Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The dark side of genealogy...

So I'm in the middle of reading a book called "Himmler's Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race," by Christopher Hale. I was interested in this story because the expedition looks for those Aryan origins in Tibet and the Himalaya region, and I have a huge interest in that area. But the book delves a lot into not just the expedition itself but the culture that led up to it, and Nazi Germany and Himmler's obsession with race and eugenics and the purity of race and therefore, their interest in genealogy and proving whether or not someone was "purely Aryan."

In fact, this book talks about how the gfamily trees of SS officers were deeply scrutinized and only after it had been established as far back as several generations that they were purely Aryan were they granted a clan book, also known as my new favorite genealogical tool, the sippenbuch. And now I have a feeling that's how I know so much about my German Dauch family ancestry on my mother's side. I could get no further back than my immigrant ancestors, Nicholas Dauch and his wife Eva Hoerner, but I found someone on Ancestry.com who was also descended from them and could trace them both back four or five generations further. Now, this man was descended from a daughter of Nicholas and Eva's who did not emigrate to the United States, who stayed behind in Germany, and so he is German. He is also in his 80s and according to his Ancestry bio, was a pilot during World War II. For Germany. So I have a hunch that in order to serve under Hitler's regime, he was required to prove how German he really was, hence the genealogical information in his possession.

But all of this got me thinking about how anything can be twisted into a dark version of itself depending on the motivations of the person studying and using that knowledge. I have always written how I see genealogy as support for the idea of a "world family," that if you go far enough back, we're all related, which just proves the the stupidity of racism and other prejudices based on the differences between people. I see genealogy as being an inclusive area of study - I want to gather people into my family tree. I want to prove I'm related to everyone! (Just a tad ambitious, right?) But the Nazis were following the same course of study - Heinrich Himmler, one of the worst of the worst, had one of the same favorite pasttimes and hobbies as me, but he saw genealogy as a way to be exclusive - he was trying to keep people out and build up bigger walls between people who were different.

I'm still in the first half of this book, but so far it's been fascinating, not just for the reasons I thought it would be (Tibet and the Himalayas) but because of the genealogy aspect as well. I just had to stop and share my thoughts so far about that.

Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More photos from my visit to Old St. Andrew's Church in Charleston

Part of Old St. Andrew's cemetery as
you approach the church from the road.

Old St. Andrew's is behind this pretty lake...

One of the oldest churches in South Carolina.

A contemporary of my family - this gravestone reads, "Here Lyes the Body of Mrs. Elizabeth Nairn, who dyed the 9th day of March 1720, aged 63 years. She was the Eldest daughter of the Learned and Religious Divine, Robert A.M. of Dundie and Minister of Murrose.. She was married first to Henry Quintine, by whom she had one son Henry who died in the Service of his Country in the year 1716. And two daughters. Mary and Posthuma. Her second husband, was Thomas Nairn, Judge of the Vice Admiralty of this Province, who was barbarously murdered by the Indians, while he was treating with them in the year 1715, and by him she had one son Thomas.

Me at Old St. Andrew's - after it took me all day to get there in the sweltering Southern heat, I look like a crazy person. But a happy crazy person... :)

Adventures in genealogy: Visiting Old St. Andrew's Church, Charleston, South Carolina

Old St. Andrew's Church is located in the West Ashley area of Charleston - that's on the other side of the Ashley River from the main city, on the same side as Charles Towne Landing. It is the oldest surviving church in South Carolina, one of ten Church of England parishes established by the Church Act of 1706. This is the church my family belonged to at that very time, the early 1700s, which is why I wanted to see it - the building where they worshipped and the surrounding landscape in which they lived. It was the one thing I was dead-set on seeing in Charleston. I did not think it would be such an adventure to get there.

I had no car, so I went to the Charleston Visitors Center at about 9 in the morning and said to the very nice young girl behind the counter, "I'm interested in seeing Old St. Andrew's Church. How do I get there by bus?" To which she replied, "Oh, you can't get there by bus."


As it turns out, you can get there by bus, but not easily. My journey started, appropriately enough, on Mary Street behind the center, where I caught a 10:20 Route 30 bus across the river to the Citadel Mall in West Ashley. I was suddenly smack dab in suburbia. Except for the palm trees I might as well have been home. The girl at the visitors center had told me to transfer to the 302 bus toward Shadowmoss and to ask the bus driver the best stop to get off for St. Andrew's. Well, I didn't know where to catch the 302 - turns out, it's from the same exact stop at the Citadel Mall where I had been dropped off. The intense heat had me confused. As did the sign for that route that only said Orange Grove, which was the direction opposite the one I wanted. So while I was figuring all this out, I missed the connecting 302. Which was just as well because I needed more comfortable shoes, which I was able to get at Target. I was annoyed about spending my free day on vacation at the mall of all places, but that extra time helped me figure out that the 302 would have been the wrong bus. The extra time AND the walking a mile and a half or so up the road toward Ashley River Road to see what was going on with these bus stops. A mile and a half or so in 90 degree heat with tons of humidity. No wonder I got a sunburn. My hair was frizzy and wild and I was sweating and I probably looked a little like a crazy person, what with the way I looked and the mumbling to myself trying to figure out what was what - I didn't care. I was going to get to this church, even if I had to walk the whole way there.

I almost had to. I knew what bus route I needed to be on now but I didn't have a timetable for that route, so I didn't know how often the bus was running, if I'd have to wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes. But thank God for my smartphone, because I was able to look up what I needed to know (except for the timetable) and use my GPS to figure out where I was going. I would have been completely lost without it.

I think I finally got to the church about 1:30. Yes, it took me all day to get there. But it was worth it. Because no longer was I in suburbia. I was on a quiet road in the middle of the woods, next to the marshes and the water, surrounded by palm trees and magnolia trees and peace and quiet. It was so, so beautiful. Yes, there were cars and some other sides of modernity but suddenly I was not only in the place but the time that my family lived. There was a beautiful fountain and lake, which looked fairly modern, but there was an old cemetery on the grounds, which if you follow my blog, you know made me very happy. There's nothing I love more than wandering around an old cemetery for a few hours. Most of the graves were too "new" for me - 1800s and such - although I did find one that would have been a contemporary of my ancestors, so that was cool. I took some photos and basically just hung out, walking around, for awhile. In places like that, old places, you can feel history come alive. To call it a cosmic connection might go a little too far, but it's like something in the past and something in the present reach out to each other and touch, if even for just a second. Besides all the good information you can find from doing onsite research, standing where your ancestors stood, seeing what they saw, hearing what they heard, and feeling what they felt, is another perk of visiting the places where your family came from.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A quick genealogy break on an otherwise swamped Tuesday...

It's just one of those days where I'm getting bogged down in work both inside and outside of the office but it occurred to me at some point over the past couple of days that two of my great loves, genealogy and writing, are actually very similar, in that they're both extremely interdisciplinary in nature. They both require research and organization, but in order to do genealogy properly, you need to not only know history, you need to know geography, you need to know about the local culture and customs, you need to know logic and how to use inductive and deductive reasoning, you need to be able to communicate your information to others, if you use DNA you need to know about genetics, and I'm sure a wealth of other subjects I can't think of because my brain is fried by work and the heat.

But when I was a kid I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up - I was interested in just too many things. As a writer, I get to learn about and write about a wide variety of topics, and as a genealogist, I get to learn about and use a wide variety of disciplines.

Win-win! :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Two snaps to the Charleston Public Library local history room

The day before the NGS family history conference, while I was getting lost in the swampy suburbs of Charleston, Cousin April was attending a NGS sponsored librarians' day at the Charleston Public Library on Calhoun Street. In addition to the different lectures she sat in on, she learned that the library has a pretty extensive local history/genealogy room. So instead of heading over to Boone Hall Plantation after meeting up at 4 in the afternoon, April generously offered to spend yet more time in the library, after sitting there all day, to help me see if I could find anything on my Story and Ellis family. So a thank you and shout-out to Cousin April! :)

The room itself is pretty decent sized and collections are somewhat overwhelming - local histories, cemetery listings, will indexes, land deeds, tax records, church records, you name it, it was there. And that's just in the books - a lot of the records in the indexes (indeces?) are only available on microfilm.

So I got to use a microfilm machine. Made me miss the days I used to sit for hours in the Municipal Archives!

I should have been better prepared for this library visit, with more names and dates, but it was a last minute thing (though one of my conference classes stressed the need to plan for contingencies during a field research trip) - I was so determined to visit Old St. Andrew's that I didn't think I would have any time to spend at the library looking for actual records. Oh well. Another excuse for another trip. I did have two dates - the dates of death for Zachariah Story the elder and his father-in-law Thomas Ellis (I realize I haven't even written to you about these two families yet, but I have so much to talk about that I'm getting some of them out of my head backwards - bear with me, I'll get to everything soon enough!) I was able to find both wills listed in a book index and when I went to the librarian to find out how I could go about finding where the wills might be, she handed me two microfilm rolls.

I can't speak for the whole Charleston library system, but the librarians in the local history room are phenomenal! They were both friendly and helpful, which is exactly what you need when you're in a strange library in a strange city with only a slight idea of what you're looking for - moral of the story, no matter what library you're in while doing your research, don't be afraid to ask for help! You might know your family better than the librarians but they should know their records, probably better than you do!

Anyway, April, who is also a librarian, had to help me load the microfilm, as I haven't used one of those machines in forever. And of course scanning the images made me super sea sick (why go to an amusement park when you can get just as nauseous at the library?!?) *and* they were indexed weird. In fact, I handed one of the rolls back to the librarian after scanning it partially and finding nothing, as well as no name in the index. Well, I had given up too soon. Each roll was divided up further, with indexes throughout the roll. Moral of *this* story - keep scanning. Sometimes the index is wrong. Sometimes things are labeled wrong. Sometimes you haven't figured out the order and system even though you think you have. Got it?

Anyway, thanks to April's insistence and the Charleston Public Library, even though I'm sure there was a ton of information in that room that I didn't find because I didn't have the time or the right information with me, I came home with copies of both wills, two valuable pieces in my Story-Ellis family history puzzle.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A tour of Charleston...immersing myself in local history and trying to find contemporaries of my Story and Ellis families...

Some of the local architecture is reminiscent
of the kind you can find in New Orleans...
This entry is going to be a little more historical sight-seeing and a little less actual genealogy, although for better or for worse (for better, in my opinion), these two fields will always be intertwined. So the Tuesday before the National Genealogical Society's family history conference began, I did the whole sightseeing thing - most of the day was trying to get to Old St. Andrew's Church but I got a chance to walk around Charleston a bit too. I could've gone on a tour of the sights, I could've gone to a museum, but to be honest, that's not why I was there. I wanted to soak in the environment my ancestors lived in - I wanted to get a feel for what they saw, what they felt, what it was like to be in that place in another time. Luckily, parts of Charleston *look* as old as the city is. That's one of the things I love about many European cities, that you can actually see history around you. A place like New York City has deep roots, but you have to look for them to find them - in Charleston, there's a whole "historic district," which is kind of neat. I took in the coast, the marshes, the heavy wet heat, the cobblestone streets, the palm trees and magnolias. I visited two of the oldest churches in the city, established at the same time as the Church of England in the state. I found a house that was built by a contemporary of my family - the owner would have been alive when they were, and the house would have been standing when they lived there. That was pretty cool. The only thing I didn't get a chance to do that would've been pretty neat, considering the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War just passed, was visit Fort Sumter, where it all began. But I guess that's what return trips are for!

...and some of it seems to reflect the deep Caribbean roots of the city (the first English settlers of Charleston came by way of Barbados)

Down by the waterfront...love the palm trees!

This house, Col. Rhett's house (how appropriate - Rhett in Charleston! That's a Gone With the Wind reference btw...), was standing (not quite as enlarged) when my family lived here in the early 1700s...


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Serendipity and ancestors who want to be found: Meta Tiedemann Ricklefs

Genealogy is about facts and about all the things about a person that we can prove. In my experience, however, there's an almost eerie cosmic connection factor that comes into play when an ancestor wants to be found. I don't know how to explain it, so let me tell you a little story about one of my experiences at the National Genealogical Society's family history conference this past week...

Any of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that I recently put out a call for help in deciphering the handwriting on the marriage certificate for my third great grandmother, Meta Tiedemann Ricklefs, where her hometown was listed. If you recall, it looked a little something like this:

After careful consideration, I settled on the beginning of the word being "Mittels" and the end of the word being "ohe" or "ahe." The middle was a mystery, and I couldn't find anything even remotely similar to the spelling of this word anywhere near Hanover. So as I do when I get frustrated, I put it asided and moved on to something else. Well, during one of our breaks at the conference, Cousin April and I started wandering around the exhibition hall. She stopped to look at some books at one vendor and I noticed that on one shelf were books that listed place names in specific regions in Germany. On a whim, I picked up Hanover and started flipping through. And wouldn't you know it, there it was.


Actually, I knew that was it before I could even picture in my head how it was spelled on the marriage certificate - had there been a "t" in it? Was I imagining things? I used my handy-dandy Android phone to pull up the image I had posted on Ancestry, pulled April over to have her be my second set of eyes, and there it was, plain as day and so obvious I couldn't believe I couldn't figure it out before. I used another book on German parishes at that same vendor to look up where this town might have been located in Hanover and it was listed in there, too, located in southern Hanover in the Protestant parish of Lamstedt. This jived with other records I had seen and suspected were related to my Meta but which I was certain were about her. A quick Google search also showed me that this town still exists; you can see it on Google maps.

So now I have a civil region to look for records in as well as a church parish region to look for records in - all because April stopped at one of many book vendors at this thing and I got bored and decided to look up the first thing that popped into my head. It was amazing and a total "a-ha!" moment for me this past week. That feeling of wonder and discovery and of putting together the pieces of a puzzle and of success, that's just one of the best things about doing this - I didn't know how I was ever going to solve that. It was just so exciting and opens a new door for me to continue through on tracing that line.

So, one mystery down, a million more to go! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

National Genealogical Society family history conference Charleston 2011: an overview of a first-timer's experience

Going to this conference was pretty much what I expected. The grand scale of it was what I didn't expect. There were 1,700 participants from all across the country, and when you counted volunteers and exhibitors, that number rose to about 2,000 people at this thing, which was held at the Charleston Area Convention Center. Workshops started at 8 in the morning and ran for about an hour each. Classes ended by 5, but then there were social activities which were both an opportunity to network, socialize with other family historians (the only people you can talk to about this stuff who are sincere when they say it all sounds so interesting! :)) as well as experience a little bit of the city of Charleston and its culture. In between lectures you could visit the exhibit hall, where there were all sorts of vendors - historical and/or genealogical societies, genealogy websites, genealogy software companies, photo restorers, book vendors, scanner companies, genealogy classes, DNA companies, anybody or anything with even a tangential relation to family history research. It really hit home for me from the exhibit hall just how intertwined technology and genealogy have become and are continuing to become, and while I hate how easy the Internet has made it to do shoddy genealogy, it was refreshing and reassuring to see how committed websites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and Archives are to making it easier to do reliable and good genealogy.

Buzzy Jackson, author of "Shaking the Family Tree" gave a nice keynote talk about how her interest in genealogy was piqued and her family history journey, and David Ferriero, the archivist at the National Archives, also gave a nice talk about the work they're doing (less than a year to go until the 1940 U.S. census becomes public!!). I took classes on specific topics like using city directories and obituaries in conjunction with the census to locate family, the types of Irish land valuation records that are available besides Griffith's, how church records are so important to tracing your German heritage, how to read probate records. I took more general ones on the importance of historical context to telling your ancestors' full story, using siblings and/or associates to try to work backward when you hit a brick wall with a particular ancestor, why and how to narrow your focus when planning field research, how to go about resolving conflicting evidence.

We got to wander the Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the country, after hours, which was kind of cool and not at all scary (I kept thinking of that Ben Stiller movie Night at the Museum, where all the displays come alive after dark - nothing like that here)! We ate barbecue at the Charleston Rifle Club (weaponry not included), hosted by the South Carolina Genealogical Society. We attended a luncheon hosted by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (as seen on "Who Do You Think You Are?") and learned more about them and the work they do and Cousin April and I were both convinced that because of our New York and New England family history, it would be beneficial to join.

We met people from all over the country - even as a genealogist it was kind of crazy to see just how many people take this hobby seriously (is it still a hobby then? Who knows...) The majority of people were seniors - I guess there's more time for this stuff in retirement, but there were more people in their 40s and 30s than I anticipated. One of the most interesting people I met was Candace, a fifth generation Montanan, who now works at FamilySearch in Utah. She was intrigued to hear Cousin April and I are from the Hempstead area of Long Island because she was in Hempstead last year researching her colonial Long Island roots at, of all places, St. George's Episcopal Church, which is where many people in my tree were baptized and married. She didn't appear to be related to us, but her family, the Lotts and the Hewletts, are both names that I recognize and come across all the time. It's just funny to realize how small the world can really be, and I think genealogy magnifies that a lot.

The whole week was an amazing experience. Definitely the location was part of the draw, but the chance to network and learn from genealogists with so much more experience and so many more credentials than myself was awesome - being in that environment was a real shot in the arm, rejuvenating my family history research spirit. I don't know that the classes change often enough that I would go to this thing every year, but technology changes so quickly and new records and resources are coming to light every day that I would definitely consider doing this again in the future. Maybe I'll see y'all there! (My boyfriend says that yes, the Southern accent is there. For real.)


Saturday, May 14, 2011

All good things must come to an end...

So, unfortunately, I'm back in New York. I had hoped to post more than the lame once that I did while I was still in South Carolina but any of you who have ever been to this family history conference already knew what I learned this past week - I was up by six each day, in workshops by eight, and busy with activities until 10 at night. By the time I got back to the hotel, I was plumb tuckered out (the Southern accent and lingo is lingering, y'all!) And then on Thursday I actually had an hour before bed to write some stuff...and Blogger was down.

Ah, the universe.

Anyway, I actually can't write much right now either, but I wanted to let everyone know that the National Genealogical Society's family history conference was an amazing experience - I learned some new resources and research methods, met some great people (including a woman who works for FamilySearch out in Utah who had been to Hempstead last summer, including my St. George's Episcopal Church, to research her own family tree - small world!), got to see the church my family worshipped at in the early 1700s, made use of the local history room at the Charleston Public Library, had my genealogy battery recharged, and even solved my Meta Tiedemann Ricklefs hometown riddle!

So, fingers crossed, I should be posting a bunch of different entries over the next week or so going into more detail. In the mean time, I was able to tweet throughout the conference, so if you're looking for a taste of what it was like or to read something that's a little bit more real-time of the experience, you can read up on my Twitter name, @marygenealogy79. There's a scroll on the front of this blog or you can just go to Twitter. Can't wait to share more with yous (oh no, the New Yorker in me is back! lol) later!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting to know Charleston, South Carolina and some little known southern roots ahead of the national genealogy conference

Writing from Charleston, y'all!

Yes, I'm speaking with a Southern accent. I've only been here 24 hours. That's how I roll.

Cousin April and I left at 4 in the morning yesterday (that's Monday May 9th for anyone who, like myself, is easily confused)...we stopped for lunch in Hopewell, Virginia just southeast of Richmond where a distant relation of hers and an even more distant relation of mine, a Civil War veteran, is buried. We made it to Charleston in 15 hours, which is great time but a looong one-day trip. Since it was still light out (yay, daylights savings!) we drove around the historic section on the waterfront a bit before stopping for dinner. Charleston waterfront? Gorgeous. Old-school Charleston architecture? Everything you picture when you picture the Deep South. This is definitely where Rhett Butler came from.

So, the genealogy conference doesn't actually start until tomorrow. Today were some optional seminars and trips, and April went to one at the Charleston Public Library and I had signed up for a trip to the state archives in Columbia. I love archives, but I didn't go.

Here's the thing about Charleston. The city is architecturally and even culturally beautiful, as I knew it would be. I've been to South Carolina before but this was my first time in this city. I've been wanting to come here for awhile but not to see any museum or historic landmark or whatnot. I feel a connection to Charleston.

I don't feel connected to any American cities. My family came to America for the most part, landed in New York and said, "That's it. I'm done. That's as American as I get." All my American ancestry is in the New York metro area. Yes, I have New England ancestry too, but most people with colonial ancestry do. That's been well-documented and as a New Yorker you learn about it and travel there - there's nothing new to learn about it. But this deep-rooted American New Yorker has some Deep South roots, and those roots grew here in Charleston.

It's late and we have to be up early to check-in and begin a day of workshops tomorrow, so I'll end it there for now, but I'll update you later this week on both my experience at and review of the conference as well as share with you about my Story family and Ellis family and getting to know them a little better as well as a little more about this place they called home for three generations in the late 17th and early 18th century.

G'night, y'all! :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

T-minus one week until the NGS family history conference in Charleston, South Carolina

It seems like I signed up for this event years ago, but in one week, cousin April and I will be in Charleston, South Carolina for the National Geneological Society's annual family history conference. My co-workers have been very nice about it - I'm sure for anyone who isn't into geneaology, the thought of spending a whole week stuck in workshops and lectures all day long sounds like torture and the worst reason to take off work. But they all know how much I love genealogy so they're actually excited for me.

I'm excited about seeing a little bit of Charleston - I love the South and Charleston has always sounded charming. Add in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War this year, which began in Charleston, and the fact that I have family who lived in that city about 100 years before that, and I'm looking forward to getting to know the place a little bit.

But mostly, now it's crunch time. The packing list has been started, plans with April have been set, and now I have to look at the actual reason I'm going there - genealogy. What information do I have that I'd like to share? What information do I need? What research methods and resources am I most interested in learning about? Which of those are most crucial to my own research to learn? Which workshops in which timeslots will give me the most bang for my buck - be helpful to my personal family history/be helpful in learning how to help others with their research and making sure I don't sign up for a German research class for example in every single timeslot - got to make sure I spread it out! I'm also excited to spend time with people from all over who are as passionate about this subject as I am!

I'm planning on bringing my laptop to the conference with me, so for any of y'all who won't be there, hopefully I'll have time at the end of the day to share some of what I'm experiencing and learning while there, and if anyone is going to be attending, well then I look forward to seeing you there! :)