Heather Wilkinson Rojo at "Nutfield
Genealogy" has very kindly recognized Walking the Berkshires with an Ancestor Approved Award. What tickles me most about this honor, aside from the very kind words about my writing style, is the dour faced look of disapproval sported by the matronly mascot of this genea-blogging distinction. That old girl's no Mona Lisa: more American Gothic.
The idea behind the Ancestor Approved Award is to highlight excellent blogging from the genealogy community and challenge those so recognized to list 10 things we have learned in their course of our ancestral research that have surprised, humbled or enlightened us. Here then, are my 10 lessons learned.
1. You've Got a Friend: I think many of us are drawn to genealogy for the thrill of the chase and the opportunity to personalize the past. Our own bloodlines may be the hook, but genealogists tend to be a generous bunch and are just as excited to learn about each other's stories and research as in documenting our own. And we do love a good story. Finding this supportive community online was a pleasant surprise for me when I added genealogy to the rotation of post topics at Walking the Berkshires.
2. God Bless Google Books: Genealogy is not simply a matter of vital statistics. It is more about the lives of the people that these names and dates represent. Applying the skills of the historian, the archeologist, the social scientist and psychologist really animates family history for me. To that end, as a non academic researcher I swear by the gold mine of source material represented by Google Books. Querying this trove has delivered untold data on countless ancestors, the communities in which they lived. In many cases this results in completely new information that changes my understanding of who they were and what they did, Idly searching for information on one of my Revolutionary War era ancestors with Google Books, for example, revealed evidence in Washington's correspondence of a court martial. Among the many happy results were this 11 post series on the Court Martial of Matthias Ogden and a connection to a group of avid reenactors who depict the New Jersey regiment that Col. Ogden commanded.
3. Trust but Verify: I am often surprised as how much family tradition gets right about my ancestors that subsequent research verifies. If cousin Archibald Gracie did not exactly get his head taken off by a cannonball in the Petersburg Trenches, he was killed by an exploding shell which fractured his neck and struck him three times in the shoulder.
4. Maybe it Ain't So: There is still no substitute for primary source material. It is amazing how much bad history gets repeated as subsequent authors take at face value the claims made in other texts . Sometimes the silences say more than false claims. A privately printed genealogy of the Walker branch in my mother's pedigree from the early 1900s identifies the revolutionary war service of a collateral relation, but neglects to mention his subsequent and much longer service as an officer in the Pennsylvania Loyalists. The only clue was that his father's will provided for grandchildren in New Brunswick, Canada after the war.
" 5. Ancestor Worship is not Good History: A good genealogist respects good data even while paying respect to one's forebears. We take tours through the intimate details of our ancestor's lives. We look in their underwear drawers and read their private letters. If it turns out that they were more complex human beings with real flaws and contradictions - in other words, that they were human - we have an obligation to treat them fairly and honestly.
6. Let Us Now Praise Famous Women: It is "herstory" as well as "history". I am the beneficiary of women in my family who have been keepers of the genealogical record for their own lines and those of their husbands for many generations. Women's history can be found in the pension applications of Civil War Veterans, in the letters women wrote and the causes they championed.
7. Sooner or Later, You Become the Source: Good bloggers are good aggregators. People searching for topics of an historical or genealogical nature are often lead to my blog. On matters having little or no family connection, like the Morro Castle Disaster about which I blogged four years ago, I still get daily hits. Once you go back a half dozen generations or so, the odds of sharing a common ancestor with others doing family history expand exponentially. A post I wrote about my grandfather's experience as a doctor in wartime lead the son of one of the officers he served with to my site, as well as the grand-niece of a man who died on the Liberty Ship later that took my grandfather to the South Pacific.
8. Expect the Unexpected: When searching the 1860 Census Records to try to close a gap in my primary Abbott line, I found that my Gr-great grandfather had an older brother. Since I was at the National Archives, I searched under his name for a Civil War service record, and discovered that he had enlisted in the 9th NY Hawkin's Zouaves. Not only that, but his pension record gave me additional data that helped with my inquiry into his parents, and also revealed where he died out in Montana. A few years later, I was vacationing at Glacier National Park and called up the nearby Old Soldiers Home that had been his final residence and in about 30 seconds found the number and location of his grave.
9. All in Good Fun: Remember, no matter how passionate our interest in the lives of our ancestors, not too take things too seriously. 19th Century Facial Hair and old family photos have tremendous comic possibilities. For me, this prompted a long running and very popular Family Archive Caption Contest.
10. Life is for the Living: The family history at greatest risk of disappearing is being made now, and is still in the minds of those still with us. Every genealogist I have ever known regrets not asking more of those now departed who could have told us more. The memories we make now will enliven the past for those who come after.
Bill West of West in New England; Sheri Fenley at The Educated Genealogist; Jasia at Creative Gene; Apple at Apple's Tree; Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie ; Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings; Footnote Maven; Thomas MacEntee of Destination: Austin Family ; Grant Mishoe of Lowcountry Ramblings and M. Diane Rogers of CanadaGenealogy, or, 'Jane's Your Aunt' Congratulations, and see if any of you can get the old lady to crack a smile.