Is Spring Far Away?

February 10, 2011 at 10:13 | Posted in ancestry, Bits and Pieces, Current Events, family research, Gardening | Leave a comment
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One of the wondrous things about this time of year is how spring fever hits many of us. I realize a goodly portion of the country is now hitting cabin fever levels and are snow weary because you are still digging out while tentatively watching those weather forecasts! But many of you are pouring over those seed catalogues and planning gardens. When we lived up north we longed for the first hibiscus and then daffodils and tulips and crocus. I loved walking in the woods to find lady slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits and my all-time favorite wood violets, especially in yellow! When I no longer lived in the woods I turned to small African violets in every color under the sun to fill all of my window sills. I literally have over 60 plants at one time. When we finally moved to Florida my green thumb became very brown and dried out. I could not get anything approaching flowers to grow. Oh, I went every spring and bought all the pretty petunias and pansies to fill the yard. Then came thorny bougainvilleas that had wonderful flowers but horrid thorns. Eventually I learned that this area loves lots of lush greenery but few flowers. I adjusted and went for the mid-tropical look like everyone else. I attempted vegetables but never reached the bounty that we had enjoyed in the northern climate. Sand does not always like vegetables and they aren’t real thrilled with sand either. So it took me time to adjust once again to another learning curve. I wasn’t willing to give up, I just had to find a new approach.

So it is with our families and genealogy research. Sometimes those ancestors are so buried we don’t see where they are. Sometimes the timeframe is off from what we think it should be. And sometimes an ancestor was thriving where we felt he or she should – so we need to change the soil. We need to change the nutrients perhaps. Or the climate. Or the location because of too much or not enough of whatever it is they don’t want. It is easy to dismiss advice of our elders or those who have gone before us. We even equate those simple comments as the ramblings of an old fool – or the stuff family legends are made of. But stop and think for a quick moment. Maybe that favorite dish – that recipe we make because grandma made it because great grandma also made it. Was it adopted by the family because it was gleaned from an old neighbor or friend? Does it not make sense in that we’re Italian but it seems French or German? Try expanding that view a bit – did they move to Germany to follow a lover or perhaps a new job opportunity? Maybe there you will find a missing ancestor and can start anew to trace another branch?

Lately I have been watching our political unrest and stress with growing concern. I decided to plant the vegetable garden for a few reasons. Obviously I want better food in order to be healthier. I want to protect my family from the growing economical issues and inflation hitting our food budget. Most of all I wanted something, anything to take my mind away from all the stress. I wanted to shut out the world and find some peace and quiet for a few short hours. So I garden. I dug the dirt until muscles ached. But I worked the soil until it was ready for my new plants and seeds. I added things the soil lacked. I turned it and tilled until the soil was blended and accepting for my seeds. I set up little starter pots to plant my seeds. Each little pot holds one of two seeds until they germinate. I started with fancy store bought pots but gradually I ran out and had to adapt with other solutions: used plastic containers, old cans, old washed out flower pots, even old newspaper cones. Each choice is another learning experience of what works or not. Within two weeks I am already seeing seeds sprouting, little green shoots peeking through the dirt. This is how my spring fever is being fed now. I can’t wait for what I can’t hurry. It is a process as old as time but it happens in spite of our best and worst efforts. Spring brings new beginnings. And each generation does the same. As we mess up the world around us, the plants adapt and learn to grow in spite of us. Some call it evolution, others call it survival of the fittest. No matter what we do, life goes on in spite of us.

Family does the same. We may walk away but the family exists anyway. We cannot deny those who have gone before us. So it is with the current world situation. Dictators and presidents and kings may try to change people. They want to control them, maybe even eliminate them at times. Yet the hearts of men continue. The desire to grow, to find something better, to find a way to exist is in the hearts of all men. We may not like the choices or even understand them but ultimately man does continue and does find the better way. That is why instead of fighting the dirt it is better to amend the soil, to give it nutrients and fertilizer and water to let it enable the plants to grow bigger, stronger, more nutritious for us or other living creatures. We need to learn from history, not change it to suit ourselves. There is a reason history repeats itself. The bible puts it another way: there is nothing new under the sun. To every thing there is a season.

For now I am working the garden, pulling weeds, watering new plants, watching the sprouts push through to daylight. Spring means new life. So it is for all of us, for all of the world. It hurts to watch when we cannot stop certain things from happening but we know also that these plants have lived for thousands of years and so has man.

This brave little tomato sprouted off a plant that was brown and dead looking. It was left over from last year and spent the winter outside unprotected even through the freezes that seemed to kill off so many of our tropical plants in the yard. It survived and grew new green shoots, then leaves flowers, and now a small roma tomato! The plant proudly boasts more new flowers too scattered around the brown seemingly dead branches. It has decided to live no matter what my opinion of it was.

Treasure Chest Thursday July 22, 2010

July 22, 2010 at 02:48 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, family history, family research, genealogy, Hints and Tips, memories, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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I took off a bit of time from writing to concentrate on family and some changes we are experiencing along with some test of family loyalties through some trying times. Thankfully love for each other has triumphed in every situation we faced. During this time we have each in our own way found what matters most to us. We have each come to the realization that even as we face anger and or disappointment in one another, we can still know overwhelming love and loyalty and even respect for each other. My treasure chest is full of love for all my family and memories of all the special moments we have shared, the tears, laughter, hurts, and joys. This time has made us grow closer and more committed than ever to each other. As a parent I have been touched by the depth of feeling my sons have shown one another as they have grown. Valentino and I are proud parents as we watch each son make the decisions for where their place is to be in life. We can rest assured our sons will never lose their bonds to one another whether we are here to guide them or not. Rather now we can see that even as they may or may not agree with all decisions the others make, they support one another through good and bad ready to offer a lending hand when needed or just an ear to listen.

In the midst of this we also have been enjoying the visit of a family member from overseas. I personally had not seen this person since he was a young boy of about four or five years old. My sons had never met him. When we first met, there was instant love. I was enthralled with his precious smile and his sparkling dark eyes. I just knew our own children (not yet born) would share those same wonderful handsome good looks! Sure enough – they did! And still do! We met our nephew at the airport and immediately we recognized him in the crowd at the same instant he connected with us. The years melted away and once again the smile and dark sparkling eyes dazzled us. Now however that sweet boy is a handsome charming 6 foot plus professor. His personality fit right in to our family mix easily. His quiet strength has been a plus to us as well as his humor. He is an outsider willing to listen and not judge but he is also a beloved family member who is respected and treasured! We are his chance to practice and polish his English as my sons and I practice our broken Italian. For our granddaughters he is the charming gentleman who has captured all of their hearts. I have warned his mother I am going to find it very difficult to return him back home to her! I suspect his uncle is going to find it even more difficult than I will!

One enticing fact is that he shares a deep love of family history. His long term plans include writing about a particular part of the family history. He began to talk about the trials and dead-ends of attempting to find information on the distant relatives. He knew I had already written of more recent family and he also knew I had worked on the family genealogy. What he didn’t know was how much more information I had accumulated in the last few years. As I began bringing out workbook after workbook and file after file, he was in amazement over all the information laid out. It covered the entire pool table – and filled many folders on my laptop! But the best part was that suddenly I was being forced to do what should have been done already. And if he wasn’t enough encouragement a phone call from another relative in Rhode Island was the final prodding I needed. It was time to actually name and label and date as many of the digital images as possible and fit them to their “proper owners” on the family tree. Every trip to far flung relatives meant I gained more scanned copies of old photos or digital images I made of them with my camera. Needless to say there is not a photo for all of the twelve hundred plus people but it felt like double that number as I have been working on them diligently for over a month using every spare moment. For some family members it meant cropping their face out of a group photo. For still others it meant dating them through many photos showing them as they changed over the years of their lives. It also meant labeling all the digital images of the villages and towns and churches and schools and even the old family homes when possible. There are even photos of the streets where family members lived over 200 years ago. I may not be able to prove which house belonged to them but thanks to information on birth certificates I was able to ascertain streets!

So this brings me to today’s treasure chest moment. My treasure chest has become my laptop. Everywhere I go it comes along for the trip. Blessed with a 6 hour battery life, I can steal many moments no matter where I am to work on the photo project. My laptop wallpaper is a replica of an antique print of the family village in Italy. Somehow I find that relaxing as I flip through files and folders saved across my desktop. As I have worked I also made certain to save frequent updates to my portable hard drive. At this point although I am not finished I have also burned CDs to send home to Italy with our nephew and to mail to Rhode Island to another cousin! Let me use this opportunity to once again admonish you all to make backups of all your work. If my laptop crashes, I would be one unhappy woman to have lost all of my hard work! It is not enough to save work only for myself. If a hurricane or other natural disaster were to destroy our home, I would risk losing all of my research. Knowing that copies have been sent to reside with other family members is double insurance against such a loss!

Project Completed .. Or Just Begun?

March 15, 2009 at 14:41 | Posted in family history, family research, genealogy | Leave a comment
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As a major undertaking of love for our sons I began a Family History Book for them as Christmas gifts. I had taken over two years to write short vignettes, recounting of family tales, first impressions, sad times, good times,  about how Val and I met, married, traveled to meet his parents for the first time, and of later visits back to Italy. I loaded it with favorite photographs I had taken over the years. Then I went to Ancestry.com and took advantage of the MyCanvas program they offer free on site.

If you have not yet looked this program over, it is worth the time. There are a few bugs or quirks that I learned to work around such as making sure to not privatize the file before importing it. Photos cannot be bulk uploaded yet but it is unlimited uploads. There are great backgrounds available so I was able to personalize ours for an  Italian look easily. One of those quirky issues is that it is not possible to save to a file on your hardrive or to a CD – they want to sell the books. They do however, allow you to print out copies – but with a few simple restrictions. When you print, the pages with backgrounds do “eat” ink so be prepared. Read all the directions very carefully so you do not forget issues like in order to keep all the page enhancements be sure to print in normal mode when that button is shown. It only remembers five pages at a time to print (although you can do multiples of those five pages). I chose not to add page numbers because I kept adding too many pages – next time I will be more organized about who I add when and where so that I can use page numbers too. Overall this is a great product and well worth the time to learn to use it! I bet those leather covers are gorgeous too!

Now we are getting ready for a trip to see family. So now I am saving all my work of the family stories and family tree to a .pdf format and burning to disc for everyone. Carrying multiple books would  be much too heavy, not to mention cost prohibitive to print. Almost all have access to computers so they can enjoy the book in its electronic version and then save a family tree file to their computer to continue to work on! It will be fun to see their reactions to all of the research. The last time we shared information I had about 300 people – it is now at 743 and a total of 9 generations. Unfortunately, the maternal line is only grandparents and a dead end! Absolutely no information has been found on the maternal side yet! Hopefully this trip will finally break down some of those  bricks and allow a little light in! Of course this is all in reference to Val’s family – my side has probably double that many included so the files put together would number a few thousand folks.

My sister has been doing most of the work on the Scottish and German clans of our parents. She has made a couple of beautiful books on both families. She has been able to include a lot of the information of our area of Connecticut where we grew up and is expanding that now to Scotland and Germany. I figure I can let her work on that while I try to pursue as much of Val’s family as possible before we lose any more information. So many of the records from Italy have been destroyed over time and are continuing to deteriorate. And of course, older members of the family have been passing away. So I must do all I can now before we cannot go further back.

So I want to tell you all about a great blog Nan’s House – http://nanashouse.wordpress.com  – she is the type you feel like you are sitting at the kitchen table with and just gabbing away together! Anyway – she is also a genealogy fan and has some great suggestions – one of which I am planning on learning and using for my project. It is called Passages Express – you will find the link on her blog – they offer a free trial before you buy and the price is fantastic! Less than Starbucks lattes for two weeks! I am now working on the trial offer version but think I am going to invest in their deluxe because the price is too good to believe and it seems to be perfect for what I want to do! I like especially that it allows burning of CDs/DVDs in both North American and PAL formats – perfect for overseas family members!Check out Passages Express and Nana’s House – you won’t be disappointed!

Protect and Preserve

February 24, 2009 at 09:38 | Posted in genealogy | Leave a comment
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I previously wrote about organizing all those notes, Pedigree sheets, surname databases. Today I want to discuss how to preserve and protect those precious photographs. My sister inherited many wonderful antiques and ephemera from her mother-in-law. Wonderful trunks full of family journals, old calendars, cards, letters. All fantastically organized and labeled. Then there were boxes of old family photographs, most labeled with names and dates. Then there were the boxes of super old (more than 100 years old) photographs completely unlabeled, undated. Too wonderful and poignant to toss but no clue to who, what, when, or where. We figure she inherited and did not have the heart to toss either. But that is the unusual – or is it? What will your children say to you in about twenty or thirty years? Mom, dad, who are these people? What were you, they doing? Where was this taken? Will you be there to answer or will they have inherited shoe boxes of photographs of the unknown? When they open those shoe boxes, what will those photos even look like? Will they be stuck together like glue and tear as they attempt to separate them? Or will ink and colors be so faded that the faces are rendered unidentifiable? We live in Florida – land of rain, , lightening strikes, brush fires, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The time to think about protecting and preserving is sooner rather than later! One horrible occurrence could wipe out years of family memories and years of family research. Start by taking some tips from contingency planners and insurance companies. Be prepared ahead of time instead of thinking it will never happen to you. Instead assume it will!

First — keep copies of everything possible. Scan and burn to CDs. Then pass a copy of that CD to an entrusted friend or family member who lives elsewhere. Do a sort of round robin exchange – everyone can find space for a few CDs for someone else. If your cousin holds for you, you return the favor and hold for her. This is even better if you do not live next door to each other! Some folks even go so far as to rent a safe deposit box for safe keeping of the really old special family certificates such as foreign birth and marriage certificates. You have to decide how valuable those are to you and if your budget can handle the expense. Some banks used to offer one free with an account.

Second – back up any of your information on your computer to an external hard drive. I make special folders for the photographs and back them up to the external hard drive along with any family files. Computers do crash and it is not easy to reclaim lost data when that happens.

Third – use a watertight container to store your photographs and other papers. When the roof falls in allowing in rain, or the flood waters rise, this may save those precious photographs.

Fourth – take those digital photographs of the family keepsakes and heirlooms. Maybe it isn’t even a priceless (financially) object – I have an old hat of my dad’s. He’s been gone 25 years but that old straw hat is seen in many photographs and it is priceless to me! Label and caption the photograph. That way at least everyone else will know what it is!

Fifth – don’t forget cassette and video tapes. Burn them to DVDs – not that difficult or expensive to do at home now via SDS cables and a little time. Again remember that CDs and DVDs also degrade, break, or scratch. Make extra copies to share.

Lastly – There are commercial web sites that one can pay to back up computer files  to and store photographs. Using the commercial genealogy sites is an option but remember that the information you post there can bring privacy and copyright issues into play. Research who owns those files you post if you want to be sole owner. Remember too that some family members may not want their information posted on the Internet – so a family tree specifying Living as a name is not really helpful to recreating that destroyed or lost tree! Be especially careful posting information and photographs of children.

I have been spending a lot of my spare time scanning all of our family photo albums. Each photo is scanned, touched up if needed (old color inks faded) and then labeled with names, dates, locations, occasions. Maybe a funny or accurate caption is added when appropriate. These are grouped into manageable file folders. All my wedding folders are into one folder, honeymoon to another, baby’s first year to another, etc.  I tried to take time to label many of the actual photographs also. Never use ink on them but soft pencil on the back to at least give names. If you really want to be industrious, you can print out a scan and label that. Those are a great solution for the family group shots to know who was whom!

If you feel overwhelmed, start with family groups shots, especially the old ones. Then pick one or two favorites from each holiday to save and protect. The reality is that it is not likely all of your children will want all those scenery photo shots from all the family vacations anyway. Trees are nice – but how many tree photos do they want? They will be taking their own someday too! Do this in small bites and you will not be so overwhelmed. And as you take new photos, make it a habit to label them instead of going back later! Your children will thank you someday!

Spring Cleaning and Organizing

February 23, 2009 at 14:30 | Posted in genealogy | Leave a comment
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My next one or two posts deal with some tips to being organized. That will make them a bit lengthier but hopefully worth the reading. If followed most of these tips will save you a lot of time when you research your family tree. Being organized and methodical helps accomplish the research rather than wasting time searching through old work. The further your tree spans back, and the more surnames found, the more important being organized means. All of this will take one afternoon or evening to sort and set up but you will be happy when finished. There will be no more hunting through envelopes, looking behind cabinets, or clearing through a messy drawer or desktop looking for a scrap of paper.

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