Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Season for Learning

As "last day for early bird registration" notices sprung up across the social media landscape last week, I hustled to resolve the one roadblock standing between me and a completed application for my genealogy conference of choice: the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree.

While others may shop around for best prices for their hotel venue, after recovering from the sticker shock of paying for both conference registration and travel expenses, I prefer to stay at the host hotel. For one thing, a good conference organizer will secure tempting rates for a premium destination, so while it may be expensive to stay at the host hotel, it will certainly be a great value.

However, that is not my main purpose in opting for the host location. What I seek is the immersion experience of being where all the other event attendees are also congregating.

So it was a real deal breaker when, early in March, the alarm went out that the block of rooms reserved at the conference rate for Jamboree was already sold out. No more chances to have a place where I could run up to my room during breaks, or hang out in the cool breezes outdoors after the day's sessions were over. To think I'd go to a conference, eight-to-five style, then punch out and retreat to my hideaway overnight in solitude was unthinkable.

There was obviously only one route to take, in staring down this obstacle: become a nag and call the hotel. Then call again the next day. And again—until someone cancelled a reservation and I could slip into that vacated place.

The deed was accomplished, sporadically, throughout the month, until finally, one day just before the deadline, a room opened up. I'm in!

Then, the rush to get registered. I didn't want to register for the conference before securing the right place to stay, but I was running out of chances to get that discounted rate. Now, thankfully, I'm all set for both the prequel DNA Day and the full complement of Jamboree sessions, Friday through Sunday.

Every year, it seems the Jamboree planners strive to incorporate feedback from prior years' attendees. This time, the new added feature seems to be a great array of several-hour workshops focusing, institute-style, on one topic. I selected DNA as my focus for a Friday morning workshop, and am currently on the waiting list to join Blaine Bettinger's class. Having to wait so long before being able to proceed with registration did have its down side, but if I can't get into that workshop, there are plenty of other great selections still available. I'll still be doing well with Tim Janzen's program, my alternate choice.

The Southern California event may be out of reach for those living on the opposite side of the country, but that doesn't mean there aren't other learning opportunities. In just a few days, a good friend of mine will be hopping a plane to head to North Carolina for the National Genealogical Society's annual conference. Soon, many state conferences will be dotting the learning landscape. And for researchers of all levels of expertise, as well as for genealogical society organizers, the Federation of Genealogical Societies will wrap up the summer learning season with its own conference in Pittsburgh.

With the tendency among researchers to switch from in-person attendance to isolation at home, it might seem that the act of learning has shifted from publicly-held events to private showings. True, we've never had so many resources for webinars, podcasts, books, mailing lists, and other forms of online learning—many of which provide excellent content. But I still prefer the real-time dialog that takes place, face to face, among those gathering together for that purpose in public venues. It won't be long, and I'll be headed to southern California for my own annual learning experience among like-minded enthusiasts of genealogical research.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Do You Remember . . .

I've just returned from visiting the Freedom Tower in New York City. It's both a sobering reminder of an occurrence we'll never forget, and a re-immersion into the mood of the moment when the unthinkable unfolded, before our eyes, in painful slow motion.

Despite the distance of the fifteen years separating us from the event, almost everyone alive then can recall precisely what they were doing, the moment they heard the news. Something about the urgency of the moment cemented those memories in our minds.

For those alive at the time, the same can be said for the precise moment the news struck the airwaves about the assassination of American president, John F. Kennedy. That moment will also be forever cemented in mind.

"Do you remember when" becomes a question which, for those still alive from that era, can bring back vivid memories paired with the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, too. No matter how far removed that event might have been, those still alive can give a report of the minute details of their day at the moment the news hit.

Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush that pairs with crisis situations. Whatever the reason for those undying memories, they provide a peek into the day to day life being lived by our relatives, leading up to the unexpected turn of events. While it would be too painful to recall, just after the event, when the distance of time makes it possible, not only is it therapeutic for people to share their memories of the moment, but it provides a micro-history for others to understand the feelings surrounding the event, coupled with the everyday life observations surrounding the crisis.

Sharing these memories also helps family members catch a glimpse of what life was like for a specific member of our family. Such micro-histories, shared and passed down to younger generations, allow the rest of the family—descendants, in particular—to see, in retrospect, what their ancestors had experienced through the dire passages of their lives.

The museum organizers were careful to preserve the memories of many who survived that day, back in September, 2001, drawn from many aspects. Many walks of life contributed to the collage of memories, representing all who were part of that tragic scene. Employees, neighbors, rescue workers, and many others lent their voice to recordings, explaining in sound bites the whole array of that day's experiences and its aftermath.

I couldn't help but wonder, walking through the displays at the museum, what became of those who were related to the men, women and, sadly, even children impacted by that day. My mind started envisioning a family tree of those involved in that day—what was the legacy of that experience?

My mind naturally runs in that direction, which helped me realize the same treatment could be applied to our own research. We can apply the same questions to our own family's memories—most certainly for those still with us who lived through the Second World War, or the Kennedy assassination—or even an event more close to the current time.

Admittedly, asking "Do you remember when?" concerning crisis events may not always be as fun an interview opportunity as recalling the birth of the first grandchild, or when one's baby had his first haircut or went off to kindergarten. Invoking a more introspective process, it can also be more revealing, both of the details of everyday life—with the crystal-clear recall embedded in that adrenaline-infused experience—and the personality-revealing observations shared in the process.

I know I certainly was instantly transported back to that morning as I walked through that museum. If asked, I could certainly fill pages with recollections of my everyday life from just before and just after hearing the news. Notes like that, captured in interviews, notes, and other recollections from family members, could provide us with the material to preserve our own family's stories in those moments of time when it seemed all the world stood still.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

One More Phone Call

With so much of the work behind me—of determining the family featured in the mystery photo album I found in northern California—it might seem like it is time to wrap up this story and move on to another. But no, not quite yet. There is one more item of business to attend to. Remember, that photo album still needs to find its way back to Ireland. And I want to figure out how the thing made its way to California.

There is one member of the Reid family who may know the answer. Now that I'm returning home from my most recent trip, I'll be set to make another phone call to hear the details on what may well be a plausible explanation. Today, I heard from that branch of the extended Reid family, asking to schedule a time to talk. Believe me, I can hardly wait.

This family will also likely be the very ones to deliver the album back home to County Cork. You see, the family is planning a trip to Ireland later this year, including a visit with none other than the very granddaughter of Harry and Alice Reid whom we've already deduced was the right couple.

My task, hopefully to be completed this weekend, is to arrange a phone conversation with this new family connection. Hopefully, that will include even more details that can be shared about this research journey, from personal remembrances this person has of the Reid family. Remember, the album was put together in 1936, and we are now over eighty years beyond that Christmas date. Those memories will reach far into the past of someone's lifetime, surely. I'll be interested to hear every detail that can be shared.

But first, a long flight home today as I head from Connecticut to California on a journey of my own.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Going Back a Long Way

Working on this Hawkes line from the mystery photo album I found in a local antique store reminds me that I have much research to do to verify the generations preceding the ones pictured in the album. The Hawkes family has such a long, interesting history, and yet, I've not been able to secure documentation for much of it beyond John Pim Penrose Hawkes' grandfather. Judging from the Hawkes family researchers I've corresponded with during this research, though, the family's pedigree can be traced back a long, long way.

One reason this comes to mind is due to the many people who have helped, along the way, with this search. Of course, it is easy to find several trees on Ancestry containing these Hawkes relatives, but it is correspondingly disappointing to see, as the owners' resources, such "verified" source documents as "Ancestry family trees." This, in my eyes, is no better than the blind leading the blind.

One reason I've wished to obtain documentation from a few generations prior to our target family members is, as I've mentioned, that I've been communicating with some other Hawkes descendants. Not from the immediate family of Alice Hawkes Reid's parents, of course, but with distant Hawkes cousins. So distant, in fact, that even they aren't sure just how they relate.

Since one reader, Intense Guy, had provided the link to a family tree naming one of the children mentioned in the post about the tea party at the Hawkes residence, I was led to an email address permitting me to correspond with one Hawkes descendant in Canada, and the very person, still in Ireland, who had been featured in that tea party group photograph.

It's been a treat to be able to correspond with those two women. Though neither was able to directly lead me to the descendants of Harry and Alice Reid, they certainly sent me kind responses to my questions, which I appreciated. It is certainly an odd inquiry to receive in one's inbox, agreed. To have such gracious responses was heartening.

So, yesterday was a day to send out thank you notes. Agreed, again, that such thank you notes are also unusual entities. But perhaps that will someday become the norm, as we delve further into genealogical connectivity in this age of universal contact, thanks to the Internet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another Trip, Another Phone Call

Has it been only a month since my trip back east to Florida—the very day in which I received the message confirming connection with the granddaughter of the Irish couple from my mystery photo album? It was in the airport that morning I had checked my messages one last time before boarding my flight. There, Heather had responded, confirming she had received my messages and wanted to talk.

Phone calls in busy airports, though, do not blend well with this type of conversation, so we waited until a mutually convenient—and quiet—time to make our first phone contact.

Once again, I've received an answer to a tentative message—in the affirmative, and with a request to talk by phone. If not from the actual recipient of that mystery photo album, from someone who could possibly be the oldest living relative of this family line. She likely has a lot of information to share. And I am keen to hear it.

But travel plans have once again gotten in the way. For a phone call of this type, I'd not only need a quiet place but a space to spread out with note paper and my online database—that "secret" family tree I constructed to help keep track of my guesses as to who this family was that sent the album, and just who its recipient might have been.

Meanwhile, though, we do have email. And we've been exchanging notes—on my part, pumping out an endless volley of questions about the Reid and Hawkes families, and from the other end, a gracious stream of answers plus the bonus of more photographs.

Once that call has been made, all that remains is to make arrangements to return the album to the family in County Cork whose grandparents had sent it westward, over eighty years ago. In the interim, though, I have one more small bit of research business to attend to: contact all the others researching these family lines who had helped me along the way to accomplishing this goal.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Going Home

They say you never can go home again—not really. With the passage of time and all the experiences that entails, things are never quite the same as they were the last time you left.

In my case, it's been several years since the last time I left my childhood home in New York. But this week, I'll at least get a chance to drive by my old home, pass the church and high school I once attended, slip down the one road which could qualify as the town's Main Street—don't blink—and see if the old pizza parlor where we hung out on Friday evenings is still in business.

That's not the only reason I'm going back, of course. Like the draw of genealogy, itself, it's the people drawing me to the destinations I visit, not the static elements of dates, names and locations. I'm touching bases with family I haven't seen in years. While we can now connect—even daily, if we wish—by text, phone, or even video chat, there is nothing like being there in person, where we can talk, face to face. The more the years separate us from a daily life of living all together, I'm grateful for these opportunities.

Today, in particular, I'll be traveling with one sister to visit another sister. Over the years, the family has split from our one home state to establish families of our own in several different states, and even across the continent. Having the chance to drop in for a visit becomes infinitely more complicated, once our lives have pulled us in so many different directions.

I think the draw of family history research mirrors the mystique of that familial tie that binds. Love them or not, the folks we grew up with are, well, family—and there is an unspoken something that pulls us back together. Could it only be the pull of the DNA that we share? Surely there is much more than that, no matter how powerful that invisible link may be.

Tracing the wisps of that tie, the echoes from previous generations—the fruit of which made us the individuals we are—becomes the pursuit of family history. We re-enact—on paper, at least—the ties binding members of previous generations together and commemorate once again that mystique of familial ties.

While we may never truly be able to return home again—to that place where we all once lived—we still seek to capture tho relationships and experiences in the micro-histories we draw up to represent who we once were as a family. The passage of time may erase the place we once called home, and even the faces which once could be found inside that familiar front door. But the stories we capture on paper—these we can preserve and pass down through the generations, the intangible (and only) part we can return to, generation after generation.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Favoring the Irish

It's time to tally my progress for the last two weeks of family research. This is always a difficult time for me, because from week to week, I have such a variance in my schedule that research may sometimes rocket ahead...and other times languish. Keeping count helps me at least try for consistency.

However, having spent the past several weeks researching someone else's Irish family tree, it put me in the mood to do some Irish research of my own. So what did I do? Head over to my father-in-law's tree to see what new hints could be found.

There was quite a bit to polish up. As new collections get added to the Ancestry holdings, some trickle down to my own trees, so there is a constant need to revisit and spruce up documentation.

Though I did quite a bit of work linking already-existent people in the tree with newfound documents, I actually didn't add many new names. Five, to be exact. But at least that now brings up my count for that tree to 1,086. Every little bit of progress counts.

Surprisingly, my own father's tree gained a small amount, as well: inching forward to a total of 403, with the addition of fourteen new names. While this is my smallest tree, it is also my most challenging, so I'm pleased with any progress I can make at all.

The two mainstays of my research progress, as always, are the maternal lines: mine, and my husband's. Even so, I haven't seen the type of progress I'd experienced, back at the end of last year. In the past two weeks, on my mother's tree, I added fifty four new names to total 9,836 in that database. On my mother-in-law's tree, I hit some easy-to-find family lines and managed to add 162 new individuals, bringing that tree's total to 10,777.

Our DNA results, while up from the last two week period, are still much slower than during sale seasons. Thankfully, we'll likely see an uptick in matches, once the DNA Day sales get processed. It's always nice to see new matches, so I'm all for the sales—even if I'm not the one in the market to buy.

At Family Tree DNA, my husband's matches advanced forty five to total 1,272. At AncestryDNA, he gained fourteen new matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer, with the total now at 252. Interestingly, at 23andMe, his match count went down, supposedly as other clients retract their results from the DNA sharing portion of that company's website. He now has 1,285 matches there.

For me, FTDNA matches came in at 1,988, up sixty four. AncestryDNA was 528, up twenty eight. And I'm still awaiting my results at 23andMe, which for some unexplained reason took longer to make it from northern California to Los Angeles than from L.A. to the final destination on the east coast. Go, USPS.

One bright side in all these numbers is that I took a look at my stagnant count for my mtDNA test. I have only four exact matches there for my matrilineal details, at least two of whom are adoptees. One of the others, I just noticed, added a pedigree chart, so I jumped over to that file to take a look. It didn't take long to discover our nexus: at the level of my seventh great grandmother. No wonder we never saw any match activity on our respective autosomal test results!

Bit by bit, I keep plugging away at all these trees. Slow and steady may be very boring to consider, but in the aggregate, it can sometimes turn up some encouraging results.
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