Sunday, March 19, 2017

I wonder how my grandmother felt when she first saw the Statue of Liberty

I have never been hit so hard as I was in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are. I know from years of research that there are times when genealogy can hit a nerve and you feel guilt or sadness or fear. But on Sunday I really understood this.

My mother would tell me stories about how much fear my grandmother lived with during World War I. My mom would have been about 12 years old when this happened. People would come to my grandmother's house to check on her. I thought this was rather strange, but I never saw it as something that would scare a person. 

Then as I watched Julie Bowen research her great grandfather on WDYTYA it started to make sense. And the more I learned the more upset I became until finally I became extremely angry. I was so upset that someone could do this to my grandmother. I never met her but from hearing my mom talk about Grandma Gussie I felt like I knew her and I have always felt close to her. It is still hard to describe the emotions I feel about this time in her life. And then I think about what my mom must have gone thru being only 12 years old. My mom was extremely close to her mother.
It was 100 years ago. 1917. World War I. The year the United States decided to join the war. 

My grandmother, Augusta Friedricks, came to America at the age of 5 with her parents. She was born in Germany. She eventually became a citizen when her father was naturalized. She married and created a home for her husband and children. She worked as a seamstress. Then World War I broke out in Europe and her life must have completely changed.

I say "must have completely changed" because I wasn't there. I only heard the stories, but after Sunday night I can now understand the HELL she must have gone through. 

Julie Bowen discovered during her family research that her great grandfather, Charles Fry was associated with an organization called the American Protective League. These were ordinary American citizens who kept tabs on anyone in the United States who was born in Germany. My grandmother came from Prussia and this made her a possible enemy alien, a German radical. It appears that as a German born American she would have had to register during the war.

This group of German born citizens were told where the could live and work. They were spied on by fellow co-workers. Their bank accounts were inspected. Phones were tapped. In the case of Grandma Gussie, men came to her house many times and interrogated her. I remember my mom telling me how terrified she was by this. And many were placed in camps where they lived until the end of the war. In 1919 after the war around 10,000 aliens were released from these camps. 

The citizens who belonged to this group thought they were doing their part to protect America. I suppose you could buy into this if you never knew of a grandparent who was subjected to this horrible treatment. I find it hard to believe that this could happen in this country. Or do I?

I wonder how my grandmother and her parents felt when they saw the Statue of Liberty for the very first time.  


Saturday, March 11, 2017

History Lesson on WDYTYA

I don't know what to say about the first episode of the new season of Who Do You Think You Are. It was a great history lesson and I am sure Courteney Cox learned a lot about her family. I am not sure I learned anything about English genealogy research from this episode as it relates to my family. Even though my DNA is almost 50% English I have yet to find a king or queen. 

It took me a while to figure out what kind of genealogical research skills apply to this episode. I guess I am not used to jumping from Alabama to medieval England in an hour. 

However, one thing was pointed out - where your ancestors landed in the new world is a clue as to who they were and what they wanted. Those who landed in New England were looking for religious freedom. Those who landed in Virginia were looking for land and wealth. The makes sense on a very simple scale. I am sure there are variations. Indentured servants for one. They came to the middle colonies to serve those who came to the colonies to attain wealth. 

But to get back to Courteney Cox, her family history brings up one important aspect of family research. You need to know the history that surrounded your family. What was happening that might have influenced your family. It could be anything. Weather, politics, war, to name a few. 

Courteney Cox needed to know the politics in her family to understand where to look for records that would affect her family. Fortunately for her, Ancestry did it for her. Now this is not a put-down. This is advanced genealogy. And this is what we all strive for.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


I got my favorite fuzzy throw and camped out on the couch for an afternoon of Who Do You Think You Are. The temperature was in the upper 50 range so I opened the front door and windows to let some fresh air into my house. I had my clipboard ready for notes. Sean Hayes was the first guest and I watched the next 3 episodes as a novice. 

I decided to watch with my mother's family in mind since this is the family of brick walls and covered tracks. (My father's family practically smacks you in the face with the information you are looking for. They wrote the book on serendipity.

This is what I, the novice, learned from these past 4 episodes:
*Start with what you know about your family. Check with family members for anything you don't know about.
*Go to something called Search. Find family.
*Hire a genealogist, historian or archivist to research you family.
*Travel to another city or fly to Europe for further research. (Note: all documents will be translated.)
*Pretty easy. I can do this. No problem.

I do believe that the earliest episodes were more basic. It is possible that WDYTYA has grown from novice to intermediate to advanced in order to maintain its audience. So if you are totally confused by the information in this season's opening, I would recommend that you go back  and view some of the earlier seasons

What did I learn as a "novice"? I have overlooked immigration records for my mother's family and that is a big mistake on my part. It could be the key to breaking down those brick walls. I did get this pounded into my head from watching the Sean Hayes episode. This is now #1 on my To Do List and it is getting more exciting every day (more about this later).

I think if I were indeed a novice watching this season I would have been discouraged. The things I found missing were education. Online tutorials. genealogy societies. Genealogy conferences. There is nothing that tells viewers how to do the research themselves. I would suggest that WDYTYA needs to include a statement at the end of each episode that tells viewers how to find local genealogical societies. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Who Do You Think You Are. I look forward to each new season. I just don't want viewers to think it is all about huge foreboding repositories. It is about people. The people who shaped out lives.  


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Through The Eyes of a Novice

It would appear that Queen Victoria is sharing the television line up on Sunday with another English monarch. If you cannot record tv programs for later viewing (like me) you will have to figure out how to watch Who Do You Think You Are and Victoria on Masterpiece tomorrow night. (And let's not forget Finding Jesus and Hamilton's America. I'm not even going to go there.) I might have to call Time Warner or Spectrum or who ever is controlling the media at my house.

Those of us who have been faithfully watching Victoria on Masterpiece do not want to miss the Finale of the First Season. She will be exposing her dirty laundry on your local PBS station from 9-10:30pm and later from 12-1:30am. This means she will be overlapping a former English monarch for a half hour no matter when you watch. 

Who Do You Think You Are will be slaying an English monarch on TLC who happens to be an ancestor of Couteney Cox and a predecessor of Miss Vicky from 10-11pm and again from 1:06-2:06am. Confusing? Yes. Impossible? No. Unless you fall asleep! 

Tomorrow I will be setting aside my WDYTYA Bingo Card and all of my years of genealogy knowledge. Instead of laughing at the squares on the cards and rolling my eyes at the instant information I will be watching the new episode with the eyes and mind of a complete novice. This won't be easy. I will have to completely shut down the sarcastic side of my brain.

The reason I am doing this is because I am participating in Thomas McEntee's  Genealogy Do-Over. I have completely purged my ancestor files with some necessary exceptions and I am starting over.  I know it sounds strange but so far I have made some amazing discoveries. It became apparent early in the game that my records were more of a family landfill and I brought home a lot of conference leftovers. 

So I will sit down tomorrow night with my bowl of popcorn and watch Courteney Cox discover her family. I hope to learn a few new ideas; maybe take a new look at a record; discover something I have always overlooked. Who knows? This year in genealogy is the year of renewal.