The hunting has been pretty good so far. I’ve bagged a blacksmith, a B&O Railroad fireman, a tailor, ship’s carpenter, a saddle and harness maker, a real teamster — the kind with horses — two musicians, a Baltimore city policeman and an office worker.
I’m confident there’s more to come since this genealogy business is a long-term project. It’s also another one of those new year’s resolutions, along with getting in shape, learning Spanish and getting organized, that might be as long-lasting as that 7-inch snowfall before Christmas. Not this time though. I’ll be more disciplined and determined than ever, and ... Wait. Is that the Ravens’ game on?
One of the past obstacles in this search for family ties is that, at least for me, it can be really boring, as much a grind as sitting in the University of Wisconsin’s library doing research for a term paper. But what keeps you going is finding an occasional gem — like letters from my great aunt who was a missionary and writes about her steamship trip to India in 1880. And trying to discover the owner of that .40 caliber flintlock boot pistol, in the family as long as I can remember.
There’s also the inspiration of friends like Doug and Coralinn who have a lot more discipline and perseverance than I do, and have pretty much wrapped up their research.
Added to that is a greater sense of urgency when I’m the last of my immediate family and more familiar with the contents of that large box of photos, letters, notes and other important papers collected by my mom over the years. So, it’s past time to press on.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down in-person visits to some of our local resources — the Maryland Room at the Frederick County Public Library, The Frederick Family History Center, the Fredrick County Genealogical Society, the Historical Society of Frederick County’s Heritage Center, plus, the Library of Congress and National Archives. Some help is still available, though.
We’re fortunate to have people like The Frederick County Public Library’s Maryland Room manager, Mary Mannix, a professionally trained archivist and recognized expert in genealogical and historical research. She was one of the impressive lecturers in an Institute for Learning in Retirement’s genealogy course taught by Dottie Reed O’Neal a number of years back. Mannix has some tips and online tools, available through the library.
“ … Take a look at the weekly ‘Genealogy Moment,’ especially the first ones, that can be found at the FCPL website and via social media,” Mannix said by email this past week. “Also, the beginning of our webinar with AARCH (The African American Resources, Cultural Heritage Society of Frederick County) …” A Google search for “Introduction to African American Genealogy at FCPL” will work.
She also recommended HeritageQuest, and Ancestry Library Edition – “Not the same as Ancestry.com … We don’t usually have remote access,” Mannix said, “but Ancestry and ProQuest (the company that sells the product to libraries) have allowed remote access during the pandemic and this has been extended through March 2021.” And two more: “Fold3 – Its greatest strength is military records,” Mannix said, and, “NewspaperArchives – One of many ways to access newspapers online, (and) includes Frederick newspapers.”
Mannix also offered some tips on getting started in genealogy and I will include them in the Jan. 23 column.
Dara Markowitz, life-long genealogy researcher and director of the Virtual 50+ Community Center in the county’s Senior Services Division, is another great resource. She recommends beginners start by recording their family’s stories. “The paper trail isn’t going anywhere, but the opportunities to learn about your ancestors from family members aren’t infinite,” she said.
You can’t assume you will remember where or when you got your information, Markowitz said, so make sure to write it down. “There are a lot of resources out there, so stay curious, immerse yourself in history, and keep exploring.”
Markowitz is leading a free online genealogy course on writing a family history, starting Wednesday, Jan. 6, at 10:30 a.m. Check out www.frederickcountyMD.gov/virtual50 for registration information.
There is a ton of help out there, a lot of it online. We may as well take advantage of it. My only advice is to not put it off, and start hunting while you still can. So, to a Happy New Year, I need to add, happy hunting.
Ancestor hunter Bill Pritchard, who has worked in community journalism for 40 years, writes from Frederick. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.