29 April 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Why Would You Want to be a Genealogist?

When I started this blog, I honestly didn't think anyone would be interested in knowing about my journey. I've been very pleasantly surprised about the support it's received. So many people have taken the time not only to read what's in this space but also to comment about it as well. For that, I am incredibly grateful. What's more, I've discovered not only am I sharing my journey, I'm uncovering myself in the process. 

As those of you who regularly read this blog know, I am sans family. Well, not completely without family, but I don't have children. It wasn't a choice but a medical condition that prevents me from having kids; my husband is not comfortable with adoption. When I first found out I shouldn't have children, I was devastated, but never shared that with anyone. It wasn't 'me' to share my feelings (hard to believe, right?!). Years past, and like any loss, the pain eased a bit. But I find that not having the opportunity to have children, as I so deeply want, has had other unexpected and sometimes unwanted consequences. 

My husband comes from a large family. He has four siblings and as of today, we have seven living nephews and nieces (one is deceased) ranging in age from 34 to 4 and seven grand- nephews and nieces. When I first met my husband, everyone was very close and we spent the vast majority of our free time with them. We were present at the births of three of our nieces and nephews, a privilege I never thought I'd have. We cared for our 'middle' nieces and nephew like they were our own, because in many ways, they were the closest thing we'd ever get to knowing what it feels like to have our own family. 

But, as with so many families, there was a disagreement. There was a member of the family who, quite frankly, didn't want to BE a part of the family. That person considered their family to just be a spouse and children. Didn't want the 'intrusion' of the rest of the family. So, this person systematically took down an entire family. It's incredible to look back on the series of events and realize that's what was happening. When it was all said and done, last summer, my husband's family fell apart to the point siblings pointed fingers at each other and said they were no longer siblings. How very, very sad. 

Over the last seven years or so, we stopped going to his family functions because they were just too awkward; frankly we'd stopped receiving invitations to things. My husband was always a bit philosophical about these kinds of things. I have to claim my feminine qualities for taking it much more personally; for admitting that my heart broke a little more each day we were pushed farther and farther out of the family. 

At the same time last summer my husband's family was splitting apart, my parents fulfilled their dream of moving to Arizona. While they've settled in and seem happy, my Mom has had a number of medical challenges, including two stays in the hospital. I don't have the financial resources to go back and forth to Arizona, so I haven't seen them in almost a year. Just last week Mom had to go back to the emergency room; my first thought was I just wanted to be there to hold her hand. I struggle with feeling guilty that I'm not there to take care of them at a time in their lives when they really need me. Except they chose to be in Arizona and are happier there than they were when they lived here.

I made a profound realization this week. The timing of my decision to restart my genealogical journey came squarely at a time when I felt abandoned by my family. I threw myself into my genealogical research and I decided to start this blog. I recognized, as an Archivist, that there simply is not enough education out there for family historians and Genealogists about how to properly care for and manage their own collections and I want to fill that void with the knowledge I've acquired. I brought people into my circle and I tried to get on a solid path to creating an archival and genealogical services business. Having worked in the financial industry, I recognized that keeping your business and personal lives separate is a key to success. But in the Genealogical world, those lines aren't so clear cut.

The other aspect of my realization is that, feeling abandoned by my family, I tried to create a family rather than a business. I so desperately want to be a part of a family that I subconsciously created one where one didn't exist. I put expectations on people that were incredibly unfair, and in so doing, harmed potentially beneficial relationships. Only time will tell if this tactical stumble will hurt me in the future with my business; I hope that my passion for the stories our ancestors have to tell and the desire to preserve the physical remnants of those stories will be what people remember. I am a skilled technician and an exemplary researcher; I have a significant drive to share that with others. 

I felt the need to share this story here because someday I hope that someone researching their family will have a greater understanding of why I'm so passionate about being a Genealogist. (As I say to myself) It's a family, dummy. 

Why did YOU become a family historian or Genealogist? I'd love to collect your stories too...

26 April 2012

Thankful Thursday - It's DNA Day!

I didn't know it was DNA Day; I didn't know there WAS a DNA Day!  Oddly enough though, I was planning on posting about just that thing: DNA. Last February I was perusing my Twitter feed and I came along a tweet that really caught my eye. Three words jumped off the screen at me: Free. DNA. Test. Ooh! So I clicked through to a blog post by openSNP, a website run by some really nice people hoping to make DNA data open (hence the name). They're sort of the FamilySearch.org of DNA data. Anyway, you can see their original post here.

I filled out the application right away and sent it in. Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Bastian saying that my application had been one of the 460 they received that had been accepted! SQUEEE! I just received confirmation from 23andme today that my kit is on its way and I should have it before I leave for NGS. 

Why would I want to take a DNA test and allow that information to, for all intents and purposes, be made public? Well, primarily because I am the last leaf on this branch. Except that I have a congenital blood clotting disorder: a Protein-S deficiency. It is a life threatening disorder; I had a pulmonary embolism and to say that I am lucky to be alive is a gross understatement. My concern is that there are collateral branches on my family tree that could also suffer from this most silent of disorders; that it could literally kill someone if they don't know. Generally I'm not an alarmist, but if someone had come to me, prior to my medical event, and said, 'Hey, with a quick blood test you could know whether or not you have a blood disorder that might kill you.' I would've been at the doctor's office in a heartbeat.

What's even more frustrating for me is that, in the 20 years that I've known about my disorder very little research has been done. What has been done proved that there were some decisions I made, based on the information that I had at the time, that I'm now finding out may have been wrong. The most critical one: the first thing my doctor told me was that I would not be able to have children, because the medicine I'm required to take passes the placenta. As it turns out, not only could I have taken injectable drugs that don't pass the placenta, but there's now some research indicating that the type of Protein-S deficiency that I have may not even require me to TAKE medication in the first place. What a terrible thing to know, now that I am too old to start a family (and yes, I'm aware there are women who've had children in there 50s and 60s; I'm not going to be one of them.) 

If by making my results available something good can come from it, then I'm all for it. Am I concerned that someone from an insurance company is going to use this information against me? No. Am I concerned a potential employer or client is going to get this information and not hire me because of it? No. Am I naive? Um, well, sometimes, yes. But I truly believe the upside potential of knowing and sharing my DNA results far exceeds any potential negatives. I'm going to be able to find out where I came from; where my roots truly lie. I'll take the results, analyze their impact on the genealogical research I do, and go forward. 

Many thanks to openSNP for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

17 April 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Another Prevarication Put to Rest

With the fanfare around the 1940 Census, I've seen and heard many people new to family history, and even many grizzled veterans, speak of the importance of oral histories. As an Archivist, I believe I have an added incentive to know and understand how best to capture oral histories as a critical component to a more complete cultural history picture. But, a word of warning (or just a reminder): not everyone tells the truth.

In many, many ways, I'm very fortunate. I have first hand knowledge into just how far some people will go to lie. It's not even not remembering, we all do that. While trying to find out where my Mom lived in 1940, we had to have two conversations before she "properly" remembered that she hadn't lived in one place, but two, in Wausau, WI. As she began reconstructing her own memory, she realized that she was remembering bits and pieces of the two places and that they'd combined in her mind. She was seven years old then; she'll be 79 this summer. Oh, and she has Alzheimer's. It happens.

Nope, what I'm talking about is good ole garden-variety prevarication. I love this quote by Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist (1934-1996): "One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back." In my case, the 'charlatan' was my Dad's mother, Flo Leatherman Cosgrove. Truth is, Flo most likely suffered from mental illness. Now, even THAT sentence could be wrong; I have no medical evidence of this, but rather a long litany of stories, some of which had they happened in more contemporary times would have landed her in jail. However, much of what Flo passed on through oral history is now being uncovered as untrue by genealogical fact.

Yesterday, I received a wonderful gift. A Twitter follower, @Litherlander, took the time to travel to the town of Burnley, Lancashire, England to look for the grave of my paternal aunt, Mary Ann. From the notes in my Family Tree Maker 2011 database, "According to Marilou Cosgrove, her father told her that he had a sister named Maryanne (spelling unknown) who died when she was approximately 16 years old of spinal menangitis.  There is also a story first told by Flo Leatherman Cosgrove that when they tried to have her buried, the priest declined because they didn't have any money to give him...so she was buried in a pauper's field." It's always sad when young people die; it's the promise of life unfulfilled. And as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, my unknown aunts and uncles are often my focus. 

So, my greatest concern was locating Mary Ann to verify where she's buried, and to find out if she has a proper marker on her grave. Imagine my delight when I received these pictures:

Photo courtesy @Litherlander April 2012

Photo courtesy @Litherlander April 2012 

The stone says, "Pray for the Soul of Mary Ann the beloved daughter of James and Catherine Cosgrove, She died Nov. 7th, 1906, aged 17 years, 'I beseech all those who love me to grant me the help of their prayers.'" 

I can't tell you how happy I am that Flo was a prevaricator. It's sad that Mary Ann died when she was so young, but at the very least she is buried in a lovely spot and has a proper monument. I also now have to unravel the additional information provided by the cemetery: the plot has two owners, my great grandfather James Cosgrove and Francis Cosgrove, who I know nothing about. Of the five women buried there, I can only account for two, and I now have three more surnames to add to my list: Feeley, Maher, and Holihan. Ah, I do so love a mystery.

15 April 2012

Sentimental Sunday - My First True Loss

"Pammy's gone."


"Pammy's gone. She died. She's dead."

"What?! How can that be?!!"

I don't really remember the rest of the conversation between my second cousin's husband and I. I do remember telling him that I would do whatever needed to be done, help in whatever way I could. Did he want me to make phone calls? Were there arrangements that I could help with? It's strange and a little surreal to realize that it was 15 years ago today that I got that phone call. It was a phone call that changed my life in a lot of different ways.

Pamela Ann Harbacek Ervin (Wowczek, Nuti) Skrzynecki (yes, I gave her crap about her choice of husbands, plural) was born on August 10, 1951. She was months shy of her 46th birthday when she died on April 15, 1997. Her death was an incredible shock, even though she'd had years worth of medical problems and had just gone through a liver transplant. 

It's difficult for me to imagine what my life would be like today if she were still alive; I have no doubt that it would be different. Pammy was the big sister I never had, but she'd only been that to me for a few short years. We were far enough apart in age that we didn't spend time together as kids. But, whenever she was around, it was always a party. And she had a heart of gold.

Pam came back into my life under what some might consider providential circumstances. I'd been offered the opportunity to stay at my boss's timeshare in Mexico for a week; all I had to do was pay for airfare. When I asked my (then) husband to go, well, let's just say he said 'no' and leave it at that. I told him that I wanted to go, and that I was going to go if I could find someone to go with me. He laughed and said, "who'd wanna go with YOU?" 

Sadly, he was right. I'd gotten married in September, 1988 and over the course of time my husband had turned my life upside down. He'd alienated all my friends and my family and because I worked in a small office, it wasn't like I could invite someone from there. I was ashamed to admit that he was right. I spoke with my parents very infrequently, but on Mother's day I mentioned to my Mom that I was having to turn down the opportunity to go on a Mexican vacation because I didn't have anyone to go with me. She looked at me and said, "why don't you ask Pammy?" 

Huh. I hadn't thought of her. That might work. She had recently gotten remarried and was living not too far from my parents. So, I called her up. Out of the blue. When I explained the situation (leaving out she was my only option), she said, "Are you kidding?! Of course I'll go!!" So it was set. We were going to spend the week of June 9 - 16, 1991 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico! My husband was none too pleased that I'd found someone to go, but nothing was going to stop me from getting away.

We met at the airport. I got on the plane with (what felt like) a stranger, and got off the plane in Mexico with my life saver. We hadn't talked for more than a few minutes when she started asking very personal questions about my relationship with my husband. And it didn't take me very long to realize that she knew. Without telling her, she knew how miserable I was. Miserable wasn't really the right word. Afraid was a better word. I was in a situation that was unhealthy and unsafe, but I didn't know what to do about it. I was too smart to be "THAT" girl.  And yet, I WAS that girl. 

We shared an incredible week in Mexico. We were very fortunate to meet a crazy group of Chicagoans while we were having dinner in town the first night we were there. They had a group of Canadian friends and they were all staying at this place with an amazing pool and great activities. They asked if we wanted to come and hang out with them, so we did. 

Photo of Laura Cosgrove and Pam Skryzynecki (2nd & 3rd from left) taken June 11, 1991 at the Hard Rock Cafe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)

Oh, did I forget to mention the most important part? The week of June 9-16, 1991 is of ginormous significance in Chicago sports. Yes, sir...we got to spend the week watching the Chicago Bulls pummel the LA Lakers in their first NBA Championship. Oh. My. God. You'd have thought we were in Chicago for the amount of celebrating that was going on the night the Bulls won the Championship. 
Photo of Pam Skryzynecki  and Laura Cosgrove (5th & 7th from left) taken June 12, 1991, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)

After a KAHRAYZEE night, we had to get up at the ....crack of dawn to go on an excursion we'd bought the first day we were there. This is the lovely picture of us, taken that morning while on ship before leaving:

Photo of Pam Skryzynecki  and Laura Cosgrove taken June 13, 1991, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)

We had so much fun. She helped me see that life could, and should, be fun for someone my age, and for someone HER age. When we went to the airport to go home, I had my first and only panic attack. I literally thought I couldn't get on the plane, I was so afraid to go home. Pammy very gently talked me down and assured me that everything would be OK. And she was right. I'm living proof. But she's gone. And I miss her so very, very much.

I know this is long, but there's a bit more I want to add to the story. Pammy was in the hospital when she died. As I mentioned, she'd had a liver transplant a few days before she died. We (my current husband and I) had gone to see her on Sunday, and although she was alert and oriented, she still had a breathing tube in, so she couldn't talk. She scribbled notes on a piece of paper for the few questions we asked that weren't 'yes' or 'no'. She looked really good, and the nurse told us that they were going to extubate her on Monday. So, I told her I would call her in the morning when I got work (the 15th), said "I love you" to which she nodded vigorously and we said goodbye. 

The next morning, when I got to the office, I waited until a little after 9 and called her room's direct line. She answered the phone and I though I heard rustling on the other end, she didn't say anything. So, I said "Hey, how're you feeling?" She responded, "I can't talk right now." So I said, "OK, call me when you can. I love you." And, she said to me, "I love you, too."

The call I got from her husband came just after I'd gotten home from work at 6. Having spoken with her in the morning, his words were that much more shocking. I truly, truly couldn't believe that she was gone. I hadn't asked her husband for any details about her death out of respect for him and what he was going through, but a couple of days later at her wake, I couldn't resist any more, so I asked. He explained to me that she had taken a turn on Sunday night, and that she'd gone into cardiac arrest around 2 in the morning. He said that they'd worked valiantly to resuscitate her, but that she'd finally passed at a little bit before 9 on Monday morning.

Wait. What? That's not possible. I TALKED to her at 9. She'd told me she couldn't talk...that she loved me. He looked at me and told me I couldn't have possibly talked with her, because he was there while all this was going on. The medical staff was in her room, and they came out just at 9 to say that they'd done all they could and she was gone. I started to argue with him, to tell him it wasn't possible, when my husband took my arm and pulled me away. I looked at him and said, "But I talked to her..." He said, "I know you did." And I believe I did. With all my heart, I believe her last words to me were "I love you, too." What an incredible and powerful thing she did to give me that gift. That's who she was, and who she will always be to me. 

03 April 2012

Tuesday Tip - Takes Tenacity to Tame the Trail

STELLA!! I found the STELLA's! Or, in this case Estella Wersel and Ella Piper (an error on the enumerator's part...the enumerator who is forgiven because, well, she enumerated them! 

1940 U.S. census, Orange County, California, Brea, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 30-24, p. 1B (handwritten), dwelling household B31a, family 25, line 68, Estella Wersel; digital image, Archives.gov (http://1940census.archives.gov: accessed 03 April 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T1224, roll 93.
I know my audience, and I know you all have either been digging through your own EDs or watching with mild satisfaction as those of us who were digging with one hand were (or in some cases still are) tearing our hair out with the other. My only advice: keep at it. Be tenacious in your research. What you need is out there, it just takes some digging to find it.

To be honest, there's an extra feeling of satisfaction having done it this way. I did my research, and without having either the 1920 or 1930 Census to go by, was able to find them on the 1940 Census. Now, I can go back to the EDs in 1930 and 1920 to (hopefully) locate them again. There's nothing extra that I can learn at this point from the additional older Censuses, but it's going through the process that hones my skills as a researcher and makes me believe now more than ever that I am prepared to build my genealogical business. 

My business is not a traditional one, which makes things a bit more challenging. It's about educating genealogical researchers and Genealogists on how to care for their research collections, and more importantly, playing the role of research assistant. I can help you by taking a second, or if you're anything like me, 100th look at the documents you have on your lines you want to move forward with; the lines you believe you have the information for but can't quite seem to find it. Or maybe you have so many clients, or a life (heh), and you simply haven't had the time to research your own line. How about a fresh pair of eyes to evaluate your methodology, ensure that you're on the right track and give you enough rest so you can get back on the trail and run a bit farther? 

I'm tenacious like a bull dog. After all, I found the Stellas...

01 April 2012

Sentimental Sunday - March Madness Ends

Thunderstorm woke me this morning, and although I'd been planning on writing a post today, it changed a bit the tenor of it. First of all, I woke up not with the crash of the thunder but with the three Stooges-esque escape my three kitties attempted from my bed when the storm started. Poor babies are so skittish about noise, and this was a good, loud storm. So, 30+ lbs of scrambling kitties are going to rouse you, you know?

But, I digress from the subject at hand. March Madness. No, not the basketball kind. The crazy 'I can't catch my breath because there's so much going on' kind. I have been so busy being busy that I've hardly had a chance to do any research. Thankfully, my weekend at ACPL helped me get a grasp on what I need to do to get things rolling again.

For someone who isn't working full time anymore, I sure am busy. I started the ProGen Study Group (15) in February and although the homework isn't that much I find myself framing a lot of what I do on the subject that month. Last month it was citations (too many interesting, and funny, discussions about that to summarize here) and this month it's Education. I'm a lifelong learner, so it goes without saying that this subject really intrigues me. What I'm finding is that I haven't tapped into anywhere near the amount of educational material that's available, often for free, on the Interwebs. I started a spreadsheet (they're becoming a theme among my Genea-friends) of all the webinars, podcasts, Powerpoint presentations, etc. that I want, or need, to review. Again, there's so much out there and I want to take advantage of it while I can. Are there resources out there that you use to find great genealogy educational material?

Work for me has been disappointing at best. Although my corporate Archives client is still keeping me on, it's a bit frustrating that I'm dealing with the same challenges I was a year ago, and in some instances, two years ago. However, I'm finding my voice in asserting that there is a minimum requirement for a professional, corporate Archives, and I believe that the person I'm reporting to is finally starting to get it. That or pity is finally taking over. Heh.

My historical collection client is on hold until the Library Board decides what their next move will be. In the meantime, I'm fortunate that they've agreed to pay me to assist people who are using the collection for research. This collection is a genealogical treasure trove! There are hundreds of carte de visite or cabinet card photographs of individuals, identified. Plus, corroborating material like memory books, letters, programs, wedding invitations, and a huge assortment of other personal material. Cap it off with both Court and Probate records for the Townships and a transcription of the 1960 (local) Census (that's right, I have NO idea how she got it, but the lady responsible for the bulk of the collection transcribed the records for the 1960 Census) there's enough material to make a genealogist do the Happy Dance. But, for now, only I have access to the Finding Aid. If you know of anyone doing research in Kane County, in Blackberry and/or Virgil Townships, and/or in the town of Elburn, send them my way. I may be able to help them. Oh, and the Cemetery: The Blackberry Township Cemetery, also known as the Elburn  Cemetery or the Union Cemetery before that; I have access to their records as well.

I have two small client projects that I worked on during March and that are in the final stages of completion. One was a wonderful Archives project: taking an original group of Meeting Minutes (c. 1930s) from a local chapter of a Club, digitizing them and creating a facsimile for use. The minutes themselves had been stored away all these years, and although they were a bit delicate they were in relatively good condition. The challenge was the group wanted to show them off and asked my help to do that. Not wanting to expose the originals to the environmental changes inherent with being on display, or handled, I suggested a high quality copy that can be handled on a regular basis while the original is carefully stored. I can't wait to get the copy back from the vendor! I worked on a genealogy client as well this month, providing a second pair of eyes on 20+ years of research on another genealogists hard work. I enjoy this kind of work, because I know the frustration that comes from hitting your head on that Brick Wall over and over and then one day picking up a piece of paper you've had that has the answer right on it. Ugh. Anyway, she requested that I review her research, analyze her methodology and report back. I was able to look at her base document at the ACPL while I was there, and that gave me more confidence in being able to provide suggestions on how she can proceed. 

While all this was going on, I was working on getting my business up and running. My entire adult working life I've thought about being a business owner; how it would be to work for myself instead of answering to someone else. Of course, as Professional Genealogists or consultants, we know that you ALWAYS answer to someone else: the Client. Anyway, I have the infrastructure in place for my business, and that's exciting. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to even have the time to celebrate a life long dream; odd how that happened. But, it's here and though it wasn't done with the fanfare I would've liked, it's my business. For now I'm going to quietly work on solidifying what I can do for my clients; I want to help educate people about how to handle and care for their genealogical collections (you know, the 'stuff' you've worked for years to acquire) as well as assist others in their research. That's it in a nutshell for now; I'll have more details about it soon.

I ended the month with two days of workshops for my other hobby: fitness pole dancing. I know, I know, before you go all "Ewww..." on me, it's NOT in any way, shape or form, exotic dancing. It's athletic, acrobatic, gymnastic-type stuff. I had the opportunity to learn from two of the US Pole Dance Federation's best (you didn't know there WAS a USPDF, did you?) Althea Austin and Karol Helms. Talk about challenging! The best thing about pole dancing is it's opened my eyes about what I 'can't' do. Because, there really isn't anything that I can't do; there are just things I haven't learned how to do, yet. So, they promised that I would do things at least two levels beyond where I was, and I did!! The result was truly amazing and I felt it was a great way to end a mad, mad, mad month. 

So, April, whatcha got for me? Shockingly, I have NOTHING on my calendar. Which is really good, because I want to use April for gathering resources, organizing those resources in usable format, researching my own lines and preparing for the onslaught that will be May. May Mayhem...? I can't wait!