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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Say No to the Shotgun Approach

I find that I make more progress with my genealogical research when I focus on one familyline at a time. Recently I am feeling almost disoriented because I have not been following my own advice. All year, I have tried to find the discipline to study only the Finns, but I keep getting distracted.

Earlier this month, I went to Salt Lake City for a research trip. After one day with Finnish records, I needed a break from that difficult task. I spent the remainder of my time at the LDS library investigating my English and Scots-Irish lines in the American Midwest.

I resumed some Finnish research once I returned home, but a week later I attended the semi-annual Palatines to America seminar in Denver. This took my attention away from the Finns again as I spent an entire day learning about German research from Dr. Michael Lacopo.

What a harried month! The Finns, the English, the Scots-Irish, the Americans, the Germans! No wonder my head spins. I need to get everything I collected this month filed and put away pronto. Perhaps then I can get back to the focused research tool that works for me, the laser, not the shotgun.

Taking the Time

Several years ago, I adopted a genealogy mantra I first heard from genealogist Pat Hatcher, “Until you look, you don’t know what you’ll find.” Her point was to look at every potential source, never casting aside something just because you do not think it likely you will find anything of interest. You may be surprised at what you find when you take the time to look.

I try to follow this guideline in all things genealogical, not just in research. This week I applied this philosophy to my decision on whether or not to attend this month’s Germanic genealogy meeting at the Denver Public Library (a 45-minute drive one way for me). My first reaction when I discovered that the speaker would be someone I had heard just a year ago speaking on the same subject was to skip this meeting and work instead on getting ready for my upcoming trip to Salt Lake City. What benefit could I get from spending a morning listening to the same old thing I had heard before?

But then I remembered my mantra, “Until you look…”, and I wondered what I would find out if I took the time to drive over for this meeting. Our programming chairman must have scheduled the same speaker again so quickly for some reason.

I found that this speaker had thoroughly updated her presentation. It was totally different and packed with new information. I came home with several useful new genealogy tools to use. Here is a one she showed us, a tutorial on how to read old German script: Not bad for a morning’s work.

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.