Several times recently, an opportunity from genealogy world has landed in my lap. This happens because of doors I have opened. It works this way:
- When Ancestry.com took down the genealogy message boards last year, I followed the advice of several genealogists to make final posts before the boards converted to a read-only format. I put updated queries and contact information on the boards for each of my surnames. Since then, several Carter researchers have contacted me. One provided an extended Carter DNA analysis with a hypothesis as to where my branch fits in to the Carter family. This provides a wonderful start to my Carter research this year.
- Last month I began attending the Norwegian Cultural Skills group for genealogy offered by my local Sons of Norway lodge. There I met a woman whose Norwegian family settled in the same county in Montana where my Bentsen family homesteaded a hundred years ago. She owns the out-of-print, three-volume history of Sheridan County, Sheridan’s Daybreak. She has offered to do some look-ups for me! I hope she can find information on some of my collateral relatives. All of my grandfather’s siblings married into families (Bedwell, Fleming, Leader, Overby, Scollard) that also settled in Sheridan County.
- On a sadder note, I learned this week that the Colorado Genealogical Society will lose its meeting site next year. The Board has decided to move to the Denver Public Library and gather there on Saturday mornings. After more than twenty years as a member of this organization, I have decided not to follow them in this move. I prefer an evening meeting, and my Saturdays are already too full. This decision to discontinue my membership will free up some time and money for other genealogical pursuits.
So the work continues to move ahead. Sometimes I just have to do something to nudge it along.
In American research, we have a notoriously difficult time documenting the lives of our women ancestors. They obscured their birth families by taking a married name, and they left few footprints in the records available to us.
This week I have encountered a problem with one of my female ancestors. Her name was Mary/Polly Templeton Carter, and at least I know her maiden name.
She and her husband John left Wayne County, Kentucky to become pioneer settlers in Coles County, Illinois about 1830. John died eleven years later, in 1841. She lived on until 1857. Both are buried in the Ashmore, Illinois cemetery.
By my calculation, Mary/Polly lived for sixteen years in widowhood with several minor children. Yet I cannot find them on the 1850 U.S. census. Where were they, and how did the family earn a living?
I know that three of the young daughters, Thenia, Jane, and Elizabeth, married and set up households in Coles County during the 1840’s. Thenia and Elizabeth died before 1850, and Jane (my ancestor) is listed on that census with her husband Caleb Reed. Two other daughters, Nancy and Catherine, were still young enough in 1850 to be living with their mother. Because Mary/Polly was buried at Ashmore, it seems likely they would have remained in that area. But I find no record there of any of the three.
I have a few options as I research this question of what happened to them:
- Look at the 1850 households of Mary/Polly’s married children for a parent and nieces. I already know they were not living with Jane and Caleb Reed.
- Search for Mary/Polly on the Illinois State census for 1855.
- Search for a probate record for John Carter for clues.
- Search the Coles County land records for clues.
I enjoy working on these genealogical puzzles. Surely Mary Carter generated some records during the years between her husband’s death and her own. I just have to find them.
Genealogists doing research on people who lived in the nineteenth century need to look for a mug book.
By “mug book”, I do not mean the collection of photos of criminals kept by the police. I mean the kind of books put together by towns and counties in the late 1800’s to preserve the history of their pioneer days. Genealogists call these publications mug books.
These books offer a gold mine to the genealogist. They include information on families that settled in the locality, the history of the area, and descriptions of the local geography. Often they include valuable lists, too, like names of those who served in the Civil War, or names of all the pastors of the local churches.
This week I have spent time reviewing a couple of county histories from Coles County, Illinois. My Carter, Reed, Kirkham, and Templeton ancestors settled in Coles County when the area first opened for settlement about 1829. The county histories, or mug books, date from 1879 and 1905. The children of the original settlers were still living then, and they may well have contributed information to these books. From these, I gleaned family information that otherwise was lost.
I learned that John Carter was from Kentucky. He worked occasionally as a blacksmith but did not follow it as a regular business. He gave it up for other pursuits when another man set up shop. Forty years later, John’s daughter and her husband continued to live on the same land where John built his first cabin.
I learned that Caleb Reed was a charter member of the Freemason Lodge in 1863, and he served as Junior Warden. His father Thomas, a pioneer settler, came from Kentucky, too.
One of the books, the 1879 History of Coles County, includes wonderful anecdotes of pioneer life. Unfortunately, the writer attached no names to the stories.
For example, the book tells of a local minister’s preaching tour where he stopped in to visit various settlers and to share a meal. At one backwoods cabin he found the parents relaxing by the fire and smoking cob-pipes. The daughter was cooking a meal of stewed coon and buckwheat batter. The book goes on to relate that “A portion of the hem of some of her undergarments had been torn from its native place and was dangling within an inch or two of the floor, and as she would move about the fire, it would now and then draggle in the frying batter…When dinner was announced a little later, he could eat but a few mouthfuls.”
Was this my family? I will never know, but stories like these give us a great picture of the everyday lives of our ancestors. When doing research in the 1800’s time frame, especially in the Midwest, is usually pays off to consult a mug book.
This weekend I will attend a meeting of Norwegian genealogy researchers. As I prepare for the meeting, I began thinking about what a great opportunity it is.
Here in the melting pot of America, many genealogists descend from more than one ethnic heritage. Once you “jump the pond” you must learn to do research in foreign countries. Unless your family was British, these records are not in English. What do you do?
Aside from hiring someone else to do your research, you must learn to do it yourself. My husband/tech advisor and I have encountered this challenge with our Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, German, Norwegian, and Scottish lines. We have followed several strategies for learning to do our foreign research:
- We join local groups that focus on a specific ethnicity. Our Sons of Norway lodge includes a genealogy club (the one we will attend this weekend) for pursuing our mutual interest. WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) and a Germanic research group both meet monthly at the Denver Public Library. A local Finnish club offers one-on-one help with document translation.
- We attend genealogy conferences targeting an ethnic audience. Our local Palatines to America chapter holds twice-yearly seminars that educate us on Germanic research. The National Genealogical Society annual conference in the states often includes a research track for some ethnic group.
- We consult the research wiki on the Family Search website (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page).
- We take advantage of opportunities for collaboration with genealogists in our countries of interest. For example, we have found Norwegian research help and other researchers via the DIS-Norge website (www.disnorge.no).
People will tell me that I also should be on Facebook to find like-minded researchers. This resource probably helps a great many people, but to me it looks like quite an eater of time. Not appealing to me.
Instead, I will trot over to the Sons of Norway research group on Saturday and interact face-to-face with other researchers. We will trade research tips, tell a Norwegian joke or two, and enjoy some Norwegian-style fellowship. This is my type of social network, and I know it will help me along with my own research.
This week I am spending my time in a virtual graveyard. Although it sounds morbid, a genealogist usually loves a place like this.
It began as I sorted through the information I had gathered on my Carter family of Coles County, Illinois. I came across a list of family members buried in the Ashmore and Enon cemeteries of that county.
My distant cousin Dr. Michael Hayden, author of The Reeds of Ashmore, had walked these cemeteries in the 1980’s. He transcribed the cemetery markers for all our Reed and Carter family members buried there. I counted over 150 names on his list. The burial dates begin shortly after the settling of Ashmore Township around 1830.
This week I am putting the names and dates for all the Carter descendants into my database. Many of these graves do not appear on the FindAGrave website. Maybe someday I will build online memorials to these people.
For now, getting the data onto my own website publishes the information and provides a jumping-off spot for further Carter research. I am off to a grave, er great, start.
For the past three years I have focused my genealogical research on my mother’s family from Finland and Norway. This year, because I am planning a summer trip to Virginia, I plan to study my dad’s American lines. Some of these ancestors lived in colonial Virginia. First up, the Carters.
My Carter line begins with my great-great grandmother, Jane Carter Reed. I have not done any research on her or her family, but I have inherited some things that pertain to them. Thus, I have this information on Jane for a start:
- Born 15 December 1824 in Wayne County, Kentucky to John Carter and Mary Templeton.
- Married Caleb Reed on 22 February 1844 in Coles County, Illinois.
- Had 11 children (Samuel, Mary, Martha, George, Thomas B., Emma, John, Thomas L., James, Ida, and Albert).
- Died 30 April 1907 at the home of her daughter Martha in Ashmore, Illinois.
- Buried 2 May 1907 at Ashmore Cemetery.
I do not have evidence to support all this information. I do have a pile of papers pertaining to the Carters, though, that I have gathered over the years. Last night I began poking through it and putting it in chronological order.
In there I found a photocopy of Jane’s funeral card. It confirmed the birth and death dates I had received from other family members. It also gave me an additional piece of information. Jane’s funeral service was held at the “family residence”.
Where was that? Daughter Martha’s house in Ashmore? Or the big white house where Jane raised her family on the Reed farm in rural Coles County? I wish I knew, but I probably have no way of finding out. Fleshing out Jane’s story will provide a challenge.
As I begin this research on Jane and her family, the journey promises to be quite different from my Bentsen and Mattila research over the past three years. Instead of spending most of my time with Lutheran church records, I am eager to do family history the American way again.
The new year has arrived, and with it I begin research on a different family line. For the past three years I have studied my Nordic ancestors. I have documented my Norwegian and Finnish ancestors on my mother’s side for several generations. I even took trips to those countries to see where my people lived.
Now I plan to turn the page and return to uncovering more information on my father’s forebears. They have lived in this country since forever, but I still do not know all their stories. I want to learn more about these people.
A great opportunity has arisen .I have a niece planning to get married in Virginia in August. It just so happens that some of my ancestors lived in Virginia during colonial times. Already we are working on plans to visit sites and repositories in Virginia to learn more about these people:
- Caleb Carter, my 4th great-grandfather. He reportedly served in the Revolutionary War from Pittsylvania County, received bounty land near Knoxville, Tennessee, and relocated there where he fathered my ancestor John Carter.
- Daniel Day, my 4th great-grandfather of Montgomery County, Virginia. Son of John Day and Rebecca Howe, both also of Virginia. The family moved on to Morgan County, Kentucky sometime after the Revolutionary War.
This information comes to me from fellow researchers. I have not verified any of it, but beginning today I plan to dig right in. I will spend the early months of this year finding as much information as I can on these people from here in Colorado. I also hope to identify good research spots to visit in Virginia for additional information, perhaps the DAR library and the Library of Virginia. We will plan a research trip around our travel for the wedding.
I can hardly wait to see what I can find. This promises to be an exciting genealogical year.
Every year I set a due date for myself—November 30. I write a genealogical report or character sketch on some ancestor and distribute it to relatives for Christmas. Seriously, I need to finish the writing by November 30. I need December for general Christmas craziness.
Did I meet this year’s deadline? With everything else that came up this fall, including a huge hailstorm that totaled our car, our roof, and so much more, I was not even close. Here it is, 10 days before Christmas, and I still have not finished. But I am making progress.
Last night I completed the draft of the narrative. Now I just need to polish it up a bit and add some graphics. Then I will assemble my story, some photos, and Christmas cards into manila envelopes and take a trip to the Post Office. I can hardly wait to go stand in line for two hours to get everything mailed.
I know, I know I could do all this electronically. Yet, I cannot help but think that people are more likely to keep and treasure hard copies of these stories and ancestral photos. Digital copies keep only so long as someone pays to store them—where? And what happens to everything when they die? I hope I am creating an heirloom, so I do it this way.
Only 15 days late, I am almost done with the 2014 installment of my family history.
Christmas baking season has arrived again. I plan to make some different types of cookies, but then everyone does that. For something different, my husband and I always try to make one traditional Scandinavian food.
The food we make most years, from Norway, is fattigmand bakkelse. More of a fried bread than a cookie, these resemble the Mexican sopapilla we find in Colorado.
Norwegians love to have fattigmand for Christmas. My Norwegian grandfather, Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986) insisted that his Finnish wife Martha Mattila (1906-1977) learn to make these treats when they first married. My husband remembers his Norwegian grandmother Anna Nelson Hjelmstad (1890-1976) making them, too, but his own mom, a German, never tried it.
My mother and father used to work together to make fattigmand every year. We kids needed to do our part to help, too. It takes a lot of rolling and cutting the stiff dough. Then someone deep fries each piece. Some folks dust them with powdered sugar, but we never did.
To be honest, I never liked fattigmand all that much as I grew up. I usually gave my share to my brother. But my husband liked fattigmand, so early in our marriage I made the effort at Christmas to make some. Now I find that I like to eat them as much as he does.
One of these days before Christmas we will invite our grandchildren over to learn how to make fattigmand, too. Here is our recipe, brought from Norway by my great-grandmother Sofie Bentsen (1878-1966):
8 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks
12 level Tbsp. sugar
12 level Tbsp. sweet cream
4 Tbsp. brandy
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup melted butter
1 rounded tsp. ground cardamom
1 level tsp. cinnamon
Mix in order given. Add enough flour (about 6 cups) to make a soft dough. Put in a cold place for 2-3 hours. Roll out very thin. Cut in diamond shapes, make a slit in center of each, and pull one end through slit. Fry in deep lard until golden brown. Use medium heat.
Last night I made some scones for today’s breakfast. I served them with a lesser-known topping, lingonberry jam. I enjoy eating lingonberries now and then because they are really good, and they remind me of my Norwegian heritage.
According to Wikipedia, lingonberry jam is a staple of Scandinavian cuisine. The berries grow abundantly in the inland forests there. People often gather them and prepare a fresh jam using just the berries, sugar, and a small amount of water. They put it on everything from pancakes to meatballs.
I used to have a hard time finding the jam here in the Denver area. Sometimes I made the long drive to the Sons of Norway lodge in Lakewood to buy it from their gift shop. When I did, we savored every bite of this rare treat.
In recent years, lingonberry jam has appeared more often on the shelves of my local supermarket. The IKEA stores sell it, too. Consequently, people are becoming more familiar with this Scandinavian delicacy.
We have begun keeping a jar of lingonberry jam on our pantry shelf. You never know when one of us will get a craving for it, just like I did this morning.