Saturday, June 12, 2010

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy - Challenge 23 - Create Your Own Challenge aka "A kick in the butt"

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy - Challenge 23 - Create Your Own Challenge GeneaBloggers: "52 Weeks To Better Genealogy – Challenge 23
Come up with a personal genealogy challenge of your own. Each person has different research goals and experiences. Use this week to come up with your own challenge, and then take the steps to accomplish it. Genealogy bloggers are encouraged to share their ideas and challenge their own readers.
This challenge runs from Saturday, 5 June 2010 through Friday, 11 June 2010."

Challenge 23 may be a life changing challenge for me. Although I haven't registered my blog with GeneaBloggers, I do follow along and try to participate in most of the suggested challenges in an effort to improve and expand my research skills. I have briefly looked at the National Archives, poked around Find A Grave, ignored some and patted myself on the back for already using some of the suggested resources. Then came this week, and as I read it, I was already dismissing it in my mind. I was too busy planning my upcoming trip to Ireland and nothing instantly jumped into my brain.

But sitting quietly at the back of my mind was a memory of the last meeting with my genealogy group. I was telling them that I didn't know where my father graduated from college or high school. My parents divorced when I was eight, and I never saw anyone from that side of my family again except for a single brief visit with my aunt during a trip to Florida and a one hour lunch with my cousin over 20 years ago. Several people made suggestions as to how I might find the information. I wrote down the resources they suggested, but then one person suggested contacting a relative from that side of the family. I instantly started with excuses: They died several years ago. I don't know anyone else. Well, I only know one name. I think she moved. Her name? She possibly divorced. The excuses were rolling off my tongue faster than they could ask questions to try and help me. Then, from the other side of the room a head popped up from behind a computer, and I heard, "Here she is." She said my cousin's name, address and told me I could pull up a Google Earth image of her house in the Chicago area. There was a pause. How did you find that, I asked? She then told me she found it by using PIPL and went on to tell about her success with "cold calling". I am usually the talkative type, but I mumbled that I would have to try it and thank you so much. It suddenly dawned on me that in the two years that I have been working on my family history, I have never tried to find a living relative on my father's side of my family. I found obituaries for my grandparents, sent to Kansas State for photos from a 1907 yearbook, searched through census records and followed the family migration from Pennsylvania, to Ohio and finally to Kansas as my ancestors went from Quakers to Free State activists and then Civil War soldiers. But a living relative. . . . . and my first cousin at that. So even though I now had the information to make a contact, I did nothing. After all, I was too busy right now. It was too noisy now. There were too many people around now. It was too late or too early. In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "I'll think about it tomorrow".

Then came the Geneablogger challenge. My first thought was that I couldn't think of a personal challenge and passed it over. As I was sitting at my computer one morning in the middle of the week with my coffee mug in my hand and the screen on Iowa GenWeb, the words "cold calling" popped into my brain. I knew what my individual challenge was. The real challenge was making myself do it. I looked up her name and went to Google Earth. Maybe, this wasn't even her I told myself, but just someone with the same name. I breathed easier when I realized it was too early to call because they were an hour behind us, so I went on to other activities. Later when I came back and checked my Google Reader for new posts, that dang gone GeneaBlogger challenge was mentioned again. Okay, it was now or never. As I dialed the number, I could feel myself breathing more deeply. It rang. . . . and rang . . . and rang, then the answering machine picked up. As I left a message explaining who I was and who I was looking for, I started to choke up and knew I was sounding waaaay too emotional. It was so unexpected since it has been 54 years since my families divorced. I ended the message and hung up.

By now, I was committed to making this contact. When I didn't hear back that day, I searched the next day on Facebook - a site I loathe. There she was and with a photo. I think it might really be her. I quickly sent a message and quickly got a return message. It was my cousin!! Email was definitely easier. She can't see the number of times I rewrite my message, and my voice doesn't crack unexpectedly in an email. Pauses to grab a Kleenex don't show. I tell her that I will be travelling to Ireland in a few days and hope we can see each other when I return. She asks if I will be in County Clare where the McCoys were from - I didn't know that. I didn't even know they were Irish. We make plans, and I mention that I might need to bring tissues. She responded that she might need them also as she cried while she wrote to me thinking of the lost opportunities. It seems she was glad to hear from me too. . . .

My personal challenge was to "cold call", and I challenge others to try it also. Don't lose the opportunity.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Second Family History Trip

As I said in a previous post, a chance phone call lead us (my brother and I) to a visit with my mother's first cousin. She and her mother moved back to live with her grandmother at 2338 W. Washington Blvd. after her father died. It was a very emotional meeting, and we planned to get together for the weekend a few weeks later. Again, my only preparation for the trip was excitement, enthusiam and some hastily scrawled questions. My brother took his laptop with his genealogy files on it, scanner, and his wife to act as the general all round go-fer. He is so lucky to have her! I vowed (and was warned by my brother) not to forget anything this time.

Thanks to his GPS we travelled to her house with no trouble. She ran to greet us with hugs and smiles. A real bonus was that two of her daughters and a granddaughter also came over for part of the visit. We asked about family history information we had collected, and she allowed us to scan every photo and scrap of paper that she had found. She related family stories, and I kicked myself for not having a voice recorder - another item for my Christmas list. I would try to have something by our next visit. I scribbled notes as fast as I could and my brother scanned continously - too bad he didn't notice that the edges weren't scanning until we returned home. We even found a letter she kept from our mother asking for family history information for my brother and our mother explaining that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. We scanned the notes she put together, even those on the back of envelopes. We never found out from whom she got the information. There would be time when we saw each other again to ask questions. We were so happy that we had reconnected after all the years she and our mother had been distant. This connection was important to both of us. The weekend went by way too fast, and we all agreed that we needed to have a family picnic, but we would keep in touch by email until then. She passed on funny jokes, and I asked questions about the family. Then one day, a few weeks later, she didn't answer my email, so I wrote another, and another. Please tell me you are fine but just busy, I asked. She wasn't. How could this happen so quickly? I remember how impressed I was that she walked three miles a day. I felt "fit" when I could do two. We teased her about being a spoiled child with so many Christmas gifts - see photo above - but we knew she had had great heartache as a child.

The next time we saw her was at her funeral only a short time -too short - later. At her funeral we met another cousin of my mother's and exchanged email addresses. We also met many relatives but the names and faces swirl together. Several told stories of our grandparents. It was an emotional day on many levels.

As I read family history blogs now discussing their upcoming family history trips, I have read that a successful trip includes lists, forms, GPS coordinates, with a time schedule. This will always be my most memorable family history trip, and I was utterly unprepared. My advice is to just go . . . . meet your family, enjoy their company, and take a voice recorder so you can visit without notetaking and a camera for the memories.

This was a very difficult post to write. I find that I still cry when I think about it. I wanted to include some photos, but don't want to offend her children. I hope the one above is acceptable.

Hiatus and Excuses

Well, I am back, although it doesn't seem like I have been away. In my mind, I have written several posts and filed them in the back of my brain for "when I have time" . I always think I need more time than I have, and so I put it off. I am not very good at just doing a smaller project, taking a shorter vacation . . . . or posting a shorter post. I always find myself waiting until I have time to do what I have envisioned. It is all suppose to be so organized, even when I am not. This fatal flaw of mine causes me to dream big but often pass by the small opportunities. I am going to work on this.

This next paragragh is the excuse paragraph. I'll make this short. My husband and I took a short vacation to the Blue Ridge mountains to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. I can't believe it. The time away together was so relaxing, and he planned the whole thing! He was also very tolerant of my conversations (Is only one person talking a conversation?) about my upcoming trip to Ireland. I am really obsessing and over analyzing that. And that is what has taken up any remaining time I have.

Now back to the subject at hand. There is so much that I want to find out how to do to this blog. For instance, I would like to change the look and have a family photo at the top. How do I put some links on the side like the other bloggers do for things such as email, tags, blogs they read, etc.
One blogger told me to search the internet because the buttons were all over the place. Yes, but how do I get it on my blog??? Of course, if I had more time I would be able to figure it out . . . let's not get into that again. But wait, this is the advantage of having an invisible blog. I have only told the family, and they aren't interested. My brother is noticeably bored and underwhelmed when I ask if he read my blog and HE'S the original genealogist in the family. My daughter warns me all the time about BORING people with my genealogy talk. So who do I want to impress with a new snazzy look with all the bells and whistles - why me, of course!