Isn’t this the most cool image? These are the people who created my DNA. They are my ancestors. I enjoy just looking at all of these people, going back four generations. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to go back in time and see your great grandfather, to watch his mannerisms, to see how he treats his wife and children, to see how he reacts under pressure? Was he good with his hands? Was he an independent thinker?
What mannerisms and ways of thinking did I inherit? So many people have commented to me that when they see me in a public speaking situation it’s like watching my father. And you know what? It’s probably like watching my great-great-grandfather Oren too.
Create Your Ancestral Fan
My genealogy fan was created in familysearch.org. They’ve made it incredibly easy to trace your ancestors. You start by putting in your full name. Of course, you know when you were born. So start filling in your information.
Now add your parents. Don’t know where they were born? Just look at “sources” and it will show you census records, military records, marriage records, etc. which have your parent’s name. By using a little deductive reasoning you can identify the right source documents, which will have their birth places, etc. Before you know it, you’ve used source documents to trace your genealogy back several generations. Then you can create your own way-cool fan. Most genealogy research can be done from your computer at home — zip, boom, bam. But sometimes you come to that source document that doesn’t just pop up on the screen for you. So then you have to get up from the computer and go hunting. Wendy will tell you about that game.
OK, now it’s my turn (Wendy).
We love to geo-cache, which is a new type of world-wide treasure hunt. After downloading an app, it uses your GPS coordinates to help you find caches others have hidden in parks, buildings, paths and natural settings. It’s a fun way to take a walk while having something to search for. Another version is LetterBoxing– great for kids (you put stamps in your notebook for every cache you find- the picture below was from a four part Star Wars themed stamp finding expedition).
So genealogy is a lot like that— gene-caching. Instead of finding a plastic or metal container, you are locating information about your ancestors. It can be just as much fun as geo-caching but is much more rewarding. Instead of finding a trinket or stamp, you find Grandpa!
We were heading to Silver City, New Mexico, where my great grandfather Charles Thomas White was born. My sister, Kerry, wanted me to see if there was a birth record for him and any information on his father, William Henry White.
The hunt was on!
As Clay mentioned, although there are many digitized, searchable records online (so you usually don’t have to go to the actual place to find source records), the majority of records are still sitting in local towns and cities, waiting for you to physically find them.
Digitizing is really important for genealogy work: imagine a document hand-written in cursive, like a land deed, a military muster list, a ship’s passenger manifest or a birth record, with barely legible names. Someone has taken a photo of it and put it on microfilm, but how do you ever find that document?
Someone else now has to digitize the names in the document: type in the actual names into a computer program, with the book, page and file number, that then becomes available online. If a source document has been digitized you can do an online search by name, date, and location and it will pull up the source document.
Digitized documents have revolutionized genealogy. It’s made the difference between hiking to grave sites, county courthouses and church record vaults (the old way) versus simply sitting at home in front of the computer and doing an online search (the new way).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a huge digitizing program called Indexing. Anyone can volunteer to be an indexer, from their own computers at home. It’s actually quite fun to be an indexer and doesn’t take much time. Many hands make light work and it’s a much better use of time than playing computer games.
So, let’s go on a treasure hunt together!
Silver City New Mexico Recorder’s Office
I went to the Grant County Clerk’s office and asked blundering questions about where to go for information, birth records, etc. They pointed me to the Recorder’s Office just down the hall. The Recorders Office showed me into a records room, with old wooden tables, clunky enormous copy machines and shelves filled with rows of big huge heavy ledgers that recorded mining deeds, property deeds, marriage and divorce records.
I grinned like a monkey. This was going to be fun! The hunt was on for William Henry White.
It’s always good to have a well-formulated question when started a genealogy search. When and where was he born? Who were his parents? Did he purchase any land? Did he have a mining claim? In this case, I just wanted proof he was there in the county in the late-1800’s and what his occupation was and did he get into the mining fever for silver while living in New Mexico?
I quickly figured out the system and looked through mining deed ledgers from 1884-1887 (according to past census records and information on previous children, they were in Texas right before this time and then in Arizona after that time, so it narrowed the search). Sitting on the floor, I found the slim index books for each fat ledger that listed the grantors and grantees (sellers and buyers) in double alphabets. A forward and reverse directory. All handwritten in cursive script.
And I found Wm H White, with a page number. A tiny burst of excitement went through me. I hefted the huge ledger to the floor and leafed through it to find the flowing script of the mining deed itself, looking for clues that this was truly my great-great grandfather.
Through searching through multiple indexes and ledgers, I found that some of the documents even listed his name in full as William Henry White, and that he had purchased a 1/3 interest in the Carbonate mining claim, in the Chloride Flats mining district. Then a few years later, he did a power of attorney to a friend to sell his share, just about the time he would have been heading to Arizona.
It would have been a true ordeal to get a copy of these pages, so I photographed them with my IPhone. Much easier. And, I can enlarge at will to read the faint ink scrawls.
New Mexico Territorial Census
I felt happy about finding the mining deeds. Next, I really wanted to see if any other family members were on file. The Records Office directed me to the Silver City public library. The librarian showed me the titles of all their microfilm. One was the New Mexico Territorial Census of 1885. That was right when my White family would have been there. Now that’s a primary source document!
After being taught how to load microfilm into the reader and how to copy pages of interest, I started hunting through the handwritten census. It’s a tedious process with lots of scanning up and down pages and pages and pages of documents. For hours and hours.
And there he was. Wm H White, farmer, in the agricultural census. With a small bit of land, $350 in farm assets, two horses and a mule.
And then, in the list of families recorded in the census, Wm H White and his wife, I. F. White (India Francis), three daughters and a son– 1 year old Chas White (Charles).
I had found my family! It was a sweet, tender moment. Hello there, Great Great Grandpa and Grandma, nice to meet you!
On the Territorial Census, William was 55, born in Virginia and India was 29. Now I had an approximate birth year for William (1885-55= 1830) and a state to start looking for his parents’ names. That’s how genealogy goes- clues lead to more clues.
We knew from other sources that Charles’ birth date was April 10, 1884 (findagrave.com), but we don’t have an actual birth certificate. The local health department said all the birth records were in Santa Fe. I looked on their website and it stated they may not have much birth information before 1911. Typing in his name didn’t reveal anything. Drats.
My sister suggested I try looking through the newspapers of that time to see if there was a birth announcement. Another source I later discovered is the Library of Congress, which has gathered tons of newspapers, searchable by state, date ranges and names. (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov).
At the local library, the microfilmed copies of the newspaper were tattered and blurred and useless, so they suggested I try the university in town. At the university library I got the appropriate microfilms and began searching. Not easy– newspapers of that time were basically gossip columns with no real organization.
After searching backwards and forwards in the April 1884-July 1884 editions I finally found a birth announcement in the Silver City Enterprise, Friday, May 2, 1884:
“W.H. White, residing at Oak Grove, was recently presented with a ten-pound boy by his wife.”
It made me smile.
We still don’t have a birth record for Charles T. White, so the path continues.
Do you see how the hunt goes? It’s about asking questions and finding experts (librarians rock!) and searching for answers and a big dose of luck.
And if your ancestors really want to be found, I’m sure they do some nudging from the other world.
Having said all that, again, most genealogy research is done as Clay described — just sitting comfortably at your computer and pulling up digitized source records (census records, land deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates) from simple online searches. Try it. It’s fun!
So what’s in your DNA? Show off your family fan!