Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Write an Obituary That’s a Genealogist’s Dream

Michael and I had left the meeting and were picking our way around puddles in the parking lot. Everything in the brisk, early morning air felt surreal to me. On another day I would have blamed the feeling on the lack of caffeine, but not on this morning.

“Hey,” my husband, Michael, began. I jumped. 

“What?” I yelped, caught fussing in my own thoughts. At the sound of his voice, my mind bolted to wondering what new disaster I’d missed, hoping it was only dog poo. Looking at my boots, I muttered, “Did I step in something?” 

“Huh?” he said, watching me curiously. “No, it’s just that you got a little intense back there, with the obituary and all...”

Michael isn’t particularly indirect or careful as a rule, but as we had just arranged for my father’s cremation, I wanted to appreciate his efforts.

“Oh. Really?” I managed, feeling my raw, bruised emotions rising. I gulped, thinking back to the meeting. “I just want to do it right.”

“I know,” he sighed. “Starbucks?”

I nodded, grateful for a change in subject. Michael’s a very smart man, having survived decades with me, but we had never been in this situation. We never had been the first point of contact. We had never gotten that first call in the middle of the night. We had never been the first to hear that Death had dropped by to make a pick-up. In the span of seconds, were called up to direct the show. Suddenly, we were no longer the kids. We had transitioned into directing of my father’s end-of-life show. We had to make the decisions; big, sad, tear-drenched decisions, each one exposing new knots of pain and anguish, unleashing tsunamis of worry and tears. How did this happen? When did we stop being kids?

We pulled ourselves together; Michael was quicker at it than me. I started by reminding myself that I knew something about death and the details. After all, as a writer and a genealogist, I see someone’s post-death paper trail almost daily. That’s when it hit me and a new layer formed over the pain, anguish, tears, and worry. I was the one who had to get it right. Suddenly, this was more than saying good-bye; this was about the details of his life and death that would live on in permanent records. This was about genealogy!

I wanted my father’s obituary to be a shining example of accurate records and a true characterization of the man that he was. This was not going to be easy. I had all the records, but admittedly, his life of nearly-ninety-five-years, was as complicated as it was long. While I did not want any misinformation floating around, there were some aspects that, despite their validity, would not...honor him. If anyone else wrote it, it was bound to be full of mistakes, but at the same time, while I have written millions of words in my lifetime, I had never written an obituary.

I have, however, read hundreds, or more likely, thousands of obituaries in my lifetime. I knew, as a genealogist, that the flowery “he was worshiped by his community and adored by the birds and the fauna...” not only made me gag, but would also take up words. Since obituaries are now priced by the word, just like an ad, every word in his obituary needed to earn its place. I wanted future genealogists have facts, but I wanted also wanted give them a realistic story, depicting who my father was. 

My father lived in many places over his long life. Something to consider even before you turn on your laptop is where should the obituaries be placed? If they are going to several papers in widespread locations, then you may want to tailor each obituary to make it relevant for the location where it is being published. Keep in mind that each obituaries are now priced by the word, and can cost one hundred dollars or much more, depending upon the publication. I looked at it as my father’s last official mention, and his was a long life that stretched across the hemisphere, so it was worth the investment to place his obituary in more than one location.

My father’s life was fascinating. It held endless tales, but many of them were too long or too inappropriate for his obituary. We had to wrestle with what to include and what to omit. I knew that this was going to be an obituary fraught with feedback, comments, and opinions, but this is typical and I knew that there was little anyone can ever do to completely mitigate this. No one is immune to this, particularly when writing about someone who lived a life as long and as interesting as my father’s, but one can create an obituary that future genealogists will praise. 

Perhaps the most important characteristic that a good genealogist needs, is the ability to make sound, reasoned judgements in difficult situations. Therefore, I have developed a loose template for a well-written obituary, along with some of the dicier decisions that I had to make, and how I made the judgements that led to what I included in the finished copy. I’ve also included some difficult situations that I did not encounter, but that are known to happen.

So let’s get started. Be sure to gather all of your original documents, and check for the correct dates, locations, and spellings, before you begin. If you don’t have original documents, find copies and double check all of it in advance whenever possible. That way you make fewer mistakes and the process does not become an endless chore.

An obituary can be looked at in parts. While every person’s situation is unique, an obituary should cover certain aspects of their lives and putting this in order makes it easier for both the reader and for the future genealogist.

Part One:
This covers the legalities of the deceased and the details at the time of death. Who, where, what, when, and sometimes why, represent the framework to start with, but in the case of an obituary, you start with the most recent news: the death. 

Using my father’s real obituary from The Daily Interlake, in Kalispell, MT, as my example, this is what the opening looked like:

“Douglas Robert “Bob” Birk, 94, of Aurora, Colorado, and formerly of Marion, MT, passed away on November 27, 2013, in Englewood, Colorado, following a short illness.”

Looking at it, you will notice that I began with the full name of the deceased, with his nickname inserted in quotes. This helps identify the deceased to your audience. It also gives future genealogists both the full name and the nickname, helping to broaden their search in an accurate way. In the case of someone who has a common name, the more specific, the better. Giving his exact age, in my father’s case, 94, helps to accurately identify him and to rule out any others.

Where #1: 
This comes in two parts. The first what comes next in order with the second “where” following just a bit farther on in the article. The first mention of “where” lists where they officially lived (i.e., “of Aurora, Colorado”)at the time of death. The first location will define records pertaining to a legal address. If the deceased lived in many places, as my father did, or if the obituary is being placed in a paper other than the where he last lived/died, then it is a good idea to include that local reference. In my father’s obituary for the Montana paper, I listed “formerly of Marion, Montana,” which is near Kalispell, the newspaper’s location. 

This is the simple one; they died, but “passed away” is a gentler term. In this portion, don’t use “croaked” or “was smashed into the street by a garbage truck,” or “was run over by a train while napping on the tracks,” in an obituary. If you must, use gentler terms, no matter how amusing the death or what a great story it makes. Any further description should be listed under the “How” portion. 

This gives the date of death, not the burial. Please give the exact date exact rather than saying something like, “...died last week...” Some newspapers have good, overworked, underpaid editors who will fact-check, but please do not risk it.

Where #2:
The second location covered by “where” follows the date of death and explains the location where they died. This is important as it also tells the future genealogist exactly where to find the death certificate. In my father’s case, it was Englewood, Colorado, near his official address, but different. 

Next comes the opportunity to enlighten the public how the deceased bought it, although, this is again an example of a phrase that should not be used, so please don’t use it. In my father’s case, it was a weird gallstone overload, but at 94, rather than say that he died from natural causes, I mentioned that he died after a short illness. If he had been sick with it for an extended period of time, say over a year, I might have said, an extended illness. If it was a specific disease, such as MS, it’s nice to raise awareness by mentioning it. However, if someone dies of the ravages of long-term syphilis, or something equally salacious, please reconsider mentioning it at all, despite the public health warnings it may give. Usually something like, “following a brief illness” or “in an accident” or even “following a long battle with cancer,” is enough to satisfy everyone.

Part Two:
This is where the chronological part of the obituary begins, usually with the names of his parents (include the mother’s full maiden name as well as husband’s surname), the deceased person’s birthdate, and their birth location. Once this is complete, the balance of the paragraph is good place to insert a brief story or two about his or her early life. Finding accurate stories, even as secondary sources, are like finding a gold mine to genealogists.

Part Three:
This section transitions from childhood to adult life. It contains education, marriage(s), work, and stories about his or her adult life, including honors, accomplishments, activities that were important, travel, etc. It is helpful to include any dates and locations that relate to these events. This is also a good place to include information that develops a picture of the life of the deceased. It doesn’t have to be all awards and achievements and is often much more rewarding to when it reflects the personality of the deceased. It is easier to write in a chronological format, especially at a time when you are not thinking clearly. It is also much easier for the reader to follow and to accurately grasp the details. 

Some things to consider when writing Part Three:

*Should a spouse pass along the way, it is important to note their full name, including maiden name, if you have it, the date, the location of their death, and the location of their burial. 

*A child who has passed can also be mentioned, but unless there is a story to add connecting with the person who is the topic of the obituary to their child’s death (i.e., “he struggled to save little Johnny from the flood, but it was too late”) then it s usually better to wait to name the child until later in the obituary under a list of those who proceeded them in death.

*When making a decision about writing an obituary for the many-times-married- and-divorced: This can be a nightmare, particularly as we are coming to a point where those dying lived in an age where divorce and re-marriage was much more acceptable that in previous generations. Thus, this will be a growing issue for generation to come.It can be a source of frustration and stress. what I have found its that the more marriages and divorces one has had, the bigger headache. This situation is discussed in more detail below, but after much misery, a good basic rule of thumb is to list a marriage if the marriage ended in the death of the spouse while they were married or if they were still married at the time of death and the spouse is still alive. Beyond that, with marriages ending in divorce, it comes down to situational judgement, discussed below.

Part Four:
This part winds down the life of the deceased, giving details and explaining the last pertinent facts, such as what they did after retirement, or in my father’s case, where he lived, what he did, and how, when and why he ended up in Colorado when he died, after living in more than a dozen different places over his long life (I did not mention every single place and don’t feel that you need to do that either.)  

Part Five: 
This is portion, to a genealogist, very important. It is also the part that requires the most thought and judgement. This part lists who preceded him/her in death and those who remain. This is where you need to be precise by listing each person, their connection to the deceased, and by giving their full names, correctly spelled. Here you have a very important opportunity to help future genealogists by connecting the deceased to other family members. The more the better, but unless that fourth cousin played a big role in the life of the deceased, other than simple DNA, then draw a line somewhere after second cousins or in the case of a large family, before. Also, you do not have to include how the niece that preceded him in death was related, other than as a niece, and by clearly giving her full name. However, you can help posterity if, for example, that niece was married a few times, by including her maiden name, plus her married names in order of marriage. 

Much of the same is true for the living, meaning family, but it is vital to consider the  feelings of those left behind as well as the wishes of the deceased. This is where my father’s obituary became tricky. While each person is unique and their lives contain many stories, some aspects of those tales, though important, can present uncomfortable problems for the living, and not just the poor soul wrestling with writing the obituary. An important rule to remember: Obituaries, are also to honor the deceased individual, not to embarrass him or her, or to relate awkward information, no matter how they might have deserved it, or how they might have enjoyed it. 

Issues That May Arise Overall and My Personal Experiences:

I will tell you now that there are issues in most long lives that make us all squirm. If you do not have one of these scenarios in your situation, then count yourself lucky. For the rest of us, some case studies below may provide you with a start to answering some dilemmas.

Marriages, divorces, life partnerships (both current and former), former step-parents, illegitimate children (those relatively unknown or unacknowledged by he deceased), and once-step-children (following a divorce), legal indiscretions, public embarrassments, and life’s little National Enquirer moments crop up frequently and all require difficult decisions. Each one needs to be carefully considered, case-by-case. 

First of all, ask yourself, do we need to include this? How would this help or harm the living? What would the deceased say about including this detail? The key here resides in what the deceased would have wanted and how to present it without injuring or embarrassing the living. An obituary, despite it’s value to genealogists in the future, is also a playground for unasked for gossip, opinions, and the recitation of mistakes, of today. Please do not let this stop you from honoring the deceased, but keep this in the back of your mind as you write this. Even the most benign life can be picked apart by a diligent, disgruntled person and there is something about death that makes these people come out of nowhere. Acknowledge it, and prepare yourself, but give it little more attention. In my case, I received a call out of the blue on Thanksgiving morning just as the sun was rising. This came from a “friend” of my father’s who “just had to tell” me some awkward things. Fortunately, the obituary was complete and this call did not cloud my thoughts as I wrote - another reason to write the obituary as soon as possible and before others interject their “opinions.” Remember that, when writing the obituary, it can only be helped by good judgement and organized thoughts. At a time where everyone is emotional, this calls for rational decisions. Even so, life will present you with some awkward, uncomfortable situations to place in the obituary.  

Some Scenarios:

In the case of a female senator caught in an indiscreet relationship, and has then jumped out of a hotel window in the buff, it is likely that the media has said enough and the writer need not include any more of those details. By the same token, that same media might crave more personal information about the family, thus limiting the personal connections in the obituary to a previously published biography, leaving out as much of sordid stuff as possible. Fortunately, since so much public information is available, such an obituary can then focus on sweet, youthful stories, rather than the unattractive end.

Few of us will be charged with an obituary for such a person, but we will be faced with unusual situations.

A good example are instances where someone outside the usual mainstream family needs to be recognized. In the case of a gay or lesbian couple who were in a relationship for a long time, but were unable to or chose not to have that relationship legally recognized, it is important to include them as part of the deceased person’s family and give them a place of honor in the obituary, as the deceased would have wished. 

Occasionally, a couple is officially engaged, when one dies. They should be acknowledged and named in a position of honor, such as a spouse or life partner. 
What about naming a pet in an obituary? It is certainly proper to name a pet, particularly if the deceased had a close bond with it and would want it to be named. In the case of a service animal or an animal that the deceased partnered with, such as in the military or in a K-9 unit, it would be as unthinkable as to omit a child, particularly when considering the relationship that the deceased had with that animal. This is even more important should the animal have died with them, either civilian or not, in an accident. 

Which brings us to work relationships, such as police, where their lives depend on their partners. It is most appropriate to list their partners and in order if there is more than one. This reference would follow mentions of blood relatives and should clearly define the partnership.

What about (I’m serious) a bigamist or someone who may not have been married, but who lived with two members (both unknowingly) of the opposite sex? Depending on the extent of shock and feuding, or even acceptance, such as Bob Marley’s situation, where he fathered eleven children happily, and in 1972, nearly simultaneously (three of his children were born to three different mothers in just under a month from April 20, 1972 to May 19, 1972)
 with equally happy women, this may require listing them as “dear friends” and even perhaps, “A, mother of his son, Boyd, and B, mother of his son, Dude,” etc., or the equivalent. Judgement, as always, is the key.

Then we come to the most common situation of all: marriage, divorce, and ex’s.

When writing my father’s obituary, everyone in the family asked me, “How are you going to handle his ex-wives?” The only way to decide, I found, was to lay out the evidence.

You see, my father was married five times. While Dad’s first marriage, to my mother, ended in her death just a month after their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, his other marriages were much different. Only his first marriage, to my mother, and his last one, to “Grandma Margaret,” as my children called her, left him a widower. 

In between, there were three marriages and three divorces. These were not pleasant, friendly divorces, but firestorms of litigation that left scars of deep resentment. The sort that never really go away. He never spoke to any of his wives in the years that followed and he would screw up his face at the mere mention of most of them, so I knew how he would feel. Still, this was not good enough.

 So, when considering this while trying to write his obituary, I had to make some carefully considered decisions.  

I found that I had to break it down to make a sound judgement. First, I knew that the marriages that did not end in divorce should be mentioned. Since I was writing the obituary and as his only natural child, I was in it. My poor husband, Michael, had earned his place by being more of a son than a son-in-law. Ditto for our four kids and their families who were there for him till the end. End of the easy part.

Then, there was Dad’s fifth marriage. Dad and Margaret had been married nearly fifteen years when she died, and despite their differences, he spoke of her with no animosity. I realize that this sounds weird, but in the context of his other three forays into matrimony, it makes sense. The criteria fit for her to be included in the obituary, based on the fact that they were still married at the time of her death and on the longevity of their marriage.

Next came Dad’s trio of ex-wives. They had to be considered. Did naming one mean that I had to name them all? What about how they felt? 

Dad’s second wife and I have a pleasant relationship, despite how Dad felt. She has two daughters who my father raised for part of their lives and after their divorce, she had another child who never met my father. This was tricky as the older girls stayed in touch with Dad and should be mentioned. Their sibling did not have that connection. The ex-wife, despite my relationship with her, was not in contact with my father. I did not want to hurt her by leaving her name out, but at the same time, I did not want to conjure up any embarrassing issues or bad memories. 

As far as his third wife, I had no idea where she was, or even if she was still alive. This called for a modicum of research. I called up my “Old Friends Network” and learned that she is allegedly, still alive, but received no other information. So many years had passed that any number of scenarios could have transpired. 

The first thing that I realized was that the situation had something in common with adoption cases that I’ve dealt with. First, in both situations, many years have passed. Second, like many closed adoptions, I have no way to know how his third wife currently felt about this long-ago marriage and that she, like many women who put children up for adoption, may have walked away from the courthouse, never speaking of it to anyone again. Since over thirty years have passed between their divorce and Dad’s death, many things could have happened in her life. Like a birth mother who gave up a child and then married years later, omitting details of that child to her new husband, the same could have happened to Dad’s ex-wife #3. If so, she might have married and omitted any mention of that brief, ill-fated marriage to my father, leaving her new husband in the dark. Should that possibility be true, and I had no way to find out, then to reveal it publicly, in print, might cause pain, embarrassment, and upset. Since news has a way of traveling faster when it contains new, awkward information, it is important, when writing something to be published, to consider the impact on others. I crossed her off the list.

Wife #4 was the easy decision. She passed away several years ago and I knew that after their divorce, she had referred to herself as a widow, erasing all mention of my father from her life, despite their marriage of six years. That feeling was mutual on Dad’s part, so excluding her was an easy decision.

There was more to this than just his wives. I was the only child that came out of any of his marriages, so that part was easy, but a more difficult question was how to handle his step-children? Of his wives’ eleven children and two stepchildren, one child was born after his divorce and never knew him, and out of the remaining dozen, only two remained in touch with him. Who should be named and how should it be phrased? What about their children?

Of his fifth wife’s children, the one that Dad was close to died a decade ago, and the remaining child, his brother, and my father did not get along. That is the polite way of putting it.  The remaining stepson, for many reasons I shall omit here, got the ax.

Naming the children of Dad’s third wife made no sense as it would then tie her kids to Dad, ending up in potentially embarrassing questions and situations. All six of them were crossed off. 

The same was true with the children of his fourth wife. Two more gone.

In the end, I realized that the two stepdaughters that he had partially raised deserved to be mentioned as they remained in contact with him over the years. Ditto for their families.

What resulted is not perfect, but it is designed to do the right thing in a case where there is no perfect solution. This is often the case and from my experience, there is rarely one obituary that pleases everyone. I have even heard of family members posting competing obituaries, each skewed to represent a completely different version of the same person’s life. Please try to avoid that.

Rules to Remember:

  • Have accurate data including dates, locations, and spellings. If you are unsure, do not include data that may be erroneous. Instead, use a term such as “allegedly” or limit the data to what you know as accurate, such as the state and not the city of birth.

*Consider how the deceased lived their lives and what was important to them when creating the obituary.

*Remember the impact on the living, so consider the information to be included from their perspective.

*Try to include accurate stories that fill out the picture of the deceased person’s life rather than using just basic facts.

*Have another close family member check it for accuracy and for things that may have been omitted.
*Despite temptation to do otherwise, leave out the unsavory stories or facts that may have colored the deceased person’s life. Even favorite phrases that are crude, despite his or her love for using them, should be omitted.

*Use the best judgement that you possibly can use. Do not over-glorify and please, omit superfluous, flowery language.

Overall, remember that, good or bad, you are honoring the life of the one who has passed and not the vanity of us who remain. It is not the time for vendettas, recriminations, embarrassing details, or re-creating someone’s life to cover-up flaws, either. The most important things to keep in mind while writing an obituary are honoring the dead, respecting the living, and providing accurate details for the future.

Friday, December 6, 2013

DNA Update

Weeks ago, I began working on a blog post dealing with DNA and genealogy. I have continued to research it, but the intervening weeks have slowed me down while the amount of new information has been racing ahead of me.

Today, I read something on a favorite genealogy blog of mine, "The Legal Genealogist," written by Judy G. Russell, an attorney and Certified Genealogist, that seemed important enough to share. Here is the link:

You see, I was about to order tests from 23andMe for Christmas gifts. I made this decision based on the health part of the testing and not for genealogy reasons. Believe me, there was logic to all of this. However, after today's announcement from 23andMe, they will only provide the genealogical data until the legalities of the health data is worked out. For me, it means that I need to head back to the mall and find replacement gifts...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Life of A Viking American from Cuba

My father's name was Douglas Robert Birk, but he went by Bob or "Bobbie." He never even knew that his first name was Douglas until he was an adult and had to apply for a passport. I, being so concerned with privacy, forgot to mention my dad's name in the earlier posting of this blog. Thanks to my friend, Zoe for pointing it out.

Dad was an American by birth, with Scandinavian parents who owned a ranch in Tanamo, Cuba. My father’s young life was every boy’s dream: sailing, riding horses, being a cowboy, and hunting for treasure. My father loved Cuba and carried his love for it with him throughout his life, but he was also a Viking in his heart, as well as in his DNA. As a Viking, he loved the water and sailed much of his life. 

His early life was spent surrounded by the sea in Tanamo Bay and as a child he fearlessly sailed that huge bay, where sharks were often found and grown men sailed armed with guns in case of a shark attack. I know that he regularly carried a machete as a child, so I wouldn’t doubt that he sailed with firearms as child as well. Life on a Cuban cattle ranch in the teens and twenties was a bit rougher than life today.   

Since he was born in 1918, whenever he traveled to America from Cuba, it was by ship. I vividly remember one story about a trip that he made in 1930 with his very pregnant, 42-year-old mother who was desperate to have her baby in her home state of North Dakota.

This was during the depression and cash was nearly impossible to come by. My grandfather had land and property, but cash was nonexistent. While he tried to get enough cash together to get his wife and impending baby to the states, cash eluded him. As time went on, it became clear that she could not travel alone. My father, their youngest child was the only one in Cuba as his sister was in boarding school in the states. Thus, Dad needed to be included in the trip - and in the cost. Finally in mid-November of 1930, my grandfather had gathered enough cash to book passage to New York for my grandmother and for my father to accompany her. It was a heavy task for a kid just weeks shy of his twelfth birthday, but he put on a tough appearance and boarded the ship.

When he and his mother finally arrived in New York on the 27th of November, 1930, Dad was wearing shorts for nothing else fit this growing boy and New York was bitterly cold. How do I know? As a good genealogist, I noticed that date today when I was going through records. That date shows up again later in my father's life.

Once they arrived in New York, the story wanes. The story does not pick up until they were traveling to North Dakota in late February of 1931.  There, along the way in Oak Park, Illinois, my grandmother felt funny and the little party was forced to stop. Hoping that it was her gallbladder, as no one in the family had managed to keep one for very long, she soon learned that it was not her gallbladder but her baby. Sadly, she resigned herself to the fact that her youngest would not be born in her beloved North Dakota, as her two living children had been, but rather in Oak Park, Illinois. So, she kept her gallbladder a little longer, but gave birth to a healthy boy. Shortly afterward, the little party of three headed for North Dakota.

Eventually her gallbladder misbehaved in typical family fashion, roaring like a Viking hoard. It was quickly dispatched and she lived to be 106 before dying of boredom.

Gallbladders are infamous in my family’s lore. They never go quietly or peacefully, but rather wildly, painfully, and quite dramatically. The worst of them all belonged to my father. 

My father’s gallbladder had always been too much for this world. He had it removed in 1956 after several spectacular, if unattractive, gallbladder attacks. 

Not to be defeated, his liver used the following fifteen years to get even with the surgeon who removed it along with my unfortunately father. By 1971 it had completely regenerated and was very, very angry, displaying its wrath by causing the same uproarious mischief the older sibling had caused in 1956. The doctors were shocked, but within the family we learned that Dad’s gallbladder was not the first thing in the family line that had regenerated or that had been proven to be anatomically weird, such as having spare organs or extra vascular systems.

My father’s Scandinavian ancestry probably contributed to this, as Vikings are noted as being rather hard to kill. Having spare parts and physiological systems would have helped to keep them going, despite whatever damage swords, axes, spears, and longbows inflicted. The Vikings’ initial forays and attacks back my theory up. In their earliest known raids, they made surprise attacks, pillaged and plundered, then swiftly left. Think about it. If they knew that they could regenerate, or that they had spare body parts/systems to begin with, it may have even encouraged them to charge in, take risks,  and leave, safe in the knowledge that, if wounded, they could dash home and heal.

Gallbladders are not very useful but one has no control over what regenerate and what does not. Thus, when that new bad boy announced his arrival, there were many befuddled doctors. In true Viking character, the second gallbladder charged in, wreaking havoc and convincing the medical pros that this was indeed, a gallbladder whose time had come. To be removed, that is and after much consideration and marveling at the weirdness of it all.

Things grew quiet and stayed that way for many years. Then, in the 1990‘s a doctor mentioned to my father that his gallbladder may need to come out. Tests occurred, but as results rolled in, the odds of a third gallbladder waned. Instead, the first two had left a legacy of scarring in and all over my Dad’s liver.

Still, nothing much happened until May of 2013. Somehow, like a factory, his liver began producing gallstones of all sizes - without a gallbladder. Factories, like the companies that own them, really want to see increased production rates. My father’s gallbladder-less liver was an industry leader in gallstone production. Perhaps even #1 in the biz. Doctors and surgeons couldn’t offer an answer and at 94, nobody wanted to begin an expedition into the deep, dark depths of that gallstone machine.

Gallstones were one of the few things that my Viking father couldn’t beat. He chose instead, to head for Asgard, and from there, to gain entrance into Valhalla, the great hall overseen by Odin and to be met by all Vikings who went before him.

The trip took longer than Dad wanted, lasting ten long days and nights. He would wake up along the way, look around and sigh, then ask why he still was here with us. His long journey to Asgard gave him time to say good-bye to his family and was handsome to the end.

On the night of November 25th, my husband, Michael, sat up with my dad, holding his hand to comfort him as the first signs of Asgard appeared on the horizon. 

Dad sailed on, flirting with the damsels as well the matrons, whenever he opened his eyes to check the horizon. Throughout the 26th of November, he looked for signs of Asgard, waving his arms to check the winds and even checking his watch, wondering why his voyage was going so slowly. 

Then, at 3:15 in the morning of the 27th of November, 2013, 83 years to the day that my father's ship arrived in New York, with his very pregnant mother in tow, Dad, as Michael said, "let go" of this world. My father had finally reached the shores of Asgard.

Still, his mortal body remained and needed a proper Viking funeral to be admitted into Valhalla.

Michael, had always jokingly promised his father-in-law a Viking funeral, and as Dad wished to be cremated, the opportunity presented itself. All we needed was a ship for my Dad. Michael, kept his promise by making my dad his ship, hung with five shields on each side, one for each of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. 

He named the ship “Sky Rocket” after my father’s first pony, a fat little creature who moved in quite the opposite manner from what his name described. All ships, need to list the mooring site, their home port, so Michael included “Tanamo Cuba” on this Viking ship. 

Having fulfilled the criteria for a Viking funeral, we are confident that Dad is settling in among his forebears in Valhalla, telling stories, carousing, and living the afterlife that a Viking longs to live in Valhalla. 

Still, I will miss you, Daddy, truly I will. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Book of Mormon, Getting a Driver's License in Florida, and Certificates

My break in posts here has been much longer than I anticipated but it has also given me so much material for this blog. So today, I am writing about certificates. What we think they say, particularly about ourselves and those very close to us, may not be as accurate as we think. Verifying is the only way to be accurate. My father’s birth location is my case in point. I had been told by my father that he had been born in Grafton, North Dakota. He had supplied it on all sorts of records over the years, but I had never verified it (nor had he, apparently).

I learned that this lack of verification is a bad idea and I learned it just recently, by accident, thanks to “The Book of Mormon.” Not the book itself, but rather the musical. You see, a few weeks ago, I was looking for theater tickets to “The Book of Mormon,” which I had purchased many, many months before and upon receiving them, I put them in that infamous black hole, “A Safe Place.” Somehow, that is where I stumbled across both “The Book of Mormon” tickets, and my father’s birth certificate.

Having accomplished my goal, I read over the birth certificate and noticed that Dad was not born where he claimed but in a small rural township in North Dakota. Yes, he was present at the time of his birth, so I’d taken his word about it, but thinking it over, I realized that while he was there, he was not really geographically aware of his surroundings at the time of his birth. Since his parents, my grandparents, were no longer around to fact check my records for validity, I perpetuated the wrong birth location, as did he. Without thinking, I had merely gone by what my father had told me about the location of his birth, instead of verifying the fact, as all good genealogists should do. In fact, when I told him about his place of birth, he was surprised at first, then after thinking about it, he told me that he realized that the township was right; it was where his mother’s family lived. His father was the one who was from Grafton.

It was a fluke that I had his birth certificate. Well, maybe not a fluke but rather a bit of devious forethought perpetuated by my husband, but for good reasons. You see, Dad was visiting us in December of 2010 in Colorado over his 92nd birthday when he realized that he had forgotten to renew his driver’s license in Florida. For some reason, he thought that I had his copy of his birth certificate and when I told him that I did not, he got my husband to help him order a new copy. When the birth certificate arrived, I never looked at it, probably because I was caught up in the holiday chaos. Several weeks later, my husband flew back to Florida with my father, confident that there was no way that the state of Florida would ever renew Dad’s license. 

As an aside, I have to say that overconfidence is a real problem with my husband and me. Whenever we get overconfident and open our mouths to express it, Loki or whomever is running the Great Casino in the Afterlife, pauses to make us eat our words.  Case in point, my husband flew home, the phone rang, and he heard my father telling him how he had just secured his driver’s license for another seven years. Legally. Keep in mind, that the state of Florida asked only that he showed an I.D. and that he had proof of an eye exam in the past year. This was despite of his physical condition (i.e., he could barely walk with a walker, could not fully turn his head, had exceedingly slow reactive response times, and could not use his right leg without lifting it manually) and without requiring a road test. Dad would be able to legally drive until the next renewal time, which would be on, or before his 99th birthday. So, in an attempt to safeguard both other drivers and pedestrians, the next time we were in Florida, my husband “filed” Dad’s birth certificate in a “safe place,” hoping that in 2017, when he next came up for renewal, we might forget where it had gone. Back in 2010/2011, excluding his physical issues, my dad was in overall, robust health. He frequently said that he expected to live longer than his mother had lived and she died at the age of 106. Even the doctors agreed. So, considering his health, we were fairly certain that the battle over renewing his driver’s license would be on our calendar in 2017.

Sadly, despite his valid driver’s license, he began to deteriorate earlier this year, so by the time that I found his birth certificate, I made more than a mental note about his place of birth and all else. That brings me to my next point, which I will explain in an upcoming entry: having the correct information to produce whenever you need to provide it. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Switching It Up, Dreckly. All In About Cornwall!

Time to switch up the rules on my Research Project on Cornwall! Brits, Aussies, and the rest of the family, jump in and tell them about Cornwall!!!!

Where is it? What is it? How do you know? What's better about it than any other place on the planet? Where, other than Cornwall, can you find these 'ansome Cornish folks? What's that picture on the left mean anyway? Why are all those boats lying on their sides below? Lazy, are they? Or is there another reason? Tell us! Tell us today!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I'm baaaaack!

Good Morning, World!

Thanks to everyone for being so understanding during my absence. After nearly two weeks in the hospital, and often being in dire medical circumstances, my father has rallied and appears to be on the mend. At nearly-95-years-old, nothing is guaranteed.

Putting my life on hold for two weeks has made me more than two weeks behind in everything. I have semi-temporarily lost about 50 percent of everything, but also realize that it is buried under the mess in my house. In addition to carving a turkey at Thanksgiving, we will also be carving a path to get to the kitchen to roast it. We hope. Genealogy and my certification always have to come first!

So, I have to make this brief today so I can catch up on my work!

So today, I have a few research questions that I’d like you to answer for me, please. This is intended for those who have not lived in Europe, nor for anyone who specializes in genealogy in the United Kingdom.

Question #1: Geographically, without looking it up, where is Cornwall? 


Question # 2: Cornwall is _____. (Choose one or more from a - f below)

a). An island

b). A Country

c). A Province

d). A County

e). A Region

f). Other

Question #3: Can you name three facts about Cornwall?




I look forward to seeing many answers here. Thank you in advance!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Genealogy Is Also About Family

Genealogy is about family. Sometimes it is about our own family, other times it is about helping someone else with theirs. Things cause twists and turns in our lives that we don't always foresee, which often makes our lives - and genealogy - more interesting. However, when you're going through those twists and turns, it isn't always pleasant. Right now, my family is is undergoing one of those tough times. Let's call it a "Family Emergency," and leave it at that. Thus, this blog is taking "Family Leave," for a week or two while I deal with that other, unpleasant side of genealogy. Let's just hope I don't have to record a vital record in between. Until then, keep searching.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons Learned From The Rearview Mirror

The true value of taking notes really does not hit us until we have been at it for years. No, it is not an age thing, but rather maxing out your mental hard drive. Few people after even a mere ten years, can recall everything they’ve seen or learned or read about the major details they have uncovered. So, when that critical time comes, and you are looking for that one piece of data that will connect everything, you had better have notes or you could spend years trying to find it. 

The more organization you have the better. A daily journal can help, but that will leaves you reading through hundreds of pages of other material to find what you are looking for,that is, if you managed to see its value at the time so that you noted it. Better is to keep surname research folders with named files under them. For example, you create a folder entitled “Genealogy Jones.” 

Depending upon how much research you expect to accumulate, you might need sub-folders, especially if you anticipate a large family, or covering many generations or if you  are using many types of resources, or artifacts.

By artifacts, this could cover diaries, descriptions of jewelry and appraisals, along with provenance (or the piece’s history), a spinning wheel, photos, paintings, a saddle, or a zillion other things. Anything that is of value, or has a history that is not clearly obvious to an outsider, should have a file with notes on what it is, where it came from, who did it originally come from; when it came into the family; and from whom did it come and that history. Pictures should also accompany the item. Transcriptions should be made of any written items, along with notes, and dates, and citations. You never know when it might show up on Antiques Roadshow.

Sub-folders can be set up for individuals or family groups. Files within would include their data, pictures, documents, or notes that are clearly labeled to ease finding them later, etc.

Here is an example: under the folder, “Genealogy Jones,” you might find John Jones as a sub-folder with details about him, photos, scans of documents, etc., included as files within this sub-folder. But, what if you find that he is also listed in places as John Jones Roskerdal?  You might want to have a file under “Genealogy Jones,” (not in the sub-folder) named “John Jones Roskerdal Notes 24 Oct 2013.” These notes would describe the connection, include sources, and links, if applicable, to find the data again, if necessary. By being a file instead of a folder, it saves time rather than scouring a sub-folder.

This may sound excessive, but the more compulsively detailed your files, especially, your notes, the easier it will be in the future to locate the details.

There are certain situations, where you simply have to over-organize to make sense of a situation. Having done this several times in the past, I can tell you that it is a long, sometimes confusing task, but also one that will make life much easier for years to come.

One of the situations that caused me to devote nearly a month (fortunately, it was January and I was recovering from back surgery) to such a task was finding which John Floyd was which over the course of several censuses. I was trying to sort out the households headed by a male Floyd in Cornwall, England, on the censuses from 1841 through 1881. Combining those years, I found 236 households fitting this criteria and from that, I found 236 individual males in as head of household in one or more of those censuses. 

The problem that drove me to do this was that, among those males, there was very little variety in first names. During that time, forty-six different men named William (out of a total of 236) headed households. Thirty-six different men were named “John.” There were twenty-seven with the first name of Richard, twenty-two more were named Thomas, another twelve were named James, with those named “Peter,” coming in just behind at eleven. Those six first names, accounted for 144 out of 236 men with the surname of “Floyd” on those censuses. Sorting them out was the only solution! 

I created a separate folder and gave each man a file with a three-letter code and a number. For example, the oldest John Floyd that I found was JOH-1 and the youngest was JOH-36. In each file, I listed the census data from wherever they were documented, including their childhoods. Thus, for example, JOH-20 might have been on the census with his father, JOH-11, which was copied into both files and the connection documented on each, along with any birth, marriage, or death (BMD) documentation and where to find it, along with the citations regarding that document so I could find that easily in the future when I needed it. Believe me, I have needed it.

What I need now, and wish I had started years ago, are notes regarding documents. I need something to tell me how I learned this, and who told me what. Data on how I came to find something, where I saw that, etc. So, do yourself a favor by making notes now and your future self with thank you.

Regarding DNA work, I just received a book that adds even more to what I have learned, so my blog may have to be done in installments, cover it in parts, rather than all at once. I plan to have the first installment soon, very soon.