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In Search of Remembrance

As I research my family ancestry, opening windows in my lineage to this time and this family life while preserving the time my ancestors lived from, I am aware of history and context leading me from genealogy to family lore, folk stories and perhaps the evidence of my ancestors’ choice of migration to their current homelands.
 
As I spent time with my nieces this holiday season, I measured how much has changed in our everyday lives from the home life my ancestors’ lived. Can anything beat the tablets and smartphones my nieces and nephews are so fond of? The reality of their own connections to family and others are at times elusive to me, as I watch them relate to the lives of countless characters in movies who seem more real in ways that our own ancestors do not. TV and the internet, in all its forms, has a dynamic advantage over paper and pen research.
 
What happens during the hours I read from screens of passenger lists, indices and countless census records, mapping the route my ancestors took out of Alsace Lorraine to this land – to farm, become entrepreneurs, leave this country for Brazil, then return here again? So many slivers of evidence give up the details of living conditions at the time of my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Birkey, on the family farm in Illinois. What were the tasks that had to be completed each season in order to thrive on a farm in 1885? I search to glean the choices my immigrant ancestors made in order to arrive in Woodford, Illinois and why.
 
For me, genealogy was a door I walked through to discover myself and my connections to others, and in 2017 ancestry research will continue to grow and have many kissing cousins. DNA and its databases of human genome will become ever more fine-tuned in the search for the evidence of our ancestors and our ancestry. Epigenetics will shine more light on what we consider inheritable with regard to trauma and human behavior. Family stories will enliven our research, and folkways and family lore will continue to be written down and shared. But will databases of records, and our access to records, continue to grow? Genealogy, DNA and the hunt for family has become big business and I hope big business makes wise decisions with regard to records, their retention and access and the continuation of the evidence of our ever-growing family trees.

Digging the Past

Do you know where you come from? Are you excited by your own unique heritage? The act of discovering your ancestors – getting to know their lives, seeing the pattern
and cycles of your family lineage from the perspective of time – holds within it the discovery of what you can inherit from the study of your family pedigree.
As we go searching the past of our ancestors now long gone, we may find the roots of secrets, traumas, and family wounds in the, sometimes, not so distant past. Part of
what we learn and take away from the research of our kin, is the women, men, and children that came before us lived from a time that is a part of who we are now.
But genealogical research and the pursuit of family stories can reopen old illusions about a family’s history. Duplicity, dark financial issues, hidden relationships can lead
the happy hunting of our ancestors back through a troubled past.
 
Researching my ancestry didn’t turn up brilliant thinkers or heroes, but the minute I had the thought there were no interesting people in my family tree, I could begin to see the
real beauty of my family lineage.
 
Perspective is necessary when researching your family tree. By putting your ancestors on a timeline of place and event, the sometimes sad and painful stories acquire a
different context. The great uncle who really didn’t seem to care about anybody but himself, was also resourceful, energetic, a great story-teller, and a good provider.
We all cherish and enjoy the accounts of family memories handed down through generations – but are they accurate? Is there a thread of truth running through family
stories, but no real record or research?
 
After my father passed away, I became aware that I had yet to unwrap all the gifts he had given me. When I researched his ancestry, I felt a connectedness to him that was
larger than his own life. By his actions, he changed the lineage he came from – and if you don’t believe one person can change an entire lineage – research your ancestry,
You’ll be surprised, riveted, and, perhaps, uplifted by the light and the dark.
 
Go ahead – make a discovery in your family tree.

Where Do We Come From What Are We Where Are We Going


 
The words written above from Paul Gaugin’s canvas are a catechism for our times and lives of busy-ness and constant change. What has meaning and connection for us? What is our
connection with those in our circle of friends, family and acquaintances? How do we determine our spirit, our lives? For those who are caretakers of family, entrusted to care for those who now need us – what can enrich the day-to-day tasks of our concern with those who now need our attention. Through my mother, I have been able to share stories of her past and family of farming communities in Illinois and religious heritage in Alsace-Lorraine and Switzerland. I can hear the delight in her voice as she told and re-told the snippets of family lore, recipes, and family stories in her own past and in my father’s family past that became seeds for research – What church? Where? How large life felt in the retelling. I learned how many people in her family were entrepreneurs, starting and owning business after business and moving from state to state.
 
As a genealogist, these fantastic family stories became difficult to verify, authenticate and prove. I have started Find My Family Stories out of my desire to preserve family stories that add to the research of a family tree.
 
Check out my new website at: http://www.findmyfamilystories.com

Conversations with Your German or Italian Ancestors

(No, they don’t have to be there)

 

In this season where tradition encourages families to come together and express gratitude for lives of abundance, this newsletter issue is dedicated to the ancestors who have come before us and, perhaps literally or perhaps figuratively, have led us to where we are now. Do you know who you are? Do you know where you come from?

 

In this newsletter, I will describe the process of identifying and interviewing people who knew of your ancestors. To discover more about your family lineage means learning about your family traditions, culture and stories from people who knew of the time period your ancestors lived in. A picture of your ancestor’s lives will develop through speaking to family, talking to your ancestor’s neighbors or co-workers, and learning (through research) of the people who knew of or lived near your ancestors in Germany or Italy.

 

Family lore is a powerful cocktail of memory and story passed by word of mouth from person to person. As a researcher, family historian, genealogist, or designated keeper-of-the-family treasures, your family tree gaps mean at some point you will need to ask the help of others in this country and across the water to point the way to further clues and research.

 

The wonderful fact of memory, both dodgy, insightful and circumstantial, can help advise you on the next steps of your research. You are the detective inside your family tree to discover nuggets of information from people, places and events to determine if further investigation will yield new buds on your family tree or new depth of knowledge about the time and place your ancestors lived in. The people who lived and worked with your ancestors are now long gone, but their descendants – as family, co-workers, acquaintances, neighbors or friends – are available, and, if they’re willing to talk to you, can provide details you’ve never thought to investigate till now.
 
Catherine D. Steinman (Slagel)2
 

Some Basic Tools

 

  • Make a List of the people who knew your ancestor, then search out the descendants of those neighbors, co-workers, and family.
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  • Digital recorder – to record your conversations, either in person or on speaker phone. Please be sure to inform the person of your intent to record the conversation for your research
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  • Ready-made questions – You can find good beginning family history questions at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/oralhistory/a/interview.htm
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  • Resources Checklist – any household may have in attic, basement or garage items that reveal further ideas for study. You can find a Resources Checklist of potential items on my website at http://www.4descendants.com/resource-checklist.html
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  • Google the challenges faced by immigrant ancestors – by city or province, and learn the pathways out of Italy or Germany that your ancestors (based on timeline) took to their new home or to their next destination

 

Find other Researchers

 

Linkedln – Connect with genealogists and professional researchers who know the towns in Italy or Germany your ancestors came from and send them a message with your question for help. https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=AAIAAA2zOOYBaB1LG2_tMDeeQwxfaMUZDbJHXxQ&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

Twitter – Connect with family tree researchers and ask your question in a direct message. https://twitter.com

Check out Tribal Pages http://www.tribalpages.com to see if someone has posted their family tree online where you share a common ancestor. Send them an email about their research.

Use the free research tools and good genealogical practices outlined at the National Genealogical Society http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/tutorials

German database at http://www.germanroots.com/germandata.html

Check out The Ancestor Hunt – Historic German American Newspapers http://www.theancestorhunt.com/blog/historic-german-american-newspapers-updated-july-2015#.VmJWx4QWoUU

Italian databases at http://www.daddezio.com and http://rwguide.rootsweb.ancestry.com/lesson22.htm#Italian

 
 

Talk to People

 

Whether on the phone or in person, giving up my list of questions to go with the flow of conversation encourages people to release small pieces of information – not due to my fact-finding mission – but due to their stream of consciousness accessing memory. One such event happened recently: I’ve been interviewing my mother, now 85, off and on for several years about our family history. In our most recent conversation, she suddenly revealed granddad, on my father’s side, had been in a barbershop quartet, with other church members. Which church? What quartet? The quartet is now long gone, but as it turned out, that 113 year old church is still preaching the good word in Chicago, Illinois.

 

As you reach out to build relationships with others – at work, with relatives, and people who knew your family members, don’t forget to build relationships with the clerks, secretaries, librarians, and church dioceses that provide assistance to your requests for information or documentation. I’ve sent candy to county clerks and professional researchers as thank-yous for their help, guidance, and, yes, suggestions for further research, in my quest for that elusive document that grows one more branch of the family tree.

 

I love interviewing people about their family ancestry; it’s a wonderful way to learn about other lives and other times. I can help you develop those next steps in your investigation with research that will light up your family tree!

 

Email me at 4Descendants@cox.net or call at 602-565-2919.

 

Now is the time to record, organize and compile your family lineage.

 

I will research, design and provide a bound book to celebrate and preserve your family history – for yourself, your family, and your descendants.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOURS!

Research and Reminiscence

Researching my father’s ancestry was personal long before it became professional. Fall has become the time I reminisce about my father. It’s become an evolutionary process to keep discovering my thoughts and feelings for him. He died in December, in mild California days before Christmas, after a long illness, which made his passing a release and a relief of all that he was. Before I really had a chance to think of what I would say about him to others who didn’t know him well, I had written a eulogy. Long before he died of the symptoms he mostly kept to himself, I wrote about who I thought he was and what he had gifted to each of us – wife, daughters, son. He was a listener first and a talker second. And he could be maddeningly difficult to tease emotion out of when he felt it was in our best interest to not comment. It’s still remarkable to me that all of his children continue the discovery of who he was and is to us, and of all the gifts he gave us, I’ve noticed I’ve not had the chance to unwrap all of mine.

My father’s patriarchal lineage was a long line of farmers and Quakers. He spoke very little about his time in World War II, and so for my eulogy I researched what excites any genealogist or family historian – his arrival in France early in 1945 as a member of the 97th infantry division for the 303rd infantry. From France he started walking – through Germany, through a piece of Czechoslovakia, back into Germany then back into France … 550 miles. He was an ammunition bearer and received commendation as a sharp shooter. On May 7th, all American units were directed to halt offensive operations pending the announcement that the war in Europe was officially ended. He was sent back to the US May 25, 1945 with flat feet.

I remember how riveted I was researching the details of his discharge papers and seeing the large event of World War II now a place of people and time that created a vivid personal passage of his life.

And in this perhaps odd way of accounting for things, for life, I feel my father gave me life twice. The second time through my genealogical pursuit of who he was as a young man of Quaker heritage who, when schools allowed young men to graduate early, went down to the induction office in March of 1944 and joined up.

Dad never wanted anyone to make a fuss. He didn’t like fuss. His manner taught me many things. Not just the obvious stuff like how to treat others, but about choices…”You’ve got to learn to get along with people…you’ve got to learn to get along with all different types of people…” He believed there were right choices and that people had their own fate. I understand we can choose to ignore things but doing that might cost us more than we can afford. Dad believed we kept trying because survival of who we are and what we are was important. I never cared for the term “survival,” until I realized he was talking about our evolution as a person and as a human in the web of humanity.

Fast forward to today and my business in lineage research where I now do for others what I did in my father’s lineage: investigate, examine and document information about my client’s ancestors, so people can gain deeper understanding of their kinship, heritage and culture of the time from which their ancestors worked and lived and were laid to rest.

And so, on this 9th anniversary of my father’s passing, I feel blessed by his own life and energy’s work that he passed on to all of us.

Paul W. Cross
1925-2006
paul

What Do Genealogists Do?

Genealogists and genealogy have greatly changed the what and the how of what we do, however the narrative of what we do has remained: Genealogists research kinship and create timelines of events to discover a family’s history of who, when, what and why. We begin with the evidence you give us to research and work toward what you want to discover and uncover about your family lineage.

Building a family history comes from an investigative, analytical approach of evidence that is researched, questioned, researched again, and, if found to be accurate, documented. We all love the stories and family lore passed down from generation to generation, but are they accurate stories? Is there evidence to show your ancestor died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918? Were there disasters during the lives of your ancestors? Were there wars? Why did the family move?

As I work on a family lineage, I ask myself some basic questions about each family member: When was he born? How long did he live? What was happening in the country during the time he lived? How old was he when he married ? What order of birth was he? What was his trade? How many occupations did he have? How many wives did he have? Was he in the military? Was he wounded in service? Did he travel? Where to?

Genealogists also learn the history of where and how records are kept. Thanks to historical societies, federal, state and county archives, libraries, universities and the sharing of genealogical resources among genealogists worldwide, the genealogist and family researcher now has many options in the search for the umbilical evidence of family through lineage research. For more information about the resources available to research your family history, see my blog post dated July 29, 2014.

A genealogist is also an historian – a family historian – who places people in historical and social context. Through the use of original or derivative sources and primary or secondary information – i.e., evidence – either direct or indirect (evidence that is combined with other evidence to prove individual ancestors and or family relationships), you are ready to discover more than the bare bones of your ancestors.

And last, but never least, use source citations and know the value of the source; you will be well served to use the genealogical proof standard that we all hear so much about. Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy, and so we check our work to be sure it adheres to this standard. See http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html for the full definition and understanding of this important concept.

Then return to discovering and writing about your family lineage. For me, it’s been the discovery of many different types of people and of how I came to be in this world. My religious and cultural heritage – of money and entrepreneurs, of farmers and farming communities, have been proved through the variety of resources genealogists work with – from Google books that tell me of the farmers who tried living a cooperative farming lifestyle in Illinois to the entrepreneurs, who lived from one enterprise to the next, owing a hotel, bowling alley, garage – to birth and death records. Family history as verifiable storyline is complicated, more complicated than the places and the dates and the time period we all look for in our study and research of family. I have also discovered the richness of life through knowledge and understanding of kin and clan and have seen changes in a family tree through the cycles of pattern and timing. It is a rich landscape indeed.

Tips for Finding Your Elusive Ancestor

In the years I’ve been doing lineage research, for my own family tree and professionally for clients, the organization of documents, photos, records and strategy for searching for ancestors has been key to filling in the leaves on family trees. For all those who love to be organized (and maybe for some of those who don’t) here are a few tips that will keep the documents, source citations, and discoveries in your family tree coming:

Keep a list of websites that offer source documents and indexes by ethnicity. This will help you the next time you are searching for Swedish records or want to study the geography or culture of Jonkopings Lan.

Get online. Blogspots, social media, chat rooms, and webinars from developers of genealogy software to magazines to internet websites all have information that will give you ideas to keep you on track in the pursuit of your elusive ancestor.

Ask questions. From the question-and-answer session of a genealogy webinar to questions posted online at genealogy websites, you will find helpful responses from people doing research and from professionals assigned to field questions in genealogy.

Keep track of tweets from genealogists who share information in their areas of specialty. People share information, websites, photos and memories that help you appreciate the breadth of knowledge ready for you to tap.

Join a genealogical or historical society. Many states and cities in the U.S. fund historical societies as a way to share documents, photos and the history of the state. Joining an out-of-state historical society will give you access to information and the camaraderie of shared sleuthing will boost your level of knowledge and experience.

Foster relationships with churches. Get to know churches in the areas you are researching. Develop relationships with people who are in charge of housing vital records – they are experts in areas that can lead you to another “Ah Ha” moment in your search for records and some of them are genealogists too.

Visit your local library. Librarians are awesome people who can help you when you need to take your research to another area of exploration. And don’t forget to visit your local Family History Centers – if there is one in your area. Remember – talking to people who have long memories, great resource suggestions, and the patience knowing not everything will be revealed in one step, is the best way to rejuvenate your search for information.

Visit my website. Do you have a question about your own family tree research? Email me: I’d be glad to help with possible leads, website suggestions, database searches and any “have you tried this” ideas.

Read Read Read – Genealogy research methodology, family history topics, research websites, magazines, newspapers – You’ve got resources at your fingertips and your next big lead just might be discovered through your own continuing education.

Good luck being the detective inside your family history!

Now What?

So you’ve decided you’d like to learn a little more about your family’s heritage – now what?

You know the names, dates and birth places of your immediate family plus some aunts and uncles – and you’ve found the time to do a little digging. Where do you start? What skills do you need to research your family tree? How will you save the information you do find?

These are some questions that may come up as you decide to begin your family research. Let’s look at a few free options you have to begin your search.

Ancestry.com offers a free 14-day unlimited access trial period and does occasionally run offers that extend the trial period to one month. They have extensive digitized and original source information in databases which you can access under their Card Catalog heading.

If you have military in your family tree consider a trial offer at fold3.com. They provide excellent access to military records as well as photos, and offer a 7-day all access trial period for potential subscribers.

FamilySearch.com is a free research website that is an excellent resource for civil and census records that will get you started verifying what you think you know about your extended family.

Another resource for family birth and death dates is Find-A-Grave – an online database of millions of cemetery records offered by contributors from all over the world.

US Social Security Death Index – an online database of people who have died since 1962 containing date of birth, death, and social security number.

Rootsweb.com is an online database of family tree information submitted by researchers and family members researching their family tree. You can search by surname for family trees that have been posted online.

To find genealogical gems in libraries near you, try WorldCat.org.

JewishGen Family Finder – If you have Jewish ancestry, check out this free online database of surnames and towns.

Don’t forgot to check out blog spots that offer information and links to regional historical society websites, historical newspaper collections, as well as links to local and state funded online information. Two really good blog spots that I use are Terri Fraser’s retracingthepast.blogspot.com and the In-Depth Genealogist. These are two great resources that can point the way to those online records and heritage material that can be accessed for free or on a fee basis.

So you’ve taken the dive into finding what might be online to support your research into family – now how do you store it for access later?

MyHeritage.com is a free social network and genealogy website. It offers basic online research features, free genealogy software to create family trees and charts and a search engine that searches key databases from information you have entered.

AboutOne.com is an app that stores and organizes your family data, photos and memories. The basic service is free and is also available as an app for mobile devices, so you can take your information with you and add to it on-the-go. It’s good for storing photos and videos and lists of household artifacts and memories.

As you check out what services websites offer, be sure to also look for webinars and video tips and tricks for researching your family offered by these sites. They may offer valuable answers to your basic genealogical questions, and help you search for methods and clues for researching your lineage.

And don’t forget Google! Play around with Google by entering a surname and check out what links to online family trees may be out there. You never know, a researcher or distant cousin may have posted valuable information on a topic of interest to you. Find out just how much is out there on your ancestry just by searching basic terminology, i.e., Italian ancestry.

Remember – On my website you will find a Resources Checklist for items you may have in your home that could hold clues for family research. Or contact me at 4Descendants@cox.net with any questions you might have for research plans and services.

Getting to Know Your Ancestors

Researching Patterns and Cycles.

Studying family ancestry is like studying the rings of a tree, and like a family tree, it shows pattern and cycles. The re-occurrence of occupation, the decision for relocation and putting down roots can be patterns within a family, within a lineage. Marriage patterns exist too. In my own family, brothers of one family married sisters of another family back through generations. Seeing this pattern offered an understanding of how close-knit farming communities lived in Illinois in the 1800s. The discovery never really stops; I think that’s what I like about it. Like peeling an onion, there’s always another layer or frame of reference that evokes time and place and connection.

Gifts of Heritage.

Another piece of discovery is opening the gifts given to us by our ancestors and our ancestor’s lives. What my ancestors struggled to give us – their descendants – were pieces of life that they valued for their children and grandchildren. I’m pretty sure my father and I disagreed about what artistic originality means, what giving to the greater good means, but that has not lessened what each of us decided to do with our lives. And the study of that life, that pattern, is what gives us awareness and meaning and connection to our ancestors.

Memories and Photos.

I’ve lugged lens and DSLRs all over the U.S., Mexico City, London and Aix en Provence. I’ve waited patiently for that one-in-million photo that evokes a time and a place. Heavy DSLRs finally moved over for their lighter cousins – point-and-shoot cameras show rain storm pictures taken from inside a car, desert animals, trees, and my brother’s kids. But I never took photos of family gatherings and headstones before I began my search for ancestors and my business in genealogy. Now I stop at cemeteries my ancestors are not buried in, just to enjoy the beauty of a beloved resting place. I’ve also never bothered with shots of family gatherings, yet there I was this past Christmas, pulling out the camera and asking everyone to say yes into the camera one more time. Perhaps it’s not a completely odd marriage. Photos have a way, like the discovery of a piece of one’s family history, of displaying people and places we’ve never really looked at – like age or culture or family resemblance.

Getting to Know Your Ancestor’s Lives.

Do you want to learn more about your family lineage? How many files of family facts and photos do you have? Are they preserved? Can you share them with other family members? Do you have a big interest in your family lineage but little time to do the research and store the data and any photos and information you may find? Let’s sit down and develop a research plan that will help you uncover the evidence of your heritage and preserve and celebrate your family’s history.

I can research your family lineage and give you the evidence, research reports, family tree charts, along with the discovery of new information about your ancestors that you can share and pass on to others. Email me at the address below or contact me through my website.

Here’s to celebrating ancestry!

Clear Waters

I will remember what I forgot
I will remember why I chose to forget
I will remember who I am
I will survive change.

 

I have found that slow travel is best. An uneven bumpy ride is the ride of life. In my emotions I go from A to Z in jet flight: to pick up and set down without any sense of what has happened in between is too little too fast. My father once said to me: Say you’ve come into a baseball game in the middle of the 5th inning. What’s the first thing you want to know? What’s the score?

 

This really is what the study of my ancestry has meant to me – I’ve had a passion for research and biographical investigation for many years. Do I know who I am? Do I know where I come from?

 

Are you excited by your own unique heritage? Are you interested in learning more now?

 

Identify one thing you want to learn about your lineage and email it to me.