Saturday, August 29, 2015

Brick Wall Revisit

Over the past several years, I’ve struggled with a few brick walls – haven’t we all? Alas, most remain as solid as ever. Let’s take a look at the ancestors who still make me wonder if perhaps they were left here by extraterrestrials in the middle of a dark and stormy night:

1. Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw – what more is there to say about my great-great grandmother? I shared her mystery on April 9, 2009, a timeline for her on April 10, 2009, an update on August 2, 2011, and another update on February 6, 2012. She remains intensely interesting to me, to say the least!

2. John BARRETT and Hannah HOLMES who married in 1787 in Plymouth, MA. John died between 1790-1800. Hannah died in 1803. I blogged about them on February 10, 2010.

3. Levi BENSON who married Susannah Bump(us) and died 25 Jan 1815 in Wareham, MA. I shared that story on January 9, 2010.

4. Esther, wife of Edward CURTIS of Dudley and Monson, MA. For years now, I've tried to locate her maiden name with no luck. I first talked about them on November 23, 2007

It has not been a good year for making progress on these puzzles, I’m afraid. Most of my genealogical time has been devoted to a client’s wants and needs. It’s all enjoyable no matter what – I just love the work overall, even if there remain unanswered questions. Maybe one day I will answer these questions. Maybe I will climb these walls. After all, 2015 is not over yet…

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Oftentimes, a person who has minimal information on a grandparent or great-grandparent will say to me, “I’ve tried looking in the censuses, but I can’t figure out which person is the one I’m looking for. I think Grandpa lived in Virginia, but there are so many John Smiths there… I don’t know which one is mine. 

This is when I ask them what they do know for certain about Grandpa’s life, like whether or not his wife was living or deceased, where he lived at the time of his death, and when he died. “Oh, Grandpa Smith lived in Jamestown, Virginia with my Grandma Mary, and he died in December of 1999,” they might tell me. 

And that is when I can tell a person that while they think they have encountered a brick wall, what they’ve just given me is a stepping stone to more information. I go to the Social Security Index next, and perhaps I’m fortunate enough to pin down a date of death for a John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia, for December 5, 1999. 

The nice thing about recent ancestors such as grandparents and great-grandparents, as they most definitely are not a lost cause when it comes to gathering information. Those generations are, perhaps, the most documented (besides you and your parents) you will find, and a great place to start if the only facts you have are a name, place, and death date, is the newspaper. 

At that point, with the information given about, I would perform a Google search for the Jamestown Virginia public library, not in quotes and not with any punctuation marks. Once I find a website for the library, my next step is to see if they offer any databases. Some offer extensive databases including indexes to vital records and newspapers. If they do, I take down the information I need to find the record and/or article, or other relevant item, that refers to my grandparent. 

Once I have that information or if they don’t offer such databases, my next step is to reach out to the reference librarian and let her know what I need. My request generally looks like this:

To Whom it May Concern, 

I am writing to inquire about an obituary for John Smith, who died December 5, 1999 in Jamestown, VA for genealogical purposes. If you are able to locate such an obituary in your newspaper holdings, would you email me a PDF or mail me a print-out? Also, please let me know the fee or requested donation for this service, so I can send it to you promptly. 

Wendy L. Callahan 

If there is no requested donation or fee, I still like to mail the library a token donation of $5 to show my appreciation.  I’ve had librarians who have done both as far as sending me an obituary – emailed a PDF or mailed a physical copy. They are usually very willing to assist and respond to inquiries. 

That obituary for Grandpa Smith will most likely list his place of birth and the names of his parents, not to mention any siblings. This allows you to put together a family group sheet together now, showing the entire family for John Smith – his wife, his parents, and his siblings – as well as filling in dates and places of the events you have. Even the smallest amount of information is a gateway to much, much more. Don’t underestimate what you can find with just a few “iffy” facts.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Genealogy & Technology

I'm way behind in genealogy tech! Why is that?

Well, I don't have a smart phone. I don't download every nifty program mentioned in blog posts or magazines. I find that instead of streamlining my work, what having a variety of "apps" and programs does is actually make it more difficult, more time consuming, to "do the genealogy."

There is a very small amount of technology I utilize for genealogy. The first is Legacy as a family tree database. It gives me room to keep all the information I need, including notes and photographs.

The next is Word, which I use for all my word processing and writing. If I want to write a list of a particular type of ancestor or make out a detailed research To Do list, that is what I use.

Finally, there is the most basic tool of all - the internet. It tends to be where I conduct the majority of my research, even if that research is simply looking up the address of a town clerk so I can send a "snail mail" request for a vital record.

Also, Google Alerts is a fantastic resource that delivers search hits straight to my inbox. I probably don't use it as much as I could, but it is one of many tech apps that I actually have utilized for genealogy. It's nice to know if a new website pops up with a search term I use often, like "Emma Anna Murphy," Google will let me know.

Part of me wonders if there is a program I would love, love, love to use for genealogy. But I think this passion is such a varied one, that keeping it simple works best for me.

I am interested to know what programs or apps other family historians use, and what they love about them.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy L. Callahan