I do hate that genealogy cliche, “brick wall”, but only because it’s a sad reality for so many of us. So it is satisfying to be able describe how a tiny opening developed in one of mine.
My great-grandfather refused to be located in the 1900 census. After various census and city directory searches (and increasingly bad moods), I ended up taking a mental-health break from this search, for which my living family thanked me.
Then a little while back, Ancestry.com was talking up a webinar: “Best Strategies for Searching Ancestry.com.” I took it, largely because I hadn’t ever done a webinar and was curious about the process. As ever, I learned a thing or two:
• The best place to start an Ancestry search is not the Search box on the Home page. Better to click the “Search” button in the menu bar, and use the “Search All Records” option.
• In old records, sloppy dates are a feature, not a bug. Search with broad date ranges, even if you’re sure you know the specifics. Start at plus/minus 10 years, and adjust downward.
• When you locate an interesting record, do NOT forget to save it somehow –your Ancestry shoebox or family tree, your hard disk, wherever. (Amazingly, many of us forget this in our excitement.)
The biggest discovery of all? I was doing crummy wild card searches.
Once I was a food section copy editor, and each year I fact-checked glowing Thanksgiving stories of the hallowed family traditions reflected in each cholesterol-busting side dish.
And I felt a bit left out. We make a fine Thanksgiving feast at my house, with all the proper things. But we really don’t have any truly unique ancestral side dishes.
The only noteworthy side dish was the stuffing, not because it’s unusual, but because it was the focus of a fierce tug-of-war between my parents. (Which is also not unusual. People are passionate about stuffing. Or dressing. Or whether it’s called stuffing or dressing.)
It was a face-off between Her Mother and His Mother, but indirectly, since my father’s mother, sadly, had died before Dad and Mom met.
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