Archive for category Misc

Treasure Chest Thursday: Inspiration

Posted by on Thursday, 3 June, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday is a blogging theme suggested by the site Geneabloggers. You’re supposed to discuss a family heirloom type of item that is important to you. I am taking a slightly different approach – an email I received from a Slovakian research mailing list, SLOVAK-ROOTS. The email was in relation to a discussion on the general lack of interest in family history, that many genealogists encounter while doing research. The email was written by Bill Tarkulich, the moderator of SLOVAK-ROOTS. I have quoted it in its entirety:

I’ve reformulated this discussion because the title quite a bit off the original topic Re: [S-R] SURNAMES-Wachtenheim-Szolyva/Svaliava and I’d like to draw attention to the hundreds of readers who may have elected to ignore the thread.

What Helene says rings true, I’ll add one more story. I stayed in my villages of Zboj and Nova Sedlica for two weeks, spending the days and nights meeting and speaking with dozens and dozens of family and “relatives” of one sort or another.

What struck me at first, was that I seemed to know A LOT more about the family than anyone I met.

After about a week, I politely asked one of the elders why they never wrote these things down or knew much about their family history. The answer was quite telling. “Because we are surrounded by our family and our history. There is no need.”

I left behind a small stack of paper including photographs which included family trees, history, and copies of church books. Never since that time did I receive any inquiry or comment on this material.

Only the photographs were of interest. “Yes, I can see we are related – look at that face.”

Coming back to the US, that kind of bothered me, but I assumed they were too busy working to engage in such idle-time frivolity. Since that time, I’ve slightly adjusted my perspective. It seems, that regardless what country we live in, history of most sorts is disregarded. The essential question seems to be, “How can this information help me live my life today?” And, for the most part, it does not.

On both sides of the ocean, I slam into privacy concerns all the time. It seems to fall into two camps. The first is that it’s going to get into sinister hands that will use the lineage information against them. The second is that “He must want something. Why is this guy fishing around about me? Does he want to take the family farm?”

Then comes the inevitable family gathering and some chit chat about family history. It’s polite, it’s cursory, old stories are told, and it ends.

I wish I could be as optimistic as Debbie. I don’t think anything is changing. While access to records has become light speed, human interest in family history remains in the dark ages.

YOU are the family historian, like it or not. There is always one person in a generation of a family group who becomes the familyhistorian. People come to me occasionally for information, but usually only to obtain a “sound byte” or a piece of trivia. Nobody asks, “what was life like?” “why did they come?” “How did they work?”

I take my unofficial role as family historian quite seriously. My work may be flawed, but it’s all my family has. I’ve bundled up all sorts of material and sent it to relatives I believe most likely to hang onto it. My hope and wish is that my little “bundle” will inspire someone someday to pick up the torch and carry it. No need for them to start from scratch – take it to the next level. As each generation departs, we lose so much richness.

I found this email very inspiring, and I often go back and read it when I am feeling daunted and want to re-energize my desire for family knowledge. If you come across this blog post Bill, thanks.

The ExxonMobil Collection at UT Austin

Posted by on Wednesday, 21 October, 2009


I’ve gotten some interest in a post I made to the SLOVAK-ROOTS yahoo group about ExxonMobil historical records. In 2003, ExxonMobil began the process of shutting down its company archives and donated much of its historical data to the University of Texas at Austin. A massive amount of data is contained in the collection, covering well over a hundred years of history. What interested me originally, is that the collection includes information on the Standard Oil company. Having a great-grandfather that immigrated to New Jersey to work for Standard Oil, I wondered if the collection might have any items of genealogical value.

The short answer is “probably not” for most researchers. While I have not consulted the collection directly (I am in Virginia), I have spoken to the graduate student assigned to it quite a few times. The index does make mention of personnel data in some sections, but it seems to be mostly general company policy information and not employee specific. That being said, some of the data could provide interesting insight into your ancestors life. And you never know, you could get a hit. The best thing to do is to look at the indexing guide they provide on their website:

When looking at the index, try to identify areas that might be of interest to your ancestor in terms of geography and time. Google seems to have indexed the site, so doing a google search with “ <term>” seems to help alot. For instance, doing a search of “ Bayonne” turns up a number of hits. The University of Texas staff can’t do in depth searches into the data, but they will give you insight into what kind of data is contained in a particular section if you contact them. They can copy sections for a fee and ship it to you ( You can give them a max number of pages to copy.

The reference email address there is If anyone has had any experience with this collection, I would love to hear from you.

Genealogy Blogging

Posted by on Friday, 9 October, 2009

Welcome family and friends.

I started doing genealogy research a few months ago, and have taken quite a liking to it. It was something I have long wanted to do, but did not know how to start. I got an email for a free trial to and decided to give it a try. Within a few hours I was finding information right and left.

One of the things I enjoy the most about it is sharing what I find with my friends and family. It’s such a great feeling to give a family member a piece of information about an ancestor that they never before knew. It’s also great meeting cousins, closely related or distantly related.

I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoy sharing.