Friday, August 27, 2010

You've Got Mail!

On Monday, 23 Aug 2010, I ordered four death certificates from the Cascade County Clerk and Recorder. On Friday, 27 Aug 2010, I received four death certificates from the Cascade County Clerk and Recorder.
For the low, low price of .50 per copy, I now know exact death and burial dates for my four maternal great grandparents and the names of two of my great great grandparents. I also have a birth date for one great grandmother, instead of the ubiquitous "circa" [insert year here]. Granted, the death certificate serves as a secondary source for the birth date, but it's better than what I had before and really narrows down the search for a birth record. Also listed on the death record is the name of the mortuary and the cemetery, which means more records to request and pick apart. In addition to the personal information on the death record you find interesting medical history. It's good to track your medical history for patterns of disease that can be passed on from generation to generation. Word to the Johnstone progeny, better get your colonoscopy scheduled. Both William H. and Mary Alice Johnstone died of colon cancer.

Now that I have the certificates, the next step is to transcribe them and add the information I've found on them to my family group sheets. The certificates will be scanned and uploaded to and the souce of the information will be cited for future reference. The fun never ends!

Johanna "Jennie" Felt Borgreen
John August Borgreen
Mary Alice Coleman Johnstone

William H. Johnstone

Let's Meet the Family (The Johnstones)

William Henry Johnstone
Born: 17 Mar 1884 in England
Married: [?] to Mary Alice Coleman
Died: 16 Oct 1933 in Great Falls MT
Buried: Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Great Falls MT

Mary Alice Coleman
Born: abt 1884 in England
Married: [?] William H. Johnstone
Died: 16 Feb 1951
Buried: Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Great Falls MT

Children: Steven, Ellen, Donald, William, Kathleen, Gertrude, James and John.

Let's Meet the Family (The Borgreens)

Johan August "Gust" Borgreen

Born: 8 Oct 1863 in Sweden
Married: 1891 to Johanna "Jennie" Felt  in WY
Died: 6 Apr 1946 in Great Falls, MT
Buried: Old Highland Cemetery,
Great Falls, MT

Johanna "Jennie" Felt
Born: abt. 1871 in Sweden
Died: 14 May 1936
in Great Falls MT
Buried: Old Highland Cemetery,
Great Falls, MT
Children: Esther, Ruth, Alvira, Ebba, Levi, Rose and Carl Borgreen .

Vital Records

BMD....Birth, Marriage, Death. Records created at the time of the event by an eyewitness to the event. Finally! A primary source. Still not perfect. Still open to someone else's interpretation and still an opportunity for error. My own child, born in 1987, has a corrected copy of her original birth certificate. I filled out the form very carefully, sent it in and received the certified birth certificate with her middle name spelled wrong. I filled out a correction form and sent it in and received back, the very same birth certificate with the wrong spelling crossed out and the correct spelling written in on top! Whatever.

The vital records are what we need to finally verify all those dates and places and relationships that we've heard about through family stories, census records and compiled histories. Usually you can order these records from the courthouse in the county where the event occured. There is a fee, but if you just need a photocopy for research purposes, that fee is small. Just this week, I sent off for the death certificates of my four maternal great grandparents. Each copy was only .50 and I sent a SASE with two stamps, just to be on the safe side. Pretty cheap, in my book. I'm like a kid at Christmas, waiting for them to come back.

To find out where to send for the records, you have to know the county where the event occured. In my case that was pretty easy to figure out. Since I'm conducting my research backward; starting with the death of the individuals, I used several different search techniques online to find where they were buried. The easiest thing to try is to type in the person's name and the word cemetery. ie John August Borgreen Cemetery. Hit enter and see what pops up. When I did this, I got several relatives at once. I clicked on that site and continued entering more names to see who else I could find. I found all the great grandparents buried in two cemeteries in the same county. My lucky day! After you find where they are buried, go to the website for that county and download the forms you'll need to fill out and send in for the records. Don't send too many forms at once. Make it easy on the clerk. If you overload them, they might just put your request in the circular file (trash).

One more site to check is Find a Grave . This is a wonderful site created by volunteers. I found photos of several graves of my ancestors on this site. You won't find everyone in your family, but you will probably find someone and that's better than no one.

If you know what cemetery your ancestor is buried in, you can contact the sexton or caretaker (providing there is one) and request the burial records from them. This is a good way to find other relatives who are buried nearby.

This post mainly focuses on death and burial records, because that's were I am in my reseach. The process is pretty much the same for finding marriage and birth records, but beware, birth and death records were not required until the very latter part of the 19th century or early part of the 20th century. In that case we may need to use church records, and that's a whole other ball of wax. Because marriage records are a legal document, they are more readily available and began much earlier. More on that later.

Compiled Histories

What are they? They are stories or oral histories created by someone else and put into book or manuscript form. I have a couple that mention my ancestors that were published at the bicentennial and one that was published at the city's centennial celebration. All mention my ancestors to some degree or other. I've listed them on the side bar under "Bookshelf". They are usually available for check out from a local library. In fact, all the books listed in my bookshelf have been checked out at the library. I haven't yet decided which book I want to buy, but I certainly don't need to buy them all.

Compiled histories are another good SECONDARY source. They should not be taken at face value. These are usually stories and remembrances and we all know how we like to embellish our stories and how our memories become skewed or sometimes fail altogether. Like the census, use the clues found in the stories to help you map your way to more research in the future. For example, in "A Century In the Foothills" there were stories from my grandfather, my great grandfather and my great grandfather's brother that all said, essentially the same thing. My great great grandfather came to the US after my great grandfather (his son) and settled in St. Paul MN. Since three people told the same story, I know that I should look for my great great grandfather in St. Paul and approximately the time frame that he was there. It also gave a clue to his death date, though I'll have some digging to do to verify exactly when that was. So, while not a primary source, the compiled record is certainly a wonderful secondary source full of information and clues and so much fun to pick through.

You can't just read and be done. You need to read and re-read and fill in your Family Group Sheet as you go along. Then create an abstract from the manuscript. An abstract is all the very pertinent information in the story, the who, what, when, where and why. What I've done is photocopy the title page, all the pages that mention my ancestors, any pages with photos of my ancestors and all the stoies written by my ancestors. Then I highlight all the bits I'll want for my abstract. I type up the abstract, fill in my family group sheets and cite my source. Now I know what the information is, where I got it and I can find it again or tell someone else how to find it, in the future.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Census

After writing down all the information I could find at home, I decided to sign up for a free two week membership at . The first thing I noticed was the list of available census records listed. Since this (2010) is a census year, it seemed a good enough place to start. I quickly learned that mistakes abound in the census records. It's almost comical how many different ways your ancestor's name might be mispelled. But I found that if I looked at the entire family list, I could easily tell if I had the right name or not. It's important to read every line of the census to extract all the clues out of it. Also, read the page before and the page after your ancestor's listing and don't neglect to read the entire page on which your family member's name appears. You might find relatives living nearby, like Great Grandma Borgreen's brother and family living near them in WY and again in Belt MT! When I have the time, I intend to look into her brother's records a bit more, sometimes it's easier to find out information on the male relatives than the females. I hope to learn exactly where they came from in Sweden. More on that later. The census is very useful in helping you create a timeline for your ancestor. By noting when they lived in a particular place and where and when they were married or where and when the children were born, you can track them back and forth through time. BUT, don't use the census as a primary source. The records are full of errors and guesstimates. Use the clues you find to help you track down the primary sources for this information. In other words, it's not good enough that Great Grandma says she came over on the ship in 1891. You'll want to find the ship's passenger list to confirm that info. But her statement to the enumerator is a handy clue to help you narrow down the search for that passenger list. Until you find the primary source, you mark Great Grandma's emigration "circa" 1891 and site the Census (including the census year) as your source. When you finally find the ship's passenger list, you can cite the exact date and the ship's list as your source.

Getting Started

The first step in genealogy is to start with yourself. Use a Pedigree Chart to fill in all the information that you know off the top of your head. Talk to your parents and grandparents, if you still have them. They can help you fill in even more information. Now start looking all over your house. Open up all the boxes and look inside all the envelopes. Begin to gather anything and everything that might give you more clues and help you fill in even more information on your pedigree chart. Don't overlook anything. Things to keep an eye out for include obituaries, and other newspaper clippings. Announcements! Birth, marriage, graduation etc. Anything and everything. Letters, post cards, journals, diaries, they all contain information you need. If you have photographs, you'll want to gather those too. They might have information written on the back and you are a lucky person if you find a scrapbook. Just gather whatever you find. Then start picking through it. Leave no page unturned. Read it all with a new eye for details. Make notes as you go. Write down what you learned and where you learned it. This is the beginning of citing your sources. You want to get in the habit of that right from the start. Always cite your sources.

They Came to Montana

Earlier this year (2010) I watched a new TV program called Who Do You Think You Are?

I became hooked on the show and suddenly found myself diving head first into family history research. I scoured my public library for every available copy of every book regarding genealogy and even ordered books from other libraries through the interlibrary loan program. I just can't seem to get enough information and am amazed at the wealth of information available for the asking.

The name of the blog came from the simple fact that all of my immigrant ancestors, somehow or other, all arrived in MT and stayed here until the very end. Many of them are buried in the same cemetery and others are buried not very far away. They came to MT from all over Europe and the UK. They came for the hope and promise of something better than they had in the old country. My hope is to find what brought them here and was it worth it to them, in the end?

This proves to be a fun and exciting journey. And so we begin.