Showing posts from September, 2014

The Darker Side of Genealogy

I wasn't sure I wanted to write this post. But I feel I should, not only as a cautionary tale but also as a way of remembering someone whose life was far from easy. Beginning genealogists get a lot of advice;  don't take others' research as fact, check multiple sources, document everything, and so on.  Sometimes, though, people also mention what I have to think of as the "darker side of genealogy" -- what happens when you find something out that is unsettling or even shocking? A number of people have written about this issue, to mention just a few:   Sue Shellenbarger wrote in the Wall Street Journal about how people are affected when they find something disturbing in their history.   hayden in Daily Kos has written about one of the ultimate shocks:  How do you feel when you find out one of your ancestors owned slaves?   And Lisa Alzo gives us advice on how to document troubling things we find out through our research. I'

One Lovely Blogger Award!

Many thanks to Valerie Hughes of Genealogy with Valerie for nominating me for the "One Lovely Blog" award!  I'm delighted and flattered; thank you so much.  Here are the requirements: Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog Share Seven things about yourself Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!) Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award 1. Done, but I'll say it again -- thanks so much for nominating a newbie to the genealogy blogging community. 2.  Seven things about myself: I recently retired from teaching; I was an English Professor at San Francisco State University and the Director of the Composition Program for many years. I fell in love with genealogy a couple of years ago, and have been actively pursuing it ever since.  I've gone from 7 or 8 people in my family tree to hundreds.    My family is 100% German and the ancestors who came to America alm

Going Sideways: The Story of Herman Ortmann

I haven't done a lot of research with siblings, though from what I hear everyone say, it's important to focus not only on the direct ancestors but on the siblings as well, because we can gain insights from that research, too. My grandfather, William John Ortman, was the last of nine living children of Joseph Ortmann and Annie Schwietering Ortmann.  Joseph and Annie were both German immigrants, but they met in the U.S. and all their children, four daughters (Mary Theresa, Anna, Adelaide, and Catherine), and five sons (Augustus, Joseph B., Herman, Henry, and William) were born in the United States. Sadly, I have no family lore about the Ortmann clan and no photographs, because my grandfather was disowned when he married and never spoke to his family again.  The party line was that my grandmother was Lutheran and my grandfather Catholic; we really don't know why.  But the result is that with eight great-aunts and -uncles, we probably have more second or third cousins than

Great-Grandparents: Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

This week on "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun," we're thinking about great-grandparents, and whether our children knew them.   Sadly, the women in my family in recent generations seem to have delayed having children.  My mother was born when her mother was 40, and my son was born when I was 34, so the likelihood of him knowing any of his great-grandparents was slim-to-none.  Actually, none.  And his maternal grandmother, so sadly, was gone by the time he was four. My cousin, however, married young and had children young, so I'm sure they knew their great-grandmother, at least for a short while.  Both grandfathers died early, 1952 and 1957, so they were long gone before any children were born.  This matters to me.  I come from a tiny family -- my father was an only child, and my mother had one brother that was 16 years older than she was.  I have one first cousin.  Period.  So I've always longed to have family of any kind around, and so wish my son could have

Living in the Land of Dreams: Part One (#TBT)

I'm a child of the 1950's.  From my current vantage point in the 21st century, the 50's look positively antique, but those days were full of exciting new things.  The most magical was television. I'm not sure when we got our first tv, but it had to be in 1954 or 1955.  The first program I remember was "Winky Dink and You," an interactive show that would have kids put a piece of plastic on the screen and then draw along with the story they were telling, right on the screen, with special crayons. It was a sensation, but, as Bob Green says, two things led to Winky Dink's downfall -- the kids who hadn't ponied up 50 cents for the special equipment drew on the tv with their own crayons, and parents were concerned that the tv screen was emitting dangerous radiation to kids sitting so close to it.  I myself, though I had the screen and crayons, once drew on the tv itself with regular crayons, making my mother unhappy -- which I don't really understand,

Wordless Wednesday: My stylish grandma

Almost wordless:  My grandmother took a trip to Hawaii with a senior women's group, as depicted in this photo.  My grandmother is the one in the striped red-flowered muumuu -- isn't she just tons more stylish than any of the other ladies?  I wish I knew where that dress is. I think she looks pretty good. Grandma B in Hawaii And for a special bonus, a mystery question:  Here I am with my siblings watching something on tv.  You get big bonus points* if  you can guess what we're watching. Clue:  1)  It was a special show.  2)  The year was 1956.  SPOILER BELOW *Bonus points have no monetary value.  You just get the good feeling of being right.  :) It was The Wizard of Oz.   First time it was shown on television.

Leaving the Beginner Behind: Citing Sources

I've referred to myself as a "beginner" or "advanced beginner" in these pages a number of times.  We all start out as "beginner genealogists," but when do you get to leave that designation behind? Becoming a better researcher is surely one way; when you move beyond searching on or and begin looking in archives, requesting microfilms from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, looking through historic newspaper files, you've moved past beginner status. Becoming a better interpreter or storyteller is another way.  Unless we come up with an ancestor's handwritten journal (surely the Holy Grail of genealogy) or a detailed newspaper article from the time, we are always looking at a few bare facts and weaving stories out of them.  We leave beginner status behind when we leave the realm of fantasy and begin to look at context, history, social practices, and so on, to help us tell our tales.   Birth record

Surname Saturday: The Word Cloud Expands!

A while ago (in June, actually), I did a "Wordle" of my family surnames.  It wasn't too big, because I didn't have that many names.   It's significant that if I do another word cloud at this point, it looks very different: Look how many new names!  It amazes me that you can start with two names, your mom's and dad's, and before long have 40 or so names that you're connected to.  This is one thing that's great about genealogy:  you can see your progress, literally see it.  I've made a lot of progress just in the past three months!  Do you see any names you recognize?


I don't want to write this, I really don't.  It's been 13 years, but in some ways it's as real as if it happened yesterday.  That's the way it is with life-changing events.  But in the interest of recording historical events that have happened in my lifetime, I will. We were living in California, not far from San Francisco.  My son was getting ready to go to high school; I went to the bottom of the stairs to ask if he was ready, and he said, "Mom!  Somebody flew a plane into the Twin Towers!"  The person he car-pooled with had called to say she wasn't going to school and had given him the news. It was so hard to even understand what I was hearing.  "What?  What??" was all I could say.  We turned the television on, and indeed, it was true.  Even though the events in New York had begun to unfold about an hour and a half earlier, watching the footage on the news felt as if we were watching it live.  We did catch up with them on live tv about

2015: The Year of Genealogy

2015 is shaping up to be a big year, genealogically speaking! In February, I go to Salt Lake to the RootsTech conference, along with spending a couple of days at the Library.  I'm really excited about that and will be planning my research very carefully so as to get the most I can out of the short time I'm there. The Library in Salt Lake City In June, the family will gather in Minnesota for a few days on a lake, a get-together that I hope will happen!  It will be my family, my sister's family, and my brother's family, maybe 15 or so people in all.  We did this a couple of years ago, after my niece's wedding, and it was a blast.  Late nights, sitting around the fire, telling stories; my sister and I painting lake scenes; going out on a boat.  And nobody in the world can make me laugh like my brother and sister.  We laugh a lot . Then,  at the end of August, I will be joining FGS for their 2015 cruise to Alaska!  My sister will be joining me, for

Talented Tuesday: What's My Line?

I'm going to slant the topic a little today -- I'd like to write not only about talents, but occupations as well.  I think it's interesting, what people choose to do with their lives, and whether that grows out of their natural talents.  Of course, once past my grandparents, I can only speculate, but since half of genealogy starts out as speculation anyway, you won't mind, right?  Today I'll start with the people I know or knew in life. Photo in the public domain Long, long ago, before some of you were sentient beings on this earth, there was a television show called "What's My Line," in which very brainy panelists had to determine the occupation of a contestant by quizzing him or her in a "20-Questions" kind of format -- the questions had to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer.  The home and studio audiences knew the occupation, and it was fun to watch the panelists slowly develop the answer for themselves, through th

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: My August Genea-Prize

As he does each Saturday night, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings poses questions for everyone to answer, should they find themselves at home on Saturday night with nothing to do. :)  This week, it's about the "genea-prize" we got from our research in August.  I'll post his questions at the bottom. 1)  I did a lot of genealogical research in August.  I got my great-grandmother Anna Schwietering Ortmann's and great-great-grandmother Sophia Hug's death certificates; I received documents from the City Archive in Hannover that allowed me to get one more generation back on the Berneburg line; and I spent many, many hours in the local Family History Center researching the Langers on microfilms I had ordered from the library in Salt Lake City.  I also decided to go to RootsTech in SLC in February.  That's huge! 2)  I think my prize was determining who of the many Langers I looked at in Oberglogau, Silesia,  was my great-great-grandfather, Anton Langer.  I've

The Teasers: Making Genealogical Leaps of Faith

You know those results that Ancestry or Family Search throw up at you that seem totally random?  You think, why in the world are they giving me these crazy results?  (I actually have a bone to pick about this, but I'll keep it until the end.)  Well . . . every now and then there's something kind of tantalizing in those results that catches your attention, and you wonder -- could that be them?  They are "the teasers"! I have one right now.  I've been researching (and writing about) the Langers of Oberglogau, Silesia.  I've found my great-grandfather Maximilian and his father, Anton.  Here's their bit of family tree: So, we have Anton Langer, born 19 May 1804, and his wife, Johanna Kura, birth date unknown.  I didn't find any record of either Johanna or Barbara in my search through the Kirchenbuecher, so let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that the "Barbara" is a mistake, and Johanna was the mother of all the children, Ca

JFK and Family History

The other day, Valerie Hughes challenged fellow bloggers to write about the historical events in their lives.  She wrote about having lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I would like to write about that, too. John and Jaqueline Kennedy with their son, JFK Jr. It's hard to describe at this point how exciting it was for the country to have a president like JFK.  He was young, he had small children -- I guess the comparison is to the first time Barack Obama was elected president.  So many people were happy, but in JFK's case it was liberals, Democrats, and the many, many Catholics in the country, some of whom have a portrait of JFK on their living room wall to this day.   They were a beautiful couple, John and Jackie -- they seemed to live an enchanted life, she was popular all over the world, and he was so obviously proud of her.  Following the Mamie Eisenhower years, she was a gorgeous breath of fresh air, and the two of them were impossibly gla