Guest Post: Collaboration, A Lost Butcher, and Family History

Posted April 19, 2011 by Geni | No Comment

This is a guest post from Neil O’Callaghan. He generously takes a moment to explain why collaborative genealogy has so positively affected him.

The Benefit of Collaborative Genealogy

Ok, my cousin Randy is a very interesting guy. He lives in LA, fabled city of the world’s most powerful medium, film, since the 1920s, home to the music megastars like Neil Young and Steely Dan that populated my dreams since I was a teenager, not to mention all the stuff on TV that was set there. From where I’ve been sitting, here in a seaside town just south of Dublin, Ireland, all this vibrant culture has had that extra sheen, say, compared to the films and music that come from England (although I like that too) because it is so distant, so sun- drenched and so glamourous. I used to read the Alfred Hitchcock mystery books, set in California, when I was a kid and I loved them so much because these stories took place in a world as different to mine as Tolkien’s Middle Earth. All that sunshine and crime! My cousin Randy lives there, he’s a brilliant lawyer, he’s involved with all aspects of his illustrious grandfather’s music, he’s the man behind the new Museum of the Holocaust- all fantastic stuff that fits in with my long held preconceptions of the kind of lives people seem to live in California. Randy is also the man who picked up on, and got his extended relatives working on filling up the spaces in the family tree. But there’s a lot more to merely filling in your grandfather’s space in the tree. Thanks to the linking effect of Geni, sharing photos and important dates leads to the opportunity to gain an insight into each other’s life, and a perfect example of which is the image that I have of Randy’s life. Over the past couple of years I’ve been following how he wrested Klimt paintings back to their rightful owners from the Austrian state who took up where the Nazis had left off by claiming them as its property.

Oh yes, and there are lovely pictures of Randy’s family in that fabled sunshine — he’s a family man like me. It’s a great way to get to know somebody and I have always found Randy to be receptive and knowledgeable about every point I’ve raised with him concerning all things genealogical. Not only this, but my sister Cathy was able to give the address of another distant (in both meanings of the word) relative, Ronnie, who lives in Australia, to her daughter Melanie when she was going over there to look for work. Stuck for a place to stay when she got to Melbourne, Ronnie very generously offered to accommodate her and her friend for a little while, and what had been up to that point just a series of connecting lines on a computer screen then became a real living connection.

The Lost Butcher

So, I tell my very good friend and colleague Christian Steele about how my cousin Randy in LA beat the Austrian state and rectified a wrong perpetrated by the greatest criminals in history: the Nazis. This is such a wonderful story — worthy of any of the movies made in Hollywood. Christian’s interested and tells me that in actual fact that his grandfather, Christian Steele I (the First) started out life as Christian Steege (or Stege, he doesn’t know!), a Mormon butcher who having left Germany at the end of the 19th century had settled in the city of Hull in the northeast of England until they were driven out of there to Ireland in 1915. ‘Must have been because of the German sinking of the Lusitania,’ I sagely suggest.

Christian’s a man with a first class degree in Engineering, so he knows nothing about history and alas and alack that’s all that Christian Steele III knows. No more. No idea where in Germany his grandfather had come from- his father having died when he was only small. Get working on it, I urge him. Talk to your two half–sisters (who are much older than him) and get a relative’s name (spelled correctly) and a place connected with that relative and check them out in the 1901 and 1911 censuses of Ireland and go online to find out who you can find in the UK census of 1891. He wants to, but he wants my help. He’s teaches Information Technology (computers) so he really ought to know what to do, but he’s like a little kid (meet my friend Steelie) and keeps asking questions that I can’t possibly answer. (Glad he didn’t teach me computers or this blog post would never have been written.) Get digging I urge. Look for old notebooks, letters and certificates. Anyway, it turns out that I have to go online and research the German Mormons. I’ve done plenty of research over the course of my two master’s degrees so I give him the info and he’s intrigued but I seriously wonder if he’s curious enough to take it any further — even after I read an article that claims that the Mormons were always conscientious keepers of records. I’m saying all this as we walk along the seafront in our home town and he interrupts me to point out a ‘fascinating’ generator powering a ride in the fairground. Maybe if he reads this he’ll get motivated.

I’ve been trying to entice him but this guy never sits down long enough. What he needs is that little clue in the cobweb-filled gap in his knowledge, the spark to light the fire and there’ll be no turning back. I want to know where he came from and I want to turn him into a detective like me, and I’m not giving up. Every time you find that lost name or forgotten connection with a city possibly in another country, you are adding to the body of knowledge of this world. And that can only be a good thing. We’ll see how far I can get him to dig over the next while or so.

Family History

We all think we are worthwhile human beings and as my religion teacher used to remind us when we were little — we all love ourselves. Well, we love our parents too and they loved their parents and they loved theirs and so on. On the other hand we have all forgotten so much about the people, even our families, who came before us and this is quite sad. By putting out our photos onto Geni, our family members whose pictures have been lying in a box or an old biscuit tin in the attic, we are making sure that there is a record of their existence that is out there in the world where they used to live. For some of us, only seventy years ago, there were those who tried to wipe our people off the face of the Earth. They failed and every step we take to confound that evil thought is worthwhile and life affirming. Whoever you are, you must not let your people be forgotten.