The Universe and Me

comments on the journey of life

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Genealogy 101B – The Next Step

I have written down what I know. I have talked to my family and made notes. I now have scraps of paper and multi notebooks. Now what do I do?

Step Three: Organization is your best friend. Organize your family research.

I started with one notebook and wrote all my records and notes in it. Seemed so simple, until I had a name and date but no  idea who the person was related to and what it meant. So organize yourself. I think I have tried every organizational tip I have ever seen and yet I still found myself writing on numerous scraps of paper and a number of notebooks. So I started again.

Color coding was the best, easiest and most efficient way to organize.

I picked four colors, one for each of my Grandparents. Blue for my Fathers Father. Green for my Fathers Mother. Pink for my Mothers Father and Yellow for my Mothers Mother. Back to school is your best friend when deciding to color code your family research. I went and got notebooks, folders, and index cards in each of the four colors. I then picked up purple, orange, red, and light blue to further colorize the family names, but to start it was just four colors.

I went through my original notebook and copied all the notes into the correct family colored notebook. The notes I couldn’t decide where they went I put in a plain folder. I will admit I did not throw out that original notebook. It somehow holds memories, but I do not reference it. I took all my scraps of paper and I put them in folders that matched the corresponding family. Each notebook and folder had the family name written on it, in case I forgot which color I picked for which family. Don’t laugh, when you get to those purple’s and orange’s you can get confused.

I also use the same colors in my genealogy database, so when I am roaming around in the 1700’s I know which line I am working on by looking at it’s color code. I also know than cool colors are my fathers side and warm colors are my mothers side.

I have 3 ring binders and accordion style or envelope style folders in each color also, to hold copies of birth, marriage, death certificates, census records, military records, or other information that confirms my family tree through sources.

Once you have accomplished these things:

    • Writing down what you know.
    • Talking to family.
    • Deciding on Ancestors, Decendants or Both.
    • Organizing your notes.

You will feel like you are on your way to creating your family history.

More on sources, what they mean and why you need them in Genealogy 101C.

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Genealogy 102: What’s in a name?

The family story went something like this, my paternal grandmother was a twin, they were named Emma Erma and Erma Emma, my Grandmother was Emma. Really imaginative was about the only thought I had about it. I knew nothing of my Grandmothers family except she had a twin sister and she was disowned for coming to America with my Grandfather.  I listened to this story and filed it away, in the category of wonderful family stories.

When I was in high school my mother and I made a trip back home and went to the court house to find some family records. There I found my grandparents marriage record. They had not married before they came to America, a fact I did not know and helped explain the disowned part that I had filed away in the back of my head. The amazing part was my Grandfather Leonard Julius was listed as Groom under Jules (everyone knew him by his nickname) but the Bride was listed as Irma, with the correct last name. I went hmm, isn’t that interesting why was she called Emma?

In college I went home for the funeral of my great Aunt and stayed with my father’s sister (my Godmother). I told her about finding the marriage record in the court house and Grandma was listed as Irma and asked her why. She walked me into her bedroom and showed me the immigration record she had for her mother, that is what her mother told her, but she could never understand why it said Irma. I looked at her and said who is my Grandmother. She goes my Ma was always called Emma, Irma is her sister. I left totally confused about the way people just use any old name.

Years later I found myself with my father and another of his sister’s talking family. I said ok, tell me about my Grandmother, what is her name. My Aunt repeats the family story of Emma Erma and Erma Emma. She then says, my mother’s name was Erma but when her sister died she started calling herself Emma. I said when was that? She said around 1940, I think. I now understood, as twins tend to be very close and I figured she missed her sister terribly and hadn’t seen her since she came to America in 1914. I filed it away in the family confusion resolved section of my brain.

Another visit home to a different sister of my father’s found her agreeing with the Erma and Emma story and then bringing out funeral cards of my Grandmother’s sisters. Wait, there was more than one? Seems there were two more sisters and right in front of me were their names (by the way my Grandmother’s funeral card said Emma), later I found out there were actually five sisters and her fifth sister had immigrated at the same time, lived in the same area for years and while my Aunts and Uncles knew she was related never seemed to think of her when I asked questions.

I found myself years later in Belgium, finally meeting relatives and seeing the town our family came from and longing to know more about them. They helped me compile a family history with research they had been doing and I felt I had hit the jackpot. I finally knew who my family was and I had someone to help me along. He went to the registry office after my visit and wrote to tell me, there were no children named Erma Emma and Emma Erma, that their names where actually Emma Marie and Erma Marie. Ok, I said who is my Grandmother. We decided my Grandmother was Erma Marie and the being called Emma after her sister died was correct. The name was finally resolved and we changed the family tree and went on to discovering more family history.

The moral was, everyone had a different story, I needed to talk to more of them before they were gone. I needed to keep digging and to learn everything that I could. The internet and access to records opened up a whole new world for me and I kept digging. I found her immigration from Ellis Island and she was listed as Emma. Again my brain said who is my Grandmother. She came to America listed as Emma on the ship registry and left Ellis Island as Irma on the immigration papers. Names being changed at Ellis Island is very common, but it bothered me. I thought perhaps they wanted to bring her sister over and she had some physical something that would have her turned away, so they came up with the Erma Emma/ Emma Erma thing as a way to fool customs and for my Grandfather go back to Belgium with my Grandmother’s papers and to bring her sister over. World War 1 broke out and it never happened, made sense to me, so again my brain filed it away, but I wasn’t satisfied until I really knew.

The breakthrough and the final answer came through the internet as more and more countries and states put vital records online. Weeks of looking through Flemish parish records in Latin, Dutch, and French found my Grandmothers birth record for myself. There she was Erma Marie, or Emma Marie, but I had to know who she was and there was no one left to help me. This had been a 40 year journey to actually see the record, but it couldn’t answer who she was, so I kept paging and there it was the death record a year later of Erma Marie. She had been dead the whole time. The woman in the picture we had discovered had never been her twin, but one of her other sisters. She had never meant to bring her to America. She had never changed her name after her sister died (though she did have a sister die around 1940). My Grandmother had been a twin through and through and had called herself Emma or Irma all her life.

I learned two things.

One: Never give up

Two: Write those stories down, because someday it might make sense.

More on how changing names keeps you digging in Genealogy 102B




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Genealogy 101 – For the beginner in all of us

I have seen the leaf commercial and I want to find my own leaf. Now what?

I consider myself a pretty good genealogist, but while I have done family histories for a fee, I do not call myself a professional. I have taken courses at a college, and have received a certificate as a certified genealogist, but I do not belong to any societies or have I been certified by the Board of Genealogists. I am perfectly happy to be an amateur and to help others along.

I waited a long time to start my family search or so it seems every time I read a blog that says to start talk to your grandparents. Two of mine were gone before I was born, the third died when I was one and a half and the last one didn’t know much for years and years and years. So for you, who may have waited to long too, I offer this.

Step One:
Write it down.
Write down your full name (including middle name), your birth date, marriage date (if applicable)
Write down your parents names, their birth dates, marriage date, death dates (if applicable)
Write down your siblings names and birth dates.
Write down their husbands, wives, partners, children and their information.
Write down your parents siblings and their children and their information.
Do you find yourself with blanks, when you are sure you knew it all?
Don’t worry we all do. This is where the fun comes in.

This is why you talk to people. Call your parents or sibling if you can and ask them to fill in the blanks. If you can not do that, then try family bibles, wills, letters anything with information. Gather them up you will need them now and forever. Write down the stories they tell you too, even if they don’t make sense now. Write it all down.

Step Two:
Do you want to know ancestors or descendants or both?
Most people want to know their ancestors, that’s what’s leaves are all about.

When I started I wanted to know my ancestors and I filled in my Aunts and Uncles and their children my first cousins. I left the rest, now years later I don’t have all the who they married, or their children or who their children married and honestly they don’t give it up very easily, because well they think that I have it all.

You are now on your way to researching your family history.
You have the basics and are going to work on filling in the blanks for your generation before jumping to the conclusion that you are related to Charlemagne. (The genealogist joke, is that everyone is related to Charlemagne, he was born in 747 and has millions of descendants) But you can’t just say it, you have to follow the lines backwards.

Gather your papers, write it down and review it before moving on to the next step.
You have the correct names right?
In Genealogy 102 we will discuss what is in a name.

Genealogy 101B the next step.