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Our own records

The advice for beginning genealogists is always the same:

Begin with what we know.

And so, dutifully, we open up that pedigree chart or that relational database and we enter ourselves in box 1… and, in so many cases, immediately move on.

Our parents. Their births and their marriages and, all too often even by the time we get interested in genealogy, their deaths.

Our grandparents and the same vital data for them.

Maybe we’ll enter a bit more about those older generations — their schooling, their military service.

But wait a minute here.

What about ourselves?

What about our own histories?

How often do we just not get around to researching and documenting our own lives?

This past week, The Legal Genealogist was coordinating a course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh called Women and Children First! Research Methods for the Hidden Half of the Family.

And in the course of putting together the lecture on research in newspapers, just on a whim, I started looking at my own immediate family history.

I knew, for example, that we had moved into the house where I grew up in the fall of 1954.

I can now tell you who owned the house before us… who the realtor was who sold it… and even who the lawyers were for the buyer and the seller.1

Edison house

Yep, poking through the now-digitized newspapers for the area where I grew up in Central New Jersey, I found a lot about my own family — and my own childhood.

I found the birth announcements of all five of my younger siblings, for example,2

I found that one family baptism made the papers: my own. Well, not just my own. You see, apparently, at some point when my brother Fred was not quite a year old, my raised-as-a-Lutheran father got tired of having a house full of heathens and marched us all down to the local Lutheran Church.

I remember the discussion with Pastor Robert Strohl who reminded my father that Lutherans believed in infant baptism and his gentle chiding that my brother hadn’t yet been baptized. And I remember the look on Pastor Strohl’s face when he realized it wasn’t just the toddler — but four others ranging up to the age of 12.3


Apparently having five kids from the same family baptized at once was unusual enough to make the local paper.

Some of what I found, I remember. But some I didn’t. I do remember I was in Brownie Scouts as a kid, but was never able to be a Girl Scout. The only troop in the area with an opening met on Thursday afternoons, the time my mother inevitably had an appointment with her obstetrician and I needed to be home to care for that growing brood of younger siblings while yet another one was on the way.

So I remember being a Brownie, I remember flying up (graduating into Girl Scouts) and I remember being so disappointed that I wasn’t able to be in the Girl Scouts.

What I didn’t, and still don’t, actually remember is that my own mother was one of my Brownie troop leaders.4

There’s a lot more that I found… and boy did it drive home the lesson.

Yes, we do need to start with what we know.

But that starts with us, ourselves.

And we need to research and document our own lives as thoroughly as we do any other member of our families.


  1. New Brunswick (NJ) Home News, 26 Sep 1954, p. 25; digital images, ( : accessed 25 July 2018).
  2. Each announcement was in the column for births at Middlesex General Hospital. Each just said son or daughter, but they’re all there: boy, February 28; girl, November 11; boy, November 24; boy, June 7; boy, October 6. New Brunswick (NJ) Home News, various dates; digital images, ( : accessed 25 July 2018).
  3. New Brunswick (NJ) Home News, 10 Oct 1961; digital images, ( : accessed 25 July 2018).
  4. New Brunswick (NJ) Home News, 21 Nov 1958, p. 6. c.1; digital images, ( : accessed 25 July 2018).
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