Thursday, May 17, 2007

Writing it all down

I didn't become seriously interested in my family's roots until I was about 50 years old. I took a writing course at Radford University in Summer, 1990. Our instructor, a Native American Cherokee named MaryLou, advised up to write about our own experiences. "Write about where you are and where you came from", she said. So, in the Spring of 1992, I took off from my job (more later) and traveled to Cambria and Clearfield Counties in Pennsylvania. Some of my elderly aunts were still living and I asked them a lot of questions about where they came from. Unfortunately, one of my aunts who I was closest to had died the previous year. During the summer, I visited my mother and daughter in the Washington, DC, area. I took the subway downtown and spent several days at the National Archives. I was emotionally moved when I first saw the hand-written enumeration of my great grandmother and her son (my grandfather) in early census reports. Eventually, I saw the passenger manifest of the S.S. Werra which arrived at Castle Gardens, on the shores of NY Harbor, in 1884, carrying the mother and her six children of my ancestral Kramp family.

At the end of that year, I wrote a family history and sketchy genealogy and bound it into a book which I named "Die Kohlengraber". The words mean coal miner in German, for indeed, most of my ancestors were coal miners. The German occupational moniker was recorded in the marriage entry of my grandparents in the parish records of a German Lutheran Church in Houtzdale, PA. I sent about 25 copies of the book to my cousins at Xmas time in 1992.

However, I was bitten by the genealogy bug, and my research and writing didn't stop with the self-publication of the Kohlengraber. The Internet was becoming available to the general public. American Online had 15 million members in the mid-1990s. I posted my genealogy on my own web site courtesy of

I bought a computer genealogy program called Ancestral Quest. Once the vital statistics for my ancestors, including the all important biographical notes, were entered to the computer program, a click of the mouse created a book of our Family's genealogy.

Now, once every few years, I choose each of my end-of-the-line ancestors and create Descendant Charts- called Modified Register Reports by the National Genealogical Society. Thus, for example, I have Reports on the Descendants of Frederick Hohnke, Johann Kramp, and Thomas Russell, as seen in the attached photo.

Though I mailed about 25 copies of my first genealogical book almost 15 years ago, I doubt if too many recipients sat down or even sit down today and actually read the book. I do, of course. And I am very pleased- and that's good enough.

But just in case my own descendants- my two daughters and five grand children- ever want to know where they came from, I hope they will find one of my books or two or three. Incidentally, I keep the most recent printouts in antique wooden book boxes, one box for my father's branch and one for my mother's branch.

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