Genealogy Lemonade – a Reflection on the Year

You might be thinking I’m being a prolific blogger this morning as this is my 5th post but the truth is I only planned to write about the one year anniversary of changing practices due to the pandemic.

I started the morning on routine maintenance to my website – genealogyatheart.com and in the process, somehow noticed that 4 older posts, 3 since June, had never posted. I don’t know how that happened so I hit the “publish” button and see that 3 of the 4 are live. Going to figure out when I’m done with this blog what’s up with the last one! Three were on strange events and one was on volunteering to identify WW2 vets. Since the past year has definitely been strange and there has been so many unnecessary deaths it seemed fitting I discovered the drafts this morning.

Was it the technology or the person (me) that was responsible? Don’t know! I usually like to find out the reason for mistakes to prevent them from reoccurring but on this beautiful almost spring morning where I’ll be losing an hour this weekend anyway, I’m choosing to focus instead on the future.

It was 1 year ago today, Friday the 13th, that I spent my last day in person at my education job. I was supposed to meet a genealogy client and do volunteer work on the 14th at a local library but that was cancelled due to the unexpected covid-19 closures. Like most of the rest of the world, I had spent March 11th bringing home items from work that I thought would be essential to use to continue doing my job from home and on the 12th, discovered there was NO hams, turkeys or toilet paper left in the first 4 grocery stores I stopped in on my way home from work.

A year ago, my guess was the pandemic would last about 6 weeks. Yeah, don’t ask me to make any forecasts! I based that assumption on the amount of time since I had first heard about Wuhong’s cases – towards the end of January – and watched with amazement how quickly they were building hospitals. By March, they had stopped so I guessed wrongly that it would just take a short time to get up to speed in providing medical assistance and our lives would be back to “normal”.

That gets me to the ham and turkey on my shopping list – I thought I’d hunker down at home and my meal planning to get through lockdown was influenced by my childhood upbringing. The grandchild of immigrants and the child of a Great Depression parent, we always had a large pantry in the basement known as the fruit cellar. I’ve blogged before how it got it’s name – that’s where my grandparents kept the illegal vino they were producing during prohibition. By the time I came along it held canned goods, soda “pop” bottles in case company came and spices. An extra chest freezer was housed on our enclosed front porch with a doily over it so it didn’t stand out. It was always filled. This was all beneficial to avoid panic buying before a snowstorm hit. Cooking a huge meal mid day Sundays resulted in having food for the rest of the week. I figured we’d have a ham with the fixings and then Monday, use leftovers for sandwiches, Tuesday would be omelets, soup from the hambone on Wednesday and Thursday, any remains mixed with macaroni and cheese on Friday and the week was almost through! I would do something similar with the turkey and chicken to get through 6 weeks of lockdown. Except, I couldn’t find turkey and ham.

I do have a large pantry and an extra fridge in the garage but I never kept them as well stocked as my grandparents did theirs. My shopping foray last March changed that practice and I scrounged for whatever I found left in the store – 3 corned beefs, 2 whole chickens, some ground beef and hot dogs. I found the ham and turkey at the 5th store I went to which was the one closest to my home. The toilet paper was discovered by a suggestion from another shopper at Big Lots. My bookkeeper at work had found hers at Staples. This was clearly a tipoff that that world was changing in a strange way.

I pivoted my education job by working through what was supposed to have been my week off for spring break. I was up and running with that quickly and easily with a plan to keep the students engaged the week we were transitioning to online learning to give the teachers time to get their lessons prepared. My genealogy business was placed on hiatus but I decided to keep writing the blog.

Reflecting on the past year, my biggest surprise is that I’m really okay with working from home. This has been the longest time since adulthood that I haven’t been on a trip or to a visit to a library. I’ve got several ideas of where I’ll do research once the world reopens fully. I’m okay with being patient for when that happens. In the meantime, I’ve created a list of where I need to research, what I need to find and some of the archives I’ll be visiting.

Thinking back, I now have no idea how I endured for years the long commute I made 5 days a week. I’ve only topped off my car with gas 4 times since last March 13th. Sometimes I would have to stop for gas more than once per week. I have spent the over 2 hours per day that I had lost driving on other tasks. Initially, I spent a lot more time on my education job but now that I’m in the groove, that has lessened. I’m now using the extra time to listen to podcasts and do my own personal genealogy research. I updated my family’s cookbook and included a section on Pandemic cooking for future generations. It’s got a great substitution chart – can’t find cake flour, here’s what you do! We also switched our hydroponics to aquaponics, took in 2 hens that were hatched 2 weeks before the pandemic at my school and froze the loquats and lemon juice from our neighbors tree for use the rest of the year.

I am amazed at how much genealogy research I have been able to do by being housebound. Granted, much has been because of the dedication of staff at archives who have done look ups for me over the past year. Due to the special offers that were available last spring, I took advantage of mining through online resources I hadn’t explored before. That was an awesome use of my time and money.

I donated some of my time by volunteering and I’ll blog more about that soon. I also donated some cash to organizations who were extremely helpful and are now in desperate need of funds. I plan to do more of this in the future.

By working fully from home I was thankful that hubby and I had renovated our home in the past few years, especially our office. We had to make some adjustments but that was mostly due to our primary jobs. I use a whole lot less paper (and printer ink!) then when I was working outside of the home. I’ve cleaned all of our closets and reorganized the kitchen and bath cabinets for efficiency. Those tasks I always put in “some day” category as in “after I retire.” Now they’re done and that will give me more time later.

I also now understand why my grandmother always washed her hands when she came in from leaving the house and why she changed her clothes after attending a funeral. The lessons she learned from the 1918 flu epidemic stayed with her 40 years later. I wonder if I’ll be doing the same.

Take this week and think about how you and your family have changed routines and practices. It is amazing how flexible and versatile we all are. No matter what the future holds we will be taking these characteristics with us. That gives me hope.

Turning lemons into lemonade takes some amount of work but it’s worth the refreshing result. As my grandparents would say, Zdravlje – To Health!

The Caribbean Connection…An Update

Pirates of the Caribbean

This was supposed to have been published in June 2020 but somehow was not.

Last week I blogged about my strange experience looking for my Hollingshead family going from England to Barbados to Pennsylvania/New Jersey.  I was desperately searching for a document to show proof that my ancestor, Daniel, was the individual in all of those locations.  
Some odd happening occurred – a dream, an undelivered email, an internet site popping up after the electricity had been turned off  – put me back on track.  Here’s what happened this week…
Although the member of my local genealogy association that I had reached out to for help in connecting with a presenter’s email was returned as undeliverable, I used the same email address and reached the person I was seeking a few minutes later.  She responded she was unavailable but when get back with me soon.
I’ve signed up for a British seminar online that I found by “looking small” as instructed in my dream. It’s scheduled for Friday and I’m eagerly awaiting it.
Being impatient, I had a hunch that the dream meant more than just the upcoming lecture.  I don’t know why I did the following, but I did and I’m glad of that.  I decided to check Ancestry.com hints for Daniel.  I don’t use the hint option very often.  I do sometimes if I’m starting a new search for a client but for my own tree, not so much.  In case you aren’t aware, your Ancestry hints never really leave you.  If you click “Ignore” that isn’t the same as delete – which isn’t an option.  When you Ignore, it simply goes to the Hint section and is placed under that heading.  The other categories are Undecided and Accepted.  Accepted hints are all those that are showing in your Facts section, Undecided are those you can’t make up your mind about after you’ve reviewed it.  
In my Undecided section, I had about 15 hints and most were completely wrong – wrong locations (like Ohio and I was searching before there was even an Ohio territory), wrong time period (like the 1900’s and I needed 1600-1700’s), or wrong names (like Hollins).  There were 2 interesting hints, however, that I clicked on and both were from a DNA relative I’ve corresponded with in the past.  I trust her work and she always uses citations!  The hints were notes she had taken from old texts she had found in her local library.  Lucky lady, she lives close to an awesome research library.. I wanted to find the original books to check her notes so I did a Google book search (on Google, click the “Other” box and then click “Books” is the easiest to find and lo and behold, this is what I discovered:

Alfred Mathews. History of Wayne, Pike and Monroe Counties, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia:  R. T. Peck & Co,1886, p. 1156.

Even though this is exactly what I’m looking for regarding the route of immigration, there is no proof, other than that Stroud J. Hollinshead, a likely descendant, shared the info for his personal biographical sketch.  Sigh!  He even got some of the facts wrong.  The second paragraph is a hot mess; How could Daniel, the first ancestor, be killed at the Battle of Blenheim and then hold public office in Sussex County, New Jersey?  Quite a feat, I say.  The date of birth is off by a few years.  Didn’t mention the first wife, Ann Alexander, from whom I’m descended but does mention their child, Mary, as the daughter of the second wife, Thomasin.  Mary married a Duer; according to this bio, so did Mary’s stepmom after the death of Daniel.  Hmm, but something isn’t quite correct there, either.  Thomasin was a female and the information states she married a Jane Deuer.  I suspect they meant John as this would have been the early 1700’s.  
Then I found the following interesting story:

Rev. John C. Rankin, DD.  The Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge, NJ. Jersey City:  John H. Lyon, 1872., p.7.

I knew Daniel was flipping property but I didn’t know that he had sold to a James Alexander of New York.  That peaked my interest as his first wife was an Alexander and I’ve not been successful in locating her family.  So I read up on James Alexander and Lord Stirling.  The family liked to hide among other Alexander families in Ireland and France where they fled after picking the wrong political side in Scotland.  Scholars haven’t been able to sort through all the stories the family told in the documentation they left behind of who was related to whom as the same individual’s tales changed from time to time.  Then, there’s the whole timely topic of race relationships.  Lord Stirling made his money partially from the slave trade while father James was alive and didn’t object.  My Daniel, however, appeared to have not been in favor of slavery.  He brought a slave family with him to New Jersey but it appears there was manumision.  I told myself (no proof here!) that Daniel was empathetic as he was purportedly an indentured servant, though others felt this showed he was of the Quaker faith.  Yet, as I learned more about James Alexander, I discovered that Daniel’s second wife Thomasin left several slaves to her children when she died so the couple may not have the same shared beliefs or, I’m completely wrong about Daniel. More research definitely needed.
The Presbyterian Church reference provides another important clue.  Some believe that Daniel was Quaker but I’ve found nothing to support that.  He and his children were baptized in the Church of England in England and Barbados,  Some of the Alexander land was later donated to the Presbyterian Church.  That’s not surprising since James was a Scott and probably of that faith.  Further reading informed me there were no Quakers in the the area when Daniel relocated there.  If he had been a devout Quaker, he would have likely settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania as the Duer’s initially did.  This would explain why I’ve never found a Quaker record for Daniel.
Although all of this is interesting to my research, the last weird occurrence happened while I was reading online.  My husband and I share an office and he decided he was going to clean his workspace.  He is a piler and I’m a filer – he has piles everywhere and I have everything sorted in a variety of devices (handing file folders, in/out baskets, file cabinets, tubs in folders, etc.).  As I was deeply involved in an old text my husband said, “Is this yours?”  He was holding a CD.  I haven’t used CD’s in I don’t know how long so I shook my head no.  “Should I toss it?”  he asked.  “What’s on it?” I replied.  “The theme song of Pirates of the Caribbean.”  I thought he was kidding me.  “Yeah, right.” I said.  “Seriously,” he replied.  He thought I had recorded it to help me with my search.  (Photo above – you can see it’s scratched so it’s not new.) Nope, wasn’t I but somewhere in the great beyond there’s a tech savvy spirit with a sense of humor who is helping me along.  Keep it coming!

Halloween Hope

This was supposed to have been published October 2020 but I just discovered that didn’t occur. Those darn gremlins!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN – the gremlins were in my computer this morning so I wasn’t able to post.

Just hit me that I have not been in a library – archive – on a research trip – in 7 1/2 months.  I’m ready for a reset and suspect you are, too! 

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.