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.