A Genealogist’s Spectacles

glasses

Yes, I use four different pairs of glasses.

I’ll start with the sunglasses because I rarely get to wear them.  Not much opportunity to do so when much of my life is spent indoors sitting before my computer, in libraries or dusty basements flipping through sooty books and legal documents.

Then there are my regular glasses, the purple ones without the old-lady neck strap, something like which I’ve worn since I was a child of seven.  I don’t really need them so much (cataract surgery took care of that a few years ago) but after a lifetime of wearing something on my face, it’s habit.  And, it’s helpful when I need to read on the run (i.e., no time to take off regular glasses for one of my other pairs).

The rather smart purple-with-neck-strap glasses are my reading glasses.  Books, documents (lots of documents), newspapers and more are considerably clearer with these accessories.  And, as a genealogist, often are in constant exchange with my BC glasses.

My BC glasses got its designation during my days in the US Army when we were issued similar pairs in Basic Training. The idea was that no man would be even remotely interested in one of us who wore them; hence, automatic birth control.  I received these BC glasses from the VA a few months ago and, while they are only mildly different than the dreaded BC glasses of our Basic Training days (once out of Basic, we were allowed to revert back to more fashionable ones), in the 21st century this same style is considered trendy!  Why is this pair important?  It seems that there are sunglasses, regular-seeing glasses, reading glasses (with or without neck cord) and computer glasses; who knew?

Utilizing all four pairs when necessary has saved considerable eye strain these past few years.

Why bring this up, now?

Because I spent the day reading city directories.  Ever read a city directory?  If you’re at all into genealogy and you haven’t, you should.  Thirty years (that’s just today’s work—there were 105 years’ worth, in all) and the names of owners/occupiers of ten homes.  And, tracking each and every one in Excel.  Reading glasses/computer glasses/reading/computer/reading/computer….

House FrontIt all started because I wanted to do a house history of my 105-year-old home as a sample for the CPGen website but the city of Freeport renumbered the houses on my one-block street and I can’t (yet) locate which of the early ones were mine.  So, since it’s a limited pool of ten houses on the street, I decided to do them all.  Good thing I love house histories.

So, I am officially done with the city directories.  Still haven’t identified which of the originally-numbered homes is mine but I have narrowed it down to three.  The problem is that each of the original homeowners left between the use of the old house numbers and the renumbering of the street.  At least, that’s the best available information given one missing city directory in our local library for the year the house numbers changed.  And, my county (Stephenson, Illinois) lists deeds by Grantor/Grantee and not by property address so the only way to track the original owner is to start with the last (that’d be me).  Finally, there are no plat maps available (that I’ve been able to yet locate) showing the placement of the original five properties on the street, of which my house is one.

Next stop?  County Recorder’s Office and deed books.  Lots and lots of deed books…..

We’re Official!

It took a long time, but CPGen is now officially open for business!

CPGenLic

There are still a few steps to climb before the doors are thrown open to the public but it won’t be long now.  We’re working on a sample house history that has turned into an entire block history and there are a couple of other sample pieces that need to be prepped so that they can be placed on this site, but things are moving along.

We accept record-search requests for Stephenson and surrounding Illinois counties.  If you are interested in having CPGen conduct searches for you, please go to the CPGen Fees & Services page for more information.  CPGen does conduct some document searches in Stephenson County at no charge for the search (there may be document fees).

One more step accomplished!

 

Centuries of Progress Genealogy: How’d we get here?

The most commonly asked question about CPGen concerns the origin of our name.  As a born’n’bred Chicagoan with a penchant for Chicago’s history and a one-time collector of all things Chicago World’s Fairs (the first, in 1893, was the Columbian Exposition honoring 400 years since Columbus sailed–eh, it was a very different time in the 1890s), it’s actually a nice progression.  But, the real impetus was a single photograph.

pop-and-anthony-st-something

One evening during an overlong holiday vacation, I finally went through the family photos and papers I’d sorted out after my sister unexpectedly passed away during the previous year.  Among them, I found a photograph of my father that I’d not before seen.  On the back was written: Jimmy and Anthony-Chicago World’s Fair.  (That’s my dad on the left.)

And, of course, my first thought was: Why didn’t I ever ask?

 

During that same stretch of vacation boredom, I privately messaged a cousin on my mother’s side, explaining a family story that she certainly should have known but didn’t.  She ended the conversation with that oft-given phrase: We should write a book.

Ah, I suspect those two statements began the career of many of genealogist.

Who doesn’t think their family is intriguing enough to write that book?  (If you know of someone who doesn’t think so, then they must not know their family history.)  While I’ve dealt with many a client or family member incredibly disappointed that the great-grandmother they believed an “Indian princes who danced for the Queen of England” or the great-great grandfather who single-handedly defeated Napoleon wasn’t and didn’t, what I unearthed about their ancestors tends to be much better.  Most often, men and women who were risk-takers, especially those who left their homes and homelands to come to America—land of great promise and great uncertainty—and persevered.

And, is there one human on the planet over the age of 40 who hasn’t, at least once, mentally kicked themselves for not thinking to have asked a deceased parent or grandparent about that time when they…?  Or, worse yet, not being interested enough to have really listened while their grandparent regaled them with stories.

Those were the two events that propelled me into becoming a genealogist.  And, somehow, We Should Write a Book or I Shoulda Asked Genealogy didn’t have quite the same ring as, Centuries of Progress Genealogy.  Plus, neither of those lend themselves to a cool Art Deco logo as does CPGen.

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For more information on the Chicago’s 1933 Centuries of Progress World’s Fair, the Newberry Library’s “Picturing a Century of Progress, the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair” is a great starting point.  For an amazing array of Century of Progress records, check out the 264 photographs and 16 oversize folders at the Chicago Public Library.