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  • Happy Halloween from OneGreatFamily!

    Ghosts, haunted houses, and graveyards.what better time to get into your genealogy than Halloween? If you're one of us who likes to research your family history, you probably visit graveyards, explore old houses, and re-tell family legends all year round, and you probably wish that you could be visited by family ghosts. But Halloween is the time of year when everyone else gets in on our fun. So here are some fun ways to celebrate the holiday.and your genealogy.

    • Help one of your kids dress like an ancestor for Halloween, or do it yourself. Tell your ancestor's story to anyone who will listen.

    • Forget store-bought Halloween candy. Make a fall-time treat that your ancestors would have enjoyed. Prepare toffee, dip some caramel apples, or pull taffy.

    • Make one last cemetery expedition before it snows. Gather the information you need for the family lines you're working on. Bonus points if you tow family members along.

    • Visit an old house that one of your ancestors lived in. Maybe it's haunted!

    See if you can use Halloween as an excuse to fandangle your family into joining the genealogy cause, because Halloween isn't just for ghouls and goblins anymore.

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  • The History of Halloween

    Modern-day Halloween festivities are a result of hybridization of Celtic, Catholic, and English traditions. The Celts, who lived two thousand years ago in what is now Britain, France, and northern Spain, celebrated the festival of Samhain in late October. Samhain marked the beginning of winter-a time commonly associated with death-and was believed to be a time when the boundary between the world of the dead and the world of the living could easily be crossed. People wore masks and disguises so that they wouldn't be recognized by evil spirits who had come to visit the earth. Turnips, rutabagas, or large beets were carved to look like faces; and as with all Celtic festivals, Samhain was celebrated with bonfires.

    Later, after the Celtic territories had come under the influence of Catholicism, Pope Gregory IV saw fit to Christianize the Celts and sought to eradicate their "pagan" holidays by replacing them with Christian ones. Thus in the ninth century All Saints' Day was moved from 13 May to 1 November, and the festival of Samhain and the Catholic day for the dead were made one. The new celebration became known as All-hallow's day, or the day of all saints. The night before became known as All-Hallow's Eve. 

    As European immigrants came to America, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. Naturally, the "pagan" holiday of Halloween did not flourish in Puritan New England; Halloween festivities were much more widespread in Virginia and in the mid-Atlantic colonies. It wasn't until the late 1840s, however, that Halloween really became popular in America. During this time, Irish immigrants were pouring into the United States by the tens of thousands as a result of the Great Potato Famine. Inheritors of the Celtic traditions, the Irish celebrated Halloween as it had been celebrated in Ireland for centuries. Instead of carving jack o' lanterns out of root vegetables, however, as was traditional in old Ireland, they were carved out of pumpkins, which were more readily available in America.

    English traditions have also influenced the way Halloween is celebrated today; the practice of trick-or-treating can be traced back to All Saints' Day parades, when the poor went from door to door begging food (usually a "soul cake") for their families, and in exchange promised to pray for the dead relatives of those giving them food. Later children began dressing in costume and going from door to door asking for food or money.

    Halloween is primarily celebrated in places with Celtic roots, and is not popular worldwide. However, El Día de los Muertos is widely celebrated in Catholic countries. Unlike Halloween, which is now nothing more than a secular holiday, the Day of the Dead has not lost its original religious meaning. On El Día de los Muertos, people burn candles and leave food and flowers for their dead relatives. 

    Evidently the legacy of the Celts-and the early Catholics-lives on.

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  • Mexican Genealogy

    Since 1820, Mexico has been the fourth largest source of immigrants to the United States, and the number of Mexican immigrants is only increasing. If you are Mexican-born or have Mexican ancestors, consider yourself lucky. Unique surname traditions and widespread availability of church records make it easy to trace Mexican ancestry.

    Understanding how surnames were passed down will help you in your search for ancestors. Traditionally, a child was given her father's surname followed by her mother's. For example, a child named Maria whose father's surname was Garcia and whose mother's surname was Sanchez would be named Maria de Garcia y Sanchez. In more recent times, her name would be listed as Maria Garcia Sanchez or Maria Garcia-Sanchez. Once Maria married, her name would change. If she married a man with the surname Gonzalez, she would become "Maria de Garcia y Sanchez de Gonzalez." This traditional surname inheritance is very helpful for researching your genealogy. If you have Mexican ancestry, you'll never face the common genealogical problem of having the trail going cold because you don't know an ancestor's maiden name. Be aware, however, that in recent years many family members may just to take their father's surname. When you are searching for individuals in the census and other records, search under their mother's surnames, father's surnames, and both surnames put together.

    To find records of your Mexican ancestors, start by locating them in census records to find out approximately when they came to the United States. If they immigrated before about 1906, their immigration records can be found in the county where they settled, if the records exist at all. More recent immigrants filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and you can write to the immigration office to obtain their records.

    Vital records are easy to come by in Mexico. Local governments have been keeping these records since about 1857, and Catholic church records have been kept since the Spanish conquest. Catholic church records record christenings, marriages, and burials, and their accuracy and usefulness is unrivaled in the world of genealogy.

    If you are fortunate enough to be able to cross the Atlantic and trace your genealogy back to the mother country, knowing the origin of your ancestral surname can help locate your ancestors in Spain. In early times, a Spanish surname was derived from one's father's name by adding "es" or "ez" on the end. For example, if your father's name was Alvaro, your surname would become Alvarez, and Gonzalo would become Gonzalez. Some Spanish surnames came from occupations; for example, "Molina" means miller. Some surnames come from regions in Spain, and these are especially useful in determining where your ancestors came from. The surname "Vasco," for instance, is a sure indication that your ancestors are from the Basque country in northern Spain.

    If you know the basics, finding your Mexican ancestry is easy and fun. ¡Buena suerte!

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  • Genealogy Clues You Can Find On An Ancestor's Headstone

    Researching your family history can take on a variety of different appearances. Many professional genealogists consider themselves more like detectives than researchers, where the clues can come from a variety of different locations. Today, we'd like to look at a rather unusual location for finding valuable genealogical information about an ancestor, their headstone.

    You see, headstones and grave markers often list much more than just a name, birth date, and death date. Some headstones list the names of family members. Some quote favorite verses of the Bible. Some list the place an ancestor was born or the church she belonged to. Visiting an ancestor's grave is like searching for buried treasure (but please, no actual digging), you never know what new information you'll find listed on a tombstone.

    It's not difficult to find out which cemetery someone was buried in. If you know where your ancestor was living near the time of his death, you will most likely find him in that town's cemetery. If your ancestor was not buried in the town that he died in, he was probably moved to be buried near his spouse or another family member who preceded him in death. Many cemeteries have been indexed by volunteers, and the indexes are searchable online. Every cemetery also keeps their "sexton's records" that list who is buried in a cemetery and the specific plot in which they are buried. These records, along with a map of the cemetery, are available at the cemetery office (if it is a large cemetery) or in the local county office (if it is a small cemetery).

    Sexton's records are lists of who is buried where; they are not extractions of everything that is engraved on a tombstone. To read what is written on an ancestors' tombstone, you'll have to go to the actual grave. Just remember that just because a headstone engraving is "written in stone" doesn't mean that it's infallible. Headstones, like any other record, can contain errors, so compare the headstone with the information that you already have and evaluate it carefully.

    It's also a good idea to pay attention to the graves around your ancestor's, since families were and still are often buried together. You may find new information about other ancestors, and you may even find new family members that you never knew about. If a child died at a young age at a time when birth records were not made, she may not show up in any records except her tombstone.

    When you go to the cemetery, wear clothes that can get dirty so that you can kneel on the ground and get a close look at the tombstones. Sometimes grass grows over flat headstones or headstones that have fallen down, so bring a small trowel to remove the grass and dirt. Bring gloves to wear in case the grave site is overgrown with weeds.

    Always make a record of any headstone that you find so that you'll have it for future reference. The best way to do this is to take a digital photo. Hint: when taking a digital photo, a mirror can come in handy to reflect sunlight onto the stone and to create shadows to make the words more visible. But never use shaving cream or chalk on a tombstone to make the lettering easier to see as this can cause irreparable damage the tombstone. If you choose to make a rubbing, be very careful not to scratch or wear away the stone. Don't take a rubbing of a sandstone monument or a headstone that looks worn or weathered; it is important to preserve headstones for others who will come to see them in the future. Once you have a photo or a rubbing of a headstone, record the new information that you found, and make copies for interested family members. With any luck, you may get a new companion for your next cemetery excursion!

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  • Meet Your Distant Cousins at OneGreatFamily

    Researching Your Ancestors' Siblings May Help Your Family Tree

    A family tree is a pretty basic concept to understand; two ancestors have children, their children have children, and so forth, down to the present day with you and me. Each set of children is what we refer to as a generation. Each generation adds more branches to the tree.

    Your direct ancestral line comes through only one of the children of each of your ancestors. Did you ever stop to think about the descendants of the other children? Not only will you find that many other researchers connect to your same ancestors, but you may even connect to the same ancestor more than once. Depending on how many generations back the common ancestor is, there may be hundreds or thousands of descendants alive today. One may be your neighbor, your friend, or even your spouse!

    Another advantage to researching collateral lines is that it could result in adding more ancestors to your family tree. As you meet and collaborate with your distant cousins they may have information and stories about your ancestors. Collateral lines are one of the most neglected areas of research on other genealogy websites, but it here that OneGreatFamily users have experienced some of the greatest success as trees from collateral lines are combined into theirs.

    When submitting your family tree to OneGreatFamily, make sure you include as many relationships as possible. Sibling relationships are very important to include at OneGreatFamily because relationships are the primary source of information for OneGreatFamily to be able to match your genealogy with those that have been submitted by others. Accurate dates and places for events, while important, are not as valuable as actual family relationships, although it certainly helps and is encouraged.

    How do I reverse engineer my family tree?

    Let's start with reverse engineering a smaller family tree to better understand the concept. Suppose your grandparents on your father's side had five children. Being a child to any one of the five children would make you a cousin to the children of any of the other five siblings. The concept of "reverse engineering" your family tree is to look at all of the collateral information that is available in your family tree. Start by tracing your family tree back to a common ancestor (your grandfather in this case). Now, instead of looking at your father and your family, trace the descendancy of one of his siblings.

    With OneGreatFamily, you can easily "Reverse Engineer Your Family Tree" and see just who you are related to. Collateral lines often help fill gaps with your own direct ancestral line.

    What are the benefits of reverse engineering my family tree?

    Reverse engineering your family tree allows you to find relatives that you otherwise may not have found. Families tend to migrate together, so finding a brother, sister, or cousin of your ancestor may lead to the discovery of records for YOUR direct-line ancestor as well. You can also see if any of your direct-line ancestors have any famous descendants by tracing the various lines of descendancy. Some of the most exciting relations that you can find are relatives that are still living today!

    With OneGreatFamily, not only can you trace these lines to your distant relatives, but you can also communicate with many of them! When you find a living relative, or any ancestor for that matter, you can use the Collaboration feature to get in touch with the submitter.

    For those genealogists who are dedicated to finding their direct ancestors, reverse engineering can also be particularly helpful. When you are stuck on a certain line, having data on the siblings and children of the ancestor you are looking for can aid in finding data for them.

    Many people enjoy genealogy because of the stories and information they learn about their ancestors. The reverse engineering technique can increase that learning by making it possible to gain knowledge about your "very-extended" family. By knowing about your ancestor's immediate family, you can learn more about who they were.

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