Sunday, October 30, 2011

Missing in Action No More

I hope.

Last week I did a bit of genealogy-related stuff and I spent most of this weekend doing genealogy stuff.

Yesterday I attended the Fairfax Genealogical Society’s Fall Fair on the subject of Military Records, with three presentations delivered by Craig Scott: “Researching Your Colonial and French and Indian War Ancestor,” “Researching Your War of 1812 Ancestor,” and “Reasons for Not Serving in the Civil War.” There were lots of places, dates, maps, resources, and funny stories. It was glorious.

Today I spent half a day researching the George Robert Brinlee family. It is great to be “back in the saddle.” I feel relaxed and relieved.

I’m not all done with chores. 3-4 people and 3 cats still manage to shed a lot of hair and fur and track in a lot of dirt. And two family members are still packrats. And we haven’t really finished our yard cleanup.

But I know where to find stuff now. And I’m putting documents away - in the right place - after I create or use them. It’s like being on a diet. Discipline must be maintained.

Yesterday I read a post on Jennifer’s Rainy Day Genealogy Readings: “Defining Research, Part 1.” A real case study in genealogical bad manners, if not outright plagiarism. Things like this are one of the reasons why I use my own template (different from Ancestry’s) for place names. That way I can see who is “clicking and claiming” my data. I don’t really mind that they do. But posting information someone has freely shared with you without crediting them, as described in this post, is shoddy and low-class.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Found You

I knew when I found my great-grandfather Harlston Perrin Moore.

It happened about five or six weeks after I first became intrigued about what I could find online on my ancestors. Until that point, I just barely knew the names of my grandparents; I knew nothing else about my ancestors except for a couple of comments and stories I had heard from my parents.

There was no death of a close relative to jar/inspire/scare me into considering family research. As a matter of fact, both of my parents and all but one of my aunts and uncles had already passed away. Not even that sad fact could force me to realize how important it was to learn about my family’s history. Though I do love the “detective experience” rush, it was the shock of the close personal connection I felt that cemented the deal. The “find” was a burst of fireworks, but the relationship was no less intense for being long-lasting. If you think that this sounds like falling in love, it was a little bit like that.

It wasn’t just putting cousin bait out there that prompted me to start blogging about genealogy; it was that I just had to share this incredible experience with others who understood, really understood, what it feels like to find a previously unknown ancestor. And when Lynn Palermo issued the challenge (“The Moment You Knew”) at The Armchair Genealogist to identify the moment when I knew that I had to research my family history, I had to respond (despite the fact that I have written about this before in “The Happy Dance: Getting Hooked on Genealogy”).

The odd thing was, the experience was more intense for some ancestors than others. Other genea-bloggers have written about this phenomenon. In my experience, it was not necessarily that I identified more with some ancestors than with others. It was that I felt a particular claim to an ancestor because I had “found” that ancestor - found in the sense that none of the relatives I knew while I was growing up knew this ancestor, and any distant cousins who did know of this ancestor’s existence did not know of his or her connection to my family. If I did find a known ancestor but learned new information, then I felt that much closer. And I feel close to my “dead-end branch” ancestors as well, because I intend to find their families.

From the brief flush of discovery to the more sustained feeling of connection, the experience continues to be the lure that will keep me looking for ancestors until my fingers are too arthritic to type, my eyes are to clouded to make out those old documents, and my mind is too mushy to put the genealogical evidence together.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Clean Your Way to a Better Life

The Scrappy Genealogist’s announcement on Friday that she will be featuring guest posts from different geneamommybloggers this week (“How She Does It - Secrets from the Geneamommybloggers”) has inspired me to share my recent experience in trying to organize my house and simplify my life to clear the way for the things I really want to do, especially family research and blogging about my research.

My daughters are young adults now (18 and 21), so I have survived the super-intense earlier phases of raising children. I now have a bit more time to do things like read, research, and write (when work isn’t so insane that my workdays run long and leave me too exhausted to do anything that takes a brain cell or two).

And yet even before work started to demand more and more of me, I noticed that my productivity in the area of family research was falling. I realized that the main culprit was the messy accumulation of clutter, compounded by a few other things that gobbled up a lot of time.

My solution involved about a dozen elements:

1. Throw out a lot of stuff.

2. Give a lot of stuff away.

3. Identify, locate, centralize, and organize your most precious heirlooms, family documents, and physical and electronic research documents and records.

4. Figure out a system for holding/storing anything you have a lot of (books, CDs, etc.). Buy whatever shelves, boxes, storage bins you need to accommodate them.

5. Throw out some more stuff.

6. Cut down on purchases, especially those that add unnecessary “stuff” to your household. This also means fewer birthday, Christmas, and special occasion gifts.

7. Figure out what items can be replaced by their electronic equivalents. My family and I are not terribly good at this, and my husband and I in particular are attached to the physical forms of many things (= books and CDs). However, my daughters are getting e-readers for Christmas and I am getting an iPad. We figure that most of our fiction reading and some of our nonfiction/research reading can be handled on these platforms. I would like to reduce the number of DVDs we buy, since so much can be viewed online. There is still some ethnic/esoteric music that I order in CD form, but these days there is a lot more of my “weird” music on iTunes than there used to be.

8. Give away some more stuff.

9. Identify and eliminate unnecessary and time-consuming chores. For me this year this will be writing the annual Christmas letter. As a genealogist, I know that Christmas letters can be goldmines of family information, but I am just tired of writing them. It started out as a way to save time, because I was individualizing each card for each recipient to the point that it was an exhausting undertaking. But you know what? Now I have a blog, use Facebook and Google Plus, and am always happy to correspond by e-mail. With a great deal of regret, I also discontinued my Follow Friday posts.

10. Clean house, clean out and organize your closets and junk drawers, and scrub and dust off those remote corners, high shelves, and other places you rarely visit to clean. It’s a pain, but it should take care of dust moozy/dust mite havens for another year or two. Clean out the fridge and clear the shelves of old food (you know you’ve got stuff that expired in 2008 in there).

11. If you have the time, energy, and money to do so, take care of any other matters that are a drag on your energy if you leave them undone: clean up your finances and financial records, get minor household repairs done, get the car fixed and cleaned, schedule medical appointments you have been putting off.

12. Clean up the yard, or at least take care of the worst eyesores: mow, pick up twigs and sticks, pick the worst weeds.

This is what I (and my husband and even occasionally my daughters) have been doing for the last two months. I am not listing all of these things to sound virtuous. If we had been more conscientious and better organized to begin with, things would not have reached such a critical state - to the point that I felt too paralyzed to effectively continue my research. I did not take a complete hiatus from blogging, but I definitely slowed down a bit.

Most important of all: Figure out what things are most important to you, and figure out how you can focus on them and include all of them. My priorities are:

Family life - spending home time with my family, going out to eat or see movies, and taking vacations together. This includes taking time to play and cuddle with our cats and actively participating in church. Keeping in touch with other family members, including cousins and “research cousins.”

Continuing to educate myself: in the area of languages (for my profession/vocation), in the area of genealogical research (for my hobby/avocation), and in the area of general knowledge (simply for personal development and enjoyment). Putting aside time to read and listen to music.

Family research. Getting my resources (including my bookmarks and Research Toolbox) in order. Continuing to get that cousin bait out there. Attending conferences. Taking research trips.

Gardening and feeding the birds in our yard.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Now, after peeling off layer after layer of things accumulated after more than 20 years of being a family with children, I am just about ready to crawl out from under my rock and start some serious research.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Whatever Wednesday: 5 October 2011

Strolling down memory lane can be a risky undertaking. Of course, I did not know that I would be taking that stroll when I decided last weekend that it was finally time to quit procrastinating and tackle the attic. It was one of the biggest and most dreaded chapters in the Great Cleaning Frenzy book.

Going through my daughters’ baby clothes and old books was not too traumatic. I found a couple of dresses that I realized were not central to my memories of their childhood, and they went into the Good Will pile. I did not have to endure the agony of sorting out the schoolwork and artwork of their early years; that had already been taken care of in the Great Cleaning Frenzy of 1999, and every year thereafter we would sift out “the best of the best” at the end of the school year and haul it up into the attic for storage.

As a matter of fact, when I first went up into the attic, I was surprised at how neat and organized all the boxes looked. Sure, everything was pretty dusty, but all I had to do was open each box or bin, figure out whether the contents included anything that was no longer of practical use or a vessel of cherished memories, and sort out items to be given away or thrown out. Even old children’s books were an easy job, as I had resolved beforehand to use a light hand, only culling out books that stirred no smiles or memories.

By the time I had finished with the last box, there were sizable piles of trash and giveaways.

Only the little closet next to the chimney stack wall remained. There wasn’t much in it; other than half of a Nativity set and a barbed wire Christmas wreath (it’s a Texas thing), just some old mementos from some of our vacations and old Christmas cards, all dating to the last century.

I pulled out several bags, and found a bit of chewing damage from squirrels, who periodically invade our attic, get evicted by the exterminator, and several months or years later find a way to sneak back in. Only a couple of papers got chewed. Good. I started to sort through the ragged and dusty bags full of cards, brochures, maps, and schedules. Our honeymoon and major vacations each got separate piles, Christmas cards seemed to have been divided roughly by year, and miscellaneous small trips formed a final pile. Out of that pile I picked up a folded brochure for New York City:

“No matter who you are, you can be on top of the world at the World Trade Center.”

It must have been around 1991, when my husband and I took Daughter #1, then about 18 months old, into Manhattan to visit FAO Schwartz. On the way back we decided on the spur of the moment to go to the top of one of the WTC towers. We had forgotten our camera, so we picked up the brochure, which featured a classic New York skyline picture centered on the Twin Towers. Ten years later, the towers were gone. And ten years after that, I unexpectedly came across this painful reminder.

Another pile of mementos yielded a letter from a friend who has since left us, thanking us for providing moral support during a difficult time. Another bittersweet memory.

And more: Christmas cards from a beloved babysitter, a neighbor my husband grew up calling “Aunt Sarah,” dear aunts and uncles who supported me with love and faith - all gone now.

So much loss brought back so suddenly, jarringly, in just one short trip to the attic.

I placed each pile in a separate envelope and put the envelopes in a covered bin, passed down the bag of trash, climbed down the ladder from the attic, and took a shower to wash the dust off.

I am getting close to winding up the Great Cleaning Frenzy. Daughter #2 comes home tomorrow for a few days; there are some sorting chores for which I need her judgment and input. Soon after that, I hope, I will be back to research and (regular) blogging.

Other bits

Monday, while I was watching Part One of Ken Burns’ series Prohibition, I recognized some clips taken from the 1906 SF film “A Trip Down Market Street” that FootnoteMaven featured on Shades of the Departed.

One of my favorite recent blog posts: “Mistakes Are Made (but Using the Passive Isn’t One of them)” by Geoffrey Pullam on the blog Lingua Franca on The Chronicle of Higher Education website. There is a link within the post to his original article on the subject, “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” I still have copies of that article at work and at home.