Have you thought about doing the “thirty day challenge?” For thirty days straight work for thirty minutes a day on family history? It sounds interesting, but can you really accomplish much in just thirty minutes a day? Blog reader and my personal friend, Nancy Brown, decided to take the challenge. Her experience surprised her. Read on to see just how Nancy prepared, what she discovered, and what she’s going to do next.
My Thirty Day Challenge
by Nancy Brown
I’d added it to my ongoing list of family history projects pinned to the bulletin board above my desk. It was another thing to do ….when I had the time. Well, over a year later in April 2017, I committed to try it during the first week of the month, which brought an entire week off from work. That extra free time could provide a perfect opportunity to give my best effort with hope of succeeding. To prepare, I also reviewed Family Locket posts about a daily plan and research calendar and dove in.
My focus was simple, learn to use the online tools of FamilySearch & its partner sites more effectively, in order to update my family tree. Very quickly I was led to a particular line from my father’s side of the family. The Gheen family had been converted to the LDS church during the 1840’s and lived in Nauvoo. I had visited their home there. They’d immigrated to Utah and their story is well-known and documented by their posterity.
As a descendant of one of the daughters of this early pioneer family, I was familiar with this basic information, learned as I was growing up. But I became aware of another son that I’d not ever heard of. I came upon his name, Thomas Pierce Gheen, in some notes taken by my mother years ago. I wanted to review those bits and pieces of her work , comparing them to my records and to FamilySearch.
A search for Thomas with his parents’ names on the FamilySearch site showed that others were aware of this man. Through their work, I was able to learn many things about him. While the rest of the Gheen family resided in Nauvoo, as a young teenager, he went the the Great Lakes region to work as a logger in order to provide wood to fire the brick kilns of the growing city of Nauvoo.
Thomas married in Wisconsin, raised a family & enlisted in in the Civil War. He was captured near Nashville and imprisoned in the Andersonville Prison in Georgia, where it is presumed he died. I am so thankful for these online collaborative tools and the expertise of those who have shared their research. Their work has not only added to my knowledge of ancestral history but provides insight into effective ways of conducting research, sources to consider and how to add contributions that will aid other family members.
But there are some of Thomas’s descendants whose names and stories are missing. This branch of the family did not immigrate to Utah and had not been tied to our family tree. The search feature and hints of both FamilySearch and Ancestry gave me information to begin locating some these descendants and putting together their families and their stories.
Thomas’s first wife was named Nancy, a fun coincidence that we share that given name! Again, through the expertise of other family members, I have been able to learn of her seeking a pension as surviving wife of a Civil War soldier and even locate photos of both Nancy and Thomas.
Nancy was part of the Chippewa (or Ojibwa) tribe. Some of her descendants lived on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, which is their historic tribal homeland located in the Great Lakes regions. Other descendants married into the families of newly arrived immigrants from Yugoslavia. I’ve found so many questions to pursue and new areas of study that I hadn’t anticipated.
As this process led to specific questions, I took time to review Ancestry tutorials, research tips on Family Locket and a great Roots Tech 2017 class about evaluating census records. I looked at some Wiki articles about using Native American records. It was a bonus to feel I had time day by day to add to my knowledge base as things unfolded. At the end of a day’s 30 minutes of work (or more!), I would make a note of where to head the next day. I loved the continuity and focus that came with this daily practice that made my time more productive.
I even found time during this challenge month to explore other family history avenues that have long been on my “wish list”. I met 2 new cousins, a mother & her daughter, on my maternal grandmother’s line. They had made contact years ago via FamilySearch. We spent an evening going through pictures and stories together. They have a wealth of personal knowledge about this family, along with such interesting artifacts as Dr. John Huston Brown’s medical instruments from his training at the University of Louisville, Kentucky in 1878.
We made a plan to scan photos and record audio stories to preserve this precious heritage, along with an intention to meet again in the future. One cousin has a unique source of knowledge based on the stories she learned growing up and her daughter has the technical expertise to capture those. What a perfect match! Another exciting front.
Somehow this 30 minutes a day fit into my life with great joy and benefit, not a burden or barrier to other duties, even after I returned to work. In fact, I discovered greater productivity, energy, mental clarity for decision making & time management among unexpected bonuses from this month’s undertaking.
So you can see that after 30 days, I’m hooked. I have more than one interest to pursue and have learned that just a little focused time each day can yield surprising results. I can choose from among many great ideas—most gleaned from the Family Locket Blog—and have time to develop them. That “wish list” on my bulletin board isn’t such a remote dream anymore! I look forward to pursuing more research and continuing to refine my skills across multiple areas of family history, just day by day. Family Locket’s 6-part series “Research Like a Pro” will be part of my study time!
Next up, preserve the history of Dr Brown’s namesake son (my great uncle) who died in the flu epidemic while serving in WWI. Since he was not married, he doesn’t have posterity to add this important part of our family story. My newly found cousin and I are working to look at the family records in her mother’s possession along with any historical and military records we can locate to build a story worth sharing with our children and grandchildren.
There have been times that I’ve been stumped and needed a mental break from a particular research question. On those days, my 30 minutes will be a detour, participating in the FamilySearch Indexing projects. It has felt good to “give back” in that way and build the resources for others to find their ancestors. Every time I log on to FamilySearch I see new hints. Indexing has become my way to thank those unknown volunteers who are adding valuable information for my family lines.
I’m so glad I took the challenge! I admit I haven’t been as faithful at daily family history work since the month of April ended. However, I have seen how much progress can be made in short increments of time with the help of the amazing online tools for research, learning, and sharing. Several times each week, I pick up my notebook to see where to head and always find the joy of time spent learning more about my family.