Sunday, June 30, 2013

Last Train Out of Here

With “Last Train to Clarksville” continuously looping as ear candy in the back of my mind while I write this, I’ve been struggling with the set-up for a world without Google Reader.

I know: get over it. That’s what everyone is saying.

The deaf have an idiom which, roughly translated, is their way of saying, “You missed it.” The hand motions equate a train, pulling out of the station and down the tracks, vanishing in the distance.

At least, that’s what the visual would look like, if performed in slow motion.

In real life, the action is as quick as the point of the saying: train’s left the station. It’s gone. You missed it.

That’s pretty much what’s happened to Google Reader. If you haven’t taken care of getting your ticket to “ride” on another reading service by tonight, you may as well kiss goodbye your last chance to transfer all your subscriptions. As they used to say in Ameslan, you missed it.

Not to say that changing trains at that new station has made for an easy ride. At least, not for those of us bloggers trying to rescue all those last-minute folks headed straight for a blog-reader’s train wreck.

You may have noticed my recent foray into that foreign world of computer code. Yes, I braved new territory in attempting to follow Feedly’s directions. With great trepidation, I cut and pasted some code (over to the left) and conjured up that green subscription button.

Yes, I know it looks like I was actually successful. Don’t be fooled. Looks can be deceiving.

At least, that’s the conclusion I reached when my favorite guinea pig submitted to the experiment of signing up as a new subscriber to A Family Tapestry on Feedly. The button worked, alright—in getting him from my post to the Feedly site. But it apparently didn’t lead him specifically to where he could subscribe to A Family Tapestry. Instead, he then had to locate the blog via an index and add a few more clicks to subscribe.

I’m not sure that was the non-stop trip it was intended to be. If the “click” doesn’t produce the subscription in one step, why not just place the hyperlinked word “Feedly” in the sidebar and let subscribers fend for themselves? If a button says “Follow,” I want it to do the action it advertises and get me all the way to my destination.

I noticed Feedly seems to be pro-active in advising bloggers via Twitter, so maybe I’ll go that route after the weekend, and hopefully get better informed.

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet availed yourself of a ticket to make the Great Transfer and would be willing to serve as guinea pig in clicking the Big Green Button and letting Feedly be your conductor to a substitute Google Reader destination, I’d appreciate some help with this blogging baggage. Please send me your feedback and let me know how your journey fared.

Otherwise, we’ll be singing along with Google:
We'll have one more night together
'Til the morning brings my train.
And I must go, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

You Are Blogging, Aren’t You?

In the past few days, I’ve been capturing some thoughts triggered while attending the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree earlier this month. The focus of this series has been to encourage you to avail yourself of every local and online community outlet possible in pursuing your family history research.

Most of the tools that come readily to mind are resources where we go to get information.

With today’s post, I’d like to turn that mindset around. Sometimes, you first need to give to get.

One of the simplest methods you can use to spread the word about what you are pursuing in your research is blogging. Given the right tools, blogging is free, has very low barriers to entry, and can hand you a world-wide platform, once you gain a facility with social networking.

While I know many of you who are regular readers here at A Family Tapestry are also talented bloggers in your own right, I want to focus today on encouraging those of you who are not yet blogging to consider giving it a try.

Why Try?

If you’ve ever stared at a blank computer screen in frustration over a genealogical brick wall and just typed your most wanted’s name in the search bar on Google™, then you know how easy it can be to bring up thousands of results in less than a second.

Not that those results are always pertinent to your research efforts, mind you. Just that they can be readily at hand.

Now, imagine if, by including a modifying term, such as “obituary” or “family history,” you could narrow your search for your mystery relative in such a way that you find some extremely viable results.

Maybe even results that connect you to a distant cousin you never dreamed you had.

Take that one step further: let’s reverse the roles, and think of the possibilities if you had already launched a family history blog of your own.

What if it was your blog that came up as the number one result when that proverbial distant-cousin-you’ve-never-met entered a name in the Google™ search bar?

As has been said many times before, “If you build it, they will come.”


How to Start

Of course, coming up with irresistible “Cousin Bait” (as some researchers have called it) is not necessarily as simple as it sounds.

You knew there was going to be this caveat.

Just like fishing, it may take some sacrifices before you land your big catch—like getting up early (or my preference: staying up later), shivering with doubt in the momentary cold, preparing ahead of time by getting decent equipment to use.

Since this is just a blog post and not the genealogical version of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary for blogs, I won’t be going into the step-by-step of setting up your own blog. But I will suggest some resources so you can explore the subject on your own.

For those of you who learn best by watching instruction, I recommend you check out Anne Gillespie Mitchell’s “Cousin Bait: Blogging to Find Your Family” on YouTube. A companion pdf file can also be accessed here. Anne is with, and also maintains her own blog, as well as a presence on Twitter and on Facebook—a good person to follow.

While Anne focuses primarily on using Blogger in her presentation, if you are wondering about WordPress—or the greater possibilities inherent in hosting your own site, and maybe even generating some income from your writing—you may want to visit the blog at where “Mike” walks his readers through many levels of blogging possibilities.

There are myriad other sites aimed at helping bloggers in general get started. I tend to trust those from a genealogy slant, such as these links provided by Thomas MacEntee.

How to Spread the Word

Setting up a blog is your first step. After that comes consistency—regularly publishing articles that will lure others to visit your site and, hopefully, connect with those missing cousins.

While being diligent in producing compelling content is important, you can’t really impact others with your research if they don't know you exist. You need to attract an audience.

It can get pretty lonely performing to an empty room. Somehow, you need to find ways to spread the word about your fledgling project.

I would be remiss if I didn’t first mention the best way to share your family history blog with the rest of the genealogy world: gaining the opportunity to be mentioned at GeneaBloggers.

GeneaBloggers, the brainchild of Thomas MacEntee, the “Genealogy Ninja” of Chicago, invites new genealogy bloggers to submit their launch’s press release to the site for inclusion in their weekly announcements. All you need do to be included in the GeneaBlogger’s Blog Roll is submit your request. (An added bonus is inclusion in GeneaBlogger’s in-site search mechanism—yet another way other researchers may find your blog.)

Social media helps spread the word, too. We’ve already talked about getting on Twitter and networking in real life with your local, regional and state genealogical societies. Mentioning your new blogging project on Facebook, on Cyndi’s List, and other information outlets helps, too.

If you really are keen on honing your blogging skills further, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger will take you way up the learning curve with useful tips that cross-apply to what we hope to achieve as family history bloggers.

How to Dangle That Bait

Once your blog is up and running, you want to produce articles that serve as your siren call for others seeking information on your target surnames. Here are a few posts I’ve appreciated (well, some in a love-hate sort of way):

Amy Coffin of The We Tree Genealogy Blog provides a tutorial on just how to write that Cousin Bait blog post.

When it comes to the concept of “Cousin Bait,” I like the way Valerie Craft put it:
“Cousin Bait” is the concept of putting information about your ancestors out on the web to attract the attention of other descendants.
Sometimes that is more challenging than you’d think. Take, for instance, the delicate task facing author Mariann Regan, in broaching the subject of biracial descendants, a painful legacy of historical injustices. Suddenly, the concept of “Cousin Bait” takes on a different cast.

And yet, even for the same researcher, there can be research wealth in cousin connections.

In this process of seeking heretofore unknown cousins online, if nothing else, heed the advice of blogger Kenneth Marks and strike these seven tactics from your Cousin Bait tackle box.

For those of us already blogging, it never ceases to amaze when we are contacted by remote relatives, as librarian Deb Ruth has found. If you are not yet up and writing, consider giving blogging a try. Not only is it an excellent discipline for getting your family’s stories down on (virtual) paper, but you never know when you’ll be found by a long-lost relative.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even discover that you are related to a fellow blogger.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Twitter and Genealogy:
Ready to Take Off?



If you aren’t quite sure what I’m referring to, Genchat is the online genealogy conversation that happens every second and fourth Friday on Twitter.

That “fourth Friday” would be today.

If you live on the east coast, it happens at ten o’clock at night. For those in the Central time zone, the hour is nine. Denizens of the Mountain time zone—along with Genchat co-host Jen Baldwin—gather at eight p.m. And those of us far away in the beautiful lands of the Pacific coast, well, we join in at a more laid-back seven o’clock.

The online chats each have an assigned topic to cover—you can view the schedule for upcoming plans here—but other than that, are not rigidly formal in any way.

In fact, if you plan on participating for the first time, grab your hat, sit down and hold on! This fast-paced hour garners all sorts of great tips and ideas from your peers in genealogical research.

Since its inception on January 25 this year, Genchat has been co-hosted by the team at The In-Depth Genealogist and Conference Keeper. While mostly an event you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home, Genchat has even ventured out to coordinate a live chat from the National Genealogical Society convention last May in Las Vegas.

No matter where you are, I hope you set aside an hour to participate in—or at least sneak a peek at—tonight’s Genchat.

How to become part of the action?

First, be sure to sign up for your own Twitter account, if you haven’t already done so.

Next, if you’d first like to get an idea of what past Genchats were like, you can read through some archived conversations at Storify.

Keep in mind that, on Twitter, the way to aggregate posts on the same topic is to precede the search term with a specific symbol—what you may have previously thought of as the “pound sign” or “number sign” in Twitter lingo is dubbed a “hashtag.” Same symbol (#), different name. You’ll notice that every time someone enters a “tweet” in the Twitter stream for this event, it is labeled as #genchat. That way, in Twitter’s search bar, you can enter that exact string—“#genchat”—and bring up any past posts relevant to that discussion.

If you participate in tonight’s #genchat, you can do so via Twitter—but if you use that means of joining in the fun, for every tweet you write, you’ll have to remember to end it with the label, #genchat, so that it will be included in the conversation’s history.

Let me tell you a secret: there is an easier way.

I highly recommend that, before you participate in tonight’s #genchat, you first sign up for a special utility called TweetChat. This is a handy service that automatically enters that #genchat label, every time you add your comment to the conversation tonight, so you won’t have to go through the tedium of typing it all out, yourself.

Believe me, you will thank them! This conversation moves fast.

Signing up for TweetChat is easy, fast, and free. All you need to do is go to their website, follow their streamlined 1-2-3 steps, enter the #genchat hashtag in the box, and you’re in! If you already have a Twitter account, you can probably slam dunk that TweetChat signup in minutes.

Once that is done, at seven (if you are in the Pacific time zone) or eight (if you are on Mountain time) or nine (if yours is the Central time zone) or ten (for Eastern time)—or, hey, if you are one of those who have joined in from England or Australia or anywhere in between—be sure to join in tonight’s conversation on Cemetery Projects.

You’ll be amazed how fast an hour can fly by!  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

You Are On Twitter, Aren’t You?

Those of you who are researching your own family history are probably familiar with several online genealogy resources. We all know about Many of us subscribe to We may even dicker over which of several other family history websites are superior to the rest.

When it comes to asking people about using Twitter for genealogy, though, it seems that question still draws blank stares.

Twitter—that one hundred forty character microblogging service—is something often relegated to the mobile phone crowd. “On the go” hardly seems to suit the image of the serious researcher, holed up in the back reading room of a major library.

However, if you’ve never considered building your network on Twitter, I invite you to experiment with this resource. It has all sorts of possibilities for the synergy of crowdsourcing your family tree.

Obviously, I’ve got a Twitter account (see, I’ve even included my Twitter handle over in the left hand column) and certainly invite you to follow me if you are on Twitter. If you choose to do so, you and I and many other family history fanatics can share resources with one another.

Think that wouldn’t be useful? Here’s two examples of how Twitter has helped just this past week:

Not only does Twitter facilitate people-to-people connections between those with similar interests—just type in a hashtag (example: #genealogy) before any subject you are interested in searching on Twitter to see how many results you can find—but it also can be used to connect with other genealogy groups.

Just recently, on behalf of our local genealogical society—you do belong to a local genealogical society, don’t you?—I set up a Twitter account. We are just starting this project and it isn’t fully set up the way I’d like, but you are welcome to visit it. Just type in @SJCoGen to get there.

The beauty of putting your genealogical society on Twitter is that it becomes a way to spread the word about your organization and its mission that will reach an entirely new audience—the next generation of genealogists!

An added benefit comes with utilizing Twitter’s capacity for list building. While I’ve yet to polish my lists up on our society’s Twitter account, the task is off to a promising start. So far, I've built a list of all available state genealogy societies that I can find on Twitter. Lists for local societies, national societies, professional genealogists, special interest groups, genealogy businesses, and historical societies will follow.

Take that a step further: do you know that you can subscribe to follow other people’s lists? That’s a great way to discover who else is out there on Twitter—and follow them! For instance, take a look at @michaelhait and click on “Lists” on the left column, which will show you all the lists this genealogist has either created or been included in. You can even subscribe to his own lists—or follow any of the resources he has listed there.

You can take a look at the Saint Louis Genealogical Society’s lists on Twitter, too, for an example of what one genealogical organization is doing with their tiny 140-character cyber-property.

Of course, input is not the entire picture. Twitter becomes your mouthpiece to share what you are accomplishing with your own research or blogging, too. Frankly, although all these Google Reader replacements we discussed yesterday are important, I sometimes will more quickly click through to a link I’ve seen on Twitter—including announcements of fellow bloggers’ latest posts. I’d love to see yours mentioned on Twitter, too.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hope This Message Finds You

In only a few days, what to some will be a monumental catastrophe is slated to occur.

For others? Those like me would hardly blink at the scheduled demise of Google Reader on July 1—if only it weren’t for the fact that it will impact a high percentage of blog readers across the board and around the world.

I’ve never been a fan of Google Reader, frankly. That, however, is my consumer voice speaking.

When I switch hats to my blogging role, I realize the massive impact this event can have on readership.

So I want to very earnestly ask you, my dear reader, to check and insure that you are not going to be one of the many who have put off making the big switch from Google Reader to another blog—and news—reading device until it is too late.

I’d really miss you if you were…

Well, I suppose true confessions are in order here. I, too, was one among the many procrastinators. Only last night did I make the switch.

And, just in case my inept computer skills did me wrong on that switch, I overdid it and signed up for not one but two different readers. On my iPad, I chose to download the FlipBoard app. For my desktop (yes, the dinosaur clunker!) I went with Feedly.

If you are still casting about for an alternate reader, check out this list of clickable suggestions I found, courtesy of the blog at Author Media.

And if you choose, as I did, to migrate to Feedly, here are some instructions to help ease the pain of unwanted change.

Just be sure to do it by June 30.

Now, here’s a word for those of you who are not only readers but writers. Consider the effect this change is going to impose on your own readership. Remember those handy gadgets you installed on your blog when you first set up shop? As of last night, when I checked what came up for those clicking to subscribe via RSS feed, Google was still offered as a main choice. Feedly and FlipBoard and all those other current choices available now? No mention.


Until these new options integrate themselves into the mainstream of gadgets to be handily placed on our blogs, you may as well take the offensive and plunk down the appropriate buttons on your own cyber-property.

I like what Beverly McGowan Norman posted on her blog, Roots, Branches and a Few Nuts, yesterday: a link to Feedly’s instructions on how to add a widget to your own blog. That way, subscribers can simply click the link that says, “Follow on Feedly.”

One of the beauties of blogging is witnessing the gathering of a community of like-minded readers around any particular blog. I’ve certainly enjoyed interacting with the circle of readers who’ve gathered here. To think that any of us would be “lost” owing to a third party’s decision to disconnect its service is rather sad. I just don’t want it to happen to you. I certainly would miss your company—and your input! Whether you are one of those faithful daily participants here at A Family Tapestry or a more occasional reader, I hope this message finds you before we turn the calendar page on another month.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

High Time You Joined a Society

Having just attended a regional conference (and been lusting after a national one looming on the horizon), my mind naturally gravitates to the administrative benefits of being associated with genealogy groups, be they national or local in scope.

“Why is that?” you may ask.

There are several reasons: 
  • Educational opportunities
  • Research resources
  • Collaborative effort
  • Networking benefits

Before examining these, let’s remember what’s been happening in the family history research world over the last few decades.

Yes. I said decades.

If you have been one of those lonely researching souls sequestered in a dusty corner of an archival institution or library, cranking away at a microfilm reading machine, you understand what I mean: we don’t do that sort of work much any more.

Now, we sequester ourselves in the comforts of our own homes, where we can perform many of those solitary searches online.

Somehow, crossing the midst of that digital divide, we’ve retreated farther and farther from any inclination to get out and share our research trials, tribulations, and even victories, with others, face to face.

Becoming involved in a genealogy organization, whether local or regional, helps counter that tendency—and gives us a much needed break from the monotony of the solitude. It also gives us a chance to “Give Back”—the more experienced genealogists helping the novice researchers—and pass along techniques to the next generation.

Besides these altruistic ideals, let’s take a closer look at those practical reasons I mentioned above.

Educational Opportunities

Though I’d like to think I know everything, I admit I sometimes fall short of the mark. I suspect you feel the same way about your genealogical research, too. Having a local genealogical society to resort to for those training needs can make all the difference.

The benefit of groups is in the power to aggregate resources, and educational opportunity is one such resource. While you could spend a fortune flitting from state to state, chasing all the training sessions offered by other societies, by joining—or forming—one of your own, you benefit from the collective power of the local group to attract and feature effective trainers who can speak to the research needs of your organization.

With a local group, instead of merely being a passive learner just there to soak up whatever opportunities stumble across your path, you can take an active hand in shaping your own future educational opportunities. Groups are small enough to accept—more than that, welcome—your input, yet large enough to convert best-laid plans into action.

By joining together with local or regional groups, you can meet and discover others who share your research interests, and together seek out learning opportunities that will benefit the larger community.

At the same time, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that the knowledge you have already gained may be just the technique or facet someone else in the group could benefit from learning—and voilĂ !—you may find yourself becoming an instructor, too.

Research Resources

The power of groups is in what they can achieve by putting their minds together and tackling problems.

One such longstanding problem for the genealogical researcher has always been accessing appropriate resources.

In a group such as a genealogical society, members can determine which resources they can make available to their local community. Genealogy societies become preservers of history and advocates for the family history saga of their own community’s roots. Many local genealogical societies see this as part of their mission in two ways:
  • Assembling a collection of books and documents pertinent to the needs of their members as well as the heritage of their community
  • Preserving documents and even publishing books reflecting historic records of the people and places within their geographic area

Some societies have assembled impressive collections of books, manuscripts and other collectibles not commonly accessible to researchers elsewhere. I know my own local society has worked on such projects since their inception nearly half a century ago. I’m certainly grateful to another such society—the San Mateo County Genealogical Society in Redwood City, California—for the material I’ve found in their collection when working on some of my own projects.

I rather suspect that respected libraries such as the Allen County Public Library started their genealogical collection in much the same way as many county societies have done. Whether we realize it or not, there are many such groups dotting the archival landscape of our continent, which year after year continue to focus on achieving the goal of providing excellent research resources.

Collaborative Effort

We talk often about the power of groups to achieve what individuals would be hard-pressed to accomplish on their own. Past generations might have expressed that concept through the saying, “Many hands make light work.”

Now, the buzz word is “Crowdsourcing.”

Either way, it reflects something so many of us have intuitively realized: we get so much more done if we come together as a single-minded group with a goal.

If your interest—and, unfortunately, your “brick wall”—is, say, Eastern European ancestry, why sit in your kitchen and bemoan the lack of online resources? Get in touch with fellow group members at your community’s genealogical society, and form an interest group.

Evidently, someone already has done something like that. Witness the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International out of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Or the Canadian organization, Eastern European Genealogical Society in Winnipeg, Manitoba. How do you suppose they got started?

The point is, even if there isn’t already a special interest group tailored to your research needs, every group started with a few people energized with a mission. If there are two of you with a desire to research the same area, you can share your passion with others and multiply your effort and your resources.

Networking Benefits

Networking opportunities can be among the most useful tools in the researcher’s toolbox. People—and the relationships they share—are not only part and parcel of those families we cherish so much, but are the very essence fueling the success of our research projects. When we connect with others, there is an unaccountable synergy that can supercharge our efforts.

The key is finding those others.

The meet-and-greet aspect of local associations (amplified, of course, in larger regional groups and especially in national venues) allows us to find out who else is out there, and more importantly, who else is seeking the same answers we’d love to find.

When we take the time to come together in groups of mutual interest, we give ourselves the chance to find out how our hidden puzzle pieces fit the parts of others’ research puzzles.

Sometimes, that can directly impact our own work.

Other times, this connecting becomes a game of “I Have, I Need.” Sometimes, we have something others could use—if only they knew we had it. Other times, if we just speak up about our own research needs, someone will get the chance to hear and make a new connection.

It’s been over a year since I joined my own county’s genealogical society. Just the other evening, our group gathered for our annual potluck dinner. After the meal, it’s a tradition for each member present to share a story about his or her favorite ancestor. Some of the stories are humorous, some incredible. Some become show-and-tell with artifacts and photographs passed around the circle.

During that time, we learn a lot about the history of this town and county we call home. You can just tell the enthusiasm radiating from some of the newer researchers in the amazement over what they’ve discovered about a family member in the past year. We share a few laughs about ridiculous situations recounted by descendants. And shake our heads in incredulity at some of the stories about places we pass by on a daily basis.

No matter whether the weather cooperates or not, the potluck menu accommodates us or not—everyone comes away from this occasion satisfied by the chance to gather together and share our enthusiasm for something we are all passionate about.

And that, really, becomes my reminder that it is good for us to keep gathering together.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Conferences Still Count

Exactly two weeks ago today, my husband and I drove back down our own driveway after two back-to-back trips. It was wonderful to be home.

We had flown, first, to Texas, to visit family in Dallas, and reunite with high school friends in Houston. After a brief stop at home, on the second trip, we drove to Burbank to attend the 2013 Jamboree, hosted by the Southern California Genealogical Society.

You know the routine following trips like that. After unpacking luggage, washing the inevitable piles of laundry, and reconnecting with obligations left on the home front, I still had one matter to attend to: re-gathering all the thoughts prompted by the lively conference in Burbank.

I still need to do that. In those two weeks that just flew by, life happened. Yet if I don’t recapture those ideas sparked by Jamboree 2013 now, I’ll forever lose the benefit of my investment.

So, this week, I want to use this platform here to share with you some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head ever since we drove back home two weeks ago.

First, I want to say to you: if you have not had the opportunity to attend a genealogy conference—be it national, regional, or even a local event—please avail yourself of the opportunity. While I’ve attended many conferences throughout my work life (and, I might add, in my homeschooling life, too), I hadn’t previously taken the chance to attend a genealogy-focused event. I was not disappointed with my first foray into this arena.

There are several reasons attendance at a live event can be beneficial. Those reasons fall into three categories addressing the spectrum of researchers’ needs:
  • Informing the inquirer
  • Equipping the effort
  • Connecting with like-minded others

Informing the Inquirer

No matter how long you have been working away at this research thing, there is always something new you can learn. I won’t tell you how long I’ve been “doing genealogy”—but considering I’ve already told you I was born wanting to research, suffice it to say it’s been a long time.

I still have a lot to learn.

Some conferences assemble world-class speakers to serve as attendees’ resources for the few days of their event. What a fantastic opportunity!

Granted, some conference classes are dialed down to the beginner level, while others seem to be ramped up over the heads of the average researcher, directed at the professional. Carefully choosing your own niche and planning ahead of time to pursue classes tailored to your own learning goals will help garner the best overall learning experience.

What I value most about learning opportunities such as these is that hearing others’ presentations sparks ideas in my own mind. It becomes a connect-the-dots experience for me: if the speaker applied a technique to his or her own research, then perhaps I can modify it to resolve my own research challenge.

Better yet, if I’m unsure of such an application, in a live event such as a conference, I can take the opportunity to ask questions. In some settings, you can ask those questions right in class. Other times, questions and comments can be exchanged immediately after the learning session. And in an ongoing event such as a conference, there are always those opportunities to brooch the subject in between sessions, too—or at the evening banquet, or even in a chance meeting in the hallway or on the elevator.

Can’t do that quite so easily in a webinar.

Equipping the Effort

Many conference venues also include an exhibit hall: a place to congregate vendors addressing the needs of a specific audience such as ours.

This is the golden opportunity to do some comparison shopping. Like your genealogy program, but hear the upgrade isn’t what customers were hoping for? Ask the rep at the company’s booth. Want to check out two programs, side by side? It’s an easy matter of walking from one booth to another in the same—admittedly large—room.

It’s also the place for putting real names and faces to those impersonal corporate logos, and getting to know some of the people that make your favorite genealogy-related company the kind of service that it is. At SCGS2013, I enjoyed hearing “Ancestry Anne” Mitchell teach a session, and got to chat with author Lisa Alzo (who is soon coming out with another book). None other than Bennett Greenspan, himself, assisted me in getting my brother’s Y-DNA test completed at Family Tree DNA. And a real, live person—rather than a computer bot online—helped me resolve a minor glitch in my GenealogyBank subscription.

For those who still believe in a lifelong love affair with books—those real ones with pages you can turn while curled up in a cozy, overstuffed chair—the exhibit hall was chock full of books for sale—a bibliophile’s haven.

Connecting the Like-Minded

For me, this is the real reason for going to conferences. Genealogical research can be such a solitary effort. Face it: cranking microfilm readers—or their virtual-reality equivalents—is not the stuff of wild weekend parties. Reading the minutiae of dusty volumes—in archives stocked with booby-trapped echo chambers, complete with automatically-shushing librarians—is not the kind of outing for which your friends are clamoring to tag along.

No matter how much you love choking on the dust of centuries-old pages, there comes a time when you really need to return to the land of the living and debrief. A therapeutic talk with a small group of equally-possessed fanatics may be just the thing you’ve been needing.

Conferences are ready-made filtering systems. They are geared to sift through the general public and delivering to you—the attendee—like-minded folk with the precise combination of subject matter knowledge and personal devotion guaranteed to avoid the “my eyes glaze over” reaction your uninitiated friends and relatives send you on a regular basis.

In other words, it’s so easy to find people who click. Who relate (well, on an intellectual basis—though don’t discount the flesh-and-blood variety). Who can join in the conversation.

Come on in, the networking’s fine!

Catching the Latest

While it’s too late to join in the Jamboree out west here, there’s always next year. The Burbank Marriott is slated to host the event again on June 6 through 8, 2014.

But why wait that long? In just a few short weeks, the Federation of Genealogical Societies will host its own national conference at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The coincidental proximity to the Allen County Public Library and its coveted genealogical collection is not to be overlooked.

If the FGS' August 21 through 24 dates don’t fit nicely in your Daytimer, there are a host of other regional meetings that should satisfy your learning and networking purposes just fine. If you’re not sure what’s going on in the genealogical speaking circuit, just check out the listings at Conference Keeper to keep informed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Since You Mentioned It, Iggy…

I know. I said it was over. I was done. The whole thing was finished.


I changed my mind.

Mostly, it was in reading over all your comments from the last few days while I’ve been away from this blog, concentrating on those family issues I mentioned a while back. Since Iggy (blogger Intense Guy) had provided the identity of Bill Bean’s boat—including a possible working date—and had wondered about who the two boys in the picture might have been, I remembered I did have some other pictures of two boys.

At least, I think these are the same two boys.

In one case, the boys were obviously at Bill Bean’s property, since you can see the very same fence line as appeared in the background of a photo of Bill’s wife Ellen and an unidentified couple.

Well, what’s one more day, I figure. Sure, I’ll pull out those two extra photographs of the boys I think might be the same as those on Bill’s boat.

My only problem is that, while the tall, lanky, dark-haired boy does look a lot like Bill’s grand-nephew Greg might have looked at that age, I’m not entirely sure we have a confirmed match. Certainly, the elongated appearance of this boy calls to mind the Marfan syndrome which affected Greg’s appearance—but keep in mind that Greg had another cousin (on the Woodworth side, whom I haven’t met) who also bore that affliction.

Because of that, I had originally supposed that this boy might have been Bill’s nephew Earle himself, rather than Earle’s son. But with Iggy’s dating of the boat at no farther back than 1956, that leaves Earle out of the picture entirely, as he passed away in 1955.

Yet, exploring the match between these photographs and a school photograph of Greg in 1962 shows the minor discrepancies in appearance in the two sets of pictures. Admittedly, the outdoor pictures evoke that squint-in-the-sunlight response, making it hard to compare face with face. But there are other details that don’t seem to line up perfectly.

Of course, that still leaves the other boy unidentified. I have no clue who that might be.

At this point, however, you can be sure I am not going to pursue this further. Unless a long-lost cousin bursts immediately forth from my computer screen, consider this the last touch on the Bean series.


No, I mean it this time. Really.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Family Fatigue

There comes a point in every project when it appears the work could go on, but—and this is the sticking point—the will to do so is flagging.

Since starting this series on January 4, I’ve written about a family I described as “mostly the same as your families—except some ways.”

Those “some ways” included immigration from Maine around the Horn to California; chasing the Gold Rush, away from family back in Wisconsin; living with injuries causing blindness—and in one case, deafness too—and getting in on the leading edge of sales for that latest innovation, automobiles.

It’s been an enjoyable project, this memory lane journey through the Bean family history. Well…for the most part. Sometimes, it touches home too closely, but we all need to do something like that from time to time.

The hard part is knowing that I have, literally, over a hundred photographs still screaming at me from inside Bill Bean’s box of collected memories. Dare I say the people they represent still want their stories told?

man in business suit hat glasses standing in front of multi story building in 1930s

Like this self-possessed businessman, decked in his three-piece suit and hat, perhaps posing in front of the very building in which he has built his reputation—who is he? It’s hard to admit I’ll probably never know.

Or take this young woman with wavy dark hair flowing behind her in the wind: will her relatives ever find this picture of her youth? I can imagine—actually, I’ve been witness to this very scenario, myself—a grandmother incapacitated in a convalescent hospital, whose aides see her only as a “Crabbit Old Woman” and can’t look beyond the face they see now to the person she always was.

young woman standing outdoors with puppy

Of course, I could have done more research. There is a world of online resources for historic newspapers, and Bill Bean’s name alone could yield many more stories. I still owe myself another research trip to the Bay area to follow up on Bill’s twin brother Sam’s own story, too.

However, sometimes family history research fatigue sets in, and the project no longer seems as fresh as it once did.

Knowing that, at a later date, more online resources may help me delve further into the mysteries in Bill Bean’s photograph box, I’m standing my ground now and bidding the entire Bean family—and all their potential additional stories—goodbye at this point.

It has been a heartwarming yet pensive journey for me, and I hope it was well worth the time for you as you joined me over the past several months.

We’ll head in a new direction with tomorrow’s post. But for now, we’ll give ourselves permission to lay this family’s stories down to rest.

After all, isn’t that the best antidote to fatigue?  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Paper Relations

Ellen Bean
Before closing out this chapter on Bill Bean’s family and all the photographs he had accumulated over his rich, full life, we couldn’t go on without stopping one last time to share some pictures of his wife, Ellen.

As I mentioned toward the beginning of this series, Ellen was someone I had never met and of whom I only knew the slightest bit. Even then, my memories of those shared stories might turn out to be suspect, once that research on her family line gets more completely documented.

Thankfully, in the process of digging through the Bean family story, I was able to discover Ellen’s maiden name, and at least a slight bit of information on her own roots.

Ellen Bean in California with relatives or friends

As you may recall, Ellen was born to two Swedish immigrants, John W. and Jennie S. Carlson Danielson. While her parents were born in Sweden, Ellen herself was born in California, as was her brother, Carl Arthur Danielson.

Ellen was evidently a bit older than Bill, having been born in February of 1894 to Bill’s arrival in March of 1896. Though I believe her family had settled around the Fresno-area farming communities, Ellen had somehow met her Bay Area intended and actually exchanged wedding vows with Bill in his native Redwood City in 1929.

Ellen Bean

For whatever reasons, Ellen and Bill entered into marriage later in life than many of that era—he had just turned thirty three only a few days earlier—and yet, they saw their marriage come to a close relatively early. Only five days after their thirty first anniversary, Ellen passed away in Riverside County, California.

Perhaps sixty six years was a respectable age to have attained in those days. Whether the end came as a surprise or as a welcome relief from life’s painful final chapter, that small dash representing the span between Ellen’s birth and her death was thankfully illustrated by some of those unlabeled photographs Bill left behind.

Providing a peek at the little pleasures that made life special for Ellen, these pictures preserve for us a glimpse into the personality and preferences of someone we’d otherwise never have known.

Ellen Bean on back deck at home in California

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Remembering Golden Years

William Bean
As the more recent chapters of a family’s history unfold themselves, the widespread use of photography enables us as researchers to catch ample glimpses of the everyday lives of these former generations. No longer must we surmise daily routines from stiff formal portraits, carefully composed.

For today and the next few posts, I’ll share the last of the photographs from this series from the collection of Bill Bean’s photographs. While I’ve sifted through that box of pictures dozens of times, no new clues are finding their way to my attention. It is now simply time to close out this chapter and move on to another family’s story. What’s left behind in that photograph box is left.

William Bean
Most of today’s grouping of photos are matched, based once again on style of borders of the prints. These pictures are tiny: measuring two and three quarter inches square.

Today’s group features Bill Bean in his older years—most likely an active retirement, though I can’t say he ever really laid down all his business projects entirely. His ever-faithful companion, a brown-and-white hunting dog, is featured with him in two of today’s shots. How I wish I knew that dog’s name. Judging by the many pictures in which the dog is featured, he was a beloved pet.

I’m not sure where these photographs were taken. All outdoors, they provide a peek into the life—and even personality—of the man.

Bill Bean
Some of the photographs in Bill’s collection still have me wondering—like this one of him standing alone—or is that some sort of critter perched on his shoulder? The picture, small and blurry, makes it hard to see. Up close, though, there seems to be a spray of feathers or something similar by his arm. Or could that just be an illusion, a strange juxtaposition of something from the background?

Then there are other pictures where I can clearly tell that yes, these are not fish

William Bean at unidentified lake most likely in California

Whether on land or in the water, in the mountains or in the desert, Bill seemed to live a full life. In his later years, free to enjoy more of the blessings of his material success, he evidently was able to share some of those good times with the next generations—whoever those young people might have been—even though he and Ellen had no children of their own.

William Bean

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Secret Hideaways

Some of the photographs we inherit from our now-long-gone relatives are of the non-labeled type maddeningly portraying people we are sure must be family members. We agonize over such pictures, wishing to know which faces might match the names from our research database—those names we already know too well.

Some snapshots, however, capture the sights from our relatives’ past, constructing for us a tale of the places they’ve been. Usually, we can guess—or, more happily, even infer—identities of such locations, based on our knowledge of the whereabouts of our ancestors.

In the case of Bill Bean, however, the act of guessing may not come remotely near the fact of the matter. In his later years, Bill—along with his wife, Ellen, of course—was quite the traveler.

Such is most likely the case with one picture in Bill Bean’s collection of unmarked photographs. Set in a geography I can’t quite place, the subject of the composition is not Bill, not his wife, not even “natives” of the area he was visiting.

The subject is a building.

Set on what appears to be a sandbar at the edge of a lake perched near bald hilltops, the building looks like a hotel—all except for one distinguishing detail: no people. Oh, there may be a speck or two on this photograph that might be human, but the building is conspicuously void of the throngs of people one might assume would accompany a building of this size.

Another surprise: the building seems to lack any of the customary signage of such a commercial enterprise. What kind of building is this? And why was Bill there to take its picture?

Granted, my eyes have already failed the test of determining telltale clues. I’ve already mistaken geese for fish, not to mention a mother-and-daughter duo for twin teenagers.

So perhaps I had better leave well enough alone, and leave it to you: what do you think? Is this a remote mountain hideaway? An exclusive resort of a bygone era? A wealthy recluse’s compound?

You may be noticing my romantic muse is getting carried away with itself.

Please rescue my runaway imagination and weigh in on the verdict: where is this place, anyhow?!

possible hotel by lake in mountains from Bill Bean photo collection

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Since last Saturday, when I had mentioned struggling with some family health issues, things had moved from crisis status to a more stable situation—but last night, well, let’s just say it was a difficult night.

Difficult enough to make me lose all ability to think. Or write.

Considering how therapeutic the writing task can actually be for me, that is saying quite a bit. But that’s the way it was. I didn’t want to not write. But I couldn’t actually sit down and write.

So I chose a different approach. I reached into what seems to be the bottomless pit of unidentified family memorabilia in Bill Bean’s box of photographs, and pulled out one that makes me smile.

I hadn’t planned to ever post this picture—mainly because I have absolutely no clue who two of these people are. And, of course, there is no label on the reverse.

Well, that is not entirely true. As it turns out, the photograph, which was once pasted into an album, then subsequently torn out, has a layer of paper obliterating all but two letters of a handwritten identification.

All that’s left me now are the first two letters: “No—”

The woman in the middle I can safely say is Bill’s sister, Leona Bean Grant. As for her smiling young escorts, I have absolutely no idea of their identity.

While I am no expert at dating cars by the changes in a model’s appearance over the years, at least that is not the only clue to rely on in this photograph. I can guess that the picture was taken in the 1960s, judging by the hair style of the two women.

Although these two strike me as possibly being twins, they are likely just sisters of a more average variety.

At any rate, they make me smile.

And I could use something like that right now…

unidentified young women with 1960s hairstyles with Leona Grant of Alameda CA in front of car in driveway

Monday, June 17, 2013

Someone Might Want This Picture

It’s the rare photograph, from among the collected odds and ends saved by Bill Bean, that managed to include any identifying labels. Today’s picture includes just enough to make things frustrating.

Clearly, the first line written on the reverse of this composition states, “Leo Harrington.” The last line adds, “Stanford U”—presumably referring to the well-known college in Palo Alto, the town where Bill, himself, grew up.

If that were all that was included in the label, this might have been a straightforward search. There does happen to be a Leo W. Harrington listed in a directory of Stanford students ( subscribers can view the directory here)—the only drawback being that the directory dates from 1914. Assuming that this Leo were born the same year as Bill Bean—1896—that would mean he was a freshman at Stanford University at that point. Perhaps Leo and Bill were childhood friends?

There is, however, a glitch. The label on the back includes one more word. On a line of its own, another word is inserted: “Tonopal.”

photograph label

What is that supposed to mean? Is this a picture of a man named Leo H. Tonopal? Hardly. At least, not according to records I could find on A search for that surname draws a blank.

And don’t suppose that is the name of Leo’s residence hall. According to the directory, the men’s dorm was known as Encina.

Nor is it the name of the street pictured behind this mystery gentleman. There is no street by that name in Palo Alto.

At this point, unless the real Leo Harrington—or one of his descendants—stands up and claims this picture, “Tonopal” will just have to remain an enigma.

Leo Harrington standing in front of palm tree near canal or waterway

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Honoring Fathers

If you live anywhere in the North American continent, this is the Sunday in which you will most likely celebrate Father’s Day. While it is quite fitting to acknowledge the indispensible role of fathers in family life, however, I say “most likely” because not everyone will actually be celebrating this occasion.

Some, like both my husband and myself, no longer have their father present to regale over dinner or at a barbecue, or pamper with all the traditional masculine gifts.

It’s for this reason that I prefer to call this Fathers’ Day: a day to honor all our fathers. Not just our dad. But his dad, and his dad—as far back up the line as we can remember.

While I have yet to conquer the insurmountable brick wall of my own father’s line, I can take a moment here to honor my husband’s father and his paternal ancestors.

Francis X Stevens
You’ve already met my father-in-law, Frank—the one who wrote all those letters home from his assigned station in the Pacific during World War II. Indirectly, as that story unfolded, you also got to know a bit about Frank’s father, Will.

I have yet to bring you back through all the stories about Will’s younger days in his native Fort Wayne, Indiana—or his father’s escapades while serving on the police force of that city. Introducing you to more of the story of Officer John Kelly Stevens is something I hope to accomplish in the near future—and at the same time, honor him for his role in shaping my husband in his own career choices and outlook today.

There is yet one more generation that we are aware of in this particular Stevens family—one which I’ve found very little about, so far. I know one thing, though, for which we are grateful: John Kelly Stevens’ father—also named John—was the one who braved the cross-Atlantic trip to emigrate from his home in County Mayo to a new start in America. His trip, made during the era of the devastating Irish famine, must have been at great cost and great risk. Yet, if he hadn’t faced up to that challenge, how different life would have been for subsequent generations—if he would even have lived to pass the benefits along.

When we honor today’s fathers—both those who currently have the responsibility of raising little ones, and those whose parenting duties are now completed—we are quite conscious of the imprint these fathers leave upon their children’s future. Just as the choices made by our great-great-grandfathers have trickled down to our times and ultimately have shaped us, today’s fathers are making an impact on future generations through the actions they take with their own children. While we hope what we do on behalf of our children will be positive—though we all make mistakes—one of the most valuable gifts we can leave the next generation is a sense of the heritage they are receiving not just from their father, but from a long line of traditions, choices, and abilities we’ve inherited from all of our fathers.

Happy Fathers Day. May it become an inspiration to pass along the legacy of all your fathers.

John Stevens 1851 Declaration of Intent to become American citizen in Lafayette Indiana

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