~by Randy Wilson, a FamilySearch.org engineer, along with his genius family. It’s a “gotta-watch”.
Remember that old expression, “Don’t beat a dead horse,” the point being, no matter what you do to a dead horse, you can’t get him to move? Or anything else for that matter. It means whatever you’re trying to do, it’s pointless, you’re not going to change the outcome. Or it’s a waste of time because it’s considered a dead end.
Hmmm, dead end = brick wall in genealogy. So when you hit a brick wall in one of the lines of your family tree, don’t give up. Go back to that dead horse and beat him harder! Meaning, go over all your records. Not just the transcribed text. Actually look, and examine, and study the original records. Recheck all your sources. Usually when I do this, I find some small detail I’ve missed. One of those details could be the magical key to a whole new branch of your family tree.
Here’s what happened to me over the week-end. I had a great Uncle who was “lost in Canada.” Family lore says he went to Canada. Could I find any proof of that? Not really. Two years ago I had located a tombstone through a Google search. I happily took down the info, plugged it into his profile and figured, “Well, that’s that.”
The assumption was I found all I could. There he sat for two years, patiently waiting for me to come back. Over the week-end he came to mind, so I studied all the records and sources, examined the particulars and couldn’t find anything new. Seemed to me the only thing I hadn’t done was investigate the website where I found the tombstone (it was not Find-A-Grave or Billion Graves).
Looking more closely at the home page vs. concentrating on the page with all the photos, I discovered the website was not done by a society as I assumed. It had been done by an individual, who said if we needed a larger file of any photo, to contact her. An email was sent requesting the larger file, and a brief question, “You wouldn’t happen to have anything else on him?”
Ooh my goodness, it was like opening Pandora’s box. Things started flowing in, good things, great things! I found out he had a wife. Didn’t know that. Found out he had 4 kids. Didn’t know that. Started doing research on the kids, hoping against hope, one of them might still be alive.
Sadly the youngest son died in 2012. I couldn’t believe it. The very year I found his tombstone. Had I looked more closely back then, might I have had a chance to talk to the son? Don’t know. Never will know. But I do know if I had continued to “beat a dead horse,” I wouldn’t have to wonder about that possibility now.
There is more to this story. The same lady who put up the tombstone photo looked through a town book and found a nice write-up about my Uncle. His previous residence, the kids’ names, even his occupation was in the article. It also said he was “a very interesting person, very well liked.” Well, I liked him a lot better now too!
A little later an obit for one of the kids arrived in my email – Then biographies of the two girls. She has also put me in contact with two descendants, second cousins, who are willing to correspond with me. I can’t wait to see if they know anything about my 2-g-grandmother, our overlapping relative.
When I volunteered to enter someone else’s tree into a software program to make it easier for her to edit and print, we choose Family Tree Genius. Fairly easy to add & edit entries. A few years went by. She printed her tree, handed it out at reunions, and that was that….or so I thought.
A decade later, one of my g-grandfathers jumped out of his grave, grabbed me by the throat and asked what I was doing about tracing my ancestry. Within days I was collecting information from historical societies, museums, libraries, courthouses, and other places. Eventually my milk crate was overflowing with paperwork. And no organization!
I bought a binder. Divided it up by date. That didn’t work. So I divided it up by family. Some better, but still couldn’t lay hands on things I wanted. Then I remembered Family Tree Genius. Plugged in some of my info. Not impressed, a little too bare bones for me.
Then someone suggested Ancestry. So I subscribed. And made the typical newbie mistakes. Figured everyone there knew what they were doing, and had perfect trees. So I started copying. BIG mistake. Because I didn’t know there was a “make tree private” button, let alone how to use it, my tree got copied. All of a sudden I find out one of the offspring in my tree did not belong with those parents. Yikes! How to remove the bad info in the other five trees he was copied to? They didn’t respond to my requests to move him to the correct parents. I determined to figure out a way to do research online properly and save my discoveries offline.
Family Tree Maker was given to me for Christmas a few years ago and my tree now syncs with my computer. Use Ancestry for research, and source from my computer. Brilliant idea, I thought. Not so great when trying it. Plus it still lacked reports and info I desired to pull from my tree. Love their app though. Nothing better than having your whole tree in your phone or tablet.
After stumbling around for a while, somehow or another I discovered Legacy Family Tree. Well, actually I discovered their Wednesday webinars first. Was impressed with their coverage of topics, and their speakers, so purchased the software. So far, so good. I am very pleased with what I can pull from my tree, even moreso with version 8. Time will tell!
Remember the Christmas tree Charlie Brown picked out? And how aggravated the others were when he brought it in with the needles falling all over the place, big white gaps, very few branches, and lopsided? That was my family tree a while back!
Putting down what I knew and adding what other people told me, I looked at it and thought, “Wow, this looks very sparse.” But it inspired me to research and dig and ask questions. Pretty soon I had four generations, then some fifth generation ancestors. Next thing I knew, I was hooked.
A few years later I discovered one of my lines goes back to the Mayflower. Never, ever would have dreamed this could be accomplished. In fact, it never entered my little noggin that perhaps one of my ancestors could be part of those people on the Mayflower.
Let me introduce you to my 11th-g-grandpa: Edward Doty. He was born in the late 1500s in England, and came over as an indentured servant. Marrying well after his arrival, he and his wife had nine children. He died in 1655 in Plymouth.
Apparently quite the rabble-rouser, he is described as argumentative, quick tempered and frequently out of control. His appearances in court were numerous over the years. There were instances where some of his business dealings bordered on fraudulence.
Interesting twist to this story. A few months after discovering all this, an ancestor of a friend of mine pops up in court with my 11th-g-grandfather back in the 1600s. What are the odds? Maybe pretty high, considering the United States is populated with many descendants of Mayflower arrivals. But to know his ancestors and my ancestors lived in the same community, may have attended the same church, and one hauled the other into court gave me goosebumps!
A couple of days ago, I had to clean my oven. Yes, manually clean it. Why, you may ask? Because when the self-cleaning button was pressed, it went click, click, click. Then nothing. No ‘poof’ when the gas lit. I waited, unsure how long this might take. It’s a fairly new oven. Hadn’t used the self-cleaning feature before. Seemed like an eternity before I heard the click, click, click again. Still nothing.
By this time I could smell gas, so hit cancel and sighed. The next two hours were spent on the floor, reaching into the bottom and sides to scrub away the grime. My, how modern conveniences have spoiled us!
What’s to be learned from this old-fashioned manual labor? Although automatic is fast, it isn’t always best.
Case in point. Automatic searches. You have a tree online. It kicks up hints for you. Do you blindly accept every hint, assuming that’s your relative? After all, a computer found it for you, it must be right! Or do you do a little digging, check the actual document, not just the transcription?
If you accept every hint without question, never looking at the document and comparing it to your relatives, here’s the blunt truth: Your tree stinks. You need to dig in, use your elbow grease and do some more research. Yes, manually. Check your sources. Match the date and place of birth, residence, and parents’ names. Trim off those branches or records that don’t match.
And don’t be afraid to manually search for things the automatic hints haven’t found. Don’t know exactly where they lived? Search land documents, county or township maps. How exciting to see exactly where g-g-grandpa’s farm was in the county. New clues can even be found in a will.
Think you know how many children g-grandma Myrtle had? Are you sure? Have you looked closely at the questions in the 1900 and 1910 US Censuses which record not only how many children the mother had, but how many are still living? That information does not show up in every automatic search. It may not show up in a search anywhere. You have to manually root that out. You may be surprised how many children were born between censuses, but did not make it to the next census.
Check State censuses. They contain great info between the US Censuses. Look for a genealogical society in the county you’re researching. Have they transcribed records? Maybe walked cemeteries, or posted cemetery records online? Is there a State Archive? A State library? Have you looked at the Allen County Public Library’s online genealogy site? What about The Internet Archive’s Digital Books Collection? Or Google Books?
There are 15 online books that contain wonderful information about my relatives. Mostly county history books, but others have turned up as well. There are probably more I haven’t discovered yet. Each new book I find gets downloaded to my tablet. Makes great bedtime reading, and gives you a fuller sense of what they experienced in their community.
So get out of automatic mode. Roll up your sleeves, don’t be afraid to get dirty. Hunt long and hard, and you’ll come up with some real finds.
Musings of an octogenarian
Thinking Today About Countless Yesterdays
"You Live As Long As You Are Remembered" - Russian Proverb
In Which There Are Cats & Yarns. Oh, and dead people.
The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. — C.S. Lewis
Exploring Multiple Family Lines
Seaching for the leaves to my family tree
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~ Alexander Graham Bell
family research ... discover your ancestry
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Linda's Ancestors from A to Z
A genealogical site devoted to the history of the DeKorn and Zuidweg families of Kalamazoo and the Mulder family of Caledonia
musings on the journey towards knowing and sharing my family's stories
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