When Family Gets in the Way of Family History

Family gets in the way, even for a family history researcher.

Recent family events have taken the heart out of my family history blogging efforts, and I’m slowly struggling to put the emotional aspects of living family aside and get concentrated back on blogging about my dead family.

Family interferes by protecting or preventing access to family history in many ways. We dig and dig, but road blocks from the living prevents us from learning more about the other living and recently deceased for reasons often not provided.

Uncooperative family is also a road block. While they want to help, they just don’t see the value nor interest in what you are doing, dragging you down with them. Honestly, why bother?

Family gets in the way by providing too much information sometimes, though I’ve found this is rare among many researchers. Their enthusiasm distracts as well as overwhelms, consuming more time and information processing than you may have originally anticipated.

For the most part, some family members are very cooperative and supportive. Others are completely disinterested.

How do you handle it when the struggle to document your family’s history is more work that its worth?


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Library of Congress Railroad Maps Collection

The Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, has put together the Railroad Maps Collection, an amazing collection of more than 600 maps of railroads across the United States.

Compiled by Andrew M. Modelski in 1975, these maps go back through history to showcase the growth of rail travel and settlement across the country, as well as the development of industry and agriculture.

My family on all sides were influenced by the rail lines, traveling by rail for work, travel, migration, and business. On my maternal side, my grandparents’ families united in Taylor Rapids, Wisconsin, the end of a rail line that served the logging industry, hauling fresh cut logs out to the rest of Wisconsin and the world for use in buildings and paper products. One of my family members in the DesRochers family just retired from the railroad system in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, carrying on the family railroad tradition of ties to the rails.

Here are some other historical map collections worth investigating in the United States.


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Flickr and Library of Congress Open Archives

Kevin’s Meandering Mind reported om 2008 that the US Library of Congress has joined with Flickr to put thousands of photos from its archives up on Flickr for viewing and use by us, the people. And oh, how lucky we the people are!

I may jest, but it’s been a few years since Flickr started hosting the images and I wanted to take a look at how many had been added since then. The quantity and quality is impressive.

The Flickr stream is identified as Library of Congress and feature images of people throughout history, going back through wars, lifestyles, all of American and world history.

I look through the faces of “unidentified soldiers” and wonder if one or more of these is related directly to me, their images preserved forever but their identity not.

[Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with bayoneted musket, knife, revolver, canteen, and knapsack]  (LOC)[Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with three unidentified women in bonnets and one unidentified man]  (LOC)

Were any of my female (or male) family members in the protests for women’s right and suffrage?

[Hedwig Reicher as Columbia] in Suffrage Pageant  (LOC)

My family history is full of soldiers, loggers, nation-builders, and nation-destroyers. We’ve got them all in my family tree, so I wonder if a family member was a part of this war-time destruction of a bridge in a stereoscope image.

Destruction of a railroad bridge (LOC)

I know that many family members joined up in Michigan to fight in World War I, so maybe they passed through Camp Custer in Michigan, captured with this unusual panoramic portrait with the camera elevated 500 feet into the air. I’d like to see the picture of the camera setup!

Camp Custer, Michigan, photographed from kites, camera elevated 500 feet (LOC)

Who knows what you may find as you dig through the sets on Flickr. It’s a wonderful visual tour through history, especially our own history.

I look forward to more images being added to the set as I know the Library of Congress must have millions of photographs to share with the world.


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Howard W. West Sr. Timeline

Howard William West Sr as a cadet circa 1925 - Bremerton, Washington - from family. From Howard W. West Sr. Photo Album.I’ve had some challenges researching long lost relatives, but the mysteries and myths in and around my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr., continue to amaze as I dig through his history. The following is what I have at the time this was published. I will edit it and update it as I uncover more information.

Biography about Howard William West (senior) from interview by Lorelle VanFossen with father, Howard William West (Jr.), March 12, 2006, Mobile, Alabama. The biography includes notes from the Farlin-West Family Bible, the David West Descendants family tree, and family stories gathered over time.

  • Louella Pinder Parret and son Howard W. West Sr. From photo album of Howard W. West Sr.Howard William West (senior) was born circa September 29, 1905 in Michigan or Canada. Died June 1968, Bridgeport, Washington. Mother, Louella Pinder (?-c1930). Father, Walter E. West (1881-1965).
  • Howard traveled with mother and/or father to Portland, Oregon, area. Walter worked in the camps. Possibly faked marriage to Pinder, so is considered illegitimate by family history stories.
  • Howard W. West as a child in Portland, Oregon, circa 1907 - from Howard W. West Photo Album.Circa 1909, he was abandoned by mother (Louella Brunner Pinder) and taken with half-sister, Carmen (of Pinder and Clyde Moorhouse), to Catholic Convent Orphanage in Portland, Oregon. Records from Rescued by father circa 1919, at age 14. Howard could not read or write.
  • Circa 1919, Howard ran away from home in California and lied about his age and joined the Marines (according to family stories). Traveled the world including crossing the Panama Canal and traveling to Japan, Philippines, and other nearby areas. He was on the USS Arizona 1924-1925. He learned to read and write from his shipmates. He joined the Merchant Marines or Merchant Service which eventually became the Coast Guard in 1939.

    From Howard W. West Sr.Photo Album. Belived to be USS Arizona c1924.

  • Married Faye Vaughn March 31, 1925, in California.
  • Daughter, Reta June West, born July 4, 1928, in southern California (Long Beach?).
  • Howard W. West Sr in Coast Guard Uniform outside Friday Harbor Lighthouse, Washington State.Coast Guard duty (Light House Service) moved him to the Pacific Northwest Coast where he manned light houses in Friday Harbor, Washington.
  • Son, Howard William West, born April 20, 1937, Everett, Washington.
  • The West family lived at Sholtes, Washington. He was on a light ship, the Swift Shore Light Ship, with six weeks on the ship and three weeks off home. He lived next door to Madge (Smathers) McClure, his step-sister.
  • Circa 1939, the West family moved to Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island, to supervise the lighthouse.
  • In 1945, the moved family to The Dalles, Oregon, where Howard tended the river lights (aids to navigation), in the Coast Guard Ship, the Lollipop (possibly nickname). This is the only evidence we have from a story by my father that the family lived in The Dalles, but it makes sense as Reta June married and raised her children there. Currently seeking military reports to support this information.
  • Circa 1947/48 transferred to Seattle to the ship, Watusis (Watchusus?), Destroyer Escort Class. Left family behind in The Dalles, Oregon.
  • Wife, Faye Vaughn, died 1949 of heart attack, possibility of also compilations from obesity and diabetes. She was sick for at least one year before her death, and spent a lot of time in the Marine Hospital in Seattle, where she died. Death certificate credits death as Bilateral Massive Pulmonary Embolism, a complication of obesity and heart disease. Son believes they forced her to lose weight too fast, which put tremendous pressure on her heart, strained by polio as a child and too many years extremely obese. Body was buried in The Dalles, Oregon.
  • Howard Sr. returned to duty in Seattle immediately, leaving son, Howard, with sister, June, and her new husband and baby, Rochelle.
  • Met and married Ana Mae Larmar of Ritzville, Washington, in October 1949.
  • In 1952, after three years of marriage to his new wife, returned for Howard Jr. and brought him to Seattle, Washington, where they lived on Valley Street, on Queen Anne Hill.
  • In 1952, the family moved to Illwaco, Washington, to man the Northhead Lighthouse. Howard Sr. suffered several heart attacks, and the family moved back to Seattle, setting up home at the base of Queen Anne Hill, at one block off Mercer on First Avenue West (second house in from Mercer – a Safeway Grocery Store sits there now). Howard Sr. worked for Boeing for a short time and then applied for the Core of Engineers, and moved to Camp Hayden in Port Angeles, Washington, and then was moved to Hudson Point, Port Townsend, Washington, then moved to Whidbey Island, Washington, on various jobs. Ana Mae and Howard Jr stayed in Seattle so the teenager could complete his high school education.
  • March 23, 1962, Howard Sr. and Anna Mae moved to Chief Joseph Dam, Bridgeport, Washington, where he worked as a guard. The date is remembered because his grandson through Howard Jr. was born on that date and they didn’t stop in to welcome the new member to the family as they passed through on their way to Eastern Washington. Howard Jr. had gotten special permission from the military hospital to permit his father to visit the newborn, and he was a no show.
  • Most summers until Howard Sr’s death, Howard Jr and his family would travel to Bridgeport to visit Howard Sr. and Anna Mae in their mobile home in the desert, surrounded by cherry, plum and other fruit trees.

Continue reading


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I Haven’t Been Counted

I haven’t been counted. In my genealogy research, census reports have uncovered many mysteries in the recent past of my family, yet I have not been in the past two or three censuses. ARGH. How did that happen?

The last one in 2010, I was in North Plains, Oregon, just west of Portland, living with my husband in our own home. We waited patiently for a census taker. I assumed one would come knocking or a letter would arrive in the mail. Something to allow us to be counted and found in decades to come by family history researchers finding me of some significance in their family tree.

No one showed up and nothing arrived in the mail, and I forgot about it, until last year when the numbers started coming out! Without me!

In 2000, we were living in Israel and no one contacted us about being counted in the states as we weren’t living there.

In 1990, where was I? I was living in Seattle alone. No census taker came by my place that I know.

In 1980, hmmm. Good question. I was in Spain or Everett, Washington. Depends upon when the census takers would have been out working. I was a vagabond, living out of a backpack, going here and there as whim, jobs, and life took me.

In 1970, am I listed? I was living with my family, a kid running wild in the woods. We were in Lake Stevens, Washington, out on our quasi farm/ranch in the once backwoods of Snohomish County.

What about as a baby. Was I in time for the census then? Am I listed?

Okay, 2020. You are a few years away, but I’m ready for you. I’m going to be on that census report hell or high water. I spend too much time pouring through census reports looking for lost relatives to not be among the counted when it comes to generations in the future digging through current census reports and finding me.

ME! That’s right! I want to be counted. Don’t you?


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The Genealogical Paradox

The Genealogical Paradox

In a BBC article, “Family trees: Tracing the world’s ancestor,” it talks about the process of building your family tree, and the problems associated with it.

The surprise comes if we look at inheritance from both parents. Here, the numbers change drastically as the generations go by. For instance, we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on.

Each generation back, we multiply the number by two. This leads to what is called an exponential increase: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 and so on.

It’s not long before we hit huge numbers. Take the specific case of Jesus and King David.

The number of generations between them is at least 35. Luke lists 42 generations down the male line, and Matthew gives an incomplete list of 27.

These numbers agree reasonably well with an average time between generations of 25 or 30 years – an estimate taken from documented historical records from Iceland and Canada.

So back in the time of David, Jesus would have had at least 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 (35 times); in other words 2^35 – or more than 34 billion potential ancestors. That’s far more than the total population of the world, of course.

This is a good illustration of what’s been called the “genealogical paradox”.

This had never occurred to me.

The path towards uncovering my ancestors had to specifically be narrowed down. On this site, I’m focused on my immediate and direct ancestors, following the West, Knapp, Anderson, and Vaughn lines, though branching out a little as interest and time allows, but I’m keeping my path narrow.

Now I understand why. If Jesus would have had 34 billion ancestors, how many would I have today, 2,000 years and many generations later?

Another fascinating point in the article is the concept of six degrees of separation, though in their example, it’s 20 generations degree of separation.

Even so, by that time, you will have collected a large number of people in your ancestry. So it’s not surprising that any two people in any one country probably won’t need to go back many generations before finding a common ancestor.

…If people in this population meet and breed at random, it turns out that you only need to go back an average of 20 generations before you find an individual who is a common ancestor of everyone in the population.

…In fact about 80% of the people at that time in the past will be the ancestors of everyone in the present. The remaining 20% are those who have had no children, or whose children have had no children, and so on – in other words, people who were genetic dead-ends.

That’s why everyone alive in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus would have been able to claim David for an ancestor.

Another reason why just about anyone alive today could claim King David (and Jesus if you believe he had children) as an ancestor. :D

So the odds are high that 20 generations back, I might have a common ancestor with Barak Obama, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Prince Charles, even the Queen! And with you!

My family trees go back at most 11 generations, maybe 12 or 13 counting today’s generation. Hmm, I’ll have to get busy and go further to find those connections.

The article also states that in about 3,000 years, someone alive today will be the common ancestor of all humanity, and a few thousand years after that, 80% of the breeders today will be ancestors to all humanity…a frightening and exciting thought.


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Where Do You Draw the Family History Research Line?

In The Worst Question in Genealogy, genealogist Kerry Scott of Clue Wagon admits that the worse question ever asked is “What do you do?” For a family historian, the next question is “How far back have you gone?”

I love her response as I find it similar to my own, though I know I need to change my mindset.

Am I the only one who hates that question? Because here’s the answer: After nearly 20 years, I’m back to around 1800 or so.

Of course, they’re disappointed, because they wanted to hear that you were back to the Mayflower or Thor or Adam and Eve or something. Nope. Not me. 1800-ish.

Confession: I’m not even all that interested in getting all the way back to Thor. I like American history. I’m interested in research here in the United States, and as soon as they’re back in Europe, I’m…well, not entirely disinterested, but much more likely to wander off in search of ice cream. My original attraction to genealogy was about understanding The Big Move–why they came, what they experienced when they got here, and what happened as a result of their decision to come. I’ve been moving my whole life, so big moves are a big deal for me.

For her family history research, she is interested in recent American history as well as the current history of her family. She admits to gathering and preserving all the information she can on siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and all of the family members for multiple generations around her now, not just way back when.

For me, it’s a fine line between preserving everything I can now of now, combined with as far back as I can go, preserving the preservable before we lose it all.

My ancestor, Nicholas Knapp, has been researched thoroughly by historians yet they cannot seem to cross the Atlantic Ocean to properly uncover his true roots. There is much conjecture I’ve learned, but no proof other than genetics, of where he came from. For me, that is a stopping line until I have “proof,” whatever that is, of his past. Like so many, he arrived in the United States and was re-born anew, a truly fresh start. Hard for me to push past that.

Other family lines I can trace back to their European roots, but I’ve get to get enough information to quantify a trip over there with genealogy in mind. I need to do more, but I’m so busy collecting the information from the past four hundreds years and solving the mysteries of proximate relations, international feels like too much work.

An acquaintance, the family historian for their family, bragged that he had over 1300 entries in his genealogy program. I congratulated him but thought to myself, “How much does he really know about all 1300 people?”

Numbers can be impressive, but a part of me wants more. I want quality. I constantly want to know more about these people and rejoice when the research gives me just one more piece of the puzzle of who they were, why they did what they did, how they came to be who they were and what they did as well as where they lived.

For me, I want to stop my relatives in their tracks and ask them the worse question: “What did you do?”

Are you that way, too? Where do you draw the line in your research?


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DNA Could Prove to Be the Best Storage Option for Our Family History

DNA is being investigated for long-term data storage. Did you catch the news?

From the links listed below, I learned recently that scientists are investigating, and succeeding, in storing information on a string of synthetic DNA. They have succeeded in not just storing but retrieving the information without loss of data.

How does that impact family historians and genealogists?

So far, images, text, HTML (the code for web architecture and documents), words, and other information have been successfully stored on artificially created DNA. Since DNA is our base-code, if you will, the stuff we are all made of, therefore scientists and researchers will probably never lose interest in it, so says Drew Endy of Stanford University. “Human beings are never going to stop caring about DNA.” It is compact, light-eight, and could possibly remain intact if stored in a dark and cool environment for thousands of years, defying paper and current forms of data storage on computers.

Genealogy and history has been plagued by two key things, the lack of consistent preservation of our history and the lack of determination to share our stories so they can be preserved. Stories get passed on only so far and then, if not recorded, they are lost to time. The current generations have the greatest potential for culture and historical preservation of any that came before us, and we need to make the most of it.

Storage of historical documents, photographs, audio and video recordings, what history we’ve managed to preserve is critical going forward, as is recording our lives today. Instead of shifting with the latest and best storage technology, beta max, CD, DVD, 8mm, and other storage media of our recent archaic collections, DNA could prove to be a long term storage option with little obsolescence.

Imagine several hundred or thousand years from now, your life story and the history of your family to this point could be uncovered and studied by a descendant eager to learn about who you were and how you lived, and how you and your family came to this point in time. I’m not sure they could do much with our old cassette recorded interviews or images and papers stored on DVDs and CDs scratched at the least, crumbled to dust at the most, but DNA…that will last.

Right now, estimates are that the process will cost over USD $12,000 per megabyte to encode and $220 to decode, but if this works, the costs will definitely decrease, making it affordable as well as easy to do.

To me, this is very exciting news.

I also do not miss the irony. DNA research continues to lead us back through history, finding all those related to us from our gene pool living today, as well as to our past family history, tracing our family’s DNA around the world through history and cultures. The fact that it could be the answer to preserving our family history in the future…yeah, it’s somehow appropriate. Full circle.

For more information on this:


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Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Reading Room

The US Library of Congress has a Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building featuring more than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories among its many collections. According to their post discussing this, “Growing a Family Tree,” the strength in their collections lies in early US history, North American history, and British Isles and German sources.

These international strengths are further supported and enriched by the Library’s royalty, nobility and heraldry collection, making it one of only a few libraries in America that offer such resources. In addition, the vertical files in the reading room contain miscellaneous materials relating to specific family names; to the states, towns, and cities of the U.S.; and to genealogical research in general.

Next trip to Washington, DC, must include this!

Until then, consider their Local History and Genealogy Reading Room (Humanities and Social Sciences Division, Library of Congress) online site as it features a list of The Collections, American Memory collection of digitized materials on US History, and other online and Internet resources.


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WordPress Plugin for Citations, Footnotes and Bibliographies

In researching techniques for adding footnotes to posts in WordPress for “Creating Footnotes in WordPress,” I looked into several WordPress Plugins for footnotes. One caught my attention.

AcademicPress WordPress Plugin is ideal for a serious genealogy and family history site as it is designed for academic publishing.

This WordPress Plugin supports APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, and other citation styles for proper citation and formatting of reference material. It features a dynamic and customizable footnote feature making it easy to generate footnotes at the bottom of each published post.

WordPress Shortcodes are used for easy usage of citations, footnotes, bibliographies, and other formats.

A great feature is the ability to work with various data sets, allowing import and export of data to and from collections to other formats.

Written by Benjamin Sommer[1] , you can learn more about how it works on the AcademicPress site[2] .

I’ve just started experimenting with this powerful free WordPress Plugin on my genealogy site, as you can see from the footnotes in this article. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Table of Footnotes

  1. Benjamin Sommer ^
  2. AcademicPress site ^

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