Saturday, October 24, 2009

Last week in October...

Today starts the last week of October and Family History month. I haven't heard much "official" news about family history celebrations from the media. Yet, October is certainly one of the best months to begin to explore your history...the weather's cooler, indoor activities replace outdoor ventures for much of the country, and with school in session, it triggers the "time to learn" gene in many of us.

While I have not seen the mainstream media blitz about Family History month, I've read and experienced many interesting tidbits about personal history. Here are a few of the highlights:

*First, one of my good "Facebook" friends recently published photographs online of some of the German Russian settlements in Argentina. A number of these were pictures of the villages I visited last November. Could it already be the one year anniversary of my trip to Argentina? Impossible.

*Second, the new Family Tree Magazine arrived on my doorstep. One of the featured articles is Deutsch Lands...Trace your ancestry in Prussia, Bavaria and more with our guide to research in Germany's historical regions. I'm hooked with the first paragraph which reads, "In this era of globalization, it's easy to think of ourselves as citizens of the world. If you turn the clock back a century, though, you'll see people took a much more regional view. Italians considered themselves Sicilians, Sardinians, Tuscans or Venetians..And now the people we call Germans referred to themselves as anything but. In those days you had Prussian and Bavarians, Palatines and Hessians, Saxons and Swabians--who all spoke various dialects of German and were united only in their dislike for each other." I just know I will spend a good hour savoring that article.

*Third, my daughter joined me at the Arizona Sun Chapter meeting today where Filmore Bender, Professor Emeritus of the University of Maryland, spoke on "The Reasons we should be thankful our ancestors came to America." He summarized two hundred years of Russian history, famine and revolution in one of the most concise and accurate versions I have heard. He also gave insight into the government and black markets in Russia as he experienced it in the 1990s.

When I asked my daughter her thoughts about his talk, she said, "It was great. He was clear and interesting...easy to listen to."

This comment from my seventeen year old clearly is the highlight of October.

Maybe media frenzy about the month is not essential to celebrate. Her comment tells me family history has gone well beyond the month. It has become a way of life. If you live it, the next generation will come.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Celebrate the Past, Build for the Future

I unexpectedly celebrated family history three times this week. I’m delighted these three events happened during Family History Month.

The first time, my daughter Becky asked if she could interview me for a class project. Of course, I said yes to her request, but I never imagined she would help me remember my own life.

We met at my house Wednesday night and any time we spend together is special. This is due to my busy work schedule and her own hectic life. So I opened a bottle of Black Oak Shiraz and we sat at our kitchen table, the best interview spot of the house.

She told me the interview was for her women and justice class and she needed to talk with a single mother who used child care. I fit the bill since I have been divorced since 1993, and Becky began child care at eight weeks old.

The assignment was the result of the latest round of budget cuts which will cost child care centers anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to renew their licenses in January. It’s a huge issue, but it prompted Becky to ask me about the costs and choices I made. Her questions resurrected memories long past.

Becky went to a private caregiver’s home for about two years, then to another private home for a few months. When that caregiver moved, I chose a center close to the school where Becky would attend kindergarten. Once I discovered that the center, located directly across the street from the school, could not transport her back and forth, we made one more move to Kindercare.

As we talked, both Becky and I remembered caregiver’s names and faces, playmates and locations. She could remember the first private home and playmates from so many years ago.

I never considered child care to be a part of family history, but the people we met, the skills my daughter learned and the friends we made helped to make us what we are today.

The second time, I decided to eat lunch in my family room while I watched television. I couldn’t find anything interesting on the usual channels so I selected History Detectives on PBSW. I can’t tell you what or when I saw it before, but I recognized the show and it was fantastic.

The History Detectives investigate cases about heirlooms or family legends presented by viewers. The way they research and track connections offer inspiration for any family sleuth. Check out what I mean at

And, last but not least, the third event was the news of Michelle Obama’s genealogy. This story originated in the New York Times and is now on web sites and television. You can read it in the New York Times at

The article by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor share the research of professional genealogist Megan Smolenyak who traced Obama’s ancestry.

Two phrases from the article stand out to me. The first is a quote from Edward Ball who says, “We are not separate tribes of Latinos and whites and blacks in America. We’ve all mingled, and we have done so for generations.”

And Swarns and Kantor share that, “As for his ancestry, Dolphus Shields didn’t talk about it,” because the family had gotten to a place where they didn’t want anyone to know they were slaves.” Dolphus was Obama’s great, great-grandfather.

I believe if we each research our family history back far enough, we will find poverty, abuse and other stories we would prefer to forget.

The purpose of Family History month is “to bring your family together to remember and honor your ancestors,” according to Many groups across the country, including the Family History Society of Arizona, created momentum to have October designated as Family History month in 2003.

And, I believe they did it, because they understood knowing where we have been leads us to where we are going. Isn’t that what family history is all about? Celebrate the past, build for the future.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Magge Visits Argentina debuts at Sedona Book Festival

Today I head to Sedona...beautiful Red Rock Country for a glorious four day weekend. Hiking, healthy food and relaxation are scheduled along with the Sedona Book Festival.

The Well Red Coyote hosts the event which includes writers, speakers and lots of fun for all ages.

I will be there with the Arizona Authors Association. Is there a better way to kick off the first weekend of Family History month?

Hope to see you there.