Sunday, March 30, 2014

NOT Your Grandma's Genealogy!

Genealogy is now spoken of in broader terms: Family History.  The old brochures and booklets and paper charts have fallen by the wayside straight into the recycle bin.  Microfilm and those dusty clunky readers are still sometimes necessary, but I research constantly and haven't used one in quite a while.   The key to success now are the fantastic family history websites.,,,,, and tons of other sites are so full of information that you could spend 40-hour weeks for years without running out of sources to search.

We have gone from THIS:

the Family Tree feature on


And hundreds of other research websites.  On these sites I can peruse my ancestor's birth/ marriage/ burial records from their Greek Catholic parishes in a remote mountainous corner of northeastern Slovakia. Or I can compare possible family tree connections with potential relatives previously unknown to me.  I can view my grandparents' immigration manifest on (my Baba arrived in the US with $17 in her pocket!).   I can view gravestones of family members who are buried thousands of miles away in cemeteries I'll never get to.  All this without leaving home.

The  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has for over 100 years been the leader in collecting and storing family history sources.  They have over 2 million rolls of microfilm containing data from around the globe.  About 5 years ago they began digitizing all those rolls, and as soon as each one of those is indexed it is posted on a free site:  Every month millions of newly digitized records are added.  It's a marvelous miracle, thanks to the blessing of technological advances.

Here are just a couple of examples of personal miracles I have experienced because of the technology we now use:

1.  A few years ago a young man in Slovakia whose ancestors came from my Grandparents' villages contacted me via Facebook to compare information and relationships.  I was able to share with him (through Ancestry and FamilySearch) the boatload of info I've accumulated over 40 years of work, and he has been able to dig up new un-microfilmed family information in the Slovak archives to share with me via email.

2. I had long ago found the 3 children of my great-grandmother's brother, Matt Sullivan.  But a few months ago I was doing a computer search on a different Matt Sullivan in my family, and the name of the first Matt came up in the search results about 8 times, showing him as the father of 4 more children, all of whom died very young.  Yes, he actually has 7 children; those other 4 would not have been found without the search tools on that website.

Much more could be said.  You get the idea.  If you have not thought about looking for family, or if you have become discouraged in the past by inaccessibility of records, now is the time to dig in!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Treasure Under My Bed

my 1975 notes from Genealogy 101

We are wrapping up a remodel of our master bedroom and bathroom.  Shoved underneath our bed are a few boxes of stuff that have no other place in the house, and yesterday it was time to deal with those.  One box labeled Genealogy is full of photographs, old letters (including some from my Mom, Grandma, Dad, and other special relatives), and even the notes from a genealogy class I took in winter semester (Jan-April 1975) during my junior year at BYU.   Yeah.  Why did I keep those notes from 39 years ago??

various brochures and instruction sheets 

That class was taught by Norman Edgar Wright, a professional genealogist who had a gift for teaching.  I loved him, and remember very well him using his own ancestors as examples of how to locate information on deceased people.  His great or great-great-grandmother, Kindness Ann Drain, sticks with me as does the surname Badger.  Maybe Kindness Ann Drain's maiden name was Badger.  Or something.  Prof. Wright's wife's surname was Welsh: Bevan.  Wright explained this Welsh patronymic that evolved into Bevan by repeating ap Evan, ap Evan, apEvan, a-pevan, Bevan.

Wright laid out the principles of genealogical research in a logical way, and set me on the course of becoming a serious researcher.  He took the class on a couple of field trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake, so we could immerse ourselves and learn how to use it.  All of this supplemented the research training I received in classes as a history major.

Some of the pearls of research wisdom contained in these class notes:
  • Work from the known to the unknown (Surprise! I've assisted people determined to go directly to the unknown without building a foundation on the known)
  • Begin with family and home sources ( "Smart" people try to skip this step too)
  • Document your research in the form of a research calendar (The biggest failing of budding researchers)
  • Keep careful record of findings (Another common failing)
  • Keep careful record of sources you have eliminated (Fail)
  • Learn the card catalog of the FHL (No longer necessary)
  • Use every available record: vital, church, cemetery, census, probate, court, military, emigration, obituaries, land, etc.
  • Shrewdly evaluate primary and secondary sources (This becomes natural with experience)
Listed as research sources in my notes were the following that were "must-check" in 1975:

TIB (temple index bureau), began 1921
CRA (Church Records Archives), began 1942
CFI (computer file index), began 1969

No researcher today would even know what those are, because it's 2014 and we don't do family history like your grandmother did her genealogy!

more "how-to" brochures and handouts

To answer the burning question, Why did I keep those notes from 39 years ago??   At first, because they provided useful guidance; then it became sentimental thing.  Those notes brought back rich memories of a marvelous time in my life.  It is time to send them to recycle heaven though.  They are now immortalized on this blog.

Tomorrow: Not Your Grandma's Genealogy