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New England researcher Robert Ankenbauer’s (rankenbauer) 23 years in the military give him an edge in working with military records. His research specialities include Civil War research and finding information on veterans despite the loss of records in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire. He makes weekly trips to NARA Boston, the Massachusetts Archives, and the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records. If you need research help in New England, the Midwest, or Ireland, feel free to contact him about a possible project.
1. How did you get started doing genealogy research?
I became interested in genealogy research after the death of my father in 1997. After he died I realized that beyond his immediate family, I really knew nothing more about my family. Most of my research at that point was done by collecting family information from my mother and other members of my family. My research began in earnest in 2003 when I started using the Internet to research.
2. Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?
My superpower is breaking genealogy brickwalls. I am especially good at solving mysteries that pertain to military records and then specifically the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
3. Describe a challenging research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved.
It was related to my own family. My Great-Grandfather Edward Ankenbauer died in an accident in 1919. That was all we knew about his death. After digging in and spending several months of research, I finally found out that he was a firefighter in Indianapolis and was killed in an accident responding to a fire alarm. Sadly, another firefighter was also killed and eight others were injured.
4. Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.
That would have to be about my Great-Great-Grandfather Jefferson Franklin Trenary. He was in the Civil War in G Company, 149th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (100 days soldiers, aka Ohio National Guard). His brother Samuel A. Trenary and their cousin Samuel G. Trenary also served in the same unit. Three other cousins also served in the war. During the Battle of Monocacy (near Fredrick, Maryland) in July 1864, his unit, and many others were supposed to delay the Confederate General Jubal Early’s advance on Washington, D.C. The misssion was a success, but Jefferson was captured and spent time in the Confederate Danville Prison.
5. What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?
The Massachusetts Archives. They have records dating back to the 1600s and it is truly amazing to see some of them on microfilm. It can be hard to relate to them since they are so old. Some of the information contained within those records affords us a peek into a world that no longer exists.
6. What tools to you use to create the reports/images that you provide to clients?
My tools of the trade are very simple: a very good Canon digital camera and an HP printer/scanner combo. My most important technology is my BlackBerry smartphone. I can use it to take notes, take pictures, send and receive emails, and make phone calls. It lets me respond in a very timely manner to my customers. I can take a digital picture of a document and upload to the client in minutes.
7. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break through a brick wall?
First and foremost, don’t give up. Step back and look at it from a different angle. Discuss the issue with other genealogists. Some of these walls can be very difficult to solve and it may take years to solve the problem. Sometimes a simple timeline can help you find the holes in your brickwall. It also might just be that you need to hire the right genealogist to work with you on the brickwall!
8. What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?
I spend time with my family. My wife and I are animal lovers and our current dog, Bumpie, is blind. We like help less fortunate animals. I also play golf weekly and I work on my own genealogy in my spare time.
9. Anything else you’d like to share?
Genealogy education is very important. There are some very good organizations offering very helpful training and webinars. Most of it is offered at a very low cost and even free. You can never be too well educated!
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“Some of the information contained within those records [Massachusetts documents from the 1600s] affords us a peek into a world that no longer exists.”
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