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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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The Great Hunger: Making America Home

Irish Boston
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The South Shire Inn in Bennington, Vermont

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South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be booked at the South Shire Inn following an event in Bennington, Vermont. Having checked out the inn’s website weeks before my stay, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my grandmother along for a bit of a girl’s weekend.

Designed by William C. Bull, this beautiful 1887 Victorian inn was originally owned by Louis A. Graves. Located at 124 Elm St. in Bennington, Vermont, the home was beautifully renovated and lovingly looked after by it’s current owners and caretakers.

3a. Lobby

Entryway at the South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Walking through the front door into the lobby, I honestly fell in love. From the wooden dutch door, oval windows, wall paper, window seats, antique furniture and reception desk my grandmother and I felt like we stepped back in time.

While we stood in the lobby admiring the over all charm of the place we were greeted by the owner.

As she introduced herself, I could tell she was a bit thrown off by the fact there were two of us checking into the Peach Room. She was only expecting me…

3. Lobby

South Shire Inn Reception Desk: Photo by Kris Williams

This was my mistake.

When the event manager put me up in this location, I never told him I was bringing my grandmother. However, when I was sent the booking confirmation it stated it was booked for two guests-which is pretty standard in most accommodations even if there is only one guest checking in.

Having stayed in so many hotels, I hadn’t thought much of letting the inn or the event manager know I would be bringing a guest with me. I just figured it would be fine, forgetting the fact inn’s are a bit different than an impersonal hotel with 50 rooms.

Inns tend to be more one on one with their guests, more personable and tend to include breakfast.

Rather than get cranky about the fact I slipped up, the owner was very sweet. She simply stated, “Oh, there are two of you! …the bed is kind of small…” and then went on to apologize about the stairs.

While the staircase is absolutely beautiful, I will say if you have a hard time climbing stairs it would be smart to book a room on the first floor. While grandma did get up and down them OK… being 91, a room on the first floor would have been a smarter option.

Again-mistake on my part!

Now for the room…

1. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Excuse our bags and random soda bottle… eventually I will learn to take photos of a location BEFORE we get settled…such a newbie…

Regardless… as you can see, the room was warm, comfortable and decorated for the time period. My grandmother and I spent a good amount of time admiring the ornate details in the wood and metal work on both the bed and bedside tables.

Once you have a look at the wall paper in the room, it’s pretty obvious why the room is called the Peach Room. The color wasn’t overwhelming at all though… the light carpet, white curtains, ceiling and trim balanced the color well giving the room a clean, crisp, bright and cozy feel.

1a. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bed… while it was small in size (full), my grandmother and I fit on it just fine. The mattress wasn’t bad, firm but comfortable. I tend to like mattresses that are like pillows (even though my back hates them) but it really is a matter of preference.

Overall, neither of us had any complaints.

Besides… the antique bed came with a pretty cool roommate…

1c. Bedroom

Phooooone Hoooommme at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

While I laid in bed resting from our 2.5 hour drive to Vermont, Grandma setup in a comfy upholstered armchair reading the guestbook to me. I was just about to doze off when I heard her say…

“Hey! …It’s that go home alien!!”

That’s right-stay in the Peach Room at the South Shire Inn and you too can bunk with E.T.!

2. Bathroom

Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

2a. BathroomIMG_2328

Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bathroom was large, bright and clean with plenty of storage and closet space. Looking at the bathroom’s layout, it was obvious that it was once a small bedroom converted into a bathroom.

There was one detail in the bathroom that had my grandmother and I laughing… check out the window near the toilet and the white wicker bench. Notice it is literally floor level?

From what the Inn owner told me, this was a typical feature of Queen Anne style homes. Windows were placed where they looked good on the outside of the home… but that didn’t always mean their placement in the house made sense.

It definitely added a bit of character to the room… however, keep in mind-this room is on the second floor. If the window shade is up, you have an amazing view down of the parking lot… from the toilet.

Which also means… for any unlucky guest who just happens to look up from the parking lot-there you are in all your glory sitting on your peach room throne!

While slightly hilarious, closing the shade is a good idea.

4. Dinningroom

Breakfast Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

One of the things that was repeated over and over again in the guestbook was the “delicious” breakfast, so of course grandma and I couldn’t leave without giving it a go!

We made our way down for breakfast about a half hour before it ended which was nice because the room wasn’t loud or crowded. In fact, we were just getting seated as everyone else was leaving.

Looking around the room we were again in awe of the old workmanship… you just don’t see detail like it anymore. The decorative, cream colored walls, 10 foot ceilings, wooden floor, colorful carpet and linens… and again the antique furniture…

“This definitely wasn’t a Williams’ house…” Grandma said joking, noting that not everyone lived in homes like this in the 1880’s.

That’s when the owner mentioned the home was owned by a family of bankers. While the main part of the house was built in 1887, an addition was added in the early 1900’s by the same family which included the breakfast room and the equally impressive library.

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Library at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

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Sherry and a good book by the fire at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The breakfast you ask?

It was as delicious as all the previous guests had stated in the guestbook.

Breakfast started with a fruit plate of melon and strawberries along with buttermilk poppy seed coffee cake and your choice of coffee or juice. The poppy coffee cake was ridiculously good… and luckily it didn’t keep me from passing my work related drug test three days later.

Next up was a broccoli, cheddar quiche with sausage and a choice of toast.

We had zero complaints with breakfast-left full and happy!

1b. Bedroom

Peach Room Guest Book at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Overall, the owners of the South Shire Inn were helpful, friendly and accommodating. The Peach Room was spacious, beautifully decorated, comfortable and included a large bathroom. The guestbook didn’t lie-breakfast was delicious and the inn’s location was central to a lot of Bennington’s attractions and sites (many of which were in walking distance).

In my opinion, the South Shire Inn provides an enjoyable step back into the past with all the modern conveniences. It’s a great place to book if you are looking for a romantic getaway or a girls weekend in southern Vermont!

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The Mystery of Alice McCurdy

Alice McCurdy-Death Record

Anyone who has spent years researching their family history will tell you to be prepared for hidden surprises. The lives of our ancestors were just as complicated back then as our lives are today. I think most of us tend to forget they were living breathing people until we start uncovering their lives through the paper trail they left behind. Even after 20 years of research, uncovering my family’s secrets, I must admit that one of my ancestors left me speechless and feeling a little lost last night.

My 2nd great grandmother Alice McCurdy had been a bit of a mystery to me for many years. I knew she existed, she appeared on my great grandfather’s death certificate and I was able to find a marriage certificate for her and my 2nd great grandfather, Melville Williams. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that some new documents emerged, which helped fill in some missing pieces to her story.

About a week ago I had stumbled upon her death certificate online. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with that discovery since she had been a difficult one to track. From the death certificate I learned she was only 34 when she passed away… the same age I am now. To make matters worse, she left behind a husband and three young children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Henry Williams.

I had figured she had died young over the years since she didn’t appear in the 1900 census living with her husband, children and parents, Henry Martin McCrudy and Frances Abby Hinds. Given the situation, I figured her parents must have moved in to help Melville with the children. It wasn’t until I got this missing puzzle piece (Alice’s death record) that I was able to learn she died of “Phthisis”, commonly known as Tuberculosis or “consumption”.

As most of us know today tuberculosis was a horrible infectious disease. Many people died from it since it was easily spread by air through the coughs and sneezes of an affected person. Tuberculosis victims would end up weak and gaunt, coughing up blood while suffering from night sweats and extreme weight loss. In many cases, those who were kind enough to care for infected victims ended up coming down with the disease themselves. This was the case for my great grandfather, Percy Leslie’s 16-year-old sister who came down with it after caring for an elderly neighbor who suffered from it.

Learning that this was how my 2nd great grandmother died, I felt horrible. What a terrible thing for the family to witness and for Alice, what a horrible end. At the same time, I felt so fortunate that the disease did not spread to the rest of the family. Had it spread, I would not be here today. Learning her cause of death also made me think back on the many TB hospitals I have visited over the years and the awful stories that came out of them. Did Alice end up in one of these hospitals? That is now on my list of things to research next.

Just as I was finally getting over this new bit of news surrounding Alice’s death, researching her father Henry Martin McCurdy let me in on another family secret.

A few weeks ago I decided to go back through my family tree as an attempt to fill in missing information and just to clean it up. I began writing outlines for each family member, double checking all the details and making more of a story out of the information I had gathered. After finishing up on Alice, I moved on to her father last night. Going through Henry’s information I saw that he married Frances Abby Hinds on January 6, 1864 in Boston, Massachusetts. Skipping ahead to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census I found Henry (age 31) and Frances (age 30) living in Pittston, Maine. Recording all the information I could gather on Henry, I then moved on to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where I noticed… something just doesn’t add up.

In the 1880 census my 2nd great grandmother Alice makes her first appearance, however I realized that it said she was 13 years old. “Well, this can’t be right…” I thought. If she was 13 in the 1880 census, she should have appeared in the 1870 census with her parents. Knowing that an age being off on a census isn’t that uncommon, I figured I would take a closer look… and there it was…

Alice+McCurdy

Alice was adopted. Just like that, in a matter of seconds everything I thought I knew about my McCurdy branch was wrong. Two little letters left me with a million questions and a sick feeling in my stomach.

Who is Alice? Where did she come from and who were her birth parents? Why did they give her up? The only time I have dealt with adoption in my family the child was adopted by another family member… could this be the case with Alice? Then at least part of the tree I had for her would still be correct. However this all made me wonder, how many ancestors do we have hiding in our trees that were adopted and we have no idea? Entire sections of our tree would be wrong when it comes to tracing bloodlines. If it weren’t for me deciding to clean up my tree and this one document pointing out the adoption, I would have never known.

While I am now left feeling blindsided and facing a new roadblock with Alice, I can’t help but also feel very appreciative towards Henry Martin McCrudy and Francis Abby Hinds. They not only took in my second great grandmother, they took in her children after she passed away. As I said, the 1900 census showed Henry and Frances living in the house of Alice’s husband but the 1910 census showed the kids still living with Frances (who was then widowed) with their father no where to be found.

Last night I learned that it doesn’t matter how long you have been into genealogy or how much you think you know about your family, there is always room to be surprised.

 

 

Have you dealt with adoption in your family tree? Any advice on breaking through the dead end? Are you currently battling that road block? Keep an eye out for updates on Alice’s story as I attempt to find the names of Alice’s birth parents.

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

Family1

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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Australia: Driving On the Left

Taken by the Captain, December 2011

In Australia Driving on The Left, Taken by @CaptnWing_n_it, December 2011

Having spent a lot of time in Australia, I’d say the biggest challenge I have faced has been getting around my fear of driving.

Here in the United States, I love driving. It has always given me a sense of freedom and a chance to escape. Long stressful day at work? Disagreement with a friend, family member or your other half? Feeling stir crazy? The answer for me was always to jump in my car, blast some music and go for a cruise.

Although I had been to other countries before that drove on the left, I really didn’t do much driving in them. If I did, I was part of a five-vehicle convoy and all I had to do is be sure to not lose the cars in front of me and follow their lead.

Easy enough.

Australia is different. Its not a quick stop for work, it has become my second home. The Captain goes to work and when he does, I am on my own. Luckily he lives in walking distance to a ton of shops, restaurants and hiking trails. Beyond that, he had given me a bike for Christmas one year so I have used that to get down to Lake Burley Griffin and the surrounding museums.

After avoiding the challenge at all costs, the Captain insisted on my last trip that it was time for me to learn.

Working as a pilot, he can be away for days at a time, which left me at the apartment alone with no transportation while his car sat at work OR he’d take a cab to leave me with a perfectly good car, sitting in a parking garage that I refused to use. It was silly. I really couldn’t argue with him… don’t tell him I said it… but he was right.

It was time.

For someone who loves driving, what were my reasons for avoiding it in Australia?

  1. I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the road, leading me to harm someone else, harm myself or damage his car. Sure, he had me on his insurance… but still.
  2. I wanted more driving time with him in the car to get used to the rules of the road as well as getting used to driving around Canberra.
  3. I was extremely worried about driving once I returned home, for the same reasons listed above in number one.

My third reason may sound a bit strange. However, I have found driving at home (on the right) can be dangerous following a trip that had you driving on the left. Why is that?

Think about it… Let’s say you go to Australia and you spend a week or two driving on the left when you are used to driving on the right. You are aware of the danger so you are overly cautious while driving. You are overly aware. You are constantly making sure you aren’t making any silly slip-ups that could have you on the wrong side of the road. After a few days, you become more comfortable and by the end of the trip driving on the left isn’t much of a worry.

Then you return home.

You’re now at home, where you are comfortable driving on the right. You know what you’re doing, at least you think you do. For those reasons, you don’t think so hard about it. You don’t worry. You’re not as aware as you were overseas and before you know it you’re driving down the left side of the road because that’s what you just spent the week plus doing.

It may sound silly, however there were several times I almost got hit just crossing the street once I returned home because I looked the wrong way first before crossing. This is a pretty common mistake that I have heard other travelers make upon returning from a trip.

Funny enough, the streets in Canberra have markers spray painted on the streets for morons like me-letting you know which way to look before crossing. Doesn’t do me much good once I return to New Hampshire (weekend spray painting project perhaps?).

How difficult is it to drive on the left?

Let’s start with the car.

  • You climb into the driver’s seat…on the right side of the car. Odd.
  • You go to use your blinker but instead turn on the windshield wipers. You go to turn on your windshield wipers and your blinker comes on. Yes…all those controls are in reverse too (in most cars).
  • You go to switch gears and surprise… if you use your right hand you’re just grabbing your door. You shift with your left.
  • Break and gas pedals are the same as home.

Doesn’t sound all that difficult?

Now add the above to driving on the left side of the street…

Tight left turns, loose right turns.

Going around “roundabouts” (rotaries) the opposite way (around clockwise rather than counter clockwise).

Add to the confusion (at times) by getting directions by a local. Example…

Captain: Go through the roundabout and take a right…

Me: Ummm… so, stay on the rotary?

Captain: No, take a right…

Me: Take a right where? The only right I can take is to continue around… I like the view and all but I don’t care to stay on the rotary all day…

That’s when he explained that in Australia you don’t see 4 way intersections like you do in the United States. Four-way intersections in Australia are turned into rotaries… So when he said, “go through the rotary and take a right” he meant “go through the rotary and take the 3rd exit” OR “take a right at the four way stop”. In most cases driving with a local is HUGELY helpful but be prepare for moments of confusion-even if you speak the same language.

Speed cameras everywhere that will “book you” (ticket you) for barely going over.

Sometimes there are signs warning you that speed cameras are coming up ahead-other times there are no warnings. Usually they are placed on a pole at the side of the road or at an intersection. Other speed cameras are sneaky… they have speed cameras that are placed in cars that are parked on the edge of the road. You drive by speeding thinking you’re just passing a broken down car but surprise… Your ass has just been booked!

Add street signs to the mix that you have never seen before…

One thing to be aware of is that in most places in Australia you cannot make a U-turn. It depends on the state but most states don’t allow it. However… if they DO allow it at a particular intersection, there will be a sign saying you can. I found this confusing since back home you can make U-turns at just about any intersection as long as there isn’t a sign saying you can’t. Again, it’s the opposite from home. Same with turns on a red… back home you can turn on a red unless there’s a sign saying you cant. In Australia you cant unless there’s a sign saying you can.

Seat Belts are mandatory-no ifs, ands or buts.

Sobriety Check Points…

In the states, an officer my lawfully stop you if you give them reason to (probable cause). You can then be subjected to a breathalyzer test if they believe you are under the influence. This is not the case in Australia. Everyone gets stopped at a Sobriety Check Point and EVERY driver is required to take the breathalyzer. There is no argument for probable cause-if you drive, you are subject to taking one. This is one of those times where you leave the “being an American” attitude at home because you are not in the U.S. Their country, their rules. Lesson being-Australia has zero tolerance for stupid.

The passing (or “overtaking”) lane on a double lane highway is located on the right.

At home the left is a pass only, in Australia the right is a pass only.

Finally add the lines on the street being different from home.

In the U.S. we have yellow lines that break up the two oncoming sides of traffic …in Australia it’s not like that. There are white lines everywhere, so I always have to be extra cautious since it makes me feel like I’m on a one-way street-when I am not. The only time I have seen yellow lines is to mark places not to park, stop, etc.

Best piece of advice for driving on the correct side of the road?

Regardless of whether you are in Australia driving on the left or the United States… the driver sits closest to the center line of the road. If you can remember that, it makes staying on the correct side of the street much easier (especially when it comes to making turns at an intersection).

Overall, it isn’t impossible. Be aware and be careful. If you have a GPS or map app that obviously takes away the stress of getting lost, then you can focus on safety. It took me only a few days to feel comfortable with driving on the left but I do want to stress the importance of being cautious when you return home.

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Night In The Berkshires: The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

After a big lunch at the Freight Yard Pub, my grandmother and I waddled into The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa to check into our room.

This was the second time I was booked at Porches for work and the main reason I asked my grandmother to join me on the trip. I knew she would love and enjoy the inn as much as I had.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Located in North Adams, Massachusetts, The Porches Inn was once a dilapidated block of Victorian row houses used by local mill workers.

Inspired by MASS MoCa (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), each building was beautifully renovated; structurally keeping its Victorian charm while gaining an updated and edgy twist through the use of color and decor.

Connected by long verandas, each building was assigned it’s own exterior color. These colors give the inn a playful look from the street while giving you small taste of what’s in store just inside it’s doors.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Walking up to the front desk, I pointed a table out to my grandmother that held a plate of fresh baked cookies. As I was busy checking us in, I looked over to have a peek at my grandmother, who grabbed two cookies… then after a look around, grabbed two more.

Note to Porches: When the Williams’ are in town, hide your baked goods.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Grabbing our bags we made our way down to the gray colored building and entered using our security key.

One of the many fun features of the inn are the hallways.

Even though you are inside the building you get the feeling you are still outside on a porch. Looking up from the first floor you will find porches that run along the second floor rooms, which can be accessed by a staircase in the hall. Along the walls of the hallway you will find windows. These windows give guests the ability to look out from their rooms into the hall.

For those worried about hallway peeking toms, all the rooms have blinds so there’s no need to worry!

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Using our key (real, metal key-not a cheap plastic card) we entered our “Deluxe Standard” room.

It was beautiful.

Grandma and I wheeled our bags in and tucked them away in the closet. She had a seat in a chair by the window with a magazine while I sank into the giant king sized bed. We both sat chatting, poking fresh baked cookies into our faces while groaning over our full burger bellies from lunch.

It was pretty funny.

Starting with the key, our room had a few details that we really got a kick out of… a second was this giant window in the wall that separated the bathroom and the bedroom. Lucky the glass was frosted so there were no scary views but it didn’t keep us from being silly about it.

The third detail my grandmother noticed. While hanging out in the room, she spotted a painting on the wall that had hinges on one side of the frame. Having a look, she pulled at the opposite side of the frame to find a safe hidden behind it.

What can I say, they were cute features and we are easily amused.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

The first time I stayed at Porches, I was placed in a one bedroom suite that looked a lot like the photos above… it was awesome.

There was a sitting room that included a sofa, chair, television and desk to work at. The bedroom was huge and the bed was beyond comfortable… to the point work was lucky I remembered to show up!

As an added surprise, the bathroom was a lot larger than I expected. Being a female with all the extra crap I drag around, it was nice to have a decent amount of counter space and… a large tub.

Heaven.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Getting all nerdy on you for a second… While working away at the desk, I really enjoyed looking out at the old mill.

It made me wonder, what was day to day life like working in the mill? And what about the workers that lived in these buildings? Especially in the room I was occupying…

There is something to be said about older buildings… so much more interesting to stay in an inn over some chain, lackluster hotel.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

For breakfast, Porches provides it’s guests with two choices.

You can either get your lazy butt out of bed to enjoy a buffet in their cozy breakfast area OR you can have breakfast delivered to your room in retro, metal lunchboxes.

Super cute…

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Before heading out to the Norman Rockwell Museum, my grandmother and I choose to start our day in the breakfast area. Breakfast consisted of a variety of juices, coffee, breads for toast, cheese, fruits, cereals and hard-boiled eggs.

Overall, I love The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa for it’s artsy feel without the artsy attitude. The rooms were clean, comfortable, cozy and full of character. The staff was helpful and friendly.

My one and only complaint?

Having to check out.

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Australia: Scratching The Surface

Otway Lightstation, Australia

View From The Cape Otway Lightstation, Cape Otway, Victoria, Australia-Dec 2011.

If you were to look at countries as part of a family unit, Australia feels like a long lost cousin. There are many similarities between the United States and Australia while there are many things that make us very different.

As an American, what have I noticed about the country and people from my many visits?

Independent: Australians have a deep sense of pride in their country and are fiercely independent. Although they still have strong traditional ties to England-they are very much their own people and Australia is very much it’s own country.

Population: Although Australia just about matches the U.S. in landmass, it has a fraction of our population. As of 2013, Australia had a population of 23 million people… while the United States had a population of 316 million people. In Australia, the majority of that population lives on the coast since much of the interior is desert and considered uninhabitable.

The Good ‘ol Days: One of the many things I have noticed and loved about Australia is that it feels as though it is a generation “off” or “behind”. As strange as this might sound, it is meant in the most positive way possible. Many of the stories my Australian boyfriend tells me about his childhood sound a lot like the stories my parents told me about theirs. Many of the stories the his parents tell me about their childhood, sound a lot like my grandparent’s. Things seem off by a generation but in all the best ways. Things aren’t so rush, rush, rush-go, go, go like it is here in the United States. As a country, they still seem to have their innocence, trust and sense of humor intact.

Innocence: Although Australia did see some action at home during WWII they haven’t experienced an all out terrorist attack like 911. The country, for the most part, is welcoming and feels at ease, which is a nice change of pace. This is something you will notice right away when you experience the differences in airport regulations and security between Australia and the U.S flying domestically.

In Australia, you can still bring water through the security checkpoints, you don’t have to remove your shoes and your loved ones can accompany you to the gate to see you off. One of my least favorite parts is leaving but I must admit I am always glad to have my guy there with me as I sob like a little girl, stomp my feet and protest the flight home.

Sydeny Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia

This isn’t to say Australia hasn’t experienced any tragedy. On my last trip, I watched on as the Sydney Siege played out. I really felt for the country. It felt very much like watching the Boston Marathon Bombing unfold… the country was blindsided and beside it’s self.

The other tragedy that is mentioned most frequently is the Port Arthur Massacre, which was the cause of Australia’s strict gun ban.

Sense of Humor: On a lighter note! I love Australia for the fact it hasn’t been beaten to death with political correctness. Although they do strive to treat people fairly, they haven’t lost their sense of humor and they sure as hell aren’t afraid to use it. Evidence of this can be seen from TV to street signs. Many of the Australians I have met have a sense of humor that is very much like a New Englander’s… be prepared for sarcasm.

Humorous Street Signs, Australia

One of Many Humorous Australian Street Signs.

Language: Although Australians speak English… you may find yourself getting lost in their frequent and colorful use of slang. I cannot tell you how many funny and embarrassing misunderstandings my guy and I have had with each other even though we speak the same language (supposedly). I will share some of those stories with you guys in the future!

Of all the countries I have visited so far, I would say if you are an American looking to travel overseas, Australia is a great place to start. From the people, traditions, colorful slang, vegetation, wildlife, cities and beaches it’s different enough to be exciting and new. However, there are just enough similarities to put you at ease with international travel, which will help build your confidence before tackling a more challenging destination.