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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.
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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,,, 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,,, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!!

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Social Media and Genealogy…do they really go hand in hand???

Social Media?!?!?!  Facebook….Twitter….Instagram….LinkedIn….we’ve all heard these names (plus many others) and a lot of us have accounts in at least one social media venue.  But are they really supposed to just connect us with living people and help us in our daily lives and keep us entertained?  Yes…and NO!  Have you ever thought about using Social Media for genealogy research?

Yeah…everyone looks at me like I’m crazy…at first.  But once I start explaining the possibilities, their doubt turns to intrigue.  I have been able to break thru several Brick Walls in my research specifically using Facebook to make contact with living relatives and genealogy groups.

I’d told a couple friends about my theory before I shared it with the genealogy group I meet with every month.  The first response I got back was “But Facebook is for talking to my family and friends…and for playing games”.  <Insert head slap>  Yes…Facebook is great for those things, but, what if it could also give you another way to connect with other family members or other people that recognize your family name?  Wouldn’t it be worth it to use that social media outlet for that kind of connection, too?  Ultimately the answer becomes “yes”.  With some people it takes a little more convincing and actually getting some results before they jump into it with confidence…and I still have some friends that refuse to see the logic behind it.

Right now Family Search in Salt Lake City has Facebook pages for every state in the US and for almost every country in the world (there are a few that aren’t out there…like Greece).  They have volunteers that monitor and act as Administrators to the pages, helping out where they can and giving wonderful advice.  They share new links and websites that they have found, assist in helping translate difficult handwriting or foreign writing, and also ask questions that make you think outside the box.  And they have fun ways to get your information out there for others, too.  Recently several of the State pages have started playing the “Surname Game”.  Each day they post a new letter for the Surname Game on a bunch of their state pages…all you have to do is post your surnames that begin with that letter and a location (City/County) or a bit of information about the surname.  Michigan Genealogy Research page put the Surname Game up a few days ago and when it hit “D” I added my Drakopulos surname and the county where my mom’s family resided.  Although I haven’t had any hits/replies on it yet, the name is now out there again for others searching for that surname.

Any states and countries that I am searching for, I search on Facebook and see what comes up…you’d be surprised how many genealogy research groups/pages there are out there!  Seriously…try it!!  I currently belong to research pages maintained by Family Search for Italy, Finland, Russia, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and also many Genealogical Society pages as well.  Many of them have given me other sites to check out, links to online databases, and even linked me with family members that I didn’t know existed.  And some states even have county pages that are run by the local genealogical societies…Kentucky is a great example!  I also belong to Carter and Elliott County, Kentucky Genealogy sites on Facebook (to help with a friend’s tree I’m working on) and have received some wonderful help…and I’ve actually been able to actually connect him, on Facebook, with a cousin he never knew about!  I thought it was wonderful to actually introduce them in a Facebook chat!  How’s that for HIGH TECH?!?!?!

…And who in genealogy doesn’t remember the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website?  It was such a huge hit.  Unfortunately the owner of the page unexpectedly passed away and the site was taken down.  But…it’s back!!!  ON FACEBOOK!  Go ahead…search for it!  There are 2 pages…Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – RAOGK USA, and Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – RAOGK International.  And there is still the same amount of wonderful genealogists on those pages to help out where they can!  Where one door closes, another one opens!!

But, please….don’t take my word for it!  I mean it….go out and try this method yourself!  The next time you sign in to Facebook, do a quick search for a location or state and add the word “Genealogy” to it in the search bar.  See what pops up!  Or look for a local Historical Society Facebook page.  It’s going to be painless…I PROMISE!  And it just might help you take a good, swift kick to that Genealogy Brick Wall you have been trying to break down!

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Memorial Day….Not just a time to gather for a BBQ.

I remember, as a kid, watching my dad toss the burgers and dogs on the grill for Memorial Day.  I never really thought about what Memorial Day was really about.  It was a time for the family to have that first BBQ of the summer…a day off from school (WOO HOO!)…and a parade downtown that caused frustration for people trying to get to the store.  I know better now.

As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into my family tree (and the trees of my friends that I’m researching for) I have really begun to appreciate the service men and women that have sacrificed so much for me and our entire country.  I have a lot of Veterans in my family…dating back to the early 1900’s when they all arrived in the United States from all over Europe.  It was finding their Draft Registration Cards, military records, photos, and other memorabilia from the wars they fought in that truly made me understand and appreciate their service to this country….a country that was new to a lot of them.

I’ve marched in a lot of Memorial Day parades, heard Taps played many times, and watched wreath laying ceremonies at the local cemeteries.  I’ve even helped at a few of the ceremonies.  But this year I felt like I needed to bring this holiday to a little higher awareness with my family, friends and followers of this blog.

So…do you know who the veterans are in your family tree?  Are there veterans that you’ve found that you never realized gave service to this country?  Do you have any idea what branch of the military they served in?  Well…In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, has given free access to it’s military documents and I plan to take full advantage of their generosity (here’s the link to their collections: ).  I’m focusing on the Veterans in my family lines and those of the other trees I’m working on, while these documents are easily accessible.  I want to search beyond the relatives that I know served this country.  I want to search for cousins, aunts, uncles….Maybe just searching thru the surnames of my family can help me piece together another part of my family story.

So this year…instead of just tossing some burgers on the grill and having a BBQ with your family, why not sit down to those wonderful burgers and talk about those members of your family that gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country.  You might just hear a story that you’ve never heard before…and be sure to check out for another part of the story.

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The Elusive Vital Record…we all have at least one….don’t we?

Come on…..Be Honest!  You have that one record…birth, marriage, death, etc….that you have not been able to find.  One that you feel like you are close to finding, only to have reality grab it out of your reach.  We all have at least one.  I know I do!  It’s my Dad’s Birth Certificate.  Nobody can find it!

I know when he was born…and supposedly where he was born…but it just doesn’t seem to exist.  So what am I doing about it?  I continue to search…just like you would be doing….Right?  ABSOLUTELY!

So…if the County Records don’t show him in their index, and there doesn’t seem to be any proof of his birth…what do you do?  Put on your best “Sherlock Holmes” hat and start digging thru what you do know.

Here are my “Sherlock Holmes” notes….

  • I have proof of his date of birth with the following information…
    • Copy of original Social Security Application,
    • Death Certificate (not necessarily proof since the informant was my mom and she gave information based on what my dad told us),
    • Census records from 1930 and 1940,
    • Marriage Licenses that show his age,
    • and not much else.

So does this prove that his birthday was when he said?  Not really.  He could have applied for the Social Security Number without it (just needed to have someone, like his mother, go with him to verify his date of birth)…his marriage licenses, death certificate, and the census reports are all subject to biased information…and I have been unable to get his military records (due to the fire in the 1970’s that destroyed a lot of the Army Records).  So I guess I really have NO proof yet!  UGH!

“Sherlock Holmes” part 2….what do I know for sure?

  • There is no hospital where he always said he was born….but it is the town where the family lived at the time.
  • All his siblings were born at home.
  • All his siblings have birth certificates recorded with the County where they were born (even his stillborn brother).
  • His parents traveled back and forth between Chicago and home frequently.
  • There were family members that lived in a neighboring county.
  • His sister, born 2 years later does not have an actual birth “certificate”, but rather a birth “record” with the county in a bound book.

So what can I figure out from this information?  Lots!!!  First of all it tells me that maybe he doesn’t actually have a birth certificate, but merely a record in a county birth index book.  Second, it tells me that there most likely is a record somewhere as there are 6 other home births that I have found recorded (hard to believe his parents would forget to record one of the births officially).  Next it tells me that I might be looking in the wrong place (due to the traveling).

My next steps?  Well…there are several.  First, since the family lived in Michigan and traveled thru Indiana and into Illinois frequently to visit relatives, there is a possibility that he was born somewhere along that “route”.  The second possibility is that he was born at a relative’s house in a nearby county and I just haven’t found it yet.

The third possibility is that I need to travel to Lansing to the State Library or State Archives and find out if they have a copy of it.  This would help me avoid traveling around to all the possible county microfilm offices to look (one-stop shopping is much better).

The last possibility (and the option I like the least) is that the family just never recorded his birth with the appropriate county office.  If this is the case, then I need to have a delayed birth certificate filed on his behalf.  But I can’t do that until I know for sure that it doesn’t exist elsewhere.

I’m not giving up on this one.  I owe it to my dad to exhaust all possibilities before I finally give up and have a delayed birth certificate filed with the county clerk’s office.  Looks like I have a couple road trip adventures this summer with my dad as my angel co-pilot.  Somewhere along the way, I will solve this family mystery…

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Turn off that chainsaw….Cutting off that branch isn’t really possible!

Family Tree’s…they are full of people we are proud of…people we’ve never met….people we want to be like…people we’re proud to call family…and people we want to CHOP OUT OF THE FAMILY TREE!  We all have that one relative that has either disowned themselves from the family or we want to forget shares the same DNA as we do.  But what can you do?  What can I do???  Write about them in my blog….THAT’S WHAT!!!

I won’t mention this one relative by name…I’m sure all my cousins will know exactly who I’m talking about, even before I describe her.  She has caused me a lot of grief over the years without even speaking to me.  Do I hold a grudge???  ABSOLUTELY!  You can do almost anything to me and I’ll probably forgive you.  But hurt my family and I’m the elephant that never forgets.

To call this woman my “aunt” would be an insult to my other aunts…The one’s who’s memories I cherish every day.  So for the purpose of this blog I will refer to her simply as “Frenchie”.

“Frenchie”, at one time, was one of my favorite relatives.  She gave funny, sometimes almost bizarre gifts.  I remember getting a stapler from her for Christmas one year…it had eyes on it and resembled an alligator.  What 7 year old wouldn’t love that as a gift.  There was also the smiley face bank (before the internet made smiley faces popular).  And there were many others.  I think what I cherished the most was when I was 14 years old…not old enough to drive, but still wanting my freedom.  “Frenchie” was newly divorced and needing attention.  What better person to tag with than your 14 year old niece.  We went everywhere together…to the movies, out for a Saturday lunch…and best of all, TO THE MALL!!!!  But…after a few weeks her phone calls came less and less and I finally realized I was being used.  She didn’t want to hang out with me…she needed a co-pilot.  She wasn’t used to driving and needed someone to help her navigate the roads.  Yep…Thanks a lot “Frenchie”.  And that was just the beginning.

So how do you (or I) handle this person in the family tree?  The same way that the police handle crazed, emotional women in the movies…”Just the facts, ma’am!”.  No matter what I would like to put in the family genealogy about this one person, I won’t.  I’m not going to embellish or even glamorize this individual.  She is biologically family even though she disowned herself from my dad in 1990…and because of the DNA tie, she will be included….Name…rank…and serial number…that’s all she gets!  She deserves nothing more.

I hope someday that she gets to read this blog so she knows that I didn’t take a chainsaw to her branch of the family tree….no matter how much I want to.  To leave her out would not be fair to the others in my tree…those that want an accurate picture of our family. So for my daughter and my “little cousins”, that may not have an interest in this weird stuff right now…someday you will look at this family tree and get just as excited about it as I do.  Just remember…when you see someone in the family tree that just has “Name, rank, and serial number”, they just might have been someone who chose NOT to be a part of the family, not someone who was left out.

For others that have their own “Frenchie” family members, be kind to yourself and to the other members of your family.  You don’t have to glamorize those that don’t want to be a part of the family…but don’t chop down their part of the tree.  Make your history complete…even an infested tree can serve as shade on a hot summer day!

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The Old Black Photo Album….Who are all these people?!?!?!

I think everyone has that one group of pictures that they hold on to, that they have no clue who the people in the photos are.  I have an entire album like that!  It belonged to my grandmother.  She was great at keeping the photos…and some of them even have pencil markings on the back.  Which is great except for one thing….THEY ARE GLUED INTO THE ALBUM!!!!  UGH!  Thank you Grandma Anna!

So…what am I going to do with these photos?  Figure out who the people are, of course!  I have a few clues…so not all hope is lost.  My grandma did mark on the front of a couple of them, things like…”Mom and Me” and “Grandma and Me”.  Those are GREAT photos…That means I have pictures of my Grandma as a 2 year old with my Great Grandmother, and a picture of my grandmother (most likely that same day) with my Great Great Grandmother!  WOW!  If I put them in a frame with a picture of my mother, myself, and my daughter, I will have pictures of 6 female generations of my family.  This may not sound exciting to some of you because you might already have pictures of 4 or 5 generations in one photo.  But for me this is tremendous!  Especially since the only people still living in those generations is myself and my daughter.

So…how do we take photos we have no knowledge of and try to figure out who they are?  Well…you have to really take a close look at the photos.  Sometimes they hold clues that you miss the first few (dozen) times you look at them.  And be sure to get a good, strong magnifying glass for your photo research…you will thank yourself for the investment later.

I’ve started really looking at this photo album…the people in it…the possibility of WHO these people might be….and who they definitely are NOT.  My list includes a lot of people, but I’m not discouraged.  I’ve already identified 5 or 6 people, just from other pictures I have.

I found pictures of my Grandpa Jim…pictures of my grandma’s brother, Carl…and a picture of my mom’s godfather (Yes, he was important to the family too…maybe even related).   I can’t assume, at this point in time, that anyone in this photo album is insignificant.  They were all important to my grandma…so they are important to me too! I just have to figure out who they are.

I pulled the album out again today.  I’ve been thru it a hundred times in the past couple months.  I’ve made copies of the pages and tried to match up pictures and faces…I’ve looked at them in bright lights…with a magnifying glass…in the morning…and late at night.  It never seemed to matter.  But…today I matched up another set of pictures…I think.  I’m still not convinced…but I’m pretty sure.  Here are the 2 pictures…you tell me if I’m right or wrong.

Bottom of the photo says "Carl Lee" This is my Grandma Anna's older brother.
Bottom of the photo says “Carl Lee”
This is my Grandma Anna’s older brother.
Written in pencil below this photo it says “My Pal”. I believe the man on the right is my Grandma Anna’s brother, Carl Lee.

I can’t be positive of the identification yet, but I’m pretty sure.  Carl Lee was a newspaper salesman in Chicago.  He had a news stand at the corner of 106th Street and Ewing Avenue…right near where they lived.  Family stories told me that he was crippled and it was proven when I received a copy of his death certificate about a month ago.  I spoke with a cousin just yesterday and he told me that Carl had been injured severely when he was younger when scaffolding fell on him.  His back and legs were badly injured and he could no longer stand up straight.  The first thing that caught my eyes in the bottom picture is the man’s legs.  He doesn’t seem to be sitting straight.  I had looked at this picture many times, but until I had talked to my cousin Jack, I never thought this was Uncle Carl.  I only knew him to be the person in the first photo.  It was the only image I had of him.  So you tell me…help me be a detective…Are the men in these two pictures the same man?

I also found my grandmother with her first husband…I figured that one out because of a date on the front of the picture and location…and it matches up with her first marriage! But there are other pictures that I assume are her first husband, Wilbur.  Here they are….

Joe and Wilbur An easy one...This would be my grandma's first husband, Wilbur Frechette (on the right), and his brother Joe.
Joe and Wilbur
An easy one…This would be my grandma’s first husband, Wilbur Frechette (on the right), and his brother Joe.
Assuming this is, again, Joe and WIlbur Frechette...they were both in WWI.
Assuming this is, again, Joe and Wilbur Frechette…they were both in WWI.
Caption at the bottom reads, "Gone but not forgotten". I'm almost positive this is Wilbur Frechette.
Caption at the bottom reads, “Gone but not forgotten”. I’m almost positive this is Wilbur Frechette.

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.  Wilbur Frechette died in 1920.  None of my living relatives ever met him. I can only go by the information that I have…and that would be these photos.  I do know that my grandma loved him deeply.  I have her journal and have read her feelings.  She never got over his death.  The least I can do for her is to properly identify him in her pictures and in our family tree.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me with this photo album…but today gave me new hope.  If I can just match up one set of photos every time I dig into this album I should have them all identified in about…..10 years.!  I’m not giving up.  I know my Grandma Anna would want me to keep moving forward with this project….and for her…I WILL.