As so often happens, the genealogy of a family seems to gravitate toward a single family member. I had become that member. For several years I had been collecting family information. My mother’s ancestors had come to this country in 1637 and had been quite thoroughly documented, at least from sometime in the 1700s. Research regarding my father’s family, on the other hand, had turned into a brick wall.
My father was an only child and was orphaned by the time he was 15. He had been moved about to family and friends, none who had the means or the desire to keep him. By 18 years old he had joined the Marines and gone to Korea. All of his family history was in an old brown and tattered laundry box, secured with a black buckle. It had been in my possession for several years. It was sad to me that that was all he had from his childhood.
Inside the brown laundry box were a few newspaper clippings of people I did not know, some school athletic awards that were my father’s, my grandfather’s gas rationing card, sympathy cards from when my grandfather died (almost nothing from when my grandmother died two years later) and other miscellaneous postcards. Nothing too exciting or telling, genealogically speaking.
I struggled with that old box, looking for any clues to my father’s ancestry. I asked my father and he knew little. He could tell me his parent’s names, some of their siblings, and his grandparent’s names. He knew his paternal grandparents came from England in the 1800s and settled in the area in which we were living. He also knew he had a cousin in England and her name was Jill. There was a letter from Jill in the laundry box. She was 15 years old when she wrote it in the 1940s. That was it. I couldn’t get beyond the names of my great-grandparents.
I did the usually genealogy things. I purchased Family Tree Maker, which I highly recommend. I plugged in every name I could find and made every connection I could. I also bought a subscription to www.ancestry.com. I searched the Internet. I found nothing and I made no more connections. Until…
My Eureka! moment finally arrived. On December 14, 2001 at approximately 2:00 PM, I entered a post to www.genealogy.com. Everything fell into place. I posted my father’s name and the names of his father and all the family members I knew. I stated that I believed they came from England. It wasn’t long before I had a response. I was told that if I could give this responder my grandmother’s name and just a bit more information, he said he could put me back four generations, at least. I provided the information and I felt I had been given an incredible gift. My contact, in England, provided me with information on my direct ancestry going back to the 1600s in England. Not only did I get names but I also received hand-drawn charts, several of them, that included professions, marriages, births, deaths, and adoptions. The information was stunning. I shared the information I received with my father and it was almost more than he could comprehend. Many of the things he learned about his family were completely new to him. Other information that he knew now fell into place and made sense to him.
I have not had a lot of time to get back into much of the genealogy at this point in my life. However, recently I checked back to the message board on www.genealogy.com and see that based on that 2001 post, a long-lost cousin of my father who lives in England is wanting to make a connection. I will have to get to that and make it happen.
When searching for family and you hit a brick wall, keep digging. If you have to stop for awhile, go back to the places you first visited. It is very possible more information has been added by others and where you found nothing before you might find a treasure now.
The sources I have used most frequently in my family searches are:
- Family members. They are always one of the best sources. Keep asking them. They don’t always remember everything at one time. They might remember something months or years down the road. Use that information as a stepping off point.
- Use software like Family Tree Maker. It makes the connections for you and keeps you organized.
- The Internet. Search, search, search, and then search some more. Don’t limit yourself to one search engine. Try as many as you can. You often will get different results. I was able to locate an account of the ship my earliest maternal ancestor sailed on from England. I found out he was an indentured servant hired to work a tobacco plantation in Virginia based on that one finding.
- Subscribe to www.ancestry.com which offers great resources.
- Hop on message boards and get your requests out there. Keep visiting those boards. Years later you might have a response.
- For records, once you have located the whereabouts of an ancestor, check the town, village, county, or state archives or town and city halls. You can obtain birth, death, and marriage certificates from these places.
- Visit or contact local libraries where your ancestors were known to live. Ask if they have any family files or newspaper indexes and look for names. They may also have pictures.
- Check out cemeteries where your ancestors are thought to be buried. Many of these resources are now on the Web. You might be able to get additional family information from the cemetery superintendent or whoever assigns burial plots. I have found that sometimes the burial purchase or specific burial information may have other family names on the forms or cards. If your state permits, you may also be able to look at a burial permit, often kept at the same place where death certificates are filed. Those could have additional information on them, such as cause of death or where the body may have come from.
- Ask for information at any local historical societies.
- Ask for information from town, village, city, or county historians.
Genealogy is a huge puzzle but one well worth putting together.
Tags:10 Resources for Finding Your Family History