My mother’s father’s father’s parents are the biggest mystery in my genealogical research. Apparently minority immigrants with hardly any records, I know almost nothing about them. They’re the big dead end in my family tree.
Last week saw a bit of a breakthrough, though.
Scrutinizing the husband’s death certificate yet again, I noticed that it listed the place of burial–Bohemian National Cemetery. I searched findagrave.com, but nothing was there. I found a web site for the cemetery itself, but it didn’t have anything useful.
However, it’s an important ethnic landmark from the 19th century, still much beloved by the community. There’s a volunteer society that cares for it, and their web site had contact information. I emailed and asked if they had any pictures of graves, or records of what’s on the markers.
A very kind person replied and said no, but that they would go out and visit the graves personally and see what’s there. A few days later, I got another email with the photos below, including the notes that translate the Czech text on the tombstones.
Now I know their birthdays, and because of where they’re buried, I know more about where exactly they came from. And I can see their beautiful resting place. That’s a lot of progress, and I’m grateful to the wonderful stranger who made it possible.
What has been described by one member of my ward at church as “the most rewarding church service” he’s ever given–including his mission–and has miraculously given another friend at church a discovery about her own family history? The LDS Church has had its indexing web site up for a while now, but I didn’t try it until last week, after my bishop challenged ward members to get involved. It’s amazing and I encourage everybody to try it and help. You don’t even have to be Mormon–anybody can do this, and it really is fun!
Go to www.FamilySearchIndexing.org and click on “volunteer” on the right side. You’ll get some easy directions and then you start “indexing,” which means that you’re part of a worldwide effort to digitize old census, marriage, and other vital records so they’ll be preserved forever and be available for anyone to access instantly online. When you sign up, a scanned copy of one such record will appear on your screen, and your job is simply to read the old record and type the information into the fields provided on the screen.
I’ve found my history-loving and puzzle-solving interests piqued by this great opportunity. (And, yes, someone in my ward did get sent–despite the physical odds being millions to one against it–a page with one of her own ancestors on it.) As I read these pages, I find myself not only trying to decode some pretty bad handwriting and wrapping my head around some odd names, but also trying to figure out some life stories. Sometimes I’m just impressed by what these records teach us about life a hundred years ago.
Here’s a more detailed introduction from an Ensign article a couple of years ago. And here’s a fun little article about it from this month’s New Era magazine.
Here’s a screen shot of a page I was working on this afternoon, from the 1920 census in the county of Spartanburg, South Carolina:
You can see the fields on the bottom third of the screen where you enter the information from the picture of the record in the top two thirds. Here’s the biggest thing I noticed as I did this page:
- Margaret Emory was living with two daughters and a granddaughter. Margaret was a widow, as was her 31-year-old daughter Betty–presumably little Dora’s mother. What was life like for these four women, living together, two of whom had lost husbands?
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