Sunday, February 28, 2010

We are a Product of our Past

This year, there are 2 t.v. shows featuring genealogy of famous people.
PBS will present "Faces of America" from Feb through March 2010. You can also buy a DVD of the show.

The genealogies of several prominent Americans are explored, showing ancestors with significance in American history, as well as how the handwritten records of Chinese celloist Yo Yo Ma were discovered in the walls of his family's relations. This well-documented and thoughtful show explores the backgrounds of Meryl Streep and Louise Erdrich (one of my favorite authors), as well. Don't miss it! You can see the first few episodes and watch them online by going to this web site:
The show is shown on Wednesday nights on PBS channels. Check your local listings.

(There will also be an NBC show called "Who do You Think you Are?". Another genealogy t.v. show that will feature entertainment figures and their backgrounds. Watch a preview here:

Yes, it's wonderful to know that you have kings, queens, revolutionary heroes, and so on in your past. We do! As I explored my family tree, I came across familiar names and would look them up and see their place in history. However, more interesting to me are the lives and times of the farmers that make up the background of my family. I look at these hardworking people and at the times that they lived in. From 1850 to 1950, these ancestors lived in a time that had the most significent changes of any generation.

Our ancestors went from a time that people traveled by horse and wagon, women worked just as hard as men from dawn to dusk, that life was precarious because an illness or injury could lead to a quick death, and their very survival depended on their hard work growing and raising food that they brought to the table. Having a pump next to the house and a nearby outhouse were luxuries. That they had trees so they could have fruit, or lumber, or wood for the stove made the difference between a good life and one of just getting by. Their large families were their support system and their church and community were important to their social life. The few that managed to go to school past age 13 were spared from farm labor and had the luxury of finding out about the world outside.

Train travel was part of their life, but suddenly, there was the bicycle and the automobile. Then the airplane, though that was not a means of personal transportation for many years, even when it was affordable. Irons heated on a stove let to irons heated by means of gasoline, and then by electricity! Electricity had been discovered early in 1831 in England, but Edison found a practical means of using it to power a light bulb in 1879. It would be many years before electricity was brought into the farm house. That would ease the comfort of the family by providing light, energy for fans, radios, and phonographs. Radios brought the outside world right into their homes, providing instant news and entertainment. The phonograph brought the beauty of music. When the television, with it's 'moving' pictures seen in movie houses, came into the home, it was a revolution, but perhaps the time when the family no longer relied on each other for companionship and entertainment.

War had always been a part of everyday living. Stories of the War of 1812 belonged to their parents generation. Less than 100 years after the Revolutionary War, this generation lived through or heard about the Mexican-American War, the Civil War , the Spanish-American War, and then the horror of two World Wars. Farmers always provided sustenance for the troups.

The ancestors lived through many recessions and depressions, through a time of outlaws and bank and train robbers, as well as a time of drastic social changes. Using the first commerical cameras, they documented their lives and left us a record of their existance beyond mere names and dates. While writing my book, I came to know the faces and understood the type of life they lived, and I was able to understand that I am a product of their core principles, their values, their ability to cope with adversity, and their hard-working nature. These are my Heroes and Significant Ancestors.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

The First Families....

In 1870, Peter McKinlay and his wife Agnes Frew brought their children Peter Jr, Agnes, Jeannie, and Margaret from Glasgow, Scotland to Independence, Kansas. They sailed via steamship and then rode a train. There was no wagon train for them. They immediately found homesteads for themselves.

In 1880, Hiram McKay and his family left Indiana and came to the same area of Independence, KS and bought land.

In 1882, Abner and Samantha Copeland came with 4 children from Indiana to the Independence area. The Copeland family traveled with Samantha's parents Wesley and Mary Matilda Finney, and Samantha's brothers and sisters. They traveled by train with their possessions and their livestock. They all bought their first farms that year.

These were my ancestors, and the ones that I am writing about in my planned series of An American Genealogy: Families of Montgomery County.

I hope you enjoy their journey as they arrive in Kansas, and where their descendants move to afterwards.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Genealogist who is also Writing a Book

It's not easy being me these days. Genealogy and book writing are usually all-consuming tasks by themselves. Combine them and you get a crazy, schizoid scramble of work and excitement. Let me describe yesterday so that you get an idea of what I'm doing.

After reading a 1944 news article, I realized that it held the names of some missing descendants. So I added those married names to people in my family tree. That led me to other people with connecting family trees, and then I began an email exchange with one of them. At first, we both went off on a tangent because there were 2 people of the same name in her famly tree.

Once we straightened that out, she supplied an email from her Uncle, who gave names and addresses of the woman in question, her brother, and both of their children. So I wrote letters, printed out the info and photos that I had of the brother and sister's relatives, and put them in envelopes to mail to them. Guess what? They live just 1.5 hrs away from me, and had been living 1 hr away from yet another relative that I recently found - and none of them had a clue that they were related and living so close to each other!

At the same time, I was getting emails and photos from a woman and her daughter. I had recently tracked them down by getting their names from someone else's ancestry, and then I did a GOOGLE search on the daughter's name. I found her on Linked In and My Space social networks, but she did not respond to my emails. Then a later GOOGLE search showed that she was a journalist. I printed my chapter about her part of the family with some photos, and sent it to her at the newspaper. Her mother then emailed me, and we began an exchange of information.

I also opened a packet of photos going back to the 1940s. This was the result of another successful search. For this search, I had been unable to find anything on the descendants after the 1940s. So I GOOGLE searched on the man's father. I came up with a 1998 message on a genealogy board. The man's 16 yr old granddaughter was doing a genealogy project, and her Mother asked for information. The post was too old to reply to, but I saw the e-mail address. So I GOOGLE searched on the email. I then found the granddaughter's full name, so I put that into my family tree and came up with some of her family details. I then GOOGLE searched on the granddaughter's name but nothing came up, so I searched on social network sites such as FaceBook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. I found her and sent an email. No reply. I saw her husband's name, so I sent an email to him. He sent the info to his mother-in-law, who then emailed me because I had enough details to prove that this wasn't just an internet scam trying to get identity information.

Everyone is cautious about giving out personal information. You should be! But if you are curious about your family roots, and someone gives you good information that matches what you know and more, then you might be open to exchanging information and photos.

I work on, write/answer emails, scan photos, and then put them in my book, adding informational details as I go along. So this is a typical day in the life of....

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

10 Steps to Make a Family Tree

Someone asked me how to make a family tree. I had to think back to when I first began. Here 10 steps to get you started on your family tree:
  1. Do your research. Go through your family documents and write down all of the family information that you can. Names, dates (birth, marriage, death), and locations. Ask your parents, aunts & uncles, cousins, and family friends if they remember any names that are not on your list.
  2. If your parent or grandparent passed away and didn't tell you family information, look through their personal papers. People who worked for any company that required a security clearance were required to fill out detailed personal histories. They usually kept copies of those applications.
  3. Create a draft family tree. You can write it down in a notebook, or you can use an online source such as Print out your family tree and look at the gaps.
  4. GOOGLE is your best friend! Search for people who may have already worked on your family name. For example, I found a lot of information when I searched on Copeland Genealogy, Copeland family tree, and Copelands in Kansas. Search for an individual ancestor with their birth year, for example.
  5. Sign up for a free 14 day trial on is THE best tool for finding information from a centralized, easy-to-use source of public records and member's Family Trees. If you can get everything researched in 14 days, great. If not, it's worth signing up for their basic information - for historical information, entertainment, and invaluable connections to your unknown relations!
  6. Make sure to use's useful tutorials and understand how to get the most out of's sources. Build your family tree and connect with other members. Exchange, provide, and request information and photos to develop your family tree.
  7. Contact historical societies and libraries in the cities that your relatives and ancestors lived in. Historical societies often provide links to private genealogy researchers. I got some of the best leads when I set a budget and connected with a friendly, competent researcher in Kansas.
  8. Go to your local library and browse their genealogy sections. Do the same with a local branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). NO, they won't force you to join! You will soon see that reading and deciphering information in microfiche and old record books are a labor of love - and they may send you running back to!
  9. Use obituaries to determine descendants, as well as living realtions. Contact them if you can GOOGLE and locate them. Or use the Internet white pages, inputting their name and city. Then send them a LETTER with details and photos, establishing your relationship to them or to their relations.
  10. Telephone or visit any relatives that may respond to your email or letter correspondence. The personal connection is undescribable and invaluable! Remember to enjoy yourself and to not give up!

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First day of the rest of our lives....

Little did I imagine that researching the family tree would be an endless, but enjoyable, journey.

With my Father's death in 1972, there was no one who knew about his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. How was I to find my Father's family tree? With an old typewritten chart, and handful of photographs and letters, I began my search in 2008.

Using the internet, I found an impressive collection of early colonial settlers that led to large farm families in Montgomery County, Kansas.

From there, I connected with new relations and discovered the rich history of my family. From this history, I am creating a series of books that will begin with “An American Genealogy: the Copeland Family of Montgomery County, Kansas.” The Copeland volume will be published in 2010. Near completion, it has over 400 photographs and I use each of the ancestor's "voices" to tell the story of their lives and their history.

By 2011, I will publish "An American Genealogy: the Finney Family of Montgomery County, Kansas" and "An American Genealogy: the McKay and McKinlay Families of Montgomery County, Kansas."

Welcome to my world!

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