Monday, January 4, 2016

Tracing Your Family Tree and a Giveaway to Celebrate the New Year!

by Pamela S. Meyers

It's been a busy month for most of us and I'm taking a break in my series about the mansions of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and reposting one of my first posts on this blog from two years ago about researching your family history. I've loved doing my own family history and hope this article might encourage some of you to jump in during the new year. 

To celebrate the new year I'm giving away a copy of my 1933 historical romance Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. If you already have a copy, let me know and I'll substitute a reprint of my contemporary romantic mystery set in the Lake Geneva area, Thyme for Love. Just leave a comment and your name will be entered in the drawing. Here's the post:

Most of us have seen the television show, Do You Know Who You Are? when a celebrity is given opportunity to trace a portion of his or her family tree back to a unique ancestor they knew nothing about. Long before tracing family history became as popular as it is today, I set out on my own journey to find out who I am. In the process, I found Revolutionary War soldiers, a bootlegger, and a myth about an Alabama man on my maternal grandfather’s side who fought off an Indian raid.

But one of the best discoveries for me was finding out where my creative strengths come from.

I knew only a little about my paternal grandmother’s father, Oscar Bancroft, until I started digging through papers that had been handed down . 

Patent Application
 I already knew from Dad that Oscar had fought in the Civil War for the North, and was a photographer, making his living taking family portraits and headshots. I have a lot of sepia-toned photographs of people staring stiffly at the camera with his name on the back of the mounting board. But, what I didn’t know until I started researching was that he was also an inventor. Here is a picture of an application he filled out to apply for a patent for a hair crimper.
Oscar Bancroft. His picture appeared in an article I wrote for a genealogy magazine


I kept digging further down that branch of my family tree and discovered that Oscar’s first cousin, George Bancroft, was a well-educated man who was Secretary of the Navy under President Van Buren. During that time he founded the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and Bancroft Hall still stands on that campus today. Not only that, I learned that George was a writer and wrote a history of the United States. That's him on the left.

George Bancroft's Manuscript
Out of curiosity I went to my local library and discovered they have a copy of his history book! It's hard to describe the emotion I felt when I took his book off the shelf and read my ancestor’s words. I later purchased a copy of his biography through eBay. In the bio, I found a picture of his rough draft. Seeing that handwritten document made me grateful for computers and very emotional at the sense of connection I felt with him as a writer. 

As an extra bonus, the skills I’ve learned doing family research have carried over into research for my historical novels. A story I wrote, but was never published, is also set in my hometown and takes place in the 1870s. I had an interesting time having real people who lived there back then interact with my fictional family and used online sources to trace the real family's line to make sure my facts were accurate. The Internet is a huge help. When I first started doing family research, I had to go to the library or other physical sites such as courthouses to gain a lot of information that is now available with a couple mouse clicks.

We may not have the experts the celebrities on the TV show have, or the means to travel to the countries of origin our ancestors came from, but we still have resources available that with a little time and patience, we can learn so much about our family origins and what life was like generations ago.

Here are three great websites to get you started:

The U.S. Gen Web Project has been at work for least a decade with a goal to link researchers to every county in the United States for genealogy research. You can go to any state and any county in the state for information and history on those areas.

Cindi’s List has a wealth of information and links to all things genealogy It’s been around a long time and keeping improving over time.

The Ancestry.Com website is a treasure trove. They have many scanned antique records where you can look up your ancestors and find their birth, marriage and death records and link with others who are also searching your family’s history. You may even find a long lost cousin! Also, you can order or download their software to start keeping track of your family tree on your computer.

Have you already searched your family tree? What interesting people have you found there? 

Don’t forget to leave a comment with contact information for a chance to win a signed copy of  Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin or Thyme for Love (your choice).

A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels, currently available, include Thyme for Love, which has recently been rereleased on Amazon and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. She expects two more books to be released in 2016. She enjoys speaking and has spoken at several events in and around Lake Geneva on the areas history and what goes into writing an historical novel set in a real place. She’s also taught writing craft at her local ACFW chapter and as part of an online course. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.


  1. I always find family trees intriguing. Whenever there's one in a novel, I will refer back to it often, and especially after I finished the novel and think back on something I've read about each person. I didn't go far with my family tree and hit a dead end. Stories passed down from generations to generations gives us a glimpse of ancestral lives.

    Thanks for the giveaway. Please add me to the hat.

  2. Thank you,Pamela for this interesting post.My parents told me many stories about my family and ancestors.Always enjoyed them and would still like to research my family tree further. Thanks for giving a copy of Love Finds You in Lake Geneva,Wisconsin. Please enter me in the contest. Lynne My e-mail is lynnefeuerstein(at)aol(dot)com

  3. My uncle did quite a bit of research of my father's family and he has shared it with my brother and me. We don't have anyone as notable as you but I love knowing where I came from! I hope to one day have time to search my maternal roots.
    Thank you for sharing and thanks for this giveaway.

  4. I have had a blast using I have found many famous people in my tree including a dozen or more royal kin. Including King John of England. Loved reading about your love for your history its the best learning the stories of these great people and to know we share a blood line makes it allo more special!

  5. I love genealogy, too. Would love to be put in the drawing. We don't have famous people in my line, by we have moonshiners, a woman rumored to be a witch (she wasn't of course), healers, and veterans of every war. I love putting in a little of my family history into the stories I write. It makes it more personal. wvsmarties(at)

    1. LOL, Janet, my tree also has it's share of not so notable people. But look at Jesus' genealogy and see who is in his earthly background.

  6. I haven't done a lot of research into my family, but I would like to know more. My grandmother was born in 1884 and lived to the age of 94. I wish I had asked her a lot more questions about her life, but I was young and didn't appreciate stuff like that like I would now.
    I have read Thyme for Love and loved it.
    susanmsj at msn dot com

  7. One of my cousins keeps up with our entire family on my mom's side. Every year he sends us an updated list of our family tree with new marriages and babies born. He's also researched the past, and even visited places in Europe where our ancestors came from.

    My mom gave me some papers from her mom that are very precious to me. They are salvation testimonies, written down in the 1930s, of individuals in her family. Some of them wrote a type of life history which is fascinating, since most of them were born in the 1800s. As the Psalmist said, "I have a goodly heritage."

    derobin7 (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. Testimonies of our ancestors are very precious to be sure. In looking at old papers I've found hints of a personal faith which have meant a lot to me. During a trip to Alabama I visited a very small Baptist church that was founded by some of my maternal ancestors. Seeing the family name in the stained glass windows was very special.

  8. My family tree is totally opposite of what I was told growing up. Interesting how what you learn by looking. kamundsen44ATyahooDOTcom.

  9. How wonderful to "meet" another writer in your family past, Pamela. Thanks for sharing some of your finds. A niece of mine has given our family a great gift by tracing family genealogy, and we've learned some fascinating things, among them the fact that Robert the Bruce gave Drum Castle to an ancestor of mine. My daughter and I joke often about visiting "our" castle one day.

  10. Searching my family tree is what led to my Homeward Journey series. My father gave me some letters written to my great-grandmother by her father and my great-grandfather during the Civil War. My cousins and I visited the church in Louisiana where they were married and looked through all the marriage, baptismal, birth, and death records they had and found important dates for our family. From there we traced them to Texas. Tracing family history has been a really rewarding activity for our family.

  11. Fascinating family history! I have never done any research into my family history, but now I think I shall have to look into it!! Thanks for the giveaway - I would love to win :)
    bettimace at gmail dot com

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  13. Hi Pamela, I've filled many 3-ring binders full of researched information on all of my family lines; genealogy and family history has been a great hobby for me. My great-grandmother met Pretty Boy Floyd while she was working as a soda jerk in Oklahoma!
    jenningskaren1973 (at) gmail(dot) com

  14. I enjoy reading stories set in the past. Family genealogy is a fascinating and fustrating pursuit. My great-grandparents came to US from UK in late 1890's. I travelled to the place of their birth in Walesmany years ago and spent much time in records offices in many locations and scanned parish records as well. I was only able to document back to late 18th Century then the trail ended. Still it was an adventure to tour the UK with my Britsh hubby and see so much of his country too. It was an adventure I've repeated many times since. I feel that I've returned to my roots. Thank you for this post, Pamela.

  15. My search revealed that John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, is a kinfolk down the line.

    mauback55 at gmIl dot com

  16. I haven't searched my family tree, but I do have a relative that has kept track of it & has a private post on Facebook. Our branch of the tree immigrated from Prussia (Anna & Tofel). I'd have to look at her page again, there is SO much family history to read up on!!
    I've always wanted to do a family tree search myself & you gave some great links to follow! I'll be bookmarking these :-) I like the Ancestry one, but seems like you have to have a paid account to get very far with with a lot of sites I've seen. But it will be fun to follow some leads on the other sites. Thank you for sharing!
    Love to have a copy of "Love Finds You in Lake Geneva". I have some other "Love Finds You" titles on my shelf & enjoy them!

    teamob4 (at) gmail (dot) com

  17. There are 3 in my family researching our family tree on my parents' side. It certainly has become very interesting. I just made a trip to Ireland and spoke with my cousin there who is researching our family tree and have my interest peaked more. The records in Ireland were burned in a Dublin fire, so all research only goes back to that fire in the late 1700's. Wondering if anyone knows who else might have records that go beyond or before that fire. Thanks for the post! sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  18. Thank you for sharing these links and insights, Pam. One of my goals for 2016 is to dig into the genealogy on my dad's side before it gets completely lost. I've barely even started, but already it is exciting and captivating.

  19. Such an interesting story! I´m trying to do a family research too. My family is huge from both my mothers and fathers side. I´m so excited of what I´ll found. I´ve heard there are artistics and murderers and everything between.

  20. I have found some very interesting this while researching my family tree. I saw a picture of the boat some of my German ancestors came over on and I want to find out a lot more. I have read a few books in the Love Finds youIn series and I look forward to reading this one. Deanne P. Cnnamongirl at aol dot com