Thursday, October 10, 2013

Maybe Granny Didn't Know Afterall

I have to hand it to "Genealogy Roadshow" this week.  It hit on a subject that is very important to me and, if I said I have a "cause" in genealogy, this would be it.
There was a young Chinese girl who told the genealogist on the show a story we've all heard.  Paraphrasing her, "My grandmother told me that we were related to < Insert Semi/Well Known Person >.  I want to find out if that's true."
We've all be there.  The last names are the same, they were from the same area.  Hey!  Why can't they be related??  Sounds reasonable!
The problem was, this young lady was concentrating so hard on the "might be", she wasn't seeing the "really was".  Her family arrived in the United States around 1910.  They traveled quite a bit in the States and even back and forth to China a few times.  Even though they were Chinese, their lives during World War II were not easy.  They were photographed and watched.  They had to carry identification with them constantly.  They were interrogated.  And we're talking not just the parents, but the children of the family too.  I remember even seeing an "official" photograph of the baby!!  The expression on the young lady's face was priceless as the show's genealogist detailed event after event and experience after experience.  She said, "I had no idea."  He cautioned her to not be so caught up so that she misses the real story.
Given my family is from the Southern Appalachians, There are all types of "My granny told me...." stories.  By no means am I throwing those out.  Those are wonderful and facinating stories and can offer, at least, a bit of truth; however, don't take your's for gospel.  And don't have the Native American/Daniel Boone/Melungeon blinders on.
For the examples in this post, we're going with the Native American princess one.
Perhaps it was your granny's granny that was the Native American princess.  I'm using that because, currently, that's the most interesting racial/ethnic background to pick from.  That would make the "possible" Native American your great-great-grandmother.  This is what you'd be looking at - 5 generations: 
Yourself > your mother > your grandmother > your great-grandmother > your great-great-grandmother.
By rule of thumb, a generation is approximately 25 years.  Of course, that varies given how old each set of parents were when they started having children as well as what birth order you are and the number of siblings you may or may not have.
I'm going to use myself as an example...mainly because I don't know your birthdays, ect.  I was born in 1962.  My birth mother was born in 1944 (see paragraph above...not 25 years).  My maternal grandmother was born 1915.  My maternal great-grandmother was born in 1888.  My maternal great-great-grandmother was born in 1864.  Do you see the problem with believing what my granny said about her granny?  How many people in East Kentucky be 100% Native American in 1864?
Now for the mathematics section of the article.  I'm sorry for offending you, Mr. Grizzard.  You were right - I really did use algebra (of a sort) in figuring the percentages and such.  You see, a 2g-grandparent gives you 1/16 or 6.25% of your heritage.  Take it back a generation to your 3g-grandparents?  You're looking at 1/32 or 3.125% of your heritage comes from just one person.  4g-grandparents - 1/64 or 1.56%.  5-g-grandparents - 1/128 or .78%.  6g-grandparets - 1/256 or .39%.
And therein lies the rub.  Most people who are looking for a Native American ancestor would be looking at their 4th - 6th g-grandparents.  You're pinning your whole significance on someone who may or may not be Native American and, if they are, only contributed between .39% - 1.56% of your heritage.
By no means am I saying that isn't important.  I know the feeling of the Old Ones calling out to you and suddenly, you realize why you feel certain ways about certain things; however, to quote Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  A line that made me cringe, as having first hand experience, was on an episode of the Breaking Amish: LA reality show.  On the trailer, they showed that one of the Amish girls had been adopted and, while she was away from the Amish community, she pursued finding her heritage and birth family.  She found out her mother was Mexican.  Her response - "So that's why I like Mexican food."  It's nothing quite as trite as that.
What I am saying is, while you're researching, don't overlook the ancestors who, at first glance, don't seem so adventurous or brave.  You just might be surprised.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

And just where have you been, young lady?

I need to apologize.  I've not kept this blog up as I planned to.  It's been over a near since I even gave it a thought.

The last six months of last year were a nightmare.  We faced gall bladder problems, histoplasmosis (my son and myself), cancer scares (my son and myself), various other health scares and the worse - I lost my left leg at mid thigh.

I originally was going to blog about the loss as well as coming back from the operation.  I decided against that.  For friends of mine who follow me on Face Book, most of the struggle has been posted there.

I still have bad days here and there, but I feel myself coming back, stronger each day.  With that, I'm coming back to blogging!

Much love to my family and friends.  Without all of you, I could not have made it.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Local Societies

Local genealogical and historical societies are the lifeblood of genealogy. Members and volunteers give their time and money to preserve local history and promote family history. Tell us about a local society for which you are thankful.


Anyone who knows me, knows which local society I'm going to blog about with this topic.

Most of my maternal, and a few of my paternal lines, center in a small county in East Central Kentucky.  Estill County, Kentucky was formed in 1808 from parts of Madison County and Clark County.  Parts of it were later used to form several other counties through the years.  My earliest Kentucky lines were in present-day Estill County when it was still in Virginia.  The latecomers showed up for the party by 1840.

When I started researching my birth family, I actually started with one of my paternal lines in near-by Rockcastle County.  I'd learned by this time the value of the local genealogy societies and the help they could give.  Naturally, when I started working on my maternal lines, I called the Estill County library to find out if there was a historical society.  Lo and behold, not only was there, the librarian provided me with the telephone number of the then president.

I called her that night and we discussed what lines i was researching.  As with all things in small towns and close-knit communities, it wasn't a matter of IF we were connected, but how many different ways.  There are certain things you learn to accept in genealogy and that is one of them.

She gave me a tremendous amount of information and put me well on the road of this wonderfully frustrating hobby of ours.

When I asked her how I could pay her back for all the help she gave, she told me to "pay it forward", which was well before the movie of the same name, but a great concept all the same.

As a result, I've worked with the Estill County Historical & Genealogical Society quite a bit over the past twenty years.  Their's is the standard that I judge (either wrong or right) all other societies by.  The amount of books they've published through the years is simply amazing.  They have their own museum and research library that covers many counties in Kentucky, not just their own.  The folks there work tirelessly in promoting the history of that area of Kentucky.  

In the fledgling days of Kentucky GenWeb, we on the Estill County Mailing List threw out the thought of meeting for a weekend and researching together.  The thought was that those who were familiar with the county could help the ones that weren't.  ECH&GS helped us out and, fifteen years later, that Homecoming Weekend is still going.

Thank you, Estill County Historical & Genealogical Society.  Thank you for all you've done...and continue to do.

Friday, February 17, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Historical Documents

Week #7 – Historical Documents Week 7 – Historical Documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?


I've been researching my families for over twenty years.  As you can imagine, I've accumulated quite a few copied documents on both families.

When I began the research on my birth family, I was told (or was it warned) about one of my great-grandfathers.  He was a passionate man - quick tempered and violent at times.  There were two proven murders and rumors of three more.  Family stories ranged between him being coldhearted and loving his family and friends so dearly that he was willing to commit murder for them.  He was acquitted on the first murder, but the second one proved to be a bit more troublesome. 

As the family story goes, a cousin of my great-grandfather's was arrested for moon-shining.  This was in the early 1920's and times were hard.  Knowing that corn was more profitable in a jug than a bushel basket, the men in East Kentucky provided for their families the best they knew how.  My great-grandfather made his way down the mountain to pay his cousin's bail.  He approached the sheriff and his deputies and stated his intentions.  He was told that he would have to wait until his cousin had gone to court to take care of that.  A friend of my great-grandfather's soon arrived and said that my great-grandmother, who was seven months pregnant at the time, needed him and he was to come home.  Again and again, he tried to give the bail money to the arresting officers.  Again and again, he was denied.  All the while, the friend was urging him back to the mountain and his wife's side.  Angry words were yelled and guns were drawn.  My great-grandfather shot and killed the sheriff.  He was arrested and served in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Frankfort.

Over the years, I gathered bits and pieces of this story.  A descendant of the man he killed contacted me and she shared with me more on the events that left a family without their husband and father.

I visited the Kentucky State Library and Archives in March 2011.  As well prepared as I thought I was, I spent six hours wandering around.  I felt like a kid in a candy store and didn't know which bin to get into first.   I made notes for subsequent visits, looked at more microfilm than I care to admit and generally had a wonderful, if not fruitless, time.  The one thing I did manage to do was look at the court transcripts of my ancestor's trial.  Turning those ninety-year old papers was almost a religious experience.  For those minutes, there were no other researchers around me.  I was alone with him and learning his story, his real story.  As I read, parts of the family story were bolstered, while other parts were proven wrong.  I ordered a copy and headed to my next destination.

A few weeks later, my copy of the transcripts arrived.  I spent all night reading and rereading it.

I found that he was wounded several times in the shooting.  I found that it wasn't his wife, but the cousin's wife who was needing help.  I found that the testimony of the event grew more gruesome as each one told what happened that day.  I found that there were two trials as the jury in the first couldn't come to a decision.

I love the family story that was handed down, but to hold these documents in my hands and learn what really happened?  That means more than words can say!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Free Online Genealogy Tools

Week 3 – Free Online Genealogy Tools: Free online genealogy tools are like gifts from above. Which one are you most thankful for? How has it helped your family history experience?


It's an amazing thing to be in on the ground floor of a success.  Of course, we didn't know it was going to be a success at the time.

Around February 1996, there was some grumbling on a genealogy mailing list I was on.  This was in the fledgling days of online genealogy.  "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a central place we could find information on our ancestors?"  This was before, before, before....anything!  Censuses and other records weren't online.  These were the days when research meant ordering microfilm/microfiche and spending hours at the machine.  Aspirin or some other over the counter pain reliever was always in your research bag because of the headaches caused by eye strain or the ache in your arm from scrolling.

One day, someone on this list put forth the idea, "Well, there's not a central place, but what if we came up with one?  Who would be interested?"  Suggestions flew fast and furious.  We all had bits and pieces of information on the various counties we were researching.  What if we put that information, as well as any that might be submitted by other researchers, on the Internet?  That meant we'd have to learn how to code web pages.  That meant we'd have to learn to do graphics.  That meant that we'd have to find web space and learn how to upload our pages there.

How are we going to organize this brave new endeavor?  We decided to divide it by county.  You have family in <insert county here>?  Great!  You're the new coordinator for that county!    

Over the next few months, we struggled and learned and laughed and raged at this project.  Just who was the idiot who came up with this?  And who are the people trying to do this?  

Once the word got out in the genealogy world, other state mailing lists took up our cause.  Once the other states organized, we merged under one entity.  Next thing we heard, there were other countries who were following our lead.  And a world project was born.

Those frantic early days can be summed up in the following blurb that was to appear on all main pages in this project:

In the spring of 1996, a group of genealogists organized the Kentucky Comprehensive Genealogy Database Project, which evolved into the  KYGenWeb Project.  The idea was to provide a single entry point for genealogy data and research for all counties in Kentucky.  In addition, the information for each county would be indexed and cross-linked to make it easier for researchers to find a name or data that they sought.

In June 1996, as the KyGenWeb Project was nearing 100% county coverage, interested volunteers decided to create a similar set of pages for all sates, establishing the USGenWeb Project.  Volunteers were found who were willing to coordinate the efforts for each state, and addition volunteers were and are being sought to create and maintain websites for every county in the United States.

Was it easy?  No.  Does everyone get along?  Do they ever?  Was it a perfect project?  There's no such thing as perfection.   However, in those early days of genealogy research on the Internet, it came pretty close.