Sunday, January 30, 2011

BYU Magazine Review

Just wanted to share my excitement in a quick post here. The current BYU Magazine has a little blurb about my book. It says:

The Journey Takers is family history at its best. Leslie Albrecht Huber (BA ’98) transforms a buried past into a living present by following her journeying ancestors as they left their homes in Germany, Sweden, and England to travel to Zion in the American West. Huber’s exhaustive research takes her to her family’s homelands and enables her to reconstitute the communities, daily life, and eras in which her ancestors lived. Following them on their various journeys, she examines the historical impact of their decisions to emigrate.

I'll post more later: my attention is needed to help my ten-year-old daughter create an eighteenth-century courtesy book for her social studies project. Due tomorrow, of course. Then, my attention is requested to read another chapter of Ramona the Brave because it is due back to the library in two days.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Upcoming Genealogy Conferences

January and February tend to be slow months in the genealogy world. But spring brings an onslaught of conferences, seminars, and other opportunities to increase your genealogy skills. My inbox is filling with reminders of upcoming conferences and announcements of open registration for various conferences. I already wrote about NERGC – coming up at the beginning of April. Here are a few other conferences that are on my spring speaking schedule that you also might want to consider adding to your calendar.

Feb 25-26, St. George Family History Expo, St. George, UT There is a February conference! And in a nice warm place too. I think St. George, Utah is a much better place to be at the end of February than anywhere in Massachusetts. I’ll blog more about it as it approaches. At $65 (for those who pre-register), this conference is a steal! If St. George is too far for you, check out their website anyway. Upcoming Expos will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah; Loveland, Colorado; Overland Park, Kansas; San Mateo, California; and Duluth, Georgia.

5 March, South Davis Regional Family History Fair, Bountiful, UT. If you live near Bountiful, you won’t want to miss this free conference. They have an amazing 20 classes occurring at one time, so you’re bound to find the perfect class for you.

25-26 March, Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference. Fairfax, VA If you’ve been wanting to make a trip to DC, this would be the perfect time to go – especially since it coincides with the start of the beautiful cherry blossom festival. I love to combine genealogy trips with sightseeing trips! You can register, see the program, or sign up for a consultation at their website.

31 Mar-2 Apr Ohio Genealogical Conference. Columbus, OH. This huge conference attracts hundreds of attendees every year – and brings speakers from all over the country. You can find a lecture on almost any genealogy subject imaginable. You can check out the program and register online.

16 April TIARA (The Irish Ancestral Research Association) will be hosting a Writing Conference. Details will be forthcoming on their website.

29-30 April, Worcester Public Library Genealogy Conference in Worcester, MA. The best news is that this conference is free! Hard to believe, isn’t it? Watch the Worcester Library’s webpage for more information.

10-12 June Southern California Genealogy Jamboree. Burbank, CA. There is some confusion about exactly what I’m doing at this conference at the moment, but I was invited to speak so I plan to be there! There will be a one day writing conference on June 9.

Another big conference to consider (that I won’t be attending this year – a person can only attend so many conferences in on season) is the National Genealogical Society Conference which will be held in Charleston, South Carolina on May 11-14.

And finally if you live in Massachusetts, don’t forget The New England Family History Conference on Saturday, March 26. Sponsored by the LDS Church, this conference is FREE. I’m sad to miss this one that I have spoken at for the last two years, but I will be in Virginia! You can register online and read more about the conference on their website.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Online Sources for English Research

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am putting together a new lecture entitled Online Sources for Western European Research. I will give it for the first time at the Fairfax Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference.

Well, I am STILL working on it. It is taking me a ridiculous amount of time because every time I visit a website to include in my lecture, I get sucked in…I want to make sure I’m familiar with the major record sources there. Then I want to make sure I know how to navigate it. Then I find a REALLY interesting set of records that I hadn’t used before and I get sidetracked. Before I know it I have about 20 screen shots from one website which will never work since I want to cover about 15 or so major website in under an hour without sounding like an auctioneer. So, then I have to go back and focus my comments to only the VERY most important parts of the website, which I find almost painful since I hate to cut out some of my other discoveries.

Right now, I am working on the section of the lecture that pertains to English records. I thought I’d share them here too:

Genuki: UK & Ireland Genealogy
This fabulous free site has an amazing amount of useful information for genealogists with UK or Irish roots. The site is broken down into countries, counties, and even towns.
What you’ll find:
*descriptions of records, links to websites, lists of useful resources and addresses, histories, and photos.
*a gazetteer with maps.

Free BMD
The founders of Free BMD undertook the noble project of transcribing the English and Welsh Civil Registration Index (of birth, marriage, and death records) and making it available online for free.
What you’ll find:
*Two hundred million total records online
*Indexes – not the actual records.
Related sites: (free census records, not currently being updated) and (free parish records, only a small percentage online)

Find my Past
Focused on English and Welsh families, this database has millions of records to help the family history researcher. You can buy a subscription or opt to pay as you go.
What you’ll find:
*index images of civil registration records (1837 to 2006), births and marriages are fully indexed, deaths are soon to come
*complete set of census records from 1841 to 1911, with images available
*migration records including 24 million people who left the UK from 1890 to 1960
*military records – the collection is strong in World War I and World War II records

I’m still working on a section for the Origins Network. They have a new National Wills Index, which is just getting started, but looks exciting. In the past, I thought one of their most important collections was the Boyd’s Marriage Index which indexed 3.5 million marriage records, held by the Society of Genealogists in London. I am confused by their site now and can’t figure out where it went. Can anyone out there enlighten me?

On an unrelated note, I would just like to add another thought to my previous Snow Days post. My children did not attend school last Friday either – for snow of course. When I woke up this morning, there was another two inches of snow, but school was not cancelled. And now, we are under another winter storm watch for a big storm coming in tomorrow evening, when of course my husband will be out of town again and I will be shoveling. I read that many cities (including Hartford and Boston) have already passed their normal average snowfall for the year. Not to sound like a snow hater (I am a winter hater, but not usually a snow hater), but enough already!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Register Now for NERGC (New England Regional Genealogical Conference)

Have you noticed that genealogists are really into to acronyms? Most of the societies I belong to or speak to are known only by a series of letters. There’s MSOG (Massachusetts Society of Genealogists), NGS (National Genealogical Society), PalAm (Paltines to America), SARA (Swedish Ancestry Research Association), OGS (Ohio Genealogical Society or possibly the Ontario Genealogical Society), and many others. My favorite is ISFHWE (International Society of Family History Writers and Editors) – try pronouncing that one! Researchers search in the IGI (International Genealogical Index) or use records from NARA (National Archives and Records Administration.

But today, I want to write about NERGC (New England Regional Genealogical Society Conference). I will be there – and I hope you will too! If you are planning to be there, now is the time to sign up. You will save $25 on registration if you register by February 15.

If you are not familiar with NERGC, of if you are still on the fence about attending, let me apply some persuasion. There are lots of genealogical conferences that I enjoy, but NERGC is my favorite! Really. I’m not just saying that because I’m on the board. (I just have a little job so I can’t take any credit for how wonderful the conference is.) If I could only attend one genealogy conference during the year, it would be NERGC. Here are a few reasons why:

1)It’s convenient. If you live in New England or even near New England, this is a conference that’s within driving distance for you.

2)It’s relatively inexpensive. This is partly because it’s close, but partly because the price is reasonable.

3)It has top-notch speakers. You won’t find a conference with a better line-up of speakers. We have fabulous, nationally known speakers here in New England – and the conference brings in top speakers from across the country. The keynote speakers this year are John Philip Colletta and Paul Milner.

4)There’s a huge range of lecture topics. Even if your ancestors didn’t live in New England, there will still be plenty of lectures of interest to you. Other topics center on immigration research, methodology, DNA research, ethnic groups, and more.

5)Besides lectures, there’s all kind of other things to do at NERGC. You’ll want to spend some time wandering around at the Exhibit Hall. You can sign up for the Ancestors Road Show and ask an expert your genealogy questions. I’ll be helping people with German research problems on Saturday from 1:45 until 3 p.m. And you can attend the Special Interest Groups on Thursday evening (I’m the coordinator for these groups). These are informal groups where you can share ideas and sources with others who have similar interest. You can see the list of topics here.

6)It’s really fun to run across genealogy friends you haven’t seen in a while – and make some new friends.

Remember, NERGC only happens every other year – so you don’t want to miss it. This year, it’s practically in my backyard – in Springfield, MA. So, mark your calendars for April 6-10.

Also, you can join me for a lecture on the European immigration experience, including tips to uncovering your own immigrant ancestors’ stories on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. The lecture is called The Journey Takers: An Inside Look at the Immigration Experience. That evening, I will probably be at the Family Chronicle booth during the opening of the Exhibit Hall since they will be selling my book. Stop by and say hello!

For more information, check out the NERGC website and read the blog. There should be a post by me with more information about my lecture coming soon on the NERGC blog.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow Days

My kids have had two days of school cancelled and two delayed days in the last week because of snow. Blah. I really do not like snow days. This is not because I dislike my children and don’t want them to stay home. All these “canceled” days get tacked on at the end of June; and a day of canceled school in January (where we are all trapped in the house because of the miserable weather) is nothing like a summer vacation day.

Here's all the snow at our house.

Here are my two daughters "helping shovel" (notice the shovels in their hands) on a snow day last week.

On these snow days, I often get an overabundance of emails from other people who are also stranded at home. Their emails often begin “Since you’re stuck at home with some extra time, maybe you could…” Let me provide a little rundown of my “extra time” on Tuesday.

The day started at 6 a.m. when the phone rang with a prerecorded message from the school letting us know they had canceled school. (Is it really necessary to wake me in order to tell me: don’t worry, your kids don’t have school so you can sleep in?)

By 8:30 a.m., George had left for work (at 7:15 by catching the bus because the roads were too bad to drive), the kids had eaten breakfast, and then immediately Taylor (age 8) had thrown up. Great.

I was determined to do my little aerobic video like I would on any other day, so I optimistically put on my exercise clothes. I wore them around the house for the next hour while I fixed hair, set out clothes, gave Christian (age 15 months) a bath, started laundry, and cleaned up the graham crackers Christian had dumped out and then stepped on. Finally at 9:30 I started my video. I use a system called (don’t laugh) the Firm which involves a two-tiered step. After ten minutes, Christian had discovered (as he does many mornings) how fun it is to climb up and down the step while I try to not step on him. After ten more minutes, he was tired of being ignored and had attached himself to my leg and begun shrieking. I asked Rachel (age 10) if she could play with him for a few minutes. This worked for approximately 90 seconds. Twenty minutes of exercise is good for something, right?

At 10:30 I put Christian down for a nap. The kids had rented a video and so I thought this was the perfect time to work. I turned on my computer. At 10:55, Sarah Ann (age 5) came to tell me she wasn’t feeling well either. Could I take her temperature? Taylor was cold. Could I get him a blanket? I finally sat down again and (no joke) the cat walked across my keyboard and somehow turned it off.

At 12:30 I made a gourmet lunch of pancakes, eggs, and strawberries. Christian (awake again) ate all the strawberries and threw every piece of pancake on the floor. Sarah Ann looked at her food, then went and lay back down. Taylor ate a pancake, then went and threw up.

I was worried if we didn’t shovel before the freezing rain came, we’d be in trouble. So, Rachel and I went outside with shovels while the others stayed inside. I shoveled while Rachel ate snow off the top of the car. After 45 minutes (with me checking on the kids every five minutes), we were about half-way done. Sarah Ann opened the door and yelled “Taylor is throwing up and Christian is calling someone in China.” That was the end of shoveling.

In the afternoon, I helped Taylor with spelling homework, Sarah Ann with coloring homework (in theory kindergarten homework has some higher purpose, but I can’t really tell what it is), and helped Rachel read rules on eighteenth-century etiquette for a social studies project. (She got the idea from an article I published in American Spirit Magazine called Mind Your Manners.) This was followed by laundry folding, dinner cooking, dish washing, floor sweeping, etc. George was home by now and he gave Rachel a trombone lesson (I will refrain from commenting on this). I read Sarah Ann a chapter of “Ramona the Brave” and Taylor and I looked at my favorite book, Lonely Planet’s “The Travel Book” with pictures from every country in the world. Taylor told me his number one travel destination is “a country in Africa with the most animals.”

Bedtime was 8 p.m. I opened my computer again and began going through the emails with tasks for me to do during my extra time. Does answering emails count as work? (Or does blogging about snow days?)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Reviews, Plane Tickets, and Lectures

Whenever I hear a new review is out of my book, I get nervous (excited, but nervous too)! My heart always beats quickly as I scan the review the first time, trying to intake as quickly as possible what the reviewer’s general impression of the book was. I have experienced this twice in the past week as I have run across two new reviews of my book. First, (and this one isn’t all that new, I’m just a bit slow…) The Journey Takers was discussed on the Genealogy Guys Podcast at the end of November. You can access it here . They said The Journey Takers was a book that every genealogist should read!

Second, if you subscribe to the FORUM through FGS (Federation of Genealogical Societies), you will find a review in the current issue. You can also access it online (subscribers only) here. I was also pleased with this review. Here are the first two paragraphs:

“Have you ever looked beyond your ancestor’s names and thought about what they might have said, thought or felt as they traveled the road of life? Leslie Albrecht Huber intertwines her twentieth century life with that of her ancestors’ nineteenth century lives, in her quest to understand where her ancestors came from and how the generations came to her.

Huber travels to the places in Europe from which her families originated. She began in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany where the Albrechts lived before sailing in 1880 from Hamburg bound for the United States. Huber tours the towns in which the Albrechts lived in an attempt to capture their emotions during the tides of historical changes. Huber explains how she comes to different realizations about her ancestors as she walks through her own life journey. She weaves a story of life, using historical context and what might have been into a story that is hard to put down.”

I have been enjoying the relative calm of January. (Don’t confuse this statement to mean I have been enjoying January, because this would not be true at all. It is currently about 5 degrees, we have approximately two feet of snow outside, and I just read that we should get 5-10 inches tomorrow, coated by another inch of ice on top of that. Delightful. But, I have digressed again….)

I only have one lecture this month, which I gave this past Saturday. It was “Beyond Names and Dates: Uncovering Your Ancestors’ Stories” which I gave to the Greater Lowell Genealogical Club.

The calm won’t last though, so I have been trying to get prepared for the whirlwind to come. (I love speaking and look forward to my lectures – it’s just the scheduling of these along with piano recitals, basketball games, etc. can make life a little hectic.) For one thing, I bought two sets of plane tickets last week. One was to Columbus to attend the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference at the end of March where I will be presenting a two-hour workshop entitled “Researching and Writing Your Ancestors’ Stories” as well as a one hour lecture on online immigration sources. I also bought my plane ticket to Utah. I am flying to Utah at the end of February for about a week and a half to do some lectures and book events. I will post my schedule soon in case anyone from Utah is interested.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Some Advice on Hiring a Professional Genealogist

First a disclaimer: This is a really long post, but I just couldn’t stand to omit any of it.

On a fairly regular basis, I get an inquiry – either by email or from someone at one of my lectures – who wants to hire me to trace their family. The short answer to this question is: you can’t. I don’t take clients. There was a time when I worked on tracing other people’s family – specifically German families – full time. But, I no longer do that. There are a few reasons for this but again the short answer: I don’t have time. I like writing too much! I spend my work time lecturing, writing for magazines- and, of course, researching my own family! This works well for me.

The next question people then ask is: could I recommend someone they can hire? What I would like to do instead of recommending a specific person is answer this question in general here on my blog. How should you go about hiring a professional genealogist?

Well, I think the first question most people ask themselves is if they should hire one at all. I can’t tell you the answer to that question. It depends, of course. However, it can be a very worthwhile thing to do. People are often surprised to learn that even professional genealogists hire other professional genealogists who may have access to records they don’t have or have needed skills in certain types of research and/or languages. A professional can save you many hours and lots of frustration. Keep in mind that you can always hire a professional to help with a certain aspect of your project, without turning the research over for ever after to this person.

So, back to the original question: who should you hire? You should hire someone with experience and knowledge in your area. Sometimes when I get an inquiry I’m tempted to reply that the person can’t hire me, but even if they could – they shouldn’t. Why would I say that? First, my expertise is in tracing German families. More specifically, it’s in tracing people who immigrated from Germany to the US in the 1800s. Genealogists have specialties because research varies depending on the place and time period in which the family lived. Could I help you with your Pennsylvania Germans who came in the 1700s? Possibly. But there are others who would be more effective. Could I help you trace your Polish family? I would probably be able to help you with the immigration part of this problem, but once we got to Poland, we’d be in trouble. Sure, basic parts of research are the same from project to project even in different locations– methodology and even some sources. I am familiar with basic sources for many places and would know where to look to figure out how to trace your Polish family. But the fact remains that I don’t have experience tracing Polish ancestors. And, I have no ability to read even basic Polish. Just because I publish articles about immigration does not mean that I have the credentials to accept money to find Polish ancestors.

As a side note: the great majority of professional genealogists would not accept a client outside of their area of expertise – and would let you know this right away. I think it’s safe to say that as group genealogists are honest and hard-working. But you should still be aware of how things work before you hire one. My point is just that nobody is an expert in everything. It’s certainly possible for people to have an expertise in more than one area, particularly if those areas share research approaches. Many US researchers specialize in regions, not just one state. Some researchers might list their expertise as including more than one Scandinavian country. However, you should be concerned about anyone who says they can do research ANYWHERE in ANY time period. You don’t want to pay someone to figure out how to research your Italian ancestors. You want to pay them to research your Italian ancestors.

Now, that leads me to another point. When I first wrote the sentence above, I wrote you want to pay them to FIND your Italian ancestors. That would be nice. That’s the goal. But, remembering you are paying a professional for his or her TIME spent searching for the family. You are not (at least not in any arrangement that I’ve ever heard of) paying him or her for RESULTS. A genealogist cannot guarantee results. She can look in the places most likely to yield results, but she can’t do hocus pocus and make your family appear there. Sometimes our ancestors just simply aren’t where they should be (which is a whole other topic….). Just because the person you hired didn’t find one single ancestor doesn’t mean she did anything wrong. Of course, people who know what they are doing are much more likely to find ancestors than those who don’t! A professional can usually tell you up front how likely she thinks it is to have success, but this is still just her best guess. Anything can happen.

There’s more to say on this topic (or at least I have more to say – but I always have more to say…) but I want to conclude with a couple of comments. First, another thing to take into consideration is what access the person has to the needed sources. This is one reason I don’t take clients. It would be difficult (but certainly not impossible) to trace German immigrants while I am living in Massachusetts. It was much easier when I lived close to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. But for other types of research, living in Massachusetts is perfect. And finally: Anyone can claim to be a professional genealogist. There are two main organizations that provide programs to test these skills. They are: The Board for Certification of Genealogists and The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. Their websites have lists of professionals. Should you only hire someone listed on one of these websites? I didn’t say that. What I am saying is take some time to make sure you hire someone with knowledge and experience in your area.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Online Sources for Western European Research

I have been working on a handout for a new lecture that I will give for the first time at the end of March at the Fairfax Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. The lecture is entitled “Online Sources for Western European Research.”

Obviously, this is a HUGE topic. I could easily fill an hour lecture with online sources for just one Western European country. But, I am going to attempt to cover all of them. Of course, I’m not really going to be able to talk about every Western European online source out there. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I am going to attempt to provide an overview. I am not including immigration records since I am giving another lecture which focuses on these.

This lecture is based on an article I wrote for Internet Genealogy Magazine a year or two ago. (Nearly all of my lectures are based on magazine articles I wrote.) I chose this topic because I felt like it was an area that has changed quite a bit in recent years, and I felt that many people are not aware of what is online that could make their lives easier. (And I’m all about making life easier.) I was excited about the article and I am also excited about putting the lecture together.

That said, I am having all kinds of problems. I’m having a hard time choosing which websites to include, deciding how to arrange the material, and figuring out how to make the presentation informative AND entertaining – so that people don’t feel like I am just jamming website after website down their throat (which I believe would make people inclined to fall asleep – a scenario that I try to avoid as a speaker, although I have had on more than one occasion someone snoring in the audience and once even on the front row. I like to tell myself that it was because they took some decongestant that says it is “non-drowsy” but actually is very much drowsy-inducing and not that I am so boring that sleeping while sitting up in a hard chair was more appealing than listening to me. But, I have digressed….)

I haven’t come up with the secret to making a list of websites exciting (except that the websites, of course, are EXTREMELY exciting just in their existence, although not everyone may share my enthusiasm). But, I did want to share just a small sampling of websites here. I’ll start with a couple of overview sites, then include a couple of country specific sites that have original records available.


Similar to US GenWeb, but on a global scale, WorldGenWeb is a geographically organized volunteer-run website. Each Western European country, and sometimes even state or county, has its own site. The sites are all different in their thoroughness and content but may contain maps, descriptions of records, addresses of archives, query boards, social history descriptions, and a variety of other types of information.

ProGenealogist’s Specialty Websites for Genealogy Research

Progenealogists is a professional genealogical service, but it’s site is also packed full of useful information. On this section of their website, you’ll find a list of countries with links. Follow these to find great articles about history, research methodology, and records written by some of the most knowledgeable experts out there. You’ll also find, maps, gazetteers and sometimes extracted records.

Danish Demographic Database

Researchers with Danish ancestors won’t want to miss this site. Start with the “Emigrants” section to find information on nearly four hundred thousand people who left Denmark from 1869 to 1908. The search, which brings up transcribed entries, is free. Also, try the “Census” section to search an extensive collection of census records (organized by parish and then county). The “Other Sources” section contains some other odds and ends. You can pay to get actual copies of the records or have further research done.

Digital Archives of Norway

The Norwegian National Archives channels their material here as it becomes digitized. With free services, lists of databases, and millions of names, this site is the online place to look for Norwegian ancestors. (Do a google search for the title of the website if you don’t want to type in the long address.) Here you’ll find several censuses, and a growing collection of parish records that will eventually include 1.85 millions pages. You’ll also find other records, photos of farms, and links to tutorials in Norwegian research.


Genlias represents the collaborative effort a number of archives in the Netherlands. Their ambitious aim is to enter all the data from the open civil registers (the most important Dutch genealogical source covering the post 1811 period). The project is well underway with 14.4 million records representing over 58 million people already available online. The search is free; copies of original records can be ordered for a fee.

Oh, I have to stop…But there are so many more….You see the problem?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Thank You Card

About a month ago, I wrote about doing my book talk for my daughter's fifth grade class. I shared a few of their very creative questions.

A while ago, my daughter brought home a thank you card that her class had put together for me. I wanted to also share a few of these. They're great!

First, my favorite one of all:
"I am glad I don't have to live with a cow in my house." (My PowerPoint presentation included a diagram of a typical landed household in Germany in the nineteenth century - which shows that the family and farm animals all slept under one roof.)

"I'm so glad that John didn't get thrown overboard for seasickness." (My great-grandfather, John Albrecht, who immigrated from Germany with his family when he was nineteen, wrote only one sentences about the immigration experience. He said "I know it might sound babyish for a boy of nineteen, but I was so seasick that I begged my parents to throw me overboard and my misery." This really alarmed some of the kids!)

"You're a good detective."
Isn't genealogy work really like being a detective? That's why it's so fun!

"I want to buy that book!"
This makes me smile because the book is not really a fifth-grade book. But hey - I'll take readers of any age!

Then there were a couple that to me really embody why I (and others like me) do this in the first place - why we enjoy so much speaking to others about our families and about how others can find their families.

"After your speech, I've wanted to carry on some Lithuanian traditions! This Christmas we are!"

"I know a few stories about my ancestors, but I want to learn lots more."

This made me feel like my presentation had been a success! I also thought one of my daughter's friends summed it nicely with this comment:

"I learned how hard but wonderful it is to write a book."

Don't you love kids?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Tale of Toddlers and Grocery Stores

This has nothing to do with genealogy, but I think others might be able to relate my experience.

Tuesday, I took Christian (my fourteen-month-old) grocery shopping with me. Let me give you a quick background: We have a grocery story in our little town that I make quick trips to in order to buy specific things I’m missing. But, this store is a bit overpriced. Twenty-five minutes away is another store: a Super Wal-mart where everything is much cheaper. About every two weeks, I head out there to restalk on just about everything. And when you have four children, this means massive grocery shopping. Basically, I stalk my cart until nothing else can fit in it.

I dread, DREAD going to Wal-Mart. It is crowded, a bit disorganized, and overwhelming. But being the devoted mother than I am, I suck it up and make my trip anyway (only when we are out of EVERYTHING from butter to toilet paper and my husband absolutely CANNOT go). So, off Christian and I went to Wal-Mart on Tuesday with my carefully prepared, long, detailed grocery list.

About one-third of the way into my grocery trip, I realized we had developed a problem. The grocery stack in the back of the cart had now grown high enough that when Christian twisted himself around, he could reach the groceries. As soon as he could grab something – anything – he began his favorite grocery store game: throwing as many things as possible from the cart onto the floor. And every time a new item made a resounding thud on the ground, Christian would laugh gleefully.

This is my fourth child. I am not easily flustered. I tried distracting him. I tried scooting everything to back of the cart. I tried taking things out of his hands before he could throw them (which made him laugh even harder – convinced that this was a really fun tug-of-war game). But no matter what I did, as I tried to choose which spaghetti sauce to purchase, Christian chunked canned creamed corn over the side. Soon, I was not carefully selecting spaghetti sauce – I was grabbing sauce – with mushrooms, the gourmet expensive kind – whatever – as long as it was spaghetti sauce – and shoving it into the cart in an effort to speed up the process.

Before long, our problem developed a new dimension. Whenever I parked the cart near the shelves, Christian began gathering everything he could reach from the shelf and dumping it INTO the cart. As I mentioned before, Wal-Mart is crowded, so parking out of reach of the shelves was nearly impossible.

A few minutes later, Christian became fixated on my pen and grocery list. I was still not flustered, but I was distracted. So, I let him hold the grocery list. Can’t hurt, can it? We turned down another aisle and then one more. I needed my grocery list again. That’s when I noticed that Christian didn’t have it anymore. I went back to the previous two aisles, but it was nowhere to be seen. (I still can’t figure out what he could have done with it….) I was about half way through the grocery trip, and I had no idea what to buy.

We finished the trip quickly, with me doing the best I could to remember what I had meant to buy, and Christian throwing lunch meat, cheddar cheese and granola bars on the floor with amazing speed.

We got to the check-out line to discover there was a long, slow line (surprise, surprise). Christian had had enough of the cart by now and decided he wanted down. I know what happens when you put toddlers down in the grocery line. So, I tried distraction – peek-a-boo with tortillas, guess which hand the green beans are in – but none of it worked. I even tried a pacifier (usually reserved for nap time). He wanted OUT. He screamed loud enough that people around me in line turned to stare at me.

I pulled him out just as my cart reached the front of the line. I tried placing items on the conveyer belt while I held Christian in the other arm – as he kicked and screamed and did everything possible to propel himself down – out of my arms. I found it impossible to pick up food while trying to manage a 24 pound mass of flailing arms and legs.

Now I was flustered. Just a little.

I sat Christian down. He ran behind the cart and began pulling things off the shelf. I pretended I didn’t notice and piled my groceries onto the belt as fast as possible. When I stole a glance back at him, I found that he had stacked teddy graham containers six high, carefully balancing each one.

I paid for the food, crammed the teddy grahams on the shelf, forced Christian in the cart, and headed for my car.

When I got home, I realized I had forgotten to buy toilet paper.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Uncovering the Stories of Immigrant Ancestors

The January issue of Internet Genealogy is now available. If you are unfamiliar with this magazine, it is a practical, how-to magazine that focuses on websites that are useful for genealogists. It is published by the same group that publishes Family Chronicle Magazine.

On page 22 of this new issue is an article I wrote called “Uncovering the Stories of Our Immigrant Ancestors.” I thought I would share some tips and resources from my article. I start out by explaining that in order to uncover your immigrant ancestors' stories, you have to first know that basic facts. Begin by finding those bare-bone documents that will provide you with the outline of their lives. For immigrant ancestors, this means parish records for their early life in Europe (or wherever they came from), immigration records that show their ocean voyage, and then records such as church, vital, and census that provide dates and places for the remainder of their lives in the US.

I don’t want to spend too much time on that aspect of research. Instead, I want to move on to the next step – on resources that can help you take your ancestors’ stories from a listing of facts to an actual story. The key is to fit them into their environment. Here are some suggestions that I included in my article:

1) Get oriented by reading a general history of the time and place your ancestors lived.

2) Next, learn about the social history of their time and place – what life was like for the “common” people. One book I like for Europeans in the 1800s is Life in the Long Nineteenth Century, 1789-1913, edited by David Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli.

3) Become familiar with what the immigration experience was like. One suggestion here is: Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels. A great website is by Harvard University: Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact: Immigration to the United States, 1790-1930.

4) Narrow your search to local histories (this isn’t in my article, but it’s a good idea anyway!). Many towns and parishes kept their own histories. Contact a local historical or genealogical society – or the town or church itself. I’ll post more about this later.

5) Read firsthand accounts written by others. This gives you that personal insight into experiences your ancestors might have shared with others who kept written accounts. Pay attention to sources in social histories or look for sources covering specific events that your ancestors were part of.

For more suggestions on books that might help you, visit my website. Choose the “Ancestors in Specific Locations” from the bar on the left hand side. Each of these sections has a subsection with books and websites that cover sources relevant to that place. Sources in the Mecklenburg section, for example, will be useful to anyone with German roots, not just Mecklenburg roots.

To see more of what is available in the January issue of Internet Genealogy, visit their website here.

Also, some of you might be interested to know that Internet Genealogy currently have an “appeal for submissions.” To quote from the magazine, “We are in the early stages of planning a new book, a follow-up to our successful Brickwall Solutions series. Tentatively titled Internet Brickwall Solutions, we want to hear how you overcame your brickwalls using the World Wide Web! Please e-mail your submissions (Word document or RTF file) to Please limit your submission to no more than 500 words, and include images (200 dpi or higher) as a separate email jpeg attachment, with caption details.

So, here’s a chance to have your story in print!