Thursday, January 17, 2019

Giving a Listen

The other day, J. Mark Lowe, our Southern Research instructor at SLIG, introduced us to the phrase, "Listen to the Mule."

If that were not enough work for one researcher, today, he advised: listen to the testimony of the people living around your ancestor. They will tell you the stories you want to hear about your people.

True, the only way we can accomplish that "listening" is through the documents that recorded the minutiae of their lives—agricultural schedules, tax records, mortgage records, business transactions. Like a mosaic, those slips of paper can piece together a picture of just what life was like for a specific relative, long before we ever came on the scene to become eye-witnesses.

Just like that mosaic which we build to allow ourselves to see the reality of our ancestors' lives, we can glean a mosaic of what it's like to attend class at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Since I'm in the company of a few fellow genea-bloggers, I've noticed that they, too, are telling what's important to them this week. Here's a little overview of what others are saying.

When Ginger LaRue—"My red hair gives me super powers"—of Ginger Doodles mentioned that her family refers to Salt Lake City as "Genealogy Disneyland," I could see why her trek from New Jersey was so joyfully in relation to the research reason she was here. Attending D. Joshua Taylor's course, Bridging the Gap: New England to the Midwest, she stalked proof of the Kentucky land grant of her fifth great-grandfather with ear candy of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" playing in her head.

Fellow California resident—and recently board-certified genealogist—Lisa Gorrell shared her take on the same class I'm enrolled in, Advanced Southern Research, in a recent post on her blog, My Trails Into the Past. Lisa's maternal line is all southern, similar to mine. She took the opportunity last night at the specially-arranged SLIG night at the Family History Library to try her hand at the practical aspect of locating the resources we're learning about in class. Then, too, Lisa and I grabbed the chance yesterday to enjoy lunch together and chat about our research interests. Sometimes, it takes going to a conference seven hundred miles from home to spend time with the genea-friends we hardly ever get to see when we're back home.

Those are not the only courses being offered at SLIG. There are, in fact, fifteen classes running concurrently this week, with more to come next week.

One of the courses this week is a crash course on reading Gothic Script and Fraktur. The intrepid Nancy Loe of Sassy Jane Genealogy, having never even attempted a high school German class, has launched herself into F. Warren Bittner's course at SLIG. Her fun pop quiz, hinting at what she's learned so far, just goes to show that we go to these in-depth educational programs precisely so they will teach us how much we don't know. And we're okay with that. In fact, many of us keep coming back, year after year.

After all, who wouldn't want to come back to "Genealogy Disneyland"?   

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Squirrel !

We may be—as LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson reminded us Monday evening at SLIG—"all in this boat together," but when it comes to genealogically delving into the south, I'm seeing evidence that our co-instructor Anne Gillespie Mitchell was spot on: family life in the south was built upon clusters.

I, however, am not as circumspect about my genealogical research plans as she might have hoped. I've already fallen victim to what Anne refers to as, "Squirrel!"

Case in point: yesterday, co-instructor Kelvin Meyers toured us through the finer points of the Draper Manuscript Collection and a related collection, the Shane Manuscript Collection. It just so happens that that second, and smaller, Shane collection was compiled by a man named John Dabney Shane. A Presbyterian minister himself, Reverend Shane sought to collect all the material he could find on the expansion of the Presbyterian church in the United States, particularly on the American frontier of the time.

While that tidbit of information may be significant for those of us intent on researching our families' southern past, there was one small detail that caught my eye: the Shane collection was compiled by a man whose middle name was Dabney.

Dabney?! I have that family name.

And faster than Anne Mitchell could shout, "Squirrel!" I was off, flying through the virtual genealogical wilderness in search of a factoid. After all, if this were a southern family, that Dabney could just as well be a surname from deeper in the family tree. A maiden name. A connection. I've seen a lot of that in the southern families I've researched.

It didn't help that, in all this detail about both Draper and Shane, Kelvin mentioned another name that caught my ear. Somehow, the name Gabriel Jones was connected.

Gabriel Jones? Yep, you guessed it: I have that name, too.

In a quick and dirty exploration of John Dabney Shane's own family tree, it may be that the name Dabney came from his maternal grandmother's maiden name. I can't say for sure; I haven't proved it for myself. But it makes a reasonable explanation for how someone named as plainly as John could acquire such an unusual middle name.

Meanwhile, it just so happens that the Dabney connection in my own tree comes from a descendant of the same Taliaferro who qualified me for eligibility to DAR: his granddaughter Mary Penn (nicknamed Polly) married a minister named Dabney P. Jones.

How this particular Reverend also acquired a name as unusual as Dabney, I can't yet say, but I do know that after her passing, the widow Mary Penn Jones, dying intestate in 1874, had one Gabriel Jones appointed as administrator of her estate. Was he the same gentleman as the one connected to either of the researchers?

Well, you know a soul spirited away by the sight of a tempting research squirrel—this non-hunter prefers to refer to this as going down the rabbit trail—can't just stop there. So, multi-tasking through the remainder of class (true confessions), I poked around to see what else I could find.

You know the search is long from done at this point, especially when encountering more squirrel, er, rabbit trails. In the process, I followed the paper trail for all the descendants I could find in this line—we are, after all, supposed to uncover the clusters which tie our southern kin together—and discovered that a great-granddaughter of Mary Penn and Dabney Jones married a man who later married another woman and fathered (or possibly was the step-father of) the man who was the film director who brought us the motion picture version of the Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, isn't that all so very southern?!

Whether this is the kind of "connected" my Southern Research course instructors intended, I can't say. And I can't yet claim to have acquired the disciplined restraint of the professional genealogist. Follow the trail, connect the dots, and pretty soon we're all part of the family constellation. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"A Northerner Walks Into
a Class on Southern Research . . ."

Sound like the beginning of a joke?

I'm feeling somewhat disoriented, surrounded by so many southern accents and roots reaching south of the Mason-Dixon line. I may have grandparents who claimed kin in places like Tennessee and Florida, but they moved up north before my mom was ever born. All my life, I knew nothing of a non-snow winter existence (well, at least until I moved to California), having been born and raised in the New York City metro area. I never even set foot in either of those two states of my family heritage until I was well into adulthood. The closest anyone in my immediate family came to replicating a southern lifestyle was that momentary lapse into "southern hospitality" when, on family visits, my aunt would insist we take second helpings at dinner.

But here I am, sitting in class at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, listening to research luminaries such as J. Mark Lowe and Anne Gillespie Mitchell speak of the ins and outs of researching this unique region.

They even talk different. Is there a separate lexicon for folks who speak Southern?

Mark Lowe exposed us to the concept, "Listen to the mule." Perhaps, if you are southern, yourself, this phrase is no stranger to you. I, northerner that I am, had some learnin' to do. When the tale was told, though, I learned by osmosis just what the zeitgeist behind that phrase really meant: you can learn something from the one who is doing all the work; you just have to know how to listen.

I'm listening.

Equipped with maps—soil maps, even—we examined migration possibilities for our southern farming ancestors. We talked deed maps, county line change maps, tax- and business-related maps.

And websites. Oh, the resources.

I couldn't wait until class was I didn't. Had to try my hand right away at finding stuff as the information was unfolding. With Anne Gillespie Mitchell's sessions, I discovered some of the geographic locations she was focusing on were in the vicinity of ancestors in my family's lines, snatched up those website URLs she shared and put them through their paces. And yes, there is light behind some of those impenetrable brick walls.

As far removed from southern life as I may seem to be, it's not as far from that history as you think. I'm not as "northern" as I may think I am. You see, like so many of us, I have a dark southern secret, something I wish were never there, but undeniably, historically, was. Perhaps that is why it was so much easier to claim an adopted northern identity, and to ignore that centuries-long detour from my Mayflower kin to my Virginia, Tennessee and Florida heritage.

As artfully as LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson put it in last night's plenary session, though, "We're All in the Same Boat Now!" In her call for us to see genealogy as a "force for social change," she urged us to be part of the solution by striving for accuracy in how we represent the historical records touching our family's stories—to expand our concept of the ethical obligation to share the full story of our past, especially through those dark times we'd rather smudge out even further. The parts of our story that we'd rather forget may, shared, become the key to help someone else find the first inkling of their own family's history. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Goin' Southern on Y'all

To be a genealogist means to always be learning. At least that's my opinion, and I've been chasing my family's history for almost my entire life. And still learning.

Ever do something, just as a special treat for yourself? This week is one of those special times for me. I'm spending the next five days in Salt Lake City, where the Utah Genealogical Association is hosting the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy just a few blocks away from the largest genealogical library in the world.

I know, I know: some people pamper themselves with a day at the spa. A romantic weekend getaway. A trip to Hawaii. Me? I go to Salt Lake City in January.

Since the first hour of SLIG registration last summer—where I sat, poised at my computer with my trigger finger on my mouse, prepared to pounce on my class selection the minute registration opened—I've been preparing for this week's experience. I had heard great reviews of one particular SLIG instructor, years ago, from fellow blogger Michelle Taggart, and when I saw he was one of the 2019 speakers, my goal became to get into J. Mark Lowe's Advanced Southern Research class.

To prepare for this class, I knew I had to attend to my sorely-forsaken maternal grandmother's family tree, for it is her McClellan line—and related kin in Florida—on whom I'd like to focus for this week. For the past half year, that has been my primary research project, which will either sound like an impressive claim, or give you an idea of just how badly my attention was needed on this branch of the family tree. (Hint: go with the latter.)

Now that Monday, SLIG, and I have all coincidentally arrived at the same place, I'll not only hear from the well-recommended Mark Lowe, but also receive research guidance from Anne Gillespie Mitchell, familiar to many through her position as product manager at and blogger at (and evangelist for) Cluster Genealogy. And since SLIG uses a team-teaching approach for many of their courses, I'll also get treated to instruction by Deborah Abbott and LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, featured speaker at the plenary session this evening.

That is just the first of five glorious days of genealogical instruction—my week-long immersion in all things southern at SLIG 2019. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Keeping Track of a New Year

It's the start of a new year, which means it's the start of a new tracking form for research progress. It may not seem like much, but I find great encouragement from a biweekly review of what I've accomplished, in pursuing this always-elusive "finished" (don't snicker) family history record. So, out come the old charts, amended with new dates. I'll start up a new year's worth of counting, just for personal encouragement, if nothing else.

The benchmarks for 2019, at least in my case, will be the starting numbers for this year. I'm still tracking four separate family trees—one for each of my daughter's four grandparents. For the first count of the year, I'm starting with 16,546 in my mother's tree, 15,941 in my mother-in-law's tree, 1,514 in my father-in-law's tree, and at the very bottom of the pile, my dad's tree at 516.

In the next twelve months, some of those numbers will grow by leaps and bounds—most likely the ones for which I have specific research goals to complete—and others will seem to sit still. The tree that has been growing the fastest, lately, is my mom's tree, and for a specific reason: I'm taking the Southern research class at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy this week, and my mother's sadly-neglected tree needed some serious attention. This, I'm happy to say, has been my research focus in preparation for this class ever since I signed up at the opening of registration last summer.

The second-fastest growth was in my mother-in-law's tree—well, at least until I put the brakes on in mid-summer. Since then, the only additions have been when I spotted an obituary for a distant cousin and added in all the updated names while the record was on hand. Other than that, my only other reason to add any entries was if I ran across a good DNA match—meaning one who actually responded to emails, or at least had a tree publicly posted where I also have a subscription. Can't pass an opportunity like that to update records.

I'm not sure yet what my next research goal will be. At the close of this week's class at SLIG, I'll have a ten day break to recuperate from all this learnin'...and then I'll be heading to Florida, home of my maternal grandmother's roots. That should be rich soil for digging up records. At least, that is what I hope. If all goes well, my research goals in the beginning of 2019 will not be much different than they have been for the past six months. Sometimes the flip of a calendar page doesn't do much to usher in a new research protocol.

On the other hand, I'll wait until I get through these next few weeks before I reassess my research plans. Sometimes, it is refreshing to just take a break from that laser-like focus on one research arena. Switching to Irish or Polish research might just be the break I'll need.

In the meantime, it's off to SLIG I go, for a week of listening, learning, trying new ideas, meeting new friends, and enjoying the challenge of mastering new ways to tackle a research problem.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Now Indexing — Or at Least
Getting Back Into the Routine

The holiday season leaves me with the feeling that I haven't done any volunteer indexing work for aeons; certainly not the few weeks that it more accurately was. I feel as if I haven't done any indexing online for ever.

Perhaps, for everyone else, the exact opposite was the case, for when I went hunting for a candidate project to tackle, I found none of my usual go-to topics. I like to focus on record sets from the places where my ancestors once lived—in the desperate hope that I will somehow unearth the hidden record which will answer all my research questions.

This time? There was none of that. None, especially, of naturalization records for that New York port of entry which has been my prime target for entering ancestors.

Well, that was not entirely so. There was a quick batch of names of people entering New York, which essentially meant a potluck of a few cards, mostly illegible, which volunteers had probably given up on in the usual series. I'm afraid I've sent more than my fair share of these quick batches into the reject pile; the readability of some cards was nearing zero. I did, however, give it my best shot.

I'm looking forward to putting more effort into indexing projects in this new year, and hope there will soon be many fresh projects on the docket for eager indexers like me. The current offerings—at least for North American records—seemed quite slim, especially in the face of fresh volunteers still high on New Year's resolutions. Hope no one wastes this opportunity.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Finding a Friend at Find a Grave

It is never easy to foretell how complicated the path will be from rescued photograph to reunion with family members. Having a name and a location may seem to be the golden ticket, but as we've seen with Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts of Council Bluffs, Iowa, it hasn't helped much so far.

While digitized documents, easily accessible online from virtually everywhere, make the search infinitely easier than it ever has been in the past, there is only so much you can do, in the case of dual candidates for the same name. That's why, now that I've checked all the census records, vital records, and newspaper entries, it's time to move on to less typical resources.

One resource I've found helpful is to trawl through all the posted family trees I can find online. I look for direct descendants, of course, but I also keep an eye out for more photographs of the ancestors I'm seeking.

One such photo I ran across wasn't on Ancestry, though. I found it on Find A Grave. It was a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Edwin Parkison. While it is unlikely that you've followed the minutiae on another person's family tree closely enough to recognize that Parkison name—actually, two Roberts descendants married someone by that surname—this particular Mrs. Parkison was the former Ruby Viola Roberts, also known as Ola.

Looking at the photo of Albert and Alice Roberts' daughter Ola, I wasn't sure she resembled either of the people in the photograph I had found, out here in northern California. But just in case I was mistaken in that first assessment, I decided to write the Find A Grave volunteer who had posted the portrait. My main reason for contacting her was to see if she had any other photographs—a picture of Ola's parents would be just what would do the trick—but I also asked her for permission to post the photograph of Ola and her husband here. That way, you can see what you think for yourself, so take a look below.

Of the few Find A Grave volunteers I've contacted, there has always been a prompt reply. Reaching out to connect with fellow researchers at has not been quite as productive. Still, there are time—many times—when I need to connect with a direct descendant of the subjects of the photos I've found. All I can do is reach out and hope.

There is, for instance, a photo posted on Ancestry of what might be the father of the second candidate for our Albert Roberts. But since I haven't heard back from the researcher who originally posted the picture, I haven't received permission to post it here. You can, however, take a look at the original site, if you are a member of See if this picture resembles our Albert Roberts enough to peg him as Albert Marion Roberts, son of James Roberts.

Of course, I prefer any researcher who actually answers messages. This puts me in the odd position of hoping that the identity of the photo I found of Albert Roberts turns out to be the oldest of the three Alberts we've discussed so far. But I can't just conduct a thorough search based on such likeability factors. It's likely this search will find itself grinding on in the genealogical equivalent of sausage-making. And you know what I've said about that...

This Albert Roberts, whoever he is, will likely have to wait until those interminable behind-the-scenes searches finally draw to a conclusive end. Moving beyond any Roberts identities, as for what we'll be discussing next week, I have some travels planned.

Above: Photograph of Albert and Alice (Dooley) Roberts' daughter Ruby Viola Roberts and her husband, Charles Edwin Parkison of Riverton, Fremont County, Iowa; used by permission of Find a Grave volunteer and second great-granddaughter of Alice Roberts' brother, George Dooley. His family photo, also shared with us thanks to this same volunteer, is posted below, with Ola's Uncle George seated on right.

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