Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Minnesota.... Land of 10,000 resources

Anyone who is active in Minnesota research knows that the state has a plethora of genealogical resources….some of the best in the country! As a lifelong resident whose ancestors began settling the state in the 1850’s, I’ve done unbelievable amounts of research over the past two decades. Since the landscape of genealogical resources is ever changing, it’s easy to be unaware of some of the wonderful tools at our disposal. Here I will summarize some of, what I find to be, the best resources Minnesota has to offer!

Free! There is a word that genealogists love! And today, it seems that free is getting harder and harder to find. Minnesota, however, still has many great free resources!
Minnesota State Historical Society--
The Minnesota State Historical Society has one of the finest collections in the country…and anyone with roots in Minnesota should get the opportunity to visit in person, at least once. The Research Center contains 1,000’s of rolls of microfilm… newspapers, census records, death certificates, and countless other resources. The library has an amazing collection of books and other research materials!  

Birth & Death Index--
To research from home, however, one can use the free birth & death indexes…. The birth index begins in 1900 (a few earlier, delayed births also made the index) and ends in 1935. The death index begins in 1904 and ends in 2001.
The records in this index can be viewed, for free, at the History Center... and copies of birth records obtained for $7.00 and the death records for the cost of a photocopy (nearing $.50 each these days, as costs keep increasing).

Marriage Index--
Independent of the State Historical Society, the State has created an index of marriage records. The index encompasses all marriages recorded since records began. There are also instructions for purchasing a record on the website. Unlike the birth/death index, which offers soundex searches, the marriage index does not. This can be tricky with the oldest records, with old/faint/poor handwriting and the transcriptionist’s interpretation of spellings…. While you can search based on bride/groom/years/county or any combination of those criteria, I have found some wildly misspelled names….so be aware that some creative searching may be required.

Sometimes, I think the old stand by website, the USGENWEB project, that’s been around since the early days of internet genealogy, is overlooked today. When visiting some of the various Minnesota county pages, it is evident that many are no longer actively updated… but the content from yesteryear still remains! Many counties have cemetery records, plat maps, vital records, and historical photos, among many other resources. If you haven’t visited the website for your Minnesota county recently (or any other State’s for that matter), you should take a few minutes and reacquaint yourself with the resources that are there. - Birth records--
Recently, I found that has added more Minnesota records to their online collection. Primarily scans of old birth records, which are a great resource! Unfortunately, these records are not indexed, so you will need to have an idea of when/where the birth occurred…. And then be prepared to browse through many hundred records. Hopefully, if you are not sure of the birth particulars, you can utilize the aforementioned birth index to give yourself a starting off point.
Since they have added these new Minnesota records, it’s very possible that they have added further records for others states as well! I haven’t browsed the other state’s collections yet, but I encourage you to!

Minnesota has thousands of cemeteries throughout the state… many records can be found listed on! This site is a great way to memorialize the final resting place for our ancestors. I also encourage people to join the site as a volunteer, to fulfill photograph requests in your area.

Paysites- [i.e.  Ancestry]
While I have only mentioned free sites up to this point, I want to touch briefly on mega-site, which also has many Minnesota records. Including the 1935-2002 birth index and 1970-1995 divorce index… As well as some early birth & death indexes, some of which can’t be found on Though I suspect anyone who has ancestry, has already utilized these resources.

Minnesota Genealogical Society
The genealogical society has many great resources and has classes and seminars for continuing education. I would strongly recommend that anyone who hasn't taken a look, stop by their website and have a looksee!


These are just some of the great research possibilities that Minnesota has to offer! I'm sure there are many more out there, that I've yet to stumble upon... I'd love to hear from anyone who has any other resources out there, whether to be found online or at a brick & mortar archive.... And hopefully I will have a enough new found genealogy gems that I can have a future follow up post!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Genealogy 'resolutions' for 2013... and beyond!

Since the advent of the internet, the world of genealogy has changed incredibly. Twenty years ago, genealogy consisted of writing slews of letters and visiting courthouses, cemeteries, relatives, and archives in person. While tedious at times, these “old school” research techniques did help teach genealogists valuable lessons in documentation and patience.  
Thanks to mega-sites such as, people with an interest in family history can easily become “weekend warrior genealogists”… and with three clicks of their computer mouse, have a family history going back hundreds of years. While certainly handy, these technology advancements have allowed people to claim false lineage and further share incorrect information… and not only that, but miss out on actually learning about their families.
I’m the first person to use email and jump on when I am on a quest for someone. But during this past year, I was noticing that the bulk of my genealogy research consisted of searching the same old internet databases and mega-sites. And while I was finding tons of data, I was missing out on some very important aspects of genealogy…. One of the most important (if not the most important) is documentation. Sadly, when it comes to documentation, I’m as guilty as the next person! I always think I’ll “remember” or “just know” where that piece of data came from… but of course I don’t. It would be impossible… I’ve been actively researching for two decades and have many lines that I’ve researched extensively at various points over the years. So among my genealogy New Year’s Resolutions, was to start documenting things better! Winter (especially in Minnesota) is a perfect time to overhaul genealogy! And the New Year is a perfect time to implement some 'resolutions'! 
So my personal genealogy ‘resolutions’ consist of: 
1. Documentation  
2. Reorganization
3. Re-examine dead ends 
4. Connections with 'cousins' 
5. Genealogy ‘fun’
There are countless documentation aids out there! And I have been actively searching for the best ones. I need something handy to use and that won’t add to the paper clutter I’m desperately trying to limit. Ultimately, I'd like to be organized enough that I can keep better track of my online research finds.  There are countless "how to document" websites out there... but I haven't really stumbled across anything that I found to be a surefire easy thing for me?!  The great Emily Croom does have an ebook published a few years ago, that it a nice starting point for anyone who is at the very early stages of documenting.
I'd suggest having a look for ideas.... And of course would love to hear any feedback from other regarding their own documentation strengths (or weaknesses)
Mass reorganization of my personal genealogy archive is long overdue. I’ve spent the last two years (ok…5 years!) collecting data but not actually filing it appropriately or making it easily accessible when I need it. My family binders are outdated and in great need of rejuvenation. The bookcase of 20+ binders does look a little daunting… especially since Winter is waning…. I think every genealogist has his or her own organization system, and not every system works for every individual researcher. 
Like many unorganized people, I love to read about systems to get organized and see how other people manage the never ending flow of "stuff" genealogists obtain.
'Organizing Your Family History Search," by the genealogist genius- Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, is a great resource for getting organized! But then those ideas don't work for everyone!
Family Tree Magazine (another great genie resource, but clutter addition when you hoard them) has a whole bunch of free forms you can download....
Check them out! Use them!  I, of course, haven't yet... but I'm still afraid the addition of more "organization" forms will add to the clutter of my study that is encroaching on the living room...
How do you organize your genealogy archive? I collect tips, like paper... so share with me!
Re-examination of brick walls:
Like all genealogists, I have my share of brick walls. However it’s been a really really long time since I sat down and looked at these dead ends with fresh eyes and have created a timeline with what I know and what I’ve tried, et al. Of course.... to tackle brick walls effectively, one must get organized! (ugh... that cursed 'O' word again)
I can just feel that with a little effort, I could have a number of brick walls come crashing down in 2013.
Connections with ‘cousins’ (& other relatives)
I’m fortunate to come from a large family! And it is still full of Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and all the rest of the nuts found on a large family tree. And I have reminded myself that it is important to spend time with and cultivate relationships with living breathing members of my family tree!
Not only are these familial relationships socially healthy they are also a benefit to genealogy research, especially when any of the ‘relatives’ share an interest! So call up Aunt Agnes or Cousin Flo and have a cup of coffee and a chat... It's important to enjoy family while they are still around besides.... Who knows what you might find out!
Other ‘genie’ Fun-
Besides stepping up my genealogy game, getting organized, and seeing some living family members in person, I’d also like to partake in some other “fun” related to genealogy. The continuing education aspect of genealogy is exciting for me! I’d love to take in some workshops and maybe get pointers for some of the ambitions I’ve laid out above! I’m going to have to do some further research to find out about said ‘workshops’ both ones I can visit in person and webinars that I can partake in. Perhaps a kind reader has some suggestions. Other ‘fun’ things that could interest me include- plan a family reunion (long overdue, and not really so much fun), creating small abridged genealogies to share with family, genealogy related projects (like this blog) and travel (cemeteries, archives, museums, libraries, family members), among many others. 
So here are my 5 point resolution plans for 2013… and we are already 2 months into the year… and while I haven’t made leaps and bounds in any of them…. I am well on my way!
What are your 2013 goals? Do you have an action plan to obtain any of them? And what do you think of mine? I’d love any feedback and suggestions & research aids in getting me there quicker!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Helen Gristy O'Bryan... only a Name

Helen Gristy was born January 21, 1814 in Nelson County, Kentucky, the daughter of James Gristy and Ann “Nancy” Miller. She was 4th child born to them and spent her early years in Nelson County, where her parents were early Catholic Kentucky settlers from Maryland, both being of early American lineage.

At some point, around 1830-1840, the Gristy family relocated to Scotland County, Missouri, where many other Kentucky families, and relatives of the Gristy family had moved.

On September 20, 1841 Helen was married to Thomas O’Bryan, the son of William & Elizabeth (Kincheloe) O’Bryan.

Marriage record for Thomas O'Bryan & Helen Gristy
Helen & Thomas remained in Scotland County their entire married lives and had 7 children: Josephine, James, John, George, Sarah, Henry, and Helen Alice (my Great-Great Grandmother)
Helen O’Bryan died about 1866. She was buried in the Mudd Settlement Catholic Cemetery (later Sacred Heart), many years ago, a cemetery transcription was completed and it is note that her stone was broken, and today only a remanent remains.
Unfortunately, little is known about Helen and her life – few records survive today and there is no known photograph to exist.

It has been difficult to creat a story of Helen's life... she was born 199 years ago... and lived in early American settlements, the areas of which are still very rural today. I've tried hard over the last 20 year for Helen to be more than 'just a name'.... a difficult effort.

Thomas O’Bryan went on to remarry and later moved to Kentucky, info regarding his death is still unknown.