Archive for the ‘genealogy’ Category

A lot of people will tell me I look like my mother – and when I look at photos, yes, I do look like my mom. My brother and sister look more like my mother, the other brother and I are spitting image Hirsch’s. In my family, we’ve always split it up that way – Wendy and Paddy, Tomlin; Kirsten and Matt; Hirsch. It’s so interesting to me then that not only did Matt and I get Dad’s nose (thanks for that), we also got his temperament. On the good side, we are solid workers (Wendy and Paddy are too). We stay busy, we will work for free if we love what we are doing, and we don’t “relax” very easily (this is not always a good thing). We are kind, helpful, interested in a lot of different things, handy, curious and independent.

On the other hand, we all grapple with anxiety, too much mulling, insomnia, and a low-hum of anger at injustices done to us, our family, our friends, or any other work-a-day Joe. In talking to my Dad recently, we both again verbally recognized this. It’s like the big, green fire-breathing dragon in the room – “yes, yes, I could handle this much better if it wasn’t for the heat on my head from this here dragon.” It’s great to have my Dad to call – he knows what it feels like. We don’t want to be this way: uptight, worried constantly, our minds running a wild parallel ride to our normal, everyday thoughts. It’s maddening…but livable. Dad said, “Just try not to dwell on it, that is what will eat you up.” And I asked him how? How do I not dwell on losing my job, the job that I loved? The answer, is in the good traits, it seems. Work, stay busy, be kind to people (but not people who are out to hurt others-he was specific about this), and look out for yourself, your family, and your dear friends. Sending up a little prayer once in a while is also good practice.

It’s this kind of truthful, meaty nugget, oddly enough, that I look for everyday in the obituaries. Genealogists love obituaries, but if they’re all like me, are so very disappointed in the simple announcement type. To me, an obit is a great place to send messages out to the future – here is how your great-grandmother died, here is why, and here is what she lived for, who she loved, who she called a friend and where she lived. Clues. Obits are for clues. And really good obits contain them in dignified, classy, subtle ways. These obits do not need to be lengthy, just truthful. There is no need to hide in an obit – it’s over, it’s done, it happened.

I’m pretty sure that if the truth was told, there would have been an obituary or two in our family line that mentioned the brave battle an ancestor or two had with anxiety, and maybe even a tip or two on how they coped. I haven’t found it yet, but luckily, I still have my Dad.


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Ah, Ancestry.com…you have opened the doors to genealogy for so many people. The thrill of the hunt finds instantaneous victory. No longer do we have to write away to the Later-Day Saints in their mountain vault, or travel to D.C., waiting in line until our number is called to use the micro-fiche machines, or patiently type out family sheets, looking for holes, notating inconsistencies, documenting facts. We now find everything on the Internet…and the Internet is always right!
In these days of corporate genealogy shows dipping into the reality genre sponsored by family history giants like our beloved Ancestry, it is both good and bad that interest in our roots is renewed. While the “good” is obvious – it’s always good to want to know more about your past – the “bad” is a threat to true research.

Image provided by Business Week

I would argue that Ancestry.com and the like is a bit like a social media site – you only get out of it what you put in. The graphic demonstrates the types of interaction seen on most social media sites by age group. Look at the Creators vs. the Joiners. Lots of people are online, but very few are giving towards the whole.

With sites like Ancestry.com it is easy to find a “relative” and follow the hints to more and more information. But the mistake is to then take that information as gospel truth. So often I have followed “hints” and ended up looking at information I created that has simply been posted on another persons tree. I’ve had to turn off sharing since too many folks were attaching to my tree with erroneous facts – or worse, facts that could not be proven.

Ancestry.com is great – but it has it’s faults. And while it has made the task of tracing ones past easier, it is only the surface. Every fact must still be documented and every case made solid by some good, old-fashioned foot work. Speculation is not enough. You still need the death certificates, the marriage licenses, the titles, the deeds, the gravestone rubbings, the photos with notation. You need the provenance.

A line can not be drawn with a single point. Everything found on internet genealogy sites is just the beginning, that single point. The truth, and the real fun,  is found on the hunt for more.

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Works for me

Yesterday, I had the lucky opportunity to hear Ed Ayers, the president of the University of Richmond, speak about technology and social media and how he is using these tools to further the academic content offered to the world on the web. It was one of his patented talks that entertain, enliven, and inspire. I would also like to add surprise – because low and behold he answered my “What’s it all for?” question.

While discussing the History Engine project, Dr. Ayers asked the rhetorical question, “But why do we do this? Who cares about all of this research on the past?,” and then he said,

“If you don’t know the history before you lived, you’re lost…”

Works for me.

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What’s it all for?

It started about a year ago when this thought popped into my head:

No one will look for me.

Since then, those six words have been quietly haunting…and terribly true. No one will search for me as an ancestor. For the most part, my husband and I are childless by choice. I can not have children of my own but adoption is expensive. If we really wanted too, I suppose we could be parents but neither of us is interested enough to make the investment. Selfish? Maybe.  And while there is a small glimmer of hope that one of my siblings may have children, we are all growing older and time is running out. We are the end of a bloodline – which is terribly sad in a way. We’re good people – probably the most well-educated,  most well-off Hirsch’s in the line (mostly due to the opportunities that our time has allowed). And yet, we have no one to pass it on too.

Maybe we’ll be seen as the eccentric wing of the family – the independents, the women and men who worked, focused on home and family, but chose not to have children. Maybe one of us will do something note-worthy someday (my bets are on Wendy) and history will footnote us. This is a big maybe.

So why am I doing this?  I do enjoy it. Sharing my findings with family is such a rush. Properly documenting what I find is an addictive drug for my obsessive-compulsive organizing side and I guess there is probably research out there that proves psychologically I value knowing the history and back-story of  my tribe. But beyond that? Isn’t most of the knowledge gained from all of this effort meant to be passed on to the next generation? Who gets the papers, the databases, the tidbits of a family? If I am the elder in the tribe that knows our history, where does this information go if there is no new, young member to carry the mantle?

As I type it occurs to me that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have dealt with this question. People interested enough in our nation’s natural and human history have benefited from researching the Native American experience. I’ve seen plenty of  random family histories gathering dust in a state or public library – gifts spelled out in the wills of folks just like me – but there is usually a politician or philanthropist somewhere in the line that warrants interest.  Who is going to show interest the “Hirsch Experience”? Does it really matter? Isn’t it just a hobby?

I have no answers for this today – but I’ll be looking for writings by others along these lines…why do we do genealogical research? Maybe there is a genealogist out there who cares to comment…

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Dorothy KNOELL was my grandmother - and Anna CASEY KNOELL was hers.

I always knew I had a Celtic heart and just in time for St. Patrick’s day, I found the proof.

I never follow the hints on my ancestry.com site. but today I followed a link for Rose KNOELL DELASTATIOUS. Since the name DELASTATIOUS popped up a year or so ago, I’ve always been on the lookout for new information. Rose was the sister of my great-grandfather Thomas F. KNOELL. His signature appears on her death certificate which I found on Mark Bohl’s public tree on ancestry.com.

More exciting was Mark’s information on Anna CASEY KNOELL, Thomas and Rose’s mother. Mark linked to the 1880 Census which shows Anna married to Charles KNOELL, children Rose, Fredricka, Ida, and Charles and lists her parents as being born in Ireland!

Mark lists Anna’s maiden name as CASEY but does not have any records on his site to indicate why – in the 1880 Census there is a widower by the name of Michael McCrone living with the KNOELL family as a boarder. Family friend?

Many small avenues to research and many holes to fill in…but today, one small little wall has fallen. An explanation finally for the red hair and freckles?

View the original Census Record: 1880 United States Federal Census

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familytree81While looking for old photos recently, I can across a school project I had done in the fourth grade. Having just moved from Philadelphia to Michigan, we spent a lot of time on the phone with my grandmothers regarding the family tree assignment  – it was my first step into genealogy and I was fascinated.

What is surprising about my construction paper tree are the little clues I had forgotten over the past 30 years. On the tree, the Tomlin side of the family has a reference to the “Lightcap Family.” It is family lore that Clara Tomlin was an orphan child of an Indian woman and it is possible that the Lightcaps were her caretakers? This tiny, little clue sent me on a search and while I didn’t turn up any probable Lightcaps, I did find a Clara Stewart in the 1880 Census, enrolled at the Mercer Soldier’s Orphan School in western Pennsylvania.

There are additional notes on the back and more to look into – good job, little Kirsten from 1980!

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I was having lunch with my friend Craig  last week and he asked what I had been up too. When I told him that I was back into genealogy (mostly because the brick walls I had hit seemed to disappear with ancestry.com) he said, “Yeah – that’s really in right now.”

Huh? In? Apparently, Craig (who I have always felt is more in-the-know than myself as most of my friends are) had heard that a lot of people were logging on and getting in touch with their roots.


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