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Using Ancestry.com to Find the Good Stuff in Your Family Tree
Posted on May 1, 2020
by Clare T
If you’re like me, now is the time to look for some fun diversions. The COVID-19 virus pandemic has me realizing how fragile life is. My world feels like many things are out of control. I am frightened by the reality of the “what ifs.”
So, here’s how I handle the stress – I deliberately choose to seek some light-hearted diversions to fill my day. Genealogy has become my new hobby! I know in my own heart that there are just two big, unavoidable episodes in a person’s life. The first one is birth, the second one is death. Looking within the first and last chapters, isn’t there some really good stuff in between?
SNOOPING AS A DIVERSION
Reflecting on my own life is easy. It’s all in my head! But, like most “inquiring minds”, looking up other family members can be so much more fun. During this stay-at-home mandate, I have fine-tuned my skills as an uncertified, armchair, amateur genealogist! Let me confess. I do not have enough ambition to create a big, giant family tree chart. I wish I had family members to interview, but honestly, most of them are dead. There’s no one to expand upon all those good time stories. I want to know more, like where we came from, and what happened, and what people look liked. Maybe it is time to dispel a few family rumors and to separate facts from hearsay? As a super sleuth, I am driven to uncover and document my suspicions. To fulfill my need to know more, I access the Toledo Library’s various genealogy research tools.
To begin, use your Toledo Library card and PIN number to login. Provide an email address. If you already subscribe to Ancestry (paid version), register on the website with a new email address.
To start a basic search, look for the green box which says Begin Searching. For example, I enter my brother’s name, place of birth and birthday. The results? No epic, historic events. I scan the results column and see that he and his wife signed a registry as Honeymooners in Niagara Falls many years ago! This was a LOL moment, seeing that all kinds of weird and unnecessary information pops up. Maybe someone was trying to substantiate some sort of World’s Record for the number of registrants? What a great conversation starter!
I enjoy reading the stuff no one wants to talk about at Sunday dinner (divorce, death, debt). Marriage and birth records are easiest to uncover. The US Census is packed with information. It is updated every ten years, tells where your family lived, how many children, family member names and the occupations of the adults.
Besides this old historical stuff, yearbooks are my favorite source of nostalgia. I discovered a high school photo of my husband. At age 16, his school portrait is a glimpse of my spouse as a fresh faced teenager. It touches my heart.
BEYOND THE BASIC SEARCH
Real genealogists will suggest that you do some authentic research by creating a Family Tree Chart. For a beginner, I’ve tried this monumental task and never succeeded. Is there an easier way to find out more? It’s right there on the Ancestry Library Edition introductory page under Quick Links, Public Member Trees.
Click on other people’s Public Member Trees if they are available (not private), There is a Printer Friendly icon. It might be wise to contact the family member who has done all the work on publishing the tree before you try to modify your own copy. If you find a Public Tree associated with your family, you can contact the owner through Member Connect. This might be a fun way to find folks who are alive rather than deceased?
Some Published Trees are deemed reliable because they include documentation with birth and death certificates, military records and so on. I’ve seen where other family members create undocumented trees, This voluntary data is “as is” and the accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Best of all, some Family Trees include little portrait photos of each family member.
OTHER IMPORTANT INVESTIGATIVE TOOLS
Once you do a Basic Search and find a useful document, make sure that you email the documents to yourself. These become part of your Discovery Page. In fact, the site will save up to 300 of your searches, but you only get email updates once every 12-hours.
BETTER THAN PULP FICTION
As an amateur genealogist, I enjoy the quirky and unusual information about our family. I discovered a great-relative who fathered 18 children by two wives. He lived to be 82. Looking at family occupations in the Census, our family was never “well-heeled”. On paper, we were packers, carpenters and farmers. My grandfather was a confectionary store owner. My mom always said that the soda shop was a front for gambling during the Depression. It had pinball games in the basement that paid out in quarters. Grandpa’s brother, uncle Mort’s occupation is listed as the #1 chauffeur for the Black and White Cab Company.
Other remarkable finds? I knew my 91-year old uncle Tom as a bachelor, a curmudgeon. He was an intellectual who loved to read. He was very proud of his (ancient) Toledo Library card. After a basic search on Ancestry, I discovered a lighter side of my Uncle. Tom’s junior yearbook chose him as, “the commander to steer the class through the storm of carnival, picnics, prom, parties and dances.” Incredible! I certainly never saw him as a party planner. This was a man who was a Navy World War II and Korean veteran. His senior year was interrupted by his enlistment in WW II. After the war, he finished his high school diploma. Ancestry Library Edition helped me substantiate his timeline.
If you examine the clues slowly, you may agree that the joys and disappointments of life are hidden and archived in historical documents. With a bit of work, reflection and a little bit of diligence, you might follow my lead. None of this is sophisticated genealogical research, but it’s the kind of stuff that adds levity to my life. It’s like pulp fiction, only better!