Showing posts with label Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

99-cent Kindle Special Ends at Midnight on June 14

Wow! #1 in Amazon's Kindle Genealogy list from June 13-17.
Would you like to learn how to . . .
  • put your genealogy collection in order and downsize duplicates?
  • inventory and index your materials to uncover hidden clues and make family connections?
  • write a genealogical "will" to protect your family's history for future generations?
  • share photos and stories with relatives today?
Now, for only 99 cents, you can download the Kindle version of my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

But this special price expires on midnight of Thursday, June 14th, New York time, so please click to take a look soon!

UPDATE: More than 260 ebooks sold in 5 days (plus printed copies too), keeping my book at the top of the Amazon Kindle genealogy best-seller list for five days in a row. Thank you! Please, if you own my book, would you take a moment to post a review on Amazon? Your feedback would be most appreciated!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Do the "Write" Thing for Genealogy: Set the Stage

Harold Burk proposed to Daisy Schwartz on the last day of 1945 - a wintery, snowy day!
When writing family history, we can help our readers envision the lives of our ancestors (and what influenced their actions and decisions) by "setting the stage."

This week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge by Amy Johnson Crow, about "storms," is a perfect prompt for setting the stage. I've been researching how weather affected my ancestors, to make the everyday lives of my ancestors more vivid and add drama to my family history.

Setting the Stage for My Parents' Engagement

I wanted to know what the weather was like on the final evening of 1945, when my parents (Harold Burk and Daisy Schwartz) got engaged. They had been dating since mid-October--just a couple weeks after Harold got out of the Army. Daisy hoped and believed that he would pop the question soon, and he chose that special night to propose.

Because both my parents were living in New York City, I researched the weather by clicking on Weather Underground's history tab. I entered the location (you can enter any city) and then the date of December 31, 1945. The result: It was a cold day (low of 28, high of 39 degrees F), but not windy. Just under a quarter-inch of snow fell that day. I can use this info when writing about my father proposing to my mother on a wintery New Year's Eve, with a dusting of snow all around. Sounds like a romantic setting, doesn't it?

Who Lived Through the Blizzard of 1888?

Another way to "set the stage" in family history is to consider who might have been affected by a terrible storm like the Blizzard of 1888. It came on suddenly, and dumped lots of snow on my ancestors who lived in New York City on Sunday, March 11, 1888. In fact, the city was paralyzed. Who in my family's past got caught in this snowstorm?

My paternal great-grandparents, Meyer Elias Mahler and Tillie Jacobs Mahler, were then living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a tenement on Chrystie Street. Their second son, Morris Mahler, was born on Sunday, February 27, 1888--exactly two weeks before the Blizzard.

Did the heat stay on as the snow piled up? Did the family have enough food? How many days were they forced to stay inside until the city got the streets cleared? I don't know the answers to these questions, but raising them is a good way to show how ancestors were real people coping with real (and very challenging) situations.

The Hail Storm That Brought My Family to New York

Moritz Farkas
My maternal great-grandpa, Moritz Farkas, supervised farmland and vineyards for his family and in-laws in Hungary. One year, he saved money by not buying crop insurance. That was the year a big hail storm destroyed the crops. Financially ruined, Moritz left for America and never returned. His wife followed him to New York City a year later, and they sent for their children to join them.

So a huge hail storm in Hungary set the stage for my family's journey across the ocean. If not for hail, I might not be here today to keep these family memories alive for the next generation.

For more ideas about bringing family history to life and sharing with relatives, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback and Kindle

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.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Where There's a Will, There's a Family Reunion (in Venice)

Last week's #52Ancestors challenge (#9 in the series by Amy Johnson Crow) was "Where there's a will..." Since I was at RootsTech then, I'm catching up on my regular genealogy blogging now. My husband suggested today's post, about the wonderful way that a will turned into a family reunion.

Hubby's granddaddy, Brice Larimer McCLURE, was born on Dec. 29, 1878 (in Little Traverse, Michigan) and died on Dec. 15, 1970 (in Cleveland, Ohio). He passed away just shy of his 92nd birthday.

Brice's will left his only child, my late mother-in-law, Marian McClure WOOD (1909-1983), a bank account with a modest four-digit balance.

Marian decided to take that money and treat her three children (and spouses) and three grandchildren to a trip to Venice. Her favorite city in the world!

Since the three children were scattered across the country, this trip was both a family reunion and an opportunity to experience Venice together, paid for by Brice's legacy.

Marian and her husband, Edgar James WOOD (1903-1986) were also big fans of trans-Atlantic cruises. The photo above is one of many cruise photos that Marian and Ed took during their yearly travels to Europe after he retired.

For the reunion trip, they booked passage on the S.S. France, Cabin P252, from New York to Southampton. (Ed was a prodigious diarist, writing a few lines every day for more than 30 years--that's how I know who/what/when/where.)

Ed and Marian and their children arrived in Venice starting on September 6, 1972, and did some sightseeing together for a week. Afterward, everyone scattered to visit other European destinations on their own, their flights home also paid for by Brice's legacy.

This year, I'm creating a family memory booklet with photos from that delightful Venice trip and comments from hubby, his siblings, and the youngsters who played with pigeons in Saint Marks Square (now grown with children of their own). That's one of the many ways* I'm helping to keep the family's history alive for future generations to enjoy!

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*For more ideas, please check out my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback or Kindle.

Friday, February 23, 2018

52 Ancestors #8: Did They Ever Think These Would Be Heirlooms?

Over time, so many of the items left to me or given to me by relatives and ancestors have become treasured heirlooms, valued not for financial value but for emotional and sentimental reasons. This week's #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow is a great opportunity to think about accidental heirlooms, not just those intended to be special.

Above, the silver napkin ring awarded by my mother's Farkas Family Tree association to each newborn child, male or female. For years--seriously, years!--one of my aunts tried to get the tree to give a different gift to baby boys (like her son, my 1st cousin R). She was voted down every time. This napkin ring was an honored gift tradition for decades.
Above, another item that was an heirloom even in its own time. My grandma Hermina Farkas Schwartz kept this cut glass bowl close to her heart because, if I got the story straight, it came with the family from Hungary to America in the early 1900s. My mother inherited it and now I'm the lucky custodian, keeping it safe for the next generation.

But other heirlooms were surely not intended or appreciated as such. At right, a velvet banner used by my late father-in-law Edgar James Wood to promote his piano trio during 1950s/60s gigs in Cleveland. Did Ed ever imagine this would be an heirloom in the 21st century? I bet the answer is no.

We can never predict exactly what future generations will consider to be heirlooms. So we need to take good care of all these family items, just in case. And--most important--we need to tell the stories of why these are (or should be) heirlooms, so that information is passed down along with the items themselves.

For more about sharing family history with future generations, please check out my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available in paperback and Kindle.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

My Genealogy Agenda for 2018

Twins Dorothy & Daisy Schwartz, stars of my new family memory booklet
Building on what I learned in 2017, here's my genealogy agenda for 2018.

1. Keep documenting family history. Throughout the year, I'm going to be writing about ancestors for my relatives and my husband's relatives. I have two specific projects in mind right now (and a third, if I get to it: "Farkas Family in WWII"):
  • "Daisy and Dorothy," a new family memory booklet about my mother (Daisy Schwartz Burk) and her twin sister (Dorothy Helen Schwartz). In the past year, I've located new details about Dorothy's WWII role as a WAC. Also, my niece rediscovered letters from Dorothy written in her 70s, mentioning hobbies such as practicing at the gun range every week with her 9mm Smith & Wesson. Who knew? And this is a great opportunity to share insights about my Mom with the next generation.
  • "Marian and Edgar," a new photo book about my husband's parents (Marian McClure Wood and Edgar James Wood). My sister-in-law would like a hardcover photo book, reviewing their lives, from cradle to grave. I have a LOT of information, thanks to the dozens of photos she's shared with me, plus diaries, interviews, and more. Also, I'm going to draw on 2017 family memory booklets I wrote about Marian and Edgar's ancestors.
2. Continue my genealogy education. For the first time ever, I'm attending RootsTech 2018! So many sessions, so little time. I'm studying the schedule to select my first choice and my second choice session in each time slot. And of course I'll make time to visit the exhibit hall. All part of my planning for learning new research tricks and techniques!

Plus as a member of two local genealogy clubs and the Jewish Genealogy Society of Connecticut, I get to attend so many informative meetings. This year's topics include genetic genealogy, British genealogy, researching online newspapers, genealogy and data security, and so much more.

Another way I'm continuing my genealogy education is by following people and institutions on social media. Currently, my blog reading list stands at 104, including a handful of historical blogs but mainly family history and research blogs. I follow nearly 1,700 Twitter accounts (mostly genealogy but also history and related subjects). And I'm on Pinterest, checking out genealogy posts from time to time. PLUS I'm a member of a couple dozen Facebook groups, groups like GeneaBloggers Tribe, Tracing the Tribe, Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques, and many others, where I learn a great deal by lurking and by asking questions.

3. Genealogy presentations. My 2018 speaking schedule includes a new presentation, "Research Like a Pro!" about how to apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to solve family history mysteries and reconcile conflicting evidence. I'm also presenting "Planning a Future for Your Family's Past" (companion to my book of the same name, available at the NEHGS book store and on Amazon) and the ever-popular, "Genealogy, Free or Fee" about free and low-cost research strategies (and when it pays to pay for documents).

4. Connect with cousins via DNA. More cousins are taking DNA tests, which means I'll have even more DNA matches to figure out. This is the year I'll get down to color-coding my spreadsheet and family tree to understand where the matches belong. And with luck, I'll discover how, exactly, my Mitav/Chazan cousins are related to my Burk/Shuham ancestors! And how my Roth cousins fit with the Farkas family tree.

5. Have fun. For most of my 20 years of genealogy research, the process has been fun and engaging. Meeting "new" cousins brings new joy, and making new genealogy buddies gives me a strong sense of community and shared purpose. The DNA analyses are hard work, I admit. Still, it's deeply satisfying to keep learning new things as I add new leaves to the family tree and bring the family's past alive for future generations. Here's to another great year of genealogy fun in 2018!



Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Writing About the Wood Family in WWII

A page from my new family history booklet, showing some printed items saved by the WOOD family



This holiday season, I'm giving yet another gift of family history to hubby's siblings and to our grandchildren.

This time, it's a booklet about the WOOD family in World War II, focusing on Edgar James Wood, his wife Marian Jane McClure Wood, and their three children. For this booklet, I collected memories from hubby and his siblings, reread interviews with my late father-in-law, and picked through the boxes of artifacts, photos, and documents retained in the Wood family.

One goal is to show the younger generation how family history was actually affected by world history. Above, a page from my booklet, showing some ephemera saved by my late father-in-law. These everyday items (gas ration coupons, a gas ration identification folder, and a thank-you postcard from the Stage Door Canteen) add color and visual interest to the booklet. These items were kept by the family for more than 70 years, and will remain intact for future generations.*

How often do youngsters see gas ration coupons? Never. And did they know their ancestor entertained servicemen and servicewomen at the Stage Door Canteen on Playhouse Square in Cleveland? Nope.

Now, when grandkids leaf through this booklet, the colorful ephemera will hopefully grab their attention and draw them into the story. If they read a few paragraphs, they'll suddenly understand that during wartime, the Wood family's life changed in lots of ways.


*Looking for ways to safeguard family documents/photos and share family history with younger relatives? Please take a look at my affordable book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Thanks!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kindle Countdown Deal: Buy My Book for Only 99 Cents

Black Friday is almost here! And that means the start of my first-ever Kindle Countdown Deal. From 1 am on Friday to 11 pm on Sunday, buy the Kindle version of Planning a Future for Your Family's Past for only 99 cents. Please click here for my Kindle edition.

For you or as a gift for a genealogy-obsessed friend, only 99 cents for 98 pages of practical, hands-on ideas:
  • Learn how to organize and analyze your genealogical materials, getting your collection ready for tomorrow while you uncover clues to solve family history mysteries today. My book includes specific suggestions for sorting materials, safely storing them, captioning photos, inventorying what you have, and indexing for new insights.
  • Decide what to keep and what to give away. You'll get ideas for winnowing down your collection by giving duplicate items to other family members and, if you choose, donating artifacts to institutions that will preserve them for the future.
  • See how to set up a genealogical "will," by identifying heirs to receive your photos and documents and writing down your instructions to clarify your wishes. Don't let your precious research end up in a flea market or garbage bin.
  • Share with heirs--now. Tell the stories, show the photos, explain DNA results, and get relatives excited about your family's history. It's their heritage too!
  • Kindle book includes dozens of hotlinks to online resources accessible with just a click while you read. Plus sample forms in the back of the book will help you get organized and stay organized.
Thanks for passing the word about this special deal. And please do me the favor of reviewing on Amazon! Your feedback would mean a lot to me. Thank you again.

PS: If you have Kindle Unlimited on Amazon, don't forget that you can read my book for free, anytime. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Case Against Paperless Genealogy

Sorry, paperless genealogy is NOT for me. Some avid genealogists advocate digitizing everything, not downloading any paper copies, and/or not printing images/documents found during research. Not me. I print everything. I file everything. Under more than one surname, if applicable.

Why print in the digital age?

Walter Isaacson--the author of the best-selling bio of Steve Jobs and, now, the best-selling book about Leonardo da Vinci--sums up my main reason in one sentence. Let me quote him (you can read the entire interview here):
Paper turns out to be a superb information-storage technology, still readable after 500 years, which our own tweets likely (and fortunately) won't be.
Isaacson was privileged to read more than 7,000 pages of da Vinci's own notebooks. And he found more than just words: the man's personality shines through in the scribbles and sketches that adorn the pages. So not only can paper survive, it also can reveal clues to ancestors' inner thoughts and feelings. 

Technology comes and goes, as anyone who's ever had to unlearn WordPerfect and learn MS Word can attest. Anyone who began storing data on those big floppy discs and migrated to mini-discs and migrated to CDs and migrated to flash drives. And to the cloud, then to whatever overtakes the cloud.

Meanwhile, paper lives on and on. My goal is to ensure that the next generation inherits family history. Will they learn my technology? No. Will they open my files and archival boxes and leaf through photos and certificates and memorabilia? Yes!

At top, the back of a 1930s business card from hubby's grandpa, Brice Larimer McClure. Sometime before his death in 1970, he took cards and scraps of paper and recorded facts about his ancestors and the ancestors of his wife, Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure.

This card shows the birth years of Floyda and her siblings, including the infant who died young (I eventually found proof to confirm Brice's recollection).

Being able to pick out this card from Brice's effects gave us a headstart on piecing together the entire generation of Steiners. And some grandkids think it's a bit amazing to hold in their hands a business card that's now more than 80 years old, while they hear stories of how the family made ends meet during the Depression.

All in all, I plan to keep up the paper chase and leave a paper trail for future generations. AND I'm also digitizing everything, by the way, and doing daily/hourly backups to keep the data safe, filed by family and surname on my hard drives, flash drives, and cloud backups. But paper is my secret strategy for passing what I've learned to the younger generation. It worked for older generations--and it will work for mine.

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For ideas about storing documents and paper in archival boxes, please check out my concise genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions).

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sepia Saturday: Use Photos to Sharpen Family Memories



My husband remembers that his father (Edgar James Wood) would take all the children out for a drive on Sunday afternoons while his mother (Marian Jane McClure Wood) cooked a special dinner.

They lived in Cleveland Heights, and his father would drive around to various spots, entertaining three kids under 8 for a couple of hours every week.

As the self-appointed family historian, my question was, of course: Where did he take you?

Well, there are some rather general family stories about these drives. But when my sister-in-law recently rediscovered a cache of old family photos taken by their father, more specific memories flooded back.

Here is a very atmospheric photo that my late father-in-law took of his two oldest children staring at a steam locomotive. Hubby immediately remembered going to Collinwood Yards. Actually, his memory was Collingwood, but a quick online search confirmed Collinwood was a thriving railroad center in East Cleveland, serving the New York Central RR.

We found photos and maps and other details about Collinwood Yards online. Such as the Cleveland Memory Project and the Rails & Trails maps, to name just two.

Old photos really help to sharpen family memories! I'm writing everything down, captions to go along with photos, for the sake of the next generation and beyond.

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For ideas about storing family photos and captioning them safely via labels on the outside of archival sleeves, please check out my concise genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions).


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Confessions of a Downsizing Genealogist


As a downsizing genealogist, I have to confess: I've decided there's no reason for me to have to keep every photo or artifact that once belonged to my ancestors. In fact, because I no longer have as much storage room as I once did, I've been actively giving things away for the past few years. Finding good homes for every item, I might add. Of course, before anything leaves my possession, I photograph it and document it for my files, a way to preserve my family's past for the future even after an artifact passes to someone else.

How to decide what to keep and what to part with? I sort items into three categories and consult with my family before making final decisions.
  • Category 1: Items of personal and family significance that should remain in my immediate family (me, my siblings, or our direct descendants)
  • Category 2: Items that should remain in the family, more generally (hand off to cousins if possible)
  • Category 3: Items that have no particular family history importance but have some significance outside the family (donate if possible)
In category 1, I put items like my parents' wedding album, their original mahogany bedroom set, and needlepoint done by my mother. These I'm keeping and bequeathing to the next generation, along with the stories of who, what, when, where, and why. In a future post, I'll talk about how to handle situations where there's one original but multiple heirs.

In category 2, I put items like photos from family gatherings--especially if I have duplicates. My first and second cousins now have original photos of their parents and photos of our families taken for special occasions, for example. And I have digital copies, annotated, of everything, for my research records. Whenever possible, I give away originals not in my direct line, so these will be inherited by the next generation.

In category 3, I put items like air-raid posters, bank ledgers from non-relatives, and the 30 years of Playbills shown in the picture at top (collected by going to Broadway or off-Broadway shows). The family isn't really attached to these, and they don't add to research about ancestors. Still, they are worthy of being saved somewhere for their historical or cultural meaning. So I asked a cousin in college whether her theater teacher might be interested, and the answer was yes!

With permission, I donated hundreds of Playbills to the university's theater library, knowing that they will serve as valuable source material when students research a play or an actor. As the teacher pointed out, seeing ads of the time and reading interviews with the stars provides important context for each play. My family and I felt good that these items are not only in a new home, but have a new purpose.

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For more tips like this, please take a look at my 98-page genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions). And if you already have my book, please would you take a moment and write a review on Amazon? Thank you so much!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Family History Month: Ancestor Landing Pages as Cousin Bait

Yes, ancestor landing pages really work as cousin bait--attracting people (often real relatives!) whose online search for a particular surname brings them to my blog pages.

To see what I mean, you can click on one or two of the landing pages across the top of this blog page, the tabs with titles like "Wm Tyler Bentley's story" and "Abraham & Annie Berk's story." 

I first put up ancestor landing pages in January, 2013, after reading about the idea on Caroline Pointer's blog.

I use these to summarize what I know about each surname or family in the various family trees that I'm researching. I include not only photos and sometimes documents, but also links to specific blog posts about that person or family.

Six months after first setting up these landing pages, I had views but no cousin connections. In the nearly five years since I first posted these pages, I've gotten thousands of views and have actually connected with a number of cousins as well!

So if you have a blog or are thinking about creating one, consider landing pages or a similar mechanism. As you can see from the current statistics in the table at top, people keep clicking on my pages. Most aren't related to my ancestors or my husband's ancestors, but the few who are related (or researching a particular name) know how to get in touch via my blog now.

By the way, the McClure family from Donegal is by far my most popular landing page. Second-most popular is the page I created with free sample forms and templates from my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Family History Month: Noting My Cousin Connections

Among the sample templates and forms on my blog is a simple table for keeping track of all my cousins. As shown above, I record the names of my cousins, contact info, and notes.

Until last year, I felt I didn't really need a formal listing. Then I nearly forgot to tell one new-found Farkas cousin about a mutual cousin I had located months before. (With the permission of both cousins, I shared their contact info and they have since met in person.)

A reader just asked whether I note all my cousins or only cousins who are interested in our family's genealogy. My answer: I note all my cousins. The notes section indicates when I last spoke with each and whether I requested or received family history info, but that's not as important as compiling a complete listing of who's who among my cousin connections. In the distant future, after I join my ancestors, I want relatives to be aware of the many cousins we have and how to connect with them, should they wish.*

Of course, as my DNA research continues, I hope to be adding more names to my ever-growing list of cousin connections. And by noting names of cousins, it helps the genealogists of the future to understand exactly who's who in my family tree.

*This is one of the many tips in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, so that the next generation doesn't lose touch with their cousins.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Family History Month: A Pony on the Sidewalk in the Bronx?

Telling the story behind old family photos will help the next generation understand not only who but where, when, and why. That's my goal during Family History Month. The story doesn't have to be elaborate or even formal. Here, for example, I put the photo into an acid-free archival sleeve, wrote a quick caption on an adhesive label, and stuck it to the outside of the sleeve. Story told!

Someone had written "Fred" in faint handwriting on the frame, identifying the child as my uncle Fred Schwartz, older brother of my Mom. Once I researched my uncle Fred's birth date, I was able to estimate when the photo was taken--a winter in the very early 1920s. Now I knew who and when, but not where or why.

Then I began asking my older cousins about the photo. One cousin explained that ponies were used as photo opps, something she remembered from her childhood:
Entrepreneurs would bring ponies around to residential neighborhoods in New York City and offer to photograph children in the saddle, for a small fee. 
Next, using street-view images on Google, I compared the brick background of the apartment building behind the pony with the brick on the building where the Schwartz family was listed in the 1920 Census. That building still stands, visible online. And it turns out my uncle Fred was photographed right outside his tenement on Fox Street in the South Bronx. Mystery solved, story recorded for future generations.

By the way, doing a search for images showing "children posed on ponies in New York City 1920" returns a handful of similar photos. And when I show this photo to New York-area audiences and ask about the pony, usually a couple of people remember seeing similar photos in their family's possession!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Family History Month: Will You Bequeath a Mess or a Collection?

During Family History Month, I'm continuing to organize my genealogy materials for two main reasons: (1) so I can put my hands on exactly the records or photos I want when needed, and (2) so my heirs will receive a well-preserved genealogy collection, not a mess.

Above left, a photo of part of the mess I inherited. My parents left cardboard boxes of papers jumbled together with photos and movies and other stuff. On the right, what I'm bequeathing to my genealogy heirs: Photos and original documents organized by surname and family, in archival boxes for safekeeping.

I especially wanted to protect certain artifacts in archival boxes, including:
  • The college scrapbook of my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), which is 90 years old but still in good shape;
  • The 1946 wedding album of my parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978), which was deteriorating;
  • The 1916 wedding portrait from my great uncle Alex Farkas (1885-1948) and Jennie Katz (1886-1974), which includes my maternal grandparents among the family members pictured.
Not only does organizing make my research easier, it also jogs my memory to put the pieces of the puzzle together as I categorize items and look at them more carefully. In the process, I'm getting my collection into good order for the sake of future generations (as explained in my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past). I don't want to leave a genealogical mess for future generations to untangle and decode!

Remember, you have to put your instructions into a written "genealogical will" so the next generation knows what you have, where your collection is located, and why it's important to save the family's history.

The NUMBER ONE thing we can all do is to put captions on our old photos. If we do nothing else, this will at least help future generations know who's who and how each person is related. Mystery photos might get tossed out, but not identified photos.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Family History Month: Write It Down!


So many ancestors, so much to say . . . it's time to write it down for future generations to remember!

During Family History Month, I'm choosing specific family photos and writing a few paragraphs about the background. Above, an excerpt from my page about hubby's grandmother, Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948). [NOTE: Her name and dates are shown at top of page, not visible in this excerpt.]

My write-up explained that Floyda was the youngest of nine Steiner children, listed in birth order at left of the photo. I wrote about how Floyda got her unusual name, and about the photo itself, a staged studio photo taken around the turn of the 20th century. Although the photo isn't dated, I guesstimated by the fashions and hairstyles, as well as the presence of the oldest sister, who died in 1913.

To bring these ladies to life, I asked hubby and his siblings what they remembered about these sisters, and included their memories in the write-up. They told me that the sisters shown here really were as close as the photo suggests, a key detail for descendants to know! That's why I'm taking the time to write it down.  A write-up doesn't have to be fancy, elaborate, or lengthy. It just has to tell the story for the sake of future generations.



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Family History Month: Bequeath the Story with the Heirloom


During Family History Month, I'm continuing to write down the stories of the family heirlooms that will pass to the next generation.

This is an excerpt from two pages I wrote about my late mother-in-law's artistic ceramic sculptures. Hubby and I have three animal sculptures to bequeath. We want to be sure  descendants know more about Marian McClure Wood (1909-1983) and how she developed her interest and skill in creating these sculptures.

Between checking with family members and researching the teacher's name, I learned a lot about Marian and her artistry. On more than one occasion, she entered her sculptures in the prestigious juried May Show at the Cleveland Museum of Art--and her works were accepted for display several times! It only took a few clicks to find the records buried in the museum's digital archives.

Now Marian's grandchildren will not only have these sculptures, they'll know about Marian's artistic talent and take pride in her accomplishments. We're doing the same with other heirlooms so the stories get bequeathed along with the heirlooms for future generations to appreciate, including photos on the write-ups to be sure everyone knows which heirloom is which.

If you're writing down the story of an heirloom, start with what you were told or what you observed. Include details about the heirloom (what, when, where, why) and talk about the person who created it or treasured it. Explain why it's something for the family to keep. Even just a paragraph or two will give the next generation a better understanding of the history of that heirloom and the family.

This is part of the PASS process discussed in my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Family History Month: Color Me Blonde and Rouge My Cheeks


During Family History Month, I'm continuing to organize my genealogy collection and store items safely for future generations to enjoy (taking my own advice!).

Above, one of my baby photos from a 10 x 12 montage. I removed it from its frame and stored it in an archival box for safekeeping.

When I turned this portrait over, I found instructions to the person who was going to hand-tint the black-and-white print.

Not only did the tinter give me pink cheeks, ruby lips, and eyeliner, I also acquired a unique golden hair color, with an extra sweep of blonde waving over my head.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Junk or Joy? Think of Future Generations!

Lots of wisdom in a recent Washington Post article titled: "Just because an item doesn't spark joy, doesn't mean you should toss it."

So many people are following the fad for saving only possessions that spark "joy" (based on best-selling author Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). But this doesn't mean throwing out family history along with the family china that none of the kids or grandkids wants right now. UPDATE: Today's New York Times has a similar article, focusing on how many downsizers are coping with younger relatives' disinterest in having the family china, furniture, etc.

The author of the Washington Post article says that "passing down at least some of those possessions creates an important connection between generations and has a vital part in a family’s history." Her advice: save a few select things rather than everything. "Choose things that have special meaning — a serving dish that you used every Thanksgiving, old family photos . . . "

That's why the "chickie pitcher" shown at top is still in the family, while the magazine shown at right is not.

This pitcher, passed down in the Wood family, was part of holiday meals for as my hubby can remember (and that's a long way back). His mother, Marian McClure Wood, would put it out along with coffee and dessert on Thanksgiving and other occasions. We've continued the tradition in our family!

The Workbasket magazine, however, is a different kind of keepsake. My mother, Daisy Schwartz Burk, was an avid needleworker and subscribed to this magazine for at least a decade. But as part of my Genealogy Go-Over and in the pantheon of heirlooms, the four issues held by the family for 50 years have a very low priority.

Rather than relegate these good condition magazines to the flea market or recycle bin, I found them a new home: the Missouri History Museum, which collects magazines issued by Missouri-based publishers. The museum lacked the particular issues I was offering, and was especially pleased that the address labels were still attached.

I signed a deed of gift (similar to the one shown here) and donated all four issues, along with a brief paragraph describing my mother and her love of needlework. It gives me joy to know that Mom's name will forever be attached to magazines preserved and held in the museum archives. (May I suggest: For more ideas about how to sort your genealogical collection and the possibilities of donating artifacts, please see my book Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past: Did Uncle Benji Smile?

It's up to us, before we join our ancestors, to keep the stories, photos, and memories of past generations alive for the benefit of future generations.

Here are just a few methods I've tried.
  • Tell ancestor stories with dramatic flair. Our ancestors really did lead lives that were courageous (pioneers), happy (family or success), sad (early death), challenging (bankruptcy), or something in between. Find the drama and accentuate it to bring these ancestors to life. My maternal grandma threw a suitor's engagement ring out the window when she refused an arranged marriage. Isn't that dramatic? Hubby's grandpa was a master mechanic who worked on an early automobile model, making his mark on history in a small but significant way. Telling dramatic stories over and over does, I'm happy to say, make an impression.
  • Put an ancestor's face on a T-shirt. I think Benjamin McClure looks ancestral (and characteristically resolute) on this T-shirt worn by his great-great-grandson. Did "Uncle Benji" ever smile? I can ask every younger relative who sees this shirt. In private, I bet he did. But this was his public face, as a civic leader. 
  • Make copies of ancestor photos and give them to siblings, cousins, grandkids. Include a note explaining who's who. Pick a special date--for instance, St. Paddy's Day, for Irish ancestors--and make inexpensive photos to send inside a greeting card. The more relatives who come to recognize ancestors by face and name, the better. Okay, I'm still the only person who can identify most older ancestors in photos, but I'm hoping that someday relatives will be able to pick out at least one or two individuals they didn't know before. Plus I'm glad to know that these photo copies are widely dispersed within the family, not simply stuck inside my files.
  • Tell stories about what ancestors didn't talk about. My immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents never spoke of the trip from their home towns in Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania to New York City. But knowing the name of the ships, the time of year, and length of the voyages, and the distance between the home towns and the ports of departure, I can weave together a pretty decent narrative for each one. No, they didn't come "cabin class." So this kind of story illustrates determination and perseverance (occasionally desperation).  
  • Remind young relatives who and what ancestors left behind. None of my immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents ever returned to their home towns after arriving in New York. Younger relatives are taken aback when reminded that these ancestors often left home at an early age (Grandpa Teddy Schwartz was 14), knowing that the journey would be one-way only. Imagine. 
I've seen examples of even more creative ideas, including ancestor playing cards, that are future possibilities. What ideas have you tried for getting the younger generation interested in the lives of their ancestors?