First off, I am behind in the goal of blogging about one ancestor a week for 52 weeks. I love the idea of the challenge that was presented by Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. And although I still plan to complete each of her weekly prompts, I may just have to end up doing them in clusters of two or three prompts at once.
Week 2 - Favorite Picture
Although I have dozens of family photos that I love, this one has always been one of my very favorites. It was taken in 1906, in Durbin , West Virginia. The young woman in the bonnet is my paternal great-grandmother, Effie (Harold) Troutman. The daughter of George Markwood Harold and Ida Mae (Teter) Harold, Effie was born 8 April 1888 in Indiana. Effie’s father, George worked in the logging business and moved between Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Western Maryland running logging camps in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It was in one of those logging camps that Effie met logger Thomas Edgar Troutman. In 1908 Effie and Thomas were married. They eventually settled in Allegany County, Maryland where, after the logging trade began to fizzle out, Thomas went to work in one of the many tin rolling mills that were located in Cumberland. They raised three daughters who were born in 1910, 1913 and 1919. I was seven years old when Effie (I called her “Grandma T”) passed away in 1974. Although I have limited memories of her I have a page from a family bible where she wrote down the names, birthdates, marriage information and death dates of ancestors, the pair of gloves she wore to church, a poem and note she wrote and enclosed in the bible she gave to my father as a gift when he graduated high school and the dress she crocheted for my baptism.
Week 3 - Longevity
Maria “Mary” Magdalena (Duchmann/Toothman) Martz is my maternal 4th great-grandmother. Although her exact age at her date of death is a matter of some debate, it goes without saying that she is definitely the longest lived member of the family tree I have constructed so far in my research. According to newspaper articles published just after her death, she was either 101, 102, or 103 years old. Using census records from the years 1850 - 1870 I’ve come up with about the same age range at her date of death, somewhere between 100 and 103 years old. Regardless of whether she was 100 or 103, it was a very long life. Born about 1772, Mary married Jacob Martz, a farmer, about 1799. Mary and Jacob had 10 children between 1799 and 1817. During her lifetime her father joined the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and her grandsons fought in the Civil War. It must have been amazing to witness the many changes that took place in the region she grew up and lived in during her lifetime.
Genealogist Amy Johnson-Crow has created a challenge for family historians, genealogists and anyone who has been compliling information on their ancestors and relatives. Anyone who is researching family history knows how easy it is to get bogged down with notes on scraps of paper, some of our research on internet database websites, some in binders on loose leaf paper, newspaper clippings, copies of pages of family bibles, etc... The idea behind 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is to encourage us to get that information we've been gathering, collecting (hoarding?) into a format that can be easily understood and shared. Every week for a year, those of us participating will share our research on one ancestor, (direct, collateral or just a person of interest) by posting to our blogs, on social media or even in email form to family and friends. There is no set criteria. We are encouraged to write a report, a brief biography, inform our readers about a photo or newspaper clipping, anything to get our research out there, in a form others can appreciate. Amy will provide us with a "prompt" every week to get us inspired. The first week our prompt is "Start". So for me, "Start" means re-start my blog which has been languishing for over a year. So stay tuned and watch for updates!
The Privilege of Perspective - How a Family History Questionnaire Can Enhance Your View of Your Ancestors
Recently I asked three of my oldest relatives to answer a list of questions in an effort to gain more information about the family history I’ve been compiling for the last ten years. It was a long list and after reading through the answers one Aunt provided, I feel that I have gained a valuable perspective for continuing my work.
There are many different “Family History Questionnaire’s” available online that are downloadable and printable. When I was looking for one to use, I took bits and pieces of several different lists of questions and compiled my own, so that the questionnaire was geared more toward what I already knew about my family’s history.
A general outline for a Family History Questionnaire might include several basic sections: General Information, Growing Up, Family, Home Life and Occupation are common. But within those sections I urge you to add questions that are less documentable. For example, in the General Information portion, “How was your name chosen?”, “What were your parents like?”, “Who is the oldest family member you personally knew? Tell me about that person.” In Growing Up, “Describe your childhood house in detail.”, “What is your favorite holiday memory?” “Did you attend family reunions? If so, who would attend?”. These types of questions allow the participant to expand on the basics and to give us a view of family life as they experienced it, without the blinders we often create for ourselves with paper trails and documentation. The answers to these questions allow us the privilege of perspective from someone who was there. We can gain new insights about the ancestors we never met, but our living relatives knew very well.
I never met my Great Grandfather. What I knew of him was limited mostly to documentation in vital records and a photo of him that scared the bejeebers out of me for years when I was growing up. He just looked so stern!
Interestingly, my favorite take away after reading through my Aunt’s questionnaire was this:
Question: Who is the oldest family member you personally knew? Tell me what you remember about them/what you learned from them.
Answer: “Grandfather Thomas Hare - He died when I was 9 years old. I spent a lot of time with him - “helping” him in his gardens. He had a friend ‘Uncle Billy’ (a black man) they played their violins together - my Grandfather taught me that some people have different colored eyes, some people have different colored skin - we are all equal. Live with compassion for others and strive in life to do what makes you happy.”
Great Grandfather doesn’t seem scary to me at all anymore.
When a lack of vital records and other documented proof of our ancestors' lives leads us to dead ends (or brick walls, the term commonly used in genealogy) an easy search in an online archive of newspapers could help fill the gaps.
Our ancestors used the newspapers the way we use phones, televison, and social media. In fact, the "personals" section of a 120 year old paper reads much the way our modern day Facebook newsfeed does. If someone was visiting family from out of town, if someone was sick in the hospital, if someone was celebrating a milestone birthday it was often listed in the personal ads of the local newspaper.
The newspaper was the primary way businesses were advertised. If you believe that your ancestor owned or operated a business, an ad for the establishment in newspaper archives may verify the information.
According to family stories, two of my great-great grandfathers (on different sides of my family tree) owned and operated bars. Using newspaper archives I was able to find ads for both of their businesses that I would not have found otherwise.
A good place to start, and the archive I have had the best luck with is Newspapers.com.
Over the years I’ve accumulated a large amount of family ephemera. Generations pass on and after the choice belongings of the deceased are divvied up what remains is often several boxes of snapshots, newspaper clippings, letters, scraps of paper scribbled with notes, lists and sometimes the thoughts of our ancestors. Although I’m sure that in the moment it might be tempting to pitch it all in the trash and be done with it, especially when the photos are of people we can’t identify and some of the letters or notes were written by people we never heard of, I am certainly glad that my mom did not feel that way.
My great Aunt Carrie was my grandmother’s sister. She married Bill and they had one son, Alston, who never married. Aunt Carrie outlived both Uncle Bill and Alston. When Aunt Carrie passed away, my mother, who was very close to her, kept all the scraps and bits that had belonged to Aunt Carrie. When my mother died, I inherited all of it and my grandmother’s stuff, AND my parents stuff too.
Because of these boxes of things, I have been able to piece a couple family mysteries together. A "family tree" scribbled on a napkin years ago gave me the names of two of my great-grandfather's siblings that I had not been able to locate previously. Snapshots have enabled me to trace the origin of pieces of furniture that I am now the owner of and knew nothing more than they were my mother’s and somehow she'd inherited them.
Taking the time to sort through the boxes of miscellaneous bits and scraps can lead you to new discoveries when researching your family history.