The power of the deadline

page 1 dave's letter to bea testIn my last post, I blogged about how I needed to reignite my interest in doing family history research. Due to competing priorities I hadn’t done any research in awhile and I was having difficulty jumping back in. I decided to work on research that I could share with my father when I visit him next week. That deadline helped activate me a little.

But I let the deadline get closer before taking action. Last week was an especially busy week with organizing clients, so it wasn’t until the weekend that I finally did something. And that’s because I selected a small, fun project that I could do in the now-abbreviated time available to me.

A little background: A couple of years ago, my aunt gave the great gift of a hand-written letter from my grandfather to his then-fiancee, my grandmother. In it he poured out his personal history in the hopes of putting all his cards on the table before they were married. I read and enjoyed it, but retained only a little of the information in my head. (Though I did blog about some of the insights!) I had my grandfather’s handwriting analyzed by Nancy Douglas. (Fascinating!) I had shared the handwriting analysis with my father, but never the actual letter.

So I decided to transcribe the letter before I leave town. I started on Sunday and it’s been such a fun project! The letter is 37 pages, handwritten. But the writing and spacing are large, so it’s not a daunting task. A little bonus is that the letter, when given to me, was missing three double-sided pages. I found those pages in a bundle of love letters my father gave me this past December. So I’ve been able to scan those missing pages and include them in the transcription.

This project has reinforced to me the power of the deadline and the incredible value of transcribing. In the process of transcribing this letter, I’ve really read it. I’ve taken note of what a good writer my grandfather was (he ended up becoming a newspaper reporter) and what a humorous writer he was. It’s given me a little insight into the similarities between my father and grandfather.

It’s also given me a peek into the hardships he endured as a child and young man and what a hard worker he was. I learned, for example, that in high school he worked after school from 3 pm to 11 pm every school day and all day Saturday and Sunday at a movie theater. And for all those hours he earned $14 a week. That was 1922 and Google tells me that would be $191.40 in today’s dollars. Not a great hourly wage! But he wrote very proudly of his hard work and earnings.

I haven’t yet finished transcribing–it’s a great project to take in small chunks and that’s what I’ve been doing. But I’m enjoying it so much and feel my genealogy spark turning back into a flame!

Here’s my takeaway from this little experience. I realized that I was able to reignite the flame because:

  • I had a deadline.
  • I chose a small, fun project.
  • I’m getting some great insights and easy-to-read access to them later
  • That project will be important to someone besides me.
  • The project can be done in 15-minute increments.

When I finish this, I have that set of love letters between these same grandparents that I can transcribe if I choose. Or I move on to something else. But the nice thing is that I’m working on family history again!

Ethnicity: The fun byproduct of my DNA test

DNA test. Now what?Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I never felt much of a connection to March 17 until I had my DNA tested through Ancestry DNA. Then I discovered in that test that I’m 38% Irish. (That’s my pie chart in the picture.) I knew that Ireland was in my family tree, but I haven’t researched much that far back to realize that it was an important part of my heritage.

Growing up, Irish roots were never mentioned. All that came up was vague mention of England, though in reality our heritage wasn’t much discussed. That’s probably because there were  no immigrants recent enough for my parents or grandparents’ to have known them. We always just felt American.

When I had my DNA tested, it was in an effort to meet cousins and further my genealogical research. (Understanding those results is an ongoing project.) The ethnicity component of didn’t even enter my mind. But today, St. Patrick’s Day, it feels nice to have a kinship with my Irish forebears, though I’m still learning about who they were.

If you’ve had your DNA tested were you surprised by the ethnicity results?

Have you created a longevity pedigree?

There’s a fun idea making the rounds of twitter and genealogy blogs in the last week or so. It started with a tweet by David Allen Lambert (@DLGenealogist) who sketched a pedigree with his ancestors’ ages at death on the back of a napkin.

the longevity pedigree

I first read about it on the Genealogical Gems blog. Jeanne, the Genealogical Gems author, added cause of death to her longevity chart. I was captivated by such a simple, but revealing idea.

It took just a few minutes for me to grab a scrap of paper out of the recycling bin and sketch my own. It’s not the most beautiful document, but I didn’t get all perfectionistic about it. Here it is (click the image to get a better view):

Creating a longevity pedigree

It was a fun and useful exercise. Here are some of the things it revealed to me:

  • My people tended to live a long time. (But I knew that already.)
  • My ancestors tended to die from disease or old age, not accidents.
  • I have Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke on both sides of the family (though I bet that’s not too unusual).
  • I haven’t noted the cause of death for a good number of my ancestors.
  • I have yet to discover an ancestor who died in war.
  • I have more death certificates to find!

I’m glad that David Lambert’s simple idea has become so popular, because I really enjoyed making mine!

Have you made a longevity pedigree? If so, what did it reveal?

Black History Collection free at Fold3 this month

Fold3 Black History Collection free in FebruaryI’m a little late to the game on this, but there are ten days left in February. I just became aware that the Black History Collection at Fold3.com is available to all (subscribers or non-subscribers) this month. It includes over a million photos and documents from five eras (more information here):

  • Slave records
  • The Civil War
  • Reconstruction & Jim Crow Laws
  • World War I & II
  • The Civil Rights Movement

If you have African American ancestors this might be a great opportunity to learn new things about them! If you’re interested in black history this looks like a rich collection.