FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Waste Not – Want Not

After visiting with a number of researchers in web chats this week, my thoughts have again turned to finding family history data in the records and documents already in my possession.

You’d think that after combing through them, cataloging them and even quoting from them in sources that you’d have extracted ‘all’ of the data from your records. Well, it just isn’t so.

Whenever I don’t have time to visit research libraries or do some hard core sleuthing on the Internet, I pull out one of my 3-ring binders or hanging files and start to glean information from the records in them. Sometimes, I can see that I didn’t have enough other pieces of the puzzle for the snippets of data in these records to make sense when I looked at them earlier. However, sad as it is, the majority of the time, I’ve simply been brain dead in earlier reviews.

We pour through our records writing or transcribing the data in to our databases and just like a visit to the Internet, something catches our eye and off we go, down the path following that set of bread crumbs. We may finish transcribing the data, but our mind is still in Wonderland and it doesn’t register the nuggets that we’ve just tossed in the text bin.

Our minds just work that way and regardless of how diligently we try to absorb every clue in our records, we don’t and we won’t. Thus, repeated visits to our record vaults are required. Space your visits out a little so that you’ve forgotten the topic that you last followed and be ready for the next discovery and subsequent diversion.

My latest gold mine has been located on the backs of old photos. My mother and others wrote notes, names and clues in pencil on them and although I despair that they sometimes used ink, I rejoice in the information they jotted down. The notes have opened up whole new areas of discovery, from locations, nicknames and dates to the realization that the photo was taken at the same time as one of the stories I’d heard or found.

Studying a photo, I realized that if that is Aunt Fran then the man standing next to her is her husband. The only name I’d heard him called was Ole’ but the note on the photo said his name was Sven Olefsson. Because they married ‘somewhere back east’ after the 1900 census and Fran died before the 1910 census ten years later, you haven’t been able to find any record of Ole’ over the years. When I did a search for Sven Olefsson, I struck pay dirt almost immediately. Now I can gather the ‘low hanging fruit’ that has always been in my possession but unrecognized.

Take some time this week to glean information from the “gold mines in your own records.

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28 January 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | | Leave a comment

Genealogy – Get Them Interested Young

I’ve visited with several young men in our area in the past few months as they were working on their Boy Scout Genealogy Merit Badge. Not all of them were fully ‘infected’ with the genealogy ‘disease’ yet, but they have at least been exposed to this fun and addictive hobby.

Frequently, I see adults buying stamp collecting kits for our youth but seemingly failing to introduce them to the much more rewarding hobby of family history. My mother introduced me to family history research when I was six and I’ve enjoyed it since. There is always another ‘brick wall’ puzzle to solve. I enjoy trading my occupational hat for my ‘Sherlock’ family history hat whenever possible and exercising my mind as a genealogy sleuth.

If you haven’t exposed your children, grandchildren or young friends to genealogy yet, now is the time. Here in the northern hemisphere, it is winter and so inside activities rule the day.

Buy a $4.50 hanging file folder box from Walmart for each of your young folks then create some research, photos and records collection goals and send them on their quest. We all played some form of auto bingo when our parents were trying to keep us entertained on long auto trips when we were young. Perhaps you could create a similar game but have it involve family history items. If you need some ‘How Do I Get Started Help’ ideas, click here.

Don’t forget to include interviews with yourselves as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles on the list, so you will have someone else to not only help entertain them for a while, but give them information that may be new to even you.

Since you are already interested in family history, consider volunteering to be a genealogy merit badge counselor in your area if there isn’t one already.

Here’s a list of items that I ask the scouts in our area to complete as part of their Genealogy merit badge preparation. You can read the current merit badge requirements here.

Genealogy Merit Badge

To Do List – At Home

  • Create a timeline for yourself or one of your parents. Write a short biography for the person that explains the events on the timeline. i.e. Birth, marriage, broken arm, brother / sister born, graduated from school or a grade, etc.
  • Interview someone in your family and write down the information. Mom, Dad, grandparent, etc. Ask them questions about when and where they were born. What is their favorite food? Did they like school? Do they have a nickname? What is their favorite color? Favorite snack food? Etc.
  • Get the full names, birth, marriage and death dates (if they have passed away) and places these things happened for your parents and grandparents. You should know your own birth date and birthplace … Right?
  • Fill out the family group form for your family… parents and your brothers and sisters
  • Fill out the pedigree chart starting with you.
  • Collect the full names, birth dates, birthplaces and marriage information for your parents’ siblings (their brothers and sisters) and for your grandparents (all four grandparents).

There isn’t a similar badge for girl scouts, but meeting the same requirements would certainly qualify for an award from parents, grandparents, mentors or even many church groups.

Teach them young and they will remember the lessons throughout their lives.

24 January 2008 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy, Photos, Research Tips | , | Leave a comment

Essence of New Mown Hay

Often, old journal or diary entries don’t make much sense to us. The idioms that were so common when they were written are now lost in time. I’ve found that to be true today as well.

Not long ago at work one of my young co-workers came into the office in ‘thongs’. Surprised that she was wearing them when it was so cold outside, I asked, “why do you have thongs on today”. Imagine my surprise when voices went silent, keyboards stopped clacking and heads turned.

“Thongs?” “I don’t have a thong on” she said with a disconcerted glare at me. Bewildered, I looked at her feet and brilliantly said, “well, what do you call them?” More heads turned our direction, the silence was deeper than ever. Who knew that they called “thongs” “flip flops” now?

Apparently, intent on digging myself in even deeper, I exclaimed, “Well, I used to wear them when I was younger”.

From this now entertaining exchange, I observed that my native language has changed in my life time. Why they call underwear “thongs” is still beyond me, but then, why did they call flip-flops “thongs’ when I was a kid? A name is just a reference point that people agree on.

Before my wife and I were married, we visited her great grandmother. She kindly gave us an old book by the title of “Austin’s Indispensable Handbook and General Educator”. It was apparently written sometime in the 1870’s. I often open it to see if I can find the meaning of some term used by folks in that day so I can understand the words in old letters and diaries.

Page 383 of the book has always been my favorite. It contains a recipes for homemade colognes and toiletries with titles ranging from Pond Lily Extract to Esterhazy Bouquet to New Mown Hay Extract.

I grew up loving the smell of “new mown hay”. Did my ancestors like it enough to make a cologne that smelled like it too? Hey!, they had very discerning taste! It sounds much better than some of the flowery scents they try to push on men today.

Do you want to impress your spouse and the folks at work with this agrarian scent too? Here are the two recipes from page 383.

NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT — Take of Tonka tincture, 2 ounces; tincture of musk, tincture of benzoin, extract of moss-rose and deodorized alcohol, each, 4 drachms; ottos of rose geranium and bergamot, each, 20 drops.

NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT, ANOTHER — Take of extract of Tonka, 6 1/2 ounces; extract of orris, 2 ounces; extract of musk, 1 1/2 ounces; extract of vanilla and styrax, each, 2 drachms; ottos of bergamot and sandal, each, 15 drops; otto of neroli, 4 drops; ottos of rose, English lavender and patchouly, each, 2 1/2 drops; otto of clove, 1 1/2 drops; benzoic acid, 23 grains; deodorized alcohol, enough to make one pint.

Apparently, the names of some weights and measures have changed since then.

Now do you understand why you have to get into the ‘heads’ of your ancestors when you are researching their lives? It’s all about reference points and the idioms of the day. If you take the time to understand them, your quest will be much easier.

Oh, by the way, if you decide to make a batch of Essence of New Mown Hay, let me know how turns out

21 January 2008 Posted by | Diaries, Journals | , , | Leave a comment

What Will Happen To My Records?

We all know that it is going to happen. At some point in time, we will exit mortality. We hope that our precious records, documents, photos and keepsakes will be passed on to someone who will treasure them like we do.

If you are like me, you have invested a significant number of hours, cash and part of yourself collecting your family history. Was the effort all just a great hobby to be discarded when I die? I certainly hope not, but unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen repeatedly in my life experience.

Someone will die and their children, extended family or friends have no interest in all that ‘old’ stuff and it goes into the trash, into a fire, to goodwill or is broken up an sold to antique stores for a little cash.

Those who destroy these priceless collections have little knowledge of how dear and priceless the items are to other folks in their immediate family, to their descendants or to extended family members. How I wish I had my great grandfathers diary. I held it for a few minutes but was not allowed to make copies and was only allowed to take one photo. The owner died and the diary disappeared.

I watched my uncles burn old photos of my ancestors when I was a youngster. Fortunately for my family, my mother had interest in family history and when she found out what was happening, she sent me scurrying up into he attic of my grandparents home to retrieve many large old photos of my ancestors that had been stored there over the years.

The photos now hang on the walls of the hall leading to my office. Every morning while walking to my office, I usually nod to a different grandparents photo and say hello. The photos help me keep my bearings when other demands threaten to entice my attention to activities that have no lasting value.

The photos of my wife’s ancestors reside on other walls in our home. As our children and grandchildren grow, I like to study these ancestral photos in an attempt to see whose genes are dominant in the current generations of the family. Some features are very prominently displayed while others are seen as an amalgam of angles, colors and bumps with less pronounced distinction.

Have you made plans to protect your precious records after you pass away? We have added a codicil to our wills that specifically directs the way we want our records to be handled after our deaths.

Some years ago, someone sent me a sample codicil that I found useful. I don’t know who originally authored it, but doubt that they will care if it is shared with you. The wording is simple and straight forward. With a little thought on your part, you can create a similar codicil or feature in your own wills and trusts that will detail your long term wishes and planning concerning the survival of your family history records.

Genealogical Codicil to My Last Will and Testament

To my spouse, children, guardian, administrator and/or executor:

Upon my demise it is requested that you DO NOT dispose of any or all of my genealogical records, both those prepared personally by me and those records prepared by others which may be in my possession, including but not limited to books, files, notebooks or computer programs for a period of two years. During this time period, please attempt to identify one or more persons who would be willing to take custody of the said materials and the responsibility of maintaining and continuing the family histories. [If you know whom within your family or friends are likely candidates to accept these materials, please add the following at this point: “I suggest that the persons contacted regarding the assumption of the custody of these items include but not be limited to” and then list the names of those individuals at this point, with their addresses and telephone numbers if known]

In the event you do no find anyone to accept these materials, please contact the various genealogical organizations that I have been a member of and determine if they will accept some parts or all of my genealogical materials. [List of organizations, addresses and phone numbers at bottom; include local chapters, with their addresses, phone numbers and contact persons if available as well as state/national contact information and addresses] Such as: The Walker County Genealogical Society and the Jasper Public Library)

Walker County Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 3408
Jasper, AL 35502-3408

Jasper Public Library
20 E. 18 St.
Jasper, Alabama 35502

Please remember that my genealogical endeavors consumed a great deal of time, travel, and money. Therefore it is my desire that the products of these endeavors be allowed to continue in a manner that will make them available to others in the future.

Signature __________________________ Date ___________

Witness ____________________________ Date ___________

Witness ____________________________ Date ___________

11 January 2008 Posted by | Will | , | 1 Comment

Abbreviations for Months

Our family history needs to be recorded in a consistent manner, be it locations or dates.  Dates are written in different ways around the world and even by various family members.

I frequently find documents or correspondence that lists a date like 1/11/07.   What does that mean?  Is it January 11, 1907 or 1 November 1807 or something else?  If there are no other reference points, all I can do is guess.   Regardless of the laws of probability, I invariably choose the wrong interpretation.

Dates should be written so they will always be understood by everyone.   If you aren’t already listing your dates as 11 Jan 2007 or 1 Nov 1807 then start doing so now.  Your readers and those who inherit your work will thank you for writing them with clarity.

If you are like me, you often encounter writing that isn’t in your native language or personal knowledgebase.    When it involves dates, here is a handy reference list that will help you interpret the months.

ABBREVIATIONS FOR MONTHS

CZECH

DANISH

DUTCH

ENGLISH

led.
ún.
brez.
dub.
kvet.
cerv.
cerven.
srp.
zárí
ríj.
list.
pros.

jan.
febr.
marts.
april
maj.
juni
juli
aug.
sept.
okt.
nov.
dec.

jan.
febr.
maarts.
apr.
mei
juni
juli
aug.
sept.
oct.
nov.
dec.

Jan.
Feb.
Mar.
Apr.
May
June
July
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Dec.

ESTONIAN

FRENCH

GERMAN

HUNGARIAN

jaan.
veebr.
märts.
Apr.
mai
juuni
juuli
aug.
sept.
okt.
nov.
dets.

janv.
févr.
mars
avril
mai
juin
juil.
août
sept.
oct.
nov.
déc.

Jan.  (Jän.)
Feb.
März
Apr.
Mai
Juni
Juli
Aug.
Sept.
Okt.
Nov.
Dez.

jan.
feb.
márc.
ápr.
máj.
jún.
júl.
aug.
szept.
okt.
nov.
dec.

INDONESIAN

ITALIAN

LATIN

LATVIAN

Jan.  (Djan.)
Peb.
Mrt.
Apr.
Mei  (Mai)
Juni  (Djuni)
Juli  (Djuli)
Ag.
Sept.
Okt.
Nop.
Des.

genn.
febbr.
mar.
apr.
magg.
giugno
luglio
ag.
sett.
ott.
nov.
dic.

Ian.
Febr.
Mart.
Apr.
Mai
Iun.
Iul.
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Nov.
Dec.

jan.
feb.
marts.
apr.
maijs
junijs
julijs
aug.
sept.
okt.
nov.
dec.

LITHUANIAN

MALAYSIAN

NORWEGIAN

POLISH

saus.
vas.
kovas
bal.
geg.
birz.
liepa
rugp.
rugs.
spalis
lapkr.
gr.

Jan.
Feb.
Mac
Apr.
Mei
Jun
Julai
Og.
Sept.
Okt.
Nov.
Dis.

jan.
febr.
mars.
april
mai
juni
juli
aug.
sept.
okt.
nov.
des.

stycz
luty
mar.
kwiec.
maj
czerw.
Iip.
sierp.
wrzes.
pazdz.
listop.
grudz.

PORTUGUESE

ROMANIAN

SERBO-CROATIAN

SLOVAK

jan.
fev.
marco
abril
maio
junho
julho
agosto
set.
out.
nov.
dez.

Ian.
Feb.
Mar.
Apr.
Mai
Iunie
Iulie
Aug.
Sept.
Oct.
Noem.
Dec.

sijec.
velj.
ozuj.
trav.
svib.
lip.
srp.
kol.
ruj.
list.
stud.
pros.

l’ad.                jan.
un.                  feb.
brez.               mar.
dub.                apr.
kvet.               maj.
cerv.               jun
cerven.           jul
srp.                aug.
zari.               sept.
ruj.                okt.
list.                nov.
pros.             dec.

SLOVENIAN

SPANISH

SWEDISH

WELSH

jan.
feb.
mar.
apr.
maj
jun.
jul.
avg.
sept.
okt.
nov.
dec.

enero
feb.
marzo
abr.
mayo
jun.
jul.
agosto
sept.  (set.)
oct.
nov.
dic.

jan.
febr.
mars.
april
maj
juni
juli
aug.
sept.
okt.
nov.
dec.

Ion.
Chwe.
Maw.
Ebr.
Mai
Meh.
Gorff.
Awst
Medi
Hyd.
Tach.
Rhag.

 

5 January 2008 Posted by | Genealogy, Research Tips | , | Leave a comment