Monday, February 28, 2011

FamilySearch Indexing

Last week I started researching. I'm doing it for a few reasons and I love every second of it- I love the challenge of reading the words on the page, seeing all the fun names, seeing dates and locations of births, deaths, draft enlistment cards and immigration forms.

Each state has a different format for everything, be it census records, war records, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. I love seeing the different kinds and what the different states asked on each records - nothing was unified 100 years ago. For example, not all states asked for the soldier's mother's maiden name on their draft cards, but some did. Same with birth certificates and death records - it was all up to the state what was recorded.

I'm also using it as practice to learn about identifying different documents. Eventually (not tomorrow or anywhere close), I intend to do the genealogy thing as a part-time profession. I have a journalism degree, a background in history (both things that lend themselves to research), and I'm naturally curious. I love helping friends find their roots - I've done it for several friends, including one memorable family history hunt for a good friend of mine that I will never blog about but it taught me alot about research, skeletons, and life in general. Someday I want to get certified and do it for real, and indexing helps me familiarize myself with all the records I someday have to know.

Helping others is the main factor in my doing this. I hope that some document I index, somewhere along the way, helps someone fill a hold in their own family stories. I'm grateful for every single person who has helped document the details of my ancestors - I consider this paying it forward.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just One Phone Call

Friday I made two phone calls. One to Mississippi, the Tishomingo County Archives, to track to track down Lonnie Gordon. After I got through the thick southern accent (I'm Missouri born and bred and everytime I think I'm "southern" all I have to do is call somewhere actually "south" like Mississippi or Alabama and that gently corrects me), I asked if they had records.

I gave her the name and the details over the phone, then emailed them over to her, and should see if they have any records down there. Since I called right before closing, I need to call back next week to get results - if they don't email me back first. I've seen conflicting reports about where this guy was born, but he wrote "Iuka, Mississippi" on his draft card, so I'm going to go with that for that.

The other phone call I made was to a local funeral home (situated in my ancestors' hometown, about 45 minutes away from my town). I wanted to know if they have funeral records. The lady that answered the phone sounded a bit impatient, telling me the records lady wasn't there. I have a degree in journalism and I've worked for/with newspapers for years, so I'm used to making cold calls and I can deal with impatient/rude/snippy people.

"Okay, when will the 'records lady' be there?" I asked.

"She'll be here Monday," was the response. Then as a helpful tidbit, she added the records lady's name. Guess what, people? It was my great-aunt. The records lady is my great-aunt M. This is a woman I don't really speak to. Not because I hate her or anything, let's make this clear here - the truth is that side of my family is really, really sparse and the ones that are left aren't really close, and we can go years not speaking simply because we have nothing to say to each other. It's sad, really, but it's the truth.

The last time I spoke to this lady was two years ago, in a very brief (and a rather unpleasant call), and before that was four years ago when her husband passed away and I saw her at the funeral. Before that I'm pretty sure it was another funeral. Are you getting the picture here?

After I stopped laughing and confirmed this was the same person I thought it was, I told the confused lady that this was my aunt, my name, and to have her call me. I also had to make sure to write on the "call your niece" note that "NOBODY DIED".

It only takes one phone call to re-connect you to family.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Emily's Genealogy Rules

I've been researching my family tree for years (some years more intently than others), and I've come up with some "rules" of the process. Some are serious. Some are funny. All are totally true (at least in my case.)

Emily's Genealogy Rules

  1. Question everything your family has told you about your family. I'm not saying they would lie or deliberately be evasive (a few of my family members would, but not all families are like mine, I hope), but they may not know the truth. A family legend is just that - a legend - and it's just a story until it's found to be true on some sort of record, be it marriage, birth, death or a newspaper clipping.
  2. When your significant other tells you that you are addicted and/or obsessed with genealogy, explain that there are much worse addictions, like shopping.
  3. Realize it takes time. Some things can be found by a quick Google search or by a quick trip to FamilySearch, but other records can take months or years to track down. It requires patience, persistence and lots of effort.
  4. Remember that not everything is online. Find-A-Grave is great, but it's not the be-all-end-all of cemetery records. Sometimes you have to get off your butt and outdoors to traipse through old cemeteries, or into libraries and other centers to go through archives.
  5. Keep careful records. Don't just use one program on the computer - make sure you back up your work and ALL your documents, plus print out everything you can.
  6. Sometimes it's going to be sad. 100 years ago infants died, women died in childbirth, and they didn't have the kinds of medications and life-saving stuff we have today. Understand it's going to be sad and you will most likely grieve for those you have never met and those who died a century before you were even born.
  7. Connecting to other genealogists is key. It doesn't matter if you have been researching for fifteen years or just got started tracing your tree last week - every genealogist you meet can give you some advice and a tip or two to help you along your journey. Don't hesitate to ask for help. It's out there. Read other genealogy blogs and comment on them.
That's all I have for now...I'm sure I'll add to it later on.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Scandals, Spinsters and Microfilm

It's my last official day off of work (well, I still have the weekend) for my surgery, so I spent it the way I wanted to: threading microfilm and watching Who Do You Think You Are? (I work on my genealogy every day, but this week I had a bit of extra time.)

Anyway, I found a couple things out. First of all, my local library has two microfilm machines - one good and one not so good. Of course, I got the not so good one, and I had to manually feed in the film. This was in my Flora hunt, so I figured it was worth it. It sort of was.

She died in a town 45 minutes from here and the deaths from that town usually ended up (in the 1930s/40s) being printed in both the newspaper from here and the newspaper there. So I figured a good place to look for an obituary would be the microfilm here. Normally, that would have been a great idea. However....

A big political official died the same day as Flora and there were articles about this guy in the newspaper every day for an entire week - meaning there were no out of town death notices. Trust me, I looked. I'm going to have to make a trip down to where she died (a short drive, thank God)

It bummed me out just a little bit. So I cheered myself up by finding another roll of microfilm and reading about some of the "good work" (aka charity work) my great-grandma on my mom's side did. Okay, it was in her obituary, but it was one of those happy obituaries. I was named after her and she died two years before I was born. They even called her by her nickname and not her birthname in her obituary, and the picture of her attached to the obituary was from my parents' wedding (I recognized the dress.)

So then I settled in front of the computer and the TV to watch WDYTYA with Kim Cattrall. I know it was a re-cut episode of the UK version, but I don't care because I've never seen the UK version (although I will now). I loved it because it didn't necessarily have a happy ending, but it had a satisfying ending.

Kim was in search of George Baugh, her grandfather. He disappeared when her mother was just eight. I think they presumed he died - but the truth was the "son of a bitch" (Kim's words, not mine, although I shall be referring to him as the SOB from now on because really, he was) became a bigamist. He remarried shortly after leaving his Original Family, and with his new wife (who was ten years younger - 21 years to his 31 years- and was declared a "spinster"), he had 4 additional children, at least one of them younger than Kim. She has uncles younger than she is. I can't imagine that, I really can't. After those four children were born, George moved his New Family to Australia (I'm presuming he was outrunning the law for bigamy because someone found him out), where he died in 1974.

At the end of the episode, Kim made the decision not to contact her family in Australia. She wanted no details, and I don't blame her. Her mother and aunts, on the other hand, made contact with the family in Australia. We were given no details, so I have no idea if it was a happy reunion or what. I do know it was probably extremely awkward.

I loved this episode because it didn't shy away from the pain. It didn't focus on history that happened 400 years ago. This was real and close to Kim's heart and to her family. She was looking for answers to something specific, not going on some hunt to see what she could find. She knew what she wanted answers to and by God she got them. I give her so much credit for that.

I also found out she's from the UK. I didn't know that. Thanks to the Sex and the City stereotype, I thought she was from New York.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lonnie David Gordon

In my Great Flora Hunt, I ran across a name that sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't think anything about it. A name is a name and some of them are more common than others, and I figured this one - Lonnie David Gordon - I probably heard from a relative at some point. The man was my great-uncle, my favorite grandfather's uncle, so I figured at some point I heard the name from him. Lonnie was Flora's oldest son.

Out of curiosity, I Googled the name, "Lonnie David Gordon." I was trying to find records about the gentleman born on February 19, 1893 and died in October 1966 in Michigan. Instead, I found another Lonnie David Gordon (hereby known as LDG 2), who died in 2008 in the same town in MI as the first Lonnie. The circumstances of his death were grim - he died from hypothermia, as he was a homeless felon on parole. I really thought that this man was a distant relation, but no more. Today I confirmed it, thanks to his obituary that I finally found, that LDG2 was the Original Lonnie's grandson which made him Flora's great-grandson.

Thanks to this man, LDG2, homelessness awareness was risen in the MI area. I remember seeing this in the national news at the time and thinking it was a shame. This man was my second cousin. I never met him, but after reading several stories about him and the circumstances surrounding his death, I feel like I do. From what I gathered, he didn't know his daughter that well and he had two grandchildren. I don't know what kind of man he was, but I do know that he was in the Marines at one point (according to his obituary, I'm looking to verify, but I have no doubts to what I read in the obit.)

I'll be researching him further, of course, but because I know so much, he's more than just a name and a birthdate/deathdate on a family tree. He's a relative.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Great Flora Hunt

For those who are following me on Twitter, they know that I am engaged currently in something I'm calling The Great Flora Hunt. It is an all consuming passion for me right now, because I love mysteries and research and this definitely sparks both.

 Flora was my 2nd-great grandmother. She was, from what I can gather, a very spunky lady. She was also married at least five times. Three kids came from these five marriages that I can find, but only two of these children can be documented.

This death certificate (pictured right) is the only legal document I can find for her. I don't know her maiden name, I don't know all of her husbands' names or marriage dates (just their last names.) I'm not sure if she was divorced multiple times (still checking into that, but so far I can't find divorce records, although that doesn't mean they aren't there) or if the husbands just kept dying on her. According to family history, her 3rd known husband, Evan Joseph / Ive/Joe Hendricks/Hendness/Hendiess died between 1910-1915 in some sort of accident.I'm not sure if that's true, since my first rule of Genealogy is "question everything."

If you look closely at Flora's death certificate, it's full of knowns. Example: parents' names are both unknown as is her maiden name. I'm not sure if my great-grandfather Robert, who was the informant when she died, was clueless or deliberately evasive - either way, it doesn't really help.

I've done a timeline of her life and at some point she was a Gordon, Medley, Mangrum, Hendricks and a Duncan. She died in 1939 from advanced tuberculosis with malnutrition as an added factor. My goal is to work backwards in her life - her death to her last husband to the husband before that, etc - to figure out where and when exactly she was born and get her parents' names. Right now I'm trying to find any obituary for her. She's one of the great mysteries in my family tree.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What I Know

 It's always best to start with what you know, right? I'm currently focused on my father's side. He did alot of research before me (and he's researching with me now), so I'm not starting from scratch. There are several dead ends and loose ends in the family history that we have put together, which is what I'm trying to explore. What we have are names and dates, not history.

My 2nd-great grandmother was named Flora. She's a mystery because of her multiple marriages, even though I couldn't find divorce or death records for the husbands after she moved on to the next guy. I'm assuming she was a bigamist, although I really hate to think that. I can't find a birth record for her, and her death certificate lists her maiden name and parents names as both "unknown." All I know about her before her first child's birth in 1893 is that she was born supposedly in Mississippi, although I'm beginning to think she wasn't. There are absolutely no records of her before 1893.

My 2nd-great grandfather vanished off the face of the earth in a timespan of about 10 years. He was on the 1910 census, but he wasn't on the 1920. His wife (Flora) married again in 1917, so I'm assuming (more like hoping) he died before that, but I'm not sure. They had two children, but I don't have any information (no name or birthdate or anything) for one of them.

I haven't found a shotgun wedding yet, but I'm still looking. I'm sure there was at least one.

On my father's mother's side my great-grandmother had some family problems and gave birth to a baby out of wedlock (scandal back then) that died anywhere from 2 months to 2 years later, but I have absolutely no record of it. I don't know if it's family legend, but I'm guessing it isn't because of the circumstances involving the child's conception, birth and death - rather hushed and scandalized (she was very young, the father of the baby was supposedly black, and this was the south... fill in the blanks there.)

I have family born in Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

I have only found one relative that served in any war, and that was WW1.

I'm planning a research trip an hour away to a tiny town in the next few weeks to do research. Right now I'm trying to make a list of things I need to find.

Friday, February 18, 2011


A little about me:

 I've been interested in family history since I was a little kid. I always wanted to hear family stories, names, dates, birth places... I knew from an early age the events in my family's past effect my future and the choices they made 100 years ago influenced my life today. 

 Now that I'm all grown up, I'm taking my family research to a whole new level. It started with an tree, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I began collecting names, dates and places, but I'm not satisfied with that. I want details - I want to know my ancestor's occupations, causes of death, and about their lives in general. I've been doing this in earnest for the past few years, however, it just now hit me that I can use connecting with others on social networks (Twitter and blogging) to improve my chances of fleshing out my family's stories.

On the surface and on paper, my family looks pretty normal. Maybe they were, I'm still not sure. Right now I'm trying to work out some dead ends - for example, my 2nd-great grandmother is an entire mystery. She was married several times and I hate to jump to conclusions, but I'm pretty sure she was a bigamist (that's a whole new post!), and I can't even find where my 2nd-great grandfather (her 2nd husband that we've found) died or where he was buried, just that he passed away between 1910 and 1916, presumably (yet a whole new post.)

I've been asked how far will I have to search before I consider the tree "complete". The answer is I have no idea. I have several branches of my family to discover - my mother's side with a common last name will be a challenge in itself, even though right now I'm currently heavily involved in researching my father's side.

What this blog will accomplish: I want to connect with others like myself who are figuring out their family's histories, one record at a time. Please follow. Leave comments. Follow me on Twitter (@morethannames).

Help me find my family.