Always follow your heart when tracking ancestors

Posted Sept. 21, 2008, at 6:37 p.m.

I received a great question by e-mail the other day: Who am I supposed to track when working out family lines? Which ones matter?

I say, the choice is totally up to the researcher. Follow your heart and look for the ancestors that interest you.

Many of us started out working on our surname line, the name that was most familiar and the one we identified with.

I spent years chasing my Moore line, which it turns out I have two of. Got off track twice, first because my family and I were so enamored with Abraham, the Scots-Irish Mainer who settled Abbot. But he wasn’t mine.

Finally I got my Jotham Moore back to Mount Vernon, where he was listed on the vital records page with the Timothy Mooers family of New Hampshire, but they’re not mine either. Jotham was born in York, and seems to be descended from William Moore of England.

Some people start with their surname line and stick with that, never really getting interested in their other forbears. Nothing wrong with that.

Other researchers pursue another line that means a lot to them. Perhaps it’s prominent, such as a Mayflower line.

Maybe it’s the part of the family they were closest to growing up. My dad’s maternal grandparents were both Bennetts, second cousins in fact, so when I told him he could pick any one of several Revolutionary War veterans to join the Sons of the American Revolution, he chose Sgt. Isaac Bennett of Gloucester, Mass., right off.

Many genealogists try to follow all their direct lines back, figuring rightly that all their ancestors contributed to their genetic makeup.

It may help to ask yourself, what’s my goal?

Do I want to record all the Bennetts who trace back to Anthony and wife Abigail of Gloucester?

Is a book a realistic goal?

Should I start with something reasonable, such as 20 pages on each of my four grandparents’ families, which could then be shared with my children and cousins?

Am I more interested in the women in my background, who generally are more overlooked than were the men in history?

Do I have a special interest in following the people along my mitochondrial DNA line — my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, and so on?

Sometimes a person who is adopted only has information on the adoptive family. Those people may not be the bloodline, but they certainly were a major factor in who the adoptee grew up to be, and I think it’s fine to trace that family.

Other adoptees know the names of their birth family as well as the adoptive family. For medical information, it’s certainly useful to research the ancestry of the birth parents and grandparents.

But if the research is for what’s in your heart, follow your own inclination — do the genealogy for either family you wish, or both.

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The Maine Historical Society in Portland has two most interesting activities coming up for genealogists.

Walter Hickey, archives specialist with the National Archives and Record Administration, will give an in-depth introduction to the collections of the National Archives Northeast Region, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland. The cost is $20, $15 for MHS members.

Then, join the MHS research trip to the National Archives Northeast Region branch in Waltham, Mass. The bus trip will leave at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, from the Uno Chicago Grill parking lot in South Portland, returning at 6 p.m. that day.

The cost of the trip is $45, $40 for MHS members.

If you sign up for both activities, the cost will be $60 total, $45 for MHS members.

This is an excellent research opportunity.

The National Archives branch in Waltham, which I visited years ago, is a wonderful repository of federal records such as naturalization papers, census records, passenger lists, full Revolutionary War pension records, Canadian border crossings, military records and bounty land application files.

Participants also will be able to access Footnote.com, Ancestrylibrary.com and other online databases.

Walter Hickey is a highly regarded speaker who gives presentations throughout the region.

Registration is required, call 774-1822. For information, call that number or e-mail info@mainehistory.org

The Maine Historical Society preserves the heritage and history of Maine: the stories of Maine people, the traditions of Maine communities and the record of Maine’s place in a changing world.

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The Aroostook County Genealogical Society will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22, at 111 High St., Caribou, Maine.

The program will bring members up to date on the Maine Genealogical Society meeting, “Linking to Your Family’s History,” which was held Saturday in Portland.

Bring your ideas on what you would like to see or hear about in the coming year at monthly meetings.

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail queries to familyti@bangordailynews.net.

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