Saturday, April 14, 2018

52 Weeks - #15 Taxes

My memory is seriously failing me. Last week, I realized I had “misremembered” the origin of the punch-needle rugs my mother made in the mid-1960s. This week, I was all set to write my post on the topic of “taxes.” It would be an easy write -  I had all of my tax returns since 1971 when I took a part-time job at Morton’s Pharmacy in Hamden, CT. I went to the first file cabinet and opened the drawers.  2017… 2016… 2000…  I headed down to the basement where I kept older documents. 1990… 1985… 1984… what??? I’m missing an entire decade of documents? How can that be? I don’t throw anything out!! Impossible – I must have just misplaced the files. I saw in my mind a thin file marked “Important Documents.” 

Yes! I vaguely remembered a “cleansing” some time ago when I did get rid of a lot of ephemera. I must have placed the old returns in that file.

My antique file cabinet.
Hope the IRS doesn't audit me! 
What a great opportunity– I could kill two birds with one stone – While looking for the missing folder I would clear out excess paper from the old tax files and then reorganize my multiple file drawers into one. After several days of shredding (eight shredders-full!), I had a beautifully organized file drawer but no “Important Correspondence” folder. (See picture left: I'd show you how organized the drawer is, but that's as far as it opens now unless I really give a good strong yank which I'm too tired to do tonight!)

I can’t tell the tale I wanted to, but I do have two tax return stories to share. (Full disclosure: this is the way I remember it – so, at this point, who knows what the truth really is!!) 

Blood, (but no) Sweat and Tears:
I was perhaps a tad too zealous sealing the envelope one year and somehow gave myself a papercut. Yup! Bled on the back of the envelope containing my tax return. Pretty appropriate I’d say!

My First Return:
I don’t remember how old I was, but I must have been at least 18. It was my first return. I filled out the paper about my earnings. I consulted the chart to see what my income tax was. I owed $5.00. Having no idea of how to actually go about paying the tax, and for some reason, too proud (Stubborn? Stupid?) to ask for help, I figured I had to write a check and send it in. So, I did. And the check bounced. Turns out, I didn’t even have to send a check – that $5.00 was what would be deducted from the amount I would be refunded.

Oh, how I wish I could find that file!!!'

Note: The last two weeks are a good example of why I participate in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog challenge. Especially this year when I am concentrating on telling the stories of my generation. Each week, I am able to reach deep into the dark (and certainly cobwebby) recesses of my mind and clarify my memory of specific events. While the truth may be less entertaining than the memory, it IS the truth. After reading Amy Johnson Crow’s recent post on “The Historians versus the Genealogists. Really?”, I feel even more strongly that sharing our stories is important. As Amy stated: “Genealogy now is about making connections to the past — all of it. When we make those connections, we not only understand our families better, we understand history better. We also come to know our current world better. Genealogists, like historians, look at the past and say, "This matters." 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

52 Weeks - #14 "Made an Aunt" Lydia Punch Rug!!! (Maiden Aunt)

Okay - this is admittedly a real stretch for this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog prompt, "Maiden Aunt." I was struggling to think of who I could write about, not having any maiden aunts.  In fact, I have no aunts at all anymore. Nor are any of my siblings "maidens." So - I started to play with the words.... maiden.... made in... made an! That's it!  Read on to see how I managed to make a connection to this week's prompt.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #13 - The "Old Homestead"

In March 1959 we were living in a two-story garden apartment in New Haven. I had just turned 4. One sister was not quite 3 years-old and the other had just turned 1. My mother was exhausted from running up and down the stairs all day and insisted on moving to a new home – and it HAD to be a ranch-style.

The Casey Construction Company was showing off its line of homes at the newly built Hamden Plaza. In 1959, Hamden was just coming into its own as a town. Many people were eager to leave the urban metropolis of New Haven to raise their “baby-boomer” children in the suburbs.

Contstruction of home models. The A&P supermarket
can be seen across the street.
(Source of picture unknown)

The three home models. The sign for Gristede's grocery store
can be seen to the left. Later, that became Pegnataro's Supermarket.
(Source of picture unknown)
 After eliminating Woodbridge and Orange as potential choices my parents chose Lot #61 in Paradise Hills in Hamden, Connecticut for our future home. (My mother didn’t care for the “ritzy” Jewish congregations there – she preferred the reform congregation of Mishkan Israel in Hamden.)

Hamden is known for a few things: The Sleeping Giant Mountain, a Main Street in the middle of nowhere, no town green (unusual for a New England town), and its variously named neighborhoods. If you ask almost anyone in town, they can easily identify for you the locations of Spring Glen, Whitneyville (named for Eli Whitney), Highwood, West Woods, as well as others. Paradise Hills? Not so much!

Paradise Hills was so named for the “main” road forming the western boundary of the neighborhood. In 1959, there were only two ways in and out of the new subdivision – Four Rod Road, a twisty, hilly road running from Shepard Avenue, or Paradise Avenue which was straight but still pretty hilly. Years later, Howard Drive (the southern boundary) would be extended, connecting our little neighborhood to the main thoroughfare of Skiff Street.

On September 16, 1959, my parents, Alan and Doris Lichtenthal Samuel, signed the mortgage for our new home. Dad had just earned his Ph.D. at Yale a few months earlier. His tuition was paid for by his Naval service during the Korean War. His service also allowed him (and millions of other servicemen) to purchase their own homes in newly built suburban neighborhoods all over the United States. His VA loan was in the amount of $15,300. The interest rate was 5.25% making the monthly payments $91.69. 

I’m not sure exactly what his position was at that time, but I imagine it was probably Assistant Professor, making his annual salary somewhere between $4,000 and $8,750[1]. Like most women of that era, my mother didn’t work, so Dad’s salary had to cover the expenses of our family of five. 

Even if he was at the lowest end of the scale, Dad’s salary would qualify him for the VA loan program; “The minimum for a veteran would be a $300 down payment and a weekly salary of $75.”[2]

Mom was so proud of her new home. Having lived her entire life in apartments, this was the first single-family home she ever lived in. It was a house to be proud of. Touted as being “situated in a picturesque country atmosphere,”[3] the design won an award for “the Best Home for the Money.”[4] 

Description of the ranch model.
Source: Hamden Chronicle, Special Supplement, March 12, 1959, p.4

Dad made several improvements to the basic home. He hired Bud Starno, our across-the-street neighbor to finish the first third of the basement. The newly renovated space provided a nice family room with built-in bookcases and an under-stairs closet. Dad used a sledge hammer to open a space for a large window to let in the light. True to his impulsive nature, he didn’t measure first, so replacement windows now come at a custom-made cost!

Dad also terraced the backyard, dragging wheelbarrows full of rocks from the pond down the road. To complete the serene backyard, he dug a semi-circular trench allowing the brook that ran behind our yards to flow through our property. The neighbors were not happy about the water being diverted!

Dad really did a beautiful job with this. All the other homes
on our side of street left their steep backyard hills intact.
You can see Dad's window work in this photo.

Digging the "brook!"
This lower level is now owned by the State of Connecticut.
The State purchased the lowest level of everyone's home on our side of the street in an
effort to combat frequent flooding caused by the brook. (Not my father's fault!) 
Just four years after moving into their new home, my parents divorced. The refinished basement space was repurposed to serve as two bedrooms. Space was sorely needed - in 1961 another sister was born. Then my mother met and married Al Falcone, who had three children of his own. In 1964 my brother was born to my mother and stepdad. Now there were five children under the age of 9 living in the house – 8 on Sundays, when Alfie's kids came over! I eventually moved into the unfinished section of the basement, creating a "little apartment" for myself. One positive was the door leading directly out to the backyard (that's a story for another time.) One negative was NO heat other than what escaped from the gas furnace next to my bed. (How I didn't die down there, I'll never know...)

Grilling in the carport - circa 1968 or 1969?
Watching from the steps is my mom. Manning the grill is my stepdad, Al Falcone.
The "little chef" in front of the station wagon in my brother Dean.
In the 70s, the carport was transformed into a real family room, with a fireplace and a bar! Along with the kitchen, this space formed the nucleus of the home. 61 Goebel Road had become our “homestead.”  Holidays became “events” with food, laughter, and more food. 

Christmas Eve was the most important of all holidays. (We became Italian “by osmosis” when Mom married Alfie!) The holiday is so important to us, that we still held a small Christmas Eve gathering at the house in 2011, just weeks after our mother’s passing.

When our mom died, we really didn't know what would happen with the home. We were thrilled that we, as a family, were able to keep Mom in her beloved home until the last few months of her life, but none of us could afford to purchase the house. Getting the house ready for sale was a daunting task - it needed quite a bit of repair and updating. It looked like our cherished homestead would become someone else's property. Well, we had a good run - 52 years.

On December 2, 2011, after refusing several times, our youngest daughter, Meghan finally agreed to go on a date with Andrew Jefts, a guy she met while attending school in New Hampshire. Why do I remember the date? Because the phone conversation occured while Meghan and I were on a train. We were returning from a trip into New York City where we met older daughter, Caitlin to pick out her wedding dress. When we arrived back in New Haven, we found my mother had just passed away. I like to think Mom had something to do with Meghan finally accepting that date. 

A few weeks later, Andy and Meg went on their first date. My siblings and I were stressing out over what to do with the house.  In order to remain in her home, my mother used an equity line to pay taxes and meet daily expenses, so there was very little equity available to use for repairs. If we wanted to sell the home at a decent price, we would need to spend money to make repairs. No one had extra money for that. We were resigned to selling the house and hoped to realize enough cash to pay whatever expenses Mom had incurred.

Despite having only dated for a few weeks, Andy suggested he and Meghan rent the house, with an option to buy. It was a great solution. Probably Mom had "something" to do with that happening as well! I was more than a little skeptical. Is this guy for real? I actually "googled" him to make sure he wasn't some sort of scammer. Nope - no scammer! Just a super nice guy who knew what he wanted (Meghan!) Andy quickly understood how much the house meant to our family, and to Meghan, who probably spent more of her childhood at her grandmother's house than at ours.  VERY long story short, they worked tirelessly to update every square inch of the property - inside and out! 

Before - May 2012

After - June 2013

Meg and Andy moved into the house in the fall of 2012. In 2014, they married. In 2015, their  daughter, Paisley May was born. Within the next few weeks, a little brother for Paisley is expected. The Christmas Eve tradition has continued at our homestead. We all realize the Jefts probably won't live there forever, but that's okay. We have a backup plan for keeping the house in the family. Start saving your pennies,  Alex Falcone!!!

Note: My mother saved the March 1959 supplement to the local paper, the Hamden Chronicle which detailed the construction of the Casey homes. Here are a few relevant screenshots:

[1] " Academic Salaries, 1958-1959: Report of Committee Z On The Economic Status Of The Profession On JSTOR ". 2018. Jstor.Org. Accessed March 31 2018. 
[2] Hamden Chronicle, Special Supplement, Section III, March 12, 1959, p. 12.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #12: Misfortune - "Saved by the Hamster"

I could have used this story for last week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge as it truly ended up a story about luck. But, since most people would consider losing the top floor of their home to fire, it fits this week's theme of Misfortune, pretty well.

Julie Chen with
Meg and my mom
Those of you who have known me for some time have no doubt heard this story. Maybe more times than you cared to! The tale of how our hero hamster, Snowball, saved our family from a house fire has been well documented in the media. Reported originally in local papers, the story aired on regional TV news before getting picked up by the AP wire service. From there it went viral (before going viral was even a thing!) Radio stations from coast to coast called to interview our daughter Meghan, the owner of our hero. 

In 1997, Meghan our youngest daughter was very shy and pretty much mute. The previous year, when she was in second grade, it wasn’t until April that she actually started speaking to her teacher! So, you can imagine how reluctant she was to chat on the phone. She avoided getting interviewed by the local TV news personalities She hung in the background as much as possible when Julie Chen came to interview her for CBS news. My mother loved that, though! 

This is the only  picture we got -
upstairs after fire
You can enlarge this article to read to story of how we were
saved by Meghan's hamster, Snowball.

We got a call from a guy who offered to take professional portraits of Meg and her older sister, Caitlin.  He would take pictures of them using the burned second floor as background, he said. The portraits would be free, he said. Beautiful, dramatic 8x10 pictures, he said. A week later or so, we saw the result of his work. On page 14 of the National Enquirer. We never got any portraits, but the frequency of phone calls for Meghan increased dramatically after that.

The next thing we know, we get a call from a representative of the Maury Povich Show asking us to join him on a segment he was going to do about miracles. Meghan, of course, said, “No!” She must have sensed the feelings of the rest of the family because, after thinking about it for awhile, she agreed. On one condition -
they had to transport us to New York in a limo. Not so shy anymore! We also recreated the fateful night of June 30, 1997, for an episode of Melissa Etheridge’s show, Beyond Chance (Click on that link to see the clip!). We spent an entire day filming what would become a 10-minute segment on the Animal Planet show, Wild Rescues

Stretch limo? Yes, please!

Meghan and Snowball’s story turned up in Nickelodeon magazine and an issue of the Scholastic News. It was the first story in the book Animal Rescues by Jeanne Betancourt.  Caitlin even got a call from some guy in Israel asking about our hero hamster.

Here's where the fire started - the BX cable shorted -
Just inches from where Meghan was sleeping!

You are probably thinking, this really doesn’t sound like a story about misfortune. It probably isn’t. Yes, we lost the entire top floor of our home. We couldn’t live there for months until the damage was repaired. It was very scary. The fish died. Meghan’s Beanie Baby collection was severely diminished. The first couple weeks after the fire were very stressful. Luckily, my sister Kathy and her husband owned a cottage in Milford where we could stay while our home was being rebuilt. We enjoyed the summer there. The dog - not so much! He was attacked by the fleas residing in the cottage and had his ear bitten by a stray dog on the beach! 

Caitlin looks through the kitchen ceiling
to the floor above.

Dormer in progress

But from misfortune can come a gift. We learned how supportive our neighbors were. We were all alive and well. The cat, dog, and the hamster all survived, We got new beds, new clothes, and new toys. We were able to remodel our dining room, expand our upstairs and install a hard-wired smoke alarm system, none of which we could have afforded otherwise.Meghan came into her own. And we all got a family story that will live on forever!

All rebuilt!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #11 - "Lucky" (My Story)

This week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic is "Lucky"  - in honor of St. Patrick's Day. I was planning on writing about how lucky I have been "employment-wise." But then I discovered March 14 was National "Write Your Story" Day. I remembered writing a lengthy autobiography as part of the Genealogy Do-Over I started in 2015. So - for several reasons (one of which is that I am on "Grandma Duty" in Colorado this week) I have decided to post the "Story of Me." I have a good excuse for not posting yesterday. I spent the day in planes, trains, and automobiles. (ok- the train was at the Denver airport between terminals, but it's still a train!)

Before you decide to read on, I must warn you - I am old. Therefore my story is quite lengthy (almost 7 typewritten pages.)  If you're not keen to learn all the intricacies of my life, just stop reading now. It's okay - I get it. I'm really not that interesting. But it's important to have the story written.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

52 Ancestors - Week #10 - Strong Women

UPDATE: It was recently brought to my attention that I made a big booboo. I inadvertently left out one of my sisters-in-law. I make no excuse (because I don't even know how I forgot!) just a huge and apology.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the prompt for this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “Strong Women.” Keeping with my plan to write about my generation this year, I am celebrating ALL the strong women in my family! In order to respect people’s privacy, I will use only first names. I could write volumes about each of these wonderful women, but in order to keep this post at a reasonable length, I will be letting each know what I appreciate about them. (Probably something we should do on a regular basis, but I’m happy to have this opportunity now!)

If I wasn’t focusing on the current generation, I would definitely be writing about Scott’s great-grandmother, Catherine Seeley Fitzallen – a strong woman in her own way – despite probable mental illness, she managed to amass enough capital to finance a building project in Chicago that secured a comfortable life for her daughter and her descendants.

The strength of the women in my husband’s family has been discussed amongst ourselves many times. My sisters-in-law and I get together as often as possible and truly enjoy each other’s company. Sadly, we have lost two of these wonderful women in recent years.


Me and three of my sisters-in-law at Cait's wedding in 2012.
That's Peggy on the far right.

Margaret “Peggy” Winchester Holman Ross left us on May 11, 2014. Peggy’s calm demeanor, her gentle manner, and her ability to remain optimistic even under the worst of circumstances often made me wish I had known her better. Peggy and her family live quite far from us so there weren’t many opportunities to spend time together, other than family events. Happily, her boys have inherited her wonderful spirit and I can continue to “be” with Peggy through them.

Ann Goodgion passed away on September 3, 2006. An amazing woman, who raised two fabulous boys, often on her own. I was always in awe of what Ann could accomplish – she spent her life trying to make things better for others – sometimes to the detriment of her own well-being. While raising her children, she became a social worker, college professor, and a Ph. D. candidate, working to improve the lives of others and fighting against social injustice. And – she was a hockey mom! That, in itself, is remarkable!

Jeanne is Scott’s sister. The rock of the family, Jeanne keeps us together. How she stays positive, even in the face of devastating events, is an inspiration. There was a time, many years ago, when it looked like I would no longer be a part of the Holman clan. (That’s a story for another day!) Jeanne occasionally comments on how happy she is that I stuck around! I’m pretty pleased about it, too! I look to Jeanne for focus and clarity when life gets complicated.

Wendy. Oh, Wendy. Why do you live so far away? The first time I went away overnight with Scott was to visit Wendy and her husband John (Scott’s brother) in Pleasantville, New York. Wendy was so welcoming and so gracious! I knew immediately that this was a woman I wanted to get to know better. Sorry I wasn’t talking to Scott during the month you got married. I regret to this day, missing your wedding! Wendy has the best smile – her warmth just exudes out of every pore! She and I have a lot in common. Besides a love for family history, Wendy just loves the stuff that goes along with that. I spent some time with her, looking through her “family museum” – letters, journals, great pictures, etc. We are both now retired, but it may take more time than we both have to catalog all her finds! Another woman of great strength – her husband and mom passed away within weeks of each other.

Laurel is my very accomplished sister-in-law. Previous to her retirement, Laurel was library director in several different towns. As a “closet” librarian, I feel a certain kinship there. The only difference is that Laurel actually reads the books; I just like to organize them! After losing her husband Gerry (Scott’s brother) in 1991, Laurel was left to raise her two sons on her own. No small task when one is working full-time at a very demanding job. Through it all, Laurel drew on her strengths to assure a stable home for the boys. Now retired, Laurel hasn’t slowed down much at all. She attends community events, takes super-interesting classes at local colleges and, of course, is a voracious reader. I always learn something new when we get together for our “sisters’ lunches."

The wedding I missed. That's Wendy, second from left, next to Scott. His brother, John is the man standing on the far right.

Suzi is my sister Jeanne’s better half. Better three-quarters is more like it. Suzi has experienced several traumatic life events which may have given her strength she needs to conquer what might be her biggest challenge yet - keeping my sister alive and focused! Although Suzi has been part of our family for almost 30 years (What? How is that possible?) I feel as though I don’t really know that much about her. I’m hoping to rectify that this summer when Scott and I join Jeanne and Suzi on a three-week river cruise. A recently retired social worker, Suzi now has the best job ever. Being a grandma to her adorable granddaughter!

Kathy is actually my ex-sister-in-law. We call her Kathy F. to differentiate her from my sister Kathy. Here’s the thing about our family – it’s kind of like being in the Mafia – you’re in for life. Once you’re in, there’s no getting out! Kathy has been dealt a few tough cards throughout her life. In spite of that, she raised (actually is still raising) three fabulous kids while working two jobs and earning her massage therapist certificate. She always remembers family birthdays which is something I struggle with.

Caroline is married to my brother, Rodi. (My family is quite extended. Rodi is the adopted son of my father and his third wife. To me, he is my brother.) They live in Canada so I don’t see them much. I actually have only met Caroline one time. During that one visit, it was clear that Caroline was a woman of strength. For one thing, she is a teacher. For another, at the time of their visit, their son was going through a difficult period. Caroline parented him with calmness and love. It takes strength to remain calm in the face of a challenging four-year-old!

Shellye is not yet my sister-in-law. I am happy to announce that will change on September 8th,  when she marries my brother, Dean. I could list many of her strengths, such as surviving life as a high school teacher and writing/performing awesome music. But what I’m most impressed with is – her ability to enjoy life while living with my brother! (You know I love you, Dean!)

That’s it for my sisters-in-law. Let’s move on to my sisters. You’ll notice the list isn’t any shorter. I told you my family was extended!!


I just love this photo. It's all eight of the children of my mom and my stepdad.

Sandra is the eldest of all my siblings. (We are actually step-siblings, but I never think that way … all my steps are siblings!!) My question for her is this, “How is it that you look exactly the same as when we met in the 1960s?” I always thought Sandy was so cool – tall (well to me, anyway), thin, with flowing black hair. She has a great sense of humor. We spent many a Sunday causing all kinds of trouble prank-calling people.

Me. I just put myself in the list so you can see where I fit in. The list is chronological, by age. (Sorry, Sandy.)

Jeanne is barely 16 months younger than me. There are so many ways to describe her. Smart. Intense. Deep-thinker. Musical. Good cook. Credentialed. That last one doesn’t speak to her traits but to her determination. (Wait – that’s a trait, right?) Several years ago, Jeanne earned her Ph. D. I think it almost killed her. Probably one of the hardest and most unpleasant times of her life. She never gave up and finally got the break she needed. Good job, Dr. Samuel! Oh – and just aside – she has an unbelievably talented son, who, with her support, has become one of the most respected young musicians in his genre.

Kathy is the middle child. She recently moved from New York to North Carolina and I really miss seeing her. Somewhere along the line, she became hilarious. Good thing, since she needed that sense of humor to survive the raising of her boys. I always had my mom as backup while raising our girls, but Kathy was hours away. There was no break for her. I didn’t appreciate until recently how difficult it had been.  Kathy also suffers with health issues, but like our mother, NEVER complains. But then, we “don’t do sick.” (Directly quoting our mom!) Oh well…

Laura. Biologically a step-sister, Laura and I look like we might actually share some DNA – the short kind! If you want to hear about someone who took lemons and made lemonade, it’s Laura’s story. Laura worked hard to earn her nursing degree and, with her husband, is raising one of the most beautiful, sweetest girls I have the privilege of being related to. There’s really just one word to describe Laura: FABULOUS!! (It’s impossible for me to convey the way she says this word – you’ll have to trust me.)

Betsy is the youngest of all my 100% biological sisters. She is arguably the nicest one of ALL of us. (Excluding Mark, but this is about the women!) She knits. She cross-stitches. She gardens and cans the best raspberry jam EVER! She volunteers.  She watches wrestling matches coached by her husband (that might be the most amazing thing she does!!) She works. Then she works. And works some more. I wish I could fast-forward the next few years so she can retire!! Always the first Christmas card - except for the auto body repair shop we went to ONE time! Her thoughtfulness is beyond thoughtful. Betsy actually thinks about doing nice things for people. And then she DOES them!

Samuel Family photo taken in 2007 on my father's 75th birthday. The only one missing is Jeanne.
So sad how many of these people are no longer with us. 

Alexandra is the child of my father and his second wife. She lives the farthest of all my siblings and there are days when I wish I could run over to her house and hug her. (Although, I suspect she’d prefer I just take her away to a remote island full of yummy treats.) Alex shares her strength publicly on an almost daily basis, an amazing resource and support for anyone raising children with challenges. I won’t get into details here but suffice it to say that you won’t meet another person who conquers life’s daily “poop” with such humor. The other thing I want to share is that I always regretted not getting to know Alex better when we were younger. I always had my siblings to help process the stuff our dad did. The children he adopted with his third wife had sibs as well. But Alex was on her own. You know the saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…”

Kristen is the eldest daughter of the three children my father adopted with his third wife. You’re probably thinking, “What is it with that guy?” According to him, he was just trying to ‘get it [parenting] right’. Surprisingly, the bond between my father’s eight children has gotten stronger since his passing. I “visit” with Kristen on an almost daily basis, thanks to Facebook. An artist and photographer, Kristen often struggles with debilitating physical pain. Chronic illness is no joke and I am awed by Kristen’s ability to get up each morning and do whatever needs to be done to support herself and her two super kids.

Marion is my father’s youngest. I remember visiting Dad when our eldest, Caitlin, was about 2 and thinking, “Marion is waaaay closer in age to Caitlin than to me!” 7 years between aunt and niece; 23 years between sisters! She has come a long way from that little girl who shared the red bath tub with Caitlin. (Sorry, Marion, I just loved how much fun you two had!) A gifted singer and mother of one very spirited, adorable little girl, it’s amazing what she manages to pack into one day. Then she wakes… and does it again!

So those are the amazing women in my life. Some I see more often than others. But, they are always with me. Their strengths give me strength. Their energy keeps me going. Their existence makes our family what it is. I am proud to be their sister!!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

RootsTech 2018 - Day Four - Yesterday!!!

Got up this morning to a beautiful sunrise. I wanted to get an early start so we would be sure to have a good seat at this morning's keynote address. Most people probably want to hear Henry Louis Gates, of the PBS TV show certain to get Finding Your Roots. I'm interested in his talk, but I really want to hear Natalia LaFourcade.

When Scott and I were in Mexico over Christmas break, we stayed at the El Ganzo Hotel. This hotel has a recording studio where artists from all over the world come to record their music. Many of the sessions are recorded and shown every night in on the TV in your room. There were several artists that we really liked, but I was particularly struck by Natalia LaFourcade's song "Eclipse." I even wrote the name down so I wouldn't forget it. I had no idea she was going to be a speaker at RootsTech until a couple months after that! I considered that a sign that I was meant to go to the conference!!

The emcee of the morning was Jason Hewlett. He did a pretty good job getting thousands of sleepy genealogists up and moving at 8:30 in the morning after our heads have been crammed full of information. He shared with us his special gift - some weird muscle thing he can do with his face - and told us we all should be happy (in comparison) with the gifts that we have been given.

Natalia has a busy couple days - after giving today's keynote, she is heading to the Oscars as her song "Remember Me" (from the animated movie Coco) is nominated for the Best Original Song. This morning was the first time she ever performed it live!

Henry Louis Gates was, as always, informative. He has a new web series called Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings. Kids attend a camp where they actually use science and genealogy to learn about their family history. It sounds pretty cool.

Then it was off to my first presentation: Fun With Photos- The Sheboygan Dead Horse Picture. The presenter was Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist. Colleen shared the story of how she and her team used various techniques to pinpoint the date and time this picture was taken. You can find more about this on her blog Indentifinders International.

 It was interesting to learn of the techniques used to place a picture by location, date, and time. She and her team determined the earliest year of the photo by figuring out the earliest date a wide-angle lens was used and latest year by determining the latest date of the construction of some of the landmarks in the photo. They also used city directories, census records, and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps to further identify the buildings. If you don’t know about these maps, they are worth learning about. I am currently using one from the late 1800s of Kansas City, Missouri in an attempt to figure the size of the home owned by Catherine Seeley Fitzallen. Colleen also gave us a tip on how we can date those old cabinet cards, sometimes called carte vista. She suggested using a  caliper to measure the thickness of the cardboard of the picture you are trying to date and then compare it to pictures you have already dated. I never knew cardboard wasn’t invented until 1870. That’s a handy fact to know.
The second presentation I attended was Reconstruct Your Ancestors’ World With Google. Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems is a Google guru, so I was very interested to learn about whatever tips she could give to use Google more effectively.
I already knew about using “ operators” such as “ (quotation marks will limit the search to ONLY pages with those words) the +  (plus sign limits search to pages with words in that order), and the - (minus sign removes pages containing that term) to refine my searches. New to me was using *. Placing an asterisk (with a space on either side) between words will allow a search for words with some unknown words between it. An example would be: I often search for William Seeley. His middle name was Augustus. So I should search for “William * Seeley.” That should return pages for William A. Seeley as well as William Augustus Seeley.
I also didn’t know about “num range.” Using two periods between years should limit my search to a specific time period. Example: Catherine Seeley 1890..1899.
To help you determine what keyword search terms you could use, Lisa suggests reviewing the stories you have transcribed, bold any words that jump out at you as possibilities. Names, locations, companies, and events were some examples. Lisa went a step further with the keyword search and suggested creating “google alerts” for them. Once an alert is created, Google will constantly scour the internet and alert you when a new page containing that term is posted. Too bad I didn’t know that two years ago - probably could have saved a lot of time!
Lisa also shared tips for using Google Scholar, a place to look for information in academic material. Google Patents is pretty cool too. I located several patents held by my great-grandfather, Sigmund Lichtental, on that site. Google Books has been extremely helpful in my research. Over 350,000 books have been digitized and are fully searchable. Internet Archive is a good source for books too.
Her final “hidden gem” was to show us how to refine our searches using the TOOLS provided.

My last talk was given by Laurie Castillo - Social History - Finding More Records by Recreating Your Ancestor’s World. I was hoping to learn strategies on how best to set the context for our ancestors’ lives. The presentation was basically a list of things (such as city directories, clubs, newspapers, etc.) to consider. While it was a pretty dry presentation, I really don’t know how Laurie could have done it any other way. The number of record types she suggested was quite large! She also provided a thorough syllabus with record types listed. I wish she had time to go into more detail about where to locate some the more obscure records.

By the end of that class, it was time to head back to the hotel and pack. We had tickets for a dinner sponsored by Dick Eastman, so we wanted to be all set for the morning. The dinner as held at the Radisson. We didn’t know a single soul but thought it would be a nice way to wrap the week. At our table, we met a lovely woman, Ellen Kowitt, the Genealogy Sleuth from Erie, Colorado, which is between Denver and Boulder. We spent an enjoyable two hours talking with her and the others at our table. I may run into her again, as she is active in her local JGS in Colorado. I hope I do! She is extremely knowledgeable! 

Heading back to our hotel at 10:30 p.m. we finally got the snow that had been promised for three days. I’m happy we had good weather during our stay, but I’m not too thrilled now as I sit on the plane to Chicago knowing we will be missing our connecting flight home. We were almost two hours late leaving Salt Lake and have only a 1 hour and 50 minute layover in Chicago. Oh well - at least I got some blogging done!

UPDATE: 4:08 pm Chicago time. Yup. Missed our flight. By five minutes. Not sure why Southwest wouldn't hold it as they did for another flight. Oh well. We will be leaving here at 9:55. Thank goodness for Scott - he's picking us up at Brady at 12:50 in the morning. Oh the joys of travel!!!

Disclaimer - I only have 30 minutes of free wifi so any mistakes are due to Boingo's lack of generosiry.