Genealogy and Easy Access to the National Archives
In conducting family history research, proper documentation is the key. Citing sources is what gives your work credibility and aids others in their own investigations. Prior to the internet, tracking down those sources used to mean traveling to a local library, court house or archive facility to obtain copies of important documents such as birth certificates or land records or wandering through an old cemetery to locate the final resting place of your ailing ancestor. Most genealogists, both past and present, thoroughly enjoy these fact finding trips, but for some, traveling is not an option due to time constraints or even advanced age.
For those living in the DFW area, there are many great places for research that are also available online. One, in Fort Worth, is The National Archives Southwest Region. According to their website, this branch of the National Archives houses letters, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and other documents received from over 100 Federal agencies and courts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. This local resource and its link to the National Archives, provide a wealth of information for family researchers. Direct access, online, to original documents housed at these facilities was not previously available; however a unique partnership with Footnote.com has now made this possible. Proper documentation of cited sources is an important step in genealogy. Having easy access to actual historical data is even better.
For more info: http://www.archives.gov/genealogy
Scrapbooking for Genealogy
Scrapbooking is a hobby that complements genealogy well. Family historians tend to have good habits of documenting important events, but they may not take the time to relay that information in an expressive way. Often, a genealogist’s records are found stacked in boxes with items that may make sense to them, but might not have much significance to anyone else. Heritage scrapbooking is one way to give more meaning to what may otherwise be mistaken as dull data. Family memorabilia can be arranged in a manner that will leave a lasting legacy for others. According to IntroScrapbooking.com, some items to include in a heritage scrapbook can be military medals, wedding invitations, special awards, diplomas, certificates, postcards, recipes, and original legal documents such as birth certificates or passports. In addition to physical records, digital data can be arranged in much the same way. ScrapBookFlair.com offers free downloads of embellishments, backgrounds and templates that can make any family group sheet look amazing.
Scrapbooking enthusiasts, throughout the Dallas Fort Worth area, have many options for scrapbooking retreats. One of these is MD Resort Bed and Breakfast which offers a relaxed setting for groups or individuals. Many craft stores throughout the area such as Hobby Lobby and Michaels, as well as large retail chains like Target offer scrapbooking supplies that can help bring your family history to life.
Cemetery visits reveal more than dates in genealogy research
In genealogy, dates obtained from death records are important, but actual visits to a cemetery can reveal even more. The history of the cemetery itself can provide clues as to the previous life and times of its permanent residents.
On a recent trip to Mount Gilead Cemetery in Keller, just north of Fort Worth, much was discovered about the first pioneers to this area over one hundred fifty years ago. The original settlers used grave markings at this cemetery known as cairns. A historical marker in the cemetery describes the cairns as “unusual stone structures built by early settlers to memorialize their dead.” And, “The cairns vary in design and workmanship. Their use, however, is representative of traditional burial customs prevalent in the south during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
Tales of accomplishment, as well as adversity, are found throughout Mount Gilead. On the surface, the stark contrast of the markers for the Thompson family, appear to tell a story of hardship for Martha (Evans) “Bammy” Thompson (1830-1909). Martha’s husband, Thomas J. Thompson (1814-1896) has a marble monument, his name and dates engraved in stone. Martha’s marker is simple, made of aluminum and steel, extremely rusted now, but standing strong after one hundred years. In another section of the cemetery, several members of the Grimes family have markers indicating that they were part of the Twenty Brigade Texas Militia. A quick online search, using information found on their gravestones, shows a lot more about this line that would be beneficial to any researcher. Finally, at the entrance to Mount Gilead, one cannot help but be amused by a tiny grave surrounded by a small metal fence. Wherein lays “Butch” “A Good Ole Dog”. To the majority of people, cemeteries are often viewed as unpopular places, but ironically, with genealogy, a cemetery can be an extremely telling place.
For the story behind the story visit Donna Streetenberger’s genealogy blog.
Importance of Death Records in Genealogy and Life
One might not imagine that a document about death could have everything to do with the living. In genealogy research, the death record can bring to light some significant information for the descendants of the deceased. Perhaps one of the most pertinent areas of this vital record is the cause of death. Today, with the knowledge of genetic disorders, the fact that an ancestor may have died from a hereditary disease is paramount. Texas death records not only state the cause of death, but may also include any contributing factors.
Several years ago, Belinda Franco*, of Flower Mound, Texas, was nearing her fortieth birthday. As a manager at Sabre Systems, she was busy with the demands of her career and family as she began to notice odd symptoms such as an unquenchable thirst, and numb fingertips. Belinda was referred to several specialists and then, after many frustrating weeks, a perplexed endocrinologist revealed that she had type-1 diabetes. Often referred to as “juvenile diabetes”, type-1 diabetes is normally diagnosed in children. Although, according to Belinda’s doctor, it can be diagnosed up to forty years of age.
Belinda called her sister, Dana, who is the family genealogist. They both knew diabetes is hereditary, but they had not known of anyone in the family who had the disease. Upon further research, it was discovered that their great-great grandmother’s death certificate had the disease listed as a contributory factor. In addition, Dana found that their grandmother’s brother had died from the same disease at nineteen. The family had been well aware of an ovarian and breast cancer risk from their mother, as well as ways to prevent it, but they had no idea about diabetes. Although, some diseases cannot be prevented, knowledge is power when it comes to diagnosing them. According to Dana, thorough family documents that include death records of ancestors can result in less stress and a better quality of life for the living.
*names of individuals have been changed.
Cousin Marriages in Genealogy
In family history, one may find a myriad of marriages and relationships that may be astonishing, or even embarrassing to some. The initial discovery that cousins, on the same side of the family, were married may make some family researchers want to rewrite the past. However, according to an article, published in 2003, by Richard Conniff for DiscoverMagazine.com, “this phobia is distinctly American, a heritage of early evolutionists with misguided notions about the upward march of human societies. Their fear was that cousin marriages would cause us to breed our way back to frontier savagery—or worse”.
Although the wedding of cousins may be surprising at first, the facts behind the union may be nothing more than mundane. In more rural areas of the U.S., a marriage between cousins may have occurred due to the limited exposure to greater populations of people. Also, descendants of European royalty often find that their ancestors participated in consanguineous relationships in an attempt to control their bloodline and their wealth.
Many famous people in history married their cousins. Some of them include Albert Einstein, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jesse James. As family historians, it’s important to keep the record of a family tree as accurate as possible no matter what unexpected relationships may be found.
eBay auctions and Half Price Books are reasonable resources for genealogy
Genealogy is generally an inexpensive hobby. However, some genealogy books and software can be quite costly. There are some options, both locally and online, that offer these items at reasonable prices or sometimes even for free.
Several years ago, a family historian was researching an ancestor who once held an original land grant in Nacogdoches County. Browsing through the Texana collection at a local Half Price Books store, he found a spiral bound book containing an abstract of Texas land titles originally printed in 1878. The book not only held the name of the ancestor he was currently researching, but also several other names of people already on his tree. Purchasing the book for ten dollars, he was able to obtain an inexpensive, yet priceless, addition to his family records.
A low fee option online for family history researchers is auction sites such as eBay. A mix of the old and the new, these sites offer everything from long lost family bibles to the latest family tree software. A recent search of eBay resulted in over seven thousand items pertaining to genealogy. However, with online auctions it’s important not to purchase information that may be located elsewhere on the internet for free. Examples of this include the Native American Dawes Rolls Index and various genealogy forms like those found free at FamilyTreeMagazine.com.
Deciphering DNA in genealogy research
Family history offers many clues to our ancestry and some researchers have more information available to them than others. People with questions regarding their heritage may turn to DNA testing for answers. Some people may want to determine if their family stories of Native American ancestry are true. Others may want to know their African origin. According to Family Tree DNA, based in Houston, Texas, these answers can be a cheek swab away.
Family Tree DNA’s website indicates that they currently have “the largest database in the field of genetic genealogy”. This is important because according to them, “To get the best and most accurate answer, you want to compare your results with as many others as possible, which means choosing the company with the largest and most robust database.”
There are two major types of tests, one for mitochondrial DNA and the other for Y-DNA. Mitochondrial DNA tests the maternal line (mother to daughter or mother to son) and can be conducted on both males and females. Y-DNA tests the paternal line. It is only passed from father to son. If a female wanted to know more about her paternal line, a male relative, in her direct paternal line, would need to be tested.
RootsTelevision.com has produced some interesting videos in reference to DNA testing. In one such video, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, founding partner of Roots Television, uses DNA to determine if she is married to her cousin. Prior to Roots Television, videos about DNA have never been so informative and so entertaining at the same time.
Libraries still Great Choice for Genealogy Research
Before the advent of the internet, libraries were one of the best resources for genealogy research. This is still the case as many libraries throughout the country have amassed vast genealogical works. Libraries still have treasured family history books as well as records viewable on microfiche machines, but in addition to these old favorites, CD-ROM’s and on-line databases now complement original collections. Access to on-line genealogy sites, as a patron of a public library, can be much less expensive than obtaining an individual subscription to a particular website.
The Fort Worth Public Library has a generous genealogical collection and offers many other historical archives, on a local and national level, that may be of help to a family historian. The library will be celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday through their Lincoln 200 Festival which runs from September 12th through October 4th. The Fort Worth Library is one of only forty libraries across the country to host the national traveling exhibition. The exhibit will include items from the local Texas Civil War Museum as well as a display provided by the Log Cabin Village.
Idiot immigrants and imbeciles in Ellis Island genealogy research
After thirty years of abandonment, Ellis Island’s main building was restored and opened as a museum on September 10, 1990. According to the National Park Service, Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. It was in service as the nation’s premier federal immigration station until 1954 and processed over 12 million immigrant steamship passengers. Over forty percent of America’s population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island.
Many genealogists have located the immigration records of their ancestors through the Ellis Island website which offers free searches by family name, or through a recently added new feature which allows searches by ship name.
The history of Ellis Island tells a story of hope and freedom for those coming to America. If a person was sick upon entering the country, they were placed in the hospital at Ellis Island. The hospital offered a place of rescue for many, and they were later released once they were no longer contagious.
However, in addition to physical tests, some immigrants were subjected to examinations involving eugenics. Webster’s defines eugenics as “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed.” Henry H. Goddard, a psychologist and proponent of eugenics at Ellis Island, examined arriving immigrants for intelligence. Based on his faulty studies, Goddard surmised that certain areas of the world produced feeble-minded idiots and imbeciles. This sad story is one of the many trials faced by some who came to this country in search of a better life, to connect with family already here, only to be denied and returned back to their old country.
A clip from Forgotten Ellis Island, a documentary film by journalist Lorie Conway, narrated by Elliott Gould, found at RootsTelevision.com, provides the details of this unfortunate act.
More than Coincidence in Family History Research
Sometimes genealogists have unusual coincidences that cannot be explained. One such example was described in a recent article about reasonably priced genealogy resources, wherein a man discovered a book about his ancestors at Half Price Books. Often, in genealogy, it can be hard to find information on a particular family using many different sources much less one book. Therefore, browsing a bookstore for nothing in particular, only to discover the very family the man was looking for, may be more than coincidence, it may be serendipitous.
Serendipity is the effect by which one discovers something fortunate especially while looking for something entirely unrelated. There appear to be many examples of this in genealogy, in fact, so much so that several books, blogs and websites regarding serendipitous events have been created. Some books on the subject include Psychic Roots: Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy by Henry Z. Jones, Jr. and his follow-up book, More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy. Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak’s, In Search of Our Ancestors contains 101 inspiring stories of “serendipity and connection in rediscovering our family history”. GenealogyToday.com has a page dedicated solely to serendipity and there are many blogs regarding the subject.
One story found at GenealogyToday.com tells of a “Genealogy Spirit Guide”. A woman of Native American descent had an impressive dream about an Indian woman. In the dream, the Indian woman said, “You don’t know me yet, but my name is Winomah; and you are Eagles Wind.” About ten months later, the woman’s grandmother was researching their family tree and found their Shawnee Indian Ancestor whose name was none other than, Winomah. Evidently, this “naming through dreams” is very traditional in Native cultures.
Obviously, there are an abundance of stories from family researchers when it comes to serendipitous events. To some, it may be difficult to explain. However, in genealogy, one thing is clear… serendipity gives new meaning to making new connections on the family tree.
Hispanic heritage in genealogy and history
September 15, 2009 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the term Hispanic, refers to Spanish-speaking people in the United States of any race. In September 1968, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week. The observance was expanded in 1988 to a month long celebration (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15).
In genealogy, some descendants, whose families have been in Texas for several generations may be unaware that they have Hispanic heritage. This was the case with Debbie Veretto, of Lubbock, when she started to discover her family history. She had always known that her father’s family had many French ancestors in Louisiana, so she was surprised to find out that many of her father’s ancestors were in Texas as early as the 1700’s. Debbie obtained data that was produced by professional genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills. That information showed that Debbie’s ancestors were living at several Catholic Spanish missions, like the Royal Presidio at San Antonio De Bexar and Mission San Antonio De Valero, otherwise known as the Alamo.
Names like Padilla, Perez, Alvarado, Luna, Trevino, Longoria and De La Cerda, began to fill the branches of Debbie’s family tree. Her more recent family lines that held the De La Cerda and Padilla names ended up in Louisiana where they married into French families. Those names began to be pronounced as “Dillasard” and “Paddy”. Anglos in Louisiana and Texas in the early 1800’s began to require that all existing cultures in the region become more “Americanized”. This of course resulted in less diversity and unfortunately, much of the Hispanic and French heritage in Debbie’s family was lost.
This occurred on a much grander scale in history with the Texas Revolution. Hispanics, known as Tejanos, were Mexicans who had lived in what is now Texas for generations prior to the Texas Revolution. According to an article by Stefan Lovgren, published by the National Geographic News in 2004, Tejano history dates back to 1731. The Tejanos were instrumental in shaping the State of Texas; however, they were not given the same notoriety as other prominent figures such as William Travis, Davy Crocket, or Stephen F. Austin. Juan Nepomuceno Seguín (1806-1890) is one of the most well known Tejanos in Texas history as well as Jose Antonio Navarro (1795-1871), who was one of three Tejano signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. The other two signers were José Francisco Ruiz and Lorenzo de Zavala. According to Jim Crisp, a Texas-born history professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, “In the mythological story of the birth of Texas, the intricacies and complexities of the Tejanos just didn’t fit. So they were essentially purged from the story.”
Much of Hispanic history has been buried for many generations in places like Texas. Fortunately, Hispanic Heritage month gives people like Debbie Veretto, the opportunity to celebrate previously unknown Hispanic ancestors. It gives all of us an opportunity to rightfully recognize those Hispanics who have helped shape Texas and our nation both past and present.
Newspaper archives in genealogy and family history
A prior episode of the PBS series, “Ancestors”, as provided by RootsTelevision.com, describes the importance of using newspapers in genealogy research. Most people think of obituaries as being the main reason to search old newspapers for information about a family member; however, newspapers can also provide a chronicle of the daily lives of those that came before us. Unlike some newspapers today that pick-up the latest news from the Associated Press, those from long ago offer a glimpse into an earlier era, on a much smaller scale. Small, local newspapers across the country contained the birth and death information of their readers, but they also may have included the social activities, travel plans and even the criminal lives of their citizens.
Most public libraries have access to local newspapers throughout the country through interlibrary loans. For example, if a person lives in Fort Worth, Texas and needs access to an archived newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, that microfiche can be loaned to the Fort Worth Public Library for a limited amount of time. There are also online resources for local newspapers, for a fee, through sites such as GenealogyBank.com and NewspaperArchive.com.
Texas Civil War Museum and the Fort Worth Library present “The Civil War Soldier”
In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the Fort Worth Library and the Texas Civil War Museum have two programs that will be presented, Saturday, September 26th. “Civil War Fashion” will tell the story of Victorian Era women during the civil war. It will be from 2 to 3 PM at the central library’s Tandy Lecture Hall. “Civil War Soldier” will be presented from 3:30 to 4:30 in the same location and will provide a look into the daily lives of Civil War soldiers.
The Texas Civil War Museum, located in Fort Worth, opened in January 2006. According to their website, they maintain the “most comprehensive collection of artifacts west of the Mississippi River”. It’s best known for its military collections, but also has a significant amount of domestic objects and other relics. These include everything from a private collection of over two hundred Victorian dresses and accessories, to an 1852 first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as a presentation sword of General U.S. Grant. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM.
For more info: View the Fort Worth Library’s event page.