If Only ______ Were Here to See This

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.


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.


Applying Recently Acquired Education to Purple Hearts Reunited Research

copied from PurpleHeartsReunited.org

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!

4th and 5th Generation Cubs Fans!!

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.


When Genealogy Helps Us Remember

Hello, everyone.

I’m back.

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.webversion

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.

My New Year’s Resolutions Need Your Help!!

Here it is, nearly the middle of January and I’m just now sharing my New Year’s Resolutions. Considering we were hit with one of those weeks. . . complete with a nasty case of food poisoning AND car trouble, I am just grateful to be writing at all.

2016 will be a year of change, it seems. I have alluded to at least one of these changes in a previous post, so I guess it is time to tell you that we will be leaving Salt Lake city soon. . . too soon, if you ask me. We have yet to receive official orders to our next duty station, so I won’t say exactly where we are going; But, I will tell you that it is one of the 13 original colonies!!

Many of my resolutions came to me as I anticipated what a new geographic region will mean to my genealogy education and career. Others are projects I have been meaning to take on for some time. A few of them require some expert advice, because I really don’t know where to begin in order to accomplish them. I would be very grateful for any insight my fellow genealogists can offer! So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Make the Most of My Remaining Time in Salt Lake – It has been a dream to spend so many hours over the last year and half researching at the world famous Family History Library. I am so grateful for all that facility provides AND for their evening and Saturday hours (since I stay home during the day with my son). Yet, it is difficult to believe I will soon have to leave this amazing resource. I still have so much I want to do there. I need to take advantage of every opportunity, even on those cold, dark evenings when I might be tempted to stay home and turn on the TV!

2. Give Back by Becoming Involved in Military Repatriation Cases – Did you know that some genealogists work to find living descendants of killed or MIA veterans whose remains were never identified in order that those individuals’ remains may finally be identified through DNA testing? I first heard of this when listening to a genealogy podcast and have tried to learn more on the topic. There are so many ways we as genealogists can give back, but when I heard about these efforts, I knew this was something of which I wanted to be a part.

Unfortunately, I am having trouble getting started. I joined an organization of volunteer genealogists a while back and offered my services, but I never heard anymore. I made a few inquiries, but still nothing. If you know how I might be able to be a part of these efforts, please contact me!

3. Attach Source Citations to Genealogy Documents – Source citations are not something I generally look forward to writing, and to be honest, I am still not 100% confident in my source-citation-writing-ability. I spend a lot of time pouring over Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained. Yet, because I know how important they are and how attaching them to my documents will actually save me time in the future and make me a better genealogist, I think will call 2016 the year of the source citation. I plan to take another class or two on the topic and really buckle down on this project.

4. Continue to Take Formal Genealogy Courses – I don’t know if 2016 will be the year I can really dedicate myself to a concentrated, rigorous class or program, because you know, the whole cross-country-move and mother-of-a-toddler situation, but I would like to take some courses that I can chip away at as I have time. I currently have my eye on few offerings from the National Genealogical Society. I will keep you posted.

5. Become More Skilled at Newspaper Research – I think I am OK at newspaper research. I can find obits and major news stories if I know the dates for which I should be searching. Yet, I feel like I could do a lot more with newspapers if I understood how better to search them, both those online as well as those that might be on microfilm. I am convinced there are a few tricks I need to learn. I am hoping to read a book or take a class on the topic. So, fellow genealogists, if you have any recommendations, I am all ears!!!

6. Learn more about Tax Records and Land Records – Genealogy research at our new geographic location will be very different from anything I’ve done in the past, which I am actually super excited about. It may seem counter-intuitive that a person who is “married to the military” could have a successful genealogy career with so much moving around, but I hold a different perspective. The nuances of each geographic region only help expand my knowledge and expertise. I know that where I am going, tax and land records are going to be essential to understanding the local history and the families who lived there. So I better start studying!

7. Contact Distant Family – Listen, I like people. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories. That said, I am also introvert at heart. I can be shy and I don’t particularly like to talk on the phone. While I enjoy speaking in front of a crowd, I get nervous at the thought of calling someone I’ve never met and asking a favor of them.

As genealogists, we know how amazing these interactions can be if we are just willing to get out of our comfort zone. I have a few people in my family, whom I’ve either never met, or met when I was, you know, three, whom I have been meaning to call. Yet, I keep procrastinating, worried that I might be bothering them. Afterall, not everybody shares my passion for genealogy, and what if I inadvertently step into some sensitive topic and end up offending them? These are all excuses I know. I just need to make the effort.

8. Write more – I would really like to start writing reports, case studies, proof arguments, etc. for my own family. I could use the practice and the process will inevitably help prepare me for my ultimate goal of one day writing a portfolio that will pass the rigorous standards of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Its time. So 2016 is year!

How about you? What did you resolve for 2016?

15 Ways I Became a Better Genealogist in 2015

15 ways I became photo
Photos from author’s personal files. May not be used without permission.

2015 was quite a year. One for the history books, in my opinion. For one, I will never forget watching history as Thoroughbred racing’s American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown in almost 36 years. Something, as a lifelong horse lover, I had been waiting my whole life to see.

This year also saw the culmination of years of hard work when I finally reached my ultimate running goal of Qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

In 2015, my Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and my Cubs won their first post-season playoff series at home in Wrigley Field history.

Besides these things, I will always remember 2015 as a banner year for my growth as a genealogist. As I look back on the year, I can pinpoint specific actions and experiences which fostered this growth. I still have a great deal to learn (stay tuned to for an upcoming New Year’s Resolution post), and am uncomfortable with the number of times I use the word “I” in this post. Nevertheless, I hope my experiences may inspire you. So here, in no particular order:

1. I listened to podcasts. You guys, there are so many free genealogy podcasts out there! The best part about education via podcast is that you don’t have to be sitting down to be learning. You can listen to them while you clean the house or when you are in the car or whatever. You can also download the audio to many of the free webinars out there and upload them to your listening device. My favorites include anything by Marian Pierre-Louis, and pretty much any webinar put out by the BCG or the APG. Check them out!

2. I exercised. I know this sounds a little ridiculous, but I sincerely can’t say enough about the value of getting away from the computer screen and getting your heart rate up. We genealogists tend to sit too long, intensely staring at screens and microfilm readers. Exercise helps loosen the tension from sitting and protect our health. For me personally, exercise gives me energy. So when my son goes down for his naps, instead of taking one too, I have the energy to work.

As you probably guessed by my aforementioned reference to the Boston Marathon, I love to run. Running provides a great opportunity to listen to those genealogy podcasts! It also just seems to spur creative thought. When I’m not listening to podcasts, I’m usually working out my genealogical brick walls or finding inspiration for blog posts.

3. I joined genealogical societies. In 2015, I joined the National Genealogical Society and the Chicago Genealogical Society. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from reading their publications, particularly those from NGS.

4. I took online courses. I currently stay home with my 2 year old. Consequently, I learn from home and I (mostly) work from home. Online learning provides classroom quality instruction without requiring me to actually be in a classroom. This year I completed several courses from the NGS and I am currently working my way through John Grenham’s Irish Ancestors course.

5. I read recommended books. There are so many genealogy books out there, sometimes it’s difficult to know which ones will most aid us in our efforts. I found there are a few books out there that come recommended time and again by top genealogists. Those are the books I’ve tried to acquire for my library and in each case, I have not been disappointed.

6. I started Almost Home. Few forms of learning are more effective than “learning by doing.” Client projects have stretched me and have also given me confidence in how much I have learned.

7. I joined the Association of Professional Genealogists. My membership in this organization has given Almost Home great exposure leading to some pretty exciting opportunities I hope to share more about in the future. The association’s email list provides another source of learning and an ever-present network of professionals to whom I can go for advice.

8. I admitted knowledge gaps. When I admit my knowledge gaps, I am more motivated to fill them. A few short months ago, I knew next to nothing about probate records, which I find almost embarrassing now that I know their value. Yet, just this week, I worked out a really difficult client problem relating to probate records, thanks to the steps I took to educate myself. I’m still no legal expert, but it was a proud moment.

9. I spent time significant time researching at the Family History Library. When we moved to Salt Lake, I knew we wouldn’t be here forever. I committed to getting the most out of living here while I could. That means I make at least weekly trips to the FHL, spending a minimum of 2 hours at a time. Even accounting for weeks that I traveled, or couldn’t make it for one reason or another, I spent at least 100 hours researching at this repository this year . . . and there’s still so much more to do there.

You may not have access to this library where you live, but you may live close to a Family History Center. If you aren’t already familiar with their holdings and the FHL’s loan program, I encourage you to check it out.

10. I diversified my repository research. Besides the FHL, I also spent time this year researching at the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s Newberry Library, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Utah State Archives, and the Salt Lake City Recorders Office.

11. I interviewed family members. While I certainly interviewed family members in years past, in 2015, I took better care to record or take notes on those interviews.

12. I investigated “old shoeboxes.” This practice led to a number of new clues and helped solve a few mysteries too. Read more here.

13. I learned under some the best at the BCG lecture series. Read more here.

14. I buckled down on source citations. I still have a long way to go in terms of getting accurate source citations attached to all my records, but I am happy to say I am making progress.

15. I learned from more experienced genealogists. I don’t read as many blogs as I would like and I don’t interact with other genealogists as much as I would like, but when I am able to connect with others, whether electronically or in person, I want their advice. I want to know their stories and learn from their experiences. That includes you. In what ways did you become a better genealogist in 2015?

This Genealogist’s Holiday Wish List


1. Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones – The genealogy community makes it pretty clear that this book is a must-have for any genealogist committed to accurate and ethical genealogy research. I feel that my library, as well as my genealogical education, is really not complete without it. I understand that the book provides valuable, clear instruction on how to apply the Genealogical Proof Standard. Perhaps the best part, the reader can evaluate his or her understanding of each chapter through corresponding workbook exercises. For these reasons, Mastering Genealogical Proof is at the top of my Holiday Wish List.

2. Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy – The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, held 11-15 January, is an intensive, week-long genealogy education opportunity in Salt Lake City where students learn under some of the foremost genealogists in the field. The institute offers 13 different courses or tracks, from which the student chooses one. Many of the courses are already sold out, but some still have availability.

To be honest, it will be a Christmas miracle if I can attend SLIG this year. The timing of it simply seems impossible for our family right now. This is a shame because we will be changing duty stations soon, and this may be my last opportunity to go. Nevertheless, I take comfort in the fact that there are many people (maybe even some of your reading this) who likewise have family and work responsibilities which prevent them from taking advantage of these types of learning opportunities. I am grateful that there are still many, many other ways for us genealogists to educate ourselves if we are committed to learning. Plus, there’s always the future. Ya never know.

3. Urban Green: Nature, Recreation and the Working Class in Industrial Chicago by Colin Fisher – My interest in this topic began when I decided to investigate the history behind an old photo of my great-grandmother in a baseball uniform.

Well, that statement isn’t completely true. A few years back I earned my Master’s Degree in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois. While I appreciated almost all my coursework in the program, I most enjoyed the unit on the social history of leisure. So that’s likely where the spark initially ignited.

Anyhow, this book caught my attention as I was learning about recreation in industrial Chicago, thanks to the aforementioned photo of my great-grandmother. It might sound strange, but I found Gem’s 1997 Windy City Wars so fascinating I decided to put this recently published book on my wish list.

4. Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research by Loretta Dennis Scucz – This book maybe be a little older, but it is still considered one of the best resources for Chicago Genealogy. Since my family tree is so heavily comprised of Chicagoans, I think I definitely need it on my bookshelf.

5. Tracing your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham – Last St. Patrick’s Day, I took advantage of a special rate on John Grenham’s online Irish Ancestors course, which I found to be incredibly detailed and informative (I’m actually still working my way through it). I already knew when I began the course that Irish research can be a bit tricky, and the course only reiterated that truth to me. There are so many nuances to Irish research that no genealogist could begin to remember them all. This book is the definitive reference to Irish research and I would very much like to have it in my library.

6. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Historians and Genealogists by Barbara Jean Evans – I think the title says it all. Which of us couldn’t benefit from this book, right? The documents we come across in our research must be understood within their historical context, or we will fail as genealogists. A to Zax seems like an essential reference work for this genealogist.


What about you? Do you have any genealogy related items you are hoping for this year?