Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Staying in touch with newfound cousins

When it comes to staying in touch with newly-found cousins, how often is too often? I'm connected to a couple of cousins via Facebook and post or send a FB note every other month to say hello if I haven't heard from them. I exchange e-mails with a couple of other cousins about 3-4 times a year or so. One cousin I call every few months to say hello and update her on my genealogical adventures. And of course I send ("e" or snail mail) season's greetings and new year's wishes to all my cousins. I've even met some cousins face to face!

One cousin on my husband's side, an avid genealogy researcher, is in touch every couple of weeks; it's a real pleasure to hear that family's news, or share in the latest family-tree expansion, or at least get a "hello." Even if I receive only a forwarded joke now and then, I'm glad to be thought of and considered part of the family circle.

Probably few relatives remain as excited about renewing long-lost family connections as I am, although most are delighted at the outset. Everybody's busy these days, with work or family or hobbies or just the details of everyday life. How often is TOO often to be in touch? I'm not just looking to fill out the boxes on the family tree. I'm genuinely interested in staying in touch and learning more about my family members, sharing memories of our mutual ancestors and enjoying the genealogical adventure together.

What are your thoughts on staying in touch with relatives you've recently discovered in your family research?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Whose Mama? Who's Mama?


Going through a family photo album created in the 1990s, which just turned up, I found this small photo. On the reverse, in what looks to my eyes like a European hand, is one word: Mama.

Whose mama is this? And who is Mama? No other clues are available on the photo and no other photos in the album are similar (nor was it near any old photos). Sadly, it could have been from either side of my family. The face doesn't look familiar at all. I'm going to ask a few cousins to take a look but I don't have much hope.

This is one reason why I'm interested in Picasa 3.5's new face recognition feature. I haven't tried it yet, but Picasa claims that once I've started tagging photos on my hard drive, it will tag new photos automatically and allow me to filter searches by person. I'm going to give it a try soon to see whether it works just as well with old photos as it does with new photos.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Burk Bag Tradition

Thank goodness, my mother always clipped from newspapers and magazines and sent the clips to family members. Remember this neighborhood icon that's being torn down? Remember when we were talking about the NYC school system? She'd put the clipping into her latest letter and send it along. When our family got together, she'd hand magazines or something else to each of us girls, in a shopping bag or some such.

That tradition became known as The Burk Bag. And it's lasted well into this generation and the next, with tote bags always being exchanged when one family member visits with another. It happened yesterday when my sis and I exchanged Burk Bags. My nieces bring Burk Bags when they visit and of course leave with Burk Bags as well.

I received lots of books (to read or donate to the local library's fabulous book sale) and some mag and newspaper clippings. Remember Frederik Pohl (I'm a sci-fi fan)? Here's the August 22nd NYT story about his receiving an honorary degree from Brooklyn Tech. Did I know that Brian Boitano has a new cooking show (I'm a skating fan)? Here's a mag clipping about it.

In exchange, my sis got a tiny Burk Bag I filled with two magazines, a book, and a black frog for her new jacket.

We went through some old family letters yesterday and found them filled with clippings too. Apparently my family went for this kind of thing during the 1940s (long before my time) and the spirit of The Burk Bag is alive and well even today. Sometimes the Burk Bags are filled to the brim, sometimes they're pretty slender, but all are reminders of our family's tradition and how we think of each other even when we're miles apart.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Researching sideways

Researching sideways (as Toni McKeen calls it)--looking for all siblings in each generation and their spouses/in-laws and even extended family members--takes time but it can be very productive. It led me to finding 2d cousins I never knew about!

Here's what happened: my first-cousin once removed really loved her favorite aunt Anna, who married my grand-uncle Sam. I decided to research Anna's family and found that there was no surname message board devoted to her family's last name, so I got permission from Ancestry to start one. That was in June.

Just two weeks ago, I got a note on that surname board from Burt, who told me he's related to Anna's family. He and I exchanged e-mails, I sent him a photo of Sam and Anna, and lo and behold, he gave me the e-mail of my second cousin Gary. Gary and I exchanged e-mails and the next thing I know, Gary's sister Bonnie called me to say how much she enjoyed seeing the photo of Sam and Anna--her grandparents! Plus Bonnie has some family tree info she got from a favorite aunt.

It's wonderful to get acquainted with these long-lost cousins and hear their stories. And it's all because of researching sideways. Gotta do more of that! Thank you, Burt, for taking the time to answer my query. More genealogy adventures are ahead, I'm sure.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Sept 11, 2001

On a 2-wk tour of Italy, I was sitting in the public room of a small hotel in Rome during afternoon siesta hours on September 11th. The TV was on in the corner, showing an Italian soap opera, and I was stitching a needlepoint stocking for Michael's first Christmas.

Suddenly the TV picture switched to a jet slamming into one of the Twin Towers, and the station replayed that clip several times as Italian newscasters discussed what was happening. The crawl at bottom of the screen credited CNN for the footage, and I quickly realized that any English-language commentary was being replaced by Italian commentary. But I did notice the word "live" and it became clear that the picture of the damaged Twin Towers was being broadcast in real time.

I found my husband and we found one of the tour guides, who joined the group gathered by the small TV. As we watched in shock, the second jet rammed the Twin Towers and our guide translated what the news anchors were saying. We sat numb and horrified as the first Tower collapsed.

By now many tour members were already on the phone trying to call friends and relatives in NYC, even though we'd already heard that the lines were jammed and calls weren't getting through. Instead many of us went to the nearest Internet point to check online news sites and send e-mails to our NY connections.

The rest of that day is a blur, although I know the guides suggested a quiet walking tour of one of the seven hills. For the next few days, whenever our group was in public, Italians would come up to us, ask if we were American, and express their shock over the attack and their support for us and our nation.

We were visiting the Vatican that Friday during the time when the worldwide period of silence was observed. Everyone in the Vatican stopped what they were doing and stood up, respectfully standing in place for three minutes with heads bowed, in silent prayer or contemplation or sorrow. Those few minutes brought a brief sense of peace, comfort and solidarity. Today, 8 years later, still sadness and sorrow, never to be forgotten.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Treasure Chest Thursday: Thank you, Toni McKeen

This treasure chest post is about the treasures shared by Toni McKeen last night. She has a treasure trove of tips and tricks for getting the most out of HeritageQuest and Ancestry, which she explained during a meeting of the Genealogy Club of Newtown, CT.

I wrote down a few ideas to try with HeritageQuest, including using the advanced search to sort by age or other categories, searching by first name (that's an interesting thought), and using a screen-grab utility to capture the Census as shown on the screen for downloading and printing later.

Toni brought some treasures from her family's chest, such as photos, birth and marriage certificates, and other goodies that she's used to climb her family tree over the years.

Toni teaches genealogy at Founder's Hall in Ridgefield, CT and she also gives presentations around CT and NY. In October she'll be speaking to the Westchester NY County Genealogical Society.

If you see her listed as a speaker at your local genealogy club, mark your calendar and GO! She really knows what she's doing and is an inspiring speaker, as well.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Genealogy Time Capsules

Ever think about the Census as a time capsule? Each one is waiting to be discovered 72 years later when genealogists and researchers can look back and see ancestors were living or working at a certain time and place, see who was living and near with those people, learn about their educational situation, the language they spoke, and so on.

We know where these Census time capsules are, we know when they're about to be opened, and we know how to peek inside and find data treasures that will help us piece together details of our family from years past.

I've come to think of a genealogy blog as another kind of family time capsule. I post names, photos, queries, comments about my family tree and--if Google never removes the blog or the links--they'll be here for decades or longer, waiting for some future researcher or distant relative to search out and read. As long as search engines can locate my blog's entries in the ever-expanding galaxy of web stuff, future members of my family will be able to see what I've posted.

My blog isn't as well organized as the Census, and it's admittedly somewhat obscure--partly for privacy reasons--but still it can be viewed as a kind of time capsule about my family.

Here's my concern: not all time capsules are found.

From time to time, I read in news reports about time capsules that come to light accidentally--maybe buried at the start of some monument's construction and then found 52 or 78 years later during renovation. Or a school asks children to bring everyday items and notes to class for a time capsule burial set into a new building's cornerstone or at a new sports field's dedication. Too often the markers fade or aren't even set up to let future generations know of the treasures buried in the time capsule.

I deliberately include the surnames of ancestors and relatives I'm researching in the hope that these serve as markers to guide people to my blog. But will my blog and the thousands like it be gone some day? If there are no new entries for 25 years, will Google or Yahoo or Bing be able to find my blog when someone two generations from now wants to search out the same surnames?

How can we, as family researchers, ensure that our genealogy blogs--the ones we use to describe family trees, discuss our ancestors, display old photos, and reach out to long-lost cousins--live on? How can we be sure that our genealogy blogs will be treated as family time capsules that can be found many years in the future?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Surname Message Boards

I've had good luck with surname message boards (Ancestry, Rootsweb, Cousin Connect, etc.) over the past few years. When I connect with someone on a surname board, it's usually a productive exchange, although many responses only serve to clarify that the responder and I are NOT from the same family tree.

Yesterday, after only 3 months, someone contacted me about a very unique surname posting. I'm hopeful that this will give us both more insight into our family backgrounds.

Here's what I've learned about using surname message boards:
  1. The initial message must include sufficient information for readers to determine whether they should follow up with me. Thanks to a couple of anonymous readers of surname posts who gave me advice after my first few postings, I got better at this fairly quickly. Now I'm careful to include not just the surname and the given name of the person/family I'm tracing but also dates for the period in question, places (birthplace, immigration path, and/or residence), plus any special details that would jump out at the reader.
  2. Be sure to tag the surnames mentioned in the message. Otherwise someone who's searching for the same surname may not connect with me. But I also have to avoid the temptation to include every surname I'm trying to research. Targeted is better.
  3. Offer to share info. Why would someone answer my post if I don't plan to exchange info? They're searching for their ancestors, just as I'm searching for mine. Fair is fair.
  4. It's a good idea to post new inquiries or requests later, especially when I find more information that helps me narrow the surname search. Although many boards allow revision of old posts, I prefer to post a new message to catch the eye of someone who's browsing or readers who've read all the older posts and only want to see the newer ones.
  5. I have to check the message boards from time to time even if I've signed up for "automatic notification" when responders answer my message. Sometimes "automatic" isn't so automatic, so it's up to me to check for anything new.
  6. When I get a response, I need to answer promptly and offer a few more details to keep the conversation going. If I'm lucky, the message-board connection will help me and the responder fill in spots in our family tree and maybe even allow us to do research together.