Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genealogy Research Then or Now?

In my "olden" days (way back in the mid 1970's) genealogy research was performed vastly differently than it is now. Was it easier then or harder compared to the resources available today? Let's take a look:

In 1976 when I began genealogy research, I used a steno pad, a supply of pens, my car to drive to and from various repositories and good, ole elbow grease. I spent hours in the Mt. Clemens Library genealogy section sitting before a microfilm reader spinning records upon records of my paternal ancestors. I visited the Burton Library in Detroit periodically also searching for paternal ancestral information. I copied all these records into my steno pad. I visited local cemeteries and took photos of gravestones, read records in cemetery offices and recorded information in my steno pad. I made trips back and forth to Berrien County to stand in the Vital Records division of the County Clerk's office and copied record upon record of my maternal ancestors, visited cemeteries there and actually visited with cousins of my grandmother to ascertain more information. The furthest that I traveled was either to Bay County or Berrien County, each no more than several hours away from my home at the time in the Detroit suburbs. Total money spent on these endeavors was minimal other then (very low) gasoline costs. I was able to learn the ancestral villages of the majority of my 8 major surnames going back to my great-grandparents. It was fun, exciting and very rewarding.

In 1980 I began inputting my information by typing, on a manual typewriter, all my data into the LDS genealogy forms which were the premier medium at that time. I lived in a very small apartment at the time and remember my card table/kitchen table which served as the place I ate and the place I typed.

In the mid-1980's I began mailing away for vital records mainly from the Michigan archives. Costs at that time were $2.00 per record and I amassed binders full of data on each of my 8 ancestral surnames. I followed advice in the Genealogical Helper magazine at the time and crossed the ocean to Germany finding records and information on my ancestors from that country. True it took weeks, sometimes months to get results but the bonuses were exciting with envelopes in the mail with German stamps. There is no excitement like seeing a personal letter from a church in the (then) DDR with information on a 3rd or 4th great grandparent taking my research back to the 1700's.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Now we have personal computers, scanners, the Internet with Google and a wealth of genealogy sites and information at our fingertips to be accessed in private in our pajamas with instant results and gratification. We can scan old photos and restore them with great photo software, we can access European archives through Ancestry.com and other sites, some with hefty fees, others free. We can order microfilm records from the LDS and read them at a local LDS stake and find records upon records of interest to our research.

The best perk to this century of resources is the possibility of connecting with others researching our same surname or, even better, finding long lost relatives. That is huge and cannot be minimized. I, myself, have had great success with finding relatives in Germany who share my interest in our mutual family line. This can't be beat.

Is it better and easier now to do genealogy research than it was in the 1970's and 1980's? I don't know what the answer would be. There certainly were benefits to getting out in the field and trekking to find records, waiting for results and the joy of finally getting a positive response. That doesn't undermine the excitement of clicking on Ancestry and finding an instant pension record or census record that answers a long lost question.

Taken all together, I have to admit that I have done wonderfully in these 30+ years in getting results. I have visited Germany and Poland and walked the paths that my ancestors walked in their home villages and imagined what their lives were like then. I have connected with closely related family members during this research and connected with many other researchers searching my surnames and ancestral villages.

One of my favorite success stories was when, after years of searching for a death date and location of burial in Detroit of a German immigrant ancestor and coming up blank, I actually found the death information in of all places - Germany and learned that this ancestor and her husband had taken a trip back to her homeland, when she was at an advanced age, and learned that she and her husband both passed away there and were buried in Germany.

It is definitely true that we can go further in our research and faster, too, with all the resources available to us. Imagine how much further this can take us in the future!

Can we get back to Adam & Eve!!!! Interesting thought, don't you think? Who wants to be the first to try?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Civil War Ancestor? A New Mystery!

Yesterday when viewing my latest newsletter from Ancestry I noted an article regarding the Civil War and the upcoming 150th anniversary of this US historical event. Not having any ancestors that served in the Civil War, I quickly discounted the article and went on with the remainder of the newsletter. Though I have been an active genealogist since the 70's (1970's that is!) I never have studied, researched or otherwise been involved with seeking out Civil War data.

However, though I ignored the article on the Civil War, a little bird was whispering in my ear throughout the day. I suddenly remembered the box of war medals that my paternal grandmother Schulte had grudgingly given me in the 1980's. I was the only granddaughter but none of my male cousins, nor my brother, had any interest in these medals and I finally managed to get my grandmother to let me take them. There were medals from my great-grandfather, Rudolph Schulte, who served in the Spanish American War and medals from my grandfather, Elmer Schulte, who had served in WWI. I created some shadow boxes and these medals are now displayed in my home.

Somehow the thought kept coming to me that there were some other medals in that box that my grandmother kept and these had the wording of "The Grand Army of the Republic". I did learn that this organization was a fraternal organization comprised of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the Civil War.
I asked my grandmother at the time where these medals had originated and she stated she didn't remember. I will confess that my grandmother was not totally immersed in my family quests, and while she did help me some, more times than not she gave me inaccurate information. When I would later uncover the accurate facts and ask her about them, she would confess that she had not told me the truth because she wanted me to "let sleeping dogs lie".

The majority of my ancestors did not arrive in the US until after 1870, long after the end of the Civil War. However, my Feucht ancestors WERE in the US in the mid-1850's though I just assumed that my second great-grandfather, Jacob Feucht, never would have served in the Civil War as he was married with several children at that time. That may have been a mistake because we should never assume anything in doing research!

Yesterday my thoughts started to expand and I decided to go on Ancestry and search the Civil War draft registers on a whim to see if my Jacob Feucht would be listed. Imagine my surprise when I found the following entry:




There definitely is an entry for a Jacob Feucht. The information contained in the draft register is mainly of a general nature, and while the data does match up with MY Jacob Feucht, I wonder if I can definitely say this is my ancestor.

My second great-grandfather Johann Jacob Feucht (known as Jacob) was born August 11, 1826 in Tamm, Ludwigsburg, Wuerttemberg, Germany. He came to the US in the mid-1850's and on February 20, 1859 married Magdalena Helena Bauer (known as Helena) at Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit, MI (now Historic Trinity Lutheran Church).

The draft registration does match, basically, with my Jacob. It does show an 1863 draft in Hillsdale, MI (near to Detroit) of a 34 year old white male who is married and who was born in Germany and who is listed as a laborer. My Jacob Feucht was 34/35 at that time, married, born in Germany and the 1870 census shows Jacob listed as a laborer. Neither the 1870 or 1880 US census records from Detroit show any information on former military service so those census records do not assist a genealogist in determining whether an ancestor did serve.

I am inclined to believe this record is my Jacob Feucht. Jacob's daughter, Julie Feucht, married Rudolph Schulte and following her death, Rudolph married her sister, Elizabeth Feucht, which could explain the Grand Army of the Republic medals in my grandmother Schulte's safekeeping.

I am also wondering, though, whether Jacob Feucht actually served in this War. I searched the other Ancestry records on the Civil War and Jacob's name does not appear though there are two Jacob's listed with a surname that could be considered a variant of Feucht (the name has been massacred greatly in the records I have searched) and those entries show service from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Not having previously researched in any way Civil War records, I am not knowledgeable as to whether individuals could have registered for the draft in Michigan but been assigned to regiments in nearby Ohio or Pennsylvania.

To add to my mystery, Jacob and Helena Feucht had 10 children during the years 1860-1881. The years of birth were 1860, 1861, 1864, 1866, 1868, 1870, 1872, 1875, 1877 and 1881. I noted with interest the frequency with which their children were born BUT there is a 3 year gap from the time daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1861 and daughter, Rosa, was born in 1864. Could it be that father, Jacob, had been serving in the Civil War during that period?

Can I claim a Civil War ancestor? I will need to begin researching this event in US history in more depth to see what further records I can uncover.