Showing posts with label #Genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Genealogy. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Family Photos: The Man Who Wasn't There

Excerpt from 1916 wedding photo of Alex Farkas and Jennie Katz in New York City
Earlier this month, I wrote about using city directories to track ancestors through the years, noting not only who was where and when but who was missing in a given year.

Same goes for family photos. I have several group photos taken at family weddings. But sometimes a key ancestor is missing, as in the 1916 wedding photo shown above (with an excerpt of the caption page superimposed). This is my #52Ancestors story of the man who wasn't there.

Name that Farkas ancestor

If you squint, you can see someone long ago wrote numbers in white ink on people's hats or lapels. At one time, there was surely an identification key. But 103 years later, no one has it or remembers ever seeing it.

Interestingly, the bride and groom weren't numbered. So when I added the numbers (following the numbering system used on the original), I called the bride A and the groom B. The groom is my great uncle Alex Farkas, the bride is my great aunt Jennie Katz. I also recorded the occasion, date, and geographic location on this numbered photo for future generations to know.

One of my favorite cousins had already identified all the Farkas siblings in this photo. I typed up the list by number (see excerpt above, superimposed on photo). My Grandma Minnie Farkas Schwartz is #19 and Grandpa Teddy Schwartz is #20.

We had a question about one of the Farkas siblings, and another cousin chimed in to confirm who it was. The many blanks on the caption page are, we suspect, members of the bride's side and some friends, whose names and faces none of us know. No one is left on the bride's side to ask, and they had no children.

The man who wasn't there

Stepping back from the identifications, it was clear one Farkas sibling was not in the photo: Albert Farkas (1888-1956). Why was he not at his older brother's wedding?
I searched his time-line again and noticed that he was inducted into the US Army in August, 1918, to serve in WWI (see above). But that didn't explain his absence from a photo in December, 1916.

Clicking to search for more, I found a registration form (above) from the U.S. Consulate in Canada, indicating that Albert Farkas had registered as an American citizen living in Vancouver in November, 1912. He was still there in October, 1916, but this certificate was to expire within months.

Write it down or risk losing it

Asking around, I found one cousin who remembered the story: Albert left Vancouver in 1917 because, with Canada already at war, he was going to be called to serve in their military. So Albert came home to New York City and wound up drafted when America entered the war soon afterward.

I added this explanation to the bottom of my page of identifications because someday, when I join my ancestors, someone might notice Albert's absence from this family photo. If I don't write it down, it could be forgotten and fall into the category of one of those family history mysteries we all puzzle over.

It would be a shame to have the identifications lost for a second time. That's why I've sent my first and second cousins a three-page .pdf file of this photo with numbers, a page of captioned names, and an unnumbered version of the photo, asking them to share with their descendants. I want to keep the names and faces alive into the future.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Bryna O'Sullivan

Bryna O'Sullivan - NERGC 2019 Speaker
Do you have a New England patriot in your family tree? Maybe you need ideas for reading genealogy documents written in French? Pro genealogist Bryna O'Sullivan is an expert in both of these areas! I've seen her speak at Connecticut genealogy events, and she really knows her stuff.

Now Bryna is presenting two programs at the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) conference in New Hampshire, April 3-6, 2019. She's a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and she applies her academic background in history, church history, and French to the genealogy projects she undertakes. Please visit her website, Charter Oak Genealogy, to learn more.

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I asked Bryna a few questions about how she got started in family history, who's in her family tree, and making the most of the NERGC experience.

1. What kindled your early interest in genealogy, and why did you decide to become a professional genealogist?

Surprisingly enough, my interest didn’t start with the traditional “family tree” project. My elementary school had (and still has) a unit on the Mayflower as a way to introduce students to American history. Seeing how intrigued I was by the unit, my great-grandmother shared that we were descended from one of the Mayflower’s passengers and a little bit about our family’s history. I wanted to know more about the stories. It was enough to get me started. Although I researched inconsistently through school, the early love has stayed with me and only grown over time. As an aside, I was actually able to go full circle and conduct a genealogy workshop at the school several weeks ago.

Becoming a professional genealogist was a way for me to tie together my love of those stories, my love of the French language and a desire to make a difference. Every day, I’m lucky enough to help my clients access their past. Sometimes, it’s through translating historic documents. Other times, it’s through preparing a lineage society application. But in each case, I’m able to give them a deeper sense of where they came from and what that can mean for their lives.

2. One of the programs you're presenting is about proving service for a New England patriot. Do you have a patriot in your family tree?

I actually have “patriots” – defined by the Daughters of the American Revolution as “one who provided service or direct assistance in achieving America’s independence” -  on multiple lines of my family tree. My “patriot” ancestors include one of the surveyors of Connecticut’s Western Reserve, a Maryland plantation owner, a militia officer in Quebec and several others. While I’ve not yet proved all of them to DAR standards, I’ve loved to chance to delve into their history and learn more about their lives.

3. What have you learned about genealogy research that you wish you had known when you first started out?

Although there’s very little I wish I had known in advance, as learning is part of the process, there’s one thing that my family did right for which I’m very grateful. My family has always told stories and tied them into our current experiences. Most were positive. When I was studying the Connecticut River, my great-grandmother told me about the ancestor who was a riverboat captain. My mother shared stories about pranks her father played as a child.

However, many stories were not. My grandmother spoke about the French officer who saved my grandfather’s life in the Second World War. Another relative mentioned how an ancestor had died at the Battle of Petersburg. These stories gave incredible gifts: they provided the details I needed to research my family further, but more importantly, a sense of where we had come from, that we had survived tough things, and that we could keep going. Too many families don’t share these stories on the belief that they don’t matter. They do.

4. If you could visit with one ancestor in your family tree, who would you choose, and why?

I was lucky enough to grow up with her! My great-grandmother, who started my interest in family history, joined the US Navy during World War I. As a yeoman (F), she was one of the first women to enlist in the United States military. I attended several events that honored veterans with her when I was a child. How she handled the reaction from World War II vets who assumed she was lying about her service provided a powerful lesson about public perception and standing up for yourself. It was far from her only lesson.

5. What is your game plan for getting the most out of your NERGC experience?

For me, one of the joys of NERGC is learning more about what genealogists are interested in discovering. I’ve carefully blocked out time to work in the Ancestor Roadshow to get a little more one on one discussion.
---
Bryna O'Sullivan is presenting two programs at NERGC, both on Friday:

Session F-135, Tips & Tricks for French Language Documents (1:45-2:45 pm)
Session F-134, Prove New Service for a New England Patriot (4:45-5:45 pm)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Genealogy - 2018

Time to look back at 2018, an exciting and also a satisfying year for genealogy.

One of the high points was attending RootsTech 2018 and meeting so many of my genealogy blogging friends in person! (I'm in the center of the front row in this photo, wearing a white sweater.) It was a joy to say hello and chat with you, genea-folks. Also I attended the New York State Family History Conference, learning from experts and enjoying the company of genealogy friends from around the northeast.

I came away from both conferences with new ideas and new techniques to add to my momentum. Leaving RootsTech, I crammed into my suitcase specially-priced DNA kits, a new genealogy T-shirt and socks, and several of Nathan Dylan Goodwin's genealogy mysteries. Joining VGA, I learned a lot from watching webinars and lurking in VGA discussions.

Alas, not a single family history breakthrough during a day's research at the fabulous Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Still, ruling things out counts as some progress in the Wood, Steiner, Rinehart, and Burk/Birk trees.

Another high point was hearing from a second cousin who had a set of "missing" monthly minutes and letters related to my mother's Farkas Family Tree. These were all from the WWII period, and were long thought to be gone. Receiving these to scan and index was a gift beyond measure.

Now my Farkas cousins and I have documents spanning the entire life of the family tree association, 1933-1964. I'm still integrating the index from the 1940s into the index for the complete set of minutes, with completion scheduled for very early 2019. Work on the Farkas family tree (including collaborating with cousins who helped identify all ancestors/relatives in large family portraits) was a very satisfying way to end the year.

During 2018, a sad discovery: the early death of a boy born into my Mahler family, a child who was previously not known to me or any of my cousins. And a happy gift: the full anniversary booklet of the Kossuth Society, a group in which my Farkas and Schwartz ancestors were active. Their photos are in the booklet!

In my husband's family, I finally learned the truth about the long-standing mystery surrounding his grandfather Wood's divorce from wife #2. Also I gained a deeper understanding of the poverty endured by his Slatter and Shehen ancestors, using the Charles Booth maps of poor areas in London. Through contact with a Gershwin expert, I received a detailed news clipping that explained the background behind a prize-winning song written by my late father-in-law Wood.



Another exciting moment was when my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Pastwent to number one on the Kindle genealogy best-seller list in the middle of June!

This year, I made 15 genealogy presentations and led two hands-on workshops, with my husband, about writing family history.

Next year, I'm thrilled to be leading two sessions and participating in a panel discussion at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27.

Quite a year in genealogy. Yet I didn't actually accomplish all I planned to do when 2018 began. More in my next post!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Save the Dates: Family Tree Live 2019 in London


Have you heard about the new genealogy show--Family Tree Live--coming to London in April?

Friday and Saturday, two days packed full of interesting, informative, and entertaining talks and panels about #Genealogy and #family history.

Please take a look at the lecture program, downloadable and printable by day.

On Friday, April 26, I'll be presenting #Genealogy and #familyhistory: How to use social media for genealogy, at 12:15 pm.

On Saturday, April 27, I'll be presenting Planning a Future for Your Family's Past: Do You Have a Genealogical Will? at 10:00 am.

Then on Saturday at 11:30 am, I'm part of a panel talk: Crash Course in Writing Your Family Story. "Four experts in forty minutes! Get top tips from those who know in one crammed session."

Save the dates. Hope to see you in London in April!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Family History Month: Top Priority Is Captioning Old Photos

If you, like me, inherited a batch of family photos without names or dates, you'll understand why my top priority this month is captioning old photos. We may be the only people who still know the names of these people and can tell a few of the stories. This is the time to put names to faces so the info is not lost, and future generations will know something about the family's past!

Above, an example of an old photo I scanned, showing my Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk and three of her four children. My Dad is "Harold," the toddler with curly hair at bottom right. I kept a version of this digital image with no names and a version where I added names and a date. No last names (because no room) but this is in the Burk/Mahler archival box with a more detailed explanation of who's who.

There are many ways to caption, including (but not limited to) these ideas. You can write a caption on plain paper, lay it on a scanner above or below the original photo, and scan or copy both together for a neat, easy-to-read version that can be stored with the original. Or simply photocopy the original and write, in colored ink, each person's name on the copy, then store the copy with the original.

Another way to caption is to put each photo in its own archival sleeve. Then handwrite the caption on an adhesive label and stick it to the outside of the sleeve, as shown at right.

Ideally, explain the relationship between the person in the photo and yourself. Don't just write "Mama" (as on the back of one photo I inherited). Turned out that wasn't a Mama in my direct line, but it was the mother of a cousin in England!

Even after 20 years of research and asking cousins for help, I have some mystery photos. I've stored them in an archival box labeled by side of the family. The box called "Unknown photos, Marian's family" is separate from a similar box for unknown photos of my husband's ancestors.

Happy captioning!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Couldn't Keep 'Em Down on the Farm

My husband's maternal McClure family came to America specifically to buy land and farm during the 1730s. Until they couldn't keep 'em down on the farm any longer, about 150 years later.

The patriarch, Halbert McClure (1684-1764) led a group of his sons, a daughter, and several brothers making the journey from Donegal to Philadelphia in the 1730s. Originally from the Isle of Skye before being forced to relocate to Donegal, the McClures had enough money to pay for their Atlantic voyage. After landing in Philadelphia, the family walked to the colony of Virginia and plunked down cash for hundreds of acres of fertile farmland.

In hubby's direct line, Halbert's son Alexander McClure (1717-1790) and grandson John McClure (1781-1834?) both were farmers. John, however, ventured from Virginia into Ohio to be a pioneer farmer. John's son, Benjamin McClure (1812-1896) was born in Adams County, Ohio and he became a pioneer farmer in Wabash county, Indiana. Benjamin was my husband's 2d great-grandpa.

At top is a land ownership map showing where Benjamin's 80 acres were located in Paw Paw township in 1875. Benjamin was a civic leader as well as a farmer, and served as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church in Wabash county. Benjamin was the end of the line as far as career farmers in his branch of the McClure family.

Benjamin's son (hubby's great-grandpa) William Madison McClure (1849-1887) worked for "the railway" (according to 1880 census). Another of Benjamin's sons, John N. McClure, was a farmer and then later went to work for the railroad. A third son, Train Caldwell McClure, was an oil mill operator (1880 census). The oldest son, Theodore Wilson McClure, was a farmer and storekeeper in 1880 but became a day laborer by 1900, according to Census records.

William Madison McClure had four children and none of them had anything to do with farming. In fact, all moved to more urban settings. The oldest daughter, Lola (1877-1948), became a teacher and married a civil engineer.

The oldest son grew up to be hubby's Grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). He was a master mechanic, first with the railroad and then with industrial firms in Cleveland, Ohio.

The younger daughter, Lucille Ethel McClure (1880-1926) moved to Chicago and married a farmer turned plumber, who worked on new construction in the booming economy of the Windy City.

The younger son, Hugh Benjamin McClure (1882-1960), began as a shipping clerk and then worked as a salesman before owning his own successful manufacturing firm in Peoria, Illinois.

The next generations had nothing to do with farming, either. Just couldn't keep this McClure family down on the farm after 150 years.

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt about "on the farm" (or, in this case, "not on the farm").

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Real Clues on Other People's Trees

Example tree -- I'm not related to Martha or George!
Lately I've been browsing other people's trees in search of real clues to help research elusive ancestors and maybe even break down brick walls.

Of course I'm NOT going to copy anything without confirming for myself, but I do want to see whether other trees have something I don't have.

For example, when I buy a birth cert or a marriage license or some other record, I scan it and post on my Ancestry tree. Sure, I paid for it, but why keep it to myself? After all, I'm sharing with folks who are researching my family. Stands to reason that others might post their purchased documents, too (and I've been lucky enough to find some, thank you).

The same goes for scanning and posting family photos, sometimes with visible dates or other original captions. I add these to my trees and I really appreciate when others are generous enough to share with the rest of us.

So the first thing I do is check the sources on any tree I'm browsing. If the source is only another family tree (X marks the spot on the sample at top), I ignore. I'm looking for a substantive source.

If I see something like the SAR application in the source list above, I gladly click to see what I can learn. I want to actually view the document for myself, because indexing and transcriptions aren't always accurate, let alone complete.

Also I check the "facts" to see whether there is a scan of a document added as media for, say, a marriage, as in the example at top. Maybe I've never seen that media before and it's worth examining...

If so, I download the scan, blow it up to read if necessary, and scrutinize. Credible sources I follow up on and add to my tree once I've verified that the ancestor mentioned belongs to my family.

#Genealogy
#familyhistory

Thursday, August 9, 2018

I Heart My Genealogy Groups

Do you 💜 your genealogy groups? And I don't just mean clicking "like" on Facebook or paying for membership.

Genealogy groups of all sizes, shapes, and flavors need active members. We are the lifeblood of these groups. No members, no groups. No groups? No way!

How can we show we 💜 our genealogy groups?
  • Show up. You don't have to be an officer or speaker, although that kind of help is always appreciated. Simply attending meetings (when you can) is an easy and important way to show support for groups we 💜. Check on the group's Facebook page once in a while. If nobody shows up, in person or online, how long can that group continue?
  • Engage. Chat up other members, ask questions, answer surveys, clap for the speaker. If you're at a webinar, ask a question or say "thank you." If you're participating in a Twitter chat, also say "thank you" or post a comment if you like. Engaging adds to the conversation and enables us to get the most from groups we 💜.
  • Network. Go ahead, ask about the surnames and countries others are researching--and mention the names and nations you're interested in. I've gotten some great ideas by networking with the members of genealogy groups I 💜. You never know when a connection might lead to smashing a brick wall or adding a name/date to your family tree. 
  • Talk up the group. Let other people know about the genealogy clubs and associations you 💜. Bring a neighbor or friend to the next meeting; post on social media about an upcoming event or recap a recent event. 
Sometimes I bring my camera and, with permission, photograph the speaker at the meeting. At top, Janeen Bjork presenting "Find Your Family in Online Newspapers," a talk she's given to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and other groups to which I belong. Janeen was happy to have this photo to post on social media. I also posted it, along with a couple of key takeaways. In recent weeks, I've posted about watching some webinars hosted by the fast-growing VGA, which I joined as soon as it was organized.

Can't keep it to myself . . . I really 💜 my genealogy groups!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Binge-Watching VGA Genealogy Webinars

During this weekend's heatwave, I binge-watched several webinars hosted by the Virtual Genealogical Association.

And truly, it was like attending a genealogy conference to see expert speakers, but without the costly travel and crowded auditoriums. (Plus I could sip homemade lemonade while I watched.)

There was a lot of wisdom on offer, and the programs were well worth the modest membership fee. Although I only had time to watch 3 of the webinars, I'll return again to view some I missed and more that are scheduled in the coming months.

  • Thomas MacEntee's "Future Trends" talk provided much food for thought about what's coming in the near and far future. A great way to consider what might be in store for the genealogy community as tech trends evolve (such as: is blockchaining for genealogy on the way?).
  • Randy Whited's DNA introduction was illustrated with excellent and informative slides. A thorough and easy-to-digest overview of genetic genealogy, with useful "third-party tools" listed in the handout. Inspired me to check out more of my DNA matches, after a brief summer hiatus.
  • Katherine R. Willson's "Voyage to America" talk reinforced my admiration for the hardships faced by my ancestors crossing the Atlantic. It also encouraged me to do a better job of analyzing which ports were used by specific individuals and families--and why they chose these particular ports.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Where Have All the Gen Bloggers Gone?

Do you remember that 1950s folk song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger (read the story here)?

This mournful song came to mind today as I tested the links on every one of the dozens of genealogy blogs I follow. Where have all the genealogy bloggers gone?

  • Nearly 3 dozen blogs haven't been updated in at least 6 months. Of these, at least 10 have been dormant since 2015. Most of the blogs had been active for a few years, on and off, and then activity dwindled to zero.
  • Several blogs have transitioned to websites (and are still functioning, so I changed my "follow list" to reflect the new address). These are keepers.
  • Inexplicably, 2 blogs are now "hidden" from view. Can't see what they are now, so I deleted them from my reading list.
Now I'm down to reading only 78 genealogy blogs. Since few bloggers post as often as, say, Randy Seaver on Genea-Musings, I can easily keep up with the blogs I like to follow.

But I really miss the meadow of genealogy blogs that once blossomed with information, education, and discoveries. I miss buzzing from blog to blog and enjoying the diverse voices and stories that these bloggers were kind enough to share.

Despite the shrinking population, I do not think that genealogy blogging is dead. Some bloggers have, I imagine, decided to focus on Twitter or Pinterest or both. Some are surely active on Facebook genealogy pages or Instagram. Most are probably busy living their lives and researching their trees. At least, I hope that's what happened. My 10th blogiversary is coming up in August, and I plan to keep blogging as I climb my family tree.

Let me thank all of you genealogy bloggers who are still posting, and encourage those of you who are new to add your voice and believe you have an audience. I look forward to seeing what you're doing, learning from your experiences and expertise, commiserating with you when an ancestor refuses to be found, and rejoicing with you when you smash a brick wall.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Doing the "Write" Thing for Family History

In my first post about writing family history, I suggested picking one ancestor/surname, one occasion, or one photo as the focus for writing something.

When possible, try to turn any family history writing project into a family-wide activity. Use materials from your genealogy collection to get relatives excited about documenting that person or occasion and to stimulate their memories. The more stories they hear, the more stories they can recall, the better!

Here's the special occasion I'm using as the focus of my next family history writing project: a 1972 Venice trip taken by all the adult children, spouses, and young grandchildren of Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) & Edgar James Wood (1903-1986).

The family trip was intended as a reunion for the entire family, then scattered across the country. Marian paid for everyone's travel, hotel, and meals, using the modest inheritance she received when her father (Brice Larimer McClure, 1878-1970) died.

My first step was to photocopy Edgar Wood's diary entries from that period in 1972 and send to my husband's siblings and the grown children. These day-by-day notes helped spark memories as they thought back to the reunion 46 years in the past.

Next, my hubby sorted through several binders and a file box to select several dozen 35mm slides to transfer into digital images as possible illustrations for this booklet. Naturally, he concentrated on finding slides featuring family members, with just one or two famous landmarks to set the scene.

Before doing any writing, we'll print the images four or six to a page and send to the family for more comments and memories. Then we'll organize the booklet itself, devoting the majority of pages to the weeklong reunion.

Each of Marian & Edgar's adult children went on to other European cities after the family reunion in Venice. So I'm going to devote a page or two to each of those post-reunion adventures, to personalize the booklet even further and encourage story-telling within the family.

Stay tuned for more about doing the "write" thing for family history!

NOTE: For ideas about preserving family stories and planning for the future of your genealogical collection, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon and from the bookstore at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The "Write" Way to Write Family History

Thinking about writing your family's history? Here are the two most important words to remember: Start writing.

That's the "write" thing to do.

Maybe you feel you're not a writer or you haven't done enough research or you need more details or photos. Please keep in mind that as the keeper of the family history, you know more than your relatives. And your relatives and heirs don't expect Shakespeare--they will be delighted just to find out who their ancestors were!

Doing the "write" thing is, in fact, an excellent way to identify gaps in research and missing leaves on the tree. If something is wrong or incomplete (incorrect spelling, inaccurate dates, missing details), you can always fix it later. Really.

Case in point: In 2012, I printed a small photo book about my parents' wedding, which united the Burk and Schwartz families. The main purpose was to reprint the many family photos with captions, for the sake of future generations. Cousins helped me identify nearly everyone in every photo. But there were some "unknowns" and I simply called them that in the captions (see above). Better done than perfect. 

Fast-forward to 2017, when I smashed a brick wall and found second cousins who--wonder of wonders!--are descendants of the "unidentified cousins" in the photos. Needless to say, I immediately hand-wrote the new names into my printed photo book. Remember, the goal is to share family history with future generations, not to have an immaculate book. Earlier this year, when I saw a big sale, I reprinted the original photo book with corrections and additions.

So go ahead and do the "write" thing. Some ideas to get you in the "write" mood:
  • Pick a person or a surname or an occasion, spread out your research, and jot notes you can then flesh out into sentences and paragraphs. I wrote about one set of grandparents at a time, since their lives were intertwined, but I had a separate page or two about birth/early childhood of each individual.
  • Pick a photo and list the people in it. Then write a bit about each person and the relationships between some or all. Include what you know about where and when, or other details to "set the scene" for descendants who never knew these people. I found some photos so evocative that the words poured out almost faster than I could type.
  • Ask your audience (children or nieces/nephews or any other readers) who or what they'd like to know about. My family asked for a booklet about Mom and her twin sister. I'm making notes already. My sis-in-law wants a book about her parents. I'm scanning photos in preparation.
Our ancestors had real lives, personalities, hopes, problems. It's up to us, the genealogists of our generation, to get the next generation interested in tales of the past and keep alive the memory of people no longer with us.

You don't have to start at the beginning as you write. Sometimes the best way to get yourself going is to begin with something dramatic or humorous or characteristic of the person. My blog posts often serve as a rough draft of a family history booklet.

There's no one "write" way to write family history. You can write one page about one person, or a pamphlet about a couple, or a book about a family. You might decide to tell the stories in photos with captions, rather than using a lot of text. The important thing, as I said at the beginning, is to start writing. Enjoy the journey, and your family will enjoy what you write.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Chronicling the Ups AND the Downs in Family History

Hani Simonowitz Schwartz, mother of my grandpa, Tivador "Teddy" Schwartz
After reading this article from Time, about why adults shouldn't shield children from sadness, I decided to write about why family historians owe it to future generations to document both the ups and downs of the past.

Of course we love to trumpet the many success stories (like hubby's great uncles, the famous bandmaster Slatter brothers in Canada). And it's fun to tell younger relatives about the family traditions that we ourselves remember so fondly (like singing the Farkas Family Tree anthem at family meetings when I was a tot).

But every family also has sorrow, struggles, and losses in its history. We may have witnessed grief following a loved one's death or we may have learned about sad or despicable family events from relatives or newspaper articles or other sources.

As genealogists, we owe it to our descendants and relatives to honestly chronicle the lives of our ancestors, both good and bad. It's vital to show younger relatives what formed our family, let them begin to learn about the range of life experiences, and reassure them of the shared strength of our family.

Research shows that children actually benefit from understanding the difficulties faced by ancestors and relatives--and come to believe they can overcome obstacles themselves. Stories are a safe way to begin the learning process, portray ancestors as real people with real lives, and put the past into context for younger folks.

I've written about my husband's great-grandma Mary Shehen Slatter (1837-1889), and her truly heartbreaking tale of being confined in two notorious insane asylums due to a diagnosis of being "melancholy and demented." The cause of her insanity, according to the asylum records, was "misfortune and destitution." She was, it seems, driven insane by poverty and despair. And her children were placed in a workhouse while she was institutionalized.

BUT when I tell their story to my grandchildren, I remind them (with genuine admiration) that Mary's children all went on to live very productive lives. Mary was the mother of the three bandmaster brothers who built brilliant careers and were pillars of their communities, as well as being good family men. If only Mary could have known! Once I found out about Mary's sad life and death (from tuberculosis), I made it my mission to be sure her descendants are aware of the bad and the good in that branch of the family tree.

Another example: In researching my mother's family, no one ever mentioned the many relatives who stayed behind in Hungary when my grandpa Teddy Schwartz (1887-1965) left for America, bringing his brother Sam and sister Mary to New York within a few years after he arrived. All his life, Teddy kept one photo of his mother, Hani Simonowitz Schwartz (see image at top). It must have been painful for him to look back and think about his parents and other relatives he would never see again.

Only through Yad Vashem did I find out that grandpa Teddy actually had many more terrible losses to mourn. I was shocked and dismayed to discover that his other siblings (and their families) were all killed in the Holocaust, his niece being the only survivor. No mention of this tragedy in the family tree minutes, no family stories passed down.

In my mind, I believe the heartache of these losses was why my grandpa Teddy was so insistent that the family observe a moment of silence annually for all the relatives who had passed away in the previous year. That yearly moment of silence--initiated by Teddy and led by him year after year--were recorded regularly in the family tree minutes. Clearly, Teddy believed it was important for the family to at least acknowledge the downs as well as the ups in life.

I agree with my grandpa. Let's make the family aware of the downs, not just the ups. Do we have to publicly disclose everything negative in the tree? No. In fact, there are a couple of stories that I've written for my files only, and mentioned orally but not documented for distribution to the entire family, out of respect for living descendants. (These stories have nothing to do with secrets like "non-parental events," by the way.)

Notice that I'm putting the full stories in my files, to be passed to my heirs after I join my ancestors. The stories won't be lost, and at some point, the historian of the next generation may judge that the time is right to say more to more people.

What do you do with the negative stories you uncover in your tree?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

52 Ancestors #4: Inviting GGM Elizabeth Rinehart Steiner to Tea

In this 4th week of Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge, "Invite to Dinner," I want to invite my husband's maternal great-grandma, Elizabeth Rinehart Steiner, to tea.

This matriarch grew up in a pioneering family, and I'd like to ask about her daily life, her dreams, her happiness, her disappointments, her thoughts of the future, and her view of the past.

Elizabeth was born on 18 February 1834 in an area later organized into Ashland County, Ohio. No official record of her birth can be found. She died on 4 November 1905 in Upper Sandusky, Wyandot County, Ohio. The Probate Court there hasn't located her death record. I do have two obits that offer a lot of clues to Elizabeth's life.

Elizabeth married hubby's maternal great-grandpa Edward George Steiner (1839-1880) on 7 August 1851, at age 17, in Crawford County, Ohio. (The obit has the year incorrect--I have the marriage license from 1851, and it indicates Elizabeth needed her father's permission to marry.)

Together, they had 9 children. Their first two children died young, unfortunately. My husband is a grandson of their ninth child, Floyda Mabel Steiner.

There are so many questions to ask GGM, but I'll limit myself to six since this is, after all, tea time:
  1. What was it like growing up as the daughter of a pioneering family in the 1830s? 
  2. Were the family stories true: Rinehart and Steiner were supposedly from Switzerland? Or were they from Germany or Austria or another area?
  3. How did you meet your future husband, and what kind of life did you envision with him?
  4. Is the family story true: that you chose the name Floyda for your youngest child because you were hoping for a boy after five boys in a row?
  5. What did you think of the Suffrage Movement and the idea of women gaining the right to vote?
  6. Of all the changes you witnessed and experienced in your 71 years of life, which most surprised or astonished you, and why?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Most Popular Genealogy Blog Pages in 2017

In 2017, the most popular page on my blog was the "ancestor landing page" devoted to hubby's 5th great-grandfather, Halbert McClure from Donegal. Also popular were the landing pages about the Larimer family, Schwartz family, Birk family, Bentley family, and Wood family of Ohio.

These landing pages summarize what I know about each main surname or family on my tree and my husband's tree, including links to my blog posts about those names/families written in more than 9 years of blogging. And yes, these pages are cousin bait that have brought me new connections over the years!

One other popular page was my Genealogy--Free or Fee page, with links to 17 posts I wrote about frugal research strategies and when it pays to pay for a document.

The other popular page features Sample Templates (for inventory, indexing, cousin connections, and genealogy sources) I invite you to try or adapt for your own genealogy purposes.

Happy ancestor hunting in 2018! More to come.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Family History Month: Top 10 Surnames on the Family Tree


Picking up a great idea from Colleen G. Brown Pasquale at her Leaves & Branches blog, I learned how to use the "surname statistics list" report function on my Roots Magic 7 software. No surprise that for my husband's family tree, Wood was the top surname by frequency, followed by Larimer.

But I also realized, with a pang, how many people appear without surnames in that tree. Uh oh. These are mainly missing maiden names, stretching back to the 1500s. This means I'll have to intensify my Genealogy Go-Over to see how many missing surnames I can identify. Perhaps new information has become available since I added some people to the tree? Turns out that these statistics can also reveal gaps in research...

The top 10 surnames that appear most frequently on the Wood tree are:
  1. Wood (earliest instance: 1551)
  2. Larimer (earliest instance: 1719)
  3. McClure (earliest instance: 1660)
  4. Steiner (earliest instance: 1802)
  5. Slatter (earliest instance: 1811)
  6. McKibbin (earliest instance: 1766)
  7. Hilborn (earliest instance: 1794)
  8. Denning (earliest instance: 1775)
  9. Smith (earliest instance: 1724)
  10. Cushman (earliest instance: 1578)
PS: Randy Seaver made this "top 10 surnames" theme the subject of his Oct. 21 Saturday Night Genea-Fun.