Family History Research

Connecting Families Online, a lesson learned

Several months ago I received a message from a woman on Ancestry.com named Jean who was working on her Hammer family and we found a connection. Her Catherine Hammer was the sister of my Dorothy Hammer from Bohemia. While we were making this connection, another woman connected with us. This woman thought her John Hammer was a possible sibling to our Catherine and Dorothy. Their parents were Vaclav and Rosie Hammer.

Now Jean and I had documents to prove the relationship between our siblings and parents. This woman had no idea who John’s parents were, but thought the birth year fit and the fact he lived in Chicago fit. She basically wanted me to prove whether or not her John was the same as my John. Not a lot to go on when trying to prove or say “yes I believe this could be the same person.” I love a good mystery and helping people who are stuck, but you have to provide information to get me going.

Many emails were exchanged between this woman and myself and she provided one or two new clues in each email such as when he was married, who he married, where he lived, what spellings of the last name she had encountered (Hammer, Hamer, Hemr, Hamr). She had a naturalization document for him as a Minor and the date of naturalization. She found him on the 1892 Chicago Voter Registration. I became very frustrated because the more I searched based on what information she was giving me, when I contacted her again she would tell me she already had that information. It was a frustrating for me.

More information was provided via email but still not enough to say yes or no to John. At this time I was also tracing each child of Vaclav and Rosie, and their spouses through census and knew who the nieces and nephews were for my Dorothy Hammer. Jean and I were updating our trees on Ancestry.com and would notify each other if we found something exciting. It was at this point that this woman brought up a letter written to John by a cousin. When she gave me the name of the cousin and address of the letter I was immediately able to connect John to the family. The cousin was a niece of Dorothy. Tracking the families addresses made making the connection easier too.

I learned a big lesson in this connection and that is if you are asking for help, you should provide the person helping you with as much information as you can. This will result in less backtracking for the helper and less confusion. A connection, or lack thereof, may occur much more quickly if more information is given up front. I love helping people who are stuck facing a brick wall. It is a challenge for me to see if I can get over it because I am looking at it with new eyes. Because I love and need the challenge, I will continue to help people when asked, but I think I will ask for as much information as they have up front before I start the search.

Have you had a similar frustrating experience helping someone online? What did you learn? Please post in the comments so we can all learn new ways to help others.

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