Saturday, July 30, 2011

Doing the Important Stuff

It's Saturday. The last Saturday of the month. I remembered that yesterday. You see in my town you can only go to the dump / recycle center once a month. And we have stuff that needs to go. I've forgotten about the last Saturday for 3 months now. And I'm feeling a bit cluttered. I love getting important things done. Things that have a time / date restraint though are a challenge. When I miss those dates I'm often left wondering if I'm really focusing on the important things that help me remain peaceful, like the clutter is gone and everything is right with the world.

I want to leave a simple thought and a challenge with you today.

Today is your Saturday

So do something today with your family history. Just one thing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How You Tell Their Story Reveals a Lot About How You See The World

How I see the world:
  • Everyone is doing the best that they can. Once someone knows better they'll find a way to grow into it. That's what life is for. I cut them some slack because I won't ever walk in their shoes. They don't fit.
  • There's no one like me. I could be doing something very ordinary, but when I show up to do it it's amazing because I'm different. So are you.
  • There is no such thing as a dull, ordinary life.
  • Everyone wants to be heard. Ask someone his story and he'll tell you.
How my worldview influences my story:

When I piece together a story of one of my ancestors I use documents and the facts that I find for them. I've learned to treat hearsay like I would gossip. I run from it. Family stories of what a person was like can be inaccurate. Makes sense doesn't it? The people who tell the stories have their own perceptions with which they assess a person's motives and choices.

I use photos to discern who a person "is". Their countenance speaks volumes. The events in their town, country or the world influenced them, too. I take those into account. I also look for patterns like genetic strengths or weaknesses, or good or bad habits that get passed down through the generations.

The story is in how it affects me. How can I relate to this person? What bothers me? What experiences have I had that are similar and leave me asking why he made a choice I wouldn't have made?

Olga. Remember her?

My quest to tell Olga's story ( My Family History / "Booger Snots!" ) taught me some things about myself. I called her "aloof", "sarcastic", and a "tall-tale-teller". A new door to my soul was opened when I moved on to her son Roy's story ( Tears in Heaven: He Could Have Been My Boy ). I found out that I was slipping into judging her because of my frustration to "find" her. Once I added another piece to the puzzle of her life, namely losing her son in WWI, I could see better that I really don't know her at all. All I know is how I FEEL about her experience. I could go on and on. But I think you get it.

Want to hear something funny? Nancy, one of this blog's readers, commented on Olga's story when I posted it. She said, "Your Olga (or whatever her name really is) looks too ladylike to want to play hide-and-seek! She is very beautiful." I learned something about one of my readers. Nancy has a kind heart. She's not quick to judge. See how it works? I think it's fascinating! That one comment helped me so much.

The Most Compelling Reason to Do Your Family History

Family history takes us on a journey through time to places and people who, like it or not, influence who we are profoundly. I believe they deeply care about us and offer their lives to us if we'll find them. They give us a window to look through to times past; to lives we can dissect to find the lessons in them that are tailor-made for us. Some of them will lead us to emulate their example. Others will wake us up to break destructive behaviors like abuse of all sorts, both self-inflicted or by others, or seemingly little things like lying or gossiping. 

And it's my guess that they also hold up a mirror for you and me. At least that's my experience. I think they breath a sigh of relief when I let go of my preconceived notions of who they are and stop. Stop and see who it is I'm really talking about. Me. The only person whose brain sits inside the skull and behind the face looking back at herself in the mirror every day. The only one whose story I'll get right. The one who has found the value in asking, "who am I?" when I'm piecing together someone else's story.

  • Am I judgemental ?
  • Am I compassionate?
  • Do I think the best of people?
  • Am I trusting?
  • How do I define a successful life?
  • How do someone else's choices make me feel? 
When I notice something about myself that doesn't match the best "me" I can do something about it. That's the strength I find in my ancestors. I value their lives for the vicarious lessons I find in them.

I'd appreciate knowing if you've had experiences in your family history adventures where you've felt like you've learned something about yourself. 

    Sunday, July 24, 2011

    Tears in Heaven:He Could Have Been My Boy

    Roylston Frederick Lowrie 1901-1919

    Yesterday I remembered Roy Frederick Lowrie, my grandmother's brother. I couldn't get him off my mind. I was in the car on my way to get our oldest daughter a wedding gift and the music was on. This song, "Tears In Heaven", by Eric Clapton was playing. Memories of my son leaving for Argentina years earlier flooded in. I was distracted by the thoughts only a mother can have of the transitional moments of her childrens' lives.

    Turns out, those thoughts and feelings connected me to Roy's mom,Olga on a deeper level than I'd expected. You met her in one of my posts, My Family History / "Booger Snots!". She has felt so distant and aloof to me for so long. Yesterday she became a mother to me. Someone I could relate to very well.

    Sometimes it takes someone leaving for me to know how much their presence in my life affects me. I was overwhelmed by the grief I felt when I saw my son's plane take off, knowing I wouldn't see him for two years.   I walked into his room that afternoon to pack up his stuff and get it ready for the next oldest sibling to move in. But I couldn't. I just sat on his bed and cried. You have to understand something about me. I'm not what some people call a "helicopter" parent. I probably border on being called an "absent" parent because my children are so curious and I'm so trusting that I usually don't know what they're up to until way after the fact. And there I was, crushed with heartbreak, seeing my son's smiling, trusting, innocent face everywhere I turned. He was so young! So full of life. And he was gone. It took me days and a lot of deep breathing to tackle that room. I packed away his stuff in boxes and my feelings way down deep in my gut.

    How did Olga feel sending her son off to fight in WWI? He was only 16 when he signed up! I have documents that prove he lied about his age so that he could enlist. What motivated him and his brother to willingly engage in the war? Did Olga shake her head as I do so often when my children tell me of their next grand adventure? Notice I said TELL not ASK!

    What could it have been like to receive a telegram that told her he'd been killed in action on a battlefield in France? He'd turned a young 18 a month before.

    But there's a treasure only God could have arranged for Olga. Her other son Vic, who'd also enlisted, was sent to France as a member of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. Just like Roy. The two of them, by luck or fate or as a gift from heaven to a future grieving mother, met on that battlefield the very day that Roy was killed. Can you imagine that? Two young brothers maybe taking a minute if they had it to embrace and regard each other one last time. Vic would be able to tell Olga how her son looked, what he said, and possibly give her something more than most get with an impersonal telegram.

    My boy came home. I ran to the airport and hugged him as he laughed. His pants were covered with Argentine mud. Everything in his suitcase was covered with that land's soil. I soaked those clothes in the bathtub and got them relatively clean. I pulled the lever and watched the muddy water swirl and empty down the drain. My throat caught and I wondered if I should have saved some of that dirt as a token or memorial? But it was too late. My boy knew he'd been there. He had his memories. We'd talk about them once in a while. They'd become a part of who he is as he moved forward with more grand adventures.

    Roy didn't come home. He lays buried in France. All I have of him is the leather satchel that was given to all soldiers. The one that holds a few pictures and a miniature Bible. One that Olga may have held as she sat with Vic, listening to him recount that last meeting with her oldest son. A boy who was just becoming a man. A boy who would more than likely have married and started a family of his own.

    A boy who made this mother cry! One who I'll see one day on the other side.

    I can imagine him asking, "Do you know my name?"

    I'll squint and wonder if the picture did him justice.

    "Yup! I know you!"

    And there will be tears for a different reason.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Betsy!! They're Dead!

    My husband rubs his forehead.

    Sign #1.

    He sips his cocoa, nodding his head at the same time as I'm talking fast and nonstop about someone he's never met.

    That was sign #2.

    He doesn't even say, "Hmm." anymore, like he did when I first walked in the room. I sense I'm losing him so I talk faster. Maybe if I talk fast enough I can get the whole story in before I put him to sleep? He looks at the floor and chuckles. I didn't say anything funny.

    When we reach sign #3, which that was, I know the bell has been rung. Time's up. Next subject.

    Someone new walks into the room. If they're over 10 they're considered fresh meat. Ever so carefully I tread into the "Good morning- How's it going?- Want to hear something really cool" territory? "Sure!" I start talking faster and more animatedly, engaging them in the story with a flourish of arm movements...until I see the slow but steady grey creep that starts at their heart and ends up at their eyes begging me to kill them quickly.

     They've figured it out. Family history?

    I finally give up. I try out the stories on other people. But I'm getting really good at reading eyes. When I start to feel like I must have residual lunch in my teeth I know I'm not talking to a gamer. Time to find neutral ground again...not 6 feet under either.

    Their dead. I know. But just for a minute, well maybe a few, couldn't someone near and dear just PRETEND to be interested? At least I have Twitter and Linkedin. My Land of Oz.

    Yup. They're really dead. Still. But not to me.


    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Little Girl Lost

    "The Niagra" This may have been the last ship for 3-yr.-old Elizabeth Peterson  in 1921

    I thought I was on to a great story when I reread an 1889 census from King County, Washington that placed two seven-year-old kids next door to each other. Playmates that would marry 13 years later. Hans, Agnes's husband would die from appendicitis while on board a boat on his way to the hospital after being married only 5 years. Would he be happy to know that his two children and wife would make a new family with a man who immigrated from Norway, his parent's homeland one year later?

    I thought the story would get better as I traced the families of those two children, one from Sweden to Illinois, the other from Norway to the sugar plantations of Hawaii. Hawaii, a 1920 destination for Agnes and her first child with Jacob Peterson. Her second husband looks good as "head of household" on the 1920 census, stabilizing the little family of two stepsons and his 3-yr.-old daughter, (Mildred) Elizabeth Jane Peterson, and his wife.

    I thought that adding the sorrows of leaving familiar friends and surroundings would be things you and I could relate to very well. "Pack up your things, kids! Say your goodbyes. We're heading off for a better life!" And they'd board a ship, sometimes without their parents who would follow them years later, and step on foreign soil, all alone.

    I thought that it would be so fun to show the love of the land and the water that has been passed down through the generations. To be able to say,"Wow! The ocean calls to me just like Hans Peter Skar who "had a boat" and "went to Alaska", according to one record I found. Or fun stuff like Hans "kept goats"! I had a goat once. Noah. Again, I can relate to the craziness of goat-keeping.

    I thought I was done tying up all the loose ends of the Skar/Carlson/Peterson story after pouring over dozens of census record, ship's passenger lists among other documents that I'd gathered into three tidy files.

    I so wanted to leave the story complete, knowing that the families were like any of ours, moving forward, bending and regrouping as the storms of their lives would require them to dig a little deeper and find the strength that adversity offers to the living. I wanted to leave them with a whispered "farewell", and "good luck in your journey."

    But Elizabeth disappeared after coming home from a trip to Hawaii with her mom, Agnes. The'y boarded and disembarked from three ships, the "Tahti", "Ventura", and the "Niagra". She isn't mentioned on any more census records with the rest of the family. There's just a silent gap where her name should be on the 1930 census, where she'd be about 11.

     Elizabeth (aka Betty) shows up on many records after 1920. But I don't know if it's her or another "same-namer" that I find a lot. Didn't she go to school? Can't find her. My great uncles said that their fathers, Ken and Ray, her brothers, never spoke of her. Did they even know she'd been born? And if her birth was registered why not her death if that had been her fate?

    I can't shake the feeling of this little girl's story. I get the chills when I think about her. Only she knows what happened to her.

    What started out to be a pretty normal family story morphed into a mini love story laced with tragedy and peppered with the romance of travel to and from foreign lands. Throw in a new man nurturing a widow and her two boys while adding two more little girls and you've got the makings of something relatively interesting.

    Lose a little girl somewhere in time?

    Now I can't put the book down!

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    My Family History / "Booger Snots!"

    Ottilie Schweigle
    Olga Dorothy Eugene deDenonville
    Olga Dorothy Lowrie
    Will the real one please stand up!

    "Listen to my mom. She's talking to herself again."

    "Oh, Booger Snots!"

    "See?" Chuckle, chuckle. "I told you!" Their friends laugh out loud. "Why does she do that? What does 'Bumber Shoots' mean?" "I don't know. But she says a lot of things I don't understand."

    I have a few choice expressions that just flow from my subconscious.I guess they are my version of swearing? My kids wonder where and when I come up with these unique phrases. They are born from extreme frustration, one source being  one Olga Dorothy Eugenie deDenonville, aka Ottilie Scweigle my maternal great grandmother.

    She says she was born in Paris, France, 1879, on the 2nd of April.  But I can't document her birth or life before 1901 when she married Frederick Lester Lowrie as Ottilie Schweigl in London.

    From then and there she's all over the place. She travels to Canada with three of her children, the oldest went ahead of them and THAT can't be documented. I'm thinking he either swam or went by canoe? Then she heads off to Manhattan, leaving two boys in Canada (I think, no proof), and one dead and buried in France after fighting with his brother for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force during WWI.

    She goes to England and back to Quebec twice (maybe checking up on the boys) and finally dies in Connecticut in the same year and place that my mother was born.

    Two of her remaining sons name her on their border crossings' and marriage records as Olga Denonville. I have NO idea where that name came from. The Denonvilles figure prominently in early Canadian and French history. All I want to know is who is she? Where did she really come from? Did she have any parents?

    I've always felt so close to my ancestors while researching them. It often feels like they want to be found because I just trip over clues to their stories.These people, Olga and her sons, make me crazy! I honestly think that they are the most sarcastic, tall-tale-tellers I'll ever meet. And by the way, my 14-yr.-old can pull the wool over my eyes like nobody else I know. THAT'S what these nuts passed down through the generations.

    I have to say, this is all very fun. Quite amusing to think that they're hiding so well and watching me pull my hair out trying to figure out name changes and whereabouts for the first decade of the 1900's. So few years, yet so many records to locate and peruse.

    In the meantime I'm sure they're pointing and giggling, "Listen! She's talking to herself again," and "HAHA!" as another "Booger Snots!!!!" flies out to any and all passersby as I come to another dead end.

    When I find Olga, and I will, I think I'm going to feel a bit sad. The game will be over. Maybe I'll just let her sweat it out for a couple of years?

     Want to help? These are the records I've searched for and when found (*) have given me all I know about her:

    *1901 marriage certificate / England
    *1911 census /England
    *1913 "Royal Edward"-England to Quebec w/3 children (can't find the oldest and when he arrived after the war)
    *1923 "King Edmund"-Canada to New York w/ daughter
    *1927-"Tuscania"- New York to England
    *1928- "Aussonia"- England to Qebec
    *1930 census- in Manhattan w/ daughter
    Death cert/ died 1937 Greenwich, Ct.

    I've searched for more census records, called Canadian Archives for apps. for Canadian citizenship, etc. I've searched under all of her alias' in all their variations. She didn't have to apply to become a Canadian Citizen because she was a British citizen. She never applied to become naturalized in the USA, as far as I can tell. I'm sending for a search of her app. for Canadian citizenship anyways, even though I'm pretty sure she never applied. I can't find William Schweigel, her father, on anything but Olga's death cert. which her daughter filled out and may not have been correct. He also went by Odilo Schweigl as a witness of her 1901 marriage in England. He was a colonel. Of what and with whom? I don't know. Can't seem to find him anywhere either.

    Got any ideas?

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Timelines: We Don't Remember Days. We Remember Moments

    Cut into 3 timelines. You add the dates. I placed the birth, midlife, and death markers.

    (This is my temporary file-sharing site since Mediafire is down for now! Please leave me a message if it doesn't work. Thanks for your patience.)

    Every day starts the same way. Scripture reading, some discussion, and then family prayer. The inevitable question always follows. " What do you want to do today?" I'm getting better at asking questions that get real answers. So, this time I made it about our family history because I know how much fun just the field trips can be!
    "So, family history. If you could choose to explore the life of one of Daddy's ancestors who lived here in Hudson or work on finding someone new which would you choose?" Only my 9-yr.-old answered. Her little brothers weren't even listening. She said, "Someone new!"

    We talked as we walked to the library. I suggested that we try to figure out where their great great grandmother was born and who her parent's and siblings were. I knew I could make a phone call and get some help and we'd be well on our way to success.

    It was so hot and muggy and it was a while before I could make that call. But I found the crumpled piece of notepaper with her number on it, sat myself outside where I could watch the kids play, and I dialed.

    I thought I was prepared for the call. I wasn't. I thought I remembered everything I'd learned about my great grandmother from the documents that were filed away in my family history box. I couldn't. My friend asked a lot of questions and gave me some homework before we met again on Friday at the library.

    I went inside when I got a chance and pulled out Olga's file. There were census records, a death certificate, and some ship's records, as well as military records for two of her sons. I'd seen them a million times.

    But something my friend said changed everything for me. She told me to make a timeline.

    I'm a visual thinker. Up to this point I'd been shuffling documents in my head, turning pages of information, reviewing facts one page at a time. I thought that was working for me. I really believed that I knew how, where, and when Olga lived her life. But when I mapped it out I had new questions. I looked at those documents in a new way. I asked myself, "When did she become a Canadian and then a US citizen? Seems like a simple question. But I wasn't looking for that answer on any of those documents.

    The timeline that I scratched out on a piece of scrap paper showed me where I needed to look to clear up the assumptions I had in my head about her life. I'd look for documents to answer specific questions that the glaring, blank spaces in the timeline brought to light.

    I was so excited to have found another tool to help me that I sat down and created a new printable chart for you to cut into three timelines. Just staple one into one of your ancestors' files, and fold it in half to tuck away neatly when you're done adding new information as you find new documents. The chart has a timeline across the top and a list of suggested documents down the left-hand side to get you started. It's really hard to see on the file image! But it's one of the most important tools I've come across in a long time! Enjoy. I know it's simple. That's why I made it for you. Let me know how it changes your research.

    I know that there is plenty of software that provides people with the ability to make a timeline automatically while making your family tree. Believe me I have plenty of them! There's just something different about putting pencil to paper for me. Handling a document, scribbling notes in it's margins (the copy, of course!), and compiling the information in a simplified format really changes my experience with the person I'm researching.

    In conclusion I've added this poem because I've loved its message. Enjoy!

    The Dash

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    The following is a poem by Linda Ellis © 1998.  Consider the implications for your own life's choices

    I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning to the end.He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears,
    But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
    For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth...
    And now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.
    For it matters not, how much we own; the cars .... the house... the cash.
    What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
    So think about this long and hard ... are there things you'd like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left. (You could be at "dash mid-range")
    If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real,
    And always try to understand the way other people feel.
    And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more,
    And love the people in our lives like we've never loved before.
    If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile...
    Remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.
    So, when your eulogy's being read with your life's actions to rehash...
    Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spend your dash??


    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    I Have to Tell You About Luke

    I was standing at the print and copy center counter at Staples last night, waiting for another chart to be scanned onto my flash drive. I noticed a young boy sitting about ten feet from me in a shopping cart. He was sitting on his jacket. Shopping carts are NOT comfortable to sit in. He was watching a video on his portable DVD player. I kept looking over at him, wondering. Was he bored? Who was he? All I knew was that I was drawn to him.

    A woman was doing some copying nearby, and it became obvious that she was his mother. I asked about the DVD player and she said,"He'd be all over the store if it wasn't for that thing!" We smiled at each other , and she went back to copying, leaving me to wonder again why I was so moved by this little boy.

    I sensed he was shy, so I didn't invade his space too quickly. I just watched his movie and commented on its silliness. I asked him his name. When he didn't answer I said,"That's okay. I don't think I'd tell a stranger my name either!"

     His mom walked past him again and he said to her,"My name's Luke."

    "That's right," she said." You're Luke."

    I caught her eyes and said, "I just asked his name. He was too shy to tell me."

    She giggled and rolled her eyes. It was then that I realized this was common behavior for Luke. And it wasn't shyness. His eyes were different, a bit unfocused. His attention wandered quickly from one thing to the next, returning periodically to his movie.

    I really wanted to let him know how special he was. Just being around him felt good. I told his mom that and she agreed. He was special.

    My scanning was done and I went to find my two boys and my husband. I introduced my boys to Luke. They waved at each other. Luke didn't have much to say. Neither did they.

    I left Staples changed. I kept thinking about how Luke's life would go on, day by day. I would probably never see him again in this life. I had had 15 minutes with him. My heart was touched deeply in that short amount of time.

    I got home and tried to load my new chart into my blog. It was in the wrong format so I have to have it redone. I was so upset that the trip there had been wasted. I called them and we tried to convert it on my computer. No luck. I'll have to go back today and be really clear about what I need. I asked the woman on the phone what I could say differently when I placed my order so that this mistake would stop happening. She sighed and apologized. Just keep trying, she counseled. She was stressed to have failed me, and I quickly turned it around and told her tomorrow was another day. No big deal.

    I have to believe that the trip wasn't wasted. It was a meant-to-be experience. For me, for Luke and my boys, and for Luke's mom, AND for the woman scanning my chart. We all stepped into, over, and around each other's life for a moment. I felt their tiredness and acceptance of  life's circumstances. We enjoyed each other and moved on.

    I could have ignored Luke, and stayed comfortably in my own world. I could have been angry with the Staples clerk and added to her stress.

    But I did neither. And because I made different choices at least three other people have a good place in my heart.

    What in the world does this have to do with family history? I know what I think.

    And you?

    P.S. The chart is coming later today IF I can get back to Staples. Who knows the adventure that awaits me?