Over the past couple of months, I have tried to share some basic tips and information on approaching and succeeding with your family history efforts. We have started from the beginning; talked about the importance of planning; how to deal with the inevitable files both paper and digital; best first steps; explored some of the more critical and basic sources of information – census, land, probate, and military; and wrapped up the ten weeks with a great way to lay out your data and look for gaps to fill – the timeline. I hope you have found these posts helpful, especially if you are just getting started on your family search.
Genealogy is a wonderful hobby, or some would say a passion, that never really ends. We all go back a very long way, none of our ancestors really sprang from under a rock. And there seems to always be a bit more context you can add to the basics of names and dates. What were their occupations, how did they vote, did they fight in a war and on which side, where did they live and did they migrate between countries or within a country, why may they have decided to migrate, were they members of a fraternal organization, who were their neighbors and were any of them relatives? What kinds of skills were most often required during your ancestor’s lifetime? Did they plow with a mule, a horse, or a tractor? Did they own a car in the early years of automobiles? Did they quilt and sew by hand or did they use one of the new sewing machines? How did they preserve their food? What did they grow on their farm? What were the politics like in the area where they lived? Did they have enslaved persons in their household? What was the size of their farm? The questions are really endless and although you may not be able to find specifics on your individual ancestor, you can often find information on what was common during their lifetime and in the area they lived. The social history of the common American is incredibly rich and interesting and can make your ancestors come alive for your family in a way that names and dates just won’t do.
I would suggest that in-between the joys of Thanksgiving, Christmas or any of the wonderful holidays during this season of family and blessings that you celebrate, find a little time to think about what you want to accomplish this next year on your genealogy quest. Create a plan for tackling a few of your brick walls, think about some aspect of your ancestors’ daily lives that you would like to know more about and do a little online research on what might be out there to read, or better yet go to your local library and talk to a librarian about your research project. Librarians are without a doubt some of the most unsung members of society. Get to know one. You won’t regret it.
A number of years ago, after doing research for a few years, I decided I wanted to know more about the occupations of my ancestors. Census and probate records are good sources of information, as are city directories if your ancestor lived in a town and newspapers for the community. So far, farmer/plantation owner is the number one occupation for my male ancestors with a distant set of alternative occupations being grist mill owner, postmaster, store owner, schoolteacher and preacher. I have a number of ancestors who owned and operated a grist mill, both in Florida and Alabama and also in Georgia. I didn’t know a lot about how grist mills operated when I realized I had multiple ancestors who owned one but I found a few reprints of older books on the subject and managed to find a website ran by a man who had run a grist mill a few decades before. After exchanging emails, we had several long conversations on the phone. He shared information on what the work was like, the dangers that someone had to deal with, including the dust from the mill that could inflict long-term health problems. It was fascinating to me to begin to visualize these ancestors in their daily work.
My female ancestors are much harder to get specifics on. I do hope our descendants don’t have to struggle with that as much so if you are a woman, get busy and document some aspects of your life and leave it for your children and grandchildren and those that come after. But I have been able to learn about quilting, both how it was done a hundred or so years ago and how it is done now. I’ve taken up quilting as a way to express my creativity, as well as hand spinning and weaving. Cooking is something I’ve always done, and canning was something I was raised helping with, but I’ve expanded both sets of skills and read old recipe books and household management books and try to recreate some of that to get a sense of the work involved. I don’t have a wood stove, but I would have if I had a kitchen that could accommodate one. I don’t do re-enactments in the traditional sense but I do find experimenting with the tools and skills my ancestors used is a great way to feel more connected to them.
I will return with genealogy posts after Christmas, or more precisely on 27 Dec 2018. I’m still working on some topics so if you have something you would like me to cover, let me know either in the comments section below or at my Facebook page at www.fb.me/NWFloridaHistory.com. I will also likely be doing some occasional short posts on my Facebook page so if you would like to see them go to the page and like and follow me there. That way you will have access to all my mind meanderings.
I do hope each and every one of you have a blessed holiday season. Regardless of the holiday, you celebrate, they are all a time of family, gratitude and giving of ourselves to others. Find time for all of these gifts of the season. And remember giving isn’t about spending money, it should be about the love and thoughtfulness of your time. Turn off the television and sit down together and play a board game. Our go-to game in our house is Scrabble. Or put a puzzle together. Or play cards. Keep the expensive gifts to a minimum and remember our ancestors had little money to spend on each other so it was about the thought and effort, not the money. My Mom likes to talk about their little gifts at Christmas. Maybe an orange and some nuts and if there was a store-bought present it wasn’t much and yet even years later they could bring joy to each other when they got together and told stories on each other, and laughed, cooked and showed their love for each other. And finally, remember our neighbors to the east in Panama City and Mexico Beach and up across the Panhandle and into Georgia who may have little to celebrate with and maybe no place of their own for celebration. My Facebook page listed above has a link for giving to the American Red Cross to help our neighbors with their challenges as they face the holidays.
With all my love, until next time…Sharon