18 January 2019

"Enjoy the Journey"

Who are you?

Do you know?

Understanding both the physical and metaphysical journeys of our ancestors not only allows us to reconnect with family previously lost to us, but helps us to better understand ourselves.

Everything about genealogy is a journey. Doesn't matter whether it's the literal tracing of your ancestors' migration pathways or rebuilding their life stories so you can comprehend why they might have made the choices they did. Genealogy is our journey as well; let's face it, much of our time is spent delving into dusty archives as we travel cross-country in our efforts to dislodge a particular ancestor from the mists of time. Sometimes they come willingly, conveniently saluting us from easily locatable records. Other times we need the the FBI and/or a fleet of backhoes to resurrect them. Either way, rediscovering them is an inestimable prize.

Knowing who our ancestors were really helps us fathom who we are. For example, solving the mystery of my birth family gave me a much-needed context for so many of my personality traits and interests. Things make so much more sense now that I understand on a more granular level that I am the product of two disparate families melded together. Their journeys are my journey.  I am the mischievous twinkle of my birth mother's eye while I simultaneously exhibit my mom's mannerisms and the lifelong love of reading with which she imbued me. I may have inherited my birth father's revulsion to alcohol and coffee and his love of words and language, but I am also the embodiment of my dad's humor and goofiness. In discovering them, I have discovered myself.

Kentucky, I am in you.

This week I've had the pleasure both literally and figuratively of traipsing cross-country, from South Jersey to Utah and from New England to the Midwest. Both voyages have brought me closer to distant friends and to even more distant relatives. I am grateful for both pilgrimages.

Every night after I've finished communing with dead people in the Family History Library, the bite of the cold January are riffles through my hair and frosts my breath, making me feel more alive than ever.

The magic of Salt Lake City and the 2019 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

Thank you, SLIG, for another epic journey.  Safe travels home, everyone.

17 January 2019


As the last day of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy approaches, I've been reflecting on some of the things that have meant the most to me this week. While there are myriad moments from which to choose--my 'A-ha!' record discoveries included--I believe that my favorite moments this year have come from time spent with friends and colleagues; all are family history warriors striving to establish relationships between people long dead while simultaneously forging relationships with (living) colleagues who can understand their passion for genealogy like no one else.
By its very nature, genealogy can sometimes be a solitary enterprise given that so much of our time is spent alone, whether researching online or happily digging through dusty archives, whether writing reports or analyzing evidence. Therefore the opportunity to spend time touching base with colleagues can be invaluable; not only does it allow you to keep up with advances in the field, it gives you a chance to crowdsource research problems. Sometimes a fresh eye is all it takes to help break down brick walls. 

As a result, pretty much all my favorite moments this year have been those shared with others: having breakfast with Susan Hayes on Saturday morning then spending all day researching in the FHL, where she named her SLIG elk "Clyde;" being endlessly entertained by Derek Wood (a fellow theater geek) and his plotting to stage a "dream ballet" in the FHL; being approached in the elevator by a complete stranger who told me "Mary Stuart? I've heard about you!" (Turns out she's the sister of June Anderson, who has been in several of my British track courses. When her sister asked why June had never mentioned her, June pithily replied, "Why would I tell her I have a sister?? You aren't dead yet!!"  You've got to love genealogist humor); Giggling about Juli Anderson's Swedish ancestor, who lived in a small village called Gustaf Adolf (presumably after the king of the same name), a name which unexpectedly showed up in one of the bibliographies in my syllabus; listening to random "Overheard at SLIG"-type quotes like "Intermediate genealogists look at records; advanced genealogists look at evidence"/"Search for evidence, not just information," apparently quoted by the inimitable Tom Jones; meeting a guy named Bob (who has a lovely dry wit) in my class...turns out  in small-world fashion that Bob is also from the Philadelphia area and has been at two previous genealogy institutes with me without either of us knowing it; exchanging enthusiastic "good mornings" each day with the housekeeper in charge of our floor, whose infectious smile always peeps out from beneath her hijab as she invariably beams charmingly from around the door of whatever room she was currently in. Each moment is a snapshot in time I will take with me when leave, and which will cheer me when I am eyeballs deep in all the exciting new resources introduced this week.

While all of those moments were great, without question my absolute favorite memory of this week will be having dinner each night with my genealogy posse (shoutout to Abby, Susan, Derek, Juli, Heather, and Alexa!) Every evening we've gotten together someplace different to share laughter, a meal, and a brief respite between class and heading off to each of our various activities for the night. We've also taken turns going around the table to dish on what was our favorite thing to have learned that day in class, neatly encapsulating our journeys while bringing a unique perspective to it as well. It has rapidly become the cherry on the milkshake of each day, and the bow on the gift that is SLIG.

The SLIG Dinner Club (What? The 'Breakfast Club' was already taken.)
Photo credit: Abby Peart Camarato, ©2019
At the end of the day, you realize that genealogy and family history are all about people--whether living, or dead for centuries--and their stories because one way or another, ferreting out those stories is what brings us all together.

16 January 2019

SLIGth-Inning Stretch

Wednesday. Hump Day. I'll admit it; I was dragging pretty hard this morning. Given my observations of many of the attendees I saw and chatted with today, I wasn't the only one feeling it either. It's that time of the week in every institute when you've been running full-tilt for three straight days. With so many wonderful evening opportunities like SLIG Night at the FHL or lectures or the Ancestry Pro-Genealogists meet-and-greet (never mind the siren call of the FHL itself), sometimes it's hard to tear yourself away from all the excitement to accomplish minor things like doing homework, playing with all the exciting new resources your instructors have been showing you or, in my case, blogging. As a result, you might find yourself staying up entirely too late and sometimes there just isn't enough caffeine in the world to make your brain start functioning properly again.

Today was totally that day for me. Sleep-deprived as I was this morning, I managed to focus well enough, completely fascinated as I was by the Congressional Serial Set and other resources introduced to us by Rick Sayre. I also heeded D. Joshua Taylor's later admonition to make sure we didn't settle for looking only at pension files themselves, but to consider accompanying affidavits and such because sometimes they had mentions about or were written by our ancestors. In fact, so prescient was this advice that during the break I actually found just such a mention of my 4 times great-grandfather on a letter in the pension file of one Rebecca Clark, widow of War of 1812 soldier Elisha Clark. The mention had nothing to do with the pension application itself, but was instead a side note about other cases being worked by the same lawyer/agent. Best of all, the note listed a pension application number for my ancestor, which is not currently indexed on Fold3 or elsewhere.  Score!!
Meanwhile, that little triumph didn't stop me from half-jokingly telling Angie Bush before the last session of the day that she needed to hire me to work on DNA for her because DNA is my jam, after which I promptly embarrassed myself later when I stared blankly at her like a complete idiot during a case study presentation because my brain had finally decided enough was enough and apparently powered down mid-session. Sigh. Making Great First Impressions since 1965.

Such is the cycle of these institutes, though. You come in so determined to wring out every conceivable ounce of knowledge while you can--and you DO--but eventually your body just needs a break (traitor!!) or else you have to slow down long enough to process everything you've recently learned so you can remember even half of it when you go home. It's a little like Education by Fire Hose. Still, I wouldn't change a moment because every time I attend an institute such as Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I am reminded why I do what I do and I leave thoroughly fired up to keep doing it, even during those times when life tries to get in the way. Who could ask for a better gift?

After classes, I went up to my room to grab my coat before dinner and some quality time at the FHL. I glanced out the window and, to my surprise, saw mountains. Considering I'd been grumbling earlier in the week about not getting the mountain view room I'd been promised, this came as quite a surprise. I guess that's what happens when an inversion ends and clears away the clouds. Kinda poetic, when you think about it. We come here to climb the mountain, whether by trying to surmount some research obstacle or to continue our education so we can strive for the pinnacle of our profession, only to one day have the clouds clear and bring our goal suddenly into sight. What a perfect metaphor...and a much-needed boost out of my sleep deprivation (Zombie Achievement unlocked!!)

Hello, Mountains...how you doin'??
From here the rest of the week will no doubt pass in the blink of an eye, and I'll suddenly find myself on a long flight back to the east coast wishing it hadn't all ended so soon or that I could do it all over again.

Eye of the Tiger

All evening long I've had the song "Eye of the Tiger" stuck in my head. You know the one. First  Rocky Balboa does a lot of sparring with Apollo Creed to the strains of "It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight..." and the next thing you know he's standing on a beach hugging Apollo while thrusting his fist into the air in triumph for having successfully beaten his friend in a race.

With all due respect to the band Survivor, I often think that last lyric should be changed to "the thrill of the chase" because, as genealogists, so much of what we do is all about the chase...about the journey.  After all, isn't that why we come to programs such as the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in the first place? To take classes that will give us the tools and resources we need for the hunt?  Sure, the chance to network is equally as valuable and pleasurable as doing serious research, but at the end of the day we're all still hunters--fighters--striving to rise "up to the challenge of our rival" (aka our brick walls) as we "stalk [our] prey in the night." Otherwise, why do what we do?

Tonight I had the opportunity to stalk some prey of my own in the form of a Kentucky land grant for my 5th great-grandfather, a document that was previously unknown to me. However, an energetic series of lectures today from the amazing D. Joshua Taylor, during which he introduced us all to the assorted pathways and waterways by which our ancestors migrated to the Midwest, gave me tools for a much-needed breakthrough. After introducing the migration paths to us, Josh then gave us the opportunity to go back through our sources and build a timeline for one of our family groups to help us to identify the pathway this set of ancestors might have taken.  While I can't yet be sure, I think it highly likely that my 5th great-grandfather's family came straight across the National Road, especially considering they lived at several stops along that pathway. This revelation alone would have been a thrilling enough discovery for any given day, but that knowledge, combined with the new sources introduced earlier in the morning, also ultimately led me to an index of Kentucky land grants. Conveniently for me, the FHL has a copy of the index in their holdings.

Thanks to D. Joshua Taylor, I now have a shiny new digital copy of an 1821 land warrant for that very grandfather. Had I not been so tired this evening, I guarantee that not only would there have been Rocky-style fist pumps in the air, raucous singing and embarrassing dancing in the snow would also have no doubt ensued. On the plus side, my inevitable crash and burn onto the slippery sidewalks would have created brand new record sets for future genealogists to stalk.

I do so love what we do. There is nothing more thrilling or gratifying than that moment when we locate an elusive record to fill in yet another piece of the puzzle of our lives. Each success, however small, is like finding the Holy Grail all over again. If I'm going to use "Eye of the Tiger as a random analogy, I guess that would make SLIG our collective Apollo Creed, supporting us and teaching us and pushing us to succeed and to surpass.

I may not have gotten around to performing my Rocky salute, but I can at least raise a glass to the amazing staff and faculty at SLIG for helping us all be "up to the challenge of our rival."

Here's to superlative SLIGs and successful quests, not to mention 37-year-old rock songs.
(Photo credit: Abby Peart-Camarato, ©2019)

15 January 2019

Genealogy Disneyland

Three days ago I hopped on a plane to Salt Lake City, which my family has bemusedly taken to referring to as "Genealogy Disneyland." In fairness, they aren't exactly wrong--very little is more attractive to the average, standard-issue genealogist than a chance to deep-dive into the extensive holdings of the nearby Family History Library, to expand our knowledge base by taking valuable courses from the rockstars of our field, or to spend some quality time with people who "speak our language" and who will happily spend hours discussing dead relatives, obscure record sets, the mysteries of DNA, and/or telling genealogy "dad" jokes without ever once rolling their eyes at us for being the giant family history nerds we are (and proud of it!) The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, affectionally referred to as "SLIG," provides ample opportunity for all three.

This may only be my second-ever SLIG, but in many ways it already feels like home. There is nothing quite so joyful as catching up with old friends and meeting new ones; it's like going to Homecoming or having a family reunion, but without the drunk uncle in the corner. I also love hearing the squeals of excitement when a classmate is introduced to that one new resource which will end up bulldozing a life-long brick wall, as well as the genuine pleasure, support, and enthusiasm we all share for each others' discoveries because we all understand the significance of such break-throughs.

Likewise, I find something rather poetic about the majority of attendees having to make long journeys to seek their fortunes here at SLIG--whether in classes or at the Family History Library (FHL)--just as so many of the very ancestors we're hunting also had to make long journeys to seek their fortunes. Meanwhile, I'm taking a course on what amounts to westward expansion (albeit only as far as the Midwest), and I'm pretty sure my trip from New Jersey to Utah likewise counts as pretty westward expansion-y if a bit quicker than my ancestors' journeys. Clearly I was meant to take this course.

Day One is now over and already I've danced with Native Americans, been introduced to exciting new resources, gotten fired up about the future sessions on my course, and scarfed fajitas at the Blue Iguana with an amazing group of people; so far the worst thing I can say about SLIG is that I lost my good Chapstick.

It's been a very full 36 hours, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

As for the rest of the week?  BRING. IT. ON.