Gravestones can contain errors

gravestones can be inaccurateI know this isn’t news to most of you, but the fact that gravestones can contain errors was brought home to me after my mother passed away last month. As I posted at the time, her obituary contained an error, even though I (a professional writer) had written it myself.

Somehow I felt that more care was given to the accuracy of gravestones, since they are, literally, engraved in stone. But I learned otherwise when my father and I went to the cemetery office to make arrangements. The office worker handed me a printout of what the grave marker would look like (it’s the covering for the niche in which her cremated remains were placed) and my mother’s birth date was wrong. She was born May 2, 1933 and the marker proof said May 5, 1933.

I caught it handily and made the correction. And of course it was simple human error. But what if I hadn’t been there and my grieving father hadn’t caught it? The gravestone would have been wrong. I wonder how many times that has happened in generations gone by. I would imagine our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of seeing proofs.

The experience has led me to take less stock in the “proof” that I had thought a gravemarker provided. It’s simply another secondary source that needs to be verified through other means.

It’s a great reminder of why it’s important to have multiple sources for any facts we track down.

An embarrassment of riches

bambooforestOne of my tendencies when it comes to my genealogy research is to get overwhelmed and then paralyzed. I’ve worked hard to avoid the “Where do I start?” question that used to prevent me from getting to work.

My feelings of overwhelm have taken on a new quality of late. I went to two excellent genealogy conferences (the National Genealogical Society conference and the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree) within in one month one another recently and I learned about so many amazing resources to pursue that I don’t know which way to turn.

On top of that, I took action after the first day of the NGS conference and ordered Civil War pension files for three of my Union soldier ancestors and now have literally 300 pages of documents to go through. (That’s exciting but overwhelming!)

It’s an embarrassment of riches. I feel like there are so many good things to pursue, I don’t know how to choose. (On my other organizing blog, I’ve written about how challenging I find it to have too many choices.)

Doing nothing because I have too many choices is clearly not a good option. So I need to figure out how to narrow things down.

When I was at the two conferences, I used my mobile devices to add genealogy tasks to my Things task-management app.  But just looking at that list has become overwhelming.

So here’s what I’ve decided to do:

  • Sort the tasks by surname
  • Remind myself of my quarterly goals
  • Prioritize the tasks so that I can see the Rasco ones easily, since the new quarter starts tomorrow (and I’ll therefore be shifting my focus to the Rasco family)
  • Give myself permission to work on pension records even though they’re not Rasco-related, so that I can work on properly processing them, a little at a time

Just giving myself a plan of action has made me feel less overwhelmed. Assigning surnames to the tasks so I can isolate one family has limited the options and made me feel more calm.

I think I’m going to create a separate “Opportunities” list that I’ll populate with the various resources I want to explore so that I can get inspired without having the distraction of including those resources in my genealogy task list.

Genealogy is such a journey of discovery. Sometimes I feel surrounded by data and learning opportunities and I can’t see where I’m going. Creating a clear path to follow will help me stay focused and happy while I explore my roots.

Photo by Stale Grut via Unsplash.

Take obituaries with a grain of salt

Take obituaries with a grain of saltMy mother, Betty Sue Brown Adams, died last week.  She was born on May 2, 1933 and died June 17, 2015. It felt very strange to add a death date to her entry in Reunion, my family tree software.

Since I’m a writer, my father asked me to write her obituary. Fortunately, we had had discussions about what she wanted in her obituary, so it was quite easy to write. I wrote it the day after she passed away and submitted to the local paper on June 19. It was published Sunday, June 21.

Yesterday, I was looking at the obituary and realized it contained an error, one that was completely my fault. It wasn’t a big deal–I wrote that she’d been a volunteer at the Blue Mountain Humane Society Gift Shop when in fact she’d been a volunteer at the Blue Mountain Humane Society Thrift Shop. It’s a subtle, but significant difference.

Seeing that error made me realize how easy it is for errors to be introduced into obituaries. I was writing with a clear head, with pre-planned information, into a document that I emailed to the newspaper. And yet an error showed up in print.

Just think how easily errors could be introduced into the obituaries of our ancestors: the writer may or may not have known the deceased person. The person who wrote the obituary may or may not be a good writer. The information may have been hand-entered for typesetting. There are so many ways an obituary can be made inaccurate.

So that’s today’s genealogy take away from my mother’s passing: Take obituaries with a grain of salt.

By the way, I wrote on my organizing blog yesterday about the importance of having the difficult conversation that will help make someone’s death easier for survivors. If you have loved ones near the ends of their lives, I encourage you to check it out.

Connecting with an ancestor in NYC

Last weekend, I played tourist in New York City with my twenty-year-old niece, Miranda, who is Australian. She was making a stop in New York en route from Costa Rica back to her home in Australia and invited me to join her in the Big Apple. How could I say no?

She had a long list of sights she wanted to see on her first visit to New York (and we saw most of them). I had just sight on my list: A little street named after our ancestor. Thankfully, Miranda had enough interest in our family history to jump at the chance to go with me to see Coenties Alley.

Thanks to the  genealogy research done by my mother’s first cousins Jerry and Judy Brown, I know that Miranda and I are descended from Conraet Ten Eyck, who emigrated to New York City (then New Amsterdam) in the mid-17th century. He made a good living as a tanner and shoemaker and had sizable property near the area of Lower Manhattan now known as Coenties Slip.

Miranda and I visited Coenties Slip, now a pedestrian walkway and  small park just off Pearl Street near Broad Street. There is also a pedestrian walk called Coenties Alley near Coenties Slip. (Coenties combines the names of Coenradt and his second wife, Antje.)

I had heard about Coenties Alley and Slip more than a decade ago, but this was my first visit to New York where making a pilgrimage to that spot was feasible.

Here’s a photo Miranda took of me in Coenties Alley. (She also took the photo of the Coenties Slip street sign, above.)

janine on coenties alley

One of the things that I love about genealogy research is how it brings history to life. Having this connection to lower Manhattan gave that area new meaning to me. And it was wonderful to be able to share it with my niece!