Sunday, October 26, 2014

Genealogy for all of us!

Today I was flipping through some photos of my great and great-great grandparents, and my son said it saddens him that he never got to know them.

So many people think of genealogy as an avocation for retirees. For a while, I felt a little lonely, but more and more Gen X genealogists are connecting and showing up at conventions.

Now one of my challenges as a parent is also trying to interest my children in genealogy, without making it feel like a chore. I respect my children's unique interests and if they aren't keen on family history, that's alright. But it was nice to see that my son responded to the photographs.

I think if we want to involve our children, we have to find the approach that touches them most. Maybe my daughter will enjoy tromping through cemeteries with me, while my son will be more interested in the faces of the people he never knew. Maybe my son will be fascinated with the places they lived, while my daughter will be more intrigued by the stories of their adventures. Who knows?

The internet makes family history more and more accessible to all of us. One of The NextGen Genealogy Network's goals is to encourage young people explore this interest, and let them know they aren't alone. Genealogy isn't a "senior citizen's" hobby.

It's for anyone who wants to explore it, and the communities around it are open to everyone.

Do you involve your children in genealogy and, if so, how?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Favorite Websites for Research

Some people are fortunate enough to live in the area where their ancestors lived, which makes research much easier. You might be able to visit the libraries, town halls, cemeteries, churches, and other repositories of information with records of your ancestors without having to drive very far.

Many of us, however, either live far from our ancestors' homes or even in another country. I spent the first 25 years of my life in Massachusetts (except for 3 years in New York), which made research very simple in a few different New England towns and states.

But I have lived far from home since 1999, including in two different countries overseas. Since then, I have relied heavily upon two websites.

The first is, which is the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. It is probably the best repository of Massachusetts vital records - and so, so much more - out there. Membership in NEHGS is well worth the $79.95 a year for anyone with New England ancestry, whether they live in the Boston area or not.

The second is, the website of the Church of Latter Day Saints. While I am not a member of the LDS church and not necessarily in agreement with their religious practices (i.e. baptizing the deceased), I appreciate the records they have provided the public free of charge. Those records range from vital records to land to court records, and more.

Of course, I still send an old-fashioned letter to request specific vital records when working on applications for lineage societies or trying to fill in research holes when I cannot find answers online. But the internet has really changed genealogy, making it so much more accessible to people all around the world.

What are websites you rely upon for research?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Underutilized Resources

There have been quite a few changes in my household (one adult starting a job, the other ending one), a few visits to conventions, not to mention the usual, so I haven't posted since March. My gosh, that is too, too long.

So - DNA!

What a fascinating tool, and one we still don't understand perfectly. However, I think our understanding of it is getting better.

In 2012, I splurged on the Family Finder test on FamilySearch. I don't think I've quite explored its full potential since my results came out. My main reason for upgrading to Family Finder was the hope of finding a Murphy cousin - someone related to me through the parents of my mysterious great-great grandmother, Emma Anna (Murphy) (Reagan) Shaw.

It was also interesting to see it break down my ethnic heritage a bit more than the mtDNA test.

To date, time has not really allowed me to play with the results or the matches. So I'm sure I'm missing out on the benefit of having upgraded. It's something I really must delve into more deeply.

Is there something out there you know might be helpful to you but, for whatever reason, you haven't fully utilized it yet?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sideways Searching

Most of the time I concentrate on one specific ancestor at a time, and then their parents, and their parents, and so on. If I included every single sibling and their families, I would have a huge family file full of distant cousins. I would also find myself getting confused and clicking around my family file too much. As it is, with all the intermarriages in my ancestry, things are tricky enough.

So my personal policy is only to bother including siblings from 1850 to present (and full families for 1900 to present), or a distant cousin's lines if I know that person and we are working together.

Of course, some researchers always include siblings, no matter what. It all depends on personal preference. I prefer to keep my file limited to direct ancestors for the most part.

But there is one other instance where I include collateral relationships, and that is when I hit a brick wall or need additional information on a family. This "sideways searching" can be important for many reasons - not just helping eliminate brick walls. Developing a fuller, more complete picture of a family might lead to evidence we wouldn't have located otherwise.

For example, my ex-husband's Hawksley line is one of the most fascinating families I am actively researching. Based upon a wide variety of sources, we know this family goes back to John Goodwin Hawksley of Mars Hill, Maine. John was probably born in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, on February 8, 1810.

But the question was always this: who were John's parents?

Over the years, I've compiled records that help give a more complete picture of this family. John and his wife, Lucy, had a son - Samuel - who died in the Civil War. They had other sons who served and survived, so it was Samuel I was most interested in.

Why? Because since Samuel was a young, unmarried man, his parents could claim a pension for his service in the war.

Sure enough, Samuel's Civil War Pension file gave me a great deal of insight about John Goodwin Hawksley, his wife, and children, and his life in general. It told me all about John's health issues, and how much he and Lucy relied upon Samuel to take care of the family farm. It is a gold mine of information.

But it still didn't answer the question about his parents.

Fortunately, searching "sideways" through one of John's siblings and her family did answer the question about one of their parents. John had three sisters (two of whom still bear fleshing out), and one was Margaret Elizabeth Hawksley who married Isaac Adams on 3 October 1833 in Prince William, New Brunswick, Canaday.

Margaret's daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Adams) Foster wrote a letter that gave me insight about their parents - an Englishman named Hawksley, and a woman from New Jersey with the surname of Goodwin, who later remarried a Madigan.

That was a "Whoa!" moment for me when I read through those papers in the NEHGS manuscript collection, because I had found an 1860 census entry with a Mary Madigan living with Margaret (Hawksley) Adams. Thanks to the letter, I realized Mary Madigan was Margaret and John's mother. (There was an Irish family also living with Margaret Adams at the time, and I am still trying to figure out if there is any relationship.)

So that's just a little story about the importance of seeking out siblings when you have a family mystery on your hands. Sometimes, they have the answers.

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How I Got Started in Genealogy

This is the topic I used to get the ball rolling in the NGGN Writers' Group: How did you get started in genealogy?

For me, an interest in genealogy began when I was about 12-years-old. My parents divorced when I was quite young (around 3 or 4), and I didn't see my mother after that. So of course I was intrigued about my family! I started with my father's side, collecting what information I could. Fortunately, my dad had names for my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents on my mother's side.

But what really drew me in was a large leather wallet my paternal grandmother had. It was full of documents and typed-up genealogies done by her maternal uncle, Erwin Blake, relevant to our Blake ancestors in Wrentham, MA. There were also a couple photographs of the Blake family.

When I was about 18 or so, I asked my grandmother for the leather wallet, and she allowed me to have it. I made sure to photocopy all the photographs and documents, just for safety's sake. I donated many of the original documents (mostly deeds and Civil War documents) to NEHGS, since I knew they had the technology to preserve them, and gave my paternal aunt the original photographs. As technology evolved, we also made sure to scan everything too.

Of course, I've built a much larger family picture over the years with my research, but it was an absent parent and some yellowed papers and photographs that piqued my adolescent curiosity.

What about you?

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, February 9, 2014

NGGN Website Goes Live!

Well, more than a month (let alone four) between postings is beyond excusable, and I do apologize. 2013 was, as you know, a rather busy year. I had a baby. I moved across an ocean. Even in the fall, I didn't feel quite like I had all my ducks in a row. By winter, however, things were settling down.

Now I have routines and structure, and I hope I will not be lax about my research or genealogy in general.

Especially since, as publications chair for the NextGen Genealogy Network, I've got a bit more on my plate, producing the NextGen Dispatch - the official quarterly newsletter of NGGN.

And, yes, NGGN's website is now live! I'm hoping the newsletter will be on there in a few more days, once everyone is rested up from their time at Rootstech.

If you would like to see the first issue, please leave a comment and your email address (email AT provider DOT com), and I will send you a PDF. The first issue will be available to everyone on the website, once it gets posted up there.

However future issues will be available in their entirety to members only, with some tidbits posted for the general public. So this is your chance to take a look at what we have to offer and see if you might be interested in joining NGGN.

They are also seeking a webmaster and social media chair. Details for both positions are in the first issue of the newsletter.

Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Do You Have Research Phases?

Are there certain times of year you are more drawn to researching your family tree?  Perhaps more in the mood or less in the mood to do your research?

I know I am interested in and passionate about genealogy year-round, but the different seasons bring different possibilities.

When the weather gets cool, it feels like the perfect time to stay indoors, research and write letters from the comfort of my own home.  This is the time of year I tend to gather the most vital records by way of letter-writing and/or emailing town clerks.

Warmer weather means I'm more likely to make in-person visits to libraries, town halls, cemeteries, and more such places.

I also find my interest in researching family history is greater from roughly October through December.  Perhaps it is the holiday season that inspires these feelings of wanting to feel a connection with ancestors. There is certainly an ancestral connection to Thanksgiving that makes this a particularly meaningful time of year for me to focus my efforts on research.

Copyright (c) 2013 Wendy L. Callahan