Friday, November 27, 2009

Taking a tip from the estate gumshoes

"It's all about spreading the net as wide as possible." A recent article out of The Sydney Morning Herald, "Unorthodox sleuthing helps trustee find beneficiaries," recounts the process taken by the NSW Trustee and Guardian, the public trustee of unclaimed estates. "Using everything from cemetery indexes and census data in several countries," the trustee was able to locate a rightful heir. "This was one of our most interesting cases because it required research in so many countries." Persistence pays.

Help for UK researchers

Following on the heels of a similar success, one UK researcher's appeal to the Information Commissioner under the Freedom of Information Act "could unlock details from the 1939 National Registration of the UK - an emergency, census-like survey of the country at the beginning of the war," as noted in a recent BBC article etnitled, "Families on the brink of war."

"The National Registration enumeration, carried out on the night of Friday 29 September 1939, led to the issue of about 46 million identity cards for citizens the following month," the article reports. The records are currently closed to the public.

"The truth is, it's often far more difficult to find out about recent history than Victorian history and beyond," says family historian Guy Etchells. Etchells, credited as the "driving force" behind the recent release of 1911 census for England and Wales.

As we learn from Margaret Meade, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

The "real" story of Thanksgiving -- reaching mind share

As genealogists we know there are two (or more) sides to every story. We also know that history is often romanticized to favor one version or another, depending on who is doing the telling -- history textbooks are no exception. As the poet Emily Dickinson wrote, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." The story of Thanksgiving is, perhaps, one of the most controversial of all holidays in what it celebrates and how the story is told. Although racial discrimination and bigotry still exists in the this country and in the world, most non-Native Americans are aware of and respect the plight of Native Americans. So much so, in fact, that one of the most popular yet elusive of all genealogical quests in tracking down one's legendary Native American ancestry. That said, the pain of that heritage lingers in the modern generation, as illustrated in the recent article on entitled, "Thanks? Giving? A History of Civil Rights." The PBS special, "We Shall Remain," is an attempt to tell the whole story of the Native American up to the present time, in what producers call "an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers." Episode 1, After the Mayflower explores that first Thanksgiving and its consequences. Old traditions die hard -- it may be awhile yet before the "real" story of Thanksgiving reaches mind share.

Songs of Yesterday: How our Ancestors Sang the Holiday, Part 1

The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect songs our ancestors and to consider their origin. This week, GenWeekly writer, Jean Hibben, known for her musical performances, introduces a new Songs of Yesterday series, with the article "Songs of Yesterday: How our Ancestors Sang the Holiday, Part 1." Full of fun and surprises, the real treat in this series is hearing the author perform the song. Many of the Songs of Yesterday, we might think to be much more dated than they actually are -- have you ever considered the origin of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"? And while many of us decry the commercialism of Christmas and the ever-present Santa Claus, this week's article suggests he may have closer ties to the original spirit of Christmas than one had imagined.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do a Different Genealogy Search this Holiday Season

Thanksgiving really does begin the holiday season -- from that day on, up through New Year's Day, families gather and connect, almost more than any other time of year. And while Thanksgiving has been named National Family History Day, with families encouraged to gather their family health history, the opportunity presents itself all season. In her article, "National Family History Day: Do a Different Genealogy Search This Thanksgiving," Rita Marshall reviews the U. S. Surgeon General recommendations on how to start a family health history and who to include. And something not often discussed are the follow-up questions, and how to interpret the information you receive "genealogy style."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Antiques and Historical Perspectives

At our last family reunion, my youngest son had the privilege of escorting his uncles through a local antique mall. His only regret was that he did not have his digital tape recorder. He said his uncles did could not go five feet in any direction without picking up some object, recalling its use and some amusing story. Although "appointed" to the task, he came home delighted and with a new appreciation for his uncles, what they knew, and the time in which they grew up.  In his article, "Antiques and Historical Perspectives," Alan Smith shares his experience and new perspectives gained in cataloguing the large antique collection in his father's estate. In large part, it is this personal relationship with the past that makes genealogy so engaging.

What Amelia Earhart Can Teach You About Family Mysteries

Evaluating evidence and arriving at conclusions is a critical step in the research process. The mystery is what give genealogy much of its allure, the discovery of the unknown. Whether hurdling a brick wall or unravelling a family legend, it's important to be as objective and thorough as possible. In her article, "What Amelia Earhart Can Teach You About Family Mysteries," Rita Marshall illustrates through recently declassified information on Amelia Earhart, the challenges of evaluating evidence. As the article point out, our motivations can influence our interpretations.

Halloween it's not, but Mummies are in the news

At this time of year when we are charged with gathering our family health history, you might be interested to read the recent U.S. News & World report article, "The Mummies' Curse: Heart Disease." Using the latest imaging techniques scientists  have discovered "hardening of the arteries -- or atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks and stroke -- in mummies up to 3,500 years old." Thought to be a modern condition, atherosclerosis turns out to be "as old as the pyramids."

What's in YOUR closet?

Some people keep everything and others believe in unsentimental purging. The concern, of course, is that someone will throw away family papers, letters, or the information, unawares. When I took possession of my grandmother's photos, my uncle informed me that there had been a lot of letter tapes that were thrown away -- who knows what else, letters to be sure, as they were not in her box. Of course, there's no going back, but there's no time like the present to begin gathering what information and writings are available to you, before they disappear. 

A recent article in the Bangor Daily News, "Your family may have a trove of writings," brings home the point and suggests some of the items you may find, often hidden in plain sight. Even if you think you've found it all, this gives an idea of the types of writing family members might leave behind, including those old school reports -- such writings do have meaning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Are the Confederate Amnesty Papers?

We always  appreciate hearing about those little known and untapped genealogy resources -- this is the way we expand our knowledge and our family tree at the same time. That said, finding an ancestor among these records could be met with mixed emotion. 

In her article, "What Are the Confederate Amnesty Papers?, Melissa Slate explains The Amnesty Proclamation of December 8,1863 and outlines amnesty requirements. Being a United States record, the Confederate Amnesty Papers are housed at the National Archives. Indexes may be available for some states, such as those for Tennessee. In addition, has made these records available online. You may look for hints to amnesty among a soldier's compiled service record. According to the Civil War publication on the National Archives website, "References to oaths of allegiance and paroles from Confederate soldiers can often be found referenced in compiled military service records for captured soldiers/prisoners." Civil War paroles, also noted in that document, might be another resource to consider.

Genealogy of Communites: Intentional Communities in the Next Century

In the final article of her Genealogy of Communities series, Judy Rosella Edwards explores communities of the recent past and looks to the future: "Genealogy of Communities: Intentional Communities in the Next Century." One point made was the increase in international and cross-cultural marriages brought about during wartime; locating ancestors in war-torn and unstable countries is and will continue to be a challenge. The article also asks the question of how genealogists will manage the research of ancestors whose choices and philosophies might differ from their own. Many of these questions we are already addressing and apply to all generations and all time periods, although the new challenges are sure to bring about new and exciting genealogical and technological innovations. This has been an informative series with ideas for researching in many directions.

New book tells stories of many buried at Arlington National Cemetery

An article on, "Arlington National Cemetery, alive with history in new book," highlights a new book by Robert Poole, former editor of National Geographic. The book, On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery (Walker, 352 pp., $28),  "tells the stories of many of those buried in 70 sections across these rolling hills just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. On Hallowed Ground is part history lesson, part tourist guide, part mystery novel," says USA Today writer, Craig Wilson.

"And though it was a four-year project, Poole says his book "just scratches the surface" – from the cemetery's Civil War beginnings in the 1860s to today's tourist must-see, the Changing of the Guard."

Released just in time for Veteran's Day, this timely book, great for history buffs, may be especially meaningful for those with loved one buried at Arlington. And could be a real boon to genealogists, if your ancestor is one whose story is told.

Thanksgiving, National Family History Day

We cannot be reminded too often the importance of gathering a family health history. Since 2004, the U. S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day, as part of the Family Health History Initiative. The aim is to encourage families as they gather throughout the holiday season -- and at other times -- to talk about and write down any health problems that may run in the family. This is one of those easy-to-procrastinate tasks, but what better time than the holidays to initiate a conversation?

As noted, health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases can run in families. Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy. To aid families in recording such information, My Family Health Portrait, was created. This is a web-based tool, which allows users to record, print, and share their family history information. In particular, families are encouraged to share the information with their doctors.

"Beat the Crowds" by reserving your National Archives visit online

If you are considering a trip to the U S. National Archives, you may want to check out Dick Eastman's blog, "National Archives Launches New Online Reservations System," providing information on how to "Beat the crowds" and reserve your time, conveniently online.

New "Sources" on Irish Reserach

Here is some great insight to a source we might not all be perusing in our online travels.  Leland Meitzler, on his GenealogyBlog, highlights "The New 'Sources' Database for Irish Research." Described as "A new database of source materials for Irish research, entitled simply 'Sources,'has been  launched by the National Library of Ireland."

GLO "not the only game in town"

A recent article by Kimberly Powell on, "Locating Historical U. S. Deeds Online," reminds us the General Land Office (GLO) records is a great resource for finding ancestors in thirty federal or public land states. She also makes the point "the GLO is not the only game in town. Many U. S. counties in the eastern part of the country have started putting their historical deed records online." The article suggests ways of locating these online county deed records.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Genealogy of Communities: Utopias

Utopia, the ideal society envisioned by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, was then and continues to be an imaginary place. Nonetheless, societies persist in believing it's attainable, and the quest has continued throughout history. In her article, "Genealogy of Communities: Utopias," Judy Rosella Edwards explores the nature of such communities, offering insights and suggestions for genealogical research. As the author point out, "people from all walks of life have joined." For those ancestors who present puzzles, it may be an area worth exploring.

Lexicons of Lost Lifestyles: In Passing, Part III

In her latest article on the uses of death, dead, and dying in everyday language, Jean Hibben suggests many of the phrases and terms we use relating to death "never were alive in the first place." The article, "Lexicons of Lost Lifestyles: In Passing, Part III," the author explores the origin of terms such as a "deadpan, "deadbolt," "deadline" and, as unlikely as it may seem, the word "mortgage." The study of language and root words, in particular, can be entertaining as well as enlightening. 

Just in time for Veteran's Day - "Smart" Phone access to Veteran burial sites

Just in time for Veteran's Day, more convenient access to veteran grave sites. As announced in a recent AP article, "Want to find a veteran's grave? Get out your "smart" phone," the Department of Veterans Affairs has enhanced its Web site to make it easier to look up the grave sites of more than 6.7 million veterans on a "smart" mobile phone, such as a BlackBerry. It builds on an online service started in 2004 that helps locate the graves of veterans and eligible family members buried in national cemeteries or whose graves are marked with a government headstone. Once the site locates the cemetery, it offers users directions on how to get there.

Diamonds in the Rough -- Findings at Local Area Museums

Researchers may want to look beyond the courthouse to the local museum in their quest for family information. An article on, "Clarinda museum tells area's story," illustrates the type of information -- buried treasure, really -- that can be found in local area museums. Clarinda, Iowa, for example, known as the birthplace of big band leader, Glen Miller and the 4-H was also home to a World War II prison camp. The camp held 3,000 prisoners, mostly German soldiers, as well as some Japanese and a few Italian soldiers.These POWs worked within the community and many returned after the war to visit with local families. The museum holds many artifacts, including photographs of the POWs and some of their art work left behind. Additionally, Clarinda wa a stop on the Orphan Train route, with nearly 10,000 children brought to Iowa homes.

Strategies for Finding Female Ancestors

An recent article in the Broomfield Enterprise, "Genealogy: Tips for finding females that matter to you" explores the issue of finding female ancestors through the men in their lives and provides a list of 10 sources to check. As the article observes, "Often the answer to identifying a woman can be found in the records of her husband, son, or brother." This proved true in my own experience. I found one female ancestor's second married name, not among legal documents, but in letters she had written to her son. The letters were found through a message board correspondent -- and not a relative. Interestingly, my respondent was not a family history researcher and was not on the message boards. Rather, he found my message board post through a Google search. 

While letters and diaries is # 8 on the list of 10, don't forget to put those puzzles out on the message boards. It may take some time. My post was out there four years, but the person responding had a wealth of information, including a collection of personal letters.

For more insights on researching female ancestors, check you may want check our previous blog post, Love the Ladies, and, in honor, of Veteran's Day, Women Veterans.

Hey genealogists, let's start Celebrating America

A recent news item on, "Hey genealogists, let's start Celebrating America," introduces a new project on, a state by state survey of available genealogical resources. States will be added in the order in which they joined the Union. This will be an exciting project to follow -- an opportunity to see how well we've covered our bases and to see what new information or untapped resources might be available.