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 6.14.10

Call this the week that Wall Street noticed genealogy, I guess.

Ancestry.com in the news: Both Barron’s and the Wall Street Journal took due notice of Ancestry.com, which went public last year and recently projected higher-than-expected earnings for this year. Wall Street, of course, does not really get into the technicalities of what consumers get for their Ancestry buck, or who really owns all those family trees online. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Ownership, continued: One person who is discussing ownership and copyright issues in the genealogy universe, and discussing it in absorbing detail, is James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star. His multipart series (for example, here and here) is a must-read for anyone interested in this topic.

A genealogy love story: Now for something romantic — the story of a couple of genealogy buddies who met online, bound by their common research interests, and discovered romance amid the courthouse trips and cemetery walks. I wonder how often that happens? Maybe more often than we’d think.

Arlington fallout: Various stories are popping up in the wake of the disturbing news that personnel at Arlington National Cemetery mishandled the remains of 200 troops. For instance, USA Today reports that Arlington still uses an index-card system for its records, which might contribute to its difficulties. (Yes, card indexes are hardly unprecedented in cemetery offices, but Arlington is pretty massive.) The Washington Post asks about procedures at other national cemeteries. Arlington is one of only two national cemeteries administered directly by the Defense Department. The vast majority are overseen by the Veterans Administration, and 14 are under the direction of the National Parks Service.

Trust fund windfall: Here’s a nice bit of luck for a historic cemetery. In Allentown, Pa., volunteers at the Union and West End Cemetery were pleasantly surprised to discover that the cemetery would receive nearly $30,000 in old trust-fund money. Apparently Wachovia Bank is unloading many vintage trust-fund assets, some of which date back to the 1880s, and were originally set up to maintain gravesites. Because of this, the bank decided to send the money to the cemeteries where the original depositors were buried. $30,000 might be a drop in the bucket on Wall Street, but it’s big money to a struggling 156-year-old cemetery with a $19,000 annual budget. Congratulations, folks!


Summertime genealogy day trips

As the family plans its summer schedule, the term “day trip” looms large, as I’m sure it does for many families in these cost-conscious times. I’m toying with the idea of the genealogy day trip, which would thrill me to no end. It might not thrill the kiddies as much, though.

Still, on the positive side, my kids are a little older now and might actually enjoy trooping through a graveyard or three. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a chance to make fun of Mom and her graveyard obsession. And a chance to take goofy pictures of Mom weeding graves. Sweet!

So I scribbled out this list of possibilities within a day’s drive of northern New Jersey:

• To Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island to photograph family markers there — my parents, and several aunts and uncles.

• To various cousins’ houses to look at their photograph albums. (Hmm. Might do this on a day the kids are in day camp.)

• To NARA-NYC to look at a bunch of indexes. (Another one for a day-camp day. In a perfect world, my kids would love hanging around microfilm viewers for five hours … but …)

• To Albany County to take a better picture of my great-great-grandparents’ tombstone. I really need to rectify this awful photo, which has been bugging me for four years. I would post it, but I’m just too mortified. If I succeed in getting a better one, I promise to post Do and Don’t pictures.

Will I do all of these things?  The biggest enemy to productivity is the way summer fries a perfectly good brain. Summertime always seems to stretch into infinity on the day school ends. With so many more hours of daylight, what’s the rush?

Then, all too soon,  it’s Labor Day already, and the genealogy to-do list has maybe one item crossed off.

I think I’ll ask the kids tonight how they feel about cemeteries.


Links 06.07.10

This week we’ve got a lot of grave tidings and record achievements. Cliche watchers, take note.

Cemetery records suit: A Virginia genealogy society was unsuccessful in proving ownership of a collection of cemetery records being offered for sale in CD and book form by a local museum. The U.S. District Court ruling means that the Bedford (Va.) Museum and Genealogical Library can continue to offer the items for sale. The case was more about procedure than genealogy. It hinged on whether, in voting to incorporate last year, the society was really the true successor to the parent group, an unincorporated volunteer group organized as an affiliate of the museum. The court held that the entire membership should have been notified of the vote in order for it to be valid. An interesting case to consider for volunteer genealogy societies amassing record collections.

Irish census of 1901: Meanwhile, across the pond, excitement reigns over the release of the 1901 Irish census, the earliest complete Irish population count available. The records took five years and 4 million euros to digitize, and join the 1911 census online for Irish researchers. (Many 19th-century Irish records were lost in a 1922 fire at the Public Records Office, during the Irish civil war.) The BBC’s website summarizes the news angles nicely, including examples of famous folks and their census forms.

Also in Ireland: This news item popped up, containing an intriguing reference to a proposed merger of the Irish National Archives, the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the National Library of Ireland into a new national library/archive. The legislation is to be introduced by the end of this year, said Fianna Fáil leader Brian Cowen.

“Uncle” is correct: I love genealogy stories that bring distant history close to living generations, and this one is a classic. An Ohio man recently succeeded in replacing the official grave marker for his uncle, who served in the Civil War. Yes, you read that right. Sid Sines, a WWII veteran himself,  belongs to what must be a small group of living Americans with a biological uncle who fought in the Civil War. Sines’ father Martin (born 1868) was the product of Simon Sines’ second marriage. The Civil War soldier, James (born 1844), was an elder child of Simon’s first marriage. Martin waited until he was 52 to marry, and Sid was born in 1922. A perfect storm of genealogy circumstance! Congratulations to Sid on replacing his uncle’s marker — the original was vandalized 30 years ago.


Find-A-Grave

A response to the 52 weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #22: Find-A-Grave.

I can spend hours hanging out at Find-A-Grave, and here they are telling me to poke around on this site as a challenge. Yeah. Right.

Oops! I meant to say, “Wow, tough assignment; I’m just going to have square my shoulders and do my best.”

Find-A-Grave has done fine things for my research. It helped me clarify where my great-great-uncle William’s wife was buried, since they weren’t next to each other. It was also nice to see my dad’s headstone on the site, placed there by a volunteer who has photographed many veterans’ graves in Calverton National Cemetery.

I also get an enormous kick out of finding out which famous people are buried in cemeteries near my hometown. Searching by locale, you can easily pull up a list of cemeteries in your area and browse the entries. There’s always an interesting story or two.

But the most important things I’ve learned from Find A Grave have been in the forums, where regulars congregate to swap tips, pet peeves and general wisdom. For example:

• I know that you will not win any friends by bragging about how the chalk you put on that 18th-century headstone made the inscription clear as day.

• Ditto for whipping out a Sharpie to color in the letters.

• I know that each year, kind volunteers fan out across Woodland Cemetery in Newark, N.J., to record inscriptions and photograph markers. It’s a chance for volunteers to work in a big group with an escort from local police. (Security concerns are a fact of life in many urban burial grounds.)

What’s very interesting, and important for genealogy enthusiasts to know, is that Find-A-Grave is primarily a gathering place for people who love graveyards. Some of them also love genealogy; the two interests often dovetail.

I don’t mean to imply that genealogy queries are unwelcome there — quite the contrary. I’m just saying that when I first found Find-A-Grave, I was thrown for a loop. Why were complete strangers (at least, I think they were strangers)  photographing tombstones in my family lines? What was in it for them?

The answer for many really is simple: They get to explore cemeteries and read interesting tombstones. And because so many Find-A-Grave volunteers love what they do, we all gain in our research. Thanks, guys.


Links, April 19, 2010

Today in history: In 1934, Shirley Temple appeared in her first movie, Stand up And Cheer! It would be more accurate to say “starred in her first feature,” since Temple appeared in a series of “Baby Burlesks” shorts and bit parts prior to …

What did you say? Something else happened today? Yes indeed, today in history the shot heard ’round the world was fired at Lexington, Massachusetts, igniting the American Revolution. The event was dramatized by re-enacters at dawn today, as it is every year. Here is a rundown of other notable events on this day (or any day) in history.

Today this happened, plus Shirley Temple made her first picture. Priorities, priorities.

More history lessons: I am indebted to my brother Jim, a fan of what I like to call Extreme History, for pointing out this news item on the Donner Party, famous for their  ill-fated trek westward and subsequent creative cooking experiments. Apparently their menu was not all it was cracked up to be. Jim is very disappointed.

Genealogy and Macintosh: James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star posted last week about why he does his genealogy on Macs. I’ve been a Mac person myself  since the get-go (minus a brief, disastrous fling involving a double-disk-drive Radio Shack PC). Still, I roll my eyes at the mindless cheerleading that often comes with the territory.  Which is why I love Mr. Tanner’s reasonable but positive commentary about what makes Macs and iPhones great tools for genealogists. (He is also noodling around with the iPad but thinks the jury is still out on its usefulness to his genealogy work.)

Larceny at the archives: I’ve posted before about ways to treat your library right, especially when you’re working in the local history archives. It did not occur to me to include the rule “Don’t Steal The Holdings.” However, this is just what happened to the entire vintage sheet music collection at a suburban Chicago library. The story has a happy ending — the unknown thief returned all 327 pieces of the collection  to the police. The accompanying note said only: “I am sorry.”

Better cemetery photos: Tombstone photography can be a nervewracking experience, especially if you are making a special visit to a distant cemetery and it’s a cloudy day. This article gives some helpful tips on making the most of your lighting to get a clear-cut view of the headstone’s lettering, even on an iffy day. I definitely appreciate the advice.

Any exciting news of your own? Share it in the comments, if you like. Enjoy the week!


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