And so I begin…

OK, it’s time–what am I waiting for? It’s been nearly a year for heaven’s sake!

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 and Fold3 (formerly 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 7120 Coles Ave., Chicago, IL. Home of Nellie & Owen Desmond in the 1930s.

    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 (, 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.

    Kankakee Insane Asylum hospital complex circa 1885; known today as the Shapiro Developmental Center. Great-grandfather Thomas Keating (1832-1915), a mason by trade, supervised the construction of this historical landmark which is still used today for the care and treatment of the developmentally disabled. (Photo courtesy of

  • 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.)
  • 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…)

    George Donar (1909-1972)

  • 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

This entry was posted in Cemeteries, Chicago History, Civil War, Family Legends, Heritage Societies, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to And so I begin…

  1. Mark Biallas says:

    Love the first post! Go Mama go !

  2. Welcome to the geneablogging community! You are off to an awesome start!

  3. Meg Biallas says:

    Congratulations, Mom! This is a nearly-exhaustive list of all you’ve done up to this point. It just proves you will have a lot of good future content for this blog. Can’t wait to read more.

  4. Thanks, Coach, and you were right: I should have started this long ago! Thanks for your encouragement and technical consultation.

  5. toc5871 says:

    Pat, what a great first post.
    For someone who has “only” been researching her family for two years, you are off to a great start. Thanks to your post, I have some new idea’s for my research and education as well.
    Welcome to the genea blogging community, you will not regret the decision to join us!

    • Thanks very much for your warm welcome! Tell me, which part inspired you for further research and education? Maybe I can focus more on those areas in future posts!

      • toc5871 says:

        To be honest, it was nothing big. I have always thought about taking a History of Chicago class. My DH and I have been talking about going back to school, with a Science focus. I think that when we register I am going to throw a history class in the mix, just for personal growth. Also some of the programs you have attended are interesting. I have been researching since 1999 and this is the first year that I really am getting involved with the community outside of blogging and social media. I feel it is the right time to get involved (finally).

      • Do it! The Chicago History class was a bit hard to find, though. They aren’t offered everywhere and aren’t offered often. Ann Durkin Keating, prolific author of several Chicago histories and co-author of the massive “Encyclopedia of Chicago” published by the Newberry Library, is a history professor at North Central College in Naperville, IL. You could call the college to see when she will be teaching her class again. I took mine at the College of DuPage because it was the only place nearby that had a class to offer at the time. It was tremendously enlightening, educational, and entertaining (even if I was going to school with kids my own kids’ ages and the professor was a few decades younger!)

  6. Jennifer Holik-Urban, Professional Genealogist says:

    I didn’t know Lisle Depot had classes like that! Now I have to check them out. Very cool!

  7. Lynn Palermo says:

    Patricia welcome to the geneabloggers community. You are off to a great start. Look forward to reading more.

    • Thanks, Lynn.
      I just popped onto your blog long enough to see that I will be spending more time there soon. Will definitely have to respond to your question of “When did you know…?” as I had planned a post around that theme anyway for the not too distant future.

  8. Congratulations on your first post! I love how you’re able to communicate your passion for genealogy. That’s one of the things which I love to see in a blog post.

    When can we look forward to the next one? (no pressure there then!) 🙂

    • Thanks, Nigel.
      It will be very, very soon. Got a few posts in the pipeline, but tonight I am off to a presentation by Thomas MacEntee on using social media for genealogy. This newbie definitely needs to learn more about that topic!

  9. bethany says:

    I look forward to reading about my family! I enjoyed reading about how you started your jouney. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Glenn Biallas says:

    Very well done Aunt Patti (you’ve been busy)!!!
    I’ll be sure to show your blog to Kyle. You’ll be a great inspration to him since he’s been asking questions about the Biallas side. Thanks for sharing!
    Uncle Glenn

  11. Jacqi says:

    Welcome to the digital conversation! So glad to have found your blog via Geneabloggers. I, too, am working on Chicago roots, and look forward to following your work.

  12. Julie says:

    Pat, welcome to the addictive & friendly world of genes blogging. I am your latest email follower.

  13. Debi Austen says:

    Just found your blog – love it! I’ve been researching for only a few years, too, and blogging since March. Can’t wait to read more.

  14. Katy Hoesel says:

    I am so very impressed with all the work you have done!
    Katy Desmond hoesel

    • Thanks, Katy! A lot of work but I do enjoy the results. I’ve obtained some info on our mutual great-grandfather Jeremiah Desmond–a map of his farmland in upstate NY, a copy of the church record on his marriage to Mary Burns, even a page one obituary from the Ogdensburg Gazette from when he died in 1897–so you can look forward to seeing/reading about those things in the weeks ahead!

      Hope all is well with you and yours.

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