A Look Back … With Thanks

On the last day of the year, rather than wax melancholy over missed research opportunities (and they are legion, dear readers), I choose to think, more positively, about the people and organizations who opened new doors for me in 2010.

Here’s a toast and some parting gifts for some of those good angels and kind souls:

To  John Martino and the volunteers of the remarkable New York City Vital Records database project: A donation, and many thanks for the hard work that helps those of us with NYC ancestors find our genealogy needles in that immense haystack.

To Find A Grave: Some graves. Also, some pictures. Hope they help somebody, or at least provide some of the same browsing entertainment I get from this fascinating site.

To the Troy Irish Genealogy Society: A donation. Plus, thanks for letting me crash your monthly dinner meeting in October. Plus, thanks for all your transcriptions, databases and lively observations on the indispensable NY-TROY-IRISH-GENSOC list. Inconsiderately, my ancestors settled on the  Watervliet side of the river. But they crossed over enough to Troy that I can pretend I’m cool like you guys.

To Pat Connors, whose treasure trove of Irish, Troy and Troy/Irish data I wrote about a few months ago: A click on your PayPal button, and fervent thanks.  I found a naturalization entry on your site which saved me a LOT of grief at the Rennselaer County courthouse. And you just keep on updating. How do you do it??

To Tom Hanley, archivist and (NY) (Baseball) Giants fan who kindly tracked down multiple 19th-century baptisms in Watervliet when I visited this fall, and to the kind staff at Holy Trinity in Cohoes, who found my great-great-grandparents’ marriage record: May you have a productive and blessed New Year. Also, may you ever get record requests with exact dates and correct church names.

To Tom Tryniski and the amazing New York State newspaper database he oversees: A screaming, 96-point headline saying THANK YOU and a donation. I have found so much stuff about my family at your place, I keep thinking you’re running a scrapbook on them.

To everybody who took the time to give a shout-out or leave a comment about something on the blog: Thank you each and every one. May the coming year be full of solved mysteries.


Wordless Wednesday: Blizzards of Long Past

Although I usually have a morbid curiosity about stories of weather disasters, I haven’t been tempted by our recent blizzard event to compare miseries past and present. Too busy digging, I suppose. However, the New York Public Library shared some very dramatic vintage blizzard images that almost (almost) made me feel better about all that snow we shoveled the other day.

And it all melts eventually, right?

Street cleanup in New York City during the first blizzard of 1908. Digital image collection, New York Public Library.

Big pile of snow takes up real estate in front of my house during the last blizzard of 2010.

New at the NJ Archives: WWI Casualty Index

I missed this in the mad rush to Christmas Day!

On Dec. 23, the New Jersey State Archives launched a new database: World War I Casualties: Descriptive Cards and Photographs. It includes 3,427 entries for New Jersey soldiers killed during 1917-1918. These entries reflect data cards issued to adjutant generals for recording details about soldiers killed in action (or who died of other causes while on duty). Often, they include a photograph as well.

If you go to the link, you can search by surname. The list of results will tell you whether there’s a card there and whether it has a photo as well.

I don’t have any NJ-based World War I soldiers in my own tree, but I pulled up an entry to see what can be seen. It included a service photograph plus a nice clear scan of the index card, which includes spaces for the soldier’s name, residence of record, birthplace, age, service record, engagements fought in, rank, date of service, date of death and name of the person notified of the death.

Even if every space isn’t filled in (this particular card didn’t list the engagements fought), there is still lots of potentially useful information. And the photos are incredible.

(H/t to the NJ-GSNJ mail list.)

Links, 12.27.10

I really should be outside with my husband and the eldest child, clearing snow from our whoops-almost-White-Christmas. But here I am, inside in my jammies, preparing this week’s links. The sacrifices I make for you people.

Reunited: A joyous reunion for two daughters of an Irish immigrant — one in Boston, one in England. There was a video attached, and watching the sisters talk via Skype gave me chills. In a good way.

A great warmup: On this snowbound day, I am warmed by re-reading Schelly Talalay Dardashti’s transcription of an Ethiopian Jewish recipe for chicken stew, even though I cannot venture out to find the ingredients for it. Some days a person needs stuff like this, if only just to read about it.

History in the making: Via the Times-Colonist of Victoria, an interesting article on professional personal historians and the work they do. I was struck by the prior work histories described by those interviewed: one was a crisis-line counselor, one a documentarian, another a radio reporter. Sounds about right.

What worked: I liked this rundown by Tina Sansone at Bella Online about which genealogy resources helped her research the most this year, and why.

What’s next: Aaaand it’s time for 2011 goal setting, people. No excuses. Kathleen at Misadventures of a Genealogist throws down a really comprehensive, well-thought-out list! Go Kathleen! I am not jealous and resentful at ALL. See? Excuse me while I chew up some carpet now.

The End: Is it already time for the 52nd Week To Better Genealogy? How fast a year flies.

Now I really must pull on my boots and help clear out the 20+ inches of white stuff in the double driveway. I am not a completely heartless person, after all. See you!

New: Rensselaer County (NY) Surrogate Court Index

The volunteers of the Troy (N.Y.) Irish Genealogy Society (TIGS) have added another link to an impressive chain of database projects: a Surrogate Court Index for Rensselaer County, N.Y. covering 1786-1917. A nice gift just in time for the holidays.

Here are the details from the society:

A. An index of 31,325 Rensselaer County Surrogate Court Records from 1786 to 1917 has now been added to the Troy Irish Genealogy (TIGS) website. These records, especially those prior to 1880 will be of great interest to genealogy researchers. The information in this data base was copied from a file in the Rensselaer County Historical Society, 57 Second Street, Troy, New York.
B. To view these records go to the Troy Irish Genealogy website at: http://www.rootsweb.com/~nytigs/ and click on  PROJECTS and then click on RENSSELAER COUNTY SURROGATE COURT INDEX. It should be noted that these records, like most of the TIGS data series, cover the general population in the area and are NOT restricted to Irish surnames.

C.  For each name in the on-line index there is a Surrogate Court Record folder that may contain various original source documents such as Wills, Letters of Administration, Guardianship Papers, Invoice of Property, Depositions Concerning a Person’s Death, etc.  The on-line index shows the following information for each record which may help you identify those records that will be of interest to you:

1.  NAME – Last, first, middle name or initials if any, and titles like Dr., Rev., etc.
2.  FILE NUMBER – Used to locate the files at the Rensselaer County Historical Society.
3.  LOCATION – Gives name of city, town or state of residence.
4.  DATE – May be year of death or year of legal issue.
5.  INV. – Indicates when there is an inventory of household goods in the record.
An invoice may be in the records EVEN if this column is not checked.
6. COMMENTS – This column will have an interesting comment for each name.
Some comments may show marital status (bachelor, spinster, widow, widower),
while other comments may show maiden names, occupations, name of
street residence, relationships (wife, husband, mother, father, son daughter,
etc.) and number of children.

D.  Copies of any original source documents that are contained in the file folder for each name can be requested from the Rensselaer County Historical Society.  The TIGS website has a PRINTABLE FORM that can be used when requesting copies from RCHS. For each request there is a $5.00 fee which will cover RCHS’s cost of locating and pulling a singular file folder from the archives.  After the file folder is located, RCHS will contact the requester about the contents of the file to see which documents they want copied at a cost of .25 cents per page plus postage for mailing.

E.  Hopefully this new on-line index, along with the many other TIGS projects will be useful to Troy area genealogy researchers.


Bill McGrath
TIGS Project Coordinator
Clifton Park, NY

Advent Calendar: The Beauty of Britten

For the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: December 21 – Christmas Music.


Choirs and choral music have been a fact of my Christmas life since I was … oh, I don’t know, thirteen?

It was inevitable. I sang my way through the junior high and high school choirs. I sang in church choirs.  I sang in regional and state choirs and of course I sing in the shower when all else fails.

The magic of human voices blending and soaring has never lost its mesmerizing effect for me, and never more so than in the depths of December. Every year for the past decade, my church choir and an ensemble of musicians have participated in a candlelight carol sing, and the moment when the audience and the singers hold lit tapers and join together for our final song has a way of stopping anger, anxiety and cynicism in its tracks, if only for two or three precious minutes.

We’ve sung a lot of Christmas pieces over the years, but one in particular is special to my heart.

British choirs and composers work their own particular spell with Christmas. And hands-down my favorite Christmas choral work is by Benjamin Britten — A Hymn to the Virgin, composed in 1930, when Britten was all of 16. Using a starkly simple medieval text, it is a dialogue between two groups of singers, usually a full choir and a quartet of soloists.

It is simply, hauntingly lovely. Singing it transports you for a few minutes to a cleaner, calmer, brighter place.

Apparently, Britten retained a deep affection for Hymn to the Virgin throughout his life, and it was one of only two of his own works performed at his funeral on Dec. 7, 1976. Here it is, performed by the British professional mixed choir Polyphony.

I also love Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols — another beautifully crafted tribute to the season.

Links, 12.20.10

Roaring (well, limping) down the homestretch toward Dec. 25, we discover that energetic people are still finding time to write interesting things. Shamefacedly, we present the links for the week.

More about NGS: Seventy-five speakers, 180 lectures, a Kids Kamp and a partridge in a pear tree … wait, we got carried away at the end there. Anyway, take an advance look at offerings for the 2011 National Genealogical Society conference in Charleston, S.C.

Reclaiming history: Historians researching a site in southern Colorado are uncovering insights about a vanished community of Hispanic farmers who were displaced by the coming of the railroad. Virginia Sanchez, researcher for the Colorado Society of Hispanic Genealogy, says the community of Cuchara is but one of many similar communities whose rise and fall signified a major cultural shift in Colorado history.

For what it’s worth: Like me, Bill at West in New England was struck by a quote from American Genealogist magazine (via Martin Hollick) in which the American Society of Genealogists asserts that research online cannot qualify as permanent contributions to the field. Unlike me, Bill has gotten around to writing a post about it that  ponders the question of what a genealogy blog is worth.

Who He Is: The country music blog The Boot takes a look at Tim McGraw’s projected appearance on Who Do You Think You Are?

Milestone: The official heraldry office of Scotland has appointed its first woman herald — the first, actually, in the entire United Kingdom. (h/t Dick Eastman)

Maybe next time I see you, the Muzak will have switched back to regular songs. Have a holly, jolly week.