Blame it on work, or the girls, or whatever

I know the pace of this blog has been a bit slow lately. There’s a couple of reasons for that. The first is that I now work a four-day week. On those four working days, I have far less free time. The second is Josie and the girls. Josie has been quite fussy the last few weeks, and the harness has undoubtedly exacerbated that to some degree. When she’s crying, she only calms when we hold her a certain way and rock her, and it can be exhausting on nights where she won’t go to sleep.

But thankfully we’ve also had some really nice peaceful times with Josie. I think we are getting better at caring for her.

Of course the other girls continue to be demanding, too, always wanting to be in action, especially with the recent spate of warm weather.

One way to take care of everyone is to go for walks in Ferguson, which tires out the girls, and lets Josie sleep on my chest in the baby carrier. We went to the library and Walgreen’s yesterday morning, for example, and ran into a friend on our way back home.

Right now all three girls are sleeping. I’m enjoying a bit of time to import some video of a family history interview I shot earlier this week during my furlough from the Post-Dispatch. The subject is Mr. Richter, who is the only living first cousin of my great-grandfather, Frank Becker. A couple days after our interview, he had an operation to remove some cancer. If you think of it, please pray for his recovery.

Meeting “new” family members

One of many neat things about doing family history research has been getting in touch with so many family members that I hadn’t talked with before. For example, I have enjoyed calling and visiting with Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Jerry who were my great-grandma Becker’s siblings.

Another good story is a man I met named Ed, who is (as far as I can tell) my great-grandpa Becker’s only still-living first cousin. His house is just 10-15 minutes away, in the little north neck of St. Louis city along the Mississippi riverfront. I didn’t know that Ed existed until I began doing this research.

It was a pleasant surprise to make his acquaintance. We have invited him over several times, and it’s fun to be able to share food and folklore with him.

He didn’t know his Becker relatives that well, but still he is able to remember some things from childhood and share some stories. In fact, I have been able to tell HIM some stories that he didn’t know, like how his uncle John Becker was murdered. He knew something about that vaguely, but had never been told the details.

He has also told us stories about living through the great tornado that hit St. Louis in 1927, about life in the heavily-German area of north St. Louis where he grew up, about serving in Italy in World War II, about his time in the fire department, etc.

Living in the trees

For quite a while I’ve been lurking in the shadows, watching as a new web company called Geni.com developed their site.

What is Geni? It’s is a “social networking” site, sort of like Facebook or MySpace, but designed around family trees.

The idea is that you get as many family members as possible to sign up. Their profile pages are actually part of the family tree. You can share photos, news, send greetings and gifts … lots of fun ways to stay connected with the rest of your family. And of course, everyone can work on the tree: add new branches of the family, correct stuff that might be wrong, add photos or stories of a deceased loved one… the possibilities go on and on.

Anyway, they recently unveiled the feature I had been waiting for … the ability to import family trees created in other programs. I have been working on my own family tree since last fall, and now I could put it on Geni and invite my own family members to come explore it (and expand and improve it)!

I’ve been surprised how many have actually responded to the invitations and joined up. Already there have been a lot of fixes and changes.

Best of all, some of my distant relatives (whom I never even knew before this year) are also joining in. I am really looking forward to being able to stay in touch and see photos of their families.

(By the way, if you’re in my family and you haven’t yet gotten an invite from me, please just drop me a line. I may not have your most recent email address, which I need to invite you to our tree)

The murder of John Becker

Ninety years ago, a sailor was found dead in Chicago, bloodied but still warm. His name was John Andrew Becker and he was my great-great-great-uncle.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I have uncovered many names as I have fleshed out parts of the family tree, but it has at times been hard to learn about them as individuals. In the case of John Becker, the murder generated newspaper stories, military reports, police files, coroner’s inquests, and much more. This tragedy has offered a chance to learn more about a person in the family, and the people connected to him (for good or ill) at the time of his death.

What follows is my re-telling of John Becker’s murder based on reading many newspaper reports, a transcript of the Cook County coroner’s inquest board, John Becker’s military personnel file, various death certificates, and other material.

In coming days I will also write about the process of discovering this story for anyone who’s interested.

Continue reading “The murder of John Becker”

Beckers in North St. Louis

Just a little spinoff project from my family research. I’m making a map from all the addresses I can find on death certificates, censuses, etc. You can see that in the first part of the 20th century, the Beckers were pretty well clustered in North St. Louis, which was a predominantly German area at the time.

I try to imagine what it must have been like for them at the time. They were living in a dense urban setting, with most of their family and friends living very close by. Shops and businesses were on the corner, instead of a long drive away.

becker_nsl.gif

Click here to see the map on Google Maps.

You can zoom in and out, and get more information by clicking on the arrows.

Or, if you have Google Earth, try this version.

Tragedies in the tree

I spent Christmas evening with my extended family on the Becker side. It’s the first time in a number of years that I could make it to this celebration, since most years I have to work at the newspaper in the evening.

I told some of my aunts and uncles about my research into the Becker and Chorosevic branches of my family tree. More than one of them joked about digging up “dirty laundry” from years gone by.

Truth is, it’s hard to really get close to these folks.

Continue reading “Tragedies in the tree”

It may be fall, but the leaves and branches are growing on my family tree

A few months ago, Yoli brought home a MacWorld magazine from the library, which contained a review of some genealogy software. This little review sparked something in me and piqued my interest in family trees.

I knew that certain branches of my family are well-mapped. My uncle Vic Michel prepared a very thorough tree of the Renauds; my Nanny and her cousin George researched much of our Lawrence side.

I got excited about the prospect of taking that existing research and combining it in the computer into one big tree. Putting this stuff on the computer would also make it possible to share it more easily with people seeking info on a long-lost Renaud ancestor or something.

As I began the project, I also realized there were several areas that it seemed nobody had tackled (that I knew of): my mom’s dad’s side (George); and my dad’s mom’s side (Becker and Chorosevic).

So that’s been my hobby now for the last couple months. I’ve found a lot more than I thought I would, and I’m doing things I never thought I’d be doing, like writing letters in Polish to churches in Poland.

We’ve made some incremental progress on Yoli’s side, too, by talking to her dad and her mom’s brother, who can remember some of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Yoli’s family will definitely be the more challenging part to research, I think. In America, there are tons of indexed records you can easily access online. I don’t think this is the case in Bolivia. But when we visit next year, we’ll see if there’s anything we can find while we’re in Santa Cruz.

For what it’s worth, I’ll soon try and put my tree online somewhere on joshrenaud.com for family and folks who are interested to browse. (Maybe joshrenaud.com/family/tree?)