Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cowboy Legacy -- Discovering Family Roots

My 2 g grandparents John G Brown and Lucy Pinsonneau in Montana 1910

Legacy defined… a thing handed down by our predecessors

Family roots defined… establishing an indigenous relationship with or a personal affinity for a particular culture, society, or environment

Genealogy... (from Wikipedia), also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives.

The pursuit of family history and origins tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.

Where to start tracing your family tree

I'm going to tell you a little bit about my effort to trace my family history in the hopes that my successes will be useful to you.  Part of my family tree started with my aunt Muriel (mom's sister) back in the mid 1970s.  She traced mom's family back about four generations and created a pedigree chart.

From her chart I learned that I had at least one ancestor who had been in the Civil War.  Better yet -- I learned he had been a cavalry soldier.

That's all I needed to be hooked.  Because my mom was the eldest in her family she ended up with most of the family photos, and I starting making photocopies of mom's oldest photos, so I could write the names on ancestors on the back.  Next I started asking living family members what they knew about our ancestors.  That process I later learned is called "Oral tradition," the act of gathering an oral record where cultural material and tradition is transmitted orally from one generation to another.

Finally, using "Family Group Sheets," I recorded the names, birth dates, marriages, and death dates of as many ancestors as possible.  I created a new pedigree chart that also included dad's side of my family (about three generations).  I was pretty pleased with the results.  I learned we were Scotch, Irish, English, Welsh, and French.  I know the names of mom's grandparents and a couple of her great grandparents.  I also knew the names of dad's parents, and two of his grandparents.  That's where things sat for the next twenty years.

Genealogy on the world wide web

In the mid 1990s, my folks moved back to Southern California, so I could visit them more often.  While they lived far away they had enlarged and framed many early family photos which inspired discussions of our family and roots.  

About the same time I bought my first computer and discovered the internet.  A decade earlier, in the mid 1980s, genealogy data was being gathered at RootsWeb and by the mid 1990s its ROOTS-L surname mailing list was online and attracting lots of attention from genealogists.

Between 1995 and 1998, I devoted thousands of hours annually to discovering my family heritage online.  I also visited LDS church libraries, wrote letters to historical societies and vitals records collections, hired professional genealogists in England and Canada, and scoured the web for family history data.  By 1999, I had authored and published two books -- one with 200 pages for mom's family -- and -- a smaller one with 100 pages for dad's family.

In early years of my research I submitted my family records to Genealogy.com, MyFamily.com, and Rootsweb.com -- only later -- to be charged for access to the same records I had freely shared.  It was extremely upsetting to be forced to pay for a record I had created, so I vowed to never join ancestry.com.

But alas, in 2004 I finally gave in and subscribed to ancestry.com because its data now included millions of records I could not access elsewhere.  Today I have a family tree with nearly 2000 relatives -- a few family lines go back twenty generations.  I have traced my lineage to the very beginning of Canada and the United States, and back as far as the 1300s in England.  Through DNA testing I've learned that my ethnicity is 100% European: 53% Western Europe, 21% Ireland, 20% Great Britain, and 6% trace regions -- Iberian Peninsula 4% and Scandinavia 2%.  I have zero Asian, African, or Native American ancestry.

For a beginning genealogist I would caution you to be careful with ancestry.com.  It is the biggest and best source of family records, but it is also full or errors submitted by people whose information is just plain wrong.  I now only rely on census records, vital records and well researched books to expand my family tree.  I'm sure mistakes exist in my family tree because of the nature of human endeavor -- record documents are full of misspellings, misinterpretation, transposed letters, incorrect dates, etc.

By all means subscribe to ancestry.com and other genealogy websites -- just be careful.  A distant cousin of mine recently contacted me to ask about her grandmother who was also my grand aunt.  I pointed her to my family tree on ancestry.com, and in one day her tree grew more than ten generations.

Searching on the web and joining mailing lists works.  Here are a few family photos I've obtained from distant relatives as a result of using the internet for family history quarries…

My 3 g grandparents Elizabeth (Shaw) Sturdy b. abt 1807 County Fermanagh,
Ireland and Hugh Sturdy b. abt 1800/01 Ballyconnel, Co Caven, Ireland

Margaret (Wilkie) Head, 2 g grandmother, b. 1826 in Nefoundland
(far left) with daughter Maria Cummin and her family.

Marcus Pierce, 2 g grandfather, b. 1842 in Rhode Island

Charles Henry Plimpton, my 2 g grandfather, b. 1845 in New York

Here's list of genealogy websites to start your family search

The earliest access to family records… http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/

Join surname mailing lists… http://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/

Surname Search at GenForum… http://genforum.genealogy.com/surnames/

Search Family Trees at WorldConnect… http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/

GenWeb quarry and search projects by state or province… 
United States -- http://usgenweb.org/
Canada -- http://www.canadagenweb.org/

Search "Find A Grave"… http://www.findagrave.com/index.html

Good luck and happy trails

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