Virtual Gramma – Look Her In The iPAD!

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As a genealogist, I come across many family migration stories. Several generations ago, many people left everything and everyone behind for a new life; often to never communicate again.

Women sometimes left small children behind, men left entire families, with the intent to one day bring them over to reunite with him. There are many happy endings to these journeys; there are also relatives who were left behind posting in newspapers, searching for loved ones who they hoped made it to the promise land. The heartbreak that occurred would be insurmountable I imagine, regardless of how tough and brave our ancestors were.

If they did connect again, it was through the postal service and what we call “snail mail” now. And the letters traveled on ships and took what must have seemed a lifetime to reach home. And then traveled by plane. I’ll spare the history lesson right there; it took a long time by todays standards. I myself recall buying special air mail paper to correspond with friends who left for Europe after college.

Now for my own family’s migration story which I never could have foreseen. It’s been a year and a half since our small family including three pets (two cats and a dog) boarded a plane for Australia. This decision was a big one, especially in the sense of being an only child and taking the only grandchildren away from their Gramma in the States. She was devasted when my husband had a job offer in Pittsburgh, but this? We ripped her heart out, but we took it with us.

Gramma is with us virtually now. She’s on Facebook and I am a super poster with her and the rest of family and friends we left behind in mind. We FaceTime on a near daily basis. She joins us for breakfast, sometimes lunch, occasionally dinner (during daylight savings) because she’s sleeping on her side of the world. She joined us just today when I brought my eldest daughter to lunch. Good thing I have a great data plan on my iPhone! She is there with us at swim lessons, our hotel stay this past weekend, and we are there with her when she travels to Colorado to see her sister, and when she sings with the band on a night out. Gramma even gets captured in family photos while on the iPad.

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Things you hear around our house:

“Look her in the iPad when she’s talking to you!”

“Take Gramma with you upstairs to watch you play.”

“Don’t moon Gramma and Papa!”

“Talk to Gramma first and then you can play on the iPad!”

Gramma has watched them grow in height and vocabulary and she hears the ruckus of us trying to get them ready and out the door for school on time. She’s there for the yelling, the tears, the injuries (although she was spared of the head getting cracked open on a rock because we were FaceTimeing with her Colorado sister at the time!!) and the living room dancing, plays, and songs.

When we ask our kids which country they like best to live in, the lightning-fast response is the U.S.. Why? Because Gramma and Papa are there. They don’t mention other reasons like friends or places they miss (no offense folks!). And it’s not just because they are family and visited for 2 weeks last year. It’s because they are a constant in their lives and share stories every day. Maybe it’s also the care packages…

Technology is our lifeline and I don’t use that term lightly. It is the bridge between us and family in the States. Our own iPads and iPhones, and all of our Apple products really, are worth every pretty penny. In pennies-per-use and the family glue as a result, these devices pay for themselves again and again. The best thing is being there and we will see Gramma when we travel to the States next month!

No doubt you have your own virtual stories, so feel free to share!

Trans-forming the Family Tree

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You’ve finally gotten your 2nd, 3rd, maybe even 4th generation family tree completed, because everyone is currently living or you’ve been there for someone’s death, and ordered that massive canvas wall print to give as a gift to everyone during the holidays.

Then you get a Facebook friend request from someone who shares a family surname and you figure, oh it’s just a distant cousin by marriage. Then you click on the person’s page. There’s something very recognizable about the person’s picture, although you think she’s a celebrity, so why is she contacting you?

And then, it hits you like a ton of bricks, but oddly at the same time as if those bricks then become light bulbs, and everything made sense… Cousin Brian is now cousin Bree.

This is precisely how I and several other family members were introduced to our transgender (male to female) cousin.

The last time I saw my cousin as Brian, it was almost 2 years ago. Before that, I believe it was 1993 at a family reunion. The time in between was painted like this is my mind: Brian was a successful, intelligent, and dedicated businessman, had a wonderful family with 2 kids, and enjoyed time with friends. I always found him to be off the radar though, which I assumed was because he was tireless in his business as CEO and providing for his family. Our paths sometimes crossed through email and centered on our family’s history. We are second cousins; our grandmothers were sisters. He had started documenting the tree long before I had, and in collaboration with my mom. Once I got the genealogy bug, we stayed in touch on things as they related to our family.

We had such a nice visit 2 years ago when Brian was in my neck of the woods at a conference. My mom traveled up to see him too. It was a warm, fun visit, full of laughter. I remember when we parted; I wished I had known him better as I was growing up because I really enjoyed him as a person.

Today, it’s as if I’ve gained the relationship I had longed for then. Bree is the same sweet soul inside, and is absolutely on the radar now with a very active Facebook page and social life to fuel it. She’s also sold her former company and has more time to spend catching up now as well as documenting her physical transformation from male to female. We had a near 4-hour marathon conversation shortly after I accepted that friend request. I already love my new and improved cousin!

So now that the family has met Bree, either in person or virtually, there’s no difference to her being an important part of our family. This post is not to be filled with the particulars of our family journey or hers, but to create a discussion about how to respectfully address these new members on our trees. We need to because it is so relevant to genealogy, family history, and prevalent in our society.

If you don’t yet know of a transgender relative, it won’t be long before you’ll be making updates to your tree! Some prevalence data might surprise you.

http://www.gendercentre.org.au/resources/polare-archive/archived-articles/how-many-of-us-are-there.htm

As a genealogist, I want to get this right and respectfully handle the update or entry of a transgender family member on the tree. I’ve seen random bits of input from many in genealogy forums, however it’s from the genealogist’s perspective, not the transgender person.

I’ve never heard that sharing this deeply physiological and emotional information with the world is an easy one. Many transgender people just want to “blend in” and not draw attention. Some are visible advocates for the population. And often when the transition is complete, it’s not a mere name change update on the family tree putting down “aka”, or “formerly known as” and picking the opposite gender silhouette.

This process isn’t frivolous or a trend and there is a wealth of thought and emotion that are entwined with the transition process, which in itself has varying degrees.

Transgender people have to go to great lengths just “to be me”. Birth certificate, social security, drivers license, passports, taxes, all require significant documentation to be changed and some states/countries do not allow it. If you’ve been married and changed your name, you already know the cumbersome process, now multiply it by 100.

Once the name change is complete, it becomes a “dead name” in the transgender mind. Just as families may feel the experience is like death, in losing the person you once knew, it’s also a right of passage for this new and true being to emerge. On public trees, transgender people want to be seen as who they are, not who they were.

This poses great challenges to us genealogists, as future generations won’t have the paper trail to follow while using the new name. It also becomes confusing on a tree as those who were/are married may appear as if in a homosexual relationship which is now commonplace in society. If they had children, it would be as if the children had two moms or dads.

Another challenge to getting this right is the limitations of the major family tree software companies and organizations. There’s no transgender option to choose. I dare say, there may never be. Two major players in this space, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org are Mormon-run. To get over this Granite Mountain sized hurdle, they would have to agree to accept transgender as an option.

Without delving further into the religious aspects of this, in the meantime we need to work around this to do our best to leave a breadcrumb trail in history from the person of today to the person who biologically arrived on this earth in the past. I don’t have the answers, but I’m hoping we can start the dialogue and gain ideas that truly transform the family tree.

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Judging A Family Tree By Its Cover

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Out of my blog hiatus I come to tackle an important topic that I’ve seen on many message boards. My hiatus and this topic are closely entwined. Hopefully this reaches many people and changes their hearts about why people do DNA testing on Ancestry.com and then either don’t connect their results to a family tree, have very few people on their tree, or keep their trees private.

My hiatus was the outcome of getting a DNA test back on a family member that turned out to be half related to me. The detective in me focused every bit of spare time and effort to figuring out this mystery; I’m still in the midst of it.

I began with a shared DNA match to this family member and then viewed that person’s tree, created a mirror tree from that info, and made it a private tree. Then I found another match, added that branch to the mirror tree, and so on…. I currently have about 10 matches and their direct ancestor line created on this huge 1000+-person tree now. I’ve compared centimorgans across these matches and determined how people relate to each other. I’ve scoured obituaries to add as many living descendants as possible. This is in part, an effort to place my family member on the right leaf of this tree. Due to the highly sensitive nature of my work, I made the tree private and access by invitation only.

Of course as I found close matches, I was hungry to see their tree to confirm theories of shared common ancestors. More often than not, I was met with no tree attached to the DNA match result, a tree of just a few folks and they were showing as “Private”, and trees that were entirely made private. I’ve shared the frustration like most people on the message boards and Facebook pages. Why do the DNA test if you’re not willing to attach a tree or make it public so you can connect to relatives?

What I’ve learned throughout this 4-month hiatus is that people are taking the Ancestry DNA test for many reasons. Some have learned they were adopted and want to know who their long lost family members are. Some were never told the correct birth parent and their birth parent never knew they existed. Some people simply want to know their ethnicity and aren’t interested in their family tree. Some have taken the DNA test to help others who are on the hunt for family and either they relate to them or sadly they don’t; the result just sits there on Ancestry. Some don’t know how to connect their results to their tree yet, plain and simple. Some people want to have zero of their personal information floating in cyberspace. There are many reasons, both profound and simple, given the intricate nature of families.

I didn’t realize this blogging hiatus would become one of my greatest purposes as a professional genealogist. Because of this personal family pursuit, I’m getting close to finding a birth mother for one person, and on the trail to find two other birth fathers for matches. Sure, it’s a beautiful thing when we can collaborate and share what we know, but it’s important to realize and respect those who don’t share the same purpose. I encourage everyone when they see that lock on the tree or no tree at all, to contact that person in a gracious way and see what happens; try not to judge a family tree by its cover.

Have State Archives, Will Not Travel

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Most of us into genealogy, religiously watch TV episodes like Who Do You Think You Are and Following Your Roots. We all get a charge when {insert celebrity name here} walks triumphantly up the stairs to a state archives building with hopes of uncovering new information in their ancestral quest. These buildings themselves are often quite majestic and full of rich history.

But when you’re immersed in assisting a client with their family research, it all seems so grandiose to propose going to the state archives to research and hopefully retrieve juicy documents relevant to the research. If you’ve got all of the time and money in the world and love to visit on your own, fantastic! But as an efficient genealogist and steward of my client’s funds, I approach the work strategically.

I am an hour away from my state archives building so there’s mileage, my hourly rate, parking fees, research time there locating records, copying records (as permissible) or taking copious notes. It just doesn’t make sense to me to do all of that without a strong sense that the records will produce what clues I am looking for. Granted, some records are only available if you visit, as photocopying might be prohibited but I consider it one of my last resorts after exhausting other research paths.

My latest client would most likely agree that this approach was well worth the time and money, as I have ordered what will amount to roughly 400 photocopies, through the state archives online portal from the comfort of my home office. They will be shipped to me and I didn’t have to look up, look for, or photocopy all of these documents. Delegation! Price tag, $98.20.

Time that my clients pay preciously for, should provide a return on research investment from using resources effectively, and give the most bang for the buck.

Only drawback so far is waiting up to 10 business days for the near ream of paper to arrive. Ah, the life of the impatient genealogist.

 

RootsTech 2014 and a month of Mormon

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Any genealogist worth one’s salt (yes, pun intended) at some time must make the pilgrimage to the city which boasts the most family history records on earth.  This was my first time there and having exhausted the microfilm deliveries in my local Family History Center, it was time to develop a robust research plan and couple a trip to the Family History Library (FHL) with RootsTech 2014, the largest US gathering of all things genealogy, technology, history, story.

Sparing the play-by-play (which is what Twitter and Facebook are for), I will glean some of the highlights. Day 1, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Her keynote was filled with the luscious ingredients of family, farm and food woven together to create a beautiful and moving story about her life on the plains and humble blog beginnings to the amazing brand she has created. Her story was peppered with images of her children, her basset hounds, a close-up of her Marlboro Man husband’s backside in Wranglers and a precious image of a cow walking right up to the open home windows to say hello. Oh and of course pictures of delectable food dishes! I had no idea after the moving keynote event that I would get an opportunity for a selfie and a quick Q&A with her!

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The FindMyPast seminars were one of the most informative and additive to my Irish research, however if I could skip the sponsored lunch with them that I paid $25 for to watch them go back in time in a Delorean and the Dr. Who TARDIS, I would. I was on a mission to replace that moment in time with much better food and never ate a thing in the convention center. 

Other seminars that were particularly useful to me were digital organization and workflows, blog features with WordPress, and communicating in a sea of social media.

I did have a ticket for late night at the FHL on Friday night, but I started to get smart about planning my days so I could beat the crowd. I skipped the next 2 days of keynotes after discovering they would be online at rootstech.org later. No sense in smearing my mascara each morning during those emotional speeches so instead I went to the library. Here was my view:

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Yes, I geeked out here while most people were on date night. While I think I only uncovered one piece of info to help my own research along, it was always a nice visit there. All of the volunteers (read Mormons on missions) were a delight and so flirtatious even the eldest of the ladies!

Food-well once I got past the conference food experience, I was on the hunt for local, tasty eats and I have a couple recommendations which are all within walking distance from the Salt Palace Convention Center. Sixth and Vine is a yummy American comfort food stop in Nordstrom. You get to watch your meal prepared before your eyes (counter service for 1) and it warms your soul. I got braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, spinach and the best onion rings I’ve ever had. Dinner was Naked Fish and I had the best sushi I’ve ever had-seriously, no lie, it was like butter. The spicy garlic edamame was very tasty as was the vegetable tempura but you must try the sushi!

To wrap up these highlights in a pretty bow, I have to say the thing I yearned to do the most with each spare moment was to view the sights around Temple Square. The architecture is magnificent and no detail spared. The Tabernacle was acoustically the coolest place to whisper in and hear your sound travel on the wind. As I was wandering through, I came across a man training his Belgian Malinois puppy. Why is this a highlight? Because my conversation with him made me realize I should never get one of this amazing breed even as badly as I had wanted one before. Too much drive and needs constant training, like all day and shouldn’t be left alone. OK, that’s all I needed to hear.

So in a matter of days, I was back to my reality at home and then snowed in for 3 days with the kids. I still have so much more to blog about and need some real time to do so. But this month would not be complete without a Broadway Show about…you guessed it, Mormons.

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Talking with the dead

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I was trying to get this blog post out sooner but then I realized (besides my lack of time this time of year) that this would be better fitting during the holidays when most people celebrate their faith, traditions or customs and remember those that are no longer with us. I wonder if by merely remembering them in the holidays past, we are communicating with them.

The Long Island Medium would probably say yes. In fact, I took my mom to see her in October. I knew I had a spiritual experience there although I don’t practice a religion. I really felt she talked with the departed and brought comfort and closure to so many people that night. Will their holidays be a little lighter this year after that experience? I hope so. What do you think? What experiences have you had of a supernatural kind like that that helped you to find peace with losing someone? Every time we think or dream of a person, look at the clock at the same time out of habit, have a light that flickers at a certain moment, is that a sign from the dead?

One tidbit I’ve shared on my personal Facebook page is the connection I’ve felt between my grandmother, her sister (my Great Aunt) and my now 2-year old daughter. After having our first daughter through IVF, we were a bit shocked when we found out I was pregnant with a second while in the urgent care suffering from an upper respiratory infection. This day we also heard the news of my Great Aunt’s passing. Aunt Margaret was like a surrogate Gramma to me as mine passed when I was 13 on Thanksgiving Day. Growing up I always felt it was hard to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day when my Gramma was taken from us on that holiday. Cutting this story to the quick, my daughter was born later that year (12 days earlier than her December due date) on November 28th, the same date as my Gramma’s passing. This year of course the day fell again on Thanksgiving. A birthday celebration with this new little life has brightened even the saddest of memories of loss. I am a firm believer that if you pay attention and are open to it, signs and communication come from the dead.

As a genealogist, I feel like I am in constant touch by bringing stories to life from the grave. It’s the untold relationships and stories that I stumble upon that enrich my own family search or provide insight and clarity to others. I welcome you to post replies sharing signs you’ve received or other amazing events that have occured and how they’ve brought you closure and closer with the dead. Have a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year!

Data driven crazy…by Google

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That’s me currently. I’ll admit, I do love research and technology. It’s the behind the scenes data and interconnectedness that amazes and perplexes me. Sure I hit roadblocks like any other genealogist, but the ones I am finding myself up against lately are of a technology nature as it relates to starting my business.

I get asked pretty regularly, how’s your website traffic, what’s your reach? I just assumed I could go into my web hosting service and see the data. It must be buried pretty deep because I couldn’t find anything and the support boards weren’t any help either. Time to spend some time and do this right.

Google Analytics was the recommendation I found at every turn. What, it’s free?! I’m sure the catch is that Google has access to my data in my website, maybe more. I can deal with that, I think… So I pulled the GA switch this weekend. From there, I went to my Facebook company page and figured what the heck, let’s promote this page and I created a paid ad with a fixed budget not the crazy $5 per day. I set up target audience demographics, interests etc… I thought, this is way too easy. And it really was! I downloaded both the Facebook Insights and another analytics app that pulls in the GA data. Now, I’m hooked. I can tell in an instant how many unique visitors, what’s my bounce rate and how long they stay on each page of the website. Just plain cool.

Google has some cool technology typically so I thought I would check out the Google Glass tour that started in Durham, NC. This proved to be an underwhelming experience compared to all of the great tech endeavors Google has been part of. After waiting in an hour long sun-baked line with my children (2 under the age of 5) and our caregiver, it was finally our turn to see what the buzz was about. I put the Google Glass on, it kept trying to find a connection. It didn’t understand my commands, or actually my question “Ok Glass, where am I?” until it was my last moment with this contraption. Finally the screen above my right eye displayed the words “Durham NC” and then showed me on a map. Hmmm, do I need a small piece of glass monitor over my right eye to show me where I am? Perhaps I should have asked how to say “good evening” in Japanese. As a genealogist, the most practical purpose i considered this Terminator type eye piece would provide was the ability to take photos of graves and dictating what was being viewed. I could easily pull out my iPhone for this and as far as pics, the $1500 current pricetag of Glass would more easily translate to a new Nikon.

While I continue to build my business, I will be keeping stock of the steps and technology along the way. Watch out there could be a lecture in my future! In the meantime, I wonder how many new visitors liked my Facebook page or visited my website while I wrote this? Ok Glass, where am I?