Welcome to another Carnival of Genealogy (CoG). It’s an opportunity for the genealogy blogosphere aficionados to strut their stuff on a specific topic. July’s topic is “The Seasons of Genealogy.” I’m approaching it metaphorically. See how my garden of “Family History Discoveries” has bloomed.
Assuming spring represents a “beginning,” here’s how I’d lay out the seasons of my family history research:
The Spring of my Family History Discoveries
The crocuses of family archives are just beginning to poke their heads out of the earth.
Early March of my genealogy research, is, sadly, directly related to three deaths: of my grandparents and, later, their eldest son, who had lived with them his entire life.
Uncle Bill died on January 1, 1990, and that’s when my brothers and I emptied out my grandparents’ house, and gave just a cursory look to what we discovered in their basement: plastic bags of letters, miscellaneous notebooks and scraps of paper; photo albums; needlework. We had no time to look at it closely, so we just hauled it all pretty much as we found it to my parents’ attic.
Late March/Early April of Family History Discoveries
Out of the coldness and sorrow of death, my family history came alive. My mother died in August, 1994. That’s when my brothers and I first realized the true extent of the family archives that had lain untouched for two decades and longer in my parents’ attic. We grouped what we found by categories into twenty-five bankers’ boxes, labeled each, loaded the van, and drove them off to storage. The daffodils of family history awareness were emerging.
Mid-April of Family History Discoveries
In 2000 I persuaded my brothers to come to Chicago to spend a week cataloging in greater detail what existed in our massive collection. As brother Bill and I pulled an artifact out of each box, my older brother, Paul, entered it into an Excel spread sheet. Now we had quick access for research. The boxes went into the second story of my heated garage. If each artifact were a daffodil, thousands were in glorious bloom, begging me to look at them.
Early May of Family History Discoveries
For two years those boxes nagged at me. In 2002 I took the plunge and began reading the 250+ WWII letters as well as my parents’ oldest diaries. So began my journey into the past. I spent the next several years, as time allowed, reading and annotating the diaries, and writing chapters of family history. The tulips bloomed in my Family Research Garden.
Late May of Family History Discoveries
Fall of 2007, my brothers and I traveled to Romania (Austro-Hungary when my grandparents lived there). In their hometowns we discovered that the Gartz side of the family had originally come from Alsace, visited the original homes of both Dad’s parents, met relatives–as well as Professor Uli Wien — who was researching a book about the Siebenbürgen Germans. Showy peonies brightened the family history trail.
Some links: Spilling Secrets. Searching for Home.
June of Family History Discoveries
Of course I “knew” I’d never be able to read the scores of letters written in old German script — until Uli, the professor, wrote to ask if I had letters he could use for research. He agreed to help me decipher some. I realized I had letters between my grandparents dating as far back as 1910 and 1911. I looked more closely at lots of artifacts in Boxes 1 & 14 and later found Meta, a 90-year-old woman in Germany, who helped me decipher what turned out to be love letters between my grandparents, diaries they each kept, and letters from their homeland revealing the six decades of ties they kept with family and friends. My genealogy research is bursting into full summer bloom! (Read some excerpts of what I found: Terror atop the Train. If you love me…. (my grandfather, Josef’s, desperate letter to get my grandmother, Lisi, to join him in America)
It will take a while to move into the fall of my research, but I hope to do so as this year’s summer actually gives way to autumn. I’ve learned nothing can be overlooked, The most obscure business card can hold a treasure of information on the back, hiding its secrets in a scrawl of old German writing — until I get it to Meta to decipher. The spreadsheet was a good beginning — but details lurk within or behind every album, wallet, framed photo, and scrap of paper.
Winter will be here when I donate all to a wonderful research library for all the world to access this historical trove.