Genealogy Trip Safety

When we’re getting ready to go on a genealogy excursion, be it a conference or simply a cemetery visit, we know a lot of what we need to do to prepare: do a research log, check out our destination’s website, figure out where to park, etc. But how often do we prepare with our own safety in mind?

This is a story of my quick trip to the Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT this past week, where I not only gleaned some information on my ancestors, but learned (fortunately not the hard way) how important safety was. I had dropped off my daughter for college orientation in Rhode Island and decided that, since I was all the way across Connecticut, I would pop in on an ancestral cemetery either in Rhode Island or eastern Connecticut. For some reason, I felt that Durham should be the place to go, so off I went.

When I got to the town, I saw many branches and trees down in people’s yards; the primary sound in town was chainsaws. You see, there had been pretty bad storms two days before. In my part of the state, all we got was rain, but in Durham and some of the surrounding towns, they were hit with a number of microbursts. However, the main road (where the cemetery was) was clear and it was an absolutely beautiful day: upper 70s, low humidity, perfect for scoping out the cemetery.

Old Durham Cemetery, from the bottom of the hill on a bright sunny day.  Author's collection.

Old Durham Cemetery, from the bottom of the hill on a bright sunny day. Author’s collection.

I parked on Old Cemetery Road, which was nice and shady for my car, and proceeded to the cemetery, which was on a somewhat steep hill. No worries there: I knew how to tread carefully on hills from previous hikes. I was grateful that although there were a number of trees down around the perimeter of the cemetery, very few stones were damaged, though some had very close calls. As I continued my search, I thought to myself that I should have brought sunscreen; I burn easily. Well, I wouldn’t stay too long, since it was nearly lunch time. What I didn’t count on was the heat; I felt myself getting overheated and I hadn’t brought any water, so I took a few breaks to sit in the shade (this actually helped me find my people, though!).

Downed tree from the microbursts.  Author's collection.

Downed tree from the microbursts. Author’s collection.

Finally when I was done, I knew I absolutely had to get water and something to eat, so I started to drive around to find a restaurant. I ended up at a small market with a deli, so I was able to down a bottle of water and eat a pretty good sandwich as I listened to the locals talk about power outages and storm clean-up. At this point, I knew I was done, so I punched in my address on Google Maps. As I turned down the first street, I came up to a road block; arborists were taking down trees, of course! I knew I couldn’t use my GPS and I couldn’t find a map that I thought was in my car, so I just went back the way I came.

This excursion taught me some valuable lessons, though. Some of the things I should have done:

  • no matter where I’m going, always bring a spare bottle of water
  • make sure the car has a paper road map; the GPS doesn’t always know when a road is closed
  • if I’m going to be outdoors on a sunny day, be sure to bring sunscreen
  • check local-specific news, even if it’s only by Twitter; what I didn’t know was that the town had discouraged any visitors until they got the roads cleaned up!

And, not to beat myself up, here are some things I did right:

  • parked in the shade, off the road so my car would be cool and safe
  • had my cell phone with me (I even have a first aid app from the Red Cross)
  • looked carefully at the lay of the land: the stability of the surrounding branches and even poison ivy!
  • walked really carefully on that hill. Some of the ground was kind of “mushy”.
  • sat and rested at times, and quit when I knew I had enough
  • retraced my steps as I drove out of town

On a related note, Denise May Levenick gave a talk at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this year called “Be Prepared with a Genealogy Disaster Plan”. She not only talked about keeping your work safe, but actually started out how to keep yourself safe where ever you go. The video is view-able free until July 5, and you need to register first here.

I think in the future I will be more prepared for even the smallest genea-trip. What about you? How do you stay safe during your trips? Please share your own pointers in the comments. After all, if you don’t protect you, who will?

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Great-grandmother Eva Christina (Lipsett) Atwell: Artifacts & Stories

One significant fact of my great-grandmother Eva’s life was that she was from Nova Scotia. This was important, because for many summers (maybe even every summer), she and her family would visit the old home place in Manchester. When her daughter (my grandmother) Eugenie was grown, she in turn would take her family there, too. My father and aunt both had fond memories of Nova Scotia.

The cottage in Nova Scotia.  Author's collection.

The cottage in Nova Scotia. Author’s collection.

I don’t know if there’s any particular character traits to Nova Scotians, but Eva was a reputedly straightforward person. She said things as she saw them, but she was a very likable person. My mother, who probably only met her a few times, had only good things to say about her and in fact honored Eva’s memory by naming one of my sister’s middle names after her.

My aunt Cheryl (later known as Cherie) seemed to have a very close relationship with Eva (her grandmother). Eva had saved up for and assembled a silverware set for when Cheryl got married. The marriage never happened, but Cheryl did cherish this gift by guarding it carefully through each of her moves; even when money was tight, she would not depart from the silverware. Cheryl wrote a semi-fictional sketch of Eva and Eva’s cousins entitled “The Club“. In it she paints a picture of Eva, her culture, and her relationship with her granddaughter.

“The Club” alludes to lace being everywhere in the home. Indeed, Eva tatted her own lace, of which I have a couple of pieces.

Lace tatted by Eva.  Author's collection.

Lace tatted by Eva. Author’s collection.

My final piece of heritage from Eva is her Squash Pie recipe, which my father preferred over Pumpkin Pie. My mother cooked this pie for many Thanksgivings. Here is the recipe:

Eva’s Squash Pie

1 cup sugar          1/4 cup mace
3/4 tsp salt          1 cup squash (butternut squash, from a can)
1 tsp cinnamon    3 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg       1 cup heavy cream/evaporated milk
3/4 tsp ginger     1 pie shell

Add sugar, salt & spices to squash and mix thoroughly. Beat eggs, add cream, and mix with squash. Line pie pan with pastry and pour in filling. Bake at 450 degrees fro 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 40 minutes till knife inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: Allow to cool to room temperature.)

Great-Grandmother Eva Christina (Lipsett) Atwell: Facts and Clues

Eva Christina Lipsett was born on November 7, 1893 in Manchester, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Canada.  She was the oldest of the five children of Robert Fenwick Lipsett & Sarah Sophia Bruce and the only one to have children of her own.

The 1911 Canada Census lists Eva as a teacher though she only completed one year of high school (according to the 1940 U.S. Census).  She seems to have spent time in in USA from 1911 to 1913, but I have no details from that time.

I found that Eva had immigrated to the USA via St. John, New Brunswick in May 1918 to stay with her cousin Gussie MacKay Brown in Lynn.  (The 1930 U.S. census says she had immigrated in 1911, but the 1918 paperwork indicated that stay was temporary.). She was naturalized as a U.S. citizen by 1930.

Eva married Thomas Francis Atwell I on June 30, 1920 in Salem, MA.  At the time, she was staying with her cousins Charles N. Lipsett & Ethel M. (Hiltz) Lipsett at 5 Pickman Road in Salem.  For several years after the wedding, the newlyweds lived there, perhaps because of Thomas’s time at sea.

Soon the Atwells became a family.  On March 3, 1924 Eva gave birth to daughter Eugenie Beryl (named after husband’s paternal aunt and her sister) (my paternal grandmother).  And on April 24, 1926 she gave birth to son Thomas Francis Atwell II.  Sadly, a third child, Barbara Eva was born a “blue baby” and died just a few days later in February 1932.

Eva  Atwell + Eugenie Pleau beside 143 Timson Street in Lynn.  Author's collection.

Eva Atwell + Eugenie Pleau beside 143 Timson Street in Lynn. Author’s collection.

By 1933, the Atwells bought their own house at 143 Timson Street in Lynn, where they lived for the rest of Eva’s life. This was where my father spent the first years of his life.

143 Timson Street today.  Courtesy Google Earth.

143 Timson Street today. Courtesy Google Earth.

Eva died in August 1963 and was buried with Barbara in Pine Grove Cemetery.  There is so much more to her life, however, that I will cover in my next post.

Global Family Reunion

Yesterday, June 6, the Global Family Reunion was held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY and I got to go! Because it was so close to where I live and the price was right, I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity. If you follow me on Twitter, you got to see a lot of comments and pictures!

Let me first tell you how the day went for me personally, then I’ll give you my overall impressions of the event.

First of all, it was quite easy to get to. I just took Metro-North into Grand Central (about an hour), then the 7 Subway over to 111th Street (about half an hour), then a five minute walk three blocks away. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the neighborhood, I realized it was just an urban working-class area. I arrived about 10:45am and immediately made friends with new “cousins”/genealogists in line, one being from Chicago! It took past the scheduled 11am start time to actually start checking people in, and I’m still not sure why. We were directed to the “Cousin Check-in” area, which had two lines; apparently I was in the wrong one, and the other was very long, so I said to myself, “I’ll check in later!” (which I did).

Waiting to get in.  Author's colleciton.

Waiting to get in. Author’s collection.

First thing was first: I had to stop in on the Find My Past booth to meet #genchat founder, Jen Baldwin. Her red hair made her easy to spot, but I was not easy for her to know right away (since my Twitter avatar is a gingerbread man). Once I introduced myself, though, she gave me a big hug and said we just HAD to get in the

#genchat friends:  Jen Baldwin and me!  Author's collection.

#genchat friends: Jen Baldwin and me! Author’s collection.

obligatory selfie. After that, the Find My Past booth was sort of “home base” for me throughout the day.

The Main Stage schedule probably varied the most from what was

Cousin AJ.  Author's collection.

Cousin AJ. Author’s collection.

on the website, so AJ Jacobs was not first up, but close to it. He apologized for the delay, saying we could forgive him since he was family, and gave us a hearty welcome and a little speech as to the Global Family Reunion came about.

Not able to decide what to eat, and still not terribly hungry, I downed an old-fashioned New York pretzel and went to the Theater area so I could catch Henry Louis Gates. Alas! The 300-seat auditorium was completely full and I couldn’t get in. Not to be deterred, I put in my earbuds and accessed the live webcast of Mr. Gates as I sat in the sun (which fortunately finally came out). Basically, he spoke of his background and how he ended up being a genealogist. The most exciting part was announcing his plans to help get genealogy into the classroom in science (through DNA) and social studies, starting with the inner city first (as they stand to benefit the most from it). Keep your eyes peeled for more on this development!

I spent a little time wandering around before catching D. Joshua Taylor (one of the hosts of “Genealogy Roadshow”, among many other roles) talk about Genealogy & Hollywood in the Viscusi Gallery room. Josh sure has a way of presenting! Not only did he tell us some neat things about genealogy and entertainment (such as the fact that Walt Disney made sure all his characters had a family tree), but he also drove home the fact that we must verify our on-line findings.

I was able to catch most of Dr. Oz on my way out. He spoke of what

Dr. Oz.  Author's collection.

Dr. Oz. Author’s collection.

motivates us to change, particularly from the perspective of staying healthy so we can enjoy our families.

Finally hungry, I had the biggest Falafel sandwich ever (delicious and filling for the rest of the day) as I watched the goings-on in the kids’ area. Boy, they were having lots of fun! Kicking soccer balls, hula-hooping, origami folding and other games. As I tweeted, I didn’t see one whining, crying kid. They were having fun! Older children and teens sharpened their storytelling and writing skills in the Storytelling Tent, and if that wasn’t enough, families got to play miniature golf or explore the museum itself (which looked pretty interactive and cool).

Origami fun!  Author's collection.

Origami fun! Author’s collection.

Paul Williams had just enough time to sing “The Rainbow Connection” before he had to leave. It was cool to see him, as I remember him from “back in the day”! Later on, I even got to meet Daniel Horowitz, Chief Genealogy Officer from MyHeritage. He was happy to hear that I was a MyHeritage user and I was happy to hear that he was able to find some family graves nearby in Queens.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines.  Author's collection.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines. Author’s collection.

As a Treelines user, I absolutely had to catch Tammy Hepps in the StoryTelling Tent as she spoke about her “Margarine Outlaws”. She

had given this talk during RootsTech, and I wanted to see what new developments she may have uncovered! (Needless to say, she learned a whole lot about margarine!) I also got to say a quick hello to her.

It was finally time for the big event: Sister Sledge on the Main Stage! Everyone gathered around, the music started, and out three of them came, singing a song to warm us up! One more sister came on stage and the familiar notes

Sister Sledge sings!  Author's collection.

Sister Sledge sings! Author’s collection.

started: “We are family!” everyone sang. The music, the joy, the hands holding up “I Am A Cousin” signs! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many happy, celebrating people in one place at one time.

Just part of the crowd!  Author's collection.

Just part of the crowd! Author’s collection.

Finally, we “posed” (?) for the big family picture and we listened to AJ’s lovely wife Julie talk about the fundraising portion of the event: supporting Alzheimer’s research and care. AJ was also given several bits of recognition, including an honorary membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society and a double-helix guitar (which did not make it to the stage, but he promised he’d post a picture of!).

Afterwards, I went back to the Viscusi Gallery to hear Randy Whited speak on “The Future Is Now”. He spoke of everything from advances in technology to telling our own story. My favorite point was to make it obvious which part of the story comes from us versus which part comes from records (another score for well done genealogy).

Back to the Main Stage to see Marilu Henner speak on improving

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire!  Author's collection.

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire! Author’s collection.

our memory recall (important in light of the focus on Alzheimer’s).  One big tip I remember was using your primary sense to tap into memory: if a visual person, take pictures; if tactile, write it down, etc. What will I remember most from this talk? Her scolding the chatty security guards backstage for being too loud while she was talking! Ha, ha!

Well, it was closing in on 6pm and I had better start making my way home. I got another picture with Jen AND Josh Taylor, then had the

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor.  Surrounded by genea-awesomeness!  Author's collection.

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor. Surrounded by genea-awesomeness! Author’s collection.

honor of snapping the official Find My Past team photo! Said goodbye to Jen, until we “see” each other virtually again!

One screwy thing about getting back: there was no Manhattan-bound train from that subway station that weekend! It seemed we had to take the train to one stop up (where the Mets play), then take a Manhattan-bound train back. But this turned out to be a good opportunity, because I met some other genealogists (cousins!) who were headed back as well, and we got to talk about the day and our favorite online people (DearMYRTLE and Michael Lacopo were theirs). When it comes to genealogy, there are always friends to be made!

So that was the day. Here are my overall positive impressions:

  • fun, festival-like atmosphere
  • the genealogy tents (Find My Past/Mocavo, Family Search, and MyHeritage/Geni) were hopping with people who wanted to make discoveries, and they did!
  • good genealogy speakers, placed in the right rooms (for the most part), with topics designed to capture your interest if you’re new to genealogy and to encourage you if you’re not. It was sometimes hard to choose who to hear speak!
  • good non-genealogy speakers, with a great focus on strengthening family (we sure need that today, don’t we?)
  • good food, short lines
  • ample supply of port-a-potties; no lines, relatively clean, and wash-up stations too

What could have been better:

  • coffee. There was no coffee anywhere. We need coffee!
  • proper signage to direct folks to appropriate lines. When entering, there was a line for VIP’s and General Admission, but it was hard to tell which was which. Also, at Cousin Check-In, they needed signs for those who had sent in their family history info and who didn’t. It was kind of like being at the DMV.
  • more volunteers at the entrance gate and especially Cousin Check-In.
  • I wish I could have seen Henry Louis Gates; he was obviously the biggest draw there. If he didn’t have slides, I’d suggest he should have gone on the Main Stage.

Overall, a good time and worth the money. Next time, I want to bring some friends to spread the fun!