Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Salt Lake City: I Found My Great Grandmother At The Family History Library

Family History Library

Have you ever wanted to be a detective, using clues to solve mysteries? Ever since I began watching History Detectives on PBS, I have thought it would be an interesting career. But you don’t have to have a job as a detective in order to be one. I found out in Salt Lake City that you can be a sleuth right in the privacy of your own home.

Years ago, official documents were handwritten like this birth certificate from 1880. None of the documents in this blog entry are from my family, but I did find them at the Family History Library.
Governments collect information, and they keep careful and detailed records. As an example, when you are born you receive a birth certificate and your birth becomes part of the public record. The same is true when you die. Military records are another source as are census forms. In fact, our government has over 4,000,000,000 documents in the National Archives. Most document records were kept on paper, while others made their way onto microfilm or microfiche. In years prior to the digital age, if you wanted to search for a birth record in Massachusetts, you had to go to Massachusetts or write to the state and request information. Now, however, these government records are in digital format and are available online. And you can access them from home.

You can better understand your own life when you learn about your ancestors. A piece of every one of them is part of who you are. Most of us know who our parents are and also our grandparents. Beyond that, it can be hard to tell. Of course, you can ask your parents and grandparents for information, but many don’t know or they have forgotten or perhaps they have information that isn’t completely accurate. 

This ship manifest lists all ship passengers and provides a lot of information about the immigrants coming into Ellis Island for processing. It lists names, country of origin, and so on.
Unless you are a Native American, your ancestors came here from somewhere else. During the great wave of migration, one set of my great grandparents arrived by ship in America in the late 1800s. My niece recently sent me a copy of the ship’s manifest showing my great grandparents’ arrival from Germany at Ellis Island in New York. She found it on the Ellis Island website, an easy place to being searching for information about your family. And because the ship’s manifest document was in digital form, my niece was able to print hard copies for her family records and for me. 

Every ten years the United States government counts all of its citizens. This page from an old census book lists everyone who lived at a particular address along with their ages and occupations. I found the record for my mother's family from 1920 when was was still a baby and again in 1930 when my mother was twelve.
A number of years ago, my parents gave me copies of photographs of many of my ancestors, but they knew very little about them. While I was in Salt Lake City, I decided to go to the Family History Library for help in finding out about some of my family history. I was surprised to learn that the library provides free access to its vast resources, and volunteers are there to help you get started. I only had an hour to spend, but in that short time I found my great grandmother! All I knew was her name and that she possibly was from Massachusetts. The volunteer asked me when my great grandmother was born, but I did not know. She asked if I knew when my grandmother, my great grandmother's daughter, was born. I said it was in 1882. The volunteer suggested that I search census records for 1870 because my great grandmother probably was listed in that census. Within a few keystrokes, I found the document showing that my great grandmother and her brother lived in a small town in Massachusetts in 1870. And now I also know the name of my great grandmother’s brother. Prior to this I had no idea that my great grandmother had a brother. The volunteer next had me enter the names of each of my grandfathers, and a quick search returned two documents. Was I surprised to see my grandfathers’ signatures on the documents! I made copies to take home with me. Then, the volunteer showed me how to use the online resources when I get home. And she said that if I need more help, I can go to a center near to my hometown where volunteers will guide me. As soon as I get back home, I am going to become my own history detective. I cannot begin to imagine all that I will find. Now that I have found my great grandmother listed in the 1870 census, I may be able to find her in the 1850 census. And because in 1850 my great grandmother would would have been only six years old, it is likely that I will find out the names of her parents and any other siblings because all members of a family are listed together in census documents.

When a person dies, the death is registered and a death certificate is issued. Generally, you need this document to make a claim on life insurance.
What would you like to know about your family? Did your great-great grandfather serve in the Civil War? Did your great grandmother come to America from Italy or France or Germany? If you want to find out, begin by visiting this website: www.familysearch.org. In addition to searching online, the site lists centers where you can go for help. I found one that is only twenty miles from my house.

This is an example of a draft registration card from World War II. While I am not related to this person, I was able to find copies of the ones my grandfathers filled out complete with their signatures.
Happy sleuthing and don’t be surprised if you find something amazing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing...