All posts by Kim Cotton

About Kim Cotton

Professional Genealogist, specializing in 19th & 20th Century U.S. records, particularly California & Connecticut, with a dash of North Western Mexico.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Two teepees at the Crow Fair and Powwow, Crow Agency, Montana. Copyright 2013, Kim Cotton.
Two teepees at the Crow Fair and Powwow, Crow Agency, Montana. Copyright 2013, Kim Cotton.

Today, most of the United States is celebrating Columbus Day by shopping sales or getting other errands done if they are lucky enough to work someplace that still takes the day off.  For some, it’s just another day, or if one is Italian, there might be a parade or family gathering to celebrate their heritage in the name of a famous Italian.

However, in my neck of the woods, many choose to honor the people that lived in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 (and I’m not talking about the Vikings).  The movement started in Berkeley, the city just north of my own home base, which is well-known for their, shall we say, radical political leanings.  In 1992 the Berkeley City Council approved a city wide holiday to coincide with the federal holiday of Columbus Day, naming it Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  Wikipedia can give you more of the scoop. In recent years, other cities have joined in such a name change. We welcome Minneapolis and Seattle to the list of those who celebrate the cultures that were here before Columbus even set foot in the Americas.

Personally, I’ve been tickled to see the worthy albeit slow transition toward the better understanding of the contributions of Native Americans and rejection of Columbus as our national hero. Having studied Native American art, history, and culture in college and beyond, I’m grateful to see others appreciate the history of those who existed on this land before it was “discovered.” Though the classic genealogical tall-tale of a Cherokee Princess never existed in my own family, my DNA results actually does show some connection to Native Americans. However, the paper trail  does not yet support those results, and I make no claim to be anything other than respectful.

To those who grasp on to the Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian heritage, may I nominate April 15th as Leonardo Day. As a nation, we need another focus for our attention on that day each year, but as a civilization, we can all support the contributions of Leonardo Da Vinci. I’d applaud such a symbol of Italian heritage.

But I am not so delusional as to think that anyone will dismiss Columbus Day without local support, nor do I believe we are likely to see a significant movement to rename this day on a national level any time soon. But as you go on about your day, please take time to honor the first residents of the land we love.

Death in the Family Tree

This is a post I wrote a year ago but couldn’t bring myself to publish at the time:

A rose and a bookThe death of a family member is always hard. The closer you are to them, the harder it is. But being a genealogist adds a different element to the grieving process and one I’m still not fully grasping.

My aunt passed away today. For reasons of geographic distance and complicated family issues, we were not close and I hadn’t seen her in many years. My memories of her are through a child’s eye. My experience with her in recent years has been more genealogical, researching her to ferret out the details on the enigma of her mother — my grandmother. But I loved her.

As anyone with siblings can tell you, no matter how distant you may be, how many years pass, losing them is hard.  Genealogically, the death of a family member is like a library burning down.  Sometimes that library happens to be filled with memories of you as well as your ancestors. She will never again be able to shed light on Grandma’s life nor her own or give me a different perspective on my own memories.

The genealogist in me knows there are things that must be done — it’s part of my role in documenting this family. I feel like Anya in the BtVS episode, “The Body.” What am I supposed to do? She’s here one day and the next, there’s just a shell. In this episode, I am not the protagonist — I am a supporting player. I am the person who needs and wants to be supportive. My cousins are dealing with far more than I am, hundreds of miles away. But there will come a moment when I enter today’s date into the family tree. And that finality wouldn’t scratch the surface of my experience with her.

It wouldn’t explain why when I referred to others, “Aunt” rhymed with “can’t” but when I referred to her it rhymed with “want.” Entering todays date in the database doesn’t give the story of how she was the person who introduced me to sushi, something a child born and raised in California’s Central Valley during the 1970’s and 1980’s would hardly have access to or even know about.

She had moved from Los Angeles to a few blocks away from us, and when she couldn’t find sushi locally,  my mom helped her find the fishmonger with the freshest fish. She purchased nori and special rice and vinegar and a rolling mat, so she could make her own. Through those homemade rolls, she was one of the special people in my childhood who opened my eyes to a whole world outside of what is, despite its census numbers, a very small town. For this, I am eternally grateful.

How do you do it? How long has it taken you to add that final date in the record of a loved one? Did you do it quickly or wait until some of the pain had subsided and time had started to heal the wound? Was it wrenching or cathartic?

RootsTech 2014 is here

Innovator’s Day was kinda crazy. I managed to hit a couple classes and learned some interesting tidbits about FamilySearch’s plans for the coming year. I connected with some incredible geneabloggers, and others who don’t blog but should ’cause, wow they’ve got some interesting information to add to the discussion.

Chris Dancy’s keynote was fascinating. I crave data, and hate to make decisions on a whim, without any real basis, so more data always seems good. My fitbit has been my constant companion for over a year and I like it that way. But 11 different sensors on his body? Seriously?

We walk a fine line between getting data for ourselves and the inherent privacy risk that comes when that same data can be intercepted by others. I wanted to ask Chris Dancy about how he responds to privacy concerns. Yet I suspect the joke he made said it all — (and I’m paraphrasing) it would all be fine if the NSA would just release an API so we could all have access to the info they were compiling. What would EFF think?

Dancy also brought up some important points about how people interact with our digital footprint after we shed this earthly shell. (“Organic death is a breeze…Digital death is hard.”) I suggest you read Amy Coffin’s blog for more info about that part of his keynote.

Today is the first full day of Rootstech and it’s looking to be exciting. The class on CRMs (customer/constituent relationship managers) including (did you know that they have a version for nonprofits that’s a $15k value they give away for free?) will speak to my geeky society-volunteer self. And I am personally offended that Judy Russell’s class on prison records was scheduled opposite Jen Baldwin’s panel on Online Trees.

The extra special event is the meetup with the Next Generation Genealogy Network at the Marriott lounge immediately following classes, at 5:30pm.  As far as I’m concerned, if you are not there, you are square 😉

That plenty of good for one day and I’m trying to keep my schedule loose otherwise. The expo hall is huge (in a different area than previous years) and I’ve learned that pacing myself will keep my energy up rather than petering out by day 2. Wish me luck!