A Genealogist’s Spectacles

glasses

Yes, I use four different pairs of glasses.

I’ll start with the sunglasses because I rarely get to wear them.  Not much opportunity to do so when much of my life is spent indoors sitting before my computer, in libraries or dusty basements flipping through sooty books and legal documents.

Then there are my regular glasses, the purple ones without the old-lady neck strap, something like which I’ve worn since I was a child of seven.  I don’t really need them so much (cataract surgery took care of that a few years ago) but after a lifetime of wearing something on my face, it’s habit.  And, it’s helpful when I need to read on the run (i.e., no time to take off regular glasses for one of my other pairs).

The rather smart purple-with-neck-strap glasses are my reading glasses.  Books, documents (lots of documents), newspapers and more are considerably clearer with these accessories.  And, as a genealogist, often are in constant exchange with my BC glasses.

My BC glasses got its designation during my days in the US Army when we were issued similar pairs in Basic Training. The idea was that no man would be even remotely interested in one of us who wore them; hence, automatic birth control.  I received these BC glasses from the VA a few months ago and, while they are only mildly different than the dreaded BC glasses of our Basic Training days (once out of Basic, we were allowed to revert back to more fashionable ones), in the 21st century this same style is considered trendy!  Why is this pair important?  It seems that there are sunglasses, regular-seeing glasses, reading glasses (with or without neck cord) and computer glasses; who knew?

Utilizing all four pairs when necessary has saved considerable eye strain these past few years.

Why bring this up, now?

Because I spent the day reading city directories.  Ever read a city directory?  If you’re at all into genealogy and you haven’t, you should.  Thirty years (that’s just today’s work—there were 105 years’ worth, in all) and the names of owners/occupiers of ten homes.  And, tracking each and every one in Excel.  Reading glasses/computer glasses/reading/computer/reading/computer….

House FrontIt all started because I wanted to do a house history of my 105-year-old home as a sample for the CPGen website but the city of Freeport renumbered the houses on my one-block street and I can’t (yet) locate which of the early ones were mine.  So, since it’s a limited pool of ten houses on the street, I decided to do them all.  Good thing I love house histories.

So, I am officially done with the city directories.  Still haven’t identified which of the originally-numbered homes is mine but I have narrowed it down to three.  The problem is that each of the original homeowners left between the use of the old house numbers and the renumbering of the street.  At least, that’s the best available information given one missing city directory in our local library for the year the house numbers changed.  And, my county (Stephenson, Illinois) lists deeds by Grantor/Grantee and not by property address so the only way to track the original owner is to start with the last (that’d be me).  Finally, there are no plat maps available (that I’ve been able to yet locate) showing the placement of the original five properties on the street, of which my house is one.

Next stop?  County Recorder’s Office and deed books.  Lots and lots of deed books…..

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A Family Narrative

Though this sample covers a single individual—my maternal grandfather, Philip E. Helferich—a family narrative traditionally covers an entire familial line from as far back as the client requests and for which documentation can be found.  As will be clear almost as soon as you start reading, Philip was an …unusual fellow, with three wives during his lifetime.  Philip’s life is reported in full (with information found to date), without a singular focus on the lives of any of his wives or children.  This narrative could have begun with Johannes “Henner” Helferich and covered all of his children in brief with the exception of Johann Fritz, who would have a narrative similar to this one on Philip E. and whose entire family would be listed in brief with the exception of Johan Georg and so on.

A family narrative that follows the entire Helferich line from Henner (because he’s the earliest ancestor with enough proven documentation to warrant inclusion) to me!  It would include a separate focus on:

Johannes “Henner” Helfferich, with brief documentation of his wife and children, including a focus on

Johannes Fritz Helfferich, with brief documentation of his wife and children, including a focus on

Johann Georg Helferich, with brief documentation of his wife and children, including a focus on

Görg Philipp, with brief documentation of his wife and children, including a focus on

Johannes “John” Helferich, with brief documentation of his wives and children, including a focus on

Philip P [Philipp?] Helferich, with brief documentation of his wife and children, including a focus on

George Lennis Helferich, with brief documentation of his wives and children, including a focus on

Philip Ernest Helferich, with brief documentation of his wives and children, including a focus on

Nola Deene Helferich Feinberg, with brief documentation of her husbands and children, including a focus on

Me (and my siblings, if wanted).

Yes.  It can be a very long document but, as is clear from The Interesting Life & Times of Philip E. Helferich, it can also be a document rich with information that helps to bring our ancestors to life.  Definitely much more interesting than a numbered list of ancestors.  Think Who Do You Think You Are? in text; and then some.  It is also important to note that few of our ancestors will have stories as …extensive as Grandpa Phil’s.

There is one additional thing to remember about any genealogical report.  A good genealogist will provide the client with all of the documentation found and will be as sensitive as possible in reporting potentially difficult to accept information.  If the client chooses to keep some information out of the final report—the one that goes to their family—a good genealogist will have an exchange with the client about the importance of being inclusive but, in the end, will respect the wishes of the client.

So, please enjoy P.E.’s interesting life and times—and, they were even a bit more interesting than is written here; if only documentation to support the stories was available!

Note: Unless otherwise requested, reports contain footnotes, not endnotes as in this version of The Interesting Life & Times of Philip E. Helferich.  This narrative was originally created as the final assignment for the Professional Genealogist Study Group (ProGen).  What is included here as a sample of a single-individual family narrative is the same report recreated to gift to Helferich family members and was written with endnotes.

All reports presented to clients will not only include footnotes to document where each document or piece of information was—and could be—found, but will contain either the original, paper or electronic copies of all documents.

Click here for The Interesting Life & Times of Philip E. Helferich.