(Genealogy and the Family tree)
Senior Writer Rusty Strait examines genealogy
Genealogy Reveals Where the Bodies are Buried.
I once did a two year stint as an apprentice embalmer. My friends wondered why I would want such a ghoulish job. For one thing, it was during a recession and I had to eat and pay rent. Secondly, I have seen more comedy in a funeral home than ever on television, and that brings me to the subject at hand.
Some time ago, I spent some time with a fellow who digs up dead bodies-over the internet, and he thinks it’s more interesting and fun than anything else in the world. No, he’s not a ghoul. Larry Bowles is one of the certified Genealogists in the country and he resides right here in Hemet.
The things I learned from Bowles makes me wonder how many of my ancestors are peeping over my shoulder. I asked him to fill me in on genealogy and explain how it all works. I came away from that experience with an ear and tape recorder-full of stuff I never dreamed of, and probably many of you didn’t either.
What is Genealogy and How Does it Work?
“Actually, it is the history of a family tree that takes off on every branch into the present and past, multiplying directions as one digs into the ancestry that precedes us.
“A professional Genealogist will tell you right off the bat, ‘I will do your research. I will do your family history, depending on what it is you want to know. The non-professional or even Ancestry.com can find a family tree, but the source of where the information comes is not documented.”
Larry explains what Ancestry.com can do for you.
“They can tell you the various percentages of your ethnicity, which is good in and of itself, but that’s only part of the story. With adoptions, marriages and divorces, names change as do locations. Movement and name changes are not explained by DNA. They are only explained if one has a background in English, French, Spanish or other ethnicities. Ancestry simply does not give you history, merely percentages. It doesn’t help find people and, history after all, is conducted by people.
Marriage, Birth, Adoption, Divorce and Name Changes
In previous generations most women took their husbands’ surnames when they tied the knot. Today women often maintain their maiden names and some men even adopt the name of their spouses. Also, with same gender marriages and adoptions to both husband and wife and same gender pairs, it is even more important to have documentation.
Larry says, “Depending on who is doing the recording, names are misspelled. Even birth and marriage certificates sometimes have names spelled wrong. For instance, a man is named Glen. A document is recorded as Glenn. That makes a great difference when it comes to reconciling a mis-spelled name with the correct one.”
You would think that the tombstone or death certificate would always be accurate. Not true, says Mr. Doyle.
“Just because you find something in the past doesn’t mean it is a true “find.” It could have been written up by an idiot. But if you can trace to the accurate documentation, you will be able to make note of the error and go from there. Cemetery records, property transfers, home ownership, old insurance policies, newspaper articles, anything that can be found in archives or even family bibles is useful. Some bibles are handed down from one generation to another.
“One thing about grave photos: the person seeking information knows that where a person finally rests is a pretty good address as to where they are.”
Amateurs and Scam Artists
Amateurs abound, of course. Larry was an amateur in the beginning.
“Only a certified professional Genealogist is qualified to do a true search in genealogy. The scam artists are out there and, as in many other businesses, they prey on the unsuspecting, most of whom are seniors. It is always best to get in touch with the American Professional Genealogists organization and verify a person’s qualifications. They have a record of all certified Genealogists.
“There is no law that I know of that prevents someone from taking someone’s money for a “Family Tree” search, but I would like to mimic that old canard, “Buyer beware!”
How do I Start if I Decide to do it for Myself?
Most of us want to know about our heritage but don’t know where to start. That was easy for Larry.
“Start. Search-Engine a name and take off from there. You are in for a long ride and I hope you enjoy that because searching can be time-consuming, but ever so much fun. It is like taking a holiday driving cross country to see how the rest of the world lives. Every click on the computer key can take you into place you never thought a relative of yours might ever have been. For instance your family goes back to West Virginia. There are 2,222,469 graves recorded there, which is just about the population of those above the ground in the Mountain State. It would surprise you how much data cemeteries can provide. For instance, you are looking for a deceased’s war record – through cemetery records and findagrave.com you’ll be able to get individual military records, including wars and service of a person.
How Did Larry Begin his Genealogy Trip?
“I was pretty much raised by grandparents and great grand-parents in California. One day I asked my grandparents about my family tree. I might as well have asked if it was possible to have dinner on the moon. They didn’t have a clue. Oh, I’d heard all the old tales about being part Indian and all that. Some of their stories were beyond belief. My grandparents could lie better than anybody I know. They had a great memory for things that never happened. That being what it was, I wanted to know more about where I came from. Thus began my own journey for the truth.”
While majoring in history at Cal State Los Angeles, Larry discovered the large genealogy library in the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard on the west side. He was hooked.
“The gentleman who operated their library took an interest in me and I learned so much from him. He went on to be head librarian at the huge Mormon Library in Salt Lake City. They had all that microfilm and I started finding out things and pretty soon I knew more about my family than anybody else. It was like a walk back through history.
He went to his grandmother and asked, “Where were our parents born. She shook her head and told me she’d never thought about it.” Someone else without a clue.
Larry’s First Paying Client
“As I’ve said, I started out as an amateur, although I knew a lot more about Genealogy than your average amateur. I am somewhat of a linguist. I could speak Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, Danish, and half dozen other languages. I went to high school in Mexico City and came back well versed in Spanish, so I’m somewhat a linguist.”
“One day a lady came to me who had some letters she wanted translated. I did so and found some truly interesting information about her father who had been killed in a duel. She was very old and I wasn’t sure how to or even if I should tell her, but after thinking it over I decided she deserved to know. I finally told her that her father had come to a bad end, stabbed to death in a duel after a bar encounter at two in the morning. She then asked if I’d do her family history. Since I was going back and forth to the Mormon Library on Santa Monica Boulevard anyway,, I agreed. She said she would pay me for the work.
“I said, ‘If you will pay for the films that I order and my transportation costs, we have a deal.’ I charged $1.65 an hour for my labor. I didn’t save the check, but I remember how much she paid me. $227.50. Film at that time cost $1.50. Today it is $8.25.”
“And by the way, the Mormon Church has stopped sending film to all their outlets. As of August 31 this year you cannot get film from Salt Lake City. Everything is going digital and on line. That includes wills and other personal documents. By the year 2020 everything In the Salt Lake City Library will be on line. It will still be free on their family search site.”
Do You know How Related You Are?
Larry cited me an old anonymous poem that well have come out of my hillbilly background. It goes like this: “Suzie Lee done fell in love, and said she planned to marry joe.
She was so happy about it all, so she told her pappy so.
But pappy said, Suzie gall you’ll have to find another.
I’d just as soon your ma don’t know, but Joe is your half-brother.
So Suzie put aside her Joe and planned to marry Will.
But after telling pappy this he said, There’s trouble still.
You can’t marry Will, my gal, and please don’t tell your mother.
Will and Joe and several more I know of is also your half brothers.
But mama knew and said to her, Gal do what makes you happy.
Marry Will or Marry Joe ‘cause you ain’t no kin to pappy.”
Goes to show that things ain’t always what they’re cracked up to be. You might find that all the family skeletons are not in the cemetery! Just sayin’
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