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    More Than a Statistic

    When we begin researching our ancestors, we sometimes are overwhelmed by the facts and figures. We find birth, marriage and death dates and may trace these people to other countries and previous centuries. But we feel no real connection to them.

    The fascinating part of genealogy, I've discovered, is learning more about my ancestors and the times in which they lived. Then they become more than a statistic and a picture in a photo album.

    You'll not be able to find out about every ancestor. However, you can learn the era and geographic area in which they lived. If you're a writer, as I am, you want to capture this on paper for the family history. These ancestors may even be people you can include in a book or biography read by others.


    Pick Out a Few

    Select a few ancestors you already know something about. Find others who lived in an era of history or area of the country that interests you. Start with one and then expand your research and writing. Some you'll come upon accidentally as I did Uncle William.


    Discovering Uncle William

    Uncle William was simply a picture in my grandmother's photo album. A stern looking man in 1800's dress, he was complimented by his wife, Aunt Lizzie, who wore a lovely full skirted dress of the day.

    As I researched my grandmother's family, I discovered Uncle William had headed west (western United States) at a young age. He became a fur trapper, sources said. Then I found one place where he had lived in Kansas Territory.

    I wrote to the Kansas State Historical Society and was amazed when they sent me copies of a number of newspaper articles written at the time of his death in 1916. He was known as Buffalo Bill Mathewson (not Cody) because he'd provided starving pioneers with buffalo meat during the early days of Kansas settlement. I discovered Uncle William had done much more and was famous in Kansas.

    I'm now researching him further to write a children's book and complete the family records.


    Need Not Be Famous

    Your ancestors need not be famous. Each person is important to your family and has a story you can tell.

    One of my grandmothers you'll never find in the history books, but she is a heroine to me. She took her young family west after her husband died and struggled to earn a living and pay off bills on a pioneering homestead.

    Other ancestors escaped wars in Germany to settle in the United States in 1710. Stories of the trials and triumphs in the new land make for very interesting reading.

    Some great, great uncles fought in the United States Civil War. Others in the Revolutionary War.

    My mom was a teacher in a one-room school house 65 years ago. Her story needs to be told...at least for her family.


    Where to Research

    We're assuming you've located these ancestors, know where they came from, and where they lived. But you don't know much about them, other than the statistics. Where do you look for information?

    • General history books and online history resources give information about an area and era.

    • Town history books give you specific information about people and events of an region.

    • Historical societies are sources where you might find old letters, newspapers, business reports.

    • Family histories, books researched and written by ancestors, often provide interesting highlights about people and their lifestyles.

    • Old catalogs will give you illustrations of clothing, household goods, farming tools, and other living essentials.

    • Medical reports will tell about the diseases of former days and why so many died young.

    • Military records give information about ancestors who fought in various wars.

    As you continue your research, you'll find additional links (online and in print) and even other people with whom you can share research.

    It's fascinating to discover your ancestors as real people who lived and had feelings and no longer are simply names and dates in a record.

    Copyright © 2001 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen is researching, writing and giving talks about her Uncle Buffalo Bill Mathewson. She also is writing a children's book about the Civil War era, inspired by her ancestors who lived then. Her many publications are listed on her Web site -- http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetent/mea.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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