The Universe and Me

comments on the journey of life

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Genealogy Classes Yes or No

Yesterday in my mail was my local community education classes for the fall. While I was trying to decide between Pickleball (it’s real), Hula Hoop Fundamentals Plus, or the Film Series focusing on Clark Gable, my eye saw Beginning Genealogy – Questions and Answers. For $31 and 2 sessions, all I needed was pen and a notebook. I would find out “Why I was hitting a brick wall?”and “How to find that ‘lost’ relative”.

There was a loud thud in the room as my head hit the table. Beginning Genealogy, I yelled, Beginning!!! First I will say I am all for taking classes, help with your family research is why I write this blog. The problem with this is that this is not Beginning Genealogy. Beginning is when you are trying to figure out, what sites to use, what programs to use, how do I gather information, how do I organize. I would call “How to find that ‘lost’ relative” and “Why I was hitting a brick wall” Intermediate Genealogy, because until you get the basics under your belt, you aren’t even going to know what that brick wall is.

I can also tell you that brick walls happen when you no longer have access to easy research and vital records. Lost relatives tend to be female. Paying $31 for two sessions of genealogy help is a great deal, it’s like going to the movies, but if you are just starting your research, your questions are not the same as someone who has been searching for years and really wants to know a way to clear that brick wall.  In my opinion this class has a fatal flaw, in that both are going to attend and the likely hood is the beginner is going to be confused and the long time researcher is not going to get an answer that fits the problem they have.

My first reaction is to tell you ways to climb the brick wall and find the lost relative. I’m not sure us beginners are there yet. I think I will have to throw that question out there. I don’t want to take away the importance or the opportunity for someone to have a more one on one help session. I just want to point out that before signing up for a class be realistic about what you want to learn and if you feel the class description covers what you need to know.


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Genealogy -Sources -Help You

The number one reason to use sources is time. I just spent two days trying to verify something in my own family tree. I decided to look at going back a generation in a line I rarely work on. Time is a major factor in rarely and also a brick wall.

The first thing I did when picking up the neglected line was to type the name of my ancestor I was certain about, into the internet, yes she came up with the same parents. When I looked further to find her grandparents I discovered that quick internet search was not a match to my family tree as she was married to someone else. Her birth date was the same on two sites but not a third. Her marriage to mystery man number two and her children were during the same time she was married to my relative and had her daughter, also my relative. So I went to the source. Wrong. I never wrote down a source. Not in my program which has a definite source section, not on any scrap of paper I could find. So now I cried, not because I couldn’t find the source, but at the thought that in my official family tree there was an error.

I knew I couldn’t be wrong, I just couldn’t, but now I had to prove I was correct by not only finding the original source but proving it. This took away all my free time over two days. Had I written down the source the first time. I would have saved at least a day and a half. Once I found my original source, it proved absolutely nothing, except that maybe I just copied someone else’s tree without verifying it. This could be because my original source was the online family tree of a far flung relative.  Now I had to prove it.

Proving it required searching every spelling of her last name I could think of and every spelling of her potential parents in a foreign website who’s records at any given time can be in three different languages (French, Latin or Dutch or even local variations of Dutch). Once I found the index I had to search page by page for the actual birth record to prove her parents where her’s and find her marriage record to prove my ancestor was indeed mine and married to the correct man. I now have a printed copy of her records and have noted my source and when I have some time I will go back a generation. Her mother’s mother seems to have 5 different spellings of her last name. Actually 5 different last names because each spelling sends you in a unique direction.

Sources, they save you valuable time, energy, and doubt. It’s a simple thing to write down for yourself.


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Who are we visiting?

The difference between childhood and adulthood is that as an adult you have more of an appreciation for those you are visiting, than as a child when you are bored because you don’t know who they are and they are taking up precious play time.

The Grandparent I did have, that knew nothing for years and years and years, was actually my Mother’s Mother. If you asked her about family she never knew anything, ever.

When I was a little girl. I remember going with my Mother and Grandmother to visit some old woman. I remember she had a walker (which I had never seen before) and white hair, and walked slowly (thus the walker). She also had a slide outside her front door that was as hot as an oven and I burnt the back of my legs sliding down it (but I did it multiple times anyhow). What we didn’t do, was take a picture, because the old woman was my Grandmother’s mother and I would have loved a four generation picture. I am sure that my mother told me who we were going to see, but I didn’t remember. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I pieced it all together.

One Saturday afternoon, when my Grandmother and I lived in the same town I went to visit. I was furious with her for her disposal of the family silver. She told me in blunt terms it was hers and she could do what she wanted, even if she gave it to someone who sold it immediately. I reminded her that she actually had grandchildren, and that it would be nice if she remembered that once in a while and maybe, just maybe, they would like something to remember her by. She said she had nothing. I then went around her house and gathered all her music boxes, one for each grandchild and said there, you have something to give to everyone. They may be the ugliest music boxes you have ever seen, but my sisters and I still have ours, maybe because they are so ugly, but mostly because they are the only thing she ever gave us.

She surprised me then and said, you know, my cousin lived to be 109 years old. I was like really? (I didn’t actually believe her). She then went and pulled out a box with a newspaper clipping to prove that yes she did. Then she started pulling out pictures and there was one of the white haired lady with the hot slide. She goes, that’s my Mother. She was born in 1880 in the Dakota’s (there was no North and South back then). Her parents where from Canada and spoke French.

This was a seed planted in my brain, that became a fascinating story about this woman. She pulled out photos’ of her and her twin sister with their mother as infants (I have these photos) I never knew she had a twin sister and was fascinated. Here was a woman I had a love/hate relationship with and after I told her, her grandchildren would like a memento from her and gathered up ugly music boxes, suddenly started talking about her family. She told me about her sisters, and she told me about a relative also interested in family history and she put me in touch with her, though the woman would not share with me, so my Grandmother wrote her and she gave the information to my grandmother. She also put me in touch with my Grandfather’s Aunt ,who was still alive, and who happily shared with me what she could remember about the family. I have wonderful cousins in these family branches, who help put together the family history. From a music box, to family, it’s a treasure.

As children, we do not understand why we are dragged to see some old relative or someone who knew someone, but as adults, we wish we could go back and ask questions. That is why I search for my family through history, why I want to know stories, why I search every where for hints, and pictures, why I hope that someday, someone wants to know about me.


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The Missing Family – Murder Mystery

Once you have gathered all your information, organized your research, created a database and determined how you will share it and set about getting some favorite websites, all the fun begins.

When researching my family I have found numerous brick walls and disappearing families. It is most frustrating in female lines, because girls tend to disappear if you can’t find a marriage license due to changing their names. Fortunately this is a modern era problem because prior to the mid 1800’s they tend to keep their original surnames.

While researching my great great Grandfather Augustus I have found more brick walls than I like. The original surname Schmidt, at various times is Schmitt, Schmidt, Smith. The first list of children was Herman, Edward, Auguste, Cristele, Clara, Matilda, Elena Ernstina and Bertha Ernstina. Trying to following these children has proved difficult with lots of dead ends. I know what happened to Bertha Ernstina, she became my Great Grandmother.

I tried to tackle the children one at a time. A good idea that never seems to work, while looking for one I sometimes find a different one.

One day I stumbled across Auguste’s husband, by now she was being listed at Augusta but the parents where the same. Armed with a husband I set out to find her family. I discovered 11 children and no information on the children. The family simply disappeared. I tried everything, all the search engines and every site I could think of, they were just gone. I filed it away to work on another day.  Then one day I saw the husband listed in deaths in a newspaper, but all I could read was his name and murdered! It was one of those search newspaper sites that give you a few words, but if you want to read more you need a subscription. I wasn’t into buying a subscription so I searched more. I had a name, murder and 1912 it had to be somewhere. I found another newspaper snippet that listed him, a son and again murder, but this time they listed suicide. Now I was on a hunt, to find out what happened and to prove I didn’t need a subscription. (Yes a subscription would have ended this quest right then and there, but I may have also just read the article and let it go and missed the rest of the story.) Numerous searches and numerous snippets of newspaper stories kept giving me more information, each another piece to the puzzle.

I finally found the whole article (for free) it had in fact been reported in 22 states because a murder/suicide in 1912 was big news.

V.W. Thurs 8 Feb 1912, (THREE MURDERED AND ONE SUCIDE), Page 21 
   MAILAHN, Lewis, age sixty-six, shot in the head. 
   MAILAHN, William, twenty-one years old, cut in the throat. 
   MAILAHN, Dora, sixteen years old, cut in the throat. 
   MAILAHN, John, eight years old, cut in the throat. 
   These terrible murders and suicide occurred last week in Binghamton, fifteen miles north of Appleton.  Wm. Mailahn, the target, according to his behavior lately, as testified by the neighbors, that he committed the family murders and then sought to take his own life.  He had strained relations with his father which extended to other family members. 
  The horrible bloody act appears to be the result of him being diagnosed with consumption, which has hit all of his family members with incurable sufferings.  In the last months already three brothers were victims.  Also the murdered sister was already lying in death.  The horrible fate of the family had been discussed around the table for some time and the brother believed that it is better for everyone if they took carbolic acid and die together.  The story was also known by the neighbors but no-one thought that the young man would carry it out.  The surviving brothers are also stricken with the horrible illness.   The  murderer has not only used a straight razor but a piece of broken mirror on his siblings and then lacerated their throats  This act, which is horrible in all details, has caused great excitement in Appleton and the surrounding area.

That wonderful newspaper article was really the start of the family story in my opinion and I dug further. Augusta had 11 children. Her oldest daughter died within 5 months of giving birth to her only child. 3 other daughters died of tuberculosis before Augusta herself died in 1908. Her other two daughters both had tuberculosis and one died within a year of her mother. William the one who is assumed to have murdered his family did not want to see any other siblings die of this disease. The five remaining children were all suspected to have tuberculosis. The two youngest being at home on that fateful day died along with their father and brother. The three remaining boys, with the oldest having gone to collect the other two from school, escaped from being murdered only for one to die within two years of tuberculosis and the another to also die of tuberculosis only 20 years later.  Of eleven children only one survived, to marry and have a child, and to live to an old age.

It’s a sad story, but a wonderful story of what happens when you continue to dig through those brick walls. My heart breaks for the end of a line and such a tragic ending, but I find hope in that I solved this problem and perhaps I can solve the problem of the rest of Auguste’s siblings.


Genealogy – Should I buy a subscription to..?

I am asked all the time what do I think of and should they buy a subscription. My answer is always the same it depends upon what you want to do with it. If you think you can sign up and get some leaves and do your family tree in one afternoon. No. Do not buy a subscription to anything. To get your leaf in Ancestry you first must have a family tree and upload or direct input it into Ancestry. The better detailed and the more people in your family tree, the better and more leaves you will receive. If you receive a hint and it has nothing to do with your family tree it will just keep coming back. If it is not your line be sure to click ignore leaf, so can better use their algorithms to search for your ancestor.

Their are plenty of free ways to search your family tree. Local History sites, Roots Web, just typing the name into a search engine and seeing what is out there, or use the best of the free sites I like free, free makes me happy. What I really hate is a site that misleads you, that says search your ancestors and then does not allow you to read anything.

I use anything and everything I can get my hands on and yes I do have a subscription to Ancestry. When I first bought a subscription I thought it was a waste of money. My family was first generation American on my Father’s side and from Canada on my Mother’s side, a few generations back. Ancestry was all about American ancestors and I did not have any. I bought the subscription anyhow. I looked, I searched, I grumbled and then I bought the worldwide subscription, on the idea that it would help me more than the basic and guess what it did. It could be timing, it could be coincidence, it could be anything, but once I got that worldwide subscription I discovered that my Family was really American after all. That German side of my Mother’s, the ones that came from Canada, seems they were American after all. They arrived in 1710, cleared the frontier of New York Territory, fought Indians, pushed further and further West by the arriving British, fought in the American Revolutionary War (on both sides) and were more exciting than I could imagine.

Ancestry has now upgraded their database and the Worldwide Subscription does not access everything and you need to have An All Access subscription. I am still in the grumbling mode on that one. The additional $90 gets me access to Fold3 and to newspapers. I haven’t yet decided if it’s necessary. Newspapers can be accessed on a number of sites for pay and I haven’t found a large number of ancestor stories that I need to read on a newspaper, but then I keep thinking well maybe there is and it would be easier to find the whole story with out months of searching like I did for the missing family that turned out to be a murder mystery after all.

When starting your family search, always start with free and then decide how much of what you must read is on a pay site. Family Search has easy search engines and if you just use the easy search options, you can miss tons of stuff on their browse/non indexed databases and things you can find my clicking their map and seaching by states or countries. Believe it or not they are even starting to link to a fabulous Belgian website I’ve been using for years. When I am on Family Search I always pay attention to how much information wants me to go to a partner site and how badly I want that information, if it’s enough, then I decide on a subscription to that site.

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Genealogy 101D – What Do I use for my family tree?

I have everything and I am ready to put together my family tree. What do I use to do that?

The dilemma for everyone researching their family history is what program do I use to keep all the information and print out a pretty family tree. Face it we all want pretty family trees.  There are a number of programs to use. In my opinion the two largest or most frequently chosen are Family Tree Maker which is promoted by and Legacy Family Tree which is promoted by and has TempleReady Reports.

Family Tree Maker must be purchased, but Legacy Family Tree has a free standard downloadable version and more advanced versions for purchase. I use Legacy, not because it was free but because when I first started I found Family Tree Maker very confusing and hard to navigate. There are many people who would totally disagree. Legacy gave me the reports in the style I was looking for, and a variety of Family Trees I could print out.

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Genealogy 101C Sources and why you need them

I am sure as you have been looking at Family Trees online, you have notices sources in footnotes and links. What is a source and why do you need them?

Every professional genealogist will tell you that you must have sources, notes that identify where you took your information from and that verify your information is accurate. You are probably going why should I tell you. Honestly it’s not for anyone else, it’s for you. I was very much the I did all this research I am certainly not going to tell the world where I found it so they can cut me out of the picture, when I started. I then realized that sources were more for me, so I could remember where I saw it, especially if it was a family line that I was slowly working on.

Sources should be the record that verifies your information and allows you to move back a generation. Sources should not be a family tree that you found on the internet. If you copy some information from a website and want to remind yourself what website, then site it as a source, but you should verify the information for yourself.

When you start your research, writing down what you know of yourself, your sibling, your parents and grandparents, your source is yourself. While it may seem silly when thinking of yourself or your siblings, you should verify your information with an actual record. Most likely you have seen your birth certificate, so therefore your source would be your birth certificate. The same would apply for your siblings and parents. On the assumption that your parents where married you would then source their marriage through their marriage record.

Moving back a generation to your parents, you may have a copy of their birth certificates, birth record or baptism records. These would be your source for their birth name and date. You may not have access to these records and wish to pursue them or you may have this information in a family bible or journal and that would become your source.

Depending upon the age of your parents and grandparents, census records become a vital source of information for sibling that you may not have known about. In my records I look for a birth, marriage and death record as well as all census records that may be available for a person. Census records are only currently available until 1940.

I originally did not look for death records and only looked for marriage records if I ran across them. Now while researching on my Canadian and Belgium sides I always look for birth, marriage and death records because they do not all list the parents and sometimes godparents can be found on birth records that led to more family members. The same can be said for witnesses on marriages and who recorded the death of a person. I also discovered when I sent for a copy of an ancestors (who had died as a child) death record that he had died from tuberculosis, something that no one had known, or remembered. Because of this I sent for a great uncle’s death record who seemed to disappear into thin air, he too had died of tuberculosis and so did his wife (a person I did not know about until seeing his death record). Obviously there had been an outbreak in the family as well as the community.

I have notes, family tree sketched out, my sources but what do I do I do with them? How to find a database next in Genelogy 101D

Genealogy -Sources -Help You