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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lost in Upstate New York

This is an article I wrote for Je Me Souviens, the semi-annual publication of the American French Genealogical Society.  It appeared in the Autumn of 2007 (Vol 30 No 2).  It's an account of how I searched for and located the records of my French-Canadian branch.  It's a bit technical (and long-winded), but if you research genealogical records, you may find it informative.

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I'm not a very dedicated genealogist.  I reluctantly got started only because I couldn't match my mother's memory.  After years of asking her the same questions about our family history over and over, I finally figured out that a computer's memory is pretty good, if the software cooperates.  So I bought a genealogy program and filled it with everything my mother knew about our family.  Then I added everything my eldest aunt could remember.  Then everything my cousin had from a great-grandmother's Bible.  There was a distant cousin in New York who had my family tucked away in a corner of her own genealogy.  An unknown gentleman had sent my uncle a big handwritten record of his cemetery tramping in lower Scotland.  There was a lot of information out there, it turned out, and I was busy just recording it, let alone checking anything.

The funny part is that in any genealogy there are these gaps just begging to be filled.  I tried to ignore them, I'm still trying, but I really can't resist.  So I find myself going, again, to spend a couple of hours at the American French Genealogical Society.

When I first walked in to the Society's library, and they kindly assigned me a volunteer, I explained to him that my ancestors had come from upstate New York.  The poor man rolled his eyes – oh those records are terrible, what little there is, he explained, you'll be really lucky to make the connection to Quebec.  God bless him, he tried, and failed of course, but within minutes of opening the first index we looked at, I was staring at the first piece of genealogical information I had ever gathered by myself: a listing of the marriage of my great-great grandparents, Joseph Laramie and Delphine Grenier, at Immaculate Conception in Keeseville, NY.  So I had filled in one gap, and I was hooked.

At that very moment, I had also hit my first brick wall: the witnesses to the marriage were two Irish guys.  There were no parents listed.  So my volunteer showed me how to cross-reference the witnesses to other marriages and baptisms, teasing possible relationships out of the information.  He tried to explain dit names, and demonstrated the world of mis-spellings and mis-hearings, bad transcriptions and Latinizations and Anglicizations.  And that is how I became lost in upstate New York.

There's more, click here . . .

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