Copyright 2018 Boomerang Reels
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this question:
If I could have anything from an ancestor, what would it be?
Have you ever thought about this before? Would you want something material, like photographs, if you haven’t any, tools, a letter, a diary? What would you treasure most from a grandparent, great-grandparent? When you think back on the research you’ve done on your family’s history and what you’ve learned about their history, is there anything now that you would have really treasured?
Put your comments below. I can’t wait to hear your answers.
I know it has been a while since I have blogged anything; I do apologize. Life has a way of getting in our way. Particularly when raising a ten-year-old and attempting to assist a 22-year-old in adulting, and having a husband who works 70 hours per week, 14 hours per day. I have been thinking over the past months about what my next blog would be about and how to relate to people why I believe genealogy is more than just a passing fad and something every family should participate in together.
I would say that for many of us, genealogy is an attempt to connect family members we did not know; to determine the truth of stories we have heard; and, to reflect on how that person may have influenced our lives in some way. For others is about healing wounds of abandonment, rejection, and perhaps disgrace and shame. Some of us will even find ancestors who were criminals, and we will either embrace them, or we may feel awkward and shameful. Let me tell you, we should not feel this way about our ancestors. The shame, awkwardness, and humiliation were theirs back then, not ours now.
For their descendants, we should look upon these misfits within the time and circumstance in which their “crimes” were committed. I quoted the word crime because, depending upon the time in history, what your ancestor did may no longer be a crime. For example, simply being poor and unable to pay your bills is no longer a crime punishable by imprisonment. No one these days would be imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family as was commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Let me give you a personal example, a few years ago I had a relative who did their DNA test. She called me because she knew I had done mine and she wanted to compare. We reviewed the results of our tests. It was odd that our results were not the same because she is my aunt; my mother’s sister. So, her mother and father are my grandparents. We had two definitive differences. Our Jewish 3x (my 4x) great-grandfather showed up in my DNA at less than 1 percent. It did not show up in hers. Weird, right? She then got quiet. I asked her what was up. She said well, I have this weird result. I think it is a mistake. I said “What is it? African or something?” She said, “Yes.” “I said, well, we are from the South, so that wouldn’t be that odd. Who cares. I think it’s great. Wonder why I didn’t get it.” I’m still actually trying to figure this out because my biological father’s side has African and Native American ancestry, neither of which showed up on my Ancestry.com report (but I have many awesome African-American matches on Ancestry.com), but does on Gedmatch.com and DNA Land.
Since that time, we have discovered that we are the direct ancestors of an African-American slave from the outer shores of Virginia named Rebecca Short. Rebecca was the slave of John Hartwell Cocke and his wife, Elizabeth Kennon Cocke. John Hartwell and Elizabeth died in the same year leaving John’s brother Richard Cocke as his executor and guardian of his son John Hartwell Cocke II. John Hartwell II inherited Rebecca from his parents. His uncle Richard purchased Rebecca from his nephew. Rebecca gave birth to a son by Richard. Richard never denied that he was the boy’s father. The child was named Robert W. Kennon. When Richard made out his Will, he provided for both Rebecca and Robert. He freed them both upon his death and he provided that Robert would be raised by his sister and his brother-in-law, Elizabeth Cocke & William Taliaferro. From this point on, Robert would never again be mulatto or be recognized as a former slave, nor would he ever see his mother again. In my mind, the most disappointing and, perhaps shameful, isn’t genetics; it’s that Robert continued to own slaves of his own. He inherited slaves from his father, but his father’s will provided that they would be freed upon Robert attaining the age of 21. However, Robert did not do so. He fought in court to sell the slaves, which he was allowed to do and he made a little over $2,000, but he did not sell all of them. He took the $2,000.00 and two slaves and moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky. He became a wealthier man in terms of money and in family. He had 3 wives and fourteen children. I have just begun putting this side of my family together, but I am looking forward to seeing how far this family goes. To Read more on this story, check out mtpleasantplantation.com
Let me tell you, that I love these kinds of stories. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling because it is the spice of life to have differences in your family. If we were all the same, even within our family, we would be so boring!! Since I began this process about 17-18 years ago, all I had been coming up with were farmers. There is nothing wrong with farmers; they built this country, but hey! give me a policeman or an educator or a minister, something different here or there.
I have heard people lately saying that race is just a social construct, that there is no basis in reality. I beg to differ on that. Races exist because of melanin in the skin. The amount one has in the skin depends upon different circumstances climate being one of them. Hotter climates tend to have people with darker skin; colder climates tend to have lighter skin. I am a firm believer that there is NO such thing as black and white, but differing shades of brown. I, for example, am a light, creamy beige. Because these tend to be in certain areas of the world, it shows up in your DNA. Therefore, it is not a social construct, but a genetic one. I don’t know why it is such a problem. Differences are what make us beautiful and interesting. When I go on a trip somewhere and I go to museums and landmarks, I don’t go to see how they are just like me; I go to see how they’re different, but maybe they’ve influenced me in some way. I want to see art, listen to music, watch movies, meet people who are different from me who can offer me a different perspective. Doesn’t mean it will necessarily change anything, but looking at things from the perspective of another person is a good thing. Don’t be ashamed of who or where you came from. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Honor it. Love them.
Share your stories with your family. Don’t let your life go by without sitting down with your family and sharing your stories, no matter how difficult. Think about what Rebecca might have told Robert’s children if she had been given the opportunity. What a legacy that would have been for us, her descendants.
Some people are just special to me. I love talking to older people and hearing their stories of what life was like when they were young. Life was very different for them. Life was hard and many were poor, but many did not know that they were poor because their parents made life so wonderful that being poor did not seem so awful. That is not how it is now. Our families, especially our children, are all too familiar with the realities of poverty. They are harassed at school for their poverty, as if they have anything to do with it or control over their condition.
I love to see the face of an older person light up when you ask, “So, how did you meet this man over here?” You can just see that the question took her right back to that day. That smile is worth more than gold to that man over there. I meet so many who have been married 50 and 60 plus years. That accomplishment is few and far between in this time. For my children, I doubt they will be so lucky to meet people who have been married that long when they are adults. It is a sad situation that people today have such little confidence in marital relationships and that the covenant of marriage means almost nothing anymore. I think back to the 1940s when couples met once, maybe twice before the boy shipped out to war and they knew that they were in love. That young girl wrote to that boy every day and that boy to that girl. Upon the end of his service, if he survived the war, he hurried back to find his girl so they could be married. That girl was waiting on her porch to see that car drive up and for that boy to come running from his car. They got married and sixty years later, there they are talking to me about how they met. They only knew each other a few weeks and they were married sixty years. We’ve got kids dating six years who cannot stay married ten years because our society has made it too easy to leave when it gets too hard.
There’s another group of people who are very special to me, foster kids and adoptees. As being both, I have a special place in my heart for foster kids and for other people who have been adopted like me. It is not an easy life. There are so many preconceived ideas about both that are simply wrong and some just cruel. I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a bastard child. Every child in foster care or who has been adopted is illegitimate, so that term does not fit every child or circumstance, but it is just an ugly word and shouldn’t be used. There are hundreds of reasons why children go into foster care and who may eventually placed for adoption. The most important thing is that the child just wants to be loved.
One of my goals is to assist foster children and adoptees with building their family trees. If this applies to you, please contact me. I was able to locate my biological family and to start researching and building my biological family tree. It has been a joy in my life and it can be for you, too. I have a new email me contact page, so feel free to file that in and email me and I will get back to you as quickly as I can. Remember you are special!!
I have been doing the genealogy thing for many years now and I have learned some lessons along the way. I have made mistakes and had to start over on some lines twice or three times. If you have ever watched an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” or “Finding Your Roots“, you know how easy they make this research look. They don’t show you the hours or days it took to find and verify the information gathered for these celebrities. Good genealogical research takes time. You cannot rush through it and expect to have good, solid family tree. Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations of what we can find. You cannot rely solely on online research. Sure, there are billions of records available online, BUT there are gaps and some data needed isn’t available yet. Many municipalities are hiring people just to scan documents into their computer system to make those available online. Here are some tips for getting started:
- I think the first tip I can give you is to avoid using the family trees of others posted or shared online. I cannot tell you how much I have learned by making that mistake. These family trees should be the last thing you consider because many have errors and by accepting the family tree information to your own may lead you down a rabbit hole that you should not go down. You’ll waste hours, even days of research time on bad information.
- Next, do not rely solely on ancestry.com for your research. Yes, ancestry.com is the gold standard, BUT they are not the only site out there. Each of these sites use different algorithms in their search engines. If you’ve butted your head against the wall on one site, you may be able to find what you are looking for on another. Ancestry.com has done a phenomenal job of marketing themselves, especially including their tv show. (Which I watch from beginning to end each season, same with “Finding Your Roots”.) However, these other lesser known websites are extremely useful. Family Tree Magazine has a book available which lists 101 of the best websites.
- Do not expect to find everything you need for your family tree for FREE. It will not happen. As I stated in my last tip, you need to make use of multiple sites in order to get the broadest search. You will need to subscribe to a few. You will want to carefully consider which subscriptions you need and want, and that depends upon what your goals are. If you are trying to find where in Ireland you gggrandfather came from, you are going to need at least the World Explorer plan at ancestry.com. If, however, you are only concerned with locating ancestors here in the United States, you wouldn’t need to shell out that kind of money. It will be easy to spend into the mid and upper hundreds of dollars on memberships, so just carefully consider what you need and how much you’re spending, especially if you haven’t gotten results.
- Next, you need to purchase family tree software to keep your data. Don’t rely solely on building your tree online. It is a great thing to do and it is useful, but once you find your data and verify its accuracy, then save that to your computer. If you change subscriptions (going from World down to US on ancestry), you’ll lose access to the records you found on World, so saving them to your computer makes certain you can find those records again. Many of the software programs available have the option of connecting with ancestry websites so that you can download and update your computer files as you make changes or add additional documents to your online family tree. Two good examples are Legacy and RootsMagic.
- Don’t just focus on immediate family connections (parents and grandparents). What I mean is you shouldn’t just include information from records for your immediate family members. Expand and include the children of your aunts and uncles, too. The reason to do this is that many times finding the answers that you are looking for may not be on the record of an immediate family member, BUT it may be on a cousin, aunt or uncle. This also opens you up to connecting with a distant cousin who may know something about what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to reach out to these cousins. I can tell you that those connections are rewarding in many, many ways.
- Next, I recommend learning the history of the states from which your family comes. If you didn’t grow up in that state, you won’t have the knowledge of that state’s history which may give you clues to the life of your ancestors. It isn’t just about creating a family tree full of names; it is about the life stories of your ancestors and finding that similarity that explains your own characteristics. I can tell you from my own experience that nature has far more to do with who we are than we give it credit. Each state has a culture and a history that has, in some way, affected the lives of our ancestors.
- Be ready to write letters or drive to places to obtain records. As I said, you cannot gather all of your information online because it simply hasn’t been added yet. You may need to go to the county where your ancestor lived and search. It would be a good thing to make a list of the various places where you will be looking and find contact information for their libraries, courthouses, genealogical/historical libraries, genealogical societies, etc. so that when you go there you will know what you are looking for and where to find it. There also may be fees involved so call before you go and make sure you are aware of what records or copies will cost you. Birth and death records will always cost money, but call ahead to verify what forms of payment they accept. Obviously, if you live too far away to go there, you will need to write a letter, enclose payment, and I enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the record to be mailed back to me. I find that sometimes this speeds up the process.
- Keep an open mind. Why do I say this? There a couple of reasons. First, as an adoptee researching my biological family, I had very little information when I started, but I had been given some stories about my ancestral past by some of my biological family. Just like with copying a family tree from another’s family tree is bad news, so can be believing family lore. Be open to the fact that what has been handed down may not be at all accurate. We all know how gossip can get all discombobulated as it spreads, so do family stories. Those stories may have gotten embellished over the generations. I doubt that there is family in this country that doesn’t claim some Native American genes. However, many times these claims are unfounded or the Native American connection is farther back in history than we have been led to believe. So, just go into your research with an open mind and understand that everything you’ve believed may not be true.
- In that same vein, if you take a DNA test understand that it may come out far differently than you expected. Don’t get upset, just set goals in your research to discover why it came out differently. Additionally, don’t just jump on the DNA bandwagon because everyone else is and the advertising makes it look better than it is. Understanding the results of a DNA test can be difficult. I am still trying to learn. If your ancestors all come from Great Britain, you may not really need to take a DNA test. As with using other websites to search for your ancestors, there are multiple DNA testing labs, too. If you know for sure that you have an ancestor from Eastern Europe, but that didn’t show up in one test, you may want to take a DNA test from another lab. Ancestry, 23andme, and MyHeritage all offer DNA tests.
- Don’t rule out getting professional help. Don’t just assume that you cannot afford it. Professional genealogists work hard to hone their skills and they know the ins and outs of how to research and where to find records. Most have very reasonable fees, but you have to know what it is that you are looking for and be able to convey that to the genealogist. Most of us want to give you what you are looking for; but if you cannot communicate that, you may just be spinning your wheels and ours. Once you have hired a pro, stick with them. Don’t go behind their backs and second guess what they will or won’t be able to provide and have several pros all trying to find the exact same information. It is an insult to the pros. That also goes back to having an open mind. If you have unrealistic expectations, you probably won’t be happy with what the pro comes up with. Professional genealogists work hard to know their craft and you must understand that, while you may be online doing searches and locating documents, there is far more that goes into that title than searching the world-wide web! Professionals attend seminars, participate in webcasts, read books, and spend hundreds of hours getting to know better and more efficient ways to do this research to get the best results. If you are considering hiring a pro, go to the National Genealogical Society, the Association of Professional Genealogists, or ProGenealogists.com to search for one in your area. You can also consult with a more localized genealogical society if there is one in your area. Most states have at least one genealogical society. Most genealogists base their hourly rate on their education, training, skill, experience, and credentials and what the market will bear. Rates may be as low as $20.00 per hour, but could be over $100.00 per hour. The average rate charged by most competent genealogists ranges from $35.00 to $60.00 per hour.
I hope that these tips are useful in your search for your ancestors. It is a worthwhile task. Finding these stories of our ancestors lives is a gift that we can pass on to our family.
Many people tell me, “I don’t know anything about my family. I wouldn’t know where to start.” It is a common condition that families don’t always share information about their families. Families today are much more transient than in the past. Because of this children don’t always have the opportunity to spend quality time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I didn’t grow up near my extended family, but when we were together, I asked lots of questions about the past. Because of being adopted at an older age, I had an insatiable need to fit in, to belong. You would think that I would have learned much about my adopted family. Yes and no. My father’s family was an open book. My grandmother, Lena, loved that I wanted to know, so she would get out family photos and we would talk for hours. On the other hand, my mother’s family was closed up. My grandmother, Iris, was open to some discussion of her family, but it didn’t go beyond her immediate family. My grandfathers, M.R. And Don, weren’t excited to sit down and talk about their childhoods. M.R.’s parents had divorced when he was a young boy and his mother was bitter. No doubt he didn’t see his Dad that much and his mother’s bitterness made talking about the past uncomfortable. My granddaddy Don just wasn’t much of a talker to begin with. His father, too, died when he was young. His family struggled to make ends meet. His mother, Ida, tried running the farm as best she could with two young and growing boys. There wasn’t much help from other family for her.
Even though it didn’t seem like I had much to go own for my mother’s side, my father’s side was poured into me. My Dad’s grandfather had written down his family genealogy back to the original Young who came from Bristol, England. My Dad’s sisters made sure everyone got a copy of that book. I was thrilled! His sisters also went on a genealogy vacation one year traveling along the roads of their mother’s family’s past. They made everyone copies of what they were able to find out. There was one terrific piece of evidence on my mother’s side. Her grandmother, lovingly called Mom Olson, had filled in the genealogy pages of her baby book. Mom Olson was a first generation American. Her father and mother, the Swansons, as well as the Olsons were immigrants from Sweden. The names of the towns in Sweden where they were born was written in the book. Thanks to Google Earth, I have been able to find those villages and tour around. How cool is that?!
So where do you start on your quest for your family history, start with what you know. Write it down in a notebook. Ty to recount the stories you’ve heard, names, places, etc. Keep in mind that you will probably discover that some of what you’ve been told isn’t true, but accept it. Learn from it. There probably isn’t a family in the South who hasn’t been told that they have Ntive American in their blood. Many are sadly disappointed when DNA tests prove that’s either untrue, or too far back to find. It’s ok. You may find another relative who is far more interesting. The key is to take what you know and work from there being open to whatever or whoever you discover.
Why should you do it? That is simple, too. We are who we come from. You only have to watch a few episodes of Who Do You Think You Are to know that we often resemble those of the past. We need to know about those who have influenced our lives, so that we can pass that on to our children and grandchildren. That gift helps them to feel a part of something larger than themselves. It helps to create a deeper family bond.
It is my goal to help people with putting their family histories on paper. If you are interested, let’s talk. Email me your contact information firstname.lastname@example.org.