Document everything

Document everything in your genealogy researchReason number 33,662 that you should document everything in your genealogy research: You can’t rely on your memory.

Today, I was trying to verify which ancestor of mine had fought in the Civil War as a substitute. I remember finding his records on Fold3.com and seeing the document that designated him as a substitute for an individual of means who could afford to pay my ancestor to fight in his place. I thought it was Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great-great grandfather. But when I looked at his record in my software, I found no notation whatsoever about that.

At least I remembered having found a substitute soldier, even if I couldn’t remember who it was. So I looked through the records in Reunion of all my male ancestors who were born at a time where they might have served. Nothing. I tried searching on Reunion but got nowhere. So I finally walked across the room and pulled out B.F. Igleheart’s paper file. There it was: all the info that I had printed out, but not otherwise documented. Bad researcher!

If I had finished going through the paper files of the Adams ancestors, I would have found this info and documented it. But that process probably won’t be finished for quite some time.

I’m so glad I have committed to documenting everything by entering information into my software, with source citation, and creating electronic files of the digital images of the documents. I am conforming to my file naming convention and I’m tagging the digital files so I don’t have to have my papers file to find something.

I used to believe that I would never forget certain facts I’ve learned through my genealogy research. As those facts add up (and my research grows), I know that’s just simply the case. Now all I have to remember is to enter everything into my Reunion software and tag and properly file all my electronic files.

End-of-the-quarter evaluation

brownfanchartAt the beginning of the year, I put together a research scheme in which I would focus on researching (and organizing the research) one branch of my family each quarter. The first quarter ended yesterday, so I thought it might be a good idea to report how it went.

Overall, I’m pleased. The first quarter of 2014 was devoted to my father’s father’s side of the family, the Adamses. Knowing which family I was researching kept me focused, which was terrific. The downside is that I certainly didn’t finish researching that family (like I ever would), nor did I finish organizing the Adams research that I had uncovered in the past. But that’s okay, because I can pick it up again in January 2015. And, of course, I can work on it whenever I want–my plan isn’t a law, after all.

So now that it’s the second quarter, I turn my attention to the Browns, my mother’s father’s side of the family. That’s timely for a couple of reasons. They’re a midwestern family for a number of generations back and I am paying a visit to the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Missouri, next week (!). Also, there is a Brown Family Reunion in June, so I’ll be extra motivated to uncover and organize my research so I can share it with cousins.

I’m kind of excited to switch the focus of my research. I’d gotten the easy stuff out of the way with the Adams family and of course when it gets more difficult, it requires more patience. So switching gears is quite welcome.

I think it’s a little early to proclaim my quarterly research scheme a success, but at this point I can certainly imagine doing it again next year!

City directories: a great resource, used carefully

City directories can provide clues--and sometimes red herringsThis quarter, I’m exploring the Adams family–those ancestors from my paternal grandfather’s line. I’ve been fortunate recently to find my great grandparents heavily represented in city directories in the 1910s and 1920s. I’ve also found my grandparents and even my parents in city directories via Ancestry.com.

An individual’s entry in a city directory can provide some great information (depending on the year), including:

  • Address
  • Spouse
  • Occupation
  • Value of personal property

Tracking an ancestor’s address from year to year can be really revealing.

I was thrilled to see in the 1912 Chehalis County Directory paragraphs about each of the towns in the county. About Quiniault (now spelled Quinault), which is the town that my grandfather and his parents were living in that year, I learned this:

Population: 125. A village on Lake Quiniault, settled in 1890, 150 miles west of Seattle, 60 by rail and mail route, northwest of Montessano, the county seat. 40 north of Hoquiam, the banking point, 28 northwest of Moclips, the shipping point. Mail stage tri-weekly to Hoquiam ($4.00), to Humptulips ($2.00). A.V. Higley, postmaster.

That paints a picture of a very remote place, doesn’t it? Quinault is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The occupation of my great grandfather, Elmer, was listed as farmer. I can’t really imagine what life was like there in that small town, so far from everything, with four small children.

One thing I’ve come to realize about city directories, however, is that offer a snapshot that may look very different than reality. For example, I know from my grandfather’s letter to my grandmother that his parents did not live together in Olympia.  You would not know it from the Olympia city directory, where both Elmer and Hattie are listed at one address year after year. Similarly, my parents are listed in the Spokane city directory in 1954. I know that in fact they were stationed in London at the time. (My father was in the Army.) So as much as I love finding an entry in a city directory for one of my people, I’m learning to not take the information as gospel.

Looking for my grandfather’s birth home

Looking for my grandfather's birth homeI’m in Portland, Oregon, doing some business planning my friend and colleague, Shannon Wilkinson. (This is something I try to do annually, and it really pays off.)

As I discovered earlier this year, my paternal grandfather, Dave Adams, was born in Portland. The birth announcement I found for him listed a street address for his parents, 749 Roosevelt Street. So I thought while I was here I might see if I could find the home his parents were living in when he was born on November 12, 1904.

Last night, after dark and in the fog, Shannon and I found ourselves near Roosevelt Street. (I had told her about it on the phone when I first found the birth announcement, and she remembered.) As it happens, due to the addition of freeways and an industrial plant in that area, only one residential block of Roosevelt street remains. So it was easy to narrow down our search.

However, some time in the 1930s, Portland changed its numbering scheme for its addresses. The block we were in was the 2200 block. My quest today was to find out whether the last existing residential block of Roosevelt happened to be the same block my great grandparents lived in.

Thankfully, Shannon is savvy about online resources available in Portland and she pointed me to Portland Maps, a city-run website that provides loads of information on each property in Portland. I had written down the address of one of the houses, so I looked it up.  I was able to click on historical permits on that house and the houses around it until I found a permit old enough to reveal the original address. I learned that 2354 Roosevelt was 780 Roosevelt back in the day. I clicked on the next house west and saw that it had been 782 Roosevelt, so I knew I was going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of houses east of 2354 Roosevelt, so it became apparent that my great grandparents’ house was one that was destroyed in order to make room for the freeway.

A look at the plat map of Portland in 1906 showed that the whole area had been residential. Shannon and I agree that the turn-of-the-century houses we saw in the last remaining block of Roosevelt probably are a good representation of where the Adams family had lived.

While I was ultimately disappointed in the outcome of this fun little research project, I’m thrilled to have a feel for the kind of housing my ancestors lived in 110 years ago. I’m so grateful to have this information available to me at my fingertips but also glad that I saw those houses in person.

Incidentally, I used the Research Tracker in my Family History Organizer notebook in Springpad (available to you by clicking here) to track this project. I’m finding it a really easy way to keep track of my research without feeling overwhelmed by a big spreadsheet.