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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.