Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Losing Yourself in Newspapers

I could spend hours reading old, historical newspapers, which is funny because I don't tend to read current newspapers (between the internet and TV, I don't feel the need). At first, I would search them for the names of my ancestors, occasionally pausing to be amused by some of the advertisements. But once I had pretty much exhausted that, I started looking up major and local events which, although may have had no direct impact on my ancestor's lives, would have certainly been events which they read about in the very same papers. The idea of reading the same articles my ancestors would have was kind of cool to me, even if it didn't really help with my research, it does help me better understand their world.

I mostly read the Ambler Gazette, available from Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository, because some of my ancestors were in and around this area (and because the major Philadelphia newspapers don't have an online historic archive). It's really easy to lose myself in reading articles and learning more about the world my ancestors lived in and history of the areas I partially grew up in as well.

One of the more interesting articles I found was one about some local victims of the sinking of the Titanic. I was recently reading a novel that involved the Titanic (The House of Velvet and Glass - I highly recommend it, btw) and it inspired me to look up contemporary newspaper articles on it. In the Ambler Gazette, I found a tragic article about a couple in North Wales, Pennsylvania who received a message from their daughter-in-law informing them that their son (her husband), Austin VanBilliard, and his two children were aboard the Titanic. The couple had been unaware of this as Austin had wanted to surprise them with an early visit. At the time of the article, it was unknown whether Austin and his children survived or not. Upon looking at a Titanic victim's list, I discovered that sadly, none of them survived and I also noticed that the recovered remains had been buried in the same cemetery in Flourtown that some of my own ancestors are buried in. While it's doubtful that my ancestors knew this family, it still hits home how real history is.

Here's a clipping of the article that caught my interest:

But sometimes, the things that take my interest are more mundane. When I know the names of the churches my ancestors attended, it can be useful to look them up in newspapers and see what events or activities were going on in my ancestor's church life. It can also give me an idea of when significant local organizations or buildings were founded. Reading about this stuff is like watching your home town evolve in real time, which is not a feeling you get from reading a history of a location.

So don't overlook or dismiss newspapers just because you don't find (or have already found) a mention of one of your ancestors. Explore their world and get lost in it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Writing a Family History

I am by no mean a professional or even skilled writer. I do my best but mostly, what I write, including this blog, is for my own personal enjoyment and if you think it's crap, well, you could very well be correct.

Nonetheless, I have painstakingly and lovingly written family histories for each branch in my tree and continue to amend them and build on them. I can't tell you how to be a great writer but I can tell you how I organized and broke down my own family tree into stories and some of things I've included in them to flesh them out a bit.

First, I broke each "chapter" down by surname. So each chapter is dedicated to a surname and once that name gets "daughtered out", I make a note to refer to the family history of the name she married into. There is occasionally some overlap and I had a nightmare with Norwegian patronymic names but I've succeeded in mostly dividing each woman's story up by pre-marriage and post-marriage. This is generally easy since there is sadly often not much to say about women, especially before marriage, because there is much less documentation on them. And because of this, there is often not enough information on a certain surname to compile a worthwhile story. In some cases, I have only a woman's maiden name and nothing more or sometimes I'll have her parents names too but not enough information on them to write something. In cases like this, I won't create an dedicated chapter for them but merely mention them in the chapter of the family she married into. If I later find more documentation on this family, I'll give them their own story. In rare cases, when a lineage was daughtered out immediately too many times, I lumped them altogether in one chapter.

So each family history begins with the oldest generation I have discovered for the family and works its way forward in time until it gets daughtered out or reaches current time. This means whenever I find another, older generation, I have amend my story to include them. But I just feel it makes more sense to work chronologically forward.

But first, I start each chapter by giving an explanation about the history, origins, and meanings of the family name. For this, I mostly use Ancestry.com's surname look up. Since they have changed the design of their website slightly, I haven't been able to easily find this little tool without Googling it so it's a bit of a hidden feature but it's been invaluable to me and therefore I've bookmarked it. Not only does it give me the origins and meaning of a family name but also a bunch of stats on things like immigration and regional settlements associated with this name. All facts I can use to flesh out my family history in the introduction. I will also use this space to mention any alternate spellings.

Next, comes the hard part: actually writing your ancestor's story. At first, it may seem like you don't have enough information to write anything significant or substantial about your ancestors. You may have their vital data and some census records but how do you make that into a story? At the same time, you may also feel overwhelmed. Where to start? My family histories have absolutely been a gradual evolution - I started with the bare bone facts and vital data. Starting with the oldest person in a branch, I wrote down his name, when and where he was born, who he married and when and where, then listed his children's names, his occupation and finally when and where he died plus when and where his wife died and where they are buried. If I didn't know a piece of this info, I simply said so. Then it was on to do the same thing with the next generation. Over time, once I had the basic timeline of the family down, I just gradually added more and more detailed information and I still am today!

Once you have the bare bone facts down, you have to look at all the details and analyze what they really mean. Don't just state when and where someone was born, married, and died anymore - look at their age, how old were they when they got married in comparison to how old their spouse was? How old were they when they died? How old were their children when they died? Did any of their parents outlive them? What impact may this have had on the family? Sometimes, you can only speculate but this is what really makes family history so interesting.

Here's some other details to look at and consider:
  • How old was each mother when she first and last gave birth? Sometimes, this might surprise you. I have found many woman who gave birth to surviving children well into their 40s and sometimes even their early 50s! It may also be noteworthy to mention the age of the father too, though it's less impressive for a man to father a child in his 50's than it is for a woman to give birth at that age.
  • Did any children in the family died young or in infancy? How many and how old were they? Though not an uncommon occurrence in history, reflect on what it must have been like.
  • Names: who was named after who? What does this tell you about the family and their relationships? In one of my branches, a young woman named Jessie died in her early 20's before she was married. A year later, her brother (my ancestor) named his son Jesse after her and two years after that, her sister named her daughter Jessie too. For not just one but two members of the family to name a child after the same sister tells me that this young woman was obviously a much loved and cherished member of her family and they must have grieved her death greatly. These are the kind of clues you can pick up from something as simple as namesakes.
  • This brings me to the point of being sure to research your ancestor's siblings, nieces, and nephews thoroughly too. Just because you did not descend from them does not mean they are not worth examination. They were a part of your ancestor's lives and can often give you important information about the family and therefore, your ancestors.
  • Where did your ancestors live? Did they stick in one place, did they move around a lot? Keep in mind, especially earlier in history, that borders and names of places can change and that it may not have necessarily meant that your ancestors moved. Include a note of any location name changes.
  • Where were your ancestors buried? If local, get a picture of the gravestone. Did they leave a will? What did it say? What can you infer from what it entailed and what was given to whom?
  • Go over census records with a fine-toothed comb. Later census records have a ton of details, all of which can be used to tell your ancestor's stories. Earlier records don't have as much information but are still invaluable to telling your stories. Here's some things you can use from them, keeping in mind not all are available from all census years:
    • Get specific addresses when you can, look them up, see if they've been knocked down, explain where exactly the address was located. If the building is still standing, get a picture.
    • Who was living together? Was it just dad, mom, and kids or was there a grandparent living with them in their old age? Any adult siblings or even cousins? Lodgers/boarders? Maids? Whoever they were, be sure to mention them. Even if they were not related or if you have no idea who they were (early censuses didn't list relationships), they were a part of your ancestor's lives. Speculate on why they might have been living there.
    • Number of years married. This is only found on later censuses and it's only approximate but it's a good substitute if you can't find any other records of your ancestor's marriage.
    • Mother of how many children and how many living. Again, only on later censuses but this is important for getting a total count of how many kids your ancestor's had. If a child died before the age of 10, they would not be recorded on any census so it can be easy to miss them.
    • Place of parent's birth. This can be inaccurate but if many censuses say the same thing, it can be useful when you have not yet found the names of an ancestor's parents. This will at least tell you where the family was a generation ago. So you can start off your story by saying something like "John Smith was born in Pennsylvania on May 3, 1818. His parents are yet unknown but they were also both born in Pennsylvania which means this family might have immigrated during colonial times." Again, don't just list where someone was born, think about what it means.
    • Citizenship. If your ancestor immigrated but you don't know when, this will give you an idea (it's not always accurate) and also whether they've naturalized or not. All important information to be added to your story. Also, once you have the immigration year narrowed down, you may be able to find some other immigration records too.
    • Occupation. This is an obvious one, not one that most people overlook when viewing census records. But what can do you with this information aside from mention it? For starters, look at the occupation from each and every census year. Some people spend their own lives in one industry but others jump around or grow and mature in their field. I have one ancestor who was first a tile setter, then a boilermaker, then graduated to a treasurer/secretary of a boiler manufacturing company. It's worthwhile to note changes and evolutions like this. Additionally, get more details on what the occupation entailed. Some might seem obvious or self explanatory but sometimes you can find and add interesting details anyway.
    • Months not employed/whether employed or out of work. This can be found in various later censuses worded very differently which means it's often overlooked. Depending on how it's worded, it tells you either whether your ancestor was out of work at any point in the last year or whether they were currently out of work. This can be crucial to your ancestor's story, especially during the 1930 and 1940 censuses when the Great Depression kept a lot of people out of work. 
    • Veteran status. This may not tell you much that you can use in your story but it will tell you whether or not to look for military records which, if found, can then give you a lot to add.
    • Education. Up until 1940, this mainly just told you whether the individual was literate and whether they attended school in the last year. Worthwhile but limited info. In 1940, we now get to see the highest level of school completed for every individual. This can be very interesting and definitely should be included in your story.
    • Home Data. On later censuses, this will tell you whether your ancestor's home was rented or owned and what the value of the property was or how much they rented it for. All worth mentioning in your story. Earlier censuses will only tell you the value of the real estates and personal estate but this is still useful. Also important is comparing the numbers from all census years. While keeping inflation in mind, how did the value of your ancestor's property change over time? What does this tell you about them?
  • If your censuses don't tell you a whole lot, look for tax records. They can go pretty far back in history and often provide more details than the census. For example, the 1840 and earlier censuses tell us virtually nothing but an 1840 (or there about) tax record might tell you the acreage and value of any buildings or structures on the land as well as the amount and value of livestock. If you can find more than one tax record over the years, compare two of them and talk about how the family's situation improved or declined and why that may have happened.
Course there are many other details you may be able to include from other sources you've collected. This just gives you an idea of what to look at and how to extract more information from it. The key is to look at what the facts mean, not just list the facts themselves.

Also a crucial way to flesh out your ancestor's story is to do research on local and worldly events going on around them. How did all the different wars influence them, even if they were not in the military? How did the Great Depression effect them? Look for lesser known or more regional events too. When I found an uncle who owned stock in the Blue Mountain Railroad company, I launched into the history of the company, including the Great Railroad Strikes of 1877, caused by the collapse of the silver mining industry, now known as the Panic of 1873. In another family, I noted that having lived close to the rivers in Pittsburgh, their home may have received water damage from a flood that occurred there in 1907. In another family, though none of them joined the Civil War, they were living in the important border state of Kentucky, just outside of Hopkinsville. I brushed up on Hopkinsville's involvement in the Civil War and related how it might have influenced my family.

You should also read up on the everyday lives of people in different time periods and locations to understand the world they lived in; what was normal, what wasn't, how people lived, what their customs were, etc. It may not tell you exactly what happened in your ancestor's lives but it will give you a good impression of what typical life was like for someone at that time and then you can apply some of that to your ancestor's story. For example, if you find a woman who died in childbirth, you could mention that in the 19th century (and earlier) childbirth was the number one leading cause of death among women of childbearing age. Just one of the many little factoids you can weave into your family histories.

Once you start working your way forward in time, you can also incorporate any personal information you've gotten from living family members. Interview the oldest people in your family, ask them about their parents and grandparents and what their personalities were like. Though you're limited by how far back this can go, it will add a more personal and human touch to the story.

I think that about covers it. While some branches will have a wealth of information to use and others will be lacking, with all of these ideas, you should be able to build something substantial enough to make it worth writing and reading. Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The "How Could I Have Missed This?" Moment

We've all had them. That moment where you come across something big, something that now seems so obvious and yet, you were oblivious to it for so long. 

One of mine came when I had already discovered that one of my third great grandfathers, August Bauer, had owned more than one property that he rented out and I was looking for the names of his tenants. After all, these people had been a part of his life and therefore I felt they were worth looking up. I wasn't exactly going to research their life stories but some names and perhaps some other basic details would suffice. 

I accomplished this by using Ancestry.com's City Directories (Beta). The "beta" means that it was indexed by OCR (optical character recognition) software. Basically, a piece of software is programmed to recognize the shapes of all typed characters in a scanned image and converts them to real text that can be searched. The advantage is that it can process thousands of names quickly and easily. The disadvantage is that it's not always as accurate as a human being and is heavily dependent on the quality of the scan.

So I was aware that due to OCR errors, I probably wouldn't find all the tenants who lived in my ancestor's houses but I wanted to find what I could. Using the directory search, I left the name fields blank, I put "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" into the "Lived In" field, entered a mid-range year for when August Bauer owned his properties and then added "+/-10" years under "Any Event". Lastly, and most importantly, I put one of the addresses of August's properties into the "Keyword" field. With the results, I checked each one to make sure they were the correct address and time period and then I wrote down their names and occupations. I repeated this for each address.

In the midst of this, I spotted a name that immediately made my heart jump. I rushed to refer back to my family tree (and by that, I mean I moved my mouse and clicked as quickly as I could) and sure enough, there he was: Robert Russell. I realize that name means nothing to you. Let me explain. Robert Russell was the father of Anna Jane Russell who coincidentally married the son of August Bauer!

How could I have missed this?! The directory record was from 1899 so surely, I would have spotted Robert living right next to August in the 1900 censuses? I previously couldn't find a census record for Robert, for reasons I would soon discover. I hurriedly opened August's 1900 census record and sure enough, there is Robert listed right below the Bauer family. How could I have missed this?! 

I had overlooked Robert because his daughter was already married and living with her husband by this point and the woman I had for her mother was named Catherine, while this Robert was living with his wife Annie (as it turns out, Catherine died and Robert remarried but I didn't know that at the time). So in my searches, I had no connection between this Robert and my Robert apart from the name, which isn't enough to go on. Once I realized he was renting a house from my other ancestor, everything started to fall into place.

Moral of the story? Look at your ancestor's neighbors!

What "How could I have missed this?!" moments have you had?

The "Our Name Was Changed at Ellis Island" Myth

I am not the first one to write an article on this. But it's an important issue and therefore needs to be covered. One of the most persistent myths in American culture is the one of family names being altered and Americanised at Ellis Island by ignorant and lazy immigration officers who couldn't understand foreign names and didn't care enough to get they them right. We grow up hearing this and it becomes something we all just accept as a universal truth. We don't question it. I've even seen big name authors (ahem, Janet Evanovich) use it in novels.

But I guarantee that Stephanie Plum's family name was not shortened from Plumerri by an "overworked immigration clerk." It's true that many of our ancestor's names, both given and family, were Anglicized in order to integrate into U.S. society. However, it's a myth that it happened at Ellis Island (or other ports of entry) by immigration officers.

For starters, passenger lists in the late 19th and early 20th century were recorded at the port of departure, usually in the passenger's native country, and immigration officers at the port of entry worked off of it. Secondly, most immigration officers were multilingual or made use of internal translators, just like they do today. I won't deny there's a lot of errors on passenger lists, but that doesn't mean their name was changed at that point. Every genealogist will come to realize that any kind of document had the potential to mangled names and that it didn't mean their name was changed. This includes, but is not limited to passenger lists. Additionally, it's important to remember that in history, the concept of a legal, official name didn't always exist. Official birth certificates in the U.S. didn't even exist until around 1900, give or take depending on the state, and Society Security wasn't around until 1937, so who was to say how exactly your name was supposed to be spelled? Name spellings could be a fluid concept and it wasn't a big deal to spell it the wrong way on documentation, if there even was considered a "wrong" way to spell it to begin with.

If your family name was Anglicized, it was probably done so after immigration, and probably by choice of your own ancestor. Many people simply assumed an Anglicized version because, again, the concept of a "legal" name did not yet fully exist. Today, we take pride in our heritages but the truth is that in the golden era of immigration, people came to America to be American, to shed their former cultures and embrace the society that they felt offered them so much more opportunity. My Sicilian great grandfather went from Giovanni D'Amore to John Demore, and legend has it that when my Nan began speaking Italian as a baby, he said "No, we are American now, we speak English." So from that day on, only English was spoken in the house and my Nan soon forgot how to speak Italian. Today, this seems a shame to us. We even encouraged her to see a hypnotists in hopes that she might remember some Italian.

I won't ignore that a large part of an immigrant's choice to change their name and integrate into society was likely due to prejudice they might have experienced. But the fact of the matter remains that in all probability it did not happen against their will by ignorant immigration workers. Since the topic has already been so extensively covered elsewhere (and since this blog is more about my personal journey and experiences through genealogy), I will merely refer you to some of them for details:

Our Name Was Changed at Ellis Island - Dispelling the Myth of Ellis Island Name Changes
Truth v. Myth: "My family's name was changed at Ellis Island"
The Myth of Ellis Island and Other Tales of Origin
They Changed Our Name at Ellis Island
No, Family Names Were Not Changed at Ellis Island
Immigrant Name Changes - USCIS

Even the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says:
"...the idea that an entire family's name was changed by one clerk--especially one at Ellis Island--is seldom supported by historical research and analysis. American name change stories tend to be apocryphal, that is, they developed later to explain events shrouded in the mist of time. Given the facts of US immigration procedure at Ellis Island, the above story becomes suspect."
If you're interested in more reading on the subject, check out American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato. The myth is so ingrained in us, that one reviewer on Amazon still finds the truth hard to believe even after reading the book! He seems to think that just because his family name was changed, it must have happened at Ellis Island. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the very real fact that the name was changed after immigration by the choice of your ancestor. I'll bet if the reviewer did the research and found his ancestor's immigration papers, he'd find the name was not changed at the port of entry, and that if it was spelling incorrectly, it was just an error.

I have the records to prove that my Italian ancestors didn't change their family name until well after immigration and I'll bet if you look hard enough, you'll probably find it's the same case for you. Happy searching!

Don't Make Assumptions

It's very important in genealogy research to not make assumptions. Speculations and hunches can lead you in the right direction but assumptions can lead to tunnel vision.

A great example of this is my paternal grandfather's parents. My great grandmother was born and raised in Lisbon, Ohio. My great grandfather was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, they were married in Hancock County, West Virginia. Neither of them ever lived in or had family ties to Hancock County but it is almost exactly a midway point between Lisbon and Pittsburgh so it makes some sense that they were married here. But had I not already known that this is where they were married, I probably would have gotten tunnel vision in restricting my searches of their marriage record to Ohio or Pennsylvania. 

So keep an open mind - if you can't find what you're looking for in the places you expected it to be, open your search to other possibilities, even if it seems unlikely! 

There are plenty of other examples of how my assumptions did in fact lead me to some brick walls. There was the incorrect assumption that my great grandfather had no sibling which caused me to dismiss several census records. There was the assumption that a census record who reported an individual as male was correct, leading me to fruitless searches of this male in other census records until I finally discovered the individual was actually female. There were endless empty searches of Ellis Island's records for my great grandfather's arrival when it turns out that his port of entry was actually Philadelphia, not New York (or New Jersey, if you're one of those). This is an important note since it seems to be a common assumption among newcomers to genealogy that Ellis Island was the only port of entry into the US which was not true.

Another thing to consider is address changes. Just because your ancestors had a change in address doesn't necessarily mean they moved house. I got very confused when some of my ancestors were reported alternatively as living at four different addresses on two streets which were next to each other. While it's not unlikely for people to move about within the same township, to move only down the road a little ways or just one street away seemed silly to me. But it must be true because there are the addresses listed, right? Wrong! As it turns out, my ancestor owned property that bordered each of the two streets and therefore his name is attributed to both addresses. On top of this, both streets were at some point renumbered, making it look like they had moved to a new address just down the road when they hadn't. 

What assumptions have you made that led you in the wrong directions? 


I thought I would share some of the things I've learn in my genealogy journey that might help others. To many, these may be well known facts but I remember being a total newcomer to genealogy search and having to learn these things on my own.

First and foremost, gather what information you can from living relatives, preferably the oldest members of your family. As I've mentioned before, I started with a wealth of knowledge already having been collected by my maternal grandmother and it was highly beneficial for me. But keep in mind that family stories and information can be wrong too. You might not think someone could get details about their own parents or grandparents wrong but it's possible. Be wary of family legends too, like "We have Native America blood" or "We're descended from royalty!" These are common claims that often wind up being false (though not always). In my family, there was a legend that my third great grandfather hired a lawyer to trace his genealogy and was told he was related to Dutch royalty. However, in the past, it was not unusual for unscrupulous characters to falsify trees with royal connections for easy money and as I have found no such ties, I suspect my third great grandfather was sadly dupped by one of these frauds. Other family stories can be distorted simply by time and accident. Ever play "Whisper Down the Lane" (or more offensively known as "Chinese Whispers")? It doesn't take a family history expert to realize how quickly and easily stories get distorted. So take what you hear by word of mouth with a grain of salt but it is still your best starting point.

Once you have a basis of knowledge to start with, you can begin looking for records. I first recommend using free sources like FamilySearch.org, which has probably the largest free records database on the internet. Through FamilySearch, you can also lookup available microfilm collections and find LDS centers where you can order microfilm not yet transcribed on the website. Find A Grave is also a good resource but be aware that the content is user submitted and therefore the information is only as reliable as the individuals reading and reporting the grave sites. If an entry has a readable photograph attached, you can be sure it's reliable. There are potentially also a lot of other free websites with more local sources, the trick is tracking them down. For example, I found a great resource for Pennsylvania documents at Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository. I was able to find references to several of my ancestors in the Ambler Gazette collection. And I found some obituaries at Montgomery County PAGen. With a bit of Googling, you can find some good local sources for other parts of the country or world too. I have listed some of my favorite resources on the right of the blog but they are specific to the regions I research in the most. But don't get overwhelmed, start with FamilySearch, then look elsewhere.

When you feel like you've exhausted all the free sources you can find, you should seriously consider joining Ancestry.com. I know, I know, it's not cheap. But it really is the biggest records database on the internet and they are regularly adding new collections. Try the 14 day trial, if you feel like you wouldn't be getting your money's worth, you can always cancel before they charge you at the end of the 14 days (I know, I'm not fond of this practise either but it's the way of the world).

In your searches, you will inevitably come across family trees that other people have hosted on the internet. It's important to understand that anyone can put anything in their tree - that does not necessarily make it accurate. You will be shocked and amazed by the carelessness of other so-called researchers and their nonsensical data. People resurrected 50 years after their death. Children born when their mother is 5 years old. Sadly, some people just don't care enough about it to get it right. All you can do is focus on your own tree and make sure it's as accurate as possible. Of course, we all make mistakes. I know I've had some in my tree. But none so careless as this. The point is, do not take the information in other people's trees as fact and do not add their information to your tree unless you can otherwise confirm it to be true. These trees can serve as good clues or leads if they have records attached to them which you can analyze yourself and confirm that they are attributed to the correct individual.

Lastly, I will leave you with possibly the number one most important understanding of genealogy research: records can and will be wrong. Census records in particular are frequently incorrect, ranging from slightly off to not even close. Censuses are taken for demographic purposes only and so enumerators typically aren't that interested in getting the fine details, like names, accurate. But anything on a census record can be incorrect too. Ages, locations, martial status and, believe it or not, even genders can be recorded inaccurately. The reason for this lies not only in seemingly careless enumerators but also in who was supplying the information. It could have been a 10 year old child or a forgetful gran who answered the door. It could have been no one at all, in which case even a neighbor might have supplied the details that they may have been foggy on.

Other types of records can be incorrect as well. Death records, for example, usually contain information collected from a next of kin. And again, although you may find it hard to believe that a next of kin could get it wrong, it's not that uncommon. Many genealogists don't consider a fact confirmed until they have at least three sources all saying the same thing. Always consider the source, understand what it is and judge it's reliability accordingly.

So if you can't trust what other people say and you can't trust records, how on earth do you know what's accurate?! Welcome to genealogy! That's what makes it so difficult and frustrating sometimes. But that's also what makes piecing information together rewarding and exciting too.

There are other important tips that might be beneficial for newcomers but I'll leave them for other entries. For now, I hope I haven't overwhelmed you!


I first happened upon genealogy almost accidentally. It actually started when I was trying to create a tree of my current extended family because part of it is a "big, fat Italian" family which my husband can't keep track of. But in order to head the tree, I needed my great grandparents names so I asked my mom and she happily supplied them.

And then came the fateful moment when she said to me "You know, I have the names of their parents too, if you want." Sure, why not? What could happen? That I would find it so incredibly fascinating that these people I'd never even heard of had been a part of my parents and grandparents lives that it would launch me into years and endless hours of both frustrating and exhilarating research? Nah! How could I have imagined that's what would happen?

I was fortunate that my maternal grandmother had already done a lot of research on her tree and also some on my grandfather's. She had inherited or collected dozens of photographs dating back to the 1860s, diaries, family bibles, and even love letters from the 1830s. So I had a lot of material to work with on my mom's side. Even so, I have accumulated even more information and generations my grandmother had yet to find. I wish she were still around to see her tree today, I think she would have been thrilled with what I've found and also amazed by some of the online resources available.

Because of this, I really focused on my mom's side of my tree when I was first starting out and somewhat neglected my dad's side, which was an entirely different story in what I had to work with. My paternal grandmother, my Nan, was a full blooded Italian whose ancestors had immigrated mostly in the early 20th century. They brought little with them and much of what photographs or documents they may have acquired post-immigration was lost in a fire. If they had knowledge of their own ancestors who lived and died in Italy, it was not passed down the generations. Therefore, my Nan's tree dead ended with my second great grandparents. And given the lack of Italian records online, that is pretty much where my Nan's tree has stayed.

My paternal grandfather, my Pop, had some information on his mother's side of his family, which was useful in tracking back further. However, he had little knowledge of his father's side. When he was a child, his parents had divorced and his father had effectively abandoned the family. They did reconnect when my Pop was an adult with kids of his own, but the driving force behind the reunion was his father's third wife. The damage that had been done never really allowed for a close relationship between my Pop and his father so it's not surprising they never really got around to discussing much about their heritage.

And my research was inhibited further by the fact that I'm currently living in England. I have one known English branch on my mom's side but otherwise, I had to do all my research, including post-immigration in the United States, online with only brief bursts of offline research when I would visit my parents in Pennsylvania, where most of my ancestors eventually settled (well, where all of them eventually settled).

As I started hitting brick walls with my mom's tree, I started turning more and more to my dad's. Sure, it's more difficult to research when you have less to go on and with one exception, I haven't gone back nearly as far in generations as I have with most of the branches on my mom's side. But this can make it all the more rewarding when I do find records. While I have struggled to find older generations, I have focused intently on analyzing the lives of the names I do have already and it has been more rewarding than name-collecting. I've applied these deeper analysis to my mom's side too and the result has been an accumulation of stories which I'm complying into a book. I may share parts of it here.

So, this is my story. I thought I might share in a blog my journey through my genealogy adventure and perhaps along the way, readers might find it interesting or even helpful and share their own experiences in turn. I don't consider myself an expert genealogists, especially since much of my research has been restricted to online. Nor am I a professional writer. But even so, in much the way I felt the urge to write down my ancestor's stories, I also felt the need to put down my own.