Monday, December 31, 2018

Seventh Day of Christmas -
"Silvester" is "Old Year's Day"

It's not the day most people will be celebrating today, but the night. Still, there's a lot we can learn from delving into the roots of the twelve days of Christmas—the seventh, in particular. Designated, in some church calendars, as the feast day of Pope Sylvester I, ever since the Gregorian calendar set December 31 as the last day of the year, it has also been celebrated as New Year's Eve.

If you remember running outside at the stroke of midnight, grabbing pots and pans and banging them with the kitchen spoon, your celebration style for Silvester may have German roots. On the other hand, if you set the day aside to pay all your debts and tidy your affairs—not to mention, clean all the ashes out of your fireplace and get the day's baking done early—perhaps you are preparing to celebrate Hogmanay in the traditional Scottish long as you insure that the first one to set foot in the house, after the stroke of midnight on the first day of the year, is a tall, dark stranger.

Perhaps the custom of feast days falling (usually) on the anniversary of a saint's day of death can be thought more colloquially as a coming together to re-enact the traditional dinner following the funeral of a loved one. At least, that's the best way this non-Catholic can equate "celebrating" the death (in some cases, at the hands of brutal murderers) of an important person.

In the case of Saint Sylvester, who served as Pope concurrent with the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, his feast day has been designated as the anniversary of his burial in the Catacomb of Priscilla. As that day now falls—at least since 1582—on the last day of the year, the name of his feast day has actually become synonymous with New Year's Eve. At least, that is the case in Austria (ever walked a pig on a leash for Silvester?), several eastern European countries, and especially in Germany.

To direct how to celebrate the day (and the night!) would be impossible. The entire world has provided us numerous variations on the tradition—a telling way to clue you in to which part of your ethnic roots held sway over the generations. The Germans have apparently been doing so, big time, since Pope Sylvester's burial on December 31, 335. Yes, this, again, is a tradition having its roots in the Middle Ages.

Or is it? According to many historians, not only New Year's Eve, but the entire span of the Twelve Days of Christmas, has its roots in ethnic customs pre-dating the advent of Christianity in the European continent. The German culture, in particular, claims this tradition as an outgrowth of their own, dating before the advent of Christianity in Germanic tribes. Perhaps this is a clearer explanation for the affinity, during this season, with boisterous celebrations and fireworks.

Though I have yet to meet anyone who celebrates the day by switching out the jelly for mustard in their "jelly donuts," the German tradition brings us many distinguishing ways to celebrate Silvester. If you celebrate the day—or the night, tonight—watch what festivities are brought your way by friends and family. These activities may show you more about your (genealogical) past than foretell your future.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Six Days In . . .

...and I've already lost my way.

I can see why the urge to celebrate all twelve days of Christmas has waned—amend that: waned over the centuries. When I looked up the designation for today, the Sixth Day of Christmas, I had to ask, "Who?" The only explanation on the website I'm using as my guide was:
Day 6 (30th December): St. Egwin of Worcester.

Like I said: Who?

It wasn't easy to find an answer. For one thing, poor Egwin lived during a time period when spelling wasn't all that big a deal, apparently. He was also known as Egwin of Evesham. Or Ecgwin, Ecgwine, Eegwine, Egvino, or Egwinus. Take your pick.

His claim to a spot on the Christmastide calendar seems to have been based upon the fact that he died on December 30. In 717. Of natural causes.

Not too much oomph on celebration-worthy status. While the saint was apparently strict—so much so that he irritated some of his superiors—and certainly willing to suffer, at least on a pilgrimage to Rome, traveling with his feet voluntarily locked in shackles, his was a life of diligent work as bishop, where he became known as a protector of orphans and widows. Oh—and he founded the Benedictine monastery of Evesham, England.

The distant timeframe of the saint's life may be one reason why the story doesn't still resonate with any but the most dedicated of worshipers (or fans of medieval history, perhaps). We may remember vividly when a famous person in our own lifetime died—how many people, after all these years, still recount just where they were and what they were doing at the time of the news flash about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? But someone in another millennium? His may have been a noteworthy life—Egwin was, after all, designated a saint—but his story is so lost to folks in our generation. We may have many relatives named John for Saint John, but how many Egwins are in your family tree?

That made me go take a look. Today, after all, is the day I usually reserve for counting my research progress. Out of the 16,448 people in my mother's tree—the largest of all the trees I research for my extended family—I have (count it, now) a big total of zero people who can boast being named after Saint Egwin.

Granted, my mother's line wasn't very Catholic (except for the few distant relatives in recent years who converted for the sake of their proposed marriage), so let's take a look at the second largest tree in my collection, that of my Catholic-born mother-in-law. There, amidst the 15,816 in her tree, one would expect to spot at least one Egwin. However, there are no more and no less than in my mother's white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant tree. And you know that, among the 1,514 in my Irish-American father-in-law's tree, there won't be any Egwins; certainly not any in my Polish-American father's tree (though I'd find it doubtful to find any in so small a tree as his count of 516).

It's not for lack of trying that I don't show any Egwin namesakes. In the past two weeks, I've added 130 names to my mom's tree. Not as many as my usual breakneck speed, but hey, it's been Christmas. I still have six more days to celebrate, remember?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Not Exactly Five Golden Rings . . .

For the traditional feast on the fifth day of Christmas, we are off to Canterbury, and a tale of defiance and intrigue for inspiration. The date—December 29—is, in fact, the anniversary of a murder, of all the unlikely acts to be celebrated in a religious calendar. The day brings us to the Canterbury Cathedral itself, and taunts us with echoes of the originating event as they reverberate through history.

The murder was that of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury for eight years during the reign of Henry II, Norman king of England during the twelfth century. The king was displeased over Thomas Becket's unwillingness to go along with royal wishes to limit clerical independence—not to mention lessening the ties to the church at Rome—and through a process involving a trial, self-imposed exile, papal intervention and truce-making, Thomas Becket returned from France to England.

He wasn't there for long. Whether misunderstanding the king's comments over yet another incident involving the recently-returned archbishop or following a direct order, four knights left the king's presence and headed to the Canterbury Cathedral, where they confronted the archbishop. The knights first demanded that Becket reconsider his stance against the king's will, and at the archbishop's refusal, murdered him in the cathedral on December 29, 1170.

One would have thought that that would be the end of the incident, but the controversial Thomas Becket, after his death, was to inspire more controversy over his controversy. Though demands arose for his veneration as a martyr through much of the European world, the monks at the cathedral were afraid that his body would be stolen, thus arranging for his burial beneath the floor of the eastern crypt of the cathedral.

So many pilgrims came to Canterbury, over the following years, that eventually the remains of Saint Thomas Becket were removed to a more appropriate setting—a gold-plated and jewel-studded shrine—in 1220. Though Canterbury was always the destination of pilgrimages, following the saint's death, the number of pilgrimages increased. It is not surprising—learning also that in England in the years following Becket's death, storytelling was a main form of entertainment—to realize that Geoffrey Chaucer's fourteenth century collection known now as The Canterbury Tales was set around a plot line of a pilgrimage specifically headed to the cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket.

Don't think the arrival of the 1400s was the end of the saint's notoriety. With the coming of the Reformation, King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries—of which the Canterbury property was involved—and Thomas Becket's shrine was destroyed in 1538. That, apparently, was not quite enough to satisfy King Henry VIII, and he had Becket's bones destroyed and ordered that all mention of his name be obliterated.

Becket's assassination had been felt far and wide—noted even in such places as Spain, Sicily, and Italy, and elsewhere under Norman influence. Over the centuries, his story has inspired many works of literature, drama, and art.

But how does one celebrate such a day? Watch Richard Burton stand his ground in the face of Peter O'Toole in a 1964 movie recounting the original history? Make a donation to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty? Re-enact a pilgrimage to Canterbury (and take in London while we're there)?

One thing that struck me while I was connecting the dots on Thomas Becket's story was to see how widely spread the Norman culture and influence was at that time. Here on this end of Time's spectrum, we—especially genealogically-inclined Americans—like to report ourselves in terms of our hyphenated American roots. Those who claim to be of English extraction think they were, well, English. That may not be entirely true, as some of us have discovered upon receiving our ethnicity reports from our DNA tests. The English weren't exactly just English. A great many of them were once from France—to be specific, from Normandy. And even that wasn't a pure, isolated form of ethnicity, as the Normans owed their roots to the Franks, Romans from Gaul, and—how could we not include these sea-roving Scandinavians?—Vikings.

Just as those of us who fancy ourselves to be "English" turn out to owe our existence to a multiplicity of migrating people groups over history, and just as the most saintly of us may turn out, at times, to be recalcitrant—and downright grumpy while we're at it—we can let this patchwork of history speak to us. I'm not sure how we can turn this one into a feast day celebration—brain mold for your jello, anyone?—but it does allow us to spin off some food for thought.

Above: Colorized photograph of the Canterbury Cathedral, taken sometime between 1890 and 1900; courtesy of U. S. Library of Congress, via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Fourth Day of Christmas:
Feast of the Holy Innocents

Four days into the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I'm stymied with how people handled this specific day. It's a feast day, alright, but the designation is in recognition of a rather somber occurrence: the Feast of the Holy Innocents. How does one celebrate an event as macabre as that?

As it turns out, not only is this one of the designations for the Twelve Days, but it became the inspiration for one of the older tunes you might recognize from the Christmas season: the Coventry Carol. Admittedly, a lullaby for babies about to be murdered is a non-starter, despite being set to a tune which is hauntingly beautiful.

So how does one go about celebrating the occasion of a jealous king hell-bent on eliminating all competition? The mass murder of infants seems so senseless, even in the context of biblical scripture. The Catholic Church—of which I am not even a member, much less a theological analyst—depicts the Innocents' loss of life as martyrdom. But a feast?

I had to go looking for examples of how the day was historically celebrated among those in my ancestry. You can be sure, if the carol commemorating the event is over four hundred years old, the activities associated with the day would be much more ancient. Once known as Childermas, the day's roots reach back, in western Christian denominations, to the fifth and sixth centuries. Naturally, over the many years between then and now, the day has evolved greatly.

I was surprised to learn of the customs which have now sprung from that day. It would seem natural to see this day as a day of sadness, but over the generations, the day was once marked by strange caricatures of the remembrance of mourning. In medieval England, for instance, parents would remind their children of the mournfulness of the day by whipping their children in bed, first thing in the morning.

Thankfully, the viewpoint on how to "celebrate" the day has changed, but don't think the pendulum didn't swing wildly in the other direction. Eventually, the original tragic day got turned on its head, as it became one in which the youngest in the family got to "rule the day." The "baby" of the family gets to choose what foods to eat that day, what music will be listened to, or what things the family will do for fun. In Spain and some of its former colonies, Childermas is treated as a kind of April Fool's Day in which the one tricked is called "Innocente!" Often, it is the young playing tricks on their elders, who must then pay a ransom to escape being tricked.

A logical extension of the origin of the event is the custom some parents have of making the day one in which they specifically bless their children. No matter how sweet or innocent those children may be, every parent is reminded that, despite their young age, no child has a guarantee of a future of good health and long life.

Being reminded of that brings to mind some experiences we've had in our own family. This past year has been particularly difficult for my husband's cousin's daughter, who had one four year old child undergo surgery for a brain tumor (and the ensuing months of chemo treatments), while upon the heels of that ordeal, had to see that child's twin sister through cataract surgery to restore her sight. I'm sure you can also think of similar situations which have been endured in your own extended family.

And though it certainly didn't occur this year, my sister-in-law recalled that the only other son in our Stevens family—my husband's only brother—lost his life unexpectedly in a car wreck when he was still a teenager; his sixty-eighth birthday would have been yesterday. No matter how long these young people have been gone, we still remember them. Perhaps for their innocence. But also because they were family.   

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Third Day: A Day for Saint John

Do you ever face researching a family tree in which many of the ancestors were all bestowed with the same given name?

In my husband's very Irish and definitely Catholic family history, that was the case for the name John. Both of my father-in-law's grandfathers were named John. On the Stevens side, John Stevens was a name carried for a few generations in a row—perhaps longer, though I can't break through the Irish paper silence before the Tithe Applotments to determine that, as yet—and the John Stevens streak was only varied by the insertion of a mother's maiden name to yield John Kelly Stevens, a name likewise repeated for at least three generations. In fact, the addition of Kelly represented yet another John—John T. Kelly—from early 1800s Ireland.

Not to be outdone, my mother-in-law's less Irish but definitely Catholic forebears provided a few namesakes for Saint John, as well, including her own father's first name. In fact, of all the people in my mother-in-law's tree—now at 15,816 names—562 of that extended family hold the given name of John. Of the 1,514 in my father-in-law's tree, ninety three of them claim John as a first name.

Being Catholic, each of these family members named John likely were named after not only an ancestor, but also a saint. But which Saint John is the question.

Researching the saint being honored on the third day of Christmas requires attention to that same particular detail: which saint? Saint John the Baptist has his feast day on June 24, hardly part of Twelvetide, the Christmas season's celebration in the old European tradition. The saint celebrated on the Third Day of Christmas is a different Saint John: the one known as the Beloved Apostle, the one to whom authorship of the Gospel of John, as well as three epistles and the book of Revelation, has been credited.

Even getting the right person correctly identified can be a challenge when it comes to saints named John. Our Third Day honoree is officially designated as "Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist" by the Catholic Church, but called "Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist" by the Anglicans and the Lutherans. It may all come down to a comma and a definite article, apparently.

No matter what the case, those in my husband's family, whether in Ireland or the Alsace-Lorraine regions where I suspect his mother's family originated, likely spent the Third Day of Christmas going to mass to honor that day's specified saint. And if this is the Saint John for whom our family's many ancestral men named John were called, the day likely held even more significance for their families. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Second Day: Boxing Day

How did the second day of Christmas—in western tradition, the feast of Saint Stephen, first Christian martyr—come to be identified with both a tradition in England and a king in Bohemia? I can't say; some things just happen. Correlation does not signify causation. It's just how the western Catholic church has traditionally designated the day.

The tradition, somehow, has become intertwined with the custom of giving gifts to the poor on the second day of Christmas. Particularly in the United Kingdom—Great Britain, in particular, and many of the countries once associated with the British Empire—this day is designated as Boxing Day. Just as you might have boxed up a gift to give to a loved one on Christmas morning, this second day of Christmas became the time to box up alms and gifts for the less fortunate.

Though no one seems to know the true origin of the Boxing Day custom—and there are many versions explaining that origin, from the myth-busting Snopes to the mirth-eliciting New Yorker, and many variations in between—it is generally thought to have had its roots in the custom of the British upper class, having required their household servants to work during Christmas Day festivities, to release them for their own celebrations at home the day following. And, in the tradition of the feast of Saint Stephen, that day off was often accompanied by generous gifts from the well-off for those less fortunate than they.

Somewhere along the way, the feast of Saint Stephen became the inspiration for a Christmas carol—one musical commemoration of the Christmas season, in fact, in which there is no mention whatsoever of the Nativity.
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even....

For those of us who are avid collectors of traditional Christmas carols, you immediately may have recalled the tune that starts with those lines. The carol tells a story which is set on this very day: December 26 (at least in the western church calendar).

Only problem is: the good king wasn't exactly a king; he was likely a tenth century duke of Bohemia, also known as Vaclav the Good. As the history of the era goes, Vaclav the Good had a brother, known as Boleslaw the Bad (or, if you prefer, Boleslaus the Cruel). And an ambitious mother who, after her mother-in-law assumed power upon the death of her son (the previous duke of Bohemia), had the woman disposed of and assumed control of the land, herself.

It was in this scene, with his mom in charge as regent and taking vindictive action against the local Christians, that the young Vaclav came of age and took control of the government, exiling his mother.

It just so happens that Wenceslas Vaclav had spent much of his brief life, going out and doing deeds that likely ran afoul of the typical drama you'd expect in conflicts among the nobility. At least according to the legend preserved in the carol bearing his name, Vaclav honored the tradition of giving alms to the poor—in the case of this carol, on the very day of the Feast of Saint Stephen.

There must have been more to the story, because barely fourteen years into his reign, his brother—remember, I told you there'd be drama here—the evil Boleslaw the Bad invited Vaclav to attend a feast. That gesture, of course, was merely a pretense. Before this event, Boleslaw had arranged for three of his accomplices to assist him in a plot to kill the duke. As the three fell on Vaclav and stabbed him, his brother ran him through with a lance.

Following his death, there was a move to venerate Vaclav as a martyr. During this collective effort to have him declared a saint, writings about the duke attested to his acts of benevolence. Interestingly, his fame was not only asserted in Bohemia, land of his rule, but also in England, the country where the Carol that bears his latinized name was written, many centuries later. Perhaps the prevalence of the Boxing Day tradition in England found its resonance in the hymn praising the acts of the martyred duke of Bohemia.

Now that we know about the history and tradition of this second day of Christmas in the lands of our roots, how can we apply any of this knowledge to our understanding of our own family history? Well, for those who have roots in the British Isles, the answer is self-evident: that is what our forebears did on the day following December 25.

That, however, is not a useful answer for someone with a tree like mine. I went back to my most recently-revised version of my ethnicity results from AncestryDNA to check out just how British my family once was. Not very, according to the readout.

Though a quarter of my genetic makeup comes from the broadly-painted category of "England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe," there is little personal awareness of any English traditions in my history. That part of my family may have originated there, but that memory could be as recent as the 1700s, and in some cases, back as early as 1620. With a near-match of twenty two percent from Eastern Europe, I may have more of an affinity for the duke from Bohemia than any lords of English manors.

And yet, I discover that that very same day—December 26—comes with yet another designation in other parts of the European sphere. In Ireland, for instance, that same day is called Wren Day. While a day set aside for young men to go out and kill little birds may seem an unlikely platform on which to build a holiday which resonates with the populace, there is, of course, more to this story. Part of it, conveniently, links to the broader purpose of the Feast of Saint Stephen: the giving of gifts to people less fortunate. In the case of the Irish Wren Day, in modern times, the money collected to "bury the wren" is often donated to a selected charity.

What was interesting about learning of this to-me unheard-of historic festivity was to see that, even now, Wren Day is still celebrated in pockets of Ireland, mostly in County Kerry and County Limerick, two locations from which my husband derives his own Irish heritage. In addition, not only was Wren Day an Irish custom on December 26, but similar events have been re-enacted in parts of Britain and France, as well as the Isle of Man. More to the point is the detail I discovered about a version of this day as it is honored in Wales, a region represented in my own maternal grandfather's heritage—though there in Wales, the tradition is held on Twelfth Night.

All told, while it was interesting to learn what variations there have been in the Christmas-time celebrations over the centuries and across the continent of my roots, it is apparent why none of these traditions have had enough staying power to be passed down to my generation. For one thing, my forebears have been separated from any memory of those festivities for well more than two centuries—in some cases, by nearly four hundred years, and even in the case of the Irish Wren Day tradition, over one hundred fifty years. For another thing, these were often events that were reinforced by community involvement—a church boxing up alms donated by their community, or a group of neighborhood boys collecting donations to "bury the wren"—something requiring a large number of people living in close proximity and holding to the same custom.

Above all, though, the realization drives home the main point: as fond as Americans may be of reveling in the great variations in their ancestral makeup, we are, above all other hyphenated designations, more American than we claim to be.   

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

On the First Day of Christmas

American custom is such that we are all in a tizzy over the season by the time the actual day, December 25, gets here, but a long-standing tradition had those twelve days of Christmas fixed so that the sequence began on that very day. While we may be over with the merrymaking after the close of the day today, our ancestors may have just begun.

I was curious to see what the traditional holiday sequence of the twelve days of Christmas might have included. After all, for those of us with European roots, knowing that would bring us closer to understanding just how our ancestors celebrated the event. Of course, the phrase, "twelve days of Christmas" immediately brings to mind the carol by that title. Along with the long-winded ditty's many parodies—and even hoaxes—the custom of the twelve days itself has its explanations shared online, too, both lightweight and serious.

Terms like Boxing Day, or the Feast of the Innocents, have remained tucked away in the far reaches of my memory. I recall hearing such terms, and associating them with some fuzzy link to the Christmas season, but never thought to follow the trail back through my own generations to see if any of my ancestors might have held such traditions in our own family lines.

True to form as your Genealogical Guinea Pig, I thought I'd take this Christmas week to see what I could find, and hope you will join in on this lazy researcher's casual tour of the official names for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. While I am far from being equipped to report on what my kazillionth great grandfather might have been up to on the twelfth century rendition of the Feast of Saint Egwin, at least we can surmise what the Christmas season was like for those ancestors for whom we have at least a hazy picture of their life's ups and downs.

In the meantime, in whatever holiday traditions your family has handed down to you and yours, may you have a peaceful holiday season with those who mean the most to you.

Above: "Adoration of the Shepherds," oil on canvas by seventeenth century Dutch Golden Age artist, Gerard van Honthorst; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, December 24, 2018

On Christmas Eve

It's the twenty-fourth day of December. By now, most Americans who have prepared for the upcoming holiday are likely suffering from Christmas fatigue. Whatever happened to enjoying the Christmas ambience starting with the celebration on the twenty-fifth?

In searching for artwork to include in this post, I paused for a while to consider an artist's illustration of the Bavarian market where cut evergreen trees were being sold for Christmas. Not likely anyone now can relate to that concept at this late date—we've long since put up our tree decorations, wrapped our packages and munched those holiday treats.

Still, I can remember, not that long ago, going home for one Christmas vacation and discovering that my mother had just the day before put up her fresh-cut tree. She had been so busy during the prior week—at the time, she worked as a substitute teacher for two school districts where, I imagine, there were lots of "sick" calls placed that last week before the winter recess—that she hadn't been able to go find a tree.

It was a challenge, trying to find a place where trees were still being sold at that late date, but she managed to find one—the last tree on the lot. The relieved proprietor sold it to her at a discount, making both of them happy for the transaction. And home she scurried, to put all the traditional trinkets in their accustomed places before our arrival.

Now, at least around here, it is the rare person who dares to attempt purchase of a live tree any time beyond the Thanksgiving weekend. Quite the turnaround from a season whose iconic children's story— portrayed in the ballet which has since served to provide forty percent of many companies' annual ticket revenue—was based on a story which opened with the Christmas Eve decorating of the family's tree.

No matter how much Christmas traditions have morphed over the generations, many of them still have their long-held roots in history. Whether you tend to agree with the recent articles declaring the Tudor reign to be the source of all modern Christmas customs, or prefer the versions—either American or British—seeing holiday nostalgia as an outgrowth of the horrors of the American Civil War, we all can link the traditions we will keep tonight and tomorrow to some point in our genealogical and geographical past. The interesting part, at least for us family historians, will be to determine just where our forebears got those traditions we are keeping today.

Above: "Glade Jul," 1891 oil on canvas by Danish artist Viggo Johansen; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

In Those Shortening Days of Winter

In the rush of Christmas shopping, it's likely that barely anyone noticed we've already passed the winter solstice. We can now cheer that the gloomy days of winter will be growing longer, if only by a minute at a time. It will, however, be a long time until that shift in daylight will bring us the type of weather to encourage outdoor activity.

While the temperatures in a place like southern California—where our family spent last week enjoying an early holiday treat in seventy degree weather—may not inspire residents to hunker down and warm themselves by the fire as they take a virtual spin through their genealogical database, the rest of our genea-nation may find these hardy weather conditions perfectly suited to some online research in the comfort of our own cozy home. I know that is what I'll be tempted to do, once all the holiday festivities have drawn to a close for the winter.

In the past few years, I've attempted to make the shift to goal-based research. In 2018, especially since I am preparing for a class in southern U.S. research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I have tried to focus only on working on my mother's family tree. With ancestors in many of the southern states—everywhere from the Virginia and South Carolina colonies of the 1700s and earlier to the newer southern frontier of Texas—I've had my research work cut out for me for the last several months.

That's not to say I don't have much more work to do. On the contrary, not only is a genealogist's work never done, but a southern researcher's work is not in much better condition. Beyond census records, wills and probate cases, church records, property records, and even newspaper mentions, I need to delve into the world of manuscripts to find the full story of some of my ancestors. Achieving all that will be a research workout. Some of that might be done before the January SLIG class begins. Hopefully, some will be done on site at the Family History Library as I learn of new research resources and techniques. Undoubtedly, much will be accomplished after class is over, especially considering our family's upcoming plans to travel to Florida, home of my mother's McClellan, Charles, Tison and Townsend lines' heritage.

Whether that becomes my research goal for 2019, though, I'm not sure. It is possible to burn out on one focus, carried out for too long—or leading into the realm of skidding wheels when much effort is expended in an area yielding little results. I'm not sure how things will turn out, as the old year slips into the new.

All that to say I'm already entertaining thoughts of New Year's plans. Not resolutions, mind you—the thought is anathema to me—but the matter of choosing a new research direction. Sometimes, a researcher just needs a breath of fresh air, and a different topic selection may be just the antidote. After all, the one good thing about a genealogist's work never being done is that we can always revisit an old focus in another calendar year. The pluses to that option are multiple, among them the possibility of new record sets being digitized and added to the mix on the multiple genealogy websites now at our fingertips.

As the days of winter grow imperceptibly longer, I'm already longing to try my hand at a new research task for my family history.

Above: The 1901 oil on canvas by Scottish painter Joseph Farquharson entitled "The Shortening Winter's Day is Nearing a Close," which has also been called "Beneath the Snow Encumbered Branches" and adapted for use as a much beloved Christmas card over the years; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

That Home for the Holidays Feeling

The month of December is racing to a close, pausing just long enough to let us take a breather and celebrate Christmas. Naturally, my mind turns back to all those times when Christmas was a time to head home to family. Now, much of that family seems to be on the pages of my genealogical research projects. Still, that doesn't keep me from wishing to recreate that magical holiday feeling.

The holidays will be a little different for our family, this year. We're actually celebrating Christmas today, as travel plans will take one of our family members away from home for December 25. I guess I've done my fair share of that sort of holiday celebrating, as well—like when my husband's twenty-four/seven work schedule required somebody to be on duty, even on holidays when he'd rather be home on daddy duty as father of a bright eyed youngster. Still, we learned to be flexible; the wonder of Christmas can be even as bright for a child when the holiday dinner is served at a fire station and the other on-duty personnel (and their families) are invited to join in.

Remembering all these Christmases past prompts me to think of just what my ancestors might have been up to during the year-end holiday season. Life can often be messy, and I imagine our ancestors learned to be flexible, too. I know Christmas after The Crash was probably a much more modest event for the preceding generations in my family—not to mention the restraint demanded of our ancestors who chose the path of migrating to a new life, whether it was across the prairie or across an ocean.

Over this weekend, I imagine there will be many people who will not only get that nostalgic home-for-the-holidays feeling, but will take action, jump in the car, catch a train, or fly home for the week. While we were down in southern California for our early holiday festivities, I noticed signs posted on the freeway, warning everyone of the impossible traffic to come, starting this weekend. There are a lot of us who want to head home for those holidays, and there are likely as many reasons for that desire as there are families. No matter what the reason, though, there is no place like home, when that is where our family is.

Above: "Christmas Eve," 1880 lithograph by J. Hoover of Philadelphia; courtesy of U. S. Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 21, 2018

One Last Possibility

While we've been exploring the details regarding three different Iowa men named Albert Roberts to determine which one might have been the man in the antique photo I found, this last Albert is actually the only one who actually lived in the city in which that photograph was taken. Our third Albert Roberts was the one we found whose few newspaper mentions gave us an address right in Council Bluffs, itself.

The only thing is, out of all the gossipy news tidbits we've found for all three Alberts, those newspaper entries for this third Albert also gave us one of the more curious of the accounts. Looking closer at that May 8, 1919, notice in the Evening Nonpariel, shows me that this one will also take some reading between the lines to ferret out the real story.

For one thing, this was not just another sweet story of the now-grown kids coming home to visit family for the holidays. It was an article placed among the legal notices. A notice of referee's sale, it began with the official sounding "In the District Court of Iowa, in and for Pottawattamie County."

The plaintiff was none other than our third Albert Roberts. Part of the public announcement read,
Notice is hereby given that by virtue of a decree of the district court of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, entered on the twelfth day of April, 1919, in the above entitled cause, the property hereinafter described was partitioned and the undersigned was appointed sole referee and authorized and directed to sell the following described real estate at public sale....

The undersigned referee was a man by the name of William Arnd. The property was described by lot numbers in the city of Council Bluffs. The sale was to be held on the seventh day of June "at the front door of the court house" in the county seat, Council Bluffs.

It was the defendants who gave me pause to consider this routine legal notice more closely. The list of names included was long and curious. For one thing, the surname Roberts figured prominently. In addition to a couple, named individually as Fannie Binns and "I. M. Binns, husband of Fannie Binns," there were Dwight Roberts, Emmet Roberts, and Frances Roberts, all specifically designated as minors. One last defendant was listed as "Mrs. Nellie W. Roberts, guardian."

To see the rest of the story, we need to research the family tree of our third Albert Roberts, plaintiff in this case filed in 1919. This Albert, married sometime before he completed his draft registration in June of 1917, declared himself a divorced man to the 1920 census enumerator, and yet was father to his firstborn son, who arrived November 28, 1921—and, unfortunately, died only ten days later. The child's mother—and Albert's second wife—Josephine Anshutz Roberts, was herself, at the time of the child's birth, only sixteen years of age.

Albert—the only one of the three candidates for the Albert Roberts in our photo for whom we had a middle initial—himself was born in Nebraska in 1896, son of English immigrants Henry and Sarah Jane Fletcher ("Jennie") Roberts. Albert Lee Roberts was the youngest of six siblings, three of whom were still living at the time of the 1900 census. His two older siblings still remaining were William Edwin and Fannie Louise, each of them born in the 1870s, long before Albert's arrival in 1896 (or 1894, as both his 1925 Iowa state census entry and his Social Security Application indicate).

Of those two siblings, William Edwin was not long for this world, either. Also born in Omaha, William married Nellie McGill, another resident from that city, returning to her hometown in Des Moines, Iowa, for the December, 1893, nuptials. Over the years, William worked for the railroad, but in 1915, he was the victim of a brutal attack by a drunken man. Though he survived the attack, it left him "subject to spells of absentmindedness, when he wandered about in a dazed condition." From that point on, William was unable to work.

At some point in mid-November of that same year, William did not come home as expected. His Council Bluffs family, concerned for his well-being, put two and two together when they heard reports that a man had been killed by a train in nearby Omaha. His oldest son Dwight, heading to Omaha, confirmed that the reports were indeed of the missing man.

This was not the only unfortunate story in Albert's brother William's brief life. While William's oldest son had indeed remained in Council Bluffs, William's wife had already left him, taking the other children—Emmet, Henry, and Frances—sometime after the 1910 census, returning to her family's home in Des Moines before the state census in 1915, when she declared herself to be divorced.

Not long after William and Nellie had tied their ill-fated knot in 1893, William's sister Fannie Louise had also gotten married. Hers was an event in her home state of Nebraska in September of 1896, when she said "I do" to an Iowa man named Isaac M. Binns. Though they remained for a while in the Omaha area, by 1904, they had returned to Isaac's former residence in Montgomery County, Iowa, where they remained at least through 1910.

Such was the family history of Albert Lee Roberts' siblings. To add to all this woe, by 1917, Albert's mother, Sarah Jane Fletcher Roberts, died intestate. She apparently held property in her own name, for her husband was still alive, not following her until May of 1918. In March of 1918, Isaac Binns filed as principal, along with his brother-in-law, Albert Roberts, and William Arnd, for an administrator's bond to settle Sarah's estate. 

In the midst of all these misfortunes, sometime just before the 1920 census, a question came up about several lots in the city of Council Bluffs which somehow involved these siblings—or their remaining family members. Perhaps precipitated by their father's death in 1918 and the settling of the elder Roberts' estate, the legal notice was posted and the referee's sale scheduled.

No more mention was made in the local newspapers—at least that I can find—of that family difficulty. After that point, there was a brief comment, upon the 1926 arrival of another tiny child of Albert and Josephine Roberts, of how small the baby's birth weight was—followed by the not-surprising sad announcement of the funeral service for "Wauneta Louise" Roberts barely four months later.

It was a photograph placed online by an Ancestry subscriber, combined with the World War I draft registration description of Albert's appearance—medium height, medium build, with blue eyes and dark brown hair—that tended to dissuade me of any possibility that Albert Lee Roberts was the Albert Roberts in my photograph.

But I believe the clincher really is the dates involved in this Roberts family saga. While his siblings—all born in the 1870s—might have played the part in a wedding with the clothing styles of the photograph I found, Albert Lee's likely marriage in 1920, combined with the appearance of his second wife in the photograph, convince me that, even though he was a Council Bluffs resident, this Albert's arrival on the scene was too late to make him a candidate for the true identity of the man in the photograph I found.

While that conclusion eliminates Albert Lee Roberts from the running, as far as photograph identity goes, it still doesn't answer the question of just who that couple was in the photograph I found. There are a few other options remaining in this search, but since we are so close to Christmas now, I'll set aside that chase for another time after the holidays.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Considering a Second Possibility

Let's examine the second man who could possibly be the Albert Roberts in the Council Bluffs, Iowa, photograph I found. This man was a little younger than the first Albert we've already discussed—that Albert was born in November of 1869—as our second Albert made his arrival sometime around 1878.

That date, however, is an estimate based on the age he gave when he filed for his marriage license on January 4, 1900. Just like the Daily Nonpariel had mentioned in Council Bluffs on January 11, 1900, this Albert Roberts had married Hattie Eshelman in the county to the east of Council Bluffs, which is Cass County, Iowa. Apparently, his bride, daughter of Joseph and Julia Eshelman, was a lifelong resident of Noble Township in that county.

The couple didn't remain in Cass County, however, for we find them, only five months later, back in Adams County, evidently the place of Albert's own birth and home of his parents, James and Ann Slitty Roberts, who were listed only one entry below Albert and Hattie in the 1900 census.

That information helps us locate the right Albert Roberts—at least for the consideration of that second possibility for the photo's Albert—in the 1880 census. There, we find him in the Adams County household of James and Ann Roberts, and discover that he was the youngest of all his siblings, which included two brothers and four—yes, count them, four—sisters.

It wasn't long after Albert and Hattie were married in January, 1900, that they were joined by what turned out to be their only child. A daughter, whom they named Maude Ethel, was born to them on October 5, 1900—a fact we don't realize until stumbling upon her name in the 1910 census. At that point, the Roberts family was still living in Adams County.

Though the Daily Nonpariel did mention, on the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, that Albert and Hattie Roberts had been residents of Atlantic in Cass County since 1917, the first documented instance showing their new residence shows up with Albert's registration for the war, which he completed in 1918. From that card, we learn that he was employed as a mechanic in Atlantic, and had set up the family's residence at 409 West Tenth in the same city. From the point of the 1920 census onward, we can assume the Daily Nonpariel had the report of his residence in Atlantic correct.

This is the Albert for whom the delightful listing of attendees at their July 1922 family reunion provided so many relatives' names. As tempting as that genealogical gift might be—especially since I will have to find some descendants who would be willing to weigh in on whether their Albert Roberts bears any likeness to the one in the photo I found—I have my doubts that our second Albert and his wife Hattie are best candidates for the identity of the photograph I found. For one thing, their marriage occurred in 1900, while the previous Albert we examined was married in 1889. That leads to another question, one far removed from genealogy but apropos to a conversation about history: what is the timeline of the one fashion item, worn by the woman in our photo, whose popularity waned with the end of the 1880s?

It can be a fun detour—at least for fashionistas and costume designers—to review the many versions of the bustle. Yet, no matter how modest the style of the dress worn by Mrs. Albert Roberts in our photo, it may have been a fashion more suited to a 1889 wedding date than one in 1900.

There is, however, one more consideration: we still have a third Albert Roberts to learn about before we make any final decision on whom to eliminate from our roster of possible couples. We'll take a look at the third Albert tomorrow.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Was Mrs. Roberts a Widow?

It was among those many newspaper clippings regarding Albert Roberts, the man in the Council Bluffs photograph I found, that I discovered one unusual detail. It was in one of those brief, gossipy newspaper mentions of doings about town, that I spotted one puny phrase that seemed out of place:
Mrs. Lillian Cowger and son, Edward, of Omaha spent Sunday with her mother, Mrs. Albert Roberts.

The sticking point in that April 20, 1914, entry in the Council Bluffs Evening Nonpariel is one idea: the woman and her son, traveling from Omaha, went to visit her mother. Not her parents, despite both Mr. and Mrs. Roberts being alive and living in the same place, but only her mother.

Clearly, by 1914, Mrs. Albert Roberts was already married, but the three oldest daughters, at least as far as we could see from the 1900 census, were named Leta, Eva, and Ola, not Lillian.

There was a second little detail which confirmed that glitch I noticed in the newspaper mention. The household of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts of Riverton also included two other people, at least in the 1900 census. Those two people were listed as twelve year old Mamie Eachus and fifteen year old Lillie Eachus. 

The two Eachus girls were listed as daughters in the Roberts household, but no one else in that group of eight people had the surname Eachus. Since Alice was the likely reporting party, she (or the enumerator) may have incorrectly listed the relationship from her own vantage point, rather than as relationship to the head of household.

Looking at the marriage record for Alice and Albert Roberts seemed to muddy the waters even more. The August 13, 1889, event showed the correct information for Albert Roberts: twenty year old son of Thomas Roberts, as we have already seen, whose mother's name was Amanda van Horn. The record showed he had been born in Henry County, Iowa, and that this was his first marriage.

When it comes to the entry for Albert's bride, we encounter some confusing information. Her name, first of all, is listed as Alice Eachus, and the entry shows this to be her second marriage. And yet, her father's name is given as Charles E. Eachus, and her mother's as M. A. Roberts, the very surname of the man she was about to marry.

If Mamie and Lillian Eachus were indeed Alice's daughters and not Albert's, did this mean they were born to an unmarried woman? That seems highly unlikely in that era—especially twice for the same woman. What was the name of Alice's first husband? If not Eachus, then what?

Since we already have spotted a Mrs. Lillian Cowger coming from Omaha to visit her mother, Mrs. Albert Roberts, let's see what can be found for that Lillian Cowger. After all, Lillie was often a nickname for Lillian. It's possible that Lillie Eachus and Lillian Cowger could have been the same person.

As it turned out, learning to read between the lines often helps resolve research dilemmas. There was an additional curious entry for the Albert Roberts household, this time from the 1910 census. The Roberts household included a line for someone named Lillian. Her surname was listed as Roberts and she was listed as a daughter-in-law, not a daughter. Her entry also stated that, at twenty six years of age, she was a widow. She was mother of one child. And yet, there was no listing for that child.

There was one other problem with that entry: a widowed daughter-in-law presupposes a now-deceased son, and yet the Roberts' only son, Stanley, was still very much alive—and, at that point,  only twelve years of age. Unlikely he would have been the deceased husband of Lillian, let alone father of her child.

Moving to other indicators of just who this Lillian might have been, the easiest tell would be to pull up her own marriage record. Don't assume it would be easily found, searching for the Roberts surname, however. The record not only helps put every name in its proper place for Lillian, but helps us unearth the hidden story about her mother.

Married about a year and a half after that first appearance as Lillian Eachus in the Roberts' 1900 census entry, Lillian Elizabeth Eachus' December 2, 1901, event united her with a Riverton man whose scrawled name on the record looked like Ern. P. Cowger. More to the point, Lillian's parents' names were given as John W. Eachus and Alice Jane Dooley.

Was Alice Jane Dooley Eachus, then, the woman who became wife of Albert Roberts? If so, who was John Eachus, and what became of him?

One thing to note, from Lillian's marriage record, was that she was not born in Iowa, as the 1900 census had led us to believe. She was born in California. Her mother—and possibly Alice's parents, as well—had earlier moved to the Reno, Nevada, area, which is where John Eachus died.

While I can't locate the actual newspaper report from any online repositories, an Ancestry subscriber had transcribed a December 10, 1888, article from the Daily Nevada State Journal. Under the headlines, "Coroner's Inquest," the news item detailed the testimony obtained during the investigation and stated, in part, regarding John Eachus that,
the unfortunate man was lying on the track, but when he was discovered it was too late to stop the engine, although every effort was made to do so. As soon as the engine was stopped...the engineer went back and found the body, but no signs of life being evident, he started off for Reno and informed parties of the occurrence. Coroner Brown departed on a special to the scene of the accident, and found the unfortunate man alive but sinking rapidly. He was brought to Reno where he died Sunday morning at 3 o'clock.

Based on what we found in the 1900 census, we can piece together the rest of Alice's story. Widow Alice Eachus and her two daughters returned to Iowa, after that tragic 1888 episode, and by 1889 had married Albert Roberts.

Still, that does not give us the right information for Alice's own parents, who obviously were not surnamed Eachus. It takes moving to Alice's own death information to uncover that. Sure enough, at the point of Alice Roberts' death in 1927, we discover her father's name was indeed Charles E., as Alice's marriage records had revealed—it's just that her maiden name wasn't Eachus. It was Dooley. And her mother's name? Not quite M. A. Roberts, as we saw in Alice's marriage record. But close: it was Lydia A. Roberts.

That leaves me with one more question, though. Remember, I'm still trying to determine which of three couples named Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts is the right identity for the photograph I found bearing that same inscription. Does the Mrs. Albert Roberts in the Council Bluffs picture look like a woman older than her husband? Does she look like a woman who had already been widowed? Or do we need to consider the family stories of the other two men named Albert Roberts?

Above: All clippings of documents are courtesy of; excerpt of an unidentified Mrs. Roberts from photograph labeled "Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts," which photo is currently in the possession of the author until claimed by a direct descendant.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Look at the First Albert Roberts

Once we've clustered all the information we can find on an individual, it's time to look more closely at the details, search for supporting documentation, and see what additional clues that process will bring to us. Of the three possibilities we isolated for the Albert Roberts in the antique photograph I found from Council Bluffs, let's look first at the Albert Roberts from Riverton, Iowa.

We can fairly easily locate an Albert Roberts in the 1900 census, living in Riverton. A small city of less than seven hundred people in 1900, Riverton is located in Fremont County on the southwestern corner of the state of Iowa, two counties to the south of Council Bluffs.

We already know, from reading the newspaper mentions of Albert Roberts' name, that he had a daughter named Leta and a son named Stanley. He also had other daughters for whom we only know their married names. One is Parkison, another is Edwards. And the record for the Albert Roberts in the 1900 census seems to bear that out.

If this is the right Albert Roberts from Riverton, Iowa, we can glean a few other details right away. First, of course, is learning the possible name of the "Mrs. Albert Roberts" as she was labeled in the photograph I found; now we can call her—possibly—by her first name, Alice.

We can also gauge Albert's age by the birth information given, reporting that he was born in November of 1870. In addition, Albert and Alice were married around 1890. And, sure enough, they had a son named Stanley, just as we had learned from the newspaper reports.

As for all the mentions of a Roberts child called Leta, we can assume she was the daughter born in 1889, entered in the 1900 census under the name Milleta (or possibly Malleta). It takes a little additional searching to locate which daughter ended up being the Mrs. Parkison from the newspaper entries. She was likely Ruby Viola (nickname "Ola"), born April 23, 1890, who married Charles Edwin Parkison, as we can see from their son Lyman's marriage record many years later.

Looking forward another ten years from that 1900 census, the Albert Roberts household was again easily found in the 1910 census record. This time, two new individuals join the family. One is six year old daughter Edna. The other is Albert's father, a seventy eight year old widower named Thomas Roberts—definitely a helpful piece of information for our purposes.

Using that key of Albert Roberts' father's name, we can more accurately locate Albert as a son in his father's family in the 1880 census. From that vantage point in the Thomas Roberts household, we can spot Albert's sister Minerva, the Mrs. Cowger who came to assist Albert in those difficult days leading up to his wife's death in 1927.

We also gain a vantage point of now knowing the universe of sibling names for this Albert Roberts, helping us to demonstrate that these are not the same siblings as were listed in the family reunion report for the Albert from Atlantic.

Yet, before we move on to examine that second Albert Roberts, there is one more question I have about the Mrs. Albert Roberts in the case of the Riverton family. Not only had the newspaper coverage included a strange mention—of a "Mrs. Lillian Cowger" coming from Omaha to visit her mother—but the 1900 Albert Roberts household included two girls identified by a different surname. There is more we need to know about this Alice Roberts.

Images: Upper, from the Albert Roberts household entry in the 1900 U.S. Census; lower, from the Albert Roberts household entry in the 1910 U.S. Census; both images courtesy of

Monday, December 17, 2018

Clustering Clues

When it seems like there are too many details coming at us, in the course of one "simple" search, it's time to see if we can group the various clues into categories. In the case of the Albert Roberts identified in the hundred-plus year old photograph of a young couple in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the resultant hits obtained when searching for that common name likely indicated at least two, if not three, different men.

Last week, we took a look at a synopsis of all the mentions of the name Albert Roberts in Council Bluffs newspapers from about 1900 through the mid 1950s. Now, let's cluster the details into groups, particularly linking relatives' names with each of the different Alberts. From that point, we can begin to see what other documents can lead us to further clues on each of these individuals who share that same name.

From what I can see of the newspaper reports so far, my guess is that there are three different Alberts. Let's call one of them Albert from Riverton, the second Albert from Atlantic, and the third—the only one with a middle initial—Albert L.

Here's the picture that emerges on each of the three Alberts.

Albert from Riverton:
  • Has a daughter born January 4, 1900
  • Possibly has a step-daughter named Lillian, who married a Mr. Cowger, lives in Omaha, and has a son named Edward
  • Also happens to have a sister named Minerva Cowger
  • Has a daughter named Leta who lives in Omaha by the 1920s
  • Has a daughter named Lillian Fouts and a granddaughter named Alice Elizabeth
  • Has a daughter who married Lee Edwards
  • Has a daughter who married Ed Parkinson about 1908
  • Has a daughter who married Chauncey Parkinson, and a granddaughter named Nellie
  • Has a son named Stanley
  • Lost his wife, who died about 1927

Albert from Atlantic:
  • Married Hattie Eshelman on January 10, 1900
  • Has a sister who married H. S. Leonard, and who died in September of 1937
  • Has a sister who married a Mr. Neary
  • Has a sister who married a Mr. Hully
  • Lived in Grant through 1917
  • Was a resident of Atlantic since 1917

Albert L.:
  • Was plaintiff in a court case in Council Bluffs in 1919
  • Living at either 1905 or 1908 Third Avenue in Council Bluffs in 1926
  • Has a daughter who was born in 1926
  • Had a daughter named Wauneta Louise who died in 1926

While it may be possible that Albert L. Roberts was one and the same as either of the other Alberts, I believe the fact that his daughter was born so much later than the other two Alberts indicates that he was a younger man than they were. In fact, it is likely that, if we were to place the three Alberts in age order, I'd choose Albert from Riverton as the oldest of the three, followed by Albert from Atlantic.

Now that we have the three men sorted out, we'll start taking a closer look at each of them as we begin building their family constellations and personal histories through documentation, beginning with Albert from Riverton, tomorrow.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Four Years and Counting

It's been exactly four years—as of yesterday—since I got my autosomal DNA test results from the first company I tested with, Family Tree DNA. That wasn't the first DNA test I had been involved with, of course. As soon as I could, following the tragic loss of my brother's son, I had asked the lone male survivor of my father's patriline if he would consider taking the Y-DNA test at that same company. Thankfully, at a SCGS Jamboree back in June of 2013, he agreed to play this part to help figure out our father's mysterious past. That past is still a mystery, five years later, as my brother still has only two matches, the closest of which has a genetic distance of three, not the exact match we were hoping for.

My own first foray into the world of genetic genealogy was to take the mitochondrial DNA test; I did that the very next Jamboree after the year my brother agreed to take his test at Jamboree. My results weren't much better than my brother's; I did manage to get a couple exact matches, but they were both for adoptees—one of whom, as it turned out, was determined to discover who his birth parents were.

It was this mystery cousin, that exact match to my mtDNA test, who had pleaded with me to consider also taking the autosomal test. He had hoped it would confirm just where on my family tree this adoptee could claim his own rightful place. Four years later, we are still waiting for that clue as to how we connect; pushing back two hundred years on the paper tree has not shaken loose any further hints.

Even so, we keep testing. And comparing notes. And contacting these strangers who are, in reality, our cousins.

And I, determined soul that I am, keep plugging away at that descendants' tree for all of our forebears. Of course, now that I'm getting close to the start of my SLIG course in Southern Research, I've been working solely on my mother's southern line, but that tree is blossoming as I add more branches and learn of more collateral lines' surnames. By this weekend, I had reached 16,318 in my mother's family tree, an increase of 267 names since the last two-week tally.

You can be sure, ever since my autosomal test—first at Family Tree DNA, then at AncestryDNA and 23andMe and MyHeritage and LivingDNA—that the count of matches has grown. Not steadily, of course; the surges in results are quite visible after each of the traditional sales periods, making me look forward to Christmas for yet another reason. And things are already picking up after the autumnal lull. In the past two weeks, I've received twelve additional matches at FTDNA, eleven at 23andMe, and that almost-unbelievable 159 at MyHeritage. Who knows how many new matches I've received at AncestryDNA; they top their count at one thousand, a point I've long since passed. Within a month, that rate of increase will leap with all the holiday sales, I'm sure.

That leaves me with 3,388 matches at FTDNA—the place where I first began—and 1,054 at 23andMe, the place where people keep retracting their results from view. And at MyHeritage, my 6,285 matches begin to slip into the realm of the inconceivable.

With the year rushing to a close, it will be interesting to see how much ground has been covered over the past year, both in traditional research efforts on my trees and in the high-tech boost from DNA testing companies and the auxiliary programs that help us evaluate this avalanche of information. Of course, once I've achieved my research focus for this year—delving into my mother's southern roots—it will be good to get back to a more balanced approach in working on all sides of my family's trees. In the meantime, the exclusive focus on one tree does show me how much ground can be covered with a specific research pursuit.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Off the Shelf: The Culture Code

I've long been a student of small group dynamics. The interpersonal psychology fascinates me. So it may not have come as any surprise, if you read last Sunday's post at A Family Tapestry, to learn that I'm finding Daniel Coyle's book, The Culture Code, to be fascinating.

I'm reading the book mainly to satisfy my year-long quest to see how a small group like our local genealogical society can re-invent itself. If nothing else, how we can form small groups within our society to help energize our efforts at achieving our mission—and how we can encourage each other as fellow researchers in the process.

Author Daniel Coyle has such a readable writing style that I find myself sucked right into the text, turning pages I intended to mark as my stopping point for the evening's reading. (I might suggest, if you pick up his book, that you read it accompanied by a timer, especially if you are a night-owl reader.)

Using illustrations from organizations both notable and ignoble—he analyses the social media efforts of the notorious ISIS—Daniel Coyle builds his argument for what makes a highly successful organization. In his book, it's the interpersonal gel that makes the difference—and he picks apart groups until he finds the glue that enables them to hold together through the most challenging parts of their core mission.

This is one of those books that will become a go-to reference for me, as I muddle through whether a volunteer organization such as a genealogical society can lift the ideas from these sterling corporate and military entities and cross-apply them to a humble setting such as ours. We do, after all, have a vital mission of our own: to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers by wooing them to embrace their heritage. That heritage, after all, is what made us who we are; it's our roots, and those roots grow and reach out and tie us to one another in a curious way.

Just as our families have their own culture—and evolved from the Old World cultures of our roots—our groups develop their own cultures, too. How we allow those cultures to evolve eventually shapes what our group becomes in the future. We can allow that growth to occur haphazardly, or we can choose to take a hand in shaping how our organization grows—and how it responds to its environment.

My goal in reading books like this is to observe how the most effective groups have learned to create a culture of success so that I can take part in influencing my own society for the better, as well. Daniel Coyle's most recent book is turning out to be an inspiring handbook for such a quest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...