Thursday, June 30, 2016

Back to Those Dusty Old Files

Somewherelong, long agoon a nearly-forgotten trip to Ohio to dig through those prized source documents without which genealogical facts cannot be supported, I decided to do something smart: photocopy the entire Perry County index of births and deaths for my prime surnames. Included in that lot was the surname Gordon.

Where, oh where, is that file, now that I need it?!

Printed out on legal-sized paper by what surely was then still called a Xerox machine, the copies were too unwieldy to fit into my standard sized file cabinet. I had to come up with some other place to store them, so the edges wouldn't become frayed.

That is the rub: where was that place I tucked them so that they wouldn't become worn?

All is not lost, of course. It's a snap they aren't in my file cabinet. Nor in my storage boxesalso standard size folders.

Meanwhile, pending resolution of that search, I have an alternative to resolving my discrepancy over which George and Sarah Gordon are the ones I'm currently seeking. I can grimace and hold my nose and take a peek at one of those "indexed" collections put together by places such as You know, the ones with the squishy citations, likequoting here in its entirety from the "citation" box in the drop down resource online

Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.Original data - "Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2011. Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled re

"Compiled re" what? One wonders such thoughts as, "Why does the title of the collection not match up with the title of its 'original data' source?" After all, the collection's official titledubbed so by Ancestry itselfis "Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, 1800-1962." Where, exactly, did it come from? Who drew up the original index? What material was used as the source documents for compiling that index? How reliable were those indexers?

I could go on with such questions. I want to know whether the data I'm relying on are actually, you know, reliable.

Let's just call this a stop-gap measure. After all, I'm still trying to sort out my Georges and Sarahs. Surely some baptismal records can lend me a handeven if they were indexes of copies of transcriptions of the original thing.

Here's all I could find:
  • A baptismal record for Hugh M. D. Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sarah Dittoe
  • A baptismal record for "Agness" Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sara J. Dittoe
  • A baptismal record for Samuel B. Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sarah Dittoe

Remember that fork in the road I hit yesterday, with the one George Gordon family remaining in Perry County, Ohio, and the other moving to Douglas County, Illinois? Let's take a look at which family had Hugh, Agnes and Samuel with them.

You thought this was going to be easy, right? Well, the 1880 census for neither household had anyone named Agnes Gordon. But there was a Hugh. He wasn't, however, in the same household as the one which had a Samuel.

This complicated matters. I had already assumed the George Gordon family living close to the other Gordon familiesMark in 1860 and Adam in 1870would be the correct household. However, Samuel complicated matters by turning out to be a child in the other Gordon household.

But wait! Not so fast! Let's check ages. The Samuel in the 1880 census was born in 1875. Going back to that baptismal entry in the Index, the Samuel who was confirmed to be the son of Sarah Dittoe was born in 1881too late to have even made it into the 1880 census.

And this Samuel—the late arrival to the Ohio Gordon scenewas the Samuel who had moved with his family to Arcola in Douglas County, Illinois.

So, once I can properly compile the list of all Samuel's older siblings, I'll have a tentative fix on just which George and Sarah was which.

Of course, finding that legal-sized copy of the actual Index to Births for Perry County would be optimal. I know that was the document kept in the courthouse in Perry County. Barring any clerical errors in the official transcription of documents into that courthouse index, I can be fairly certain just whoamong births post-dating 1866, when the county began recording thembelonged to which Sarah Gordon.

That, however, brings up a different question: just who was this other George Gordon? And where does he fit into the family pictureif at all?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trail of Two Georges

When it comes to errors in genealogical documentation, I guess the main question is: how badly does that bother you?

You know that squishy feeling. You look at a record or two concerning your target ancestor, then take in someone else's work, and think, "This doesn't look right." Perhaps you can't articulate why, but you don't get a good feeling about the splat of it all.

It is so easy to grab the first record you find in the family's county of residencesay, the 1880 censusand decide, "Yep. This is it. I've found my family."

That may not be the case, at all. But you didn't look far enough to determine that, yet.

When it comes to a surname like Gordon, it pays to look twice. While not as common a surname as Smith or Jones, the surname Gordon occurs frequently enough to make me want to proceed with caution on this research trail.

Couple that with ethnic tendencies of past centuries to employ traditions such as naming patterns, and the likelihood that extended families may have emigrated en masse to their new frontier homeeach married brother naming his firstborn son exactly the sameand you have just doubly doomed yourself to the possibility of same name relatives living within close proximity of each other.

A case like that prompts me to come up with alternate hypotheses when looking for family records. And those hypotheses are formulated to attempt to prove myself wrong.

So, when I came upon my ancestor in question todayGeorge Gordon and his wife Sarah, living in Perry County, OhioI didn't want to prove that he is my man when I found him in the census. I want to prove that he isn't my guy. In other words, I want to search for someone else who can prove Find Number One to be in error. If I don't succeed in that forced false response, only then can I consider my discovery safe.

Let's take a look at George Gordon. As far as I know, I'm looking for the youngest son of William Gordon and his second wife, Mary Cain. Since George's father William died before the 1850 census, it's no surprise to see youngest child George in his widowed mother's household at that point. Since there is no reference to relationships in that census, and since Mary is admittedly also a common name, such a record may also be prone to duplication. So we can't rest our laurels on this one discovery. There are too many missing details we still need to fill in.

Still, we can glean from that record that our George (if this was the right George) was unmarried, eighteen at the time of the 1850 census, and was born in Ohio. That's a start.

Let's assume, for the moment, that his age was reported correctlyyes, a huge assumption, as census enumerations gowhich makes his year of birth approximately 1832. And let's take that hypothesis out for a spin with the brand new census model in 1860.

It seems like smooth sailing on this road out to Reading Township in Perry County, location of the old William Gordon farm. There, right next to his older brother Mark, is the entry for George Gordon. Just like clockwork, the man has aged precisely ten years, showing his current age now to be twenty eight. As can be expected from a marriage record giving the year of their wedding as 1858, he and the former Sarah Jane Dittoe are now proud parents of a one year old son. In honor of George's father, and with a secondary possible nod to Sarah's father's name (which I've yet to uncover), they named their child William Jacob Gordon.

All was not perfect with this record, though. True, George's widowed mother Mary was still with themalthough her place of birth had somehow morphed from Maryland to Pennsylvania. But that was an understandable minor detail. More puzzling was the presence of another childa four year old named Harvey Taylor. Admittedly, two households away from the Gordon farm lived a family by the name Taylor, but what was their (supposedly) four year old son doing here? The most likely scenario in that time period was that there would be some sort of family relationshipbut none that I've discovered, so far.

Setting aside those small discrepancies, let's move onward to 1870. There, once again, we find George and Sarah in Reading township. Gone was his mother, Mary Cain Gordon, who had died three years earlier. Gone also was any mention of that mystery Taylor boyor the neighbors by the same name to which he might have been related. Nor was George's brother Mark in the vicinity, eitheralthough in his place was the young family of Adam Gordon, George's orphaned nephew who had been in Mary's household along with George in the 1850 census.

Thankfully, positioning near these other Gordon relatives had helped persuade me that I found the right George Gordon, as one other missing detail from this 1870 census entry was the only descendant whose record I had gleaned from the earlier census. Where William Jacob was gone, he had been replaced with stair-step siblings: Mary, Rebecca, Martha, Charles and Thomas.

All would seem convincingly complete, if we concentrated solely on the assumption that, having found one entry, it was the only entry possible. However, nine pages further into the enumeration for the very same townshipReadingwhat do we find but another entry for a George Gordon. And yes, this one was also complete with a wife named Sarah. This couple also had a son they named Jacob, followed by two other young children, Israel and Mary. Had I found this George and Sarah firstand not felt prompted to continue looking, after this discoveryI might have made the wrong assumption. After all, how many times do we see census discrepancies in locations or dates of birth?

To follow through and insure we haven't stumbled upon a flukeyou know those inscrutable census enumeratorslet's check out the 1880 census, just to make sure.

And there they both were, residing in Reading township againthe two Georges with their respective wives Sarah. Onewhich used to have a son Jacobnow without a Jacob, while the other household has one. Both households with a son Thomas. And a whole lot of other children.

This is one of those instances where the absence of the 1890 census is keenly felt. Whatever. Let's see what the 1900 census brings, after that twenty year record absence. 

This is where we run into road hazards in Perry County. More than that, we have an entire fork in the road. One of our George Gordon households is entirely gonenow living in Douglas County, Illinois, it appears. Because of the twenty year gap, it is hard to compare the names of the children to the previous census record. The only possible overlap occurs if the hard-to-read 1900 entry for "Chris V." Gordon is actually the Charles Gordon of the 1880 census.

The George Gordon family remaining in Perry County includes two children too young to have been included in the 1880 censusone tantalizingly named William H. Gordon, same as our George's oldest full brother, father of the Adam Gordon George grew up with.

What to do? The two Georges reported birth years varying, at the most, within a five year range of each other. They each had wives named Sarah. Each had a son named Jacob, and later another son named Thomas.

Of course, I can always reconstruct the history of each of those children, delineating each child by the maiden name of his or her mother. But that does little to confirm which Sarah belongs to the George who was son of William and Mary. And that is the key. After all, I'm tracing the line of George, son of William, son of John, the immigrant.

Of course, it may turn out that both Georges are descended from John. It is very possible, considering the path for both of them led to Ohio through Pennsylvania. But you know I can't rest until I have each George in his proper place in the Gordon family tree. Any less would never do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two Curious Georges

You know how it goes: you decide to go back and comb through the trail of all your research and make "a few" adjustments. Only you've been doing that genealogical pursuit for tenmaybe twentyyears. This is not going to be a simple double-check.

Sure enough, you run across a note to yourself, dated at least ten years ago, and begin to groan. It was a mess back then, but now you've even forgotten just what it was that made that file such a mess. So now you have to go back and re-acquaint yourself with all your doubts before you can proceed to solutions.

In my case, it was a file of Gordons which I stumbled upon yesterday. Still working on my project to hand transferso as to check, point by point, each step of the research wayall that Gordon clan from colonial Pennsylvania onward, I ran across the file of one George Gordon.

Or maybe it was two George Gordons. Now I'm not so sure.

Whoever it was, he was a man with multiple children. Granted, back in the 1800s when large families were a necessity, those head counts of family members could easily exceed ten. But even with that reality, I was beginning to doubt the numbers. True, I had a copy of the birth registers for Perry County, Ohiowhere this branch of the Gordon family had settledto follow the documented details. But even with that, I was beginning to feel I had missed something.

It was plain from the register that there were two different wives listed for George Gordon. It didn't help that the name for each of them was Sarah. However, some of the children had, for mother, a listing as Sarah Ryan. Others were listed under Sarah Dittoe, a longstanding surname in the Perry County area.

I had been collaborating with other Perry County Gordon researchers on this project, those ten to twenty years ago, and now that I'm reviewing all my notes, I've been reminded of our doubts over what we were finding back then, when resources weren't quite so handily at our fingertips. On a note affixed to one Gordon child, I had entered, "There is much confusion among some researchers as to which children of George Gordon belonged to which mother."

Indeed, one of these fellow researchersa retired professor of history at a respected midwestern universityhad noted, concerning this George Gordon, that he "has been a BIG problem because his wife is sometimes listed as Sarah Jane Dittoe and sometimes as Sarah Jane Ryan."

It was easy to see that, if one took a look at commentary on genealogical forums or Ancestral Files or IGI records on the Gordon family, that many researchers at that time framed this as a question of which children belonged to which wife of George Gordon.

Now, looking back, I'm not so sure. There are a lot of problems with the assumption that this was a case of one manGeorge Gordon of Perry County, Ohiomarrying two different women. For one thing, I can locate a marriage record for a George Gordon and wife Sarah Dittoe, but not one in Perry County for a George Gordon marrying someone named Sarah Ryan.

Frustratingly, according to birth records, there was a Gordon-Ryan combo for some children, and a Gordon-Dittoe set of parents for others. Even more important, now that I look back on it, is that some census years show two entries for a household of George and Sarah Gordon. Of course, that is from our current vantage point of online access to census records for every decade of George Gordon's lifespan, rather than the sole 1880 census transcription available, back when we first attacked this research question.

Granted, census records are notorious for including information that is only as accurate as both the enumerator and the reporting party are careful to provide. Dates of birth shift upward a year, then downwardor wobble two or three or five years difference in the interval between enumerations. People forgot where their spouse was born. Parents reported children using first names for one decade, then middle names for another.

Still, reviewing all the census years in which I could locate George-and-Sarah combos in Perry County, there was too much of a variance to let me remain complacent about our research conclusions from decades past. The best thing to do is set up a document itemizing each detail for each census, so that at a glance, I can spot the differences. That way, I can articulate just why it is that our former conclusions about this George Gordon were in error.

Sometimes, we can only produce results as good as our resources enable us to do. When our research reach extends significantly beyond what we once could easily access in times past, we need to reconsider our former conclusions, document and articulate the reasons for revised conclusions, and set the record straight.

Let's see what can be done with this George Gordon, son of William and Mary Cain Gordon, on this next pass through the records.   

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Matter of Money

Every now and then, someone in the genea-blogging world brings up the topic of genealogy as profession rather than hobby. While this is mostly not the realm of my own efforts, I am part of a small family business and naturally take an interest in reading business topics. In addition, because I participate in genealogical endeavors as a board member of a local genealogical society, I have an additional vested interest in following these posts.

Last Wednesday, Blaine Bettinger took up the topic in his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in a post entitled "Charging for (Genetic) Genealogy Services." Not only was the post thought-provoking, but one that generated a great deal of conversation through nearly fifty comments appended to the bottom of the page.

Examining just why it is that genealogical services are undervalued in comparison to a number of other businesses, Blaine points out the cost involved in properly equipping one's self to become a qualified genealogistespecially a genetic genealogist. He touches on issues of cost of education and training, supply and demand, even the ethical considerations surrounding the expectation of pro bono services.

Blaine's conclusion wrapped up all these considerations in the statement (emphasis his):
The genealogy community must be careful about...fostering a general expectation of free or cheap services while still being sure to offer pro bono services. An expectation that all genealogy should be free or cheap devalues who we are and the highly specialized skills we have worked so hard to develop.

While he brings up some valid points, I couldn't help but think that genealogists cannot expect others to adequately value them and their skills without first showing that same respect for each other. In reading this post, my mind went immediately to the instance of a meeting, back during the first year of my position on the board of our local genealogical society.

Granted, such societies are often the venue of non-professionals taking a lead role in self-help for fellow enthusiasts. However, it is these same organizations which rely mainly upon the services of professional genealogists, particularly in the realm of providing speakers and training for meetings.

How much do those societies generally pay their speakers for a worthwhile hour of instruction?

Before you answer that question, consider the numbers on the flip side of this equation: how much effort and knowledge go into the making of those hour-long educational programs? I can vouch for the likely numbers in answer to this question, as my family's own business produces educational programming requiring many more hours to design than to execute. Plus, before that training session ever begins, the instructor often has to invest time in travel to and from the meeting location. All of this time investment should be reflected in the formulation of the program's value.

I don't know what the current answer is for other genealogical societies, but I can safely say that, before our society decided to step up their game and offer quality programming for our monthly meetings, we weren't paying our speakers much at all. Even now, though we do provide a much more reasonable "honorarium," if the amount were divided out over the full time it takes to formulate and deliver such a program, the hourly remuneration would be embarrassing.

Yet, if we feel the services of genealogists ought to be valued more reasonably, why aren't we as societies leading the way in this issue? It does no good to talk about the problem if we aren't willing to serve as examples through our own collective actions. If we want others to value the services of professional genealogists, we need to first do so, ourselves.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gleanings From the Back Channel

Every now and then, someone stumbles upon an old post here at A Family Tapestry and adds a comment about how a name mentioned happens to be connected to the reader's family. That, of course, is precisely what I love to seeespecially if it means I can connect with a previously unknown part of this extended family I'm researching. However, getting deeper into the details of the relationship is not always something appropriately done in such a public setting, so I try to take such discussions into a more private venue.

That is exactly what's been happening lately, as much-appreciated visitors arrive, usually courtesy of Google searches, and offer their perspective on some of the posts here, dating back a year or more.

I've just had an online conversation with a researcher who is pursuing all the branches of his tree, which coincidentally happen to intersect with a Kelly branch on my husband's tree. How timely that note is! This Kelly line is the one of the families which oncearound 1850settled in Lafayette, Indiana. And Lafayette just happens to be one of the stops on our upcoming trip back east.

Lafayette, not much more than an hour's drive from Chicago, was where my husband's second great grandfatherthe mysterious and untraceable John Stevens from County Mayo in Irelandended his immigration journey and settled down. It was his New World.

While I can find quite a bit on his descendants, there is not much documentation on John or his first wife, poor Catherine Kelly, who likely died shortly after the birth of her third child. We are so fortunate that her parents had also immigrated to the United States, for her widowed mother performed the grandmotherly duties of raising Catherine's three young boys while John presumably workedand likely looked for another wife. The third son, William, probably knew no other parents but his grandparents Kelly, and even after his father, John, remarried, I couldn't locate him until I discovered the census entries for his grandparents.

There he was, not only in the 1860 census with his brothers, but even as late as the 1880 census, found in the Kelly household, along with a cousin in much the same circumstances.

It's that cousinlisted there in 1880 as A. M. Crahanwhose direct family line was the one in question in my email conversation yesterday. A complicated line to document, it involved the death of another sister of William Stevens' own mother. Documents providing details in conflictsuch as differing dates of birth or name variations like "Stevenson" instead of Stevensmade me very wary of what I was finding. I really want something more than just this tenuous paper trail, but sometimes, things like that are the only documentation we are going to get.

What I'd really like is for some Kelly descendants to surface, do their DNA tests, and show up as matches on my husband's results.

I do, actually, have one potential Kelly match alreadybut for yet another Kelly sister whose marriage documentation has somehow eluded me. You can be sure I'll be stopping in Lafayette to see if I can find any records of this other Kelly woman's existenceand marriage. But now I'll be adding yet another Kelly female to my search to-do list.

It's conversations like thesecomparing notes with fellow researchers in the backgroundthat help build these shaky cases. When we delve further back in time, beyond the time when civil records duly noted the very events genealogists need to have confirmed, it sometimes hinges upon the clues held privately in family collectionsa family Bible, or letters, or cherished papers handed down from generation to generationwhich can sometimes reveal what we suspected all along. Sometimes, these items are the only way to confirm relationships.

Well...that and DNA testing. A match on a Kelly descendant's DNA test would certainly help me feel a bit more confident about what I'm finding.

So, in those back channel conversation with newly-met possible relatives, you can be sure I'll not only be asking, "Are you my cousin?" But I'll be following that up with a request for participation in DNA testing.

It's always good to find a new cousin. Even better to find additional ways to confirm the relationship.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Something Old for Something New

The dates are set, the tickets bought. We're heading back east to visit family and attend to some research business.

Among the goals for this trip is one to finish old business: identify through solid documentation the link from my husband's two sisters back to John Jay Jackson's father, Patriot Lyman Jackson. I've been working on this process for quite some time, but now that the travel dates are set, the deadline seems to be rushing toward me faster than I'd like.

To insure I'm not retracing steps I've already taken, I've been spending a lot of time sifting through all my files stored on my dinosaur computer. Yes, the old fossil still works, though I try not to boot it up too often. One never knows when that switch will click on for its very last time.

This week, though, I've been putting the thing through its paces. It's amazing how many digital files one can accumulate over the years. Unlike tangible files like the twenty-something-year-old paper folders stored away in boxes, these electronic files can be gonepoof!with a mere glitch of the operating system. Even though, yes I've got that whole system backed up, that tenuous situation makes me nervous.

Systematically going through each of these folders, I've come upon some references to old websites which I once found useful. Curious to see whether these sites were still in existence, I entered some of the addresses in my new computer. To my surprise, some of them actually came up.

One site, listed as "Geneocity" and appearing to be the work of someone calling himself Rick, included a composite readout of headstones from the old sections of the Saint Joseph's cemetery near Somerset in Perry County. This, of course, is a record of transcriptions which will come in handy for me, once we arrive back in Ohio.

The listing on this website was actually the blending of four separate sets of records. The oldest among them, presumably, was the actual Saint Joseph burial register. That was augmented by the transcriptions by Monsignor Herman E. Mattingly during the late 1970s. An 1986 reading of "stones in a pile"an ominous indicatorwas provided via the Catholic Record Society of the Columbus Diocese. In addition, two other resources were credited: the notes of Donald Schlegel and Rick Jackson (perhaps the same Rick as the one behind the website).

The discouraging thing about records is that old things crumble, get weathered and worn, and eventually cease to reveal the aged secrets we seek. While we may not consider the notes of researchers in the 1970s or 1980s to be from a bygone era, they do preserve what may have since disintegrated in the last thirty five or forty years, leaving us at least that one step ahead. Every little bit helps in this research race against time.

While this website provides only one snapshot of information I need from this regionPerry County in Ohio, childhood home of my mother in law and generations of her ancestorsthere are, or at least were, several other such sites scattered throughout the vast universe encompassed by the Internet. These little genealogical gems tucked away hither and yon were likely the impetus for the success of genealogy go-to sites like Cyndi's List, which catalogs their existence and location.

In my Fibber McGee's digital closet, there's no telling where such genealogical delights will come tumbling out. I've been tucking away these genealogy URLs for decades, now. Now that I'm resolved to clean out that old clunker of a computer, though, I'm unpacking and rechecking every single lead I've parked in the Perry County folder in my genealogy file. There are, surprisingly, still some keepers which can yet be used.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Almost Drank the Kool-Aid

Despite the snarky outlook I may have portrayed as I reviewed those articles by a proponent yesterday, all was not negative reaction. As I said yesterday, reading the Schoenberg blog posts regarding the World Family Tree was a journey likened more to a "both/and" experience than to an "either/or" dichotomy.

There were points that were quite alluring. Persuasive. Convincing. I almost...

Wait! What was I thinking! I took a serious look around the siteadmittedly, a limited tour, as one needs to both sign up for the service and, if really serious, commit to a monthly payment for the "Pro" version of the site. The more I looked, the less impressed I was.

On the other hand, I like the theoretical foundation the tree is built on: collaboration. From the many books and articles I've read on crowdsourcing in general, deliberate or even innocently-originated errors are quickly policed by a crowdsourced site's advocates. That's why Wikipedia provides so much reliable material. When the ratio of correct input to sabotaged errors heavily favors the former, you have a viable operating model. It doesn't have to be perfect to work.

The reasons I felt enticed to consider had mainly to do with my problem-ridden side of my own family tree: my paternal side. That's the realm of paternal grandfather John T. McCann, alsoI'm sure of itknown as Theodore J. Puchalski. Yeah, the guy who insisted to my cousin that he was really adopted. Who raised his kids and grandkids to parrot that unbelievable line that they were really Irish. Anything but the Polish immigrants they really were.

Another aspect of Geni is that it represents itself as widely international in membership. This is supposedly not just an American phenomenon we're observing here, but one with a worldwide draw.

Put that all together and perhapsjust maybeI could find some collaboration among those in that international community who have more insight into my Polish-American problem than I have.

So I went hunting through what I could find at Geni, as an unpaying visitor. I searched every off-the-wall Polish surname I could recall from my crazy paternal ancestry, with very little luck. For Aktabowski, only one family came up in the results. For Gramlewicz, none. Laskowska and Laskowskithe respective female and male derivatives of that Americanized surname Laskowskibrought, predictably, many more results. But I shudder to recall how many of those entries portrayed the uninformed work of unidentified participants who apparently weren't even aware of such general genealogical conventions as listing a woman by her maiden name, even if she was later married.

Details like that tend to scare me away from such public participation. I'd sure appreciate some help...but maybe not that kind of help. That would turn into an exercise of sheer frustration.

Then, too, I have to pull back and realize something: the limitations I face. They're the same as the ones you face. They generally have to do with a finite amount of time in any given day, overlaid upon a burgeoning splay of activities to be pursued. How carefully we must choose our battles. And, with the recent addition of that DNA project management role on my crowded plate, plus this year's current research goals, it's all I can do to keep up with a day's demands. With a to-do list like that, who needs another straw to lay upon that camel's back?

So, as convincing as that series of blog posts might have been, urging people to consider participation in the World Family Tree at, it looks like the best choice for me, right now, is to turn and walk away.  
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