Category Archives: Technology

A worthwhile pursuit

Descendants of David and Shaneh Vidomlansky, who married in 1790.

May is Jewish Heritage Month, so in its honor I decided to look into my own Jewish heritage.

Even though I work at a genealogical society, I always felt that it was a worthless pursuit to try to trace my genealogy back many generations. My great-grandparents and some of my great-great-grandparents were the ones who immigrated to the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. Due to language differences, various names, changing borders, and not even knowing exactly where they were from (“somewhere in Russia” or “maybe Bialystock,” my grandparents would say), I never really gave it a shot. Continue reading A worthwhile pursuit

The genealogist’s friend

Shortly after I began work at NEHGS about ten years ago, we went into all-hands-on-deck mode. The occasion was the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference, which was in Boston that year and bringing many visitors to the building. A newbie, I was assigned the non-genealogical task of welcoming people at the door. The first person arrived, pulling a wheelie bag behind her. “Hello!” I said. “May I store your bag?” Everyone froze. A hushed silence fell. Finally someone clued me in: “Penny. That’s her research!” Oh. Continue reading The genealogist’s friend

Correcting an error

Recently, I’ve started visiting the cemeteries of my ancestors. Fortunately, most of my maternal ancestors stayed in the Boston area after immigrating, so it hasn’t been too difficult.

A few months ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury in search of the headstone of my great-great-grandparents, John Henry and Anna K. (Ulrich) Hampe. After searching for some time, I finally came to the Hampe plot. Listed on the headstone are John and Anna, as well as their children Joseph M., Bernard J., Anna M., and B. Ernestine Hampe. Though I was happy to take a few pictures, I couldn’t help but feel a flicker of disappointment. With the exception of Joseph, the other Hampes buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery only list their birth and death year, rather than the full dates of those events. Continue reading Correcting an error

A hint of personality

Behind the scenes, the NEHGS web team is hard at work preparing the searchable version of our Roman Catholic Archdiocese records. As part of that process, our volunteers create spreadsheets that associate information with a specific image file. I proofread these spreadsheets as part of our quality control process.

I’ve recently encountered some confirmation records and was intrigued by their potential value to genealogists. Most confirmation records do not contain parents’ names – they usually just consist of a last name, first name, date, and maybe a sponsor. Continue reading A hint of personality

Strong emotions

Several weeks ago I received an email from an acquaintance of mine, a man I will describe only as a prominent African American personality. Let’s call him Alex. He emailed to say he had read my book, The Stranger in My Genes, and he wanted to discuss something with me. Privately.

My book, published by NEHGS, tells the story of a DNA test I took to help a cousin with his genealogical research. The results were shocking. They revealed that my father was not my father. Since it was released in September of 2016, I have heard from dozens of people – friends and strangers – who have had similar experiences. I assumed Alex was only the latest. Continue reading Strong emotions

Online mug books for Canada

While preparing for a consultation this week, I stumbled across a marvelous online site for digitized local history books: Ourroots.ca (http://www.ourroots.ca). The site is maintained by the University of Calgary and seeks to “preserve Canada’s unique identity for future generations through the use of digital technology.”

I was looking for information about the early settlers of the tiny community of Biddulph in Huron County, Ontario. Continue reading Online mug books for Canada

The Miller sisters

Hannah Miller’s headstone at Oak Hill Cemetery in Bradford, McKean Co., Pa. Courtesy of Findagrave.com

Steven Weyand Folkers’ comment on a recent post – regarding a father and son both marrying women surnamed Miller, but from unrelated families – reminded me of a similar example in my own research several years ago with two Davis sisters who had married men named Miller.

This project started with trying to identify the children of Clark Davis (1803–1881) and his wife Philena Franklin (1811–1882) of Steuben County, New York. Continue reading The Miller sisters

A pair of firsts

Bessie Coleman in 1922. Courtesy of Wikispaces.com

Recently, as I was browsing Google, I noticed their doodle for the day.[1] It was honoring Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, who was born 26 January 1892. She was the first woman of African American and Native American descent to receive her pilot’s license, and she was also the first person of African American and Native American descent to receive an international pilot’s license. Continue reading A pair of firsts

Wrongful death

For the past three years I have been laboring on a Microsoft Word document that details every mention of James O’Neil and his family in the historical record. Now it is more a labor of love, but when it was created, it came from a place of frustration. I knew so little.

James is my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter, Annie, died when my great-grandfather was just eight years old, and little information was passed down in the family. Continue reading Wrongful death

A block buster

blocks-1 blocks-2

Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”

In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster