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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Friday
    Dec192014

    A Christmas Gift from the United States Census Bureau: the Long-Form Census

    American Community Survey Letter

    The first official notice arrived in early December. We are one of a small percentage of American households selected to complete what used to be known as the "long form" census and we feel pretty darn special, that's for sure! The one page letter, single sheet (English/Spanish) was addressed: 

    To the Resident of

    with one line instructions:

    Go to https://respond.conesus.gov/acs to complete the American Community Survey.

    We were invited us to go online to complete the survey. But with one thing and then another, the invitation was set aside. Until a reminder arrived yesterday with the BIG survey 28-page booklet, noting:

    This survey is so important that a Census Bureau representative may attempt to contact you by telephone or personal visit if we do not receive your response.

    Lest we think we are (too) special, the letter added:

    The Census Bureau chose your address, not you personally, as part of a randomly selected sample. You are required by U.S. law to respond to this survey. . .

     

    Failure to comply or providing false information is a federal offense punishable by fine, Title 18 U.S.C Section 3571 and Section 3559, which amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221How much you'd have to pay, and whether or not this law is enforced is a topic of discussion. The Austin American-Statesmanwebsite notes that "the fine for refusing to answer a bureau survey can be as much as $5000," although "no one has been prosecuted for failing to respond to a survey since the 1970 census."

    The printed questionnaire is a large booklet measuring 10-1/2 inches square with staple binding. It's filled with 28-pages or questions printed with black ink inside green boxes. The checkboxes and fill-in-the-blank response boxes are large white boxes. The Census Bureau obviously wants to make this form as easy as possible to read and complete.

    Why Don't They Just Call It, 'The Census'?

    Politicians seem to get itchy whenever Census is mentioned. Some like it, some don't. The questions are reviewed, approved (or not). Some questions have been asked in every Census since 1790 -- how cool is that! Some are new. In fact, a lot of questions are new… and controversial. I read a little about the battle for the census here and here and here.

    I wish they just called it "the old census" instead of the ACS. The new name and new random sampling are a response to public sentiment that the long-form every-decade full census was too long and too intrusive. The new ACS samples 250,000 households  per month, adding us in the final cut for 2014.

    The American Community Survey website helpfully lists the questions categories and provides a link to the American Community Survey Information Guide. I was interested in the questions asked and found a downloadable PDF of all questions as well as information about individual questions. Each question is presented with responses:

    Why We Ask

    History

    Federal Uses

    State and County Uses

    Private Sector Uses

    Questions We Wished They'd Asked in 1880

    Genealogists love information on births, immigration, and former residences, but it's not hard to imagine why some people might feel that the government is getting a little personal. As I rephrased and copied the questions from the booklet for this list, I felt a few twinges too. The official survey site labels the questions with official-sounding names like Fertility, Disability, or Plumbing Facilities, but what (or whom) do you think of when you read:

    Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions?"

    Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?

    Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing?

    Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have difficulty doing errands alone such s visiting a doctor's office or shopping?

    Wouldn't we love to have those answers on the 1880 census when multi-generational households were typical, not unusual? Or

    Does this person have any of his/her own grandchildren under the age of 18 living in this house or apartment?

    Is this grandparent currently responsible for most of the basic needs of any grandchildren under the age of 18 who live in this house or apartment?

    How long has this grandparent been responsible for these grandchildren?

    What They Ask in 2014

    Questions on today's American Community Survey begin with name and telephone number, and the number of people at the residence. The form asks the following Information for each person in the residence:

    1. Name
    2. Relationship to Person 1
    3. Sex
    4. Age, Date of Birth
    5. Hispanic, Latiino or Spanish origin
    6. Race

    Pages 2 through 4 provide space for up to itemized information for up to five household members; persons 6 through 12 are listed by name, sex, age.

    On page 5 through 7, the survey asks questions about Housing:

    1. Kind of building (mobile home, house, apartment, etc)
    2. When built
    3. When Person 1 moved in
    4. How many acres
    5. Actual sales of agricultural products from this property in last 12 months
    6. Business on the property (store, barber shop)
    7. How many separate rooms
    8. How many bedrooms
    9. Hot/cold running water, flush toilet, bathtub/shower, sink with faucet, stove, refrigerator, telephone including cell phone
    10. Do you or any household members own computers, handheld, other type of computer
    11. Subscribe to internet using dial-up, DSL, cabel, fiber-optic, mobile broadband plan, satellite Internet, other
    12. Number of vehicles
    13. Which fuel used most for heating
    14. Utilities
      • Cost of electricity last month
      • Cost of gas last month
      • Cost of water and sewer last 12 months
      • Cost of oil, coal, wood etc last 12 months
    15. Did you r receive Food Stamps last 12 months
    16. Part of a condominium
    17. Home owned with/without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent
    18. If rented, monthly rent
    19. If owned or mortgaged, potential sale value
    20. Annual property taxes
    21. Annual fire, flood, hazard insurance
    22. Other debt against property
      • Monthly mortgage payment
      • Include property taxes?
      • Include insurance?
    23. Second mortgage
    24. Total costs for taxes, rent, registration, license for mobile home and site

    Pages 8 through 11 ask questions about Person 1, followed by four pages each for responses from Persons 2, 3, 4, and 5.

    PERSONAL

    • Name
    • Where born
    • U.S. Citizen by birth in U.S., territories, abroad of U.S. parents, or by naturalization (give year)
    • What year to U.S.
    • Attended school or college in last 3 months, public or private
    • What grade atending
    • Highest degree or level of school
    • B.A. Degree major
    • Ancestry or ethnic origin
    • Language spoken at home
    • How well does this person speak English
    • Live in this house 1 year ago, if no whether outside U.S. or different house in U.S.
    • Where living 1 year ago, address

    HEALTH

    • Health insurance coverage
    • Deaf or hard of hearing
    • Blind or vision impaired
    • 5 years and  older:
      • Mental impairment due to physical, mental or emotional condition
      • Difficulty walking or climbing stairs
      • Difficulty dressing or bathing
    • 15 years and older
      • Difficulty doing errands alone due to physical, mental or emotional condition
      • Marital status
      • in last 12 months married, widowed, divorced
      • How many times married
      • What year last married
    • Female age 15 to 50
      • Given birth to any children in the past 12 months
      • his/her own grandchildren under 18 living in this house
      • this grandparent responsible for most of basic needs of under 18 children living in this house
      • how long responsible for these grandchildren
    • Active duty in U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves or National Guard
    • When served
    • VA servicie-connected disability rating
    • What is this persons service-connected disability rating

    EMPLOYMENT

    • Last week, work for pay at a job
    • Address where last worked
    • Transportation to work last week
    • How many people rode in vehicle
    • Left home at what time to go to work last week
    • How many minutes to get home from work last week
    • On layoff last week
    • Temporarily absent from job last week
    • Informed to return to work within 6 months
    • Actively looking for work
    • Could have started work if recalled
    • When last worked
    • In last 12 months, did this person work 50 or more weeks?
      • How many weeks worked?
    • How many hours worked each week
    • Current of most recent job activity
    • For whom worked
    • Kind of business or industry
    • Manufacturing, wholesale, retail, other?
    • What kind of work
    • Most important duties

    INCOME in Last 12 Months

    • Wages
    • Self-employmnet income
    • Interest, dividents, other income
    • Social Security or Railrod Reitrement
    • SSI
    • State or local assistance
    • Pensions
    • Other income
    • Total income

    The entire survey is rated to take 40 minutes to complete. The time required will certainly vary with the number of household members.

    We will do our civic duty this evening. Personally, I'm glad it's eggnog season.

     

     

    Monday
    Dec152014

    Until We Meet Again, Kathleen

    Kathleen LevenickA little over a week ago I said goodbye to my sister-in-law at LAX as she headed to Texas for the baptism of her newest grandchild. She had not been well, and this trip was a trial run for future travel at Christmas and beyond. We were both relieved that the baggage check-in and wheelchair assist went smoothly, and we confirmed plans for her return and as we hugged and said goodbye. In the early hours of Saturday morning I received a call from my nephew that she had passed away at her son’s home. Kathleen Edson Levenick was 70.

    Kathleeen and I were friends, allies, and eventually sisters (by law) for over forty years. When I first met my husband, he raved about his brother’s clever and witty young new wife. When I met her, I knew why he was a fan. Kathleen filled every room with her smile and charm. In a family of starke und stabile Deutsche, she was a wild Irish rose whose stories made post-dinner clean up hilarious. She was the first grown-up I’d ever heard use the “F” word. She pulled me outside the kitchen to share a cigarette from her secret stash and would then return to the house and tease her husband when he made excuses to run to the market, code for “I need a smoke.” It took years for me to finally realize that most of her stories were mostly. . . stories.

    While I aimed to follow Martha Stewart’s footsteps with one homemade cookie for each of the 12 day of Christmas, she was slicing and baking Pillsbury. I clipped recipes, she clipped open four boxes of Stouffer’s frozen Spinach Souffle, pressed the blocks into a Pyrex dish and passed it off as homemade. Our family spent most summer afternoons lazing around her pool, waiting for dinner. The brothers Lev would torch the barbeque and everyone dined on scorched beef with all the fixins. When I taught at the boy’s grade school, one nephew’s third grade teacher asked me to get the recipe for John’s favorite dessert, Pie in Minutes.

    Now I realize how smart she really was.

    Together we endured countless family dinners presided over by the family matriarch. We both heard the same refrain: What did we ever do to deserve her precious boys? Kathleen redeemed herself admirably by producing four more males to carry on the family name. It’s was a great irony that the women who weren’t good enough to marry the sons, could be the mothers of the smartest most wonderful grandsons in the world.

    Family: Sister-in-Law Kathleen (left), sister Deanna, Denise, and Dan

    Our homes were only four short blocks apart, with the grandparents' between. We spent Ski Week together at Yosemite and celebrated every birthday and holiday with a chaotic family dinner. We attended the same church, were members of the same volunteer organizations, and our six boys attended the same Catholic schools for thirteen years. When the last Levenick boy graduated from eighth grade, the Principal announced the milestone event to a standing ovation from the long-suffering faculty and fellow parents.

    Kathleen and I shared a love of all things English, especially Jane Austen, period drama, cozy mysteries, and tea. She remembered my birthday without fail, often with a new mystery series. Like an older wiser sister, she coaxed me into playing hooky from housework and childcare, praised my obsessive creative efforts, and teased me into taking risks with new friendships. Her friends became my friends too, and she generously shared her network of caring, interesting people.

    Thirteen years ago Kathleen lost much of the joy in her life with the unexpected death of her husband while they were in Boston for another family milestone, their son’s college graduation. The past few decades have been difficult, but the outpouring of love and support since Kathleen’s death is a testament of the lives she enriched with her laughter and the friendships she nourished in better times. I will miss her deeply.

    Kathleen Edson Levenick was born in Sacramento, 8 October 1944 and passed away 6 December 2014. She graduated from the University of Colorado and was a schoolteacher before a chance meeting with her future husband on a flight to Seattle. The couple settled in Pasadena where they raised four sons and were active in church, school and community life. Kathleen enjoyed gardening, playing bridge and travel. She will be greatly missed by her family and many friends.

    Thursday
    Dec042014

    Family Heirlooms: The Ultimate Holiday Regift

    My favorite heirloom brothers, Dan and Mike Hiestand, have thrown down the glove again this holiday season in their annual campaign against Too Much Stuff. If you follow The Heirloom Registry or the Home History Book, you may have met Dan and Mike. Together they founded Houstory, a small business dedicated to preserving family keepsakes and the home histories.

    I first met Dan at the SCGS Jamboree in Burbank a few years ago. I loved the Home History Book, a beautiful hand-crafted journal designed to help record the history of your house. And I really liked the The Heirloom Registry, a legacy website created to hold the history of family heirlooms and reconnect stories and artifacts through generations. I first wrote about The Heirloom Registry in Before the Pirate Toy Chest Became an Heirloom after we discovered my husband's childhood treasure in the family home. 

    NoMore 0681

    For the past few years, the Houstory Bros. have waged a quiet but effective campaign to bring sanity to holiday over-gifting. They call it the "#No More Stuff" campaign and you can read about it at the Houstory Blog. So, while The Family Curator is all about preserving and archiving the "stuff" that you inherit and treasure, the Houstory Brothers are encouraging us not to acquire a lot of additional "stuff" that we don't really need or want. I like the idea. I have more than enough wonderful keepsakes accumulated from my life, and my parents and grandparents. It's hard enough to care for what's under my roof right now, I certainly don't need more. The Houstory campaign reminds me of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts mantra:

    Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

    At holiday time, especially, it's a worthwhile thought to bear in mind.

    I like the gift Dan and Mike's parents gave to their children last year -- they recorded the stories of their favorite family heirlooms to preserve online at The Heirloom Registry where their children, grandchildren, and extended family could read the history of those keepsakes.

    Pass It On

    Both my mother and my mother-in-law were thoughtful family historians. They didn't have The Heirloom Registry, but each woman wrote notes about the provenance of special items and tucked them inside the keepsake. My mom made notes of wedding gifts or where she bought something. My mother-in-law liked to leave the price tag and a note about the "priceless" treasure she found at a bargain. I tend to sketch a chain of ownership, starting as far back as possible to record the owner, their birth and death dates, residence, and anything I know about the manufacture and item.

    My goal for next year is to gift each family with a keepsake notebook with stories and photos of a few special heirlooms, and to start passing along some of those treasures to the next generation. I think it will feel good to see those things in a new home, and be a good answer to the Houstory campaign. Maybe we can call it "Pass It On."

    I created a form to help me remember the details I wanted to record about my family keepsakes, including description, previous owners, and former locations. Here is a link to download a free copy of my form to use for your own heirloom book or to help you prepare stories to upload to The Heirloom Registry:

    The Family Curator's Family History Form
    Monday
    Dec012014

    When Advent Meets Advertising

    Sony Center Advent Wreath

    Once again, Cyber Monday collides with the first week of the Advent Christmas Season reminding many to stop and reflect instead of reaching for the credit card . With only twenty-one shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the onslaught of marketing emails and ads have created a nervous frenzy that has nothing to do with traditional holiday activities like baking, decorating, or packing for a family vacation. Instead, it’s all about the presents.

    Advent is All About ‘The Present'

    Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, churches light the first of four candles to begin the journey toward December 25. Each week a different them helps the congregation focus on one aspect of preparing for Christ’s birth. Although many Protestant denominations today celebrate this Advent ritual, it’s unlikely our Baptist ancestors would have practiced much about this more Roman Catholic tradition. The beginning of Advent also marks the start of a new church year for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Moravians, Presbyterians, and Methodists. I suppose my grandparent’s Nebraska Lutheran church may have celebrated this tradition as well. Another connection to the past.

    The Four Weeks of Advent

    Liturgical colors shift to purple (Catholic) and Blue (Lutheran) as the first purple candle is lit to signify Hope. Each week another candle is lit, so that by Christmas Day all four are burning.

    • first week, violet: hope
    • second week, violet: peace
    • third week, rose: love
    • fourth week, violet: joy

    Some traditions add a white candle in the center, or vary the focus of each week’s prayers and reflections. And like many faith traditions, the Advent wreath with its evergreen circle and candles of light may have roots in older folk rituals to harken the return of spring in the midst of a cold, dark winter.

    Our Family Advent Traditions

    We didn’t celebrate the Advent wreath or candles when I was young, and I didn’t really discover Advent calendars until I learned German and spent a college semester in Heidelberg. My husband’s Catholic family had lived in post-war Germany, and beautiful glitter-decorated Advent calendars were popular gifts to our sons each year. My mother-in-law was famous for her Christmas card collage creations using re-purposed German Advent calendars. 

    As I unpack the felt Advent calendar handmade by my sister-in-law many years ago and unwrap the cellophane from the version hiding chocolates behind each numbered door, I find that I’m not only preparing and anticipating the joy of Christmas, but I’m also celebrating the memories of past seasons. This season of Advent holds it all: Past, Present, and Future.

    Read More about Advent Traditions

    Sacred Space, from the Irish Jesuits, my personal favorite 

    Advent 2014 - Roman Catholic

    Billy Graham’s Advent Devotional

    Photo Credit: oonola, Adventskranz XXL "Brilliant Xmas Season" im Sony Center am Potsdamer PlatzBerlin-Tiergarten, Dezember 2012. On Flickr.

     

    Friday
    Nov212014

    Exclusive Interview with Steve Robinson, Best-Selling Author of the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series


    There's nothing quite like a good book to fill the hours of a long holiday weekend. Make that a good genealogy mystery, and it's even better. Join me for a chat with Amazon author Steve Robinson talking about The Lost Empresshis newest addition to the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series .

    If you've never read about Robinson's family history sleuth, get ready to meet a quirky and interesting character who might remind you of a few genealogists you know. Tayte is a friendly, accomplished, professional American genealogist with a yearning to discover his own past. Blocked by brick walls to his own family history, J.T. unravels the secrets of other people's family stories instead. In The Lost Empress, J.T. returns to England looking for clues to to a survivor from The Empress of Ireland's tragic sinking in 1914. He finds espionage, twisted tales, and family secrets -- all the ingredients for a good book on a long winter evening.

    The Lost Empress cover

    Denise: The Lost Empress includes so much historical detail that it's obvious you spent a good deal of time researching the ship and the aftermath of her tragic sinking. How long did the actual research require to make you feel grounded in the story? And was Alice modeled after any actual passenger?

    Steve: I do spend a lot of time on research. It’s actually a big part of what I love about my writing. I find the historical research particularly fascinating and The Lost Empress was no exception. As I read about the tragic loss of the Empress of Ireland I honestly couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of the ship before – and yet the loss of life is comparable to the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania that same decade. Perhaps it’s for that reason that I felt particularly drawn to my research into the ship and the passengers aboard that fateful journey. I would strongly encourage everyone to find out more about the Empress of Ireland, and to share her story with others so that she might better be remembered.

    I also had to learn about life in post Edwardian times, of course, and I’ve tried to convey a sense of the time as much through the subtle nuances of the language as well as the everyday objects that help to describe the time. I love the idea of a penny lick – eating ice cream from a glass dish. Yum! As my lead character from the past, Alice Stilwell, was an admiral’s daughter, a great deal of naval research was also required, particularly concerning Chatham’s former royal dockyard and the naval warships of the time, which I found fascinating.

    On the whole I’d say that my research takes about a quarter, or perhaps even a third, of the time that it takes me to write a book. Alice is entirely fictional, although some of the incidents and actions aboard the ship in her last moments are drawn from real events and characters.

    About Alice...

    Denise:  The story is set at the eve of the Great War, when women's roles were still mostly defined by the men in their lives -- fathers, brothers, husbands. Alice Stillwell is aptly drawn, but was it difficult to put yourself into a mindset so different from 21st century sensibilities? Her character is very different from the strong female roles in your previous books.

    Steve:  Male dominance in Britain was very much on my mind when I imagined the life of Alice Stilwell. Women had no right to vote back then of course, and their place was seen as strictly in the home. It’s hard to imagine nowadays that this was only a hundred years ago. Equipped with that mindset, I wouldn’t say it was too difficult to portray Alice as a typical, if somewhat privileged, woman of her time.  I felt that her strength should come from within, rather than being overt, so I’ve not drawn her as such a strong character on the outside, perhaps. But what she goes through demands great strength of character nonetheless and it is through her resolve to protect the people closest to her that drives her on to the story’s conclusion.

    Denise: Alice was well balanced by the other female lead, JT's new British genealogy lady friend.  And I loved the genealogical clues you put right out there in front of our nose! Do you think you are becoming more of a genealogist as you work in this genre with JT?

    Steve: I hope so, and I do believe that I am. I put as much research into the genealogical aspect of my stories as I do for the historical sections. Essentially I have to set JT brick wall after brick wall, and then I have to help him to break them down, even though I rarely know the solution when that wall goes up. Working through the genealogy myself, and making sure it all stacks up, can take a lot of time and I learn a great deal each and every time I tackle something new. I really love old newspapers, which can help as much with my historical research as they can for the genealogy. Bringing crime fiction to genealogy means that my genealogical research isn’t always so much about family relationships either, but the family members lives, and very often the crimes they are either perpetrating, or are otherwise caught up in. The thing that strikes me most about genealogy is that it’s so diverse. All past documents are records or clues to our ancestors lives. It’s no wonder that the puzzle is often so difficult to piece together.

    Is DNA in J.T.'s Future?

    Denise: Your website mentions the next mystery in the series. Can you say what form of genealogical research might be involved? Will JT be working with DNA next?

    Steve: I’m sure DNA will feature in the series at some point, and there might well be a place for it in book 5. JT’s next mystery will largely focus on finding someone in a foreign land. That’s very cryptic, I know, but I find it difficult to talk about a new book without giving things away, and I do like to keep things close to my chest, at least until the first draft is written. I will say that I’m having quite a time translating records written in languages foreign to my own at the moment, which is an a entirely new challenge for me. Perhaps you could ask me again closer to the release date and I’ll tell you how I got on.

    The Lost Empress back

    In the Blood, Steve's first book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series earned widespread praise as an author-published title, and was selected by Amazon UK as one of the 'Best Books of 2011.' From Kindle editions, each book has gone on to be published in paperback and audio editions. The Lost Empress was released last month in all formats.
     
    Steve's been known to drop by The Family Curator, so feel free to leave any questions or comments for him here, or visit his website Steve Robinson.
    If you like to read series books in order (like I do), here's the chronology of mystery series:
     

             

     
     
     
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