A few months ago I blogged about my plan to write a family history book. I’ve jumped in and started this fun project! I decided to go with Shutterfly to make this book, only because Molly and I have used that site before for photo albums. I’ve done some research on what others have done as far as arranging and material to include. For me, it is a learn-as-you-go type of project.
I’ve uncovered some great history so far. Like how my family could really not agree on how they wanted to spell our last name. That little detail makes all of the difference when searching through old documents and records. This has proven to be a thorn in this family historian’s side! I keep having to double-check names and make sure that people are actually part of my tree and not some other Frederick, which is a pretty common last name. Just to give you an idea, I’ve found several sources that have our surname spelled the following way: Friedrich, Friederich, Frederich, Frädrich, Frederick, and Fredrick. It was either misspelled by census workers or family members that flat-out chose to spell the name how they wanted to. So I literally have cousins that spell our last name differently than I do.
I found an awesome article from Mental Floss about how family names changed when immigrants arrived in America. The popular misconception is that hard-to-pronounce names were changed by impatient customs officers at Ellis Island. When in fact, the customs officers often spoke a few different languages. If they couldn’t communicate they had other translators standing by to help. The immigration workers were not taking down names but checking the passenger manifest already made out by a shipping company the travelers sailed with. Name changes were the result of the immigrants themselves. When they applied for naturalization they may have changed their name to sound more American or a name that maybe others in their neighborhood referred to them as. Or maybe they just didn’t want a name that you had to spit in order to pronounce correctly.
Another great discovery I’ve made is that my family didn’t go through Ellis Island when they arrived in America. From 1855 to 1890 millions of immigrants that came into America entered through Castle Garden–the first official immigration center before Ellis Island opened. It was originally constructed in 1811 as defense battery to protect New York harbor from British ships during the War of 1812. Around 1823 the battery was disbanded and the site was gifted to New York City. The old battery became an entertainment complex called “Castle Garden” for many years, then it was made the immigration processing center in the 1850s.
I actually found the manifest of a ship named “Carl” that brought my family to America! The “Carl” made port in New York City on May 11, 1869, with my great-great-grandparents Johann and Caroline Friedrich and their sons Carl and August aboard. There is also a Charlotte Döhring listed after them on the manifest that could be Caroline’s mother that tagged along–I’m not positive on that but am looking into it. My mind was blown at that point. My great-great-grandparents probably scrounged together what little money they had to buy their steerage tickets aboard this ship to come to America. Here I am today sitting in my living room writing about it. What a journey!
For those of you wanting to research your family and write about it, my advice is to go for it. Take advantage of the awesome resources available online, at local research centers, libraries, and historical societies. Ancestry has some great resources as does Rootsweb and FamilySearch.org. You may think, “I don’t really know a whole lot about my family members’ lives back then.” It is a bit daunting not having the fine details of your family’s history back that far, but I also tie in the major events that occurred in our country or the old country. For instance, the Frederick family arrived in America the day after the last spike was driven in the Transcontinental Railroad. That was a huge milestone in our nation’s history that transformed the way people and goods were moved. I tied that story into them making their final leg of the trip to Wisconsin aboard a train. I also gave some background information about the area they settled in Dodge County. Once I start getting closer to my grandparents’ lives in the tree, then I will have more family details to work with.
I plan on making a few books. I am working on the Frederick side first. After that, I will go into my mother’s side of the family (Gubin). I don’t feel a real connection to that branch of the tree…only because my mother’s father (I reluctantly call him my grandpa) has never bothered to be a part of my life. But it is part of my bloodline and deserves some mention, I suppose. After that, I will dive right into my wife’s side of the tree. I hope our future children will appreciate the work I put into this.
Researching my family history has been a fun project so far, and I look forward to learning more of my own story. Have you put together a family history book? Share your creative experience and how you put it together. What did you learn in the process? What advice would you give me and others doing a project like this?