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The Importance of Knowing Your Family’s Medical History

I can still remember the look on my doctor’s face when she asked me for my family’s medical history. All she saw was this teenage girl sitting in front of her; I can tell you she did not expect the laundry list of information that came out of me. I rattled off all the information I knew starting with my great grandparents. When I was finally done and she realized I caught her looking at me strangely, she was quick to explain, “Most people don’t know more than their parent’s medical history…”

 

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At that point I had been into genealogy for several years and even as a kid it didn’t take me long to see a pattern in my family’s medical history. Sitting with my grandparents talking about ancestors I had never met, it was only natural to eventually ask how they passed. After awhile I even made a habit of asking my grandparents about illnesses they or their family members had suffered from. Eventually I started to get my hands on death certificates and I made note of the cause of death listed on each record.

From the research I had done, I learned there are several things that my family and I needed be aware of. For the men in my family heart attacks at a fairly young age are not uncommon. While one of my great grandmothers lost her battle with breast cancer, another beat cervical and ovarian cancer. Then there were a few things that affected both men and women in my family, namely other forms of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Although all of this may sound depressing, it is important information to know since there are several medical conditions that are believed to be hereditary. Some of these conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, allergies and depression.

It is also not uncommon, whether caused genetically or environmentally, that things like alcoholism, drug abuse and learning disabilities have also been found to run through families.

I encourage people to keep record of their family’s medical history, not only will it add to your research, it could save your life or the life of a loved one. Look into your ancestor’s death records, sit with your family, ask questions, record the information and share your findings. Knowing what has afflicted your family in the past will give you and future generations a chance at prevention.

 

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Genealogy Correspondence Sheets: How Do I Get Started?

Over the last couple of weeks I have introduced you to two worksheets that are commonly used when doing family research, Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets. Continuing with the How Do I Get Started? series, let’s take a look at another helpful worksheet, Genealogy Correspondence Sheets.

What is the purpose of the worksheet?

The whole idea behind the correspondence sheet is to keep track of the people you have come in contact with while researching your family tree. Once you step out beyond your immediate family and really start digging, keeping track of who’s who can get confusing. You forget who you contacted and why you contacted them, you forget if they were helpful and you lose track of how to keep in contact. Here is one solution for staying organized.

Have a look at the Genealogy Correspondence Sheet below…

Correspondance sheet 1For the most part, I believe this sheet is pretty self-explanatory but let’s give it a walk through just in case!

Surname: In this spot I write in a surname… let’s say I write in “Williams” this means every contact on this sheet will connect to me through a shared Williams ancestor. I could have another sheet for “Leslie”, another for “Cantelli” and so on. The point is-everyone listed as a contact on the sheet has a connection to the surname it is assigned to.

Contact Date: When did you first reach out to the contact you are about to list in the (next) name column?

Name: What is the name of this newly found contact? Be polite-know their name. Save the “Hey Cuz” greeting for when you actually get to know them.

Address/Email/Phone: Make note of their contact details so you know how to make contact with them again. Also, which is the best way to reach them? Some people prefer email over phone, others prefer phone over email and some still like to send copies by mail rather than scans.

Purpose: What was the purpose for reaching out to them? In this space it might be worth making note of the common ancestor you share, then a reminder of why you reached out to them in the first place.

Reply Date: Writing down the date you reached out to your new contact and the date they responded is helpful. With a quick glance at this sheet you can tell if it’s been 2 days since you reached out to them or two months. If it has been awhile and you still haven’t heard back-it might be time to try again.

Result: Were they helpful? Were they able to provide answers for your questions? Do they plan to send/scan documents? Did they not have information to provide but sent the contact info of someone who might? Did they receive your request for help warmly… or did they tell you in a round about way to go to hell?

Were they a contact that made big promises to help if you sent them your work first-then didn’t follow through after you sent everything you have? Trust me-I have run into more than one genealogy hoarder-glad to receive whatever you send but have no intention to share what they have. Write in “Hoarder” and move on!

Whatever the response, leave yourself a note saying whether or not they were helpful, how they were helpful, how you might be able to help them and whether or not you should stay in touch or avoid them at all costs.

Staying Organized

I cannot stress enough how important staying organized and up to date is when researching your family. With genealogy, you are going to meet so many new people you really want to do your best to keep them all straight and the last thing you want to do is lose a good contact!

If the worksheets aren’t your style, make use of a notebook or create a similar document on your computer. Be sure to record all the same information (surname, contact date, name, address/email/phone, purpose, reply date and result) and anything else you might find helpful.

The Pleasantly, Unexpected Surprise…

Be prepared to meet people (total strangers) that become closer to you than some of your immediate family. The friendships I have made with distant cousins over the past 20 years has been one of the most unexpected, surprising and best parts.

Until Next Week

Get cracking on those pedigree charts and family group sheets and start making use of the Genealogy Correspondence Sheet! If you guys have any questions or comments-don’t be shy! Please post them in the comments below and I’ll get to them asap!

Good Luck and happy hunting!

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Family Group Sheets: How Do I Get Started?

Last week I introduced you newbies to Pedigree Charts, which are the most commonly used charts in family research. As promised, this week I wanted to familiarize you with another commonly used worksheet: Family Group Sheets.

Where Pedigree Charts cover the absolute basics, birth, marriage, death and the people you descend directly from, Family Groups Sheets include much more information about each family unit. They are extremely useful tools for gathering and organizing more in depth information and give you a more complete look into each family’s structure.

Below is a great example of a Family Group Sheet.

Family Group Sheet No 1

Where do you begin on the Family Group Sheet? You begin with the same person you started the Pedigree Chart with…

You.

Let’s focus first on your family (you, your siblings and your parents).

Looking at the Family Group Sheet the top section covers the “Husband” which in this case would be your father. You would list his full name: first, middle and last. For spelling variations you would record any nicknames he may have or any other variations of the spelling of his name.

  • Spelling variations are actually extremely important to make note of. Did/does your father go by any nicknames? Have they changed their name? Do/did they go by their middle name rather than their first? I will cover the importance of this in a future blog-until then be sure to record all and any names the person in question goes by.

The next spots on the “Husband’s” section of the worksheet cover birth, marriage, death and burial information. Here you can record dates as well as places of each event. At the far right of this section there is a space for health or other miscellaneous info. Did your father suffer from any illnesses in his lifetime? What was his cause of death (if he has passed)? These are also important details to know.

  • The importance of knowing health related issues will be covered in a future blog, until then be sure to ask and record the information.

The last half of the “Husband’s” section includes spaces to record other details about your father’s life, including occupation, other marriages, church affiliation, date and place of christening/baptism and military service. Fill in any relevant information.

Finally the “Husband’s” section comes to a close with a box to include a photo of your father and spaces to record the full names of his parents (your grandparents).

Done filling out Dad’s information?

Next you would move on to the “Wife’s” section, which would be your mother in this case. The only real difference when filling out this section would be your mother’s name. Be sure to record her full name using her maiden name, not married name. If she had been married before marrying your father or had been remarried following your father be sure to include those married names under Spelling Variations.

Otherwise you would continue through the “Wife’s” section filling in all the information you know about your mother.

Finished filling out Mom’s information?

Next you would move on to the “Children’s” section. This would be where you cover information concerning you and your siblings. Like the “Husband” and “Wife” sections, there is room to include a photo, birth, marriage, death and burial information, occupation, church, military and misc. information. The only difference is this section includes a spot to list the sex of each person as well as the number of children they have had and a section to list the name of their spouse(s).

Are you one of more than four children and have run out of room?

No need to worry. In this case, there is an extension worksheet that can be added covering just children. Below is an example of the extension sheet. As you can see there are no sections for “Husband” or “Wife” it strictly covers the children. Be sure to staple these two sheets together (Family Group Sheet with Extension Sheet for additional children).

Family Group Sheet-Page 2

Missing Information?

If you have made your way through this worksheet and you are missing information on your parents and siblings one solution is reaching out to them! As I suggested with the Pedigree Chart, visit your family members and have them fill out their sections. If you can’t make a visit, call or email them for their information.

If your family members have passed, reaching out to them directly is obviously not an option. However, if your siblings are still living they may be able to provide more information about your parents (if your parents have passed). If your siblings have passed, reach out to any children or spouses they may have had to see if they can help with missing information.

If you have done the above and you are still missing information, make note of what is missing. Your next step will be figuring out what documents you need to obtain the information and determining where you will need to go to acquire those documents.

Finished. Now What?

Once you have finished your family group sheet where you are listed as a child, you can do another if you are married with children. This time you and your spouse will be listed as the “Husband” and “Wife” (obviously) and you would fill in the “Children’s” section with your children’s information.

Keep in mind you can turn up in several Family Group Sheets.

  • In one, you will be listed as the child with your parents listed in Husband/Wife sections
  • In the Second, you will be listed as the Husband or Wife
  • In the Third, your spouse will be listed as a child (with their parents listed in the Husband/Wife sections) and you will be listed as their spouse.

Finished? Think again! *evil laugh*

For every family unit-you create a family group sheet. Once you have finished a family group sheet for you, your spouse and children… then finish one for your parents, you and your siblings you would start another for your parents.

This time, your parents become the “Children” and their parents (your grandparents) become the “Husband” and “Wife”. Once you have filled in all the information you know, you would move on to the next family unit.

Your grandparents would then become the “children” and their parents (your great grandparents) would become the “Husband” and “Wife” and so on.

As I suggested earlier, reach out to other family members for help (siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Go as far as you can with the information they are able to provide before turning to hunting for documents.

Don’t Stress!!!

A lot of people get overwhelmed with genealogy… I can pretty much see you panicking now… “A family group sheet for EVERY family unit?!?!”

Breath.

The worst thing you can do is get too far ahead of yourself. Focus on one family member at a time, one family unit at a time. As I said before with the Pedigree Charts, it’s all about breaking the process down into steps.

TIP: Don’t move on to the next person or family unit until you feel you have found all you can on the one you are currently working on.

Finally, keep in mind-these worksheets are here to help. They help give you direction, they help you form a more complete picture of your family and they help you organize.

So, embrace them-don’t hate them!!

Until next week… if you haven’t already-read my blog on Pedigree Charts, familiarize yourself with them as well as the Family Group Sheet and start bugging your family if you haven’t already!

Have fun and good luck!

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Pedigree Charts: How Do I Get Started?

Q: “I’d like to learn more about my family but I don’t know how to get started…”

This is probably one of the most common things I hear people say when I encourage them to look into their family history. My first suggestion is to not think too far ahead-start with the absolute basics.

To begin-let’s have a look at a Pedigree Chart. A pedigree chart is what comes to the mind of most people when they hear, “family tree” or “genealogy”. It’s the tree like chart that shows the people you directly descend from.

Due to lack of space, most printed versions don’t typically show a whole lot for siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. Once you start using genealogy programs to build your tree-there is more space and flexibility to show other descendants of your ancestors.

Below is a great example of a basic Pedigree Chart

Free Pedigree Chart - free family tree - Teach Me Genealogy3So, where do you get started? You start with the person you know best…

YOU.

Looking at the pedigree chart above, you are the base of your tree (far left box). Like any other family member or ancestor, your story matters. Take a second to fill out your full name, date and place of birth, date and place of marriage and the name of your spouse (if you are married). If you are filling this out-you are obviously still alive and kicking so we can skip date and place of death for now.

Besides being a sobering reminder of our mortality, there is another reason/need for the date and place of death in the first box. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Next you move on to your parents.

There are two ways of doing this… you can fill it in yourself (if you know your parents birth, marriage and death information) OR (if your parents are living) you could call, email or visit them and ask them for help filling in their boxes.

Now move on to your grandparents.

If you are lucky enough to have your grandparents-VISIT them and ask them for help! If they have passed, ask your parents for help filling in their parent’s information. If your parents have passed-reach out to your siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins for help. You’d be surprised by how much information other family members might remember. They may even have documents on hand that will provide you with information you’re looking for.

With any luck, as you reach out beyond your immediate family, you may find another family member who is also researching the family. It’s like hitting the genealogy jackpot when this happens. You could end up with a ton of new information with one phone call, email or visit… again I suggest visit.

You are going to continue to work your way as far back as you can go with the help of your family. As you do this, you are going to see holes of missing information. Take note of the missing information-the next step will be learning what documents are needed and where to go in hopes of obtaining the information.

What If I Have The Names Of My 2nd Great Grandparents?

If you find yourself lucky enough to go back further than your great grandparents and have run out of room on the pedigree chart-no need to worry! Here’s where the spaces for information on death come in handy for the first box…

On a new pedigree chart, you will fill in the base of the tree (the far left box) with the information of one of your great grandparents. So, the last generation on your first pedigree chart becomes the first generation or “base” on the next. You will have one new pedigree chart for each great grandparent (total of 8) filling in the names of their parents, grandparents, etc. as you discover the information. Run out of room again? Repeat-last generation becomes base.

“…genealogy is so overwhelming…”

It really doesn’t have to be. Like anything else, it’s all about breaking the entire process down into smaller steps.

Step One- Start With The Basics.

  • Reach out to your family for help with the pedigree chart
  • Fill the sheets out in pencil (information can change)
  • Worry about chasing records after (lovingly) interrogating your family
  • Keep yourself organized

I always suggest that newbies start on paper before jumping to the technology that’s available. The sheets that I introduce you to will help you understand the basics and give you an idea of what you should be looking for. Once you get a feel for the process, you can use the sheets to input the information into a genealogy program.

Next week, I’ll introduce you to another worksheet that will help you gather and organize more information about your family, beyond what can fit on the pedigree chart. Until then-get a feel for the pedigree chart and if you have any questions don’t be shy! Leave them below in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Have fun and good luck!!

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What’s in a Name: Full Names, Nicknames & Initials

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Searching for our ancestors can be just as frustrating as it is rewarding, especially when you hit a dead end. There are times you will be fortunate enough to have the name of your ancestor and still have no luck finding their documents.

How can this be?

Below is a list of things to consider when researching that stubborn ancestor.


Full names: When interviewing family members about your ancestors, be sure to ask them for first, middle and last names. Also, be sure to ask if the spelling is correct to the best of their knowledge.

Example: William Percy Leslie (first, middle, last)

When you surpass your family’s memory, you will find yourself facing the challenge of learning the names of unknown ancestors through documents. In this case, it is just as important to do your best to find the full name of your ancestor.

Why is my ancestor’s full name so important?

If your ancestor has a common name, it isn’t uncommon to find several people with the same first and last name living within the same time period, in the same area. Having the middle name-even just the middle initial-will help narrow your search and provide you with more concrete findings.


 Middle Names: Let’s say you are researching your ancestor, William Percy Leslie and you are getting nowhere searching for him by his full name. Try searching for him under his middle and last name only OR by his middle name first, then his first and last.

Example: Percy Leslie or Percy William Leslie

Why search for my ancestor under their middle name?

Funny enough, our ancestors weren’t very formal when it came to record taking. It isn’t uncommon to find ancestors going by their middle name instead of their first name-even in official documents. This is especially common in census records. You may even find your ancestor frequently interchanges between both first and middle name from record to record.

Why would my ancestor go by their middle name?

Many times I have seen this in cases where sons are named after their fathers or daughters are named after their mothers. So, instead of having two William Leslies in a household, the son would be called by his middle name, Percy. In other cases-it may be as simple as your ancestor William just preferred his middle name over his first.


Initials: Lets say you have tried searching for William Percy Leslie, William Leslie, Percy Leslie or Percy William Leslie and you are still not having any luck. Try searching for William by his initials.

Example: W.P. Leslie or W. Leslie or P. Leslie or P.W. Leslie

Why would I search for my ancestor by their initials?

Searching by initials can be helpful since many times, that is all that is used in records. This is especially true on census records and can be common on military records. Try all four variations in the example above when searching and you just might find your ancestor hiding in a document after all!


Nicknames: No luck with full name, middle names or initials? Try searching for your ancestor by their nickname.

Example: Bill Leslie or Bill Percy Leslie

Why search for a nickname?

Just like middle names and initials, it wasn’t uncommon for our ancestors to go by nicknames in official documents.

What if I don’t know of a nickname being used?

Look at your ancestor’s name. Give it your best logical guess or guesses and search. Can’t hurt to try!


Abbreviations: Yes, there are more options to search! Many times I have found my ancestors names abbreviated on documents (census, military, death certificates, etc.)

Example: Wm. Leslie or Wm. Percy Leslie

What names are commonly abbreviated?

You would be surprised by how many names have abbreviations beyond nicknames. Some of the most common ones I have come across are Jno. (John), Jas. (James), Chas. (Charles), Marg. (Margaret), Sar. (Sarah) and Thos. (Thomas).


 Spelling Variations: Since this doesn’t really work with the name William as an example… let’s use my name. My first name is Kristin. Let’s say I was your ancestor and you tried looking for me using all the options listed above and still you found nothing. You could then try searching for variations of my name.

Example: Kristin, Kristen, Kristyn, Christin, etc.

Why should I search for spelling variations?

As an example, your ancestor wouldn’t have filled out a census record. So, it is possible the enumerator may have used a different spelling variation when recording your ancestor’s information. They would have gone with a spelling variation they were most familiar with, which may not have been the one your ancestor used.


Name Spelt Phonetically: Let’s say your ancestor has a name that isn’t common. How might you spell their name phonetically?

Why is this important?

In many cases there are documents that your ancestors did not fill out themselves. In this case, the person responsible for filling out the record may have spelt your ancestor’s name by sound. This is a common problem when it comes to foreign or unique names and can pose quite a challenge when it comes to searching for documents.

Consider all phonetic variations and try searching. It may seem like a needle in a haystack but sometimes the extra effort pays off.


Transcriber Error: Still having trouble finding your ancestor? Sometimes you will find transcribers have misread the documents they are adding to internet databases.

Many transcribers do not get paid for their time-they are amazing people who work hard to get documents online. However, they are also human and at times make mistakes. It could be as simple as a typo or they have misread the document.

Old cursive documents can be near impossible to read. Think about it, sometimes E’s look like I’s or vise versa, U’s can look like N’s or vise versa and so on. Look at your ancestor’s name. What letters may have been misread by the transcriber? Pull those letters out, add the possible replacements and see if anything comes up.


 

Name Changes: Be sure to ask your family about any known name changes, especially concerning last names. When it comes to researching an ancestor be ready to search for them under both names.

Example: Let’s take a look at my great grandfather, Abramo Biajo Donato Cautilli. When he came to the states with his family, the spelling of his last name got changed to Cantelli. Possibly a record taker error-who knows.

From there, Abramo hated that people in the U.S. called him Abraham. For his confirmation, he took on the name Biajo so he could call himself Joe. From then on, the man born as Abramo Cautilli became Joseph Cantelli.

In order to find all of Joseph’s documents I had to search every name possibility-full name, middle name, initials, nicknames, abbreviations, spelling variations, phonetic variations, name changes and possible transcriber errors.


 

Although the list of search options above may sound like quite the task to take on, having the patience to search each possibility can really pay off. Be patient and focus on one ancestor at a time!

Happy Hunting!

 

If you have found the suggestions above to be helpful in your own search or you have any search suggestions you like to add to the list, please comment below!

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Genealogy: What’s the Point?

Usually when I mention my genealogy addiction what I get in return from others is sincere interest. They wish they knew how to get started, they ask me for advice on how to get started or the genealogy bug has also bitten them and we trade stories.

Every now and then though, I’ll meet someone with zero interest. I mean… zero. Not only do they not have any interest, they don’t see the point or why it’s important.

“Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

This is usually when I try to keep my head from exploding. What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with you? One word…

Everything.

If you are one of these people-I ask you to bear with me and hear me out. If you are someone who’s interested in researching your family-let me give you another reason to be interested. And for those of you who already get it… let me give you a reason to smile today (because you’ll get where I am going).

So, let’s get started….

I’m going to have you use your imagination for a second… don’t fight it! Just roll with me here… Let’s say your 10th great grandfather’s name is Noah Washburn and just for fun… let’s pretend this is him…

dennis hughes

Again… obviously the photo isn’t that old-nor is the guy in the picture named Noah Washburn (pretending).

Back to your handsome, 10th great grandfather, Noah Washburn…

Let’s think about Noah’s life for a second. Like our lives, there would have been everyday things that happened in his life that would have been out of his control. Things he would have needed to overcome or survive. Such as…

  • Natural Disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild fires, mudslides, hurricanes, bitterly cold winters, floods, avalanches, droughts, and the list goes on.
  • Epidemics: Influenza, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, the Black Death, etc.
  • Famines: The Great Famine, Bengal Famine, Chalisa Famine, etc. (wrong time periods but you get the point)
  • War: Millions to choose from…
  • Work Related Accidents: shipwrecks, mining accidents, hunting accidents, shepherd trampled by a heard of stampeding sheep…

…Just making sure you’re still awake.

The point is-there would have been a TON of things Noah would have had to survive long enough to have his children. If he did not survive the above, your behind wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in your computer chair, sofa, etc. reading this blog.

You would never have existed.

Now let’s take it a step further. Think about all the decisions we make on a daily basis that change the course of our lives. Sometimes they are big choices-Will I pick up and move to another state? Will I quit my job and start my own business? Other times the choices you make seem small and not worth remembering. However, in the grand scheme of things, those little choices can lead to major changes in our life. Will I stay in tonight or will I go to my friend’s party where I will meet my future husband?

So let’s look back at Noah for a second.

  • Maybe he decided to take on a job other than the one he chose?
  • Maybe instead of working on the family farm he decided to join the military?
  • Maybe he decided to move to another town, village or country instead of staying put?
  • Maybe he decided to marry another woman before getting the chance to meet your 10th great grandmother?
  • Maybe he did marry your 10th great grandmother but instead of them having 5 kids they decided to have 3…and your 9th great grandfather would have been their 4th child?

The point being-if Noah made any choices differently (major ones or little ones that added up to major change) it could have put his life on a completely different path which may have ended with you never existing.

 

Now lets take this even further…

You have two parents…

2 Parents

Four grand parents…

4 Grandparents

Eight great grandparents…

8 Great Grandparents

Sixteen 2nd great grand parents…

16 2nd Great Grandparents

And 32 3rd great grand parents…

32 3rd Great Grandparents

Stopping there for now, that’s a total of 62 people you directly descend from.

62 People

Had any one of those 62 people not survived the uncontrollable or made decisions other than the ones they made-any ONE of them… You would not exist. And let’s not forget-the same is true about the hundreds of thousands of others I didn’t have the space to represent in restroom symbol people.

So, for those who insist on asking, “Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

One word…

Everything.

 

Are you one of the guilty people who found genealogy to be pointless and have a change of heart? Are you a newbie and hadn’t thought of the above? Been at it awhile and have something to add?! Don’t be shy-comment below! I love to hear from you guys.