Sunday, August 4, 2019

10 'Easy' Things About Genealogy

I am fortunate to have several like-minded genealogy friends and we get together regularly to share our successes and crowdsource ideas for working through brick walls. So this week's #52Ancestors prompt "Easy" got me to thinking. The suggestion was to write about an ancestral line that had been easier to research than others, but my mind went in a different direction. There are many mistakes my friends and I have discussed over the years that are all too easy to make when researching your family history, as well. Here are just a few that come to mind.

It is easy to:
  1. Stick to the mainline and forget to research your FAN club (Friends, Acquaintances, and Neighbors.) Follow collateral lines, e.g. siblings, particularly for obituaries and death certificates. 
  2. Romanticize your ancestor's motives or overlay current values onto the lives of our ancestors. Our ancestors were criminals, slaveholders, bigots, bigamists, and all manner of other things, which can be disturbing to learn. Gather your facts and read more about the viewpoints people held at that time to broaden your perspective of the influences that shaped their lives. 
  3. Assume because you have a few facts you have the full story. Just because your ancestor is in the same location in 1900 and 1910 doesn't mean they stayed in the same place the entire decade. Back up your assumptions with facts. 
  4. Get so caught up in researching you forget to document your findings. Have you ever had to retrace your steps in pursuit of a record you found previously and can't find again? Then you understand the importance of taking the time to document your sources. 
  5. Limit your research to what is easily obtainable online. Ah, the allure of armchair genealogy! Yes, we all want to lounge around in our pajamas and gather as many records that way as we can. But, eventually, if you want to do a thorough search you have to venture beyond what is available online. 
  6. Forget now fluid spelling can be. Search engines have gotten smarter and smarter at being able to make connections between similarly sounding names. You still have to do your homework, however, and come up with a list of alternative spellings as well as leverage other details to make locate records when the name is completely wrong or poorly transcribed. 
  7. Assume that all of the children enumerated in the census have the same parents. 
  8. Assume any of the details at all in the census are correct. They are a great guidepost, but can you corroborate each fact with other records? 
  9. Assume any of the information found on an uncited online family tree is correct. Online trees can be incredibly useful, but undocumented research should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. 
  10. But most of all, it is so, so easy to get so caught up in researching you find yourself tumbling down the proverbial "rabbit hole" staying up way past your bedtime, allowing dust bunnies to accumulate and ignoring other household chores! But, unlike the other things on this list, is that really such a bad thing?
Copyright 2019 by Lisa A. Oberg, GeneaGator: Vignettes of Yesteryear. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

#52Ancestors: Namesake

Depending on your perspective there either aren't many namesakes in my family tree or they are everywhere! "Huh?!" you may be thinking to yourself. Let me explain. My maternal ancestors were from Luxembourg, a small country located in Western Europe. If you're not quite sure where Luxembourg is located it is nestled between Germany, France, and Belgium. And, it is a separate county, not part of Germany as many assume!

The Protestant Reformation, beginning in 1519, largely passed Luxembourg by and as a result, the county remains largely Catholic to this day. Catholics practice infant baptism and one of the elements of the Rite is selecting godparents whose duty it was to ensure the child's religious upbringing in the event something happened to his or her parents. 

As part of the sacrament of baptism, naming patterns through the 19th century were very predictable. Infants were named for their same-sex godparent. So you could say that all of my Catholic ancestors are the namesake of their godparents. Since an infant's parents are never godparents for their own child if the child had a unique name a likely assumption would be an aunt or uncle, or other family member or neighbor, with that name was their godparent. The parish baptismal records generally include the names of the godparents and it is always important to research what the relationship was to the parents and baby.

As illustrated below, the godmother of the infant Caroline is named Caroline. In fact, her godmother was also her maternal aunt.

Understanding the naming patterns of our ancestors can provide important clues to relationships. By the beginning of the 20th century, Luxembourg immigrants to the United States and subsequent generations began moved away from this tradition. But even then there are still threads of the tradition to follow. For example, my grandfather, Eugene Pierre, received his middle name from his godfather — and grandfather — John Pierre. The only problem with this practice is generation-upon-generation of instances of Anna Maria, Catherine, Nicholas, and John!

Copyright 2019 by Lisa A. Oberg, GeneaGator: Vignettes of Yesteryear. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 27, 2019

#52Ancestors: At the Cemetery

Memorial Day dedication of Suresnes American Cemetery, 1919.
Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside to remember those who died while serving their country. It is especially fitting then that this week's #52Ancestors prompt is "At the Cemetery". Over the course of my research, I have had the wonderful good fortune to visit many of the cemeteries where my ancestors are buried. Equally moving – and meaningful – was the opportunity to visit several of America's overseas cemeteries last year as part of a World War I centennial tour of France. 

I had been researching students, alumni and staff from the University of Washington who died during World War I and I was looking forward to seeing the terrain where the final battles were fought and the final resting places for those who died there. It was a wonderful experience and it is well worth the side trip to visit any of the cemeteries administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Founded after World War I to manage the final burials of America's war dead, the Commission later because responsible for the cemeteries created World War II, as well.

Detail from the Chapel mosaic.

The first cemetery we visited on the tour was Suresnes American Cemetery. Located just outside Paris, it has a beautiful view of the city. The American military cemetery at Suresnes was established in 1917 by the Graves Registration Service of the Army Quartermaster Corps. A majority of those buried there died of wounds or sickness in hospitals located in Paris or at other places in the Services of Supply. Many were victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919.

The cemetery was dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson during Memorial Day ceremonies of 1919. The above photo is an original press photo from that event, and the caption on the back states "One of the most moving scenes in American war history took place in 1919 on Memorial Day, when President Wilson visited Suresnes cemetery near Paris. Here is a portion of the crowd, gathered on that day, in the American section of the cemetery." Wilson opened his remarks  with the statement "No one with a heart in his breast, no American, no lover of humanity, can stand in the presence of these graves without the most profound emotion."

Anytime you have the opportunity to honor America's war dead, whether it is your local national cemetery, Arlington or one of American's overseas cemeteries, take some time to pay your respects "at the cemetery."

Copyright 2019 by Lisa A. Oberg, GeneaGator: Vignettes of Yesteryear. All Rights Reserved.