Friday, February 23, 2018

The best of 2017

Last year had a lot of big accomplishments and memorable days for me - my genealogy business did better than ever, I got to attend DNA Day and the SCGS Jamboree again, and we commemorated the birthday and angel anniversary of my little boy Levi. Among everything that happened, one big thing stands out - an adoption research case I was asked to help on.

A coworker of mine had heard I was into genealogy, and wanted to know if I could help her find her birth family. I said sure, I'd be happy to do what I could. After following several DNA-related mailing lists and watching a few seasons of shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, I was expecting a long, drawn-out, exhaust every possible lead-style search. She brought me a stack of papers she'd collected from courts and other places. As I sorted through them, I was shocked to see how much information she had - transcripts and summaries of the court proceedings leading up to the adoption, detailed information (minus the names) of her birth parents and their families, including the name of the street they lived on and occupation of maternal grandfather. Also, the redaction on the birth mother's name in a couple places wasn't totally complete, as I could almost make out the first letter of her name, and definitely saw the last letter. I couldn't believe how much information there was right there.

I started with the city directory for the city the birth parents lived on for the year of the adoption (thank you Ancestry!). I went through every name on that street, searching for someone who had the occupation listed in the court records, or no occupation given, since it's not always listed. I'd made a list of about 70 names of possible candidates, when suddenly I found one man who worked for the exact company mentioned. Time froze for a second - was this the family? I knew from the court records the birth mother was born after 1940, but she had a couple siblings who were born before then. I jumped over to the 1940 census, found the family and everything fit. PERFECTLY. The ages, the genders, the address, all of it. I couldn't believe it - the whole thing took less than two hours!

I kept searching, and found a high school yearbook for the birth mother's school. She and the birth father had met in high school, and after looking through the high school yearbooks on Ancestry for that town, I was able to find their full names, and obtain senior pictures of both of them. I also found obituaries for them both (sadly they had had both passed away some years ago), which gave the names of half-siblings on both sides. I couldn't believe it!

I wrote a report of the search, compiled all the pictures, and handed them over the next day. Pretty soon, my coworker contacted me, saying she had located and contacted half-siblings on both sides, and was readily accepted by both sides of her family. That was the best news of all. You always wonder how that phone call will go - will they be expecting you? Will they even believe you? It was just awesome to hear about how well everything went for her. In all the research I've done over the years, this stands out in my absolute favorite experiences in genealogy.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I'm back!

After a three-month hiatus, I have returned to blogging! It's been tough finding the time to blog, in between three jobs, three kids, and myriad other responsibilities. When push comes to shove, you have to do what puts food on the table first, right?

But now that things have finally slowed down, I can get back to some serious blogging about my research. I have some exciting plans for 2018! Here are a few of them:

1. Rootstech! I can't overstate how excited I am to be attending Rootstech for the first time next week. Five days of genealogy, DNA, the Family History Library, old friends, and maybe even some food and sleep. Aaaaah! :)

2. Jamboree in June. This makes fourth or fifth year in a row that I've attended Jamboree, and the first year I've attended more than one major conference in a year. I'm super grateful that my wife is willing to help me get to both of these conferences this year.

3. Big genealogy goals - I have two major genealogy goals that I want to accomplish this year.
a. Identify the biological father of Bettye Harris. I've put this off for a few years, while I've dug into other projects, but this year, I want to finally tackle this one.
b. Identify the slaves held by Lewis and Lucinda (Berry) Harris. I've wondered for years what became of them after emancipation. I know where the Harrises lived in 1860, so I'm gonna jump into the area's records and see if I can track any of them down. Family lore says some, if not all, followed them up to Montana. We'll just see about that. :)

4. Continue my professional research. I have absolutely LOVED doing genealogy professionally. I have learned and stretched a lot this last year, and I still have a long ways to go. I need to polish my writing skills, and push myself to make better use of my clients' time.

5. Blog more. I have made some really interesting discoveries, both professionally and personally, and want to share more about them here. I think I need to work on shorter blog posts. I tend to ramble a lot, and when I don't have the time to sit down and write down everything I want to say, I just don't do it. In this case, less would be more - less lenghty posts = more posts in general. Don't want to have to take another 3 month break from blogging.

So yeah, 2018 is looking very exciting! What are your plans for this year? Have you made any awesome discoveries already? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Genealogy Blog Party - Thankful

The theme for the Genealogy Blog Party this month is thankful. The genealogy resource I'm thankful for today is mailing lists. One of the things I love most about the genealogy community is how much we help each other out, how often random strangers will come upon a request for help, drop what they're doing, and jump in with both feet to help someone find the answers and info they're looking for. I see this all the time in the mailing lists I've been on. Here are some examples.

The DNA-Newbie mailing list is where I turned for help when I first got into genetic genealogy five years ago. I met awesome people like CeCe Moore who answered my questions, pointed me to books and other resources, and helped me understand what I was looking at with all these test results.

The Alsace-Lorraine mailing list helped me find one of the most amazing websites out there, with literally hundreds of years of documents of my German/French ancestors from this part of Europe. Below are some of the ancestors I was able to find with these records.

The German Bohemia mailing list has some of the nicest, most helpful people on the planet. They answered my questions, dug into social and political history to explain obscure words, and helped me decipher the difficult German script, an example of which is below.
The Quebec genealogy mailing list helped me identify where in Quebec my French-Canadians were from, and helped me learn to navigate the French-Canadian records on Ancestry and other sites. Their help was crucial in solving a DNA problem I had with my French-Canadian ancestors, and finding the info would have taken much, much more time without their help.
The German-Volhynia-Poland mailing list helped me find records of my Germans in Russia, which led to one of the biggest brick wall busts in my genealogy career so far. I never would have guessed to look in church records written in Polish, kept by the Russian government, to look for my German ancestors without their expertise.
I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind right away. I am a firm believer in the power of mailing lists, so if you are stuck on a line or an ancestor, find a mailing list that covers your topic. There may be someone with the answers you need just waiting to help! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Family History Month - post 20

A few years ago, I came across a site that had a series of pictures where families would try to recreate an old family photo. They were hilarious - photos of dads with babies on their lap became grandpas with their grown children sitting on them, grown men playing with rattles and binkies, etc. I wanted to try that with my siblings, and make a humorous gift for my mom for mother's day a few years ago.

First, the original photo:

It's a cute picture, taken over 30 years ago. For reference, I'm the buck-toothed boy on the top left. Now my sibs live a ways away, my sister in Seattle (not too far, only 30 miles) and my brother in Iowa while going through med school. But they were able to recreate their photos and send them to me, which led to the creation of this masterpiece:

When mom saw this picture, she laughed louder and longer than I have ever heard her laugh. It was so absolutely awesome. Hands down, this is in the top 3 of the best ideas I've ever had. 

Family History Month - post 19

This picture is from a few years ago. it was taken at my aunt's house while a bunch of us were gathered together for something (I can't recall what exactly).  The cool thing about this picture is these kids are all from the next generation of my family - my kids and my cousins' kids. I don't get to see my cousins often, so it's fun to see how our kids all play together when we do have a mini-reunion. 

I hope we can find ways to help them all keep in touch as they grow up.

Family History Month - post 18

My 18th post for Family History Month should have been made on the 18th, but as you've noticed, I'm running a little behind. October 18th is my son Levi's birthday. He would have been one year old last Wednesday.

So much has changed in the year since he was born. We got to experience the craziness of trying to do things with four little kids, carrying diaper bags for two kids in diapers, creating Halloween costumes for six people, all of it. And we loved it. Every minute of it.

That sweet little boy made everyone happier just by virtue of being there. No matter how tired or grumpy I was when he needed feeding or changing at 2am, when I saw his little face, all of that just melted away, and I was ready to do anything for that little boy.

At his funeral, I remember having this sense of peace, and comfort, and actually a feeling joy at being able to do something to commemorate my little boy, and being amazed at how many people there were. I loved having my family there, especially since Lisa's sister and mom flew in, as did my brother and his whole family. It was a feeling of love and togetherness that we sorely needed, and just reveled in while they were all there.
Since then, the outpouring of love and help and comfort we received was overwhelming. Friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers stepped in to carry us through those days and weeks. It was very humbling to be the recipient of so much love and attention.

I can honestly say that in many ways I'm a different person than I was a year ago. My priorities have shifted, I cut out a lot of stuff in my life that wasn't making me happy, or helping me become who I wanted to be. The grief I felt is still there, but it's morphed into something different - I still miss my son more than I can say, but I have a deeper assurance that death is not the end of life, that there is more to come and I will be reunited with Levi again.

This experience has also shown me something I never expected to see - the unrelenting goodness in so many people. The people that still reach out, that leave small expressions or tokens of understanding and sympathy, that lend a hand to others despite their own heart-wrenching sorrows. This kind of stuff doesn't make into the news, but it should, because it just builds your soul to see and experience that kind of love from other people. Just knowing that there are so many good people out there is hugely comforting.

It has been amazing to see the impact of Levi's life in my life, the lives of my family, friends, the kind souls at the Tears Foundation, and many others. Even more amazing is that the ripples are still continuing - people are still reaching out, blessing others, helping others, because of him. If one little boy, who lived a total of 66 days, can have that kind of impact, imagine what all of us could do, all the lives we could touch and help and lift. I think I can make that my gift to Levi - taking what I felt when I was around him, and helping others feel it.

Family History Month - post 17

I posted earlier that I had two pictures of my 5th-great-grandfather, Lewis Parks Shute. I found that I actually have three. However, I think two of them are duplicates. The more I look at them, the more I think they are the same picture. The top one has actually been flipped horizontally, for easier comparison.
I've always wondered, did he do his hair that way on purpose, or was he making the best of what he had left?