Friday, April 28, 2017

Genie Rockstars

Mary Tedesco
Can you feel the excitement?

Names like MacEntee, Cooke, Alzo, Taylor, Russell, Berry, Tedesco.

These are just a few of the current genealogy rock stars.

Would I sleep out on a sidewalk with a wrist band for tickets to see them? I plead the fifth on that. But when I come to a genealogy conference like NERGC, I'm thrilled when one of the geni-rock stars on my list will be speaking or giving a workshop. I choose my workshops usually based on topic, but its all the more better if one of my favorites is leading it.

Opening day at NERGC I was able to see both Thomas MacEntee and Mary Tedesco. That's a day well spent in my genealogy book.

Mary was the opening keynote to welcome everyone to NERGC. I am like everyone else in my admiration of Mary and her specialty in Italian research as well has her work on Genealogy Roadshow. And she's damn pretty, guys. What I also like about Mary is what a real, down to earth person she is. An example of that is when I contacted her via her webpage, www.orginsitaly.com, several months ago to find out about booking her for a speaking engagement  with my local DAR chapter in Windsor, CT. Mary answered back within 24 hours and was so gracious and asked what a good time to call me to discuss further would be. She called exactly when she said she would and we discussed what might work best for our chapter and state. Mary has a soft side for DAR and works with her own local chapter and was willing to donate some of her time if our state chapter would like to hold some kind of research day that she could participate in for part of her own membership goals. I was thrilled she was so willing to work with us. Unfortunately, not to throw anyone under the bus here, but my state Chapter is not as forward thinking as I had hoped and I didn't want Mary to keep open a date for us while this all was worked out. I was disappointed and somewhat embarrassed at the lack of enthusiasm on my state end, but Mary was very nice about it and I feel she secretly knew what I was dealing with when trying to "think outside the box" when it comes to the DAR. Lovely ladies to be around, but very difficult to get something new approved.


Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEntee is a force of nature, I swear. And he's damn pretty, guys. He exudes a light and energy I am sure he is not even completely aware of. It's like the nerds finally have someone cool who wants to be their friend. How awesome is that? Whether its his coiffed mohawk, his sparkly bedazzled kicks, or his famous blogger beads...this guy know how to remind us all that genealogy can be some kick-ass fun. Thomas was the keynote at the luncheon I attended this weekend and he talked about privacy. He brought up examples as to how while we think our privacy is so incredibly invaded due to the Internet age, back in the day of our ancestors, newspapers were reporting on everything from when and where you were checking into a hotel, to what illness you were currently suffering from. Privacy is subjective. Having daughters in their early 20's, I couldn't agree more with Thomas when he said that Millennials have a different relationship with privacy and are willing to give up some of that privacy for the benefits that it can bring as far as information, services and convenience. My girls put a lot of their life out on social media, do all their banking, their travel, their research and their relationships online...and nothing an old bitty like me will change that mind set. In fact, I've embraced much of it myself.

I don't plan to give a day by day analysis of my time at NERGC because there are plenty of other bloggers who do that kind of thing much better than I ever could. But I do bring up these two speakers specifically because I have been following their work for several years and want you all to know that they, along with many others I could name, are models for all of us to follow in not only their methods...but their ENERGY. Intelligent, informative, well spoken, classically lovely and personable Mary and business savvy, realistic-minded, talented, warm, funny and adorable Thomas are the new faces of genealogy.

They are the rock stars to all of us on the road to genealogy. Rock on.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

NERGC weekend - Geeks unite

The process of researching is hardly a lonely road. I've met many people over these past 20 years in my research and through genealogy events. Many have come to be very good and dear friends to me. I've said this blog is primarily for my children and descendants to read so they will know some of our family stories. And that is true.  But I think it is important for them to understand what genealogy is for me and how it has become such a big part of my world. It is, in itself, one of my stories.

This weekend I am attending NERGC--The New England Regional Genealogical Consortium Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. As I pack up my genie gear for a conference, my grown daughters just roll their eyes and say, "Another one? Didn't you just go to one of those things?"

Listen, I tell them. I don't run marathons. I don't shop. I don't knit. I don't scrapbook. I do genealogy. This is what I love. This is my hobby, and this is what I feel truly alive doing. It is a perfect compliment to my daily life. I love being a mother and a wife and a Community TV  Executive Director. But genealogy is something just for me, and something I never tire of.

So what's the difference between one conference and the next? Lots, for heaven's sake!

I attended RootsTech in February and while it was absolutely my Nirvana...a conference like NERGC is so much more manageable. Smaller workshops, more access to talk with speakers here, and more time to meet new people.
Highlights so far:

Wednesday, Pre-Conference Day
There were lots of options on this day, a Librarian Day, DNA Day, Tech Day and more. I chose the Tech Day (no surprise from those who know me).

What I really enjoyed about this day was that we had four workshops all in the same room. There was a break for lunch, but you basically hung out with the same people all day long. It's a great way to make new friends on the first day (pre-day, really).

Jennifer Baldwin gave me hope with her presentation about Project Management that I could finally get organized. I've been wanting to write the story of one of my ancestors, David Edgar Chase, for a while now. Not only did Jen talk about programs like Trello and Podio that I could use for something like this...she was honest in saying if you are not consistant in using a new program like...it will never become a habit. And once it is a habit, you will start to use it for the rest of your projects. I left that workshop inspired that I could actually, finally get organized to pull this story together!

Lisa Alzo is always a favorite speaker of mine. I've attended many of her webinars, and have seen her speak at RootsTech and Jamboree. I feel like she and I could be best friends (I mean that in a non-stalker way, Lisa). She thinks like I do in her methods, in her humor and how she expresses her ideas, and I get affirmation of that each time I hear her. It makes attending her workshops very enjoyable. At NERGC she presented on E-Books and Publishing. It was great! Jen gave me the tools to organize my project and Lisa showed how publishing has come a long way and that it is something I can totally do --and do it well. Two huge things off my list of tools I need to write this story.

A workshop on Pinterest, in all honesty, was a little too basic for me. Not the speaker's fault by any means. This was geared towards very beginner pinners, which I am not. But I did like the examples she had of building a story about your ancestor using Pinterest.

The final workshop was about free resources for genealogy. Dayna Jacobs was very funny knowing it was the last workshop of the day and we would all be a bit sleepy and our brains overflowing with a day of geek goodies. She wove in genealogy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into her presentation just to interject some lightheartedness. It worked. We all stayed engaged and awake for her very resourceful talk. Many of the resources I knew about, but there were definitely some new ones for me, such as a list of genealogy Podcasts. I've just discovered Podcasts and I love them! Listening to genealogy stuff when I'm cooking dinner? Heck yeah. Alexa, play Genealogy Gems.

Official Day one highlights I will talk about more tomorrow. But as I sit in this workshop about finding your relatives in death records, I feel new ideas flowing into my brain which I will sort out later with a glass of wine, in my hotel, while I look over my notes.

That, to me, is a great way to spend a day.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I have an ugly Fannie


Fannie Potter abt 1884
It's nice to know we've come a long way in my mother's family and we have developed into caring, loving people. Our ancestor, Fannie Potter Willett, had none of those qualities, unfortunately. 

By all accounts, Fannie was a spoiled, self centered woman with a keen sense of entitlement. Her looks matched her soul, apparently. 

Homely. Man-ish, Mean looking. Hideous. Selfish. Down right Ugly. Those are just a few of the words my family has used in describing dear great-grandmother Fannie. 

In a previous blog I told you I liked to explore Buba's house in Swampscott when we would go up and visit. And how nearly everything in that house seemed mysterious and frequently scary to me. 

Fannie Potter Willett abt 1887
Buba's basement was number one scary place in the whole whole house. It was partially finished but smelled like wet dog and old wood. Buba had her washer and dryer down there and a finished room that was weirdly bright and sunny for a basement. It was completely furnished. I keep meaning to ask my mother more specifically about it, but I believe it was used as a more informal family room. I do remember seeing photos of my mother's wedding presents all displayed out beautifully in that room. 

Also in that room were photos on the wood paneled walls. Of really old people. Scary looking people with big eyes. Large portraits and photographs in beautiful ornate frames. I remember them so well because they all looked so serious and stern. Fannie was the one who stuck in my head the most. In one, she had a white, frilly dress and an enormous bow in her hair. I could see parts of my grandfather and mother in her looks...but she had a cold, mean stare that definitely set her apart from anyone in my family that I knew. 

Fannie and her wedding dress
My cousins, Leigh and Beth, have these portraits that hung in Buba's basement and I was delighted to see one of them hanging in Leigh's bathroom in her Vermont home of our Great-grandfather, John Howard Willett.  John was Fannie's husband.  It just cracked me up to see him hanging there in the bathroom. Leigh has a great sense of humor. 

We've inherited other photos of Fannie that are similar to the ones hanging in the living room that I'm sharing with you here. They give you a sense of her. As a child I was scared of her because the portraits were so enormous in that room that they were intimidating. Her eyes seemed to follow you around the room. But I wonder about her life and why she was the way she was. 

This is what I know.

My Aunt Jean remembered her and said the family really didn't see Fannie and her husband John much growing up. Maybe certain holidays. They lived in Boston for a long while, but then moved to New York City for the last years of their life. She and my mother and their parents were closer to Mark and Luta Shrum, who were kind and loving people. 


The Willett family on a picnic about 1905
Frances Estelle Potter (she would tell people her name was not Frances, but really Fannie. But her official birth records show differently.) was born to the prominent Potter family of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Her father was in the shoe business. She and her two sisters were raised in the best manner with no worries about money. She and John Howard Willett would marry in 1887 . One year later she would give birth to a stillborn son. He was never given a name. My grandfather, Harold Potter Willett,  was born in 1894. One year later, John Howard Willett, Jr.  as was born. He was called Jack. 

Fannie Willett in 1939 in NYC
Fannie was not a tiny, delicate woman. She was a large, brash woman who liked nice things. In a photo from 1905 you see the family out at a picnic--dressed up like it was Sunday church. 

Fannie was also not the maternal kind. She relied on their servant, Carrie, to take care of the children almost exclusively. My grandfather would say she was not an affectionate or loving mother. On Thursdays, Carrie's night off, she insisted on going out to eat so that she did not have to cook. She couldn't cook anyhow. On those nights the children were left to fend for themselves. They were not included in the dinner plans. Carrie, the housekeeper, took it upon herself to teach the boys some basic cooking skills so that on Thursdays they could make supper for themselves and their younger sister. 

I wonder how Fannie reacted in 1916 when John Howard telegrammed Harold who was a college sophomore at Indiana University and told Harold there was no more money left. John Howard's partner had embezzled all the money from their company. John later got a job selling shoes. Most likely with Fannie's father's influence. He got a job in New Rochelle. Fannie must have experienced a real change in her lifestyle. 

Fannie had three children, all who were very different as most children tend to be. Jack was reportedly a laid back man who worked with his father and went along his life with little fanfare. He did not go to college, as was expected of him. He married a woman named Mildred who was vivacious and outgoing. They stayed married for their life, but it was not a very happy marriage. She was frustrated with his mild manner. Although he and Harold were close in age and did things together when they were growing up, as adults they were not particularly close. They were cordial. 

Fannie's daughter, Jeanette, had a good life in NYC and a boyfriend. The family says that Fannie ruined Jeanette's young life by being demanding and guilting her into coming home and taking care of her. Fannie played sick and liked being waited on and Jeanette was the one to do it. Jeanette developed a "nervous condition" and then a pituitary gland tumor which my great grandfather, Mark Shrum, diagnosed. She died unmarried in 1945. My mother remembers her as being a very nice woman and thought it was sad that she died at only 44. 

There are many photos of Fannie. She loved having her photo taken. My cousin Leigh is the keeper of those photos and has shared them with me. I'd like to think there is a reason she was the way she was. We may never know for sure. 


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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meet Martha Lee


My mother hated the name Martha Lee. And she lived her life avoiding it whenever she could. I remember my grandmother sometimes calling her M.L. She felt that was much better than the grating “Maaatha Lee” they would address her with in their thick Boston accents. As an adult she would be known as Lee

M.L. held by her mother, Jeanette 1928
Her new friends at her new high school, Kendall Hall boarding school in New Hampshire, began calling her Willey.  This, reportedly after an impressive demonstration by my mother of belching out the entire alphabet at the lunch table one day.

 A demur Martha, she was not. This girl needed a cute name.

Willey, short for her last name, Willett, had a gregarious personality and many friends at this school. This was a pattern that would repeat herself for my mom’s entire life. Everyone always loved when she was at a party. But as for this school, it was a place her parents had sent her to “straighten up” after her and her best friend, Phyllis, repeatedly skipped school and hung around various places in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Mom would come home at the end of the school day and my grandparents had no idea she wasn’t showing up for class. Occasionally the truant officer would stop by the house. He was a friend of my grandfather.

“Harold, you’ve got to get that girl to go to class.” The officer would tell him. My grandfather would shake his hand and tell him he would get control of it all.

Sometimes Mom and Phyllis would hop the train to the Boston Garden to watch a hockey game. Neither had an interest in hockey, by the way. But this was 1942 and young men on shore leave from navy vessels passing through the Boston Harbor would take in an afternoon game at the Garden. Despite my grandmother telling her daughter to never, ever, take a cigarette from a stranger because it could have something “funny” in it, Mom and Phyllis were double trouble and liked flirting with the young men. And yes, smoking their forbidden cigarettes.

The fun came to an end one day when they decided to skip school and hang out by the local grocery market in the center of Swampscott. 

According to Mom’s version of the story, Phyllis suddenly jumps to her feet.

“M.L.! It's your mother, coming this way!” Phyllis exclaims.  They both spot my grandmother, coming up the street on foot, to go to the market.


Supposedly, my grandmother turned at all the commotion the frantic girls were making and looked over just in time to see her daughter and best friend diving into the nearby shrubs…their skirts flying.

Mom said my grandmother walked over alongside the shrubs and sighed,
“M.L. you come out of there right this instance!”


Mom says she and Phyllis popped up, knowing they were really in for it now. My grandmother had had enough.

Martha Lee about age 12, 1940
My mother adored her father. The feeling was mutual. While my mother’s older sister, Jean, was dainty, scholarly, demur and classically pretty, Mom was more along the lines of an early version of Carol Burnett. She was skinny and gawky with a wide, gummy smile. And she was not in the least bit interested in school. My grandfather secretly loved that about her because he had been a horrible student himself. He was more interested in chasing girls and having fun. Some of the stories in his own past mirrored what his favorite daughter was doing. What goes around, comes around was rearing its head to Harold Willett if there ever was a time.  It was all innocent fun, he probably thought, thinking back on his own youth. He was now a successful insurance salesman. He straightened up just fine.

But my grandmother was not having any of this. SOMETHING had to be done about these girls traipsing around Boston doing unladylike things.

The fathers called a meeting. They had gotten together to talk over the situation. Both sets of parents and the girls sat in the living room of my grandparent’s house on Lewis Road in Swampscott.

“Girls, we have made a decision. Your education is important and you can't keep dodging school. You come from good families. We are sending you both away to an all-girls boarding school.” My grandfather reportedly announced.

Martha Lee High 1946 graduation
Mom and Phyllis were absolutely delighted. They would have adventures in a far-away place! How fun would that be?

The parents were puzzled by the smiles on the girl’s faces. This was a punishment. What are they so happy about?

My grandfather was the first to figure it out.

“Young ladies,” my Grandad lectured to them, “You do understand you are not going off to school TOGETHER, don't you? “

Apparently my mother’s face dropped. Phyllis looked confused.

Grandad continued, “We can't even trust you two in the same state. M.L, you will be going to New Hampshire.” Phyllis’ Dad was sending her to a school in Vermont.

Mom remembers still not quite getting the whole picture of it. So she asked a question.  

“But Daddy, what is there to do in New Hampshire?” She remembers asking.

“Exactly!” all four parents answered in unison.

Mom loves telling that story.