Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding Uncle Sam

I was looking for Uncle Sam in early February. Well, I guessed correctly about which Samuel Schwartz (born in Ungvar, Hungary) 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. Sam was a brother to my maternal grandpa, Theodore Schwartz.

Now I know exactly when Sam died and where he was buried. His second wife, Margaret, 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  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 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.

2022 update fixed links.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

My mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk, 1919-1981) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz, 1919-2001) - fraternal, not identical twins, according to my mother. 

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!

UPDATE in 2022: Labeled, and in archival sleeves, within archival boxes.

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 watch 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 (2022 update: I've had a World subscription for years). 

This show is a wonderful intro to genealogy for those who have done little or no family research. If, like Roots in the 1970s, it 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. 

UPDATE in 2022: My must-watch genealogy show of the week is Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates.

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

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 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. 2022 update: fixed links.

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!