Sunday, May 20, 2018

Stories from Sadness


Yesterday I attended a funeral for a woman I knew well but had never met.  Her daughter was a former Client and I had done much research on the deceased's grandmother.  I've never attended a Client's family member's funeral before and it was an interesting experience.  The Minister spoke about the importance of connections and he was so right in ways he didn't even know!

I should have thought of this years ago but somehow this escaped me until now.  In grief, a lot of memories are evoked that can explain or provide hints to better understanding of the individual and their place in the family.  During the Reflection phase of the memorial service, I was struck by a piece of info that the Client had never previously shared with me regarding the family residence years ago.  Since this was between census years in a rental in a place that didn't have a City Directory, I would have been hard pressed to find where they were living and why.  It had been a troubling time, based on what I heard yesterday, and that would explain why the Client never shared it while I was working on the lines, however, it readily connected the family to another family 2 generations previously that I knew was living on that same block. 

Many of the reflections confirmed other stories I had heard; that the deceased had an uncanny ability to know everyone's date of birth and address for this large extended family.  I readily agree.  When I was in the early stages of the research, I met to share some of the findings and the Client was certain I had made an error.  After checking with the very knowledgeable family member, my data was confirmed. 

Her passing yesterday is a loss to the family in many ways; from a genealogical perspective, the stories she did not pass on might never be learned.  One of the grandchildren recorded the service thus preserving the recollections of some of the family members. 

Although emotions are raw during a funeral, important genealogical information is decimated. If you are distraught, your spouse or friend might be helpful at this time to unemotionally record the information that can assist you later.  I plan on meeting with the Client for lunch in the next few months to share the information that I learned.  I think she'll appreciate it and gain a better understanding of the past.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

To Your Health - Genealogywise!


I've blogged previously about by attempt to analyze my ancestor's health records to make lifestyle choices to keep me well (See Using Your Genealogical  Info to Make You Healthy).  This past week, MyHeritage.com has added a new feature that you can use to include your family's medical history.  It is purportedly private and secure, allowing you to keep all of the health records of the living and deceased in one place so you can download and print a checklist of the entered information to share with your physician.

To begin, you must first click that you have read the most lengthy Terms and Conditions I've ever seen.  The next page asks you if your siblings, parents, aunts/uncles and grandparents had any of 10 medical conditions, such as stroke, heart and various cancers.  For any condition selected, possible names from your tree are then provided for you to mark.  Warning:  If you have a big family in the past 3 generations, you're going to have a lot of clicking to do!  I clicked yes for heart attack as one of my husband's relatives had that condition.  To identify who had the heart attack, the program listed my husband, his siblings, aunts/uncles and grandparents for a total of 18 people.  Only one of them had ever had a heart attack but the program will not allow you to move forward unless you click no for all of those who never had one.  Of the 4 health conditions I selected, only 3 individuals needed a yes so this process was slow and could have been really lengthy if there had been additional medical conditions selected.

Next you can add allergies, other health conditions to include the age at onset, and other characteristics, such as height, weight and eye color.  I found it interesting that height is entered in inches - I would have expected centimeters. 

One of the options is hair color.  In our family, that changes with age so I wasn't sure if I should put blonde (from someone's youth) or brown (in adulthood). 

Sleep, smoking and exercise can also be added.  No option existed for someone who never smoked but was raised in a household of smokers which I think is important. 

Once you've entered the info, various icons appear under the individual that had been selected.  This way, you can readily see patterns, if any, for a family condition. 

Errors can be corrected quickly.  I wrongly entered a stroke for my father-in-law.  Simply click on the icon, a panel appears with the conditions identified.  Clicking on the 3 dots (...) a choice to delete appears to remove the mistake. 

Once you're done adding the information for all of your relatives, you can click on the LIST button on the upper right ribbon to obtain the names of the individuals that had conditions entered.  Besides the individual's name and medical condition, birth, death, onset age and relationship is included.

The problem I see is that many of the initial conditions listed are due to lifestyle.  I'm not sure it is helpful to your physician to know that a grandparent had diabetes if no one else in the family did and you follow a good diet and exercise regime. 

Under the Nutrition category, there are several choices - omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, paleo and other - but those options alone do not tell a complete picture of nutrition.  (I'm thinking about one of my former roommates who was a vegetarian.  Her diet consisted of skipping breakfast, potato chips for a late morning snack, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, pretzels for an afternoon snack and a salad saturated in a mayo based dressing for dinner.)

A bigger concern I have is with entering misinformation.  Unless the medical condition was definitely known, including wrong information could be a serious problem.  Like with all genealogy, records should be consulted before including data going by memory alone. 

I asked two medical providers in my family what they thought of the program.   One is a physician and the other works as a chemical engineer for a medical lab.  Both laughed and said this was a serious waste of time.  Most of the medical conditions listed are due to lifestyle.  Additionally, living conditions of someone 75 years ago will not be the same as our lives today and that greatly impacts health. 

They both recommended, if there is a pattern of a medical condition in a family, a consultation with a geneticist would be more beneficial than taking the time to input the data on MyHeritage and presenting a list to your health care provider.  An added caution here is not to think that the DNA test you purchased for genealogy purposes is going to provide the specialists with the information they need.  Geneticists would provide a DNA test that is analyzed far differently than what is given by a genealogy company.  If you have concerns about your family's health, the new MyHeritage program is not going to be beneficial to your medical provider.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Food for Thought - A Good Read



I wanted to share a recent article in the New York Times, "The Historians vs The Genealogists" by John Sedgwick, who is a historian.  I was trained in the social sciences so I know that my genealogy work is influenced by my background, particularly in psychology, sociology and education.  I think that's one of the greatest benefits of genealogy as a second career; your past influences your analysis of your present research.  Collaborating with others makes the analysis even more powerful, especially if the background of the collaborators is diverse. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Mother's Day Ideas

Mother's Day is just around the corner and I thought of some unique ideas that don't take a lot of time that mom would really value.  Lucky you, since you're into genealogy, you've got the information to share.

This idea I got from my church - they requested a brief (meaning less than 500 words) bio of a special mom.  Note the word special; that mom doesn't have to be by blood.  I really liked that concept.  So remember those special moms on Mother's Day, too!  Not sure who that could be?  Think family friend, neighbor, teacher, or perhaps, an older sister. that you looked to for guidance.  If they're no longer living, create a Find-A-Grave memorial page or donate to a cause they were passionate about.

Now back to the brief bio idea...this only takes a few minutes to write, print and frame.  Add a picture and get some input from siblings or grandchildren.  A personalized gift was always valued by my mom and I wish I had thought of this while she was still living.

Last month, Ancestry.com advertised a Mother's Day promotion and even though it's too late to enter, the method, a video, is another wonderful way to honor  mom.  I think it would be awesome to highlight several moms in a line this way.  Adding music of the time period, documents with signatures and your voice over as a connection across the ages could be powerful.  Geez, you could even make copies on a thumb drive to use for stocking stuffers at Christmas.

A spin off of the Ancestry.com idea made me think of a mom in my past that had overcome adversity.  Your tree is most likely full of hard working women who have made a positive impact.  Pick one as your heroine and simply write that individuals name on a stickee to be placed near your computer.  If you have her picture, put it on your phone for another visible reminder of strength.  We can all use a little motherly love during a stressful workday!  It's a neat gift to give yourself.



Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sometimes You Just Have to Pay for a Record

Not everything in life is free.  Genealogy can be expensive, however, IMHO, it has become much less expensive than at any time in the past.  Folks who don't want to spend money on a subscription can use the library edition of Ancestry.com at their local library.  Sure, it's not the same as an individual subscription but it suffices for the hobbyist.  Familysearch.org is free to anyone who create an account.  There are lots of records available for no cost online but we are far from the day when everything is available on the web.

Last weekend, my local genealogy society offered it's family help day.  Seven of us spent the afternoon assisting interested folks in overcoming their brick wall.  Maybe because it was such a beautiful spring day, our turnout was much lower than usual.  I only assisted 2 people all afternoon.

The first woman I assisted had a lengthy handwritten letter written in the 1960's that contained EXACT QUOTES purportedly said by a Revolutionary War patriot.  We talked about kernels of truth in family lore and how it was unlikely that the letter writer had firsthand knowledge of a conversation that occurred nearly 200 years earlier.  

Since the woman wanted her granddaughter to join the DAR, I went to their nifty ancestor search and lo and behold, there were several women who had joined based on the named individual.  She was delighted.  I provided her with the contact information for a local chapter that assists interested people at a nearby library.  I then explained what she would need to bring them - her granddaughter's birth certificate, her daughter's and her birth and marriage record, and back to whoever the last connection to the DAR member was.  She was reluctant to have to pay for any vitals.  Unfortunately, there just is no way around that.

The next inquirer had done extensive research and I was pleased that he had brought it with him.  He had three needed items - a probate record, a naturalization record and a marriage record.  He knew where and how to obtain the documents that were not online.  He just felt it was unfair to pay a New York City church $50.00 for the marriage record, the District of Columbia court for the probate record and the US Federal government for the naturalization record.  He inquired how he could find a back door for the records.  There isn't one.  The owner of the records sets the price based on how they value the record or the cost they believe they incur for someone to go in the archives and retrieve it.  He was not happy to hear that.  I suggested he prioritize which ones he wanted to obtain and pay based on his need.  I also recommended he ask family to give him those records for his birthday, Father's Day and other holidays.  He laughed.  Truly, family never knows what to give those interested in genealogy.  I'm sure they'd be happy to help in giving a gift that is truly meaningful. 

Both of these folks did not have a brick wall; they had a reluctance to spend money on a needed record.  Sometimes, you just have to pay to get what you need.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

DNA Has Changed My Habits...and not for the good, I'm afraid!


I just came to the realization that DNA has made me a lazy genealogist.  Here's why...

I have made public several trees that are quite large.  The reason for their size is because I once did surname studies - I tried to link all of the Leiningers, Harbaughs, Duers, Kos[s]s, Landfairs and Kuhns in the U.S. from an identified gateway ancestor.  I want contact from far flung relatives as I don't know these folks personally and needing closer relatives input, I made the trees public.

Due to the many places I've placed the trees online, their size, and my weekly blog posts, I get over 500 comments weekly.  Granted, many are spam, but quite a few are serious inquiries.

Before DNA, I would go to the tree mentioned, search for the name provided in the inquiry, review what citations I had and then respond.

Since DNA, I find myself instead responding with my own query - Have you had your DNA analyzed and if so, what provider did you use and what is your profile name?

Last evening, after sending the same question repeatedly, it hit me that this is a seriously lazy response to well meaning folks who've taken the time to contact me.

My intentions were never to be rude but I'm afraid that's how it's appearing.  I'm not sure how I'd feel if I was the recipient and wasn't into DNA.  I queried colleagues in my local genealogical society and they think my response is acceptable but I'm not so sure.   What do you think, readers?!  Would you be offended if you emailed someone for more information and received a question in response? 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Genealogy Mysteries - The Unclaimed Dead


1
Anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in genealogy encounters missing ancestor information.  Although women are more often found in this category due to changing surnames when they wed or a lack of surviving documents due to limited citizenship rights, men, too, often simply disappear into thin air.

Lately, after seeing the Disney movie, Coco, and spending last month traipsing through the Central American jungles in search of Mayan remains, when I get back to my tree I'm more driven then ever to discover why and where my disappearing family went. That's my current research focus - I've identify 10 individuals with missing death dates/places and I'm on the hunt to narrow down information.

Unfortunately, the missing continues even today.  If you're interested, a volunteer organization of which I've blogged about previously, Unclaimed People, assists coroners in reunited the recently deceased with extended family.  The organization's motto, Every Life is Worth Remembering, is powerful.

Recently, I came upon the following article, Trail of Ashes:  A Local Man's Work to Restore Identity to the Unclaimed Dead.  It is a must read!


1.  Photo by Lori Samuelson, a rural unnamed cemetery in Quintana Roo, Mexico, 15 March 2018.