Family Tree Resources?
December 15, 2018 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Hi, AskMe. :) I've become interested in my genealogy lately, and decided to re-activate my account on and see what I could dig up. I've had some success but would love any other resources you lovely people might suggest. My tree, as it stands now, is here.

I'm able to trace the Kline part of my heritage back quite far, but at the moment, it's mostly just names and dates. I'd love to know a bit more about what these people were like, what they might have experienced, what they did, if anything.

My Dad seems to have been a bit of a black sheep, or at least isolated from the rest of the family. He rarely spoke of them, and almost never positively, except for his sister, whom I regretfully do not remember. I gather his father might have been physically/emotionally abusive, as we would consider it today, but I don't have any details to confirm that.

My mom's side of the family is a lot harder to trace. She's Thai, and as far as I know Ancestry doesn't have records from Thailand at all. I've struggled to find *any* records of her, and can't even find a marriage date for her and Dad… If I hadn't learned a year or so back that Dad was previously married to someone else, that in itself would have come as a shock.

I guess I'm just wondering what resources, aside from what's available on Ancestry, y'all might suggest? My family is generally uninterested in this kind of thing, so this is currently a solo search. I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for, but it's been a surprisingly emotional journey so far. I didn't know I had so many potential relatives and such, even if most of them are probably dead by now.
posted by Alensin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'm wondering if you might want to try to one of the DNA matches? It would be a way to connect to living people who might remember your grandparents and know more about the other branches.
posted by metahawk at 9:49 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are you aware of the LDS website? They link to many databases, often with images of actual documents. E.g., I found the will of my 5th gr grandfather from 1822.

I'm not particularly fond of Ancestry, frankly. The last time I checked, there were so many errors in the branch I was checking that I question the integrity of any info I find there. E.g., I found a picture of my great grandparents, which I emailed to a cousin (I have the original), attached to another couple with similar names. Although I notified the poster, who evidently copied the picture from my cousin's tree) re the error, it wasn't corrected.
posted by she's not there at 11:09 PM on December 15, 2018

Newspaper databases is where I'd look for wedding date - if you memail me the names and a date range/location, I can see if there's anything in
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:39 PM on December 15, 2018

I'd recommend the DNA thing. I did it on a whim and forgot about it until the day they sent an email saying I could share my ancestry on the site. Next day I got contacted by someone who turns out was a man my great aunt gave away when younger so I was able to connect him to his birth mom right before she died. Since then I've had other messages from like people who are my 8th cousins or whatever and they've shared with me all the family tree they've put together going back far earlier than anyone else in my family has put together.
posted by kanata at 2:31 AM on December 16, 2018

> I'd love to know a bit more about what these people were like

Newspapers. I've found car accidents, lost jewellery, house sales, charges of theft, drunk+disorderly and speeding, concerts, birth marriage and death notices, coroner's inquests, business advertisments, help wanted ads, job wanted ads, seances, church functions, reminiscences, letters to the editor, school sports day results, wedding reports... if you're lucky and you've got a surname that's unique in an area, you can pretty-much scoop up every time they ever appeared in a local newspaper. But search on addresses, too - that's how I get the Lost and Help Wanted ads.

I download the whole page as a PDF, and use FoxIt PDF Reader to add an AreaHighlight over the story that's of interest. Then I add to my Ancestry tree with a plain text transcription.
posted by Leon at 3:37 AM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've also used the LDS website with great success, looking at census data and finding documents, which you can download and print, or just download and use as reference for further searches.

Another source is Find a Grave, you type in the person's name and burial location (if known), and it often comes up with an obituary with surviving family members, and the names of their parents, birth date, things they did for a living.

For instance, I kept searching for someone we knew as Uncle Cliff, under Clifford, but his name was really Clifton - I found him by searching for his wife's name. Then realized he was my grandmother's nephew (Mom's 1st cousin) and not her cousin, as I'd thought. Even tho' we used to visit him and his wife regularly when I was a kid, those sort of details I didn't know or remember, and my Mom was gone, as well as other family members who might have known.

Another thing I found useful was to look at the town's historical society website where my Mom was born. There was a ton of information on the cultural aspects (Franco-Americans in that region), how the last names were changed to become Americanized, and info on the founding fathers, some of whom were my Mom's ancestors.

One thing I've learned is that my memory is faulty, and some of my Dad's stories were also either misremembered by me, or he remembered them one way, and his siblings remembered them another way. The LDS website and their documents really helped narrow down some missing information. I was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who was a fantastic genealogist, and she gave me lots of documents from her side of the family. She also told me to start asking people questions right away, such as my maternal grandmother, and lo and behold, while M-grammie didn't remember a lot, she had a cousin who'd converted to being a Mormon and wrote to her through his genealogy research, and she put me in touch with him. I still have all the stuff he sent me.

I also sent questionnaires to a lot of people, and my Mom filled hers out, and I have it, questions about her parents and grandparents, superstitions they grew up with, stuff like that.

The other thing my P-grandmother, the genealogist, had me do was go and get physical copies of death certificates of my great-grandparents, since I was living in that town anyway, and that had information about their parents, etc. I don't know if this is possible for you, but I was able to get my Dad's birth certificate from his home town, this was for joining a genealogical organization and I needed proof. Not sure of the rules for every state on this, but if it's for genealogy, you might be able to hunt things down that way. Good luck!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:05 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

The DNA thing can be super helpful in confirming your own research -- I highly recommend it.
posted by woodvine at 5:23 AM on December 16, 2018

I'm reading a very fun, lightweight book right now, and it sounds like you'd get a kick out of it, too. The book is It's All Relative, by A.J. Jacobs, the modern master of the "stunt book." It's all about family lineage, genealogy, and the notion that (as the title suggests) we are all, ultimately, related fairly closely to each other. I recommend it here because each chapter is effectively a magazine-article-length essay on a specific subtopic in modern genealogy, so it's probably a great resource for someone who's looking for general ideas for research topics in this field. Bonus: it's a breezy, funny read - you could probably read it in two medium-length sittings.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:09 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, to others the entries for living people in your tree (or people who Ancestry assumes could be living) appear as "Private," so we can't see names or details for you, your siblings, your mom, her parents, your paternal grandmother, etc. This will limit folks' ability to help you with research—even older stuff, since to be certain I'm looking at the right grandmother, it can be crucial to cross-check the names of her children, for example.

As to what kinds of lives they lived, newspaper archives are definitely awesome for random minutia. As Leon says above, searching a paper's archive for the street address an ancestor lived at can get you all kinds of fun, weird tidbits, from home sales to marriage announcements to the police blotter and beyond. Note that while your local library has some good online newspaper resources, it may not be the best for access to papers from turn-of-the-century New Jersey, and Ancestry's built-in newspaper database is nothing compared to

Ancestry's City Directories will often provide basic job titles, and help see who is living with whom, family-wise, between the decennial censuses—if you're sighted. Unfortunately City Directories are some of their worst transcribed content Their OCR processing really chokes on columns of names indented beneath a surname headword, and it's frustrating to see the inaccessible, unsearchable garbage that results.

Ancestry's databases don't do a great job of transcribing all fields in the census, which sucks for users with visual limitations, so details like job title, employer, literacy, veteran status, etc. probably aren't always available to you, but they are there for the sighted. *Sigh* I find it helpful to manually add details like job title and address to the records in my ancestors' profiles, so that the information isn't buried. Your grandfather, Harold Kline, worked as a helper in a leather store in 1930, for example. I'd add that as a note on the 1930 census record in his timeline, or create a custom timeline entry so that it stays top-of-mind.

And yeah, consider doing the Ancestry DNA thing.
posted by mumkin at 2:51 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd love to know a bit more about what these people were like

I'm an archivist at a regional historic site and I get tons of genealogy queries, and tbh they are mostly boring (too much focus on names, dates, and begats) but I would love to receive a question like this. Because I can tell you, from manager's notes, work reports, doctors' notes, financial statements, rent roll documents, etc.--if we have enough instances of someone's name in the archival record, we can put together a general sense of whether they were reliable, rascally, a drunk, and/or a respected community member. And an open-ended question like "what were they like?" gives us something to chew on.

My suggestion would be to contact historical societies, university libraries, and public libraries in any of the towns or cities where you can locate your ancestors. Ask if there's any record of them living or working nearby, and go from there. In my area, us archivists work together and will steer someone towards the repository that's most likely to have information about their people--so if you begin with the public library, you may wind up at a local business that happens to have an archive with your ancestor's name in it.
posted by witchen at 5:53 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh! And I will add that sometimes it's a good thing if your ancestors' names don't turn up in places like this. Unless they were upper-level managers, most employees are only in the archival record because of an injury or a crime. So if you don't turn up anything, it's a good bet that your ancestors were good workers who turned up on time and never got into trouble. Which is its own answer to the "what were they like?" question.
posted by witchen at 5:55 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, just wanted to thank everyone for the insights so far. Ancestry's honestly a pretty terrible interface from an accessibility perspective, so I'm a little flummoxed by both the paucity of available OCR and the awful UI dealing with what is there.

Mumkin and witchen, thank you both. I'll definitely be contacting archivists if I can find them. THankfully I have an idea of the towns in New Jersey to start looking…
posted by Alensin at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2018

I highly recommend checking out this book: The Family Tree Toolkit (Amazon link but avail elsewhere) which has ideas and specific, targeted resources for all kinds of research, including some advice about International records.
posted by nkknkk at 8:07 AM on December 17, 2018

So I just wanted to drop an update. I spent a lovely hour and change on the phone yesterday with a genealogist in NEw Jersey. My Dad's mom apparently left his family, which I don't remember knowing before, though I haven't got the divorce record for that quite yet. Also, I had a poor great uncle who committed suicide in an awful way.

NOne of this is related to my mom's side of things at all, but it's lovely to have access to this kind of info, even if I'll never actulaly do anything with it. THanks all for the suggestions.
posted by Alensin at 8:12 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

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