Jul 28, 2015

Why I Love Genealogy, Reason #846

Some of you who read my blog closely (are any of you out there?)  may have noticed that my previous post disappeared.  It was a grumpy post, in which I was grousing about Family Search and their new focus on the Family Tree.  I got some good responses that helped me sort out my thinking, and I decided that that particular post didn't need to stay on my otherwise usually upbeat blog, so I deleted it.

Today something happened that reminded me of why I love genealogy.  I had posted a similarly cranky topic on a facebook page, complaining about why no one ever responds to my messages on Ancestry and other sites.  (I guess I've been feeling pretty grumpy lately.) Many, many people responded, sharing their experiences both positive and negative, but among the many comments responding to my original post was one that said, "Elise, my husband's great-gram is ______ (1821-1902)."  The name was the same as my husband's, so I checked his side of the family tree and the extensive tree that his cousin has created, sadly without finding the connection.  But this started a conversation between the two of us, which led to some interesting things.

Since my husband's name is unusual and since her husband's ancestor and my husband's are from upstate New York, there must be a connection, though we haven't found it yet.  But in the course of the conversation, my new friend mentioned that she was having trouble with a brick wall, not being able to get further than her great-grandfather in Germany.  Since I'm writing a book about German research and therefore should know a little about it (I hope!), I offered to help.

I've only spent a little time so far, but what showed up right away when I looked at her tree was that her grandfather was a seaman who worked for North German Lloyd in the 1920's and who made many trips in and out of the U.S.  I was blown away, because my grandfather worked for North German Lloyd in the 1920's, and while they don't appear to have been on the same ship, the connection is certainly there.

I was able to send her an image of a postcard, showing the North German Lloyd docks at Hoboken, New Jersey, where both our grandfathers came into port at the end of their journeys.

So today, following a period of grumpiness, I made a connection with someone through genealogy.  Even though the connection is rather circumstantial at this moment, I have a new friend, my husband may have a new line in his tree, and I'm delighted to share history with a fellow genealogist.

I have so many reasons to love genealogy -- today gave me yet another reason.  I'm happy.

Jul 20, 2015

An open letter to my parents, long gone --

Dear Mom and Dad -- it's been a while since we were able to sit down and have a good talk -- Dad, almost 20 years; Mom, 26 years.  That's hard to believe.  I still miss you every day.

I'm a senior citizen now and an elder as far as the family goes.  I wanted to tell you that I've been into genealogy for about five years, and have found out a tremendous amount about our ancestors.  Dad, your father was estranged from his family -- did you know that your Uncle Joseph Benard was an adventurous sort, who managed a hotel in Texas, spent time in Mexico working for an oil company, and wound up in California?  Or that your grandfather Joseph Ortmann came from a farming family in Erkeln, Germany?

William J. Ortman's senior picture

Mom, guess what -- I have your Berneburg line traced back to Cuntz D'Alte Berneburg, who lived in 1470!  Did you know that your grandfather Maximilian came from a family in Silesia, where his father was a Master Weaver and also was a trumpeter?  (That one is kind of mysterious.  A trumpeter?)

Waltraud Berneburg's senior picture 

But whatever I learn, wherever I go, it always comes back to you.  All those ancestors made you who you were, and then made me who I am.  I wish so much that I had asked you more about your lives, really quizzed you about all the details.  I have so many questions and so many mysteries that maybe you could clear up.

Elise Ortman, a couple of years after graduation

But here's what I really want to say.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for having been such a difficult person in my teenage and young adult years.  I had such high expectations -- I was a bear about hypocrisy and imperfection. Even though I knew I was far from perfect myself, I wanted you to be perfect and was pretty hard on you when you weren't.  It wasn't until I was a parent myself that I understood that you were doing the best you could with all that you brought to parenthood.  And now that I'm a genealogist, I see that everyone has problems, foibles, secrets -- that everyone just does the best they can, as you did, as I am now.

I would give anything for an hour.  Half an hour, and I would have all my questions lined up and ask them as fast as I could.  Although I'm an an agnostic, I still hope that I will see you some day and will have the chance to have everything answered.  I miss you.  I love you.

Jul 19, 2015

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (on Sunday)

Every Saturday night, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings sets out a fun task to get us thinking.  This week, the question is "What kind of genealogist are you?"  First, a little history:

I have always been interested in family history, even as a child.  I remembered things both of my grandmothers told me, and it's a good thing, too, because nothing was written down.  But even those little clues (remembering that my great-grandmother's name was Matilda Hug) have been very helpful to me as I've gotten into genealogy much later in life.

I remember sitting with a pile of old photographs, my Uncle Eric telling me who the people were and me writing that on the back.  Again, those little clues have been so helpful.  And then my Uncle Eric dictated family history to his wife, Hilda, who wrote it down, and gave everyone concerned a copy. I'm very grateful for that history now.

I kept the stories in my head for many, many years -- my father's father disowned, my great-grandfather's career as a chimney sweep -- until about five years ago, when I started thinking about family history in earnest.  At that point, all I knew were my parents, grandparents, and the names of two great-grandparents.  Small pickings.  Now I have so much more -- several lines going back to the 1600's, and one all the way back to 1470!

I've also traveled to Burbank for Jamboree twice, to Salt Lake, and will be on the FGS cruise to Alaska at the end of August.

Genealogy has enriched my life in so many ways -- bringing me closer to my family, including some members that I haven't been in communication with for many years.  I get a great deal of personal satisfaction when I solve a puzzle or put together a story; I love the stories best, being able to tell them and to honor those ancestors.

So on to the fun part:

Which of Thomas MacEntee's "genealogy career" categories do I fit into?

1)  Researcher.  I am a researcher, definitely.  I was trained as a social scientist, I know my way around a library, and I know how to evaluate the information I dig up.  I am dogged -- I'll sit and look at every entry on one of those darned microfilms for hours, until my neck is killing me! I greatly enjoy this part of being a genealogist.

2)  Author.  Having taught writing at the university level for most of my adult life, I have no trouble identifying myself as an author.  I write this blog (though not as regularly as I would like!), and I'm currently writing an e-book on doing research in Germany, for beginners.

3)  Educator.   Once an educator, always an educator, I guess.  I consider the book I'm writing to be teaching, and I'm thinking of proposing a genealogy class to the local Park & Rec center.

4)  Curator.  Not really -- or not yet.

5)  Librarian.  No, though I'm very good in libraries!

6)  Analyst.  I haven't gotten into analysis of software and so on.

7)  Marketer.  Well, I've studied it a bit, but I find self-promotion to be difficult, and it also takes a great deal of time.  I will, though, be putting effort into marketing my book.

8)  Retailer.   No, though I guess I'll be doing a bit of retailing when my book comes out.

So there you have it.  I definitely fit into the first three categories.  Where do you fit in?  What's your history as a genealogist?

Jul 18, 2015

It's been a while!

It sure has.  We've had a few challenges, including daughter having eye surgery, which was not fun and which took up a lot of time.  I've also been working on my e-book, making progress there, looking forward to having it done.  Here's a glimpse at the cover:

I think it's going to be useful to people, at least I hope it will.  It seems to me that all the Germany guides I've looked at are basically a list of websites and other resources, and while mine will include plenty of those things, it will also include notes on how to use them and cautionary tales and success stories from my own experiences.  I'm excited about it.

I'm also getting ready to go on the FGS Genealogy cruise at the end of August!  I'm taking my sister, and we're both excited.  She's not a genealogist, though she enjoys reading what I've researched, but maybe by the time the ship docks back in Seattle, we will have made one of her.  

I'll be checking in more often.  Sometimes you get kind of out of the swing of things, but then, you hope, you'll get back into it again.

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