May I Introduce to You . . . Amy Cohen

Come meet genealogy blogger Amy Cohen, author of Brotmnblog: A Family Journey, in this interview by Michelle Taggart at GeneaBloggers.

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Amy Cohen

When I stumbled onto Amy Cohen’s blog, Brotmanblog: A Family Journey, I was drawn in by her ability to transport readers back to a different time and place.  Helping us to see world events through the eyes of her ancestors who were there, Amy helps us gain a new understanding, perspective and appreciation for the trials and triumphs of life in the most difficult of circumstances.

Asked to describe her blog, Amy said, “My blog is focused almost entirely on genealogy, telling the stories of my family history as I research it. That is, I am still in the process of doing the research, and I often write not only about what I found but how I found it. I also ask my readers for feedback and suggestions about my research.  But mostly the blog tells the individual stories of my ancestors and their families, dating back as far as the 18th century through the 20th.

It is with pleasure I introduce to you, Amy Cohen, author of Brotmanblog: A Family Journey.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?

“I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and am of the baby boomer generation.  I moved to New England for college and law school, and I have lived in western Massachusetts for over 30 years now. I have two grown daughters and two grandsons; they are the reason I started doing genealogy.”

How did you get started in genealogy?

“When my first grandchild was born in 2010, I realized that he was the continuation of a long chain of family members.  But I knew almost nothing about my ancestors, and I think, hit by my own mortality and by my grandson’s new life, I wanted to learn and preserve those stories.

“I dabbled a little before becoming fully engaged in 2012 after a brief visit to the Family History Library while on a trip out west.  When I got home, I started in earnest, found a wonderful mentor to teach me the ropes, and became passionate and some would say obsessed with learning as much as I could.”

Why did you begin a blog?

“In the summer of 2013 I found a number of second cousins I’d never known about before, and I was sending emails to them all with documents I found.  One cousin suggested I use a blog to post my research findings, making it easier for me and for the cousins to share everything.  She helped me set up the blog. These were my Brotman cousins, so I named the blog Brotmanblog.

“I never expected it to become what it became: not just a place to post documents and explain my findings, but a place for me to write about all of my ancestors and to contemplate what their lives meant—and what they mean to me.  I’ve gone far beyond the Brotmans to all my maternal and paternal lines.  So the name is a misnomer at this point, but to honor those wonderful cousins who gave me the boost to keep going, I have kept the name.”

What do you enjoy most about researching and writing about your ancestors?

“I enjoy the brick walls! I love the intellectual challenges and the reward I feel when I solve them.

“Also, I continue to be amazed by the generosity of my fellow genealogists. From the woman who took me under her wing and mentored me (Renee Steinig) to the many people in Facebook groups, on JewishGen, and my fellow bloggers, I have been blessed with the help and good will of so, so many people.

“And writing has always been a joy for me—so to combine the research and the writing is a dream come true.”

Where do you find your inspiration for your blog posts? How do you decide what to write about each time?

“For the most part, my blog follows my research. As I research a person or a family, I start drafting about that person or family, usually long before I post something.  Then I edit, add and delete as I go.  Some stories tell themselves.  Others require more work to bring them to life.  I don’t want to merely recite the facts—I want to think about and evoke something about that person’s life—what mattered to them, what did they contribute, who were they?”

What connections have you been able to make as a result of your blog?

“On the family side, I have found so many cousins I never knew about—all over the world.  There have been family reunions, dinners, lunches, lots of emails and phone calls with so many amazingly warm and wonderful cousins. These people have enriched my life in many ways and have helped me understand who I am and how I am connected to an incredibly large web of people.

“On the genealogy village side, as I wrote above, the number of generous, kind, helpful, and highly intelligent people I have networked with is continuing to grow.  “Genealogy is a hobby you tend to do alone, for the most part, so sharing your discoveries with others who share your passion and helping each other with research is critical and something I never expected when I started down this path.”

How has blogging helped to further your research?

“Two ways—getting help from others, as I said, and by keeping me on track. Before I started blogging, I had lots of documents and information, but hadn’t put the life stories together in any way. By writing the blog, I am forced to think about each family member as a unique person with a life story worth telling. Blogging makes me keep my eyes on that bigger picture.”

What has been your biggest challenge in blogging?

“Trying to make each post interesting. Sometimes I just can’t find anything terribly colorful or compelling, but I still want to record that person’s story in some way.

“On the other hand, sometimes a person has had very “colorful” things happen in his or her life, and then the challenge is being careful not to exploit those stories just to create an interesting post. I try hard not to embarrass anyone, but I also want to tell the full story without sensationalizing anything.”

You have traveled to some of the places your ancestors lived. How has that influenced the way you research and your understanding of your ancestors’ lives?

“In 2013, I went to Amsterdam, where my 3x paternal Cohen great-grandfather was born.  Last year (2015) I went to the town where my Brotman great-grandparents lived before immigrating to the US in the 1880s.  I’ve also been to Santa Fe where my Seligman great-grandmother and great-great-grandparents lived. And next year I plan to go to Germany where many of my paternal relatives once lived.

“These experiences have been very moving. I make myself stand somewhere that I think my ancestors might have once stood and imagine what they would think to know that in the 21st century, a descendant of theirs would come to stand in that place, thinking of them and being so grateful for their lives.”

How have you used social media to help you in your research?

“Two ways: Facebook groups like Tracing the Tribe, Genealogy Bloggers, and many genealogy groups defined by location have been rich sources of help—in translating documents, helping with research, and providing feedback.

“In addition, I have used Facebook extensively to search for and connect with the living descendants.  And then we become Facebook friends and get to know each other better.”

What tips can you share with someone just starting a family history blog?

“Read other blogs to get a sense of what and how to write, but develop your own style.  Write for your family and for your children and grandchildren, not to make a splash or to make money.  It’s nice to have a ton of hits and views, but in the long run, this is really about your family history, and you have to make it your own and write about what matters most to you.”

Is there a particular ancestor who particularly inspires you and why?

“I am inspired by all of my ancestors who were so brave to leave Europe and come to the US for a better life: my great-grandparents Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod, my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs, my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, my 3x-great-grandparents John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss, and my great-great-grandparents Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.

“But truly most of all would be my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager, who at age 15 left his entire family behind and walked out of Romania to seek freedom in the US. He worked hard and eventually he brought his parents and his siblings to the US. He is my hero and my inspiration. It was his passenger manifest I sought when I visited the FHL in 2012, and finding it was one of the happiest days in my genealogy research. He died before my fifth birthday, and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had had a chance to ask him questions and learn about his life from him.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“Just more research and more travels to my ancestral homes. There isn’t one special thing on the list.”

Is there anything else you would like to add or share with us?

“Thank you for your interest in my work and my blog. I hope I can be helpful to others in their work, and I want to express again my gratitude to all those who have helped me.”

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Please take a moment and visit Amy’s blog, Brotmanblog: A Family Journey .   Be sure and leave her a comment to let her know you stopped by. Thank you Lisa for sharing your blog and your thoughts with us!

© 2016, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved 

Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors.  She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth.  Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series?  If so, contact Michelle  via email shelltag1@gmail.com


May I Introduce to You . . . Marian Burk Wood

Come meet genealogy blogger Marian Burk Wood, author of the Climbing My Family Tree blog, in this interview by Wendy Mathias at GeneaBloggers.

May I Introduce to You . . . Marian Burk Wood

As a reader of genealogy blogs, I am always looking at what other bloggers do that I can steal adapt for my own blog. When I searched the various family tabs at Climbing My Family Tree, – or landing pages, as they are sometimes called – I was both jealous and inspired. Organizing all related stories onto a family page – genius! This blogger is doing something right. In fact, Marian Burk Wood does many things right, from her thoughtful participation in any number of genealogy memes to her useful tips and templates to her ideas on future-proofing our research. In fact, Marian has just recently published a book on that very topic called Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past, which expands on many of the ideas shared in her blog on organizing family photos, documents, and even stories for the benefit of future generations. Without further ado, please meet Marian Burk Wood.

Marian, can you tell a little about yourself?

“Born in the Bronx, I’m the sister of a twin and the daughter of a twin. Because my grandmother dressed her twin daughters alike when they were young, my mother gave her twin daughters the option to dress as individuals – which we did most of the time. My background is in bank and retail marketing, and I’m the author of two college-level textbooks. I’m married to a professional writer, so we spend many companionable days at our keyboards, side by side in our home office. When I’m not researching ancestors or writing, I like to hand quilt, read good mysteries, and watch championship figure skating.”

When and why did you start a genealogy blog?

“Originally, I began blogging partly as cousin bait and partly to ‘think out loud’ about my genealogical adventures. One evening, I typed in the first blog title that came to mind –

Climbing My Family Tree. No other Blogger user had claimed that name, so I grabbed it. Later, I came across several others with that title, including the blog by Jennifer Woods.

“Since I posted my first blog entry in 2008, I’ve written about nearly every surname in my tree and my husband’s tree. I’ve also written about the ups and downs of my genealogy research, confronting brick walls, and techniques that have worked for me. Best of all, I’ve heard from a number of cousins who searched for their ancestors’ names online and got in touch with me after finding my blog. Blogs are terrific cousin bait.”

What do you want to accomplish through blogging?

“Before I become an ancestor, I want to pass along what I’ve learned about my ancestors and my husband’s ancestors. Blogging is very convenient for sharing family history, a few paragraphs at a time. As long as my blog is available online, younger relatives will be able to do an online search for a family surname and find my posts, see the photos, read the stories. But I also see blogging as a way of sharing ideas about the how-to of genealogy. When I read someone’s blog and get inspired to try a technique for the first time, I’ll write about what happens and link back to the person who got me started down that path. And blogging has brought me into the ever-larger community of genealogy enthusiasts who like to write about family history research and the tricks they’ve used to find elusive ancestors.”

What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

“One of my favorites is the ancestor landing page I wrote about hubby’s Larimer ancestors. It shows an excerpt from the Larimer family history printed about 50 years ago, and a handwritten scrap of paper left by hubby’s grandfather Brice. I was quite taken by the legend about Robert Larimer surviving a shipwreck en route from Northern Ireland to America. Thanks to Granddaddy Brice, I had a head start on five generations of his direct line, including some maiden names. Every time I write about the Larimer
family, I add a link to the post on this landing page. Cousins (and possible cousins) can easily click to individual posts of interest.

“Another favorite post is part of my sporadic series showing the colorful postcard greetings exchanged between first cousins in my husband’s family, early in the 1900s.
The postcards are little works of art, and also show how 24 first cousins were encouraged by their close-knit parents to stay in touch. They were hundreds of miles apart, yet the cousins were clearly more than just names to each other. That’s one reason I keep working on genealogy – to bring ancestors alive and make family history more than just a bunch of names and dates.”

What has been your most exciting discovery through research?

“Remember surname message boards? Pre-Facebook, they were my go-to place for genealogy networking. When I attacked the brick wall of hubby’s great-grandfather, Thomas Haskell Wood, I connected with a Wood cousin who’d posted queries about this ancestor. He was a dedicated researcher who broke the news that the Wood family tree includes four Mayflower ancestors. The following year, he and his lovely wife visited and brought the family Bible to show us. Now we’re getting closer to the Wood cousins and collaborating on more Wood research. We also have the Mayflower story to pass to future generations. Did I mention that I married my hubby for his ancestors?”

Besides major websites (like Ancestry and FamilySearch), what research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“It was an unexpected surprise to discover that Facebook is incredibly valuable for genealogy. My first introduction was when Schelly Talalay Dardashti moved her wonderful Tracing the Tribe Jewish genealogy blog to Facebook. The participants are extremely helpful and know a lot about Jewish genealogy. Another of my favorite Facebook pages is by the friendly Elkhart County Genealogical Society, which I joined to research hubby’s Larimer and McKibbin ancestors. Whether I have an actual question or just want to ‘lurk and learn’ from discussion threads, I get lots of new ideas from these pages.”

How has blogging helped you become a better researcher?

“Making a discovery can be so exciting that I momentarily forget to milk each document or photo for as many other clues as I can find. Blogging forces me to slow down and pay close attention to the details. More than once, I’ve started a blog post, with my genealogy software open and my surname file in hand, and suddenly realized that I had overlooked some seemingly small element that turns out to make a big difference. Like not noticing that great-grandma Tillie was a widow in the 1910 Census, which was a huge clue to when great-grandpa Meyer died – the subject of my very first blog post.

“Sometimes my research makes me a better blogger. I’ve blogged several times about how my research has been enriched by indexing and analyzing diaries and other family documents. Those posts (such as Indexing Your Family’s Records to Solve Mysteries)
have been among the most popular in eight years of blogging.”

Marian, what future plans do you have for your blog?

“More posts about the ups and downs of solving ancestor mysteries, as well as posts about preserving family history for future generations. I inherited a jumble of crumbling photos, tattered old letters, and snippets of family lore. The genealogists of the next generation on both sides of my family tree will get neat files and archival boxes, with inventories, indexes, and – eventually – full photo captions. I’ve already begun posting how-to blog entries and also created a presentation, ‘Planning a Future for Your Family’s Past,’ to share my ideas. If you’re at the 14th Annual New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April, please come to my session and say howdy.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“My husband’s maternal McClure family is closely linked to the MacLeod clan, based in Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. It would be heavenly to see the glorious countryside in person and learn more about that branch of his family, which came to America well before the Revolution. I would love to walk the streets of Telšiai and other Lithuanian towns where my paternal Birk, Mahler, and Jacobs ancestors lived and have help checking local records and cemeteries for more traces of their lives. If time-travel is ever invented, I want to have a cup of coffee with my great-grandma Tillie, who was nearly 100 when she died in 1952.”

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Please take a moment to visit Marian at Climbing My Family Tree and leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Also if you are interested in her book, it is available through Amazon. She welcomes your honest opinion in a review. Thank-you, Marian, for letting us inside your blogging world.

© 2016, 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.


May I Introduce to You . . . Debra van Driel Kluit

Come meet genealogy blogger Debra van Driel Kluit, author of the Moments in Time blog in this interview by Gini Webb at GeneaBloggers.

MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . DEBRA VAN DRIEL KLUIT

I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Debra van Driel Kluit and her blog, Moments in Time, described as, “ . . . Family history and family stories.”

Debra, please tell us a little about yourself.

“I was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, England but have moved around a lot as a child and lived in several countries. My husband is a real Dutch Miller, we live in Rotterdam next to a windmill that was built in 1776 and where my husband makes bread and cake mixes which we sell in a little shop inside the mill.

I am a mother of three children and a grandmother of five.

I speak Dutch fluently but my English has deteriorated so please forgive any grammatical mistakes.”

How did you get started in Genealogy?

“I caught the family history bug at a very young age, I was 16 when I was first given a lesson about genealogy and a desire was planted to start researching my own family history. My maternal grandmother was still alive as were two older sisters of my father and they were able to provide me with many stories of their childhood and several other facts to point me in the good direction. My early years of research was before the era of computers and entailed traveling down to London to visit St. Catherine’s house where all the birth, marriage and death indexes were housed. These were huge tomes which caused muscle ache after spending a whole day lifting and carrying them to the tables. Viewing the census returns was no easy matter either as you either needed an exact address or you would have to view the whole micro film roll of a village or town with the hope of finding your ancestors. We are so blessed nowadays that we can do so much research in the comfort of our own homes.”

Why Debra created her blogs and her thoughts on blogging

After completing a genealogical course with Future Learn, I was given a tip to create a genealogical blog, this seemed like a perfect way to share all the interesting facts and stories which I have discovered during my many years of research with my family who are scattered over the world.”

Debra, how did you choose the name for your blog?

“About 10 years ago, I wrote and self-published a book about my paternal line, during the course of writing this book I had been reading Daphne du Maurier’s book ‘The House on the Strand’ and came across the phrase ‘Moments in Time’, this sounded like a perfect description of my book because it is just small moments in time which we are recording whilst doing genealogical research, as we try to build a picture of our ancestor’s lives.  I decided to give my blog this same name as sometimes I will use excerpts from my book as well as adding stories and facts from my maternal line.”

What research tool or source has been particularly helpful in researching your family history?

“I have used Ancestry a lot but I have also found the website from the British National Archives very useful, especially the A2A access to archives section which indexes the records of local record offices throughout the country. I was able to discover many records of my Strickland ancestors in the Cornwall County Record Office through this site which I could then apply for and receive the copies via the post. The great thing about having ancestors from Cornwall is that there are so many mineral rights for the tin and copper so that almost every land purchase or rental is accompanied with an indenture of the mining rights, these can be amazing sources of information about family connections. Recently I have also used the website of the British Newspaper Archive and have found some really interesting articles about my ancestors which have given me more background information about their lives.”

Debra, what has been your most exciting genealogy discovery in your research?

“Every genealogical discovery is exciting, that’s what makes it so addictive, the joy of discovering the name of an ancestor that you have been searching so long for is so exhilarating. My husband is a Miller and works in a real windmill so it was quite exciting to discover that my maternal great great grandfather and his family were Millers. Even more so when I discovered a book in my father in law’s book case about Kent windmills which he had bought in England many years ago, and which made mention of my ancestors and described my fourth great grandmother as being ‘a veritable Amazon, a masterful woman of wonderful personality’ a woman who lived to be 101 and had 26 children.”

Debra’s favorite blog post

“One of my favourite posts is about an ancestor who was so upset about the death of his wife that he killed his young daughter and then tried to kill himself.

It’s not always nice to find a criminal in our family tree but the wealth of information that can be found about a notorious ancestor in old newspaper articles and record offices adds so much colour and interest to your tree.

The 4th great grandfather of my husband was a solicitor and also in charge of collecting taxes, during the French occupation of Holland in the early 18th Century he used some of this tax money for his own means. In 1807 he was held accountable and declared bankrupt, in the National Record Office in Den Haag we were able to find the original handwritten bills of the money he owed to the tailor and the grocer etc., fascinating reading and remarkable that such things had been kept in an archive for more than two hundred years.”

How much time are you able to spend on research?

“This depends on how much my time is taken up with other demands. I could easily spend hours looking for newspaper articles related to my ancestors or trying to get past a brick wall, but being a Grandmother and also looking after my mother in law fills my time as well as working in our Windmill shop.”

Debra, who is your favorite ancestor?

“I think that I would have to say my great grandmother Rose Tozer because she had such a tragic life. Her own father died when she was two years old and her first husband died when her daughter my grandmother was only two, she remarried a widower with 5 children who was unfaithful but ended up divorcing her and accusing her of being unfaithful and separating her from two of her children. Eventually she ended up committing suicide by putting her head in a gas oven. I would love to meet her and tell her that she is loved.”

Debra, what family story or heirloom do you cherish?

“I don’t have many heirlooms but I do have a small cut glass perfume bottle which belonged to my great grandmother Rose Tozer, if I open it I can still smell her perfume.”

In what ways has genealogy improved your life?

“Genealogy has made me realize that I am who I am through the combined choices of my ancestors. I have inherited not only their genes but also their decisions on where they choose to live or work and how they treated their children, all have had an influence in my life and who I have become.”

Debra, what do you love most about doing your genealogy/family history?

“I love putting together the puzzle pieces and building a picture of my ancestors life.

Genealogy is like detective work, finding clues and sometimes unrelated facts that eventually lead you to find someone you’ve been searching years for.”

What is on your genealogy bucket list?

“With my paternal line I have managed to get quite far back but with my maternal line I have hit quite a few brick walls, my 4th great grandfather Robert Orwin, the Miller was married in London and died in Hull just two years before the 1851 census which would have told me where he was born. I have a lot of information about his life and where he lived but not where he was born and who his parents were. I have tried so many avenues but hope one day to find for certain where he came from.”

If you wanted to leave a message for future generations, what would you say to them?

“Sometimes I wish that my ancestors had left more information for me, a diary or a letter telling me about their lives. That is why I think it is so important to keep a record of my own life so that my children and grandchildren and their children will know who I was and what I thought about things.”

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Please take a moment to visit Debra’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Debra, it’s great to have you here!

© 2016, copyright Gini Webb. All rights reserved.

Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren! Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.