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Vital Records | Our Prairie Nest
Vital Records

I am adamant about collecting primary sources. That which can’t be found online must be obtained from the appropriate authority. How do you obtain birth, marriage, and death records? Every state is different but, in my case, I usually write to the Town Clerk of the town in which the event occurred.

Requesting Vital Records

When I draft a letter to the Town Clerk for records, I state that I’m requesting the record for genealogical purposes. I give the date, or at least a date range, for the event, and as much identifying information as possible. If there is something I am specifically seeking (perhaps a decedent’s mother’s maiden name), I state that in the letter, just to ensure that all the information is included in the certified record.

Most records in New England range from $5 to $10 per town. Some are a little more expensive, so it’s good to check ahead of time. If I request multiple records from one town, I enclose multiple checks. That way, if they don’t have every record, they can return my check, but keep the others.

I always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I usually write a little note under the return address, such as “E. Shaw death,” so I know what’s in the envelope when it comes back to me.

I always sign off my letter with an expression of appreciation for the Town Clerk’s time and assistance. They have many other things to do with their day, and searching for my ancestor’s birth, marriage or death record isn’t at the top of their to-do list. So I sincerely thank them for their time.

Organizing Vital Records

I organize my collection of vital records in two ways.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet, which is arranged alphabetically by surname. Women are always listed by their maiden name (if known). I record marriages twice, but the actual physical record goes under the husband’s name.

As far as the physical records, I organize them the same way. I have two binders (for now), and the records are kept in archival page protectors, arranged alphabetically. I have a printed index inserted in the front and, if necessary, back of each binder so I know which records are contained within.

Going Digital

One of these days in the very near future, I plan to scan all of these (as well as other) documents to my PC, external hard drive, thumb drive, and cloud drives. This is for safety’s sake. In the event of an emergency, I wouldn’t have time to grab the binders. However, to have vital records, family writings, and photographs stored to various storage mediums will give me a sense of security. The physical items could possibly be lost, whether in an emergency or in a move. So I would like the ability to reproduce them, if necessary.

On a pleasanter note, it would be great to be able to email documents and photographs to family members if they are interested in seeing them. So scanning and saving everything to various drives would help with sharing with family.

Back to School | Our Prairie Nest
Back to School

I’m experiencing mixed feelings about the kids going back to school this year. But tomorrow is the day.

For my daughter, it should be yet another lovely year of childhood. She’s going into second grade. She’s smart and feisty, and loves school and her friends. This ought to be a fun year.

My son is a senior in high school, and this should be his “Grease” year. Fun and exciting things should happen, while he figures out his future. With all the free periods he has in his schedule, he should be able to use the time toward college credits.

Last year started off with all of these lovely things. I had a new planner and enjoyed marking off special school events in it. We looked forward to spring sports – track and softball, neither of which my kids got to do. In March, we had them home and did our best to pull together to finish out their school year.

I’m sorry for what my kids missed out on last year, but more grateful that we’ve all been healthy and safe. The distance from friends had more of an effect on my daughter than my son. Fortunately, she was able to see a few friends here and there over the summer, but it was nothing like a “normal” year.

If our district switches to remote learning, we will manage just fine. Some families won’t. I know we’re lucky. I know we’ll be okay. But I don’t know if we’ll get sick or what will happen if we do. That’s the scary part, really. The uncertainty.

Of course, every day is uncertain, but I’m risk averse. And, this year, school is more of a risk than usual.

Genealogy and Social Media | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy & Social Media

As the internet offers us more and more places to connect, it can be tricky to determine who you “ought” to follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. There are many recommendations out there – some that are considered staples of social media/the online community in genealogy.

It’s well worth checking out the suggestions on “Top 100” lists and the like, but sometimes finding the right folks or blogs to follow on social media is as simple as a few search terms.

What do you want to get out of making these connections online? Do you want to find potential distant cousins and other people with similar research interests? Do you want to keep up to date on more general genealogical news or the latest scientific advances with DNA? Would you like to find people local to you or communicate with genealogists in other countries?

And, once you find these people, what next? What should you do with these connections? What is the point of a widespread network if you don’t make use of it, or participate in it?

Sometimes, it is nice to sit back and watch news, ideas, and more scroll by in your Twitter feed. But it won’t necessarily help break through that brick wall or bring you closer to uncovering what happened to an ancestor who apparently dropped off the face of the earth.

Take time to reach out to the people with shared research interests, or even who live in the area where your family resided decades or centuries ago. Before the internet, we sent each other letters – even long-distance relatives! Email makes it even easier to say, “Dear John Smith, I noticed your post on the Genealogy.com Smith forum, and I do believe we may have an ancestral connection via Robert Smith.”

We tend to be a friendly lot, so most of us will respond courteously – probably even excited to hear from you. So use that social media to be social and have some fun with it! You might make an unexpected discovery along the way. 🙂

Waning Days | Our Prairie Nest
Waning Days

The late summer days are here. In the South and Midwest, school has started. My kids go back next week.

Usually, this is a liminal time – of winding up and winding down, simultaneously. Of excitement and sadness. We’re at the height of the dog days of summer, but they’re tempered by the return of the school bus. I feel the pull in both directions, to busier and more active days, but also to slow down and take in what’s left of the season. Even though I’m not a “summer person,” I try to savor it. The expiration date makes it that much sweeter. I like to watch the sunset, appreciate the golden light of the sun as the day fades and the edge dulls on the heat.

This year there’s a fear around the return to school. My daughter’s favorite peers are staying home to start the year with remote schooling. It’s an option I prefer for our family, too, but isn’t feasible unless it becomes a requirement. In fact, I’m not-so-secretly hoping the school has to flip to their remote plan from August to October. If I was the stay-at-home parent, I’d have already made the decision and taken responsibility for guiding my children’s education.

The elephant in the room is, of course, Covid-19. Coronavirus. And people who aren’t qualified to speak authoritatively on the pandemic would have us think it doesn’t affect children or doesn’t affect them as badly. This is flat-out wrong. No one is immune and no one knows the extent to which they will be affected.

I do believe the school district has our kids’ interests at heart, but I have zero faith in the governor, let alone the person currently referred to as the president. We’re lucky in one respect: we live in a rural town and our case count has been low. That doesn’t mean we’re immune, though. Far from it, especially with Omaha so close!

So I’m going to hold my kids close, make sure their masks fit properly, and keep them in our little bubble as much as possible while making the attempt to live a somewhat normal life. We’ll go out and watch the sunsets together and hope that next year’s golden August days will come with less uncertainty and more contentment.