Tips for Writing Your Memoir

Happy New Year! I’ve been busy in the two weeks I took off for the holidays – I wrote my memoir.

Go ahead and laugh. You, too, can easily record your memories and take this off your To-Do list. A little background info first . . .

For years, every time a funny situation or a strange happening occurred I’d say, “I’m going to put that in my book someday.” I never quantified when “someday” would be. The week of December 6th I got three notices from the universe that it was time for me to get cracking on my life story.

The first happened on St. Nicholas Day which according to my family, he was Croatian. I know he wasn’t but my family culture was such that everyone who was revered was somehow Croatian. Investigating my family stories cleared up quite a few of the tales but we always celebrated his feast day by leaving out our shoes and magically, overnight, they would be filled with treats (think an apple, candy, or cookies). We’d have a pork roast for dinner which I never figured out how that was connected to St. Nick but it was delicious.

This past St. Nick Day I gave a lecture at my local library on interviewing family members. One attendee asked me what to do if he happened to be the oldest family member. I suggested he interview himself. On Thursday of that week, I was volunteering at my city’s historical society when a visitor asked me how long I had lived in the area. I replied, “Nearly 50 years.” and he said, “You’re an old-timer then.” I guess I am but I hadn’t considered the title. The following day I was doing research at a nearby town for an upcoming journal article I’m writing and I overheard the docent give some incorrect information about the surrounding area. I had lived there for almost 10 years so I experienced firsthand what she was discounting. I put in my two cents and she replied, “I guess you should be giving the tours since you’re an old-timer.” Wow, that’s twice in 24 hours. Thanks, Universe, for the reminder.

I went home and seriously considered the need to interview myself. I do have memories that are of historical value and I’d like to recall them now while I still can. Alzheimer’s runs in my family and as we’ve all learned the past two years, life is unpredictable.

The problem has always been I wasn’t sure how to start. I decided to try by speaking to my computer. I opened Microsoft Word and on the ribbon, clicked “Dictate,” then started speaking. The program types whatever you say. If you have issues typing effectively and efficiently this is a cheap way to get your thoughts down on paper. Notice I said “cheap.” Yes, there are programs you can purchase but I wanted something instantly I didn’t have to pay for.

I talked for a few minutes and then looked at what was recorded. It wasn’t bad, considering some of the information I was saying was not in English. Was it correct? No, but it was close. The bigger issue was that Word does not add punctuation. If you say “period” after your sentence it will type out the word “period.” Same with commas. Sigh.

It took me longer to go back and edit what I had just said than it would have if I had typed it in the first place. Even so, I would not have been able to start this project had I not spoken first. Staring at a blank Word document or a piece of paper was not going to move me forward. I am extremely verbal so I had to speak about what I wanted to record to begin the project.

Once I began I had no writer’s block. The memories just flowed, however, they didn’t flow in chronological order. That’s okay, too. My goal was to just let my brain download my life while I typed.

I didn’t care about spelling or grammar. If I forgot someone’s name I’d just leave a few spaces or hit the tab key and keep writing. Funny but the name would later resurface and I could go back and insert it in the space.

I didn’t write every day but I nearly did. I spent about 8 hours writing on the weekend and only 1-3 hours during the weekdays. I also decided to skip the years my children were small because I had created scrapbooks for them that recorded the good, bad, and ugly of those times. I refer to that in my book.

I have the free version of Grammarly and that helps tremendously with the spelling and punctuation. It underlines using a faint red line to highlight what needs possible correction. You just click on the underlined word and options are given to you.

Word of caution – the recalling of all of these memories does result in some odd dreams so be aware of that occurring. Nothing sinister, mind you, just a mix of your life events. For example, I dreamed about my deceased mother and a maternal aunt, along with a living cousin who was holding a beautiful baby. My aunt told me she had something important to tell me. I then woke up. I had written about the cousin’s first child the day before. Just want to warn you that your dreams may become extremely vivid while you’re writing.

Here’s what my plan now is . . . I’m going through my old photos and inserting them where appropriate in my story. Seeing the photos evoked a few more memories that I hadn’t recalled so I added a couple of paragraphs here and there. I was amazed that for the most part, my recall was fairly in chronological order. The most out-of-order time was in my college years. I don’t know why that was the case and I’d be interested to hear if you have the same result. I had completely forgotten about one of my husband’s first jobs and which summer we had gone on our first vacation. Was it between freshman and sophomore year or sophomore/junior?

Here’s another item to put on my to-do list; I discovered my photos are not in the order I want them to be so I’m creating albums. I use Google Photos and Dropbox to store them as I’m paranoid about losing the originals to a disaster. I’ve scanned them all but they were saved by when I scanned them and not by the person so I’ve got to work on that someday (when the universe tells me to haha.)

I’m almost done adding the photos and will then pull out my genealogical file on myself and look at documents. I have two from the hospital where I was born and they both have a different time of my birth. Lovely, right? My mom came up with the third time so I will never know for sure what time I arrived into the world. I’ll include both documents that wouldn’t be readily available to a descendant.

I then plan to have the story saved to a hardcover book, probably through Amazon but I’ve gotten that far to make a final determination. I’ll keep you updated when I get there and please let me know what you’ve done, Dear Reader, as I’d appreciate the input.

Here’s to Your Story in 2022!

Genealogy At Heart is Reading . . .

Photo courtesy of Fordham Institute

Here’s what I’ve been reading this week that I think you may find interesting:

When is Day of the Dead? The HIstory Behind Dia de los Muertos by Claudia Preza. Reader’s Digest, 19 October 2021.

6 Misconceptions About the Vikings by Jake Rossen, Mental Floss, 20 October 2021.

When Truman is Your Grandpa: The Complicated Lives of Presidential Descendants by Roxanne Roberts, Washington Post, 26 October 2021.

Archaeologists Unearth ‘Once-in-a-lifetime’ Discovery of Complete Roman Statues in U.K. by Sammy Westfall, Washington Post, 29 October 2021.

Train Tidbits

Two weeks ago, two visitors from New York visited my local genealogical society museum and asked me questions I couldn’t provide answers with certainty. I checked with the Coordinator and she said no one knows. I set out to solve the mysteries.

First question was how much was the train fare from New York to Florida? There was a “fast” train that left New York City’s Grand Central and arrived in Tarpon Springs, Florida in 36 hours with only one transfer. Sounds like it should be a simple look up but apparently, no information about ticket prices remains. When I couldn’t find it online I reached out to a Florida state archivist for help. He directed me to a blog by the New York Public Library. I took their advice and began searching old newspapers. I used the Library of Congress Chronicling America, Ancestry’s connection to Newspapers.com, MyHeritage.com and GenealogyBank.com.

I found “special” prices, such as a half price for a round trip from Tampa to Jacksonville during winter holidays. Other reduced fares were given for various organizations, such as Boy Scouts going to camp and church groups going to conventions. There was also marketing gimmicks; the Tampa Merchants Association in November 1913 refunded tickets for a minimum of $1.00 per mile up to 20 miles for out of town shoppers from Plant City, Lakeland and Ft. Myers who had spent at least $20.00 shopping in Tampa. The day to day prices were no where to be found, however.

Train schedules for North America are posted in paperss but with the announcement at the bottom to contact the local ticket agent for prices. Schedules are also found in online books for several years in the late 1800’s through Hathi Trust. Nowhere are the prices listed.

I then turned my search around to read newspaper articles about transportation. I discovered in 1902 that the east coast of Florida rate for travel on the [Henry] Plant Lines was 3 cents per mile while the west coast, on the Atlantic Coast Lines, was 4 cents. The editorial department hoped that a reduced fare for the west coast would occur soon. Freight, as in your baggage or as produce being sent north, rose from 30 cents a box in 1889 to 40 cents a box in 1890. The price never dropped but rose consistently over the years. More editorials bemoaned the high prices farmers had to pay and railed (pun intented) against the 33 1/3% cost increase in one season.

The cost of fare was so near and dear to the west coast community that in 1907, the St. Petersburg Times newspaper refused to endorse R. Hudson Burr, the Florida Railroad Commissioner for Governor, as he had promised six years earlier to reduce fare prices. That hadn’t happened and Burr never won.

Back in my youth, Florida had a high and low season for tourists. That meant prices rose during the high season (fall and winter) and dropped in the low season (spring and summer). Think about it, no one in their right mind would visit the high humidity bug infested state during hurricane season. With air conditioning and insect repellent, people now come all year round. I thought maybe the train fares fluctuated with the season. There did seem to be more “excursions” in the summer months, like the $3.50 from Tampa to Jacksonville in June 1903. It’s about 199 miles and at 4 cents a mile, that would cost $7.96. But Tampa is on the west coast and Jacksonville on the east. The Plant line did go to Tampa and ended at his famous Plant Hotel, now the University of Tampa. If his fare rate was used the cost would have been $5.97 for the trip.

That got me thinking that I needed to check other state fares. The Allentown, Pennsylvania Leader announced the governor had signed a bill for fares of 2 cents per mile in Pennsylvania in April 1907. Fare rates noted in the Buffalo, New York Evening News in 1906 mentioned a bill that reduced rates to 2 cents a mile in the state. I don’t know if the fare rates ended at the state border and then the next state’s rates applied. This was much more complicated than I had initially thought it would be.

It appears that originally the railroad companies set the prices which is logical, as they were trying to recoup their initial investment. It would have taken a lot more work to install lines through swampy Florida than in upstate New York. New York also had alternatives to trains. Their roads were in far better condition than the trails through the west coast of Florida that only could be manuevered by ox cart and when it hadn’t rained, which wasn’t often. Going upriver from New York City to Albany was also not a long and dangerous trip. The other alternative in Florida was taking a ship from a large port, like Tampa, Key West or New Orleans and trying to reach your destination either by foot or steamboat from there. Eventually, though, the state legislatures set prices.

Interestingly, I discovered several newspaper accounts beginning in 1900 that mentioned the special fare offers were “Open to Blacks and Whites.” This led to the next question that the visitors from New York asked – Did people of color ride in the back of the train car (ala Rosa Parks) or did they have a separate car (as in Plessy vs. Ferguson). This answer was quickly available thanks to the laws of the state. Chapter 3743 [No. 63] Sections 1-5 of Florida State Statutes 1887 made it clear “That all railroad companies doing business in this State shall sell to all respectable persons of color first-class tickets, on application, at the same rates that white persons are charged; and shall furnish and set apart for the use of persons of color who purchased such first-class tickets a car or cars in each passenger train as may be necessary to convey passengers equally as good, and provided with the same facilities for comfort, as shall or may be provided for white persons using and traveling as passengers on first-class tickets.” The law goes on to state the conductor or other train staff make sure to enforce the law and could be liable for a fine of between $25-500.00 for failing to abide by it. The staff was also to prevent whites from insulting or annoying people of color. The only exception was female “colored” nurses being able to sit in the white car if they were caring for a sick person or children.

Separate but equal, not! The train station in my town, built in 1907, had a wall that separated whites from everyone else. The white area was larger, had two restrooms, one for each gender, and a larger ticket window. The black section had less space, a smaller ticket window and only one bathroom to be shared. That certainly in not equal, however, the law didn’t state the stations had to be equal, just the train car. I was unable to find a picture of a passenger car for Blacks in Florida but a visitor this week said he had seen an actual car in Savannah, Georgia, and the car was not equal. There was little leg room and he equated it to the difference between flying first class vs. economy. I haven’t reached out yet to the Georgia State Railroad Museum but plan to.

The third question the New York visitors asked was when did the train segregation end? Although the law changed, the practices of seperate but equal did not end immediately. Although my personal experience does not relate to trains, in my youth in the mid-1970’s, the St. Petersburg city hall had two separate water fountains labeled Blacks and Whites. You could use either, however, I noticed that older Blacks continued to use the one they always had. Into the mid-1960’s there was also a very racist mural on the wall of the building that pictured minstrels. The story of how it was removed is interesting and the whereabouts of the painting remain a mystery. You can read about it here.

Analyzing the information discovered does shed light on why fares weren’t recorded. Those wealthy enough to afford to travel didn’t need to worry about the cost. Those without disposable income had to wait for a bargain or find an alternative way. I can’t prove the railroad’s lack of price transparency hurt anyone who was not wealthy but who knows for sure that all ticket agents were ethical. I suspect the fares changed if an agent did not deem someone “respectable” as per the law. Check out eBay – tickets from most lines DID NOT have a price. Dear Readers, if you have an old train receipt with a fare listed I’d appreciate you providing me a photo. Send to genealogyatheart@gmail.com. Much Appreciated!

Your Town’s History – A Treasure Hunt

I’ve lived in my small city for 17 years – longest I’ve been in one place in my entire life.  With all the rain we’ve been having, I decided I would spend time learning more about my town’s history.  Nothing like curling up on the couch during a storm with a good book!

A week ago, I visited my local historical society and spoke with the archivist.  She kindly loaned me two books.  One is sourced beautifully so it’s led me to find more information.  It was written by a former historical society member whose career was in library science.  The other book was a commemorative of the city’s 125th anniversary and was written by historians/archeologists noted in the state. The commemorative book begins with pre-colonization, the other book begins with the town’s founding.

I discovered an online out of print book written by a local in the 1960’s when he was in his 80’s.  He personally knew many of the founders so his perspective is slightly different than those of the other authors.  There is one more book I’d like to locate that will give me a perspective from the immigrants who arrived here circa 1905.  Then I plan to peruse old newspaper articles for additional information.

I’ve learned several things…

  1. There once were two Native American middens – one a kitchen midden that was leveled for home construction and the other, near downtown, was a gravesite that was desecrated by a noted Smithsonian archeologist who decided to have the middle sliced in half so he could quickly see the strata.  He discovered skulls and charred bones.  No one seems to know where those remains have been interred.  
  2. The first burial in the city cemetery was that of a murder victim.  The shooter was never charged as it was determined to be accidental.  Um, sure.
  3. Hamilton Disston was a fishing buddy of the then-governor and was allowed to purchase large tracts of land he selected because the state was insolvent.  He bid .25/acre and then, turned around and told those who were already land owners that they had to pay him $1.25/acre for the land they were on.  No one took this to court?  And we complain about tech billionaires today!  
  4. My city had the first female physician and the first female pharmacist in the state.  
  5. We had electricity early until we didn’t.  The man who supplied it decided to relocate south and not telling anyone, dismantled his equipment and left town.  The residents woke up one morning to discover they had no electricity.  When someone checked they discovered he was gone so a small group of business leaders decided they would take over the building he vacated.  It had been the original ice house and to this day, is a power plant.  If you are a long time reader you know I frequently complain about power outages – now I understand that this is just part of the city’s culture lol.

I’m glad I took this dive into my town’s past.  Wearing my genealogical hat, I have a different lens which I analyze the information presented in what I’m reading.  It’s also led me to question some of the conclusions that were drawn.  Now, when I drive around town I have a better understanding of why buildings were placed where they were and the people who once populated them.  
To get started, visit your local historical society or library.  Use the references provided in any books or pamphlets to lead you to additional information.  Definitely check out online resources but be wary, as they may be wrong!  I discovered last year that Wikipedia claims the location of a nearby city’s first orphanage address to be wrong based on documents I found in a university archive.  Property records supported the archive information.  Like always, double and triple check your findings.  Drive or walk around, if possible, or use Google Maps to get a visual of what you discover.  
I’ve considered this a treasure hunt in my own backyard.  After being home for the past year plus, it’s a wonderful way to reacclimate to your community.  

Genealogy, Freedom and Acceptance – Black Lives Do Matter

It’s Independence Day here in the U.S. and this one will be like none I’ve previously spent.  Got a 3 part text from the Surgeon General of our state notifying us to “Avoid the 3 Cs Closed Spaces, Crowded Places & Close-Contact Settings.”  Kind of catchy!  Later that day, the bureaucrats came out stating the typical spin that this will poof be gone so no worries.  The disconnect would be funny if it wasn’t so sad for the millions who are suffering because of the disease or its side effects, such as unemployment, eviction, food shortage, and so on.  We plan on staying home and hubby has ventured out to the grocery store WITH HIS MASK to get our traditional picnic dinner that we usually have with family in the park right before the fireworks display.  This year, we’re eating it for lunch in our backyard on a quilt our daughter made to commemorate the times.  We’ll use the quilt every year from now on and perhaps next year will be different, perhaps not.  Like the immortal lyrics sung by Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” My family and I realize how privileged we are and this temporary loss of our freedoms to go where we want with no restrictions is a small price to pay to insure our community stays safe.  Others aren’t so fortunate now or in the past.
The past week I have been heavily into researching my Daniel Hollin[g]shead to prove or disprove he was the only Daniel from Leicestershire, England that went to Barbados and became a real estate mogul in the Eastern New Jersey colonies.  I’m at the point I can say I have strong evidence but I want to make sure I haven’t made an error somewhere so I await a few more documents to examine.  Those records – the Bible he brought with him from England, a manuscript donated by family of a Presbyterian minister in South Carolina to an archive in Wisconsin, and a list of military men who died in the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704 would add further support or not.  The “or not” is key to the previous sentence and it’s what I love most about genealogy.  We think we know, we think we’ve found everything, we think we understand until a new document is discovered that throws us for a loop.  
In the past three weeks I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster ride with my findings.  I’ve had to face the facts and process that my gateway ancestor wasn’t the pious Quaker that I always thought of him.  Family legend stated that he was indentured to Barbados, possibly as a tailor, since he was the oldest son and his father, a tax collector, had died.  There was the issue that some of the money collected didn’t get turned in to the King’s treasury.  
I guess my interpretation of that information says a lot about my personality.  I was fine with the religion – I’m pretty much a nonconformist myself.  His “career” choice was okay, too. I love to sew and once had my own costume business so maybe that was how my skill came about. The missing tax money I attributed to an error or the sudden death of Daniel’s father but it all got resolved at the end so life was good.  
I never realized that I tend to make excuses for my ancestors actions and try to rationalize their behavior turning it into a positive explanation.  Until now.
In early June, I took every document I had on Daniel and his purported father, Francis and reviewed them.  I then asked a member of my local genealogy society who is a Brit and experienced with the time period I was working with to examine them for her suggestions.  She pointed out that the son of  a tax collector at the time would not have been indentured as a tailor so that story, with no documents, was probably untrue.  Britain had a rigid class system I hadn’t considered.  There was a Daniel who was a tailor in London but he was of an older generation than the Leicestershire Daniel.  There was also an indenture record for a different Hollingshead line but it was also for a much later time period than Leicestershire Daniel.  Perhaps, she suggested, that the family story got muddled over the past 300 years.  Heck, if we can’t even have our government officials in the same day have the same story, a 300 year time span certainly would have some errors. She suggested I search for more records and then reanalyze the findings.  Great advice!
Now I’ve looked for documents on this family for years and years and I can’t explain why I happened to find so much in just 3 weeks.  What I discovered is disturbing to me and altered my perspective of Daniel’s life and my own.  I still am working through it.
I discovered some conflicting evidence based on bios in old books.  One source stated he was born in Lancashire; the others all stated Leicestershire.  That was the first of my sick to my stomach feelings – I had put out the wrong info and so many other’s trees blindly accepted it as fact.  If that turned out to be correct, I didn’t even know how I could fix the problem.  I took a break, cleared my head and then began to research Hollin[g]sheads in Lancashire and found two families in two different parishes but he wasn’t there.  I examined the citations for the Lancashire book and hunted down the first source, another old book.  That book provided a different source so I searched for it and surprise, the initial source DID NOT HAVE LANCASHIRE – it didn’t name a location.  I’m still waiting to see what the second source states – that’s possibly the documents in Wisconsin.  I’m seeking a manuscript written before 1800 in Charleston, South Carolina.  Daniel never even visited South Carolina (or Wisconsin) so my theory of looking where they never lived seems to be supported again.  I also wanted to find the Bible to see what was recorded there.  Until I found the old bios from the 1800’s I didn’t know it even existed.  The last record of it was October 1882 in Chicago. I’m grateful to a genealogist from the New England Genealogical and Historical Society who provided a look up for me this week.  That immensely helped me move forward with finding the Bible.
The person who owned the Bible never married and had no children.  She predeceased her two brothers.  A sister, ironically, moved to a few miles from where I currently live with her husband and died there in 1939.  She had no children.  I suspect the Bible was given to a cousin from a different line who had received some other family memorabilia.  He was living in Manhattan at the time the Bible owner was and he had three children.  My theory is it was passed down to one of his children.  So I spent a day trying to locate the living of those lines.  I emailed 4 individuals and received a response from one.  Doesn’t say if she has it or not but that, to her knowledge, the Bible never contained genealogical information.  I laughed, that would be my family!  They never notate on photos, keep records, etc.  I’m not giving up hope that the current owner comes forward to verify that.
I also was trying to think of reasons why Daniel would leave Leicestershire.  Several old books mention he, as did several of his brothers, served in the Battle of Blenheim which was in August 1704.  My Brit friend stated that the brother who had died there as a Captain under the Duke of Marlborough (who Winston Churchill is descended from) would have been in the class of a tax collector so that further supports I have the correct Daniel.  She suggested finding proof of their military experience.  The National Archives of Great Britain doesn’t have it.  I’ve reached out to a few military societies in England hoping someone somewhere has the info.  
I then theorized Daniel went to Barbados because he was in the military and I began to read up on the history of that island.  The history is not pretty!  I knew there sugar plantations; his second wife, Thomasine Hasel’s father was an owner of one.  I knew there were slaves but I didn’t think much about them over the years.  I now know a lot and it is relatable to our current times.  
I was astounded to learn that Lord Cromwell placed many Scotts and Irish men into slavery.  How had I missed that?  I never knew how far back slavery went.  I do remember learning in school that the Romans had slaves but I thought they were prisoners of war.  I didn’t know that Africans were taken as slaves because of their religious convictions.  I never thought about the Spanish and Portuguese using and abusing African slaves before settling the “new world.”  I was astounded to read an archaeological  study that explored a former sugar plantation in Barbados and determined that economic power brokers in London had made the decision to exploit so they could become richer.  The evidence was buried in the soil, untouched for 400 years.  
I’m still coming to terms with the picture posted at the top of this blog.  Daniel died intestate in 1730 in Somerset County, New Jersey.  You can see from the inventory that he owned slaves.  I am sickened at the thought.  
My mantra has always been I identify with the underdog as I am one of them. I have been discriminated against because I was the only child in my parochial school whose parents were divorced at a time when divorce was frowned upon.  I was repeatedly called a carpetbagger because I was a northerner who had relocated to the south.  Some of my husband’s family would not accept me because my grandparents were immigrants.  They made negative comments about my religion.  I had a relationship severed by a friend because she hated my religion, too.  
Those experiences and my interpretation of my ancestry made me wrongly believe I was the great grand daughter of an indentured servant of Caribbean. I thought that made me linked in kinship and someone who understood the hardships of African Americans.  Geez, I even grew up in Gary, Indiana so I certainly understood the black experience, right?  WRONG!  
Growing up, even though I was at the lower rungs of the social economic ladder did not take away my white privilege.  I never asked for it but I inherited it.  As I reflect, I could have and should have done more. Coming out about my family’s involvement in slavery is not easy for me to accept but it is necessary. My blog today is my first step in this journey.
Who were “Tippeo, an old negro-man, Jack, Lelia, Jack, a boy, Bellinda and Dido?” What became of them?  Were they related?  I don’t know but intend to try to find out.  
This Independence Day I am reflecting on the past and trying to make plans for the future. My people had freedom and took away others’ freedom so that they could prosper.  I’m not sure how to make amends but I will work it out going forward.  I hope you will join me if you are at the same point in your life that I am.  Being embarrassed, sorry and ashamed isn’t enough.  Black Lives Matter – always have and always will.  It’s time for change and I will be a positive force in that.

Saturday Morning Confusion and Insights

It’s been an interesting day in the Samuelson household which is the reason my blog is late. I don’t know about you but since we’ve been sheltering-in-place, we’ve had way too many broken devices.  The odd thing is that most were under warranty and when those were being “serviced,” it resulted in another breakage. First it was the hot tub, then it was the refrigerator, and now it’s a yard that is a total disaster.

Before the world came to a stop, hubby and I had discussed having a well put in so that our garden could be watered more frequently in the dry season then our city permits.  I had contacted a company who said they would be out the following week which turned out to be 6 weeks later.  Now this wasn’t the fault of the company; in our area there are various environmental permits that must be acquired and the company couldn’t comply with the laws because none of the other organizations were opened.  Finally, the permits were obtained and the well was supposed to be drilled yesterday.

My husband told the two service men to be careful because he thought there was buried cables where they planned to dig.  I then showed them a photo from the last time we had the underground cable locators out showing exactly where the buried lines were.  Did these two guys listen?  Since you already know the answer, I’ll just continue…

Hubby was on a work related Zoom meeting and I was researching on FindMyPast when the internet connection was lost.  We went outside and there were these two young men looking sullenly down at the broken cables.  They had also cut the sprinkler line.  

Thank goodness we were able to have the line restored this morning but then there was the matter of who was paying for the charge.  The owner of the well company said he would take care of it but the connection wasn’t a simple one and now someone else is going to have to come out to bury cable and get it under our driveway.  And dig up the whole front of our yard to bury the new line.

In the meantime, while the well company was trying to fix the broken sprinkler line, a torrential downpour occurred.  They left in a hurry with the job undone.  Hubby, who had been trying to help them, came in drenched and cold.  I ordered him to the shower and that’s when we realized they had the water turned off.  So, out we go in the downpour to turn the water back on.  Then we noticed that something was amiss – we just didn’t have the pressure we had previously had.  After the storm subsided we went back outside and discovered the company had left the sprinkler on and it had been coming out full force for two hours.  This resulted in flooding on that side of the house.  Yeah, it’s been a day!  But we do have internet!!!

So, being homebound with no access to the outside world I decided I would catch up on my reading.  I am happy to report I’ve read my back issues of Smithsonian, National Geo, AAA and various journals.  My favorite, though, was the winter issue of American Ancestors.  The entire magazine is devoted to the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.  Even if you aren’t a Mayflower descendant, this is a must read.

My favorite articles were “We are still here,” a Wampanoag perspective, “Keeping Tradition Alive, A Portrayal of Wampanoag Life,” “New Discoveries in Mayflower Genealogy Uncovering Connections through DNA,” “Finding Unexpected Mayflower Kinships,” and “Ideas for Future Mayflower Research.”

The last three articles provide hints for anyone who is trying to locate records from the time period, even if you don’t have a Mayflower connection.  Checking manorial records, registers, and recusancy (a record of nonconformists who refused to attend Church of England services) are excellent sources to use to hunt down your elusive ancestors. I had used the recusancy records years ago when researching some of my Quaker ancestors but had forgotten about that tool.  I plan to check it out again as I search for one of my Hollingshead family members who had left merry ole England for New Jersey by way of Barbados.

The first two articles, from a Native American perspective, were clearly the best of the bunch.  I learned so much and what sticks in my mind most is the original reason for wampum belts.  If you thought, as I had, they were currency, well, you just have to read the article.  I was blown away by truth.  (Hint:  read page 27!)  I was aware of Native American’s culture that honors the elderly and ancestors but I had no idea the artistry in the remembrances that was involved.  The deep symbolism in a wampum belt will remain with me forever.  

Reformed Dutch Church Records


Photo courtesy of https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org

A few weeks ago, I wrote about free genealogy newsletters I receive.  I failed to mention I also read other genealogy blogs.  Recently I read a wonderful article about New York Reformed Dutch church records.

Both my husband and I have ancestors who resided in New Amsterdam.  Although I haven’t extensively researched those individuals, the blog article gave me new insights.  Here’s what really stands out to add to my knowledge base:

  • Before 1664, the Reformed Dutch was the ONLY denomination permitted so if  your ancestor was not of that religious persuasion and wanted to marry or attend a church service, the records are most likely held by the Reformed Dutch.  Who knew?! 
  • Although the church in Manhattan founded in 1628 is still in existence today, records are only available from 1639.  That’s interesting because the physical church was erected in 1642.  That same year a second church was erected in Albany.  
  • Collegiate churches had 1 minister that traveled between several locations and all the records were maintained by the 1 minister.  I have found that happened in New Jersey in the early 1700’s also.  
  • Many Germans came to New Amsterdam and attended the Dutch church.  Even after the city changed hands and became New York, Germans who immigrated continued to attend the Dutch church so make sure you look over Dutch church records.
  • The two databases on Ancestry.com for Dutch Church Records are NOT the same, even though they appear to be.  There are a few names missing in one database so check both.  As is always a good practice, go beyond using the index and browse the records as the transcription may be in error or the spelling may have been slightly changed from what you are seeking.
  • Check out the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s databases. I neglected to mention in my last blog that I also get their free weekly newsletter.  

Old Letters

Yesterday, we had a beautiful fall day and the change in temperature was such a welcome relief from summer’s heat.  I remarked to a passerby how delightfully cool the morning breeze felt and our brief conversation about the weather turned to his place of origin, Trinidad and Tobago.  I mentioned my family was indentured in Barbados in the 1700’s and that I’ve traveled to Grenada several times and love the island.   The gentleman laughed and said his mother was from Grenada and his father from Barbados.  Such a small world!

Then I listened to an interesting podcast, Sarah Gray Cary From Boston to  Grenada that I highly recommend.

Don’t you just love reading old family letters?  I certainly do!  We don’t often think about all the valuable information that an old letter contains.  Primary sources, names, places, dates and events that are recorded can provide us with clues to find other historical records, such as wills, journals, diaries, passenger lists and perhaps, even more letters.

The podcast discusses letters written by Bostonian Sarah Gray Cary who had relocated to Grenada in the Caribbean.  Grenada has had an interesting history as it went from French to British ownership.  The letters were written at the start of the American Revolution as Sarah took the last ship out of Boston after the tea party to join her husband who had taken a job on the island.  She left behind her infant son due to the hardship of the trip thinking they would be reunited soon.  Due to war, however, they did not see each other again for 10 years.   

The letters are Sarah’s only way to connect with her child and other family members.  Not only must she persevere over the unexpected length of her separation, she must learn to embrace three cultures.  

After listening to the podcast, I plan on getting the book to read this fascinating true life story.  Enjoy!

Even on Vacation Genealogy Abounds

I’m back from my dream vacation in Peru.  Ever since I was in the 3rd grade, I’ve yearned to travel there thanks to a National Geographic for Kids article.  Finally got the opportunity and even though it was a bucket list item and not for genealogical purposes, I’m sure you’re not surprised that genealogy related happenings occurred.

Our guide, Washington, related on our first meeting that he was 50% Incan and 50% Spanish, known as a mestizo.  He introduced us to one of sixty remaining shaman who lives in the Andes and speaks Quechuan.  Thankfully, Washington was an awesome translator as the shaman doesn’t speak Spanish or English.  Washington learned Quechuan as his mother’s side has passed it down for centuries.  The shaman had his DNA done and reported he was between 96-98% Incan, depending on the test.  Nice reminder that the test pool determines the percentage, even in the most remote areas of the planet!

One of our stops was to visit a cemetery in Cuzco, pictured above.  Families may “rent” a burial site and if the rent is not renewed or the space purchased, the body is cremated and interred in another portion of the cemetery.  Families visit the cemetery often and remember the dead by displaying memorabilia from their life in a niche in front of the coffin that had been plastered into the assigned space.  Items for purchase – such as flowers, vases, alcohol in tiny bottles, and career related articles – a small truck for a former truck driver, for example – may be purchased by vendors lined up outside the grounds. 

Remembering ancestors is so important to this culture that high school honor students are selected to intern in the cemetery to serve as helpers to families who have come to visit their loved ones.  As young people, they climb the ladders to change the flowers, tidy the memorial and clean the glass that keeps out the dirt.  Washington translated for us a conversation with one of the students who was hoping to earn a spot in a technical college to study tourism.  He demonstrated how he takes care of a niche. 

As a genealogist, I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries so I guess it was not surprising that I recognized Washington’s surname shortly after arriving.  I asked him if he was related and he said he didn’t know.  I then asked if his surname was considered common.  He said it was not.  I recommended he ask his mother about the relationship as he had mentioned, as the family matriarch, she knew the family’s history.  Made me laugh when he said he often wondered about the relationship; just like clients in my area who never think to ask until it’s too late.

The Inca’s probably had a written language, however, most records were destroyed by the Spanish.  If you’re looking to discover your lineage, the oldest records will not be found in Peru.  Just like the oldest records from Florida and Cuba, where I traveled last summer, the earliest documents were returned to Spain. 

Where to Search for Your Immigrant U.S. Ancestors

If you are researching when your ancestors arrived in the U.S., it’s important to know what documents were available to show immigration status.  Although it’s possible your forefathers didn’t become naturalized citizens, meaning they were granted citizenship, it’s wise to check records to gain family insights.

Before the break with Great Britain, immigrants to what is now the U.S. were considered subjects of the crown.  In 1776, every man, woman and child, excluding Native Americans and African Americans, were granted “collective” citizenship.  No documents exist to state that status, however.  It was a right earned by merely being in the country at the time it separated from Great Britain.

Between 1776-1789, an immigrant who purchased land could become a citizen through denization.  Check land records, if available.  Citizens who became naturalized through denization, however, could not hold public office.  An “oath of allegiance” was required to obtain voting rights and to hold a public office.  Oaths were recorded in court records. Even if your relative did not seek naturalization, they were required by law to report to the nearest court and register that they were residing in the country.  Check Report and Registry logs between 1798-1828. 

Although the laws changed between 1790-1906, typically 3 steps must have been completed for an individual to be considered naturalized.  After having a Declaration of Intention filed with the local court, a final petition 1-2 years later would need to be submitted in a court in the nearest town.  You may have to check various towns as settlers could complete the paperwork where they currently resided.  After the petition was accepted, a Certificate of Naturalization was provided by the local court.

Prior to 1906, immigration records were not as complete as in later years.  Only the country of origin and not the city/town may have been listed as people were on the move.  Typically, parent information was excluded but you may get lucky.  For these later records, you will need to file a request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Prepare for a long wait – I have had to wait over a year to obtain my grandparents paperwork but it was well worth it.  The photo alone was a gem!