thegenealogygirl


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Advice Please ❤️

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I have finished filing thousands of precious letters between my grandparents, as well as letters from my great grandparents, extended family, and friends to my Grandpa during WWII and my grandparent’s respective missions.

I have begun scanning and transcribing.  What a joy!

But I am struggling with a few decisions.

Should I post the letters here or on their own blog?  I haven’t counted the letters, but there are thousands.  If I post them here, how should I alter my posting schedule?

Should I include everything?  My Grandma wrote the word destroy on a few of the envelopes.  You see, she inadvertently “Dear John”ed my Grandpa and was extremely embarrassed by that.  It wasn’t something she talked about.  Ever.  But my Grandpa told me all about it.  How do I handle those letters with respect to both my Grandma’s feelings and honoring the truth of their story?  (I really don’t think she had a reason to be embarrassed, it all worked out just fine in the end.)

Then there are a few letters written by Grandpa’s friends that don’t exactly paint the letter writers in the best light.  Do I include those?

Oh boy!  So many decisions.

So, I have a little survey here with these questions.  Feel free to answer on the survey or in the comments or both.  I would love any feedback that might help me choose a path forward.

 

Thank you!

 

 

 


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Major Milestone Right Here!

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Last week I filed and filed and filed letters.  Do you know what a treat it is to open letter after letter and see your grandparents handwriting?  To touch the pages they touched?  To hear their sweet and enduring love for each other?  It was completely joyful for me.

I am soooooo happy to say that I filed every single letter for the 5 1/2 years they wrote to each other!  Ten Hollinger boxes filled with letters.

(Of course, I still have the letters from the 1960s when my Grandpa was in graduate school.  But we won’t even think about those yet.)

As soon as I finish scanning Aunt Vera’s scrapbook – these letters are next on deck for scanning.  I think they deserve their own blog.  Maybe this fall.  😉

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These four boxes were mostly full on Wednesday when I started.  They look so beautiful empty, I might just leave them on my table for a day to enjoy their tender place in my heart.

 

Happy Monday, I hope you conquer a special genealogy project sometime this year – it is an incredible feeling!

 

 


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Give Your Precious Photos Source Citations Too

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Have you ever found a photo on a public tree or website?  One that MIGHT be a photo of someone in your tree?  A photo you have never seen before, and maybe the only photo you have ever seen of someone?

I have.

In fact, one of my most tantalizing photo finds still vexes me.  Are you wondering why a photo find would vex me?  Let me tell you all about it.

Francis Cyprien & Alice Hyde DUVAL

Francis Cyprien & Alice Hyde DUVAL

That man up there is my 2nd great grandfather, Francis Cyprien Duval.  He was born in Rimouski, Québec to a long line of French folk who had lived in Québec for a few centuries.  He was the first in that direct line to leave Québec.  He settled in Alaska and married Alice and then they moved around a bit before finally settling in Lynn Valley, BC where Francis died.  We have a few scant family notes about his parents and siblings.  I knew his parents names and that they also left Québec and were buried in Blind River, Ontario.  I had a small handful of first names of some of his siblings and just a few other facts.  Because he is one of my immigrant ancestors, I feel very fortunate to have a small collection of photographs of him.  Enough in fact, that his image is well established in my family history.  Plenty of the photos are labeled and were labeled by his children.  That means that I trust that I know what he looks like and that those labels are accurate.

There is one other important reality because he was an immigrant – I have no photos, stories, and other artifacts for the family he left behind and never saw again.

So imagine my sheer delight when I came across this photo on Ancestry.com:

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This photo is tagged to the parents, sister, niece, and grand-nephew of my 2nd great grandfather Francis Cyprien Duval as he appears in another Ancestry.com user tree.  You will notice that the original poster included the names of each person in the description of the photo – bonus points for that.  You will also notice that it has been saved to several trees (including mine).

So why does this photo vex me?

Well, I have never seen a photo of Alexis/Alexander Duval & Marie Louise Demers anywhere else.  I have nothing to compare this image to.  When I came across it, I messaged the person who posted the photo and asked about the provenance of the photo.  Who had it, how she got it, how she knew for sure that it was a picture of who she said it was a picture of.  Before I basked in the deliciousness of finding a photo of ancestors for whom I do not have a photo, I wanted to make sure this photo was really a picture of my 3rd great grandparents.  I wanted to be as certain as was possible before I called it good and saved it to my tree.

The poster of said photo was very kind, and busy, and said she would get back to me after she returned from a trip.  Totally understandable.  Despite some communication after the trip, I have been unable to acquire the information I am seeking.

I look at this photo and want so much for it to be what it is proclaimed to be.  I see features of my Grandma in their faces.  I really want to call it good.  I want to tell everyone in my family about this cool find.  But it vexes me.  I don’t completely trust it.

You have probably come across a few photos that you hoped were labeled correctly too.  For me, it mostly happens when I am researching collateral relatives – siblings of ancestors, siblings-in-law of ancestors, cousins, etc.  Often I am researching these extended family members to help me take my tree further back.  But in doing this research, I can’t help but feel connected to these aunts, uncles, and cousins.  So when I come across an image of them – I love it!  It feels like a little treat at the end of the journey of learning about their life and how they were connected to my other family members.

But just like the possible photo of my 3rd great grandparents, I don’t completely trust a photo that isn’t labeled well.

 

So how can you give a photograph a good citation?  How can you help extended family members know that this photo you have shared is attributed to the right people?

 

 

I know that Evidence Explained contains a model for citing a photograph.  I’m sure the instructions are excellent and accurate.  I should really buy that book, but I haven’t.  So here are my tips for giving a photo a good citation based on my experience dealing with thousands of photos I have inherited from both sides of my family.  Let’s use an actual photo of my grandparents to help us.

 

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Your photo deserves a descriptive title.  It doesn’t have to be long, it just needs to be somewhat descriptive.  A good title should includes names and a date or event name.  i.e. “Ronald Peterson and Margaret Ellis, photo when Ronald had leave”.  If I have lots of photos of Ronald and Margaret – which I do – I want the title to be unique to the photo.

Your photo also deserves a detailed description.  You may not know every detail, but include anything you do know.  There are several important details to try to include:

  • Who is in the photo.  Use the “front row, l-r: and back row, l-r:” style to help make sure everyone is identified.  For this photo, I can stick with the names – Ronald Peterson and Margaret Ellis – since they are the only people in the photo.
  • When the photo was taken.  List the date or approximate date of the photo.  If you don’t know the date, you probably know a date range or time period, include that.  The next generation will know even less than you do, so help them out.  I don’t know the exact date of the photo, but I know it was taken while my Grandpa was serving in the Marine Corps.  He served from 1944-1946.
  • Where the photo was taken.  This can be trickier if the photo predates you.  In the case of my photo, I know that this photo would most likely have been taken in front of one of their homes because his leave was short – 24 or 48 hours long – and he hitchhiked from Colorado to Ogden, Utah.  He was only able to be there for a few hours before he had to start back.  I know what the front of Ronald’s family home looked like and this home is not a match.  I know that I have photos of Margaret’s family home somewhere that I could compare the photo to, I’m just not sure where they are (remember, I have thousands and I’m still working on scanning and organizing).  So I would probably note this photo as possibly being taken in front of the Ellis family home.
  • The provenance of the photo.  How did the photo make it to you?  How do you know the facts of the photo?  Who labeled it?  Why would they have known who is in the photo?  This can be simple or detailed, but this part is probably the most important part of your description.  In my case, this photo was part of my Grandmother’s collection.  The photo itself was not labeled, but there are hundreds of other photos of both Ronald and Margaret that are labeled in her collection.  The details surrounding this photo were told to me by my dad.  That is an important piece of information because someone else may remember the details differently and question my description.  Knowing who gave portions of the description helps other family members weigh the differences between my description and their memory or the memory of other relatives.

 

So, what would my title and description be for this photo?

 

Title:  Ronald Peterson and Margaret Ellis, photo when Ronald had leave

Description:  Ronald Peterson and Margaret Ellis.  Photo taken in Ogden, Utah, possibly in front of the Ellis family home (more work needed to establish location) when Ronald was home on leave.  Ronald served in the Marine Corps from 1944-1946.  Their son Kent shared the following details – “Ronald was given a short 24 or 48 hour leave.  He wanted to go home and see his family and his girlfriend.  He hitchhiked and only had a few hours to spend with loved ones before he had to head back to Colorado.”  This photo comes from the collection of Margaret Ellis that is in the current care of her granddaughter Amberly Peterson Beck.

 

This photo is a family favorite, so taking time to be a bit more detailed is important to me.  However, our time as genealogists is precious and limited.  We can’t spend this much time on every single photo ever taken of all of our loved ones.

 

So, when should you be this precise?

 

  • When a photo is the only one or one of just a few of a person.  The more rare a photo, the more details we want to include – especially about the provenance.
  • When the photo has special significance like the photo of my Grandma and Grandpa from the example.  My Grandparents treasured this photo and we have all in turn treasured it.  The next generation of my family deserves to know the special details of the photo.  What makes a photo special is up to you.  Is the event special?  Is the combination of people in the photo special?  Is it just a favorite photo?  Whatever the reason it is special to you, make sure the description reflects the import of the photo for future generations.

 

Let’s look at one more example of a photo I added to FamilySearch:

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This photo was in an album my Grandmother created.  She labeled it with only the names, Beth Christensen and Margaret.

(Hmmm… I would like to point out that the home looks an awful lot like the home in the background of the photo of my Grandparents.  I think I was onto something in guessing it was taken in front of the Ellis home.)

It took a little bit of work for me to figure out who Beth Christensen was.  There were no photos of Beth in FamilySearch at the time, so I added this and two others.  My title and description are pretty simple.  I did them quickly, but because there were no other public photos of Beth, I wanted anyone who viewed the photo to know enough about where the photo came from, to trust that the image was really of Beth.  I chose to include the detail of who Beth and Margaret’s common ancestors are because they are not in the same generation.  They are 1st cousins, once removed.

My title and description aren’t quite as good for this photo – but I felt like they covered what was most important, based on what I knew.

 

So next time you post a photo to a public tree or website, spend an extra minute giving your photo a good citation.  Help your extended family members out.  Tell them who, when, where, the provenance of the photo, and any other special or important details surrounding the photo or people in the photo.  Your family members will thank you!

 

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John Costello’s DNA – Well, half of it.

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John Costello, my great-grandfather

 

Just last week I shared my amazing, once-in-a-lifetime find of 7 seconds of video footage of my great-grandfather John Costello.  I continue to delight in it and probably will for the rest of my life.

Seeing John has been so enlightening.  Especially when it is coupled with some recent DNA results.  The last few weeks have felt like “the big reveal” in a few key ways.

Here is what I have always known – John was born in Barcelona to a Spanish mother and an Italian father.  Pretty simple and straightforward.  John was Catholic and attended Mass regularly – usually twice each week his whole adult life.  His wife Mary, who was a Protestant, was baptized Catholic after his death so that she could be buried next to him in a Catholic cemetery.

John had two sons who each had two sons.  From those four grandsons, there are four great-grandsons.  That gave me a potential of ten Y-DNA candidates to test.  I chose my Uncle because that was easiest.  My Uncle took a Y-DNA test for me shortly after RootsTech.

The results surprised me.

A lot.

I was expecting my Uncle to match to a bunch of Italian men with Italian surnames, hopefully several men with the same surname, and hopefully at least one who had a tree and was willing to work with me.  I was hoping this test would help me chip away at the John Costello brick wall.

Well…

That is not what happened.

My Uncle matched to 149 men at the 37 markers level.  149 men who ALL have different surnames from each other and from my Uncle.  All different surnames.

Here is a small sampling of some of the surnames on the list:

  • Persson
  • Benowitz
  • Mudd
  • Plotkin
  • Kalmuk
  • Chiprin
  • Meriems
  • Rosenthal
  • Gladtke
  • Mechlowe

There are 139 others.

When I look at his Ancestral Origins list I am seeing this huge list of Eastern and Western European countries like – Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Turkey, Hungary, Germany, and Austria.  Notably missing is Italy.  As I am scrolling through this list I keep seeing the same note over and over again – Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi.  About 90% of my Uncle’s matches are noted as Ashkenazi.  The rest are not noted with anything.

John Costello’s Italian father was Jewish.

John Costello, who was a devout Catholic, was the son of a man who was, at least on his direct male line, Jewish.  He descended from a male line of Jewish men.

John’s three children who survived infancy never knew that their father was Jewish.  They knew him as a Catholic Spaniard.  So here I am, almost exactly 51 years after his death, discovering a part of himself that he never chose to share.

For many years no one spoke of the fact that he had any Italian blood.  In fact, no one but his children and myself knew that he was half Italian.  His children learned that fact from him, I from research.  It wasn’t until the last few years when I started asking more questions that they were forthcoming with that fact.  Or I suppose it is possible that just my little branch of the family was unaware of his Italian heritage because of separation caused by divorce – and believed this was a new revelation.  Either way, John’s Italian ancestry was a quiet fact.

I wondered if part of the reason behind this was related to his Alien status – a status he held until his death – and the feelings towards Italians during WWII, the internment of Italians during WWII.  Surely, that was an uncomfortable time for him.  Now I wonder if there was more to it.

Now I am wondering how John felt during the war years – Italian and Jewish?

Now I am wondering what happened to his family members on his father’s side during the war years.  I bet he wondered too.  As far as anyone knows, he had no contact with his family after he left.  None of them were literate, or so the story goes.

But all of that leads me to another important question – did he even know any of his father’s family?  His Italian, Jewish father married his Catholic, Spanish mother and they lived in Spain.  Did John ever meet any of his father’s family members?

There are so many more questions now than there were before.

But suddenly I find myself understanding the lack of information just a little bit better.  Or why John may have chosen not to share information.  Jewish persecution is very real and it’s been going on for what feels like forever.  I suppose if you leave your homeland and everyone around you accepts that you are a Spaniard, that is a safe thing to be.

But that means that so much was lost.  So much knowledge and understanding of our family and our family’s roots.  Traditions and faith were left behind.

In fairness, it may well have been John’s father, or grandfather, or great-grandfather who did the leaving and chose not to share information.  I will never know.

Genetically speaking, 12.5% of me is John.  If his father was 100% Jewish, that would make me 6.25% Jewish – assuming the DNA that was passed down reflected the fractions of the tree, which of course is not how that actually plays out.  But for argument’s sake, let’s say that I am 6.25% Jewish.  That is 1/16.  When you look at a family tree – that is a large portion of me.  A portion that I had no inkling was Jewish.

That is a lot of myself that I did not understand.  That I did not know about.

I have so much to learn about this part of my tree.

So much.

Grandpa Costello – you have left me a puzzle that I will keep working on until I solve it.  Even if it takes my entire life.  Even if all I do is stare at the small pieces you left behind until they are emblazoned upon my brain.  Even if those pieces never fit into a bigger picture because so much of the puzzle has been lost to time.  Whatever your or your father’s reasons were for keeping this a secret, I have learned the truth of your ethnic origins.  I honor it, I treasure it, and I will not keep it a secret from our mutual posterity.

And now to commence the learning.

 

 

ps – Are you now ever-so-curious about my ethnicity estimates?  I certainly was after getting my Uncle’s results back.  Well, I have them.  I just got them last week.  I will share them soon.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Note:  Y-DNA is passed directly from father to son.  It mutates very infrequently and very slightly over time.  If you have a brick wall or tricky spot in your tree and you have a direct line male who is willing to test, the Y-DNA test is generally considered a pretty lucky and straightforward gift – unless you are Jewish or from one of a few other ethnic groups with their own unique challenges.  That doesn’t mean the test won’t help you, it just won’t be simple and straightforward like it is for many other groups of people.  If you have questions about the four different types of DNA tests and when you might use them, this is a great read.  If you don’t yet understand that those Ancestry commercials that encourage tossing the lederhosen for a kilt are not accurately representing the limits of ethnicity estimates, read this.

 


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Photograph Showcase: A Marine

PETERSON, Ronald Skeen in marine uniform - smaller for FT

That handsome Marine is my Grandpa.  As a young girl I knew that my Grandpa had been a Marine but I didn’t understand what that meant.  I had no context for war, military service, and especially the draft.  Grandpa wasn’t drafted, but he knew he would be.  He chose to enlist.  He wanted to live.  He saw his friends being drafted into the army and so many never came home.  He intended to enlist in the Navy but ended up in the Marine Corps.

As a girl with no understanding of my Grandpa’s service or what the war years were like, I learned to play The Marines’ Hymn on the piano.  I remember playing it at an extended family Christmas party.  My Grandparents were so proud, and emotional.  That didn’t really make sense to me then.  I didn’t even play it all that well.  😉  But now, I think I’m beginning to understand.  I’m proud of my Grandparents’ sacrifice in an incredibly challenging time in history.  I love my Marine Grandpa.


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For My Sister – A Fascinating Story

My sister Tara called me Friday morning confused about why my blog post for Friday wasn’t about the lady who was married for a few weeks before her husband died.

It took me a minute to realize that she was referring to a video I shared on facebook.  This very video in fact.  She saw the title but didn’t watch the video.  She figured she would watch it on my blog.  Well, now she can and so can you.  This video made me teary, lots of emotions as you learn her story.  For a genealogist like me, it is a little disturbing that this woman went SO MANY years without answers when they were there all along.  Despite her heartbreaking years, her ending is lovely.

Enjoy!