When I first started with genealogy, I mainly researched my dad’s side of the family. These ancestors are from the Smoky Mountain region of the United States in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina (and just a little bit in Virginia). The families intermarried a lot and it quickly gets difficult to sort everyone out. Therefore, incorrect and unsourced information for these lines is EVERYWHERE!
Admittedly, when I first started researching, I just copy and pasted information into PAF, started printing reports, and sat back in the glory of having my ancestry go back to the 1700s. The problem? None (or very little) of it was sourced. A lot of it (read: 95%) was incorrect. In short – it was a mess.
In the last 2 years or so, I’ve been mainly focusing on my other family lines. In some sense, I think I just needed a break from trying to sort my Smoky Mountain ancestors out. I craved something different and began focusing on my Indiana, Washington, Ohio, and New England lines.
Recently, however, I’ve become inspired to tackle my Smoky Mountain ancestors again. I want to start getting these ancestors organized – sorting out who is who, what documents are available, and knowing where every bit of information comes from. I want it all sourced and documented. To tackle this project, I’ve decided to use WikiTree – having a collaborative tool will hopefully attract cousins and others with interests in the area to pitch in. I can use all the help I can get for sorting and sourcing these ancestors!
So it seems after all these years, I’m going back to the start.
What’s your latest genealogy project?
Here is part two in the blog post series all about busting down your brick walls by organizing your project. If you missed part one, you can read it here.
3.) List Your Hypotheses. What are your educated guesses to answer your research question? What do you think may have happened? What is your reasoning behind your guess?
4.) Create the F.A.N. List: When researching your ancestors, it is super important to keep a list of the people your ancestors interacted with throughout their lives. These people are called F.A.N.s – friends, associates, and neighbors. These are the people your ancestors did business with, sat next to in church, and signed documents as witnesses. When you get really stuck with an ancestor, it is often the friends, associates, and neighbors that will have more information – research the F.A.N.s and you might find the missing piece of the puzzle to your research question.
5.) Create a To-Do List: Now that you have all information about your ancestor and the research problem laid out in a clear and organized manner, it is time to create a research to-do list. Carefully look at the information and begin to brainstorm the records and resources you want to check. Maybe you need to employ a new search strategy – like trying different naming spellings or checking the surrounding counties – to a resource you’ve already checked to find your ancestor.
6.) Collaborate: Collaborating with other researchers is a great way to find new perspective and get new research ideas. Whenever I have a research problem, I share the problem with others – two heads (or more!) are always better than one! I love to write blog posts about my brick wall ancestors – this will hopefully attract unknown cousins that might have information to share, and other researchers can have a chance to make recommendations or share resources I hadn’t thought of yet. Someone else might look at your research and have a fresh perspective to offer – like maybe you read a word incorrectly or didn’t know that geographic boundaries had changed and you should be looking in a different jurisdiction for that record.
If blog posts are you’re style, use a message board to share your problem. Like a blog post, other people can comment with ideas and fresh perspective – and you might just find a cousin!
Also look into using collaborative websites like WikiTree (my fav – and not just cause I work there!) or WeRelate. Both of these options allow for multiple researchers to collaborate on one ancestor profile.
7.) Re-Evaluate & Repeat: As you finish steps 1-6, you’ve hopefully gathered some new information. Now repeat the entire process, entering in all new information, until you have successfully answered your question.
So that’s it for this blog series – have you busted down any brick walls lately? Tell me about it in the comments below!
[Photo: Flickr User Jayel Aheram, text added by Elyse Doerflinger]
Every genealogist has a brick wall ancestor – that ancestor with the record trail that seems to just stop. One of the keys to busting down that brick wall is to organize your project in a way that lays out what you already know about the ancestor, your research problem, and a research to-do list. Having this summary and plan written up, will make it super easy to follow through and bust down those brick walls.
There are 7 steps to organizing your brick wall project:
1.) Write Down Everything You Know and How You Know It. I prefer to do this in a timeline format – starting from birth and listing every event I have my ancestor until their death and/or burial. Under each event, I list the source from where the information came from. I also like to write a summary sentence or two about the weight of each piece of information.
A source is where you got the information from. Original sources provide information that is not derived by another source. Derivative sources, just as the name suggests, is a source that has been abstracted, transcribed, summarized, or in some way derived from another source. It is usually best to see the original source whenever possible to be sure exactly what it says. Derived sources like transcriptions and abstractions can sometimes contain errors.
There are two types of information that can be found within a source. Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of the event with information by an person with close knowledge of the event. For example, a birth record (unless it is delayed) will contain primary information about the birth of a child. This information was probably provided by the parents that were present or the midwife/doctor that was present during the birth. Secondary information is information found in records created after a long period of time has passed from the event or was contributed by a person who was not present at the event.
The complicated part is that one source may have multiple types of information within it. For example, a death certificate is an original source with primary information regarding the death date and place, but secondary information regarding the names of parents and date of birth. The secondary information will need to be assessed and it will probably be best to search for more records created closer to the time of the event.
2.) Identify the Problem: Now that you have a clear picture of what you know about your ancestor, it’s time to identify exactly what question you want to answer. If there are multiple questions, list each one separately and clearly.
Examples: Where was George Monroe Rogers born? What was the name of his parents? Where was John N. Morris living during the 1900 census? Did Adolph Doerflinger become a naturalized citizen? Where was Julia Morris Rogers buried?
Stay tuned for the next post in this series of blog posts about busting down your brick walls!
[Photo: Flickr User Jayel Aheram, text added by Elyse Doerflinger]
As many of you know, I’ve been slowly working on organizing my family history closet. I’ve bought a few nice boxes for storage and been scanning lots of pictures with my Flip-Pal. I’ve been categorizing the different pictures and taking assessment of what materials I still need to buy to complete the project. It is slow, but I am making progress.
I bought a large flat box to store Grandma and Grandpa Doerflinger’s 50th wedding anniversary album. The album has fallen apart and I now have all of the pages. Each page has a letter or card from a family member or friend with memories of my grandparents. Nearly all of the pages also have photos to accompany the letters. It has been so neat to read all the family stories and memories about my grandparents that I never met.
While putting all the pages in the box, I found the page my mom put together. For today’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’ve decided to share the letter my mom, Sharon Doerflinger, wrote to my grandparents:
June 9, 1984
When I was a kid and other little girls were out selling girl scout cookies or lemonade from stands, I always felt alittle left out. I wasn’t a girl scout and my lemonade left alot to be desired. Dad caught on to this and came with the idea of opening up a roadside stand selling chayote squash. He said I could corner the market and that the financial awards would be endless. Squash?….. I thought my old man must be off his rocker, nobody eats squash, so why would anybody buy it. Well, Dad persuaded me to do it, besides, the squash plant was taking over the backyard, and if someone bought it I wouldn’t have to eat it. To my surprise squash eaters came from miles around to buy my squash, I was the most successful little sales-person on the block. I made bunches of money, even ended up liking squash and learned that once again, Father does know best.
Before my operation, I was having alot of trouble with my leg Every night around midnight I would wake up with the worst pain in my leg that would only go away if I kept moving. So every night Mom would get up and walk me around the house for at least one hour until the pain subsided. This went on every single night for three months and she never complained, she was always there, and when the doctors could find nothing wrong she never gave up until they found out what was wrong and corrected it.
Dear Mom & Dad,
There are just two of the many memories I have of both of you. The memory I treasure most is one I can’t remember, although it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. That is, adopting me. In taking me into your home, you gave me the best darn Dad, Mom, sisters, brothers, and family anyone could ask for. Thanks much. Happy Anniversary, I love you both.
The operation my mom is referring to above is the operation that removed the bone cancer in her leg. When my mom was 11, she was diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg that required surgery to remove the cancer – and she had the 7 inch scar on her leg to prove it.
At the time, the doctors were not sure if they could remove the cancer without amputating her leg. My mother, determined not to lose her leg, decided to run away from home with her niece, Carrie (who was 3 years younger than her). My mom gathered most of the supplies (a bag of clothes and canned food). Carrie’s only job was to bring the can opener from the kitchen. Once everyone was asleep, the girls carefully crept out of the bedroom window and made a run for it. They only got a few blocks away when they decided to stop, review their supplies, and discuss their next step – leading my mom to discover that Carrie had forgotten the can opener. Carrie began to cry as my mom scolded her at their now ruined plans.
At the time, the girls had no idea that my mom’s big brother, Larry (who was an adult at this point), had heard the girls sneak out of the house and had stealthily followed them. Calming the girl’s down, he escorted them home and never told my grandparents of their escape.
As you can tell, this album has given me some great family history stories to tell and I am loving getting it organized so that I can gleam even more family stories from it!
[Are you trying to organize your family archive of stuff? I highly suggest that you get Denise Levenick’s new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes. It is AMAZING! Denise is amazing! Her passion for saving these the family “stuff” is infectious and the book is written in a way that makes you feel like she is cheering you on the entire way. Plus? The book sales will help fund the Winsor Student Genealogy Grant (of which I was a recipient of last year with A.C. Ivory). So go buy it – cause I promise you that you will love it!]
Will the 100% organized genealogist please stand up?
Anyone? Anyone? Hello?
Organizing our genealogy and family history stuff is on everyone’s mind – especially now with the start of 2013. But for most of us (except for maybe the total beginner), we have a lot of stuff. Organizing all of this stuff takes a lot time and here are some reasons why:
- You have to figure out what stuff you have.
- You have to figure out how you want to store all that you have.
- You have to figure out the best way to sort all of this stuff so you can find it.
Since getting organized is a big project (and something that will require your continued attention), I will be creating a video series to walk through the process of getting organized.
The first video covers the absolute basics – so watch it below!
Every family has traditions that are practiced every holiday season. Things like baking, spending time with family, the food that is eaten, the decorations that are up – all of these things are time honored traditions.
One of the traditions that I have is getting sick.
That’s right. You read that right. Every single Christmas from the time I was 2 until I was about 8 was spent with me being sick. Since then, I’ve traded off, sometimes being sick during Christmas and sometimes I am sick the week before or after. But it just wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t get sick.
So I leave you with this photo of myself taken on Christmas morning of 1992 – taken shortly after I woke up to find Santa had visited and left me lots of presents. My parents tried desperately to get me excited, but all I wanted to do was curl up with my blanket on the couch with my new doll and go to sleep. In fact, I only opened this one present and left the rest until that evening.
As the year comes to an end and many of us celebrate various holidays, I wish you all a wonderful season full of love, good company, and good food. Happy Ancestor hunting!
A few days ago I wrote a Some Thoughts for the Genealogy Societies in the World. I’ve given genealogy societies some words of advice, but I think it is time to discuss why you should join a genealogy society. These are my reasons for joining a genealogy society:
- Social Networking: While I love keeping up to date with all of my genealogy buddies on Facebook and Twitter, it isn’t the same as in-person socializing. I crave social time with people that get the whole, “I search for dead people” thing. I don’t just want someone to have a conversation with (although those are nice) but I want someone I an truly call a friend. Someone who I can take field trips to libraries and archives with. Someone to share a hotel room with during conferences. And someone to get together with and talk about our latest research struggles. I want a genealogy social life and a genealogy society is the best way to create the social life.
- Education: I am always looking to learn about other resources, methodologies, and technologies to help me research my ancestors. Genealogy societies not only have members with knowledge, but also bring in speakers or conduct classes. Sometimes they release newsletters with lots of good educational information or articles to learn from. Some societies even host webinars to bring in speakers from all over the country (and the world).
- Access to Stuff: Lots of societies have a library that sometimes requires a small fee for nonmembers to research. Being a member of that society can give you free access to the library. Some societies also offer at-home access to subscription sites so you can do research at home in your pajamas.
- Support History: Sometimes, it makes sense to join a society because you want to financially support the cause of the society. Many societies are doing projects to preserve and record the local history – without these societies (and your financial support), the local history could be lost forever.
Those are my 4 reasons for joining a genealogy society. Why do you join genealogy societies?
Here is a bit of a confession: I’m not the only 20-something genealogist out there. Surprisingly, there are a bunch of “younger” genealogists and family historians out there – I get comments and emails from them on a regular basis. But the one thing I’ve noticed we all have in common? We’re all pretty darn shy when it comes to actually going to a genealogy society or conference. So how do you pull us out of our shells?
Here are my words of advice based on my own experiences and thoughts:
1.) Please don’t look at me like I’m a lost child that wandered into the wrong room. No, I’m not lost. Yes, I mean to be in here. No, I was not dragged here against my will. Yes, I actually want to be here.
2.) Don’t assume my grandparents (or other older relatives) are alive. Some people my age are fortunate enough to have their grandparents still around. However, I’m not one of them. My mom was the youngest child in her family and was the last of her siblings to have children. My maternal grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died shortly after. My dad is also the youngest child of his family. However, both of my paternal grandparents were alive when I was born. Around my toddler years, my grandmother developed dementia and died in 2002. My grandfather lived across the country and although it was his refusal to tell me anything about my family that got me interested in genealogy, he died in 2003. So no, I’m not so lucky in that department.
3.) Please don’t assume I’m a beginner. Often times when I walk into a new genealogy society or library, people assume I’m an absolute beginner. I’m not saying I’m Elizabeth Shown Mills or anything, but I know my way around a pedigree chart. Instead, ask me how my research is going. Ask me where I’m stuck. Ask me about what kind of ancestors I have. Then offer me help or just let me enjoy the company. We got something in common – let’s chat!
4.) Have a website, blog, and Facebook account. I want to keep up with the happenings of your society and these are all easy ways for me to do it. Keep me updated and informed, and I’m more likely to be there.
5.) Have an open mind. I don’t expect every person in your society to be the most tech-savvy person on the planet. All I ask if that when I mention a technological something (like DropBox or Facebook) and look at me like I’ve just spoken in Chinese or something. Instead, ask me about it. I swear, I won’t bite. I won’t get mad. I won’t think you’re stupid. I want to share. I want to tell you about it.
6.) Have a Decent Tech Set-Up: I understand that technology costs money and right now, the last thing any society has is money. But, having a decent tech set up makes a speaker’s life so much easier. And when you have great speakers who can easily show off their lovely presentations, then you have happy attendees.
7.) Don’t let my age define me. When I went to SCGS’s Jamboree for the first time, I kind of became a legend to attendees. On the last day of the conference, a woman walked up to me and excitedly introduced herself. She added that, “It really is true! There really is a young person here at this conference! There’s been rumors going on about you the entire time but I just didn’t believe it!” At the time, it was cute and flattering and kind of embarrassing – I was just happy that people were accepting me. But now, I want to be judged and valued based on my knowledge, on my personality, on who I am and not hold old I am. I get it – it’s so exciting to see a 20-something at a genealogy society or library. I know that I’m young enough to be your daughter/granddaughter and how much you wish one of your family members would catch the bug like I have. But once that excitement settles down, would you mind actually getting to know me and judging me based on that? Cause I want to get to know you too. I want more genealogy friends – people that get that I would rather go to a cemetery or spend an entire day in a library than go to a bar on a Friday night. We already go so much in common – so let’s be friends!
So that’s my list of advice for genealogy societies hoping to attract a bit of a younger crowd. Got anything to add to the list? Pop it in the comments section.