Family history research is so fascinating that it deserves to be shared. Here are one writer's musings and insights about making that process palatable and inviting to others.
28 May 2010
The Power of Perseverance: A Patent Search
Lawrence Hoke 1768-1835
Lawrence Hoke also known as Lorentz Hock was Grandma Johnson’s great grandfather. He was born in Bretten, Baden, October 12, 1768. He worked as a millwright and carpenter in Germany. After he came to America and settled in Pennsylvania near the Maryland line he operated a small farm and also worked at his trade. He was an excellent mechanic. In 1809 he was granted a patent on the first threshing and winnowing machine in the United States. The patent was signed February 15, 1809 by Thomas Jefferson, President; James Madison, Secretary of State; C. A. Rodney, Attorney General. The Threshermen’s Review for July 1902 had a very fine write up on this item. Also a newspaper published in West Virginia in 1902 gave an interview with Judge Joseph T. Hoke, one of his grandsons. The subject of the interview was of course the patent granted to Grandfather (James L. Johnson in Johnson, Max R. and Seely, Joyce, James Johnson and Harriet Emmeline Lamb, J. Grant Stevenson, 1967).
Surely this patent could be found, I thought. In corresponding with other relatives I heard this same information again and again, but no one seemed to have the original patent. Neither could I find the newspaper article, though I did look. Finally, I learned to search the patent records myself and found that this patent was probably burned in an 1837 fire. End of story.
So I thought. Just this week I’ve been working every day with my sister Annalee typesetting our newest family history book—about Grandma Christensen’s ancestors. I mentioned my vain search to Annalee. Now some may call this sister stubborn, but I call her doggedly determined. I admire that trait in her. We had done some searching together in the German parish records and found “Lorenz Hok” there with his family (including twin sons who died shortly after their birth), so he was now a real person to both of us.
Though I assured Annalee that the original patent record had burned, she stopped what we were doing and began an on-line search for the information. Unsuccessful, she found a research librarian whose specialty was patent information and emailed him. The very next day, he emailed back enough information for her to do another search and find the patent. The original had indeed burned, but the information had been re-entered in 1882, after “Lawrence Hock” was dead. I now am looking forward to seeing the original which is surely somewhere in the family, as well as the journal and newspaper articles about it. I have learned this lesson, so beautifully stated in the quote attributed to Winston Churchill during World War II, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
By the way, the patent we found says “thrashing machine.”
21 May 2010
Starting a Story
Reach out and grab your readers! The first few sentences or the first paragraph may be the most important part of a whole history. A reader wants to know what’s in your story for him or her. How a history begins makes a difference in whether it will be read and enjoyed.
It is important to have done the research and know the person about whom we are writing. I spend some time thinking about the various events in my subject’s life. I consider their turning points, the events that made a difference in the rest of their lives. A dramatic turn of events makes a good place to start writing.
We are often tempted to write chronologically, to begin with a person’s parentage and birth and then work our way through his or her life. A timeline does serve as a good outline of a person’s life and in fact, I think that constructing a fairly detailed timeline should be part of the research process. Looking at that outline can provide me with natural divisions in the history as it proceeds from the active interesting beginning.
There are many good ways to begin a story, as long as the beginning grabs the reader’s imagination. In one history I began at the ending, describing the unmarked pauper’s grave on a lonely rise that became Swedish Anna Beata’s final resting place. In others, the drama of climbing aboard an immigrant ship to make a new life in a new land provides a good beginning. My great-grandpa had a particularly dramatic leave-taking. In the confusion of a late boarding by his family, he was left on shore with his aunt. At 18 months of age, he was thrown by a dockworker into the waiting arms of a sailor on board the ship. What a great beginning that made to his lengthy life story!
Another great beginning was the dramatic change that occurred with a convert baptism into a new religion. A Danish Church record showing this baptism was the perfect first page illustration for Anna Britta’s history. And the day Anna Weiss from Switzerland went to the Salt Lake LDS Endowment House to remember her mother, her father and her grandparents revealed a wealth of information even though records of her life were scanty. The events of that day served as the introduction to her story.
A traditional family story about their handcart journey begins the life history of one pioneer couple that I wrote about. This often told family tradition served as a springboard to examine the known facts of their lives. Readers familiar with the buffalo stampede story were especially drawn into this beginning.
Family histories should be well-researched and factual, but they do not have to be boring. Use your imagination to put yourself into the person’s life and begin with something that will give readers food for thought and piqué their interest to draw them into the story.
17 May 2010
Madness Monday:Unexpected News from the Pension File
From the many pages provided by the National Archives (including death and marriage certificates) my mother-in-law and I read the following:
Declaration for Original Pension of an Invalid
State of Iowa, County of Clinton, On this 2nd of July A.D. 1872...
Samuel Wilson...declares he is the identical person who enlisted under the name of Samuel Wilson...at Davenport, Iowa on the 28th day of Sept, in the year 1864, as a private in Company E, in the 8th Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry...discharged on the 24th day of May in the year 1865... [his description]...was in _____Hospital at Memphis Tennessee in February & March 1865. While in line of duty at Memphis Tennessee on or about 15th day of February 1865 was taken sick with diarrhea which became chronic and he is still suffering from the same and unable to perform manual labor by reason of the piles and his present physical condition very frail (emphasis added).
It gets worse--we also found his widow's claim and the affidavits which tell the story of his death. Here comes the madness part:
From his sons:
"That about the month of November 1892, my father who was drawing a pension for chronic diarrhea, we had to give him medicine and injections to operate on his bowels, for his diarrhea had stopped, and he had no passage from his bowels without medicine or injections, his head seemed to be affected, and he ___ hard to control, in fact he was insane from that time to his death. When he took medicine and had injections, the same would relieve his head for a short time, but he would soon become as insane as ever, it took three of us all the time to control him, at times he was very weak and feeble and when insane, seemed to have unnatural strength..."
[another son] "and he continued crazy until he was sent to an asylum, his condition was such that it was dangerous to keep him at home..."
From Cynthia Briggs, mother-in-law to Samuel's son Emery:
"Prior to his death, at the time I first became acquainted with him, he seemed to be suffering from chronic diarrhea, he had several bad spells each and every year and after each spell he became weaker, he was very feeble for two or three years before the month of November 1892, then about that time he had two or three hard spells, and his head seemed to be so affected, when he was deranged I visited him and found him still weaker, he had to be helped out of bed and in his chair, Doctor Lowell stated that the diarrhea stopping caused his head to be affected and he became decayed as he could get no action in his bowels, and that the reaction caused his diseased condition of mind, and I presumed caused his suicide by hanging [on 3 Aug 1893] (emphasis added)."
Now does that not make for an interesting, although very sad story? In response to her request for a widow's pension, Hannah Spade Wilson received $8 per month from August 1894 to April 1903 when it was raised to $12 per month until her death in 1911.
Since this file was received back in the pre-internet days, NARA has made family history research easier and internet friendly. When I looked on-line to share a link with you, I found an example of turning NARA research into a history as well as tips on how to find records and order them on-line. After revisiting Samuel's file, I have a few ideas to learn more about him. I have not yet written a history for Samuel Wilson since I would really like to know more about him first, but what I have received from this excellent source is golden.
14 May 2010
Thank you, GENEABLOGGERS
13 May 2010
I started this blog with some trepidation, wondering if anyone besides me would ever read it. I'm so gratified to find that there are a few who do. If you are reading this now, please take a moment to give me some feedback. Share your thoughts with all of us. Collaboration is the new genealogical buzzword, and I'm a fan. Thanks for your support and feel free to speak up.
11 May 2010
Involving our Young People
"Heritage, everyone has one," begins the Deseret News article 11 May 2010. Carma Wadley goes on to talk about the Genealogy Kids Camp which was part of the National Genealogical Society conference held in Salt Lake City the last week of April. Kids Camp, geared to inspire young people's interest in their family heritage, focused on story telling, always a winner with kids. Each youth was given an opportunity to relate a story from his or her own life. They were also encouraged to ask questions of older relatives. The article includes a list of possible questions to ask parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We live in a society where many children are passed from one set of adults to another on a regular basis because of jobs, conflicts, divorce and remarriage. I submit that sharing family history stories with one another is a way of bonding generations--providing the love and security that every child needs.
Here are some of the questions that I liked:
What was the place where you grew up like? How many rooms? Were there any special items in the house that you remember? What is your earliest memory? What was your favorite toy and why? Did you have chores? What were they? Which was your least favorite? What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up? How were holidays celebrated? What were some of your family traditions? What would you like people to remember about you?
My 11 year old niece participated in a session of the camp held on Saturday. Her comments were positive. We look forward to her continuing interest in our family history. Ten things kids can do for family history were given in the Deseret News article sidebar. I'm hoping our little miss will choose one or two from this list to continue her search for our family heritage.
10 May 2010
Quote from LDS prophet Joseph Fielding Smith
President Joseph Fielding Smith quoted in Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894–1994 (1995), 184.
09 May 2010
How I Write a History—a Simplified Outline
2 Consult other family members for any information they may have.
3 Consider doing interviews of anyone who may have personal knowledge about this person.
4 Enter the information I have into my available family records management software, showing him or her both as a child and as a parent.
5 Look for holes in the data and research further where needed. Find this person in all available censuses; look for additional records about the person and about each family member, parents, brothers and sisters, spouse and children.
6 List locations where the individual lived and search for additional town, county or national histories that will broaden my understanding of those places.
7 Research local newspapers for a flavor of the time and place, especially articles about the individual and his or her family.
8 Construct a timeline showing life events and locations (this may be derived at least partially from the records management software).
9 Begin my narrative with a dramatic or life-changing moment in the person’s life to catch to the reader’s interest.
10 Continue to write, using the resources I have gathered.
11 Have someone else proofread my history and make suggestions for improvement.
12 Organize and prepare the illustrative photos and documents by scanning (using a high resolution), transcribing where appropriate, and deciding which items I would like to use. Look for any additional photos, etc. that would illustrate what I have written.
13 Use typesetting software to integrate the illustrations with the text.
14 Submit the resulting document again to another person for editing suggestions.
15 Publish and share my work.
06 May 2010
Are we ready?
Read what our "Collector in Chief" (National Archivist David Ferriero) is saying about the growing trend to mobile devices and how he is planning to prepare. For the family history writer, this means ebooks. Sure enough, this market is growing as well. Today Dick Eastman posted about Google Books' entry into the market in his blog. Read his report here.
05 May 2010
New Resource for Self-Publishing
Check out their website www.YMountainPress.com. They have some helpful guides for publishing and also services to help you finish your manuscript.
Some of my own History: Thoughts for Mother's Day
04 May 2010
First page from January 1982
The Family Newsletter
Even at 80 years old, he had set up an easy to use newspaper site on the internet and we have continued on to this day, using the talents of various family members. For 30 years I have looked forward to hearing from my siblings and now my nieces and nephews and their growing families. I keep up—in my heart and each month in the family newsletter.