Yes, some of the archive files I’ve found through ancestry.com have been amazing for my family research. It is thrilling to do a search on someone and have various options come up…a shipping record here, electoral roll there. But I have found other, free, sites that have been equally if not more useful for the particular countries of interest for my book: New Zealand and Norway particularly.
Sites like the wonderful Norwegian digital archives that include parish records which have been an invaluable source of information, and the National Library of New Zealand’s site of past newspapers searchable by name: New Zealand newspapers. Also, New Zealand Ship Passenger Lists showing more shipping records of ships coming into and out of New Zealand than come up on ancestry.com, and good old births, deaths and marriages New Zealand.
And then there is simply good old-fashioned Google. When I did a search simply on Margot Herlofsen I scrolled down and came across an obscure article written in Spanish about the launch of a book called the Petersen Five. What’s that got to do with Margot I thought? Turns out, her very own sister is mentioned: Laura Herlofsen. Laura married Haakon Petersen, and it is her whose baby daughter Margot ventured to visit in 1909. Oh my goodness, what did it mean?! Via somewhat dodgy Google Translated English I was able to ascertain that Laura’s granddaughter, also Laura, had compiled letters from Laura & her family home to Norway in the 1920s into a book translated into Spanish…because Laura’s descendants were still in South America, now based in Paraguay! Huge excitement…I had found an arm of the family we didn’t even know about…we have “cousins” in Paraguay. I realized I didn’t know anything about Paraguay and read up on it all. It’s landlocked, it borders Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. It is where yerba mate tea and stevia come from.
Then I thought, how do I get in touch with this woman?? I googled her name and found nothing but the original article…she wasn’t on Facebook or Linked In…I figured she’d likely be in her 70s and maybe social media wasn’t her thing. But then Google helped me again…I came across an article written about the book on a university website…the grand-daughter of Laura the second, Marian, had written it! I then searched on her name and found this young woman on Linked In! Exciting. So I sent her a message, somewhat excitable but garbled, basically saying hey, I think we’re related!
And then I waited. And waited. Figured I must have got it wrong. Then a month later I got a response…she didn’t use Linked In much but how great to hear from me and she would put me on to her grandmother, who did use email and would be delighted to hear from me. Before I knew it I was not only emailing with her grandmother but coordinating my cousins in Auckland, New Zealand to meet with her and her fiancé on their honeymoon – it just so happened that they were already booked to go there!
It’s starting to feel like I’m being divinely guided in my search!