Showing posts with label 52 weeks of personal genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 52 weeks of personal genealogy. Show all posts

Friday, December 23, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Advice (Can't Do It All!)

This is the final week of the 2011 Personal Genealogy Challenge. It's been my most active--and successful--year of genealogy research ever, because so many brick walls came tumbling down. Of course, now I have more leads to follow and more ancestors to discover, which means 2012 will be another interesting and eventful year of family history detective work!

Based on my experiences, here's some advice to myself and those who follow me:

  1. You can't do it all. There will never be enough time to follow every ancestor back through the decades and across the miles, and also document their connections and movements. I just have to prioritize: My Ancestry family trees will be at the top of the list because I want everything to be in one place for relatives and descendants to see.
  2. You don't have to do it all yourself. Finding new cousins has been very exciting, and new cousins also means new info and more help with the family tree. More relatives are getting the genealogy bug and will do some lookups or look for family photos. Posting on surname and place message boards has put me in touch with genealogy angels who enjoy doing small acts of kindness, such as looking up one of my hubby's ancestors in the UK census. Thank you, one and all, for making this a fun group effort!
  3. You don't have to do it all at once. Genealogy is a journey, and a memorable one at that. Remember the saying "Life by the yard is hard, life by the inch is a cinch"? Genealogy progresses inch by inch, and I'm enjoying the unfolding of each new wrinkle. Every day or two, I try to add to the family trees I'm building on Ancestry or write a note about a family photo. Eventually the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place, if I work on it steadily.
  4. You have to take the long view. This is related to #3. Genealogy is a long-term proposition, not an instant message. One Canadian source I contacted for info about a great-uncle told me that he'd get back to me in 6 months, once the organization's archives have been moved into their new offices and unpacked. Even if I wanted to go there in person, I couldn't see anything until the records are unpacked, so patience is a virtue. Meanwhile, I'll pursue another line of inquiry, as they say in the BBC mysteries.
Happy holidays to my relatives and Geneablogger friends!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: PS 103 in the Bronx

My elementary school, Public School 103 in the Bronx, NY, thoughtfully provided this b/w photo at the front of the official autograph album I bought for my 6th grade graduation.

You can guess the approximate year by looking at the vehicles parked near my school!

Thankfully, I saved the album and can now list my teachers from kindergarten through 6th grade. See the photo of my teachers' names, above, written in my favorite turquoise ink. Yes, I had the same teacher in 4th and 5th grade, and no, she was no relation because my marriage into the Wood family was decades in the future!

Mr. Zantell, my 6th grade teacher, was a jovial, easy-going, smart guy and a favorite teacher too. Sis and I were in that class together, one of the rare times in our school careers when we shared a classroom. Because Mom was a twin, she understood first-hand the need to develop separate personalities and avoid too-intense rivalry over school achievements. That's why she put Sis and me in separate classes most of the time. That didn't always work out well, but in 6th grade, we had a good time (and occasionally fooled teacher and classmates).

PS 103, located at 4125 Carpenter Avenue, was a 10-block walk from the apartment building where my family lived. We (and later our younger sister) walked to and from school twice a day: In the morning, we walked there; for lunch, we walked home; after lunch, we walked back to school; and after school, we walked home again. Only when my twin took guitar lessons and I took accordion (!) lessons did we get a ride to school from a kind neighbor. Otherwise, we crossed streets ourselves, sauntered home past the candy store, and got a lot of fresh air and exercise using our feet as transportation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Trouble--Backyard Rocket Science

A guest post from my hubby, Wally, about troubles as a teen in Cleveland, Ohio:

One summer when I was14 or 15, I taught myself how to make gunpowder (!) out of the ingredients that came in my trusty A.C. Gilbert Chemistry Set (similar to the one above)...and quickly realized that the compound would work as a rocket fuel.

So I took apart a bicycle horn that had a trumpet-shaped bell and soldered it to a small tin can loaded with my homemade gunpowder (doing this with tools readily available in my family's basement workshop).

Outside, I suspended my makeshift rocket from a wire that I ran the length of the backyard--only a foot off the ground. Then I crouched beside it and used an eyedropper full of sulfuric acid to set off the gunpowder inside the can.

The gunpowder caught fire, burned, smoke and fire came out the nozzle of the "rocket," and it zoomed across the wire!

My parents had no problems with backyard rocketry until the first time I put my dirty jeans in the laundry chute. My mother pulled my jeans out of the washing machine and noticed they were polka-dotted with dozens of holes, some as big as a dime. Hmmmm....

The sulfuric acid had weakened the denim and in the wash, the threads disintegrated, leaving neat little holes. Lots and lots of them.

"No more sulfuric acid." So I then had to devise another way to ignite the gunpowder from a distance. To be continued!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Unfave Foods (a la Jack Sprat)

Being a twin, it was usually easy to get rid of food I didn't like as a kid: I shared with my sis. Like the old Jack Sprat nursery rhyme, I ate stuff she wouldn't touch, and she ate stuff I wouldn't touch.

When Mom served hard-boiled eggs, I'd eat the white and sis would eat the yolk. Mixed veggies from a can? She ate the lima beans (ugh) and I ate everything else. Neither of us liked fat, by the way, we were both like Jack Sprat's wife--lean fans.

Of course, there were lots of foods we both liked during our childhood in the Bronx: fresh rye bread from Victor's Bakery, the Hungarian bakery on White Plains Road near 224th Street; buttery cookies from the Cookie Jar near Pelham Parkway; and the Kitchen Sink ice cream extravaganza from Jahn's, just off Fordham Road.
 

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.

Friday, September 23, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Childhood Hobbies--Hollywood Cerise and Bead Looms

Although there are no really good Web images of Venus Paradise color-by-number sets, they were a favorite hobby of my sisters and me. Remember Hollywood Cerise, one of the low-numbered pencils? Sure, the color looks garish to adult eyes, but to young ladies, it was perky and impossible to resist. We wore that pencil out again and again!

Then there was my college hobby, beading necklaces and belts on a loom slightly larger and sturdier than this one. My favorite was the necklace I made with red seed beads accented by a yellow beaded lightening bolt. I say "was" because alas, the necklace is long gone.

My bead period came during the height of the Age of Aquarius, when handmade adornments were in vogue. It amused my mother to see me picking up tiny beads one by one with my needle, hour after hour after hour. Maybe I'll revisit this hobby one day!

Monday, September 12, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Earliest Memories--No Shells in Eggy Bread

About the time this photo was taken of my hubby Wally, at age 2 or 3, his first memory was of sitting in a high-chair in the kitchen of his Cleveland home. Wally's parents, Edgar James Wood and Marian Jane McClure Wood, would have been in the kitchen or nearby.

Wally may have been feeding himself or being fed by the au pair, Dorothy, but he remembers announcing:

"I don't like shells in my eggy bread."

He remembers that he was eating a piece of bread with an egg on top, and he'd found shells in the egg. No wonder he complained. I don't like shells in my eggy bread either, do you?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Road Trips--Northward Ho with My High School

In high school, I was lucky enough to go on two memorable school trips to Canada.

In 1966, my class went on a LONG bus ride from the Bronx to Quebec, staying at the famed Chateau Frontenac overlooking the harbor. (Photo at left is 40 years later, with hubby in foreground and the Chateau in background.)

We were housed 3-4 to a hotel room, mostly on two floors, away from the regular guests. These were rooms in need of renovation, just right for high schoolers, BTW. We teenagers barely slept, and our teacher chaperones were driven crazy by surprise bed-checks as they tried to enforce a stay-in-your-own-room policy (fat chance).

The views from the upper city were magnificent, and I particularly remember a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old city, then walking for miles over cobble-stone streets (which seemed exactly the same 40 years later, of course). We students had a wonderful fall trip!


In 1967, my class went on another LONG bus ride to Montreal for Expo 67 (left, the main Expo symbol). This trip was unforgettable because of what didn't happen.

The teacher-organizers had contracted to house us in a new motel just being built for the influx of Expo visitors. Alas, the trip organizers didn't contact the motel before our buses pulled up at the address we were given. Only then did we find out that it hadn't been completed in time. No rooms!

Confusion was the order of the day till one of the adults found us other places to stay, squished onto cots in tiny rooms scattered among several motels further away from Expo. Being teens, we weren't that concerned with our digs as long as we had our Twiggy-style makeup and mini-skirts.

But the Expo itself was lots of fun, and we especially enjoyed riding the monorail. Somewhere I still have my map of the Expo, a reminder of this long-ago road trip to our friendly neighbor to the north, eh?!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: 2 Weddings and a Reception


Wally wanted to get married on his birthday, which worked well because two days later, we were to leave for Europe. He had an assignment to cover a symposium in Salzburg, so it made sense to turn that into a honeymoon (and go to Paris and London too). Wouldn't you??

  



So on a Thursday night, we and our siblings and their spouses met at the Intercontinental Hotel in Manhattan, walked to Chez Vong (trendy Chinese/French restaurant), had Peking Duck to our heart's content, and came back for a small ceremony in the hotel. Despite some light rain, the whole evening was wonderful. That was wedding #1. On Friday, I went to work to finish getting things ready and Wally returned home to pack. Saturday morning we flew to Salzburg...

Wedding #2 took place 3 weeks later. We were back from Europe and had arranged a reception at a Westchester country club with a distant view of the river (alas, the club is now defunct). On a beautiful fall day, with 120 friends and family, Wally and I said "I do" once again.

  
The photo at top shows Wally with his father, Edgar James Wood, who sat in on piano for a few minutes during the dance period, being a professional musician by night when he was an insurance adjuster by day throughout his working years. At right, hubby and I are taking a break from our 2 weddings and a reception. Great memories!

Friday, August 26, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Smells--Mom's Cedar Chest

Remember hope chests? My mother had one by Lane, I think, once the best-known manufacturer of such furniture. Hers, like so many, was lined with cedar. (Lane still makes cedar chests, I was surprised to learn; see a sedate example at left.)

I still remember the cedar aroma that wafted out of the chest whenever we opened it to remove a wool blanket or an afghan. In my memory, special seasonal treasures were kept in the cedar chest, brought out only a few times a year when needed and kept safe from moths in the chest when unused.

My twin sister inherited the chest and kept her afghans and blankets there, too. Afghans especially are prized in our family because they're one of a kind, handmade by someone with love and care. So that's what the cedar smell dredges up from my memory when winter rolls around and we need an afghan from the chest!

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This is week #34 in Amy Coffin's yearlong series, 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Nicknames (or Not)

My mother, Daisy Schwartz Burk, purposely gave her children names that weren't easily shortened or transformed into a popular nickname.

Maybe Mom's aversion to nicknames stemmed from her twin sister's dislike of her nickname: Dorothy Schwartz was often called "Dot" or "Dotty" by family and friends, an affectionate name but not one appreciated by either twin, apparently. When this aunt sent her nieces (me and my sisters) a postcard or greeting card, she signed it "Aunt Dorothy" or "Auntie."

Of course, I yearned for a nickname because "everybody else has one." One summer when my twin and I were in day camp--in different groups--I decided to take the plunge.

When the other campers asked my name, I said Cricket.* The girls accepted this nickname and used it for the few weeks we were at camp together.

Then Mom visited on Parents' Day. Counselors were puzzled when she mentioned her daughters' names. Marian Burk? Oh, you mean Cricket Burk?? Mom gave me an amused/annoyed look but said nothing. That was the one and only summer I had a nickname.

My sister loves her nickname Izzi and collects widgets with Izzi on it... :)


*Who knows why I came up with that nickname? The Shadow knows---bwaa ha ha!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Dinnertime = Rotisserie Time

Mom (Daisy Schwartz Burk) loved to roast the main course for many dinners on her countertop rotisserie. Unlike today's gourmet built-ins on top-of-the-line ranges, this was a stainless-steel free-standing rotisserie with a sturdy spit partly enclosed behind a glass door. Nobody else we knew had such a gadget, which took up considerable space in the galley kitchen of our 2-bedroom apartment, but it was a prized possession in our household.

Chickens were rubbed with softened margarine and paprika, trussed, and mounted on the spit. Leg of lamb had slivers of garlic slipped into tiny slits here and there. No-tend cooking with an audience! My two sisters and I would watch and wait as the chicken (or leg of lamb) rotated in front of our eyes, until browned and cooked through. The aroma filled our apartment and spilled out into the hallway, giving us quite an appetite. As an adult, I don't want to think about the cleanup, but it certainly gave Mom a chance to open a can of veggies (peas and carrots, typically, since we were picky eaters) and cut wedges of iceberg lettuce to accompany dinner.

Usually there were 5 of us around the table in the dinette (a small eating area next to the kitchen). Once in a while, we three sisters would sit down to an early weeknight dinner with Mom (maybe at 6 pm or so) and then a little later, when Dad (Harold Burk) came home from his hour-long commute to the Bronx from Manhattan, he'd eat while Mom told him about her and our day and he talked about his day.

For variety, Mom would occasionally make a dairy dinner of cheese blintzes, made from a mix of "pot cheese" (whatever that was) and "farmer's cheese" (ditto). Adults piled sour cream on top, we kids ate them as is. This was much more labor-intensive than rotisserie-cooked main courses, however, and so it wasn't often served. Yum!

My twin remembers the Hoffman sodas for special Sunday dinners, a quart bottle (no 2-liter plastic bottles in those days) that was bought the same day. Sarsaparilla was a favorite, and so was cream soda.

In the Hoffman ad at left, the promotion offers a value ticket to the late, great Palisades Amusement Park, a big place once located "just south of G. Washington Bridge" in New Jersey. As teenagers dating boys with cars, my sister and I were there a few times, watching Cousin Brucie's Saturday night live DJ gig, for example.

Now a word from my genealogy department: Still researching Isaac Birk (later changed to Burk), my paternal g-father. Did he have siblings? Where, exactly, was he born in Lithuania and who were his parents? How did he meet my paternal g-mother, Henrietta Mahler? Inquiring minds want to know!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Employment (working for wheels)

My first wheels were a Yamaha 50. Needless to say, my mother wasn't at all happy about me riding this tiny motorcycle through the streets of New York City, so she suggested I either say goodbye to the bike or say goodbye to home.

You can see my choice here, in September, 1969. As an adult, I understand and completely sympathize with my mother's worry. Then, however, I thought she was overreacting (!).

After all, the bike had a top speed of 50 mph, going downhill with a tailwind. I wasn't going to give up my first wheels, not me!

Once I had my own apartment (rent: $112.15 per month for 3 rooms, including gas and electric) I had to work to keep up my wheels. Well, actually, it wasn't much work: Filling the gas tank to the very brim, in those days, cost 25 cents. Really.

But I was still in college (thanks to free tuition at CUNY) and now I had textbooks to buy, rent to pay, and other expenses, not to mention finding extra cash to buy LPs too. So one of my first real part-time jobs was as a secretary to Mr. Meyer, who owned a leather importing firm at 215 Park Avenue South in Manhattan. On days when I had no school, I'd drive down from the Bronx on my motorcycle, park in Union Square, and walk two blocks to Mr. Meyer's office.

Mr. Meyer was tickled by my independence and was fairly happy with my typing (filing was another story). Later, I brought in my twin and my boyfriend to work part-time and together, we three filled all 5 days of the week as his secretary. This arrangement lasted about two years until we all graduated from college and went our various ways in the world. I traded in my Yamaha 50 for a Yamaha Twin Jet 100, which never worked right from the first day. But soon I became the proud owner of a Mercury Cougar and it was four wheels only from then on, despite some bad car karma!

Friday, July 22, 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy: Water (Cruising Along)

My in-laws, Marian Jane McClure Wood and Edgar James Wood, absolutely loved cruising to Europe and back. (I've written an entry about his college days, paying his way across the Atlantic by playing in bands.) Ed took photos and slides everywhere, as well as making notes during the journey, so we know where/when they cruised.

Above, for example, they're enjoying the "Farewell Dinner" aboard the Cristoforo Colombo on Wednesday, November 5, 1969 (according to the caption on back of the photo). Below, they're smiling at the Gala Dinner on the S.S. France on Monday, September 4, 1967.

My hubby and I love to cruise too. This year and last, we went to the Baltic. Nowadays, we each carry a camera and take photos (hundreds and hundreds). Then we choose 100 or so to put into a Shutterfly book. Here's a favorite shot from our visit to the Hermitage last month. Great memories!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Summer--Backstage at Cain (Pain) Park

This is a guest post by hubby, Wally, about his two summers working backstage at famed Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, OH, during the 1950s. The summer season at that time included 4 musicals (which ran for 2 weeks each). 


Cain Park in the 1940s - Cleveland State Library Special Collections

When I was 17 and 18 and still in high school, I worked as a summer apprentice at Cain Park Theater, and my younger sister worked on the paint crew. During the day, I built scenery and at night, I ran a follow-spot on actors during the shows. Because the stage was 90 feet wide, it needed a lot of scenery to fill it. We built almost a full-size house for Wizard of Oz, for example, and a working merry-go-round for Carousel.

It was a challenge because while one show was running, we were building the scenery for the next and handling backstage duties during the current show's evening performance. (We nicknamed the place "Pain Park" because we worked so hard.) Similarly, the cast had to rehearse the next show during the day while performing the current show each night. The cast included dancers and singers and up-and-coming performers . . . people like Dom DeLuise, for example, who I remember was just hilarious in The Red Mill.

The stage crew had a tradition of trying to distract the cast during the final performance of each show (as a prank). In Annie Get Your Gun, I ran a follow-spot from my position high on a brick tower (see two covered in ivy in photo above). During the show, Annie Oakley and her friends are returning from Europe by ship; they're hungry and Annie shoots into the sky to bring down dinner. I would then throw a stuffed seagull from the tower so it would land onstage. All the audience could see is that Annie shot into the sky and this bird dropped near her feet--except the night I missed and threw it into the orchestra pit. 

During the last performance, a friend was in the tower with me. When Annie shot, we threw every stuffed prop we could get our hands on: a pig, a roast turkey, a cat, a puppy. As these items rained down around the star, one of the cast adlibbed: "My, that's fine shootin', Annie!" Looking back, I'm surprised management didn't throw me out of the theater at that moment.
 

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52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Vacations (Escaping NYC Heat)

My mother's parents (Theodore and Hermina Schwartz) didn't have much money for vacationing, but they did try to get out of hot and humid New York City for at least a week every summer, when their wallets allowed.

Upstate New York was the economical and practical vacation place for city-dwellers like my family. One letter written to my Mom in 1939, when she was 19, is addressed to The White House of Accord, Accord, Ulster County, NY. Accord turns out to be a tiny hamlet midway between New Paltz and Ellenville, NY, very green and then very quiet (today it has a raceway!). 

During the summer of 1941, when my mother Daisy Schwartz was about to turn 22 and was earning her own living, she vacationed at Scaroon Manor in beautiful Schroon Lake, New York. This was, at one time, a well-known Adirondacks resort that's now a complete ruin. (The Thomas Cole painting above shows it pre-development!) Mom, like every other single young lady, was hoping to meet an eligible guy . . . but she came home empty-handed, I know from a letter written by her friend Eleanor.

The family also vacationed occasionally in Spring Valley, NY, which today is very close to the Tappan Zee Bridge that connects Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York. It's now quite commercial and built up. Decades ago, however, it was rural and bucolic, a country haven for city folks seeking clean air and green grass.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Songs--Broadway and Beatles

Growing up, my parents were Broadway fans--not surprising, since they both were brought up in New York City and we still lived a subway ride away from the Great White Way.

Although Mom and Dad saw some shows and took me and my sisters to a few (Sound of Music stands out, for example), they also listened on the radio and bought an occasional album.

I remember one of their particular favorites was South Pacific (above is a photo from the current revival).

Some relatives (who shall remain nameless) still like to tell this joke from the era of the original South Pacific show:

JOKE TELLER: Knock knock!

AUDIENCE: Who's there?

JOKE TELLER: Sam and Janet.

AUDIENCE: Sam and Janet who?

JOKE TELLER: Some Enchanted Evening...!           [cue the laugh track]

My childhood faves were the Beatles. I was a Paul McCartney fan, my twin was a George Harrison fan. Burned into my memory are the nights when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and we sat glued to the TV waiting for the Fab Four to sing whatever hits were current at the time. No one song stands out as my all-time fave. I liked almost all of them! Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Friday, June 24, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Neighbors--Steiner Sisters in Upper Sandusky, OH

The Steiner sisters (pictured at a Tea Party in an earlier blog post) were neighbors in and around Upper Sandusky, Ohio. My husband Wally remembers going there during post-World War II summers to visit his grandparents, Floyda Steiner McClure and Brice Larimer McClure.

On the same street or around the corner lived great-aunt Carrie Steiner Traxler and great-aunt Etta Blanche Steiner Rhuark (who owned a parrot that Wally remembers quite well because it knew how to say his grandfather's name, "Brice McClure"). Great-aunt Minnie Steiner Halbedel lived in a big house closer to "downtown."

Doors weren't locked, and Wally and his siblings would wander in and out of the neighboring houses visiting relatives all day. The summer visits to Upper Sandusky lasted several years, until Minnie and Floyda died. Then Grandfather Brice Larimer McClure sold the Upper Sandusky house and moved to Willoughby, OH, so his grandchildren could swim in Lake Erie . . . The end of an era by the time 1950 rolled around.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Clothes--Double Trouble!

My mother, Daisy Schwartz Burk, was a twin (see the toddlers in the older photo below, in which Mom is probably the smiling girl on the right side, next to her older sister, Dorothy Schwartz). She was often dressed exactly like her fraternal twin, not just for photos. Not surprisingly, Mom wasn't a big fan of matching outfits, because they seemed like a gimmick to show off "twin-ness."

That's why Mom rarely dressed me and my fraternal twin alike. The exception was on special occasions such as when we were going to be photographed by a pro (see the pony-tailed youngsters at right, below). The 99% of our wardrobe that we wore to school and for play did NOT consist of matching outfits--which meant we could share clothing and mix and match from a much larger selection. 

As children, my twin and I would (once in a while) dress like the other and try to fool people, just for the fun of it. Usually we got away with it for an hour or two. Growing up, we valued our separate identities and made separate friends. We remember our mother and aunt talking on the phone every night, so it's no wonder that my twin and I call each other just about every day.
 


Saturday, June 4, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Books (of Parents and Children)

So many books, so little time! This is a shared posting with my hubby, Wally. First up, the books of my childhood and my memories of what was on my parents' bookshelves.

As a preteen, the first two novels I remember plucking off library shelves were: Sands of Mars, by the legendary sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke; and Landfall the Unknown, a young adult novel by Evelyn Cheesman, an entomologist and prolific writer.



Why these book titles have stuck with me all these years (when so many really important details have disappeared from my brain), I don't know. Both books deal with exploration and survival, one on Mars and the other on an uninhabited Pacific island. Interesting theme for a genealogy buff searching for ancestors who came to America from far-away homelands!

My father preferred newspapers (reading 2-4 a day on his one-hour commute to and from Manhattan) but my mother was an avid reader of books. When I was young, she'd fly through paperback mysteries of Erle Stanley Gardner, among others. After we girls were grown and gone, and she was on her own, she acquired a very eclectic collection of books to read and re-read, including The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and various natural history books. Sometimes she'd dabble in a best-seller to see what the hub-bub was about.

Guest post by my hubby, Wally:

Starting around age 12, I got hooked on the Hardy Boys (see earlier post). In addition, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart impressed me when I read it as a 16-year-old. Earth is being swept by a disease (something like the 1918-9 flu pandemic), which kills 98% of the population. The story is the reestablishment of civilization, seen through the eyes of a man who survived and returns to the now-deserted city of San Francisco. What impressed me was how he and others managed to live among the remains of a society where the people had vanished but many man-made parts of the world still continued (food sits on store shelves, books are in the library, etc).

Rereading this 1949 best-seller as an adult, I was struck by Stewart's basically positive view of human nature. Although most post-apocalyptic novels portray a world where life is nasty, brutish, and short, Earth Abides portrays a world in which humans establish a new, positive civilization and culture on the ruins of the old.

My father didn't read books (just newspapers and magazines). But once a week in the summer, my mother and I (and probably my siblings) would walk to the nearest branch of the public library in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where we'd all borrow a stack of books. The only book I remember my mother buying was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I also read it as a teenager when it first came out, and was dazzled by the hero. Rereading it as an adult, however, I found it preposterous and problematic.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: Secrets (What to Reveal and When?)

Spoiler: If you're looking for deep, dark secrets from my family's past, you won't find them here. Building trust with distant or newly-found relatives is hard enough without blabbing any "secrets" all over the Internet. But I do want to talk about how we, as genealogists, handle family secrets that might be painful or embarrassing to others.

From my vantage point here in the 21st century, it's no big deal that a child of the Depression was born 6 months after his parents' wedding (although both parents took the "secret" to their graves, carefully avoiding any discussion of their exact anniversary date). And it's hard to know whether a long-dead ancestor staved off bankruptcy by arranging a theft to collect insurance money. The situation can be interpreted in different ways by different people, and no one with direct knowledge is still alive to say.

What about the ancestor who died in an insane asylum? Early in the 20th century, chronically ill people were sometimes cared for in asylums because long-term care facilities simply didn't exist. This ancestor was in the asylum for at least 5 years, according to Census and death records, and may have had a heart condition or some other illness rather than a mental problem. Another ancestor died in a poor house, but I don't know any other details of how he came to be there and for how long, or why he wasn't taken in by a sibling who lived less than 200 miles away.

It's one thing to see such secrets exposed on Who Do You Think You Are (for the entertainment of all!). It's quite another thing to have a family member feel hurt, saddened, or betrayed over something in a family tree write-up or genealogy blog.

I want to respect the privacy and dignity of family members and yet, I want to tell the truth about my family's history. It's impossible to understand or explain what ancestors did if I don't know their circumstances. We genealogists are always speculating about the "why" of our family's movements and decisions. Knowing the real story can reveal a lot about the reasons behind an ancestor's actions and help us "walk a mile" in his or her shoes.


So here's my plan: I'm telling the true stories, as I know them, to selected family members who can be discreet, and leaving notes in the files. The genealogist of the next generation or the generation after can decide what to reveal and when. Use this knowledge wisely!

Meantime, I'm revealing my gentler "secrets" via this blog. So if you were only looking at official documentation, you wouldn't know about my brief motorcycle momma period. What other secrets? My shameful love of Chuckles (which I've sworn off for good, since sugar is toxic) and my quest to sew something for beloved family members and friends so in the decades to come, they'll always have something to remember me by. Paper turns to dust, and memories fade over time, but quilts can hang on a wall forever :)

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52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History by Amy Coffin is a series of weekly blogging prompts (one for each week of 2011) that invite genealogists and others to record memories and insights about their own lives for future descendants. The "secrets" topic is week 22 (although Amy intended this to be about details no future generations will find in our official genealogical records, I used it as a springboard to discuss "secrets" in general).