Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who or What Inspired You to Pursue Family History?

I've been asked this question more times that I can remember . . . and can't say there was one 'single' spark, but there were certainly a few very important events that contributed significantly to my own family history pursuits. The first one that comes to mind was the airing of Roots on American television in January 1977. At the time, I was just 14 years old and a Freshman in high school. My parents, four siblings, and grandmother all watched the series each night. It raised many questions for me about the history of our country, slavery, but also about the arrival of my own ancestors from Ireland and Italy. Hard to believe that was nearly 34 years ago - seems like yesterday in some ways. At that time, there was just one television in the home and even then we had basically 3 channels - ABC, NBC, and CBS. If you wanted to change the channel, you actually had to get up out of your seat and turn the analog dial (or have one of your kids do it for you, ha).

I wonder if I had video games, the Internet, a cell phone with texting or any of the other 'wonders' of modern technology, I wonder if I would have even watched Roots at all? Probably not. It turns out to be a good thing that it aired how it did, when it did. Today, programming barely stands a chance. One or two episodes, a peek at the ratings, and it's thumbs up or thumbs down.

Two other things that come to mind that sparked my initial interest were the American Bi-Centennial in 1976 and, for me, two years earlier in 1974 was the Tri-Centennial celebration in my home town, the city of Waterbury, Connecticut. Both those events were surrounded with non-stop nostalgia and looking back, so it was perhaps only natural that these three things combined led me down the path of addition toward genealogy.

Share your story - I'd love to read who inspired you and/or what events helped jumpstart your family tree.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Today is sixty-nine years since the surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. I sat with a friend this evening - he's 86 years old - and he shared his very clear recollections of that day. He was sitting in his family room on the East side of Bridgeport, Connecticut, listening to the family radio (an old wooden Philco radio that he also described in detail). He heard the announcer share the news and said his first reaction was, "What's a Pearl Harbor?"

Today, the words Pearl Harbor immediately call to mind the shocking events of that Sunday morning years earlier. That beautiful and peaceful place will forever be remembered by the events that shaped American history 69 years ago today.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #17 - Dating a Photographer's Mark

Ditota Family, Cleveland, OH

The best way for me to share this tip is to describe a challenge that I faced with a photograph from my own family. The image (shown below) is a formal portrait of four adult men and a young boy. The men are all dressed in 3-piece suits and holding cigars. The first clue I had was that it was among my maternal grandmother's possessions and passed to me upon her death. So, I could somewhat safely assume the photo belonged to that 'half' of my family tree (meaning, not my paternal half). Now, it's entirely possible this isn't a family connection at all - it may be a portrait of some special friends, but in either case I'll want to understand why it was given to and then saved for all those years by my grandmother.

My family was/is from Waterbury, Connecticut. As far as I knew, all my research had shown arrivals from Italy coming straight to Waterbury and staying there, not traveling or migrating to any other part of the United States. The photograph has a photographers stamp on the cardboard mounting - it reads:
Fine Art Studio Co.
2096 Murray Hill Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio
(S.A.) Garfield 534 R.

Certainly photographic experts (see Maureen Taylor's website) can tell you the likely time period based on the photographic technique and clothing, but there is a also a relatively simple way to narrow the timeframe when the photo was taken.

Consulting a collection of City Directories for Cleveland, Ohio, you can find a listing for the photographer and match the address to a date. Some businesses operated for decades, but moved multiple times for various reasons. You may find that you can narrow the date range to within just a few years.