Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Who’s Number 100,000?

Photo by Ricardo Villela on Flickr (click image to view on Flickr).

Sometime in the next 18 hours or so, someone will visit here and my site meter (on the right) will read “100,000”! That’s a lot of visitors, and I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, comment, or just have a look around.  I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of your company.  If you are the 100,000th visitor, please leave a comment!

Read Full Post »

Ancestral Roulette

I’m late to the party – the Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) party brought to us each week by Randy Seaver.  This week, Randy challenged us with Ancestral Name List Roulette:

1) How old is one of your grandfathers now, or how old would he be if he had lived? Divide this number by 4 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your “roulette number.”

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ancestral name list (some people call it an “ahnentafel”). Who is that person?

3) Tell us three facts about that person in your ancestral name list with the “roulette number.”

My Grandpop, James Pointkouski, was born on July 6, 1910 and would be 100 right now if he were alive. Therefore, my “roulette number” is 25.  My ahnentafel #25 is my mother’s father’s father’s mother: my great-great grandmother Antonina Rozalia Pluta Pater (born 11 June 1863, Mszczonów, Poland; died 12 December 1938, Philadelphia, PA, USA).

This was a fortunate roll of the roulette wheel since I actually know a few things about her!  My 3 facts about Antonina:

  • Antonina was my only 2nd great-grandmother to immigrate to the U.S., which meant my grandfather, Henry Pater, was my only grandparent that knew his grandmother (he was 26 when she died).
  • Antonina was also the only mother-in-law to any of my “greats” that lived in the same country as the couple. Rumor has it that she did not get along with her daughter-in-law Elizabeth Miller Pater (my great-grandmother).
  • Antonina died two weeks before my mother’s 3rd birthday.  One of my mother’s earliest memories is attending her great-grandmother’s wake. Her father made her kiss Antonina “good-bye”, which probably explains why my mother isn’t very fond of wakes or funerals to this day.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków <EDITOR’S NOTE 10/2015 – the site this article referred to no longer exists; another site uses the same name but does not offer the same content>, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for “Piatkowski”

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for “Piatkowski” in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on “skan” next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

Read Full Post »

Happy New Year! “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:

Calling All Young Genealogists – If you are a genealogist and a student between the ages of 18-25, considering applying for a grant to attend the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree in June.  The grant is in honor of The Family Curator’s mother, Suzanne Freeman, and you can read all about it in Young Genealogists Invited to Apply for Grant to Attend 2011 SCGS Jamboree [January 5].  What a wonderful idea in memory of a wonderful woman!

De-Cluttering for Genealogists – A common theme this week among my genea-friends seems to be working on new year’s goals that involve getting organized.  There’s no better way to tackle your unorganized pile of genea-clutter than taking it one step at a time starting with DearMYRTLE’s 2011 January Organization Checklist [posted January 1].  I swore I was going to follow Myrt’s checklists faithfully two years ago when they were first published, but I never got around to it.  This year!  Now the monthly checklists are updated and full of very helpful suggestions and solutions.

Uncover the Story – Now that your desk is clear, read Leslie Albrecht Huber’s Uncovering the Stories of Immigrant Ancestors [January 3] based on her recent magazine article.  She offers tips on how to turn the dry genealogical “facts” into an interesting story.

No Response? – If you’ve written a query to a church and didn’t get a response, read the Ancestral Archaeologist’s reasons why you didn’t in Why the Dog Ate My Church Records Request [Jaunary 5].

Keeping Up with the Joneses? – Read Elyse’s 3 Tips for Researching Common Surnames [January 5] on Else’s Genealogy Blog.  And if you don’t have Smith and Jones in your family tree, I know this would work on Kowalski in Poland or Schmidt in Germany!

And Now for Something Completely Different – If you want your blog and your writing to stand out from the crowd, why not Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables? [January 5 on Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer]

Finally! A Tombstone Tuesday I Can Relate To (since my family has few tombstones).  Susan Peterson takes a light-hearted look at the death of our beloved gadgets in Tombstone Tuesday – Sending My Stuff to the Technology Graveyard [January 4] on Long Lost Relatives.

Happy ancestor hunting!  Stop back next time for more of Donna’s Picks!

Read Full Post »

Three Years of Blogging

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

What’s Past is Prologue is three years old tomorrow!  It’s hard to believe that so much time has gone by.  Most (honest) bloggers, no matter the subject of their blog, will tell you that they had no idea what they were doing when they started.  After three whole years I can unequivocally say that I still have no idea what I’m doing.  But it’s been a fun ride!

My blog’s odometer will flip past the 100,000 milestone this month, and I am humbled and grateful that so many folks stop by just to read what I have to say.  [Hmm, who will be my 100,000th visitor? If it’s you, email me!] Last year wasn’t an easy one when it came to blogging, and it shows in the frequency – or lack thereof – and the quality of my posts.  Despite the fact that I posted only half as much as my first year of blogging in 2008, I had almost double the number of visitors.  Many thanks to Genea-musings and Creative Gene as the top two sites who sent many visitors to here by linking to my stories!  Thanks also to all of my fans who voted to make my blog one of Family Tree Magazine’s Top 40 Genealogy Blogs of 2010 (and who nominated me for 2011)!

Some of my most popular posts from 2008 and 2009 continued to rack up the visits with Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online (June, 2008) pulling in over 6,700 visitors in 2010 and I Remember Betsy (March, 2009) with over 4,900.   Looking at only the posts I wrote last year, the most popular has been Climbing Up Gene Kelly’s Family Tree (September) with nearly 400 hits.  Rounding out 2010’s greatest hits (in terms of visitors) were parts 1-4 of my 5-part series on Bavarian Military Rosters (January), my surname series on FISCHER (January), The Boy Next Door (April), How I Spent My Genealogy Vacation (May), Lessons Learned from WDYTYA (March), and The Address Book (March).

The posts with the most visitors don’t always equate to the author’s favorites, but this year there is some overlap.  I avoided the end-of-year “Best of” lists on all the genealogy blogs knowing my blogiversary was coming up, so here are my 10 favorite posts of 2010:

A Killer Chair – borrowing Greta’s Memory Monday idea, I wrote about seven different memories throughout the year.  While they technically had nothing to do with genealogy, they were among my favorite posts to write.  This August memory is a favorite just for the laugh it gave me to remember that event.

It All Started at a Dance – March’s submission for the 92nd Carnival of Genealogy was about my parents, how they met, and how dancing remained a part of their lives for a while.  I was honored when it was selected as the Featured Article for the COG!

Genealogical Smackdown: Colonials vs. Immigrants – My October post on which researchers have it harder is a favorite because I attempted writing it for months before finally finishing it.  It didn’t offer any groundbreaking conclusions, but it was something I wanted to publically ponder for a while, and I was pleased to finally pose the question to other genealogists to fight (nicely) amongst themselves.  The answer is still pending (unless you belong entirely to one camp or the other, then the answer is quite clear!).

If Genealogists Ruled the Television Networks – In February, I wondered what television would be like if genealogists were in charge – see the comments for more great ideas!

The Walk Home – This was my first “Memory Monday” post.  Again, not much to do with genealogical research, but a nice walk down memory lane.  I wish I knew what my ancestors’ walks home were like.

The Bavarian Military Rosters – Rounding out my ten favorites is my 5-part series on using the Bavarian Military Rosters on Ancestry.com.  Part 1, Cousins, Countries and War, shows my inspriration for using these records – a possible cousin to my great-grandfather of the same name.  Part 2, The Bavarian Military Rosters, explained what they are and how to read one.  In Part 3, Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record, I finally learn about the life and death of the mysterious stranger.  Part 4, The Great War and the Homefront, provides details on the battle as well as what my great-grandfather faced in the U.S.  In Part 5, The Bergmeister Family Tree, I listed all of the known male lines from 1650 to WWI to show how the U.S. immigrants and German WWI soldiers were related.

This year I hope to post more frequently and write about more research, tips, memories, and humorous musings.  Thanks for coming along with me for the ride – let’s get this show on the road!

Read Full Post »

The following article first appeared on January 9, 2010 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed magazine.  footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.While these were my “top ten photo resolutions for 2010”, they can apply to 2011, too.  Besides, who keeps the resolutions they make? We can merely recycle them from year to year!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Beginning a new year is a time for reflection when most people think back on the previous year and try to challenge themselves to improve various faults and foibles.  Of course, before beginning a new year we have to end the previous one, and that’s usually a time for partying.  Therefore, most of our resolutions to change ourselves may have been half-heartedly assembled in the throes of a party-induced hangover, which is why these great ideas tend to fizzle out quicker than a cheap sparkler.  So take your time before making resolutions – think about it!  To help you out, I’ve decided to come up with my top 10 resolutions specifically for Shades of the Departed readers, so they are all related to photographs.  But they are also written by me, the resident humor columnist, so…let’s just say you might want to think about these as well before making any final resolutions!

10 – If you are photographing a group of children, add a “silly face” photo in the session.  It will keep them interested, less cranky, and may even make them smile for more photos.  Plus, they’ll be laughing at the silly photo for years to come.  That is, until they reach the age when they begin dating and you share it with their prospective paramour…then it’s not so funny.


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ262-128224


9 – Don’t wait – get all of those damaged photos restored.  I recently had a professional restore an old photograph of my mother as a child with her older sister and parents.  My mother commented, “I haven’t seen the photo look like this for sixty years!”

8 – Pay attention to the background in your photos – or even the foreground – so your shot doesn’t have any distractions from the main subject.

7 – Remember to “strike a pose” for a memorable shot!



6 – Be creative and have fun with your photography!  Consider creating optical illusions with some forced perspective shots to liven up your vacation album.

5 – Remember that pets are people, too.  They really don’t enjoy dressing up in costumes any more than people do – except they are less vocal about it.  Come to think of it – your babies are people, too.  They will show their displeasure by their expressions, but remember that they will get vocal about it once they’re old enough to talk!

4 – When it takes forty or fifty tries to get the kids to a) sit still, b) look at the camera, c) smile, and d) do a, b, and c all at the same time, it is okay to delete some of those motion-blurred, crying, and cranky shots.  Save a few though – they could prove useful to embarrass those children fifteen years later. (Also see #10)

3 – Since you are always the one taking photos, make sure you get some of yourself.  Only ask someone else to take it – unless you have very long arms or a timer on your camera, most self-portraits are not very flattering.


Image designed by footnoteMaven


2 – Keep shoes in shoeboxes, not your photographs.  Get them out of the boxes – and off of your hard drives – and into frames or albums to display around your home or office.  Don’t be too busy taking photos to remember the joy in looking at them and remembering the fun.

And the number one photo resolution is –

The Cross Counter, which is useful for mugging your relatives. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-USZ62-105001

1 – Forget mug shots – mug your relatives for copies of family photos!  Are you, like me, tired of waiting for family members to dig out those precious photographs you’ve heard so much about but have never seen?  It’s time to take matters into your own hands.  I resolve to sit on doorsteps until they find the photos and reveal them to me.  I have a feeling some of my cousins may be entering the Relative Protection Program, a distant cousin of the Witness Protection Program, that seeks to protect the innocent from a hungry photograph-hound like myself.  But hey, I’m a genealogist, so I ought to be able to track them down!


All photographs from the collection of the author except as noted.

Read Full Post »

The following article first appeared on December 8, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed magazine.   footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ah, Christmas…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Or is it?  For some children, it’s the time of year to be scared to death.  First, there’s the whole threat of “being good” or else!  The mere thought of not getting any presents is certainly scary, but there is something about Christmas that isn’t all happy and jolly.  In fact, it instills more fear in young children than a Halloween haunted house – it’s Santa’s Little Workshop of Horrors and the annual photo with Santa!

Santa has a reputation of being a happy and fun kind of guy.  After all, he brings you toys for no apparent reason.  That’s a guy any child would love, right?  Then why is that big fat guy with a bushy beard so absolutely terrifying for so many children?  It’s the terror that makes the annual “photo with Santa” such a delight for adults.  Parents, determined to get that holiday photo no matter what, gratefully accept the photo even if the child has an expression of fear and terror and tears flowing like a river.  Years later these photos are funny, but one can only imagine that it wasn’t that funny at the time for all involved – the scared child, the parent who has to calm them, and poor Santa who has to withstand the screams.  I hope the malls provide ear protection with the red suit.

Here’s an exasperated Santa from 1977 who is wondering if it’s time to go home yet (or if the eggnog is nearby):

Aw, what are you crying for Sis? At least you aren't dressed the same as us! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)

Fast forward to 2006…the formerly terrified child is now a mom, so it’s time to take her daughter to visit Santa.  Did she not remember her own terror?  You know what they say, “Like mother, like daughter!” 

Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!!! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)

But, by now Grandmom knew the tricks to a happy photo – candy canes for all!  Or maybe it was Santa himself who learned this trick over the years – if the kids have something to put in their mouth like a pacifier, they aren’t nearly as loud. 

Sissy, if your hand gets near my candy cane, I'll scream bloody murder in your ear again! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)

By the time we reach adulthood, we really seem to forget how to think like a child.  This may be why the child’s fear of Santa comes as such a surprise to the parents.  If you’re a parent who will be taking a little one for the annual Santa photo, let me remind you of a few things.  First, no matter how happy or friendly Santa actually looks with that whole jolly persona and twinkle in his eye, there is something menacing about him.  Think about it…he sees you when you’re sleeping?  He knows when you’re awake?  That’s a bit stalkerish, don’t you think?   For years we tell our children not to talk to strangers, but there’s this apparently omnipotent dude that you see once a year and have to be nice and smile for the camera.  Mark my words – children pick up on this incongruity! 

No, Mommy, not without a candy cane! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)

It must be quite a challenge to be a photographer for Santa.  Even if you manage to get a nice, happy expression on the faces of the children, there’s always the distinct possibility that Santa himself may screw up your holiday photo.   After all, which is the worse or the two?  Being the frightened child who has to sit on Santa’s lap, or being Santa?  Santa, who, hour after hour and day after day, has lines and lines of children who want to see you.  Well, most of them want to see you…but then there are the few, the screaming, the scared.  It must be far worse to be Santa with a headache from all the high decibel screams than it is to be the crying child.  The children get over it with age and perhaps some therapy, but Santa has to put up with hundreds of screaming children every December.

Even if Santa doesn’t get a screamer, there’s the endless litany of “gimme” requests that’s enough to drive a teetotaller to the bottle of Jamison’s.  Every household seems to have at least one photo of Santa who looks as though he’s had a few.  But, who can blame him after all? 

Oh, crud, did this kid just pee on me? (Photo courtesy of Sheri Fenley)

Yo, Bro, let's get out of here - Mom dressed us alike again and Santa smells like booze! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)

What’s the secret to a good photo with Santa?  Maybe if Santa were closer in age and size, he wouldn’t be scary at all but cute and cuddly!

Mommy, I want to keep this Santa! (Photo courtesy of Alleah Bucs Pointkouski)


For More Fun:

If you want to see more photos of children who are scared of Santa, visit the Chicago Tribune “Scared of Santa” photo gallery.

Also, there is a collection of photos in a book called Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins. (Harper Paperbacks, 2008)

Read Full Post »

This post was originally published on December 21, 2008, and it was repeated again on the same date in 2009.  I wanted to repeat it yet again for new visitors who missed it previously.  You’ll notice that I left in the reference to Terry Thornton of Hill Country of Monroe County…a click on the link will take you to Terry’s obituary at his blog.  Terry left this earth on August 9th this year, but I really couldn’t bring myself to change this parody from how I originally wrote it (and I still have the feed to his dormant blog in my blog reader).  In 2008, Terry commented on this post with his signature line: “What FUN!” 

Santa is definitely going to put us all on the naughty list if we don’t get around to researching his family tree soon!  Merry Christmas to all!

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the ‘net
Bloggers were quiet, even the Graveyard Rabbit.
Some were snowed in, all covered in ice
With some frightful weather that’s really not nice.

Others were busy with presents and wrap,
While some settled in for a long winter’s nap.
But then Genea-Santa made it home from the mall
And with urgency put out a very frantic call.

“Oh genea-bloggers, can you help me so?
Someone has asked for their ancestors to know.
I’m used to toys, books, and games on the list,
My elves tried Ancestry.com and can’t get the gist.”

“Can you please help?” good Santa did ask,
“So I can complete this impossible task?”
Before Old St. Nick barely finished his post
The bloggers started to answer, from coast to coast.

First Sheri, then Jasia, and Terry from Monroe County,
Then Randy, then Lisa, and Thomas upped the bounty.
Many sources did footnoteMaven then cite,
while Donna and Becky joined in the plight.

Steve and Miriam and DearMyrtle too
Used Census and newspapers to find every last clue.
The charts were all filled and ready for Santa’s sack,
Combined we had traced twelve generations back!

Santa was impressed, the pedigree had nary a hole
“Can you help me find my folks from the North Pole?”
We said we’d try, maybe next year.
Our promise left him jolly and full of good cheer.

So he subscribed to our blogs, to join in our fun
And said he’d return when his hard work was done
Santa signed off, having found what he sought
“Merry Christmas to all, may your searching not be for naught!”

-with many apologies to and great appreciation of Mr. Clement Clarke Moore…(and apologies to the many genealogy bloggers I left out for space and rhyming constraints!)

Read Full Post »

“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!

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

”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.

Read Full Post »

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):


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.


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)!


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.


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!


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”!

Read Full Post »

“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!

Read Full Post »

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!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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!

Read Full Post »

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!]

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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).

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »