Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What classifies a recent photo

Having photos in your genealogy is great I would say even essential.  But what is the best way to keep them up to date and how should you update them?  The good news is that genealogy is a history subject rather than an missing person search(even thought it can be that at times too).  By this I mean that you are not handing out these photos for identification but a representation of what the people looked like at a point in time. 

Importance of updated pictures
Updated pictures are important if your are going to a reunion and want to know who you will be seeing.  If all your photos are from the 1970's you will be assured that you will not be able to identify anyone.  The baby is now 35 years old.  So having updated images can be helpful in this purpose.

Getting updated photo
 The best way to get updated photos is a "take it when you see them" mentality.  It may behoove you to start to bring a digital camera to function and trying to get a mug shot of everyone to connect to their profile in your genealogy.  Some functions such as family reunions lend themselves to this more than others (i.e.funerals).  Also scanning in pictures from Christmas cards is a way to update photos as well   Anytime you see the person or a picture of a person that is more recent than the one you have you should find a way to capture it.

Final photos
The fact is that over a lifetime people are constantly changing.  So having the best photo of person attached to them in your genealogy is important.  How do you want to remember them?  Just because a person died at 80 does not mean that you have to have a photo of them at 79 as the primary picture of them in the genealogy.  Having a picture of them as young and vibrant may better suit your purposes of telling the story of their life.  


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

When bad things happen

Great Uncle Bob was a cattle thief in Texas... Aunt Bertha lived in a insane asylum for 20 years.  Uncle Ted died of a drug overdose.  These events tell part of the genealogy story and are interesting, but what is the best way to document uncomfortable situations that happen in life.

Life is not perfect and our genealogy should reflect that.  Thought we must be tactful when documenting the tragedies of other family members.

/*Phone Rings*/
A: Hello
B: Hi this is cousin Joe, I just need to get the proper spelling of the prison that your husband was sentenced to last week.  It for my genealogy, thanks.
 A: /* hangs up phone */

This example is not the proper tack and too soon.

Dealing with difficult situations take discretion.  Does the family want the event recorded.  It is significant enough to merit recording.  I once had the family of a distant cousin request removal of a divorced spouse because of a domestic violence situation they didn't want to see his name in writing or have anything to do with him.  A situation like that is a judgement call on the part of the genealogist.  Alienate the family for the sake of the future generations or follow their wishes and be without one name?

Purpose and relevance
The devil is in the details.  Why are you recording this information.  There is a difference between Grandpa Joe was in juvenile hall for a week when he was 12 and Uncle Sal was sentenced to 30 to life when he was 40.  The relevance and the impact on the family tree are judgement calls. 

Not over yet
There is also the issue of closure.  There are many wonderful stories of people coming out of tragic turning their lives around and becoming productive citizens. Just because some one is down does not mean they are out and it may behoove you to not enter the story until they complete it.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Recording Other Religous Events

As genealogies we are fixated on BMD(birth, marriage, death) but what about other significant events in peoples life, specifically religious events.  While you may not share the religious tradition with that person or know the meaning of the event, having it in the family history can be significant for future generations.  Having documentation (photos, invitations etc.) adds to the overall picture of the person. 
Beyond the wedding.  
While a majority of weddings have some kind of religion meaning affiliated with them and we note the date the two people married.  We should go beyond that for more religious families.  I heard a joke from a priest that the people now a days come to his church to hatch, match and dispatch.  (translation: baptism, marriage and burial).  If that is the trend, capturing religious events might not apply to your family.  

In some families it is significant and should be recorded.  I am talking about events like confirmations, first communions and  bar mitzvahs, possibly expanding to ordination into ministry.  These kind of events usually don’t grace the pages of our genealogy book, but it would interesting to see where and when granddad received a religious sacrament.

I’m not saying you have to record every place or time the little Joey goes to Sunday School (though you could).  But noting the significant events (that require a Hallmark card) no matter the faith tradition or your own understanding of it’s significance.  This could even be an opportunity to talk with someone about what it means to them to receive this event and include that in the genealogy too.   


Monday, May 5, 2014

Asking for a resume?

In the olden days people apprenticed for and became an occupation, usually in the family.  People were farmers or blacksmiths and that’s what they did.  In more recent times people worked for a company for a lifetime then retired with their pension (“Great Uncle Joe worked for Bethlehem Steel”).  You may not have the actual job but you knew he was a steelworker. As genealogist we had that information in the records filed under occupation.  

The problem is that occupation is not longer occupation.  People move from company to company and from job to job and it is getting harder to document all the transitions in peoples lives.  The solution is to get the information straight from the horse's mouth and ask for a resume.  If a person is willing to give a resume to a random HR person, why not the family genealogist?  

Having a resume tracks the timeline of where a person worked and what they did.  So if Aunt Sue was a corporate mogul then quit to open a cupcake shop, you have a record of it.  This does not even have to be the person’s “official” resume.  It is more of a work history with dates, company and job title.  Having this you can keep up with the past work history and come back for future changes.  

If the person does not have a resume just go through and ask where they worked, when and for how long.  Write up the work history and add it to the family story.

People are more mobile than ever and job titles can be deceiving about what they actually do. Asking for a resume and putting into your software is a novel way to document occupation.  So if a future generation goes to work for IBM, instead of saying "your Uncle Bill worked there in the 1980's" you can say "Uncle Bill worked there from 1985-1988 as a Systems Analyst in the Washington DC field office."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One story... One recipe... with meaning

Note: Thank you to all of you for the well wishes on the birth of my child.  Mother and baby are doing well.  

One Story...

Summer is a time for family gatherings and functions (or dysfunction depending on your family).  This is also a time for what I refer to as “genealogy on the go”.  This is the time when you have family members that you may only see once a year and you don’t have a lot of time to sit with in depth conversation with everyone(or anyone sometimes).  But it is still a great time to gather useful stories to add to your genealogy records.

During this time together it is great to get one good story that you are unfamiliar with, how people met, first dates, military time.and the like.  This will get you interesting information that you did not know before.  Avoid controversial subjects and keep it light.  I recently got a recap of my fathers time during the draft and I know that the first date my grandparents went on was to see Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (my grandmother fell asleep during the movie).  These short concise stories allow for more conversation than the typical “how have you been” conversations that can lead to nothing.  I once witnessed two of my relative talking that have not seen each other in over a decade and the conversation went as follows”

R1: “And how have things been going with you?”
R2: “Same old, Same old.”
So much for open ended questions.

But quick jogs down memory lane even if others know the story and you don’t, unless they have them written down, nobody will know the story in fifty years and we will have more questions than answers.  These are interesting party conversations that make up genealogy for the future generations that can be passed down while not taking a lot of time to get the story.

One recipe...

Many families have a traditional food that always makes its way onto the holiday table.  This may be something that everyone likes or may be something that nobody likes.  But what is the story behind this food and how did it come to land on our table.  It’s too easy to say “grandma always had it for Christmas”.  Try and find out why grandma had it, was it native to the area she grew up?  Was it something brought over from the old country?  

My personal family food is Hominy, a white corn product.  I was never sure what it was but it appeared on the table year after year.  I had no problem with it, it was tasty, but no one outside of my family knew what i was talking about when I referred to it.  My family food origin came from my grandmothers Pennsylvania Dutch roots as it was a tradition for them.  

Finding out the origin of a food that is always there brings more genealogical significance to it, though it may not make it taste better .  You may also want to look into getting the recipe  so even if you don’t like the particular dish you can have a record that it exist so that if someone down the road wanted to see what it was like it will not only be the stuff of legends but something that is tangible and repeatable and full of memories and meaning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More to come soon

Just a note that I will not be updating for the next couple of weeks as my wife and I are expecting a new baby.  In chaos of bring home the new bundle of joy I will not be able to publish as frequently as usual. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do not forget about the living...especally the elderly and the interesting

Older relatives (relatively speaking) provide tremendous insight into the past.  This is a source of information that is commonly overlooked as we are searching the library for dates from centuries ago.  This website is all about getting the story of relatives and going “beyond the date” and conversation with the living is an excellent way to do that.   

It not just “the elderly” but also about “the interesting”, both have their purpose in your genealogy.  The goal is about documenting the story for your interest but also for future generations when they decide to take an interest (and that could be a while).  

The Elderly
First the elderly are a window into the past and their stories will not be here forever, if you don’t get the stories now they may take them with them when they go.  Anyone who has been doing family research has regrets about stories they would have liked to have heard about or questions they would have liked to asked to older relatives.  Even simple questions like “Did you have any aunts or uncles” could have answered many questions had they been asked.  But some relatives take extremely useful(from a research perspective) answers with them or simply forget over time.  So getting to them as soon as possible it necessary.  

Depending on your age you may be the oldest living relative if that is the case thats ok, write down your childhood memories.  Did you remember your parents? your grandparents? what were they like what memories to do you have of them.  Family stories about the great- great grandfather who was in the Civil War would never wear a grey suit.  Or the Great uncle that never wore shoes.  These kind of stories need to be written down or they won’t get passed down.  

If you are not the oldest who is, what do they remember?  Everyone is different, some people have sharp vivid memories while others forget information shortly after hearing it.  Everyone is important and you might need to ask many people to get the full stories.  One might have a general idea and another might have a fuller picture but there is also the chance that a third person will say that the first two were wrong.    

Make time and use technology (modern and old fashioned) Its all well and good to want to get these stories but the holder of the stories could live many hours or states(or countries)  away.  These stories are still valuable and still obtainable.   

The Interesting
The interesting, its not all about the elderly that have stories to tell.  Most people have fairly typical current stories to tell they were married in a certain year they have 2.5 children and have worked in a particular field for so many years.  These stories are important and need to be documented, but the interesting stories a the atypical ones that should be documented more in depth.  This category is the one that falls out of the norm.  Is there a half-uncle in Alaska?  How did he end up there and why did he stay?  Is there an uncle that was a cook on cargo ships for 20 years?  What memories does he have of that experience?  Some of these stories can be turn out to be sad but sometimes they turn out to defining experience in the lives of the people you are talking to.

The elderly in the interesting have stories to tell we just need to get to them and get them documented before they forget them or take them with them.

My next post i will offer 10 tips for interviewing the living for genealogy purposes.