Monthly Archives: February 2022

Family History 2022 Week 7 – Landed

Land! We all know that shout from the crows nest when the smallest member of crew who can get up there spots the first signs of a coastline after weeks if not months at sea. It’s a promise of stable ground under ones feet, especially for those immigrating to a new land, likely with very few possessions unless they happened to be wealthy. The experience of living on a ship smaller than a modern jet plane on multiple decks with your only food what is carried on board when you left your home, among strangers, with very little hope of ever seeing your family there again, would be enough to make anyone feel a thrill to get to your next destination and off the bloody boat!

Once landed, new challenges and opportunities lay ahead. Depending on the era and place, the land may be available to settle directly. Or it may require moving farther away from that initial landing to find new land to clear and establish a new fort or village or farm.

Our family includes all of these: the Cosines arriving in New Amsterdam in the 1600s to establish their farm on Stuyvasants estate, John Whitaker arriving as an indentured servant as a young man in Baltimore in the mid 1700s until he received his own plat of land in 1761 to raise tobacco and a family, John Berfanger with his wife and children arriving in New Orleans from Germany in 1844 making his way to Evansville as a place to put down his roots and marry his second wife after the death of his first, and the Pinters who came later from Hungary in 1893 and traveled to the open lands of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma before widow Juliana moved her children back to northern Indiana to the industrial area of South Bend. Some were renters, but most managed to buy the land upon which they lived and raised their families. It was a valuable asset. They built farms and houses. Some helped establish new churches. And many were buried on that land or next to those churches that they built.

Land. The records of that land leads us to understand who and where our ancestors were, what they did, who their neighbours were, and how difficult or possibly easy their lives were lived. They landed on their feet or on their faces and then got up on their feet again. But with very few exceptions, they made a place for themselves and a history for us to imagine or discover.

Family History 2022 Week 6 – Maps

Little did I know how valuable maps would be when I started down these paths to ancestors. And may I say, bless the map makers! Be they explorers, navigators, geographers, cartographers or surveyors. They all had a place in the need for and creation of maps. And may I also say, bless those who are creating the collections of these valuable resources and make many of them available online.

Tracing/finding property maps and combining with taxation records has allowed me to locate the farm where my great great grandmother lived with her mother in the rural area of Evansville Indiana. Plat maps with names are extremely useful to put those pieces together. Sometimes you may be lucky and find your relatives were given the patent from the government or bought the rights to the land from the patent holder. You can find this in the Bureau of Land Management collection.
It’s really a kick to find a certificate signed by the president of the time when the land was awarded to your ancestor. I’ve just looked at the website and they have added more information to the site.

Early maps in New Amsterdam when Stuyvesant led the Dutch colony in the 1600s shows where my 9th great grandmother lived near what is now Wall Street when that area was small farms near the village. It’s fun to look at the originals and then overlay the modern ‘village’ of the metropolis of New York City and know that my family once lived there, not to mention her involvement with the Tappan Patent where Rock County is today north of the City along the Hudson River. I wish I had known when I was in Rockland County in the 1970s that I had a direct connection to one of the houses that is still there!

One of the most useful map services that I’ve found is the collection of tools provided by Randy Majors.
If you want to figure out what those surveyor identifiers mean, section/township/range, and how to find them on an actual modern map of your ancestor’s farm or town, this is where you go. Need an historical representation of early states and counties, this is where you go. His tools are continually developing so you never know what new insight one can find every few months. Revisit often. US only.

Another collection that I’ve used often in The David Rumsey Map Collection.
Photographs, maps, information, a blog – what more could you want? This is a place I could (and have) spend hours.

These are just three of the many map collections that I’ve learned of in doing family history research. If you know of others I’m missing, please leave a comment below.

Family History 2022 Week 5 – Branching Out

When I started seriously doing family history research, I thought it was about taking my family name and finding out the line back with that name as far as I could. I had no idea about what I was getting into. I hadn’t considered I was the immediate result of two thick branches – Dad AND Mom. But wait – there’s more!

Of course I knew I had grandparents and was fortunate to have known all four of them, at least for some of my young life. Like many children, moreso today than back in the 1950s, my dad’s parents looked after me while my mom worked. Grandma taught me to read with the book “Three Little Kittens and How They Grew”, play card games like solitaire, and pick raspberries from their huge patch without getting stuck by the thorns, while Grandpa taught me to fish, drive a car when I was about 7 by sitting on his lap (I know), and shared learning German from a tattered old primer, including ‘der habicht fligt’ (the hawk flies). I knew their other child, my half-uncle, my aunt and his passle of children. They were Whitakers like me.

I didn’t know much about Mom’s parents because I didn’t live with them at all. They had a funny German name and moved away to another part of the state when I was still quite young. That branch was pretty much a mystery to me. I knew/know all but one of my aunts and uncles, Mom’s brother and sisters. I didn’t know my mom had another brother who died as a teenager until I started into this family history.

To me, branching out is about people, true. The never-ending branches and their twigs provide a never-ending wealth of research projects, be they my immediate sphere of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, or the more challenging earlier ancestors. But branching is also about learning other aspects of the techniques of genealogical research that also sometimes feels never-ending (what will that next webinar cover!). We explore history of the life and times of our people, create timelines, learn of where and who keeps ‘the record’ of our ancestor’s lives, reading those documents and squeezing every last bit of meaning and information from them, create organisational schemes for those collected records, wonder about how to share our discoveries now and in the future, and branch after branch after twig after leaf of tools and information to help us on our never-ending quest.

Another branch I have discovered is the wide range of genealogy research communities. There are so many, it is difficult to focus at times (so I don’t). There are Facebook groups, blog creators, help centers and sharing communities on every major genealogy database service, libraries, historical societies, genealogy societies, volunteer geographic websites with local information, family focused sharing groups, language assistance groups, map collectors, and many more. Whatever branch of the family history research technique you are employing at any time, there is a specific or broad community to whom you can turn – for celebration of a discovery or a destroyed brick wall, or assistance with making that discovery or breaking out one more brick. The family history community and all its many branches must be one of the most generous communities with time and help that I’ve ever encountered. Complete strangers are ‘on your side’ because they once were where you are – beginning your search or striking a new hurdle you never expected.

And now, with this weekly or monthly exercise, we are branching out into documenting our discoveries and reflecting on what we are doing by participating in Amy’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. The title may be a bit ‘misleading’ (I’m sometimes doing an ancestor, but also reflecting on other aspects of this journey), but it is a spur to do something with the collections I/we have made and present them to the world. Write a few words and the ideas form, sometimes even identifying a new approach to a problem (my recent post about Zachariah Whitaker), but certainly resulting in another sharable story about ‘doing’ our family history.

Thanks for reading about my ideas on branching out. It is but one more leaf on my tree of family research discovery.