24 October 2011

Looking for Sparklies

Two of my blogger buddies have asked where I'm getting all this stuff about stalking dead people. Since two people probably constitutes a supermajority of the people who normally read this blog, it's like an invitation to write about something people might actually be interested in. What a concept!

Before I jump in, I should emphasize that I'm no kind of rigorous, by-the-book-type genealogist. In fact, I'm no kind of genealogist at all. Those are people who meticulously document the blood relationship between descendent X and ancestor A. I don't do that.

A Family Historian tries to understand what life was like for people in their family; where did they live? who did they live with? in what kind of house? what kind of work did they do? what kind of clothes did they wear? what did they eat? That's a little closer, but I don't really do that, either. Not in any systematic way.

I'm more of a magpie. I go after the sparkly bits. Rather than following one person's life from start to finish before starting on another one, rather than starting with my parents, then going to my grandparents, and carefully working my way back from there, I jump from wondering why my grandmother had her picture taken on a farm when she was 17, to wanting to know how much stuff a typical voyageur canoe held and how many men it took to paddle it, to being tickled to find that in the late '20s Willys-Overland Motors made a car called the Whippet, even though I don't think anybody in my family worked there at the time. Or wait. Maybe they did…

Nope. My paternal grandfather worked there (as a woodworker!) in 1918, but by 1920 he had a grocery store. My dad and my uncle Willie weren't there until later – Willie, the older brother, didn't graduate from high school until 1937. So, no.

You see what happens? In checking to see what years various forebears might have worked at Willys-Overland, I ran across a photo of a jeep in a museum exhibit that looked like it might've been designed by a place I used to work. The museum exhibit, I mean, not the jeep. Of course, I had to see if the place I used to work actually designed that museum, but the museum webpage didn't say, and the place I used to work is out of business now. So that was an hour spent chasing after something totally unrelated. And I never did find out.

It's not that I mind. I don't have any place I need to be, or any time I need to be there. I'm just not very focused about this, I guess is what I'm saying. I can't tell you how to do genealogy, or how to research family history. I can only tell you about being a magpie.

And a disabled magpie, at that. At some point, people doing this kind of stuff usually wind up going places, like libraries, or archives, or courthouses; and opening books, or turning pages, or scanning microfilm; and writing stuff down. On paper. I don't do any of that. If it's not online, I can't get to it, so I don't bother looking for it. I don't collect paper copies of documents, because I couldn't file or store them if I had them.

So, after all that, where do I find all this stuff? I've got to tell you, there's a ton of stuff out there, with more appearing online by the day. In true magpie fashion, I have about a million bookmarks, organized in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of sense even to me, most of which would only be helpful to someone whose family happens to come from the same places mine does. There are, however, a couple of good general places to start looking:

Cindi's List probably comes as close as anything to inflicting some kind of organization on the bewildering amount of genealogy information available on the net.

FamilySearch is the genealogy website of the LDS church. In addition to a lot of how-to information, it gives you free access to a lot of genealogy database resources.

And as always, Google is your friend. Cindi's List even has links to information about how to take advantage of it.

So, that's a lot of disclaimer for not very much information, but there it is. I don't know How It Should Be Done. I just look for the sparkly bits.


  1. Shhh your letting out all the stalking secrets LOL Sparkly bits are the best!

    I spent much time long ago trying to locate adoption info. Now that really is a road with no sparkles - closed files and all.

  2. So, serendipitous attention-drifting mode. I think that's likely how I'd end up approaching it after I'd first attempted to be thorough and methodical which likely would eventually result in wringing the joy out of it!

    I hear Cindi's List mentioned a lot.