Genealogy Blog

Ruminations on Our Ancestors’ Journeys

11 Jul 2015

I have just returned from an 11-day trip to the Middle East with my chorus. We performed for more than 6,000 people throughout Israel and Turkey. We saw many beautiful sights, and met wonderful people. We also saw humanity when it gets ugly. And there were many times during the tour when I was reminded of why so many of our ancestors came to America, whether during the 17th century, or the 20th.

There were 120 of us travelling overseas on this tour. This included more than 100 singers, plus our staff and supporters. The first travel day involved two flights and a bus ride that would have us travelling a total of sixteen hours to arrive at our first destination. The first plane ride was a red-eye lasting for almost ten hours.

Economy class seating on airlines is not known for its spacious accommodations for passengers. Quarters are very cramped, and movement is restricted. We are constantly invading each others’ personal space, either by reclining the seat or by climbing over each other to get to the restroom. It occurred to me in the middle of the night, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, that this is the modern-day equivalent of our ancestors travelling in steerage to get to new opportunities in America. Of course their trip lasted far longer than ours did, going on for days or weeks (depending on the time frame in which they travelled). Whether travelling alone or in a family group, the space was very close quarters. One shared space with total strangers.

It is very difficult for me to sleep on planes, although travelling with friends made it slightly easier. Because I sat next to one of my close friends, we were able to literally lean on each other to get some rest during the night, similar to the way families travelling together would share their space to make it easier for the entire family to cope.

While in Israel we visited the Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. We saw where people have been living next to each other for centuries. And it certainly gives one a new perspective on old rivalries in the area. But it was our visit to Turkey that really hit home why people would pack up and leave the only life they’ve ever known.

During the last elections the head of the Turkish government sought to increase his power. Instead, the population dealt him a resounding defeat. Desperately trying to form a government, he started pandering to ultra-right wing groups. We lost our performance space because our message was considered evil. Fortunately, a local university stepped in and invited us to move our performance there. The effort to stop our performance and dampen our message of peace and civil rights totally backfired. We received much press attention, and the new venue allowed for almost twice the number of audience members as the original. Crowd estimates put the audience at more than 3,000 people

We were invited to join in a peaceful demonstration the next day, and annual tradition that has brought upwards of 100,000 for the past few years. That afternoon, as we moved to join in we were stopped by police forces two blocks from our hotel. We were ordered to disperse, and told that if we continued we faced arrest. The U.S. consul’s office recommended that we return to our hotel, as they could not guarantee our safety. As we moved back towards the hotel, our mobile phones started beeping with notices. Worldwide press (including the U.S.) were covering the event. Permits which had been granted for the event were pulled at the last moment by the government.  Government officials then ordered police to attack the peaceful marchers, which they did. They utilized pepper spray, tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets. A number of members of our group slipped up as individuals to witness the atrocities. Turkish citizens have few rights.

 

After hours of demonstrations, water still runs in the streets from water cannon (courtesy of the author, used with permission).

After hours of demonstrations in Istanbul, water still runs in the streets from water cannon (courtesy of the author, used with permission).

 

It is because of situations like this that many of our ancestors left for a new world in the United States. Although our government has many problems and issues, in the United States I am allowed by our Constitution to stand up and say so. We are allowed to gather in peaceful groups to protest treatment by our government and by others. These are rights that many in other countries do not enjoy. And these are reasons why our ancestors came here. For a better life, more peaceful and unfettered than they had before. Don’t ever take for granted the rights you have as an American, rights that our Ancestors came here for so that we could have a better life.

 

240 Years Ago Today, the Bloodiest Battle of the Revolution

17 Jun 2015

Today is the 240th anniversary of one of the seminal battles of the American Revolution. Schoolchildren across the country learn about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the important role they played in the history of our country. Bunker Hill was a seminal conflict, and the bloodiest battle of the entire Revolution.

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the American militia men returned home. The British were pinned up in Boston, on the Shawmut Peninsula. After a two-month standoff, the Americans headed for Charlestown, which at the time was a small town on a peninsula across Boston Harbor from Boston.

Charlestown was very strategic at that point because of its proximity to the British forces locked up in Boston. On the night of June 16, more than a thousand soldiers left Cambridge carrying tools to carve out fortifications. They were to create the redoubts on the farm owned by the Bunker family. The property included a large hill that overlooked Boston. Unfortunately there was disagreement concerning their orders.

The troops were led by Israel Putnam and William Prescott, and the fortifications were being overseen by engineer Richard Gridley. They disagreed with the where the fortifications should be built. Although work started on Bunker Hill, it was felt that nearby Breed’s Hill provided a better opportunity because, although lower than Bunker Hill, it is located much closer to Boston and it was thought to be more defensible. So the fortifications were built there.

By morning the British were noticing the work of the militia, and by afternoon, British troops landed at Charlestown to engage them. By 3 p.m. the British were headed for the redoubt. After three assaults, the redcoats overtook the colonials and in a rout they were headed back over the Charlestown Peninsula by 5 p.m. But it was a Pyrrhic victory.

The Americans lost 115 of their number during the battle. Another 305 were wounded, and 30 were captured (20 of whom died as prisoners). The British troops, however, suffered 236 death (19 of whom were officers). Another 832 were wounded, 62 of whom were officers. The British lost more than twice as many as the Americans. And it was the bloodiest engagement of the entire war, which would last another eight years.

 

Bunker Hill

 

Although the great battle is still remembered today, we don’t always remember it accurately. Many believe that it took place in Boston, but Charlestown was not annexed to the city until 1873. And it has gone down in history as the Battle of Bunker Hill despite that it took place on Breed’s Hill. A couple of years ago historian Nathaniel Philbrick wrote a book which discusses the misinformation about the battle. The Smithsonian interviewed him for a story about the book, and the battle, which you can read in The True Story of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The Chinese-Jamaican-American: Our Multiracial Roots

29 May 2015

Americans are known for judging a book by its cover. Genealogists, however, know how dangerous this can be. Interracial marriage and multiracial offspring are becoming more and more common. Watching a dark-skinned woman walking down the street, it would be easy to presume she has African ancestry at some point. But would you see a Chinese woman? This is the story of Paula Williams Madison’s life.

Madison is a former executive vice-president at NBC. Her maternal grandmother was a black Jamaican woman. But her maternal grandfather was Chinese. And that Chinese heritage continued to permeate the family, even though he left when Paula’s mother was only three years old.

Even Madison’s generation was raised with Chinese culture. Her mother, having grown up with the heritage, passed it on to her children.  She knew how to eat with chopsticks from a young age. And her mother spoke Hakka, the Chinese language spoken by her ancestors in Southern China.

From the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century, the United States saw a huge influx in migration. Great numbers of immigrants, primarily from European countries, poured onto our shores. As these families settled here and became integrated into American culture, they lost some of their original cultural identity. And various ethnic groups started to intermarry.

As the twentieth century progressed, worldwide migrations increased. Members of many different racial groups started living together in the same areas. As with the ethnic groups before them, these immigrants started assimilating culturally, although individuals also often maintained a strong sense of their cultural heritage. I remember as a child in the 70s, interracial marriage was a hot topic. The Jeffersons included a biracial woman who married the son of African-Americans George and Louise. It was a daring concept at the time, but is a common occurrence today.

As more generations pass, time can sometimes erase heritage. Some families, such as Paula’s, maintain a semblance of their ancestry. Some families, however, lose that heritage to time. Sometimes this is occasional. Interracial marriages date back to colonial times, but in days past, lighter-colored individuals would often pass for white, and intermarrying with Caucasians made each successive generation lighter, making it easier for them to pass. When my colleague Frank Dorman was researching his book Twenty Families of Color in Massachusetts, he often found living individuals who refused to believe that they had African-American ancestry, even when shown the documentary proof.

As time passes, more and more genealogists will be faced with unknown interracial roots. It is important to examine all the evidence, and follow where the path leads, even if it brings you down roads that you feel are uncomfortable. But you never know what exciting paths your research will take you through.

Paula Madison wrote a book about her adventure in family history: Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem. The book has now been turned into an autobiographical documentary with a similar title: Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China. She recently did an interview with AARP about the process. I especially enjoyed her discussion of working with an editor on the book who changed dialogue and phrasing, which she had to change back to maintain the integrity of her mother’s experience: “We grew up with a Jamaican accent, a New York accent, and a Chinese overlay accent.”

Madison AARP Interview

Happy Retirement, Lou!

01 Apr 2015

Every once in awhile, if you are lucky, you get to meet a very special person; someone who makes a difference just by being who they are. Lou Szucs is one of those people. For more than thirty years she has been a leader, a major force in our community that has made a major contribution to what it is today. And after decades of commitment, she is finally retiring.

She started with Ancestry when it was book publisher. One of her major projects was a book long considered a Bible for genealogical research: The Source, which she edited with Sandra Hargreaves Leubking (just one of several books she authored or edited). And she helped bring to fruition many other books, including Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places, by her daughter Laura Szucs Pfeiffer. And more than 30 years later, she is still there. She has served for many years as Vice President of Community Relations.

Lou is at her best when she is working with people. She has great ability to bring people together to make things happen. Forty years ago she was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. It is one of the running jokes amongst our friends that the articles of incorporation were signed at her kitchen table. A table that now sits in her daughter Juliana’s home. Lou and I served on the FGS board together for a time. She was always energetic, and her knowledge of the history of the organization was invaluable in navigating the changing times as we moved into the digital age.

 

Lou and I at the 2014 RootsTech 2014 conference (from the collection of the author, used with permission).

Lou and I at the 2014 RootsTech 2014 conference (from the collection of the author, used with permission).

 

Among the many accolades she as been given through the years

  • Professional Achievement Award, Association of Professional Genealogists, given to highlight a record of exceptional professional achievement with contributions to the field of genealogy through individual excellence and ethical behavior.
  • Fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association
  • David S. Vogels, Jr., Award, Federation of Genealogical Societies, presented to an individual in recognition of outstanding career contributions to FGS (Lou was the first recipient of this award)
  • And the list could go on forever. . .

She is constantly sharing her knowledge. Through her writing, the countless presentations she has made over the years, and simple one-on-one consultations, she has helped genealogists from beginners to the most advanced improve their research skills.

But beyond all this, Lou is a genuine good soul. She always has time for people, to listen, to give advice, and just to catch up and make sure they are doing well. And not only does she share herself, she shared her family as well. Her husband Bob “Mr. Lou” Szucs has for years accompanied her to conferences and seminars. And her daughter Juliana has also made genealogy her career. Some of my best memories involve just sitting with them over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even coffee.

Thank you, Lou, for all you have done for all of us. You have the gratitude of the entire genealogical community. As you set out on this new phase of your life, I can’t wait to see what you accomplish. You may be retiring from full-time work, but I have no doubt that we will continue to see you do great things.

Remembering Boston’s 10,000 Rev War Refugees with Green Beer

17 Mar 2015

Today is a very important holiday in the history of our country. Such a significant day that it is actually a public holiday here in Massachusetts, when Suffolk County offices are closed. I’m speaking, of course, of Evacuation Day, when the British forces occupying Boston finally left after a year of laying siege to the town. The Siege of Boston caused 10,000 refugees to leave the town, and today is a state holiday celebrated with green beer.

Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, American forces moved to form a circular line from Chelsea around Charlestown and Boston, down to Roxbury and Dorchester. Both Charlestown Neck and Boston Neck (the only land access to those two towns) were cut off. The British could only access these areas by the harbor.

It is difficult to imagine the circumstances the thousands of citizens of Boston found themselves in. Among the residents of the town were a number of Benjamin Franklin’s relatives, including his sister Jane (Franklin) Mecom, nephew William Homes, and niece Grace (Harris) Williams, the wife of Boston merchant Jonathan Williams. In a letter written on May 14, Jane wrote of what happened around Lexington and Concord:

“the Horror the Town was in when the Batle aprochd wihin Hearing Expecting they would Proceed quite in to town, the commotion the Town was in after the battle ceasd by the Parties coming in bringing in there wounded men causd such an Agetation of minde I believe none had much sleep, sinch which we could have no quite. . .”

Within days, General Gage met with official from town to negotiate terms for the citizens to move freely in and out of the town. Women and children could leave with their effects, and men who swore not to take up arms against the British troops could leave. No plate (i.e., silver, gold, etc.) would be allowed to leave the town. This sounds like a peaceful process; it was anything but.

Thousands of refugees filled the streets. It quickly became difficult to find transportation. If they did not own livestock and carts to carry belongings, the residents could only depart with what they could carry themselves. And all had to pass through the one small road on Boston Neck. Many walked out with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everything was left behind, with no knowledge of when, or even if, they would ever return.

As the residents were leaving, British regulars and Loyalists looted homes, setting fire to many after absconding with anything valuable. The roads surrounding Boston quickly became clogged with the refugees. The fortunate ones had family and friends in other towns, but many had nowhere to go. Many families were separated during the departure. Forced to leave at different times as passes became available, or separated in the chaos and confusion that surrounded the city, it would take some time for many to be reunited.

Jonathan Williams wrote to Benjamin Franklin from Worcester on June 19th: We relying on the faith of General Gage packed up all his Goods [materials belonging to his son who was with Franklin] in Order to remove them out of Boston, but was forbid by him out of whose Mouth proceds blessing and cursing. They there remain with all my Estate Which was indeed Sofficient for me and all my famely though a few days before I left that once happy Town which is no become a den of theaves and robers, to COmpleat ruin my Stores With all my papers and Some of my Books Were Consumed by fire. I was Oblig’d to leave all except a few trunk of Clouths and house linnen my Sons Goods nine house one of Which I valued at £15.000 Sterling and all its valueable furniture, but blessed be God I have now Colected my Scater’d famley Who are all hear in this Town. . .”

At the same time that Bostonians were fleeing the town, many were swimming against the stream to enter the city. Loyalists from around the area were trying desperately to get to a place where they felt safe, and made their way into the town to be protected by the British Regulars.

It is estimated that over the course of the next eight weeks 10,000 residents would flee Boston, about 60% of the population. General Gage’s army kept control of the town for almost a year. During that time conditions became quite horrible for those left behind. Food was scarce, as was firewood and many of the other necessities of life. And the majority of the residents were British soldiers, making life difficult for civilians.

 

Nineteenth-century depiction of the Evacuation of Boston from Wikimedia Commons.

Nineteenth-century depiction of the Evacuation of Boston from Wikimedia Commons.

 

On a stormy night in March, the Continental Trooops, under the comman of George Washington, fortified Dorchester Heights with cannon captured and brought to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga by Henry Knox. General Howe, now in command of the forces in Boston, was desperate to avoid another route like Bunker Hill, decided to retreat. On March 17, 1776, the British troops departed Boston, taking with them many Loyalists, and fled to Nova Scotia. It was Washington’s first major victory in the war.

In 1901 the city declared Evacuation Day to be a holiday. It was established as a holiday in Suffolk County in 1941. It is, of course, a complete coincidence that Irish politicians controlled the city at this point, and that the date of the evacuation is the same as St. Patrick’s Day. Complete coinicendce. So each year Bostonians remember the 10,000 refugees and the end of the siege by drinking green beer. Happy Evacuation Day!

News Stories for Genealogists, March 13, 2015

13 Mar 2015

This week’s roundup of news stories of interest to genealogists includes pieces from millions of years ago in the human family tree to the Brady Bunch and S&H Green Stamps.

We start this week’s news roundup with a story from KFDA in Texas. While performing a routine installation in Fort Worth for AT&T, Scott Martin came across a large scrapbook with hundreds of pictures. Some of them dated back to the 19th century. Learn more about the book, and how Martin and his colleague were able to find a descendant of the family to return the scrapbook to, in AT&T Employee Uncovers Lost Pictures More Than a Century Old.

March is Women’s History month, and many individuals and communities are creating ways to celebrate and honor women past and present. Antoinette van Zelm has created a brochure about Rutherford County, Tennessee, called “In the Footsteps of Notable Women: A Self-guided Tour of Rutherford County.” The brochure focuses on three different areas: Community Service, Education, and Preservation, and discusses notable women, many of whom are associated with typically male locales. It is a terrific example of what can be done. Discover more of the story in Women Who Changed Local History.

This winter has certainly been the worst in a long time in many areas of the country, especially in my hometown of Boston. Rochester, New York, also had a difficult winter. One particularly stormy weekend last month the Democrat & Chronicle tried to bring relief by reminding residents of times where it was even worse, including Lake Ontario freezing over from shore to shore, which does not happen frequently to one of the Great Lakes. Read about it 5 of the Most Miserable Days in Local History.

The human family tree has been redrawn, with changes from a new discovery. National Geographic reports that a fossil found in Ethiopia shows that modern humans (the genus Homo) arrived in East Africa almost a half-million years earlier than previously thought. Learn more about the family tree of Homo Sapiens and where we came from in Oldest Human Fossil Found, Redrawing Family Tree.

 

Green Stamps

 

Finally comes a blast from the more recent past. Those of us of a certain age remember Sperry and Hutchinson. For years they provided Green Stamps when shopping at gas stations and supermarkets. Then we pasted the stamps into book, which could be redeemed from a catalogue. They were so much a part of the culture that they were parodied in an early episode of The Brady Bunch, where the kids had to decide what to purchase with the stamps. This was a common problem in families across America. What you may not know, however, is that you can still redeem your S&H Green Stamps. Discover how in Surprise! S&H Green Stamps Can Still Be Redeemed.

The Sixth Victim of the Boston Massacre

05 Mar 2015

235 years ago today occurred one of the seminal events in American History. Festering tensions in Boston erupted one evening with British soldiers murdering civilians. Members of the Sons of Liberty were quick to take advantage of the situation, and thus was born the Boston Massacre.

King Street was the longest street in colonial Boston. It stretched from the Towne House all the way down past the customs house and down the Long Wharf. The Towne House was the seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In June of 1767 the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, increasing taxes on the Colonies. Over the course of the next eighteen months tensions in Boston got higher and higher.

In the fall of 1768, Parliament started sending British regulars to occupy Boston and protect the Crown’s interests. They sent 4,000 troops; approximately one soldier for every five residents. The troops were not received well by the inhabitants, and the redcoats were treated very poorly. They managed to make life quite difficult for the soldiers.

By the waning days of winter in 1770, tensions were sky high. Trouble began on the night of February 22. Ebenezer Richardson, a Loyalist, caused a scene when trying to burn an effigy outside of a merchant’s shop. A mob gathered and he fled to his house. As the mob began to move towards his house, Richardson shot randomly from indoors. One of the shots killed eleven-year-old Christopher Snider. This incident fanned the fames of fury amongst Bostonians.

On March 5 a crowd gathered at the Towne House on King Street. Samuel Adams, among others, called for the demonstration against the troops guarding the customs commissioners. The scene turned into a near riot. Captain Thomas Preston and his troops tried to bring order, but things quickly turned to chaos. Shots were fired by British soldiers and three men were dead on the scene, while others died later.

History class often discusses the five victims of the Boston Massacre. The first to die, and the most well-remembered, is Crispus Attucks. He was a fugitive slave who worked as a seaman. John Gray, a ropemaker and veteran Boston brawler , and 17-year-old sailor James Caldwell also died at the scene. Samuel Maverick was also 17 years old when he was shot that night. He died the next morning. Irish Immigrant Patrick Carr was the next to die. He lingered for more than a week and died on March 14th. The doctor who tended him later testified that Carr did not blame the soldiers and felt that they had fired in self-defense.

Captain Preston was brought to trial for the killings, along with eight of his men. Preston was defended by John Adams, and was acquitted. Six of his men were also acquitted, but two more were convicted of murder, but escaped punishment by invoking a Medieval defense. The trials were also the first time the concept of “reasonable doubt” was used in America.

 

Image of the marker for Boston Massacre victims in the Granary Burying Ground.

Image of the marker for Boston Massacre victims in the Granary Burying Ground.

 

Snider and the five who died that March are buried together in the Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston. A marker is placed there to honor their memory. Unfortunately, in an effort to “beautify” the cemetery in the mid-nineteenth century, grave markers there were rearranged and (with the exception of the large tombs) it is no longer possible to correlate a marker with the exact burial location of anyone.

In addition, there was another victim of the Massacre. Christopher Monk was also shot that night, and was severely injured. He was never able to work again, but the citizens of Boston always cared for him. It took him ten long years, but he finally succumbed to his injuries in April 1780. His death notice in the Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser of April 20 reads: “Died. Mr. CHRISTOPHER MONK, who has been long languishing under the wounds he receiv’d on the evening of the fifth of March, 1770, by a party of British mercenaries, under the command of Capt Thomas Preston. His funeral will be attended this afternoon.” [emphasis in the original]. Although it is known he is buried in the Granary Burying Ground, there is no surviving marker, and the exact location of his burial is unknown.

To find out more about the Boston Massacre, and its significance in American History, visit the Boston Massacre Historical Society.

5 Nineteenth-Century Women Are Still Alive

04 Mar 2015

March 5, 1898, was a Saturday. The port of New York welcomed 495 aliens at Ellis Island. The men on board the S.Y. Beligica, an expedition from Belgium to Antarctica, were trapped in the ice. Victoria sat on the throne of Great Britain. The front page of the New York Times discussed a court of inquiry that left the previous evening for Havana to investigate the destruction of the battleship Maine in the harbor there two weeks previously. And in the city of Osaka, Japan, a Kimono maker’s wife gave birth to a little girl named Misao. Little did the girl’s parents know that she would make history — simply by living. Today, 5 nineteenth-century women are still alive and well.

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 3.13.31 PM

 

Misao Okawa is currently the oldest person in the world, with a documented birth date of March 5, 1898. She has been a widow for 84 years, after her 12-year marriage ended with the death of her husband. Two of her three children are still living in their 90s. But Misao is not the only person to have the distinction of living in three centuries.

There are currently five individuals alive who can document their birth prior to the year 1900, all of them women. Interestingly three of the five are from the United States, and all three were born in the South.

Gertrude Weaver was born just months after Misao, on the Fourth of July 1898, in Arkansas. She was married 100 years ago and had four children, only one of whom is still living. She still lives in Arkansas, in the small city of Camden in the southern part of the state.

Jeralean Talley was born in the tiny town of Montrose in central Georgia on May 23, 1899. In 1935 she moved to the Detroit suburb of Inkster where she married and had a single child. She and her husband were married for more than 50 years when he died in 1988. Her family now includes three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She lives with her daughter, and continues to be active, still bowling when she was 104, mowing the law at 105, and still goes on an annual fishing trip with friends.

Susan Mushatt Jones was born in Alabama July 6, 1899. She graduated from a private boarding school there, and was accepted to the Turkeegee Institute, but her parents could not afford to pay the tuition. Instead, she moved to New York City in 1923, lured by the Harlem Renaissance. With no children of her own, she helped to put four of her nieces through college. Her personal splurge is high-end lace lingerie, which took her doctor by surprise.

Emma Morano is the oldest living person in Europe. She was born in Italy in the waning days of the nineteenth century, on November 29, 1899. She married in 1926. Her only child was born in 1937 and died six months later. The following year she and her husband separated, but they were never officially divorced.

While others around the world claim to be born in the nineteenth century, these are the only five who have documentation to prove it. These women are all quite used to being asked variations on the question “What’s the secret to living so long?” My favorite response is Gertrude’s, who told Time magazine: “Treat people right and be nice to other people the way you want them to be nice to you.” USA Today profiled each of these women Yes, 5 People Born in the 1800s are Still With Us.

Protecting Your Donated Collections

02 Mar 2015

Genealogists spend years and decades building our collections. We have records about our ancestors, mostly copies but many originals. We often acquire papers and objects from other family members, as they know that we are the family historian. Genealogists are often voracious readers as well, and we often amass great numbers of books. I know genealogists who have actually put an addition onto their home simply to have more space for the genealogical materials. The question is, how to ensure your materials are preserved, and protecting your donated collections.

Private residences are not the best places to ensure the long-term survival of your materials. One of the biggest dangers is fire, as few homes are equipped with fire suppression systems. Accidents happen, many beyond the control of the homeowner, and all of your precious items can be gone in only a few minutes. Private homes are also, for the most part, equipped with archival atmospheric conditions. Rare is the home that remains at a constant temperature throughout the year, and even those that do tend to be warmer than the optimal preservation conditions for documents.

The best way to ensure that your collections will be preserved and made available to future generations is to donate them to a repository. These are libraries, archives, museums, and other organizations that will take the proper steps to properly preserve your collections and make them available to future generations. When making a donation, families will often make a financial donation as well. This can help to cover the costs of processing the materials to make them available so that researchers can access them more quickly.

When you make a donation, you can do so with restrictions. For example, some people donate materials with the restriction that information about living people cannot be accessed for 50 years. Restrictions can also be placed on financial donations as well. You can donate funds and delineate exactly what they can (and cannot) be used for.

It is important to know, however, that institutions are more and more frequently disregarding these restrictions. They are choosing to intentionally disregard the restrictions in favor of their own plans. Sometimes they will even go to court to have restrictions removed. The Boston Globe recently ran a story on Gordon College, a Christian school here in Massachusetts, that is trying to see part of a collection that was intended to remain intact. They have had many difficulties in the last year, and this latest controversy is only adding to them.

 

Donation Changes

 

So be aware that in the end, your restrictions may not count for much. Of course, you could always try inserting language into your donation agreement that states that any attempt by the institution to make changes to your donations will result in the donation being revoked and the materials and finances removed to another institution of your choice. One of the best ways to ensure that your intentions are known is to incorporate them into your will. This ensures that a copy of your wishes goes on permanent file where it can always be accessed, and make it more difficult for institutions to ignore your wishes.

Blog Posts and News for Genealogists, February 27, 2015

27 Feb 2015

This week’s genealogy news combines news from genealogists as well as non-genealogists. Paula Stuart-Warren warns us about shortchanging ourselves in our research. Leland Meitzler tells us of the discovery of a 700-year-old document. We find out how an amateur researcher has identified the bodies of two War of 1812 casualties. We also learn how historical fiction, although it is fiction, can still help us in our research. And finally, we get some advice on moving past family secrets from the host of Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Paula Stuart-Warren has some great advice for genealogists this week. Have you checked to be certain you are adding the correct name to your tree? Have you transcribed yoru documents? Do you know the origins of the materials in your files? Do you say you have brick wall problem even though your only research has been online, ignoring the vast resources not available on the Internet that could answer your questions? Get more suggestions in Attention Genealogists? Are you Shortchanging Your Family History?

Leland Meitzler had a very interesting story recently that dates back 700 years! Back in the 19th century a Victorian official at the British Museum pasted a document a into a scrapbook. The catch? The document was an copy of the Magna Carta that was created less than a hundred years after the original. Read more and get a link to the original story in Original Copy of the Magna Carta Dating to 1300 Found in Scrapbook.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 5.20.30 PM

 

William Krecji works at the Perry International Memorial, which highlights the battles led by Oliver Hazard Perry during the war of 1812, especially the Battle of Lake Erie. Not long after the battle, the bodies of two men washed up on the Ohio shore. They had no identification, so were buried without names. Two hundred years later, Krecji believes he has identified the two men. Discover more details in Mystery Solved of Two American Seamen’s Bodies Washed Ashore to Ohio from War of 1812: My Ohio.

Susan Doak of the Southwest Nebraska Genealogical Society wrote an interesting piece this week for the McCook Gazette. Like many genealogists she is a voracious reader, and she talks about using this to her advantage in her genealogical research. While many of us might be quick to dismiss historical fiction as not helpful because of its fictional nature, Susan shows us how some if can actually be quite valuable, if used properly. Find out how in Using Historical Novels in Genealogy Research.

Finally this week is a piece by Meaghan Siekman from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, working with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. They answer a letter written to Professor Gates by a college student at Clarion University She has a class assignment to create a family tree, but is having difficulty because of family secrets. Her grandfather never talked about his family, and ended up abandoning her brandmother and their children, although they never divorced. With a life that is a complete mystery, she wonders how to get further back. They give her some advice on how to search a little bit differently to find some answers. Get their advice in Help! I Can’t Fill Out My Family Tree Because of Family Secrets.