Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shoebox App for


Let me start by saying I'm not a big fan of frivolous apps.  Who needs one more toy? Not me!

When I heard about the newer Shoebox app for I was, as always, hesitant to try it.  Well, trying is believing What was I waiting for?  Why didn't I know about this sooner?  and Yes!  Finally a useful app that makes my genealogy life soooo much easier.

If you haven't tried it or aren't sure what I'm raving about here it goes.  

The Shoebox app allows you to take a photograph of an object and crop, title and describe, set a location, and tag or tie it to someone in your family tree.  Big deal you say? Well hold on, once you've done all of the aforementioned things to the object and then save it.  The image is immediately uploaded to that persons profile page in your tree.  From there you can set the image as the primary photo for the person it's attached to.  Forget something or want to edit the description after it's uploaded? You can do that too.

How quick is this app?

I recently spent about 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon uploading documents and photos.  I was amazed when I realized that I had uploaded about 70 images in that time frame.  I am now addicted!  I would upload and then check to see if the photo was there and how I wanted to set the image (primary photo or not.)  It worked beautifully every time. And now I have photos for many more of my ancestors that can also be seen by others who are searching.  If others are seeing the images, they're making connections to me and my tree is continuing to grow.

What's next?

The findagrave app.  It's now available for apple, but I'm awaiting the android version.  With this app cemetery visitors should be able to snap a photo of a grave site and immediately upload it to with the GPS coordinates.  Imagine taking a detour some Sunday afternoon into a cemetery you have been meaning to visit.  The cemetery turns out to be enormously overwhelming and no one is available to help you locate a grave.  Fortunately for you, another visitor has already uploaded the gravestone/grave site locations to and all you have to do is access the website and navigate to the location in order to find success. When I'm in a cemetery I always try to take a few extra pictures in order to post them for others.  This app will make documenting an entire cemetery very doable in a short period of time.  I can't wait to get started!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is Everyone Irish on St. Patty's Day?

I'm not sure about that, but I know I'm Irish everyday!

I thought on this St. Patty's Day I'd pay tribute to those Irish ancestors who left the only home and family they knew, braved the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, and landed on the soil of the place that was supposed to bring a new beginning and better life.  America is the place where anything is possible.....

Unfortunately for me, I don't have any first hand family accounts of what it was like for my Irish ancestors to make their journeys onto American soil, but we can learn a bit of the harsh reality from the account of one Irish immigrant, William Smith.  Smith's story* was published in 1850, a few short years after he sails from Liverpool, England to New York as many of the Irish did in those days. His anxiety-filled account spans only 29 pages in length, but the glimpse he recounts of his heart wrenching tale of immigration makes me proud to descend from a people with such a strong will to succeed.

Smith's tale begins as he sets sail on "Friday, November 26, 1847, leaving behind his wife and child, an aged father, three affectionate sisters, and a few very close friends."  Smith wants for a better life writing, "For several years I had vainly endeavored to raise myself from the state of poverty and the constant degradation which the small remuneration I received for my labors forced me into.  If, in the free and happy land to which I was going, my last and only hope should be destroyed, my wife and child would suffer by my absence."

The horror of battling raging seas is in part recounted on the following two pages from the book.

William Smith, “An Emigrant’s Narrative; or a Voice from the Steerage,” page 7

 William Smith, “An Emigrant’s Narrative; or a Voice from the Steerage,” page 8

Ships Fever

Ragging seas are not the only dangers Smith encounters during his journey.  He tells the gruesome tale of immigrants dying horrible deaths after contracting ship's fever.  The illness, all to often, resulted in the death of passengers including the captain of the India, the ship they were sailing on.  Smith tells of how the bodies are buried at sea.

William Smith, “An Emigrant’s Narrative; or a Voice from the Steerage,” page 12


Following the scores of passengers contracting and dying from Ship's Fever, many survivors come down with dysentery.  Smith himself becomes ill from both sicknesses.  Upon the belief he is succumbing to the fever, Smith locates the only other passenger from his home town.  Smith asks the man to contact his wife on the occasion of his death and to pass on his few belongings and a message.  Fortunately for Smith, there is no need for anyone to deliver such a horrid announcement.  Miraculously,  Smith survives.  

Deplorable hospital treatment

Eight weeks after England's shore disappeared out of sight, Smith and the surviving passengers and crew of the India step foot on American soil.  Smith was told he would be taken to the Staten Island Hospital to receive treatment and regain his health.  The statement was partially true.  Smith went to the hospital, but the treatment he received was far from caring and restorative.  He tells of the freezing conditions, after all this was winter in New York.  Immigrant patients were punished if they attempted to warm themselves by a fire. He says the treatment he received was brutalizing and the bedding felt like laying on straw. Two weeks after being admitted, Smith was strong enough to be released from the hospital. With only a few shillings in his pocket (enough money to last a week,) he set out in New York City to make his way in his new "free and happy country."

The new world is not so welcoming

I can not even imagine trying to make your way in a place where you know no one, have very little money, and have no where to stay.  But some how Smith was able to come across people who were willing to help him.  Some of the people he came across in the first days of his new life had an understandable fear of anyone who had ship's fever. Another lesson of discrimination Smith has to learn.  People did not seem to care that it had been weeks since Smith was ill, but his appearance must have given it away.  Regardless of the initial fear of Smith's previous illness he manages to come in contact with a man who will eventually give him shelter, a hearty meal, and the aid he needs to begin work.

Those left behind

After ten weeks from England's shore Smith is able to write his wife and relate the tale of stormy seas, illness and death, deplorable hospital treatment and his new life.  Smith is unaware when he writes his letter that the man whom he asked to contact his wife upon his death had assumed he had most likely died in the hospital. The fellow shipmate relayed a message to his own wife in Ireland and soon word spread of Smith's untimely death.  So you can image that upon receiving the letter from America, Smith's wife can't bear to bring herself to read it.  She then passes the letter onto Smith's father who has the honor or breaking the letter's seal and reading Smith's ghostly words aloud to the family.  The message of life Smith had sent back to his family in Ireland must have been some of the most beautiful words his family had ever heard.

In honor of William Smith and all of our Irish immigrant ancestors, I would like to say thank you. I think of all of you often, and admire your fighting spirit.

Here's to our Irish immigrants and their families: 
the Carsons, the Whites, the Hannas, the Byrnes
the Conleys, the Reilys, the Greens, the McArdles, the Rileys, and the Millers

*William Smith, “An Emigrant’s Narrative; or a Voice from the Steerage, published by the author 1850.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How About Those Skeletons?

Unearthing Skeletons

Unearthing those skeletons is always interesting whether they are my own or those belonging to a client.  Aren't those skeleton's stories what make our family history come alive?  OK, maybe you disagree.  They tend to shake up our tree, make us ponder where did we really come from, and occasionally scare us. Well then, what should we do with those skeletons? Leave them buried? Pretend we never uncovered their secrets? Well, maybe we should celebrate them, OK maybe not the mass murderers, but those who just choose the wrong road when coming to the fork in it.

Recently, I was listening to (I believe) one of Lisa Louise Cooke's* podcasts where she addressed this issue. The advice offered by Lisa Louise was.....the living come first.  I'd have to agree.  Maybe after digging up juicy information about your long-lost-gun-slinging-bank-robbing-womanizing great-great uncle once removed, and knowing full well that Grandma would cringe at the thought of airing dirty laundry, it may not be sage advice to immediately run to the nearest computer to post this information for all to see.  Or if you find yourself immediately compelled to share, as we are all too ready to do in today's world -  leave out a few gory details for Grandma's sake.  We all want Grandma to be happy in her last years don't we? Of course we do!  Well then, how do we present this new found information without making Grandma want to write us out of her will?

How about trying this........

substituting desperado for bank robber - conjures up imagery of the famous Eagles song
substituting moonlighter for thief - no one will suspect the subject is not working a second job
substituting groggy for someone who drinks a little too much - indicates someone is very tired, maybe from working hard

OK you get the idea - there are many ways to gently discuss the habits of our skeletons without putting it all out there.  However, keep in mind when deciding whether you should post, discuss, or relay any questionable information ere on the side of caution.  Perhaps you can ask another friend or family member who wouldn't be greatly effected by the new information.  This accomplishes too things. One, allows you to relate your information and two, use the person as a sounding board to gauge their reaction and gain their opinion.

The choices we make can go along way......

A few years ago someone kindly offered to go to a library local to her to look up an obituary for me.  She was able to find the obituary and a story to go along with the obituary.  The reason for the story was that my third great grandfather had been killed after being hit by a train while walking along the railroad tracks.  He was 82 years old.  The woman did not tell me this information because she realized that it may upset me. Instead she sent me the paperwork and allowed me to read it for myself. After discovering this information she had a choice to make.  She could have emailed me immediately with all the gory details and risked upsetting me or she could have done the correct thing which was to gently allow me to discover the reason why my third great grandfather had passed.  I appreciated her thoughtfulness.  Just because we find information does not mean others will be as excited to know every last detail.

Embrace you skeletons....

Sometimes they're embarrassing, silly, uneducated, crazy, controversial, far-from-traditional, or down right nasty, but they are ours.  We did not create them and we are not responsible for them. So why should we feel they are a reflection on us?  Try to find some good in those skeletons and embrace them.  We would not be here if it weren't for them.

(*Lisa Louise Cooke's genealogy gems website is