Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Old School vs. High Tech Genealogy Research

I recently joined the Facebook group "Technology for Genealogy," partly because I love to talk about geeky technology stuff, but mostly because I am interested in how new (and existing) technology is being used by the genealogy community. There have been some very interesting discussion topics posted, including cloud computing, genealogy programs, scanners, photo editing, Google Earth, Google Fiber, capturing digital images using a camera, and pay-for-use genealogy websites. The responses have provided me with a lot of great ideas, so I highly encourage you to join the group and get in on the discussions! As genealogy research becomes more and more digital, I often think about my mom's efforts back in the late 1950's through the early 1970's, when everything was "old school." I have a suitcase full of letters she wrote to older living relatives, people she thought might be related, and countless courthouses or genealogy societies, looking for any clue or document she might uncover. She never had a computer, never had a genealogy program to track her information or create a research plan. Tracking and documenting was done on rolls of butcher paper and in spiral notebooks. Her correspondence and documentation are incredibly precious to me, especially because they reinforce for me the value of good old fashioned research. She and my grandfather were able to obtain a lot of family history information, which I've used as the basis for my own research over the past 10 years. I'm sure my mom and grandfather would be amazed at all the information now available at our fingertips, and I'm sorry they aren't here to see the advances that have been made. On a completely different topic, my DAR application has been approved! It's been a long time goal of mine to make the genealogical connection back to a Revolutionary War patriot, and with the help of Cathy Lawrenz of the Prairie Rose DAR chapter in Overland Park, KS, I was able to submit my application. I'm very excited to become part of such a great patriotic organization.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

DNA Research - Trying to Get Over My Fright

My partner in genealogy crime, my Uncle Ronnie, is probably one of the smartest people I know.  He is well read, loves new technology and gadgets, and is always willing to be an early adopter of the latest and greatest.  He has turned me into the Mac geek I am today.

We have two main brick walls within our genealogy research.  One is memorialized in the title to this blog:  John Gannan, my great great great grandfather, who seemed to spring from nowhere in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the early 1800"s.  The other is my great great great grandfather, Jeremiah Robertson.  We have tantalizing clues about each of them, but have never been able to find that one connection which would tear down the brick walls.

Several years ago my uncle decided to take a DNA test to see if he could gather new clues around the Robertson side of the family.   Unfortunately, the test has proven unsuccessful in helping him determine who Jeremiah's family is, but it has introduced him to a whole new group of potential "cousins" who are also waiting for that one piece of info to clear up the Robertson mystery.  As for me, I did take a limited test at the same time, but it has proven to be of no value.

My uncle became very interested in the technology of DNA testing, and has read many articles and journals on the subject.  At the same time, he has tried to educate me and set my expectations regarding DNA testing and the chances of finding a second cousin who has the family bible and a fully sourced family tree that he or she would be willing to share.  Not going to happen, or if it has happened, I've never heard of it! 

I know there are several blogs devoted to the subject of DNA research as it relates to genealogy, plus the information my uncle has been kind enough to share over the years.  I suppose now that I've ordered the new Ancestry DNA test, it's time to get serious and really understand what it's all about.   Time to get over my fright!

I would love to hear from anyone who has taken a DNA test and the results have proven successful in finding what I'll call "near time" ancestors (within the past five to ten generations).     

Documenting the Story Behind Family Heirlooms

When I was a kid, my mother would take my three brothers and I to visit her paternal grandfather, Daniel Allen Robertson.

My grandmother, Bessie Jane Downey, shown above about 1935 with Grandpa Robertson, died shortly before i was born, so I never knew her.

My great-grandfather lived in a small house in Bethany, Missouri.  He was a very kind old man, and I remember three things most about those visits:  1) he had a clock that struck the hour and half hour all night long, so none of us ever got any sleep; 2) he loved to sit in an old rocking chair and rub his thumb into the armrest; and 3) he always had frosted oatmeal cookies in a pink depression glass cookie jar on his kitchen table.

When Grandpa passed away, there was an estate sale and unfortunately, the rocking chair left the family.  However, my mom was able to purchase her grandfather's cookie jar, which has since been passed down to me.

Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who doesn't like to use heirlooms for the most part, so it's now sitting in my china cabinet.  One of these days I am going to take it out, fill it with oatmeal frosted cookies, and let my own grandson take a cookie from the jar.

Another heirloom I have is a small covered bowl that was owned by my great-great grandfather, Wilfreda Reece Gannan.  I never knew this item existed until I went to a family estate sale, and one of my step-cousins brought the bowl out and said that my great grandfather, who had long since passed away, had wanted my mom to have it.  Since she died in 1974, they had held onto the bowl for many years, waiting for the right moment to give it to me.  I was overwhelmed that my step-cousins has saved it for me.

I have started taking photos of the heirlooms I want to pass down to my son, grandson, and nieces and nephews.  Along with each photo, I plan to write a small story about each item, where it came from, and why it holds special memories for me.

How have you been documenting the story behind your family heirlooms?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sorting Through Photographs

Like everyone else, I have boxes and boxes of photographs to scan and organize, and on top of that, I have around 12,000 digital photos that I've taken over the years.  The boxes sit largely untouched in a closet in the spare bedroom, but I've recently begun the task of organizing the digital photos and uploading them to Dropbox, so I can share them across my Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Air).   Dropbox will also make it easy to share photos with family members and friends.
My first digital camera was a big, clunky 1 megapixel model from Kodak, and I loved it.  I took photos of everything.  I've since moved up to a Canon Rebel and a Panasonic Lumix GF3, along with a small point-and-shoot, which means I now have digital photos coming out my ears.  Every vacation results in photographs of anything from skyline shots, to photos of landscaping and trees, local businesses, food, and local residents, to name a few.  Every time we go to San Diego, I feel compelled to take photos of the Hotel Del Coronado and the San Diego skyline, or sunset over Point Loma.  I also have a four year old grandson, so you can imagine the number of photos I have of him.  As a result, I have a ton of duplicate photos and photos of things I don't even remember what they are.
As part of my digital organization project, I've been ruthlessly deleting duplicate photos (seriously, how many photos of the San Diego skyline or the Hotel Del do I really need??!!), as well as photos of things like giraffes at the San Diego Zoo or that shot of a weird tree I took in Colorado.  I've taken what's left and am in the process of uploading them to different folders on Dropbox.
I started with well over 12,000 digital photos, and am down to 7,000.  Everything that's already been uploaded to Dropbox was the easy stuff, i.e., the stuff that wasn't duplicate, and could be easily categorized.  What's left are family photos that will need to be looked at carefully (are their eyes closed?  do I know who they are?  are there ten photos of the same thing? is the photo meaningful?) and then delete or upload.
This whole project has made me realize a couple of things:
1.  You should never let things pile up.  As you take photographs, they should be sorted through/deleted/filed in whatever system you use.  Otherwise, you will end up like me, with thousands of photos to sort through.
2.  Be mindful of what you take pictures of.  That giraffe might be cute, but when all is said and done, do you really want a photo of it to sort through later?
And that's just the digital photographs!  Once I get them all sorted through and uploaded, it's time to move on to the boxes and boxes of regular photographs that are lurking around my guest room.
Good luck to anyone who is undertaking a similar project!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering a Friend

It was 30 years ago today that I received a call from a high school friend, telling me that another member of our high school group, Gerrianne Miller, had been killed in a plane crash in Wichita Falls, TX.
Gerrianne was a beautiful girl, one of the "Air Force brats" who came to town every few years when a parent's transfer orders came through.  She was tall, blonde, smart, funny, lovely, graceful, and there was something about her that made you fall instantly in love with her.  Popularity came easily to her, and yet she was always friendly to everyone, including the kids who weren't part of our little group.
When Gerrianne was killed, she was on her way back to Kansas City from Wichita Falls to visit her mother.  Her father had died June 21, less than two weeks earlier.  What crushing sadness her mother must have felt to lose both a husband and a daughter within a two week period.
I carry Gerrianne's junior year high school picture in my wallet, as a reminder that life is short.  On the back of the photo she wrote:  "Karen, You're one of the sweetest persons I know.  Stay the way you are, cute, and fun to be around.  Good luck with everything and remember all the fun we've had on the pep club bus and everywhere else.  '75.  Love, Gerrianne."

Gerrianne's photo has been in my wallet for many years now, visiting places she never got the chance to see.  She was a special person who never got the chance to make her mark on the world.  She did, however, leave a positive mark on those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her all those years ago.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My American Revolution Ancestor - Daniel Waterbury

This 4th of July, as I return from an evening spent with my son, his wife, and my grandson at a local fireworks display, I'm especially grateful to one of my ancestors, Daniel Waterbury.  Daniel, my 6th great grandfather, fought in the Revolutionary War.  Because of his sacrifices, and those of his comrades in arms, I was able to enjoy an evening with family members, under the light of fireworks, some 236 years after the start of the Revolution.  It's amazing, when you think about it, that a relatively small band of patriots laid down their lives so that future generations could live in freedom from tyranny.  I think that we tend to take for granted just what the Revolutionary War patriots sacrificed for us.
This year's holiday is especially poignant for me, because I recently applied for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution based on Daniel's service.  I know relatively little about him, beyond the fact that he was born in 1742 within the confines of the old town of Stamford, Connecticut. He was the third son and sixth child of David and Mary (Bouton) Waterbury.  As a boy, he attended church with his parents at the New Canaan Church, where they held membership.  He later became an Ensign in a company of Minute Men enrolled in Westchester County (New York) at the opening of the Revolution, at the age of 34.  Later he was made a 2nd Lt. and later a 1st Lt.  He served in the Third Regiment of Westchester County Militia under Col. Pierre Van Cortlandt.
After the War, Daniel and his family moved to a farm near Schdoac, New York, which is a short distance from Central Nassau.  Daniel's farm was only about 10 miles from the present city of Troy, NY.  He died there March 15, 1798.  His body was buried on the farm.
Daniel's ancestors can be traced back to William Waterbury who came to America in the early 1600's.
Daniel's grandson, Wendell Waterbury, eventually moved west to Iowa, and lost touch with his East Coast relatives.   In the family history "Jonathan Waterbury Genealogy:  Ancestry and Some of the Descendants of Jonathan Waterbury of Nassau, New York (1766-1826)," by Grace A. Waterbury and Edwin M. Waterbury, Wendell is described as:  "b. July 20, 1828, at Fabius, NY; he was of possessed of the 'wanderlust' and never married.  He died in the west where he had gone a a young man."  This was not true, of course.  He did marry, and went on to become my 3rd great grandfather.  I'm grateful for his pioneering spirt of "wanderlust."
I haven't been able to find out anything about Daniel's military service under Col. Van Cortlandt but hope to do so one day.  I would like to know more about the life of the man who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice all those years ago.
Thank you, Daniel.  I will be a proud member of the DAR based on your service, and will honor your memory.