The Cost of Ancestry Research Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

I consider myself a family history detective, finding enjoyment and excitement by piecing together the puzzles in my genealogy.  Sometimes it’s highly frustrating hitting a roadblock but most times I’m challenged to keep digging.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the cost of ancestry research.

MONEY:  There is absolutely a financial cost associated with genealogy research.  There are plenty of helpful family history sites online that do not charge you to search their collection of records.  One I find extremely beneficial is http://www.familysearch.org.  The range of records available includes marriage, birth, and census documents.  I have found a great many marriage records that helped connect the branches of my tree, especially when those records include the mother and father’s names.  I found half-siblings of my great-father that I never knew about and was able to verify the connection through other sources, on other ancestry search sites.  The other sites I primarily use in my search charge a fee.  However, the value outweighs the cut to my budget.

TIME:  I spend A LOT of time researching my family tree, more than I anticipated I would when I started.  It’s so easy to sit down at the computer and find one hint that leads you to another and another…before you know it, 3 hours have gone by and you’re so close to putting the piece in place!  As much fulfillment as I get from genealogy research, I  have a twinge of guilt when I think about the other projects I have in the works – my Young Adult fantasy novel, for instance.  Why am I not spending all of my free time to get my book done and published?!  That’s where my focus should be.  Shouldn’t it?  Do I spend a few hours learning about those who lived before me or use that time to write about an entirely fictional character?

SCANDAL:  Am I being selfish by asking the questions that makes family members uneasy to talk about?  What is the point of pushing for questions when the truth may reveal a path that you never intended to walk down?  Scandal, mysteries, long-buried truths – you’re likely to find any of the above if you go back far enough.  The question is…What do you do with the information once you have it?  Do you stuff it down until the subjects of said scandal have passed on?  Do you approach them with the knowledge and gently ask for their recollection of the events?  What is it that you seek to gain from prodding for the ‘truth’?  I haven’t encountered any jaw-dropping secrets so far in my search; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Perhaps, some of what I found out (like remarriages and half-siblings) were considered significant drama and scandal to those who lived it at the time period.

One of my goals with this ancestry journey is to actually take a journey.  To visit the key places in my lineage and write about them.  Document what it means to me to be present in a place that once held meaning to my ancestors.  For a brief time, to stand where they stood.  Of course, in order to take that trip I need both time and money. Who knows what kind of scandal I might find!

Food for Thought…and Comfort Tuesday, Sep 3 2013 

I came to an interesting conclusion this morning, as I sat drinking my tea.  A great many of the fond memories I have from visiting my mother’s side of the family have to do with food.  Here are just some examples:

  • RECIPES:  My mom’s side of the family passed down some amazing recipes, even halupki (stuffed cabbage).  My maternal side of the family has strong German, Slovak and Polish roots, especially evident in the foods they prepared.  For instance, kielbasa with sauerkraut and hand-made pierogies.  Then there’s the desserts – CMP pie with Chocolate, Marshmallow and Peanuts.  Golf Balls were, and still are, a treasured favorite in our household.  Hand mixed and rolled peanut butter with sugar and graham cracker crumbs, coated with chocolate and left to chill.  A…MAZ…ING!!!!
  • THANKS FOR COMING TO VISIT, NOW EAT!:  This tradition is not exclusive to my German, Polish or Hungarian heritage. But, I always associated it with my mother’s side of the family. When we would go to visit one of her many relatives, they’d always have food for us.  “Are you hungry,” Aunt Eleanor would ask.  “Here, have a sandwich.”  Or, “I just made an apple pie; it’ll go to waste if you don’t have some.”  I’ve noticed over the years that my mother learned from her maternal role models.  She’s a wonderful hostess to guests.  “What do you want to drink?  No, I made plenty…please take some left-overs home.  We won’t eat it all.”  Containers filled with my mom’s cooking – the best party favor EVER!!!!
  • HOLIDAYS, A.K.A. FAMILY GATHERINGS:  I distinctly recall a Thanksgiving at my maternal grandmother’s house when I was a child.  Her dining room melted into her living room, but there was always enough space around the table to fit our family.  It was finding enough space for the food, that was the real challenge!  I always looked forward to holidays at MomMom’s house and now I wonder if my niece and nephews feel the same way about my mom.  My mother’s mother passed away when my mother was only 32 years old.  From then on, my mom became the maternal holiday provider for our immediate family.  All these years later, my mother still does holidays full-out.  Hand makes the pierogies for Christmas Eve, cooks the ham for Christmas Day, roasts the turkey with the handmade stuffing during Thanksgiving….and so on.  As much as I enjoy my mother’s cooking, and I certainly do, it always seems to taste better when surrounded by friends and family.

There’s a pattern in my maternal ancestry where family members worked in the same industry, sometimes the same place of employment.  My great-grandfather, Mike Yanick, worked in the furniture store that his brother owned.  Many of my Karchner ancestors were truck drivers, and coal miners before that.  So, it shouldn’t seem so odd to me that two of my sisters chose teaching as their profession, especially since we cheered on our mom when she pursued the same career.  Plus, my youngest sister picked up my mother’s skill in the kitchen.  Her culinary skill marvels me and matches that of my mother.  When they cook together…well, I keep telling them they need to open a restaurant together!  They don’t want me anywhere near the kitchen, I’ll write the marketing copy instead.

Have you found the American Indian Yet? Monday, Jul 15 2013 

My dad asks me that question about once a week, and my response is always the same – “Not yet.”

In an earlier blog entry I wrote about some of the struggles I faced in researching my Native American ancestors.  I mean really, John Smith?  How is that fair?!  Research genealogy is challenging enough without throwing a “John Smith” into the mix.  Oddly enough, I’m not sure that our Native lineage comes from the line of Smiths; because my dear John was born in NY or CT, not Michigan as the family folklore tells our story.

Here’s what I know:

  • The Native American lineage passed down through my paternal grandmother’s side of the family.
  • Her family is strongly rooted in the Grand Rapids, MI area.
  • My dad and his siblings were told that our branch of the family is part of the Potawatomi tribe.
  • There is also a family story that one of our male ancestors was a chief,  but I don’t know what level.

Now comes the uncertain part.  My third great-grandfather, Jonathon Smith, was born in either New York or Connecticut, as I stated above.  His birth location varies according to the census record of the time.  That’s the first clue I had that my dad’s side of the family had any NE connection, other than Philadelphia on his dad’s side.  This new knowledge has made me skeptical that Jonathon Smith is our link to a Native American lineage.

On the other hand, Jonathon Smith’s son, Judson, married Jeannette McKenzie.  Jeannette’s father was Alexander McKenzie. Alex was  born in Scotland, lived in Canada and settled in Grand Haven, MI.  I’ve been busy tracing that line, especially the area of Canada that the McKenzie’s lived in.   They may turn out to be our Native American ancestor connection.

There’s a lot of data to sort through and just when I think I have it all sorted out I find another clue that leads me down a different path.  Regardless, a trip to Michigan and Canada is in the works.  I need to see these locations, get a sense of where my ancestors lived and hopefully, find some clarity.

All the best to you on your own family history search!

Happy Father’s Day, Papa! Sunday, Jun 16 2013 

My father’s not perfect; that’s a lesson that took me a while to learn.  Mainly because I admire him in so many ways.  He’s intelligent, educated, well-spoken, a logical thinker, open-minded and spiritual.  He’s a wise soul that I could always seek counsel from.

Among his four girls, we used to joke that Dad had a lecture ready for every conceivable topic.  We’d start numbering them.  “Here comes lecture #67!”  He was never judgmental, only concerned for us.  Wanted us to be alert and aware of our surroundings and ready to stand our own two feet when the time came.  Since he always provided such thorough and wise counsel, I came to second guess my own decisions.  That was a self-inflicted action but one it took me a while to recognize.

My father made certain to tell us he loved us.  Gave us hugs and kisses.  Comforted us when we were sick.  Scolded us when needed and imparted wisdom even when not.  There are so many examples I could give to provide you with a fuller understanding of how wonderful my dad is, but I’ll start with the following:

  • GROWTH:  We all encounter struggles growing up; no one’s immune.  My father had his own stumbling blocks, including the death of his brother during Vietnam.  At only 16, my dad lost his best friend, comrade and trouble-making partner.  While he could’ve succumbed to a path of despair, misery and hatred, he instead choose to overcome his struggles and learn from them.  He moved forward, ultimately going to college, getting married and starting a family.  His willingness to learn and grow continuously led him to the life he leads today.
  • ECO-FRIENDLY:  My dad studies water pollution and seeks ways to improve the situation.  From the time I was small, I understood what my dad did for a living and was proud to know he was making a difference in the world in which we lived.  I even got to go to a water treatment plant with him for a Take Your Daughter to Work day.  That was so cool!  My dad imparted to us a respect for our environment.  To take care of the land we lived on for it wouldn’t sustain us forever.  Most recently, my father has been dedicated on a project to help make Levittown homes more sustainable.  He’s dedicated to the community he lives in and truly wants to give us the tools we need to make a better life for ourselves.
  • SPIRITUAL:  One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was Spirituality.  Being inquisitive by nature, Dad read up on subjects he found interesting, insightful, or perplexing.  Not only did he read the Bible multiple times, but he familiarized himself with understanding and respecting other religions.  Truthfully, I believe his spiritual base comes from the Native American heritage passed down in our family – a wise soul, indeed!

I am proud of my father.  Of his remarkable work ethic, dedication to his family, and renaissance-man spirit.  He’s someone I admire, look up to and inspire to be like.  I embrace the lessons he’s taught me and look forward to our next involved discussion.

I love you, Papa!

Elora Valley Friday, Aug 31 2012 

My foray into ancestry research coincided with the writing of my premiere novel – a Young Adult story that’s part fantasy, part coming of age and part spiritual in theme.  The importance of family connections is one of the main components of the book.  How we relate to one another.  How we identify ourselves as individuals and as relations?  Can you truly prosper by running away from your complex family situation or must you confront the issues before becoming an full-fledged member of society?  But most of all, can you move forward without looking back?

My protagonist, Gracie, ultimately finds strength in her own abilities by listening to the wisdom and advice of family members that have long since passed.  Being an artistic soul, I intentionally infused creative outlets throughout the story;  as a vital element of the progression of each character.  In coming up with a name for the fictional world in which Gracie would reside, I struggled.  I started with “Aurora” partly because I’m a big fan of animated princess movies.  Then the name “Alora Valley” came to me while writing one day.  Perfect!  That fit.

Years later, while researching my father’s side of the family, I learned that my relatives came from a town in Canada called Elora!  Wow…just wow. 🙂  I couldn’t make that stuff up.  Well, actually I probably could, but I didn’t!  To top off this wonderful round of synchronicity is the fact that Elora is a village infused with the creative arts.  It just keeps getting better.

I am making plans to head north for a visit to my ancestors hometown, before they moved to Michigan.  After just a brief search I’ve found so many interesting bed and breakfasts to stay in, events/festivals coming  up and scenic spots to photograph.  Visiting Elora has now become my next stop on my Ancestry Travel bucket list!

To learn more about Elora visit their website…http://www.elora.info/

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