It is amazing how the ever changing world of technology has given rise to this rapidly growing hobby we call genealogy. What only a few years ago was an interesting past time for the occasional family historian, today with the increasing release of digital records, genealogy has grown into a full-time business for many. It certainly has at times, taken over the majority of my 'free time', with a daily dose of googling for ancestors during my weekends and evenings.

But with the invention of the Internet, human interaction often becomes 'old school' and we sometimes forget that genealogy is a social science made possible by others sharing their family histories with one another. We sit for hours and type away, entering new names within old search engines, sometimes providing new pieces to our puzzle, and sometimes not. And if I were to count up the number of hours spent in front of my computer over the years, I am certain I would be shocked at the results.

With the discovery of my Irish ancestors in Michigan, I fervently tapped away on the keyboard, searching every corner within the cyberspace community. Placing keywords within my Google search-bar, I was presented with one of my more exciting discoveries: The Irish Genealogical Society of Michigan. With a scroll through each page, I came across the societies' surname registry. It looked interesting, a publication from the society, released for Detroit's Tricentennial Celebration of 2001. With a glance at the title, I paused, giving the publication consideration, then continued on my way. Occasionally giving a click back, staring at the title, and wondering 'could my ancestors be hidden within its' pages?' I once again move on, leaving the website to check other results from my hasty search.

As the days pass, I began to reflect back on the little publication from the Detroit society. Once again reviewing the website, clicking on the page to provide description of the $12.00 book, I thought, 'why not?' Considering time and money that I have invested over the years in my genealogical 'obsession', $12.00 is nothing in comparison. A 'spit in the bucket', my Irish ancestors might say, so I printed off the order form, signed my check, and ran to the post office. Hoping for more answers but expecting none.

With a pleasantly quick response from the society, the 190-page publication appeared on my doorstep. Hastily flipping through the long list of Irish surnames, I quickly found two entries for Crawford. Realizing one of the entries provided the name of the Michigan township my great grandmother was born, I immediately went to the cross reference for the surname submitter list. A listing of phone numbers was provided and I stared at the number for the submitter of my Crawford surname. 'I'm certain this number won't still be good', I thought, realizing the publication was several years old. I put the book away to go about my weekend 'must dos', but I could not refocus my mind away from the book.

...And so I took the risk. I picked up the phone, punched in the phone number and a voice was immediately on the other side. At first sounding uncertain as to my inquiry, the woman on the other end began to understand the nature of my call. And with increasing excitement, she confirmed that our ancestors were one in the same.

Many phone calls have been made since our initial contact and genealogical records have been exchanged. But I feel I have learned much more than she: Receiving amazing documents, providing answers to blank spaces on my family tree. A large envelope of new records of my Michigan ancestors is now filed away. None found within the Internet but discovered as a result of an almost extinct genealogical technique: human interaction. The sharing of personal histories, family bible records, notes passed through the generations that are not held within cyberspace but filed away inside office drawers and attic boxes.

So what can you, the family historian, take from my ramblings of the day? When you come across a surname list or a book of personal history, consider ordering the publication. Keep in mind, there is most likely someone in the 'real' world, holding the information you have been  searching for :'Real records within 'real' books from 'real' people.

For a general surname list to connect with other researchers, go to Rootsweb.

Keep searching for answers,


Blarney Castle
I have at times found myself pondering my deep inner drive for spending hours of my day, searching for ancestors who I have no connection with except through DNA. Ancestors who will always remain faceless; living several generations before me, with personalities unknown, limited only by my imagination. And I wonder if they were living today, would I be like them? Would I feel a bond to them as I have to the family members who raised me? Who I have laughed with, cried with, and would I be a different person as I am now? Having been exposed to others with different experiences, personalities, different likes and dislikes?

Our inner drive that fuels the search for ancestors is most likely revealed when we look in the mirror: The deep desire to learn who we are, how we were created and why we look the way we do. The haunting questions that propel us into the addiction of genealogy that will for many of us, never be fully answered. And I wonder, rather than constantly searching for individuals unknown, shouldn't we be looking within our own back yard?

The week of Saint Patrick's Day has provided an opportunity for many family historians with Irish roots to review records of our Irish ancestors and once again undertake the often frustrating task of looking for more clues. Those of us who have spent months and years looking for documents left behind by our Irish ancestors, are often left with empty hands and tired souls. With little verifiable records available to the researcher, we accept our limitations but continue our search.

And as I once again feel my rising frustration over tireless hours with little results, I realize the ancestor I should be searching for has been known to me all my life. The matriarch of my family, my great grandmother, Jane Elizabeth Clark. Raised by a mother, grandparents and aunts, all from Ireland, 'Jennie's' personality radiated with Irish traditions. Whether it was her daily afternoon tea or poetic everyday sayings, my great grandmother was traditionally Irish, through and through. And as the keeper of the family traditions, her Irish ways have been firmly passed through each generation down to me.
Jane Elizabeth Clark
As a sharp tongued and proud woman, Jennie would provide her words of wisdom to all who would listen and many who would not. "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today", she'd remark or "A penny saved is a penny earned". Or her more amusing philosophical statements such as: "Love goes where it's sent, even if it's in a cow pile!" And always my favorite: "Every little bit helps, the old lady said when she wet in the ocean!".

My great grandmother's daily dose o'blarney prose were endless and I am fortunate that many were left to me, written down by my mother. And I reflect on how her Irish personality and traditions have contributed to the melding of my personality and my soul. I have spent endless hours searching for faceless people to find answers to what makes me the person I am: Looking for Irish ancestors, many generations away, yet the Irish ancestor that has helped create who I am, has been with me all along. She is not faceless. I have her recipes, her dishes, her pictures and a 'bit of her personality.

I will continue my search for Irish ancestors unknown, but with a renewed appreciation that much of what I see in the mirror is a reflection of the ancestors of my most recent past. Searching across the pond but finding the Blarney Castle in my own back yard.

Look for some of your own family's Irish sayings at A Bit O'Blarney.  And for my favorite Irish websites to search real records, go to my new page of links for Irish digital records and indexes.
Keep searching for answers,

Jack Crimshaw walked slowly down the sidewalk, passing small white clapboard houses of one of the many tree lined neighborhood streets of Liberty, Indiana. Friendly neighbors greeting each other with nods, smiles, 'how'd you do?'. But Jack was too deep in his own thoughts to take notice of others. Minutes earlier he sat in the courtroom, stunned by the judge's ruling: "Mary Wilson's widow pension, suspended for further proof."

Spending the last four years, arguing in court for Mary Wilson's widow pension to be reinstated, Jack Crimshaw felt exhausted in his fight. Questioning his own ability to argue Mary's case, feeling deflated and defeated, but yet reminding himself: 'this is not about you, it's about a woman living almost a century and deserving much more than what she has been given.'

As Jack stood in front of the judge, he plead for the reinstatement of Mary Wilson's Revolutionary War widow's pension. Speaking with words of passion, Jack remarked that Thomas Wilson:

"was a soldier under Washington and Braddick in the War of 1755. His widow states her husband provided service of the U.S. nearly all of the Revolutionary War....Thomas Wilson was a recruiting officer on the Potomac...that Mary Wilson is very poor, old and frail of body and mind, and it looks as if it has been a great hardship after buffeting the storms of life for near a century. Her husband having spent 20 years of his life in the service of his country, before, during and after the Revolution...that her country should refuse her a small pension."

With certainty, the judge's ruling was made and Jack would soon have to look into the eyes of a 98 year old great grandmother, a face worn from years of hard work, and tell her the fight may well be over. But with every loss, Mary Wilson had grown even more determined to win. Taking great pride in her husband's long service to his country, the fight had become more for the affirmation of Thomas Wilson's life, a life given with pride to the country he loved.

Was Mary Wilson's Revolutionary widow's pension ever reinstated before she died at the age of 100 in 1850? Proof has not been found to confirm the reinstatement, but the pension file provides a glimpse into the life of a proud woman. One who stood by her husband's side throughout years of military service yet finding herself in midlife, a poor widow, left to support her family without the means to do so. And unfortunately, Mary's struggle to claim a widow's pension, was not much different from many other women in the 1800's.

The month of March is Women's History Month. It is a time to reflect on our female ancestor's lives. Their successes, struggles, and the fight that many took on for individual rights, not just of their own but also for all of us. And the review of an ancestor's military pension file is not only for the confirmation of a patriot's service. It is also a record of the life of the patriot's wife, whether found within her own words or through records left by the court.

Find your female ancestor in the military widow pension files found at or order them through the National Archives. Listen to their stories not just for the purpose of learning of their husband's service, but to understand their lives. The wives of the soldiers: their sacrifices, their struggles, their stories.

Keep searching for answers,

I continue to be amazed at the volumes of genealogical documents available at our fingertips, with more being added daily. Out of habit, derived from years of searching for ancestral information, I periodically review records available for my family tree and run a new records search for ancestors. Some searches are continually met with dead ends. And then just as boredom sets in, I am presented with a fresh, new document.

With my recent discovery of the Civil War history of a great great grandfather, I have an inner drive to learn more. So with renewed inspiration, I began a search for further information on my ancestor. Few records have been found, but one document provided stunning details of my ancestor's military history. It is the U.S. Southern Claims Commission for Union sympathizers. In the early 1870's, the government passed a series of laws, providing an avenue for southerners who aided the Union, to file claims to the federal government for reimbursement of property damage caused by Confederate armies. The documents are filled with genealogical information including written testimony from the claimant and corroborating witnesses. I was struck by the wealth of information; certainly comparable to the Civil War Pension file.

With the discovery of the record, I quickly printed off the 23 pages and began gliding my magnifying glass across the handwritten document. Attempting to make out each word, squinting as I labored through every sentence, I laid the papers down and began transposing the document to my computer. Typing each word just as I saw, leaving blank spaces for illegible words, and placing words of question within parentheses, I completed the entire manuscript. I then walked away, taking a much needed break.

Picking the typed document up later in the day, I read it through once more, filling the blank spaces with words newly discovered with fresh eyes. And as a result, I had a typed document of an amazing story told by my ancestor of his personal tragedies during the Civil War. The story was gripping and although much time was consumed on an otherwise lazy Sunday, I was left with a treasure once unknown. The experience has given me pause, reminding me that time should be taken for each newly found record, and the task of transposing can provide a deeper understanding of an ancestor's life experiences.

Gaining a better understanding of handwriting practices prior to the 20th century can help the family historian decipher genealogical documents. Here are some things to keep in mind when reviewing records:

*Many times, upper case letters were used more frequently in sentences, especially to begin nouns.
*The lower case s can be mistaken for a backward, lowercase f if it is in the middle of a word, or if it is the first s of a double s. (Such as Mississippi)
*Some words were shortened or abbreviated, starting the word in regular sized letters and ending in superscript letters with a line drawn beneath or above the smaller letters. This was sometimes done to save paper.
*Uppercase K, P and R can look similar, as can J and T, and L and S.
*Many words prior to the 18th century were spelled phonetically.

And what steps can you take, as the family historian, to interpret your treasured documents?

*Transpose the record just as you read it, misspellings and all. By doing this, your eyes will begin to recognize words and the letters will be easier to identify.
*Understand what the document is. Is this a legal record and are there certain words expected of such?
*As you transpose, leave blanks for unidentifiable words to be filled in later.
*Identify letters known and use them as your guide to compare with others.
*Read the words out loud. They may be spelled oddly but they phonetically sound out an identifiable word.
*Place your guesses inside brackets to be reviewed later.
*After transposing the entire document, read it out loud to someone else. Fresh eyes and ears can provide new insight.

To view my sources and obtain additional help with deciphering old handwriting, I suggest the following websites:The National Archives UK, Script Tutorials and Moonzstuff.

Keep searching for answers,