Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grandma's Flak Jacket

I received a wonderful email last week after my SCGS webinar, "Grandma's Flak Jacket: Why your children need you to do genealogy."   The email illustrates so beautifully how nourishing family history is, even when there are hard things going on in  your family.  Jo-Ann said I could share the letter with you, so here it is.   I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me. 

Hi Janet,

I attended your webinar last night (am the one who's husband's father was one of 22 children... he's also Swedish).  I've attended probably a dozen different webinars over the past year and most have been very good, but yours was different.  I've not felt compelled to contact a presenter afterwards, but this time I have to.  Your talk touched me like none of the others have. 

I come from a very dysfunctional family, with alcoholism, drug addiction, sadism and lots of irrational (and unsavory) behaviours.  Thusly, there was never any closeness and no one ever talked about family history.  I am 56 years old and about 3 years ago, just on a whim, I decided to draw up my family tree.  I was stuck almost immediately on my paternal grandfather.  My Dad (now deceased) was entirely unapproachable on the subject, but he had 2 sisters.  He was on good terms with one, but estranged from the other.  We were never allowed to talk to that second sister because she was apparantly so horrible.  Trouble is, the first sister was like him and would not discuss the family, so my only choice was to approach the second one.... even though I was risking being disowned for doing so.  My whole world changed at that point. 

Not only was she not horrible, she was WONDERFUL.  She was thrilled to hear from me and shared openly.  She inspired me beyond all belief and I am eternally grateful to her for that.  She is 82 years old and I regret all those lost years.  But it is what it is and at least we can carry on from here with love instead of resentment and maybe heal some of those hurts.  I guess you could say I am now obsessed with genealogy, making it practically my full time job.  I think what drives me is that need for connectedness.  I have come to believe that I am part of something much bigger and I finally feel "a part of".  I've had some of those woo-woo moments that you talked about last night and those are very cool.  I absolutely love having made contact with previously unknown relatives and especially being able to share things with others that they did not know before.  And have put people together that otherwise may never have found each other, or even known of their existence. 

There was one defining moment, which may sound like nothing, but it impacted me.  My grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Canada.  He was following his sweetheart who had emigrated the year before.  They married, had children and when the Great Depression hit he had to travel to the other side of the country for work.  For various reasons, they never reunited.  Once he landed work he sent for her and the children, but her family interfered and prevented her from going.  Very sad.  She always kept his picture beside her bed until her dying day some 70 years later.  It breaks my heart to even tell this story.  But the haunting question is... whatever happened to him?  I have really tried hard to find him, but so far to no avail.  I did trace him to a town in 1935 and had the strangest sensation when I first saw his name on the printed page of the City Directory.  Nothing earth shattering.  Just a phone book.  But it was him.  He was real.  I felt a connectedness I had never felt before.  Was weird.

I'm still searching for him and will not give up.  I don't know what kind of man he was.  I like to believe he was good, even though he had a brother who was very much NOT good.  My Dad and his one sister hated their father their entire lives because they believe he abandoned the family, but I don't think they had all the facts.  I think they robbed themselves by not trying to learn and understand why their parents did what they did.   They preferred to carry the hurt.  So... because the trail on grandfather went cold quite quickly, I turned my attention to his wife's family and have mapped out quite a large tree.  Details have come much more easily and I've made many contacts.  Here is where I'm finding more than just the facts.  I'm learning of behaviours and personality traits and seeing very clear patterns.  It really explains so much of how and why my family (and it's branches) is the way it is.  It allows me to have more compassion.

And physical traits.... there's a whole 'nother fun subject.  My grandmother was from Scotland but her ancestors were from Ireland.  Her surname is rare, so I've been making a one-name study of it and tracing everyone I find with that name.  I have mapped 3 major branches and traced them all back to the same place and time.  I just can't prove the link, but there have been tip offs.  Like pictures of 2 men, each from a different branch.  They look so much alike they could be brothers.  Another story is I found a second or third cousin recently and he sent me a picture of the GG-grandparents we share.  It took my breath away to see that GGGF and my nephew are spitting images of each other.

This whole subject is awesome, awesome, awesome!  I would love to publish my findings some day, to pass down to future generations.  I often sit and think what life was like for my various ancestors and picture myself standing beside them in their time.  I also wonder what they would think about how hard I'm working to learn about them.  What would they have thought about someone being so interested in them as they were just living their ordinary lives.  Will someone in the future be this interested in me and what I am doing today in MY ordinary life?

Anyways, I've written much more than I intended to.  I just wanted to thank you for the webinar and confirming that I'm not the only one who approaches my research with these same thoughts and intentions.  I don't even know if I've adequately articulated what I am trying to say to you, but .... thanks.

Jo-Ann (in BC, Canada)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Trefusis part 6--The Archives (And she scores!)

So just outside of Taunton, between the city there and our little town of Bradford on Tone lies the beautiful new Somerset Heritage Centre where the archives for Somerset are held. I had no idea what a huge find I was going to make there.
We started out in the maps, confirming what I knew about the parish and where our Trefusis farm is.
And then I got my hands on this... A stack of records on the Carpenters in Bradford. There were so many other documents to look at, but I'm so glad we got to work on this one. This was a stack of gold.
In it was the will of my 9th Great Grandfather John Carpenter. It was a beautiful document with an amazing wax seal attached to the bottom of it. It reads:

In the name of God Amen. I John Carpenter of Bradford in the County of Somerset Yeoman, being weak of body but of sound and perfect mind and memory, thanks be given to almighty God for the same do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following (That is to Say), I recommend my soul into the hands of the Almighty God and my body I commit to the earth to be decently interred according to the discretion of my executor herein after named, and as for such worldly estate as it has pleased God to bestow upon me I go give and bequeath the same in manner following Item I do give desire and bequeath unto my dear and loving wife Sarah the sum of one hundred and twenty pounds lawful money of Great Britain .....


And then there was the will for his son Thomas Carpenter my 8th Great Grandfather. Again it was beautiful. Here is the text:

In the name of God Amen. I Thomas Carpenter of Bradford in the County of Somerset Yeoman being Sick of and weak of Body but of sound and perfect mind and memory, called to mind their mortality of my Flesh and willing to settle what it hath pleased God to bestow upon me in this world do make and ordain this my last will and Testament in manner and form following--thats to say I will that my Debts and Funeral finances be first satisfied and paid. Item I give and desire and bequeath unto my four sons--Nicholas Carpenter, John Carpenter, Thomas Carpenter and my son unbaptized (Intended and deigned to be called and named Robert Carpenter) .....


Then further into the bundle I found several of these bills of sale where Jane and her children sold off parts of the land. They were beautiful huge documents with all of their signatures and wax seals.

The signature of my 7th great-Grandfather John Carpenter, Jane and Thomas' son.
And my 8th Great-Grandmother Jane's signature and seal.
Can you believe it? Unreal. I had no idea I was going to walk into this treasure trove. And I had only a few hours to research and photograph as much as I could. As you probably noticed--there are some different name places in there. And none of them mention Trefusis. Apparently Trefusis comes in later down the line as a part of the lands that were passed down to my line. So I have alot more research to do. Below is a map showing the land ownership of the area from 1802 when some lands changed hands. And I bought a book about how to trace the ownership of land in this archive. I'm going to do as much work as I can from home and then we are going to have to go back. Don't you think?
It's only just whet my appetite. I can't wait to drive on the left side of the road and risk my life again. :) Genealogy happy dance, hum along with me now do do de dah de dah de dah. Whoohoo!

Trefusis Part 5 -- Bradford on Tone

After we visited the farm, we headed back to the little town of Bradford on Tone. It is a beautiful little village across the Tone river from the Carpenter farm. To get there we had to cross the 14th century bridge over the river Tone. The farm is not a far walk from the village, I'm sure that my ancestors crossed it many many times. I wasn't sure we were going to make it across though, I couldn't have had more than 6 inches on either side of the car going across. 14th century!! Isn't that amazing? I can't wrap my mind around how old that is. I'm just glad I didn't knock a hole in it with my car :)

And then we were met with this:
This is the church in Bradford on Tone where generations of my ancestors worshiped and had their religious ceremonies. This is the church where the marriages that formed my patriarchal line originated. It's hard to describe the feelings. I've listened to people tell about their genealogical discoveries and how moving it is. As wonderful as it is to listen to, it just seems like a quaint little church--UNTIL IT IS YOUR LITTLE CHURCH. This one is mine. I feel like I know these people. Way way way back. Thomas Carpenter and Johana Hurtnoll m. 5 Apr 1630, William Carpenter and Joane Meare m. 14 Jul 1656, Thomas Carpenter and Elizabeth Mare m. 1 Feb 1687, Thomas Carpenter born 20 Mar 1702, John Carpenter born 5 Dec 1746, Robert Carpenter born 4 Jul 1783, and Robert Gibbs Carpenter born 3 Oct 1829. I just can't wrap my mind around those dates. That was a loooong time ago.

The town is beautiful. Only a few streets and a handful of houses. We snapped a few pictures here and there.

And then we headed to the White Horse Inn for a late lunch. We had heard from the proprietor of the hotel in Taunton that the White Horse in was a nice pub. And we found it to be just that. The service was attentive and the food delicious. I can't wait to take the family back. They'll love the proper English Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about our Greatest Find on our ancestor hunt. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Trefusis Part 4--The Farm

So this is the continuation of the story about a crazy lady (me!) who took off into the British countryside to find her patriarchal ancestral home. She had heard her whole life of this magical place where the Carpenter family had lived for generations and where her Great-grandfather was able to find and trace their ancestry back to the early 1600s. Trefusis. I told you about or plans here, here and here. I think I'm ready to tell you the rest of the story now.

Notwithstanding driving on the left side of the road, notwithstanding working with a car unlike anything I'd ever driven, notwithstanding dealing with a strange GPS unit, I took off. Luckily I had brought another crazy lady with me--the unflinching Erin Roudabush (well she did flinch once when the car got precariously close to a bush on that side.) The first thing that clicked was that all addresses in England are named. When you live in the countryside at least, each farm or house has a name. You don't live at 10 Waddeston Street, but rather at Waddeston. So coming from the farm "Trefusis" made sense right away. We just had to find this place.

This really is the story of the value of investing your children in their family history. I've been enthralled with this place since I was a little girl. Only because of those years that I wondered about this place did I have the curiosity to find this place and feel out more of my family history along this line. This picture, taken in 1975 shows the descendants of Alvin, my grandfather, son of Joseph Hatten Carpenter. I'm there in the front--oldest grandchild with the purple shorts and white shirt. This picture was taken about the time my grandfather was writing his book about his father. In the picture you can see the sign Grandpa had posted above the door to his house. It read "Trefusis" to honor his own ancestral home. Grandpa had had the sign made, because his father had a similar sign hanging over the house where my Grandfather had grown up in honor of his ancestors. You can see a close up of the picture here. Every time I entered my Grandparent's home, I was reminded of this magical place where we had come from.
I'm not sure where my Grandfather's sign ended up, but several years ago, my sister created a similar sign for my father and for herself. So there have been 4 generations of Carpenters in the US with a Trefusis sign on their homes, harking back to this place, just outside of Bradford on Tone where are ancestors are from.

So probably the most fantastic part of my trip to Great Britain was to get a picture of myself next to the "real" Trefusis sign, along the road at the entrance to the farm. I'm fully aware that this would seem a simple picture to most people, but for me it is just hard to put into words. It is something tugging clear back in the back of my heart. Something really exciting and fulfilling. It was as if several generations were conspiring to pull me back there and I had finally been able to surrender to their wishes.
As it turned out, the farm was beautiful--even in February it was green and lush. We walked up to the home, and knocked on the door, but there was no answer. The house looked much more recent than the picture in my grandfather's book and we couldn't see anything that might resemble that structure. As we proceeded down the street past the fields, there were cows and barns across the way, and more fields surrounding the area. Finally after stealing glances here and there down the street, an older man with two dogs approached us from one of the fields and asked us what we were doing. At this point I was fairly speechless as to what to say to him (you would think all of the things I had planned to say would come to mind, but they did not.) I showed him the copy from my grandfather's book and asked him if he knew where the building in the picture might be. He said he did not and that this home pre-dated my Great-Grandfather's picture. He apparently noticed my Grandfather's explanation above the picture on the page and tried for several minutes to convince me that I was looking for the Trefusis that was in Cornwall (even though Grandfather's explanation was that our Trefusis was *not* the one in Cornwall.) After I could finally get a word in edgewise and tell him that our family was in the Bradford on Tone parish records, he asked me not to take any more pictures and we ended our conversation.

I don't think I was hoping to be invited in for tea, in fact I think I would have been quite uncomfortable imposing on him in any way, shape or form, but I didn't expect someone to be quite so opposed to our presence. Perhaps he felt threatened in some way, I don't know. But I was disappointed to find someone who couldn't be polite and gracious. Oh well. It was still thrilling to be there. He couldn't have put a damper on that no matter what his reaction.

So, despite the farmer, I was thrilled to be able to walk the same roads, and be in the same town that my ancestors inhabited. It is a gorgeous area and I can see why the draw back is so strong. I'll tell you about the town and the beautiful church where so many of my ancestors were married in my next post.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Indexing the 1940 census

Guess who is doing the most indexing at our house?

12 year old daughter!!


Letting her do it on my ipad doesn't hurt. It's just more fun on there. I think we've found a great new project for my daughter. Indexing is addictive.

Janet Few--Harnessing the Facebook Generation--a great lecture at WDYTYAL

I had the opportunity to catch a class by Janet Few at Who Do You Think You Are Live 2012. Her title was "Harnessing the Facebook Generation" so you know I had to check that one out. I learned a lot from her perspective.

She geared her remarks to people who were concerned about the future of their family history research. Janet suggested that getting younger people involved were crucial to ensuring the future of your research. Genealogists need to be concerned about making the hobby attractive to the next generation. She conducted a quick survey at the Devon Family History Society stand at the conference on Friday. They asked Who Do You Think You Are Live attendees whether or not they were worried about what would happen to their research ? Two thirds of the people said that, yes, they were concerned that someone would care about it after they were gone. Genealogists should be really concerned about getting the younger generation involved.

Janet was absolutely right when she stated that we need to be asking ourselves why they are not interested. I think Americans are a lot like the British in saying they have other commitments. It was interesting in the difference between the British and American focus on the archives rather than the Internet. In that way I think Americans may have the advantage in attracting the next generation because we are so focused on the Internet rather than going to an archive. I thought it was amusing that she felt one of the excuses young people might use was that visiting the archives was expensive. It is so much less expensive there than it is for an American to travel to visit an archive, especially archive abroad. Perhaps that is an excuse that Americans can use even when they are older.

I found it very refreshing to hear her assert that if they are interested enough they will find the time and money. She is right. We need to focus on making sure they know how fun and interesting it is, and not worry about the particulars. They will figure the particulars out if they are interested. We just have to make it look exciting.

As I went looking for information about involving children in family history throughout this conference I could see she has an uphill battle in England making the genealogists interested in bringing in the next generation. I found responses such as "I was told as a child to be seen and not heard, so I was never allowed to ask questions about my family history," or "We can't very well have children involved in something as complicated as this.". One magazine editor told me that they hadn't published anything about getting children involved because they didn't believe that interested their readers. One of the major concerns that Janet was facing in her audience was, "Does it matter?". To that lack of concern, Janet asked, "Will the gap be too wide when they get interested later?" I had never thought about it this way, but she is absolutely right that when we don't involve the next generation, we are missing the opportunity to bridge that gap together. We need to involve them now so that it won't be so hard for them when they become interested as they become older. She also asserted that we need the tech generation to help us preserve our history. We need them as much as they need us. But we have to present it in a way that is interesting. They aren't interested in doing genealogy the way we do it.

I loved her ideas about the Facebook generation being educated differently and that the way they get info is different than the way older people access information. To attract young genealogists we need to look at the way they access information. I agree with her that they go straight to the Internet and then only sometimes do they ever get to books. I'm not sure that I agree that they are more likely to look for name in Facebook than in google, but she very well may be right. Janet talked about the Braund Family Group on Facebook. She noted that there are 200 members of the society in real life, and 200 members on facebook, but only 40 of the actual members are members on facebook--thus the facebook group attracted 160 people to their cause. Of those, she estimated that 108 are estimated to be under 30 years old. She spoke of her experiences as a young family historian. She said when she joined the Braund One Name Society, at the age of 30 she was one of 4 young members and she was amused to find that 24 years later she was still one of the youngest members. She was excited to have the society on Facebook, and felt that this was the place where most young people would go to search for information about their family. She feels that Facebook is the best way to talk to youth. Though social networking isn't a substitute for a mailing list or blog, she also noted that a local journalist was following them on twitter, yea--free publicity. But does it really help your research? For youth, a facebook group is a great place to ask questions. It is also a great place to share photos and info.

Janet had some great examples of getting younger people involved with their family history. The first, is a children's website put together by the Devon Family History Society, the Acorn Club. She said you need to ask young people how to develop a website for them. She also showed off Captainjamesbraund.wordpress.com where a doll goes from member of the family to member of the family and writes letters on the blog. Janet also recommended the Horrible Histories TV show on the BBC. We had a great time watching some of the clips on youtube. My favorite is the Tudor Diet Plan. Like I've said here too, you need to do it in a youthful way. If kids were attracted to the way we do genealogy, we'd already have way too many children interested. So we have to rethink. Janet had some great ideas.

Janet's handout can be found at http://www.sog.org.uk/events/pdf/2012-Show-Handouts/WDYTYA-20120226-Harnessing-The-Facebook-Generation.pdf You can bet I'm following her on facebook. You should too.