Monday, July 22, 2019

Finding New Directions


There are two research lives led by the genealogy-guinea-pig-turned-blogger. One, of course, is the observed life of the writer, the research conquests documented as they occur, unfolding on the virtual page, warts and all, in real time. This can make for the thrill of what-happens-next, a by-product of not knowing what to expect at each research turn—but it can also make for some dull, repetitious, and-then-I-tried-this flops as posts.

That is what inspires the second life of such a blogger: the undercover role of the secret research agent, doggedly pursuing the unfindable, while all the while not saying a peep about any discoveries because, well, minutiae can make for a boring read.

While those now-multiple second-life pursuits are silently grinding away in the background, we need to set a new course for the public discussion of what's next on the research menu. I thought I'd take a cue from my dilemma about this time last year, just after I had signed up for SLIG 2019 and the course on Southern Research.

Back then, knowing I had been remiss at researching anything on my mother's southern roots, I was virtually staring at a blank page when it came to deciding how to make amends. So, last year in July, I figured it would take me nearly the rest of the year to get the running start I'd need to at least ask knowledgeable questions in class, so that's when I started working on those maternal southern lines.

Well, it's July. Again. And I've just signed up for another SLIG class on a topic about which I know very little. Perhaps it's high time to follow my own lead from last year, and start researching my Virginia roots, since it is Barbara Vines Little's course on Virginia research I'm about to take next January.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if I start work right now, I'll have enough time to get a running start before the beginning of that new year.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Letting Learning Opportunities
Slip Through my Fingers


Lately, some of my genea-friends have been posting on social media about their summertime learning excursions. For instance, one friend just returned home from GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, full of ideas—and blog posts—on how she was going to put her newly-acquired learning to work, making me wish I had some learning opportunities lined up, myself.

To make matters worse, today marks exactly one month from the start of the Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conference. I went to last year's FGS conference in Fort Wayne and enjoyed it immensely. This year's conference, however, is being held in Washington, D.C., a wearying trip entirely across the continent from my home—something I'd be less than inclined to tackle at the end of August. Besides, we've already missed the early-bird deadline for registration, doubly clinching my woes over not being able to participate.

Perhaps I've hit the learning doldrums because our own society has gone dark for the summer, or because my favorite genealogy conference—Jamboree in southern California—will be taking a hiatus until 2021. And yes, I know I can still tap into webinars through several different resources—some of them for free, some because of my membership in the host organization—but watching a webinar at home is just not the same experience as the energy and high-touch aspect of face-to-face events. It's nice to be able to say "hi" to a fellow attendee without having to type the message quickly enough to include it in the right space at the right time.

So...if you are going to FGS this summer, or any of the state conferences or other institutes, blog about it, won't you? I promise I'll read your post and try to feel like I'm seeing it through your eyes. Maybe that will be enough of a dose to hold me over until SLIG rescues me in January.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Now Indexing:
More New York Records


Not only has last week been a hectic week, but now that I think of it, it feels like a million years since I last indexed any records at FamilySearch.org. Sure enough, checking my progress, it's been almost six weeks since I last volunteered to help get any online records search-ready. Time to get back to offering some regular help and giving back to the community.

Sometimes, when I've just gone through a busy work week but want to do my part with regular volunteer work, I look for an indexing project that is light and easy—something requiring little brain power on my part, but still needing the hands and effort to finish the work. This time, I returned to my home state of New York and found some World War II draft registration cards from New York City that needed some indexing help.

Once the drill is down—where to fill in what information, what rules apply to the process—the routine goes smoothly. Each batch of records contains about ten—or sometimes fewer—individual files, and clicking through each one can move quite quickly.

In this case, I opted to do two sets. Not a heavy load, admittedly, but my theory is to do a little bit of volunteer work on a regular basis, rather than to give my all in one huge push. That way, I'm sure to come back for more, over and over again. I won't let myself get burned out with any saintly sacrifices. Being realistic helps keep volunteers in the game for the long haul. And over that long haul, I'll have contributed, cumulatively, much more than I could in one grit-your-teeth-and-hold-on marathon volunteer day.

That's the theory I've learned to run with when working with volunteers in the organizations I've served, and the principle remains the same, when I switch roles and become the volunteer, myself. Taking in the big picture—FamilySearch.org, after all, has multiplied millions of records which still need that indexing transformation to become searchable online—that's the most realistic way to achieve such an enormous dream: one record at a time, one volunteer at a time. When we all come back to do what might seem to be our "little" part, it adds up to something impressive for all of us.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Across the Strewn Research Path


Help. This is your local genealogical guinea pig speaking, and I've just taken a glance behind me. Don't look now, but what lies behind includes the horrifying aftermath of several brick-wall-encountering research casualties. And it's time to take stock of the situation and engage in some remedial clean-up action.

To recap, I've been on a wild research spree over the past six months of 2019. Starting in January, I began my research journey into my maternal southern lines, launched from a class in Southern Research Techniques at SLIG. I followed up that invigorating week of instruction with some field experience in northern Florida, home of my third great-parents, George Edmund and Sidney Tison McClellan, when I discovered a DNA match with descendants of an enslaved family having connections to the McClellan line. Trying to ascertain the identity of that one particular enslaved family—turned out, it was King Stockton and his mother Hester—the search took us from Florida to the Tison plantation in coastal Georgia.

Encountering the last of any documents which could be located online from that Georgia county, that search got put on hold while I explored another southern line—Broyles in South Carolina—which tied into my heritage from a different direction. With rich reading material to amply supply my need to know more—I'm still absorbing all I can from that vein—I set that pursuit on a back burner, as far as the reporting aspect goes, to write about yet another DNA discovery: the possibility of another hitherto unknown branch of my husband's Irish-Canadian Tully line. When I exhausted all I could locate in the records on that family line, another DNA match popped up to tantalize me over another possibility: discovery of my own grandfather's mystery origin.

And now? Unable to proceed further without additional documentation—and unable to obtain that documentation without going to the paper source, I'm afraid—I'm stuck.

When I look back at the aftermath of all these research trails, I see pathways strewn with the clues of so many unfinished quests. Such is often the case with genealogical pursuits. We go as far as we can reach with the resources we have at hand, pushing as far as we dare go, until there is no more wind in our sails, or gasoline in our engines. And there our good intentions sit, littering the trail until we can replenish the go power to move onward.

Of course, the standard advice would be to take one research question, run with it as far as we can go, then push beyond that research limit and press on toward the answer. That, however, is only as practical an option as the resources we have at hand to address it: no further resources, no further action—let alone arrival at an answer. I can't, for instance, drop everything and fly to Poland. Not even to Ireland. Or Canada. The practicality of the situation is that I can only go so far as my research resources let me stretch. And then, I need to keep track of where I got stuck, the reasons why, a hypothesis for continuation when fair sailing conditions allow me to continue the course—say, with newly-available record sets online—and a tickler file to help refresh my memory when that day arrives.

This makes me wonder about setting up a spread sheet with reminders of each specific research course, a bulleted list of what I already found and a list of where I think I ought to check next—all ready to wrap up and tuck away some place where I can find it when the occasion arrives to revisit the journey again. That way, I'll be ready to hit the ground running when the opportunity presents itself, instead of losing time to re-acquaint myself with the particulars of how I got stuck, last time I tackled the issue.

Included in that spreadsheet, I'd add possible next steps to take in follow-up, and contact lists of people with whom I'm working, in cases such as these DNA matches. It's a research plan with a caveat: I'm limited in progress only by the availability of the resources I need to clinch the relationships or proceed to the previous generation. And those resources, as we've all seen, can pop up at any moment online—or, frustratingly, keep themselves just out of reach of the long-distance researcher for far longer than we'd like to see.

It's the researcher's life, isn't it? For some, it adds up to too much frustration and a solid reason to quit the chase; for others, it seems only to goad us on, doggedly determined to not cave to stubborn roadblocks along our research path.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Creating Community


Despite all the energy and enthusiasm I like to display when I am teaching or meeting people, my days most often get off to a rugged start. I don't do mornings—not well, at least. I usually need a generous dose of "quiet time" before I'm ready to face the world—an alarming constraint today, considering I decided to spring for an impromptu morning coffee meeting with members of our local genealogical society.

What I usually do to coax myself into the inevitable "awake" state of mind most mornings is to stay in bed and read. Yes, my days are built backwards; the most productive times arrive long after the lingering freshness of the morning glow has fizzled. In my world, the sun and the horizon formally acknowledge each other's existence but once a day.

Among the reading selections I use to gently ease myself into the morning are thought-provoking blog posts. Top of the list is a daily thought piece by marketing guru Seth Godin. As if by special delivery, yesterday's post seemed to speak directly to me in this current state of mind:
The best way to contribute to a community...isn’t by complaining. It’s by making things better.

Remember, it was barely a week ago that I was complaining over the loss of the sense of community which once built the many organizations enabling genealogists to come together and share mutual concerns. This, itself, had been followed by a front row seat only a few days later, when I witnessed a languishing group snatched, eleventh-hour, from the decision point of disbanding.

Events of the day—once I arose yesterday from my morning fog to join the land of the living—seemed to second that motion I had just read. Another board member and I met with two librarians from our local branch regarding next year's schedule for the workshops we provide at their venue. Along the way, the conversation turned to the role libraries can play in creating community.

Libraries, if you haven't noticed, have reinvented themselves—at least in the places where they are still in existence and haven't been dismantled by the trustees of their local government budget—and are now thriving places addressing a multitude of community service opportunities. In our case, our genealogical society contributes toward that evolution by helping library patrons to more effectively access the family history assets the library provides. Just talking with these librarians about that vision of more effectively assisting in community building was energizing. We each shared about tools and outreach ideas we found to be helpful.

Leaving that meeting, I stopped at the unsuspecting coffee shop where I and fellow society members plan to convene this morning, just to say hi to the familiar faces there and warn them of today's plans. Since I have a longstanding date with myself to do some reading on specific books I've selected for the summer—yes, I am still plowing through Emmala's diatribe about her jilting lover, Robert Broyles, brother to my second great grandfather—I decided, once at the coffee shop, to stay a while and read.

Again, that turned into a reminder about creating community when I spotted the book the woman at the next table was reading. Since The Art of Slow Reading pretty much embodies my theory about absorbing new information—I already have another book I value by a similar title—I had to reach out of my introverted self and beyond those furtive glances to ask this stranger if I could see the author's name.

Reaching out and connecting—as I'm sure you were able to predict—precipitates the first token of community building. After a pleasant conversation with this book owner—learning not only her name, but sharing ideas on that subject with a person who turns out to be a college instructor in English—I realized how reasonable it would be to find as-yet-unknown like-minded believers in such key topics at a place like a coffee shop. Like attracts like...but we seldom have the guts to reach out, even when we are surrounded by people with whom our interests would most strongly resonate. Yet creating community only starts when we take those chances to reach out and connect.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pondering the Leap


Making the proverbial leap "across the pond" is usually an exciting milestone for genealogical researchers. Having diligently followed the generally accepted sequence of finding evidence and properly analyzing it, when that trail leads logically to that ancestral hometown across the ocean, it feels very rewarding. That sense of accomplishment, however, comes to those who have duly followed the sequence.

What, on the other hand, is the plight of the researcher who did not earn those wings to fly across the continents? After all, in researching my mystery grandfather's origin, I didn't exactly start at the beginning of the trail; there was this impenetrable brick wall in my face. And then, suddenly, I was handed the final step in the process: a conclusion to the matter, thanks to the results of six individuals' DNA tests. All of a sudden—and at warp speed—I've been transported backwards in time possibly two or three generations prior to any paper trail I've assembled. Where does "step by step" fit into this scenario?

Of course, if I hadn't been so insistent on taking a trifling class in Virginia genealogy at SLIG next January, I could have tackled this problem with (Broyles distant cousin) Karen Stanbary's course, "Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence." Then, I would have known what to do. Instead, I'm left feeling like the genealogical floor has just been yanked from under my feet.

Instead of starting from the present and working my way backwards in time, I've been instantly transported to a village of four hundred people in Pomerania where a woman with almost the right maiden name has married a man with almost the right surname and produced a son with the Polish equivalent of my grandfather's given name in the same month and year which he, later in New York City, claimed was the time of his birth. It's almost too much to believe.

And yet, there is the proof: the DNA matches, with pedigrees stretching back to this exact village and the sisters of this same mystery parent. I'm just lacking the paper trail.

So how do I fit this into the Genealogical Proof Standard? First I have to find the records that would qualify as acceptable sources of this person's existence. Then, through diligent search, I'd need to demonstrate the true identity of this mystery baby—was he, indeed, my grandfather? Or was he another person with the same name who just happened to be born on the same date? I'd also need to clarify those incidents of similar but not exact surnames, finding any explanations for the variances. This would likely lead to examining Polish customs on name changes, which apparently happened enough to come with their own terminology.

Finding some of these sources of information will be challenging. After all, those DNA cousins all landed up in Wisconsin, not New York—and I am unaware of any connections between the families post-immigration. No letters between the families, no clippings of a sibling's faded obituary tucked in the back of a jewelry box, no other trail leading me back to convincing proof of a connection—but if I could find any, the GPS would demand that I cite those sources. Oh, that I could find sources to cite!

You know I've been worrying this research problem like a dog with a bone. I keep coming back to gnaw on the dilemma. The biological proof has already been presented to me; it's the genealogical proof that requires a convincing write-up. Once again, I tell myself to set this one aside—no one likes watching genealogical research get dissected any more than watching sausage being made—but then I find myself picking the subject back up again to write on the agony of not finding the answer.

Let me put this one to bed yet another time. Hopefully, the subject will remain under wraps until I uncover enough of significant value to drag it out again and gloat over the discovery.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Getting Quicker About "Quick and Dirty"


There's a problem with doing those "quick and dirty" trees we build when we run into an unexplained DNA match. Genealogy has instilled in the serious adherent the respect for properly citing—after doing due diligence to find—supporting documentation for each step of the way. Each branch of the tree, each leaf on that branch, all need to be properly sourced.

Until, that is, we move from ascertaining the proof of the argument to exploring the much more shaky hypothesis.

I get that, in doing genetic genealogy, a researcher sometimes launches into what seems like a feverish pursuit of possible connections, sketching out branches for each generation in the pedigree until striking upon a reasonable explanation for how two test takers could be connected. I understand the utility of that thumbnail sketch.

But after years of being reminded to take each step of the research way carefully, examining all documentation and addressing each alternate explanation for what seems to be the answer, I'm having a real problem with just chasing ancestors with wild abandon. The two habits seem so terribly opposite.

In other words, I'm finding myself, in this chase to connect with my Michalski DNA matches, bogged down by the details of vetting each addition to my shadow tree. In my real tree—the public face I put forward on my online account—I have a certain routine I engage. I examine each decade's census record to find micro-clues about changes in the family. I read each digitized document to see what else might have been included but not indexed.

As you may guess, that bogs down the process in the DNA-matchmaking world. And I know I'm doing it, but I just can't stop myself. Habit? Perhaps. I really don't want to attach an individual to a tree I'm unfamiliar with just because, at first glance, it seems a reasonable guess. After all, there are a lot of cousins out there with similar dates of birth—all in the same town. But I'd like to connect all the branches of my six—or more—DNA matches with this same surname, and put them in one tree.

Besides, the more I organize this tree, the more surnames I can add—which might explain some of the other unconnected matches in my various accounts, and could help connect those matches who match my brother but not me on that same paternal side.

Slow and steady may finish the course for some races, but in the case of figuring out dozens of mystery DNA matches, the essence of the task comes down to the skill of quickly assembling viable family tree proposals. Grin and bear it, I suppose; I'll have to learn to get quicker about doing those "Quick and Dirty" trees.
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