Genealogy Reminders from Coco


If you haven’t seen the Disney movie that came out last fall, Coco, then you must do it soon. I’m not the kind of person that watches the same shows again and again but I have seen Coco 3 times. Here’s why I think Coco is important to genealogy and will help you with your research:

Customs – the story takes place in Mexico on the eve of Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Even though my family never celebrated that holiday, we sure celebrated many others. Think back to your own childhood and identify customs that your family practiced. Did Aunt Marge always bring a special dish? If so, ask why before it’s too late. I regret not writing down the words in Croatian that my grandparents said before Christmas Eve dinner. I know it was brought with them from the Old Country but unfortunately, that custom is now lost to me.

Photo clues – One of my favorite parts of Coco is the altar of photos. I don’t have that layout but I do have a family tree of photos on the wall in my office. Those photos are of couples going back 5 generations. Around the tree I’ve placed pictures of large family gatherings to include more of the extended family. I also received as a Christmas gift a metal tree that holds smaller photos. I’ve placed pictures of many of those couples as infants on this stand alone tree. By seeing the “big picture” you can often identify people in other photos that were considered unknown.

In Coco, the main character, Miguel, accidentally discovers a displayed photo had been altered and the missing person is critical to his story. That part of the film made me laugh as my family does the same thing Miguel’s family did! I inherited some photos from a deceased second cousin and one of them was torn vertically to remove someone. I’ve never been able to find a copy of the intact photo but from the dress of the remaining individual, it appears that it was taken before a cantakerous divorce. There’s a story behind every missing person in a photo and it pays to try to uncover it.

Making Wrong Assumptions – Like Miguel, I’ve been down the wrong trail of who I thought was family. Aided by spirits, he was able to uncover the truth. You don’t have to hire a medium to find the answer – simply take a DNA test. One of my husband’s cousins is doing a Lazarus project on a line through Gedmatch. I’ll be writing about it soon but in the meantime, if you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s trying to “raise the dead” by comparing the living’s DNA. The results can help you insure you’re researching your direct family lines.

FAN Club – Miguel learns all about a neighbor of his great grandfather and that connection with his family is a key to the story. What I especially like about this genealogy tip is that the connection isn’t an immediate neighbor or made through a religious organization, such as being a baptism sponsor. This connection is career related and sometimes we overlook that. Checking out union records, membership in business associations and even competitors in an industry could provide you with a wealth of information about an ancestor’s life.

Family Stories – We all have our legends and just like Miguel’s, they get convoluted in the retelling. To separate the facts from fiction in yours, first write down the story as you remember hearing it. If possible, ask another family member to tell you what they remember of the story. There will be some differences and note those. Next, research to see if there were records for the event mentioned. Newspapers, court documents, and even almanacs can help you determine the factual basis of the story. Getting the correct story may help you find that missing marriage record or place of death so this approach is well worth the effort.

Uncovering Buried Memories – The most poignant part of the movie for me was when Abuelita identifies her father, Miguel’s great grandfather. Miguel is so gentle when talking with his senile grandmother and to get information before it’s too late can’t be stressed enough. I interviewed my maternal grandmother and mother before their memories became difficult to access. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded it instead of taking notes. If you haven’t interviewed your older relatives plan on doing that soon.

Our Gifts – Miguel loved music while the rest of his living family did not. His genealogical journey helped him understand where his talent came from. By looking deeper into your family’s history, you’ll uncover much more than just birth-marriage-death info – you’ll discover people you wish you’d met and others who you’d love to understand why they made the choices they did. Some people we can closely identify with, others, not so much. They’re all a part of us and we’re all connected. Like Miguel’s family, we need to make peace with the past so the future can be brighter.

Leaving a Media Record of Your Family History


Yesterday I attended an all day seminar sponsored by my local genealogy society. As always, I learned something new and enjoyed the camaraderie of others who are passionate about genealogy. Lisa Louise Cooke was the primary speaker and I absolutely fell in love with her use of media to share her family stories. I agree with her that the family members that get that glazed over look when you start talking about ancestors would show an interest in a short video presentations that highlighted an ancestor’s life.

Lisa used Animoto and I plan to explore that site in the next few weeks (as soon as my new floors are in and the dust can finally settle!) On the long drive home I thought about several “stories” I could portray. I’d love to do one including 8 mm movie clips I have of my husband and his siblings for his retirement. I’m thinking about making another for my DAR daughter tracing the line from the patriot to her. Would definitely make one about farming since it’s so ingrained in my blood; my son would enjoy that one as he’s the hydroponic expert for the rest of us.

I think what I found most appealing was that the story can be “told” in so many different ways. Words can be included or not. Music or a song can be added or not. Maps and still photos can be used, along with video clips and photogs. The possibility seems endless.

If you’re having difficulty writing your family’s story this might be perfect way for you to get moving. If you’ve made a family video let me know – I’d love to check it out and learn from you.

Photo Preservation for Genealogy

I found it interesting that four of Legacy Family Tree’s top 10 webinars of 2016 revolved around photography (Dating Family Photographs – 1900-1940 by Jane Neff Rollins;  Enriching Your Family History through Pictures and Stories by Amie Bowser Tennant; Scrapbooking & Journaling for Family History by Amie Bowser Tennant; and Share, Store, and Save Your Family Photos by Maureen Taylor).  I guess you could even make a case that a fifth one also involves photos (Crowdsourcing with Social Media to Overcome Brick Walls in Genealogy Research by Amie Bowser Tennant) since FaceBook and Pinterest are valuable genealogical tools to find photos.

I love discovering photos and when I perform Client work I try to add them to a project.  Staring into the eyes of an ancestor elicits emotions like no other item can! 

So, that’s why I’m worried about the present habits we have developed (no pun intended!) regarding preserving our photos.  Our smart phones and other devices have made preserving memories incredibly quick, easy and inexpensive.  I use my phone’s camera for recording anything I want to refer back to, such as a whiteboard that was used during a brainstorm session in a meeting, two garments I might purchase to see which would better match the shoes I left at home, and of course, family events.  I take more photos now than at any earlier stages of my life.  I also have a horrible habit of not preserving those photos I take.  

As I walk throughout my home I noticed that most of the framed photos I have on display were taken by a professional.  Back in the day, having a photograph made was an event in and of itself.  First you had to find the studio, then book an appointment, make sure everyone was dressed and ready to go and finally, return days later to view the proofs to select which you wanted to purchase.  Another trip was necessary to pick up the final product.  No wonder most of those photos are still around.  So much time, effort and cost was involved the photo was determined to be valuable.

Today, not at all.  Snap, click, delete if it wasn’t to everyone’s liking or share if it was.  We don’t print out photos like we did in the past.  Right after the “Years of the Hurricanes” in Florida in the early 2000’s I would have said it was a blessing not to have more photos to lug during an evacuation. CD and Cloud technology seemed like such a great idea.  It was the hurricanes that forced me to scan and save my family’s photos – those from the 1800’s to the recent scrapbooks I had created as my children grew up.  I thought I was being so smart when I saved to CD’s and gave them out as Christmas gifts to various relatives.  My thought was to spread them around to increase the likelihood that they would be preserved.  Have a wildfire in California or a twister in the Midwest?  No worries, the CD will live on in New England.  I never thought about CD’s going away or family members who misplaced them.  

When Cloud technology came out I simply transferred everything online.  How convenient to be able to access those photos from anywhere!  But the program I used, Picassa, became defunct.  So I transferred them to Google Photos and Dropbox and Ancestry.  

It just hit me I’ve preserved the past but not the present.  I’m not saving my current photos at the rate that I did before.  Our family’s Thanksgiving pics are still in my phone, along with birthdays and other events I’ve recently attended.  

Just as I calendar in a monthly day to download my gedcom from Ancestry to save to software (Legacy and RootsMagic7) on my hard drive, a stand alone hard drive and in the Cloud (Dropbox) I need to also be saving my pics.  Yes, I am paranoid but I’ve invested so much time I would be heartsick if all of those were lost.

What I need to do is to get in the habit of cleaning out the photos and preserving them.  My plan is to delete those that didn’t come out well and send those I want to keep to my computer.  I’ll back those up like I do the gedcom.  This is being added to my New Year’s Resolutions!