Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Off the Beaten Track:
Being Open to New Sources
Finding some of the information about distant branches of my family tree in unorthodox locations—at least, as far as genealogy goes—was a reminder to me to broaden my horizons when it comes to research resources. There are many databases out there, especially in this age of instant access to information via the Internet, which can provide a different perspective on the history embedded in our family history.
Discovering my distant relationship to actress Judy Canova was a treat, especially since my brother was a lifelong student of classic comedy. He loved to tell the story of how, in his pre-teens, he devised a way to place a long distance phone call from his hometown in New York to reach the famed Stan Laurel in Los Angeles. Surely, with an interest in comedy like that, my brother would have been aware of Judy Canova's trailblazing efforts. Once I found that relationship between my own mother's family and Judy Canova, I would have loved to ask him his thoughts on her contributions to the profession.
But finding that connection to Judy Canova also showed me another fact: there are many, many databases out there which provide information on a person's life, including their family relationships. How many people think of Wikipedia when they think of genealogy? But many biographical entries in that online encyclopedia include genealogical information. Some, I've noticed, even include notes about conflicting reports of dates of birth, for instance, citing specifics which I realize, in my own research, came from the same documents I noticed did not support the others' information. Wikipedia may have been written by numerous fallible volunteers, but Wikipedia is large enough to provide a self-reviewing mechanism within their own venue.
Not to say there aren't many other resources we've overlooked as genealogists. Many of the employee newsletters of bygone generations included information pertinent to a family historian's search. If only someone were dedicated enough to scan and preserve such gold mines of personal history—and make them searchable—we'd have even more material to include in our ancestors' stories. The same would go for fraternal organizations, college alumni news, church memberships, and many more groups' private publications.
Being able to search electronically through stacks and stacks of information makes the task of boiling reams of paper down to a manageable read a snap. Sometimes, if one is fortunate, an aficionado of one particular publication of yore might be dedicated enough to scan and upload such instruments to Internet Archive and augment the Wayback Machine in a way we hadn't quite envisioned before. What a delight it is to stumble upon such a discovery, if it contains our own family members' information.
Of course, there are vast repositories we've yet to scour entirely. Just thinking about locating a manuscript or archival collection through established finding aids at NUCMC or OAC can be mind-boggling in its own right, if the right name pops up on a search mission. Ditto newspaper reports, given the right (and not-too-common) name.
Finding the connection to Judy Canova made me realize that there are countless other ways to find out about our family than we've ever imagined, especially if we have kept on the train tracks of FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com. Hearing stories such as our Irish blogging friend Dara, at Black Raven Genealogy, who had to rely on a compilation of dog licenses to find more information on her brick wall ancestor, always inspires me to be willing to jump the track of the oft-relied-upon resources and go four-wheeling far and wide through the wilds of other online (and analog) collections.