Today I read the tale of Alice Lake. I came upon the tragic story of Alice while researching my own family tragedy in the death of Rebecca Cornell and the subsequent hanging of her son Thomas Cornell II for her murder. Rebecca and Alice both suffered horrible deaths. Rebecca was possibly murdered and her body burned past recognition while her family ate dinner in the next room. Alice was hanged for witchcraft after being plagued by haunting visions of her lost child. Rebecca and Alice also shared one other detail in common; their daughter in law was Sarah Earle.
Two of my favorite things are newly discovered cousins and old photographs.
The name dusty roots and forgotten treasures is a subtle shout out to that. Most of my roots were dusty and forgotten until I set out to dig them up.
Every day I dig, and I am constantly rewarded with the discovery of amazing historic treasures. Not monetary treasures, I will never die rich, but I have a wealth that is incomparable to a stack of cash.
Recently I hit the lotto when it comes to the family history
I connected with some cousins that I had never met before
and not only has it been wonderful to connect with this newly reconnected
branch on the family tree, I was also rewarded with being able to get copies of
many priceless photographs.
Photographs I had never seen before. Photographs of people who have some of the same features that I do. Enough photographs to help fill in the gaps of photographs on one family line to the point that I now have a photographic timeline of NINE generations!
I’m always excited to connect with relatives because it gives me the opportunity to share the family history gold I find. On those instances where I find myself on the receiving end of such wonderful bounty it feels like karma is rewarding my genealogical good deeds. I get smiled on by the karma gods of genealogy a lot.
I have really been blessed.
To accomplish this great feat of 9 photograph generations it took a lot of people to share their treasures with me. I have had distant cousins mail me packages of photocopies from the opposite side of the country. I get emails from cousins filling my inbox full of priceless photographs decades old. I get text messages from relatives as they make road trips and can visit long forgotten family cemeteries that I may never get the opportunity to visit for myself.
Often in various genealogical groups I see people that are upset that people are not sharing with them on sites such as ancestry. I have not run into that a lot. Most people are very generous with me.
These are my 4 tried and true tips for breaking the ice with
cousins and opening the door to sharing of information and photographs.
Approach newly discovered cousins with a gift of your genealogical treasure. Do you know some information that might not be common knowledge? Do you have an old photograph that you can share a copy? Can you share information about how you and the cousin are connected? Generosity often begets generosity. It is a great way to break the ice.
Be willing to let information simmer. If you send a message off to a cousin and get no response just let it go. There is no way to know what another individual has experienced. For some people family history can be a traumatic experience or information that you reveal might be shocking or confusing. Stalking an individual with repeated follow up messages will probably not make a new friend.
Show gratitude. If contact with a cousin results in nothing of use to you personally at least thank them for their time. They may not have any information for you currently but if you make a positive impression, they are more likely to recall you in the future if or when they encounter information or someone that has information.
Family photographs used to be rare and hard to copy. Today with great cell phone cameras in most pockets and handheld scanners available at affordable prices there is no reason to suggest ever taking possession of someone’s treasured original photograph. You want to irk Great Aunt Betty? Take her priceless heirloom photograph out of her site. Quietly get a copy if you can and thank her profusely for the privilege and then for goodness sake put it back exactly where and how you found it!
Do you have any tips and tricks for getting people to share
their genealogical treasures?
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enjoy sharing the stories I discover in my family history research with my
family. Often, I bore them to tears but from time to time I manage to turn up a
tidbit of information that sticks. For my youngest son learning that we are
distant cousins to Abraham Lincoln is that detail that stuck. He loves telling anyone
willing to listen that he is related to Abraham Lincoln.
It was a couple years ago when he was about 9 that the topic of Abraham Lincoln being a distant leaf on the family tree came up. He was learning about Abraham Lincoln at school and he came home bragging that he knew why Abraham Lincoln grew his famous beard.
A History Lesson
had to admit as he grinned like the Cheshire cat that he did in fact know
something that I did not. He proceeded to educate me on the story of why Abraham
Lincoln decided to grow his beard.
October 15, 1860 a young lady by the name of Grace Bedell, at the ripe wise age
of 11 years old, wrote a letter to the republican presidential nominee
insisting that growing a beard would help him get elected.
My father has just home from the fair and brought home your picture and Mr. Hamlin’s. I am a little girl only 11 years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you wont think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have yet got four brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President. My father is going to vote for you and if I was a man I would vote for you to [sic] but I will try to get every one to vote for you that I can I think that rail fence around your picture makes it look very pretty I have got a little baby sister she is nine weeks old and is just as cunning as can be. When you direct your letter direct to Grace Bedell Westfield Chautauqua County New York.
I must not write any more answer this letter right off Good bye
future president returned a letter to Grace Bedell.
Ill Oct 19, 1860
Ill Oct 19, 1860
dear little Miss
very agreeable letter of the 15th is received. I regret the necessity of saying
I have no daughters. I have three sons – one seventeen, one nine, and one
seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family. As to
the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a
silly affectation if I were to begin it now?
very sincere well wisher
after the exchange with young Miss Grace the future president began to grow his
In 1861, Lincoln and Miss Grace met in person. When the two met the president, elect was sporting a full face of whiskers.
the advice of the young Miss Grace Bedell help to get Abraham Lincoln elected
to the highest office in the United States? We may never know how much impact the
decision made in his election but her advice definitely impacted the image most
people think of when they picture Abraham Lincoln.
That’s the story of how Lincoln grew his famous beard…and how I got a history lesson from my son.
History is full of countless minor characters who will never
be regaled on the pages of history books. These men and women who toil, bleed,
and persevere through extraordinary circumstances yet go on to live normal
lives are the stories that lurk deep in the depths of family history research.
L.J. Eckler was one of my ancestors. He was my 3x great grandfather.
L.J. was living a simple life of a family man and blacksmith
when he was called to serve in the American Civil War. He was mustered into the
legendary Wolverine Brigade and served under the notorious and daring, Brig.
Gen. George Armstrong Custer, long before he ever fell on the distant
battlefield in in his final last stand.
L.J. Eckler served as a blacksmith for G company of the 6th
Michigan Calvary. He was captured during the battle of Trevilian Station at
what is commonly known as Custer’s First Last Stand.
During the rest of the war L.J. would experience the depths
of hell beyond even the blood and chaos of the battlefield. He would spend time
at some of the deadliest Confederate prison camps.
I follow the life of my 3x great grandfather as he returns
home from war and follow the rest of his life in documents. He seems to have
brought the trauma of his experience home with him. The rest of L.J.’s life is
dotted with several divorces, instances of jail time for fraud.
I don’t know if a photo of L.J. exists. If it does, I have
never seen it. I found a photo of his gravestone and it seems likely that is all
I will ever find. My 3x great grandfather is the type of individual that family
history research is full of, simple and often tragic heroes, that history
1. Follow the document trail as far as you can but once the details start to get less clear it’s time to fan out. In family history research FAN refers to friends and neighbors.
As an example, let’s say that the research trail goes dead
at the 1900 U.S. census. A lot of researchers run into roadblocks around this
time period due to the destroyed 1890 U.S. Census. This is a good time to attempt
to perform FAN research.
I used this method to knock down one of my own family brick
walls. My great-great grandmother was a controversial figure in the family lore
of my ancestry. She lived into my lifetime although I don’t really have any
recollection of her. I did grow up hearing various tidbits about her from
different relatives and none of them were positive.
When I started my research on her I didn’t have a great deal
of details. I knew a given name, Fanny, and I knew the surname she had when she
died, Meadows. I didn’t know if Fanny was a nickname for a different name. I
had no clue if Meadows was a maiden name or a married name.
I built off what I did know using documents that I knew were
related to my Great-Grandmother, Fanny’s daughter. I was able to locate the
family on the 1920 census, the first census after my Great Grandmother was
born. Without the FAN method this would have been my dead end.
On this census living in the household with the family was an
individual named Elmer Bennett….and he was listed as a nephew.
With a little digging I was able to locate Elmer Bennett and
Fanny Bennett on the 1910 census and they both lived in the household of Fanny’s
parents. With that information I was able to crack the brick wall that held up
my research on my Great-Great Grandmother.
The FAN technique of looking at Friends and Neighbors can be
valuable in navigating research speed bumps.
2. Cast a broad net with a general search engine search. Often, we get tunnel vision and convince ourselves the only way to research is via sites we know and trust
There are countless more focused sites that while they may
have less broad information, they may have extensive details of the individuals
that you are researching. The best way to locate some of the harder to find
resources is to search wide to locate the pinpoint resources.
The history of West Virginia might be a topic that not everyone needs. For me and my extensive West Virginia mountain heritage, the West Virginia Culture site has been a priceless resource. If I had limited my research to strictly sites such as ancestry and family search, I may have never found this massively helpful resource.
Unlike sites such as Ancestry with a wide catalog of records
and a subscription fee smaller more specific websites will often be free or
operate solely on donations.
There is a plethora of lesser known websites that are just
as reliable as sites such as family search and ancestry
It’s easier to toss out the wrong results than it is to infer
information from a mystery record. Exhaust all avenues.
3. Don’t focus too much on spelling if the rest of the details mesh out. Spelling has not been standardized long in the grand timeline of history. Many people were unable to read and write until modern times.
A recent instance that I came across was the case of the
Monteith/Mantooth surname. Legend has it that there was a rift in the Mantooth
family generations ago that led to one branch of the Monteith family changing
their name to Mantooth.
If the spelling is close and all the other details match up,
then you must research deeper. It’s better to research the wrong thing and
realize it later than it is to skip over a record because Smith is spelled
It doesn’t hurt to sound out a name and try to
think of any ways you can that might be a spelling for that name. Search them
all. Then remember that our ancestors often had accents so you might have
missed a spelling completely.
4. Research more than just people. If there is a certain location where the ancestors, you are researching lived for a long time take the time to learn about that area
I have discovered a great deal of family information through
researching things such as towns, churches, and early military units.
Town founders, early community office, local militia unit
rosters. There are countless places that ancestors can show up in historical
The members of the communities were self-sufficient. They
pooled efforts to help build churches, they would donate land for a community building,
and they would ban together to build roads.
In earlier periods these were handled at a community level and often details
notes exist of these events.
5. Pushes and Pulls. This is such a simple concept but it’s easy to forget during research. Much like the world today there are often bigger events happening which influences migration patterns. Migration is rarely random.
A good example of this is with the Scotch-Irish population
of the 18th and 19th centuries.
These individuals left regions of Scotland and Ireland
hoping to create a better life. The conditions in their home regions were the
The pulls were the reasons they were pulled to the Americas
such as available land and religious freedoms.
The Irish potato famine pushed many Irish families out of
Ireland decades later and pulled them to the United States in search of
During the industrial revolution the United States saw a lot
of people pushed from rural farmland where there were less economic opportunities
to urban areas such as Detroit, Michigan seeking available jobs in the
My grandfather was from a poor coal mining family in Appalachia. He was pushed from his small community in rural West Virginia that his family had inhabited for hundreds of years. He was pulled to the economic opportunity of the manufacturing hub of northern automotive cities. He retired from GM in Flint, Michigan after a long and rewarding career. At that point he was pushed yet again from the busy hustle and bustle of life in a city and pulled toward a slower and more rural life.
Often if we consider the larger picture of a certain group
or region it can provide great clues that can help fill in the research blanks.
What are your top 5 fast tips to help you find your family history treasure?
We often think of and treat our pets as members of the family
Growing up part of my enjoyment in going to visit my grandparents
was not just in seeing my grandparents but enjoying the chance to spend time
with the giant collie dog, Tramp, they had the entire time I was growing up
He was a magnificent beast and I’m sure that when news
finally went through the family grape vine that he had crossed over that
rainbow bridge there were more than a few of us who shed a quiet tear over his
He was not a pet he was family
As an adult I am animal lover. I have a house full of critters. My senior mini dachshund has traveled more than a lot of humans I know.
He’s 13, half blind and has trouble getting around but if he sees me packing a travel bag, he’s the first one at the car ready to go.
He has been a part of the family longer than my youngest
He is in countless family photos over the years showing how
he’s aged as children grew.
Long after he is gone Oscar will still be a topic of family
conversations and memories because he’s more than a pet. He’s family and has
earned his place in the pages of family history.
My mother and her siblings and cousins will reminisce about
their childhood and while I’m not sure anyone has agreed what type of dog “Tippy”
was, I know each of those kids enjoyed that dog.
For the record while I consider Oscar my fur kid I will not
be adding him to the family tree.
What do family pets have to do with family history?
Pets make a great topic starter.
If a family group had a beloved childhood pet, it’s a good
place to break the conversation ice to get people strolling down memory lane for
Another way that family pets can be very useful in family
history is when it comes to dating photographs.
Pets have shorter life spans so if you have a photo with a
certain pet pictured then it can be a useful tool for narrowing down a date
Have any animals played an important part in your family history?