Category Archives: Genealogy tips

Stumps in the road

When it comes to historical research, it’s all too easy to follow one thread, then another, until progress slows to the pace of a journey by horse and wagon in the 18th century.

Ohio near St Clairsville 2015

Ohio near St. Clairsville, 2015

Currently, in my studies of Scots immigrants to Ohio, I’m on the trail of pre-canal, pre-railroad travel. Via interlibrary loan, I’ve checked out a copy of Margaret Van Horn Dwight’s diary, published under the title “A Journey to Ohio in 1810.” A delightful account of an arduous trip delayed again and again, due to weather, flooding rivers, and a horse too exhausted to go on. Margaret and her companions were traveling from New Haven, Connecticut to Warren, Ohio. Below is a sample entry:

“Thursday night — Allegany (sic) Mtn Nov– 16 [1810]
We have had a warm & pleasant day till towards night, when it began to rain, as it has done every day for a fortnight — we are now at a tavern half a mile from the top of the Allegany Mt- this Mountain is 14 miles over- At the highest part of it is a most beautiful prospect of mountains- 5 or 6 ridges one after the other- … I pick’d a sprig of ivy from the top, which … came from the very backbone of America, as they all tell us — We have walk’d a great deal to day, & indeed we are oblig’d to every day, for the whole country seems one continued mtn…”

Because of the steep terrain, to spare the horse, Margaret and her companions climbed the mountains on foot, walking next to the wagon.

Another route over the Allegheny Mountains started out of Baltimore, Maryland. By the end of the 1700s, this road reached well into the Northwest Territory (present-day Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana). The first leg of the route from Baltimore went to Uniontown, Pennyslvania, a road cut in the 1750s by General Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War. The second leg, Gist’s trace, was cut by white trader Thomas Cresap and his friend the Delaware Chief Nemacolin, and stretched from explorer Gist’s plantation in Uniontown as far as the Monongahela River at present-day Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

The third leg was cut by Ebenezer Zane around 1796. Called Zane’s Trace, it was a narrow, clumsily cut path through giant trees of the Ohio wilderness. Eventually, Zane’s trace extended from present-day Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky. As the trees were felled by Zane’s men, the story goes, little care was taken about the tree stumps. As a result, wagons sometimes high-centered on stumps, or got stuck between them. It’s said that Zane’s Trace is where people first used the expression “to get stumped,” as in, stuck and going nowhere.

Huh. I know the feeling. Time for me to get off my research duff and start writing.

In the footsteps of every visitor to Amsterdam and beyond

Our first day in Amsterdam, we made a beeline to the Van Gogh Museum, where we came within about 200 yards of the place, at the back of a long line of ticket purchasers.

Van Gogh Museum“Must be because it’s a Sunday,” I muttered after about five minutes of no forward movement. “Maybe we should try again tomorrow.”

The next morning found us no closer. This time, at least we’d purchased tickets for the voucher line.

“This must be the one thing in Amsterdam every tourist does,” Dave said.

The woman in front of us turned around and nodded. One hears many different languages in this city, but just about everyone, it seems, speaks English. In the end, we only waited half an hour. The line to the Anne Frank House is the other must-see, and a wait of 2-3 hours no matter when you go. With only two days here, we had to skip it.

Amsterdam City ArchivesInstead, we opted for a 75-minute canal open-boat tour. The driver took us by the Amsterdam City Archives. (If we had another day, I’d definitely be dragging Dave here.) But you don’t have to physically stop by to appreciate archives treasures–through their website, the digital collection is extensive and impressive.

Self-Portrait at Rijksmuseum, Vincent Van GoghBack to the Van Gogh Museum, and the current exhibit (“When I Give, I Give Myself: Artists and writers respond to letters from Van Gogh”), with displays about the multitude of artists Van Gogh has inspired these last few centuries based on his brief 10-year career as an artist (1880-1890). In one letter, which Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in 1883, I  especially resonated with these words, about the “intense struggle between ‘I’m a painter’ and ‘I’m not a painter.'”:

Sometimes a frightening struggle … If something in you says ‘you aren’t a painter’ — IT’S THEN THAT YOU SHOULD PAINT, old chap … one must take it up with assurance, with a conviction that one is doing something reasonable, like the peasant guiding his plough …

Imagine. What if Van Gogh had listened to his inner critic?

Family history and archive at Inverness

imageInverness, Scotland is a land of rainbows. We’ve seen at least half a dozen during our short stay here. Despite the breathtaking beauty, the weather–forty degrees, wind gusts and intermittent, torrential rain–drove us inside. (Conversation in the Ladies WC:
She: “Having a good day?”
Me: “Excellent, regardless of the downpour.”
She: “You mean, downpours! It’s usually so much nicer in May and June. It’s just been so cold this year.”)

imageFor shelter, I sought out the Highland Archive Centre, housed in a sleek building right beside the Ness River Islands. This is great. Apparently, enough family history types have come calling to warrant an investment in this state-of-the-art facility. No appointment necessary. I was helped by really knowledgeable, and patient, assistants.

imageMy favorite hour was the last, spent browsing through the church session minutes of Croy Parish (1730-1775). Lest you roll your eyes at the dryness of it all, these were steamy pages, accusations and confessions of fornication and adultery, or attempted same, quite detailed accounts in session after session. Gives one a whole different perspective on the Presbyterian Kirk of old.

Ethnic heritage in the U.S.

There’s a map provided by the U.S. Census bureau in 2000 detailing the location of immigrant populations by ethnicity, albeit 15 years ago. In 2013, the UK’s Daily Mail wrote an article about it here.The article states that by far the largest population in the U.S. — just under 50 million in 2000 — were of German heritage.

With DNA testing becoming more common, new demographics are being worked up at places like Ancestry.com. Admittedly, the population on the Ancestry.com map numbers a quarter of a million, compared with 317 million surveyed for the 2000 census.

Now that I’m looking into the history of Scottish immigration, I’m finding the data on these maps less than enlightening. On both, a separate category for Scottish people is not delineated. Apparently, citizens of Scotland are lumped with the English, under Great Britain.

A closer look at the 2000 census map reveals the category “American”(not meaning Native Americans, who have their own separate designation). According to the Daily Mail article, these respondents called themselves Americans for political reasons, or because they are unsure of their identity.

Political reasons? Clustered mainly in the south, especially in the Appalachian mountains, so-called “Americans” chose this identity on the census due to political tensions that exist in the South regarding “those who consider themselves original settlers and those who are more recent.” What, like job seniority, where the earliest arrivals get more privileges than those who come after? Oh my.

On paper, the Scots (and Welsh) and English might fall under the same helmet. But in reality even today, a clear distinction is made between the Scottish people and the English, based on dialect, customs, and race. When it comes to that, the country of Scotland is actually two separate entities — the Highlanders, people mainly of Celtic origin whose original language was Gaelic (now spoken only in small remote areas of the Highlands), and Lowlanders, where most share a Saxon heritage with the English.

Especially for the Highland Scots, the erasure of their ethnic identity began well before their arrival in the colonies. Starting in the mid-1700s, the English had begun systematically dismantling their language, manner of dress, and clan way of life.

Marriage under the Code Napoleon

In our family tree, 19th century ancestor Johann Philipp Harm, the father of Michael Harm, married twice. Johann Philipp’s first marriage in 1827 was to a woman named Elisabetha Harm Bruch, a widow more than ten years older than he was, and his first cousin. This first wife passed away in 1832, childless, when Johann Philipp Harm was just 36 years old.

“We think this first marriage was about property,” Günter told me on my first visit to Freinsheim in 1988. “To keep Elisabetha’s property in the family.”

Code Napoleon

An 1807 edition of the Code Napoleon on display in the Hambacher Schloss museum in Neustadt an der Weinstraße

A hint to a mystery, passed down from generation to generation, which may have its source in Code Napoleon civil laws.

Elisabetha and Johann married in the late 1820s, a time after Napoleon had been driven back from the Pfalz. Nonetheless, a version of the Code Napoleon, a unified set of laws on personal and property rights, had endured, including laws of equal inheritance for male and female alike. So if family lore is correct, Elisabetha Harm may have inherited property from her deceased husband? Or from her parents after they’d died? (Her parents would have been Johann Philipp Harm’s Uncle and Aunt.) If she’d had other siblings (I don’t know), they would have received an equal share.

On the other hand, when it comes to women’s rights, Elisabetha’s marriage to Johann makes little sense. The Code Napoleon was a blow to the revolutionary era’s progress on the equal rights of women.

In post Revolution France, the ideas of female equality received a setback in a series of laws known as the Napoleonic Code. Through it, the legal right of men to control women was affirmed. Although most of the basic revolutionary gains – equality before the law, freedom of religion and the abolition of feudalism – remained, the Code ensured that married women in particular owed their husband obedience, and were forbidden from selling, giving, mortgaging or buying property.
–from ‘The Wife is Obliged

Which begs the question, why on earth would Elisabetha have married Johann Philipp, her cousin not her lover, solely to turn over control of her property to him. So he would work her land for them both? If they did marry to keep the land in the family, what would have happened to the land if Elisabetha had never married? Did the government have right of succession?

Ah, a tangled web of mysteries. Ideas, anyone?

Name change for Family Chronicle

family chronicle cover

January/February 2015 issue

Family Chronicle: A how-to-guide for tracing your ancestors recently arrived at my door, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I learned about the publication when giving at talk at South Whidbey Genealogical Society. It’s a Canadian magazine with 80-percent distribution in the U.S. You’ll find it at many libraries and genealogical societies, and also in the magazine section at Barnes & Noble. And, I’m proud to announce, my article: “My Ancestor Was a Blacksmith!” appears in the January/February 2015 issue.

ancestor was a blacksmith

 

 

But that’s not all. There are a lot of great articles in this issue, including one on clues for discovering more about your family’s musical traditions. Here’s an excerpt from “Music in the Family”

Estate records for farmers often mention small bells that were placed on harnesses, or around the necks of sheep and cattle. … One bell was enough for a flock of sheep. The bell was placed around the neck of a “wether”, a castrated ram that the flock would follow. Called a bellwether, this term has evolved into a word for a person or group that leads followers into a coming social or political trend.

Love it! There are also articles on finding African American ancestors before 1866, a “Primer on the Russian Language and Names,” a primer on using DNA in genealogy research, and, my personal favorite, a great article called “Black Sheep, Loose Nuts, and Family Secrets,” about how to handle those skeletons in the closet.

The articles are all well written and informative. But one caveat — the publication won’t be called Family Chronicle for long. Beginning with the March issue, the magazine will continue under a new name: “Your Genealogy Today.” I’m really glad I found this publication, and honored to be in such good company.

How about that Cyndi

The first time I attended a genealogy class taught by Sarah Little I heard about Cyndi’s list. On Sarah’s handout, my teacher noted the site is the most comprehensive reference on the web for genealogy, “the best of them all. A phenomenal encyclopedic site.”

Amazingly, Cyndi has now kept Cyndislist.com continuously updated for 18 years. It has a categorized index to over 327,000 online genealogy resources. I’ve used Cyndislist.com to find immigrant ship passenger lists, links to German genealogy sites, Palatine genealogy sites, and genealogy resources by state. I’ve found links to listserves on ships and on blacksmithing, to ship photos and more. Sarah’s right, the site is phenomenal. Basically, it’s a free place to go learn what’s out there, like a card catalog used to work as you entered a library.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting Cyndi herself at the Washington State Genealogy Conference in Arlington. Cyndi Ingle, the person behind that marvelous List, is as helpful, personable, and knowledgeable as her web site.

Wash. St. Genealogy Conference attendees visit Cyndi's table during session breaksWant to meet Cyndi, too? Her speaking calendar, including upcoming visits to Arkansas, San Diego, and Port Angeles, is here.

And if you’re up for a cruise, she’ll be part of the 10th Annual Heritage Books Genealogy Conference and Cruise this November 29-December 6.

Say now, doesn’t that sound like fun?! Needless to say, I left the genealogy conference with a touch of Cyndi envy. And gratitude — Cyndi posted a link to this author blog, and to my The Last of the Blacksmiths book page in her “Browse New Links” for August 16. How cool is that! Thanks, Cyndi.

Homestead Digitization Project

Breaking news for genealogists and family history researchers.

Files detailing Nebraska’s homesteading history have been digitized and are now available to the public. The milestone’s part of a larger effort by the Homestead Digitization Project to put all homesteading documents from around the U.S. online. For more on the subject, Robert Siegel speaks with historian Blake Bell from the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Neb.

Link to interview on NPR

Fall calendar 2013 — German genealogy events

Steam generator outside Western Reserve Historical Society

 

If you live in the Cleveland area and want to make progress on your German ancestry research, don’t miss the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Researching German Ancestors presented by Warren Bittner, CG. The event is being held this coming Saturday, September 14 from 9 to 4 p.m. For more information, click here.

In the Seattle area, the Eastside German Interest Group (EGIG), an adjunct of the Eastside Genealogical Society (Bellevue), meets on the first Friday of every month. September’s topic was “Using Wikis in Your Genealogy Research” presented by Dorothy Pretare. What is a wiki? According to Atlassian.com, it’s “a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users.” Embedded in FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com and other genealogy search engines are wikis created by users, wikis that offer loads of information.

On Friday, October 4 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m I’m pleased to report I’ll be the guest presenter. I’ve been asked to share the genealogy research tools I used and/or discovered during my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths. The presentation will be at the LDS Church at 10675 NE 20th St in Bellevue, Washington.

On Saturday, October 19, the Seattle Genealogical Society will hold its Fall Seminar from 8:30 to 4, called: Potpourri: a Little of This and a Little of That. Presentations include “Evaluating Web Sites” by Cyndi Howells (of Cyndislist!), “Homestead Act and Homesteaders” by Karen Sipes; “Peopling the British Isles “ and “Unearthing the ‘Real’ New England Immigrant” by Steven Morrison. For more information, click here.

Writing family history

Is there a story in your family you’ve always wanted to record, for posterity? A family member who is getting older, who you’ve always wanted to interview? Or are there cherished stories from your own experiences growing up that you’d like to share with the generations that follow? Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming to know where to begin, but I encourage you to give it a try, both for your sake, and for those who come after you.

Plenty of resources for writing family history can be found on the web. Below are just a few:

Cyndi’s List 127 links to writing your family’s history – http://www.cyndislist.com/writing/

10 Steps To Writing Your Family History – http://genealogy.about.com/od/writing_family_history/a/write.htm

Ancestors: Writing Your History – http://www.byub.org/ancestors/records/familyhistory/intro2.html

Family History Lesson (from LDS genealogy site): Conduct Family History Interviews – http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp?page=home/welcome/site_resources.asp%3FwhichResourcePage=fhlessonseries

Family History Lesson (from LDS genealogy site): Write a Personal History – http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp?page=home/welcome/site_resources.asp%3FwhichResourcePage=fhlessonseries

Have fun!