Links, 8.16.10

Thank goodness for the FGS Conference kicking off this week  in Knoxville, TN, proving that things do happen in August. Here in the Northeast, that’s hard to remember sometimes. (But permit me a shout-out to my relatives in places where kids are heading back to school this month. Congratulations, parents! Sorry, kids.)

Out of those PJs: This is good advice for genealogy enthusiasts as well as grumpy schoolchildren. A Michigan columnist presents a nicely balanced view of the good vs. bad in online research, ending with the inevitable (but worthy) caveat: “Get out of your pajamas and find those original documents!”

Adoption records: A decade ago, a dear friend died suddenly just two months after the birth of her first child. An adoptee, she had met her birth mother a few years before. When such meetings take place, they often do so without the benefit of vital records the rest of us take for granted.  In New Jersey, as in all but nine states, adoptees cannot have access to their own birth certificates to find out who they are.  Now, an open adoption records bill will go before our state Assembly in the fall. The story at the link does a good job of summarizing the pro and con positions, but what gripped me most was one adoptee’s quote: “I have friends who are really into genealogy and when they start talking about it, I shut down. I don’t want to be rude, but it’s upsetting.”

Korea researchers, take note: Via the Korea Times, Korean genealogy resources were in the spotlight at the World Library and Information Congress in Gothenburg, Sweden. Officials announced the launch of a digital genealogy database at the Paik Inje Memorial Library of Inje University.

More resource news: In case you haven’t heard, Ancestry.com has unveiled the National Probate Calendar, summaries of probate cases in England and Wales between 1861 and 1941. Here is one researcher’s success story in using it.

Answers at last: In the Kansas City Star, Mary Sanchez reports on a woman’s quest to find out just what happened to a relative who was sent away to a home for epileptics in the 1940s. What she found was a great comfort to her family, who never knew much about where the relative was sent, and how she died. While we often worry about unearthing nasty skeletons, this is a good example of  how family research can also allay old fears.

Museum opening: Via the Mormon Times, the Alex Haley House Museum has just opened its doors in Henning, TN. The front porch of this lovely Craftsman-style house is where Haley first heard the family stories about Kunta Kinte, his African ancestor who became the focus of Haley’s groundbreaking work Roots. The house, which belonged to Haley’s maternal grandfather, has been restored to the way it would have appeared at the time Haley was born.

In the community: Dick Eastman has reprised (and somewhat revised) a classic explanation of Soundex and why it’s important … At GeneaBloggers, Thomas MacEntee draws our attention to the very first RootsTech conference, to be held in February 2011.

Enjoy the week, whether you’re at a genealogy conference, or just back in school.


Follow Friday: The New Jersey Churchscape

Having grown up in New Jersey, I’m an old hand at observing our bizarrely fractured PR image. You can be standing on a beautiful mountain trail or biking alongside a serene canal, and meet somebody who still can’t resist weighing in on how tacky Jersey is, seeing as it’s overflowing with Sopranos, Real Housewives and Jersey Shore punks, blah-blah-blah.

The Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Plainfield, NJ. From "New Jersey Churchscape."

“But you’re in New Jersey,” you’ll point out, gesturing at the peaceful, sublime landscape all around.

“Oh, well, I don’t mean this Jersey.”

Of course not. They never do.

They never mean the New Jersey of New Jersey Churchscape, either. Well, their loss. However, if your genealogy path leads to New Jersey, or if you just love knowledgeable discussions of church architecture,  you may well wish to pay this lovely site a visit.

Want to see a picture of your ancestors’ church? Try searching the index of photographs of historic churches from all over the state. Interested in learning about a specific church architect? Check to see if there’s an entry in the Architects & Builders index, alphabetized by last name.

There are regular articles on architectural topics. This month’s is “Twins,” all about buildings which share design influences. Or this article about two congregations whose church styles expressed their language of dissent in radically different ways. New Jersey Churchscape also keeps track of endangered buildings which face decay, redevelopment or worst of all, demolition.

I tell you, I have ruined many a Lee Press-On Nail clicking through this site.

Just kidding about the Press-On Nail part. The rest is on the level. The New Jersey Churchscape is a great place to visit.


Treasure Chest Thursday: Garden Keepsakes

This link about hand-me-down plants got me to thinking about garden treasures. Like an heirloom rose, the article is a little loose and rambling, but thoroughly charming.

Although I don’t have any heirloom plants myself, I love the idea of a garden with living ties to our ancestors. When I lived in Evanston, Ill., I saw the woman across the street digging around one fine morning. Responding to my nosy inquiry, she proudly explained she’d traveled to her parents’ house an hour away to obtain a slip of a rosebush originally planted by her grandmother. Her parents were preparing to retire south and the family didn’t want to lose this bit of plant heritage.

Here in our New Jersey garden, we inherited some elegantly shaped flowerbeds that were probably dug more than fifty years ago, based on what we were told by a woman who had lived in the house as a little girl. Sadly, we haven’t done much with them. Our insurmountable problem is deep, deep shade which only the hostas truly love. Nearly all the direct sun is blocked by an enormous evergreen tree in the yard next door – one of those former Christmas trees planted by some well-meaning family decades ago.

I’m sure it, too, was charming once. It isn’t now. Our poor neighbor tried to get the township to consider cutting it down to use as the municipal Christmas tree, and it was rejected on the grounds of being ugly. It drops ugly pinecones, too (although my kids get paid by my wonderful neighbor for picking them up so we don’t all trip over them).

However, it does give us one gorgeous dividend. The ancient hydrangea that anchors one end of my garden LOVES the pine needles that wash over it with numbing regularity. Each summer we get spectacular deep, nearly violet blooms that by rights ought to be powder blue. (One of my other neighbors has a cutting of this very plant, and powder-blue blossoms are what she gets.)

So the unlovely heirloom pine tree is giving my lovely heirloom hydrangea a beauty boost. It’s a little drama I get to watch each summer in my own backyard, and I’m sure it’ll be part of my daughters’ family memories, too. Along with the @#$! pinecones.


NewsClips: 1952 and Mary (Haigney) Walker

Today’s NewsClips are in honor of the August babies of the family. That would include my sister Mary, my brother John and my daughter, Nora, who turns 13 today. (And who will give me a hard time for mentioning her in the blog. But Happy Birthday anyway, sweetie!)

These NewsClips feature another August baby in the Haigney family, my great-great aunt Mary “Mamie” (Haigney) Walker (1872-1956), who celebrated her birthday Aug. 16. As I’ve noted, I’m grouping these little local news snippets by year.

Social notes, 1952


An (anonymous) gift of remembrance

I sort of pay attention to news from St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, N.Y., mainly because it holds the records for another cemetery in Watervliet where a number of my kin are buried. Just now St. Agnes figures in this particularly haunting news story from the Albany Times-Union.

Even a century later, it has a heartbreaking immediacy: A group of kids having a blast on a late-summer outing one minute, fighting for their lives the next, while onlookers watch helplessly.

The girls were participating in a picnic on the grounds of a Victorian estate in what is now St. Agnes Cemetery, sponsored by the Catholic orphanage in which they lived. A bit of fun with a makeshift raft on a pond ended abruptly when the raft capsized, dumping its four passengers, all non-swimmers, into the water. One girl managed to cling to the raft and survived; her three companions drowned.

And being orphans with nobody to take responsibility for the arrangements, they were buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave.

Times-Union reporter Paul Grondahl relates that St. Agnes historian Kelly Grimaldi has long been drawn to the tragedy of the orphans and did her homework uncovering many of the details. (She has also been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to locate kin of the drowning victims.)

It now appears that someone else is drawn to the long-ago tragedy — a nameless donor who has paid to have a granite marker placed upon the girls’ resting place.

It’s a terribly sad story, but at least one that ends with an unexpected gesture of caring.


Links, 8.9.10

Observe the elegant numeric sequence that can only occur on today’s date using the North American style of date notation. I probably should use the international date sequence in these post titles the way I do in genealogy notation. It’d be more scholarly and authentic and all. But then I think, “Oh, for crying out loud. It’s the links!” And here they are.

Crisis in Camden: As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, trustees say that the Camden, N.J. library system may Have. To. Close. Facing a breathtaking two-thirds reduction in funding, trustees say they simply cannot run the city’s three libraries on what is left, which would end operations after Dec. 31. Now, there is still some back-and-forth about alternatives, including the possibility that the county library system would take over at least one branch. But I don’t think we can shrug off moments like this as PR theater. When you’re looking at drastic library funding cuts as a national problem, it’s foolish to dismiss the chances that somewhere, sometime someone’s really going to close up shop. (Actually, someone has, in Hood, Oregon, though voters will have a chance to restore a funding mechanism later this year.) In Camden’s case, closure would mean disposing of a collection that includes phone books from the 1880s and newspaper microfilm starting in the 1870s. Oh, and putting this stuff in storage costs money too. Sorry for the long blurb, but the library problem keeps me awake at nights.

Knoxville approaches!: So who’s going to the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference? Alas, I cannot. But I can’t wait to read reports from those who can.

Home run: … for a dedicated great-nephew, that is. Congratulations to the very determined Ron Hill, who succeeded in getting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. to properly identify his great-uncle, John Preston (“Pete”) Hill, on the bronze marker honoring him. Currently, he’s called “Joseph” Preston Hill. The Hall of Fame will commission a new marker to be unveiled in October for this outstanding star of the Negro Leagues. It’s a great story of what happens when baseball and genealogy fanatics join forces.

The empire groweth again: Ancestry.com acquires the professional research firm ProGenealogists. Here’s the press release.

Hey, it’s a living: I like the Liverpool Echo family history column so much. Here, it offers a great rundown on interpreting what job titles meant in Victorian England.

Reunion at Mount Vernon: A moving story about the 85th (wow!) reunion of the Quander clan, whose ancestors were slaves on George Washington’s estate, where they gathered for the very first time this weekend.

In the blogging world: Thomas MacEntee unveiled a newly updated Blog Primer at Geneabloggers; go and see. And I am humbled by the beauty of the submissions to the genealogy scrapbooking carnival hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

I wish you a creative, productive week!


Genealogy trip: Packing my (mental) bags

Recently I discovered  I have enough hotel reward points for a free stay in the Albany, N.Y. area. Go ahead and snicker – I don’t care. In the Capital District I can do genealogy research! Who needs the Riviera?

It has been a while since my last trip there, and I have many new questions to explore about my father’s family. So I’ve been pondering a packing list, but not in the usual sense. This is about what I’ll be including in my mental baggage.

A detailed itinerary: Not that I did things randomly last trip, but my schedule contained entries like “AM: Library.” For a distractable person, this is a recipe for wasting time. I need a schedule that says things like: “AM: Library. 9-11: Newspaper card index.”  “11-noon: Yearbook collection.” I admire people who can think like that without a checklist; I am not one of them.

Good groundwork: That is, calling ahead for opening and closing times and talking to staffers about what is available at what times.

A realistic approach to allotting my time: One example: I remember optimistically allowing an hour for city directories on the last trip. I could have used at least twice that. I will remind myself that city directories are not always uniformly organized on the shelves; that the layout sometimes changes from year to year; that relatives pop up in them unexpectedly and lead to new searches.

A strong focus: The last time I was able to spend research time in the Capital District was four years ago, and I blithely assumed I’d be back in a matter of months. Knowing better now, I’m prioritizing. What should I do here that can only be done here? What are the topics that seem to hold the most promise of unraveling the biggest questions?

Now, as to what actually goes in suitcase with the rollers — I can’t get over all the great ideas there are out there for how to equip yourself for a genealogy road trip. More on that in another post.


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