California’s Drought: An Historic Event

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Last week I took Amtrak’s Coast Starlight down to Santa Barbara. Usually at this time of the year it is a gorgeous trip, with green grass covering the landscape and yellow mustard flowers in bloom.

It was not such a pretty sight this year. Fields are brown, either because farmers have not planted or because they did and there’s not a drop of water for their crops to grow. However, Santa Barbara was lovely…many trees are in full bloom…in January.

Meanwhile, we are already having to fight wild fires…in the middle of winter! Heaven only knows what will happen with wild fires in the coming year. It is scary.

Cattle herds are being sent to auction because there is no water for them and no water to grow food for them. Rivers and reservoirs are dry. How do we balance the needs of people with the needs of the environment (like fish) and the needs of the economy (especially agriculture)? The government might take the water that some farmers have stored. It sounds like things could get ugly.

I remember the 1976-1977 drought well. We did not water any landscaping; most all of it died. We did not wash our cars. I taught my young children not to flush the toilet. People took short showers…together! We wore clothing longer before washing them.  I disconnected our laundry from the drain and sent the grey water to the garden so at least the trees might survive. My Dad used a bucket to catch the cold water that comes before the hot water in the shower (he still does this). We worked hard to save every drop of water.

California averaged just four inches of rainfall in 2013. The current rainfall figures are only about HALF what they were at this time of the year in 1977. So, things are pretty bad. Experts are telling us that this may be the worst drought in California’s history, at least for the past 400-500 years, and that it could go on for many more years.

Back it up NOW!

Over the past six months my laptop (and only computer) has been showing signs of distress. Back in August I did some back-ups. I also bought a large external drive for more extensive and continuing back-ups. But then the Holidays loomed ahead. I also needed to complete a major project for a client. I simply did not have the time to deal with the back-ups and everything else all at once.

Topping my after-Christmas to-do list: external drive back-ups. My laptop must have taken me quite literally (they do that, you know) and thought that “after-Christmas” meant December 26th. My laptop started dying on December 28th. It now works only in safe mode, and does so VERY slowly.

I feel very lucky…I have not lost any data. But my time has been consumed with safe-mode back-ups and the tediousness of setting up the new computer. I know, I could have avoided much of the hassle.

Listen to Dick Eastman: If it’s the first of the month…BACK IT UP!

 

 

Hot Off the Press!

I am proud to announce that I have been featured in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, September 2013! Download PDF copy of article.

Huge thank-yous go to Jack Journey, who provided the adobe photography, and to Bob and Donna Carrillo Endicott for providing access to the Adobe!

Donna Carrillo Endicott with Linda at the ruins of the Carrillo Adobe in Santa Rosa.

Donna Carrillo Endicott with Linda at the ruins of the Carrillo Adobe in Santa Rosa.

 

Trip Back in Time

I wrote this more than a year ago when I was visiting Dallas. I have brought this blog entry back because it is now timely. I hope that any of you who remember the assassination of JFK will document your experience and memories somehow, be it in writing, on tape or video.

Isn’t it intriguing that Michael, the gorilla companion of Koko, was able to relate in sign language his memory of the murder of his mother when he was young? What struck me is that he remembered the sound of the gun. If you have ever been in an accident you probably remember it in great, often slow-motion detail. You might still smell the burning tires, hear the crunching of metal, and see the puff of powder from the air bag.

Historians and genealogists can and should take full advantage of our ability to recall minute details of such important long-ago events. I encourage everyone to record, in writing or on tape or video, these  memories, with attention to the myriad details that bring the scene to full-color life. Sometimes these events are private such as the loss of a loved one or the joyful birth of another. But often they are public events. For many older people the attack on Pearl Harbor is a moment etched in their memories. For my generation, it might be the Kennedy Assassination. For my children it might be the Challenger Disaster or Nine Eleven.

I will soon be making my first trip to Dallas, Texas where I will attend the Forensic Genealogy Institute. I have arranged time in my schedule for a visit to the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. There is nothing quite like being on the site of an event to truly understand it.  I will visit the Texas School Book Depository…and have the same view of the motorcade route as Lee Harvey Oswald. I can mull over the various conspiracy theories. I can see for myself what it might have been like that awful day, a time that comes to my mind so clearly after nearly 49 years.

If you are bored by such accounts, stop here. The rest is my own very personal recollection of that time when I was a day-dreaming teenager and watched helplessly as my world changed forever.

I was in Mr. Swartz’s third period German class. I wasn’t really enjoying that class and not paying much attention. Instead, I was lost in romantic thoughts about the upcoming visit of my first boyfriend. I’ll call him Ed. He was a nice young man, older by two years, very tall with dark hair, and he was extremely intelligent. He lived in another town so mostly we just wrote letters to each other. Snail mail.

I can still remember glancing over to see the student office assistant open our classroom door to collect the roll sheet attached to a clipboard. Usually she grabbed the sheet and left. But that day she quickly whispered something to the student seated near the door and then went on her way to the next classroom. The “news” she whispered spread quickly around our classroom. The President had been shot! No one knew if it was really true or how seriously he might have been injured.We had no way of knowing. There were no phones or cell phones, no radio, no TV, no computers or internet in the classroom.

Within minutes a bell rang, alerting us to an impending announcement on the school’s public address system. At the sound of the bell, our hearts sank. We knew it was true and that the news must be bad. Our Principal, Mrs. Ruth de Polo, told us about the assassination. All we could do from that moment on was talk about the shock and sadness we all felt and all the questions in our minds. It was a scary time.

Later, I wondered if Ed would still visit or if his trip might get cancelled. It wasn’t. The next afternoon my mother and I picked up Ed at the bus station. His first words were to ask if we had heard about the assassination. Sadness was already seeping into our weekend visit. There was no way to stop it.

Mom took us out to dinner, a special treat since her income was limited. We went to a restaurant and bar where Mom knew the bartender. Ed and I sat next to each other on one side of the table with Mom on the other side. Ed is left-handed and I am right-handed so we held hands beneath the table and ate with our other hand. I remember thinking it was sort of secret but I know now it wasn’t.

My mother and I lived in a one-bedroom duplex, so we shared the bedroom. Ed slept on a fold down sofa bed in the living room. I don’t see how he could have possibly been comfortable…his feet probably hung over the end and there was the crease down the middle. But he did not complain.

On Saturday morning when I saw the picture of Lee Harvey Oswald on the front page of The Sacramento Union, I announced that someone was going to kill him. It wasn’t something I thought might happen. I knew it would happen. I don’t typically make such a definitive statement. A couple of hours later Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald.

We spent the day in Sacramento, but it was difficult to find anything to do. The town was nearly deserted. Most events were cancelled. We ended up watching midget racing but even that was not a happy or fun place to be. There was a moment of silence. People had a hard time concentrating on anything else but the assassination. It was what people wanted to talk about.

On Sunday Ed and I wandered around downtown Sacramento. I bought a lipstick. Ed wanted to go to Capitol Park but we ran out of time and ended up rushing to the bus station just in time for Ed to catch his bus home. He gave me quick kiss and then he was gone. It wasn’t the romantic sort of kiss about which I had been day-dreaming.

After the weekend, the entire nation was glued to their televisions. There was no school. For the first time, the three networks broadcast continually, showing some things over and over again. Today we are accustomed to that, but not then. The country was mesmerized, steeped in mourning. We all cried when three-year-old John-John saluted his father’s passing coffin. Finally, the television coverage of the assassination, mourning, and funeral was over, but it had changed broadcasting and the American people forever.

My own personal life changed too. Within months my mother remarried, we moved, and I changed schools.

To this day I cannot think about Ed or the Kennedy Assassination separately. They are bound together in my memory, shrouded in the haunting gray grief of Sacramento and the beginning of a new reality for me as well as our entire country.

The rich details…sights, sounds, smells, and feelings are often what is lost in historical accounts. I hope that each of you will take some time and record such memories for your descendants.

 

Online Genealogy

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As a Professional Genealogist, I use free and subscription online genealogy sites multiple times each day. The most useful are those that provide visual access to source documents such as census records, newspapers, etc.

Online genealogies are also useful to the extent that they provide me with clues and links to living descendants or people researching a particular line.

Personally, I have not put my own genealogy online. Over the years, I have watched what happens to the information that has been put online. It isn’t all a pretty picture.

Here are some of the possible problems:

  • Information is too easily “attached” from one line to another without sufficient proof
  • The sheer volume of people copying information makes others believe it must be true
  • Source information has been removed
  • There might not be a way to remove/correct information online (even by person who uploaded it)
  • Information that was originally provided for free is no longer free to view
  • There is no way to stop someone from putting your info online
  • People might have to pay to be able to contact each other
  • Information is available to those who would use it for commercial purposes
  • Information is available to those who would use it for illegal purposes
  • Information that was deemed private is still visible in some fashion

 

Many people who would like to use the internet to collaborate on research with family members are now paying for “private” website space. Those with technical skills are doing it on their own at a much lower cost.I have such a site that costs less than $5 per month. Access is password protected and I have complete control over it.

However, there is still the risk that what goes online can still be accessed. And the information can still be used, without your consent. It is conceivable it can still be “taken” and put on another website, private or commercial, public or private.

Several years ago I saw a job position posted for a major online commercial genealogy company. The job involved locating genealogical information on unprotected websites, taking that information and putting it into the company’s database.

While all this sounds scary, it is nothing compared to the personal information that people (or family members) have already put online through social media sites. Very often, the cat is already out of the bag!

If your “cat” is already out there roaming around and you wish to have an online place to share and collaborate, I have one suggestion. Take a look at geneanet.org. It begin as an online genealogy site in France. I began using it to do research on the Lorda family there. But it has expanded greatly in recent years. The site now functions in nine different languages.

Here is their promise:

  • Uploaded data and documents are free to view for anyone
  • You can contact any other member for free
  • GeneaNet will never use your personal data for commercial purposes
  • You can remove your data and documents at any time

 

Secretariat’s Big Heart

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I recently downloaded the movie Secretariat, in order to share this wonderful story with my grandchildren. We watched the movie together and then I took them to the horse races at the Sonoma County Fair. I gave each of them some money for “betting” (I placed the actual bets for them). My oldest granddaughter listened carefully to my very brief explanation of the information in the racing program. Then she opted to place her first bet on the horse that had the best odds of winning. Nice choice…she had no idea that the jockey was Russell Baze, the “winningest” jockey in America! My grandson was most distraught as his first bets all lost. But in the final race, his horse took first place and that was all that mattered. He went home with a big smile and a little extra money. My other granddaughter found a $20 bill on the ground and opted not to place any bets. She went home with more money than the rest of us. She still got to eat unlimited popcorn and watch the races. Wise girl!

I am not an avid horse racing fan. Some years I manage to see one or more of the Triple Crown races but many years I see no races at all. My interests always seem to be with the “rest of the story”, the people involved. I wondered about the actual people in Secretariat’s story…

Like all movies, some important items were left out and others got “rearranged.” What caught my eye was that the 1989 autopsy revealed that Secretariat had a heart more than twice the size of most race horses and three times the size of a regular horse. Wow. Evidently, there have been other race horses known to have had a big heart and that led to the search for a genetic component. (I understand that is all old news to many people.)

The results have shown that there is a genetic component…a mutation on the x chromosome that is also influenced by whether it is dominant or recessive in a particular animal. I noticed many news articles about how many famous race horses with the “speed gene” can trace their linage back to others with the same genetic advantage. This was a game changer for horse breeding. Suddenly, the lineage from a colt’s mother took on huge importance, as that is the only way a male horse can inherit an x-linked chromosome. In addition, some females horses have a double dose of the speed gene, one on each of their x-chromosomes. This guarantees that every one of their offspring will carry the speed gene. Of course, there are many other factors that influence a horse’s performance on the race track.

And that is the first point of my story. Both parents make equal contributions to our genetic and cultural heritage. In the case of adoption, there are contributions from both birth and adoptive parents. We are an incredible mix, a great cultural and genetic melting pot, all linked to each other.

Not only do we have DNA from our parents, it turns out that we also have DNA from other people inside our bodies! Autopsies have revealed male DNA in the bodies of women. Studies can more easily determine that because it is easier to find Y DNA inside a woman that to find outside Y DNA in a male or to find outside X DNA inside a woman. But surely, all do exist.

How? Scientist’s say that there can be DNA from outsiders coming into our bodies through transfusions, transplants, pregnancies (mother to child, between twins, from an earlier pregnancy, surrogacy), etc. The articles I read do not mention it, but I will venture to say that sexual relations also enable us to pass DNA between partners. And that brings about other mind-boggling ideas…such as the DNA from a woman’s previous sexual partner making it’s way to inside the bodies of her later children or into the body of her later partner/s. It’s no longer a need just to worry about STDs. Oh my gosh!

My second point is that, while DNA studies are wonderful tools for genealogy, we need to remember that they are not perfect. We can be misled.

 

Time to Downsize

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My Sonoma County property goes on the market this coming week. I have spent half my life in this home on two acres, so making the decision to sell was not at all easy.  This was the dream home my late husband and I bought with great excitement and hope for our future. He lived only a year in the home before he died in an accident. This was the home where I raised my three children, where my grandchildren came for Easter-egg hunts and picking blackberries to make jam. How could I ever give up my “nest”? I have spent nearly ten years just thinking about the possibility of selling it.

The choice to sell was purely practical. I simply no longer have the time, energy, physical and economic resources to maintain this particular property. Selling it would give me a great deal more freedom. I could retire. I would have more time for my family and more time to do the things I want to do for myself.

I am a bit of a “packrat” so cleaning out the house seemed an overwhelming task. It involved an entirely new way of thinking, a new life-direction. No more saving the tools, books, materials to complete all those planned projects…things like gardening, photography, sewing, crafts, etc. Cleaning it out meant no more saving things just because they have sentimental value to me. At first it was heart-breaking.

I had heard stories about people who started cleaning out the home of a deceased parent, became overwhelmed, and finally ordered a dumpster. I did not want to do that.  I did not want to send perfectly good and usable items to the land fill. I am not a yard-sale or flea-market person. I did not want strangers from craigslist coming here when I was alone.

I made a list of major items and sent it to my children (and a few other relatives) so they could pick out things they wanted. Then I researched all the tax-deductible donation sites. It was a maze of sorts…Goodwill would not send a truck to pick up items, but The Salvation Army would. Only St. Vincent de Paul would accept “rags”. Craft supplies could go to the Girls and Boys Club. All my sewing patterns and fabrics found a home where they will benefit a local senior citizens center. Ten bookcases of books went to the local library. Unfortunately, 50 years of National Geographic magazines went to recycling. I have become an expert at using the ItsDeductible software program that calculates donation values.

The cleaning out task became easier and easier, something I had not expected. It was easier because I knew that most of what I donated would find a new home and new use somewhere. That was more important than the tax-deductions. In fact, the tax deductions would not cover the amount of billable time it took to pack, process, and deliver items. In the end, it all feels good.

But what about all the genealogical materials? That was easy. If it was something I could find online, it went to the library or to be recycled. In the end, my library of California research books, survived the purge. Even though my Bancroft collection can be accessed online, it too will follow me to a new home.

A huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders and my mind. I have a new focus on a very short bucket list…time with my family and friends, publishing the Carrillo family project, and continuing with a few select research clients.

I write about all this because I know there are a lot of folks out there like me who are facing the same overwhelming task of downsizing. If you are one of those people…I suggest you let it happen.

 

UPDATE: I sold my property in August of 2013 to a wonderful family who truly appreciate its wonderful and unique features. I am happy to report that, besides regular use of my weekly trash cans, I made only one pick-up load that went to the landfill.

Forensic Genealogy Institute

I am pleased to announce that I have completed the Forensic Genealogy Institute in Dallas, Texas. It was a jam-packed three days of classroom lecture, discussion, networking, and practice provided by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.

Forensic genealogy is genealogical research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications.

Topics covered at the Institute included:
Guardianship
Probate
Real Estate Rights of Way
Mineral Rights
Citizenship and Immigration
Capitol Mitigation
Military Repatriation
Unidentified and Unclaimed Persons
Cold Cases
Fees and Contracts
Ethics and Liability
Work Products and Client Documents: Reports, Charts, Affidavits
Finding the Dead to Find the Living
Forensic Techniques for Genetic Genealogy
Missing & Unknown Heirs
Witness Roles
Adoption Cases
Business Structure
Due Diligence
Marketing
Techie Tools

 

This was an advanced level course taught by top-notch experts in the field including:
Michael S. Ramage, JD, CG
Dee Dee King, CG
Debbie Parker Wayne, CG
Catherine W. Desmarais, CG
Pamela Boyer Sayer, CG, CGL
Leslie Brinkley Lawson
Kelvin L. Meyers

 

 

Finding Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan

The thrill of genealogical research is the thrill of the hunt. We use our brains along with knowledge and experience to find that elusive prey (usually already dead relatives). As many animals have discovered, man included, the hunt is far easier (and more exciting) when it is a collaborative effort. The same is true of genealogy, especially in this modern era of social networking.

As you may have noticed, I like to use historical events along with modern movies and activities as an educational tool for my grandchildren. My mechanically minded five-year-old grandson was especially captivated by the submersibles used to find Titanic. When we all got tired of hearing him talk about Titanic (mostly how to build a better ship and how to avoid icebergs), I went looking for something different that involved submersibles.

I discovered TIGHAR ‘s July 2012 expedition to search for Amelia Earhart’s plane. It was perfect. We watched the movie Amelia, we monitored the TIGHAR expedition progress in real time, we used Google Earth to explore the South Pacific (even underwater), and then we watched the Discovery Channel’s program about the expedition. We made a visit to San Jose’s Tech Museum where he practiced with a small robotic submersible (with camera) and we joked about tossing a tiny replica of Earhart’s plane into the tank!

Meanwhile, I have been captivated by the search for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. It is possibly the most popular yet-to-be-solved mystery of the past century. While I have jumped on TIGHAR‘s bandwagon by conducting genealogical research, note that there are numerous groups and websites devoted to the same search via different Earhart theories (crash and sink, captured by Japanese, etc.). What I love about TIGHAR is the collaborative approach by experts in every field made possible by sharing information through easy communication and social networking. Anyone can join in, exam all the reports and data, debate any facet of the various theories, and contribute in their own way. Each and every one of us can have our own “Indiana Jones” experience!

My grandson has picked his focus from Amelia’s story: desalinization! He seems to think it is a very easy thing to find or create potable water on a very remote, deserted island without power. With potable water, he thinks lots of people would want to live on Nikumaroro Island. We recently watched Tom Hank’s movie Cast Away and now he has a much better idea of what life might be like on a remote and deserted island!

Do you have a special project where your donated research skills (or even just your interest) are needed and appreciated? Today’s social media provides a great way to participate and collaborate…

Serendipity in Armendarits

Anna Sorhobigarat and Jean Lorda

Anna Sorhobigarat and Jean Lorda, 8 August 1912, Biarritz, France.

Nearly every genealogist eventually has a serendipity story…that moment when you feel like someone, perhaps an ancestor, has led you to find something special. Here is our once-in-a-lifetime serendipity story…

Several years ago my daughter invited me to travel with them on a road trip through the Basque Country of France and Spain. She was not a genealogist but she knew that I might be interested in researching her late father’s family. Aimee asked two questions of me: how many days would I need and which locations would I want to visit? Gosh, I could have skipped all the rest of the trip (Tour de France, running bulls in Pamplona) and spent the entire time researching! But I was reasonable. I told her two days and provided the names of four towns in Southwestern France: Hasparren, Meharin, Ayherre, and Armendarits.

Bob’s grandparents had come to America immediately following their 1912 wedding and had never returned to the Basque Country, not even to visit. I went looking for the wedding photo. Many years before I had managed to get Bob’s Uncle Jean to let me make copies of two of his parents wedding photos. This was not an easy thing to accomplish; Jean was a typical Basque and he was concerned about letting them out of the house to be copied. One picture was of the bride and groom alone and the other was of the entire family. I couldn’t find the group photo. I searched throughout my house and finally ended up at my storage unit looking for the group photo. I was running out of time. I pulled box after box out of the piles and rummaged through them. Finally, as my available time was nearly exhausted, I found it!

I made copies and I also included a list of family names, towns, an email address and my daughter’s cell phone in France. That being done, I was ready to go. I should have been a little more prepared but I also knew that much of what we might research might be available online and that it might also be in Salt Lake City on microfilm. True, but I would soon learn it’s just not the same experience.

Our first stop was the Mairie in Hasparren, where Grandpa Lorda was born.Thankfully, my son-in-law knew French. We worked quickly…three people on a mission with little time to spare. Dave took photos of each record so that he could translate it later. As we gathered records we realized just how important the Basque home was…it was referenced in every single record. So we asked about one home in particular, Gambourria, where Bob’s grandfather was born. Yes, it still existed! The woman at the Mairie provided us with a map and directions. When they closed for lunch, we went first to the local cemetery and then continued our adventure.

We drove towards Ayherre, found the road outlined on the map, and drove down the road to see Gambourria. Even though it was several hundred years old, it was still very much a home and working farm. To me, it looked vaguely familiar…a lot like Uncle Jean’s property. We knocked at the door and tried to explain who we were. The family who answered the door did not own the property; they were renters. We were granted permission to take photos of the exterior of the home. It was an exciting experience and before we left I scooped up some dirt to bring back with me. I wanted to sprinkle it on the grave of Bob’s grandfather so that he could be buried with a little bit of his native soil.

The next day we headed to the Mairie at Meharin, where Grandma Lorda was born. They gave us a room with tables and chairs where we could work and brought in the indexes and the books of records, some dating back to the 1700′s. Then they left us alone to work! Oh, the joy of actually handling such old, original records! Again, we worked quickly, locating records and taking photos.

When they closed for lunch we went across the street to the church and cemetery. I continued to look through the cemetery while Aimee and Dave spoke with a woman who had poked her head over the fence and wondered what we were doing. Aimee gave her a copy of the wedding photo and she said she thought she knew someone who might help. As we began to leave a woman drove up and stopped to talk with us. She turned out to be the widow of a man whose godmother was Bob’s Great Aunt Augustine. We chatted and took her picture and then she drove away. It was an amazing experience.

We were hungry but there was no restaurant in Meharin. The next town was Armendarits, where I had hoped to get in the last of our research. However, we decided to continue on (and skip the research) if there was no place to eat in Armendarits.

But we did find one restaurant. It was open and filled with Basque men eating lunch. They all stared at us as we were escorted to our table. No one gave us a menu, they simply began bringing the food. It was simple and delicious. We had no idea how to pace ourselves because we did not know how much they would ultimately serve. By the time we finished, everyone else had already left the restaurant. No one brought a bill so we all got up and Dave requested the bill at the front desk.

There were two women at the desk. One began to answer Dave’s request for the bill and the other asked Aimee why we were there. Aimee knew enough French to understand and answer something like, “family genealogy”. I took out the wedding photo and handed it to the women. They looked at it closely.  They knew the people in our photo! It was as if that photo was our passport into their family. From this point on, things were a blur.

All our questions, explanations, and translations had to go through Dave. We quickly realized that they were the family of the sister of Bob’s grandmother. Each of the women left and returned with a group wedding photo of their own…with many of the same faces as in our photo. After awhile an elderly gentleman walked in the door. His name was Arnaud. He went straight to the counter to see our wedding photo, looked at the bride and groom, and announced “Anna Sorhobigarat and Jean Lorda”. Anna was his aunt, although he had never met her because he was born after they left for America.

There were so many questions and so much to catching up to do! Arnaud remembered his cousin Angele visiting when he was a teenager. They had gone fishing together and she had stayed upstairs in this very same place. For so many years we had known how much that trip to France meant to Angele and now we were hearing how much it meant to them too. We shared as many family photos as we could find. It was truly a magical day that none of would ever forget. Grandma Lorda must have helped guide our way to her family!

The following month Aimee returned to visit them for about a week…a challenging French immersion experience without Dave to translate! However, Bob’s sister joined Aimee on that trip and I am sure her sign language skills helped a lot.

A few years later I joined Aimee for another visit with her Basque family. We continued with some genealogical research with the help of an expert local researcher. Aimee experienced yet another serendipity moment when she went to a different village to get a family death record and discovered that a stranger who helped her find her way to the office was the grandson of the person whose record she was researching! We explored the local area and relaxed in their slower pace of life. We learned little things about Basque life that don’t come across on genealogical charts or even in letters or photos.

While we were visiting, we got word of the death of Uncle Jean back in California. It was also a sad time for Arnaud, who grieved for the loss the American cousin he never met. When it was time to say our good-byes we knew that it would be our last good-bye to that wonderful old gentleman.

Finding that Serendipity moment for yourself is not so difficult. First, actually go visit the sites where your family lived and worked. Google earth makes it possible to check it all online in advance. Second, bring along copies of old photos filled with people and places. Bring along copies of names, dates, and locations so that you can share. Be willing to explore, to get a bit out of your comfort zone. When you do to a place, search out the old folks and ask questions. That total stranger just might be a relative!

Legacies

I recently watched the movie Pearl Harbor. It gave rise to thoughts about what sort of legacy is left by a generation. My parents and grandparents left great gifts for us. They learned to make the best life possible in spite of the Great Depression. Most important, they helped bring peace out of two World Wars. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

There were personal accomplishments as well. Dad passed along his love of history. Mom taught me how much good just one woman can do for her community. My aunt taught me about being a nurturing mother by her example. My grandfather taught me to love the beauty of our earth and respect for all its creatures.

I now have the opportunity to pass along to my grandchildren knowledge about the accomplishments of my own generation. I thought about those accomplishments…desegregation, the Viet Nam war (pro and con), women’s rights, fighting for the environment, computer technology, mapping the human genome. It seems impossible to choose one thing over another.

Last month I spent time with my grandchildren at the two National Air and Space Museums in Washington, D. C. and realized that our accomplishments in space are what I want to emphasize to them right now. I suppose my choice comes from my own fascination with flight.

In the movie, Apollo 13, I was reminded of how the entire world watched and prayed for the safe return of our astronauts and that is the kind of moment I wish they could experience for themselves. I want them to understand the importance of creating and following a dream, about solving technological challenges by thinking outside the box, about pride in what we can do when we put our efforts together. It is the process of achievement (hopefully for the better good of all) that I hope my grandchildren will learn.

Think about what legacy you want your own descendants to know about, understand, and appreciate. I am talking about your own personal accomplishments. Whatever it is, share with them. Talk, write, gather photos, news clippings, and memorabilia. Inspire them!

 

P.S. In the picture above, the pilot of the plane on the left is Jack Nickel, a fellow graduate of my Luther Burbank Senior High School class. Besides being a NASA test pilot, Jack helped train the astronauts to fly the space shuttle.

How Did You Get These?

Johann Wannenmacher Family of Portland, Oregon

This past week found me experiencing a common problem from three different perspectives. The problem? What happens to the family photos, documents, and memorabilia?

In most families, one person ends up being the caretaker, be it through designation or not. Regardless of how it comes about, the situation is often the battleground after the old folks are gone. In the past it was time-consuming and expensive to make copies of the photos so it may have been done for selected photos, if it was done at all.

As a researcher, I need to find the family’s treasure trove. I don’t care how they got there. If they were acquired in an underhanded fashion, people do not usually admit to having them. Understanding human nature is a key factor in the hunt for the “caretaker”. It becomes a ticklish subject that requires a non-judgmental attitude.

This past week, I spent two full days with two of my mother’s cousins scanning the old family photos held by another cousin of my mother who was moving to assisted living. It was a lot of work but it was also great fun because we worked as a team. There were times, however, when we wondered, “How did she get these?” Certain family dynamics became clear and the implications did not make anyone feel happy. It would do no good to ask questions or cast blame. We put our private thoughts aside and soothed ourselves with the knowledge that at least everyone would have access to the scanned copies.

Also this past week I had to face the truth about my own actions (on the other side of my family). Years ago I had been trusted with my grandfather’s album and an album of my aunt’s artwork. I had promised to scan them, provide copies to family members, and return the originals. It is still not done and they are angry with me. They have good reason to be angry.

Yes, I do have an excuse. My scanner broke just after I obtained the albums. Before I had the money for new parts, my computer died. I had to spend my funds on a replacement computer. Fixing the scanner would have to wait. However, the advance of time took another toll; the old scanner would not work with the new computer. At this point, I just set the albums aside until I could buy a new scanner. Once I did, I discovered that the albums were too big for the scanner and scans would need to be stitched together. Sigh.

At this point, I had too many other priorities taking up my time. I put the scanning task aside yet again. I do the things that need to be done, usually according to immediate importance. Those albums simply never got to the top of my to-do list. But that is the wrong attitude. I was thinking of myself and not others. I deprived them of the joy of those photos, not just for a little while…for many years. I feel awful about it. My sincerest apologies go to my family.

And so, after seeing this problem from all sides, my best advice is this: be patient and understanding with the “caretaker”. Don’t judge. Don’t yell at them. Don’t ask “How did you get these?” Just figure out a way to accomplish whatever needs to be done in order to get the job of sharing done.

If you happen to be that “caretaker”, keep in mind that you do share your ancestors with others.  If you cannot share the originals, then share scanned copies. Avoid scanner problems…there are many affordable services available to help you. (I just saw where one service will digitize 1,000 photos for $50.)

Lost track of your cousins? Researchers can help you find them. In addition, you can put information online so that your unknown distant relatives have a good chance of finding you and that treasure trove you hold. Believe me, sharing it will bring joy to all!

April, 2013 Update:
I completed the scanning of family photos and sent disks to my father, aunt, uncle, sisters, and cousins. Monkey is off my back. It feels good!