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Getting Ready

Soon we will travel to Salt Lake City to visit the LDS genealogy library for three days, and we want to make the most of our time there. No using the online catalog or other online resources when that can be done ahead of time from home. I have a long list of Finnish records—microfilm and books—to view when I arrive. In case I run out of Finnish research before my time is up, I also plan to take a research plan for my Reed family in colonial New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

I want my husband to be able to use his time efficiently, too. He does not have the preparation time that I do, so I decided to lend him a hand. He has expressed curiosity about his German ancestor Catharina Woermann, and I looked at our database to see what information we still need about her. I put together what I thought looked like a days’ worth of work. He looked at it, and then to my surprise, he said he had already collected most of the information I thought he needed.

Sure enough, he pulled out a large file folder stuffed full of primary sources on Catharina Woermann’s family including baptism records, marriage records, and death certificates. I have spent all week analyzing them and doing the data input. Turns out, he views Catharina as one of those “brick wall” people because he knows nothing about her origins in Hanover.

Now, how can I help him with this? I did determine that he needs a few more American documents, and he could look for those in Salt Lake. A death record for Catharina. Additional information on her daughters, Elizabeth and Anna. I am preparing a list.

Beyond that, Catharina’s St. Louis marriage record gives us the name of her father, Gerhard. My husband has no information about him or any of his other children in either the U.S. or Hanover. It seems like a vague place to start, but one of the papers in the folder did mention the name of a Hanover village. With a name and a place, he might be able to pick up this line and move ahead a bit with his research. At least he is ready now.

Managing My Genealogy Time

Every weekday I devote several hours to genealogy. I spend time researching online and in repositories, writing, attending genealogy meetings, and taking field trips. I used to do a lot of Society volunteer work, but I cut way back because I do not find it as rewarding as working on my own family tree. The logistics of volunteer work have also become prohibitive with long drives required to reach likely volunteer venues like the Denver Regional Archives or the Denver Public Library.

Even after eliminating a lot of the genealogy volunteer work that I did, I still find time management a challenge. I try to stick to a research plan and schedule, and that helps. An experienced genealogist told me long ago to focus on one line at a time, and I follow that advice. This year I have surrounded myself with all things Finnish. At the end of the year, I will prepare and give a biographical sketch of our Finnish immigrant ancestors to members of my family.

But sometimes I make an exception to the research schedule when a good opportunity arises. Last month we found ourselves with time to visit Norwegian homesteads. I put aside the Finns for a while and pulled out the Norwegian information. When I returned home, I had documents and photos to enter in the database, and I have done virtually no Finnish research in September.

Now I am planning another trip, this one to the genealogy library in Salt Lake City. Time is at a premium during a repository visit like this, and one does not want to spend it looking through the library catalog when you can do that at home. Whenever I go to Salt Lake, I comb through the catalog ahead of time and then arrive at the library with lists of films and books to view.

This preparation used to be pretty simple, but recently a new element has come into play. The LDS church is rapidly digitizing its collection and putting in online. When I go to Salt Lake, I do not want to spend time viewing films that I can look at from home. Searching the catalog now requires me to check every item to see whether it is available online. Those that are not will make it onto the list of films and books to view when I visit the library.

We will spend three days in Salt Lake. I plan to work first in the Finnish records because many of those have not yet been digitized. I just finished compiling those lists. I also keep a running list of books and films I need for other family lines, and I will certainly take that along. But what if I need more to do? And what will my husband work on while we are there? I still need to make some more lists. This all seems time-consuming, but I hope I am managing my genealogy time effectively.

A Field Trip

I am planning a field trip–literally. Our Norwegian forebears raised wheat when they homesteaded on Montana and North Dakota in the early 20th century, and the sites remain as farmed fields. The nearest towns are Plentywood, Redstone, and Homestead, Montana and Palermo, North Dakota. We are heading there soon to visit the homesteads and cemeteries, and to see the land our families knew so well.

Not many people still live in these areas. I found Palermo, with just 74 people, on a list of North Dakota ghost towns. At one time, these places thrived, but the Dust Bowl years began a long period of slow decline. Neither of us has any family left on the MonDak border, although mine still owns farmland near Redstone.

Preparation for this trip began ages ago. First I looked for the homestead files for these ancestors, and they proved difficult to find. Norwegian immigrants came to America with no surnames, and they often tried on several, with various spellings, before settling on one as the new country required. Ultimately, I collected all their land records, and I identified the cemeteries I should visit.

So we will drive and drive through farm country until we come close to the Canadian border. Then we will walk through farmland and fields of eternal rest, remembering the hardy Norwegian homesteaders who lived and died there. If we have extra time, we may drive a little further to visit Mohall, ND, too. An entrepreneur in my husband’s family, M. O. Hall, founded the town and named it after himself. As far as I know, he never farmed anything, and he did not stay in North Dakota. Like so many others, he moved on. Like us, who will leave the fields after a brief visit and return to our busy suburban lives.

Don’t Give Up On The Message Boards Just Yet

After observing recently that the genealogy message boards no longer seemed to result in many new connections, I must confess that I had not entirely given up on them. Now I am very glad that I kept on posting.

I had come to the end of the line with my Finnish great-grandmother, Ada Alina Lampinen. No one in the family knew anything about her origins except that “they all stayed in Finland.” No names, no places.

My earliest record for her was the 1904 Viipuri marriage to my great-grandfather when she was nearly 25 years old. I hypothesized that she and Alex married there because her family lived there. Still, I found nothing further about her or any connection to family members in the Viipuri records.

I chalked up my lack of success to my frustrating unfamiliarity with Finnish records, so I turned to the Finland message boards for help. Very quickly I received a GenForum reply. My Ada came from Juuka parish in then-Kuopio province just north of Viipuri province. The reply included a link to her baptismal record and the names and birthdates for her parents. What a gift!

I now have so much more information to use in my search. The message boards my be less busy these days, but they are still worth a try. Thanks to all who take time to lend a hand via these boards.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

How do you locate other genealogists searching for the same surnames you do? Trading information with them can really push along your results.

For many years I have used a couple of online genealogy message boards for this purpose. I have been delighted to discover Reed cousins in New York and Florida; Riddle cousins in Montana, Canada, and Germany.

But increasingly, the posts on the message boards have dwindled. Often they are not queries and answers at all but rather just people looking to test DNA or posting links to recent obituaries. Although I still check them every week, I am finding the message boards have become less and less helpful. So where did all the family researchers go?

I suspect I might find them on Facebook or Twitter. Neither of these has interested me much. They seem time-consuming, and I worry about privacy, so I have been dragging my feet on joining.

This week, however, I listened to a RootsTech presentation by Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers on using Twitter. He made a good case for establishing a Twitter account and using it solely for genealogy. One can follow surnames, other genealogists, or genealogical organizations to connect with like-minded researchers.

I am thinking of giving it a try. I just need to think of a clever Twitter name first.

 

Finnish Research Plans and the Science of Permutations and Combinations

I cannot remember exactly what my Finnish grandmother told me about her father’s birth family. She said he was the only boy, but was he the youngest of nine, or did he have nine sisters? I do not recall.

Lately, I have scoured 19th-century Finnish baptismal records in an effort to find out. I am finding this task infinitely more difficult than the same search would be in American records. Aside from the difficult-to-read Gothic script used in the records, Finnish names during the period varied between Finnish and Swedish renderings, and patronymics or surnames. Thus, the father’s name in the records I am reviewing could be either Antti or Anders, Mattila or Abelsson (and I did find a Paulsson, too, but I am not positive this is the same guy).

To do a thorough search, I must look for all these names in any order. So how many permutations and combinations can you make out of these names? At least eight by my count–Antti Mattila, Antti Abelsson, Anders Mattila, Anders Abelsson, Mattila Antti, Mattila Anders, Abelsson Antti, and Abelsson Anders. I should probably look for more records on this Anders Paulsson as well to determine whether I have the right person. Oh, and I must not to forget to search for initials instead of full names. And would he have had a nickname?

Every Finnish name is like this. Comprehensive research takes forever, but searching for every possibility is the only way to make sure I compile an accurate family tree. So far, I have located baptism records for seven, maybe eight children of Antti Mattila. I know I am searching for at least nine. If they do not all turn up with searches for the father’s name, I will try the mother’s with all her possible combinations. It gets overwhelming unless you apply the science of permutations and combinations.

Family Lore

Every genealogist hears family tales but knows they are not always true. Over the years, I have heard my share of family stories from earlier generations. I try to research each one, looking for that nugget of truth beneath the embellishments, exaggerations, and confused details.

Here is an example. My Finnish grandmother told me that her paternal grandfather was a fisherman who had drowned when his only son was a small boy. True?

Not completely. From Finnish parish records, I have learned that the paternal grandfather was named Antti Mattila, and he lived in the village of Alasommee, near Vyborg. He did die when his son was just 4 years old, but not from drowning. His 1882 death record states that he died from tuberculosis.

This makes sense, too. Tuberculosis struck everywhere in Karelian Finland in those days. Just a couple of years later, Antti Mattila’s eldest daughter Helena died from the same disease.

So who drowned?

 

So Many Lines

“I am researching Finns this year,” I keep telling myself. And so I must if I hope to maintain focus and steady progress. Jumping from family line to family line creates confusion and slows you down.

But the temptation this week has been strong to take a long-postponed look at my Revolutionary War ancestors. Not only did we celebrate Independence Day yesterday, but I also attended a class last weekend that stole my attention away from the Finns.

Four times a year, on a 5th Saturday of the month, the Denver Public Library hosts a class on some topic of specialized genealogical interest. This month they discussed Virginia research. Well, who has 4 family members who served in the Revolution from the colony of Virginia? I do–Joshua Reed, Robert Kirkham, and John Day (Senior and Junior). I attended the class, learned a bunch, and now I would love to dive into the records to learn more about those patriots.

But I have a research plan. Everything Finnish lies spread across my desk, and I need to finish (ha! ha!) this before I move on to something else. Those Revolutionary ancestors will wait for me, and when their time comes, they will get my full attention.

The Website Comes Through For Me Again

One of the reasons I maintain a family website is to provide a way for distant relatives to find me. I have learned so much family history from second, third, and even fourth cousins I never knew until we found each other on message boards or via the website.

It happened again this week, but with a twist. The person who contacted me was not a relative, but rather someone wanting to write about a relative. She is with the Broomfield, CO genealogical society, and they are doing a project on the men who served as station agents for the railroad depot there.

My great-uncle, Robert Morton Reed, was one of those men. Everyone in the family looked up to him, so I am thrilled he is being recognized for his work. Next time I want a nearby genealogy field trip, you can bet I will be going to the Broomfield Depot Museum!

Drinking From a Firehose

Recently my husband and I decided to begin planning a trip to visit the homelands of our Norwegian and Finnish ancestors. The Norway part comes easily because we have long known exactly where our forebears lived. My Finnish family origins are a bit murkier. So how do you plan a trip when you do not know exactly where you are going?

My husband had the answer. He would do some of my genealogical research himself and find my ancestral villages–pronto.

Instead of the careful working backward with a research plan that I do, he tends to use the shotgun approach. He locates as many documents as he can in as short a time as he can. Only later does he worry about fitting it all together.

In just a few days he has located Mattila baptism records, marriage banns, marriage records, etc. by poking around in Finnish church and newspaper databases. No matter that he knows not a word of Finnish. He copies whatever he finds and forwards it to me. Now I am drowning in documents that it will take days to sift through.

He learned that my Lampinen family probably came from the city of Viipuri/Vyborg but the Mattilas lived in the rural area south of there. All lies in Russia now. Do we really want to go there?

I think we probably will, but it will be different from the tour of Finland than we had originally envisioned. The logistics of a Russian trip will take time to work out, so now I have a dilemma. Spend my time analyzing all my newly-discovered documents, or work on planning the trip? I feel like I am drinking from a firehose, yet what a satisfying drink it is.