Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Finding Ancestors: The Ultimate Scavenger Hunt

Wikimedia Commons
Genealogy is like a long version of a scavenger hunt. You get some clues and you have to figure out what they mean to get to the treasure. Maybe you have an oral history passed down, a document you found at an archive, perhaps a photo without your ancestors labelled. And your next goal is to find out more about your ancestor and then you hit a brick wall. No records found in the location you expect. If your ancestors are like mine, they pick up and can move quite far away.

Let's look at my great grandfather, Thomas James Corcoran. He grew up in Dillonstown, County Louth and was then sent off to America at the age of 26 to meet a cousin. The rest of his family stayed behind in Ireland.  You can read up more about why he left here. He never came back to Ireland so the record trail would run cold if I only continued to research him in Ireland. My 3rd great uncle Peter Dougherty also left for America. He was born in Ireland but went with his family as a young boy to Prince Edward Island, Canada and then ultimately came to America to homestead.

I then think of our current generation where it seems like nobody really lives in the same place for long. From my personal experience, I grew up on Long Island, NY until I was 18. Then lived in central, NY at college and then back to Long Island for two more years following graduation. I then went back to central NY to live in Syracuse for the next 10 years. I'm now about to make another big move and go to Boston, MA. I wonder sometimes if anyone researching me years after I pass if they'll be able to trace my migration pattern. They would need to understand where I went to school and look at the FAN club to see that I had college friends in Syracuse, NY area (maybe one day Facebook will be archived and give some clues to who we associated with). Then I wonder what they think when they're looking for me in 2018 and I'm not in NY. I'm probably not listed in any city directory or phone book. And who would think that I would make a jump to Boston from central NY?  I don't have any close family there.

Let's throw another wrinkle into this equation. I lived in Onondaga County, NY but my marriage actually took place in Madison County, NY in a small town called Canastota. We found a wedding venue there and there was no restrictions on where we got married in NY. My marriage certificate is actually filed at city hall in Dewitt, NY (in Onondaga County in a neighboring town near where I lived).

To leave a lasting legacy we need to leave some kind of paper trail. Type up the family history and include yourself before you donate it (or leave it set up for donation after you pass) to go to a historical society. Blog about your experiences while you're still here on this Earth and share the history. Oral history is such a valuable resource and the stories passed down capture more details than most manuscripts. There are people who knew your ancestors. Record their memories and say their names to keep them alive. Leave those bread crumbs so your story can be found.

What does your scavenger hunt look like for your descendants?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Making History in Michigan

This past weekend I had the honor to be selected as a presenter for the Michigan In Perspective: Local History Conference in Sterling Heights, Michigan. I'm just starting to lecture and was happy for the opportunity to talk about genealogy. My topic was "Back to the Future: Using New Technologies in Research". I discussed social media, blogging, and mobile applications and how to apply that to your family history research. I shared some stories from my family including great grandfather Thomas Corcoran (who I previously blogged about - see my earlier post). The audience loved the story I shared about my great grandfather's first love. I felt that my talk made an impact - one couple came up to me and said they visited a cemetery after my talk! And they used the Find a Grave app that I discussed!

This conference was very different than genealogy conferences I've been to. First, there are no major companies like Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, etc. in attendance. The vendors were local to Michigan, specifically in the Detroit area. I did spot the Dearborn Genealogical Society booth and talked with a few staff members. I left with a few fact sheets and maps that will be very helpful. I also stopped by the DigMichNews booth. They asked for a shout out in my presentation and I gladly gave them a plug while discussing OldNewsUSA mobile app. Other vendors included several book publishers, some military museums with artifacts on display, and other museums and non-profits native to Michigan. Another main difference was the scope of speakers. I was the only genealogist (at least as listed on the program). Most presenters were authors or ran museums.

There was such a variety of talks though. One gentleman, Joe Grimm, wrote a book called Coney Detroit where he talked about the history of the Coney franchise. Everyone left so hungry and I thought that I wasn't going to have time to get a Coney. I met a lovely couple at the bar one evening and we bonded over the course of the conference. They took me for my first Coney before I took off heading back home. Other talks focused on Detroit history. It was nice to be around others that had a strong fascination for history - there were even women dressed up as suffragettes for their talk. One presentation was a true bonding experience. We all shared (quickly) what we did and what we're working on and started networking. What a great idea and something I hope to see at other conferences!

I encourage my genealogy readers to check out a local history conference to see what's out there. There's lots of gems out there and you may make a new friend along the way.