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: $2.9
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


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?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Did You Get Here?

This week has been a rough one for me for reasons I will not go into. Instead of explaining what I did in my travels up my family tree, I found myself reading another blog that relates to the question, 'How did you get here?' It is a question I bet everyone who has an interest in discovering the details of their own family tree have asked and can have several meanings. Obviously, the general question about one's family history relating to genealogy is probably the foremost question, but for me, it was something else.

Here is my story.

As a reader of my blog knows, I am not a professional genealogist and as far as I know, there are no other people in my family that have ever been interested in our shared family history. I know this because if there had been anyone interested in discovering our shared past or in leaving some information for our future generations, there would be documents or stories or photos with details. I have no documents of any kind and very few photos, most of which have very little or no information written on them

I was not left with one significant date; what I know I have learned through painstaking online research. But much of what I thought I knew as a child - like what I thought was a direct Irish ancestry - turned out to be inaccurate and things I did not know - like my direct Quebec connection - turned out to be a major part of my family history. My early knowledge of my family was restricted to several New England states; it did not include a rather substantial, fairly recent branch in Utah and Nevada. And all of that is only one one side of my family, my father's. I have not even begun looking at my maternal grandmother's Quebec history for one basic reason - I do not have a good recollection of my high school French!

So, with little to go on, poor childhood memories, and no adult before pushing my interest in the 'family history' direction, how did I get here? It really is pretty simple, though the process took almost 40 years to ferment into an action plan.

In 1967, an historian and anthropologist, Harold Courlander, wrote a novel that became the focal point in a very public plagiarism lawsuit against what would become one of the most significant books in the 1970's. You may know the Alex Haley book by the wildly popular 1977 television miniseries....Roots.

Though Roots was later shown to be largely fictional - the genealogical basis for the book was contested almost immediately upon publication in 1976 - the miniseries helped initiate a national interest in learning about one's own family history. Ours is a nation of immigrants, whether African, English, Irish, or the original American Indian residents. We all have an interest in knowing how we got here.

I never saw the television series - my wife was in grad school and we were raising our first child at the time, so there was no money for a television in the house - but I did have access to a library and managed to check out the rather hefty book. I read it cover to cover over the course of a few weeks working the night shift at a local retirement home where I had a job.

I can say with certainty that book did ignite the ember that eventually became a full-blown fire of interest in my family history, 40 years later. That fire continues today and is the reason I do what I do and why I write about it.

That is how I got here. What is your story?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

My First Real Brick Wall

Here it is. It had come. I knew it would happen. I knew I would get to one. There is no surprise.

There is no comfort in knowing that.

I am at the point in my climb up my family tree where further progress is proving quite difficult…and I am not far up my tree at all. You may recall I grew up and spent most of my young life overseas, away from grandparents and their - and my - non-family relatives. When they all died - my parents, their siblings, and all four of my grandparents are dead - none of them had left any documentation to go on, so my search has been slow, laborious, and often frustrating.

As you have read if you have read my previous blog posts - and I hope you have...or will! - I have learned (and validated) things about my grandparents that differed significantly from what I thought I knew growing up. I learned that, contrary to my young knowledge, many of them were actually born here in the USA. In fact, not only were they born here in the United States, there is a long history of native-USA-born relatives in my tree. There is also a Canadian connection through my maternal grandmother, Nine Lillian Thompson, about which I knew nothing. I had been taught that she was a Scot!

But as I get to my second great-grandparent level, I have encountered a problem I knew existed, knew I would encounter, and hoped I would be able to resolve without too much difficulty.

Because I have no records and have many relatives with the same or similar names, differentiating among them is becoming difficult. Add to that the fact that enumerators of both United States and England census reports tend to spell one major branch of my tree, my maternal grandmother's BATTY side, as either BATTY or BATTEY. 

Not having any documentation from anyone about their past, I have been unable in some cases to validate that this person's or that person's record or document is, in fact, a relative. I wrote last time that I found a record of a relative whose name was illegible either because it had been erased, damaged by water, or for some other reason. 

As you know, I use the online resources of, Family Tree Maker, and Family Search because I do not have the resources to visit the locations and review the source documents in person, but in this one case, I doubt it would make any difference. My online sources provide high-quality reproductions; the original document would not magically have my ancestor's name appear.

So when I get to a point in my search that has many "Batty" or "Burke" names living in the same general area at the same general time, it is difficult to determine which, IF ANY, of those names is a relative. 
That is where I am now.

To make matters worse, I have validated relatives with James, John, Samuel, William, and Edward names galore, as I am sure many other Christian-based families have. In fact, I am currently evaluating one branch I found with all those names used as sons, fathers, grandsons, and grandfathers...and I have not found a connection to a known relative in my own tree. I am sure there is one, I am sure I will find it, but this brick wall is, indeed, very sturdy.

Keep in mind that is with relatively close ancestors; I really do not loo relish getting into the 5th or 6th great-grandparent level. They will all live in areas of England, Ireland, and Scotland that are very far removed from where I am now. 

My tree is growing, the branches expanding, and the leaves increasing in numbers. Not having records, documents, or oral histories has proven to make this process much more difficult than I really anticipated.

I have not even started on my maternal grandmother's Thompson Canadian side. I have no documents on her, either, and her line seems to hail from Quebec, with lots of records in French, so won't that be a fun journey! 

But that is for later...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

So You Found a Whole New Line of Relatives

While looking at the 1900 U.S. federal census to validate one name I found on a gravestone marker, EDWARD H BURKE, I discovered what I think is an entire new line of relatives. Let me explain.

First, as you might recall from my previous posts, I have a lot of "John Burke" relatives, including my maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE. In fact, I started looking at him when I started this climb up my own family tree years ago. In the process and in addition to John Francis, I found John Edward, and two John Richard's, a generation apart, though they are not shown as "Senior" and/or "Junior." There is also EDWARD HENRY BURKE, brother to my maternal grandfather, who is married to CATHERINE PALMER FAUSTINE. It is while looking into her records and her gravestone that I found what I think are new ancestors.

While looking at the Salem Ward 3, Massachusetts, 1900 Census, taken 06 June 1900,  I discovered a previously unknown family with the same last name as my known relatives,  but none of whom show up in my current tree. In the order they are listed on the Census, they are:
  • JOHN F BURKE -- born Dec 1838 (Head)
  • MARY A -- Jan 1866 (Wife)
  • JOSEPH P -- May 1888 (son)
  • WILLIAM H -- July 1889 (son)
  • MARY M -- Aug 1882 (daughter)
  • ELIZABETH E -- Oct 1893 (daughter)
  • FRANCIS T -- Oct 1896 (son)
  • CATHERINE -- May 1900 (newborn daughter; no middle initial shown)
My next project is to determine if these Burkes are my relations. The name, city, state, and timeframe match, but "Burke" is a very popular name in that time and area, so much care must be taken before adding them to the tree.

So far, there are possible entries in 1910 and 1930 Censuses, but Baby Catherine does not show up; perhaps she died in childhood or her name was misspelled - a KATHERINE T BURKE does show up in the Salem, Mass, birth records, but the original find does not include a middle initial. More validation is needed.

For beginners like me, finding familiar names is very exciting and possibly important. It is also critically important that these names be properly vetted and validated before assuming they are ancestors. For me, adding these names to my family tree on and Family Tree Maker allows their powerful search algorithms to work for me by going places I cannot go and searching records I cannot access personally. I am suspicious and cautious. Until this new family is validated, I am not prepared to say I have new relatives.

But this is the exciting part of genealogy, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

This Is What a Brick Wall Looks Like

In a Facebook post elsewhere, I mentioned that beginners to genealogy might not really understand what a so-called 'brick wall' is. It is a term often used but rarely defined, for good reason. These brick walls can come in many shapes and sizes, can be physical or missing records, or as in this case, one illegible part of an otherwise good record, most likely because of some damage and the passage of time.

My maternal grandfather is JOHN FRANCIS BURKE. His father, my great-grandfather, is JOHN RICHARD BURKE. *HIS* father, my 2nd great-grandfather, was always known to me as JOHN RICHARD BURKE, but honestly, I have had difficulty validating that beyond a reasonable doubt. I have no records of any of my grandparents' families, including names, so getting a good picture of them has been difficult.

I thought I was secure in my knowledge of my 2nd great-grandfather BURKE's name until I came onto this Massachusetts birth record. It is hand-done and quite old. Presumably, there has been some damage to the original document (probably water damage to the original ink), thus making his first name illegible.

Look at the last line of the record. He was born 16 Feb 1866 in Lancaster, Massachusetts. His mother is Bridget Head and his father is John Burke; both those names are validated. His, however...

Can you figure out what it might be? Was it erased? Is that water damage? I do not have access to the original document, so if you have a clue, leave a comment. It is a tough one to get over, this brick wall!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Going deep...while going long

Last month, I asked a question of you readers: Do I go "deep" into the individuals as I climb my family tree, or do I go "long" and add more names, dates, and events to their lives? The answers were, as I expected, thoughtfully provided. Many commenters explained that doing both is important and that by "going long," while validating and confirming information that would lead to other ancestors, I would, of course, also be "going deep."

The wisdom of this was confirmed earlier.

One day, I chose to spend some time looking into the background of my maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE. To refresh your memory, I always thought he was an immigrant from Ireland; I learned that was not true and he was, in fact, born and raised in Wilton, New Hampshire. His father was born and raised in Wilton and it was his great grandfather, WALTER BURKE, my third great-grandfather, who was the first Irish immigrant on his side of my family. Learning a fact that conflicted with my earliest childhood beliefs was really what motivated me to begin working on my family tree in retirement.

While I was working on Grampy John's past, I somehow came across the name of a distant relative I had not heard or seen before:


Finding that name turned out to be a shocking, exciting discovery.

I probably came to Clarence through an "shaking leaf" hint, which is how I come to many new names. What was unique and very exciting to me was finding a distant relative from the Desert Southwest of the USA. Prior to this and for most of my life, I thought all my relatives were immigrants from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. Finding a connection to Utah and Nevada opens up an entirely unexpected, very exciting new area to me. Learning that some, perhaps many, of my distant relatives were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the Mormons, was exciting. I knew of my own connection to Christian religions including Catholics, Presbyterians, and the Church of England, but finding an LDS connection was new and unexpected. My former spouse was LDS and during our marriage, I learned a lot about that part of Christianity.

Because I knew nothing about my family connection to our West before, I allowed myself to spend some time learning about Clarence and my other distant ancestors. So far, I have learned they mostly lived in Utah and Nevada, in the late 20th Century timeframe. Most of them seem to have been born and raised, and were married in Salt Lake City, probably in one of the many LDS temples there. It is not uncommon for our modern population to relocate and the LDS community is no different. In Las Vegas, Nevada, my relative CLARENCE HARDING RIVES, was an LDS Church leader, a Boy Scout executive, and a retired Clark County deputy sheriff.

I spent some time working to find the original name that connected my grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, to my family tree in the Desert Southwest. I wanted my excitement to lead me to "good" clues that I could validate, of course, and so far, I seem to have been successful. I still am curious about that connection to an area I never knew about until very recently. It is important to note that the branch of my family tree is pretty far from the trunk (to overuse the "tree" analogy.) According to, Clarence Harding Rives is the brother-in-law of my 1st cousin 1x removed. As a neophyte to genealogy, I have no mental concept of how he relates to someone I know; clearly he does and understanding how well enough to be able to describe it to my own children is my current focus. (Recall that I have no first cousins - my Dad was an only child and my Mom had only one unmarried, childless sister - so finding the branches that connect me to him is important.)

This is post is part of my on-going project to decide whether to "go deep" or to "go long." As I wrote before, most commenters suggested that doing both at the same time is the way to go. One made the spot-on point that genealogy is a long-term project that can lead the researcher in unexpected ways to unexpected, exciting finds.

Finding Clarence is an example of going deep. Very deep. It is akin to making a deep-sea dive far beyond any one has ever done before. Down there, a diver would see things totally new and unexpected. That is what happened to me. Now I must determine through which known relative he relates to me and see how far out West my tree branches go. I do recall my only Aunt, CHARLEENE FRANCES BURKE, living and working as a teacher for the US Department of Defense in Alamogordo, New Mexico, but I do not know why she moved there or if she knew anyone when she was there. Perhaps she did and CHARLES HARDING RIVES is part of that connection.

That would be the "going long" part.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Go deep or go long?

I have been away for a couple of weeks while one of my daughters gave birth to a new granddaughter, another leaf on my family tree! There were some issues, though not medical, really. This was not her first child and normally, the 'due date' is fairly accurate, usually within a day or two or three. Obstetrical science has progressed, the technology is marvelous, and the science behind it amazing. Yet it remains a huge unknown; Mother Nature and a woman's body are the final determinants as to when birth will occur, not medical know-how.

In my daughter's case, that meant my leaving her house after a 10-day stay without having had the opportunity to hold my new granddaughter after birth.

It also meant I missed the birth by 24 hours! Twenty. Four. Hours.

Ah, if only...

But 'if only' does not count, so now I am back home and at this family search business, which I have worked on for a couple of years.

I have enjoyed my activities immensely. I have learned many things about my ancestors going back several generations. I have learned things about my immediate grandparents that completely shocked me and changed the preconceived memories I have always had about their pasts. I have learned things about where they came from in England - eventually, I hope to get to Ireland, too, but that will have to wait because validated facts about my Irish ancestry are in very short supply.

In short, I have learned some of the Who, Where, When about some of the people in my past I either did not know well (because I was brought up a Third Culture Kid overseas, the son of a US diplomat) or did not know at all (because of their deaths.) I have been contacted by and am in touch with the only cousin I know about, a second cousin who remembers me and my family from my childhood. I still can barely explain the excitement I feel just knowing her, even though I have no memory of us ever meeting.

Those factors, combined with my insatiable curiosity and drive to fill in the blanks - chasms, really -  in my past, have led me to wonder more about the What and Why parts of my ancestors' pasts. What made my ancestors do what they did? Why did they do what they did (beyond the 'improve life for us' immigration issue.) What did they do when they were there, wherever that was? What was going on in their neighborhood, town, state, country, at the time? What did they have to do with the adults of some children whose names I recall from my pre-Middle East life?

The pressing question now is:

Should I continue "going long," meaning going farther and farther back into my past? I will fill out my family tree with names, dates, and places. But that is pretty much all I will be doing...filling in those chasms. I would not know much about the individuals belonging to those names.

Or do I change tack slightly and start "going deep," meaning do I spend more time, energy, and probably money going deeper into the individuals that I already know?

To me, that is akin to putting more leaves on my family tree - as my daughter has just done with the birth of my granddaughter, Charlotte - instead of focusing on adding branches in faraway places like Ireland.

I need your help, dear readers, of all kinds. I do not want to become a semi-professional genealogist; I am still doing this for me, but I am also aware enough of my own personality to know that I will never be able to stop; I never have enough information.

I would like the input of friends, family, the genealogists, professional or not, who have been doing this much longer than me and really anyone reading who might have greater insight into the Who, What, Where, When, and Why, factors involved in climbing up ones family tree.

So let me know. Write a comment. Send me an email. Find a carrier pigeon. Use a smoke signal or semaphore, though, honestly, they probably will not work very well.

Let me hear from you!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Location, Location, Location

As in real estate, the specific details are important.

Many of my English relatives hail from "Manchester." I put it in parentheses for the reasons I explained last time - city size. If one is from London or Chicago or Beijing or Mexico City, having the city name, alone, might be good enough for most purposes.

But it definitely is not enough when trying to determine the location of an ancestor's past to validate that "this" Burke, for example, is the right one and "that" Burke is not.

As I have been working on that validation, I have come to realize that most of the 'hits' I have for my Manchester ancestors are in the east-to-northeast part of the greater Manchester area. Places with names like Huddersfield and Saddleworth and Ashton-under-Lyne and Mossley and Oldham. Some of them are a pretty good distance, considering the time of my investigation, the late 19th Century.

One of the characteristics of beginning a genealogical trip, I am learning, is that I will become much more aware of old geographical boundaries, old versus current place names, and, hopefully in this case, any possible reasons for population movement. So, as a retired investigator, I ask myself questions. Some will have answers, some might not.

  • Why would my ancestors only come from one general direction of a greater metropolitan area in the late 1870's to the early 1900's? 
  • Was there a disease or agricultural or manufacturing or other reason to move? 
  • What information am I missing that I need to find?
  • What do I not know that I need to know?

Perhaps all this seems like going overboard, like digging up too much information. And just to put a name on a list. I do not think so. As I have said, I have relatives with common names - like the 'Burke' example above - and I really want to make my tree as accurate as I can. My previous life as an investigator makes just picking any ol' name willy-nilly an unacceptable tactic.

Besides, so many online family trees are interconnected by the Big Four genealogy sites; having accurate information in those trees helps us all. Beginners like me should always be cautious and a bit suspicious, especially because, in my case, my hope is to give a product to my children and grandchildren that I never had -- information about their families.

So now, off to the history books to learn about population movements in northern England near the Scottish border beginning about 1870.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Challenge: How to Determine the "Right" Place

In past posts, I wrote about my challenges determining, for example, which "John Burke" is my grandfather and which is my 3rd great-grandfather and which is not a relative at all. Without having documentation like a family Bible or detailed photographs or even oral history, making sure I am satisfied that 'this one' is the right one and 'that one' is not has been the biggest challenge, along with the urge to pick 'this one' or 'that one.'

Another difficult and equally challenging task related to validating the correct person is location.

In the United States, we break down our geography into states, counties or parishes, and towns or cities. With very few exceptions, most of us live in a geographical location that can be determined by knowing these three locations. Take me as an example. How I would be located is as follows:
  • State: Michigan
  • County: Kent
  • City: Caledonia or Dutton
  • Street: Yes, there is one
I list two cities because the United States Postal Service has the authority and responsibility to determine the proper mailing address for every house or apartment. I live in a rural area outside the geographical boundaries of the Town of Caledonia, an incorporated city, or Dutton, an unincorporated cluster of buildings in Kent County. The Post Office authorized the use of either name for my home's mailing address.

Other countries have different geographical breakdown; England has been my focus for the past couple of years. (In the future, I will focus on Ireland and Scotland, the other two countries from which ancestors in different branches of my family tree hailed.) London, particularly, has been one of my focal points and I have learned that the breakdown is quite different. I will not go into details because, honestly, I do not have many - I am still learning - but there is a movie title that can give a clue to the complexity of my search.

Years ago, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant did a movie called "Notting Hill." Julia Roberts played a major American famous movie star; Hugh Grant played the owner of a small, not-very-profitable travel book store in the Notting Hill 'neighborhood' of London. The story is of the improbable and highly-unlikely love between them.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that one of my ancestors came from London, in the southeast part of England. Determining that s/he was from Notting Hill or not would be critical; just being from "London" would not be helpful in validating a name. It is a very large city with many neighborhoods with a high probability of finding like-named people all over England, especially during the late1800's and early 1900's, when a lot of international travel was taking place.

My ancestors hail from Manchester, another large English city and metropolitan borough, in the county of Lancashire, farther northwest, near Liverpool, with similar neighborhood or area names.

In situations like that, figuring out that 'this person' may be the right ancestor and 'that person' is not is critical. And challenging, sometimes seeming to be overwhelmingly difficult. I have learned much about how English cities are broken down and named and I have much, much more to learn. It is not easy keeping it straight, especially considering that changes have been made in the last 100 years.

But as I have said before, if genealogy was easy, there would be no field of study, no genealogical me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Basic Information: What Census Data Are Available?

From (even the cool tree):

"Although censuses are a source of genealogical information, the Census Bureau does not provide these data. The Census Bureau is not able to locate missing persons, or provide recent information on individuals.

My Very First "Found" Relative!

As a reminder to any new readers, I was born to a father who was an only child and a mother who had only one never-married-and-childless sister. I grew up the son of a USAID diplomat in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey for most of my early and teenage years. I know more about my high school chums than my own family.

Consequently, I never developed strong ties to my extended USA family that many, if not most, families enjoy. I miss having those ties. As I age, connecting with my past has become more important; that is the primary reason I started my genealogical climb up my own family tree. Though all of my ancestors, my parents included, are dead, I want to do what I can to reconnect them and where they lived.

I remember hearing many names of people I have little or no memory of meeting, places I have heard about and only vaguely recall. I remember certain events that I even wonder if they ever happened anywhere but my mind. My ancestors left no written records, no verbal stories, and precious few photographs, many of which have nothing written on the back to indicate dates, names, or places. All told, with the exception of my own immediate family, four siblings and two parents, I have almost no past.

Until this week.

I have been a paid member of for several years and have slowly and arduously working on my own tree in hopes of filling some of that empty past. This week, I got an email through the Ancestry site from a person who had a LOT of information about my past. Names, places, turns out she and I are cousins, the first one I have ever "met!" Her maiden name is the same as my paternal great-grandmother, Minnie Batty, to whom we are both related in different ways. She knew my father, FRED JAMES WILKINSON, who influenced her teaching/librarian career; they even went to the same Teachers College. She knows the name of a camp where he worked when I was just a toddler, of which I have only a vague memory, but a memory that includes a very strong image of me, a nap, a bed, a hornet's nest, and boys laughing. You probably can fill in some of the blanks pretty accurately.

My cousin has been working on her own family tree since 2008. She has siblings and many memories about our shared ancestors, starting with my Great Gramma Minnie. Already, many blanks have been filled in, many questions answered, and many points of confusion clarified.

And we have just started sharing information! She is a retire librarian and a much-more experienced genealogist than I am, so you can be assured I will pick her brain for those tidbits of information I need to fill out my tree.

After all, that is what it's all about. Well, and finding my cousins!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Oh, the Confusing Facts One Finds

Things can become confusing very quickly, if one does not pay close attention to the details and documentation as one goes along. Here is one example:

My great-grandmother, MINNIE BATTY, was born on 9 March 1898, in Manchester, Lancashire, England.

She appears for the first time in the 1901 England Census as a 3-year old living with her grandparents, my 3rd great-grandparents, WILLIAM and ELIZABETH RADCLIFF, and their children, ARTHUR, EMILY, FLORENCE, WILLIAM, and ELIZABETH, on Manchester Rd, Mossley, Lancashire.

But she does not live with her parents.

Her parents, my 2nd great-grandparents, SAMUEL and PAMELA BATTY, are also found in the 1901 England Census, but in an entirely different part of Manchester, the town of MINNIE's birth.

They live there with their other children (her siblings), ELIZABETH, HENRY, JAMES, ELSIE, ELY, and a couple of non-relative boarders at 17 Gibson St, South Manchester. The address is also confirmed with the baptism record for Elsie and Henry on 29 Aug 1900.

The clue is further muddied because MINNIE's grandparents' domicile on Manchester Rd, Mossley, has no house number listed on the Census, while the one in South Manchester does. I cannot determine if other people listed next on the Census list, but not related to the Head of the household, live there or next door.

One can only wonder why a parent would send a child to live in another part of Manchester with her grandparents, who already have a sizable family. One can guess, of course, that the reason is financial, but without serious digging, one might never know.

The 1901 England Census form does not include any indication if the houses are owned or rented, so this is one place an in-depth familiarity with the two locations at the time - or an in-person visit now - would be valuable. Without it, there are only guesses.

It will be interesting to track her living arrangements before her emigration to the United States in 1920. However, for a beginner, this is an important realization. Not all children live with their birth parents, even when both are living.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Entering Accurate Data Prevents Future Problems

One quickly learns that delving into ones past filled with immigrants who left no written records can lead to frustrating brick walls. As one who is new to genealogy, I regularly encounter brick walls relating to names of my ancestors and dates. I will cover both of those in this post.

Conflicting names

I watched a genealogy video this morning that gave me a hint of the possible reason for similar names. None of the records I found for my ancestors used the suffixes "Junior," "Senior," "II," "III," and so on, for their offspring (I am not even sure if these suffixes would appear in official documents) but I have lots of "John" and "Walter" Burkes with different middle names ... Edward, Francis, France, Henry, Michael and ... well, you get the picture. You probably have similar issues in your own tree.

Validating the names is critical to having an accurate tree. Making sense of them without specific validating documentation (things like property ownership, tax rolls, etc.) has proven to be challenging for me, making progress farther back into my history quite challenging. To recap:

  • My maternal grandfather is John FRANCIS Burke; born 1891, died 1963
  • His father, my great-grandfather, is John RICHARD Burke, born 1866, died 1941 (about age 25)
  • His father, my 2nd great-grandfather, is also John RICHARD Burke, born 1846, died 1882 (about age 20)
  • His father, my 3rd great-grandfather may be WALTER BURKE, born 1823 (about age 23); so far, I cannot validate any information about him, including his middle name.

Keeping the people and their names straight - to say nothing of accurate - requires special attention to my second focal area, dates.

Checking dates

Birth and death dates have to make some sense even to be considered, but they are often ignored as a beginner clicks and copies hints into ones tree. It is possible that a baby is born after the father died, but those facts should be rigorously validated. If an unvalidated name is put into a tree, the computer algorithms that generate possible hints will be skewed, inaccurate, or not found at all.

In looking closely at the one line of my family tree involving only one of my four direct grandfather ancestors listed above, I looked at the children born to ensure a true genealogical connection. What I found, instead, are seriously conflicting dates.

According to my tree, my 2nd great-grandfather, JOHN RICHARD BURKE (b. 1846, d. 1882) had these children. (The number in parentheses is his approximate age when the child was born.)

  • John Richard, born 1866 (20)
  • Michael Henry, born 1867 (21)
  • Thomas F., born 1875 (29)
  • Walter Edmund, born 1876 (30)
  • Agnes Allusia, born 1877 (31)
  • Catherine, born 1879 (33)
  • Bridget, born 1882 (36)
  • John, born 1883 (37)
  • James, born 1885
  • Bernard, born 1887
  • Michael, born 1889
  • Joseph, born 1892
  • Martin, born 1895, and,
  • Lizzie, born 1898

Checking the dates shows that all the names in italics are offspring that were born after their father's death in 1882.

While it is possible that Bridget and John were born after he died, in calendar years 1882 and 1883, whether that is true would depend on several factors falling neatly into place, including his June 1882 death and their birth months, which remain unvalidated. My investigator brain doubts the names after are related because I am pretty sure it is not possible for a child to be born of a parent three or more calendar years after his death, so I have more work to validate information and some "cleaning house" to be done.

Another suspicious entry is between MICHAEL HENRY, 1867, and THOMAS F, 1875. All other children are born a calendar year or two apart, but these are born eight years apart. It is possible there is a good reason for this, but for an Irish Catholic family, it would have to be related to the husband and wife being separated. It is possible, but this pair is also suspicious and needs additional validation to explain the difference in birth years.

I hope this gives a beginner a good picture into the dangers of adding names to a family tree and the importance of validating information before doing so. Be careful using those (or any other) hints!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

DNA: What should I do with it?

DNA is all the rage in genealogical research these days. The expense of DNA testing has dropped significantly while the accuracy has increased substantially. As more and more people offer their samples untilfor testing, the databases increase, thus presumably increasing the accuracy even more. Combine the voluntary samples that we family tree searchers submit with the not-so-voluntary sample submitted by law enforcement agencies worldwide and you have a very large database of information.

Information, however, does not become actionable (as a retired CIA officer I know called it) that information is assigned some value. Today, I will show you what information my DNA results have given me and what I do with it to make it actionable, if anything.

I grew up pretty much knowing my roots were in Great Britain and Ireland. Though my search has clarified many false understandings - whether of my own misunderstanding or from misinformation given by my ancestors - my general search has been and continues to be in that part of Europe. 

When I received my first DNA results a few years ago, results which continue to be updated, albeit with minor changes, as the DNA database increases, I was fairly surprised to read the information. 
  • Before I continue, let me tell you I am a retired federal investigator, not a DNA scientist. I have not spent a lot of time studying the whys-and-wherefores of genetic science, through I did take many related science courses in college.
Here is what what AncestryDNA says about my genetic past, by percentage, high to low.

Great Britain (34%)

  • Primarily in: England, Scotland, Wales
  • Also in: Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy

The history of Great Britain is often told in terms of the invasions with different groups of invaders displacing the native population. The Romans, Anglo-Saxon, Vikings and Normans have all left their mark on Great Britain both politically and culturally. However, the story of Great Britain is far more complex than the traditional view of invaders displacing existing populations. In fact modern studies of British people tend to suggest the earliest populations continued to exist and adapt and absorb the new arrivals.

Europe West (33%)
  • Primarily in: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
  • Also in: England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
The Europe West region is a broad expanse stretching from Amsterdam's sea-level metropolis to the majestic peaks of the Alps. Geographically dominated by France in the west and Germany in the east, it includes several nations with distinct cultural identities. From the boisterous beer gardens of Munich to the sun-soaked vineyards of Bordeaux and the alpine dairy farms of Switzerland, it is a region of charming cultural diversity.

Ireland (28%)

  • Primarily in: Ireland, Wales, Scotland
  • Also in: France, England

Ireland is located in the eastern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, directly west of Great Britain. A variety of internal and external influences have shaped Ireland as we know it today. Ireland’s modern cultural remains deeply rooted in the Celtic culture that spread across much of Central Europe and into the British Isles. Along with Wales, Scotland, and a handful of other isolated communities within the British Isles, Ireland remains one of the last holdouts of the ancient Celtic languages that were once spoken throughout much of Western Europe. And though closely tied to Great Britain, both geographically and historically, the Irish have fiercely maintained their unique character through the centuries.

The first thing that surprised me was that Ireland was not combined with Great Britain. The more I thought about it, however, it made sense. Millions of our ancestors, mine included, hail from Ireland, not England. Considering the expanse of the British Empire and the political nature of Great Britain over history, not separating them out would have skewed the numbers to an almost-meaningless degree.

But still, that leaves 5% of my DNA from what Ancestry's DNA calls "trace" areas: Africa (2%); Eastern Europe (2%); and Asia (1%). Though these percentages are low enough individually to be considered scientific chance, taken together, the 5% raises questions in my mind, especially considering the diversity of the findings:
  1. Why do I seem to have a greater "tie-in" to Africa than any other geographical area, including one very close to my primary area? As far as I know, I am 100% Caucasian.
  2. How can I have as much African DNA as Eastern European?
  3. If not by chance, which ancestors of mine began the journey from the African Continent to the European Continent? When? And why?
These are  two of the many questions I look to resolve. Perhaps the answer is related to mathematical chaotic behavior. Perhaps merely scientific chance. And because the nomadic nature of humans over time is more or less documented, perhaps some of my very-distant ancestors, those that I have not even begun to think exist, came from Eastern Europe or Northern Africa.

Who knows? The search is the reason for the journey!

Friday, January 27, 2017

It is like a journey in a foreign country, isn't it?

Sometimes, I divert to a far corner of my family tree just for a short visit. 
It is far from where most of my efforts are - validating what I know about my maternal and paternal grandparents and their parents - but I do from time to time to stay enthused.
In my research, I primarily use the huge databases at other connections (who, as I have written before, does not compensate me for any of my work; my blog is not monetized and I pay for the membership) and from time to time, I am contacted by someone else doing research on their own family trees. Some of them think we are related and I have never found that to be true. 
One fellow I met about 2 years ago keeps popping up because he appears to be related, though neither of us has figured out how yet. One of his close relatives is related to one of my grandfather's brothers. (I am not naming names to protect his identity; he does not know I write a blog and has not given me consent to include him.) 
This morning while I was scrounging around in that faraway, dusty corner of my family tree, I came across a name in my own tree who has his last name for the first time. You know the kind of "distant relative" because you have them yourself ... the daughter of the 2nd spouse of the son of my fourth cousin 3 times removed... 
My poor brain has no idea what to do with that kind of information, but the mere fact that I have seen a last name from modern time I recognize is enough to keep the spark going. Perhaps one day we will validate the information enough to call each other 'Cousin.'
It could happen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

More details, please!

I began this blog as a way to describe in some detail how I climbed the branches to my own family tree. So far, I have not done such a good job in the "some detail" department, so I will remedy that now as I describe how I hope to learn the middle name of the person I think is my <3rd?> great-grandfather, JOHN J BURKE in my tree.

In case you have not read my previous posts - and you should - I learned many facts that conflicted mightily with what I thought I knew growing up. For example, whereas I thought all four of my grandparents were early-1900's immigrants, I quickly learned that was not at all true. My maternal grandfather, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, was a native-born Wilton, NH, citizen, and his wife, my maternal grandmother, NINA LILLIAN THOMPSON, was a native-born Canadian. Both do appear to have their roots in Ireland.

Digging up those roots is the journey I am on now, starting with his father, JOHN RICHARD BURKE, whose name is verified through several documented sources

My first step in any new clue is to investigate United States Census reports, if any. These are generally reliable sources of information as long as one understands the limitations that might exist because of name spelling, house occupants, census taker's penmanship, and legibility of the online document itself.

As an aside, recall that I use as my primary source, though there are many others, and I am not compensated in any way by them for using their databases; I pay for it all.

When I am there, however, I do not use other subscribers' trees and rarely follow those 'shaking leaf' clues because I have found them to be inaccurate and often full of information or merely copied from someone else's tree...often mine...and not verified. I have, however, found a few reliable member sources online; in fact, there are three with whom I share information and clues pretty regularly, but I prefer making my own judgements about those clues.

Knowing that my maternal grandfather was staying with one of his two daughters, my only maternal aunt, in Alomogordo, New Mexico, where she was working as a teacher when he passed away on 28 Jan 1963, at the age of 72, and that he was born in Wilton, NH, in 1891, I began looking for his father in the first census report where he would have appeared. That was the 1900 Census. I was successful finding JOHN RICHARD BURKE listed as the head-of-household, married to a woman named BERTHA JULIA BURKE, my maternal grandmother. Others in the household included:

An 8-year old boy named John F Burke;
A 7-year old boy named James E Burke;
A 3-year old boy named Edward H Burke;
A 53-year old woman named Mary Raymond; and,
A 32-year old woman named Annie M Raymond

Digging a little deeper into the actual census record itself, I learned more about those names.

The census report contains clues to help validate or fill in gaps in the information, like birthplace of the individual being recorded, marriage year, if any, years married, father's and mother's birthplace (particularly critical for early immigrants), citizenship for those not native-born, and home in the year of the census (1900). Neighbors shown in the census report can be a good source of validation, so I look there, too.

Using the three photos, I validated that JOHN R BURKE is my 2nd great-grandfather, that Mary Raymond matches the relative found elsewhere in my family tree, and since the name was not familiar to me before, it added ANNIE M RAYMOND to my search.

From here, I slowly and steadily make steps up my tree, validating information and following new name-clues as I go. I am still looking for validation of my 3rd great-grandfather because I do not know his middle name; that is the brick wall I have encountered on this side of the tree.

But you know what? It does not diminish my excitement or the fun of the search. That is what genealogy is all about!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

New domain, no other changes

My new domain,, went into effect yesterday and my genealogy blog (this one) now appears there. I will continue to post updates with the link on Facebook because I have less knowledge about Internet domains than I do about genealogy!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Complications and Care

While working on my family tree, specifically on the brick wall I have encountered with my maternal grandfather, I wanted to write about one of the major difficulties one can experience in genealogy...similar and common foreign-based names. For clarity, let me list the three most recent ancestors I have been working on.
  • JOHN FRANCIS BURKE - my maternal grandfather. I have birth and death certificates for him, so the information is reliable.
  • JOHN RICHARD BURKE - his father, my first great-grandfather. I have the death certificate for him and have been searching for another validating document, but I am fairly confident of his relationship, even not really knowing the name from my childhood.
  • JOHN J BURKE - his father, my 2nd great-grandfather. The 'J' is probably James, but I have to validate that.
My second great-grandfather is the major brick in my wall so far. I do not have a middle name and have not found any valid documentation for him yet. Until I ascertain his middle name, finding anything will continue to be difficult. There are many John Burkes on the maternal side of my family and without a middle name or other specifically identifiable information, I get "hints" from all over the United States and all over the world. Some of my John Burke's are born in Massachusetts, some in New Hampshire, some in Ireland.

The Irish connection is what I have been researching. According to an Irish blog to which I subscribe,  the name Burke may come from Richard Óg de Burgh who was the second Earl of Ulster and third Baron of Connacht in the 13th and 14th centuries. Richard Óg means Richard the Young, either to distinguish him from his grandfather Richard Mór or because he was a young man in 1270.  I am far, far from determining if there is a familial connection between that Richard and any John in my family. In fact, I have not even found enough definitive clues to help me figure out the middle name of a US resident in the late 1890's.

My primary source of information is the United States Census reports. Normally, they will provide valuable clues to names, dates, locations, and such to help an investigator determine who is who and where at what time. Unfortunately for me, the census reports for John J Burke have not yet provided a middle name. The task is much more challenging because as I said, "John Burke" is a very popular Irish name; there are many of them in my tree and in the towns and states I am looking at.

That is both the challenge and the fun of genealogy. This obstacle is a very clear example of why validating information from other genealogical sources is important to creating as accurate a family tree as you can. I see other family trees with all kinds of conflicting information when it is very clear that birth years would prevent a relationship, for example, or other inconsistencies. Many people just copy/paste those shaking leaves into their tree and call it a day. I do not do that, as frustrating as it can be some days.

Like today!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

So how do I do what I do?

How I Got Here

One of the perplexing matters for anyone starting their search of their family history is how to start climbing their family tree. Since this blog is about my journey, I will tell you about me. Yours may be different; you may or may not know both parents' names; you may have accurate, highly-detailed records about your grandparents and their history; you may have a family Bible or other holy book; you might only have a diary or scrapbook. Or like me, you only have some photos, some with notations on the back, many without, and a few letters to and from your ancestors.

We all come to the table knowing certain things about our family that we have been told since childhood. Since I assumed I knew basic information about my extended family, I was no different. I will start there, I thought, and move quickly up the family tree getting to my distant ancestors in Ireland and England. It seems so easy to do, what with the myriad genealogy 'family tree' sites on the Internet, some available for free. In many ways, it is. No longer is travel to distant countries required and often one does not have to send away for a copy of a birth or marriage certificate. But how much do you really know?

Keep in mind my previous career was as an investigator, so finding and verifying information before taking them as factual is important to me. It did not take long to see how much work I had in front of me, that things were not going to be as easy as I thought. My early efforts very quickly turned up information that conflicted with what I had always thought I knew. Much of what I thought I knew, for example, about my maternal grandparents turned out to be wrong. What I had been told about my paternal grandparents was confusing and incomplete. Even what I learned about my own father's military service in World War II was much more detailed than anything he told me.

All I knew for sure were the names of the four people directly above me in my tree: my parents and grandparents, whose names I named in the previous chapter. That is all. Just their names.

How I Did What I Have Done

Like many people do, I started with free genealogy sites. After spending some time on some of them, I ended up choosing the largest, as the place I would put my energy. Because I knew where their information came from, I trusted their database; that was a critical part of my own decision making. I eventually paid for a worldwide membership, but I first started by entering my father's name. I deduced that entering my own would not provide much since I am alive and a lot of genealogical information is not publicly available until some time after a person's death.

I chose to enter my mother's name because she passed away long enough ago that I hoped to find information I could use as a starting point...and I did! I found his father and his mother easily, so I put in my mother's name and discovered the same information. But that is where the easy part ended. I remember that right away, my search started turning up information that conflicted with what I thought I knew. Here are some details:

I always thought that all four of my grandparents were immigrants, my maternal grandparents coming from Ireland and Scotland, and my paternal grandparents from England. According to my childhood, I was a second-generation American.

I quickly learned that was not true.

By entering my maternal grandfather's name, JOHN FRANCIS BURKE, and following some of the shaking 'leaves' that uses to show a new clue, I confirmed that he was married to a woman named NINA LILLIAN BURKE neé THOMPSON (which I knew; she is my grandmother) and that he was born in Wilton, NH.

He was not an immigrant, but a native-born USA citizen. Talk about shocked!

Verify, Verify, Verify!

That one fact pretty much blew up my entire childhood memory bank, but it also made me curious about what else I thought I knew. My search has proven to be challenging and arduous. Keep in mind my ancestors left no documents for me to use and I grew up the son of a USA diplomat in foreign countries, away from grandparents and extended family.

Let me take a break from my tree and list some questions a professional genealogist who I asked for help gave me. These questions have been invaluable. Answering them challenging, as it should be:

  1. What records have you located for your ancestor?
  2. Have you found him on a US Census?
  3. Where was she living at that time?
  4. Are there other ancestors with the same last name living there at that time, perhaps on the same street?
  5. Have you located a marriage record?
  6. Was he of age when he got married or was parental permission required?
  7. Did she live in a state that required a marriage bond? If so, who cosigned the bond?
  8. Did he own land?
  9. Where did the land come from? Was it inherited or purchased from a relative?
  10. Is your ancestor found on any tax lists?
  11. What year and in what county did your ancestor first start paying taxes?
  12. What other ancestors with the same name are alive at the same time in the same area?
  13. Have you located a probate file for your ancestor?
  14. Is a parent or sibling listed as the executor of the estate?
Lastly, the professional genealogist gave me this one important tracking clue: When trying to work back another generation, it is good genealogy always to collect every piece of information about the generation I have already identified.

Using, it is easy to click on a shaking leaf, read the clue, and put the name and information in your own tree. Doing so is a very bad idea! The name might be the same, the place might be familiar, and it might have the sound of truth, but until it has been verified, you just do not know how accurate the clue is. Filling your tree with unverified information can lead you down paths that are not helpful to you or others.

My own journey has really stopped at my maternal grandparents. The difference between what I know and what I cannot verify is what genealogists call a 'brick wall.' I will share some of the brick walls I have encountered about the paternal side of my tree next time. I cannot go farther until I break down these walls.

Until next time, thank you for reading. I hope some of this is helpful and is giving you a picture of how I do what I do.

DISCLAIMER: I am not compensated in any way for providing the active links above to the service I use.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Who is who in this tree?

As promised, in this post I will name names.

But things are rarely as easy as they seem. So far in this chapter of my story, I have made many formatting changes and content revisions, which is to be expected considering this is a written document. In the interest of getting a product to the 'finished' stage, however, I finally decided on what you are about to read.

First, I decided on content. The one rule and other conventions I will follow are:
  1. The one rule: Except for me, I will not name any living relative, which is easy enough and will not take away from my project. All people 'above me' in the tree are deceased; only my siblings, my children, and their children remain alive. To protect their privacy, I will not name them or give any identifiable information about them. 
  2. Birth names are used. Unless otherwise specified, a reader can assume a woman's married last name is the same as her male partner's. Example: My paternal grandparents, Fred and Minnie Wilkinson, shown below.
  3. Names, spellings, and dates have been verified by at least two separate genealogical source. Considering I have no written history from my ancestors, this has been a challenge. In some cased, determining the "correct" spelling has become a major focus of my journey, even though my family's names are very common and English-based. Example: My paternal grandfather, Fred Wilkinson, appears in some records as Frederick, though not enough to make me wonder if that was his true name; I always knew him a Grampy Fred and my father's name is Fred, not Frederick.
Without further delay, here we go up the tree, starting with me, my parents, and my grandparents.

James Michael Wilkinson; born 1949, Nashua, New Hampshire.
  • Siblings: Two brothers and two sisters; 
  • Children: six biological children; four step-children; 
  • Grandchildren: more than 10;
  • Great-grandchildren: None ... yet.
  • Since they are all alive, I will not identify any of these people.
Biological parents:
  • Fred James Wilkinson; born May 3, 1927, Wilton, NH. Died Aug 19, 1990
  • Beverly Lorraine Burke; born Nov 22, 1928, Nashua, NH. Died Oct 30, 1987
Maternal grandparents:
  • John Frances Burke; born July 4, 1891, Wilton, NH. Died Jan 28, 1963
  • Nina Lillian Thompson; born Oct 23, 1901, Quebec, Canada. Died Aug 30, 1979
Paternal grandparents:
  1. Fred Wilkinson (no middle name); born Jan 16, 1901, Yorkshire, England. Died Jul 27, 1993
  2. Minnie Batty (no middle name); born Mar 9, 1898, Lancashire, England. Died May 3, 1968 (she passed away on her son's (my Dad's) 41st birthday)
Keep in mind my main purpose for this blog is to describe in some detail how I learn and verify the 'leaves' on my own family tree. I am not a professional genealogist and everything I know I have learned by myself; I have not had any professional training. I am still learning!

Next time, I will explain how I learned about these relatives, the sources I used, and any roadblocks I encountered. The search becomes much more complicated and time-consuming as I move back into my past, but there is excitement, too, as I learn about relatives I never heard of in my childhood and those who were close to me when I was young but never met.

Until then, I continue my own climb up my family tree!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why do this now?

According to professional genealogist Heather Wilkinson Rojo, there are two main Wilkinson lines in New England: the line from which she came and the line from which I came. Hers is much longer and much more New England-based; she can trace her ancestors back to the Pilgrims. On the other hand, my ancestors came to the United States in the wave of European immigrants in the early 20th Century.

  • The four family names in my Wilkinson family tree are: Wilkinson, from my father and his father; Burke, from my mother and her father; Batty, from my paternal grandmother; and Thompson, from my maternal grandmother. My paternal line came straight to the United States from England and my maternal line came here through Canada. Tracing those lines has been exciting and really changed what I thought I knew about my grandparents; learning the true story, of course, is part of the excitement.
  • After the death of my paternal grandmother, my grandfather remarried a woman he knew from Wilton, Alyce. Because she is not a "blood" relative, I have chosen not to consider Alyce in my own family tree...for now. 

So why am I doing this? Why now? The answer is simple and complex.

I am a 68-year old unmarried federal retiree. When I retired on December 31, 2011, I thought of ways to spend the rest of my life "not working" but doing what I wanted to do. I am not much of a television or movie fan and I read a lot, so I created a "bucket list" of skills I wanted to develop plus tasks and 'stuff' I wanted to do.

Learning to drive a truck was on the list and was the first new skill I learned. I grew up the son of a US diplomat in the Middle East, so traveling was really in my blood. It seemed like the traveling over-the-road in an 18-wheeler just fit and for four years, it worked...until the day I decided I had 'checked the block' and stopped. My last day driving a truck was October 17, 2016

After retirement, while I was "cleaning, clearing, and culling the herd, I found a shoebox (a real old-timey shoebox!) filled with pictures and mementos sent to me years ago after my only aunt, my mother's only sibling, passed away. My sister was the executrix of her estate and the box was addressed to me. The pictures were of people I did not recognize. Some of them had notations on the back with names I had heard growing up and I wanted to know who these people were to me.

  • As an aside, my family and I left my parents' hometown, Wilton, New Hampshire, in 1959 when he was posted to Amman, Jordan. We only returned once or twice for 3-month home leave periods. During those times, I was put in school with other students I did not know. Even though Wilton was then and is now a very small town, I always felt like an outsider. As I got older, learning about my past became more important to me.
  • When we returned after my Dad resigned from Foreign Service, we relocated as a family to Lexington, Massachusetts, not Wilton.

About the same time that I found those pictures, began to ramp up its advertising budget as it branched out. I have been told that their executives saw a market in the Baby Boomer Generation - I was born in 1949, so I am an early Boomer. Somehow, I came across either one of their advertisements or a link to their site online. I clicked, typed in my grandfather's name, and my journey up my family tree began.

Next time, I will name names! Until then, thank you for reading and following along. If you have any suggestions of criticisms, please comment. As I said, I love reading. I read everything!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My family tree - and why and how I do this

This is the kick-off entry to my new Wilkinson Family-related blog. I want to give you, my reader, some background and an sense of where I hope to take this.

First, me. I am neither a professional nor a trained genealogist. Like many others, I am interested in my own family's history. As I age, where I "came from" becomes more important and because my parents and grandparents left no written records of their own past - no family Holy Books, for example - I am left to my own devices on how to discover my past.

I come from two immigrant families, Burke/Thompson (my maternal line) and Wilkinson/Batty (my paternal line). From early childhood, I believed all four of my grandparents emigrated to the USA during the early part of the 20th Century, a time when millions of Europeans came here to settle and work. My grandparents came from England, Scotland, and Ireland and like many others, settled in Hillsborough County in southern New Hampshire in basically the Wilton-Peterborough-Lyndeborough town area to work in various mills and factories there.

My purpose is to describe what I have done so far and explain the steps, stops, stumbles, and roadblocks I, like every other person, have and will experience on my trek up my family tree. I have learned interesting facts that support and conflict with what I "knew" about them as I grew up. I will share those in later posts. I hope to inspire other beginner-level genealogists and anyone wanting to learn a bit more about their own history. I hope to trace my journey in some detail but there will have to be some parts left out. I will not clearly identify my children or grandchildren and will do what I can to protect the identity of any living person. That should be easy enough to do because most genealogy sites do not provide identifying details about any living person for obvious security reasons. Going back, however, I will be specific as to names, places, and details I learn. I am open to hearing from more experienced genealogists of all levels, professional or not. If you have tips, recommendations, corrections or other input on my posts, the Comment section is available for your use. I will read each one.

These details become critically important to validate anything one learns. After a 30-year career as a federal investigator, I know "facts" must be verified before they assume any credibility. As online access to genealogy records becomes more widespread, more people create family trees and begin populating them. Some are private and hidden. Some, like mine, are public and visible. The problem comes when a public, visible tree gets populated with inaccurate, unverified information and links. That inaccurate information then possibly gets shared with other family trees, thus spreading erroneous genealogical information. I have experienced that and hope to minimize my own sharing by validating what I can to the best of my ability and within the limits of my resources.

Climbing ones family tree is time-consuming and can be expensive. Depending on all sorts of external factors, the expense and time can be quite burdensome. I am retired and on fixed income, so I am not able to do what I really want to do: travel to Ireland and England to search records and places in person. My expenses come from paying for membership in genealogical record repositories and, from time to time, sending off for copies of documents the details of which are not included in online records I find.

For me, this exercise has become quite addictive. After having done this for a couple of years, I have a much better, though far from clear, picture of my grandparents. As I mentioned, my own ancestors left no records of their immigration and lives and I have precious few photographs. Following the clues to their journey has been frustrating, slow, and always exciting. In my own way, I hope to leave a trail for my own offspring to follow as they age. Hopefully, the trail of breadcrumbs I leave will stay in place and available for many years.