My approach to genealogy is defined by my professional background in the sociological sciences. I view my research and ancestral stories with a keen eye to the sociological aspects of my ancestors: their occupations, education, family compositions; whereas, my husband looks for the geographical clues such as where the ancestor lived or migrated to.

It is natural for me to zero in on who, what and why but I have come to realize the where is very critical to the study and research of our ancestors. Studying the geography of ancestors at the time they lived can provide significant clues to not only their life but also to their records.

Just as our ancestors have shifted and moved from country to country and county to county; country, state and county lines have over the centuries, evolved to form new boundaries. And by ignoring the geography of our ancestors' life, you can pass by critical clues to their life documents.

In my earlier research days, I was so narrowly focused I passed by significant evidence of an ancestor living in Eastern Tennessee. Previous records indicated he lived in North Carolina but the state boundaries had changed and his property lines were within Tennessee in later census records. Had I taken the time to research the geography of the area, I might have bypassed months of frustration searching for my ancestor.

The best starting  point to researching the geographical history of the area of your ancestor is the state's archives. They often provide archived digital maps of their state. Become familiar with the state boundaries and take notice of state land transactions and acquisitions.

Also, a critical step in looking for the earliest census records should include the archived state county maps. An ancestor can be found in one county in a census record, then without moving, his property may be in a different county ten years later.

Townships and villages very often evolved into newly named or newly defined towns in the early 1700's and 1800's. I have an ancestor in Morris County, New Jersey that is found in two different townships on subsequent census records due to the splitting and renaming of his village.

The best advice I can give is always keep an eagle eye to the geography of your ancestor's surroundings and understand the need to be flexible in your research just as the geographical boundaries of your ancestors have been fluid and flexible over time.

And remember, the where is often a critical step in learning more of the who, what and why.

Some interesting sites for archived maps are: The Library of Congress, Old Maps Online and The Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection of the UT Library.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 

The Prize

06/17/2012

 
The teacher's voice echoed faintly in the boy's thoughts as his mind drifted to the filtered music of the carnival five blocks away. The ten-year-old fingered the coins in his pants pocket. He counted and added each nickel in his head: his version of a daily math assigment.

"Remember to bring in your English papers tomorrow," the teacher said as the children shoved themselves through the door. The boy never turned to take notice of the teacher's reminder; his trifling interest in school stolen by the calling of the distant carny workers.

The boy slapped his tam on his head and ran out the schoolhouse door as he raced to make it to the fair before it closed. It took months working at Ol' Mr. Tankersly's grocery store to earn enough extra change to play the carny games.

"Spend your money on new boots," the boy's mother reminded him as he stared at the County Fair advertisement in the local newspaper earlier that summer.

The boy obeyed his mother and he happily purchased new lace-up boots with his earned cash. But now, the leftover change clanking in his pants sang a song of excitement for the autumn fair.

"Come on in boy and see what you can win," the lanky mustached man said through his open grin. The boy entered the carnival, his eyes wide and smiling. He heard about carnivals from the other children but could never afford them in previous years. His sudden wealth of nickles gave way to feelings bursting of boldness as he scanned his eyes across rows of alluring carnival games.

"Step up over here boy and win ya' a new BB gun," the carny man said as he gestured to the boy.

The boy stared at the shooting game behind the carny man's stand. He was a good shot--"A perfect shot"--his dad always said as the two squirrel hunted in the Oklahoma hills. With unexpected confidence, he puffed out his chest and moved forward to slap his nickel on the table of the carny man's stand.

Pulling the gun toward his face, the boy steadied his finger on the trigger. The man pointed to the target on the wall behind him. "All ya' need to do is hit the bull's eye boy," he said as he winked.

The boy closed his left eye and sucked in a deep breath. Pop...pop...pop...He lowered the gun and stared at the target. "I did it," he said. "I hit the center of the target."

"So ya' did. Pick out your prize."

The boy scanned his eyes across the shelves of prizes: a cooned skin cap, a box of magician's cards and a swell-looking shiny BB gun. But just as he turned toward the toothy carnival worker, the boy's attention was grabbed by another shelf of prizes: fancy electrical kitchen gadgets.

"Can I take something from that shelf?" the boy asked.

"These are for the older folks," the man answered back, his forehead wrinkled with puzzlement.

 The boy stared at each kitchen gadget, especially enamored with the electrical ones. The sparkling fold-up toaster and its electrical cord fascinated him and he felt hypnotized by its mechanical beauty.

"I want that," the boy said as he pointed his finger toward the toaster.

The carnival man shrugged as he pulled the toaster from the shelf. "Here it is boy. It's all yours," shaking his head.

The boy tucked his prize under his jacket and quickly walked toward his home. I spent my nickels wisely, he thought. Mom will love this new toaster.

Swinging open the front door to his house, the boy ran into their kitchen. "Look what I won at the County Fair, mom," he said to his mother. "Your gonna' love this...a new-fangled fold-up toaster."

The boy's mother took the toaster in hand as he raised it toward her. She stared at her wavy reflection on the toaster's side and inspected the prize with a look of intensity. Smiling toward her son, the woman slowly placed the electrical prize on the kitchen table.

"It's a beautiful toaster, son...but we don't have electricity."

The boy's face dropped. He stared at the toaster sitting next to his mother's freshly canned green beans. The boy sank into a chair, feeling his body would melt around him; his youthful innocence denied by the reality of the Oklahoma depression.

                                    ***

Happy Father's Day dad. I imagine your mechanical brilliance has been refreshed and rejuvenated in Heaven.

With love,

Cheryl
*This story was adapted from one told to me by my father year's ago. Real stories told from the heart, are meant to be repeated.

(All rights reserved. Reprinting of this story is strickly prohibited.)
 
 
Exploration in genealogy is a vibrant and growing hobby due to the endless boundaries for research. Avenues to explore continue to grow and an often underused resource for family history holdings are the university libraries.

When you sat in your college library years ago, sweating out a boring research paper late into the night, would you have imagined you would one day return to explore the library's genealogical holdings?

Well, most likely not, but you probably would not have guessed that many of your local genealogical and family history documents are held within your state's university library.

Brigham Young University has three free search engines of interest to genealogists including the Western States Marriage Records Index, Idaho State Death Index and Eastern Idaho Death Records.

The Rutgers University Library has a Special Collections section within their archives that includes bible and family records of New Jersey, a master file of New Jersey gravestone inscriptions, an emigrant register, cemetery records of New Jersey and the Charles Carroll Gardner Collection of New Jersey surnames and family histories.

I recently stumbled upon the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan. This genealogical goldmine holds printed histories of Michigan counties and towns, city directories, census indexes, plat books, archived church records, funeral home records. And although they are unable to complete extensive research for you, they will conduct a one-hour free search with your e-mail request.

Completing a quick search within the Special Collections of my Alma Mater--Oklahoma State University--I instantly found published works of Oklahoma cemetery indexes, family histories and county histories. I contacted both of our state universities in Oklahoma upon the publication of my family history book and they gladly accepted my books for their collections.

So consider exploring university library archives for your ancestral search and remember to add this little known resource prize to your genealogical hunt.

And I promise...flashbacks of late nights cramming for college exams in the university library will be pleasantly replaced with ancestral research found.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 

A Weak Foundation

06/03/2012

 
I recently read an article in our local newspaper regarding a politician in another state. But the subject of the article was not politics--it was her claims of ancestry.

The woman running for congressional office described, both behind the podium and by pen, her American Indian ancestry. Yet, she does not seem to outwardly portray any physical resemblance to Indian heritage, which has brought speculation to her claims.

Now, this alone is not unusual. Many people with American Indian blood do not carry distinct Indian features. But as others have looked further into the politician's claims, her story seems built on family lore and no bloodline has been proven. It is just a family story of a great great great grandmother of Indian heritage. The politician is not on an Indian Tribal Roll and she cannot produce a document verifying the alleged ancestry.

Family lore is often whimsical and fascinating; a good story passed across the holiday table but good genealogy--it is not. Stories that pass from generation to generation often change as they are told. And unless proven by primary sources such as birth, death and marriage documents, the lore's value is purely family entertainment, nothing else.

As I have delved deeper into the field of genealogy, I find myself more sensitive to the subject of family myth versus proven family historical fact. The former is built on shaky, wobbly ground whereas the latter has a strong, solid foundation: The kind of foundation that upholds the family's values, culture and truth.

And is that not what we want for the next descendents of our family?

The interest is genealogy is spreading rapidly. But as genealogists and researchers, let us reinforce the importance of sound, proven family history. So the next generations can enjoy the real stories of their family heritage, and feel pride in whatever that heritage might be.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl