Sunday, January 22, 2012

Week Four - Get Those First Three Generations Complete

          Your task last week was to complete three generations of your family tree:  yours, your parents’, and your grandparents’.  I mentioned three kinds of forms that you might find useful for your genealogical work and provided you with a website (mine!) that is offering those charts and forms to you for free (new website for that, by-the-way…go to where you can order free copies of the blank Pedigree Chart, Family Group Record, and/or Research Checklist).
          As you filled in the blanks you no doubt found some easy to do and others were more troublesome.  Let’s talk about the issues that might come up while preparing a family tree.
          First, names may not always match.  This is especially true when it comes to middle names, but I have seen it happen with first names as well.  Usually the difficulty lies in spelling – is it Catherine or Katherine?  Sometimes it is the correct variation of the name – was her name really Elizabeth or was she simply named Betty at birth?  And then you have flat out discrepancies – we agree that his middle initial was “W” but was it William or Wesley?
          Second, dates may not match.  This one can be a real pain, believe me, I know.[1]  Your dad may remember his mother’s birth date with ease, but isn’t so sure about the year.  Or your mom knows the year when her mother was born, but cannot remember if the day was the 25th or the 27th.   And when it comes to wedding dates – yikes!  My husband’s grandparents eloped and then didn’t tell the family that they were married for months.  Trying to keep track of the actual day that they were legally and officially married can be a tough one.
          Speaking of marriages, weddings can pose a whole set of issues themselves.  Accurate dates are sometimes difficult to discover.  Locations of weddings can also prove difficult to find, especially for family members who were married in a time when it was not so common for every person to announce their wedding in the newspaper.   And then sometimes discovering a wedding date can cause a bit of turmoil in the family when someone counts to nine and discovers that a child was born awfully premature.
          This is when I remind my clients of one of the foundational mottos of my work and my philosophy: 

Our purpose is to know, understand, and celebrate the events that relate to our families.  While delving into the past may produce some less-than-savory ancestors, or put an end to a family legend, a sense of humor and a desire for truth will enable us to celebrate our families as they really were and are.

I firmly believe that if we approach our family’s past with an open mind and a willingness to accept each ancestor exactly as he or she was, then we will discover that we are a part of an amazing and interesting family story.  Since none of us has a life that would withstand to serious scrutiny it seems unfair to judge our predecessors harshly.  We don’t have to like every decision that was made in the past, and we might regret some of those decisions deeply, but we have the benefit of seeing the long-term results of those decisions where our ancestors simply did what they thought was best in their time and place.
So now that you have your partially completed family tree, and your blank spaces, contrary data, and difficult facts, what do you do?
This is where you get your family to help you.
Call your parents, your siblings, your grandparents (if they are still alive) and ask them to clarify information.  Make a note of what they tell you.  Ask them how they know – sometimes there is some lovely little stash of family information that you didn’t know about.  Maybe a grandfather who was interested in family history or an aunt who wanted to join the DAR and did the requisite research to prove her (and your!) lineage to an American patriot.  Ask nicely, pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top, to borrow this treasure trove.
If you are granted the right to look over the charts or notes or whatever form your relative used to record the family history, first of all TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT.  Second, make a copy of everything (with his or her permission, of course).  If it is too fragile to photocopy, I suspect that you will find today’s cameras do a great job of photographing written documents.  It might be tedious to do, but it will be invaluable to you in your future research.  Bind your copy together so that pages don’t get lost, and number those pages.  Include a page that tells where you got this packet – who put it together, when, where, and why – and then include your name and date as well. 
Now if you don’t have the great good fortune to have such a repository of genealogical information at your fingertips, don’t despair.  You can still plumb the depths of your family’s knowledge.  Continue making those calls, sending those emails, mailing off those letters.  Ask for clarification if you have conflicting information.  But beware of starting a family quarrel over the date of grandma and grandpa’s wedding!
By the end of the week you should have a fully completed pedigree chart for your generation and the two preceding it.  Or if not, you are well on your way to making it complete, pending those replies to your queries.
Congratulations!  You have begun creating your family tree!
Next week we return to those photographs you started working on at the beginning of the month.

[1] I have just spent months trying to find a lady who was less-than-honest about her age.  Once I ignored the year of her birth and simply looked for her using her birth month it was pretty easy to find the right gal.

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