Saturday, June 16, 2018

Be Mindful of Address Changes

On the plane returning home from New Mexico, I sat next to a woman who had traced her paternal grandfather's side back to the 1200's in a Spanish village thanks to the church records and her ability to decipher old handwriting.  She mentioned that she had found several deeds belonging to her great grandparents but could not locate the residences as the numbering system had changed in the past 100 years.  Lucky for her, she met an elderly man who remembered the family and understood the new address system so she was able to identify where her grandfather and great grandfather were born. Taking into account address changes is an important point to remember as what you're looking at might not be what you think it was.

There are two websites available to help with situations like this. is a site using Google Street View with uploaded photos of what the area looked like from previous time periods.  You can assist this project by uploading old photos you may have that show the area in the past. is another site where you can place a pin on a Google map and upload a photo of what the area formerly looked like.  Your old homestead just might be waiting for you to discover!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Deciphering Directions and Finding Places from the Past

Last week when I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had a dickens of a time locating the Oldest House that I blogged about on Tuesday.  According to the map and online guides, the Oldest House was said to be NEXT TO the Church.  All I saw next to the Church was a pizza restaurant.
The church was locked so I tried to follow the sign on the government building next door that said "Visitor Info."  The sign had an arrow directing visitors to enter on the east or south entrance.  I walked down the street in the direction the sign had pointed.  There was no entrance on the street side so I suppose it was the  north or west side.  I turned at the intersection and again saw no entrance.  Okay, I was certain to find the way in when I reached the back.  I walked the entire length of the back side and still found no entrance.  Turning left, I finally located the door.  So what the sign meant was that there was one entrance and it was on the south east side. 
I asked the attendant for directions to the Oldest Home.  She said, "It's BETWEEN the church and the restaurant."  I mentioned that a street was between the restaurant and the church.  She insisted the home was BETWEEN and told me to look again.
I walked back to the church and again saw the restaurant in front of me as the church sits back from the street.  I turned right to walk down the street BETWEEN the restaurant and the church and lo and behold, there was the Oldest House.
If I was to describe where the house was located, I would say it was BEHIND the restaurant and ACROSS the street from the church.  This reminds me how careful we must be when we're reading old deeds.
My people are famous for recording deeds noting boundaries of big rocks and tree stumps.  I now wonder how many noted BETWEEN when I would have considered it BEHIND or south and east as southeast?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Little Bit of Truth in All of Those Passed Down Stories

I love family legends even if they are tall tales.  Last week I trekked to New Mexico, where I have no family ties, and learned of a passed down legend that was quite interesting.  While visiting the Oldest House in Santa Fe, I heard the story of two elderly Native Americans who once lived in the dwelling.  Supposedly, they had made a love potion for a Spanish soldier, Juan Espinoza, and when it didn't give him the results he had wanted as his love had married another, he returned to seek his money back.  An argument ensued, he fell and was beheaded.  The ancient wooden casket in the home supposedly contains his body; over the years a plaster cast was enclosed to represent his missing head.
The next evening, on a ghost tour, the guide told his version of the story.  He believed the women were sisters and these witches had been threatened by the soldier.  As the soldier attacked one of the women, the other took out a saber and sliced off his head.  The women then dragged his body outside and left it.  No one knows where the head went.  The soldier's ghost reportedly roams looking for his head.  The sister's punishment was to keep the coffin in their home. 
Two days later I was in Taos at the Pueblo village and my tour guide there told the same tale with a slightly different twist.  The two women were not elderly and were local healers specializing in matchmaking.  The soldier was inpatient and violent when his request for a wife wasn't fulfilled quickly.  The townspeople misunderstood the situation; it was clearly self defense on the part of the sisters.
When I returned home I looked online and found many other versions of the tale.  Some say Juan was shot in the leg by the women who later cut his head off.  Others say he fell on his saber and cut his own head off. 
And like the various versions, there's no agreement on when the death occurred.  According to the Taos guide, the event happened before the Pueblo Revolt of1680.  Information at the house states that there was a dwelling on the premises for at least 800 years.  The website states that there is no deed record but analysis of lumber used in the building construction was from 1740-1767. 
Since none of us were there we will never know what really happened.  Unfortunately, no records remain of the event so the passed down stories are the closest we'll ever get. 
If you have a tall tale passed down in your family, get as many versions as you can and record them .  Then, search historical records to narrow down the "facts."  For example, it is most unlikely that the event in Santa Fe occurred before 1692.  Why?  The house was used during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 to fire upon the Oldest Church across the street.  The area was resettled after 1692.  It would be unlikely that the Native Americans residing in the Santa Fe between 1680-1692 would leave the coffin in the home; that punishment by the Spanish would have been rid of quickly after they succeeded in retaking their ancestral land. This helps us narrow the story to between 1692-1836 when the area parted from Mexico.  The house was remodeled many times over the years so there is no telling if the event occurred prior to the new beams being installed in the mid 18th century or after.  I personally think the coffin was added by later owners who wanted an interesting tourist attraction.  I find it hard to believe that the coffin would remain in the home after the Native American women's death. 
Next time I'll blog about other genealogical gems I uncovered on my trip. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day - Record Preservation

Memorial Day Weekend is here in the States!  As many reflect on their deceased loved ones I'm pondering those loved ones' records.  Why?  In my area, we're under the first Tropical Storm warning of the year (and Hurricane Season doesn't begin until June 1st) and a flood watch. 

Records loss happens to all of us.  That misplaced paper receipt to prove the warranty is still valid, the disappearing paper estimate that the roofer left or the W2 that you never received in the mail from a former company is frustrating.  We're fortunate that today there's technology to help us with work arounds to obtain the missing document.  Unfortunately, that's not the case with records of past generations.

You're probably tired of hearing the importance of preserving your acquired ancestral documents.  Backing up my data is as fun as going to the dentist.  Although I love my dentist and his staff, I don't love the dental experience.  I know that it's important to keep my teeth and gums healthy so I continue to make and keep my appointments.  So why do I have such a hard time with keeping my genealogical records updated and safe?

If you're like me, scanning and saving those documents are just not as fun as hunting down the record.  I have to admit that I have, on more than several occasions, had to refind a document that I needed and that definitely wasn't fun.  I thought, if I got into a routine like I do with brushing, flossing, and gargling, I'd be set with my record saves.  I just realized that my genealogical process still needs refinement as I tried to locate a death certificate I could have swore I had placed in the Cloud and it just isn't there. 

I want my records to be readily available when I need them.  Standardizing my File Name system helps, as does the lovely Search function on Dropbox and OneDrive.  Yes, I use both.  Paranoia may destroy ya but I believe putting my tree in one and my records in another protects the information in case one of the company's system fails.  (I used to use CDs, DVDs and thumb drives but I've abandoned those for Clouds since my latest technology doesn't have those functions available). 

Now my plan is all good until the weather takes a turn for the worse like today.  Late last summer, I had no electricity for several days.  Granted, accessing my genealogy was not my priority at that time, but when the power goes out and there isn't impending danger, I still want to continue with my genealogical work. I'm thinking that I should be making a hard copy of online finds so I can work off the computer in times like those.  I also need to recheck my existing hard copies and make sure that I've scanned and saved every document so if disaster strikes, when life returns to normal I can pick up where I left off.  To insure I do this, I selected a line a month to check on.  I've penciled a day on the calendar to make it official and hopefully, I'll not cancel that appointment.

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, 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.