■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
I once did a two-year stint as an apprentice embalmer. My friends wondered why I would want such a ghoulish job. For one thing, it was during a recession and I had to eat and pay rent. Secondly, I have seen more comedy in a funeral home than I ever have on television, which brings me to the subject at hand.
I spent two hours last night with a fellow who digs up dead bodies – over the internet – and he thinks it’s more interesting and fun than anything else in the world. No, he’s not a ghoul. Larry Bowles is one of the certified genealogists in the country and he resides right here in Hemet. My original intent was to find out something about the free genealogy classes he will be conducting at the Hemet Public Library, beginning Sept. 7, 2017 through April 19, 2018.
However, my curiosity got the best of me as to the nuts and bolts of the matter when I asked him to explain how it works and what brought him to what some folks might deem a dull occupation.
What is genealogy and how does it work?
“Actually, it is the history of a family tree that takes off on every branch into the present and past, multiplying directions as one digs into the ancestry that precedes us,” said Bowles.”A professional genealogist will tell you right off the bat, ‘I will do your research. I will do your family history,’ depending on what it is you want to know. The non-professional or even Ancestry.com can find a family tree, but the source from where the information comes is not documented.”
Bowles explains what Ancestry.com can do for you.
“They can tell you the various percentages of your ethnicity, which is good in and of itself, but that’s only part of the story,” said Bowles. “With adoptions, marriages and divorces, names change as do locations. Movement and name changes are not explained by DNA. It simply does not give you history, merely percentages. It doesn’t help find people and, history after all, is conducted by people.”
Marriage, birth, adoption, divorce and name changes
In previous generations, most women took their husband’s surnames when they tied the knot. Today women often maintain their maiden names and some men even adopt the name of their spouses. Also, with same gender marriages and adoptions to both husband and wife and same gender pairs, it is even more important to have documentation.
Bowles says, “Depending on who is doing the recording, names are misspelled. Even birth and marriage certificates sometimes have names spelled wrong. For instance, a man is named Glen. A document is recorded as Glenn. That makes a great difference when it comes to reconciling a misspelled name with the correct one.
You would think that the tombstone or death certificate would always be accurate. Not true, says Mr. Bowles.
“Just because you find something in the past doesn’t mean it is a true find. It could have been written up by an idiot,” said Bowles. “But if you can trace to the accurate documentation you will be able to make note of the error and go from there. Otherwise your information might fall under the myth program. Cemetery records, property transfers, home-ownership, old insurance policies, newspaper articles. Anything that can be found in archives or even family Bibles – and some Bibles are handed down from one generation to another and over again.
“One thing about grave photos,” said Bowles. “The person seeking information knows that where a person finally rests is a pretty good address as to where they are.”
Amateurs and scam artists
Amateurs abound, of course. Bowles was also an amateur in the beginning.
“Only a certified professional genealogist is qualified to do a true search [in one’s background.] The scam artists are out there and, as in many other businesses, they prey on the unsuspecting, most of whom are seniors,” said Bowles. “It is always best to get in touch with the American Professional Genealogists organization and verify a person’s qualifications. They have a record of all certified genealogists.
“There is no law that I know of that prevents someone from taking someone’s money for a “’Family Tree’ search, but I would like to mimic that old canard, “’Buyer beware,’” he added.
How do I do it myself?
Most of us want to know about our heritage but don’t know where to start. That was easy for Bowles.
“Just start. Google a name and take off from there,” said Bowles. “You are in for a long ride and I hope you enjoy that because searching can be time-consuming but ever so much fun. It is like taking a holiday, driving cross country to see how the rest of the world lives.
“Every click on the computer keyboard can take you to places you never thought a relative of yours might ever have been. For instance, your family goes back to West Virginia. There are 2,222,469 graves recorded there, which is just about the population of those above the ground in the Mountain State. It would surprise you how much data cemeteries can provide. For instance, you are looking for a deceased’s war record – through cemetery records and findagrave.com you’ll be able to get individual military records, including wars and service of a person.
How did Bowles begin his genealogy trip?
“I was pretty much raised by grandparents and great grandparents in California. One day I asked my grandparents about my family tree. I might as well have asked if it was possible to have dinner on the moon,” said Bowles. “They didn’t have a clue. Oh, I’d heard all the old tales about being part Indian and all that. Some of their stories were beyond belief. My grandparents could lie better than anybody I know. They had a great memory for things that never happened. That being what it was, I wanted to know more about where I came from. Thus began my own journey for the truth.”
While majoring in history at California State University, Los Angeles, Bowles discovered the large genealogy library in the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard on the west side. He was hooked.
“The gentleman who operated their library took an interest in me and I learned so much from him,” said Bowles. “He went on to be head librarian at the huge Mormon Library in Salt Lake City. They had all that microfilm and I started finding out things and pretty soon I knew more about my family than anybody else. It was like a walk back through history.”
He went to his grandmother and asked, “Where were your parents born?” She shook her head and told me she’d never thought about it.” Someone else without a clue.
His first paying client
“As I’ve said, I started out as an amateur, although I knew a lot more about genealogy than your average amateur. I am somewhat of a linguist,” said Bowles. “I could speak Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, Danish, and half dozen other languages. I went to high school in Mexico City and came back well versed in Spanish, so I’m somewhat a linguist.
“One day a lady came to me who had some letters she wanted translated. I did so and found some truly interesting information about her father who had been killed in a duel. She was very old and I wasn’t sure how to or even if I should tell her, but after thinking it over I decided she deserved to know,” said Bowles. “I finally told her that her father had come to a bad end, stabbed to death in a duel after a bar encounter at two in the morning. She then asked if I’d do her family history. Since I was going back and forth to the Mormon Library on Santa Monica Boulevard anyway, I agreed. She said she would pay me for the work.”
“I said, ‘If you will pay for the films that I order and my transportation costs, we have a deal.’ I charged $1.65 an hour for my labor. I didn’t save the check, but I remember how much she paid me: $227.50. Film at that time cost $1.50. Today it is $8.25.
“And by the way, the Mormon Church has stopped sending film to all their outlets,” noted Bowles. “As of Aug. 31 this year you cannot get film from Salt Lake City. Everything is going digital and online. That includes wills and other personal documents. By the year 2020 everything in the Salt Lake City Library will be online. It will still be free on their family search site.”
The way his searches sometimes turn out proves that things ain’t always what they’re cracked up to be – or even what you’ve believed your entire life. You might find Mr. Larry Bowles’ classes on genealogy worthwhile if nothing more than finding that all the family skeletons are not in the cemetery! Just sayin’.
Sign up in the Duffin Heritage Room at the west end of the public library or at the reference desk of the Hemet Public Library, or contact Larry Bowles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hillbilly genealogy poem
By Rusty Strait
Larry cited me an old anonymous poem that may well have come out of my hillbilly background. It goes like this:
Suzie Lee done fell in love, and said she planned to marry Joe.
She was so happy about it all, so she told her pappy so.
But pappy said, “Suzie, gal, you’ll have to find another.
I’d just as soon your ma don’t know, but Joe is your half-brother.”
So Suzie put aside her Joe and planned to marry Will.
But after telling pappy this he said, “There’s trouble still.
You can’t marry Will, my gal, and please don’t tell your mother.
Will and Joe and several more I know of is also your half-brothers.”
But mama knew and said to her, “Gal do what makes you happy.
Marry Will or marry Joe ‘cause you ain’t no kin to pappy.”
Free genealogy classes offered at Hemet Public Library
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Sept. 7, 2017
Getting Started – Learning the basic steps in the research process
Sept. 21, 2017
Census Records – The four different census records and how to find your family’s information
Oct. 5, 2017
Vital Records – Birth, marriage and death certificates; where are they found?
Oct. 19, 2017
Familysearch.org, Part 1– Introduction to the basic features of familysearch.org
Nov. 2, 2017
Familysearch.org, Part 2 – New and lesser known features on familysearch.org
Nov. 16, 2017
Ancestry.com, Part 1– How to use the world’s largest genealogical database
Dec. 7, 2017
Ancestry.com, Part 2 – Getting even more out of your ancestry.com subscription
Jan. 4, 2018
Myheritage.com – 27 million family trees and 1.5 billion records – European records
Jan. 18, 2018
Military Records – How to get them and what they show
Feb. 1, 2018
Court Records – Land, wills, legal documents; how they are found
Feb. 15, 2018
Immigration & Naturalization Records – How to obtain them and what each type contains
March 1, 2018
Foreign Records – Researching in countries outside the United States
March 15, 2018
Using Genealogy Gems from Google.com and Maps, Directories and Gazetteers
April 5, 2018
Genealogy websites that are important and useful
April 19, 2018
DNA, Genealogy and You – How it works and how to use it to solve family puzzles.