Thursday, February 25, 2021

Gone fishin at RootsTechConnect


As you can see, I'm putting up the "gone fishin" sign because from Thursday to Saturday, I'm going to be busy with RootsTechConnect, the entirely virtual genealogy conference. Ready to learn new ways of fishing for ancestors!

There's still time to be part of this extraordinary global genealogy event. More than half a million people worldwide have already registered. In addition to the informative presentations, RootsTech features dozens of keynoters and a virtual expo hall. 

Gone fishin...see you at RootsTech! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Save Family History for More Than One Generation

During my "Planning a Future for Your Family's Past" webinar for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, I spoke about how to plan ahead to save your family-history collection for future generations. An attendee asked a very important question:

Does the strategy change if thinking into future generations, more than one generation ahead?

Oral history lost after three generations

As background, let me point to an old news item quoting archivist Aaron Holt of Fort Worth. He said “it only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history. … It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for a genealogist today." 

Today, I'm thinking not only about oral history--the stories we hear and tell about our ancestors--but also about photos, documents, and other physical items that connect us to generations in the past. What can we do to keep our family history alive in the family for more than one generation into the future?

Top priority: Share information widely

In my experience, the best thing we can do to keep family history safe for the future is to share the information widely among family members now. We must be sure that the next generation will be aware of our genealogy and key pieces of information about our family's past. 

The more relatives who know stories, names, faces, and facts today, the more likely that family history will survive into the generations beyond our own. 

Case in point: My maternal grandmother's Farkas Family Tree. She and her siblings formed the tree association in March, 1933. They kept typed and handwritten notes from monthly meetings stretching from 1933 into 1964. I remember attending meetings when I was a little girl. From my perspective, it was a time to see cousins and eat. I had no idea what the adults did during the meeting.

In fact, I had no idea written notes were taken at each meeting until one of my mother's first cousins mentioned it casually about seven years ago. He had two volumes of meeting minutes that had been bound for safekeeping. Did I want to see? Absolutely! What a gold mine of genealogy these minutes turned out to be. If not for this chance comment, the existence of the books of minutes might have not be known or remembered by the next generation.

My cousin allowed me to keep the books long enough to scan the 600+ pages, filled with details of family life and social gatherings for 31 years. I had the scans printed and bound for some cousins and, later, shared the scans electronically with a larger circle of cousins. Some of the cousins were too young to go to a meeting and were quite interested to read the month-by-month doings of our family. The "Farkas Family Tree" will live on in these meeting minutes, now in the hands or computers of more than a dozen cousins across the country. They can discuss with their families and share with descendants.

Provide context for future generations 

Without sufficient context, how will relatives two or three generations from now understand who's who and where ancestors actually fit into the family tree? 

I was lucky enough to be able to discuss the Farkas Family Tree minutes with four older cousins who attended meetings back in the day, and get their perspective on what I read in the minutes. I also conducted genealogical research to fill in gaps where needed. In essence, I was a connecting link from the past to the present, and learned enough context to share with future generations.

As a result, the package I sent to cousins was more than just the minutes. I included a 60-year-old family photo with identifications, an alphabetical list of names from the minutes, and an explanation of who each person was: Hermina Farkas Schwartz was the oldest daughter of Moritz Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas, the wife of Theodore Schwartz, and the maternal grandmother of Marian Burk Wood. 

So my advice for keeping family history alive two or more generations in the future is: share info/documents/photos/stories now as widely as possible, and provide context so later generations can understand the names, relationships, and lives of ancestors from the distant past. 

For more ideas, please see Amy Johnson Crow's post about LOCKSS--Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. And, of course, keep in mind the privacy of people still living.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Happy Birthday to Us--Caught in the Act!


Happy birthday to my sweet twin Sis!

Caught in the act--trying to turn the dials on our family's old black-and-white TV. 

No idea who's who, just two little girls fascinated by what was then a must-have piece of furniture, the TV console with built-in record player and radio. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Where the Bodies Are Buried, Part 4 (Finale)

Until now, I didn't realize how quick and easy it is to download (in text format) the details of any virtual cemetery created on Find a Grave.

Thanks to @confuzled, a #Genealogy buddy on Twitter, I can share this methodology with you. And it only takes a few moments!

Don't let ancestors' burial places be forgotten

In the previous three parts of my series "where the bodies are buried," I tried different methods of aggregating the final resting places of my ancestors. The goal is to distribute this information widely within my family so ancestors' burial places are not forgotten.

After trying a variety of methods, I concluded that the speediest and most convenient way is to put my ancestors on Find a Grave (if not already memorialized there), create a virtual cemetery (by surname or family), and email the link to my relatives.

However, I also wanted to be able to sort by location and cemetery and surname. In Part 3, I created a Word document to do that--copying info from my Find a Grave memorials.

But @confuzled was kind enough to explain how, exactly, to download my virtual cemetery into a text file that I can use for a Word document, etc.

Prerequisite: You must have registered on Find a Grave (free), and created a virtual cemetery (see Part 1 of my series for detailed instructions). 

Detailed directions for downloading

After logging into Find a Grave, click on the drop-down menu at top right of the screen, under your account name/photo. 

Next, select "account." You'll see a menu at left, as shown here.

Click on "data and privacy." 

You'll see a screen asking you which virtual cemetery you would like to download. 

Simply select a virtual cemetery, click to download, and you'll get a .txt document similar to the one shown at top. It's tab-delimited and can be imported into different programs. I'll be importing into Word, for instance. 

There are many more headings and data entries than shown in my excerpted sample at top. This is much more convenient than entering each memorial by hand in my Word document! 

I am grateful to @confuzled for tipping me to this handy method of downloading data from Find a Grave for my own home-made Word document or spreadsheet.

One last tip: Link to your virtual cemeteries

Dara McGivern, who blogs at Black Raven Genealogy, gave me an idea including virtual cemeteries right on a family history blog. She created a special section and developed beautiful memorials on her blog--read all about it here

TY to @DaraMcGivern for this idea! Shortly I'm going to add links to my ancestor landing pages (those tabs spread across the top of my blog) so cousins can easily click and find our ancestors' burial places.

This concludes my "where the bodies are buried" series. What an adventure, and I sincerely appreciate the ideas and suggestions I've been received.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Where the Bodies Are Buried, Part 3

I don't want future generations to forget where our ancestors are buried. In Part 1 of this series, I found out how extremely fast and easy it is to create a virtual cemetery on Find a Grave. I've now created 3 virtual cemeteries and still keep clicking to add ancestors to each one. This is also an incentive for me to be sure more of my ancestors are represented on Find a Grave.

In Part 2, I highlighted a printed workbook for documenting death and burial details for ancestors. Also, I experimented with an illustrated pedigree-style listing of final resting places--not a big success, but a learning experience. 

Now I've created one of my favorite tools for recording genealogical details: A Word document with details typed into a table, sortable by column.

Sort by surname, sort by cemetery

Shown above is an excerpt from my document "Wood Family Burial Places." I entered information in three columns, thinking ahead to how I might want to view the details for various reasons.

Each ancestor is entered: SURNAME, GIVEN & MIDDLE NAMES. That allows me to digitally sort the table according to surname--handy for when I'm only interested in the Wood line, not the Slatter line (in-laws) and so on.

I also listed cemeteries with complete address info. Some day, I or another descendant might want to visit. This makes it quick and easy to sort by name of cemetery. VARIATION: I could have listed a separate column for city/state. In this case, I didn't--but I will for my next iteration. Then I can sort by city/state, and within city/state, by cemetery, if I'm planning a visit.

My preference: Find a Grave

After reviewing all my options, and testing a number of different methods, I am happiest with my virtual cemeteries on Find a Grave. In fact, while creating my Word document, I consulted Find a Grave for details. Ideally, Find a Grave would someday allow me to download my virtual cemetery in a spreadsheet or pdf format. Wouldn't that be even easier?

So I'm going to add to my virtual cemeteries on Find a Grave AND then transfer each family's cemetery (one name at a time) to a Word document that can be sorted and printed for distribution to relatives. I'll also put a copy into my files for future descendants to see.

NOTE: RootsMagic7 is the genealogy software I use, but I'm not as proficient as I'd like. It would have allowed me to print a custom report if I had entered burial places for the people in my family tree. I didn't do that from the start, which means any report I create now would be incomplete. That's why I'm investigating these other methods of recording and distributing burial information so my family will not forget where the bodies are buried.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Where the Bodies Are Buried, Part 2

The fastest and easiest way to let my relatives know where ancestors are buried is to create a virtual cemetery on Find a Grave and email the link. I described that process in my previous post, Part 1 of this series. I've continued to add to my virtual cemeteries, because it takes only a few clicks to add a lot of ancestors.

In Part 2, I'm experimenting with other ways of documenting ancestors' burial places so this vital genealogical information is more likely to be remembered in the future. One is a paperback workbook published a few months ago, and the other is my own experiment (spoiler alert: not a complete success).

"Family History Record Book of Deaths and Burials"

Sheridan Parsons, who I met during #AncestryHour Twitter chats, has created and published a handy workbook for documenting death and burial information. "Family History Record Book of Deaths and Burials" is available in paperback from Amazon and highly affordable (under $10). 

The book provides space for jotting down a lot of details about each ancestor. Not just name/date/place of death and burial, but also officiant, undertaker, headstone or cremation, and so forth. You can also list notices that appeared in newspapers, with source citations. The book has space for a highly complete record of each burial!

This paperback is light and portable, just right for taking along on cemetery visits.  If you want to "look inside the book" for sample pages, click to see Sheridan's book here. I like the idea of the book itself being passed to the next generation so these names, dates, and details aren't forgotten. And the heir who gets this book will know what your writing looks like, a nice plus because you will be jotting details by hand.

Pedigree chart becomes burial location experiment

At top, a National Archives pedigree chart that I imported into PowerPoint and embellished to create an illustrated burial location document. I kept the basic structure showing my father's direct line (including his father, mother, maternal grandparents). 

Instead of birth, marriage, and death details, I typed in the main burial details and added a photo for each grave (from my own collection, not copied from elsewhere). I can export from PowerPoint into another type of document if I choose. Here, I took a screen shot (and I can print from it).

Pros: Basic format is familiar, able to add photos for visual interest, can add color to make details stand out. Cons: Only direct line shows on a pedigree chart. Also, space is quite limited, and not able to summarize by cemetery.

In short, this is only an experiment and a work in progress. Not sure I'll make another for other families, but I enjoyed the creative process even if the result is not a complete success.

My next post in this series will show another experiment, a sortable Word document that can be printed and/or emailed. I think this approach will work out better for me and for recipients! More soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Where the Bodies Are Buried, Part 1

Do descendants know where their ancestors are buried? 

When I began my genealogy journey in 1998, I wanted to know where and when my paternal grandfather had died and where he was buried. He died long before I was born, and there was no one to ask (and no paperwork) by the time I was interested. 

Along with researching and sharing information about ancestors, I've now realized I need to share specific information about burial places. Maybe descendants will want to visit in the future. At the very least, they should be aware of the cemeteries (and if possible, the plots) where our ancestors are buried. I really don't want this information to be lost to the next generation and beyond.

This is Part 1 of a series of my blog posts about "Where the bodies are buried."

Find a Grave's virtual cemetery 

Because I've been adding or enhancing memorials for ancestors on the free Find a Grave website for years, it's surprisingly easy to assign individuals to a virtual cemetery of my own making. On Find a Grave, a virtual cemetery is just what it sounds like: an online-only gathering of burial memorials put together by one registered user.

My idea is to have one virtual cemetery for each side of my family tree. Each memorial has detailed info about where the ancestor is buried, sometimes including plots and even grave numbers. In many cases, I've added photos and/or documents. As a result, all I have to do is assign each memorial to a virtual cemetery. This will become a one-stop online place for alerting descendants about "where the bodies are buried."

Easy instructions

You must be registered on Find a Grave to create a virtual cemetery. Registration is free, and once you're signed in, it takes just a few clicks to create a virtual cemetery. Click here for Find a Grave's directions. 

I've also created a virtual cemetery without even leaving an ancestor's Find a Grave memorial. See the screen shot at top, of the memorial I created for my grandmother's baby brother who died young. When I clicked the button "+save to" (see red circle), up popped a box asking me to either add this memorial to an existing virtual cemetery or create a new virtual cemetery. 

Describe the virtual cemetery (and make public or private)

As shown above, I named my paternal virtual cemetery "Burk and Mahler Family Memorials" and listed the matriarchs and patriarchs. Below the description are all the memorials currently included in this particular virtual cemetery. You can't see Wolf Mahler, but he's on the list. I chose to make this public, but have the option to make it a private virtual cemetery. I can send the link to my relatives when I've added more names. You can take a peek at this virtual cemetery in progress here.

To find my virtual cemetery at any time, all I do is sign into Find a Grave and then look at my profile page. On the right are my virtual cemeteries (one for mom's side, one for dad's side). One by one, little by little, I'm adding memorials to these virtual cemeteries and then in the future, I'll be ready to email my relatives with the links. The next generation and beyond will know what I had to discover on my own--where our ancestors are buried.

PS Especially where ancestors had no direct descendants (bachelor uncles, for instance), I hope to keep their memory alive by including them in my virtual cemeteries.

PPS After reading Dara's comment below, I am adding a link to the Burk/Mahler virtual cemetery on my Burk and Mahler ancestor landing pages here on the blog. Same for my Farkas ancestors. TY to Dara for the idea!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Remembering Their First Date on Valentine's Day


My husband's parents, Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) and Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), had their very first date in Cleveland on Valentine's Day of 1934. Ed noted their "first date anniversary" on his daily diary every year and they always went to dinner to celebrate. 

Ed remembers his first date with Marian

How did they get together? As Ed told his son in an interview many years later, he was invited for a musical evening at the home of a friend on Valentine's Day. He remembered that a "gal in the office" named Marian played piano and expressed interest in hearing him play. Maybe he even told her that he had played piano to pay for college and still played on weekends while working as an insurance adjustor for the same company where she worked.

So it was on Valentine's Day of 1934 when Ed took Marian on their first date. He picked her up "not having any idea what I was getting into" (he told his son). They went out for a snack before going to his friend's house. The men, all friends, formed an impromptu orchestra and enjoyed playing for the ladies. Ed remembered that Marian fit right in from the very beginning and told him she'd had a good time.

Encouraged, he called for a second date the next week, and pretty soon they were going together. They married in 1935 and raised three children, including my wonderful hubby.

Pencil sketch for ancestor coloring book

On this 87th anniversary of Ed and Marian's first Valentine's Day date, I want to show how I turned their color portrait from the 1960s into a page for the ancestor coloring book I gave to the youngest generation.

First, I cropped the portrait to focus on their head/shoulders. Next, I used photo software to make the image into a black-and-white "pencil sketch" picture that can be colored. Finally, I positioned the portrait on a blank page, typed their names, and included their relationship to the recipients. I printed a copy for each of Ed and Marian's great-grandchildren, sending a digital version to the adults for reprinting in the future. 

"Ancestor coloring book" is just one of the bite-sized projects I'll be demonstrating during my talk for the all-virtual NERGC Conference in April. For more information, see the NERGC page here.

"Valentine" is this week's #52Ancestors prompt from Amy Johnson Crow!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Dad and His Dechelette with a Snowball Fight


With snow on the ground here in New England, it's a good time to write about a piece of art featuring what seems to be a snowball fight.

My father, Harold D. Burk (1909-1978), was stationed close to Paris in the spring of 1945, a part of the U.S. Army Signal Corps helping the Allies secure the area as World War II was coming to a close.

When discharged in 1945, Dad brought home a few pieces of art that he had acquired in France.

This painting, which looks to my eyes like a spontaneous snowball fight, was painted by the "naive" French painter Louis Auguste Dechelette (1894-1964). Although I don't remember it hanging in my childhood home, I inherited it when Dad died.  

I packed the oil painting securely this week and sent it to a new home (as I've been doing with many artifacts from family history). I included a brief bio of Dad and his military career, which lasted from March of 1942 to October of 1945. It was autumn when Dad finally arrived home, but the snowball fight will go on forever in this Dechelette painting acquired while serving his country in France. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Have You Searched State and Local Genealogy and History Sites?

As handy as the big one-stop genealogy sites are for researching family trees, there are lots of other details available on U.S. state and local history/genealogy sites--sometimes free, sometimes at a very affordable price. Finding these state and local sites is easy--just try an online search for: 

historical society and [state or county] 


genealogical society and [state or county]

That's how I found, and ordered my late father-in-law's death certificate after using the site's death record index search. The cost was low (less than "official" records from the state). Plus I learned some new details from the certificate. This society also has free Ohio newspapers and many other wonderful resources for genealogy research.

While digging into the background of my husband's ancestors from Crawford County, Ohio, I searched and found that county's historical society website. It includes an alphabetical listing of "pioneers of Crawford County" -- showing the surname of my hubby's Rinehart ancestor. This confirms the family name was present in Crawford County prior to the end of 1850 and has led me to other info in the area.

So go ahead and try an online search for a historical or genealogical society in the state or county of your focus ancestor. Best of luck!

-- This is one of the tips from my "Free and Almost Free Genealogy" webinar. For more, also take a look at my summary of blog posts here

Saturday, February 6, 2021

"Stinking Cheese" and Other Family Tree Traditions

Among the artifacts handed down in my mother's family were bound books of typed notes from 30 years of Farkas Family Tree monthly meetings. Founded in 1933 to keep the bonds strong among Farkas siblings, in-laws, and cousins, the Tree association celebrated every occasion (birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, start of summer, end of summer, etc.) with food. Hosting duties rotated around the tree, and hosts outdid themselves in feeding the many relatives who attended each meeting. 

Children and adults alike filled their plates during the main meal, then adults stayed at the table for the "business meeting" which consisted of a treasurer's report (yearly dues: $5 per adult), secretary's report (reading minutes from previous meeting), entertainment committee report (organizing card parties, fishing trips, picnics), and constitution committee (as children of immigrants, they believed in clearly delineating how the Tree association would function). 

What the hosts served changed with the seasons. Even the two "Bachelor Brothers" (my great uncles, Julius Farkas and Peter Farkas) enjoyed hosting and putting out a mouth-watering spread. As shown above in an excerpt from the minutes, when they hosted in April of 1937, the brothers and their sister-in-law Sadie served: hot dogs, sauerkraut, pickled tongue, pastrami, breads, mustard, and "stinking cheese." The brothers operated a dairy shop specializing in cheese, and the "stinking cheese" they brought to most meetings was a running joke and treasured tradition for 30 years. 

In all weather, in all economic circumstances, the minutes make clear that the family embraced its tradition of eating together, playing together, and staying together. When the older generation began to pass away, the family mourned together. My maternal grandfather Teddy led a moment of silence every March, honoring the memory of Tree members who were gone--but never forgotten.

This is my "In the kitchen" post for week 5 of #52Ancestors

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Donating Artifacts with Inventory and Ancestor Bio

Three university libraries are receiving my late father-in-law's theater programs. One has a collection focused on Cleveland-area theatre programs, one has a collection focused on Broadway programs, and one has a collection focused on Boston-area programs. 

Inventory of programs

So the libraries and the family know what is being donated where, I created an inventory for each library of what it will receive. I listed the date of the program, the theater, the performance, and any notes (such as well-known stars or composers). 

As shown in the excerpt below, my document can be sorted by column. Here, I've sorted by date to show the oldest Broadway program from 1923. (That's not the first pro show my f-i-l saw--he was in the audience for the October 1922 performance of "Shuffle Along" with Eubie Blake in Boston.) But the inventory can also be sorted according to theater, if desired, or what is being performed.

Preparing the inventory documents allowed me to take time to look over each program and enjoy the cover art, the celebrities who performed, and the period ads for clothing, cars, and more. I'm keeping scans of selected programs before I ship the donations to their new homes.

Provenance of programs

Institutions prefer to know the provenance of the artifacts in their collections. 

This is my opportunity to provide a brief bio of f-i-l Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) and have his name/life story "on the record" at each institution. 

Beyond bare facts like birth-marriage-death, his one-page bio explains his lifelong involvement with playing piano and how he used every opportunity to see live shows while attending college at Tufts and, later, working in New York City and in Cleveland. 

The bio I wrote also mentions his prize-winning musical composition in a competition judged by famed composer George Gershwin in 1934. That achievement and Ed's life story add context for researchers who will study the programs in the years to come.

As a family historian, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that an ancestor's story will be kept alive for future generations by being represented in an institution's collection!