Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

1 Comment

A Gem in My Mom’s Handwriting

I found a blue spiral-bound copy of The Bride’s Notebook yesterday while emptying and sorting drawers. It has pages and pages of notes and names in my mom’s handwriting, dating from the months before her wedding in December 1951. Using my clever math skills, I realized it was almost 70 years old. Yikes!

Some things never change. This little book includes sections for everything the 1950’s bride needed to keep track of – wedding details, etiquette, wedding invitations and announcements, gifts, clothes, and room-by-room things you want for your new home. Not sure if brides registered at department stores then, but this at least told me what Mom thought she needed. [UPDATE: Apparently bridal registry started in 1924 at Marshall Fields. The stores listed in Mom’s book (Bamberger, Kresge, Hahnes) are no longer around under those names if at all.]

Most interesting to me were the list of wedding guests, in alphabetical order and with my mom’s perfect handwriting. Entries included full names and addresses, as well as checks and X’s to indicate who had accepted. My grandfather had many business associates who were included on a similar list for wedding announcements. Reading the names was a walk down memory lane: I remembered many of the people, either from my childhood or because my mom or grandfather talked about them.

And of course there were family members that I never heard of for years but now recognize: my great-grandmother’s sister Belle and her children; Grandma’s brother Leighton; my grandfather’s many Heginbotham and McCormick cousins. On my dad’s side were the Dails and the Keels. Funny, it never occurred to me that my grandfather Myers’ sister would have been invited but yes, of course. She didn’t come, but she was invited.

Then there was the meticulous list of wedding gifts. Silver trays and candlesticks were big that year. So were tablespoons and place settings in their Old Master silver pattern, and money. Because I was curious, I looked up the values today – a $10 gift in 1951 would be $99 now. Some of the gifts recorded looked more like items a bride would get today at a shower: electric broiler, waste basket, vases, clock, lamp, ash tray. My mom’s sister gave her a set of 12 towels, hand towels, and washcloths, which made me wonder what Mom gave her for her wedding 3 months earlier in the same church, the same dress, with a lot of duplication on the guest list.

But really what got me were the names and Mom’s beautiful handwriting. I remembered so many of the people. Minnie Mae Gautier in Wisconsin sent a bone carving set that I passed on to my brother after my dad died. I always loved her name. She was a private secretary in 1930 when she was a boarder in my grandfather’s home during the Depression. Mom remembered her and obviously she remained on good terms with the family after she moved back home.

Also the Coughlins who lived in Flushing, NY, where Dan was a policeman. They rented the “little house” in Manasquan for years. I never asked or knew how they knew my grandparents, but they were always part of our summers at the shore. Mr. Margolis from Williamston, who ran a men’s clothing store and made Daddy a loan to buy the engagement ring. Roy Ackley and his wife in Orange, NJ, who worked with my father and grandfather and was actually the one to introduce me to genealogy in 1970. Aunt Belle Glidden in Ormond Beach, FL, which is a new piece of genealogy information for me. Grace Kellner, my grandfather’s secretary for years (and how on earth do I remember that??).

Remembering these people made me smile and remember my parents and grandparents, too. And as long as I remember them, they still live a little longer.

1 Comment

Miss Cooke Celebrates

Newspaper databases add new papers to their files all the time, so even though I’ve searched my direct line ancestors before, I continue to check now and then to see if new items are available. This weekend I hit pay dirt, finding two stories about my grandmother Marion Stokes Cooke (1902-1960) in The Chat, a newly added Brooklyn, NY paper on Newspapers.com.

First was “Miss Cook Celebrates Her Birthday Anniversary” from 1923. It tells me their address, that both parents were living, describes the decorations, and gives a guest list with names I recognize as including cousins. By this date, my grandmother had already graduated from Pratt Institute with a certificate in Trade Dressmaking. Some of the other guests were possibly classmates.

Marion Cooke Celebrates Her 21st Birthday -
“Miss Cook Celebrates Her Birthday Anniversary,” The Chat (Brooklyn, New York), Saturday, 12 May 1923, p.43, col. 3 ; digital image, Newspapers.com, accessed 31 Aug 2019.

The second story from 1927 describes the wedding of my grandparents as “one of the prettiest weddings of the week.” It includes her address, that only her mother was listed as a parent, that only my grandfather’s mother was listed as a parent, describes her dress (which she made), marriage location, and lists members of the wedding party – which included cousins of not only the bride but also the groom.

Flanders-Cooke Wedding announcement in The Chat (Brooklyn, NY) -
Weddings: Flanders-Cooke,” The Chat (Brooklyn, New York), Saturday, 19 March 1927, p.50 col. 5; digital image, Newspapers.com, accessed 31 Aug 2019


2019 Research Project Progress Report

That certainly sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But the short answer is, there is no progress because I haven’t been working on it. At all.

My big plan for 2018, which I completed, was to produce a bound book of Ancestors of My Brother from my FamilyTreeMaker data and give it to him for Christmas. Done, in 6 copies – one for him one for each of his children, and one for me. It’s gorgeous.

The plan for 2019 was to make research binder pages with full-page images to be printed and added to binders by some undetermined division of surnames. Each person/section would be supplemented by original documents and photos in acid-free page protectors, all properly identified. Sounded good. Didn’t happen.

What I have is a FTM database of just under 2,000 names with data collected over almost 50 years of research, which was massively cleaned up last year in preparation for the 2018 project. Time well-spent. I also have acid-free boxes divided by great-grandparent surname with original documents or copies such as death certificates, cemetery deeds, wills, letters, and military records. And photos – tho the tiny photos are being handled in another way. Yeah, lots of options. There’s also lots of correspondence, some of it dating back to the early 1970’s, from long-deceased relatives with seeds of information, and from cemeteries and churches with information covering multiple family members.

Also in the boxes are lots of random things, mostly outdated or replaced in digital form such as handwritten transcriptions of census records or abstracted land-deeds, and ancient family group sheets full of mis- or incomplete information. Some serious weeding of all of this was needed.

This week I started going through some of those boxes, weeding and sorting as I went, putting things in lovely clear acid-free sheet protectors and then putting THEM in a binder. I got through material for the Heginbothams, McCormicks, Cookes, Morrisons, and Flanders, which are all maternal lines. Next up are the boxes for my paternal lines, which have way more stuff to look at. But this is important.

What’s also important is coming to the realization that I do NOT want to make research binders with text, group sheets, original documents, etc. It’s a lot of work and I just don’t want to do it. What I want to do instead is make more printed & bound books with full-size photos and documents now in FamilyTreeMaker (which includes census, vital records, newspaper articles, city directory images, etc.). I’m thinking one book of ancestors for each of my grandparents, and one book of descendants for each set of grandparents.

All of these original documents that I’m carefully putting in acid-free storage can still go into binders by surname. I might organize them differently – not by individual person but by category of document, since several people in the same family appear on one page. Everything must be labeled, identified, and dated – because I’m the only one right now who knows what all that stuff is.

The goal is to make sure that all of the research I’ve done and all the material I’ve collected gets organized in a format that will be useful to me and to other family members who might refer to it when I’m not around to explain it.

So that’s the plan.


DNA Testing in an Uproar

Last year we learned that GEDmatch opened its Terms of Service to explicitly support law enforcement submitting tests to compare with others in their database in order to use DNA to match family members of those who committed violent crime as well as those who are unidentified victims of crime. Actually, GEDmatch learned that LE was already doing it, decided it was a Good Thing, and changed the terms to be more explicit about it.

I deleted all of my tests from their database.

Now FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) was “found out” to be allowing the same thing, having changed their Terms of Service without notifying its customer base, and many folks are livid. Not because we are criminals or don’t want law enforcement to solve crimes, but because the issues of privacy and lack of consent have been ignored by a company that we trusted.

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, has written some very articulate blog posts explaining the FTDNA issues. She’s not the only one, but I always find her to be clear, logical, and informed. Read these:

I totally get that databases of DNA samples voluntarily submitted by millions of people looking for cousins or ethnicity background created a perfect resource for them to match additional samples taken from crime scenes. I didn’t put my DNA in that database for the government, and I do not trust for one minute that what starts as a simple test for matches to autosomal DNA could open the floodgates (to use Judy’s imagery) to other government hunting. And we would have no idea and could not stop it.

I was lucky to have been able to tests my parents’ DNA, pushing me back a generation. But honestly, I haven’t found a lot of relatives. Most of my matches don’t bother to answer emails or initiate them themselves. But most importantly now, my brother, who shares that DNA with me, does not want it to stay accessible. At all. Which means deleting tests from people who are gone and cannot give those cheek swabs again. And the loss of money and possibilities. But I share his concern.

Right now my FTDNA kits are set to “no match” which basically makes them unfindable for the purpose I tested in the first place. One of my cousins, whose test I manage, is fine with keeping it open and I’ll make that change. For the others, I want to output reports and match lists – at least to people who still have matching turned on – before I delete my tests completely. I’m ready to go to MyHeritage, 23andMe, and LivingDNA to do the same thing. I don’t trust them, either.

We tested at Ancestry.com before anywhere else, and I’ve asked my brother to let me keep those kits, at least for now while we see how things shake out. It may be that I can’t keep that, either, but I really would hate to lose everything. On the other hand, I’ve had 10 years to play in the sandbox and fill holes in my tree as I worked with DNA results.

My brother was concerned about all of this from the beginning. Maybe I was naive not to be, and I know I was caught up in the fun and excitement of new tools for genealogy after decades of traditional research. But I’m older and wiser now and I don’t want to put my DNA or that of people I love in the position for any government misuse or abuse.


Burned out on DNA research

My brother’s Christmas present was a 306-page book pulled from my Family Tree Maker data, collected over almost 50 years. It wasn’t the entire tree, which has 1800 names, but it had a lot of ancestors in there with citations to sources, endnotes, indexes, and pages of pictures. I worked on the book creation part for almost a year, writing ancestor profiles, cleaning up sources and information, and rescanning all the photos.

But now I’m burned out. I’ve been doing research since 1970, when I was sixteen years old. And I love it, and I love finding people and figuring out connections and learning about history and places and migration patterns.

I’m just not interested in DNA research. At least not now. And these days, you can’t really do genealogy research without it. Oh, I’ve tested my own DNA and was able to get my parents tested before they died, and those results have been uploaded and can be found on Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, My Heritage, Living DNA; I’ve tested myself at 23andMe, too.

For a while everything was also loaded into GEDmatch, the database that allows people to check results across platforms using chromosome browsers, which Ancestry doesn’t have. But in May 2018, I pulled test results from GEDmatch after talking with my family. It had become the database used more and more often for crime-solving, and while we are all for solving crimes, there was real concern about what OTHER unknown uses might be made of freely available DNA results. Their terms of service had more holes than my lawyer-brother was comfortable supporting and I had my own concerns. So out they came.

To really make good use of DNA results, you need to be using all sorts of nifty tools such as DNA Painter, Charting Companion, Genomate, graphing tools, and more. You also need to test everyone you can find in a particular line to triangulate shared DNA and work backwards to shared common ancestor(s). You need education, too, because this stuff is complicated. I took a course in Genetic Genealogy, went to workshops and seminars, read blogs, and joined several Facebook Genetic Genealogy groups to try and keep up.

Do I have mistakes in my records because of Non-Parenting Events (NPEs)? Probably. Everyone has two trees, a genealogical tree and a genetic tree. Sometimes all the documents in the world that build the genealogical tree are blown apart by DNA evidence (and it’s evidence, not proof) that a recent or past relationship isn’t what we thought it was.

Do I care? Not really. Not now. I am almost never contacted by new DNA matches; I’m the one who does the contacting, and get very few results. People are happy learning whether they should wear kilts or lederhosen. And there is no reason why they should want or need to know more than that, just because I want to know how we connect.

Because of DNA testing and trying to figure out matches, I spent a lot of time over the past few years working on collateral lines and bringing my tree forward in time beyond just direct ancestors. It was fun and challenging and now many of the matches I find I can place on the tree without a problem. I have a few walls that are pretty solid and I’m not making much progress. Maybe working on figuring out relationships with 5th and 6th cousins would do it.

But I don’t want to. I don’t want to put the time into it because no matter what I was doing, it was never enough. So I’m giving myself a break. John Grenham, the guru of Irish genealogy said last year in his blog: “Leave something for the next generation to discover.” That also applies to “leave something for you to discover later.”

For now I’m leaving DNA results alone, as well as the Facebook groups and classes, and concentrating on documentary research to help other people who don’t know anything about their family history. My big project for 2019, though, is continuing to organize my notes and records in binders with original documents interspersed. This will be the Research Collection and if anything happens to me, my family can make sense of everything I’ve collected. It won’t be fast but it will be done by Christmas 2019.