May I Introduce to You . . . Cathy Meder-Dempsey

Come meet genealogy blogger Cathy Meder-Dempsey, author of Opening Doors in Brick Walls, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

I am proud to introduce to you Cathy Meder-Dempsey of Opening Doors in Brick Walls. She is a relatively new blogger but has been researching both her American and Luxembourgish families for many years. Old photos and colorful snapshots of the countryside accompany her thoroughly-researched and well-documented stories. Cathy is also a frequent contributor to several genealogy groups on Facebook. 

Cathy, can you tell a little about yourself?

I’ve lived in Luxembourg since 1975, the end of my junior year in high school. I speak fluent Luxembourgish, read French and German fluently, and can get by with French conversation.

My father’s service in the USAF took us to Georgia, France, Idaho, West Virginia, Spain, South Carolina, Texas, and Luxembourg. French was the first language I learned to read and write since my parents sent me to first and second grade in the village school when we lived in France. With all the moving around, I went to three high schools in four years graduating in 1976.

After a year at West Virginia Tech, I was hired by an American bank’s branch office in Luxembourg City, working first in the back office before being promoted to Credit Analyst and later Manager of the Credit Department. In 1982 the office was closed, and I became a stay-at-home mother when my first child was born in 1984.

My husband and I have been married 37 1/2 years and have two grown children. We enjoy riding our racing bikes through the wonderful Luxembourgish countryside, and sometimes we venture into Germany, France, and Belgium. Last year I rode 6,147 km. My total since 2008 is 23,682 km, and I’m hoping to hit the 26,000 km mark by the end of the year.

How did you get interested in doing your family genealogy?

In 1992 my mother received a little package of genealogy information from my paternal aunt after they talked about my sister-in-law’s interest in the family history. Mom made copies for my sister-in-law and passed the information on to me. I couldn’t do research in the USA so I started looking into my families in Luxembourg, visiting or writing to the record offices of an ancestor’s town. My father-in-law, a mailman, was used to reading the old handwriting and helped me with deciphering until his death in 1996.

The friendliness of the people in the record offices was astounding. In one town they opened up the vault and said I could search on my own. They even made free copies of the documents I found. In 2000 we finally had access to the internet. That was the beginning of my serious interest in genealogy. I found others researching my families on the mailing lists on RootsWeb. Several sent large envelopes full of information because they didn’t have scanners. I’m still in touch with many of these people who were so helpful and willing to share in my early years. 

What do you enjoy the most about doing your genealogy?

The thrill of finding a new record! And new cousins! And new branches in the family tree!

What is your favorite genealogy research tool or source?

My most important tool is my genealogy software. I’ve been using it since about 2003 when it was offered free on Ancestry.com. When they discontinued support, I was almost ready to quit. Fortunately I found a message board discussion by others who were in the same predicament. I learned the program I had been using was an early version of Ancestral Quest.

This year my favorite sources are the browse-only records for Luxembourg at FamilySearch. I’ve been working almost exclusively on my families in Luxembourg, and I couldn’t have gotten the amount of work done from home without these databases. Without these I would have had to make trips to the Archives in Luxembourg City. This is something I have put off doing, but I will one day take the plunge because I know they have even more than I can find online.

Why did you start a genealogy blog?

In December 2012 I started a Facebook page for my genealogy research and named it Opening Doors in Brick Walls, the same as my GEDCOM file. I shared tips, quotes, and some short pieces on my brick walls. I heard about Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge, “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks,” and started writing the stories of my paternal side of the family. I shared them with close family in our private group on Facebook. I soon found the FB group and my page weren’t good platforms to use for the stories I wanted to tell. Others were using blogs to share their 52 Ancestors entries, and I decided it was time to start my own on 23 January 2014.

How did you choose the name for your blog?

Once when we were on vacation I asked my husband to photograph some old doors in a French village. He didn’t understand why but did it anyway. Over the years he has gotten more enthusiastic about keeping a lookout and photographing them for me. One year around Halloween I visited a homepage with a spooky door that opened to enter the website. Around the same time I noticed family trees on RootsWeb had some interesting names and wanted something similar. I combined my passion for old doors and genealogy and came up with “Opening Doors in Brick Walls.” What began as “Our Meder-Dempsey Family” at RootsWeb’s WorldConnect Project in December 2000 was renamed “Opening Doors in Brick Walls” in October 2011. It became the name of my Facebook page, and when I started blogging, it was only natural to use the name for my blog.

Where do you get your ideas for your blog posts?

I’ve been blogging for less than two years, and mostly I’ve only done the 52 Ancestors posts. A distant cousin shared old photographs with me, and I’ve been sharing them one person at a time. I’ve done a couple of posts using prompts but can’t seem to push myself to do these more often or at a regular interval. I’m quite proud of my 3-part post on my ancestor James Sims’ slaves as it helped give Schalene Jennings Dagutis of Tangled Roots and Trees the wonderful idea of creating the Slave Name Roll Project. I’ve been contributing a monthly post since February to the project.

What interesting connections have you made through blogging?

One of my most interesting connections was made last year when payback went full circle with the help of social networking. A Family Bible, an application for DAR, and Genealogy Networking tells the story that was 14 years in the making.

How do you motivate yourself to keep blogging?

Before I started blogging I would work for months on the descendants of one of my oldest known ancestors until I felt I could go no further. Then I would switch to another ancestor and do the same. Genealogy research didn’t have a deadline. Unfortunately I haven’t gotten out of my habit of procrastinating, and when I’m working on a blogpost, I get carried away with finding one more fact before I’m ready to get busy writing. I have my posts planned to the end of the year but have not been able to get myself to write any of the posts ahead of time. I’ve heard of bloggers who have posts written and scheduled for the next few months or even longer. I don’t think I will ever get to that point.

What future plans do you have for your blog?

Once this year’s 52 Ancestors challenge is over, I want to get back to researching my American families. I would like to do one more generation on the Luxembourgish side so both sides are even. But I think my readers need a break from these and from the long posts. I want to do shorter posts about this or that new discovery without telling the person’s entire life story.  

What other genealogy blogs inspire you?

I only started reading genealogy blogs when I began blogging. Joining the Genealogy Bloggers group was the best thing I did following the start-up of my blog. There are so many wonderful and supportive bloggers in the group. I’m most inspired by the genealogy blogs featuring new-to-me websites or databases, step by step tutorials, how-to articles, and posts about bloggers’ ancestors who lived in the area mine lived in.

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

I want to spend more time doing in-depth research and cleaning up the source citations in my database. For the 52 Ancestors challenge in 2014, I spent a couple of hours each day for nearly a week going over information I had on the person I was writing about. When Thomas MacEntee started the Genealogy Do-Over early this year, I realized I had been doing-over my database one person at a time while writing my blogposts. Checking all information, looking for new things, citing sources, and generally cleaning up the database one person at a time. This year I added 1500 citations for civil records and nearly 600 for census records in Luxembourg. By the end of next year I want to be able to say I’ve added just as many if not more civil record and census citations to the American families in my family tree. I also want to link more media files to my database so everything is at my fingertips when I am writing.

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Please take a moment to visit Cathy at Opening Doors in Brick Walls and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Thank-you, Cathy, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2015, copyright Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wendy Mathias is a retired teacher who divides her time between her home in Chesapeake, Virginia and Smith Mountain Lake.  She enjoys researching her family and digging for the story behind old family photos for her blog Jollett Etc. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Wendy via email wendymath@cox.net.

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