Family Stories Should be Written Down!

When you hear a family story told, remember to write it down.

Family stories are very important for many reasons.

It keeps family history alive.

Most people were illiterate in the distant past. There were no cell phones, cameras, computers or even paper to record family histories so they were shared orally. In Scotland there were men called Bards who would write songs and poems about families and people from their clans or even their enemies. Elders were respected and told stories of what they experienced. In some clans or tribes, there were designated people who were called upon to tell these stories at special gatherings.

It connects us to our ancestors and we feel a “part” of something bigger.

Without family stories, we wouldn’t feel we were a part of a larger family group. I loved hearing about my parents when they were younger and stories about THEIR parents. Their stories make my ancestors “real” to me. These are people I never met but know so well now.

It makes us realize that we have some incredible ancestors- good or bad.

Some were famous. Some came from noble families. Some were agricultural labourers who never had enough to eat or a secure roof over their head.

Some of the ancestors I’ve researched were incredible in a bad way. Some were bigamists, some left their families completely and some were just plain nasty. The stories about my great great grandfather were passed down from his son, to my grandmother, to my mother and now to me. He was a very mean man. He had a very large family but ran the household like he was a king and they were his slaves. The stories of him and the things he did were not pleasant but they made him real to me. His son and all his descendants told these stories because it was awful and they wanted people to know how they were raised. All of them became very loving doting parents themselves and I think his parenting made them who THEY became.

When I was old enough to understand about the second World War, I realized just how brave and strong my parents and grandparents were. How resilient EVERYONE was- they had to be. The stories were horrifying and yet made me realize that our ancestors were amazingly courageous. Their trauma made them who they were. Their “stories” became part of “my” story. Without them having gone through the war and everything that that entailed, I would not be here in this great country.

When my mother told me the story of how her father was taken away one afternoon by the German soldiers  it broke my heart. She was 6. Her mother told her to run back home as fast as she could and get a cloth full of as much food as she could and bring it back for him. My mother remembers running so fast and then arriving back into the village and all the men were gone. She didn’t see her father for 3 years until he escaped from the labour camp he was in. She felt that somehow, she hadn’t run fast enough, and it was her fault that he was taken away. This story, along with many, many more she’s told me, make me so sad but makes her life a part of history. She LIVED it. She was THERE. I would have a very distant “book” taught idea of what the war was like if it were not for her and her stories. Her parents had gone through two World Wars and a Depression and they had even more stories to tell.

TALK TO YOUR ELDERS. ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR LIVES. WRITE THEIR STORIES DOWN OR RECORD THEM AND SHARE THEM TOO! ONCE THEY ARE GONE, THEIR STORIES ARE GONE TOO.

 

 

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Mom and Sis off to Italy tonight!

So jealous, but happy for them too.

Every year my sister and I, or my sister and I and my mother, travel back to Italy to visit relatives. My mother is 81 and her older sister is 83. This year I couldn’t make it and I’m a little bit upset about it.

Their flight leaves in a few hours. By the time I wake up tomorrow they will be sitting in my aunt’s living room recovering from jet lag and catching up.

Last year was my mother’s 80th. To surprise her, her sister, and 6 other people from Italy came here. It was a huge secret and VERY hard to keep. We knew about it for months. They arrived here May 30th and my mother’s birthday was June 9th. They wanted to get here a little earlier so that they wouldn’t be tired for the actual party.

We had our relatives stay with us for 5 weeks. Between my sister and I we split them up and took them around to all the usual sightseeing places around Toronto. One of their “must do” visits was to Algonquin park to see beavers, and moose! They saw moose but were so overcome by mosquitoes that they cut the trip a bit short. Bad timing to go to Algonquin but they had a blast anyway. They canoed at our cottage, went to the McMichael Art Museum to see the Group of Seven paintings, saw a Blue Jay game, went to the Medieval Feast and ate with their hands while watching jousting and laid by our pool. Overall it was a fantastic time.

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My cousins trying their hand at canoeing for the first time!

 

 

 

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My cousin seeing a moose for the first time.

 

 

I made a video of the surprise of my mother when they came to visit. It was so hard to get her to come to our front door as she always goes through our garage but I came up with a white lie about seeing my new flowers in our front urns. She fell for it!  She was under the impression her sister didn’t care about her birthday as she hadn’t mentioned it at all….and that was all part of the plan!  It was a horrible, miserably cold rainy day and I was just glad that her party was not scheduled for that day.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boy was she surprised! I was worried she’d have a heart attack. Three years earlier, we surprised her sister in Italy by doing the same thing. We flew over and hid out for 3 days and showed up at her party. How lucky that these 2 sisters who were separated in 1957 when my mother emigrated to Canada, can still spend wonderful times together so many years later. They led very different lives but their bond is so beautiful. I feel this same bond with my own sister.

Here is the video. A lot of Italian speaking going on but the emotion of it is unmistakable. This was a great memory for everyone. My aunt is saying to my mother that she did it to her and now it was her turn to surprise her.
Here’s hoping this trip tonight brings some more wonderful memories for my sister, my mother and my aunt. I just wish I could be there.

 

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I never tire of this!

I’m a genealogical nerd in a big way!

How do you explain the fact that I get up, grab a coffee and start researching the minute I wake up- even when I’m not working with a client! I just research….constantly.

When I’m lucky enough to have a job to work on, it’s like someone gave me a great Christmas present and I get to open it every day and find something new. It’s hard to explain the joy I get from research.

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Some genealogists only want to blog, or lecture, or teach. Others write articles or work in archives or libraries. I was surprised to find out that some genealogists will NOT do private client work. It’s just not their thing. They love genealogy but in a different way than me, which is fine. We all contribute to this great profession in different ways. If it wasn’t for the genealogical bloggers, I would not have starting blogging! If not for the lecturers, I would not know a lot of things that I need to know.

I’ve been told that to be successful as a genealogist you have to find your “niche”. I haven’t found that yet. All I know is that I LOVE TO RESEARCH. I’m like a dog with a bone. I dig and dig and dig until I find what I’m looking for.

It’s not unusual for me to be researching late at night, early in the morning and most weekends. This is not a job for me. It’s a passion.

I’ve just finished working with a client who had me do 3 particular people in her tree that she had spent years trying to track down but couldn’t.

What a blast this was! She’s of French Canadian descent and I managed to find all 3 of these individuals. One was (what she thought) Jean Auldjo. Turns out his name was John Allgeo and he was married twice and had about 13 children but only 2 survived. He fought in the War of 1812.

The second person was a woman who she said was called Julie Beaunoyer. Turns out this woman was Marie Angelique Menard!?? It’s too long a story to tell you how she went from that name to the other, but let’s just say that whoever kept the records in the mid 1800s either was barely literate themselves, or hard of hearing….hahaha. Her name was entered at least 12 different ways with every record.

Finally, John Allgeo’s father David. He was from Long Island and moved to Quebec City in 1760. He not only held several positions in Quebec City, he was a lieutenant and commander of a British sloop during the American’s Seige of Quebec and was captured and inprisoned for 2 years! He was brought back to Boston where he remained until he returned in 1778. His life was fascinating.

Reading all the old records make me kind of fall into a trance-like state that transport me to that actual time and I’m that person or living that person’s life. I’m time travelling through the research, and EVERY SINGLE TIME, I learn something new. It’s not a job for me, it’s fun.

If there are any new genealogists out there, may you have as much fun as I have and enjoy this great career doing whatever you love, whether it be blogging, writing, teaching or doing research.

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The movie that broke my heart…

Just watched the movie Brooklyn.

I’m first generation Canadian. My father emigrated from Italy in 1951 at the age of 17 all by himself. That, in itself, amazes me. My mother emigrated, from Italy, at 21 years old in 1957. He was on that same ship that my mother was on after visiting his family for the first time in 6 years!

While he was in Canada, he had worked in lumber camps in Manitoba and Ontario. He’d lived in a boarding house and worked for pennies an hour. My mother’s first job was .60/hour working in a sock factory. This was a job she got because she already (at 21) had 7 years experience working in a silk making factory in Italy.

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Mom and Dad circa 1958

 

 

I just watched the movie called Brooklyn. It’s about an Irish girl who emigrates to Brooklyn and how difficult it was for her. She was excited about starting a new life in a new world but devastated at leaving her sister and mother at home. The scenes of her waving goodbye on the ship nearly tore me apart! I imagined my mother or father doing the same thing. I can still hear my father telling me about the time his mother slapped him because he told her he was leaving. He was her only son.

I have a 16 year old son and a 20 year old son. Not in a million years can I imagine them getting on board a ship and leaving us, to go to – say Japan- and not seeing us for 6 years! Life was so different then. There were no cell phones, Skype, TV, nothing. They wrote letters.

This young woman lost her sister while she was in Brooklyn. Her whole life changed and yet she yearned for her old home. It wasn’t until she went back to visit her mother that she realized that she left for a reason. Even though she found some happiness back at home, she knew deep in her heart that her life was now in America. She had left to make a better life for herself and she had.

My parents did the same thing. Not without heartbreak. Not without hardship and pain. Millions of immigrants from all over the world for hundreds of years have passed through this same hardship and pain to make a better life for themselves and their children.

I thank my parents for doing this. I honour their bravery, their courage and strength to keep going, even when things were so lonely and tough.

I didn’t think I’d be so affected by a movie but I was. It really hit home for the first time in my life what my parents went through. I had heard the stories, and I’d even written about them. I just hadn’t experience the pain and sorrow (through some great acting) that they felt.

If you have a chance, and you want to learn what it was like for these immigrants in the 50s, watch the movie. It was an eye opener.

 

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A-Z Challenge Surnames Z

ZILTCH, ZERO, ZIP….NO Z SURNAMES

I’m sure I’m not the only one during this challenge that has no Z surnames. I must confess I do have one- but it’s a person who married into our family in the 1600s in Italy and I have ziltch, zero, zip information on this person so I guess it’s pointless to talk about them.

I was wracking my brain yesterday trying to think of what I should talk about as this is also my last post for this challenge. I decided to talk about ZEAL.

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My father, 2nd row from bottom, 2nd left of priest. 1940, Italy

 

It’s important to have at least some kind of zeal for the work that you do, no matter what it is. To me, genealogy is not work. It’s an adventure. It’s an adventure every single time. I never bore of it.

What I did realize it that I’m zealous. I go for it when it comes to research. I WANT to find everything about these people, not just their birth, marriage and death dates. THAT is boring.

I want to know WHO “John Smith” from Fergus, Ontario in 1874 was. How did he end up there? Was he religious, hardworking or a rascal and trouble maker? Did he have a family? Did he contribute to his community?

I love to put “flesh” on the people I research. They were once living, breathing human beings who loved and were loved.

My zeal for genealogy has not waned in the 35+ years that I’ve been doing it either. In fact, it’s gotten stronger because now it’s easier to find the information I need. I’m not struggling as hard. It’s also much better known now because of programs like Who Do You Think You Are etc. Family history has become the biggest growing hobby in North America. Some think this is not good for us “professionals” but I disagree. I think that the people who attack this with the same zeal I have- truly want to know about their ancestors. These same people might come to the realization that this hobby is a bit harder than they thought, or too time consuming, but their zeal for knowledge makes them want the information anyway. So, in the end, it’s these people who end up contacting me wanting me to help them find that missing bit of information that they just can’t find. It’s these clients that I love to work with as well. They are ecstatic when I give them the final report and finally have the answers that eluded them. Their appreciation is an added bonus for all my hard work!

I very much enjoyed this challenge and although it was tough maintaining a daily post, it made me dig deeper into my own tree that I’ve neglected over the years. Looking forward to the next challenge!

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A-Z Challenge Surnames Y

Yes, we have no Y names either….

YIN YANG

 

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This, my 2nd last post in the A-Z Challenge is going to be about YIN YANG. (and it’s never Yin AND Yang, by the way, as the words are supposed to flow into each other)

This may sound like a really off base post for a genealogical blogger, but follow me here (and keep in mind this is just my humble opinion).

I have heard people refer to their better half as their “YIN to my YANG”. I have to say that this is how I feel about my own husband.

In Chinese philosophy, it describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many tangible dualities (such as  light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin yang. (Wikipedia)

In the many years I’ve been doing genealogy, it’s amazed me how many times I’ve come across couples in my research who were “destined” to be together. They started life in completely opposite ends of the earth and ended up together despite incredible odds. World Wars, ill health, family disputes, religion…..NOTHING kept them apart.

These couples had something in common that made them inseparable- LOVE.

The symbol above describes how opposites can attract and, in fact, thrive and NEED each other. They work together.

In my own case, I am a first generation Canadian, of Italian descent. Raised by immigrants to have a better life in a new country. I grew up raised as a Catholic (although not very strictly), and was expected to be very good in school. A born academic anyway, I was what you would call a “browner” which is not a very nice way of saying I was a keen student. I still am! I speak 3 languages. I make a terrible teacher because I just want to learn and I have no patience to teach. Since I was the eldest of 3 girls, we had no real sports in our household as my father was a hard working carpenter and not at all interested in hockey, skiing or any sports whatsoever. I didn’t try skiing until I was 27. I didn’t learn how to swim until I was 9. We had a cottage. We always went to the cottage. I spent all my summers at the cottage.

In my husband’s case, he was raised a Protestant of English, Irish and Scottish backgrounds. His Scottish grandmother and Irish grandfather were huge influences in his life (whereas mine lived on the other side of the world). My husband is what you would call a Jock. He LOVES sports. He’s raced motorcycles (dirt bikes) since he was 13. He’s raced all over the world. He’s an expert skier and has competed in the Canadian Masters. He loves all water sports and played hockey and lacrosse all his life. He STILL plays hockey twice a week. He works out. He struggled in school but then came into his own later in life and is now very successful. He’s a competitor. Thrill junkie. Other than his 1st job, he’s never had a salary paying job in his life. He’s been 100% commission in every career he’s ever had and his entrepreneur in him has made him very successful. He has no fear. He grew up as a 4th generation cottager. He always had a cottage. He spent all his summers at the cottage.

I remember watching him before we met. I thought he was so cool. Completely out of my league. When we first went out, the ONE THING WE HAD IN COMMON WAS THE COTTAGE. So that’s what we talked about. It’s a way of life. Some hate it. We love it.

It’s been 37 years since that first date. We have been married for 32. Complete opposites DO attract and I’m a firm believer that certain people are meant to be together. That their differences are meant to HELP each other out to be better people. To be better parents. To get through life easier. Now that I look back on us and other couples I’ve researched, I see a pattern.

In my work, I’ve found couples who, against ALL odds, MADE it! When it was completely taboo to marry outside your faith and they did anyway. When it was dangerous to travel, they did anyway just to be with someone. When ships were being torpedoed in the oceans, they travelled to be with the one they loved (some took their children with them) When they knew that being together was not going to be easy and that they would most likely be alone in the world, except for each other, they went for it anyway. When the colour of your skin was a prerequisite for who you could marry and they lived together or married anyway. When men lived with and supported women who were strong and fierce and didn’t care what others thought in an age where women were chattel. Is this love?

Thank God we live in an age where we don’t have as many barriers. Yes, there are cases where opposites attract- for awhile- and then fall apart. Too many differences. Too hard. I don’t think these are YIN YANG couples. I truly believe that there are people meant to be together. Maybe it’s not even about THEM. Maybe they’re meant to be together for historical purposes, to be the parents of someone not yet born, or to create an invention or law or medicine. Who knows?

Being different and yet compatible. Fate. Meant to be. Soul mates. Better halves. Whatever you wish to call it. YIN YANG.

 

 

 

 

 

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A-Z Challenge Surnames X

No surprise we have no X surnames….

What starts with X?  Well…sounds like X?

EX-SPOUSES

I’ve been pretty lucky with this one. We really don’t have any ex-spouses in our tree believe it or not! We have some spouses who just took off and left, some who died, some who disappeared, some who took off and remarried without divorcing too!

When it comes to putting together your family tree, where do you put ex-spouses?

I would think that they are still a part of that family, but in some cases it may be a case where it was a nasty or messy break up and the person is persona non grata (or unwelcome).

If the ex-spouse is the parent of children in the tree than I would most definitely think they should be included in my report if I were making one up for a client. I would have a frank chat with the client and ask if this would be ok of course. There could be a case of abuse or neglect and the ex is someone no one wants to remember…then what do you do? I would defer to the client.

I had a situation where a spouse tried to kill his wife, and it made the papers. She survived and he ended up taking his own life. It was a very, very tragic story of depression, despair and mental illness. However, this occurred in the mid 1800s and all parties, including children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were deceased. The client was informed and she told me to include this “ex” (even though they were not officially divorced as this was very rare in these days) because, as she put it, “all families are made up of nuts and bolts and this was over 200 years ago so go for it!”.

I went ahead and put together the family tree report which was a gift for each of her grown sons who live all around the world. Three of the sons were very intrigued and thought it was a fascinating bit of family history. One son contacted me to tell me that it was indeed fascinating BUT he was not ever going to show it to HIS children. He didn’t want them to know they had a potential murderer in their family history!

So you see, it really is all about perception. I did the right thing by asking the client what she wished I should do and I still ended up hurting someone’s sensibilities. It’s a fine line!

Do you have any situations in your family history that could make this a difficult decision?

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A-Z Challenge Surnames W

WILLIAMS

Alban Williams (birth/death date unknown)

Alban Williams married Flora Louise Macdonald in St. Andrew’s Church, on Rodney Street, in Liverpool, on August 22nd, 1854.

It was a good match as far as her father was concerned. He made an announcement in the local Liverpool Mercury newspaper.

flora & alban wedding announcement

Alban was a Spanish language teacher who was born in Gibraltar. We don’t know when he was born because I haven’t been able to access any information about vital statistics for the island. We don’t know when he died because after 1861 he disappears.

The history of Alban Williams and his father RN Surgeon Alban Thomas Williams, and his parents Surgeon John and Anna Eliza Williams of Newcastle Emlyn is extremely poignant and indeed is the subject of a fine article by the renowned writer Catherine Hutton written in 1829.

She obtained information and letters from the Williams family and used these as factual material in her article “The Surgeon’s Family” of 1829 which was published in a periodical. A copy of this article is kept together with her papers in the Birmingham City Archives (MS 768/40/2, see Surgeon’sFamily3.jpg, pg.156)e island.

In the article she explains how Alban William’s Sr. was the “favoured” son of John and Anna Eliza’s 24 offspring! He grew up to be a doctor and ending up serving on board ship in the Royal Navy.

Now here’s where the story gets interesting!  

On one particular day, Alban Williams M.D. R.N. was having a conversation with the captain of the ship, when a discontented sailor rushed past him and stabbed the captain in the side! The sailor was apprehended and Alban, who was only the assistant surgeon, managed to save the captain’s life. This captain became an Admiral. When he left his ship, he left Alban on board and made the highly unusual request to have Alban made the surgeon general of a first rate man-of-war!

Even though Gibraltar was but a rock, the society of the garrisoned officers was a lot of fun. He ended up staying with a local Jewish merchant named Ben Amor. This man had a beautiful daughter named Simlie. Simlie and Alban fell madly in love and although her father was absolutely against her marrying him, she did anyway. She converted to Christianity, and then married.

About 10 months later, Alban decided to join a gun ship which belonged to Alban’s vessel, on a trip to Tangiers to get fresh beef. There were 9 men on board. Off the coast of Tangiers they came under attack and Alban was fatally shot and died at only 25 years old.

Simlie was pregnant with Alban Jr. at the time. Her family welcomed her back to their home and she raised Alban in a Jewish household, but as a Christian. When Alban grew up, he moved to London, England to teach and eventually moved to Liverpool where he met and married Flora Macdonald.

Flora and Alban had 2 sons, Thomas Alban Williams and John Hugh Macdonald Williams in 1855 and 1856. Flora died at only 24 years old in 1858, leaving Alban with 2 toddler sons. He can be found in the 1861 UK census, teaching Spanish lessons in Manchester with the boys being looked after by a nanny. After that, he and his sons completely disappear!

I’ve searched for them in the UK, American, Canadian, Australian and Tasmanian records and not found them at all. They may have moved back to Gibraltar or some other country in Europe. In any case, this is a mystery I would dearly like to solve. I’ve love to tell the descendants of these 2 boys what an amazing family history they have!

 

 

 

 

 

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A-Z Challenge Surnames V

No V Surname either!

So let’s talk about taking a vacation. Yes, a vacation!

Who hasn’t dreamed of travelling to their ancestral home?

For me it was Italy and the fact that I still have relatives who live there. Since making the trip in my early 20s, I’ve gone almost yearly and we have become extremely close. I feel such a connection with them and they have come to Canada to see where our branch emigrated to. I got to visit the little village high up in the mountains called Sauris where the DOMINI family lived for 500 years. I got to stand in the church where they were all baptized and touched the baptismal font! This church is so old it has graffiti scratched in the walls from the 16 and 1700s!

 

In 2004 we got to take our 2 boys to England and visit Cornwall and Liverpool, two of the places my husband’s paternal side came from. We visited the farm estate in Veryan, called Castlezens (a derivative of Castles End) where his gggrandmother was a domestic servant and got to see where she slept. Below is the window from her room.

I’ve also been to Scotland half a dozen times. My husband’s maternal side is half Scottish and half Irish. Have yet to make to Ireland but it’s on my list. In Scotland, I’ve walked through the villages that the ancestors lived in and searched for their gravestones in the local cemeteries.

 

If you ever decide to do a “research/vacation trip” make sure you go prepared. Get as much information as you can on the places you need to go before you leave!

It’s a good idea to just pick one place at a time (if you can) instead of trying to fit ALL your ancestral homes in one trip. That would be too hectic and stressful and may end up ruining the trip for you.

Take as many pictures as you can and if you have time, fit in a visit to the local registry office or archives. You may make a new discovery or two!

 

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A-Z Challenge Surnames U

 

There is no U surname in my tree….

Therefore, I will do what I did for the O surname that I don’t have either. I’m going to talk about UNDERSTANDING SOMETIMES INFORMATION CAN”T BE FOUND.

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This is a hard pill to swallow for most people and especially for genealogists who go to great lengths to find information for their clients. The reasons for not finding the information are many.

  1. Sometimes the record just doesn’t exist. For example, a baptism wasn’t done or a marriage didn’t actually happen or wasn’t recorded. There have been examples in research I’ve done where a couple have 9 children and I can only find 5 baptisms even though they never ever moved away from the same town. I’ve also spent years trying to find a marriage that never happened. I had incorrectly assumed it did because a census record said the couple were married!
  2. Records can be lost to fire, flood or destruction on purpose. Many records were lost in Europe during the World Wars because of bombings. In Ireland they were either destroyed on purpose or were lost to the great fire during “the troubles”.
  3. Every parish priest or reverend was responsible for keeping their own records and not all of them did a good job!
  4. Some records were lost during moves from one location to another.

Genealogists follow the Genealogical Proof Standard when doing their research. One of things required of us when working for a client is to do a “reasonably exhaustive search” of all records to try and solve the question.

I think I can vouch for most genealogists when I say that we usually go over and beyond in our exhaustive search. The detective in us makes us dig and dig until we find the information we are looking for. It’s very frustrating for us and our clients when we can’t find the information. Most clients who have come to me have already done a lot of research and are hoping my expertise will come up with the missing information they can’t find. Unfortunately, even with all the information out there, it’s not always the case.

Another thing to keep in mind is when taking on a project for yourself or for a client, to always confirm the information you are starting with is accurate. I have had situations where I spent a lot of time looking for someone and the information given to me was incorrect to begin with. Then when questioned, I was told “oh yeah, that’s not their real name, that’s the name they went by!”

More and more information is being digitized and put on the internet. This is fantastic for those of us who’s ancestors lived in different countries and we can’t go there. We must remember though that a HUGE amount of information in NOT on the internet and may never be put there. Archives, churches, libraries, repositories, local family history societies, schools and university libraries and newspaper archives all hold valuable information that might not be accessible via the internet. It pays to physically go to these places to do some searching.

Try and also remember that, if hiring a professional to do your research, that you still need to pay for the time they have taken to try and find this information- whether it’s found or not. They still most likely took hours and hours to try and find it and may have driven to various locations as well. Their time and expertise IS valuable and you can feel that all avenues have been explored to try and find what you were looking for.

 

 

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