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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do Distant Relatives Want to Hear from Us?

A few weeks ago I found the obit of a descendant of my grand-aunt Anna, and wrote a letter to one of the surviving relatives. I also sent a Facebook message to her son (he was listed in the obit, as well).

Both of my notes were polite and enthusiastic, explaining that I'm researching my family tree, found what I think is a connection to their family, and would like to ask a couple of questions about where Anna came from in the Old World. Also I offered a photo of Anna if they'd like to see what she looked like. No answer.

Does no answer mean "no" or does it mean "too busy to respond" or "don't want to think about the old days" or "don't want to talk to strangers" or "moved, no forwarding address" or what? I've never received a letter like the ones I'm sending, so I can't say how I'd react. Most likely I'd at least contact the writer to confirm that we are, in fact, related, and then go from there.

My 2d cousin Harriet was delighted when my letter found her two years ago. She and I got together for a wonderful visit and we call each other now and then. But I never heard from my husband's distant cousins (presumably related) when we found them in NJ and wrote them last summer.

On the other hand, when the Wood family genealogist and I located a long-lost cousin of theirs after doing a lot of pretty interesting research, we started an ongoing e-mail dialogue with photos and family details flying back and forth. It's been fun getting to know all these folks.

So my question is: Do distant relatives want to hear from us? Update: Via Twitter, found this good discussion thread about online contacts. Check it out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seeking Classmates?

Nostalgia ... I searched for photos of my home town, the Bronx, and came across a number of sites that have, of all things, class photos scanned from yearbooks. The Bronx Board has a photo of me from my Jr High days (back when that's what middle school was called). Most photos come with names of those pictured, so if you're searching for class mates whose full names have become fuzzy in your mind over the years, this kind of search might help.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pappy sailed on the USS Niagara in 1920


Looking at US Census data for 1920, I believe my great-uncle "Pappy" Markell (the nickname used by some of my cousins) served on the USS Niagara, anchored in Mexico during the Census period of Feb. 1920. Thanks to the Naval Historical Center, and a friend with a great grasp of Google, I can post the following image of the Niagara, a yacht purchased by the Navy from Howard Gould of NYC.

Following WWI, the Niagara stayed in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters during early 1920s . . . when Pappy was on board. More about the USS Niagara on this informative Naval Warfare blog. Pappy was on back on shore for good, it seems, by 1921 when he married Sweetie.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Great-Grandma Tillie

Great-Grandma Tillie Mahler died in June, 1952 at 99 yrs old, if her death cert can be believed (informant was her son Morris, but still...). Morris says Tillie's father was Julius Yaina but in other records, her maiden name is shown as Jacobs. Who to believe? Cuz Ira had this full-length photo of her. She lived to see many grandchildren married--I know because her face is in their wedding photos. Wish I could hear her stories.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Great-Aunt Anna

My cousin had always told me that her aunt Anna (my great-aunt) died in 1940, but I had no exact date and didn't follow up--until last month, when I used the excellent Italian Genealogical Group web site's databases to find her among the NYC records the volunteers have painstakingly cross-indexed and made available. I sent for the death cert, thinking it would be months before it arrived. NYC surprised me and processed the request in less than 2 weeks. Now I have Anna's parents' full names and birth countries! And using that, I've already found them in, of all places, Connecticut. More research ahead.

Alas, without Ancestry.com at home. The price was just too dear and I've let my subscription lapse, effective this week. At least my library subscribes so I can always go there to do my research. And I can use Heritage Quest from home, thanks to my state library's site. Too bad about Ancestry but it's priced too high for ordinary folks--Ancestry, are you listening?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day and Dad

As a salute to all the brave members of our armed services, a bit of my Dad's military history. Harold Burk enlisted in Mar 1942 at Camp Upton, Yaphank, New York, "branch immaterial," as a private. He was assigned to the Army Signal Service Corps and was in "Central Europe" and "Rhineland" battles. He's at right in photo taken in Europe, probably 1945.

Discharged in Oct 1945 in Ft. Monmouth, NJ, he went back to civilian life as a self-employed travel agent. Here's to you, Dad, on Memorial Day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dr. Hull Allen

Following up on Allen line, Cousin Larry found the following ancestor info in the 1880 census:

Hull ALLEN, Male W 80 CT Physician CT CT

Susan ALLEN Wife M Female W 75 NY At Home NY NY

Sarah C. ALLEN Dau S Female W 48 CT At Home CT CT

Maria E. STREET GDau [granddaughter] S Female W 17 CT At School CT CT

[via Milford Public Library "Hull Allen Fund"]

Common ancestor on Wood branch of family tree: George ALLEN and Katherine WATTS.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Abigail Allen

Abigail Allen is a 10th cousin of my hubby who first married John Shepherd/Shephard (in 1707) and then, after his death, married Daniel Foote (or Foot), exact date unknown but around 1723.

Vol. 1 of Vital Records of Newtown CT shows the children of Abigail and her second husband Daniel Foote, including Sarah Foote who married James Fairchild. But where did Abigail's second marriage (to Daniel Foote) take place--and when? When and where did Abigail die, and where is her grave located? Next stop on this genealogical quest: CT State Library to check Stratford and Milford records.