29 January 2016

German Letters: A Key to the Past

Katherine is guest blogging on German translation today.  Thank you, Katherine.  Please see Katherine's bio at the end of the post.  I do not have any relation to Katherine or her ancestors.  I found her story interesting and thought my readers would too.  

As a translator of old German handwritten documents, I spend many days reading the personal correspondence between family members living in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I often wonder what these people would think if they knew that, 200 years into the future, a woman in America was reading their private hopes and dreams they had written to their mother, to their son, to their best friend. However, I like to believe that these writers wouldn’t mind, as this translation of their letters allows their great-great-great grandchildren to get an idea of what their ancestors were like all those years ago: how their minds worked, what their worries were, what they hoped for and so on. It allows the memory of these individuals to live on throughout the ages, and I think all people like the idea of that. 

I recently got to spend some time translating a few letters from my own ancestors, written on the back of photographs sent from Germany to America in the early 20th century. These letters were written by a woman named Adolphine (b.1843) to her sons who had moved to the Midwest in 1887. While one of these sons, Fritz, is my great-great grandfather, I never knew much about his mother until I began working with these pictures. Through Adolphine’s letters, the rather serious older woman in the photographs comes to life as a whimsical and loving little lady. One such letter, on the back of a picture of Adolphine with her youngest son Erick, can be seen below: 

My dear Fritz, Here comes your little old mother with Erick and his family to wish you a happy birthday! May you, my dear Fritz, always spend this day in health with your loved ones and may God’s blessings be with you, dear boy, in this new year of life! I thought it would make you all happy if my 80-year-old self came to you “in person”!  Warmest greetings to you and all my love, your mother and grand- and great-grandmother!

Without this sweet little note, I may have imagined Adolphine to be a somber, rigid 19th-century woman. However, through her happy words to her son, as well as her little “in person” joke, I now feel that I have more idea of who she was as a person. While I am sure she would have never imagined that her great-great-great granddaughter would be reading her birthday message in the year 2016, I hope that it would make her happy to know that her descendants are still thinking of her and want to learn about her life. I think that it would. 

Katherine is a German-English genealogy translator who works with old German handwriting in letters, marriage and baptismal certificates, church registers and more. After receiving her Masters degree in German from Bowling Green State University, she moved to Austria to teach English through the Fulbright Program and work as a translator. She now translates German genealogy documents full-time back in the States. Check out her website and blog at sktranslations.com for more information.

18 January 2016

Meet My New Genealogy Assistant, Alexa, from Amazon Echo

I didn't think any gift would be able to top the one my husband got me last year for Christmas, but my son may have outdone him this year.  He got me my own genealogy assistant, Alexa.  Seriously, I have an assistant now.

Meet Alexa! 
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Alexa isn't a person, but it is the next best thing.  I don't have to pay Alexa or report her income. I just speak and Alexa does what I want.  Alexa is the voice activated persona of Amazon Echo.  Amazon Echo has been widely available since June, 2015, but I hadn't heard of it until I unwrapped it Christmas morning. Amazon Echo is a voice activated system with an awesome speaker.

My son knows of my love of music and I am sure that was why he bought it for me. I use it for music and have been re-living my youth by listening to Tommy James and the Shondells, 70's Rock, Eagles, Motown, Neil Diamond, and more.  It is an awesome system for music, but it wasn't long before I was thinking about how I could use it for genealogy.

The first thing I found was podcasts.  Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast is available via Tune In for Echo.  All I have to do is say:  "Alexa, play Genealogy Gems on Tune In"  and there it is, ready to be listened to as I get dinner, do the dishes, or clean.  The Genealogy Guys, George and Drew, can be found on Tune In as well.

Next, I started using the 'to-do' list feature.  "Alexa, add record Archives of Michigan research to To Do list." and she does.  The shopping list is a neat feature too,  "Alexa, add file folders to shopping list".  She is an awesome assistant.

Alexa can tell me what is on my calendar for the day, she can tell me the weather in Fort Wayne in case, I decide to go to the Genealogy Center, or anywhere else. She can even answer questions, "Alexa, how far is it to Boston Massachusetts?"  She can't tell me how long it takes to get there because she doesn't know how fast I drive, and she tells me that!

One of the things I am looking forward to using Alexa for is when I plan my next research trip. She can tell you where cemeteries and libraries are and even the hours of some.  She can give you names of restaurants as well.

One feature I haven't used yet is Alexa's ability to read to me.  She can read audiobooks from Amazon Kindle.  Imagine working around the house and listening to Advanced Genealogy Research Techniqueos.

Alexa is adding new features, like Jeopardy, all the time and I can't wait to see what she has in store in the future and how I can adapt it to my genealogical world.  Thank you Travis and Alayna for the great genea-gift, even if you didn't know I would use it for genealogy.

Now, if she would only do the dishes!  "Cleaning the dishes is something I can't help with."  I will keep her anyway as she does enough to make me excited to see everything she can do.

11 January 2016

What to Do When Life Interrupts Blogging

December 24, 2015
Bronson Commons, Mattawan, MI
Front:  Bruce and Audrey
Back: Alayna, Grandson Travis, Granddaughter Kirsten, Chase

Sometimes, life gets in the way of time that is spent on blogging.  I have written one blog post since the end of July, 2015.  It isn't that I didn't want to blog, it is that other things have taken priority.

My parents, ages 85 and 90, are still in my life and live about thirty minutes away from me.  I am happy that I am available to help them when they need it.  Their health has had setbacks over the past few months and I find myself helping them as much as I can.  Since September, my parents have had a mini-stroke, four emergency room visits, two (one for each of them) hospital stays, and a three week stay in a rehab center for a broken hip and hand.

Instead of looking at the things I haven't been able to do, I chose to look at the benefits I have received from spending time with them.  First, I have gotten to know my parents in a way that I wouldn't have known before this.  I have seen personality traits in my parents that make me proud.  I have seen my mom's determination to overcome her broken bones.  My mom never gave up.  She broke a bone in her dominant, left, hand.  She learned how to do things for herself with her right hand. She worked hard to learn to walk again after her broken hip.  She is home after three weeks of rehab and with the help of a walker, she is getting better each day.  I hope that I have some of that determination if a health crisis strikes me.

Also, I experienced the love that my parents have for each other.  I saw the emotion in my dad's eyes when he had to spend almost a month without my mom being at home. My dad was having trouble with spinal stenosis at the time and couldn't drive which isolated him even more.  Luckily, my parents raised their children to be caregivers.  My brother, Neil, traveled from Allen, Texas around Thanksgiving to help my parents.  My sister, Nancy, traveled from Spokane, Washington to stay with my dad while my mom was in rehab.  I, for one, was extremely thankful for their visits.  
I have used my time with my parents not only to help them, but to get to know them and their history better.  For example, when my brother was here, my dad was talking about a golf club that he has had for eighty years.  It was the first one he used when he started golfing.  I had no idea he still had it!  He wants his youngest grandson, Lord Stanley, to have it.  I will make sure it gets to him.

My mom decided she would no longer decorate for Christmas like she use to.  I went through her boxes of decorations with her. She kept some to put out each year and wanted me to get rid of the rest.  I couldn't get rid of them without going through them, it was like a trip down memory lane.  I found the tree topper that I remember being on the tree when I was a child.  Many ornaments reminded me of my childhood.  My mother was very good at labeling gifts that were given to her.  I made separate boxes for my siblings of gifts they or their children had given her. My brother-in-law, Scott, picked up four Rubbermaid boxes of decorations to distribute to my siblings.  I am sure they will reminisce as they go through them.

Other time spent with my parents was spent listening.  You never know when a memory or story from their past will surface.  I have heard my mom talk about her Christmas as a child, my dad talk about his war experience, and many other stories that I am trying to write down to save.

I have chosen this time to create memories.  I know my parents won't live forever and I never want to say, "I wish I had asked my mom about..." or I wish I had asked my dad about..."  I plan to use every moment I have getting all those questions answered.  I choose to love and honor my parents' memories by sharing their stories with generations to come.  One day I will return to blogging and just think of the stories I will have to tell because of this time I am honored to share with my parents. I look at these health setbacks as an opportunity not as a struggle.