Links, 8.02.10

Aaaandddd …. it’s August, which is kicking off on a surprisingly cool note where I live. I’m sure we’ll be broiling appropriately in no time. Meanwhile, what’s going on?

Crossing the pond: Here are lots of good pointers on finding your ancestral European village, if that’s where your genealogy trek is leading you. And it’s true, one of the basic challenges is making getting the name right — aren’t those vaguely remembered village names a joy to unravel?

Changing identities: On the topic of names, the Los Angeles Times reports on an initiative by French Jews to reclaim their true family names, which were changed in the years after World War Two to make them sound more Franco-phonic. What felt like a pragmatic move to refugees in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust is oppressive today to some descendants: “It doesn’t feel right,” says a grandson of one emigre from Poland. “It says nothing about my family or our history.” H/t to Dick Eastman.

Updating software: MacWorld reviews the highlights of the updated (version 6) Mac Family Tree. The place name/event merging capability sounded nice. So did the Web Research portal.

Inspiring filmmakers: The New York Daily News has a neat profile of Ken Taylor, whose life overseeing operations at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery provided background for Zac Efron’s character in the recently released Charlie St. Cloud. Taylor started out at Green-Wood as a high-schooler cutting grass in the summertime. Now he lives there, in a 130-year-old Gothic caretaker’s brownstone.

Rescuing a marker: One more quirky cemetery story! In Iowa, intrepid researchers reconnect a headstone with its rightful grave, more than a century after it was ordered. Apparently the stone was commissioned but never paid for, and languished in a basement until the 1970s, when it was discovered and drifted around a bit (including a stint in a garden) before finally being researched and set upon its intended gravesite.

Anyone do anything interesting for Lammas? If you missed it, you can at least sing the song. Have a nice week!


Dark ages? Maybe a little gray.

Oh, dear.  Should I really quote the already-widely-quoted Mormon Times article about librarian Curt Witcher’s speech and the coming genealogical Dark Age?

But ignoring it is a little like visiting Chicago on a certain day in 1871 and neglecting to mention they’d had a fire. So many points and posts! Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings did a nice summary, in which James Tanner’s careful reasoning stood out, as usual.

So here’s my only two cents: As a former writer of newspaper articles, I recognize the technique of cherry-picking eye-catching quotes to make a snappy story. Not to say that this reporter turned in a bad story. I’m just saying that we as readers have to be aware when our hot buttons are being pushed, slow down and read carefully.

For instance, there’s the alarming quote: “People are losing interest and focus on keeping the thoughts and the words for future generations.” On second read, this is a bit unclear, and the reporter didn’t expand upon just what Mr. Witcher meant by it. If it means that the rush to digitize may be leaving important records in the dust, well, that’s a definite concern.

But if it means that we as individuals are losing this focus, I think the jury’s out. Certainly the rich profusion of genealogy blogs indicates an interest in sharing our personal thoughts and research. And yet (again): How are we archiving ourselves? Not an idle question … I wrote for an Internet startup in the dark ages of 1998 and can testify to the pain of belatedly realizing that many of my “clips” are no longer clippable!

So although I count myself among the hopeful, I appreciate Mr. Witcher’s remarks (as reported) as a timely wakeup call. We are living in an age of wrenching transitions, and we need to be keeping an eye on the repositories as they negotiate these changes. And on ourselves, too.

A dose of well-placed concern can be a good thing.