Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why I Do What I Do: The Motivation That Keeps Me Climbing

I spent some time today reading an article about an interview a professional podcaster had with a famous multiracial journalist while she answered questions about her recent book about her life. One statement she said resonated with me and nicely summed up my own investigation of my family history, though it is very different from hers...mine is not multiracial and my Dad did not grow up in a Norman Rockwell postcard, though, like hers, my past emanates mostly from Western Europe. Here is what she said:

My father grew up in a Norman Rockwell postcard. His mother was a stay-at-home mom, his father was a rural mailman, they had six kids. But how did we get to be these people? We came from Europe and landed in Iowa. But why did we land in Iowa? And, more importantly, who was there before us?

Learning how "we" got to be the people we are; how "we" got here, wherever that is; why "we" landed where we did, whether Massachusetts, Utah, or New Hampshire, and not somewhere else; and who was there before us, well, those are the basic questions that constitute my interest in my family tree. That is why I do what I do; not merely to put a name before "...my (x)th great-grandmother," but to learn something about her, her family, her neighbors, what was happening in her world, why she made what would have been an expensive, arduous journey, and how it eventually influenced and impacted my own journey. Of course, I have specific questions:
  • When and why did my Utah ancestors end up there?
  • Where did they start from and why did they leave? 
  • Who was the first Latter-day Saint in my tree and why did that person choose that specific Christian denomination? 
  • All my LDS ancestors were all followers, but did that first one know Joseph Smith personally?
  • Do I have a relative that came over on the Mayflower ship? 
  • If not, which ship brought those early ancestors and were they related to any of the Mayflower passengers? 
  • What kept my Salem, Massachusetts, ancestors from being hung as witches...or were some of them?
We all have a reason for pursuing an investigation into our ancestry and for making the climb up our family tree. For each of us, the answer is personal and correct...and different from the next person.

What is yours?


Friday, July 20, 2018

How to validate those 'shaking leaf' clues

Finding clues in a genealogy search in these modern times on All Things Online is easy. Pointing a browser to any 'shaking leaf' clue and finding plenty of information is the easy part. Determining its validity to your own search is not so easy.

While I work to determine if two of my relatives were among those hung during the Salem Witch Trials - a clue that came from information I found while searching for information about my great-grandmother's past - has not been easy. The names are very similar to many of the same time and the same as others in my own tree.

However, there are two factors I am using to help determine if my "John Proctor" is the same one hanged on August 19, 1692.
  • First is the hanging date. Any record for John Proctor after August 19, 1692, especially his own death date, most likely rules out that 'John Proctor' as being my ancestor. Validating a very old date is not easy and is one of the most critical factors for any genealogist.
  • Then there is the Will. I have only found one reference to the John Proctor that was hanged as having written one prior to his hanging, but I have not found a copy of that document.
For budding genealogists, these two facts can ensure a high-quality entry of a very old 'shaking leaf' clue.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Speaking of Raymonds, as we were....

My great-grandmother's maiden name is BERTHA JULIA RAYMOND. She is the mother of my maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, and for my entire childhood, I only met her a couple of times, one of them being at her burial. I knew nothing about her past, though I assumed she was Irish because my childhood was filled with reminders that my Grampy John was as Irish as could be. I knew he drank - a lot - and had no reason to doubt the connection.

Of course, as readers of this blog will remember, those memories were wrong. My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Wilton, New Hampshire, and his BURKE roots go way back. His mother's RAYMOND roots go even farther, as I have recently discovered.

Ancestry.com, the 'big dog' in the family tree yard, recently completed a major upgrade of their systems, part of which was adding online access to major databases kept at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, the single largest repository of genealogical data in the world. I have been searching those records to trace my own USA-based roots because doing so is a lot easier than tracing my non-USA roots...no travel is required and the records, themselves, are more standard and of higher quality.

I have validated that my RAYMOND roots came to what was called British American in the mid-1600's, what we now know as Massachusetts. Many of them settled in an infamous place named Salem, Massachusetts. In fact, my early searching those data pointed me to what is an amazing, somewhat disturbing, possibility...at least two of my ancestors might have been hanged during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692:
  • Hanged on June 10 - Bridget Bishop, Salem Town
  • Hanged on August 19 - John Proctor, Salem Village
Salem Town and Salem Village were political designations of two areas with differing opinions about life. This difference was one of the causes of the fear and animosity that gave rise to the Witch Trials.

Many of the details so far match pretty well, but I have a lot of work to do before I know if these two are, indeed, my ancestors. Validating their death dates is what I am working on now. I want to be sure; messing with this kind of fame is not something done lightly. There are many women named 'Bridget' and many men named 'John Proctor' in that time and in my own tree.

For a guy who used to think his entire ancestry was from England, Scotland, and Ireland, this amazes me. But this was a terrible time in our very young country; I have to figure out how I feel about this.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Joshua Raymond, sure, but...

...which one?

This post comes from my experience as a non-professional, self-trained amateur/novice genealogist. I hope other "beginners" can benefit from these comments.

One of the main problems I mentioned in an earlier blog post and am now finding (as I get way up my family tree to the ninth great-grandparent level) is determining which of the same-named people is my relative and whether that person is in the correct family tree spot if there is more than one similar name. Here is a good example to illustrate the problems with common, frequent use of the same name in generations "back then."



I am looking to validate my 9th great-grandfather, JOSHUA RAYMOND, and found this in a document called "North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000." You will first see this:
  • Joshua Raymond, who <married> 31 Aug. 1719, Elizabeth Christophers, daughter of John Christopher and Elizabeth Mulford, was a son of Joshua Raymond and Mercy Sands of Block Island, who were <married> 29 April, 1682 was grandson of Joshua Raymond and Elizabeth Smith of New London, who were <married> 10 Dec., 1659, and settled at New London, where he <died> 24 April 1676.
The short paragraph continues to name more "Joshua Raymond's," none with middle names, several with spouses named "Elizabeth" and what I assume is accurate factual data about their birth, marriage, domicile, and death. This is not enough information for me to decide which name belongs in the 9th great-grandfather slot, if any of them do, and highlights the danger of just putting a name you might be looking for into your tree because an online database has an easy, familiar name without validating the person's specific relationship to you.

In my case, one or all of these Joshua Raymonds are most likely related, but I cannot be sure where to put them in my genealogy based solely on this information; besides, the language in this paragraph and those before and after is very confusing, something that is common in very old documents. I will have to keep looking for validating clues...dates, names, places, some kind of 'newspaper' reports (though keep in mind the time period is mid- to late-1600's and early 1700's, when Massachusetts was known as Massachusetts Bay in British America), and other documentation.

I must continue to challenge myself to be skeptical of similar names without removing much of the uncertainty; adding the wrong person can make the complex search algorithms used by the genealogical database owners take me down a rabbit hole that will only distract me from the already-complex enough journey up my own tree.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Joy of Genealogy

Readers of this blog will remember that the challenge of finding and validating information as I make my climb up my family tree is part of the joy. It is also frustrating and infuriating, but it is always fun. Here is more fun I have had this past couple of weeks.

I am a paid member at Ancestry.com's All-Access membership level, which includes everything Ancestry owns and has access in their massive database...all USA and world genealogical records as well as Fold3 military records, and the basic level access to Newspapers.com. The past couple of weeks have revealed so-far-unvalidated facts about my distant ancestors that have totally surprised me. The readers I mentioned earlier might recall my earliest memory of family history was of four immigrant grandparents, a memory that I have since proven to be false; instead of a strict immigrant background, I also have been amazed to find a long family history in southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. This week has increased that amazement.

As a reminder, my family comes from two main lines: Wilkinson and Burke. My paternal Wilkinson side were immigrants; that much is verified. Finding and validating information from them is very difficult because they hail from England...the records I have found so far are frustratingly slim.

My maternal Burke side, on the other hand, is where the excitement and discovery are happening.

Ancestry.com recently updated their system with significant improvements and access to the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the largest single repository of world genealogical data. In doing these upgrades, they have made more information available in a much easier to read format. That, in turn, makes finding, validating, and/or excluding clues to my past much easier.

If the information I have found recently is validated - a process I take very seriously because of my background as an investigator - then my own Massachusetts ancestry now goes back to at least my eighth-great grandparents on my maternal great-grandmother's maiden side, Raymond.

For those not familiar with genealogical references, that would be my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, WILLIAM RAYMOND, SR., and his wife, HANNAH BISHOP, from Beverly, Massachusetts.

The farther back I go in time, the more rigorous I must be to ensure I am putting accurate information in my tree and not just pluck names out of a hat because they sound right; there are many similar names, both within a family and in neighbors, so care is required. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but so far, I have validated enough information to give me a high degree of confidence in my findings and I have to tell you this is about as exciting as I have been in a long time. Learning that my own family was involved in pre-Revolutionary War New England amazes and astounds me. In fact, back then, according to local probate records, Massachusetts was called "British America."

I am so excited to keep my search going to find out just how far my roots spread. Am I related to someone on the Mayflower or one of the other ships that came to the New World early on? Which of my relatives was the first to arrive? Since their arrival in the 1600's, how and why did they come here? If they fought in our Revolutionary War, did they fight with the English "Redcoats" or for the British American revolutionaries?

My journey up my family tree continues as the tree grows taller and fatter.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

It has been more than a year

It has been a year since I posted an entry to this blog. What I was doing is not relevant to my genealogical search, but it did take me away from it. I am now back and hope to rekindle the readers I have. Let's get started.

Here is what excites me about #genealogy and working on my family tree.

As you might recall from earlier posts, I knew very little about my grandparents' emigration into this country in the early 1920's and some of what I thought I "knew" turned out to be completely wrong. For example, I always thought my maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, was an Irish immigrant who was married to my maternal grandmother, NINA THOMPSON BURKE, an immigrant from Scotland. 

None of that turned out to be correct.

My Grampy John was a born-and-raised U.S. citizen from New Hampshire with a New England lineage going back at least two generations. Likewise, my Nana was not from Scotland at all. I have no idea how that "knowledge" came to me, but she was born and raised in Quebec, Canada, and her lineage is Canadian going back a couple of generations, too. 

Those misunderstandings misdirected my attention as I started my climb up my own family tree. Being a novice with no formal training or education in genealogy, instead of focusing on one person at a time, I started skipping around trying to make sense of things. 

If you are just beginning to work on your own family tree, that is an inefficient way to work. You might populate your tree with erroneous information because something seems to make sense and/or you skipped or did not verify some fact.

So I reoriented my thoughts and actions and began looking at one person or family unit (husband and wife, for example) at a time. Doing so has been productive for me. I also expanded my sources; I have been a long-time subscriber to the big genealogy site, Ancestry.com, but doing so has limited me in some ways. Recently, I reactivated a 'free' membership to Family Search, another large genealogy repository based in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and has given me some data points, including documents, that I did not have from Ancestry.com.

While I was looking for birth documents from my maternal great-grandmother - finding birth certificates has been Challenge #1 for me - I discovered something I had not found on Ancestry.com. (By the way, as I mentioned above, the maternal side of my family hails from the United States, so finding information about them is much easier.) A quick trip to the Family Search data immediately pointed to a birth certificate for my Great-gramma Burke, BERTHA JULIA RAYMOND, who I knew as an 8-year old boy before father and my family left the United States for his original posting in Jordan. (I never saw her alive again until we returned for the only burial I have ever attended...hers.)

The birth certificate I found was not hers; I am still searching for that. It was for a stillborn baby boy she had on August 12, 1905, in Wilton, New Hampshire. But that is not even the 'ah hah!' moment for me - stillborn children were very common in the early 1900's in a very small town in rural New Hampshire. The eye-opener was the entry on the line marked "No. of children, 1st, 2d, 3d..."

8th. Yes, eighth.

Does that mean my great-grandmother had at least 8 children? Was it a code used by the physician? I have not answered those questions yet. Up to this point, I know of only five ancestors ... my grandfather and three of his brothers plus the one stillborn boy. Where there three more? If so, who were they? Finding definitive records on stillborn babies is challenging.

There is something else, too. The only stillborn baby relatives I have identified are males; did my great-grandmother give birth to any girls? Where did this stillborn baby boy fall in the lineage? Are there more than eight? That is possible since large families are common in my past - my maternal lineage is Roman Catholic.

I now have other questions to answer in the search for branches and leaves on my family tree. More questions mean more searching, validating, wondering, pondering ... and, of course, more than a bit of frustration. 

As I have said before, finding these exciting clues to previously unknown people is what makes my climb up my family tree so exciting and rewarding.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What's In a Name? Frustration!

This post will be relatively short because I am a bit frustrated. Here is why.

My last name is Wilkinson. It is a very popular name in England, the place I do much of my genealogy research. It is also a very popular name here in the USA in one time period in which I spend considerable research energy. My father, Fred James Wilkinson, most likely graduated from a New Hampshire teachers college, most likely in the late 1940's, from graduate school in Boston, Massachusetts, most likely in the early- to mid-1950's, and from Harvard University's doctoral program while I was living overseas in 1964.

The dates of his Bachelor and Masters degrees are what I am looking for, so far, unsuccessfully. I have contacted school administrators and am spending time researching what I can in newspapers, hoping I will find a clue or two. That is where the frustration is. You see, in the same time period as my study, a very well-known major college football coach was at the peak of his popularity and skill. And newsworthiness. His teams were great and he knew how to spread their popularity. Thus, he garnered many headlines in many newspapers (a major source of study for me) nationwide.

His name? Coach Bud Wilkinson, from my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. He is not a relative.

OH, how frustrating it is, trying to find articles about my Dad, Fred Wilkinson, when my search turns up 30-50 name matches to Bud Wilkinson, even from small, local Massachusetts and New Hampshire newspapers.

But as I keep saying (mostly for my benefit) if it was easy, everyone would do it and there would be no fun or challenge.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Travel Records Discovered




Earlier this week, while I was searching for documents I thought I had to continue a line of investigation of my ancestors - a letter I thought I had read recently and a few photographs I though my deceased Aunt had sent in a box that might be in my basement - I came across a collection of federal-green note books from the former Federal Supply Service, each one filled with lined pages with "Memoranda" on the cover. Years ago, these small notebooks were kept in federal office supply cabinets and were used by federal employees for all kinds of reasons.

The copies I have are mostly filled with irrelevant information, but there are two with entries that contain recorded information I long ago forgot I even kept...details on what would turn out to be my final 11-day permanent-change-of-station, or PCS, road trip from Anchorage, Alaska, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, after I had accepted my final promotion in a 30-year federal career. These were the paper records of that PCS move, including associated gas, hotel, and food receipts.

This blog entry is not specifically related to my own climb up my family tree. I am, however, very sensitive to the longevity of anything put on the Internet, which this will be, and hope that someday, in some way, these small data points might fill blanks for one of my descendants or might answer a question one of them might have as they climb their own tree and encounter my branch. They are the kind of records I wish I had for my own ancestors, but which I have neither found nor expect to find.

This small table might also give a reader some indication of how long a focused road trip from Washington to Michigan across the Northern Plains, done in Spring, in a 2002 Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 pickup with a Lance 1135 camper and everything I thought I would need for 60 days of temporary housing, would take. This was not a luxurious trip one might take on vacation, but was taken "to get there" and show up for work on Monday, May 7, 2007.

(For reference, this was about 2 months before I bought the house I live in now, just before the worldwide financial crisis of 2007/2008. Real estate in my part of Michigan has not improved much; my house continues to be "underwater," meaning I owe more than it is worth on the market.)

Here it is.
__________________________________________

April 26, 2007
 
Depart: Anchorage, AK 
Mileage: 50013
Fuel price: $3.19

Arrive: Whittier, AK
Mileage: 50110 (97)

April 26, 2007 - May 1, 2007

Aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System vessel M/V Malaspina en route to Bellingham, WA

May 1, 2007

Arrive and depart: Bellingham, WA
Mileage: 50,110

Arrive: Seattle, WA
Mileage: 50,215
Fuel price: $3.59

Arrive: Vantage, WA
Mileage: 50,355
Fuel price: $3.9

Arrive: Coeur d'Alene, ID
Mileage: 50,532
Fuel price: $2.94

May 2, 2007

Arrive: Frenchtown, MT
Mileage: 50,685
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Bozeman, MT
Mileage: 50,902
Fuel price: $2.99
May 3, 2007

Arrive: Hardin, MT
Mileage: 51,092
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Gillette, WY
Mileage: 51,279
Fuel price: $2.76

Arrive: Western, WY
Mileage: 51,464
Fuel price: $2.99

May 5, 2007
Arrive: Chamberlain, SD
Mileage: 51,639
Fuel price: $3.06

Arrive: Sioux Falls, SD
Mileage: 51,774
Fuel price: $2.94

Arrive: Fairmont, MN
Mileage: 51,896
Fuel price: $2.97

May 6, 2007

Arrive: Rochester, MN
Mileage: 52,023
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Mauston, WI
Mileage: 52,162
Fuel price: $3.05

Arrive: Rockford, IL
Mileage: 52,303
Fuel price: $3.15

Arrive terminus: Grand Rapids, MI
Mileage: 52,579

TOTAL MILES: 2,566

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Who Are You, Elizabeth? Please Let Me Find You

There is not much that can be said about brick walls, true brick walls, other than to describe the frustration and angst they create. I have been dealing with one in my recent ancestry.

As I have written before, I have no written records or photographs of my grandparents and they never talked about their pre-immigration lives. In fact, they hardly even acknowledged living in England, so I know almost nothing about my roots. Everything I know I have gleaned through painstaking, often frustrating research. Such has been the case with my positively identifying my paternal grandfather's father, my great-grandfather.

I heard his name only occasionally as a child. He was named either Samuel or he was named Sam, which can either be a true name or a shortened version of Samuel. I am relatively sure that both of those point to him because of my childhood memory of hearing my grandfather mention that name, though never the "here is a story about my father, Sam" sense. I also have found supporting documents leading me to conclude that both identify the same person. However, without any more evidence, I can only conclude a high likelihood, not an absolute certainty. For me, that is good enough for now, though my search is not done.

But he is not the brick wall that is the subject of this post.

Great-grandfather Sam married a woman named Elizabeth or Eliza, depending on which record I review. That is the first problem - trying to determine the correct name. I originally thought that census enumerators and other record keepers were merely shortening 'Elizabeth' into 'Eliza,' which I found to be a fairly common result, but when I dug a bit deeper, I also learned that 'Eliza' was a perfectly acceptable name by itself. It was not just a shortened version of Elizabeth, but was relatively popular stand-alone name in late-1800's England, the land and time of her birth and upbringing.

That leaves me with the possibility that my great-grandmother is named either Elizabeth or Eliza, though most of the evidence points to Elizabeth. And that is the easy part because she has become my brick wall. Why, you ask?

What I do not know is her last name is.

There are two likely choices, Mitchell or Wakefield and so far, I cannot conclude to a high likelihood which it is. I have official documents that point to each of them and each one of the names is supported in one way or another, but so far, I have found nothing that helps me pin down the correct one. And, of course, it is also possible that neither of those is her correct last name. Wakefield and Mitchell do seem to be the strong choices, though.

USA and England census documents only show Sam as being married to "Elizabeth Wilkinson." Other supporting documents show Sam or Samuel being married to "Elizabeth" with no last name being listed for her. So far, I have not located Sam's marriage certificate, so I cannot validate to whom he was married--the marriage happened before he immigrated to the USA. I have also found nothing documenting her unmarried name to a high degree of certainty.

Being an experienced investigator, I have tried to approach this puzzle in all the ways I can think of with the hope of finding the clue that will open up this case for me. But I recall something I was told long ago by an instructor of mine. It was in reference to investigations and applies to genealogical research.

Not all clues lead somewhere. Not all questions have answers. Sometimes, the sidewalk just ends and doesn't go anywhere.

I am not ready to give up this search yet. Many others, including professional genealogists, have encountered brick walls that have taken years to break down. Mine might be one of those.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What Is the Plan?

Like others, there are four main branches of my family tree, all immigrants from other countries.

My Dad's side, Fred James Wilkinson:
  • The Wilkinson branch (my grandfather) -- These ancestors hail from the Yorkshire and Lancashire, England, areas, mostly, though there appears to be significant movement among my late-19th Century ancestors.
  • The Batty branch (my grandmother) -- Most of these are from the same area in England.
There appears to be a lot of interplay between the Wilkinson and Batty names in the West Riding section of Yorkshire in old England. Whether this played into my lineage before their arrival at Ellis Island in the early 20th Century with millions of immigrants, I do not know.

My Mom's side, Beverly Lorraine Burke:
  • The Burke branch (my grandfather) -- The main non-USA origins of this side of the family is not quite clear yet, though certainly Ireland is a big part; I just have not learned when yet. As far as I know so far, this branch has the deepest roots in the United States of all; I might have ancestors as far back as the U.S. Civil War, but I have not validated that yet. It is this branch on which I discovered my Utah/Nevada recent relatives, the first I have discovered outside New England.
  • The Thompson branch (my grandmother) -- Most of them are from Quebec, Canada, and probably from Scotland before that, though I have not seriously started that search yet.
One of the significant brick walls on the Wilkinson branch is learning the name of my great-grandfather, my Grampy Fred's father. Recall that I have no documents and no photographs of any kind from his side of the family. I have the memory of only one oral family story - I recall my grandfather telling me his (unnamed) brother was a very good, self-taught barroom piano player with extremely strong hands.

But that is all I know. No names of relatives or significant dates to help my quest to fill in the blanks, so to speak. My Wilkinson-branch grandparents were loathe to talk about anything in their pre-USA lives. They left it all behind as they came here to get away from what they were, to start a new, better, more secure life.

Everything I know about them I have figured out with what a court would call circumstantial evidence. That is not always the best evidence to prove a case.

Learning my great-grandfather's name is an essential early step in my journey. I think it is Samuel, but without some other corroborating evidence, I am not convinced of what I think I know. Considering that what I thought I knew as a child growing up turned out to be wrong, validating my knowledge is important.

So what is the plan? It is to figure out how to learn what I do not know.

Simple enough, eh?