Monday, October 30, 2017

Photographs: A Cautionary Tale

Harriet Gordon,
bar mitzvah, 1960
I have posted before about the benefits of showing unidentified photographs to older family members to see if they recognize any of the faces.  It's important to do that as soon as possible — multiple times, if necessary — because once those older family members have passed away, no one else in the family may recognize the faces in those old photographs.  And sometimes it doesn't even have to be as dramatic as someone passing away for the opportunity to be lost.

Several years ago, in 2002, I visited my grandmother, Bubbie, in Florida.  We had lunch with several of her cousins, and she remembered that she had photos that were important to them:  "I have a photograph of your parents on their wedding day."  "I have a photo of you when you were a baby."  When we returned to her apartment after the luncheon, she had me drag out four big boxes of photos and we went through them looking for those she wanted to give to the cousins.  Bubbie wouldn't let me label any of the photos, but we put aside the ones she wanted to give to the cousins.

Fast forward two years to 2004.  Bubbie's memory had started to fade a little.  She hadn't actually begun to forget things, but she was repeating herself several times in one conversation.  I remembered those boxes of unlabeled photographs and thought I better do something.  I was already planning to visit a paternal cousin near Orlando, Florida for Thanksgiving, and my grandmother lived near Fort Lauderdale.  That was pretty close, so I  told Bubbie I wanted to visit her and quickly added a flight to Fort Lauderdale to my schedule.

This time Bubbie was much more amenable to labeling the photos.  I brought piles of sticky notes.  We went through all four boxes again, and she let me put a note on every photo.  This not only meant that every photo was identified, it led to the discovery that one photo was of my great-great-grandparents.

And why is this a cautionary tale?  The visit to my grandmother was in November.  The next summer, in 2005, she had a severe stroke.  While her brain and memory functions were left relatively intact, she was functionally blind.  She could no longer see the photographs and would not have been able to tell me who was in them.

I am very fortunate that I took advantage of the opportunity to visit my grandmother and convince her to let me label the photographs she had.  If you have a lot of unidentified photos in your family, don't wait.  Talk to those older relatives and ask for their help in letting you know who is in the photos.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Top 10 (or 20) Surnames in Your Family Tree

In this week's installment of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver is updating another of his statistical analyses of his family tree database.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

Go into your genealogy management program (GMP; either software on your computer or an online family tree) and figure out how to count how many surnames you have in your family tree database.

(2) Tell us which GMP you're using and how you did this task.

(3) Tell us what the top 10 (or 20)  surnames are in your database and, if possible, how many entries.  How many different surnames are in your family tree?

(4) Write about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, in a status or comment on Facebook, or in a Google+ Stream post.

I last did this analysis in 2015, although Randy mentioned that he ran it in 2016 also (I must have missed that day).  I am still using Family Tree Maker 16 on a PC (if it ain't broke, don't fix it).  To find the total number of different surnames, I go to the Tools menu, then Family File Statistis, and then click on Calculate "Total number of different Surnames."

I have 2,004 different surnames.  Two years ago I had 1,952 surnames.  I have made a little progress.

My program does not provide me with a handy list of the top surnames.  I have to count them manually.  Even though I have added more than 50 surnames to the database, the top ten are the same, and the numbers have not changed much.

1.  Gantt/Gaunt/Gauntt, 879 people
2.  Sellers/Söller, 633 people
3.  Allen, 142 people
4.  Mack/Mock, 132 people
5.  Fuller, 103 people
6.  Crawford, 66 people
7.  Dunstan, 64 people
8.  Eckman, 61 people
9.  Wickham, 52 people
10.  Smith, 50 people

So the only changes are in the top three names.  I know I've done work on the Gauntts and Sellerses, so I understand why they increased, but the additional Allens don't make sense to me.  But statistics don't lie, right?

And I still don't count "unknown" as a surname.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Piranhas and Stream of Consciousness

Photo by Greg Hume
October 16 was the birthday of Mary Lou, my half-sister's mother, so it seems like a good day to remember her and tell a couple of stories about her.

The first story comes from my own memories.  As I wrote last year, Mary Lou and my sister lived with my family for a while around 1968.  After they moved to a place of their own, they couldn't have been too far away, because we used to visit them semiregularly.  One of the really fun things about visiting was that Mary Lou had a fish tank with real piranhas.  (Yes, I'm pretty sure it was illegal even then to have piranhas, but I was a kid, so I didn't think about these things.)  Mary Lou would let us feed raw ground beef to the fish, always warning us that we shouldn't let our fingers get in the water because the fish would be more than happy to bite us along with the meat.  We loved watching them gobble up the beef and then look for more.

The second story was one my mother told me.  When Mary Lou wrote letters, it was stream of consciousness.  Whatever she was thinking about, she wrote.  So a letter might start off with the latest family news and then continue with, "Oh, someone is at the door.  I'll get it and be right back."  Then it would pick up with information about whoever had been knocking, whether friend or salesman.  She even wrote e-mail messages like that sometimes, just whatever popped into her head.  Since Mary Lou was Irish on both sides of her family, maybe she was channeling James Joyce?

Mary Lou has been gone since 2004.  I like to think she knows I'm writing about her and appreciates it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Were You Doing in 1990?

I think I can guess what generated the topic for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.  Randy Seaver found the Christmas letter that he quoted in his post and decided it would be a great idea for an assignment, with his already prewritten.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

(1) Do you recall what you were doing in 1990?  Family, school, work, hobbies, technology, genealogy, vacations, etc?

(2) Tell us in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook or Google+ post.

I don't have a convenient Christmas letter to remind me of everything I did during the year 1990, so let's see what I can dredge up from memory.

I began the year living in a house in Berkeley, California, as an unpaid housekeeper/nanny/cook.  Halfway through the year I moved two houses down the street, first to the main house and then to a little in-law cottage in the back yard.

I was still a part-time college student in 1990, as that's how I continued to defer my student loans until I eventually paid them off.  I was taking American Sign Language and creative writing classes at Vista College in Berkeley (now Berkeley City College).

At the beginning of the year I was doing part-time work as an in-home aide for a woman with cystic fibrosis.  One of the errands I used to run for her was dropping things off at a local independent thrift store.  One day while I was there I was bitten in the face and neck by a dog belonging to an employee.  I was calm about the whole thing, while the dog owner was hysterical.  He drove me to the hospital and paid for all the bills, though, so there was nothing to worry about.  I used to have a 2" scar on my cheek from the attack, but it seems to have gone away with time.

The other exciting thing that happened in 1990 was a little more unusual.  The couple for whom I was a housekeeper/nanny (let's call them "Bob" and "Carol") was engaged in a wife-swapping arrangement with another couple (say, "Ted" and "Alice").  "Ted" apparently was not actually that happy with the situation.  One night when "Alice" was at our house with "Bob", "Ted" came over, started screaming at "Alice", and dragged her out of the house physically.  Brilliant me, in a long nightgown and with no shoes on, but concerned about "Alice", followed them down the stairs and asked "Ted" where he was going and what he was going to do.  He told me if I wanted to know to come along.  So I did.  He drove all around Berkeley, up and down streets, in circles, and eventually ended up at his and "Alice's" apartment.  He dragged her in there, where she collapsed in the corner cowering and whimpering.  I followed him into the kitchen, where he picked up a big knife and looked at me.  For a moment I considered whether he was going to kill me and/or "Alice", and I was going to die trying to defend someone who didn't seem inclined to defend herself.  Then suddenly he calmed down and put the knife away.  It was like a switch was turned off.  He collected "Alice", we all went back to the car, and he drove us back to the house.  He dropped me off, but I don't remember if "Alice" stayed or went back with him.  And nothing was ever said about that incident.

I began working at Chessex sometime in the late summer or early fall when I needed a job with more income.  I started out asking at Berkeley Game Distributors (which no longer exists) about work, but they didn't have any openings at the time and pointed me downstairs to Chessex, which was in the same building and was looking for an assistant production manager.  And so began my career in the adventure game industry.

My brother came out to the West Coast early in the year, probably for his once-every-three-years trip to Reno for the big amateur bowling tournament he used to participate in.  He was able to stop by and visit me in Berkeley for a few hours.  It had to be the early part of the year because I was still in the first house, where I was a housekeeper.

The primary traveling I did was to and from the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire (maybe in Devore by that time?) in the spring on the weekends.  In fact, the day I was bitten by the dog had to be a Friday, because we drove down to the faire as soon as I got out of the hospital.  I worked the Northern California faire also, but that was only going from Berkeley to Novato.  I probably also went to Los Angeles once or twice for game conventions.

I remember that I went to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving.  I drove back on Sunday, which I discovered was a horrible mistake, as that's the day everyone else goes back home.  I had bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-5 for pretty much all 400 miles of the trip.  I swore I would never do that again!

I don't think I was able to visit my family for the Christmas holidays due to a lack of funds.  I don't remember if they were still in Texas or if they had already moved back to Florida by then.  It might have been the year I worked on a cross-stitch Christmas piece for a present for my aforementioned brother.

Monday, October 9, 2017

RootsTech 2018 Schedule Available

Even though I'm a speaker at next year's RootsTech conference, I did not receive a notification from FamilySearch that the schedule is now available online.  I'm lucky that I read about it in a couple of other bloggers' posts, so I headed over to find out when my talk is scheduled.

I am teaching one class at RootsTech 2018:

Online ≠ Free: Copyright Issues for Genealogy
Saturday, March 3, 3:00 p.m.
Session RT9427

So if you plan to attend the full length of the conference, think about coming to my session, in the very last time slot.  Registration is also open, so you can take care of that now, before you forget.  There is a huge variety of classes on the schedule, with something for just about everyone.  I look forward to seeing lots of my fellow genealogists in Salt Lake City at the conference!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Own Newspaper Article

Sometimes an idea just clicks.  When I read this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge from Randy Seaver, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Your mission this week, should you decide to accept it, is:

(1) Go to the The Newspaper Clipping Generator ( and create one or more articles using this tool.

(2) You can generate articles that didn't appear in the newspaper, articles you wish had appeared in the newspaper, or even your own obituary (in the future).

(3) Share your newspaper clipping(s) with us as an image or a screen capture on your own blog, as a comment to this blog post, or on a Facebook or Google+ post.

(4) Please give me a link to your clipping in a comment to this post.

I am harnessing the power of positive thinking.  If I dream it, it can happen.

The Family History Times, October 29, 2017

Of course, we all know that this is a fake newspaper article.  But if anyone recognizes the names of my aunt and/or her son and can share any information that will help us learn what happened to him, please write to me at

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Second Nugget Issue — Finally!

The first issue of The California Nugget after I became the new editor was published in January.  In theory, the second issue should have come out in May, but between my house sale and move to Oregon, and the layout person's busy summer schedule (including a trip to see the eclipse), we slipped.  The finals went to the printer last week, and they should be in the mail by now.  With the issue being published so late in the year, there will only be the two issues this year (which worked better logistically for CGS anyway).

The new column about genealogical methods might look like it's by a different author because of a name change.  Rondina recently married and is now Rondina P. Wallace (and still a CG).  Her column this issue is on things to think about when using derivative records.

The lead article is by Barry E. Hinman and delves into the life of his ancestor Joel Burlingame, the father of the man for whom the city in California was named.  Joel lived during most of the 19th century, and Barry used a family narrative to show how Joel's life reflects what was going on in the United States at the time.  This article is a two-parter, with the second half coming in the next issue.

Another first-run article in this issue is by Bill Chapman of the UK, who has been studying the history of Esperanto.  He found several California residents in the early 20th century who were listed in Esperanto contact directories.  Perhaps you'll find one of your relatives in the list?

The remaining articles are being reprinted from other publications, because they are great pieces and most members of the California Genealogical Society have probably not seen them previously.  Norm Ishimoto wrote a wonderful story about his mother and her career as a professional costumer, which was published in the Froghorn of another CGS, the Calaveras Genealogical Society.  Vinnie Schwarz's article on her discovery that her great-great-grandmother was a woman of color in Louisiana appeared in The Baobab Tree, the quarterly journal of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California.  (Both of these also are multipart articles that will continue in the next issue.)  And Fred Hoffman's excellent short piece about the perils of relying on machine translation was published first in Gen Dobry!, the monthly e-zine of Polish Roots.

The next issue of the Nugget is scheduled for February 2018, to coincide with the 120th anniversary founding of the California Genealogical Society (CGS).  To help commemorate that milestone, I am particularly seeking articles and short items having to do with people and events in 1898.  If you are a CGS member and someone in your family was hatched, matched, or dispatched (born, married, or died) that year, send a message with the relevant information, and I will include it in a special calendar.  If something significant happened in your family in 1898, consider submitting an article about it.  If you had a relative who was a member of CGS during the society's first few years, let me know who it was and what activities that person was involved in.  Send your submissions and suggestions to