Saturday, December 31, 2011

Genealogy Resolutions for 2012

1.  Organize My Online Life
I have a miniscule presence online.  I have a website, blog, online family tree, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr. There may be others I have forgotten ;)  I need to streamline and coordinate these into an organized structure.  Until I had time to spend creating and updating content, I have been reluctant to post these "out there".  I will get past my fears, digitize my life, and create a small online presence.

I have no grand illusions of publication, expertise, or other motives.  I feel I can communicate well and hope to use my online accounts to connect with distant cousins, and researchers and historians in places my family resided.

1a.  Improve My Blog
I anticipate using this blog as the focal point to my above-mentioned online presence.  I will find time to write and publish posts on a regular basis, starting with once a week.  I will spend time tweaking my blog...and leave it alone.

2. Organize My Offline Life
I will keep up with my paper filing.  I will create a better physical workspace, as our current setup of computers and folding tables can hinder smooth research. I will stop using genealogy as my reward for finishing offline chores.  I would never have time for research!  I can afford at least couple hours each week to myself.

3.  Continue Digital Projects
Since Santa was nice enough to bring me a new laptop that doesn't take 10 minutes to fully boot, I will take time to transfer and re-organize my genealogy data from my old laptop onto this one.  I will begin in earnest to connect and organize my digital photos and records to my Legacy Family Tree master file.

4.  Help Others
I spent time over the past two years photographing three area cemeteries and helping to update and upload photos to FindAGrave.  I will digitize the 2,000+ photos to donate to the local history department at my public library.  I would like resume to transcribing records for Family Search.

5. Help Myself
I will work on my own brick walls in 2012, either by continued online research or by learning more about the geographic or historic facts of the areas in which these ancestors lived.

Major Brick Walls:

Find Asa SPENCER's parents
          (Asa c1783-1859, lived Shaftsbury, Bennington, Vermont)
Find Irish origins of my McBRIDE line
          (emigrated to County Durham, England then to Illinois)
Find Irish origins of my KERR line
          (emigrated to Kilbirnie, Ayr, Scotland then to Illinois)
Find Carolina EBINGER's parents
          (Carrie born 1849 in Tafern, Backnang, Wuerttemburg, Germany)

I think that's a good start!

Happy New Year and Happy Researching!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Genealogy, Technology and the Cloud

Today I read with interest an entry on Marian Pierre-Louis' "Roots and Rambles" blog (read it here) about difficulties in the "cloud".  The cloud is current terminology used to explain how our online email, files, and other cyberactivities are stored away from our own computer.  An example is Google, where the user is able to access their email or other content on any computer, rather than only from home.

I have been a Google products user for many, many years. I have several Gmail accounts, this Blogger account, and joined Google+ earlier this year. I love Google.  Offering terrific, simple products for FREE is awesome. Over time, I never had a problem with any of my Google products until earlier this year.  I attempted to access my genealogy-specific Gmail account.  I received a warning that it was suspected of being hacked and was therefore unavailable.  Nothing I could do could gain me access.

Using, coincidentally, Google to search what happens when an email account is locked down, I learned I had two options: enter information demonstrating I am the owner, or providing a cell phone number.  As an inheritently private person, I was very leery of the phone number option.  Off I went to try to prove the account was really mine.  I tried to complete the Account Recovery Form.  The information requested was almost impossible, especially with some of the answers "locked up" inside my Gmail account!

I relented and provided my cell phone number.  I almost instantly received a recovery code and had access to my account within minutes.

What did I learn?

1.  Hackers and spammers are everywhere..

2.  I changed my password and backed up my blog posts immediately.

3.  I learned how to view and be alerted when my Gmail account may have been opened in an unfamiliar location.  In the bottom right corner of your Gmail page is a "Details" link.  Click it and see the last 10 IP locations where your account was opened.  Mine usually shows the same two: home internet connection and smartphone access.

I am keeping my Google products, as an informed consumer. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Norwegian Immigrants on the Illinois Prairie

The Chicago area had unusual heat all summer, then off and on into the fall. What better way to spend a hot, late October afternoon than in a cemetery?!

Using FindAGrave to select area photo requests, I settled on a visit to Helmar Lutheran Cemetery, in rural Newark, Illinois. I had never been there and had no idea what I would find. I hoped it would be a small, accessible farm cemetery.

It was perfect!

I wandered as I usually do, to get a sense of the cemetery and it's residents. Helmar is surrounded by a new white fence and is clearly well-cared for. As also happens, I found many of the same surnames as my requests, but not all of the right people. (Sometimes I think I pick the requests that are extra-super challenging!).

I photographed several of the oldest stones. I am always attracted to those. And I had to head home. Rats!

The next weekend, I loaded up two cameras and extra batteries. You can see it coming, right? I spent a couple hours and photographed the whole cemetery.

It then takes me a while to get the photos uploaded on FindAGrave. I had to spend an inordinate amount of time on the "A's". Most of the residents here are of Norwegian descent. There are lots and lots of Anderson's! And Larson's. And Nelson's.

Ole Anderson, Bernt Larson, and Nels Nelson

As I posted the photos and read some of the biographical information, I kept seeing the same hometown: Skaanevik. I did a Google book search and found "A History of Norwegian Immigration" by George Tobias Flom. A quick scan shows several references to Skaanevik and Helmar. I hope there is a researcher or family member out there who will benefit from this information. I have no people in this cemetery or from Norway, but this type of connection fascinates me.

Learning is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Family Stories, Part 1

Recently in the Ancestry blog, Juliana Smith covered the topic of proving, or disproving, family stories. (Read it here).

I have met a few times with a cousin of my dad's. She, like me, has always been into family history. Unlike me, she was able to spend time with our common ancestors when she was a child. I have her to thank for helping to pique my genealogy curiosity after my parents received one of her family tree projects many years ago. Being a generation older, she had the advantage of knowing many more family members than me.

I had been able to research (independent of her work) a bit about our shared Blanchette or Blanchard family. My experience to this point was through online sources, such as census records and vital statistics. Cousin had the advantage of the handed-down stories.

A few years ago, Cousin self-published a book of these family stories. Primarily, it told of our ancestor, Louis Blanchard and how he left Quebec and came to settle in Wisconsin. I have a signed copy. I read it several times. Then I realized that some of it didn't really make logistical sense.

Cousin's (short) version: Louis was the last child and his mother died in childbirth, he was raised by his sister Sophia, lived with her children, was mocked for being the "outsider" and ran away to Wisconsin.

My version: Louis was indeed the last child, though his mother went on to live another 40+ years in Quebec. I have not yet found his sister's marriage record, but he did have an older sister Julia S(ophia?) Blanchette, who married a German immigrant, Charles Richards, and by 1851 were living in Saugatuck, Allegan County, Michigan. On the 1860 US census, the Richards household had a "Lois Planchet", male, aged 21, a sawyer, born in Canada. Through hours of backchecking in the Drouin records and Canadian censuses available on, I have no doubt this is Louis living with his sister. Unfortunately, Cousin does not agree because the name is not spelled correctly. And how did they end up first in Michigan and not Wisconsin?

Cousin's (short) version: Louis was born Louis Onesime Blanchette on 24 Dec 1840 in Drummondville, Drummond County, Quebec. His parents were Jean Evangeliste Blanchette and Marie Baron.

My version: Louis was born Louis Blanchette (no middle name given) on 19 Jun 1838 in le Baie-du-Febvre, Yamaska County, Quebec. His parents were Seraphin Blanchette and Marie-Edesse Dionne. The easiest way to evaluate this discrepancy was to review the records. All of them! Again using the Drouin records, I made a family chart of everyone who had a son called Louis within a 10 year window of 1840. Sadly, Louis Onesime, son of Jean and Marie, died before age 2. Clearly, this is not our ancestor.

Louis, son of Seraphin and Marie-Edesse, also had a sister called Julia. As I expected, Julia's birthdate in the church records is the EXACT birthdate she had always used, and shows on her death Michigan.

Louis was not born in Drummondville proper, but in Baie-du-Febvre, a small village nearby that included several branches of the Blanchette family. In rural Canada, small missions were built and children were often baptised at a convenient time for the priest, rather than within an actual church. The missions were not always permanent. Much like I would say to someone not familar with my small town in Illinois that I am "from Chicago", Louis stated he was "from Drummondville", the largest town of his day.

What have we learned?

Flexibility! Genealogy is fluid, not always finite, and always open to interpretation. I needed to see the storied context of our ancestors. Cousin needs to see that paper records are not always exact.

Perseverance in researching can definitely pay off. A treasure trove of records such as the Drouin collection, can hold many secrets. In this case, it held dozens of Blanchette family records. It only took time to find the correct one. Map out a plan and follow through. I had the advantage of NOT knowing what the correct date should be, so I was able to evaluate the records solely at face value.

The family stories, while not always factual, gave excellent context to my investigation. Cousin is not entirely wrong. She has the advantage of hearing these stories that I never will. Some of the information may be mixed up, or attributed to the wrong person, but they make the lure of family history research even greater.

Thanks Cousin!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank you Veterans

Thank you to all who have served.

My grandfather, Dallas Spencer, was a Naval Reserve officer. He was educated at Michigan State University, then Michigan State College of Agriculture, where he received his engineering degree. Initially, he worked in the bridge division of the Michigan State Highway Department.

He was a Lieutenant Commander in the 116th Naval Construction Battalion Civil Engineer Corps, working as a "seabee" during World War II. He served in Sasebo, Japan and Gulfport, Mississippi during the war. In 1946, he received his honorary discharge and returned to civilian life.

Dallas Spencer (1914-2000)

To date, my only known Civil War ancestor was Louis Blanchette a/k/a Blanchard, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Louis, a native of Baie-du-Febvre, Quebec, Canada, settled in Wisconsin in the 1860's. He was a sawyer, or lumberman, by trade. During the Civil War, he was a Private and served in Company H, 4th Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry from 1863-64. Company H was organized in Racine, Wisconsin.

Louis' company was dispatched by ship to Louisiana, where they saw action in regional skirmishes. Undoubtedly, Louis' French-speaking background came in handy. He filed for a pension at least 3 times, stating he received a debilitating hernia after a horse fell on him. He received a small pension and his children received a $50 death benefit payment in 1923.

Louis Blanchard (1840-1923)

In honor of all veterans, on this Veterans Day, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

By Definition, a Taphophile

I have become a taphophile.

taphophile: a person interested in cemeteries, funerals, and gravestones

Visiting Rowley Cemetery and discovering that this new genealogy activity was growing into an obsession made me consider how I felt about cemeteries.

Honestly, I had no good or bad consideration of them. I had never been to a funeral until I was in my 30's. In college, there was the requisite scary story of the 'Black Angel' in the local city cemetery. But generally, I was oblivious to cemeteries. Once the genealogy bug bit me, I began to appreciate cemeteries for their research value and for the connection they offered to my past.

I was born and raised in Illinois. For job reasons, my own family relocated to Michigan in 2000. Fortunately for me (!) this is also where my maternal family all resided before my grandparent's eventual move to Illinois. I researched and made trips to many cemeteries as often as I could. I photographed every grave of as distant a family member I could find. In the pre-digital days, this left me with a stack of cemetery photos that was at least six inches tall and stuck in two gallon-sized Ziploc bags. I hear the gasps. Yes, they have been scanned. And uploaded to Find-A-Grave.

With a busy family, I use the excuse of cemetery research for peace and quiet.

Aux Sable Cemetery entrance, Grundy County, Illinois 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Visiting the Spencer's

As we move back in time, especially in our genealogy, there is less of a chance to meet living people. While I was extremely fortunate to have 3 great-grandparents living until my teens, this rarely happens. One of the likeliest places to have an actual physical encounter with an ancestor is in a cemetery. Their tombstone may be the only 'touchable' thing we have left.

I eventually found that the Spencer family...MY Spencer family...were mostly buried in Rowley Cemetery, in Locke Township, Ingham County, Michigan. It is a rural farming area east of Lansing. And it is lovely.

I was living in Michigan when one of my great-aunts passed away. The services were held outside Lansing and my family was coming from Illinois to pay respects. I spent some time with one of my mother's cousins and learned the best directions to Rowley Cemetery. It was less than 30 minutes from where we were gathered. My parents left for home in Illinois and I left for my ancestral cemetery home in Locke.

Rowley Cemetery is, what I have come to learn, a typical farm community cemetery. It is located on a piece of land quartered out of a nearby farm, on the present-day corner of M-52 and Belle Oak roads. A paved single lane road divides it in half. The oldest burials, which date from the 1840's, are in front, nearest the county highway, and newer burials are in back. Almost all headstones face west, noting the sunset. This photograph I took from across the highway is also located at the top of the blog.

It didn't take long until I found them. My family.

Don't worry, I'll be back to visit :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You Can Do It!

I am going to keep family history blogging. I swear.

I AM working on a new webpage, however. As winter creeps in, my time in front of the computer grows exponentially!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday

When I took this photo in November, 2010, I was intrigued by the carved symbol. The gravestone belongs to Willie Beane, young son of Frederick and Elizabeth (Walley) Beane. He was about one and a half years old when he died. He and his family are buried in a secluded rural cemetery.

There are often engravings on gravestones, especially for children. This one shows a sad child playing a tiny harp. The harp often means "praise".

Rest in peace, Willie.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I am so bad at blogging! I had such good intentions when I started this...almost two years ago. So now I am editing it and going to do my best to stay on top of it. I thought this would be a great way to document my searches and frustrations...and it is. Except my frustrations are currently not having any time to actually search and blog about it!

I have two extremely busy boys who are in three sports between them. In fact, I woke up this morning after a restless sleep, dreaming about scheduling and carpooling and time management. Yikes.

I so want to get back to this project. Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Social Media

The internet has exploded with social media lately. I have always tried to keep a sense of anonymity on the internet. I joined Facebook and have found it to be a great way to keep in touch with old friends and neighbors. Last year, I plugged in the names of some probable descendants of the Spencer family...and in less then a day, all three wrote me back! So we connected but haven't gotten much farther.

I also use Twitter. I am addicted. I tried to keep separate accounts for genealogy and every day life. It really became too difficult to maintain, but I have yet to "pull the plug" on the genealogy account. I have Twitter on my BlackBerry and usually check my tweets that way. Those who are familiar with me get genealogy, sports, world opinion, and motherhood tweets. You can follow me at SallyOnTheGo.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Meet the Spencer's

Early on in my genealogy travails was the overwhelming desire to learn about my Spencer family line. Spencer was my grandfather's name. My mother, and now I, have a few neat keepsakes from the old farming days: a nifty leather wallet, a recipe for an herbal cure, several receipts for farming implements, and a note with Wright Spencer's life dates. Who was Wright Spencer? I remember my great-grandfather Edward Spencer - he died when I was a teenager. But I had never heard of Wright. At the time, I didn't even know that I wanted to know about him.

I knew that my mother moved to Illinois from Michigan as a child, and that my grandparents were born in Michigan. That's it. It was time to visit a library and learn how to order LDS microfilms and whatever else I could find. The Jackson Accelerated Index census books became my friends as I scrolled through the fairly common "Spencer" in search of a not-so-common "Wright". He had to be a relation, or this slip of paper would unlikely be kept in the wallet.

I did find Wright Spencer living in Ingham County, Michigan in 1880. Was this my family? As I worked more and asked questions of my grandfather, I was indeed correct. My first real line! I really had no idea what I was doing and how tiny my genealogy realm was at the time, but I was hooked.

Wright Spencer 1811-1899

All about Sally

Like so many others, I have become fascinated by my family history. I was always a good student and enjoyed school, but history and sociology were never my things. Maybe it was sneaking peeks at some of the small family heirlooms we had, or realizing that my great-grandparents, who I spent much time with as a child, had to come from somewhere that finally got me going.

I began taking handwritten notes in my teens, then learned about the resources available at both the public and LDS libraries. I learned to write actual letters requesting data. Then came the internet! Computers have always been a part of my professional life, so being a good *user* was no problem. I am glad I started as early as I did, so that I can work on as much as possible while keeping tabs on the technology that goes with it.

I hope to post some of my findings and stories. I also have lots to rave and complain about from my real life! Thanks!