26 April 2011

Tuesday's Tip: PDF Searches

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was able to locate a few ancestors in the Maryland Death Index online and order copies of their death certificates. The index is available in the form of a PDF file embedded within the page, which is not uncommon among electronic records.

At first, I used the Find box at the top of the PDF file with no luck. Then I decided to test the feature--I typed a name that appeared at the top of the page in the Find box and the search returned a message that no matches could be found on the page. I had to start at the beginning again and look at every entry before I could locate my ancestor.

My tip to you is this--before you potentially overlook the information you are seeking by using a Find feature in electronic records, test it using something you can clearly see on the page. If it works, great! If not, unfortunately, you will need to proceed with your search the old fashioned way.

23 April 2011

Interviewing Family

Time and time again I read that I should start with interviewing my own family. This is one piece of advise I did not heed...at least not right away. I always put it off because I was afraid of prying too much or being a nuisance.

When I finally decided to give it a try, my great uncle was generous enough to spend an hour on the phone with me discussing our family history. I was nervous, but well prepared. Before I called, I printed out his pedigree chart and wrote a list of questions and topics I wanted to cover. Here are a few of the questions I asked:
  • When is your birthday and where were you born?
  • What is the birth order of your siblings? (I got their birth years)
  • Do you know why your grandparents moved from Poland to Baltimore? (He did not)
  • Did your father have any siblings? (I got names of his siblings and some of their children)
  • What were your parents/grandparents like?
  • What was it like growing up with you siblings?
By the end of our conversation, I not only had a page of notes to type, but I also had a few great stories about my ancestors. Talking to someone who knew my ancestors put them into a context I could not have learned from records alone.

But I also got clues that propelled my research. I knew that one of my second great-grandmothers went by Pearl, but since I learned the names of her other children, I was able to locate a census record that identified her given name as Peliagis. My great uncle was able to narrow down my other second great-grandmother's death year for me. This information helped me find both of them in the Maryland Death Index, so I was able to order their Death Certificates, which I hope will include their places of birth in Poland and their maiden names.

I cannot stress enough the importance of interviewing your family members before it is too late. My breakthroughs were possible because of information from my family. I finally stopped spinning my wheels and started asking for what I needed...and I am still thankful that I did.

17 April 2011

Fledgling Genealogist

My interest in genealogy started when I was a kid. I would ask my mom to show me my second great-grandfather's bible. Together, we would look through the huge leather book-she would point out the beautiful illustrations and the family record. Births, marriages, and deaths, mostly for people I never knew. I would look at my birth entry, written by my mom, and marvel at the fact that I was related to all those other people somehow. She would carefully take out my great-grandparents' marriage certificate, crumbling apart even back then, and show me the thick paper and colorful illustrations around the names. I would watch her expression change when she would come across my cousin's obituary and she would tell me that she could never bring herself to write his death in the bible. As a kid, I did not understand her reasoning, but I could see how upset the sight of the newspaper clipping made her, so I never asked.

About two years ago, my mom passed away after a short battle with brain cancer, three days after her 58th birthday. A few days after her funeral, I pulled out the family bible to add her funeral card with my cousin's obituary. Only this time, I added my cousin's entry, as well as my mom's. But I also added my nephew's birth record, which never got added four years prior. My dad took notice as I transcribed all the records to a sheet of paper that I could take back home on the plane with me. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I wanted to know more about these people.

A short time later, my father gave me the bible and I have become known as the family record keeper. I now have a room in my house devoted to books, photographs, files, and other memorabilia. I am finally learning who my mysterious ancestors are, and have fallen head-first into genealogy in the process. The flood of emotions I saw in my mom all the times we looked through the family bible together are starting to make sense to me now, as I experience those same feelings every time I work on my genealogy research.