Saturday, June 28, 2014

Part 2: June 28th, Facing Genealogy’s Least Expected Situation

Note to those in Australia, this may post a date later than planned. My apologies. B.

Genealogy often presents us with new challenges that we have to solve and mysteries that we have to unravel so that we can write the true stories of our families. While unusual situations can happen, and do happen, they usually have a thread of normal human nature running through them and for the most part, with work and by talking with other, we can fix our tree or re-write the history that we once thought that we knew so well. It may take years of devotion to learn the truth, or clear it up, but almost always, we can solve the greatest mysteries that genealogy can present. Almost.

Terry James Floyd, circa 1975
(Photo courtesy of Daryl Floyd and
Jennifer Floyd Fildes )
Today, the 28th of June, 2014, marks an anniversary in my family that falls outside of what most genealogists ever face, and I hope that it stays that way. Until I began to find my cousins, I was blissfully unaware that something had happened to our family that rocks us to the core, even now, 39 years later. You see, this is something that goes beyond rules for mere genealogical documentation, or a “reasonably exhaustive search.” This is not a simple adjustment to a branch but is rather a devastating wound in our family tree that runs so deep that it has yet to be resolved. It is something that cannot be solved by spending days or months or even years researching in libraries or archives. It is something that remains a mystery, despite many grueling years of physical labor, the depletion of a small fortune, and a near-endless search, literally through tons of evidence of all kinds. It remains raw and deep, and unresolved, even after thirty-nine years. Thankfully, it is a rare occurrence, and one that I hope that few genealogists will ever have to face. However, our family is not so lucky, yet we are never going to allow the story of Terry James Floyd to be forgotten.

You see, back in 1975, on the last Saturday in June, thirty-nine years ago today, my young cousin, Terry James Floyd, was waiting for his ride near the intersection of Sunraysia Highway and Pyrenees Highway near Avoca in Victoria, Australia, at about 4:45 in the afternoon. By 5 PM he had disappeared. Terry was just twelve years old, but a gifted footballer. Saturdays were devoted to his sport. He was so talented that he played “up” on a team of boys two years older than he was but even so, he was still a star at the game. For some reason on that June day, instead of going with his teammates to watch another team’s match, he decided to visit a friend. While his friend’s mother offered him a ride home, Terry being rather independent, had told the friend’s mum that he had already made arrangements for a ride. Apparently, Terry reached the intersection about 15 minutes late and missed his ride. Terry’s friend last saw him standing at the intersection. By five o’clock, Terry was gone. At seven-thirty that evening, his parents, Ken and Dorothy Floyd, reported him missing. 

There was a search, a "thorough" one. The investigation was just as "thorough," long and excruciating, yet fruitless in making a conviction. The result was immersing the whole family, friends, and associates into a relentless, seemingly endless investigation that spanned decades. Finally, Ken and Dorothy were cleared, but still had to cope with the reality that their boy was inexplicably missing, without a trace. All they ever wanted, my cousin, Jennifer told me, was to bring their boy home.

Yet, Terry has never been seen or heard from again
I am not here to re-report what you can read for yourself below, in the “Resources” list. I am not here to put my family through any more pain by writing what they have already lived out a thousand times, over and over, in their daily lives and in their nightmares. 

Instead, I am here to talk about the meaning of June 28th and about my cousin, Terry James Floyd. I also, want to explain what a toll this has taken on the family as today, the 28th of June is not only the anniversary of Terry’s disappearance, but also the death of his mother, Dorothy Floyd on June 28th, 1987, twelve years to the day after Terry’s disappearance. 

 I am also here as a genealogist, to help explain how to deal with and how to document the unresolved lives, such as Terry’s so that the stories of those missing do not turn to meaningless dust, but instead, will always be remembered, and will have their place in our family histories for forever. Finally, I want to share the effects such a tragedy has on those left behind and how it  effects them and even changes their lives. As I see it, genealogy is about telling the entire story, about documenting the truth as it actually happened, rather than glossing over the scary parts, leaving out the unresolved issues, ignoring the losses, and never mentioning the mysteries. It is about giving every person equal time and remembering them and their lives in a truthful light, even if their story is not tidy, glamourous, or it contains facts that are difficult to hear. To gloss over such a life, or to leave its story untold would be compounding the the losses, the crimes, that Terry and the rest of the family have already endured. So, here is the story...  

I first learned about this story from a mutual cousin in the late 1990s. The specific details were vague, and I did not even know Terry’s name, where in Australia it happened, or if he had been found. I was, I now realize, very wrong for ignoring it, especially since it came from of my own awkward feelings. This is not to say that I should have roared in like the paparazzi but rather, I should have taken careful notes, and respectfully documented his life from a distance.

 Fortunately, I got another chance. Over time, details trickled in but I knew very little until, completely by chance, I became friends with Jennifer, Terry’s oldest sister. From the beginning, Jennifer and I hit it off. Since then, Jennifer and I have been through many things together and despite the distance, she has been my strength, propping me up through some of the roughest battles in my life. She must trust me, too, as her youngest son, Derek, lived with us for several months in 2012. We sent him back intact as anyone could do with any twenty-something male. 

Jennifer Floyd Fildes holding her brother,
Terry Floyd. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer
Floyd Fildes)

Initially, Jennifer told me the basic story of Terry’s disappearance and how it tore a hole in their hearts that has never healed. Slowly, she shared stories of the ensuing agony of living in limbo, never knowing where he was, or if he was alive or dead. Worse, she and her siblings had watched as their parents suffered, worrying and wondering where there son was, but never knowing. She told me that she believed that it was the stress of never knowing that brought on her parents’ early deaths. 

As these anniversaries came and went over the years, I saw the how painful it was for her to endure. The more I learned, the more I understood about what living with such painful, unanswered questions could do to any family. This was not a situation where people can simply deal with it, have closure, and move on, because there is never closure and there are never answers to “get over” it. Situations like this haunt everyone, but it haunts each of them in a different, individual ways, and as such, everyone has to find their own way to mark time, waiting, wondering, and worrying.

Jennifer was just shy of her twenty-first birthday when Terry went missing. She wanted to skip her birthday, but her mother, Dorothy, insisted on celebrating Jennifer’s birthday with a party, despite being under intense scrutiny and stress at the time. Dorothy, though juggling the demands of raising five other children and comforting them through this, never gave up, Yet, her body did. While I cannot speak as a doctor, the mere fact that Dorothy allegedly died twelve years to the minute from the time that Terry was reported missing, speaks in my mind to the intense pressure that she and her husband, my cousin, Ken Floyd, endured. And, as such, today is not only the anniversary of Terry’s  
Dorothy Floyd holding her son, Terry.
(Photo courtesy of Daryl Floyd and
Jennifer Floyd Fildes)
disappearance, but also, the anniversary of their mother’s death, it is a doubly painful date for their family to endure, to simply get through.

Jennifer told me yesterday, “It is so hard at this time will really understand unless it has happened to them. I thought by now, as I grow older , the pain would lessen...but, seems to increase...because you realise how much has been missed....”

Terry is gone, living or not (it is hard for me to say the terminal phrase) and his mother, Dorothy, died young, at the age of 55, having given over so much of her life to worry and grief. Terry’s father, Ken, is also gone, leaving Terry’s siblings and other family members with memories, photos, and their own methods of coping. Some handle it through silence, some through tears. Some like me, who came late to this anything-but-a-party, write about it, while others, such as Terry’s younger brother, Daryl, deal with it in unique ways and through grueling, hard work. 

Two years younger than Terry, Daryl is the definition of devotion and duty. He has taken it upon himself, to learn what happened to his big brother, and for several years now, he and his “crew” have been physically digging up the formerly abandoned, Morning Star Mine, at Bung Bong Hill, near Avoca, Victoria, not far from the place where Terry was last seen. 
Terry's devoted brother, Daryl Floyd at the mine,
with a pile of bones, sewage, and debris from mine.
(Photo courtesy of Daryl Floyd)
Daryl, using his own money, with contributions from his sister, Debbie,  his friends, and a crack team of volunteers, went to work looking for Terry, after new evidence pointed to the mine as a probable location for Terry’s remains. This dig began several years ago, and aided by those same devoted volunteers, they have been plunging into the deep, putrid, sewage-filled, mine shafts,  ever since. The disused mine had been closed long ago, but this foul mix of contents were deposited over the intervening decades when it was used as an unofficial dumping ground for the nastiest waste of all kinds. The waste from mine was pulled out in reverse order beginning with the most recent dumping. Thus, Daryl and his crew have been working backwards, removing the most recent layers, then moving through decades, each layer found being designated with an approximate year, based on the contents within the of layers of filth that they have removed. Huge bucketfuls of automobile engines, raw sewage, and bones of hundreds of cows, plus other animals have been removed, examined and dated, all trying to locate his brother’s remains.
A batch of bones from various animals dug up
from the depths of the Morning Star Mine.
(Photo courtesy of Daryl Floyd)
Whenever bones are found the state of Victoria must examine them to determine whether or not the are human and thus potentially a clue in crime. Terry, sad to say, is one of several children missing for decades in Australia. 

Daryl's photo of his cutaway drawing of the mine
shaft, the "drive" and the levels with details.
(Photo courtsy of Daryl Floyd)
The mine is complicated and reaches over one hundred feet below the surface with multiple shafts and a cross or “drive” as it is called. This is what Daryl wrote in 2013 about the drawing of the work site(see Daryl’s photo of his drawing on right): 

“So here we go Guys, the best way l can show The Mine Search and how we plan to attack it this time. On this diagram you have the Red, Green and Black markings. The Red shaft is the shaft we have cleaned out (it is the one that was opened at the time Terry went missing) The Green one is the one we now have to clean out to gain access at the bottom. The Black one is the drive that runs in a north south direction at the bottom of the shafts...Now hopefully l can explain this the best way possible. The Red one is the shaft used to dump everything down since the early 1970'sand we believe also Terry's body, and it goes down to a depth of 180 feet. Unfortunately , everything from 1980 back to the 1970's has been washed down the drive in a northerly direction. We can not continue in this way (the shaft is to tight , small and dangerous ) so now we have to clean out the Green shaft, that was backfilled by the mines dept in 1968 , to gain access to the bottom and then head back along the drive to where we had last finished looking for any dates that could help us and if we have not found anything that indicates we are back to the 1975 mark we then have to head North along the Black drive until we get back to the 1975 era. The main objective for us , is to get back to the 1975 mark ,the year Terry went Missing...Cheers guys l hope that is not to mind blowing but the Map should help.”

 Currently, Daryl and his friends and family have reached a level where they feel that they are locating things placed there in the late 1970s but have closed up the shafts to prevent the winter rains from flooding the mine, weakening the structure, and undoing their excavations.

Again, the details have been told and re-told in the resources listed below, but to get a truly accurate look at a day-to-day picture of one man’s devotion to his brother, you need to visit Daryl’s Facebook Page, “Missing Terry Floyd.” You can find it through this link:
Daryl has given his own money, raised money through fund raisers, and wheedled the authorities to contribute to the costs of the excavation. Still, it is not enough; it is never enough. Recently, the reward for  information toward solving Terry’s case and other cold case investigations was raised, hoping that more evidence with come forth. Until then, Daryl, family, and friends must piece together the funds for the search. Items have been found in the mine that are believed to have belonged to Terry and were with him on that day, indicating that Terry will be found someday, likely in that mine. 
Terry on right holding Aussie Rules
Football with his older brother, Ray.
(photo courtesy of Jennifer Floyd Fildes)

Thirty-nine years have passed and that twelve-year-old, football star has not reappeared. For thirty-nine years, the family has not only not forgotten him, but no one has stopped actively looking for him in Australia. Yes, the mine is promising, but, and I hate to say this, but what if he isn’t to be found in that old mine? Could he be out there, lost, or held captive like others in the slave trade, traumatized enough to have blanked out his previous life? Could he have run off to have an adventure and might be living somewhere else on Earth, cut off from Australian media and unaware of the search for him that has been going on all of these years? Could he be in Europe? In Asia? In North America or South America? Could he be your kid’s coach? Your co-worker? Your husband? Even your father? Take a look around, because no detail is too small to examine and no trail too vague to leave unexamined. Terry would be 51 now.

As another part of our family’s weird, winding road of coincidences, it happens that Terry and my husband were born on the same exact day in the same exact year, just several thousand miles apart. Fortunately, thanks to DNA testing, I am quite sure that my husband is not my cousin, Terry. 

Part of me is cheering for that fairy-tale ending and while everyone else does what they can, all I can do is to ask the rest of you out there, to help. Help by donating, help by looking around, just in case Terry is elsewhere or that the true tale of what happened to him is even more bizarre than the tale that has already been told. Tell the media outside of Australia, not only about Terry’s disappearance but of Daryl’s devotion. Do whatever you can do to get people looking and talking and thinking about this mystery. Help by supporting Daryl (even a few words of support on “Missing Terry Floyd” Facebook page might cheer him up on a rough day) and help by contacting any group that might aide in this search. Terry is lost and until this mystery is solved, our family and friends will not be whole and our story will still have an unsolved mystery that leaves a whole in so many hearts and lives.
The Floyd Family. Terry is in the front row,
lower right hand corner. On left of Terry is
younger brother Daryl and to his left brorther, Ray.
 Back row on left is his oldest sister,
 Jennifer, Mother Dorothy holding Debbie; father, Ken,
 and in front of Ken and behind Terry, is sister, Sheryl.
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Floyd Fildes) 

Finally, remember that there are other families out there who have suffered or are suffering a similar fate. Treat them with kindness and compassion and encourage them to remember their loved one rather than letting them fade away.

As a genealogist, I have found that it is important to tell the whole story, not only about this energetic, athletically-gifted, boy, but also about the love and devotion that he inspired in those around him and the sacrifices that they made and pain that they felt in living a life without him. We are all connected and Terry is missing from our lives, but not from our family’s story. 

The three Floyd boys.
L to R: Daryl, Ray, and Terry.
(Photo courtesy of Daryl Floyd)

Resources Consulted

Cattermole, Tony. “Photo may hold key to missing boy case.” The Australian Broadcasting Company. 16 July 2012. Online archives. : accessed 23 June 2014.

Floyd, Daryl. “Missing Terry Floyd.” Facebook, 2014. Online website. accessed 27 June 2014.

“Funds boost search for missing brother's remains.”  The Australian Broadcasting Company, 14 December 2011. Online archive: accessed 27 June 2014.

“Missing Persons - Terrence Floyd .” MAKO/Movement Against Kindred Offenders. 2013 Online database. accessed 27 June 2014.

“Man continues dogged search for missing brother.” The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Updated 16 July 2012. Online archives. accessed 27 July 2014.

Moor, Keith. “Police take on search for missing schoolboy Terry Floyd.” The Herald Sun, 18 November 2010. Online archives. : Accessed 27 June 2014.

Moor, Keith. “Terry Floyd went missing after starring in junior footy game.” The Herald Sun, 10 March 2012, online edition via The Australian. : accessed 24 June 2014.

Moor, Keith. “Daryl Floyd believes brother Terry Floyd's body was hidden in mine shaft.” The Herald Sun, 10 March 2012. Online edition. accessed 27 June 2014.

Moor, Keith. “New lead in Terry Floyd cold case murder investigation points to Raymond Jones.” The Herald Sun, 04 September 2013: Online archive. accessed 27 June 2014.

Worthington, Brett. “Does this mine shaft hold the key to Terry Floyd's disappearance?” The Bendingo Advertiser, 3 February 2012. Online edition. : accessed 24 June 2014.

Worthington, Brett. “Van may hold answers to Terry Floyd disappearance.” The Bendingo Advertiser, 22 June 2014. Online archive. accessed 26 June 2014.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Part 1 of 2: Finding Family And All That Comes With It

Growing up as an only child, far from family, I always knew that they were out there, the aunts, uncles, and cousins who had scattered to the wind as the British Empire staggered under its own weight. My mother’s family had lived in Cornwall and Devon, the West Country, as they call it, of England for hundreds of years. True, some left for reasons that were too good to refuse, such as land grants or management positions early on, but it was not until a combination of factors, both environmental and economic, that most of my mother’s family finally left one of the most beautiful places in the world, the West Country of England.

My grandfather, at the age of twenty-one, in September of 1909, he left his home in Hayle, Cornwall, England. He boarded a ship in Southampton and sailed for New York, never to see England again. He was one of the last in the family to leave and within a decade, all but a handful of family members had either left England or passed away.

Of those who remained in the British Isles, most ended up migrating elsewhere, living far from their hereditary roots in the West Country. Many left for Wales early on, and others followed as the economy slowly crumbled. Large groups of family banded together and went north, to Lancashire and Yorkshire, while others flocked to London.

Like her father, my mother was separated from her family by thousands of miles. She and my father settled in Illinois, far from their families in Montana. I know that my mother missed having her family near, because, by the time that I arrived, she had been searching in Illinois and the surrounding states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and even Pennsylvania, for her missing cousins. She was always tracking her lost uncles and digging through old trunks looking for the yellowed, tattered remains of letters and newspaper clippings from her distant aunts.

As prim and proper as my mother was, in pursuit of her missing relatives, nothing stood in her way. She thought nothing of marching into engineering offices, and boldly inquiring after this one or that one. She made sure that I knew the family stories, telling them over and over so that I would remember who we wanted to find. I learned my geography by naming the places in the world where we knew that we had to have family.

The family that she was searching for went beyond her sister, her mother, and her elderly aunts and uncles that she already knew that were all living in Montana. What intrigued me most was that she knew that she still had close family living in England. and in exotic places such as Wales, Scotland, and even Australia. She told me that a huge number of her aunts and uncles had left England for Australia, not as prisoners, but much later, as settlers. Some had been what we would call today, “recruited,” for their mining skills and engineering knowledge and left to improve their lot. The Cornish, she told me, had been mining for thousands of years and knew more about it than any other people in the world. When gold and gems and other minerals were found in Australia, she explained, the Cornish were in huge demand and  that combined with the troubles in Britain, made her uncles decide to leave their beautiful home and travel shipboard for many months to Australia. My mother told me that they all had many children and as a child, I dreamed of meeting a dozen or more cousins in Australia and playing with them as kangaroos hopped by like puppies.

 At night, I would lie awake, imagining what my cousins in Australia were seeing above them, in that strange Australian night sky with all those constellations that we in the north, could not see. Someday, my mother promised, we would find them all. Sadly, for her, that was not to be.

My mother was hot on the trail of her cousins in Milwaukee when she suddenly fell ill in February of 1968. Her illness ripped through her body, robbing her of speech and movement almost immediately, which prevented her from telling me anything more about what she had learned. Sadly, by summer, having just turned forty-four years old, she was gone, and with her went most of her family knowledge.

I never stopped wondering, but as grew from a child into a teenager, I had no place to start, no money, and no time. I worked through college, married, and kept working.

Twenty years after my mother’s death, I picked up the search. By that time I had children of my own, a bit of time when the kids napped, and years of curiosity built up. I hounded the few cousins that I knew and also my aunt, my mother’s sister. Unfortunately, I learned that I already knew as much as they did. Their mother, my aunt, knew little more.

I am not one to give up easily. Periodically, I would call my aunt, long distance, and ask  questions. Once in a great while I would hit on the right question and it would trigger some old memory of hers, letting a few, small clues trickle out.

Finally, in 1996, with my children older and more independent, I began my search in earnest, digging through old photos and trying to coax more memories from my aunt, adamant that there had to be more. I learned a few names and details about things that I already knew, largely about the family in Montana, but little else and certainly nothing about family in Britain or all those in Australia. There had to be at over a dozen or more in Australia alone!

Years passed and the search continued. As time went on, the world grew closer together. Soon I found traces of cousins living in the United States and in Canada. I found a few cousins in England, then some wonderful ones in Wales, and the numbers started exploding as fast as data could travel. Then, it happened. I found one cousin, and then another in Australia! I began to follow names and "Floyd," the surname, was the one that turned up most. The number started slowly and then grew and grew. I had found almost ten in Australia by the night that my husband took me to see an Aussie folksinger that he had just heard of, by the name of Missy Higgins. I knew nothing about her but was grateful to leave my teenagers at home for a night and enjoy some music. We arrived and were in line when people started asking me odd questions, like if I was with the band? IPeople were whispering and pointing in our direction. We got inside and  before the opening act came on, people staring coming up to me and asking me, “Are you with Missy?” Stunned, I shook my head. I turned and asked my husband what he knew about her and he said that she was an Aussie, from Melbourne, and he liked her music a lot. Everything he knew was from what he had heard on the radio. The opener came on was wonderful and ended. In between acts, people - total strangers - sent drinks to our table. “This is getting a little weird,” we were saying, just as Missy came on stage. My husband stared for a moment, then whispered to me, “Do you have any cousins in Melbourne?” Staring at Missy, I think I just nodded. She looked so much like me that she could have been my daughter. She looked more like me than any of my three daughters. Who was she? Was she one of my cousins? She wasn't a Floyd, but that really didn't matter as cousins married and names changed... I went home that night and the Aussie search was on!

I still don’t know if Missy is my cousin or not, though the resemblance at the time was eerie. A couple of years later, at a concert where Missy mentioned between songs that her mother was in the audience, our entire table was sent round after round of drinks by her adoring, if incorrect, fans. Someday, if I do find out that Missy is one of my Aussie cousins, I will have to buy her mom several rounds of drinks. I owe her that much.

What I did learn from the post-Missy concert is that I do not have a mere dozen or so cousins in  Melbourne, or in all of Australia, but many times that. Little did I know when I started this genealogical journey, that what I thought was “dozen or more” cousins in Australia, has grown into the hundreds, and will likely total over a thousand when I finally track them all down. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would come to know so many of them and care so deeply for people thousands of miles away, but I do. Most of all, I never knew, nor even dreamed that we would become such close friends, as we are today. Never did I imagine that it would be so easy to become part of their lives and they of mine, while living five or seven or even nine thousand miles away and that such things could be, would be, so...normal.

How I wish my mother could have lived long enough to experience this age of global friendship.

But, with every door you open, every experience you wrap yourself in, the more you feel for those who are close to you. Their pain becomes yours; their stories weave themselves into your life. This becomes more true when you share the same roots, the same family ties, and now, our daily experiences. Along the way, my long-lost, now-found, cousins and I have shared each other’s lives, both good and bad. We have bolstered one another as if we have always known each other and it has extended to our children. Now, their kids come to visit us, or as they grow into adulthood, they visit our kids, just like normal families who never were parted. I visit and watch their kids play soccer while my children are friends and even godparents to their almost-long-lost, cousin’s baby. The connections are remade, but in that, we have opened ourselves up to new tales, old stories, and even yes, unexpected situations.

Tomorrow, Part 2: June 28th Facing Genealogy’s Least Expected Situation

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Wedding 104 Years Ago, June 22nd 1910

The bride, Selma Thompson,
 in her wedding dress.
June 22nd was a Wednesday in 1910, but among the farming community of Park River, North Dakota, apparently marriages took place on various days of the week as long as it didn’t interfere with plowing, planting, or harvesting.  The invitations were formally engraved and that invitation was very likely the most coveted of the summer, and possibly the year, in Walsh County, North Dakota. The parents of both the bride and the groom had tried and tried again to find a match between each of their nine children, yet only Ingvald and Selma married,

The fathers of the bridal couple, Thomas Thompson and Ingebret Birk (which was Birkedal/Byrkjedal before he left Norway), had partnered in business ventures for many years. As the scope of the Birk-Thompson empire spread across the North America, they sent their sons out their stead, to oversee the farthest flung operations and to learn the business.

During this period of time, Ingebret’s wife, Inger Field (Fjelde) Birk, died, leaving
Parents of the groom, Inger Field (Fjelde) Birk
 with her husband,
Ingebret Birk (formerly Birkedal/Byrkjedal)
Ingebret at loose ends. Since the Spanish American War had ended shortly before this, Ingebret was curious about the tales that he had read in the newspapers regarding Cuba. Cuba and the Spanish American War had been the focus of a publishing war between newspaper magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. In their efforts to sell more and more newspapers, they urged reporters to dramatize and romanticize this war, with much of the widely-fabricated tales taking place on the island of Cuba. Thus, Ingebret, ripe for distraction, took a trip to Cuba looking for investment opportunities. After buying and selling a banana plantation, he purchased a massive cattle ranch there that had once been a Spanish Land Grant. Returning home to North Dakota, he cajoled Thomas Thompson into reluctantly joining him as his partner in this new business venture.

Soon after, Thomas’ sons joined Ingebret’s sons on the ranch in Cuba. Thomas never seemed to be that interested in Cuba and soon after the purchase of the ranch in Cuba, Ingebret found a new passion. He married his second wife, Mary Larson.

Meanwhile, between two their younger children, love was finally blossoming. Ingvald Birk and Selma Thompson became engaged. Invitations were engraved and preparations made.

Meanwhile, something must have been brewing in Thomas Thompson’s mind. He really had been reluctant to leave his wife to deal with the ranch in Cuba and he wasn’t as enthralled with the tropical climate. The marriage of his daughter to his partner’s son gave him the perfect opportunity to clear up his problem without losing money. You see, he and his wife, Burget “Betsy” Torkelson Thompson
Parents of the bride,
Burget Torkelson Thompson with
husband, Thomas Thompson
had set a tradition with their older children that upon each child’s marriage, they gave their child and their child’s new spouse the same wedding gift. Each child and their spouse received either a farm, or the equivalent in cash, a plow with a team of horses, or the equivalent, and their child received a gold watch.

As my grandmother, Selma Cornelia Thompson, the bride in this story, told me, her father, Thomas Thompson, went to his business partner, Ingebret Birk, father of my grandfather, Ingvald Birk and the groom in this instance, and urged him to match the gift that the Thompson’s were giving their daughter, Selma. Thus, Ingebret agreed and upon their marriage on June 22nd 1910, Ingvald Birk, and his bride, Selma Cornelia Thompson, became the owners of their fathers’ ranch in Cuba. One hundred four year have passed since then, and the ranch transitioned out of our family long ago.

Ingvald, or Ike, as he was called, and Selma lived happily together in matrimony for sixty-two years. They lived in Cuba, Kansas City, Miami, and in Montana, producing four children, three of whom grew to adulthood. Ike died in 1972 at the age of 84, and Selma passed away in 1994. Although her death certificate does not list the cause of death as “boredom,” we all know that that was the cause. Her 106th birthday party was clearly  not as exciting as her 105th. Six days after her 106th birthday, she left this earth.
The wedding party of Selma Cornelia Thompson and Ingvald Birk, June 22nd 1910 in Park River, North Dakota. Members of the wedding party included Cena Ordahl, Maid of Honor; Helga Thompson, Jorand Thorsen, Cora Torkelson, Leonora Rinde, bridesmaids; Ragnild Fjalstad and Elinor Rinde, flower girls; Olga Hendrickson of Chicago, soloist; Messrs. Levin, Hadland, (Leo) Birk, and (Joe) Thompson, ushers; with Almer (A.B.) Thompson serving as best man.

So today, 104 years after their marriage, I say, “Happy Anniversary, Grandma and Grandpa, wherever you are!”

Friday, June 20, 2014

Wait! When Should You Call In a Pro?

A A gentleman contacted me yesterday, just starting his genealogical journey. Unfortunately for him, he began his search recently, during the time that was under a DDOS attack and  was understandably confused and frustrated as many of us only learned what was truly going on by word-of-mouth from better-informed friends. Heck, most of us don’t even know what a DDOS (i.e., a distributed denial-of-service attack; see this link for more:  is. Go see Wikipedia ( if you need to know more. I think that this situation served to double his frustration, but in truth, he simply did not know where to start, other than he wanted to take his family back 200 years. So, he started calling professional genealogists to help him and I was one of them.

Between his frustrations and his inexperience, he was ready to hand it all over and then learn the price. So I stopped him right there and asked some pertinent questions such as what did he want to learn and what did he already know. As it turned out, he hadn’t really thought about this and thus had no plan. We talked further and I told him how to get to the point that he was ready to hire a professional and what he needed to do before hiring a professional unless he was willing and able to pay for said professional’s new vacation home. 

Honestly, for anyone who wants to hire me and for whom money is no object, just go take your yacht for a spin and call me later - day or night. For the rest of you who are worth slightly less than a billion and need help with your genealogy, allow me to help you prepare for this, meaning what you should do before you hire a professional genealogist.

1). Find all of your records and organize them in one place. This means notes, old photos, photocopies of stuff, old certificates of any kind, old diaries that your aunt wrote in when she was 12, letters, family bibles, etc. The idea is to know what you already have, even if it seems to lead nowhere, and organize it, even if you don’t know who is involved 
in that record, photo, newspaper clipping, etc. This will serve you well for the rest of your years of searching.

2). Make a list of every living relative that is your age or older. This should not be limited to those that you know well, but literally, every single one that you know, that you have heard spoken of, or that you suspect is related in some way, such as those people who were always at Great-granny’s on holidays when you were little, but have no idea who they really were and how they connected. It’s time to find out!

3). Contact every living relative that is around your age and older and track them down, asking for everything that they know about your family. Write things down, or even better, take notes and record the conversation. Also, feel free to bring your family member whatever food or drink or both that will put them in a good mood and will ease you into conversation better. Offer to help them prep for a garage sale or clean out their garage or basement Remember this is for your genealogy and if anything is lost to age, death or the landfill, chances are that it is gone forever. When you do this, be sure to allow enough time to  get all the facts or do whatever has to be done to get your evidence. If you cannot visit in person, call them, Skype them, Face time them, or whatever it takes to learn more. Ask about the above-mentioned family records along with any tales of birth death, love lives, or whatever you can learn. If they are willing, get scans of anything that they have from pictures, to books with inscriptions. You never know what you will find. Also, when you do this, make sure that you write down the who gave the info, what you learned, when this discussion happened, and where it occurred so that you can recall it later and hopefully, will write a proper citation for your records. Writing citations is another blog. Just remember for now that citations are your friends, even though that may seem utterly incomprehensible right now. 

4). This point will seem counter intuitive but it warrants saying; don’t believe anything, until you have proof - and I mean real hard evidential proof such as original certificates, etc., created by the person who was involved with the event. Again, this is for another blog, but just remember that all proof is just a clue until you have either serious, original documentation or enough other corroborating data to prove your theory. Again more on the Genealogical Proof Standard later.

5).Dig through your attic, your basement, your files, anything that came to you from a family member or suspected family member and do the same for every relative on your list (see #2 above), begging if you have to. (See #3 for ideas on how to get them to give up the info). No piece of evidence should be overlooked and when you find some, organize it and takes notes on everything about it. Keep those notes organized. Use a three-ringed binder with page protectors for anything that you have but have not filed yet. Periodically go through the binder and file things properly so you know where they are and the details on where you got them. A spreadsheet set up as a research log will save you time and brain cells, so be sure to have one set up.

6). Invest in a program to log your proven family members, but only proven ones. Enter proven data and locations where you found it and where these things are stored. What about the unproven peeps? Instead, for the rest of the lot, set up a database in Excel or Numbers listing all clues, hunches, and hypotheses so that you know where to find those things about Great Aunt Polly should you find something new.

7). Join local genealogy societies. They are full of really wonderful people of all levels of experience who with talk about genealogy with you without getting bored. They are also local (usually) and can provide education, direction, support, and friendship. You might even find a long-lost family member among the members.

8).Begin to explore the web by learning everything that you can from true genealogists. Good sources for this would be blogs that have been vetted for content and professionalism such as those listed on Geneabloggers, which you can find at Also check out information found on professional sites such as the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) at,  ICAP Gen and the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) 

9). Now that you have learned enough about what you have, what you know, and how to find things, it is time to define your research questions. do it the old-fashioned way and write it up in list form. Use a pencil or a laptop, just do it and save it so when you are tired and confused, or simply when the rest of your life has overrun your genealogy research, your list will remind you of what you are really after and what questions you are trying to solve. When you answer one or all of them, your choice, you can add more questions to your list. The main thing about this is to have clear goals so you won’t get sidetracked or frustrated along the way. You can always return to your list to realign yourself.

10). Take the next step by checking out the web for yourself. One of the best resources out there is Cyndi’s List at Cyndi Ingles’ compendium of research sites is huge and it contains links to everything out there, meaning just one side or the other of 3,000 linked genealogical web sites. Cyndi has been at this for as long as I have and has made better use of that time than anyone else I know. She knows - and shares - everything about genealogy on her list. From these sites, remember to be skeptical and do not feel bad about questioning, rather than accepting, someone else’s word, family tree, or records. Watch out for the self-proclaimed experts and always do your own due diligence.

Once you have done all of this and you are truly stuck, or tired of it and are willing pay for help, then call in a pro. They should give you an estimate, including a contract outlining what they will and will not do and what they will provide. Often you can hire them to get you past a brick wall and then pick up your own search from their findings and their suggestions. It all depends on what you need. Many, like me will provide a free phone consultation for a certain amount of time to help you decide, as I helped the man who called me yesterday, what was really needed. If you have questions, feel free to ask me and good luck hunting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

When Down Really Is Down is apparently down as I write this. Not just for me, but for everyone. The website, as I barely grasp it, is under attack. I first learned of this via super-blogger, Thomas MacEntee. But, because I am me, I had to delve into it more deeply, poke it, and prod it, just to see what I could find . 

Admittedly, I have had an ongoing issue with Ancestry because, seemingly, they get tired of me taking up their bandwidth and suddenly I find that I am required to sign in again. And again, as in 30 times or so. Either they give up or I do but when this happens, it comes down to a contest of wills.  Sometimes I just give up and go do something else until it decides that it likes me again and leaves me to work in peace. When it doesn't like me, it’s like having a half-deranged roommate with a bad memory; you just have to walk away and come back later when their brain has reset itself and then start over with them. And yes, I have called Ancestry's tech support many times. Their solution is for me to empty my cache, but it doesn’t help. I have an inkling that it has to do with a deeper problem and my poor old laptop is likely the cause in some way, and granted, this doesn’t happen all the time but when it happens, it makes me wonder...”Is it me or is Ancestry down or having problems?” 

Well, today I stumbled on a solution. Not just to check if Ancestry is really down or just is in a bad mood and hates me temporarily, but it works for any site. The site is Websitedown ( ) and it will run a check on the website that you are feuding with and tell you if said website is really down or if it’s just you that the website is hating on. 

So, I tried it and Websitedown said that is really down and that it isn’t me, or you for that matter. We can all give up and go do something indulgent like sleep while the tech heroes work on a fix, safe in the knowledge that we can now forever know whether a site is really down or that it is really just us. Now, if only there was a site that could tell us if it’s us, or that those half-crazy people in our lives are really as deranged as we think.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thanks To My Big Genealogy Family!

Genealogy is about growing our families, which is something that I have always believed in. This is evidenced by the number of children I have collected over the years and by the number of siblings I now count, which is a staggering accomplishment considering that I am an only child. So today, I really have to thank my genealogy “brothers,” Thomas MacEntee and Randy Seaver, for helping me with what has quickly become my now, not-so-secret blog. To that, I have to thank my team of cheerleaders, for keeping me going when nobody could find my blog. I also want to thank my reader, John Sparrow, for suggesting that I provide a “Follow by Email” button to my page. It is now there, all shiny and new. 

Almost everything that I supposedly learned (or should have learned) in kindergarten is practiced my fellow genealogy bloggers. They play nice, help lunatics like me, and are far more likely to laugh with me than at me - which takes serious inner strength, let me tell you. Most of all, I like them back. So, do something nice for yourself and go to Geneabloggers at to check out all of the blogs written by these incredibly wonderful people. Can you believe that they even gave me a plug today? Really awesome people. You won’t be disappointed.

Now back to the World Cup and like all genealogists - reading player’s names on the backs of shirts and wondering about their genealogy.. Oh, and watching the matches, too, of course.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday’s Funnies: Surname Swear Words

Every family, every ethnic group, has some odd quirks, weird traditions, and strange names. Being Cornish, I am aware of how these things play out, but nothing tops the compilation of surnames that were once used in my beloved Cornwall. These words are today, what my kids grew up calling, “swear words.”

In fact, when my kids were young and I would mutter a Cornish surname of this ilk, they would look at me with that, “uh-oh, Mom’s swearing,” look, a mix between shock and glee, hoping to confirm that Mom had a potty mouth. Even though I would immediately sit them down and explain that, while in today’s society, it is indeed a swear word, it wasn’t always such and that words and phrases chance over time. They faked agreement by nodding and barely camouflaged their glee in hearing Mom swear!

Finally, as they got older, I would slip and swear, and even if it wasn’t a Cornish surname, they would just shake their heads and say, “Yeah, yeah, it’s a Cornish surname,” proving that we managed to put a new spin on ordinary family disfunction.

Disfunction does not seem to have played much of a part in the surnames originally, with the possibly exception of “Bastard” and “Clapp.” Those have origins that seem to quickly paint a picture of exactly how they came about. Crap is still around, Friggin, too and even Buglehole, sometimes written as “Beaglehole” shows up, although they are not as common as they once were. 

I remember reading a will from the 1700s where a Nicholas Cock had died and left many of his worldly goods to daughter, the wife of William Hoare. The will went on to mention her further as “Jennifer Cock Hoare.. For some reason, be it Ellis Island or a lack of a sense of humor, you just don’t see names like that anymore. But next time you’re at a library and you need a good laugh while doing genealogy, look into old Cornish records and you will find it there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Big Secret #2

I have another secret. This one is shared by many others in the field of genealogy, although no one openly mentions it. You see, behind the glitz and glamour of genealogy, there is one tawdry secret that we all share at one time or another. This comes as a part of the job and is purely in the pursuit of solving the mystery, finding the proof, and learning the real story. Really. But, in between, the truth is that many of us are.... (dum-de-dum)... Professional Couch Surfers. It is the real story behind the profession.

This shocking revelation has to be tempered by a few facts. We do this not for thrills or even by choice, but rather by necessity. Couch surfing is a means to an end - or at least we hope it is. Believe me, one has to be committed to be willing to surf where we do. At one time or another, one of us is likely sleeping on someone else’s well-worn sofa or, frankly, where Junior used to rest his behind when he played video games. If we’re lucky, Junior has moved out of the basement and thus, we don’t find ourselves sharing the couch with Junior and friends while they hold a World of Warcraft marathon while we try to catch some zzz’s. 

However, we will do what we have to do. We are, after all, committed to our profession and therefore we are willing to endure whatever it takes to get our proof. We also are pragmatic enough to know that obscure documents are not hiding on the internet or widely available in every archive on the planet. These documents are the ones that have yet to be located, and thus, are the ones hiding in small towns, in distant places, and are usually covered in decades of dust. These docs are in the Middle of Nowhere. We have to go to them.

Behind the glossy world of genealogy, the real pros know that many of places that are hiding these treasures are also shockingly lacking in Marriotts, Holiday Inns, and even without a WWII-era motel, but we must forge on anyway, for the sake of our profession. We realize that without couch surfing, we likely would be camping behind a library dumpster (for privacy) in a town of 800 people, piddling in the weeds because the the town is so small that the local convenience store closes up at 7 o’clock in the evening, and with its closing, there goes any hope of latrine privileges. Yet, we persevere because that library and that library alone, might be hiding what amounts to our only hope of locating some long-lost, moldy, old, key-to-the-answer-type of documents that we not only need, but that we dream of uncovering. Being seasoned pros, we also know that the chances of finding a motel that doesn’t double as a truck stop bunkhouse within an hour’s drive are pretty slim. So we look for a friend, or the sister of an ex-boyfriend from our sophomore year of high school, with whom we tolerably got along, or even a former classmate from first grade who by luck, it happens to live in the exact place where we really, really need to spend a couple of days, rooting around in the basement of their library. We all deeply believe in doing whatever we have to do to get our document... And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we have a ninth cousin living there or a Facebook friend who barely knows us but has the correct zip code. We endure beyond-lumpy, frat-house-rejected futons, suspicious-smelling recliners, mothball-filled, fold-away cots that were last used when Reagan was president, just for that chance to get a peek into the place where those documents might be hidden away. 

Road-weary and experienced, we mostly just pray that the indoor plumbing is working when we roll into town and that no one is chasing us with tar and feathers when we depart. It’s what we do to survive, and more importantly, it is what we do to find those illusive records, solve those brick-walled-in mysteries, and what we do to capture the long-lost stories. Yet, when it comes down to the truest truth, when the data is documented and the citations written, what we are always after, are the stories. The stories are what makes it all worthwhile, and in the end, it is always about the stories.

Happy surfing!

(P.S. - And, once in a while, if the planets are all lined up just right, we luck out and we do get to stay in plush quarters visiting some of our best friends...Thanks to M.,T., K., & B. for putting up with me! I love you guys!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Big Secret

Genealogy Bloggers Rock!
2014 Blogger's Summit at
Southern California Genealogy Jamboree
I have a big secret - and a mystery, too. Not that kind.... 

However, if you are reading this, you are in on my secret. The mystery is about this secret. You see, while this blog has been around for awhile it seems that very few people know about it and that search engines miss it entirely. Apparently, without a personal invitation, nobody can find it. Sort of depressing, when I think of the work that has gone into it. On the other hand if I ever become a super-celebrity (heaven forbid!) I will know how to hide out on the web. But, back to how I found out that I had this secret...

I learned all of this at the Blogger’s Summit at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank this past week. If I wasn’t so shocked, I would have had the sense to be embarrassed. Lacking sense, I just sputtered, which was not at all attractive, but fortunately, the blogging community  wasn’t alt all snarky about it and welcomed me with open arms. (Perhaps they noticed my very warped sense of humor?) I found my way to Blogger’s Island, a conference table situated in the midst of the action with comfy chairs and libations nearby. Bloggers there gave me all sorts of wonderful advice about blogging and the courage to figure out what is wrong with my blogging. So thanks to bloggers such as Thomas MacEntee, Judy Russell, Elise Doerflinger, J Paul Hawthorne, Kim Cotton, Randy Seaver, Blaine Bettinger, Cindy Ingle, and so many others who hung out with me at Blogger Island, I have been working hard at letting my - our - secret out of the bag. Let the mystery finally be solved! 
Blogger's Island

Since then, I have learned that either I am as obtuse as they come and the Forest Gump of the blogging world, or that any blogger - new or experienced - can be in a similar situation. This is what I learned: first, check your settings. Mine were fine, meaning that I was keeping my secret in far more techie ways that I had the brains to delve into, but that has never stopped me. Of course, this epiphany occurred well after midnight, but I was committed to doing something, so I did a big ol‘ swan dive into the techie part of the blog puddle and learned about getting the word out. It seems that I was lacking a feed, meaning a service to spread the blogging word. I didn’t have one, or at least it didn’t go beyond Google+ anyway, so I looked around to find feeds. At two in the morning, I started looking around  to get myself listed on “feeds” such as FeedBurner and others. The ‘Others” part is what I am still working on... and trying to figure out what I was doing plus what I did at o’dark o’clock in the morning. My memories of it are a bit sketch at this point, but I did do some things correctly. Despite the hour, I somehow figured out that I needed to optimize my blog’s visibility to search engines. This is called “Search Engine Optimization” and sounds intimidating. It is intimidating unless you are or you have a 14-year-old kid around. Unfortunately, I am not 14 and when I was trying to do this for my blog, it was 2:30 in the morning and no 14-year-olds were available to consult. What I did do was left a strong document trail. I copied and pasted every page into a document and bookmarked everything into a separate, new bookmark file that was hard to misunderstand (i.e., “Blog Site Stuff So I Won’t Screw It Up In The Morning”). Now, I am blogging, procrastinating before slogging my way through that batch of bookmarks and an equally confusing scrum of note, all the while hoping someone will come along and explain what I did and what it means and how to get it all fixed so I can do some real genealogy. This may be quite a long process without the aforementioned help, so if there is anyone out there in my currently secret society who can answer my questions, of which there are many, please feel free to make suggestions. In the meantime, if you are reading this secret blog, feel special.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bennett Greenspan!

Quick update: I am in Bennett Greenspan's session on "The Future of Genetic Genealogy." This is one of the best ever. He has a logical, balanced view of the future, but also aware of the potential pitfalls that might limit our access. Moving to the next session....

Blogger Anxiety

Here I am at the So Cal Genealogy Jamboree Blogger Summit with just a few of the "stars" of genealogical blogging. My blog, this blog doesn't even show up, and granted, I have a lot to learn. Still, sometimes, especially around these pros, I wonder if I am dong something wrong, maybe nobody is out there? Any ideas?

They are also talking about "cousin bait" or using blogs to find cousins. This is a great idea, so let's count cousins reading this and then see what their brick walls happen to be. So, cousins speak up?

In the meantime, I am looking for cousins to connect with from England, Australia, Norway, and the US. More on that shortly, but back to to blogging summit.

Southern California Genealogy Jamboree Continues!

I started this morning in the very best way. Yesterday, hats were off to Blaine Bettinger's thorough but easily understood presentation on DNA, but today, thus far anyway, I am learning in spades from Judy Russell. What a great way to start my day.

Judy is advocating, as we all should be, for all of us to volunteer, join genealogical societies, and to lobby our congresspersons  (I just messaged my local candidate, Nancy Cronk) to support keeping information and records open as well as the "Genealogists'' Bill of Rights." If we do not advocate for our rights, we will lose them.

Currently, It's time for the blogger summit. Later!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

DNA Day Live From Beautiful Burbank!

This is a quick post between sessions. I just came from Blaine Bettinger's fabulous session on " Using Autosomal DNA to Explore Your Ancestry." The man is a master. He is interesting, well-informed and quite helpful. Five stars from me! New session starting, got to go...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

DNA Day is Tomorrow!

4 June 2014

I am back from my long-planned trip to the other side of the pond and after issues with my electronic devices, they are now all back in working order. This comes just in the nick of time because in less than 10 (ten!) hours I will be at DNA Day, or as it is officially called “Family History and DNA - Genetic Genealogy in 2014” Day, which kicks off the 2014 Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. This first, full day of genetic genealogy is co-sponsored by the Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS) and the International Society for Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) and is devoted to educational classes in the field of genetic genealogy. I am so excited that I am worried that I won’t sleep and since I am staying with my almost-should-be-closer-than-close-family in my old hometown of Valencia, I will be jumping on the freeway at the crack of early, joining a few thousand fellow commuters, so I must say good night now. However, check in frequently over the next four days to get updates from my experiences at the Jamboree and updates in the field of genetic genealogy.