Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why Bother Researching My Family Tree?

My very first BLOG POST at The Oracle of OMcHodoy addressed the question of “Why Bother Blogging?”.  The end result of that post was the following answer:

“While Internet databases provide me with the means to find information, message boards, email groups, personal web pages and blogs provide me with the means to connect with people”.

It’s now almost six years removed from that post and today I want to switch things around and answer the question, “Why Bother Researching Your Family History?”.

When I started researching names on the Internet (via Rootsweb,,, Google, etc) I was amazed at the mass of information available. As with many people, I was drawn in to, with its wealth of digital images, indices, names and dates. I started by plugging in the name “John J. Doyle” in an effort to determine the relationship of the subject of a photograph to me. Before I knew it I wandered off the name of “John J. Doyle” and found the names “Edward Hodick”, “James O’Rourke” and “Dennis McHugh”. With every find I felt a surge of excitement. But I also felt so much more.

Fast forward five years. My research in this time period waxed and waned, with periods of utter joy at finding a genealogical gold mine and periods of utter disappointment at not even having time to research. My father had moved in with me, adding the new role of “Caregiver” to my resume. I changed jobs. Later, I dealt with the death of my father, and a move that was to lead to a second move in a matter of months. And I bought my first home. It may sound strange, but it was this latter process that provided me with the answer to the question, “Why Bother Researching Your Family Tree”.

There were many obstacles in front of me when I began my home search. The branch manager at my lending company was shot down and killed. A friend using the same company went through hell trying to close on her own home because of the sluggishness of the money-handlers. I had a spreadsheet of 20 homes to wade through, worried that I’d ultimately choose the wrong one. But alas, fate intervened.

After looking at my top five choices, I told my realtor to set up a walk-through of the 18th house on my list, which had three major strikes against it: It was a little further west than I wanted to go, it was only a two-bedroom (I wanted at least a three-bedroom), and it had polybutylene pipes, which are known to burst without warning. In spite of these things, something screamed inside me to look at house number eighteen. My realtor met me there at about 6:00 one evening and unlocked the front door. I took one step inside and said ‘It’s mine”. I felt an instant connection to this house. After about 45 days of negotiating a very significant repair (the seller did re-pipe the house), I moved in.

The move-in occurred on 31 Jul 2010. To this day I have nary a doubt that I made the right choice in bumping house number eighteen up to house number six. From day one I’ve felt the presence of my parents in this home that they’ve never seen – that was built in the same year I moved to Tucson. The  spiritual connection I feel to this house is what tells me that it was truly meant to be mine.

So how does that story provide me with the answer to the question “Why Bother Researching Your Family Tree”?  Because for six years running I’ve had that same exact feeling of spiritual connection with every ancestor found.

And while I know that documented evidence is the standard in the field of genealogy, it still cannot compare to the standard of connection

Monday, July 11, 2011

That Was Then, This Was ... Well, Then, Too

I often think I had a charmed life as a child. Everything was as it should have been: Nice home on a nice-sized lot in a nice-clean neighborhood where everyone knew everyone and watched out for everyone else's kids. Summer days were "da-bomb", and could be straight out of an Erma Bombeck book (Rest in Peace, Erma).  A typical late summer day might look like this:

8:00 a.m.: Up, eating breakfast and getting swim clothes together.
8:30 a.m.  Waiting in the Farthings' driveway, waiting for a ride to Niagara Wheatfield High School pool for swim lessons.
9:00 - 12:00: At  NW pool.
12:30:  Back home to scarf down some breakfast.
1:00 Walking to the park at the end of the street for softball practice or game.
3:30 Back home to watch tv, play with the other neighborhood kids, or just hang out.
500: Eating dinner with the family
6:00 - Whenever: outside playing "Tag", "Spud", "Hide and Seek", "Search" or "Ghost in the Graveyard" with the neighborhood kids.

Unless it was Friday during summer, which would mean eliminating everything past 1:00 and substituting "packing for and driving to the weekend camping trip to Bedford Beach, Arrowhead, or Rainbow Lake (or, God Forbid, Mockingbird campground). With, of course, the Barry's, Hughey's, Sayers', Curry's, and anyone else who cared to join our caravan.
 (Ray Barry firing up the Hibachi during one of our neighborhood camping trips. I think this was at Bedford Beach Campground in Western New York, a site we frequented for years). Photograph in the collection of Colleen McHugh.

Tonight as I was searching the Pennsylvania Digital Repository for my dad's uncle, John HODICK (1900-1978), I found the following article:
( Courtesy of Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository,
In case it's hard to read, it describes my great-uncle's "well-handled" baseball game and standings of teams in his area of Northeastern Pennsylvania. 

For some reason, I always find articles like this -- ones that describe life outside of the coal mines, railroads and other labor industries -- rather comforting. I've read so much about life in the coal mines and rail cars of NEPA and I've researched enough about how hard people had to work to earn a measly buck that I enjoy reading that my ancestors, too, had time for family, fun, games, and relaxation.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Have I Been Up To?

Besides working and continuing to settle into my house, I have, actually, squeezed in some research, too.  A cousin of mine sent me a link to a databank of newspaper articles from all over Pennsylvania.
This site has been a gold mine of information for me. I not only have learned names and dates of people on my tree (I even confirmed the family of my maternal great-grandmother from an obituary I'd found!), I have been given a few glimpses into the lives and personalities of some of my ancestors.Thanks, Pat for sharing this site with me!

After finding numerous articles, obituaries and advertisements containing many of my common surnames (Doyle, McHugh, O'Rourke, Kelly, Hodick, to name a few) I began wondering if I'd be able to find a comparable site for my Western New York research. Thanks to Charley Berry Grabowski, of "Apple's Tree", I was able to research the paper of my hometown, The Niagara Gazette. Articles from this newspaper were included in the databanks available at the site below:     
In the months to come I'll share here some of the things I have learned through my ongoing searches of these newspapers. If anything rings a bell or strikes you as interesting, feel free to comment here!