I have the pleasure of introducing you to Nancy Messier and her blog, My Ancestors and Me, described as, “. . . I think of my blog as a place to share what I learn about my ancestors and, in some small way, keep them alive through memory. I also share research efforts, results, and analyses; strategies and websites that have been helpful to me; musings of a genealogical nature; and reviews of books that have been helpful and/or interesting. I’ve recently started posting occasional childhood memories.”
A Little About Nancy
“I grew up in the quiet village of Mineral Ridge in Northeast Ohio. During the years between my childhood the present I attended and graduated from Kent State University (during those troublesome, riotous years) and the Ohio State University; married; served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador; and had two daughters (to mention just a few things). I now live in Central Ohio.”
How Nancy Got Started in Genealogy
“I grew up in a home where my parents did not share childhood stories or memories of their parents, siblings, grandparents, or older relatives. Questions were usually met with the briefest of answers and no elaboration. Not even my grandparents told stories or shared memories. Consequently, family history was not a subject that arose in our home, at least to my memory.
I became aware of family history in the late 1980s not long after I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I made a few attempts to learn about ancestors by asking my mom if she knew the names of her grandparents and their siblings — and I was pleased that she did! Then I broadened my ‘research’ by asking several older great-aunts questions about their siblings, parents, and grandparents. They all willingly shared as they were able. I began to have a small collection of memories and a few lists with names and birth and death dates.
Then a friend who had lots of family history research experience gave me some informal, elementary lessons. One of the things he emphasized was to record the source of every bit of information I found. He gave me some family group sheets and helped me fill out several based on the information I had, then instructed me in an easy way to note the sources of the information with footnotes. (They were not the quality of Elizabeth Shown Mills source citations, but they worked; and this was pre-internet days so most of my sources were from books, census records on microfilm, and letters and interviews.) Next, he offered to do some research for one or two of my Pennsylvania lines because, he said, he was going to Salt Lake City and would have a little free time and access to the Family History Library. He gave me such a good start!
I’m so thankful that my mom and great-aunts were willing to answer questions all those years ago because those oldest relatives are gone now and there’s no one left from those lines of my family to ask questions. I’m thankful for the friend who introduced me to the more formal aspects of family history. During those years I had a young family and finances were tight. I was able to write letters to request a few death certificates and marriage certificates but not much more. I stored the information I’d collected while it gathered dust for a number of years — about 15 years to be a little more accurate.
In 2006, I began searching for my ancestors in earnest. My daughters were young adults on their way to independence and I had time available for research, so I began in earnest. I found a copy of PAF and began entering the names, dates, and sources I’d collected those many years earlier. I was on my way.
At that time another friend introduced me to online genealogy resources at the local Family History Center, a completely new concept to me. (I was way out of touch with — and very new to — modern family history research!) I learned how to search, how to download files, and how to record sources. I found loads of information on some of my direct ancestors, their children, and their siblings. I was thrilled.
A year or two into my efforts a long-time genealogist told me that people find most of their genealogy information during the first two years of searching. That was a discouraging thought. I knew I had a good start on several of my lines but I also knew it was just a beginning. To think it was the best success I’d ever have in one or two years’ time was disheartening. As more and more online sources have become available I’ve realized that she began searching 40 or 50 years ago when requests for information were done through paper mail. She must have discounted the help of the internet in making indexes and documents available, in organizations’ websites that offer resources, in the help of bloggers, and certainly in the popularity of social media sites. Having sources available online where we can research from the comfort of home is so wonderful. Not everything is online but we can often find where to request the information we want.
I still have many, many ancestors to discover as recent as four or five generations and I expect to spend the rest of my life finding and learning about as many as I can.”
Nancy’s Thoughts on Blogging
“My daughter knew I enjoyed writing and encouraged me to begin one. I ignored the suggestion but she persisted. One weekend we were sitting side-by-side working at our computers when, once again, she suggested I start a blog. We brainstormed, she suggested a family history blog, and I thought, well, maybe. A box of childhood photographs of cousins I’d recently received from an estranged aunt’s estate popped into my mind. My cousins and I rarely see each other and it suddenly seemed like a blog would be a great way to let them see what photographs I had so they could claim them.
I began my blog without having thoroughly thought through the details. For instance, I hadn’t thought of a title so the URL of my blog is different than the title of my blog. It took me a few days to decide on the title, My Ancestors and Me. I also didn’t know what I would have put in a blog after I’d posted all the photographs from my aunt’s box. Over the next few weeks, I created a list of purposes and have carried on from there. Occasionally I add or change the blog’s purposes, something that’s probably not evident to regular readers.
Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in the ‘May I Introduce You to . . .’ series. It was a pleasant surprise and an honor to be asked. I appreciate it.”
Nancy’s Tips for New Bloggers
“I may be a little too ‘thoughtful’ about blogging but these are the things I wish I’d thought about or knew before I began.
- If you haven’t already started a blog . . . choose a title for your blog that can also be your URL, such as ‘My Blog’ and ‘http://myblog.blogger.com.’ It makes it easier for people to connect your blog’s title with the URL and for them to find you.
- Decide what you want the focus and purposes of your blog to be. With purposes in mind at the beginning it will help you decide on blog posts and keep you on track. You can always re-evaluate later and make changes as you become more experienced with blogging and/or family history research.
- Consider the layout of your blog. Look at others’ blogs to see what’s appealing to you and then choose how you’d like your blog to look. You can experiment before going public.
- Consider the labels you use for your posts. Notice how others use labels and choose a method that you think would be most effective for you.
- Write about what interests you in your family history and proofread your posts before publishing, a tip based on negative personal experience.
- Blogging is more fun when you know people are reading what you write. When people visit your blog and leave comments on your posts reply to their comments. Then return the visit and read and comment on their blogs. One of the benefits of blogs (as opposed to websites) is that comments allow interaction. I’ve received many helpful suggestions because of comments from other family history bloggers.
- Most of all, enjoy the time with your ancestors and sharing what you’re learning about them.”
Nancy’s Favorite Blog Posts
“My favorites seem to be the ones in which I put an ancestor in time and place and create a biography. I think they are favorites because the ancestors and topics are close to my heart.
- He Grew up a Motherless Child tells about the difficult childhood my father never mentioned to his children. Information and details were obtained from my mother and one of my father’s step-sisters after my father’s death.
- My Father’s Desk is a post about an important piece of furniture in my childhood home.
- A Kind and Generous Woman is a biographical sketch of my great-grandmother based on information collected from various records and memories of a daughter and several of her grandchildren.
Nancy’s Time with the Ancestors
“Not enough, though my husband thinks I spend most of my time on family history. Some days I can manage several hours, other times I can barely squeeze in 20 minutes. I try to be involved in some large or small way every day by researching, documenting research, or blogging about my ancestors. If I don’t keep at it I tend to forget where I was and it takes me longer to get started again. I have several other interests in life so I divide my time among them. I admit, though, that if I’m alone and involved in a mindless task my thoughts turn to my ancestors and family history. Questions like, how did my grandmother do the job I’m doing? Where else can I search for the tombstone of a particular ancestor? Which newspaper might have announced the marriage of that particular ancestor? Maybe my husband’s right in a way: maybe I do spend most of my time on family history.”
Nancy’s Favorite Ancestors
“As a mother I don’t have a favorite child and as a descendant I can’t choose favorites among my ancestors, either. I will say that I identify more with and feel closer to the ancestors whose lives I’m able to piece together to place them in their time and space. And I tend to enjoy researching my foremothers a bit more than my forefathers even though they present greater challenges.”
How Genealogy Has Improved Nancy’s Life
“Because of family history research I think I am a more grateful person. I’m thankful to my ancestors for facing and overcoming so many experiences that seem like huge challenges to me. Without their stamina and determination I wouldn’t be here. And I’m grateful to be living in a time when modern medicine preserves lives and technology makes life easier.”
What Nancy Loves Most About Genealogy
“There are so many aspects I love. I love the sleuthing: figuring out where to look for the next bit of information, garnering as much information I can from each source, and putting all the bits of information together to recreate the life of an ancestor.
I love solving the mystery of who, what, when, where. Who was his mother? What were their lives like in any particular year they were alive and the location where they lived? When was she married? Where did he die?
I love doing the research that helps me put an ancestor in time and place, learning about his or her environment, skills, abilities, the place where he or she lived, etc.
I love putting the puzzle of a family back together. People are usually born into a family, grow to adulthood, marry, and go their separate ways. I think of family history as reuniting families. I love solving questions like were they siblings or were they cousins? Was she married twice? Are these children his and hers or his and his previous wife’s?
And, of course, the Eureka moments are pretty fabulous.
My weakest area is probably recording all the information I find in my genealogy program (though I always save source information with the document). The excitement of finding sometimes leads me to the next search without entering the results of the previous search in my program. I need to do better.”
Nancy’s Time Capsule Message
Memories fade: you probably think you will remember when you are 70 what you experienced at 20 or 30 or 40, but you may not. Write about the events of your life as well as some of your day-to-day activities so your descendants can get to know you and enjoy your company through the written word. Please identify the people in your photographs and record the dates and locations where they were taken: your grandchildren will want to know. Record a personal history and include memories of your own childhood and interactions with your siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. Please remember us, your ancestors, to your children: tell them our stories, show them our photos, and let us live on in memory.”
* * *
Please take a moment to head on over to Nancy’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Nancy, it’s great to have you here!
© 2014, copyright Gini Webb
Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren! Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.