Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning From Our Mistakes

This week's genealogy blogging prompt is "Lessons Learned. Fess up to your research mistakes so others may learn from them."

  1. Order pension files for all the brothers in a family, not just one. You never know which one of them may lead you to the clues that you so desperately need to make that big breakthrough. I made the mistake of ordering only the file for my direct line ancestor. The 200 page file provided a wealth of information, but I finally got around to ordering the files of the widow and mother of his brothers. One of them answered a question that had gone unanswered for years.
  2. Research the neighbors and associates. If I'd done this when I first began researching years ago, I wouldn't have to revisit some of my research quite so often. Once I discovered that most of the neighbors of one of my ancestors were also his neighbors in a previous location, I realized the importance of this.
  3. Use a good genealogy software program. The first one I used was a shareware or freeware program that was completely inadequate. It had places for Birth, Christening, Marriage, Death, and LDS ordinances (which was not really of importance to me), but it only had 10 lines of notes. The notes had to be used for notes and for citation. I'm still fixing problems in my current database from this first software program I used.
  4. Organize your research in a meaningful way. I made the mistake filing most research in surname folders for years. I would just "stuff" materials into these folders. For the big surnames on which I was working, I would have 5 or 6 very thick folders to go through when I was looking for a specific piece of information. Things didn't often fit well, because some documents might fit multiple families, and I would just file it in one of the surname folders. My main filing system is now location-based. I put the copies of deeds, wills, etc. in the a folder that begins with a state abbreviation, then county, then document type in the order in which they would appear in the county records. This new system works well for me. The records are already cited in my database, so they are easy to locate when I need them again, no matter which name on that page I'm seeking.
  5. Don't rely too much on your genealogy software. Write up your research in a narrative form with footnotes. It helps you see where the holes are in your research. I could go into far greater depth on this one, but I'll leave it at this simple word of caution.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Special Guests at Church

We had some special visitors at church today. They came all the way from New Zealand. Now, I don't know about you, but I'd never seen a wallaby in church before today. We had not one, but two baby wallabies on hand to drum up support for our Vacation Bible School that begins one week from tomorrow. This year's VBS has an Australian theme, so we just had to pretend the wallabies came from Australia instead of New Zealand. They actually spent most of their time in children's church, but they came and made an appearance at the end of the worship service. They were cute. You could tell that each one had a different personality too. One of them was looking at everything. The other was more introverted. I mentioned it to a friend of mine who thought that someone should write a song along the lines of "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" about the wallabies. I'm not in my creative mode this evening, so I'll leave that for someone else to write.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Record Loss: Is Your County Prepared?

We lost another courthouse this week . . . Jefferson County, Indiana. This was a county that had previously suffered no major record losses. According to news reports, fire broke out about 6 p.m. Wednesday. The facade of the building was spared, but preliminary reports indicate that there was major record loss due to the fire, smoke, and water damage. (One genealogist on Facebook observed that the county officials seemed more elated that the courthouse could be rebuilt with existing facade than they were troubled by the loss of records.) They expect to discover that most vital records and deeds were lost. When I heard about this tragic situation via Facebook, one of my first reactions was to see what sort of records would be available for the county via the Family History Library and Family History Centers. As I began to search, I noted that only deeds through 1891 had been microfilmed. Marriage records were among those which had been microfilmed, but even then they were filmed only through 1923. One of the articles mentioned death certificates. I saw no microfilming of records in this category. Records of adoptions and divorces are also mentioned as being probable losses in another article. When one clicks on court records in the Family History Catalog for Jefferson County, Indiana, there are only two entries which span 1811-1819 -- less than a decade. Probate records have been microfilmed through 1940. These were not mentioned in the articles as possible losses. I don't know if these were in the courthouse or if there might have been an annex. Tax records for only one year (1827) are available on microfilm. Birth records for 1882-1907 and for 1941-1970 have been filmed.

A quick search of the Indiana State Library reveals that few abstracts exist, and these are fall in categories that have been filmed. I saw very few county records described on the state archives site. I was unable to locate a Web site for the county government to determine if digital records were accessible online. I can only conclude that the record loss, particularly for future historians and genealogists, is very tragic because this county was not prepared for such a devastating loss. Even on the state archives site, there was a link to a microfilming service which could have been utilized by the county. I know that we live in tough economic times, but preserving the records of the past should be a high priority. Routine preservation of records, whether digital or by microfilm, with off-site storage of a complete set is something that should be done by all record keepers. We need to ask our county officials what they are doing to minimize record loss should such a tragedy strike our county. We need to encourage them to partner with state libraries or others who provide microfilm and digitization services to make sure that records will be available in the future if a disaster occurs.

Busy Week

I, like many others who attended the NGS Conference in Raleigh, have been playing catch-up this week. I was unable to keep up with e-mail, blog reading, and many other things, and it took a few days to catch up on the backlog. I also followed up on a few new items on my agenda after the Raleigh conference. You'll probably be hearing the results of one of those after a few more details are ironed out. My main focus this week has been to get my presentations for a conference that begins June 8 in order and to write an article to accompany one of those. I was able to get the article written and have gone through and edited it a couple of times. The PowerPoint for the one presentation is done. The second presentation will be more use of a live Internet connection than PowerPoint, although I do plan to do quite a few screen captures just in case the connection goes down. I'm feeling much better about those presentations. I also got a book review written that needed to be done for LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I'm presently trying to get the one done for the LibraryThing Member Giveaway because I have two books on the way from Tennessee Library Association to review for their publication Tennessee Libraries. One of the deadlines is in July; the other is in September on those. Both titles will be nice additions to my personal library for historical research. The other thing I hope to accomplish today and tomorrow is to make some progress on a couple of genealogical reports that need to be written. I need to write one which will eventually become an article so that I can spot any holes in the research. The other needs to be written before I make another on-site visit to obtain more records. I have that visit scheduled for the last part of June. Writing it up will help me spot any records that I may be missing from the first visit before moving on to the next county to obtain more records.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NGS Reflections: Part III - Friday and Saturday

Friday was the day in which I had the most free time. I began the day monitoring Craig Scott's "Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestor" session at 8 a.m. Craig is a perfect 8 a.m. choice because he is so entertaining! I'm not sure how I got so lucky to be assigned that session, but I'm glad that I had something to keep me awake! I made a quick trip into the exhibit area during the next time slot, although I just "looked" at that time slot. I did find a couple of products that were somewhat interesting. I may do the 30 day trial of one of those soon to see if it will match the needs of a project that I may undertake with the assistance of another genealogist. If I do try it, I'm sure I'll blog about it later. After that, I went to Mark Lowe's "Kentucky: Records of the Bluegrass State." I really don't have a lot of Kentucky ancestry, but I do have a line from Wayne County. I actually made three notes to myself of records that I thought might have something I had not yet discovered on the two families in that area with very common surnames. I went to Sam and Wally's for lunch. I spent the afternoon in the exhibit hall. I ended up buying only a few things, but the things I did get were things that were really worthwhile purchases. I went with some friends over to the Marriott to change, and we came back for the NGS Banquet. I know that one of the bloggers has already mentioned that J. Mark Lowe's "Lessons Learned from a Carolina Traveler" was a tribute to Helen Leary. Let's just say that you all don't know what all went into trying to hide Helen's sons from her in that banquet room until the right moment in Mark's talk. There were a few moments that we had to get creative to make sure she didn't see them. Helen was very surprised to find herself the subject of Mark's talk and was even more surprised to see her sons.

Saturday was another busy day. I began by monitoring Mark Lowe's "Circuit Riders and the Early Methodist Church." I got a couple of ideas about places to look for additional information on Ashley Aldridge during this session. He wasn't really a circuit rider, but he was a leader in the local church who is sometimes called a "minister." Mark covered that aspect as well as the more prolific records of those who were ordained. I worked the APG booth after I got out of that session until about 10:30 when I needed to leave to get ready to monitor my next session. I had another one of those serendipitous moments during this time. Many of you know that I've had my brother's DNA tested on the Thornton line. We matched with what is called the "South Carolina Thornton group." Most of us are brickwalled in the Carolinas, and none of us can find our common ancestor. We have a few clues. There is one participant who had identified an individual he believed to be the common ancestor. There are a couple of "jumps" in his research so that I'm not completely comfortable with his conclusions. While I was working at the APG booth, a professional genealogist who had been hired by an individual descended from one of the other lines which matched us on DNA came up. We spent most of the time chatting about our Thornton research, the research that had been done by others, the Thornton DNA project and the problems with that project since the loss of the online trees after changing project administrators, and a few other related things. We began to talk about directions that needed to be taken in the research. I'm delighted to have made this connection, and the two of us believe that two heads will be better than one. One interesting thing she said to me was that this is the worst line she's ever researched. (Of course, I'm thinking, "Tell me something I don't already know.") I am excited about this serendipitous moment and hope that through collaboration we'll be able to break through some of the brick walls. I monitored "Overlooked Military Records in the National Archives" at 11 a.m. The presenter was Marie Melchiori, and this was in the BCG Skillbuilding track. I spent lunch time eating and talking with other genealogists in the back of the exhibit hall. We had a nice visit. At 2:30, I was the monitor for Julie Miller's "Make the Census Work for You!" It was also on the BCG Skillbuilding track. At 4:00 I introduced Monica Hopkins who spoke on "Finding Your Way Around the Georgia Archives." Several of us went to the Oakwood Cafe, which is a wonderful Cuban and Argentinian restaurant, after the conference was over. We had a nice visit.

This year's conference was a memorable one. Many people came up to us and said that this was one of the smoothest conferences they'd ever attended. The local arrangements committee of NCGS under the leadership of Ann Hilke is responsible for much of that. They did a super job in planning this conference and pulling it off. I'm really sad this conference is over. I look forward to returning to Raleigh for future conferences!

NGS Reflections: Part II - Wednesday and Thursday

Wednesday morning I had to be at the convention center by 7:00 a.m. so we could begin registering folks who were just arriving before the 8:00 opening session. When I arrived at 6:45, the NGS folks were already doing on-site registration, so I grabbed our boxes of pre-registrations and got into action. I worked registration until about 9:45 a.m. when I had to go to monitor training. I was room monitor for Thomas W. Jones' presentation "Solutions for Missing or Scarce Records" at 11:00 a.m. After that, I attended the NCGS Luncheon where Helen Leary spoke on "Using Peculiar Records to Find the Rest of the Story." After that I monitored Jeff Haines' 2:30 p.m. session on "North Carolina Tax Records." I went back to the registration desk to help pack up things after this. Wednesday was society night. I helped at the NCGS table part of the time, but I did have time to visit some of the tables. I'm particularly excited about the free issues I picked up from Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society. I'm working on a project with another genealogist that involves someone who resided in Davidson County. I am really not quite ready to get into the Davidson County research on the person because I've got a few records to acquire in a couple of other counties first. However, there was a published tax list in one of the journals that listed this person. I shared the "find" with the other genealogist. We were both excited that a freebie could be so helpful to our research. After this several of us went to The Pit, a downtown barbecue restaurant, to eat. It was quite good.

Thursday I monitored "Collaboration and Cooperation: The Family History Archive--A Digital Partnership FHL/BYU/ACPL/HPL/MCPL" which was presented by Susan D. Kaufman of Houston Public Library and Michael J. Hall of the project. I'll be quite honest. This is not a session I would have attended had I not been monitoring. I think that God puts us in situations for reasons sometimes. This was basically a session about the Family History Archive digital books project. I had already used it extensively, but as I was sitting there listening to them, an idea came to me. We use the netLibrary e-books collection in our library, and we're able to purchase MARC records for them to dump into our online catalog. I decided to go up after the session and ask Susan (the librarian) whether they had MARC records available through Marcive or another vendor. She admitted that they had not even considered that, but that it was really a very good idea. I'm hoping that they will be able to follow up on that idea and make those available to increase access. The types of books they are digitizing would be wonderful for many academic libraries to include. Did I learn a lot from the session? Probably not. However, I think I was put there to ask that question. I was having trouble determining whether or not to attend Craig Scott's "Quaker Migration Into North Carolina and Out Again" or Helen Leary's "Genealogical Standards: Obsolete Model T or Space-Age Air Car?" at 9:30 a.m. After reviewing the syllabi for the two, I discovered that Craig's session did not appear to be covering the one group of Quaker immigrants in which I was interested--the ones who went to Nova Scotia and who were loyalists. I found a friend who was going to that session to "spy" for me and get back with me on that, and I went to Helen's which was also closer to the session I would be monitoring at 11 a.m. We don't get to Helen at the conferences much any more, and she's such a fountain of knowledge. I'm really glad I went to that one. At 11 a.m., I monitored Jeff Haines' "South Carolina Research." I'd actually heard Jeff do that one before, but I still picked up some new stuff because I'm more involved in South Carolina research now than I was when I heard him do it in Richmond. After that was the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History Luncheon. Jeff Haines spoke on "Merchants, Planters, and Pirates: British in the West Indies." It was a very interesting luncheon talk! I worked the hospitality desk from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and then I went over to the North Carolina Museum of History where we got ready ready for those who had signed up for the dessert reception, tours, and talks there. People were also able to go take a tour of the Archives across the street. I was on the sign-in desk for the first half, and then I went to the auditorium and distributed the syllabus for Jeff Haines' talk "People Finders of North Carolina." Everyone seemed to really enjoy the event.

NGS Reflections: Part I - Before the Conference Began

I really didn't have a great deal of time last week to blog the conference. I'm really glad that a few others were able to find a bit more time to do that for the benefit of those of you who could not attend.

I traveled to Raleigh on the Saturday before the conference. I'm a member of North Carolina Genealogical Society, the local host society, and had volunteered to help at the conference. My work began on Monday morning with the stuffing of the conference tote bags. I think the original plan was to have us constantly circling the table filling new bags, but most of us realized that the only efficient way to do it was to form assembly lines so that is what we did. The biggest problem we encountered is that some of the stuff was late in arriving so we'd have to pause, go back and put the newly arrived materials in the totes, and then resume the process with the new item from time to time. We had finished this process by about 2 p.m. even with a lunch break at Sam and Wally's across the street. While we were at Sam and Wally's, we talked the owner into opening at 7 a.m. beginning on Wednesday rather than his usual 7:30 a.m., and we also talked him into being open on Saturday if business was good the rest of the week. When we checked with him later in the week, we discovered that he was very pleased with his business that week. NGS was his best event ever! Several of us went out of the way to give him business because of his willingness to work with us to give conference attendees some breakfast options that were not available otherwise. His lunch prices were very reasonable. I had a slice of pizza and a soft drink for $4 one day.

On Tuesday, I arrived around 9 a.m. to help with registration set-up. We had registrar training around 10:30 a.m. although we had all received our instructions ahead of time. I was scheduled to work registration from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. so I went to lunch a bit early. When I got back, I went over to sit with some of my NCGS friends at a table we'd placed near registration for those of us who weren't working at the time but were nearby to help if needed. Most of them needed to "do lunch." They were going to bring back something for Helen Leary and left her with me for an hour or so. Before they left, one of my friends who knew some of the challenges of one of my lines suggested that I pick Helen's brains on the problem. I didn't do it immediately but I eventually found myself telling her about the problem. She asked a few questions. She helped me come up with a few ideas for further research based on what I told her. She began telling about some of her research. She mentioned something which reminded me of another line that I had not tried to work on since I was a newbie genealogist. I decided to tell her about that line and the challenges faced by an orphan who gave us few clues about his origin other than the traditions that certain children were named after his parents and a birth location mentioned on a syllabus. It turns out that she had researched that particular surname before and was able to make some suggestions on more specific counties in which I should begin to look when I get a chance to get back to that line. She told me that there were poor cousins who lived nearby the rich ones. I will have to say that this hour of "picking Helen's brain" was probably one of my favorite hours of the conference week. I thanked my friends for leaving me with Helen that hour. After they returned with her sandwich, all of us continued to talk until I had to go work registration. We even talked about her study of the Hemings-Jefferson question. I am so glad that I had re-read her article last month in preparation for a presentation I'd done for a society.

Even before the conference began, I was already having some of those serendipitous moments that always seem to happen at a national conference that help break through a brick wall or confirm some of your research.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saturday Night Fun on Sunday

I apologize for not getting to this last night, but I'm way behind on blogs and blog reading. Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings always posts a "Saturday Night Fun" question to which those blogging genealogy are encouraged to reply. Last night's question was:

“What event or person inspired you to start your genealogy research?”

I'm not going to answer this immediately because I want to just say that it is kind of ironic because just earlier in the day, I was sitting around with several APG friends. We were all discussing this very question, and it was interesting to hear how each of these persons had gotten their start. Mine was probably one of the least interesting things.

My mother had always wanted to know more about her Harris family. She and my grandmother had made a few attempts, but just didn't really know what they were trying to find or really where to start, especially when they went to Pulaski, Tennessee, the county seat for Giles County and encountered one of the big problems in Southern research -- courthouse fire with loss of records.

Now, I've always loved history, and I really don't know why I didn't know about this option back in high school or I probably would have gone this route. I didn't know what I could do with a degree in history other than teach the same content over and over year after year, and frankly, that idea didn't appeal to me. I've always loved detective shows on television and books that involve sleuths so the sleuthing aspects of genealogy were also appealing. It's really a shame that I didn't know more about genealogy earlier in my life.

In the mid 1990s I was living in Cincinnati which had one of the best genealogical libraries in the country. I decided that I would try to find out about Mom's family for her. I made a few discoveries on this line, but it was really a line that needed to be put off until I had more experience researching. I made the typical mistakes of newbies -- trying to work on too many lines at once. I soon learned to focus on the lines on which I was making progress.

Let's just say that I became addicted to genealogical research and began attending conferences where I heard some great speakers who gave me some great advice and tips! So that's my genealogical journey. I'll try to post some reflections about the NGS conference in the next few days.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Report from NGS

We are beginning to see researchers arriving in Raleigh for NGS. I understand that the state library and archives were at half-capacity by 9:30 or so this morning. They've got a system in place to try to make sure everyone gets a turn who wishes to research.

I spent the morning and early afternoon stuffing the conference bags. We finished sometime around 2 p.m. after taking a lunch break. It's been great seeing some of my North Carolina genealogy friends as we've been working alongside each other -- and making a few new ones as well!

I did make a stop this morning by the Cafe Carolina for their wonderful sweet potato biscuits with ham and cheddar. YUM! I've been trying to replicate the recipe at home so I'm officially calling this "research." I told some of my friends that I was getting closer to the recipe and thought I knew what was lacking but I need to have the real deal a few more times to make sure I get the recipe correct! Needless to say, I've been getting a lot of teasing over my obsession with those biscuits!

We "did lunch" over at Sam and Wally's which is diagonally across from the convention center near the Sheraton. Arrangements were made with them to open for breakfast at 7 a.m. instead of their usual 7:30 a.m. so we hope they do a good business during conference. Some of the hotels don't offer breakfast so this is a good option! They are usually closed on Saturdays but may open for us.

There are several dining options on Fayetteville Street which is one street over from Salisbury (where the convention center is). Cafe Carolina is on the capital side of the Wachovia Center on that street. Port City Java is a pretty good lunch option. I've eaten there when I've been in Raleigh researching at the archives, particularly when they close during lunch on Saturdays. There's another sandwich shop called Crema. There is a New Orleans style restaurant over there that I would like to try sometime. I'm sure I've just barely scratched the surface of restaurants on Fayetteville Street or in proximity to the convention center.

I'll be busy tomorrow and hope to see some of you at the convention center!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday in Raleigh

This morning when I attended church, I had a very pleasant surprise in store for me. The pastor actually used a genealogical example near the beginning of his sermon. He talked about an "uncle" the family did not know about until 1989. (I think he was actually a great-great uncle.) The uncle had moved away from the family at an early age, ended up across the country in California, and taken the name of his adoptive family. He actually remembered some of the family and wondered about them from time to time. He was able to reach some of them, and they set up a reunion. The family resemblance was there when they got together, and people who studied his facial features knew he was who he claimed to be. The pastor related this to the story of Joseph and his brothers and the reunion which took place in Egypt years after the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. It had been so long since they had seen each other that they must have studied Joseph's face to make sure he was really who he claimed to be. I thought it was a great warm-up for this week's National Genealogical Society Conference. Maybe I should be studying faces at NGS to see if I can find a long-lost cousin or uncle!

Tomorrow (Monday) I'll be stuffing tote bags, and Tuesday afternoon I'll be working the late afternoon registration slot. I hope to meet many of you at NGS this week.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Alabama State Census at Ancestry

I learned that the Alabama State Census was now available for searching at for the years 1820-1866. I decided that I would search for my ancestor James M. Thornton. I searched for the surname Thornton in Fayette County. All of my hits were from the year 1866 although the collection description states that 1820, 1850, 1855, and 1866 are available. I found James in township 14, range 10 west in Fayette County. There were 2 males under 10 (William Walter and John Sherman) and one male over 20 (James) and 1 female under 10 (Alice) and one over 20 (second wife Nancy). All of the children were from the second marriage. [The source information provided by Ancestry is: Alabama State Census, 1820-1866 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2009. Original data: Alabama State Census, 1820, 1850, 1855 and 1866. Montgomery, Alabama: Alabama Department of Archives & History. Rolls M2004.0008-M2004.0012, M2004.0036-M2004.0050, and M2008.0124. His record was on page 5 or image 3 for Fayette County. There was no individual roll number given for the Fayette County images. That's going to make it difficult to cite Mills' style if it cannot be found on the ADAH site.]

I'm going to have to spend a little more time with it to locate the household in which James' son by his first wife was residing. He was reared by his maternal grandparents, Ashley and Celia Aldridge. We know that Ashley was living in 1860 but deceased by 1870. Celia was still living in 1870. I have been unable to locate either of them in the 1866 variation, but if, after browsing the township in which they resided (and it's too late to tackle that job tonight), I don't find Ashley under a misspelled name (and do find Celia), then I can narrow down his date of death a bit more!

Wasn't it nice of to give me some Saturday night genealogy fun? And that after an afternoon of research at the North Carolina State Library & Archives!

By the way, late this afternoon there was a really horrible storm that popped in and out of downtown Raleigh. It was so quick that if it had not made such a "commotion" that I might not have known it occurred at all. However, I got to watch orange and white construction barriers that were being used to block off a nearby street flying through the air. They didn't fly far -- but they did fly a bit after being lifted off the ground. There was a lot of paper flying high in the air as well. (I'm glad they weren't the copies I made earlier!)

Friday, May 08, 2009

What Do Snakes Have to Do with History?

I just received a newsletter from the department of archives and history of one of our 50 states. In the issue they have a listing of programs at sites around that state that are affiliated with the department. One of the programs is on snakes. There is nothing to indicate that there is anything of historical consequence in the session. (There is one on gardening, but the focus is on Victorian era gardens; there is one on summer dress, but the focus is once again on the Victorian era and even includes other interesting things that would add to one's understanding of an ancestor who lived in that era.) But snakes? They were there. Our ancestors probably didn't like them any better than we do. The only good snake is a dead one -- and even the word "good" is questionable in describing a dead snake.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Almost Over . . .

The spring semester is almost over. I'm really quite happy that it is coming to an end. It has been stressful in many ways. I will be sad to see some of my colleagues leaving the college for the next chapter in their lives. However, it does bring about one happy thing -- NGS is just around the corner! Our graduation is scheduled for Friday night (and I will be sad that some of our graduates are leaving but happy for them as they go out into the world for the work for which they've prepared), and I'm headed Saturday morning to Raleigh. I hope to meet many new people there, including some of you I've met online through genealogy blogs. I know many have been comparing arrival schedules over the last few days on Facebook. The car will be serviced on Thursday. The cat sitter has been arranged. I'm ready to head to North Carolina! (Well, almost -- I've still got some genealogical data that I'm looking over the next couple of days to make sure that I'm on track with any research that I might be able to do while there.)