Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

For a few years, I participated in the Geneabloggers' Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. Last year, I also took photos of my special ornaments and then after Christmas, when all the photo sites had big sales, I put it all in a free (well, I paid shipping and tax) photo book.

Now my blog posts and holiday memories are recorded. And hopefully my kids will know which ornaments they shouldn't toss, despite the bite marks and cheesiness.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Genealogy is Like Heroin

When I first started doing genealogy, it was the 1990s.  I did genealogy on the internet for fun with no intention of making it a second non-paying job taking up all my extra time and energy (and money).  I would imagine it’s how a lot of us start.  We don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’m going to research my family history.”  It just comes in tiny, addictive little stages. 

Like heroin.  I’m sure heroin addicts don’t wake up one day and decide to be addicts, join the underworld of heroin doers, and spend all their money on it.  They just say, “Sure, I’ll try a bit of that.”

So one day, I said, “Sure, I’ll try a bit of that family history.”  And then it slowly filled my veins.

Because this was a slow process, it took me a lot of glassed-over glossy stares before I realized I should try to find others like me.  Other addicts to help me feel more normal and to be among my Own Kind.  And to ply me full of my drug of choice.  I found online places for this interaction (RootsWeb mailing lists, to name one), but then I wanted in person meetings.

That is when I did the old-timey Google equivalent (Alta Vista—remember them?!?!) for my town and genealogy.  Up came my local genealogical society.  A “society,” I thought?  I don’t need a whole society; I just need a few friends.  But I went to a few meetings and slowly adjusted. It was, I admit difficult, as they all talked to me like I’d just started genealogy, simply because I was relatively young and because I was new to their group.  At other society meetings, I had the same thing happen.  Treated like I’d never been exposed to genealogy, even though I have done it for quiet awhile.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on my beloved local society because I’ve had this same experience at every society meeting I’ve attended with any of the societies I belong to (Yes, plural.  Shut up.).  But it was very off-putting those first few meetings.

Curt Witcher in his speech on November 1 challenged our societies to be relevant, engaging, fun and worth it.  Along the lines of relevance, many of the societies I’ve joined gave me either hardcopy beginner genealogist forms or PDFs of the forms.  I’d say this is fine for brand new genealogists who haven’t got a computer and don’t know anyone with a computer.  But for anyone else, it’s a bit of a waste of time and money.   My local society has binders for each new member filled with forms, how-to guides and other information.  I’m not sure how often the how-to guides and other information are updated, but I really wonder if those forms and PDFs and how-tos are at all necessary or useful?  Instead, why not find out why a member is new before giving them what we think they want.  Have they been doing genealogy for 42 years, but just moved here?  Maybe local and regional information would be more appropriate.  Are they like me- been doing it but not part of a group?  Find out their level and expertise and try to use them!  Are they truly new?  Hook them up with another member who can be their genealogy mentor.  Don’t just give Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts to everyone across the board.  It’s costly and can even be a bit insulting.

Engaging… Has your society been together forever?  Do you all know each other and have social time before or after?  Include the new people!  My local society has visitors, new members and guests introduce themselves (or be mentioned).  That way we can make them feel welcome during the social part of the meeting.  And if you all do know each other, don’t assume that everyone knows everyone else.  Introduce everyone in your circle.  Talk about genealogy!  Find out what they do, how they do it, and how they can contribute to the society.  And how the society can contribute to them.

Fun… I think this is where we excel.  We are inherently fun because we all find the same thing fun: our family history.  But do we capitalize on this fun?  No.  We bury it in the word, “Society” and in the bylaws and newsletters and complaint departments.  We should bring it to the forefront so that everyone comes to meetings or special interest groups or opens newsletters and experiences more fun.

Worth it.  This one is the hard part.  Of course I think they are worth it because I belong to several.  If I didn’t, I would just stay in pjs instead of attending the general meetings, board meetings, project meetings, special interest groups, and field trips.  To me, they are worth it.  They give me a way to take AND give.  They give me a way to learn, make friends with the same interests, and they give me a way to help others.  But what do people want?  Our participation at events is low.  Why?  We clearly aren’t providing what they want in these events.  The writing group has about 6 of us that are diligently attending.  Out of 200 members.  I love my 6 so it isn’t something I’d change, but maybe the 294 others wish we had an underwater genealogy class.  Or a how-to find your grandma from outer space class.  If we just assume they want a writing group like I do, then we are again deciding what they want and complaining when they don’t rush to get it.

We need to get better at asking.  Our polls need to be more specific.  Our answers need to be more honest.  I belong to several societies in the towns across the country that my ancestors lived in.  I won’t go to their meetings ever.  But they’ve never asked me why I belong or I’d tell them it’s because I like their newsletter.  Or I’m thankful for the work they did on a project and want to show my support.

Do we know why each of our members is a member?  Why don’t we? 

Do they know why they are a member?  Why don’t they?

Now back to the heroine analogy.  A quote that applies to heroin AND genealogy:
“Anything worth doing, is worth overdoing.”
Nikki Sixx, The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Presentation by Curt Witcher

The San Mateo CountyGenealogical Society had a seminar on Saturday, November 2 featuring CurtWitcher of the Allen County Public Library.  Sadly, I have a tough time getting away on Saturdays and so I was unable to attend.  But on Friday, November 1, Curt did a very small selective presentation on the future of genealogical societies.  The San Mateo County Genealogical Society offered up a seat to my local genealogical society (Livermore-AmadorGenealogical Society) and I was able to attend on their behalf! 

It was wonderful.  I nodded all afternoon in agreement.  The title was, “Re-Think, Re-Boot, Re-Connect: It’s a New World!”  Mr. Witcher talked about doing an Environmental Scan—look around at other entities like schools, businesses, libraries, etc.  See what they are doing.  Browse the internet for new and interesting ideas.  Often at board meetings, we hear about how “those people” are using technology.  But “those people” are “MOST people.”  We are the outliers.  The number of people doing genealogy is into the 60-80 million, but our societies are declining.

We need to re-think what we provide.  We need to take pride in the journey and the experience.  Curt talked about 21sters, defined as those who came to genealogy in the 21st century.  We complain that they want instant results, but that is “just how it is.”  We need to work with that.  We need to “tune our radar" and engage individuals who are not in our space. 

We need to go where they are.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, Tumblr, Snapchat (I felt old, as I don’t know how Tumblr and Snapchat would work for genealogical societies.  But then I at least knew what they were… barely).  Our websites should be interactive with streaming video and dynamic.  Societies get paralyzed by over-analysis.  We use the “ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, oops- target moved” philosophy. 

Our customers and prospective customers need to see us as RELEVANT, ENGAGING, FUN, and WORTH IT.  Do they? 

Tomorrow I’ll post my own thoughts.  Today was a thankful post to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society and Curt Witcher for the opportunity to sit with others and hear some hard truths making it understood that we need to make some changes in our “industry.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

California Genealogical Society- Events Committee

I'm on the events committee for CGS making fliers for some of the different functions that we do. I'm so honored to be able to participate in any way I can. They did a write-up of the committee on the (wonderful) blog today.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Grampa Played the Harlem Globetrotters

Photo courtesy of:

Some of my fondest memories are of going to see the basketball exhibitions of the Harlem Globetrotters with Grampa.  I remember he’d always share that he once played against them, so I asked about that recently.

In 1936, a year after he graduated from high school, Grampa (Pierre Conner) played for the Midland, South Dakota town basketball team.  The Harlem Globetrotters  would travel  and play against all the town teams in the area.  Grampa was a guard and his opposing guard could hold the whole ball in one hand and moved very fast.

As Grampa said, “They made monkeys of all of us!”

And I know he loved it!

The Globetrotters were founded in 1927 with men from Chicago.  They actually didn’t play their first game in Harlem until 1968; they thought that the mystique of the “African-American” capital of Harlem would bring more business.  By 1936, the same year that they played against Grampa, the Harlem Globetrotters had played over 1,000 games, one of which was against the Original Celtics, who walked off the court in the last two minutes of the game so as not to lose.  In 1940, the Globetrotters, won the World Professional Basketball Tournament.

The Globetrotters still come to play every year and every year it is in January when I am too poor to buy the now oh-so-expensive tickets.  But one of these years, I will go back and see them again!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mariani Fountain- Revisited... Literally

My mom and I took a trip to San Francisco today and visited the Mariani Fountain.

Mom got a photo of me with it this time:


Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Case of the Missing Maskey's Candy

S. Mariani & Sons at 23rd and Columbia (now Florida).  See the children playing out front?  One could be Vera!            Photo used with permission of Carl Pisaturo-

When Vera Mariani was a young girl, she lived on the corner of 23rd and Columbia (now Florida) in San Francisco.  Below her house at street level was her father’s hardware store, S. Mariani & Sons.  The “S” stood for Stefano.  The sons were Helvetio, Walter, Arnold, Stephen and Eugene, although Arnold did not make it to adulthood.  Vera used to play around the house and hardware store, exploring and making up games.  The siblings closest to her age were her brothers Steve and Gene.  Once when my brother was terrorizing playing with me, I remember Vera telling me that her brothers played too rough for her, too, and that she often played alone.  

 It was during one of these alone playing day that Vera opened the deep cupboard in the kitchen that housed the ironing board.  I remember this cupboard.  If you opened the door, you could fold down the ironing board and reveal shelves.  As she opened this one day, she saw something on the top shelf.  What was it?  She retrieved the step stool and climbed up.  Grasping the edge, she pulled it and then saw the well-recognized logo of Maskey’s Candies—a mask and a key. 

San Francisco was and still is known worldwide for its candy.  From the 2000 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form requesting that the Haas Candy Factory at 54 Mint Street in San Francisco:

San Francisco possessed many favorable characteristics for the success of the candy industry: the cool summer climate is favorable for dipping chocolates. The deep water port facilitated importation of cocoa beans and sugar cane. Sugar was refined locally as early as 1857. The large population provided a good market for the product, which included not only chocolates, but candy sticks, licorice, sugar plums, lollipops, Turkish delight, ribbon candy, and taffy.

In the 1887 Langley’s San Francisco City Directory, Maskey’s was first listed as a “manufacturer of fine candies.”  (From are no longer in business, but the location of the factory and store still stands at 48-52 Kearny Street. 

When seeing that mask and key logo, young Vera must have had a jolt of excitement, a Pavlovian response.  Candy!  Right there!  She opened the carton and found that it was, in fact, a box full of chocolates.  Of course no one would miss one tiny small piece.  She plopped it in her mouth, savoring the delicious chocolate while she put the step stool and ironing board away.  A week or so later, she wondered if the box was still there.  She repeated her adventure and found it was the same box with the one missing chocolate.  Surely it had been forgotten.  But if she were to point it out, she’d have to share with her siblings.  Best to keep this to herself, she likely thought, as she popped another chocolate.  This continued a few times, each visit emptying the box by one chocolate.

On another note, outings with Father were very treasured.  He was a busy hardware man and had sons to teach the business to and customers to care for.  So one day, when Stefano asked Vera to come along with him for a visit with his very best customer, she was excited.  They rode the buggy over and upon reaching the door, Stefano pulled out a box of Maskey’s chocolates for presentation to the customer.  “How lovely of you to bring such fine chocolates,” said the customer.  Stefano bowed slightly in deference and with a touch of pride.  Meanwhile, little Vera stood next to him, shivering in horror and fear.  It was THE box.  The half emptied box of Maskey’s chocolates!  She feared a whipping when she confessed to Father, but instead just got lectured all the way home.

The part of this story that Louise told me that makes me the saddest is that I will never get to taste a Maskey’s chocolate.  If I did, I know I’d taste it with the taste buds and excitement of the eyes of young Vera.  I might even sneak them from my own cabinet, just to experience that moment of hers.  I tried to find a picture of the Maskey’s logo online, but couldn’t locate it.  If anyone has it to share, I’d love to see!

Note: The Mariani family is not my blood family, but there are not many left of the Marianis.  I have deep roots with the Marianis with my great grandfather and father both being caretakers on their ranch in Portola Valley, as well as a house in Portola Valley much later as I attended junior high and high school.  Because of my love for my “Auntie Vera,” the genealogist in me didn’t want to leave them untraced.  So I have been researching them blindly (i.e. only records, no ancestral stories) for about 3 years.  Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Louise, the 99-year-old granddaughter of the immigrant Mariani, cousin to my Vera, who I remember well from my childhood.  She supplied me with wonderful stories (including this one) and genealogy that I will be sharing both here and in the book I’m writing.