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.