Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Not-So-Honorable, Heroic Ancestor

Possibly unprecedented - that was the comment from officials regarding the move to reenlist of Michael Swenson, latest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Rare?  Certainly.  Unprecedented?  Not in my family!

My ancestral cousin, Michael Deneef, was a "Captain of the Top" on the U.S.S. Swatara in 1871. While the ship was docked at Para, Brazil, one of Deneef's shipmates fell overboard.  Braving rough seas, Deneef jumped in after the man and guided him to safety.

(An interesting aside - Deneef's distinction was a so-called "Peacetime Medal of Honor", which was given out for a few years in the late 19th century.)

After spending nine years in the Navy, Deneef's service came to an end, and he returned to his hometown of Dedham, MA.  But his shore leave didn't last long.  In 1875, he reenlisted at Boston, under the rank of "seaman" (apparently, he wasn't able to keep his previous rank).

Deneef's second tour was not nearly as auspicious as his first.  After a couple of years, he went AWOL, and never returned to the ship.  His first tour included stops at exotic ports in the Mediterranean and Far East; his second involved only monotonous maneuvers off the coast of the Northeast.  Perhaps he became bored?  

In any event, he returned once more to his hometown of Dedham, where he married a Canadian woman and had a daughter.  The marriage didn't last long; three years later, he was living alone in a Dedham boarding house owned by his brother-in-law.

In 1891, Deneef died of "apoplexy".  He is buried in a family plot in Brookdale Cemetery, Dedham.

Learning about his life sparked a roller-coaster of emotions.  At first, I felt elated that someone in my family tree had received the country's highest military honor!  Later, I experienced confusion and disappointment when I learned that he was guilty of desertion - perhaps the worst military dishonor, other than treason.

People are complex.  Life is a conundrum.  I'll probably never know why my ancestor behaved as he did.  Still, he saved another human life, and I am proud of him for that.  He deserves his place in history, along with Captain Swenson and every other American who has served this country with honor.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Three Hilariously Dangerous Projects"

Another dank, dark, gloomy Friday here in New England.

I dunno about you, but I could use some cheerin' up.

When I saw the link below this morning, it definitely took the edge off.

You may ask:

What does this have to do with genealogy?

I may answer:  Abso-freakin'-lutely  nothin'.  But it's funny as hell.

Okay.  Well, does it keep within the theme of this blog?  Is it a "historic mystery"?

People building scary-dangerous stuff in their own homes 60 years ago?  I guess that qualifies as historic.  If some of this stuff blew up, it would qualify as epic, even.

Well, then, where's the mystery?

The only mystery here is why anyone would attempt to actually DO this stuff.  But they did.  And lived to tell about it.  Singed hair and scars not withstanding.

So, without further ado, I present to you "Three Hilariously Dangerous DIY Projects from Old Magazines", courtesy of  #mayhem #injury #happyfriday.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A "Solved" History!

Happy, sunny Monday!  This is definitely NOT an "Unsolved History", but it's fascinating nonetheless!

These amazing pics trace the trail of infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde - enjoy!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"No Place on Earth"

This is amazing: a piece on the ABC News web site describes a group of Jewish families who survived the war by hiding in caves.  It's the ultimate genealogy story.  These people went to extraordinary lengths to survive - for the sake of their children, their religion, their legacy.

A new documentary traces the life stories of these 38 families who dwelled in darkness for almost two years.  It's called "No Place on Earth".  I cannot WAIT to see it.  It's only playing in select cities right now.  

It's an uplifting tale on this somber Holocaust Remembrance Day - the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  It echoes the joy of all who were saved that day - and honors the memories of the six million Jews who were not.

Please pause and think today for the millions who were lost - and the millions more who had to continue living without them.

Here's a link to the ABC News video:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's The Bang For Your (Virtual) Buck?

To the many friends, soon-to-be friends, and colleagues who have joined me here, and/or "liked" my page - once again, thank you so much!

By giving me that little "thumbs-up, you have invested a nanosecond of thought and energy on behalf of my venture.  Many of you have invested a bit of emotion as well, by expressing your sincere wishes that my venture will be successful.  For all of the above, I'm grateful.

But here's the rub - the FB page is new.  Truth be told, there's hardly any content on it - yet.

So, what exactly is there to "like"?  Or dislike, for that matter?

At this point, not a lot.

So, what do you get for your "investment"?  Maybe I should have explained that before asking you to "pay" your way in with your "likes".  In any event, I can still explain it now.

Here's what you'll get - my thoughts on, adventures in, and dissection of various aspects of forensic genealogy.  The blog - which will also post to my FB page - will focus on my main interests:
  •  Finding lost or missing heirs for attorneys (not random heir searching);
  •  Adoption search, both present-day and historical;
  •  Research methods - particularly re: finding the living
  •  Musings on unsolved historic mysteries - both those that I and others are investigating
  • The provenance belonging to fascinating antique or historical objects 
Here's what you won't get:
  • "Traditional" genealogy posts - i.e., focusing on Mayflower passengers, Rev. War patriots, and the like* (see below)
  • Gushing posts about the lives of my own ancestors (unless there's a research lesson to be learned).  Either way, no gushing allowed - it tends to stain the documents.
  • Lengthy, agonizing monologues about the proper location of a semi-colon or smiley face in a citation.  Life is way too short.
* These are, of course, entirely worthwhile and valid topics.  But they've been covered elsewhere, over and over again, by people with particular expertise in these subjects.  It doesn't make sense to cover them again here.

So, now you know what the bang is for your virtual "buck".  Will you stick around?  Or will you turn in your ticket and ask for a refund?  Guess we'll have to wait and see.

One thing's for sure, though.  The onus is now on me - to provide interesting, enlightening content on a consistent basis.  That's the only way I'll get to retain that "like".  I promise to do my best.  I can't stand the thought of standing behind that virtual "returns" counter, dealing with dissatisfied "customers" who want their "likes" back.  I've never wanted to work in retail - it's too hard on my feet.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Welcome (Back) to Unsolved Histories!

Welcome to Unsolved Histories!  I’m Liesa Healy-Miller, and this is my forensic genealogy practice.  I specialize in cases with legal implications – lost or missing heir search, quiet title research, adoption search, and more.

The name is new, but the business is not.  I’ve worked as a professional genealogist for several years now – tracing people throughout Southern New England and beyond. 

I’ve skittered along the East Coast, plunged into the depths of the Deep South, and traversed the pond to Dublin.  There I searched for names in record books shredded by bullets during the Irish Civil War.  How cool is that?  Love what I do!

Ironically, though, it was the depth and breadth of my searches – both real and virtual – that helped me to narrow my career focus.   While I love tracing the past, I wanted to do more than just reconstruct a family’s history.

Don’t get me wrong – tracing family history is painstaking, important work.  And it definitely affects living descendants – hopefully in positive ways. 

But I crave impact.  As a former TV reporter, I guess I haven’t overcome the need to see and feel the results of my work.  In my former calling, the payoff from the work could be swift and dramatic.  And I produced something tangible every day – my story, airing each night on the six o’clock news.

Impact?  Drama?  If that’s what I want, why choose genealogy?  There’s no nightly deadline, and the world is definitely not watching.  By its nature, the work is often ploddingly slow, meticulous, and filled with attention to minute detail.  It can also be maddeningly frustrating.  And solitary.

So why am I doing this?  And why forensic genealogy, specifically?

In this business, the payoff is not usually swift.  But with age comes patience, and the willingness to wait for those twin payoffs of impact and drama. 

And, with patience, I still get those payoffs - the thrill of the chase, the challenge of tackling an unsolved mystery, and – most importantly – that feeling of passion for my work that comes straight from the soul.

In this context, “drama” means finding that elusive heir.  Or telling that adoptee: “I’ve found your birthmother, and she’s dying to meet you.”   Talk about having an impact on someone’s life.

In my spare time, it’s helping to identify unclaimed remains, or
offering advice on how to solve the seemingly unsolvable historical mystery.

I like “Unsolved Mysteries” as a business name – but that phrase will forever conjure images of Robert Stack in a trench coat.  That show will live on in reruns for the rest of our natural lives – and beyond.  It’s safe to say that name is taken.

Instead, I’ve chosen a different new name for my same old venture: Unsolved Histories.  “History” is often used as a collective term.  But we all have our own histories.  They are unique to us, and only us.  

The plural form of that word honors that sense of singularity, the intricate twists and turns that each life takes.   And my passionate quest to untangle those threads - to solve the family mysteries that cross my life’s path.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!