One 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.
Throughout 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.
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.
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.
More than any other interest or vocation, genealogy requires true passion. Spending hundreds of hours chasing the names, dates, and details of the lives of your ancestors through dusty library stacks, endless computer databases, and convoluted correspondence with distant bureaucrats could only be called a labor of love. Many genealogists think about how to share that spark and keep the interests alive within future generations of their families. Here are some creative ways to get children, teenagers, and young adults interested in genealogy.
Pull out famous connections: In general, as genealogists we want to minimize the impact of famous relatives. Every ancestor is important! But if you are the descendent of a famous general or have a literary genius in the extended family tree, use that as an entry point to engage kids. One family that discovered a great uncle was a famous American poet, for example, bought a book of his poetry and read it aloud with their family. They then used short biographies and photographs to create crafting opportunities for the children that centered on each one’s favorite poem that he had written.
Connect your family history to curriculum: Tying genealogical research to a child’s school curriculum can help them make important connections. For example, colonial American ancestors may be more interesting after a child has studied the Mayflower and Pilgrims. A Daughters of the American Revolution application for one of your ancestors will mean much more to someone who has studied the late 1700s. Finding connections, especially based on subjects that interest the child in question, can help draw them in.
Engage them in your quest for information: There are two ways to approach genealogical research. One is like homework, and the other is like a mystery where you’re hunting for important clues. Guess which one resonates more with kids? Choose an interesting piece of family history and define a clear research problem. Use kids’ natural facility with technology to search databases, explore online, and illustrate the role of technology in modern research. If you can bridge the idea that genealogy involves both technological innovation and creative thought, bright kids will be hooked.
Use family photos to play games: Games are inherently fun, and photos are a terrific gateway into your family’s history. Use old photos to help explore the relationships between people. Show a picture of Grandma as a child, for example, and encourage them to guess who she is. Share stories of her time spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard, or how her father emigrated from Canada. You’ll receive bonus points for funny and exotic stories. Another approach is to use historic photos and ask kids to play detective. Can they guess the timeframe based on the clothing? Are there items in the picture that offer clues as to the place, period, or occupant of the featured person?
Explain what it means to you: Take the time to explain to the children and young adults in your life why you became fascinated with genealogy. Did uncovering the stories of your ancestors help you feel deeply connected to past generations? Were you captivated by the story of an ancestor on a grand adventure, and want to learn more about them? Perhaps you stumbled across a photo that spoke to you across generations? Whatever your motivation, whatever your interests, take the time to share that. Your motivations can help kids recognize their own interests. Also take the time to share why you want them to be involved, and how and why it’s important to you that family stories continue on.
Getting the next generation of your family interested in genealogy is a great way to make sure that your work carries on. Our professional genealogists are happy to help you teach the fundamentals of genealogy to young researchers, or work with you to document your family history in a format that’s easy to share. Contact us today to arrange for a personal consultation.
For many genealogical researchers, one of the most fascinating streams of research takes you back to your family’s country of origin. Whether your family came to North America four hundred years ago from England or emigrated from a small town in coastal Italy in the early 20th century, venturing across the sea and across time can help you connect with that ancestor’s life. While we’re lucky to have excellent genealogical resources in the United States, conducting research overseas is more complex. From missing details to language barriers to simply not knowing where to begin, international research can throw up unexpected barriers. The first step in many cases is identifying the birth place of your ancestor, which can be more complicated than you expect. Here are three strategies to help you get started.
- Build a strong profile of the immigrant ancestor
Your strongest weapon in your effort to find your ancestor in their country of origin is to collect as much information as you can about them before you take your search abroad. It’s important to mine all the information at your disposal from familiar, US sources to help you understand who that ancestor was. The more distinguishing information that you have access to, the better you’ll be able to identify records about your ancestor when you find them. You’ll be shocked how many John Williams’ entered the US in the 19th century from Canada or how many Maria Minettis came through New York in the same time period. Assume that you’ll need whatever information you can find. The most helpful details include:
- The person’s full name, including first and middle names;
- Maiden name, if applicable;
- Date of birth;
- Other important dates, such as christening or baptism, marriage or date of immigration;
- Place of birth as specifically as you can find it – sometimes you’ll find a mention of a province or general region, if not a town or city;
- List of names of close relatives, especially spouse, children, parents, and siblings. However, extended family and even neighbors can be helpful due to the fact that people often migrated in clusters;
- Other identifying or distinguishing information, such as occupation, religion, previous military service, organizations in which they held membership, or schooling.
While you may not be able to formulate a full picture, the more details you have on hand from the list above the better position you’ll be in to obtain records in the country of origin
2. Ensure you’ve checked all the relevant sources
If your ancestor is truly a mystery to you at this point, your head may be spinning at the thought of where to begin your search. After all, if you don’t have a birth certificate or birth record, the thought of locating a place of birth can be overwhelming. In many cases, it’s simply a factor of knowing where to look. If you haven’t started, use the list below as a reference point and should your search already be underway, the following list may provide a useful starting point for other ideas:
- Consult the person’s death records, including death certificate and other reports for mention of a birth place and birth date;
- Obituaries in local newspapers, and especially those published in ethnic community publications, may include more detailed information about place of birth;
- Marriage records, especially if the ceremony was confirmed in the US, may contain the person’s place of birth and parents’ names;
- US census records for throughout their lives may give insights into country of origin as well as other details like place of residence, age and occupation;
- Immigration records, including those from point of entry and the ship’s register often include helpful hints;
- Military records, fraternal order records, and other organizations may record personal details;
- Family bibles, legends, autobiographies and the memories of older relatives can give important insights;
- Church baptismal records of the person’s children may have more details about point of origin;
- Published genealogies and local histories may include more detailed information.
- Departure records such as Hamburg passenger lists.
Always consider these details a starting point and verify and document as much as you’re able to on your own.
3. Work to verify the information at the point of origin
Once you’ve collected as much information as you can and leveraged US sources fully, it’s time to start searching foreign collections. Just a general note: Tracking down birth places can be tricky for several reasons. The first is that if you find reference to a location, it’s important not to assume that the town was where your ancestor was born. He or she may have emigrated within the country or to other countries prior to coming to North America. The second is that, particularly if the town listed is a major city, it may simply be the largest regional reference point. It’s similar to someone saying that they are from Boston or San Francisco, but actually living a short drive away in a nearby town. Finally, place names have changed and some local residents use shorthand to describe a specific area. For example, an ancestor in England might use a term for a village that’s subsequently been incorporated into a larger town. That’s why this kind of search often requires patience, ingenuity, and a bit of sleuthing.
Once you’ve identified the information, you’re ready to take your search overseas. You can begin by consulting any sort of national index or census; contacting a regional genealogical or historical society; or reaching out to the town hall or city government to find out about historical records.
If you need assistance solving a complex genealogical issue related to immigration or another topic altogether, contact us at Price & Associates today to arrange for a conversation to explore how a professional genealogist can help. We have research associates who specialized in various global locations ready to help find your immigrant roots.
For many families, the first foray into genealogy begins with their surname. You wonder about topics such as: what’s the ethnic origin, what’s the meaning, and what other interesting people have shared your last name? However, it’s easy to find out as you dive in that there are many unscrupulous companies that sell generic information that may not relate to your family at all.
Since professional genealogists commonly hear questions such as “where can I learn why more about my surname’s history?” and “where can I find my coat of arms?” it’s important for those new to genealogy to have an understanding of commercial scams that have popped up around genealogy. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most common ones and how to avoid them.
The Trouble with Surnames
Depending on the part of the world your ancestors emigrated from, surnames may have been in use since approximately the 15th century (Europe) or as early as 2000 BC (Asia). The origins are diverse, with some referring to locations and geographic features (e.g. Rivers or North), occupational details (e.g. Cooper or Fisher), titles (e.g. Lord), or patronymics (e.g. Anderson or Jameson – meaning son of Anders or son of James). Some general information can give you the broadest idea on the origin of your surname – for example, it was most likely Spanish or Irish. But the only definitive way to know the specific history of your family name is to begin with current generation and trace your way backwards to the original ancestor who took the name. It can be the genealogical project of a lifetime!
Generic Surname Histories
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why people want to spend twenty dollars and get a “complete family history.” In fact, you’ve probably received emails or catalogs in the mail offering these products. However, most of the so called generic surname histories are of dubious quality. They often include general information about how to conduct genealogical research, a generic history of the surname in question, and then contact information extracted from public sources such as phone books of “your relatives.” There’s seriously limited value (or no value) in these products in terms of actually helping you learn more about your family history. If you’d simply like to get your bearings and find general information about your surname, a quick search of the internet will yield free data of comparable quality.
Family Coats of Arms
Another common genealogical scam is companies selling “family coats of arms.” These visual images of shields with added details are sold as prints suitable for framing or emblazoned on everything from windbreakers to key chains. However, in most cases, there is no such thing as a family coat of arms attached to a surname. While this varies by country and there are limited exceptions, in general a coat of arms is granted to a single person. Like a title or piece of property, it is something that is inherited by the eldest male heir directly along the paternal line.
In most cases, if you hold a coat of arms, it’s something you’ll already be aware of. General coat of arms sites may show you a coat of arms design that was held by someone with your same last name. But the chances that it’s directly related to you are limited. That doesn’t mean that you can’t explore the topic, however. If you’re interested in learning more about Heraldry and researching coats of arms, two places to start are the American College of Heraldry and the Institute for Heraldic and Genealogical Studies.
It’s natural to be curious about your surname’s origins when you first get involved in genealogy. However, your best strategies are to research your own line or talk to a qualified professional genealogist who can help you get started with your project. Save your money on generic surname histories and coat of arms mugs!