My Travels: A New Category, Altogether

I have a travel addiction.

I’ve visited all 50 states and 37 countries.

I am always thinking about the next trip, and trying to answer the age-old question: where to next?

I have traveled by ship, plane, car, truck, ferry, helicopter, train and I wish I could have traveled by covered wagon, or at least stagecoach. I have tried both.

I’ve stayed in hotels, B&B’s, motels, people’s homes, churches, hostels, cabins, chalets, tents, travel trailers, truck beds, car seats, and on a cot under the stars. I’ve stayed in some lodgings that I didn’t even know what they were called.

What’s the most important part about traveling? It’s different for everybody.
I love trying new food and drink, meeting people, observing the culture, seeing the sights, learning the history, watching for the flora and fauna, and just breathing the air.
I love the experience of going somewhere else, having a grand adventure, and then returning with my memories, stories, and pictures to my own hearth and home.

I am really into genealogy, so if I go somewhere that I can do research, I’m on it. But I have been plenty of places that no one in my entire family has ever been before.

We travelers can sound egotistical…but we really just are loving life and want to share that experience with others.
I’m always threatening to install seat belts on our couch so we can invite friends over to see all our pictures and videos…and ensure they cannot quickly escape.
But the truth is that we don’t usually show our pictures…unless people beg. Not because they’re that good, but because we took them for ourselves. Kind of like journal entries written just for yourself and not for others to read.

I definitely enjoy sharing the stories…those are the best part! If three different people traveled to Paris and took pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the pictures would all look basically the same. But each one of those folks would have a unique tale to tell, and that really does make all the difference.

Let’s go!

On the Road to…Wait, Where Am I Going?

When I started this blog, I fully intended to chronicle my adventures on the path to publishing.
I had four writing projects I was working on, and figured I could just describe my progress with each, up to and including finishing the works and getting them either self or traditionally published.
First of all, I did not realize how many people are out there blogging about the exact same process.
Also, I did not anticipate how slow this process would be…or, at times, how boring.
Meanwhile, my project list has grown to seven (I have three more excellent ideas I will definitely pursue, although not until I get to stopping places with my other four).

As I planned to write this particular blog post on the update of my current four projects months ago, I ran into a series of problems.
Besides the fact that each step takes a great deal of time, I haven’t worked on Project #3 or Project #2 for a very long time.
Project #4 is being subjected to beta readings and agent queries.
Project #1 is undergoing its first (read: hugest and most gargantuan) editing.

What’s a blogger to do? I had set a goal for myself of publishing a post every four days, and I didn’t have anything to report for weeks at a time!

I chose another focus, and blogged about a second passion of mine: Genealogy.
This lasted for 28 posts, which I did not expect, but at the end…still nothing really to report on the writing front.

Thus, now I am revamping this blog once again, this time to encompass all three of my interests.
My three focus points: Writing, Travel, Genealogy

I’m not terribly concerned about this turn of events, or the fact that I’m writing about three different topics: from what I’ve read, bloggers do sometimes change their focus…a little or a lot…and my following is flexible enough to roll with the changes.

Plus, now there’s more likely something interesting to read for more people, and apparently, there are several folks out there interested in all of it!

So, here’s to readjusting the focus now and then…and I hope you will enjoy the new variety of posts.

Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 5

Heading Out on the Road, part 5

4. Libraries

Libraries are as varied as the towns in which you find them.
If you’re lucky, the library will have a genealogy section.
It’s not always labeled as such, so ask.

Sometimes the genealogy section will be crammed with books, binders, and files, all filled with loads of  historical information from the area.
Some sections are mostly just holding stuff passed along from the courthouse.
Sometimes the genealogy section is limited to a few books written about genealogy.
It totally depends.

Within a dedicated genealogy section, look for such things as:
transcribed cemeteries (these list everyone buried in the area, which cemetery, and often crucial directions on how to locate nearby small graveyards);
obituary listings (sometimes these have been cut out and preserved by locals, like a scrapbook);
historical books (these contain local stories and morsels of information relating to historic happenings and settlers of the area. Sometimes they include short biographic articles of local pioneers. Even though they may not be 100% accurate, it may provide you with new clues on where to search next for your family);
census indexes/census books;
phone books (these can be fun to look through, and if you find your ancestors, they often list occupations, along with their current street address. Don’t miss checking out the ads of the time period, too);
tax books/land records.

Sometimes you will luck out, and find a librarian or genealogist wiling to help answer questions or offer suggestions.
More often than not, you will be totally on your own.
A copier may be available, or may not. Depends on the library.

5. Genealogy/Historic Societies

These societies are a mixed bag.

Sometimes you will find lots of worthwhile information and assistance.
Sometimes you won’t.
It can vary from time of year to time of day to day of the week.

Call ahead of time, or check online to know what days and hours they are open.
Each location is different.
Remember that the folks who work at these societies are all volunteers, so treat them kindly.

Also, be prepared for anything!
When I was doing some research in Virginia, I found myself going to a town I had not intended to visit, but now needed to.
I called, but the society was closed.  I left a message on the machine, anyway.
To my surprise, I got a call back that day, stating the curate would be at the society for the next 90 minutes, if I cared to drop by.
I ended up with an unexpected tour of the premises, and left with a great deal of information on some ancestorrs that I would not have today had I not simply called and left a message.

Lesson learned. Call. Ask. Give people the chance to help you, if they can.

Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 4

Heading Out on the Road, part 4

3. Newspaper Offices

Newspaper offices are great sources…if they have the old newspaper  archives.
Some do, others don’t.
Sometimes they have the actual papers that you can gingerly look through.
Sometimes the archives are all either held somewhere else, or are on microfilm, or both.
If they are held somewhere else,  like the State Archives, the local library, the historical society, etc. the newspaper office will be able to tell  you where they are located.
While you’re there, find out how long the paper goes back.
Sometimes we assume a paper has been there forever, but of course it had a start date.
With luck, it is a date prior to the information you need.

When you finally locate the newspaper archives, wherever they are, and whatever form they are in, you will want to look for several items:
Birth announcements
Marriages
Obituaries
News stories
Headlines

The first three may be obvious, but don’t forget to check everything under your family last name from the time period your family was in this location.
You may locate births of children you didn’t now about, or who died as infants.
Or prior marriages no one has documented.
Or obituaries for people you “knew” died elsewhere.
Obituaries are great sources for other members of the family, as well.
News stories are good to look through because oftentimes things happened to your family you were not previously aware of.
Headlines are great to check so that you know what events were important to your family at the time.

Next post: 4. Libraries and  5. Genealogy Societies

Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 3

Heading Out on the Road, part 3

2. Courthouses

Courthouses are hugely varied in everything from the information available…to how accessible that information is…to whether copies are possible…to how friendly the staff may be.

Information available varies because courthouses were fragile for generations, and therefore the materials inside were subjected to fire, flood, tornadoes, or any other natural disasters.
Sometimes copies are still available at the State Archives,  but you would do well to call in advance.
Actually, calling ahead of time would save a lot of grief, regardless, as each state handles their archive storage differently.
Some keep all records in the home county, while others hold everything up to a certain date in the State Archives.

What you can check for: birth records, marriages, death records, land records, tax records, older maps of the county, wills and/or probates.

How accessible the information is depends on the county and how the courthouse is set up.
I have gone into a courthouse and been subjected to intense screening (similar to that of an airport) and then basically interviewed as to what sources I am looking for and why.
This can be a tough question to answer if you do not already know what sources are available.
Invoke the word “genealogy” early on in the conversation, and things will often get easier, faster.
Or not.
Depends on the county.
I have walked into courthouses, been waved in the general direction of the archives, and left on my own for hours.
I have been asked to “check out” each source, one at a time, for examination in that room only, then asked to return each one in order to see the next.
I have been escorted briskly to a room, quickly handed a pile of materials, and then summarily dismissed. (The materials selected were based on previous genealogists’ requests).

Whether copies are possible depends on several factors:
– Is there a copy machine in the first place?
– If so, can you use it? Some places will allow it, some will not.
Sometimes, the machine just isn’t accessible to the public. Period.
Sometimes, the staff do not want you copying such delicate materials.
– Will you pay for the copies? Some charge whether you are doing the physical copying, or they are.
Sometimes the price for copying is reasonable: 15 to 25 cents a page.
Sometimes the price for copying is outrageous: $2 to $15 a document.
Find out the costs (if any) before making the copies. You have been warned!

How friendly the staff may be is a total gamble.
Sometimes they are very friendly, willing to pull any source you choose.
Sometimes they are quite anti-social, with little or zero interest in helping you in your search.
Keep in mind there may be multiple reasons for this:
For starters, when they came to work today, they already had plenty of tasks, and none of them involved you or your research.
Or,
The last genealogist was demanding and rude to them.
The last genealogist left out all the sources, and they had to spend time reshelving stuff.
The last genealogist left a bunch of trash to be picked up after.
The last genealogist ordered a ton of copies, then left without paying.

So, be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Or something like that.

Next post: 3. Newspaper Offices

Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 2

Heading Out on the Road, part 2

1. Graveyards

Graveyards are wonderfully varied:
some are easy to find, others less so;
some are meticulously cared for, others are hopelessly overgrown, to the point that nothing is visible;
some have staff on site of whom you can ask questions, others seem all but abandoned.

If you know ahead of time the proper name of the cemetery, this can be very helpful.

Places to research before you leave home include: findagrave.com, googling graveyards of the county, and even checking local obituaries of the area to see what graveyards are still active.

Luckily, quite often much research has already been done for you.
Depending on the county, binders may exist full of such information as what cemeteries are in the county, who is buried there, and even exact instructions on how to find the graveyard.
This is always a welcome find if it exists in the first place, and if you can locate it.
But too often people were buried on their own private property, and then either forgotten, or the stones were broken and/or removed.

Do not assume:
all graveyards are active;
your ancestor was buried in the largest and most prominent cemetery in town;
if your ancestor is not listed on findagrave.com then he/she does not have a headstone.

If you really get stuck, you can check with the library or genealogy/history societies.
Sometimes they can not only tell you if your ancestor was buried in a particular cemetery, but also where the cemetery is located.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about missing markers.

I have been in a cemetery that only had broken stones (and most of these largely unreadable) due to a creek being redirected over the graveyard for a time.
I have been in a graveyard that was only accessible by getting permission  from the landowner.  Luckily, the local librarian was able to arrange this for me.
I have arrived at a huge cemetery, walked around confused for a few minutes, only to have the caretaker drive up and hand me a binder showing all the locations of every grave…a binder he had only received 3 days prior!

I have successfully found the exact location of my ancestor’s grave without a marker, however.
How?
I checked with the cemetery office.
They had paperwork (and made copies for me) showing my ancestor’s son had purchased and paid for a plot where my ancestor was shortly afterwards buried.

The main thing is to keep looking…including Internet research.
One of my ancestors was documented as buried in a particular graveyard, but the marker was so badly worn and broken, the genealogists who listed the marker information thought it was her husband’s stone!
I was able to subsequently determine it really was her grave after all, when after much research I discovered that the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s had taken on the marker identification project of this particular cemetery, and at THAT time, her marker still clearly showed my ancestor’s accurate information.  Success!

Next post: 2. Courthouses

Genealogy #9: Heading Out on the Road, part 1

Heading Out on the Road, part 1

When you exit your town (and possibly your county or state) on the search for genealogy information, it definitely helps to have a plan.

Before you ever leave home, you should have an outline, checklist, or notes sheet detailing where you are going, and what you hope to find when you get there.
As such information may be found in more than one location, you might just make a gridsheet, with locations down the side (such as graveyards, courthouses, newspaper offices, libraries, and genealogy or historical societies) and information you are seeking along the top (such as death dates, land records, wills/deeds, biographies, local histories, etc.)

For your first trip, you’ll want to try looking in all sorts of places for the information you hope to find.
It is important to “leave no stone unturned” for a couple of reasons.
First, you will find your information in different locations, depending on the county (it is remarkable how varied  they can be!).
Second, you may find either corroborative or conflicting information, but it is important to find this material regardless, as it could lead to further clues down the road (said road being both figurative and literal, in this case).

For this grouping of posts, I will describe in greater detail experiences you may have when visiting (or even locating) the following areas:
1. Graveyards
2. Courthouses
3. Newspaper Offices
4. Libraries
5. Genealogical and/or Historical Societies

There is no question there are other places to search out information while traveling, but these are my favorite places; thus, I have much more to offer regarding these particular areas.