Saturday, December 3, 2016

Now Indexing: Something Root-Worthy

With the holiday season upon us, I thought it best to honor my commitment to do volunteer indexing at FamilySearch early this month. Of course, the temptation is always to seek the easiest batches to index—or at least, the ones that would be easiest on my eyes—but there's no way of knowing, once you select a batch, whether your wish will be granted.

I had noticed, in one of the Canadian blogs I follow, that there were some interesting data sets coming on board for our neighbors to the north, so I gave it a thought to visit the indexing choices for Canadian records, but unfortunately my good thoughts needed to remain just that: thoughts. There were only two choices—old passenger lists in what was sure to be impossible-to-read handwriting, and a document collection in French. These were not the types of records through which I could set my fingers dancing on the keyboard.

With that good intention nipped so early I followed, at heart at least, our Irish immigrant ancestors' pathway and moved from perusing Canadian offerings down to Chicago. There, I found a possibility and set to work.

My selected record set for this month was a section of Cook County death records during the years 1949 through 1958. Since my batch was filled with duplicate files, it took no time at all to dispatch that set. Before I had barely gotten rolling, I was ready for seconds.

The second set didn't go as swimmingly as the first set. In fact, many in this second batch were coroner's reports. In other words, cases like Chicago River drowning victims—almost every field in the document was filled out "unknown" except for the approximate date of death and estimation of age—and murder victims filled the batch. Needless to say, despite the many "unknowns," I still got sidetracked. Bright shiny syndrome. For me, not for them...

There are some times when the indexing process goes so smoothly that, in my holiday cheer and general mood of gratitude, I want to keep at it and give back lots. After all, I certainly appreciate the many others who have gone before me and made all this digitization of research documents possible and all. Then, other times remind me that I would feel more comfortable if I were sinking in a mud hole of quicksand, surrounded by alligators.

Part of that sinking feeling may be owing to the unpredictability of government documents. Even in the same jurisdiction, over a span of time, fields on a document may be changed. The way civil service employees fill out those forms may not be standardized. The circumstances surrounding the event requiring civil registration may include extenuating circumstances which don't fit nicely into a preconceived format.

Then, too, though my eyes stayed glued to that screen on the right—the constant instruction companion for each field in the process—sometimes the instructions don't even seem to fit the circumstances. In the case of this month's indexing project, it wasn't until I got to the second batch—and, of course, had already submitted the first one—that I realized I had marked one field wrong. For the entire batch. There goes the accuracy rating.

And why the instructions on blank or non-applicable fields sometimes say to use a tab to leave the field blank, and other times to use control-B for the same reason seems confusing. It would be nice to have things like that standardized so the volunteer doesn't have to remain glued to the instructions. If all blank fields could be marked in the same way, it would help in memorizing the procedure. And I'm all for speed...after accuracy, of course.

Despite all that frustration, while it does help me become a kinder, gentler consumer of freely-offered genealogy resources—at least in engendering compassion for those invisible volunteers before me who bungled indexing my ancestors' records—I still think the process is worth the effort. Collectively, over the past ten years of crowdsourcing the indexing process, FamilySearch has shepherded the efforts of a million volunteers, worldwide, to make available many of the records we can now access with the mere click of a mouse.

I certainly don't mind struggling for a few minutes each month to help out a cause like that. In fact, for my minuscule part in the process, I'm quite proud to have done so. And in revisiting my efforts every month, I hope as a genealogical researcher, you will be inspired to give back in your own way, as well.

Above: Vienna marketplace in Winter, 1925 watercolor and gouache on paper by Austrian artist, Emmerich Kirall (1875-1939); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Perfect Match

For genealogists, the union of two organizations with a worldwide focus on family history has got to be good news. Just this last September, news of such a partnership was jointly issued by in both London and Salt Lake City and by the London-based Guild of One-Name Studies. Thus combined the focused research on surnames by members of the Guild of One-Name Studies and the digitizing and preservation muscle of

Bottom line for all of us: through the familiar online tools at FamilySearch, we may now access the records created and hosted by the Guild.

The way to access the records is simple. First, enter the website, then hover your cursor over the "Search" tab at the top of the screen. In the drop-down menu that appears, instead of going to "Records," as you might be accustomed to doing, rather select "Genealogies."

By clicking on "Genealogies," you will be brought to a dialog box labeled "Search Genealogies," where you simply enter the last name you are interested in finding on the Guild's register, nothing more. Then, scrolling down to the bottom of the box, where you would normally click, "Search," instead, first click the down arrow on the "All" button to its right. By clicking this down arrow, you will reveal the choice, "Guild of One Name Studies." By clicking that choice, then clicking the blue "Search" button, you will be taken to a readout of all available documents on your surname of interest within the Guild's holdings.

Since it was the Laws surname that led me to discover what the Guild of One Name Studies might have held concerning this family name, I put FamilySearch's referral search to the test for that specific surname. The search results for the Laws name included two pages of references at the Guild. Most of them, unsurprisingly, came from documents in England. Quite a few, though, were from Australia, underlining the observation referred to yesterday by the founder of the Laws one-name study that he had to resort to international mailings in seeking the answers to overcome his research brick wall.

I'm not sure John Laws ever did find the answer to his brick wall question, but what he did gather was enough material to jump start a robust one-name study. With this partnership between the Guild and, I wonder how many will be inspired to follow suit and begin their own one-name studies. I'm sure quite a few people have their own informal collections; perhaps if we all pool our scribbled notes into one repository, we might assemble enough material to be of help to others.

And isn't that the traditional approach genealogists have used over the years to help each other in our research quests, no matter what the medium?

Above: "Canal in Winter," by French artist Henri Jourdain; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.   

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Absolutely Everything There is to Know...

...about your surname may be found on the register of the Guild of One-Name Studies—provided, of course, that your surname has already been registered with this U.K.-based organization.

I already know that Laws is one of those registered surnames; a reader in Scotland alerted me to that fact in a comment a while back. Interestingly, the person who chose to establish Laws as one of the surnames in the Guild started his pursuit of the surname when he hit a brick wall in his research, back in 1984. That impetus led him to send letters all over the world in pursuit of answers on this family line. The result of the response—while not necessarily answering his specific question about the Laws line—led to formation of the "Laws Family Register" and subsequent registration of the surname with the by-then five-years-old Guild of One-Name Studies.

With that one reader's comment, I was now equipped with the Guild of One-Name Studies' register entry for the surname Laws. And finding that entry led me to the Laws' one-name study "About" page, as well as their blog and the link to the Laws Family Register.

Because one of the main obligations of Guild members is to answer all "enquiries" concerning the specific surname, the registry includes email contact information for the lead person heading up a specific study. As soon as I gather up the strands on the Laws family members at which I am stuck—the parents of my second great-grandmother, Sarah Catherine Laws, who in 1856 married Thomas D. Davis in Washington County, Tennessee—you can be sure I'll be in touch with the head of the Guild's Laws study. After all, if he is receiving questions from as far away as Australia, there will likely be some folks in North America on his mailing list, as well.

The actual list of all one-name study surnames—and their spelling variants—recognized by the Guild can be found in their online register. When I set about learning more about the Guild itself, realizing that this is a British organization—and I a mostly non-British descendant—I thought perhaps there wouldn't be many surnames in their register which would be of interest to me. But I still took a look. After all, there are over eight thousand names contained in that register. While many of the inaugural studies were taken up by British subjects—hence, the logic of assuming the names would be British in origin—as went the Empire, so went the distribution of surnames. And, eventually, members of the Guild.

Then, too, in starting a one-name study, the advice is apparently to find a Goldilocks-like compromise: a surname which is not too popular, yet not too rare. The ideal candidate is apparently a surname which is "just right" in relative frequency.

So, seeing my husband's Irish forebears were once subjects of the United Kingdom, how would his surnames fare in the Guild's register? I checked for Tully and found it registered, along with several spelling variants. Stevens, however, didn't make the cut—nor did its traditional spelling variant, Stephens ("Step hens," my husband prefers to call it)—presumably on account of its numerous occurrences.

Looking on behalf of my mother-in-law's surnames, I saw no sign of Flowers. Surprisingly, neither was there any trace of Gordon, though I was quite sure the name's Scotland connection would warrant a nod from the Guild's London headquarters.

Of course, though I thought Boothe, Davis or McClellan on my mother's side might have been a possibility—none was—I already knew not to attempt any of the Polish surnames found on my father's line. Perhaps it will take some digging to get back to surnames in my lines which might resonate with the proper British study specimens chosen as likely surnames to research by Guild members.

In their advice on how to start a one-name study, the Guild recommended,
You may find it useful to start by finding out how rare or common your name really is, how it is distributed through the country you live in, and, later, throughout the world.

Along with this advice, the Guild provided links to help prospective members determine that exact status, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. Since the geographic distribution of some surnames has turned out to be worldwide in scope, it is no surprise to see worldwide interest in the Guild, itself. In fact, in addition to the wiki articles I mentioned yesterday from Wikipedia, ISOGG and, the actual Guild registry itself can be accessed through the FamilySearch website. We'll take a look at that and some other aspects of the Guild tomorrow.

Above: "Winter Getaway," undated oil on canvas by Norwegian artist Axel Ender; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.    

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Don Quixote, The Goon Show
and Your Ancestors' Surnames

What, you might be wondering, does a classic Spanish novel and a 1950s British radio show have to do with the pursuit of genealogical pedigrees? It's simple: they both provided the zeitgeist inspiring the nickname of the Guild of One-Name Studies ("GOONS").

While one-name studies may seem as hopeless as tilting at windmills—and members are quite open about the seemingly sisyphean task of documenting everything there is to know about a particular surname—adherents to the pursuit of one-name studies approach their calling with a modest acquiescence to the craziness of it all. They are quite willing to hearken to the zany BBC comedy show in adopting that GOONS nickname, as if to convey the concept to their fellow Britons that they are indeed "crazy" for attempting their project.

While you or I might satisfy ourselves with pushing our pedigree chart back one or two more generations, members of the Guild of One-Name Studies want to know all there is to know about that one surname in their ancestry. When you think about it, "all" can encompass a phenomenal amount of data.

The Guild, itself, is a charitable organization founded in the United Kingdom in 1979, as an outgrowth of the British Federation of Family History Societies. Almost immediately, the Guild had two hundred members, and has grown from that inaugural body to over ten times that number, currently. Membership is open to anyone having an interest in one-name studies. While having its roots in Great Britain, the Guild now finds its scope—and thus, membership—to be international.

Members who have established one-name studies at the Guild endeavor to collect all occurrences of the surname on a worldwide basis. In exchange for all that voluntary hard work, membership, apparently, comes with an impressive list of benefits.

Articles on the Guild of One-Name Studies have found their way onto wikis at Wikipedia, FamilySearch, and ISOGG—not surprising, considering how many Y-DNA projects have been initiated by Guild members.

The Guild keeps a register of study surnames, which currently include two thousand studies of about eight thousand surnames and their variants. It's what can be found in that register that I'm most keen to learn. While I've already been alerted to the one-name study there for the Laws surname, I'm hoping to find a few more of my ancestors' names represented in the Guild's registry. We'll take a look at what is included there, tomorrow.

Above: "Norwegian Winter Landscape," 1890 pastel by Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Focusing on One Surname at a Time

Some surnames seem to be so rare that it is virtually impossible to find any record of them at all. Then, having given up the chase, the surname seems to pop up everywhere—everywhere, that is, except for the very location in which you had hoped to find it.

That happened when I was researching my husband's Falvey line in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While it is not what you could consider a rare surname—Ancestry pegs the surname Falvey as having a distribution of up to thirty two families in each of twenty three states or territories in the U.S. by the time our Falvey ancestors settled in Indiana. At that time—1880—Massachusetts and New York had up to 190 Falvey families resident in each state, while the state our immigrant Falveys chose for their new home may have had only thirty others or less in the entire state claiming that same surname.

Yet, even though I couldn't find any Falvey relatives besides our immediate family in Fort Wayne, I did find some other Falveys living in the same city.

You can be sure that was a tantalizing discovery. Surely, I thought, these people had to be related to our Falveys. Why else would they have chosen to move straight to Fort Wayne from their point of entry into the country? But I could never find a connection.

Meanwhile, I learned a lot about the Falveys in Fort Wayne...

The same thing happened when I encountered what surely has to take the prize as the rarest of surnames in my pedigree: Aktabowski. After all, when researching that name back in the 1990s, I discovered Herby listed only one family with that surname—living in Warsaw—in the entire country of Poland. Talk about rare.

When I encountered the not-surprising result of very limited hits to my search through American records for that same surname, I couldn't resist the lure of finding others with that surname. What did it matter these other Aktabowskis were Chicago residents when I was looking for people living in New York City? They just had to be related, I reasoned. Anywhere I could find an Aktabowski, I followed the trail. As it happened, some did turn out to be relatives.

Hearing about the research pursuit known as One-Name Studies, I found it to be a concept with which I could definitely relate. I had already been doing that—admittedly, in the face of unyielding brick walls—so it seemed reasonable to realize that there might be a lot of people out there, curious about trying that same approach.

As it turns out, there are a lot of people out there, focused on researching a specific surname—not necessarily for sheer genealogical desperation, but out of a desire to spot broader trends or context about the surname's origin. Take the many Y-DNA projects, which in essence are based on surname studies, as an example. The major sponsor behind many of these projects, Family Tree DNA, now claims to have over nine thousand DNA projects they are hosting, many of which are classed as Y-DNA Surname Projects.

While DNA projects may be too high-tech for some researchers, the tried-and-true Family Association approach—and variants such as clans—also lend a hand to those who wish to study everything having to do with a specific surname. Cyndi's List, for one, contains an enormous listing of not only the many surname DNA projects, but a comprehensive guide to all family associations devoted to the study of a particular surname.

It may seem that this endeavor logically grew out of a curiosity similar to mine, when I was faced with the frustration of finding, say, any Aktabowskis—just not my Aktabowskis—but I have found the one-name approach has grown far beyond that happenstance into a much more organized approach, with the establishment, in the U.K., of the Guild of One-Name Studies.

Mainly because I want to familiarize myself more with the Guild's services, I'd like to take some time, tomorrow, to delve into just what the Guild of One-Name Studies actually accomplishes, courtesy of their many devoted members.


Above: "Night Train," 1899 painting by Norwegian artist Gustav Wentzel; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Wandering Into New Territory

In that wandering-about malaise, when confronted with indecision about the next research goal, it sometimes helps to branch out and explore new territory. While yes, I did spend some time last week deciding on my research goals for the new year, there is still time to gather some intel to equip me to tackle those goals better.

One area I'd like to know more about happens to be the very thing suggested in that same post, last week, on my goals. Haz, a reader in Scotland, mentioned in a comment that one of my surnames of interest—Laws—happens to be the focus of a One-Name Study. While that is good news—the specific item about the Laws surname—it introduces another point: while I've heard much, over the years, about the Guild of One-Name Studies, I've done little to inform myself of the organization and its offerings.

Now would be the time to change that. This week, I'd like to explore just what constitutes a one-name study, pull the curtain back—figuratively speaking, of course, reaching across an ocean to do so—and learn more about the Guild itself to see if there are any offerings of interest to me among their thousands of surname studies.

Furthermore, since the Guild began with a focus on surnames populating the British Isles and I, not having many roots from England and environs, would like to expand that search further out onto the continent, I'll need to sniff out possibilities of other family history associations focused on non-British surnames of interest from my roots. There are a lot of resources out there, but sometimes we are so keen on keeping our nose to the research trail that we forget to look up and around where we could discover other materials that might boost our progress even more.

Above: "Canal in Autumn," 1921 oil on canvas by French painter Henri Jourdain; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Holiday Season With a Melancholy Twinge

Despite the holiday cheer spread amply among family, friends and neighbors, I sometimes am reminded that not all is one hundred percent jollity. This time of year can bring a painful reminder of those no longer with us, and I always want to be sensitive to that, when I connect with certain friends.

In the midst of all the festive holiday greetings on our Facebook accounts, my husband ran across a sad note that an acquaintance of ours had "suddenly" passed away on Thanksgiving day. That served as this year's reminder that while we are collectively full of the season's good cheer, individually some of us are just not equipped to keep up this holiday pace.

November has its low spots for me, too. Perhaps news of our friend's passing on Thanksgiving day prompted me to remember. Almost to the day, four years ago, I lost a family member unexpectedly; if you've been with us here at A Family Tapestry for the last few years, perhaps you remember my mentioning that. And that wasn't the first of the November losses. This same relative's mother claimed that same month for her own exit—and how eerie it was in her absence, the following Christmas, to open presents tagged in her own handwriting and wrapped for us meticulously, long before anyone else had even turned their thoughts to Christmas shopping.

Today, there will be an empty spot at our church where our friend, now no longer with us, used to sit. I imagine the holiday didn't turn out quite the way his family had expected. I'm also quite sure next year's celebration will not be so easy, either, burdened with memories such as this.

Of course, memories are what we capitalize upon, as genealogists—but those are memories scrubbed of that painful aspect of too-nearness for comfort. Before we can get to the point of welcoming the sharing of those stories, there needs to be that circumspect deference until the comfort of remembering replaces the pain of recalling those who are now gone. Even years later, those feelings can sneak up on us, inserting that bittersweet note into the midst of the celebrations.

If you have just been through a Thanksgiving with that uneasy mix of memories, my thoughts are with you. Of course, I send wishes that those memories will gradually elide into a fuller sense of remembering your loved one for whom he or she was, sans the struggle of pain, and you can safely return to sharing that loved one's story with others.

Above: Snapshot of Marilyn Sowle and Earle Bean, shortly after their wedding in California in the early 1950s; from the family's private collection.

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