31 October 2013

Thankful Thursday - Guides from the Past

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen, in my genealogical research, more than one child born to a set of parents that shared a name with a sibling who predeceased them. Honestly, as a newbie family historian, I remember being pretty befuddled when I saw on the Richards page of a family ‘letter’ this:

Ann – killed in swing – 7 years of age

Then farther down the list, on the next page, there was this:

Ann – married John S. Lane

Here’s the image:

I received this letter, or rather a photocopy of this letter, from Nancy Richards Baer Strubbe – Nan. Nan responded to a letter I’d sent her in 1996, shortly before her husband, John Lewis Strubbe, passed away. I don’t typically have regrets, but I do regret not having had the privilege to know their family better. Of course, that regret is eased by the fact that I’ve come to know Nan’s children, all of whom have been generous and warm to me. And, without Nan having held onto our family treasures, this letter would have never come into my possession.

Fast forward to just a week ago and I was sitting at Nan’s table in her house, the one her daughter Mary now owns and generously let me camp out at for a week of research in Ohio. I was looking at the original of the letter and I was no longer befuddled by the two Anns. It’s not as if the living Ann replaced the one who had died; no, it was really more about keeping family names alive. Honoring our ancestors by sharing their names for the future.

Along with a number of other very important clues, it has been the pleadings of Ann’s sister, Eveline, that has moved my research on this line forward in leaps and bounds this week. While I was transcribing a letter from Eva, written in July 1863 to Ann, she names a number of people who I would not have been able to connect to this family by other vital records. She shed light on the death of her sister, Caroline, who they all called Carrie, which I wouldn’t have known without the letter. I started to dig deeper into Ann herself, which lead me even farther down the road to proving these family ties.

As I was putting the pieces of this their family together, for some inexplicable reason I felt the urge to go over to the DuPage County Clerks office to look into getting copies of the birth and death records for the set of twins my mother delivered between my brother and I. I've thought about doing it in the past, but for some reason I just hadn't done it. So, I did.

Mom had told me they were born in 1960; as it turns out, it was 1961. She’d told me that she ‘knew’ something was wrong in the wee hours of the morning of February 15th, waking my dad and telling him she thought she should go to the hospital. At 8:11 a.m. the first twin was born followed at 8:29 a.m. by the second twin. They were fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, but they were two months early. The boy died 2 hours and 19 minutes later, the girl lived 30 hours.

The clerk handed me the first birth certificate:

And then the second:

I have to admit, I got goosebumps. Not because they’d named her Laura, but because her middle name was Ann. It’s as if Ann Richards, my 2nd great grand aunt lead me to this information. That she was saying to me, “It’s OK…I had a great life with my sister’s name…I wore it well and made it my own.” 

I hope I can do the same for my sister. And who knows, maybe she'll be the one that leads me to the next great thing in my family history.

So, do you have someone in your family that has the name of someone who died before them? What about the naming conventions in your family; anything unusual? I'd love to have your comments...

28 October 2013

Motivation Monday - My Family History Cheering Squad

“You’ve motivated me to really get going on my family history research!” I’ve had the great fortune of hearing this several times over the last few months both from researchers and relatives.

Motivation is such an individual thing. My husband, Cas, has always said, ‘I just do it [whatever it is he’s talking about] because it needs to be done.’ For me it’s about what I get out of something that motivates me; while financial gain is good (it’s nice to eat occasionally), it’s how others respond to my help that pushes me to want to do more. I believe it’s important to be honest with yourself about what motivates you; when you know what it is, it’s so much easier to trigger it into action.

I also believe that as individual a thing as motivation is, the act of genealogical research is equally individual. Yes there are guidelines and suggestions for the most efficient ways to research. There are best practices to ensure that those who pursue it as a profession are acting in the best interest of their clients and these guidelines can be used by non-professionals who choose to use them. But it is still up to the individual to apply their own skills to the process of family history and genealogical research.

Last week I went to Cincinnati, Ohio on a research trip. I stayed with my 2nd cousin, Mary; the house she lives in was originally her mother’s and it was her mom who was one of my first family history connections (via letters!). I visited with my 3rd cousin Nancy to return the family documents I’d archived for her and which launched the bulk of the research on my Wersel and Wagner lines. 

I visited with both of Mary’s brothers, Chuck and Bill. It was Bill’s wife Kim who reached out to me in 2011, which lead to their invitation to come and stay with them in Cincinnati so I could visit the place my maternal grandfather was born and do ‘a bit’ of hands on research including a trip to the famous Spring Grove Cemetery where at least 39 of our ancestors are buried. 

Mary and I got to meet our 3rd cousin Carolyn who I started corresponding with via email back in the early 2000s; she shared with us an incredible group of photos mostly from about the 1870s to 1890s and was so excited to have the information from our line.


Several years ago I was only partly aware of the depth of my family’s roots in the State of Ohio; today I’ve uncovered a number of my lines who were in Ohio in the late 1700s with the rest coming shortly after in the early 1800s. I’ve found a fascinating new twist in a paternal line with possible Mennonite roots and am honing my research skills on a maternal line without vital documentation that requires more creative ways to compile evidence to prove they are mine.

My motivation? The interest my 2nd and 3rd cousins have in the genealogical work that I’m doing to compile our family history. The excitement they’ve shown each time I’ve uncovered something we didn’t know before, or that triggers a memory of something a relative said to them. I’m motivated to look at my own research with a more objective eye and not to let my emotional attachment to what I ‘know’ cloud out other possibilities.

And there’s this, which I would not have ever seen had I not opened my mind and my heart to where motivation can take you:

What's YOUR motivation?