Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Definition of “A Reasonably Exhaustive Search”?

Now that I am getting back to exploring my family tree, I’ve picked up a project that I had started before my unexpected hiatus: transcribing Lodewijk Wesselo’s letters, which reside in the Wesselo Family Archive at the CBG in The Hague. And while doing that, a question that has plagued me before popped into my head again. What, exactly, does ‘a reasonably exhaustive search’ – as posed in the Genealogical Proof Standard – mean?

Is it making sure you’ve covered a person’s entire life, from birth to death? Is it going to every archive that could possibly have sources – even if those sources wouldn’t add any new information? Or is the definition dependant on who you’re researching? Will you do a more exhaustive search for a direct ancestor, especially if you have a lot of information about a side-branch ancestor already?

As for Lodewijk, he’s a brother of my great-grandmother, so a side-branch ancestor and not a direct ancestor. The sources that are in the Wesselo Family Archive – collected by various Wesselo genealogists over a period of many decades before being donated to the CBG – cover his entire life. I searched out some original documents as well as some additional sources based on the information I found in the archive. Have I done enough?

I know there are two archives that might hold sources about him – but it is highly doubtful they could tell me anything new. Both of these archives are not particularly close to home and currently I have no other reason to visit them. An on-line search did not give me any indication that there is anything about Lodewijk Wesselo at either one of them, but the type of source he might be in at those places isn’t indexed on-line, so that doesn’t say much. The chances of new information are very low, while the time and money I would have to spend on searching is fairly high. Yet, can I say I’ve done ‘a reasonably exhaustive search’ if I don’t check?

In this case, I’ve decided that I am ‘done’ with Lodewijk Wesselo – as far as searching out sources goes, anyway. I’ve made a note of the archives, and should I ever need to go there for another ancestor, I will certainly look for him as well. But I will not make a trip just for him. But I will admit, that had it been one of my direct ancestors, I would have gone. So I’d say that the definition of ‘a reasonably exhaustive search’ definitely depends on who exactly it is you’re researching – and how much information you already have about this ancestor.

So, when do you call it ‘done’? What is your definition of ‘a reasonably exhaustive search’?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sentimental Sunday: School Memories Age 4-6

In the Netherlands children enter the schoolsystem at age 4. They start when they turn 4 in classes where you mostly play, with some playful education thrown in, until the children are about 6 years old, when they enter the class where you start to learn how to read and write. At my school, Het Kompas, there were three of these ‘not-quite-school’ classes, class 1, class 1.5 (I’m still not sure why we had this class and not every child went here) and class 2. The teacher of class 1 was Miss N., I have no idea who the teacher of class 1.5 was, except that it was a woman, and the teacher of class 2 was Miss M. You stayed at this school, called primary school, until age 12. Then you’d go to high school until graduation at age 16, 17, or 18, depending on what level of education you were getting.

Class 1

My first memory of class one is from my very first day there. It was a kind of introduction day and I only spent a few hours there, if that. My mother was also there that day. I had grabbed a jigsaw puzzle and turned it over, not realizing it was a special puzzle. Instead of the normal, one layer, it had three layers. The bottom one was a caterpillar in several pieces, then on top of that there was a cocoon and at the very top it was a butterfly. It was much too difficult for me and I got really frustrated. I think in the end either my mother or Miss N. helped me? I don’t really recall.

What is perhaps most vivid in my mind from this period is my friend E. We met at school and were best friends. As long as I’ve known her, she suffered from cancer. When she started school, she’d already been fighting it for over a year, if not two, and had lost all of her hair due to chemotherapy. She always wore headscarves or hats. One of the things I remember most vividly about her is the fact that she always brushed her teeth after lunch. All of the other kids I knew, including myself, only brushed in the morning and at night. I do know her Mom was really strict about it. Now, looking back on it, it probably had something to do with her weakened immune system, but at the time, it was just a weird quirk, nothing more.

Another very vivid memory of this year is connected to E. There was a boy in our class, I have no clue what his name was, who was teasing E. He pulled her hat off, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. In those years I had a pretty explosive temper and now I was very, very angry. I grabbed him by the throat and pushed him up against the wall. Basically, I was choking him. Our teacher, Miss N., told me to put him down but she had to say it several times before I did, that’s how angry I was. I’m sure I was punished for it, but I don’t remember that. I do remember that Miss N. was very shocked, but honestly, it wasn’t that hard to shock her. I also remember that boy never teased E. again.

The last memory I have from this class is a P.E. lesson. I know it’s from this class because my friend S. was there and this was the only class we were in together, seeing as that he skipped class 1.5 and I didn’t. We were indoors and had to walk/run a track with obstacles. I jumped of a higher level, as required. Unfortunately, I ended up literally jumping on top of S., who was running below. I hit the top of his head with my chin, resulting in a teeth through my bottom lip for me. I never liked P.E., perhaps this was where the hate started?

Class 1.5

I have no memories of this class whatsoever. Isn’t that weird? It must not have been very memorable. I can’t even remember the teacher’s name. I do know that S. skipped this class, marking the ending of our time of being in the same class. We kept and still keep in touch, but we never again shared a class.

Class 2

Class 2 was led by one of my favorite teachers from my primary school, Miss M. She was always cheerful, always willing to listen, and later on, one of the very few teachers who I felt was on my side. One of the vivid memories I have of her is that she would always sit on the bench near the sandbox on a cushion during recess, on the schoolyard for the classes 1, 1.5, and 2.

In this year, there was a great party at our school. I think it was because the school existed for a certain number of years. There were a lot of different activities. E. and I sang (playbacked?) a song from the band Kinderen Voor Kinderen, called Groen (Green). It was a lot of fun! But at the end, someone forgot to stop the tape and the next song, Lege Plekken In De Klas (Empty Spots In The Class) started. So we sang that too!

Song Groen:

Friday, May 25, 2012

An Ancestor’s Thoughts About Genealogy

Have you ever wondered what your ancestors would have thought about the genealogy research you’re doing? Well, for one of my ancestors I no longer have to wonder! Lodewijk Wesselo (1875-1962) made his thoughts very clear! During his lifetime, there were several people researching his family. The Wesselo family was being researched mainly by one of his brothers, although another brother was also doing genealogical research. His mother’s family – van Grasstek – was being researched, in that time frame mainly by Lodewijk van Grasstek and Wilhelmus Hendricus van Grasstek. Although there were several members of both family’s interested in genealogy and doing research.

All in all, Lodewijk often got questions about himself and his family. He wasn’t so open to answering them, though. In fact, when the brother-in-law of his brother wrote to him to ask questions about Lodewijk’s wife and children, he simply didn’t answer. Instead, Lodewijk’s daughter Antje Wesselo answered the man in a letter to her uncle:

“Considering Dad “couldn’t care less” about his family tree I will answer your brother-in-law’s questions.”(1)

Lodewijk himself also shows his feelings about the topic genealogy (and genealogists) in two later letters he wrote to his brother, after a book about the Wesselo family has been published:

“I don’t care about W. H. v. Gr. [Wilhelmus Hendricus van Grasstek], nor about the “tree” that I didn’t buy. Counting family doesn’t make you wiser.”(2)

“So your family tree isn’t right, I’d ask for my money back from de Bot [the publisher], I’m waiting for a corrected version. If you write to Willem [Willem Lodewijk Wesselo, the genealogist who published the book] about that W. in Almelo, I’d do it in gentle words. My confidence in the family tree is upset.”(3)

Lodewijk Wesselo is not very taken with genealogy. Well, he’ll have to apologize me then, as I find his life story very interesting and am knee-deep in his letters right now. At least I also know that some of my ancestors are genealogist and they are probably happy I’ve taken up the torch!

1. Handwritten letter Antje Wesselo to Abraham Wesselo, Familiearchieven: CBG, fa 00472, familiearchief Wesselo, Doos 1, portfolio 1, CBG, Den Haag.
2. Handwritten letter Lodewijk Wesselo to Abraham Wesselo 18 Juli 1952, Familiearchieven: CBG, fa 00472, familiearchief Wesselo, Doos 1, portfolio 3, CBG, Den Haag.
3. Handwritten letter Lodewijk Wesselo to Abraham Wesselo 28 Juli 1952, Familiearchieven: CBG, fa 00472, familiearchief Wesselo, Doos 1, portfolio 3, CBG, Den Haag.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Diary Dilemma

As a genealogist, I see a lot of documents. Most of them are about my direct ancestors, some of them are more general historical documents. I love them all, from those old maps of my hometown to that elusive marriage certificate of my great-grandparents. But what I love most are those documents that were written by my ancestors themselves – letters and (the ultimate genealogical treasure) diaries. Unfortunately, most of my ancestors didn’t leave letters and diaries behind – a reality most of us share, I think.

This fact did get me thinking, though. As genealogists we’re often looking backwards in time, looking for our ancestors and their stories. But what about looking into the future? What about our own stories? I’m still young, single and no children. But one day…I will not be here anymore. Hopefully I’ll leave behind children and grandchildren. Will they – or their descendants – hope for a diary written by me? I won’t know that, but I can hope they will.

That, however, brings me to my current dilemma. I’m not by nature a person that keeps a diary. Writing down my memories of my life so far is not a problem, but writing in the present day about the present is not something I automatically do. So should I? I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me, and writing it down now, as it is happening, is infinitely easier than trying to remember it when I’m old and grey.

But then, say I do start to keep a journal, what do I write about? Just the big events? That will cause large time-gaps in my writing and the little every-day details will get lost to time. But writing about most days, even the ordinary, will fill up lots of diaries – who on earth is going to read all that when I’m gone? The big events, the funny stories, the sad ones – all lost because nobody will have the patience to search for them in between the rest. Although, it would be handy to have a (nearly) daily record to use as a reference later in life, and extract the ‘important’ memories myself.

And then there’s the dilemma of the text itself. Should I write bare bone facts and try to stay objective, or share emotions, knowing I intend for someone to read it later when I’m gone? I know that emotions and thoughts, those intangible things, are most interesting in diaries. But how truthful is it when I know I’m writing ‘for someone else’? Should I write ‘as is’ – like I would when talking to someone who knows me right now – or should I add details that later generations might not know? I’m thinking about last names, familial relationships, more description, and possibly even explanations. Then again, would the diary then lose what makes a diary a diary? And do I write on paper, in a nice book, thus preserving a unique piece of myself in my handwriting on the page? Or do I go digital for fear that future generations will not even know what a paper book is - let alone read one? And how will I then guarantee that ‘all’ of my diaries are kept in readable format – technology is changing so fast!

So many things to ponder, and no answers as of yet. All I know is that I would like to leave something of myself behind for future generations. The what and how is still up in the air. So I ask my readers: what’s your opinion on all this?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Generations of Books

I come from a family that loves reading. At least, my mother’s side of the family does. My grandmother was an avid reader, my mother and her siblings are avid readers, my cousins and their children all read, and I read stacks and stacks of books myself. We all like different kinds of books, but of course there’s some overlap and books are subsequently borrowed and read. But despite the huge volume of books that we read, there are always those books that are just that little bit extra special.

The book above is such a special book. It’s a copy of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Originally it belonged to my grandmother. My mother says that in her memories my grandmother has always had it. Since the name my grandmother wrote in the front of the book is her maiden name, I suspect she had it even before she got married. Funnily enough, I remember that book being in my mother’s possession for as long as I can remember, even though my grandmother was still alive back then. She must have given it to my mother. And now it’s on my bookshelf. Three generations of women reading and loving the same book. Perhaps one day I’ll have a daughter who will read and enjoy this timeless classic?

This little booklet – The Ballet-lover’s Pocket Book – belongs to my mother. My aunt S. gave it to her. Between my mother (the youngest) and aunt S. (the oldest) is about twenty years. While my mother was going to school, my aunt was already living in England and had a well-paying job. She loved ballet and everything to do with ballet, which was probably why this little book caught her eye. She gave it to my mother when she was still a young girl. My mother loved to look through it and try some of the steps on the pages.

Later in my mother’s life, during the time that she made dolls, this little booklet with all of its poses of the human body was extremely helpful. Well, according to my mother anyway – I’ve never made dolls so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that I discovered this booklet on my mother’s bookshelf when I was a little girl myself. Of course I had to try out some of the steps! And so the next generation had much fun with this little booklet.

The last book, shown below, is one of my own books. I am the first person in my family who reads more English books than Dutch books. While the first two books have been introduced by their English title, they are actually the Dutch translation. Not so with The First Man in Rome. For at least the last six years (and probably a little longer) I’ve been reading books in English if that’s the language they were originally written in. There’s just so much lost in translation, I’d rather read it like the author wrote it.

This particular book is a special one. You can see that while it’s a fairly recent buy – bought in 2010 – it’s already fairly battered. It’s also the only book I have ever written in. This book has travelled the world with me – hence the rather battered appearance – and I decided that writing down where and when I read it would be nice. Considering it’s a historical novel set in Rome, it’s appropriate that I started reading it during a weekend spent in Rome in August 2010. The hotel room had a door that led to a roof terrace that was lovely to sit on. In the early mornings I had breakfast there and read a bit, in the afternoons when I took a bit of time to relax before going out for dinner I sat and read there as well. Still, the book is almost 900 pages long. Not something I can read in a weekend when I’m also exploring one of my favorite cities. Yet at home I was busy, so I didn’t read in it anymore.

So when in September 2010 I went to Abisko, Sweden – a little place close to the arctic circle with a big biology research station – for an excursion with a master class I was taking, it seemed like the ideal time to bring my book. Working from early in the morning until dinner kept me busy, but the evenings were free and there really wasn’t much to do. We were in the middle of nowhere, a little town that had a railway station (maybe four trains a day, if that), a supermarket, and a church. The research station with all of its buildings and inhabitants was about as big as the rest of the town. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful there. The woods were turning golden – it reminded me of Lothl√≥rien, the Golden Woods from The Lord of the Rings – and the northern lights that we were lucky to see one night were every bit as amazing as I’d always been told. But in the evenings I installed myself with a hot cup of tea and my book. On the last evening we were there I read until deep into the night to finish it – everybody else who was still up (about half the group) gave a huge cheer when I finally finished it. They couldn’t really understand why in the world I would read my evening away instead of joining them for drinks, but they were supportive anyway. It’s a group of people I will always have fond memories off. And a darn good book!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quick Explanation For Unplanned Blog Hiatus

If you follow this blog, you can’t have missed the fact that I haven’t posted anything in over a year. First illness prevented me from posting. Then came the frantic catching up to everything that hadn’t been done during this period. Genealogy and this blog were pushed aside for other, more urgent matters. Thankfully, life has calmed down quite a bit in the past month or so. I’ve cautiously started up my genealogy research again, mostly by internet, and I finally feel like I am in a place where I can pay attention to my blog again. I’ll be jumping right in by writing a post for the next COG. Expect to see semi-regular updates again as my research starts up again!