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Monday, October 27, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

The Family History business is a funny old one.  Very scientifically or rather based completely on personal experience and riddled with anecdotal evidence, I have found that on the whole, people interested in their genealogy can be divided into two very distinct groups; The Missionary and The Elitist. 

The first group are the Missionaries and they want the world to know who they are, who they come from and are always willing to find their connection to you no matter how tenuous. They prefer their cake completely frosted sides and all. Their trees have many branches and all leaves are of value and interest.

The second group are the Elitists who want to know where they came from, even revel in it at times, yet disregard all branches but their own as unworthy.  They would rather pretend their family tree had no offshoots other than the one on which they are smugly perched.  Basically, do not deign to call yourself kin if you have not grown up with them in their inner circle.  They prefer frosting only on the very top of their perfectly baked cake.

I am sure you can tell where I see myself on this spectrum.  A cake without frosting is an abomination and a person with a genetic relationship with you that is as close as a great or great-great who is unwilling to share their knowledge of said relative is right up there with the naked cake.  Who the hell do you think you are? 


Maybe I'm too emotional to discuss this today and will come off crazier than I really am so, in my defense,  I confess that I am writing from the dizzying position of my seasonal Ménière's compounded by the loss of a particularly important research binder this week.  However, disclaimer now given, I have had this pet peeve about near-relations who blank you for a very long time.

I am forever grateful to my Missionary cousins Patsy (Cass side), Susan (Nye side) and the late Alfred (Lucas side) for generously sharing theories, photos and research with me on our relatives and for being genuinely happy to have found our connection.  But I have come across far more Elitists in this line of work which begs the question why they put an open tree on Ancestry.com in the first place?  It could be they just aren't savvy enough to make it private but, sadly I think it is more likely to wield power over others.  "Of course we know the full story but we wouldn't share it with you...if you don't know it already than there must be a reason...these are my relatives, not yours."  I have felt real proprietorial push back on more than one occasion and new acquaintances have dropped undeveloped after an initial, dutiful acknowledgement of my enthusiasm.

Me:  "I have been searching this line for 20 years, I can't believe I found you!  You must know... etc."
Them: "Yes, nice to meet you,  I'll check with the person who did the original research when I can."

Six months pass and I drop them a note to jog their memory.  A year passes and I drop them another short email reminder that I am still waiting and still hopeful.  I hold back the full tsunami force of what has now grown in me from the joy of finding a strong lead to my conviction that these silent cousins hold the only sledgehammer capable of shattering my research wall.  They must talk to me, they must tell me what they know.  Why won't they tell me what they know?  What could possibly be difficult in answering a simple question?  "  What does it mean they haven't logged into their account for 3 months.  Well it means they've been there within the past year and still not answered me! ANSWER ME DAMN IT!

But I digress.   I think there should be a family research code.  And I think it should begin:

 As an amateur genealogist I (state your name) promise to share with all my cousins either known or unknown the family history I have collected on our mutual relatives deceased for over 50 years.

And because right now my hope is diminishing daily on one particularly strong lead I was following, I think there should be a binding parameter of time in which to share.

I (state your name) promise to share said research within one month of any request for it. 

I think I only ask for what is reasonable:  Frosted Cake for Everyone!






Friday, October 3, 2014

I Ain’t No Challah Bread Girl?


I Ain’t No Challah Bread Girl? 
(Well, that’s what the waitress thought.)

We all have our triggers—the little things that make us react irrationally.  I was recently reminded of one of my biggest irritants—being taken for a provincial, doughy, middle-aged Midwesterner. In reality, I’m only one of those things, okay two because I think it is fair to say I’m mid-life.  But I’m a transplant and one who has lived in two of the largest metropolises in the world and traveled a bit more than most.  Before my accent betrayed me I have been taken as a local in London and in Paris.  I lived 11 years in New York City so I don’t consider myself a natural Midwesterner though I don’t deny I take to it very well.  But my adopted region’s craft beers and fine cheeses have made me soft.  They have rounded my edges and made me less the sophisticated, urbanite I once thought I was.  I’m in the midst of an identity crisis.  What I feel I am inside is not what the world sees on the outside and don’t I now know it.

My family and I recently dropped down to Chicago for the night because every so often I need to feel the rush of a big city again. And Chicago is lovely. However, three things stand out to me from this quick trip.  In chronological order, I’ll begin with dinner.  The waitress was hellbent on us enjoying our trip to Chicago.  She wanted to know if this was our first time here and what we thought.  I assured it wasn’t even our first time in this particular restaurant.  But she kept whizzing by with laughable frequency until Richard preempted her fifth or sixth pass by raising his hand in a stop motion and declared the scallops were still good.

Later, walking back to our hotel, a woman who was no stranger to a grift or two, was trying to sell tourists postcards she’d clearly pocketed in bulk from a souvenir shop.  When I told her I wasn’t interested she told me I should watch how I carried my pocketbook, that I could not trust anyone.  It was too much. Whatever veneer of belonging, ease and naturalness in my surroundings that I thought I sported on my travels was clearly cracked and peeling.  I snapped, “I have lived all over the world, I know how to carry my bag!”  Boy, I told her, right?

It was the next morning though, that I had to completely surrender to my new image—the one that strangers saw but that I did not want to accept.  We were in a diner to have breakfast and the young waitress told me without any request to do so what Challah bread was.  Who the hell doesn’t know what Challah bread is I thought? I wanted to scream “I’ve been eating Challah bread since before you were born, don’t you dare try to expand my horizons with something you clearly only learned since taking this job!  Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.” 

And that was it.  I had mentally compared myself to a wizened sage wise in all matters involving yeast (in this case) and found the situation ridiculous, embarrassing and angering.  I complained aloud to Richard when the waitress had left and, no, I did not order the Challah bread.  It turned out Richard didn’t know what Challah bread was.  It wasn’t big in England. Sigh.

I know I often make my own problems but I was let down to realize you can take the girl out of the city and that time can take the city out of the girl.  I need a pied à terre in New York.  Some place to keep a toehold in urban comings and goings, some place to keep the gelatin from setting in my current mold.  Who’s in?  I’ll make sure we have plenty of Challah bread French toast for breakfast.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reunions and Cemeteries and Cupcakes, Oh My! (2)

PART TWO


It was rainy in Syracuse for a great deal of our visit so our camp was washed out and our plans for cemetery hopping were slightly hampered.  We visited quite a few of the known ancestors though and even identified some new stones of "cousins".   Probably the stand out cemetery visit for comedic value was to the old part of Oakwood which turns out has some rather new parts tucked into it.  Diana was driving her Mazda 5, I was in the front trying to direct and Di's eldest daughter was in the backseat with her boyfriend.

Quite a few of the old side roads were not maintained, some roads were too washed out to risk.  But Diana made a right turn to go up a hill.  It was not on my directive, in fact I specifically said not to go there.  One side of the muddy road was 6 inches shorter than the other.  Clearly, Diana was channeling our Dad who would take us on the most terrifying rides up to his land on Woodchuck Hill in Gram's old white Falcon on a road that he often had to get out and repair before we could continue.  Dad knew his treacherous road well, when to gun it, when to tilt our collective body weight to one side or the other, when to brace for stomach swirling drops into pot holes whose true depths were hidden by muddy water.

But Diana was just winging it on this rainy day.  "I can make it" she boomed as the Mazda's plastic frame went airborne.  We landed and bounced back and for on the tires like a pinball caught between rubber bumpers. TILT!  We made it to the top of the hill in one piece only to see the road really was not meant for passing through.  Diana did a slippery three point turn in the elbow of a two hills and got us back down on the road.  Not before, in our vulnerable state of debating how to proceed, a lone man came out of the woods walking our way.   "Shit!" Diana screamed and rolled up all the windows and locked the door.  Nothing offensive about that. 

Down again on the "main" road we found the ends of the earliest part of the cemetery.  The chapels had been abandoned, the old pyramids to the kings of Syracuse were boarded up to stop further vandalism.  And just inside a woody corner, we found a lion sculpted for one brother by another.  The cemetery where the boy is buried wouldn't allow the monument. Oakwood was less restrictive and gave it a private lair of honor. 

Oakwood Cemetery doesn't need ghost stories, it is a pretty formidable place in parts.  Creepy and dangerous too.  Diana vocalizing distress at the sight of an unexpected person was how we all felt.  You ebb between a false sense of calm and a real sense of creep.  For example, at the lion, we were feeling a little stronger though we were moving as a pack and I kept one foot pointed toward the car.  But then Alice's boyfriend had to go up over a little hill in the woods to relieve himself.  He came back with a very odd paper mache, devil's mask.  Right, I'm out of here.  He left it on a bench but still the mind boggles as to what circumstance that brought that mask to that place and why we had to see it.

Undaunted by the devil, Diana decided we need to find the grave of Robert Garrow.  I remember when he escaped prison.  Diana was babysitting and I was with her because I didn't want to be home alone. I don't know if we heard about it in the morning or what because there was no cell service in the 70s.  But we were keeping a watchful eye for him everywhere.  I was certain he would turn up on our doorstep.  But I felt that about Big Foot too back then. 

We went to a new part and spread out.  We were further away from the woods now but that didn't stop two deer from wandering out among the stones to feed.  I didn't believe Garrow was buried in Oakwood since that is where his most famous victim was found.  Famous to us because, like us, she came from the Valley.  She was the unfortunate example held up to all local kids to not hitchhike.  Why would Garrow be buried here?  Finally, I brought up Find a Grave on my phone and sure enough not only was he in Oakwood but supposedly right near where Alicia Hauck had been found.  Her case was infamous because the role of attorney/client privilege was challenged by it.  Well, we found him and the rain was coming down again.  I don't know what I was supposed to feel.  All I felt was sorry for the people who owned the adjacent plots.  You can't pick your family but you should be able to put a clause in your plot purchase agreement that you don't want a serial killer moving in next door in the afterlife.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reunions and Cemeteries and Cupcakes, Oh My!


PART ONE

I’m fat like a bloated tick from two week’s worth of trips to Green Hills Farms and the Ecklof Bakery.  My mind is swirling with new information and ideas of how my research should proceed.  And my heart has recharged from all the wonderful and generous friends I have met again or have finally met in person on this trip.   I’m lucky, happy and looking forward to sharing more history.

The first reunion was in Syracuse  with my HS friends.  It's only been 30 years so we all still look pretty damn good.  

I never had any interest in HS reunions before Facebook.  They just seemed forced and competitive by nature. Movies suggested them as the perfect venue for the once mighty to fall and the meek and geeky to rise. 
                                                     
My love/hate relationship with Syracuse made it easy to just think I'd never go back.  No mom, no childhood home--and all the drama associated with feeling adrift in what was once my harbor made that the simplest choice.  

But then Facebook brought so many people back into my life and through the years the cream once again rose.  This is the second time, I've gone back just to spend an afternoon with these friends. And this time an extra night out on the town that is at once familiar and foreign to me. 

It was so much fun to hang with our adult versions while we laughed at the kids we once were. We've decided since we're getting older we shouldn't wait for every 5 years
                                                          
 We thought it would be nice to travel around every few years and have one of us host a weekend.  I'm up for the first in summer 2016.  Sounds great to me.



 





 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Prodigal Courtier


I went to lunch with my husband yesterday and saw something I haven't seen in 30 years.  It was a little porcelain figure of a frou-frou, 18th C. French Courtier dressed in white and trimmed in gold.  He had a partner once.  She too had been dressed all in gold trimmed white.  Her greatly ruffled skirt ballooned out over an imaginary, whalebone hoop.  She wasn't at the restaurant though.  He seemed to have taken another lover with more color somewhere along the way.


I couldn't help myself, I reached for him surprised to find he wasn't securely fixed to prevent such a groping as the one I was about to give him.  Like King Kong and Fay Wray, I clutched him in my giant hand and stared into his eyes. I didn't think I'd ever see him again in my life and yet here he was keeping watch over the falafel eaters such as myself.  I turned him over to see what his mark was but instead I saw a bright pink, garage sale sticker that said $1.00.  The waitress walked by, "Is this really for sale," I asked?

I was told everything was for sale and so I placed him between Richard and myself and dug out a dollar for my prize.  Within minutes, the waitress came back, there had been a mistake my dollar went back in my bag and my courtier went back to his shelf.  Just like that, found, recovered, gone.  But the truth is, he wasn't the same guy I had back in the day.  The beautiful couple I had played with at Grandma Lucas' house until they became mine were long gone.  Smashed in fact, by my brother in an act of cruelty.

Here's the thing.  I didn't care.  I didn't mind when the waitress took him back.  She was mortified and I was really okay with it.  I didn't need him, it was just really nice to see him. Like an old friend I'd lost touch with that I chanced upon again.  The thing that struck me was how common he must have been in his time.  I thought he and his dancing partner were unique to my grandmother.  Something she alone had but my couple were New Yorkers.  This gentleman is clearly a Wisconsiner.  These figures were probably all over the country in the 1930s. 

Perhaps it was not as surprising to see him again as I would like to think.  Years ago, in the same Antique Shop on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, I saw Grandma Nye's exact green vase on a shelf.  The vase I was told was rare, Depression-era glass.  Meanwhile in the jewelry cabinet I saw the wedding ring that Mabel was given by her first husband.   I now look at these things as having been popular and numerous in their day.  Not in the same way people of a generation have a collective awareness of TV shows or songs--common experiences of an era.  These are material things dependent on taste and budget.  My family's possessions would not have been all that unusual in the scheme of things.  We all like to think we're unique but there's always crossover somewhere.

These material things come and go and turn up where we least expect them.  Diana lost a charm off Grandma Lucas' charm bracelet once.  It was our very favorite one--the artist's palette.  Di called me very upset and out of nowhere I came over very wise and told her "Everything is transient.  We had it once but now it's gone.  Life is just that way, you have to accept that and not lament its loss".  Seriously, I responded like that mostly because Diana needed me to even though I did feel a pang in my gut.  Fifteen years later I was on ebay and I found the exact charm that was lost.  The company who had made them and many other ones familar to me had gone out of business in the 1960s but somewhere, someone had the stock still and here it was being offered.  I bought one and gave it Diana for Christmas that year. 

Life and all who sail in her are transient but sometimes the road has roundabouts and familiar scenery.