Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding Uncle Sam

Well, I guessed correctly about which Samuel Schwartz was MY paternal great-uncle Samuel Schwartz (see my Searching for Uncle Sam post from February). I just received the death certificate and it's clearly the right Great-Uncle Sam, not some other person unrelated to my family.

Now I know exactly when he died and where he was buried. His second wife didn't give any details such as birth date or home town when providing info for the death cert, unfortunately, but I'm not surprised about that.

What was a surprise is that he's buried in the same cemetery as his first wife, which coincidentally is the same cemetery where my paternal grandparents are buried. Is it a coincidence? Well, I have a plot plan for where my paternal ancestors are buried and Uncle Sam's name doesn't appear on it. I'll check with the cemetery for more about the area in which Uncle Sam is buried. Maybe other relatives are buried nearby?

What I learned: Pay attention to the stories that relatives tell. One cousin said she believed this relative had a heart attack while mowing his lawn on a hot summer day--and it turns out she was right, he died in June. Another cousin was able to narrow down the range of years for when my great-uncle died, and he was right. Otherwise it would have been impossible for me to take an educated guess. I would have spent much more time and money searching for Great-Uncle Sam.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday


My mother and her twin sister (fraternal, not identical). Which is which? No clues on the front or back.

At the suggestion of my "cousin" Art, I've started slipping old family photos into plastic sleeves and will label the outside of the sleeves with names, dates, any memories that come to mind. First step is nearly done--getting them into sleeves. Now the hard part is writing labels. That's next!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Who Do YOU Think You Are?


I decided to watch this week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are--featuring the background of producer Lisa Kudrow (above)--because (1) Ancestry sent me a reminder notice and (2) I was flat-out curious. What genealogical secrets would be revealed? What researching tricks would be mentioned?

As Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter points out, any show about genealogy that gets millions of viewers to tune in has to be considered a success.

This week's show looked, to my eyes, like 30 minutes (tops) of content stretched to the usual 60 minute slot. At a crucial moment, Lisa uses Ancestry to look up the name of a long-lost relative, and presto! She finds out just enough to locate him in Poland and have a reunion (one that was actually touching, especially when Lisa's father ultimately has a long-distance conversation with this cousin).

Seriously, Ancestry is a great tool (happily, my library has a World subscription). And the NBC show is a wonderful intro to genealogy for those who have done little or no family research. If, like Roots in the 1970s, this prompts people to ask relatives about stories about their parents/grandparents and other ancestors, it will have done its job.

And the show did reinforce an important genealogy lesson: Do your homework so you can recognize ancestors' names in their native languages. If Lisa's researcher had not been able to recognize her great-grandmother's name, all tracing would have stopped.

My niece Katie has been kind enough to explain how the Russian alphabet works and show me a site with common Russian names in Cyrillic and English letters. Now when I search for my Schwartz relatives in old microfilmed records of Eastern Europe, I have some idea of what their names might look like.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Genealogy and music

One of the strongest musical memories of my early childhood is the stirring march of "Zulu Warrior" from Songs of the South African Veld by Marais and Miranda. The cover is at left, thanks to the magic of the Web. We children would sing and dance around our apartment as these South African songs played over and over and over. Wish I had that song to listen to again!

My parents had a surprisingly eclectic (if small) record collection, including the Ink Spots and Mitch Miller, plus some Broadway soundtracks, Readers Digest albums of popular songs and classics, and at least a few very old Caruso opera records (alas, long gone). I remember the bulky albums of scratchy 78s like the one shown above and the mono LPs (Andre Kostelanetz, anyone?).

Looking back, knowing how tight money was in our family, I wish I had asked my parents what prompted them to buy these particular recordings. I'm going to add a few details about music to my genealogy write-up so future generations can get a bit of insight into my parents' personalities.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Surname Saturday - Wasserman

This little girl is the spittin' image of my first cousin, but it's not her. This photo was taken decades before her birth and she never lived in the Bronx. Other than that, perfect fit :) Sorry to say, the photo has no name or date.

Maybe she's connected to my family through the Mahler family (from Latvia) or the Schwartz (Ungvar)? Those are my Surname Saturday families for today.

UPDATE: This little girl is Madeline WASSERMAN, daughter of Ruby and Sarah Wasserman. These were my Mom's close friends who wrote to her during late 1930s and through WWII (see other entries in this blog). This photo was taken some time between 1946 (when Ruby left the Navy and the family moved from California to the Bronx) and 1950.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

This photo was in a box of old family photos from my mother. Probably these are distant relatives of my grandmother's, who came from Hungary, but who knows? No names, no info. That's why I resolve to label my photos for the benefit of future generations.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Five Genealogy Things to Do Before I Become an Ancestor

Our culture seems obsessed by life lists. Here's my list of 5 things every family researcher must do before he or she becomes an ancestor. If you think of additional "must do" items, please add your comments.
  1. Label all family photos. Start early--in fact, start now! How many family photos have you puzzled over during your research, trying to tease out a clue to which relative or what year or what place they depict? I'm easing into this by putting a label on the back of every family group photo from Xmas, birthdays, etc. "Xmas 2009, at ___'s house in ____ city. Front row, L -> R: Janey, Joey, Jan, Jen, Grandpa Joseph holding baby Jock." If we don't label our own photos and the old photos we found in the closet, our descendants may never figure out who's who. And don't forget to explain strange things in photos (such as unusual outfits on adults that, in the future, might not be recognized as Halloween costumes).
  2. Document key dates. Birthdays are easy, but what about wedding anniversaries, death dates, and other key milestones? Even if I don't get to updating my Family Tree Maker for a while, I need to jot down the dates of newly-found ancestors and put the notes into the appropriate file for later. Also I'm writing down recent family dates. The next generation will have an easier time continuing our research if we get the dates right. Don't fudge--even if Aunt Gertie wants outsiders to think her age is 49.95 plus shipping and handling, our family deserves the truth.
  3. Tell the stories. Genealogy is about more than names and dates--it's about the lives our ancestors lived. Who were they? Why did they do what they did? Those stories bring our heritage alive. I'm making a conscious effort to tell the snippets I remember about my grandparents and parents and their siblings. Like the fateful time Grandpa's horse ran away and made him late to his wedding to Grandma (supposedly true story from a century ago). Ultimately, I'll write down as many of the stories as I can remember and circulate them to siblings and cousins, asking for any additional memories they can insert.
  4. Stay in touch. This is one of the joys of genealogy: Getting to know cousins and other relatives I hadn't met or even knew existed. Not a one-time deal, staying in touch means e-mailing or calling or even putting pen to paper every once in a while to say "how are you?" and pass along some family news of my own. I also stay in touch with family researchers who aren't, strictly speaking, part of my family but who're fun and who share the "genealogy gene" for solving ancestor mysteries. Who else cares about our battles with stubborn town clerks or recalcitrant health department authorities over getting birth and death certificates for our late, great relatives?
  5. Think long term. Genealogy is our passion now, but we need other family members to carry on the tradition and keep the search and the documentation going into the future. One of my nieces is interested in being the next generation's genealogist. It's up to me to be sure she knows where the files are kept, where the photo boxes are, what I've been researching, who's missing, who's found, and so on. Otherwise, she'll reinvent the wheel again and again. To make it easy for those who come after me, I will (1) label all photos, (2) document key dates, (3) tell the stories, (4) stay in touch with relatives and put the next generation in touch, and (5) think long term!