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June 24, 2018

The Thrill of the Hunt is Gone... or Is It

When I started researching my genealogy back in my teens, it was sporadic, with years of non-genealogy in between spurts of frantic searching. But then I began researching in earnest in the days I refer to as B.I. (Before the Internet)

I was thinking about it this week. Do you remember B.I.? Before Windows. Before Cyndis List. Before Ancestry.com. Before Olive Tree Genealogy!
Before this wonderful cyber world we know now.

I worked on my computer in DOS (remember, this was also B.W. - Before Windows), and joined a few BBS (Bulletin Board Services). I had to dial long distance from my home to the nearest big city of Toronto to pick up the BBS.

It cost me a fortune in long-distance charges so I would dial in, download the BBS "mail" and log off. Then I'd read the messages offline, respond offline and dial in again to upload (post) my responses. There was a 4 to 5 day lag time between sending my messages and seeing responses. That seemed pretty speedy back in those days.

Snail mail was important, I would pore over queries in all the genealogy newsletters I received. Then I'd write to anyone who seemed to be looking for the same ancestors I was. I waited in anticipation day after day, anxious to see what the next day's mail would bring.

I look back on that as a very satisfying genealogy experience, there was something quite wonderful about the feeling you got when that huge package of material arrived in the mail from another researcher.

I miss that. Now I do most of my research online for two reasons - my health issues and convenience. I love the convenience of online research. I love the speed of finding ancestors online. But I do miss going to libraries, archives, and museums and scrolling through page after page of microfilm.

It's kind of like buying from E-Bay instead of going out to the antique store or junk store or flea market and experiencing that "aha!" moment when you spot a treasure buried under a pile of junk... There's a great deal of satisfaction in slogging through reel after reel of microfilm - unindexed microfilm - and finally spotting your ancestor's name!

Now when I get a package in the mail (which is infrequent as most items are scanned and sent via email), it is for material I already know is coming. I'm not complaining, it's all good and it's genealogy information I want and need BUT I don't have that same sense of wonderment or anticipation as I did back in the days of B.I.

I love the Internet. I would never want to return to B.I. But I would love to have the awe and excitement of snail mail anticipation back again. I think I can be forgiven for feeling a bit discouraged - after all I've been researching for almost 60 years! But I love every minute of it and I still do my genealogy happy dance with every new find. And meantime I'm busy compiling and writing my family history books to ensure my years of research are not lost.

June 22, 2018

That Genealogy Moment!

That moment when your heart skips a beat, your hands tremble and you breathe just a little faster. Sounds like love doesn't it? But I'm talking about the most exciting, thrilling moment you experienced in your genealogy research.

Have you had one of those moments? Mine was when I held the original document from 1808 for my 4th great uncle John Peer. I had hunted for this document for over 20 years. It was listed in an index to wills but was not found on the microfilm reel for those wills. The wills were in alphabetical order but John Peer was not there under any variant spelling. I double-checked, triple-checked - could it be Beer? Leer? Pierre? Pear? Peare? Bier? Biere? and on and on it went.

After a few years of mulling over this, repeatedly asking Archive staff for help but finding they were as puzzled as I was, I decided I would search the entire microfilm one document at a time. That took me a few years to finish as I could only periodically get to the city where the Archive was.

Finally one year I finished the entire film without finding the entry. I reported this to Archive staff and asked if I could search the original documents in storage. That wasn't an idea that staff liked, and they insisted I must have overlooked the will in the microfilm.

A few years passed and finally I talked to a sympathetic archivist who helped me fill out a request for the original wills in Box 23 (which contained original "P" wills).  Two days later I was given the box and I carefully looked through it.

There it was. John Pierre. A document (not a will) dated February 9, 1808. As I gently lifted it out of the box, my hands shook. I could hardly breathe.

And there was the proof I had been looking for - that John was my ancestor Levi Peer's brother.

9 Feb. 1808:  Petition of Levi Pierre [sic] "..that John Pierre, your Petitioner's brother, died as your petitioner believes, without a last will and testament, your petitioner being the older brother and next of kin to the deceased..."

Anyone who is not a genealogist will likely never understand the excitement and anticipation I felt holding that document.

What was your most exciting genealogy find? And how did you feel when you found it?


June 20, 2018

Primary Records Can Be WRONG!

We all want our genealogy to be accurate.

We search and search for that primary record, the one that we've been told is "THE" record to find -- a death certificate, a church baptismal record, marriage record....

But - beware! Not all primary records are accurate. As good genealogists we must consider that there can be errors. The informant (person giving the information) may not know the answers and may thus provide incorrect details. The clerk recording the information may not hear the response correctly and may enter it incorrectly. The person giving the information may lie, especially about their age.

In my own family tree, my great-grandmother's official government death registration is incorrect. Her parents' names are wrong. Since I already knew who her parents were (Isaac Vollick & Lydia Jamieson) from other genealogy sources, I was completely bewildered at first by seeing her parents given as Stephen Vollick and Mary.

Then it dawned on me - Stephen was my great grandmother's husband's first name (Stephen Peer). Mary was my great grandmother's own name. (Mary Vollick)

So I looked at the informant's name. AHA! The informant was Mary's 17 year old son. Her husband having died long before Mary, and her older children married and gone, the task of answering the official questions fell to her 17 year old son who had cared for her in her final days.

It is easy to see how the young boy, when asked by a government clerk "Father's name?" (meaning father of the deceased), would have replied "Stephen", for in fact Stephen WAS his own father's name.

The question "Mother's name?" referring to the mother of the deceased, would be answered by the boy "Mary" which was HIS mother's name.

And thus the official death registration for parents of Mary (Peer) Vollick daughter of Isaac and Lydia Vollick, is forever rendered as Stephen and Mary Vollick.

So be cautious when you encounter a primary source that simply doesn't match other reliable sources. Investigate! Think! Don't just accept the new "facts" without further legwork to prove or disprove them.

June 18, 2018

Naming Patterns - Use Them With Caution

I've been following some genealogy discussions on mailing lists recently and noticed that many genealogists fall into the trap of taking sides on a question - sides that are emphatically one way or another, with no middle ground or room for a "Maybe...."

One of the discussions started over a seemingly simple question -- were there naming patterns for children in the 1800s in [fill in blank with any country].

Subscribers began to jump in with their opinions - all either YES or NO with reasons or rationale or examples to support their YES or NO stance.

But no one jumped in with "MAYBE.... SOMETIMES... YES BUT...."

Let's get real! Naming patterns existed.

Were they identical in all cultures? No

Were they identical in all centuries? No.

Were they always used? No.


It's easy to forget that our ancestors were living breathing people, just as we are. They fought, they loved, they cried, they laughed, they had good days, they had bad days, and so on.

Even if there are established naming patterns that are used 99.9% of the time (as is the case with the Dutch who settled New Netherland, now New York in 1600s) --- as researchers we must keep an open mind as to whether or not the customs might not have been followed

Maybe *your* ancestor fought with his father or mother and vowed to never name a child after him or her.

Maybe *your* ancestor was a free spirit and loved the name Lancelot even though the first born male in her family had been called James for the last 10 generations

Maybe your ancestor wanted to cozy up to his rich great uncle so he named his first born son after that person instead of his father.... and gave his second born his father's name.

If you find 7 children in a family and 6 are named after known family members (paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles...) then there is a good chance that the 7th was also named after a family member - but it's not guaranteed, they might have named that child after a good friend - or an important contemporary person or a benefector.

On the opposite side of the fence, you may be trying to find parents' names. You spot what looks like a naming pattern of children which fits with the parents you are fairly confident are the correct parents. But one parent's name is missing from the pattern... That's not the time to toss out your theory! There may be a missing child, one whose existence you aren't aware of, or who died. And that child may be the missing link, named after that one parent who is missing from the pattern.

So, use Naming Patterns as a guide. That's all it is, it is not a set of rules set in stone

June 17, 2018

Who was Annie Barton?

Who was Annie Barton? All we know of her is that she was born in 1866 and died in 1958, presumably in Hamilton Ontario Canada.

Recently a local Hamilton woman was digging in her garden when she stumbled on a tombstone buried in the dirt.

The word "MOTHER" was carved in red, granite stone. A cross and leaf design fills out the marker's top left corner. The stone reads:

"In loving memory of
Annie Barton
1866-1958
 Till we meet again"
This story intrigued me. I began to wonder about Annie. Could I find out more about her? One thing that is mentioned in the original story is that Annie was originally buried in Woodland Cemetery. A search found this burial in that cemetery:

George Barton
1868-1949
His wife Annie Barton
1867-1950

Could this be Annie? Why are the dates of death different? Did the stone engraver goof and that meant a new stone had to be made?

According to a family tree online, George married Annie White and had 3 sons, and yes, they lived in Hamilton.

Read more at Is there a body in my backyard? Woman unearths 60-year-old gravestone while gardening

June 15, 2018

Find Ancestors Immigration in Almshouse Records

In the early 1800's port cities in the USA bore the burden of immigration. By the time they arrived, so many immigrants were tired, hungry and poor they ended up in the City Almshouse. This meant the citizens had to take care of them. At first the citizens of the city asked the Mayors for funds to support the poor. Eventually they asked the states, and by mid-century some states (Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts) set up State agencies to deal with the issue. Eventually, beginning in the 1880's, the Federal Government nationalized the programs.

Dating back to the colonial era, New York City assumed responsibility for its citizens who were destitute, sick, homeless, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. The city maintained an almshouse, various hospitals, and a workhouse on Blackwell's Island (now called Roosevelt Island) for the poor.

These Almshouse records often contain immigration details, such as name of ship, date of arrival in USA and port of arrival.

Olive Tree Genealogy has an ongoing project to transcribed and publish New York Almshouse Records. The first set is for the years 1819-1840 and includes Ship Captain's Name, Date of Bond, Sureties, Date Discharged, Death Date, Remarks, etc.

For example, under date 1820 March 11 Elizabeth Kennedy age 34 is listed as having died June 14, 1820; her daughter Mary Ann died Nov. 5, 1820

Researchers can use the clues in the Almshouse records (admission date, ship captain's name, owner's name, etc) as well as census records, to narrow the time frame of arrival. Families with children born in one country, such as England, and then in New York will find it much easier to narrow the time frame of immigration.


June 13, 2018

Search Those Siblings!


Why search siblings? You're only interested in YOUR ancestor, right? WRONG!

Researching and tracking siblings, finding their marriages, children, deaths etc can provide you with answers to questions about your own ancestor.

Let's assume you have not been able to find your great great grandfather's mother's surname before marriage. You know her first name is Mary but that's it. You find great great grandpa's death record and view it in anticipation. But sadly the informant (great great grandpa's second wife) didn't provide a surname for her mother-in-law.

You can't find great great grandpa's marriage record so no help there. But - what about a sibling? Hunt for great great grandpa's youngest sister's marriage record. Look for one of his brothers' death records. Don't overlook turning any stone available to you in your hunt for your own ancestor - remember your ancestor and his siblings shared the same parents, and those parents are your next generation back.