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Octavace George Robinson is my great grandfather. I've been searching for him in earnest for about two years. Today, I know that he died on December 3, 1890, was born in Michigan of Canadian parents, married Elizabeth Milne (born in New York of Scottish parents) on October 31, 1876 in Detroit, and had four children at the time of his death. He was a pipeman for Engine Co. No. 7 of the Detroit Fire Department and died in the line of duty fighting a building fire when a brick wall collapsed on him. His fellow firemen collected $11.00 to give to his family, the wife of the building owner visited Elizabeth in her home the day after the fire, and he is buried in Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery.
When I started, I only knew that 'George' Robinson had died in a fire sometime in the late 1890's, his wife's name was Elizabeth and they had three children. How did I get from this limited information about 'George' to the details shown above about 'Octavace?' It has been, and still is, a fascinating journey to put together our family history puzzle. Where and how to start my family history search seemed a daunting task at first, but I had four things in my favor. First, my mother and father are both still alive and well at ages 87 and 92 respectively. Second, my husband was raised in the LDS church where family search is an important part of the faith. His family pedigree reaches back to the 1600's and I had snippets of information about LDS church resources. Third, my health research career using the scientific approach to problem solving should also apply to genealogical research. Fourth, I had a computer with internet access. As I began to explore my past, I used the numerous resources already available to genealogists, beginners to experts. These include the internet, the LDS church, education courses, genealogy libraries, genealogy societies, and how-to books, among others. Family history search is very ³in" right now and there has never been a better time to make use of an increasing amount of information.
Doing Your Family Homework
The single most important thing I did was to video interview my father five years ago. He was a willing participant, but not all family members are. If your family members are reluctant to be filmed, try a small cassette recorder. If they resist a recorder, then take very good notes. Do your interview in a quiet, private and comfortable setting. I did not use a formal structured interview but they are available. I simply asked my Dad to tell me as much as he could remember about his mother and father, and then about himself going back as far as he could. I interrupted only to dig a little deeper about specific names or dates or places. That 3-hour video tape became the basis for more questions over the following five years and with each visit to my Dad's I learn something new to help me in my search. My Dad also has two living sisters, aged 89 and 79 yrs. but distance and time have kept me from interviewing them. However, I sent them Family Record Sheets to fill out. Completed record sheets include birth, death, marriage, divorce, and other information about spouses and children of your immediate family. Family Record Sheets should be obtained for all siblings, adult children, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and grandparents if possible. They provide important data for your family tree and can help other family members who may be searching a different branch of the tree. Family Record Sheets are available from most LDS Family History Centers, can be printed out from your genealogy software, or purchased from genealogy publishers such as the Everton Publishing Co.
If you don't have parents or grandparents to interview, try great-aunts or uncles, aunts and uncles, and long-lost cousins. If it isn't feasible to conduct a lengthy interview with a family member, try to get the most basic information, such as birth, death, marriage dates and the places of these events. Ask everyone about family bibles, diaries, military records, photos, obituaries, passports, or other old documents that might be stowed away. These items can contain important clues for your search.
After completing your family interviews, and obtaining family record sheets and other documents, be sure to organize your data into an easily usable filing system. Create a file folder, or a section in a 3-ring binder, for each branch of your family. Also, keep a research log for each branch to track and document your search efforts. The log should include dates and sources of both successful and unsuccessful information. If you have a genealogy software program such as Family Treemaker (reviewed in Mac 'n DOS, Nov.97), Reunion or PAF , start filling in the data that you have. Having done your family homework, it's time to start further research and documentation.
If you have internet access, begin by posting your family surnames on message boards and sitting in on chat rooms. There are numerous sites that teach beginning genealogists how and where to start (URL sites listed in Oct. 97 Mac 'n DOS). AOL, in particular, has an award-winning genealogy site (Keyword: ROOTS) that has excellent chat rooms and message boards devoted to a vast array of genealogical topics. I first learned that 'George' might really be 'Octavace' through a Michigan message board and I regularly post my family surnames with hopes that more clues will follow. After collecting the assorted pieces of my family history and accessing various genealogy internet sites, I attended an Elderhostel course in Beginning Genealogy at Brigham Young University in Utah. It was there that I learned about the valuable resources of the LDS Family History Centers, and there that my search for Octavace took a big leap forward. Doing my family history homework, however, is what led to that leap.
Part II of Searching for Octavace will contain an overview of how to use an LDS Family History Center resources.