Wednesday, December 11, 2019

When In Doubt, Go Back to the Beginning

I have been working on filling out my family tree for several years. My search started slow, using information I thought I knew, and eventually became a pretty serious past-time. In fact, I recently spent a great deal of money on a 3-volume set of books that list the immigrants to New England - New Hampshire is the birthplace of my parents - in what has become known as The Great Migration. I have pretty much validated that the first person in my family tree to arrive in North America is my 9XGGF (ninth great-grandfather) JOHN BALCH, born in England in 1605 and died in Salem, Massachusetts in 1648.

None of my ancestors are alive; my parents died long ago as did my grandparents, so when I began to climb my family tree, I had no person to whom I could to to ask questions. My initial searching had to be done online. As you might remember, I grew up thinking all four of my grandparents were immigrants from England and Ireland and I learned that is incorrect. My maternal grandmother is French-Canadian by birth, and her husband, my maternal grandfather, was born and raised in New England. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Lancashire, England, to the same small town in southern New Hampshire, Wilton, as did hundreds of other immigrants to work in the factories and mills owned by the Abbott family, specifically, Samuel Abbott. Wilton became my hometown, even though I grew up the son of a US diplomat in Amman, Jordan, and went to school in Amman, Beirut, Lebanon, and Ankara, Turkey.

(As an aside, my paternal grandmother worked her entire New Hampshire life in a worsted mill weaving the fabric for what would be sewn into expensive Brooks Brothers suits in New York. When she retired, she was making just over the minimum wage, but to her, the security she had was worth it; she lived in a "company town" and everything was available at "company town" prices. She was a simple woman who had immigrated to the USA to improve her life; she was not used to "fancy" anything, including anything made of the cloth she wove for a living, and lived her life accordingly.)

So now that I have climbed to the high branches of my own family tree, I have come to a point where climbing higher - going back even farther in my genealogy - has become very challenging and troublesome. Validating or even finding records is far more difficult when the source is another country's church records from 400 years ago!

I have come to the decision to change how I work my history. Now, instead of merely 'finding' more ancestors, I will find out more about each of them. I am researching my history for the benefit of children, grandchildren, or any subsequent generation seeking information and a connections with their ancestors (me!) and I hope to give them the full benefit of my research efforts by filling out the picture I have of them.

Since my parents are well-covered with records, I will start with my grandparents, about whom I knew little as a child - and as I mentioned, some of what I thought I knew turned out to be incorrect - and will work to fill in details. I want to know original names (fortunately, with one exception, my immigrant ancestors came from countries where English is the primary language, so I do not have to deal with translation or transliteration.

I will begin with my paternal grandfather, FRED WILKINSON. I know he had no middle name and I already have records that indicate his original name might have been Frederick, but I have neither proven nor disproven that yet. I know his father's name, but I do not know his mother's original name; there are two of them and I cannot find many records to tell me what her name was.

I hope that by spending my energy on one or two people at a time and not just growing my list of ancestors, I can fill in many blanks and perhaps write a story about my most recent immigrant arrivals. It will be a challenge, one that I need.

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