Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Hart Island Project

I recently learned about the Hart Island Project and its Traveling Cloud Museum.  Hart Island occupies 101 acres in Long Island Sound at the eastern edge of the Bronx borough of New York City. It is the largest tax funded cemetery in the world. 

One million people have been buried on Hart Island anonymously. The website now features names of those buried on the island since 1980. There is an easy search function in which to find whether your family member is there. The Project’s Traveling Cloud Museum is looking for stories/information to accompany the names.

Even if you don't have family buried there, please visit the page. The information and the photos are heart wrenching. 

The Hart Island Project is a wonderful gift to family historians. I remain hopeful that one day the name of my great-grandmother, Catherine Nunn, who died 12 May 1917 will be listed, if indeed that is where she is buried.That mystery remains.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Our Saturday Workshop

Ray Maki introducing speaker Shannon Combs-Bennett
This past Saturday we welcomed national (soon to be international) speaker Shannon Combs-Bennett to our development for a Genealogy 101 all day workshop.

Shannon provided a fifty page PDF that included her presentation, blank copies of each federal census and various other helpful forms.

Hubby copied her PDF for each of the twenty-four participants. The copies were then put into white 3-ring binders, with a personalized title page. We tucked several pieces of loose paper into the front pocket of each binder so people would have something to write on should they forget to bring paper for note taking.

Shannon’s talk went from getting started through telling people about the lineage societies they could join.

One of the interesting things I learned was a website called http: //www.citationmachine.net/Chicago that helps you put citations into the correct format. I haven’t tried this yet, but am excited about doing so. Although we know about citing sources – I keep my copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills right alongside my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, I think this part of her talk was eye-opening for most participants. Shannon encouraged them to keep track of the path they traveled when researching. I know this is the correct way, but I also know that when you are following a lead, you are too excited to stop and write everything down.

She encouraged everyone to journal. Start now if you aren’t already keeping one. It will be invaluable to future researchers.

Keep a research log. Jot down (or copy/paste) the URL, date accessed, the steps taken to find the information, what was found and what wasn’t found.

Knowing she had an audience of beginners, Shannon told them to set a certain goal. Not “I want to know everything about my Jones family line,” but instead ask, “I want to find my great grandfather Ezra Jones.”

Organization is another conundrum for genealogists. Shannon showed how one friend keeps all her information in 3-ring binders. Shannon doesn’t have enough bookshelf space for this way, so she keeps her files digitally as well as in Pendaflex folders in filing cabinets (She has many in her home office). The folders can be organized by surname, location, or any way that fits your family best. Just keep the labeling of your digital and paper files consistent.

She also covered social media for genealogists, DNA, planning your research trip, and the all-important evaluation of sources – primary, secondary, or of “unknown origin.”

Although we consider ourselves seasoned genealogists, we learned a lot from Shannon’s Genealogy 101 workshop. That is true of almost every genealogy presentation we attend. There is always something said that makes that light bulb go off in our head.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

American Ghost – A brilliantly written family history.

I just finished reading American Ghost; A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hannah Nordhaus. It is a beautifully crafted story about Hannah’s German ancestors who had to escape Germany during the Nazi reign. The family settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the father, Abraham Staab, became a successful businessman.  So successful that he built a house for his wife and children called La Posada. 
Over many years traveling back and forth across the country and to Germany, consulting with historians, genealogists, spiritualists, ghost hunters and family members, Hannah captures the essence of the lives of Abraham and Julia Schuster Staab. The amount of research done tracing this Jewish family is impressive.

It is Julia that Hannah is most interested in. She was curious about the continued reports of Julie’s ghost at La Posada. "A sad, dark-eyed woman in a long gown" kept appearing frightening guests and staff at the former Staab house. Hannah is driven to learn as much as she can about her great-great-grandmother. And she does. Was Julia's husband a tyrant or just a man of his time and place? There are many questions in which Hannah seeks the answer. Some she finds; others remain a mystery. Isn't that how it is with all our ancestor research?

The book is well written and captures well the lives of the Staab and Schuster families. It is the kind of family story most of us can only dream of writing. I highly recommend this book.