23 December 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Win, Lose, Win, Choose...

Well, here we all are, just a few days before Christmas. How did that happen? Am I the only one that thinks this year absolutely flew by!? At this time last year I was flying high from having visited Cincinnati, meeting my 2nd and 3rd cousins and getting my hands on (literally) family documents from the 1800s that I’d known existed but thought were probably gone forever.  I’d had the pleasure, and honor, of processing them so they were stabilized and described, and more importantly had had the chance to discuss them with my cousins. Having spent Thanksgiving on my own for the first time (my elderly parents had moved to Arizona), it was wonderful to feel the warmth of my extended family’s appreciation of my genealogical efforts and to have a greater sense of my own roots.

Over the course of the coming year, I learned so much about how to be a better technician with regard to my genealogical research. Say what you will but ensuring that someone else, who WILL see your research, can find the resources you used is just good manners. Is it a pain in the butt learning how to properly cite sources? You betcha. Do I do it right and consistently? Not yet, but I’m getting there. The few clients I’ve had have expressed appreciation for the documentation I’ve shared with them. And, I’m finding more and more tools to ensure that all the hours of work I’ve put into my own research will be a valuable asset to someone coming after me.

And, of course, that leads me to the inevitable: there’s no one after me. Thanksgiving was very hard last year, and this year it seems the Christmas holiday has me feeling…I don’t know…melancholy doesn’t quite capture what I’m feeling.  I avoided stores so I wouldn’t have to see the decorations. No holiday radio or Pandora. I cringe every time I drive into our subdivision and see all the holiday decorations up; with the weather being so warm early on it seems everyone pulled out all the stops with their decorations and lights. But my house is dark.

I had to go into the basement yesterday to get wrapping paper for my grand nephew’s birthday present, and all the holiday decorations were there in their boxes and bags. The thought of having to wrap the few gifts we give challenges me. But they’ll get wrapped and given with a warm smile and the wish that they could be so much more, that I could give my cousins and their kids more than the small tokens we can afford.

At the home of Elmer & Virginia Ill, Downers Grove, IL
Photo courtesy of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana

As you grumble about the holiday hassle, the running from here to there, the endless stream of obligations, think about this: there’s someone out there that misses that experience and would give anything to have it back. To know the chaos of Christmas trees with too many packages underneath and the dread of how long it’s going to take to get everything sorted just so the opening can start. There’s the noisy clambering of kids and adults, and especially the inevitable argument over something trivial. There’s the baking and cooking for so many hungry party goers and that last minute run to the store with the ‘look of death’ shot to your husband because you told him there wasn’t enough wine. For those of you with all that and more, count your blessings.

 For those of us without, we’re not ‘without’. We choose. We choose to participate or not. We know we’re not alone, that there are others like us out there.  And if we can see past our own pain, however small or big, there are lots of ways that we can share ourselves to gain back our sense of warmth and being loved.  This year especially, there are so many families in the northeast who still desperately need help. Look around your own community and I’m sure you’ll find a place where your kindness will be appreciated. Don’t waste it; someone will appreciate it. 

May you all feel the spirit of this holiday season; of gifts received, but more importantly, of gifts given.

Happy Holidays

20 December 2012

Thankful Thursday - Of Taco and Wersel, Matthias and Ravold

I've spent the last year researching my Dutch Wersel family roots. I'd started it a long time ago (1996/7), but was put off by a limit of information available and the call of lines I could research here in the U.S. But late last year I had the opportunity to contact and meet my second cousin, Bill Strubbe, his sister Mary and brother Chuck. Bill was excited about the research I'd done, so much so that he invited me to come and stay with he and his wife Kim at their beautiful home in Cincinnati. We had dinner with our third cousin, Nancy Rybolt. Nancy was kind enough to bring with her a treasure trove of family documents, some of which dated back to the early 1800s. These documents helped to ramp up my research in a big way, clarifying some confusion regarding names (Frank was born Franciscus Johannes) and places (a residence permit in Brazil for Nicolaas Jean Francois Wersel dated 1848).

Frank John Wersel, later Frank B Wersel
Photo/scan courtesy Laura C Lorenzana;
in collection of [Private] Cincinnati, OH

George B Wersel
Photo/scan courtesy Laura C Lorenzana;
in collection of [Private] Cincinnati, OH
Just one short year later, I'm amazed at what has been digitized and is now available online. I've also learned so much as a Genealogist; checking name variants, checking each piece of evidence and its source, the FAN club, etc.  I created a research spreadsheet to compile data ; it's a great tool. Even with the language, Dutch, I was able to learn enough to do some basic translations.

Of course, I'm not doing genealogical research 24/7. I have my work as a Consulting Archivist, I'm working on building an Archives and Genealogical Services business, I'm in the ProGen Study Group, I write for Archives.com, I do presentations for local groups and, oh by the way, I have a husband that periodically appreciates a hot meal. [Not that he can't do that for himself; but he works long hours and I only 'work' two days a week.]

It was because of these time limitations that occasionally I post here or on social media or genealogy sites about what I've found and what I am still looking for. And last month, I posted on Genealogy Wise. One of the people who responded to my post was Taco Goulooze. Yep, you read that right, that's his name. Taco lives in the Netherlands and he will now and forever be known by me as 'Columbo'. Thanks to his intrepid spirit and obvious interest in my rather unusual family (which really shouldn't surprise anyone), I now have documents for the birth of my ggg-grandfather, evidence on a document that he (my 3rd great grandfather) stated he was an only child, clarification about a date on a document which lead to evidence as to when and where they entered the U.S. and a resource to connect with in Brazil. Because, well, Taco's like Columbo. And kinda my hero. My genea-hero. At one point in an email, he said, 'I know you're perfectly capable of doing your own research, but your family is so interesting...' So, thanks Taco. For opening up my Wersel (now Versel) line.

Oh, and not to be outdone I posted, in the Ahnenforschung group on Facebook, a request to transcribe and translate my 'crinkle letter' after I realized there just weren't enough hours in the day and Kenneth Marks had success with a translation he needed. Sure enough, Matthias Steinke stepped up to the plate and came through in a HUGE way, meticulously transcribing the mangled document and then working in a language he's not super familiar with to translate it into English. Holy wow...

Ravold Letter 1851
Photo/scan courtesy Laura C Lorenzana;
in collection of [Private] Cincinnati, OH
What I thought might possibly contain military information, because the writing is  so dense, is actually a letter written in 1851 from family in Europe to family that had recently settled in the United States. Of course, the entire document tells a tiny bit about how each cousin, brother, sister, etc. is doing, how many children they have and their names and describes what a dog 'Nicolaas' is for promising to send 60 dollars when he, indeed, did not. There are so many names that I have to sit down with the translation and create a spreadsheet to figure out who is who. What I do know is they are the relatives of my gg-grandmother, Mary Ann Wersel, who was born Anne Marie Wagner in France and is the daughter of Jean Frederick Wagner and Anne Eve Hensgen. Anne Eve's sister Elizabeth married Nicholas Ravold (look closely at the signature on the bottom right of the image above).

Thankful? There really are no words. This has been the most remarkable year with dismal lows and even more dizzying highs. I'm most thankful that the lows happened at the beginning of the year and have become part of my life lesson book. And those nasty lessons? They've been replaced by the likes of Taco and Matthias, extremely generous family historians, living in places where the people I'm writing about here are from. They gave freely of their time and skills so that I would have the ability to know more about my own history. My gratitude for the time they spend to help myself and others is...well, it's indescribable. And for me, that's saying a lot.

Thank you.

Thankful Thursday - (Not So Much)

This is not a 'regular' post, but a necessary one. I am temporarily going to limit comments to those who are members of the blog because in the last week or so I've gotten a large number of 'Anonymous' posts that link to, well let's just say, unsavory websites.

Sorry to have to do this, because I really do love all your comments, but I think this is the only way to prevent you from having to seeing the not-so-pleasant side of the Internet.

And, there WILL be a regular post a bit later today, so stay tuned...

08 December 2012

Sorting Saturday - Let the Scanning Begin!

I've been involved with social media for a few years now, and especially in the last year I've been utilizing it as a great resource for product suggestions and reviews. I don't know about you, but I like being able to talk to friends and acquaintances about products and services before I purchase them. I feel like I get better information and am more informed when I decide to finally purchase something, use a service or go somewhere new. 

I'll preface the rest with this: I'm an Archivist. Regardless of whether your material is 20, 50, or 150 years old, the single tenet I work by is 'Do no harm.' My professional work revolves around protecting the information that documents hold and making that information accessible to researchers. That means protecting and preserving the documents themselves. However, with new technology, the push to scan historical material is getting stronger and stronger. What's more, as technology progresses, and as our backlog of material to scan gets bigger, we look for faster and easier ways to get the scanning done. 

There are a few common sense tips I'd like to share, because with the glut of information out there regarding hardware, I don't think there's enough information from the users end. More importantly, as an Archivist, I've had lots of experience scanning all types of material, from contemporary ads for a corporate client to a Civil War era letter regarding General Sheridan to a note from Bram Stoker. Awesome stuff, all of it. And all of it handled and scanned in different ways.  

My first words of advice: please, please, do NOT use a high-speed scanner for anything but contemporary material, preferably bond and/or copier paper from the last 30 years or so and most likely used, as I do, to print resource information or 'touch' copies of delicate/very old documents. The air pressure used to 'suck' the document across the platen is too much for many types of paper produced before the 1970s to withstand. Additionally, some inks, while seemingly permanent on paper, can be harmed or destroyed from this dragging process. It might appear that the document comes out in one piece, but the fibers have been stretched apart creating an atmosphere in which deterioration can increase and breaking the surface on which the ink holds. What's more, can you imagine the feeling you'd have as one of those documents jams in the machine with others behind it doing the same? Who hasn't had a copier jam up? High-speed scanners can and will do the same.

I had a client, a large service organization, that wanted to have some of its oldest and most valuable material scanned. It was a very large project totaling over 100 linear feet of material. We quoted them a price and time frame, both of which were well outside their desired parameters. So, they told us they were going to hire a commercial scanning company to scan the material. After negotiating the process between the company and our client, we spent two hours training the people in the scanning center how to handle the material properly. They assured our client that not a single piece would come to harm. Of course, you can't be 100% certain that either a machine or human, with minimal training, aren't going to make mistakes. In the end, 1% of the collection was damaged or destroyed. Out of 10,000 documents that's 100. Take 1% of your collection. Now throw it away. 

Seem a little extreme? Over-board? Perhaps, but my hope is that having read this, at least you have a clearer understanding of the 'why' behind my suggestion to use other scanning resources. Or, more importantly, if you take material to a vendor to be scanned, or send it to a group that will 'scan for free', you're equipped with this knowledge and can ask more informed questions (i.e., what equipment are you using to scan my material or do you have non-high speed equipment available for more delicate material?) as you decide whether or not to use that vendor. High-speed scanning can be a real asset  when used for appropriate materials; a good old flat-bed is best for more delicate material.

What's the options then? A good 'ole flat bed scanner works just fine. No fancy settings necessary; archival standards are original size at 300 dpi. No, you don't have to scan at 1200 dpi, unless you're planning on taking a picture of your great granddad to use as a cover for your garage door (I've seen other images used in this way!). I will recommend for some of those *tiny* photos produced in the 1940s and 1950s that you scan at the same 300 dpi, but increase the output size to something bigger. This will provide a file that is more readily usable for copying. Same for any documents that are smaller or that have small writing. 

Photo of Family Collection courtesy Laura C. Lorenzana 2012

And, the next best step is using something that either allows you not to handle the document or minimizes such handling. Because handling historical material increases its chances of being damaged, right? There are some small portable scanners on the market that work just fine for this. However, I've come to really appreciate my smartphone's Camscanner app. No document handling necessary at all, other than opening a folder to the document you need, or a book to a page you're interested in capturing. With a click of a button, you capture the image, it's converted to a PDF file and you can either store it on your phone or upload it to a wide variety of cloud applications like Dropbox, EverNote, OneNote, or email it, tweet it, post it on Facebook...you get the idea. I love this because it's faster and I don't have to handle the material. I used this method with a collection recently and was very pleased with the results. (PSA: One word. Copyright. Know it. Use it.)

Oh, and as Archivists we don't mess with the original scan. In other words, when I scan material, whatever condition it's in is what I want to capture. Because if I go back 10 years from now and compare the original document and the scan and the original looks different, I may have preservation issues. 

If the document in its current condition isn't as legible as I'd like, or there's issues in a photo that I'd like to address, I make a copy of the digital file to fix. I file my 're-touched' material in a separate location from my digital archival scans. Easy.

So, scan your material. It's important. I suggest using consistent filing systems, or the same filing systems, for both paper and digital files. Nothing fancy required to get this started other than a scanner and the desire to share your genealogical material with other researchers. No fancy settings required: just remember 300 dpi at original size. 

Hope this helped a bit. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns about this information; that way I'll know if what I'm passing on to you is of interest and value. Have a great Saturday!!

06 December 2012

Thankful Thursday - A Love Letter to Tootsie

Dear Tootsie, 

I know we started off on the wrong foot through no particular fault of our own.  But, as with people, you came into our lives for a purpose and now that you've given the lesson, it's time for you to rest and be at peace.

I wish your given task would've provided you with an easier life, but that wasn't your role. You started out the pet of a well meaning young couple with two small boys.  We all know what that can be like, and because they were so busy,  you had to fend for yourself. They declawed you to protect the kids, but what about protecting you? Then, because you weren't a 'friendly' cat,  they added a puppy to their household. You went from merely unfriendly to down right ornery, and the family no longer wanted you. 

I can't imagine how it was for you, cooped up in that apartment simply trying to avoid the little humans and that dog. You had to defend yourself at every turn, so that became your your natural mode. When the couple approached the older couple downstairs about the kitty they wanted to get rid of, the next chapter was written. The older couple already had one kitty, but they hated the thought a pet would have to go to a shelter. So they took you in.

I'll never forget when my parents told me they'd gotten another cat. They were in their 60s, and could barely feed themselves let alone another cat. But when Mom described you, I thought 'wow.' Imagine my surprise when I visited them and when I asked where you were their response was, 'We don't know.' You'd gone Deep Cover.  It took three days before we figured out you'd lodged yourself under the kitchen cabinets. They had to have the maintenance guys come in to get you out.  And you were one pissed off kitty. 

Years went by, and I knew that my parents were doing the best they could to care for you. On their long winter vacations, when they'd be gone three or four weeks, I'd come over to feed you and Sasha, but you'd always hide from me. That is until you got really lonely. Then you'd tentatively come out wanting me to pet you, but only so much.  I always knew when you'd had enough when you'd snap at my hand and hiss at me. I would tell people, 'she's the only cat who's ever hated me.'

The hardest part, now, is knowing that you didn't hate me. You had just come to expect that people were going to treat you poorly so you would snap before they had the opportunity to hurt you first. That voice, the one that sounded so frightening? That was just the voice you were born with. That look? That look was meant to fend off anyone who would hurt you.

I'd titled this 'Darth Vadette': February 2011
Photo courtesy of private collection
L. C. Lorenzana

The purr. The first time I heard you purr it surprised me a little.  But it was real and hearty. That was after you'd come to live in our house with Mom & Dad. You were sitting on Mom's lap and I could hear you from where I was sitting in the other room.  That was the breaking of the ice.  We started to spend more time together, you and I, and when my own boys passed away, it was you who came and sat on my lap. I got Mom & Dad to change your litter daily and when they didn't, I did. I found food for you that was more appropriate for your advanced age that you seemed to really like. You ventured out onto the patio with me, just like you'd done at the old apartment, never going beyond the patio stones but so happy to have the fresh air and sunshine.

And then they left. Your people, Mom & Dad, left you behind. I still don't know what to think about that. They claim you were too old to stand the move and that they weren't sure whether you'd get used to the Arizona weather. I felt terrible for you, that the people you'd come to love after so many years would just leave you like that. But at nearly 80, they probably weren't going to be able to take care of you properly. We did the best we could fill the void, but we both worked a lot and I know you missed your people. 

The final insult came when I brought the three stooges home from Arkansas. You had NO idea what to think of those three little kitties; no desire to get to know them. And I understand why: they took the little bit of attention we'd been able to spare away from you. Again. And a year later, once again, you were there for me when a personal setback made me feel as if no one cared for me, as if just being me was an insurmountable problem. You'd come and sit on my lap until I was OK and then you'd head off again to a favorite hiding spot. 

It was then that I figured it out, then that I realized that for so very many years, you were simply misunderstood. How different you might have acted if you'd been treated more lovingly. It's a regret I have and know that I can't resolve. We can't change the past. But it's why we worked so very hard to make sure the rest of your life was as good as it could be. We understood when you started having difficulties with your back legs and began to miss the litterbox or not use it at all. We made adjustments so you could come and go as you pleased. We fed you the table scraps you'd known as a youngster, but that we knew weren't really good for you, because we knew your time was drawing close. We wanted the end of your life to be something special, for you to know just how special you are and what a beautiful and Spartan strong spirit you have. 

Last night, you woke me after I'd dozed off, by one last cry. I picked you up and moved you to a place I thought you'd be more comfortable, pulled a pillow and blanket down on the floor and laid down next to you. And for one last time, you surprised me. You found the strength to get up, come up to me and start to crawl up onto the pillow next to my head. I moved aside and let you get comfortable, pulling a second pillow next to you where I could lay my head. 

Tootsie - December 2012 
Photo courtesy of private collection 
L. C. Lorenzana
It was your final resting place. Warm, comfortable and a place given to you in love. You were strong to the very end, even though your body was very weak. I knew you were ready, and as sad as I am that you're gone, I know that you're with Butch and Kid, Sasha, Otto, Sadie and Sam, Boozer, Whitey, Pyewackit, Mama Cat and all the other pets waiting at the Rainbow Bridge for their owners to meet them. I pray that you have no fear, that all you feel is the love and respect that I have for you and the lesson you bestowed on me. 

That lesson is patience and kindness. To question the 'why' when people are fearful, or angry, or distant. That sometimes a dark, 'mean' exterior is a facade only; that by trying to get beyond that facade we can find kindness and warmth and love. Because things aren't always as they appear to be; facades are built up to protect the interior. 

As a final sign of our respect and love, we'll wait patiently for your cremated remains to be returned to us. Too often you must have felt forgotten. But you weren't, nor will you be. You will always be Tootsie. My tutter puss. Rest in peace. (~1995 - 2012)

Love you,