Monday, January 22, 2018
If you have no idea what I mean by "SLIG Time," let me give you a hint: I'm not in California right now; I'm in Utah. In Salt Lake City, to be precise. At an Institute of Genealogy.
Now, you go put those pieces together. (Didya give up and click the link?)
This year, unlike my previous class forays into genetic genealogy, I chose to take a different learning route: I wanted to soak in every word of a favorite conference speaker and instructor. I'll be spending the week, sitting at the feet (so to speak) of Library of Congress and National Archives veteran, John Philip Colletta, PhD.
The reason I opted to take his course—"Beyond the Library: Using Original Source Repositories"—was because my original game plan was to leave at the end of the week and head straight for Florida, where I've had some research tasks put on hold until I could spend some time at the state archives. I had wanted to delve into the details of just what role my third great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, played in drawing up and signing the original constitution for the state of Florida.
The planned research trip, alas, fell through owing to other business scheduling conflicts, but I'm still enrolled in the class, and looking forward to a week of furious note-taking. If I have time, I'll post a few of the details as they emerge this week, but if not, the plan is to introduce you to the next subject of my quest to reunite orphaned antique photographs with descendants of the family members shown in the pictures I've found.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
Well...last Thursday evening, I made the move. I am officially no longer the vice president of our local genealogical society. Now, I'm the president. The buck, as a very different kind of president once said, stops here.
In this success-crazy culture of ours in modern America, it seems that moving up the ladder is always seen as a good thing, a goal worth achieving. Once the move is made, however, there are a few of us who end up saying, "What was I thinking?" Now that Thursday evening's installment dinner has come and gone, a part of me is asking the same question.
Although our local genealogical society has been in existence for sixty six years, in some ways, we've always seemed to see ourselves in a small way. For years, this group only met every other month—and, oh, they took time off for the summer months and the winter holidays. Though they started off with twenty four charter members, it wasn't until this year that we finally climbed back up to the one hundred members we haven't had since the advent of big online genealogical companies knocked the wind out of local, in-person family history organizations' sails.
All of this began to change—and for the better, I assure you—with the arrival of a new president who, as she admitted herself, came to the office kicking and screaming. I owe it to my "genealogy angel" and mentor, Sheri Fenley, that when I stepped into office last Thursday evening, I assumed the helm of an organization which now has official status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which now sports a shiny new website, which now presents a strong monthly program of qualified genealogical speakers, which facilitates a closed Facebook group open to anyone for the asking—members and non-members alike—who are interested in genealogy within our county, which now gives back to our community fifteen hours a month in free beginners' genealogical training at our community college and libraries across the county and six hours of one-on-one consultation for library patrons at our main library. All this happened in the four years of her watch.
Of course, I hope to continue this tradition, as well as add to it. Thankfully, this will be a team effort, and I have a board of directors with which to collaborate as we guide the progress of our society and guard the ground we have already gained. It's my hope to see this organization flourish, growing into its now-official nonprofit status with a more visible home center from which we can offer more special interest groups, more educational offerings, more collaborative programs in which we partner with like-minded community organizations. With all of us pulling together, such goals—and more—are possible.
There is something so compelling about seeing the light bulb go off in a new researcher's mind when she realizes that the digitized document she is viewing, for instance, contains the very signature of her own great grandfather. The faces of people making these discoveries for the first time are priceless to see. The experience is palpable. While almost anyone can now go to a library and tap into a genealogical website and bring up such pictures, it takes a society—that group of people who become the interface where the rubber meets the novice's road—to become the midwives who bring that love of research to life.
That's why it's such an awesome duty to facilitate the development of an organization like a local genealogical society. No one person can do it all. And no one person steps into the role, knowing exactly what to do from the beginning. That's why we need each other—to share the burden of the mission, and to beckon each other to grow in shared responsibility as our organization matures.
And we couldn't get where we are—nor move from this point forward—without the care and mentoring of those who took the reins before us. For every momentary thought like, "What was I thinking?" I have the steadying hand of my (now) Immediate Past President, for which I am grateful, and stabilizing influence of a supportive board, along with the willing participation of our membership.
It is, after all, teamwork—in which case, it is not really "moving on up," but dancing this promenade, together, that will advance us to the next step in the process.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Learning the story of family historian Alice Sharp Greer sounds a somber note for those who fear they may find themselves in the same situation as she did. Without family to whom we can pass along our work, we have no idea what will become of it.
Many of us have devoted years to compiling the story of our family's past, and may currently house multiple binders, photograph albums, books, working papers (you know, those "notes to self" about discoveries that never panned out) and miscellaneous keepsakes of both relatives beloved and never-met. These documents and ephemera are precious in our sight...but maybe not in the eyes of others.
The question becomes: what happens to our research when we're gone?
That's a question we almost wince to answer. Some of the bravest of us, however, have tackled the question.
In answering that question, my "genealogy angel" and mentor, Sheri Fenley, observed in her blog, The Educated Genealogist, "What happens to my research when I am gone? Well, this is all up to you. Yes, you can have it your way, but you have to have a way to let [your family] know." Sheri suggested the route of drafting a codicil, specific to genealogical materials, to attach to one's will.
Prolific genealogy commentator Dick Eastman grappled with this subject last year in his Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, reminding us that "Someday, somebody will have to dispose of all that material." Perhaps the bluntness of that remark is what is needed to prod us to not only realistically face the fact, but take action.
For those lacking the direction on what specific action to take, Thomas MacEntee went to lengths to prepare the useful e-book, After You're Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research, urging his readers to take action now. (He also offers a one hour presentation by this same title.)
You know there are horror stories out there. In James Tanner's Genealogy's Star blog, nearly five years ago, he shared the story of his great-grandmother, who, like Alice Greer,
spent a good part of her life doing genealogy, but when I started my own genealogical research, years after her death, I could find almost no evidence of her activity. After years of research, I finally found that all of her files had been sitting...in my Aunt's basement.
Stories like that are what prompted Arlene Eakle of Tremonton, Utah, to take action. As she tells it on the website for The Genealogy Library Center, Inc.,
Several years ago, after speaking at the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree, my associate...and I stopped at a Safeway Store...to get some food for lunch. Instead of re-entering traffic on such a busy street, we drove around the back of the store to use a side street. In the middle of the alley in front of the dumpster, there was a large plastic bag. I stopped to move it out of the way rather than drive over it. The bag was full of someone’s genealogy manuscripts and family records—a handwritten diary, family letters, original photographs, family history notes. I felt a cold shiver!
When other "cold shiver" incidents of the same type kept happening to her, Arlene found a way to buy a building to house these genealogical cast-offs, giving them a home and a way to be found by family members who do care about such material. And she continues to accept material from others whose life work is not gladly claimed by their own family.
There are other options for finding a home for your research, of course. Many people have considered approaching the country's prime genealogical library, as Dick Eastman mentioned, but material accepted into the collection at the Family History Library at Salt Lake City must meet stringent requirements. Likewise, especially for those living farther east, an option might be the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library—again, a prime destination for genealogical researchers—yet donations to their collection will likely go through a vetting process before being accepted.
Some have prudently narrowed their scope and focused on more local repositories. But, as James Tanner mentioned in his post on the topic, even local genealogical societies, historical societies and public libraries have limitations on the size and standards of their collection.
About the most lucid thinking I've come across on resolving this dilemma—for all those finding themselves headed toward the same predicament as family historian Alice Greer—came in the form of a five year old post on the blog of researcher Michael Tormey. Michael fingered the root of the problem as a misdirected focus when sharing our research with family members.
One way to improve the odds that your research materials will survive is to change the focus of your research. The reason many family members see genealogy as boring is because family group sheets, pedigree charts, birth certificates and death certificates ARE boring.
If you really want others to see value in your research efforts, you need to bring your research to life. This means that you need to flesh out the details of not just when your ancestors were born and when they died, but how the lived, why they made the decisions they did, what their beliefs and values were, etc. These are the things that make one’s ancestry a heritage or a legacy.
In other words,
make sure that others understand the value you place on your genealogy and historical records and to take proactive steps to preserve them before they meet a similar fate at the hands of a family member who simply sees them as redundant and useless records of the past.
Granted, while you can exert a certain amount of control over what becomes of your life's work when you, yourself, are the one who is prudently downsizing, there is no way you can control what happens after you are gone. True, with even the best of efforts, your files may be counted as "personal effects" of no monetary value and tossed, along with the other collectibles of sentimental value to no one but yourself. But there are options that, with the same research prowess you invested into breaking through those impenetrable brick walls, you can tailor to match your genealogical donation with the right place—or person—designated to be their recipient.
Friday, January 19, 2018
It all started because someone took the time to write the names on the back of a photo.
And so it is that the story of William and Kate Hopkins' photograph became the story of Alice Sharp Greer, and eventually also the story of Lee, the current researcher who is picking up the pieces passed along of the Hopkins family history.
In reflecting over this whole experience—the photograph in California that connected me with Lee in Minnesota about a couple from Kentucky—Lee made the observation at the beginning of this post.
You may have been wondering about a gap in this story of Alice Sharp Greer's family history records, considering that she died in 1966 and this is now 2018. What happened to all of Alice's carefully compiled records in the interim?
That, in itself, is another story. Lee's mother-in-law was downsizing and needed help with the process of getting everything ready to move into a smaller apartment. As Lee remembers it,
I pulled a large box out of a closet and asked what to do with it. She couldn't even remember what was in it. Opening it was like opening a time capsule. It was a box full of family treasures handed down from another Hopkins ancestor who had no children and each object had a carefully written note attached to it explaining what it was and who had owned it. Lots of names, dates, photos, Alice Greer's 1931 letter and a one-page genealogy of the family were in the box. For someone who loves antiques and old photos as I do, it was a gold mine. This family came to life for me out of the box and I felt it my calling to keep their memory alive.
We gain encouragement from others as we learn their story. We certainly can empathize with Alice's situation, one in which there was no one to whom the treasured family discoveries could be entrusted. As it turned out in Alice's case, there was a gap of years before that treasure was rediscovered—a hiatus enough to make us genealogists hold our breath, if not give up hope entirely for recovery. But somehow, in the end, things did turn out differently and the family's story was rescued.
This sort of experience, once shared, gives us the faith that, in the end, things will work out. As Lee reflected in an email to me after yesterday's post,
I will leave a box twenty or thirty years from now in a closet and hope for the right person to find it.
Some of us already know who will take up our research after we are no longer able to do it. But for those who struggle with the possibility of seeing that life's work abandoned to an unknown fate, it certainly is encouraging to know that sometimes—maybe more often than we realize—there will be someone to take up the call and continue our work.
After all, a family's story is never done.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
From time to time, I run across fellow genealogy enthusiasts who share their one disappointment with me: that they have no one to whom they can pass their decades worth of family history research. Here they have invested multiple hours of a lifetime, devoting it to the premise that the family's multi-generational story is too valuable to lose—and yet, due to various circumstances, that is precisely what threatens to happen.
There are reasons for the threat of such a loss. For some, no one else in the family is even remotely interested in those relatives of a bygone era whom they had never met and never cared to know. For other, though, there is no family to take an interest in the researcher's life work.
Such was the case of Alice Sharp Greer, niece of the subject of the abandoned family photograph I found in an antique shop in northern California. When I learned about her from Lee, the family history researcher to whom I offered to send William and Kate Hopkins' found photograph from Kentucky, I began to see Alice take shape as an encouragement for all those who are in the same position.
As Lee mentioned to me in our ongoing email correspondence, Alice had no children of her own. Granted, she had some nieces and nephews, but as many of us discover, that is no guarantee that those members of the next generation will take up the mantle we feel so strongly about.
Alice—the "family genealogist," as Lee put it—had a unique opportunity to pursue her calling over the years. It was thanks to her husband's business, coupled with her ability to travel with him on his rounds, while she detoured during business hours to conduct some research of her own. According to Lee,
Alice Greer's husband was a traveling salesman from Kansas City whose territory was western U.S. On his letterhead it says Materials Equipment Engineer—Casters, Trucks, Lift-Trucks, Pallet Lift-Trucks, Conveyors.
While John Harry Greer was busy at his occupation, Alice was busy sending out letters of inquiry in that era far removed from today's online conveniences. Relentlessly, it seems, at least from Lee's description:
Alice sent out many letters of inquiry on the family history on her husband's business letterhead—J. Harry Greer. I have one of these letters from 1931 and amazingly enough, a woman found another one from 1951 in her mother's papers and sent it to me, providing me a great deal of new information about the Hopkins [family], which I have been relentlessly researching ever since.
Those letters Alice sent out in 1931 and 1951 were only two examples of the many she wrote in her pursuit of the family's history. Just like the one from 1951 that a woman found and returned to Lee, there are many more of Alice's letters out there—and Lee would love to find them. That plea is even posted on Alice's Find A Grave memorial. (You knew a researcher as dedicated as Lee would include volunteering for Find A Grave in a genealogical to-do list, didn't you?)
Eventually, despite surely still having some questions unanswered, it became time to pass that genealogical baton to someone else. Alice Sharp Greer passed away October 26, 1966, in Concord, California—yes, in Contra Costa County, that place we've got our eye on—and all her research came to a halt.
With no children to step up and continue Alice's legacy, that might have been the end of the story. But whether Alice knew this all along, or whether it was a circumstance that evolved after her passing, there was someone who turned out to be more than interested in taking up Alice's mantle: it was Lee. All the pedigree charts, all the family group sheets—and more important, all those irreplaceable letters from Alice to relatives, and Alice's extended family to each other—were eventually passed along to someone who would take up where Alice left off.
And that is the encouragement Alice gifts us with, too, with her story. There will be someone to preserve our work, and to carry it forward. It just doesn't always come from the direction we'd expect. But however it comes to us, it transforms us—and those who are willing to step up and take our place—from a research dead end to a bridge that connects the treasures of our past with the family members in our future.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
There are some things we "know" as researchers—but then go right on, acting as if we had forgotten what we know. That's when it helps to have a fellow researcher gently remind us to reach back into that store of what we need to remember.
That's how it was when I first connected with Lee in Minnesota, the Hopkins researcher who shared the old photograph of William Hopkins' drug store with us yesterday. In piecing together the possible story of how William and Kate Hopkins' photograph ended up in northern California, Lee offered a reasonable hypothesis: look for the connection one generation up and on the other side of the family.
As Lee explained,
We inherited a good deal of info on [the Hopkins family] from Alice Sharp Greer who was the family genealogist. She was the daughter of Adelia Hopkins Sharp who was William Bernard Hopkins' sister. Alice's last known residence was in Concord, Contra Costa County.
The minute Lee mentioned looking at William's siblings, I saw the error of my ways. I had presumed that the only family members who might have passed down a photograph of William and Kate would be relatives from Kate's side of the family. After all, Kate had died young, and William went on to raise a family with his second wife. While I should have known better than to remove anyone from my "suspects" list, I had prematurely narrowed my search—and thus, my results.
If, the minute you saw Lee's explanation that the Hopkins family genealogist Alice Sharp Greer had moved to Contra Costa County, bells went off in your mind, you are on the right track. However, we need not rush to conclusions on just whom the recipient of the Hopkins photograph was; as it turned out, there were other descendants who headed west to the same neighborhood, as well.
I was careful to heed that prompt by Lee, and built out a Hopkins family tree which provided a few other possibilities. Not only had Alice Sharp Greer moved to northern California, but so did her older sister Ruth and their brother William. Admittedly, these were descendants of only one of William Hopkins' siblings, but those nieces and nephew of William Hopkins introduced enough possibilities to explain how a photograph of a Kentucky couple would have made its way to California.
There is only one glitch in that assumption, though: Alice Sharp Greer had no children of her own. If she was the recipient of William and Kate Hopkins' photograph, who kept it between the time of Alice's passing in 1966 and the date, decades later, at which it ended up in the antique shop where I found it in Lodi, California?
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
It's always a delight to meet another researcher who shares that passion for genealogy. It's even better when I discover that researcher will truly value the orphaned photograph now being sent on its way home.
In the process of meeting and talking with Lee from Minnesota—the family history researcher whose tree on Ancestry.com convinced me this was the right person to receive the photograph of William and Katie Hopkins—I learned a few things about that Hopkins couple that, with Lee's permission, I'd like to share.
The first time I encountered Lee's tree was through a hint on Ancestry. It was not for the ubiquitous shaky-leaf reminder to look at the other trees on the website, but it led me to a picture of William Hopkins in front of his drugstore.
Let me amend that: one of his drugstores. Thankfully, Lee had appended an explanation at Ancestry.com alongside the photograph (which you can see below):
William B. Hopkins owned drugstores in five states, but I believe this photo was taken in Kentucky around 1923. William B. Hopkins is the portly gentleman standing between the two women. I believe the younger woman on the left is his wife Katie Seeger Allen and the woman on the right is LeNorah (Dixon) Thornburg who became his second wife after Katie died in 1928. The young girl and older boy next to LeNorah are her Thornburg children, Ellen R. & John V.
Drugstores in five states? When I first saw that, I tried to do a search on the newspaper archive services I use, but nothing substantive came up, other than the Merck wedding mention that "Iggy" found for me a few days back. Now that Lee and I have connected, I wanted to ask a few more questions about the Hopkins businesses.
It was apparent from census records that William and Kate moved to locations other than Kate's home in Louisville. Could this have been due to William building his business? According to family members, William may also have had a store in Piqua, Ohio. In fact, at first, Lee was not sure whether the store photo was from Louisville or Piqua, but resolved the puzzle this way:
I got the brilliant idea to check the name (Denhard) on the side of the drug store building with names in Louisville and Piqua, Ohio. No Denhards in Ohio and lots of them in Louisville. Found a court case for Brooks Denhard who owned a surgical instrument company in Louisville. Makes sense to advertise on the side of a drug store. So I've decided the building in the photo is William's drug store in Louisville and not the one in Ohio.
It pays to pay attention to all the "superfluous" details you can find in a photograph. Not to mention, I'm sure it paid—at least in William Hopkins' case—to have those ads put up on the side of his building. A clever businessman, indeed.
I picked up a few more ideas from Lee while we were discussing the Hopkins family—like where to look for the likely nexus that resulted in finding William and Kate Hopkins' photograph in California—which we'll take a look at tomorrow.
In the meantime, off that photograph goes, on its way home to Minnesota!
Above: Photograph, circa 1923, of William Bernard Hopkins' Drugstore in Louisville, Kentucky; photograph in the possession of Hopkins family member Lee in Minnesota; used by permission.