Sunday, February 26, 2017

Quickening the Pace

Despite overnight temperatures dipping back down to the thirties and the threat of floods still at our doorstep, I can't help but fall for a serious case of Spring Fever. Somehow, the sunshine and first sighting of blossoms quickens my step, both outdoors and inside.

When it comes to making genealogical progress, I want to step up the pace, as well. The winter was rough on family history progress, with a succession of holidays, illnesses—and even good stress, like the chance to attend the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. It's time to get back to work.

Nothing accentuates that sense of urgency like the exploding numbers on my DNA matches. Thanks to Family Tree DNA making the move to publicize its willingness to accept raw data transfers from other testing companies, my match count has zoomed upward. That may seem like good news—and it is—but it also comes with a down side: yet more matches for whom I cannot find any connection.

Thus, my resolve to pick back up on expanding my trees by entering all the siblings in each generation of my direct lines—and then researching their descendants, as well. While others may push backwards in time—doesn't it make you envious when you see someone's tree stretching back all the way to the 1600s and beyond?—I have had to settle it in my mind that it will be more useful for me, given my interest in DNA testing, to have the material that will help me confirm connections with my matches. Some may disagree with that approach, but that's what I've decided to try, for now.

So, where do those trees stand at this juncture between a sluggish winter of research and a spring-y anticipation of better research days ahead?

My two main trees are my maternal tree and my husband's maternal tree. In the past two weeks, I advanced the count in my mother's tree by seventy one, to total 9,529 in that database. I did much better in my mother-in-law's tree—perhaps spurred on by the fact that my husband's two sisters were willing to complete their autosomal DNA tests. That tree gained 513 documented names in the same two weeks, bringing the tree's count to 10,461. That surprised even me. Hopefully, it will help place some of those DNA matches more easily.

As far as total count of DNA matches, while my husband's count at AncestryDNA only increased by ten to 216, you'll see what I mean by exploding growth when we take a look at his matches at Family Tree DNA. In the past two weeks, 126 matches were added to his account, bringing his total number of matches to 1,148. As for mine, AncestryDNA added sixteen to total 462, but FTDNA increased by 206 to total 1,825.

Another detail I'll be tracking, starting with this week, is my husband's additional test done at 23andMe. Currently, he has 1,346 matches at that company, including some cousins we knew had already tested there. This will be another learning curve for me, as I learn the ropes at this new-to-me company.

I'll also be keeping an eye on two additional tests—though I won't include them in stats here—as I serve as administrator for both my sisters-in-law's tests. It's interesting to see the comparisons between siblings, not just on the FTDNA chromosome browser, but in the number of matches and the listing of those who match the various siblings. The things I'm observing through these DNA results continually reminds me how awesome this DNA actually is.

Of course, while racing ahead with these two maternal trees, I've unfortunately neglected the paternal sides for both my husband and myself. Someday, I keep promising myself. In the meantime, I'm primed for making progress where progress can be easily had.

Above: "Spring in the Erzgebirge" by German landscape painter Bruno Moras (1883-1939); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Behind the Society Curtain

There's always the thrill of chasing down yet another clue on those elusive ancestors in my family tree, but that is not the only way I participate in genealogical endeavors. As you may have already gleaned from my various posts, I'm quite involved in our local genealogical society as one of their board members.

Lately, our small society has taken a big—and maybe scary—step. We've graduated from the society websites of yesteryear—those so-nineties websites kindly hosted for free at—to have a website of our own. Thanks to the leadership of our president—Sheri Fenley, whom so many know as the blogger behind The Educated Genealogist—a small group of our board's members have been working behind the scenes in converting that website vision into reality.

Not that we're doing all the coding, of course. Who do you think I am—Superwoman? While we aren't so fortunate as to have a talented member able to take on that challenge, Sheri found us something better: a company which works well with small societies such as ours, which is able to put together a site meeting all the functional requirements we could wish for.

For the past two months, we've been working with Tom Ryder of EasyNetSites. We now have what the company calls a "template-driven" website which will automate many of the functions a small society like ours would need to have done. It will take us a long time to exhaust the capabilities inherent in this design, and we are only beginning to see the possibilities.

Apparently, our small society is not alone in celebrating the discovery of this website design company. This, I discovered when checking out the many societies whose websites are on display on the portfolio page at EasyNetSites. While some of those groups are local organizations like ours, others using EasyNetSites include state organizations, international interest groups—and even the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Come to find out, when I registered for that DNA class at SLIG, I did so on a website designed by EasyNetSites.

Seeing so many societies listed in the EasyNetSites portfolio was like having the curtain pulled away to reveal the behind-the-scenes workings of those groups which seem to have it all together. Apparently, this is one of their best-kept secrets.

Not that the completed website is a turnkey operation. We've spent several hours with Tom via webinar, as he trained us on how to get our site up and running. We are the ones inputting the data, deciding where to insert photos, announcements, schedules, and other features of our society's offerings. It takes a while to learn all the features of our new website—and to spruce up all the finishing touches before our grand opening. That's why our website won't be fully functional until mid-March: we have a lot of work yet to do!

While local genealogical societies are usually small in numbers—and often in available funds and enough hands to get the job done—there still are ways to put forth a professional presence and invite the public to join in our activities. Sometimes, that entails being able to obtain the services of those who are knowledgeable in specialties outside our own areas of expertise.

Computer programming definitely qualifies as something outside our board members' skill sets. Lest you find your local organization in the same situation and think there is nothing that can be done about that, think again. Apparently, there is an answer, even though it may have been your neighboring society's best-kept secret up til now.

Above: "'Blame the thing—I can't make it work!' complains Cleveland over the keyboard." 1893 political cartoon by Bernhard Gillam depicting then-President Grover Cleveland attempting to manipulate the Democrat Party as if it were a typewriter. Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Of Beauty Queens and Presidents

What do you do when the end of one story comes before you're ready to take up another? As you can probably tell, I've been mourning the inability to connect with family members who could claim the mystery photo album I found in a town near my home. Of course, reaching out to connect with someone in County Cork, Ireland, is a challenge from California, but up to this point, we've done our best.

Now, it's time to move on. What next?

Well, behind the scenes, while that Hawkes family story was unfolding, I couldn't stop working on my own family tree. I have several long-term projects I'm working on, both on my trees and on those of my husband.

For the most part, routine genealogical research isn't something you write home about—unless you want to subject all your relatives to that "my eyes glaze over" reaction. So I just keep connecting documents to names on those trees, one dreary click at a time, during spare moments like lunchtimes alone or while standing in long lines in town. That's the type of work that goes on, behind the scenes. You can tell how much drudgery has been accomplished in any given time period, based on my biweekly reports—but other than that, it's mostly silence to which everyone owes some gratitude. Not every family story is scintillating.

In the past few months of plugging away at this, though, I did run into a couple interesting stories. One involves a distant cousin who apparently won a significant beauty contest and found herself in the running for a chance at becoming Miss America. Another story led me down the descendants' trail from a colonial ancestor to a woman who married a man with a familiar surname—I kept thinking, "Wasn't that the name of a senator?" As it turned out, yes, a descendant in that line did indeed turn out to become a senator, and before even that, someone who had married the daughter of a President.

So, while we await any news of connections with the descendants of Harry and Alice Hawkes Reid—if we even hear at all—we'll use the opportunity next week to explore the stories which have popped up during that routine, behind the scenes, research I've been doing to round out that family tree.

Above: "Washington Arch, Spring," 1893 painting by American artist, Frederick Childe Hassam; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Glacial Pace
of Genealogical Research

There is something about hearing family history researchers confidently declare their "research goals." Yes, it's nice that you want to pursue your roots in Sweden back to the 1600s. Whether you achieve your goal of finishing that project by next fall may not be entirely within your own control. There is the little matter of those other parties out there who may or may not operate on your timetable.

So then, the question becomes, what to do while being unable to complete those genealogical goals. Despite the well-meaning advice I've heard about not being all over the board with my research pursuits, I find it necessary to have a Plan B project in that back pocket for such dilemmas. Since it is near-impossible to force one's correspondent to answer an email or send a requested document in rapid response, researchers sometimes need the grace to know when to retreat or change directions.

While nobody is answering, where to turn next? In our case of being so close to presenting that mystery photo album to a direct descendant of the woman who created it, the story is almost all told—all, that is, except for the storybook ending that could have been, if the right people answered the call. Our only remaining option is to settle for a waiting game. Also out of our control, that wait may take a few more days—or months upon months. It may never see that hoped-for closure.

In the meantime, I'll put the pages back in the proper order, wrap up the covers in the ribbon which so neatly tied them all together, and tuck the album into a safe place. But I won't just wait; I'll be on to a next project.

And you know there's been one in the wings. Not as fascinating, admittedly, as the one we're wrapping up (literally), but you know it will be a genealogical pursuit that comes with a story. There is always a story, when you delve deep enough into the lives of ancestors.

Yet, it will be hard to say goodbye to the Penrose Hawkes family, and to Alice Hawkes Reid, who brought us—unsuspectedly—so many weeks of interesting tidbits about her extended family. Though it wasn't even concerning my own family, it's been a journey I've been glad to have stumbled upon. If nothing else, it's opened my eyes to the treasures stored in unexpected places—sometimes, quite far from the place family once called home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Maybe the Neighbors Know

If, in my quest to find a living descendant of the couple who mailed off a photo album from County Cork, Ireland, back in 1936, I can't make any connections via the usual family history means, perhaps reverting to the tried and true FAN Club principle may bring results. I'm willing to try anything at this point.

The FAN Club, if you haven't heard of the term coined by genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills, is a cluster of people in the milieu surrounding a mystery ancestor, and may present some viable clues about those research brick walls we struggle to overcome. The acronym FAN stands for friends, associates and neighbors.

With the discovery in that mystery photo album, last week, of a friend (or neighbor or associate) of the Hawkes and Reid families known as Chris, we also had been introduced to a place labeled simply as "Chris's bungalow." In my mind, the term bungalow can be easily interchanged with the label cottage. And it just so happened, back when I was searching for any online clues about Bride Park House, that I came across some entries for a place called Bride Park Cottage.

Could Bride Park Cottage have been Chris' bungalow?

Fortunately, there are many leads to the current day Bride Park Cottage. Apparently, the current owners have a custom of offering their home to host an annual charity fund raiser during the holidays. Thus, I was able to find a write up on their place in the November 11, 2016, edition of the Cork Evening Echo (in which, by the way, a photograph toward the end of the article displays a "water garden" reminiscent of the one attributed to Chris in the 1936 photo album). An article on the event in an earlier year—that one published in 2012 by the Irish Examiner—included a photograph of the cottage exterior.

Although a quick visit to Google Maps showed Bride Park Cottage to be a mere one minute walk's distance from Bride Park House, from the photograph, it is apparent that Bride Park Cottage does not look like the bungalow shown in the photo album. Though it apparently isn't Chris' bungalow—whoever Chris was, and wherever her bungalow might have been—it provides yet another vehicle to use the "neighbors" in the FAN Club principle to track down more information on the Hawkes and Reid families.

I went on an online hunt to see if I could locate anything further on Bride Park Cottage. I discovered another photo of the place put up on the website known as Flickr—which, in an almost eerie coincidence, turned out to be placed there by the very researcher (Damian Shiels) who has recently written the book, The Forgotten Irish, that I mentioned in my January book post. Far predating the time period in which the Hawkes family had lived in the area, Bride Park Cottage was once the childhood home of Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, who eventually attained the rank of Major General in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.

While none of that further informs me about the Hawkes or Reid families—or even about Chris or the whereabouts of her bungalow—it does remind me that, even if I never hear back from the people I've contacted about connecting with a living descendant of Alice Hawkes Reid, I can try a second approach in finding some answers. Part house history, part crowdsourcing attempt through local media, perhaps reaching out to the neighbors may yield some answers I might not otherwise be able to access through traditional paper-based research. We are, after all, shifting from history to current events with this next move.

Above: Revisiting Chris' bungalow—not appearing to be one and the same as the Bride Park Cottage seen in current newspaper publications.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

No Mail . . . Yet

I'm not very good at waiting. Snail mail—not withstanding its ability to connect people, no matter how far removed they each are—lost its allure for me, once email was invented. When it comes to correspondence, I prefer instant gratification.

So, yes, I realize I'm letting myself grow impatient over a message I only sent out this past weekend. But perhaps you understand my perspective. I'm awaiting an answer from a person who may well be the grandchild of the Harry and Alice Reid who, eighty years ago, sat down and addressed an envelope carrying a family photo album sent as a Christmas greeting.

There has been progress on another front in this attempt to contact people mentioned in that mystery photo album. Taking a chance that an email address, posted online over ten years ago, was still a good address, I composed an introductory note to another person researching the extended Hawkes family. To my great surprise—and partially owing to the distance between time zones of sender and recipient—I awoke after sending my late night query to find it had already been answered!

That connection is leading to yet another person who may lend a hand at helping that family photo album find its way back home to County Cork, Ireland. I am excited to see where that correspondence will lead. There is nothing like interviewing the people who have firsthand knowledge of the subjects at hand. Wouldn't it be perfect if all this assistance leads to the ability to connect with a direct descendant of Alice Hawkes Reid? That, at least, is my hope.

Meanwhile, the note I most hope to see answered—that message to a woman who may well be a granddaughter of Harry and Alice Reid—had to be sent through a genealogy website to which she last had made contact nearly a year ago. If I can receive an answer from a ten year old email address, what are my chances that contact information from a mere nine months ago will still be viable?

In answer to my own question, I don't know. But I hardly can stand the wait to discover that answer.

 Harry, Mother + Self - Aug. 1936.

Monday, February 20, 2017

To Do or Not to Do: That is the Question

Some people live or die by their to-do lists. Me? Not so much. I do, however, keep a general idea in the back of my mind regarding where I intend to go with a project—a more free-form approach to getting things done.

That approach may have been a bit too free-form for you to determine just what I was up to, last week, so I feel a recap is in order. If you were wondering about my Saturday morning musings over which other genealogical services I should use to upload my family tree, this will hopefully provide somewhat of an explanation. And it will also help tie in to my Friday comment about striking out into the "real" world to see if we can locate any clues as to that mystery photo album I found and just whom the intended recipient might have been, back in December of 1936.

I may be slow at arriving at my goals, but I do eventually get there—even without a strict to-do list.

Over the weekend, I attended to that task of uploading my family tree to my new subscription at FindMyPast, so I can check that off my list call that goal done. There wasn't too much angst over whether I should do that or not; fishing in one more pond is definitely to my benefit, if my goal is to dangle more cousin bait out there, in hopes of connecting with fellow family researchers.

Where I did face that angst, though, was when I finally came to the question of whether to tinker with a family tree at There are, in my mind, several drawbacks to that research tactic. For one thing, it always seemed to me to be one of those universal trees, where others can "correct" entries that I have spent considerable time confirming. I don't like the arbitrary feeling in that sort of milieu.

The second main concern I have is that there is no possibility to simply upload a GEDCOM and be finished with the task in a matter of moments. I understand the reasons why, of course, but it can be a rather daunting task to add the nearly ten thousand names, for instance, that I have on just one of my trees.

As the weekend was drawing to a close, however, I figured I may as well take the leap. I didn't transfer the entire monstrosity of my maternal tree, of course, but strategized to come up with a choice that would get me uploaded without too much work: I selected my paternal tree. That one, if you remember from my biweekly stats, happens to be the smallest of the trees that I manage. It also happens to be the one with the most international connections. Keeping in mind the symbiotic relationship between and MyHeritage—a company with a widely international customer base—I thought my Polish roots might bring up some interesting connections. What did I have to lose there?

I did have, however, an ulterior purpose for uploading a tree to It has nothing to do with being able to make connections with distant Polish cousins. But it does have to do with the family tree we've been speculating about, ever since I began writing about the mystery photo album I found in that northern California antique shop.

You see, bit by bit, as I was writing, some kind readers have been feeding me hints gleaned from astute searching on the Internet. Some of those hints were posted directly below my entries, in the comments section. Some were emailed to me privately—and for good reason: they have to do with living persons, whose privacy we must respect.

As you may have guessed, that connection with a possible living descendant of Harry and Alice Hawkes Reid has much to do with my decision to painstakingly enter portions of my family tree at Posting a tree and becoming a subscriber entitles one to permission to connect with other Geni users. And one of those users—as I found out, thanks to Iggy—just happened to post an entry on one of the Hawkes family members. Now, that's a researcher I want to talk to!

Now that I've settled that question of whether to post my tree on, I have a new question gnawing away at me. Will this new research contact answer my email? Or not?

I can hardly stand the wait.

Ruby - playing robbers - June 1936.

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