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.

It’s my 3rd blogiversary!

happyblogiversarylgJune 14 marked three years since I published my first post here. (That post was called My quest to learn more about my family history.) Time goes by so quickly. I am so glad I decided to start this blog, for lots of reasons. It has done a wonderful job of helping me stay focused on my family history research. It has prompted me to go to genealogy conferences. It has brought me closer to family. And it has helped me make new friends.

The most popular post on the blog so far has been Reading hard-to-read gravestones, in which I discuss using aluminum foil to make a gravestone legible. I had read about that technique elsewhere and documented my use of it, with my husband’s help, on a family cemetery trip. That particular post has gone my small-scale version of viral: In the last two days, it has been viewed over 5,000 times!

Speaking of statistics, in my first two blogiversary posts, I gathered and published a few statistics. In the interest of consistency, I’ll do it again:

In the third year of this blog:

  • I wrote 72 posts (74 in year two, 79 posts in the first year).
  • There were a total of 84,270 views (35,198 the second year, 6,424 in year one).
  • I had 245 comments, about half of which were my own (compared to 316 and 106 comments in past years).
  • 272 people subscribe to the blog (that number was 160 a year ago and 82 on 6/14/13)

So it looks like I’ve remained somewhat steady in terms of the number of blog posts (though I would have guessed that I’d posted more!). Pageviews and subscribers are growing. In the 2014 calendar year, I had about 55,000 views and I set a goal this year of 100,000 views. I’m on track for that, which is great. (I love having goals.)

I’ve had the opportunity to meet several blog readers at conferences this year and that has been so wonderful! (I was even recognized by a couple of people at the NGS conference!) I hope to meet more of you in the coming year.

Thank you so much for reading this blog. If there are any topics you’d like me to address in Year Four, please let me know!

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!

 

How do you spell genealogy? P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E

Good genealogy takes patienceThe word that kept running through my mind as I took the excellent classes at last week’s National Genealogical Society’s conference is patience. As I listened to professional genealogists talk about strategies for success and skill building, I was reminded that good genealogy research takes time. It takes thoroughness. And it takes patience.

When I first dipped my toe into genealogy about 15 years ago, I went to an Internet cafe when I was visiting my parents (it was the days before I owned and traveled with a laptop), got on some website (probably Family Search) and started clicking through trees, going backwards in time. I created handwritten pedigree charts and was thrilled with how quickly my family tree grew.

I took everything at face value and evaluated nothing. By the time my “research” took me back to a Prince of Wales, I realized that perhaps some critical thinking was in order. I became overwhelmed at the notion of having to verify everything and put away those pedigree charts for almost a decade.

Six years ago, I decided to pick it up again and start from scratch. I’m using software now (Reunion) and nothing gets added to my tree without a source. The tree is growing slowly.

I figured out this year that I want my family tree branches to grow out, not up. While I appreciate the thrill of breaking into a new generation, I recognize now that I shouldn’t grow upward without taking the time to grow the branches outward. So I’m adding the siblings of my relatives to my tree, which can be painstaking. I’m also trying to add as many sources as possible to each fact.

In the NGS class that I mentioned in my last post, “But I’ve Looked Everywhere,” Barbara Vines Little says that we should have look for every sibling in every census. That takes patience. Combing through records, particularly unindexed records, takes patience. Figuring out alternate spellings to search or exploring friends, neighbors and associates to find elusive ancestors takes patience.

Yes, it can be thrilling to click backward in time, taking other people’s research at face value. Yet the rewards of patiently and thoroughly finding and citing sources are much greater. Good genealogists are patient people. They celebrate the small victories. And they move on to the next one, however long it may take.

Photo by Greg via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.