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!


Tombstone Tuesday: Joseph F. Haigney

I had a perfect summer day for my trip to Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn last year. Knowing the size and scope of the place, I was hoping at least to get a lot of exercise and a nice photo of my grandparents’ grave. As it turned out, I came away with new information on three gravesites, including today’s Tombstone Tuesday post: my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney.

Joseph F. and I have had our ups and downs. I still don’t know as much as I’d like to about his youth and his decision to leave Watervliet, NY and move to Brooklyn in 1900. And where exactly this family group was in 1900 is still a bit of a mystery.

Marker for Joseph F. Haigney and family, Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

What’s neat about this gravesite is a key piece of information that isn’t even carved on the tombstone. We see here Joseph F., his wife, my great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, and two of their children: my great-uncle Joseph C. and Anne M. (“Anna”), my great-aunt by adoption.

However, according to the cemetery records, there is a fifth person here: my young great-uncle Leo, who died in 1901, at the age of 3. The cemetery listing gave me the specific time frame I needed to confirm that this was my Leo’s death certificate in the New York City Municipal Archives index. And on the death certificate itself, I learned that when little Leo died of meningitis in February 1901, he and his family had only been living in Brooklyn for five months.

Gradually the murky picture of this family’s whereabouts in 1900 is coming into clearer focus. From census digging, I know Joseph is likely to have been living apart from his family in Jersey City, NJ in June 1900.

And from Leo’s death certificate, I now know that he and his family were living in Brooklyn by September or October of 1900. So after a period of transition and separation, the family came together for what sadly turned out to be a very brief time before Leo’s illness and death.

I was very glad to have the knowledge the cemetery records gave me about who is actually in this grave. As it happened, the littlest occupant’s story had a great deal to tell me about a key event in the family timeline.


Tombstone Tuesday: A plot thickens

My great-great-uncle's gravesite in Brooklyn.

This cemetery story has bothered me for a while, so I decided to go ahead and post it on Tombstone Tuesday, although there is no tombstone. Instead, we have a grave, a twisty set of records, and a somewhat mysterious blank spot.

My great-great uncle William Haigney (1867-1930) is a genealogy blank spot himself. Nobody had ever mentioned him. When I began my research, nobody knew he was there to mention. He was included on my late Aunt Catherine’s List of Haigneys past and present. Unfortunately, she was no longer available to expand upon family history.

I hoped that a long-deferred cemetery trip to Brooklyn might produce some facts to flesh out my sketchy portrait of William. Silly, silly me.

Armed with death certificates and burial dates for William and his wife, I hoped the grave would be fairly easy to locate, which it was. But then the clerk said, “Wait a minute,” took an old register down and worked in silence for another 10 minutes, frowning thoughtfully from time to time. I began to feel guilty, then apprehensive. What was in those records? Vampire sightings? News that William’s grave had been paved over?

As it turned out, the ownership record was odd for the plot in which William was buried with his only child. The owner of record was a family whose surname is unconnected to any of my lines, with burials taking place between 1859 and 1889. However, the plot was emptied by 1930. Despite William’s burial in it, there was no subsequent owner on record.

I headed to the gravesite, where, after diligent pacing and counting, I had to accept that there was no marker. Not too surprising. William never appeared to have much money. There might never have been a marker. Plus, he died in 1930, and his only child in 1946, leaving no children of her own.  There’s a good chance nobody had come near the grave in 60 years.

But the plot ownership quirks are typical of my research on William, a collection of facts that frustrate with more questions. How did William come to be in that particular spot? Was the plot’s owner of record connected to William somehow? And where was William’s wife?

The third question at least can be answered: William’s wife is buried in her parents’ large plot in another part of the same cemetery, beside her first husband.

But the other questions rest undisturbed for now, like William himself.


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