Randy over at GeneaMusings has a new Saturday Night Challenge for us. I’m supposed look back on when I began researching my family tree and the first problem I experienced. Then, report on the lesson learned.
I started researching in 1990. My beginnings included my Grandmother writing four letters about her roots. She wrote me about her first husband’s tree (my Grandfather). Her in-laws came to Hawaii around 1890 from the island of Madeira. They had 4 children in Honolulu. Then, her husband was born on a ship coming into San Francisco Bay.
I was thrilled to have “all” this information to start with. Not really knowing what I was supposed to do, I found genealogy help on CompuServe and Prodigy and it books at the local library.
I never dive into anything half way. I checked out several books, went through the library’s small genealogy collection, and wrote letters to different societies. I was utterly and completely clueless.
After a year, the only real research I had accomplished was research in the California Death and Marriage Indexes which were readily available at my local public library. All my mail queries came up empty. I had no new information and like most beginning genealogists, I got discouraged. This genealogy stuff is hard!
I found that my Mom’s cousin’s wife was still alive and decided to write her a letter. Wilma (Larcher) Souza was excited about me contacting her and we spoke on the phone a few days after she got my letter.
That was when I realize that all the information I had was all wrong. My Grandma had gotten the names right, but dates and places had been changed…only it wasn’t to protect the innocent.
The Pacheco’s and de Braga’s were not from Madeira. They were from the Azores. Maria de Braga and Theodoro Pacheco did not come over as a married couple. They came as children with their parents. And, they came in the early 1880s, not the 1890s!
Every bit of information except the names was wrong. It’s no wonder that I wasn’t able to find anything out about them during that first year of research. I was looking for a family that didn’t exist.
Wilma’s information was vital to my research. I supposed in due time I would have sorted out the errant information. But, by talking to Wilma, I was able to do it much sooner than if I’d set out on my own.
I don’t believe that my Grandmother lied to me. However, she was in her 80s when we began working together on the tree. That was over 40 year after her divorce to my Grandfather. She hadn’t had any contact with that side of the family for 20 years. And, in between she had a brain tumor. Though, her mind was sharp, it’s not impossible to think that she may have lost a few details of her early life.
The lesson I learned is be skeptical and verify everything. Ask more than one relative about the family tree. Find documents to prove and disprove what your relatives tell you. Don’t be afraid to find out that Grandma was wrong about her own parents. Don’t let your relationship to your informant or their relationship to the people you want to know more about deceive you. Anyone can get the facts wrong–even when talking about the details of their own life.
I am glad that I learned this lesson right from the start. It is too easy to think that relatives must know what they are talking about because they were there. Time tends to do interesting things to memories. Even those with the sharpest minds remember things differently than others who went through the same things.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com