Six Things To Know About Dutch Genealogy

So you’ve got ancestors from the Netherlands. Congratulations! There are great resources available to you to make your genealogy research easier. But there are a number of things you need to know about before you jump in and research your Dutch ancestors.

First, FamilySearch.org. In the past, we did our research by reading microfilms at the local LDS Family History Center. Now, a lot of source documents can be viewed on-line. So much so that you can literally spend all your time doing just on-line research. You can find those source records in the Netherlands section of FamilySearch.org. It doesn’t contain everything, though. But if, for example, you need to see church records from Overijssel, you can try Von Papier Naar Digital. After downloading the records you need, you can crop and resize the images, and then insert them into your database. You can’t get better citations than that! (You do cite your sources, right?)

Second, WieWasWie.nl. While access to the source records is great, you can’t just scan them one by one to find what you want. There are just too many records, so you need an index. WieWasWie allows you to search the civil registration records using a number of different criteria, such as surname, given name, patronymic, and role in the event. If you’re searching for a marriage record, you can search on the surnames of both the bride and groom. Unfortunately, not all records have been indexed. One big deficiency in the index that affects my own research is birth records in Gelderland. Fortunately, you can often find an index in the source records.

Third, understanding the Dutch language. At least a basic knowledge of Dutch is needed since most public records are written fully in Dutch. That is, even ages and dates are written using Dutch words rather than decimal digits. FamilySearch.org provides a useful document entitled Netherlands Language and Languages. In particular, here are a few basic things you need to know: The letters “ij” together are considered equivalent to the letter “y”. That is, the names “van Dijk” and “van Dyk” are considered the same, and will sort as “Dyk”. Oh yeah, for the purposes of sorting, prefixes like “van” and “de” are ignored. So look for your “van Dijk” ancestors under “D”, not “V”.

There are, of course, exceptions. To read Catholic church records, you’ll need to know some Latin. Some churches used German. And some civil records during the French occupation were written in French.

One more thing about sorting: In some alphabetical indexes, names within a particular letter group may not be ordered alphabetically, but rather by date. In such indexes, you’ll have to read through all the names in that letter group.

Fourth, Dutch script. Dutch handwriting in the civil registration is generally relatively easy to read, following a style that should be familiar to most English-speaking people. But as you go further and further back, especially in the church records prior to 1811, the hand-writing can become harder to decipher. Here’s an example from the Arnhem marriage book:

Again, FamilySearch.org has some good resources to help you learn how to read Dutch records. Check out these on-line lessons.

Fifth, patronymics. A pivotal point in Dutch history of special importance to genealogists is the French occupation of 1810 to 1813. A number of reforms were established by the French. The first was civil registration. The second was the abolition of patronymic naming in 1811. That is, the system where your surname was based on your father’s first name, not surname. Surnames were formed by adding a suffix to the father’s first name, such as “sen”, “sz”, or “s”.

Not all regions of the Netherlands used patronymics. For example, while northern Gelderland used patronymics, the southeast corner of the province generally did not. But even in areas where patronymics were common, if someone had a conventional family name, it would be recorded in the church records. Needless to say, it can get a bit confusing.

Theoretically, then, you shouldn’t see patronymics in the civil registration. However, many families held on to their patronymics well after 1811. I even found one ancestor in the 1830 census still using their patronym.

Sixth, infant mortality. Like most other regions, infant mortality was high in the Netherlands prior to the 20th Century. In my own data, where age at death can be computed, roughly 18% of all deaths occurred before the age of five. So be prepared emotionally to view lots of infant deaths in the burial records. To make things for difficult for genealogists, names of children are often not written down. Here’s an example of one month of deaths in Nijkerk:

Of the 22 deaths reported in that month, 14 were unnamed children. Linking the burial record to a particular person is not impossible, though. In one family with eight children, through a process of elimination, I was able to identify a date of death for all but two children. For each of those two, I just listed both possible dates in my Gramps database.

For those starting out with Dutch genealogy, this may be a lot of information already. And you’ll discover more things with experience. If you have any more tips for beginners, please add them in the comments.

Cheers! Hans

Cite Those Sources!

We all know the importance of citing sources in genealogy. It is absolutely a necessary practice in any form of research. Why then do so many published genealogies lack citations?

Citations are important for several reasons. First, when publishing your research, you need to convince others that you applied a sufficient level of due diligence to ensure the correctness of your work. For example, many of us have looked for people in the IGI, and so we all know how unreliable it can be. But think about it: Each entry in the IGI is based on the work of a genealogist. If you see a published genealogy without citations, you really have no idea about its quality.

Second, citations can help you in your own work. When I started genealogy 22 years ago, many programs didn’t have any meaningful support for citations. We had to use notes for that, if we cited our data at all. So when I resumed my interest in genealogy a year ago, I had to spend some time to line up all my data with my sources, mostly hand-written notes in a number of three-ring binders. I was able to find a source for everything, except for a few things. I ended up deleting some people since I had no record of how I got their data.

When you know where your information came from, you have a good idea about its quality. If you get some data from a published source with no citations, you can flag that with a confidence of  “Low”. Or perhaps “Very Low”. You can then use that information as a starting point in locating sources with a higher confidence level, such as the original civil or church records.

Version 5.5 of the GEDCOM standard has been in force since 1995, and so all genealogy software now should have a reasonable level of support for sources and citations. Unfortunately, not all do. For example, when evaluating WikiTree, I was disappointed in how the data was presented after importing some sample data. While it does a reasonable job with citations on import, WikiTree requires you to manually edit the raw GEDCOM data into a presentable form. For any new data, you need to manually edit the text, including the citations. Clearly, in my opinion, WikiTree is unsuitable both for serious research and for publishing data. However, note that point VIII of the WikiTree Honor Code is “We cite sources”. When I considered joining WikiTree, I took that point to heart, and spent considerable time making sure all my facts were properly cited. Time well spent, though. It had to be done.

I use the program Gramps, which does have good support for citations. Now, I never add any information to my database without also adding a citation. Here’s a useful tip when using Gramps: Always keep a clipboard window open. Since one citation can support multiple facts, when you create a new citation, drag and drop it right away to the clipboard window. Then when you need that citation to support another fact, you can drag and drop from the clipboard to the new fact.

Here’s another Gramps tip: You can create a custom event filter to find events without citations. Set the name to ‘Events with <count> sources‘ and values to ‘Number of instances:=”0″‘. This way you can easily find uncited events.

These days, there’s really no excuse not to include good citations. Considering that you can now easily download images of original source records, you can even include those images in your citations. Even if you still read microfilms at your local LDS Family History Center, you can often digitize images from the microfilms. Sure, a single image may take up a lot of disk storage. But disk drives are cheap, with external drives costing roughly $100 per terabyte. How much can you store in 1TB? About half a million images from FamilySearch.

So get to it! Cite those sources!

Cheers! Hans

Dr. Anthonij Moll (1786-1843)

As I mentioned earlier, there were some rather important people among my roster of distant relatives. In this posting. I’ll say a few words about my 2nd cousin, 4 times removed, Anthonij Moll.

Anthonij Moll was born in Maassluis March 8, 1786, the eldest of the Reverend Evert Moll (1755-1805) and his first wife Catherine Knipschaer (1766-1790). He attended the University of Leiden from 1801 to 1806, and graduated as Doctor of Medicine after defending his thesis entitled “Specimen med inaug, exhibens generalia quaedam circa theoriam, sic dictam, Incitationis”, which he dedicated to “the friends of truth”. He then moved to Nijmegen, holding the position of assistant extraordinaire in the military hospital, which at the time was treating numerous Prussian prisoners of war.

He also served as city physician, and later in 1814 became surgeon-major extraordinaire in the militia. He showed dedication and courage during the 1813 typhus epidemic. He himself was affected by the disease, which nearly killed him, and never fully recovered afterwards. In 1927, Moll succeeded Dr. F.W. Everts as town doctor of Arnhem. He also became president of the provincial committee of medical research in Gelderland.

Moll was a skilled speaker and writer, giving numerous speeches. In addition to original publications, he also translated a number of works on natural philosophy from German. He was one of the first doctors in the Netherlands advocating for the importance of hygiene, and defended the therapeutic benefits of a seaside climate. He was a member of numerous societies, and was bestowed several honors, including Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (1841).

Moll married Albertina Mos (1791-1866) in Nijmegen, May 26, 1813, with his brother Jacob performing the ceremony. From this marriage came four children: Evert (1814-1896), Johannes Gijsbertus (1816-1817), Anna Sophia Catharina (1819-1898), and Johannes Gijsbertus Jacob (1822-1903). Anthonie Moll died in Arnhem, March 16, 1843.

My Boldt and Moll Families – a Short Overview

As I mentioned earlier, about half a year ago I returned to my hobby of genealogy after a 15 year break. Since my return, I’ve added significantly to my database. It’s now time to start blogging about some of what I’ve learned.

My Boldt ancestors lived in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a small Grand Duchy at the western end of Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. This was always one of the more rural of the German states, with a predominately feudal society up until the end of the 19th Century. Most people worked as peasant farmers or day laborers. For most, their only hope of bettering their lives was to move away. My 4th great uncle Jochen Boldt (1824-1910) moved his family to south-central Ontario in the 1870’s. where many of his descendants still live.

My earliest known Boldt ancestor was Aßmus Bolt, who lived in the village of Dümmerstück in the early 1700’s. His son Christoph Boldt (1735-1821) moved to Vietlübbe. His great grandson, born in Hindenberg, was my great grandfather Heinrich Boldt (1873-1957). Like many others, Heinrich worked as a day laborer. That is, he did, until he discovered that the land owners were cheating the workers out of their fair wages. When he could no longer find work in Hindenberg, he moved with his family to Hamburg, joining other relatives who moved there earlier. The surviving descendants of Heinrich Boldt, all four of us, now live in Kingston, Ontario.

There is a lot more information available on my Moll family. One of the single most important documents is a list of the descendants of Evert Moll, born about 1628 in Velp. (The document incorrectly lists the progenitor of the Velp Moll’s as Claas Moll.) This was published by the Vereeniging “Families Mol(l)”, an organization active during the 1930’s and 40’s. You can find scanned copies of their publications at Jan Wies’ website. This document includes more than 450 descendants in the Velp Moll clan, including three of my aunts (#384 Geertje Johanna, #385 Marritje, and #386 Gerrie).

In general, the Moll’s were fairly well off. There was even a coat of arms described: three black moles, one above the other, on a field of silver. My direct Moll ancestors were generally bakers, merchants, or farmers. My great great grandfather Herman Moll (1822-1902) moved to Nijkerk shortly after getting married in 1847, and worked there as a baker.

Looking further afield at some distant Moll cousins, you can find some relatively famous individuals. For example, my 2nd cousin, 4 times removed, Antonie Moll (1786-1843) was a distinguished medical doctor and surgeon in Arnhem. His first-born son Evert Moll (1812-1896) was a learned liberal theologian and minister who served the congregations of Hengelo, Vollenhove, and Goes. My 4th cousin, twice removed Evert Moll (1878-1955) was a well-known painter, known for his impressionist paintings of the Rotterdam harbor.

But my most famous distant cousins weren’t Moll’s, although one was the grand-son of my 3rd great aunt Teunisken Moll (1803-1839). My 2nd cousin, twice removed, was the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928). But he’s not the only Nobel Prize recipient in my list of relatives. I’m also related to Nobel Prize recipient Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes (1853-1926) in two ways: As 4th cousin twice removed, and also as 5th cousin twice removed. The two of them were 5th cousins, and although they both worked as physicists at the University of Leiden, they probably didn’t know they were related.

There were also a few “black sheep” amongst my distant relatives. For example, Elisabeth Keers-Laseur (1890-1997) was an unrepentant Nazi supporter both during and after the war.

For some of these people, I’ll write more in the months ahead.

Cheers! Hans

Dealing With Death

Last year, I worked for a couple of months for a company located in a renovated factory on the Cataraqui River. The clients for this company were funeral homes. What was it like working in that line of business? It’s hard to find the right adjective to describe that business domain. Weird, perhaps. No other type of business deals with such an emotionally charged issue as death.

One of my tasks was scraping the existing client web sites to extract obituary data. Technically, the PHP programming was fairly straight-forward. However, the task also required reading through the extracted data to make sure it was read correctly. While I had no problem with most of the obits, which described rich, full lives of people who died of old age, other obits were more difficult to read. Such as obits for young children, including a brave 12 year old girl who lost her battle with cancer. One time, I read a death record that listed the place of death as “airplane” and the address of death as the World Trade Center. There’s a certain quality needed for people working in the funeral industry, a quality I lack. Even now, 14 months after I quit that job, I still have little desire to read obituaries.

Then again, I must still read death records, since one of my interests is genealogy. Finding the death or burial records for someone is just as important as finding their birth, baptism, or marriage records. But looking at the death records overall, the life expectancy statistics in past centuries can be quite shocking. Consider the following graph:

There are about 4500 individuals in my Gramps database. Of these, I know the age of death for 1149 of them. Most of these people lived in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The largest single lifespan age group is children younger than 5 years old. Prior to the 20th Century, high infant mortality substantially brought down the overall average life expectancy. That is, if you survived childhood, you stood a good chance of  living into your 70’s or 80’s.

Take one family of distant cousins I researched yesterday using WieWasWie: Jacob van de Klomp and Hendrica van der Wepel (my 1st cousin, 3 times removed) were married in 1882 in Zeist, and had a total of 12 children, born between 1882 and 1898. Of the 12, four made it past their first year of life: Reijer born in 1882, Gosina born in 1889, Hendrica born in 1896, and Willem born in 1898. If they had lived just 50 years later, the vast majority of them would have survived infancy.

Prior to the 20th Century, certain things we take for granted today just didn’t exist. Things like sanitation, immunization, and proper health care. Epidemics, such as cholera, spread rapidly throughout Europe. I saw this clearly in the church records of Gielow, a small town in the south-east corner of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. While reading the microfilmed church records, I came across the burial record of  Wilhelm Ludwigs in October 1850, who died at age 6 of cholera. Several pages later in the church book, I found the burial record of Magdalene Millhahn who also died in October 1850, three days old. Scanning through the pages, I found a total of 50 people who died in October and November of 1850 in that one small town, almost all of cholera.

I find genealogy fascinating since it brings history to a personal level. Looking at the death and burial records can be difficult emotionally, but really shows how difficult life was in past centuries, and how lucky we are today.

Hans

Working in a Sick Building?

Last year, I worked for a few months in an office in an old renovated woolen mill on the Cataraqui River in Kingston. There were a couple of factors that lead to my resignation, and perhaps I’ll discuss other reasons later. But for now, I’d like to focus on one.

Old buildings like this have a certain character lacking in more modern structures. In Toronto, I worked for a couple of years in a century old office building just off the Garment District. I liked the exposed brickwork and wooden beams inside the building, as well as the bare wooden floors. This old restored mill in Kingston had all that, plus a nice scenic location on the river.

However, this building is an area where much of the land and sediment in the river is still contaminated with significant amounts of toxic chemicals, such as lead, chromium, and mercury. I have no doubt that the building I worked in met current rules for workplace safety, but I still have to wonder if there’s something in the environment within that building.

For a long time, I’ve had to deal with anxiety symptoms. I’ve identified a couple of causes. First, I seem to have a sensitivity to MSG. Second, my symptoms seem related to seasonal allergies. The latter can be dealt with using one particular OTC allergy medication. The former can be addressed by careful reading of food labels and avoiding any foods containing MSG.

However, during my time on that particular job, I found my anxiety steadily increasing. And it seemed to do so in a way totally unrelated to the stresses of the job. Even after quitting that job, the symptoms stayed on for several months before fading away. I suspected something about the environment within the building. Sure, there were other aspects of the working conditions in that office that were less than ideal. For instance, the level of lighting was unacceptably low. There were spotlights aimed at the small desks, but the overall ambiance made me feel like sleeping instead of working. Also, the development staff was crowded into a small space, which made working uncomfortable. But what I found really suspicious was a greasy residue on the floor. Was that oily substance out-gassing some chemical into the air?

Sure, this may not be the worst of Kingston’s brown-fields. And I’m sure most people who work in this particular building do so without feeling any ill effects. But for me, I think I’ll stay away from that area.

Genealogy – Fifteen Years Later

Readers of this blog know that I have a variety of interests. One interest that hasn’t come up yet in this blog is genealogy, the systematic study of our ancestors. I started tracing my lineage back in 1992. I pored over microfilms at the local LDS Family History Center. After a few years, amassed four binders full of data. But my paced slowed down, and other interests started to demand my attention. In 1997, a trip to Germany resulted in some good information about my Boldt line. But after that, I did little more, leaving lots of unfollowed leads and unanswered questions.

A few months ago, Sylvana by chance met someone who claimed to be a direct descendant of millionaire George Boldt, the guy who built Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands. I contacted him and asked him for details. (Later, I realized his claim was dubious since George’s only son had only daughters.) This prompted me to return to my research and continue where I left off. I haven’t gotten back to the LDS yet, though. I’m still going through my old data, looking up new data on the internet, and updating my files. This process has given me a new appreciation for the importance of documenting sources. Going through the data on my computer, I often question where a piece of information came from. So that’s one of my first priorities, one that will take some time to complete.

For the most part, source information is recorded in my written notes. But in one case, I have a document full of good information about my Laseur ancesters, but unfortunately, I have no idea where it came from. I sent an e-mail to one possible person. However, his e-mail address is 13 years old, and predictably, the e-mail bounced. So if anyone knows any information about the descendants of Jan Laseur, born about 1610 in the Amersfoort area, please let me know so I can properly attribute the source of that data.

So what has changed in the past 15 years? First, the technology has progressed. Back then, I was using a DOS-based shareware program called GIM. Today, I use an open-source program, Gramps. This program strongly reflects the design of GEDCOM version 5.5, the most current GEDCOM standard. Compared to the older versions, 5.5 has much better support for sources, and a wider choice of events. It is now much easier to paint a more comprehensive picture of a person’s life. However, the GEDCOM 5.5 standard was released in 1995-1996. While there have been some proposals to move beyond 5.5, it still remains the current standard.

Second, use of the internet has, of course, increased. There are a number of commercial web sites that offer information for a price. For me, though, I can’t quite justify the cost. Fortunately, there are still a lot of free sites where you can find information. This is especially true for Netherlands research. By searching the web, I was able to add significantly to the Dutch side of my pedigree. One good example of this is the site Jan Wies over de familie Mol(l). This contains everything published in the 1930’s and 40’s by the Genealogische Vereeniging “Mol(l)”. If you have Moll’s in your ancestry, this is the first place you should look. You can download complete lists of descendants of three different lines of Moll’s. (I’m a descendant of the Moll’s from Velp.)

But while Dutch genealogists have made good use of the internet, the same can’t be said for the other half of my pedigree, from Mecklenburg-Schwerin. On that side, there’s not much more information than there was 15 years ago.

So what are my next steps? First, there’s the old question: Is my Boldt family related to the millionaire George Boldt? This is a question I wouldn’t bother with if it weren’t for an old family story about a weatlhy American relative visiting the Boldt home in Hindenberg. Second, I have significant unexplored areas in my Mecklenburg pedigree, specifically the ancestors of Carl Ludwigs (died 1909 in Rostock) and Emma Elise Katharine Wulff (died 1916 in Hamburg). Finally, a lot of additional little details need to be filled in, as well as expanding the list of relations.

Cheers! Hans

Operation Red-Nose Project

About 13 months ago, I started working on a project to replace the software used by the local Operation Red-Nose (ORN) organization. Up until then, they had been using an old DOS-based system that was long past its best-before date. In fact, they were only using part of the system, and even that had major usability issues. The project was suggested by my supervisor at the MCF Practice Firm, a volunteer at ORN. The purpose of the project was for me to pick up some specific programming skills. At the time, I couldn’t complete the project since I got a job offer five weeks into the program. But that job didn’t last, and I was able to return to the ORN project. (During the summer, federal funding for the practice firms was withdrawn, and so MCF was forced to close.)

For the ORN project, I decided on CakePHP and MySQL. I chose PHP and MySQL since they are pretty much ubiquitous in the I.T. realm. For the framework, I quickly narrowed down the choices to CodeIgniter and CakePHP. I chose the latter since it strongly encouraged the use of an MVC design. The ORM also impressed me, with its ability to get all the data associated with a transaction in one operation (typically). That is, all the SQL joins were taken care of automatically.

In a nutshell, the ORN application manages many aspects of the operation, in particular, the event nights during the annual campaign. The system keeps track of volunteers. During an event night, volunteers are checked in to the system and assigned to teams. Operators take calls from clients and enter their ride requests into the system. The dispatcher assigns the requests to the available teams, and tracks the progress of the requests. And at the end of the evening, the treasurer tracks the donations.

An essential part of the development process was demonstrating the system to the ORN volunteers and getting feedback. After each weekly meeting, I’d normally have several pages of suggested improvements. The main issue was understanding how the volunteers would learn the capabilities of the system, which wasn’t always easy for a programmer geek like me. As the programmer, I knew how to get things done. But for others, especially those with little computer experience, it wasn’t always clear.

Add to that some language issues. ORN Kingston is managed through La Route du Savoir, an organization that provides training and services to French speaking people in the Kingston area. Although everyone at ORN speaks English, one person had a bit of trouble with some of the more technical language I used. Often, someone had to translate my technical language into a form that that person could understand, and her requirements into language I could understand. But we managed, and the result was a system that everyone was happy with, even if it took a few weeks after the start of the 2012 campaign to get all the required features in place and the defects fixed.

Is there more work to do on the new Kingston ORN system? Sure. The data entry form for the telephone operators can be improved. I took a few phone calls myself, and readily saw one problem with the layout of the entry fields. For the 2013 campaign, I’ll rearrange the entry fields to reflect the order that questions are asked of the callers. That is, if the first question is “Where are you?”, the pickup location should be the first item on the form. In general, that form should have a list of questions for the operators to ask to ensure that nothing is missed.

How did CakePHP work out? In retrospect, I think it was a perfectly reasonable choice. At no time was there anything that CakePHP couldn’t handle. There was one annoying issue with session timeout. However, upgrading to version 2.2 addressed that problem. The upgrade didn’t go without some effort, though. When I started the project, I didn’t always follow the preferred naming convention. For version 2.2, I had to rename my controller classes.

What about MySQL? The application currently uses 16 tables, which is puny compared to other production systems. Although I prefer more robust DBMS’s, I could clearly see how MySQL has matured over the past few decades. The InnoDB engine (now the default) is sufficiently robust for this type of application, supporting foreign keys and transactions, vital features in even the smallest of databases. In contrast, today in the year 2013, there are still production MySQL databases that use the old MyISAM engine. In my opinion, any database administrator who entrusts vital company data to a MyISAM database should be fired immediately.

If I were to start the project today from scratch, would I do things differently? Styles of programming for web applications are always changing. For the ORN project, I designed it as a fairly traditional server-based web application, with just a bit of client-side programming. But the trend is to move more processing to the client, with the view and controller components on the client and the model on the server. But for this type of application, I don’t think I’d do things any differently.

Open Mic Night At The Royal

The Royal Tavern in downtown Kingston has a history. Sure, there are lots of old 19th Century buildings in the city. But the Royal is significant historically for a couple of reasons. First, it’s supposedly the oldest continuously operated bar in the city. Second, the building was once owned by Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

Note that there’s no bronze plaque outside the bar noting the fact that Sir John A. drank here. Someone said that if there were a bar in the States once owned and frequented by George Washington, there’d be a line of tour buses waiting outside today. But here in Canada, we tend not to confer mythical hero status to our founding fathers. There are plenty of sites in Kingston related to Sir John A., such as his law office, grave site, and home. But apart from the latter, we don’t make too big a deal of them.

But getting back to the Royal, in addition to its historical significance, it has a bit of a reputation as a rough bar. The owner is trying to reverse that reputation, with success. And now, the bar is establishing itself as a good place for live music. Take Thursday nights for example, when there’s an open mic or open jam. Between songs by the great house band, usually blues or jazz inspired, others can take the stage. And yesterday, I was one of those, banjo-ukulele in hand.

What’s it like going up on stage at the Royal? The place is noisy. Although it’s a few block from the university, most people here are middle-aged. It’s a place to drink, talk, and generally have a good time. Few people actually pay direct attention to the musicians, but still show their appreciation of the music at the end of each song. I’m usually nervous on stage, however I found the environment pretty comfortable, probably due to the fact that there weren’t forty pairs of eyeballs staring at me. And afterwards, a number of people asked me questions about my banjo-uke, something few if any had actually seen or heard close up.

To borrow a 1960’s cliche, on Thursday nights, this is a “happening place”. And it seems to have gotten this way without much in the way of publicity. Or much in the way of choice in beer. There’s one beer on tap, Canadian, plus a modest selection of bottled brew. But considering the ambiance and the music, I don’t mind the limited choice. If anything, that’s part of the character of the place.

Cheers! Hans

The Song Remains the Same

Are you unsatisfied with current trends in music? Although good music has always been produced, does it seem to you that there’s less and less good music coming out these days? Well, you’re not alone. Joan Serrà and his colleagues at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in Barcelona have studied music over the past few decades, and their conclusions show that music has become more homogenous over time. And louder too. You can read about their research at The Economist.

Granted, it’s hard to find good music these days. And perhaps my age is showing too. The defining style of music for me was the New Wave of the late 1970’s. The early 1970’s featured a lot of good music, but nothing that really spoke to me the way the music of Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Blondie, and B-52’s did. In the 1980’s, I explored other musical genres, like jazz and classical. But other pressures increasingly hampered my ability to keep up with current events in music. But most of what I did hear in the 1990’s and 2000’s wasn’t especially noteworthy, in my opinion.

Fast forward to Christmas 2007, when I got my first ukulele, an inexpensive Beaver Creek. I fell in love again with music. Sure, I tried my hand at guitar when I was young. But I lost interest after a while, especially once I tried practicing the barred chords. But the ukulele was something else. Four strings, four fingers – what could make more sense? The neat thing about the uke is that it’s easy to form the chords. And not just the basic chords. In many cases, more esoteric chords aren’t that difficult either. Practice helps immensely, of course. However, the success rate at learning chords, and the ease of playing barred chords, makes it possible for anyone to master songs that use more than just your basic chords.

What’s the point of today’s missive? I suppose it’s this: More musicians should learn ukulele. With it’s ease of learning and playing, I would suggest that it’s easier to explore different and original chord sequences on the uke. Have you ever wondered where the diminished chords have gone? They were very common in the early 20th Century. How come we don’t see them very often today?

Think of the songs of George Harrison, and note that he was a big fan of the ukulele. I wonder how many of his songs were inspired from just noodling on the uke? If you have a uke handy, try out this iconic chord sequence, one strum per chord:

Familiar? Should be. It’s from one of his most famous songs! And the rest of this song can be played just as easily. And not just the chords. The melody line of this song is easily played as well.

For some time now, I’ve been wondering what the next big trend in music will be. Will we ever again see some new movement as sweeping and refreshing as the late 1970’s New Wave? Is there enough cohesiveness among music fans to give a New New Wave a chance in today’s fragmented entertainment environment? Or will commercial interests continue to foist blandness upon us?

I call on all songwriters and musicians to turn back the tide. Let’s bring back variety and interest to our songs. Have all the songs already been written? No, of course not. There’s a whole slew of new chord sequences to explore. And the ukulele can help you to explore them.

Cheers! Hans