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Family ReunionA family history presentation is a great way to share what you’ve learned. If you come from a large family, chances are that your aunts, uncles, cousins, and even your own descendants are spread out across the state or country. Once, it was easy to get everyone together for Sunday dinner and share the latest news. Today, we rely on Facebook and infrequent emails to keep us connected and reinforce those family bonds. But if you’re interested in genealogy, you may be considering a family reunion. Not only will you get to see long lost relatives and receive updates on cousins you lost track of, but this could be the perfect venue to share your passion for genealogy and ignite the interest of other relatives and younger generations.

How common are family reunions?

You may be wondering if it’s even a good idea to propose a family reunion. After all, if you don’t have a standing tradition of doing so, it’s going to take a lot of communication and preparation to do so. Still, the statistics suggest that reunions are popular and possible to pull together with some planning. According to the organization Group Travel, most family reunions occur in the summer. It’s usually best to give yourself between 12 and 18 months lead time to get on everyone’s schedule and allow for event planning and travel logistics. Most events are big success. 57% of those surveyed had between 50 and 149 attendees. If you’ve decided to go ahead with planning a reunion, here are some fun ideas to incorporate genealogy as a central theme of the get-together.

Ways to introduce genealogy into the program

It’s important to make genealogy just one aspect of a bigger agenda. Family reunions are about creating ties between living members, after all. However, there is probably no better venue for getting together a group of people interested in their ancestry. The key is to avoid long, dry presentations. Instead, focus on the most interesting parts and break up individual subjects that will allow guest to self-select their participation.

Consider a short presentation and a Q&A:

Consider giving a highlights presentation that offers insights into high-level topics that everyone is likely to find interesting. What countries did your ancestors come from? When did they arrive in the United States, and what general paths have they taken across the country? Do you have any notable connections or famous ancestors? Were there any fascinating people in your lineage or funny stories that you could share? Illustrate your presentation with a simple PowerPoint presentation that features photos, maps, and copies of documents for more visually-oriented guests.

Set up an info table:

Consider manning an information table for people that want to learn more. Bring copies of core documents and photographs. Don’t bring originals or your only copies, in case they get lost or someone wanders away with them. You can focus your conversations on the topics that interest your relatives, talk about the research process, and use it as command central to talk with family members you have questions for. Display items such as family antiques, historical wedding dresses, or portraits of ancestors to draw people in.

Create a giveaway:

Often, family reunions involve some kind of take home gift that could include a jar of Grandma’s signature preserves or a simple T-shirt that boasts surnames. Consider adding some sort of genealogy-themed item. This could include a small collection of photograph copies of ancestors printed into postcards or a short narrative that you’ve written up to accompany your presentation. Don’t forget to add any requests that you might have, such as information on specific ancestors or offering to act as a repository for your family’s historical photos.

Fun activities for kids:

Another tip is to offer stations with age appropriate activities for kids. For example, you might have a coloring station where kids can make paper dolls from specific eras and tell little stories that relate to your family history. Another idea is to ask a crafty family member to make some simple costumes from different countries or time periods, and invite kids to put on a play. Make genealogy fun as a gateway to exploration and discussion.

Are you considering a family history presentation at your next reunion? A professional genealogist can help you prepare or even give the presentation. Contact us at Price & Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation and discuss how we can help make your get together memorable with a family history presentation.

ObituariesFinding detailed information about specific ancestors is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogical research. When you’re dealing with recent generations of ancestors, one of the most illuminating records that you can access is an obituary. Obituaries are often written by loved ones, or by professional journalists after interviewing the deceased’s family or friends. These documents may contain numerous details that streamlines your research, as well as anecdotes that bring an ancestor’s personality to life. Here’s a closer look at how researchers use obituaries in the genealogical research process, and a list of resources to help you track them down.

Why obituaries are helpful

Obituaries are typically published in newspapers after the death of an individual. Obituaries contain information such as full name, birth date, death date, locations, and the names of surviving family members. It may also contain additional details like place of birth, immigration status, military service, fraternal organization affiliations, and much more. It’s a genealogist’s dream to access these data points in one consolidated form, often related by the deceased’s closest kin or friends. Obituaries can help you focus in on your future research, developing hypotheses on specific areas for further inquiry.

A note of caution

It’s important to fact-check what you read in obituaries. Bereaved families may be relying on family lore, spotty records, and other unreliable sources when pulling together information. Details can become confused during the painful period following the death of a loved one. When relatives passed on who lived in times or locations without good record keeping, in many cases exact dates of birth were unknown. In other cases, the specificity of details might be unclear. For example, an obituary might report that an ancestor was born in London, England, but in truth they were born in one of the hundreds of villages in the immediate vicinity.

Sometimes, family legends may obscure someone’s true origins such as focusing on a Native American ancestry claim that’s unsubstantiated. Obituaries can be helpful documents. But it’s important to remember that these are not primary records. Instead, they rely on fallible human memory. Your research will benefit if you treat obituaries as a reference, and then work to verify each data point in the document.

Strategies for tracking down obituaries

Finding obituaries isn’t always easy. It depends upon where and when your ancestor died, as well as their status, profession, and even religious affiliations in their community. What follows are some helpful resources to begin your search.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database: The ProQuest database has digitized the archives of large newspapers such as The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and papers of similar caliber. Your local or state library may offer access to this database. You’ll have the best luck if your ancestors lived in an urban area and were affluent or prominent in some way, as these newspapers typically charged a fee to run death notices.

Chronicling America: Chronicling America is a project of the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize more than 7 million small-town American newspapers. Editions of newspapers are constantly being added. The U.S. Newspaper Directory is particularly helpful.

Ethnic NewsWatch: Ethnic newspapers may have obituaries for specific community members not featured in general publications. If your ancestor died after 1990, Ethnic NewsWatch offers a searchable database. Ethnic Newswatch: History covers from 1958 – 1989. Access to these databases may be available at your local library or through your state library system.

Individual newspaper databases: In some cases, newspapers and publications have chosen to digitize their own collections. For example, the Times of London has made their archives from 1785 – 2008 available online. Check to see if area newspapers have handled their own digitization efforts.

Subscription sites: Many subscription products offer access to collections of obituaries. One of the most extensive is GenealogyBank, which offers “modern” obituaries from the 1970s and historic American ones dating from the 1690s. and similar programs also have access to these documents.

Other resources: If your online searches are turning up dry in specialized databases, there are a few more directions that you can take. One is to search the Google News Archive, which digitized a large number of newspapers before abandoning the project. Another is to search state and county Death Indexes and obituary indexes. Finally, consider visiting the local library or town hall where your ancestor resided. Their obituary may be available on microfiche or through a locally searchable database.

Do you need assistance finding obituaries or other death records in your genealogical research? Contact us today at Price & Associates to arrange for a personalized consultation to discuss your project and how our experienced team of genealogists can help.

DNA TestingThe introduction of DNA services has opened up a whole new line of research and inquiry for genealogists. It’s also opened a can of worms for many researchers that are struggling to answer questions from family members when they’re discussing results or requesting a DNA sample. Frequent questions include: What do you mean you found a new cousin online? Why do I have to give a sample if we’re already related? (Hint: it’s because of gender and DNA). What do you do if you get surprise information from a test? Here’s a closer look at how to handle delicate questions about DNA testing and family research.

What is family DNA testing?

Many people in your family may be unfamiliar with how much information is looked at during the family history DNA process. While it varies by company, few on the market actually provide health information. In some cases, people object to their DNA being captured simply because they don’t want to know sensitive health information such as whether they’re at risk for dementia or cancer. Assure your relative that genealogical DNA doesn’t map individual DNA at that level. Instead, they’re looking for the markers that give clues to ethnicity and relationships. But no personal health information needs to be revealed.

Why does gender matter?

Another point of confusion for many people on genealogical DNA testing is why more than one person in a family might need to be tested. Consider the case of a brother and sister who share the same mother and father. On the surface, you’d expect the information revealed to be largely similar. This includes any data about existing relatives already in those database or ethnicities, for example. However, many people don’t realize that we carry DNA from both our mothers and our fathers; depending on our gender, this information is revealed differently in DNA tests. Testing women or men will reveal information about the mother’s DNA. But only through testing the male line will you be able to get specific information about your paternal DNA. That’s why families often invest in having a member of both genders tested.

How closely are we related to specific people online?

Many services provide the opportunity to let people being tested opt in their global database. If you do, you’ll be able to see if there’s anyone else related to you in the database. Other users could also theoretically find you. It’s often possible to opt in anonymously or to create a detailed profile with information such as your name, location, age, and details of your family’s heritage. Individual researchers and their families can make decisions about how much information to reveal, whether to contact relatives in the database, and how to respond to inquiries initiated by other users.

What approach will we take to sensitive information?

In some cases, families uncover unexpected information as a result of DNA tests. For example, a cherished family story about a Native American ancestor is challenged by a lack of DNA evidence. Or perhaps your tests revealed an ethnicity not known to be in the family mix. It’s important to remember that the technology is evolving, and each set of results is open to questions. Surprises in the family history can often be a delight, and with a bit of research you can learn the story behind these mystery connections.

Are you considering options for including DNA research into your genealogical process, and want to discuss your choice with a professional? Contact Price & Associates today to discuss your research plans and what services might be the right solution for your needs.

Family HistoryOne of the greatest assets available to you in your quest to understand your family may be sitting right next to you. As researchers, it’s easy to become enamored with histories compiled by other researchers and the primary documents from different eras. Yet as many researchers get older, they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of having failed to ask many of the questions they always wanted to know from people that passed on – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. Here’s an overview of how a genealogical researcher can use oral histories to help inform her work.

Be open to the idea that people’s lives may not have been as you expected: For many people, it’s hard to imagine a time when your grandparents were young, having grand adventures, traveling the world, and falling in love. Perhaps your beloved grandfather fought in a war overseas and remembers important moments of bravery. Maybe your most recent ancestors lived simpler lives, guided by a dedication to their work and a love of family.

Whatever the stories are that emerge, they help you understand specifically where you come from and how members of your family overcame difficulties, achieved goals, and found moments of joy in their lives. Bring your curiosity to the conversation, but work hard to manage your preconceptions.

Ask detailed questions about their lives: Use interview time to explore what their early lives were like. Where did they grow up and go to school? What was their family life like? Who were their friends and what did they do for fun? Discuss school, how they did, and what subjects they loved. How did they choose their career or professional life? If they married, how did they meet? What was courtship and marriage like?

Ask questions about their children, grandchildren, and broader family connections: What funny stories do they remember, and what things have brought them great happiness or sadness throughout their lives? If there are specific questions you’ve always wanted to ask – like for example what made this person convert to a particular religion, become a vegetarian, or decide to spend time overseas – make the time to ask those now.

Use their expertise of other family members: Ask your family member to share recollections of their parents, children, spouses, siblings, and other family members. Often their memories can help fill important gaps in your knowledge about specific relatives and create more complete pictures of their lives. You can also use your relative’s expertise to help identify the people in old family photos and learn more about them.

Preserve your interviews: There are a number of different ways to preserve these interviews. Interviews can be recorded using audio or video equipment. You can also take detailed notes or transcribe your conversation. The more complete the preservation, the more accessible the information will be for generations to come.

Are you interested in conducting oral histories with key members of your family but don’t feel like you have the time or expertise? Contact our offices today to discuss how one of Price & Associate’s professional genealogists can help you plan or conduct and analyze these important conversations.

Religious GeneaologyThroughout the centuries and in locations ranging from early Europe to colonial America through the early 20th century, churches have been the centers of lives and communities. In many cases, even if an individual wasn’t particularly religious, he or she still regularly attended services due to laws and social conventions. One of the central locations that life’s major events were recorded was by a person’s local church or parish. From baptisms to marriages to deaths, and in some cases even interesting life anecdotes, it’s possible to learn about your ancestors through church records. Here’s what you need to know to get started with genealogical research using religious records.

But which church should I look at?

With America’s blended families, it’s possible that you’ll find ancestors in the same family tree with a wide range of religious affiliations. In some cases, the answers will be more obvious than others. For example, ancestors from Rome are likely Roman Catholic; those from early Pennsylvania stand a good chance of being Quakers; in England, most people after the reign of Henry VIII belonged to the Church of England; family residing in Massachusetts in 1630 are likely to have been Calvinist; and the Salt Lake City region is a hot spot for LDS families. In other cases, it’s simply impossible to know. Regardless, there are some simple ways to determine religious affiliations:

  • In what cemetery is your ancestor buried? Often, cemeteries belonged to a specific denomination and even church.
  • Do you have information about other members of the family? Members of a family often share their faith.
  • Check obituaries, wedding announcements, and engagement listings for details of a church where the people were members or where ceremonies were held.
  • If you have detailed marriage records that include the name of the official, it may be possible to determine his or her religious affiliation through church or historical records.
  • Funerary cards and other items affiliated with mourning and funerals may suggest a church or presiding clergy.
  • Consider geography. What churches existed in your ancestor’s locale during his or her lifetime? It’s much more likely that they walked to the church that was 2 miles away each Sunday than the one that was 10 miles away.
  • In some cases, census records may contain religious information.

What to do with religious records

Once you’ve determined your ancestor’s religious denomination, it’s important to determine which congregation he or she was part of. The individual church may maintain historical records, or be able to advise you of where they are stored. Depending on the religion, often individual churches are part of a larger organization (for example, a parish, ward, or diocese depending upon the denomination).

Working at that level may also give you access to broader historical records, and help you clarify the evolution of that church in a specific region. Sending an email or written letter is often a great way to get started. It’s helpful to remember that many churches are small and understaffed, or have no staff at all. Generally speaking, pastors and their assistants are helpful in responding to requests but you’re more likely to get a detailed response to a written query than to a phone call or an in-person visit, unless those are pre-arranged.

Further resources

The genealogical community has done an excellent job centralizing this truly dispersed aspect of genealogy research. We recommend the following reference points to get started in learning more about sources of information about religious records for your ancestors.

Cyndi’s List: An outstanding web-based site that gives recommendations of where to find resources by denomination and religion.

Church of Latter Day Saints Resources: The LDS Church has some of the most extensive genealogical collections in the world. Two helpful places to start include the LDS Genealogy Forum and Family Search.

Catholic Resources: Helpful resources for those seeking Catholic ancestors include Catholic Genealogy and the Catholic Family History Society.

Judaism Resources: If your family tree includes ancestors who were Jewish, begin your search at JewishGen.Org.

If you’re working to locate historical or religious records related to an ancestor, consulting a professional genealogist may be the solution you’re looking for.