For the past year and a half, Lance Stanley and Oliver Burris have been competitively figure skating out of the same Rockledge ice rink.
With similar body types, hairstyles and even mannerisms, it didn’t take long for their mothers and other regulars of the Space Coast Iceplex to notice their resemblance.
“We’ve been coming here for a few years longer than Lance and his mom have,” says Viera resident Janet Burris, of her 16-year-old son, Oliver. “When they started training here, the other parents would come up and say, ‘Janet, I didn’t know you had another son!’ Especially from a distance, the resemblance really is uncanny.”
As it turns out, the boys are more than just random lookalikes – they are both direct descendants of 19th-century statesman Henry Clay.
Earlier this year, Oliver and Lance were volunteering at Lance’s mother’s pet resort facility on Merritt Island, when the ancestral tidbit came up in conversation.
“It definitely explains a lot,” says Belinda DeMasso, mom of 15-year-old Lance. “Then Janet and I started to notice our own similarities – the blonde hair, the facial features. So, we chatted some more about what we knew of our genealogy.”
We are Fam-ily!
Several years ago, Belinda and her aunts began delving as deep as they could into their ancestral past. It started with a batch of e-mails and phone calls to family members, then led to a subscription to the family history website, Ancestry.com.
Belinda used the online resource to build a family tree, dig up old records and discover unique connections across several family generations.
She found that her great, great grandfather married Elizabeth Clay, one of Henry Clay’s daughters, just as Janet’s great, great grandfather also married a Clay daughter. She also saw that a lot of first and middle names were passed down through generations, similar to that of Janet’s family history.
“I think we all have a connection, and it lies in where we come from,” Belinda says. “The thought of discovering a relative here in Brevard County, of all places, shows you how small the world really is. It does require a lot of patients and a strong desire to learn something in order to research your ancestry. But when you do discover something, I find that it fills a unique void in your life.”
Family Facts, right at your fingertips
Ancestry.com is a growing source for historical research
“Hereditary honors are a noble and a splendid treasure to descendants.” — Plato
The days of traveling to libraries and spending hours scrolling through reels of microfilm for one piece of family history is deep in the past.
Today, with the Internet and evolving technology, uncovering your genealogy is easier and more accessible than ever.
With more than 1.6 million subscribers, Ancestry.com is currently the world’s largest online family history resource, and according to its website, its members have added more than 6 billion records to the site in the past 15 years.
The website, which allows you to start your search with a free trial, was designed to help people of all walks of life trace their family history through historical records, newspaper articles and the research of other subscribers.
Centuries of resources from throughout the world have made their way to the site, ranging from census, military and immigration records to financial documents, directories and birth, marriage and death certificates.
The site even allows you to hire a professional genealogist with experience, knowledge and access to billions of records to assist you in your research.
Discover, Preserve and Share
Here are 10 free activities you can do on Ancestry.com:
1. Build your family tree. Start with what you know and watch it grow.
2. Search selected census indexes. These records create a virtual snapshot of your family at a given time and place in history.
3. Learn from your last name. Discover where your surname originated and where others with the same name lived at various times.
4. Search specific states. If you’re searching for a particular relative, this feature allows you to search an entire state to locate its records.
5. Access “The Source” and “Red Book.” These genealogy books take you through various types of historical records and the most useful resources in each of the 50 states.
6. Download helpful forms and logs. Use these to make notes and keep track of the details in your family tree.
7. Participate in the message boards. Connect with fellow researchers around the world and discuss topics ranging from surnames to cemeteries.
8. Register with Member Connect. This free service allows you to contact other Ancestry.com members, share research with them and be notified when they add new information about one of your ancestors.
9. Find answers in the knowledge base. By clicking “Help” in the top right corner of the website, you can view questions asked by other members or e-mail your own questions to the Ancestry.com support team.
10. Explore the Learning Center. Discover a variety of family history topics and historical records through dozens of articles and videos. Get search tips, read success stories from other researchers and more.
Getting Started on the Space Coast
Let the local researchers help you create your personal path to history.
“He who boasts of his descent, praises the deed of another.” — Seneca
Imagine the thrill of discovering your great, great-uncle was his town’s first doctor or your mother’s great-grandmother was close friends with the royal family.
Better yet, what if you came to discover one of your relatives shared the same hobbies, values or even the same profession as you?
The team at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Cocoa-Florida Stake hears stories like this all the time.
And each year, the connections only grow stronger.
As a way to encourage residents to learn more about their ancestry, the church will once again host Brevard County’s largest free family history seminar this fall.
Open to guests of all backgrounds and denominations, the November 5 event is an all-day seminar, featuring more than 15 classes for participants to choose from.
Topics range from beginning genealogy and using technology to discover your roots to geographic searches and researching maiden names.
In past years, as many as 300 people have attended the Rockledge-based event from throughout the Space Coast, as well as Osceola, Orange, Volusia and Indian River counties.
“The free family history seminar was designed to teach and encourage family history, regardless of a person’s expertise,” says Marlees Dunn, director of public affairs for the church’s Cocoa Florida Stake. “There is something for everyone.”
The seminar will be Nov. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1801 S. Fiske Blvd., Rockledge. For more information, call (321) 636-2431.
Uncover history from home
Your family secrets are just a click away.
Once you have the tools and knowledge to begin your research, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints invites you to put what you’ve learned to the test.
By accessing the website, www.familysearch.org, the church provides a free, non-denominational opportunity for people in Brevard County and beyond to explore their family history.
A nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, FamilySearch has been actively gathering, preserving and sharing genealogical records worldwide for more than 100 years.
In the past two years, the website has changed dramatically, adding more historical records and information, faster and more precise search methods and the ability to get help from a plethora of research experts.
In addition to freely accessing genealogical information online, residents can receive assistance by visiting the local Family History Center, 1801 S. Fiske Blvd., Rockledge, where volunteers have the ability to connect individuals with records stored at the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“There is something that brings us closer as a society when we share family history experiences,” says Jody Wardell, a past committee member of the family history seminar. “By keeping the memories alive of those who have gone before, we learn from those ancestors to become better fathers, mothers and children. We become much better people.”
Growing your own Family Tree
Researching from the heart: where to start
1. Start with what you know. Don’t feel like you need to know something about every one of your ancestors right off the bat. Start slowly and fill in the blanks along the way.
2. Chat with relatives. Pick up the phone and catch up with your family members. Ask them what they know of their distant relatives. Take notes and ask questions. Even the slightest tidbit can be the clue to unlocking the next generation of ancestors.
3. Create a photographic memory. Gather up the family and look through old photos, especially those passed down to you. See who you can identify.
4. Conduct some online searches. The Internet is one of the most useful and easily accessible tools we have today. Start with Google and see what you can find out about your surname, your relatives and the places they lived. Then see how far you can go back with online public records.
5. Join a genealogy site. Family history websites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have hundreds of useful tools and access to millions of records that can help you with your research. You may even discover a family member, who has kicked off the search for you. The best part is, most family history sites are free to join and provide step-by-step tips for uncovering your past.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In addition to providing a template for you to begin your search, many family history sites offer individual assistance if you need help along the way. They can also hook you up with an experienced genealogist to perform the bulk of the work for you.
7. Hit the books. If you need a break from the web, hop in the car and travel to your nearest library and scour their periodicals and historical documents. Or better yet, visit the Family History Center in Rockledge, where volunteers can assist you with your search and have the ability to connect you with records stored at the renowned Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
8. Preserve your findings. Once you’ve completed your family tree, share it with your relatives – they’ll thank you for all the work you performed. And don’t be afraid to show off the finished product. There are websites that allow you to create personal family tree designs and keepsakes that contain your family’s historical documents, records and all of the interesting details you learned along the way.
A Lasting Legacy
Tips for preserving your ancestral discoveries.
So, you’ve gathered all of this genealogical information… What now?
There are a variety of options for preserving your research so it doesn’t go unnoticed or even worse, forgotten. These designs not only serve as a unique memento to pass on through the generations, but they also make for one-of-a-kind family gifts – especially around the holidays.
• Scrapbook. A scrapbook allows you to be very individualized and creative with the information you present. You can design your own family tree using a variety of scrapbooking materials and add photos and documents to your liking.
• Family History Books. Transform your research into heirloom-quality page-turners. You can customize your book down to each page with images, text and other historical content. Ancestry.com is one of many websites that allows you to design these types of keepsakes with the click of a mouse.
• Pedigree Poster. If you family tree is the only thing you’d like to highlight, design a poster that shows your lineage, whether it’s presented on paper or fabric. Hang it in your living room, or offer smaller versions as gifts to your relatives.
• Journal your Journey. As with every ancestral search, you’re bound to run into some bumps along the way. But it’s important to document your findings and the people you talk to, along with their contact information. You never know when you’ll need them again. Don’t forget to include the stories you hear from older family members, as they may be forgotten when the memories fade.
• Preserve your Photos. A picture is worth 1,000 words. But if it’s faded and damaged, it’s worth even less. Visit a local photo preservation shop, such as Preservation Images in Melbourne, which provides digital photo restoration and repair, as well as VHS to DVD transfers. Call (321) 795-0148, or visit 3667 Mount Carmel Lane, Melbourne.