Henry the VIII, Henry the 8th, Genealogy Research, online genealogy, ancestry, family search

Fishing or Real Genealogy Research?

Note: the following post is written by Dr. Terrence M. Punch, an expert in genealogy research related to maritime Canada. Since the 1970s, he has published numerous books on Scottish, Irish and French immigration. He has written other posts for this blog, including the popular How our Ancestors Died. Below, Dr. Punch discusses the pitfalls that can trip up an unsuspecting Internet researcher, and how having a thorough research plan can help keep the course.

Fishing or Researching?

Before the Internet was generally in use, people seeking their family trees sooner or later went to an archives in search of information. We spoke with relatives to elicit stories and details about the family. Some hung around cemeteries or called in at the local Registry of Deeds or the Probate Court. Pastors and parish clerks came under siege as dozens of family historians beset them with requests for records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Still, in the long run, for most of us the archives was “Mecca.” In some ways, it still is.

During the 1990s material began to appear on the Internet, a trend that has grown exponentially since 2000. As data was keyed onto websites and links to collections multiplied, increasing numbers of people took up genealogy as a hobby, a quest or an obsession. For anyone living several hours’ drive from a major repository, Internet genealogy was a blessing. The remote, the disabled and the elderly could research at home. Alas, as so often is the case, there may be a worm in the apple.

Well-intentioned people spent hours putting material on the Internet; good, bad, and indifferent. We learned, “junk in, junk out,” when what we believed was reliable information turned out to be filled with mistakes. Some helpful postings were unsourced, i.e., there was no citation telling where the information came from. It matters whether data is authentic or merely the product of someone’s imagination.

Was the person who posted the information working from a primary source, meaning a document created at or near the event by someone actually there, or at least a photographic reproduction thereof? Was that story just what great uncle Ron cooked up after his third double scotch? Was grandmother embarrassed about her oldest brother being a 6-month old baby, so she put back the date of her parents’ wedding by a year so that there was no hint that her parents had indulged in pre-marital sex?

I am sounding a note of caution to the beginner or the trusting: Items found on the Internet should be treated to the same scrutiny as any other information.

Look for corroborating evidence, or at least other sources which support the context of the specific information. Look out for anachronisms. Bishop Charles Inglis did not marry someone in 1821 because by then he’d been dead for five years. Captains in the Royal Navy in 1810 did not ‘jump ship’. Abraham Lincoln drove a Ford?

This is not an assault on the usefulness of websites and their contents; far from it. But we need to be clear that there is junk as well as buried treasure available on the web. Our job is to learn to tell them apart or else wind up convinced that our 20 times great grandfather was Richard the Lionhearted, Ali Baba, or perhaps one of the forty thieves! Given the propensities of Louis XIV or Henry VIII and others, there may be quite a few royal descendants scattered about. Family historians are sometimes humble people, seeking to prove that they descend from someone who was a Big Cheese. Remember that genealogy is not defined as “tracing yourself back to better people,” a hope which seduces some to buy into falsehoods.

Avoid the Online Genealogy Research Trap

It is easy to mistake a fishing expedition on the Internet for genuine research. The first weapon of a good genealogist is an open mind. Unless a person is prepared to accept whatever authentic details they find about ancestors, they would be well advised to leave the job to a cousin or other relative who won’t be shocked at finding a forebear of another ethnic origin or religious persuasion. The second is for the genealogist to make a plan before fishing on the Internet for forefathers and mothers. There is just so much genealogical material on line that you need to have a firm grasp of what you seek and what you are looking at. Otherwise the sheer volume of information can overwhelm and lead you astray, and you spend months thinking that the wrong lead was the right one and you compound the original mistake by building on it.

For example, you were looking for the parents of Evan Bowen, born about 1775 in Wales, and online you find a family with an Even Bowen born in 1777 in Wales. If you then and there assume he is your man and proceed back from him to Evan’s father Owen and find that Owen’s father was Howell ap Owen ap Twdor, you could be shocked to learn that there were perhaps two dozen other Even Bowens born in Wales during the 1770s and you may have latched onto the first one you found, unaware of that fact.

There is so much genealogical material on the Internet that it is easy to get lost. You need a good grip on what you are seeking or you can be misled. My advice is that you get a logical research plan and adhere to it. Doing so can make the difference between success and failure for your research. Remember when using the Internet that it is better to stick to a plan. Too many fishers of the ‘Net become fish because they take the bait. Don’t let that be you.

Image credit:  Henry VIII of England on Horseback. Hand-coloured woodcut. Hans Liefrinck (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Family history, family tree

Family History – Don’t Just use the Internet

This blog is the offshoot of a family-owned, brick and mortar publishing company, so we may be a little biased in what we’re about to say: We believe that while researching your family history has gotten increasingly easier by using the Internet, relying too heavily upon, or solely utilizing online resources, is detrimental to establishing your true family history.

Certainly there are limitations on how much family history research you can do without the Internet, and we’re not advocating an approach that doesn’t take advantage of online records, forums or search tools. We’ve written previously about how amazing forums can be to getting started in your research, as well as encouraging development into a genealogy expert. But, we love and encourage the roll up your sleeves approach to genealogy research. When it comes to your family history, there are entire decades of information that can’t be found online because your grandmother never put her stories there. There are tasks that are better accomplished in person, like a visit to the county courthouse. Even when you find information online, records ought to be verified by, or based upon, information that exists in its original form offline, like death records.

This article came on our radar back in February. In his piece, Don’t let the internet be your first stop when researching your family history, Dr. Fraser Dunford, a professional genealogist and member of Kawartha Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, discusses how using the Internet as the sole starting point for your family history research can lead to a bad genealogy.

Please read Dr. Dunford’s article below, and let us know how you feel about the role of the Internet in researching your own family history in the comments section:

People deciding to look into their family history often make the mistake of first looking to the internet.

This has resulted in an astounding number of bad genealogies. You have some work to do before looking at what others have done.

We estimate that, of the genealogically interesting records in Ontario, only about five percent are online. If you use only the internet, you will have a rather pathetic family history.

Genealogy has a number of sayings that help keep you on track.  You should remember these sayings and always follow them.

The first saying is: Work from the known to the unknown.

You know about yourself. You know when and where you were born. Do you have your birth certificate? If not, now would be a good time to get it.

You know who your parents are. You know when and where they were married. Do you have their marriage certificate?  That may be a church certificate or it may be government issued. If you do not have it and your parents are no longer alive, you may have difficulty getting a government certificate (more on that in a future article).

You likely know when and where your parents were born. Do you have your parents’ birth certificates? If they were christened, do you know which church?

You may know about your grandparents – birth, marriage, death. You probably do not have documentation of those events.  What do you know of your grandparents’ children, your aunts and uncles?

Now you can start drawing your Family Tree.  (Here’s background on how to do that.)

Start with an Ancestor Tree, with you at the base of it. Put in your father and mother, and your four grandparents. With each name, put in their birth date.

If you have a lot of aunts, uncles, and first cousins, you can try your hand at two descendant trees, one for each pair of grandparents.

Start creating family records. If you have children, do one for your own family. Do one for your parents’ family, and do one for each of your grandparents’s families. That will give you four family records.

In each one, enter everything you know about the father and mother, and enter each child with birth date. For each piece of information, make a note of why you know it. In particular, note those for which you have proof and those for which you have only been told.

If you know anything about your great grandparents, repeat the process for them (you have eight great grandparents).  As you go further back, you have less and less proof, and more and more blank spaces. Now you have very specific questions to ask about your ancestors.

Talk to your family, particularly the older generation. If they are quite elderly, talk to them now. Every genealogist has questions he wishes he had asked his grandparents. Most people like to talk about their early lives so you probably will get a lot of information.

Write it all down.

Remember that oral information has to be verified. It will tell you what to look for but does not excuse you from looking.  You will hear family stories. Write them down carefully but do not make the mistake of believing them.

Here is another genealogical saying: Family stories are usually untrue but tend to be based on something.

Every family has the story of being descended from royalty. It may be nothing more than one of your many-greats grandmother having the maiden name King (of course you are descended from the King!).

Image Credit: Genealogical Tree of Maria Justina und Johann Maximilian zum Jungen, By unknown Middle Rhine Master [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

using photographs in family history, tintype, civil war

Using Photographs in Your Family History Research

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly edited and updated post originally authored by the late Carolyn L. Barkley. All of the family photos are from her personal collection, and should be accredited to her unless otherwise noted.

Technology in today’s world provides us with multiple ways to capture a moment in our family’s story – from grabbing our iPhone or iPad to capturing the moment of video or a digital SLR camera. Although photography has enjoyed a long history, photographs have been available to the average individual for a relatively short period of time. The following discusses the evolution of photography and how using photographs in your family history has evolved along with it.

Camera Obscura

The basic principles of optics and the camera were known as early as the fifth century B.C.E. More specific interest, however, began in the 1660s when, using a prism, Isaac Newton discovered that white light was composed of different colors. Throughout the 1700s, the camera obscura fascinated scientists interested in creating an image of their surroundings. From the linked Wikipedia article, “The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside, where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation.” Mirrors then create a right-side up image. (Side note: Edinburgh, Scotland, features a camera obscura as one of its tourist attractions.)

Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, Tintype

Additional discoveries ensued. In 1837 Louis Daguerre began creating images on silver-plated copper coated with silver iodide. The image was then developed (taking thirty minutes!) with warmed mercury. This medium fell out of favor by 1860, in part because only one image could be developed from each exposure, and also because the final product tarnished and scratched easily. The daguerreotype was followed briefly (1854-1865) by the ambrotype, an image produced on glass. The date of either of these formats can often be determined in part by the case or mat surrounding the image. For example, a daguerreotype with a plain silk interior dates from between 1840 and 1845, while an ornate foil-stamped mat dates from between 1853 and 1855. The National Media Museum Blog has a very helpful post on how to spot a collodion positive or ambrotype photograph.

A format which became financially more accessible to the average family, however, was the tintype, produced between about 1854 and 1900. Some of us may have examples of tintype images in our family archives as many soldiers had them taken during the Civil War. This video is part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum special exhibit – Remember Me: Civil War Portraits, which shows the process of creating a Tintype photo. Tintypes later became widely available at carnivals from the late 1880s and through the 1890s. Again, the elements of the tintype can help date an image, with a paper mat indicating an image taken between 1863 and the 1880s, while paper sleeves were used between 1880 and 1900. For example, based on its paper sleeve and my knowledge of the couple in the photograph, I believe that the tintype image shown below was taken ca. 1889, the time of my great-grandparents’ (Grace Lillian Dodd and Edward Albert Smith) wedding.

Carte de Visite

Edward and Grace

Two other formats dating from the mid- to late-1800s also brought photographs within the means of many families. These images often included family members, either individually or in groups, to commemorate an important event such as a wedding, engagement, a new baby, death, etc. The first of the two formats was the carte de visite. First developed in France in 1854 by photographer André Adolphe Eugene Disdéri, this type of photograph, usually sepia in color, was printed on thin paper which was then mounted to a thicker paper card. One of Disdéri’s greatest innovations was the ability to place multiple negatives on a single plate, thus allowing the subject of a photograph to purchase multiple copies at a reasonable price. These photos imitated the size of a “calling card” (2.5”x4”). The carte de visite image below is believed to be a photograph of my granduncle, Eugene Henry Smith (born 1866). While I was unsure of his age at the time the photograph was taken, the photography studio’s advertisement on the reverse side indicates 1880, when Eugene would have been fourteen. Continue reading…

Genealogy, Civil War, Lost relatives

Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People

Editor’s Note: The following post about how to find your relatives, including how to determine whether they’re alive or dead, and if they’re alive how you might find someone who appears to be “lost,” is by Denise R. Larson. This article appeared in the 12/30/2014 issue of “Genealogy Pointers.”

Genealogy is usually a vertical construct with ascending or descending generations, which uses the imagery of a soaring, multi-branched tree and its deep roots to visualize how a family has grown, spread, and at times intertwined through many generations.

There are a couple of new uses of genealogical methods that are horizontal in their approach to finding family members. One looks to the past to help adoptees find their birth parents. The other looks to the future to find lost or out-of-touch family members who can mentor a youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood.

Both types of looking-for-the-living searches use a variety of resources: hard-copy guides, directories, and documents; online databases; and personal contact over the phone and in person.

Not sure if someone is still in the land of the living?

If you already have the name of the person you’re looking for but are not sure if the person is still alive, go ahead and do an online search of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which was started in 1936 for persons born in 1865 or later. Several websites offer free access to the SSDI database. They can be found by doing a Google search for “Social Security Death Index.” If the person is located, then it’s time to order a copy of the Application for a Social Security Number (SS-5) to obtain all the personal information provided at the time of the application. As the Social Security Administration states on its website, www.socialsecurity.gov, “A deceased person does not have any privacy rights.” The application can be a gold mine of names, dates, and leads as to where to look next for living relatives. Continue reading…

"Family History" — by Robert Kehlmann (2008). Genealogical Society Family History Writing Contest.

Oklahoma Genealogical Society “2015 Family History Story Writing Contest”

The Oklahoma Genealogical Society will be accepting entries for its “2015 Family History Story Writing Contest” beginning January 1, 2015 through March 1, 2015. Society membership is not required to enter, and there is no entry fee. This contest caught our eye due to rule number four, which mentions that citations must conform to the standards outlined by one of Genealogical.com’s noted authors, Elizabeth Shown Mills.

The rules are as follows, posted from Sharon Burns on The Oklahoman’s website:

1.Submissions may be made electronically or by hard copy through the mail. Stories must be typed in a standard font and double-spaced on one side of standard letter-size paper. Entries must be less than 2,500 words, not including attached documents.

2.Story title and page number must be shown on each page; name should not be included on any pages of the story. All entries will remain anonymous when judges are reviewing them.

3.The entry form must include the story title, author name, author’s mailing address, email address and phone, and approximate word count. As the entry form will be used to notify the winners, ensure contact information is up-to-date.

4.Please indicate that you have researched the events by citing your sources as endnotes. Source citations must conform to the guidelines in “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2009).

5.Family group sheets and pedigree charts may be included if pertinent.

6.Stories must be original and unpublished at time of entry. By submitting your story, you are giving the society permission to publish your story.

7.More information and a downloadable entry form can be found on the Oklahoma Genealogical Society website www.okgensoc.org.

For the complete rules for this contest, go to www.okgensoc.org/storywriting-contest.htm or address questions to contest chairperson Denise Slattery at editor@okgensoc.org.

Good luck to any of our readers who enter! If you choose to enter, please let us know.

Image Credit: “Family History” — by Robert Kehlmann (2008). This image is of an original work by the artist in Sandblasted hand-blown glass, mixed media.By Rkehlmann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.