24 July 2011

Learning European Geography the Easy Way

I make no secret of the fact that I read detective and spy novels. Most of the time I am reading one novel while I have another on hand waiting to be read. Using this system, if I grow tired of the one I am reading--and sometimes I do--I can readily switch to the second one, and keep myself entertained.

Recently, I discovered the spy novels by Alan Furst. Beginning in 1988, and continuing through 2010, he has written eleven novels in the series dubbed the Night Soldier Novels. 

So far, I have read the most recent six of the eleven and in addition to being entertained, I have learned quite a bit about events leading up to World War II and particularly the geography of Europe, including eastern Europe.

I particularly liked the most recent book in the series: Spies of the Balkans. At the center of this drama is Constantine "Costa" Zannis, a senior police official, head of an office that handles special "political" cases. As war approaches, the spies begin to circle, from the Turkish legation, from the German secret service, a travel writer sent by the British, and others -- from Bulgaria? From Italy? Nobody knows. 

But Costa Zannis must deal with them all. And he is soon in the game, securing an escape route-from Berlin to Salonika , and then to a tenuous safety in Turkey , a route protected by German lawyers, Balkan detectives, and Hungarian gangsters. And hunted by the Gestapo.

Zannis travels throughout central Europe and I was able to follow those travels on the prefatorial map. Doing so solidified my understanding of the geographic relationships of Greece, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia (in the case of the last two, remember this is pre-WWII Europe).

In the other novels I have read, his main characters are located in, or travel to or through, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, and Finland. They even appear in Egypt and other north African countries.

You can be sure I am going back and reading his earlier novels as well.

05 July 2011

More Advanced Technology for Marking Grave Sites

Yesterday, I posted a report of a geocaching trip that took me, my son, and my grandson to the three cemeteries here in Brecksville, and how the creator of the trip served up a bit of history and genealogy along the way.

For that effort, I used my Garmin Etrex Legend GPS unit, which is now about nine years old. I hadn't used it for some time, and had to spend some time getting re-acquainted with how to use it--and particularly how to enter longitude and latitude data. When I was using it, I found it to be useful for marking the locations of a grave site--within about 20 feet of accuracy. That  was usually close enough so that I (and others) could find it again later.

After doing some research on the Internet, I learned that I can download an app or two that will enable me to perform the same marking function on my Droid smart phone. Using this approach may even be more accurate than using the nine-year old Etrex.

So I have something else to put on my genealogy "to do" list: Evaluate the more up-to-date approach to marking grave sites (and using my Droid for geocaching, as well). When I get around to it, I'll report the results on this blog.

04 July 2011

Geocaching and Genealogy in Brecksville on the 4th

Yesterday I went geocaching in Brecksville and acquired some knowledge of local genealogy as well. I had stumbled on the "Brecksville Bicentennial Cemetery Tour" created by RexC & The Girls on 23 Jun 2011. I downloaded the description of the "tour" and entered the first longitude-latitude data in my hand-held Garmin Etrex Legend. Then I set off with my son and grandson to take the tour.

Actually, I knew where the first location was: Riverview Road Cemetery. But the exact long-lat data assisted us in finding the memorial plaque for Richard Farrar, an early settler in Brecksville Township nearly 200 years ago, and a Revolutionary War vet. After finding the marker, we had to do some simple arithmetic to fine-tune the next waypoint (long-lat data) for Benjamin Waite, another Revolutionary War vet. He is memorialized by a large stone and plaque on Brecksville Road (Rt 21) south of the town center.

Again we did some simple math to get the third waypoint: the grave of Josiah Wilcox, a third Revolutionary War soldier. He is buried in the Rice or Barr Road Cemetery. More simple math led us to the Brecksville Cemetery on Highland Road. Here we found the grave of Lemuel Bourne who arrived in Brecksville Township with his wife Delia in 1813.

More math led us to the Breck family marker where the information about Dr. Theodore Breck led us finally to the location of the cache: a large plastic jar wrapped in camouflage tape. Here, we signed into the logbook, selected a Brecksville Bicentennial refrigerator magnet and left a Hot Wheels car.

I had worked on the Pioneer Families Recognition Project for the Brecksville Bicentennial Home Days, so I was familiar with the folks where the subject of this neat geocaching adventure, which also included a nice exposure to some local genealogy. Thanks, RexC, for creating it.