I love finding programs that bring history to life and the Tennessee State Library and Archives has just the thing to help. The TSLA has a new program called DocsBox. There are several boxes ranging from the Civil War to Vietnam. All the boxes include specialized lesson plans focused on the specific topic from a Tennessee perspective! Not only are teachers given a lesson plan, but also unique items to really bring history to life.
You can find the details of the boxes, and how to reserve a box for your classroom by clicking the link below. I know if I was still in school, I would have loved these boxes!
This week, I received an invitation to my high school reunion. I’ll refrain to say how many years it’s been…I have to leave something to the imagination! Anyways, it made me all nostalgic and I found myself looking at my old yearbooks. As I was looking through them, I realized that yearbooks are full of genealogical information! A yearbook gives you a real glimpse into how someone spent their youth. It tells you what school they went to (which essentially tells you what area they lived in), what their interests were, and even who their friends were.
I’m fortunate enough to have access to my mother’s yearbooks. I can see who signed her yearbook and get a full picture of what her high school days were like. Even if you don’t have access to the actual yearbook, you are still in luck. Did you know that Ancestry.com has quite the yearbook collection? There are two ways to see if your ancestor (or relative) has their yearbook online. You can search their name and information in the “all collections” search on the main page. That should pull up any yearbook information. Another option is to go to the card catalog. Once there, on the left hand side, you should see the option “Schools, Directories, and Church Histories” click there. Next you should see the option “School Lists and Yearbooks”. After clicking this option, all of the yearbooks and Ancestry will be shown. This includes yearbooks from around the world. You can further filter the results by selecting the country, state, county, etc.
So you’ve been staring at your Ancestral Chart for a couple of weeks now and trying to figure out just who you picked to win the National Championship. (Am I the only one who is reminded of March Madness every time I look at an Ancestral Chart?!) If you are lucky, you’re still a little bit stressed out of who exactly to start your research with. Do not be stressed because stress isn’t cool! (Yeah, that pun was a bit of a reach. Haha!)
Below are some ways to help you choose who to research and the first steps in doing so.
Pick A Side
It’s never intentional, but usually we know more about one side of our family than the other. Use this information to your advantage. To get started, pick the side of your family that you know the most about. Do you have the basic information for your Great Grandfather on your mother’s side? You do…great! Use that to get your feet wet. Maybe you have the information but don’t have actual documentation. Take what you know and start verifying the information with paper documentation.
When you find documents, or any information, make sure to write down where you found it. It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of writing down where you didn’t find information as this will make your research much easier. I’ll go more in depth in citing sources in a later post.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Your best source of information will no doubt come from your older relatives. These family members were either around when an event happened or heard the stories first hand from those who lived it. Take advantage of this! Take the time to interview your family members. Write down their stories, or better yet, record them on your phone! This will give you the opportunity to revisit the stories later to pick apart more information.
One thing to remember about family stories is that they are sometimes second hand information. Someone told someone who told someone who is now telling you. It can become a game of Telephone! (I hope I’m not showing my age here! Haha!) It’s important to verify everything you can with documentation or some type of reliable source.
Cousins Are Your Friends
Now that you’ve decided on who you’re going to research, it’s important to remember their entire immediate family. When I first started researching my family, I got into the very bad habit of only focusing on direct ancestors. This means that I was only researching my grandfather, and his father, and his father, and well…you get the picture. Not only was I missing out on learning about some fascinating cousins, I was also missing out on people who could potentially help me knock down brick walls.
When you’re filling out your family tree, make sure to include all of your ancestor’s brothers and sisters (and their spouses). Not only will this help you in your research, it will also help with DNA hits. You are more likely to hit with a second or third cousin than you are with a direct ancestor.
Now that you know how to get started and who to get started with, now we can get into specifics of where to get started! Next week’s post will be a brief overview of different places to research and I’ll answer the question of if you really need to pay for the Ancestry account!
The thought of jumping into your family history can be a bit intimidating. With so many people and so much information to find, how in the world do you even get started?! Well, let me help you out a bit. I’ve come up with just a few suggestions to get you started!
Start with what you know
You may only know your grandparents’ names, or you may be lucky enough to go all the way back to your 2x Great Grandparents. Either way, you are at a great jumping off point. The best way to get your feet wet in genealogy is to start with what you know. My suggestion is to start by filling out a ancestral chart. This sheet will help you to see the information you already have, and will help direct you in the direction of where to take your research.
I suggest starting with either your maternal or paternal side. I find that usually a person knows more about one side than the other. Do not ask me why this is the case! Haha! Do not try to do both at the same time. You will get confused on who goes with who and who was where. (That sentence alone sounds confusing!) This isn’t just something for beginners to remember, but a good reminder for those of us who have been doing it for years!
Keep it simple
Okay, this kind of goes with what I said under number one, but let me go into a little more detail. When I say simple what I mean is do not go in looking for every story about your ancestor. Those will come with time. To start, look for the basic vital records (birth, marriage, and death) and use these basics to grow your tree. Birth certificates will usually tell you both parents’ names. Marriage certificates will sometimes tell you who the couple’s parents are, and death certificates may tell you the spouse’s name as well as the parents’ names.
There is a lot more information you can gain from vital records, but I’ll go into more specifics in a later post. Right now, you just want to get used to looking at the records. One thing I failed to mention above is to pay attention to where these events occurred. Be aware that of how people moved during the time you are researching. If you’re in the early 1800s and a couple was married on the east coast and had a child nine months later on the west coast, you may need to do a little more digging. That’s not to say that the scenario is impossible, but travel back then, especially across the country, was treacherous. Could a couple, with a pregnant woman, really have made it across the county in that amount of time?
Don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a dumb question, especially in genealogy. While research may be done as a solo project, most genealogy is a collaborative effort. That means, that someone out there may have the information that you need and vice versa. If you are on Ancestry, and have completed the DNA testing, do not be afraid of reaching out to a new “cousin” that is researching the same family members that you are. Ask them what information they have. It’s always a smart idea to compare notes. Sometimes you’ll hit a gold mine of information while other times you’ll come up with nothing. You never know until you ask!
Manage your expectations
I would love nothing more than to tell you that you will find what you’re looking for in exactly one week, but genealogy doesn’t work that way. The best way to avoid getting frustrated is just to take it a bit at a time. Celebrate when you find a new ancestor. When you hit a brick wall, take a break. It’s okay to step away for a moment. Got get some wine…or a cupcake…believe me, I do it!
When doing genealogy, always remember the saying that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Genealogy is addicting, frustrating, but most importantly fun!
If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org
I had a whole topic planned for today’s tip, and then like I usually do…I fell down a genealogy rabbit hole. You know what I’m talking about. You have a plan. Just some quick research and then you start chasing an ancestor. You’re determined that whatever question you’re trying to answer can be found just around the corner…and then three hours later you still have no answers.
That is where I found myself yesterday. I found myself researching an ancestor that I had done some work on before. I remember this ancestor well because I have yet to be able to find what port they came in when arriving in America. It’s like I have a crazy amount of puzzle pieces and yet none of them will go together. What is a genealogist to do?!
This is where I’m reminded about migration paths. Where one family traveled, more were bound to follow. If you’ve done research in Kentucky, I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Wilderness Road”. These paths were taken by many families and some even turned into the roads we used today. If you have a general idea of where your family either started or finished their journey, you may be able to use these paths to find them in other locations. Some researchers specialize in this topic and therefore a quick Google search can provide you with the information you’re looking for. Remember, though, to keep it broad. Many paths covered the same areas so don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your ancestors right away.
The other tip to finding the migration path your ancestor may have taken is to look at census records. I know it’s easy to get caught up in only looking for, and recording, your particular ancestor, but it’s important to pay attention to those living around them. I know that I have a group of ancestors, the Loys, the Sharps, and the Graves, that traveled the southern part of the United States together. While I am still trying to find where the first came to America, I know that these families started together in Virginia, then onto North Carolina, and then settled together in Tennessee.
By researching these families together, you will not only discover how they traveled, but other insights into their background. You will find that the families that migrated together had a lot more in common than just where they lived. These families tend to share the same religious preference and country of origin. So, even if you can’t find the history of your particular ancestors, you will gain some insight into what their background may be.
I suppose before I jump into what I did on my trip to Ireland, I should give you a little background on how all this came about. The short story is that it was all divine intervention. The (shortened) long story is a little more random.
Like a lot of my best stories, social media played a big role. It all started with an Instagram post. I saw a posting talking about a program called SALT (Serving the Aged Lovingly Today) that was sponsored by the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm. Now here is where I should tell you that I’m not Catholic. Yes, I have some interest in the Catholic faith, but I was raised as Baptist as one can be living in the South. Anyways, here was a program that was based around serving the elderly, something that is very near and dear to my heart. I immediately filled out the application, but took pause when it asked me my interests/hobbies. I put the basics down. You know the ones: reading, spending time with my friends/family, etc. The only problem was do I list genealogy. Genealogy is a huge part of my life, but how could I possibly use it to help the elderly? I continued and finished filling out the rest of the application and then right before I hit submit, I went back and added genealogy to list.
Okay…I’m going to skip a large chunk of the story here. One, because this will be a really long post if I don’t and two, it’s just details.
The fact that I added genealogy to my “hobbies” list opened a huge door and an even bigger opportunity. The suggestion was made to use my genealogy knowledge and make “memory books” for the residents at the nursing homes the SALT volunteers would visit. That way, the residents would not only have their stories written in a book, but they would also have something they could pass down to future generations. I thought that this was an amazing idea!
Fast forward a couple of months and I find myself on a plane to Dublin, Ireland…the first stop on the SALT “tour”. I had never been to Ireland. Sure I had heard family folklore stories about Ireland, particularity from my Grandpa who was very proud of his Irish heritage. To say I was excited would have been an understatement.
Myself, along with seven other girls, would be staying at a nursing home located in Dalkey, Ireland. We would “live” there for the week and serve the elderly the best way possible, by just being there for them. We would go to Mass with them daily, play games and have sing-a-longs with them, and most importantly work on their memory books.
The “memory book” project started day one. I found myself explaining to the other girls who were there volunteering what exactly these books needed to be and how to put them together. I had worked on a list of questions to ask the residents for their books just in case any of us got stuck during our one-on-one time with the residents. To say I was a little intimidated would have been an understatement. Sure, I had done other projects like this before, but never in a group setting and never at a nursing home. I just prayed that God would show us the best way to tackle this project.
Oh boy, did God show up! Each of the volunteers were assigned two residents, with the hopes that at least one would be willing to participate. We had some residents that didn’t feel comfortable sharing their life stories. We had others that didn’t think they had done anything worthy of a “memory books”. Then we had the residents where we didn’t even have to ask a single question because they were that eager to share their story.
At the end of the week, we presented our residents with their “memory book”. All of the girls had done an amazing job. Each book was made not only out of the love we developed for our resident, but out of what we discovered they needed most. One book was made as a sensory book for a resident who was losing their sight. One book was made as a remembrance for the family members that a resident had lost. One book was made as a family tree so as not to lose the ancestors who came before. Each book was unique to the experience and each book served as a genealogy treasure, either to remember the past or to not forget the present.
I think as a Genealogist we sometimes forget the human connection. That those living are creating history as we speak. We get so involved in those who have already passed that we forget the importance of recording what is happening now. My week in Ireland reminded me to not only record the stories of my Grandparents (and those older generations), but to also start making notes of my own history. All any of us wants someday is for somebody to listen to the things we have experienced and how those moments made us feel. Yes, the majority of the time spent doing genealogy is research, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of listening. Hidden gems are there just waiting for us to take the time to listen.
There is so much more I could write about this experience. My fellow volunteers, the Sisters, the staff, and of course, the residents, made this a week that I will never forget. I highly suggest that if you have the time to sit down with the elderly and just talk about their lives, you will not regret it. Also, if you looking for more information about the SALT Program or the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm, I’ve posted some links below. Lastly, if you have any questions on the “memory book” project, feel free to email me at email@example.com
We’ve all heard those crazy family stories. You know the ones I’m talking about. The crazy stores of an ancestor that you know can’t possibly be true. What if I told you that story was true? You would probably think I was crazy too, huh?
Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t know if all your family stories are true or not, but what I do know is that somewhere in that story is some truth. I know you’ve heard the saying, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. Well, the same can be said for genealogy and family stories. Somewhere along the way, that story was told. Maybe the facts got twisted along the way, but it is still a real story about your real family.
Maybe I’ve confused you now. Let me give you an example. From an early age my Grandfather would tell me a story about how he pushed an Indian off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Yes, this falls into the category of “crazy family story”. For years, I brushed it off as nothing but pure fiction. (If you know anything about the Mackinac Bridge, you know why). Come to find out, there was a bit of truth in that story. No, my Grandfather did commit a crime by pushing someone off a bridge, but he did work on the Mackinac Bridge. He helped to install the elevators on the bridge back in the late 1950s.
The moral of this story is to not be so quick to dismiss family folklore at just that, a bunch of untruths. If you look close enough, you might just find a nugget of truth to bring your ancestor back to life.
When I tell people that I am a genealogist, I usually get one of two reactions. Some think that is the coolest thing ever, while others can’t seem to understand why I would be interested in other people’s genealogy. I usually ask the doubters if they know where they came from. More often than not, they tell me they have no idea about their ancestors. That’s when my eyes light up and I go into full genealogist mode.
I don’t “sell” the idea of genealogy to the doubters in order to make a dollar. I do it so I can see their idea of family history change when I begin to tell them the stories of their ancestors. I do it so that they can find a little bit of themselves in their 2x Great Grandparents. I do it in order to help them find closure on what was an unbelievable and unconfirmed family story. I could come up with a thousand reasons of why I “do” genealogy and not one of them is more important than the other.
I recently came across an article by a genealogist that criticized the new season of Who Do You Think You Are. They were disappointed that this season is focusing more on the storytelling than the genealogy work. I don’t understand why this is a bad thing. The storytelling is what brought me to genealogy. It wasn’t the countless hours in a library or digging through records in a courthouse. These days, I love spending hours on end doing research, but to a non-genealogist they just want to know the story. I feel like why not use the “new” Who Do You Think You Are to our advantage. When you hear someone talk about the show, let them know that you (or another genealogist) can help them have the same experience. One doesn’t have to know how the cake is baked to know that it’s sweet!
The whole time I was trying to come up with what to write about this topic, I couldn’t help but thinking of an episode of Friends. You know the one where the girls lose the apartment because they don’t know what Chandler’s job is. Anyways, there is a scene in that episode where Phoebe is giving the questions and asks what their favorite thing about trees is. To make a long story short, the answer Phoebe is looking for is “leafy, leafy.”
While this proves my point that everything in life can be related to an episode of Friends, what better way to describe our family trees on Ancestry.com. If you’re not familiar with Ancestry.com or their infamous leaves, let me explain it to you. When you enter information on your family tree, Ancestry begins to pull from their databases any information that could possibly be attributed to that person. Also, any time new information is found for someone in your tree these leaves pop up. This can cause an onslaught of “leaves” appearing on your tree. Just yesterday I had 100+ “leaf notifications” on my tree. Talk about a daunting task!
I’ll admit, I get a little excited when I see these leaves. Maybe, just maybe, that one missing document I have been looking everywhere for to break through a brick wall has finally appeared! More often than not, this isn’t the case. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Ancestry.com, but I can’t be the only one who yells “IT’S NOT THAT EASY” at my TV whenever their commercials come on.
Regardless if you’re a seasoned Ancestry professional, or you’re new to this whole thing and eager to grow your family tree, I have a few tips that may just help you deal with these leafy trees.
Check…and then check again
Don’t get in the bad habit of just glancing at the “hints” and assuming it matches your ancestor. The dates could be off just enough to where this information cannot be your ancestor. The trick is, no matter how daunting it may seem, it to break down each hint. Look at the dates, the way names are spelled, and the locations of where this person was during their life. Is there enough doubt in the information to discredit the hint? This is especially important when dealing with other family trees. The worst thing you can do is to just take someone’s word on what is “fact”.
Pick a Starting Point
You have a death date for an ancestor that you know to be 100% true. Use this information against the information that you find under the leafs. When you have one fact that you know is undeniable, it gives you something to compare to. Don’t have a date, but have a particular location? That’s okay too! Use the location that you have and map out the information in the leafs. For example, if you have an ancestor who was born in England and died in Pennsylvania, what is the likelihood that they had a child in Tennessee? Think about how people traveled back then and see if the travel makes sense. It’s fun to think of all this information as a giant puzzle. The information you have is the boarder and you have to find the pieces that fit in the middle.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It’s easy to see all the leafs and get overwhelmed. The key is to not let the leafs feel intimidating. Select one branch of your tree and focus on that. Believe me, I’ve tried to just start at the bottom of the tree and work my way through the leafs. This approach is next to impossible. You’ll find that verifying one leaf’s information will lead to another leaf which will lead to another leaf. Take it one person and one family at a time you’ll have a much more enjoyable time pruning your tree.
…and if all else fails, just channel your inner Phoebe!
The most popular question I get when I say I’m a genealogist, besides “will you do my genealogy”, is “why should I care about my genealogy?” It’s at this moment that I have to remind myself that not everyone is a big nerd like me. Haha! Anyways, with this post I’m going to do my best to convince you why you should care about your genealogy.
Knowing Who You Are
Okay, so your genealogy isn’t going to tell you what you’re destined to do in life, but sometimes it can help shed a light on one of you passions. When you start looking into your ancestors’ occupations or hobbies, sometimes you find that you have something in common. Take music for instance. Maybe you like to play the guitar and everyone in your immediate family can’t understand why. When you start digging into your genealogy, you find a great-grandfather who played guitar and his father played guitar and so on. You instantly find a connection to your past and realize your passion is part of your history and your future.
Ownership in History
While in school we all had to memorize important dates and historical facts, without really understanding what the point was. What if, when researching your ancestors, you find someone who had their hand in making history? That might make that historical fact a bit more important to you, right? For example, my research specialty is the Revolutionary War era. Researching my ancestors during this time in history has not only provided me with many great stories, but it has also given me a new sense of pride during holidays such as the 4th of July. When history becomes personal through your ancestors, you gain a new perspective on what those who lived it actually went though.
Now this reason I’ll go into a little more in-depth h in a later post because there is so much to talk about! On the surface, DNA can tell you most of your genetic makeup. It can break it down and really tell you what nationalities you are. I know what you’re thinking, you already know that your family came from Ireland and everyone in your tree is Irish. Think again! There is a video that has been making the rounds about genealogy and DNA. They talked to a lady from France and asked if she would like to take a DNA test. She said sure, but she could already tell everyone that she was French, her parents were French, and her grandparents were French. Imagine her surprise when her DNA test came back and she had absolutely no French DNA ancestry! She was actually British!
Answering the Unanswered Questions
This one can be a bit tricky and can sometimes backfire on a reason why you should be interested in your genealogy. We all have those stories in our family tree that are basically family folklore. Some stories are good and some are bad, but we all have a part of us that wants to know the truth. Genealogy research allows us to be our own family detectives. To follow where the paper trail goes and answer the questions that have been plaguing our past. While family trees don’t always have perfect branches, it is a combination of all the stories that have shaped not only our families, but our own lives.
I could keep going on and on about why you should care about your genealogy, but lucky for you, I don’t have the time! While finding your ancestors may be no easy task, the rewards it gives you can be bountiful. So the next time you wonder why you like something, or why you do something a certain way, the answer just might be with your ancestors.