Author Archives: Gail Grunst Genealogy

About Gail Grunst Genealogy

Gail has been researching her own family since 1979. Her research has taken her back to 1800 Belgium and 1800 England. Gail has worked in a library for the last 20 years and has answered genealogy questions for patrons and helped patrons with their research. In addition to her degree in Library Media Technology, Gail has a two degree in Basic American Genealogy Research from the National Genealogy Society. She has done volunteer work for various Genealogy Societies. Gail teaches several Classes in Genealogy for the Round Lake Area Library, and would be happy to conduct a class for your organization. If interested in a class or if you would like a one-on-one consultation, please contact Gail. Please enjoy Gail's family History Blog

Genealogy Can Be Tricky


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Doing genealogy can be tricky.  It can be tricky picking your ancestor out of a list of people with the same name in an index or database.  It helps to know something about your ancestor such as his date of birth, where he lived, died, his wife’s name,  and children’s names.  You don’t have to know everything, but you need one or two pieces of information to pick him out of list of others with the same name.  I like to watch “Who do you think you are” and other genealogy TV shows, but I think they make it look way to easy.  For example, a guest will type their ancestor’s name in and up pops their ancestor.  Sometimes the name is totally different, but the researcher tells them this is their ancestor.  They never explain how they arrived this conclusion.  I know they don’t show all the research because of time and it would probably bore most people if they went into details.  But I think they should say we put in X amount hours searching for this persons ancestors, it is not as easy as it looks.  Of course this ancestor can now be trace back to some king or an ancestor who did something great.  Since they do not tell you how they arrived at their conclusions, I sometimes wonder if they have done the research, or are they just making it up for good TV.  I’ve been doing this since 1979 before computers and the Internet. It has never been that easy.

When the Internet first came to the library, people would come in and ask us to find grandpa because they heard their family tree was on the Internet, or they wanted a book that listed all of Daniel Boone descendents because their last name is Boone and they were told they were related.  They were disappointed when there was  no book that listed Daniel Boone’s descendents down to them.  I would explain that they needed to start with themselves and work backwards.  They didn’t want to do that because they didn’t want to do the hard work.  They just wanted to find it on the Internet or in a book.

I spent years trying to find my great-grandfather, because he used the name George when his name was Isidor.  I’ve had many a brick walls like that.  You can’t jump to conclusions.  When I have done the research, and I have a lot of circumstantial evidence, I am still hesitant to claim the ancestor without the documentation.  But it seems to me that they do this a lot on the genealogy TV shows.

If you post your family tree on they will give you a hint by the way of a leaf.  But these hints can cause trouble too.  People think that because the hint has their ancestor’s name it must be their ancestor.  One lady attached my grandfather to her family tree by way of a hint.  For awhile, I thought he was a bigamist because she had him married to someone who was not my grandmother at the same time he was married to my grandmother.  I did  my own research on the other lady he was supposed to married to and found that she was married to a man who had the same name as my grandfather, and was born in September 1896 same as my grandfather, and lived in Chicago the same as my grandfather.  My grandfather appears on the 1930 census married to my grandmother, and the man with the same name also appears on the 1930 census married to this other lady.  If this person had done her research she would have realized she had the wrong person.  Like I said Genealogy can be tricky.  You have to be careful and do your research.  It methodical and takes time, not like what you see on TV.


They Came from Faraway Places

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Old German Homestead

All my ancestors came to United States in the 1800’s from faraway places.  They came from Germany, France, Belgium, Scotland, England, and Canada.  The first ones to come to the United States came in 1834 from Scotland, but didn’t stay in the US.  They went to Canada and most stayed there except for my Great-Great Grandmother (born in Canada), came to US in 1865.  Her husband came to the US in 1851 from England.  Both the ancestors from Scotland and England came on sailing ships which meant the average trip took 43 days.  There was usually a lack of food, sea sickness, lack of privacy, and the spreading of illnesses.  Once here they had to travel to their final destinations.

In the case of the Scottish Ancestors, they made their way to Nassagaweya, Halton, Ontario.  They arrived in New York on August 12, 1834 so I assume they were traveling to Canada in good weather.  I also assume they traveled by wagon and possibly a boat to cross one of the great lakes.  They had to travel through wilderness to get to Nassagaweya.  In fact, Nassagaweya was the wilderness back in 1834.

The English Ancestors that came here in 1851 came on a sailing ship too.  Steamships were just starting to be used in the 1850’s.  Their ocean voyage experience was probably much the same as the Scottish ancestors. Again, once here they had to travel to their final destinations.  Some settle in Syracuse, New York, but my direct ancestor settled in Ottawa, Illinois.  I don’t know what brought him to Ottawa other than he had a step-brother who owned a farm near Ottawa.  By 1850 there were trains so he might have taken a train at least some of the way to Ottawa, Illinois, and then maybe by wagon, carriage, or boat.  In the 1850’s he would be traveling though wilderness too.  In fact there were Indian wars going on around that time too.

The ancestors from Belgium, France and Germany came in the 1870’s and 1880’s by steam ships so their journeys were shorter 10 to 14 days.  Still it was quite an adventure even then.

Not only do you have to think about the ocean voyage and their trip though the United States or Canada, but in their home country they had to travel to get to the port of departure.  Most did not live near port city.

I admire what they did not only the travel, but the courage to leave their home country.  What was the chance they would ever go back to see their families?  Probably never!  Today, France, Belgium, Germany, Scotland, and England don’t seem so faraway because of air travel.  I think we should honor those ancestors who were brave enough to leave their homeland, families, friends, and their way of life behind for a new life in a strange land.

Daily Prompt: Faraway

On the street where they lived


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One of the things I like to do, if I can, is visit where my ancestor’s lived.  I like to see the houses they lived in, walk the streets where they walked, and see where they went to school.  If I can’t visit in person, I will look their addresses up on google earth.  But it is best to go there.  One time we were in Lincoln’s home in Springfield Illinois and my husband said, “Imagine we are walking where Lincoln walked.”  Yes, that is true and it’s nice, but I’m more thrilled when I can walk where my ancestors walked.  One time I visited the church where my grandmother was baptized.  Attached to the church was the school she attended.  I never knew my paternal grandmother.  She died six months before I was born.  Some one greeted us at the school door and walked us through the gym and down the hallways to the church office.  All I could think of was this is where my grandmother walked, the grandmother I never knew.  If I had been alone, I probably would have cried a little and let the tears come to my eyes.  In the church office I went through church records to find her baptism and confirmation.  This was the only record of her birth.  She born at home in 1900 in Illinois and no civil birth record was recorded.

I’ve also made several trips to Ottawa, Illinois where my maternal grandmother was born.  I knew this grandmother very well.  She talked a lot about her maternal family and all the information she gave me was spot on.  When I checked out the dates and places, she was right.  She was not sure about her father’s family because her father left her mother, my grandmother, and her siblings when they were small.  But I have been able to find information on her father’s family.  Both her parent’s families lived in Ottawa, Illinois.  I was able to locate both great-great grandparents homes.  I have walked the streets where they lived.  When I was a child, we would visit friends in Ottawa who had a girl the same age as me.  We would go to the corner and play on the school playground.  In my research, I found that a sister of my great-grandfather was principal of that school.  So as a child I played on the playground of the school where my ancestor was principal and didn’t know it at the time.  I had  vague idea that my grandmother’s family was from Ottawa, but of course at the time it didn’t mean anything to me.  Sometimes we would visit with old people, and I had no idea who they were or how we were related.

I’ve been to Amana, Iowa to see where another set of great-grandparents lived when they first came to the United States.  In the museum there, I was able to see a book where they signed their names when they came to Amana.  I also viewed quilts and other items that looked like ones my grandmother had in her home and that  I have now.  We ate in a restaurant and the German food tasted just like what Grandma made.  At that point my grandmother was gone, and I had not tasted her food in years.  But the minute I bit into it, the memories came flooding back.

A couple of years ago, I visited Clark County, Wisconsin where another great-grandfather owned a farm and was unfortunately killed on his farm.  I went to court-house in Clark County and looked at the deeds to get the legal description of the property.  The lady in the court house offered to show me where it was on a map today.  My husband and I then drove out to find it.  I did not know the whole story at the time on how he was killed.  Knowing now that it was on his farm by a neighbor, it would have meant more to me seeing his land.  His house is gone, and a newer one is on the farm, I image that the barns are newer too.  But just the fact that this is where he lived and died, gives me chills. See post from June 13, 2015  John Desens Killed

My husband may like seeing where famous people lived, but give me the towns, streets, houses, schools, and churches where my ancestors lived, that’s what I get a thrill out of seeing.  It’s not just the site of it, it’s the feeling that I get when I am there.  I may have known some of the people or may not have known them at all, but I feel close to them when I walk on the street where they lived.

Daily Prompt: Street

Cursive Handwriting Obsolete


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Is cursive handwriting becoming obsolete?  Recently, I heard for the first time, they are no longer teaching cursive handwriting in schools.  I asked my grandchildren if they learned cursive in school.  My two granddaughters 16 and 18 were taught cursive in school.  My 13-year-old grandson said, “What’s cursive?”  We explain cursive handwriting to him, and he confirmed that he has not learned it.  Some where in the three years between my 16-year-old granddaughter and my 13-year-old grandson they quit teaching it.  I haven’t heard why, but I can think of a couple of reasons.  They may think it is unnecessary because people now days use computers, tablets, and phones to communicate and are typing on a keyboard or keypad and there is always printing.  So do we really need cursive?   I happen to be old fashion and think they should still teach cursive.  Your signature is unique, and I would think less likely to be copied than a printed signature.

Then the genealogist in me thinks about all the old documents that are handwritten.  Who will read these documents when there is no one left who knows how to read cursive handwriting?  I suppose there will always be specialist around that will be able to do it.  If you find an old letter written in cursive, you could take it to a specialist and have it deciphered for you.  Just like I do now when I find letters written in German, or when I find documents written in old German script, I need to find someone to translate them for me. I think of all the genealogy documents around that will be lost to future generations if they cannot read cursive.   I know genealogy is changing too, and now with all the indexes on-line, it is easier to find someone, than scanning though microfilm reels.  So some things may be typewritten for them, but if you want to look at the original, you will want to be able to read it.  Sometimes when I can’t find an ancestor in an index, and I know he should be there, I get the microfilm and search it.  I have found ancestors this way that I would have missed,  if I believed the index.  In order to do this, I need to know how to read cursive handwriting. I  have kept journals for many years now that are written in cursive.  I guess my grandson and great-grandchildren won’t be able to read them. Maybe they won’t want to, but that’s another story for another day.

I’m a believer that they should teach cursive, but they are not going to listen to me so  I guess only time will tell.  In the meantime, if you agree with me, maybe we should start teaching our children and grandchildren to write in cursive so they will be able to read historical documents for themselves.

Daily Prompt: Handwriting

Refresh Your Research


Sometimes we need to refresh our research.  Meaning we need to look at it with fresh eyes.  I’ve noticed that when I am working hard trying find an elusive ancestor, I need to take a break.  I put it away for a while and work on another person or another line.  When I go back to the previous line that was giving me so much trouble, I look at with fresh eyes and sometimes (not all the time), I will notice something that I haven’t seen before or a new idea on where to search will come to me.  Also, I will go back to Ancestry or Familysearch because maybe by that time they have added some records that will help me.  Sometimes, if I have not already done it, I will write a short biography of the ancestor and putting it in story form helps me to see the gaps in my research.  So I am seeing with a fresh perspective.  If my family will tolerate me talking about my research, a new idea will pop into my head while talking about my research.  Most of the time though I try not to talk about it because I find people not interested in genealogy, get bored with it quickly.  I see their eyes wondering looking away at other things all the while they are saying ah ha, ah ha, ah ha.  Well, I didn’t mean to get off on that topic.  That’s for another post some other time.   I’m going to take my own advice and put aside a brick wall I’ve been trying to bust down for sometime now and move on to another brick wall.  Oh, I’ve got many!  So refresh it is!

Daily Prompt: Refresh


Giving a voice to the dead


I want to tell my ancestor’s stories, but there are times when I think I don’t have enough information to write about their lives.  I may know when and where they were born, married, and died.  When I started that was enough for me, but now that I have that information, I want to know what happened in between.  What was it like to walk in their shoes, what did they do for enjoyment, what problems did the encounter.  Their lives must have been like ours with the ups and downs of everyday life.  Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find out where they worked, went to school, see the house they lived in, who their friends were, and other things that happened to them during their life.  Other times I can find very little on them.  Right now I’m working on one ancestor who at 14 years old is not living with her mother and father, but with a married sister.  When I see this, I wonder why is she living with a sister?  So the investigation starts, and I find out her father is living nearby, but is not married to her mother but to someone else.  Then I have to wonder what happened to her mother.  In further investigation, I find out her mother died when she was around five years old.  It makes me wondering what it was like for her to lose her mother at such a young age.  How did losing her mother affect the rest of her life?  I have heard stories about this ancestor that lead me to believe she was a hard-hearted woman.  So did losing her mother so young make her this way?  I also found that her father remarried two years before I find her living with her sister.  Did her father’s new wife and her not get along?  Is that why she is living with a sister?  So now a story about her life is starting to form in my head.  Will I ever know for sure that this is what happened in her life?  Probably not.  When I write her story, I will say, “She most likely lived with her sister because there was a problem between her and her step-mother.”  I will not present it as a fact. I will be giving her a voice that maybe she didn’t have back then.  Maybe she never told her children or grandchildren her story.  If she did, they certainly didn’t pass it along.  I don’t even think they knew the names of her parents.  Maybe she didn’t want her story told.  I often wonder about that and what they would think of us now writing and publishing their stories.  I hope they don’t mind!  The Daily Post: Voice