My dad was prescient. In high school, he became interested in photography and snapped photos of life on the farm in the 1930s. After portable tape recorders and cassette tapes came on the commercial scene in the 1970s, he interviewed his family members about their lives, including back in the old country – Holland. Oh, what stories! After discovering and then sitting on this treasure for too long (too busy with other things), I am finally serious about putting together a book of genealogy and the life stories of the Dutch half of my family – hopefully by my dad’s 85th birthday later in May. Genealogy is not so easy though — yikes!
I started off spending time at the library using their free Ancestry.com to try to find and verify the American ancestors’ information, which apparently was not always collected in those days, or at least is not posted online. Where are their death records? There was the problem of different spellings of immigrant names, and that some of the first-last name combinations are common. Not to mention this is like venturing into a chipmunk burrow — look, there’s a path, look, there’s another! I did discover the amazing FindaGrave site populated by earth angels poking around in cemeteries. That’s when I discovered that census records are not so accurate concerning birth year and age (maybe my ancestors couldn’t remember?). Then I discovered the wonderful free FamilySearch—thank you to the Mormons!
Recently, by simple Google Search of married couples’ sets of names, I found some Dutch genealogy sites where my distant relatives had submitted information on my old-country relatives. On my dad’s mother’s side, those names went back to the 1600s! I saw a scan of my grandfather’s birth certificate (mostly unreadable in Dutch), but most other records cannot be verified by me except that the names and dates are the same in multiple different genealogy recordings. Apparently Holland (now Netherlands) is full of my relatives, and how wonderful some are interested in genealogy! Too bad I cannot find how to contact them.
How to incorporate this genealogy into the book of stories? I am using MS Publisher (included in the MS Office suite) to create family trees, then using MS Word to list the relatives and their information and interesting tidbits. Did you know there was an “Old Man’s Draft” registration for WWII? My grandfather registered when he was 45 year old. This was not for military service, but to determine skills useful for the home front war effort. Only a scan of the card remains, not the questionnaire. Some of my relatives came to the US to avoid the looming spectre of war (WWI) in Europe. Most came because everyone else was going. “One after another we went to America . . . We thought gold was lying in the streets,” but when they arrived they found Chicago was so dirty! There must be something to that scrubby Dutch stereotype of cleanliness, but in those days (early 1900s) the city was full of smoke and much of the area had dirt streets and plenty of mud when it rained. During rains, they drove their horses and wagonload of vegetables down the street car track – too bad for the streetcar following behind! [“Scrubby Dutch” actually refers to German immigrants who regularly scrubbed their doorsteps and sidewalks – the scrubby Deutsche – but the Dutch kept their streets clean, too.]
I am also incorporating some history of Chicagoland in those times, to give context to their stories, which leads me to another chipmunk warren full of information. Squeak!