Years ago, when I was very new at the genealogy game, I believed that I could accurately remember where I had discovered every bit of family data.
And - for awhile - I actually could do that. However, as the years went by, and the numbers of people on my trees increased - and my brain cells seemed to decrease - it became impossible.
Sometimes, I would write the information on a scrap of paper. We all know what happens to a scrap of paper stuck in a bag or pocket.
At one point, I had to stop all new research and back track, almost to the beginning of my quest, to fill in all those blanks.
Fortunately, I had even saved some of those scraps of paper on which I had scribbled information while visiting archives and libraries. To preserve them, I had taped them onto regular sheets of white paper. Eventually, I transfered that data to the family tree software I used, but the scraps didn't cover all my research.
It wasn't easy to admit that I had neglected this important documentation. And it required a very long time to retrace my steps.
Since those days, I clearly - and loudly - advise beginners to document every bit of data they find.
Some have replied innocently that they'll remember - they only have a few people on their tree. Others have even asked why it's important: "The names are what we need, right?"
Do you have ancestors or relatives who served in the military?
As we peer into our past, we often find family members who served on land or sea in many countries and in many capacities. Some were on-the-ground forces, while others filled support roles such as tailors, doctors, nurses, cooks or musicians.
London's Imperial War Museum has organized a Family History Day on Saturday, November 6, sponsored by MyHeritage.com. The event will assist participants - from beginners to experienced family historians - to learn how the Blitz affected families, the roles relatives played to help win the war, the aftermath of this history in today's families, and what records are accessible for more information.
The Imperial War Museum is the museum of everyone’s story: the history of modern conflict told through the stories of those who were there. It is an educational and historical institution responsible for archives, collections and sites of outstanding national importance. You can view the Museum’s main website here.
Women as well as men have served in diverse capacities in all US military branches - Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the Coast Guard. For information on women veterans from Colonial to contemporary times, view stories here (scroll down to see other relevant pages on that site), and a time line here. For a collection of photos and artifacts documenting women's service, click here.
One Civil War surgeon - Dr Mary Edwards Walker (photo left) - was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor.
Accessible records include regiment lists, files for widows' pensions, death and burial records, medals, hospital lists for the wounded, transport lists and many other records, each supplying another piece of the family history puzzle.
Where can you find more information on those who served?
Do you patiently spell it several times? Will you, as I often do, spell it out as in "D as in David, A as in Apple, R as in Robert".........
Do you break the name down into syllables for the other person? Do you give up and say, "Call me by my first name!"
People look at DARDASHTI and their eyes glaze over. "Is that two Ds and two As?" asks the person on the phone or in a store. I usually break it into three syllables: Dar-dash-ti. For TALALAY, strangers usually put the accent on the wrong syllable, and say Tah-LAY-lee, instead of TAH-lah-lie. To confuse matters, one family branch uses TALALAY in English, but pronounces it Tah-la-lay.
As a young girl visiting my grandmother in upstate New York during the summers, we would often go to see her friend Fanny who lived not far away.
I remember the old country farm house set in large surrounding fields. While Grandma and Fanny were talking downstairs, I was given permission to go up to the attic and scrounge around.
Fanny and her family had bought the place from people who had long been living there, and the attic was full of what people generally hide away. I found ancient letters, old newspapers covering historical events, all sorts of documents, books, photographs, as well as odd pieces of furniture, art work and old-fashioned clothing. At that young age, I didn't recognize the importance of these finds.
Now that I am so involved in family history and artifacts, I often wish I had an opportunity to revisit that treasure trove. Unfortunately, the house is long gone, and a housing development fills those fields.
The recently concluded Southern California Genealogical Society's 41st Jamboree presented numerous such sessions.
Sometimes there are sessions at which the proverbial lightbulb switches on. Such essential knowledge is transmitted that the participants then find it difficut to look at their own individual family histories in quite the same way as before.
All of us have family stories that might be termed myths. How can we determine whether a story may be fact or fiction?
A fascinating session on just this topic was given by Jean Wilcox Hibben. With a PhD in folkore, an MA in speech communication, and a Certified Genealogist, Jean is president of both the Corona (California) Genealogical Society and the Southern California chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, Genealogical Speakers Guild secretary and much more.
I have to admit that some of my own recent research is not as organized as it could be, due to lack of time. There are notes on loose papers not yet in the correct folder or binder. There are photographs waiting to be sorted. There are miscellaneous printed emails that I understand - would anyone else?
Although beginning researchers might not think about this important topic, it is essential to address at every stage of research.
What will happen to your research if you become ill or worse? Will it be just thrown away? Will close family or other relatives understand what your work represents and its value?
This is a very personal topic for me as our family lost a 300-year-old family tree brought by one of the last family members to arrive from Belarus to the US in the early 1900s. He died in Florida in the 1950s and neither of his children were there. Everything in the house, including our priceless family history, was simply thrown away.
No matter how much research I do, the information contained in that tree will be impossible to replace in its entirety. It was compiled by those who lived that history and who knew much more than I can ever learn.
Human beings do make mistakes. Remember the old proverb: "To err is human, to forgive divine"? Genealogy's version should be: "To err is human, to correct genealogical."
Every family historian and genealogist knows that family trees may include errors.
Sometimes they are due to simple human mistakes (in writing down facts received orally, transcription or copying from other records or details wrongly recorded due to tragic events, such as deaths, which might skew relatives' memories) or bad handwriting. Sometimes errors may result from other relatives simply not knowing the truth (such as mistakes on gravestones) or realizing that the correction will be too expensive (again, gravestone errors). Occasionally, the reason can be chalked up to "let's make the story sound better," which may lead to additional embellishment as years go by.
Here are some Ancestry.com examples showing what might have happened - a 1904 Border Crossing record; 1910, 1920 and 1930 US Federal Censuses - for my TALALAY family, which became TOLLIN after immigration.
When my great-grandfather Aaron Peretz Talalay entered the US from Canada in November 1904, he was listed as Aaron Tallarlay. His wife, Riva, and children Leib (Louis), 2, and Chayeh Feige (Bertha), 9 months old, arrived in New York City in December 1905. He was born in 1873 and his age is correct, 31. Riva was born in 1875. As you will see, their ages seem to be wrong in all the census records below.I have not yet found Aaron's passenger manifest from the UK to Canada. It should be interesting.
In the 1910 Census, the family was listed (and indexed) as LOILON, although whether the initial letter was a T or an L is debatable. The record was found only by looking at record after record to find a likely couple. I believe my great-grandparents would have said TOLLIN, the enumerator heard TOYLIN and spelled it TOILON. My great-grandmother Riva (or Rebecca) is listed as Eva. It shows Aaron arrived in 1905 (it was 1904) and the family arrived in 1906 (it was 1905).Their ages are listed as 35 and 37, but the correct ages are 37 (Aaron) and 35 (Riva).
In 1915, when the family became naturalized citizens, the record was in the name of TOLINI. It took years to find the papers!
In the 1920 Census, the family is now listed (and indexed) as TOLINO - making them seem Italian - and my great-grandmother is now Rebecca. In addition to Louis and Bertha, there are another three sons. Bertha is listed as 14 (she was 16). The parents ages are listed as 45 and 40 but they actually were 47 and 45.
In the 1930 Census, this family is finally TOLLIN, as were all the other relatives in Newark, New Jersey and Springfield, Massachusetts. Bertha is not listed as she was married and living in New York, while Louis had finished medical school and was in Baltimore, Maryland. The parents were listed as 55 and 53, but they were really 57 and 55.
A poignant article in The New York Times recently focused on "Finding Names for Hart Island's Forgotten."
Hart's Island, in Long Island Sound, has some 800,000 graves dating from 1869. There are no markers with names, but registers do exist. And thanks to one woman, families may once again be able to learn about relatives buried there over the years.
New York sculptor Melinda Hunt has devoted more than 10 years to assisting people to track down Hart Island's dead. Although the handwritten ledgers listing the names were generally inaccessible, Hunt obtained 50,000 records for every person buried there since 1985 through the Freedom of Information Act. She is hoping to use the thousands of pages to create an online database searchable by name or date of death.
Their bodies were put into tiny pine coffins and buried together in a large grave on a lonely, grassy place called Hart Island, part of the Bronx in Long Island Sound. According to the burial ledger, the babies Walburton, Mieses and Suazo, and dozens more infants, are in babies' trench "No. 51."
Hart Island is home to New York City's potter's field, the place where hundreds of thousands of the city's anonymous, indigent and forgotten have been laid to rest, tightly packed in pine coffins in common graves. Hart Island is managed and maintained by the city's Department of Correction, and inmates dig and fill the graves - three bodies deep for adults, five deep for babies - and mark each trench with a numbered concrete block. The island is off limits to the public, though family members who can prove their relatives are buried there are able to arrange visits.
Since she began exploring the island in 1991, hundreds of people have contacted her looking for information on missing relatives or children who died at birth.
Hart Island has been home, over the years, to a lunatic asylum, a tuberculosis hospital, a boys' reformatory and a prison. According to the newspaper story, some 1,500 are buried there annually; half are babies or young children.
Hart and photographer Joel Sternfeld organized a year-long exhibit in 1997, published a book of photographs in 1998 and produced a documentary. Hunt became known as the resource for information.
It is hard to obtain access to the island, and Hunt believes the public should be allowed annual visits. However, the Department of Correction believes there is a security issue as inmates work there. The burial records need to be preserved, she says, as thousands of ledger records were lost in a fire in the 1970s. She's looking for money to post the records online and to collect the stories.
Hunt believes that people have the right to know where their family members are buried in the city. She's trying to show an important hidden part of American culture that has been overlooked. "These are public records. They belong to the people of New York."
To read more of the story, click here.
To learn more about the Hart Island project, click here.