22 November 2019

How Does Your Ancestry Color Your Holiday Table?

Your ethnic heritage has specific tastes and textures. Are they on your table?

Something flashed across my computer screen yesterday that I didn't know. It said the pumpkin is native to North America. That makes pumpkin pie an appropriate dish for American and Canadian Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving featured the food they could harvest at that time and in that place. That included squash, corn, berries, and animals including turkeys, pigs, and deer. And there were some foods you won't see on a North American Thanksgiving table, like lobsters and eel!

Aside from these foods, do you celebrate with food from your cultural past? I know the pilgrims didn't eat lasagna or eggplant parmigiana. But I can't imagine a Thanksgiving or Christmas without them.

You've learned so much about your family's background. Why not show that background on the dinner table?
You've learned so much about your family's background. Why not show that background on the dinner table?

Time goes by, and many of us are a few more generations removed the from homeland. Food becomes the most visible part of our cultural identity. For example, people often ask my husband if he can speak Japanese. But the only words he knows are food names.

Other than calling a dish towel a mappina, and knowing a few colorful curse words, my sons' strongest connection to their Italian heritage is the food. I regret not having passed on more Italian culture to my half-Italian boys. But I know why it happened. During their early childhood we didn't live near any of my family. We spent the holidays with their father's side of the family. The food was always traditionally American. There was turkey, ham, corn, potatoes, cranberries, apple pie, and pumpkin pie. The only thing I can remember that had roots in their cultural background was English toffee.

When my kids were 9 and 12 years old, I finally brought them to an amazing feast at my cousin's house. At last, there were the Italian dishes I'd been missing for so long. Skip forward several years to when my parents lived near me. My mom made lasagna, eggplant, or both for every single holiday meal. And pasta with meatballs and sausage. And Italian cookies. And we had espresso with a shot of Anisette after the meal.

I didn't know, as a child, that Strega is a product of my ancestors' province.
As a child I didn't know that Strega is a product of my ancestors' province of Benevento.

That all felt so right to me. And isn't this a perfect way to begin talking about genealogy with your family?

There's still time for you to bring back some of your cultural traditions this holiday season. Your family may have assimilated so much that past culture is nearly gone. Bring it back and celebrate it this season.

Do you have a few childhood favorites in mind? If not, Google "traditional holiday meals from _____". Fill in the blank with the country (or countries) of your ancestors.

As genealogists, we should and do honor our past. Don't forget to bring the best parts of that past into our lives today.

19 November 2019

5 Ways to Get Your Family to Talk Genealogy

Why not talk about your favorite subject this holiday season? Genealogy!

How much better would it be to talk about genealogy at the holiday table than topics that make people angry?

The trick is simple: Give your friends and family something they can relate to before their eyes glaze over.

Here are 5 ways to tailor your message of genealogical obsession to the audience.

1. Speak to the Puzzle Fans

Genealogy has a lot in common with puzzles. You can solve them, but they take a lot of reasoning, logic, and effort. Does someone enjoy jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word searches, or Sudoku? Speak to them.

Tell them how genealogy is like the world's biggest puzzle. It's always exciting to complete a section. But the goal is personal. The end result is a complete picture of your family.

Ask them to imagine a puzzle that big and personal. Then tell them about some of the mysteries you've solved. Or the ones you're still working on.

2. Lure in the History Buffs

Is there someone in the group who loves watching war movies? They probably love talking about their experiences, whether they were in the service or stayed at home.

Tell them about your ancestors' draft registration cards and military records. I have a newspaper clipping saying a cousin was wounded in action. And another saying my uncle was killed in action. I even have the eyewitness reports about his final mission and how his bomber was shot down. There's a You Tube video interviewing an old man who saw the plane go down when he was a little boy.

Get them to tell their stories, and find ways to relate them to the genealogy documents you've found.

The history buff will appreciate what you've learned about the soldiers in the family.
The history buff will appreciate what you've learned about the soldiers in the family.

3. Give Reasons to Be Thankful

Your friends and family may be thankful that their parents made a better life for them. But chances are, they don't know much about their earlier ancestors.

I can tell my family a lot they didn't know. Our great grandmother was 5 months pregnant when she took a 3-week voyage to America in 1899. I can tell them that she'd already lost her first child. And I can tell them that she had 3 other siblings we never knew about because they died so young.

Tell them how your genealogy research explains why your ancestors left their homeland.

4. Satisfy the Curious

My mother loves all things Italian. That makes her curious about the Italian names and hometowns of our ancestors. I can lure her in by telling her the background to one of her favorite stories.

When she was born in New York City, her immigrant father declared her name "Mariangela". My grandmother, who was still recovering from the birth, later said, "Oh no you don't. It's Maryann."

The story had always been that Mariangela was the name of my grandfather's mother. But my research changed that story. There was a Mariangela who was my great grandmother's older sister. But she died as a baby. My great grandmother's name was Marianna.

That's ironic, because it's even closer to Maryann and would have been a better choice.

But I also found that Marianna often went by the name Mariangela. That's the name she used on the birth records of her children. So, it's possible that my grandfather didn't even know her given name was Marianna.

Genealogy makes the story even better.

It took genealogy research to learn the truth about my mother's namesake.
It took genealogy research to learn the truth about my mother's namesake.

5. Educate the Non-believers

There will be people at any gathering who think DNA tests are a waste of money. "I know I'm half German and half English. Why should I pay money to see a pie chart?"

You can explain that people buy DNA tests for lots of reasons besides their ethnic pie chart. DNA testers can:
  • Find unknown cousins anywhere in the world (There are so many people with my last name in Brazil.)
  • Discover an unexpected relationship (My parents share DNA!)
  • Connect with not-so-distant cousins (I found and met a 3rd cousin who lives a few miles from me.)
And some DNA testers can find a genetic reason for ailments and personality traits.

How many holiday visitors can you turn on to genealogy this season? Even if you don't convert anyone into an amateur genealogist, the conversation will be a lot more enjoyable for you. Happy holidays!

15 November 2019

2 Ways to Give Your Family Tree a Checkup

Don't wait for an annual checkup for your family tree. Do it often.

Have you added any people to your family tree lately? Have you added or changed any facts? Then it's time for a checkup.

Even when you think you're being extra careful, mistakes can happen. Why not spend a few minutes every 2 months or so to find and fix your slip-ups? The things you forgot and the goofs you made will surprise you.

Here are 2 ways to give your family tree a checkup. You'll feel more confident about your tree after you've fixed some errors. You'll feel even more confident if you don't find any errors!

1. Run Family Tree Analyzer

The free Family Tree Analyzer program gives you one-stop shopping for all kinds of errors. Launch it, load your latest GEDCOM file, and click the Data Errors tab.

Check all the boxes to find these errors:
  • Birth dates that are:
    • after the person's death
    • more than 9 months after their father died, or any time after their mother died
    • before either of their parents were 13 years old
    • after their mother turned 60 years old
  • Death dates that are:
    • after their burial (yikes)
    • after they were 110 years old or more
  • Marriage dates that are:
    • after the bride or groom's death
    • before the bride or groom turned 13 years old
Give your family tree a quick checkup with the powerful error finder in Family Tree Analyzer.
Give your family tree a quick checkup with the powerful error finder in Family Tree Analyzer.

You may have what I call legitimate errors. For instance, I do have some babies who were born before one of their parents was 13. In one case, when I looked in my family tree, I found a note saying "The mother was 12 years old." That's more of an "unlikely" than an "impossible" feat.

I also have a baby born almost 11 months after his father died. But that's what the birth record says. I have a note wondering about the man who reported the baby's birth. Is it possible he was the real father?

If seeing all the errors at once is too much, click one checkbox at a time, and resolve or look into those errors.

2. Check Your Family Tree Software

The only family tree software I've ever used is Family Tree Maker. I hope that you're using desktop software for your family tree, and not keeping it only online. Building your tree online doesn't give you the same level of control. And you'll miss out on lots of features.

Every once in a while I check a few of the tabs in Family Tree Maker for errors. This time around I found several place-name errors. I'll bet they got messed up when I had a failed synchronization with Ancestry.com. But they were an easy fix.

In Family Tree Maker, look at these tabs:
  • Check Media for images that are:
    • uncategorized
    • missing a caption, date, or other information
  • Check Places to find any that are not properly categorized
  • Check Sources to find any that have no facts associated with them
Each tab in Family Tree Maker gives you a different way to find errors.
Each tab in Family Tree Maker gives you a different way to find errors.

If you give your tree regular checkups, your errors should be minor. Of course, your first checkup may be a bit of a shocker.

Make this a routine and keep your family tree healthy and hearty.