Author: Krystal Becker

Family Tree: Thespian Roots

This weekend I will be performing in a production of Little Shop of Horrors at The Belfry Theater in Noblesville, and it has led me to consider Indianapolis’ theatrical past. Theater has a long history in this city, and if you have deep roots here, then it is possible that you have an ancestor with some tie to the theater. Theater had a bit of a slow start in Indy. Many church groups and other reformers resisted the idea of having actors in the city. They saw actors as “frivolous and unstable,” and they didn’t believe their culture fit...

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Family Tree: Searching the Web

Most genealogy education is focused on using specific databases or collections, and there is often an implied warning against random online searches. After all it can be overwhelming and confusing to type a name into a search engine and see the thousands of results that are returned, many of which can easily lead you down the wrong path. But broad online searches do have their place in genealogy research. Think of it this way: there is so much information out there that it would be impossible for you to find every single applicable bit directly. Searching is sometimes the...

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Family Tree: Get It Published!

This is just a portion of the tree I created years ago on Ancestry.com Right now in Salt Lake City, Utah, thousands of genealogists have gathered for RootsTech, one of the biggest genealogy conferences this country has to offer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join them in person this year, but I have been tuning in to the live stream available on their site. Though we’re only just beginning the third day of the conference, I have already gleaned so much inspiring and enlightening information about all aspects of genealogy. However, there has been a clear theme to much...

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Family Tree: The Irish Beyond Indy

We talked about the Irish in Indianapolis in a previous post, where we learned that any of you with deep roots in the city are also fairly likely to have roots in Ireland. But discovering that your ancestors originated in Ireland is only a small piece of your genealogical puzzle. The real challenge begins with tracing those ancestors back to their country of origin and learning about their lives in their home country. Anyone who has attempted to research their Irish ancestors knows that it’s not an easy task. Many records have been lost or purposefully destroyed, and access to...

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Family Tree: Maiden Names

Women at an Indianpolis Cotton Mill, August 1908. Image via Library of Congress, LOT 7479, v. 1, no. 0009 As you may know, March is Women’s History Month. Therefore I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the topic of our female ancestors. One of the most frustrating parts of researching female family lines is not knowing a woman’s maiden name. Too often the women of a family are listed in local histories, newspapers, and other documents as “Mrs. Tom Smith” or “Mary ——-” without any mention of who they were prior to their marriage. When we hit a “brick...

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Family Tree: The First Census

Two hundred and twenty-three years ago, on March 1, 1790, Congress passed the First Census Act. They gave the responsibility of collecting information to the marshalls of the U.S. judicial districts, who beginning on Census Day, August 2, 1790, recorded the names of the heads of household in the thirteen states as well as the districts and territories that would eventually become Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maine.  In addition to the name of the heads of household, the first census also recorded the number of persons in each household matching the following descriptions: Free White males of 16 years and upward Free White males under 16...

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Family Tree: No Love Sincerer

Cover of a cookbook compiled by Marie Wanee Schuster“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” ~ George Bernard Shaw As I recreate the stories of my ancestors I often wonder how they approached the topic of food. Did they have favorite family recipes? Did they eat simply or did they create complicated concoctions? And for those who were pioneers, I sometimes wonder how they found any food at all. Many are lucky to have recipes passed down through the generations. These small cards and books can tell us a lot about our ancestors, how they lived,...

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Family Tree: DNA (Part 1)

I recently purchased two DNA kits. One was from Ancestry DNA, a part of the larger Ancestry.com. The other was from a much lesser known company with a very similar name, Ancestry by DNA. My plan is to use the Ancestry DNA kit myself and send the other to my brother, since there is different information to be gained by testing a male member of the family. The two tests are quite different. For instance, the Ancestry by DNA test (on the right above) contains a simple swab that you use on the inside of your cheek. Once the swab has...

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Family Tree: Scrapbooks

If you know me, then you know that I’m a scrapbooker. That’s right, I scrapbook, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. There are many reasons why I choose to scrapbook my daily life and the lives of my past and present family members, but the most important reason is that it captures a snapshot for posterity. Unlike photo albums, scrapbooks document stories, not just images. They provide viewers with a fuller picture of who we are, what we do, what’s important to us…in other words, all the things that we as genealogists strive to discover about our ancestors....

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Family Tree: The Indiana Girl’s School

In 1869, Indiana established the first detention facility in the country that was exclusively for females. Originally named the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls, it was located just east of downtown (on Randolph St., between Michigan and New York) and housed both juvenile (ages 10 to 18) and adult offenders. In 1899 the two groups were separated since it was believed that the women were a bad influence on the girls, and in 1907 the girls were moved to a new set of buildings west of the city, on what is now Girls School Road. It was...

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Family Tree: Our Female Ancestors

My great-granmother, Anna Buttchen, and her sister, Lizzie. As family historians, we often focus on our male relatives. After all, they are the ones who give us our surnames, and they are often much easier to locate in records. However, by focusing on the males in our lineage we are neglecting 50% of our ancestry. We are as much the product of the women in our families as we are of the men. Researching our female ancestors does come with a unique set of challenges. Often we are able to find nothing more than a first name. Even with a...

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Family Tree: A City of Immigrants

Whether they came from Germany, Ireland, Asia, or South America, odds are that at least some of your ancestors were immigrants. People came from all over the world to settle in Indiana, and they did so for a variety of reasons. Regardless of their country of origin, in order to become United States citizens, they all had to go through the process of naturalization. The earliest naturalization records in Indiana date to 1807. Throughout the years various county courts handled naturalization proceedings. Even the Indiana Supreme Court naturalized people for a time. The process required foreign born peoples to...

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Family Tree: Irish in Indianapolis

Poster recruiting workers for the Central Canal, via the Indiana Historical Society As a few HI readers pointed out last week, it’s hard to talk about early Indianapolis immigrants without mentioning the Irish. So today will focus on these early settlers and their descendants. Irish immigrants were some of the first non-native peoples to settle in the area, and as time passed they became the second largest immigrant population in Indianapolis (after the Germans). Most came via eastern states, following promises of ample work and affordable land. Some were recruited directly from Ireland by Kingan and Company, a meat packing plant...

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Family Tree: Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Much has been written on this site and elsewhere about Indianapolis’s German influences. German immigrants played a big part in shaping the city from very early on. From its architecture to its laws and customs, Indianapolis is a product of its people, and many of its people were German. Because of the saturation of German settlers in the city, its fair to say that many of its residents, at least those with a long history in the city, are of German descent. But how do you know for sure? Many German settlers came to Indianapolis after the 1848 revolution...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: Putting It Together

So far we’ve dug through census records, searched cemeteries, and combed through military records. You’ve found your great-aunt Martha’s birth record and your dear uncle Edgar’s obituary. But what do you do with all the notes, copies, printouts, and source citations? Without some way of organizing your research you will quickly become buried in a mountain of paper. Today we’re going to discuss a few methods for controlling the chaos and making the most of your time and effort. Organizing Your Information To continue your research the first thing you need to do is organize the information you already...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: Wills & Probate Records

This application for administration from Clinton County shows that the deceased died without a will. It is full of genealogical information, and it’s just one page from the probate file for this individual. About Wills & Probate Records Dealing with estate records can be very confusing. There is typically a lot of legal jargon used, and the purpose or outcome of a record is not always clear to the layperson. While I am certainly no expert when it comes to legal matters, I will do my best to give you a basic explanation of wills and probate records. Hopefully...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: Church Records

Photo of First Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis by the Detroit Publishing Co., via the Library of Congress (LC-D4-17326) When people settled in a new area, one of the first things they usually established was a church. This means that churches typically existed and kept records before there was any governing body to do so. Therefore it’s common to find church records of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths that predate any records available from governmental sources. And since the recording of vital records was traditionally the responsibility of the church, the further back in time you go, the more you’ll...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: City Directories

The tile page from the 1858-1859 Indianapolis City Directory, via IUPUI City directories may be one of the most overlooked sources of genealogical information available. At the same time, they are some of the most easily accessible. If you’ve never considered looking at a city directory, now is the time to try. They are full of valuable information for both genealogists and historians.  About City Directories City directories were created for businesses as a way for them to find new customers and to keep track of current customers. They list the head of household for each address during a...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: Discovering Your Family’s Heroes

My grandfather, Merle Longwell (2nd from the left), with his WWII service buddies. Earlier this week I stopped in at a local antique shop, and I was struck by the number of photographs, photo albums, yearbooks, and other memorabilia I found for sale. It was a poignant reminder of how important it is for each of us to not just save images and documents, but to record our family’s story in a way that future generations will understand and appreciate. Without the stories, the names and dates become meaningless, the newspaper clippings lose context, and our precious photo albums...

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Kickstart Your Family Tree: Newspapers

Up to this point, we’ve been focusing on the basic facts (the names, dates, and places) of our ancestors’ lives. But our relatives were more than just names and dates. They were real people with individual stories to tell. It’s time we started digging deeper to discover those stories. While it may be more difficult, there are many ways to learn about our ancestors’ characters and personalities.  Today we’re going to talk about one of those ways: newspapers. About Newspapers Just as they do today, newspapers of yesteryear reported the daily happenings of a community. This includes national and...

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