You’ve decided to order a DNA testing kit from Ancestry.com. What can you expect when it arrives?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.|
|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.|
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.|
I’m a photography lover. I blame 10th Grade Driver’s Ed. The class was only 1 semester and I had to pick a class for the second half of the year. I choose photography. Loved it. So, on the 3rd Friday of the month, I’ll profile a photo.
To start: my brother Thomas Michael Morrissey (1962-2008). Tommy would have been 54 years old yesterday. So to honor him, here’s a little of his story.
Born the third of four boys, Tommy always seemed to me to be full of energy. Always moving. Tommy started sports leagues when he was a young boy. He excelled at sports; primarily baseball and football. He played multiple positions – quarterback, cornerback, pitcher, first base. Particularly in football, Tommy was a star.
My mother tells me that when I was a toddler, I would stand up in the car (before car seats) to cheer and clap as we passed by the “three fields” baseball complex not far from our home. I was used to cheering on my brothers from an early age! I learned the Hail Mary (the prayer, not the pass) from mom during high school football games. Mom apparently thought the Blessed Mother was going to help the Rebels win games. They won a lot of games, so maybe She does. I learned to throw a spiral because my brother was a quarterback. It’s a requirement of all little sisters, right?
There is a large scrapbook of newspaper articles from Tommy’s time in high school sports. Photographs of Tommy at first base, stretching to catch a ball before the runner tagged the base. My parents were so incredibly proud of him.
Academics were not his thing though. After a year at Virginia Tech where he was a walk-on for Hokie football, Tommy realized that college life wasn’t going to be for him. He returned to Richmond and eventually started his own painting company.
Tommy got his perfectionism about his work from our father. He joked frequently about how he would have to fix someone else’s shoddy work; “jack-legged,” he would call it. Painting houses is highly physical as his frequent trips to the chiropractor attest. Painting ceilings ruins your neck. And the drywall dust alone would have eventually taken it’s toll on his lungs and sinuses. But Tommy was strong, lean and fit.
He also loved fishing. “The Hook” at Hatteras, NC was almost a second home. He’d pack his pick-up truck with camping and fishing gear, then head to the drive-on beach for long weekends. It was a passion and an escape. In a lot of ways, Tommy was the quintessential southern red neck.
He had no children. But after our father died, Tommy stepped up for our family. He committed himself to caring for our mother’s home. She, in turn, made sure he had good healthy meals. For a single son and a widow, the arrangement worked. Both of his dogs lived with her. I think Tommy knew they would keep her company and provide protection. Don’t get me wrong, Tommy wasn’t a saint and he had some serious struggles over the course of his life. But his love and care for mom in those years was the truest testament to his character. He overcame his weaknesses and loved his family well.
I was on vacation with my husband, kids and in-laws when I got the call. I won’t ever forget that moment. It’s a memory like the Space Shuttle Challenger or 9/11. It was while painting a home’s exterior that his ladder contacted high voltage wires nearby while he was moving it. His death wasn’t quick and it wasn’t painless.
At his funeral there were family, friends and coworkers to offer their support, presence and prayers. I was most surprised by how many of his former Freeman football buddies were there. Many I remembered because my mother prepared pre-game steak dinners for the teams on Friday nights. I would go along. My job was to prepare and serve the lemonade and iced tea. These guys had stories and memories that I couldn’t have shared because they knew Tommy as a leader and teammate.
Son, brother, teammate, friend, dog lover, small business owner, fisherman. That’s a good life.
There are genealogy websites in the vast interwebs that are not the big tree creation/databases like Ancestry or FamilySearch. Those are awesome and I use both daily. But, those don’t provide all that you’ll need. I have other favorites that I visit regularly. They are invaluable and I’m sharing.
The very FIRST I want to tell you about?
Let’s change the metaphor and call in a family skelton. The bones of the skelton are names, dates and locations. And when it comes to places in the U.S., mapofus.org is the best. Easy to use. Easy to navigate. Easy to find answers.
1. Is it possible that an ancestor lived, married and died in the exact same house but he was born in Virginia and died in Kentucky?
Yep. Check out the Virginia maps and click through the timelines. The state of Kentucky was founded in 1792. Pre-1792 all of that Kentucky bluegrass was Virginia’s.
2. Why would my family live in one county in Virginia for years, but their marriage records are in Ohio?
West Virginia was founded in 1863. Looking at the Virginia map, folks in the panhandle often went to the nearest courthouse to get married or file a land deed. That closest courthouse may have been in Ohio.
3. I can’t find the county that my relative’s records say that he lived!
Not only due map boundaries change for states, but localities as well. Some counties changed their name or were eliminated all together. Mapofus.org has them all.
Check it out especially if you love maps. Bookmark it for later. You’ll need it.
The Biography and Biology of Our Family Histories
My husband has friends over to our home every Tuesday night. So the kids and I disappear upstairs and leave them to their “man date.” One night, the kids asked if we could watch tv together. It was Summer and no school, so sure, I said. The only condition – no kids shows. So I turned on PBS. For two weeks we watched a documentary about Queen Elizabeth II of England’s parents and their steadfastness during World War II. The third week, my daughter excitedly asked if we were going to watch the Queen again. No luck on that count, but Finding Your Roots was on.
Professor Henry Louis Gates was profiling the documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns. I had watched his work on the National Parks and loved it. At the end of Mr. Burns’ segment, Dr. Gates asked him who, in all of history, would he be most excited about being related to. Mr. Burns answered, Abraham Lincoln. Well, it turns out that Mr. Burns is very distantly related to President Lincoln.
My kids went berserk! You have to find out if we’re related to anybody cool.
I have family historians on both side of my family – my aunt Bertha Morrissey and my grandfather-in-law Robert Sanner. But I knew very little of our stories. I had a vague memory that my dad’s family had someone who was at Valley Forge with George Washington (it was my mom’s family.) And that there was a rumor that my husband’s family was related to Bing Crosby (untrue.) My kids asked that I find out with certainty.
So I created an account on Ancestry.com and was completely confident that I could answer all of my family mysteries within the 2 week free trial time frame.
Then I found the story that would change my life. You can read about Benjamin Fisher on his profile page.
Then I found the family secret. I was addicted.
I’d love to help you find your story and the story of your family. So, explore the site. Check our our services for more information.