Monday, March 28, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - March 28

An excerpt of Pid's writing, dated Sunday, March 28 (year uncertain, likely 1993):
"Still have the sniffles. Out to see mom, she looks good. 60 degrees. Cooling down, raining." 
Most of Pid's journal entries were like this: short, factual, and to the point. Her letters, on the other hand, tended to be longer and more detailed. I still have many of them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mystery Monday - A Mystery Solved

When I started this blog just a few short weeks ago, I wrote an explanation for the blog's title. I had selected this name in honor of my grandaunt "Pid" whose unusual moniker was something of a family mystery. 

Well, I am so glad I wrote that post because I received a response from a relative who remembered hearing an anecdote about the nickname's origin:

"The story...was that there was an older man in her life when she was a toddler (around 3 or 4 years old) who was named Phil. Apparently she could not pronounce 'Phil,' instead repeatedly and frantically saying 'PidPhiddyPiddyPid!' or something to that effect, and thus, the nickname was born."
This is a fantastic story and I was thrilled to hear it! My heartfelt thanks go out to the wonderful family member who shared this with me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Tip - The Undiscovered Repository

Last week I wrote about what to expect when visiting an archives or special collections department for the first time. My tips included checking the researcher policies ahead of time and bringing pencils, rather than pens. This week, I will focus on utilizing the "undiscovered" repository.

When new researchers look for a starting point, their first stop--after online resources, of course--is probably going to be the local library. And this is a terrific place to begin. There they will have access to reference staff, microfilm/microfiche readers, and, in many cases, a state or local history collection. As an added perk, with a valid library card, researchers can request needed materials from other library systems through inter-library loan (ILL).

If you are a researcher, you may have asked yourself, "Where can I go besides the local public library?" Some of the more common options include state libraries, local historical societies, and state archives. Once again, these are all great choices. But don't stop there. Broaden your search and look for smaller, perhaps lesser known repositories that may have useful specialized collections. 

I can think of two examples where this approach has benefited my own research. When I was working on a project in Kansas City, I naturally visited the Missouri Valley Special Collections at Kansas City Public Library and the Midwest Genealogy Center at Mid-Continent Public Library. And I was fortunate to find a wealth of information at both of these repositories. However, when I became stumped on a few questions, I looked for other sources of information.

For this particular project, I was looking for background information and dates (or date ranges) for various artifacts. The items in question ranged from typical kitchen implements and household furnishings to farm equipment. 

To research the household pieces, I visited the archives department at Union Station. (An experienced museum consultant with whom I had been working made this extremely helpful suggestion). There I was able to pour over a collection of old catalogs dating back to the Late 19th Century. Getting a sense of what products and styles were popular in given years helped me to narrow down the date ranges for some of the artifacts. (Note: The research policies and collection availability may have changed in the last few years. Contact the Collections Department before planning a research trip). 

Another hidden gem turned out to be the Agricultural Hall of Fame. This facility had books and catalogs that helped me to identify some of the farm equipment. Being that antique farm machinery was not one of my specific areas of expertise, this small but specialized collection proved to be a great service. 

The genealogical research applications of the above examples are pretty clear. You may find yourself in the position where you need to identify and date heirlooms that you have acquired in the course of your family history research. You may also need to date photographs of people in your family tree by using context clues in the backgrounds of those pictures. (I will post more about using clues in photos next week). 

In the broadest sense, the lesson in this week's tip is that the answers to your research questions can lie in unexpected places. Look for the unique collections in your area. Ask the librarians, as well as your fellow researchers, what other research centers are available that might help you in your search. You may be surprised to learn that the perfect "undiscovered" repository was right under your nose all along.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mystery Monday - Who Are You William Strong?

"Who are you, William Strong?" is a question that I've been asking lately. I've only gathered a few fractured theories and partial facts thus far:
  • He was born around 1852, possibly in New York.
  • Based on Pid's recollection several years ago, his middle name was Edward. 
  • He was married to May (sometimes transcribed as "Mary") Reynolds around 1873.
  • He lived in Willsboro (Willsborough), New York for a substantial portion of his life--if not all of it.
This is where things get hazy. Pid thought that he had been born in Canada, but census records list New York as his place of birth. Stranger still, the census records for 1880, 1900, and 1910 list conflicting places of birth for his parents. 

1880 suggests that both of his parents were born in New York. 1900 places his father's birth in Canada, but his mother's in New York. And the 1910 census indicates that both parents were born in Vermont. I have been unable to find any record of William prior to 1880.

Of course, there is family legend in the mix, as well. One story insinuated that William was originally from Canada, but left under questionable circumstances. As a result, he moved to New York and changed his name to "Strong." I'm naturally going to take that bit of folklore with a grain of salt.  

So, my mystery today is: Who was William Strong? When and where was he born? Who were his parents and where were they born? 

I can only hope that my next trip to New York will yield some additional clues or, at the very least, some direction.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Story of Pid's Water Jar

This past week, I posted a picture of a glass jar and labeled it simply "Pid's Water Jar" for Wordless Wednesday. Yesterday, I received a request for some words of explanation and I'm more than happy to oblige!

My grandaunt "Pid" was a very practical and frugal person. She didn't believe in spending money on anything she deemed frivolous or unnecessary. She was a "make do with what you have" sort of person and rarely bought things just for herself. 

Pid liked to keep drinking water in her refrigerator, but rather than buying a pitcher, she used a large pickle jar that she had on hand. That jar was in Pid's fridge as long as I can remember and, as it turns out, my mother can recall that same jar from her own youth. It was a known and expected constant: if you visited Pid's home, you would be drinking a glass of ice-cold water poured from that pickle jar. 

The jar is now in my home--stored in a safe place, but one in which I can see it every day.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Family Recipe Friday - Michigan Sauce

Almost anyone who has summered on Lake Champlain would know what you meant if you said, "It's Michigan season!" And if you're lucky enough to have had female ancestors or relatives from the region, you've probably enjoyed a lovely homemade version of this summer dish.

What is a Michigan? It's a steamed hot dog, served on a bun with mustard, chopped onions, and a special "Michigan sauce." They are usually served at seasonal food stands by carhops--very quaint! What follows is my adaptation of the Michigan sauce recipe.

Michigan Sauce
  • 1 lb. 90% (or leaner) ground beef
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 green pepper, finely chopped (I use a food processor)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped (food processor again)
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. onion salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 5-10+ drops hot pepper sauce, depending on your "hotness" preferences (I use Gunslinger Smokin' Hot JalapeƱo Pepper Sauce, which I got in Kansas.)
  • 1/4 c. water
Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a crock pot. Cook on High setting for 30 minutes. Stir. Switch to Low setting and cook for about 3 hours. To serve: Place a steamed hot dog on a New England style bun. Add the sauce (generously), followed by a thin stripe of yellow mustard and additional chopped onions. 

Ironically, I have been a vegetarian for several years, but will make this upon request for my loved ones!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday's Tip - Special Collections Research

Note: As a professional researcher, I spend quite a bit of time in archives and special collections. I wrote the following piece for another blog, but decided to re-post here for Tuesday's Tip.

(Originally published 2/14/11)

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a special collections department with someone who had never been before. As I was busy signing in and filling out call slips, it occurred to me that a first-timer might be overwhelmed by how different this type of research environment is, especially compared to a public or college library.

With that in mind, I drafted a list of tips that could help a budding researcher prepare for his or her first visit to the special collections. 

Go to the organization's website and review the policies for researchers.

You may find that you'll need to register as a patron, show identification, or check in with the librarian (or archivist) on duty upon your arrival.  In some situations, you may have to pay a fee to use the collections. And services, such as photocopying, may or may not be provided. It's much better to be prepared for these possibilities ahead of time.  (Of course, if you cannot find the policies online, you'll want to call the department directly.)

Be prepared to deposit your belongings in a locker.

Those who are accustomed to settling in for long hours at the library with an over-sized backpack and a travel mug of coffee* may be surprised by the restrictions in place at an archives or special collections department. Bags may be subject to search (or prohibited) and drinks are rarely allowed. You may want to save yourself the hassle by leaving food, beverages*, and large bags at home.  Staff may direct you to place other forbidden items, such as cell phones or portfolios, in a locker.

*If necessary, you can always make an emergency Starbucks run after you leave.  However, if your research topic is engaging enough, you might be able to bypass the caffeine fix altogether!

Bring pencils, rather than pens.

It is very likely that only pencils will be allowed in the reading room, so sharpen a couple of trusty yellow #2's before heading out to do your research. You may prefer pens, but this is a very small sacrifice for the sake of research. (Besides, you don't want to be responsible for leaving a permanent inky blemish on a piece of history anyway.)

Do not feel persecuted if you find yourself under the scrutinizing eye of staff.

Staff members are looking out for the safety and security of irreplaceable collections. These individuals ensure that the documents are handled properly and that nothing inadvertently gets mixed in with your own papers.  (And, yes, they are monitoring all of the researchers, not just you.)

These are just a few of the things to consider before embarking on a research trip.  There are probably countless other guidelines and rules of thumb for new archival researchers, but this is a solid starting point. Just be prepared, go with the flow, and enjoy the fact that you are accessing amazing materials that most people will never see.

Best of luck!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - Military Discharge 1865

What follows is a transcription of my great great granduncle's military discharge paperwork, dated Nov. 6, 1865...

"To all whom it may concern:

Know ye, That Henry D. Cooley a Private of Captain Lemon [?] Company, (A,) 118 Regiment of New York Volunteers, who was enrolled on the Twenty Eighth day of February one thousand eight hundred and Sixty Five to serve One year or during the war [sic] is hereby Discharged from the service of the United States this Sixth day of November, 1865, at New York City by reason of Tel. Order War Dpt...May...1865 [incomplete, parts illegible]

(No objection to his being re-enlisted is known to exist.)

Said Henry D. Cooley was born in Willsborough in the State of NY, is 19 years of age, Five feet Eleven inches high, light complexion, Blue eyes, light hair, and by occupation, when enrolled, a Farmer.

Given at New York City this Sixth day of November 1865.

W. E. Blake [?]

A. C. M. Dept of East [incomplete, parts illegible]"

Based on his pension paperwork, I believe that Henry Cooley died in 1887, leaving behind a wife (Lucy) and at least four children.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scanning Photos - My Grandparents

Today was another day of scanning for me, as I continue my efforts to preserve our family pictures and letters.

This photo, which was taken during the early 1950s in the Adirondacks region of Upstate New York, shows my late (maternal) grandparents during their courtship days. 

These two shy teenagers would one day celebrate their wedding, the births of their children and grandchildren, countless joyful holidays, and ultimately, a love and commitment that would last over 50 years.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Those Places Thursday - Frontier Town

Frontier Town, early 1990s
In honor of "Those Places Thursday," I combed through my photo collection looking for an image that captured my family at play in a familiar old place.

This photo was taken at a theme park called Frontier Town in North Hudson, NY. (As you can see, my young relative who shall remain nameless is doing time for crossing the sheriff. A warning to all outlaws!)

At Frontier Town, you moseyed back in time for a little taste of the Old West in the Adirondacks. You could see the rodeo,
witness a train hold-up, and pick out a special toy pistol to commemorate your visit. (The latter was a must.)

Unfortunately, the park closed in 1998 and has not since reopened.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pid Was Her Name

Pid was my grandaunt. And, as you probably gathered, "Pid" was not her given name. We come from a family that bestows mysterious nicknames on its members for reasons unknown. Florence Maud was dubbed "Mizzy," Elizabeth Lucretia was called "Luli," and Evelyn Natalie was known as "Sophie." My name is Danielle, yet to my grandparents, I was "Henrietta." Figure that one out.

Then there was Evelyn May, better known as "Pid." Unfortunately, there is no one left from her generation who remembers how that moniker came about. It was just always there and somehow perfectly illuminated the person she was to us. In fact, when we heard someone outside the family call her "Evelyn" or "Evie," it rang untrue, as though they were talking about someone else. 

As a person, she defined the unusual name. If there were a dictionary entry, it would read:  

Pid, ca. 1979-1980
  • Pid n. A woman who exhibits the qualities of frugality, fierce independence, strong opinion, moral high-mindedness, temperance, outspokenness, charity, and selflessness. Such a woman may lecture others on moral turpitude, then grant them tremendous generosity without question.

If, at any point, someone mentioned the above characteristics, a family member would probably respond, "Oh, you're talking about Pid." And we would smile.

Although widowed and childless, she somehow became the de facto matriarch of our family. Inexplicably, she was everyone's mother.

It was with Pid that I began exploring family history. She shared the stories of her deceased siblings, her late parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and beyond. On December 28-29, 2002, I spent the night at her home and stayed up into the wee hours listening to her stories and recording everything she could recall about her family, reaching as far back into the past as she could and sharing things only she knew.

It was a long and perfect night that I will always treasure. I didn't know it then, but the timing was fortuitous. On March 13, 2003--less than 3 months after she had shared her priceless memories with me--Pid was the victim of a fatal accident at the age of 80. If we hadn't taken the time to explore our family history together that evening, it never would have happened at all.

So, that's why I'm dedicating this genealogy and family history blog to my dearest "Pid"--the one and only.