starting your family history research

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, 2018; week 1 prompt:  Start.
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When I first delved into researching my family history, I quite literally didn’t know where to start.  This was back in the 1990s when the internet was young and, before Ancestry.com became synonomous in the minds of millions, with,genealogy research…  (And, hint:  Ancestry.com?  But one source of many, folks.)

Even now, in this age of genealogy websites all over the internet; PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow; &, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., if I bring up genealogy research — my latest discoveries, a particularly neat find — I’m met frequently with, “That sounds so fascinating but I wouldn’t know where to begin…”

First step?  S t a r t.
Beginning is mostly
a, Just Do It, kind of thing.

Start with what, though?
What you already know and, have on hand.

YOUR BEST RESOURCES INCLUDE:

FAMILY PAPERS (see gold box above)  They truly are, gold.  Scrounge for all you can find.

I will add to this one, medical records of deceased family members.  Ones I unearthed revealed trivia I’d learn nowhere else…

ELDERS IN YOUR FAMILY  That’s right; the old coots.  The furthest-out-there generations still living that you can find.  They can provide facts and, wonderful anecdotal information & stories you just will not find elsewhere.  By the time I began my research, my mother & maternal grandparents were long dead; my paternal grands were deceased; and my father had the beginnings of dementia; etc.  That made for a harder road.  Talk to those people while they are yet alive!  (Take a page from Native American culture:  Value your elders.)

They drop like flies after a certain point. 😐  For heavens sake, interview them while you can.

When I began my family research in the 1990s, my mother’s siblings were gone; my father’s, also long gone.  I did however make brief contact with a paternal aunt, Geraldine (Geri) (McGinnis) Buckner — who abruptly died (old people simply do that; be fast) after we’d exchanged a couple of letters and were in process of arranging a visit.  This experience “learned me” in regard to older kin:  Waste no time!  And, Act with expedience!  Seriously.

But before she did leave this world, Aunt Geri told me an astounding fact:
I had a paternal first cousin I was completely unaware of!  (I have a mental image of myself circa, Hmmm, 1st or 2nd grades, standing in our living room asking my father, who was virtually 100% estranged from his family, “Does Aunt Nell have any kids?”  I can still “see” the both of us — center of the room, standing to one side of the staircase — my father sort of chewing his lips and frowning slightly before answering, “No, she doesn’t.”  Well, I learned from Aunt Geri that that was a blatant fib.)

“Oh yes,” Aunt Geri told me over the phone, she in Missouri, me way up in Wisconsin, “Nell had a baby daughter.  She lost her, looked and looked for her for years & years…  It was so sad.”

My aunt Nell, only sister of my father, had a daughter; “lost” her; and, my own father somehow didn’t know of this tragedy??  (Or, had purposely kept it from me?…  Why?)

Much digging turned up a near-made-for-tv-movie type story on this very-much-not-lost, yet, only-discovered-through-genealogy-research first cousin, but, that I will save for another blog post.  Suffice it to say, you will be surprised at some of what you find in your ancestral attic.

ONLINE MESSAGE BOARDS  Without these?!  I might not have learned (so soon, anyway) that among my 6th great-granduncles is an infamous cryptid 😮 known as “the Jersey Devil.”

Third cousin once removed Larry G. Greger (1944–2007 Illinois), whom I met online in a message board and learned more of my Greger-side ancestry from than anyone or any place else since — Larry was one of those walking encyclopedia types where family history was concerned — turned me on to this fact.  (It so alarmed me when first I heard it that I would not hear, or, even peek at anything regarding it for over a year.  “Don’t start, Larry,” I would say if he tried to bring it up. 😀 )

MY ALLEGED 6TH GREAT GRANDUNCLE & LEGENDARY CRYPTID, THE JERSEY DEVIL2

This alleged offspring of my 7th Great-Grandparents Japheth Leeds, Sr. (circa 1682-’88 New Jersey–abt Feb. 5, 1735-’36 New Jersey), & Deborah Smith (abt 1685–1748 New Jersey), per the The New Jersey Historical Society, is generally traced back to my very own 7th Great-Grandmum Deborah, “who emigrated from England in the 1700s to marry a Mr. Leeds [Grampa Japheth].  The Leeds family lived in the area of the NJ Pine Barrens…  Mrs. Leeds had given birth to 12 children and was about to give birth to her 13th.  The story goes that Mrs. Leeds invoked the devil during a very difficult and painful labor and that when the baby was born, it either immediately, or very afterwards, (depending on the version of the story), grew into a full-grown devil and escaped from the house.”  Other versions of the story give variations on this account, one being that the child was born “a monster,” i.e. deformed.  “It may be that indeed Mrs. Leeds gave birth to a child with a birth defect and given the superstitions of the period, the legend of the Jersey Devil was born.  People in the 1700s still believed in witchcraft and many people of the period felt a deformed child was a child of the devil or that the deformity was a sign that the child had been cursed by God.”1

Nevertheless, “In the last 200 years or so, there have been a number of ‘sightings’ and the hearing of eerie noises/wails in the forests which have been attributed to the Jersey Devil,…”  Poor uncle. :-/  (And poor Grandmama Deborah, to go down in history so “memorably?” :-/ )1

Over the years, “People have found ‘strange’ tracks and attributed them to the Jersey Devil. One instance of such tracks was reported, (along with loud shrieks), near May’s Landing in 1960. Also in 1960, merchants in Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil. They said they would build a private zoo to display the creature if anyone could capture it. The reward is unclaimed.”1

SNAIL-, E-MAIL & PHONE CONVERSATIONS WITH KIN MET ONLINE  Just invaluable.  Absolutely invaluable.

Multiple cousins from Clark & Crawford Counties, Illinois, have provided me so much background on the huge number of my Buckner kin in those areas:  from photos to anecdotal data to history to you-name-it.  From one of them I first learned of my paternal grandfather Jesse Grant (Grant) Buckner’s (1882 Illinois–1941 Missouri) orphan background, along with that of his siblings after their mother’s sudden & unexpected death.

I first learned the following factoid regarding my paternal grandfather, Jesse (Grant) Buckner and, his parents/my great-grands, from several Clark & Crawford County, Illinois, cousins met online:

…Richard and Mary Elizabeth Buckner were living on their farm between West Union and Martinsville in Clark County, Illinois…  The mother, Mary Elizabeth, became ill while visiting friends on a nearby farm on Dec. 20, 1886, and died on December 24.  [Christmas Eve.  Can you imagine?]  Dora and Lula [ages 13, &, six at the time] were taken to the home of [their maternal grandparents] Christian and Catharine Fasig.  The boys [Perry Comodore, age 11; William Frederick (Fred), age nine; Grant, age four; & Edward D. (Eddie), age two & 10 months], except Homer [six months], were taken to a soldiers orphanage at Normal, Illinois, where Edward died at the age of two.  Edward’s grave has never been located.  Homer was taken by the family of Jacob Serwise.  …”

Major genealogy data!

HISTORICAL SOCIETIES  Even teeny small ones.
&
MUSEUMS  Yes, museums.  A recreational drive in the Wisconsin countryside in 2001 took me into Mt. Horeb and into the Mt. Horeb Area Museum, such a little-bitty hole-in-the-wall at the time that I almost missed the entrance.

What did I see sitting on the counter in the museum gift shop but, the bright red cover of a Mt. Horeb-Presettlement to 1986 book.

Now, while I did know that Grandunk Dr. Homer Buckner supposedly lived & had a clinic at one time somewhere around Dodgeville or Mt. Horeb, that was the extent of my knowledge.  But serendipity led me to pick up the book; turn to the index; and look for, Buckner.  I was floored to read:

“On November 4, 1918, five Mt. Horeb businessmen went to Prairie du Sack to induce Dr. Homer M Buckner to set up an office here [in Mt. Horeb].  The prospect of having an operating room was a proposition he could not resist.  Dr. and Mrs. (Marie) Buckner arrived in Mt. Horeb on Armistice Day, 1918.  He used St. Olaf Hospital to perform many surgeries until December 1921, when he purchased the spacious three story residence at 408 East Main Street, built by Onon B. Dahle in 1895.3

“In 1922, he opened a 22 bed hospital with offices…on the first floor.  …3

“….H. M. Buckner…retained several of the elegant rooms on the first floor for living quarters for himself and his new bride, Marie Pierstoff.  His skill as a surgeon gave him a large practice and he performed major surgery as well as countless tonsillectomies, which were almost routine during that period for children with sore throats.  One pleasure that usually followed the tonsillectomy was that the patient got a malted milk, for it soothed the throat as it provided nourishment.  …3

“In 1939, the Industrial Commission complained that the hospital was not sufficiently fireproof and early in 1940 informed Dr. Buckner it could no longer function as a hospital.  Dr. Judson A Forman purchased the property for an office and consultation rooms.  Dr. Buckner moved May 1, 1940, to Dodgeville where there were hospital facilities.  …3

“….[Dodgeville’s] larger hospitals provided better facilities for his surgery.  He became especially adept at removing gall bladders.  Many of his Mt. Horeb patients continued to seek his services after the move.”3

The museum even had glassed-in “reproductions” of what his offices looked like at the time.

CENSUSES  Census images reveal more than just names.  Value of property owned; educational level; year of immigration; year of marriage:  different census years offer a variety of information.

OLD BOOKS  Googling turns up all sorts of things.

AND MANY, MANY, MORE  Imagination helps.  (Never give up.).
___
SOURCES
The New Jersey Historical Society, at http://jerseyhistory.org/legend_jerseydevil.html , accessed Jan., 2018.
2 PHOTO, the Jersey Devil:  public domain.
3 Mt. Horeb-Presettlement to 1986, Mt. Horeb (WI) Area Museum* gift shop; pages 47 & 121; 1986 softcover edition; purchased fall, 2001.  *[Now called the Driftless Historium; website, http://www.mthorebhistory.org/driftless-historium.html .]
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