Hearing is Believing at Christmastime

This is a true story I wrote back in December 1994  for “That’s Life,” a column I penned for the local Westmont Progress newspaper. It’s about a very important phone call  from a very important man.

Copyright © 1994 Patricia Desmond Biallas

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A First-Timer’s Take On Salt Lake City

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Finally…my first visit to Salt Lake City.

The new year was but 10 days old when I found myself in the air and on my way to a place I’d only heard about in genealogy circles, but knew I would  someday visit.

This was the time.

It was Sunday, January 10, 2016 and I was on my way to SLIG–the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

I was headed there to take a much longed for course in genealogical writing: Writing a Quality Narrative by renowned author and family historian, John Colletta and his co-presenter, Michael Hait.

Among the topics covered by Colletta?  “Principles of Good Storytelling”; “Creating a Narrative from Biographical Facts”; “Using Historical Newspapers and Maps for Historical Context”;  and “Publishing your Genealogy or Family History as a Paper Book”.

Among the topics addressed by Hait:  “Editing & Proofreading”“Writing for Scholarly Journals & Magazines”;  and “Electronic Venues for Publishing a Family History”. Writing assignments, and in-class critiques of our own writing were also part of this content heavy course.

But all schools have their extra-curriculars, and SLIG was no exception.

With Laurel Baty, ProGen 18 coordinator, mentor and friend at a SLIG social.

With Laurel Baty, ProGen coordinator and mentor at a SLIG social.

From the Welcome Reception on Sunday night when I finally got to meet Facebook friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson in person for the first time, to the closing banquet Friday night where I sat with Laurel Baty, ProGen-18 Coordinator, mentor and  friend, who was kind enough to show this SLC first-timer around town all week–this was a week of non-stop learning, networking and simply nirvana.

With Joan Steiner, classmate and fellow midwesterner who came to Salt Lake for the writing class by John Colletta.

With Joan Steiner, classmate and fellow midwesterner who came to Salt Lake City for the writing class by John Colletta.

Little did I know that by the end of that week,  Joan Steiner, a fellow Midwesterner and classmate, would become my companion at the weekly, free, Thursday night “rehearsal” of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Thursday evening choir practice for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Free Thursday evening choir practice for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Don’t miss it if you’re in Salt Lake City.

(If only other musical programs I’ve paid dearly to see over the years could compare to this free performance by this world renowned choir–nothing  short of amazing!)

And of course, no trip to this genealogical mecca would be complete without a visit (actually multiple visits) to THE Family History Library–the largest genealogical library in the world housing over 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books; 4,500 periodicals,  3,200 electronic resources, and much, much more.

Enjoying a bit of Italian fare with FB friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson one evening after class.

Enjoying a bit of Italian fare with FB friend LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson one evening after class.

What more could a genealogist ask for?

Don’t know where to start?  No worries. Mormon reference consultants and missionaries are more than plentiful helping you every step of the way, pointing out lockers and coat closets; restrooms and snack areas; and ultimately, escorting you (if you need it like I did) from one station to another.

Sister Phillip helped me acclimate to the Family Search computers, and Sister Brennan sat with me for 4o minutes (one-on-one!) showing  me the ins and outs of some Irish research (and yes, I found another marriage record for my Donar great-grandparents. Whoo Hoo, baby!)

Catching up with Georgia Sanders, a fellow genealogist and buddy from Florida whom I first met at the Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in 2014.

Catching up with Georgia Sanders, a fellow genealogist and buddy from Florida whom I first met at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in 2014.

And on SLIG night, when the library was overrun by new FHL researchers like me (doing research, taking classes, and having consultations), a young elder whose name I never obtained–as  it was just 10 minutes til closing when I approached him–well, he put a smile on his face and treated me like it truly WAS his pleasure to help me out, even though I knew darned well he was probably chomping at the bit to get home after a long day of helping others.

Now that’s what I call “service”.

I have to admit though, I was a bit anxiety stricken before hopping that plane to Salt Lake City, feeling unprepared, not sure what research to bring, or even knowing if I’d have much time at the library to work.

That’s when I called in the troops–former ProGen classmates Carole Ashbridge and Eva Goodwin who’ve researched there in the past. They put me on the path to less stress, basically saying “all is good–just go with it–help is just a smile away.”

A few titles found at the Family History Library in Salt lake City. Used to research Irish Desmond ancestors who emigrated to St. Lawrence County, New York, during the Famine era.

A few titles found at the Family History Library in Salt lake City. Used to research Desmond ancestors who emigrated from Ireland to upstate New York, during the Famine era.

They were right.

So for my colleagues heading to Salt Lake City next week for Roots Tech–the largest international genealogy conference in the world which is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees for the conference itself  and 30,000 on Saturday alone for a Family History Day–I offer these few bits of advice:

  • Lotion and lip balm–bring it, LOTS of it, you’ll definitely need it. (Thanks for the tip, Eva. You were right.)
  • Eye drops–bring that too. You won’t want to drop ten bucks in the hotel gift shop (like I had to) for a microscopic bottle. It could just turn out to be the best investment in personal comfort you’ll make all week.
  • And of course, water–don’t leave your hotel room without it.

You might even consider running the shower in your room for 10 minutes a day to increase the humidity in your home away from home. (A tip from Juliana Szucs, an Ancestry.com employee and  fellow midwesterner whom I was lucky enough to sit with on the plane both to and from SLC. She should know, as she’s been to that town so often over the years in the course of her work.)

Bottom line: If you’re not accustomed to exceedingly dry mountainous air (and this flatlander certainly wasn’t),  you’ll need all the humidity and moisture your body can suck up–trust me.

And finally, if the non-stop learning, networking, and nirvana get to be a bit too much at some point next week, do what I did one morning at SLIG–step back, slow down and treat yourself to a little room service for breakfast.

It will totally re-energize you as you take on another day in the city that’s synonymous with Family History.

Now, go!

IMG_0594Copyright © 2016 Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in Just for Fun!, Research, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A Baby Boomer Genealogist-Mom Wraps up her Visit to Millennial Daughter in Washington, DC (Part 4)

The last in my series of a baby boomer-genealogist’s recent trip to DC: “Friendsgiving”,  “Little Libraries”, “Curb Alerts”,  & heading home

Day 4:  Sunday  November 15

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A typical rowhouse in Washington, DC

It was my last day in DC, but a full one, nonetheless. First order of business: hanging out in my jammies with daughter #1 before getting ready for the first event of the day: “Friendsgiving”, an annual pre-Thanksgiving Open House offering a full-on “turkey-with-all-the-trimmings” spread, along with an assortment of foods from all those in attendance.

Best part? Getting to meet so many of Meg’s friends from various areas of her life: twenty- and thirty-somethings; single, engaged, and married—even some with kids—all enjoying their lives, their careers, and each other in our nation’s capital.

It was a brief stay at that gathering though, as we were set to meet up with Samory again at Meg’s church in Eastern Market,  just a few blocks away in a very picturesque area of her previous neighborhood. Our little stroll to that church introduced me to two unique features of the traditional DC rowhouse neighborhood.

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A “Little Free Library” where residents share their favorite reads by dropping off and  picking up used books for free.

One is the “Little Free Library” a glass fronted structure the size of an over-sized birdhouse, which can be viewed at eye level. They’re constructed and used by those in the neighborhood to store books that passersby can drop off or pick-up to share with others.

A similar concept was the “Curb Alert”. On our walk down one street I noticed Meg gravitating toward a box on the sidewalk overflowing with various knickknacks. The mom in me, immediately cautioned safety, not realizing this is a common sight in neighborhoods like this.

“It’s our version of a ‘Goodwill’ drop off,” Meg informed me. “Most rowhouse neighborhoods have no garages and very small yards, so people just put usable items they no longer want on the sidewalk for others to take as they wish.”

The rowhouse version of a “garage” sale, I guessed, where everything is free.

jfj fjewiodekj fjejaefkj jd kk fjdWe reached the Church of the Resurrection, where an Anglican service was followed up by more socializing with church friends and a final Uber ride back to Meg’s place.

(Uber is a car service gaining popularity in large American metropolitan areas which connects riders with registered drivers vetted by that company. No cash involved–all transactions occur via smart phones–and  payments, including tips, are made online.)

Once back at Meg’s place, it was time to start preparing for my trip back home to Chicago the following day. Was it really almost time to leave? I just got here, I whined to myself.

Nite, Nite.

Day 5: Monday, November 16

cheeriosUp with the birds. Meg got ready for work, I finished packing, and we headed out to the bus stop. At Chinatown we parted ways—she off to work, and me off to the Metro, which took me back to Reagan International. I’d see her again in a few weeks for Christmas.

So many memories to savor from my brief stay, encompassing time with a daughter, meeting her friends, connecting with newly found Desmond descendants, researching at the National Archives, and a bit of DC nightlife to keep me in tune with the times.

All in all, a mother-daughter bonding genealogical weekend in our nation’s capital made up of, what else? …

…Sweet Dreams.

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 Photos and post copyright © 2015, Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in Biographies, Family Stories, Just for Fun!, Military, Photo Stories, Research | Tagged , | Leave a comment

DC by Day and by Night with a Time Traveling, Baby Boomer Genealogist Mom (Part 3)

Part 3 of this baby boomer-genealogist’s recent trip to Washington: Back to NARA, a spot of tea, fine dining, and going “clubbing” (Millennial style) in the nation’s capital.

 Day 3: Saturday, November 14

Today’s activities were purposely unscripted which allowed both Meg and I to sleep in, wake up slowly, stop in at a salad place called Chop’t for a light lunch, and eventually head over to the National Archives once again to finish what I hadn’t gotten to on Friday.

The Central Reading Room, National Archives, Washington, DC

Central Reading Room, National Archives, Washington, DC. (Photo taken in 2011.)

By the time we arrived there, we were the only patrons in the Reading Room sharing that massive space with two research assistants and a guard who checked us in and out. (Attendance was probably light that day because files aren’t pulled on Saturdays due to reduced staff.)

After quickly reviewing a few more files on hold from the day before, I obtained the last two files—one at a time—which I’d saved for the end: the Civil War pension files of my two great-grandfathers: William Donar (1826-1899) and Edward Kennedy (1845-1881).

I’d first discovered those files four years earlier during my initial visit to the National Archives. I’d made photocopies of their contents at the time, but during this visit I wanted to photograph each document so I could capture the original look and feel of those records: their disintegrating edges, discolored pages, and colored notations, which didn’t show up in my black and white photocopies.

Digitized black-and-white photocopies of these treasured records--all that will be available to researchers in the future--can't begin to compare to color photographs of the real thing.

Digitized black-and-white photocopies of these treasured records–all that will be available to researchers in the future–can’t begin to compare to color photographs of the real thing.

Good thing I photographed them that day, too.

I learned on this visit that the National Archives is in the process of digitizing all of its  Civil War pension files (a very good thing); but when they’re finished digitizing them, they’ll no longer allow researchers like you and me to ever see or touch them again (a pretty sad thing, in my opinion).

Those original pension files and the unique contents they hold, will  be boxed up for posterity and shipped off to a permanent government storage facility somewhere for “safekeeping.”

Though I was assured by one Archives assistant that “it will be a very long time” before that happens, it’s unclear what that really means. So a tip to my fellow researchers: If you think there’s even a chance that there are original Civil War pension files you’re interested in that are stored at the National Archives in Washington—and you hope to see, touch, scan or photograph them—get there sooner rather than later, as later may indeed be too late.

A letter to the government on behalf of my great-grandmother, Ellen Kennedy (1841-1879) vouching that she was, indeed, entitled to her husband Edward's Civil War pension. The request was approved. Ellen received $12 per month from that point forward to support herself and her four children.

A letter to the government on behalf of my great-grandmother, Ellen Kennedy (1843-1894), vouching that she was entitled to her husband, Edward’s, Civil War pension. The request was approved. Ellen received $12 per month from that point forward to support herself and her four children.

On with my itinerary:

After photographing each document in my ancestors’ military files, I was officially finished with my visit to America’s National Archives: a bittersweet moment, as I realized I’d probably never again hold in my hands some treasured, but heart-breaking, handwritten letters and affidavits penned by my great-grandmother and others.

They’d been submitted to the government, imploring it to grant her widow’s pension in a timely manner, as that’s all she had to support her four children, ages 2 through 8. The eight year old was my grandmother, Mary Agnes Kennedy (1872-1958).

Dusk: America's National Archives building in Washington, D.C.

Dusk: America’s National Archives building in Washington, D.C.

Time to head back to Meg’s place, get dolled up, and prepare for a night on the town. On the way to our train though, we stopped in at Teaism in Penn Quarter for a cup of lavender mint tea and a salted oatmeal cookie. (“They’re the best, Mom. I’ll treat!”) Unable to turn that offer down, I agreed to do just that. (Penn Quarter is a part of downtown Washington that’s just off Pennsylvania Avenue.)

I filled Meg in on my latest discoveries on Find-a-Grave, which led me to a new email pal in upstate NY, the land of the Desmond immigrants. We chatted about her job, my genealogy research, family news, and our upcoming plans for Christmas this year.  Then we headed out to catch the Metro back to her rowhouse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Time to get gussied up for a night on the town…

Mixing with DC’s glitterati, Milennial Style

Reservations were made earlier that week for a “fine dining experience” at The Hamilton for dinner with Meg and her friend, Samory. And a fine dining experience it was: dark paneling, white tablecloth, low lighting, and just enough attention from the wait staff to meet our needs without becoming disruptive (a little pet peeve of mine.)

On the menu: crab cakes, steak, and some wonderful mixed drinks—an indulgence I rarely pursue (the drinks, not the food!)  Next stop: POV (i.e. “Point of View”), a night club on the top floor of  The W Hotel,  just a few blocks away.

P.O.V. ~the place to see and be seen for Washington millenials (and occasionally, their baby boomer moms.)

POV: The place to see and be seen for Washington millennials (and occasionally, their baby boomer moms.)

It was a quick stroll on a chilly night that took this sixty-something baby boomer back a few decades to her disco days in the mid-1970s—an era, not so different from today: a time when long lines formed at the latest hot spots and hands were stamped in purple ink to prove–under the fluorescence of blacklight–that you were, indeed, eligible to enter that coliseum of dance.

After a brief wait in line, we were ushered to a hotel elevator, which took us straight to the top. The reward?

Entrance to POV, one of the classier nightspots in the nation’s capital for young, single Washingtonians, where “well dressed” is the order of the day: no T-shirts, tank tops, flip flops, torn jeans, athletic garb, or droopy drawers allowed–ever.


Meg and Samory enjoying the nightlife at POV, a nightclub atop The W Hotel.

This is a place where classic music mixes with classier drinks and just enough reduced lighting to enable it’s patrons to gaze out the west facing glass wall of that venue, to view the  glittering Washington nightscape lit up below: The White House, the Kennedy Center, and all of the other iconic must-see D.C. sites.

(No wonder that nightclub is named “Point of View”. What could be more relatable to those working in a town where everything you say and do is based on your own perspective?)

Samory, Meg’s friend, headed over to the other side of the club to check out the dancing situation but learned that section of the club was closed that evening for a private party. (That also happens a lot in DC: Lots of private parties…)

We stayed a bit longer enjoying the music, the view, and of course, the people watching, before calling it a night, finding an Uber to take us home, and returning to our respective abodes.

Good Night, Moon….

(Up next: A final post: Days  4 & 5: “Friendsgiving”,  “Little Libraries”, “Curb Alerts”,  church with the child, and heading home)

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 Photos and post Copyright © 2015, Patricia Desmond Biallas

Posted in American History, Civil War, Family Stories, Just for Fun!, Military, Photo Stories, Research | Leave a comment