Week 13: Light a Candle

When I started doing genealogy research a few years ago, I didn’t pay too much attention to the dates I was recording for the significant events in the lives of my newly discovered ancestors: birth, marriage, death, and so forth. If I found information about these events, I recorded it. But I didn’t think much about it.

I was researching my great-grandfather Howard P. Ellefritz in August of 2017 when I realized that I was researching him just a few days before his birthday, on August 18. I certainly had hundreds of relatives whose birthdays had passed me by, unnoticed, while I researched their lives. What would it be like to chronicle the birthdays of my ancestors and commemorate them on their special days?

Being retired, I set to work on this project. How to accomplish what I wanted to do? Here are the steps I took.

  1. I created a new family tree on Ancestry.com, made up of only my direct ancestors.
  2. I found a program that would convert a GEDCOM (genealogy file) to an Excel spreadsheet. The program was called FamilyTreeAnalyzer (FTA), available at no cost. So I downloaded FamilyTreeAnalyzer.
  3. I downloaded my GEDCOM file from Ancestry.com
  4. I uploaded my GEDCOM file to FTA.
  5. I exported the FTA information to Excel.
  6. I got rid of data I didn’t want and adjusted the spacing and so forth on the resulting spreadsheet.
  7. I sorted the Excel spreadsheet by month and date of birth.
  8. I recorded the significant information about these ancestors on a calendar. I kept this calendar near my computer. Every couple of days I checked to see what dates were coming up so I would be prepared to write about each ancestor when their day arrived.
  9. I created a WordPress blog to record what I wrote.
  10. I uploaded each entry to Facebook so it could be read widely – or at least read sort of widely.

My research benefited greatly from my focus on this project. It led me to dig into genealogy lines I had not previously paid much attention to, and often opened my eyes to new avenues for research. I collected these entries in a book so that I would have them in one place and readily accessible both to me and anyone who would be interested in them.  I then published the book on Lulu.com – a self-publishing site that I’ve used to publish about a dozen books on my family’s history.

It doesn’t seem right to wish these folks a “Happy Birthday” – after all, they’ve been dead for decades or even centuries. But it is appropriate to remember them. Every Day is Somebody’s Birthday

I published this project in two volumes totaling almost 500 pages. First, here’s how my ancestors were spread across the calendar:

I have lots of ancestors who share their birthday with each other.  I’m not going to talk about each of them (see above, almost 500 pages), but this spreadsheet will show how this project helped me explore all parts of my family tree.  I generally sort my research into the four main branches of my family tree – my four grandparents’ lines.  You’ll see them on the chart below.  My paternal grandparents were John Arnold and Orpha Lydia Ellefritz; my maternal grandparents were Thomas Calvin Workman and Susan V. Anthis.

My father’s side of the family is generally more extensively documented than my mother’s side.  My father’s roots go back to the Mayflower, the Puritan Great Migration, and Jamestown.  My mother’s family has its deepest roots in New Amsterdam in the 1640s, but the other families that marry into her Workman line are generally more difficult to trace.  They are largely from the South, where the paucity of records makes it difficult to go back very far in the colonial era.

I’ll close by acknowledging two of my ancestors whose birthdays fall on today – March 28. 

Agnes Hester (6th great-grandmother, 1747-1821) was born in Louisa County, Virginia (west of Richmond) and married Simeon Walton in 1763.  Simeon was a Baptist minister who served congregations in Amelia County (south of Louisa).  Agnes and Simeon had lots of children – possibly as many as 18, although the records are a little confusing.  Agnes and Simeon moved to Kentucky with many of their family members in 1795.  Agnes died in Bracken County, Kentucky, in 1821.

John Portis (9th great-grandfather, 1627-1707) was born in Scotland (I think) and was living in Virginia by the 1640s.  He married Jane Exum in Isle of Wight county and they had several children.  I haven’t been able to find out much about John and Jane; records for this part of Virginia in the 17th century are unsatisfying, and the situation is not improved by the fact that the surname “Portis” is also spelled Poythress, Porteous, and other variations.


Author: iseekdeadpeopleblog

I am a retired high school history and government teacher. I've been doing genealogy research since I retired in 2012. I define what I do as "constructing a plausible narrative about the past." I don't claim to know everything about the ancestors whose stories I tell, but I try to imagine myself in their lives. I sometimes call it "creative non-fiction." I try to differentiate between what I know for sure and what I "think" I know.

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