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

Friday, March 8, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Dave Robison

Dave Robison
Are you searching for ancestors who spelled their names in creative ways, never the same way twice? Or perhaps you're planning to interview a relative about family history? Then don't miss Dave Robison's presentations at this year's NERGC conference, full of great ideas to take your genealogy research to the next level.

Dave is a professional genealogist and owner of Old Bones Genealogy of New England. Not only is he President of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, he is also President of the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society, a past president of the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG), and the Registrar for the Pomeroy Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (MASSAR).

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I caught up with Dave during a rare break in his busy schedule. He answered a few questions about his involvement in genealogy.

1. One of your presentations is about interviewing relatives to record the past for future generations. What happened when you first interviewed your own relatives?

Initially, I interviewed an aunt simply for a reason to have a conversation! For a variety of reasons, we were driving back from an event at my sister’s in upstate New York. We just got to talking about how she met my uncle, what was life like for them in the mid-50s, what was it like raising 5 children all born within 6 years, where did she go to school, where did she work before her marriage to my uncle, and on and on. It was a 4 hour drive so we talked a lot.

2. What inspired you to become a professional genealogist and help others explore their family trees?

I grew up in a household where, at a very young age, if I asked a question of my mother, her response was, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” When I’d ask my father, his response, “Go ask your mother!” That’s bit of an exaggeration, but basically it was the culture of our little family. Of course, I’d be all ears at holidays and other occasions when a larger group of relatives got together. I learned that my maternal grandmother, Hazel, was raised by her grandparents because her own mother had died, that her cause of death had been “milk leg,” that her grandfather (my 2nd great grandfather) came from England, that my father was in the US Navy during WW II but never heard any details, and lots of other stories that I couldn’t connect until I grew a bit older.

As a genealogist, many of these tidbits surfaced and when I had time, I’d run down the details. For example, “milk leg,” it turns out, must have been their euphemism for cervical cancer as that was the cause of death of my grandmother’s mother. In the 1950’s, no one would dare say the word “cervical” out loud! I discovered this when I went to the Worcester, Massachusetts City Hall and ordered her death certificate.

There are hundreds of family history jewels where I only had hints. Here’s the best story: My father was born in Evergreen, Conecuh County, Alabama. I contacted the Conecuh County Historical Society to request information. I was strongly advised that if I was going to do any family history research in Evergreen, I should contact Mrs. Sarah R. Coker who had been researching the families of Evergreen and surrounding communities for decades. “Write clearly” I was advised, as Mrs. Coker was elderly and had vision problems. I quickly fired off a letter that I printed in large fonts to make sure she could read it. About 2 weeks later, Mrs. Sarah R. Coker replied. She was delighted that I finally contacted her. She was my paternal great-aunt, my paternal grandfather’s sister. By the way, I had never met, spoken to or seen a picture of my paternal grandfather who had died in 1964. When I visited her in her home in Evergreen, she regaled me with stories and shared mountains of research. Wow!

3. Do you have a favorite ancestor story from your family's past? 


I would have to say that currently, my favorite story begins with one of my many pilgrim ancestors who found their way to Plymouth Colony. In Springfield, Massachusetts, there’s a statue of one of the founders, Deacon Samuel Chapin who came to what was then called the Agawam Plantation (later renamed “Springfield”) at the behest of William Pynchon, a wealthy businessman from Springfield, Birmingham, England. The statue stands in Merrick Park next to the main branch of the Springfield Library. My sister and I attended grammar school about a block away and often ran over to Merrick Park to play or run through the many museums that are next door in what is known as “The Quadrangle.” By the way, the new national museum dedicated to Dr Seuss is here at the Quadrangle. At any rate, Diane and I had no real idea who the Deacon was or what his history might be. 

Years later, as I was researching ancient local families, I discovered a pattern of family names in a certain section of the Springfield Cemetery. The “Ancient Burying Grounds” from the original settlement had been moved there in 1848 as it was right on the river bank and had suffered from many floods but was also going to be split off as a result of the railroad coming through separating the city from that area. The railroad, ironically was being built by a prominent Chapin descendant, Chester William Chapin. Many coincidental names began to come together and as it turns out, I  am the 8th great grandson of the Deacon! I use this story in many of my genealogy classes and my favorite closing for the story is to ask the class, “…and what does that get me??” They toss out a few suggestions, but the real answer is this: “A good genealogy story!”

4. What tools and discoveries keep genealogy fresh and exciting for you, even after years in the field?

First, I have to state for everyone’s benefit that you don’t know what you don’t know. So the discoveries keep on coming! Naturally, the internet is a useful tool but understanding that it isn’t the only tool is critical. The discoveries just keep on coming, whether it’s a new collection that gets added to a website, a new discovery at an archive or repository, a DNA connection to someone who knows a great deal about a newly discovered branch of my family or just the chance to talk with people whose names and dates I’ve had for years but have finally able to connect with.

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

I’ve been heavily involved with NERGC for the past 2 or 3 conferences with many duties. I’m still involved but not to the extent of previous years so I hope to actually get to attend the presentations that interest me! I won’t be pulled in dozens of directions. So my game plan is simple: Make sure that the societies I represent fully comply with our volunteer hours commitment and beyond that, attend as many sessions as possible including luncheons and dinners, network with as many colleagues as possible, meet other genealogists who I may not have had a chance to meet in the past, and seek out the dozens of colleagues I know from interaction on webinars and social media whom I’ve never met in person.
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Dave Robison is presenting two programs at this year's NERGC conference:

Session T-113, The Interview: Recording the Past for the Future (Thursday, 4:30-5:30 pm) - sponsored by the Connecticut Society of Genealogists
Session S-150, Speelin Duzn't Cownt - and Other Online Search Rules (Saturday, 1:45-2:45 pm) - sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Mel E. Smith

Are you looking for an elusive divorce record in New England? Or trying to find out whether your ancestors ever stood in a Connecticut courtroom? Mel E. Smith of the Connecticut State Library knows just how to chart a path through these and so many other records in the library's collection!

As Librarian II in the History & Genealogy Unit of the Connecticut State Library, Mel serves as a reference librarian and supervises the microfilm and ephemera collections. He has been instrumental in the creation of many databases that library patrons find valuable in their research. In addition, he is a member of the Connecticut Professional Genealogist’s Council and the Salmon Brook Historical Society.

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I asked Mel how he got interested in family history, which genealogy challenges he finds especially rewarding, and more.

1. Growing up, did your relatives talk about the family tree? Were you drawn to a specific ancestor or a special family photo?

My father was one of ten children, and as such, I had twenty-four first cousins.  The Smith family would often gather together for holidays or birthday celebrations and I remember at an early age telling my younger brother who everyone was, and how they were related to us. I guess that the genealogy bug caught me early on.

It was my maternal grandmother (Gram to me) who told me stories of her Putnam family of New Hampshire and their links to the Salem witch trials. It was from these early stories that she made history come to life as past family members actually played an important, even infamous, part in American history. One of my most treasured possessions is the hand-written genealogy that she gave me for Christmas one year when I was in my teens.

If I had to pick one ancestor who I have been drawn to, it would be my Great-Great Uncle Charles F. Blackington who served in the Union Army from the State of Maine during the Civil War. After the war, he moved out west for health reasons and served as a self-taught country doctor, miner/prospector, and sheriff in Colorado and New Mexico. I have discovered a great deal of interesting stories about him in the rough and tumble environment he found himself in. I hope that even though Charles never had any children survive to adulthood, that as a result of my historical research, I can provide information about his life to my children so that they have a better understating of his life and remember with pride an American original.

2. Books, genealogy, history--which of these is your first love, and why?

I would have to say books (kind of a natural for a librarian right?), followed by history and genealogy. Books can take you to any point in history and open up an entirely new world of wonder for a young reader. I have always loved reading about history of all kinds. I think I developed this love early as my father was very interested in history as well.  But genealogy ties my love of books and history all together by making it personal! 

3. You will be leading one NERGC session on finding New England divorce records and another on Connecticut court records. Why are these types of records often so difficult to locate?

That is a very good question! Court records can be very daunting to some family historians because they do not understand the amazing, varied, amount of genealogical data that can be found in criminal or civil court records. A second reason court records may be difficult to use is the sheer number and types of different courts systems, and confusion regarding the location and access of the actual records.

4. In your role at the Connecticut State Library, what types of genealogy inquiries do you find especially challenging or rewarding?

I love my job at the Connecticut State Library because it allows me to assist people in finding information about their long ago (or not so long ago) ancestors. Each day can be like the first day on the job as the questions that are asked, while similar, can lead us on a different adventure of family discovery.

I must say that two types of questions really get me going. The first pertains to a family, any family, that had lived in Connecticut for a generation or longer, and then settles out of state. Connecticut served as a springboard for so many settlers that went to other locations in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, other places points West, and even to Canada! It is always a thrill to help patrons find their family as they moved through time across this wonderful country of ours.

The second question that I often get pertains to those individuals that are researching adoption cases. These types of cases can be very challenging due to the nature of the records, as they may be restricted depending upon the time period. Another reason adoption cases are difficult is the lack of information about the case. In Connecticut one must know the birth name of the child in order to have a good chance of finding the relevant adoption record. Another reason is the vast number of probate courts that once existed in Connecticut that might have processed the adoption. Adoption cases can be frustrating, but very rewarding when you are able to lead a patron to the names of the biological parents.     

5. What is your game plan for getting the most out of this year's NERGC conference?

The NERGC conference allows me the opportunity to sit back and learn new ways or techniques of conducting genealogical search to better assist my patrons, as well as furthering my own personal research. Whether it be attending as many sessions that I can, or taking part in a special workshop or luncheon, I always learn something new and exciting about the field of genealogy. 

One other way that I learn is to talk to other conference-goers to see what they are seeing and value in the field of genealogy. As the field is constantly evolving and changing (and I would say for the better), it is always important to learn what worked for others in breaking down a genealogical brick wall.

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Mel Smith is presenting two programs at NERGC, both on Saturday:
  • Session S-105, Finding Your New England Family in Divorce Records (8:30-9:30 am)
  • Session S-137, Finding Your Family in Connecticut Court Records (4:45-5:45 pm)

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 15, 2019

Who Can See Your Family History Media?

 Facts on Great-Grandma Tillie Jacobs Mahler's family tree, with attached media
Genealogy record sets disappear from websites from time to time! And if one of my family history "facts" is linked to a source that disappears, I'll be sorry. Several highly experienced genealogy folks have suggested capturing the source image (original, not transcription or index) for download to my computer. I'm starting to do that.

This way, the digital media will be in my genealogy file folders (arranged by surname and/or family) and in my genealogy software.

Just as important, I'm making sure these media images (Census, vital records, and more) will be visible to anyone who finds my public family trees. I welcome cousins browsing my trees and would love to imagine them clicking to see the media image for themselves. In reality, this is a long shot, but at least the media are visible because the trees are public.

Download, then upload family history media

After I download an image related to a source (such as a Census page), I rename it and save it in the proper digital folder. I also add it to my genealogy software.

The next step is to upload that source as an image to support the related fact on my online tree. You can see what that looks like on my paternal great-grandma's Ancestry tree, shown above in excerpted form. You can see a thumbnail preview of the uploaded media next to the related facts.

Census pages are unlikely to be totally withdrawn from public view, IMHO, because they are so widely available. Especially when the transcription or indexing is squirrelly, I will occasionally attach a blowup of the relevant section as the media rather than the entire page to support a fact. I did this for the 1900 US Census and 1905 NY Census in my tree, above.

Media for possible cousins and future genealogists

OK, I'm late to this party. I was delighted at the distant cousin who not only attached actual Census pages and other media but summarized the contents in the comments area--especially full street addresses or other details. I know he's a careful researcher and I can see at a glance where he says our common ancestors lived or died. Thank you!

When researching common surnames like WOOD, having the ability to quickly check an original source is a big plus. I like to think I'm helping my husband's cousins and future genealogists by attaching the media and not relying solely on links to source citations.

I'm approaching this as a long series of bite-sized projects. One ancestor at a time, I'm capturing, downloading, uploading, and attaching source media. One at a time, not all at once. No tree ever grew in a day.

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.
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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)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Clicking, Not Cranking, to Read Unindexed Records

Temperature this morning was minus 3. On a day like this, I'm feeling grateful not to have to leave the house to crank through microfilm as I search through unindexed records.


Happily, the records I'm searching are a click away on FamilySearch.org. Not long ago, I attended a talk about researching in Hungary, where my maternal grandparents were from. The speaker reminded us that we can click through unindexed census records on FamilySearch at our leisure.

Tips from the Family Search Wiki



The FamilySearch wiki pages about Hungary provide a handy key to help researchers interpret what each census column is about (see above). Now I can spot where the family name would be listed, the columns for age, place of birth, and so on. This helps me speed-click through the 600-odd unindexed pages.

At top, the first page in this series that I'm searching, looking for the Schwartz family in Ungvar, in Ung county. Notice that in the page at top, the very first family (not in Ungvar) is Schwartz. I expect to see a lot of Schwartz entries scattered in Hungary. The real trick is to click and locate MY Schwartz family.

One of the good things coming out of this page-by-page search is more familiarity with surnames and given names of that time and place. And I'm getting better at reading different handwritings from that time and place.

In Search of Great-Grandpa Herman Schwartz

A-clicking I will go, in search of my great-grandpa's family, the parents of Herman Schwartz. Herman should be in the census as a child, although his name may be different, perhaps Hershel or Hirsch instead of Herman. It takes a lot more time to look through one page at a time, but it will be worth it if Herman and his family are there. And it's clicking, not cranking, already easier than it would have been just a few years ago.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Power of Hands-On Family History Experiences

At a family holiday luncheon, my husband and I tried something new: We passed around an unopened MRE ("meal ready to eat") from 1986.

We slit it open to reveal individually wrapped packages of turkey, hash brown potatoes, giant cookie, crackers, hot cocoa mix, instant coffee, sugar, salt, matches, even chewing gum. Then we opened a couple of the individual food packages and tasted a bite of cookie...a bite of cracker...and lived to tell the tale! The youngest relatives were especially captivated by handling and tasting packs of food that are way, way, way older than they are.

This hands-on experience sparked a long and fascinating group discussion about Army life in two different periods. The family member who served in the US Army in the mid-1980s had supplied the MRE, and he reminisced about eating the best (and worst) of these meals. He also told anecdotes about Army life, with just enough detail to keep the younger crowd engaged.

My husband had served in the Army three decades earlier, and he described eating C-rations in the field, adding a couple of his own brief anecdotes. The stark contrast between our 2018 holiday meal and the 1950s/1980s Army meals was an important part of the experience.

Everyone around the table listened intently and asked questions. Several eagerly tried their hand at opening a can using a P-38 opener kept after the 1980s Army days. (Hint: You need to literally "get a grip" to get this right.)

I came away with a real appreciation of the power of hands-on family history experiences. From now on, I'll look for additional opportunities to get relatives involved in handling an heirloom or something else key to a family event or an ancestor memory. With luck, the stories will flow as hands touch the object, and family history will be passed down to more descendants! And isn't that the point?

- - -

For more ideas on safeguarding and sharing genealogy, please see my how-to book (in print or digital form), Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Family Historian: Reach Out for Photo Identification!

As family historian, I want to identify key family photos so relatives and future generations will know who's who (and, ideally, where/when/why each photo was taken).

Usually, I have some idea about the faces and places, maybe even approximate dates. Just to be sure, I like to reach out to cousins for help with photo identification.

Photos with a lot of people require a bit of preparation so everybody is on the same page when making identifications. Above, a small section of the 54-person Farkas Family Tree portrait taken on a family Thanksgiving.

Using the "preview" function on my Mac, I added a number for every face. Then I sent the numbered-faces photo to my wonderful maternal cousin B, who quickly sent me back a list of names, according to number. She was delighted to share what she knew, and I'm grateful that descendants will now know the names of everyone in this big holiday portrait.

Thanks to my cousin's assistance, I'm about to send a three-part .pdf file to more Farkas cousins: (1) numbered-face portrait, (2) numbered listing of names, (3) unnumbered portrait.

Maybe this will provoke comments about the identifications or additional family memories?! UPDATE: After one round of identification, a cousin said he suspected one of the children was misidentified. Sure enough, another cousin agreed and I issued a "corrected" version of the file to all. Otherwise, I'm afraid future generations would have accepted the original misidentification.

PS: Sis and I collaborated on our ID of ourselves. She is the smiling, adorable little hula twin in #7 and I'm the just as cute hula twin in #8. Maybe some cousin will be able to distinguish between the two boy twins in the photo, #1 (in the arms of his smiling Farkas grandma) and his twin brother, who was being held by his father (not visible in this section of the photo).

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Genealogist as Indexer-in-Chief

As genealogists, we should also be indexers-in-chief. Alas, family history rarely comes with a ready-made index, so we have to make our own. Here's a case in point.

My maternal grandmother Hermina Farkas Schwartz was the oldest daughter of the 11 children of Lena Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) and Moritz Farkas (1857-1936). As the Farkas children grew up, married, and had children of their own, they formed the Farkas Family Tree to keep the family close-knit. Members met up to 10 times a year (taking summers off because relatives scattered to the beach or other cooler places outside the New York City metro area).

Five years ago, my 1st cousin once removed lent me his bound books of family tree minutes from 1933 through 1964 to scan, collate, and index. I included a "who's who" of the 11 Farkas children, their spouses, and their children.

However, the bound books didn't have all the months from 1940 to 1944, a dramatic period in the family's life because of WWII. Earlier this year, my 2d cousin kindly provided the 1940-44 minutes, saved by his mother for decades. Now that we have 600-plus pages of monthly minutes to read and enjoy, a detailed index is even more important. That's my specialty!

As shown at top, I like to start with a legal pad and pen, listing the names by hand along the left as each one appears in the minutes. Then I jot down the month and year when each name is mentioned in the minutes, such as 9/40 or 11/42.

Later, I type up the index alphabetically by surname and expand the dates a bit so they can be read at a glance. A typical entry in the final index would be:

         Farkas, Peter Feb 1940, March 1940, Oct 1940, Dec 1940 . . .

To make it easy for later generations, I list married women by their married surnames AND include an entry for their maiden names, with the notation "see ___[married name]." Here's why: Younger relatives, in particular, may not know an ancestor's maiden name, but they will recognize the ancestor's married name. (I don't list dates twice, only next to the married name). The goal is to make the index as intuitive and reader-friendly as possible.

Also, I think it's very important to indicate when someone is NOT in the immediate Farkas family.

  • If I know the person's exact relationship, I include it. My listing for Roth, Bela indicates that his first wife was Lena Kunstler Farkas's sister. He was known as Bela "Bacsi" or "Uncle Bela" by Lena's children. 
  • If I don't know the exact relationship, I say what I do know. My listing for Hartfield, Jenny notes that her maiden name was Mandel and she was always referred to as a cousin, possibly related through the Kunstler family.
Sometimes the minutes include names known only to one particular family. Good thing one of my cousins clued me in that "Tommy" was a canine, not a kiddie. But if I don't say so in the index, how will future generations know?! That's why a genealogist should also be the indexer-in-chief, with explanatory notes. It doesn't matter what system you use, as long as you index with your readers in mind.

PS: Cousins, the full index will be completed soon!

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!

Friday, October 19, 2018

My Farkas Family on December 7, 1941

Last year, I wrote a three-page memory booklet in which I used genealogy research techniques to confirm my husband's memory of being a tyke sitting around the family radio, hearing the news of Pearl Harbor being attacked on December 7, 1941.

Thanks to the kindness of a second cousin, I now have monthly minutes from my mother's Farkas Family Tree meetings during the early 1940s. The tree consisted of adult descendants of Moritz Farkas and Leni Kunstler Farkas (my maternal great-grandparents) who lived in and around New York City. To have the largest possible attendance, meetings were held on Sunday evenings.

As I was scanning minutes and indexing the names of those present each month, I wondered what happened in the family tree at the time of Pearl Harbor. Sure enough, I found a page of minutes from December 7, 1941 (excerpt above), when the meeting convened in the Bronx.

By dinner time on that Sunday evening, almost certainly tree members would have heard the news of Pearl Harbor. Washington announced the attack in the afternoon, East Coast time, well before the family-tree meeting started at 6:05 pm. News accounts say many New Yorkers were suddenly nervous, feeling the city was a possible future target, due to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and other operations in the five boroughs.

The minutes never mention the December 7th attack as such.  The minutes do say, almost in passing, that a 16-year-old male first cousin of my mother was in the Pershing Rifles Auxiliary, and a 14-year-old female first cousin had joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Minutes from earlier in 1941 say family members were learning Air Raid procedures and making things to donate to the Red Cross for overseas.

Even without the words "Pearl Harbor" or "war" being mentioned, I believe the tree was well aware of what was happening that day. My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was secretary for the evening, because her twin sister, Daisy Schwartz (hi Mom!) was ill. Auntie Dorothy writes later in the minutes that for the January, 1942 meeting, "family members who have uniforms should wear them."

Genealogy research indicates that family members (male and female) quickly began to enlist. My aunt, in fact, enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps on September 11, 1942. Some of her female first cousins held "Rosie the Riveter" jobs while a number of male first cousins joined the Army Air Corps or Army (no Navy or Marine men) in the months after Pearl Harbor.

During Family History Month, I am thankful for the sentence (shown in excerpt above) that says: "It was especially recommended that all surnames be mentioned in future minutes." The minutes are filled with multiple relatives and in-laws having the same given name. My mother was Daisy, and so was her sister-in-law. The tree included multiple Roberts and multiple Georges, among other names. Happily, it is usually clear from context who's who in the minutes. And so the scanning and indexing will go on and on.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Family History Month: Start Writing About Ancestors Now!

Family History Month is a good time to start writing about our ancestors. Genealogy research is never complete, in my humble opinion, but we can make headway on writing about family history if we focus.

This is not about the big picture--it's about sharing one specific aspect of our family's past with relatives and descendants. Not a formal genealogy, but something that conveys both the facts and the human face of our ancestors.

Here are some quick tips to prepare:
  • Choose one of the above to focus on. Maybe you want to write about your maternal grandparents or about a set of siblings in your father's family. Or you have an heirloom, like the ceramic zebras above, created by my late mother-in-law, with a backstory of interest to children and grandchildren.
  • Gather your info (documents, photos, etc.) and your memories.
  • Write bullet points of what you currently know. 
  • Rearrange the bullets into a logical organization (chronological order, for instance).
  • Make notes about each bullet and also jot notes about what you want to double-check or ask other relatives.
  • Create a quick timeline if it will help guide you through the story and help readers understand what happened when. Or use a timeline as the basis for writing about a couple or an event.
Now . . . start anywhere in the story and write. Really, it doesn't matter where you begin to write because you can move sentences and paragraphs around after you get words on paper.

If you like, pick a detail that seems particularly dramatic or interesting, write a few sentences, and then fill in the story around it. Every family had high points, low points, times of happiness and times of sorrow. Try to tell the story to show who these ancestors were, beyond mere facts of birth-marriage-death dates. The important thing is to share what you know now.

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!

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

Friday, April 20, 2018

Do the "Write" Thing for Genealogy, Part 3: Find the Drama

When you think about writing your family's history, look for the drama that may be below the surface (or in plain sight).

Remember: You know more than you think you know! Gather your Census data, vital records, Bible entries, photo albums, news clippings, and whatever else pertains to the person or people in the story you want to tell.

Jot notes about your memories and ask relatives what they remember about a particular ancestor or couple, a family occasion or situation, or a special photo (wedding portrait, for instance).

All of this will help you identify key points and people in your family's history, and uncover the drama that you can play up in your narrative.

If you're lucky enough to have letters, diaries, or interviews, go through and select quotes that add color and personality to your ancestors and reflect the drama in their lives.

Above, a quote from my late father-in-law, Edgar J. Wood, who said this 30+ years ago when my husband interviewed him about his earlier life and his love of playing the piano. The quote hints at the conflict between Ed and his father. It also explains why Ed had to play in so many jazz bands to make money for tuition, room, and board at Tufts, where he was in college during the 1920s.

The conflict came to a boiling point when Ed's mother, Mary Slatter Wood, died unexpectedly near the end of Ed's senior year. After Ed returned home for the funeral, he never lived at home again. He left college a few weeks later, not able to pass a language course needed for graduation. Then he moved to New York City and tried to make a living through his music. More drama!

What dramatic moments or conflicts are in your family's past? Look for them and use them to "hook" your readers.

This is an excerpt from my latest genealogy presentation, "Do the 'Write' Thing for Genealogy."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

History Gets Personal in Family History

Everyone's family history is influenced by (and can influence) the course of history. That's what makes history so personal in our family's history.

I'm struck by this again and again as I transcribe letters written by Farkas cousins to the family tree association during WWII. These cousins were in the service (some in the US Army, some in Army Air Corps, some in Navy, some in WAC) and their letters home are filled with observations that bring history alive and illuminate how the war experiences affected them personally. The letters also reveal personality and, often, a dry sense of humor.

Above, the letterhead from a cousin's letter written in January, 1943. Notice the words running along the ribbon at bottom of the image--"Prepare for Combat."

Cousin G enlisted to fly but he couldn't land the way the Army Air Force wanted, he wrote home in a 1942 letter. At that point, he chose to train as a navigator/bombardier.

In this 1943 letter, written from an Army Air Field in Monroe, LA, cousin G is "waiting around for shipment to Advanced [training] which will be in Coral Gables, Florida." He mentions that the school is run by Pan-American (Airways) and he has to satisfy a tougher standard. Why does he care which school he attends?
"The main reason I decided upon the Gables was that most of the navigation is over water and from what I hear that is pretty important when you have to pick an island out of the whole Pacific."
Cousin G understands that he has a role to play in history and takes it seriously, even when his letters make the family smile. His role in history affects his family history too, and I'm proud to document what he wrote to the family during these critical years. Plus I'm learning more about historical details as I add explanatory endnotes to the letters, ensuring that future generations will get the full picture of our family's contributions to and experiences in World War II.

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?

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.