Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Genealogy Notes 8-11 Jun 2014 Serendipity and Brick Wall Crumbles

This Diary post is a little early as I am off to Canberra tomorrow for a meeting at the National Archives of Australia and some catch up chats with some National Family History Month friends as the August launch of NFHM will be in Canberra this year. So I have been trying to catch up with a few things before I leave.

Week 18 of my 52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 is all about almanacs as a source for tracing people. The last few weeks I have been using examples from my Gunderson family, my father's family who were Norwegian. While searching in Pugh's Almanacs (online and free at Text Queensland along with a whole lot of other Queensland resources) I found a brief reference to the death of my original Norwegian immigrant Anders (Andrew) Gundersen (Gunderson). He was accidentally killed in a dray accident and it was interesting to find him listed in the calendar of events for the year. Read more about my almanacs post here.

Whenever I think about Anders, I also think about his father who emigrated to America in 1850 with his wife and family. My Anders was an illegitimate son who stayed in Norway with his mother before emigrating to Queensland in 1873 with his own wife and two young sons. Anders' father was Gunnar Jorensen and anyone with Scandinavian ancestry will know it can be a nightmare trying to trace them with the various spelling variations, patronymics, anglicisation of given names and surnames and so on.

I first started researching the family in 1977 and back then I was lucky enough to have a genealogy pen friend in Norway who found the Jorensen family in a 'bygdebok', essentially a genealogy of families from a particular area. It took my family back to 1688 in a single leap. Since then Norwegian records have been digitised and are online free so I have been able to look at the original parish records too.

My next piece of serendipity occurred in the 80s when I decided to try and trace them in America. I picked a professional researcher and sent him the details. As luck would have it, his ancestors went to America on the same ship as mine so he answered my query almost instantly. Remember this was all mostly before the advent of computers and big databases.

My next break came when I decided to put an enquiry on a Norwegian genealogy forum and someone saw it and knew someone who was researching the same family. Again I was given a lot of information in a short space of time but the person was researching Gunnar's wife's family, not his side. So I still did not know what had happened to him.

As US census came online I gradually found references to the family over the decades with the spelling of the names varying quite widely each census. Fortunately they didn't move around much. But I still had not found Gunnar's death and I have not looked in years. So having just written about his illegitmate son again, I woke up this morning determined to find him. I use to search the US census so I rechecked that and again proved he probably died sometime in the 1870s.

I was using all kinds of spelling variations and was a bit amazed when a couple of public trees showed my Gunnar Jorensen as Gunder Jorgenson. Wife's name and children's names all matched up so I knew I was looking at the right family. Even more amazing they had an image of my GGG grandfather - it is not a good image but given that I don't have one of his son Anders I am so happy to have seen even a poor image. It is from a book so perhaps I can get an even better photo. As well as that the person had put up an image of Gunnar's headstone in the cemetery where he is buried.

One of Gunnar's sons fought on the Union side during the American Civil War and died aged 26 years. I look forward to doing some more research on this as the War has always interested me. It is also probably why my Irish ancestors came to Queensland in the early 1860s instead of going to the US.

I haven't emailed the people with the public tree yet as after all I am descended from the illegitimate son and they may not even know about him. But when I get back from Canberra and am less excited, I will certainly be contacting them to see if there are any more photos and information and do they want to know about their Queensland cousins!

This would have to be the most exciting thing that has happened in my own family history in quite a while. I know that there can be a lot of criticism of public trees as sometimes people don't check their information or simply copy from others but without there is no way that I would have made this connection and done it so easily this morning. We just need to remember that these big databases are tools that help us to do our research, they don't replace the need to still research in original documents.

Well none of my other news can top that and I have to finish packing for Canberra and my early start in the morning. This just proves that if you wait long enough that brick wall might just crumble, mine only took 37 years on and off! Happy researching.

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