Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Facebook and Family History

This week, I felt a little stuck in my research on my Czech ancestors. I have been checking the message boards at Ancestry.com and I made some connections with people who have similar surnames in their trees, but I just couldn't figure out any really solid links.

Early Sunday morning as Jon was leaving to go to a 7am church meeting, the thought came to me: check on Facebook. I thought it was kind of weird because I usually don't associate Facebook with doing my family history. But I have learned that when you hear that little whisper, you do what it says.

I started looking up the surname Jurasek, and I found that there are quite a few people with that surname living in Michigan, where my line ended up. I sent off a message to a friendly looking U of M alumna, and she wrote back! She is also not sure about how we might be connected, but her father has done some research and she is willing to send it to me.

The miracle was when I was looking at the group "Hey I'm a Tomecek" and found a man with that same surname, who comes from Vnorovy - where my Tomecek ancestors are from! I sent a message to him as well, and he wrote back, too! Not only is he a Tomecek from the same village, but he is into genealogy, has several of the same surnames in his family tree, speaks impeccable English, AND is really nice and helpful. I could not have dreamed up a better connection. In order to me to figure out how we are related, though, I will essentially have to pay a professional researcher to go to the regional and local archives to do research for me. Something tells me that I won't be able to decipher Czech, Latin, and old German records, even if I can scrounge up the money to get there.

So, as it turns out, Facebook is a pretty awesome tool for doing family history research. You just may find a distant cousin from the "old country."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I wish it weren't so...

When will the madness end? Nine years after the last state (Alabama) finally overturned its ban on interracial marriage, we have this mess going on. In Louisiana, a justice of the peace is refusing to issue marriage licenses to interracial couples. I am tired of hearing people against interracial marriage use the excuse that "the marriages don't last long" or that "[interracial] children suffer" from such a marriage.

Mildred and Richard Loving, whose appeal to the Supreme Court in 1967 ended interracial marriage bans in the U.S.

I am mixed. My dad is black, my mom is white. Yes, I went through the moment of uncertainty when I had to check the race box on my college applications. Yes, I encountered my fair share of "not fitting in." But what kid doesn't? I think my experiences were shaped by the racial attitudes of the parents of my schoolmates. I found a great multicultural group of friends whose parents were open to us being friends. It's the adults that pass on attitudes about who you "should" marry, what skin shades and hair textures are "good," and other stereotypes about their own and other cultures. My black relatives and my white relatives love me equally. Even my Czech great-grandparents, who were super-racist and thought that me and my brother were adopted Hawaiian children for the first few years of my life, accepted us whole-heartedly when they finally found out that we were mixed.

I would never trade for a day who I am. I have such a rich heritage from being mixed, and I get to pass that on to my children. I love being brown. I love my curly hair. I love that everywhere I go I am asked if I am local - Hispanic, Polynesian, Mauritian - you name it! I can fit in just about anywhere, and that opens up greater connections for me with people of cultures that are different from my own.

If interracial marriage had still been illegal, I would not be here. And I think that's a shame, because I am doing my best to contribute some good to this world and to offset some of the tragedy that swirls around us. One less good person in the world, just because her parents aren't the same race, would be very, very sad.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Amazing Progress in Research Tools

There are other posts on the internet that talk about the New FamilySearch program, but I just have to add my two cents about how amazing it is - and will continue to become.

In 2007, the LDS Church (who has helped preserve so many records it's ridiculous!) started testing a new version of their FamilySearch.org site. Right now it's called New FamilySearch, but eventually it will replace the current site. It is pretty awesome. The New FamilySearch combines all of the information in the International Genealogical Index (IGI), Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource File, and will eventually allow for searching in Censuses and other records...all in one shot.

Not only does it streamline the search process, but everything is in a family tree format, so when you find your ancestors in another family tree, you can link it up with your own and contact the person that added that information. If you realize you've made a mistake, you can always un-link it later. What makes this so beautiful is that it is not only going to be available in the U.S. - it is currently rolled out in almost every country in the world! So one day, I fully expect to make contact with some very, very distant cousin in Germany who has linked up their family tree with mine.

One other advantage: it is internet-based, so you don't have to worry about your computer crashing and losing all of your family history information. It currently does not have the capability to add photos or to download a GEDCOM (if, unfortunately, you DO lose all of your family history info on your computer), but I believe that is coming. There are all sorts of features that the Church is developing, and you can check them out at labs.familysearch.org.