Sunday, November 17, 2013

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

 (Merle Reed, ca 1914:  The author’s grandfather, whose life journey took him from Iowa to Idaho to Alaska.)
 Continued from Sandy Frykholm's post on 11-10-13:
How do you “document” your research?
Modern research is much easier than what we were doing in 1987. The internet is a treasure box of information—AND mis-information. Some researchers are very careful, while others take what seems like the easy road, and assume the best with family trees that others have compiled.
Our elderly cousin, Leola, spent years researching our English roots. She shared piles of information with us, in family group sheets and pedigree charts. As a novice, Marlie began looking into some English census documents, and found a few niggling discrepancies—nothing very big—but figured Leola was so much more experienced, she must be right.
In 1997, we traveled to England, determined contact some English distant cousins. We put a notice in the Leicester newspaper seeking descendants of our great-great grandparents, and heard from two men. A party was arranged, and one of the men drove us to a nearby city where we could obtain copies of birth, death, and marriage records. When we saw the birth records of our great-grandfather, we were horrified to realize that we were not related to the people we had contacted at all! Fortunately, by the time we gathered that evening, the liquor cabinet was open and everyone was very pleased to meet us, cousins or not.
So when I say “document” your research, I mean this: Find documents to confirm any information others provide, and keep copies of the documents, names of books you’ve searched through and people you’ve consulted. Most commonly these are birth, marriage, and death certificates, and census records. Some are fortunate to have detailed information recorded in old family Bibles. For more advanced research, you might look into land ownership and tax records, court documents, and maps.
You can find a very clear article here (link to about different kinds of sources used in genealogical research.
Compiled genealogies are great starting points—but it is unusual to find their sources clearly identified. If you begin from some one else’s undocumented research (as most of us do), begin documenting right away, so a future reader or researcher can easily determine the accuracy of your information.
You can also take advantage of your local genealogical society—many of these have computers available with access to subscription-only genealogy websites. Local societies may include resources for a wide area, and their volunteers are often experienced and well-trained to help with research problems. You can search on the internet to find historical and genealogical societies in the locations your ancestors lived. Societies in distant locations may be willing to provide research for a fee.

(Reed 4 gen photo: The author, front and center, with her father, grandfather, great grandmother, and siblings in a 1964 photo for the Anchorage, Alaska newspaper.)
Isn’t everything on the Internet now?
Actually, no. But there is a lot!
Cyndi’s List ( is a holy grail of a website, an enormous collection of links to all kinds of genealogy resources. Anyone doing research online should spend some time there.
Many individual have websites about their research. The best way to find these is to search by surname or a combination of surname and location, and include the word ‘genealogy’. Networking with other descendants of your ancestors (your distant cousins) can be enormously helpful in uncovering research others have done. Through one such connection I found a published book taking one family line back to the 1600’s with great documentation.
In the USA, the National Archives is a fantastic resource, and their website includes a lot of guidance for a researcher. If you have an ancestor who served in the military, you may be able to find his or her military records, and the Bureau of Land Management has images of original land patents transferring land from the Federal government to homesteaders, pensioners, and others who bought land as the country expanded.
The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are famous for their genealogical collections, and have more than 4,000 family history centers all over the world. These are free of charge and open to anyone doing genealogy. Their website, , is also free.
The best known subscription website is probably (, and a free trial might help you decide if it is worth the price to you. You can view (and save on your own computer) original documents like census records, military records, ships’ passenger lists, as well as connect easily with others researching the same families.

When should you hire a professional?
Personally, I love the research and discovery process. If you hate the process, and have the money, by all means hire an expert. Earlier this year I hired some specialized help for two reasons. First, I had a deadline—I was planning a trip to Italy and couldn’t do it myself before I went. Second, even though records were available in Salt Lake City, the source documents were in Italian—and in 18th and 19th century script—which I would likely not have understood even if I found them myself. 

What about Chief Joseph?
Dad lied. As our research progressed, Marlie and I became more and more skeptical. And as DNA testing has grown in popularity, we convinced our brother to get a test and settle the question. Now we know that we have no Native American DNA. But guess what? We have pioneers, religious dissenters, military veterans, shoemakers and lace-makers, so many other lines of interest now that we can happily set that aside and go on to another challenge.

(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. )

Thanks to Julie and Sandy for stopping in and sharing your tips on researching genealogy!

Until later, 

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,