Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Early Learnings

Randy Seaver's weekly challenge is as follows:
Think back to when you first started doing genealogy and family history research. What was one of your first real research problems? How did you attack the problem? Did you solve the problem? If so, how? What lessons did you learn from this experience?

Unfortunately, I can't remember that far back! I actually started doing "real" genealogy research back in high school in the mid-1960s. My grandmother was helping write a book about the Israel Boone family and needed some Pennsylvania help. We lived in State College, PA, so I spent weeks in the stacks at Penn State's Pattee Libray, digging through the numerous volumes of the published Pennsylvania Archives. I'm sure I made lots of mistakes, but certainly don't remember them now!

The first real research problem that comes to my mind is when I started tackling my father's family. He could tell me nothing about his family; didn't even know his mother's maiden name. He left home at 17 and never looked back. I honored his wishes and didn't research his family until after he died at age 60. The next week (Sept., 1978) I headed to the Seattle Public Library to start digging. Over the ensuing weeks and months, I spent many hours in the Seattle Public Library, the Seattle Genealogical Society Library, and the Pacific Northwest Branch of the National Archives. I dug through censuses, vital records, local know the drill.

After months of work I had traced my Dad's line back to his great-grandfather, a Morris T. Sharp. According to the 1850 Census, he was living in Bureau County, Illinois, and was born in New Jersey ca. 1834. But where in New Jersey? I posted my query to an early genealogy message board ca. 1980 and was astounded when a lady in Michigan responded with a reference to a book called "Early Germans of New Jersey." She said that the book was quite rare and offered to copy the SHARP pages for me. Turns out that book was sitting on the shelves at the Seattle Genealogical Society Library, but I'd totally missed it because it wasn't with the "main" New Jersey collection, but in a special collection of New Jersey materials. Aargh! The entire family line was documented back to 1732 when the "Sharfenstein" family arrived in Philadelphia. And the Kent Collection of New Jersey materials had a dozen more references to my Sharfensteins. I'm sure my Dad was rolling in his grave when I discovered his line was of German (not English) descent!

What I learned from this experience was to ASK ABOUT SPECIAL COLLECTIONS in any archive or library.

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