I had to take a break from my personal genealogy quest, as well as this blog. Sometimes that’s the only way to refocus and truly figure out where your heart lies. Mine truly does belong with family, but I had to find myself in order to realize that. I’ve spent the past 3 1/2 years focusing on me and who I truly want and need to be. Now that I have begun to see who I am…. and how I belong in this family tree….I feel like I’m ready to get back to doing my own research.
Those that know me understand my self-discovery quest. Those of you following my blog that do not personally know me…. please understand that my love of genealogy has not changed…. only my love for myself. I found a new energy that has renewed my vision and focus. I’m not sure how often I will be posting to this blog…. but I have many ideas of topics and quests that I plan to pursue over the next few months. I hope you join me and find your own “new energy”… BREAK TIME IS OVER!!
I am sitting in the middle of my living room with little scraps of paper all over the place. I wish I could blame my puppy for the mess, but it’s all my fault. I had this brilliant idea recently that I was finally going to organize all my genealogy files and paperwork into Surname Notebooks. It sounded like a great idea, but I think someone needs to have me committed…I MUST BE CRAZY!!!!
I was feeling a bit overwhelmed when I made this choice and now I’m EXTREMELY overwhelmed. By the time I pulled every file, stack of papers, bits of scrap paper with information jotted on it, and booted up my computer, I had more that I ever imagined possible. But I couldn’t stop there. I needed a sense of accomplishment on this project and also I desperately needed to make sure I had everything possible on my ancestors in my computer as well as their paper files. I figured I better try to tackle this before it totally gets out of hand. <TOO LATE!!!>
STEP 1 – Make the notebooks
This was the easy part! I grabbed 5 notebooks and made covers and spines for them. They look really nice with the family Surname in fancy print and a copy of each surname crest. Simple enough….I’m a graphic designer. This part I could do with my eyes closed.
STEP 2 – Separating the pile
Now this part took some time. I literally sat on the floor with the huge pile of papers in front of me and I sorted them, one at a time into piles by Surname. Not bad….it only took me about an hour. By this time I was beginning to see that there were several of my family lines that I could probably handle pretty quickly. So I matched up each pile with the corresponding notebook. At least my living room floor looked good again….until I let the puppy back in….then it was covered in a different kind of clutter.
STEP 3 – One Notebook at a Time
It’s probably cheating, but I took the notebook with the least amount of papers and started with that one. Yeah…it was a cop-out….but what can I say. I needed to see some more progress at this point. Again, I sat on the floor and started sorting the papers. This time by individual. It actually was going pretty smooth…then I realized that I had some people that, obviously, crossed Surnames. My Grandma Anna would actually be in 3 notebooks (her Maiden Name book, and also in the Surname books of both of her husbands). Fortunately I was finding some duplicate papers, so I didn’t need to make a lot of photocopies.
STEP 4 – Making sure the information is in the computer
OK…so this one was definitely NOT the most fun…but it was a VERY necessary part of the organization project. Once my notebooks were assembled I made sure that every document was carefully read and the information entered into my software program. This served 2 purposes….I was sure I had the information logged, and it made me re-read each document. I actually found several pieces of information that I had missed before. I also made sure I had each item scanned and uploaded as media to my genealogy software. This took more time than all the remaining organization steps combined….actually, I’m still working on this one. But I still moved forward with the next step…
STEP 5 – Genealogical Cemetery Reports
This was a new step for me. Something that I’ve been wanting to do, but just haven’t had the time or the desire to get it done. Each “report” is individualized with an ancestors name and vital information along with a picture of their headstone, urn, etc. There is also cemetery information or cremains location information and information on their Find a Grave Memorial. As part of this process, I created a Find a Grave Memorial for each relative as I was creating these reports.
I do have one additional step that I’m working on and it will be a continuous process. Making a list of what I still need….by individual. This is going to be a very important step for me, as I found out I have duplicates of several documents. Things I didn’t remember I had because it was in a pile somewhere. Now I know what I have and what I still need.
Well…Truthfully…I’m not sure. I’m still working on making sure that all the information is in the computer and scanned…and I’m still photographing graves and entering info into the Cemetery Reports. But I know this for sure….I’m feeling much more organized and a little more sure of what I have and what I’m missing. A little organization has gone a long way in helping me feel much better about my project…and my house! I no longer get frustrated that I’m missing a little piece of paper that I wrote a couple dates on. They have all been put where they belong…..FOR NOW! The trick will be to keep the system going and not go back to my addiction for little pieces of paper. I might need to create my own 12-step program eventually!
Everyone has a number that they consider their “Lucky Number”. I’ve bounced this number around many times…sometimes its 17 (my birth day)…sometimes its 5 (my birth month)…but I’ve always been drawn to the number 13. Even in my search for family records, 13 seems to be my lucky number.
Growing up I remember hearing a story that my great grandfather was one of 13 brothers that were all Sicilian Mounted Police. I don’t know if that story is true or not because I have not been able to find any generation with 13 male children, but its an intriguing story. I even have to laugh a bit because my cousins remember a different story with the great grandfather being on a different family line. Someday, maybe I’ll be able to figure that one out….but it still reminds me that the number 13 is tapping me on the shoulder.
Well…recently, I hit the number 13 again in my research. I had just returned home from a local Genealogy Society meeting, grabbed a few snacks, and settled down with my computer. I wanted to run some searches with my “Minelli” surname….again. Earlier in the day I had received a full translation of my Great Grandfather, Ferdinando’s birth record and the family was on my mind. Ferdinando had been given up at birth and I finally had, not only the quick translation of the document, but a word for word translation of it. It was the midwife that stated his name was to be Ferdinando and his surname Minelli. Maybe this name had something to do with the family after all. There might still be hope of finding out who his parents were. I wanted to see what other MInelli’s were nearby to the town of Castrovillari, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy. So…I did like I had done a dozen times in the past year…click, click, click…..nothing…..click, click, click….nothing…over and over again. Everything I was finding was the same stuff. The stuff I already knew and had verified. Now what?
The kids….lets look for info on the kids! That would keep me busy for a while and maybe give me something that I didn’t already have. So…I grabbed my files to see what I already knew and what was already in the files (I hate thinking I found something new, only to find out I had just overlooked it before). I knew that Ferdinando and his wife, Maria Somma, had 12 kids. Well…at least I had documented the births of 12. I also knew that I had one death certificate and one of those children I assumed died before they immigrated to the US, as I have no record of that child coming here. I also had one…their last child born…that I have no clue what happened to her. She was born in 1913 (hmmm….is that a “13”?) but was not on the 1920 census…and I have not found a death certificate for her.
So…here I sit, with the files of the “kids” spread out on my bed. Yes, I love to research while I’m curled up in bed in fuzzy jammies and a nice warm blanket on my bed (I live in Northern Michigan so it gets pretty cold here sometimes). I start flipping thru the files….Theresina (Theresa)…Michele (Mike)…Pilerio (Lawrence)…Rosina (Rosie)…Natale (Nato)…Francescadina (Frances – my grandmother)…Giuseppina (Josephine)…Frances Rosario Pasquale (Birth in Italy, but not immigrated and no death record yet)….Carmelo (born and died in 1896)…Sam…Annie…and Antonia. That’s 12 kids…WHEW!! I knew the least about Carmelo and Frances…They were both born early in Ferdinando and Maria’s marriage. Carmelo died as an infant. I had his death registry. Frances I also assumed has died before the family immigrated to the US because there is no record of him on a ships manifest or in any census records after they arrived here. So I started with these two children. Carmelo’s records were BAD copies…so I wondered if I could find them online and at least save them differently (I had found them on microfilm at the Family History Library during my trip to Salt Lake City in 2011). So I started with Carmelo….
Now, anyone that has ever searched for records online knows the procedure….enter in basic information…wait for the results to pop up…refine your search…find nothing…go back and redo your search…over and over again. All while hoping for a small hint of a relative. I entered in “CARMELO MINELLI” in the search fields…pressed enter….WOW…a lot of hits on this one. So I scanned the list…nope…nope…nope…maybe….click….nope….go back…over and over. Then I saw a manifest into Ellis Island. Hmmm…I wonder….who this might be…City says Cosenza, which is the right area. And I knew that when I found the children’s birth record EVERY Minelli in Cosenza was this family…Fingers crossed. Then I realized it said CARMELA….not CARMELO. Female child not male. Darn it….I was looking for a male child…but I looked anyway. It said line 11…yep, there was Carmela…Female…age 16 (really?!?!?!)…I don’t have a Carmela…maybe its another family. So I kept looking….Name and address of nearest relative or friend in country where alien came from….Grandfather Giuseppe Somma!!!! THAT’S MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER!!!! I FOUND ANOTHER CHILD!!! NUMBER 13!!!
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had just found the answer to another family story! I had talked with my cousin Sissy about 3 weeks ago. She told me she remembered her mom talking about a sister that had immigrated with the family to the US (to Chicago, specifically), and had gone back to Italy to get married. I had heard this story before, but nobody could remember her name. I think I might have just found her!!! The best part is….I now added another family member…I had an Aunt Carmela. She is my new Lucky Number 13! Now I just have to find out what happened to her…who did she marry? Did she have children? Is she related to the Minelli’s that currently live in Cosenza? Am I related to them too? There are always more questions to answer! I’m off to find more answers…be back soon!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.