Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Thursday: What I'm thankful for

Today, as with every Thanksgiving, whether we spend it surrounded by family or on our own, we remember whatever it is we're thankful for - our loved ones, a job, a home, our independence, the peace and quiet. This year I am especially thankful for my daughter, who is celebrating her first Thanksgiving - we already watched the Macy's parade together (as much as an 8 month old will sit still to watch a parade) and being the sap that I am (and because of my new parent lack of sleep), it made me cry, just a little bit. And as always, I'm thankful for my health and the health of my loved ones, a roof over my head and a home filled with love and laughter, and of course, family - whether it's family by blood or the family we choose, whether they're here with me in person or here with me in spirit. If you do genealogy, I don't think you can NOT be thankful for the gift of family - and we remember all of them today. And it's nice to know that even if you're alone on Thanksgiving, a genealogist knows that you're never really alone - our family is with us through the generations and through the years.

They don't bring dessert, but they also don't overstay their welcome ;)

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The dead person whisperer

That's how I feel. A lot. Not for nothing, but I think dead people (well, most of them anyway) want me to find them. And not just me, but all of us who do genealogy. Some people, like the Long Island Medium, can speak to or channel people who have (recently) passed but when it comes to grandparents or great-grandparents or fifth cousins twice removed, I am like a fricking Nancy Drew detective, Jennifer Love Hewitt ghost whisperer. I just get these hunches or gut feelings about documents or records I come across and I just know it's those spirits nudging me in the right direction. Unless you're Jacob Raynor or John Meinberg, in my particular family tree anyway. There are just some ancestors that didn't want to be found while they are alive, and now that they're dead, that's certainly not going to change. You know what I'm talking about. We all have them. And we hate them. And they're the ancestors that keep us going when we have nothing else to prod us along...

Anyway, I had a really great experience, obviously, with a recent client. She wanted some more information on her husband's father but she was also hoping to find some evidence about the identiy of her husband's father's parents. I looked for the more than 2 hours she hired me for. I couldn't help it. Once my curiosity is piqued, I can't turn it off...and those dead people know it! This guy, her father-in-law, was an elusive S.O.B. I found a few things to supplement her own research, but not the names of his parents, and decided to finally call it a night. I was in bed but I couldn't shut my brain off. Had I checked this database? What if I framed my search with different information? So I got up and kept looking. And you know what? I found a marriage certificate for this guy for an earlier marriage my client hadn't known about, and on the back of that document? The names of his parents.


I feel like this particular dead person didn't NOT want to be found...he was just testing my worthiness and dedication. And once he saw I was committed and was going to keep going, he gave it up. I know it sounds crazy...but if you're somebody who has found herself immersed in genealogical databases and a variety of search terms at 3 a.m. (which I'm sure all of my regular readers and many more of you are), then you know what I'm talking about, and I don't sound so crazy. Sometimes it's about thinking outside the box - don't search with a name, use just a date and place of birth instead; do a boolean search instead of a soundex search; when all else fails, just Google the darn thing...and of course, realize you may have to rely on real life cousins for help or take your whole search off the Internet into the real world instead. And when you come across that elusive record that might be, but might not be, what you're looking for, trust your instincts. If something is saying, "This is probably it," go with it. It might be your gut. Or it might be a supernatural nudge from the other side, somebody who's glad they're not going to be forgotten.

So when you get discouraged, remind yourself that you are a dead person whisperer. You've done it in the past. You'll do it again. Put your work aside and come back to it with fresh eyes in a day or so. Go to sleep and come back to it at 3 in the morning. Our ancestors WANT to be found. Well, most of them anyway.

Jacob Raynor & John Meinberg - I'm coming for you! :)

Friday, November 22, 2013

The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination

The Kennedy assassination is just a moment in history for me and my peers - a tragic moment, yes, but just another historical moment such as World War II or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln for that matter. For my parents' generation, however, it is probably a defining moment. Like 9/11 is for me, but won't be for my daughter. It wasn't the first time an American president was assassinated, but it was the first time in modern memory that Americans felt that vulnerability and in a very scary Cold War era to boot. And I think the mystique continues because 50 years later we still don't have answers to what happened. But 50 years later, I know everyone who lived through that moment can still remember where they were when they heard the news November 22, 1963.

This picture was taken earlier in Kennedy's term and I've posted it before, but I'll post it again. My grandfather is in it, and it's just one example of how our own personal histories are intertwined with world history at large, History if you will; that the family members we look for and remember are not just names and dates or part of our own personal stories - they are people in a larger time and place.

President John F. Kennedy and my grandfather, Elmer Gorry (second from right)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Follow-up to my AncestryDNA results: Connecting with cousins (or not!)

As you all know, I had taken the AncestryDNA test last year and the results for those tests were recently updated to reflect more specific ethnic populations. Cousin April took the test about a month ago and just got her results (yes, they do tend to come that quickly, though if you're thinking of ordering one for the holidays, I would expect there to probably be a bit of a backlog) - you can read her wonderfully written blog post here - unfortunately, our tests failed to link us genetically. Boo :( - very disappointing. But as April points out, that doesn't mean we botched our research and that we're not related - it just means we didn't inherit the same DNA. As I try to explain to my siblings and anyone else who (doesn't) ask, we have so many ancestors, we couldn't possibly inherit DNA from every single one of them. Just look at how different you might look from one of your siblings - even though you are super close genetically, you each inherited different bits of DNA from your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and so on. Which is why, if you can afford it, it's totally worth it to get even close relatives tested, because they might show results for something totally different than what you got. And even though that piece might not be a part of your genetic ancestry, it's definitely a part of your genealogical ancestry. Just because it doesn't show up in your results genetically doesn't mean it's not there genealogically. That's what I tried to tell my fiance when he was disappointed that he didn't get any Middle Eastern ethnicity in his AncestryDNA results. DNA is proof of what IS there. It's not proof of what ISN'T there, if that makes any sense.

So anyway, Cousin April and I did not show up as being genetically matched at all. Interestingly enough, though, she did get matched to someone on our common Raynor branch. So it seems that even though I'm closer to the Raynor name than she is (my mother was a Raynor), she's closer to Raynor DNA (at least on that branch - I have, like, 3 other Raynor branches)!! 

I did find my first criticism of AncestryDNA, though, thanks to Cousin April's results. One of the things you get, in addition to your results and your matches, is a common ancestor hint, the infamous green leaf. It shows up, I assume, when your tree and the tree of one of your genetic matches has a common ancestor. Duh. Because, for the most part, your matches are at least fourth cousins (meaning you have 3rd great grandparents in common), unless you have a well documented tree, like the Raynors do, you might not get one of these hints. Cousin April got one. I got none, even though when I narrowed my matches search down to people who had Raynors in their tree, somebody showed up. We both have Joseph and Elizabeth (Lester) Raynor in our trees, and we were connected as 5th-8th cousins, yet I didn't get a hint. So, that leaves me wondering how many other people I can actually genealogically connect to who showed up as genetic cousins, because it's kind of annoying that I had to do a manual search for this person. Has anyone else come across this problem?

So, if you want to read a little bit of a more in-depth analysis of inheriting DNA, please check out April's post. And any one of my immediate family members should expect the possibility of getting AncestryDNA kits as Christmas presents, even though it's more a present for myself than for anyone else! :)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: The littlest Raynor in Raynortown

My daughter on the corner of Raynor St. & Main St. in Freeport, NY (formerly Raynortown)

Took this picture on Halloween as we were walking past Raynor St. My daughter's grandmother (my mother) was a Raynor and we still live in what used to be Raynortown, Long Island. She might not be the absolute youngest Raynor living in the town her many-times great grandfather founded in the 1650s, but at 7 months, she's got to be one of the littlest. It's been 350 years since Edward Raynor came to this place and we're still here! :)