Saturday, May 22, 2010

Who would have known?

As June nears I start fielding calls from relatives wondering if I am going to be bringing the family tree to the family picnic again this year? Now I've been doing it for 7 or 8 years and really enjoy working with my Family Tree Maker software. I plan to keep on being the keeper of the family tree. I like genealogy.

So is it no wonder when the show "Who Do You Think You Are" first aired I became hooked! I'm no Naive Nelly here and was well aware that had an ulterior motive in sponsoring this program. With each viewing of their commercials I found myself starting to think "well I wonder how much it really costs to subscribe" and then "I wonder if there really are the records available that they claim"? I decided to go to their site and check it out! There was a 14 day free trial but the catch was you had to subscribe [meaning give them your credit card and info.!] and then cancel your subscription before the 14th day ended. I reasoned that if it wasn't as advertised I would cancel but if it was good I'd enjoy the subscription. As I entered the easy information into the beginning of my family tree those little flashing leaves suddenly started popping up!!! It's no commercial gimmick!!! 

Now not all of the records listed under those flashing leaves are actually your relatives....especially if your relatives have common names! The users still need to do due diligence in sorting through the information but man it is laid right out for you see with no technological skills required.

Now all my family tree data to this point has been my mother's side of the family. To be specific it has been my maternal grandmother's family as they are the ones who gather annually. My maternal grandfather's information is decently fleshed out thanks to his foresight to write things down for my mother sometime before his death in the mid-1950's. I've drawn my interest in genealogy clearly from my Mom! Not only has she purposely worked our whole lives to teach us our relatives and the nature of our relations but she surrounded us with pictures of "the ancestors".

 Her parents' wedding picture from 1925 hung prominently in my childhood home. 

Pictures of her cousins stood in frames on coffee tables around the house as well! 

She even had this picture of her grandparents, The Patriarchs as I refer to them, who are the oldest members on that family tree. 

But it's a vastly different story with my Dad's side of the family! Not only is my Dad decidedly uninterested in 'the past', he came from a very SMALL family who seemed to share his lack of interest in their past and I have nothing in writing to steer me through the complicated world of genealogical research. Once I saw how very helpful was I decided to type in what little I knew about my Dad's relatives. Most specifically I was hoping to break the wall that seemed to surround my grandfather's mother....the only one NOT to have come from Ireland....she came from Scotland! Okay, well she always told them she came from Scotland but since there was a lot of other facts of her life shrouded in secrets and doubt we've never just been too sure how much to believe?!?

All I really had of her was this picture, her maiden name and several of her married names. Yes, I said SEVERAL! It's complicated....really complicated but try to follow along. My Dad's father, my paternal grandfather was born during her first 'marriage' (one of those very uncertain bits of the story according to family lore) but has the last name of her second husband!! Seems when she remarried he [my grandfather] was just about to enter school so they just entered him under the current family name and thus it stayed especially as little brothers and sisters started arriving. Not wanting to jeopardized the family privacy I will just say that my grandfather's original last name was a very EASY and recognizable Scottish name while the adopted last name is a VERY DIFFICULT German name. So, thinking I might have more success in finding information about the great-grandmother I typed in her name using the German last name. Imagine my growing excitement when a leaf immediately appeared next to her name!!!!!!

Amazingly she had TONS of historical documents available on line as well as several other people researching her family line!?!?!?! The most stunning thing for me was when I opened and read the 1900 Federal Census record as SAW WITH MY OWN EYES her listed with her FIRST HUSBAND and my infant grandfather! They had been married!!!! So then I wondered "how true is the story of why they got divorced"? After way too many more nights poring over I came upon another one of those "a ha" documents. The kind that tie up so many loose ends to so many stories...and make more loose ends of their own.

There in June 1904 of the Ellis Island Passenger Registry I find my answer! The family 'story' was that she had brothers who had emigrated to Iowa and had become very successful farmers {found them on and info. accurate!} and that one summer she had taken my grandfather to visit with her brothers in Iowa and she "wouldn't come back so he divorced her" as it was always put. We were never very clear on her whole family dynamic because my Mom clearly remembers hearing great-grandmother brag about how she was "made a ward of Queen Victoria because we were too poor". So if she's in Iowa what does the Ellis Island record have to do with the story, you asking? Right there, in black and white is the record of BOTH her parents as well as four siblings arriving on Ellis Island as immigrants sponsored by their now successful farmer sons! Seems pretty darn obvious to me that a grown daughter who had left her family sometime between the age of 10 and 14 to become a domestic servant and who then at the age of 17 sailed across an ocean to try out a new life in America would want to go and spend time reuniting with her parents and siblings who had just arrived from Scotland!!!!! 

Not only have I found records on great-grandmother showing her and her 12 siblings and their MANY descendants [half of Iowa I think!!] but I've been able to trace her tree all the way back to 1770!!!!! So the family tree that wasn' is in full bloom and I went from 'sort of' knowing about my great-grandmother to now knowing my great-great-great-great-grandfather and that he was a ploughman in Wigtownshire, Scotland. 

By the way, I didn't cancel the subscription on that 14th day (-:


  1. this is why I haven't gone on it, my neighbor is very into it, and we actually appear to be related since both claim to have owned wall street way back when. My grandpa has so much info I need to write it all down.

  2. Wow! It sounds like LOTS of work to do a family tree! My parents and one of my uncles paid someone to do ours. I'm so glad for that!

  3. this is very exciting. I'm the geneologist in my family too -- at least among my parents and siblings. My dad's sister has kept track of some things too. now you've gotten me interested in checking out this site. I lovelove your old pictures. maybe i should do a post on this too -- I've got some old pics. thanks for the inspiration.