It’s snowy, and I’ve been goofing off, indulging my love of dance history. Some terrific sites and commentary have reminded me of how rewarding it must be to record these particular memories.
Dance lives so vividly onstage, and in the minds of dancers and audiences. But when the memories are gone …. pfft. So it’s great to see how social networks, online videos and personal websites are paving the way for an increasingly rich online library of dance history. And if you’ve got a showbiz type in your tree, lucky you! What’s in their scrapbook?
There are so many wonderful autobiographies and biographies of famous dancers and choreographers. Two of my favorites are by beloved former principals of the New York City Ballet: Allegra Kent’s Once a Dancer, and Edward Villella’s Prodigal Son. Another great one is the impressionistic Winter Season by Toni Bentley, about her experiences in the NYCB corps de ballet — still one of the best accounts of what it’s like for the dancers who don’t get top billing.
Beyond books, the multimedia approach adds an exciting new dimension. Here, for instance, is a lovely example of a personal memoir site that gives a real sense of how hard — and exhilarating — it is to pursue a dance dream. In 1930s Boston, Selma Hoffman worked her tail off taking ballet classes and dancing in Yiddish theater productions. She went to New York every chance she could — including one freezing ride wrapped in five blankets in a rumble seat! Eventually she did move to New York, danced in a number of shows and got a steady gig in the ballet corps at Radio City Music Hall. Yes, the ballet corps — Radio City had one of those, in addition to the high-kicking Rockettes. Selma’s site truly recreates a vanished show business world.
There is more and more interest in compiling and sharing oral histories, and it’s great to see legendary dancers included. The online compendium at the National Visionary Leadership Project on African-American History features some terrific dance-related interviews, including Arthur Mitchell, pioneering New York City Ballet principal and founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem; and Carmen de Lavallade, who danced on Broadway, in ballets at the Metropolitan Opera and toured Europe with her lifelong friend, Alvin Ailey.
YouTube is a blast to browse in search of vintage dance clips and vintage dance memories. If you’re interested in Broadway dance, and Bob Fosse’s sexy choreography in particular, don’t miss this video from a panel of Fosse veterans in which they answer the question: What was it like to be a “Fosse Woman”? Bonus: Hear how original Chicago lead Jerry Orbach (back before he became a Law & Order gumshoe) figured out how to steal the spotlight back from the sinuous moves of the chorus dancers.
Speaking of oral histories, here is a thought-provoking discussion thread on what makes a strong oral-history dance interview. I love this quote, which is worth remembering even if you don’t have a dancing cousin:
“You may have your agenda as to the data you want to collect, but your respondent has his/her data that wants sharing. You can’t be in such total control of the interview that you end up quashing that information as irrelevant. It isn’t.”
Amen — and a big thank you to the interviewers who keep performing-arts history alive.
A bona fide bombshell reverberated among genealogy bloggers as Ancestry.com announced it was discontinuing the Expert Connect referral network.
No reason given, although the announcement said Expert Connect was a “positive experience.” I was neither a provider nor a user, but as a news consumer I had to wonder about the backstory.
This service paired professional researchers with potential clients, with Ancestry taking a portion of the proceeds. Leland Meitzler says the shutdown was to be expected in the light of Ancestry’s acquisition of ProGenealogists, but to judge from many comments sections, a lot of Expert Connect providers were caught on the hop.
Thomas McEntee posts additional information from Ancestry. No more new project posts after February 3. And providers with ongoing projects that are likely to extend beyond March 18 (the date Ancestry pulls the final plug) are advised to work with (and bill) clients directly, using Ancestry’s message boards to keep in touch. Ancestry encourages researchers to “continue relationships with the clients you have made connections with along the way.” [Ed. Note: Well, duh.]
Kerry Scott at Clue Wagon wonders aloud: Is Ancestry Dumb? [Shorter Kerry: Probably not, but only probably.]
Randy Seaver considers ProGenealogist’s redesign, which ties the appearance more closely to the look of Ancestry.com.
And Marian Pierre-Louis at Roots and Rambles has practical suggestions for researchers pondering life after the dis-Connect.
James Tanner discusses, in a more general way, the ways tough economic times are reflected in genealogy-related businesses.
A great new aid for finding families in this record, and apparently it only just went up. Here is the link to the searchable index.
This is an online name index only. To see an image you need to order the film from a Family History Center. If you find the name you’re looking for, you’ll also see the film number on the entry, along with the page number and family number.
Or, if you’re in NJ, you could see it at the NJ State Library in Trenton at 185 West State Street. Here is a chart that explains the ins and outs of New Jersey censuses and tax lists since 1772 — what’s destroyed, what’s survived and where you can find it at the library or state archives. Very useful.
h/t to Gary at the NJ-GSNJ list.
Another in an occasional series on how Operation Magnetic Album Mayhem is going.
So obviously, I was not paying sufficient attention over the years to various lectures on how color in old photographs inevitably fades. I mean, I was aware that it was a problem for some people, but it wasn’t going to happen to my family’s photos, right? At least, not until I opened some albums, took a good look and realized that it had, it had.
To summarize, if you aren’t up to clicking through the links: Color process is a finite, fickle thing, and if you’ve got vintage color photographs, chances are they have faded, often badly. They will fade that much faster if they are in frames exposed to direct sunlight. But they even fade if they’re enclosed in albums. They even fade in the dark. It’s awful.
A thread on a digital photography forum pointed me in the direction of a book by a specialist called Ctein (that is his name; he only goes by one): Digital Restoration from Start to Finish. They were saying that this is the bible on the topic. I read an excerpt, a case study in restoring a faded high school portrait, and it piqued my interest enough to want to read the whole thing.
Without an arsenal of artistic software at my command — Adobe Photoshop Elements is as sophisticated as I get — I’m not sure what I personally can do to make my scans of faded color pictures look better. Still, I would like to understand the dynamics of the process a lot more than I currently do.
Fortunately, my dad had an extended fling with color slides in the late sixties and the seventies. Unfortunately, I believe the slides may be a mix of Kodachrome and Ektachrome. Kodachrome had a great shelf life; apparently, even 60-year-old Kodachrome slides still look pretty good. Ektachrome slides, on the other hand, put you right back in the color-faded doghouse.
Photos are such a pain. I’m sorry, I know I should be all saintly and archival and preservationist here, but really. There are so many of them, and they’re undated, and uncaptioned. And they’re fading, even as I write. The old albums and slide carousels are taunting me with a siren call, like the “beating of his hideous heart” that sent Poe’s villain screaming his evil deeds to the bewildered cops.
Except instead of a muffled thud, it’s a hiss: Weeeee’re faaaddddinnggg…sloooowly but sureeeelllyy….
OK, gotta get a grip. One step at a time.
How about this? Try for a greatest-hits collection. Maybe pick one photo from each endless series of babies and parties and vacations that really epitomizes the lot. (OK, panicking again at that thought, but whatever.) Then see if it’s possible to make a nicer print from the original negative. My parents were good about keeping the negatives, after all.
Make it a group thing. Have a negative party with the siblings. Yeah, that’s it.
(Except that “Negative Party” doesn’t sound like a good event title for the Evite, though. Hmmm.)
Catherine was a first cousin twice removed, which means her father, William Haigney, and my great-grandfather, Joseph, were brothers. I was so excited to learn of her existence.
William (1867-1930) remains a blurred image on the family chart, somebody unknown to the older relatives I’ve been able to ask. But … he’d had a daughter, born about 1905. And although experience should have taught me otherwise, my head instantly filled with fantasies of collateral kin, rediscovered cousins and unmined troves of memorabilia.
Unfortunately, the first sign that these would remain fantasies came early: a 1946 entry in the New York City Death Records Index that looked an awful lot like Catherine. I jotted down the certificate number and put it on a list of items to look up on an upcoming trip to the New York City Municipal Archives in downtown Manhattan.
This was actually one of those times that I half-hoped I had the wrong person in the index. My inner schoolteacher told me sternly that it was best to know the facts, however disappointing: Most likely she’d perished, unmarried and childless, of pneumonia, or cancer, or whatever. The dreamer inside me responded: Yes, yes, of course – but what if?
Funny how when you’re mulling two pet possibilities, you get blindslided by a third. This is what happened when I scrolled through the microfilm and hit Catherine’s death certificate.
Father: William Haigney
Mother: Sarah Dowd King Haigney
Sigh. It really was her. Oh, well.
Cause of death: Fractured skull, subdural hemorrhage, lacerated brain.
“Holy @#$@,” I said to the microfilm machine.
“Excuse me?” said the person next to me, who very fortunately was plugged into an MP3 player and was only reacting to the sight of my lips moving. (I hope.)
I re-read the cause line. It said what I thought it said.
Very dramatic, I thought, my brain going temporarily foggy. But let’s not get carried away. Maybe it wasn’t really sinister. Maybe it was a chronic disease of some sort that … that fractures skulls and lacerates …
Never mind that. Back to facts. Who was the doctor, and where had he examined her?
Oh. He was a coroner. And he’d seen her at the Kings County Morgue.
Well, then. That does sound legitimately dramatic.
It took a while to settle down and actually look critically at the certificate, so hard did I have to work at readjusting my expectations. I’m a big girl and I know that not everyone dies in their beds. Still, I had trouble assimilating the intense contrast this certificate posed to what I’d hoped to find.
And the facts on the death certificate don’t help. Catherine’s job was listed as “usher, theater,” similar to the occupation listed for her in the 1930 census – cashier, theater. The date of death was September 18, 1946 in Kings County Hospital. On that same date, a Kings County medical examiner took charge of her remains at the morgue. But the death certificate wasn’t filled out and filed until Oct. 1, and the informant was Catherine’s maternal uncle, James Dowd.
So why the gap between the date of death and the filing of the certificate? Had Catherine’s body lain unidentified in the morgue for two weeks, or was this just the result of having to wait for an investigation to run its course? And how did she receive the fatal injury?
According to the certifiate, Catherine’s death was turned over to the medlcal examiner for investigation. There was a number for a coroner’s case file, which I’ve requested. It might have some answers. Until then, my questions (and my unruly imagination) will have to be put on hold.