gives you where your ancestor is at a specific point in time, probate records can illustrate how their life was at the end and who their relatives are/were, if they are males registrations for wars come in handy as it lets you know next of kin, eye color, height, any interesting marks (such as scars, birthmarks, etc), all of this can give you a better indication of who your ancestors were.

So now I’ve given you more reasons to analyze those documents you’ve found to find out the story behind the story of your ancestors.  It’s worth going the extra mile because they become far more memorable when you have a story to tell than if they are just a name on the screen.

Have you found out anything interesting about your family?  Share with me in the comments below.

Genealogy, My Family Tree

Make Sure You Look at Everything on the Census!

For two years I’ve had a brick wall in my great-great aunt Margaret Blair who was born in October 1879.  She is on the 1880 census as this is how I know she lived.  She has been one of my biggest mysteries.  By the time the 1900 census comes around, Margaret would have been 20 so I never knew if she had passed away in childhood or just gotten married with her license just eluding me.

Frustrated I reached out to two different Facebook groups last Friday where I received great advice and suggestions from so many supportive family historians.  One very helpful commenter suggested that I examine the 1900 and 1910 census because they both state how many total children a woman had and how many were still alive.

You know that emoji where it looks like a woman smacking herself on the forehead?  It’s my favorite emoji, and my most used.  That was me after reading the recommendation. OVER TWO YEARS and the answer was in front of me the entire time.

I remembered seeing that column on the census way back when I first found the censuses for many family members.

So make sure you know what your census has to offer.  Over the years the US government has asked different questions of its population on the census forms.

1790 Census

The first census of the United States was pretty basic.  It was all about free white males 16 and older, free white males under 16, free white females of all ages were lumped together, then other free persons, and then slaves. Only the heads of household were listed, along with the state and county.

1800 Census

The second census of the United States expanded on the first one, where it became a little more precise with the age groups of the free white males and free white females, then it was all other free persons, and then slaves.

1810 Census

The third census of the United States was not really that creative and was pretty much the same as in 1800.

1820 Census

The fourth census of the United States still had the same breakdown of free white males and free white females, but this particular year they were interested about foreigners who were not yet naturalized, who was earning a living in agriculture, commerce or manufacturing, then it went into more detail about the ages of slaves, and the ages of free colored persons.

1830 Census

The fifth census of the United States was more of the same, but along with the age increments of all segments of the population, the government also wanted to know who was deaf, dumb (as in couldn’t speak), blind (these were also spread out below age 14, between 14 and 25, and above 25 for both whites and blacks), and they still wanted to know who was an unnaturalized foreigner.

1840 Census

The sixth census of the United States was similar to the 1830 census, but it was also curious about who were pensioners of the Revolutionary War, occupations expanded from just three categories to mining, agriculture, manufacturing, navigation of the ocean, navigation of lakes and rivers, or worked as a professional engineer. There were also questions referencing education/college.

1850 Census

The seventh census of the United States, also the first census most people like as it lists the name of everyone living in a house, age, sex, color, value of real estate, profession, place of birth, married, if they attended school, if they could read or write, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.

1860 Census

The eighth census of the United States was very similar to the 1850 census but along with the value of the real estate, it also asked the value of one’s personal estate.

1870 Census

The ninth census of the United States inquired a lot of the basic information of 1860, but was curious about whether your parents were foreign-born and if so, where?  Also asked if you were born or married within the past year, what month? If you had attended school within the past year?  And if you were a male citizen 21 years or older, and if you were 21 and older and if your right to vote is denied due to crimes or rebellion.

1880 Census

The tenth census of the United States began asking questions such as what street you lived on, your relation to the head of the household, single, married, widow, your profession, if you had been unemployed in the past year, if you were sick or disabled, blind, deaf, dumb, insane, if you had attended school, and where you born, and where your parents were born.

1900 Census

The twelfth census of the United States was the first of two with how many children a woman bore and how many survived as of the census, it also asked what year you immigrated to the US, and how long you have lived here, and if you were naturalized.  It asked for a profession, if you attended school, knew English and if you owned or rented your home, if it was a farm or a house, and the farm schedule.

1910 Census

The thirteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into one’s profession, only cared to know if you were deaf or blind, and also asked if you were an Army or Navy member during the Civil War.

1920 Census

The fourteenth census of the United States delved a little deeper into the ethnicity of people, as it asked where you from but also your mother tongue for both fathers and mothers as well as oneself.

1930 Census

The fifteenth census of the United States was similar to the previous ones, but it also asked what your age on your last birthday was, how old you were when you married, whether you were a veteran, did you work?

1940 Census

The sixteenth census of the United States along with all the information of the previous census’ wanted to know what your highest level/grade of school,  if the individual worked for the WPA, what your occupation was and the industry you worked for, and how much money you made.

Margaret

I had seen the line items on the 1900 and 1910 census about the number of children born and the number of children who were still surviving at the point in time.  Here is the 1910 Census for my great-great-grandmother, Susan Jane Foster (Blair). Both the 1900 and the 1910 Census state the same numbers, but on the 1910 census she is at the top of a sheet.

1910 Census

Susan had 9 total children and 6 survived.  I can account for her 6 living children: Phoebe Jane Blair, Loretto Jane Blair, Andrew Jackson Blair, Minnie Blair, William Blair, and John Blair.  She had 3 that died, Margaret was one of them.

This had me sad.  I really hoped she ran off and got married and I just hadn’t tracked her marriage information yet.  In a months time, I’m going to head to Pennsylvania and visit some relatives, cemeteries and the Bedford County courthouse, where I hope I am able to find out what happened to poor Margaret.  I have two others to find as well.

The Moral of the Story

Pay attention to the details that your census offers, because even though they give you names and approximate birth dates for your ancestors, they can solve your brick walls too.

So many of us use computer programs where we upload the document into our system, and yes we look at enumeration districts and who else is listed when we share our document with all who are on it for citations but do we really KNOW what it’s telling us?

So your homework is to go print off clean copies of the census, and transcribe what you see onto the clean sheet of paper for your relatives, so you can know them better, and tell their stories in a whole new way.

 

Genealogy

The United States Census

One of the most powerful tools for any genealogist is census records. I still seek these out and I love all the juicy details they provide: where my ancestor lived at a specific moment in time, who was living with them, and of course an idea of their age. They are “the building blocks of your research” as noted by the National Archives.

Census

Why The Census is Done

According to www.census.gov, “the framers of the Constitution of the United States chose population to be the basis for sharing political power, not wealth or land”. So counting people every 10 years is important, it helps determine the representatives for each state and territory in the House of Representatives, “federal funds, grants, and support to states, counties, and communities” is based on “population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race, and other factors”. Businesses also use census information when deciding to “build factories, offices and stores” which helps in job creation.

Other information the census shows us, according to www.phys.org is how the U.S. has changed. It illustrates where populations have increased and decreased. For example, in the 1990 census, the highest growth was in the south and western states.

The 1790-1840 Years

When working with census records you tend to begin with 1940 and work backward. Life is fine and dandy until you hit 1840 and suddenly going every 10 years and seeing familiar names stops as it becomes 1-name (the head of household), and a bunch of hash marks in columns associated with their sex, age, and sadly, color.

These early census records do provide age approximations, economic, military, immigration and naturalization information (depending on the year) that can help point you in the direction of other supporting material to help in your family history journey.

1890 Census

The 1890 population census is no more due to a fire in the Commerce Department in January 1921. The 1890 Veteran’s Census for Surviving Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, and Widows survived the fire and can be used for a relative who qualifies.

The 72 Year Rule

There is a 72-year waiting period before the release of a census after the information is collected. This is for the privacy of the people within the documents.

State Census

Did you know some states had their own census done, often on the fives?  This is such a great help as it assists in tracking your family members even more closely, finding children who may have had technical names so you have a better chance of getting it correct, or ones that may have passed away young and so they show up on an official document.

I was originally going to list all the states that have done a census, but it’s apparently easier to list those who have not: Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia.

I’ve just begun to peek at other countries census records so we’ll leave foreign census for another day (if my foreign is your home, my apologies, but feel free to enlighten us in the comments below).

I have enjoyed learning about my ancestors and all the other branches by viewing names on the United States Federal and even State census. Sometimes (no, all the time) the lack of the 1890 census bugs the dickens out of me. I have a great-great-aunt, Margaret Blair, who is on the 1880 census.  It states she was born October 1879, but by the 1900 census, she would be 20. Trouble is I don’t know if poor Margaret got married (my hope) or died as I’ve not found any marriage records for her (when I peek at other user trees on Ancestry, it appears no one else has been successful either).  One day I’ll find you, Margaret, I promise.

Though I’d still like to think if our ancestors knew how wonderful these records were going to be for those of us wanting to know them, more attention to detail would have been had by all – informant, census taker, the works!

 

 

Genealogy, My Family Tree

A Wonderful Surprise

A week or so ago I decided my living room had had enough and I needed to move the last of my stuff up into the attic where I planned on storing my genealogy research. Once there I decided to go through one of the boxes I’d found a few weeks before because I was surprised to find my sisters and my school photos.

But as I looked at the photos of my sister and me as we each wore the same dress in different grades with even the same barrette in our hair, it was what was underneath that made me even happier.

It all goes back to when I began doing my genealogy a couple of years ago, one of my first initial puzzles was my great-great-grandmother Mazie Lorenia Warner.  I had such a difficult time finding her in the census and things because you would be surprised how messed up the name Mazie can be in “official” documents.  Magie in one, which is at least close, Daysa in another, because that makes sense.  As I found more and more out about her the more I began creating a personality for her, as she seems like a wonderful and caring woman, especially in regard to her children.  She was always letting her children move back home when relationships didn’t work out or finding a new home for herself to let her children have the existing home to help them get started on their own.  I discovered this trend as I saved City Directory after City Directory.

The one thing all the documents didn’t provide was what Mazie looked like.

But then going through this box of photos I stumbled across pictures that must have belonged to my great grandmother.  I found a photo of Mazie and I was so incredibly happy. I literally had tears of joy, immediately calling my husband because I was so thrilled.

MazieWarnerSig

Next up is making sure I find the right products to store such treasures.  Along with the photo of Mazie was one of her mother, Orienta Gustine Warner (this had me thinking as my grandmother had it titled “Great Grandmother Warner” – it made me think Mazie because I am so used to associating maiden names with my female ancestors, and then I realized who she really meant).

OrientaGustineWarnerSig

Now I’m curious as to what other great finds are awaiting me in my boxes of photos. The ones in the header of my blog here are my relatives – the baby is my great-grandfather who was born in 1873 while the group shot is my 2 paternal great grandmothers, my beloved Grandma Blair, and my grandfather, affectionately called Pappy (he passed when I was 2).  Those 2 photos I found in a box of pictures from my Grandma Blair, and I know her niece may have an adult photo of my her dad (the baby).

I hope you are lucky enough to have such wonderful finds in your own family history quest. If you have been fortunate please share in the comments below.