My year in Genealogy 2010

I have been the family genealogist since 1991 or thereabouts. But until this year, I'd never spent more than a couple of hours here or there doing research. Most of my time was spent gathering what info I could from the family to update my tree.

My first post here at Oh, Spusch was well over a year ago, but it wasn't until this past year that I really started to post regularly. I had a few random things laying about that I wanted to blog about, and then I discovered Surname Saturday, and decided to do that as well, to work up a visual tree of the family.

Sis joined in, and the two of us (her more than me, though I helped as often as possible) scanned the family photos into her computer and did our best to identify as many people in the photos as we were able. It gave us an idea for a certain project we wanted to do, so much of everything I did on the family tree this year went towards working on that project—identifying locations, reading the letters between my great-aunt and my grandmother, who were sisters, and in the process, learning a great deal about my family tree, and how much had already gone into finding out what we already had.

I got a lot more organized because of it. I resolved to work on our family tree at least once a week, sometimes just working on posts, sometimes doing research, sometimes over at my sister's to scan and identify more photos.

I also started a new filing system for my paperwork. When I first began to work on my family's genealogy, I had a very simple system—I had folders in my file cabinet for each branch of the family—one for each grandparent, and one for my husband's family.

As I began to work on my genealogy this year, I decided to upgrade my system. I had a file-box with a handle that I could take with me if needed, and used that for putting all the folders I'd used before. It grew more complicated from there as I began to gather paperwork—both from printing stuff off the internet, and gathering papers from my family for the family tree. I'm now so overwhelmed with paperwork I may never catch up, but I'm hoping to try, at least. One of my Christmas gifts this year was a new storage box that I can put everything into and only use the carry-box for what I absolutely need to take with me.

I also started using sub-folders in each family name, and printed out a full version of each branch of the tree in two forms—as a pedigree chart in sections of four generations, and as family group sheets. Of course, with everything I've discovered in this past year, I need to update it again, but I think I'll make that a once yearly project, rather than redoing it every time I find something new. Otherwise, it will be too much work. Unfortunately, with everything that has happened, my printer is now on the fritz, so I will have to wait until I can get a new printer so that I can do that this year.

I've even started to use colour-coding to tell the branches apart visually, though mostly in the computer forms I've made for myself. Because otherwise, the long lists of names starts to blur after a point.

My actual progress for the year:
I started out my search writing out what I had on three of the biggest Brick walls in my family: My father's father's side of the family, my father's mother's mother's side, and my mother's father's mother's side. I am proud to say that I have made major progress in all three branches, though I have yet to actually get any further generations back on my grandfather's side.

The first brick wall, my paternal grandfather's side is the hardest to get further back with, because they were Ashkanazi (German) Jews from Eastern Europe. But I learned a great deal more about them, to the point where I now have the names of most of my great-grandfather's siblings, and birthplaces for both himself and his wife. I also learned a great deal more about his journey from Galicia to England, then Germany, and finally to America. And I learned about Galicia itself, which while depressing, was fascinating. I also learned that my grandfather's twin sister was named for their mother's sister, who I'd never even heard of before. I really feel like I connected to this side this year, and someday hope to learn more. Possibly even manage to get another generation back—or more.

On my paternal great-grandmother's side, I have learned so much, and then discovered that I was re-tracing the steps my grandmother and her sister had already taken. I may have managed to get a few more names, thanks to, but most of what I've found has just confirmed what they learned from their uncle, who they met again in the eighties shortly before his death, and from my great aunt's trip to Denmark around that time.

I've even learned more about their father's side, though I'd never thought to look into it until I got the paperwork about the family tree after my grandmother's death this last year. Particularly about how their father came to the US, and how he and his wife met.

And I've done so much research on that side, Denmark has sped to the top of my "genealogy places to go" list. As well as becoming one of the spots on my tree that I know a lot of tricks about how to find information. I even connected with a cousin of my grandmother's over there who has quite a bit of her paternal side mapped out on a genealogy website.

On the other side of the family, my paternal great-grandmother's side has always been of interest to me. I knew they were Irish, but I'd never been able to find my great-great grandmother's parents' names, even though I had the names for three of their daughters. As of now, I know not only their names, but both of their fathers' names, as well as several more likely children, and I know that my great-great grandfather's mother's maiden name was the same as my great-grandmother's middle name. It's so much more than what I had before, and also made me realize that that side of the family is what is known as Scotch Irish here in the states. Very cool. And a wall that I'm glad I finally managed to break through that wall, given that it was the branch I'd always been most interested in from the start.

I had so much luck with those three branches of the family that I even took a stab at sorting out the Welsh branches of my family tree, for which I unfortunately have the least documentation at this point, though it's getting better. I even managed to find one of the "missing" wives of one of my ancestors on Family Search, so I think I'll be able to manage something. I might even be able to connect one of the branches to the rumours about one of those lines being Huguenots. I think I've figured out which, but I have not conclusive evidence—yet.

I even managed to make some headway on the other branch of the tree, to the point where I found marriage records for many of them, and connections that led me even further back. Including finding out the origin of my maternal grandfather's line in Norway. Now I just have to find out who his parents were.

I've had a lot of help this year. The photos have helped me learn more about the connections between people—both from the stories we've learned from family members, and from the notes on the backs of the photos, as well as the photos themselves. It's been a revelation.

Software and websites:
Then there were the websites and programs I've been using. was of course the number one site, especially when they started to test the latest version on their beta site. So much new information there these days. And far more outside the country than ever before.

But I also decided to upgrade my software, only to find that the latest version of my current software was not something I wanted to purchase. So I began to test out other software, only to discover that there really isn't anything that will replace Family Tree Maker exactly. I ended up with two new programs, though neither is exactly a perfect replacement. The Master Genealogist is what I was hoping I could use to replace FTM, but now I'm less sure than when I first got it. I like it, but it feels like it needs a major overhaul. It's like it's stuck in the 80s, which is never a good thing. The other program is a free one called Family Tree Builder, but while it's much more modern, it's missing some of the basic things that most genealogy programs have—most specifically, a merge function. But I think if it gets one, that could well become my main genealogy software. I've also still got a free version of Legacy on my computer, which has a lot of nice functions, particularly when it comes to merging—so we'll see…I haven't made up my mind yet.

In using Family Tree Builder, I've found several connections, and several new websites. I also finally signed up for Jewish Gen, which hasn't led to any new discoveries yet, but I do keep hoping. The Ellis Island site yielded info on my paternal great-grandmother's Ellis Island record, as well as one of my great-great aunt's records for when she came to the US.

Then there were the other things the internet has helped with: Google Reader, and tips and stories from other genealogists; Google Bookmarks, which has made it so much easier to back-track all the info I've found over the last year; Google Maps, which has shown me at least one of the places my ancestors lived if I am right; and even Geni, though I'm less enamoured of that site than I was when I was first shown it. I like being able to connect to others, but it feels a bit pushy in some aspects. Possibly because only my sister and myself are on it in our family circle, though we've sent invites to several folks in the family, a few of which who even joined, though they never added anything much.

And then there was Drop Box. I dithered on that for a while, because I was worried that others would have access to my information. But having two computers at home made it rather a vital convenience. I've still not been able to get all of my software to read from that folder, but having duplicates of all my writing, and of my Family Tree Maker files definitely makes having it worth it. I highly recommend it to anyone who has more than one computer that they use regularly.

Then, of course, there was Picasa for the photos, which was both great and problematic, but definitely a wonderful resource for keeping track of the family photos, especially so that I don't have to download them onto my computer as well as having them on my sister's.

And one last site that was only set up at the end of this past year. Tapestry. I've only played with it a little, but it looks as though it could become a great asset to the genealogy community, given time. I highly recommend it to anyone trying to do research into their family tree. From kids on up.

Events in my tree this year:
As far as genealogical events, there have been quite a few for my family this year, both close and more distant. The largest, of course, was my grandmother's death in May, and the second most would have to be my cousin's son being born in March. Other highlights included a second cousin's marriage in Canada, my brother-in-law's marriage in September, and a few other things, some of which I'm not quite ready to talk about, and others I am sure I have already forgotten.

Shortly after my grandfather's death, I spent an afternoon with my grandmother, talking to her about her mother, and about her own life. I don't want to go into too much detail here, aside from saying that I'm glad I did. Because she's the one grandparent that I really got to talk to their family about before their health declined. It makes me feel a little closer to her. And I do miss her every day.

After my grandmother's death, my aunt gave me a few different stacks of papers, and from those papers I have learned so much more—not just about her and her family, but also about my grandfather's family, including many things I'd never known before. I know I have barely scratched the surface. I think, if I manage the time, this coming year could be just as fascinating. I suppose I'll see.

There's so much more I could talk about, but I've already gone on far too long, so I think what I have is enough, and I'll do my new genealogy resolutions/wish list in another post.

But beyond everything else—it really was quite a year. I can't wait to see what the coming year will bring. Hopefully more good than bad.


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.