Some of us are using heirloom research for genealogy. A new exhibit traces the history of interesting heirlooms using genealogical research strategies. Be inspired by these examples and tips to research heirlooms and more fully discover their stories.
A new exhibit called Heirloom Genealogy: Tracing your Family Treasures has opened at The Star of the Republic Museum in Texas. You better believe it caught our interest! We know our readers are looking for unique and different ways to continue their genealogy journeys. We wanted to find out more about how family historians are using heirloom research for genealogy. Curator Shawn Carlson was kind enough to answer some questions about it and share the touching stories the heirlooms held.
Q: What an unusual exhibit idea! How did you think of it?
A: I had been researching artifacts at the museum for several years by tracing the genealogy of the families who donated the artifacts. The best exhibit text usually comes from real stories about artifacts—and doing the genealogy was where I found the stories. When I started thinking about this latest exhibit, I thought maybe there was a way that I could use the genealogical research I already had, and that’s when I came up with the idea of “heirloom genealogy.”
Q: Who was involved in the research and how long did it take?
A: I did all of the research. Some of it had previously been done, but some was new. I usually spend the summer researching for an exhibit, and then write the text and begin production in the fall for a March opening during the Texas Independence Day celebration at Washington-on-the-Brazos.
Q: Can you share a couple of examples and images of artifacts and the documents that told their stories?
A: One of the artifacts I researched was a red-on-white appliqué quilt. It was made in 1805 in Vermont and donated by the quiltmaker’s 3X great-granddaughter who lived in Houston. It should have been easy to figure out the lineage by the inscription on the quilt—but it wasn’t. There were two Cynthia Tuckers and two Pearl Browns in the family and one quilt owner had been married a couple of times and used a nickname. So, it took a bit of sorting out. The research was all done using census data, but it all came back to the inscription on the quilt for final verification.
Another item in our collection is a small buckskin suit that belonged to a little boy named Edward Clark Boylan. He was born in New Orleans in 1840 and died three years later near Galveston, probably from yellow fever. We knew his birth and death dates from his sister’s descendant who donated the suit, but not much else. I found some cryptic notes in our files taken by a previous curator and was able to trace Edward to Captain James Boylan who was captain of the ship Brutus during the Texas Revolution.
I found a passenger list from 1839 with Captain Boylan, his wife, and daughter traveling from Puerto Rico to New York. Mrs. Boylan would have been pregnant with Edward during that voyage:
The year that Edward died, his father was mentioned frequently in the newspapers as he led a flotilla of ships out of Campeche. He was probably not present when little Edward died.
Q: What was an especially interesting story you came across while researching this exhibition?
A: One of the most interesting items we’ve received in recent years is a slave birth record that was part of a family collection:
The donor’s ancestors were early settlers of Washington County. The slave record was interesting because it listed birth dates from 1832 to 1865. Out of curiosity, I tried tracking some of the slaves to see if I could find living descendants. I started with the 1870 census—looking for African-Americans with the surname of the plantation owner and first names that matched the slaves in the birth record. I was able to follow through on one of the names to find a living descendant. She and her family came to visit the museum and see the birth record of their ancestor. While the family was visiting during last year’s Texas Independence Day celebration, the donor of the slave record also visited the museum and the two families were able to meet.
Q: What advice do you have for family historians with heirlooms?
A: Learn about the artifacts you have and match them to their owners. There is plenty of information online that will help you identify and date artifacts. Knowing the date of an artifact helps you determine who had it in the past.
More on Heirloom Research for Genealogy
Connect your heirlooms with their stories and bring the past to life!
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A spontaneous idea one evening in the summer of 1972 led to a very complicated family tree and a scandal that rocked major league baseball.New York Yankee baseball players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich were finishing an evening at a party with their wives, when according to Peterson in an article with the Palm Beach Post, they decided to have the wives switch cars to drive to a diner. The friends had fun and decided to do it again the next night when they went out to dinner. According to Peterson “It was just really fun being able to talk to somebody. All of us felt the same way. We went on from there and eventually he fell in love with my wife and I fell in love with his.’’
While dubbed “wife swapping” it was really more like husband-swapping with the kids and pets staying with the wives and the husbands changing families.
No matter what you call it, for the major baseball league it was primarily a public relations nightmare. On March 5, 1973 the two Yankee players (both pitchers) called their own press conference and announced the changes in their family trees to the world.
After first reading about this story at the “Do You Remember” website (where you can contribute your own memories of the past with images, videos, and comments) , I searched online newspapers for stories from the day. The Billings Gazette reported ran the story on March 6, 1973 which featured former Montana resident Kekich (article right)
“It was not a wife swap,” said Peterson, “but a life swap.”
(Learn more about researching your family history in newspapers here)
From a genealogical perspective, this presents a bit of a challenge to the family tree. Below you’ll find our attempt to chart the situation:
Back in 2013 a YouTube video went viral about the importance of hard word and making your own luck, values I am fortunate that my ancestors passed on to me. The speech came from an unlikely source: a young Hollywood actor. In the video, Ashton Kutcher stands in front of a bunch of teenagers at the Teen Choice Awards talking about the importance of hard work:
“When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof, and then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job at a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground,” Kutcher said.
“And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”
As I said, this video went wildly viral (which is how I came across it) and it got me to thinking about my own work ethic. The credit for it sits squarely on my dad’s shoulders, and also my grandparents shoulders, and their grandparents shoulders.
My dad was the first in his family to get a college degree. (image above: Dad and my proud Grandpa at Dad’s Graduation) He went to school and studied all day and worked in the local hospital morgue at night!
I remember endless nights as a kid creeping up behind him as he sat in at the makeshift office in my parent’s master bedroom, puffing on a pipe and studying for his CPA. We didn’t have much in common to talk about, but it was what I saw in action that was communicating to me. Dad went on to become a successful businessman in a large company, and later created several vibrant businesses.
Getting the Message
I guess it was that non-verbal communication between father and daughter that inspired me as a kid to pull weeds, babysit and yes even shingle the side of the garage to make a few bucks.
And I vividly remember taking a temporary job caring for a 100 old year woman for a few weeks one summer. She was testy at first as she felt generally ignored, but warmed up to her inquisitive caregiver until she was soon sharing stories of traveling as a little girl in a covered wagon. She’d found her audience and I was entranced.
At 15 I lied about my age so I could get a job at pizza place washing dishes. Within two days they promoted me to cook, a position a girl had never held in that restaurant.
Later I went on to my teenage dream job – sales clerk at the record store at the mall. (Sheer persistence helped me beat out all the other teens for that one!)
And then, on to a job at Radio Shack (this time the first female to be hired in the state to the best of my knowledge) as the TRS-80 computer hit the shelves.
I started my professional career working for free at a travel agency to get a little resume cred as I finished travel agent school, and was the first to land a job a week before graduation. I went on to working in corporate America where I received invaluable career development.
Signing books with my grandsons.
An Entrepreneur at Heart
But like my dad, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve created a couple of businesses and positions for myself over the years, and find myself now with Genealogy Gems living my dream and drawing from all of my past experiences.
There have been many challenges along the way – no one ever said work was easy. In fact, my mom’s favorite saying that was drilled in to us as kids was “life isn’t fair – get over it!” She was absolutely right, and she removed the obstacle of fretting over fairness from my life, so I could just get on with working hard and creating my own dreams. I was one lucky kid!
Now whenever a challenge arises, my instinct is to say to myself: I can’t wait to find out what future opportunity this dilemma is training me for!” Almost without exception, I can look back over my past work experiences and see how they are helping me today. Some of the very worst have turned out to be blessings.
(Update: I talk more about this and my career in an interview I did on the Genealogy Professional Podcast Episode 29.)
The Good News About Your Family Tree
Even if the most recent generations that came before you let you down or hurt you, family history offers you centuries to pull new and positive values from.
Your ancestors were survivors and yep, that’s why you’re here! You may have parents or grandparents who went astray, but you have countless ancestors to find, and learn from.
Best of all, you get to pick which values you wish to embrace, and which will fall by the wayside.
Let us pass on what our ancestors taught us so our kids and grand kids can enjoy the opportunities, growth, reward and freedom that comes from good old hard work.
So what “lucky” opportunities have you had and created?
On this Labor Day I hope you’ll join me in the comments below and share what you learned about work from your previous generations.
Why not share this post with someone YOU know who works hard? Let them know how much you admire them.
Wow! We can’t thank you enough for your overwhelming support of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, website, blog, and our YouTube Channel. Family Tree Magazine listed Genealogy Gems among their 101 best genealogy websites for 2016!
Genealogy Gems Named One of the Best for 2016
Family Tree magazine writer David A. Fryxell wrote the post last week listing the 101 Best Websites for 2016. He said they were searching for “new frontiers in online genealogy [and] sites not afraid to innovate at warp speed.” As you know, we really enjoy sharing new and innovative ways to use technology around here and we are delighted they noticed!
To organize the list of 101 best genealogy websites, Family Tree Magazine broke it down into several categories. Some of the categories included, Best Websites for Exploring Your Ancestors’ Lives, Best Genetic Genealogy Websites, and Best Sites for Sharing Your Genealogy. Genealogy Gems fell into the Best Genealogy News and Help Websites of 2016 and it is because of you, our readers and listeners. Thank you!
Another Milestone: 2 Million Downloads!
Above: Podcast Stats Screenshot
As if we weren’t elated enough, The Genealogy Gems Podcast hit 2 million downloads earlier this month! We could never have accomplished this goal without your enthusiasm and support. Thank you for listening, for sharing, and for keeping us engaged in bringing you the best in genealogy and family history research tools.
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What’s New for Genealogy Gems
No time to sit on our laurels because we have loads of gems in the works for the coming year. Would you like to feel more focused and organized? You’ll be hearing detailed strategies for streamlining your family history efforts and reducing overload and disorganization.
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