We're the millers: finding family occupations (the Meinbergs, millers of Heppenheim)

After you've found out the when and where of a family member's birth and death, one of the easier facts to fill in in between (not always, but a lot of times, yes) is occupation (for men anyway, although it's always interesting to see women's occupations throughout history. But it can tell you a lot - it can give you an idea of whether a place was urban or rural; it can give you an idea of what a person's father might have done for a living, as some children followed in their father's footsteps; it can give you an idea of what was driving the local economy; it can give you an idea if or why your family moved, if they were working in an industry that eventually collapsed or became obsolete.

So I always get excited when I find out a new ancestor occupation, and I recently did, about my Meinberg family in Heppenheim. Eva Meinberg Haase, my third-great grandmother, was born in New York City in 1861; her father, John Meinberg, was an immigrant from Heppenheim in Hesse. I know nothing about him personally - he's one of my ghost ancestors I'm still chasing - but I know about his family, and they both apparently came from a long line of millers in Heppenheim. They were *the* millers apparently, and the title of the article I found is "Once one of the richest families in the city."

http://www.morgenweb.de/region/bergstrasser-anzeiger/heppenheim/1.2066323

 

There were at least 14 millers in the family over 8 generations and they were, obviously, very successful at it. It appears that at some point, the milling business passed to another branch of the Meinbergs, not my Meinbergs, which is perhaps why my branch ended up in America, if they hadn't inherited the lucrative family business. I have no idea what John ended up doing in America instead. But it was interesting to see this article, not written as a genealogy article, but written by someone interested in history, specifically German history and the history of mills, focusing on my family - my 9th great-grandparents, Johann Meinberg and Eva Farrenkopf, are mentioned in the article. In fact, that's how I found the story. Lesson number two today - never underestimate the power of a well-phrased Google search, as well as the power of Google translate!!

 

http://www.morgenweb.de/region/bergstrasser-anzeiger/heppenheim/1.2066323

When genealogy is heartbreaking...

There's a lot of fun and excitement that comes with tracing your family tree - discovering new ancestors, new cousins, new facts, new vital records...it can get the adrenaline pumping, for sure!

But it's not always like that. Sometimes researching your family history can be heartbreaking. I think, for example, of confirming my great-great aunt's death in the General Slocum steamboat disaster...and then to compound the tragedy of it all, discovering that she had a one year old son who died with her. I have a one year old son, so maybe that's why it particularly hit home for me, but I cried for a day after finding that out. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

I think about all the people researching their African-American lineage who almost without fail will reach that unbreakable Civil War brick wall, because their ancestors were slaves and no vital records were kept of them - if they were named at all, it can probably be found in transfer of property records. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

Recently, I was researching Eastern European Jewish genealogy for a client. As you can imagine, this can be another difficult task, as Eastern European and Russian Jews have their own brick wall, usually somewhere in the early to mid-2oth century, because those records were destroyed, whole villages were destroyed, and millions of Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. This particular client knew he had family who had died in concentration camps, and I've worked with clients before where it was understood without explicitly coming up that they had lost family in the Holocaust, but this was the first time I worked to document some of those relatives who had been lost. Sisters, brothers, parents, in-laws - people whose birth records I had just discovered, whose marriage records I had just seen, snapshots of happy days, joyous moments in their lives, quickly followed by confirmation that yes, this one was sent to Auschwitz where she was killed, this one was sent to Russia where he was killed...this is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

It's heartbreaking because genealogy is not just pieces of paper with names and dates - those pieces of paper represent real people, like ourselves, who lived and laughed and loved. Tracing our family trees can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, because life can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, and that's what makes genealogy something so special and something I love.

Thought of the day: birthdays and birth records

I was just going through my vital records for my family tree recently, looking at all the birth certificates I have, thinking about how I had evidence of an exact birthday for so many of these people. My train of thought then led to how those same people on those records would list their age as one thing in one census, only 8 years older in a census 10 years later, 11 years older again in another census 10 years after that... a lot of our ancestors didn't know when their birthday was. Maybe the month, maybe the day, not always the year. A lot of times, they were just guestimating. Maybe their birthday was recorded somewhere in a family Bible, but chances were, they didn't have a copy of their birth certificate. But I do. They didn't know when their own birthday was...but I do, because I have access to their birth records. They didn't have their birth record in their own lifetime, but 100 years later, 200 years later, 300 years later I do... Isn't that crazy?

Anyway, happy weekend everybody...have fun and be safe!

Technology & Genealogy: Catholic Cemeteries of Brooklyn's "Locate A Loved One"

Just discovered this today!

Oh, I could go on and on about all the advantages of doing family history research in the information technology age, but here's an example: while looking into my Enright ancestors, I discovered that Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Brooklyn have a "Locate a Loved One" search engine. Now, this one won't tell you what cemetery your ancestor is buried in - BUT, let's say you know when and where your great-grandmother died, and that she's buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, you could put her in and find the location of her grave. Maybe you don't know when your great-grandfather died, but you assume he is not only buried in the same cemetery but in the same plot as your great-grandmother, so you put in his name, and cross reference plot locations - voila! Hopefully you can find out when HE died, and then order his death certificate (this is what I just did, and plan to do...sooo excited!)

Another perk of this search engine that maybe isn't at the forefront of people's mind but is just such another important service, is that this simplifies finding the location of your family member's grave or your family's plot in a cemetery, making visiting it so much easier. I have had a lot of luck visiting cemeteries and encountering helpful employees who look up my family's information and hand me a map with the grave location circled. But sometimes I show up and the office is closed - either it's lunchtime, or after hours, or the weekend. And sometimes they've been busy and I've had to wait a bit (which I don't mind, but my young children do!) Now, you can get that information ahead of time - this website has a map of the cemetery on it, with all the sections labeled. And it looks like they have an app that you can download to help locate your ancestors on the go...

For me, this kind of technology is invaluable. I think it's going to open new doors for research but even just for visiting our family members who have passed, which is part of this genealogy journey that I really enjoy. So if you don't have ancestors buried in Brooklyn, see if your local cemetery/diocese has a website like this, and let me know if you found it helpful!

Happy 9 year blogiversary to me!

Nine years??? How is that even possible?

Nine years ago today I started this blogging journey. I had been doing family history research for years prior to that but that was my first attempt to document my journey, both my successes and frustrations - this was both to help others, so they could see what I was doing and what I was going through, and to help myself, a way to kind of think out loud, figure out where I'd been, what steps I might need to do next, and maybe think outside the box. It was also my first attempt to reach out to others, not only to help others but to get help FROM others...what could you think of or see that I couldn't? And I was trying to connect to cousins...and I did! I found and met so many new cousins, some of whom weren't looking for the family tree information I had, and so many more of whom were an amazing wealth of family history information that I needed...and I'd like to think that some of them even became friends along the way!

In these past nine years, I've changed jobs, gotten married and had children, and this blog and digging into the past has oftentimes taken a back seat to real life...but it continues to be something I really enjoy and even as my blogging has become less frequent, I hope that this time next year I'm still here, celebrating my 10 year blogiversary!

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day everyone! In honor of MLK, I found a quote we can all look to as genealogists, family historians, and, well, human beings.

Christmas Flood of 1717

In addition to learning the facts about our ancestors, it's important to learn about the times and places in which they lived. It is nothing but helpful to try to put our family into context - sometimes, it will help you decipher the motivations of why they might have moved from one place to another; it can help you figure out what language they might have spoken or what religion they might have practiced, both of which can be clues to where there might be records about their lives; it can give you clues to what their occupations might have been; at the very least, it can give you an idea of what their daily lives might have been like, or what might have been some big events and upheavals they dealt with.

In the course of researching my Tiedemann family - my immigrant ancestor and 3rd great grandmother, Meta Tiedemann, was born in Mittelstenahe, Hanover, Germany - I discovered that they hailed from all over the German state of Lower Saxony (which, strangely enough, is in the northern part of Germany), in particular the more northern coastal areas near the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven - Mittelstenahe is 42 km east of the coastal city of Bremerhaven, at the mouth of the Weser river; it is 41 km south of the coastal city of Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe River, smack dab in the middle of the Elbe-Weser Triangle. Other cities in the vicinity my family came from include Lamstedt, Stinstedt, Osterholz and Hackemuhlen. While researching these branches of my tree, I learned that a terrible natural disaster hit the region: the Christmas Flood of 1717, or  or Die Weihnachtsflut vom 24. Dezember 1717 in German. My 8th great-grandparents were living in the area in 1717.

According to Wikipedia, the Christmas Flood of 1717 was the result of a northwesterly storm, which hit the coast area of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia on Christmas night of 1717. 

In total, approximately 14,000 people drowned. The whole region is flat and low-lying, which is why the flood was so devastating. It was the last large storm flood in the north of the Netherlands. Floodwaters reached towns 21 km inland. Many villages near the sea were devastated entirely. The local communities had to cope with population loss, economic decline and poverty. No area of the coast between the Netherlands and Denmark was spared. Everywhere dyke breaches were followed by wide flooding of the flat country. Between Tønder in Slesvig and Emden in East Frisia about 9,000 people drowned - this is right in the area of where my family lived. Cattle were lost, houses were washed away and the damage to dykes was immense. Many survivors waited months to learn the fate of missing family members, and some never found out what happened to them. The coldness of winter didn't help the situation of those who survived, and another flood hit two months later.

The family members I know of did not live right on the coast, but they lived along the rivers that led to the coast. Were they affected by this devastating flood? Did they come from towns closer to the coast, where they might have still had family? Did they travel to these coastal areas for business? Did they see the devastation firsthand, and if not, what did they think when they first learned of it via word of mouth, maybe months later? Did it affect the economy of the region? Travel and trade out of ports along the damaged coastline, the loss of crops and livestock, all must have taken a toll on the entire region.

My Tiedemanns and adjacent family lines remained in Lower Saxony for years and generations afterward, so whatever personal loss or setbacks from the flood must not have been lasting. It's just interesting from a historical perspective to learn about these events that for the most part, just fade away into the ether, unless you have some personal tie or connection to it.

In the course of your family history research, have you come across any events - natural disasters, political uprisings, epidemics, etc. - that occurred where your family was living that might have affected them personally? I'd love to hear about it!

Unknown - Copper Engraving Abbildung der fast übernatürlich-hohen Wasserflut am H(eiligen) Christ-Tag 1717 und am 25. Hornung (= Februar)

Sources:

Wikipedia, Christmas Flood of 1717. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Flood_of_1717

Christmas traditions

First off, happy New Year to all my readers! But since we're still technically in the 12 days of Christmas, here's a quick Christmas post...

Christmas time always brings out the German heritage in me...as a kid, we always had a pickle ornament hanging on our tree that our parents hid and my siblings and I had to find it. It's an old German tradition and it was always a fun part of Christmas day, trying to find the pickle. Sometimes the person who finds it is supposed to get an extra present, or get to open an extra present, or supposed to get good luck in the coming year...in my house, we got to lord it over our siblings that we were the "winner." I come from a family that has been in the United States for so long that we don't have a lot of Old World traditions that have been handed down or that we practice, so I always enjoyed this little piece of my German ancestry.

I actually bought a pickle ornament this year and I had my husband and 3 year old daughter look for it. He found it right away...she couldn't find it even though it was right in front of her face. It was still fun, though, and I look forward to carrying forward this German tradition and passing down to my children something from my own childhood, and from our German family history.

What Christmas traditions do you and your family have that come from your cultural or ethnic background?

Can you find the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree??

Who Are My Ancestors?: A 'Genealogy for Beginners' Guide

Have you been asking yourself “how to find my ancestors?” Discovering how to find your ancestors in our modern world can seem like a daunting task. With access to so much information at our fingertips, vaguely searching online without a strategy can leave you unenthused or overwhelmed in an ocean of information. On the other hand, successfully researching your lineage can be a deeply rich and gratifying learning experience, fostering a new-found appreciation and pride in your family roots, or at the very least, provide you with a great story. Whatever your reasons for discovering your family history, knowing where to look and how makes all the difference. If you’re new to researching genealogy and want to find out the answer to the question “who are my ancestors?,” check out my genealogy for beginner’s guide:

 

1) Determine what you know and what you don’t

Organizing what you already know may seem trivial at first but I guarantee you’ll be thanking yourself later when things get more involved. To begin, try jotting down what you know about your family history, starting with yourself, your parents, each of their parents and each of your parents' parents and so on, going back as far as you can. Make sure to write down their names and any alternate spellings of their names or any nicknames they used as well as those of their siblings.

Next, you’re going to want to add the towns where they lived and were born, and all of the dates – births, deaths, marriages, etc. - that you can.  This should generate a whole list of questions for you to investigate.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t stress! Many answers may be awaiting at your fingertips in family records such as birth and death certificates, deeds, in a family Bible, or in notations on the backs of old photographs. Search and record any information you find. Gather what you can and don’t fret too much over what you can’t. Right now, you’re just setting up the skeleton of your project which you’ll be fleshing out as you move on. Remember, determining what you don’t know will give you a good idea of your information needs as you move on to the investigative phase next!

Got all that? Let’s review your initial steps on how to find your ancestors:

 

1) Briefly jot down the family history you know of in this order. Yourself > Parents > Grandparents > Great Grandparents > (as far back as you can)

2) Add any alternate spellings, nicknames that you know for them and their siblings.

3) Add the towns where they were born and where they lived.

4) Gather and take note of any family records in your possession: birth and death certificates, family bibles, old photos, and so on.

 

 

2) Interview and Fill in the Gaps

Your next step will probably be the most important and enjoyable one. Discuss your project with your family members, especially the older ones! Ask them to help you fill in the gaps in your information, but also invite them to share any stories they know about your ancestors. When and how did they immigrate? What did they do for a living? Was life hard or easy for them when they came to America? Did any of them serve in the military?  Was anyone ever mentioned in a newspaper? Be patient, don’t interrupt, listen carefully, and take plenty of notes.

 

In short, here’s what you should do in phase two of genealogy for beginners:

 

          1) Take time to contact or meet with your family members (ideally the older ones)

2) Ask the appropriate questions to meet your information needs and invite them to tell any stories that might pertain to your family lineage.

3) Be an active listener!

4) Take plenty of notes!

 

3) Conducting your online investigation

This is where the hard work begins! This is where you’ll verify the data you have already collected, as well as learn more about your ancestors. Subscription-based services like Ancestry.com compile billions of public records into a single, easy-to-navigate web platform to make searching across numerous kinds of record types simpler, and many public libraries make Ancestry.com available to their patrons to use in libraries free of charge.  There are also free-to-use from home platforms that combine multiple kinds of public records, like familysearch.org. At FamilySearch, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has compiled census records, records of births, deaths, and marriages, military records, and immigration records of billions of people all over the globe.  When you begin searching the name of an ancestor there, you may be surprised to see hundreds of records of individuals having the same or a similar name.  However, the information you already gathered in steps one and two should make it easy for you to pick out your relative.  Some other useful sites for filling in and verifying details of your family history are: https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/state-archives.html, http://stevemorse.org/ and online newspaper archives.

 

Here’s a rundown of the steps you’ll take in the investigation phase of your ancestry research:

 

1) Go to an online database such as familysearch.org and enter your family names and other key identifying information.

2) Record what you find and note where you found it.

3) Repeat with other family names.

4) Check online newspapers to verify family stories.

If you get stuck – if you find you cannot retrieve a piece of information you need to answer the question “Who are my ancestors?” on your own – by all means, get help! Try contacting a genealogical society or local history organization for assistance. Your local library may be able to help you find one.  You could also make an appointment with a municipal or state archive or office of public records to continue your research there in person.  Each archive has its own public access policy. And of course, don't hesitate to shoot me an e-mail at megorry@gmail.com or contact me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/heritageandvino/) or Twitter (marygenealogy) with any questions you have, and I'll see how I can help; that's why I'm here! :)

 

 

        4) Bringing it all together!

 

As a final step, you will of course want to compile a family history and perhaps summarize your information in a family tree or pedigree chart.  You can easily find tools online to help you compile one as you go along; otherwise, you can use computer software such as Excel to make one.  Use whatever method seems most creative and enjoyable for you and, above all, have fun!

 

 

 

        Sources:

·                 “Ancestors: Research Records.” Ancestors: Research Records, BYU Broadcasting, www.byub.org/ancestors/records/.

·                 Morton, Sunny Jane. “25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners.” Familytreemagazine.com, Family Tree, 11 Nov. 2016, www.familytreemagaqzine.com/article/25-best-genealogy-websites-for-beginners.

·                 Powell, Kimberly. “How to Explore Your Family Tree Online for Free at FamilySearch!” About.com Parenting, 26 Jan. 2016, genealogy.about.com/od/free_genealogy/a/familysearch.htm.

·                 Powell, Kimberly. “Ten Steps to Finding Your Ancestors.” About.com, genealogy.about.com/cs/research/a/process.htm.

·                 Stone, Monica. “Tips for Researching Your Genealogy.” Idiot's Guides, Alpha Books, www.idiotsguides.com/education/research/tips-for-researching-your-genealogy/.

 

Wordless Wednesday - Generations

Well, almost wordless...this is a picture I took last night of my children snuggled in bed together under an afghan made by my great-grandmother (so their great-great grandmother) Ellen Casey Cronin, and given to me by my grandmother (so their great-grandmother) Mary Cronin Raynor at my baby shower in 2013. I don't know exactly when it was made but if my great-grandmother died in the 1970s in her 70s, it was probably made sometime in the 1950s-1960s, making it about 50 years old. My daughter met my grandmother; my son never did. I love that they are connected to two earlier generations (one of whom I never met either, my great-grandmother) through something made and touched by their hands.

What I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving....

(From a family history standpoint, that is)

I'm grateful for my family. Well, that's from the standpoint of just being a person, I guess. But this is my son's first Thanksgiving, and our first Thanksgiving as a family of four. I'm grateful for my hardworking husband who still makes time for living room TV date nights with me and for horsing around with the kids (sometimes literally, when they pretend he's a horse...) and I'm grateful for my kids, who fight and cry and drive me crazy but then hug each other and give me kisses and play with each other and are best friends.

I'm grateful for the many, many genealogy volunteers and family historians using their valuable time to index records for websites like FamilySearch, websites that are free (and so I'm also grateful for websites like FamilySearch).

I'm grateful for organizations like Reclaim the Records, that are fighting the good fight to make genealogy records that haven't been available, available, even when it means going to court....and then posting those records online, again, for free.

I'm grateful for all the family historians out there, reaching out to each other, trying to make those cousin connections, sharing their knowledge and their documents and helping each other out. I'm grateful to those people just beginning their family history research, who know next to nothing, but are reaching out for help, because you're extending those family connections, helping our personal family trees and our global family trees to grow.

Whether your family is your blood family, the family that raised you or the family of friends who you chose, love them and enjoy them this holiday season and always.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In Remembrance of Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. Today we remember and thank all the men and women who served their country as members of the armed forces...thank you for all your sacrifices on behalf of the rest of us, and thank you to all your families for their sacrifices as well. A special thank you to the veterans in my family tree, in particular Charles Haase, my 4th great-grandfather, who served in the Army during the Civil War, and Dick Raynor, my grandfather, who served in the Navy during World War II.

Clifford "Dick" Raynor served in the Pacific Theater with the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Charles Haase was discharged from the Army in June of 1865 at the end of the the Civil War.

For anyone who has military veterans in their family trees, all military records are free at Findmypast through Sunday, Nov. 13 in commemoration of Veterans Day.

 

Those Places Thursday: The Elbe-Weser Triangle

New leaf hints have recently popped up on my Ancestry.com family tree related to one of their databases for Lutheran church records in the Elbe-Weser Triangle region of Germany. I'm always interested in finding out more about the places my ancestors lived - the geography and weather, the politics, the religion. I know very little about the history of Germany, which has been tumultuous at best in many years; I know the various kingdoms and states have changed borders and belonged to different countries depending on the place and time period. My Ricklefs and Tiedemann ancestors hail from the Elbe-Weser Triangle. My third great-grandparents, who immigrated to New York, were both born there in the 1860s. Thanks to church and family books and now this Elbe-Weser Lutheran church records database, I can reliably trace my Tiedemann side deep into this area of current-day Lower Saxony in northern Germany, as far back as the late 1600s. The land itself, located between the Elbe and Weser rivers between the "triangle" formed by the cities of Bremen, Cuxhaven and Hamburg, is usually flat marshlands, mudflats, bog and geest. The years my Tiedemann lines (which include the surnames Buckmann, Boerger, Albers, Luehrs, Steffens, Buck, Soehl and Stelling) lived there means my ancestors saw the Thirty Years War, which was a devastating religious war; and lived under the rule of and was a part of Sweden, the Electorate and later Kingdom of Hanover, the French Empire and later Prussia.

The Ancestry database is great, and if you have ancestors from the Elbe-Weser Triangle region, I suggest you check it out - for all the hints that popped up for me, quite a few did not but I was able to find the records by keying in my relatives' names. The only thing is not all the information contained in each entry is indexed; for example, all birth, marriage and death entries are supposed to include the occupation of the parents or person in the record, but that information is not indexed. So I'm going to have to brush up on my reading of German handwriting skills and take a closer look at these records to see if I can find out what these people did for a living. With the kind of terrain in the area, I can't imagine they were farmers, so it'll be interesting to see if I can discover that information. Every little insight helps us understand our ancestors better!

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy research guides and having a reference library

We all have our personal family history records that we keep, as both evidence to support our research and as resources to go back to when we have questions about those particular ancestors or others we might be trying to connect to them.

But there are also research guides and handbooks we can keep handy that can be helpful to all of us in our research. These books can be compilations about what resources are at our disposable, especially resources not widely known and not easily accessed online, such as what archives, libraries or courthouses might be in a particular vicinity and what might be in their holdings. We might have old maps delineating old boundaries and place names for areas we are researching. Another good book to consider would be the The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This manual outlines the proof standards that professional genealogists hold themselves to in order to make sure they have done the most exhaustive and comprehensive research using the most reliable data available to determine that the information being included in a family tree is most likely correct. This is the book people use when they're studying to become professional genealogists, but in this day and age when so much unreliable and incorrect data is being shared online in the genealogy community, every person researching his or her family tree who wants to make sure it's as accurate as possible with the data available should consider learning the genealogical proof standard. This manual is a good reference to have on your genealogy bookshelf.

Definitely think about what genealogy reference books would be helpful to your own personal research. There are some, like Genealogical Standards, that might be helpful on all family historian's bookshelves, but there could be reference books more specific to your personal research. For me, having books on the place and government breakdown of Germany is helpful, as is having old maps of the New York City area. What references do you go back to over and over again that would be helpful to have in your own genealogy library?

Thankful Thursday: Reading, family history & Banned Books Week

Today is Thankful Thursday, and today I'm thankful for Banned Books Week. What does that have to do with genealogy, you might ask? Well, besides my love for genealogy, I have a great love of reading - I am a voracious reader, a loud-and-proud bibliophile. But I don't just love books, I love to read anything I can get my hands on - magazines, newspapers, probate records, family histories, land deeds...you see where this is going?

I don't think you can be a serious family historian without being a reader as well...so much of tracing your heritage is reading primary and secondary documents - vital records, first- and second-hand accounts of personal experiences during moments in history, wills, family letters, obituaries, newspaper articles, etc. If you don't like to read, you're not going to last very long as a family history hobbyist or enthusiast.

And on top of that, if you want to really understand the times and places in which your ancestors lived, it doesn't hurt to have read about those times and places, either in novel or non-fiction form. You know, in books. So today we talk about Banned Books Week, which is this week. This year Banned Books Week focuses on celebrating diversity in writing, diversity that others often try to suppress as being subversive, amoral or against the norm. Diversity in thoughts, ideas, and creativity is okay. Don't agree with what someone's writing? Great! You've just learned to form your own opinion. It's by learning about others' perspectives that we learn to understand them and where they're coming from, even if we don't agree with it...and so much of genealogy is about learning to understand ourselves and where we came from, so it kind of goes hand-in-hand. Nothing terrible ever happened in this world through the respectful exchange and discussion of ideas...but a lot of terrible things have happened because of censorship. So today I'm thankful for all the banned or challenged books that I enjoyed as a child and an adult, from contemporary ones to classics (yes, books have been challenged and banned as long as they've been published and circulated...which ones do you think your ancestors enjoyed reading??), I'm thankful for my love of reading, and I'm thankful that I can take that love of reading and apply it to another area I love, family history.

For more on Banned Books Week, visit here.

For a list of the most challenged books in the United States, visit here.

The best genealogy TV show you never watched: HBO's Family Tree

We all know that genealogy and family history has pervaded pop culture...and is even considered a television genre now, thanks to tv shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Genealogy Roadshow and Finding Your Roots. (Check out this interesting article by Megan Smolenyak here.)

I love when my two great loves - media and genealogy - combine!

For the most part, that genre falls into the reality tv category - real life people tracing their lineages, trying to find out more about their heritage, looking for and looking up real ancestors. But there was a little show that aired on HBO for one season in 2013 that took family history into the scripted television realm - hilariously, poignantly and accurately.

Family Tree was created by improv script genius Christopher Guest, of Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman fame. The show starred Chris O'Dowd as Tom Chadwick, a down-on-his-luck Irishman who is left a trunkful of seemingly meaningless photos, trinkets and knickknacks by his recently deceased aunt. The show followed his journey as he discovers that these items actually paint a picture of the day-to-day lives of people in his family tree. Using these family heirlooms as clues, he travels around England and even all the way to America tracking down not just family members but their stories, meeting people whose lives were touched by his family members, and finding out not just more about his heritage but about himself in the process.

Much like in Guest's other works, the actors in Family Tree are given a lot of wiggle room to riff and improvise their lines and scenes, and if you're a fan of Guest's movies, look for a lot of his regularly cast actors to pop up in various episodes of this show. I happen to like Guest's style - it makes this kind of scripted show feel more "real." I've been a huge fan of Chris O'Dowd since his days on The IT Crowd, long before he wooed Kristen Wiig and female audience members in Bridesmaids. But what I really love about Family Tree is the authenticity of Tom's family history journey. He finds some items from a bygone era in a box. In order to find out more about the people these items belonged to, he asks questions from older family members. For every answer he gets about his family, five more questions pop up. He doesn't just sit on his computer and Google the information he needs - these items take him on a physical journey. It reminds me so much of going through the seemingly meaningless items my grandfather collected in his basement - clipped obituaries, schoolgirl autograph books, old letters, his father's dayplanner, tons of old photographs with NO NAMES written on the backs (grr!!). They all gave glimpses into the everyday lives of people in my family, and while some gave me answers and most raised so many more questions.

I loved Family Tree - I was sorry it lasted only one season, but it was an excellent season. If you never saw it, check it out. If you did watch it, watch it again - you can see the first episode on Amazon for free (with commercials, but still - WOO HOO!). If it draws you in, and I hope it does, you can buy the rest of the season on DVD or digitally.

 

Did you watch this show when it aired? What did you think of it? Does genealogy work as a scripted show premise? Let me know in the comments below!

Ancestor profile: The mystery of Denis Cronin

I know little, and really next to nothing, about my great-great grandfather Denis Cronin. Everything I know about him is via sideways genealogy, such as birth and death records for his children, which list him as their father. I know his son and my great-grandfather, Timothy Cronin, was born in County Cork in 1879 and came to the United States as a child. I know Timothy was the youngest of the nine children of Denis Cronin and Nora/Hanora/Hanoria/Norry Dono(g)hue (on all her American records, she's Nora). I know that Nora and all her children ended up in New York by the year 1900, with no sign of Denis. I always assumed he had died over in Ireland prior to their immigration, but I have nothing to back that up. I know Denis had a sister, Julia, who married John Cullinane, and they and their children ended up in Westchester County, and their granddaughter, Nora Cullinane, was the maid of honor at my grandmother (and her second cousin) Mary Cronin's wedding.

So what does that tell me about Denis? Absolutely nothing. I don't know when or where he was born. I don't know when or where he died. I know very little about his life in between. He is a ghost. We all have those ghost ancestors, the ones who are impossible to find. They're the ancestors that drive me to drink...they're also the ancestors that drive me to keep digging.

Irishgenealogy.ie recently released civil and church records that has shed a bit more light on Denis. According to the birth records of my great-grandfather and his siblings, Denis was a farmer at times and at other times, a laborer. He lived in various locales in the same vicinity of County Cork, including Curraraigue, Dromtariffe, Crinaloo and Knockatuder...although he may have been born in County Kerry. I am unable to find a death record for him yet. I'm in the midst of trying to cross-reference possible parents for Denis, his sister Julia and a possible brother Timothy to see if I can come up with parents who match all three, but that's a project for a day when I'm not running after a 3 1/2 year old and a 9 month old. But thanks to the Irish Genealogy website records, I found an intriguing addition to the few and far between facts I know about Denis - according to my great-grandfather's birth record, Denis' residence in 1879 was London. 

Denis Cronin London.JPG

 

Wait...what?

I have never heard anything at all about any of my Irish Catholic ancestors living or working anywhere but Ireland and New York. So why was Denis in London? Was he living there to support the family? Why London, when the rest of the family left Ireland for America? What did he do there? Did he ever return to Ireland? Did he die there? I always assumed he died in Ireland before the whole Cronin clan up and left for America, but maybe he was in England instead? Since a Julia Cronin was the birth informant and Denis' residence is listed as London, I assume that means he wasn't around for my great-grandfather's birth. Did he know his wife was pregnant? How long into her pregnancy did he leave? Did he even ever get to meet his youngest son, my great-grandfather?

As you can see, this one little word, this one little teasing nugget of new information has given me no answers, not really...just a million more questions.

::Sigh::

I'm not quite resigned yet to the fact that I might never know what actually happened to my great-great grandfather. I've started looking into some English records to see if he turns up in any of those. Maybe I'll have some luck answering even one of my questions.

My grandmother was my genealogy mentor...Grandma, wherever you are...this is your grandfather I'm looking for!! Give me some heavenly inspiration on what to do next!

Have you used these records yet? Have you had any luck discovering new family members or new information about known ancestors? Have you come across any new and strange puzzle pieces such as my London tidbit? Despite my frustrations, my excitement at these records still wins the day - if you haven't checked them out yet, go now, go! :)

https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/

 

 

 

New free records available on Irish genealogy website - a boon for those of us of Irish descent!

The website is Irishgenealogy.ie and the welcome message from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs reads: "I am very pleased to welcome you to irishgenealogy.ie the website dedicated to helping you search for family history records for past generations. The website is now home to the historic records of Births, Marriages and Deaths of the General Register Office. These records join the Indexes to the historic records of Births, Marriages and Deaths that were already available on the website.

My Department and I are conscious of the importance of genealogy as an important way of connecting with those abroad who wish to trace their roots and, also permitting those here in Ireland to establish their family history.

At present, the genealogy landscape can seem confusing so, my Department has concentrated on the development of some additional search functionality for www.irishgenealogy.ie by way of providing a portal or search facility for digital genealogy records.

Visitors will be able to search records from a number of on-line sources including the historic Registers and Indexes to the Civil Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths, the Church Records already available on www.irishgenealogy.ie, and others such as the 1901 and 1911 Census and Soldiers wills, to name but a few.

Further information on how to research family history in Ireland is contained in the section Research in Ireland."

There are some year limitations on some of their databases, and the search functionality can be tedious and confusing, but the website, like many genealogy websites is an ongoing work in progress - they will be adding more records as they go, so keep checking back with them.

I, personally, am thrilled - of all my backgrounds, my Irish heritage has been, without fail, my hardest to research. Stumbling blocks, brick walls, dead ends - you name it, I have it on my Irish branches. But I'm hoping these new records will open up some new avenues to pursue, some new lines of questioning. Already I've found three interesting documents, both of which I've only seen in transcription form before (and just fyi, transcriptions don't always include every piece of information from a document). The first is the death record of my 4th great grandfather, Cornelius Gorry, who died in Williamstown, Kells, County Meath on May 23, 1897 at the age of 85.

Death register page containing Cornelius Gorry's death record from 1897 in Kells, County Meath.

Close-up of death register entry for Cornelius Gorry.

There is no new information here but there's nothing like seeing the old handwriting, the actual document (even in image form) to make it feel real and to add weight and authority to this person and event (remember, there can be mistakes in transcriptions as well).

The second document is the death record for Cornelius' wife, Mary, from Feb. 25, 1893. It lists her as the wife of Cornelius and their daughter Catherine MacNamee was the informant (Catherine's husband James MacNamee was the informant for Cornelius), but it lists Mary as being 62 at the time of her death. That means she was born about 1831. What this tells me is there was either a mistake made about her age (which often happened, though not by more than 10 years, if even that many, usually) OR this Mary was not the Mary who was the mother of my 3rd great-grandfather, James Gorry - because he was born about 1835. So, that mystery continues.

The third document I found was the civil birth record for my great-grandfather, Timothy Cronin, which I had never seen. According to it, he was born August 22, 1879 in Carragraigue - Dromtariffe in County Cork (registered in the District of Millstreet) to Denis Cronin and Hanoria Donohue. His father was a labourer and the birth informant was Julia Cronin, who was present at the birth - this was quite possibly his sister Julia, who was about 15 or 16 at the time. Now, it wasn't unusual for someone "present at birth" to be the informant, but it seems the informant was usually the father. But if you look at the record, Denis Cronin's place of residence is listed as... London!

Entry for Timothy Cronin in birth register, Millstreet, County Cork.

 

Wait, what? Stop the presses. That's not even in Ireland! But since this opens up more questions than answers, we'll talk about this newfound discovery in my next blog post...stay tuned!!!