Out on a Limb: Story Time

By Allison Dolan Premium

Forget handheld computers, filing cabinets or stockings full of tombstone-rubbing wax. Genealogists get even better gifts this time of year. Nostalgia flows freely during family get-togethers, and relatives’ stories often bring unexpected presents for family historians — for instance, Aunt Mabel might casually mention that one Thanksgiving the family visited the Dalrymple cousins in eastern Kentucky: “You know, Great-great-grandpa built that farm in the 1830s after they moved from Virginia …” Eureka!

The last time I visited my dad and his parents, my grandmother — the quintessential family storyteller — related details of how her father’s family emigrated from Germany in 1888. Apparently, her grandmother Elise (Bauer) Essel made the journey while pregnant with twins. Fighting seasickness on a trans-Atlantic journey would have been difficult enough, but imagine coping with tight quarters, seven children and morning sickness. My great-grandfather Charles Essel was just 5 years old; it must’ve been exciting and terrifying to make such a monumental voyage at such an early age.

Immigration stories like this are some of the most fascinating and rewarding to discover, which is why so many researchers make “crossing the pond” a primary goal. This issue’s cover story will help you uncover those trans-Atlantic tales. You’ll find key steps to reverse your ancestors’ voyage, as well as resources to help you trace your family tree in the old country. For guidance specific to your family’s country — plus tons more resources — you might want to add our newest book to your holiday wish list: The Family Tree Guide Book to Europe (Betterway Books), due out in November, includes guides to family history research in every European country, from Albania to Yugoslavia, in addition to general research tips. Look for it in your favorite bookstore, or order from <>.

You might’ve heard stories about your immigrant ancestors’ names changing once they gut to America. Foreign names (as well as nicknames, maiden names, name abbreviations and spelling variations) can be road-blocks in your research. Luckily, contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack explains how to sort out multiple monikers 8. And if your family actually settled in eastern Kentucky — or the parts of 12 other states that make up Appalachia — our guide shows how to uncover their fascinating stories.

For those of you who still hope the holidays will bring some genealogy gizmos and goodies, you might want to casually slip a copy of this issue’s Toolkit section to your spouse, kids or family gift-exchange partner. We’ve rounded up great genealogy stocking stuffers, as well as top-notch printers for creating lasting copies of photos and family history documents. And once you read contributing editor Rick Grume’s guide to the top 10 pedigree databases—which provide instant access to nearly a billion ancestors — you may ask Santa for new genealogy software to process the family tree files you download.

A scanner or image-editing program might top your list after you peruse our step-by-step tips for creating a digital scrapbook. “E-scrapbooking” is a perfect solution for family historians who want to turn their family stories into an attractive, meaningful keepsake, but aren’t keen on snipping papers or pasting pictures. Perhaps the best part, though, is that electronic scrapbooks are much easier to share with your relatives than paper ones: Simply burn some CDs and presto! Instant gifts for the whole clan. So next year, you can lead the family back on that trip down memory lane — just be careful not to steal Aunt Mabel’s thunder.
From the December 2003 Family Tree Magazine.