Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Genealogy Address Book

While many people embrace electronic methods of organizing information, I'm very old-fashioned when it comes to certain things.

One of the most useful objects in my genealogical research is my address book.

This isn't my personal address book, but one specifically dedicated to addresses for town and city clerks, libraries, and distant cousins who also research.

Each entry has a name, address, telephone number, and pertinent notes.  I keep track of things such as fees and years of coverage for vital records at a town hall, hours for a library, or make note of the family a particular cousin is researching, or the genealogical society to which they are connected.

Of course, information changes quickly, and what was accurate last year may be outdated this year.  That is why I write everything in pencil.  Before I write to a town or city clerk, I Google the town's website to verify the mailing address.

Some town clerks have an email address available.  If I find one, I make use of that for my initial inquiry about a particular record and about fees.  After all, a town that charged $5.00 for a vital record last year might charge $7.00 this year.

I'm sure all the handheld electronic devices out there also offer templates for this sort of thing too.  I could probably use Microsoft Outlook on my laptop, but I'm so accustomed to referring to books, I would never, ever think to check my computer for the information.

So, for me, the old-fashioned spiral-bound address book dedicated to genealogy works.

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Year for Babies!

Because I'm the unofficial family genealogist, I keep track of the children my cousins have.  This is quite the year for babies!

My Aunt Gale counted 'em up and let me know that the baby I'm having in January will be my Nana Bartlett's 6th great-grandson, and her 10th great-grandchild.  One of my younger cousins is due within a month of me, in February, with the next great-granddaughter, and 11th great-grandchild.

Before us, another cousin - sister to the one who is expecting in February - had a daughter in June of this year.

It's interesting to look at the count of grandchildren on my maternal side (on my father's side, there are only 5 of us, yet we've given my grandparents a total of 8 great-grandchildren), because I'm one of the older children.  I'm #4 of the 10 grandchildren on my Nana's side by a matter of months (another cousin was born in September of 1974; I was born in December of 1974).

Naturally, you would think the 5 of us born in the 70's have already had our children.  In fact, 4 of us have.

#1 is a daughter and has 1 son

#2 is a daughter and has none... but is actively trying with her wife (obviously via medical means), so we're all very excited about the possibility!

#3 is #2's sister and has 1 daughter

#4 - that's me - has 1 son and now another son on the way.  I always thought I would only have 1, so he will be 10 years older than his brother.  That's the largest age gap between any siblings in this generation of my family.  However, there are far larger sibling age gaps in my generation, mostly due to the remarriages of my mother and uncle.

#5 - my sister - has 2 sons and 2 daughters (she also has an adorable stepson).  As you can see, my sister has contributed immensely to the family on both sides by having 4 children.

So there you have it - 5 of us, all girls, born from 1970 to 1977.  Then there were my mother's and uncle's remarriages, and the youngest of my Nana's 4 children got married.  So along came more children and, recently, great-grandchildren!

#6 has 1 son and 1 daughter (just born in June 2012).  It looks like she's done for now, what with 2 little ones in the house!

#7 is expecting a daughter

Those two sisters are also sisters to #2 and #3, and the only 80's babies in our family.

#8 is my little brother and he was born in 1990.  There's no way he's having children any time soon, but when he does, the little guy or girl will be a heartbreaker!

#9 is yet another daughter and she's in college right now

#10 is a son (not many boys, eh?), and graduates from high school in 2013

So there you have me and two cousins providing my Nana with 3 great-grandchildren (#9, #10 and #11) in just under 10 months, between June 2012 and February 2013.  We hope the cousin who is trying now will ultimately make an addition to the family as well!  There is definitely plenty of time for my little brother and much younger cousins to decide if they will launch families in the next several years.

Just sorting it out is confusing, which is why I'm glad I can just print a chart of my Nana's descendants from my Legacy program.  Goodness knows if anyone in my family would like a visual to sort out all of the names and dates, I'm ready to oblige!

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Response from FBI

Yesterday I sat in the car and waited impatiently while my husband walked into the Post Office on base.  I had my fingers crossed and I was supposed to be thinking "Please let my maternity jeans be here", but the thought that popped into my head was "FBI, FBI, FBI..."

My husband walked back to the car holding the latest Family Tree Magazine, which is always a treat, and...

A letter from the FBI!

Alas, do not get too excited for me.  It was a letter informing me that they did not have any files or records on my great-grandmother's first husband, Joseph William St. Onge.

However, that is not a huge disappointment.  First of all, I'm thrilled at how quickly the FBI responded to my FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request.  From the time I sent it via email until the day I received the letter, it took less than 30 days.

Second, I'd like to call your attention to Sharn White's August 11, 2012 blog post, "N" for Negative Evidence.  As she reminds us, not finding something in our research is just as vital for helping us reach our conclusions, as finding something is.

A letter telling me the FBI does not have a file on Joseph does not mean I should toss it in the recycling bin and move on.  I should document the letter in my family tree database, file the letter away with other physical documents I have on Joseph St. Onge, and focus my attention elsewhere.

Since he supposedly went to New York, perhaps he was incarcerated there.  That means I should start learning more about the criminal justice system in that state, and find out if there's some sort of organization, board or other entity to which I can write for information.

While it can be disappointing to do your work, only to find nothing, negative evidence is part of the process of elimination.  In some instances it can help dispel family tales.  In others, it can help you redirect your research.

So don't let a lack of records get you down.  Note your research (i.e. "Researched all birth records for New Bedford, for 1880-1885"; did not find one on John Smith"), and forge ahead!

And if your research brings you to the FBI, keep in mind they were established in 1908, they do not keep a file on every citizen in the United States, they have very few records prior to the 1920's, and their Records Management Division is very efficient.  :)

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"How do I start?"

Genealogy is not just addictive, but contagious.  The two questions people ask me most often are "Will you help me find...?" and "How do I start working on my own genealogy?"

The first thing I tell people is to write down what they know about their family.  I usually direct them to Family Tree Magazine's free forms, and tell them the first one they should use is the Five-Generation Ancestor Chart.  I also explain that a Family Group Sheet will allow them to expand on the information about a particular couple, by giving them space to list all the children they had and more details than the Ancestor Chart.

The initial sites to which I direct them are, and Rootsweb for the family trees and message boards.  I also remind them never to underestimate the power of Google for searching for ancestors.  You never know what you might come up with when you put in a name and its variations, such as searching for "Last Name, First Name", or adding a town name or a date.  It is also a good idea to specifically search Google Books, since many older genealogies and histories are available there, free of charge.

I always add the caveat that online family trees are best utilized as a guideline, and the information found in them should be independently verified through one's own research.

When it comes to pay sites, I hesitate to recommend them at first.  I think FamilySearch, Rootsweb and Google have a lot to offer for free.  Many records have been transcribed and shared on USGenWeb (via Rootsweb) sites.  There are also sites such as the UKBMD, where you can find transcriptions of UK birth, marriage and death records after 1837, or Nova Scotia Vital Historical Statistics, which has civil registrations for 1864 to certain years (depending on missing records and certain limitations), and marriage bonds from 1763 to 1864.  I've struck gold on this website time and again.

Many people spring for a subscription to Ancestry, but I urge amateur genealogists to stay in touch with more experienced researchers (probably someone who interested you in genealogy in the first place), and learn more about the free resources first.  If you come back to me after you begin your initial search, and tell me you've hit a brick wall in Canada, for example, I will direct you to many other resources before suggesting

Also, I urge those interested in genealogy to take the time to check out GeneaBloggers for starters, and learn about some of the very popular blogs out there.  Some blogs focus on genealogy news, some on a particular area of research, some on technology and software, etc.  There is a very diverse genealogy blogging community, where we can all learn something new and useful.  A subscription to Family Tree Magazine is also very nice, if you prefer something you can carry with you and read anywhere you go.  I follow several blogs and read the magazine, however it's probably not entirely necessary to do both.  The magazine is a luxury I enjoy.

What are your favorite tips, sites and ideas for people starting out in genealogy research?

If you think it would make too lengthy a comment, why not blog about it and leave me a comment with a link to the post?  :)

Copyright (c) 2012 Wendy L. Callahan