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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

“Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Creativity and Genealogy – Daniel Hubbard of Personal Past Meditations muses on The Creative Act.  Is genealogy just facts and figures, or can it be a creative pursuit?  Read Daniel’s answer, especially the penultimate paragraph which beautifully explains how genealogy can be a creative act.

On the other hand… – Steve Danko of Steve’s Genealogy Blog explains Applying the Scientific Method to Genealogical Research (Part 1).   While the story of your family’s history is definitely enhnaced with creative acts, actually finding the history is next to impossible without applying a little bit of scientific thought.  Looking to develop some research plans next year?  Don’t even try it without using Steve’s methods found in his 5-part series.

One of my favorite records – Learn what you can find by investigating draft registration cards at pursuits of a desperate genie.  Genie talks about all the cool things you can find out about your ancestors in these records, which are why they are one of my favorites, too.

My Christmas Gift to Me – I just got a new Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner and I can’t wait to try it out. What convinced me to buy it was Janine Smith’s review at Tip Squirrel.  Read her Flip-Pal Mobile Scanner Review and I bet you ask Santa for one, too!

And now for something completely differentLearn how to Turn Your Digital Photos Into Incredible Paintings With Psykopaint at MakeUseOf.com.  The free online program allows you to transform your photos into paintings.  What a great way to get creative with your genealogy!

In case you missed it, Jasia posted the Call for Submissions for the 101st Carnival of Genealogy at Creative Gene.  And don’t forget to vote for Family Tree Magazine’s Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011 – last call is midnight on Monday!

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Once again, Family Tree Magazine has announced the nominees for the “40 Best Genealogy Blogs” for 2011.  And once again, I’m honored to be in the running – thanks for anyone who nominated What’s Past is Prologue.  There are many great genealogy blogs on the list!  The voting polls close at midnight on December 20th, so head on over to the voting page where you can choose 5 nominees in the following categories: Everything, Cemeteries, Technology, Heritage Groups, Research Advice/How-to, Local/Regional Research, New Blogs, and My Family History.  Results will be announced in the magazine’s July 2011 issue.

Psst…What’s Past is Prologue is in the “My Family History” category!  If you’re a fan, please cast a vote!

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”Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Making the Past Alive in the Present – Via a travel blog I read called Vagabondish, I found a post called Reviving the Ghosts of Amsterdam.  It points to twelve photographs at My Modern Met also called Ghosts of Amsterdam.  All I can say is “Wow!”  Anyone who loves old photos – and what genealogist doesn’t? – will be blown away.  The Met article includes a brief interview with the photographer, Jo Hedwig Teeuwisse.  Of course, we have a similar talent in our midst – Jasia at Creative Gene did the same thing last year with Melancholy Too and it was equally brilliant.  This is definitely on my “to do” list for next year.

Myth-Buster Extraordinaire - Leslie Albrecht Huber at The Journey Takers Blog busts the “name change” myth in Your Family’s Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island.  I laughed out loud when she calls it the #2 myth next to the “I’m-descended-from-royalty/Indian-princess/Charlemagne/noble-who-fell-in-love-with-a-peasant-girl-and-stowed-away-on-a-ship-to-America-in-order-to-escape-thePrussian-military myth.”

Jesus’ Matrilineal Ancestry? - Scholars and medieval legends think that Mary’s grandmother was Ismeria, a descendant of King David.  Read more at Jesus’ Great-Grandmother Identified.

Those Dreaded Christmas Letters! - Penny Dreadful stops by The Family Curator and gives us an idea of what if would have been like If Our Ancestors Wrote Christmas Letters: Dreadful Greetings

The Most Important Day I Never Lived – Craig at Geneablogie gives us another gem with The Most Important Day of My Life: December 7, 1941.  No, Craig isn’t quite that old, but he recognizes the importance of that historical day on his own life.

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It’s time for a much needed humor break, so welcome to the 2nd annual Festival of Strange Search Terms.  In August, 2009, I unleashed a flurry of amazingly bizarre yet true search terms that people used to “find” this blog in What are They Looking For? I have not been faithful at keeping track of the daily search terms and saving the “good” ones to make fun of publicize here – the free WordPress statistics thingy doesn’t archive every term and only counts the most recent unless you have many searches for the same terms.  Candidates for those multiple searches are not the, ahem, Exciting Topics but the “normal” searches like “Gene Kelly” (over 2,500 in the past year), Philadelphia marriage records (over 1,200), “meaning of What’s Past is Prologue” (300, usually around exam time), and the name of my childhood friend who I’ve only mentioned in two photo captions (34).  But I really should check every day because I’m guaranteed a chuckle a few times a week at the very least.  Once again, I’m amazed that people enter these phrases into the search engine of their choice.  And I’m amazed that they somehow wind up here using those phrases.  May I now present you with the best of the strange, odd, and downright scary search terms that have brought many visitors here in 2010 (note: these are actual search terms used):

GENEALOGY RELATED…SORT OF

can’t find marriage - Yeah, me neither.  Do you really have to rub it in?

renegade records philadelphia – Well, I’m certainly intrigued.  I’d love to learn more about these records myself…I’m sure I have a few renegades in my family!

someone came on a boat to united states – Here’s a hint…you might want to be a teensy bit more specific if you’re seaching for your ancestor.  I’ve heard there were actually lots of people that came on a boat to the United States.

only had six great great grandparents – Hmm.  I’m pretty sure you had sixteen unless there was quite a bit of either incest or first-cousin marriages.

VAGUE SEARCHES

german man – I really hope this wasn’t a beginner genealogist’s first attempt at a query!

my ancestors that are from the past – As opposed to your ancestors that are from the future?

unusual situation – I’ve mentioned a few in this blog, but you are looking for one because…?

what + (past)? – Haven’t + (clue)!

MAKE ME LOL

super-finder of passenger arrival record – Yes, that’s me!  How may I help you?

name labeling for babies – Labeling?!

family portrait dog 60’s – Many genealogists search for portraits of their ancestors.  Or their dogs.

regal family photo shoot – Oh, they must have been looking for the final photo on this post.

patron saint of parking - Thanks to Dr. Danko’s comment, I’ll get this one a lot from now on.

facebook from the past - I’m fairly certain my grandparents didn’t have Facebook back in the 1930s.

REALLY?

recruitment posters american revolution – Did they have them?  Wasn’t secrecy best when it comes to seditious rebellion?

shakespeare baptism act church – I can only wonder if the searcher wants to know about Shakespeare’s own baptism or one he wrote about.  Either/or, I’m relatively sure I didn’t write about it!

take me back to december 31, 1957 – Wait, let me gas up the Delorean!

what is “*” – Maybe this one belongs under “Make Me LOL”

may i ask what this is in regards to? - Funny, I have the same question!

CALL ME

the family of walburga schober – No, seriously, email me.  She’s my 4th great-grandmother!

So there you have it!  The next edition of this search term carnival will include more bizarre, freakish, and unusual ways that bring me more traffic!  If you’re a genealogy blogger, do you encounter these strange and unusual researchers?  Tell me about your best search terms!  Until next time, I remain the Queen and Super-Finder of Renegade Name-Labeled Regal Dog Portraits.  Hmm, let them find that the next time they search for an “unusual situation”!

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“Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   I haven’t posted many picks this year, but several articles caught my eye this week.  Because some were in non-genealogy blogs, I wanted to pass them along.  Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Christopher Columbus’ Genealogy (psst…don’t tell the Italians!)Witaj w rodzinie to Christopher Columbus! (That’s Polish for “Welcome to the family.”) Researchers seem to think that the sometimes-Italian, sometimes-Portuguese explorer is descended from the Polish King Władysław III!  There are dozens of news stories about the find, which they hope to prove with DNA testing.  Read “Christopher Columbus was the son of a Polish king, historian says” from Medieval News on 11/29 and Christopher Columbus discovers…He Is POLISH from Stanczyk – Internet Muse today.

Haunting Images - I found some beautiful black and white photographs of tombstones at The Bow Tie Man (aka Daily Parallax) on 11/30 and 12/1.  See them at Magnificent Markers and More Magnificent Markers. He needs to become a Graveyard Rabbit photographer!

Creative Family History – Denise Barrett Olson offers genealogists a great example of a creative way to present your family’s history.  See Cecil B. DeMille is Calling, published at Moultrie Creek on 12/1.  Get in touch with your inner filmmaker and you’ll have a great Christmas present to give your family!

How to Make Your Friends Jealous - All of us have been admiring Becky Wiseman’s travels for over a year now, and marveling at her beautiful photography.  But Becky really made me (and Apple) jealous this week with Ahhh…. with apologies to Apple… published at kinexxions on 11/30. I’ll think of you, Becky, and hope you’re having a great time as I crank up the heat in my house!

The Jesse Tree in an Illuminated Manuscript

‘Tis the Season…to celebrate Jesus’ Family Tree - Advent is here, and one of the ways to celebrate the season is with a Jesse Tree.  Jesse was the father of King David, and Jesus’ ancestor.  Read more about this tradition in Who is Jesse and Why Should We Care About His Tree? published on 11/28 at Spiritual Woman.  A great explanation on the history and ornaments can be found here at Catholic Culture.  What’s interesting is that images in art of the Jesse Tree look like a reverse version of a genealogical tree in that Jesse is at the “bottom” of the tree, not at the top.  This is depicted due to the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 in which “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

Enjoy the week, and don’t forget to stay tuned at Creative Gene for the 100th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy that will appear this week!

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The following article first appeared on July 25, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.   footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine (The Mourning Issue) for some excellent writing and photography!

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Other than hearing the songs I listened to in high school on the “oldies” station, the one thing that truly makes me feel old is not being understood by children. It happened one day while out on a drive with my nieces. We passed a tiny shack on the side of the road that sold water ice, and they found it hysterical because it was so small.

“It looks like a Fotomat!” I exclaimed.

No recognition appeared on their faces. “A what?” asked the 13-year-old.

“You know, the little Fotomat huts…” But then I realized – no, she doesn’t know. By the time she was born, Fotomats were already a thing of the past – as extinct in the photographic world as daguerreotypes and box cameras. It was time for a history lesson.

“The Fotomat was a little shack, usually in a parking lot of a shopping center, and you would drive up to the window and drop off your film to get developed.” I explained this with the sincerity of a lesson on Ancient Rome or the Civil War.

Kodak Fotomat – 1960s courtesy of Roadside Pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadsidepictures/59812776/

“Film? Like a movie?” she asked. “What do you mean by ‘get developed’?”

This was going to be harder than I thought. “Ah, it was in your camera – like a memory card. Getting prints made was called getting it developed.”

Suddenly I was nostalgic for that little blue building with the yellow roof that sat in the middle of the parking lot of the supermarket. What I remember most about the Fotomat experience is the one thing lacking in today’s digital world – the anticipation. One of the best things about digital cameras for me is the ability to instantly see your shot on an LCD screen. Instant gratification! As great as this is, and as useful in photography, sometimes the things worth waiting for were better. Well, maybe not better – but different. And there’s something to be said for that anticipation!

I began taking photographs with my own camera at the age of 11, and since you couldn’t see them as you took them (unless you had a Polaroid, of course), it was always interesting to see how your photos “turned out”. Or in some cases, what was on that roll of film. In your family, did you ever find a roll of film in a drawer that appeared to be used, but no one ever knew what it was from? Well, all you had to do was drive up to the window at the Fotomat, drop it off, and wait a day. You’d get to see your pictures when you picked them up!

I was fascinated by these little huts. Did they actually develop the film in there? How? If you worked there, what did you do when there were no cars in line? And how do you fit a bathroom in there?

The first Fotomat drive-thru kiosk opened in the late 1960s in Point Loma, California. By 1980, there were 4,000 sites throughout the country. Customers could receive their prints in one day, but when the first film developers began to offer prints in one hour, Fotomat was doomed. It’s ironic, because today I would have assumed that the thing that killed it – 1-hour developing – would have made it viable. After all, in the 21st century people like to spend more time in their car than at home. They can buy and eat breakfast, visit the bank, pick up prescriptions, get lunch, buy some groceries, get the car washed, drop off their dry cleaning, and pick up dinner without ever leaving the car. So why wouldn’t Fotomats work today? Drop off your memory card and pick up your prints in an hour! I think it would work, but the shacks were too small – especially for film developing, which was a more complex process than printing digital photos today.

By the mid-1980’s, the familiar huts were gone. The one I used to use was torn down long ago, but in some cases the huts were recycled into other uses from selling snow cones to cigarettes. The most creative re-use I’ve found so far is as a chapel! Imagine that – a prayer shack!

Copyright 2008 Michael Poulin http://www.dyingindowney.com

After we stopped at the former Fotomat for water ice, my nieces learned all about what photography was like when I was growing up. I was proud at having done my duty passing down my memories of bygone things. The 13-year-old was going to tell her friends about the weird customs of their parents. “Okay,” she said, hoping I’d stop talking about the past. “I get it!”

The 4-year-old suddenly joined in the conversation. Nodding her head, she looked at me and asked matter-of-factly, “But why didn’t you just print the pictures at home?”

That would be a lesson for another day – let’s go take some photos instead!

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One of the dangers facts about being a genealogist is that no matter what you read, you will read it through a genealogist’s eyes.  It’s like having a genea-lens, and your observation of the world focuses on different things.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

For example, November 13 was the Catholic feast day of St. Frances Cabrini.  I don’t know anything about Mother Cabrini except that she was a nun, she has a college named after her in my area, and I once visited a shrine in Colorado that had a large statue of her.  In reading a snippet about her on her feast day, I had to stop after I read  that she “was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church…”

My genea-lens zoomed in…American citizen, eh?  We’ll see about that!  So I set off to find the good sister’s immigration record and naturalization papers.  And, because some of our government records are as trusty as the good-old-Catholic-school permanent record, I found it!

The first American-citizen saint was born Francesca Saverio Cabrini on July 15, 1850 in Italy.  She was 27 years old when she became a nun and added the name Xavier in honor of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest.  Sr. Frances Xavier Cabrini became a teacher, and she eventually founded an order of missionary sisters in 1880.  Although her hope was to travel to the East as a missionary, the Pope asked her to instead travel West to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States.  She immigrated herself in 1889 and petitioned for citizenship in 1909.

Mother Cabrini's petition for naturalization. Source: Ancestry.com

By the time of Mother Cabrini’s death in 1917, she and her order had founded 67 schools, orphanages, and other institutions throughout the United States as well as in Europe and South America.  She became a saint in 1946 and is the patron saint of immigrants.

So the next time you’re researching passenger arrival or naturalization records, use your genea-lens.  Who knows, maybe your ancestor stood in line with a future saint to enter this country!

[One "Get Out of Hell Free" card a la The Educated Genealogist to the first person who can correctly identify the first American-born saint…no cheating with Google!]

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I had to knock down a brick wall with my own hands to find my ancestors!

In this corner, weighing in with over 300 years of American roots, crossing the ocean on the Mayflower and other sailing vessels, we have the sons and daughters of the Revolution, the founders of the Republic, our COLONIAL ancestors!

In the opposing corner, coming to the ring in the late 19th and early 20th century, the tired, poor, and huddled masses of Ellis Island and other ports, emigrating from many different European countries, our IMMIGRANT ancestors!

Let’s get ready to RESEARCH!  Who will win the genealogical research match of the ages?

[Note to readers: Yes, I fully realize that the colonials were once immigrants, too, but just work with me on the analogy…]

Only a very small percentage of Americans can call themselves “native” to our great country; the rest of us are immigrants.  However, in the world of genealogical research, I have always pitted what I call the “true” immigrants – those who came late in the country’s history – against the colonial immigrants.  As the great-granddaughter of Europeans who immigrated in the first decade of the 20th century, all of my genealogical research has been strictly in the Immigrant camp.  In the early days of my research, as my fellow Immigrant-researching friend and I slogged through misspelled Polish names on census records and tried to decipher passenger arrival lists, we looked on with envy as her Colonial-descending husband went back six generations in the time it took us to find our eighty possible matches in a poorly spelled index.  My then-boyfriend, another Colonial, would search the internet and find instant cousins who could document the family tree back seven generations (to this day, I swear he is related to at least three Colonial genealogy bloggers).   While the Colonial guys did the genealogical happy dance together, we Immigrants would share a sympathetic look and charge on, sometimes for years, before going back one more generation.

Without any Colonial ancestors of my own to research, I never thought much about any pitfalls that Colonial researchers face.  All I saw from my Immigrant side of the fence were published record books and the English language.  Nor did I ever consider anything about Immigrant research to be “easy” even though the internet has speeded our searching considerably.

But, the grass is always greener on the other side.  Leave it to Randy Seaver to make me think.

Back in March, Randy of Genea-musings wrote a post called “Can you document all names back 10 generations?” based on a debate on another blog. 

In discussing European records (i.e. what I call Immigrant records) he commented “the civil records and the church records usually go back to the 1500s, unless there are major record losses in the country or provinces.”  In comparing to his own research on his New England ancestors (i.e. what I call Colonials), Randy points out that states did not have civil registration rules until the mid 1800s – “but there is not 100% coverage within a town or 100% coverage of all towns. That’s just the facts of genealogy life in the USA. We generally use military, church, land, probate and tax records to try to define our families and relationships before 1850.”

I have to admit – Randy has a point!  I thought of one of my “easier” Immigrant lines that I’ve researched.  Finding the immigrant’s hometown was the difficult part, but once I did, the town’s records are available on microfilm at the FHL.  Back to 1597.  Yes, 1597.  (On this line, I am “only” back to the late 1600s since the handwriting on the earlier records is hard to decipher.)

So were my original assumptions about Colonial research completely wrong?  Or did I just need to consider the subject objectively?  What I really wanted to know after all these years of genealogical research was:

Which “camp” has it easier when it comes to research?

Both Colonial and Immigrant research has some pros and cons.  For Colonials, researchers get to deal with the English language and there are many printed compilations and resources available.  But, even research of records written in English can be hampered by bad handwriting, and despite printed resources it may be hard to determine where to find them.  Rules on vital record registration varied from town to town, and there is no central repository for records.

In contract, Immigrant researchers may find that their ancestors’ hometowns have church records that go very far back, and thanks to Napoleon, most European countries required civil vital record registration beginning in 1808.  But, it is also common to find that a town’s records were destroyed in a war, and researchers have to learn some basics of foreign languages for effective research.

There really is no “winner” in this research match, because a lot of the research depends on luck…if only the town of your ancestor has records and if only you are able to access them, you can find another generation.  Instead of a boxing match in which one opponent needs to “knock out” another to win, perhaps a more appropriate representation of the Colonial vs. Immigrant research is that of a race.  From the starting line, the Colonial researcher is able to quickly sprint ahead several generations.  U.S. federal census records alone can often allow a new researcher to go back a few generations if their ancestors have been in the country for a long time.  But then the Colonial research might come to a halt or a much slower pace while record resources are sought after.

Meanwhile, the Immigrant researcher is barely out of the gate, plodding along trying to find clues to their ancestors’ hometowns in the old country.  With diligent research however, at some point the Immigrant researcher may actually go past a Colonial on the track if the hometown has readily available and accessible records.

In the end, who wins?  In genealogical research, there is no end unless you’ve reached the end of recorded history for your ancestors.  The bottom line is that whether you are researching COLONIALS or IMMIGRANTS or both, genealogical research is HARD WORK!

In truth, the counting back of generations isn’t necessarily the end goal, just part of the process of learning and finding out where our ancestors came from, how they lived, and who they were.  Who wins?  Both Colonial and Immigrant researchers!  Whether it’s a small tidbit find or knocking down the proverbial brick wall, it’s all fun if you’re a genealogist.  Get your boxing gloves on and get to work – put up a fight to find those ancestors!

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The following article first appeared on June 27, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.   footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine (The Mourning Issue) for some excellent writing and photography!

When it comes to summer vacations, it helps to maintain a sense of humor. The same can certainly be said for vacation photos. On vacations in the pre-digital camera age, photographers were limited by the amount of money they had for film and developing. This resulted in a certain stinginess when it came to taking photos. If that one photo you took in front of Mt. Fuji was fuzzy, that was your only shot. Which explains why a lot of out-of-focus photos exist in my parents’ collection of photos. Or the family went away for an entire summer and you have three photos to show for it.

Today, we don’t have that problem, but the opposite…a glorious glut of photographs. It’s free, take another! We don’t have to print them all! After the vacation photo-taking blitzkrieg ends, you can be left with hundreds of photos from your two weeks away. If you have had to suffer, or rather ENDURE, with either a computer-generated slide-show or a phone-book size photo album of Aunt Suzie’s trip to the Blarney Stone, raise your hand! Better yet, if you are the one making your family suffer, raise BOTH hands!

Okay, I admit it – sometimes I take too many vacation photos, and quantity does not always mean quality. Over the years I have discovered that those textbook perfect landscapes of famous sights throughout the world are great if you want to make prints to frame and display. But if you really want to remember the FUN in vacation, find the humor of it! Everyone remembers to get a shot of the Eifel Tower, but do you have a photo to capture that moment when the rain nearly drowned your family, or the waiter dropped your lunch, or your teenager nearly feel asleep while standing up on your twelfth museum visit of the day?

Fun in the Louvre, Paris, France, 2007

I’ve seen several articles recently both online and in print all on the topic of summer vacation photos – how to take better photos, how to frame your shots, and other great suggestions. Here are a few non-serious tips on putting the humor back into your vacation photos.

Road Trips – If you’re cruising the highways this summer, be on the lookout for interesting signs.

Acadia National Park, Maine, 2001 – Hmm, what do they mean by that? I think I’ll look for another restroom.

Or maybe they only seem interesting because you can’t understand them.

Croatia, 2008 – At least this town has some vowels.

Cultural Outings – If city tours with lots of architectural and cultural sights are on your schedule, don’t forget to liven things up a little when too many museums have you feeling tired.

The Louvre Museum, Paris, France, 2007 – Thank God he didn’t get too authentic…

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland, 2001 – Even pilgrimages have their lighter moments!

Nature – Visits to national and state parks are always fun in the summer! Don’t forget to take some photos of people in addition to the beautiful vistas.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 1995 – It’s a rocky mountain indeed, but all that hiking makes you stronger!

Traveling with Children – With children in tow, it’s inevitable that boredom will strike – just as you’re about to take a photo. Don’t let a surly face spoil your fun times – encourage the kids to strike a pose instead!

Mystic, CT, 2000 – Strike a pose!

Mystic, CT, 2000 – A striking resemblance!

Remember, kids, capture the moment you’ll want to remember. For every place I’ve been, I can marvel at the history or beauty with the “usual” photos. But when I want to remember the fun I had, I pull out the Other Photo Album and have a good laugh.

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The following article first appeared on May 30, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.  Of course, the subject was “in season” at the time, but I’ve decided to re-print my columns in the order they were published.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine for some excellent writing and photography!

As May leads into June and the sweet promise of summer, I am reminded of two spring and summer “rites of passage” of my youth that were also big photographic events: proms and graduations. Both events require you to wear somewhat “unnatural” clothing – that is, outfits you will never again wear in public. Because of these outfits, the photos of these events are often seen as humorous many years later.

My brother parodies the classic prom pose in 1985.

The unnaturalness of a prom is the fact that you dress up in wedding-like costumes of tuxes and gowns, yet you are warned by every adult in your life to refrain from all things lewd, dishonorable, romantic, and/or fun. In other words, you dress like you’re getting married but can’t do anything that would be associated with an actual marriage event. Nearly everyone who attended a prom has the obligatory photos taken at either your house or your date’s house or both. Often there is a shot of several couples who have decided to drive together, usually because only one lucky person had the license and the car. In these group shots, the couples look uncomfortable and anxious to go have some fun. Of course, they also look blinded by flashbulbs in what was likely the thirty-second photograph taken of them before even leaving the house.

My face is frozen into a smile…can we leave now?

Once at the prom, couples lined up for their “official” prom portrait. These are often the most humorous because you are put into the official Prom Shot position, an unnatural pose that you and your date will never find yourselves in unless you are standing way too close together while you wait in a buffet line.

Does anything say “1977” quite like a white tuxedo?

The best thing about these photos is that they seem to become dated almost immediately. They “depreciate” faster than driving a new car off of the lot. Looking back at the “old” hairdos and fashions is a scream, especially if your children or nieces and nephews find your ancient photos. In my junior and senior prom photos, I appear to have lived during the Victorian age since I am wearing decidedly un-cool dresses that barely showed my neck much less anything lower. What’s funny is not the fact that my mother chose these dresses for me, but the irony of it. I was not in need of any protection from the wandering hands or eyes of my dates – both were good friends who had already decided to enter the seminary after high school. My prom dates became Catholic priests! Well, at least I didn’t tempt them in those outfits!

With the future Fr. Rob in 1984 and the future Fr. Lou in 1985. Yes, I had a reputation, but it was the reputable kind – “Dance with Donna and you’ll enter the seminary!”

When it comes to uncomfortable poses, nothing beats a good graduation photograph. The classic portrait of the graduate wearing a judge-like gown and a “mortarboard” cap has not changed much over the years. In fact, you might even have a hard time dating a graduation photograph if it weren’t for hairstyles changing over the years, or perhaps styles of eyeglasses. The trick with these portraits is the ability to balance the board on your head – without messing up the “do” – and look natural in the process.

Father and son graduate high school 25 years apart.

It somehow seemed easier for the boys to look more natural than the girls wearing the silly hat, perhaps because they were far less concerned about their hair. For my portrait, the photographer chose a very large cap and used a clothespin in the back to hold it in place. As with any portrait, the photographer then turns your head in an odd angle and your torso in another. The fact that it was portrait day was stressful enough! “How’s my hair?” “How’s my face?” “OMG is that a zit?!” It doesn’t really matter how you look – later generations will laugh at your photo anyway.

Graduating Class of St. Peter’s Grade School, Philadelphia, PA, 1948.

Next week I’ll watch my oldest niece attend her first big “dance” – not quite a prom since dates, gowns, and tuxes are not required. Two weeks later, I’ll watch her don the funny hat and graduate from 8th grade. As the proud aunt, I’ll take a lot of photos. They will all be quite serious. But I’ll have to remind her that she’ll see the humor it them years later – when she is old enough that she thinks she looks like a baby in those photos! Happy dancing and graduating to all, and remember to smile for the camera!

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Genealogical research used to be all about waiting.  When I began researching my roots twenty years ago, very few records were available online.  Actually, I don’t think any records were available online.  Researching the records I needed involved driving to their physical location to slowly scroll through microfilm.  Usually you would first have to find a record in an index film, and then perform a similar scroll through another film to find the record.

Now, I’m spoiled.  That same research process today takes seconds thanks to sites like Familysearch.org and Ancestry.com that have many records available online.  But, unfortunately, our ancestors’ pasts haven’t been completely digitized yet, so occasionally I still have to rely on microfilm as well as another of my research techniques from those early days – the mail.

Pennsylvania is one of those states that restricts access to vital records after 1906 and does not allow records to be posted online*.  The requester also has to be related to the deceased and provide a lot of the information that is usually the reason one requests such a record in the first place.  Regular postal mail today is called “snail mail” for a reason, and it is even more so applicable when waiting for a requested record from the Pennsylvania Division of Vital Records.  On June 14, I requested two death certificates.  For one, I knew the exact death date.  For the other, I knew the month and year of death.  My checks were cashed on June 29.  And I waited.  And waited.

When I wrote this post earlier this week, I was still waiting.  But as luck would have it, I finally received the records before I could complain about it by posting this to my blog.  The receipt date was September 16 – a mere three months after I requested it.  Oddly enough, I pulled out some notebooks from the beginning days of my research – and was surprised by what I found.  I was more organized back then, so I recorded dates for my record requests and receipts.  Not only did the death records cost $3 in 1990 vs. today’s $9, but the average response time was three weeks.   Also, you weren’t required to already know all of the facts on the record you were requesting!

Sometimes even information you can order online requires playing the waiting game. Around the same time I ordered those death certificates, I placed a request for an index search from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).  I actually already know the person’s naturalization date and have a copy of the papers; however, I requested the search to see if any additional papers are included in this ancestor’s file.  I’m still waiting for that response.  The website indicates that they are currently processing requests from mid-May, so I may have an answer by Thanksgiving.

While Familysearch.org has made genealogists’ lives easier with many records available online, they haven’t yet completed the monumental task of digitizing their entire catalog.  For the rest of those records, the waiting game is just like it used to be back in those early days of my research.  I’m gearing up to drive to my local Family History Center to order a microfilm.  Then I’ll wait.  And maybe call to see if they forgot to call me.  Then wait some more.  Then pray that the record I am looking for can actually be found on that particular film.

As images fly by on my computer screen via blog posts, tweets, RSS feeds, emails, and Facebook status updates, I will (not so) patiently wait for the mailman and the FHL microfilm delivery phone call to arrive.  The waiting game can be difficult if you’ve been spoiled over the last twenty years by technological advances, but the results, once eventually received, are as sweet as they ever were.

*For information on a grass roots effort to make Pennsylvania’s vital records more accessible, see the People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access  (PaHR-Access).

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The following article first appeared on April 25, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine for some excellent writing and photography!

When it comes to taking a group photo, there always seems to be one – one person who completely, unequivocally messes up the shot. I don’t mean The One ruins the photo accidentally by blinking or by glancing in the wrong direction just as the shutter is pressed. No, The One is the person who intentionally seeks to spoil the shot by unscrupulously sabotaging the sacred and unwritten photo-taking rules that make us all smile politely until it’s over.

A common offense is the use of so-called bunny ears – two fingers positioned behind another’s head. Who among us does not have a perfectly lovely group photo in which One Person deviously adds appendages to an unsuspecting friend? To children, this is absolutely hysterical!

My brother is “bunnied” by his daughter, December 2006.

To big children, it’s still hysterical!

My friend Joe and I are victimized in Rocky Mountain National Park by our German friends Peter and Franz, September 1995.

I took this poorly framed photo of my “adopted” aunt and uncle on the dance floor at my brother’s wedding in 1993, but at the time I didn’t realize my mother, sheepishly grinning on the far left, was a Bunny Ear Giver. At least we know where my niece gets it from.

Mom gives Lillian some bunny ears, November 1993.

Not even celebrities are immune to the curse of the Suddenly Appearing Bunny Ears!

President G.H.W. Bush gives his wife Barbara the ears, 1997. Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bunny_ears.jpg Photo originally appeared in Newsweek magazine, April 1997

But Bunny Ear Givers are not the only offenders among those who seek to destroy your group photograph. There are also the Leaners. A Leaner likes to be on the far edge of a group photo. Then they wait patiently until just that right moment between “1, 2…” and “Cheese!” when they suddenly and aggressively shove themselves towards the center of the group. This naturally causes a domino effect among the other group members, and much hilarity to all but the photographer and the person at the bottom of the pile.

My brother’s hockey team gets Leaned on, circa 1976.

Sometimes Leaners are somewhat less hostile and become a Look At Me! A Look At Me! takes more initiative and doesn’t wait for that exact moment. They simply get in between the group and the photographer in the most obtrusive manner possible. As you can see, my family suffers from various forms of these illnesses.

My brother gets in the way, November 2007.

Here’s another Look At Me! The group knew the charger in the photo, and if the photographer hadn’t snapped the shutter at this exact moment, he’d have captured a Leaner event instead as Look At Me rushed towards us at extreme speed.

Mt. Vesuvius hasn’t erupted in a while, but a Look At Me was let loose at Pompeii, April 2006.

My final category to illustrate how there’s always One person seeking to spoil your group photo consists of the Funny Faces. I’m not trying to be offensive to unattractive people – I mean those who purposely make funny faces just to ruin your shot. To illustrate this category, I present the genetic carrier of the DNA in my family that causes these photo disturbances. I have very few photographs of my maternal grandmother. In the ones I do have, she is a very attractive woman in her younger years. But there are few, if any, of her as an older woman. She always said she didn’t like to have her photo taken, but I have finally uncovered the truth. After seeing this picture, I think she was banned from group photographs by her family.

My grandmother, godfather, mother, and brother, circa 1965

Yes, folks, that’s my grandma! I guess it really does run in the family.

While there’s always One, it can actually be worse…you can have multiple offenders in your group. There’s really no hope if your family contains several folks with these tendencies as you can see here:

I’m the Bunny Ear Giver, but there’s also a Leaner and more than one Funny Face in this group! March 1991.

The next time your family gathers together for a tender photo moment, ponder your choices. You can either be good, sit up straight, and smile. Or, you can be One of Them. You, too, can be a Bunny Ear Giver, a Leaner, a Look At Me, or a Funny Face. Or, if you have friends and family like mine, just have everyone unleash their inner child AT THE SAME TIME.

The Pointkouski Family, who will now formally disown me November, 2007.

Childish? Of course. But the result is priceless. And a little embarrassing. But after this, we actually got some nice, normal family photos since it was all out of our system!

If you are the photographer in your family, just remember there’s always One. Or Many!

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The following article first appeared on March 28, 2009, as my debut appearance writing The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.  I’m currently on hiatus writing this column for Shades, but I encourage you to visit the latest edition of the digital magazine for some excellent writing and photography!

When I was a child, I assumed that photography was an art form beyond the reach of mere mortals. It just had to be the most complicated thing in the whole world. But I didn’t think that way because of the “magical” nature of taking photos and seeing a two-dimensional image of yourself and your surroundings. No, I believed photography was a difficult endeavor because in most of our family photos we were missing our heads or other body parts.

Here is a typical photo session at the Pointkouski household, Christmas, 1968:

This is a family portrait of all four of us taken by my grandmother. The ear is my father. My brother didn’t make it at all except for the tiny hand on my shoulder. But that’s a lovely sofa, isn’t it?

Dad took this shot…we’re all almost in it!

Okay, Dad, I’m ready for my close-up! Even at not-quite-two-years-old, I was a child prodigy. You see, I had already learned the secret of how to get into a family photo – sit on the left. If you weren’t on the left, you didn’t get in!

By now, my brother has caught on. He’s slowly sliding me over on the coffee table. If he had slouched a little, he might have made it.

This photo had the borders cut off for some unknown reason, but it’s clear by our smiles that we’re elated – we just knew that by the thirtieth picture we’d both make it in the shot! Well, almost make it into the shot – my brother’s just a tad bit too tall to make it.

What’s funnier about these photos – the pictures themselves or the fact that my family actually saved them all these years? What exactly was the thought process here? “Well, it’s not too bad…look, you can see this is him by his left ear…” For families in the pre-digital age, even a bad photo became the sole remnant of a memorable event. Cameras, film, and developing were expensive! And you never saw the result until the whole roll of film was used up, taken to get developed, and picked up. So, at least in my family, these “bad” photos became as valuable as “good” ones because they were the only ones.

My mother quickly became dissatisfied with the results of her unique photographic talent for taking photos of her beheaded children. She simply gave up. I don’t think I ever saw her take another photo. “I can’t take pictures” became her personal mantra. Thereafter, Dad became the official family photographer. It was probably a good thing, too, because without mirrors in the home I would have grown up believing that I was missing an ear.

Mom was always blamed for the missing body parts, but Dad was an occasional culprit, too. Just because Dad was taking the photos, we still weren’t immune from having our heads cut off. It just happened less frequently than back when Mom was taking the photos.

This was my sixth birthday party. My guests were my friends and neighbors, the Ferguson girls. Unfortunately, Shona wasn’t as smart as her older sister, or she had yet to catch on to our family secret – stay to the left!

It’s ten years later and I’m now sixteen. I’m perfectly centered, but the view of the cake took precedence over my head.

I was used to it, though. This was me several years earlier. I was tall for my age, but not that tall! Can you notice the family resemblance between my and my half-headed brother from the earlier shots?

It took many years for me to discover that my family was not unique in this extreme photographic ability. In fact, there is even a name for it! What you see in the above photos is called parallax error. Now, to me that sounds like Star Trek plot number seven in which a transporter accident lands the crew in a parallel universe. But it really means that what you see isn’t always what you get because the viewfinder wasn’t necessarily connected to the lens. Older cameras, especially the inexpensive 126, 110, or point-and-shoot 35mm’s that my family used, had a viewfinder that was separate from the camera’s lens. So what appears to be “framed” in the viewfinder isn’t really framed at all by the camera lens itself, and it isn’t what the lens captures. See, Mom, it’s not your fault after all! It really was the camera!

Here’s another example from the never-before-published photo collection from a well-known genea-blogger who shall remain nameless to protect my new job as a columnist here at Shades. This is an attempt to capture MavenSon’s great catch. But wait – is that really him?

Like our family, which learned to scoot to the left to be seen in photos, the Maven’s learned a technique to keep their heads on – aim for the face only and hold that catch up high! See the result:

Nowadays, you rarely see the beheaded shots anymore. It’s a shame really, because they can be quite amusing. Today, most cameras have a single lens reflex that eliminates the parallax problem because what you see really is what you get. Many digital cameras don’t even have a viewfinder at all and instead use a screen to show you what the lens ‘sees’. When my mother first saw the 3 inch screen on my tiny digital camera, she exclaimed, “Wow – even I can take a picture with that!” And it’s true – my 3-year-old niece is able to take a well-focused, well-balanced photograph (obviously a child prodigy like her aunt). The only time her brother is missing a limb is when she tries to do that the old-fashioned way – by jumping on him to beat him up.

In the modern digital age, it’s time to say good-bye to our beheaded family photos. But, of course, there’s still a chance your family might see one. For even without viewfinder errors, there are still simply bad photographers. Here’s hoping we’ll see you in your next family photo session!

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I haven’t been a very good blogger of late.  For months this blog has languished.  I’d like to say the reason is that I’ve been off traveling around the world, or meeting my relatives, or researching my family history.  But it isn’t any of those things…just a touch of boredom or a junior-year blogging slump.  So, it’s time to get back on the blogging horse, for better or worse.  And no one would have admonished my blogging-block more than Terry Thornton.  As most of my readers probably know, William Terrance “Terry” Thornton was a genealogy blogger who passed away this week.  Reflecting on our online relationship and Terry’s talents as a writer made me realize it is time to get back to this blog – not because of Terry’s death, but because of the things he taught me in life.  And so I present the things I learned from Terry about blogging:

1) Quantity increases authority, but quality counts. Terry once wrote a post about how important it is to post to your blog frequently in order to establish yourself as an authority.  I agreed in theory, but added that quality is more important than the sheer number of posts. Terry and I continued our disagreeing discussion via email.  He did concede that quality is important:

A constant stream of “trash” of no interest to anyone poorly written and poorly presented won’t get the job done either.  Somewhere there is middle ground and I think we each have to find it for ourselves.

While I pride myself on writing thoughtful pieces, if I don’t blog more frequently there won’t be anyone left to read them.

2) Stories work better with a good hook. No one told a story better than Terry, and time and again I’d find myself fascinated by one of his stories.  They were stories about things that I would not necessarily choose to read about on my own, but I’d read with as much anticipation as a page-turning-thriller because he’d reel me in from the very beginning.  He’d “hook” my interest with the very first line, and I wouldn’t stop until I reached the end.  He once complimented me on my “interesting opening”…maybe I subconsciously got the idea from reading his posts!

3)  Genealogy can sometimes be boring, but not if you take a HOGS approach. Terry liked to call his approach to writing about family history as the “HOGS” approach; that is, a combination of History, Observations, Genealogy, and Stories.  He later amended this as the pHOGS approach to include photography.

In this post, Terry wrote:

The digital age makes family genealogy so much more than a mere listing of names and dates and marriages and children and burials places — and the pHOGS format seems most appropriate for works which go beyond old-fashioned genealogy. Past generations deserve more than just a mere listing of names and dates.

4.  Humor is necessary in life. Terry had a great sense of humor, and most of his comments on my blog were in response to my humorous posts.  I found a great example of Terry’s Twain-like humor on his reflections on his birthday last year:

Does being seventy mean I have to “act” seventy?

A sage I’m not — nor am I sitting at the top of a mountain dispensing wisdom (although we do have some tall hills in Hill Country). Not yet anyways. And acting the part of a wise old sage — no, not me.

But I am taking lessons for becoming a genuine curmudgeon and have just completed lessons one and two. One was how to spell it and two was how to pronounce it and my mentor says that lessons three and all the others to follow are things I just do naturally.

Oh joy! The prospects of doing well with something again pleases me no end.

Thanks for the smiles, Terry!

In closing, Terry loved poetry and frequently complimented me on the title of this blog.  He always “got” any Shakespeare reference I hid in my posts.  So I offer one final farewell tribute to our friend:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, scene ii

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In honor of Father’s Day tomorrow, Randy Seaver chose an interesting topic for this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF):  who was the most prolific dad in your family’s history?

Once again, I rely on my Bergmeister family for the answer (usually because this is the line I know the most about).  The most prolific dad, or the man in my ancestry that fathered the most children, is Jakob Bergmeister (20 May 1805 – 18 Sep 1870.  He and his wife, Anna Maria Daniel (24 Jun 1812 – 02 Feb 1871), had fifteen children in nineteen years.  Most of the children did not survive to adulthood, but it is an awe-inspiring number nonetheless.  Personally, I think Anna Maria deserves the honor for this feat – her job was harder.

When the couple married on 02 Jun 1835, Jakob was 30 years old and Anna Maria was almost 23.  She bore her first child at the age of 14, and her last at age 43.  Jakob was a father for the first time at age 31, and at 50 for the final time.  Their children were:

  • 1836 Aug 08 – Anna Maria – died Aug 14.
  • 1837 Aug 15 – Michael – survived to adulthood.  Marries in 1866 and has at least two sons.  Each of his sons had a son who died fighting in World War I.
  • 1839 Sep 12 – Jakob – unknown if  survived to adulthood
  • 1840 Nov 22 – Maria Anna – unknown if survived to adulthood
  • 1841 Dec 7 – Josef – died Dec 13.
  • 1843 Feb 9 – Josef – my ancestor, the father of my great-grandfather Josef.
  • 1844 Jan 8 – Johann – died Apr 4 same year.
  • 1845 Feb 25 – Castulus – survived to adulthood.  Marries and has several children before his death on 01 May 1912.  I have met several of his descendants.
  • 1846 Jun 15 – Anton – died Sep 3 same year.
  • 1847 Oct 22 – Walburga – unknown if survived to adulthood
  • 1849 Jun 17 – Anna Maria – unknown if survived to adulthood
  • 1850 July 31 – ??? – died Sep 15 same year.
  • 1851 Sep 08 – Martin – died Sep 19.
  • 1853 Nov 16 – Barbara – died Nov 27.
  • 1855 Jun 02 – Kreszens – survived to adulthood.  Married Johann Baptist Haeckl on 22 May 1878.

Of Jakob and Anna Maria’s 15 children, 3 boys and 1 girl definitely survived to adulthood, 7 children died in infancy, and the fate of 4 is unknown.

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The Philadelphia Church Project is a unique website that describes itself as a “wild and wacky guide to the best religious architecture the city has to offer.”   The site offers the following questions for readers to ponder:

What does a building mean to you? Is it just a thing, a purely physical being? Or is there substance beyond the bricks and mortar? Might there be something more there—something more than the sum of its parts?

The site author visits various churches in and around Philadelphia and provides a glimpse into the history, architecture, and current status of the parish.  Most of the churches are Roman Catholic, but several Protestant churches have also been visited.  While the primary focus is the wonderful architecture of these old churches, the site also offers a comical take on the neighborhood or history of the area.

In addition to the Philadelphia Church Project website, there is also a Philadelphia Church Project blog.  The blog offers additional photos – sometimes of the vintage variety – and information.  Sample the site with these posts:

As a genealogist with solid Catholic roots in Philadelphia, these sites are wonderful in documenting some of the grand churches of my ancestors’ neighborhoods.  Take, for example, the Project’s page on St. Adalbert’s.  The parish was founded in 1904 – and my great-grandfather was one of the founding parishoners.  While you won’t find out that sort of information on the Project’s pages, they will help you “see” some of the churches of your ancestors!

Even if you are not from Philadelphia, if you have an interest in architecture I encourage you to browse the site and see what our city has to offer.

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On March 28, 2010, I posted Lessons Learned from WDYTYA in which I found some element of the research process in each of the first four episodes that offered  valuable lessons to genealogists.  The “lessons” I highlighted in that post were:

1) Don’t trust everything you read in the newspapers; try to find primary sources for vital information.

2) If you uncover something distasteful about an ancestor – and who among us has not – you might want to consider you have become something better.

3) Don’t overlook the obvious when searching for relatives!

4)  It becomes our responsibility to honor our ancestors by remembering them.

Now that the first season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? is complete, I’d like to comment on lessons learned from the final three episodes.

Episode #5 – Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields’ episode focused on two branches of her family: her maternal grandmother and her father’s long line of noble Italian ancestors that initially came from France.  While both stories were interesting, the comment that struck me the most was during the portion of the episode about Brooke’s grandmother.  Brooke knew her grandmother, but was not very close to her, and her main interest in researching her grandmother’s life was to determine what events may have “caused” her to be distant.  Brooke said, “I want to be able to like her.”  In finding out facts about her grandmother’s early life and the tragic events she endured, Brooke was able to understand her better.  Lesson:  Don’t judge a relative’s personality until you learn what shaped them into the person they are (or were).

Episode #6 – Susan Sarandon

I enjoyed this episode the most because the mystery surrounding Susan’s grandmother was so interesting, several resources were required to solve the mystery, and both Susan and her son participated in the research themselves.  But the key moment for me was when Susan visited her family’s grave – only to discover that there is no grave marker.  I knew exactly what she was feeling at that moment, because most of my ancestors have no tombstones or markers.  Lesson:  You may not always find what you are looking for.  Susan had a great idea when she said she’ll have to get a grave marker for her family.

Episode #7 – Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s episode was exciting because I got to watch it with several hundred other genealogists in Salt Lake City at the 2010 NGS conference last week.  It was a very poignant story about Spike’s ancestors transcending slavery to success.  Spike’s grandmother, who was an important influence on his life, lived to be 100 years old.  But, despite his career as a filmmaker, he never thought to record her stories for posterity or ask her questions about her family’s history.  Lesson: Don’t wait until it is too late – talk to older relatives and record their stories!

On May 4, 2010, the Ancestry.com blog had an article along this same idea called Seven Great Lessons from Who Do You Think You Are? Jeanie Croasmun also found a genealogy lesson in each episode.  Only one of our “lessons” is the same; Jeanie focused more on resource-related lessons while I focused on something that just struck me personally in each episode.  There is one thing we all can agree on…we can’t wait for Season 2!

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Regular readers of What’s Past is Prologue might wonder where I’ve been for the last month due to the lack of activity here.  I have been gone, but only for a week – earlier in the month I was busy (and lazy).  But last week was my “genealogy vacation”!  I attended the 2010 National Genealogical Society conference in Salt Lake City.  Even though I have been researching my family history for 20 years, this was my first visit to Salt Lake City and my first genealogy conference.  I had three reasons for wanting to attend this conference:

Location, Location, Location

1 – Research – the location of the conference was a major draw for me.  How can I pass up an opportunity to research at THE Family History Library?

What Do I Think I Know?

2 – Education – No matter how much you think you know about genealogy, or how many years you have been researching, or what initials appear after your name, there is always something new to learn.  The 2010 NGS schedule had dozens of interesting topics on the schedule.

“It’s friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship.” (Cole Porter)

3 – Community – In the last two-plus years of blogging, I’ve made many friends in the geneablogger community…but I had only met one in person.  The conference was an opportunity to put some faces to the names I’ve come to know online.

So how was my genealogy vacation?  Great!  Here is how the results exceeded my expectations:

1 – While I didn’t have a specific research plan, I came prepared with some families and places I wanted to research.  I was able to find a lot of information that I still need to process, translate, and record.  I found:

  • ten documents confirming information I already knew, but did not have copies
  • thirteen “new” events
  • six “negative” results in which people were not found in the expected time and place – despite the lack of information, this negative information will now force me to come up with a new plan to find this information

I spent the majority of my research time on Polish research, with only a small amount of time researching Bavarian records.  Some of the documents I found include

  • a 1689 birth in Puch, Bavaria, of my 6th great-grandfather
  • Several Polish birth records from the early 1800’s for some 3rd great-grandparents in Wilczyn and Ślesin, and some 4th great-grandparents in Mszczonów and Osuchów
  • Biographical information on my great-grandfather’s cousin who was in the Polish Resistance and died at Auschwitz
  • My great-grandparents’ 1902 marriage in Dobrosołowo, Poland

Plus, I added more names to my family tree by learning the identities of four 5th greats and two previously unknown surnames of two 4th great-grandmothers.  I probably learned even more, but I have not had time to process all of these documents, translate some Polish and Russian, and organize the research.

2 – The pull of the library actually kept me from going to many of the talks that I wanted to attend.  But I did attend several interesting sessions that provided great information.  Just a few of the sessions I attended included

  • Five Ways to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was by Thomas Jones
  • U.S. Passenger Arrival Records, 1820-1957 by John Philip Colletta
  • Polish Court Record and Census Records by Stephen Danko
  • Polish Archives: Behind the Scenes by Ceil Wendt Jensen
  • German Ahnentafeln by the Thousands by John Humphrey

A group photo after watching the Who Do You Think You Are? Spike Lee episode

From left to right: author/blogger/tv star Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, author/speaker Loretto “Lou” Dennis Szucs, Randy Seaver, Kathryn Doyle, the Photo Detective Maureen Taylor, Family Tree Magazine editor Diane Haddad, Stephen Danko, Sheri Fenley, Donna Pointkouski, and Elizabeth Hansford

3 – In my high school, there was a corny proverb painted on the wall of the main hallway: “There are no strangers here, only friends that haven’t met.”  This was true of the conference!  Through blogging, emails, and Facebook, the geneabloggers had already formed a little family and it was great to finally meet and socialize with bloggers like Sheri Fenley, Steve Danko, Denise Levenick, Lisa Alzo, Kathryn Doyle, and Matthew Bielawa (and Randy Seaver, who I had already met last year).  I also met Dear Myrt (Pat Richley-Erickson), the Chart Chick (Janet Hovorka), the Genealogy Geek (Elizabeth Hansford), Michelle Goodrum, my Internet Genealogy editor Ed Zapletal, and Family Tree Magazine’s Diane Haddad and Allison Stacy.  Besides fun conversation and socializing at dinner (and a showing of Who Do You Think You Are?), the mutual assistance was phenomenal.  Everyone wanted to hear about each other’s research.  I can’t tell you how lucky I was to research Polish records with Steve Danko and Matthew Bielawa nearby!

So in my week off from work, I did not do any sight-seeing around Salt Lake City.  We did not have great weather (unless you happen to enjoy extreme wind, rain, and snow flurries).  I did nothing that my non-genealogy friends would find the slightest bit fun (other than discover some nice pubs).  But, all in all, it was a wonderful genealogy vacation!

How I Spent My Genealogy Vacation

Regular readers of What’s Past is Prologue might wonder where I’ve been for the last month due to the lack of activity here.  I have been gone, but only for a week – earlier in the month I was simply busy or lazy.  But last week was my “genealogy vacation”!  I attended the 2010 National Genealogical Society conference in Salt Lake City.  Even though I have been researching my family history for 20 years, this was my first visit to Salt Lake City and my first genealogy conference.  I had three reasons for wanting to attend this conference:

Location, Location, Location

1 – Research – the location of the conference was a major draw for me.  How can I pass up an opportunity to research at THE Family History Library?

What Do I Think I Know?

2 – Education – No matter how much you think you know about genealogy, or how many years you have been researching, or what initials appear after your name, there is always something new to learn.  The 2010 NGS schedule had dozens of interesting topics on the schedule.

“It’s friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship.” (Cole Porter)

3 – Community – In the last two-plus years of blogging, I’ve made many friends in the geneablogger community…but I had only met one in person.  The conference was an opportunity to put some faces to the names I’ve come to know online.

So how was my genealogy vacation?  Great!  Here is how the results exceeded my expectations:

1 – While I didn’t have a specific research plan, I came prepared with some families and places I wanted to research.  I was able to find a lot of information that I still need to process, translate, and record.  I found:

-ten documents confirming information I already knew

-thirteen “new” events

-six “negative” results in which people were not found in the expected time and place – despite the lack of information, this negative information will now force me to come up with a new plan to find this information.

I spent the majority of my research time on Polish research, with only a small amount of time researching Bavarian records.  Some of the documents I found include
a 1689 birth in Puch, Bavaria, of my 6th great-grandfather

Several Polish birth records from the early 1800’s for some 3rd great-grandparents in Wilczyn and Ślesin, and some 4th great-grandparents in Mszczonów and Osuchów.

Biographical information on my great-grandfather’s cousin who was in the Polish Resistance and died at Auschwitz

My great-grandparents’ 1902 marriage in Dobrosołowo, Poland

2 – The pull of the library actually kept me from going to many of the talks that I wanted to attend.  But I did attend several interesting sessions that provided good information.  Some of these included

Five Ways to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was by Thomas Jones

U.S. Passenger Arrival Records, 1820-1957 by John Philip Colletta

Polish Court Record and Census Records by Stephen Danko

Polish Archives: Behind the Scenes by Ceil Wendt Jensen

German Ahnentafeln by the Thousands by John Humphrey

3 – In my high school, there was a corny proverb painted on the wall of the main hallway: “There are no strangers here, only friends that haven’t met.”  This was true of the conference!  Through blogging, emails, and Facebook, the geneabloggers had already formed a little family and it was great to finally meet and socialize with bloggers like Sheri, Steve, Denise, Lisa, Kathryn, and Matthew (and Randy, who I had already met last year).  I also met Dear Myrt (Pat), the Chart Chick (Janet), the Genealogy Geek (Elizabeth), Michelle, my Internet Genealogy editor Ed Zapletal, and Family Tree Magazine’s Diane Haddad and Allison Stacy.  Besides fun conversation and socializing at dinner (and a showing of Who Do You Think You Are?), the mutual assistance was phenomenal.  Everyone wanted to hear about each other’s research.  I can’t tell you how lucky I was to research Polish records with Steve Danko and Matthew Bielawa nearby!

So in my week off from work, I did not do any sight-seeing around Salt Lake City.  We did not have great weather (unless you happen to enjoy extreme wind, rain, and snow flurries).  I did nothing that my non-genealogy friends would find the slightest bit fun (other than discover some nice pubs).  But, all in all, it was a wonderful genealogy vacation!

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One of the highlights of reading the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer is the “Chick Wit” column by Lisa Scottoline. Lisa is best known as an author of mysteries and thrillers, but I adore her humor writing. In fact, if I wrote my humorous articles only half as good as hers, they’d be great.

Lisa’s “Chick Wit” usually makes me laugh out loud. Recently her column on April 11, 2010 ventured into genealogical territory on the subject of obituaries. While it was still humorous, the column was more poignant than “LOL” funny. She talks about reading obituaries:

I never saw them as being about deaths. I saw them as being about people, and I love people.

In other words, it’s not a death story. It’s a life story.

Read her entire column “Obits Make a Reader Feel Grateful” – you won’t be disappointed.

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Ancestor Approved

The “Ancestor Approved” award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou of Ancestors Live Here as a way to show appreciation to other genealogy bloggers.  It has since spread its goodwill throughout the blogosphere.  I’m honored to have received the award from two different bloggers: Karen at Ancestor Soup and Jean at Hoffman Family News.  Thank you!

Awardees of this honor are supposed to list ten things they have learned about any of their ancestors that surprised, humbled, or enlightened.  It has been fun reading all of these lists on everyone’s blogs.  You are also supposed to pass the award on to ten other bloggers who you feel are doing their ancestors proud, but I doubt there are ten genea-bloggers left that have not yet received this!  Here is my list of things that have surprised, humbled, and enlightened me:

  1. I was surprised to discover that I had a set of 2nd great-grandparents and one 3rd great-grandmother that immigrated to the U.S.   I believed that all four sets of great-grandparents arrived here as married couples, but one great-grandfather arrived as a young teenager and lived with his parents and grandmother.
  2. I was surprised to learn that my great-grandmother who came as an unmarried teenager was from the same town in Poland as her eventual husband who had been in the U.S. for two years.  For years I assumed she was from another country based on family stories that were not correct.
  3. I was surprised to learn that two of my great-grandfathers had brothers who also immigrated to the U.S.  No one in the family knew about these uncles.
  4. I was humbled by the courage of  most of my female immigrant ancestors who traveled to the U.S. either alone or alone with young toddlers and babies.
  5. I was humbled and saddened to learn that my great-grandfather’s first cousin, a Catholic Pole named Jozef Pater, was imprisoned at Auschwitz and died there.
  6. I was humbled to find out that some of my great-grandmothers had to bury more than one infant or toddler.
  7. I was humbled to discover my great-grandmother’s mental illness and wondered how she survived as long as she did in a hospital not known for its kindness.
  8. I was enlightened to learn the names of the towns that my immigrant ancestors came from and their long histories.
  9. I am enlightened by the community of genea-bloggers who are willing to help, befriend, and humor me without ever having met me.
  10. I am enlightened by my two beautiful nieces and my two handsome nephews that give me love, hope, laughter, and someone to eventually inherit, learn, and honor our family history.

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