Family Artifacts and Genealogy
Sponsors were those people who vouched for the suitability of the applicant to be admitted to the society.
Beware of salutations such as “Cousin” Joe and “Aunt” Hattie. Relationships were often stated loosely. “Cousin” could really mean second-cousin or another relationship; “aunt” may be a great-aunt or step-aunt. Rarely did anyone include the “great” in a relationship when speaking of another. Also watch for “Sr.” and “Jr.” for they were not necessarily father and son. They were often used in letters and in legal documents only to distinguish between two people with the same name, living in the same town. They might be related, as uncle and nephew or in some other manner, or not related at all. If they were related, when Sr. died, Jr. often became Sr. If the latter also had a son by the same name, the son (probably previously known as III) would have become Jr. Watch for this switch.
“Ancient and Honorable …”: Lineage Societies
Joining lineage societies was very popular in the first half of the twentieth century and remains so. The societies are based on descent from veterans of various wars, from pioneers, from specific trades (such as tavern keepers), and many more. Watch for these applications. Information that the applicants provided about their ancestors can assist in the search. Though most lineage societies' documentation requirements were looser in earlier years than now, the application can provide valuable clues. Also note the names of the sponsors. They knew the applicant and might be leads to further records.
Membership in these organizations has grown and flourished; currently there are hundreds of such groups. Some have published their member-lineage records. Most have websites. Start with www.cyndislist.com and scroll down to “Societies & Groups.” Alternately, if you know the name of the society, simply enter that name in your computer's Web browser. If you suspect that someone in your family joined such a group, obtain the society's address and write for the member's application.
In order to gain as many clues as possible from lineage papers, be sure to ask the organization for a copy of its membership requirements, or check their website. This can help you to understand the records connected with the application. Daughters of the American Revolution, for example, will admit descendants not only for Revolutionary service of the ancestor but also if the ancestor provided supplies for the war effort.
The sons in the family often were given more than the daughters. They inherited the land, farm implements, and most of the stock. The daughters usually received beds and bedding, perhaps a horse or cow, slaves (in the south), and personal items, unless the father had sufficient land to give to all.
Account Books: Not a Penny More
Account books, kept by the father (or head) of the family to record money transactions and other miscellaneous notes, often include the cash advances made to the children to purchase a farm, buy equipment, purchase household items, or for any other reason. And they were just that: advances recorded faithfully, to be settled at the time of death of the father if they were still due. When he made his will, he often meticulously listed the cash advances down to the penny. He made sure that those advances were accounted for against the child's portion of the estate when he died. The account books may contain various other transactions: money put out to interest; implements purchased; and perhaps even a family birth, death, or baptism. Scrutinize them carefully for clues on occupation, too.
Did a member of the family travel west or take a train trip through seven states? Travel back to “the old country”? The traveler may have left a journal. A careful reading might reward you with the names of relatives visited on the trip and perhaps some interesting sidelights.
It was especially popular to write diaries during the Gold Rush to California and during the several journeys west to Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, and other points. The Civil War also produced numerous journals, though many did not survive. Those who were unable to write during the war period often put their recollections on paper after their return home.
Diaries can tell you much about the people and their daily lives. From the prairie, you hear about the heat, the dust, the deaths. And yes, the births, and the fun the little children had, and the fear when they were unexpectedly visited by Indians. Your ancestors' writings during the war tell you of the loneliness, the fear, the pain of losing comrades. But they also tell you of their hope for the future and of the pride in serving for a cause in which they believed. Your ancestors will come alive to you as you read their penned words.
Popular in the nineteenth century, charming autograph books contained poems, short writings, and eulogies. A poem was inscribed at the bottom: “Selected for Belina Adams by her Grand Father in the 77th year of his age A Webster Lebanon Aug 30th 1828.” Besides genealogical value, there is some historic interest, because her grandfather A. [Abram] Webster of Lebanon, New York, was a brother of Noah Webster, of dictionary fame. Look among your family's papers and you, too, are bound to find such treasures.
Baby Books: A Mom and Pop's Joy
Baby books so lovingly written are wonderful to read. Mom's excitement when the first tooth poked out; Dad's pride when first steps were taken. Besides the list of gifts, which might name relatives, there could be notations: “He has deep blue eyes like Grandpa Smith.” Or, “Everyone says she looks just like Aunt Margaret.” Now you know there was an Aunt Margaret! Watch, too, for baptismal dates, new addresses, and other listings that point to more records.
Address Lists, Samplers, and Other Treasures
Look for old address books, Christmas lists with addresses, and invitations to a fiftieth wedding anniversary. Old greeting cards also are helpful for names and addresses, and family news. You want to find anything that might give a lead to a relative or a town in which they lived.
Look also for engraved silverware. The initials may give a clue to a husband's or wife's name.
Don't overlook the cross-stitch sampler. A popular pastime was to create one with the names and birth dates of all the family members. Friendship quilts created by a bride's friends as a wedding present may feature embroidered names in each square.
More on: Family History and Genealogy
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.
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