Recently, I had the opportunity to drive through the breathtaking Pennsylvania countryside to teach a group of middle schoolers about family history and genealogy at Penn State University. The kids were attending a genetics and genealogy summer camp cleverly named “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings,” where the primary goal was to stimulate interest in science by getting kids to study themselves – their DNA, their bodies, and their family histories – as scientists. Continue reading Finding your roots
Last month, I wrote about the tradition of given names. I postulated that given names were either chosen by parents because they honored a family member (both living and deceased) or because parents liked the way a name sounded, and subsequently named their child after “a stranger they met in a bar” (thank you to commenter Deane Taylor). In fact, when the blog posted to Vita Brevis, many of the commenters verified my theory: most were named for complete strangers or in loving memory of family and friends. However, a third group also emerged from the comment section: those who were named for a famous person, event, or cultural icon (thank you to commenters Carole and Carole).
And, when my colleagues read the blog, they shared similar stories of their given name’s cultural significance: Continue reading Famous namesakes
I recently traveled to Michigan to watch my cousin, Scott, graduate from Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) with a law degree. And like any good family member/genealogist, while I sat with my family waiting for the commencement to commence, I examined the program for Scott’s name. After a few moments, I located my cousin’s first and middle name: Scott Harrison. Excited, I asked my aunt and uncle whether Harrison was a family name. “Nope,” my uncle explained, “when your aunt was eight months pregnant, we got the name Harrison from a billboard that we passed while driving home. It sounded presidential, so we went with it.” Now, because my family is beyond sarcastic, I didn’t believe them at first; however, after a few minutes of my uncle insisting this was the case, I relented – I guess they got the name from a billboard. Continue reading The name game
Implementing crowdsourcing as the chief means of gathering information has had success from Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary to Planters Peanuts. In fact, I would be so bold as to put Vita Brevis on this list – as comments from our readers have led to many breakthroughs in our bloggers’ brick walls.
Case in point: On 20 April 2015, I wrote a blog post (Where did the first Boston Marathon winner go?) in which I lamented the problems facing genealogists, especially when asked to locate a person with a very common name in a very large place. Continue reading Crowdsourcing
One of my favorite activities on vacation is visiting a local cemetery. Not just to view the ornate memorials and beautiful architecture, but to learn about the people that a particular region/state appreciates and associates with its national pride.
On my last trip to Puerto Rico, I visited the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in San Juan, founded in 1863 outside of the walls of the city’s most famous landmark, the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (known by locals as “el Morro”). The cemetery has a gorgeous view over the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the final resting place of many famous and influential Puerto Ricans: Continue reading Visiting cemeteries
I think about genealogy for much of my day. Therefore, on a recent trip to Boston’s Museum of Science, I was again thinking about how I could apply something that I learned that day to make me a better genealogist. Thankfully, the Museum has a new(er) exhibit that is designed to teach participants how to use context clues to properly date an old schoolhouse. The exhibit points to evidence that helps users to identify when the schoolhouse closed – specifically, drawing their attention to portraits of U.S. Presidents surrounding the room, concluding with Richard Nixon. (The students in my group eventually determined that the school probably closed between 1969 and 1974.) As a student who studied Public History in graduate school, the exhibit is fantastic. A perfect blend of education, logic, and most importantly, fun… Continue reading Creative dating
My maternal grandparents were born in 1932: they were just nine years old at the beginning of World War II. They grew up blocks from each other in the Bronx: Nana in The Alley, and Papa on the other side of the tracks (literally; train tracks separated their neighborhoods) on Elton Avenue. When I come to visit, they often talk about their childhood – and I always listen. And while I am a wonderful and attentive listener, I am terrible at recording our conversations. My most recent visit, however, I was determined to conduct a proper interview. Continue reading A Bronx tale
We all have one – the favorite relative. And after all this time as a genealogist, I would love to talk to a sociologist or psychiatrist about our inclination towards a certain person. Does it tell us something about ourselves? Do we see ourselves in one ancestor and not another? For me, I often obsessively research those ancestors I have deemed great, resilient people. I often wonder how my ancestors survived – how could someone raise 15 children in the eighteenth century? How could someone forgive their mother after abandoning them in Ireland to move to New York City? How do parents go on after losing a child? Continue reading A favorite relative
In 2014, I wrote a blog post about the greatness that is J.K. Rowling. My main point was that, as in your own genealogical research, a properly told story – whether fiction or non-fiction – demands a complex, well-researched treatment. Where and when were your characters born? Who were they named after? What nationality/ethnic group do your characters identify with? What is their religion or family tradition?
For most, the influence of family (both real and imagined) will play a significant role in the narrative of your story. Therefore, if you wish to tell your story in the most accurate way, it is important to research and document those who have come before you. This will help to place them into the larger narrative of their family history. Continue reading A New England Hogwarts
I’ve been a bridesmaid in four weddings. In each of these weddings, the bride has carefully chosen four special items to wear on her wedding day: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. And when preparing for the first three weddings, I didn’t think much of the custom. But when my sister-in-law got married in April, and showed me her something old, new, borrowed, and blue, I couldn’t help but think: why on earth are women doing this? ‘Something old, new, borrowed, blue’? Did my mother do it? My grandmother? My great-grandmother? Continue reading ‘Something old, something new’