28 March 2011

Brick walls are an inevitable part of any research

I have come to realize that any family tree research will have a brick wall, or two, or even fifty when it comes to research.  Sometimes, that brick wall is in the form of a person actually preventing you from getting information on a family.  Other times it is in the form of the lack of information at your fingertips.

Overcoming some brick walls can sometimes take months if not years of research.  Sometimes the brick wall crumbles with a simple search through a database or some records, other times a brick wall will remain stubbornly in place for years to come, particularly if the ancestor with the brick wall has a very common name like Thomas Smith or John Fielding.

Here are some helpful hints for overcoming some brick walls:

Network, network, network!!

Any great genealogist will tell you that the best way to break down a brick wall is networking.  Sharing what you have and asking for help often helps break down brick walls.
Be willing to share what you have with others.  A great help to me, though one I have not used in a bit, are genealogical message boards, such as Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage offer great ways to get in touch with others who may be researching the same lines as you, or who may be able to offer advice on who to contact in regards to information.

Mailing lists are another great way to connect and network with people who may be able to help you with a genealogical brick walls.  For instance, if you are researching a family line in California but live in New York and can't get to a courthouse to search for a record, you can join a mailing list where volunteers might be able to do it for you for free.  (Likewise, it's always nice to offer to do look ups in your own area to help someone across the country or even in another part of the state).  Also, mailing lists, like forums, offer advice and websites that you may have overlooked when searching for info.  Some of my best breakthroughs came from posts I made on mailing lists.  See http://www.cyndislist.com/ for more information on mailing lists and to help determine what one is best for you. 

Sharing information you find regularly with relatives often helps as well, for they can often catch a mistake or something new might spark a memory of some random cousin or distant relative that they may have forgotten years ago.  Sometimes, sharing what you have online on sites such as Rootsweb.com (which has the option to clean anyone living off of your family tree) in the form of even the bare bones research, helps others compare and connect to you and break through those brick walls you have.

Education still pays

Every family is different.  Every genealogy is different.  Because the world is made up of different religions and cultures and languages, sometimes researching can be difficult.

It pays to educate yourself about the different areas and times that your ancestors lived in.  For example, part of my husband's family emigrated from Poland when it was divided into partitions by Austria, Russia and Prussia.  His family happened to live in Galicia, which was ruled by Austria at the time of their immigration to America.  Therefore, half of the documents that the family has in regards to their immigration list Austria as their country of origin.  This lead part of the family to believe that they were Austrian instead of Polish.  Had the research into the country and its history not been done, some brick walls may never have come down. Another instance is the fact that  my father's family lived on the north side of Pittsburgh before it was the grand city it is today.  Back then, it was called Temperanceville and then Allegheny City before it was incorporated into Pittsburgh in the early 20th century.  Not knowing this, in my early research days I looked for records from Pittsburgh when I did research, and was at a loss when I could not come up with any information.  It wasn't until I sat down and read the history of Pittsburgh that it dawned on me to find out where my family had lived, and I was able to break down a brick wall to find several generations of family members and numerous distant cousins willing to help me research, as well as different ideas on where to look for sources.

It also pays to educate yourself on the different sources out there that are readily available for you to use.  From censuses to public records, to databases and family history books, there is a plethora of  sources readily available for use.  The trouble is, they can be a formidable challenge to use if you do not know where to look. Take the time to learn how to use materials and what kinds of materials are out there to use.  A great way to find info if you are internet savvy is to use lists like http://www.cyndislist.com/ (it's one of my favorites, if you can't tell) to find info on resources.  Google.com is another awesome way to look up resources, if you know how to word it right.  If not, books like

Make it a point to learn not only about your family bu where they live.  Make it a point to learn about different research materials out there.  Never stop trying to learn!

Patience is a virtue, even in genealogy

Sometimes it can take years to break down a brick wall.  I hunted for the parents of my great-grandmother for ten years before I finally found them on a census form where she was listed under a misspelled name.   Sometimes the sources aren't easily accessible for you to research, sometimes your ancestor moved and you don't know where or why.   Learn to be patient.  Keep in mind that the best genealogists often spend a lifetime researching their family trees. 

Reanalyze your data

This is where sourcing comes in handy (from my last blog entry).  Often you will hit brick walls that can easily be overcome just by looking over the data you have collected again.  Sometimes a fact that you overlooked the first time you saw the info will jump out at you, or a piece of research that you filed away because it didn't pertain to your research at the time will be vital now.  Go through the sources again with a fresh mind.  A letter a cousin sent years ago to led me to find a crucial piece of info recently on a branch I have been working on.  Going through data helps you to have stronger research, as well as helps to paint a bigger picture of just who your ancestors are.

With these steps, most of those brick walls will come apart.  Below are some books I have found useful in my genealogy quest.


23 March 2011

Old family photographs can be a treasure trove of wealth

A box of old photographs lay dusty on an attic shelf, or in a forgotten closet.  Photos may even be forgotten in an unused album on a shelf in a family room.  Wherever they are, old photographs can be a treasure trove a wealth when it comes to genealogy

I love looking through old photos, whether or not they have my family members in them.  My grandfather was a avid photographer and loved taking pictures of the world around him.  He was the photographer for many Waldspurger family events.  I never knew what happened to his many photo albums after he passed away, but the photos I have seen that he captured, such as this photo of his family in 1934 that was taken at his older brother Edward's wedding, show that how much he loved taking pictures.   Who knows what treasures lie forgotten in his many albums.

Waldspurger Family in 1934

Another thing I used to love to do is buy old photos from flea markets or antique shops when they were cheap enough (usually only a dollar or two) and try to match them up with families looking for photos.  I have only been successful once, but it was a time I was very happy indeed.  I haven't bought photos in some time, and the ones I have are boxed up somewhere.... I should dig them out and try anew. 

Old photographs tell stories.  From the way people are dressed to the style of the house, even a favorite place a person used to visit, there are stories to be told.  For instance, I knew my father had an elder sister who dies when she was only 21, but I wasn't able to connect a face to the name until I was shown several pictures of her while in college.  At that time, she had been the same age as I was when she passed away.  I was able to connect a family story to my own personal experiences because of a few simple photographs

Are there old photos you could be looking through?

10 March 2011

Sourcing Genealogical Information

My last blog was on different free websites to help aid you in your genealogical adventures.  Today, I will talk about sourcing that information.

Sourcing info is easy, and there really is no right or wrong way to do it. Often times you will need to have at least some of the following written down, whether it be on the family sheet your are working with, in notes that you have in a file, or if you use a software program, add it to the source list and then attach it to whatever data you need sourced:
  • Author
  • Title
  • Publisher's name and location
  • Publication date
  • Location of the source and identifying information (for example, the library where you found a book and its call number, or the website where you found it)
  • Specific information for the piece of data you found (page number, line number, web address, database name and line number, whatever will identify that specific fact)
The good news is if you do a majority of your research from online databases, they will usually have most of this information available at the end of the database or somewhere on their page.  If you can't find all of the data, don't worry too much.  Write down what you can from the source to help identify it.  That way, if you have to come back to that source later, you know where to look to find the info you need (not to mention it will help you solve the inevitable arguments of "Where did you find that date of birth for my Aunt so-and-so?  It's wrong!" should you choose to share your info online.)  Don't worry about having correct citations and perfect formats, unless you are the kind of person who lives for that kind of perfection.

Here are some helpful links as to why you should source data:

Sourcing — The Key to Your Family Detective Work
Why Bother? The Value of Documentation in Family History Research
Source Citations in Genealogy: Church or Cult?

01 March 2011

How to get started in researching your family tree

Genealogy has been a passion of mine ever since I was in high school.  My mother came home from my maternal grandmother's funeral with a list of descendants from her grandfather, a list one of my cousins had made.  I remember looking at it and the family tree that my great-aunt had created for the family years ago and wondered if I could find anything new on any of our family members.  12 years later, I can easily show my ancestry to the 17th century on some family branches and have helped connect countless people together, all for the fun of it. (For anyone interested - Here is a link to my family tree research)

Recently, a friend asked me how she could get started on researching her family tree.   In answer to her question, I felt the need to type this blog.

The best way to start researching your family tree is to start with your own family.  write down your date of birth and place.  Write in your spouse and their date of birth and place, as well as where and when you got married.  Fill in information for any children and other descendants.  Then start working backwards.  Write down siblings and where they were born and their children.  Fill out parental info as best as you can.  Keep working backwards as far as you can go, even if it is just names of each family member.

Next, start asking questions of relatives still alive.  I remember calling my paternal grandmother and asking her when her dad was born.  My mother's father was a great help in enlisting the help of his surviving siblings (many who have sadly passed away since then) in getting me information. I have found email surveys have worked best for asking relatives questions.  They can get to them at their leisure and also have all of the questions right in front of them.  Keep in mind that not everyone will be forthcoming with information, and more often then not you must respect that some relatives don't want to dwell on the past.

After you have exhausted your relatives, it is time to move to the internet.  Searching the net can be daunting, but there is a treasure trove of information out there.  The best way to start is to use free websites to expand your search. Here are two FREE sites I like to use:

This is by far my most favorite site to use for researching a new name I find for my family tree.  I also like to use it to find new info on relatives and ancestors when I seem to have hit a wall.  The best part of this site is the completely free World Connect Project that allows virtually anyone to post their family tree information on the site via a .gedcom file.  The worst part is more often then not, info can be misleading or incorrect and can be copied easily, leading to several people with misleading information.  However, it is a great way to connect with relatives and people researching your family name.  There is also a few links to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), many different Freepage websites, mailing lists for people with common genealogical interests, and a lot of resources to help the beginning researcher get started or help even the old pros with a brick wall.  You will have to register for a free account to use some of the information on this site, but it is worth it.  Keep in mind also that this site is run by Ancestry.Com, which also has a free two week trial to most of its content.

Run by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, this site has similar information to Rootsweb in that they allow some family tree submissions and have access to the SSD.  This site also allows access to free historical records and even will let you see images of some of those records with a free registered membership.  Recently, there was a overhaul of the site that makes it much easier to search documents and information for your family. 

Of course, if you have an unusual name (for example, in my maternal tree there is the surnames of Waldspurger and Heffentrager), sometimes googling the name works as well.    You can come across a treasure trove of gemswith an uncommon last name.

I hope this information helps with starting your family tree! Feel free to ask questions if you'd like,

And if anyone needs any cemetery lookups from the surrounding Des Moines area, let me know!  I will do them for free.