Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Centerville Pioneer Cemetery

After a month of lecture series preparations - and a computer crash - I'm back, I think. My computer was backed up, of course, but it still takes a while to get everything back in order. This new computer still doesn't feel like my old friend, but I'm sure it will become more familiar with time.

You all know of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but unless you live in California, you may not be familiar with the 21 October 1868 Hayward fault earthquake. Annie (Peacock) Hibberd died in 1866, two years before this almost 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay area. The people she left behind erected this tombstone as a memorial to her short life, and any present-day genealogists related to the family would be happy to find this stone where it rests in the Centerville Pioneer Cemetery. I was surprised to discover, though, that seismologists would also find a use for this stone and others from the same era in this cemetery. The USGS uses tombstones to study the shaking intensities of historic earthquakes! Part of this study is available online: "Inferring Shaking Intensities at Cemeteries that Have Suffered Multiple Damaging Earthquakes." I found it very interesting reading. Genealogists see tombstones and think about the person's life; social historians see tombstones and think about the culture of the time; seismologists see tombstones and think about earthquake damage. I wonder what other information tombstones provide.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Madness Monday: Save the Library of Michigan

Although Ancestry's removal of the Drouin collection - hopefully temporary - is enough to make anyone with Canadian ancestry angry, my anger is overshadowed by the Library of Michigan situation. There are options to everything Ancestry has, even if those options are not available on my living room computer 24/7. The same cannot be said for the wonderful collection at the Library of Michigan. If you have not read about the Michigan governor's plan, please visit the Michigan Genealogical Council's page. Then, sign the online petition, the sooner the better. The Library of Michigan is a wonderful facility, one of my favorite state libraries. It seems that schools and libraries are always the first to see cuts in budget crises. Why? Education and knowledge should be near the top of the must-be-preserved list, not near the bottom.

I have had great days in the Library of Michigan, and I still have so much more research to do there. This situation started me thinking about the state libraries and archives I've used over the years, all different, but all holding millions of tiny treasures of information bits: the Maryland State Archives, the Delaware Public Archives, the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Pennsylvania State Library, the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration and the Vermont Department of Libraries, and the same for New Hampshire, Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, and Kansas. The state repositories of New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California are on my list of must-visit-one-day, but I haven't made it yet. Don't forget that many of these state archives and libraries have impressive on line presences, as well. Like its library the Michigan History, Arts and Libraries web site is a wonderful resource. What happens to the web site when the collection is dismantled? I really don't want to find out.

Save the Library of Michigan!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Where Are You on the Genealogy Learning Curve?

I just returned from a visit with the most beautiful four-month-old baby in the world, my grandson, to the ordinary world filled with lots of things that need to be done yesterday - and empty of any blog ideas. A lovely confluence of circumstances yesterday finally gave me an idea.
  • First, my advanced genealogy class is starting at the end of the month. I was reviewing my PowerPoint presentations, handouts and homework assignments, and I was a little surprised to see how little needs changing.
  • Second, Dick Eastman's post on September 1st announced that Legacy Family Tree is now FamilySearch Certified. This announcement was giving rise to lots of comments on junk genealogy, and I realized I wasn't sure what FamilySearch Certified meant. I'm not sure the commenters understood either.
  • Third, I was early - as usual - for a meeting, and I grabbed one of the many magazines that end up in my car. It was a 2004 issue of the NGS NewsMagazine, and it contained a wonderful article by Thomas W. Jones, "The Way It Was and Still Is."
Mr. Jones' article identifies three phases we all go through if we stay on the genealogy learning curve. The first is Name-Gathering. I think most of us are very excited about filling in the blanks in our family groups sheets and extending our pedigree charts when we first begin our genealogy journey. When I hear people talking with pride about the 100,000+ names in their genealogy databases, I know these people are still in the name-gathering phase of their research. As with any learning endeavor, many never leave this phase.

Phase two is the Record-Hunting phase. I remember when I really entered this phase. I had been so excited about tracing my ancestry into Medieval England. I had easy access to the published heralds' visitations, and I copied reams of pages providing the pedigrees of exotically named nobles. When I began entering my genealogy in a computer database, though, it suddenly hit me that I didn't really care about people like Roos of Helmsley or Alan de la Zouche. I definitely wasn't going to waste my time entering them in my database! On the other hand, documenting the lives of people who left few records behind them was fascinating. I cherished original petitions, photographs and letters, and I worked very hard platting out changes in neighborhoods over decades. As the records became more scarce, I only became more eager to find and understand those that still existed.

Eventually, of course, I discovered that direct evidence on most of my problem families simply didn't exist, and I entered phase three, Case-Building. This is the never-ending learning phase of genealogy research. It's so exciting to write a proof summary that uniquely identifies one William Johnston from the dozen others in the region, or that explains why Joseph Wills did not marry a daughter of Aaron Case. I love reading some of the articles in the Quarterly and wondering at the sheer elegance of the proofs; and one of these days, I hope to be satisfied enough with one of my own articles that I will be happy to submit it to the Quarterly or the Record.

My basic genealogy course is designed to help researchers transition from the name-gathering phase to the record-hunting phase. I update this course frequently. Although the original records we use in genealogy haven't changed over the years, access to them has. A dizzying array of digitized originals, transcripts, abstracts - and, yes, junk - is available. Thanks to online indexes, finding someone in the census is much easier than it was forty years ago, but the transition from name-gathering to record-hunting may not be as easy as people believe. I think the ability to evaluate records develops in direct proportion to the amount of work necessary to find those records, so my students today enter the basic class with less experience in evaluation than my students of twenty years ago.

My advanced course is designed to help researchers transition from the record-hunting phase to the case-building phase. This transition is not really affected by software programs or Internet sources. Students make this transition when they recognize the fact that genealogy research, like any research, is problem-solving, not filling-in-the-blanks. I love working with these students!

What does all this have to do with the FamilySearch Certified imprimatur? I'm not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, so I have not been able to explore the features of the new FamilySearch. From what I've seen in conference demonstrations, this new FamilySearch tree, with which FamilySearch Certified programs directly interact, has some advantages over Ancestry's World Tree, but I suspect that it's still something I won't use. People in the name-gathering phase of their research may flock there, however, and many of them will never leave. From a business point of view, catering to name-gatherers makes sense. There are so many more of them! From an educator's point of view, however, I would much rather see more effort put into encouraging and supporting name-gatherers as they journey on the genealogy learning curve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Magdalena Keller

This is another in my collection of "I-love-it-but-it's-not-family" tombstone photos. This stone marks the grave of Magdalena Keller, possibly the wife of John Philip Keller, in the Christ Reformed Cemetery in Middletown, Maryland. There are not a lot of tombstones in this cemetery made of this material and pierced around the edge. All of those I found mark the graves of German-speaking families buried in the late 1700s or very early 1800s. This stone reads, "Hier ruhet// Magdalena Kell// erin ist gestor// ben den 24 Iulius// 1805 Sie wahr alt// etwa 40 Iahr." Loosely translated, the inscription is "Here rests Magdalena Keller, died 24 July 1805. She was about 40 years old."

I took this photograph shortly before leaving Maryland in 2004. I grabbed my camera and drove to Middletown to photograph tombstones of the Shafer families and its allies, but couldn't resist a few extra photos. I took about ninety photos in this cemetery and uploaded the bunch to my Flickr site in a set called "Christ Reformed Cemetery, Middletown, Maryland." If you don't include Flickr in your tombstone searches, you may be missing a treasure. Flickr is tagged by its users, so you may need to be creative in searching the site for cemeteries and tombstones, but you should also be aware of some Flickr groups dedicated to tombstone photographs, especially "Graves of Veterans of the American Civil War" and the "Find A Grave" group.

My ninety photos from the Christ Reformed Cemetery pale when compared to the 775 residing on Find A Grave. Magdalena Keller's tombstone photo is here, but the person who created the memorial was apparently unfamiliar with the German language. She appears as "Ruthet Magdalena Kellerin." The transcriber misread the word Ruhet [rests] as a given name, and he was unfamiliar with the old naming convention in which the suffix -in was added to create the feminine surname form.

What other sites do you routinely include in your search for tombstone photographs, cemetery transcriptions, and burial records? Make sure you add Flickr to the list.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Is Your Research Plan?

I love research trips. I enjoy the thrill of a new courthouse, the weeds at an old cemetery - and the food at the new restaurant everyone in the town is talking about. I never go an a research trip without my research plan, a short statement of the problem and its current status and a more detailed listing of the records I planned to search. A research plan accompanied me on my recent trip to Washington, D.C., and I returned with the annotated plan and a huge stack of photocopied records, complete source citations for every document I viewed, all negative results fully described, and descriptions of a few record series new to me - the beginnings of my research report. Life was good.

I decided to begin my data entry and analysis with the Civil War pension of Abner J. Malone, who served in Company I in the 132nd Indiana Infantry. He may be the grandson of a 3xgreat-grandfather, a line I worked on very early in my research days, but very quickly hit a dead end. I was working on his death certificate, one of the pages in the pension. He died in Indianapolis in 1899 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis; he was born in Madison, Indiana, and was the son of Abner J. Malone, born in Williamsport, Maryland, and Sarah J. Taylor, born in Maryland. What a wonderful amount of new information!

Several hours after I began work on the pension, I found myself looking at the Queen Anne's County, Maryland, land records of a completely unrelated family! How did I get here? I had wandered off in cyberspace and there were no bread crumbs around to help me find my way home. What had I done? I won't believe you if you say this has never happened to you.

I didn't panic - much, but I was really irritated with myself. Not only had I not planned my searches, I hadn't even recorded what I was doing, and I suspected some of it had been very valuable. I really needed a record of my thoughts and discoveries, so I opened up a blank Word doc and returned to the beginning, the Abner J. Malone death certificate and his person page in TMG, my genealogy program.

Okay. It looked like my first stop had been Ancestry.com, where I had found Abner and his family in the 1880 census, and Abner with his parents in Indianapolis in the 1870 and 1860 censuses and in Madison in 1850. I had cited and transcribed each census, added the new individuals to the database and extracted all the information. So far, so good, but I didn't have anything recorded beyond these censuses.

I stewed for a minute, looking at the death certificate. Yes! He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, and they have a burial locator on line. That's where I had gone next. Abner wasn't on the list of Malone burials, but his parents, siblings, and second wife were, all buried in two adjoining lots. I entered the link and information in my text file, along with the note to order the burial information for both lots.

The cemetery site had reminded me that the Indiana State Library has an on line index to Indianapolis newspapers. Nothing there on Abner, but there are obituary entries for his father and a sister. I entered all the information, with a note to order the obits. I also now remembered that I'd spent some extra time here researching a few other - unrelated - families. I added those names to my "search later" list, but decided that I really should stick to my plan of recovering my lost work.

What had I done next? My eyes found the "Father born in Williamsport, Maryland," notation. That was it. If Abner pere was really the brother of my Eleazer Malone, then he was the son of a William Malone. Back to Ancestry.com's direct link to the U.S. census database. Who were the Malones in 1820 Washington County, Maryland? Oh, my! There's a William Malone in Williamsport! I entered this information in my text file, but on this trip, I also noted a James Malone and a Muncy Malone. Their information went into my notes, too, along with a couple of other relevant names I didn't remember seeing before. More notes went into the text file.

How had I gotten to Queen Anne's County land records? I remember now. I've never had any Washington County ancestors, so I had Googled "washington county" mdgenweb to find its USGenWeb site. From there, I had selected the link to the Western Maryland Historical Library. What a great site! Here was the citation for the "Washington County Taxes, 1803-1804" record I had downloaded in my earlier visit. And here was the link that reminded me of the Maryland Land Records at MDLandRec.Net. Hurrah! I love the internet! Here was William Malone's 1811 lease, but this time I copied the full citation and took the time to really read the document. From here, I had left Washington County and the Malone family and segued into Queen Anne's County, a visit I didn't make this time around. Instead, I reviewed my research notes, filled out and mailed my requests to the cemetery and the Indiana State Library, and returned to Abner Malone's Civil War pension. I kept my research text file open, just in case.

Good research practices don't change just because the research is being done at a computer instead of the state archives or county courthouse. Every time we sign in to Ancestry or Footnote, Google a surname, or visit one of RootsWeb's county sites, we're going on a research trip. We should always bring a plan along - or at least make sure we leave some bread crumbs along the trail so we don't get lost.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Search Engine Woes and Wishes

Does anyone really like Ancestry's "New Search"? When I was in D.C. a few weeks ago, I was off the internet grid for about eight days. I was happily playing bridge, researching at the Archives, and visiting with friends. Near the end of the trip, I checked into a hotel with free internet access and decided to check on a few censuses for background on one of my new discoveries. Alas! When I signed on to Ancestry, my home page no longer came up with Ancestry's "Old Search". I couldn't find the records I needed with the "New Search," and I completely panicked. Eventually, I did get to a screen that showed those wonderful tiny letters, Old Search, clicked on the link, and found my people in about five minutes. As many problems as the Old Search might have, the New Search has been dumbed down to such a degree that I find it almost impossible to use. What will I do if Ancestry ever does away with the Old Search?

This experience got me thinking about what I'd like to see when it comes to searching Ancestry or any other web site.

1. Soundex surname searches are nice. Let's keep them.
2. Wildcards are a necessity in a good search engine, but why does Ancestry require three letters preceding the first wildcard? Why can't we start a field with a wildcard?
3. I had trouble finding a death record when I was at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. One of the reference specialists asked, "What year are we talking about? Oh. That was one of the poorly indexed years. You'll get better results if you search using the "Ends with . . ." option. I'd forgotten that the MHS birth and death certificate indexes offer the options, "Contains", "Starts with . . .", and "Ends with . . .". If I can't put my wildcard any where I choose, I'd like all of these added to the search possibilities.
4. The 1880 census search form allows us to search by occupation. Why don't all the 1850 and later templates allow the same option? It would be so useful!
5. Wouldn't it be great if the 1850 and later census search forms allowed us to search for households containing a combination of names? The 1880 plus censuses do allow the possibility of searching for households with father's, mother's, and/or spouse's given names, so why not a series of "Household contains given name ____" possibilities? And why don't all the 1880 plus censuses allow a search by parents' birthplaces?

The search options at the FamilySearch Record Pilot are interesting. The "Exact and Close Match" works reasonably well, but Footnote goes one step better, now that it allows wildcards in its initial search. With both sites, like Ancestry's New Search, you can narrow your results. The fact that Footnote's narrowing options are actually listed makes it more productive than the other two. You don't have to guess at what the indexer might have seen. FamilySearch, however, has the ability to narrow your results by Role. I think that option is fairly unique - and frequently very useful.

Although the Heritage Quest search options are rather primitive, they have one feature I love: the ability to sort the search results. Wouldn't it be great to be able to sort Ancestry's search results in any way you wished? By county, surname or given name, or birthplace? It would make search results so much easier to analyze. I must admit that I find Footnote's almost random listing of results frustrating.

I'm not sure letting a computer algorithm dictate our search results is the best way to go. People are so much more creative and imaginative - and sometimes our subconscious has streaks of brilliance that a computer may never achieve. What features would you like to see in a site's search engine?