Friday, April 23, 2010

The Compleat Database: Cultural Affinities

Social context is an important aspect of genealogy research. Understanding more about the social environment of our ancestors may lend clues to the bigger genealogical questions and help pinpoint people in time and place. In her article, "The Compleat Database: Cultural Affinities, " Judy Rosella Edwards encourages researchers to include social information -- what she is calling "cultural affinities" or "connections" -- in the genealogy database. While a certain piece of information may not reveal much at first glance, later that bit of information may be the one thing that puts you on the right path. As the article observes, information on certain traditions, hobbies, celebrated holidays, even trinkets may hold clues. 

One thing to keep in mind, as well, in considering cultural affinities is the possible existence and value of non-traditional source material such as performance programs, club and society membership records, organizational histories, reunions, business associations, etc. If an ancestor is identified with a particular group or activity, there may well be records available that provide additional information. For locating such sources, be sure to check our parent site,, which has been a leader in transcribing original, non-traditional source material for many years and offering it online. With recent changes to the site, all databases have been combined and are now offered as a single, affordable package. But even browsing the holdings or doing a search on your family name, you can learn something new and may even be guided to other sources you might not have known existed. Not only can you learn about the various types and categories of records published, but you can also see what has been transcribed, thus far, for a particular region. And with the new Wiki you can learn even more. It's a work in progress -- new materials are being added weekly, so you'll want to check back often. Be sure to check out the Genealogy Today Subscription Data, the Family History Wiki, and the helpful Search features available on the home page.

Migration to the Northwest: The Early Years

While much is said of Westward migration and travel along the Oregon Trail, there's also an interesting story at the "end of the line," settlement of the Pacific Northwest. In his article, "Migration to the Northwest: The Early Years," Alan Smith examines the slow settlement and diverse forces behind the eventual, mass migration. The story of the Pacific Northwest, its dash and daring is played out vividly in my own family, with a Swedish immigrant making his way across the land to settle, first in Seattle, then after heartbreak and hardship, following the gold rush and starting a new life along the upper Yukon River. Its the stuff of Jack London and Robert Service, in real life. As with all pioneer history, the stories are colorful nigh unto unbelievable, but true. And that is one of the driving forces behind our passion for genealogy.

A Solemn Observance

April 12, 2010 marked the beginning of the Civil War. On this date In 1861, the American Civil War began as Confederate forces bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina. While war is nothing to celebrate, it is a significant anniversary, when you consider the 600,000 Americans who gave their lives. An article on The American Interest Online, "Civil War Still Echo in our Heads," recaps those first shots and illustrates how in some ways, even today, the Civil War has not ended. I particularly like one quote noted in the piece, "The past isn’t dead, Faulkner once wrote.  It isn’t even past."

The Value of Non-Traditional Resources - Fire Insurance Maps

Even if you don't have ancestry in Sacramento, a brief article on, "Fire insurance maps are useful in Sacramento genealogy research, " has merit for pointing out the value of non-tradtional sources in genealogical research. Did you know, in fact,  that "Fire Insurance maps were originally created in the 19th century in the United States for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas. You can find out the names of the people that owned the house and land at different dates." A history of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on the UC Berkley Library website tells us more about them, and an article on, "Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps," suggests how the maps can be used. 

Indeed, insurance records of all types, and particularly claims records can tell a lot.  Insurance records is one of the categories in the Subscription Data, specializing in non-traditional sources. To see what is currently available, see the Table of Contents - Insurance Records.

Resource Tips From a Pro

When it comes to genealogy resources, we all appreciate the essential, love to come across the innovative, and are . . . well, delighted . . . by the delightful. Even if you don't live in Canada or have Canadian ancestry. you may be interested to read the recent article by Tammy Tipler-Priolo, "Essentials, Innovations & Delights," on, as the author shares favorite resources used in her own "everyday research business." Among those mentioned are resources for Canadian, French Canadian, English, Irish, and Scottish research. When I was working in the software industry, in the field of human factors, the most successful programs went beyond functional to delight the users, which meant, exceeding expectation. To call a resource delightful is high praise, indeed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Songs of Yesterday: An Appalachian Tragedy

I wonder sometimes at the romanticizing in song and verse of some legendary figures -- it helps to look into the story behind the story. In her "Songs of Yesterday: An Appalachian Tragedy," Jean Hibben explores the back story to the legendary, "Tom Dula" or "Tom Dooley," as he is better known. While none of the characters in this story seem to have any redeeming qualities, a few of the details, after the fact, at least suggest how his life . . . and death might have stirred the imagination of songwriters.

From a genealogical perspective, the alternate pronunciation of the Dula surname strikes a chord. My own Appalachian ancestral name, "Childers," while not ending in "ee" has been altered over the years and is alternately pronounced "Childress," again, this slurring an blurring of speech that sort of flips things around. This pronunciation of the Childers name is so common, in fact, they are used almost interchangeably. In the case of my great-grandmother, even the alternate spelling of the name was used within the family. While all legal documents, including the marriage record, show my great-grandfather's surname as Childers, the headstone of his wife, my great-grandmother, reads "Mattie Childress." Which, in a way, takes us back around to some good advice in considering all things: keep an open mind.

Sons and Daughters of Genealogy: Joining a Lineage Society

If you have ever considered joining a lineage society, Rita Marshall's article, "Sons and Daughters of Genealogy: Joining a Lineage Society" may give you that extra incentive. As the article points out, in addition to showing pride in your ancestors' accomplishments, joining a lineage society also serves to test you metal as a researcher and may provide the motivation to firmly document your family history. The article also provides a link to help you identify the many lineage societies in the United States. You may want to check Cyndi's List for organizations in other countries. There are various types of societies, some based on events such as wars, some based on place, and some based on a single, notable ancestor -- pretty much, something for everyone. Lineage societies and fraternal organizations are, for the most part, service organizations, and most require an annual renewal.

Spring -- Time to Get Organized

One more word on getting our ducks in a row -- how are you at organization? The "Spring is season to get records in order," on the Broomfield Enterprise, suggests now is the time for some genealogy deep cleaning and organization, and if you aren't sure where to start, the article offers some easy tips. My own goal is to one day be organized enough so that when I want something, it's not enough to say "I know I have it," I want to be able to walk to and and put my hands on it. I'm on that path. I've learned to compensate for short-term memory loss and now have a system -- what I'm lacking is space. So once I get that figured out, I may be able to realize my goal. 

Procrastination -- "You may delay, but time will not."

Items in the news seem to suggest this is a time of caution and precaution. Last week we talked about genealogy scams, this week it's coping with family secrets, and now a strong reminder to protect and preserve our records. An article on Mormon Times, "Fires, floods and earthquakes: Preserve your personal history," features Scott Smikins, head conservator at the Family History Library in Salt Lake city, advising, "Take the time to preserve your precious histories and treasures before it's too late." Simkins' remarks centered around the "ings" of preserving: Handling, documenting, organizing, preparing, mending, sharing and storing, then discussed the purpose of each point, the article said. The article is worth reading, offering simple and do-able tips that may help you prepare for the unexpected. As Ben Franklin said, "You may delay, but time will not."

Family Secrets Deserve Sensitivity and Respect

A recent article on, "Genealogy can open 'Pandora's box' of family secrets," looks at possible effect on the present generation of uncovering family secrets. Uncovering new information about our ancestors is inevitable, some may be secrets or painful to learn. In some cases, the issue of what to do with the information may present problems. The key is sensitivity and a respect for the feelings of others. We are not compelled to share secrets just because we know them, and it's important to the whole family that we protect and preserve living relationships, something the article suggests may be at risk in unraveling the family history. Also important is that we understand that our ancestors were living in a different time and age -- we may not want to judge too harshly until we better understand the context.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity of interviewing both of my grandmothers. Throughout her story, it was clear my maternal grandmother held hard feelings toward her father for his stern ways, but revered her mother (and rightfully so). The children had to work in the field "from the time they could sit up, almost." And he had strategies for getting the most out of them. It would be easy for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to dismiss this ancestor as a brute and really have no sentiments toward him whatsoever; they might even go so far as to assign his perceived negative traits to other family members: "You are just like Grandpa So-and-so."  However, as much as I love my grandmother and appreciate her experiences as a child -- and life WAS hard -- I find that even as she is expressing her resentments, you can see in what she describes that her father was a provider who took care of his family, and he was a shrewd businessman. They had so much more and were so much better situated than other tenant families of their time, that if you read between the lines, you can identify and appreciate his better qualities. Although stern and forceful, I see him as a man of his times. I do not excuse his behavior toward his children nor his general indifference toward his wife, but I can appreciate the life he provided and the strengths demonstrated and give him a place of balanced respect in our family's history. I believe if my grandmother were alive today and I could share with her what I have learned of her times, even she would cut him a little slack. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Beware of relatives seeking cash . . .

As the saying goes, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," that in reference, of course, to the Trojan Horse. All is not as it appears. Today that might read, "Beware of relatives seeking cash."

Last week's issue of GenWeekly focused to some extent on genealogy fraud. This week, an article from the Colony Courier-Leader, "AG warns of grandparent scam,"reports a caution from the Texas Attorney General about scams targeting seniors, grandparents, in particular. The problem is not limited to Texas.

The scam "plays upon a grandparent's natural desire to protect a grandchild. Although variations of this scam have been around for a long time, it has become more sophisticated with the proliferation of information on the Internet. Con artists are more often using personal information gleaned from family blogs, genealogy Web sites, social networking sites, and online newspapers to add credibility to their calls. Reports from law enforcement agencies around the country suggest that the scam works too often." [italics my own]

We have noted on this blog and in various GenWeekly articles the dangers of putting too much personal information online, including family trees, social networks, and blogs. So this is just another word of caution.

"Law enforcement agencies encourage [residents] to always exercise some skepticism when they receive telephone calls urgently requesting money."

The article goes on to suggest ways to detect and avert a scam -- it's definitely worth taking the time to read.

Ogden Regional Family History Center -- lots of space to work

Those living north of Salt Lake City -- maybe even those from Idaho and Wyoming -- might be interested to learn about the Ogden Regional Family History Center, which is said to be the second largest, outside of Salt Lake. An article on, "Ogden's family history center the largest outside Salt Lake,"has grown from a "50-volunteer staff and 15-computer facility . . . to include nearly 300 volunteers and 140 computers." 

But if you're coming very far, it might be good to check on what they have available -- not every Family History Center has access to the same online databases as the Family History Library nor the stacks of books and bins of microfilm not yet been digitized. Going the extra distance could prove beneficial, depending on your needs.

Helping children appreciate their heritage

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I thought this article important, "Family culture deserves appreciation, celebration," especially for young people who have yet to appreciate their heritage. We might want to consider ways to engage young people at an earlier age, instead of its taking until they are all grown up. 

Here are some ideas:
  • Serving traditional foods, as the article shows
  • Sharing family stories -- everyone loves the stories
  • Displaying family photos on display showing, which might include something like the immigrant ancestor's ship, which can often be found on the Internet
  • Attending cultural festivals
  • Participating in family reunions, maybe encouraging presentation, plays, or enactments of heritage
  • Sharing books and art about/from your culture
  • Helping children keeping a scrapbook
Of course, there is a fine line between helping children appreciate their heritage and making them feel "different" from their peers, so there is a balance. Adoptive parents often face this dilemma and many articles are written on the subject.

One article on helping Jewish children appreciate their culture suggests, "at home, the most important thing is modeling. Modeling for our children our own attachment to, and reverence for" their cultural heritage. That is the best advice.

The Compleat Database: Citizenship Matters

In her article, "The Compleat Database: Citizenship Matters," Judy Rosella Edwards provides considerable detail on researching and interpreting immigration and naturalization records. The key advice is to work backwards, as it true of most genealogical research; that is, work from the most recent information back. If an ancestor were a naturalized citizen, the place to begin would be with naturalization records, of which there are three documents along the paper trail. Also noted is the fact the "third paper" -- the final, certificate of naturalization, might even be noted in the local newspaper, perhaps among the legal notices. Recording this information in the genealogy database is important an important step in tracing an immigrant ancestor's place of origin.

I recently had the opportunity of helping my niece track her Swedish grandfather's immigration and naturalization. It was interesting to note the dates and distance traveled. Her grandfather arrived in the U.S. in 1907, in New York. Applying for citizenship, he filed his Declaration of Intention in 1919, in Seattle, Washington. Interestingly, the Certificate of Citizenship was not awarded until 1942, in Fairbanks, Alaska, some 24 years since he first filed. In all, a 35-year process. Seems immigrants as well as genealogists must practice patience. 

German Resources on the Internet

If you are just beginning your German research, Alan Smith, in his article, "German Resources on the Internet," suggests some Internet sites to get you started. As the author suggests, "studying a foreign country does present unique barriers," and may, at some point, benefit from the help of a local area researcher. Language can also present a barrier, although a little resourcefulness and familiarizing oneself with common words for common documents can help. In helping my niece with her Swedish research, I found a site that translated Swedish to English, allowing us to at least discern the key words in an important estate document. I'm sure similar problems exist for those on the other side, trying to locate ancestors who emigrated to the United States or another country.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lexicons of Lost Lifestyles: These Words Will Grow on You!

Spring is in the air -- or so they say, here in Utah we've had snow for the past several days. Even so, spring is just around the corner. And as our thoughts turn to spring, so we begin to think of spring flowers. In her article, "Lexicons of Lost Lifestyles: These Words Will Grow on You!," Jean Hibben explores the naming of some familiar flowers. It occurred to me that some of the earlier, romantic and yet playful names given for the pansey -- names no longer in use -- might well be names known and used by our ancestors. Likewise, the terms from which some flower names derive such as "cowslip" may have been familiar and made perfect sense to our ancestors, as well.  So might we, after reading this article, be better informed and delighted should we encounter some of these terms in the writings of our ancestor's.

April Fooled: Three Hoaxes That Make Jokes Out of Genealogical Research

As Lincoln said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Unfortunately, "some" do become victims of frauds and hoaxes. In every field, it seems, there is someone (or several) who profit or take pleasure in duping others. Genealogy is no exception.  In her article, "April Fooled: Three Hoaxes That Make Jokes Out of Genealogical Research," Rita Marshall explores some of the more infamous genealogy frauds in history, some that being perpetuated to this day. And new ones abound. The moral of the story is be aware and do your own due diligence so you can recognize a fake when you see it.

FREE Census Records Access on Footnote, through April

As noted on Randy Seaver's Genea-Musing blog, is offering FREE census records through the month of April.  The message indicates, "In order to view the images from the collection, visitors only need to register for free." Also noted was that Footnote is offering a "real deal" on its subscription rate to readers of the Dick Eastman blog: on $49.95, a $30 savings. You may want to check it out.

"Who Do You Think You Are" Renewed for a Second Season

It's official -- according to a press release on Dick Eastman's Genealogy Blog, "Who Do You Think You Are?" Renewed for a Second Season. The announcement was made today by Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios. 

"All of these new series have demonstrated increasing popularity and generated far-reaching interest among viewers," said Telegdy.

The original, British version of the show, which premiered in 2004, is now on its eighth series, prompting a huge surge of interest in genealogy in that country.

Keep a Record of Family Treasures -- Your Kids Will Be Glad You Did

A recent article on, "Make records of family heirlooms," offers a good reminder and some advice on making a record of family photographs and keepsakes that are to be handed down through the generations. If you want something to endure, you might want to identify its meaning, otherwise those who follow might not be aware and will make their own executive decisions about its disposal. Hosting the GenealogyToday booth at conferences, I've talked to people that tossed a lot of stuff before the knew its meaning, and lived to regret it. 

Now, our family does not have a lot of heirlooms; certainly nothing of great value -- just sentimental stuff, but that in itself does have meaning. For example, I have a pair of gold-dust earrings handed down from my mother. Sounds impressive, but they aren't worth much  . . . monetarily. I have a second pair just like them, handed down from my aunt -- they sort of did things in pairs. My aunt was the trail blazer in our family who made her way to Alaska in 1950 with my then teenage brother in tow. Given our family's 60-year (and counting) history in Alaska (including a turn-of-the-nineteenth century gold miner) and these earrings came from there, there is a story to go with the earrings that may add sentimental value, if nothing else. My own children might figure out their meaning without its being in writing, but my grandchildren, not so much. So do put the story in writing, following some of the guidelines suggested in the article. Your posterity will be glad you did.