Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Genealogist collect dead people

As you've guessed it, I am LDS (or mormon). Family is a huge part of our religion; our families that we have now, families that we will have one day and families that we have come from. To find out why, go to: www.lds.org for more information.

During the summer, we kids (my brother, sister, and I) were happily shipped off to Utah for the summer. We would spend up to and over a month with our Grammy (our paternal grandmother) and our Oma and Opa (our great grandparents). The three of us spent our summers riding bikes, going to the pool, playing with cousins and walking barefoot every where in the hot desert sun. Of all those summer vacation days spent playing, what I am now cherishing the very most is going to the family history library and looking at old records. Even when I moved to Utah to go to school, Grammy and I promptly headed to the Family History Library to research old records from Denmark. Though I know no Danish and speak very little German we managed quite well. Even as a kid and when I moved back, we would spend hours looking at Microfiche. I wonder how may people know what Microfiche is!

In this world of iAnything, mac, laptops, computers, cell phones, the Internet and everything electronic that feeds information and keeps me connected to my world, the possibilities can seem endless. You can Google just about anything and get over a million hits, Apple probably "has an App for that" and WebMD's answer for everything that ails you is Cancer. You can do something incredibly stupid and you become a hit on Youtube. If you are really lucky Auto Tune will make you a one hit wonder.

But in this incredible age of information I am always amazed at the amount of information found not on the Internet but on Microfilm.

About 40 years ago my Nana (my mothers maternal Grandmother) did her genealogy. It was something that even with out the Internet she was able to do. When she got as far as she could most of her records and her husbands records date back the 1500's. While Nana worked on her genealogy, she also started on my (maternal) grandfathers records. Nana had traced her family history back to the 1500's but my grandfathers family was a very different story.

My grandfather was born and raised in Rochester, Monroe, New York. He was the youngest of 5. He had a sister named Betty, who later married a man name Davis becoming Betty Davis (well not thee Betty Davis but she is my Betty Davis). When he was 17, he had a falling out with his parents then did what every normal 17 year old does when he has a falling out with his folks. He joined the Coast Guard and at 17 fought in WWII. After the war and when he was finally old enough, he joined the Air Force. He was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield, Utah where he met my grandmother and they fell in love. The rest is a love story for the ages; more or less a scandalous one, but that is story for later.

My great-grandfather was also born and raised in Rochester, Monroe, New York; the youngest of 7 children. He later moved to Arizona and where he died in 1975.

My great-great-grandfather is where the line ends. He was born in Baden, Germany in 1827 and later immigrated to the United States. My great-great-grandmother was born in Switzerland in 1847 and also later immigrated to the United States. With a 20 year difference between them
when she was 20 and he 40 (about) 1857 they married and had 7 children together. He died in 1907 in Rochester at the age of 80. My great-great-grandmother died in 1934 at the age of 87.

In the age of information, I am able to look on the Internet and find out exactly where my great-great-grandfather is buried. Apparently, he was also catholic. But my great-great-grandmother is a complete mystery. One assumes, I could just plug her name into google and TA-DAAA! there she is buried next to her husband or found on some cemetery registry but I cannot find her anywhere!! This is who I am chasing.

So Monday, the kids and I bundled up, packed a lunch and headed up the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When we got there, I headed to the second floor and immediatly to the help desk. A retired gentlemand who was now serving an LDS mission to the Family History Libray and a younger ( I am gonna say 19 years old) missionary helped me get started. Of course, I was thinking that I would find everything magically on the computer but to my dismay I was going to have to search microfiche for the answer. Both the older and younger missionary were suprised when I told them that I knew about microfiche and how to use the machine to view the records.

I was given 4 index numbers to the microfiche for the 1905 Rochester, Monroe, New York census. Another young missionary guided me through the large metal rows of drawers containing countless rolls of microfiche. As I walked down the metal row, I was in awe at the amount of information I was surrounded by. I felt so small and very insignificant. Contained in those drawers were the names of real people who once lived and experienced life.

All I could say was: " Look at all these dead people!"

The young elder just laughed and said: "Oh! I just got the chilies! You think this is a lot? You need to check out the vaults at Granite Mountain!"
( The LDS church stores 35 BILLION images of genealogical information in 2.4 Millions rolls of microfilm in Granite vault carved out of the mountain just outside of SLC)

I took my microfiche, set up at a machine, loaded up, turned on the light and page by page I began to make my way through the 1905 census. For three hours I stared at the pages displayed upon to white board, slowly turning each page by hand. Needless to say, I secretly wished my kids where old enough so that I could put them through the same microfiche toture that I went through as a kid and the same toture that I was now reliving. Once you have spent time researching on microfiche, nothing will ever bore you again.

Though I did not find my family (yet!), I was able to see a small glimpse of life of 1905 in Rochester, Monroe, New York. Their names are still hidden waiting to be found.

Finding my family won't change who I am but it can tell me where I come from and who I belong to. It can tell me about the lives of those who came before me and how they experienced their lives. Mostly, I am creating my own kinships with those who paved the way for me. Genealogy is a hobby and genealogist collect dead people. Looks like I have started a new collection.

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