Sunday, June 20, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Southern Baptist Historic Library and Archives

One of the things I like about the website for the Southern Baptist Historic Library and Archives is that they have a page that addresses family history and what records they have and don't have.  What a great way to know what is and isn't available for your research project.

This is a great website with everything from details about their collections, information about visiting their Archives in Tennessee, finding aids, a few biographies and links to other sites that may be of use to your research.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Can't You Find Grandpa's Grave?

One of the frustrating aspects of genealogy can be finding the burial place for an ancestor.  Sometimes it can feel like you have checked out every cemetery in an area and still not find where that ancestor was buried.

The more I know about cemeteries the more I am convinced that it is a miracle when we do find a burial.  Too often there are a host of reasons why an ancestor's burial place cannot or may not ever be found.  A good example is the use of wooden crosses or headstones to mark a burial.  These deteriorate over time making them unreadable.  In some cases even granite headstones can become difficult to read.

The place where a person is buried can lead to why you cannot find their burial.  In the case of one of my ancestors, he is buried on the family farm that has not been owned by family since the early 1900's.  The land is now used for grazing cattle and the home and cemetery are no longer visible.  In another example, a family cemetery is now under the 9th hole at a golf course with no monument left to remember those buried there.

The examples could go on and on.  In at least 2 instances in Southern California there are cemeteries that, because they were in disrepair, were turned into parks.  Families was notified and those that wanted to move their loved ones to another cemetery were given that chance and those that weren't removed are now buried under a city park.

(Photos courtesy of Audry McDonald (c) 2010 )

One example of this comes from Whittier, California where two adjacent cemeteries, Mount Olive and Broadway are now the Founders Memorial Park.  What did they do with the tombstones?  Well they piled them in the back of the Whittier Museum where they now sit.  While there is a memorial marker at the park with names, one descendant has told me that their ancestor's name is missing.  To learn more about this and to see a list of the burials see the website for the Whittier Museum. The above photos show the tombstones behind the Whittier Museum.

In San Diego, the Mission Hills Calvary Cemetery was also turned into a park and the tombstones "stored" in a ravine at the part. This cemetery is now known as Pioneer Park.  According to a website, burials for this cemetery were as recent as 1960. 

So how should we, as genealogists,  feel about this re-purposing of cemeteries.  For most people, they care little about the future of those who are buried, unless they are recently dead. I should also point out that there are other places where the dead have been moved because of the expense of real estate (San Francisco-to read more about the removal of graves from San Francisco, see the website San Francisco Cemeteries), the limits of space to bury the dead (island countries like the Azores and Puerto Rico) or the reuse of graves due to lack of space or the expense of endowment care (some European countries). 

Our idea of going to the burial place of our ancestor may in many cases may be more of an ideal than a reality.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Genealogy Book Links

Genealogy Book Links is a list of links to digitized books.  The list is indexed by state and topic.  One of the topics found on the right hand side of the website is Religion.  Clicking on the Religion link provides a page of links to books about various religions.  You can choose a specific religion (Catholics, Mormons, Baptist, Jewish, Methodist or Quakers) and see links for books just about that religion. Remember some of these books are histories and some include information about members.

Indexes like Genealogy Book Links provide a  great starting place for your search and then you can continue searching for digitized books by going to websites like Google Books, Internet Archive, Heritage Quest or the Hathi Trust.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Do You Have a Brickwall?

I love to hear about other people's brickwall ancestors.  Today I am speaking at the Palm Springs Genealogy Society where we will be discussing brickwalls.  I am most interested in why certain ancestors are brickwalls.  My feeling is that for the most part it is because there is a document somehwere out there that the researcher hasn't found yet.  That document helps to prove whatever fact the person is searching for.

But how do we find that one document?

My advice starts with researching a place you've never researched before. If all you do is internet research, then go out and get to an archive or university library or order films from the Family History Library.

If all you are looking for are vital records and census records then take a great book like The Source, Hidden Sources, or Printed Sources and check out what other records might help you to find information about your ancestor.

One of the things that struck me about the presentations I went to at the NGS conference, is that the speakers talked about records that most of us are not aware of.  We aren't aware of them simply because they are not the records that we hear a lot about.  But those "hidden sources" have great genealogical value to researchers.

Break down a brickwall today by finding that hidden source that leads you to knowing more about your ancestor.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Privacy Rights and Family History

Privacy is a touchy subject these days.  Legislators are in a hurry to pass laws that "protect" privacy to make their constituents happy.  In California we have had bills passed "protecting" vital records.  Even though identity theft originates in other ways, we keep passing laws restricting the access to vital records.  Seems like we should be passing laws that really address the causes of identity theft.

Now before you get mad and tell me identity theft is a huge problem, I know it is.  Someone stole my husband's credit card number and used it for several purchases.  And even with all the proof we had that someone stole his credit card number, the credit card company would not credit us the amount back.  But the person who did this didn't get my husband's information from his birth certificate, they got it through the internet.

And then we have privacy in relation to medical files. The theory behind this is a good thing; most of us don't want the world to know about medical procedures or a diagnosis we have had.  But what happens in the case of someone who has passed away?  Our laws state that person still has a right to privacy.  But what if that person's privacy and a current family member's right to know intersect?  What if someone in the past had a disease that affects current family members?  Who does the privacy protect in that case? And who does it harm?

I once spoke to the record keeper at a local mental health hospital and she was telling me how they have records going back 100 years. They destroy much of the record to save space but they keep a portion of each file.  However, in the state of California you as a family member cannot access that record, unless you get a physicians request or a court order.  Do people from 100 years ago need protection from their descendents?  From what?  Wouldn't a greater good be served to allow descendants to have access to information that may affect their own health?
These are important issues that too often are answered with a knee jerk response, instead of a careful analysis.

I think most of my readers know that one of my all time favorite books is Annie's Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg.  It is now out in paperback and is a great genealogical primer.  I have heard Steve speak and he is one of the best presenters I have ever heard.  When I heard him I wished that he was given much more than one hour. 

Steve has written an op-ed piece on our medical privacy laws that should be read.  This is an important topic for genealogists, as well as everyone. I encourage you to read it.