Scott has been with MyHeritage.com now for quite a few years. In researching his family history, he has come across a number of amazing stories. His genealogy blog "Onward to Our Past" is focused on Bohemia, the Czech community of Cleveland, Cornwall in the UK, Italy and Italian immigration. He shares a few of his stories with us here.
I am Scott Phillips, an avid genealogist and family historian. I have always been interested in my family roots and ties since childhood. I have wonderful memories of gathering with my extended family and trying to understand the differences between my Cornish-rooted family and my Bohemian family members. Always wondered why I love eating pasty and Knedliky so much! Of course, living with my grandmother who often spoke Czech helped a lot to instill in me a wonder for where we all came from.
About two years ago my son came to my wife and me and informed us that we were going to be grandparents again. The icing on this cake was that if it was a boy, he and his wife had decided to name him William after my father. Since my father had passed away the year before, I decided to ‘just write a couple paragraphs’ about my new grandson’s namesake for him. Little did I know how badly the genealogy bug would grab a hold of me! As I have seen written and is certainly true of me: “I used to have a life, then I discovered genealogy”.
I don’t measure my efforts in ‘numbers’ of folks in my tree as I am fanatical about documentation and proof, but I checked and as of today I have 6,289 relations with slightly over 3,600 photographs and documents posted with them hanging on the branches of my MyHeritage.com family tree. Like most folks in the States, my family came from overseas as immigrants. Some through Ellis Island, New York, many through Baltimore, Maryland, and I believe some via Galveston, Texas (but we all know about the loss of records at Galveston). My family comes from three areas: Italy for all four sides of my wife’s branches, Cornwall, United Kingdom for both my paternal branches, and Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) for both my maternal branches. I have traced my Bohemian roots to Matej Vicha (*1659) and Jan Knechtl (*1756); my Cornish roots to Thomas Phillips (*abt 1740) and William Cottle (*abt 1780); and my Italian family to Michele D’Aquila (*abt 1776) and Carlo Casagrande (*abt 1846). High on my “To Do List” is learning Czech and Italian!
When I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio I had almost every relative within a few blocks, or in the city. As I began my wonderful family history quest, I fast realized that one of my challenges was going to be to share my research and findings with my family, now spread across the country and, I was to learn, around the world! So I began to investigate all the online offerings for software for my family trees and genealogy. I found MyHeritage.com had what I believe to be the best security of any product I researched, as one of my highest criteria was to be able to secure all information about living family members. Second, I fell in love with the ‘social network’ aspects of MyHeritage.com. Anyone anywhere can login and access the tree and participate in what we have named our electronic family-room! Other features that drew me to MyHeritage.com were the freehand notes section on each person so I can add, cut-and-paste, and insert memories, emails, notes and comments on each person. I also like that I can add unique facts to the profile of anyone. Members also use the site for special events, birthdays, reunions, etc. BUT, my favorite feature just might be how easy it is to send email to the whole membership! I now send a weekly Family Update to everyone, with just a few keystrokes! I have found this to be a terrific way to involve members in our shared history. I also subscribe to the monthly backup option. While I do backup my site to a second disc drive, both my laptop and backup disc drive are in my home, so I use the backup option to give me offsite backup protection.
From our humble beginnings of only the five immediate family members on our site, we now have 192 registered members. Members now connect in from the U.S. (New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, California, Washington, and probably one or two States I have missed), Canada, Australia, Cornwall, Czech Republic, England, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
All this electronic connecting has resulted in some wonderful face-to-face and telephone-to-telephone connections! I have discovered my second cousins on my grandfather’s side and visited with over a dozen of them in Cornwall. We also recently held my mother’s 90th birthday party in Cleveland complete with history sessions and a heritage tour. How did MyHeritage.com help? Out of the 56 family members in attendance, my mother got to meet 11 ‘new’ cousins she had never met before! I have also been able to connect previously unconnected family! I have a new cousin in Czech Republic, who recently agreed to be a pen-pal with my nephew for a school project, connected two relatives who knew each other growing up, had the identical names, but were told they weren’t related, when in fact they are (discovered thanks to MyHeritage.com) and met each other again at the 90th celebration. Most exciting could be that with the new and improved SmartMatches™ I have just in the past day begun connecting with a whole new branch of the family that I discovered through a new SmartMatch™. I was thrilled to immediately see that magic green button appear when I first entered the data on this new family member!
While I admit to being an emotional fellow, I have had more than my fair share of tears of joy and amazement as a result of my work on MyHeritage.com. I have learned of my great, great grandfather who, though blind from the loss of both eyes the age of 18, was a Cornish postman walking the equivalent of 4 ½ times around the world, the great grandfather who fought against child labor and sweatshops in Cleveland, a cousin who, as a City of Cleveland police officer, was stabbed to death on the street, and the great Uncle no one knew in my family who was killed in Belgium in World War I. I was overwhelmed when a newly found cousin said to me in a card at Christmas “Thanks for showing me I am part of a big, wonderful family” and when I met my cousins in Cornwall and I felt as if we already had met before!
While I have been blessed with good successes so far in my work, I look back and know one concrete lesson I learned. When I first started I read all the background information I could find on beginning genealogy. I noted that they all said to begin first by talking with the elders in your family. Well, I thought I knew better, so I dove right in. Well, it wasn’t too long before the surnames, dates, place names, maiden names, nicknames, etc. became so confusing I stopped, remembered this nugget of advice, and got on the phone to call the most senior member of each family branch I knew. Clarity, understanding, and new leads were immediate!