Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Book Of Me, Part 5 - Childhood Home

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

The prompt for week 5 is Your Childhood Home

When did you leave home?
Where was it?
Where did you move to?
Was it rented or owned? – with parents/Grandparents
Was it inherited
What was it like – describe it – each room.
Were there a favourite room?
Is there anything you particularly remember from the house?
The road & area

This blogger, cir. 1958
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
My first home - an apartment on Chicago's North Side. 

  1.  I have no memory of it, but my parents told me I would stand up in my crib and rock it back forth, banging it against the wall, much to the neighbor's displeasure.  "Shut that kid up!!" he would yell from next door.  Nice to know I could make an impression at such a young age!
  2. We had a boxer named Bonzo who shared the bathtub with me.

Me, Tommy and our mother, cir. 1960
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

2nd home - a nice little tract home in Elk Grove Village, northwest of the city. 

  1.  It's where we lived when my baby brother Tommy was born.  
  2. I remember the pink curtains in the kitchen, because one night at dinner, I shook the steak sauce, not realizing the top wasn't on it, and those pink curtains were splattered with steak sauce.  Ooops. 
  3. I walked to school, about 3 or 4 blocks away.  I remember crying on my first day of Kindergarten, but got over it when the little boy across the street, Richard, and I became friends, and he walked with me to school every day. 
  4. I had girlfriends living next door on both sides.  The entire neighborhood was filled with young families, and we all played together.  Our moms would simply open the door, call our names, and off we'd run to have dinner.  It was a happy time where I felt safe and had no worries about the world.
  5. My sister was born while living here, while I was in second grade.
  6. At the end of the school year, we prepared to move to Palatine, a more upscale suburb.  I can still see my friend Richard watching the movers load up our belongings from his house across the street...and I was sad to think I'd never see him again.
Me in red, flanked by my girlfriends, October 1963
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

House #3 - 
A 1950's contemporary in Palatine

  1. It bordered on some affluent areas, but I wouldn't call us affluent by any means.  
  2. We had to struggle to make ends meet. 
  3. The main difference from the Elk Grove Village house was the size of the yards--it was an acre with lots of trees.  
  4. The second week we were in the house, there was a terrible storm early in the morning.  I remember hearing the rain beating down, then against the house, and suddenly it just stopped.  My mother had been looking out the window and saw the skies turning green, and she grabbed all of us and rushed us down to the basement.  We heard loud crashing and wind gusts, and the power went off.  When we emerged, there was a tree down across our street, a big tree down in our backyard, and one down on our neighbor's house.  Our first tornado left us relatively unscathed, but made a big impression on me and my lifelong obsession with the weather.
  5. One other thing that contributed to my fixation on the weather was the fact that our roof leaked.  We had no shingles--just a tar and gravel roof--and the ceilings were beamed.  Whenever we had storms, the roof would leak in several places, and we'd put out pots and pans to catch the drips.  Our family dog would get nervous any time a storm approached, because she sensed our anxiety, not only due to the roof leaking, but also because it evoked memories of that tornado we encountered when we first moved in.
  6. When the great snowstorm of 1967 struck, the snow was taller than my sister.  My dad, who owned a service station, got stuck in the snow in his tow truck just around the corner from the house.  There were many "snow" days where we stayed home and worked on our coloring books and jigsaw puzzles, drinking hot chocolate while we watched the thermometer just outside the family room window go lower and lower.  Weather--it has stayed with me my entire life!

Our family home in unincorporated Palatine, Illinois
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved
7.   I went to elementary school, junior high and high school in Palatine.
8.   I posed for prom pictures, graduations and even my first wedding in that living room.
9.   The three of us shared a bathroom, which had green and salmon colored tile, but lots of storage.  
10.  I shared a room with my sister, but it was a large space and we had an enormous basement 
       where we had toys, model trains, shuffleboard, and games.  
11.  There was also an enclosed sun porch where we'd spend rainy days playing Monopoly, Life and 
12.  Every winter, my father would build an ice rink in the backyard, mostly so my brother 
       could practice skating and hone his hockey skills.
12.  In the summer, we had a tent, a volleyball/badminton net, tetherball, a basketball hoop, and our 
       bikes to ride.  If it wasn't for the snotty rich kids who lived around us, it would have been an idyllic
       place to live.
13.  I moved out when I started college. 

I moved to Texas when I was 25, but each time I've been back to the area, I've always driven by the house for memory's sake.  A couple of years ago, though, I drove by and the house was gone, with a newly built mansion in its place.  It was shocking to me to have my childhood memories wiped out like that.  It wasn't the perfect house, but I have very fond memories of it.  I loved looking out the back windows the season's first snowfall, watching the robins emerge in the spring, the changing of the trees in autumn.  It will be forever be the house I think of as my childhood home, and while things weren't always happy, it was a wonderful place to grow up.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Book Of Me, Written by Me, Part 4

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

Prompt 4 - Favorite Season

Do you have one?
A Happy Memory or association

Close your eyes and imagine your favorite season – write down what you see, feel, hear.

Another difficult assignment...mixed feelings on this one.

When I was a child, I always enjoyed the holidays--especially Christmas.  I loved the anticipation of my grandpa coming over to spend time with us.  We lived in the suburbs of Chicago, and Grandpa still had his apartment in the city.  He would either take the train, or my dad would drive in to get him, and whenever he arrived, he was loaded down with packages, all carefully gift-wrapped, and hand-picked by him, for me, my brother and sister. This was unlike my grandmother, who sent a check each year and had my mother get us something...usually cheap.

Grandpa worked for the CTA -- Chicago Transit Authority -- and had his office in the Merchandise Mart.  This is where many of the major department stores bought their clothing lines.  Grandpa would get sample clothes for me, and I had some amazing dresses and outfits that were made so well, they were handed down to my sister, 7 years younger than me.

Modeling a stylish outfit from Grandpa, cir. 1965
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

It wasn't really about the gifts, though.  It was about Grandpa.  He would help my parents on Christmas Eve, making sure Santa's gifts were assembled properly and the cookies we'd left were eaten.  One year, there was an especially difficult assembly of Barbie's Model Runway that Santa had left for me, a project which required Grandpa and Dad working into the wee hours of the night.  Yet, no matter how tired he was, Grandpa was there, watching us open our gifts, playing our new games with us, and always expressing his admiration for our new outfits.  He was infinitely patient, unconditionally loving, and definitely had the most profound positive influence on my childhood.  I lost him when I was 12, and I can still cry as I remember getting the news that he was gone.  

For many years, we had an aluminum Christmas tree.  It was turquoise, with white satin ornaments.  Once the 60's were over, we finally got a traditional, although still artificial tree.  I took the top of the turquoise tree and set it up in my bedroom.  I would string lights on the walls of my room, make construction paper chains, and hang candy canes all over.

My best friend, Carol, and I would switch off spending the night at each other's house on December 23rd every year.  We'd go to bed saying, "Happy Eve Before Christmas Eve," and then wake in the morning to say, "Happy Christmas Eve."  We shared many a happy holiday, and to this day, we make a point to keep up the tradition of recognizing the "Eve Before Christmas Eve," coming up on our 48th time this year, no matter how many miles separate us.  She was one of the only friends my parents would allow to spend the night at our house.

Once Grandpa was gone, the fun of the holidays began to wane for our family.  My father's alcoholism worsened, and with it, the mood swings, violent outbursts and physical abuse escalated.   I don't remember what started it, but we had a fight during the holiday season, and he destroyed the turquoise tree.  I remember cutting my hands on the aluminum strands as I tried to wrestle it away from him.  I was probably about 13.  But, on the other hand, I do have fond memories of my father taking me out on Christmas Eve to shop for my mother.  As I said, it was truly a mixed bag at our house.

Once the three of us reached adulthood, Christmas became one of the few times we got together as a family, and the mood had became strained.  My daughter later told me that my demeanor changed as we prepared to gather with my family, becoming tense and definitely not reflecting the joy of the season.  I know this is common with many families, but it was a particularly stressful time for me.

One good tradition we have as adults comes from my brother, Tommy.  (I'm the only one who still calls him that, but hey, I'm the big sister and I can get away with it!)  Ever the entertainer, Tommy made up an original game for the family to play each Christmas we got together.  It would vary from our own version of the "Newlywed Game," to a test of trivia modeled after "Jeopardy," and one year where he simply made a tape of funny scenes from movies, and the last one able to get through without laughing out loud won.  (I laughed first, so I was the loser that year.)  Tommy put weeks of effort into these games, showing tremendous creativity, and then serving as the emcee who had us all laughing.  It is the most positive thing I can say about Christmases with my family once I was an adult, but I thank God for it.  My sister became the heir apparent to Scrooge, eventually outlawing the exchange of gifts and the playing of games, and finally banning our presence.  (Don't ask why...I've never figured it out.)   I made a vow to change that for my family, and I think I can honestly say I have.

Now, I still like the holidays, but I celebrate with my husband, my daughter, my brother and his wife, and good friends that I choose as family.  I like to decorate the house, bake things that are not good for the waistline, sing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs, and wrap presents.  I like the smells of holiday foods, driving around to look at light displays, and lighting candles with scents like evergreen and cinnamon.  I like how people seem friendlier during the season, and I love it when there's a cold snap and I'm able to wear something warm and festive.  Last year, we actually had over a foot of snow here in Central Arkansas on Christmas Day--a beautiful, rare gift from Mother Nature.

My backyard in Conway, Arkansas, Christmas 2012
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

Although my daughter is grown, I still get joy from finding just the right gift for her, and if I am able, surprising my husband with something he'd never expect me to think of (usually a techie gadget of some type).  It's also a time to miss those who have passed on, or who live far away, but I choose to count my blessings, which are many, especially at Christmastime.  After all, I have a husband who adores me, a beautiful daughter, an amazing brother and sister-in-law, and wonderful friends.  Celebrating the birth of my Savior with the ones I's the most wonderful time of the year!


Dedicated to the memory of my beloved Grandpa
Carl Johnson (1903 - 1970)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

About My Dad...What I Learned Through Genealogy

Genealogy: it's more than the who/where/when type of facts that make a difference to me.

What have I gained from studying genealogy?

  • A reunion with long-lost family members
  • Insight into my father's alcoholism
  • A degree of closure about my relationship with my father
  • Info about family members I've never met

I think I've alluded to the fact that my upbringing was less than desirable.  My father was a lifelong alcoholic, and he often became physically abusive when intoxicated.  The environment at home was like walking through a minefield--you had to tread carefully, lest you incur Dad's wrath.

As an adult, our relationship remained dysfunctional.  Both my father and my mother were extremely reclusive.  They had no friends, rarely went out, and didn't really even want our company (me, my brother, our families) unless it was a holiday.  They were critical of many adult decisions I made, even though I know I made many choices in an effort, however fruitless, to please them.  It took years and lots of counseling for me to figure out it wasn't me.

There are several things about this relationship I find interesting, though.  My dad was an avid Chicago sports fan (especially the Blackhawks hockey team and Bears NFL team), and I have that same passion.  He also loved old movies, especially those with a war theme, and I have the same fondness for classic films, even war movies.  It was something I did with him during some rational moments, and it makes me remember him in a favorable light.  He loved cars, and so do I.  I share many of his passions!

My mother was an only child, but my father had a sister, my aunt.  Unfortunately, Dad had a falling out with his sister when I was about 10, so she, my uncle and six cousins were never mentioned again.  When I began my family research, I discovered that my aunt was still living...and after some communication, I was able to reunite with her and my cousins this summer...after 45 years!  I must admit to feeling some trepidation before our meeting...would they be normal?  What would they think of me?  Was there any animosity?

They are...simply incredible.  My aunt, who will be 90 next month (her hubby passed a few years ago), is kind, funny and sharp as a tack.  My cousins are wonderful people with families that are close-knit and supportive of one another.  It's a foreign concept to me, but they accepted me into their fold and now, my brother and I are no longer orphans.  It's an amazing feeling, and I have genealogy to thank for it.

The other thing that came from this meeting was insight into my father's mind.  My grandmother passed away at the relatively young age of 52.  My father had been in Korea, serving in the Army and in active combat, when he was called home to her deathbed.  Upon her death, my grandfather lost it and moved away.  He'd apparently never been much of a father to my dad, and losing his wife left him completely devastated emotionally.  My father must have felt the same way, and I cannot imagine how difficult it was for him to return to the war immediately after losing his mother.  Dad rarely spoke about his family, nor about his experiences in Korea.  I suspect there was some trauma that impacted him on a deep emotional level, and he was simply unable to cope without turning to alcohol as a crutch.
Dad & Me, my first wedding 1980
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

Dad passed away in 2008, from the same cancer that claimed his mother.  I was holding his hand when he took his last breath, and I have complete peace about him.  He is in a better place, and when I see him again, we will at last have the father-daughter relationship I've craved my entire life.  I know that he was a tortured soul, and while he may have mistreated me, I think it was because he had personal demons he just didn't know how to deal with.  People of his generation rarely sought counseling, and he never did respond to my efforts to talk about things with him.

Dad knew I loved him, and I know he loved me.  He helped make me who I am, and I turned out okay.  It wasn't a great relationship, but after doing genealogy and finding out more about what he endured, I have compassion for him, and a sense of closure for myself.  Knowing just the dates and names would never have provided me with this kind of's the stories behind the facts.

This is dedicated to the memory of my dad:
My father and me, circa 1958
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

Thomas D. Barski (1931 - 2008)


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Book of Me, Written by Me, Part 3

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to  for more information.]

Prompt 3: Describe your physical self.

Ok, this one is incredibly difficult for me.  I've been chronically ill for over 20 years, and the first thing that pops into my mind weight, which has yo-yo'ed over the years as medications, lack of sleep and complications have taken their toll on my body and apparent non-existent metabolism, so my self-esteem, in regards to my physical appearance, is suffering.  I over-fixate on it, I'm told, but it's something I struggle with every day. The latest picture I'm willing to post is from nearly 2 years ago.

On a positive note, here is some additional info in response to this week's prompt.

I have been told that I resemble Jennifer Nettles, from the country band Sugarland. I should be so lucky!

I am tall, but am shrinking. At my peak I was 5'11", but now just under 5'10". My hair is blonde (shout out to my stylist, Angela, or I'd be mousy with gray) and my lifelong super straight hair is now curly, thanks to apparent hormonal changes. I used to pay big bucks in the 80's for hair like this. I love it!

Permed in the 80's
 (Property of Linda O'Donnell, copyright  2013)
 Natural Curl - Winter 2011
 (Property of Linda O'Donnell, copyright 2013)
I have far surpassed the age of good eyesight and need glasses most of the time. I have relatively small feet (size 8) for my height, but they are wide with a high arch and shoe shopping is not I also have very short fingers and an extremely broad palm--bangle bracelets typically don't fit.  I  love to collect shoes in colors to coordinate with my outfits.  

I am fair-complected, and have not been much of a sun-worshiper, so my skin is in pretty good shape. I would never get a tattoo, but that's my personal choice.  (My daughter has several. Ew.) I have green eyes, and my eyebrows are pretty average, maybe even on the thin side. I would never consider Botox, collagen injections or plastic surgery of any kind, so this is what I'm keeping until the good Lord calls me home. (Not that I begrudge anyone who chooses to do any of those things.). 

When I was young, I struggled with 20 pounds that I would gain and lose, but stayed pretty thin until I got sick.  At my smallest, I was a size 4, averaged about a 10, and now, well, let's just say it's plus-size and leave it at that.  Did I mention how difficult it is to find cute clothes in plus-size, especially when you're tall?  I don't like to be frumpy, even if I am nearly 56.  I like to joke that my mind is still 25, but the body is just not keeping up.

I appreciate jewelry, but don't wear it much since I went on disability 10 years ago.  I love, love, love cosmetics, though, and love to get mini-makeovers at the mall whenever I can.  Thank God for eyeliner, concealer and mascara!

My favorite color to wear is pink.  Always has been.  I do my own nails to save money, and I'm into whatever color of the rainbow tickles my fancy.  Right now they are purple with a coat of gold glitter.  

What I hope is that if you meet me, you see who I am, not what I look like. I like to think that's what hopefully my kindness, compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and sense of humor shine through this aging, beat-up exterior.  After all, beauty is only skin-deep, and if you're not beautiful from within, the outside really doesn't matter.


Friday, September 13, 2013

You Can Call Me Ray, Jay... But You Doesn't Have to Call Me Johnson

The name of this post comes from a comedy routine that appeared in Budweiser commercials in the 70's.  The star, Ray J. Johnson, says "You can call me Ray, you can call me Jay, you can call me....<insert many iterations>, and ends with, "but you doesn't have to call me Johnson."  It was funny at the time...

One of the things I've learned while doing family research is how commonly first names were reused within a family.  If a baby died at birth or in early infancy, it was not unusual for the parents to use that first name on a later offspring.  We all see sons being named for their fathers, often spanning several generations, but when I saw it done frequently with mothers and daughters, I was a bit surprised.

My brother's name is Thomas, although he will always be Tommy to me.  He is my kid brother, after all.  My father's name was Thomas, and my grandfather's name was Thomas.  So that all makes perfect sense.  Even my brother's middle name, Harold, came from my other grandfather, whose middle name was Hjalmar, a Swedish version of Harold.  My brother's name was destined for him long before he was even conceived.

good ship lollipop photo: 1934 On the Good Ship Lollipop 1934STOntheGoodShipLollipopSMUK1a.jpg
Photo courtesy of
I, on the other hand, have no relatives named Linda.  But my mother told me that Shirley Temple, the famous child actress (think "Good Ship Lollipop") named her first child Linda Susan, and she liked the name, so that's what I'm stuck with.  It ended up being the most common name in the U.S. in the 50's and I grew up with 3 other Lindas, and we'd all answer "yes?" when the teacher called out our name.  I even decided, in the fourth grade, to start spelling it "Lynda," but that was quickly quashed by my teacher and my parents...oh well.  You don't see many little girls named Linda any more, and it has become very indicative of my age.

carole lombard photo: Carole Lombard CaroleLombard.jpg
Photo courtesy of
My mother's name is Carole.  My grandmother was a big fan of the movie actress, Carole Lombard.  Carole Lombard was an adorable blonde mostly known for her screwball comedies, but she could also do dramatic parts well.  She was married to Clark Gable, and died in a plane crash while raising money for bonds supporting the U.S. during World War II.  My favorite movie with Lombard is "My Man Godfrey," in which she plays a nutty heiress who brings home a homeless man during a scavenger hunt, makes him the family butler, and of course, falls in love with him.  She was perfect in the part, a little ditsy, a little emotional, but passionate and full of life.  I don't see any resemblance between Carole Lombard and my mother, either physically or in personality, but that's where she got her name.

When I start to move on to my great-grandparents' generation, I first found my maternal grandfather's parents, Selma and Hjalmar.  Hjalmar was my grandfather's middle name, so this made perfect sense.  When I started looking for Hjalmar's parents, I began to uncover records that showed his name as Andrew Hjalmar.  I found Hjalmar Andrew.  The records I found were all for the same person, but his name shows up with the order of the names reversed in some cases, so until I find his official birth record in Sweden (which I'm still searching for), I won't know the name he was born with.  I'm still working on finding Hjalmar's father, but it appears he might be Andreas, a Swedish form of Andrew.  That might lend more credence to Hjalmar's first name being Andrew, but, again, I'm not sure.  It sure doesn't help that this branch of the family has the surname Johnson.  It makes digging through records, especially in Swedish, much more tedious.

I only have one child, a daughter, and even if she had been a boy, there would have no juniors, no middle names after parents.  I just picked names I liked, although it ended up that her first name, Kristen, while not all that common to me when I chose it, ended up like my name, and she grew up with several other Kristens as her schoolmates.  But, you can find it on a keychain, so that's always a positive!  I used to be able to find "Linda" on things, but not so much anymore.  Now it's Ashley, Brianna, Kelli, Madison...and who knows what the next wave will bring.  Regardless, I remain, Linda, and it's nice to meet you!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I'm Researching my Family Origins

credit below
The word "dysfunctional" has become so overused these days that it ceases to carry the impact it was originally intended to convey.  I was raised in one of those dysfunctional households; one that was so turbulent that even now, in my mid-50's, I cannot tolerate watching people in conflict on TV, because it triggers memories of the volatile atmosphere of my childhood.  Unfortunately, even in adulthood, the overall health of the family relationships did not improve, but what I got out of it was that I knew I didn't want to be like them, and I think I succeeded in that desire.

I started on a genealogy project for the daughter of a dear friend as a wedding present, and found myself fascinated not only by the work itself, but also the stories of the people--how they met their spouses, what motivated them to immigrate to the United States, the roles they might have played in their communities, and the tragedies they endured in trying to build their own version of the American dream.  In spite of the fact that my parents weren't Ozzie and Harriet (i.e. "ideal" for you younger readers), I wanted to know more about my family's origins.  Perhaps my research might lead me to a better understanding of how they became the people they were, how they were influenced by their own parents and life events.  I've always loved history, and having the ability to discover even a little bit about my ancestry is very compelling to me.  Perhaps I can gain some insight as to why my family was, shall we say, not like the Brady Bunch.

Many researchers are fortunate enough to have a lot of information available to them before they even start on their family trees.  Not me.  Here's what I knew when I started:

  • Dad's birth date and location
  • Moms' birth date and location
  • Their marriage date and location
  • Maternal grandparents' birth dates, one location
  • Paternal grandparents' names and general date of death

I also knew my dad had a sister, my aunt.  They had a disagreement when I was ten or eleven, and due to my father, I didn't see her, my uncle, or my six cousins until this summer, 45 years later.  (More on that later.)  That's all I knew.  It's not much.  I also knew that my maternal grandfather's parents came from Sweden.   My maternal grandmother was born in Denmark and came over at age two.  But the bad part on both of them was their surnames--Johnson and Jensen.  These are so ridiculously common that it has made my research very difficult.  But, I never back away from a challenge, so I will press onward.  I know the journey itself is going to be as rewarding as reaching the final destination!

(Picture courtesy of;  David Castillo Dominici, published on 08 October 2012
Stock Photo - image ID: 100105897

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Book of Me, Written by Me, Part 2

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselves. Go to  for more information.]

Prompt 2: Your Birth

  • Do you have any baby photos?
  • Where were you born?
  • Who was present at your birth?
  • Dimensions?
  • What day was it? Time?
  • Did you have hair? Eye colours
  • Are you a twin?
My answers:
There are many photos of me since I am the first born and was the first grandchild on my maternal side.
I was born in Chicago, in the Near North neighborhood, not far from what is now called Wrigleyville.  (That must have been a factor in my irrational support of the Cubs for many years.)
My mother was there, although she had been given "ether," an anesthetic, so she wasn't as active a participant as most mothers are these days.  But, she was crucial in the process!  My dad was pacing outside the hospital, throwing up.  He never could handle hospitals.
I'm not sure what my exact dimensions were, but around 7-1/2 pounds.  Pretty average.  On time, too, I think.  It was an early Monday morning, on a rainy fall day in October.
My eyes were blue until about age 3 (now they are green), and I had brown hair that turned blonde when I was a youngster.  Now my blonde comes from a bottle. (Thank goodness for Lady Clairol!)
Not a twin.  A brother and sister came later, though.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tripping Right Out of the Gate--Mistakes Doing Family Research

When I started my first tree on, I made many mistakes.  The primary one I made was accepting sources as facts applicable to my "people" without doing proper analysis and review.  So, when I found a record for the Johnson branch of my tree, I just slapped it in and moved on.  Before you know it, my grandfather had brothers and a huge extended family, which I later discovered was WRONG.  He had no siblings, so the brothers I found didn't belong in my tree.  I had not only wasted a great deal of time, but I poisoned my tree with bad data.  It's difficult to go back and purge after you've added numerous people and sources to your tree, especially when it involves multiple branches.

I had to drop back and regroup.  What was I doing wrong?  Well, first of all, let me give credit to the professional genealogists out there.  My respect for you is enormous, and it has grown as I've learned more.  I know you have been doing this for years, and many have professional certifications and training that I am now working on.  It is from you that I've discovered how much I really have to learn, and also much more.

Besides the tutorials available on many ancestry sites, both subscription and free, I discovered that many genealogical societies offer "webinars," which is a training seminar that can be viewed live (and sometimes later, at your leisure) and online.  Usually there is a Q & A period afterwards, where you can ask the presenter something about the topic being covered.  In addition, Family Tree Webinars (associated with Legacy Family Tree Software) offers a yearly subscription to their webinar program.  They typically have a new webinar each Wednesday, and members can view nearly 200 hours' worth of archived webinars.  You can search these by topic, or presenter.  It's been through these webinars that I have learned an incredible amount about genealogy, not only regarding the research process, but also about accepted industry standards and the resources that are available to online genealogists of all levels of experience.  Some of the experts who present these webinars are so good, I make time to listen to them any chance I get.  My favorite, Thomas MacEntee, is my genealogy hero.  His background is similar to mine, in that his career was, for quite some time, in the Information Technology industry.  His profession is now in Genealogy, with an emphasis on using technology.  He is a dynamic speaker, easy to relate to, an avid blogger, and generous in sharing his knowledge and experience.  He is what I aspire to be, one day.  If you get a chance, check out his webinars or look for conferences where he is scheduled to appear.

The biggest mistake I made was rapidly accepting "hints" in without vigilantly reviewing them.  I was so excited, naive, and untrained that I just hit "Save to my Tree" and moved on.  It wasn't long before my tree was completely corrupted with inaccuracies and lots of folks whom I'm sure were very nice but aren't related to me.  If I was going to be serious about this, I needed to learn more before I proceeded.  Luckily for me, and any budding genealogist, there are multitudes of learning resources available on the internet, many of them free.  I now plan my genealogy time to include self-training time, instead of just research, research, research. And, let me add, this is not meant to be a knock on  It is a tremendous resource that has allowed me to get my feet wet in this endeavor, and I highly recommend it to anyone doing family research.  Just like most things, knowing how to use it properly is the key to maximizing its utility.

The main point of today's post is that, unless you are already an experienced genealogist/family historian, set your expectations properly.  This is going to take time.  It's more like the tortoise than the hare.  Ensuring accuracy for your project(s) takes careful analysis and review of your sources.  This is where I made mistakes in the early phases of my project.  Don't take anything at face value.  If this is a new concept to you, then I would say you could definitely benefit from those many educational resources that are available...before you end up with a tree that is overgrown and filled with branches that belong somewhere else.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Road to the Past is Much Longer than I Anticipated

I worked in the Information Technology industry for 25 years, mostly as a programmer and trainer, until I became too sick to work about 10 years ago.  I missed the gratification of the work, the sense of accomplishment, and of course, the paycheck.  I'm housebound most of the time, but I do get bored.  One can only play so much Rock Band, after all (it's one of my vices!).

After the passing of my father a few years ago, I got interested in learning more about our family's ancestry.  The commercials for are very enticing--plug in some names and dates, and PRESTO!  The little leaves pop up and you will soon know everything you ever wanted to know about your family.  Being a history nut, as well as a techie, it seemed like a good thing to occupy my time.

I was very naive and oh so ignorant about the science of genealogy when I started nearly two years ago.  I rapidly built a huge family tree that, beyond my grandparents' generations, was mostly inaccurate and filled with people who in fact were not related to me in any way.  Of course, I had a huge disadvantage in that I was dealing with last names like "Johnson" and "Jensen" and the fact that my grandparents were from other countries whose records are stored in foreign languages. (This is still a barrier to my research.)  But I was gullible, and, as I said, ignorant of how to properly approach my family research project, and as a result, my first family tree on is a muddled, useless mess.

So, I returned to the way I approached things in my old profession.  I started planning, not taking things at face value, and analyzing before I dove in.  As a programmer, one needs to know the objective of the program to be written.  What does the user of this program really need?  What are the inputs and outputs?  What requirement will it fill?  Is the data going in accurate?  These same principles apply to doing genealogy.  I have learned that I need to set objectives.  I must have a plan, validate the data going in, and narrow my focus to a single objective at a time, rather than diving in and trying to build my entire tree at once, from a single source.

As a programmer, I always had a schedule to adhere to.  I had to do my analysis up front, interviewing "users" and clients, check my data sources, and then get to the technical work of coding.  Then I would test the program, install it, and do any necessary training.  Project complete.  Here's where genealogy is very different.  Because the data comes from so many sources, (and some sources are difficult to find), and the data is not consistent across those sources, your timetable for a project is impossible to predict.  I now know that this will be a journey that may take longer than the duration of my life.  Knowing that at the onset may have changed how I approached this project.  If you are a beginner, set your expectations realistically.  Most professional genealogists have been working at their craft for many years.  Unless you are fortunate enough to have had someone else do extensive research for you, building your family tree could require a very long time to complete, and there's no way to estimate how long it will take.

I've figured out that this journey is going to be long.  I have also figured out that I want to become a professional genealogist or family historian of some kind.  I'm totally hooked.  It's not just the process, it's the whole road to the past that has seduced me.  Stories of my ancestors' trials and triumphs, newly discovered photographs of long-lost relatives and accounts of historical events in faraway countries have me chomping at the bit to learn more.  It's given me a new purpose in life.  I hope I can share some of my discoveries with you as I continue on my journey, perhaps saving you from some of the mistakes I made, and hopefully encouraging and entertaining you along the way.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Book of Me, Part 1

The Book of Me, Written by You is a series of weekly blog prompts, created by Julie Goucher of Anglers Rest and organized by Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers, focusing on the ”journey of rediscovery of yourself and perhaps your loved ones through your eyes.” The flyer is available to download from Julie's main Anglers Rest website: 

20 answers to the question, who am I?

1. I am Linda.
2. I am the wife of a wonderful man.
3. I am mother to an amazing daughter.
4. I am sister to a loving brother.
5. I am a budding genealogist.
6. I am an ex-computer programmer.
7. I am a native of Chicago.
8. I am sensitive.
9. I am a person of great faith in God.
10. I believe in being kind to others.
11. I am chronically ill.
12. I am a music lover.
13. I am loyal.
14. I am nuts about the Chicago Bears.
15. I am the product of a very dysfunctional upbringing.
16. I am a survivor.
17. I love all things techie.
18. I am moral.
19. I am an animal lover.
20. I am blessed.

What I'm doing here...

This blogger, on my first day of kindergarten. (Photo privately owned; copyright 2013)
Welcome to my blog!  Join me on my journey, as I research my ancestry, study the science of genealogy, and try to apply what I learn to understanding the insanity of the people I call family.  Learn from my tips and mistakes, and laugh (or cry) at the trials and triumphs experienced in the house of crazy.