We all have one – the favorite relative. And after all this time as a genealogist, I would love to talk to a sociologist or psychiatrist about our inclination towards a certain person. Does it tell us something about ourselves? Do we see ourselves in one ancestor and not another? For me, I often obsessively research those ancestors I have deemed great, resilient people. I often wonder how my ancestors survived – how could someone raise 15 children in the eighteenth century? How could someone forgive their mother after abandoning them in Ireland to move to New York City? How do parents go on after losing a child? Continue reading A favorite relative
In 2014, I wrote a blog post about the greatness that is J.K. Rowling. My main point was that, as in your own genealogical research, a properly told story – whether fiction or non-fiction – demands a complex, well-researched treatment. Where and when were your characters born? Who were they named after? What nationality/ethnic group do your characters identify with? What is their religion or family tradition?
For most, the influence of family (both real and imagined) will play a significant role in the narrative of your story. Therefore, if you wish to tell your story in the most accurate way, it is important to research and document those who have come before you. This will help to place them into the larger narrative of their family history. Continue reading A New England Hogwarts
I’ve been a bridesmaid in four weddings. In each of these weddings, the bride has carefully chosen four special items to wear on her wedding day: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. And when preparing for the first three weddings, I didn’t think much of the custom. But when my sister-in-law got married in April, and showed me her something old, new, borrowed, and blue, I couldn’t help but think: why on earth are women doing this? ‘Something old, new, borrowed, blue’? Did my mother do it? My grandmother? My great-grandmother? Continue reading ‘Something old, something new’
We’ve all been there: we’ve all looked for that one record that should exist – but does not. And why? Why did our ancestors do that to us? Why did they forget to file paperwork? or procrastinate when registering a deed? Why didn’t they know we would be searching for them years later?
I am often annoyed with my ancestors – they failed to write wills, file taxes, and baptize their children. This was before my brother Andrew got married (or maybe I should say, tried to get married) in Puerto Rico: now I have a slightly different view. Continue reading The pen is mighty
Earlier this week I was scrolling through my newsfeed and I saw a blog post where the author scolded herself and urged her readers to “practice what you preach.” I often think this, especially when I teach the first class of my three-part series on “Getting Started in Genealogy.” The crux of the first lecture is to work from the known to the unknown – not to skip ahead – and to record data using a chart or genealogical software (including sources examined). I encourage students to begin their genealogical journey with material from their own homes, to interview themselves, and to talk to relatives. Because who better to talk to, when learning about your family, than your own family members? Continue reading “Practice what you preach”
Have you ever played the game telephone? If you don’t know the game, it is when one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. If you have, then I am sure you discovered that it is almost impossible to keep the story intact from beginning to end. The game is an interesting teaching tool, as it shows children (and adults) how easily and unreliably gossip can spread.
As a historian and genealogist, I often reminisce about the telephone game, because it was my first encounter with record assessment. Even as a young child, it was clear to me that the closer one was to the original source, the more reliable the information. And, as I grew up and began working with historical documents, this lesson continued. Continue reading A game of telephone
Mine is a typical American family, and I am a typical genealogist. My family is an assortment of divorced households and second marriages and I, the ever diligent genealogist, have labored to research all of the family lines, even if they are not my own, because even when I don’t share their DNA, they are my family.
Like members of my immediate family, my blended family can be uninterested in the details of their own genealogy. Don’t get me wrong: they like the highlights (your great-grandparents were from County Cork or your ancestors were Loyalists who moved to Quebec), but not the mundane. Continue reading Blending a family
I am fortunate to be the oldest of eleven grandchildren. Because of my age, I was old enough to remember attending my great-great-aunt’s eightieth birthday party, dancing with my great-grandmother at my aunt’s wedding, and eating several Thanksgiving dinners with my great-great-uncle. I enjoyed spending time with my Lowell and Manhattan relatives; they had really cool stories about playing street games, stealing from ice trucks and, on one specific occasion, a time in which they were detained by police for catcalling an officer on horseback. So, when NEHGS sent me to Ridgefield, Connecticut, for a genealogical fair, I decided to take a slight detour to visit my storytelling ancestors who are buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Continue reading Navigating Calvary Cemetery
To a genealogist who is also a huge Harry Potter fan, the recent news from J.K. Rowling has been very exciting. According to a short story posted to her website, the origin of the Potter surname has deep roots in twelfth-century England. According to Jo, Linfred of Stinchcombe was “a vague and absent-minded fellow whose Muggle neighbours often called upon his medicinal services. None of them realised that Linfred’s wonderful cures for pox and ague were magical; they all thought him a harmless and lovable old chap, pottering about in his garden with all his funny plants.” As a result, his nickname “the Potterer” transformed into the surname Potter. Continue reading Harry Potter? Harry Leech!
Yesterday I wrote about substitute records that can be used to locate elusive modern vital records. These alternative records can be especially beneficial when an index to the civil vital records is unavailable. Using these alternatives, you can then contact the appropriate authority to provide a copy of the original vital record.
However, what do you do when a vital record simply does not exist? It’s a common problem, especially when documenting older generations, as each state legislated its own vital record compliance. Luckily you can consult several vital record alternatives that can be used to prove birth, marriage, or death. (Most will be accepted as proof by a lineage society.) Here are a few examples: Continue reading 8 More Vital Record Alternatives