02 November 2014

Joys of a Brickwall

On a recent excursion to the City Park with my family, I was inspired to think of my genealogy brick wall in a different way. 

What does your wall look like?
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014
Many of us have been there. The frustration. The dashed hope. 

The seemingly endless pursuit of new material, new research, new resources.  The absolute challenge of a brick wall. 

In reality, when you stop and think about the process you have gone through in trying to put the pieces together, as meager as some of them may be, you also start to realize how much you have learned. 

Imagine genealogy without any challenges. It's a gloomy vision, to be sure. 

Oscar is my opportunity. 

Changing my outlook on the "brick wall" of a genealogy research project means giving it a new name. Brick wall has too many negative connotations for me, so I'm now going to think of my project as my "opportunity." And his name is Oscar. 

Oscar was born around 1832 in New York, and died in 1906 in Nebraska. I know a great deal about his adult life, it's his childhood and his parents that have been difficult to pin down. I've been working on Oscar's story since I started on my family history, he has always been a bit of an enigma. I realize, though, that perception is everything, and as I commonly say, "life is in the details." I wonder how many resources I have discovered in the course of the last fifteen years that would have remained "unknown" to me without Oscar? 

I certainly would not know as much about early Michigan history, or the development of western New York. I would know next to nothing about the Mississippi Marine Brigade, and its role patrolling the Mississippi River during the Civil War (and without all of that information, how would I have been able to stump the military researcher at the Denver National Archives a couple years ago on a question about the unit?). 

The four inch binder of material that has been accumulated would not be nearly as thick, and the little clues hidden within would have been overlooked. The intricate details of Oscar's life may have remained unknown for a long, long time. The detailed study of his life, his timeline, would not exist. I never would have stopped to question, "what did Oscar farm in Nebraska? What was his crop?" "Did the family have live stock? If so, what effect did barbed wire have on the homestead?" The questions I've asked over the course of this project would have gone unasked. 

All of this is done with really one primary objective: identifying with as much certainty as possible who Oscar's parents are. That's really been the burning question for a long time for me. Along the way, though, the treasures - answers to these questions and more - have been uncovered.  

Because of Oscar, I am a much better genealogist today. 

What ring will you stretch for next?
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014
I would challenge you to think of your "brick wall" in a new way. As you grasp one ring, continue to reach for the next. Remember that every clue is important, no matter how small it may be at the time. Remember that the challenge of the hunt is what makes us good researchers, the application of our discoveries is what makes us great. 

26 October 2014

Keep Looking

This past weekend, my Aunt from Alabama traveled to Colorado for a visit. My parents, my sister and her family, myself and my family, and our Aunt, all gathered in Leadville, Colorado to create some fall memories. While there, I wanted to get back to the Evergreen Cemetery to correct a mistake I made a few years ago: insufficient headstone photos. 

Thomas Perkins was born in England, and I first discovered his headstone about five years ago. The story is a bit long, so bear with me. 

Thomas Perkins was the first husband of Mary Isabelle Daniel. Mary was born in 1868 in Cornwall, England, and is the mother of three children. She arrived in America and appears to have traveled almost directly to Colorado. Although still unclear where the marriage between them took place, they ended up in Leadville, which is the highest incorporated town in the United States, sitting just above 12,000 feet in elevation. In the late 1800s, it was a booming city, and was even considered for the Colorado state capitol at one point. The town was the epicenter of the various mineral rushes in Colorado through the late 1800s and through the 1900s. 

After Thomas died in 1900, Mary continued on in Leadville for a few years. She ran a boarding house on East 5th Street, just three blocks from where my sister lives today. For whatever reason, in 1910, she and her children traveled to Springview, Keya Paha County, Nebraska, where she married my great grand uncle, Dick Heerten. Technically, she responded to his ad in "Lonely Hearts" magazine, or so the family story goes, and they were married within minutes of her stepping off the train. They then headed out to his farm, where they raised her three children, and life appears to have progressed fairly smoothly for the couple. 

What does all this have to do with Evergreen Cemetery? 

The thing is, our family never knew about Mary and her first husband until just a couple of years ago when I managed to dig it up from the black hole of history where family stories go to die. I put the pieces together and when I finally realized the truth of the story, my family was a little more than surprised. Not only has this particular line (the Heerten's) never before had any connection with Colorado, it was absolutely crazy to us that Mary and Thomas lived in Leadville. The town where my sister and her family had moved to about twelve years ago. A town that none of us had ever heard of before that point, and a town that has since captivated us a bit with its history. 

As this story started to unravel, I went to Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville and found the headstone of Thomas Perkins. I was unsure of his birth date, and his actual death date, and was really hoping there would be more information there. With no images available online that I could identify (at the time, at least; after I found the memorial, I created a place for him on FindAGrave.com), I really felt I needed to see the headstone. And I'm glad I did. 

Headstone of Thomas Perkins, Evergreen Cemetery.
Leadville, Lake County, Colorado
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014.

I was excited to find his marker, and several other's with the surname Perkins. I took the time to document all of the stones in the plot, and got the close up of course of the iinscriptionon Thomas' stone. 

Headstone of Thomas Perkins, Evergreen Cemetery.
Leadville, Lake County, Colorado
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014.

My mistake came when I walked away without a clear image of the two symbols on his marker. Although relatively common, they are significant enough that I knew I needed to confirm them, leaving no doubt as to their meaning. If you are familiar, you may immediately recognize them. This is what I was determined to correct this past weekend, and I did just that when I visited the site again, accompanied by my husband and my Dad. (Great experience, to walk a cemetery with the two men in this world I love the most.)

Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014

Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014

You may know them, you may not. The top one is a bit harder to see, but it is the anchor and shield of the Association of United Workmen. The initials, A.O.U.W. are often inscribed across the symbol, as seen here.  The lower symbol is an Elk inside a shield, representing the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. Both were prominent organizations in Leadville history. 

The Elks is a great one for me, as I already know the lodge is still active, and my sister has friends who are members. I have an "in" for any future research I may want to do. The A.O.U.W. may be a little more challenging, however, as the Leadville lodge has since gone defunct, and in fact, the organization as a whole has evolved into a life insurance company. The great part for me was as we walked over to the next plot, and I found this: 

A.O.U.W. Headstone, Evergreen Cemetery
Leadville, Lake County, Colorado
Copyright Jen Baldwin, 2014

I do not know if this person is affiliated in my research of Thomas Perkins in any way, but I'm grateful for them, nonetheless. Why? Because the Lodge for the A.O.U.W. is identified on their marker! "Excelsior Lodge No. 5" is inscribed along the top edge, with the A.O.U.W. symbol on the front angle. Although more ornate than the version on the Perkins stone, there is no doubt that this is the same organization. YES, there could have been more than one lodge in Leadville. NO, there is no guarantee that this was also Thomas Perkins' lodge, but it is a place to start. I almost missed it; I almost just walked on by. But for whatever reason, I didn't. I looked down and paused. I took a second look. 

And that is why I say, keep looking.  You never know what is going to be right under your feet. 

24 October 2014

Looking Forward to #FGS2015; an energetic experience

It's been a while. Yes, I know. It was a very long summer pulling me in numerous directions, and while most of it was absolutely incredible, some if it was quite stressful. But now? I'm back, and I'm happy to be blogging for myself again. 

The last six months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me, and one of the reasons for that is the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2015 conference. I was absolutely thrilled - and admittedly, more than a little surprised - to be invited to speak four times at this event. Not only is this an amazing conference to attend, it is also being held in conjunction with RootsTech this year, for a truly "once in a lifetime" event. 

FGS provided us with this nifty graphics to help spread the word! 

The conference itself is going to be quite an experience for all of us who are lucky enough to attend. Between the two events, the educational offerings will be quite extensive. 

The exhibit hall and society showcase should be quite something to see, both in size and scope; and of course, let's not overlook the fact that the whole thing takes place just down the road from the Family History Library. Whew. That's a lot to do in one week. 

I'm planning on arriving a day or two in advance this year. I'll have much to do in preparation for the conference, as a speaker, FGS Ambassador, and as part of the Findmypast team. I also plan on staying on a couple days afterwards, to visit with family and spend some time doing research at the library. 

I think sometimes it is hard to write down what you experience at a conference. If you have never attended an event like this, understand that through the crowds, the rush to see a favorite speaker, the nearly frantic pace to "get as much as I can" into your schedule for a week; the energy consumes you. There is no other feeling like it, the "conference high," when you arrive home and just cannot wait to dig into your research once again. Even those who have been working on a frustrating project for decades can find renewed energy and passion for a mystery still to be solved. 

As an FGS Ambassador, I will likely put most of my time into my social media channels, sharing the news, and getting the word out from the conference committee. You can easily find updates by following the hashtag, #FGS2015, or directly from the website

The event takes place February 11 - 14, 2015, and I certainly hope to see you there!