Friday, April 29, 2016

Serendipity Day !

Blurb in our daily paper explained that Spokane has been visited by a dozen U.S. presidents plus some VPs, wives and others. Our list is Taft, Harding, both Roosevelts, Truman, Carter, Nixon, Clinton, Reagan, Ford and GW Bush. How about your town? How many presidential visits do you mark?


Cemeteries have always been of great interest to family historians. It’s always interesting to me to read about cemeteries of yore and of other cultures. In December 1634, three men set out from Fort Orange (now Albany) New York to make contact with the Mohawks to convince them that the Dutch made better trades than the French or English. They visited a series of villages, “surprising Harmen with their level of civilization. They encountered cemeteries, surrounded by palisades, ‘so neatly made that it was a wonder,’ and graves painted red, white and black. A chief’s tomb they found was large enough to have an entrance and was decorated with carvings and paintings of animals.” (From The Island at the Center of the World: Epic Story of Dutch in Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, by Russell Shorto, 2005.)


Another newspaper article spelled out the “Eight Critical Skills” or attributes that teens need to become well-functioning adults. As I read it, seemed to me that even we adults could tune up our skills in these areas, especially as genealogists:
·         Problem-solving skills
·         Critical thinking
·         Emotional intelligence (“a greater predictor of success in life than IQ”)
·         Values and ethics
·         Resourcefulness and resilience
·         Creative processing
·         Executive functioning, including basic social skills
·         Leadership perspective and the ability to see the big picture


Have you an ancestor who traveled west on the Oregon or California trails? Did you know there is a super organization dedicated to preserving not only the records of those travels but the physical trail (the ruts) itself? The Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) is headquarter in Independence, Missouri, and holds annual conferences somewhere along the trail. This year, 2016, it will be in Fort Hall, Idaho (near Pocatello) from 1-5 August. At these conferences (which are vastly different from genealogy conferences) there are few vendors (mostly books) and the emphasis is on scholarship and education. And the theme of each conference centers on that area, the geology, the Native Americans, the trail itself. Click to for more information.

The OCTA website also offers Paper Trails, a database of information about every single traveler on any of the overland trails as they are found and documented. So there is a second reason to check out OCTA.


Several times I’ve taught a class titled, “Is There A Book With My Family In It?” The idea being that there are at least a dozen ways to check to see if there is a book written about your family. Carol Richey, in her article “Reminiscences” in the April-May 2016 issue of Internet Genealogy goes a step further. When you can’t find a book about your ancestors, nor family letters, diaries, journals or other personal accounts, turn to county or compiled local histories! “These town and county histories began to emerge in the 1870s, in a large part a result of the congressional resolution in 1876 recommending towns and counties compiled historical sketches for the nation’s centennial anniversary,” states Richey. She cites finally finding a biographical sketch of her ancestor in the Compendium of History, Reminiscence, and Biography of Nebraska, published in 1912.

I think we have all been aware of these county histories but have also been aware that too often they were not indexed, nor were they even in alphabetical order. Found online, that problem is solved for then these books and their contents are word-searchable.

So where to find these books? Online collections of state libraries, university archives, and the online collection of state and local historical societies. Also do check out and or These websites might also point you to “your” book.


Back to the topic of cemeteries, one of my favorite cemeteries is Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. So named because holly used to grow profusely on the grounds, this cemetery sold its first grave in 1849.  Hollywood Cemetery ranks as the second most-visited cemetery in the nation, right behind Arlington National Cemetery. Paths and driving roads meander through the 130 acres where you can visit the graves of several U.S. presidents.

From their website, you can click on Genealogy and then search their online burial records. Or their database of Confederate soldier burial records.  Note of interest… there is a large Confederate burial area that, to be frank, is not well marked. This is because the Confederate dead from the Gettysburg battle (July 1863) were brought to Hollywood as their resting place. Can you imagine hauling hundreds of bodies 185 miles in the July heat????

Hollywood Cemetery is one place I must visit whenever I’m blessed enough to visit Richmond, Virginia.

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