Saturday, February 28, 2015

Searching for Alexander!

I have in my inherited family tree that I am related to William Montgomery and Isabel (Isabella and various other forms) Burnett, who immigrated from Scotland and were early settlers in NJ. The son through whom I am theoretically related is Alexander Montgomery.

Thinking they sounded pretty interesting, I started searching to see what I could find out about Willy and Izzy (what? You don't give your ancestors silly nicknames?) and here is what I found...

"Alexander Montgomery, the fourth and youngest son of William of Brigend and Isabel Burnett, is thought to have died unmarried." -- Colonial And Revolutionary Families Of Pennsylvania, 2004

Colonial Families of America (1911) and A Genealogical History of the Family of Montgomery: Including the Montgomery Pedigree (1863) say the same thing, though the wording is so similar, the earlier may be the source for the latter (not having easy access to the full text, I haven't checked).

Genealogy: A Weekly Journal of American Ancestry from 1912 says that all of Willy and Izzy's kids were born in Scotland before they came to America 1701-02. My Alexander seems to have been born in 1705 (though I don't have evidence of that, either). 

Sooooo, I start looking at other family trees, and virtually EVERYONE has Willy and Izzy as the parents of the Alexander that eventually leads to me. And NONE of them have any sources listed in the public trees! So, I started emailing them and just asking where they got the information and if they have any sources and I share the above with them so they know why I'm asking. Guess what answers I've gotten so far? "I copied it from another tree."

This is a real let-down because there is a lot of information about Willy and Izzy that is really interesting! I've enjoyed reading it, but it's not quite as exciting as when I thought they were my ancestors.

So, I'm backing up. I have a strong chain up to Alexander's grandson (Alexander III), but I'm going to start with him and see how much I can find. Given that he is a "third", I am fairly certain his father and grandfather are also named "Alexander" but it's not exactly an unusual name and I need to make sure I've got the right Alexanders.

So warning to all other noobs out there! It doesn't matter how many people have the same connection on their trees, if there's no documentation, don't copy it!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Objectivity: Why Am I Doing This?

Confession time: When I picked this up, I thought it would be cool to trace back to where my family lived before coming to America. And I thought it would be neat to see how far back I could go. Isn't this what most new genealogists think?

Then I started reading all these blogs and articles about how you should try to find all the possible sources related to a person before moving on to the next person, and how you should research all the siblings, too, because it might help you fill in some of the gaps. I was daunted, but quickly realized the benefit of doing this. People stopped being just names and dates on a page and I started seeing them as real people, getting a picture of their lives. Much more meaningful then the "fact" that I can supposedly trace my family back to 1100. But I was kind of jumping around, based on "hints" I was getting from various sites. I needed a more organized approach to prevent myself from researching someone that might not actually be an ancestor.

So, I decided to take the tree that Dad had created and start near the bottom, verifying and filling in until I had a nice full picture of a person before moving on. I decided to start with my grandparents, since I was pretty sure I could believe that they are, in fact, my parents' parents and that my parents are indeed mine. And records related to my parents might be hard to find if Mom doesn't have a copy, since they are so recent. So, grandparents it is.

The problem is, I have many memories of my grandparents, some good, some not-so-much. Add to that the fact that the 1st anniversary of my dad's death is quickly approaching and I'm finding myself in tears more often than not as I read about the events in my grandparents' lives. I'm either missing them horribly or renewed anger and hurt is rising to the surface. I can't be objective.

Which makes me think about objectivity in genealogy. I think a lot of people do this so they can feel connected to their ancestors. But not everything you find may be pretty. Do you have the objectivity to accept that they were who they were, and they did what they did, even if it's not nice?

I'm reminded of Johnathon "Black Jack" Randall in one of my favorite books, Outlander by Diana Galbaldon. (It's just a link, I don't get any kickback for sending you there!) The main character, Claire Randall, is married to a historian who is obsessed really into his genealogy. Claire gets transported back in time where she meets this highly decorated and renowned ancestor her husband was so excited to learn about. Turns out, he's a sadist and overall horrible person. Like, really, really bad. Like, you have to read the book to understand how bad. Not at all what her dear, sweet, gentle husband imagined!

But I digress. The thing is, I think I could accept almost anything about an ancestor I didn't know personally. Heck, I already know I've got some damn yankees in my past (but I'm coming to terms with it...)! But reading about the lives of people I remember seems invasive. Like reading their diary, even if they are public records. And it just stirs up so many emotions.

So, I think I'm going to up a level. Tackle one of my great-grandparents. Still close enough to me to feel pretty confident of the relationship, but with fewer personal memories, maybe I can find the objectivity I think is needed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Welcome Current and Former Noobs!

When I started this blog, I thought it would just be a place for me to record my thoughts and keep track of links and resources that I wanted to remember. But today I was thinking about how amazingly supportive and encouraging more experienced genealogists have been to be on Facebook. And I thought about all the incredible blogs that are out there by experienced, even professional, genealogists. I've found myself overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, to the point of not being able to do ANYTHING for fear of doing something wrong.

So I thought maybe other beginners feel overwhelmed and intimidated, too. And maybe they would be encouraged by seeing my process and discoveries. And maybe we can support each other.

So if you're a Genealogy Noob, too (or can remember what it was like to be one!), please share your best tips, secrets, or resources! And let's embark on this journey together...

Saturday, February 21, 2015


I recently discovered Evidencia software ( And I love it!

It's not another family tree software -- seriously, do we need another one of those? This is a place to record data from all of your sources and it helps you figure out if you have conflicting evidence, helps you analyze your evidence, see where you need to do additional research, and write your narratives.

Instead of a person being the focus, the document is the focus. For example, you can enter a census report as the source, make note of all the claims you can make based on the data, and link it to all of the people mentioned in the census that you're interested in, all in once place. It forces you to create a citation before you can make any claims (don't worry, there are templates!) so everything is evidence-based.

I admit, when I first downloaded the trial, I was a bit overwhelmed -- remember, I'm a newbie! There are fabulous how-to videos, but last night I attended a live Google hangout where we saw a demonstration from start to finish and could ask questions. I left feeling encouraged, but still a little tentative.

This morning, I woke up and delved into it. I started with a simple marriage certificate for my parents. I could not believe how much information was on that little certificate that I never paid attention to before. Next I did a census for my grandfather and discovered that his uncle was listed in the next household!

This level of examination may not be new to many of you, but I had never really scoured a census to glean all of the possible data from it, especially if there wasn't a place to put it in my genealogy software. This is so cool!

Once you have analyzed your evidence and feel that you can confidently draw a conclusion, you can sync the information with FamilySearch. And all of your data is saved in Dropbox so you don't have to worry about losing your hard work.

There's a lot this software can do, and a lot that is in the works. But already it has given me a sense of control over my research that I was lacking. And if you purchase before the end of the month, you can save $5!

Gotta run now...I've got military records to look for!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Family Ties

Some years ago, I started working on my family tree. I'm not sure why, it just seemed like something cool to do. My dad became interested, and kind of took it over. That was fine. I had started graduate school, he was retired, and had many more hours to devote, sometimes to my mom's irritation over not being able to use the computer!

He found a lot of interesting things about my ancestors, and my sister, mom, and I were able to join DAR as a result of his research. He discovered an ancestor who won a Medal of Honor during the Civil War. We bought him subscriptions to for holidays and birthdays, he had his DNA analyzed, and printed books of family history for his mom and aunts.

Then March 18, 2014, Dad died.

Whether it's to feel closer to him, don't want all of his hard work to go to waste, or just that I've rediscovered an interest in exploring my family, I've picked it back up.

It's overwhelming. There are about 1500 people in the tree Dad made. Some connections documented well, others less so. How do I even start? I want to verify connections, make sure that the information meets documentation standards, do it right. But it's so intimidating! But as I was recently reminded by another genealogist on Facebook, there's no rush! I don't have to verify all the connections by next week! LOL! Just pick branch and start working!

I'll let you know how it goes...