Saturday, June 20, 2015

Flasback: My Journey to Find My Grandparents

I thought I would go a little different direction today and tell you about my genealogy journey. Where I started, where I have journeyed and where I am still going. 

When my father died in 1984, it was brought home to me in a momentary flash of regret that I had lost the last chance I had to find out about my grandparents. As the oldest child of a second family, I had never know any of my grandparents and now had lost the last link to that side of the family.

Poor timing to be sure to decide to start trying to trace my genealogy and find out about my grandparents when I had no one left to interview. I began at that time a search that has spanned more than thirty years and continues to this day.

Starting from scratch is what I called it. I knew my grandparents names but my grandmother was born in England and whenever I asked my father as a child where she had been born, he would say something like Yorkshire, Berkshire or Derbyshire. The words Cambridgeshire never came out of his mouth and after many years of searching I have found not only the village of my ancestors but several villages on the Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk border.

Looking back after thirty years, it is hard to imagine that these people, my grandparents, were such a mystery to me. I feel like I know them so well now. It has been a long haul but here are a few of the steps that I took in my search.

The very first thing I did was to become a registered genealogist. In my state that is required to have access to birth information and while my grandmother wasn't born in the US, my grandfather was. I went to the town hall with my card and looked at death records. I needed to have the death dates of my grandparents. With that information I went to the local library and went through the copies of the newspaper on microfilm and photocopied the obituary notices. This gave me family names and another place to go with my research.

My grandmother was Edith Hunns. I learned that this is a name that is usually found in Cambridgeshire and that there are many thoughts about the origins of this name.

I called the church that holds the records of religious events like baptism and marriages and was allowed access to the records which I have to tell you would not be as likely to happen today. Be prepared to be told that you can submit questions but will not be allowed to look at the record yourself. When you ask them for information, ask for all the information during a time period for anyone with the same last name. You may end up with information that doesn't apply to you but you may also find out about family members you had no idea existed. Be sure to make a donation as well, this will get your research done much quicker.

My next step was the US Census, it became one of my favorite tools. I found my grandmother as a young woman living with her father, brother, sister, brother-in law and nephews in the 1900 census. I also found out where she was working which explained how she met my grandfather who worked for the same company.

From the names I found, I went looking for some of my father's cousins and luckily I found a few who were quite a bit younger than him and were able to give me valuable information and family lore that I was missing.

Over the last twenty five years I have pieced together a much better picture of my grandparents than I ever had while my father was alive. I have gotten photographs, visited England and seen the church where my grandmother was baptized, found the cemetery where her mother is buried and needless to say have gone back about three hundred years farther into the story of my family. And it all started with my grandparents and my desire to know who they were.

What I wanted to show everyone is that while it is great to know a lot about your ancestors when you begin your research, it isn't required. You can learn a lot with the resources that are available to you. 

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