None of us likes to contemplate the idea of the dreaded genealogical cleanout – the prospect of an exasperated descendant pitching the trunkful (or roomful) of research that consumed a lifetime.
We comfort ourselves with the idea that someday we will organize all that stuff into some succinct form (we will, we really will!) and give it safe haven in a local library, historical society or genealogy society.
Someone surely will want that footnoted family history, not to mention great-great grandfather’s pocket watch. Right?
A recent topic on the Brooklyn, N.Y. genealogy list raised the question of where to donate genealogical research pertaining to New York City families. I found it interesting in light of what I’ve heard about existing nonprofit realities.
At one collection near me, families donated documents, manuscripts and artifacts for years, and relatively little was done to organize or assess them. Many of these items are extremely valuable, while some might be the stuff of which yard sales are made. Organizing it all is a real challenge for the current staff. I suspect their experience is typical of a lot of local and regional societies. Not everyone is able to accept just anything.
Vintage clothing is one great example. Costume collections are an extremely specialized area, requiring a lot of money to maintain properly. Not every local museum or society is able to do them justice. And who wants to accept an exquisite period gown, knowing it will only rot?
Artifacts in general are a tricky proposition. Depending upon what they’re made of, how big they are and how attractive they are to burglars, these can present headaches along with historical value to curators on a tight budget. Your best bet would be to direct your gift to an institution that specializes in that sort of artifact – textiles or firearms or timepieces – rather than a general historical institution.
What about those genealogical notes and annotated family histories? Probably fewer headaches attached here, right? I think so myself, providing they are truly useful for students of local history. For example
• They’re well researched, clearly written and conscientiously cited.
• They really are relevant to the town or region.
• The facility in question is really able to accept the donation and make it available to future researchers.
Many local and regional institutions are mindful of people’s desire to donate and don’t want to appear ungracious, nor do they want to miss out on a valuable addition to their collections. So a lot of them post donation guidelines on their websites to help clarify things for potential donors. Read before you give, and make sure what you’re giving is in a state to be truly helpful to future generations.
Every so often, a snippet of saved information comes up that strikes me as so useful that it’s a crime not to amplify it, even at the risk of boring the more experienced among us.
I rediscovered today’s snippet during my fall computer-file reorganization. (When the kids go back to school, I do too, figuratively speaking.)
It’s about how Germans handle first names, which can mystify the average American investigating German ancestors in the 19th century and earlier. My mother’s paternal ancestors, for example, largely confined themselves to Johann and Georg for baby boys. Occasionally they would go wild and spring for Johann Georg. But even that combination repeats — my grandfather was one of two Johann Georgs, born six years apart. Fortunately for our sanity, Grandpa emigrated to the U.S. and began calling himself John, leaving the original form to his older brother, who remained on the family farm.
Now, a lot of us are familiar with the practice of re-using a given name for a younger sibling in the sad event that a child dies young. But that isn’t what is happening in my mother’s family tree. Having three surviving Johanns or two Georgs or a couple of Johann Georgs in the same sibling group bothered her ancestors not one bit.
Especially from a present-day U.S. vantage point, where a passion for … inventive first names is a given, this ancestral approach looks pretty strange. Also confusing. How did they call everyone in to dinner? The answer, as you might guess, is that German baptismal names in this period were rarely the name you used every day.
Back in 2009, Rootsweb’s Hesse mailing list contained a great explanation from German member Thierry Dietrich, who spelled out the important terminology:
Vorname = First, or given name(s). If there are additional given names, there isn’t a separate term for “middle name.” Germans simply use the plural, Vornamen.
Rufname = The name you actually use, which could be an abbreviated form of the baptismal name, a middle name, or a completely unrelated name. (Dietrich gave as an example a Theresia-Maria whose Rufname was Rosemarie.)
Spitzname = The most accurate translation for the English term “nickname.” The Rufname and the Spitzname are not necessarily the same thing. It’s possible to have a Rufname and a Spitzname.
The post is archived here and is well worth a look.
In addition, Mr. Dietrich provided some insight into how first-naming practices have evolved in modern Germany. It’s all very interesting if, like me, you have a lot of Johann Georgs to keep straight.
Read this item from the Upstate New York Genealogy Blog about interesting new advances in making New York State records available online. This is especially exciting for New York State residents, who will be able to access newly digitized records free under an arrangement between Ancestry.com and the New York State Archives.
Also of note from the article: It says the New York State Birth, Death and Marriage Index will soon be accessible through Archives.com. It is not clear at this point whether this will fall under the free-access arrangement for New York residents, or whether it will be subscription-only.
Kinda fell in love a bit with @DrunkHulk on the Twitter as he set the record straight today:
PAID! NO PAYED! RESPECT THE ENGLISH!
Folks in our New Jersey suburb are noting that our weather today is very reminiscent of that gorgeous day 11 years ago. In some ways it seems as if it only happened a year or so ago. Evidence to the contrary: The preschooler I was packing off to a school picnic that day is a freshman in high school, and the baby who was on the way is now in fifth grade.
For them, the September 11 memorials and news coverage provide opportunities to ask about the experiences of that day. We have our own family collection of thoughts and memorabilia, and it seems to me that different perspectives emerge in each year’s recollections.
• Bagpipes, a roll call of names, and moments of silence mark a now-familiar ritual in Lower Manhattan.
• The memorial to Flight 93 in rural western Pennsylvania has evolved into a national park site that drew 350,000 visitors in its first year of operation (it opened after the 10-year anniversary of the attacks).
• The photo of firefighters from my town in this piece about the volunteer efforts of personnel from New Jersey evoked a lot of memories.
• Finally, the September 11 Digital Archive continues to collect memories and images of the attacks and their aftermath, and is well worth a look.
It’s not often you see the film world collectively swooning over a documentary about one family’s personal baggage, but that’s what happened recently at the Telluride and Venice film festivals when they screened Stories We Tell, a film by the Canadian actress/director Sarah Polley.
It hasn’t gone into wide release yet, but boy do I want to see it, for reasons I’ll shortly explain. The trailer hints at an absorbing combination of mystery, wistfulness and affection:
Stories We Tell is about what happens when Polley, camera in hand, goes digging after some long-buried home truths about her family’s past. Depending how you feel about spoilers, you may or may not want to read Polley’s thoughts on how her film evolved – her essay will give the Big Secret away.
But if you do go there, her generous and thoughtful account of how her documentary came to be resurrects some questions that have always tantalized me: Can any one person own the family story? What do we do with diverging storylines and interpretations? Can they be weighed, evaluated and combined into a definitive version? Can there ever be a definitive version?
Also: Is it fair that some versions triumph over others because they are more compellingly told, not because they are necessarily more accurate?
That last question has always been vexing to me. It’s why I have always felt ambivalent about the whole memoir genre, even while I’ve been an enthusiastic consumer. The memoirist has the upper hand, after all. Parents, siblings, friends are characters in the memoirist’s drama, and their own personal truths are incidental to the central story the memoirist is shaping. (For a poignant and pointed response to this situation, read what Suellen Grealy had to say about her sister Lucy’s celebrated memoir Autobiography of a Face, and a related memoir by Lucy’s friend, the novelist Ann Patchett.)
Even the kindest, most perceptive memoirist can’t get around this problem in the end, I think. Genealogical writing feels safer, because it can be structured around a timeline of events rather than a minefield of feelings. I’d rather argue about a baptismal date any day than about whom Dad loved best.
On the other hand, a layered, multilevel approach is an exciting (if tricky) way to imagine family storytelling, and film, unlike the first-person memoir, seems ideal for incorporating overlapping and contradictory viewpoints. This appears to be where Polley is headed in Stories We Tell. In her essay, she writes that she “decided to make a film about our need to tell stories, to own our stories, to understand them, and to have them heard.”
Which is why I can’t wait to see it. The need to be heard is something anyone can relate to, whether they’re related or not.
The most beloved food is not always the highest-end food, as any home cook knows. Two recent cases in point:
“Granny food” makes a comeback in Italy’s lean times. Nearly 20 years ago, a group of teenagers started a “festival of grandmother’s sandwiches” to protect memories of lunches that nonna used to make against a rising tide of fast food and convenience products. The BBC reports that the festival is going stronger than ever today, as tough economic times heighten interest in eating well on a budget.
“Desperation pies” take pride of place with bakers. Meanwhile, in the U.S., cooks are rediscovering the delights of pies born of ingenuity in the face of sparse ingredients — “what you would make on the farm in the winter when all the fruit was gone from storage,” as one expert told the Chicago Tribune. If chess pie, sugar pie and Amish milk pie ring your bells, check this article out.