What about Dark Secrets?

If your DNA results do not make sense, ask yourself these questions before you try to uncover the answers:

  • Do you need to know the answer?
  • Are you prepared to deal with a dark secret that may upset the family?
  • What will you do with the information once you know the answer?

If you uncover a dark secret such as previously unknown illegitimate children, how will each family member react? How will telling your family members the details of a dark family secret affect your relationship with them? Do you need to reveal the secret? Can you tell some family members but not everyone?

Be sensitive to your family members. Everyone will react differently. Some people do not have to know. Some people need to know. Be careful with who you tell and how you say it.

Once the Cat Is Out of the Bag, the Cat will not want to get back into the Bag

 

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Problems with Names

Finding the documents for your ancestors is thrilling. It may lead to an addiction to genealogy and family history. However, there is a challenge when their names are difficult to spell or pronounce. Another problem is interpreting the handwriting on the document.

The name on my grandfather’s manifest was correct but the indexer recorded with the wrong first four letters in the indexed record. Another set of grandparents dropped a few letters in their name once they arrived and this variation made the search very frustrating. I also had difficulty because first names were Americanized and I had to learn the Polish name that appeared on the manifest.

The myth of name changes

Many families believe immigration officials changed family names when the immigrants entered America. However, this is a myth. Officials usually recorded the names on passenger manifests based on official documents presented by the immigrant to the shipping line at the time of boarding. Changing their names would be illegal. Also, immigration stations were staffed with large numbers of translators to help ensure officials recorded accurately the information that was given by the immigrants. If families changed the spelling of their surnames, they did it after arrival, and this was usually to make it easier for the people around them to pronounce and write their name.

Name variations and spelling

Some instances of differences in names found on documents may have been caused when the recording person wrote the name phonetically. Immigrants may not have caught the misspelling of their name because the immigrant may have been illiterate. Also, the immigrant may have recognized their name written in the Cyrillic alphabet or Hebrew but did not know what the person wrote because he used the Latin alphabet.

Other problems were the given names found on documents. The immigrant may have preferred to use their middle name in their daily life, but official documents required their full Christian name. Another challenge we have is to identify the European spelling of the given names.

Searching

Remembering that documents may list your ancestor’s name as a variant should help you find your ancestor faster. Use the correct spelling first and if you cannot find them, use name variations and wildcards. First names are important in your search, and the record may list one of the variations of a given name. Sometimes it is best to use part of the given name with wildcards to reduce the problem with the given name variants. Research the spellings of given names for the countries of your ancestors and find books that provide surname variations

We are descendants of immigrants, and our ancestors contributed to the tremendous growth in America. The industrial growth in the 1900s could not have happened without the immigrants. Find the documents that add to their story to honor them and save for your future generations.

Be patient and remember to have fun looking for your family history.

Start Your Family History Journey

Researching your family history can have some very exciting moments.  Find your first census record and feel the thrill of seeing a snapshot of your family.  I became addicted to genealogy research after finding my grandfather’s passenger manifest and had difficulty waiting to find my next piece of my family’s history. Start your search, and you can also feel this thrill once you find that first document. Filling in more generations of your family tree and finding more family facts will start to haunt your waking thoughts. Get started and be prepared to make researching your family history a lifelong journey. Just like a great novel, it will be hard to put down.

Try to have a goal in your research. I intended to learn more about my family’s heritage and to preserve what I find for my children and grandchildren. Your goals can be similar to mine or yours can be as simple as doing an in-depth study of one of your famous ancestors. Start your journey at home. Collect documents, pictures, and letters that you and your immediate family have stored away in old shoe boxes in the closet or stuffed in desk drawers. Remember also that it is critical to interview your older relatives to save their memories and oral history.

Be organized in your research because this will save you time but will also point the way for more research. I use summaries to organize my facts and as a reference tool while doing my research. My summaries can make my research more efficient and helps me find more documents and facts. The summaries also help me focus my search efforts. Summaries are also a great way to share what I find with my family. Sharing gives me more opportunities for other family members to contribute more oral history, pictures, and old papers. Be prepared to uncover more areas to research after sharing your work. Remember to identify and label the family pictures. Asking relatives to determine who is in the pictures will help extend your family tree and also turn on the memories of the relatives who are trying to help.

Records you find may be confusing, misleading and wrong.  You will need to continually analyze and interpret your information and note where you got your information. As a beginner to genealogy, start now to note where you get every piece of information. Record your information as you find your facts. You may hear arguments that keeping up with sources are time-consuming and too much trouble. It isn’t fun, but without your source information, you can’t evaluate, analyze, and draw conclusions. And you can’t pass along your information because at least one family member will ask, “But how do you know?”

Companies and organizations are listing more and more genealogy records in online databases, and these are great sources to begin your research. However, there are many more genealogy records stored in libraries and historical archives that also may include your ancestors. Be sure to use all the sources in your research, both online and in person. You will be rewarded for your efforts.

Use books, genealogy programs, genealogy conferences, genealogy societies, online educational offerings, and social media to sharpen your genealogy skills. Again, once you start your journey, it will probably be a lifelong passion.

My last thought that may help you develop the same passion for genealogy as I have is

“Remember to have fun.”

Save the memories of your older relatives

  1. Talking to older relatives is a critical early step in genealogical research. Do this as soon as possible. Don’t wait until tomorrow because your relative may suddenly not be there.
  2. Prepare a ring binder with your summaries, charts, and photos to show your progress to your relative
  3. Discussions should be an equal exchange of information and should not be an interrogation.
  4. Establish rapport with family members before interviewing them
  5. Avoid questions that seek a “Yes” or “No” answer
  6. Let your relative talk, do not interrupt them. Their conversation will make them feel comfortable. Learn to listen.
  7. Try to check the information from oral histories – treat information as clues.
  8. Re-visit your relative after you have new and exciting information to show them. Seeing your material may turn on their memory for another story.

Self-Publishing Family Histories

CreateSpace is down and no longer usable to publish my family histories. All of my previous work was moved to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This created a problem for family histories because Amazon now demanded all published work be available for public sale which removed the privacy from my family histories.

I now use Lulu.com to self-publish my family histories that I want to remain private. Lulu allows us to publish our works using three options: retail, direct, and private. Family histories can remain private using the direct and private option. The private option requires all purchases of the book to go through the author. The direct option creates a private web page for the book that can not be found by search engines and can be accessed only through using the correct web address assigned to the page. I distribute this address to family members by including it on the copyright page of the books that I give or sell privately to family members. These two options are similar to how my family history books were set up on Createspace before the changes made by Amazon.

I had considered publishing on Lulu.com when I first began publishing my family histories but decide to use Createspace because the cost of the books was much lower at Createspace. One of my family histories is 482 pages and would cost $6.63 on Createspace but now costs $15.86 on Lulu. Since I no longer have Createspace as an option, Lulu is currently the best option to publish a family history and preserve its privacy and have convenient ordering for family members in the future.

However, if privacy is not an issue than Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a more cost-effective option.

Save your Family Memories

I write family histories to save the stories, pictures, and family history for my children, grandchildren, and all of my future generations. Family gatherings, especially at Christmas time is a great time to start doing this for your family. Collect what you can, write down what you hear, and save them in a ring binder. Organize them by family and ancestor. I hated writing in high school and college but I love doing this. Please try to start. If we don’t do it, who will?

New Book – Find Your Czech and Slovak Ancestors

I’ve been busy this fall writing. I just published a new genealogy book for Czech and Slovak Genealogy Research.

This book is designed to give the researcher the tools needed to research their Czech and Slovak ancestors and find possible answers to the origins of your heritage. The book outlines a simple process that will identify where your ancestors were born and where to find their records. The book lists many up-to-date sources of information that will add to your family history; identify where your ancestors were born and where to find their Czech and Slovak records. Traditional sources are covered but it also discusses many new and exciting sources for records. The book includes many sample documents and tips that should prove useful for both the beginner and the veteran genealogist. The information in this book covers the most up-to-date collection of sources for Czech and Slovak genealogy and should prove to be invaluable when doing your research. This book is for people with roots in Bohemia (Czech), Slovakia, Moravia, or Silesia who feel the need to develop, preserve and share the genealogical, historical and cultural knowledge of their ancestors.