26 March 2012

Madness Monday - Not Your Granny's Genealogists

So, if I'm crazy this counts as a 'Madness Monday' post, right? 

OK, I admit it: I used 'Madness Monday' because it seemed only fitting after the insane weekend the Midwest Geneabloggers had at the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, IN. I cannot say enough great things about the Library, what's around the Library, Tina Lyons, and well, everyone who was there!

First, there were a few people that I simply didn't have time to really connect with, and I regret not being more open with some of you. At one point on Saturday, I'd gotten up to get some books, and when I came back into the room, there wasn't a single person who didn't have their head down either in a book, madly typing on a laptop or taking pictures with an iPad or Smartphone. It. Was. Awesome. We're talking at least 20 Genealogists, tearing it up. And, as each moment ticked by, I felt like there was more and more that I wasn't going to have a chance to look at, which made me feel a bit tense. 

But, I digress. Here are the things I believe many of us took away from this wonderful weekend:

1. Ft. Wayne is surprisingly affordable. Much discussion happened about how expensive conferences are, and how challenging it is for many of us to be able to go to them. The Midwest Geneabloggers Meetup provided access to a world-class genealogy library and no less than 15 well qualified genealogists. I spent about $100 for the entire weekend (2 nights, food, gas)...what a bargain! Granted, I shared a room with three lovely ladies (which meant we didn't sleep a whole lot), but that just made it even better.

2. Did I mention the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center is ridiculously amazing? The Family History section is just that: a huge room filled with books written about families. The library is extremely well organized, the lighting is excellent and the chairs are meant for researchers who sit for long periods of time. Wifi is free and provides access to the Library's catalog and all their databases, so you can work from your own computer. I didn't even get the opportunity to utilize the Microfilm room, but I understand their collection is excellent. Just bring a sweater for the room.

3. Downtime with other genealogists is a must. We all have lives. Some of them are messier than others. Often, we think our messes can't possibly be topped. And, then you meet someone who's mess DOES top yours. Or, that your experience with your mess helps someone else with theirs, or vice versa. The kicker is that they frame their messes the same way you do: through the prism of our love for genealogy. Which means we adore our families, no matter how disastrous they seem. And for those of you without messes? There's a few of those out there too!! The most important aspect though is the opportunity to discuss current events, methodology questions, research questions and the like with a room full of really passionate genealogists. It refills your tank so you can get back to what you were working on with renewed purpose and focus.

4. It just makes sense to have another Genealogist look at your research. Often as I looked around, I saw people huddled together in conference. Sometimes it was to ask if something made sense, or to confirm a big find. There were some great moments when you'd hear a restrained 'YES!!' from someone who'd found another piece of their puzzle. We shared it, and it was just fabulous. There were some tentative questions too. There were a number of people there that had never been in a repository before. They weren't sure where to start or what to look for. Guess what? You have 15+ genealogists at your disposal!! Score!

5. JK O'Donnells. So, there were a few of us who fell in love with this place. It's the Irish pub around the corner from the Library. Great food, beverages (especially of the frosty version) and it was the perfect place for use to hang out and discuss. Loudly. With Laughter. Ask for ...oh, Terri O'Connell, help me out! Was it Megan? Melissa? No, Not Melissa. Erg. Our waitress was awesome. Leave it to a Genealogist to forget a living person's name. Anyway, great place to go when you go to the Library. 

You ARE going to the Library, right? See you in October ;-)

20 March 2012

Tuesday's Tip - Catholics, Protestants and Agnostics, Oh my!

Blessed Ostara everyone! Ever heard of it? I hadn't either until about 20 years ago, and then I learned a lot more about it as I was taking a religious studies course as part of my Art History studies. Ostara is the pagan name (although there are other spellings) of the festival of the Vernal Equinox...Spring! Anyway, I could write a lot about what I learned about the origins of the fun things we do at Easter, like coloring eggs, the hiding of the eggs, the Easter bunny or many others, but I'll save that for another time. 

My Tuesday tip might be a tad bit uncomfortable, but I learned through my own research that sometime going out of our comfort zone is a good thing. This tip has to do with our assumptions about our fore-bearer's religious affiliations. And, of course, it echoes what I've said a number of times before here: make no assumptions. 

Here's how I learned this lesson. When I first started researching my Wersel line, I knew my great grandfather Henry and his three siblings, George, Agnes and Estella (yes, I'm still waiting on records from California...I may be a really old woman before they get here!). They were, to my knowledge, the extent of my great grandfather's family. My great grandmother, Laura Louise Richards, was Methodist, as was my great grandfather. Or so I assumed

The wonderful cemetery websites hadn't been created at the time I'd started my research, so I couldn't simply plug a name in and uncover the truth about this family. It took first discovering the name of a living relative with whom I had a brief but elucidating conversation. When asking about a possible burial location for our relatives, he suggested the Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society. I asked aloud, "Why would I do that?" and his response, "We're Catholic." 

I was a bit stunned. I grew up as a Methodist, my parents were Methodist, my maternal grand parents were Methodist...but I had family that was Catholic. To be fair, my cousin was as shocked to find out he had Protestant relatives as I was to find my Catholic side. What's more, I uncovered through the CCCS three more brothers my great grandfather had, all of whom were Catholic.

In later conversations with several relatives, it would appear that the religious switch happened in my great grandfather's generation. When, why and how are still unknown to me, but I know that my Henry's siblings George, Agnes and Stella are buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. It's a Roman Catholic Cemetery.

I'm still working on unraveling who is whom in this family. I have overlapping lines with family names that are all the same: Nicholas, Frank, George, Charles and William. I'll tease out all the details, soon enough. For now, I've learned to make no assumptions regarding the religious affiliations my families have, because you just never know. And, knowing that we have Catholic roots helps me narrow my search as I return beyond three generations of this family.

09 March 2012

Friday Funny - It's the Resources, Dummy! #SMDH

One of the first hashtags I saw on Twitter really confused me at first: #SMDH. It always seemed to come after a tweet that was silly or ridiculous and when I figured it out, I did it myself: Smackin' My Darn Head. Heh. You know that moment where you see something on a document you've had for five years and is a link to ten other things, or you realize the resource that you needed was right at your fingertips all along. Like that... SMDH.

That was me yesterday. I had one of the worst technology days. Ever. I have a very important self-imposed deadline fast approaching, and yesterday was the day I was going to complete two cornerstone projects. As things got progressively worse through the day and I realized I wasn't just going to not finish one, but BOTH, of these projects I just wanted to quit. 

Of course, someone came to my rescue to remind me that I'm always cheering everyone else on and that I needed to stop, take a breath, and work on something else to get the ball rolling again. I tried a variety of non-genealogical tasks just to shake things up a little but even those didn't work. Ugh! What was going on!! (Don't get me started about the fact there was a full moon and solar flares.)

So, I decided to hit my Social Media sites to see what everyone was up to and a tweet caught my eye. It was Caroline Pointer (@FamilyStories ) making a comment about Orange County, California Death Certificates. As those who are following the blog know, my (E)Stella Wersel died in OC. I've been having one heck of a time trying to figure out how to get the probate record from 1965 that  covers the processing of her estate and the 27 heirs to whom it was disseminated. When I called the Superior Court of California County of Orange the nice person who answered the phone told me to send a letter and they'd get back to me. Uh, really? Oh, what I would give to get my hands on that Probate Record! You'd think the State that's the home to Silicon Valley would be at the forefront of technology, but sadly it just isn't. 

So, as I was sitting there tweeting back and forth with Caroline, I had the SMDH moment. I think I actually DID smack my darn head. I have a cousin who lives in Orange County. A Mormon cousin. I have incredibly fond memories of her from my childhood. As I sat at my computer, I thought to myself, 'Why the heck didn't I think of this months ago?!!' I hopped on over to Facebook and sent my cousin a message: could she/would she be able to go to the Orange County Court to see if they have a record? It literally was only a minute later she messaged me back to say that she'd be happy to help me out!! #SMDH 

How often have I tried to ram through a problem when the resource was right there in front of me? Too many times. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and let the information come to you when it's ready. To say I'm excited about finding out more about my Stellas is a huge understatement.  Hopefully, crossing my fingers, I'll know more soon!