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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gratulerar på namnsdagen Ester!

Gratulerar på namnsdagen (Happy Name Day) Ester Ingeborg Clarin.

My great-grandmother Esther was born in Chicago July 7, 1890. She was the first child of Swedish immigrants Carl Larsson Klarin/Clarin (shown here in his Swedish military uniform) and Bengta Johnsdotter.

Bengta died two months before her oldest daughter's fifth birthday. Perhaps that explains some of the interesting choices Esther made throughout her life.

Esther married my great-grandfather in 1907 and had three children. After their divorce, she married again and had five more children. She lived her entire life in Chicago and died in July of 1962. May she rest in peace.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Parlez-vous français?

The roll of film was waiting for me when I arrived. With trembling hands, I loaded it on the microfilm reader.

The first frame of the registres de l'état civil, 1792-1892 appeared on the screen and I was instantly overwhelmed. What had I been thinking? I wanted to search for my great-great grandmother's birth record, but how could I when all the records are in a foreign language?

I took a deep breath. I'm a reasonably intelligent person, aren't I? I managed to grasp the notations in a husförhörslängder. French is just another language, one I will have to master to some extent if I want to trace this branch of my tree.

Another deep breath. Perhaps I could lower my expectations. I decided I wouldn't look for any records in particular. I would just familarize myself with this new tool. That decision removed all the self-induced pressure. Browsing is so much easier than searching.

First there is a cover sheet. I have no idea what it says. It's in French, remember? But there is a year written near the top of the page. 1811. Hmm. My 3rd great-grandfather was born in 1813. I'll just mosey along until I reach that year. As each frame appears, I get more comfortable. The records are in chronological order. The child's name is in the left margin. At the end of each year there is an alphabetical list of all the births, marriages, and deaths that occurred during the past 12 months.

There is a sequence, making the records easy to navigate. The year is clearly marked on each cover sheet and the names are in the left margin. And then I see it! The first of eight birth records I would find over the next two hours. One thrill after another.

Before I rented the film I learned that each birth record contains the names and birthdates of both parents, their birthplaces, when and where they were married and more. Since I couldn't read any of that, my search consisted of following each line of French text until I located the names Nicolas Schmitt and Marie-Anne Gury in the same record. It helped to have a French genealogical dictionary and my family group sheet close by.

After I located all the Schmitt children I knew about, I went back to the beginning of the film and read each name closely. Every Schmitt record was scrutinized to be sure I missed nothing. In 1853 I found a birth about which I hadn't previously known.

Deciding to learn about this new source of information rather than jumping right in to the records made all the difference. Or as we French say, vive la différence!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Who Do You Think YOU Are?

For decades, I thought I was Swedish and German. Never mind that my maternal grandfather was somehow English. I'm not sure how we overlooked that bit of information, but I continued to believe I was 50% one ethnicity and 50% another long after I should have known better.

I started my genealogical exploration with the Swedes. It was my Swedish great-grand uncle's safe deposit box that gave me the push into a "hobby" that has taken over my life. The Swedes are a fascinating group and I attribute many of my personality quirks to them. In terms of record keeping, you can't ask for a better ancestor than a Swede. Every move is dutifully recorded in the church books and one can follow a family back more generations than there are Andersons in the phone book.

At some point, I realized my gene pool had more swimmers than just Swedes. My dad is Swedish too, and we all correctly believed, German. But that oh-so German-sounding surname actually belonged to a Swiss ancestor. Hmm. A little reframing of the picture, but we're all okay with our "new" heritage. We started reading books on the history of Switzerland and dreaming of a vacation to the Alps. Before I finished winding my Swiss watch however, I learned my direct-line ancestor from Switzerland married a woman who immigrated to the United States from France. A French woman, mind you. From France.

Okay. So I'm not just Swedish and German. I'm Swedish and German and Swiss and French. This seemed a bit much for me to digest at one time. So I returned to the comfort and safety of the Swedish church books. And I researched one line after another, making the connections between Sweden and America. Until I learned one of my direct-line Swedish ancestors married a man from Norway. A Norwegian man, mind you. From Norway.

This is okay. I understand and accept I am no longer just Swedish and German. I'm Swedish and German and Swiss and French and Norwegian. Oh my. Maybe this isn't okay. After all, I'm so enamored with Sweden that I have celebrated St Lucia Day for, oh dear, could it be 20 years now? Will I ever love a Swiss holiday the same way? Can I embrace my French-ness as enthusiastically? And Norwegian ~ didn't Sweden once rule that country?

Oh, but I mustn't forget Grandpa who is somehow English. Is it even possible to add another country to the display on flag day? Some of my grandfather's personality traits, in particular his dry sense of humor, were always attributed to his English ancestry. So it was rather interesting when I learned my grandfather isn't English. His father immigrated from the Isle of Man. Which means....

I'm Swedish and German and Swiss and French and Norwegian and Manx. And finally, after getting to know the ancestors that contributed their DNA to my gene pool, I'm okay with that.

But there's more! Another surprise may be lurking on the horizon. I traced one of my direct lines to 18th century Maryland. For all we know, he may have crossed the ocean from England or Ireland or Scotland...

I’d better start shopping for another flag pole.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In memory of James Walton 16 March 1871

The Isle of Man is located about 22 miles off the northwest coast of England in the middle of the Irish Sea. It is a favorite spot for British and Irish vacationers as it is a mere 83 miles from Liverpool and just 90 miles from Belfast.

IOM is not a large island, only 33 miles long and 13 miles wide. More than 40% of the island is uninhabitable.

While it is a dependant territory of the Crown, the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom. It is self-governing with its own parliment called Tynwald; its own laws, traditions, cultures, and cuisine.

If you were born on the Isle of Man as the Bee Gees were, and my great-grandfather James Walton was, you would be Manx. Perhaps you've heard of the Manx cat?

When my great grandfather was seven months old his parents immigrated to Cleveland Ohio. James was the oldest of six children born to James and Isabella (nee Joughin) Walton and the only one who lived to adulthood.

As a young man, my great-grandfather left Cleveland and traveled to Chicago where he met his future bride. But that's a story for another time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Right Your Family History

I spent a half hour or so last night updating my family history web site. It's quite possible that I am the only person who reads what I've written there, but as I type I imagine I am sharing information with a reader who has an interest in, but no knowledge of my ancestors.

I write that my 2nd great-grandfather lived in Chicago "for some time". My imaginary reader asks how long? I check my notes and find that while gg-grandpa was indeed in Chicago for long periods, his stays were speckled with relocations to Michigan. My reader asks how I know these things. Of course I have census records, city directories, newspaper articles, family photos, and several obituaries as collaboration, but my reader doesn't know that.

It's important to me that the information on my web site is correct. Better to have less of a story than to post an inaccurate account. So I check and recheck to make sure I'm right.

My imaginary reader's insistence on knowing the whole story forces me to implement Genealogical Standards as well as literary style to my family history pages. It's like having someone looking over my shoulder asking me the hows and whys of each story. My imaginary reader guarantees that the stories I relay online are accurate.

In writing for an audience, I right the narration of my family history; verifying facts and filling in any missing pieces. And for that, dear reader, I thank you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Traditions in Today's Family History

It would be nice to know more about my ancestors' favorite traditions. Not just the holiday celebrations, but the everyday stuff that made up their day-to-day lives.

Did they meet for brunch after church? Was there a dress code for gatherings? Did Grandma knit a blanket for every newborn? Were there special places they always visited? What made their family unique among the millions of families on the planet?

In our family, there's a big difference between parents and grandparents. The parents are all about teaching; manners, safety, rules, good sportsmanship, appropriate behavior. And they do an exceptional job. We grandparents have much more freedom between the lines. And therein lies the fun.

I have two rules when my grandchildren are passengers in my car. First, you must wear your safety belt. And second, you must wear cool glasses. The first time I packed fun sunglasses was a lark. My four oldest grandchildren, blessed with incredible senses of humor, enjoyed the experience. Rinse and repeat, and voila! A tradition is born.

Fun glasses are part of what makes our family unique. What traditions play a role in the family history you are creating?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In memory of Nicolas Schmitt 09 Mar 1813

Nicolas Schmitt is my 3rd great-grandfather. He was born in Hellimer, Moselle, France on this day in 1813.

France was unchartered genealogical territory for me for decades. First because I believed what my family believed; we're Swedish and German. Then after coming to terms with my French DNA, I was intimidated by the enormous task of learning to research records that had been created in France.

But I was fascinated by Nicolas, who left his country of origin with his wife and seven children in 1854. The family settled in Cincinnati Ohio. Two more children were born in Ohio and sadly, Nicolas became a widower before 1870.

So little is known about this man. Schmitt, a common name with many spelling variations, isn't easy to trace. And Cincinnati experienced not one, but three courthouse fires.

So I started by learning about France. For example, when Nicolas was born, Napoleon Bonaparte was the Emperor of France. Nicolas and his children hailed from Moselle, a département (number 57 to be exact) in Lorraine named after the Moselle River. Lorraine is rich in coal and steel, commodities highly-desirable to bordering countries. Conflicts over who had the rights to these riches left the area war torn for many years.

Learning something new everyday keeps our minds sharp. I'm taking a free class in french genealogy, I signed up for a french blog, and I joined a french mailing list. France is a country rich in beauty, history, and genealogical treasures ~ ours for the taking. Vive la France!


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good Old-Fashioned Microfilm

Technology is amazing, isn't it? The information we desire can be ours with just a few clicks on the keyboard. Well, most of the time anyway.

Every time a human comes in contact with a record the chance for error is increased. The person listening to a name misspells it, the person transcribing the record misreads it, the person indexing the transcription mistypes it and so on. Computers, as wonderful as they are, are limited in the logic they can find in illogical files. There are many research situations in which the only way to move forward is to step back.

Some surnames can be spelled in such a variety of ways, that no matter how creatively we search the index, it's nowhere to be found. Trying every imaginable spelling only takes us as far as OUR imagination. Perhaps the person inputting the information was even more imaginative.

Looking at a list of names with our human eyes allows us to make connections a computer can't make. Recently we found an obituary for the surname ICE. In the newspaper the name had been written ISE. Analyzing the clues contained in the record verified this was the correct person. A simple mistake.

Mildred Bjorn was mentioned in another obituary. You might think her surname is a candidate for errors, but it was her given name that was the stumbling block. It was indexed as Meldrett. The Swedish accent of the child's mother and the intake clerk's phonetic spelling combined to make this creative record challenging to locate.

The search capabilites of newspaper subscription sites are amazing. I have located many ancestors this way. But when the publication isn't available online or the computer search comes up blank, it's time to head for a good old-fashioned microfilm reader.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hunter or Gatherer?

Years ago my husband and I laughed while a comedian joked about the differences between men (hunters) and women (gatherers). There are strengths and weaknesses prevalent in both hunting and gathering. Genealogy offers many opportunities to play on one or the other side of this fence, but the best researchers combine the two.

When I started my research I waited weeks for documents to arrive in the mail, for films to reach my local FHC, for responses to those ever-popular "Are you my family?" inquiry letters. Now if my computer hesitates for a millisecond while I'm browsing through census pages, I wonder what is causing the delay. It isn't that I've become less patient. It's more that I've become accustomed to instant gratification when I'm on a genealogical mission.

But all that gathering takes a toll. I can accumulate record numbers of pages in record time. I know it's impossible to analyze seven thousand documents a week, yet the availability of so much information is seductive. Why shouldn't I download this page and that, print them, and add them to the ever-growing pile of paper on my desk?

The answer is simple: too many clues get lost in the shuffle. When I stop, drop, and roll through the ream of paper on my desk (figuratively, not literally), I find all sorts of new-to-me information:
  • Oh, so that's where he's buried!
  • Ah ha, her middle name was her grandmother's maiden name!
  • How ironic, this child was born on his late father's birthday!
  • This is the first time I saw her signature!
A great deal of willpower is needed to push ourselves away from our computers and read ~really read ~ the items we have already procured. In so doing, we learn remarkable things about what we know, how we know it, and what is yet unknown about our ancestors. This gives us better aim, so to speak, when we hunt for more information.

Gathering is great fun, and truly necessary now and again. Just don't fill your basket so full of miscellany that you miss a trophy catch lurking along the way.