Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tracking your 19th Century Ancestors using 21st Century Technology

MyMaps - GoogleMaps
Finding your ancestors is like finding a needle in a haystack - and decades ago, it was even harder.

Today we have geosynchronous satellites using GPS, 24x7 access to knowledge across the globe, databases with index's to help us find the elusive document, and Googlemaps.

In all genealogy or family history trips, I use googlemaps (among other features, tools) to help preplan the trips.   One important element is in locating hotels, families, cemeteries, historical societies, court houses, and more.  The benefit of googlemaps is that you are able to also create your own personal map, showing details that are important to your research and it also helps you to really connect the past with the present.

One powerful feature lets you overlay an image, like an old map and this can be useful for locating forgotten places or helping paint the landscape of what it looked like so many years ago.   In one case, I was able to use the overlay feature to help me to locate an old cemetery from the 1800's that was no longer on any present day maps. The local families remembered a cemetery but it seems it was moved 75+ years ago. Of course, this happens occasionally, but when and where are sometimes harder to determine if records are sparse.

Another unique feature of googlemaps is that it allows you to use terrain to help visualize what you can see today and what your ancestors might have seen. Using google's Sketchup, I was able to render a 3d image of my great grandparents home, based on homestead records and old pictures. I actually integrate the 3d home into googlemaps and was able to get a 360 degree view of what it looked like, including time of day and time of year.

These powerful features help us truly visualize the places our ancestors lived to make a life for themselves and for their future generations. Future posts will tell more details about how to use these tools. If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Isolating a Common Surname

Wiley & Martha (Maloney) Johnson
Some families get all the luck - THEY have ancestors with unique surnames that sound and spell like they are supposed to, which means finding them is a census search can be a little bit easier.   With a common surname like Johnson, Smith, or others, doing searches for quality data nuggets is always a challenge.   But there are a few simple tricks to help isolate, identify, and confirm your genealogical ancestors, cousins, inlaws and outlaws.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family Heirlooms Everywhere

Ever wonder what happened to all your ancestors' family treasures?  Your great-great grandmothers picture, the family bible, the old wooden spinner or even all the original marriage, birth records?   Don't be surprised if they are still around.   It's happened to me.   Some distant relative usually has them tucked away, and someday plans to give them to a close family member who will admire them for their sentimental value as much as they did.    

Grandpa Hamar
I have been fortunate and lucky to have located many of my family heirlooms, through near and distant relatives.   How did I find them?    

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Lost Your Ancestors? Get an Old Map!

1872 - Illinois, Prophetstown Township
Maps are wonderful works of art and technology.  Imagine not having a map or GPS navigation system today. We would still be able to get around, but when we had to travel "long" distances, this would prove to be a challenge, if we had not been there before  (or were unable to stop and ask for directions, like most men have been stereotyped).

Having a map helped our ancestors get from the east coast to the west coast, but early on, before maps existed, people hired a guide".   These intrepid early explorers actually followed paths they had taken, but also along the footsteps of the native Americans, over terrain that had been used for hundreds of generations.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What Did My Ancestors Look Like?

For some people, we will never know how our ancestors looked - they just never stepped in front of a Camera Obscura or had a painting done.   For those who did, we can get a good idea of features, but it is tough to know exactly what their eye, hair color was.   

Pictures from the 19th century were black and white, so if you had dark eyes, they would appear dark, so brown and black eyes look the same.  If you had light eyes, like blue or hazel, they would appear very light in the photos.    For hair, the same is true: black, red, brown, looks like shades of black with blonde hair pretty easy to tell.

But, if you have NO pictures or paintings or would like to know exactly what your ancestors hair or eye color was, you might have another source.   If they served in a war, many details about their physical appearance were recorded.

For example, records from the American civil war contains physical details about the person enlisting, including eye, hair, skin color, height.   WWI draft cards showed weight, eye, hair color and build. 

These finer details are important as they are what make up you and me, if they are direct descendants - those genes are in you and that may be why you have the color of eyes or hair.   It also tells another dimension about our family.   

Here is an example:
Charles Foy c1891

My GG grandfather, Charles Foy, served in the Illinois 34th Union Army.   I have only a few pictures of him, but they are important for telling his story.  He lived from 1844-1918.

As you can see from the picture to the left, he had light colored hair and eyes.   I would guess he had brown or light black hair and possibly blue eyes, just from this black and white.

His registration record shows his hair color was light, his eyes were blue, height 5'10" and his complexion was "sandy".   He was single, 19 years old, and entered as a private in 1864.

Of course, getting these records is not as easy as one might think as not everything is listed on the internet, yet.

In the course of finding your roots, it is always great to have those connections with a picture or image.   Finding them, can be the challenge.   I will have another post about that in the near future.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Who's in YOUR Closet?

We've all heard the expression regarding "Family skeletons in our closet".   Sometimes there are stories that you just don't want to repeat, because they embarass you or other relatives.  Well, if something happened a long time ago, then why would this be something to be ashamed of?   You didn't do anything wrong.

We all have them - skeletons.  In fact, I have one that I will share, but before I do, I always consider the context and impact to the individual, that family, and of course any descendants.