More than Good Stories…..

As I’m typing this blog entry, I’m sitting in my living room watching the latest episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?’.  They are helping Christina Applegate research her grandparents and what happened to their marriage and the custody of their son (Christina’s father).

The story they are telling, although a very emotional revelation for her, is one that happens in many families.  Most families have the same type of stories buried deep within their history.  The families bury those stories and sometimes even make up alternate stories to protect the children, or others in the family, from hearing the truth….trying to protect them from getting hurt.

My first priority to my family history is not to cover up the past, but to find out the true stories, whether good or bad.  Those involved in each situation are still my family and I love each of them dearly.  Their situations, troubles, successes, failures, etc. are part of who they were and make up the fabulous (although not perfect) family that I belong to.  It’s those imperfections that make each family member unique and a true treasure.

As I watch the end of this episode I’m reminded of my own quest to locate the grave of my mother’s brother Jimmy, in Indiana.  His grave location was “lost” in her memory and I told her that I would help find him.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find his grave until last summer…3 years after my mom passed away.  The fact that she died not knowing where Jimmy was buried hurt me deeply.  And part of my drive in finding my family history stemmed from this one search.  In the process of finding Jimmy, I also found my maternal great grandparents graves and also a great uncle.  None of them have headstones.

Watching Christina and her father go to his mothers grave and seeing their emotions as they laid flowers on the unmarked graves of his mother, grandfather, and aunt brought back the parallel experience I had at the foot of Uncle Jimmy’s and my other relatives graves in Hammond, Indiana.  To hear him say that he would get them a headstone and then watch as they revealed the new stone “Three months later”, was touching.  I will eventually get a headstone (or series of stones) for my relatives….someday.  It’s not an expense that I can afford at the moment.  But it is a promise I will keep.

I’m very pleased that the TLC network chose to film this type of story within this series.  Sometimes it helps those recovering from such tragedies to know that others have dealt with the same issues.  A lot of the previous “stories” in this series (when it was on NBC) showed good stories, war heroes, and happy endings.  To see that Christina and her father were willing to share such an emotional part of their family history is as refreshing as it is heartbreaking.  I cried along with them and have a new determination to make sure that my family will soon have proper headstones on their graves, too.

The Family Plot at Oak Hill Cemetery James Drakopulos, Jr., Charles Lee, Carl Lee, Ida Lee, and a possible unoccupied grave

The Family Plot at Oak Hill Cemetery
James Drakopulos, Jr., Charles Lee, Carl Lee, Ida Lee, and a possible unoccupied grave

Who was Anna??? Part 1

Anni Josefina Lehtonen…..Anna Josephine Lee…Anna Frechette…Anna Drakopulos….Grandma Anna…or just Grandma.  It doesn’t matter what name I use (and she had a bunch of them)…she was, above anything else, my grandma.  I didn’t have enough time with her….but do we ever?  She passed away in 1975 at the age of 73 years old…I was 7 at the time.  I still miss her and think about her often.  Especially now that I’m working so hard on our family history. There are SOOOOO many unanswered questions that maybe she could answer for me.  If I could only have one more day with her….but I can’t….and I’m not sure I really want to.

In my 7 year old eyes, my Grandma was the best thing since ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day.  She was better than puppy kisses, jumping in mud puddles, swinging on an old tire swing, or even old playing cards clothes-pinned to your bicycle spokes.  She was my secret keeper, my ally, my co-conspirator, and one of the best friends a 7 year old could ever have.  She had old dishes and a cast iron stove outside at the farm to play house (and she always let me borrow one of her aprons), she always had hard candies in her apron pocket, and she’d try to sneak dollar bills to us (then tell us to “go ask mom”  if we can have them).   She loved playing with frogs, digging for worms, and I’m sure I got my love of raspberries from her.  I remember her and I walking down the hill at my house to pick raspberries.  We never took a container to put them in…that’s why she had an apron!  Sometimes we even had raspberries left when we got back up the hill…sometimes we just sat on the hill and ate them right out of her apron.

Every Saturday morning my mom and I (and sometimes my brother) would go to “the farm” (the family homestead) to pick up Grandma to go grocery shopping.  This was a ritual for us….it happened EVERY Saturday.  We’d pick her up, go shopping at the local grocery store, and then head to our house and unload everything.  Grandma’s stuff was taken downstairs and sorted…stuff for the downstairs fridge, stuff for the freezer, and a bag of pantry stuff that just sat on the freezer until we took Grandma back home.  Then it was time to have fun, play outside (if it was nice), play rummy, watch TV, and have lunch.  Normally after lunch we’d take Grandma back home.

One of the only pictures of my Grandma. Taken at "The Farm".  She made all her own dresses and aprons.

One of the only pictures of my Grandma.
Taken at “The Farm”. She made all her own dresses and aprons.

That was the Grandma I knew and loved with all my heart.  But I’ve gotten to know a totally different person since I’ve been working on the family genealogy over the last few years.  And I think I love her even more now…if that’s at all possible.

I’ve learned what a hard life she had.  The heartache she suffered.  The strength she showed thru the tragedies in her life.  I understand a little better, why, near the end of her life, she really just wanted to stay home and not go out in public unless she had to….she was content with her life on the farm…her life had gone full circle.

She was born in November 1901, on a remote island off the southwest coast of Finland…in the little town of Lövö, on an island named Vårdö in the Åland Islands.  The family spoke Swedish, not Finnish…and at one time had been under Russian boundaries….which adds to my confusion about this side of my family. She had a brother and a sister, Carl and Hilda.  Carl was 3 years older and Hilda, the baby of the family, was 3 years younger.  They came to the United States with their mother in August 1910 (her father had already arrived here and found work with the railroad in Chicago several years earlier).  It took me a while to find their passage to the US because they entered thru Canada not thru Ellis Island as we always believed.

I can only imagine what life for her was like on that island…how much different it had to be from living in Chicago….and then ultimately moving to Michigan to live on a farm.  She endured so much in her 73 years of life.  More than I ever imagined.

I have gotten to know a totally different side to my Grandma.  I can picture her running around on the Island in Finland.  She was not quite 9 years old when she got on that boat….saying goodbye to her friends, grandparents and other relatives that stayed in Finland.  She traveled across an ocean to live in a strange country, where she didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anybody, reunited with the father she hadn’t seen in a many years….and in a large city instead of a small fishing community.  They never seemed to move from the same neighborhood…when they did move it was only a block or two away.   She would welcome a baby brother, named Leo, in 1914…the first of their family to be born in the United States….and then lose him to Diphtheria in October 1916.  It was a month before her 15th birthday.  How do you say good bye to a sibling so young?

But worse yet, would be the death of her father, 3 months later.  His death certificate states he died of “internal injuries due to external violence while in the employ of the P?? Co. and in the discharge of his duties”.  Unfortunately I can’t read the name of the company he worked for.  Many friends have looked at the document and nobody has figured it out yet.  But he worked for a railroad company in Chicago (possibly the Penn Co.)…most likely on the East Side, as that’s where they lived.  She was 15 years old, her sister Hilda was 12, their brother Carl was 18…but was crippled in a scaffolding accident when he was younger.  Carl had a newspaper stand near their home…he was now the man of the family and most likely the family’s primary income.

Her father's death certificate. January 12, 1917

Her father’s death certificate.
January 12, 1917

I wish I knew the details of what happened next in her life.  I can only speculate from the documents I have found.  She would have a child, my Uncle Dave, on April 9, 1918 in Chicago.  I found 2 birth certificates for him.  One stating his name as Carl Wilbur Lee…and the other, dated almost 18 years later, with the name of David Carl Frechette.  I eventually put the pieces together and realized that my Uncle Dave was born out of wedlock.  She named him Carl (her brother and my great grandfathers original name) Wilbur (after the baby’s father) and the last name of Lee (her maiden name). He was born at home….I’m not sure if his father lived with them at the time.  The 1920 census lists him as David….and the whole family lived in the same house (or apartment) they did when her father was killed.  Three months after Carl/David was born, she would marry her son’s father, Wilbur Frechette, in Crown Point, Indiana (on July 23, 1918).

Going thru my grandma’s possessions (the one’s my mom kept after Grandma died), it didn’t take me long to realize that Wilbur was the love of her life.  She was happy…the few pictures I have of the two of them show her smiling and the two of them hugging or holding hands.  But tragedy would follow her yet again.  Wilbur died May 3, 1920 at 5:45 a.m….less than 2 years after they were married.  His cause of death was listed as Pyaemia with Mastoiditis as a contributing factor…A sepsis infection caused by an inner ear infection.  He was under doctors care for only 3 days prior to his death, but had surgery and was hospitalized April 18-20th.    They had apparently rented a house or apartment sometime between January 3rd (the 1920 Census date) and May 3rd (the day Wilbur died) in 1920.  As many times as I have looked at Wilbur’s death certificate and the other documents in my Grandma’s genealogy folder, I never noticed that Wilbur died at home…their own home.  I always assumed that because of his surgery a few days earlier, he died at a hospital.  I guess I wasn’t looking close enough…or wasn’t supposed to find that detail just yet.

Wilbur was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana. The same cemetery where my Grandma’s little brother and her father were buried.  It was across the Illinois-Indiana state line but only a short distance away.  This cemetery would hold many clues for me in the family history…and the more I “dig” (Yeah, it was a BAD pun, but you’ll survive!), the more I find out about my family.

I’m working more and more on my Grandma’s side of the family.  There are a lot of holes I want to fill in.  But where do I start and what are my next steps?  Here’s a few clues I need to work on….

  • Timeline of events and addresses – to better understand the movement of the family and map out what was around them.
  • What do I have and what am I missing – I really need to see what is in my files and see what I’ve overlooked (like where Wilbur died).
  • Who are my living relatives and what can they add to my history story – they are all older than me and I bet they can help fill in the holes.
  • ROADTRIP – to Chicago and to see my cousins – I think this one is LONG OVERDUE!
  • Documents, documents, documents – I need to really understand what I have and what I need.

This weekend holds another research project for me…not into what else I can find on my Grandma’s life, but to discover (or rather, rediscover) what I already have and might have overlooked.  I need to take a brief step back and see what’s in my files and in my boxes and really just get to know her again.  It’s not a labor intensive job….it’s a true labor of love.

I’ll be back later with Part 2 of this story….I can’t wait to share more about “Who was Anna???”.

A Tribute to Fathers….Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Wow….another year is almost passed…it’s been 21 years now since I lost my dad on Father’s Day Weekend 1992.  It seems like just yesterday he was laughing, drinking coffee, and sharing old stories with friends and family around our kitchen table. That kitchen table seemed to attract people like a magnet attracts metal.  Some weekends our kitchen seemed to have a revolving door.  It was the same thing every weekend as far back as I can remember.

I remember one Sunday…I was probably only about 11 or 12 years old….my mom made 12 pots of coffee and 6 Bisquick Coffee Cakes that day.  There was never less than 4 people sitting around the kitchen table.  The stories were flying, the coffee hot, and the laughter flowed like a river.  Good thing we had a big U-turn driveway.  It could hold a LOT of cars and trucks…and sometimes even a tractor or two.

A gathering of family at the kitchen table. The kitchen at the farm was always busy.

A gathering of family at the kitchen table.
The kitchen at the farm was always busy.

My dad solved a lot of problems at that table.  A lot of napkins were sacrificed to draw out ideas, make lists of items to be purchased, and he always doodled while talking.  Many family members and friends brought their problems to my dad to find a solution.  He was highly respected, by everyone…but to me he was just Dad.  The man that could move mountains for us…the man that even after a massive stroke, took care of us (even while we were trying to take care of him)…the man that could calm my nerves during the most stressful of situations.  He was a man of knowledge and many people leaned on him thru the years.  Almost every pot of coffee could guarantee the solution to a problem.

But I never understood, until years later, exactly what a wonderfully caring man my dad was.  Just like any child, we tend to remember more of the bad, not the good, in our memories.  We remember every time we’re told no…every time we don’t get our way…every time we’re challenged.  I’m no different.  Even years after my father’s death, I still deeply wondered why he and I seemed to “clash” on so many things.  My answer didn’t come from him…it came from my mom.  In 2008, about 6 months before my mom passed away, she started talking to me about my dad.  How very much I was like him.  Stubborn, determined, and having a huge desire to prove everyone wrong.  I told her how desperately I wanted to please him…to succeed in his eyes.  We talked about how he always told me I would need to find a man to “take care” of me because I’d never be able to do it on my own.  I proved him wrong.  Not only did I succeed in taking care of myself, but also took the role of single mom very seriously.  She said he told me those things not because he didn’t believe in me, but because he knew I would fight to prove him wrong.  And it worked.  She told me he was proud of me and how I fought for what I believed in.  I just wish he would’ve told me that….not her.

I have come to realize that we, as children, never appreciate the people in our lives. We take for granted that they will always be there…especially family.  They leave us temporarily when they move…add new people thru marriage and births…but leave us with only memories when they die.  Its after they are gone that we fully realize how important they really were to us.

Today, I am sitting at the beach watching the water and enjoying a local Sunday “Art Walk”.  But my dad isn’t far from my mind.  I can hear him telling me to enjoy the day…enjoy the moment.  Be there for family and friends and life will shine on you.  Because family and friends mean everything.

My view today....a great place to think and let your mind wander.

My view today….a great place to think and let your mind wander.

So today I celebrate him. The man that captured my heart many, many years ago…the man that calmed my fears…the man that taught me to stand on my own two feet and prove everyone wrong (including himself).  He was always my rock…my knight in shining armor…the most important man in a girls life…her daddy.

I did listen, Dad…and I learned a lot.  Happy Father’s Day!

Leo J. Giudice Nov 9, 1925 - June 19, 1992 I love you and miss you terribly.

Leo J. Giudice
Nov 9, 1925 – June 19, 1992
I love you and miss you terribly.

Deep in my heart…

Most of my blog posts so far have had humor and sarcasm sprinkled in them….some of them are SMOTHERED in it.  Its time for a change… so, this blog post won’t be like my others….I promise.

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about family.  Not necessarily MY family….just “family”.  Everyone has one…even those that are estranged from their family or those that were adopted or those that seem to have “lost everyone”.  Somewhere out there, there is a family for everyone.  “Family” are those people that make you feel whole…people that you would give or do anything to make them happy, healthy, and feeling loved.  To a Genealogist, “family” normally falls into a pedigree chart or GEDCOM file….but that doesn’t mean they are in “your” pedigree chart.  A true genealogist will help anyone search for their family…we just sometimes put more effort into searching for those people we love and care about the most.

I started reflecting on the mountains of papers and computer documents that I have in my “library” at home and its staggering.   Name upon name, image upon image…some in duplicate and even triplicate.  I seem to know each person intimately.  Their dates of birth, marriage, and death pop into my head as I thumb thru my files.  These people have occupied more than just my files and my computer.  They occupy my heart as well.  And I take it personally when I can’t find a piece of them to make their files complete.  Sometimes, I even get  up in the middle of the night and can’t get them out of my mind…so I turn on my laptop and try just one more thing to find them.  They all have become so important to me.

Lately, I have been helping several friends with searching for missing family members.  Not trying to find their 15th great grandmother, or break thru a typical brick wall, but, rather looking for family members who have recently passed away…most within the last 20 or so years.  These people are not the easiest people to find.  In a lot of cases their records have not been microfilmed and put online, or they are still being protected by the county offices to cut down on Identity Theft.  These are the most frustrating for me.  I will spend a hundred hours using Google, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Mocavo, etc., etc., etc., to try and find one little glimmer of finding the “missing person”.  It’s not a matter of proving I can do it, or even for the acknowledgment that I found them, but it’s that I don’t want to let anyone down…especially those that mean so much to me.  When I’m asked to help, I give it 250% of my effort.

Last night was one of those searches.  At one point my computer cried “UNCLE” and froze for 10 minutes…I had 87 search tabs open in 4 browser windows…I didn’t even realize I had that many open.  I’ve searched funeral home websites, death indexes, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, bounced into Mocavo, surfed thru GenealogyBank and NewsLibrary for newspaper articles, and I’ve tried every variation of the child’s name, mom’s name, even looked for a common factor among other family members deaths that I could find.  I’ve tried to find a cemetery where multiple family members were buried…a common funeral home the family used…but I’m not sure this one is going to be easily solved.  So why am I getting myself upset over this one?  Why is this search so different for me? Because the friend that requested my help is special.  He holds a very special place in my heart and I’m so afraid of letting him down.  What’s important to him, is important to me.  This is truly the meaning of family.

So the next time you are flipping thru your family files or are stuck on that one piece of the puzzle that you can’t find, think about the person you are searching and the person you are doing the searching for.  These people are a part of your family even if they are not biologically related to you….and they can be just as important deep in your heart.

How has family history changed you???

I saw this question posted on the Family Search Facebook page a couple days ago…and it’s still got me thinking.  Were they really asking us to reply to it? Or were they hoping to just get us thinking?  Well…it did both for me.  I almost immediately replied to their question….“Its given me a sense of self. A way to find out a deeper meaning of who I really am.”.  But the more I think about it….it goes so much deeper than that.

I used to think I knew who I was.  But I think I’m still finding that out.  I am not just me anymore, but a combination of two people who’s DNA and family history were merged together to create me.  I am my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and on and on.  Every new person I find occupies another part of my life and my history.  I have become a stronger person realizing what struggles my ancestors have overcome.

My family and friends would tell you I’m still the sarcastic, quick on my feet, one-liner dropping person.  And that part of me is still there.  But, I look at life a lot differently since I started digging into my family.  I used to think I was a woman of strength and courage…but that, too, has been put into perspective for me.

My ancestors have lived thru the Great Depression, death of children during epidemics, horrific deaths by accidents, raising children without fathers due to war and death, and leaving their homes to sail across an ocean for better lives, only to live in poverty and hardship to find that prosperity.  What have I done that showed such strength and courage???  Nothing compared to them!

We live in a society that seems to focus more on the wants of a family rather than focusing on the needs.  And I’m just as guilty of this as everyone else.  Times were simpler for my ancestors, as I’m sure it was for yours, too.  They worked hard and provided the necessities of life for their families…and one by one or in small groups they brought them to the United States from all over the world.  Once here they all worked together to provide more and more for their families while continuing to bring extended family members here…acting as sponsors and giving them shelter once they immigrated here.  Their kids were educated in our schools, learned English, and integrated their culture and traditions with those of their new friends and neighbors to help create what has become our new way of life.

So, to go back to that thought provoking question….How has family history changed you?  I guess I’ve become more aware of the struggles, the stories, and most of all the successes of my family and myself.  I no longer look at what I don’t have compared to my peers, but what I have been able to overcome and succeed at in an ever changing, modern world.  A world where my ancestors gave up so much and made, what had to be the most heartbreaking and courageous, decisions of their lives.  Decisions that not only impacted their generations but all generations that followed them.

Beyond my Tree…or is it?

I just went thru all my genealogy related books on my bookshelf…just a couple days ago.  I wanted a good friend of mine to see what I had available in case she wanted to ever borrow them.  Tucked into this big shelf of books is one I remember buying, but haven’t opened even once since I got it.  It’s called, “Beyond the Family Tree”, by Jennifer Worick.  It’s really a cool book…full of questions to ask during a genealogy interview or just great conversation starters with friends and family.  One of the sections in it really caught my eye this morning.  The section is called “Hopes and Dreams”.  I thought it might be fun to try to answer some of these questions myself in relation to my own genealogy quest in my family.  Some of them were pretty easy…some made me think a bit…Things like….

  • What family mementos or heirlooms do you most treasure?
  • What is your most precious possession?
  • If your home were on fire, what three things would you grab (assuming your family and pets got out already)?
  • Have you ever wanted to change your name?  If so, to what?

But the one that stopped my eyes immediately was…. “Have you ever experienced anything you couldn’t explain?”…BOY HAVE I!!!

The first thing that came to mind was Oak Hill Cemetery in Hammond, Indiana.  I’ve been going there for several years looking for the unmarked grave of my mom’s brother, Jimmy.  Jimmy died of Rheumatic Fever, in 1939, when he was almost 9 years old.  The family lived on the South Side of Chicago and buried him at Oak Hill (about a 20 minute drive away).  My grandmother’s parents were already buried at Oak Hill, so it was only natural that Jimmy was buried there, too.  I also have found out that my grandmother had a little brother named Leo that died in 1916 of Diphtheria and he’s also buried somewhere at Oak Hill (I haven’t found him yet).

On what seemed like the millionth trip to Hammond I decided to approach the search for Jimmy in a little different way.  Thanks to Facebook I had found a group dedicated to getting Oak Hill Cemetery restored to its former beauty and met a wonderful lady named Kara who was spearheading this restoration.  Kara was able to get access to all the cemetery records and maps and helped me locate Jimmy’s grave on the maps.  Now all I had to do was get back to Hammond and find him.  Sounds pretty easy, huh? Hardly!

It took me 3 additional trips into Hammond to find him.  Little pieces of the puzzle fell in to place each time I went.  It was like I wasn’t supposed to find him yet.  It’s hard to explain…it all kind of worked out, so I never really questioned it until the day I found his grave.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit….

Doing genealogy you always look for dates and a lot of people think that’s the most important part…and it is VERY important information, but I’m also a stickler for getting more.  Dates, locations, names, neighbors, etc.  I collect anything that MIGHT help in the future.  So these maps of Oak Hill were like a gold mine for me.  I poured over them for hours at a time.  It wasn’t easy finding Jimmy on the maps…there are pages and pages of them.  All with little squares with names in them.  Finally I found Jimmy!  His grave was on the top of a page.  I hadn’t been looking for anything except his name so I really wasn’t READING everything, just scanning them.  With a name like James Drakopulos it kind of jumps out at you when you find it.  It’s not like looking for John Smith.

I noted the names on the graves around him on that page and saw that several of those graves had headstones so I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult.  But what I had to remember is that this little map was just one page in a HUGE map!  A map that covers the entire 21 sections of Oak Hill Cemetery.  There are thousands upon thousands of graves there.  This could take time.  And it did.  I got frustrated several times…and walked many, many hours on the grounds at Oak Hill.  At least I was able to find other family members graves that I knew were there but wasn’t really looking for.  On my 3rd trip to Oak Hill I ended giving up because of a storm and vowed to come back again.  I left the cemetery feeling defeated yet again.

I planned to return again in a few months but I needed to do my homework before I went.  So I printed off all the maps of Section 20, where Jimmy was buried.  I taped them together and matched up the rows and rows of graves in this section…..IT WAS HUGE!!  How was I ever going to find him?  With determination…that was what I decided.  So I kept taping the rows together and then I noticed something…Jimmy’s grave was part of a FAMILY PLOT!  OMG!!!  My Great Grandparents and my grandmothers older brother were buried in the same place as Jimmy!  5 graves all part of the same family plot.  Jimmy’s grave was the southern most plot, then my Great Grandfather Charles, then Great Uncle Carl, then my Great Grandmother Ida, and then what appears to be an empty grave (Although I’m still not convinced its empty…that’s another trip to Oak Hill in the near future).

With this new information I decided to plan another trip to Hammond.  This might be easy for some people but Oak Hill Cemetery is 500 miles from home for me…so it takes a bit of planning.  I couldn’t wait…I had the maps…I knew they were all together…and I knew the names of the headstones around them.  So off to Oak Hill I traveled.  I bought some roses on my way there…I just knew I was going to find them this time.  I could feel it.  It was like I was being pulled back to them.  I bought 5 red roses and 2 yellow ones.  The yellow ones were for my grandmothers sister Hilda and her husband Ben, who were buried in the adjoining section of Oak Hill with a large flat headstone…I knew I’d find them easily…they were only a couple rows off the main driveway into Oak Hill.

Hilda and Ben Smallman's graves Oak Hill Cemetery Hammond, Indiana

Hilda and Ben Smallman’s graves
Oak Hill Cemetery
Hammond, Indiana

And sure enough I did…I found Aunt Hilda and Uncle Ben in a matter of a few seconds…I walked right to their graves.  I cleaned off their headstone and placed the 2 roses on it.    I felt a silent victory with this find.  Of course I took a photo of the headstone for my research…and I quietly asked them to help me find Jimmy.  I sat there for a few minutes and then decided to move on to Section 20…it was just to the east of their section.  I got into my car and drove down the driveway…I stopped the car, shut it off, and sat there…it didn’t feel right, so I started the car again, and drove down about another 50 feet…and stopped again.  Much better (I actually said it out loud).  I grabbed my map and got out of the car.  I was parked by a big tree with rows and rows of graves next to me….I walked down about 5 graves from the fence and stopped…I needed to figure out where I was.  I looked at a headstone that was next to me and I couldn’t believe my eyes….It said Snyder on it…I remembered that name from the maps!  I was actually standing right next to family plot!  I had walked right to the 5 graves…I double and triple checked the map and I just sat on the ground and stared at them.  All I could say was “I found you!”.  I sat there for a long time…I put the roses on their graves…and I talked to each of them…introducing myself to them.  Eventually I would go to the Township Trustees office and request help getting copies of the cemetery cards for each of my relatives, but for that moment I just sat there.  I went and got lunch at the local White Castle and took it back to the cemetery…where I ate lunch with my new found relatives.  People in the cemetery looked at me like I was strange sitting on a blanket with White Castle burgers and fries spread out in front of 5 roses laying on the ground.

The Family Plot at Oak Hill Cemetery James Drakopulos, Jr., Charles Lee, Carl Lee, Ida Lee, and a possible unoccupied grave

The Family Plot at Oak Hill Cemetery
James Drakopulos, Jr., Charles Lee, Carl Lee, Ida Lee, and a possible unoccupied grave

I can’t explain why I was able to walk directly to those 5 graves that day (July 11, 2012).  I can’t explain why I hadn’t found them in one of my previous trips….I had walked past their graves many times before.  And I can’t explain why I felt so compelled to talk to them (I don’t normally sit and talk to graves in cemeteries).  But at that moment it felt right and I felt like another missing part of my family had been brought home.

So if I had to answer that one question in this book I guess it would have to be with this story.  It is the most unexplained situation I can think of.  I still don’t understand why on that trip I was able to walk right to their graves without having to search at all.  It all felt right.  I have friends that explain it with the fact that I had done so much research with the maps, that I knew where I was going. I have another friend that says my relatives led me there…maybe they wanted to meet me, too.  All I know is that this was the one thing that my mom talked to me about many, many times before she died.  She wanted to find her brother Jimmy’s grave and have a headstone put there.  And I’m working on that now.  My cousin has a headstone from his fathers grave that we can use…his parents now have a double headstone.  I just have to get it engraved for Jimmy…and get it placed on his grave.  So I’m getting closer.  I just wish my mom could’ve been there to actually stand in front of Jimmy’s grave and put the rose there herself.

Where did all these files come from?!?!?! YIKES!

Last night I started working on something that I had been promising myself I’d do for MONTHS!  Organize my genealogy files on my computers….yes…I said COMPUTERS…plural!  I had a laptop that I used primarily for genealogy research…a nice big 17″ screen, mega hard drive space, lots of memory for speed….I LOVED IT!  Then it died! 😦  So I had to switch to my “travel” laptop…the one I bought for my trip to Salt Lake City in September of 2011.  It’s cute…it’s lightweight and compact…has a small 10″ screen (perfect for travel but not for everyday use)….and its purple!  Beyond that it has no appeal for me…its slow, its hard to read anything on the screen, and for whatever reason, when I boot it up my blood pressure boots up too.  And of course, then there are the multiple flash drives….what was I thinking!?!?!?!  UGH!

So…about a month ago I bought a new, supercharged, high speed, large screen laptop again!  Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!  I’m back in Genealogical Heaven!  But…..(There’s almost always a “But”, isn’t there?)….None of my important files are on it…yet!

I decided last night I was going to make sure I had all my up-to-date genealogy files, programs, notes, etc. moved onto this new toy of mine.  I had the data off the dead laptop on an external hard drive and I booted up the mini-purple monster and decided to clean the mini-monster off first, and have those files join the others on the external hard drive.  I think I know why it was so slow now….47 GB of genealogy based files!!!  WHAT?!?!?!?!  Where did all those come from?  I think my ancestors have been multiplying while I sleep!  Then I moved all the files from my flash drives to the external hard drive.  OK…I’m now up to over 85GB of files!  MY FAMILY ISN”T THAT BIG!!!  What the H-E- double hockey sticks happened?!?!?!

What I figured would take me a couple hours to organize might just take me an entire rainy weekend to sort out….good thing its supposed to rain all weekend!  Although I really didn’t expect to have to devote hours (or days) to this project, I’m determined to get everything organized so I can make some major progress on these trees over the next couple months.  So…now that I have the 85GB+ of files….what’s next?  I’m sitting here scratching my head with all kinds of ideas running wild inside my head (Not advisable without a really powerful flashlight…its scary in there!).

Here’s how I plan to tackle my nightmare of files….First I need to make some basic files on my new laptop.  One file that simply is called “Duplicates”.  Then I need files for each of my trees (Notice I didn’t say family lines on this one).   This should help narrow it down.  Then under each tree I plan to have family surname files.  And of course I need a file for those questionable documents that I saved but I’m not positive they are family…and another for scans of photos I have no clue who the people are yet.  That should be a good start!  Right????  (Please say yes, please say yes….)

One other thing I didn’t mention…I’m MOVING the files to the new directories…not COPYING them.  The last thing I need is  another 85GB+ of files.  And then I’m backing everything up to my cloud…never going to trust a computer to always work…never trusting an external hard drive as a backup.  Always, Always, ALWAYS have multiple backup versions (in separate locations!).  It’s worth the time and effort to make sure your valuable documents are always safe and accessible.

At least I have a game plan for the massive amounts of files.  Now to get working on it.  Looks like its going to be rainy but productive weekend of the typical housework, laundry, and cooking…but MAINLY focused on genealogy files and organization!  WISH ME LUCK….hopefully I will survive!!!!