FamilySearch.org – Fun Tools for Storytelling

I’m a faithful Ancestry.com user, but no one should ignore the unique records and fantastic features at FamilySearch.org. I was playing around the other day and discovered some nice apps I will be using in the future to tell my family stories. The features require you to create a family tree on the site which may take a little time. Bonus: all are free!

The biggest win for each of these is the visual representations of your family stories. Maybe you’ve noticed that not every relative shares your passion for genealogy. [Insert heavy sarcasm.] Most are interested a little though and will appreciate a visual that consolidates large amounts of data.

I’m going to highlight a few here, but you can many more on the FamilySearch.org App Gallery.

First is Rootsmapper. It’s goal is to allow users “to easily visualize the migration patterns of your ancestors.” Rootsmapper provides a world map and access to your pedigree chart to create a graphic of an ancestors immigration from one place (country or state) or another using map pins and arrows. Their YouTube video is here.

Next is StoryPress. It’s goal is to help you create a video of your own family stories using multiple media inputs including photos, videos, audio narration and graphics. You’re going to have to put your own time and creativity into this one, though. Here’s their YouTube video. Again, this a great resource for sharing our family stories in audio/visual format.

Last is not on the App Gallery, and called Keepsakes. It utilizes your pedigree chart to create printable, artsy and fun representations of  your family tree. I’ve printed out a few to use as cover sheets in my family notebooks, but they’d be a cute gift if framed, as well.

Check out these and the other App Gallery utilities!

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Favorite Site – “Unknown No Longer”

For African Americans, tracing their family stories has always been more challenging and almost impossible beyond a certain date. Because slaves were property, not people, they were not enumerated on census records before 1870. It’s THE brickwall for family historians with slave ancestors.

The Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer” project and website is offering groundbreaking source material for researchers. Led by Curator of African American History, Lauranett Lee, the project data mines the VHS’ own records (8 million with origins in the 17th century) for every instance of slave ownership. It’s goal is “to uncover the names of every enslaved person found in these sources.” The documents are digitized, the names processed and the images are uploaded to the website. The website is free and updated almost weekly.

Researching White American ancestors means utilizing census records, land deeds, wills, vital records, military records, tombstone and other cemetery records, but for those researching African American before 1870 other documents are required. Bills of sale, account books, deeds of manumission/emancipation, travel passes, receipts, and broadsides are the foundations for slave research and the Unknown No Longer database.

Unknown No Longer is paving the way for new methods and sources in family history research!

 

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Photo 3 – WWII: Dad and Tommy Meade

This past December 7th, we remembered the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In honor of those that lost their lives, let’s talk about military service during World War II.

My dad, Ambrose Augustin Morrissey Jr, served during World War II in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Sea Bees. We have records of him on Guam, but knowing the roll of the Sea Bees, Bud probably island hopped quite a bit.1)Report of Changes, U.S.S. General George O Squire, 27 Dec 1943, San Francisco to Guam, pg 93 [stamped], line 15, Ambrose A Morrissey Jr; Fold3, (www.fold3.com : accessed 22 Dc 2016) U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, 1943, NARA microfilm publication, roll 32859-243489. Sea Bees are the Navy’s engineers and one of their primary duties was to created infrastructures on the thousands of small islands across the Pacific Ocean from the west coast of the U.S. to Japan. Think airstrips, piers, warehouses, hospitals and barracks.

That my dad was qualified for service to begin with is a little hard to believe. Dad was a little bit of a genius when it came to electronics, in particular radios. You can understand that value. But, dad was also pretty deaf. Hearing aids allowed him to communicate normally. Often at home though, the aids weren’t worn. Family learned to flicker the lights to get his attention. The television volume was so loud, neighbors across the street knew what we were watching. Whole conversations at the dinner table were spoke at normal volume without his knowledge. How he managed in the military, I don’t know.

One of my favorite photos of dad is one from his military service time. The story goes that dad was sitting by a pond or lake on an island in the Pacific somewhere enjoying a short break at the end of a long day. All of the sudden he’s tackled from behind. Both dad and his attacker land in the water. Dad stands to address the gentleman and discovers that it’s his best friend from back home, Tommy Meade. Tommy lived with his parents on North Shepherd in Richmond, a block or so away from the Morrissey family home at 3025 Kensington.2)Hill’s Richmond Virginia City Directory, 1935, vol 71, p 685, Thomas J Meade, 519 N. Sheppard; Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. City Directories, 1882-1995, Richmond, Virginia, 1935.

In the photo there are clearly tropical trees in the background. Dad is a full head taller than Tommy. Both are a little worse for wear in attire. Tommy seems tan and cheerful at having a run-in with his best bud. I can only imagine what it must have been like to see by chance an old friend from home. Dad was never in danger due to the background role he played. I can’t say the same for Tommy who enlisted in the Marines in 1943.3)Beneficiary Identification Records Location Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Washington, D.C., Thomas Meade, (18 Jan 1923-10 Jul 1972); Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, Thomas Meade.

We’ve lost so many of our World War II veteran’s already. This greatest generation will be gone entirely in the coming years. There is a lot of historical information out there about World War II in general, but a horrible fire destroyed most of the its personnel records. Please, if you have a World War II veteran in your family who is still with us, gather their memorabilia, their stories, old uniforms and souveniers. Get it all and record it, please. These invaluable individual memories are in danger of permanent loss without our individual efforts to record them.

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Report of Changes, U.S.S. General George O Squire, 27 Dec 1943, San Francisco to Guam, pg 93 [stamped], line 15, Ambrose A Morrissey Jr; Fold3, (www.fold3.com : accessed 22 Dc 2016) U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, 1943, NARA microfilm publication, roll 32859-243489.
2. Hill’s Richmond Virginia City Directory, 1935, vol 71, p 685, Thomas J Meade, 519 N. Sheppard; Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. City Directories, 1882-1995, Richmond, Virginia, 1935.
3. Beneficiary Identification Records Location Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Washington, D.C., Thomas Meade, (18 Jan 1923-10 Jul 1972); Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Dec 2016), U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, Thomas Meade.
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Lessons Learned 3 – Asking Questions

We were young and so that must be our excuse. 

How many of us can truly say that we know our parents well? That we know enough details about our grandparents to recount to someone else what their lives were like?

I’m not talking about our parents as our parents, but our parents as teenagers. Our grandmother as a young woman in love. Our grandfather struggling to find a career that would pay the bill for his young family.

What were their lives like before you?

I never knew 3 of my grandparents. They passed before I was born. My remaining grandmother, Violet Belina Hogan, lived in Minnesota – a 2 day drive away. I saw her very rarely. She passed when I was a freshman in college and my memories of her weren’t mature enough to understand what I thought was her bristly personality and odd behavioral quirks. I never really knew her.

I never knew that I missed having grandparents until I met my husband’s. They’ve become my own. They have given me their love and I have soaked it up wholly.

Why should you care?

Like many, our childhoods (or even adulthoods) don’t make asking about our parents and grandparents easy. For some it may be downright traumatizing. You’re an adult and can work this struggle out for yourselves.

But, I would encourage you, in this holiday season, to ask questions. Sit down with the oldest person in your family, a cup of coffee and a list of questions. Spend time getting to know better the people you’re supposed to know best, your family.

I’ve made a quick list of 20 Questions to help start the conversation. Hopefully, many of these will get grandpa rolling. Listen carefully. Better yet, record the conversation. That voice, those mannerisms, the way he holds his head … it will be lost, sooner than you’d like. Your attentiveness and kindness will bring rewards.

  1. How would you describe your parents?
  2. Did you know your grandparents?
  3. What do you know about your great grandparents?
  4. If you had siblings, with whom did you get along best?
  5. Who were your best friends?
  6. Did your family have enough?
  7. What subject did you like most in school?
  8. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  9. Where did you go to high school?
  10. What activities did you participate in?
  11. Who was your first date?
  12. What was your first job?
  13. How much did you get paid?
  14. How did you meet your spouse?
  15. What was the marriage proposal or wedding like?
  16. Did you go to college or serve in the military?
  17. What national or international events do you have vivid memories of?
  18. How would you describe your life in one or two sentences?
  19. What do you want your grandchildren to know about you or the world?
  20. Is there anything you’d do differently?

 

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Lessons Learned #2 – Expanding the Narrative

Genealogists have long faced dilemma, “How do I get my family interested in what I’m learning about us, because this is important?”

I have a confession. Names, dates and places don’t do it for me. They’re just as boring to me as they are to any man on the street. Without context, these facts offer us very little.

As genealogists, finding the narrative of our family’s life is critical. Don’t get me wrong! We’re not dramatizing like filmmakers. We can’t recreate dialogue. But, we can expand the story of our ancestors’ lives. Maybe examples will help.

  1. You find out that your ancestor served in the military during the U.S. Civil War through a “Compiled Military Service Record.” That record tells you what branch of the military, what regiment and what company. It would be a great idea to expand your research to include a google search for that company in that time frame. Where were they? What battles did they fight it? What was the outcome? Who was their commander? What kind of leader was he like? Then, go visit that location, if possible. Take a tour and take photos.
  2. Your ancestor immigrated and you know where they lived in the old country. Finding records in other countries can be very tricky, particularly if you don’t speak the language. Why not google search the city or town? What was happening there when the ancestor immigrated? Every genealogists wants to know why their ancestor immigrated, so make a list of all possibilities.
  3. Consider what an average day looked like for your relative? What did it take to put food on the table, shelter over their heads and clothes on their backs? What was their day like, how many hours did they work, and did they ever have a break? What language or cultural barriers might have made relationships with their communities challenging? What hardships did they face? Usually these kinds of questions will lead you to community, county, or ethnic group histories. Check the local libraries where your ancestors lived for resources.
  4. Your ancestor did something notable – good or bad. Check newspapers -my favorite! They are often very biased and incorrect, but that is very revealing as well. Find the court records. Hunt down the patent application. Find the records of their service in civil leadership of their town. Buy a copy of the book they wrote and read it. Contact the college or university to obtain a copy of their transcripts.
  5. Find a map from your ancestors’ time period and plot where they lived. They head to google earth or google maps and get a current photo.
  6. Find the appropriate local newspapers stories from the town where your family lived. What was happening outside of their household that might have been of concern to them? Was the railroad coming through? What were the political debates? Who were the major employers in the area?

Curiosity is a valuable skill in genealogy. More so, the ability to figure out how to get the answers to your questions. Develop these skills. Then learn how to assemble it all to share.

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My Favorites Site #2 – FamilySearch.org/wiki

FamilySearch.org is a free family tree creation and research website. Many folks use it and it’s great. But FamilySearch has a hidden gem within its site — their Research Wiki.

Why do I love it? The website it self says it, “learn where to find record collections.”

“Whoa, slow down there Tex. Why are you excited about record collections,” you ask.

Their research wiki is a guidebook to finding the answer to your genealogical questions. Where was someone born? When did they marry? Did he serve in the military? On and on. Every question. Every state in the U.S. Every country around the world. Online. Libraries. Courthouses. Churches. Census. Probate. Land. Military. BMD. It’s an amazing amalgamation of information and it includes links to records outside of FamilySearch’s own holdings.

It’s generous. If their website doesn’t have it, the wiki may lead you to who does – another website, a courthouse, a local society.

The FamilySearch Research wiki is often at the top of my check lists. I use it daily to make sure I’m looking in all the right places.

 

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Photo – Mary Ellen Morrissey

People on our trees fall off. Not always because we’ve kicked them off! Rather because they disappear from records. It’s especially true of women who’s name changes upon marriage create universally challenging scenarios for genealogists.

It’s great fun to track them down and reintegrate them into the family narrative. Meet Mary Ellen “Mamie” Morrissey, my paternal grandaunt.

mary-ellen-morrissey-photo
Mary Ellen Morrissey, undated photograph, from Bertha Morrissey research collection, privately held by Jean Morrissey Sanner.

Born 15 Aug 1861 in Richmond1)Virginia Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Richmond, 15 Aug 1861, Mary E Morrissey; FamilySearch.org, (www.familysearch.org : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing FHL microfilm 2,048,445. Mary Ellen is found with her family in the 18702)1870 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Monroe Ward, Richmond Post Office, p 205 (printed), dwelling 1131, family 1470, James Morrissey; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing NARA microfilm M593. and 1880 U.S. Census.3)1880 U.S. Census, Richmond City, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district 95, p 54 (printed), family 565, James Morrissay; digital images Ancestry.com, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing NARA microfilm T9, roll 1372. She does not appear in the 1900 Census, but this wouldn’t be unusual if she married. I had given up on finding Mary Ellen until I began searching Virginia Historical Newspapers at the Library of Virginia website.4)www.virginiachronicle.com

There I found on 1 Mar 1881, the Richmond Dispatch newspaper states, “Catholic Items. – Miss Mary Morrissey, daughter of Mr. James Morrissey, of this city, left last week for Baltimore to enter upon her novitiate previous to becoming a Sister of Charity.”5)“Catholic Items,” Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 1 Mar 1881, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016.

But, again I lost her. I couldn’t find Mary Ellen in Baltimore or anywhere else. My Aunt Berbs stated that she passed in 1905, but I had no records to back that up. It wasn’t until I was given Aunt Berbs research notes that I found her and this awesome photograph. Also, within Aunt Berb’s records is a funeral card.6)Mary Ellen Morrissey, funeral card, 17 Jan 1805, Emittsburg, Maryland; Bertha Morrissey research collection, privately held by Jean Morrissey Sanner, [address held for private use], Chesterfield County, Virginia, 16 Nov 2016.

mary-ellen-morrissey-funeral-card

More work on Mary Ellen’s life is needed regarding her work with the Sisters of Charity.

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Virginia Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Richmond, 15 Aug 1861, Mary E Morrissey; FamilySearch.org, (www.familysearch.org : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing FHL microfilm 2,048,445.
2. 1870 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Monroe Ward, Richmond Post Office, p 205 (printed), dwelling 1131, family 1470, James Morrissey; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing NARA microfilm M593.
3. 1880 U.S. Census, Richmond City, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district 95, p 54 (printed), family 565, James Morrissay; digital images Ancestry.com, (www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016), citing NARA microfilm T9, roll 1372.
4. www.virginiachronicle.com
5. “Catholic Items,” Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 1 Mar 1881, p 1, col 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com : accessed 16 Nov 2016.
6. Mary Ellen Morrissey, funeral card, 17 Jan 1805, Emittsburg, Maryland; Bertha Morrissey research collection, privately held by Jean Morrissey Sanner, [address held for private use], Chesterfield County, Virginia, 16 Nov 2016.
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Lessons Learned 1 – California Adoptions

Searching for an unknown parent is challenging and long and emotional and long and discouraging and long. Success will require computer skills, DNA testing, traditional paper genealogy, detective work and a spine of steel.


In the course of a searching for a adopted friend, I called upon my background working in a pediatrics office. My job there required me to obtain what we referred to as “baby papers.” Most pediatricians will see a newborn within the first week of their life for an office visit. Because the child is days old, any and all information about the baby is important. I would assist parents in procuring their child’s hospital medical record, so that their pediatrician would have all pertinent information about the tiny sweethearts.

Inevitably though, there would be some confusion. Mom and dad would have picked out their child’s new name long before it’s birth. They contact the hospital and ask for their newborn records, but the hospital has no records for that child’s name! What? Here’s the deal: medical folks must always use your legal name. LEGALLY, until a birth certificate is created, a child is known as Baby + Gender + Mom’s Last Name. For example, my son was known as “Baby Boy Sanner” on his newborn hospital medical records even though we’d picked his name months before. Only when I applied for a birth certificate and social security card (usually the applications are provided by the hospital) did my child have the legal name as I know it.

NPE – Non Paternal Event : It’s a generic and amoral term used by genealogists to define how a father on paper may not be a biological father. From the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG) website. “An event which has caused a break in the link between the surname and the Y-chromosome resulting in a son using a different surname from that of his biological father (eg, illegitmacy, adoption, maternal infidelity).”

In searching for my adopted friend, I discovered that Ancestry.com and the State of California have released “California Birth Index, 1905-1995.”1)California Birth Index, 1905-1995, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 Nov 2016); citing State of California, Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento California, California Birth Index, 1905-1995. This index holds valuable information for those conducting NPE searches. What makes California’s so valuable is that the index often includes the mother’s maiden surname. 

An original birth certificate is a holy grail for adoptees.

So why is this important for my friend and other’s searching for their unknown parents? Most adoptees have 2 birth certificates. A delayed certificate with their adopted name and adopted parents’ information, copies of which are easily obtained. There’s also an original birth certificate which can be very difficult (read as: near impossible) to obtain for adoptees, even though it’s their own! When a newborn child is put up for adoption a birth certificate is still created de facto by the hospital using the child’s name from their “baby papers.”

In California, this means that someone searching for his biological parents has a birth index record as “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl” plus his mother’s maiden name. If you didn’t know your biological mother’s maiden surname, you do now. And if the child’s surname and the mother’s surname are different, that’s more information to parse.

Most of the information on an adoptee’s original birth record will still be unattainable, but a mom’s maiden surname is a valuable piece of data.

Many states have birth index information online, but the years available vary widely. As a matter of fact, my home state, Virginia has one. Check your favorite genealogy websites or contact the vital statistics office in your state of birth for more information. Search the index and filter by date of birth, gender and if possible birth county. Make a list of all possibilities and get to work.

 

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. California Birth Index, 1905-1995, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 Nov 2016); citing State of California, Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento California, California Birth Index, 1905-1995.
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