Thursday, November 10, 2011

Webinars


I've been working on genealogy and trying find the documents needed to have my ancestor listed in the DAR.  I found this great free research log to assist me in keeping track of where I have looked and where I need to go next and why! They also have an electronic version which will come in handy as I am going on a fact finding mission to Danville, Illinois after thanksgiving.  I hope to pull original documents for the DAR.

https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/images/5/50/Research_Log.pdf

I hope it helps to keep me more organized. I have been hit or miss in recording where I have looked.  Previously, the only time I recorded where I looked is when I found information!  It has caused a lot of duplication on my part in research.  I hope to post my family tree here shortly so soon as I figure out how to put a copy on the blog. I also watch two webinars this week that were very helpful in organizing your family history.  Both can be found on the Legacy Family Tree site here:

http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/Webinars.asp

The two I watched on Organizing are: FamilyRoots Organizer System by Mary Hill and Organizing for Success by Karen Clifford.  They each contained different approaches to organizing your files. Karen's involved the use of notebooks and Mary's involved the use of color file systems.  Both will work well with my Legacy system.  I think that I will be using both of the systems in my work.  Both have great applications for how my documents are currently organized. I have massive amounts of documents collected not only by me but by my Aunt Ruthie.  The great thing about being interested in genealogy, is the family helps out by passing documents on to you!

I also watched Cracking the case of Natan Brown's parents by marian Pierre-Louis.  An excellent example of working on solving brick walls.  And although she didn't introduce any new strategies I haven't already done or tried.  It was nice to have my research techniques validated!

As you might have guessed I use Legacy software to keep track of my family history but I think the webinars are worthwhile no matter what software you use.  By the way, when my computer arrived from India, Legacy had disappeared from my computer, when I tried to reload it, the computer would lock up.  A big thank you to tech support.  I heard back from them in fifteen minutes and had my computer up and running again.  I have an IMac computer which I love.  So for family history software I run it under VMFusion so I can use the windows software.  I also use VMFusion for my quilting software.  Although Mac has great programs, I just haven't found a good replacement for them in apple technology.  I have all the family history software because I help people do their family history so I try to be knowledgable about the various programs available.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Summer of Learning

I can't believe it has been since April that we posted something.  Shame on us! 

This summer has been a summer of genealogy learning fun for me personally.  First, I attended the FEEFHS workshop (Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies), held in SLC in the Plaza Hotel right next to the Family History Library.  I spent three wonderful days listening to expert speakers on  topics related to Eastern European research and all afternoon and evening researching.  Part of the charm of this particular conference is that one of the experts spends an hour in consultation with you on your subject of interest.  This was my second year of what I hope will be many to come as I will be the "conference planner" of sorts for next year (simply applying previous skills to an area of interest).  So, if your ancestors came from the old Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, or parts of Germany, there might be something there for you next year.  Watch FEEFHS.org for updates and announcements, or mark your calendars for July 12-14, 2012.

My next adventure was to attend the BYU Genealogy and Family History Conference, four wonderful days in their conference center, listening to excellent speakers on various topics.  I specifically chose to focus much of my attention to the tracks on British Research since I plan to take a course on British Research present-day to 1700s this fall.  My second focus was taking my technological skills to a higher level.  As such I attended several presentations, as well as an afternoon lab taught by Jill Crandell, Director of the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, on utilizing database tools like Excel and Access to enhance the research process. 

Finally, I attended the UGA (Utah Genealogical Association) conference the past two days.  Also a great experience--good speakers, great topics, and a lot of fun meeting old friends.  I even ran into someone who attended the FEEFHS conference from Arizona.  Again, I selected a couple of areas to focus on--first, classes taught by the wonderful Lisa Alzo, an Eastern European researcher, who I hadn't had the pleasure of hearing previously, and second, classes on enhancing my skills as a professional researcher taught by Tristan Tolman, first Vice-Chair of the Board of ICAP-Gen, an accreditation organization.  Of course I hoped I would win one of the two laptops in the final vendor giveaway; alas, they went to two other deserving people instead!

So why am I writing all of this?  I believe there has been a common theme applied this summer as I've attended these conferences, one that has made them much more productive for me than conferences have been in the past.  And that theme is Focus.  Focus is obviously one of the first things we teach beginning researchers--often making trite statements like "make a plan and stick with it" or "don't jump all over the place".   Quite simply, we have found that successful research is usually the result of a focused effort rather than a sporadic, random attack.  That same skill, applied to conference participation through preliminary planning and strategic selection of presentations, makes for a more successful experience there as well.  Therefore, my very specific efforts this summer to focus on a handful of topics at these conferences, rather than attempt to enjoy the smorgasbord of information available in random fashion, has clearly enhanced my level of learning as well as my enjoyment.

I've finally learned that I don't need to bemoan missing the class in the other room that also seemed interesting....I will eventually have another opportunity to hear that topic presented I'm sure.  Which brings me to the second "re-learned" lesson of the summer...something good bears repeating, or repetition builds understanding, or something like that.  These weren't the first sessions on British research or professional skills ever attended.  But hearing them from a different presenter, in perhaps a slightly different format, and after practicing or first utilizing some of things previously learned, I was able to build a clearer understanding, ask more specific questions, and clearly learn at a much higher level than I did the first time around.

Well, that's been my summer.  That and taking care of my 98-year-old mother.  I'm looking forward to harvesting the rewards of my educational efforts as I continue my research and prepare for fall classes.  I truly am a gluten for punishment, as I will be taking both British Research to the 1700s and Latin for Genealogists.  At my age, just one of those would normally be quite sufficient to keep me busy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Value of Joining Societies

     In our current economic situation I think we are all holding on to every spare dime we can, something I think we should do.   When I was in India, I found myself answering the question again and again about why Americans don't save money.  My answer went something like this, " We don't save we invest, why would you put your money into a bank savings account which will only earn you less then 1% interest, when you can invest and earn more?" By the way, our local account in India paid 8% on savings, so it's easy to see why the Indians didn't understand our attitude.
    When I spend money I also try to make it an investment in my future.   There are so many organizations available to aid in our family history research. I have memberships to several of those organizations.  The Association of Professional Genealogist, The National Genealogical  Society, The New England Historic Genealogical Society and then of course there is Ancestry.com.  Each of these organizations require a fee.    Are they worth the money, do they provide value and have they helped to further my research or my work?
     I have been a member of Ancestry.com for many years.  They have made the retrieval of records on line very easy and quick with good search engines and vast repositories available.  Lately, though instead of records I am finding more indexes to records, and while indexes are good, I prefer to look at the document in question for any clues they might hold for further research. I also worry about Ancestry limiting competition especially with their recent purchase of footnote.com. I would hope the goal of all the organisations is to make records more available not to limit access via membership at exorbitant rates. As Ancestry's rates increase so does my desire to look elsewhere for records.
     A great place to begin is local societies where your ancestors lived.  Depending on the area, they can contain vast amounts of information to aid in your search. They help provide local history books, pictures, yearbooks, newspapers etc. I like to search them out and give support to these local groups in an effort to help them in their work at a local level.  Especially in these rough economic times where many states are cutting funding these local libraries and societies can really use our support.
     Several years ago (OK, about 20 years now but who's counting?) I was beginning research on my husband grandfather, Frank Saylor.  Frank was born in the early 1900's and we were told he was from Paulding County, Ohio. I couldn't find him anywhere, I knew his parents names were Frank and Mary Saylor.  I also knew that he raised his family in the Lansing area in Michigan.  With a great deal of research (because of course, the family knew nothing or at least wasn't willing to share what they knew) we found that he grew up in Elsie, Michigan. The local library in Elsie had a wonderful selection of yearbooks and collections of local family histories.  We were able to obtain yearbook pictures, obituaries and cemetery records that helped us in our quest to know about the family.
    These local organizations are run by volunteers and these volunteers are a great resource in looking for information on your ancestor.  When I was trying to find more information on Mary Saylor, who it turns out was from Paulding county Ohio, I contacted the local society and was able to find Mary Smith Tschannon Saylor's father, John Smith. The local volunteer was able to track down her birth record for me.  May I also add here, she did it free of charge.
     Another great place run by volunteers is findagrave.com, more and more records are being added all the time and you can request pictures of existing headstones which can be very helpful in finding lost relatives (I have found a few that way).  I work as a volunteer taking pictures of headstones that people request in my local cemeteries and posting them on the site as I can.  In a small way, I can help others further their research.
     And although I prefer free, sometimes you do have to spend money.  As stated earlier, I have joined a few organizations and found them to be quite helpful.  The New England Historic Genealogical Society publishes a weekly newsletter that has helped me find wonderful resources on line. . This week's e-mail contained links to several local societies who have a presence on line.  I can't wait to spend time exploring these links and seeing what information they have for me! Here is a link to their newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/3emv6y5
They also offer copies of over 10,000 rare and out of print books that can aid in our research.   This is just one organization that has contributed to my growth as a genealogist.  What are some of your favorites and why are they your favorites?  I hope to explore more of these organizations in future posts now that I am back on line.  Have a great week everyone and good luck in your research! MJ
 

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Best Kept Secret: FHC portal

Well, you learn something new everyday.  Today's lesson is watch those blog "drafts".  Apparently this one that I wrote some time back didn't get published.  Found it waiting in "draft" mode.  So, a bit late, but here it is:

For those of you close enough to a Family History Center, you are able to access all of the following programs via their "portal" to several premium websites.

Of recent note is that Ancestry.com has recently returned to their previous practice of providing their full subscription database through the portal rather than a downscaled "institutional" version.  I applaud this move heavily.  Those of us who want to have Ancestry.com for use at home will continue to subscribe, even when there is a FHC only a mile away.  And for the rest?  What a great service!

In addition to Ancestry.com, the FHC portal provides family history center patrons free access to these premium websites:

19th Century British Library Newspaper Digital Archive
Alexander Street Press – The American Civil War
Find My Past
Footnote.com
The Genealogist
Genline Family Finder
Godfrey Memorial Library
Heritage Quest Online
Historical Map Works Library Edition
Paper Trail (from the Oregon-California Trails Association)
World Vital Records

The Old and the New of Tabs and Bookmarks

Well, if there is one thing that we can count on in this day and age, it is change.  Rapid change.  Always something better, newer, easier to use.  So, it appears that the very next working day after I wrote about the Enhanced Bookmark tool for iGoogle customization, I find something new and different.

I just downloaded the update to Firefox--4.0--and reviewed a few of its new features.  They have created a way for us to create tab groups for ease of use.  So, now all my British Research bookmarks that I frequent can be open and grouped together, while at the same time all of my Slovak Research bookmarks can be open and grouped together, and all at the same time that my personal tabs are grouped and open.  You can create as many "groups" as you want, name them what you want, and easily navigate from one to another.  It literally is as quick as drag and drop to the group, and click to name the group.

At first this seemed like a simple solution that could easily replace my enhanced bookmarks list, especially when I want to keep those bookmarks open, readily usable, and still not have my tabs all cluttered up.   However, the bottom line is that they are only in that group until you close them.  So, "groups" is not a permanent place to store bookmarks, just a great way to eliminate tab clutter if you tend to have 25 tabs open at a time.  

Another neat tool that Firefox 4.0 offers is to create an App Tab.  This works for something that you want accessible all the time, like your web mail, your blog, or your favorite research sites.  Right click on the open tab and drag to the left of the tabs and drop.  You should end up with an icon from that website that you can click on to open.  I just put my three most commonly used research sites there in a flash.


I would consider these new tools in Firefox 4.0 to be a great new solution to my research clutter, but apparently not a replacement for the enhanced bookmarks grouping solution I just wrote about.

To learn from a video, go to http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/central/ and click on "Meet Your Browser".

Peg

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Enhanced Bookmarks for iGoogle

While I'm on the topic of gadgets:  Let's cover Enhanced Bookmarks.  Here is one of the gadgets available to personalize your google home page that I absolutely love!  Now that I have figured out how to create separate home page "tabs" (see last post), I can add this gadget to each personalized tab and put only those bookmarks in it that directly relate to the focus of that tab. 

Searching under "add stuff" on your google home page, and using the keyword of "bookmarks", you will find at least a couple of choices.  This one is called "Enhanced Bookmarks".  It allows you to quickly add the name for a specific favorite website along with the URL, and then open it on that page or by using the box to the right, in a new tab or window (my preference).  You end up with a list in alphabetical order by the name you gave it.  Simple, quick, and easy to use.

For years I've "managed" my bookmarks or favorites by keeping them in folders by topic.  But that implies having to access the bookmarks menu, and drill down through a couple of headers and sub-topics to get to the one I wish to use.  By placing the most commonly used URLs on my homepage I can get to them readily.   And now that I can do this by topic using the tabbed home page feature, I'm really excited.

Peg

There are two kinds of tabs in Google!

Last fall I attended a conference session on technology aids for genealogists by Claire Brisson-Banks.  One of the things she mentioned was setting up multiple Google home page settings to aid in genealogy research.  Unfortunately I was in and out doing some volunteer work and I only caught the end of this part of the discussion.  She mentioned using "tabs" to accomplish this, and since I've used "tabs" for years now, I thought I understood what she meant.  But of course, using multiple browser tabs doesn't accomplish what she had described.

I happened to run into Claire on Trax during RootsTech, so I asked her to clarify.  Again, she simply said "use tabs."  I began to wonder just what it was that she got and I didn't about "tabs".  Well, today I finally figured it out.  Quite haphazardly I might add.  Not to embarrass myself or anything, but for some strange reason when Google upgraded their customizable home page experience and added an extra "tab" on the left, I didn't get it.  In fact, many times I've tried to figure out how to get rid of it; after all, it was taking up space, even if it was only an inch.

Today I played around with it enough to finally figure out this is the "tab" area that Claire was referring to.  OK, I consider myself fairly computer savvy, but I must admit I don't have time to keep up on every little nuance, and apparently I completely missed this one, even when it was slamming me in the face!

So, now I have added multiple "tabs" on topics of interest to me--Slovak research, British research, Utah research, etc. etc. etc.  Utilizing the power of the gadgets I have often used on my homepage but in different ways, I can now see the weather, news, related blogs or forums, photos, bookmarks, historical information, and all other kinds of things on one single page about Slovakia for example.  One could create a personalized tab on all things related to a specific surname, country, topic like genealogy, or whatever they wanted.  Now why I didn't see this before is shameful.  But I see it now, and I'm excited to continue to build it into something really useful.

Thanks Claire Brisson-Banks!

Peg

Found my Niche

I just found my genealogy niche.  And I found it in Seattle in the Pioneer Square District while visiting there with my husband who was on business.  Alas, I can't say more.  This will take some preparation before I wish to roll it out.  But it will be something to look forward to.  And I will announce it here first when it is ready. 
Peg

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lots of Fun New Stuff

Great things happen every day in this digital era of family history research--new records available online, new training events, new programs to help us do our research easier.  I don't think a day goes by without me noticing something new available to help someone.  I thought I might highlight some of the more recent digital events here:

FamilySearch has just added 11.5 million international records--Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, even Zimbabwe, just to mention a few--and 2 million U.S. records.  Of these, over 9 million records are from Hungary, yet that particular collection is only 38% complete and will be added to throughout the year.

RootsTech, the recently very successful conference held in SLC has put their video-taped sessions online.  http://rootstech.familysearch.org/  click on the Free Presentations On-Line box to the mid-right and select the session you want to view.

Webinars:  These are coming out of my ears, and no that is NOT a complaint.  Where online training seemed more difficult to find before, it appears to be plentiful now and I'm thoroughly taking advantage of it.  Here are a few to get you started:   
RootsMagic has put together a series of webinars on how to use their software and other products.  You can register and attend free, or you can access the archived version from their website at your convenience afterwards.  http://rootsmagic.com/Webinars/     
Likewise, Legacy Family Tree has been offering webinars.  Theirs have been on all kinds of topics, not just their software.  And again, they are free to attend with pre-registration.  They are also archived, but not all stayed archived "free", so you want to catch them quickly.  http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/webinars.asp  
Then we have Genea-Musings who focus on technology in general.  http://www.geneamusings.com/2009/10/free-genealogy-webinars.html   
Of course Ancestry.com, has been offering online tutorials and webinars for some time now on topics ranging from their Family TreeMaker software to basic searches to specific things like finding your Irish ancestors.  http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Webinars.aspx  
Last on today's list, but certainly not least is Dear Myrtle.  Her next webinar is on using Twitter.  Since I'm not into tweeting, and don't understand it at all, I should be attending this one.  She lists her upcoming webinars on her blog, http://blog.dearmyrtle.com/

BRAND NEW RELEASE!  Mocavo Genealogy Search.  This website was just open to the public for use Tuesday and has already impressed a few of us.  This new search engine was created by a genealogist for genealogists.  A quick search on a name I'm working on for a client just gave me 1,391 search results in 0.05 seconds from places like archive.org, the Ancestry message boards, FindAGrave, etc.  Just like the google hits, it would appear that the most logical matches are on the first page or two.  Looks like a quick way to see what is out there about that ancestor.  And as with anything, I wouldn't use it exclusively.  But what a great new tool--makes it easier for the non-techie to search for information.  The best part is it limits it searches to genealogy-type sites.   For a quick look, that is important.  But remember that when you are looking for a distant cousin that is still alive, it might not be here...try google or another search engine of your choice instead.  http://mocavo.com/  

Could there be anything else?  Quite simply, yes.  I've barely scratched the surface and I've only focused this post on things I've seen or heard about or used in the past few days.  The advantages of doing family history research in today's age are phenomenal.  At least in the sense that both training and more records are readily available.  Now, if only technology could create those records that seem to be missing, or burned, or overlooked, or otherwise lost.  Wouldn't that be the day?!

Happy sleuthing to all of you!

Peg

Friday, March 11, 2011

Easy RSS Feeds in Mac Mail

Blogs.  There are multiple blogs that I subscribe to or "follow".  Most about genealogy, but also some from family and friends.  Until today, I attempted to read them through my Google homepage using GoogleReader.  I must admit I wasn't very good at keeping up.  There are days when I would rev up the computer only to see 365 feeds waiting for my attention.  I would glance at the first few, and then click on the "mark all as read" button.  Just too much to deal with.  There is only so much time in a day!

It doesn't help that every single item posted gets a feed and pops up in the list.  That means I may be behind in reading say up to 10 posts from Dear Myrtle, 30 from Dick Eastman and 20 from Genealogy News, just to mention a few.  And buried in that list somewhere would be my daughter's last post about my grandchildren and my niece's description of their Texas escapades.

For some time now I've thought about the potential solution to this issue.  OK, I haven't thought too hard or I would have had it fixed long ago.  Aside from having multiple Google home pages with various themes and related feeds, I just hadn't found the right solution.  Until today.

Still fairly new to the Mac environment, having purchased my iMac just last summer, I can plead ignorance to the obvious.  After all, it takes a few months to acclimate to a new operating system after spending the bulk of your life on another, then another few months to selectively transfer all of your files (no I didn't want to migrate everything), another few months to get used to running Windows in the VMware Fusion virtual machine and subsequently unity mode.  So, now I'm several months into this transition and I have finally found the RSS feed option in Mail.  I had organized all my mailboxes so they come to one location, all of the mail folders to store things I needed to keep, but somehow I missed that nice "RSS" feed mode in spite of the fact that Apple automatically puts their feed there for you when you start the machine.

I decided to give it a try.  I opened up my Google Reader, pulled the URLs of the genealogy blogs I want to follow out and one at a time added them to the RSS Reader in Mail.  Now it seems logical that there would be a way to add multiple feeds at a time, but I haven't found it yet.  Nevertheless, it didn't really take me long to selectively move the most popular ones to try this out.

And voila!  All of a sudden I have an alphabetical list of the blogs I'm following along with the number of feeds received and unread.  Now, instead of reading one of this, one of that, skipping through looking for topics of interest, I can select the blog and glance through the topics in the same manner that I would glance through the subject lines of multiple emails, open and read or hit the delete key as appropriate.  In no time at all, I have made quick work of what used to be a daunting task.  And I don't feel like I missed anything--as I often did when GoogleReader numbers got out of control.  After all, if I don't want to wade through a particular list of feeds today, I can save it until tomorrow, and it will be there waiting for me in its nicely tidy little feed box.

I'm sold on this concept.  I've all of my genealogy feeds to Mail, leaving just family feeds for Google Reader. 

Now, knowing that not everyone owns a Mac, I did a quick check to see if other email products perform similar functions.  And many do.  For those who don't, there are services that allow you to subscribe for a certain number of feeds for free, more for a fee.  Perhaps you are way ahead of me and have been receiving your RSS feeds in your email for years.  If not, you might try checking your help menu to see how to add them in your particular program.  And see if you like this method of "keeping up" to be a bit more efficient.

Lesson of the Week

There is something to be said about the statement "we learn something new every day".  That has never been more true than as it relates to my study of family history research.  Not only does the landscape in this industry change constantly, but the breadth of knowledge that is available to us is phenomenal.  One could never know everything.  And we begin to specialize...whether it be in a geographical region or a family line.  And with that, we embark daily on the challenge of learning what is needed in order to move forward with our research.

Along this line, another favorite statement of mine goes something like this:  "just because I learned it once, doesn't mean I won't need to learn it again".  This is most likely to occur when I learn something and don't apply it frequently enough to make it stick.  But that isn't always the case, as was proven to me this past week.

My "lesson of the week" is this:

First, find out what records exist.  Then, determine if they are available.

No kidding you say--this is new?!  Well, yes and no.  Obviously, every time we take a look at the Handybook or Ancestry's RedBook to determine the boundaries of a county, when vital records began, and where they are held, we are applying the rule of first finding out what exists.  Then we work on determining where those records are stored and if they are readily available.  But how often do we really apply that principle?  Or do we, spoiled as we are with all of the readily available records going online daily, simply pull up a well-known website and do a search, fully expecting what we need to be there?  And when it isn't, we wonder why; but do we look to see if actually had the record series we need? 

So, how did I "re-learn" this valuable piece of information?  The professor in a British Family History Research class re-iterated it in the context of British records.  In this situation I learned that we should first access a "what exists" resource like the NIPR (National Index of Parish Registers) which provides a complete list by county (shire) of what records exist, for what dates, and where they are kept.  It also includes non-conformist records, and specifically outlines the gaps in the records. Then when we go to the Family History Library Catalog to see which of those records were microfilmed, or to some of the online resources to see which records are available online, we approach the situation fully educated.  

When doing my locality survey for this class, I totally skipped that important first step....went straight to the 1851 England Jurisdictions (maps.familysearch.org) to see what the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions were and then the FHLC (FamilySearch online catalog) to see what had been microfilmed and to familiar online sources to see what was available digitally.  As assignments were returned, the professor pointed out the obvious and reviewed it again--apparently many of us had skipped that important time-saving step.

So, I knew this.  Perhaps not as it relates to British research which is somewhat new to me, but in general.  It just hadn't played out in my mind in a way that it could translate to a new geographic area of research.  Sometimes we just need to "re-learn" it.  And that was my lesson for the week.  I'm sure it will make me a better researcher overall if I apply it more frequently :)
 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Back in the USA!

While in India I had a great deal of difficulty in using the internet.  If we had electricity, we didn't have internet. Often we would have power but no internet.  How great it is to be back in the US of A! I spent the last 3 weeks setting up my daughter's town house in Rexburg, Idaho, to accommodate the addition of myself and my fifteen year old son. I have a work space and but I am using a borrowed computer. My next big task is getting a computer so I don't have to borrow my daughter's all the time.  After all, she is a student and needs to do her homework.  Who would have thought the day would come when I would heard the words, "Mom you need to get off the computer so I can do my homework!"

I have an iMac 27" in India much to my husbands enjoyment.  So, what to get for the American side of the family.  We will eventually be living in the same household again so do I really want the same computer?  I think I will be ordering the 21" iMac for here in the USA.  It will work well with my IPad, which is important, the IPad has been a wonderful tool for me, not only can I carry my family tree with me using Ancestry to go, but I have access to my e-mail and other files while on the road.  Dropbox has been wonderful for this transition.

 I uploaded everything I would need from my computer to Dropbox, before I left India, now all I need is my new computer! But, in the meantime, I still have access to my photos and files while on the road.  This will be very helpful when I travel to South Carolina for the annual NGS conference this May.
You can find Dropbox here:    http://db.tt/twTJ4mW

It truly is an amazing time to be involved in researching your family history.  Every day wonderful new "toys" and resources are being adapted to make our work easier.

On a side note, when I registered my son for school here, I felt like I had entered into a time warp. The girls  have adopted the hairstyles from the late fifty's, early sixty's.  After having traveled around the world it was even more startling to see. Nowhere else had I come across these retro hairstyles.  They also really like fishnet stockings here.  For a moment I felt like I had stepped onto the set of "Hairspray" or "Grease".  It just goes to show the more things change the more they stay the same1

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Resources

There are a myriad of resources available online, from tutorials to waypointing sites to live webinars.  No shortage of methods by which to learn our craft.  Still, there are pieces that may be a bit elusive to the newcomer--like just where do we find all of these resources?  Or the overwhelmed--like how do I filter it down to just the ones I need the most? 

One of our goals is to help with the basics.  Not to replace what already exists, mind you, but to fill in some of the gaps as we see them--point to the resources where already quite nicely done, and add our own when we see fit.  So, having just attended a webinar by Dear Myrtle hosted by Legacy on Blogging, we have created a new page to store those resources.

The Resources Tab will be a work in progress.  But please feel free to let us know what you think the needs are.  What is missing out there?  What do you wish someone would just write a very simple instruction page for? 

Mary Jane has been quite busy of late reading through forums on the various software products and finds that one place we probably need to begin is a basic lesson on sourcing in software.  Many seem to avoid doing it or just place all their information in notes because it seems too difficult to navigate.  So, you can look forward to that one in the future, along with our personal reviews on some of the software options available out there.

What else?  You tell us!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

RootsTech Success

I imagine with all of the official bloggers for the RootsTech conference going on right now, we will hear quite a bit about it.  So, I won't ramble on here.  What I would like to say is that I was quite pleasantly surprised.  Having come from the meeting planning industry I didn't hold out much hope when I heard last year of their plans to pull both developers and users together into one big conference.  To do something on the scale of what they have accomplished normally takes an 18-24 month planning and development time frame.  To completely revamp an already existing conference at least 13-18 months.  I hear they pulled this one off in seven!

So, the planning part--getting the sponsors, setting up a large trade show, running a program with many concurrent tracks, and developing special events--would have been quite a feat.  But to pull two such disparate factions of the genealogical community--the developers on one hand, and on the users on the other hand--seemed like a far reach from sanity.  But it worked!  At least from what I saw.  (Due to an unplanned surgery in the family, I was only able to attend Thursday.  Today I plan to review the presentation syllabus on CD to catch some of what I missed while the wounded one rests.)

I guess the jury will render their verdict after all the bloggers, associations, journalists and others have aired their opinions on the issue.  But from my point of view, RootsTech is not only a smashing success, but may have just put us all on the track toward much more open communication and collaboration in the refinement of the genealogical community of resources for the future.  Kudos to the planners.  Thanks to the sponsors.  I'm really looking forward to attending next year's conference when it rolls around.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Miracle of Sharing

I began doing family history research over twenty years ago, back in the days of the first PAF release and dial-up Prodigy.  Somewhere along the line I took a very long breather due to a very busy career.  When I returned to family history research about three years ago, it was a very different landscape. Needless to say I felt I needed to get “caught up” on all the changes, so I started attending workshops, conferences, and online tutorials....anything that would bring my research skills and particularly my genealogy-related technological skills up to date.

Now, while I’m not an expert, I do enjoy teaching an occasional class and helping others navigate the technological mine fields to get to what they need. But there is one area of those “mine fields” I never really appreciated until just recently.  Today I wish to share that story and the miracle that goes with it.

Although any professional will tell you that a very important first step, after checking your family resources, is to check other compiled sources, I have traditionally skipped that part.  Somewhere along the line I had developed a huge prejudice against compiled family trees, finding too many errors, un-sourced work, and copied pedigrees.  Unless I was truly “stuck”, I didn’t even use them for “clues”.

I apparently carried that prejudice into this new more-technologically-advanced world.  Oh, I’d posted a couple of photos and things on Footnote, but why?  Just to try it out and see how it worked.  I still hadn’t set up a family tree on Ancestry, in spite of everyone talking about the “shaky leaf”, and I rarely checked the family trees  on any website for leads.  In fact, most of the time, I bypassed the general search and went right to what I was looking for.  For some reason, last December, I broke that rule, and gained the benefit. 

The story, which I won’t include in detail, begins with my great-grandmother, Harriet Brooks Skidmore, who was literally carried across the plains on a pillow at the age of four because she was so fragile and weak.  Her grandmother, Maria (Long) Brooks, sent a burial blanket with her family “just in case”.   I decided to research this Brooks line for a class project last semester (yes, I’m 56, and yes, I’m talking on-campus class).

The primary focus in the end was to resolve two questions about Harriet’s grandparents, “Captain” Josiah Brooks and Maria Long.  And yes, because it was required of the class, I consulted compiled sources.  They agreed with I had already gleaned from family sources....there were two opinions as to Josiah’s parents, and Maria Long was a dead end (in spite of the family having her actual death date and place from some unknown source).  And while I had a lot of fun along the way, following the family through Kansas to Oregon, finding newspaper extracts about marriages and deaths, and reading some amazing family histories written about Harriet and her family, I ended the semester with the same problem.  Only by that point in time, I had three opinions as to Josiah’s parents, two conflicting bible record extractions, no indication of what Josiah was a “Captain” of, and still nothing more on Maria, not even a confirmation of the supposed death date/place passed down through time.  

Trust me, this was not due to a lack of research.  In fact, I spent over one hundred hours on this project (no, the class didn’t require that much; as usual I went overboard).  While much of that time was spent on a preliminary survey, a census study, and a locality survey related to the course requirements, about fifty hours was related to online and library searches for vital and other related records.  I dug deep, and still at the end of the semester, came up short. 

Of massive concern was the theory that these family members were all born in Christiana, Delaware, and yet after searching every potential parish and civil record available in that area, I could not find records to prove that.  Census records showed them in the White Clay Creek Hundred (of which Christiana is a part) prior to migrating west; an 1868 land map showed three of Josiah’s brothers just southwest of Christiana; and the three newspaper extracts all mentioned that they lived in the White Clay Creek Hundred.  One would think, then, that a search of parish records in Christiana and surrounding areas would have produced exactly what I wanted.  Not.  I had begun to think whoever passed that information down the pipe had a very bad memory.

I was quite happy to put the unfinished work along with a copy of my class report on the bookshelf and take a breather.  And then the miracle occurred. 

I was about twenty minutes into a Hallmark Christmas movie when something said “you really ought to go check for information on Josiah’s brothers”.  I’m thinking, next generation, new problem, time to relax.  But you and I know that isn’t how it works.  Once a genealogy-related mystery or thought enters our minds, we can’t let it go.  So, I turned off the TV, turned on the computer, logged into Ancestry.com and began entering the Brooks brothers names (in the general search window with all the boxes checked--family histories, stories, photos, etc.--all those things I normally pass by). 
I enter the first name. Nothing.  Next name, nothing.  Next name, nothing.  Fine!  I tried the brother who didn’t own land and had a very odd name--Winslow.  Still Nothing.

Fortunately, Ancestry attempts to provide leads to things that “might be” related, so I scrolled down the page to see what they offered.  And there it was!  Part of a letter from a Maria Brooks to a Mr. Sanders, referring to her husband as Josiah.  Maria Brooks actually was a pretty common name back then, but with Josiah as a spouse?  What are the odds?

I immediately emailed the person who posted it; ends up she lives not far from me.  She put me in contact with the individual in Chicago who “inherited” a box of letters from yet someone else.  Within 24 hours I had in my hand (ok, on my computer) a scanned copy of a six-page handwritten letter documenting the deaths of two children, a recent move, Josiah’s subsequent change of occupation which brought him the new title of “Captain”, the price of commodities, and other historically interesting things.  A six-page handwritten letter, back in the late 1850s, from one friend (not a relative) to another, and with her own signature “Maria Brooks.” 

That was the miracle.  But first note how and when it came.  Not in the middle of my intense research through records online and off.  Not in my rush to meet class requirements.  And not while writing and re-writing the 26-page narrative report.  Instead, it came when I finally had a calm, quiet, stress-free moment and a little patience.  It came when I was willing to get past my prejudices and search records that others have found useful for years!  AND it came because someone else was wise enough to scan and share parts of that letter!

I learned a great lesson that day.  Technology has moved family history research into a new realm and I needed to move with it.  OK, I thought I had embraced all that technology had to offer, but that wasn’t true.  When it came to this one area--compiled records, online sharing of documents, etc.--I really was back in the dark ages.  As the result of this experience, I not only gained new leads on grandma Maria, but I gained a new appreciation for both on-line collaboration and sharing of resources. I even dropped a few prejudices (ok, I lowered the fence) as interestingly enough that letter was attached as a resource on (yes, you guessed it) a compiled family tree!

Peg

Technology is an amazing thing!

It has been awhile since we have posted anything.  Mary Jane has been busy with other things in India and I guess I've been sidetracked.  Then yesterday I read the post on Dear Myrtle about getting our blog listed on Geneabloggers even if we hadn't posted much or often.  Somehow I was naive enough to think that our listing would get buried quickly in the almost 1700 blogs on the list, and for now, maybe that was a safe place to be. 

So, you can imagine my surprise when returning to the computer only two hours after my request, we had four followers and one comment!  I am constantly amazed by what technology can do.  And the tenacity of the true genealogist in constantly looking for new information and new avenues of expression.

So, welcome new readers.  We are blessed to have you, and to learn and grow with you.