This week’s post is another joint effort by Pat and me.  We both wanted to have an opportunity to congratulate Jasia on the 100th edition of the COG.  My efforts are in standard type; Pat’s additions are in italics.

This month’s theme for the COG is There’s One in Every Family.  Great theme, how hard could it be?  Rip off a few lines about crazy Uncle Gordon or silly Aunt Emma and be a contributor.   The thing is, most of my relatives, living and dead, are kind of ordinary. (I know I’ve been looking and hoping, for a real Black Sheep.  If I can ever document it, I have a 2-woman scandal in the very early 1800s.) Of course, everyone has a story, just not one that wants to be told for this sort of thing. (Oh, maybe mine is one of those.)

And then it came to me, every family has a genealogist or, as we say now, a family historian.  Yes, it is you I am writing about or for whom I am writing.

When I started climbing the family tree there was no family history, there was only genealogy.  Who cares?  Well, me, and if you remember The Look you will too. The Look, is what you got when you told people you were a genealogist.  Genealogy has grown to be wildly popular with TV shows and podcasts and, you know, blogs, but this was not always the case. Years ago the declaration that you were a genealogist, the one that generated The Look, meant one of two things.  Either:

1.  You lived alone in an attic with no fewer than 5 cats, or

2.  You were an unbearable snob who was about to reveal that she was heir to the throne of Godknowswhereistan.

For the record, I have never had more than 3 cats at once and, although hope never dies, I don’t appear to be the heir to anything. (And I keep hoping that I will turn out to be the heir to all of Nantucket, but alas, that also doesn’t seem to be the case.)

It is so much more pleasant to be a family historian.  Many people just hear the historian part and assume that you actually know something.  Having spent years suffering The Look, I see no reason to disabuse them of this notion.

The other thing I vastly prefer about family historian is that most people with a fourth grade education can spell both family and historian, not so with genealogy.  What is it with that “a” in the middle.  OK, I grew up in Philadelphia and some people, most of whom are related to me, have made note of the fact that I don’t always pronounce words in precisely the same way as people in New England.  Still, I think that “a” needs to be an “o”.  After all, it’s anthropologist, biologist, criminologist, musicologist, otologist (look it up, new words are good for you), phraseologist (yup, the study of phrases), and, my personal favorite, storiologist. Not an  ” a”  in the bunch.

So, if you’re younger than I am, and who isn’t, count yourself lucky to be a family historian, and count yourself lucky for the work Jasia does to bring us the COG. Congratulations on the 100th edition (from both of us).  Pop the champagne and let the celebration begin.

Another ancient project of a sailboat entered our lives recently and we are facing the big question.  Not, “Did you notice all those holes in the sails?’ or, “Why doesn’t the engine start?” or even, “Why is the water coming in faster than we can pump it out?”  No, the big question is, “What should we name her?”

We humans like to name things.  We name things to help us to understand how the rest of the natural order fits together.  We name things to honor people we have known and people we admire.  We name inanimate objects and imbue them with personality.  Many a GPS or an automobile has a name. My GPS has an x-rated name and would someone please tell her I’m not going over the George Washington Bridge, so she can stop trying.    In addition to the GPS I have named two children, 8 or 9 cats, 3 or 4 boats, a host of small mammals, most now buried in the backyard, and the odd goldfish or two.

All of which brings me to the subject of names and naming conventions. I greatly enjoy just looking at the given names in my database.

I love the virtue names.  In my database I have Mercy, Patience, Grace, Thankful, Prudence, and Temperance.  All the virtue names are female; make what you want out of that.

I love the names that have gone out of fashion.  In my database I find Americ,

Homera, Erastus, Jabez, Hepzibah, Asimuth, Archeleus, Mehitable, Shubael, and Zilpha and I love the ones that have returned, Bethany, Ethan, Samantha, and the like.

As a genealogist it is useful to be aware of naming conventions used by different groups. There are as many naming conventions as there are identifiable groups of humans.  Here are a few.

The general naming conventions among English and Irish is:

First son       after the father’s father

Second son       after the mother’s father

Third son       after the father

Fourth son       after the father’s eldest brother

Fifth son       after the mother’s eldest brother

First daughter                       after the mother’s mother

Second daughter            after the father’s mother

Third daughter                       after the mother

Fourth daughter            after the mother’s eldest sister

Fifth daughter                       after the father’s eldest daughter

Scottish naming conventions are slightly different, but follow the same theme of grandparents, parents and parent’s siblings.

Most Jewish people are named after dead relatives or occasionally friends.  Often the name of a recently deceased relative is used to name children who are born shortly after the death.  In my generation in my family there are four of us named after an uncle who died too young and was much beloved.

Some Asian countries have very strict naming conventions.  I am told that Chinese names will allow you to puzzle out a person’s place in the family genealogy

I’m sure there are many other naming conventions of which I am unaware.

Then what am I to make of those odd names in my database?

By far the oddest I have come across is the first name Ai. There are several hundred people with the first name Ai in the 1850 and 1860 censuses.  Most of the last names of these people are of English sounding origins.  A quick look at naming books and such list the name as a Japanese name meaning love.  How did this name find its way into my Blood family?

And what of the foreign names?  Rueta and Tavita found their way into my database thanks to an ancestor who was a missionary in Fiji.  I don’t know about Fernando.  Undoubtedly, there are some Spanish or Portuguese ancestors to look for.

I could go on and on.  Every given name raises the question of why it was chosen.

And the sailboat?  I suggest, Jessie Martin; if you read my last post you know why.  My husband reminds me that the Jessie Martin sank, twice.  He suggests we name her after a favorite cat.  I remind him that the cat died, only once. The former owner named her Blue Skies.  Nice name, don’t you think, already painted right there on the stern.  Blue Skies it is.

Okay, not everybody has a religion, but if you’re looking for ancestors who lived before the twentieth century they almost certainly had a religion and if they didn’t you’ve got one interesting ancestor and you ought to be looking into his/her life more thoroughly.

According to the 1870 census there were about 72,459 churches in the U.S. serving a population of 38,558, 371 or one church for every 530 people. Today several studies indicate about 335, 000 churches serving a population of about 304, 000, 000 or about one church for 900 people.  These are approximate numbers, but you get the idea.  Most small towns in America had a multiplicity of churches and most of them were fairly small. Mid 19th century America was fertile ground for new churches.  What we might now consider to be minor differences in doctrine could often spawn enough disagreement that someone would stomp off and form a new church. In his book, Family, Ian Frazier says, “In the United States, after the Revolutionary War, Protestant sects proliferated like diet colas.” This is partial list of the possibilities for church membership taken from his book:  Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians (low, middle and high church), Methodists and Baptists.  Among the Baptists there were Hard Shell, Free Will, Particular and Seceder.  There were also Shakers, Quakers, Mormons, Finneyites, Rappites, Unitarians, Lutherans, and many more, and these are just the Protestants.

All of these churches had one thing in common; they kept records.  Church records can possess a wealth of information.  The best thing about church records is that many of them have survived decades and centuries and are still there to be found.

Where do we find these records?  Some of them can be found in books.  A History of Sullivan County talks about Luke Davies, a person of interest to me, and recalls the founding of the First Baptist church of Thompson, New York and a” furious controversy” between the Baptists and the Presbyterians. Some denominations keep websites with historical information.  It has been a great pleasure to me that the Seventh Day Adventists keep an index of obituaries of Seventh Day Adventists and will send them to you for five dollars each.  Virtually every Seventh Day Adventist who died in this country has at least one and often two obituaries.  Forgive the pun, but if you’re a genealogist it’s like you died and went to heaven.

Some 19th century churches continue to exist and most will share their records with you.  How do you search for a church?  First try the phone book for the town where your ancestor lived.  If it’s not there find a website for the denomination, find the state or city headquarters for that denomination and contact them asking what happened to the church you are looking for and where its records might be kept. If none of this works try the local historical society and the state archives, many church records have come to reside in archives.  Try the local library.  Many, if not most, town libraries have local history collections.  Librarians are among the most helpful people on Earth.  If they don’t have it they will probably point you in the right direction.

In the last half of the 19th century many local histories were compiled.  These contain many biographies and a good number of them will list the church your ancestor attended.  Birth, death, and marriage records also contain information about the church or the name of the minister.

So search those records, write those letters or emails, make those phone calls, and then sit back and wait for the good stuff to arrive in your inbox or in your mailbox.

1.  Spend less time with my family.  How can I get my research done and tell them where they came from if I spend all my spare time hanging around with them?

2.  Write something for the blog twice a month.  How hard is it?  If you’re me, harder than it should be.  The problem is every time I sit down to write something I just have to check one thing or two or twelve and then it’s tomorrow. Must learn to accept lack of knowledge and to practice brevity.  Hah, not happening.

2b.  Give Pat a break and reliably write something twice a month.

3.  Get organized.

4.  Get organized.

5.  Clean less.  After they stop laughing and recover the ability to breathe my friends will tell you that it is actually not possible for me to clean less.  It is true that I do not clean, but when I invite people for dinner I do feel the need to make a flat surface available for holding dishes and flatware and such. This means that I declutter and when I start decluttering I can’t stop.  Since I am not an organized person (see resolutions 3 and 4) this means everything gets put in some random place never to be seen again.  No more cleaning.

6.  Tame The Beast. .  I have a long list of places to write to, places to call, and websites to investigate.  I will do one thing on that list every day, okay, every week.  Most importantly nothing goes on the list unless something comes off.  The beast may not get shorter, but at least it will stop growing.

7.  Accept the piles, love the piles, become one with the piles.  Returning once again to the fact that I am not well organized, my office is a mass of piles of paper, books, post-it notes, magazines and lots of other stuff.  Some of these piles have enough dust on them to make it seem like tiny ecosystems have developed in their depths.  Sometimes late at night the tiny people talk to me.  But weird as it seems, I can find things in the piles.  It’s when I try to organize that I get into trouble.  This year I will embrace the pile system and no cob will be deprived of its web.

8.  Gain weight.  Might as well make one resolution that I will actually keep.

9.  Be better.  Better, nicer, kinder, more patient, more appreciative, more grateful. I know that’s more than one thing, but I consider myself a work in progress and this year I hope to be a slightly better version of the original.

That’s my list for this year and I’m going to get right to it, just as soon as I finish the Christmas cards.

I was hoping to continue on the family secrets theme, but after spending a weekend with my family I decided that I prefer keeping the family secrets to dying a slow and painful death.

So instead I thought I would lead you on a short trip through the growth and development of this genealogist. I’ve been doing genealogy for about 20 years. I was introduced to the idea by an old friend. Her story was so interesting and compelling that I decided that this stuff might actually be interesting. She gave me some advice to get me started and I was off. It was exciting and challenging to visit the National Archives for the first time. The Internet was just beginning to be useful to genealogists and then along came Ancestry and I was amazed and delighted at how easy it was to add names to my family tree. I bought a piece of genealogy software and proudly put in all those names and dates. And I proudly passed my new information on to my family who responded with, “Who cares?”

This is actually a good question, because names and dates and tracing your family back to Attila the Hun really isn’t very interesting. So I moved from collecting people to wondering who they were, what they did, how they lived, where they lived, why they lived there, and the thousand and one other questions that define each of us. And I found those questions could be answered too. The answers are found in a surprising number of sources; newspapers, county histories, the less well known agricultural and industrial censuses and a thousand other places that are still a constant and delightful surprise to this genealogist.

But the questions still remained, “So what?” and “Why are you doing this.” Only other genealogists seemed to understand the thrill of the “ah-ha” moment, when you discover something about a relative that you have been searching for for years. My standard answer became, “I love doing this because it connects me to the history of this country in a very personal way.” It is true that I have learned more about American history doing genealogy than I ever did in school. But the answer was always vaguely unsatisfying to me, and then I found Laurel Ulrich. She’s not one of my relatives; she’s an historian at Harvard University who writes about the history of people who considered themselves ordinary. She studies the history of women, often far harder to track down then our male relatives, but I think that in some ways her remarks apply to all of our quiet, industrious, average families. In her book Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, she says, “Cotton Mather called them ‘the Hidden Ones’. They never preached or sat in a deacon’s bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history.

We all have a few illustrious ancestors and a few who are remembered for their misbehavior, but for the most part our families emigrated to a new country, worked hard, raised their families well, and lived their lives without having their voices heard. When we discover their stories and when we tell them we give them back their voices.