Friday, May 11, 2012

Honoring Our Civil War Ancestors with the Grand Army of the Republic

I used to love Memorial Day, because I got the day off of school.  Then I grew bitter towards Memorial Day, because my kids got the day off of school.  Only recently did I learn the origin and true spirit behind Memorial Day.  Now as a lover of history and genealogy , I am learning a greater admiration and understanding of Memorial Day, its founders, and the military men and women it honors.

The day we now know as Memorial Day was started in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic.  The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Union Civil War veterans established in 1866.  It was then known as "Decoration Day", and was begun "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”  Today, of course, we take this opportunity to honor all veterans who fought for our country.

A few days ago I had no idea what the Grand Army of the Republic was.  I was haphazardly searching through tidbits of William's life when I came across a phrase in his obituary that caught my attention.

Philadelphia Inquirer 13 Aug 1910

As Philadelphia death notices go, this one is a goldmine.  Many only contain the death date and funeral services.  From this one obituary I already know:

  • William died 12 Aug 1910 in Philadelphia
  • He had a son named William
  • His wife was named Catherine
  • He was 86, therefore born circa 1824
  • He lived at 1230 Olive (good info for comparing to the census or checking Google Earth)
  • He is buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia
But... what the heck is "E D Baker Post No 8" or "118 Corn Exchange"???  At first I looked past this information, and what a HUGE mistake that was.  We'll skip the Corn Exchange for now, but some well placed Google searching would have given me years worth of continued research in about 5 minutes... there will be many, many posts on this blog to follow up that cryptic statement.

Ok, so here was my less than 5 minute discovery process, using Google.  
  • About 2 weeks ago I decided to Google "E D Baker Post No 8 Philadelphia" and see what came up.  The 1st link on the results page was this one.  It seemed unhelpful at first, being just an index of many similar phrases, but the title of the page was "Grand Army of the Republic."  
  • When I turned around and Googled that (my spell check says "Googled" isn't a word, but surely that can't be true), the 1st hit was the wikipedia article which  told me EXACTLY what I needed to know.  
  • I finally searched "Grand Army of the Republic genealogy Pennsylvania".  Which brought me to a wonderful article from the Every Name Index Blog.  
  • From  this article I followed links to the webpages of the GAR Museum and Library in Philadelphia and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is the derivative organization that is still accepting members.
*Whew*  There are an incredible number of possible ways to follow up on this, all stemming from a small piece of information that I initially overlooked.  

And so, on this Memorial Day, let us all strive to leave no genealogical stone un-turned 
                 ...and no veteran's grave un-decorated.

God Bless Our Veterans!

How to Know What You Know

Ok, we've all been there. You find some genealogical nugget online about an ancestor you were previously stuck on, when it happens...
           a storm of clicking.
You open up all your previous records and then think, "oh, now I can check this city directory" or "I wonder what they have on this county website" or "hey, that would make a great Google search term" and on and on and on. Before you know it you have a file of random things saved on your computer, a stack of papers on your printer, too many ideas to know what to do next, AND...
           a head-ache.

So what's an overexcited genealogist to do???

This is what has been happening over the last two weeks between William and I. So I beseeched my beloved ancestor, "Where do I go next?"

The answer came to me from Emily Croom's book The Sleuth Book for Genealogists, which I will review later. At the VERY beginning of this book, Croom points out that before you can ask "What is the answer?" you must know "What is the question?". There is something to be said for genealogical spontaneity, but total randomness is almost never productive.

 Before we can start searching for what we don't know, it's important to know what we do know. So here are the steps I -and all of us- must take when starting a project, figuring out what to do next, or regrouping when we hit a brick wall. (Just so you know, Croom suggests establishing an organization system before you start this process, see her book for more.)
  1. Identify the problem: Which ancestor, family, place, etc are you working on and what's the goal? 
  2. Gather all the information you already have on the person or problem: I prefer to print it all out.
  3. Organize your sources chronologically by the date they were created.  Make sure you've properly sourced everything .
  4. Update relevant family group sheet(s). 
  5. Make a timeline of every detail of your ancestors life in chronological order with sources.
  6. Search for holes in your timeline and major record types.
  7. Identify the problem (again): What information or sources you do want to find next and where will you look for them?
  8. PUT IT IN WRITING!!! A plan isn't a plan if it isn't down in black & white
So this is my next (or first) step. I am in the process of printing all my documents I have found and creating a spreadsheet with a chronological biographical summary, AKA timeline. I will be posting it when I'm finished.

Initially it feels like we're cramping our style to stop forward motion in our research. But if we want to get serious about our genealogy research, we need to learn to think like a sleuth!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Welcome to the William Park Family History Blog

Welcome to my new geneablog!

I started doing genealogy when I was assigned a family history project in high school in 2001. I have since married and had 3 beautiful children. Genealogy is even more important to me now that I have a family of my own, but as I'm sure you all understand sometimes life forces your genealogy onto the back burner. Well, with the release of the much anticipated 1940 Federal Census, I decided it was time to crank things up again. 

Recently I developed an intense passion for one ancestor in particular, my "PawPaw's" great-grandfather, William Park. He is my most recent immigrant ancestor, having immigrated in 1852 from Ireland. I discovered this fact by using the 1910 census and's passenger list records confirmed by background research on the family as a whole... But that's it's own post. :)

William is a genealogists dream, because studying his life has taken and will take me through nearly every record type. Also, being from a big city like Philadelphia there are an incredible number of records available.

I am excited to embark with you on this journey to
              knowing William.