I love free webinars. They are a great way to pick up new tips and tricks for better genealogical researching. Female ancestors can be one of the toughest challenges in family history research. Check out this great free webinar that might provide a great tip to work through these often challenging ancestors with the use of secret societies.
Two of my favorite things are newly discovered cousins and old photographs.
The name dusty roots and forgotten treasures is a subtle shout out to that. Most of my roots were dusty and forgotten until I set out to dig them up.
Every day I dig, and I am constantly rewarded with the discovery of amazing historic treasures. Not monetary treasures, I will never die rich, but I have a wealth that is incomparable to a stack of cash.
Recently I hit the lotto when it comes to the family history jackpot.
I connected with some cousins that I had never met before and not only has it been wonderful to connect with this newly reconnected branch on the family tree, I was also rewarded with being able to get copies of many priceless photographs.
Photographs I had never seen before. Photographs of people who have some of the same features that I do. Enough photographs to help fill in the gaps of photographs on one family line to the point that I now have a photographic timeline of NINE generations!
I’m always excited to connect with relatives because it gives me the opportunity to share the family history gold I find. On those instances where I find myself on the receiving end of such wonderful bounty it feels like karma is rewarding my genealogical good deeds. I get smiled on by the karma gods of genealogy a lot.
I have really been blessed.
To accomplish this great feat of 9 photograph generations it took a lot of people to share their treasures with me. I have had distant cousins mail me packages of photocopies from the opposite side of the country. I get emails from cousins filling my inbox full of priceless photographs decades old. I get text messages from relatives as they make road trips and can visit long forgotten family cemeteries that I may never get the opportunity to visit for myself.
Often in various genealogical groups I see people that are upset that people are not sharing with them on sites such as ancestry. I have not run into that a lot. Most people are very generous with me.
These are my 4 tried and true tips for breaking the ice with cousins and opening the door to sharing of information and photographs.
- Approach newly discovered cousins with a gift of your genealogical treasure. Do you know some information that might not be common knowledge? Do you have an old photograph that you can share a copy? Can you share information about how you and the cousin are connected? Generosity often begets generosity. It is a great way to break the ice.
- Be willing to let information simmer. If you send a message off to a cousin and get no response just let it go. There is no way to know what another individual has experienced. For some people family history can be a traumatic experience or information that you reveal might be shocking or confusing. Stalking an individual with repeated follow up messages will probably not make a new friend.
- Show gratitude. If contact with a cousin results in nothing of use to you personally at least thank them for their time. They may not have any information for you currently but if you make a positive impression, they are more likely to recall you in the future if or when they encounter information or someone that has information.
- Family photographs used to be rare and hard to copy. Today with great cell phone cameras in most pockets and handheld scanners available at affordable prices there is no reason to suggest ever taking possession of someone’s treasured original photograph. You want to irk Great Aunt Betty? Take her priceless heirloom photograph out of her site. Quietly get a copy if you can and thank her profusely for the privilege and then for goodness sake put it back exactly where and how you found it!
Do you have any tips and tricks for getting people to share their genealogical treasures?
Always check for local genealogical societies when you are doing research in a certain locale.
If there is an expert on local history this is a good place to try to find them. Genealogical societies often have records that aren’t available in other places or information on how to find them.
Members of local genealogical societies may know the location of long forgotten cemeteries and details of family histories that might not be published or widely known. It’s also a good place to stumble upon distant cousins!
1. Follow the document trail as far as you can but once the details start to get less clear it’s time to fan out. In family history research FAN refers to friends and neighbors.
As an example, let’s say that the research trail goes dead at the 1900 U.S. census. A lot of researchers run into roadblocks around this time period due to the destroyed 1890 U.S. Census. This is a good time to attempt to perform FAN research.
I used this method to knock down one of my own family brick walls. My great-great grandmother was a controversial figure in the family lore of my ancestry. She lived into my lifetime although I don’t really have any recollection of her. I did grow up hearing various tidbits about her from different relatives and none of them were positive.
When I started my research on her I didn’t have a great deal of details. I knew a given name, Fanny, and I knew the surname she had when she died, Meadows. I didn’t know if Fanny was a nickname for a different name. I had no clue if Meadows was a maiden name or a married name.
I built off what I did know using documents that I knew were related to my Great-Grandmother, Fanny’s daughter. I was able to locate the family on the 1920 census, the first census after my Great Grandmother was born. Without the FAN method this would have been my dead end.
On this census living in the household with the family was an individual named Elmer Bennett….and he was listed as a nephew.
With a little digging I was able to locate Elmer Bennett and Fanny Bennett on the 1910 census and they both lived in the household of Fanny’s parents. With that information I was able to crack the brick wall that held up my research on my Great-Great Grandmother.
The FAN technique of looking at Friends and Neighbors can be valuable in navigating research speed bumps.
2. Cast a broad net with a general search engine search. Often, we get tunnel vision and convince ourselves the only way to research is via sites we know and trust
There are countless more focused sites that while they may have less broad information, they may have extensive details of the individuals that you are researching. The best way to locate some of the harder to find resources is to search wide to locate the pinpoint resources.
The history of West Virginia might be a topic that not everyone needs. For me and my extensive West Virginia mountain heritage, the West Virginia Culture site has been a priceless resource. If I had limited my research to strictly sites such as ancestry and family search, I may have never found this massively helpful resource.
Unlike sites such as Ancestry with a wide catalog of records and a subscription fee smaller more specific websites will often be free or operate solely on donations.
There is a plethora of lesser known websites that are just as reliable as sites such as family search and ancestry
It’s easier to toss out the wrong results than it is to infer information from a mystery record. Exhaust all avenues.
3. Don’t focus too much on spelling if the rest of the details mesh out. Spelling has not been standardized long in the grand timeline of history. Many people were unable to read and write until modern times.
A recent instance that I came across was the case of the Monteith/Mantooth surname. Legend has it that there was a rift in the Mantooth family generations ago that led to one branch of the Monteith family changing their name to Mantooth.
If the spelling is close and all the other details match up, then you must research deeper. It’s better to research the wrong thing and realize it later than it is to skip over a record because Smith is spelled Smyth. It doesn’t hurt to sound out a name and try to think of any ways you can that might be a spelling for that name. Search them all. Then remember that our ancestors often had accents so you might have missed a spelling completely.
4. Research more than just people. If there is a certain location where the ancestors, you are researching lived for a long time take the time to learn about that area
I have discovered a great deal of family information through researching things such as towns, churches, and early military units.
Town founders, early community office, local militia unit rosters. There are countless places that ancestors can show up in historical documents.
The members of the communities were self-sufficient. They pooled efforts to help build churches, they would donate land for a community building, and they would ban together to build roads. In earlier periods these were handled at a community level and often details notes exist of these events.
5. Pushes and Pulls. This is such a simple concept but it’s easy to forget during research. Much like the world today there are often bigger events happening which influences migration patterns. Migration is rarely random.
A good example of this is with the Scotch-Irish population of the 18th and 19th centuries.
These individuals left regions of Scotland and Ireland hoping to create a better life. The conditions in their home regions were the pushes.
The pulls were the reasons they were pulled to the Americas such as available land and religious freedoms.
The Irish potato famine pushed many Irish families out of Ireland decades later and pulled them to the United States in search of economic opportunity.
During the industrial revolution the United States saw a lot of people pushed from rural farmland where there were less economic opportunities to urban areas such as Detroit, Michigan seeking available jobs in the factories.
My grandfather was from a poor coal mining family in Appalachia. He was pushed from his small community in rural West Virginia that his family had inhabited for hundreds of years. He was pulled to the economic opportunity of the manufacturing hub of northern automotive cities. He retired from GM in Flint, Michigan after a long and rewarding career. At that point he was pushed yet again from the busy hustle and bustle of life in a city and pulled toward a slower and more rural life.
Often if we consider the larger picture of a certain group or region it can provide great clues that can help fill in the research blanks.
What are your top 5 fast tips to help you find your family history treasure?
Always look at records or images of records whenever possible
It is convenient to take the quick route and take information from the transcription of a record. This is a mistake. The actual document often has information that is not available on the transcription.
When I pull a document to source a fact, I look at the entire document. I have found valuable clues in looking at the neighbors listed on census records and witnesses listed on marriage or death records just to name a couple places you can locate valuable information that might not be on a document transcription.
Weddings are a gift to the genealogist
Marriage records are invaluable when performing pre-1850 genealogical research on female ancestors. Prior to 1850 only heads of households were listed on the census. Locating that elusive 200-year-old marriage record could make all the difference in the quest for great-great grandmother’s name.
Here is a favorite wedding day photo of mine. The photo is from May 28, 1949 when my paternal grandparents, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr and Loree Jane Ashley, were married in Flint, Michigan. Pictured with the new couple are both sets of parents.
Left to Right: Moman Harold Fulkerson, Lilly Mae Weatherspoon, Jay Dee Fulkerson Sr, Loree Jane Ashley, Sarah Eckler, Myron Ashley
Prior to this photo I had never seen a photo of my grandmother’s parents. In fact, my grandmother’s father, Myron Ashley, pictured on the right with a cigarette in his hand died the year after this photo was taken. His wife, Sarah Eckler, and my grandfather, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr, both died before I was born.
During early periods in history, marriage was one of the few instances in a woman’s life when her full birth name might be recorded on documents. In lucky cases a bride’s parents may also be listed in the marriage record. Frequently, in the case of someone who was married more than once it can be a puzzle trying to locate each different surname, and surname changes are the cause of more than a few brick walls. Tracking down every marriage, and searching out not only maiden names but other possible surnames is a vital part of tracking maternal lines.
Frequently locating those marriage records can be a tricky endeavor because couples would travel to another area to get married. Other vital records searches are simplified by the fact they were typically recorded in the county or state where the person lived. Marriage records can be located in places the couple never resided.
My grandparents were from West Virginia and Michigan; they married in Angola, Indiana. Yet another set of grandparents further back in my line, both born and buried in Michigan, they married in Canada.
Tips while researching marriage records
- Always begin with searching for marriage records using the groom first; his surname was more likely to stay the same and if her surname is unexpected you know to look for other possible marriages.
- Don’t limit the geographic region of your search, people have been eloping forever.
- Marriage records can provide the bride’s maiden name….but not always… remember women changed their surnames, sometimes more often than we realize.
- Don’t disregard a record merely because both spouses don’t match. Dig deeper to see if it is truly different people or if there is more to the story.
Here is the marriage record of Lucy Bell Brown and Dallas Finley Shuck.
There are two things that could make this record tricky to locate.
- First, Dallas Finley who is listed only as Dallas F Shuck commonly went by the name Finley during life. You had to realize that his legal name was Dallas to locate this record.
- Second, Lucy was a widow when she married Finley so her last name is recorded as Jamison instead of her maiden name of Brown.
Till Death Do Us Part…. Or Not
On the flip side of the wedding coin another valuable source of information can be divorce records. While it’s easy to think of divorce as a modern-day habit, it happened more often than we realize in history. Ancestry.com has a wealth of historical divorce records on their site. Tracking down divorce records can make all the difference between accusing great grandpa of being a bigamist or realizing he might have had a few personality flaws that made him hard to live with.
My great-great-great grandfather, Leming Eckler, kept the marriage and divorce clerks of Michigan busy late in his life. I have found several marriage and divorce records for him dating from 1858 to 1907. As a male ancestor his surname never changed making following his trail possible. If he had been a female ancestor it would have been nearly impossible to follow the trail of rapidly changing names.
Divorce records also help to do something few other records do; they paint a more human picture of the person being researched. Most historical records show basic vital stats while divorce records might show character flaws such as abandonment, cruelty, or failure to support. They may not reveal some of the more flattering details of a person but it’s another way to see a new perspective on an ancestor’s personality.
From start to end weddings leave a trail to be followed
Marriage and divorce records can hold bits of information that can be vital to putting together the lineage puzzle. Locating marriage and divorce records can be challenging but the reward for success makes it worth the time investment.
Ancestry.com. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867–1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.
Ancestry.com. Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Michigan. Divorce records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan
“West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FTHY-MZQ : 4 December 2014), Dallas F Shuck and Lucy Belle Jamison, 1926; citing Nicholas, West Virginia, United States, , county clerks, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 495,646