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Genealogy Goals for 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy Goals in 2021

It’s time to decide what my genealogy goals are in the new year. This is more difficult than previous years, because I had the same goal from year to year. Ever since I broke through my nearest brick wall, I spent 2020 a little “scattered,” for lack of a better term. However, I did make excellent progress with my maternal Italian ancestors and correcting a family story that stated my great-great grandmother had an uncle who was a bishop (2020 correction: she had a nephew who was a theologian and advisor to a pope).

So it’s time to focus on some SMART goals for 2021.

My Ancestors

Even though I finally determined who my great-great grandmother Emma’s parents (and grandparents!) were, I still don’t know who her first husband, Mr. Reagan, was. I’d like to find this first name, their date of marriage, and what ultimately happened to him (divorce or death).

The first wife of Edward Curtis of Dudley, Massachusetts was Esther (born circa 1747 and died in 1840), and her maiden name remains unknown. I have a network of DNA matches who I am sure share her unknown parents as ancestors. I’d like to solve that mystery this year.

I would like to get a look at the probate record of Elisha Benson (1731-1813) found in Vermont to verify that he and his wife, Sarah Steward (1732-1790), are the parents of Levi Benson (circa 1765 – 1815) of Wareham, Massachusetts.

My Galfre ancestors in Italy come from France a generation or two prior, and I’d like to find that connection.

I would also like to focus on my mitochondrial lineage. Our mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1, which seems to indicate Jewish ancestry. My most distant known maternal ancestor is Angela Giusto of Cogoleto, Genoa, Liguria, Italy. I’m giving her an estimated birth year of about 1815 or so, since her two known children were born in 1837 and 1842.

Other Ancestors 

My ex-husband’s paternal ancestors are still a mystery that I would love to solve. His third great-grandfather was John Goodwin Hawksley, born iN Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada in 1810. He had three sisters. Their parents were an unknown Hawksley and Mary Goodwin, the daughter of New Jersey loyalists whose names also remain unknown.

Online trees that give the unknown Hawksley man a name go with either Guy or William, both of which I believe are incorrect. My hypothesis based on research and DNA points to a British man who was stationed at Fredericton during the time frame that John and his sisters were conceived and born. That man returned to his family in Ireland and England after his service, and that was that. Is my hypothesis correct? I don’t know, but I hope to find out as I enter my 28th year of researching that family.

Wish me luck!

2020 In Review | Our Prairie Nest
2020 In Review

I think every year-end blog post or card or family newsletter is going to start with, “What a year!” We say that every year, though, don’t we? At the end of most years, I tend to be optimistic and set goals for the new year. Last year, however, I said, “Same shit, different year.” So I guess I’d better go back to optimism, because look how 2020 turned out!

We are among the fortunate people who haven’t gotten sick yet. However, several people we know and love did get sick, and that has been pretty scary. There’s no telling how Covid will affect anyone, which is what makes it so daunting.

When I heard the news about the first vaccine being administered in the UK, I cried with happiness. Here’s hoping that the roll-out of vaccines in the U.S. goes smoothly and we can all look forward to a slow return to something approaching normalcy.

Of course, we’re happy with the way the election turned out this year. It was another positive aspect of 2020. It took me a few days to feel safe opening a bottle of victory wine, but when I finally went for it, it couldn’t have been a sweeter moment.

Remote schooling for some of the year was difficult, but we felt it was necessary. It was hard for the kids to not see other people face to face. However, we felt it was the most responsible choice over the holidays, considering the uncertainty around other people choosing to gather with large groups, have family get-togethers, etc. We did our best to keep joy in the household with new books, games, music, and TV shows. It wasn’t always easy, but I think extra hugs and talking frankly about everything going on in the world went a long way.

At some point in the year, I also realized I was just done with certain projects and let them go, full stop. I had no drive to move forward. I thought my interest in and excitement for those projects might return, but no. So far, nothing.

It’s disappointing, because these projects have been a big part of “me” for 4 years. They’ve also given many other people a lot of joy. However, as Charlotte once said in “Sex & the City,” I think I’m done here.

What’s next? I’m still figuring that out. I still love my job and the teaching I’ve been doing, so that isn’t changing. But I need to figure out what’s next as far as other aspects of my life.

This post is already rambly, but there you have it. 2020 was, for us, challenging but we made it. Here we are. Where we’re going from here, though, I have no idea. At least, though, I’m feeling far more optimistic at this point in the year than I felt going into 2020!

Gratitude 2020 Edition | Our Prairie Nest
Gratitude: 2020 Edition

It’s been a hell of a year for most people and I am well-aware that we lucked out in our household. We have a roof over our heads, income, food, and the ability to meet our needs. Not everyone can say that.

There are certainly things we’ve personally lost, not to mention the greater losses that touched most of us over the year. No matter how difficult this year has been, I’ve also tried to remember that I’m privileged in so many ways. I’m grateful for my privilege and have tried to use it constructively. Unfortunately, what I have can only go so far. But it’s the little things, and we are all capable of something.

Here’s hoping 2021 brings all of us health and safety, love and joy, and more.

Census Research | Our Prairie Nest
Census Research

Censuses are the first records most people look at when getting started with family history, and with good reason. Censuses are widely available records that give us a snapshot of an individual, couple, or family every ten years or so. The types and frequency of censuses vary by country, state, and province. The most popular censuses are the U.S. Federal Censuses, followed by state, Canadian, and UK censuses, and veterans enumerations, just to name a few.

U.S. Federal Census

The United States takes a federal census, which means they account for every person in every town in every county in every state, every ten years. This practice of enumerating the population began in 1790 and has continued ever since.

The censuses currently available online at FamilySearch.com and other websites are 1790 through 1940. The 1950 census will be released to the public in April of 2022. Most genealogists start with the most recent census and work their way back through censuses to 1930, 1920, 1910, and so forth.

Not all U.S. federal censuses collected the same information. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect each decade:

1790-1840 Censuses

These census years offer the least personal information, but are still very useful in your research. From 1790 to 1840, the government collected the name of the head of household, who was usually male (though sometimes female), the number of people residing in the household, the age categories of those residents, and other bits of information, such as how many people were involved in agriculture.

Censuses are organized by state and town. Even if you can’t confirm between 1790 and 1840 whether or not William’s wife was Mary, and that they had four daughters by 1820, you can at least confirm that he lived in the town of Anywhere, USA and had five females in various age categories within the household. Who knows – you might find William and Mary thirty years later in…

1850-1870 Censuses

This is where many genealogists give a cheer, since the government expanded the census-taking to include the names of all people residing within a household, as well as their specific ages. You can also see a family’s street address starting here. This doesn’t necessarily mean the census records you will find are perfect – far from it! The censuses suffer from human error on three sides.

Sometimes the person giving the information was not accurate. This might have been because the person responding to the census taker’s questions was a child or distant relative or neighbor of the family, and did not know the precise ages of the members of the household. The census-taker might also have written a name down with a close, but incorrect spelling. Finally, if you are accessing a transcription rather than an image of a census, the transcriber might have misread or mistyped information. This is understandable, since the handwriting back then is very different from what most people are accustomed to now.

Still, these censuses are of huge help in documenting a family’s names, children, potential dates of birth, and residences!

1880 Census

If the censuses from 1850 through 1870 are a vast improvement over the previous decades, then 1880 is the year the census makes another leap forward in usefulness. As of this decade, census takers began asking for the birth places of the respondents’ parents.

Once again, this system is far from perfect. I have a great-great grandmother whose parents have been listed as being born in four different places over four different censuses (Maine, Massachusetts, Canada, and England and Scotland). Whatever the answer may be, I’ve learned I can’t rely on the census for it in this instance! As with the prior decades, take the information you find with a grain of salt. The person giving it might not be the one most knowledgeable about the family being enumerated at the time.

1890 Census

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Sorry, tiny researcher!

Sadly, the majority of the 1890 census schedules were lost in a fire at the National Archives. A few do exist and you can find them online at FamilySearch and other sites. However, those few remaining censuses are limited to small, specific areas.

1900-1940 Censuses

The census questions remained fairly consistent from 1900 onward. You will find various questions include age at first marriage, number of children a woman had, number of children still living, questions related to whether or not a person was a citizen or naturalized, and their work, just to name a few.

There are various other enumerations and special schedules too, including the 1890 Veterans Census, mortality schedules, and state censuses. The state of Massachusetts, for example, held a state census every 10 years. You can find the complete 1855 and 1865 Massachusetts State Censuses at FamilySearch. If these are available for the states where you are researching ancestors, these can be especially helpful for bridging the gap left by the 1890 census, as can local directories.

When most people join a subscription site for genealogy, censuses tend to be the major draw. However, you can find many federal and state census images free at FamilySearch.

UK & Canadian Censuses

Another set of censuses you can find both for free and pay are those from other countries, specifically Canada and the UK. These were also taken every decade and are available from 1841 through 1921. In addition to FamilySearch and pay sites, you can also find the Canadian censuses at the Library and Archives of Canada.

One last caveat about censuses: keep in mind not every family appeared every decade. I’ve researched families easily discovered in the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses, only to have them disappear in 1880. They were still alive, according to other available records, yet for some reason they were skipped or perhaps simply not at home during the 1880 enumeration. If you run into this problem, there are plenty of alternative resources out there to verify your ancestors’ existence at the time – vital records, land records, court and probate records, and much more. Censuses are one of many tools available to you in your genealogical endeavors!