Tuesday, October 31, 2017
One month in on my Fall Cleanup project, and I am just now hitting the folder for "S." Scary. There's not much month left in this marathon.
Notwithstanding the fact that my own surname begins with that letter, thankfully, the folders I'm routing from my old file cabinet contained papers from my earliest years of online research for my family's roots. Back then, I had started with my mother-in-law's lines; the pursuit of my father-in-law's Irish roots came much later.
Still, my mother-in-law had her own fair share of surnames beginning with that popular letter of the alphabet. Snider, for one. Then Stine.
The first of those names claimed a thick file. A very thick file. I've heard it said that Snider is one of most common surnames in the state of Ohio, and I believe it. Finding the right Snider was a challenge that many of us addressed in online forums, back in the 1990s, apparently. And I was the one to insure that all those threads got printed up and preserved for posterity.
Well, my progeny can now heave a sigh of relief. I tossed almost all of the Snider speculations—plus a good handful of other people's family group sheets and IGI leftovers. Anything I'd want to add to my own database, I'd first want to have accompanied by some solid documentation, thank you.
Stine was a different matter. It may have taken me twenty years to get up to speed on Snider, but Stine had definitely been reserved a permanent seat on the back burner. Like Rinehart from yesterday's cleanup, Stine was a name oft talked about, yet not really successfully pinned in the right spot on the genealogical database. Like Snider, Stine was a name which many people in Pennsylvania and Ohio claimed, but few aligned with my family's story.
When I began this project at the beginning of October, it wasn't as if I had decided to complete it all in one month. But I thought it would be nice. At least, it would make a tidy package: all wrapped up in one month sounded inspiring.
When I got mired in the Flowers part of my family's surname alphabet, though, I gave up hope on that prospect, forgetting that letters like "I" or "K" might not present as daunting a heap of work to conquer.
Now, facing that last stretch from "S" to the end of the line, the rest of the day may yield me the prize: an empty file cabinet drawer, ready to be filled with all the rest of the genealogical files I've currently relegated to storage boxes tucked away in the far reaches of the house. I already know that the folder for "T" will not contain any Tully information, because I hadn't yet tackled that research problem—though it does also include a file for Taliaferro, that surname which gained me entrance to Daughters of the American Revolution.
Maybe, just maybe, since I've already overcome the hump that is "S," I can reach the goal of making it to "Z" before the day—and the month—is out.
Above: "Glen Birnam," oil on canvas circa 1890 by English artist Sir John Everett Millais; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, October 30, 2017
I thought this month would never finish, but now that it has—nearly—I'm wishing for more time.
Today, in my Fall Cleanup project, I squarely faced the task of dispatching all the files in the folder for "R." Yes, that meant double-checking each of the issues of the Rootsweb Review before tossing it—mainly a perfunctory exercise. But it also meant uncovering an equally hefty folder under the heading for one surname I've yet to conquer: Rinehart.
The contents of the folder included genealogies offered up by several other researchers on this particular Rinehart line—from Greene County, Pennsylvania, some of whose descendants migrated to Perry County, Ohio—including their speculations on just what the roots of this family might have been.
I say "speculations" because that is all we were left with: guesses. No one seemed—at least, back in the 1990s when I last addressed this puzzle—to have found any documentation for any of the assertions which had been flung across the nascent Internet with abandon.
At least one of the people in on this Rinehart discussion was a woman who had a copy of her grandfather's journal, in which he had been careful to note his recollections of various long-gone family members. That was about the closest we could come to knowing anything for sure.
When you think about it, someone recalling, in the 1990s, a by-then deceased grandfather might have been referring to someone born in the 1890s. That grandfather, in turn, might have been able to remember stories of his ancestors which stretched back another hundred years. It might be feasible to conclude that such a person might have had enough time on his hands to actually be accurate in recording his memories.
Or not. We all know how family legends evolve.
Finding the Rinehart file and all the conversations surrounding this one root in my mother-in-law's heritage made me wonder whether I could now piece together all these hints and assumptions and draw up a tentative proposal for a family tree. That, in turn—somewhat like search angels might do for an adoptee hoping to find a birth family—might be a solid enough hypothesis to run through some stringent tests to see if supporting documentation can be located. After all, it's been almost twenty years since I addressed this research issue. A lot has materialized in digitized records—and even in finding aids for local collections.
With that in mind, I ended up keeping about seventy percent of the Rinehart file I originally started out with. It's still a sizeable stack. I assuaged my organizing alter ego by means of a reminder that I had just tossed an entire folder of like size not one hour previously. Surely that would count for something.
Above: "Farmhouses with Autumn Colored Trees," undated oil on cardboard by German landscape painter Walter Moras (1856 - 1925); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Don't think it was with one monstrous leap that I flew from "M" to "O" in my Fall Cleanup project. Rather, thanks go to the fact that this is, after all, the weekend, when there always seems to be more time for cleaning.
The folder for "M" did indeed present a tedious review of some old printouts of early online genealogical publications. Still, I couldn't help myself: I had to look at every page, to insure I wasn't throwing out anything priceless. I confess to saving one item: a genealogy joke especially designed for history lovers of the antiquities kind.
The letter "M" kept me busy for many more reasons than just reviewing The Missing Links editions for 1999 onward. Keep in mind, I have two major family lines claiming their own files in that folder.
One of those lines was for my McClellan family in territorial Florida. Starting with my third great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, I've been able to track almost all his descendants down to the present day. But before that? Nothing. He's one of my persistent brick walls. Yet, buried within the "M" folder, today I found some helpful notes from a distant cousin.
The only reason I met this McClellan cousin back in the 1990s was courtesy of the old Family Tree Maker policy allowing a customer to request the name and address of the submitter of a matching family tree. My file folder included a stack of photocopies of material later sent to me by this cousin. I couldn't help myself: I started working on that material right in the middle of the cleaning process. Talk about getting sidetracked.
Following that, my roots in New York City presented a file with information on how to access records in The Big Apple, 1990s style. "Reclaim the Records" hadn't yet come of age when I was stowing paper in that NYC file folder. A lot can happen in twenty years, making most of that file's contents modern day recycling fodder.
But when it came to "O"—oh, what a stash that file was. Remember, it was for my mother-in-law's family that I had tried my first tentative steps in online research. (Before that, I had done years of extensive work on another family constellation based in California, but that was working the process the old-fashioned way.)
Many of the pages in that file for Ohio included references to websites with promising resources. While I made mental notes that many of the resources now could be accessed through more modern, updated websites, there were a few such notes that I just had to set aside and check out. Call it the pull of The Bright Shiny.
I remembered using one of those websites mentioned in those notes. It was a useful section on the site of the Ohio Historical Society. Back then on that site, a researcher could pull up a digital copy of old death certificates of Ohio residents if the person had died within the right set of years in the early 1900s. Now? Well, I had to take a look.
Sadly, the web address didn't lead to the right page. Searching the site internally didn't bring up the page, either, despite there being a link provided for the right topic. It led to an error message.
I couldn't just walk away and be satisfied with that answer, though, so I googled it. According to Joe Beine's site, there were other, updated, resources to obtain the same stuff. The Ohio Historical Society still has an option to search the death index, though it is a stripped down version of what I remember using, back in the 1990s. Forget that, though: FamilySearch itself promised a version with "name index and images of Ohio statewide death certificates" for the same date range as I remember seeing before. Only caveat: once entering a name, the website requires that I sign in, then pops up to tell me I need to access the records at one of three types of family history centers.
Strangely, after all that, it gives me the image anyhow.
It would be unreasonable to assume that any resources gleaned from projects tackled nearly twenty years ago could come from sites now still viable, of course. And that's what enables me to blitz through all these file folders so blithely in this cleaning task. As in any other field, there is a constant state of flux in the realm of genealogy. What's changing is certainly not those static records of people now no longer in their own dynamic state, but how we locate the information we seek about them—a good reminder to always be on our toes about being fresh with our own continuing education efforts.
Above: "Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning," 1891 oil on canvas by French Impressionist artist Claude Monet; courtesy Google Cultural Institute via Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Escaping from the folders for "F" and "G" in my Fall Cleanup project was a significant accomplishment. The first surname I cut my teeth on, in those preemie online genealogical research years, was my mother-in-law's name: Flowers. Then followed the next surname, one in which I met and developed an online friendship with a fellow researcher seeking the same Gordon family as I. Oh, how much I had accumulated back then, when online research was new and everyone was reaching out and finding themselves in the digital ether. There was a lot to review, to assess, to toss or revamp.
Now free from those
"H" was a null set. Thankfully, no surnames of significance there. I got a free pass to the next letter in the alphabet.
"I" was for the Indiana.edu Listservs, complete with directions on how to access the conversations, how to subscribe to specific groups, and how to behave one's self with the new online etiquette. It's easy to see that made a quick leap into the recycling bin. After all, what could be so 1990s as a Listserv?
"J" was another free pass for me. That was before I discovered my paternal grandmother's mother was indeed a Jankowski. I'm glad I've since made that discovery, but for now, I'm ecstatic to be moving along in this cleanup project so quickly.
"K" was a folder with only one file, but the consequences for this file's topic could have been extensive, since my husband has not one, but two distinct Kelly families in his roots. However, the one file still remaining in the cabinet was for copies of all the obituaries received on the one Kelly family from Fort Wayne. I already know I have them transcribed into my desktop database, but I'll double-check for sure. Besides, I could be a conscientious volunteer and share them on their respective memorials at Find A Grave.
When I came to the file for "L," it slowed me in my tracks...slightly. Once again, I hadn't yet discovered all I've subsequently learned about my paternal side's Laskowski immigrants, so there was no folder drawn up for that name. However, the one file under that letter contained something I still may find useful: directions on how to navigate the old land grant records. The contents of the file were mainly copies of old articles by—there she was, again—Myra Vanderpool Gormley, posted on an old Prodigy "interactive personal services" bulletin board in the mid-1990s.
Lest you assume I'm finally on a roll—after all, there are still more folders to conquer than there are days remaining in the month—this juggernaut came to a screeching halt at the folder for "M." After all, a letter with this much magnetism sucks more than its fair share of content from any given topic. Of course, it doesn't help that one of the online newsletters of the time—which I had a strange compulsion to print and stash—was named Missing Links. While the file may be amply filled to bulging, though, I suspect it will easily be dispatched into the awaiting circular file.
Beyond that, hopefully it will be clear sailing through the rest of the alphabet, as the cabinet drawer is much more than half empty.
Or would that be half full?
About this cleaning duty, does that make me an optimist? Or a pessimist?
Above: "Early Snow," late 19th century painting by Ukrainian-born Russian artist, Konstantin Kryzhitsky; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Friday, October 27, 2017
It has been an interesting exercise, this Fall Cleanup purge of old files in my genealogical file cabinet. Besides evoking many fond memories of online friendships with fellow researchers, the process has uncovered resources from bygone days, prompting thoughts about the evolving state of our research.
Today, I ran across a folder for the Godfrey Memorial Library. Apparently still in operation, situated in Middletown, Connecticut, the library houses an enviable collection of genealogical books and resources. However, not to be limited by geographical confines, in 2002, the library developed the "Godfrey Scholar," an online resource allowing subscribers anywhere, for a modest fee, to access some material on their holdings, as well as gain entrance to some other key online resources.
It wasn't until 2006 when I first decided to join the ranks of the Godfrey scholars, something I can still say with certainly, because the folder for today's Fall Cleanup happened to contain my welcome letter, from then-director Thomas Jay Kemp, as "the newest member of our library." Along with the letter came a genuine hand-inscribed membership card, directions for entering the "portal," and a copy of the Summer 2005 edition of The Godfrey Update.
Over the years, changes to the Godfrey Scholar program seemed to yield less and less satisfying resources, at least for my research needs, and I eventually abandoned the subscription. In its place were so many other new options, the decision wasn't hard to make.
Isn't the world of genealogy like that? In a meeting for one of our local genealogy society's special interest groups yesterday, someone had commented that "beginners" classes aren't really just for true neophytes, but often benefit those who do know something about genealogy—but only how to do it the old way. Genealogy classes today aren't just about genealogy per se, but are also about how to access digitized records, and where to find them. There are so many new websites now available—and even the more established sites are so thick with information that it seems beneficial to spend some serious time with a tutorial on how to use the old, familiar ones.
For us as genealogists and history lovers, nostalgia may be our hidden vice. We may pine for such long-gone resources as I'm re-discovering in my file cabinet, but with so many new options making their appearance online, this is hardly time to mourn those changes. In a matter of days, Find A Grave will have a new look. Rootsweb, the old stalwart of 1990s researchers, will soon follow with changes of its own.
Meanwhile, as online genealogy mailing lists and message boards die out, new options spring up to become the next generation's avenue for research connectivity. Genealogist Katherine R. Willson publishes a directory of the more than eleven thousand English language Facebook pages and groups related to genealogy from around the world. Following Katherine's lead, Gail Dever created Facebook for Canadian Genealogy as a guide to the eight hundred Facebook resources—in either English or French—focusing on Canadian genealogy. Alona Tester created a guide for those interested in Facebook for genealogy in Australia. Undoubtedly, there are finding aids for Facebook resources in other languages, as well.
While digitized records represent only the tip of the historical documents iceberg, those online resources we now know about—and know how to use—are themselves but the tip of another iceberg, one representing a future avalanche of information downloads. We simply must resign ourselves to the concept that, from now on, learning "genealogy" will not only be a matter of understanding how to document our family history, but a matter of learning how to find, access and master the mushrooming amount of upcoming resources which will provide us those documents.
Above: "The First Snow, Minnesota," 1895 oil on canvas by German-born American artist Robert Koehler; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Once I cleared all the files in the "F" folder, I figured progress in my Fall Cleanup project would accelerate. Sure enough, it did.
First step in the folder for "G" topics was labeled, generically enough, "General Info on Genealogy." My, what a lot of old resources I found in that twenty year old folder! Most of them were for websites which have long been gone, or at least have morphed into other resources. Most, thankfully, were for topics for which I know I now have up-to-date resources, listed in my online records or in my much more concise notes.
It still amazes me to see how many people I was in touch with during those early days of online genealogical research. There were so many "lists" where people could exchange information—"listservs" from the University of Pennsylvania and other colleges, early computer services such as Prodigy, and, of course, the many mailing lists hosted by Rootsweb.
Not only were folks trying to compare notes on mutual connections with ancestors, but they were also keen on sharing great tips and resources. One man shared tips on how to visit a cemetery for family history purposes. A woman on a different mailing list provided a formula for determining a person's date of birth from the precise age at date of death (gleaned either from old headstones or from more recent death certificates). One wonderful, multi-post resource was a dictionary of archaic medical terms. Others shared a naming pattern, or the geometric progression of how many direct ancestors a given person could have. Someone shared a poem about genealogy.
Of course, many of these resources can now be accessed via online resources, but I didn't know that then. All I could do was figure out a way to be organized about saving all these bits of information in the filing system of the day. Mostly, it was a simple matter of finding a post and clicking on the button for "print." Presto: more stuff to file.
Some of those names from back in the 1990s are still around in the genealogy world today. Saved, among the papers in my many file folders, were excerpts from the "Rootsweb Review" for which I still remember the editor's name: Myra Vanderpool Gormley. Apparently—though in a different guise—she has been active in both writing and research ever since those early years in which I carefully saved her work from the Rootsweb days. Having published several books (including a last hurrah for Rootsweb, The Official Guide to Rootsweb.com, the same year she retired from the organization), she now even keeps up with a genealogy blog, which she dubbed "Shaking Family Trees."
And I thought all patron saints were from bygone centuries. Genealogy, it appears, is a different case.
The majority of the pages I unearthed from the folders in the "G" file found their new home in the nearest circular file. I have to confess, though: some gems were just too hard to toss. But they were only five or six. Maybe seven. Certainly no more than eight.
Above: "Rainy Day, Boston," 1885 oil on canvas by American Impressionist artist Childe Hassam; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
I hit the jackpot with today's Fall Cleanup folder. Remember how I kept waiting to run across the file for those letters exchanged with that first Flowers family researcher I met online? Well, when I was first setting up this file system for my genealogy "stuff," by the time I got to the letter for this person's surname in the Flowers folder, I must have gotten tired of having a separate file for each researcher, and lumped them all together under "Flowers—Misc."
That was back in the 1990s. Today is the day I got to go through all those emails. By the time I made my first pass through the stack, I was tempted to change the title of today's post to "Grunt Work." The reason? All the letters I decided to keep are for records or descriptions I need to confirm are part of my online tree. Thus, that folder now joins several others in moving from my genealogy file cabinet to a to-do stack for follow-through.
I ran across several other exchanges of correspondence from the late 1990s in that folder, reminding me of just how many others I had met and worked with in those early years of online research. Since that was nearly twenty years ago now, I'm realizing there is a secondary reason for me to keep these letters: nearly each one of them contains an explanation for just how they were related to my mother-in-law's Flowers line. Fast forward to today's research milieu, with matches for DNA cousins in the mix; perhaps these old connections—added to my tree, thanks to the records from those old letters—can help me place a few DNA matches.
Forget that; perhaps some of my husband's DNA matches are with the grandchildren of these researchers.
Above: "Lane at Gerolstein [Germany]," 1891 oil on board by German landscape painter Fritz von Wille; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Despite my guess, yesterday, that the next folder to work through in my Fall Cleanup project would contain emails from the other Flowers researcher I had mentioned, it didn't. Apparently, I've forgotten just how many Flowers family genealogists were out there, eager to discuss their findings, back in 1999.
Before I could reach part of the alphabet—I had labeled the first folder "Flowers emails" and then added the last name of the person whose letters I had saved—there were two other folders with similar letter exchanges. One was devoted to notes with a man who was a prolific researcher on several family lines which crossed paths with my mother-in-law's lines, in which we had gone back and forth on a number of other surnames besides Flowers. The other folder contained emails which were an outgrowth of the earlier one, in which one by one, we Flowers researchers from Perry County, Ohio, found each other online.
Eventually, those emails became group emails, and before long, there were four of us sharing notes in this collaborative effort. Even after all these years—and despite my regular travels to Ohio—I have never met any of these researchers face to face (although I am now Facebook friends with one of them). Each of us had spent our fair share of time crawling around very old records from the region, and we enjoyed figuring out where our mutual connections were.
Even so, in short order, I was able to clean those files out completely. While reviewing the notes brought back fond memories, I know those lines so well now that I am certain the facts we covered then are now all documented and included in my online database. The only part I'm now holding on to are the several GEDCOMs each of us sent to the others. Basically, I've reduced all those letters down to about five or six reports. I'll likely spot check each of them against my database, then toss them, as well.
Recalling all those contacts met through the early years of online research makes me smile. Back then, genealogy was a team sport, not the game of solitaire it seems to have morphed into in our current situation. Still, family is family—and even now, there are opportunities to reach out and meet third or fourth cousins online. The "Make a Connection" link at Ancestry.com is just one of many ways to connect with other researchers who are also family members.
When I teach my beginning genealogy classes now, I use the examples of experiences such as these to try to encourage people to connect with fellow researchers. (And, of course, fervently hope the people they reach out to are as cordial in response as the ones I've met over the years.) Sometimes, these students take that advice to heart, and return to class full of excitement with encouraging stories of having met third cousins they never knew, who live close enough to visit. There is nothing as special as meeting family members you never knew you had—and then discovering they share that same love of family history. That's when a family search really becomes a family search.
Still, while it was nice to recall that golden era of the early years of online research efforts today, it certainly felt good to rid myself of so much paper. Bit by bit, every piece of paper shed from those bulging file folders adds up to more space in that file cabinet for new projects.
Above: "Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue," oil on canvas, circa 1902, by German-born artist Robert Koehler; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, October 23, 2017
Yes, I know I'm still stuck on the letter "F"—don't think those "more letters" I mentioned refers to my suddenly conquering the back half of the top drawer in my file cabinet. Today's reference to letters is different. This time, I've been wandering around the pages of an old file which contained multiple email exchanges with another researcher who shared a joint interest with me in the Flowers family of Pennsylvania and then Perry County, Ohio.
Reading that old email exchange—most of the letters I saved were from 1999—caused me to realize something: printing out those old notes resulted in not only preserving my friend's letters to me, but also copied her copies of my letters to her. Not only did we discuss the Flowers lines we were researching, but also exchanged news of the things that were currently happening in our own lives. It's as if I just re-discovered some pages from my own diary.
After dispatching a folder so quickly yesterday in my Fall Cleanup, it reminded me of my preferred method of online genealogical searching. You see, almost all of the material in yesterday's folder was gleaned from surname mailing lists. Since I'm still stuck in the "F" folder in my file cabinet, you know that surname would be for Flowers.
Researching via those old online surname lists, circa 1999, wasn't the fastest way to connect with others researching the same surname. Often enough, I found better results by looking at the online lists based on geographic locations. It was far better to subscribe to a list for, say, Perry County, Ohio, and then look for any posts on the Flowers surname, than it would be to go straight to the list for Flowers. This way, I could better focus on people who were also researching the specific line of that surname.
Despite that logic—and the subsequent technique which I did apply through many of my early online research years—two of my best connections were made through an online group called the Flowers Family Genealogy Forum at the now read-only website, GenForum.
I met the first of these two Flowers researchers early in 1998, when she had posted a note requesting to connect with any others who were researching this surname in either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Of course, you know I was on that, right away. Before long, the two of us were comparing notes and emailing GEDCOMs to each other from our respective Family Tree Maker databases.
Somehow, out of that connection emerged a second Flowers researcher. Those first emails from her would actually come from her husband's account at a university in Indiana—the return address information took up half a page when I printed out the note. (She subsequently signed up for her own Yahoo email account, which streamlined the process.)
Not many people had access to email back then, I guess, and not many of those were using it for genealogical purposes. Of those who were, I met the most wonderful people. Letters which started out inquiring about jointly-shared ancestors often blossomed into friendly conversations about multiple interests.
I couldn't help myself today, trying to clear out all these old genealogy files: I got lost in the contents. Bottom line was I couldn't bring myself to toss a single one of those notes. And that was for just one file. I suspect, since this woman's own name comes before the other friend's name, alphabetically, that tomorrow's file will contain this other friend's email exchanges. I'm sure tomorrow's task will be equally bogged down as I lose myself in remembering many of the things mentioned in those notes.
Researching family history for so many years has one down side: though the camaraderie of collaboration was enjoyable, eventually the inevitable would happen. I can recall losing some good genealogy friends over the years, mainly because so many of them were quite older than I. In the case of the woman whose letters I reread today, though, I estimated she was likely about my age.
That, of course, makes me wonder whether she is still researching her Flowers ancestors now—and whatever became of life's dreams for her, those many other events she shared in our letters. I'm tempted to try that old Yahoo! email address and see if we can still connect. With the many changes in online genealogical research since we first met, back in 1998, I'm sure we both know so much more now about our respective ancestors.
Above: "Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather," 1896 oil on canvas by Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Sunday, October 22, 2017
It feels like I'm building momentum when I hit a stack of file folders which can be quickly dispatched into the recycling bin, but I have to remember it wasn't always like this in my Fall Cleanup project—and likely won't continue this way, either. I'm still in the "F" folder, but courtesy of my mother-in-law's maiden name—Flowers—and its many branches I've researched over the years, I'm, well, still in the "F" folder.
It was nice to toss the entire contents of today's file folder, which contained addresses and instructions for various early online resources for Flowers family history. Back during those earlier years of Rootsweb.com, several announcements came out regarding mailing lists for the Flowers line. Of course, back then in the 1990s, I was diligent to keep them all—not online, but printed and filed away in that folder for "F."
Now, those lists are antiquated, nearly ghost towns among the burgeoning new genealogy sites on Facebook. I didn't even need to think twice about whether I wanted to try and see if the addresses were still existent. My Flowers tree—with its many related lines—is so full of individual entries that it isn't even worth the time to ask myself such a question.
Meanwhile, it reminds me that today is my day to recap my research progress. I can't have managed to put too many new names on the four trees that I regularly tackle, considering how much time has been diverted to this Fall Cleanup exercise, but I still needed to take a look—even more so, keep track on my (now digital) tally sheets.
This becomes a reminder of how important it is to keep track of progress. No matter how fast or slow I work in each biweekly period, this reminds me that any work at all will equate to progress. And, when it comes to genealogical research, progress is all I ask.
So, how did things go on that Flowers line these past two weeks? With the exception of the DNA matches count at 23andMe (which always goes backwards, for some strange reason), I made progress. My mother-in-law's tree now has 12,822 people, including the eighty five person increase garnered in these past two weeks. My own mother's tree has 11,618—a similar increase of eighty nine. Even though my father's line has only 451 in the tree, I still managed to nudge that count up by one over the last two-week period. And my father-in-law's line also saw a small increase: eighteen more individuals, totaling 1,353.
Though the DNA matches for my family aren't under my direct control—it takes two to make a match, and I haven't yet figured out how to get a family member I don't yet know to take a DNA test—even there, I can see progress (well, with the exception of the retrograde 23andMe). I gained twenty six DNA matches at Family Tree DNA to total 2,459, while my husband gained seven to reach 1,568. At AncestryDNA, I gained twelve to total 753, and it was up nine for 367 for my husband. While yes, our numbers actually shrunk at 23andMe—mine by three to total 1152, and his by nine to reach 1,194—I'm more likely to cheer for upcoming holiday sales to boost the numbers at the other two companies than grumble about the disappearing cousins at 23andMe.
The main thing is to remember to find ways to encourage myself to continue the work. Whether for research progress in general or for specific tasks like this Fall Cleanup, even a little bit more at a time will, over the long run, yield progress.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
"Buy one Marriage Index CD, get one FREE!"
It's been a while since I blitzed through a file this quickly in my Fall Cleanup project, but today's task took all of fifteen minutes—and that included reading the typewritten 1993 letter on the back of the recycled page I had used to print out a copy of my 1999 Family Tree Maker database.
Back then, it was Family Tree Maker, offered by the "Banner Blue Division" of Broderbund. And yes, I'm sure of those details. That's what it says on the User's Guide Supplement for Version 4.4, stashed in the folder slated for review in today's to-do list. (And yes, I still can operate that old version of FTM on my antique franken-computer.)
Going through this file cabinet has been a walk through the memorabilia of the earliest eras of online genealogy. I even had a couple old issues of Family Tree Maker Magazine—then out of Hiawatha, Iowa, it was mostly a catalog of research products for sale, such as the ad (above) for the marriage index CD sold in the late 1990s.
Things have changed quite a bit in the genealogical research world, and I'm glad of it. Yes, I will faithfully repeat the mantra that it's not all accessible online (and likely won't be, at least for a long, long time), but it certainly speeds research progress to be able to snare at least some of those digitized documents at any time from the comforts of home.
We have some forward-thinking organizations to thank for that convenience, and in at least one case, multiple thousands of volunteers who have donated their time to transcribe the writing encased in digital pictures of history's records on which we have so come to rely for documentation.
In fact, that one organization—those folks behind FamilySearch.org—is, this same weekend, encouraging volunteers to once again lend a hand to complete the "indexing" process to free several digitized collections from their "browse only" status online and include within the ranks of searchable documents. Volunteers from around the world are joining together to see how many collections they can slam dunk before the weekend is over.
You, too, can be a part of this. Just like I was—brand new at indexing, but at least familiar with genealogy—you can sign up to read the text in a given document (provided online) and type it out into a web-based entry form, following simple instructions provided by the FamilySearch coordinators. The process is simple, and the tasks are labeled by level of difficulty so that beginners can select an entry point at which they will feel comfortable while they get the hang of the process.
The Worldwide Indexing Event 2017 continues all this weekend. I noticed the page set up for this event provides a choice of specific indexing projects that FamilySearch.org hopes to complete—and graphs each project's progress toward completion right on that same page, a great way to encourage volunteers.
I particularly noticed two of interest: county naturalization records for New York, and the death index for New York City. Since today is my regular day to index, I'll likely focus on those two, mainly because I have personal ties to family who might appear in those records. You might rather pursue the project for Oklahoma School Records, or the one for Civil Registrations of Deaths from the National Offices in the Philippines—which, incidentally, is already showing as over seventy percent completed.
Whichever project you prefer to help complete, you can be sure, as a volunteer, you are becoming part of the effort that has transformed genealogical research from the then-cutting-edge CDs sold by Family Tree Maker in the 1990s to the streamlined online process it is today. All you need do, after signing up as a volunteer online, is click on the "Get Started" button next to the project name you prefer and...well...get started!
Friday, October 20, 2017
Where does a month disappear to? We're already two-thirds of the way through October, and I can't say I've made quite as much progress in the Fall Cleanup as I would have liked. This project has been more of a triage exercise: deciding which file folders yield projects that must go on life support immediately and which ones can survive without attention long enough to be lumped together into a subsequent project.
The "F" file looks like it will be worth a long trajectory. Full of folders with information on immediate family, it merits sub-projects of its own.
Like this one: the file was labeled "Family Christmas Letters." For all of you just primed for that cozy holiday season in the offing, imagine your family Christmas letters coming back to haunt you, years after you wrote them.
Yes, I am that relative.
Every year since I don't know when, I took every family letter enclosed with the requisite holiday greeting card and stuffed them inside this file folder. Every new child, then every new grandkid, complete with birth dates, first steps, first tooth, first missing tooth—they're all in that folder. Just in case I missed transferring any of those important firsts into my digital genealogical database, I need to go back through these kept records and make sure I didn't miss a detail.
Actually, I'm thinking of transcribing the letters. Or maybe scanning them. Or both. After all, as one computer whiz once told us—about our then-new 128 megabyte purchase, incredibly enough—"you'll never run out of room on this computer." I should have space to squeeze in at least all these letters. Right?
This puts the "family history" back into Family History. It's probably the closest I'll come to having diaries to transcribe from the words of my siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles.
But it will be a project that will take a lot of time to complete. You can be sure I won't blog about it; grunt work like this seldom makes for scintillating reading. It will be a labor of love worth having, however. Just think of all the possibilities that can grow out of a database like this:
- Facebook post to nieces and nephews: "In this Christmas card from 1978, your mother bragged about victory over dirty diapers."
- Tally, per year: how many greeting cards included announcements of new arrivals.
- Treasure hunt: How many holiday family photographs can you find which include missing members who were photoshopped into the scene?
As it turns out, my year-after-year discipline of saving Christmas letters extended to include all birthday cards, anniversary cards, graduation cards, and other messages which contained information about the family. I have a lot of family details to compile from this decades-old trove.
Final verdict on this folder: set it aside for future transcription. New year's resolution: get to this project a.s.a.p.
Above: "American Homestead Autumn," undated Currier and Ives lithograph; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Sometimes, they bog you down. Sometimes they speed you up. I may have spent forever—or at least a good portion of the month—deciding what to do with the contents of the "B" folders, but I'm apparently making up for it now. This is encouraging news for my flagging Fall Cleanup project.
There were only two folders in my "D" section. Neither of them was for surnames. Nor were they for topics which require a lot of consideration. This is good. I dispatched them quickly.
Of course, I can't just move on without saying just what those two folders contained. But this will be easy. Remember that most of the contents of this file cabinet was assembled in the first few emergent years of online genealogy research.
One feature of the time was the sheer enthusiasm over discovering—be that surname ever so common, like Jones, or unusual, like Taliaferro—that we could connect with fellow researchers via email. Sight unseen, family history enthusiasts were sharing notes with fellow researchers all across the country—no, make that all around the world. (I can vouch for that, having reviewed some responses from Australia and England, as well as the more commonplace Minnesota or Tennessee.)
One way these researchers were able to find each other was through electronic forums. And notes from one of those became the sole resident in my file for "D": the Delphi Forums.
Now, don't go looking for the modern-day version of the Delphi Forums. My sign-in instructions told me to access the site by using the address my.delphi.com. I tried that, just now, and didn't get anywhere, so I guess that was a website that fizzled around the time of the dot-bomb.
That was an easy journey through the file folder! I was on to "E" in no time, where the story was similar. (You can guess the same is likely to happen when I get to "X," but I was as surprised as anyone to discover I hadn't filed anything in either of these two preceding letters.)
Another forum for genealogy chatting provided the papers stuffed in my "E" folder—for an entity named, logically enough, e-Groups. This was where I met up with some Catholic researchers for Pennsylvania and Ohio, so I owe them much in helping point me in the right research direction. Still, don't think you can access their resources nowadays—unless the company which swallowed them up (Yahoo!) still makes the e-Groups archives available.
Without a second thought, I tossed all those notes in either the recycling bin or the shredder—for those pages with personal information attached.
And just like that, I'm on to the "F" folder. There, unfortunately, I won't be keeping up that brisk pace. Remember, my mother-in-law comes from the Flowers line, and there are several files to inspect, just in that one folder. This will take a while.
Above: "Boulevard Montmartre à Paris," 1897 oil on canvas by Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
For as imposing a topic as the American civil war, you'd think it would take me much longer to dispatch with the folder I pulled out of my nemesis file cabinet today. Under "C" for Civil War, it was the item I was due to tackle today, and thinking of all that conflict meant to our nation's history, it should have given me more pause to consider.
Thankfully, it didn't. The only research question I've faced—at least on the Union side—was whether I could find any records of my husband's great grandfather, John Tully, having served. After all, according to a long-winded version of his obituary, the man had served under "General Hooker." I can only presume this means Brigadier General Joseph Hooker.
Despite that note in John Tully's obituary, I never could locate any record of his having served. The folder I encountered in today's installment of The Cleanup reminded me of my attempt, back in 2004, to locate anything at the National Archives. I had saved files containing instructions on how to research the matter, back at that time, and records of my having located a possible John Tully—and paying the fee to gain a copy of his record.
Even so, that attempt was short-circuited when a kind employee, in the process, mentioned to me that he thought I might not be ordering the file for the right John Tully. I recall—though there is, unfortunately, no record of the exchange in this file folder—that the employee mentioned this John Tully had moved, after the war, to North Dakota. Thinking, at the time, that my John Tully had returned to the family home—then in Chicago—that North Dakota wasn't in the picture for our family history.
Of course, it was only later that I learned John's sister Johanna had moved with her branch of the family to North Dakota, so there was a connection, no matter how slim. If only I had thought to continue with the process. After all, what's another thirty seven dollars?
Now, with subscriptions to Fold3 and other research resources, surely I could replicate those files—or at least some smattering of something that could verify the information contained in that email exchange. At least, that's what I thought, as I worked through that Civil War file. But some things just need to be snatched when they are first spotted; I haven't been able to find anything now.
In the end, most of the links provided in the articles saved in that folder are so outdated that I decided to toss the entire folder. Score one for "progress." I'm on to the Ds.
Above: Civil War, Picket Duty in Virginia; oil on panel by American artist Albert Bierstadt; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
I may have gotten bogged down in the Bs in The Cleanup, but don't think it will be clear sailing, now that I've emerged into the Cs. If you've ever noticed all my tags at the end of posts and concluded that I don't have many surnames beginning with that letter, you would be correct. Out of the twenty one topic labels beginning with C that I've used in the nearly six and a half years I've been blogging at A Family Tapestry, only four of them refer to surnames. And even two of those are surnames which are tangential to my families' lines.
So as we journey into the section of my file cabinet reserved for genealogical topics beginning with the letter C, there really isn't going to be much that is directly affiliated with a surname.
That may seem to be a good sign. After all, I've been working at this re-organization project for seventeen days now, and I've only conquered two letters of a twenty six character alphabet. But don't think the lack of folders for surnames will speed me along. Each of these folders is labeled with a research topic, sure to be filled with tips on where to find more information on the background subjects which allow us to see our ancestors come alive again (at least in our mind's eye).
For instance, today's folder bids me reconsider what I've learned about researching the genealogy of Catholic ancestors. This is not a compact issue. There is much about the structure and culture of the Catholic Church which has enabled researchers to find out more about their ancestors, thankfully, but even this presents a learning curve for a novice researcher—just as I was, twenty to thirty years ago—particularly for someone who is not personally of the Catholic faith.
Many of the pages saved in my "Catholic" folder referred—not that you'd be surprised—to books. Some volumes were relatively new; others centuries old. One recommended title, Catholic Trails West: The Founding Catholic Families of Pennsylvania, was actually published in 1988, "only" twenty nine years ago. It apparently came in two volumes, though the second volume doesn't seem to be available anymore—a problem, since my mother-in-law's family would be listed, if at all, in the second volume. What a wonder has unfolded, in those ensuing years, as at least the first volume of the book is now available to Ancestry subscribers online.
The trick is finding those old resources now. Another long-pursued resource, I was told, would be the "Goshenhoppen Records," but where to find them, according to these old 1999 file folders, was the main question. It took some current-day googling magic to uncover the hiding place for one online stash of transcriptions of those Goshenhoppen records—both baptisms and marriages—but stuff like this is now out there, if you are willing to hunt for it.
Before you can know to look for it, though, you have to know it's out there—and to know why you would want to look for it. In my case, it was years of putting in time in background reading to learn that the Catholics in this time period were likely to move as a group—and did, often, from chapel to chapel to chapel, as priests established new places of worship as they moved westward. That, in fact, was what brought my mother-in-law's family west to Ohio; her ancestors settled where the state's first Catholic Church had been established. I had to learn that before I could know to look for the records of each stopping place along the way.
Above: "On the Saco," undated oil painting by American artist Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, October 16, 2017
For those who've noticed how I've gotten stuck, in my Fall Cleanup project, at only the "B" files, you may have wondered if I found any answers with another surname starting with that same letter.
The short answer: maybe.
The longer answer has to go around the detour of another file folder: the one I set up for "Books—sources for rare book publishers." Apparently, those well-informed, diligent researchers I met in my early-online-genealogy researching days were hot on the trail of out-of-print books sure to produce answers to their genealogical questions. Since some volumes having to do with Frederick County, Maryland, were among the publications being sought, I had to hold on to those pages in the folder. Yet again, my intent to toss these files has been foiled.
The verdict rests upon whether I can conjure up those website addresses after, yea, these many years.
In the meantime, I moved on to that next file folder—and yes, it was for my Broyles line. A thick folder. This stack of papers will take quite a bit of consideration. While I don't recall having stumbled upon any answers to my migration mystery of the past month, I'll be sure to check the contents of this file carefully.
Once again, this file contains numerous very old website addresses, plus a lot of email correspondence with distant cousins. One letter was to someone who turned out to be a ninth cousin in that Broyles line. How I wish some of these old contacts had been around to do a DNA test!
As it turns out, one researcher had actually sent me a copy of the Arthur Leslie Keith manuscript, so while I've been checking it out via its online source in the past month, I had a paper copy of it, all along. Truth be told, I'd much rather go through the digital copy, for it's handily searchable, speeding the research process. But I'm glad to have one at hand to refer to, if needed.
Better yet, the copy included a hand-written note with the email of the helpful Broyles cousin who had provided it to me. I have often thought of that Broyles connection, as I struggled over my research questions in the past month. Another distant Broyles cousin, this man was well versed in the many branches and descendants in this line. His own part of the Broyles family tree included a Broyles ancestor who had gone west to California during the Gold Rush era. You can be sure he had some colorful stories to share about his ancestor's experiences. I've often wondered if I could still connect with him. I guess now, I won't need to wonder much longer.
As the process continues, I'm afraid I'm not much of an organizer of old files. The more I search, the more I find that I can't bear to live without. Even trying to re-organize, consolidate files, and put in newer formats doesn't seem to be a workable strategy, for every step mushrooms into a larger to-do pile than what I started with, originally.
One thing I can say, though: at least I'm now out of the "B" folder and into the "C" section. Progress may be slow, but at least it is moving forward.
Above: "Berlin: Victory Avenue with Victory Column in Autumn," undated pastel on cardboard by German artist Lesser Ury (1861 - 1931); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
As wildfires tore through the landscape in the northern California wine country this past week, I received several concerned phone calls. "Are you alright?" was the question, though the fires in Sonoma County are over one hundred miles removed from my home. Some people don't comprehend the enormity of a state this size, and it takes a phone call to put it all in perspective for well-meaning friends and family.
Though our family is far removed from harm's way, in a different way, the fires still touch my life. It wasn't even two years ago when I wrote about a break in my schedule for a few days' getaway to Santa Rosa, county seat of the same Sonoma County which, this past week, has been so devastated. That historic round barn I wrote about in that post from November 18, 2015? Gone. Completely.
It's not just the historic landmarks—not to mention the many beloved favorite places—that have been lost, but, for me, a more personal connection, as well. Santa Rosa was the childhood home of my first husband, the one whose story I shared four years ago, starting with this post. Today would have been his sister's birthday, but—along with her brother and both her parents—she is no longer with us to even see all the devastation hitting her hometown.
It's sobering to see the before-and-after photo recap of some of the losses, such as the one offered in Santa Rosa's local newspaper, The Press Democrat. In linking to those photos, I've cued the sequence to begin with the photo of the round barn as it once stood; clicking through to the next photo shows you what is now left, after last Monday's fire.
With devastation like this, it's not just the tangible that has been lost; it's as if the soul has lost something, as well.
While so many people were scrambling for their lives only one hundred miles away this past week, I was going through my file cabinets, trying to find and extricate myself from all the "stuff" that bogs us down—the clutter we can most certainly live without. With each file I review, however, it seems my resolve to divest myself of my holdings has gradually weakened. There is so much to remember.
As I worked on that Ambrose file, then followed along both the alphabet and my mother-in-law's family's migratory pathway, the papers I saved reminded me of what I had found in research efforts nearly twenty years ago. The end of the trail, going backwards in time from Ohio, through Pennsylvania, then closer to the Atlantic seaport where the immigrant founder families surely stepped off their tiny sailing vessel in the early 1700s, was likely near the place where they first settled in Frederick County, Maryland.
The only problem has been that the place I saw named was a place I could never find: Monocacy, Maryland. I always satisfied myself, in the face of that puzzle, with calling it simply "Frederick County," and leaving off any designation of a town.
Curiosity finally got the best of me, and this week I googled it. Entering "Monocacy" in the search box didn't seem to produce any helpful results, though. I found information on the river, the Civil War Battle, and the National Park commemorating the site. But no town by that name.
I'm not sure how I stumbled upon it, but I finally found out why I couldn't find the place called Monocacy—the place where my mother-in-law's ancestors once lived. The reason? The village, probably founded sometime between 1725 and 1730, is no longer in existence. Even as recently as the end of the next century, people were no longer sure of its original location.
That's a haunting thought: could people forget something as heart-important as someone's hometown as soon as the close of the next century? What about those blackened hundreds of homes and businesses all across Santa Rosa? Will all that turmoil—and the people whose lives have been upended—be forgotten as soon as 2187?
Above: Remembering the Fountaingrove Round Barn of northern Santa Rosa, as it stood in 2015; photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
One of my hopes, during The Cleanup, was to take my old paper copies of genealogical significance and convert them into digital files. Gone, with the magic of a scanner, would be pages upon pages of old notes and records. I had visions of empty drawers in no-longer-necessary file cabinets.
This, however, was not to be—if I kept discovering papers I still can't bear to part with.
By the time I got to the file folder for "B," I discovered one detour around that problem: many of my notes in the "Berks" file were for old, mostly out-of-print reference books I had meant to consult long ago—if I could ever find a copy.
The solution, I figured, would be to check those old titles now and see what could be found online. After all, places like Internet Archive, HathiTrust, the Digital Public Library of America, among others, make it possible to find research resources that otherwise might only be apprehended on a grand safari to the legendary Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
The problem is: that option only works for books now in the public domain. One of the books referenced in my notes in this file folder was entitled Epitaphs: Handbook of Historic Family Graveyards, Berks County, Pennsylvania. The book was published by the Berks County Association for Graveyard Preservation in 1999. Not exactly an antique.
As it turned out, antique or no antique, the book is now out of print. At least, that's according to Amazon—and I figure they would know a thing or two about books. Still, a title like that made me think it might be a book that would come in handy for my mother-in-law's Flowers family heritage in Berks County, so I tried taking a different approach.
If I can't buy the thing, perhaps I can borrow it, I thought, but no—the nearest library for me, according to WorldCat, other than the one at the end of a six hour drive down to Los Angeles, would be...you guessed it...that library in Salt Lake City.
Still, there were other books listed which were classified as publications in the public domain, thankfully, and I was able to locate, online, a digital copy of one referenced in my many emails with other Berks County researchers: Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania. This is the type of resource that the Internet Archive is appreciated for. Not only can I peruse the volume at my convenience in comfy clothes, sipping a hot chocolate at three in the morning (if I please), but I can make an electronic note of the whereabouts of the tome, and chuck the offending bit of paper upon which I had scribbled the reminder to myself twenty years ago.
This, page by page, is how I make progress in emptying my old file cabinet and re-purposing it for more current uses.
Above: "Autumn Landscape," 1870 oil on board by New Hampshire native Alfred Thompson Bricher; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Friday, October 13, 2017
I know, I know: at this rate, I won't make it to the end of the file cabinet before I run out of days in this month. Nobody ever promised that this Fall Cleanup project would come to a neat stopping point at the end of October. Cheer up, though: I am making progress.
Finding old notes from, say, 1998 sure can boost one's research progress. I'm stumbling upon hints I promised myself I'd follow up on, nearly twenty years ago. Of course, I've forgotten about most of this material. But I'm certainly glad to have rediscovered it.
Today's folder, the first in the "B" section of my slowly-revamped file cabinet, held the contents for a geographic area once home to my mother-in-law's family. I have to laugh when I think of all the material I had saved for my mother-in-law's tree; when I first interviewed her to get started on this research project, she felt certain that I wouldn't find much. After all, according to her, this family had likely just "gotten off the boat" only a couple generations before hers.
The geographic spot detailed in my file folder for her family was for Berks County, Pennsylvania—at the start of the 1770s. Apparently, at that point, Berks was a new county in Pennsylvania, having been formed from three of only four counties which existed in the colony prior to the 1752 Berks County formation. That, in the 1770s, became the home of my mother-in-law's immigrant ancestors Henry and Rosina Flowers.
The Berks folder contained many reprints of online articles and personal emails to me from other researchers, dating back to 1997. Most of them had references to books or website addresses.
I thought it might be interesting to see if any of those sources would be available today. Though the search was worth the try, I doubted I'd find anything. Still, once having found the answer, I could then toss the paper and downsize my research holdings in all good conscience.
Remember Geo-Cities? How about the user pages at familytreemaker.com? These were the types of references I ended up putting through their paces. To nobody's surprise, the Geo-Cities reference led to a generic Yahoo page, scoring me one basket in the throw-away contest. And gone were the user pages at familytreemaker—though I found, thanks to Google, some of those addresses were redirected to the User Home Pages section of genealogy.com. No surprises there. But I was surprised to see how many other references still existed online.
One resource still available turned out to house the updated version of some reports written by a researcher named Bob Reinsel. Though the URL was slightly altered from the original one I had noted in my records, it still contained the very items I had printed up for future reference, back in the 1990s. These were spot on for my mother-in-law's migrating Catholic family, including articles on the changing geography of colonial Pennsylvania and the migration patterns of the Catholic church through Pennsylvania.
While the original articles I had in my files included details that obviously needed some correction—provided in the updated version of the website—they were useful in a trailblazing sort of way. They provided me keywords and tips for where to pursue further record searches. The only down side was that the records these articles pointed me to were, in and of themselves, difficult if not impossible for me to access. Thus, the reason behind my saving them in a file for future use.
Hopefully, that time may well be now. The next step, in evaluating what to keep from this "Berks" folder, is to see which of those old books and websites can be accessed now, nearly twenty years since I first discovered them, thanks to the email and forum friendships I had struck up with fellow researchers so long ago.
Above: "Autumn in America, Oneida County, New York," undated oil on canvas by American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
There is absolutely no way to simply purge a file cabinet full of folders of genealogical material. I knew, in this Fall Cleanup project, that I would run into a roadblock somewhere.
I wasn't expecting it to come with the letter "A."
Sure enough, no sooner had I flipped through the first few papers in my file for the surname Ambrose than I uncovered some long-forgotten resources providing me the back story to some colonial ancestors. Many of these treasures were from pages posted online by other researchers—tucked away in user pages at the FamilyTreeMaker website, or the "freepages" at Rootsweb, or on a person's own website back in the 1990s—which shared much more than just pedigree charts.
Looking through the clippings I had saved, it was obvious that many of my fellow Ambrose researchers—indeed, of researchers in that era pursuing any of the same surnames as I was—were concerned with far more than the bare bones facts of name, dates and locations. They wanted to know the reasons why their ancestors did what they did. The wanted to understand the life surrounding those people and what motivated them to make the choices they did.
For the most part, that goal takes an understanding of history, but often, that history was local. I was grateful for anyone who had taken the time to understand what was happening in the area where my ancestors once lived, three hundred years ago and more. Whenever I found an article explaining a key aspect of life in the neighborhoods where my ancestors lived, I tried to print up a copy of the material and file it in the appropriate folder.
And now, look at me: going back over these now-forgotten notes from nearly twenty years ago with that déjà vu feeling—yet knowing I had read them before, and that I was right when I thought it was important.
The only problem is: how can I toss those papers now? Saving them will mean incorporating them into my current research system by scanning them as an e-document or transcribing the significant parts as notes in my research journal. These are not blips of details that can be shoved into the fields in a genealogical database management system. Articles of substance really do need a place of their own, if they are materials that need to be consulted over and over.
Some of the material explained the reasons behind situations much like the ones I wondered about when I was pursuing my Davis, Broyles and Tilson lines in the colonial Virginia wilderness last month. One article discussed the waves of migration westward—in the 1700s, before the American Revolution. Another reviewed the reasons why it was hard to track a specific surname in records of that era (a combination of multiple languages, liberties with phonetic spelling, and inability to double-check what was written due to illiteracy). One valuable article reviewed the main migration routes and chapels of the Catholics in Pennsylvania.
All of these articles were important to me, because they were the very topics that concerned the history of my mother-in-law's family, one of the families which, of course, I've been dedicated to researching over the years. Understanding the back story on these movements through time, across the continent, helped me see the fuller picture on just who those ancestors really were. The greater history also helped me zero in on the micro-history of my family, helping me to learn where the best resources might be for the specific documents I'd want to find to verify my family's story.
Along with emails providing the names of useful books on these topics—and the likely places where I could access that material back in 1999—the articles and letters I kept will likely take a lot more time to save, in my current digitized system, than merely deciding, yea or nay, whether to save them.
The material, itself, serves to provide an enriched version of my family's story. In my mother-in-law's story, it means appreciating the struggle of Catholic families escaping the war-torn turmoil of their European homes only to find themselves moving westward through the states of Maryland and then Pennsylvania, seeking a haven where they could, finally, put down roots and call a place home.
I had forgotten that many of the answers to those broad questions were all filed in a slim folder with the simple label "Ambrose" up on top.
Above: "Autumn Landscape in Rybiniszki," 1902 watercolor on paper by Polish artist Stanislaw Maslowski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
With the two lowest drawers in my erstwhile genealogy file cabinet emptied of all their former paper occupants, it's time to move on to some real old family history notes. I'm jumping over the nitty gritty of the mundane side of this Fall Cleanup project—the part about moving files, fixing the frame for my hanging file system, emptying and adjusting old folders—and going straight to my first file folder in that top drawer.
As much as I could, I filed stuff by surname, in alpha order. Sure, there were other topics listed (which, once upon a time, were stacked in alpha order in a drawer all their own, before Life got in the way and evicted them for more urgent topics). This, now, becomes my first chance to take a long look at each folder and decide what to keep and what to add to the next recycling pickup's shredding pile.
Nothing is ever simple, of course, and as much as I'm currently obsessed with the history of us as digital-age genealogists, I couldn't even make it through one measly file folder without getting sidetracked by all the fascinating details.
This was, after all, a folder complete with all my correspondence exchanged with other researchers pursuing the surname Ambrose—circa 1999.
Ambrose is a surname way at the other end of my mother-in-law's family history—the point at which they arrived in the New World from places as-yet unknown. I know they were once living in Frederick County, Maryland, when Maryland was merely a colony in the expansive British Empire, not a tiny state in the U.S.A.
The patriarch of this particular line, best I can tell from those 1999 inquiries with other Ambrose researchers, was a man named Matthias Ambrose. Born in Germany in what, on his headstone from 1784, looks like the date 1696, he was buried in Frederick County.
His namesake son, however, died in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, having listed the two daughters of interest to my mother-in-law's line in his 1804 will—thankfully—before his passing. Those two Ambrose daughters—Elizabeth and her younger sister Susannah—happened to marry two Flowers men, Joseph and his older brother, John Henry, and eventually settled in Perry County, Ohio. That line of Joseph Flowers and Elizabeth Ambrose eventually became the far end of the patriline ending with my mother-in-law's father.
Long before Ancestry.com became the go-to online resource it has become today, researchers had several options available to them, besides the typical on-site route. Services such as my Prodigy connection hosted online interest groups, and you can be sure there were several options for genealogy enthusiasts there. Anyone who used a desktop-resident genealogical database management system could usually find a users' group, or even a special website devoting space to "User Home Page Reports," such as the one dedicated for that purpose at the erstwhile Family Tree Maker's Genealogy Site, where I found one user's "home page" detailing all her Ambrose connections.
I developed long-term email relationships with researchers at both of those online resources, and from other resources as well. One helpful site was the one known as Rootsweb. Now hosted by Ancestry, the free site included mailing lists for geographic locations as well as surnames. I preferred using the geographic lists, organized first by state and then by county, where I could sign up in "digest" form to receive all communications on Frederick County, Maryland, and could inquire about other researchers seeking those Ambrose ancestors.
The same went for another online message board, GenForum. At both places, I'd regularly post inquiries seeking other researchers working on the same lines. Some of those connections led to diligent researchers, who often were situated closer to the geographic area, making it easier for them to access cemeteries or newspaper articles of interest to the other kazillion distant Ambrose cousins also seeking the same details.
Sometimes, the connections were as simple as the cheery note from one Ambrose researcher:
I'm also working on the Matthias Ambrose line, being a descendant of his daughter Catherine, who married Johannes Weller. From which child are you descended?
Some of those notes I've saved from 1999 led to bigger discoveries and sharing of resources. A note that began, "It's always great to find another Internet cousin!" connected me with a direct descendant of the Ambrose grandparents of Elizabeth and Susannah—but don't let that dizzying genealogical distance distract you; it's the amount of information she was willing to share, via email, that was significant.
While some researchers showed up to humbly ask for help, others checked in online as a resource to others. Their offerings were often impressive, like those of one woman who I first met on account of her query about land records and "liber abstracts" in Maryland. It turned out she was willing to share extensively her discoveries on the Ambrose surname in general and the family tree in particular.
Of course, for each significant exchange I engaged in, I felt compelled—in that 1990s style—to print up those emails and file them under the applicable surname. Thus, the folder labeled Ambrose, my first job to tackle while decluttering my file cabinet.
Now, I'm not so sure I can just chuck those items; they call me back to an era in which like-minded researchers shared their keen interest in specific details of ancestors long gone. It was a time of collegial courtesy, an opportunity to share as well as receive.
After I had helped one Ambrose researcher with a particularly insightful question, he sent his cordial thanks, along with this remark:
In a world so troubled as the one we live in, I cannot express the joy that I have gotten from genealogy and the wonderful people I have been lucky enough and privileged to meet.
How can I toss a correspondence like that? It has not only become a document of the path we collectively took to rediscover our forebears; it has become an example of one era in the ongoing history of genealogical pursuits that, in retrospect, takes on the aura of a golden age of cooperative effort.
Above: "Autumn on the Hudson," 1875 oil on canvas by Hudson River School landscape artist Jasper Francis Cropsey; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.