Seen Over The Weekend: Armchair Travels

This time of year, I dream of exotic travels. Then I look at my actual travel budget and remind myself that staying at home can also be broadening. Plus, the kids’ passports need to be updated. But here are some dreamy travel links anyway.

• Summer vacation season, unfortunately, is also pickpocketing season in tourist destinations. American-in-Paris David Lebovitz gives an interesting rundown of scams and behaviors to guard against if you’re visiting his adopted home. I think it’s pretty good advice for tourists anywhere, personally.

• 2013 is Ireland’s official Family History Year, as good a reason as any to schedule that long-awaited Emerald Isle roots-research trip. The Irish American News ran an item about two genealogy research package tours sponsored by the Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA).

• Or cruise to Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on a Genealogy Conference and Cruise hosted by Wholly Genes, Inc.

• The Chicago Tribune ran this quick rundown of typical roots research/vacation destinations in Germany.



History Reconsidered, Via Newsreel

Another modern methodology story:

It was 100 years ago this month that a suffragist named Emily Wilding Davison surged onto the track at Epsom at the Derby, throwing herself under the hooves of the King’s racehorse and sustaining fatal injuries in a suicidal bid to draw attention to the fight for women’s voting rights.

Or did she?

Many historians have argued that Davison was not suicidal — there was a return train ticket in her pocket, and she had made plans to go on holiday with her sister shortly after the Derby. In that case, what was she doing? Some have argued that Davison merely intended to dash across the track waving a suffragist banner, and she misjudged the timing. Others believed she intended to attach a flag to King George V’s horse, Anmer.

But that newfangled development, the newsreel, was very much in place at the 1913 Derby. As Guardian reporter Vanessa Thorpe writes, there were three newsreel cameras rolling. Today’s sophisticated imaging technology, plus fresh, cleaned-up images from the original nitrate stock, literally brought the event into clearer focus, strongly suggesting that Davison, while on a very risky mission, wasn’t intending to kill herself.

One of the wonderful things about new techniques like digital film analysis is the reminder that history can be a rather fluid thing. The new things we learn have the ability to firm up the outlines of established pictures, or shift them into new shapes.

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Emily Davison (at left) and jockey Herbert Jones on the ground at the Derby in Epsom, 1913. Hulton Archive photo reproduced on

Ancestral Secrets + DNA, Royal Edition

Princess-Of-Wales-princess-diana-32114836-220-254So DNA testing has unveiled a hidden ancestral mystery in the family chart of Diana, one-time Princess of Wales. It’s a very modern story, both in the technology it uses and the philosophical attitude with which the revelations are handled in the article.

Eliza Kewark, the distant maternal ancestor in question, was quite likely of half-Indian heritage, according to testing firm BritainsDNA. But in family accounts she was described as being of Armenian descent to obscure what was, in the early 19th century,  considered an unacceptable background for an Englishwoman seeking to make a respectable marriage.

It was nice to see how this story comes across as both interesting and somehow … well, typical. The combination of DNA technology and increased honesty in reporting out research is making these stories just another part of the genealogical landscape, as they’ve always been, or should have been.

Resource Spotlight: Catholic Churches Map

As I just said, I’ve spent a few hours reconsidering and reorganizing my links section here, which meant looking — I mean, REALLY looking — at my bookmarks. I don’t want the links sidebar to become Godzilla, but that meant leaving out some neat bookmarks. Hence:

Resource Spotlight!

Today’s Spotlight is a beautiful little Google map of Brooklyn Catholic Churches.


This was created by Google user patatie in 2009, and lists a couple of dozen Brooklyn R.C. parishes, along with the dates they were established. I am not entirely sure that it is comprehensive, but it is a nice, quick glance at parishes in Brooklyn, and will certainly give you a good idea of just how localized Catholic identity can get in this neck of the woods.

I have a number of these little tools and snippets hanging around my bookmarks, and I’ll continue to highlight some of the more interesting ones.

Housekeeping Notes

What I really should be doing is some actual washing of woodwork, but it is much easier to clean up the blog.

I’ve been wanting to revamp my links section for a while, ever since I changed into my new shiny theme. The link area was getting unwieldy and uncategorized, and therefore not particularly useful.

So I got into organizational mode (yes, stop the presses) and cleaned it up, with a greater emphasis on resources I’ve found handy over the last few years. If you’ve read me at all, you know I come of a 50-50 Irish/German mix. This is now duly categorized, along with my main U.S. areas of New Jersey and New York.

The Family History section, I admit, is a bit of a mixed bag. That’s because I think that when we write up our research, at least some of us will want to include touches that personalize our ancestors — what they ate, how they amused themselves, how they got to work every day. So sure, I’ll put in links about old movie theaters or vintage cookbooks, et cetera, along with some of the national sites for established genealogical organizations. I suppose this category could split again into “Genealogy Organizations” and “Cultural Stuff” and “Writing Stuff”, but one has to call a halt somewhere.

A couple of links were broken — ugh, sorry about that. I hate broken links. I think that’s all cleaned up now, but if you find something that doesn’t work, let me know.

SCGS Jamboree: Parting Glances

On my last morning in California, I was walking around Altadena in the company of my sister-in-law and her adorable little terrier mix Jack, admiring the flora and getting it all wrong. She and Jack were being lovely and patient about it.


“No, actually that’s lantana,” my sister-in-law said. (Well, it did look like this variety of cosmos, a little bit. And a few yards later, someone was actually growing some. So there.)

“Ooooh, what’s that? It looks like wisteria.”


“No, that’s jacaranda.”


At least I knew a boat when I saw one.


Funny thing about Southern California, though: For all the hard-to-identify plants and ruthlessly speedy drivers, it has a way of making you feel at home very quickly. As my oldest kid said once on a previous visit, staring up at the starry night sky over the mountains: “I think I see what this California thing is all about.”

As I mentioned, I had never been to the Southern California Genealogical Society’s remarkable Jamboree before this year. Yet it felt like I’d been there a dozen times before — everyone running around organizing things was just so nice. I will admit that I winced upon being issued a “First Timer” ribbon for my conference badge — what is this, Pledge Week? — but nobody made me do pushups or carry their backpacks or anything like that. They just kept things running smoothly and, despite what must have been a fiendish amount of work, smiled and laughed more than any East Coaster ignorant of local plant life had a right to expect.

So, despite my newbie status, I could relax and wander the exhibit hall …


… and parachute in on any number of interesting presentations. Beyond the extremely worthwhile talks on methodology and sources, Jamboree offered some interesting glimpses of genealogy-related products and services. (Conferences in general are a relatively painless way to sample these, I must say.) A recurring theme in lectures and casual conversation was linking up genealogy to a generation raised on Twitter and Tumblr. I found some generalizations on this topic to be, well, generalizations. For instance, there seems to be a well-entrenched idea floating around out there that kids don’t read and write anymore, whereas to judge from my daughters’ experiences with Tumblr and online fiction-writing forums, the new age is giving them opportunities to express themselves in this department that I would have killed for, back in the day.


Then again, maybe that idea is floating around out there, too. I heard Tammy Hepps (above) of Treelines demonstrate a system of sharing family stories and pictures that seemed to be pulling in a lot of what I’ve noticed in the way my kids read and write and share online — visual interest and flexibility in how much and what you write being biggies. I have not yet actually tried Treelines myself, but I’m going to give it a whirl and report back.

Back on the learning and development front, I found Dr. James Ryan’s lectures on Irish sources very valuable. Saturday, he talked about land records in illuminating detail; Sunday, he frequently had us in stitches during his talk on “Strange And Unusual Sources for Irish Family History” (trust me, it can get strange, strange, strange). And Paula Stuart-Warren’s Sunday session on developing step-by-step research plans included hands-on, audience-participation examples that proved to me, once again, that I must never assume I am incapable of being surprised on the genealogy front. Also, it gave me lots to do on the flight back East as I scribbled notes for all the tweaks I am now making on what I once thought were comprehensive research plans.

Thanks for the memories, SCGS, and congratulations on your 50th-anniversary year. Hopefully I won’t be a stranger anymore. And I promise to take a better picture of the Hollywood sign next time. Honest.


NewsClips: Oh, Come ON.

This NewsClip has nothing to do with my ancestors; it just happened to be at the top of a page that did. But the headline was an eyecatcher:


[Aside: Don’t you love that old-school use of a verb with an implied subject? I used to be a copyeditor. I notice this stuff.]

Anyway: I laughed out loud. Fortunately I had already swallowed my mouthful of coffee.

“What is it?”asked Mr. Archaeologist from behind his smartphone. I read him the headline.

“Oh, they mean the mice chewed through a wire and caused an electrical fire. Happens all the time.” Mr. Archaeologist is a casualty actuary. He makes it his business to know how disasters happen, whether caused by mice or men.

But he was wrong this time!

Fire which gutted the kitchen of John W. Clancy, Twelfth avenue and 150th street, Whitestone, while Mrs. Clancy and her three children were asleep upstairs, was caused by mice igniting matches.

You don’t believe me? Check this out. (And no, it was not even April Fools’ Day.)

Whitestone mice. They’re tough.

Queens Daily Star, Thursday, 11 October 1928, Page 7, Col. 5.

Queens Daily Star, Thursday, 11 October 1928, Page 7, Col. 5.