Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brick Walls: Step Back & Look Again

When we're immersed in the hunt to break down a brick wall, sometimes we can get overwhelmed and lose sight of the obvious. Sure, we're looking for the not-so-obvious, like that one newspaper article that helps fill in gaps between censuses or FAN club (friends, associates and neighbors) research that helps us find a missing sibling.

But sometimes we need to take a step back from a brick wall and go back to some "beginning" tactics.

1. Start with what you know and work your way back. 

Yes, this is the piece of genealogy advice we give to all beginners, but let's step back and approach our brick wall as if we're starting all over again, too.

What do I know about the brick wall I've been researching for 25 years, Emma Anna Murphy without even going into the research I've done on her?

Brick Walls: Step Back & Look Again - Wendy's first pedigree chart

Thanks to my parents filling out this information when I was born, I know she is my great-grandfather Harrison Clifford Shaw's mother. I know her maiden name. Thanks to conversations with my grandmother Barbara (Shaw) Wood before she passed away, I know Emma came from Nova Scotia, possibly Halifax.

2. Create a timeline. 

If you haven't already done this for your brick wall ancestor, step back and give it a try. If you're not sure how to format your timeline, you can check out some of the ideas from the April 21 #RogueGen Twitter chat. 

Why a timeline? Because it can help you better articulate your research goals for this particular person.
Whether you use a simple list format or spreadsheet, just start writing what you know in chronological order, working your way back. This overview takes you out of the standard person or family view in your family tree software, pedigree charts and family group sheets.

Here is my timeline for Emma (click,to expand it to full size):

Brick Walls: Step Back & Look Again - Emma Anna Murphy Timeline

3. Review what you have gathered.

Sometimes we overlook something in the records we already have.

In Emma's case, I have the original marriage register from the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, her marriage certificate, her death certificate, and censuses from 1900 to 1940 all printed out. This also includes the birth, marriage and death records of her only child, as well as the administration of her estate, her obituary, a photograph of her headstone, two town directory entries and a newspaper article about an assault case in which she was the defendant.

One thing I didn't pay attention to initially, but noticed upon re-examination was that Emma stated in the 1930 census that she was age 16 at the time of her first marriage. That means her first marriage occurred around 1877 or so. That helped me narrow my search for her first husband. 

So pull everything out and review it to ensure you didn't miss anything.

4. Print everything and put it in a binder or folder.

Having a brick wall case file - that is, a binder dedicated to brick walls and current research, or folders for brick wall ancestors on whom research is ongoing - can help immensely. It's easier to flip pages than scroll through digital documents. It's also nice to have a physical file to carry with you when you do research on location.

5. But also put your digital files on a thumb drive, tablet and/or laptop.

If you have a mobile device you use for your research, having your digital files on that also ensures you've got them ready to go for genealogy road trips. 

6. Use your timeline to pinpoint questions and goals.

Now that you've reviewed and re-examined the records, look at your timeline. What are the gaps that need to be filled in? Work your way back from your ancestor's death to make a list of questions and research goals. In my great-great grandmother's case, my primary goals are:

a. Find out the name of her first husband, Mr. Re(a)gan, and their date and place of marriage;
b. Find out my great-great grandmother's date and place of birth.

Additional goals or questions to be answered are when and where Mr. Re(a)gan passed away or if they were divorced, if they had any children, and when my great-great grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from Canada.

Finding that marriage to Mr. Re(a)gan is pretty much my main objective right now, but the other goals are also written on my timeline and highlighted in yellow.

7. Get a second set of eyes on the problem.

Send your timeline to a friend and see if they have any ideas or recommendations. They can help you see where there might be other questions you could focus on or areas to direct your research.

Another idea is to swap brick walls with a friend. We all need to rest our minds. Otherwise, we keep banging our heads against the same brick wall, not even making a dent in it. So why not see if someone else wants to take a crack at it and offer to return the favor?

All of us have different subscriptions, different ways of researching or approaching a question, or running an online search. So swap timelines and your primary goals/questions with someone else. The new research problem will refresh you.

8. Put your ancestor's life in historical context.

Did they live during the American Revolution? The Civil War? The Great Depression? Historical events can have a significant impact on how our ancestors lived and moved. Correlating their life to these events can help us better understand what might have motivated certain moves, how they reared their children, and other decisions.

Also look at the circumstances surrounding their childhood and what you know of their adulthood. In the case of my great-great grandma, my current theory (based on recent findings) is that she was an illegitimate child. As a result, I think she might have created a certain "history" for herself to pass on to her grandchildren. For example, she showed one of my great-uncles pictures of ships and said she had wealthy ancestors who owned them and had a trade route from Nova Scotia to Boston.

Yet I find no evidence of this. That's not to say this isn't true. Perhaps it is, but the one link I've found so far to another potential family member completely turns these stories on their head and give me an illegitimate Emma born to a Murphy mother, not father.

9. Keep a research log or journal.

Use this to keep track of where you've researched so you don't return to the same books, documents, and newspapers again and again. Databases are often updated, so do log them, but make note of the date you checked them. If you return to them for another search, make note of it.

10. Look beyond the usual online searches.

Finally, after exhausting census records, vital records, databases, books, and newspapers, you might think an ancestor simply fell onto the face of the earth one day and that was that. Trust me, I know that feeling.

So try switching up your search techniques in databases. The break-through for me came when I searched for my great-great grandmother's parents' surnames, instead of my great-great grandmother directly. What did I find? Another woman with the same parents, also from Nova Scotia. Now, it remains to be seen if this is Emma's sister (I now believe it is her aunt), and I still need to learn what I can about Margaret Murphy, the woman whose parents have the same name as Emma's. But this has been the most useful find in 25 years of researching my great-great grandmother. 
Brick Walls: Step Back & Look Again - A Different Online Search

Don't forget local historical societies, tax records, DNA matches (I am currently in the process of triangulating mine thanks to one of my parents sharing their DNA data, so I can narrow the field of potential relationships on my Murphy side), and more. A Research Checklist can also help make sure you cover some of your bases from the start.

Oh, and treat yourself to something after a particularly intense research session. I don't care of it's a margarita, an iced latte, chocolate, binge-watching Netflix or buying a new genealogy book. When the going gets tough, try some self-care to keep from burning out.

I hope these 10 tips help you overcome the overwhelm and get your focus back. What is your favorite way to handle a frustrating brick wall?

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Family Pets

Pets - Wendy and the snake
I wanted a snake. Didn't get a snake, but I wanted a snake!
The Ancestral Findings podcast did a fun episode recently about family pets and how meaningful they are in our lives, so I thought I would share a little bit about our family pets.

I don't remember much about my first three pets. When I was a baby and up until I was maybe three or four-years-old, we had one dog and two cats. I only remember them as Ziggy, the yellow lab, and Marble and Butterscotch, our cats. Marble was a dark tabby, I believe, and Butterscotch an orange one.

When I turned thirteen, that was the year my father decided we needed a cat. Shadow was a very sweet kitty, though she took more of a liking to my dad and sister than she did to me. However, in her last five years of life, she lived with me. Shadow lived to be seventeen and was a healthy cat until she simply got old. She was a beloved family pet.

Tremor - this picture of him is tattooed on my right arm.
It was 1995 when I met "my" cat. His name was Tremor and he was a beautiful white cat with black markings and a black tail. At the time when he was found in an alley way, he was just a little thing and nervous as heck. He settled in with me easily, though, and was very loyal throughout his life. He wasn't keen on other people, but he was my constant companion.

Tremor had a couple of accidental adventures I won't recount here, because they are not for the faint of heart. He lived until 2007, when he passed away at the age of twelve due to complications from a blood clot.

My black lab, Cody, had an active life too. He arrived a month later in 1995. Tremor wasn't ready for a dog in the apartment! But they ultimately became friends. Cody was a huge dog, perhaps part Great Dane. When we walked him along the streets of Brockton, people actually would cross the street in fear of him when they saw us coming.

But Cody was just a huge, loving baby. He never harmed another person or animal, though he didn't know his own strength. Usually he was the one walking me! He was also an escape artist, so tall that he could climb over a chain link fence without hesitation. He also passed away in 2007, age twelve.

Stormy came about a year later. She was with me from 1996 to 2013. She was extremely affectionate and easygoing. Stormy lived a much quieter life than Tremor and Cody, except for her health problems. She developed hyperthyroidism when she was eleven.

Bandit & Stormy
Stormy loving on Bandit.
Fortunately, a course of oral medication, followed by radiation eradicated it. But she had a recurrence in 2013. Since she was over seventeen years old and the quality of her life was in question, I brought her to the vet to say goodbye.

Bandit was my dog. We got her in 2000 or so. She was smart, smaller than Cody, and easier to handle. Like Stormy, she was a super affectionate pet. Her life was far more calm and uneventful.

I've lost many pets, but Tremor's death in March of 2007 was the hardest on me. I cried for a month. There was a huge hole in my heart that could only be filled with another male cat. He had to be special, though. So I went to the Dover, Delaware SPCA on Friday, April 13, 2007.

Shiva, destroyer of all he surveys.
And there he was - this tiny black, polydactyl kitten. Shiva came home with me that very day.

He's intelligent, but oh-so-lazy. He is also my only indoor-outdoor cat. I've had him since 2007, so he's already ten-years-old, but as menacing as ever. Oh yes, he's got the lean, muscular look of a panther. A teeny, tiny, semi-domesticated panther. He managed to whack his head once when shaking it vigorously and developed a hematoma in his ear. The vet drained and quilted the ear. Shiva has looked a bit like a scrappy alley cat ever since.

In 2011, I got my black-headed caique, Avery. We purchased him from a breeder in England. He hatched in February 2011 and came to live with us in May 2011. Avery is smart, sociable, and a bit of a strutting, spoiled brat. Caiques are known for being intelligent and playful, the "clowns of the bird world." It's hard to believe he is six-years-old now. He could live for up to another twenty-four years!

Kobold "derping" hard.
Cats are a recurring theme in my life. Even though I'm married to someone who is allergic to them, it doesn't matter - he loves cats too. So in 2011, we also got a cat in England. Her name is Kobold aka Derp Cat. She's... special.

We love Kobold. She's fluffy and sweet, though slightly skittish. She also licks glue and runs headfirst into windows and glass doors. One moment she might be standing on the floor and the next standing in a ceiling beam, snapping a housefly out of the air. We're not sure how she reconciles her stupidity with her agility, but she keeps us entertained!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Favorite New Brunswick, Canada Genealogy Resources

I spend a great deal of time researching the genealogy of New Brunswick families. These families are mainly loyalist ancestors and I'm always looking for more resources, especially since these are brick wall ancestors.

Some of the sites I've found helpful when it comes to New Brunswick genealogy are:

Heritage Charlotte - this is a site that looks back on Charlotte County's history and includes links to cemeteries, censuses and more.

Marshland: Records of Life on the Tantramar - this virtual exhibition courtesy of Mount Allison University looks at life in the Tantramar area near Sackville, New Brunswick. 

New Brunswick Genealogical Society - the site for the society includes forums, families histories and their First Families Index. 

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick - this fantastic resource includes land records, vital records, newspaper statistics and much more. This is my first stop when researching families from New Brunswick. The newspaper index is especially wonderful.

Other pertinent sites include Ruby Cusack's, which has some hidden gems buried within if you take the time to dig.

You can also find all of these websites linked on my Genealogy Resources page for New Brunswick.

I'm always looking for more resources, especially for New Brunswick. Please share your favorites in the comments!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Adoption Resources for New England

New England Genealogy: Adoption Resources for New England
In 2009 and 2012, I wrote about one of my distant cousins, Mary Haley, who disappeared from records after 1871. I learned that she was adopted and after stumbling upon her name change, was able to locate her marriage record and trace her at least until 1930.

While I located this information thanks to a Google search, finding name changes and adoptions doesn't always come so easily. If you have a family member who disappears at a young age and for whom you can't find a death record, a name change or adoption might be your answer. But where to begin?

After exhausting your search of census records, you might try:

1. Google

That ended up being the last step in my search for Mary Haley, but considering the power of the search engine it is well worth making it an early step. In my 2012 post, I shared that I found this resource, which is how I learned about Mary Haley's name change:

"List of Persons Whose Names Have Been Changed in Massachusetts 1780-1892", Collated and Published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under Authority of Chapter 191 of the Acts of the Year 1893. Reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1972.

So try a Google search and see if you get a hit with the answer.

2. Town Reports

If you know both of a child's parents died when the child was young, try checking the town reports, as they often have interesting information about what became of the children. This includes pauper accounts, warnings out, coroner's inquests, and much more. You might find some useful nuggets about changes in families.

3. State Archives

Some state archives have adoption records available, but how open they are will depend upon state regulations. Some states have published reports of adoptions that are more than 100 years old, with more recent information restricted to specific parties. Adoptions could have fallen under probate records as well. State archives should be able to tell you where to find them for that specific state.

4. Birth, Marriage, Death & Probate Records

Even if someone was adopted and their name was changed, their biological parents' names might be listed on their marriage or death record. This is probably more likely if the person was older when the adoption or name change occurred.

As for a birth record, the original birth might exist and give the person's original name before adoption. For example, my uncle's grandmother was born Mary Caufield and her parents were both listed on her birth record, available from the town where she was born in New York. But she was adopted by people I believe were her uncle and aunt, Job Jenney and Anna Cassidy. So while her original birth record has her birth name and birth parents, she appears in the 1900 and 1910 censuses as Mary Jenney.

Adoptions and name changes were generally handled in probate court, so check probate indexes for the time period, as well.

5. Naming Clues

Sometimes a child's birth name is in their adopted name. In the case of Mary Caufield, her adoptive parents retained Caufield (sometimes incorrectly indexed as Carfield) as her middle name.

Adoptions can be tricky, but there are more records and clues than we might realize if we dig.

I'd love to know your experience with researching adoptions and what records you found that helped you along the way.

New England Genealogy: Adoption Resources for New England

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 30, 2017

5 Reasons to Attend Your Local Genealogy Conference

5 Reasons to Attend Your Local Genealogy Conference
Rootstech! NGS! FGS!

We've all heard of the big conferences and how wonderful they are for genealogists, but what about your local genealogical society conferences? If you haven't attended one yet, you might be surprised at what they have to offer.

1. Small vs. large

I love large events. I attend a particular fandom convention that is going on 6000+ attendees a year! But the sights, shows, and panels can get overwhelming. Getting through almost 10 rooms designated as the "Artist's Alley" and "Dealer's Den" is like navigating a maze. Sometimes there is too much going on and I just can't do everything I want to do, or decide which panel out of the twenty available all at the same time I would rather attend.

A smaller event might be more comfortable for you for a number of reasons. First, if you don't like large crowds, it could be less daunting.

Second, you're less likely to run into the "Five sessions that I want to attend all being held at the same time" dilemma.

But what if there are two sessions you would like to attend that are scheduled for the same time slot? If you choose one, odds are you have a better chance of getting some one-on-one discussion time with the person who led the other one, since you have less people to contend with. So maybe you can get any handouts or educational material from the session you did not have the opportunity to attend, or ask for any particular tips they shared in their presentation. Presenters are more accessible in a smaller conference setting.

The syllabus might also be more detailed than you expect and cover the topics within a session you don't attend, if you're stuck choosing between two at the same time.

2. Locally-focused sessions

The Nebraska State Genealogical Society's annual conference was last weekend and naturally the main focus of the conference was Nebraska genealogy. If you live elsewhere in the United States, but have ancestors from a particular area, "going home" to that state for their local genealogical society's conference may be more valuable to your research interests than larger conferences with broad appeal.

Topics will mostly likely focus on how to use certain local resources, as well as larger Federal resources pertinent to the state or geographical area. So if you need to pick and choose which conferences to attend, take a closer look at those local to where your ancestors lived. You might find it's both a better value and more focused content.

3. But the broad appeal is there too...

I am a New Englander who just happens to live in Nebraska. I have no North American ancestry outside of the New England states, North Carolina, Virginia, or Nova Scotia.

However, the Nebraska State Genealogical Society conference was still valuable to me because they offered broader topics on researching genealogy in general, learning how to find records for certain ethnicities, and using DNA as a research tool.

4. Additional benefits

Lunch was included both days of the Nebraska State Genealogical Society Conference. There were vendors, but not so many that it was overwhelming. The opportunity to win door prizes and raffles was also an unexpected and fun surprise.

I also met probable cousins with shared New England ancestry because the whole reason to attend a conference is to not just learn, but network. In fact, it was easier to meet those people, because I already knew from the syllabus who had New England connections and it was easy to track those people down just to introduce myself to them.

So even without having Nebraska roots, I learned a lot, met great people, and had a fantastic time.

And if, like me, you don't live near home/where your ancestors settled in America, then visiting a conference back in that locality could also turn into a research trip.

5. Inspiration

Reading blogs, watching webinars and livestreams of larger conferences, and more is great.

But there is something invigorating about being in a room full of people who are there with a shared interest and purpose. Even if you are hearing a speaker present something you thought you knew enough about, a new perspective can often get the wheels turning in your mind and help you see things in a new light.

Now that I'm home and full of fresh ideas from my local genealogy conference, I'm ready to delve back into the syllabus and the notes I took from the conference, and put some new ideas into practice.

New England Genealogy: 5 Reasons to Attend Your Local Genealogy Conference

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan