Showing posts with label family history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family history. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How Blogging Helps My Genealogy

The movements of an ancestor who caught Ohio fever
Every blog post I research and write helps my genealogy. Even after more than 11 years of blogging, and 21 years of genealogy enthusiasm, there are always new things to learn.

The process of blogging enhances my genealogy because it (1) sharpens my focus, (2) reveals gaps, and (3) serves as a rough draft of written family history.

Sharpening My Focus

Every time I blog, I narrow my focus to one ancestor, one surname, or one occasion. Or I choose one genealogical resource or method to explore. The point is to keep the focus on someone or something I can discuss in one post--a bite-sized piece of my family history.

My recent blog post about my great uncle Julius Farkas is a good example. I'm participating in Amy Johnson Crow's intriguing #52Ancestors series of weekly prompts for genealogy bloggers. For the "soldier" prompt, I decided to focus on Julius, the only conscience objector I've ever found in my family--someone who did not want to be a soldier.

Previously, I had written a few sentences about Julius in the context of others from my family who served in World War I. This time, to flesh out his story, I dug deeper into his military experience, going beyond the usual draft registration card and the summary of military service.

To my surprise, I discovered an Army transport list that had not been available when I last searched. Julius's name was the only one crossed out. The others were sent overseas into combat. With a shiver, I realized Julius would have wound up in the second battle of the Somme, had he not been reassigned at the very last minute as a Stateside Army cook. Sharpening my focus led me to this new aspect of his life.

Revealing Gaps

Gaps--yes, there are still quite a few in my family and my husband's family tree. When I blog about one ancestor or a branch of the tree, I often discover that I'm missing some information.

Take my recent two-part blog post about Mary "unknown maiden name" Shehan, my husband's ancestor who lived in London but was born in Ireland. My original intention was to try to find out where exactly she and her husband were born, and (if possible) to learn her maiden name. I wrote my blog post as I did my research.

First, I reviewed their whereabouts according to the UK census. Nowhere was any county or town listed, only "Ireland" as their birthplace. Sigh. On the other hand, there was nothing at all after 1871--a gap I needed to fill.

That's when I switched my goal to finding where and when these ancestors died. I had to dig deeper to find more documents, but ultimately I learned the sad ending to Mary "unknown" Shehan's life, unfortunately echoed in her daughter Mary Shehan Slatter's life. Blogging about these ancestors led me to discover gaps and conduct research to find out more. And it gave me crucial new insights into these ancestors' lives.

Rough Draft of Family History

Blogging allows me to "think out loud" about an ancestor or family-history situation in a post. Sometimes I write a series of blog posts about a particular topic of family, which I later turn into my first draft of a written family history.

That's what I did with my "Ohio fever" series. After reading David McCullough's well-researched book, The Pioneers, I turned my attention to three of my husband's ancestors who had caught Ohio fever. With the historical background in mind, I could understand "why," not just "when" and "where" they moved to Ohio.

With more detail and some editing, that three-post series became a seven-page booklet for the family, complete with colorful maps like the one at top. I especially wanted to grab the attention of younger relatives and show them how our family actually made history. With my blog posts as a rough draft, it was faster and easier to create the booklet than starting from scratch.

Genealogy blogging has another big benefit: It's absolutely fantastic cousin bait.

Some of my posts are brief, some are lengthy, sometimes I don't post for a week or two, but I always find blogging worthwhile and fun.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Am I Making Genealogical Progress?

Panelist at Family Tree Live! "Crash Course in Writing Your Family's Story"
Summer's here. With half a year gone and half a year to go, am I making progress toward my genealogical goals? Yes and no.

Yes!

  • Continuing my genealogy education. I've been to Family Tree Live, learned from speakers at local genealogy meetings, and watched top-notch  webinars hosted by the Virtual Genealogical Association. Also, I've watched videos by Ancestry, Family Search, and MyHeritage, learning to use those sites more effectively for family-history research. Not to mention the many books I've read for historical background to put ancestors into context, and books I've read to learn more about genealogy in general. 
  • Connecting with other family history researchers. I'm now following 2300 Twitter accounts that focus on genealogy, history, archives, and related topics (compared with 1700 in January, 2018). Learning lots from participating in #AncestryHour and #GenChat also! Happy that this genealogy blog rose to #10 in the Feedspot list of family tree websites earlier this year. In August I'll celebrate my 11th blogiversary.
  • Building my portfolio of presentations. I spoke twice (and was on the family history writing panel shown at top) at the big new Family Tree Live conference in London. Also, I have scheduled many presentations at genealogy clubs and libraries throughout this year. Topics include social media for genealogy, writing family history, Genealogy 101, using Heritage Quest, and planning a genealogical "will." 
  • Connecting with cousins. I completed the big Farkas family indexing project and sent a flash drive to cousins with family letters and meeting minutes covering decades. A real accomplishment, in that it keeps family history alive for future generations. In addition, this blog continues to be cousin bait, as do my public trees on Ancestry and MyHeritage. DNA matches on these and other sites have enabled me to identify other definite and prospective cousins. "Almost" cousins (in-law relations) have also been in touch, and we've exchanged info about people we are both researching, which means more progress.

No!

  • Do more with DNA. On back burner for first half of the year. Just this month, new DNA matches gave me enough info to finally begin color-coding for specific parts of the family tree. In the second half of 2019, I plan to proactively use tools on Ancestry, DNA Painter, MyHeritage, Gedmatch to get more insights as I organize my DNA matches.
  • Delayed new family history booklets. I started collecting photos and document images for a booklet on my Mom and Auntie, Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, but haven't organized or written anything. With my Sis, I donated Dorothy's WAC memorabilia to the U.S. Army Women's Museum early in 2019, so that's progress. Haven't yet begun organizing and writing the long-promised photo book of Edgar James Wood and his wife, Marian McClure Wood. I've written shorter booklets but the family is interested in something longer and filled with lots of photos. Keeping this on my 2019 to-do list.
  • Following fewer genealogy blogs. The number of active genealogy blogs I'm following has fallen to only 66. It was 104 at the start of 2018, which means 38 have gone inactive since then. It's time to search out blogs to follow by checking Geneabloggers Tribe and other sources.
And of course, I'm still promoting my best-selling genealogy book/ebook, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past, with ideas for organizing, analyzing, preserving, and passing family history to next generation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

See You at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27

Family Tree magazine has cooked up Family Tree Livea big new genealogy show in London on Friday and Saturday, April 26-27!

There will be more than 60 lectures, with three choices of expert speakers or panels per each time slot. For hands-on learning, the show also offers dozens of workshops, including a special track about DNA for genealogy.

You can buy tickets and prebook your seat in lectures and workshops right now!

It's new, it's live, and I'm thrilled to be on the program as a speaker and panelist during three sessions. Please say hello if you come to one of these talks:
  • #Genealogy and #familyhistory: How to use social media for genealogy (at 12:15 pm on Friday, April 26) - I'll decode the hashtags and show you how to get the most out of using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest for genealogy, whether you want to join the conversation or follow to lurk and learn.
  • Planning a future for your family's past: Do you have a genealogical will? (at 10:00 am on Saturday, April 27) - After a brief overview of organizing genealogy files so they look like a legacy, I'll explain why and how to prepare a genealogical 'will' to keep old photos and documents safe for future generations.* 
  • Crash course in writing your family history (at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 27) - Gill Blanchard, Diane Lindsay, and I will offer practical ideas and tips for writing your family's history so descendants will know the more about the lives lived by their ancestors--not just names and dates.
* You can find out even more by reading my best-selling genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Suspenders and Belt Backups to Save Priceless Family Photos

Family photos and documents are so precious! Please consider multiple backup methods (suspenders AND a belt and maybe more) to keep digital versions safe. (I love archival boxes to keep paper-based genealogy safe and organized.)

Eleven years ago, I began backing up my digital images by storing in the cloud and burning and storing CDs every few months. Remember, ordinary built-in hard drives weren't as large as they are today. I worried not only about the size of my storage capacity but also about potential computer failure, which could cause me to lose my precious photos, both old and new.

For cloud storage, I created digital folders clearly marked with family names. For the CDs, I wrote the contents and date on each disc and slipped it into a CD wallet, filed chronologically. When I had an outside service scan 35mm slides, I filed those CDs as well. And I arranged for automatic cloud backups daily at 3:30 pm, in addition to hourly Time Machine backups by my Mac to an external hard drive on my desk. Can't have too many backups, right?
Now I'm backing up my backups with another portable hard drive, this one dedicated exclusively to digitized genealogy photos and documents. I feel more comfortable with a suspenders-and-belt approach. If one backup is inaccessible due to technological changes or hardware glitches or any other reason, I should be able to access one or more of the other backup technologies.

Don't get me wrong. CD storage technology is very good, but it won't last forever, especially if I have to read the CDs a number of times. Storing all those CDs takes more space than the newest portable hard drives like the one pictured at top, which is only a bit larger than a deck of cards. 

The other, more pressing problem with CDs is that new computers don't always come with a built-in CD slot. I bought an external CD read/write unit last year, but it gets balky with newer operating systems. Ouch! I can't risk being unable to read all those CDs when a cousin asks for a certain old family photo (as happened this holiday weekend).

Before 2019 arrives, I'll have all those CDs copied and stored in easily-identified digital files on my new "Marian's photos" hard drive. The new drive was very affordable and with 2 terabytes, there is plenty of room for family photos, old and new. Note: hard drives have a limited life span as well, which is why getting a new one every few years is probably a good idea, especially as prices come down and storage capacity gets bigger but drives become tinier and more portable.

So please make a backup plan for your backups to keep family history safe in multiple ways! As family historians, descendants are counting on us to preserve those old photos and documents for the long term. It's our priceless heritage we're protecting.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

52 Ancestors #1: Grandpa Got Me Started in Genealogy

I never knew my father's father, Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943). I didn't know what he looked like, didn't know when or where he was born, didn't know when or where he died. But it was Grandpa who got me started on my genealogy journey 20 years ago.

In 1998, the genealogist of my mother's Farkas family wanted to add my father and his parents to her comprehensive family tree. There was little I could tell her other than Grandpa's name. There was no one left to ask. Of course, I couldn't resist trying to find out more. Little did I know how elusive Grandpa's trail was going to be!

As a complete novice, my first stop was the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library. In those days of microfilm research, I figured this was one-stop shopping for info and advice about finding Grandpa Isaac's records. I was sure he lived in New York City after arriving from somewhere in Eastern Europe.


With the help of librarians, I checked NYC directories and newspaper records. Yup, Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk did live in NYC. I cranked that microfilm reader until I found a terse obit in the New York Times for October 10, 1943. No mention of burial place. Nothing in death record indexes. Next, I mailed a check to New York City with a search request for Grandpa's death cert. I was hooked and had to know more.

Uh-oh. No NYC death cert was on record. Nor was there a death cert in New York State. And no hint of which cemetery Grandpa might be buried in. Remember, Find a Grave was in its infancy, so I couldn't just click to search for him. The funeral folks couldn't help, either.

I continued my quest for Grandpa Isaac little by little over the next few years, locating his marriage record from 1906 and all the US and NY State Census records available at the time. But--no death cert, even though every document showed him living in NYC. Still, I was determined to solve this seemingly basic family mystery.

In desperation, I actually called New York City's vital records department and threw myself on their mercy, asking for help. A very kind gentleman lowered his voice and told me I should try searching further afield. He offered the unofficial hint that Grandpa Isaac might have died in someplace like, say, Washington, D.C.

Huh? Who would Grandpa Isaac and Grandma Henrietta know in Washington, D.C.? And why would Grandpa have died there?

I immediately wrote to the vital records department in D.C., including a check, and waited.

Two weeks later, I had Grandpa Isaac's death cert in my hand. The details fit, this was definitely him. Later, I found Isaac's naturalization record and saw his face and signature for the very first time.

Why were Isaac and Henrietta in D.C. for four days before he had a heart attack and died--in the home of Louis Volk?

The quest for a connection with Louis Volk eventually brought me into contact with some wonderful 2d cousins! But that's another story for another week in the challenge. 

I only wish Grandpa Isaac could know how he got me started in #genealogy--and that I'm making sure the family knows as much about him and his life story as I can discover.


Thank you to Amy Johnson Crow for this 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge!

#52Ancestors 

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!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: What's Your Genealogy Elevator Pitch?

Do you have a genealogy elevator pitch? You know, a few quick sentences summarizing your family's background, adapted to the situation at hand. Entrepreneurs use elevator pitches to get investors interested in their businesses; we use elevator pitches to connect with relatives and possible relatives in several situations.

With genealogy elevator pitches, the goal is to share information very concisely, spark interest in your family or your research, and--hopefully--motivate action. Especially valuable during Genealogy Go-Overs or Do-Overs!

Here are three situations where I use my genealogy elevator pitches:
  • Following up on a DNA match or a family-tree hint. The right elevator pitch, polite and concise with an upbeat tone, makes a big difference. Mention exactly what the match or hint is, then list family names/places to get the ball rolling on trying to confirm the match. Some people manage more than one DNA kit and are active on more than one DNA site or family-tree site, so I give particulars to save them time. My elevator pitch: "My name is ___, my kit # is ___, and I'm writing about a match with FamilyTreeDNA kit #___, which is listed under the name of ____.  I suspect the connection might be through my Farkas family from Botpalad (Hungary) or my Kunstler family from Nagy Bereg (Hungary). Please let me know if any of these names or places are familiar. Thanks very much, and I'm looking forward to hearing from you." By adding the phrase looking forward to hearing from you, I'm requesting a response, positive or negative. Much of the time, it works.
  • Younger relatives ask a question or appear interested in an old photo. Be ready with a minute or two of explanation--vividly bring that person to life in that moment. Above, a photo my grandsons found interesting. My elevator pitch: "That's your great-great-grandpa James Edgar Wood and his construction crew, building a house in Cleveland Heights more than 100 years ago. Did you know he built so many homes in Cleveland that Wood Road is named for him? And most of those homes are still standing today!" Depending on the reaction, I either dig out more house photos or tell another story about the Wood family--keeping it brief.
  • At a family gathering or on the phone with a relative who asks, "what's new?" Oooh, so glad you asked. My latest elevator pitch: "Hubby and his first cousins took DNA tests, and surprisingly, the results show that the Wood family has some roots outside the British Isles. Would you consider taking a DNA test so we can learn more? [Insert name of DNA testing firm] has a big sale coming up!" The element of surprise in DNA results can be highly intriguing, and the mention of a sale also grabs attention. Three cousins were kind enough to take a DNA test during a sale this summer. My pitch was successful! So many cMs, so little time.
So polish your genealogy elevator pitch. And if you're going to a genealogy conference, polish the "surnames research" part of your pitch and/or have calling cards printed (above, mine and my husband's cards) to exchange with other researchers.

    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.)

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy, Free or Fee, Part 5: Ask the Historian

    A lot of genealogical treasures are not online. But local historians may be able to help you solve a mystery or two, at little or no cost (often, just the cost of copies and postage).

    Case in point: My husband's Bentley ancestors lived in upstate NY. I need to connect his 3d great-grandfather, William Tyler Bentley (1795-1873), with a specific town and then trace further back.

    I believe I have him in the 1830 census in Sandy Creek, Oswego county, NY. But is this the right guy? I searched for Sandy Creek and the website above popped up. Take a look at what the wonderful local historian, Charlene Cole, has at her fingertips:
    I called her, she checked her records, and then she emailed me some documents from her surname files, contributed by a long-time researcher who was also tracking down the same Bentley family. By getting in touch with this other Bentley researcher, we were able to put more pieces of the puzzle together.

    So Tuesday's Tip is: Try a web search for the town or county where an ancestor lived, and you may be lucky enough to locate the local historian who knows where the treasures are buried. Even if you don't locate the actual information you need, you will likely get a clue on how to proceed or the name of others who are in search of the same surname.

    For more "Genealogy, Free or Fee" posts, please click here.

    Sunday, April 10, 2016

    Mystery Monday: Indexing Your Family's Records to Solve Mysteries

    You finished indexing your grandfather's diary, your mother's letters, your grandmother's baby book. Now what?

    In my previous post, I outlined how to index letters or other documents or books from your family's past. Before you file your index (a copy with the document you indexed and copies inside the files of the main surnames mentioned), mine it for clues to family mysteries. You’re not indexing simply for the sake of getting organized—the process is important for making progress on your genealogical research.

    Here are five ways you can use an index to deepen your knowledge of family history and to solve family mysteries:
    • Check dates against what you know. Does the index help you narrow down possible birth, marriage, death dates? Does it fill in the blanks on where ancestors were during key periods? Who is missing on key dates? During indexing, I noticed that a great-grandfather was suddenly absent from the documents after being mentioned year after year. That was a clue to his approximate death date, which I’d been unable to pinpoint.
    •  Look at relationships. Does the index shed light on whether family members were estranged or close? Does it confirm relationships that you suspected? Who is present at family gatherings, and how often do they show up? One set of family meeting minutes I indexed showed how warmly a widowed in-law was welcomed, along with her second family. The same index reflected the rare attendance of an uncle whose marriage outside the faith was frowned upon.
    • Look at occasions. Who’s visiting on holidays? Which holidays are celebrated? Are weddings, birthdays, funerals mentioned? Who’s giving gifts, who’s receiving gifts, where and when? One baby book I indexed gave me a clue that someone was more than a “family friend” because she gave a surprisingly valuable gift. Sure enough, she turned out to be the ex-spouse of a close relative.  
    • Cross-reference the index against other items. Do you have photos of the people mentioned in the index during the period covered by the documents? See whether the index can help you identify mystery people in your photos or give you more context for when, where, and why the photos were taken.
    • Verify details. If a diary mentions someone’s birth, marriage, or death, compare the dates with official documents. A century ago, official records weren’t always filed on time, so a birth date on the vital records form might be a day or a few days later than the actual birth. Maybe the index will point you to the actual date, or explain why the date differs from the official record. Also, names on Census forms weren’t always accurate, so check your index against what you see on the Census. Use the index to match nicknames with full given names on your tree. You might find a variation via the index that you can use to when you research that person.

    Solving a mystery: My sister-in-law remembered a cousin Edith, quite a tall lady, attending her wedding. Now, years later, no one remembered Edith's last name or how she was related. When I indexed my late father-in-law's diaries, I found repeated mentions of Edith in the 1960s and 1970s. This led to a hunch about Edith's parents. 

    Putting together clues from Census data, Cleveland directories, and my husband's and sister-in-law's memories, we solved the mystery and figured out where Edith fits on the family tree. Using the dates and approximate ages, we also identified her and her sister in the above photo with my father-in-law. Without the index, this mystery would have taken much longer to solve.