F is for Family

FF is for FAMILY

Yes, family is what we’re all about, so approaching our families first seems an obvious starting point. Unfortunately, some people have no living relatives, others are “blessed” with kin who closely resemble clams. However, if you cast your net widely enough and approach extended kin as well as close kin, you have a much better chance of finding out good clues about your families’ stories. Trying to cold-call people can be truly daunting, but surprisingly I’ve had great success with mine.

By sending out a standard letter to those with my unusual maiden name, I was lucky enough to contact a surviving elderly granddaughter of my immigrant ancestors. Not only did she give me wonderful stories of their lives on the farm, but also gave me the name of a third cousin interstate who has whole suitcases of photos!! Genealogy gold!

McSherry family
My McSherry great-grandparents and some of their children, kindly provided to me by a cousin.

Of course not all the yarns can be relied on, as they take on a life of their own over the years. You have to use the oral history as a road map from which you can check as much as you can of the stories. Some “witnesses” are incredibly reliable, others prefer to spin a well-embroidered, if demonstrably incorrect, yarn.

What is interesting is when you hear the same story from different branches of the family who didn’t live close to each other eg “George jumped ship and went looking for gold”. I sometimes think no one came to Australia other than convicts and gold-seekers. A similar story that George Kunkel had two brothers who went to America has defied confirmation despite decades of searching, though I have narrowed down some half-siblings’ descendants in upstate New York.

Don’t forget too, that families have stashes of interesting things which can tell you more about your ancestors, especially the women who remain elusive in official records. Does your family own old address books, autograph books, newspaper clippings, crocheted doilies, handcrafts, hand-written cook books? Taking note of these and trying to find out more about them – and documenting the story once you learn/confirm it – is an important part of your research.

There’s something very special about holding an item an ancestor has held or used…or seeing their handwriting passed down through the ages on a document.

The downside is the families who move around, aren’t into clutter, or think others will laugh at old photographs or papers and burn them….it makes you want to weep.

23 thoughts on “F is for Family

  1. It was nice of you to make contact via my blog http://www.50shadesofage.com. I was madly into researching my family tree and ancestry a few years back so your website really interests me. I came to a big fullstop with one of my father’s first ancestors to come out to Australia and I’ve always maintained that there must be a way to find him. I was also recently in Port Arthur in Tassie where there is convict records of one of my mother’s ancestors. It was such a thrill to find his name on the computer search and I would also love to delve in to his history. Thanks for the practical advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad it might be helpful to you Kathy. Finding immigration should be reasonably okay in Australia yet after 30 years I still have one migration brick wall, and one teetering one.


  2. Holding something. . . I am lucky to have inherited scads of papers from a long line of pack rats:) including stuff such as bible pages with births and deaths going back to early 1700s – piles of letters and diaries. still wading through it all:)

    like your theme very much:)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great advice, but what got my attention was that this photograph seems to have some people added on to the original photo. Those on the far left, perhaps that cousin in the back looking right? Did you get a story about that:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well spotted Kristin! It’s my grandfather on the left and two sisters beside him. A cousin thinks she’s found the photo this one has been taken from.


  4. This made me think that we need to document more about the things closer to hand. I have loads of embroidery, crochet and tatting from my Mum and Aunt. I did have a hand spun and woven woollen blanket from Scotland that I was put in charge of in my early 20’s. It was to be returned to her daughter once I felt it would be safe. It’s back where it belongs now over 30 years later. And cousin, if you ever read this, you know who you are and love you!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.