Genealogists start to have two ways of looking at everything. There is the normal way that other people see things, and there is another kind of sight as well. I call it ancestral vision. Here's an example: Spring cleaning time arrives, and the ancestor finder goes up to the attic to look for rubbish, trash, unused items, and other debris that needs to be put out for the trash collector. He begins filling a big green lawn-and-leaf bag. All of a sudden, his ancestral vision kicks in.
What was garbage is now a treasure trove, filled with items that provide clues to family members of the past. No longer looking through a normal person's eyes, the family researcher sees signs of relatives from the past. He now feels compelled to scrutinize every item for tracks to the family's history.
It isn't only genealogists who have this affliction. The general sees things strategically, the painter sees them visually, and the repairman sees them mechanically. Sherlock Holmes saw clues where others saw only the ordinary. Now, back to the attic, where very little is being thrown away. Every time the family historian is inclined to toss an old, unusable item, his ancestral vision reveals that it is actually a priceless keepsake, in genealogical terms. Pretty soon, everything is a keepsake instead of a get-rid-of.
While this can sometimes become a problem, this second vision, known only to genealogy researchers, is normally a tremendous asset in the long run. Many of these items hold leads to your ancestors. Examine any item you are inclined to throw away, give away or sell, for traces of earlier family members.
If, after a careful examination, you decide to part with the item, first make a written notation of any information it contains. This may seem pointless at the time, but it can be invaluable when you run into the proverbial brick wall in your family tree research. A simple note can be the clue that offers a new direction that will enable you to start your research again.
What kind of items are we talking about? One to start with is books-especially those boxes filled with dust-covered, ancient volumes exuding that old-book smell. Wear gloves if you must, but pull out these books and look inside each one. It's been a longstanding tradition to make inscriptions in books, especially just inside the front cover. Sometimes it's a book's owner, and sometimes its giver. The latter may name an occasion for the gift, such as a birthday, which could include the date and age of the recipient.
Other items to look for are bookplates. These were glue-on labels that contained the name, and sometimes the address, of the book's owner. This was prevalent in the past because of the common practice of loaning books to friends. Further examination of the book should include the title page. This can reveal a copyright date or date the book was published, or even printed. Oftentimes, this will help you narrow a range of time.
Best of all are often the Bibles. They were commonly gifts to children on the occasions of their baptism, first communion or acceptance as a church member, and they may be inscribed accordingly.
If the Bible you find is a family Bible, it may contain names, dates of birth, marriages, and deaths of member of the family. These Bibles are considered family heirlooms, meaning they may have been handed down from one generation to the next, giving you information about more than one generation of your ancestors.
Old clothes are truly tempting to throw away or give to a charitable thrift shop. Either no one can wear them or no one will. Before you decide to discard them, examine them with your ancestral eyesight. You are looking for name tags or merchant tags. Hold them up and try to envision the person who wore them. This can come in handy when you come across photos with people you can't identify. Military uniforms are of special value, especially the emblems of rank, units or other insignia, ribbons, or medals. These are the types of clues that can lead to the military records of your ancestor.
Items that truly require ancestral vision are items of furniture. Sometimes you will find that they appear to have been handmade. Remove every drawer, and look it over, front to back and top to bottom. You may uncover old papers, or the name of the person who made it and the date it was made.
Don't be discouraged if the name you uncover is that of a non-family member. This can provide an alternate source of information about your family, their neighbors, and the community in which they lived. Clocks, lamps and other accessory items may hold possibilities as well. Manufacturers' names and locations may reveal information about your family's place of residence. Engraved items, like watches, rings and other jewelry, can provide names and dates that may come in handy as your research progresses. After all, genealogical research is a never-ending process, and what appears irrelevant now can be crucial later on.
Ancestral vision may be a mere irritant to friends and relatives of the family historian, because they see only the drawbacks. True, it may slow down spring cleaning and contribute to clutter in the attic or basement, but this special eyesight is able to ferret out treasures.
Researching your own family tree is a learn-as-you-go process, so any advice you can pick up along the way might save you hours of frustration. Get insights, ideas and unusual perspectives on tracing your ancestry in this Free Genealogy Guide.
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