Saturday, December 30, 2023

Happy New Year 2024 with a 1909 Greeting

In 1909, a Wood cousin in Toledo, Ohio sent this colorful penny postal greeting to his four-year-old first cousin in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Usually the postcards sent to this little boy were written by other children. This New Year's greeting was written by an 18-year-old cousin who had flowing cursive handwriting. Tracking him through the 1910 US Census, I learned he soon had a job in a local drug store.

May you enjoy all the luck of a bouquet of four-leaf clovers in 2024 and have a healthy new year! 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Big Focus on LOCKSS Online

Back in 2018, which was the 20th year of my genealogy journey, I began using RootsMagic. First, I really wanted to be able to sync with Ancestry and have my family trees handy on my own computer. Second, I wanted Mac software, with a roster of robust features that wasn't too complicated to learn. RM7 worked well for me for several years.

When I upgraded to RootsMagic 8, I liked the colorful new interface, but the software didn't always sync properly. I admit I didn't want to invest a lot of time trying to learn the bells and whistles, because to my mind, that took precious time away from my research and documentation. Plus this software is only on my computer, and my heirs are very unlikely to be excited about learning specialized software just to access the family tree. 

Dear readers, I recognize that some folks are very much into genealogy software. They know all the ins and outs and they appreciate the convenience. I just didn't have the ooomph to make it up the learning curve. Turns out, genealogy software just isn't my thing. 

Lots of copies keep stuff safe

As I enter the 26th year of my genealogy journey, I am more determined than ever that my family history will live on, for relatives and for researchers interested in my ancestors. Booklets and photo books are great for my immediate family, but I'm thinking longer-term.

That's why I've been expanding my trees on Ancestry, MyHeritage, and WikiTree, as well as posting bite-sized ancestor bios on those sites plus FamilySearch, Find a Grave, Fold3, and elsewhere. Of course, I continue to tell family stories and explore genealogy questions on this blog, which is in its 16th year. 

I'm putting my faith in LOCKSS--lots of copies, spread across many online genealogy sites, should keep stuff safe for the future, in 2024 and well beyond.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Two Weddings in 1937 for the Burk Family

On the morning of December 26, 1937, my aunt Miriam Burk (1911-1987) married millinery salesman David Bourstein (1907-1982) in New York City. They're the handsome young couple in the photo above, flanked by her father Isaac Burk (1882-1943) and Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954).

The Depression was still underway, but when Dave proposed (he told his son years later), he showed Miriam his bankbook as proof that he could support her when they were married. 

Earlier in 1937, Miriam's older sister Mildred Burk (1907-1993) had married hairdresser Charles Lang (1906-1968), who went on to open his own beauty salon in the Bronx after World War II. 

Miriam and Dave were married at a relative's apartment, surrounded by both families. My father Harold was there, an aspiring travel agent at age 28, along with his brother Sidney, the "baby" of the Burk family at age 23. The day was mild for late December, with no snow on the ground, according to Extreme Weather Watch

The Boursteins shared 44 years of marriage before Dave died at the age of 74. Miriam outlived her husband by five years. The Langs were married for 31 years before Charlie died at the age of 62, outlived by Millie, who died at age 86.

Remembering my aunts and uncles on this anniversary of the Bourstein wedding.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Greetings Via Penny Post Cards in Ohio


Here is one of the colorful penny postal greetings sent to my husband's uncle in Cleveland, Ohio, every Christmas from 1907 to 1914. 

I was surprised to learn, from Smithsonian Magazine, about the history of Christmas penny postcards--all because someone wanted to streamline his holiday correspondence. 

Wishing you and all those dear to you a very merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Heirloom Wreath and Snowflake for Christmas Eve

This delightful wreath is made up of handprints from my grandkids, traced and cut from felt and then glued onto a cardboard ring. The names/dates were written on the cardboard backing.

Another favorite holiday decoration is this grandchild recreation of a snowflake. 

We hang these handcrafted heirlooms on our front door every holiday season. The colors have faded a bit, but the memories are bright and merry.

May you have a peaceful and joyous holiday!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Keeping Our Own Memories Alive for Today and Tomorrow

The final genealogy prompt in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge for 2023 is "me, myself, and I."

Since 2007, I've created photo books featuring photos from my hubby's and my activities and adventures, big vacations, and family reunions. Above, a small sample of these books. Inside, the photos are arranged chronologically from January to December, and captions explain what's happening in each photo. Every so often, I pull a book off the shelf, leaf through, and relive those memories, happy that the photos are conveniently available.

At least once in each book, I caption a group photo with full names. Why? Although we all know who everyone is today, future generations may not recognize some people. How I wish I had inherited more photos with full names and dates! I'm learning from that experience by captioning as completely as I can.

Books or albums are a great way to get family photos off our phones and into print so others can see them too, IMHO. 

In the far future when my hubby and I join our ancestors, we hope these photo books will be enjoyed by those who come after us. Meanwhile, I'm currently working on the 2023 retrospective photo book of our "adventures."

Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for the gift of #52Ancestor genealogy prompts throughout 2023, and now a new set of prompts for 2024.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Keep Those Cousin Connections Alive!


As 2023 winds down, I've been updating my cousin connections. I don't want to lose track of these relatives in the coming years! How I wish I had inherited something like this. My Mom's handwritten 1960ish address book was as close as I got to such a listing, except she didn't explain any relationships.

I maintain a digital document so I can sort alphabetically if I'm looking for a particular set of cousins or if I want to search the entire document for specific words/dates. My notes column lists the exact relationship and any other pertinent details. Don't forget maiden names, nicknames.

My Sis now has a copy of the updated version so she's aware of our cousin connections on both sides of the family tree. We've met many of these cousins in person, but others we've only "met" via email or phone. 

As a new year's resolution, please do yourself and your family a favor and create or update a listing of cousin connections. To make it easy, go ahead and borrow or adapt my format, which is also in my popular genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

"Cousins" is Amy Johnson Crow's genealogy prompt for week 51 of her #52Ancestors challenge for 2023. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Looking Ahead to 2024 Genealogy Priorities

Well, 2024 is nearly here! It will be my 26th year of genealogy obsession, I'm happy to say. Also, 2024 will be my 16th year of genealogy blogging.

In the coming year, my priorities will be:
  • Create a family history photo book about my husband's paternal grandparents. This is likely to be the longest and most detailed of my photo books, because I have a lot to share (research, photos, stories) about James Edgar Wood and Mary Slatter Wood, and their siblings. I'll blog as I work on it.
  • Continue writing and posting bite-sized bios of ancestors. Some bios I've already written form the basis of content in my photo books...and vice versa. Over time, I'm posting brief ancestor bios on WikiTree, Find a Grave, Fold3, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and more.
  • Switch old photos from archival sleeves to safe, convenient photo albums, a project that fell to the back burner in 2023. I love working on old photos when there's a big snow storm outside. So if January in New England turns out to be snowy, my photo project (including captioning) will gain momentum.
  • Continue redoing research on focus ancestors, as new info becomes available and as I try different sites. In 2023, I learned how my husband's maternal grandparents met, by researching the social columns in newspapers that only recently were digitized. More of that in 2024. Also, I love learning more about in-law ancestors. Sometimes researching them gives me a clue about a direct ancestor OR gives me context for understanding family dynamics of the past.
  • Slim down and reorganize surname file folders. I'm slowly pawing through my surname file folders, consolidating/digitizing research notes, tossing unneeded paper (like printed-out census pages). This is another wonderful snowy-day activity that usually sends me down a rabbit hole as I follow up on something I forgot about or didn't understand the first time I saw it.
  • Genealogy programs, education, connections. I'm still making presentations, still taking webinars, and will be attending some local genealogy meetings in 2024. Most important to me, I'm keeping alive the cousin connections I've made in my years of researching family history. 
  • Saving family history in institutions. I still have a few items from family history that I'll be donating to institutions in 2024. More about that in upcoming posts. 
Dear readers, I wish you a new year of peace and a tree full of genealogy fun!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Looking Back at 2023 Genealogy Results

As 2023 begins to fade into the history books, a look back at what I thought my priorities in genealogy would be this past year--and what they really turned out to be.

My planned genealogy priorities for 2023

One year ago, I set five priorities for my genealogy activities in 2023: (1) continue writing/posting bite-sized ancestor bios, (2) resume my photo album project, (3) redo research about ancestors of particular interest, (4) continue my genealogy presentations, and (5) further my genealogy education. Oh, and I wanted to clean out the unneeded scribbled notes in my surname files.

My actual genealogy priorities in 2023

Family-history photo books (a variation on bite-sized ancestor bios) turned out to be my absolutely top priority this past year, something that wasn't on my list at all. Why? Because in February, relatives asked questions about what our ancestors did during World War II. I wanted to provide answers that could be saved and reviewed again and again.

In response to the questions, I created my first-ever family-history photo book about ancestors in WWII. It was only 6 inches by 6 inches, with colorful front and back covers (see image above, from back cover) and 20 pages of info about my Dad (US Army), my uncles (US Army), my aunt (WAC), and my parents' cousins who served in the war (in the US Army, US Army Air Corps, US Marines, US Navy, and National Guard units). 

This tiny book was a big hit with the next generation! So I went "all in" on family-history photo books during the year, creating one about my maternal grandparents, one about my paternal grandparents, and one about my Mom and her twin sister. All were well received. Just last month, I completed a photo book about my husband's maternal grandparents, and last week I reordered copies for other relatives after previewing and editing one copy. In all, a very worthwhile priority that will continue into 2024.

In addition, I wrote many bite-sized bios of ancestors to post on WikiTree, Fold3, Find a Grave, and other sites, as I originally planned for 2023, and will continue into 2024. 

I began cleaning out handwritten notes from my surname files, saving the info as comments on my trees or otherwise consolidating for less paper clutter. This is something I usually do on the fly while looking for other info in those files. 

What slipped to 2024

When those photo books jumped onto the front burner, other priorities had to wait. Now on the back burner is my photo album project, which will show up on the "to do" list for 2024 (more on that in another blog post). 

Also slipping to 2024 was some (not all) of my in-depth research on particular focus ancestors, particularly those from Eastern Europe. I'm pursuing a couple of leads and may yet have an interesting breakthrough before the end of 2023. 

Genealogy presentations and education

I gave more than a dozen virtual presentations live in 2023, and already have dates lined up for 2024. Continuing my own genealogy education, I watched dozens of excellent webinars (both live and recorded) from a variety of sources: Legacy Family Tree Webinars, Virtual Genealogy Association, WikiTree Symposium, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, Center for Jewish History, Jewish Genealogy Society of CT, Kentucky Genealogical Society, and other genealogy groups around the country. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from experts.

Tip: Always download the handouts when available! Maybe I can't use all of the info or instructions right away, but I might want to consult the handout in the future. I have one digital file where I store handouts and conference syllabi from the past decade. Thank you to the many speakers who put so much detail into their handouts! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Previewing and Editing Family History Books


Last month, I ordered one family history photo book so I could preview it before ordering multiple copies for relatives on my husband's side of the family. The main subjects are Floyda Mabel Steiner (1878-1946) and Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970).

I've spent much of 2023 creating such professional photo books so I can memorialize ancestors for the sake of descendants who want to read the "story" rather than just looking at a family tree or a couple of photos. The books include a tree and many old photos, but also quotes from the ancestors and memories from descendants.

Preview copy for my edits and recipients' comments

The preview allowed me to see what the cover and pages look like, in print, as a final check. Sure enough, I noticed little things to improve AND little things to add.

In addition, I showed recipients the preview book and they took time to look at each page, offering comments about what they like and don't like (feedback I appreciated). My audience has repeatedly told me that "black and white is boring" so every page has some color, such as a color title at top and a colorful border around each photo, and some pages have a small saying. Also, I colorized two old photos and noted that they were colorized to avoid misleading future generations.

Pencil edits on preview copy

At top, the title page. In real life, it's NOT this yellow looking. I made a pencil note to move the left-hand photo further left to balance out the page. Also, I made a tiny pencil note under the page number, so I could quickly spot which pages had changes. 

After reading and rereading the timeline in the book, I discovered I'd inadvertently omitted two key deaths in the lives of these ancestors. In pencil, I reminded myself to add one death in 1880 and one in 1887--both are described in the narrative, but not included in the timeline until my revision.

Reorder with changes

Now I've reordered multiple copies with these and other edits, ready to give as holiday gifts to relatives who are actually excited about learning more. This is not my final family history photo book--I have one more to go, about my husband's paternal grandparents, Wood and Slatter. I'm currently gathering old photos for that project, which I'll begin in January. 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Remembering the 1919 Birth of Twins

On this day in 1919, my mother, Daisy Schwartz Burk (d. 1981), and her twin sister, Dorothy Helen Schwartz (d. 2001), were born in New York City, to parents Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Theodore Schwartz

This snapshot was taken during their first year...and unlike most photos, the twins were carefully identified (much later, not at the time). Mom, who was 5 minutes younger than her twin, is at left. 

Checking the New York Times archives, I learned that December 4, 1919 was clear and cold, with temperatures below freezing all through the day. Truly a winter day!

Remembering Daisy and Dorothy with much love, on this 104th anniversary of their birth. 

Friday, December 1, 2023

"If You're Not in The Photo, You Weren't There"

On vacation or at family gatherings, my wonderful Sis strongly encourages friends and relatives to be visible in at least one photo. She reminds them: "If you're not in the photo, you weren't there." Translation: You'll remember you were there, but others won't know you were there unless you're in the photo. 

Who was there, who wasn't there?

Also true in family history. Years from now, who will know you were at that birthday party or holiday dinner or reunion if you don't appear in any photos from the event? Uh, people might remember you being there even if you're not in a photo, but it's a picture is worth 1000 words, right?

More than once, I've speculated about why an ancestor was not in a photo...sick or at work or out of town or estranged or actually behind the camera? Sometimes I can confirm my speculation, but often I just have to wonder. There's no one left to ask.

Photographer, step into the picture!

My late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) was a lifelong shutterbug, and thanks to him, we inherited a rich cache of photos and slides--usually with captions or some kind of identification. 

In most cases, Ed was taking the photos of family and friends. But he also made sure to appear in at least one photo when on vacation. At top, a photo of Ed and his wife, Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983), on one of their cruises to Europe. This photo, pasted into one of his albums, was accompanied by a caption detailing the name of the ship, the special event, and the date. 

I'm sure Ed and Marian smiled when they looked back at this photo and the wonderful memories of that vacation. As the family historian, I smiled too--and preserved it for the future so future generations can see them at dinner.

What to keep, what to toss

My hubby and I took time to sort through Ed's vast collection of personal photos and slides after he passed away. We retained and digitized his photos of people and places/buildings important to family history. 

Even when we couldn't immediately identify the faces, we held onto photos of people because in time, we hoped to learn more (and sometimes we later identified who was who). Happily, his collection included photos showing Ed at different points in his life--as a boy, a musician, a husband, a new father, a retiree.  

In the end, we tossed the many, many images of famous landmarks and city skylines after determining there was no real genealogical value. (See my book Planning a Future for Your Family's Past for more about curating and keeping ancestral photos and slides safe for the future.)

So please, if you're the usual family photographer, remember to step into a photo or video during each event. Be part of your own family history! And as reminder, be sure to back up your digitized photos and genealogy research regularly.