Blast from the Past – Holiday Photos

Season’s Greetings!  You may be feeling like the folks were in the photo above after your Thanksgiving feast.  Their enthusiasm for the holiday is well, a little underwhelming.  Maybe a smaller family gathering would have been a good thing back then.  

Whenever I think of all the work that goes into a family get together I think of this picture from my husband’s side of of the family. Taken about the mid 1930’s, from left to right is Clifford Thompson, George Harbaugh, Bert Thompson and Ruth Johnson Thompson.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the decorations were scant.  Don’t know if it was a heavy meal or the numbness of having to spend the holiday with extended family that put them to sleep.  

The picture was taken in the living room of George’s parent’s home.  Ruth was George’s maternal aunt.  We’re missing the rest of the extended family who lived there – George Sr., his wife, Elsie, and their other children Bob and Betty.  Ruth and Elsie’s mother, Louisa, also lived in the household.  Where was Bert and Ruth’s daughter, Jeanne? Maybe upstairs playing with cousin Betty.  Did Helen Johnson Chellberg, sister to Elsie and Ruth, also come with her husband and three children?  Beats me – somethings we will never know.  

I’ve been reading a lot in the past week about people being thankful for not having to travel this holiday season.  I can relate to that as I dreaded the holidays when our home was cramped with 40 plus people. All those dishes long before dishwashers!  No quiet space at all!  Lines for the bathroom!  Cigar smoke and alcohol breath – yuck!  Although I loved those people a bunch I liked them a lot better a little at a time.  

This weekend I’ve spent looking at old family holiday photos.  Some years were prosperous and others, not.  No matter what your holiday plans are for this year your experience will be long remembered not just by you, but by those who know you.  If you can’t be all together, keep in touch – via phone, Zoom, letter/card/text – as best you can.  Ask the questions you always wondered about, like where was Helen Chellberg in the mid-1930’s?  Although the pandemic made this year seem to move slowly, next year just might be too late to get your family questions answered.  

I recommend you each out – reconnect – and remember those far away loved ones.  Now is the time!

Genealogy Thanks

 As we all prepare to have a less than typical Thanksgiving, I want to pause and reflect on all the genealogy things that I am thankful for this year.  Sure, it’s been difficult with all the archive closures, Zoom conferences and the inability to visit far flung relatives but let’s look at the bright side for a moment.  

I am thankful that the pandemic allowed me to:

1.  Reorganize my office.  I took the time, since I had lots of it this past summer, and made my work space more efficient.  I replenished supplies, pitched those pencil nubs and found items I didn’t even recall I had! This was always on my to-do list and now it’s not.

2.  Pitched old family records.  Don’t gasp – I scanned many of them.  I found my deceased mom, 2nd cousin and sister-in-law’s health records. I had tax returns from the 1970’s that we lugged from house to house over the years.  Before the tax code changed, we kept the receipts for improvements made on a home we haven’t lived in for 30 years.  Found the flood insurance settlement when we lost everything in Hurricane Elena in 1985.  I think going through these old documents of other difficult times in our lives made the current situation more tolerable.  It was a testament that this, too, shall end one day.

3.  Cleaned my Cloud backup storage.  Cuddled up on the sofa with the laptop and on a week of rainy days, spent some time each day moving files around or deleting them entirely.  Now I’ve got even more space for when I am able to get back out into the world to research without having to pay for more space.

4.  Attended Conferences from my backyard.  I know that virtual conferences aren’t the same as in-person but if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have had to miss many that I was able to attend this year.  I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a lecture and not learned something or been reminded that I should try what I already knew to solve a research problem.  I’m so looking forward to Roots Tech, too!  

5.  Save $!  As a long time reader you know I’m a frugal person and look for genealogy deals whenever I can.  Although my business did take a hit this year, I was fortunate that my first quarter was larger than in previous years.  Can’t explain how that worked out and am thankful that it was. Another way I saved was the organizations that made their records available for free or lowered the price for a limited time at the start of the pandemic.  I looked in places I never was able to search before and found lots of info.

6.  Researched my own family.  Since business was down, I was able to spend time on my own family.  In the past few years, this has been severely limited so I was glad for the time to do this. The value of a research log cannot be emphasized enough; I didn’t have to waste much time in picking up where I had left off by reviewing where I had previously searched.

7. Made many new virtual “friends.”  Thank heavens for the archivist that continued to answer queries, search a vertical file or scan and email a page from needed text.  Although never considered essential workers, they most definitely are to a genealogist and I greatly appreciative of their dedication.  I also reached out to relatives I had never connected with before and together, we worked to solve family mysteries.  

8. Caught up on my reading. All those journals, magazines, books and pamphlets/flyers/brochures I’ve picked up from past trips have been examined, noted in my tree or pitched.  I have a pile in the garage ready to donate to our local library as soon as they begin to accept material again.  Finally went onto websites and requested that I stop having journals mailed to me when I certainly can download and read them on a tech device.  

9.  Planned for the future. I have taken the time to review my findings and know where I want to travel when it becomes safe to do so.  In the past, I’d get a last minute offer to travel and then take an extra day to do my own researching if I had family that once lived in the area.  Now I know what I don’t know and have identified possibly where the answers might lie.  Of course it won’t be 100% accurate but it’s a better way to use my future time then the spur of the moment approach I often had to do.

10. Learned more about myself.  I never knew I could become a homebody.  Last week, a colleague mentioned how much she hated being home.  I’m not there yet.  I am very content and that is the biggest surprise I’ve had.  Prior to March 14th, I came home late most every week night, ate a rushed often take out meal and went to bed, then up at 5 and out the door soon after. Since I was a teenager, this has been the longest period of time I haven’t been on a flight.  I’ve only topped off my car’s gas tank 3 times in 8 months and only then because I wanted to keep a full tank during our hurricane season.  I’m thankful for my close family who I enjoy being with 24-7 who have made this dramatic change of lifestyle doable. 

Adversity truly does reveal character. Our ancestors have experienced life’s turmoil and paved the way for us to have it easier than they did. Although the upcoming holidays will be far different from any I have previously experienced, I’m thankful for knowing their life story.  It gives me strength and hope for better days ahead.  Have a wonderful Thankfilled week!

Spam and Genealogy

As genealogists, we are used to spending our days looking at old documents, reading up on events that happened long ago and trying to put our “head” into the times that were so we can better understand when we analyze our findings.
We don’t dwell much on the fact that every day we are all making our own history.
I haven’t read anywhere a recent personal finding I discovered so I’m putting it out here now…
As a blogger I get A LOT of spam,  I’m not talking the pork based product – I don’t do sales pitches! I’m referring to the internet type.  You don’t see it because of the filters I constantly update to insure that the junk doesn’t get through to impact your experience or worse, infect your device.  In a typical pre-pandemic week, I got over a thousand spam hits easily, often closer to two thousand on each of my sites (my website and Blogger).  Since the pandemic, the amount has fluctuated over the months.  
When various countries reopened the spam increased; as they shut down again it decreased.  The majority in the past was from China and Eastern Europe. How do I know that?  Because it wasn’t in English.  I suppose someone who speaks English could have been using Google Translate to fake a hit but I’m not sure how likely that would have been.
Since May, my spam has been two-thirds in English based on my unscientific analysis.  I’m basing the one third on the incorrect English word choices that are being used.  (Hint to Russia and China Spammers:  We really don’t say ‘that cool’ much anymore).
In the past, the spam consisted about half regarding dating, a quarter for obtaining cheap medicines and a quarter claiming my blog was the best ever and directing readers to a link for purchase of a product that had nothing to do with genealogy.  Interestingly, the medical links are now scant.  The dating has turned hardcore and blunt.  The majority is product links.  My take is spammers are focusing on frustrated people and are trying to make a fast buck.  Just like elective medical procedures taking a back seat, so are sales of pharmaceuticals.
Last night I got a late email selling Halloween costumes.  I was flummoxed!  My first thought, was this couldn’t be serious – who is thinking of Halloween when nearly each day of 2020 has been a horror and we’re stuck in a perpetual Ground Hog’s Day. Then I thought, maybe it’s a message of hope to return to what we used to take for granted – normal times.  I don’t know what the motivation was to send an email late on a Friday evening for a holiday that may or maybe not be celebrated in three months but it did give me pause. Based on my spam and email type and amount, we’re a long way from “normal.”
What does this have to do with genealogy?  Everything!  Our times are historical and the stresses we humans are under right now impact the choices and decisions we make.  This data analysis shows insight on the conditions of our times.  
IMHO, with the utter chaos that greets us daily, what should become a priority is responsibility and obligations to community to insure the well being of all. I’m seeing so much of that in the genealogy community and not so much in other groups in which we belong.  History will be the judge of how we, as a society, have handled the numerous crises that have befallen us in the first half of 2020.  I’m looking forward, not to Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas, but for a turn around of hearts so that we can move forward together for a better future.  Today, I’m going back to my tree to work on my long dead people who have faced their own tragedies and rose to the occasion. I want to follow in those footstep. Perhaps your ancestors will help guide you in dealing with these troubling times. All the best!

More Shelter in Place Genealogy Ideas

Part 2 

Last week my blog was a whole lot longer than usual but I figured now that you’re housebound, you’ve got time to read.  I have seven additional ideas to work on since you can’t run down to your local archive or call a library to access a record.  Now is a wonderful opportunity to…

1.      Review what you have on that brick wall ancestor.  Take every scrap of evidence and spread it out on your workspace.  Now arrange it in chronological order and study it.  Next arrange it by connections, such as every document that has the spouse’s name, too.  Do you see any missing time frames?  Maybe there was a marriage certificate for 1842, a deed in the same county for 1852 but one of the individuals isn’t mentioned in the 1860 U.S. Federal census but shows up again in 1870. That’s a clue to figure out where the individual was in 1860 – maybe they were ill and placed in a sanitarium, perhaps they were visiting an adult child in another area, the person may have had to find work elsewhere or attend the funeral of a family member.  Not sure where the person might have been?  I recommend reading my last blog article and doing item 3.  After you do that …

2.      Take your time to synthesize the information.  Don’t rush – we aren’t going anywhere for awhile.  Let the information just percolate in your brain.  Write down what you find odd or missing.  Now it’s time to…

3.      Do some exercise.  Hubby and I now start our day with a beginner yoga video we found on youtube.  Stretching and breathing will help your brain process the information so give it a try.  The workout may have made you hungry so now think about…

4.      Family recipes.  My hubby’s birthday is coming up and I may have to dig up the family Depression Cake recipe because I don’t know what ingredients will be available at the grocery.  That recipe makes me think of other recipes that got my family through difficult times.  When my grandparents were quarantined with their young family because of a scarlet fever outbreak, she practiced social distancing by speaking with her neighbors through their open windows.  Reminds me of the people singing together on the balconies in Italy or exercising in Spain.  In my family’s case, grandma got a great spaghetti sauce recipe from the Italian neighbor and what we call corn meal mush, from the southern neighbor on the other side of her home.  That was nearly 100 years ago.  Think about the legacy you’re leaving your descendants…

5.      Write down your experiences. I realize how spoiled and privileged we are.  I miss going to restaurants the most.  I only recall both sets of my grandparents going to a restaurant once.  My maternal grandparents, my mother and I went with a neighbor to the Beach Café in Miller, Indiana when I was about 6 years old to get perch on a Friday night during Lent.  Mr. Bauer had just become a widow and missed going to the café with his wife so my family joined him.  I didn’t know then that he had been a character witness 20 years earlier for my grandparents so they could become citizens.  My paternal grandparents, my parents and I went to a diner in Hobart, Indiana when I was about 3 years old.  I have no idea why we only went once or why we went there but I recall there were other people with us so I suspect visiting relatives must have come to town.  They ordered a large pizza and to me, it looked disgusting so I refused to eat it.  I ended up getting the chicken drumstick child’s dinner.  My dad bought me a plastic rocket that came apart in three pieces – it was the Cold War and we were going to beat those Russians.  That was 60 years ago.  Those are my memories of dining out – now write yours and if you get stuck…

6.      Ask an older relative about their recollections.  Now is the time to connect so give them a call, email, Skype or even write a snail mail letter.  I wish I had thought to ask my grandparents about the 1919 Influenza pandemic.  I know my grandfather and great grandfather both got it in January; my grandmother blamed their resistance being shot to working the night shift at U.S. Steel and riding their bikes home in the cold rain.  My grandfather got over it quickly; my great grandfather died.  He had been known to have asthma and epilepsy and the flu turned into pneumonia.  I have the funeral photo with no social distancing practiced.  I know how the family coped – my grandmother took in borders to help pay the bills now that half the money was gone.  What I don’t know is how they prepared for the epidemic.  Perhaps they never did.  The family raised chickens and rabbits and canned their garden vegetables.  I really wish I had asked more questions.  If you aren’t able to connect with an older generation because you are the older generation then…

7.      Reach out to those your DNA says are family.  Sure, you tried that before but they didn’t respond.  Well, try, try again because they’re probably home now, too, and just might have time to respond to you.

Remember, Shakespeare and Newton did their best work during a pandemic.  Keep up your spirits by thinking about how your ancestors handled adversity.  Let them serve as a model for you.

Alternative Spring Break Genealogy Ideas

Like the rest of the world, my Spring Break plans have come undone.  Flexibility is a great trait for genealogists so I’m looking at this bump in the road as a way to help me grow.  Seriously!  Stick with me and I’ll give you some ideas.

First, I’d like to apologize for my last blog being posted late. I didn’t realize until Wednesday it hadn’t been published.  Typically, I write on Saturday mornings and post immediately.  The week prior, I thought I would be working on Saturday so I wrote two blogs with the intent of publishing the second before I left for work the next weekend.  Except, my weekend gig was cancelled.  I decided Saturday to alter my routine.  After the crazy week of trying to wrap up client requests in the event that my local archives closed (and they have) and making plans to relocate my educational job to home (which also came to be), along with trying to prepare our home for shelter in place, I decided to take Saturday to spend outdoors all day.  Our yard looks fantastic! On Sunday, fired up by all we had accomplished the day before, I got the brilliant idea to clean the garage which consumed most of the day.  Then Monday, what should have been the start of my spring break, I spent posting to groups on my school district’s platform to reach out to parents and students.  That took up most of Monday and Tuesday.  By Wednesday, I was in a routine for our new normal and was ready to pick back up with genealogy. 

My advice if, like me, you’re stuck at home – DO NOT SIT ALL DAY IN FRONT OF YOUR COMPUTER!  You will get lulled into a stupor, miss clues and follow a path down a rabbit hole that won’t help you find what you’re seeking. Instead, this is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on your practice and do the things that you’ve been meaning to do but put off.   Here’s some ideas:

1.       Clean your work area.  You might uncover a note to self of a document you wanted to investigate, an email you wanted to send or copies of research you meant to review but didn’t get around to it.  I found some great ideas for future blog posts which leads me to recommending…

2.      Start your own blog.  It’s easy, it’s fun to connect to others who are as passionate as you are and it can be free.  I post in two places – Google’s Blogger and on my own website (which I do pay to maintain).  Not sure what to write about?  Whatever you’re interested in is fine. You’d be surprised at how many far-flung family members will find you if you post about a surname, especially an uncommon one.  The thought of surnames leads me to realize…

3.      We aren’t the only generation that’s experienced working from home.  I bet, like me, you have a sizeable number of ancestors who were farmers.  They lived on the place they worked.  My husband’s side had a number of mariners who lived on their boats and retailers who lived above their stores.  I’ve also had tavernkeepers who lived on site.  Travel, back in the day, was often difficult which explains why deeds weren’t presented in a timely manner, obits weren’t noticed in the nearest city’s newspaper and children learned at home.  If you’re getting claustrophobic, take your electronic device outside, Google a location, select “more” from the ribbon and click “Books.”  Now pick an old book from your selected location and read about what life was like when your ancestor was homebound.  Highlight or take notes on anything that gives you an idea for further research.  Some ideas are the name of the church denomination that was there in 1809, the old cemetery that isn’t listed on Find-A-Grave or Billion Graves, or where the courthouse was located.  You can email the local genealogy society for more information on where those records may be housed and then take that info and turn it into a…

4.      Research Question.  This is a wonderful opportunity to up your genealogy practices and truly write down what you want answered.  Every genealogy software program has somewhere you can record your question, be it notes or comments.  I sometimes even use stickees to keep me on track.  Post it right on your screen to stay focused.  Research shows that we need to give our brains a break from intense focusing so…

5.      Get up and move for a bit.  Walk around your house and put labels on the bottom of family heirlooms.  Sure, you know who owned what but that doesn’t mean your descendants will remember.  Stand and sort that pile of papers you meant to file or reorganize your files entirely.  I like sorting by surname and then alphabetically by first name but whatever works for you is fine.  Now stand and scan the info, saving to your external hard drive, cloud or other device.  Wow, you just got some exercise, rested your brain and accomplished a task you’ve been putting off for awhile.  Good for you!   Part 2 with more ideas coming soon.

Colorizing Old Photos

You may have tried the new MyHeritage tool that allows you to upload a black and white photo that will be transformed into color.  I spoke with a colleague at a genealogy conference last month who gushed about the magic of the results. 

I finally got around to trying it and decided the true test would be with one of the photos in my collection that were of a known relative so I could compare results with memory. 

I selected a photo of my great grandmother, Anna Grdenic Kos[s]:

I recall this photo was taken Christmas 1961 or 1962.  I remember the dress and that my grandmother, Mary Violet Kos Koss, purchased the corsage and it was worn to the church service.  I even recall where they attended, St. Joseph’s Croatian [Roman] Catholic Church in Glen Park, Gary, Lake, Indiana.  I didn’t go with them because the mass was in Croatian; instead, my mother and I walked a block to attend services at St. Mark’s [Roman] Catholic Church. 

Here’s what the colorization looks like:

This was not my great grandmother’s skin tone in winter; she was quiet pale. Actually, it wasn’t even her tone in the summer as she didn’t go out in the sun.  The dress was green and white.  The corsage was silver with red balls and a green ribbon.  I know this because I was there.  I also played with the corsage and tried to affix it to my cat’s collar after the holidays.  I thought that corsage was just awesome!

So, if you’d like to colorize your photos you can do so at MyHeritage.  You can sign in through Google or Facebook and if you have a MyHeritage account, just enter your password.  Then, just drop and drag the photo you’d like colorized in the box.  It just takes a few seconds to get the finished image.

Know that MyHeritage retains the rights to the photo.  Know, from my personal experience, the colors you get aren’t necessary true.  Personally, I like my black and whites and sepias. 

The U.S. National Archives Update

National Archives Researcher Entrance from the Metro steps


I love researching at NARA!  Sure, some of the records are available online but holding that original document in my hands and knowing that my ancestor once touched it is a feeling like no other.  The staff has always been accommodating and when I get all teary eyed when I’ve made a new discovery, many have patiently listened and shared in my joy.

It’s time for us to step up and see to it that the agency gets the funding they need to continue to do the job for us.  The tentative budget provides less than the amount allocated in 2010 yet the demands for archiving have risen.  We must contact our Congressional representative by Tuesday, March 11th, to make them aware of the importance of adequate funding. 

Dear Readers, I’ve only asked you once before to contact your representatives when the 500% proposal to raise the fee by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service in December was announced.  I try very hard to not be political in my blogs.  I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on.  I do care that you are able to access the records you need.  I do believe records need to be preserved for future generations.  I hope you see the value in getting NARA the funding it needs to do the job correctly.  All it takes is 5 minutes from you to call your Congressional rep at 202-224-3121 or send an email.  The few minutes from your busy day to make your wishes known might just result in your brick wall break through down the road.  

Need more info?  You can read about the budget needs here.

Genealogical Patterns – Are They Meaningful?

02/02/2020

Happy Palindrome Day!  Happy Ground Hog Day!  Happy Candlemas Day!  Happy Midway between Winter and Spring Day!  Happy 33rd Day of the New Year with 333 Days to Go!  Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Probably like you, most of those designations of today I don’t intend to celebrate but they are fascinating to me that someone, somewhere noticed a pattern. I bet you’ve noticed patterns in your genealogy research, too.  

When discovering information about a newly discovered relative I’m always struck by the significance of a date I find.  Hmm, I think, that person married on my birthday.  Wow, that ancestor was born on my anniversary.  Seems like such a weird coincidence but mathematically, it’s not.

Think about this – there are usually 365 days in a year (except for the few years like this one which is a Leap Year).  If you’re comparing days of similarities between a newly found ancestor and your own vital dates, you’re actually increasing the odds.  Think of it this way, you’re comparing your birthday and marriage to someone else’s birthday, marriage and death date.  When I think about adding in dates for my close family, such as my spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, it’s not a coincidence at all that dates are shared.  

If you’ve noticed this phenomenon and want to do the math yourself, check out this statistic site:  Same Birthday Odds.

I wish I had time, however, to actually compute seasonal births and deaths in my direct lines.  Although I could be wrong, it seems like there are more births in the spring/summer and more deaths in the fall/winter.  My mom was the first to make me aware of this family trend when my grandfather died in October 1970.  I asked her why that occurred and she said she didn’t know but had drawn that conclusion based on her grandparents’ deaths in winter and knowing she attended more funerals during those seasons.  I guess that stuck with me and as I’ve tabulated vital data for my family I see what she means.  Both my parents died in the fall; most of my grandparents and great grandparents did, too.  Only my paternal grandfather (August) and maternal grandmother (June) didn’t follow the death pattern.  

Then I came across a study that looked at data from a developing country and found that the trend was true. Then I found another to support the first study but a different one showed variations by country.  I also found an interesting study that showed, in the U.S., people who were born in the fall had a significant increase in living longer than those born in the first half of the year.  Who knew?!

Since the next palindrome day won’t occur for 101 years (12/12/2121) I’ve decided I’m putting aside my genealogical research on this sunny cold day and savoring the moment!  Looking backwards can wait another day. 

Lineage Society Disappointments

The New Year (and decade) is well underway and I’ve been putting off my Genealogy Goals for the year.  Why?  I’m one of those people that just won’t let something go if I’ve committed to it.  My last year goal was to honor my ancestors through various lineage societies.  My thought process was the more places you leave your work, the more likely it won’t be lost.  Sadly, that goal really didn’t work out for me in a few cases.

I am a member of several societies and they are all legit.  That means, they have goals I agree with, they didn’t take my money and run (those are out there) and they actively pursue initiatives to improve genealogy through historical education. 

Unfortunately, two I selected last year didn’t measure up.  Both cashed the check, told me I was a member and then emailed me that they weren’t done verifying what I submitted and would keep me informed.  But they didn’t.  I followed up every few months.  Next month will be a year in so I’m thinking of  ways to resolve this. Sad that a few bad apples tarnish the reputation of those that are good.  

How do you know if a lineage society is reputable?  Check out the membership locally.  The two I attempted to join did not have that option; one was brand new and the other appears to have had changes of personnel at the national level.  If you aren’t able to meet local members then you know you may be taking a risk.  If you’re willing to invest the time to complete the paperwork and the money to join then go ahead.  If not, then definitely don’t bother.  

Star Wars and Genealogy

Happy New Year!  December was a busy month for genealogy so I’ll be trying to catch up with all the changes each week.  I ended the decade watching the last Star Wars movie which was bittersweet to me.  The franchise started while I was in college, saw one of the films when I was first pregnant with my oldest who became a lifelong fan, and the remaining movies I can remember by associating with various stages of my life. 

Star Wars is an epic in science fiction genealogy.  Do you recall being shocked to discover that Darth Vader was Luke’s father?  That Luke and Leia were twins?  If you haven’t seen the movie yet I’ll not spoil it but I’ll give you a hint – Mill’s FAN Club.  Yes, there is another connection nicely tying up all the movies.

This year, keep the movie in mind as you search for your elusive ancestors.  Wonder why know one talked about Great Uncle Bob?  I say check out his relationships.  His business buddies might just be holding the key to his separation from the family.  Also look for his political views; perhaps the rest of the family didn’t share his outlook for the future.

Can’t find the parents of your maternal great grandma?  Check out death records, obits, cemeteries and family Bibles to see if  great grandma’s parents died shortly after her birth.  Like Luke and Leia finding each other, you just might discover a whole new side of the family that had been separated due to the unexpected loss.

Wonder why your teenage several times great grandpa left Merry Ole England for the Caribbean?  Like Rey, he may have been sheltered by his parents for his safety.  Although Rey was sold, many families indentured their loved ones.  I found my Duer family did so as their Quaker beliefs were causing them to be arrested.  Leaving the country was one of their only safety options. 

I’ll miss Star Wars but on the bright side, I’ll remember those shocking movie moments and know I’ll get to experience similar emotions as I continue to work on my own family tree.