Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Legacy of a Church

Can a church be a church without a church building?

That is a question posed in many theological circles, and among laymen as well. Whether getting technical with discussions of the “ekklesia” of ancient Greek, or examining traditions of various denominations, though we often refer to the building when using that term, “church,” it is really the people congregating in that building who make the difference.

It was especially that way when it comes to considering the church of Agnes Tully Stevens, my husband’s grandmother—Saint Anne Catholic Church of the “Southtown” of Chicago. Claiming a heritage that sprang up among the cottages that dotted the plain beyond the lake where Chicago eventually stood, Saint Anne’s church had a humble beginning in home meetings. There was no church building in those early days in which parishioners could gather. The residence of a local merchant became the church home of this early Chicago mission.

Eventually, the corner of South Wentworth and West Fifty-fifth Streets became the home for the new congregation, with a suitable building dedicated in 1880. During those formative mission years, Agnes’ own parents—Irish immigrants John and Catherine Malloy Tully—met, were married, and saw each of their children baptized.

Though Agnes, born in 1888 and the baby of the Tully family, wouldn’t remember that baptismal event, she grew to find Saint Anne’s Church to be her second home in many ways. Her early years were spent attending the school at Saint Anne’s, and on her twenty-fourth birthday, June 12, 1912, she married the love of her life, William Stevens, in that very building. When the newlyweds were blessed with children of their own, each of them began life with the sacrament of baptism at this same church.

The church must have inspired a lifetime of service. It became Agnes’ habit, following the same dedication she had observed in her own mother and the many mentors she was blessed with at Saint Anne’s church, to reach out and help others in need. Our family still possesses the many letters written by Saint Anne’s priests and nuns—often from desert locations where, stricken with the dread tuberculosis, they hoped for recovery—sent in reply to Agnes’ letters of encouragement. Others were correspondence with Saint Anne’s teachers, with whom Agnes kept in touch and looked to for guidance.

The church that began as a mission outpost and grew with the city became the center that influenced the strong faith of women such as Agnes. The tokens Agnes saved and passed on to family are witnesses of that influence. A prayer book, published in 1908, displays her name as “Agnes Stevens” and, judging by the energetic scribbles encircling her signature, was her companion along with the young children who also demanded her attention. Numerous readers, magazines, and other material from the church she held on to, with the letters, for the rest of her life.

Beautiful little mementos like the one above right, its gilded filigree worn with the passing of time, are reminders of the life that meant so much to Agnes—a life centered around faith, family and her church.

That church itself, though, no longer remains. The building known as Saint Anne Catholic Church saw its congregation expand to its highest numbers in the 1950s, then wane as Chicago’s population migrated to the suburbs. Combined for a while with another parish, Saint Anne’s church eventually gave way to a secular force: the paving of what is now known as the Dan Ryan Expressway.

As a church building, Saint Anne’s Church is no longer standing. There is no picture to remind our family of the church which so greatly shaped several generations of our family through the influence of one member. We have no remembrance of stalwart church doors, meditative inner sanctuary, upward-reaching church spires.

The only reminder our family has of this church building is what was built inside the character of one faith-filled, determined mother—who, in turn, learned this respect for faith and desire to serve from her own mother. It was the people of this church, in turn, who instilled these values into the lives of the Tully, and later Stevens, families.

It all started at a church without a church building.

And it continues to have a witness, passed down through the lives of subsequent generations, despite again being a church without a church building.

The above post was written for The Catholic Gene and their "Doors of Faith" online celebration. 

Commemorating this "Year of Faith 2012-2013,"  The Catholic Gene will publish links to posts from each participating blog with their edition on October 11, 2012. 

Participation is open through Friday, October 5 for bloggers following guidelines posted by the host publication here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Waiting For the Harvest

In the beautiful Mediterranean climate I get to call home, September is the month to celebrate a bountiful harvest. This month, I had the privilege (and oh, the aches and the pains, too!) to help some friends a couple times with the harvest in their vineyard.

While this may not sound like the kind of topic that would relate to genealogy, there actually is a connection. You see, in this same week between the two harvests, I’ve been reaping another harvest of sorts, too: a harvest of cousins.

The vineyard where my friends and I wrapped up the year’s work just yesterday is home to vines that are upwards of sixty years of age. I am not an expert in such matters, but I’ve heard it reported that whatever it is that goes into nurturing a vine to that age somehow impacts the product—once it is ultimately obtained.

Not that you have to wait that full sixty years to receive any harvest. I’m sure someone—probably at first the people who planted the vines and were the original owners of the property—reaped a harvest every year since that first planting became productive. It’s just that the mellow richness that boosts the vineyard’s reputation today didn’t blossom with that first planting.

Some things just take time.

It’s the same way with family history research. We have to plant. We need to remember to water. To do the weeding. And pruning, and plucking, and shaping and staking. To work through some pretty hot, sunny times. And then…wait.

I posted my first electronic genealogy query to GenForum in 1999. It contained a question about a Sarah Rinehart who supposedly married a James Gordon from Pennsylvania, sometime before 1820.

I got a few answers to my question. But not many.

I didn’t let that stop me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted questions, comments, or notes of help on GenForum since then. And I can say the same for Rootsweb—maybe even more, since I discovered Rootsweb online a bit earlier than GenForum. Admittedly, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been at this genealogy thing ever since I could read and understand “grown-up” books. And that’s been a lot of planting seasons.

I can’t say the harvests were all that exceptional, especially at first. But you know, there have been some useful hints gleaned over the years. And a few happy moments along the way when minor connections have been made, especially those you’ve read on this blog, concerning research on my husband’s family lines.

This week, however—this week—I got to make a connection with someone in my own family. Granted, it is a relative of an in-law (my family always called them “outlaws”), but nonetheless, it is someone who knows cousins in my own family. The person who contacted me is someone who knows the people who, for me, only resided in my grandmother’s little address book. And she is willing to help me connect with cousins who are now morphing into real people from those static names written on a page by someone long gone from my life.

Of course, I’m ecstatic about the possibilities. This is a branch of my mother’s family that she, for whatever reason, never kept in touch with, either in childhood or as an adult.

What reminds me of the harvest today is this: the reason this total stranger was able to find me was due to a post I wrote on GenForum. I wrote it over seven years ago. Because of how genealogy forums like GenForum work, this woman was able to contact me, even after all those years. In whatever cycle of planting and harvest this genealogy season has taken us, this week we were ripe for the harvest. A connection was made.

It will probably be some time before I’ll be able to write much on what I’m sure to uncover of the stories from this branch of the family tree. And that is fine. Sometimes, the most mellow results come from the more mature vines.

That type of experience—waiting—reminds me that genealogy, like the harvest, has seasons. A time to plant. A time to reap. And a time when the older vines become recognized as the better producers.

Above right: Amalie Kärcher, Insekten auf Weinrebe (Insects on Grapevine); oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Not the Assignment I Was Hoping For

I’ve heard many people tell stories about how they first became involved in genealogical research. Often, the story begins, “When I was in school, the teacher assigned a project to interview my grandparents and draw a family tree.”

That’s the case with my cousin’s daughter, who came home from high school one day with that announcement. By the time she turned in her report, our supposed Irish roots were suddenly Polish. She had uncovered the family secret. (And I’m still trying to sort out the mess.)

I’ve spent an entire adulthood awaiting the parental chance to have my own daughter come home with an announcement like that. Admittedly, I’m a homeschooling mom, so I have no one to blame but myself for such a long wait. Now that my daughter is in college, my chances may actually have increased. Considering that she has declared her major to be archaeology, my daughter seems to have registered for every anthropology course ever known to mankind. This semester, she enrolled in a Cultural Anthropology course, and my long wait is now over: she has received the coveted assignment.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. As she explained the other night as prelude to sitting down with me in front of the computer to examine my genealogy database, what she needed for class was a “kinship chart.”

It took me a long while to get my head around that concept.

“You don’t want names?”


“What about dates? Birth? Death?”


“But surely you need information about marriages? How else can you produce kinship?!”

What evolved from that conversation was a chart which—she assured me—did include all the relationships contained in my genealogical records for the past three generations.

That’s not what it looked like to me. It looked for all the world to be a series of triangles, circles and random lines.

“Like those charts about Queen Victoria and the spread of hemophilia throughout European royalty,” my daughter explained. “Remember those?”

Well, actually, no. I guess I wasn’t such a good student in my homeschooling-high-school years. After all, I was the one who was supposed to be the teacher.

She promised to produce a link to an online source where I could generate such a chart. But as luck would have it, she then managed to join a friend for an outing downtown for the last night of the local farmer’s market and street faire, leaving me link-less.

Secretly, I snuck a look at the Internet, trying in vain to recapture my advanced educated persona and find the blasted chart.

Not successful in my search, I did uncover some nice resources for relationship charts—not those beyond-bare-bones genealogy-counterfeit things anthropologists like to use, but the kind of thing real people like genealogists could put to use.

In the end, though I still can’t dismiss the squishy sense that somehow I’ve been cheated, I did run across the material my daughter tried to explain to me. Plus, she did get me that link.

And she even let me scan a copy of her class assignment. Well, at least part of it. It’s too long to fit across just one page. Some of us had pretty big families.

“It’s to demonstrate patterns in relationships, mom,” she tried to explain.

Somehow, I still think something is missing…

Top chart, "Cousin Kinship Chart," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ireland’s Still Reaching Out

The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
                 (1998 amendment to Article 2, Constitution of Ireland)

Think of it: an island, stricken by famine, loses nearly one fourth of its population to either death or emigration. Such was the impetus causing a million Irish—many of them single young men and women—to leave their beloved home between 1845 and 1852.

From those million—well, at least those who survived journeying in the “coffin ships” headed for the New World—North America now claims multiplied millions of their descendants. In 2006, Irish descendants represented Canada’s fourth largest ethnic group—fourteen percent of the overall population—and a 2008 survey in the United States reveals thirty six million Americans claim Irish heritage.

These numbers of multiplied descendants are seen as part of the Irish Diaspora. While the government of Ireland technically classifies this dispersion as all persons of Irish nationality who habitually reside outside the island of Ireland—including their children—the traditional concept has been stretched to include the estimated eighty million people today who still cherish their Irish ancestry. This interpretation has been referenced by the Irish government in the quote mentioned above.

I’ve spent a lot of time considering the trails of one family falling into that second category. My husband’s Tully family—of which I’ve written extensively in posts here on this blog—left their native land in the 1840s, immigrated to Canada, settled in Ontario for a generation, and then eventually found their way to Chicago, the Dakota Territory, or even further west in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

After years of research, I feel like I know these pathways well—at least those in the New World. As far as those Irish origins, however, I was clueless until I stumbled upon some corroborating evidence. Yet, even then, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Earlier this year, I wrote about a resource across the Atlantic that I had just discovered: Ireland Reaching Out. The organization had established a web presence after a successful pilot year, and an online forum promised to help descendants from around the world find their connections in their ancient homeland.

I took them up on their offer. I posted the information from those corroborating baptismal records on the Ireland Reaching Out forum for County Tipperary.

And waited.

Just this month, someone sent me an answer. In fact, it was someone quite familiar with researching in that area—Ballina in County Tipperary. We began a correspondence discussing the possible records that could match up with my family’s Tully data. While I have a long way to go on verifying data through documentation, I almost feel breathless to think I may finally have found the origin of at least one of our Irish families. In addition, further baptismal records seem to link the mystery Michael Tully I stumbled upon in the Canadian village of our Tully family’s residence with the rest of our family. A missing link I’m looking forward to verifying—along with the new-found distant cousins I’ve met while posting about that Tully line.

So much attention seems to be focusing on the Irish lately. Several U. S. cities host Irish festivals every summer attracting growing crowds of attendees. In the past months alone, there have been announcements of the opening of facilities dedicated to pursuit of specific aspects of Irish immigration or influence on American life—a museum in Connecticut; a library in Arizona. A Canadian film company recently released a documentary, Death or Canada, focusing on the Irish Famine and emigrants’ escape route to Canada. This past August marked the publication of Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, an extensive volume examining all aspects of what may have been the defining event in Irish history.

I’ve followed the announcements of all these opportunities for further immersion in Irish culture and history with great interest. But there is nothing to catch the eye of a family history researcher quite like the opportunity to pinpoint his or her own roots in the beloved emerald isle.

Above right: 1868 engraving by Henry Doyle, Emigrants Leave Ireland; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Blog Needs A Voice

Perhaps you are thinking: “A genealogy blog is a blog is a blog…”

In the genealogy blogging world, that may have been so—oh, about a couple thousand blogs ago.

Now, amidst all the online offerings clamoring to be heard, a genealogy blogger needs something to differentiate her writings from the din. A blogger needs a voice.

Face it: we’ve got so many blogs to choose from in our free-reading universe. And there are so many different approaches. There are blogs by genealogy experts. By specialists in geographic regions. Or specific approaches, such as utilizing genetic studies, or taking research cues from a librarian. There are those focusing on tech aspects of research. Or preferring to tie roots with religious heritage. Some find a way to bring a smile—or a laugh—no matter what they choose to discuss.

But the niche I look for is the segment of genealogy blogs that seeks to tell the story. The ones that aren’t dashing through the generations on a quest to catalog the names and dates of as many ancestors as possible. Rather, the ones which prefer the slow journey of stopping along the way to absorb the aromas of life each of those generations must have experienced.

Even within these niches, each writer can manifest a voice. Some voices can be syrupy, some may be tart. It’s not that some are right and others not. It’s just that we find some that speak to us more clearly, and some we prefer listening to. Think of it this way: “niche” is a way to label the content of a blog; “voice” represents the process of how you narrate your story.

If you are not sure what I mean by “voice,” you will intuit the sense of it immediately with this brief blog tour. Consider first this blogger. While she may not know it—or me, for that matter—she is one of my most admired genealogy writers, mainly for the chance she gives readers to take in a breath of fresh air. As blunt as someone introducing herself at an AA meeting, here’s how she bills herself:
My name is Kerry. I like dead people.”
Okay, we got that pretty clear. Straight and to the point. We know exactly the style of delivery she’s promising to fuel our genealogy addiction. That’s the approach that draws a needs-no-clue reader to Kerry Scott’s Clue Wagon.

Contrast that with the very hush that can be sensed when reading about the religious ties that bind some of us to our Catholic heritage. I almost sense the need to play Gregorian chants in the background as I read The Catholic Gene.

When it comes to genealogy blogs that seek to tell a story, having a “voice” is necessary there, too. Oftentimes, we may find ourselves adopting the very voice of the characters we are portraying—the ancestors whose journals and photographs we are displaying as part of our content. That is partly what sets aside blogs like Linda Gartz’s Family Archaeologist, which uses her parents’ and grandparents’ own letters and journals to piece together the story of their journey to their adopted city of Chicago. Or Lisa at Smallest Leaf's 100 Years in America who patiently pursued the mystery of her own third great grandfather's origins in Croatia, and was rewarded with indications of how his life touched others in his city thanks to discovery of publications of the time in his native language. Woven into source material like that, though, is the writer’s own reflective “voice” providing contextual observations concerning the times and place settings the documents feature—and by connecting those times with our own.

In one way, adopting a voice is like seeking the best way to “explain” the actions and choices made by our ancestors. It’s the framework we use to make sense of what happened in our own past—often a past that was beyond the reach of our own life span.

While we may never have met these people in real life, the events that shaped their lives ultimately touched our own in some way—be it ever so small. That’s the part of our roots that I focus on when I ferret out the message behind the data and documents. Perhaps it’s that relay race of influence passed down from generation to generation that fascinates me—that draws me to such a niche.

Based on what I’m explaining about my own family stories, I’ll inevitably adopt a different tone—my “voice”—to the way I convey these episodes than you would for your scenes in your family story. While content such as diaries, letters, photos and memorabilia provide some excellent devices to employ in getting the story across to a reader, it not only serves the content aspect of narrative device, but influences the process mechanism that allows you to differentiate the sound of your blog from that of all others.

While all stories about families can be fascinating—even to strangers who’ve stopped to listen—it is ultimately the voice that becomes the recognizable feature which will draw those visitors back to your blog’s audience for the next story.

Above right: Cesare Maccari's 1889 fresco, Cicerone Denuncia Catalina (Cicero Denounces Catiline); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adding Another Voice to the Community

This past weekend, I did quite a bit of thinking. Perhaps sparked by revisiting the old genealogical research standby—Cyndi’s List—on Thursday, and following that by stepping out of cyberspace into reality on Saturday to help with my local genealogy society’s training event, I’m seeking ways to get all of us family history researchers talking to each other more.

I don’t know if it was coincidental or not, but during that same span of time, announcements about an upcoming conference have been popping up online like daffodils in springtime. RootsTech 2013 won’t exactly be here until, well, 2013, but the buzz started the other day when I noticed the first bloom via a Facebook entry by DearMyrtle.
Am honored by 2013 RootsTech invitation to serve as an Official Blogger. No blogger button, banner or logos yet, I assume they will follow shortly.
Soon after, a little bird (@nancyshively) tweeted
any of my #genealogy friends going to #RootsTech 2013?
And soon followed up with a blog post of her own at Gathering Stories.

By then, my blog reader was literally carpeted with a blooming display of RootsTech 2013 titles. Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings posted his announcement about the opening of registration—and that he has been designated an official blogger—and Julie Tarr at GenBlog followed suit (plus added a post about how you can save $90 on registration costs).

So, naturally, I headed over to the RootsTech site to see what all the buzz was about. There, nestled in among the class descriptions for nearly two hundred fifty sessions in next spring's three day conference, I spied a workshop on how to set up a genealogy blog.

Precisely my cup of tea.

I think each of us who is researching our family origins and heritage should be serious about communicating our findings so others may benefit—and collaborate. Why not? If family is a social construct, then being sociable about it seems one of its inherent properties. It’s all about people. So why not share?

The only flaw I see in that proposition, though, is what I’ve been mulling over in the posts I mentioned above. If each of us is standing alone with our bullhorn to our mouth, shouting out our discoveries—and yet, no one is listening—what good does it do us? We need to refine whatever mechanisms are already at our disposal to come together, to discuss, to collaborate on what we’ve found. The Internet, after all, is the great facilitator for the Continuing Conversation.

We already have the means to do this. I’ve mentioned quite a while back about the social aspects of Thomas MacEntee has provided a mechanism to lead us to the water of fresh genealogy blogs—through his GeneaBloggers search capabilities—but we need to be the ones to take that drink, take the initiative and connect with the blogs we find through his site.

And I don’t mean “connect” as in “read that blog.” We need to make our presence known. Leave a comment. Say hello. Say, “I’m researching those same surnames.” Or, “thanks for sharing that resource; nice post.” Or something.

There’s nothing more lonely than pouring one’s heart out on paper, post after post, and never hearing anything back from the blogiverse—not even an echo. “Is there anyone out there?” we wonder.

I’ll never forget the moment the community-building light bulb went off in my own mind. We all have “Ah ha!” moments, and this one was mine. I had been plying the photography/history blogger known online as “Far Side of Fifty” with questions about certain unidentified cabinet cards I’d recently received—I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but I had to do something with them—and she offered to send over one of her own blog’s readers who had some valuable insight into such identity issues. It turns out that reader was another blogger, known as Intense Guy. (She prefers to call him “Iggy,” so I’ve followed her lead there.)

Iggy showed up on my blog one day and left a comment. For what it was worth, it was helpful. I thought that would be the end of it. But, surprise, there was a comment on my next post, too. Different subject, but he had a comment for that one, too. And the next day? Same thing.

I wasn’t shouting vainly at an empty blogiverse anymore. I had a listener.

That taught me something. It showed me that I can do this, too. I can go out and be someone’s listener, too. I can encourage someone else in their burden of sharing their research online where it can become useful to others. By doing this, I can become a voice that encourages others when they shine—perhaps even shape their progress or encourage them in their focus.

This new mission is a type of community-building. When I find someone whose posts, style, or goals match my own—a blogger after my own heart—I can be there to serve as their cheerleader while they get their game up and running in their own spring training camp.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep at it—this communicating online about my search through blogging—if it weren’t for the encouragement of others who are in the same arena.

It’s just a little thought about passing things along.

After all, if RootsTech 2013 sees the launch of several more newly-minted family history bloggers, they’re all going to need some encouragement, too.

And beyond encouragement, wouldn’t it be energizing to enable each other to achieve even more in our mutual endeavors?

Above right: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (Le Déjeuner des canotiers) 1881; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Glorious Music: The Fine Details

It may have been a tradition in the late 1800s for parents to instill a love of music in their children—in particular, through the use of musical lessons. Agnes Tully Stevens was not alone in her family—nor among her Irish-American neighbors—when it came to receiving training in the fine art of music-making. I have not only read that that is the case, but I happen to have read diary entries of a young Chicago teen of that era who also practiced diligently and played her violin at local recitals. That young lady was Agnes’ own cousin, Edna Tully McCaughey.

It almost seems as if the community were infused with the sound of music. Not only was it part of the young people’s extra-curricular activities, but it was also featured in their church activities. The singers listed in this particular program for the dedication of the Church of the Visitation may have achieved local recognition for their talents—but they may also have been members of this (or neighboring) churches.

Musical Director


Mrs. Hans S. Liné        Miss Alma Borman      Miss Nellie Driscoll
Mrs. William Collins               Mrs. J. Conroy

Miss Gertrude Graber         Mrs. Dr. Schulte       Mrs. J. Causeman

Tenors                                                 Basses
Geo. Willis Mason                                  Mr. Jno. Phelan
     Mr. Joseph J. Causeman                          Mr. William Graber
          Mr. C. E. Riddel                                      Mr. Thos. Carson
               Mr. H. G. Tewes                                        Mr. Brazil Tetson

Miss Winifred McGuire

Hans S. Liné’s Orchestra and the Visitation Church Choir (75 voices).

Wherever they originated from, these were the lead singers in addition to a sizeable choir and orchestra adorning the festivities commemorating the dedication of this Chicago church. Not one but two events for the day featured the musical talents of these people. A morning service and evening program both featured a number of classical pieces. With the acoustics of a church building in the style of those times, it must have been an uplifting experience to hear these pieces performed there.

Because the church that the Tully family attended is no longer in existence—its location being somewhere beneath the Dan Ryan Expressway—I wondered if I could find any pictures or records of the church this dedication was commemorating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to uncover any other than what could be found courtesy of the ubiquitous Google™ Maps. Actually, when I entered the address as the program yesterday had listed it—Garfield Boulevard and Peoria Street—and placed the little Google™ icon on street view at that location, the first image that came up on the screen was the church building. So, whether being used as such or not, the place is still standing.

It does seem like a magnificent building.

Programme of the Sacred Music

Morning Service

1          Pontifical March         .           .           .        R. Wagner
2          Kyrie   .           .           .           .           .       Haydn
3          Gloria  .           .           .           .           .      Giorzia
4          Credo  .           .           .           .           .       Giorzia
5          Offertorium (Ave Maria)        .           .          Perlet

Soprano Solo, Miss Alma Borman

6          Sanctus            .           .           .           .       Haydn
7          Benedictus (O Salutaris)         .           .          Nevin

Tenor Solo, Mr. Henry G. Tewes

8          Agnus Dei        .           .           .           .       Haydn
9          Te Deum          .           .           .           .       Gregorian
10        March  .           .           .           .           .       Haendel

Evening Service

1          Pontifical March .       .           .           .           Mozart
2          “Praise Ye The Lord,” Psalm 150 .    .           .  Randegger

Soprano Solo with Chorus
Mrs. Hans S. Liné and Church Choir

Rt. Rev. E. F. Dunne, D. D., Bishop of Dallas

3          “O Salutaris” .                        .           .          Lange

Duet for Soprano and Tenor
Mrs. Hans S. Liné and Mr. George Willis Mason

4          Tantum Ergo .             .           .           .           Goeb
5          Laudate           .           .           .           .          Gregorian
6          Postludium      .           .           .           .          Meyerbeer

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nurturing a Love of Music

Every time I come across a concert program in the files of Agnes Tully Stevens’ belongings, I hope it will be the missing item that shows some of the pieces she performed as a violinist while on tour in her younger years. But each time so far, I’ve been generally disappointed.

The simple program I pulled out of the stack for today’s post is no different. Though the paper is full of names of performers, search as I might, I could not conjure up her name among the list of those talented Chicagoans of a century ago.

On revisiting the details, though, that would not be surprising. This particular event took place when Agnes was only eleven years of age. While parents often start their children’s music lessons at early ages, one could hardly expect anyone other than a child prodigy to be of performance-level skill at that age.

Add this program to the tally for early impressions that formed a person into who she became. Part religious influence, part musical inspiration, this event was the dedication of a new church (or church building) not far from the Tully home. Though it was not the family’s own parish—they attended St. Anne on Garfield Boulevard—it was a neighboring parish. On the corner of that same street—Garfield Boulevard—and Peoria Street, the Church of the Visitation was dedicated on one special Sunday in November, 1899.

What a glorious occasion it must have been. There were morning and evening festivities. None less than the President of Notre Dame University was there to speak. There were many other dignitaries there to join him. And the musicians.

Oh, the music! We’ll take a look at the program in tomorrow’s post, but suffice it to say it must have been worthy of the celebration. How special that must have been to the young Agnes—special enough, at least, to impress her to hang on to the program itself for the rest of her life.

I often wonder what thoughts there were to prompt Agnes to decide to keep such things. What memories were embedded in that paper—invisible to people of another generation like me, but which sprang to life with one’s knowing glance at the page? I guess it’s those hidden aspects of an ancestor’s life that I wish I could resurrect from oblivion with my research. Wouldn’t it be grand to know those sparks of life that lit up one’s face and allowed that person to thrive despite all other difficulties?

Pursuit of that impossible quest would, in itself, make quite a story.

of the
Church of the Visitation
Garfield Boulevard and Peoria Street, Chicago
His Grace Archbishop Feehan
Sunday, November 19, 1899
Solemn High Mass at 10:30 a.m.
Celebrant of Mass
Rev. D. F. McGuire, Pastor
Deacon                                                            Sub-Deacon
Rev. M. Fitzsimmons                                       Rev. F. M. Dunne

The Sermon at High Mass will be preached by Rev. A. Morrissey,
President of Notre Dame University.

Evening Sermon at 8:00 o’clock by Rt. Rev. E. F. Dunne, Bishop of Dallas, Texas.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Genealogy Alone

If you are reading this Saturday morning, September 22, you will be considering these words while I am ensconced with 42 others at a local Genealogical Society event in my city. What brings me to town—to the library, precisely—is an attempt by the local genealogy group to interest others in the pursuit of researching their family roots.

Not that I’ve been long at it—this collective pursuit. Although I’ve been charting my own ancestry for decades—remember, I’m the one who claimed interest in genealogy as a birthright—for the most part, I’ve been doing the work solo. I must confess, I haven’t been among the kind that prefer to gather together to revel in their passion.

I am determined to amend my ways.

The situation I am observing—in others as well as in myself—may have been brought on by the burgeoning supply of online resources. Who needs to spend nearly four dollars a gallon to drive to some cold office building in what might be a crime-ridden neighborhood, just to do with others what can be done just as handily (and probably faster) at home?

From what I’ve read, there seems to be a continental divide between those who do and those who don’t:
                       Research in public settings
                       Learn new research techniques through group sessions
                       Discuss research findings in groups

Considering that polarization puts me in mind of the landmark book written by Harvard sociology professor, Robert D. Putnam: Bowling Alone. That 2001 publication—predating the September 11 debacle, incidentally, which itself eclipsed even the societal changes the author cited—charted “grievous deterioration” (as Publishers Weekly put it) of the “organized ways” people “partake in civil life” here in these United States.

In other words, civic and community organizations have been on a long downhill slide. Perhaps—though the author didn’t outright say it—that would include genealogical societies.

On the flip side, there are those who never venture beyond taking a peek at the online portals of genealogy monoliths such as or—never once seeking the myriad online possibilities that could enrich their genealogical endeavors. Nor considering there might be another way to come together over their queries and quandaries than through their monthly society meetings.

Admittedly, some people just need to get with it and enter the twenty-first century.

On the other hand, face-to-face could use a face lift. Six degrees of separation in reverse. Instead of the asynchronous relay race of connecting with each other serial style, we can find ways to come together. To network. To share. To learn. With others who share the same interests in the same place at the same time. There is nothing like the personal touch—especially when long-established institutions seek to pass the torch to the next generation of enthusiasts in their specialty.

We need an interface between two extremes: a way to blend the best of both worlds. And a way to include others and encourage them to discover this passion over genealogy as we bridge these two worlds.

And so, I find a way to heft myself out of my comfy chair in my cozy carpeted home office and exchange the steady gaze into a bluish-lit screen for the sun-softened reality of a chat with real people who share my interests—or at least who wish they could learn how. While a virtual reality may never interrupt or ask questions we cannot answer, it doesn’t allow us to reach out and touch real people in any lasting way.

If we are to share our passion for genealogy with others, while online efforts are remarkably effective research tools that move us farther along our own path, they don’t address building the networks that really matter: the networks of face-to-face contacts with those who wish to learn how to enter this fascinating world.

Bowling alone may perfect one's game, but it doesn't breathe life into the activity. Genealogy alone is no different. It's the people who can transform an exercise into an energizing, purposeful event.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What Message Are You Searching For?

Yesterday, when we discussed that staple of online genealogy research—Cyndi’s List—one reader commented that she found the site “a bit overwhelming.” Granted, taking a look around the Cyndi’s List website reminds me how much it has grown over the years. “Burgeoning” comes to mind. Taking the route there of searching by categories can itself seem a daunting task. A person can find himself being grateful for simple gifts like the addition of a Google™ Custom Search bar to the top right corner of the Cyndi’s List web pages.

And that overwhelming feeling comes from just considering Cyndi’s List alone. Yet, this is not the only landing page for family history enthusiasts.

There are so many websites—not to mention blogs—out there seeking to reach the genealogy-loving community. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers mentions a number nearing three thousand when he speaks of how many genealogy blogs there are out there—and that’s only counting genealogy blogs. As far as websites, the count is many multiples above that tally.

Somebody must think we are looking for something, for they are all talking at us. Regardless of what they think they should be saying to us, I’d like to consider the other side of the equation: what, exactly, is it we are looking for online, as genealogy researchers?

For one thing, we obviously are hungering for more digitized documentation. Last July, announced that it had just added its two-millionth “active current subscriber.”, billing itself as the “largest genealogy organization in the world,” simply puts it as “millions of people” when quantifying their annual number of unique hits. (But with a little searching, I discovered they now have over three million users visit per month, with over 150 million landing there since their launch in May, 1999.)

Other than the largest, most well-recognized names at the head of the genealogy world, there is indeed a very looong tail of other websites and blogs clamoring to be noticed. And heard. And used. They all think we want something. But is that really what we do want?

Whether they’ve made the correct assumptions about what we are seeking when we delve into our family history quest, it would serve us well as consumers to voice what, exactly, it is that we want. What are we searching for? What makes us perk up our ears and listen? Do we all listen to the same message?

The flip side of this question is for those who are broadcasting that message. In my role as blogger (rather than researcher), I need to understand those dynamics, too. What is it that calls readers here to stop and take a peek today? Why do those readers want to come back again tomorrow?

(While things may be going swimmingly for genealogy bloggers in the midst of a glorious summer or vigorous fall day, that will not always be the case. Believe me, on a cold, dreary February day, a blogger can get depressed enough to ask herself questions like that. Why bother writing, anyway? That’s why I want to take the occasion now, in the reassuring comfort of broad pre-autumnal-equinox daylight, to pose such a query.)

Can you fill in the blanks here? Why do you read genealogy blogs? Is it because you are researching the same surnames? Looking for family photographs? Checking out how your fellow researchers are progressing? Looking to pick up some hints or tips on tackling difficult research problems? Watching to see how someone else frames their family portrait? Or tells their ancestors’ stories?

Or…maybe I’ve got that all wrong. Maybe someone is just looking for a good, quick read while drinking a desperately-needed hot cup of coffee.

What do you think?

Sometimes, I just want to sit down at my computer and type in my order on Google™ for the perfect genealogical solution. But even the SearchMeister cannot always intuit my reading needs. Maybe we all just need to come together and talk about it….

Above, right: 1882 lithograph, Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity's Gate; compare with a pencil-on-paper version of that same year re-titled Worn Out, and, reverting to the previous though amended title, Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate), an oil-on-canvas completed barely two months before his death; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Revisiting a Longstanding Resource

As much as we in the genealogy community prefer to see ourselves as lone researchers on a trailblazing quest to locate heretofore undiscovered ancestors, with the advent of the Internet—and again, as the world of social media collides with our ivory tower self-images—we have really morphed into participants in one giant ongoing genealogy conversation.

There are so many tools to help us accomplish this feat. We’ve connected with genealogy bloggers—two thousand eight hundred of them and counting, according to Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers—through RSS feeds, Blogspot’s Google Friend Connect, and email subscription services. We’ve Tweeted each other about #genealogy and #familyhistory on Twitter. We’ve found each other’s Facebook pages—especially for online interest groups like Chicago Genealogy or actual brick-and-mortar organizations like the Marion County Arkansas Heritage Society.

We used to congregate in places like Rootsweb and GenForum. But as we journey far past our humble online origins, we tend to forget—or discard—those original forums where we made our first digital genealogy connections (as Deb Ruth mentioned just yesterday in her own blog). As services like GeoCities exploded and people learned how to develop those first rudimentary websites to share their research results, genealogy resources multiplied.

In fact, back in those early days, the burgeoning online growth of genealogy sites was creating a problem of its own: how to find things in that maze of research information.

One woman, planning to speak at her local Genealogy Society meeting about some helpful links she had found, brought a one-page handout to share with her group’s members. Everyone raved about the list, and others asked her to share it. Eventually, the easiest way for her to answer the many requests for “more!” was to put the list online.

That was in 1996.

The list has mushroomed since then, and it's still online. We know it as Cyndi’s List.

I’ve benefited from the links I’ve found on Cyndi’s List over and over again. It’s a resource I’ve known about for years.

I've even blogged about it.

And yet, as more and more resources for genealogy research come online each passing year, the new and shiny seems to push these tried-and-true resources away from the forefront of our attention.

I was reminded of that just this week. I was stymied by a research problem and, putting my mind in neutral rather than continuing to spin my wheels, I switched over to Google and just entered the term, “genealogy blogs.”

I’m not quite sure what I expected. Of course, I knew I’d see the standard entries such as GeneaBloggers. I was hoping I’d see some titles I’d not yet stumbled upon, too.

I totally didn’t expect to see the entry for Cyndi’s List.

Surprise, surprise, the old faithful Big Box of Lists now has a category called Blogs for Genealogy. And like any enormous all-inclusive list, this website invites visitors to submit any links that aren’t already on their list.

Operating on that age-old advice—“You have a mouth; now use it”—that’s exactly what I did.

Not that I’m anyone special. Any genealogy blogger can avail himself or herself of that same opportunity. Which I hope many will. The more ways we can utilize to find each other, the better for all of us.

The happily-ever-after part of the story is that, within twenty four hours, Cyndi’s List accepted my entry, and I am now a proud part of the listing for genealogy blogs on her website. My shining fifteen minutes of fame there came yesterday with a mention on the top of her daily “What’s New” listing. And like the faithful returns from any good investment, from this time forward, I know it will be one more way to help connect those proverbial haystack-searchers with the missing needle they are seeking.

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