Last fall, with the help of my daughter Meg and husband Mark. I designed this page to blog about my adventures down the path of researching my family history.
Until now, I’ve been passing on my discoveries to family and friends via Facebook, emails or by sharing them in person. But that just won’t cut it anymore. It’s just too cumbersome and time consuming. After viewing other geneabloggers’ sites, it’s apparent how creative, convenient, and instantaneous a blog can be for sharing what I’ve learned with others.
I’m the kind of person who likes things well organized, in chronological order, and with all the loose ends neatly tied up. Then why the heck am I a genealogist? There are so many details to organize, it’s overwhelming. Every new fact obtained totally throws off the chronology of what I’ve already learned. And there will always be loose ends to tie up.
Here’s why I’m a genealogist: because I’ve always loved a good mystery—detective novels, old Perry Mason episodes, and all those CSI shows that run simultaneously on multiple channels five nights a week.
The difference with genealogy though, is that these mysteries are personal—they are my family and my family’s family. It’s also because of the little thrill and considerable insight I gain each time I unearth a new fact about an ancestor and put it in context with their place and time.
I’ve practiced, learned and discovered so much over the past two years, but oh, where to begin? I finally realized after much prodding from family, friends and fellow genealogists that it simply doesn’t matter—the key is to start and just see where it leads. So that is what I’m doing, even if it does seem unorganized, incomplete and not in chronological order!
Since beginning this addictive pursuit two years ago, I haveaccomplished the following:
- Completed a 5-session introductory workshop for beginning genealogists.
- Obtained a few dozen birth, marriage and death certificates on various ancestors to kickstart the construction of my family tree.
- Attended numerous meetings of local genealogical organizations and historical societies on topics ranging from census records to DNA.
- Spent countless hours cruising Ancestry.com and Fold3 (formerly Footnote.com) in search of elusive relatives.
- Visited numerous Chicago area cemeteries finding family graves, not finding others where they were supposed to be, or finding them without a gravestone (thrilling, mystifying, and disappointing in turn.)
- Attended four local genealogy conferences that have provided me with a wealth of ideas to keep me genealogically occupied for a lifetime.
- Attended a national genealogy conference last month in Springfield, Illinois, offering more of the same, but with a national perspective and the Lincoln/Civil War angle thrown in (including tours of Lincoln’s law office, home, and tomb).
- Spent countless hours surfing booksellers’ sites in search of useful, pertinent genealogy guidebooks and histories of Chicago.
- Attended workshops on a variety of family history topics at the regional office of the National Archives in Chicago.
- Visited my local Family History Center (Naperville, IL) to search for, order and obtain marriage records on two different sets of grandparents—one of which provided me with a bonus—the parents names of both bride and groom which gave me another whole generation to investigate!
- Joined the South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society (Hazel Crest, IL), and the DuPage County Genealogical Society (Wheaton, IL).
- Discovered, contacted and became Facebook friends with living relatives I never knew I had from Hawaii to Singapore and several places in between, all due to successful sleuthing.
Googled and Mapquested 14 addresses in Chicago where my Grandpa Desmond lived or worked between 1881 and 1953. Then I went on a field trip to the southside of Chicago with my sister, Dorothy, and husband, Mark, to visit and photograph some of them.
- Wrote my first “guest post” for the DuPage County Genealogical Society’s website about a recent meeting I attended on finding Civil War ancestors. (That article will appear in a future post.)
- Met renowned genealogists Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry.com), Joshua Taylor (New England Genealogical and Historical Society), and John Philip Colletta, author of “They Came in Ships” a guide to finding exactly how and where your immigrant ancestors entered the United States.
- Contacted, met and visited with Connie Licon, Executive Director of the Kankakee Historical Museum, after unearthing information about a major Kankakee landmark my great-grandfather Thomas Keating was instrumental in erecting back in 1869.
- Watched (and shed a few tears over) Who Do You Think You Are? - a moving documentary series on NBC featuring some heart wrenching genealogical discoveries of well known celebrities. (If you catch just one re-run from last season, make it the one with Rosie O’Donnell as she travels to Ireland to learn the devastating truth of her ancestors’ struggles in the old country.)
- Attended a series of lectures at the Lisle Depot Museum, (Lisle, IL) on topics that included the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, mobster Al Capone, and famous ghosts and mysteries of Chicago.
- Took a 3-credit class on the History of Chicago at the College of DuPage—complete with lectures, research papers, a Powerpoint presentation, and exams—to flesh out my understanding of the city and its history, which is an integral part of my heritage.
- Spent a day at the renowned Newberry Library in Chicago examining copies of Chicago newspapers from October 1931 in search of those elusive photos of my mother when she modeled for Saks Fifth Avenue.
- Researched a family legend that at various times held that my mother’s cousin was either the founder of The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, or one of the several husbands of former screen siren Barbara Stanwyck. (Conclusion? Still unresolved.)
- Began composing individual biographies of family members I’ve never known based on details found in death certificates, census records, and old newspaper clippings. (Still dying—no pun intended—to obtain the details of Great Grandma Keating’s demise in March of 1900 when, according to the Cook County Coroner’s report, she accidentally dropped a revolver on the floor, shot herself in the chest, and died on the kitchen floor…)
- Discovered that there were indeed military heroes in the family: a grand uncle who served in the Spanish-American War; Uncle Dave Paden who served with the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I; and Uncle George Donar who served in both the Army and the Navy during World War II.
- And my latest coup found just last week in a visit to the National Archives in Washington DC: proof that two of my great-grandfathers—William Donar and Edward Kennedy—both served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
And that’s just for starters!
So…with that not so brief introduction I invite you to join me on my personal “GeneaJourneys.”
I look forward to posting the details on many of the items mentioned above as well as on future discoveries I hope to uncover in my quest to add to my family’s story.
…As my inspirational mousepad so aptly states: “So many ancestors…so little time…”
Now, let’s get started!
Copyright © 2011 Patricia Desmond Biallas