04 February 2014

Tips for Researching Your Family History

Uncovering details about your family is a rewarding experience; for several reasons.  The pure curiosity satisfied by accurate genealogy research is one thing, but assembling a snapshot of your lineage also provides information about genetics, health and illness trends within your family, as well as definitive answers about your nationality and ethnic heritage.

Fortunately, it's easier than ever for dedicated researchers to get started digging up family dirt.  The paper trail genealogists have relied on for decades still exists, but today's research landscape also includes online resources, which continue to expand in size and scope. Compiling information about your family's past is a multi-faceted pursuit, using whatever avenues are at your disposal.  Try these tips for tracing your family history.

Start With a Game Plan

Jumping in without a goal in mind can be fun, but you'll quickly exhaust research avenues without a master plan.  Are you interested in a single family member, attempting to flesh out his or her history, in great detail?  Or are you more inclined to fill lots of the branches of your family tree with summary sketches of many relatives?

Answering a few questions up-front sets you on the best path for success, as you leave the gate on a defined mission.  Genealogy, in its simplest sense, is data collection, so set yourself up to efficiently compile information as it comes in.  Start with a family tree; either pre-printed or of your own crafting.  It can be accomplished digitally, online, but starting with a paper copy gives you a working document to expand-on and share with other family members as you fill branches.

Whenever possible, standardize your recordkeeping, so it's easy to compare entries as you accumulate them.  A personal profile sheet, for example, lets you plug information about each ancestor into a uniform format, adding consistency to the flow of information.  Do the same thing for online research, creating organized databases for your research.

The Three C's

As you begin to uncover family data, use the three C's to fill-in vital information about your ancestors.  Churches, Cemeteries, and Census records provide longstanding resources to draw from, on your quest for family history. 

Churches, for example, stood as the centers of many burgeoning communities in the past, acting as meeting places for those sharing religious beliefs; but also as civic centers, where citizens gathered to address all kinds of issues.  Schools were often extensions of churches too, creating scholastic paper trails helpful during genealogy research.  Also connected to local settlements, sometimes near churches; cemeteries contain lasting references to your family history.  Etched in grave markers and headstones, researchers find dates to corroborate research, and even uncover unknown relatives in family plots.

Census records provide snapshots of family life; outlining vocations, numbers of individuals living under the same roof, as well as skills of those polled - like the ability to read.  Tracing movement of family members is facilitated by census data too, showing where ancestors lived at various points in history.  For the most accurate information, use Federal Census records, supplemented by state census polls compiled in-between federal census years.

While each researcher's approach to family history is unique, starting with a well-organized game plan, and solid resources are two tips for genealogy success.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from Freepeoplesearch.org. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @ gmail.com

11 September 2013

Grandma's Book of Remembrance

In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man's skin,--seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is. -Ralph Waldo Emerson 

My sister Beth is noted for her ability to get things done, tackling big jobs and accomplishing them in a short time. When she called me and offered to help organize our family history records, I was excited at the prospect. The sheer volume of the work that had been done by our Mormon pioneer ancestors and family members was overwhelming to me. My mother was an avid family historian, and she had taught me about careful record-keeping as she checked and rechecked the earlier work. But her untimely death from cancer had left us with much of the organizational work undone. Now Beth's vision of a more usable family history book included the gathering of our family stories into one book. My desire was to make it as accurate and complete as possible. Her drive to complete a hard task complemented my training in slow and careful research. Because of our mother’s love for the work of family history that she had passed to us, we agreed that the appropriate place to start was with a book about her parents.

Mom’s influence was obvious as we worked. It seemed that the book should be dedicated to her. As we recognized the enormity of the job we had undertaken, Beth and I enlisted the help of our other sisters. There are eight of us altogether. Each sister contributed what she could. We met on a regular basis and each of us assigned ourselves to the next task on our organizational chart. We transcribed handwritten histories and journals, sent for death certificates and patriarchal blessings, researched the facts of our ancestor’s lives, and tracked down family photographs and stories. We felt that we were making slow but steady progress.

But we had not reckoned with the iron will of our maternal grandmother, still living at age 93. Grandma had always been a record-keeper. In her old age, instead of counting sheep at night, she named her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren by birthdate. She never forgot a birthday of one of her numerous posterity. When any of her 33 grandchildren had a baby, Grandma was sure to call to get the vital statistics firsthand. As a young married woman, she had even served briefly as a ward clerk in a small LDS ward when no man (the usual choice) was available for the job. Although she was now nearly blind, she wasn't sure she wanted any of her pictures or historical memorabilia to leave her possession while we copied them.

Beth’s tenacity prevailed, however, and eventually we organized some of the stories that we had collected into a book that could be read to her. At that point, her vision of our project exceeded ours. She told us that she wanted finished copies of the book made for all of her children and grandchildren. She would pay for the copying. They were to be a Christmas present from her to her descendants, both present and future. Grandma's age never limited her ability to look forward rather than backward.

Beth and I in 2002. Since the events recounted in this story,
 which took place in 1993, we have continued to collaborate
on many different family history projects.
Throughout the whole project, we received many spiritual blessings, even miracles. Now, however, as Grandma's challenge encouraged us to quicken our pace, our spiritual experiences were also increased. We met each week to report our progress and receive further assignments, and we also shared some of these experiences. Our faith and determination were strengthened. One sister, who was transcribing some of our great-grandmother's letters, told us she could hear the writer's voice as she typed. Towards the end of her task, she had merely to turn on her computer, and she felt Great-grandma there. Another marveled at the marked increase she suddenly noticed in her typing skills. We felt the presence of angels with us and with our children as they played happily together, enabling us to accomplish the work we had committed to do. We bonded with these great men and women of the past. We pondered their lives and contemplated our own. We became more accepting of ourselves as we recognized the value of our ancestors' daily struggles and resulting strengths. We felt it an honor to be a part of this sacred endeavor.

Towards the end of the summer, Beth and I felt an increasing urgency to finish the work. Though.Grandma's plan was to give them as Christmas gifts, she feared she would not be around when December came. Her health was deteriorating day by day, and she called us often to check our progress. Finally we set a date to take them to her. Though it seemed we could not possibly finish in time, we knew that we could not fail her. We dropped everything else and worked continuously for three days and nights to finish. The last night, we slept in shifts to prepare for the eight-hour drive to her home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

When we arrived, she was being cared for by her family members, and we were greeted by our sister Brenda, who is a nurse that specializes in hospice care. Our car was loaded with boxes of photocopied pages of family history, but we were saddened to find that Grandma had taken a sudden turn for the worse. She faded in and out of consciousness and was very weak. We felt a strong desire to be close to her, and we started laying out our papers on her bedroom floor to collate. Round and round her bed we went to pick up each story in order. Soon, though, her steady stream of family visitors necessitated moving our operations to the dining room table where we wrapped each copy of the thick book of loose leaf pages in plastic wrap, ready for distribution to Grandma’s family members. We knew that she could not wait until Christmas to give her gifts, but as always, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were a high priority. She was determined to follow through on this project. She had made it hers as well as ours.

We tiptoed in to tell Grandma that the books were ready. She smiled and thanked us in a weak voice. She was aware of what we were doing, though her usual supervisory tendencies had been curtailed. A few days later, as we drove back to our homes in Utah, we grieved at the knowledge that we had said our earthly goodbyes to our beloved grandmother. It seemed that we had facilitated her passing in finishing the task she was so intent on completing. She was waiting for us, we told each other. In less than a week, she was gone. At her funeral family members received their Christmas presents from Grandma early, and our sadness was tempered by the knowledge that our offering to the Lord and to her posterity in her behalf, her family Book of Remembrance, had been "worthy of all acceptation" (D&C 128:25).

March 21, 1998, revised September 11, 2013

13 August 2013

Surfing the Web

Here are some wonderful links to good stuff. Check out these treasures.

Lynn Palermo’s always valuable Armchair Genealogist. Sign up for her newsletter. August edition features how to creating a writing notebook.

12 August 2013

Vacation Writing

To write, go on vacation. You can either stay home or travel, but I've found it most important to take some time out. Set a time and place for relaxing, thinking and letting the thoughts come to the surface. Often I throw away the first thoughts and words that serve to prime the pump of memory. But I keep coming back to the writing spot and make a time to meet myself there.

Deer friend from Cub River Canyon, Idaho
It's like the deer I keep meeting this week in the cabin in Idaho where I'm staying. Every day when I go out for a walk, she's there. Sometimes she runs away through the trees as soon as she hears my footsteps on the gravel. Sometimes she stays there for a short look. One day she looked for a long long time while I stayed as still as I could. She lowered her head a little and looked at me for awhile longer. She was mostly hidden by the leaves and the shade, but I could still see her. Then she lowered her head even more and looked again from a different perspective. Finally she moved off a little ways into the underbrush, then turned and gave me another long stare. I didn't have my camera with me that day.

When my camera is out, she seems to back off more quickly. So do the butterflies I attempt to capture in a photo. But like my memories, even though they are not exactly replicated in a photograph, the deer and the butterflies and the grasshoppers and the wild turkeys are stored in my mind and may peek shyly out of my writing when the time is right.
Driving along the road I spotted this piece of machinery
that spoke to me of my Johnson roots in Preston, Idaho

It's summertime and the living is easy. Schedule a vacation from the everyday and let the memories come out of the scrub oak to meet you.

21 July 2013

My Sister Gets Born!

Here is a piece of my autobiography. I was only two at this time, but these feelings are recorded in my heart as "meditative memory." 
My sister and I 

Today my mother and my baby sister are coming home! I can hardly wait to see my little sister. She is too little to play so I am going to help my mama take care of her. Her name is Jill. Daddy and I get in the car and he drives us to the hospital to get Mama and the new baby. Mama comes out of the hospital and she is riding in a chair with wheels on it. The nurse is pushing her. Mama is holding my little sister. She is little.

Daddy takes the baby and Mama gets into the car. I really want to hold the baby, but Mama and Daddy say I have to wait until we get home. At home I sit on the couch and Mama puts her pillow on my lap and then she puts my baby sister on top of the pillow. When I look at her, I love her. I love her so much. The love is so big that I know I loved her from before we came here. I’m so glad to see her again. I missed her. I’m sad too. There are hard things here and I don’t want her to get any hurts. I’m her big sister and I will take care of her. 

19 June 2013

Who Am I?

I sat waiting for the family prayer to mark the end of the viewing and visiting shortly before my Aunt Doris’s funeral. I reflected on the renewal of my acquaintance with my deceased mother’s family members. I thought about my mother’s brothers, my four Christensen uncles. Their old age was becoming more obvious.  I had enjoyed the visit with my cousins. My cousins from this family are mostly in the grandparent part of their lives nowadays. Our lives are busy and our interaction comes rarely, except on the superficial level of social media. Today I met some new cousins—twice removed—since they are my cousins’ grandchildren. Until now I only knew those cute little twin babies and the toddler with the wild hair from my Facebook encounters.

Marcus Joy Christensen
An older couple from my aunt’s LDS ward approached me. Although I have never lived in that Las Vegas neighborhood, my grandparents and many of their descendants are long-time residents. This couple wasn't family, however, and they were curious about who I was. “You look like you could be Doris’s sister,” the woman said. I quickly explained that I was her niece, since she had married my mother’s brother. In doing so, I mentioned that my grandfather was Marcus Joy Christensen, patriarch to the clan. Before his death in 1987, he was also their stake patriarch.* They nodded; they knew my grandfather.

We talked for a moment and then the man, Brother Brown, lingered. “I want to tell you something about your grandfather,” he said. “I had a son who was very quiet. I felt I didn't even know him and certainly didn't understand him. That is, until the day we went to Brother Christensen’s home to receive my son's patriarchal blessing. The blessing was very beautiful,” he continued, “but what I remember most was your grandfather’s tears after he finished. He put his hand on my boy’s shoulder and told me, ‘This young man is just full of love.’”

“The Spirit bore witness to me that it was so,” Brother Brown said. “Your grandfather knew my son better than I did myself, and it was through the Spirit. I’ll never forget that experience.”

Who am I? Who are you? There are times when glimpses of our identity come forth—a blessing, a funeral, or some other deeply revelatory moment. However, it may also be possible and certainly beneficial for us to have that opportunity on a more frequent basis.

Autobiographical writing enables me to both see myself and allow others the same privilege. The process of looking within is not always comfortable, but it is generally rewarding. My thinking becomes more organized and less scattered. Insights come to me from the same source as the insights my grandfather received in his calling as patriarch. I see the turning points in my life. I understand why I believe and think the way I do. I am closer to knowing just who I am.

*A stake patriarch is an ordained priesthood office in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This person, assigned to an LDS stake, is called upon to give once-in-a-lifetime spiritual blessings with prophetic insights to members of that ecclesiastical organization.

02 June 2013

Sock Fights: A Solution to our Laundry Problems

Following is a portion of my memoir writing describing my "middle years" as the mother of a large family. It describes my search for a solution to a common laundry problem - sock matching. Eventually, the problem was solved, but only after the children got old enough to leave home or take care of their own laundry.

In our large family, sometimes the inevitable family fights were serious, but sometimes they were all in fun. For example, when the socks flew. There were ten of us living in the Stubbs Family Residence at one time, and I often feared that the laundry would take over the whole house. It certainly had me running. When we moved into the house on 448 East, I was excited by all the cupboard and counter space in the laundry room. But the long expanse of counter was too inviting to ever remain empty of miscellaneous piles of personal or family belongings. In an effort to organize, I used recycled orange and gold colored plastic recycled hospital tubs received from our hospital visits and then added some stacking bins to line up along the counter next to the dryer. I labeled each small bin with the name of one of our family members.
Our "new" house at 448 East
The idea was that when I folded the laundry, I would put the person’s clean clothing in the bin and they would put it away. It sounds like a good idea even now, but it didn’t really work. In fact, the laundry problem ballooned even before it got to that stage.

The gathering of dirty clothes was first. The older children were supposed to bring their clothes out to add to the huge pile I was collecting near the washer and dryer. Then I would sort the clothes into piles by type and color. In our old house there had been a built-in hamper in the bathroom, and I loved it!  For some reason, it seemed to encourage the children to feed their dirty clothes and towels into it.  By contrast, in our larger house with our ever-increasing family, I struggled to find any good spots in the multiple bathrooms and bedrooms to place receptacles for the constant flow of dirty clothes and used towels and linens, and we all struggled to remember to put our clothes in them. More often than not, whoever made the attempt to gather up the dirty clothes would find it hard to tell whether the clothing on the floor was dirty or not.  There was always the possibility that the clothes on the floor just did not get put away or had been thrown on the floor by a child making a hurried clothes choice in the morning. Many times the clothes just got caught up and recycled over and over in one eternal round.  Like a TV detective in one of Jim’s favorite police shows, I often spent time trying to determine if an item was really dirty. The inspection and interrogation process got ridiculous at times.

Unfortunately, once the laundry was gathered up, a new problem arose. Since the laundry room was really just a narrow passageway connecting the kitchen to the carport door and the basement staircase, it became nearly impassible when it doubled as the spot where I sorted clothes into different colored wash loads.  While one load was washing, the other piles would be walked through by anyone needing to get from the kitchen to the carport or basement and vice-versa.  Soon the clothes would be hopelessly tangled into one big mess, and the kitchen and laundry room floor would be ankle deep in clothes. It was not good for either the clothes or our morale.

I often thought of what my mother had told me: how much easier it had been to do laundry in the “olden days” with a wringer washer and clotheslines. In those days, she said, a woman just kept working at the job all day until it was done. But this happened only once a week. In stark contrast, in my home, the piles on the floor never got caught up. Every day, we continued to add to the laundry, and since I believed I could “forward the wash” in my “spare time” without really focusing on the job, day after day ended with the same mess covering the floor of the laundry room passageway and spilling out onto the kitchen floor as well.

And then there were the socks. The laundry was my chore, but I drew the line at matching socks. The continuous washing, drying and folding process created a never-ending supply of unmated socks. We kept them all in a big laundry basket and the children often rummaged for the pair they wanted. On occasion I decreed a family sock folding day. No one liked to fold the socks. They had to be sorted into boys and girls styles, then by size, and finally into matching or nearly-matching pairs. When Grandma Stubbs came to visit, she took on the job. The kids were thrilled but I was embarrassed that I always had such a big basket of unfinished laundry.

In our family council we brainstormed ideas to solve the problem. To encourage the children to put their socks in the wash in pairs, I purchased some “sock locks” for the purpose—little round plastic rings with teeth that grip the socks and keep them together. (They still sell them on-line.) It seemed like a great idea, but those little plastic rings proved as hard to keep track of as the socks themselves.  Besides, they took some effort to use, especially on stiff, dirty socks. Eventually, I began to find them indoors and outdoors, upstairs and downstairs, under furniture and in corners—and seldom in the company of even one sock, much less two. 

My husband Jim is an optimistic person with an often unexpected and upbeat reaction to life experiences. His sense of humor has always been a welcome relief to family stress. One day the kids and I were almost finished dutifully matching and folding socks.  Jim walked in, looked at the huge pile of folded socks, picked up a pair and threw it at one of the boys. That pair was thrown back at him and before I knew it, the living room was thick with airborne stockings. At first I was frustrated, but “Dad’s goofy mood,” as my daughter Anna put it when she was recalling the incident, allowed me to see the humor in the whole thing. Suddenly the chore was fun, and we were united as the family who invented sock fights. After that, the kids knew that every sock-folding endeavor just may end up in a flurry of thrown socks. We repeated our sock fights so many times that even the younger children grew up enough to get their chance to play the game. Sock fights didn’t really do much to help with the laundry, but they relieved tension and made life in a big family with lots of laundry and other work a little less stressful.

It was sometime later that during one family council that Jim, like the true helpmate that he is, pledged that he would always safety pin his socks together.  His example never did catch on with any of the kids, but I thought it was a great idea, and he and I have continued to use safety pins to keep our socks together to this day, thirty years later. And since he retired, Jim is now the one who does laundry. After a period of adjustment, when I let go of “my way” of doing the laundry, I thoroughly enjoy the luxury of a live-in “washerperson.” Although Jim’s approach and my approach to solving a certain problem may differ, I have discovered that we are most blessed when we work together and remember to appreciate the unique talents we each bring to every situation we face.