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Preserving the Work

We genealogists spend a lifetime compiling family histories. How can we preserve this information for posterity?

Our descendants often are not as interested in our family trees as we are. Notebooks and folders of information can end up in the trash when children do not want to house them. Digital files disappear when a computer becomes outdated or subscriptions lapse.

Some options exist for preventing the loss of genealogical work:

  1. Write a book. When I began working as a genealogist, many of the people I met had this ambition. A book offers a place to gather family trees, family photos, and family stories. The writer can distribute copies to relatives and hope some of the books survive. The odds get better if one donates a book to a genealogical library near where the family lived. Although I still see some people working on ancestry books today, the time and expense required for this option deter many people from choosing to write them.
  2. Contribute to online family trees. I have posted my father’s family, so far as I know it, to the online tree at Family Search (www.FamilySearch.org). A cousin in Finland has put much of my mom’s family on the collaborative site, WikiTree (www.wikitree.com). The LDS church runs Family Search, and they vow to preserve information in perpetuity. I do not know the long-term plans for WikiTree. Downsides to this option include the time necessary to input or clean up data and the danger that someone else will edit in bad information.
  3. Apply for membership in heritage societies. Only recently did I become aware of this as an option for preserving one’s family history, but it makes sense. These societies require detailed, sourced applications tracing family trees back multiple generations. They preserve the submissions. You can use this method to place your family tree with groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, or the Mayflower Society. Many such organizations exist, and often people can qualify for one or more. One woman I know belongs to nine heritage societies, and she joined in part to preserve her own family tree work. Some of the societies offer assistance in preparing an application.

I have already used a couple of these options. I documented my grandmother Grace Riddle Reed’s heritage back to her colonial ancestors and distributed the book to family members about twenty years ago. After that, I began annually writing ancestor character sketches and sending them around as Christmas gifts. I have completed these as far back as my second great-grandparents, except for the one line I do not know yet, Grandma Grace’s father.

We all need to find ways to preserve the family history we collect. Doing the research may offer the biggest satisfaction in genealogy, but we owe ourselves the knowledge that someone, somewhere will save what we collect.

Old Photos

A woman sitting next me at a genealogy meeting earlier this week told me about a family photo album she acquired recently. It had been for sale on eBay.

She recognized it because she had seen it in person, years ago. Its owners no longer wanted it but did not make the effort to offer it to other family members. Instead, they posted it for sale online. Genealogists cringe at this behavior.

I had my own experience this month with family photos belonging to another. My mother’s cousin on her Finnish side inherited their grandmother’s photo album.

It contained many images of relatives in Finland, all taken a hundred years ago and more. None had labels.

A few years ago, this cousin visited me and brought along the album. She had no idea who the photo subjects could be, and she asked me for help in identifying them. It saddened both of us that I recognized no one although I could see a strong family resemblance to my Finnish grandmother.

The cousin took her album home again, and that was that. She died a couple of years later. I assumed the album passed down to her son. I did not pursue the idea of acquiring a copy of the unfamiliar contents.

Last fall a couple of our more distant cousins in Finland contacted me. We began exchanging family information, and they asked about family photos. I mentioned the cousin’s album.

They wondered whether I could get my hands on it. Perhaps they could identify some of the people.

Their interest encouraged me. I contacted the cousin’s widower and explained that I may have discovered a way to add some value to her album. I asked for scanned copies of the photos to share with our Finnish cousins.

He replied that he had no interest in keeping these pictures. Nor did his son. He would send me the originals.

The photos arrived in the mail a few days later. My husband/tech advisor has scanned them all.

I will e-mail them to my Finnish cousins to see if they recognize anyone. When I visit them next time I am in Helsinki, I will take hard copies of those and some other family papers. We plan to meet at the new Oodi library in Helsinki to discuss our family history.

Without their encouragement, I may not have acted to preserve these photos. They, too, might have ended up on eBay or in the trash. Instead, I now have digital copies that I can share with all my Finnish-American cousins. With some luck, I may be able to tell them who some of the people are. I just wish my mom’s cousin was still around for this exciting opportunity.

Unwed Mothers

We continue our research on our Nordic ancestors. We are trying to accomplish as much as we can before our upcoming trip to Norway and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor, an accomplished Norwegian genealogist, has worked his way far back on several of my Norwegian lines.

He has identified an interesting phenomenon in Norway. German researchers mention the same curiosity. These societies had numerous unwed mothers.

I do not know why this occurred so often in Norway. In Germany, the laws of the time encouraged illegitimacy in a couple of ways:

  1. The German states issued marriage licenses only to those men who owned property. They thought they could eliminate poor families with this policy. They found out that people would pair up, married or not. Many illegitimate births occurred during this time.
  2. German inheritance laws made it important to have a family. One did not want to marry a barren wife. Better to verify that she could produce at least one healthy child before marrying her.

Perhaps Norwegian couples had similar reasons for the birth of so many out-of-wedlock children. We have not yet investigated the applicable Norwegian laws.

If social policies did not encourage this behavior, I can think of only one other reason for it, an immoral society. This seems implausible. Why would Norwegians be less moral than their neighbors?

We need to find the true explanation for all those uægte children.

A Place for a Family Tree

Have you ever used WikiTree? This website (https://www.wikitree.com/) offers social networking to build a world-wide family tree. Speakers at genealogy events often mention it.

I had never made time to visit this site until recently. Then one of my newly-discovered cousins in Finland told me she was posting our shared family tree on this site. I decided to take a look.

This week I set up an account and located her tree. She has done a tremendous amount of work, tracing our shared Lampinen family line back many generations. I found that this site provides a great place for us to collaborate.

As a native Finn, she has advantages in pursuing Finnish research that I do not have. Sites like Ancestry or Family Search hold all the records from Finland that I can reach. I have trouble determining the methodology the record keepers used, and I find it difficult to decipher the words.

My cousin knows the Finnish language. Plus, she can visit the repositories where the records are kept if she needs to. She, rather than I, suits the role of Finnish researcher for our extended family.

On WikiTree, I can add the particulars from my American Finns to supplement her work. Together, we can add an entire family to the world-wide family tree.

Living on the Land the Vikings Trod

My amazing husband/tech advisor remains diligent in searching for my Norwegian ancestors before we embark on our trip to Norway this year. He continues to seek information on my third great-grandparents, Anders Bentsen (1823-1857) and Anne Larsdatter. They lived in Nordland, the cod fishing area of Norway that lies north of the Arctic Circle. They married there, but independently they had each moved there from someplace else.

Earlier this year, my researcher tracked Anders’ birthplace to the Sognefjord north of Bergen. He suspected Anne may have come from there, too.

Recently, he learned that she did, but from much closer to the mouth of the fjord than Anders’ family lived. Her family resided in the Gulen municipality of Nordre Bergenhus which lies around the Gulafjord, a southern offshoot of the Sognefjord.

In the online Norwegian national archives, he located the church records for young Anne Larsdatter who lived on the Floli farm near the village of Eivindvik.

Eivindvik? Wow!

The western Vikings used to meet there for their Gulating, an annual assembly to discuss political matters and taxation. They also used these gatherings to resolve civil and criminal complaints.

Two ancient stone crosses found near the village of Eivindvik are believed to be about 1000 years old, erected there after the Vikings who met at the Gulating gathering embraced Christianity. The worshippers probably gathered around these crosses until they could build a church.

We now know that Anne Larsdatter came from this historic place. She was born at Floli in 1819 and was baptized in the old Gulen church in Eivindvik, one of the oldest church sites in Norway. Floli, just east of Eivindvik, is now a national historic area.

Anne was confirmed there, too, in 1835. The pastor noted that her religious knowledge was mediocre, but her behavior was immaculate.

Why would Anders and Anne leave their families and this well-settled area to move far north? They needed to make a living. The Norwegian population grew rapidly in the 19th century, and existing farms could not accommodate everyone. Many people moved to northern Norway where the fishing industry prospered.

Anders and Anne followed the crowd. They met, married, and started a family. Sadly, Anders contracted a fever when he was just 34 years old, and Anne was widowed with two small children in 1857.

The hunt for her fate after Anders’ death continues.

 

Adventures in DNA

Every week I log in to a couple of DNA testing websites to see whether I have any new matches. Recently, a few relatives on my dad’s side of the family have tested at these sites as well. Comparing their match lists with mine allows me to speculate on how my unfamiliar matches might be related to me.

I find this particularly interesting because several of my closest matches were adopted. I would like to know how we are related. Three people come to mind:

  1. A man in Florida matches my dad at the second cousin level. This man’s mother was adopted. As far as I know, no one in previous generations of Dad’s family lived in Florida, so I have no idea where this match fits into my family tree. He does not seem too interested in helping me puzzle this out.
  2. The same goes for a match in Montana. Again, this adopted woman does not want to correspond much although I have more to offer here. My dad had several family members who settled in Montana. Perhaps this woman is related through them. But without more information from her to go on, I cannot fit her into my tree, either.
  3. The final match, the closest one, is to a woman who was adopted from a foundling home near Lincoln, Nebraska in 1930. The third match and I have corresponded several times hoping to discover her parentage and how she is related to us.

She and I have made a little progress. When my second cousin on my father’s paternal side did a DNA test, she did not match my third match. This means the Nebraska baby does not belong to the Reed side of my dad’s family. Instead, she belongs to my grandmother’s family.

The third match’s family lived in the same area around McCook that my grandmother’s family did from 1885-1954. Only problem in placing the adopted baby into my family is that we do not know who Grandma’s father was. Without this information we do not know whether the baby is related through our known Riddle line or through my unknown great-grandfather’s line.

The match’s birth certificate provides the clue of a surname, probably her mother’s. I do not recognize this name as anyone related to me.

Two possibilities, then, come to mind. One of the baby’s parents may have been related to my unknown Nebraska great-grandfather. In that case, of course I do not recognize the surname on the baby’s birth record. Or perhaps the baby’s father was one of my known Riddle relatives.

Without more DNA testing, I think I will not find an answer. It would help to locate a Riddle descendant to see whether my third match also matches them. Doing this will be difficult because so many of us are double cousins, and their DNA would not help in sorting this out. We need a Riddle cousin whose family did not intermarry with the Reeds.

In the meantime, I will stay in touch with my DNA cousin in Nebraska. She would really like to identify her birth family, and I am her best evidence.

A Nordic Vacation Draws Closer

This weekend our traveling companions will visit us to put the final touches on our plans for a trip to Scandinavia and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor’s brother and his wife will join us later this year to see the lands of our roots. We have scheduled time in several spots of significance to us:

  1. After landing in Oslo, Norway, we will take the train north to Hamar. The guys’ Norwegian family, before their immigration to America in the 1880’s, lived on various farms around Lake Mjøsa in the Ringsaker district of Hedmark. We have been there before, so we will rent a car and drive the other couple around to see all the sites we discovered in 2013.
  2. Back in Oslo, we will catch another train. As we cross the country toward Bergen, we will travel through the Voss municipality of Hordaland. My great-grandmother’s grandparents lived in this region before they moved north to the cod fishing grounds of Nordland in the 1840’s. One local history claims the couple left Voss because their families disapproved of their marriage between members of different social classes.
  3. From Bergen, we will take a ferry tour along Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, the Sognefjord. My great-father’s grandparents lived along the fjord. This couple, too, left their birthplaces for the fishing grounds of Nordland. A possible reason for their move is the lack of opportunity in Voss for an illegitimate son.
  4. We will fly to Copenhagen, Denmark from Bergen. There, my husband/tech advisor’s ancestor Jorgen/Georg Rasch once served as court musician to the King of Denmark-Norway. A well-regarded lutenist, his likeness is painted on the ceiling of a building in Copenhagen. We plan to see it.
  5. A cruise ship from Copenhagen will take us around the Baltic Sea with a stop in Helsinki, Finland. I hope to meet some of my Lampinen relatives there.

With our visitors this weekend, we will finalize plans for our shore excursions from the cruise ship. In addition to Helsinki, we have stops in Estonia, Russia, Sweden, and Germany. This voyage means a lot to me. My Finnish family sailed on the Baltic when they left Finland for America in 1905, and now I get to sail on the same sea.

I hope my sister-in-law enjoys the trip, too. She has no Scandinavian or Baltic ancestors, but she looks forward to seeing Norway and taking the cruise. A visit to this part of the world has been on her bucket list. I am sure we will find many fun things to do that are not related to genealogy.

We are looking forward to seeing these family members and finishing up our trip plans this weekend. Anticipation is building up for all of us.

New Ancestor Discovered

These days it takes a lot of work before I can identify and add the name of another direct ancestor to my family tree. So many of my lines remain blocked with those pesky brick wall ancestors. Any time I can go back another generation offers an excuse for a small celebration.

I am happy to report that this week I found a new ancestor for the first time in ages. I did so by turning my attention to my mom’s Nordic roots. I had last examined these lines in 2013 and 2014, the years I visited Norway and Finland.

Because we plan some travel to those countries again later this year, I decided to take a fresh look at my Norwegian ancestral lines in hopes of extending them. One set of my third great-grandparents, Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrina Möllersdatter (1816-1880), lived in the Helgeland district of Nordland, Norway. It lies on the west coast, just south of the Arctic Circle. My records showed the names of their parents except for Sara’s mother.

When I left off the research on Sara back in 2013, I had collected only her marriage and baptism records. Neither document named her mother.

This week I looked for Sara’s Lutheran confirmation record. I located it in the Alstahaug parish church book found in the online repository, Norway’s Digitalarkivet (https://www.digitalarkivet.no/). There, in 1834, was an entry for 18-year-old Sara. There also was her mother’s name, Marit Nilsdatter.

Marit then is my newly-found fourth great-grandmother. She and Möller Zacariasen were Sara’s parents. I have no dates yet for their lives, but they likely were born in the 1700’s.

Tempting as it would be, I must finish the work on Sara’s life before I do more research on Marit and Möller. Genealogists always work backwards in time, and it would be premature to jump back another generation before collecting everything I can find on Sara. That means locating her on the Norwegian census records and completing my information on her children.

Although my focus must be on Sara and Johan, I am allowing myself to smile a bit at the discovery of Marit Nilsdatter’s name. Not often do I make a discovery like this.

Hunting for Johan’s Family

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Norway, I had planned to investigate the roots of my Bentsen line. Plans change. I am fortunate enough to have a husband/tech advisor who likes to do Norwegian research, and before I could even begin, he was off and running. I decided to leave him to it and turned to a different Norwegian ancestor family.

My second great-grandmother, wife of Lorenz Nicolai Bentsen, was Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916). This week I refreshed my memory of her family, and I hope to fill in a little more information.

Karen was born to Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880) on Titternes farm in the Helgeland District of Nordland, Norway. I have a photo of myself standing beneath the Titternes sign. This beautiful area lies on a western coastal island just south of the Arctic Circle.

My ancestor had five siblings, but for most of them I do not know the names of their spouses or their death dates. Did any of them come to America?

Of the parents, I know a little. Johan died away from home, up north in the Lofoten fishing area. Several other men died there the same day. Was there an accident?

Sara died just a few years later, in the same municipality and parish where she had always lived. I do not think she had remarried.

I am planning to work my way through Norway’s digital archives to find whatever I can about this family. Perhaps I can locate a bygdebok, or Norwegian local history book, for the Titternes or Skei farms where the family resided.

We will not visit this area again on our upcoming trip. Our journey will take us on the train from Oslo to Bergen, far south of where my ancestors lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century. But did they always live there?

Some may have migrated northward from these southern valleys to take advantage of fishing opportunities in the cod fishing grounds. Only if we work backwards on all these family lines will we know which ancestors might have done that and where they may have originated. I am beginning with Johan and Sara and their children, Johana, Bergitta, Karen, Ludvig, Anne, and Mortine.

Genealogy and Databases Galore

Not that long ago, most genealogy work involved a boots-on-the-ground approach. Either the researcher visited repositories and cemeteries in person, or he located someone to do the searching on his behalf. When information began to become available electronically, we often speculated on how long it would take for resources to be digitized. We did not think that day, they day we could sit home in our pajamas doing our research, would come during our lifetimes.

Yet more and more often, we can do so much in just that way. We can use free databases like those at Family Search, the Library of Congress, the Government Land Office, or the Norwegian digital archives all from home at no charge. We can also subscribe to many others. These tools provide information for our ancestors ranging from vital records and newspaper accounts to land transactions.

If a genealogist does not have the means to subscribe to everything he needs to do a complete research project, help exists. Local libraries often subscribe to databases such as Ancestry.com for their patrons. Family History centers offer a lot of electronic genealogy resources, too.

This week our local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society met once again at our Family History Center for a workshop. Last month we had gathered there to learn about their newspaper databases. This time, we looked at the Fold 3 database for military records. We will go there again next month to look at some international options.

The center encouraged all of us to come back and use their computers to do our research in all databases they have available. No need to spend the money for subscriptions to these sources unless you want to.

Of course, having the option to do unlimited research from home late at night remains the ideal. Paying for subscriptions offers us the option to do just that for so much of the information we need. I personally pay for a couple of databases that I use regularly. For the rest, I am glad to have the option to visit the Family History Center.

Even at that, not everything can be found online yet. Just last summer, I felt the urge to take one of those old-fashioned genealogy road trips. There, in a hot courthouse attic in McCook, I found Nebraska school records for my grandmother’s brother. These have not been digitized, and there are no plans to do so. Many other interesting records around the country are tucked away in a similar fashion.

Perhaps we were right when I was a young genealogist. Not everything will be digitized in my lifetime.