Archive for the ‘Genealogy News, Tips, Tricks’ Category

What’s in a US Census?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

If you are looking for ancestors who were born in or emigrated to the United States, US Census records are one of your most valuable tools. They don’t provide precise records of births, marriages, or deaths, but they offer a wealth of clues to these events and valuable information as to where and how ancestors lived.

Every 10 years since 1790, the US government has conducted a nationwide census. Officially, the census’s purpose is to insure each state, based on its population, an equitable allocation of seats in the US House of Representatives (US Constitution, Article I, Section 2). But the census does more than just count heads. The government also gathers other information from each person and household — in fact, a slightly different set of information in each census. This data facilitates various types of research by government, businesses, and other entities. Family historians use it to find ancestors, discover where they lived and when, and to gather clues for further research.

The US Census Bureau publishes many different kinds of information, based on the latest census, but, to protect privacy, the actual census records are not released until 72 years after the census. So the 1940 US Census was released in 2012. (This 72-year rule has not always been in place; see below.)

Here’s a quick survey of the US Censuses which are already available, with notes about what was asked; the reported population; a few morsels of history, politics, and technology; and one big fire.

To see notes about a particular census, skip the proper heading below; they’re in chronological order. To see how the census evolved, start with 1790. If what you really want to do right now is search the censuses for your ancestors, follow this link to the WorldVitalRecords US Census collection.

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Is DNA Right for You?

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Anyone who has watched television in the past two decades knows the value of DNA evidence. Comparing two samples of DNA is a great way to convict or exonerate a suspect or to identify a victim. If two samples of human deoxyribonucleic acid are identical, they came from the same person, because DNA encodes all of a person’s genetic information, and no two people have exactly the same DNA. It’s better than fingerprints. DNA can also show relationships between two people, because relatives have similar (but not identical) DNA.

The idea of using DNA for genealogy inspires images of digging up old grave sites to procure a sample. But you won’t need a shovel. You yourself are a walking record of your ancestors. Some pieces of your genetic makeup have come from recent ancestors; others have been handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years.

DNA Double Helix

Your DNA determines the characteristics you inherit from your parents. For genealogy testing, specific markers (snippets of genetic code) on the last chromosome pair have been identified as the most stable markers, that is, they remain most consistent over time. Some of your inherited traits may be obvious; you may have your father’s nose and your grandmother’s toes. But your DNA also contains less obvious traits which come down to you from more distant generations.

This means that your DNA includes a record of long-forgotten ancestors.

There are three main types of DNA tests used in genealogy.

Y-DNA

We all inherit an X chromosome from our mother. Males also receive a Y chromosome from their father.

Testing of the male line includes looking at shared markers on the Y chromosome. Depending on how much detail you want, you may look at 12, 37, or 67 markers.  Because the Y chromosome is only passed through the paternal line, Y-DNA testing can only be administered to a male. The results provide insight into the male ancestors of that individual’s paternal line, including identifying the haplogroup — essentially, your place in the genetic tree of the world.

mtDNA

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is contained in the cytoplasm of the cell, rather than the nucleus. This type of DNA is passed by a mother to both male and female offspring without any mixing, so your mtDNA is the same as your mother’s mtDNA, which is the same as her mother’s mtDNA. mtDNA changes very slowly, so it cannot determine close relationships as well as it can determine general relatedness. If two people have an exact match in their mtDNA, then they share a common maternal ancestor, but it is hard to determine if this is a recent ancestor or one who lived hundreds of years ago. It is important to keep in mind with this test that a male’s mtDNA comes only from his mother and is not passed on to his offspring. Your maternal line haplogroup is identified with an mtDNA test.

The DNA tests that identified the bodies of the Romanovs, the Russian imperial family, utilized mtDNA from a sample provided by Prince Philip, who shares the same maternal line from Queen Victoria.

Autosomal

The newest form of DNA testing for genealogy is called Autosomal testing. Over 700,000 locations on the DNA are tested to identify any shared ancestor within the last five generations. You also will gain insight into your ethnic makeup. If you’ve reached a dead end in your research, to the point that you don’t even know where to look, autosomal DNA testing can give you some direction. It will also help you to connect with living relatives whose DNA is on file for comparison.

At the St George Family History Expo this month, I listened to a wonderful talk given by a representative of The Genetic Genealogy Consultant. She shared a story of connections her own autosomal test results made possible. Getting in touch with a matched relative allowed her family to reconnect with a distant cousin who spent hours and hours with her father in their childhood but had since lost touch.

Picking a test

DNA testing can be both exciting and overwhelming. Whether you are looking for new insights into your existing pedigree, a place to start, or ways to connect with living relatives, there is information in your DNA that will unlock resources and leads for your research.

If you are like me, you don’t readily spend your hard-earned money on the latest, greatest technology. I have yet to switch over to a smart phone, much to my colleagues’ amusement,

Choose a DNA test based on which line you want to explore.

because every year there is something better. In the past much of the benefit of DNA testing was to add to the research and development of the field. In order for results to be meaningful, they must be compared with known markers. Family Tree DNA has the largest database, including DNA information on over 400,000 people. The field of genealogical DNA testing has arrived. It has become a dependable treasure trove of information to expand your traditional research efforts, and it will only get better.

To choose which kit or kits are right for you, look at your pedigree and decide what you would like to find out. For example, I’m stuck in the 1800s on my grandfather’s father’s line. I’m told there is German blood, but the surname is Scottish. The best thing for me to do in this case is to find the oldest living descendant in that line and test their paternal line with a Y-DNA test. If I am interested in my mother’s mother’s Irish roots, I need to administer an mtDNA test to my Mother or a female descendant of that line.  All it takes is a simple and painless cheek swab. (Watch this tutorial.)

Know What to Expect

It is important to know what to expect from your results. The report you receive can be very technical. Don’t despair if your high school biology is a bit rusty. There are many wonderful help articles to help you through the details. For example, this one at the Blair DNA Project gives insight into what a DNA test can do for you. Here is a good list they give of insights you can gain from your results:

1)      Identification that you and another participant share a common ancestor.

2)      Y-DNA and mtDNA results give you an idea of how far back a common ancestor lived and the migration path of that ancestral line through the identification of the maternal or paternal haplogroup.

3)      Evidence of a suspected connection between yourself and another participant.

4)      Prove that the test taker is not related to an individual or family.

5)      Autosomal test results provide an amazing detailed description of your ethnic makeup.

Finally, remember that DNA testing alone is not as meaningful as DNA testing paired with traditional research. To get the most out of your DNA test results, use the information as you would any new development in your search. It will open doors and suggest new connections. Ask for help from a professional, if you are not sure how the results can expand your tree.

Nine Ways to Make Family History a Habit

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Are you into family history for the fun of it? Okay, I agree, we need a stronger word than fun. May I try that again?

Are you into family history for the joy of it?

That’s reason enough, but there are other possibilities. You may feel a duty to your ancestors, to help them live on in their descendants’ memories. You may feel a sense of obligation to your posterity, to help them understand who they are and whence they came. For some, it’s a religious duty. Or perhaps you’re driven by a more personal desire, to figure out who you are and whence you came. All of these are perfectly good motives.

I don’t claim that you even need a motive, or that you should report it to me or anyone else. But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that you have some discernible reason for engaging in family history.

Let’s also assume that your own involvement is important to you, not just your work product. If only the result matters — if family history to you is like cleaning the oven, replacing the broken sewer line, or having your gall bladder removed — you might hire a professional genealogist and let him or her worry about it. That’s fine; professional genealogists have to eat, too. But this post is for people who want to be involved, not just have the work done. (more…)

Making Memories into Quilts.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I love family history activities that culminate in something tangible, especially quilting. You can turn just about anything you can wear into a memory quilt.

I first encountered a memory quilt at my friend Katie’s house, when I was eight years old. Her guestroom had a bedspread like none I had ever seen. It looked like someone had sewn a blue satin dress right onto the bed. It was covered in sequins and beads, with streams of blue and purple radiating out from the waist. I was enchanted. I remarked that it looked like something a queen would wear. Katie answered, “Yes, my mom used to be a queen, and this is what she wore.” Katie proved it by showing me a large picture of her mom, in the dress, on the wall downstairs. I was a amazed. A real, live queen lived just across the street from me, and she had the bedspread to prove it!

Persona Quilt

Persona Quilt

A year or so later, I learned that Katie’s mom had been a beauty queen. The dress on the bedspread was the one she wore in the evening gown portion of the Miss Texas pageant. Later, she had made it into a quilt to commemorate the event. Since then I have seen many other memory quilts. They tend to fall into three categories.

Persona Quilt

This type of quilt is usually made as a gift or a means of self expression. It is meant to reflect who a person is. The photo here is one my mom made for my dad. Like this one, persona quilts often include a lot of novelty fabrics, each chosen because it has some special significance for that person. Here some of the squares represent his Eagle Scout award, the universities he attended (Brigham Young University and the University of Utah), and some of his favorite foods (suckers, BBQ, and hot sauce).

Event Quilt

Event Quilt

Event Quilts

These are made to commemorate an event or a series of events. My neighbor’s pageant dress bedspread is in this category. Such a quilt might be made from a wedding dress or race t-shirts. Annette, the wife of one of our engineers at MyHeritage, made this one to commemorate her daughter’s accomplishments in high school band. It includes a lot of embroidery and appliqué.

Classic Memory Quilt

These are the most popular memory quilts. They are made from the fabrics that we most associate with a person, usually their clothing. I have seen them made from baby clothes, old jeans, and even neckties. They are usually made in memory of a period of life that is already past (like baby clothes) or, as in this example, in memory of a person who has passed away.

Classic Memory Quilt

Classic Memory Quilt

My friend Heather Lott was commissioned to make a set of three quilts for a woman whose mother had passed away. The daughter went through her mother’s clothes and pulled out anything that reminded her of her mom. These were mostly things that she wore often, but also things she wore for special events. Heather transformed them into three lovely quilts, one for each of the deceased woman’s children. Now, whenever the children and grandchildren see the fabrics in that quilt, they remember Grandma.

Quilt 1, Quilt 2, Quilt 3

These quilts may be cozy and even beautiful. But what makes them a piece of family history is the story. Who wore this dress? When did that happen? How is this person related to me? I love the idea of putting together a little bit of my family history that is tangible and functional. I imagine myself wrapping up my kids in the blanket someday, pointing to each square and telling them where it came from and why I love it — thus turning a warm, comfy quilt into a bit of history.

I have a little stack of baby clothes, and I plan to make a blanket with them. I sat down the other day to get started so I could share it in this post. My kids are still young, and I cherish those little onesies and jackets. I sat there with my scissors in hand, before a pile of my sons’ old clothes, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut them up. What if I want the baby to wear this? (That’s not likely, since she is a girl and these are boy clothes.) What if my kids want their children to wear this? (I know this possibility is even more remote.) I actually got misty-eyed, sitting there. I know that the whole point of making the quilt is to preserve those memories, but I was unprepared for the emotions. So my step-by-step instructions don’t yet lead to my own finished product.

Select and prepare clothesStep 1: Select and Prepare

Be sure to select items that are meaningful. Remember that, depending on the size of the squares, you may be able to get multiple square from one garment. Cut the clothes along enough seams to make the fabric lie down flat.

InterfacingStep 2: Interfacing

This is the crucial step. When we sew a quilt, we want even squares, but many of the fabrics you use may be stretchy, like a t-shirt. This can make the squares uneven after they are cut. Buy some lightweight fusible interfacing. Cut that into squares a little larger than your final square size.Then iron it onto the back of the clothing.

 Cut Your SquaresStep 3: Cut Your Squares

Make sure you cut all your squares the same size. The easiest way to do this is with a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and ruler. If you don’t have these, you can get good results with a square cardboard template and sharp scissors.

Arrange and SewStep 4: Arrange and Sew.

Once all your squares are cut, lay them out on the floor and arrange them any way you like. If you are short a few squares, add in some generic fabric squares where needed. Then sew them together as you would any other quilt. Sew one row at a time, then sew each row to the next.

FinishStep 5: Finish

Finish the quilt in the usual ways. Add a layer of quilt batting and a fabric backing. Then either tie the quilt or have it quilted professionally.

Enjoy the memories.

The Darndest Things – Are We Recording Them?

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

The Darndest Things – Are We Recording Them?

As the old saying goes, “Kids say the darndest things!” Many of us older folks also say and do amazing things. Are we losing them as soon as they happen? Or are we recording them to preserve our own histories?

A year ago I wrote my goal to spend 20 minutes a day journaling, so that I would have a good history to pass on. I did badly! A more realistic goal may be 20 minutes a week. It’s less time, but it’s more likely to happen.

Journaling

Journaling

As we spend holidays with family and relatives, let’s also spend time writing down not only Grandma’s stories but our own as well.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself or others. The sample responses are from my own journal.

Journaling Questions

Where were you today? Describe what you smelled, felt, heard – the full experience.

(Example.) Today was another day at work. The day passed by quickly. I was excited to get home as there are only a few more days until Christmas and since it’s the weekend my wife and I planned on going Christmas shopping. We have intentionally delayed our shopping trips this year as we have been fixing up some areas of the house that have waiting way too long for some upgrades. Our worn out carpet has been replaced with some nice but inexpensive laminate wood flooring. Our Formica counters in the kitchen are no more. My wife and I had a great 20 hours or so building our own one of a kind granite counters. We love them. The whole house looks much better.

Today our youngest said the funniest thing! He shares a room with our 16 year old son and being much younger he sometimes likes to sleep in his second bed – the loft bed we made a while back in his closet. Its not as warm in the loft so when I found him there I asked – oh, why are you in here? He thought about it and said – Well, I just decided it was time to move back in. At six that was pretty cute. (more…)

Four Ways to Keep Distant Family Members from Being Strangers

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Growing up, I lived within an hour’s drive of all my cousins. So I grew up really knowing them, and my aunts and uncles. They were a regular part of my life. I saw them at nearly every holiday and even ran into them at concerts and sporting events. I loved it! We all did. I think I took this for granted — that this is how it is for everyone, and how it would be for my own little family.

For my children, getting to know their extended family will be different. I am one of six kids. The last 10 years have brought a lot of change for my family: 5 marriages, 13 babies born, and a lot of moving around! We are literally scattered from sea to shining sea, from the coasts of Oregon to Virginia, in Texas and a few spots in between. In fact, no two of my parents’ children are closer than 9 hours by car. Even Grandma and Grandpa now live 12 hours from the closest grandchild.

This is not what we had envisioned for our children. How would they get to know their cousins? We will not be attending each other’s school plays or trick-or-treating together. Family reunions are definitely in the plan, but one week every other year doesn’t feel like enough.

Here are a few of the things we have tried, with much success.

Family YearbooksFamily Yearbooks

These started out as a personalized gift for the grandparents about 6 years ago. Everyone submits pictures of their families celebrating a list of holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, birthdays, etc.), plus any major events in the family (big trips, a new baby, career milestones). The first year we filled and printed one book. The next year we filled three. Now we fill seven, and we print one each family. This series of books has become a treasured piece of family history and a favorite story book for my children.

Family QuestionnaireFamily Questionaire

We recently had a family reunion. All 25 of us crowded into one snug little beach house. My sister sent out family questionnaires in advance by email to all the families. She collected all the answers, one page per person, in a little binder and sent a copy to each family. Each page had a photo, name, and age, and then listed 10 of the most interesting answers from the questionnaire for each person, such as phobias, favorite TV show, favorite book, and recent accomplishments. It has been fun to read and a fun reference book for my kids. It occurs to me now that this is a great way to capture a moment in our families’ history. In 10 or 20 years we can look back and get a very personal look at how we all were in 2011.

It also made for a fun family quiz game at the beach house reunion. “For 10 points, who sleeps with a stuffed raccoon named ‘Rowdy’?” You would have to read the binder to know.

Face Time

This one is a little more pricey, but you may already have the equipment. At Christmas we exchange gifts between families. Grandma and Grandpa give to all the grandchildren. It is always good to give, but it better to give and watch them open it. Last Christmas we worked out a schedule — which in hindsight was way more complicated than necessary. Everyone had an iPod Touch with FaceTime. (There are lots of other options). We set aside certain gifts until the appointed time. Grandma and Grandpa were able to tune it to watch all their grandkids open at least some of their presents. This was actually made easier by the distance. Since we were in different time zones, my kids were only just waking up in the Mountain time zone as their cousins on the east coast were finishing up.

Family CalendarsCalendars

For years we have been making family calendars, which include everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries. This used to be a tedious job for me. Rounding up all the images and all the dates took days. I would then do custom layouts for each month. (After all, I’m a graphic designer.) They turned out great, but took me hours! But that was then. This year I logged on to MyHeritage.com and had a calendar done in just minutes! I wish that product had existed 6 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headaches.

None of this is quite the same as piling into the car for a short drive to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. But for us, scattered as far as we are, it keeps distant family members from feeling like strangers.

Death, Halloween, and Family Traditions (It’s Almost October!)

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Halloween celebrations have increased through the years, and have become more fun and less morbid. But, like family history, Halloween is still very much about the dead.

Throughout October we’ll bring you several blog posts about death and the dead, some serious and some not. We’ll talk about finding and using death records (such as the SSDI), wills, obituaries, etc., in our family history work, as well as some of the things we ourselves should not leave undone as we contemplate our own eventual deaths. In preparation, we’ve been collecting Halloween memories and traditions from colleagues, families, and friends; playfully inviting coworkers to design their own tombstones (there’s a web app for that) and write their own epitaphs; and even interviewing morticians.

All that’s coming, but first, here’s some background.

A Bit of History

The word Halloween itself is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve — the eve of All Saints’ Day, celebrated November 1 by much of Western Christianity, especially in Scotland and Ireland. Traditionally, it was believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, before moving on to the next world, making Halloween their last chance to take vengeance on the living. The living, in turn, wore masks and costumes to avoid being recognized, and used fire (which turned over time into Jack-o-Lanterns) to ward off the spirits of the dead. There are also some pagan influences.

Learn more of the history of Halloween from this video at History.com:

The spooky side survives, now more secular than religious in feeling, but for most people Halloween is great fun, with costumes, trick-or-treating for youngsters, and parties for youth and adults. The day of the dead is alive with fun and family traditions. (more…)

Stuck Happens! 13 Things to Do When It Happens to You

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Dead endWhether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned veteran at family history, you can’t pursue this historical detective adventure very long before you get stuck. Some name or record will elude you. You’ll run out of ideas for finding it, and you’ll start to wonder if the promised rewards of your chosen hobby are worth the trouble or, on a bad day, even possible. Rest assured: You’re not the first, and there is hope.

A Common Challenge

About 20 years ago I started looking for a marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Benjamin James Morgan and Mary Fischer, who are believed to have married circa 1794 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I didn’t choose this at random. I was looking for something Uncle Shirl, Aunt Gwen, and the other family genealogists had left undone.

I used computerized resources, which were rather sparse then, and paged through microfilmed Chester County records ordered through my local LDS Family History Library. I struck out.

I’m fortunate that I had to go back five generations to find a hole other researchers had left unfilled. But I was living in graduate student poverty at the time, so I could hardly hire a professional genealogist or mount a week-long expedition to the Philadelphia area in search of the record. I needed affordable alternatives. Come to think of it, two decades later, I still do.

It helps see apparent dead ends as something else entirely: forks in the road. When stuck happens, you have at least three options:

  • Pursue the elusive record or relative with laser-like focus. This may lead to success, or it may lead to therapy.
  • Slide this one to the back burner and turn your attention to some other aspect of your family history.
  • Abandon family history in favor of another pastime, such as knitting, lacrosse, or watching reality television.

You’re on your own with the third option, but let’s look at the other two.

Dogged Pursuit

When the person or record you’re stuck on is especially important to you or your tree, you may prefer dogged pursuit. Pardon my changing metaphors, but, if a door you need won’t open, sometimes you can break it down, find another door, or even crawl in a window. Here are some ideas. (more…)

Four Ways to Publish Those Family Treasures

Friday, September 7th, 2012

In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”

The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.

This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.

ONE

I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.

Bertha Babcock History 2nd EdI wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.

Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.

My plan was to give a copy to each of my mother’s six surviving siblings, and also to a couple of relatives who helped a lot with the reunion. (My sister and I were in charge this year.) I couldn’t afford to give it to the next two generations, even if my mother’s generation insisting on paying me for what I intended to be a gift.

Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.

TWO

As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.

A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.

THREE AND FOUR

That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at Amazon.com for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at BarnesAndNoble.com for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.

I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.

The old, the new, the Kindle app on my iPod

It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.

If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.

In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.

FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)

My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.

At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.

Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.

As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.

What Happened on the Way

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

No matter where you find your ancestors, they probably came from somewhere else. Maybe your ancestors were indentured servants who came to the New World, or Jews who fled Nazi Germany. Perhaps they left on a voyage but never turned up at the expected destination, or arrived there with a new or dramatically changed family. Such migrations can make it hard to trace genealogy.

covered wagonKnowing where an ancestor’s journey started and ended may not be enough to resolve these conundrums. Many major migration routes had important stops along the way, where people stayed for a month or a year or more. If you check these waypoints, too, you may find “missing” records of important life events.

Among my own ancestors, I have found many who were born in the British Isles but died in Utah. They came to the United States in the nineteenth century because of their faith: they were Mormons. There are records of these ancestors in Nauvoo, Illinois, but after that point there seem to be gaping holes. Some of them left Illinois but never turned up in Utah. Others arrived in Utah but with drastic changes in their families.

The Mormon pioneer trail had several significant stops. By studying the route, I was able to find records of events along the way, mostly in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Some of the earliest Mormon pioneers settled there (they named it Kanesville) and set up farms, so they could supply pioneers coming later. The settlement became an important rest stop for pioneers, especially during the winter months, when Winter Quarters was set up just across the river.

Because of the crowded and unhealthy living conditions there, diseases spread quickly. Scurvy, malaria, and tuberculosis claimed many of the pioneers, who were already weak from the arduous journey. This may be what took the lives of some of my ancestors.

On my paternal side, my great, great aunt Sophronia never reached Utah. Her records say she died in Council Bluffs on August 26, 1847. Records for two infants born that day indicate that she died in connection with giving birth to twins.

My maternal ancestors suffered losses in Council Bluffs, too. For example, five generations back, a Jonathan Hale died there in 1846. In the next two weeks, his wife and three of his children also died.pioneers in charcoal

I already knew there were Mormon pioneers among my ancestors, so it was easy to trace my lineage back using what I learned about the trail. Similarly, clues like where and when your ancestors lived can direct you to other migration routes. For instance, if your ancestors are connected with the Spanish War, you may learn something by researching El Camino Real de los Tejas, a significant trail leading from the Rio Grande River in Mexico through San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Laredo, and other cities on the way to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

If you’ve heard stories about your ancestors heading out west for the gold rush, you may find answers along the California Trail, which ran through many cities on its way across the United States, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Kansas City, Independence, Star Valley, Carson City, and Salt Lake City.

If you find Irish ancestors living outside of Ireland, they could point you to the Irish Diaspora, which moved significant Irish populations to Great Britain, Argentina, Canada, Bermuda, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, and other countries.

There are many other migration routes; a simple internet search can find a trail that might be relevant to you. Maybe you’ll be able to discover something groundbreaking, or maybe you’ll learn more details to a story you already knew, like I did. Either way, you’ll have something new to share when you pass along the stories of your ancestors.