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Gathering family history – sometimes you need to ask questions more than once

When I first started out as a new genealogist, I gathered what I could from Mom – mostly births, marriages, deaths, and some random stories. Here’s what I learned on my first trip to the family well of knowledge and what I learned later about my father’s side of the family.

Legend has it that my grandmother Gladys was an uncaring mother. She parked my father’s baby carriage outside bars and would go in for a drink. She and my grandfather were divorced and she became a single mother. Suddenly single and having to work, Gladys put my father in a private boarding school and went to work at a newspaper in New York (I am unable to find her during her years in New York). When my father became ill and the school couldn’t find his mother’s contact information, they called his paternal grandmother. She went to the boarding school and picked him up and brought him to her own home.

What I learned later is that sometimes there is more to family legend than the little we know on the face of things. Reality may have not been quite so grim…

Having seen and read enough fictional dramas that have fed my imagination, I wondered if perhaps he was separated from his mother by a resentful grandmother, who may have refused to allow Gladys to see him. Who knows what the truth really is? Only the dead know.

When I talked with my mother again, I told her that I couldn’t find any information about Gladys Bowman or her parents, other than their names. That is when the well opened and I was treated to a number of interesting stories that have created a picture for me of what life was like for the Bowman family. I didn’t know to ask, the revelations came as a reaction to my lack of ability to find information.

My mother said that Gladys as a very beautiful woman, but a heavy drinker. She and her ex-husband Ray were “drinking buddies” and went out together all the time even after their divorce and that they were actually each other’s best friend. I found that thought comforting to hear.

I also heard a fun story about Gladys’ father, Martin Bowman – he ran an illegal gambling operation from home and, as Mom says, “the police were always at the house running raids on the illegal gambling hall that he managed to run in his house.” Clearly, Martin was a more colorful character than I ever imagined. Before I found out about the gambling he ran, all I had was a name and few dates for Martin Bowman and his wife Bridget Kerrigan.

I learned a powerful lesson. As a genealogist, trips to the well need to continue and occur over and over to get to the root of all the fascinating stories that surround my family tree. I don’t want to just know dates, I want to know them.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in interviewing family

 

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what the wanderer found today

So I was wandering the net this morning in search of resources for genealogy. Being such a newbie, I don’t know exactly where to start. I found a very poised young person who has created multiple how-to and experience videos related to her own genealogy search on YouTube:

One of the sites she mentioned in the above YouTube video was FamilySearch.org – a site created by the Mormon Church. This site offers free information – a great thing when so many other sites charge subscription fees. Still unsure where to start, I began to wander through the site and found a page with forms that help you begin. I printed out a copy to start working on.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2010 in random musings

 

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Proposal for my genealogical search

Have you ever wondered where you come from? Not your recent history, your distant history. The blood you carry in your veins carries components of the blood of your ancestors. How long have your ancestors lived in the United States and what nations did they come from?

There are a few organizations that are concerned with your lineage – your genealogy – The Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Confederacy. For each of these organizations, you need to trace your family tree either back to an ancestor who was in the United States during the founding of our nation or back to the Civil War to gain membership. I am sure their requirements are quite stringent, but I will barely touch on these organizations. My research will be mainly concerned with my own ancestry.

When, in the past, I had been asked what my ancestry is, I have said, “mostly Irish.” While that is true, I have been told that I am Irish, English, French, Holland Dutch, and Seneca Indian. I have always been interested in my roots, but never thought I could trace my roots. Too complicated, I thought.

I plan to trace my roots and build my family tree one branch at a time. I will start by interviewing members of the Historical Society to help gain a footing on where I should begin my search. I’ll search for sources that may help me find information about my ancestors. I’ll finally go through the box of family artifacts and papers my mother gave me when she moved out of state. I don’t know much about how to search, but will learn along the way.

I am sure there are other people out there who would be interested in working on their own family tree, but, just like me, don’t know where to start. I plan to create an article for publication to a trade journal, like Family Tree magazine. This is such an extensive, ongoing subject, that I have even considered making it the subject of my thesis – perhaps a nonfiction book concerning the journey I’ll take searching for my roots. We shall see where the journey takes me.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2010 in First steps

 

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First steps in genealogy

I went to my library and checked out two books (more on order):

Before I can interview anyone or do any further research, I need to learn a little bit about the topic.

Am wondering how I will ever be able to fill out one of these – and this one only exhibits the first steps:

Image from Trusty Guides Genealogy page by Allyson Wells

I was still worried about taking on such an extensive project, so I went to my favorite video site to see if there were any YouTube videos about genealogy. I stumbled upon a YouTube video about the new US series Who Do You Think You Are? (Canada has had its own version since 2006)

This looks like a fun series to watch and learn from – it starts in on March 5th. In the interim, I may just go check out episodes from the Canadian series Who Do You Think You Are?

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2010 in First steps, research

 

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A trip to the library nets a curious discovery and launches a quest

I have always loved visits to my local library. I’ve known many of the librarians since our town’s collection of books occupied a tiny building. There was a real sense of community and camaraderie in that tiny building. Times changed and, though that sense of community and camaraderie remains, the once tiny library has grown and has been incorporated into the local community center. The library occupies one wing of the large community center. Outside of the library, off on other wings, are offices and rooms that have always been a complete mystery to me. No longer in a small building by itself, our library occupies a part of a larger community center.

I recently visited my library. I was humming happily with a pile of books I had checked out in my arms. I stepped out of the library entrance into the lobby and noted a green slip of paper laying on a table there. “Trace Your Roots,” the flyer proclaimed. According to the flyer, you can go to the Historical Society to learn how to do your family tree. Historical Society? I looked across the lobby and noticed, for the first time, a slightly cluttered office that housed the Historical Society of the Township of Franklin. The office was closed, so there was no one to ask about this flyer I had found.

I plan to return to the Historical Society to interview the staff about family research, obtain texts related to genealogy, and investigate other resources that are available for further research. With the knowledge I obtain, I plan to begin to trace my family roots and begin to build my family tree.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2010 in First steps

 

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