Friday, June 29, 2007

Independent Thinking

I leave town early tomorrow morning so I am posting this a little earlier than I normally would.

July 1st is Canadian Independence Day, July 4th is US Independence Day. My great-grandfather Barney, when he entered the US for the first time in 1907, wrote down that his nationality was Canadian. He had likely been living there for 3 years. My suspicion is that he misunderstood the question, but it’s possible that he had officially become a Canadian citizen. This may not have been a complicated process since he was already a British citizen, and Canada wasn’t completely independent yet. On my mother’s side I have several relatives who discovered a need to leave the US and enter Canada in the late 1700s. So there is cause for me to celebrate July 1 as well as July 4.

My ancestral lines have never been shy from taking a stand — but we have often stood separately, from each other, and in some cases, from ourselves.

I am a Son of the Confederacy and of The Union. The Civil War was a war between brothers, and it was common that families split down the middle. (Especially in a border state like Missouri, though my ancestors who wore either blue or grey weren’t living here at the time.) I also have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War - loyalists and revolutionaries (link to a poem I wrote several years ago). One ancestor first went to a revolutionary camp, and after a few weeks, bolted, and joined the loyalist Butler’s Rangers. It’s not clear if it was a change of heart/mind, or if he discovered like the lost student he was in the wrong classroom.

Naturally, the Loyalists are those I mentioned above who found the need to speed over to Canada when the war was over.

We weren’t of divided mind during WWII. Both grandfathers and multiple great-uncles fought with the Allied Powers in various theaters. My father lost an uncle in France, and several relatives of my mother, who had remained in Romania, died in the concentration camps. I expect more relatives died there than we know, it’s just that much of our family genealogy stops on the border of the US, and we don’t know who remained. In my mom’s case, there were two survivors who migrated to Israel and started doing the research themselves to find us.

This first through fourth of July myself, my siblings, my parents, uncles, aunts and first-cousins will all be together, celebrating, in Costa Rica. We may not like the current administration, but this is no protest. We gather every few years for a reunion, in different locales, and we sought an extended-holiday weekend to plan around.

At these reunions, my parents’ generation always leads a discussion of family history. Passing on the stories they’ve been told, or have witnessed. I’m going to be expected to speak this year on my recent research. I shouldn’t be nervous; it’s my family. I’ve recited poetry in front of strangers. But then again — strangers are more forgiving (or at least more forgetful) than family.

Friday (not completely) Random Five

Music? I don’t listen to music at work.
In the past I’ve done five random books.
But this seemed to be appropriate due to my latest obsession.

Five names from various censi. (I’m not completely sure what type of noun the word ‘census’ comes from, and whether the Latin plural would be censi, not all Latin words that end in ‘us’ are declined in that manner, but what the heck, it sounds erudite.)

Belgium Bonn
Born: about 1915
Home in 1920: Syracuse, NY

Switzerland Savage
Born: about 1910
Home in 1910: Shelby, TN

Madrid Jordan
Born: about 1927
Home in 1930: Chicago, IL

Jerusalem Smith
Born: about 1836
Home in 1841: Warwickshire, England

Nagasaki Iataro
Born ? (age not given in this particular census)
Home in 1900: Kauai Island, Hawaii

Update: For those curious, but not curious enough to look it up, Census is a supine noun, which takes a fourth declension form. So the plural would be ‘census’ as well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Genealogy Bunk?

There’s an article in this month’s issue of Smithsonian talking about how ‘genealogy is bunk’. Some bloggers have already talked about it, such as here. Not having read the article, I’m not going to talk about it, except to think about why I have dived so furiously into this activity, and why I enjoy doing this, and why I don’t think it’s silly. (But honestly, being a member of science fiction/fantasy fandom, I am quite used to people thinking my activities are silly. What could possibly be sillier than dressing up as a jester and going to a renaissance festival, or dressing up in a Starfleet Uniform and going to a convention?)

One common accusation is that genealogists are seeking how they are related to Napoleon or Chaucer or Triboulet. Someone reading my blog might assume that is my intent, but actually the ancestral line that might actually tie me to Chaucer if the 20-sided-die rolls an 18 six times in a row is the line I am least interested in researching. I don’t want my mom to be offended by this, but one of her relatives has so researched the heck out of the tree, and has taken it back to the early 1600s, with certainty, there’s nothing left for me to do except try to prove/disprove the line to Chaucer, which is likely impossible, and I would rather just accept it. So if that were my intent, I’d be done.

I’d love to extend the other lines that far, including my maternal grandfather’s line, though it’s not going to happen. In Europe, there was a series of things called Pogroms and one major one called the Holocaust, that among other things destroyed most of the records I would need. And the records that do exist are mostly offline in Europe. I have a relative on my paternal side who has spent fifteen years, and traced one line back to the early 1800s in Lithuania, and it’s a little fuzzy there. She has had to actually go to Lithuania several times and spend weeks researching. In my mind she has set a marker indicating what’s possible with the most extreme effort. And I know I don’t have what it takes to make that effort, so I will just have to do what I can, and see what I find.

Genealogy for me is a puzzle. And one that matters to me personally. I love puzzles, and always have. My paternal grandfather taught/passed on a love for the crossword. As a child I had a subscription to Games magazine. Logic puzzles have always been my favorite though. Drawing the tables, and filling in the Xs from the clues given. No need for any trivial knowledge, just following a series of logical steps until conclusions are reached and the entire table is filled in successfully. That was what I enjoyed most when I was a computer programmer as well – the puzzle of getting the computer to do what you wanted it to do. Figuring out what was going wrong when it always did.

In 1987 my paternal grandfather was interviewed and recorded on his knowledge of family history. He talked about how his father, Barney, would say he was born in England, though my grandfather believed he was really born in Poland, and emigrated to England at 3 or 4. He also ‘knew’ that Barney, a brother, and their father explored North America – visiting Winnipeg, Memphis, and St. Louis before either returning to England, or sending for the rest of the family. There are certainly a lot of details there, but still somewhat fuzzy on particulars. In about a month of research, mostly sitting on my butt in front of a computer terminal, I have found English census records, ship manifests and other records documenting some of their life in England, and the multiple oceancrossings, and of course, raising more questions.

I know now that Barney’s brother Sol didn’t make the initial trip. (Older than Barney, and recently married, I suspect he stayed home as a means of support for the women and children.) The father and son left England in 1904, and were in Winnipeg for 3 years. (That 3 years was one of the bigger surprises; I’m not sure anyone in my family expected that their exploration was that lengthy. Maybe they needed 3 years to earn enough money to make the return trip. [Update: Actually, they were only in Canada for 3 months]) In 1907 they crossed the Canadian border, and that’s how I know how long they’d been in Canada, because the border crossing document includes this information. It also says they’re headed for St. Paul, MN…a surprise…to join a heretofore unknown cousin…and I’m not sure yet if they ever went. I have the ship manifest from 1908 when they returned, with Sol, at Ellis Island. So obviously they weren’t in the US long. And the ship manifest when the wives and children arrived five months later. All the Ellis Island records say they’re headed for Memphis. And the 1909 one includes an address the father and two sons were now allegedly living at in Memphis. However, one month later, Sol’s wife gives birth in St. Louis. And in 1910 (the census) all of them are clearly in St. Louis. So there are a lot of questions I have about the immigration to America, but a lot of the pieces are also falling into place, and my family knows a lot more than it used to.

Does this information matter? Not in the grand scheme of things. But if we want to get philosophical – nothing matters. Nothing at all. The Earth will continue rotating on its axis until the universe comes to an end. Instead of getting all depressed about this, and committing mass suicide – paralleling Disney’s false portrayal of lemmings – cheer up! Real lemmings don’t act that way, and neither should humans! Life is what we make of it. So we should all do what we enjoy. Though it’s nice to do what we enjoy, while also thinking about those that are going to follow us. I know I have an interest in the lives of my ancestors. I consider it likely that one or more of my descendants (either direct if I am lucky, or through my brother/cousins if not) will be grateful for the research and archiving I do now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Great Uncle Mandell

I never knew Mandell, my great-uncle, the youngest son of Barney. He fought in WWII, just like his older two brothers. However, he didn’t return home. I’ve known for awhile that my uncle had Mandell’s war journal. And I’ve mentioned to him I’d like to read it. Last time I said this was a couple years ago when he wrote a poem based on his own reading of the journal, and showed the poem to me. He said sure. My uncle and I have a similar personality in that we are both forgetful, and if you want something from us, you sometimes need to be persistent. And I haven’t been. It was always something I could ask for again later.

In a conversation with my mother Sunday night, I discovered she had a photocopy of the journal. So I went home from Father’s Day dinner with it. Mandell’s handwriting was better than my own. But a chimpanzee’s handwriting is better than my own. Luckily, his was better than a chimpanzee’s too, but it’s still not the most legible at points. Of course, he wasn’t writing under the best of circumstances.

It looks like a journal that was ’standard issue’ because there were predefined spots to write down names/addresses of ‘buddies’ and dates to remember (birthdays/anniversaries) of family back home. Every page has a quote from someone famous on courage or heroism or such. There was a spot in the front that said “The following pages contain the diary of my life in the service. This simple record of my daily experiences and thoughts has given me pleasure in the writing of it. If for any reason it leaves my possession, I would like to have it forwarded to: “. The addressee was “B. Newmark” - which could be either his father Barney, or mother Bertha.

Note: Obviously in the 40s there was no gender-connotation to the word ‘diary’

So far I’ve made two other linguistic notations. The slang term PO’d was already in use in the 1940s (And Mandell thought it was an appropriate term to associate with ‘APO’) and he refers to a beer as “Green Death”. Apparently this term has long been associated with Rainier beer, and one of his buddies was from Seattle Washington, so even if it wasn’t referring to Rainier in particular, its possible the Seattlian introduced him to the term.

I may include some excerpts here I don’t know how many people care about what life was like in the army in the 1940s for a relative of mine, but then again, perhaps more than those who care about my views on George W.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How Catherine the Great is the great(19) grandmother of Henry David Thoreau

Here is the direct lineage of Catherine the Great to Henry David Thoreau — according to OneWorldTree

I don’t see any issues with it - do you?

Sure … 19 generations is a lot to go through between 1729 and 1817, but here is how it works:

Catherine the Great

Paul I Romanov

Marie Pavlovna Romanov

Marie Von Saxe Weimar Eisenach


Friedrich Karl Hohenzollern

Louise Margaret

Patricia Helen Windsor

Alexander Arthur Ramsey

Agnes Ramsay

William Urquhart

Alexander Urquhart

Agnes Urquhart

Hugh Rose

Janet Rose

Mark Dunbar

Ninian Dunbar

Robert Dunbar

Peter Dunbar

Samuel Dunbar

Asa Dunbar

Cynthia Dunbar

Henry David Thoreau

Of course, as I’ve said before, when discussing the case of Lucy and Desi, this doesn’t mean I’m not descended from Chaucer. Some of the linkages they come up with are bound to be correct — so mine could be one of those.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Genealogical Research

As I noted a couple months ago I’ve been doing some genealogical research. It’s been fun. Beyond discovering I’m maybe, perhaps, possibly descended from Chaucer.

This past week I added an entire branch to part of the family tree. The brother of a great-great grandmother, and all his descendents. Beforehand all I knew was the name of the brother.

That’s rather exciting, and several of these new cousins live in Chicago, which isn’t too far. I see a possible reunion at a Cards-Cubs game in the future.

Somewhat sadder has been the death certificates I’ve found of great-great aunts and uncles who never made it out of childhood. A common occurrence in the first half of the twentieth century. But either having blocked it from their mind, or not wanting to pass on the painful memories, the parents and siblings never said anything to their children and grandchildren, so the names were completely lost, until uncovered in Missouri’s online archives.

I must say I am really impressed with the archives. They’re scanning in every death certificate from 1910-1956. (And I have the impression that in 2008 they will add 1957, etc) They have some records prior to 1910, but counties weren’t required to keep them prior to 1910, so the archives are a little spotty. Those that aren’t scanned in yet, can be ordered for $1/copy. Compare this to Illinois, where nothing is scanned in, and ordering a copy costs $10. Those copies can add up when you’re doing a lot of research.

It sounds gruesome to be ordering death certificates of your ancestors, but they contain information such as the names of parents, date of birth, and cause of death.

Another great resource has been census forms. In the US they’re available online through 1930. There’s a federal law making them private for 72 years, so 1940s won’t be released until 2012. Genea-Musings has some tips on searching the census databases, since the information was spoken from the individual to the census-taker, and then handwritten, so the indexing of names wasn’t 100% accurate where spelling is concerned. Phonetic spelling of names aren’t uncommon.

One of my most interesting discoveries, I think, is the sister-in-law of my Great-grandfather Barney. The faux-Irish great grandfather I’ve mentioned before. His brother married Sarah Nathan while they were still in England. That was the name in the British Marriage Index. I have every reason to believe that is the name she went by — so lets call it her maiden name. However, her father wasn’t named Nathan. OK, yes, her father’s name was Nathan. First name. She was “Sarah daughter of Nathan” without the “daughter of” which is really confusing for research. And this wouldn’t be all that surprising if we were talking 19th century Europe and not 20th century England. Of course, her parents were 19th century Europe. Luckily her death certificate didn’t ask for her maiden name, but asked for her father’s name. So with that information, I went to the 1901 England census, and found all her brothers and sisters. Because the English census taker, obviously, asked the father for his name, and then assigned the last name to everyone. Why wouldn’t he?

In order to get the right answer, you need to ask the right question.