Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Éirinn go Brách - a Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!

Unless you're deaf, dumb, blind, and live under a rock, you are aware, I'm sure, that today is St. Patrick's Day. I am half Irish - my mom was half Irish, and my dad is as well - and though I have a tendency to identify more with my German side of late, my Irish pride can't help but spilleth over every year on this date. My Irish ancestors have been some of my toughest nuts to crack, and I am still for the most part unsuccessful tracing any of those lines further than a generation back in the old country. I know a lot about many of them, though, on this side of the pond, though I have a few who have maintained their Irish mystery, much to my chagrin.

I boast ancestors from Counties Cavan, Westmeath, Cork, Limerick, Kerry, and Longford. My Gorrys and Corrs were here in New York by the mid- to late-1840s, refugees of the terrible Great Potato Famine, and on the other side of my tree, the Cronins didn't arrive till the mid-1890s, searching for new opportunities in a new land. My great-grandfather, Timothy Cronin, is the most recent immigrant on my tree, generation-wise and year-wise - my family has been here so long that a lot of the culture from their European homelands has been lost, though some of the Irish has managed to live on, passed down to us by Timothy's daughter, Mary, my grandmother. It is she who first told me about leprechauns, and how her father saw one once when he was living as a boy in Ireland. Well, my grandmother would never lie, and her father probably never lied to her, so when my elementary school teacher asked us to name made up creatures and one of my classmates threw out leprechauns among all the dragons, unicorns, and fairies, I promptly raised my hand and announced to my whole class that leprechauns were, in fact, real.

My grandmother used to complain about the leprechauns a lot - they are a mischievous lot and apparently continued to play tricks on her and hide her belongings well into her later years, even here in New York. I live in her old apartment now and have yet to see a leprechaun, though whenever I lose my keys or misplace a book or some other item, I have a feeling there are some wee Irish shoemakers behind it. My grandmother passed away last year and would've celebrated her 100th birthday in a couple of weeks and today, especially, I really miss her.

So today I will raise a pint and teach my 2 year old, who is half Latina and only a quarter Irish but looks more Irish than I do, how to say "slàinte" instead of her usual "cheers" (she'll be drinking milk btw!). As they say, "If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough." Luckily, today we're all Irish, in spirit if not ancestry, so wherever you are and whomever you're with, a Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow New Orleans Redux

Last night's episode of Genealogy Roadshow was confusing at first, since they were already there this season, but it appears they split each city visit into two episodes...just in case you were also a little lost. But maybe it was just me.

I still don't have the time to properly review this show but last night's episode really spoke to me on a personal level, so I felt compelled to comment on a few things:

  • When Joshua Taylor was helping the first guest, the man whose family lost all their photos and documents during Katrina, he visited and talked about local archives and historical societies, smaller, localized repositories where one can find family Bibles, letters, photos, and other mementos that have been donated to their holdings. Everybody should know about these places. Does every archive have every single family Bible ever made? No. Is it guaranteed you will find a photo of Great-Grandpa Cletus in their files? No. But you never know who might have inherited this photo or that letter and who might not have had anyone to pass it along to...and it's actually a wonderful suggestion for anyone who has their hands on these things who doesn't have anyone in their family to pass it to - don't throw it out! Donate it to somebody - I guarantee some society or archive will want it. I came across a wonderful photo on the Internet, completely by accident, from the late 1890s of my great-grandfather, about age 10, his little sister, and his parents - I had never seen a photo of any of these people any younger than 50 years of age, and I had only ever seen one other photo of my great-great grandparents. And where did I find it? In a digitized photo collection of the Freeport Memorial Library - somehow they had gotten their hands on a photo of my family. I don't know who had been in possession of it but I'm glad the photo made its way there and not into the trash bin!
  • My husband's family is from Honduras, and many of them worked on the banana plantations, or for the railroads or shipping companies that brought the produce from Central America to the United States...several of his relatives, including his great-grandfather, sailed into New Orleans many times in the early 1900s. There's actually a decent size Honduran population in the city because it is the port through which most people from that country arrive...so hearing the woman's story about her great-grandfather was of particular interest to me.
  • The woman who was trying to find out if her great-grandfather actually had a sister, Alice, or if he had imagined her all those years...that story was heartwrenching. The fact that he actually did have a little sister, name unknown, who died as an infant when he was about 5, and then he lost his mother only a few months later, and then his father remarried to "New Mother" - she didn't even have a name! - then the FATHER died only a few years later, and New Mother sent this woman's great-grandfather away to school, didn't return for him, and he ended up in an orphanage??? Yikes. But that's sometimes what we discover - the hard, sad side of life. The story reminded me a little of my own great-great grandmother, who lost twin girls as infants, then her husband died quite suddenly in his late 20s leaving her a 20-something year old widow with two young sons, one of which died shortly after before the age of 10. She never remarried and because she had to work, her late husband's three siblings basically raised my great grandfather, the only surviving child. Life is hard and sad sometimes.
What did you think of the episode?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Snowy Saturday nostalgia & thoughts on Genealogy Roadshow

Snowy winter days always make me nostalgic - today the snow was melty and sticking, perfect for building a snowman and having a snowball fight with my husband and 22-month-old daughter...first time she got to experience that. Afterward, we came in and I made hot chocolate for everyone. Just reminded me of my childhood, playing in the snow, having fun and getting all cold and coming inside where my mom would make us hot chocolate. Still waiting for snow deep enough to take my daughter sledding for the first time - might even take her to the hill where I used to go as a kid!

Hope everyone's been checking out this season of Genealogy Roadshow on PBS. For some good, insightful reviews of these episodes, check out Cousin April's blog at Digging Up the Dirt on My Dead People. I don't enjoy this show quite as much as I do Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots but I just had a couple of bullet points to make about it:
  • Unlike the other two shows I mentioned, it's a bit refreshing to see the everyday person, and not celebrities, getting help with their family trees.
  • I love Josh Taylor, one of the expert genealogists on Genealogy Roadshow - I think he's fantastic at what he does and it would be awesome to work with him doing family history research, but it drives me absolutely nuts that he pronounces it "jen-ealogy" and not "jean-ealogy" like everyone else I know. Who knows - maybe he's right and it's the rest of us who are all wrong, but it's like nails on a chalkboard to me whenever he says it!
  • I think Cousin April might have pointed this out in one of her reviews, but one thing that bothered me about the first season of Genealogy Roadshow is that it seemed like everybody was trying to connect to a famous person in history. That's annoying. Yes, it's cool if and when it happens, but your family is your family, whether they're famous or not, and you don't have to have a famous ancestor to have a super interesting and awesome or infamous and nuts ancestor. And yes, it's cool if you can find a gateway ancestor that links you to European royalty but for most of us, that gateway ancestor is so far back that that connection is fairly meaningless - not to burst anyone's bubble, but practically everyone of European descent can claim William the Conqueror as an ancestor. My point is, though, that this season seems to have stepped away from that, which is awesome, and seems to be focusing on the unique and interesting individuals and stories that are important to the particular person or family.
That's all for now. Keep your eyes out for the return of Who Do You Think You Are sometime next month, I think...and just an fyi, I'm in the middle of figuring out how to move this blog over to Wordpress, so if and when that change ever happens, I'll keep you posted. If you're in the middle of this snowy day - have fun building a snowman, drink some hot chocolate, then come inside, get warm, and look through all those old photos of your childhood snowy days - this kind of day is PERFECT for nostalgia!!

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Revisiting a personal connection to New York's deadliest maritime tragedy

I was watching an episode of Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel last week - the description had caught my eye, about a museum dedicated to the Mothman mystery in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. I got distracted, missed that whole segment, and just happened to leave the show on. The next segment was a visit to the New York Historical Society, where a tiny pair of girls' shoes, over 100 years old, were on display, a remnant of a tragedy that was the worst loss of life in New York until the terrorist attacks on 9/11. My husband was intrigued and tried to guess what it could be, but I knew instantly.

"It's the General Slocum steamboat disaster," I told him, without hesitation. Which is exactly what it was. I could have written the segment - how on June 15, 1904, a steamboat full of more than 1,300 German immigrants and German-Americans from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens going on an annual church picnic outing - meaning it was mostly women and children - caught fire in the East River; how most of the people on board couldn't swim; how when they donned the life vests and jumped into the river most of them sank because the vests had rotted and were full of nothing more than cork powder; how the captain of the boat tried to save everyone by sailing full-steam toward an island in the middle of the river but instead only fanned the flames; how more than 1,000 of those on board were killed. Though I could've written it, the show had a lot of pictures and images of the ship, before and after, that I had never seen. It was heartbreaking.

A lot of people have never heard of this disaster, but I know it well. It hurts my heart to read about it because my 3rd great-grandmother's sister was on the ship, and she was one of those who died. Hulda Lindemann lived in Brooklyn and wasn't a member of St. Mark's Lutheran Church, which sponsored the trip, but the family she worked for in the city did belong to the church. The father didn't go on the picnic - Hulda joined the mother and the son for what was supposed to be a day of fun. All three of them died.

I think it was meant to be that while I turned on the show for one reason, that I ended up watching it for another. As a genealogist, I trace family lines, but some family lines just end, and some of them end rather abruptly. While we are all the continuation of somebody's line, and we read about and remember and honor those who come before us, I like to remember those in our families who are the ends of their lines - the aunts and uncles who never married or had any children, the babies and young children who never grew into adulthood - they don't have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren to visit their graves, but we can.

You can read an earlier account of mine on Hulda Lindemann and the General Slocum steamboat disaster here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In honor of Veterans Day and all those who served, including the Raynor brothers.

...I actually found this newspaper clipping just yesterday. A bit of serendipity that made me look and that found new images up at http://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html. It's a little blurb about my grandfather, Clifford Raynor, and his brother, Monroe Raynor, from May 8, 1945 - that's V-E Day, right? - both being promoted because of their military service during WW II - Monroe for fighting in Germany with a tank division in the Ninth Army, and my grandfather, who was based in Portsmouth, VA, being promoted to radio technician, second class, for the U.S. Navy. Not only that, but there are pictures of the two of them. I've seen photos of my grandfather from his younger days but I've never seen a picture of him in his Navy uniform - they both just look so handsome and I'm incredibly proud of them and their service to our nation. So today we remember all our veterans, their families, and their sacrifices, but I especially remember these two men and the sacrifices they and their loved ones made for their family - my family.