Dear Gracious Readers

Admittedly, the art and science behind successful blogging is not something to which I have dedicated a great deal of my education. It is on my “to do list.”  Yet, even with the canyon-like gaps in my understanding on the subject, even I know that I have broken the cardinal rule of blogging by failing to update the content here without even a guest post or a word of explanation.

I promise, this was never my intention. Though the readership at Almost Home is small, I do care about my readers and I want to apologize for the way I have left yoheadu hanging.

The truth is that for these many months I have been dealing with a strange and difficult to diagnose health issue that has been nearly all-consuming. Even now, though doctors have identified to a certain degree WHAT is wrong, they have no explanation as to WHY and whether I will make a full recovery. I am being intentionally vague for fear that divulging any more detail would quickly turn this from a genealogy blog into a medical mystery blog – it has really been THAT weird.

So yeah. I’ve pretty much been in survival mode, grateful I can still take care of my kids every day. I missed my opportunity to run the Boston Marathon, which for a time was a great disappointment. In the end though, I have gained some really great perspective and have really come to appreciate things and people I previously took for granted. Truly. I am really ok with it. Life is still good.

And of course, as a genealogist, as I’ve walked this at times difficult road, I can’t help but think of our ancestors, many of whom were always and quite literally “in survival mode.” And we wonder why so few records of them exist. What recourse did they have when faced with things like difficult medical conditions? So often they were without help or hope. Another reason to dedicate ourselves to remembering their stories.

So, what next? While I won’t make any promises about the frequency of updates to come, I do feel like maybe, maybe I’m turning a corner on all this and will be able to give this page the time and dedication it deserves.

In any case, some exciting changes are on the horizon for our family as we are moving again! Our new duty station holds an interesting repository which I am very much looking forward to visiting and hopefully writing about here.

So again, my apologies. Hope to spend more time with you in the coming months.

If Only ______ Were Here to See This

cubs-agency-hed-b-2016
photo taken from Adweek, originally from Chicago Cubs

This post has been a long time in coming — not only in the sense that the time required to write a blog post while taking care of a 2 month old and a two year old is much longer than it would otherwise be or in the sense that the topic would have been more relevant a week ago when my social media feed was dominated by feel-good sports stories instead of political rants. In a lot of ways, this post has been 108 years in the making.

I am of course talking about the fact that the Chicago Cubs, for the first time since 1908, have won the World Series. To non-Cubs fans, I am sure the media attention this story received seemed over the top, even bordering on obnoxious. Conversely, to those of us who have waited generations for this, no article or YouTube video can quite capture what this sporting event meant to us. This article maybe comes close.

Sure, there are much more important things in world than who wins a sporting event. It is a game, after all. Except, this year, it WAS actually more than JUST a game to a lot of people. I think above all, the Cub’s decade-in-the-making World Series win is a genealogy story. It is what prompted me to call my Grandma the day before game 7 to talk about how Gramps would have loved to see this team play and how if the Cubs were somehow able to pull out the win, we would be cheering on his behalf.

It’s the thought that many of my great-grandparents weren’t even in America the last time the Cubs won it all. My Irish great-grandparents arrived in 1909 and 1911 respectively, settling on Chicago’s North Side. Year after year, the Cubs played at Wrigley Field. Yet, my great-grandparents never got to see this. Up until 2 weeks ago, neither my grandparents nor my parents ever got to see this; But here we are, decades later, 4 generations of die-hard Cubs fans (My 5th generation Cubs fan son has no idea how special this is).14732310_10154501814066970_2209644246210962216_n

It’s the thought that comes to mind after we stopped raising our arms in the air and hugging those around us as tears come to our eyes, “if only _______ were here to see this.” I wrote out this statement on my Facebook page next to photos of my grandfather just after the Cubs clinched the title. My dad’s response? “They sure did it, Dad.”

When the love for a (mostly losing) sports team is passed down like that from generation to generation it becomes part of the fabric of our identity. In fact, I think in some sense it is an even stronger more enduring element of our family culture than things like religion or politics because even though we care SO much, in the end it IS just a game and we can always hope for “next year.” The millions of people who came to say thank you to this Cubs team for making this THE YEAR back me up on that statement (this in a city with TWO baseball teams). So do stories like this one.

Although I occasionally see glimpses of my immigrant ancestors’ culture and identity in my day to day life, the fact is that my life looks a lot different than theirs did. I don’t really practice religion, eat the same food, or dress the way they did. BUT, I do cheer for the same baseball team.

 

News and a Genealogy Birthdate Story

18-kjel0139of89-copyOn August 23rd, our family welcomed our second child, our first daughter, into the world! From now on, this date will have special significance to our family. For years to come on this date, we will celebrate her and reminisce about the day she was born.

It is interesting how this specific date is the one we will celebrate. I was certain she would arrive much earlier and all indicators supported this hunch. Yet, because of certain risks, my doctors insisted on scheduling the date of her “eviction” should she decide not to come on her own. August 23 was suggested and we agreed. Even though the number 23 carries positive connotations for any true Chicago sports fan, at the time I didn’t consider too carefully how I really felt about the date, because surely, I reasoned, she would come before then. Yet, as my due date came and went and this date loomed closer and closer, I began googling “This day in history” and famous birthdays on this date. Of course, once she arrived, I realized just how little these things truly matter and how the end goal is to have a healthy baby, which, thankfully, we do. Nevertheless, my genealogy research tells me I am not the first parent to care about the date on which her child is born.

My grandmother was born on December 18, 1919 – or so we always thought and so we always celebrated. This “fact” was supported by pretty air tight evidence. My mom said this was my Grammy’s birthday and my Grammy herself claimed this as her birthday. I found a copy of Grammy’s birth certificate at the FHL and indeed, the document said she was born on December 18th.[1] The only even remotely interesting thing about the document was that it was a delayed birth certificate, meaning it was written after the fact. My grandmother was born at home, at a time when Illinois vital statistics were regulated, but not always complied with[2], so it would seem that no official birth certificate was created at the time of her birth.

Then one day, when I am back home in Chicagoland, visiting family, the conversation turned to genealogy. My mom told me that she has a copy of my Grammy’s birth certificate if I wanted it. I explained how I already possessed a copy, but the topic prompted my mother to remember something:

“You know how sometimes Grammy misremembers things?” My mom asked. “Well, that’s another thing she got wrong. She once told me she was actually born on a different date, but her parents changed it because they didn’t like the date or something.”

“Wait, what?!” I replied.

“Yeah, she said they changed it, but they couldn’t have. Her birth certificate says she was born on December 18th.”

“Mom. . .” I explained, “Her birth certificate was a delayed certificate! — Meaning it was created after the fact and her father reported the date on which she was born. She was born at home, so no official certificate was created at a hospital or anything. It’s very possible they changed the date!”

In no time, we retrieved the birth certificate and I showed Mom how we know that the information was reported by my great grandfather in 1935, more than 15 years after my grandmother was born.

So, if the story my grandmother told is true, why would my great grandparents have changed my grandmother’s birthday?

While of course, I couldn’t swear to it, and knew I would likely never be able to prove my theory, I then and there developed my own beliefs about my grandmother’s true birthdate. I believe my Sicilian great grandparents, like most Sicilians of their time and place were fairly superstitious people. In their culture, 17 was considered an unlucky number.[3] So what do you do when your child is born on a day marked by this auspicious number? You simply say your child was born then next day! In this case, December 18.

Fast forward some weeks after this conversation with my mom when I find my Sicilian great-grandfather’s naturalization papers. On the 1924 document, he gave the names of his children and their birthdates. There, at the top, his firstborn child (my grandmother) is listed along with her birthdate: 17 December 1919!!![4]

Now, this may not be 100% proof that my theory was correct, but I’d say it’s looking pretty good!

The fact of the matter is that good genealogy research necessitates that we always take our ancestors’ birthdates with a grain of salt. Our modern idea of birthdays and how they are remembered and celebrated is often very different from those of our ancestors. The research ramifications of this truth are significant. I hope to expound on this idea in a future post.

But for now, I must go, since my two week old is about to wake up from her nap!

[1] Privately held by author

[2] Illinois Vital Records, “FamilySearch”, (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Illinois_Vital_Records#References : accessed 6 August 2016)

[3] Ethel Alec-Tweedie, Sunny Sicily, (London: Hutchinson, 1904), 125; downloaded from Google Books.

Also, Tweedie, Sunny Sicily, 198.

Also, Wikipedia Contributors, “17 (number),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:CiteThisPage&page=17_%28number%29&id=726870460 : accessed 8 September 2016).

[4] Privately held by author

How to Take a Break From Your Genealogy Research

Exhausted and tired fitness couple silhouettes at sunset

In the running community, many coaches and serious runners like to, from time to time, implement a “planned break” into training.  Most often these breaks take the form of a few weeks off from running following a significant racing event. Usually, cross-training is encouraged, but any serious form of running is prohibited. The idea is that the planned breaks will give the athlete much needed mental and physical rest at an opportune time in hopes of preventing injury and burnout forcing an unplanned break in the days leading up to a competition. In my own experience as a runner, I’ve found planned breaks are key to helping me reach my running goals.

Genealogy research is no different. Sometimes, the hunt to find an ancestor or the missing piece of the puzzle can be all-consuming. We find ourselves spending what seems like every spare moment in hot pursuit of answers until one day, we are completely burned out. Our pile of research begins to collect dust and we can’t bear to look at the problem any longer.

Other times, whether we like it or not, life takes over and we must consciously take a step back (my situation at the moment). At these times it can seem like any effort outside of what is required to survive must be moved to the back burner.

As I wrote previously, since the end of March, my family and I have been involved in a cross-country move. Even though I am no stranger to military “permanent change of station” moves, this one has been particularly unique. I fully expected to be settled in our new home long before now, but here we are still living in a hotel room (reaaaaally slow internet connection) with our 2 year old and dog. It looks like by the time we do get settled and have our household goods unpacked, we will be only a few weeks away from our second child’s due date [insert panicked emoji here]. Let’s just say, beyond a little bit of work I’ve been able to accomplish on my volunteer project for Purple Hearts Reunited, I’ve done little in the way of genealogy research lately.

Whether planned or unplanned, we all need a break from genealogy research now and again. So what’s the best way to handle the time away? Well, believe it or not, a planned (or even unplanned) break from research can be super beneficial to your genealogy goals

  1. A break from genealogy  research can help you prioritize your goals.

Whether you take a break from genealogy research a result of burnout or a major life event, make a game plan for when you will return. Otherwise, whether our initial intention of not, weeks can quickly turn into months and even years away from a hobby we love.  Write down your goals and when the time is right, you will be that much more intent on accomplishing them when you return to your research.

Not only will you be focused when you return to your research, but in the meantime, you can simply begin to brainstorm about how best to accomplish those goals. Maybe you need to consider investing in some formal genealogy or language courses, or maybe you need to consider hiring a genealogy professional.

As soon as my genealogy books arrive and our family is settled in a good routine, I plan to:

a) Put the finishing touches on my volunteer project for Purple Hearts reunite. b) Check out local repositories so I can once again offer look-ups for clients. c) Organize all the research I found while in Salt Lake City (but never took the time to do so). d) Begin writing my portfolio. I don’t know how long it will take me to feel ready to  certify, but I do believe that by starting, I will better learn where I have  knowledge/research gaps.

2. A break from genealogy research can be a great time to put money away.

Like any hobby, genealogy can become expensive. Sometimes the answers to our research questions exist only in hard to obtain sources, like court records kept at the local level. We may get sticker shock at the costs required to have someone retrieve those records on our behalf, but a planned break from personal research can allow for some serious saving towards those expenses. For example, if you are not currently using your genealogy subscription sites, don’t be afraid to let them expire! You will find that not only will you save money by not paying for something you are not using, but often, the subscription companies will begin to send you special offers in attempt to get you back as a customer. When you are ready to re-subscribe, you may be able to do so more cheaply.

 3. A break from genealogy research can help you become more organized.

Chances are that you if you are burned out on genealogy research, you likely aren’t chomping at the bit to get to your files in order and your source citations written. Nevertheless, it’s a fact that good genealogy is organized genealogy. Perhaps you need to learn a new method of logging your research or bone up on your technological skills. Many genealogists speak highly of programs such as Evernote as a means to not only organize their research, but make connections between facts as well. Learning a new method or program will require an investment of time at the very least, but you may be surprised at how much such an investment can pay off

4. A break from genealogy research can be great time to give back the genealogy community.

Our current experience, education and available resources will inevitably limit the depth of our research. Yet those things can be of great value to another genealogist who is perhaps new to research or geographically remote.

Many years ago, before Facebook became popular, I was having trouble with an Irish place name. I will never forget, I sent out a call for help on an Ancestry chat board. A fellow ancestry user read my post and took it upon herself to make some inquiries on my behalf. In so doing, she solved the place name mystery. When I thanked her for her help, she simply said that she liked to help out when her own research was slow. Her simple act of kindness paid huge dividends in my research and I am forever grateful to her.

If you are interested in helping others with their research while you take a break from your own, there are any number of Facebook groups relating to genealogy research where you might be able to lend a helping hand. Here are just a few of which I am a member:

Chicago Genealogy

Sicilian and Aeolian Island Genealogy

Sicilian and Italian Genealogy

Italian Genealogical Records

Technology for Genealogy

Genealogy Translations

 

Thank you blog followers and new readers alike for patience as I am in the middle of this transition. I haven’t forgotten about you and hope to be posting regularly before too long.