One of the senior reference archivists gave me some great advice during my first week on the job. She told me that since most of our patrons are genealogists, it’s in my best interest to know more about what they do by doing it. How can I help someone who might have a question about Ancestry.com or other genealogy questions relating to our holdings if I don’t know what they’re talking about? So started my quest to find out who I am and more about my family.
My experience with using Ancestry.com can best be described as dabbling. I’ve putzed around on it here or there but never with any real purpose. Besides, the subscription service is a big hindrance. But, fortunately, at the National Archives, they have an institutional membership. So any person who comes in to use our Public Access computers can delve into all that Ancestry.com has to offer. But, and there’s a big but, you can’t create your own family tree or save what you’ve found to the account. If you find a record for a great-great-great grand person, you need to print it out. The cost of printing is free, though.
Like any big project, you have to figure out where you want to start. Unfortunately for me, I kind of jumped right in and hit the ground running without all the necessary information. First, let me stress, it’s important to have names, dates, and locations. Now, for the last two, it’s okay to have an approximation but you need something. Because just typing in the name of a relative will more than likely yield thousands of potential matches. Dates and location help to whittle that list down. Secondly, after putting in the name and approximate dates and location, never assume that the first page of results are the best matches and disregard the other pages.
Case in point, while looking through the 1940 U.S. Census, I was searching for my grandfather Palmer Lloyd. After putting in what I knew, the results on the first page weren’t even close by a long shot. Rather than disregard the search and start over, I decided to browse the other matches. Low and behold on the third page I found him! And, this brings me to my third point.
Take into consideration name variations. Remember, the census takers recorded information by what was said and what they thought they heard. For example, on my mother’s side, Lloyd has always been spelled with two L’s. Well, when I searched for my grandfather using that spelling, I didn’t find him at first glance. I eventually found his last name spelled with the second L. Instead of “Lloyd” it was spelled “Loyd.” When I saw the image of the original record, there he was with that spelling of his last name. More than likely, the census taker spelled it like it sounded to him which meant no second “L.”
So far, in my genealogical search, I’ve found out quite a bit of information about my maternal grandfather who died long before I was born. I found him on the 1940, 1930, and 1920 census. What was even more amazing is that I found him on the 1920 census listed as a 2 month old baby! And, the story of my family started to unfold. The things I’ve learned is that my grandfather and his family (his father, mother, brother and sister) moved a lot. And they were mostly saw mill workers. Wherever there was a saw mill, that’s where they went.
While I want to delve further into my family history, the biggest mystery that looms large for me is who was my grandfather? I’ve learned very little about him growing up and he’s shrouded in mystery. Not on purpose but for the very fact that my surviving relatives were too young to remember him that well. He was young when he died. Only 33 years old. My grandmother never remarried.
I think in finding out who he was, I’ll find out who I am.