The Genealogy Journey

The newbie genealogist's resource for books, mags, databases, and -- of course -- any free research stuff to be found on the Internet.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tracing Your Family Tree When No One Cares

A recent popular thread from one of the online genealogy forums I belong to had to do with tracing your family tree when no one else in the family was interested. The person who started the thread wasn’t as much complaining as she was worrying what would happen to her research when she was gone.

But others did chime in with some of their pet peeves. Maybe you’ll recognize some of them as your own:

- People not giving you info when you ask, but when you mention what you found, say, “I could have told you that.”
- People who show little interest in helping you, but ask for copies of what you’ve found.
- Relatives who have family information written down, but won’t take the time to copy and send it because “they’re too busy.”

Basically, it comes down to this: tracing your family tree is something you should do for your own satisfaction, because there is a chance your family research will be met with disinterest or even resentment (from those who don’t want the past to be revisited).

But don’t give up all hope if it seems like no one in your family line will take up the genealogy torch when you’re gone. My parents were surprised when I finally -- in my mid 30s -- expressed interest in the family tree. Some people don’t get interested until later in life. Just as patience is a virtue when researching your family tree, it’s also true when waiting for those younger (or even older) ones to show interest.

In the Meantime, Preserve Your Research

- If you have a family tree Web site, back it up to CD. Note that CDs and DVDs do not last forever. In the worst-case scenario, the data may start to degrade after 25 years.

- If you have a family tree Web site, you may want to make provisions in your will for having it maintained after you are gone. This means someone would have to make sure the Web hosting company (who has the data on their physical servers) is paid on a regular basis to keep the account open and active.

- It’s ironic that even with all of your technology, printing out a hard copy of your information is the most reliable way to preserve it. Make sure you store the paper in acid-free sleeves.

- Do a little research to discover promising places to leave a copy of your research. This could be your local historical or genealogical society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (who have been gathering and preserving genealogical records for the past 100 years), or perhaps your state university or state archives. Don’t wait until the family tree is “done” -- just make sure they get a copy!

Note: If you do give a copy to a genealogical society or archive group, be considerate of the people still living whose information is on the family tree. Remove their information and store it in a separate place.

Tips for Getting Them Interested

For those older than you, print a family tree that deliberately includes errors. Present it to the person with pride. There’s a chance they’ll correct the information right then and there, not to mention give you even more information. Make sure you make the changes in their presence, as it may encourage them to keep talking. Immediately marking it up also prevents the mistaken family tree from getting mixed up with the correct one.

Make the information pretty, not just a black and white list of names and dates. You can create a Web site or print a booklet with photographs and captions. Include pictures of the person you’re giving the booklet too – people like to read about themselves!

~Mary Kaye

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Onomastics (What Does Your Last Name Mean?)

My husband and I first met at a college party my roommates and I threw. But we didn’t get to know each other until we were set up. On our first date, I didn’t believe (or didn’t want to believe) that my husband’s last name was really “Stiff.” To prove it, he pulled out his driver’s license it. I clearly remember examining the bold “STIFF” letters and thinking, “I feel sorry for whoever marries this guy.”

Yep, the joke’s on me.

I’ve been married for over a dozen years now and I’ve long gotten over the strange looks and stifled smiles that emerge when I give my last name. In fact, several years ago I asked Todd’s father where the name Stiff comes from. He didn’t know, so I did a quick Internet search to find out. It’s an English name. (I’d always thought it was German, perhaps shortened from something more difficult to pronounce.) And recently, thanks to information from one of Todd’s family members, I found out that Todd’s ancestor, George Stiff, emigrated from Gloucester, England, in 1855.

One way to dip your toe into genealogy is to research the onomastics of your last name. Onomastics is “the study of the origin, form, meaning, and use of names, especially proper names.” (source: Websters New World Dictionary) As you can see from the previous paragraph, just knowing where your last name originated can point you in the right research direction.

It can also give you some enlightenment about the society and culture of the past. This is what I found on the Internet about the name Stiff:

English: nickname from Middle English stif ‘rigid’, ‘inflexible’, hence a nickname for someone who had difficulty in bending. The term was also used in a transferred sense of character (generally in the approving sense ‘resolute’, ‘steadfast’) from the 12th century, and this use may lie behind many examples of the surname.
(source: Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press)

I found this information on the site (select the Learning Center link at the top, follow the Family Facts link, and under the Facts menu, select “Name Meanings.”)

So, there you go! A long time ago, the name Stiff meant something positive and respected. I should print this on a business card and hand it out to anyone else who smirks at the Stiff name.

~Mary Kaye