Thursday, May 12, 2011

National Genealogical Society Conference

It's been awhile, I know. I feel like I've gotten bogged down with a few things in my life and being here in Charleston, for this conference, feels like a breath of fresh air. It's a little weird how doing history on any level just revives me.

Yesterday was a little strange. I think I was a bit overwhelmed with the crowds and slightly underwhelmed with the first lecture (although, not with the opening general session which I'll get to in a bit). Also, identity theft is kind of stressful, especially once you realize that you've just cancelled the card that gives you any access to cash, and oh yeah the other card is maxed out with reserved funds to pay for the room and the car. Still I got things rolling on that end again by today, but yesterday I just retreated to my room for most of the day.

But I will say that I really enjoyed the general session yesterday morning. The Archivist of the United States (head of NARA) spoke about the things they are doing to make their resources more fully available. Then Buzzy Jackson, author of Shaking the Family Tree, spoke. I loved her book and her presentation was fun as well. It's a good reminder that it really is about getting out there and telling the stories.

So I got back into the groove today, and I am going to sessions and visiting the various vendors. I've already gotten a free t-shirt and am entered into a raffle for an iPad. And, shortly, I will go to hand in my application for a $1000 grant to to help with my GAR project. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

That is all for now, there will be more pictures and updates later.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Before Oakland was there...

The eastern shore of the San Francisco "Bay" (its actually an estuary) was once known as Contra Costa, the opposite coast. The name speaks volumes for the assumption of the center of attention for settlement and life in the neighborhood. But if it wasn't for that opposite coast, San Francisco would not have grown up, quite literally.

Before settlers rushed to find gold in the Sierras, there were huge stands of redwoods on that opposite coast. Sure, Oakland is named for its Oaks, but only because the redwoods were already gone by the time the town got big enough to really need a name.

Some speculate that they were the oldest and tallest groves of redwoods in the country. We will, of course, never know for certain. But we do know that they were a prominent feature of the hills. Indeed, they were a necessary point of triangulation for navigation through the Golden Gate and into the estuary.

But none of that mattered after 1849. Sure people were keen on coming through the Golden Gate, but they were more keen to get to the gold and some of them were wise enough to realize that the real fortune was to be made in setting up shop at the point of departure for the gold fields, in order to provision the prospectors.

Shops and their shopkeepers needed buildings. So did saloons, whore houses, missionaries, the military and all asundry who got to San Francisco and decided to stay. But one thing that San Francisco has lacked was wood.

Now a ship, devoid of its passengers and crew, can be harvested, but so too can the bounty of the opposite shore. No one, after all, was really using the resource.

And so the redwoods of Oakland were harvested, and the hills were denuded. I suppose it allowed for the grand presence of the oaks to be more prominent, but it was a loss.

I walked down into a path that led down along a creek. This was simply a place in the middle of a neighborhood with paths for hiking with your dog after work or your kids on the weekend...but there along that creek stood enormous stumps. I know that I am romanticizing, but I felt in what was left the immense power of the tree that was. The power of the place that was destroyed before there ever was a there, there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shameless fundraising....

I know that the economy is bad and I know that there are many of you that are struggling, so I hope you will take this request in the spirit that is offered: if you are drawn to give, if not, enjoy what I have to share with no remorse.

You see, I'm working on this project to investigate and write about the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) veterans who are buried in the GAR plot in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. This is not a surprise to those that know me, as I've been talking about it a's a picture of the memorial at the site:

For many of the soldiers, I have been able to locate information about them at a minimal cost and through subscriptions to databases I carry for my personal genealogy work, but some of them are absolutely elusive. Others, I have a just a hair of info and would like more. But getting more costs money.

My plan, especially for those with little info, is to send away for pension records. I am able to obtain a basic packet on a soldier from the National Archives for $25. I don't have an exact number of packets I need to order, but it is more than just a few which makes my financing of this a very slow process, and frankly, I'm worried about the project dragging out. I'd rather not be working on this in 5 years.

I feel passionately about telling these stories, and I would like to share parts of them on this blog, as well as getting them published, when the research is done.

So when considering what to do, I thought about the recent trend of micro-financing, and so what I'm proposing is micro-investing. If you would like to help sponsor this work, I would be so grateful. I would let you know what soldier you are sponsoring and share their story with you and when I publish or share the info with one of their family members I will be sure to credit you for supporting the research.

I am not a non-profit, so you cannot claim this on your taxes, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to telling the stories of these veterans who fought so long ago to keep our country whole and bring freedom to thousands. There is even the chance that you could be sponsoring the research for the story of one of the black soldiers and their officers who were at even greater risk if they were captured in battle.

One stone reads: "Gone but not forgotten." I would like to make that phrase actually live for these men.

If you would like to donate, go to the PayPal link in the sidebar. You can send funds to me at once you've logged in. If you prefer not to use PayPal contact me at for instructions. I am glad for any amount you may wish to contribute.

Please watch my blog in the coming weeks, as I begin the process of telling the stories of these veterans on this site.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What we don't know

I don't like mystery books. I'm not sure why, but they've just never appealed to me. But I do love mysteries.

I first realized this about myself when helping a patient apply for a copy of his birth certificate during my first years working in dialysis. We got stuck on his parents' names. He told me the story of his life, how he'd been born and his father questioned whether he was the father and the family had put him into foster care. He, therefore, didn't know the full names of his parents.

He was able to give me the name of the agency in Brooklyn that had place him, and amazingly, they still existed. They had his records archived, including pictures of him and grades from his early school years. We were able to get his parents' names to get a birth certificate (allowing him to get a California ID), and the agency mailed him a copy of all his records.

It was, I suppose, my first genealogical research. And it was exciting. I got to listen to the stories of this gentleman about his life and find out a little bit more for him about his past.

The mysteries intrigue me and they drive me crazy. My own family mystery of the Miersba family is so tantilizing. I know who and what they are once they are here in the US, but I cannot find who they were back in Prussia. Cannot get clues for why Gottlieb and Suzanne picked up their 5 children and moved half way across the world to make a new life in Minnesota.

What are your family mysteries?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just the beginning

I've always been interested in history. My memories of my favorite books were biographies of Louis Braille, Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller. I liked the excitement of learning through other people's lives.

I got my undergraduate degree in History from the U of MN, but kind of figured it was useless. Well, now I want to make it useful.

I've been working as a social worker and a therapist, and while I love the private therapy practice I have, the daily grind of social work is no longer for me. So what to do....I've decided to expand my excitement about history and genealogy and eventually translate that into a business. This blog will be a part of that.

I will share my musings on the work that I am doing on my own family history, learning about genealogy, and the practice of researching. I'll share the stories I find and the arcane bits of information.

If you know of anyone who would like to have me do a bit of research for them, let me know. At this time, as I learn my trade (so to speak), I am offering my services for free and I'll let you know the limits of my ability to discover the stories you might be looking for.