Sign Of Seasonal Overload

Apropos my Advent Calendar post below, a dialogue at a musical event last evening:

Spouse [slipping into seat, straight from work]: “What IS this?”

Me [puzzled]: “It’s the winter chorus concert.”

Spouse: “Not the violin recital?”

Me: “No.”

Spouse: [????]

Me [produces event program, points to title]

Spouse: “Oh. OK.”

[Cue grade-school chime choir.]


Advent Calendar: Christmas Ham … Onstage

For the December 16, 2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Christmas at School. What did you or your ancestors do to celebrate Christmas at school? Were you ever in a Christmas Pageant?


Was I ever in a Christmas Pageant? Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away from one. I loved to sing (fortunately, I could do it on key), I loved Christmas, and I was a complete and utter ham. What more could  a person need?

And Christmas songs! Couldn’t resist them. Volunteered at age eight to stand in front of the class and belt out “Silver Bells.” Realized that in a Catholic school I should have done a religious song, and offered “Silent Night” as an encore. Was politely told to sit down.

My school didn’t do the classic pageant from what I remember. We did a sort of Christmas revue, in which each class did one big number. Then, at the very end, we would do a Nativity scene tableau with a select group of kids dressed in proper costumes, while the rest of us sang something (not “Silver Bells”) softly in the background.

The class numbers were a mixed bag. One year we had a 12-kid lineup doing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which each of us unfurled a poster depicting our day’s gift as we sang it out. It took forever to get through those twelve days, due to delays in singing caused by fumbling with posters. I sang the nine ladies dancing bit, and was extremely bitter that I wasn’t assigned the five golden rings.

I remember another year in which we sang “Silent Night” in German as my (German-speaking) mother winced at various manglings of the original text. (“Schlayyyyyf….. in heimlicher …. Roooooo.…”)

Children’s pageants may well be a long-standing tradition in my family. Although it doesn’t involve a holiday pageant, I was charmed to discover this item from the Brooklyn Eagle dated April 14, 1918:

“Toy Shop” Aids Hospital Fund

The Bay Ridge Hospital will increase its building fund by a considerable sum from a children’s musical extravaganza which pleased a large audience at the Bay Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ridge Boulevard at Eighty-first Street, yesterday afternoon. The production, “The Toy Shop,” included popular airs in a plot laid in a toy shop. The toys come to life through the genii of Aladdin’s lamp and are turned back into toys by a jealous little miss … One little doll named Babykins, kept in tissue paper as specially precious, was a wee tot of 2 years old, little Catherine Haigney.

So there’s a star turn by a Haigney child of yesteryear! I haven’t identified her positively yet. She might be my father’s eldest sister, although the age reported is a bit too young. At any rate, the show sounds adorable.

And tradition marches on. Only yesterday, I listened to my eight-year-old and her classmates sing their hearts out at the annual Winter Concert. As long as there’s a December, there will be kids treading the boards — and parents biting their nails in the audience.

For the Record (Or Not)

Some of the keepers of information we seek had us in mind from the very beginning — the hardy souls who tromped through backwoods cemeteries and compiled tombstone inscriptions, for example. Others, however, did not necessarily set out with the idea that they were helping us.

For instance, churches.

It’s interesting to think about why churches keep records. Some likely reasons: (A) to verify and facilitate religious rituals; (B) as a faith-based imperative, as with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; (C) when the church was a socially dominant entity whose records played a role tantamount to civil registration – like Congregationalist records in New England, Quaker meeting notes in southern New Jersey, Church of England registers, etc. (In some countries, churches were required by the state to keep family records.)

But in other contexts, it’s sort of odd that sacramental records exist beyond a person’s actual lifetime. One day I got to thinking: As a Roman Catholic, when did I need to have my personal sacramental records around? How long would it be necessary to preserve them – from a purely religious standpoint?

Let’s see: When I married, it was in a parish several states away from my hometown, so I had to produce a baptismal certificate to formally register there. And when my oldest daughter began religious instruction in New Jersey in preparation for her First Communion, I had to produce her Illinois baptismal certificate, to show she had completed that prerequisite.

At present, my baptismal and marriage certificates are nice to have, but it’s unlikely I’ll need them for any more church procedures. And when I’m gone altogether, and certainly after my children’s lifetimes, it’s hard to see how they’d be needed – for church purposes. (I do remember my mother retrieving her parents’ Catholic marriage record after both of them had passed on, but that was for a legal procedure.)

So it’s interesting to me that some church records endure as long as they do. This fall I traveled to the Capital District of New York State and was rewarded with a copy of my gg-grandparents’ 1857 church marriage record and baptismal entries for their eight children, born between 1859 and 1874. These records don’t serve a sacramental imperative. But they serve a human imperative to remember the past, and one that works to my benefit as a family researcher.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that requesting a church record takes place in a completely different context from requesting a vitals certificate from a government entity. It’s always a pleasant surprise when an old church record turns up, and it’s humbling  to know that generations of (often) amateur archivists have been keeping it safe.

Links, 12.13.10

After a brief but profound post-Thanksgiving silence, people are writing and talking like the dickens again. (It’s the holidays. Had to get Dickens in there somewhere.) Links traffic has picked up accordingly.

Truth, at last: A fascinating and profoundly ironic article details how Nobel-laureate British geneticist Sir Paul Nurse discovered, quite by accident, a long-held family secret: The woman he knew as his sister was actually his mother. Sir Paul’s family story is a sadly familiar one — an unmarried girl pregnant and a family determined to keep this hidden. His attitude on discovering the truth: “There was such a stigma attached to illegitimacy then, but thankfully my mother’s situation would never happen now. That’s why I speak about it – because I feel I owe it to her to remove the shame she was made to feel and put things right for her.”

Look it up: At You Are Where You Came From, I got a kick out of Katie O’s post about the somewhat bewildering search terms (including the words “ghost” and “tragedy”) that led to repeat hits on her blog. I never get cool search terms like that in my stats. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Read before you shop: James Tanner is doing a series on cameras and genealogy. The first installment is a typically lucid overview of which features can be expected at which price points, and why even the most expensive camera will not yield good results if you’re a lousy photographer. Excuse me while I go enroll in a photography class now.

Paperless publishing: At Life’s Journey, Bob Kramp discusses his experiments in using electronic digital readers as an alternative to paper in publishing his research.

Ready or not: It’s never too early to plan for a major conference, as Dick Eastman makes clear in his roundup of hotel options near the May 2011 NGS conference in North Charleston, SC. Some of the closest hotels are already sold out.

Blood of heroes: Oh, DNA research, you make my head spin. And you generate the most amusing letters to the editor sometimes. Like this one from the Irish Times, explaining why half the planet is descended from Brian Boru.

Single-minded: The Washington Post recently eulogized William Addams Reitwiesner, a devoted (obsessed?) researcher whose dissections of presidential forebears made many headlines. A vivid portrait of a person consumed by a “passion for facts,” in the words of one colleague.

Have a happy week. May your to-do list shrink and your pile of wrapped presents grow.

Thinking Out Loud: The Missing Great-Aunt

Embarrassingly often, this blog is about all the stuff I don’t know, as opposed to what I do.

But hey,  it’s a method. From an early age, I’ve had this tendency to talk and write problems out — apparently I’m a very verbal/auditory learner. I listen well and take fantastic notes; then I talk about it to firm it up. (On the other hand, I seem to have no visual learning sense whatsoever.)

I took a test once about this, a real one, not a Cosmo one. It was a relief to have a validation of the habits that led my normally sweet and tolerant college roommate to flee the premises at exam crunch time, saying: “No, no! Really. You can have the room. I can always study in the library … you, um … you can’t.”

She was right. Then, as now, I would tease out thorny problems or concepts by talking to myself about them. (Miraculously, we are still friends.)

So bear with me while I talk to myself about what is shaping up to be my Big Genealogy Quest for next year: The mystery of my great-aunt Anna Kunigunde Rudroff.

To recap: All my life I just knew that my German-born grandfather, Johann/John Rudroff, had only one other sibling who also emigrated to the U.S.A.: his much older brother Georg/George.

Naturally, this turned out to be wrong, as do so many of the things I just absolutely, positively know about my family. When a German researcher very kindly shared notes on a Rudroff family history compiled on the other side of the pond, I discovered the existence of Anna Kunigunde, sister of Georg and Johann, and another immigrant to the United States. Never heard of her before.

What I know about her so far:

• 1883: Born in Kottweinsdorf, Bavaria, Germany (according to the German genealogy; it would need to be independently confirmed in the Roman Catholic parish records at Oberailsfeld, where Kottweinsdorf families attended church).

• 1907: Emigrated. (Again, according to the German Rudroff genealogy, but also consistent with the 8 June 1907 entry on’s Hamburg passenger list database  for Kunigunde Rudroff, female, single and age 24, ultimate destination: New York).

• 1910 United States census: Nothing found yet that fits someone of her approximate age. Doesn’t mean she isn’t in there, of course.

• 1914, 31 Oct. Arrived in New York (again), aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam, according to the New York passenger lists database at

• She apparently did not re-settle in Kottweinsdorf, according to the German research, which only records her departure in 1907 to the U.S.A. Was the 1914 trip a quick visit back home?

So what do I do now? Here’s what I’m thinking:

• Reach out to some of Georg’s descendants to see if any of their family stories mentioned this great-aunt.

• Take another stab at the United States census for 1910. She should be listed somewhere under her birth name, since in 1914 she was apparently still unmarried.

• Brush up on German records of the period to see where else there might be a record of Anna Kunigunde’s comings and goings.

• Explore what other NARA holdings might be of use.

• Think about ways newspaper database research might help. Maybe a marriage notice somewhere?

It’s strange to think of my grandfather having a sister he never mentioned, at least not to my mother. I know … uh-oh, that word again! All right, I’m reasonably sure that my mother never heard of Anna Kunigunde — I talked at some length with her about family history and there’s nothing in my notes from these conversations (I checked, I checked).

So what else should I be looking at here? Feel free to suggest away, and I promise I’ll talk to myself about it.

Links, 12.07.10

One of my daughters noticed that the snow is back on the blog. Yes, it’s that time of year, when the choir goes into overtime, trees are trimmed, gifts are wrapped, cookies are baked and the links are delayed a day. But only a day. Better luck next week, we hope.

Debunking: In “Sometimes Genealogy is Who We Aren’t,” writer Bonnie Krueger tells one version of every family historian’s Rubicon: discovering that the facts behind a cherished family story just don’t add up.

London Calling: In his Genealogy Newsletter, Dick Eastman reminds us that  tickets are on sale for the vast Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE expo in London in February 2011. Kind of a ways to go for a genealogy expo, but the armchair traveler in me enjoys the thought of combining this event with a vacation in London. Maybe I could pick up some cheesy Wills ‘n’ Kate engagement souvenirs while I’m there.

In Canada: A neat place called the Resource Blog, which is full of quirky finds, has a genealogy-related update on two new databases that might be of interest to Canadian family history researchers. One is “Canadian Families,” a compilation of church records held at Library Archives Canada; the other is the records of the Upper Canada Land Board 1765-1804.

In Ireland: On the NY-IRISH mail list, Pat Connors shared two updates of interest: The Irish Newspaper Archives have added to their online database; including the Irish Independent (1905-2001), the Anglo-Celt (1846-2010), Freemans Journal (1763-1924) and the Southern Star (1892-2010). Note that the search is free but one must subscribe to read the full article. Also, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has put thousands of wills online; the periods covered are 1858-1919 and 1922-1943.

A life recording lives: This obituary of an indefatigable genealogical historian caught my eye. Frances Bibbins Latimer’s expertise was centered on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but what really struck me is how she exemplified that very personal energy and commitment of the people who rescue and record documentation for future generations.

Historic inscriptions: Great article  on a massive new 3-volume compilation of inscriptions and documentation regarding the historic Old Presbyterian Graveyard in Bound Brook, N.J. Also see Dick Eastman’s item on the subject, especially the comments section, in which librarian Hannah Kerwin explains more about the nature of the project, and why the library’s print run is so small.

Online TV: Marian at Roots and Rambles does a nice primer on Roots Television, an installment of a multipart series on genealogy videos available online.

Finally, let’s not close without remembering Pearl Harbor. My mother used to say she was listening to a radio serial drama when the news broke. (Was it the Shadow? Or was it the Green Hornet? I have to go check that now.) Meanwhile, check out the New York Daily News’ gallery  of vivid and still gut-wrenching photos.

See you next week.

So When Was He Born Again? (Part 2)

The other day I was reviewing my online files, which are in a quite a state, and I rediscovered one of my signature Primitive Word Charts™ compiling data encountered in a Civil War pension file about my gg-grandfather Martin Haigney’s date of birth.

It’s another one of those exercises in How Old Do You Think You Are? Here goes!

1890 Martin says he is 57 on his initial application. 

Birth year: Approximately 1833.

1890 Martin’s neighbors say he is “about sixty”. 

Birth year: Approximately 1830.

1897 Martin says he is 66 on his application for an increase. 

Birth year: Approximately 1831.

1907 Martin gives his date of birth as 2 March 1831 on his declaration for continuance of his pension. He states age as “past age of 75 years.”
1907 Army records supplied in support of Martin’s declaration of 1907 state his age on (a) 7 Mar 1859 as 27 and his age on (b) 7 Mar 1864 as 32. 

Birth year (a) 1832; Birth year (b) 1832.

1907 Martin’s affadavit affirms that to the best of his recollection he was 22 years old on his first enlistment, 7 March 1854. He says he must have been born in 1832, not 1831 as stated on his initial 1907 application.
1908 Martin gives his date of birth as 18 March 1832 in an application for an increase.
1908 Martin’s date of birth is noted as 18 March 1832 in approval of increase


  1. Martin did not know the exact date or year of his birth:
    1. He gives an age on his initial application that doesn’t agree with the age he would be from information on later applications.
    2. He furnishes two different birthdays – 2 March and 18 March – on different documents.
    3. In his affidavit of 1907, he says his age at the time of his first enlistment is “to the best of my recollection.”
  2. Note that the birth month and the enlistment month are the same. It is possible that the birth date given was a guess pegged to a date everybody did actually agree upon – the date Martin first enlisted in the army.
  3. The pension forms do not uniformly require birth dates. The early forms asked only for age.
  4. At this point a birth year of 1832 seems to be a decent estimate. Using the information from the Army’s enlistment records, we know the age Martin gave at his re-enlistment in 1859 was 27. At least this record was compiled closest to whatever the actual date was.
  5. Of course, all this information is only from one source — the pension file. The census birth date estimates skip around: 1832 in the 1860 census; 1830 in the 1870 census; 1827 in the 1880 census; 1835 in the 1900 census; 1830 in the 1910 census. His tombstone lists a birthdate of 1829.

What is the moral of this particular tale, you might ask? There might not be much of one, but I’ll take a stab at it:

First: “To the best of my recollection” sure doesn’t mean “my exact recollection” on anybody’s part.

Second: You know when they say to use a wide date range when searching databases, no matter what you know you know about a person? Listen to them.

Note From The Dept. of Mangled Prose: Ha! I just noticed that I labeled Part One “When Were He Born Again?” A product of the post-turkey-day haze, I guess. Should I change it, or should it stand as part of the historical record? Decisions, decisions.