This past May, we toured the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I won’t lie; I had mixed feelings about being a tourist there. I also won’t lie about the museum; I found it stunning in every sense of that word, including the darker sense. It was almost too good at evoking spiraling sensations of confusion, grief and fear.
Overall, I was glad I went with my children, one of whom was four and the other not yet born on that day in 2001. The event is moving from raw memory into history, which presents its own re-discoveries. I always thought I’d told all my stories to my kids, but the museum knocked a few more pieces loose. I had never told them about our little cache of September 11 items that mean something to us, if nothing much in the large scheme of things. Things like the singed scraps of office memos that my husband grabbed unthinkingly as they flew down from the sky underneath the towers. Or the ticket for the dry cleaning to remove the film of dust that settled on his suit. Even (strangest of all!) a sympathy card addressed to me from an anonymous well-wisher, who mistook my husband for a man of the same name who died.
Powerful as the memorial museum is, I can only recommend it with caution. It can cut far too close to home for some people, like my friend who fled her nearby apartment that day, joining a stream of disoriented humanity who were all wondering what the world had come to, and what might possibly happen next. She told me she probably wouldn’t be visiting the museum for a while.
Made sense to me.
For more memories and thoughts, I still think that the collections at the September 11 Digital Archive are well worth a browse.
Two years ago I was in a road-cycling crash, which left me the proud possessor of an itty-bit of metal in place of a piece of my elbow bone. It also left me extremely wary of getting back on the bike, even though I could have broken far worse things than an elbow. Like, this summer is the first time I’ve started riding farther than the supermarket. To confess all.
So when I recently puffed my way through my local park on what I optimistically called a “cross-training walk,” I almost hid behind a bush when my Very Fit Friend (who has run marathons, including the Big One at Boston) entered the path just ahead of me. But she saw me, and suggested we walk together.
Turned out that my friend, although she could still walk me into the dust if she wasn’t feeling kind, was also coming back from an injury.
I told her I didn’t know what I was thinking when I kept going on longer and longer group rides with a crowd whose attachment to bike gadgetry made me increasingly uneasy – all that watching the RPMs and rearview mirrors and heart monitors instead of the road was bound to end in grief for somebody. She told me she couldn’t believe, in retrospect, how hard she pushed herself through one of the worst winters in recent memory, dodging traffic, skidding on ice patches. While neither of us regrets our fitness goals and accomplishments, we’re both re-evaluating what we were doing, and what we want to do next.
This made me thoughtful about those times in life when the forward momentum burns fiercely enough that the risk is not in falling behind, but losing track. For instance: genealogy (of course there is a tie-in).
My hard-charging cycling summer reminds me a bit of how it feels right after I’ve made a breakthrough – like the time I finally confirmed the identity of the family to which my Connors great-grandmother belonged. Oh, that was a time! What a huge family, how many offshoots and collaterals and half-thises and step-thats! I got a bit drunk with power and adrenaline, shoveling names onto the family tree program.
But at length I did slow down, as I always do, and asked myself: What next?
I mean, I could keep adding names. But how much did I actually care about the third great-grandparents of the spouse of a first cousin twice removed? What is the value added?
A long time ago I decided that I was more interested in stories than lists. Which means that every so often I stop collecting the names and start researching the facts behind them. Which means that at genealogy conferences, sooner or later I end up being made fun of by somebody whose database entries number in the thousands rather than my paltry hundreds. (And here I was thinking my paltry hundreds are overkill.)
This is not to say that either of us is wrong. But yes, it’s about the goals, and pulling yourself up by the side of the road every so often, and checking the map, and asking yourself: What I am I doing here?
Is it really where I want to be?
 It is merely to say that I am right.
My dad knew his way around a kitchen, but he did not cook every day. He preferred to be known for a selection of specialties, a niche he could comfortably occupy while my mom did the day-in, day-out job of cooking for the nine of us.
The dishes for which Dad was famous included:
A hearty version of Irish stew;
A snappy, spicy Manhattan clam chowder;
Liver and onions, for which I can’t supply a positive adjective, sorry.
And when summertime rolled around, Dad was famous for his potato and macaroni salads.
Dad never made just a little salad. He always filled at least one, preferably two, cafeteria-style stainless-steel trays, which my parents happened to have on hand, along with a commercial deli-style slicing machine. We were not in the deli business; we simply had this stuff. As a kid, I assumed everybody did.
When Dad cooked, he usually took over the kitchen for the day, regarding the arrival of kids wanting lunch as an act of aggression, or at least an unreasonable intrusion. If you hung around, you might find yourself peeling potatoes. (“KP”, he called it.) Dad’s salads had no fancy secret ingredients. He thought that putting relish in macaroni salad was an abomination and that chopped hard-boiled eggs were overkill.
Still, decades after my dad died, I will occasionally hear wistful comments about “those wonderful salads your father used to make.” And they were wonderful — reserved for special occasions like Fourth of July barbecues or First Communion parties. Over the years I have tried to replicate them, without success. The true secret was in the dressing, I have come to believe, and Dad made his dressing in completely unscientific fashion, eyeballing quantities and shaking everything up in an empty Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar. He’d have driven a recipe editor crazy, and having been one myself, I ought to know.
Sometimes when you give up trying on a dish, you find it anyway, or at least, you find its essence. Recently I hosted a First Communion buffet lunch at my house for 40 people. In between bouts of questioning my sanity, I found a large-scale recipe for pasta salad. It is extremely different from Dad’s, with corkscrew noodles and steamed broccoli florets and a bunch of other things he’d disdain. And yet — something about it reminded me of his macaroni salad. Maybe it was the dressing.
See what you think on the jump.
Via The New York Times, here’s nifty interactive data to play with: a look at migration patterns within the United States since 1900.
State by state, this graphic offers a snapshot of where its inhabitants have moved (or how many of them have stayed put) by percentages over the years. You can either scroll down to read through the states alphabetically, or select a state at the top of the page to jump wherever you want.
Deftly done — and for USians, it’s interesting to check against what we know about our own ancestors’ wanderings. (And thanks to Mr. Archaeologist for the tip!)
Been a while since I did one of these — and this sure came in handy the other day:
Befuddled by someone’s Beruf? This is a collection of dozens of archaic German words describing what people did for a living. For me, it cleared up the designation “Komiss” on a manifest. This term (and similar ones such as Kommerziant) were used to describe sales clerks and the like.
I found it easiest to use when I did a text search on the term I was wondering about. Lots and lots of words here — maybe you’ll find one of them useful.
We have Milan Tyler-Pohontsch at European Roots to thank for this fascinating list.
It’s tough to explain the satisfactions of genealogy to nonparticipants. And I completely understand their bewilderment. Why does anyone want to traipse around cemeteries cooing over tombstones? What exactly is so much fun about libraries?
But there’s one thing that everybody seems to get, even the most bored and impatient of listeners:
It’s really, really nice to find the lost babies.
That’s what I call those children who lived and died between census years, the ones who exist perhaps as a question mark on an old family data sheet, or — in the case of my great-great aunt Rose (Connors) Brant — as a statistical squiggle on the census returns.
Rose (1860-1914) had six children, six living, when she and her family were counted in the U.S. federal census in Jersey City in 1900. When 1910 rolled around, she was the mother of eight children, seven living, her youngest child being born in about 1905. On my genealogy program, Rose’s tally was four pink circles for the girls, three for the boys, and one Unknown, which, in Reunion anyway, is a white space.
Those white Unknown spaces sadden me to no end, and the mysteries they contain can stay unresolved for years, sometimes for always. Happily, this particular mystery occurred when civil registration for vitals was well under way in New Jersey.
At the state archives in Trenton, births for earlier years are filed by certificate number.To find one, you need to examine an index reel that is arranged by year and parents’ surnames. Since Rose’s two youngest surviving children were born in 1900 and 1905, that meant she could have had a child in between — or she could have had a child after 1905, but before 1910. I decided to try that earlier time frame first, seeing as Rose was already nearing age 40 in 1900.
And very soon I found her missing child — a little boy, born just before Christmas 1902, and dead of meningitis by September 1903. I was saddened at how brief his life was. But it still felt good to type a name over that “Unknown,” and convert the white tag to blue. It’s strange to think how a life can be reduced to a set of numbers scrawled on a census tally sheet — and satisfying when you can be the person who puts a name where there was once just a statistic.
I never pass a cemetery without a second look, or a third, or even pulling over to take a fourth.
So when a chance came to tour two landmark Catholic cemeteries in Jersey City, I put on my sturdiest, ugliest walking shoes and met up on a lovely June Saturday morning with other members of the Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society. On the agenda: an in-depth look at St. Peter’s Cemetery, on Tonnelle Avenue, and sprawling, gorgeous Holy Name on West Side Avenue, final home to many prominent (and in some cases infamous) figures from Jersey City’s past.
We carpooled to St. Peter’s, a good thing because St. Peter’s has to be one of the trickiest cemeteries to access anywhere. This might sound cheeky to those who must hack their way to ancestors in overgrown rural burying grounds, but there are other hazards in life besides brambles, and Tonnelle Avenue (a k a U.S. Highways 1 and 9) is one of them.