Here’s a beautiful, deeply satisfying story to start off the weekend. The topic is familiar to a lot of us genealogists – the unprecedented ability of today’s online searching to reconnect siblings split by adoption. I don’t care how many of these stories I hear, I love them afresh every time. And the story of how Iris Ojeda Burkart (born Iris Guzman) found her true roots brought me to tears, more than once.
In 2003, when the first Burkart grandchild was born, his nursery was decorated with a giant tree painted on the wall, which Iris suggested be made into a family tree. On one side, [her husband’s] family flourished on the many leaves and branches. Iris’ side was naked by comparison.
“I’m a stump,” she often said, jokingly.
The writing, by Nicole Brochu of the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, is impressively clear and precise as well as emotional – a major challenge when tackling a complex story with a large cast of characters. It’s well worth a read. (It’s behind a paywall, but with the option of registering for a limited amount of free articles per month.)
Be sure to check out the timeline that accompanies the story. It contains two intervals that say everything about the way genealogy investigations have changed just in this millennium.
One is the 23 years between 1991, the year Iris located her birth certificate and the names of her biological parents, and June 2014, when she was given an Ancestry subscription as a gift. The other is the four months between that June and October 2014, when Iris’ great-niece signed on to Ancestry as well and the puzzle was finally solved. Admittedly, in this sprawling story, many factors complicated the search – older relatives’ reluctance to talk about what happened, for instance. And sure, a bit of luck was involved, as it always is. But a huge fact remains: Back in the day, it was just ridiculously hard to pursue cases like this long-distance.
I don’t look back on genealogy’s pre-Internet era as the good old days. Looking back, I realize I wanted to start my family history explorations about ten years before I actually did. The trouble was, I lived a thousand miles away from where my ancestors once lived, money was short, and there simply was no cheap way to do it. Like Iris and her siblings, I was stuck, hampered by lack of time and resources.
We often say, and it is true, that the online searching is not the entire picture. But it is a start. And it allows more people to get started more easily, with more chance of success, than ever was the case before the advent of the World Wide Web.
… That’s how long it’s been since this little blogging endeavor got off the ground.
What’s happened since 2009 in my personal genealogy hunting, you might ask? Well, I’ve had my share of discoveries, some satisfying and some simply bizarre.
Like finally confirming the identity of my Connors ancestors in Watervliet, N.Y., for example, along with their offshoots in Jersey City, which, in turn, solved a little mystery that was the subject of one of my very first posts.
I discovered that there is indeed such a thing as a “butt factory.”
There are ongoing, tantalizingly incomplete stories to unravel. For example, the great-aunt on our German side who had immigrated to New York City, unknown to anyone. How did my grandfather manage to forget to mention a sister? She was a real mystery for a few years there. I know more about her rather complicated story now, with still more to unravel (and write about, in due course).
Or the story of Patrick Hageney of Troy, N.Y.: Famine-era immigrant, tailor, question mark. There are many indications, but unfortunately no smoking-gun evidence, that he’s a brother of my great-great-grandfather Martin Haigney. Will I ever be satisfied on this point?
Or on any point? Are any of us ever completely satisfied with the state of our genealogy research?
Probably not. But stay tuned. And thanks for reading.
Class, which of you can identify the object pictured below?
Bonus points to anyone who actually owns one of these. For more clues, click onward.
“They told me, ‘It must have been your grandfather or your great-grandfather.’ They thought I was lying and looked at me like I was crazy.” — Hazel Jeter, daughter (that’s right, daughter) of Civil War veteran Silas D. Mason, First Maine Cavalry
As a nice coda to Veterans Day observances, check out this National Geographic piece on a select segment of U.S. citizens: the living sons and daughters of Civil War veterans. It’s a very select group – the Geographic puts their number at less than 35 – but honestly, that’s pretty good even so, considering that Appomattox was nearly 150 years ago. The piece includes wonderful quotes from the “children,” all in their 90s and upward, along with the Geographic’s typically vivid photography.
Four years ago, I wrote about the fascination of extended genealogical timelines. The cornerstone of that post was the living grandchildren of John Tyler (1790-1862), 10th president of the U.S. from 1841-45 – as in “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” for those of you who keep track of political slogans. They are still going about their business, as evidenced by the current genealogy at SherwoodForest.org, the website of the Tyler family plantation in Virginia. One of the grandsons, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, gave a delightful interview to New York Magazine in January 2012. (By the way, I wouldn’t mind paying a visit someday to Sherwood Forest, which is still in Tyler family hands. According to the website, it even has its own ghost.)
I always love these reminders that, useful as it is to include “typical” generational ranges in sorting out genealogical problems, humans can always throw you for a loop by reproducing when they darn well feel like it.
There are so very many ways (and people) to commemorate on Veterans Day, but being a Garden State enterprise, the blog takes the occasion to shine a spotlight on the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just off the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel, behind the Garden State Arts Center. Official Veterans Day commemorations at the memorial are set for 11 a.m. today, organized by the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation.
• One goal of the Biography Project coordinated by the foundation is to ensure that there’s a photograph to correspond with each name on New Jersey’s Vietnam memorial wall. There are still more than 300 names without photographs. Check the list to see if maybe you recognize one of them and can help.
• A few months ago Sue Kaufman, who with Ivan Kossak writes the always interesting Hidden New Jersey blog, posted a lovely and fascinating piece about Captain Eleanor Alexander, the only woman among the 1,563 New Jerseyans killed in Vietnam. It also links to a vivid and heartfelt letter from Captain Alexander’s fellow nurse Rhona Prescott, who pays tribute to a “supernurse, the backbone of the O.R.”
Michelle’s post will also bring you up to speed on the legislative background behind New Jersey’s state censuses, and why they ended, in case you are like me and find this sort of thing extremely satisfying to know. Thanks, Jersey Roots!
Once you’ve fiddled with GPS coordinates and old address books and decided that you’ve located a great candidate for your ancestor’s Catholic church on a present-day map — you do not want to find out it was only founded sixteen years ago. Save yourself some grief with …
It also covers some of the parish mergers that make genealogy in these urban parts so interesting nowadays, although it may not be 100 percent up to date in that department. It’s a starting point, anyway.