Building flexibility into your genealogy trip

building flexibility into a genealogy research tripI just finished with my cemetery research trip to Kentucky and Alabama, where some of my ancestors lived and died. Being the professional organizer that I am, I planned the trip fairly extensively, down to the GPS coordinates of the cemeteries I was planning to visit. I worked up a schedule and made hotel reservations. My intention was to visit four cemeteries in three cities over two and a half days. I needed to end up in Nashville mid-afternoon of the third day for a conference.

On Day One, I realized that my plan was flawed. And I was so glad that I had the flexibility to change it. What I hadn’t done in all my planning was to build time in to look at local genealogy repositories for resources that might not be available to me on the internet. When I discovered that there was a Kentucky Room in a public library in Owensboro, Kentucky, 45 minutes north of where I was, I chose to stay and do research, rather than proceeding to Alabama as I’d originally planned.

That extra time in the Kentucky Room garnered me a death certificate on microfilm for my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth McEuen (that’s her grave marker in the photo), which in turn gave me her parents’ names.

The next day I proceeded to Baileyton, Alabama, where I had no trouble locating the grave markers of my great great grandparents, Laban and Margaret Rasco, and Laban’s parents, Jesse and Martha Rasco. When an internet search revealed a genealogy room at the library of Wayne State University, in Hanceville, Alabama, I decided to stay in northern Alabama and forgo my trip south to Marion Junction, Alabama, to visit another cemetery. I chose library research over cemetery research. This also saved me a few hours of driving in each direction.

I think it was a good decision. At the Wayne State library, the helpful librarians quickly identified Laban Rasco’s death certificate on microfilm and, in addition, they located his Confederate pension application, a 15-page document that I am looking forward to poring over.

I’m so glad I took this trip. Stepping away from the desk can be so beneficial. To stand in front of the graves of my ancestors was so powerful. To see the towns in which they lived helped me see them as humans. And talking with local people who knew my family’s surnames, brought my ancestors to life for me. One of the librarians in Hanceville, it turns out, grew up next to my family’s homestead. Making that connection with her was priceless.

Thanks to a blog reader, I called ahead to the church associated with one of the cemeteries and was connected to a wonderful local historian who went out of his way to help me and even met me at the cemetery. The trip couldn’t have gone better. And I learned a valuable lesson: When on a genealogy trip, keep my schedule loose and flexible so I can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Genealogy jewelry

familytreenecklaceWhen I was at the Genealogy Society of Southern Illinois conference in August, one of the vendors was Fun Stuff for Genealogists, which was selling some genealogy-related jewelry. None of their wares really grabbed me, but perhaps I had them in the back of my mind when I came across the family tree necklace from Lisa Leonard Designs. Lisa Leonard specializes in personalized, hand-stamped jewelry.

The family tree necklace seems to be intended to be customized with the names of the wearer’s children. But when I saw it, I thought how great it would be to personalize it with my grandparents’ surnames. That’s my pendant in the picture. (I bought the pewter version.) It has the names adams ⋅rasco ⋅ jeffries⋅ brown stamped into it.  I wanted to be able to wear it on a longer chain, so I purchased a 30″ antique copper ball chain, along with the silver link chain that came with the necklace.

It feels like a wonderful way to honor them, as well as a great conversation starter. Just think how many genealogy buffs I’ll discover when I wear it!

Hint: If you decide you’d like one, you can sign up to receive Lisa Leonard’s newsletter and get a 15 percent off discount code.

Planning a cemetery research trip

Planning my tour of southern cemeteriesI’m going to an organizers’ conference in Nashville next month and I’ve decided to drive there so I can add on some time for some cemetery research. I’m excited to step away from my desk a bit more!

The branch of my family tree I’m focusing on this quarter is Rasco, my paternal grandmother’s family. They lived in Alabama until about 100 years ago when my great grandparents moved their family to Texas and then to Washington state. My research indicates that some are buried in the Rasco Cemetery in Dallas County, Alabama. Others are buried at the Mount Pisgah Cemetery in Cullman County, Alabama.

In addition, my Adams line lived in Kentucky before moving to the Pacific Northwest. So I plan to visit two cemeteries in McLean County, Kentucky, as part of this trip. At least one of the gravestones, whose picture I saw on Find A Grave, is very hard to read. I’m anxious to work the aluminum foil magic on any particularly worn stones and see whether the data on the stone will become legible.

When I think about planning for this trip, I know I want to capitalize on the opportunity. That means that I need to know who I’m looking for. I also need to look for folks who might be their kin, even if I  don’t have good enough sources to have added them to my Reunion software. That way I can photograph gravestones for potential future use. I obviously need to get my directions together–the fact that Find A Grave often gives GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) for cemeteries is tremendous! Even though my time is somewhat limited prior to the trip, I do hope to devote some time to researching these lines so that I can bring as much knowledge to the table as possible. I also want to do a little research on best practices in cemeteries.

I wish I could incorporate some courthouse research on this trip, but I simply don’t have time before or after the conference. So, for now, I’ll settle on cemetery research and plan a future trip for courthouse documents. I’m excited!

If you’ve done cemetery research, do you have any tips for me?

Don’t take photo labels at face value

When I was at the Brown family reunion the last weekend in June, I was given a bunch of old family photos that pertained to my branch of the family. Some were duplicates of ones I already had (from the big box of photos my mother gave me). Some I’d never seen before. I was delighted to receive them.

One photo in particular brought home an important lesson: Don’t take the labels on the back of photos as the gospel truth. When a picture has an identifying label I tend to assume that the label is accurate, in the absence of any information to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily the case.

I was given this photo of a little girl.

My mother as a young girl

I know that it’s a photo of my mother, because I’ve seen many photos of my mother as a child. She also recognizes it as a photo of herself. My mother’s name when she was a girl was Betty Sue Brown.

This is what’s written on the back of the photo.

Labels aren't always accurate

My mother’s grandmother was Alice Jeffries. I’m assuming that the label was some sort of direction to share the photo with Alice. But it sure seems like it’s identifying the photo, doesn’t it?

Now, I think most people would assume the girl in the photo isn’t married and therefore isn’t Mrs. Jeffries. But what if the label had said “Alice Jeffries” rather than “Mrs. Jeffries?” Then someone who didn’t know what my mother looked like as a child might assume the little girl in the photo was Alice Jeffries.

This is an important reminder to apply critical thinking when looking at photo labels. Don’t take  them at face value; rather, try to find a few other clues to help verify the accuracy of the label, if you don’t know the people in the photos. In this example, Alice was born in 1885, so the attire in the photo would be a clue that it’s not a photo of her. Taking that extra step might help avoid misidentificaton.