This week I went to the hairdressers. Usually I love being pampered at the salon, but this week I was especially looking forward to going. My 20 something hairdresser has fallen in love with genealogy since the start of NBCs “Who do You Think you Are?” She is a chatterbox anyways, but now we chat about family history.
My daughter had a hair appointment with her two weeks ago, and I sent her in with a chart I had developed just from listening to my hairdresser chat about her family. I knew her surname, and where her grandparents were born, and few other names. Using census records and Ancestry.com I made up a tentative lineage back to Thomas Leighton and Elizabeth Nutter, in the early 1600s at Dover, New Hampshire. Using the caveats of “this hasn’t been proven yet by primary sources…” I sent it to the hair salon.
She was so happy, she wrote me nice Thank You card, and wrapped up a little gift (…PS, I love the windchime!) We talked about family history the entire time again. I was so happy to see a young person excited about genealogy- it made my week! Then upon arriving at home I saw an article in our local newspaper “The Nashua Telegraph” about a reporter who had been inspired by the NBC TV series. I wrote to Stacy Milbouer and she gave me permission to copy it in my blog. Stacy’s interest in doing her own genealogy research was piqued after watching the TV show, and she went to some local Nashua, New Hampshire genealogy resources. She also had the good luck of running into Helen Ullmann at the Nashua Family History Center.
All credit to the Nashua Telegraph. To see the complete article, with photos, please go to http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/695263-196/search-for-grandmastarts-opening-doors.html
Monday, April 5, 2010
Search for Grandma starts opening Doors
By Stacy Milbouer
As everyone knows by now, it’s U.S. census time. You have either filled out your form and sent it back, are about to fill out your form, or a Census worker will visit your home. But things were a lot different 100 years ago when the 1910 census was taken. How do I know? I’ve looked at dozens of pages of that 100-year-old census on my quest to do genealogical research and to do it for free or nearly free.
We are lucky that in the Nashua area there are a lot of resources that make this fairly easy to do. In the past week, I’ve accumulated historical information about family that would have taken me months and a lot of traveling expenses 10 or 15 years ago, and I never traveled more than a mile and a half away from my home.
Inspired by the new NBC show, “Who Do You Think You Are?,” which follows celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Emmitt Smith as they research their family history, I decided to go on my own ancestral journey.
I followed the lead of the show and started tracing a single member of my family and followed that person as far back as I could. I didn’t tackle all my grandparents or great-grandparents at the same time. I also noticed that the show was sponsored by Ancestry.com, which boasts 4 billion online records and is the most popular commercial genealogical Web site out there. It’s very convenient and easy to use, but it’s also pricey: ranging from $20-$30 a month, depending on the package.
Many public libraries, including Nashua and the Rodgers Memorial Library in Hudson, have the library version of Ancestry.com called Ancestry Library Edition, which can be accessed in the library only.
You can also access some other genealogy databases in-house and those available to the libraries from home, online with a library card.
“The genealogy databases are very popular,” said Rodgers’ reference librarian Gayle St. Cyr. “Every once in a while you’ll hear someone shouting out ‘ah’ or ‘oh’ when they find that little piece of information about an ancestor they’ve been searching for.”
The Nashua Public Library periodically offers a free class on using computers to research genealogy. The next will be April 21, from 2:30-4 p.m., and registration is required.
Since my father’s mother died when he was a very young, and my father has been dead since 1980, I knew practically nothing about my paternal grandmother, so I decided I’d look for her. I wasn’t even sure of her proper name. I only knew that she was called Lulu, which someone had once told me was short for Louise. One of my brothers and I both thought her last name might have been Von Adolph, but we weren’t sure. And we also thought she had died in childbirth at a young age and that the child did not survive either. I also knew my father was born at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1918.
I started at home on my laptop by Googling the “best free genealogical websites.” I started with HeritageQuest online.com.
An hour or so later, I was able to come up with a scanned-in copy of the 1920 Census that showed my father as a 22-month-old living in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his father, Joseph, and his mother whose name was shown as Louvize. The census also showed that Louvize was born in California and that her mother and father (whose names were not on the census) were both born in Missouri.
On one site, I saw a popup with this information; on the other, Heritage, I could pull up an actual scanned copy of the census. At that time, all census data collection was done in person, written by hand. Fortunately for me, the census taker, Anna Gould, used legible cursive. I have to say there is something thrilling about seeing the actual handwriting of the person who was looking at my father as a baby, who was in the room with my grandfather and grandmother, whom I never met, and who would both be dead before the next census was taken. In a weird way, it was like visiting with them.
From there I was determined to find out more about Louvize Milbouer, and I’d gone as far as I could on my own. The 1910 census had no record of her as far as I could find. I knew that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had Family History Centers throughout the country and that one was here in Nashua on Concord Street. There I met Helen Ullmann, the assistant director of the history center, who explained why the church focused so much on genealogy.
“Mormons believe in life after death,” she said, “and we believe after death, people are organized by families, so then genealogy becomes very important.”
She explained that in the Mormon church, baptism and other “saving ordinances,” such as sealing marriages, must be made accessible to everyone who has ever lived and to make them available to people who did not go through when they were alive, they can be done by proxy. Because of that genealogical research is done so that relatives who were not baptized into the church when they were living can be baptized by proxy in death by a stand-in or proxy living relative.
So the church began collecting genealogical research resources and allows anyone to use them, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Not only can you get help at the Family History Centers, like the one in Nashua, but also on the Church’s genealogical Web site, FamilySearch.org, which is free to use from home. I needed Ullmann’s help and she was more than generous with her time. Initially, she couldn’t find out any more online about Louvise than I could, but she knew where to look to gather more information. After an hour, we still couldn’t find her maiden name – which is key to go further back in time. But she didn’t give up. She searched through various databases, censuses and cemetery listings.
“It’s always best to start with the earliest information and move forward in time,” she said, suggesting I get copies of my grandparents’ marriage certificate and my grandmother’s death certificate in hopes of finding her last name and maybe more. She found where those documents could be ordered and filled out the order forms with me. The documents cost $5 each, a mere pittance compared to a subscription to Ancestry.com, which might or might not have that same information.
But the documents had to be delivered the old-fashion way, by mail and not instantly on a computer. I was bummed. I may have lived 53 years without knowing anything about my grandmother, but once I started looking, I wanted to know everything at once.
But fortunately for me, a man named Bill, a passionate amateur genealogist and regular at the Family History Center, came to my rescue.
He suggested I look on another free Web site called Cyndi’s List – a treasure trove of genealogical resources, including, said Bill (who chose not to tell me his last name), a bride and groom registry. For a few minutes, I had no luck finding a groom named Joseph Milbouer and his bride Louvize, but then I remembered that so many people have misspelled our family name with an “a” instead of a “u.” Bingo. There was my grandfather, Joseph, in the groom directory and the date that he married Louvize Adolph – Dec. 19, 1914, in Manhattan. So my grandmother had a last name and now my search for her could begin in earnest. Bill and Ullmann using the same Web site also found out that my grandmother died July 31, 1921, at age 28, when my father was 3 years old. With Ullmann’s help, I ordered a copy of Louvize’s death certificate to see if it were true that she and the baby she was carrying died in childbirth. I also ordered a copy of my grandparents’ marriage certificate.
But this is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning. Bill, my newfound friend from the Family History Center, said it all.
“Twenty-one years ago all I knew was that my family came from Ireland and nothing else,” Bill said. “I haven’t stopped researching since. It’s an obsession.”
Stacy Milbouer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org