Thursday, December 22, 2011

My 2012 New Year's Resolutions

Happy Solstice!!!

Well, it's that time of year! Time to wrap up the old year and prepare for the new! Therefore, I've decided to create some genealogy-specific New Year's resolutions, which is something I've never done before. I feel like I have a lot of areas I could improve on, so I've got a lot of resolutions. These aren't specific goals, but rather are broad concepts of directions I want to take with my research.

The first resolution I thought of was inspired by a new-ish blog, The Paperless Genealogist. I plan to go paperless in 2012. I don't think this will really be that difficult, since my genealogy is already pretty much all online. But I do still have a couple folders of papers, and the worst are the post-its. I constantly jot things down on post-it notes, or write lists of names down. Sometimes I find these notes to myself months later when I don't remember what they mean anymore. So this has got to stop!

My second resolution was also inspired by another blogger: The Demanding Genealogist. In the last few months I've started citing sources (I know, I know, I always should have been doing that!). So my resolution is basically to keep doing what I've been doing: gradually go through all the information I have in my tree, adding sources to support each fact. Hopefully eventually I'll catch up and have my whole tree properly sourced!

Third, I want to collect stories. I've already got the basic family tree information from my grandparents, but I want to spend more time listening to their stories. I bet I'll get a lot more details filled in that way. This could also go along with looking at pictures with them and having them help me identify people. Somewhat related to this, I want to get in touch with more of my relatives like my grandma's siblings and my mom's cousins.

Lastly, I want to do more learning! I have my cozy little bubble of records I know how to use, and I know I'm missing out on a tonne of other information because of that. I'm comfortable with census records (me and the Canadian censuses are total besties!), Manitoba vital records (NOT Ontario vital records), and the Acadian/Quebec records that are compiled in the Drouin Collection (my French class helped a whole lot on that one). But land records, say what? Probate records? Huh? I have much to learn, is what I'm saying!

What are your goals for being a better genealogist in 2012? Share them in the comments or link to your own New Year's Resolutions blog post!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday season update

I kind of dropped the ball on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, didn't I? There were a few days in a row where I just had nothing to say about the topic (I've never travelled for the holidays, no one gives me fruitcake as a gift...), and then from there I just sort of forgot about it! So, I thought I'd give you an update on what I've been up to, and what you can expect to hear more about soon.

First of all, I got Jonas Aspinall's birth record. So, more on that mystery solving process soon!

I've also been working on my New Year's resolutions! I'll be putting those up in the next few days. Do you have any resolutions, genealogical or otherwise?

In only slightly related news, I've been getting back into my French studies. This is slightly related because the more French I know the more I can decipher from French genealogical records! But mostly I'm learning it because I live in Canada, and specifically in a French neighbourhood.

I've also been enthusiastically continuing my work on cleaning up WikiTree profiles. I've merged tonnes of duplicate profiles and corrected a few Acadian Myths. It's been quite fun!

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 12: Charitable/Volunteer Work

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Sadly, I've never volunteered anywhere around the holidays. My schedule is always so hectic (all year, not just in December) that I can never commit the necessary time to volunteer work. So my charitable work generally comes in the form of a donation.

I often participate in a Christmas Cheer Board hamper. They are often organised by schools and workplaces, and everyone brings in some food, a toy, or a cash donation. This year, I'm organising the hamper for my department at work, which is a first for me. It's really great to think about how, through these donations that are so easy for us to make, we'll be making the holiday season special for one family who otherwise couldn't afford to do much celebrating.

If you have more than you need this holiday season, I really recommend donating to a Christmas hamper, or to a local homeless shelter. It can make a huge difference in the lives of those who have less.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 11: Other Traditions

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Whoops! I didn't realise this topic was coming, and already wrote about Yule for a grab bag topic. So, since I've already told you what Yule is, now I'll talk a bit about how the traditions are mixed in my household.

This only really applies to this coming holiday season, since a young adult living with her parents has little to no control over how holidays are celebrated in the house. Now that I live with Jonathon, I can fully celebrate Yule, while he celebrates a secular Christmas.

As I mentioned in my post about Yule, Christmas and Yule share a lot of symbolism and traditions, so there isn't really a lot of clashing of our celebrations. We open presents on Christmas morning, not Yule, because we were both raised that way and I have no desire to change that. I think I'll probably always be happy celebrating a sort of Yule and Christmas mixed together as one holiday. You can see my holiday shining through in the pentagrams hanging on the tree, and the books of Winter Solstice stories lying around the apartment.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 10: Christmas Gifts

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

I think my family's Christmas gift tradition was pretty typical. When us kids went to bed Christmas Eve, there were a few presents under the tree, and when we got up Christmas morning, there were a whole bunch, including the ones from Santa and more from Mom and Dad, along with a huge, very full stocking for each of us.

One tradition we kept for a long time was the La Senza bear. Each year, La Senza comes out with a new teddy bear for Christmas. I don't know if they still do, but they always used to name them after composers. My first one was Schubert. We must have gotten those bears every year for about a decade. I still have them all. I wish I had a picture to share of them! I'll have to dig them out some time and take one. The bears were never wrapped; we would come out to the living room and see them right away sitting on top of the presents. I was always so excited to get my new La Senza bear!

As for my favourite gift now, it's definitely books. Whether actual books or gift cards for a book store, there's nothing I like better!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 9: Yule

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Today's blog prompt from the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories is a grab bag, meaning I can talk about whatever holiday topic I want! So today I thought I'd write a bit about Yule, since I keep mentioning it and a lot of people don't know much about it.

It can be a bit confusing since the word Yule is often used in relation to Christmas, but Yule is actually a name for the celebration of the Winter Solstice. I'm a Pagan, so the holidays I celebrate throughout the year mark the changing of the seasons, often called the Wheel of the Year.

In ancient times, before people knew about the movement of the planet and other bodies in the solar system, the Winter Solstice could be a cause of some worry, because it seemed that the Sun had been moving farther and farther away, and people didn't know for sure that it would come back. So they would practice rituals involving fire to try to bring back the Sun. These rituals have always continued in various forms, becoming traditions we recognize today, such as the Yule Log.

Nowadays, we know that the Sun is going to come back, but this is still a time of celebrating the return of the Sun and the start of the lengthening days. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, so we celebrate the fact that for the next 6 months the days are going to keep getting longer and longer.

Because of how much time Paganism and Christianity spent side by side in Europe, as the continent was gradually converted, Yule and Christmas share many traditions and symbols. The evergreen tree, the colours red, green, white, and gold, and the giving of gifts are all a part of both winter holidays. So I'd like to take this time to celebrate both the similarities and differences, and wish everybody a happy whatever-winter-holiday-you-celebrate!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 8: Christmas Cookies

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Every year, my mom makes fruitlet cookies (which I love) and shortbread cookies (which the rest of the family loves). When I was a kid she used to make sugar cookies, but stopped because it was so much work. So this year, Jonny and I decided to try our hand at sugar cookies. I can understand why she stopped.

It was the most frustrating thing I'd ever attempted. The dough stuck to everything, so you'd flour everything to stop the sticking, but then the flour would incorporate into the dough and the dough would crumble. It was awful. But oh my goodness, the cookies tasted so good I could almost forget how annoying the dough was.

The sugar cookies are quite thin, and cut with these plastic cookie cutters that are more like an actual mold, so you don't just get an outline, you get the lines etched on the cookie. Then we sprinkle them with that crystalized sugar stuff. So good!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 7: Holiday Parties

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Every year, my dad's side of the family all get together for a party. When I was growing up it was always Christmas Eve, but so many people had to leave early for other family get-togethers or for Midnight Mass that we eventually moved it earlier. Now it's always on the last Saturday before Christmas.

It's been held at a few different houses over the years, but for last few years it's been held at my parents' house (which, until this year, was my house too). My mom makes all kinds of hors d'oeuvres, as well as her popular meatballs, and other people bring their specialties as well.

The annual Christmas party is the only time I see a lot of people in my family, so I always look forward to it. I love seeing my younger cousins (1st cousins twice removed, technically) grow up from year to year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 6: Santa Claus

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

I don't really remember when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I never had a traumatic discovery of lies. :) It's like I just gradually came to an understanding of Santa as more of a concept and a tradition than an actual person (oh dear, I sound just like Neil on The Santa Clause). And I was OK with that. Even though Christmas is no longer my primary winter holiday, I still see Santa as a very important part of my holiday celebrations.

Oh, and when I have a kid, I will most definitely tell them there's a Santa. I don't get this idea of parents telling their kids there's no Santa right away for the sake of "honesty". I don't personally know anyone who resents their parents letting them believe in Santa Claus. Come on, people!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 5: Outdoor Decorations

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

My family was never real big on outdoor decorations. When I was a kid we had coloured lights around the edge of the roof, but the switch for them was kind of finicky, and eventually my parents just stopped putting them up. The one thing my mom still puts outside is the garland and ribbons on the railings of the front steps, and a wreath on the door.

That minimal outdoor decorating was pretty standard in my neighbourhood, but there are a few households known for going all out. There's one house a few blocks away from the house I grew up in that looks positively ridiculous for months around Christmas. They have a huge manger scene, reindeer and Santa's sleigh on the roof, more lights than you can comfortably look at, and lately some of those inflatable rotating snowmen that I find less than charming. Lots of people stop their cars in front of that house to take pictures of it every year.

Now I live in an apartment, so outdoor decorations are a bit more tricky (I don't think I even have a plug on my balcony). We do have these pretty little white lights hanging in the living room window, though, and our tree is in front of the window too, so if people were looking up to the sixth floor from the park that my windows look out on, I imagine it would look pretty. :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 4: Christmas Cards

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

My family's never been really big on sending cards, but we do exchange cards with a few cousins that have moved out of town, since we don't see them at the family Christmas party anymore. Cards that my parents received are propped up on the piano for the rest of the season for people to look at.

I would like to start sending more cards as a small way of showing people I don't keep in touch with very well that I am thinking of them. Even though I like the benefits of e-cards both economically and environmentally, I find they don't quite make the same statement that "I've been thinking of you even though we don't talk enough, so I went to the effort to mail you this card". E-cards are perfect for friends you see all the time, though. So there's my two-cents on that!

Now that I've started getting in touch with more distant cousins that don't live in Winnipeg, I look forward to sending more cards each year. I love the way genealogy can bring people together who live so far apart!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Calendar - December 3: Christmas Tree Ornaments

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Most of the ornaments on our tree when I was growing up were crafts. My sister and I were both Girl Guides, and we also bought crafts from other Girl Guides at a giant annual craft sale called the Caddy Lake Tea.

My mom does have a set of heirloom ornaments that she often doesn't even hang on the tree, for fear of a child knocking them off and breaking them. They're great big coloured balls, and they belonged to my great grandmother.

Nowadays my ornaments are changing a bit. We still have lots of snowmen and reindeer and whatnot in celebration of the secular Christmas that Jonathon and I both celebrate, but added to that are pentagrams made of pipe cleaners, and symbols of the Sun (because Yule celebrates the rebirth of the Sun). Although, many of our decorations have actually stayed the same, since so many common symbols used at Christmas are Pagan in origin, so they're the same ones used at Yule, including the evergreen tree.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December To Dos

I can't believe I forgot to write my December goals! This Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories stuff must be throwing me off by keeping me so busy. December's always a really busy month, so I'll keep my goals nice and modest:

  • Figure out what's going on with Jonas Aspinall's tree, and get my information all cleaned up with all false connections gone.
  • Go to the library at least once to work on my huge pile of record lookups.
  • Put in several hours of scanning time.
  • Go shopping for acid- and lignin-free photo albums for my grandma's photos.
Nothing too ambitious here, so I'm hopeful that I'll complete my goals this month. What do you hope to accomplish this December?

Advent Calendar - December 2: Holiday Foods

This post is part of a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

My family has Christmas dinner every year, with just the immediate family. It's basically your typical turkey dinner. Since I went vegetarian a few years ago, it's become slightly more complicated, in that there are two stuffings (one that was actually stuffed in a bird, one that wasn't), two gravies (one that involves meat drippings and one that doesn't), and stuffed acorn squash.

My extended family on my dad's side also gets together on the Saturday before Christmas. It used to be Christmas Eve, but people were so busy we decided to move it earlier. On that night I see all my aunts and uncles and cousins, many of whom I don't see the rest of the year. Most of the meal consists of hors d'oeuvres that are soooo yummy.

And that's not even getting into the cookies... those are for another day!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Data Backup Day!

The first of every month is Data Backup Day. So let's talk about backing up our genealogy data! I haven't been real good about this, to be honest. It was only a few months ago that I got back into genealogy, after years of university taking up all my time. When I started in high school, it was pretty much hand drawn family trees for me, along with piles of unorganised notes, and at some point I entered my info on a couple of online family tree sites (though I don't think I ever got everything up on any one site).

Now, I do most of my work on WikiTree, finding information online and putting it straight into my profiles. I hardly use paper at all, except for taking notes at the library. Unfortunately, this has resulted in me having most of my data either only on a website, or only on my computer, which is not a good state of affairs.

So, here are the things that I should be doing on a regular basis to make sure my data is all good and secure:
  • Back up my blog. This is an easy one, at least on Blogger. If you don't know how to export your blog, google it, with the name of your blogging platform. Lots of people have written about it. I think I'll start doing this once a month.
  • Back up my family tree. This one is huge. If all my online data disappeared tomorrow, I would lose pretty much everything. It would take me months to get back to where I am now. Luckily, most places that let you keep your family tree online (WikiTree, etc.) have an easy way to export your GEDCOM, so you can have a backup on your computer or some kind of external storage. I might do this even more than once a month, given how often I add to it.
  • Back up my scanned photos. Until a couple of days ago, my scanned photos, representing many, many hours of work, existed only on my desktop computer. I couldn't even copy them to my laptop, because I didn't have a flash drive big enough, and I was too lazy to do it in a bunch of chunks. Luckily, I now have a 32GB flash drive (omg it's so tiny!), which should take a while to fill up. I'll be backing these up every time I scan another batch.
  • Back up my bookmarks. Often, we bookmark sites we find that have goldmines of genealogical information on them. Luckily, this is an area I've had mastered for years. I recommend Xmarks, which is what I use, but most browsers also have their own built-in bookmark backer-uppers (yeah, I'm pretty sure that's a word). With Xmarks, every time I bookmark something, it gets automatically backed up to my online account. Another great thing about it is you can have multiple computers hooked up to the same account, so your bookmarks are synced between all of them! You can also access your bookmarks at the library just by going to your online account. This is all taken care of automatically, so I don't even have to think about it.
One thing to consider is that you should not only have two copies of your data, but those two copies should not be in the same physical place. One copy on your computer and one on the Internet is great. One copy on your computer and one on your flash drive that you keep at home is not so great. In the event of a fire or some other natural disaster, all copies could be destroyed at once. I'm a bit worried about this right now, since I also have original photos in my apartment along with the digital copies.

For data that you aren't backing up on the Internet, I recommend having a copy on a flash drive or DVD that you give to someone else for safekeeping. For example, when I'm done scanning all my grandma's photos, I'm going to give her a copy of the files on DVD. That way, a copy is always safe. Even if you just have a flash drive or external hard drive with a copy of all your data on it that you keep in your desk at work, that's providing another level of security for your data.

I hope this post hasn't been to heavy! Once you get into a routine, it's really easy to have all your data secured, and it can really put your mind at ease. What else do you recommend for genealogists' data backup routines?

Advent Calendar - December 1: The Christmas Tree

This is the first post in a series for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. See all my posts in this series.

Growing up, my family always had the same artificial Christmas tree. It's about 6.5 feet tall, and fairly bushy. It loses pine needles all over the carpet every year, but somehow it still looks good and full. Every year, usually some time in November, my dad would drag the tree out of the back room and set it up. I think my sister and I did most of the decorating, with my mom helping to make sure we "did it right". Oh, moms. The decorations are a combination of some storebought ornaments and a whole lotta crafts made by Girl Guides.

That tree is still the one at my parents' house, but my sister and I recently moved out, so we've got our own trees, now. This is our first Christmas away from home. Jonathon and I bought our own artificial tree. It's 7.5 feet tall and unbelievably wide. When we started to set it up in the apartment we were afraid it wouldn't fit, but we eventually figured it out.

My mom let my sister and I each take some ornaments from the family collection that are special to us, so we won't be starting out with nothing on the tree. We'll probably buy a few things each year to add to it, and one day we'll have a kid who can make crafts to hang on it. And so the cycle continues.

Here's Jonathon putting the angel on top of the tree last year: