What do you think of when the subject of cemeteries is mentioned? Do you think about a place of peace and calm where the dead are remembered and honored? Or do you think of cemeteries as creepy, spooky places? One of my young friends holds her breath as we drive past cemeteries so that nothing “gets” her! Whatever your reaction to cemeteries, they are very helpful for genealogists.
I remember, as a novice family history research, the thrill of finding a record that told me more about my family and immediately adding the information to my family history. Back then, my family tree was on paper and only available to those with whom I personally chose to share it. As I have gained experience, I have learned to gather as many records as possible before adding information to my now online family tree which is view-able to a much larger audience.
Since the sequencing of the human genome was completed, scientists and others have explored what this new tool could be used for. Since DNA changes slightly with successive generations, DNA analysis can determine where your ancestors likely lived. That’s genetic genealogy. When the genealogical community started talking about using DNA to further genealogy research, I decided not to bother. I could see the potential value to someone who was adopted and had no information about their biological family but that wasn’t me.
The featured image in this article is my Grandpa Sam. Samuel Harmon Black was born in northern California in 1895 and died in central California in 1981. He married Mary Snively in 1920 and they had two children. The younger of their two children was my mother. I inherited this photo of Grandpa Sam in his naval uniform. Unfortunately by the time I wondered about the details of his military service, there was no one in the family left alive to ask. I searched on FamilySearch.org and found him in the United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 records collection.
Emily felt warm and comfortable sitting near the hearth while the fire popped and danced. She felt so fortunate to be spending this evening in the humble but lovingly decorated cottage that her great-grandfather Hugh had built. In one corner of the room was a fir tree that had been cut from the nearby forest and was now decorated with starched crocheted lace snowflakes and strings of popcorn and cranberries. She could see her great-grandmother Eleanor making careful preparations for the meal they would share later in the day. Emily was disappointed that she had been shooed out of the kitchen but grateful for her present seat that provided the opportunity to hear the family stories that were being shared. Great-grandpa Hugh shared how he had tracked and killed the bear whose skin now provided the rug at their feet. His brother was quick to point out that Hugh hadn’t killed the bear without help and the two of them were quickly engaged in a light-hearted debate about who had really killed the bear. Great-grandma Eleanor interrupted their lively conversation with the announcement that it was time to eat.
It’s almost Thanksgiving Day and my thoughts turn to the story of the first Thanksgiving in America. It’s a story of a group of immigrants gathering to express gratitude to God and to the Native Americans for the help received in settling in a new land. For a genealogist, sooner or later the topic of immigration comes up because unless your ancestors were among those Native Americans who welcomed the Pilgrims, you have immigrant ancestors. In my own family history, my father’s parents were both born in Ireland while my mother’s ancestors came much earlier. For genealogists, making “the jump across the Pond” or in other words, finding when and from where their ancestors immigrated can be a challenge and sometimes even a frustration. The goal in tracing the immigration of your ancestor is to discover exactly where in the birth country your ancestor was born so that you know where to look for more records. There are a number of resources available to help you in your search and I will share some of them in this article.