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?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Elisabeth (Wilcox) Stone

Sometimes, I photograph tombstones simply because I find them interesting or beautiful, poignant or fragile. The crude carving on Elisabeth Stone's marker in East Canton (Pennsylvania) Cemetery stood out. The fact that part of the stone appeared to be missing also attracted me, since I like to photograph stones before they disappear entirely. The missing segment, however, was an integral part of the stone. The letters were carved around it.

According to Heverly's Pioneer and Patriot Families of Bradford County, Pennsylvania (1913), 1: 327, Elisabeth was the daughter of Daniel Wilcox, a Massachusetts native and the first settler in Franklin township. Her husband, Benjamin, was also an early settler in the area, following Daniel from Massachusetts. Benjamin moved on to settle in LeRoy, where he and Elisabeth raised six children, several of them also buried in this cemetery.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Caleb Williams


Where do you find the Black Sheep in your family? Do you look in court records? Do you find them in newspapers? Are their stories told in local histories? Yes, many black sheep can be found in these sources, but most of my black sheep stories come from church records. The excerpt above comes from the Church Book of the Baptist Church of Christ at Burlington (Pennsylvania) and is dated 9 March 1816.

"Br Case Hebard & Wills states that Br C Williams still walks disorderly in Swearing & Clubing his Children. Voted to send Brs Mattson Saml Rockwell to admonish him to his duty and come to next meeting Satisfy the Chh."

Admonishments for swearing, drinking, and failing to come to meeting abound in these early church minutes, but this is the earliest instance I found of child abuse. What was happening in the home of Caleb Williams that was labeled by his church, "Clubing his Children?" Four days later, Caleb Williams would be excluded from the church, and I've found no record of his return. Without this note in the Baptist Church minutes, Caleb Williams would not qualify for a black sheep.

Caleb was a Revolutionary War soldier who enlisted in the Continental Army in 1781 when only fourteen years of age. Although he enlisted as a private, Caleb served as a teamster in Captain Bissel Phelps's company and was assigned to drive a team carrying baggage for the French. He was discharged upon reaching Annapolis, but reenlisted in April 1782 and served eight months, again as a teamster under Capt. Chapman. His own declaration tells the story of this service: "Both teams were ox teams, the first had one horse before the oxen. The last team he drove (during the whole of the last term of service) was the property of the government, what was termed a continental team. He was employed in first drawing the magazines, from Fishkill Barracks to Fishkill landing. Afterwards in drawing timber at West Point to repair the fortifications, afterwards in drawing forage, for Sheldon's light horse until discharged at Horse Neck." He married Abigail Andrus in Glastonbury, Connecticut, in 1788, and the young couple followed the migration route from Connecticut to western Massachusetts to Bennnington, Vermont, and finally to the area that would become Troy, Pennsylvania.

In 1816, when this church incident occurred, Caleb's three older children were married. He had given both sons and his son-in-law generous grants of land about the time each marriage occurred. Still at home were three sons, Johnson, age 20, Warren, age 18, and Andrus, age 9, and a daughter, Laura, probably about 12 years old. All lived to adulthood, with the exception of Andrus, who died in 1821. Wife Abigail died in 1823, and Caleb married a second time in 1835.

Caleb died in 1854, by which time most of his property had already been gifted to each child. He left a bay mare, a buggy wagon and harness, and two notes. He must have been very careful with his accounting, because the inventory of his estate closely matches the property he distributes in his 1853 will. He's buried next to Abigail in Glenwood Cemetery, a Revolutionary War marker next to his tombstone.

Without this record in the church minutes, Caleb would not qualify for black sheep status. I still wonder what the full story was. Historical records provide us with only small glimpses of the past - like looking into the peephole of an old Easter egg. What was happening in those places we can't see?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My First Day at the National Archives

I remember my first day at the National Archives. I went armed with my rudimentary research plan and a lot of trepidation. The DC metro didn't exist, so I took the train from Baltimore to Washington's Union Station and walked to the Archives. There was no metal detector, you didn't need an ID card, and the beautiful new reading room wasn't even a dream. I found my way to the fourth floor microfilm reading room, got a researcher's card, and signed in to a microfilm reader with my first roll of census microfilm. After a few hours of census scanning, I took a break and switched to the microfilm pension indexes. I ordered the Civil War pensions of two of my 2xgreat-grandfathers, the Civil War pension of one 3xgreat-grandfather, and the War of 1812 pension of a 4xgreat-grandfather. I was then told that these pensions would be available in about one hour in the second-floor research room - so I took a real break and went to lunch.

After lunch, I signed in to the second-floor research room, after depositing everything I carried in a locker, and asked to see my first pension. "Name?" the man behind the desk asked. "Benjamin Rollins," I replied. He actually looked at me then, and said, "Your name, not the pensioner's name." "Oh," an embarrassed me replied. After getting my name, he went to a box, pulled out a pile of manila envelopes, and handed me an envelope and a pink sheet. "What's this?" I asked. "Your pension," he replied. "Name and date here," he pointed to the pink sheet. I signed the sheet, then stood there, holding this big manila envelope. I had been expecting microfilm, and my mind had simply frozen. He looked at me for a moment, sighed, then said, "Take the pension, find a seat at one of the tables, and open it." I did, and I've been hooked ever since. He had given me the War of 1812 pension, and among the real, live, original papers was the last letter ever written by Benjamin Rollins, my 4xgreat-grandfather.

The three Civil War pensions were equally wonderful. I couldn't believe the stories I found in those pages. Each pension was similar, and each pension was unique. I finished the last pension, looked at my watch, and realized that I might not be able to make my train back to Baltimore! I grabbed my photocopies, signed out of the research room, grabbed my things from my locker, signed out of the Archives, and ran all the way to Union Station. As I ran through the station, I caught a glimpse of the Baltimore train's track number and ran to the track. A train was pulling out, and, just like in the movies, the conductor leaned out of the last car's door, grabbed my hand, and pulled me on. Out of breath, I grabbed an empty seat, and said to the woman across from me, "This train is going to Baltimore, isn't it?" "Not as far as I know," she replied. "Oh, no! Where am I going?" I cried. "I get off at the airport," she said, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on the right train, on my way home, with wonderful treasures.

"What have you been doing?" this poor woman now asked me. "Oh, you don't really want to know," I warned her. "No. Tell me," the unsuspecting thing said, and I didn't need any more persuading. I started telling her the story of my 2xgreat-grandmother, her four children, and her Civil War soldier husband. I talked about how her husband was wounded in the war, and recovered from his wound, but never quite recovered from the lung infection he suffered. I told her about his work as a traveling tinker and his death in 1879, leaving his widow with no money and four children, the youngest, my great-grandfather, only one year old. I talked about her sorrow as she apprenticed out her two oldest children and took in boarders and laundry to make ends meet. I told her about the scandal when a neighbor accused her of sleeping with a boarder. This neighbor wrote the War Department, saying that a widow who slept with a man should lose her pension. My 2xgreat-grandmother was poorly educated and didn't know what to do, but her second son had been apprenticed to an influential man in the neighborhood who helped her retain her pension. I then continued the story, and told the woman that my 2xgreat-grandmother eventually married this boarder, so the scandalous accusation might have had some truth to it. I grabbed papers and read her excerpts, showing her the difficult-to-read handwriting. I simply couldn't stop talking, even as I watched her eyes glaze over and her face begin to take on a shocked look. She was only released when her stop came and she could stumble off the train. I know she didn't take a seat on that train for at least a week before making sure I was nowhere near her.

Ironically, when I decided to make my own test of Ancestry's pension indexes, I discovered that, if limited to Ancestry's indexes only, I might not have found three of these four pensions.

First, you should all realize that Ancestry's War of 1812 pension index database contains the index images, but these images have not been indexed. When Ancestry announced their big military collection a few years ago, I plugged in Benjamin Rollins' name, but no 1812 pension results appeared. If you're searching for a War of 1812 pensioner on Ancestry, you must browse these images to find him.

I could find no pension entry for Guy Beckley Staples, the Civil War pensioner featured in the above story, in Ancestry's database, regardless of the many possible search configurations I used. I did find an entry for him in Footnote's database.

I could find no pension entry for William Henry Peck, my 3xgreat-grandfather, whose pension I also devoured on this memorable first day. I couldn't find him in Footnote's database, either. Only one of the four pensioners, Benjamin S. Gifford, was readily available on both Ancestry and Footnote. If I had access only to Ancestry, my first day at the Archives might not have been so memorable. Of course, that poor woman on the train back to Baltimore would have had a much more peaceful ride.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apples and Fraktur

One of my college classmates loved to pontificate on any subject. He fascinated me, because I hadn't met too many people like him before those days. Of course, he irritated me a great deal, too. Over the years, though, one of his rambling commentaries has returned to mind many times - his "Apple Argument." He contended that most Americans had no idea what a wonderful thing an apple could be. The only apple we'd ever eaten was a Red Delicious, with an occasional adventure with a Jonathan or a Granny Smith. (This was in the days before most grocery stores added Gala and Fuji to their limited collection.) There were hundreds, if not thousands, of tastier apples in the country, but we never saw them because they didn't ship or store as well. Big business was destroying quality and variety in apples simply to make money. On the other hand, I replied, big business was providing people with inexpensive apples year round. That couldn't be all bad, could it? I'm not sure I agree with my early self now. How many of these apple varieties have you tasted? How many have you even heard of? Isn't there some way to have both quality and availability? And what does this have to do with genealogy?

Late last year, a controversial post by Peggy Reeves on the APG mailing list started a discussion that carried over to several other lists and blogs. Like Peggy, I have found missing records in many Ancestry databases, and we all have stories of horrendous indexing errors in all the major subscription databases. Many of the responses to Peggy's posts boiled down to this: "Okay, there may be problems, but we should be grateful for what we have. Look at how much better access is now to these records." True, but will we have access to these records if they're not digitized in the first place? Do we have access if there's no index or finding aid? How do you look at a record, if you can't find proof it exists?

I took comfort from the fact that the Archives would be there for us, but in gossiping with some of the reference people on my recent trip, I discovered that the Archives really is planning to retire digitized records from "active reference," and there are rumors of plans to replace the microfilm reading room at Archives I with a museum store. Microfilm, like text records, could be requested, but self-service rolls would be limited. Records no longer considered active reference could be requested, but usually only when your need to see the original is demonstrated. Consider also Peggy's comment that the companies digitizing NARA's records weren't even taking advantage of modern technology. That brings me to the fraktur in my title. If you can't look at the original, which image would you rather see? This fraktur image found on Footnote, or this image found on NARA's Flickr site?

Isn't there some way to have both quality and availability? Whose responsibility is it to see that we do?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: A Blank Spot


In 2003, when I took my almost-new digital camera to Glenwood Cemetery in Troy, Pennsylvania, this was the picture of the Aaron Case tombstone. Yes, that's it in the center of the photo - the big empty space. In 1988 on my first visit to the cemetery, Aaron's stone was broken and partially buried. It read, "Aaron Case// died// June 3, 1877// aged// 54 yrs. 4 mos.// & 20 ds." The stone was still there in 1996, but it was gone in 2003. Many other tombstones that I had transcribed in previous years were gone by the time my digital camera and I returned.

So, the next time you see an empty spot in a cemetery where a tombstone used to be, say, "Thank you," to the D.A.R. chapter that transcribed it, or the Find A Grave volunteer that posted a photograph for you. Speaking of Find A Grave, I have several hundred tombstone photos still waiting for me to upload them. I'd better get back to work!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: The Story of a Little Black Lamb

Thousand-Dollar Bill Makes Staid Mill Valley Sit Up And See Things. That was the front page headline on the March 8, 1922, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. Clerk Shot By Bandit, $2,250 Taken proclaimed the San Francisco Examiner on the same day. Both articles told the story of the robbery of Harold L. Craig, a 22-year-old clerk in the San Francisco office of Standard Oil. Craig was returning to his Mill Valley home in Marin County when he was accosted by an armed robber and shot when he confronted that robber. After shooting Craig in the chest, the robber searched him, stealing a $750 diamond ring he had just purchased for his bride of four months and the $1500 in cash Craig was carrying to purchase a car. Craig's cries for help alerted his neighbors. He was taken to San Rafael hospital, while the sheriff organized a posse to search for the bandit. Adding to the hullabaloo, a fire broke out in Mill Valley, so half the posse members returned to fight the fire, while the remainder continued their search in the direction of Sausalito. The posse did not find the bandit, and William Salley, Mill Valley town clerk and a member of the posse, lost his home in the fire.

Harold Craig was reported to have inherited $20,000 from an uncle. His wife, the former Louise Gilliam Nye, was hinting strongly that some of that inheritance should be used for her benefit. Craig had promised her a diamond ring and an automobile before they were married, and she thought she had waited long enough. Craig, therefore, withdrew some of his inheritance and went to a San Francisco jewelry store where he purchased the ring with a thousand-dollar bill. He assumed that the robber had seen him at the bank or the jewelry store and followed him home. Craig's story was questioned, however, when two boys told Sheriff J. J. Keating they had seen Craig go home from the train depot without being accosted by anyone.

The next day's papers proclaimed the hoax: Victim of 'Robbery' Confesses He Shot Himself to Deceive Bride. Craig admitted to the sheriff that both his bride and his creditors were pressing him, and so he framed the story to account for his lack of money. Further investigation showed that he had not bought a diamond ring in the jewelry store, but had left one of his wife's rings there to be reset. He had not withdrawn any money, and he was not employed by Standard Oil, but he "declined to say where he works."

The story is not over. On day three, both papers reported another reversal. Craig Denies His Confession is the Examiner headline, while the Chronicle reports Craig Returns to Claim That Thug Shot Him. Harold told his family and his doctor that he confessed to the shooting under duress. "[T]hat was what the police seemed to want and I was tired of being questioned." The police never found the pistol, and Craig's doctor said, "If he deliberately shot himself in the shoulder without suicidal intent, it was a phenomenal demonstration of nerve."

What is the truth of my little black lamb's story? The only follow-up I've found was a small blurb a few days later about Craig's "true blue" wife, but I haven't searched Marin County court records for any trial resulting from this event. Harold and Louise (Nye) Craig had two children and continued to live in Mill Valley for at least twenty more years. It appears that the couple had separated by 1944, however, when Louise is still living in Mill Valley, but Craig, a telephone installer, had moved to San Francisco. He probably met Lorna (Goss) Lambert, a Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operator, on his job. Harold and Lorna married, probably before 1949, and moved to San Rafael in 1951. Harold Craig died in 1975 and Louise (Nye) Craig died in 1984. My interest in this story, however, derives from my research on Lorna (Goss) (Lambert) Craig. She was my father's oldest sibling, a half-sister he didn't know existed. His older siblings did, and they had tried to locate her, without success. My daughter found her in 1997 - in Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California. She had died in 1993.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Research Trip: How Do You Prepare?

Why do you use a genealogy software program? One of my main requirements for my program is the ability to help me track my research. Does it help me store and retrieve all those "What if . . ." and "I wonder . . ." ideas we all get as we analyze our data? Does it allow me to quickly prepare a to-do list tailored to a particular repository, family, or record type? If you're using The Master Genealogist (TMG), the answer to these questions is, "Yes." I've been using TMG since it's beta days, so I'm not sure my methods are as up-to-date as those allowed by the program now, but those methods did allow me to prepare a manageable list of tasks, complete with all the information I needed to request records, in a very efficient manner.


Here is a screen shot showing one of my research tasks. I create one every time I have one of those "I wonder . . ." moments. My task name always begins with the main surname of interest. My keywords always include the repository, the record type, relevant surname(s), and relevant residence(s). The comments field always includes my thoughts or the information necessary to order the record. With only three research days available on this trip, I limited my repositories to the National Archives (keyword: NARA). This gave me a list of about 600 tasks. I wasn't completing that in three days! I then excluded most of the microfilmed record types. I wanted to concentrate on NARA's text records. The list was now reduced to about 300 tasks. Still not manageable, so I limited it to tasks designed since 1 January 2008. Those would cover my most current projects. The final list comprised about sixty tasks. I might not finish this list, but it was now manageable. The list was printed in Task Name order, so all my major families of interest were grouped together, and the information in the Comments field allowed me to fill out NARA request forms the minute I walked into the research room.

As you're all aware, as each task is completed and the record is analyzed, you're likely to come up with new research ideas. I did add several possibilities to my list in the first two days, and I didn't complete nine of those on the original list, but I made significant progress. Given the fact that some of the records I investigated would have required hiring a researcher, I estimate that all my photocopies would have cost about $3000 if I'd been doing long-distance research. There was one problem. An eight-inch stack of photocopies weighs quite a bit and takes up a lot of space. I had to buy a new carry-on to bring my records home!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fix-It Friday: Who was the Wife of David Bean?

When my daughter was about four years old, she got very upset about a grocery store tabloid story about an alien's baby with two heads - or some such thing. I tried to explain that it wasn't true, and she said, "Mommy, if it's not true, then they shouldn't be allowed to print it!" Although we're consciously aware that not everything we read is true, our subconscious seems to echo my daughter. "It must be true. I read it in a book, or on line, or saw it on TV." And we all know that once something appears in print, it develops a life of its own. Correcting it is almost impossible. Genealogists have an even bigger problem. We publish the results of our research, and even though we may feel we have done a reasonably thorough job of searching the best sources, we know that new evidence may appear that invalidates our conclusions.

Unless we've published the material ourselves, we have limited means to posit a correction. In fact, our "correction" is only another conclusion based on what we consider best evidence. Here is a fix-it for the identity of Abigail, wife of David Bean, of Wheelock, Vermont.

The memorial for Abigail Bean, who is buried in South Wheelock Cemetery, can be found on Find A Grave. The information provided calls her Abigail (Stephens) Bean, born 1808 and died Dec. 30, 1861. The inscription is noted as including "w/o David," and there is a note, "Married in Kirby Dec. 3, 1848." There is no tombstone photograph. When I saw this, I immediately said, "Oh, no! I must have made a mistake! I thought David Bean's wife was Abigail Ward. What is my source?" I still think Abigail, wife of David Bean of Wheelock, Vermont, is Abigail Ward, daughter of Samuel and Tamson (Hall) Ward. Here are some highlights from my evidence.

1. Abigail's tombstone in South Wheelock Cemetery reads, "Abigail// wife of// David Bean// died// Dec. 30, 1861// ae 52 yrs". No help there for either the Stephens school or the Ward school.

2. There is a death record for Abigail Bean in Wheelock, Vermont, Vital Statistics 1: 89. It states that Abigail Bean died 30 December 1861, age age 52 years 4 months 15 days; cause of death, heart disease. She was married and her parents are recorded as "Abigail and Tamson Ward." Sometimes, things just aren't easy. This is the only entry in the entire volume that lists a female name first in the parents column, and it's definitely the only entry that records two female names in this column! I think the recorder simply repeated Abigail's name without thinking about it. Tamson Ward, widow of Samuel Ward, was still living in the area, either in Danville with son Samuel H., or in Wheelock with daughter Mary (Ward) Sherburn. Her husband, though, had died 26 years earlier, so a slip on his name is more likely than a slip on Tamson's. No informant appears in these records.

3. I have found no marriage record for David Bean and Abigail Ward, and their only son's marriage and death records don't give his mother's maiden name. However, that son, William W., was a Civil War soldier. His pension file contains several affidavits from members of Abigail Ward's family, none from any Stephens family.

4. Janice Boyko's wonderful site, Northeast Kingdom Genealogy, contains birth, death, and marriage announcements found in area newspapers. Two of them, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian and the Danville North Star, contain the announcement of the marriage of Reuben Bean Jr. of Kirby to Abigail Stephens of Kirby, 3 December 1848, in Kirby. I haven't seen the original newspapers.

5. David, Abigail, and William W. Bean are enumerated in Wheelock, Vermont, in both the 1850 and 1860 censuses. The household of Reuben and Abigail Bean is enumerated in Kirby, Vermont in the same census years. In 1850, Reuben is called Reuben Jr. and his household follows that of his probable father, also called Reuben. In 1860, the Reuben and Abigail Bean family is enumerated in the household of William Stevens, a man of an age to be Abigail's father.

Thus, my fix-it for the day: Abigail, wife of David Bean of Wheelock, Vermont, is Abigail Ward, daughter of Samuel and Tamson (Hall) Ward. Abigail Stephens, on the other hand, married Reuben Bean Jr., of Kirby, Vermont. If you're interested in any of these families, you can now judge the evidence.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Research Trip Report: The DAR Library

I really wish I could get back to D.C. more often! Once every two or three years is simply not often enough. My "to-do" list is so long that it's not always easy to come up with a manageable plan. This trip was also combined with the ACBL Summer National Bridge Tournament, so I lost a few days of research time to the bridge tables. I had tentatively reserved one morning at the DAR Library investigating supporting documents for a half dozen subjects. If you've ever done this, you know that it's a little time-consuming. Supporting documents are filed in folders named for the relevant patriot. Each contains a hodge-podge of information of varying value, everything from, "My father told me all about his grandfather's family," to pages from family Bibles, photographs of no longer extant tombstones, and eighteenth-century letters. You request a folder, mark the items of interest to be photocopied, then wait for your copies. At least, that's the way it used to be done.

I arrived at the library moments after it opened. The guard at the door told me that the only thing that had changed since I was there five years ago was the entrance to the library. He was wrong. When I told the librarian that I wanted to see some supporting documents, he said, "We've recently finished digitizing all the supporting docs. They're part of an in-house database, and you can see them on a computer in the Seimes Center." Hurray! He then informed me that the center was no longer in the basement of the building, gave me directions, and sent me off.

Instead of being greeted by microfilm readers, when you enter the center you're now greeted by several computer terminals. Select the Ancestor Database, find your subject of interest, and start viewing the available supporting documents. Printing a page is a snap. Hit a few buttons and the page is sent to a central printer. When you're finished, pick up your photocopies at the reference desk. Copies are $0.20 per page for supporting documents and $10 for a copy of a member application. I finished my tasks in half the time I planned, but fortunately, I always carry a mental "to-do" list. Here's one of my lovely finds.

Mr. John Stephenson,
Warren County Ohio.
Lebanon.

Greene County Pa. May 31st, 1816.

Dear Son:-

In the providence of God I am bereaved of your dear mother and likely my mind is too much swallowed up in grief, though I believe I should not mourn as those that have no hope. Though I enjoy common health for one of my age yet I am fast following my dear partner, and a few days or years at most, I must make trial of the invisible and eternal world, O" to be well prepared to go. For the time and circumstances of your Mothers death, I refer you to your brother James letter and also of your relatives here. I remain your affectionate father,

Hugh Stephenson

The Genealogical Records Committee reports are also being digitized. I asked about the possibility of these databases going online and was told that rumors about a possible subscription database were floating around. I hope those rumors are true. I love going on research trips, but I also love researching in my bathrobe at 1 a.m.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Palmer Burial Ground


This small family burial ground is in Sullivan township in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. I would never have been able to find it without my guide, Joyce Tice. It was literally "over the river and through the woods." Isn't it wonderful? I wonder what this plot looked like a hundred years ago.

Joyce is one of those wonderful people who maintain county web sites. She began with RootsWeb back in 1996, and her site is one of the best on the web. If you're interested in families in Bradford County or Tioga County, Pennsylvania, or Chemung County, New York, you must visit her site, Tri-Counties Genealogy & History.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Madness Monday: The Library of Michigan

I'm just back from a wonderful trip to Washington, D.C. Not only do I have lots of new information for my own research projects, I also have lots of new material for this blog. After talking with several of the reference specialists at NARA and reading all the material on the status of the Library of Michigan, I've decided that my Madness Monday blogs are going to cover some of the problems that make me angry, not those ancestors who drive me mad. If you have not read about the potential decimation of the wonderful Library of Michigan, Shirley Gage Hodges' article, Crisis Facing the Library of Michigan, is an excellent starting point.

I've always loved researching at the Library of Michigan. The building is beautiful, there is ample parking, and the collection is amazing. I love their microfilm newspaper collection. None of the online newspaper sources come close to the coverage provided at the Library of Michigan. When I visit, I frequently spend two days working through the newspapers alone! Their website, Michigan History, Arts & Libraries, could serve as a model for many states. What will happen if this Michigan treasure is decimated? Michigan's governor expects to save about two million dollars per year. I don't know how many out-of-state researchers go to Lansing each year, but if one assumes approximately ten each week spending five days in the library and archives, all spending what this fiscally conservative blogger does on a research trip, the state of Michigan will lose about one million tourist dollars per year. Where is the savings here? The state will also lose a lot of prestige in research circles that include librarians and historians, as well as genealogists.

What does it mean for genealogists? Even assuming all the material is preserved - and that is still in question - it's likely to be scattered among several repositories, the bulk perhaps going to the MSU library. Although my experience is limited, I can't say I've been completely happy with some of my research trips to areas that have done this. Here are two examples.

Original records in Wisconsin can be found in various Area Research Centers. I planned a research trip to Grant County, Wisconsin, several years ago. Of course, I did a lot of homework before I went. Given the fact that the Area Research Center for this region is housed in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I expected - and got - less than perfect parking. I wrote ahead for more details about the hours of access and asked questions about some collection specifics. The response gave me the incorrect hours and incomplete information on the collection specifics. The actual hours were much fewer than my informant stated, and I discovered that some of the resources I requested were actually located at two other Area Research Centers. Reference services varied depending on the person present, and some of these people were less than knowledgeable about the holdings. After two days, I decided my time might be better spent on another project at the Minnesota State Archives, so I headed to Minneapolis for the rest of my vacation.

Not too long ago, I was able to spend a brief time on my Madison County, Kentucky, problems. Rather than heading to Frankfort for the day, I decided to visit the collection at the Eastern Kentucky University library archives in Richmond. Given the limited time I had, this was not a bad decision. I might have found it frustrating, though, if I were spending a week at that repository. Parking was abominable, I knew more about the collection than the first reference provider I spoke to, and the hours were very limited. There was only one microfilm reader providing access to the valuable county records, but fortunately, I was the only visitor interested in those records. Of course, my perception was also colored by the fact that it was absolutely pouring the entire day and my planned cemetery visit was washed out.

Historical records are extraordinarily diverse, and those responsible for preserving these records and providing access are respected scholars in their own right. The citizens of Michigan and the professionals at the Library of Michigan deserve better from their elected officials. I can't be in Lansing on Wednesday to participate in "Hands Around the Library," but like thousands of researchers, I'll be thinking of everyone there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: My 2xGreat-Grandmother

Martha Maria Prescott, age three, circa 1864
Daughter of Freedom and Aurilla (Brooks) Prescott

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Milton Case

I missed this tombstone the first time I visited Windfall Cemetery in Granville township, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. On this day, though, the grass had just been cut, so this small fieldstone marker was visible. If you can't make out the crude lettering, the inscription reads, "M. A. Case// died May the 5// aged 1 yr. 12 days". Obviously, the stone was not cut by a professional, but perhaps more love and sorrow went into its making than most.

Milton Case, the toddler buried here, does not appear in the Erastus Ely Case manuscript, but he was named in an anonymous, undated two-page typescript held by the Bradford County Historical Society as a son of John and Julia Ann (Ward) Case. I love this small memorial to a too short life.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Online Cemeteries in a New Light (Part Two)

Cemetery records sites likes Names in Stone are very rare. It's more likely that you will find the records posted in a static text file, such as those found on the USGenWeb archives, or in a database you access via a name search box. Centerville Pioneer Cemetery is an example of the former; Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis provides an example of the latter. Finding people on these sites may not be difficult, but finding burial patterns is. Other than pressing Ctrl-F and searching for all instances of a given lot on the page, there's no easy way to find people buried in the same lot. If you want to search for people in a second lot or for all lots owned by one person, you need to repeat the procedure and record your results over and over.

All researchers tend to grow a little narrow in vision, and we all need a reminder now and then to expand our sights and let our imagination loose. What software programs do you use for your genealogy research? Does the list include a spreadsheet program? If not, you're missing an important tool in your workshop. Spreadsheets are great for quickly sorting data in different ways! Text files such as the Centerville Pioneer Cemetery data are easily transferred to a spreadsheet. Search results such as that found on the Crown Hill Cemetery site may require an extra step, so I'll demonstrate my spreadsheet technique with those results.


One of the surnames I'm researching in the Indianapolis area is Clark(e). That's not as bad as Smith, but it's still a common surname. A search for Clark and Clarke in the Crown Hill Cemetery database yielded 652 results, all sorted by name. Since I was searching for several families in this bunch, I wanted to see who was buried with whom - and I wanted an efficient way to accomplish this.

1. Highlight all the search results and copy them (Ctrl-C). I use Excel, which requires a line break at the end of each record. That line break didn't exist in the copied results - hence, step two was necessary.

2. Paste the results into a word processor, then use find and replace to add the line break.

3. Copy the resulting text and paste into the spreadsheet. In my example, I now had 652 rows containing one column of data. I needed a way to view the sections and lots in unique columns.


4. Spreadsheets have a feature that is called "Text to Columns" in Excel. Using this feature, it doesn't take very long to convert the one column of data to six columns: Surname, Given Name, Middle, Date, Section, and Lot. The data can now be sorted, searched, or filtered in any way I choose. Voila! The related family members pop into view.

There are almost 200,000 people buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, and there is no way to view the entire list from their search box. As I find new surnames in this area, I come back to the search box and repeat this procedure, adding the additional results to my spreadsheet. Unknown relationships are discovered each time.

Of course, when the family members are identified, I contact the cemetery for copies of their lot records. Researchers who limit themselves to tombstone information or the basic cemetery information on an individual may not realize how much information a large cemetery may have filed in section and lot folders. Long ago, I worked for the Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore answering their genealogy queries. Records filed in these folders could include letters, photographs, receipts, and obituaries, as well as the expected burial information. Visit the Historic Congressional Cemetery web site, if you would like a taste of the information that accumulates in a large cemetery's files. Unfortunately, I don't have any family members buried there, but you might be lucky!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Online Cemeteries in a New Light (Part One)



Elizabeth Shown Mills once said, "If you are frustrated by record losses and tired of 'spinning wheels,' perhaps what you really need are some new ideas for dealing with those records you have managed to find already!" I love this statement. It's especially important to remember when the "repository" you use most often is the Internet.

Our access to many online records is via a name search only. This always makes me a little nervous. I always have this feeling that the record I need is hiding just a keystroke away - and I haven't found the right key. If I play with the online data, though, sometimes patterns appear, and the information I need to solve a problem becomes apparent.

There are many online cemetery databases for those of us who live too far away to visit, but access to almost all of them begins - and ends - with a name search. You find the person, you say, "Hurray!" and you enter the info, along with the source, in your genealogy database. If you were visiting the cemetery, though, what would you do? You would transcribe or photograph the tombstone, note its location in the cemetery, and search the neighboring tombstones for other possible family members. In the process, you might locate married daughters, in-laws, and siblings. If there were a cemetery office, you would visit this and obtain information on the lot(s), owners, dates of sale, and perhaps even copies of death certificates and obituaries. Access to this additional information is via cemetery section and lot number, not name. Although some online cemetery sources include this information, searching and sorting on any criterion but name is not easy. Here are some examples that show the importance of examining online data patterns.

1. You're looking for Philip Case, born about 1810, who lived most of his adult life in Ithaca, New York. Since you don't know the cemetery in which he's buried, you search Find A Grave. There, you find a likely candidate buried in the Ithaca City Cemetery. The entry includes a tombstone photo and links to entries for two wives and a daughter - all of them referencing the same tombstone. Of course, you next search the Ithaca City Cemetery listing for all Case burials, as well as Minton and Covert burials (his wives' maiden names), and you pick up one more Case name referencing the same tombstone and one additional Covert burial.

Many people stop here, but Find A Grave is not the only cemetery source online. A Google search for "Ithaca City Cemetery" provides links to the Tompkins County, New York, USGenWeb site. Here, you discover that this is a sixteen-acre cemetery, its first burial was about 1790 or 1791, and it's still in use. This GenWeb group is updating the cemetery's listing and adding some excellent tombstone photos. Unfortunately, access is still via surname, and the C's and M's have not been entered. Google also gives a link to the Ithaca City Cemetery records. Here you discover that the Ithaca City Clerk is partnering with Names In Stone to provide cemetery records.

Although Names In Stone does not provide a means to search records by cemetery section and lot, it does provide a burial map. Take a look at what information this yields: a previously unknown person, Luther T. Nelson, is buried in the Case lot! A return to Find A Grave uncovers a little more information and the fact that Luther's inscription is on the same Case tombstone. How exciting! Who is he? After a lot of additional research, you learn that Luther T. Nelson and Philip Case are first cousins once removed, and you've confirmed several previously undocumented relationships and explained some mysterious references in old family records. It all began with a web site that let you look at data in a different way.

My next post will show another method of looking at online cemetery data. Hint: Do you Excel?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Simeon Stephens


Simeon Stevens was a Captain during the Revolutionary War. He's buried next to his first wife, Sarah Hadley, in Oxbow Cemetery, Newbury, Vermont. This cemetery is the resting place for many Revolutionary War veterans, so there are quite a few old tombstones here. Since Simeon and Sarah are my six-greats grandparents, their tombstones are among my favorites - of course.

This image is a scan of a 35 mm black-and-white negative, but a better image can be found in a wonderful online collection: the Farber Gravestone Collection. If you have New England ancestors, or you're simply interested in tombstones, please visit this web site. Tombstones are not just sources that provide birth and death dates for genealogists. Early stones are also examples of folk art, and many people specialize in the study of these early artists. Simeon's stone was carved by Gershom Bartlett, a native of Bolton, Connecticut. Until he was identified, Bartlett's distinctive style gave him the nickname, "Hook-and-Eye Man". A Google search for Bartlett will take you to more photographs and several interesting stories.

The next time you're happily photographing or transcribing your six-great grandparents' gravestones, take a moment to thank the artist. Enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Madness Monday: Isaac Staples

Many years ago, early in my genealogy career, my great-aunt and -uncle sent me a letter they had received from James Staples, head of the Staples Family History Association. Since I had become the family's historian, they passed Jim's request for information along to me. I called Jim to talk about my Staples family and discovered that if I could trace my line back to someone born around the time of the Revolutionary War, the Staples Family History Association had records on all Staples family members prior to that time. I was so excited! All I had to do was trace one century of ancestors from my great-grandfather, born in 1878. As it turned out, this wasn't as many generations as I expected, since the line went through a couple of youngest children, but it was pre-Internet days, so it took me a little while. After a lot of census work, some Vermont vital records microfilm searches, and a couple of Civil War pensions, I had my answer. I was a descendant of one Isaac Staples, born circa 1772, died 4 February 1839 in Williamstown, Vermont.

I wrote my first research report - by hand - and sent it off to Jim. I still use this research report as a class example. Despite its relative simplicity, it contains all the elements found in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, including a proof summary and citations. Of course, the citations don't measure up to the standards of Evidence Explained, but I can tell exactly where each fact was found. Given the title of this post, I'm sure you know the reply I received. My Isaac Staples was not one of the people found in the family association's records. After more research and much correspondence, Jim and I came to the conclusion that my Isaac was probably a descendant of Joseph of Pomfret. Joseph was probably the son of Samuel of Groton. I was probably going to scream in frustration!

Jim sent me a hand-drawn descendant chart showing what was known on the line of Joseph Staples of Pomfret, Connecticut. He placed my research results on the Isaac Staples of Williamstown, Vermont, line in a large empty corner. Despite my disappointment, this chart made my research seem important. Remember the comment from Tony Burroughs' SoCal Genealogy Jamboree presentation? This was original work. I've added a lot to that corner in the years since, but I still haven't found Isaac's parents. As opportunity arises, or I learn a new technique or come up with a new idea, I return to Isaac Staples and his associates for a while. Although I've climbed over, dug under, gone around, or broken through many brickwalls over the years, it's disappointing to realize that my very first brickwall still stands.

Are there any fellow Isaac Staples researchers out there?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Persons of Ill Name and Fame

Black sheep, when viewed from the safe distance of a century or so, add spice to a family story and can be very amusing. Closer examination sometimes removes the amusing aspect. While searching through some Washington County, New York, court records, I found this case.

The People vs. Timothy Case, Aaron Olmstead, Francis Drake Ingersoll (1789)

Court held at the house of Adiel [?] Sherwood, Esp., Ft. Edward, Argyle township . . . Tuesday, the 8th of February in the 15th year of the independence of the state of New York -

Timothy Case, yeoman, and Aaron Olmstead, Laborer, both now or late of Granville, and Frances Drake Ingersoll now or late of Hebron, laborer - being persons of ill name and fame and of dishonest conversation . . . intended to deprive Henry Cummins, yeoman of Grenville [sic] of good name, credit . . . to the loss of his life and forfeiture of his goods on the 20th day of October 1789 at Hebron - . . . did conspire . . . falsely to charge and accuse the sd. Henry Cummins that he the sd. Henry Cummins then lately before had committed the crome of Sodomy . . . with a certain Mare.

A True Bill - attest George Wray, foreman - witnesses Wm. Drake of Granville, Laborer, Samuel Crosier, Esq., Hebron, Jeduthan Dickinson, Hebron

I was in Washington County researching the family of Philip Case, especially his son Aaron. This court case was added to my records as a curiosity and I haven't followed through on it. You know the research situation. There's always a seemingly unlimited amount of information to sift through in a very limited amount of time. As I gradually built up my picture of the families in this area, the amusing aspect of this case disappeared.

Aaron Olmstead appears more than once in court cases of the time. Doreen Dolleman, a Jabez Olmstead family researcher, wrote a wonderful article, "The Rest of the Story", which includes the news of his suicide while in gaol in 1798. The other two defendants in this case, Timothy Case and Francis Ingersoll, are part of the Philip Case family. Timothy was Philip's oldest son and Francis Ingersoll was his son-in-law, husband of daughter Rachel. All three defendants owned property adjoining that of Henry Cummins. When I first read this indictment, it sounded like a prank, but the ages and circumstances of the men, and the nature of the accusation, paint a different picture. Both Timothy Case and Francis Ingersoll were Revolutionary War soldiers, and both would later receive pensions. Both were men of property, about thirty years old, and married. Timothy Case was the father of four children, Francis Ingersoll was the father of three. In New York at this time, sodomy was a felony, and the penalty was death and the forfeiture of all property - although the widow would be allowed to keep her dowry. When looked at in this perspective, I no longer found this story quite so amusing. What were they thinking??

Friday, July 10, 2009

What Is a "Genealogy Record"?


When someone mentions "genealogy records," what do you think of? In the pre-Internet days, if you walked into a local library and said you were researching your family history, the librarian might point you towards the published genealogies or, if you were fortunate, the local history area. Perhaps the librarian might mention the local newspaper was on microfilm or the local cemeteries had been transcribed. Some time after records began appearing on the Internet, I remember a librarian saying simply, "Oh, all the census records are on line." Now, a librarian is likely to say that the library subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, so please sign up for time on the computer. I'm sure many of you have heard non-genealogists say, "Isn't it all on line?" What constitutes a "genealogy record" to you? Let me tell you a story from my very early researching days.

I went to the Maryland Historical Society one day to research the Hughel family, supposedly residents in colonial days. I found the family in the card index referencing the St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church records. The historical society held some of the parish records, including baptisms; so, of course, I went through those immediately. There were also several references to the parish vestry proceedings, unmicrofilmed records that were still held at the church. I asked the reference person about these records, and she said, "The vestry proceedings don't hold anything of interest to genealogists. You might find your ancestor mentioned, but there are never any births, deaths, or marriages." By the way, this person was not an inexperienced researcher. I would later discover that she was the author of several books and journal articles, she was active in local, state and regional organizations, and she was a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences. What she was really saying to me was, "I've never found anything of import in church vestry proceedings." I'm sure we all view records the same way. If a record has helped us solve a research problem, it's a "genealogical record." If not, we may forget that a record that didn't shed light on one problem might be the key to solving another.

Of course, I took a day off from work and visited St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church. The secretary left me with the old books, and I read through several years of vestry proceedings finding many references to Thomas Hudgell (in its many spellings), the sexton of the church. Wonder of wonders, this entry appeared for 4th April 1763: ". . . choosed Alice Hudgell sexton in the room of her late husband decd. for 5 [lbs.] per annum for the ensuing year upon condition she takes care to keep the Church clean and do her other Duty in her place as Sexton otherwise to be paid after the rate aforesaid she continues therein and no longer." Thomas Hudgell died between 10 August 1762, the last time he's mentioned as sexton, and 4 April 1763, and his wife's name was Alice! This was definitely a "genealogy record"!

Thomas Hudgell was the sexton of the church from April 1753 until his death. Alice served from April 1763 through March 1766. The 31 March 1766 entry states, ". . . choos'd Thos. Hudson Sexton for 5 [lbs.] a year in the room of Alice Hudgell. accepted AH's order on us to Mr. Saml. Worthington for 5 [lbs.] for her years salary ended this day." As I prepared to put this book away, a slip of paper fell out. It was Alice's final pay order! The church secretary kindly copied this paper for me, and I hope it still exists. Imagine - A colonial "pay check" written to a woman in a man's job! The icing on the cake for the day: it was my birthday.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Democratization of Sources

There were many presentations at the SoCal Genealogy Jamboree that announced new web sites, or new developments in existing web sites, that would feature the Web 2.0 concept. I may use computers all the time, but sometimes Web 2.0 technospeak confounds my understanding, so I definitely wanted to hear at least one of these talks. The one I attended seemed a little premature, as the site does not seem to be in beta state, yet; but the speaker presented some very thought-provoking ideas. I'm not sure I'm ready to jump on the bandwagon.

The goal, the speaker said, was to provide access to all the world's records - admirable, of course - and to allow users to interact with these records: the "democratization of sources." This interaction, he said, might lead to "chaos," but it might lead to the "harnessing of the wisdom of the crowds." I had never heard the term, democratization of sources. We all know that all sources are not equal! When I got home, I Googled the term. There were a few entries, most of them referring to the ability we now have to obtain information from many sources, not just those approved by authority. It's a given that genealogists should look for all sources in our research. Just because we have a death certificate doesn't mean we don't need to look for an obituary or a tombstone. Just because we have a pension record doesn't mean we no longer need to look at a muster roll or a day book. Several undocumented million-name family trees, however, really don't add anything to our knowledge of an ancestor. Something told me I didn't understand the speaker's use of this term.

When I Googled the term democratization of information, I found this post, Web UI Platforms through Javascript sandboxes. If you avoid the technospeak, it's an interesting article, and I'm sure it's what the speaker meant when he referred to democratization of sources. "The users of these data make the data better." This isn't a new concept in genealogy web sites. Footnote has been doing this for some time. Original records can be annotated; links identifying an individual in multiple records can be created; original documents and pictures can be uploaded and linked to original records; and personal pages can be created. The Footnote user adding data is always identified - and there is a clear separation between the original record and the added material. The farther a genealogist strays from the original record, the more likely it is that errors creep into the family history. We all need reminders that our conclusions should be based on what a document really said, not on what someone else thought it said. And of course, what a document meant in the 18th century might not be what our 21st century mind inferred.

Find A Grave was one of my favorite sites when searching for tombstones. This web site is based on user contributions. When those contributions were tombstone photos and inscriptions, this site was wonderful. Some users, however, began competing to improve their statistics. When this happens, the quality of the contributions can diminish. Material was plagiarized, duplication was rampant, and copyright laws were violated. In fairness to the people at Find A Grave, they state that submissions must be the original property of the submitter, and they always remove material in violation of this policy. That must be a constant effort on their part! The site has always had problems clearly differentiating between what a tombstone said and what the submitter inferred, and the recent addition of family links and maiden names to the material has considerably increased the error to information rate. Sometimes, the "wisdom of the crowds" isn't so wise.

These two examples illustrate the possibilities and the limitations in the concept of democratization of information. Although Footnote's user contributions have added value to the site's data, access to the added material is still haphazard. Without user contributions, Find A Grave would not really exist, but the quality of material is often questionable. How does a site facilitate access to all data, maintain quality, yet encourage quantity?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: My Grandmother's Grave


I suspect I'll have trouble coming up with ideas for "Black Sheep Sunday" and "Madness Monday", but "Tombstone Tuesday" should cause no problems at all. Don't we all have lots of cemetery photos and stories? Here is a photo of my paternal grandmother's tombstone in Glen Haven Memorial Park. After we found her stone, one of my fellow Jamboree attendees reminded me, "Don't forget to look at the neighboring tombstones!" I didn't think anyone else in the family was buried here, but we looked anyway. Lo and behold, right next to Nana was her son-in-law! I'm glad someone from the family is buried near her. It always seems a little sad to find one family member buried all alone.

Of course, this visit reminded me of other cemetery visits, and I realized that this was only the second grandparent whose grave site I've visited! Can you believe it? I've visited hundreds of cemeteries, but I've never been to either grandfather's grave. Time and circumstances have scattered my grandparents' graves to the four corners of the U.S. My paternal grandfather is buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit; my maternal grandfather rests in Maple Street Cemetery in Bethlehem, New Hampshire; my maternal grandmother's grave is in Rest Haven Cemetery in Long Beach, Mississippi; and my paternal grandmother is buried in Sylmar, California. My husband's four grandparents, on the other hand, are buried in two cemeteries less than thirty miles apart. "Wordless Wednesday" is a good opportunity to show you my grandparents' burial map. Can anyone top this?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Our Favorite SoCal Jamboree Presentations

L-AGS (Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society) was well represented at the SoCal Genealogy Jamboree. At least ten of us attended, and we never attended any presentation en bloc. This means there were plenty of reviews when it came to choosing recordings or planning the day's events. On the drive home, we listened to four more hours of lectures and discussed our favorites.

Number one on my list was Tony Burroughs' presentation, The Nature of Genealogy. If you didn't go to this talk because you thought it might be too basic, you missed an absolute gem. In one short hour, Tony took us from our initial research misstep through the publication of our findings. Almost every sentence highlighted important considerations, repositories and records - and he did it in his own inimitable manner. Among his closing statements was this telling point, "Among the approximately one hundred African-Americans who served in Perry's fleet on Lake Erie, scholars have identified only twelve - and Charles Smothers wasn't one of them. This is original, valuable work!" Remember that statement. It will come up again in later posts.

Number one on Jane's and Nancy's list was Jean Wilcox Hibben's presentation, Clue to Clue: Tracking a Family Over Time and Miles. I had planned to attend this, but changed my mind at the last minute. Big mistake! Jane and Nancy came running out of the presentation yelling, "You would have loved it!" I bought the CD, of course, and we listened to this on the way home. I did love it. Given their enthusiastic review, most of us changed our 8 a.m. Sunday plans and went to Jean's talk, Deduction vs. Induction in Genealogical Research. We didn't regret it.

Joyce's number one was Summit 2: Son of Blogger. I bought that CD, too - and you see that I'm now writing this blog. Jana Broglin's talk on the Genealogical Proof Standard also made the list.

I love doing research, but I also love teaching others good research methodology. Going to a genealogy conference always makes me think about my own views on both. One of the frequent presentation topics at this conference was Web 2.0 and genealogy. This has really made me think - and you will read some of those thoughts in a later post.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Road Trip: The SoCal Genealogy Jamboree

Six L-AGS members on the road


Like about 1500 other people, I attended the Southern California Genealogical Society's 40th Annual Jamboree last weekend. It's the first multi-day conference I've attended in years, and I had a great time. There's nothing like three days with fellow genealogists away from the demands of everyday life to jump-start a stale brain! The Jamboree reminded me that I had a blog - and it amazed me that I haven't touched this thing for almost two years. Either I have no life - or I have too much life.

Seven of us rented a van and drove to the Jamboree - Hurray! Road trip! Before we even got to the hotel, the group made a stop at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar to visit my grandmother's grave. I'd never been to this cemetery before, and as you might guess, it was an emotional experience. Although we arrived after the office closed, I had called the cemetery the day before, and a very nice young man had looked up Nana's burial information for me. With seven genealogists searching, it didn't take too long to find her. Thanks, guys, for braving rattlesnakes and driving out of the way to give me this opportunity.