21 February 2017

Lifelong Influence of World War II Deployment

My maternal grandfather, Joel Baxter Dirlam, was an economist who consulted and was a university professor throughout his career.  He obtained his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1936, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and earned his doctorate in economics from Yale in 1947.   The delay in his PhD was due, in part, to a move he made to New York City where his social life revolved around musician and artist friends.  In New York he also met and married (in 1941) my grandmother, Barbara Burdick Rowland.  The young couple moved about as he worked to support them and to complete his degree.  Eventually my mother, their oldest child, was born in 1943, as Joel worked on research with his best friend and fellow doctoral candidate, Alfred Kahn (who, many years later, would become semi-famous for de-regulating the airline industry under President Jimmy Carter) and getting his thesis in order.  He was then further delayed by world events.

Fred Kahn and Joel Dirlam in 1938
working on their dissertations
Front of Discharge Certificate
Growing up, I was always conscious that Joel had served in Europe during World War II, with my grandmother and mother back in the States.  My mother recounts that one of her earliest memories as a little girl is being woken up late at night and being allowed to help ring a church bell to signal the end of the war to the countryside in North Stonington, Connecticut.  But beyond this little bit of information, I had no knowledge of what my grandfather did or experienced in the war.  He didn’t avoid the topic nor was it a taboo subject.  Rather, his life was a busy and fulfilling one, which he lived very much in the present up to the day he died, so it simply didn’t come up.  After his death in 2005 at the age of 90, I found his discharge record, officially his “Enlisted Record and Report of Separation – Honorable Discharge”. This two-page summary of his involvement proved to be a wealth of interesting information.

05 February 2017

Where to Begin? At Home!

The television ads make it seem easy: enter your name and information, then that of your parents and grandparents.  By then you’ll have found a link to someone else’s family tree to which you can connect and have your genealogy laid out in front of you!  That can happen to a limited extent, but generally there’s a whole lot more work involved.  The family tree service provided by Ancestry.com is invaluable and it is definitely one important early step in getting your history organized.  But it’s not the first step.  To begin properly, you need to start at home.

There are sources of family history and genealogical information all around us, but we don’t necessarily recognize or make use of these resources.  As a quick reminder, I define “family history” as the family narrative (anecdotes, legends and stories) and “genealogy” as my lineage (who descends from whom).

John Baxter Black II in 2007
John's two volume book:
A History of 

The Family of Frank Blymyer Black
In 1996 I was given a copy of a family history that was written and self-published by a second cousin once removed by the name of John Black.  He was 72 years old at the time and I knew of him through other family members, but we had not yet met.  I wrote, asking for a copy of the book and invoked the name of my grandfather, whom John had known since childhood.  John sent me the book and we carried out a written correspondence for several years before I finally met him in person.  John became a strong influence in my life, both personally and from a genealogy standpoint.  John was the family historian for his side of the family and he and I found our love of family history and the stories associated with that history to be a great factor in our strong friendship.  We remained close friends, despite the forty-year difference in our ages, until his death at the age of 90, in 2014.