Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Genealogy Tips and Links

I touched a bit on genealogy in my post “Family Trees” from January 5, 2011. At the time, I had just started another undertaking of excavating more names from some foggy branches. Between my on-line research and my father’s hands-on interviews with relatives and document searches we have made progress. I have uncovered names in my mother’s family and my father discovered a large discrepancy on his side that changed the path of an entire line (see next week’s post for that story).

Before you start researching, you should write down everything you know about your family, including the stories and whispers that you have no proof for. You’d be surprised at the little detail that may be the clue that verifies whether or not you’re on the right track. One of the benefits of the computer age is the current availability of genealogical information online.

You can start by doing basic internet searches with names and birth dates to see if you get any hits on family trees that other people have uploaded onto the various sites offering free membership. I’ve found a couple of leads that route. You can also do an on-line search for the Historical Societies of the towns or counties you know relatives lived in and see what kind of documentation they have uploaded for public use.

The genealogical giant is a marvel- if you can afford the money to join. I would recommend waiting until you have a fairly good list of possible names and dates and then subscribe for a short-term membership to the site when you have a chunk of time to devote to plugging in data and doing census searches. But for those people just starting out, there are plenty of options available to aid you. The pages I have used the most are,, and a new one introduced to me by a friend which has proven invaluable and has almost as much verified data as Ancestry, I included the links at the end of this piece.

Happy Spelunking!
A good place to start is with the name of a great-grandparent, mainly because the latest 1930/1940 census reports won’t be released until sometime around now and will need to filter through transcribers. I was able to find census reports for my great-grandparents, including ones were they were listed as children, which gave me their parents’ names and vital information. One generation at a time, I followed the thread backwards.

We have discovered it is important to copy down any information that might be possible, even if something doesn’t quite match. These old records have been indexed by humans trying to translate the handwriting. I’ve seen a lot of it and some of it isn’t clear, resulting in some contradicting birth dates and misspelled names. When I was looking for the name Burke, I found census reports for the same family under “Berk” and “Burk.” What I learned in my search is that people often spelled words the way they heard them and/or thought they were meant to be spelled. I find it’s more useful to start with a loose search.

For example, when I was looking for Thomas Burke, father of Frank Burke, I plugged in Thomas’ name with an approximate date of birth for 20 years prior to Frank’s birth. I got over 5,000 hits. I edited the search, adding that Thomas had a son named Frank, which cut the search down to 3,000. According to a census report I found, Frank’s father was born in Ireland, so I refined the search again. It brought me to a Thomas and Ellen Burke, who lived in the town I was looking for, with sons named William and Frank. Bingo!

I copied all of that information down, and based on a census report, plugged in Thomas’ real birth date which brought the pertinent documents closer, and is where I found a census for a Frank and Mary Berk, with sons William and Frank Berk, in the same town. When I pulled up the original document, the census taker had in fact written “Berk”- it wasn’t a transcription error. But all the vital data matched, as did the address they were living at.

It can be daunting, when you are getting names thrown at you. For some people it’s easier to pick an ancestor and trace them down, as opposed to moving upstream into the wave of lines coming down at you. There are so many doors to the labyrinth of your ancestors. Do you follow the father or the mother? It’s easy the first time, but every level the number multiplies. Two sets of grandparents, four sets of great grandparents, eight sets of great-great grandparents. It’s almost a blessing that only a couple of my lines can be traced more than thirteen generations, and none of them fully.

Until you can verify your data, I would hold onto the file of “possibles.” You may find an error in the future that makes what you thought was probably true wrong… and the right path could lie in those notes and will save you a lot of backtracking.

I had been taking notes on our Zabriskie ancestor of New Jersey and all of his lines because we were missing the link to him, even though the family stories were sure he was our ancestor. Only, according to my findings, the son we were supposedly descended from did not have a daughter by the name of our ancestress. Which for me didn’t mean it wasn’t true. Even the most dedicated archivists sometimes miss something. We thought we were descended from the second son, but found our ancestress to be the daughter of the first. And through that revelation, discovered the truth behind a family folktale.

There was a story handed down of a polish princess running from revolution in Prussia who fell in love with a Frenchman in Hackensack, NJ. Research into the last King of Poland proved a relation to the last King of Poland to be impossible, but led me to an Albrecht Zabriskie of NJ who made claims of relation to Jan Sobieski, the elected King who was beheaded. When I found Albrecht’s granddaughter Fytje Zabriski, commonly called Sophie, and her husband Petrus Lozier, I was sure I had made the right find. He was called Petrus Lozier in the Slavic community, but was born Peter de Lozier, grandson of Nicholas La Sueur of Dieppe, France.

The story of the Polish princess and Frenchman, at its core, was true. My best piece of advice to you would be, don’t be afraid take an intuitive leap. You will, of course, want to check for verified information with documents you can get copies of, although you shouldn’t discount a source simply because the verification is suspect. Things get lost. Sometimes, with research and a little bit of luck, they can be found again.

Genealogy Links:

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