Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Newspapers

I love reading old newspapers. Papers from where I live now, papers from Tombstone, Arizona for research, papers from Great Bend, Kansas for tidbits of when I was growing up. They are endless. And with the Internet your access is too.

There are a number of sites for free newspaper research. Some of my favorites are:

Many states also have their own newspaper search sites.

Others can be accessed through paid sites:

Newspaper Archive


Genealogy Bank

There are tricks to using these sites, just like with everything. The older the paper the less accurate the search engines for each one are. Even though Elephind indexes Chronicling America you should do your search in each one. They may find different articles.

Examples of a search in these would be:

"Samuel Wilburn" Arkansas

"Samuel Wilburn" 1923

"Samuel Wilburn" death, 1923

Just keep trying different combinations. Also try different spellings. "Sam Wilburn" or "Samuel Welborne"

I remember when I had my tonsils out. It was in St. Rose Hospital in Great Bend. I remember there was a big toy box in the hallway and I thought that was just like Christmas. I ended up getting in trouble for not staying in bed.

However, I didn't remember how old I was. Through the newspaper search on Ancestry I found that I entered the hospital on July 18, 1861. Wow, my name was in print. lol I was eight.

Of course newspapers can be a source for obituaries, marriages, graduations and births. In rural areas they may list local residents who have changed jobs or gone on a visit to relatives in another state. I was once listed in the local paper when I paid a visit to my aunt in uncle near Dodge City, Kansas.

Newspaper announcement about my great grandparent's marriage from the 
Meade County News on December 6, 1900.
Located through Elephind.com

Legal notices such as land and probate records are often found. How about an advertisement for your family's business?

Get creative and read those newspapers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Museums

I love museums. Especially the smaller ones. 
Like this one in Goldendale, Washington.

My daughter and I stopped here after visiting the local cemetery. It is a beautiful old house with different rooms set up as they would have been during the time our family lived in the area.

They also had a room set up as a little research library. We found transcribed marriage records and this photograph of two of my husband's family members. They are not his direct ancestors but it is uncanny how much the younger one looks like him.

Even if a museum doesn't have information directly related to your family you can learn a lot 
about how they lived. The Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix is amazing. There are 
scenes set up as in a Victorian household all the way up to Alice Cooper. 

There are ads related to some of the displays. It is an amazing learning experience 
for historians, and historical novelists. 

Another time my daughter and I were travelling through the area of Kansas where my family settled and I grew up. We visited the county museum and toured a school they had moved in from the countryside.
What a surprise when we got back to Arizona and my grandmother said that it was 
the school she attended as a child. 

My daughter and the docent in the school her great grandmother attended. 

Another possibility for learning about your ancestors is cultural centers. In downtown Phoenix 
there is an Irish Cultural Center with a replica cottage. A friend visited there to gain information 
for a play she wrote about her ancestral country.

This quilt is hanging in the hall. 

Kitchen implements, farm tools, sewing notions, and hundreds of other things can be found in museums. It is so much easier to bring your ancestors, or characters, to life, when you can see the items they used or in some instances actually use them yourself.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Land Records

Land records are a vital part of genealogical research. Besides the obvious information of telling where somebody lived they can also give family names and relationships, marriage information, death information, and descriptions of what was on the property.

Deeds are kept on the county level. The owner brought the deed in to the clerk and the clerk copied it, by hand in the old days, and returned the deed to the owner. 

There are also federal land records such as those produced by the Homestead Act. This is a page from my great, great grandmother Jane (Malone) Thompson's homestead papers.

The interesting part to me is that she owned a sod house 16 x 18 feet with one door and one window.
The sod hen house was 12 x 12 feet; almost as big as her own home. She also had a well and eight acres under cultivation. Jane was over 70 years old and a widow when she followed some of her children and their families to southwest Kansas. 

Another part of the document shows she couldn't sign her own name thus she made her mark.

Land records from most of the United States and some foreign countries are available on microfilm through the LDS family history centers. Although they are indexed by buyer and seller the most amazing stuff is found by scanning the documents. People listed in the document aren't indexed. These people could be prior owners, co-owners, neighbors and spouses.

I always make a list of all the surnames I'm searching in a certain county before I start an in-depth land search. Not just ancestors but spouses and neighbors. And I copy everything. What doesn't seem important at a certain point in your research may be very important later on.

Start digging into those land records and have fun!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Keepsakes

Keepsakes: we all have them. 
They come in all shapes and sizes. From a favorite childhood book to a pressed flower. 
A set of dishes or the family bible. 

I try to photograph the special things in my life. Eventually I will have a book with the photos and a story about why they are special. Who passed them on. Why I kept them.

My sister was ten years older than me. She was an artist her whole life. She had an easel and her oil paints in one corner of our shared bedroom. Ah, the memories when I visit an art show with working artists; the smells of paint and turpentine and the look of brushes in a jar.

This was one of her sketchbooks and two of her dip pens. 
They are among my most treasured possessions. 

This is my sister when she was in school.  

When we were going through her things we found this necklace. Somehow we knew it belonged to Great Grandma Nellie. Then my niece found this picture of my sister wearing it. 
What treasures.

I took photos putting them together and close-ups of the necklace: front, back, open, and closed.

The necklace will go to my sister's granddaughter. The rest of the family will know about it. Her children will know the story behind it. My legacy to them is keeping the memories.

You can see another family keepsake on my writer's blog here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jurisdictions

The importance of geographical and political jurisdictions, especially when working back through time, can't be emphasized enough.

We all know that countries change borders. Some even disappear. Others take on new names. Only the outlines of continents is the same in 1700, 1800 and 1900.

Even within the United States changes affect where your family lived and where the records they left behind will be found. A farmer in Illinois may never have moved but he may have lived in three or more different counties. As people moved into an area the counties were split and became new counties often more than once. He might even have lived in one state and then in another such as when West Virginia broke off from Virginia during the Civil War.

Most genealogy records in the U.S. are on the county level. Deeds, probate records, marriages, and court records can all be found on this level. At one time vital records were on this level with the states taking over in later years.

Naturalization records can be on the county level, the state level and the federal level. They all must be checked.

Study maps of the time. If you ancestor lived on the far side of a large river from his county seat he might have done much of his business, including getting married, in the next county whose county seat was closer and easier to get to.

Towns disappear especially in the West where boom towns flared and failed within a few years. Some towns have been buried under reservoirs and others just changed their names or were engulfed by larger nearby cities. It is important to learn the history of the area you are researching.

There are countless sources for this information especially on the Internet. A few places to try are local historical and genealogical societies, museums in the area, written county histories, and how-to genealogy books. Two of the go-to books on my shelf are: Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide and The Handybook for Genealogists published by The Everton Publishers, Inc. Both of these books are old and probably out of print but if you come across one . . . grab it!

An example from the "Handybook" is Perry County, Illinois. It was formed in 1827 from Randolph and Jackson Counties. (Information on my ancestors is in all three counties.) The county seat is Pinckneyville and the county clerk has incomplete birth records from 1879, complete from 1916 to present, marriage records from 1827, death records from 1879 and the Circuit Court Clerk has divorce, probate and civil court records from 1827.

Never give up. New records are being found and published all the time. When you go back to work on a line after a few months or years not only will your research skills be different but the sources may be too.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for I Remember . . .

I've been working on my family history for about thirty-five years. In the process I never forgot that I also wanted to be a writer. The two merged as I started doing research for authors and then my own historical writing.

Along the way I fell in love with journaling and stream-of-consciousness writing. Sometimes I write about personal stuff. Sometimes it becomes a story or poem. Whatever evolves there is nothing like putting pen to paper (in my case a fountain pen is a little bit of heaven). Maybe one day I'll get all my fountain pens together and take a picture. hmm

One of the first books on writing and the one I always go back to is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. Each page has a little story about writing with no plan and a prompt to get you writing from all different places and times. It's hard to explain if you don't do it.

One of her prompts is:

Begin with "I remember." Write lots of small memories. If you fall into one large memory, write that. Just keep going. Don't be concerned if the memory happened five seconds ago or five years ago. Everything that isn't this moment is a memory coming alive again as you write. If you get stuck, just repeat the phrase "I remember" again and keep going.

As you write like this, memories you didn't even realize you had, come bubbling to the surface. One memory leads to another, and another, and another.

A few years later Natalie came out with another great book on writing: Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Natalie's writing has a way of putting you in another zone. It reaches beyond the surface and helps you get to the meat and bones of your self.

I was lucky enough to hear Natalie speak a year or so ago. She was amazing. Yes, meeting a long-admired author is a little like that rock star excitement.

Family history is learning about your ancestors and their lives. It is also learning how those lives affected you. Your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all helped you become You. Leaving memoirs for your descendants and others is an important part of passing all of that on.

Natalie Goldberg and I after she signed her latest book,
The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language.

Find a pen and paper and get started. I remember . . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for History

Once I started doing my genealogy history took on a whole new meaning. Documentaries on the PBS station now show me what was happening when my ancestors were alive. The Revolutionary War isn't just when my country gained its freedom but when some of my ancestors were in battle or perhaps offering supplies.

Other ancestors were on both sides of the Civil War and at least one hung after Bacon's Rebellion. Some followed the Santa Fe Trail and others were part of the Oklahoma Land Rush.

A speaker at a genealogical conference opened her talk with making bread. Just like our ancestors did. Those daily tasks and understanding how they lived is what makes them come to life. How did your fourth great grandmother card wool, spin it, make her family clothes. Have you tried spinning?

Not only does this type of information bring your ancestors to life but how much more interesting would characters be with those details? Historical fiction author James Alexander Thom has an excellent writers' manual: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction.

Thom discusses going to re-enactments, living in the woods and canoeing rivers just like Lewis and Clark. He suggests that if your character (or ancestor) needs to use a certain tool that you learn how to use that tool.

So how can you do this? Local historical museums, reproduction towns with people "living" the life and those re-enactment groups. There are groups for the Civil War, the Renaissance era and the Wild West.  History is all around us if we just open our eyes.

Old postcard of a lady with her spinning wheel.

My spinning wheel.

Re-enactment of the funeral procession following the Gunfight and the O.K. Corral,
Tombstone, Arizona. 
125th Anniversary of the Gunfight.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Groups

Groups, Clubs, Societies

There are genealogical societies for every state, many regions and some counties. Also countries, ethnic groups and surnames. Some are linked to local historical societies. All are great sources for information on your family history.

The obituary listed under "C is for Cemeteries" about Grandmother Thompson came from a journal published by the Kansas Genealogical Society back before internet research. I'm pretty sure I jumped for joy.

These groups often publish local lore, documents, Bible records, photographs and genealogy charts. Things that would never be seen otherwise. Some chapters take on projects such as locating and reading small cemeteries.

Many of them now publish information on their web sites. It is important to remember these groups are funded my memberships and there are advantages to joining those in the area where your family lived. You can also send in queries to be published. These are a great way to find those long lost cousins with the watch fob made from your great, great grandmother's hair or an journal kept by your great great grandfather.

It is also important to join a group where you live. The meetings often have speakers who provide a wealth of information. Members share ideas and stories of their own break-throughs. Sometimes there will be a roll-call of members' ancestors at a meeting. I know people who have found distant cousins sitting in the next row. A friend even found a descendant of one of the witnesses for her own ancestor who was hung as a witch in Salem.

It's a small world after all.

Great Grandmother Nellie and I. 

James Warner George who was born in 1839 in Barbour County, Virginia 
which became part of West Virginia during the Civil War. 

A photo of John Henry Covey which I located through a distant cousin found through a genealogy group. Nobody on my side of the family had a photo of him. He was born in 1833 and died in 1914. He also served in the Civil War. 

Another photo I received through a genealogical society. Orpha Ann (Collinsworth) Waggoner's first husband, my great, great grandfather, is believed to have died during the Civil War. 
This is her second husband. She was born in 1844 and died in 1903.

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Facebook

I never thought I would praise a site like Facebook. I realize it's fun and can be interesting but it is also a great time waster and can cause a lot of problems.

My family moved from Kansas (a state I had never been out of before) to Arizona when I was 13. I kept in touch with a couple of friends for awhile but then got involved with my new life in the desert.

Through Facebook I have found some of those Kansas friends and that is cool.

I've also found groups for my elementary school, the high school I would have gone to and the one I did graduate from here in Arizona. Also a site for those who grew up in both towns I've lived in.

On each of these sites people have posted photos from their childhoods which overlapped with mine. Also memories of teachers, the playground, local stores and events. It is amazing!

I've found the kids who lived next door and shared memories with them. One day I hope we will be able to share photographs as I don't have any of them.

In return I've posted some pictures I took of my home town. I went back to visit a year or so after we left and I took pictures of all my favorite places. Even those who still live there were excited to see some of them such as this one of the swimming pool.

Other people on the page talked about the high dive, taking swim classes 
and even the smell of the changing rooms. 
Another photo I shared was this one from a parade for the Kansas Centennial. 
I remember going with my sister. Mom was probably working as she was a dispatcher 
for the police and fire departments.

Next time you are on Facebook look up your schools and home towns. Actually try doing it on Google and other search engines. I found photos of my grade school being torn down and an article about my junior high when it was opened including a map of the building. 

These have filled in many gaps in my own memories and the memoir I am writing.

So many memories!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Ellis Island

Ellis Island was the entry for millions of immigrants to the United States between 1892 and 1954. There have been numerous books, documentaries, and movies made about the experience of those immigrants. Now people tour the museum to get a feel for those people who were looking for their dreams. 

It is possible to learn about this piece of history at Ellis Island. It is also possible to do a search for your own immigrant ancestors.

My family all came here long before Ellis Island was opened but my husband has ancestors who came through that New York port. One of them was Francesco Belmonte. He arrived in the U.S. in 1903 from Italy. He was born in 1880 and married Vicenza Bartalucci. They lived out their lives and died in Queens, New York.

Not only is it possible to find the ship passenger list but a photo of the actual ship. How wonderful is that?

The Roma

I recently read Pamela Redmond's The Possibility of You: A Novel. In the author's note she says she happened upon the Ellis Island site and found her own grandmother, Bridget McNulty, who she remembered as an old woman.

Ms. Redmond went on to question what life was like in New York for the twenty-two year old Bridget. She learned a derogatory term for Irish servants of the time was "Bridgets." The questions led to more research and in the end a book.

Writers must always be open to ideas. Family historians are always searching for more information; more about each ancestor and a step back in time. Both must keep their eyes and their minds open.

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Diaries and Journals

Early in my genealogy search I wrote to the Meade County Historical Society in Meade, Kansas. These local groups and museums are a goldmine of local information. Through them I met a man, Don, who's mother was friends with my grandmother when they were young. Don's family still lived on the ranch where they were neighbors with my ancestors.

Through Don's research in his family and local history he came across the Branch family. Young Elma Branch kept a diary of her life on the plains and Don made copies of all the notes that referred to his family and happily for me my family was included in the notes he made.

A few of those notes are:

December 24, 1890: cooked some this fore noon and cleaned up. went up to Cash (City) this evening got Rosa Rees and Nellie Kieth. we got pretty cool.
December 25, 1890: well we all have had a good time I guess. I have any way. Ben Johnson took dinner here to. it turned out a nice day.
December 26, 1890: Elias (Elma's husband) took Rosa & Nellie back to Kieths. I dont feel very well. we churned this evening. the wind blew hard this fore noon.

September 20, 1891: Lizzie and Charley Kieth came & got 1 bushel of peaches

Nellie Keith is my great grandmother and Charley her brother. I can still remember the excitement of seeing these little bits about my family.

Photo of a school outing including my Great Grandmother Nellie Keith (center of the three ladies on the left.)

In 1990 my daughter and I drove to Kansas and met with Don. He took us out to the area where our families settled. This is still known as "Keith Canyon" and those two collapsed areas are where the family had dugouts.
The site of Don's families ranch in southwestern Kansas.

My family were not ones to keep journals or much of anything. Quite a few pictures survived but that's about all. I never would have thought of a neighbor's diary if it wasn't for Don.

There are a lot of published diaries and journals now. With the interest in genealogy and easier access to publishing there seems to be a boom of memoirs and old family records.

I found Covered Wagon Days: From the Private Journals of Albert Jerome Dickson, edited by Arthur Jerome Dickson at a used book sale a month or so ago. I haven't had time to read it but I'm sure it will be a help in understanding what Nellie Keith and her family went through on their own covered wagon journey from Illinois to Kansas when she was a young girl.

Understanding the times is important for family historians, historical fiction writers and everybody who wonders about the history of our country.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Cemeteries

Cemeteries are often the last physical link to your ancestors. Headstones are indicative of the times.
Family groupings show up and there may even be children unknown to the later generations. They may also be the only proof of somebody's birth and death dates (always be aware they may be incorrect.)

This is the grave of my great, great, great grandmother in the family plot in Kansas
 where two other generations can be found. 

At the time I took this picture I did not know her name so "Grandma Thompson" wasn't much help. The dates should have been helpful but they are wrong. After a great deal of research in 1900 I finally found Jane (Malone) Thompson died three years after the stone says. 

"The Meade County News" Meade, Meade Co., Kansas. Thursday. Oct. 8, 1903.
Two aged soldiers of the Cross have fought the good fight of faith and gone home to rest.
     Grandma Thompson, sister Keith's mother, passed away Friday p.m., Oct. 2. This Sainted mother in Israel was born ninety eight years ago in Tenn., having lived in many states. She came with her children to Meade Co. Kansas several years ago, living with her children until the day of her death.
     Grandma Thompson united with the Baptist church more than 70 years ago. The writer visited her several months ago and held services in her room, she expressed a desire to unite with the Meade church, stating that she desired to die in the church. She enjoyed her religion and was always able to give a reason of the hope she had in Christ.
     We laid her to rest in Graceland cemetery on Saturday afternoon to await the voice of the resurrection.
     "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God."

My theory is that when my great grandmother passed away in 1963 the family decided to put a stone on Grandma Thompson's at the same time. The stones are similar. After time the memories were incorrect and thus the wrong death year.

Another way to find stones is to correspond with other researchers. Perhaps you will find a very distant cousin who lives in the area or has at least visited the cemeteries. That is how I got this photo of my third great grandfather, John Collinsworth who died in Tennessee.

Another similar experience produced this monument in Ohio for all the children of another ancestor. 
Pretty impressive. 

The most important thing to remember when you contact distant cousins is to be willing to share. Nothing will turn other researchers away faster than being asked for "everything they have" with nothing coming in return. 

This is one I visited myself. It is in Kansas. The stone told me he was from West Virginia and in the Civil War. I've since acquired his military records from the National Archives. 

Grave sites are getting easier to find because of local organizations reading the researching the cemeteries and posting the results on line. There is also a great site: Find A Grave which has photos of hundreds of stones for many graveyards. 

Don't avoid the cemeteries. Perhaps you could even help others by helping to index a cemetery in your area or joining a preservation society. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B is for Blogs

There are numerous blogs and web sites out there geared to genealogists, memoir writers and writers in general.

There are genealogy blogs about certain family lines, or surname specific. Others give hints and tips for all levels of researchers. Some cover the digital world of family history research.

Here are some of my favorites:
Genea-Musings Randy Seaver of keeps up-to-date on the latest in genealogy software and websites including changes. A wealth of information.

Olive Tree Genealogy Lorine McGinnis writes about genealogy and is currently posting fantastic prompts for those interested in writing their memoirs.

The Armchair Genealogist  Ideas for using your blog to write and publish your family history and so much more.

Sources for more blogs:
Cyndi's List This is the go to site for resources and of course among those are blogs. The possibilities are endless.

GeneaBloggers over 3,000 blogs on all aspects of genealogy

How can these blogs be helpful to fiction writers? Stories. There are hundreds of stories to give you an idea of a story or plot. Endless inspiration. The research can fill in gaps in your story especially if writing historical fiction and in need details to put your readers in that time and place.

Here are photos of all eight of my great grandparents:

Nancie Jane (Reed) 1869 - 1946 
and Thomas Webster Wilburn 1868 - 1944

Salenia Alzadie (Freeman) Waggoner 1870 - 1948
and Isaac Tandy Waggoner 1864 - 1949

John Lyman Covey 1868 - 1955 
Husband of Nancy Ellen (George) Covey below

Nancy Ellen (George) Covey 1866 - 1930
and Nellie Grace (Keith) Martin 1878 - 1963

William Albert Martin 1876 - 1952 
Husband of Nellie Grace (Keith) Martin above

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for Attic Archaeology

I began doing my own family history research in 1977 by asking questions of my immediate family, digging through old photo albums (and boxes), and writing Everything down.

I began teaching beginner's classes and doing professional genealogy in 1990. I've attended club meetings, conferences and seminars. I also discuss genealogy with people on a daily basis, or so it seems.

The comments I hear the most is: I wish I had asked the questions before grandma, auntie, uncle, father, mother passed away. I wish I'd paid attention to the family stories. I wonder what happened to the old family album.

I always tell those people to ask those who Are still here. To write down or record those family stories. To find the photos that haven't been destroyed. To start with whatever you have, NOW!

Even if you aren't ready or able or even want to do your whole genealogy get those things down. It's up to You.

The beginnings of any genealogy or memoir project is to do the attic archaeology. Dig through trunks, boxes, drawers wherever there might be papers, photos or keepsakes. Take pictures. Make notes. Write it all down. You don't have to have fancy equipment or journals to do this. Just start.

Talk to other family members, write letters to the oldsters, travel if you can. Don't pass up any chance to learn something about your family.

At the same time think about your own descendants. What will your grand children and great grandchildren want to know about you and your daily life? There are many workbook journals out there with questions to answer. Prompts are helpful. Make a list of major events in your life and start writing. Your memoir will someday be a part of somebody else's attic archaeology.

In 1990 my daughter and I took a trip to Kansas where I grew up and where I still have family members. We went to the town where I was born and I took photos of the lot where the old trailer we lived in and where I was born stood. We visited the town where my grandparents lived and I took pictures of the houses they lived in. We went to the town where I went through grade school and were even able to go inside parts of the school, same with the junior high.
My elementary school in Kansas. It has since been torn down.

We visited my great aunt and uncle who had a family bible which I took pictures of. I also took pictures of all the pictures they brought out. We visited the family cemetery with five or six generations of family members. Of course I took pictures of the stones and the landscape.

My grandfather's youngest brother and his wife.

A page from their family bible.

Another time we went to Redondo Beach, California and we stopped to visit a distant cousin I had found. She had an autograph album with my great grandmother's handwriting. She even had a watch fob that same great grandmother had made from her own hair. She had photos of our common ancestor that nobody on my side had never seen. Again I photographed each item.

My great great grandmother's handwriting.
A watch fob made with my great great grandmother's hair. 

So begin your own attic archaeology. Begin in your own house. Gather those photos and documents and start identifying. Photograph family heirlooms and write what you know about them. Start journaling your life.

The trip has only just begin.