Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Beginning

My interest in genealogy began when I was a little kid.  My grandmother, Laura Lancaster, was a freelance feature article writer for The Lewiston Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine.  Being a freelance feature article writer is a much better job than being a regular journalist in my opinion.  Rather than reporting the news, you get to write about things you're actually interested in; things such as your own genealogy, or "beekeeping," or the history of some random lighthouse in Maine.   And if you are my grandmother, you're a naturally curious person and enjoy visiting cemeteries, beekeepers, and lighthouses and from time to time, you drag your equally curious granddaughter along on your little adventures; that would be me.

Visiting cemeteries at such an early age with a grandparent who could tell a good story about who you were visiting meant that cemeteries weren't creepy places that should be avoided.  To me, they've always been places of personal historical significance where a person can stop by and remember their kin and maybe them bring flowers ("Watch where you're walking, Laurie.  Don't step on my mother, dear.").   Proper cemetery etiquette is burned into my brain like the alphabet.

When I got a little older  I'd go to the library and pick up genealogy books, though not exactly sure what I was looking for.  I'd read old newspapers on the microfilm machine, or I'd study old maps - I love maps.  But with my grandmother gone to meet up with all the people she'd told me stories about, I didn't know where to begin.  Back when we lived in Maine, my grandmother would drive to Augusta to pull family records but being transplanted 3,000 miles away from New England  it seemed an impossible task for me.  How could I mail away for records if I don't know who I'm looking for?  And if I knew who I was looking for, how do I know where they lived?  And when?  And who do I mail the requests to?  How would a birth certificate or an application for marriage license help me?  Where do I find the addresses for that?

Then Al Gore singlehandedly invented the Interwebs.  Alone.  In his garage during his spare time or something.  Suddenly, all sorts of genealogical websites started popping up.  RootsWeb, CyndisList, FamilySearch, Findagrave,!  But that didn't solve the problem...where to begin?  This is the most popular question I'm asked by friends that have read my genealogical posts on Facebook: "Where do I begin?"

I began where all genealogists begin.  I began with myself.  Voila!  One entire generation complete!

My Grandmother, Laura Lancaster
Next, I moved to my parents, and then my grandparents.  As soon as I discovered online I signed up for a subscription.*  Who cares if we have to eat boxed macaroni for the next six months and put off servicing the car?  It's worth it!  I had a rough idea where to find my grandparents on the 1930 US Census so that's where I started looking.  I found some of my grandparents there; others I didn't find.  I have an entire branch of French-Canadian ancestors whose surnames I couldn't pronounce correctly, much less spell with any certainty.  I have a great-grandfather who was adopted by his step-father and used a different surname for a while.  Later, I'd discover that a great-great grandfather married the sister of the woman his father married (Huh?).  No, she wasn't his biological aunt though she was technically his aunt nonetheless.  I discovered I belong to three entirely different Pratt trees, I'm a double Towle, and that my parents are (gasp!) related - about 10 generations back.  I'm also distant cousins with a lot of famous people and a few people I see at work everyday.

Over the years, I've learned how to cast wider nets on Ancestry and other genealogical websites to find the more illusive relations.  I've learned how to trace branches forward and find long-lost cousins.  I've learned how to "Google" up the living and the dead.  I've found places where all sorts of interesting public information is kept online - and I keep finding new ones.  I've met some amazing people, some of which I share a branch or two.  Or three.  Or four.

If I can do this, you can do it, too.

Today, my tree includes a couple of thousand well-documented grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  The longer I do this the more I'm convinced that everyone on the planet is just part of one enormous family.  Everyone is everyone else's cousin.  And I'll be done when I've made note of all my cousins.

Backed up with proper documentation, of course.

*You do not need a subscription to to check out census records.  Google up your local Genealogical and Historical Society- for about $20 a year you can become a member have access to the best the Internet has to offer in the way of premium paid genealogical websites at the library.  And you'll have a friendly docent sitting at the desk to help guide you.  Granted, you can't "save" people to an online tree but you can print out the information.  It's best to print out the information anyway.  In case your computer crashes.  Three times.  Over the course of 5 years.  Just sayin'.


  1. Terrific post ... welcome to the world of blogging! I look forward to reading future posts.

  2. Really nice post Laurie! I look forward to reading more great blogs from you. And yes, welcome to our blog world. ;o)

  3. A great start! Looking forward to more posts!

  4. Great blog Laurie! This distant Yankee cousin will follow with much interest! (Cheryl)

  5. Really enjoyed your post, Laurie! Gets me moving again!

  6. Laurie,
    From one Yankee to another, welcome to the Geneablogger community. I look forward to reading

    Bill West