Friday, March 25, 2016

Recording a Transgender Family Member

There are certainly mixed emotions on the transgender topic. I do not plan to write an opinion piece on transgender issues on a genealogy blog. Rather, this post is dedicated to what do we do and how do we do it when a family member has transitioned.

I have researched and read many ideas on recording a transitioned family member but have not found consensus across genealogists. For many, this feels like a new topic as the transgender community has found itself frequently in the news as of late.

The various genealogy software platforms have not introduced any way to note a transgender person. We get very clear choices for sex: Male, Female, and unknown.

Family history, to me, is like medical information. We should have it as accurate and truthful as possible. So we have to ask ourselves if we are keeping our trees for biological bloodline research or for the stories, the physical people who make up our story. For me, it is a little of both. I love using DNA to find new cousins and share research and trace my paternal and maternal bloodlines. But, the family tree I write about, share with family and friends is about the people, the individuals. I feel I would be short-changing the life of an individual not to include their transition as a part of that story for the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Future generations should not have to guess who these two supposedly different people that will show up in the census or disappear from records were. Documentation will allow those who write about all of us in 75 - 100 years to get it right on the first try and tell the right story.

As I have read on this topic, some like to leave the original birth information as the only information on the tree, others will leave off the original information after transition.

So what have I done?

I have marked the individual in my family with their preferred gender and name with a note: "transitioned in XXXX" and include original names, gender, and other identity information in a comment section. To document, I have sought out the court documents or newspaper legal posting documenting the change in name and keep in my personal family tree files.

I would love to hear how others have handled this, often sensitive, information in their own family trees.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Throw Back Thursday: The Venice of Africa

Traditional pirogue (boat)
As part of my 2007 trip to Benin, our group spent time learning about the slave trade from the African perspective. One of our stops was the safe haven of Ganvié.
Entering the very traditional pirogue (boat), I had no idea what was in store. We traveled for what seemed like forever past fishing boats, other pirogues that served as water taxis on  Lake Nokoué, near Cotonou. Some with motors and others with hand sewn sails. The amazing village that awaited me is still one of the most impressive places I have ever been.
Ganvié is Africa’s largest lake village with approximately 20,000 residents sitting nearly 4 miles from the nearest shoreline on Lake Nokoué. When I say it is a lake village, I mean all structures are on stilts above the water, including the scattered electricity. 

The marketplace is a row of boats bumped up against each other, you float past on your own boat. Older structures look like they could fall into the waters below with a hefty gust of wind. Ganvié is the kind of place you fall in love with because it is so rickety and you feel like you could be electrocuted in your room while as you sleep.
The village was founded in the sixteenth or seventeenth century by the Tofinu people who fled the shores near what is now Cotonou as the West-African Fon tribe was hunting and selling other native tribesman to the Portuguese and taken to the Americas. While there were few physical impediments protecting the ancestors of today's Ganvie village from outside attack, Fon religious practice forbade their raiders from advancing on any peoples dwelling on water, laying the groundwork for the Ganvie Lake Village. Today, the village’s main industries are tourism and fish farming.

At night, the chants of Beninese voodoo followers are heard among the water plants. This isn’t the Americanized voodoo of pin dolls but rather a very majestic, misunderstood religion full of tall tales, kings, priests and ghosts.   
Photos from Ganvié:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Letting go of yourself (and your passport)

This post is the third in a series. While I focus on genealogy and stories of the past, I feel I must also tell my own story so future generations have stories to discover and share.
In 2007, I made the mistake of attempting group travel without the group. I had work to finish before I could leave on my excursion and knowing the group leader well, I told him not to worry about me that I would meet them in Paris. I had my Dad in tow, tagging along for the ride.
I was going as a grad-assistant/paper pusher and low and behold, snow in New York cancelled our first flight. That should be lesson enough not to schedule flights through northern cities in December when I have a timeline (I still make that mistake when the price is right). Not that this should have caused any alarm but my father and I were already going to be running the mad dash from immigration to terminal to make the chartered flight to Cotonou, Benin. With luck, we were able to rebook the next day, upgraded to first class on Air France via Cincinnati.

While we missed the original chartered flight I figured there were worse things than a weekend in Paris. Still was not sure how exactly we were going to get to our group of undergraduate students who, by now were well on their way into northern Benin farm country. We were determined. A last phone call with the professor left me assured our travel company knew we were on our way and I told him I would see him at our camp site, where ever that may be.
In Cincinnati, we found ourselves in the Air France First Class Lounge waiting for our flight and realized we needed alternatives for the ever in-case we don’t get flights to Benin. So, my father made hotel reservations near the airport for quick access should a flight pop up for us and I went in search of a Paris travel guide should we be there a few days.

We got to Paris in luxury after sipping wine, eating steak, and sleeping a good four hours. After checking in to the hotel, we headed off to the Pointe Afrique office to see what, if anything had been done since the groups’ departure, how soon we could fly, and how much it might cost. Snow in New York City was by no means Pointe Afrique’s fault after all.

Point Afrique could not have been more helpful. While on Saturday we only had a standby flight for Monday, things were looking positive. We spent the weekend touring around the city. It was my eighth trip to Paris (and my dad’s first) and I was getting fairly acquainted with La Ville-Lumiére (the city of lights).
By Sunday evening we had a guaranteed flight to Ogadogou, Burkina Faso. This was not in the plans but decided to take it. I was still unsure how we were going to handle hiring a car and driver once getting there, securing a quick visa (as it was Sunday in Paris) and possibly some lodging in Ogadogou once we arrived.

My biggest hindrance in the process: my French skills. Now, I can order a beer or a bus ticket. I can do ok haggling in the African market place but hiring a car to take me across two land borders to find a group of American students in a town I’m not exactly sure how to pronounce or its location? That’s a bit above and beyond.
We did some online research and spoke to the good people at Pointe Afrique who gave me their office number in Ogadogou. They could not guarantee they would have a driver, but their office could assist me. We were told we would be able to get a visa in the airport if we had passport photos with us, something I always carry extra of (I even had 3 of my dad’s)… and this was the first time they had ever been useful!

When we arrived in Ogadogou and filled out the visa papers the man standing at a rather beaten up wooded table took our passports and said nothing. He threw them on a stack of other passports. He would not answer my questions. I didn’t know if we would have a contact outside of “customs,” I had nowhere to go, no passport and no knowledge of the city. I looked to a young guard, maybe 17 years old with a large riffle standing nearby and asked him in broken French about our passports and he said “tomorrow” that it would take 24 hours to get our passports back. I had hoped to be on the road shortly after my arrival.
Leaving this “terminal” as it were, was one of the hardest things I think either my father or I have ever done. We walked out of a “customs control” room leaving our passports, our identity laying on a table without any knowledge of the process or what was waiting for us on the other side of the door.

We went out to get our bags and was quickly approached by a man who knew my name and said “we go tomorrow.” He was from Pointe Afrique, the Paris office had made a phone call to them on our behalf. I was only slightly relieved. I could see my dad getting stressed over the situation. I had wanted to leave immediately for Benin. I explained to him as best I could about our passports. His English was only a little better than my French, but we managed. We got our things and he took us to a hotel and told us to rest and eat breakfast. So we did. He said he would be back. We had no other choice.
We were then in the middle of a new, remote city without our passports, local currency or any sort of guide. As stressed as we were to be in a country we had not anticipated visiting, we cleaned up and ate breakfast.

While at the hotel we met a Tuareg man from Niger who had left his home because of the Civil War and the closure of the airport in Niamey. He said he was out of work because there was virtually no trade and no tourism. We shared breakfast and he showed me the beautiful silver he worked in and gave me a bracelet.

Almost as soon as I had decided I was in for the long haul and prepared to lay down, I had a knock on my door. It was the guide. He said three words I will never forget: “We go now” and had our passports in his hand. The rules do not matter so much on Africa time. If the head of Pointe Afrique goes to the passport control officer and asks for a passport to be stamped early, it gets done. They may have had to pay him, but it gets done. We were only about twenty minutes behind the schedule I had given myself… but on Africa time, there is no “set” schedule.
We left the hotel and I found myself wedged into the back of an old, small geo-tracker complete with plastic windows along with our guide. My father rode upfront with a driver. We were told it is a “long time” to Kutagu, the small town we were trying to get to in Benin. We had to cross two land borders, something I was not looking forward to but was optimistic about since we had two locals with us that were affiliated with a reputable travel agency.

We drove for hours it seemed. We spoke French and English, listened to old cassettes, talked history and politics, and slept a little. We stopped for lunch before we got out of Burkina Faso and to rest the car in the heat. Vehicles can overheat easily in the desert sun if you run them too long in the hottest part of the day. No one wants to be stuck in between villages in the open sun.
When we exited Burkina Faso, Dad and I had to go into a little building where we had to tell a man in a uniform he was obviously proud of; our occupations, how long and why we were in Burkina Faso, and where we were going. They wrote it all down in their large book that no one will ever read or do anything with. I doubt the book will ever leave the little outpost. He stamped our passports without concern, seeming glad to have something to do. I was relieved as land border one was crossed.

As we entered Benin there seemed to be trouble with the vehicle in front of us. I thought maybe they would want to go through everything in the car. Not a problem, just a hassle. I began to think I was about to live one of the land border horror stories of corruption and greed. However, it was nothing of the kind. We were again asked to get out of the car and come down to their building, again where they looked at our passports and recorded answers to questions in a large, old book. This time however, the head guard was called to the front as they finished with us and was handed our passports. He was very stern-faced as he looked over our documents. I got nervous and could tell Dad was too.
Suddenly he got a very big smile and said “I LOVE Americans!” He was ecstatic that Americans were crossing his land border. He started to tell us that he had not had an American cross his border in a very long time and it gave him great pleasure to stamp our passports personally and welcome us to Benin. I was relieved. I told him in French I looked forward to visiting beautiful Benin. And we were on our way again.

A few photos from our trip once we reached our group (a needle in a haystack story for another time):

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

[Almost] Wordless Wednesday

Jackson's cafe was owned by my grandparents, E.F. and Irene Falls Jackson. The original location and map is shown below. After falling victim to the Harrisonburg R-4 project, it was relocated.

Jackson's Cafe in its original location in Harrisonburg, Virginia
Owned ans operated by my grandparents, E.F. and Irene Falls Jackson

Map of Harrisonburg showing original location of Jackson's Cafe

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday: Daniel and Lydia Wampler Wetsel

My great, great grandparents, Daniel M and Lydia Wampler Wetsel, buried along with their son, Wampler H. Wetsel in the Mill Creek Church of the Brethren Cemetery, Port Republic, Virginia

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday: That Time Dad Needed to Use Powerpoint

This post is the second in a series of telling my own story. While I focus on genealogy and stories of the past, I feel I must also tell my own story so future generations have stories to discover and share. 

I was still in college when my dad called and said he needed to present a PowerPoint presentation for a work meeting and he didn't know how to use it. Mistakenly, I told him to get his text on slides and I would be home over the weekend and we could then make it look professional. He called me on my way home and said when he went into slideshow mode he could only see the first few sentences. 


My dad had typed 40 slides worth into that first new slide when he opened PowerPoint. Saturday morning I sent him to the office with my digital camera to take pictures of the space, products and other items he wanted to showcase in his presentation. That night, I moved most of his text into the notes field and replaced it with the pictures he took. He was amazed by the impact the photos could have when viewed as a slideshow.

Sunday morning I printed the notes page view of his presentation and taught him how to change from slide to slide and not to be an impatient button masher, the kind that ruin their presentations.

His presentation was a success and apparently the team wanted to know his PowerPoint secrets. I’m not sure he credited his college student daughter. But that’s ok.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday: Lelia C Swope

While searching for my Jackson and Falls/Fauls relatives in Mt. Clinton, Virginia, I stumbled upon my 3rd cousin 2x removed, Lelia Catherine Swope Hertzler in the Mt. Clinton Mennonite Church Cemetery

Tombstone for Lelia C Swope Hertzler (1906 - 2002)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Throwback Thursday: My Own Story

While I focus on genealogy and stories of the past, I feel I must also tell my own story so future generations have stories to discover and share. I'll be using the popular Throwback Thursday model to do so. 

2004 was an incredibly busy year 12 years ago. I had no idea who I would be or where I would be in 2016. I was an undergrad the spring of 2004, living off campus in an apartment with my cousin, her now husband and another friend of ours that we’re no longer in touch with. We had 4 pet rats, 2 male and 2 females. They were a lot of fun.

My cousin and I were working at a sports bar just down the street from our apartment. We worked long hard hours and it only encouraged me never to want to work shift work again. I am very satisfied with the 9 – 5 world after going to class from 8 – 2 and work from 4 – 3 most nights. There was free steak night. Sounds fun, right? Wrong. It was the most awful night of the week to work. After the fall of 2003 working it, I ensured I had a class right during the middle of it for the spring of 2004. It was a good deal for the customer, FREE steak, potatoes and salad with the purchase of any beverage. You could buy the $1.95 soda, bottled water or the $0.50 9oz. draft beer. Then of course, every customer needed A1 or 57 sauce, extra ranch dressing, etc. and so forth. Most would have 2 beers and a grand total of $1.07 bill. Several servers kept getting 15 – 20 cent tips… (The steak dinner was normally $12.99).  

I still have a list of my classes. I took the most brutal German Literature class in my life as a special topics course. There were 3 of us in the class, so we met in the professors office and discussed the works of Georg Büchner. There is no hiding when you didn’t read everything between classes or if you couldn’t quite understand the German. I think I did double the work just to ensure I didn’t look like an idiot each week. I managed a C+ in the class and that was perfectly wonderful for me.

While I was studying Büchner in depth, I was also in a History of Japan course. The professor was an interesting sort. He would come in to the room and start talking. As he spoke, he would write notes on the board that didn’t quite relate to what he was saying. I’m still not sure how he did it. I’m not sure how I managed to keep up with notes between what he said and what he wrote. It was well before I had a laptop that could record the class for me and I didn’t have one of the dictation recorders. I don’t recall much of the course content now other than I wrote a paper using the book Bicycle Citizens.  It had to do with traditional roles for women in early modern Japan.

My favorite class in spring 2004 was a special topics course (the one I ensured was at the same time as steak dinner nights) entitled Democracy and Democratization. It centered on current trends and news in democracy around the world. I was the only female student of about 10 and we debated every week the merits of news articles, policies throughout the world, emerging democracies, etc. It was finally a real world perspective after taking so many theoretical courses that only touched on modern day implications of the great philosophers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Who was Uncle George?

My grandfather, Elva Franklin (EF) Jackson was born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia in 1888. While I have learned much about his parents, siblings, and extended family, I know little about the people that lived in the area and even on the farm with EF's family. This is one of the few photos I have of my grandfather as a child. It was taken sometime around 1900.

My mom tells me the man seated at the house was known to EF and his siblings as Uncle George. The child in the doorway is his granddaughter. Mom said he was a share-crop farmer that had lived on the farm prior to my grandfathers family.  For 2016, I hope to find out exactly who Uncle George was and who his family is. Hopefully, I can provide this photograph to Uncle George's family.

I have started to look at the records I do have. The 1880 census lists a man named George Brown, aged 24 on the same page as EF's father, James Madison Jackson. That seems a little young for this to be the same George. The man in the photo appears to be much older than 48-50 by 1900.

The 1900 census does not list a George Brown near the Jackson family but does list a John Lewis, age 50, widowed, with a son and daughter. Maybe this is a relative of John Lewis?

Unfortunately, the 1890 census for the majority of the US was destroyed.