If our ancestors were only men then genealogy would be a piece of cake. We would stroll through mounds of documents stuffed with luscious details of wills filled with names of descendants: court records, land grants, military pensions bursting with mouth watering descriptions of where, whom, what and when. The books would open and our past would be as transparent as glass.
But women--out mothers and grandmothers--have been as much of our history as our grandfathers, causing kinks, frustrations and sometimes shutdowns of our ancestral search. Although our grandmothers are as critical--sometimes more so--to our history, the veil over their legal rights and identity cast great difficulty in searching their history. At times, searching for records of a female ancestor feels like tracking an undercover agent for the government.
And an undercover agent may just be easier to find.
My files are filled with wills of grandfathers. Women rarely had wills and the first born son, not the wife, received the biggest payout in land. Our immigrant female ancestors never filed for naturalization. They became a citizen if their husband did--or not.
Our female ancestor's surnames changed when they married and remarried--which occurred often as husbands died early from wars and hard labor. Tracking a great great grandmother during a lifetime of 2-3 marriages can be arduous for a family historian.
Women rarely owned land or worked outside the home until the mid 20th century. Our grandmother's identity was neatly wrapped inside her husband's, often sealing it so tight she can not be found.
But as the men purchased land, signed legal documents, joined the work force; the women raised the children. They nurtured them, educated them and built them into the next generation, that in turn, created the next generation, that eventually became us.
Our grandmothers were the silent, undocumented ancestors that made us who we are. And as much as we struggle to discover them, let us not forget their importance in not only our genealogical history but in our present history.
Mother's Day is a perfect time to renew efforts at searching for our female ancestors. It is not easy and certainly not a piece of cake. But our grandmother's contributions in our history--who we are today--is so worth the effort.
Keep searching for answers,
Memoirs and biographies are the most current genres for the literary world. Stories of a person's life can captivate a reader as their history unfolds with intrigue, suspense and devastation. More and more people are feeling compelled to pen their life's story. I appreciate the core drive to write and read a memoir. It is, or can be, cathartic for both the writer and the reader.
But is the genealogy of the person, their ancestor's story and history, really that important to the life you are reading about? Can the struggles and accomplishments of the subject's great grandfather have any point or purpose to the life you are studying?
Recently completing the biography of Julia Child, Dearie by Bob Spitz, I was faced with these questions. As the story of Julia begins, the author describes the trials and triumphs of Julia's ancestor's rise to wealth; a grandfather who created a family fortune from panning gold in California, leading to vast land and banking acquisitions.
A story of a man two generations removed from Julia; a man that many would consider of little influence or importance to Julia herself.
And to be honest, I found myself yawning as I meandered through the genealogical history of Julia Child. I felt the author could have given more 'ump', more 'wow', as he described the family history of a woman full of perseverance, strength and independence.
A woman that was so groundbreaking and revolutionary that her French cookbook for American housewives and her live cooking shows were the springboard to today's Food Network and 'foodie' craze.
Perseverance, strength, independence, and revolutionary: words that could describe not only Julia Child, but her ancestors and the grandfather who built her family fortune.
So yes, Julia Child's genealogy is quite relevant to understanding her life and who she became. Gaining a deeper perspective of who came before her gives the reader a more meaningful understanding of Julia herself.
Our lives are not held within a vacuum. We are who we are because of who came before us. Even if they never touched us, they are still apart of whom we have become.
Write your family history, your genealogy, in your memoir so your future generations will understand what made you who you are and who you will be.
But please, when you write your ancestor's story, give the reader a little 'ump' and 'wow.'
Keep searching for answers,
While enjoying the Academy Awards last week, it occurred to me that three of the Best Picture nominees involved movies of historical non-fiction. Lincoln, Argo
and Zero Dark Thirty
provide stories of both military and non-military histories that have made profound impacts on our country. And though we all know the outcomes of each story, revisiting history often can be just what we need.As family historians and genealogist we recognize the importance of looking backwards. It is when history is ignored that the nastiest wounds of our past fester, only to reopen with a renewed fierceness. Evil is difficult to comprehend and over time, in our desire to make reason out of the unreasonable, we spin the past into a lesser, more acceptable
story.And unfortunately, the spinning often swirls in the recounting of the Civil War.It is shocking to grasp that we live in a country that less than two centuries ago freely allowed the ownership of other humans. An era in which American citizens had the right to auction, mortgage, trade, beat, chain and kill other humans simple for their benefit and satisfaction. And an entire grouping of American states and their citizens felt so strongly in maintaining this right, they were willing to die for it.There was nothing romantic about the ownership of slaves. No, slaves did not love their "masters" and yes, they were undeniably beaten and mistreated. And as hard as it is for all of us to believe, the Civil War was only about one single proclamation: Slavery.I found the subject matter in the movie Lincoln as fresh and current as any other. It reminds us that we are only an inch away from the worst part of our history and if forgotten, our decisions of our present and future will be skewed to the less desirable.Because if we forget, the worst of our past will most certainly rise again.To gain a deeper understanding of the human impact of slavery, read the reprint of letters of slavery survivors on North American Slave Narratives.Keep searching for answers,Cheryl
My current read is a lovely book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
, by Lisa See. It is a story of a woman's life in 19th century China: the retelling of her memories from childhood through her elder years. I have found the book both charming and fascinating as my eyes have been opened to Chinese customs of marriage and friendship: a culture so distinctively different than my own.Marriages in China, at least during the time period of the book, were prearranged at an early age. Love and romance had little relevance in a world that devalued women and whose worth rested solely on their ability to bear sons. Completely subservient to their husbands, Chinese women formed sisterhoods or "sworn sisters" and "old sames" that provided the emotional support they craved from loveless marriages.
Yet, as years passed, bonds between wives and husbands sometimes bloomed into deeper, more romantic love.Romance, courtship and the dance between men and women called marriage are deeply ingrained within our cultures. From medieval times when courting rituals evolved into chivalry to the Victorian Era of elaborate formalities, pre-marriage customs have shifted, changed and adapted through the centuries.Each of our ancestors brought courtship customs from the old country and though different than Chinese customs, our pioneer ancestors often married for utilitarian reasons: finding a strong, young and hardy wife to bear children to help with the farm. But as with many of the Chinese couples, our ancestor's marriages most certainly grew into mutual love.The month of February is a perfect time to delve deeper into the marriage bond of our ancestors. Exploring their story by looking at how they must have met. If you examine census records closely, you will often find families living as neighbors before your ancestors married. Location, cultural similarities and church affiliation were the springboards to binding couples in marriage--much different than today's society.And here is something fun to explore: examine the date of your ancestor's marriages. Can you find any who married during the month of February? Valentine's Day was a popular holiday for weddings. If you land such a discovery the narrative can be a sweet addition to your ancestral tree.Use the opportunity of this Valentine's Day
to explore the customs of love and marriage of your ancestors and look for clues of their romance. It will give you a deeper understanding of their bonds for each other and a valuable tool to pen their story.Keep searching for answers,Cheryl(Source: About.com/genealogy)
Holidays are perfect for catching the season's best movies and with intense anticipation, I rushed to view the movie adaptation of Les Miserables. As hoped, the movie is spell-bounding. And with the musical on screen, it provides the viewer an opportunity to gain a deeper perspective of the events surrounding the French Revolution.Revolutionary France coincided slightly with the American Revolution and history reveals that America could not have won her revolt against England without France's partnership.But unlike America whose independence spurred the formation of a democratic government soon after victory; the French people suffered decades of tumultuous reigns of power. King Louis and Marie Antoinette lost their heads by 1793 but the French people did not see democracy until the mid to late 1800's.The country rode turbulent waters of oppressive monarchies and overpowering militaries as tens of thousands of revolutionaries lost their lives during various skirmishes until the mid 1800's. Which is the point of subject of Les Miserables: a people's uprising after the death of their leader in June of 1832.As a family historian, I find the history of the French Revolution intriguing. Although I still search the identity of my French ancestor's parents, it is apparent they likely immigrated to America in the early 1800's. Their reasons for immigration are left to my imagination but with an America free from British hold, my French ancestors must have felt pulled to the promises offered, certainly not unlike the majority of immigrants then and now.As genealogists uncover more details of their ancestral puzzles, their family history is revealed. But we will never know all the details. Our ancestor's autobiographies will always remain
incomplete. It is only with our imaginations guided by historical facts of our ancestor's times can we fantasize their complete story. And though never absolute, a family historian can only provide a good recount of their ancestry if it is told within the framework of their environment. ***Do you search for your French ancestor's? Take a look at my Links to French Records page for opportunities to explore.My plans for this blog during the New Year is to offer a quality story on the first Sunday of each month. If you, the reader, would like an opportunity to be a guest writer then you can email your well written, 500 word or less story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your publication must be genealogy in nature and I will review it for relevancy to this website.Keep searching for answers,Cheryl(Source: The Daily Beast)
Owning and managing a grocery store is not a job, it is a life. Your days and nights are consumed with choosing the best produce, quality meats, the freshest breads. Hiring and maintaining a well-skilled butcher is challenging; your competitors constantly seek out and steal away the best of the best.
But none of the daily grinds of buying, selling and managing contend with the nail-biting spying of pickpockets; especially the well-dressed, tea-sipping kind.
Hazel had, should we say, a slip-of-the-hand habit. Though financially comfortable in life, she loved a bargain, especially the ones for free. And for some odd reason, Hazel found many good deals as she grocery shopped at Old Mr. Smith's neighborhood store. Of course she never imagined her stashing and swiping as stealing. She just assumed if the items looked interesting then they begged to be sampled and surprisingly, her big purse held a lot of samples.
Catching hot-handed bandits in grocery stores involved a keen eye by store owners in mid-twentieth century. It was an era before cameras and computerized laser eyes buried inside doorways. The Mr. Smiths of the small town grocery stores had to stay one step a head of the high-heeled larcenists, even if that meant hiding behind stacks of Coca Cola bottles in order to spy the thieves. And Hazel's little habit kept Mr. Smith sneaking and hiding and spying for years.
So what does a small town grocer do with such thievery? Call Barney Fife and have high-heeled Hazel hauled to jail?
No. The mid-twentieth century grocer patiently kept a running tab of Hazel's extra loot, occasionally passed to her son for payment. A silent agreement made and delivered in a time in America when Andy Griffiths were sheriffs and local families owned grocery stores and Hazels were allowed to play out their eccentricities. A time of small town innocence; an era that died with black and white televisions, soda jerks and Aunt Bea.
New Years bring hope and renewal but our family history keeps us anchored. Holidays bring families together providing an opportunity for sharing and reminiscing of family stories, which is how I learned of my Aunt Hazel's secret grocery tab. So secret, even she didn't know about it!
I have peeled into my family history during the last year and made remarkable discoveries. I took lineages deeper and realized a couple of my own research mistakes. And I have learned more stories of the ancestors of my childhood. It has been a good year for genealogists and I expect even greater possibilities for the years to come.
Like everything else, blogs mature, change and evolve and I expect this blog to change during the next year. With this mind, I have decided to open my blog to visitors while publishing my own stories monthly. If you would like to write about a new genealogical website you stumbled across or a research tip that helped you uncover an ancestor or perhaps you would like to write your own family story, then send me an email at: Cheryl@searchingforgrandfathers.com. Attach your well-written, 500 word or less story to the body of the email and if it is appropriate for this blog, then you may see your story in print.
Have a wonderful New Year and keep searching for answers,
As we come together to celebrate Christmas this week, many of us assume we are experiencing a holiday steeped in centuries of well-grounded tradition. Yet, few understand that Christmas as we know it is a relatively new phenomenon. Our present-day festivities have evolved for hundreds of years and though Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ, centuries ago it was a pagan holiday.The Winter Solstice was celebrated by early Europeans before Christ was born. The end of the year was when the cattle were slaughtered, the wine and beer was fully fermented and people celebrated with lavish feast. Pagan gods were honored and it was at times a carnival atmosphere.Early Christianity eventually replaced the pagan festivities by naming Christmas 25th as Christ's birth yet as the Christian holiday evolved, the Puritans viewed Christmas as evil and decadent leading to the cancellation of Christmas in the 1600's.The Pilgrims followed the beliefs of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell. As English separatists, the Pilgrims denounced Christmas and Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston in the mid 1600's.The celebration of Christmas ebbed and flowed for centuries and it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that it truly settled in to the holiday that it is today.And so you ask, what does this have to do with genealogy? It is important to understand our customs and family traditions and learn where they came from. Our Christmas holiday looks nothing like the holiday our ancestors celebrated; yet I suspect there are fragments of family traditions plucked from past generations. And the holiday you experience today will look quite different than what your future descendents will experience a hundred years from now.It is important to occasionally stop to see where our customs came from. This knowledge will provide a greater appreciation for our present. And by learning how our ancestors celebrated Christmas, we can gain insight on how our present customs stem from our ancestor's traditions.We are constantly evolving. That is what makes genealogy so powerful. It is truly an avenue for self-awareness.Have a wonderful holiday and keep searching for answers,Cheryl(Source: History.com)
We are on the cusp of a genealogical awakening. I sense it. As intrigue into our ancestral history churns and bubbles, the demand for opening dusty vaults have driven the truth forward and the result is jaw-dropping.Throughout this last year I have received sprinkles of exciting news on the horizon for those searching their Irish ancestry. The country of Ireland senses the interest of their Diaspora and in turn, understands the significance this awareness brings to their country. As a result, the Irish Government has began digitizing their records and making them free and downloadable on their website.The National Archives of Ireland launched a new genealogy website in November with the 1901 and 1911 census fully searchable. Also, all Tithe Applotment books from 1823-1837 are searchable as are Soldier's Wills, 1914-1917. But the real beauty of the website is that the actual records are digitized and printable.No typed indexes, just real...actual...records...for free.The ability to search through the genuine records, not indexes, provides a wealth of information to a genealogist. Studying your ancestor's handwriting and examining the names of his neighbors or the villages he lived next to can be of tremendous value to a family historian. It involves looking at the whole picture and gathering additional hints that can lead to more discoveries.Indexes flirt with us but leave us wanting for more. The digitized records satisfy our hunger and sometimes lead us to a more intriguing story.And the best part is this is only the beginning. The National Archives of Ireland is committed to digitizing the Calender of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1922; Nineteenth century census survivals, 1821-51
; Valuation Office House and Field Books, 1848-60 and the Census Search Forms for the 1841 and 1851 censuses. An unfolding of valuable ancestral records precious to family historians on the hunt for their Irish ancestors.The New Year is ripe for the unveiling of ancestral records from Ireland and I, for one, cannot wait to experience it.As the Grinch said: "I feel all warm and
tingly inside."Keep searching for answers,Cheryl
As we approached the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I found my thoughts drift toward a book I read a year ago; a gripping real-life tale that continues to hold my thoughts captive.The book, "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand, is the true story of a man faced with unimaginable tests of survival, will and inner strength. A story so extraordinary it seems to surpass reality, yet as hard as it is to believe, the tale is real.
It was the spring of 1943 and world was at war. The young athletic Lieutenant, Louis Zamperini, joined his crew on an Army Air Force bomber off the Pacific coast but the airmen never returned to their base. They disappeared into the ocean, leaving only debris, gasoline and blood.
Weeks, months and years of unthinkable struggle for survival on a life raft and ultimately, as a prisoner of war, play out on the pages of the book as Louis is faced with disease, torture and near death. Yet his faith in life and spirit is never broken. This extraordinary man faced struggles most of us could never bare, yet he survived with gripping force.
As I read the story of Louis Zamperini I sometimes found myself personalizing his story, thinking of my own father and his days on the Army Air Force base in Chauboy, India. Though my father never faced the struggles of Louis, I felt myself drift into the scenes, bringing a sense of reality and understanding of the circumstances my father endured.
You see, we are the generation of descendents of World War 2 veterans that are left floating in wonder. My father, like many others, never discussed his experiences of the war. They were men of steal, locking away their memories of wartime and like my father, their memories imprisoned them until death. Louis Zamperini's story gave me an answer to a question I have asked all my life: "What was the war like, dad?"
If your father or grandfather fought in World War 2, you have most likely asked that same question but like many of us, your question has never been answered. And so you search, looking for remnants of anything that will connect a piece to your endless puzzle.
You do not have to be a member of a fee-based website to locate information on your father or grandfather's World War 2 enlistment records. The National Archives has made all WW2 Draft Records available for free on-line. Records of Prisoners of War; Duty locations for Naval Intelligence Personnel and Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files are also downloadable--easily searchable by your ancestor's name.
For many of us, we will never gain the complete narrative of our father's wartime experience but as family historians we can use our research skills to dig through their records in hopes of weaving together their tale.
So we don't have to float in wonder of our father's story.
Keep searching for answers,
I am at the receiving end of various genealogical blogs and though I appreciate other writer's tidbits and counsel for research, I tend to be drawn to those with story. And a recent post from Macleans.ca
reveals a moving story of the generosity of a French couple in Normandy.The Berthelots live in the tiny Normandy village of Larre, about 100 km south of Juno Beach where Monsieur Berthelot is the mayor. On July 16, 1944, a Canadian bomber was shot down and crashed in Larre. All six of the airmen were killed.In 2001, the Berthelots began a journey that has touched the lives of many of the airmen's families: they have scoured the cemeteries and war memorials of Normandy and connected Canadian families to the gravesites of their soldiers.
This giving couple spends their days seeking any remnants they can find--photographs, tombstone inscriptions, even pieces of twisted metal wreckage of the planes--and at times, personally delivers the treasures to the families in Canada.The families are gobsmacked. The Berthelots response? "Their soldiers gave us our liberty, so we have to honor and remember them."The story of their generosity has spread like fire to other Canadian families longing to grasp information on their boys. And so, the Berthelots continue their quest, seeking to connect Canadian families to their soldier's undiscovered graves in France.I felt drawn to the story of the Berthelots. It sheds a soft light on what genealogy should be about: remembrance and connections to past souls.Ironically, I received the story in my email inbox just as I arrived home from my own little connection to an ancestor's grave. I ventured a couple hundred miles to seek out the tombstone of my great-great grandfather. The little tombstone of my ancestor sits sweetly along a sloping hill, his Civil War Union Company proudly engraved above his name. I am certain the grave has rarely been visited, long forgotten by lost generations.As I brushed the moss from the engraving, a yellow butterfly perched along the side
ot the stone appearing fearless and still. I wondered if my ancestor felt my presence; a brief connection to a ghost I never knew but now feel connected to.I pause to feel humbled by the Berthelots in Normandy as I am reminded of the real purpose of searching for grandfathers and grandmothers: the personal touch, the remembrances, the connections.That's what this is all about.Keep searching for answers,Cheryl