Sunday, November 10, 2013

Genealogy 101: Digging Roots, Part I, Guest Post by Sandy Frykholm

(Josephine (Gualtieri)..etc:  The Sandy Frykholm’s Italian great-grandparents, Francesco and Josephine Gualtieri, came through Ellis Island in 1901 before settling on Long Island. He worked in a lace factory in Patchogue, New York.)  
Following Julie Conner's post, Where to Begin, on getting started in researching your family tree, here is the first installment of Sandy Frykholm's in depth advice on the topic.


Digging Roots, by Sandy Frykholm

My dad had no interest in his family history. But long ago he fired up my curiosity by telling us we were descendants of Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce leader. Well, Dad was born in Weippe (wee-ipe) Idaho, Nez Perce territory, so it seemed reasonable enough. Proving his claim was one of the challenges that started my sister Marlie and me on our genealogical quest about 30 years ago. 

Where do you start?
Because more relatives on my mom’s side were interested, we started gathering information there first. And that is a first rule of genealogy: Start with you. Don’t start with the family mythology that you are descended from George Washington (sorry, but he had no children) or Charlemagne. Start with yourself and work back. You, and the family members who are alive to ask, will be the trunk of your family tree. 

How do you keep track of what you find?
Recording what you learn, in an organized way, is made easy with blank pedigree charts and family group sheets from a website like Begin with a pedigree chart, placing yourself as Person #1, and fill in all the information you know. The blanks that are left will show you where to begin your research.
Their other forms can guide and help document your research, too. Some can be filled out and saved to your own computer, but if you keep and work mainly with paper files, keep them in sheet protectors in a three ring binder. As your research grows, divide the binders by surname.
There are also several genealogy software programs, a great option for the computer savvy, although there are likely to be some paper records you’ll want to keep.

(Birth certificate for the author’s 2nd great grandfather, Henry Sanders,who worked in a brewery in England.)

Do you need to go where your ancestors lived?
Marlie and I made our first genealogy trip in 1987 to Weippe, Idaho. We were excited to learn more about our Native American connection. By then we knew that our great-great grandparents had moved to Idaho around 1900, but hadn’t been able to learn where they were buried.
Dad’s cousin Barb in Weippe invited a few family members to meet us. We asked our questions. No one knew where the g-g-grandparents were buried. They were sure we wouldn’t find them in the local cemetery—even though that seemed the most likely place to us.
 When we asked the relatives about the Nez Perce connection, all we got were frowns. No, they were sure there was no Native American in the family tree—and their expressions said they wouldn’t be too happy to find it either. Were they covering up the truth, or was Dad teasing us?
Setting that question aside, we went to explore the cemetery. We found the graves of our great grandparents and some of Dad’s aunts and uncles. Then, among the grass stubble we spotted the graves of our great-great grandparents, complete with his military headstone providing a key piece of information about him: the unit he served in during the Civil War. With this we were able to order his military records. If we hadn’t been there in person, it might have been years before we discovered their burial place.
Wouldn’t it be great to meet someone who knew your great-great-grandparents? We asked if anyone still living in Weippe might have known them—a stretch, since it had been 50 to 70 years since they died. Barb suggested an elderly neighbor, so Marlie and I walked over and knocked on her door. That was our first experience talking to strangers about the family history, and I recommend it! She did remember them, and told us how he used to tease his wife, and she remembered his long beard. These personal details were priceless to us.
Marlie and I have taken several genealogy vacations, and each one has increased our sense of connection with ancestors and their life experience. Standing on the land they farmed, or visiting the village they left behind, cannot be duplicated by a collection of information. You can learn a great deal without going, but I would encourage anyone who can to visit ancestral locations.

(The author’s sister, Marlie, pores over records in an Ohio courthouse during a 2011 genealogy vacation.)

 ... To be continued next week...

(Sandy Frykholm is a writer in Washington state. She has written articles, essays, plays, poetry, and two historical novels. Her current writing project involves family history: a memoir about an epic family road trip known as “The Drive in ‘65” which covered more than 20,000 miles in three and a half months, circling North America. She also blogs at where you can find some of her Italian genealogy adventures. )

More to come later this week from Sandy!

Until then,


Kris Holtan said...

This is awesome

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Thanks, Kris! I'm very grateful to Sandy for sharing.