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).
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.
On 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. 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, 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. 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!!!
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!
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
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:
Sicilian and Aeolian Island Genealogy
Sicilian and Italian Genealogy
Italian Genealogical Records
Technology for Genealogy
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.
Back in January, I shared with you guys my desire to become involved with military repatriation cases. Even though I personally pursue genealogy as both a hobby and a career, I absolutely wanted to find a way to use genealogy to “give back” by volunteering my expertise to an effort in which I believed strongly. Shortly after composing that post, I again made some inquiries, which, unfortunately again went unanswered.
Then, just a short time ago, I received an email through the Chicago Genealogical Society about an opportunity to become involved with a special project launched by Purple Hearts Reunited. Purple Hearts Reunited is not a military repatriation organization, but their mission follows a similar vein. They attempt to recover lost or stolen military medals and reunite them with their recipients or recipients’ families. You can read more about who they are and what they do at their website: http://purpleheartsreunited.org/ .
The specific opportunity to which I refer called for volunteers for a “WWI 100th Anniversary Tribute” project. The goal of this project is to reunite 100 World War I Purple Hearts with their recipients’ families in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
Wow. I had hardly finished reading the email before I was sending my own email to project organizers asking them to “please count me in!”
After receiving further details about the project, a short time later I was assigned a WWI Vet to research. I have just started delving into the records (in a city previously unfamiliar to me), finding out more about this soldier and his family. It has already been a bit of a tricky case at turns, but I’m having a blast! And gaining valuable research experience to boot!
You know what’s really cool about all this? At Rootstech, I won free course registration to NGS’s new “Tracing Your World War I Ancestors” course. So I’m simultaneously learning World War I research techniques and applying them to an actual World War I case. It has been amazing.
If you are an experienced researcher and would like to be involved in this project, I believe they are still taking volunteers for a short time. I imagine you can find out more through their website, but feel free to contact me as well and I can put you in touch with project organizers.
Besides my involvement with Purple Hearts Reunited, life has been keeping me extra busy these days. Document retrievals for clients have been picking up, and the movers come in less than two weeks (yikes!). We also announced some big family news during our recent family vacation (See picture below). So, a lot of different things are vying for my energy and attention!
I have a few tutorial posts I am working on that I hope to post before too long. However, I want to apologize in advance if this blog is neglected somewhat in the coming weeks. Once we are settled in our new location, I hope to get back to more scheduled and educational posts for readers. Thanks for understanding.
As many of you already know, I had the opportunity to attend the Rootstech genealogy conference at the beginning of this month. To say the least, I was excited to finally be able attend this year and, as expected, I learned SO MUCH.
Some of you may be considering attending a future Rootstech event. While no two people will come away from such an event with the exact same experience, perhaps my thoughts here may clarify, at least a little bit, what you can expect from the world’s largest family history conference.
Before I begin I should probably tell you that I did not get to enjoy Rootstech in its entirety. Unlike the many people who travel from out of town solely to participate in this conference, I, as a local, still had to balance my normal day to day responsibilities with my course attendance. Besides all this, I missed half of Friday’s classes and all of Saturday’s to be with my family during a difficult time. I did not attend any general sessions, computer labs or sponsored lunches. That said, I still think my abbreviated time allowed for me to see what this conference is about and hopefully offer some tips for future participants.
I think above all, Rootstech is exciting! The expo hall alone is “the stuff dreams are made of” with booth after booth of genealogy related products and services. I can think of no other instance where you can be surrounded by so many like-minded people who share your passion for finding ancestors. Perhaps best of all is the opportunity Rootstech affords those of us who are just hungry to learn. We all want to become better genealogists, right? Well, no matter your skill level or research interest, there are Rootstech classes for you.
In fact, the variety of activities are so plentiful, you will likely NOT be able to learn, see and do everything you would like to. In nearly every block of classroom time, I with difficulty had to choose between no less than 3 classes I wanted to attend — not to mention trying to find time to speak to all the expo hall vendors in the time between classes and during lunch. The good news is that if you sign up for the entire event, you can download the syllabi to ALL of the classroom sessions. So even if you didn’t get to attend a class you really wanted to, you still have an opportunity to learn something from that instructor on that topic.
So, with this said, here are my tips for anyone considering attending Rootstech for the first time.
1. Plan ahead – Download the Rootstech app on your mobile device and schedule the classes you most want to attend. Keep in mind that your personalized schedule is a merely an organizational tool. All classes are first come first serve so be sure you know WHERE you need to be and WHEN. Arrive early. I, unfortunately lost out when I read the wrong classroom number for a popular session. By the time I realized my mistake and walked to the correct classroom, almost every seat was taken. I took a calculated risk and sat in a seat that although empty of a person, had a conference bag on top of it. Two minutes before the start of the session, the person who put her bag on the seat walked in and I had to leave. By the time I reached the classroom for my second choice of class, it was full too. Although the seat saving practice is questionable to say the least, I should have gotten to the initial classroom earlier. So, my bad.
Besides making sure you leave plenty of time to get to the classes you want, also be sure to download and, if you like taking pen and paper notes, print the class syllabi ahead of time. I was shocked by how many people failed to do so. I saw so many people frustrated because the syllabi weren’t being handed out (which in my honest opinion is a bit of an unreasonable expectation) or when they didn’t have time to copy the presenter’s slideshow word for word.
2. Be prepared to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Set reasonable time expectations – Rootstech is huge. That’s part of its excitement and appeal. However, if you plan to do EVERYTHING at Rootstech, you will be tired before long. Which is fine. Just know what to expect. It’s like traveling to the destination of a lifetime. Do everything you can while you are there, but be prepared to need a vacation from your vacation.
If you are planning on attending Rootstech AND researching at the Family History Library on the same days, just know something will likely have to give. Consider arriving early or staying after the conference to conduct your research, or choose to give up some of what Rootstech has to offer in order to have the time and energy to devote to the FHL.
The best time to explore the expo hall is honestly during a block of time set aside for classroom instruction. To me, classroom time was more important than exploring the expo, so I only set foot in the expo hall during its busiest times – lunch and between classes. It is obviously a lot harder to get your questions answered when you are fighting crowds.
3. Choose classes based on skill level as well as topic – I took away something from EVERY single class session I attended. However, I was most satisfied with the classes I took which fell under the “advanced” category. Some of the beginner or intermediate sessions, while still informative, felt a bit underwhelming, like the instructors could have addressed many more points in the time allotted but chose to reinforce one main point. Obviously, the attendee must honestly evaluate his or her skill level and choose classes accordingly. Look beyond the catchy titles and consider the class description, skill level and instructor bio.
4. Download the syllabus to every class which interests you – To me, the opportunity to have the syllabus from every class offered at Rootstech is alone worth the price of attendance. As I said earlier, you likely won’t be able to attend every session, so if nothing else, read the syllabi!!
5. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and network, but keep your expectations reasonable. All those genealogists under one roof! Some of the best in the business! Yes, you can network at Rootstech and don’t be afraid to do so. Not everyone wants to talk, but many people do. Nevertheless, keep in mind that EVERYBODY is busy at Rootstech. A smaller genealogy conference or better yet, a genealogical institute are likely better networking events to really get your name out there.
6. Don’t be “that” genealogist – A fellow genealogist at Rootstech remarked something to the effect that genealogists as a whole are notorious for being cheap, for complaining about everything and for nitpicking at other genealogists. I thought about this later. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby. When it comes to my own personal research, a lot of things need to get put on the back burner simply because I can’t afford to send away for every record I would like right now. Does that make me cheap?
Is it a bad thing that genealogists are sticklers for accuracy? Not necessarily. It keeps us ethical. As with anything, there is a wrong way and a right way to go about things. I think perhaps, the behavior of a few can give the rest of us a bad name. And I got a say, I witnessed some bad behavior at Rootstech.
Complaining — I heard a lot. At one point, I met some people who worked for Familysearch. I thanked them for what they do and remarked on how great a service FamilySearch is for genealogists (People: Its free! Millions of records!!). Imagine my surprise when these individuals told me I was the first person who had anything positive to say them about the website and how everybody else they talked to told them everything they thought was wrong with it.
Rude behavior: Please, don’t be the person to throw your coat on the coat check table without waiting in line or paying the nominal fee who then walks away.
And yes, it is a violation of copyright to take photos of every slideshow in a presentation. So, please don’t keep doing so when the instructor nicely asks you not to.
Ok, I’m done lecturing. Rant over.
7. Enter the Giveaways – You never know, you might win something great! I was very excited this year to receive an email from NGS saying I had won a drawing I had entered at Rootstech for free enrollment in their new class, “Researching Your World War I Ancestors.” Never expected I would actually win, but here I am, enjoying this class immensely. Perhaps I’ll write a review when I’ve completed the course.
In short, I thought Rootstech was great. I am very grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.
If you missed this year’s conference, you can still watch a number of sessions here.
This is not exactly the post I had imagined I would be writing about now. I imagined I would be sharing with you all my wonderful learning experiences from Rootstech. While I still hope to share some about my abbreviated time at the world’s largest family conference, this post will be more reflective and simply acknowledge one more reason why I feel honored to learn and preserve my family history.
Just before Rootstech I received word that my 96 year old Italian grandmother had passed away. I flew home a few days later to be with my family for her memorial service.
In many ways, my grandmother led an ordinary life. She loved simple things like snow, Christmastime and crafting. Yet, in other ways, her life was remarkable. The firstborn child of Sicilian immigrants, she lived history growing up in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. As an adult, she worked as single mom — at a time when to do so was uncommon. Though she never acted tough on the outside, her character was marked by a remarkable independence and endurance. It is still difficult to believe she is no longer with us.
When a close loved one passes, we of course feel grief. But even in the midst of trying to accept what has happened, a million tasks fall on the shoulders of the family. Even though many miles separated me from my family in the days leading up to the memorial, I was still able make contributions to the efforts back home and I truly believe I have genealogy to thank for that. First, I was honored to be able to write my grandmother’s biography for her memorial service. Using my notes from interviews with my grandmother, supplemented with a record or two, the biography came together relatively quickly and with little stress.
Second, I was honored to put together a pictorial collage of my grandmother’s life. Only last November when I was back home visiting family did I digitize boxes of my grandmother’s old photos and records. I was easily able to arrange these in a Photoshop document and have a poster size print made. I rolled the poster up, took it on the plane with me and placed in a frame that was waiting in Chicago. The family who came to pay their respect seemed to truly appreciate the photos, many of which were quite touching. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but to acknowledge how genealogical preservation can help us honor our loved one’s lives. I like to think my grandmother would have been pleased with the way her life was remembered.
Genealogy has helped me during this time in another way as well. Strange as it may seem, I feel like it has helped me grieve. Even before I knew my grandmother’s health had turned for the worse, I had been concentrating my research on her branch of the family tree. Since her passing, most of my free time has been spent deep in Italian records and I feel I am just inches away from breaking down a brick wall that has loomed for some time. Of course, I am sad to realize that when the brick wall comes down, I won’t be able to call her up to tell her about it. But who knows? Maybe she now knows all the answers to the genealogical questions we had over the years. In any case, I am just glad to learn about the historical events, the seemingly small or big decisions, which led to this remarkable woman becoming my Grammy.
At the end of 2015, I alluded to some exciting things that have been happening at Almost Home. One opportunity I wanted to share came as I recently completed some work for the Travel Channel’s, The Dead Files. I love that a (growing) number of television shows, such as The Dead Files are utilizing the services of genealogists. The partnership gives exposure to our profession, and ignites that spark of curiosity in many viewers. At the same time, I like to think the expertise we genealogists provide makes it a win-win for all involved. After all, we know better than anyone that truth IS often “stranger than fiction” and you really “can’t make this stuff up!” I found this project fun and interesting and I would certainly welcome any similar opportunities in the future.
On another note, I think I am coming close to really nailing down a genealogy research focus. It is no doubt apparent to the readers here that many areas of genealogy research easily capture my attention. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but this tendency does present a couple of difficulties. One, I tend to jump around in my own personal research as a result. So instead of having a really thorough picture of one branch or segment of my family tree, I have a kind of piecemeal conglomeration of facts sometimes producing more questions than answers.
Similarly, without a research focus, I am concerned I am not reaching the highest level of expertise I might otherwise attain as a genealogist. As I’ve written before, I have a goal to one day earn a Certified Genealogist credential. The process to earn that credential requires that I declare and write a portfolio that relates to a chosen research focus. While the transient nature of our life as military family presents its own challenges to my finding that niche, I think I’ve found a specialty to which this lifestyle might actually work to my advantage.
All that said, I am not quite ready YET to make any major announcements regarding the future direction of my research services of this blog. I am hoping to network with and ask advice from a few people at Salt Lake City’s upcoming “Rootstech” event before I settle on this direction.
Speaking of Rootstech, can I just say, I am so excited to be able to attend this event this year!? I am ready to LEARN more and hope to MEET many of you there!! No doubt the event will inspire some future posts as well. Stay tuned.