Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Best of the Golden Age of Genealogy: Top Posts of April

 In case you missed it, here are the top three viewed posts of my blog in April.

Wait! What?!! What To Do When An Unexpected DNA Match Happens

Have you submitted DNA and found a close match of a relative you know nothing about?  It happens!  Take a look at this blog entry and share your story in the comments.

When You're Adopted, Which Ancestors Do You Choose?

I often hear from friends that they are uncertain as to which family line they should research.  When you are adopted, this is a question you might ask yourself.  I have shared my story here and would love to hear how you have dealt with adoption in your research.

BillionGraves Takes The Anxiety Out Of Searching For Loved Ones

A recent trip to Quantico National Cemetery gave me the opportunity to share the magic of BillionGraves.  When we visit our loved ones who have passed on, we want to spend time at their burial site and not wandering around aimlessly.  Has BillionGraves helped you locate ancestors?

If you are enjoying The Golden Age of Genealogy, please like and share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and GooglePlus.  To avoid missing future blog posts, remember to follow me by entering your email on this blogsite! 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Gettysburg Retreat

This past weekend was the first chance I've had this year to get away.  I say "get away," but to be honest it was an excuse to get out and do what I enjoy most -- immerse myself in history and graveyards.   It was a gorgeous weekend with low humidity and a lot of sunshine, and so I headed off to Gettysburg where I could escape into the past and reconnect with my ancestors.

My roots are planted deep in Civil War history. I personally live just off a well known battlefield in Virginia, but it goes much deeper than that.  My ancestors fought for both the North and the South in what my mother called the "War of Northern Aggression," and my dad referred to as the "Great Rebellion."  Dinner conversation during my childhood was interesting to say the least.

There was a time when I was deep into the research of my ancestors' experiences in the Civil War.  My dad's Grandfather (yes, we have very long generations on his side of the family), fought with Company M, Massachusetts, 4th Calvary Regiment.  My mother's 2nd Great Grandfather fought with Company G, North Carolina 38th Infantry Regiment.  Obviously they both survived, because I am here to write about it, but in doing their research I came to learn of the hardships they personally endured.  One grandfather, in particular, never recovered from his wounds of war and was unable to work.  The affects of the war on his body extended to the hardship on his family who struggled to break free from government assistance for another generation.

It can be overwhelming touring a place with such a great history.  Absorbing the information can be compared to drinking from a firehose -- definitely information overload.  I chose to do a self guided tour of the battlefield. Gettysburg has been greatly preserved and I have to say, the audio tour was of great benefit to me.  Since I knew the Regiments of a few of my ancestors, I was able to follow the detailed map to the areas in which their troops would have set up camp, as well where they marched directly into battle.

Walking where they marched and trying to envision what they experienced was quite a sacred experience for me.  Here we were as visitors, enjoying a gorgeous weekend, embracing the beauty of the landscape, escaping our crazy busy lives at the very location our ancestors came to lay down theirs for our freedom.  It was humbling to say the least.

The battlefield today is peaceful and beautiful, and people come from around the world to study and remember the events that took place there.  But just off the battlefield is another location that I took the time visit: the cemetery.  Like the battlefield, it too has been maintained and tourists walked the pathways and talked in hush voices. 

 I spend a good deal of my free time photographing cemeteries for record preservation. While there are thousands of headstones in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, none of them, to my knowledge, are my forefathers (and not all are of Civil War era). They are somebody's ancestors though, so I took some time to digitize as many headstones as I could before having to leave for the day.  Later, as I began transcribing the information from these graves, it touched me to see that matches were being made with entries in FamilySearch.  It is my hope that the images I took this weekend make it to those individuals who have been searching and searching for their ancestor's information.

It was a wonderful retreat.  I could easily have spent a week in Gettysburg and still not done all the things I would have like to have done.  If you get a chance to visit any location of your ancestors, I suggest you take with you notes about their lives and time spent there.  It really makes the visit meaningful and brings it to a very personal level.

I appreciate the time you spent reading my blog.  I hope that you will "like" and "share" it with your followers on Social Media.  You can find the share links just below this posting.  I love to hear from my readers, so if you would like to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BillionGraves Contest Leads to Free Canary Islands Vacation

In the Summer of 2015, BillionGraves offered a Summer of More Get Away contest.  Combine my passion for cemeteries with a contest, and immediately my competitive nature emerged!  Over a couple of months, with the help of my family and friends, I managed to photograph 68,972 images, allowing me to win a trip to anywhere in the world.  My family and I chose to travel to Teneriffe, Canary Islands, Spain.

A Room With A View

Our initial set off was not without incident.  A delayed and then canceled flight out of Dulles Airport resulted in our luggage being lost somewhere between Washington and France, or maybe it was France and Spain.  We never did find out what happened.  Our first 3 days in Teneriffe was spent in the same travel clothes.  But, hey!  We were in the Canary Islands, so who cares, right?!
My 16 year old daughter carried all her luggage on the plane.  Not a care in the world!

My 19 year old son looks like he could live here!
While waiting for our luggage to be found, we decided to connect with members of our faith.  Meeting with members of the local LDS church was like seeing family and made the trip even more special than it already was.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Teneriffe, Canary Islands
The Sister Missionaries were as happy to see us as we were to see them!

Our luggage finally arrived and after some respite, we were ready to see the island.  The black sand beaches are a result of the volcanic eruptions from El Tiede.  It was strange to see beaches this dark, but they were so beautiful!

I was fascinated by the rock piling on this particular beach.

Even though this was to be our vacation, we couldn't resist visiting cemeteries around the island and photographing them for BillionGraves.  The visitors of the cemeteries greeted us with an embrace and love.  Although we could not communicate in their language, we could feel their warmth and welcome.

From our Condo, the drive around the island took about 3 hours.  It was amazing that at one moment we would be on the beach and within an hour we would be in the mountains.  The view was always amazing!


 Our trip to Teneriffe was definitely an experience of a lifetime.  With my children nearly grown, it was expected that this may be our last full family vacation.  I am so grateful for the kindness of BillionGraves and their willingness to send the four of us on such a spectacular trip to another country. It is something we will never forget!  Thank you, BillionGraves!

If you would like to learn more about volunteering in this effort to preserve cemetery records, visit BillionGraves.com.

Thank you for taking the time to read today's blog post.  If you enjoyed this article, please share with your followers by selecting one of the share buttons below.  I enjoy hearing from my readers and would love for you to leave a comment.  Thank you!

BillionGraves Takes The Anxiety Out Of Searching For Loved Ones

Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking my friend, Cathi, to Quantico National Cemetery to visit her father's grave.   Six years ago Cathi had moved to Arizona and has been unable to visit her father's grave regularly.  As you can imagine, the cemetery is rather large, and since it had been awhile since Cathi had come by, her memory needed to be jogged as to where the actual grave was located.  She knew the Section but could not remember where the actual plot was.

I have been working with BillionGraves for a number of years.  I knew that using BillionGraves' app, which provides the GPS location for every gravestone photographed, we would find Cathi's father in a matter of moments.  After opening the app, we entered her father's name, William E. Mulroy.  Immediately, the record of his burial showed up, and by simply tapping on the map icon, we were given the exact location of his headstone in relation to where we were standing.

Cathi was amazed that the BillionGraves app provided the exact location of where her dad was, as well as the headstone information.  When a relative, and in this case, daughter, wants to visit the resting place of a loved one, time would rather be spent visiting the grave than looking for it.  Since the cemetery information center was closed for the day, Cathi worried that her anxiety would increase as she tried to find her dad's grave.  BillionGraves removed the anxiety and afforded her the opportunity to spend more time with her dad and memories.

BillionGraves is a worldwide grassroots program that allows for anyone researching their ancestors to find the cemetery and gravesite of their loved ones who have passed away.  The site is free to join and anyone can be a BillionGraves volunteer.  It is a simple process that will have you helping people around the world as fast as it takes to snap a photo.

There are several ways to volunteer with BillionGraves, the top two being photographing and transcribing.  To photograph headstones, simply grab your smart phone or ipad and download the BillionGraves app.  When you arrive to the cemetery of your choice, open the app and click on the camera icon.  You will see the name of the cemetery appear in the camera with the live image.  As you walk grave by grave, simply take a picture of each headstone.  When you are done photographing, you may upload the pictures immediately or wait until you get home.

After you upload the pictures you have taken, you will want to transcribe the photos.  Log into BillionGraves on your computer and on the dashboard you will see a Photos icon.  When you select Photos, you will have the option to select the photos you have taken.  Each picture you click on will give you a form to complete with the information from the headstone.  Should you choose not to transcribe the images, the photos will go into the BillionGraves database for another volunteer to transcribe.

Volunteering for BillionGraves is a wonderful opportunity to give back to the genealogy community. There are millions of individuals, like Cathi, searching for the headstones of their loved ones. Whether the search is for family history purposes or to reminisce and pay respects, being able to access the gravesite immediately allows for time to be well spent.

For more information regarding BillionGraves, visit BillionGraves.com.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Southern Comfort -- Food Memories of Days Gone By

Ever since I can remember there have been family dinners.  Family come to visit for holiday meals, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Family gather together for births and deaths, and there is always food involved.  Graduations and other celebrations also bring family together, and with that gathering, there is again, always food.  It would seem that the food is the glue that allows the people in my family to sit down and take the time to talk to one another.  Family dinners have come to symbolize togetherness and are a celebration of those days when life didn’t get in the way of family ties.

When I was a child, my family and I moved around on a nearly annual basis.  As my father was retired and decided to become a writer, our moves became more “inspirational moves” rather than “government dictated moves.”  Through my childhood years, I would hear tales from my mother about family gatherings at her grandmother’s house and the Sunday dinners that were a weekly event and a fond memory of mother’s own childhood.
Family Photo - Sunday at Grandmother's House

Southern families are rooted in tradition.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” my family always says.  Traditionally my mother, along with her sister and parents, would travel each Sunday to Reynolds, Georgia, to have Sunday dinner at her maternal grandmother’s house.  Grandmother Wilson was a widow, and this was an opportunity for her two daughters to bring their families together and visit, as well as check on Grandmother and see how she was faring.  Along with the tradition of gathering together, there was a tradition of what was consumed at these dinners, and it was typically the same thing every week:  chicken, black-eyed peas, green beans or butter beans, yams or squash, collard greens and always corn bread or homemade muffins.  “The importance of food to southerners is perhaps best revealed in [the] proverb: a full belly makes strong arms an’ a willin’ heart.”  (Joyner, 17.)  I’m not too sure what that proverb means other than if you’re hungry enough to eat, your heart will be into putting in the work that is required to grow or kill your own food.  And that is just what mother’s family did back in the day.  They raised and prepared all their own food.  My mother recalled:

We never bought anything from a store.  In fact, I think I was twelve or thirteen years old before I ever entered what would be considered today as a grocery store.  We grew our own vegetables and raised our own chickens, and we ate what we cultivated.  Everything was fresh and every meal was made from scratch.

What is now considered a time honored tradition of preparing from scratch meals made from home-grown fruits and vegetables was actually necessity back in those days.  As mother mentioned, they didn’t have the luxury of shopping in grocery stores as we do today.  Taking the time to make favorite family meals, and making them from fresh ingredients, keeps alive the memories of days long gone by.

Personal Family Photo - Lackey Farm

Not all dinners at my great grandmother’s house were fried chicken, though that was the favorite and traditional meal.  Mother recalls a time when dinner was actually at Uncle Elmer’s house and the dinner was a hog.  The change in menu makes that day stand out in mother’s memory not merely because they ate hog instead of chicken, but the events that led to eating that hog.  And here we get the story of Elmer’s Hog.

We had a big group for lunch that day.  There was daddy and mother, Judy and myself, along with Uncle Ken, his wife and children, Grandmother, and then of course Elmer and his family because we were at Elmer’s farm.  Elmer was Grandmother’s younger brother.  Well, the menfolk decided that they wanted to have pork chops or ham that day.  So daddy, Uncle Ken and Uncle Elmer tried to kill this hog.  It was Elmer’s hog from his herd of hogs and pigs.  They get him and somehow he gets away.  They try shooting him.  Now, my daddy’s a crack shot, but he wounded him!  And so that made the hog mad and he was running around like a nut!  So, daddy shot him between the eyes and he said, “You know, we shouldn’t have made such the mess that we did killing this hog.”

Well anyway, they strung him up to a tree and they gutted him, and then they took his intestines and passed them through the kitchen window to the women who were already preparing the table for this stuff.  Here they washed the intestines out and they were already working on the stuffing.  This is how sausage is made.  I had no idea!  I’m looking in the window.  I didn’t eat sausage for years and years and years after that!  Meanwhile while the women were preparing the sausage, the men had carved this hog up.  Some of it was smoked but other parts were going to be cooked.  It took the whole day, so we ate very late.

It is not unusual for food memories to play a role in our lives.  The smells of certain foods (or the mere thought of them) can bring back a flood of memories, such as the sausage did for my mother.  Such memories can be fond or humorous, like remembering how the men had a difficult time catching the hog, while the same memory can be a deterrent from eating anything related to that memory, i.e. sausage.   These memories can affect what we choose to include in our current diets.  Mother still loves yams and black eyed peas, but it took her years to try another sausage.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t the killing of the hog that turned her off, but knowing which parts of the hog that were in the sausage that made her sick at the thought.

Traditionally, as stated in this story, the men did the killing and the women did the cooking.  In my family that didn’t change much until about 20 years ago.  Until about the 1990s, the women in my family would slave away in a hot kitchen and dining room in an effort to make things “just right” for visiting family.  Even women who arrived for the visit set to work helping out while men sat and caught up on current news.  Back in the 1950s when mother was having Sunday dinners at her grandmother’s house, she recalled that the women would be preparing the meals while the men sat out on the porch and chitchatted.

My father and the other men would sit out on the porch and rock and talk about, you know, the world problems, and smoke cigars to keep the gnats and flies away.  My father only smoked cigars on Sunday.  Only on Sunday and only in the country at Grandmother’s to keep flies and gnats away.  And only the men folk would do that.  And he wore a blue striped seer sucker suit with a straw hat.  And they always had their straw hat on.  Anyway, I always remember the men sitting out there rocking and talking.  When the women finished, they would come out and rock and talk and have ice tea.  There was a porch swing, and we used to just love to sit and swing and laze around.

Why do Southern women go to such trouble for their men?  It is all a part of Southern hospitality.  “Southern hospitality is the gentle art of sharing.  It is the noble gesture of putting another’s comfort before your own.  It is taking the time to make others feel good about themselves.”  (Jenkins, 13.) This idea of giving is not foreign to me, and that may be because I was raised to “do for others.”  I must say, however, that the twenty-first century has changed the dynamics of who is working in the kitchen or preparing the meals in general.  Today it is common for the men to stand over a flaming grill as they prepare the bar-b-que feast for guests.  The gender roles of responsibility have melted together and there is not so much the expectation of who is working while someone else is doing the visiting, just as there is little expectation that my husband or brother will step outside and kill a hog for dinner.

But there are things that do remain the same.  Family meals are still together whenever possible.  The prosperity of the past century has divided families geographically as jobs have required household transfers.  When family does get together, for holidays and special occasions, those special meals that help us recall our days together are prepared as a symbol of our togetherness – a celebration of sorts. 
Our children won’t remember dinners at Grandma’s house because Grandma lives two thousand miles away.  They probably won’t have Sunday dinner memories because those traditions faded away as the families moved farther and farther apart.  But they will have memories of family get-togethers, and in those memories they will recall stories, smells and even foods that they will go on to celebrate with their future generations.  And who knows, maybe a story they will share will be the one their Grandmother told them about Elmer’s hog!   

Today's entry was written in 2008, just a year before my mother's sudden passing.  I hope you enjoyed reading about her memories in rural Georgia.  If you liked today's post, please feel free to share with your readers by clicking on the share buttons below.  I would love to hear from you!  Please leave me a message below and tell me if this story sparked a memory of your family meals from when you were growing up! 

  Works Cited
Stratton, Ginger. 2008.  Tape recorded interview.  24 May.
Joyner, Charles. 1999.  Shared Tradition: Southern History and Folk Cultures.  University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago.  17-19.

Jenkins, Emyl.  1994.  Southern Hospitality.  Crown Publishers, Inc. New York.  13.

 Works Consulted

Botkin, B.A.   1932.  A Treasury of Southern Folklore.  Crown Publishers, Inc. New York.

Brunvand, Jan.  1998.  The Study of American Folklore.  W.W. Norton and Company. New York. London.

When You're Adopted, Which Ancestors Do You Choose?

I have posted before about learning of my paternal adoption as a young adult, and I thought today I might address the issue of "Which ancestors do I trace as an adopted child?"  In the end, it was not a hard decision to make, but at first, I felt conflicted -- as though I was being disloyal to the ancestors I had honoured all my life.

When I was 17 years old, I learned that my mother had a previous marriage, and I was adopted by her second husband.  It is even a little more complicated than that, but, I will leave it at this to avoid any confusion.  I spent my teen years living with my family in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where my father was Historian General of the Mayflower Society.  My home was very much a genealogical home, and I believed that my dad's Mayflower ancestry was also mine.  In my childhood I wrote essays for school based on "my pilgrim ancestors."  I was proud of my heritage.

My dad as a young man.
I was very much a daddy's girl, and even though my father has passed away nearly 10 years now, I believe I still am.  The news of my adoption was a blow.  My older siblings (by dad's first marriage) assured me that he was still my dad, and in fact, they truly wanted to believe that through some act of God, he would also match me genetically.  We all wanted to believe it so much that I think we were a little shocked and disappointed when the DNA test came back clearly indicating he wasn't.  (Time and location of his life and my mother's didn't match anyway, but we can be dreamers!)

I should point out that I did not DNA test in my teens.  I tested in my 40s after my parents had passed away.  And, even armed with information regarding my mother's first husband's background, I was surprised when I received my DNA results.  My entire life I believed I was Scottish, Welsh, English and Native American.  Hmmmmm... here is what Ancestry DNA reported.

The 23andMe results were not much different.  Their database is larger, so the numbers vary somewhat.

The Norwegian and Irish stuck out to me the most, and I immediately became curious about the people whose DNA helped make me -- Me!

When I began researching my paternal line, it was with passionate curiosity.  I told myself that I was merely curious as to the locations my ancestors came from, but as I delved deeper into research, their names and stories began to emerge, and I grew to love them.  As I met relatives willing to share stories and pictures of more recent ancestors, a connection started to form.  Dare I say, bond?  My whole life I never looked like anyone in my family and suddenly I was seeing bits of myself looking back at me in photographs.
My birth father as a young man.

My biological tree began to grow and I was pleased.  Every now and then, however, I would take a look at my father's tree and wonder.  I missed those ancestors, so I began to work on my dad's line as well.  As a professional genealogist, my dad had done much of the leg work, but with the advent of the internet, and many documents being digitized and made available, I was put in the position to flesh out more of the individual stories through documentation and newspaper articles.  So what happened? I began to bond with these ancestors, too.

Love multiplies -- it doesn't divide.  My dad's ancestors were still my own.  The values and traditions they passed down to him, he passed down to me.  Their story is my story because I am continuing to pass those traditions and values down to my children.  But what about the genetic line?  I believe that they, too, are a part of me.  My passion for hard work and education.  My love for history and theatre.  My biological relatives tell me that my strong will and determination in these areas reflect their family.

I have a large family tree.  Oh, it is not without it's brick walls, trust me!  But it is full and vibrant with the love of many centuries of people who made me who I am today.  My tree may be grafted by different trees put together, but it is beautiful and I am proud of it.  So which ancestors did I choose to follow?  All of them.

I hope you have enjoyed today's blog post.   I hope you will become a regular follower by entering your email address in the prompt at the top right side of the blog homepage.  Please feel free, to share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  You will find those share buttons just below this entry.  And, as always, I look forward to your comments.

* If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing with Ancestry, go to dna.ancestry.com.  You may also be interested in checking out 23andMe.com*

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wait! What?!! What To Do When An Unexpected DNA Match Happens

I have to tell you, I love DNA testing, as far as genealogy goes.  Seriously.  When you find out as a young adult, as I did, that you have a possible different parent (or set of parents) than those who raised you, your mind goes reeling.  After the initial shock of learning I was adopted by my father, I would find myself daydreaming about who my biological dad might be.  Michael Landon fit the bill quite nicely.  It's true.  He was the dad I wanted to have if I couldn't be genetically related to the father who raised me.  He was, after all, Pa Ingalls!  I'm sure I wasn't alone.

All joking aside, I approached DNA testing as a shot in the dark and with fingers crossed.  I hit a total bull's eye when I connected with a second cousin who not only knew my biological father, but went to high school with him.  Her excitement pretty much matched my own and together we plunged into connecting me with my paternal line.  Why didn't I just ask my mom?  Well, those of you in similar situations understand.  As my mom used to say, "We don't talk about things like that!"  She is gone now.  I wonder at times what she thinks of this DNA journey I've taken.

I will say, the shock that rippled through the East coast of the United States was felt for months as relatives learned of this unknown child that suddenly made her appearance 46 years later.  It was exhilarating at times and other times down right frightening.  You have to understand, not all reunions are cozy and welcoming.  While my story didn't have a fairy tale ending, I did make some wonderful connections and the relationships to this day are becoming stronger.  You can read more about my DNA story on Ancestry's Blog.

I am used to being the DNA shocker in the family.  Granted it is only the paternal side of the family that was a surprise to me, as my mother who raised me is the same person who gave birth to me.  Nonetheless, the revelation ruffled feathers and gave me a glimpse of how it must feel for the relatives on the other side of the DNA reveal.  Well, I thought I understood how they felt.

Yesterday,  I opened my Ancestry DNA result page.  I used to stalk the page for updates the first year my results were in.  Lately, I remember to take a look when I suddenly get a notification that someone may have matched me.  Typically the results are within the  4-6th cousin range, so unless I'm looking to find some missing links to ancestors, I tend to be neglectful of the DNA page.  Yes, I know.  Shame. Shame. Shame.

Back to yesterday.  I was working on DNA research for a client and decided to take a peek at my own folder and was somewhat surprised to see a rather close match appear.  First - Second cousin.  Okay.  That could mean a few things.  It could quite literally be a first or second cousin.  Or, it could be an Aunt.  Or, a first cousin once removed.  There are a variety of scenarios and we have to allow room for error.

Here's the thing.  It's on my side of the family where 1. "The tree don't branch much," and 2. In the immediate levels of possible connection, the parents had only one or two children.  So.... basically, I know all my cousins -- on the first and second level.  (And sometimes even third and some removed.)  So, who had a baby a generation or so ago and didn't tell anyone?  The shock! And now it is our turn to wonder Who? When? Where? What?

So what do you do?  You keep it classy.  That's what you do.  You reach out to the individual and introduce yourself.  You ask a question or two and then you let the matter drop.  Allow them to process their own DNA thoughts.  They may not be aware of any situation that would lead them to an unknown family.  And when the time comes that they answer the message you sent, you respect their answers and any questions they have.

We live in a new generation.  There are not a lot of things that can shock us.  But I will say this.  DNA testing is very much like opening Pandora's Box.  You have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.  Plan ahead for all possible scenarios you could encounter and how you may want to respond.   And if you think that there may be some things that you just can't or won't be able to get past, then you may want to rethink taking a DNA test.

I hope you have enjoyed today's blog post.   I hope you will become a regular follower by entering your email address in the prompt at the top right side of the blog homepage.  Please feel free, to share on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.  You will find those share buttons just below this entry.  And, as always, I look forward to your comments.

* If you are interested in learning more about DNA testing with Ancestry, go to dna.ancestry.com. *