For the past 2 months, I’ve been researching my family tree. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it all started with a box of family photographs my aunt found in a closet. I initially started this because I knew it would please my mom and aunt, but I had no idea what would follow next.
I signed up for a 6 month World Membership on Ancestry.com after speaking to a few friends who have gone through this before me. It took a day or two before I got the hang of the search functions, and how to sort through the incredible amount of data that comes up with each search. I knew only a few things going into this – the names of 3 generations back, but that was about it. Here’s what I learned on this journey:
- Online records are awesome. Fabulous. Overwhelming. They are very complete, but you have to learn how to sift through the data.
- I discovered that if you do not know the first names of ancestors, the trail will go completely cold. Try to find a Sullivan who married a Mullins around 1869 in San Francisco. I think half of Ireland was there at that time, and they all had the same name.
- Speaking of San Francisco, the 1906 Earthquake destroyed so many records that I will most likely never find my mother’s paternal grandmother’s family. That’s OK. I struck pay dirt on her maternal grandmother’s family.
- On the subject of records being destroyed, the paper shortage Ireland experienced in the 1880s where they pulped all the records and reused the paper makes it very difficult to find people. I’ve had to rely on the christening, marriage and death records in the churches – if the church wasn’t destroyed by fire or the English. It’s making the searching a bit difficult on my dad’s side.
- Be prepared for surprises. I wasn’t, and I’ve had so many on this journey. I had no idea I had ancestors who lived in New Amsterdam in the early 1600s. Or that the US record keeping system was so good in pre-Revolutionary times. Or that I had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War – on both sides. My personal favorite is the ancestor who came to the US as an indentured convict for stealing his master’s cobbler tools in England. You can’t make this stuff up.
- Don’t believe Family Lore. In most cases, it’s completely wrong. I’ve found evidence in census records, marriage and death records that have refuted oft-told family stories. I even found out that my Irish great-grandmother was actually Austrian. My dad was most surprised. I haven’t delved into that trail yet, but it looks like an interesting one.
- The Lutheran Church in Germany keeps awesome records all the way back to the 1500s.
- DustyDocs.com is my new fave for 1500s English records research. I also love the name.
I’ve traced ancestors to Schifferstadt, Bavaria; Cheshire, England; Roscommon and Cork, Ireland; Swansea, Wales; and Glasgow, Scotland. I’ve gone back to the mid 1500s on my mother’s side, and am still searching. I’m about to search in the Netherlands next. We had no idea there was any Dutch in the woodpile.
And oh, yeah. I discovered a Facebook group that has over 225 cousins in it. But that’s another story. Watch this space.