Sunday, October 9, 2016

Learning about the Past

Many of you know I trained as a classicist, studying ancient history and fleshing it out with Medieval and Renaissance periods through to the Early Modern Period (1500-1700s). And I'll admit I had absolutely no interest in history from about 500 (CE) to the present until about 30 years ago. All that changed when I moved to South Dakota in the mid-1980s and began to learn a little about the early settlers and their relations with the Indians. And I was curious about explorers and settlers who traveled through the land and interacted with the indigenous peoples.

This began a new interest, studying early American History. I found I was still interested in the older materials, the older times, but I began dabbling in more "modern" history.

When I began to do, and then teach, genealogy and local history, I realized I needed to know a lot more about early America and later America. Who came here? Where did they come from? What was the country like? I started with histories of Ohio, where I was living, delving into Allan Eckert's The Frontiersman and Conrad Richter's The Trees, The Fields, and The TownAs I learned more about Ohio history, I learned more American History.

Because I missed my hometown and it was full of 400 years of history, I began to explore histories of New York, particularly Long Island, where I grew up. As I traveled to different cities and state, I purchased books about the towns, the states, and their settlement. I also purchased historical fiction because it's much more fun to read than academic history. I delved into murder mysteries set in various towns and cities I visited. What fun.

Suddenly, I realized I knew a lot of American History, much of it the political 'from the top' history and a little of the people "history from below."

Embarking on a PhD in Public History, I specialized in 19th century American History. To qualify for my degree, I read a huge swath of US History from 1776 through the early 1910s. This built my solid understanding of what makes America tick.

So why write about this at all? Well, to do genealogy and local history, you have to read and explore. You need to read about the time period, the records, the people, and the events. You cannot study your family, any family, or event, town, community, or even building and business without understanding what that time period was like, who ran the town, and what events, large and small, affected individuals there.

Go out, read, and explore the world around you. Make history come alive!

Monday, September 26, 2016

online genealogy databases - the big 3

As you continue to search, think about the strengths and weaknesses of the various databases. Family Search is best for vital records, Fold3 for Military records, Ancestry is a mixture of census, newspapers, and more. As you work with the databases, you learn how to narrow searches. What's most difficult is to reproduce a search.

I'm most frustrated when I cannot figure out how the answers are displayed. They are rarely displayed in alphabetical order. Sometimes they don't provide the geographical or demographic clues you seek. Nevertheless, the online databases save lots of time driving up and down the highway and cut down on road trips.

As to Family Search, you'll find that Ancestry and FS have different missions even if they are both focused on LDS missions. Family Search is the best place to look for vital records, church records, and more. That's where they got their start and where their best indexing efforts are focused. From there, they have immigration records and other records. Ancestry is commercial and focuses on census records, newspapers, and other types of records. You need both, so try both when you search.

Monday, September 5, 2016

blogs to keep current.

There are many ways to stay current as we study local history and genealogy. I peruse magazines, books, and listservs, with the last the easiest to follow.  Here's a list I put together of what comes to my e-mail box. What do you read?

Genealogy and History blogs to follow: (New England Historic Genealogy Society) and Vita Brevis

Eastman Online Genealogy Newsletter

Family Tree University

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems

O Say Can You See – National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution Blog

Prologue: Pieces of History:

Upfront with NGS - National Genealogical Society Blog:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Another year, another opportunity to explore Genealogy & Local History

It's been a year since I posted about Genealogy & Local History and my course on the topic starts Monday. I'm already thinking about exercises, readings, and research projects to share with my students and colleagues.

The course is always an opportunity for me to hone my skills, learn a new resource or two, and teach  another crop of students how to navigate primary and secondary sources, census records and public records, and government documents. It's a challenge and lots of fun.

To add to the mix this fall, I was approached by a church organization to help they figure out how to navigate an old, many-times-renovated building. I'll be asking my students to help me do background research as I explore the physical building. It's a great opportunity to work on a real project for a real client.

For the first week of class, we'll talk about why people do family research, the basic tools they use, and how they work. Then we'll dig deeper into those tools. With changes to each of the websites, I've rerecorded ALL my lectures for week 1 and am ready to go on Monday. 

So why do people research their families and communities? Well, some don't know their grandparents' names and want to know all about them, where they came from, who they were aside from strangers in photographs. Others want to know more about the 'old country' whether it's on the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf Coast, or in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or along the Silk Route. What did they eat? What did they wear? Who were their children? Some want to connect to cousins far and wide. 

For myself, I want to know more about my father's family. Both sides are somewhat of a mystery and I want to know the names of great grandparents, where they lived, and what they did for a living. I've discovered some surprises and uncovered some mysteries. 

As we explore family history, we'll find that each person has members of their family who are considered 'black sheep' for some reason. We'll find cousins marrying cousins, and a bigmist or two along the way. These shouldn't be surprises. You might find a slave owner or slave in your past or an indentured servant who traveled to the New World and paid off the cost of the ship and food. Others' might find criminals who were sentenced in England to X years and transport (to the colonies in America or Australia). 
Since America is populated by people from far and wide, from every race, ethnicity, and country across the globe, embrace the differences and cultures, and explore them along with me this fall.

As always, I promise to post to this blog regularly, so we'll see how well I stick to my goals.