Monday, March 7, 2011
Shake your family tree. You never know what you might find. And don't wait until Great Aunt Eurethra dies before embarking on the journey.
It's easier than you think, what with the advent of the Internet. I'll take you through my journey to know my mother's ancestors, just to show you. I signed up on a couple of genealogy websites, Ancestry.com being the best of them (and probably the most expensive). Others are Genealogy Bank, and Footnote to name a couple.
I knew my Grandparents' names, but I didn't know their parents' names, so I went straight to the 1930 Census on Ancestry. Even if you don't know what city or state your family is from, you can do a search by name and dwindle it down through process of elimination.
For example, there were several people with the same name as Mommy's, but I knew her sisters' and parents' names, so I used that to toss out the others. I got a kick out seeing Mommy on the 1930 census as a little eight-year old girl. I wondered if she was out in the back yard playing when they came to count her family, because back then, census takers visited each and every home, even the ones in the back woods.
As it turns out, Mommy's grandmother was living with them, and voila, I had my Great Grandmother's name, Pruie. To find Pruie's parents, I sent off for her death certificate, since I now knew what state she probably died in. When I received that document via snail mail two months later, it had Pruie's mother listed as Lucinda.
Since Lucinda was Native American and, therefore, counted separately from the rest of America, I then had to trek over to the National Archives (via archives.gov. . . see how easy that is, and that one's free!) where I found Lucinda's parents (I'm now up to Great-Great-Great Grandparents) who were Cherokee, and came to Oklahoma on that infamous and aptly named Trail of Tears, as many Indians died during and because of it. During that forced march, their tribe was overseen by the dashing Captain Fleetwood who ultimately fell in love with and married their daughter, then was later murdered because he'd married an Indian. Thanks to relatives I didn't know I had but found on a genealogy surname message board, they shared with me Captain Fleetwood's complete army file of about 200 pages. I know, right? Fascinating, as Sarge would deadpan.
From there, I researched Captain Fleetwood's family tree and traced them all the way back to England and the 1600's. I even found my GGGG-Grandfather's will online (that's now six generations back from me!) wherein he bequeathed his slaves along with his feather beds and farms. I didn't get anything. So I had a T-shirt made that said, My ancestors were rich, but all I got was this T-shirt.
If you're interested in shaking your own family tree, (Number 75 on my Bucket List) here's a recap of the best tips I know:
1. Don't wait; begin now, right after you finish leaving a comment on this post.
2. Join a genealogy website; it may not be cheap, but it's the most expedient method.
3. Sign up on a genealogy message board of your same surname. You might just find a cousin whose tracing the same family line, and that will cut your efforts down tremendously.
4. Send off for death, birth, marriage certificates as they hold a wealth of information, including medical.
5. Talk to your oldest living relative. Interview them. Love them. They are your key to the past.