February 13, 1862. Union soldiers were in their third day of fighting to capture Fort Donelson in Tennessee, opening a key gateway to the south. Meanwhile, in Auburn, New York, 6-year-old Albert Murray was fighting a battle of his own. His “caretaker” – not his mother who had died, or his father – was taking leave of him at the Cayuga Asylum for Destitute Children. The upside of this sad story is that Albert reunited with his three older siblings, Stanford, Hopkins and John, who had arrived at the orphanage the year before.
Albert is the great-grandfather of Jill Murray. His story is just part of what she’s discovered in her genealogy research.
Thanks to the Internet, where we can find all sorts of digitized documents, even ones created and collected before the advent of the computer, access to genealogical records has increased. So has the popularity of tracing a family tree. What’s more, historical information continues to become available. In April, for instance, The National Archives released records from the landmark 1940 U.S. census. In a partnership with Archives.com, an online family tree resource owned and operated by Ancestry.com, The National Archives made census maps, descriptions and more available for free at www.archives.com.
Jill Murray, who lives near Washington, D.C., began tracing her genealogy in 2010. She started by transcribing an oral history of her family recorded 35 years earlier by her paternal grandmother. “Frances was my grandmother and a woman who took the time to create a personal historical record that I shared in my early posts,” writes Murray under her grandmother’s name Frances Elizabeth Schwab. Jill has been sharing the results of her research on her blog Fantastic Electrisoil … My Adventures in Genealogy (http://fantastic-electrisoil.blogspot.com/), where she provides insightful historic information and useful research tips.
Among the many websites available today to help people research their genealogy, Familysearch.com is one recommended by Jill, who also subscribes to Ancestry.com. If you’re serious about doing genealogical research yourself, you might want to consider purchasing research software; Jill uses Reunion for Mac.
Armed with her grandmother’s stories – the transcriptions, along with notebooks on the family’s history, also prepared by Frances Elizabeth Schwab – Jill set out to trace each line back to the original immigrants who had come to America. She moved from anecdotal information to fact using books, newspapers and other documents. She had assumed her family was Irish, probably potato famine immigrants, but as her research progressed, her assumptions changed. She discovered a maternal branch that might lead back to the Mayflower. Her Murray line might actually be Colonial-era Scottish.
When you search online for genealogy information, be wary, says Jill. There’s an immense amount of inaccurate information out there, which Jill blames on the people who want to fill in all the leaves of their family trees, regardless of the validity of the information they are recording. Jill refers to these people as “name collectors.” It’s difficult to change information once it’s on the Internet, false or not. Once it’s out there it spreads quickly through the people who believe it to be factual. So, while Jill will use someone else’s tree for clues to her own, she never considers the information actual proof. If it isn’t a document or legitimate reference source – beware. Real history can be found in photographs, records and other documents.
When conducting your own genealogy research, it is impossible to not feel overwhelmed. When you begin to feel like you’re a bit over your head, it’s helpful to set objectives and recognize when it’s time to call off the search. Often, you may need to take a step back or consult someone else for help. There are genealogy researchers out there who can help. To hire a researcher you should have basic information or have a specific task in mind; otherwise, it can get expensive. Once you reach a point where someone has a birth date of 1940 or earlier, you can search the census records. Jill was able to contact a researcher in Cayuga County through the Cayuga County Historian’s office. The historian’s office did some initial research for her, but eventually she needed to go beyond what was available through them. What they provided her with, however, was very critical in the early stages of her research and the discovery of Albert Murray.
Currently, Jill is researching Albert’s father, Erastus, and his mother, Christina. There is some indication that Erastus died somewhere around 1860 to 1861, but other clues indicate that he might have simply disappeared. Jill is looking for any help in finding out what exactly happened. Answers could help her solve the Murray mystery and help her find out where the Murray heritage originated. You can find additional information about her family on her blog http://fantastic-electrisoil.blogspot.com/
For digitized books and newspapers
by Hannah Kallet