Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Self-Discovery on the Genealogical Highway

For more than a year now (as many of you know) I have been ambling down the genealogical highway, in search of stories of my family's history and knowledge of the times in which they lived.

My mother was born in this house that still stands in our city.
This quarter's focus on Modern Creative Life is "Selfies." Here's how the theme is described in its submissions page:

What does it mean to examine one’s self? Can self-portraits – and all versions of that such as memoir, personal essays, and such – heal us and help us grow as creatives? How do we make the space for blank canvases and blank pages if we ignore our need to create? Can we expect to fill those pages and canvases with our creations if we dive deeper into who we are?

Part of living a creative life is the understanding that we must refill our own wells in some way on a regular basis, otherwise, we find ourselves resentful of our own lives. Without the time or space to pursue our creative ways, we will burn out. Our souls demand that we uphold the responsibility of using our gifts. So how does looking at ourselves help us or hurt us?

Taking this road trip through history has been and continues to be a journey of discovery. But it isn't just names, dates and birthplaces I've discovered. I've also learned some stories about my ancestors and -- perhaps more important -- something about myself.

I'm sharing that in the current issue of Modern Creative Life right HERE. I hope you'll stop by and read it.

Which one do you think is my mom?
And if you, too, are on that journey, I encourage you to consider -- how has it changed you? How has knowing about your ancestors' lives affected how you feel about your family, your ancestors or you, yourself.

When we found this photo of our grandmother, we realized how much she looked like one of my cousins.
Not every story is pretty or happy. Hard decisions had to be made and some were heartbreaking. But so many are inspiring.

And if you haven't taken that journey (and I know -- many who read this blog haven't even considered looking into their past) I offer these suggestions for the "just in case" day that you take this journey on.


Eight Tips for Your Future Geneology Journey


  •  Ask questions of your parents while they are here -- or your grandparents? Even better. Write it down somewhere and let someone know where it is. And consider printing it out -- electronic documents have a bad way of getting deleted or lost in a hard drive crash!
  • Put labels on the backs of old photos while people are still around to identify them. 
  • Get a file and toss in documents like funeral handouts with birth and death dates, newspaper clippings or obituaries of family members.
  • If you have oral history on "old media" (cassette tapes, etc.) transcribe them or note key points, even if you keep the original. And of course back up electronic documents.
  • If you have old family Bibles or cookbooks, check inside for notes or newspaper clippings. They often have birth/death dates and if you are lucky like me, you'll find a newspaper clipping describing your great grandparents' wedding reception!
  • Remember, it's not just "all about me" but it's all about them, so before you throw out your sister's diary or your mother's old calendar -- all stuck in a box in the basement -- or a postcard sent from afar, check for the stories. 
  • And finally, remember the line I first heard in "The DaVinci Code." "History is written by the winners." Stories "evolve" over time (usually for the better!), particularly those shared through oral history. Get as close to the original source as possible. Save the wills and legal docs long after the scores are settled. They are part of the story.

And then when you're ready to roll, your job will be loads easier than mine!

I never would have researched the fascinating story of the confectionery industry in 1800s Buffalo if I hadn't looked into the stories of my great grandfather.
Here's the link to my article on MCL -- A Journey of Self Discovery through Family History

Sharing with: Let's Keep in Touch at Let's Add Sprinkles 

38 comments:

Joyful said...

Very interesting post Jeanie. When I first started being interested in family history I certainly never pondered any of these questions in a concrete way. My mom and I always just used to say that we really wished we knew more of our history and where we come from and how we factored into the history of Canada. It seemed a big blank. Yet other family names we knew of were quite prominently featured in the history of our nation. Bounce ahead several years later and suddenly all the questions we had discussed began to be answered, at least in part. I feel it has helped me feel a lot better about my family in general and helped me understood the adventures they led as they moved westward and the hardships they faced and what brought us to today. It can be overwhelming to think about and I only know in part. What I know is good enough :-)

Valerie-Jael said...

Great post. My cousin researched the genealogy of our families, and I was able to give him all the facts and images I had collected, enabling him to fill in a lot of gaps. He visited Russia and Poland to see some of the places, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hugs, Valerie

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...



Well written, and well documented. I love how you researched this. I wish I had someone who remembered about my history and someone who might be interested in me after I die. I do appreciate these genealogy updates, though.

Victoria Zigler said...

Greatpost.

My Nan and Dad have done a lot of family history research, and I listen when they share anything they want to tell me. But I've never done more than that myself (unless gathering some name and date of birth details for Kelly's immediate family and giving them to Dad to add after we got married counts).

David Gascoigne said...

In terms of selfies, the modern version, I think it’s a bit of a plague and narcissistic in the extreme. I do, however, ponder the countless millions of people before the age of photography whose images were never recorded. Few obviously had the resources to commission portraits. As for my own ancestry, I have only ever been interested in my ethnic composition, I have not the slightest interest in the personalities who were involved, and knowing the history of the times probably tells me as much as I need to know about the people who lived then, who perhaps also happened to be distant relatives. I do realize, however, that many people are passionate about unearthing their ancestors, and I wish you well in your search.

Ricki Treleaven said...

I linked over and read it. Excellent!

Jenny Woolf said...

I have been interested in family history, on and off, and certainly found some unexpected and interesting stories. I am sorry that I didn't go through more photos with my mother, as the things were mostly from her side of the family. My dad's mum hardly saved anything, and was not sentimental for the past although she liked recalling some of the good times. Part of the fun is really that there is so much that we don't know so every morsel we find can seem like a great discovery!

My name is Erika. said...

I recently had my Mom's DNA and my daughter's DNA done. Unfortunately I can't do my Dad's, but my Mom's came back so interesting. More unpredictable than mine. Her DNA was quite the hodgepodge of heritages, not exactly like she always said her heritage was. By knowing her DNA I could figure out what DNA pieces I got from my Dad. And my daughter's DNA had some unpredictable results from her dad. Enough that my husband bought a kit for his mom to do (since he also can't do his Dad's DNA). It is interesting to see how a long ago family tree took us to being the mix that we are. Even more exciting was how my daughter (26 and with a who cares attitude) got really excited when she found out her DNA results. She will even admit that now. Loved your post today Jeanie. You can probably tell the topic is so fascinating to me. Happy March. Hugs-Erika

La Table De Nana said...

Enjoy your travels:)I know how much this means to you:)Curiosity is key and loving research and such.
I have no clue ..and I wonder why but I don't have the gene that makes me want to search out my DNA and ancestry..:(

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I've worked off and on on my family tree for several decades. Started with charts, then later got a program to store on computer, and finally Ancestry.com came along and made it infinitely easier. I'm retired and am the youngest of 3 siblings. My parents and their generation are long gone. I can't tell you how much I wish that I could have stored stories from my mother on a computer 30 years ago. My sister and I remember partial stories. It's frustrating.

William Kendall said...

I've got an extensive family tree going back a couple of hundred years marked on a poster somewhere that was done after the turn of the century, so of course there are children born after that not marked on that. My mother often marked the back of photographs, which helps.

I need orange said...

Thanks for another thoughtful post.

Do you know what is an archival way to label photos? My sister and I spent hours and hours, when we were college age, labeling all the pics my parents had. We used pencil, so as not to smudge the next photo, and our labels are fading..........................

??

Thanks for any advice. :-)

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Interesting post, Jeanie. Love your pictures. I have a cousin that did a certain amount of fact gathering about our ancestors and have shared with the family. My sister and I tried to sit down with my dad before he passed to ask questions. He was quite the jokester and every memory had a funny meaning to him, so while we did a lot of laughing together, we didn't find out much!..Happy Thursday..Judy

Rita C. said...

I love this journey you're on, Jeanie! Thanks for giving us your latest update and tips - all terrific.

The French Hutch said...

Great list of helpful ways to begin this journey, which I haven't. I will copy and keep with a few articles and info from family and friends. I love hearing about others who are taking this road to discovery. You must have been so excited to see this pic of your relative and the resemblance to your cousin. This all is fascinating! Good luck with your continued research and I look forward to hearing how you do it. Thanks Jeanie, great post.

Anonymous said...

Love your articles on Genealogy. My sisters and I have traced my mother's ancestry back to the Mayflower and other ancestors who came to America in the 1860's. We do not have beyond our great grandparents on my father's side. All we know that three of them came from Ireland and the other one from Holland. We do not know what towns in their countries they came from. our father was orphaned at 7 and a half does not know any of his history.
Joan

Wandering Wren said...

It is so hard to know what to keep and what to throw out of our own lives, what will be of interest to the next generation. This is a great post and has made me think about it. What to preserve for future generations did come, and for me what continent to keep it on. I'm sure my great great great grandchildren will have a hard time figuring out our lives and where we even lived!
Have a happy weekend.
Wren x

Regina said...

My oldest daughter did a genealogy presentation for her 4-H project many years ago. She focused on her paternal grandmother's family. She learned a lot during her investigation and she scored well on her presentation. Now one of my sisters is researching our family. She is really enjoying it

Tracy said...

WOW... Jeanie... WOW! You have quite the family history! How LOVELY that photo of your grandmother!! Good tips from tracking family history--thank you. I guess my family tree hasn't been something I've dipped much into myself, as some others have done it for me, which is good, I suppose! On both sides of my family some have done the "leg work" for us. :) In a lot of ways my family feels a remote thing. Much of my growing up and life was centered more around my immediate family. A lot of family on my Mom's side lived far away and we didn't see them. My Dad's side, though living closer, is complicated, and so sometimes we didn't see them often either. Sometimes I have to remind myself how BIG my family and family tree is! LOL... Happy Hunting! :) ((HUGS))

BeachGypsy said...

Oh I love this post! With my love of genealogy and history, I love reading about everybody else's, as well as my own family's. LOL Love the pictures, that is so neat you have the picture of where your mother was born, and the house is still there too. I love the beautiful Victorian picture of your great grandma. And that old fashioned charming name---"Miss Bessie"!! the wedding sounded wonderful, things were so different back then, truly a whole different world. Wedding typically in the front parlour instead of a church and brides in their "Sunday best"--not big long formal white gowns! I think the white wedding gowns became in vogue later on in the victorian era maybe? And the "at home" receptions---full of family members and only CLOSE friends, not the whole city, LOL! haha Maybe a supper reception and a crystal punchbowl and homemade wedding cake? I am just going by things I've read. It just all sounds so much simpler and lovely back then. So neat you found that clipping!! Oh, and my guess on the mom picture is the lady with the big smile is your mom!!?? I can see the family resemblance for sure in two of those ladies and yourself.

Red Rose Alley said...

Thanks for your link, Jeanie! When I was looking for your blog to reply to you, there were a few blogs listed. It looked like the family blog had the most recent post, so I thought that was your current blog, but I think I missed this one somehow. Your macarons were beautiful. I'm realizing my egg whites didn't look like yours (they were liquidy instead of white and fluffy), so maybe that's where I went wrong. I'll keep trying!

Have a lovely weekend,

Jess

Pam Jackson said...

My mom started studing her family history about 30 yrs ago. I have learned some interesting things that she has shared on her journey. I love hearing those things. I have recently found long lost relatives on my dad's side on FB. Its cool learning about both sides of your life.

Marilyn Miller said...

I have just touched a little recently into family history with creating a family tree on ancestry.com and getting my DNA results about a week ago. It is fascinating. I always thought I had alot of history on my father, but being on ancestry.com I see a cousin that has put in alot I didn't know. It is fascinating.

Carola Bartz said...

I can only encourage asking questions of parents and grandparents as long as they are still around. Many years ago I gave my mom a journal asking her if she would write down her memories of her youth for me (she grew up in the 20s and 30s in Berlin). She had already told me many stories, but it was lovely to see them written down in her own words. She also put photos in there which was a plus. My father told me quite a bit about his youth and the time right after WWII. I'm glad I have these stories since they told me more than just about my parents, but about the family. Good for you to have started that journey.

The Artful Diva said...

I love this post - I've been thinking about selfies too lately - I actually plan to either create a doll or quilt on the subject

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Really interesting, Jeanie. I have a family history project I should get on with, but I'm concentrating on ABAB currently - can't do everything! I tried to drop you an email following your recent kind comment; if you are planning a trip to Britain and need any help with ideas or anything (I don't know how well you know it), I'd be glad to help if I can.

Curtains in My Tree said...

Hi
Gosh a cousin did this on my Dads side of family (Dauksch) however I would love to know about my English family on my Mother’s side my Graddad family Baker
It very interesting to me at my age

Sandra Cox said...

I think she's top right. Very pretty, as is your grandmother.

Sami said...

Love the black and white photos and your article on the linked blog is very well written.
With some help I've got a computer program with family names going back a few generations on my Dad's side, unfortunately haven't been able to get too much info on my Mom's side.

Jennifer Richardson said...

Front left must be your mother....the lovely girl with the million dollar smile:) This is your own beautiful smile:)

I love this journey you're taking. I've been asking for stories and soaking them in while my folks are still here to tell them. It seems the more I ask (and not in large chunks) the more they remember and are willing to share. This is gold.

Thanks for inspiring me along that same path, friend.
Which ever one is your mother, she left a rich legacy in you:)
-Jennifer

Jann Olson said...

Great post Jeanie. I think the cute girl on the front left is your mom. A few years ago one of my sisters, a cousin, and myself went a few hours away to the town of Vernal. We did alot of research in their libraries and found lots of fun stories about our ancestors. We also visit the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum and saw items that our grandmother had donated. Since then we have found that the old home still exists. We want to return and find it. In the town I grew up is what use to be the old Beers Hotel, ran and lived in by my grandparents. I love learning about the history of my ancestors!
hugs,
Jann

bj said...

I have a cousin that loves researching our family history...he has supplied me with so many facts and photos.

bj said...

oops...meant to say your mom is BOUND to be the curly haired beauty...

Stacey said...

You know, I've never had that much interest in genealogy until recently. For one thing, my mom is a person who has never been very happy in life and she doesn't tell why...at all...but she alludes to her upbringing. Somewhere in there might be the things we don't all want to know. Not sure.

Our youngest son asked for 23 and Me for Christmas. I was a little bit opposed not knowing what medical things it would tell. Turns out that it's all incredibly interesting. The program doesn't tell you who your people were but it tells you all kinds of neat genetic information. That leads me to wonder more about some of those people. :)

Carry on friend!

Olka said...

Thanks for all these tips! I tried to figure it out what's my geneological history, but we were able to write down only 6 generations before. Even my grandma couldn't establish what was before. I have no idea where should I look for these informations...

Jeanne Washburn said...

I love your journey. Such an adventure and so very enlightening.

carol@The Red Painted Cottage said...

Jeanie, I've had an interest in our family history for a very long time. Someone on my husband's side did tons of research and there's a family tree that goes back to very early England. I've tried to piece things together as best I can on my side, but keep running into stumbling blocks. Both sets of my grandparents came across on a boat, but because they couldn't speak English, some of the information is hard to check on. This was very interesting! Hard to say about which one was your mother. The two with curly hair, or the one with a huge smile like you have?

Danielle L Zecher said...

Very interesting post. You're so right about talking to grandparents while they're still living (and lucid). My grandfather, who has since died, told me about accidentally shooting and killing his brother when he was a child, and being on trial for murder. He told me all of this when they moved from SC to FL. I was driving, and had no way of writing it down at the time. And I thought I'd remember all of the details. I don't remember how old he said he said he was now.

We toured the old jail in Charleston, SC last time we were there. Depending on how old he was when it happened, there's a chance my grandfather spent some time there. I asked the tour guide about the research, and with my limited information, it will likely involve several trips to state offices in Columbia, which are open only during my working hours. I can't take the time to do that now, but I'm hoping more will become available digitally, and if not, that I can make the time to go sometime. It would be so much easier, though, if I had just written down how old he was when it happened. Then I'd at least know what year.

I don't have much interest in family history overall, but that's one story I'd like to know more about. I think it's horrible what happened to him. And as far as I know I was the only grandchild he ever told the story to. My sister and cousin know, but only from other family members. I'm not sure if he just told me because I'm the oldest, because 14 hours is a long time in a car, or because he thought I could handle hearing it because of my job. Regardless, it's a story I'd like to know more about.

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