January 27, 2015

These 1939 Dress Designs Survived the Holocaust. Their Designer Didn’t.

dresses compressedA new exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee tells the story of some 1939 dress designs that made it out of Nazi-occupied territory–and pays tribute to their designer, who didn’t.

“When the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, tens of thousands of Jews applied for visas to anywhere,” explains the caption to a YouTube video about the exhibit (see below). “Among them, Paul Strnad and his wife Hedy, a dress designer. Ultimately, neither would get a visa to leave Czechoslovakia.”

Years later, their story was literally stitched together by descendants and local historians. The couple sent her dress designs to a cousin in Milwaukee in a desperate attempt to get work visas to leave. It never happened. Paul was killed. Hedy’s fate is unknown.

A few years ago, the designs were rediscovered along with letters that told their story. Now the design drawings–and dresses newly created from them–are the centerpiece of “Stitching History from the Holocaust,” an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. Read more about the exhibit here, or click below to watch this video about it. I think you will be as moved as I am to hear this story.

 

Here is the New Book for Genealogy Gems Book Club!

The Genealogy Gems Book Club debuted to excellent response from you, our readers and listeners and social media followers! A LOT of you are passionate about books and family history!

Our last title was a memoir by a woman raised in England who told a story about her South African roots. So what’s the new book? Well, we’re going to cross the sea–and genres–to a novel by U.S. author Christina Baker Kline.

orphan train Christina Baker Kline genealogy book clubOrphan Train spent five weeks at the #1 spot  on the New York Times Bestselling list. When you read it you’ll see why. Here’s the storyline:

Vivian is an Irish immigrant child who loses her family in New York City and is forced to ride the ‘orphan train.’ Orphan trains were a common solution in the late 1800s and early 1900s for care of abandoned or orphaned children in New York City and other places. The children were loaded onto trains and paraded in front of locals at various stops across the countryside, where they might be claimed by just about anyone.

After following Vivian’s life through her childhood and young adulthood, we fast-forward. Vivian is 91, and a teenage girl named Molly comes to help her clean out her attic. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who is in the modern foster care system. Gradually they realize they have a lot in common, and you’ll love the ways they each respond to that.

Why did I choose this book for family history lovers to read? To me, the book is about the importance of family identity. Each of us has a family storyline that existed before we were born and brought us into being. Vivian’s and Molly’s experiences remind me how important it is to know and value our family backgrounds. Of course I loved learning more about orphan train riders, too. That chapter of history is now a vivid reality to me.

Click here to order your copy of Orphan Train
When you initiate your purchase here, you are helping support the FREE Genealogy Gems podcast and the Book Club, whether you choose an e-book, or new or used print book on Amazon. Thank you! Then stay tuned–we’ll chat a little more about the book in the February podcast and the author herself will join us in March for an exclusive interview.

genealogy book club genealogy gemsClick here to learn more about the Genealogy Gems Book Club and to see books we’ve featured in the past.

 

NEW! Map for African-American Genealogy Resources after the Civil War

Mapping the Freedmens Bureau African-American genealogy ReconstructionThe time period after the U.S. Civil War is a messy era for searching for African-American ancestors from the South. Millions of people were emerging from slavery, without documented histories of who they were or who they were related to–many without even consistent first and last names.

A NEW website helps researchers locate important African-American genealogy resources from the post-war Reconstruction era. Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau is a map-based tool for helping you find the Freedmen’s Bureau offices and hospitals, Freedman’s Bank offices, “Contraband Camps,” U.S. Colored Troops battle sites and other locations nearest your ancestors that may have created records about them. Many of these record sets are just coming online or are newly indexed and are free to search, so the timing couldn’t be better.

What a fantastic tool! I’m so pleased to see this site. Now those who know what location they’re starting with can easily glance at a map and click to see which of these resources exist in a specific locale and where to find them online or offline.

Listen to my interview with African-American genealogy research expert Deborah Abbott, PhD, in the FREE Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 159.

Breaking News: WDYTYA 2015 Season Announced

WDYTYA logo Digital Spy and TV By the Numbers have announced that Who Do You Think You Are? (US) will return in February 2015 with a new round of stories and celebrities.

According to the reports, eight new episodes are lined up for WDYTYA 2015. Only four have been announced:

  • Bill Paxton, who visits a Revolutionary War battle site to walk in his ancestors’ steps;
  • Julie Chen travels to China to learn more about her grandfather;
  • Angie Harmon turns back the clock to explore an ancestor connected with George Washington;
  • Sean Hayes jets to Ireland to celebrate his Irish roots (click here to catch his antics on his return flight).

The season premieres on February 24th on TLC; check your local listings.

What’s your favorite all-time episode of WDYTYA? Tell us on Facebook!

Lunar Mission One: You Can Put Your DNA on the Moon

moon hairA new project backed by top British scientists is crowd-sourcing space exploration by offering donors the chance to put their DNA on the moon. Their first Kickstarter campaign successfully ends today: over  £600,000 has been raised in less than a month!

Lunar Mission One hopes to put a research craft on the “South Pole” end of the moon within ten years. The vessel will drill deep into the rock in an effort to learn more about the moon’s origin and history.

Around 6700 individual pledges were made in this first phase of funding. Those who pledged at a certain amount will receive space in a “digital memory box” that will be sent into space with the research craft, a sort of 21st-century time capsule and digital archive on the moon.

“People will be able to upload whatever they want to their memory box – including personal messages, photos, audio and video,” promises the Lunar Mission One website. “There will also be the option to submit a strand of hair for those who wish to store their DNA for inclusion in the time capsule.”

“The price of the digital memory boxes will be determined by capacity – starting from as little as a few dollars. Most digital information-only purchases are expected to be $10+. Customers who want to combine digital information with a strand of hair, will pay $100+. We are also developing prestige packages ($1,000+) and a lottery option from $1.”

What do you think? It’s not too late to join the fun! According to the Lunar Mission One website, “Following the Kickstarter fundraising, and for the next four years, people will still be able to reserve space in the private archive, through an online portal. This could be for themselves or as a gift. Individuals will be able to get involved in other ways, such as through membership of our Supporters Club.” Learn more at the Lunar Mission One website.

 

 

 

Genealogy Gems Book Club: MORE Great Books Recommended

genealogy book club genealogy gemsLooking for something fun to read this holiday season? Whether you need reading material for holiday travels or just want to curl up under a blanket at home, here are two great titles I love. I shared these with Lisa in the December episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast–click here to hear our discussion and excerpts!

5 finger discountFive-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History
by Helene Stapinski is one of my favorite published family histories. The author recounts her family’s upbringing in the context of the notoriously corrupt culture of Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. It’s a page-turner, from the jaw-dropping opening sentence to the author’s final musings about how her own life reflects hand-me-down criminal tendencies. Some of the stories are snickeringly funny and some are sad, and the author keeps just the right distance from the drama. She’s close enough to sympathize with people who are trying to make their way within a culture that rewards dishonesty, greed and violence, yet can laugh at ironies like trying to learn about her grandfather’s petty thefts–when he’s stolen the very newspaper pages about his misdeeds from the library.

homemade biographyHomemade Biography: How to Collect, Record, and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love
This is more than “just” a how-to book for family historians—it’s a story of its own. I re-read it every time I want to be freshly inspired to pursue the stories of my family. New York Times best-selling author and journalist Tom Zoellner weaves stories of his own into fabulous, hard-won advice on interviewing people. He shares insider tips on how to get the best stories out of those we talk to. There’s even a helpful chapter on how to work with the memories of those who have Alzheimer’s!

Tune in next month to learn our next featured book for the first quarter of 2015. Learn more about other books we’ve recommended at the Genealogy Gems Book Club page.

Historical Photos You Don’t See Every Day: Civil War Soldiers and Settlers of the American West

Recently listener Stacy sent us links to two fabulous collections of historical photos. The stories they tell–and the back story of one of the photographers–are just stunning.

Civil War Soldiers

Pvt. Samuel Decker, SP 205, National Museum of Health and Medicine. Pvt. Samuel H. Decker, Company I, 4th US artillery. Double amputation of the forearms for injury caused by the premature explosion of a gun on 8 October 1862, at the Battle of Perryville, KY. Shown with self-designed prosthetics. "He receives a pension of $300.00 per year, and is a doorkeeper at the House of Representatives... With the aid of his ingenious apparatus he is enabled to write legibly, to pick up any small objects, a pin for example, to carry packages of ordinary weight, to feed and clothe himself, and in one or two instances of disorder in the Congressional gallery has proved himself a formidable police officer." Photo ID: SP 205. Source Collection: OHA 82 -- Surgical Photographs. Repository: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives.

Pvt. Samuel Decker, SP 205, National Museum of Health and Medicine. Pvt. Samuel H. Decker, Company I, 4th US artillery. Double amputation of the forearms for injury caused by the premature explosion of a gun on 8 October 1862, at the Battle of Perryville, KY. Shown with self-designed prosthetics. Photo ID: SP 205. Source Collection: OHA 82 — Surgical Photographs. Repository: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives.

The first collection is a sobering visual record of wounded Civil War soldiers. The National Museum of Health and Medicine has posted this collection online.

“From missing fingers and hands to completely amputated legs, the portraits show solemn soldiers posing with what remains of their bodies,” writes Gannon Burgett, the author of this article about the collection. “Some of the portraits were captured by hospitals, as a way of showing how their surgical procedures had turned out; others were commissioned by the soldiers themselves as a memorabilia of sorts.”

It struck me how young some of these soldiers were, and how for many of them, their injuries would have made them unable to earn a living.

Settlers of the American West

In the late 1800s-early 1900s, Solomon Butcher photographed settlers of the Great Plains of the American West. Aware that he was capturing history in the making, he posed settlers in front of their sod homes, with their tools or livestock (and one family with their pump organ). The wide expanse of sky and sun behind these sun-hardened settlers places them squarely in their harsh natural environment.

About 3000 Butcher photographs are now online at the Library of Congress’ American Memory site, one of the only visual records of the settling of the Great Plains, mostly thanks to the generous land ownership terms of the Homestead Act. Most of the photographs are labeled–was your ancestor among them?

The story of the man behind the camera mirrors the outright failures and delayed success of the settling of the West itself. Read his story here and see if you agree with me that the time he knocked himself out trying to save his burning home sort of epitomizes his entire life.

These really are photographs you don’t see every day! Some are grim–but they illustrate the realities of our ancestors’ lives in ways that sometimes the most vivid written descriptions can’t capture. Thanks for sending these links, Stacy!

 

Europeana for Genealogy: WWI Digital Archive and More

Europeana digital archive WWIEuropeana is a digital doorway to European cultural heritage that everyone with European roots should browse. Funded by the European Commission and Ministries of Culture in 21 member states, it’s home to nearly: 19 million images; 13 million texts (including books, archival papers and newspapers); half a million each sound and video files and 16,000 3-D models of objects.

A major part of Europeana is its World War I digital archive. As the site describes, Europeana “has been running World War I family history roadshows around Europe, helping to digitize people’s stories, documents and memorabilia from 1914-1918. People can upload their own digitized items onto the Europeana1914-1918.eu site. In 2014, the centenary of WWI, 100,000 images and scans have already come into Europeana, creating a virtual memory bank that reflects all perspectives on the conflict.”

A sister site, Europeana 1989, collects “stories, pictures, films relating to the events of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe.” You can upload your own materials or, as the site says, “let us take you on a journey through the Fall of the Iron Curtain, see it from all sides and draw your own conclusions.”

The top countries to supply images to Europeana are Germany, France and the Netherlands, each with more than 3.5 million items, and then Spain, Sweden, Italy and the U.K. The site attracted 4 million unique visitors last year. Click here to read a guide to using Europeana for genealogy and local history research.

Other Europeana links to try:

  • The Europeana portal is the search engine for the digitised collections of museums, libraries, archives and galleries across Europe.
  • Our Virtual Exhibitions feature highlights from the collection.
  • Follow the Europeana blog to keep updated on the projects and progress of this rapidly-growing resource for European family history.

Read History As It Was Written via Chronicling America

Chronicling America

The Evening World (New York, NY), Sept 10, 1900, Evening Edition, Page 2. Digitized image from Chronicling America.

If you research ancestors in the U.S., you’ve probably already used the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website for searching digitized newspapers. Now they’ve added a new feature: you can subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics!

Here’s how it works. You can sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.)

My favorite family history-related topics are natural disasters (like the Chicago fire or Galveston flood), war topics (from Appomattox to World War I) and civil and human rights events (from the Railroad Strike of 1886 to Ellis Island to coverage of Pullman porters). But there are a lot of topics that might relate to your family: industrialization (electric cars!), arts, sports (think Babe Ruth and the Boston Marathon), major crimes and trials, politics, holidays and public celebrations and public works and technology marvels (like the Panama Canal or Titanic).

To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersLearn more about finding your ancestors in the newspaper in Lisa’s book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. She walks you through the process of determining which newspapers might mention your ancestors and where to find those papers (both online and offline). You’ll learn in detail about Chronicling America and more about other free and subscription options for searching online newspapers. Best of all, Lisa shares mouthwatering examples from her own research that show you why newspapers can be such a valuable source of information on our family history.

 

 

What are the Politics of Your Family Tree?

stick_figure_ballot_box_400_wht_9471Here’s a fun online tool that points toward the political leanings of current U.S. residents with your surnames: What’s in a Name?

For example, when I enter my maternal grandfather’s surname, Felix, I find that this surname overwhelming votes Democrat (77%). My father’s surname, McClellan, is evenly split. There’s a cool (but slightly confusing) map that breaks down results by state. Of course I looked at the state breakdowns where my family lives now and in their ancestral home states!

Do  political leanings really run in a family? Here’s an interesting article about familial voting patterns (again for the U.S.). Based on your surname results and what you know about your family, would this be a FUN family history conversation to introduce at your next family reunion would it open a can of worms?

Just remember, this isn’t a historical picture of your surname but predicted figures for the next big election. Not everyone with your surname is a relative, and that you likely have lot of relatives from that same surname line who wouldn’t be included because their surnames have changed. There’s also no explanation on this page of where they get their raw numbers or how they calculate their answers. You’d want to check the supporting organizations for party or other bias. So this is JUST for fun! But think about it–what resources would you use to research the politics of your family tree? Obituaries? Newspapers? Interviews with older relatives? Even naming patterns? My husband’s grandfather is named Franklin Delano–I wonder who his parents voted for….