Beth gave me very good help on a difficult project. She was organized, accountable, stayed within budget and very knowledgeable. I very much appreciated that she left me with a plan of action so that I could continue on my own.
— Carol Williams
You’ve spent countless hours researching, documenting and refining your family history. And finally, the big day comes where you are ready to share with your children, or even your grandchildren. You sit down with a big book of historical information, but the kids just are not interested. Ah, the frustration. You were certain they would want to know everything about where they come from. Most children will grow up and want to know more about their history, but sadly, it could be after you are gone. Children just aren’t ready for the download of information at the time you are ready to share. So, how do you safely package the information for consumption and understanding when they are ready?
First and foremost, begin having conversations with family about how valuable and timeless the memorabilia and detailed history is to you personally. The last thing you want is a box of photos to land in their hands and simply tossed in the trash, not understanding its value.
Second, though it takes time and effort, create one or many true stories from your research. It’s easy for an individual not familiar with genealogy to destroy countless death records, obituaries and even certificates when it’s just piled together with mounds of other paperwork. Whether it is through scrapbooking, blogging or even just documenting a single story to pass on to a key individual that shares similar interests or has experienced the same hardship. Relating the information to your children personally makes the information so much more valuable.
Identify the Successor
As you talk with others, it becomes obvious which of your children are most interested in your family history. Take advantage of these conversations. Begin with single important documents and providing them to your child overtime. Then, continue passing the collection along with new stories and documents. You don’t want to wait until they are providing the filter when going through piles of the information, but rather, start creating the importance in small packages, so the large bucket of information becomes even more important (and recognizable).
Some items to consider:
Provide access to genealogy websites and blogs: continuing the story just adds value to your own work
Document a complete family tree and provide to all family members: most will not be ready to treasure the family photo from the 1800s, but a family tree provided to each child could prove as a good single source of information for future investigation and research. Bonus: provide some details on the back of the family tree for important items they should look at – it might spark an unknown interest.
Think current: good genealogists are so focused on history, they forget the importance of their own story. What are the pieces of information you wish you knew about your great-grandparents? What are the holes in their story? Write down your stories, bind them in an important book and pass the information on.
And for those files you are not yet ready to hand off, make sure they are stored in a well-labeled and documented location.
Remember, your children might not be the best successor. You might have a younger cousin or niece who is interested in the information. Pass it along to them and when your own children are ready for the download, they know the source to contact.
Donate to Libraries
If you are not able to find someone who truly wants to take on the ownership and continue the legacy, donate your historical information and collections to a local genealogy library or historical society. Remember, a library will only want to hold on to information that is of true value and clearly cataloged. It would be beneficial to have a prior conversation with the library including a discussion around providing funds to help store and catalog the documents.
Ensure that your years of information gathering can be put to good use by a fellow genealogist, maybe even in a great-grandchild in the future will uncover your work and continue the legacy.
Dividing the land : early American beginnings of our private property mosaic by Edward T. Price (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1995) is an exceptional resource to understand the use of land in the early American Colonies. Price argues that the means and method of “dividing the land” was very contingent upon the nature of each community and colony. Form follows function.
In New England the communities were often settled by religious communities seeking refuge and hoping to build a tight knit egalitarian, almost Utopian, community. The towns were plotted and organized to support a small farmer, community-based, town-centric environment. Small plots, community centers (town squares), and communal property (pasture land, commons) were all hallmarks.
Look at this New England town. Notice the size of the farms in relation to the legend marking one mile and the “cow common.” It’s clear that the layout is designed to support an integrated community that relies on each other for survival.
New England Town Survey
Compare the above with this map of Westerfield, Connecticut. ”Everyone” wanted riverfront property for ease of transportation. As a result on one side of the river you have the small town plots, and on the other side you have “long lots,” very thin, long lots with river access.
Isn’t it just fascinating how the needs of the community were the guiding force behind the layout of the town, the size of the properties, and their orientation to the river.
Next post I’ll show you what happened outside of New England. It’s a whole different story.
In the last post, I showed examples of how New England communities were surveyed and designed to support a small farmer and tight-knit communities.
The maps of the Middle Colonies (the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland) tell a different story. Here the economy was centered on large plantations, growing crops for profit and not subsistence, and an individual-minded, business-centric society.
The surveyed lands make it quite clear that the individual plots were larger, designed to support one family or extended “family” with servants or slaves, and plotted individually. In the first map, you can see the size of the farms is much larger than the New England farms. (Notice the 1-mile scale legend.) In the second map, you can see how the farms were plotted individually – kind of haphazardly in the true metes and bounds fashion following the natural land features.
South Carolina Land Survey Map
South Carolina Land Survey Map
As genealogists, we know maps can be very helpful. I find it interesting that these maps go beyond the basic descriptive nature of a map to really inform our understanding of the nature of the community, how it was structured, and what it tried to do to survive.
If you have researched land records in the Public Domain (all states not including the Colonies, Texas or Hawaii), you would be familiar with the square, grid-like Section, Township, and Range survey method. Learn more about it in from this blog post. It may then come as a surprise to discover that the Colonies were surveyed in methods not even resembling anything square, grid-like and uniform. Intrigued? Let me show you what I mean. Continue reading →
I had the wonderful opportunity at the end of October to speak at the Iowa Genealogical Society Fall Conference. Once there, it didn’t take me but a few minutes to notice that many of the genealogists in attendance were wearing these amazing family tree name tags.
My reaction was immediate: “I want one!”
Family Tree Name Tag
The name tags, of course, give your name, but they take it two steps – or generations – further. They show in pedigree chart style your parents and grandparents. The women are listed with their maiden names. I chose to use my maiden name for my name, but I’m sure you could use your husband’s name or hyphenate the two to add another surname to your tag. Anyway, without saying a word, whomever you’re speaking immediately knows the four or five primary surnames you’re researching! How easy – and fun – is that for family tree networking!
The name tags are 2.25 inches tall by 3.5 inches wide. White with black engraved lettering and a pin clasp. Turn around time (order to receipt) is about two weeks.
If you, too, have the “I want one!” reaction, visit the Iowa Genealogical Society website. You can complete the online order form, found here. Questions? Email Debi Chase at email@example.com, and tell her “Beth sent you.”
Oh! What a great Christmas present for the genealogy-junkie in the family! (And, yes, it’s okay to buy yourself Christmas presents.)
I can’t wait to start wearing it around conferences and genealogy meetings. If you see me and happen to recognize any of my ancestors from my name tag, let’s talk!
Those pesky brick walls we can be very frustrating. Wouldn’t it be great to have tools or strategies, that when you hit those “I don’t know where to go from here!” moments you have a tool to get you out of that predicament?
Research with FANs
The good news is there are strategies you can easily use to help navigate those seemingly insurmountable walls. One of those strategies is using FANs. FANs is an acronym which stands for “friends, associates, and neighbors.” You can look to your ancestor’s FANs for clues to extend your research and resolve your challenge.
It may not come as a surprise to you that we don’t live in isolation. We and our ancestors lived in a community. It may have been a very small, isolated farming community, but a community nonetheless. That community is made up of your ancestors FANs or friends, associates, and neighbors. And your ancestors, like us today, turned to our FANs for help, support, information, comradely. FANs are their in the good times and bad times. FANs celebrate the highs in our lives, mourn our losses, and support us along life’s journey.
As a result FANs often show up on our records, as they will show up in the records of your ancestors. Their names will be along side those of our ancestors, just waiting for us to take up the call to research them.
What Do You Do with a FAN?
Now that you’ve found a FAN in your ancestor’s records, follow them. Research their family tree. Who are their parents? Where did they last reside? How and when did they come to America? Who are their children? Where did they work? Did they own land? If so, where? What faith community did they subscribe to? Get to know their FANs as well as your ancestor.
I realize you may be thinking, “This isn’t my ancestor? This is a waste of time.”
That’s not really the case. Think about your own life. Do you have anything in common with your friends, associates, and neighbors? I would suspect you do. You live, work, attend school and church with them. And it is in that commonality that you find clues leading you back to your ancestor.
I’ll give you an example. I could not find the passenger records for my ancestor John Vanderstay. That said, I knew “Vanderstay” was spelled a million different ways, and it was wholly possible that no matter what variation I used, I wouldn’t find it in the passenger records databases. So I looked for John’s brother-in-law, John Gerling in the passenger records. I’m sure you can guess what happened. I found John Gerling, and three lines up on the manifest was “Johann Von de staag,” plain as day. I found my ancestor by searching for one of his FANs.
FANs can point you to your ancestors when focusing solely on your ancestor isn’t working.
Where Do You Find FANs?
I’ve created a handout that can be downloaded off of my website for free. 10 Best Places to Find FANS. Download it now, and check out the other spiffy resources available, while you’re out there.
Have you ever looked at the same resource (book, map, microfilm, etc.) more than once for the same information, and it wasn’t there. Then came away frustrated realizing that you’ve looked there before! I know I have….many, many times.
I realized that the problem wasn’t that the information wasn’t there the second or third time I looked. The problem was that I never wrote down – in a place I could find it again – that I had looked there before and not found it. If I was being disciplined, I would list the sources where I did find something, but I wouldn’t take the time to write down where I didn’t find something!
The Solution is a Negative Finds List
I learned the term “negative finds” from another researcher. It was like a “light bulb” moment for me. A negative find, is a source I have checked but the results were “negative.” I didn’t find what I was looking for in that source. It may not be so critical if you’re doing light or casual research on an ancillary ancestor in your tree. But I have found it is critical if I’m doing wide and deep research that may span days, weeks, or years on a particular ancestor because there is no way I’m going to remember every source I check, let alone what I was looking for in the source.
You may have seen my blog posts about timelines. Because I rely so heavily on these, and I create them in Excel, it is a natural extension to create a negative finds list in an adjoining tab in Excel for that research project. Every source touched either goes in my “source list” or my “negative finds” list.
What’s in a Negative Finds List?
You can certainly create these as simple or detailed as fits your needs. Here’s a brief summary of what I choose to put in my list.
The name of the source and the identifying characteristics (Dewey Decimal Number, author, etc.)
The name of the repository (Where I found it.)
Who I was looking for. This is huge. You may turn to the 1940 US Census one hundred times looking for different ancestors. If you don’t write down who you didn’t find, you’ll start spinning in circles looking for the same people over and over again.
The spellingssearched. We know any surname can be spelled dozens of ways. And over time, I find new spellings for each surname I’m researching. If I don’t write down the spellings I used when searching, I could miss opportunities down the road when a new derivation comes to light.
When I searched. See above point about how search efforts evolve. New information may come to light that merits a new search. That new information and search opportunity will be easier to access if there is a clear idea of when the last time the record was searched.
Comments. This ever-present, always-useful field makes a great place to put any extraneous comments on the search experience, such as “need to check another volume,” maybe a better copy is found online,” “need to look for other spelling variations,” and so on.
Here’s a sample of a negative finds list for my “Vincent Smarsh” research. Notice I’ve used the same list to parse records for a father and son duo with nearly the same name. (bonus tip!)
Negative Finds List
Added Research Leverage
The value of negative finds list really came home to me last week when a distant Smarsh cousin reached out to me and wanted to work together to find the oh-so-elusive birth origins of Vincent Smarsh. I was able to send her my timeline and my negative finds list. She was able to leverage the negative finds list. Not only did she avoid chasing the same non-fruitful paths I had tread, BUT she was able to “review” the list asking questions about whether I had checked this or that beyond what I hadn’t found in the list provided. It was a real help to both of us. If you’re doing collaborative research, I’d do a negative finds list in a heartbeat.
The other day I was at the Midwest Genealogy Center, and I scanned about 30 negatives creating JPEG digital files from them. (They have a very cool specialized scanner for this specific purpose.) The negatives were from a family archive and dated back to 1944-1945. It was like stepping back in time to a film noir scene.
Excited about my accomplishment, I ran home to look at my files only to be frustrated by mistake. I scanned about half of the negatives as “negatives” without inverting the black and white image. This is what I ended up with.
Regular readers of this blog may already know that I’m a big fan of Marsha Hoffman Rising. I’ve written several posts about her work. Today’s review is about a four-volume work, which was the result of 16 years of undoubtedly dogged research. Epic in its span, rich in its depth, and impressive in its sourcing this series is a goldmine of resources for anyone searching early Missouri settlers – OR,OR ancestors that migrated through Missouri to settle further west. Continue reading →
Yesterday I shared with you my quest for a specific yearbook – one from Bishop Miege High School for the year 1959 and / or 1960. In that post, I shared the tour of repositories I investigated by way of example and to offer suggestions from which you might find some benefit.
This morning at 7:15 a.m., I received the most delightful email from “Matthew P.” with the following information: