Family Lore – Famous Ancestors?

I have often had inquiries from “family researchers” who want to find their “famous” Revolutionary War Major, a governor of some early state, wealthy land owner, even movie stars. Their grandmother told them they were related…..

Let me give you an example. “Lucy Hunt” has begun a family history project with two or three generations,  with some primary evidence (birth certs she got from Mom), but more info that is secondhand or undetermined source. As Lucy knows her parents, and probably her grandparents, she likely has gathered factual basic information-dates and place of births, marriages, deaths for example. However, jumping ahead several undocumented generations, to connect to Clara Barton or even further back, George Washington himself, is not valid genealogy.

Genealogy is widely popular today. Commercial online companies and purveyors of of millions of books, videos, heraldry sources, and software, promote genealogy “as easy as clicking online” to find your kinfolk. Lucy and millions of other people new to genealogy and enthused about finding their family, boast of the “thousands” of family members they have found on Ancestry.com. Lucy established a tree online, which is also highly promoted, and attached “proof” such as census, info from other trees, and info found on the database –none of which has she put through the process of proof…likely she is unaware of that step.  Lucy, still seeking her connection to Clara Barton has dug up some stories about the famous Civil War nurse and is excited to find that someone in her Grandmother’s family came from the same city as Clara….Chicago!

So what is the process? How do you create an accurate family tree? Genealogy is the construction of a family history that reflects historical reality as closely as possible is developed through:

  • A reasonably exhaustive search for proof, emphasizing original or firsthand information.
  • Documenting all findings by properly recording sources and citations.
  • Analysis of evidentiary findings; comparing and testing your sources is essential to accuracy of your genealogy.
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence.
  • Writing and recording an accurate family record.

The above are the components of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) for genealogical research…. which is NOT what Lucy has done.

The field of genealogy has changed in emphasis over the past ten to twenty years . It is still immensely popular as a “hobby,” still commercialized too, but a shift has taken place. Our national, state and local genealogical organizations and institutions now promote genealogy as scholarly research, offering classes, seminars and other resources in pursuit of solid genealogy practices. Universities, libraries, and archives worldwide hold the history of our people and they, too, promote good research standards. DNA also helps identify ancestral lines and those that don’t belong on your tree too!

The other aspect of Lucy’s quest for connection to a celebrity, is that she is overlooking the real people in her family that passed on parts of themselves, in one way or another, to her. One of the joys of good research techniques, is learning about the life of your ancestor in terms of how they lived it, and discovering the person.

We have all sorts of people in our families, including a possible famous or notable persons, or hard-working folk who raised children, passed on beliefs, interests, physical characteristics, love of the arts or a particular occupation…to you.

By researching with good skills, as per the Genealogical Proof Standard, you will create an accurate history of your real ancestors and find interesting, maybe even “famous” people in your tree. For example:

Anne Samuel (1736-1825), Caswell County, North Carolina; she was designated a Revolutionary War Patriot, as per records in the National Archives, D.A.R., North Carolina legislative records archive. Anne Samuel was my 5th great grandmother, “who  furnished supplies to the militia.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iowa’s Deep German Roots

The following was written by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History at the University of Iowa, and is reprinted here with Professor Penny’s permission. Professor Penny was one of the organizers of the October, 2016 Oberman Humanities Symposium (University of Iowa) “German Iowa and the Global Midwest.” This article appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen as a Guest Opinion, September 21, 2016.

                                   “Iowa: The Home for Immigrants”
                             by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History, UI

Immigrants-Statue of Liberty

Coming to America

That was the title of the 1870 volume published by the Iowa Board for Immigration in Des Moines. It was translated into multiple languages and distributed across Northern Europe. The goal was to spur Europeans to abandon their home and move to the state.

And it worked. Germans were the most numerous group to arrive. In fact, German immigrants consistently accounted for the largest number of foreign-born people in Iowa from the 1850s through the 1870s. While today we focus on recent immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia, our state remains deeply impacted by an earlier group of newcomers. 

As waves of German immigrants arrived in Iowa over more than a century, they created much of the built environment. German Iowans created land; they built farms, towns and neigborhoods; they founded countless social organizations, such as singing clubs, shooting societies and the gymnastics or “Turner” associations. Some of those Turner halls can still be seen in Iowa towns today. Germans dominated local government in many cities and counties. They built some of the first and finest churches and synagogues, including the stunning St. Boniface Church in New Vienna. They founded untold numbers of banks, businesses, industries and many of the 130 or more breweries established in the state by 1880. They also supported more than 60 German-language newspapers, three of which were in Iowa City. They created bilingual schools, and they lived in multilingual and multicultural neighborhoods. 

From St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis, the Mississippi was essentially a German river. Every river town on the Iowan side was filled with German speakers from the 1850s through World War I. In fact, the German language was so widespread that many German-Iowans lived here for decades without ever learning English. Within a year of the United States entering the war, however, Iowa Gov. William L. Harding issued the Babel Proclamation, forbidding the use of foreign languages. 

Not unlike the waves of anti-Muslim sentiment that followed the 9/11 attacks or the recent rise of ISIS, World War I provided a convenient excuse to transform some Americans into pariahs. Many Iowans took advantage of this moment to usurp the economic power of German-Iowans, to undercut their influence in local, municipal and state politics, and even to harass and harm them because of their ethnicity. The harassment was so grim that businesses, individuals and even towns, such as Berlin, Iowa (now Lincoln), anglicized their names to hide their identities. 

Meanwhile, from Davenport to Spirit Lake, other Iowans publicly burned German books with glee. Despite the decline in the public use of German language and the transformation of many public spaces in Iowa’s cities during the war, subsequent waves of German immigrants continued to be able to speak German in Iowan homes, towns and on farm – albeit on the down low. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, and it is ironic that tight school budgets are now pushing German language classes out of Iowa’s classrooms, including here in Iowa City. 

As one of the organizers of the symposium[2016 October, Iowa City], I invite you to join us in learning more about Iowa’s German immigrants. Their stories offer us insights into the vulnerability of civil liberties as well as the multicultural and multilingual history of our state. 

2016, H. Glenn Penny, professor of history, University of Iowa
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Readers, I invite you to share your family immigrant story here in the comment section. Why did your immigrant relative(s) come to American, what was their experience…or yours if you are foreign born.