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Family Artifacts and Genealogy

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Genie Jargon

Daguerreotypes and tintypes are early photographic processes with the image made on a light-sensitive, silver-coated metallic plate or made directly on an iron plate varnished with a thin sensitized film.

Picturing the Past

Likenesses of your ancestors are treasures. They may be faded daguerreotypes or hardly recognizable tintypes. But hopefully someone has included a note as to who they were. (A good photo shop can restore them with amazing results, as can some photo software programs such as Adobe's Photoshop). Many of the old black-and-white photographs are remarkably preserved, especially if they have not been subjected to light. Examine each for names and dates. Note, too, the city of the photography studio where the photo was taken; it can provide a location for the family.

When you visit relatives, take some photographs with you. It will bring back memories. If you have a scanner attached to your computer, scan some photographs and take copies to leave, or make photocopies. The family will be thrilled. And they may be able to identify some of the people in old photographs for you.

Sometimes it is possible to connect two branches of your family by the photographs they own. Your Ohio branch and the Missouri branch may have lost touch 75 years ago. If both have the same photo of the original family home in Ohio, the photo in common can assure you they are of the same family. The photos belonging to your relatives can also assist you if they have the same photograph, which was unidentified on your family's copy, but identified on theirs. Your photograph of an unidentified Civil War soldier may be the same photo in another branch, with identification.

Genie Jargon

Transcribing is to faithfully duplicate the exact wording, spelling, and punctuation of the original.

The Old Family Bible

Have you ever really looked at the old family Bible? Take a good look now. Surprised to find that there is a section of family records? This was not only common, but often is the only written record of the births and marriages in a family. Examine it carefully. Some of the old style script can be difficult to read. The flourishes render the capital letters especially hard to decipher, and numbers can be a problem, too. However, as you improve your transcribing skills, you will be able to read many styles of handwriting. Some websites have very good examples of the old writing. In fact, www.Cyndislist.com, the granddaddy (or grandmommy!) of all genealogical websites, has a special category for the subject. At that website scroll down to “Handwriting & Script.” You'll even find oldstyle abbreviations for names and locations listed with links to the websites.

Lineage Lessons

Entries in the Bible made sometime after the event are more apt to have errors. Entries copied into a newer Bible from an older Bible are subject to error, too, because of a possible misreading of a name or date, or the omission of an entry.

Get a photocopy of the Bible pages (or a photograph if it is too fragile to copy), and be sure to include the title page to show when and where the Bible was published. “Why would I want to know that?” you wonder. It is important to establish when the entries were written. If the Bible was printed in 1850, but the first entry is 1775, then you know the entries were either copied from an older record or are based on some other source. They are subject to errors from copying or transcribing the older record.

Knowing the publication date may help you resolve discrepancies when comparing the Bible with other documents. If the Bible was printed in 1850 and the first entry is the marriage in 1852, followed by births of the children in the order they were born, the entries were probably made at the time of the event and are therefore more apt to be correct. Pay particular attention to the handwriting. Were all the entries in the same hand? Were some of the dates added with a ball-point pen in a later, more modern hand? These observations will help you to evaluate the accuracy. Try to find out not only the name of the present owner, but all the previous owners of the Bible.

Genie Jargon

A deed is a legal document used to transfer title; a mortgage is a pledge to repay money borrowed.

“This Deed Dated the …”

Scattered among those family papers you may find old deeds, mortgages, and perhaps even an Army discharge. The names and locations they mention can reveal many clues. Other documents of value might be a will that was never discarded after a new will was made, or a life-insurance policy with family background. Take careful notes. List the documents so that you can refer to them in the future as you learn new search techniques.

Lineage Lessons

When you transcribe the old letters, follow them word by word in the exact spelling and punctuation. Do not be concerned with the errors they made in writing. The fact that they could even write, when schooling was so scarce, was an accomplishment. It is important to retain the original exactly as is in your transcription.

Letters: Speaking from the Grave

Faded and hard to read, those old letters can capture a bit of your family's life once they are deciphered. A letter written to a sister in 1855, “My wife Mary died and I have no one to help with the little ones … Can you come and help for a while? …” or “We just arrived at the mines in Placerville, where the people are fighting for a spot to camp …,” written from California in 1850, points you to events, locations, and individuals to find. It will be frustrating when the letter is written to “Dear Sister” or “Dear Son” with no further identification of the recipient. However, as the search progresses, the identity may emerge. The names within the letter then become valuable new leads.

Also take note of the envelope that accompanied the letters: to whom it was addressed, the manner in which it was addressed, and the dates.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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