Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Journey From Hobbyist to Professional Genealogist

A friend recently asked me how I knew I had crossed the line between a hobbyist and a professional genealogist.  That was an interesting and thought provoking question!
I began in genealogy like most, focusing solely on personal research.  That narrow view is fine initially but limits the level that one can reach, even as a hobbyist.  I didn’t gain a world view approach until I expanded out of my warm fuzzy world and broadened my experiences. 
Reading journals was a big step in the journey.  At first, I only read articles that related to the geographical area and time period in which I was focused.  Then called the Chicago Historical Society, I loved the articles in their Chicago History Magazine.  I remember reading an article about Graceland Cemetery and thinking, I have people buried there, maybe they will be mentioned.  One day it just hit me that it doesn’t matter if the article is about an area I’m actively searching or not, it’s the TECHNIQUE, LOGIC, and PROCESS mentioned in the articles that are the most beneficial.
I wasn’t a member of any professional organizations because I had limited time and money.  I read the journals at my local library while my kids were either in story time and later, while they were doing their own school required research reports.  I guess I’m lucky to be old enough to still remember card catalogues and having to physically go somewhere to research instead of just turning on Cortana or Siri! That background allowed me to understand the importance of continuing to search for original sources.  
While in the library, I noticed flyers for various local organizations that publicized upcoming events.  It was definitely difficult to fit into our busy schedule while working full time and caring for children and elderly parents.  I tried to select one activity a quarter and those that I could bring the family along with me.  I would love to tell you that this fostered the love of genealogy and history into my children but it didn’t.  They are STEAM folks all the way!  I console myself in that I did provide a well rounded education and maybe they’ll take an interest when they’re older. 
The internet allowed me to broaden my horizons and collaborate with others. That expanded my knowledge base and gave me a sounding board with others who were passionate.  It also helped a great deal that they could critically appraise my work. 
I love problem solving and helping others so it wasn’t long before co-workers, friends and neighbors started asking me for help.   I believe in the saying, “Each One Teach One” and by doing so, I became more refined in my own skills.  I took my best practices from the education field and applied it to genealogy. 
Word spread and that led to paying customers.  Luckily, this occurred at the time my kids turned into adults so I was able to devote more time to perfecting my craft. I decided to join professional organizations and took continuing education classes.  I traveled to research facilities and picked the brain of other professionals. In retrospect, I believe when I started to strictly adhere to the Genealogy Standards I was no longer a hobbyist.  
This was a long slow process and very different from my first career in which I was considered a “professional” immediately after earning my degree.  Perhaps that's why I so love the field of genealogy - it simmered over time and like fine wine, got better with age.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Three Thoughts About Genealogists' Recent Comments

Over the last 6 weeks I’ve spoken with several other professional genealogists and three conversations are continuing to resonate in my mind.  This is a matter of opinion and as I highly value these individuals knowledge, experience and practice, I want to share their views because I see the world a little differently. 
  1. “No tree containing over 2000 individuals can be accurate.”  Hmm, accuracy in identity of the folks we include in our tree is paramount.  If we don’t have the evidence to support that the “John Doe” we have is the father of our “Adam Doe” than we are barking up the wrong tree.  The repercussions are serious – wasted time, the error keeps being repeated ad nauseam by others who don't check sources and we’re not adhering to the standards.  That being said, I don’t believe there is a finite number that insures accuracy and when the number is reached, it’s over. Genealogy is not a game to win; it's not "I got more peeps than you do!"  Genealogy is quality.   As genealogists we need to be open and accepting that our work can radically change direction at any time.  As one of my relatives likes to kid me, “So, you really can guarantee that gggggrandma’s children were biologically ggggggrandpas?”  No, but that’s where dna can help.  We need to use all the tools available and dna is definitely one where I need more training and experience.  Learning and growing are important in every field.  Setting a threshold is not. 
  2. “I stopped working on my own tree 10 years ago because there was nothing else to be found.  I totally understand that when one begins to take paying clients time is limited on personal tree research. I feel that pain!  My New Jersey to Ohio Coles keep popping up but I put them aside for everybody else.  I don’t believe, though,  there is ever a time when one can say there is no more information to be found.  We don’t know if there’s a record or photo in someone’s attic, basement, garage, antique store, historical museum or even misfiled in the National Archives.  If you don’t look I can guarantee you won’t find anything!  I’m still hopeful that someday the misfiled Pennsylvania probate records I’m searching for will be discovered.  That newly found document could alter the line so I keep open the fact that my tree is never done and there is always something out there waiting to be discovered.
  3. “I make my online tree private so only serious genealogists will contact me for specific information.”  Perhaps my background in the education field and my early experiences in genealogy influence me to share openly.  My view is that serious genealogists most likely already have what you have.  If they don’t, they will have no qualms about reaching out to you to collaborate, irregardless of whether your tree is public or private.  For those that aren’t “serious,” everyone must start somewhere and if your work is well documented then I’d rather have a newbie take off and run with my work than not.  Making a contact can be intimidating to some; I don’t want anyone to have to reinvent the wheel.  I understand that much time, effort and possibly cost was involved in accumulating your research.  If you want to recoup some of your investment then publish your work. Creating an e-book is easy and inexpensive.  
Happy Hunting and now I'm back to Spring Cleaning!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Importance of Recording Your History

As genealogists, we search high and low for records left from the past.  After recently reading an article from National Geographic about what is considered “historical” for the purpose of digging up someone’s grave, I began to think about what historical means to me.  I’m with the dictionary on this one – historical is belonging in the past.  The past is what happened, it’s done and over.  The past can be as recent as a few minutes ago when I began writing this blog or several millennium. 

I have a milestone birthday coming up and that probably further influenced these thoughts.  Coupled with the recent hurricane forecast from Colorado State University, I usually start thinking at this time of year about the “what ifs” regarding a severe storm coming my way.  I’m a tad paranoid having experienced several hurricanes and losing just about everything in one back in the 1980’s. 

Another layer regarding my thoughts is that I recently acquired a diary written by a woman in the late 1800’s about her life in a rural community.  What I love most about her writing is that it was so succinct yet so telling.  I’m making up this example to demonstrate the style:

15 – Fri.- Cloudy and warm.  Rose early to set a hen in shed.   Tilled garden.  John to town to trade eggs.  Mary Madden poorly, doc Bailey called.  Jim and Liz – a girl.

There are 30+ years of entries and a wealth of genealogical gems in two lines!  She always recorded the weather, which was a critical factor in successful farming, the family’s jobs of the day, and bits and pieces about the social life of the community.  Sometimes she included major news, such as strikes in a far off city, the country’s election results and train wrecks. 

What impressed me the most was how nonjudgmental were the writer’s entries.  When a store clerk shot a farmer she recorded the event but not the why or the sides of the story.  She was a “just the facts” kind of girl. I like that – let others form their own opinions of the events through their historical lens.

I decided I am going to start a diary on the day of my birthday in this format.  Why?  Simply because we don’t take the age in which we’re living as someday being considered worth remembering.  Since we’re living the events they are commonplace to us and thus, not important.  That's wrong!

We’re also not vain so we tend to think that our lives don't need recording.  Don’t you do a happy dance when you find a tidbit about your great great grandma?  I was so excited when I found one of mine had won a county fair award when she was 8 for sewing.  If I hadn’t found the newspaper clipping that listed all the blue ribbon winners I would have never known.  It told me a lot about her – that she sewed and did that well, her parents encouraged her to compete and be a part of the larger community at a young age, and that she was at the fair event. 

Don’t neglect telling your tale!  You are important and one day, one of your descendants will appreciate that you recorded your life.  You don’t have to do it in the way I’ve selected.  You can write a mini-autobiography or use a letter format.  If you’re artistic, a collage of events in your life that were important to you can be depicted.  You might want to record and videotape yourself if you’re more of an oral story teller.  It doesn’t matter how you record your life, what matters is that you do!

Not sure where to start?  Interview yourself!  Here are some resources to get you started:

You can see that many of the questions are redundant.  I really like’s approach, 52 questions – one a week.  You can do this!  Take the challenge!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Cousin Will - 400 Years Later Questions Remain

My cousin Will’s death occurred 400 years ago this week.  Like many of my relatives, Will’s life has been controversial.  There are doubters that say Will was not capable of producing the work that he did in his lifetime.  He’s been called an imposter, a sham and a fraud.  There’s even a website, Doubts About Will, where one may sign a declaration that contests Will’s achievement. 

You may have guessed I’m talking about my cousin, William Shakespeare.  He's my 13th cousin 17 times removed.  His ability to write the works that are credited to him has been disputed for years.  I believe that Will was responsible for the work that bears his name today.  Here’s why:

Although there are some renowned individuals who are doubters I am not swayed by their views.  Just because someone is an outstanding writers, thinkers, actors, directors or statesmen does not mean they are correct.  Think of our Founding Fathers who viewed equality as not including women and people of color. 

One of my favorite authors, Mark Twain, is a doubter but I believe his reasoning is false.  Twain bases his doubt on the fact that not much is known about Shakespeare’s life.  That is not true.  Although there may not be many records left from his life time that is not surprising given the time that has elapsed since his death.  Throw in war, fires, mold, and so on and it's miraculous anything is left.  Twain also questioned how Will could be knowledgeable about the law but wasn't a a barrister.  In Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s character, Jim, is a person of color.  Saying Will couldn’t have knowledge of the law is equated to Twain not being able to write about Jim since Twain was Caucasian.  Twain had no personal knowledge of living life in the skin of a black man so should we then believe that some other individual besides Twain wrote Jim’s story?  I think not.  Twain also wrongly believed that if Will was really born in the small town of  Snitterfield the town would have capitalized on Will’s fame as Hannibal, Missouri did while Twain was alive.  Since that didn’t occur, Twain believes that the Will from Snitterfield couldn’t possibly have authored the works.  A lot changed in the 200+ years between Will’s life and Twain’s, not to mention the cultural differences between Great Britain and the U.S. Twain's reasoning is not logical.

Doubters do not believe that someone of such humble social status could possibly be a gifted writer.  The son of a glover from a small village is not thought to be able to produce the works that he did.  As an educator, I disagree.  Brooks-Gunn and Duncan (1997) concluded that "It is not yet possible to make conclusive statements regarding the size of the effects of poverty on children's long-term cognitive development."[1]  Leonardo da Vinci was considered a genius and yet, he was an underprivileged child.  His parents were unmarried and due to his social status, he was not permitted to attend the schools that his half siblings did.  Geniuses are born across all social economic levels.  No one doubts Leonardo and this is no reason to doubt Will.

Doubters mention that Will had "lost years" as there are gaps in knowledge of what transpired in his life between leaving his village and arriving in London.  Leonardo da Vinci had similar gaps; the History Channel believes aliens were involved with Leonardo.  I lean towards the theory he traveled and so did Will.  One can pick up much from observing the world around them and that's my explanation for how both geniuses gained their diverse cultural knowledge.

Doubters claim that there must be numerous men named Shakespeare since the surname was spelled in various ways on surviving documents.  Doubters must not have any experience with genealogy!  I do not have one census record from 1840-1940 that spells my maiden name the same and that is in a much more recent time period than when Will lived.  There was no common spelling; the first known published dictionary in England was in 1538 by Sir Thomas Elyot and for the record, this was the original title:  The Dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knyght.  Notice the words I bolded.   See my point?! 

Perhaps there were a number of men named Shakespeare at the time Will lived.  A genealogist is able to separate the identities of those men.  Certainly there is no 100% guarantee but I would think if there were two or five or ten William Shakespeares living in Snitterfield at the same time an examination and analysis could narrow down which Will belonged to which parent and was the writer. I suspect there was only one, using spelling variations.

The Doubters question why the works purportedly written by Will were not attributed to him until seven years after his death.  They point out that is not only unusual but unheard of in the literary world. 

I’m not surprised there was a delay.  The remaining individuals who had been close to Will were most likely trying to capitalize on what once had been.  After seven years, with no one taking over Will’s place, the actors needed to resurrect fame in the shape of The Folios.  Why does Hollywood make sequels?  Didn’t Disney remake The Jungle Book for release AGAIN?! (On a side note, the coming attractions look good so yes, I'll be spending money to see it even though I already know what happens.  Hmm, no wonder the actors brought The Folios out again!)

We must also remember Will was not writing for publication so it’s not surprising that his works weren’t initially credited to him.  Will was writing for theatre.  I only know of five 16th century comedies and tragedies remaining.  During the Medieval period, theatrical works were not very original nor well preserved.  Prior to Will’s time, most theatre was religious stories brought to life; they encompassed mystery, miracle and moralism.  Once the Protestant Reformation came about, theatre shifted and farces were accepted.  Will wrote all three.  His plays brought in crowds who didn’t care who wrote the script.  Attendees wanted to simply be entertained.  Do you know who wrote your favorite television program from twenty years ago?  I don’t and really don’t care who did.  The scriptwriter, much like the prop mistress or the understudy, was unimportant and would remain in the wings. 

Besides, Will wasn’t going to make any pounds by selling the script after the play closed.  No one would purchase Hamlet to read by candle light at the time. There was no store in the theatre to sell mementos of the event.  Will was a scriptwriter; he only became an author when the fame of his scripts spread.  When others wanted to put on his plays to draw in the crowds and make money, his role changed.  Compiling his works together transformed him from script writer to author. 

The Doubters believe that Will was illiterate.  There were local schools that Will may have attended.  In fact, the Blackfriar’s Theatre in which his plays were performed shared the venue with the Children of the Chapel, a choir composed of children who attended local schools.  They were quite the sensation and scholars think that Will was a tad jealous of their success as he wrote in Hamlet about the "little eyasses."

Here’s what school was like at the time Will lived:
The schedule for school
7:00-7:30, Dancing
7:30-8:00, Breakfast
8:00-9:00, French
9:00-10:00, Latin
10:00-10:30, Writing and drawing
10:30-1:00, Prayers
1:00-2:00, Cosmography 
2:00-3:00, Latin 
3:00-4:00, French 
4:00-4:30, Writing
4:30-5:30, prayers, recreation, supper ...

Boys were educated to be able to read and write to be members of society. The most important part of their teaching was memorization and recitation. They had to be proficient in Latin.
When boys were six to seven they started grammer school. Classrooms were very strict.
In younger grades they focused on Latin grammar and vocabulary and in older grades they read poetry and studied the stories of writers. Most boys started out as apprentices in grammar schools. Sons of richer families attended university's and inns of court.[2]

There is no doubt that Will was literate.  Doubters question the remaining few copies of his signatures and believe the handwriting might not be his but that of court clerks instead.  That is possible and a moot point regarding whether he wrote his works or not.  It is also possible that he was in declining health which could have made writing difficult.  My handwriting is not what it was in my youth so variations in signature can be expected.

Doubters also are concerned that not one letter he may have written survives.  For the Kinship Determination Project I just completed, not one letter survives from the 2nd generation individual who was known to be literate.  There are only three surviving documents with his handwriting, two as a young adult and one in middle age.  He won an award for writing but the piece he wrote no longer exists.  He died just 70 years ago.  I'm not surprised there are no surviving letters from Will.  I wonder how many letters the doubters have from their great grandfathers.  Take that back several generations and Id expect none. 

Doubters wonder why so many of Will’s plays take place in the upper class and how he could possibly have known what their ways were like.  If they looked at Will’s ancestry they would have a better understanding.  Will’s mother was Mary Margareta Arden, a descendant of Siward de Arden.  The Ardens, according to Burke's Peerage, Volume 1, are one of only three English families that can trace their lineage back to Anglo Saxon times.  Sure the family fortune wasn't what it had been by the time Will was born but as a once affluent family, Will would have had knowledge of the glories of his ancestor’s pasts. He's also related the the Beauchamps, Vernons and Bromwich's.  

My maternal great grandparents would be considered as peasants today.  They were poor farmers after my great grandfather was let go by the Austrian-Hungarian cavalry for being injured.  They were illiterate.  They were immigrants.  They were not, however, lacking in culture.  They passed down the stories of being the descendants of PL’s, noble men and women who had been recognized by a long ago king for bravery in the distant past.  My grandmother, their daughter, loved lavishly set tables, the latest fashion and travel.  One may ask how it is possible she had acquired such refined tastes coming from such humble beginnings.  It was always in her.  She aspired to culture and attained it.  You may have a similar story in your family.  Why do the doubters not understand that Will was writing about what would most interest those that did not have it but really wanted to. Why do pop magazines have Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, on the cover?  Because it sells.

My connect with cousin Will is through the Ardens and my line twists and turns and at the time of Will's life, a contemporary great grandfather of mine would be Francis Hollingshead.  Does the name Hollingshead ring any bells?  Francis was a cousin of Raphael, the renowned historian. They likely new each other and I often thought that Will may have "borrowed" Raphael's work, jazzed it up and offered it to the masses.  Historical fiction of his day.  I have no proof but it's a hunch I'd like to explore when I'm done with my BCG portfolio.

That leads us to answer the doubters that question why Will wrote so much about Italy and not about himself and his community.  Perhaps Will visited Italy in those lost year or maybe his teacher had.  He was taught Latin if he attended the town school so he would have gained knowledge of the language.  Geez, I was also taught Latin in elementary and my teachers gave us knowledge of other countries.  Trade between Italy and England was not unusual; he could have met visitors when he was in London. Remember, too, that England had once embraced Catholicism which was rooted in Italy.  Will's father had been Roman Catholic.  As such, he may have been in closer contact with Italian customs that we now know.  Definitely would have been something to keep quiet about!

Doubters also wonder why Will never wrote a play about his own life experiences or about Stratford-on-Avon.  People rarely wrote autobiographies in the 16th Century.  Will was writing to bring people into the theatre. Why would he write his life story or about his neighboring countryside?  No one would spend money on something they already knew.  People won’t part with their hard earned income for something that is not novel or necessary.  Clearly, the theatre isn’t a necessity so novelty had to be what drew in the crowds.

Doubters question why Will did not record the death of his 11-year-old son in one of his sonnets.  Perhaps it was too painful but I think that he understood his life experiences were not that much different from the collective human experience of the time.  His pain was no greater or less than anyone else.  He wrote what he thought would interest the populous.  Childhood death was commonplace and a part of life in Will’s time.  There was no need to write about something that so many experienced. 

I do not doubt William Shakespeare was the writer of the sonnets that are attributed to him today.  As we approach the 400th Anniversary of his death I use his words in remembrance, “This above all: to thine own self be true". - “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;.” - (Henry VI, Part III, Act V, Scene VI).

[1] Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. J. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children: Children and Poverty, 7(2), 61.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Genealogist's Work Space - How Surroundings Effect Efficiency

I’ve written previously about the lack of efficient office space in our home office.  Last fall, hubby and I decided that the current arrangement wasn’t working.  After the kids moved out we had converted the larger bedroom to a guest room and the other to a home office.  It made sense at the time because the larger bedroom has a nice view, is bright and cheery and gives a guest a more relaxed environment.  Since it would mainly have been used by the kids when they came home for short visits, it was ideal.  Hubby liked the smaller room for his den as it was cozy and left him little space to clutter up.  It also had a built in bookcase crafted by the builder that took up most of a wall that could be used as document storage, if I ever could get around to parting with the books we have on the shelves. 
The arrangement worked for a number of years because I preferred to use a laptop or tablet and hubby loved his desktop system.  When I began taking paying clients, however, I found I needed to use the desktop system as it has more than one screen.  I could keep the client’s tree open on one screen and show the document on the other.  Using the laptop at the dining room table made me feel like the staged genealogists on TV who turn the laptop and say to the client something like, “Why don’t you look it up on!” 
When I sent in my preliminary application to become a certified genealogist we knew we had to make the office more effective.  Hubby came up with the idea of flipping the rooms as the kids live close now and rarely spend the night.  That got us thinking of what we both needed to do our work. 
I wanted a flexible work space; one where I could spread out documents and notes.  I definitely wanted that to be close to the printer/copier/fax/scanner and the two screen desktop.  I needed office supplies readily available.  Storage space was also important. 
Hubby, too, needed space to spread out.  The desk that had once seemed perfect wasn’t in practice.  Loved the styling and color BUT the laminate was worn in places and there was only one drawer and one file space so storage was limited.  Hubby then bought another piece of furniture that sort of looked like a business night stand.  It housed the printer with a drawer underneath to keep the paper.  It was difficult to access so hubby’s top request was that he have space for supplies and that everything could be easily accessible.
We decided we needed two computer desks and a table.  Definitely didn’t think it would be hard to find something to meet our needs but we were wrong!  I didn’t like the prices of the laminate desks which would look worn in a short time.  None had tables that matched anyway.  The few that had a solid surface top had no storage and I wasn’t sure I even liked the look; looked to me like someone had plopped a countertop on a desk.  IMHO, the solid wood desks weren’t well made for the price.  I saw a few glass desks that could work but I didn’t like the price and hubby thought it was too modern for us.  No surprise, we’re antique people.
So, we waited.  And waited.  And kept waiting.  The holidays came and went, business travel, sickness and accidents, and other repairs took precedence.  Two weeks ago I saw the glass desk with a matching table was on sale.  Texted hubby and we decided we’d check it out the following day.  Drove through torrential rain and decided it would work.  Of course, there was a glitch.  Actually, there were several glitches.  The store only had one desk and the table.  They also didn’t have in stock the filing cabinet unit that matched or a 9 drawer unit that could house all our office supplies.  Employees had no idea when or if the store would ever get the items.  Called another store and they had one desk and the filing cabinet and would hold it for us.  For our trouble, we got an additional 20% off the sales price and the first store sold us the 9 drawer unit on display at half price.  We were happy!
Got home and emptied the room and decided we definitely needed to paint.  Hubby spent the rest of the day painting away.  I continued to work on the KDP in the cramped office with paint fumes wafting.  The following day we began to assemble the furniture and found that it didn’t match.  The desk has a tempered glass top that is light grey on the edges.  The table and corner unit has dark grey edges.  The second desk was missing the keyboard tray and a leg. 
We decided to move the desktop computer into the new office anyway and contact the company the following day, which was last Monday.  Even with the setbacks we loved the new arrangement.  The weather had been dreary and the new room, especially with the glass tops, was bright.  We could see!  The view was relaxing, too. 
The company said that there were no more dark grey desktops so they shipped the missing pieces and new light grey tops so all the units will match.  The missing leg arrived first so we assembled the second desk on Monday.  The other pieces arrived yesterday. 
I never realized how important one’s surroundings to complete tasks efficiently until I took on the BCG portfolio.  I’m used to juggling a Kindle in a research facility’s stacks, taking a picture with my phone, and holing up on the sofa with the laptop to research.   I found I’m better "in the zone" when I’m at a desk, though.  So I started checking around to see if any research had been conducted in this area and found a Harvard study that shows employees perform better when they control their space.  You can read it here: Harvard Study

I am pleased to announce I have finished the KDP!  I completed it in the new office on Sunday, April 10th at 4:45 P.M.  There’s editing, checking some citations, a deed and a will I’m still hoping will turn up (but not likely as both were misfiled!) before I wrap it up totally but it is 99.9% complete.  I especially like the thought that the KDP was the first project completed in the new space.   Here’s a toast to my productive new office and that there’ll be many more KDP’s in my future!  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Passionate Genealogist - Using Creativity to Climb Your Brickwalls!

Just back from a Learning and the Brain Conference in Orlando on imagination, curiosity and creativity.  As genealogists we have passion which is the basis for all three, the drive that’s needed for success.  After hearing the wonderful speakers from around the world I began to think that the application for genealogy can knock down our brick walls.  Here’s how-
The beginning of imagination is dreaming.  Our dream may be to discover who our several times great grandpa married or the reason our family moved to an area.  It could be how our grandparents met or why we always have banana birthday cake.  These thought provoking questions for people with passion to learn more about their ancestors lead to pursuing and seeking ways to find the answer to the question. 
The posed research question you act upon is how you demonstrate your curiosity.  One of the sessions had an interesting photo at the beginning – it showed square trees.  The research question presented was where could you find square trees.  I figured it was a trick question and immediately replied Lowes or Home Depot.  Hint:  That’s not the answer the presenter was looking for!  How I formulated my response was by enlisting my background knowledge.  My do-it-yourselfer hubby has had me assist with so many projects involving square wood if I lived in a large city my frame of reference may have been to expect that most trees grew in a square shape because that’s what I would be familiar with in the big box lumber department.  I know that the trees in my neighborhood grown in somewhat of a round shape and that what we find in the store is processed lumber.  Think how this applies to your research.  Do you always rely on your same go to websites – the big names on the web to answer your research question?  That’s not bad or wrong to do but there’s so much more that you’re missing.  Those that want to REALLY know the answer would have their curiosity take them to some out of the box, unconventional places.  I have found the answer to some of my research questions in odd places – on a microfilm in Salt Lake City  of a book that exists in no library today, at a research facility in Boston that had a text that isn’t anywhere in the state the record was compiled from, on a CD created by a rural former church historian of the denomination’s newsletters, in a deed moved from the recorder’s office to an archive, in a letter stuck in a book on the shelf in our study.  Those are just a few examples that pop into my brain that have happened to me in the last six months.  None of those had anything to do with the major genealogical websites.  Please do not think that I don’t value the information that’s now available on the web.  I DO!  I certainly don’t want to go back to those dark ages when information was difficult to obtain.  I highly value and appreciate the big box genealogy sites.  My point is that we need to remember it’s not the be all and end all.  There is more – lots more – and your curiosity will propel you to find the more. 
If you’re thinking, easy for her to say!  I can’t afford, find the time, etc. etc. to go seek this information you’re wrong and doing your research a disservice.  You don’t have to go to Salt Lake or Boston or even clean your house to find the letter in a book.  You can use the technology that’s available to minimize the miles and bring the research to you.  Use Worldcat if it’s available to have your library cooperative bring the material to you.  Same with the microfilm – search Familysearch and order the film to be delivered to a closer site to your home.  Yes, there is a fee but it’s minimal compared to cost involved if you don’t live in the Salt Lake City area.  Aren’t sure how to find what you need?  Call or visit your local library and they will help you.  If they don’t, go to another.  Don’t give up and don’t let negative people stand in your way. 
How interesting is this! I’ve even mentioned big box sites to help you find the information you’re needing.  You are bringing the knowledge closer to you.  That’s why I believe genealogy is a study in patience.  In this info overload world we so often expect the answer to arrive instantly on our phone, tablet or laptop.  As the song says, “Waiting is the hardest part” but could also be the most important and relevant piece of your genealogical puzzle.  While you’re waiting – go make yourself a nice cup of tea and dream some more, then act on that dream and the cycle continues.
See, when you’ve acted on your curiosity you’ve become creative.  It was quite easy!  We all have this ability we just have to practice it. 
We did a cute little exercise at one of the breakout sessions you can take part in.  Go to Answer Garden and answer the question “What is creativity.”  Your answer is right because there is no one right answer so don’t be afraid.  You don’t have to sign in, give your email address, nada!  Once you submit your answer you will get an interesting “art” piece.  I printed it and have it on my workspace as a reminder to be creative. 
Creativity is the quality of human existence that allows us to modify the environment to our needs to make something new and useful.  It’s a mix of intuitive and rational factors.  That’s why we use the Genealogical Proof Standard.  We use our gut and our brain to analyze the findings and reach a conclusion.  We may be right and we may be wrong but until a direct or negative piece of evidence is discovered to make us revisit our findings, our analysis stands.
Creativity is a process and like all processes, has several steps.  Preparation is primary!  If the problem is worth studying you need to have background information and that’s pulling together what you know.  Your answer may be right there in front of you but was overlooked the first time you saw it.  Here’s one of my “Oh, Duh!” moments – wanted to know where an adult child had moved and found it listed on a death certificate for the parent.  Was there all the time but I failed to “see” it.  Don’t reinvent the wheel! Collaborate with others who may have already discovered what you’re looking for.  Email the person who posted that family tree and ask where they got their info.  Sure they might have just copied someone else but they might not have.  If you don’t ask you won’t know.  Asking is free! 
Now you’ve found some tidbit of a record and you don’t know how it fits.  No worries, time for another cup of tea.  You just need to reflect on the finding.  It will allow your brain to storm!  Hmm, maybe I should check this resource or that facility or ask that second cousin.  Research shows brainstorming is best done alone; we are social creatures for the most part and even if we don’t want to believe it, social inhibitions often prevail in group think.  There is a time for collaboration and a time for going solo.  When you’ve got some brainstormed ideas it’s time to put it out there to the genealogical community and step back into collaboration.  How can technology help you in preparation?!  Use Google Docs to share your findings with the other researchers that are working on your same line.  One of the presenters recommended Padlet which I haven’t tried yet but plan to.  It looks like a thinking Pinterest and it’s free.  I like free!  You collaborate with whoever you select to be in your group.  Wish I had known about this a few years back when I was working with several distant relatives to beat the clock to find a Revolutionary War participant so an elderly relative could join the DAR before she passed.  We made it happen but this would have been so much better.  Another awesome idea is to use a Web Whiteboard.  A whiteboard has taken the place of blackboards in the classroom – no squeaky chalk and no dust.  You don’t even need one in your office, you can draw, write or scribble on a virtual whiteboard to help you sort out the connection between those found documents.  Symbaloo may be the answer you need to bookmark your favorite go to web sites.  It’s a free social bookmarking cloud based service that allows you to surf your favorite website with an easy click AND download an ap so you can keep being productive when you’re waiting in line at the checkout or for an appointment. 
Now that you’ve got many ideas to help you with your preparation you’re ready to move to the next stages of creativity:  Incubation and Inspiration.  I love incubation – it’s easy but we don’t do it enough.  We just need to STOP and let our brain process what we’ve found.  Go outside and smell the roses. Take a walk.  Swim.  Lay on the sofa.  Wherever you love to hang, go there!  Your brain is still working on solving but it needs to be left to do it without the pressure of hurry.  It’ll come.  Just wait.  Patience  again!  My brain works in a weird way.  My best solutions for my job as an educator comes when I’m stuck in traffic on the interstate after my 2nd cup of coffee and old hard rock is playing on the radio.   I see my destination off in the distance, Oz beckons me and Voila! The answer is there.  So if you’re like me, you may have your incubation moment in an odd location but if it works, who cares because you’ve reached inspiration.  The unconscious mind (incubation) has brought the solution to be recognized in your conscious mind (inspiration). 
If you’re stuck in incubation here’s some ideas that might help you.  Vocaroo is an online way to share voice messages over the web.  For those of you who are auditory this may really be helpful.  Say what you know into Vocaroo and then listen to what you said.  That’s it.  If you’re a visual learner you may want to Mindmap. Unfortunately, most mindmap sites are not free but you don’t need to purchase it – take a look at images on google and you’ll get the idea.  Mindmap on paper or on the virtual whiteboard.  Poplet is a free sight designed for schools that can help you with a downloadable ap so you can take it anywhere.  Since you’re reading this blog you might be a blogger yourself.  Blogging can also help your inspiration.  You can keep your blog to yourself, include just a few or make it public.  There are lots of blog sites but I like Google’s Blogger.   I don’t want you to think you have to spend a lot of time on becoming creative.  Use your smart phone clock timer to keep yourself in check.  Don’t beat yourself up if the timer goes off and you’re not where you hoped to be.  It’s okay, really. 

The last parts of creativity are Verification – Implementation – Production.  Test the ideas that inspired you.  You’re that much closer to scaling your brick wall.  Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Genealogical Software and Identifying Family Relationships

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending an all day conference hosted by The Villages, Florida Genealogy Society for the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (NEHGS).   I’m a member of NEHGS and I was interested in the topics, especially migration patterns .  Although I found all the workshops fairly basic I always take something away from any workshop I attend so I did get some new info to use when I revisit my tree AFTER I submit my portfolio. 
I want to mention two points that I think were most interesting.  The first was during the workshop titled “Choosing a Genealogical Software Program” by Rhonda McClure.  I enjoyed Rhonda’s talk even though I’m not shopping for a new software program.  What was interesting to me was the number of attendees that couldn’t understand why someone would want to have their tree information on their own program.  Maybe I’m just old and remember the first genealogical software program I used which was on a cassette that was inserted into a TI-84 computer.  When we upgraded to Windows 3.0, I downloaded PAF from and had to re-enter all of my tree info.  I didn’t have a lot, about 100 individuals, but it was time consuming and a duplication of efforts.
I moved to Family Tree Maker (FTM) because it was supposed to synch with but as I’ve written in previous blogs, mine stopped synching and between the two organizations I could never get it working.  I then downloaded the Standard (Free) edition of Legacy in which to save my Gedcom  and about once a month, I update Legacy by re-downloading the Gedcom.  I know is in the works with synching with Roots Magic and maybe a resurrection of FTM.  I really would like a feature that synchs and I would go with that.  I do love the reports Legacy generates as I ended up purchasing the Deluxe version so I’d keep that, too.  The problem with not synching is one gets updated and the other doesn’t.  I have a lot of pdf’s and photos saved on that’s not on Legacy so we’re back to time consuming and storage saving issues unless something is available to synch.
But back to why anyone would want to have their own software.  I live in Florida where we have many storms, often severe, which means that our power is off and therefore, no internet.  Even when there isn't a storm we sometimes have no internet.  Like yesterday, with our wonderful new internet provider, Frontier, who can't figure out how to provide the service we're paying for (but that's another story!)  With a backup generator I could still access my desktop, though it would be unlikely in severe weather that I would use a generator to do that.  I’d rather save the food in the fridge but I like options and if I would be so inclined, I could get to my information.  Although it’s also unlikely that will cease to exist, one never knows.  Companies come and go.  I’m not trying to start a rumor – I think that is remote but in case, I want to have a backup.  I also like to have my tree available when I research away from home on my Kindle or laptop as in some facilities that I’ve visited, the wireless goes down when you’re in the stacks and it’s a problem. 
The next interesting observation from the conference was how the relationship feature doesn’t work.  I was surprised how many people rely on it.  Mine comes and goes and sometimes is so convoluted it’s hysterical. I’m not blaming Ancestry for that; it’s my twisted family tree where I relate to my husband back in the day.  It can’t figure out the connection and seems to take the long route.  I think I figured out why it does that.  Simply because of who I set at the home person.  If you’re having that problem just go to settings and change the home person to someone else and it may correct the problem.  If it doesn’t, then you’re going to have to figure out the relationship the old fashioned way.  I’d recommend bringing up the family tree view from the person you are trying to determine the relationship from and look and see where you recognize a common ancestor. 
In a pinch you may find these links helpful:

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When Seeking Out Records - Suggestion for Reaching Colleagues Who Care

This is a story of extremes; the indifferent vs. the passionate.  Being almost done with my Kinship Determination Paper’s research I have encountered a full range of people personalities in my quest for obtaining information.  I’m trying to understand why some clerks, researchers, “professional” genealogists, historians, ministers and distant family members are so nonhelpful and others go above and beyond.  In the future, how do I insure that I contact those that care and avoid those that don’t?
As a child, I loved Highlight’s Magazine for Children.  We couldn’t afford a subscription so I looked forward to having my mom read it to me when we visited the doctor or dentist.  The “Goofus and Gallant” feature always made me laugh.  Maybe it was how my mom read them but I really wanted to be like Gallant!  Then there was the “Do Bee or Don’t Bee” segment on Romper Room.  I identified with the Do Bee.
In reflection of the past five months I think I’ve been in contact with half Do Bees and half Don’ts.  My findings don’t appear to have anything to do with area density; rural or urban doesn’t seem to be a factor at all!  It seems that locales in economic distress exhibit the least desire to be of help.  Maybe it’s because the employees are stressed due to over work because of unfilled positions or limited resources.  Perhaps it’s the overall mood of the community.  Or they can’t focus on the past as it’s so difficult dealing with the present.  The topic would make an excellent  dissertation for someone to investigate! 
In the past week I’ve joked about the following situations I encountered but mind you, I’ve used gallow humor to deal with the frustration:  
·      No one answers the phone in the probate department of a Midwest county office; repeated calls made at various times over several days.  Are they all dead?!  Called the operator who responded, “I know, I’ll transfer you.”  No voice mail, no email. 
·         Emailed a question through a city’s website link, “Ask a Librarian.”  No response.  Called a few days later, phone out of service.  Looked online for a new number and none found.  411 has the number I tried so I reported it out of service.  I emailed another library the original question.  Got cc’d on the forward and then got a response from who the email was forwarded to.  Response said, “You are welcome to visit [name of library] and look through these volumes.  We ask folks to make an appointment so that I will be sure to be here (I’m the only full-time staffer here). “  I responded that I couldn’t come as I live far away and I just needed direction on where the record I was searching might be found so I could arrange for a look up.  The response was, “Oh, ok.  The ...(first facility I had emailed but gotten no response from)… has the information.  Unfortunately, it’s closed these days but plans to reopen at some point.”  The person did do a look up and in one volume negative evidence was uncovered so I still needed to check other sources.  Called the city to find out when the library will reopen.  Was told there is no known date.  It’s a budget problem and not mold, mildew, fire, water, or a gas leak issue.  I’ve had to revise travel plans in the past due to all the above concerns except budget.  That’s a new one for me and will certainly make for an interesting footnote!  Going to have to check out Evidence Explained for help on that citation. 
·         Tried to email a city department but the form filler didn’t work.  Copied the email address and tried to send from my personal email – returned as undeliverable.  Looked up a different department, no email address.  Emailed the webmaster about the problems and asked that my request be forwarded to the appropriate departments.  Got a response, “ok.”  No apology, no thanks for letting us know there’s a problem with our website, no nothing, which means I never heard from any of the departments who I asked that the email be forwarded to.  I'm thinking it's because there is no email.
·          Spoke with a clerk in a county records department about obtaining a deed.  My only question was, “Does your office house records from 1920?”  I was expecting a yes, no or maybe so answer.  I got, “I’ll transfer you.”  Ok, a new take on “maybe so.”  Asked the same question to the next clerk.  Got, “I’ll transfer you.”  Was transferred back to the original clerk.  Clearly frustrated, she said that I should just come in and ask that question.  Huh?  Like I’m going to get the answer in person and not on the phone?!  I told her why I couldn’t come.  She said, “Well, find someone to come in for you.”  I asked for a recommendation since I don’t live in the area.  She responded, “I don’t know, maybe a title company” and hung up.  I’m thinking that the department should stop paying for phone service as a way to balance their budget since the employee will only speak to people face-to-face.  Would skype count ?  Perhaps the probate office figured this out already and stopped paying for phone service which would explain why no one answers that phone.
·         Received a letter in the mail from a state archivist (not the same state as the above) that said, “Unfortunately, we do not provide copies of county records…You will want to contact (the county) to obtain a copy.”  Clearly the archivist cannot comprehend what the request was – it stated that the county has lost the record.  I’m fairly certain the record was microfilmed and that’s why I contacted the state archives.  At least my check was returned.  Maybe I should donate it to the city with the budget problems. 

Since I want to remain a “Gallant Do Bee” I’m thankful this week for:
  • The State Archivist (of a different state) who remembered that I had emailed a question a few weeks ago, found something recently while assisting someone else and emailed me the new information.  Wow, now that’s service!
  • Same situation happened with a county probate office – the individual I had been in contact with several weeks ago just happened to find something that she thought might be helpful.  It was regarding guardianship of a collateral line I was working on and yes, it was valuable, just like her!
  • The small town library that did several look ups, then scanned and sent the findings at no charge.  I sent a donation as I was so impressed with their helpful, dedicated staff.
  •  A county archivist who answered all my questions on the phone, made several suggestions and asked for a copy of the paper when I’m done so their collection can grow.  This individual demonstrated passion about her community and plans for the future. A winning combination!
H     Here’s my plan on how to not waste time with the losers and connect with the colleagues who care – I started a database of my contacts that were most helpful.  It has name, position, contact method (phone/email), and date of contact.  I thought about making a Goofus list, too, but decided against it.  I’m going to hope that maybe those negative folks were just having a bad day, week or month and not a lifetime. Personnel changes could also occur and I want to continue doing "reasonably exhaustive research" which means I just may have to recontact the same resource locations again in the future. I also wrote thank you notes to those that were so helpful and asked if I could have their supervisor's name to let that person know how valuable the employee was.  Kindness is contagious and I want it passed on!