Thursday, September 24, 2009

Get Those Skeletons Out of Your Closet: Find Your Own Ghosts!

See how this week's Book-A-Week Challenge author, Elizabeth Eagan-Cox, author of the Shannon Delaney paranormal mystery series, brings to life ghosts from the past.

Enjoy Elizabeth's article!

Get Those Skeletons Out of Your Closet: Find Your Own Ghosts!
By Elizabeth Eagan-Cox, author of the Shannon Delaney paranormal mystery Series.

As an author of a paranormal mystery novel series I use genealogical research techniques to bring to life some of my characters… especially the ghost characters, whom I treat as real characters, not mere novelties.

Discovering my own ancestry has been a journey of self-discovery. I believe that when you unravel the facts regarding the births, marriages and deaths of your ancestors, you find intrinsic information about yourself.

I was the first in my family to connect the dots all the way back to Revolutionary War Patriots of America in the 1700s. Because of being able to authenticate my lineage with evidential proof provided in vital records and military files, I joined one of the oldest lineage societies in America: the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, known in American culture as The D.A.R.

I know from having taught genealogy and helping others that my journey into documenting family ancestry of over 300 years ago is not unique! Anyone curious enough to want to know more about where they came from can do what I did. As your time and schedule allow, I urge you to find your own ghosts!

Here’s a few easy and free ways to get started taking the first steps back in time to meet your ancestors:

1. Get the facts down on paper. Using some kind of form is the easiest way to
organize and chart the lineage you are hunting for. This web site provides free forms that you can download and print up: From the menu on the left, click “Free Stuff.”

2. Finding the dearly departed. Start with death records and trace an ancestor’s
life from death to birth. If your ancestors are buried near you, go to the cemetery, locate their grave and then go to the cemetery office. Ask for burial records. A cemetery/burial record will provide additional information, you may want to order an official death certificate and a burial record will indicate in which county the death is recorded. Most often, death records are kept at county clerk level. If you don’t know the place of burial, try this web site: Find a Grave allows you to search by surname. Remember to try different spellings of the surname.

3. Once you have death information you are ready to tackle the every-day life aspect of your ancestor. You’ll want to locate them on government census records. In the USA, official census records have been recorded every ten years since 1790. There are numerous Online paid subscription services with census data banks. However, before you pay for those services, I advise searching for free through Heritage Quest. The Encyclopedia of Genealogy web site: has an index, Choose “H” on the index and follow it to the listing for Heritage Quest. Find your state and you will find public libraries that subscribe to Heritage Quest, contact a library near you and sign up to use Heritage Quest from your home computer.

Once you locate your ancestors on census records you’ll discover a wealth of information about them: Their primary occupation, residential address, annual income, names of family members. And as you travel back into the census you’ll see how your relatives moved from one place to another, each move taking you further back in time and to a different location.

If you run into a dead-end, then back up and:

1. Look at siblings. Women can be difficult to track, but often their brothers
3. Remember to use different spellings of the surname, think phonetically.
4. Eventually you will want to locate birth and marriage records in addition to death records. However, never overlook the potential that death records provide for unraveling clues and leads. Burial records often name the religious affiliation and that church may have additional information. Burial records also name closest kin…another clue to follow and in some situations, a death record may name a hospital. Never forget that you can get patient care records.

Death can be the beginning!

Find out more about Elizabeth Eagen-Cox at


Lisa Olech September 24, 2009 at 1:12 PM  

Fortunately for me, both my parents have done extensive research into both sides of my family tree. It can be a wealth of inspirational information. Plot lines, period names, story twists, etc.

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox September 24, 2009 at 5:30 PM  

HI Lisa... You are fortunate to have parents who research your family tree.

I agree with you that genealogy can be a wonderful source for stories. I enjoy looking back at census records to discover old-fashioned names... I have a Valentine (man) Caniel (man), Darthula(woman), Ollie (woman) and a Lucian (man) amongst the names I love most.

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Ceri Hebert September 24, 2009 at 7:46 PM  

Great idea! My father started doing our family tree but ran into a wall once he hit the mid 1800's. The family was in Wales and he couldn't trace them any further. My mother has books on the history of her town and it includes all the families who've settled there since the 1700's. It's a fascinating read and it's coming in handy with a paranormal I've been working on.

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox September 24, 2009 at 8:42 PM  

Wales... I am tying up book 3 in my series and and several main characters are from Wales: Goodlett Morghan (a name from my own ancestors) and his daughter Sarah.
The Celtic names are a classic example of rembering to use different spellings of surnames when searching for maiden name (Eagan) is actually Mac Aodhagain..but who can pronounce that!

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Ceri Hebert September 24, 2009 at 9:31 PM  

My parents saddled me with Cerian (maiden name is Williams) but very few people I've come across pronounce it correctly. I'm generally called Serian, but it's really Kerian.

Lisa Olech September 25, 2009 at 4:23 PM  

Elizabeth... I do love the old names. I am actually working on a needlework project called a Mother's Tree. I can go back eight generations on my mother's side. The mother's tree states the name and date, and then the words, "mother of:" and then her daughter, who is the mother of her daughter ect, ect. all the way to me. Being the only daughter with only sons, the female line ends here. It has been a lovely project to work on.

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox September 25, 2009 at 5:13 PM  

Lisa....the tree sounds like it will become a family keepsake...just imagine generatioins from now...what a loveley treasure it will be!

Elizabeth Eagan-Cox September 25, 2009 at 5:17 PM  

Cerian... one of my sons is named Sean..well at the time in late 1978, what with Sean Connery playing the poular James Bond in the 007 movies, I thought everyone would know how to pronounce the name SEAN...HA! Can't tell you how many doctor's office clerks, soccer coaches and teachers called him SEEN!

Denise September 26, 2009 at 6:10 AM  

Elizabeth -

Seen? That's just wrong.

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