Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Learning to Answer Your Own Questions

I am an education renegade. If you had known I am an advocate of homeschooling, you might have suspected that. It was probably in my DNA to hold the education system at arm's length, but I still blame my mother—a public school teacher who was horrified at what she saw as the leftovers of a malfunctioning ideology. I cut my teeth on her diatribes about classroom vignettes. Reading, decades later, The Underground History of American Education hardly surprised me.

I prefer, instead, to opt for independent discovery. Individual learning. An inquiring mind. When I discovered the word "autodidact," I fell in love with it.

So, what's the matter with me now? Here I am, teaching beginning genealogy classes, and the more questions my students toss at their devoted teacher, the more I love it. Why? Because I get to talk even more, answering those questions.

Instead, I need to remember my educational roots. When students ask me where to find the answers to their genealogical research questions, I need to remember to prompt them to use the tools I've already shown them to find the answers for themselves.

I can't believe I just now woke up to that solution. What aileth me?

Just as the Internet has brought us myriad opportunities to research our family history, it has also provided us the tools with which to delve deeper in our quest to find just one generation more. Remember Google? Why is it that we can use "Dr. Google," as my college-age daughter prefers to call it, when we are looking up the URL for our favorite store or restaurant, but it doesn't even come to mind when we are wondering whether we can access, say, old newspapers in Manitoba?

Likewise, when contemplating what life might have been like in our ancestors' hometown in Illinois—or Ireland—why not stop by Wikipedia? For a brief introduction to topics, Wikipedia is a good start. For a more specialized bird's-eye view of a genealogical topic, another "wiki" can come to our rescue: the wiki at

I am surprised at how many people know about another resource for self-directed genealogical learning—Cyndi's List—and yet, don't use it. "It's too big," I hear people whine. While that may be true—hey, that's the Big Box of one-stop genealogical resources—it still is a way to inform yourself about any topic. For my class members wondering how they can find resources about their great-grandparents' country of origin, taking a spin through the lists of lists at Cyndi's List is well worth the time. You just have to do it.

And remember those old forums? Yeah, they're so "nineties." But they are still pertinent. I'm not above posting my query on a message board at Ancestry or Rootsweb, or even searching through the old posts at GenForum, now that it's been brought back to life. That's how I knew, years ago, about the Manitoba newspaper resources blogger Gail Dever just stumbled upon a couple days ago.

On the flip side, what I find today might be something you found years ago, too. That's why another resource—as Gail discovered—is the world of Facebook pages devoted to genealogical research. Between specific interest groups and genealogical societies, social media—whether at Facebook or Google+ or through lists posted by participants at Twitter—is turning into a go-to place to ask your family history questions, as well.

There are so many more resources to help with your research questions that I couldn't possibly post them all here. But you get the idea. There are tools you can use. All you have to do is ask the question. As we all know by now, the answer is out there. Somewhere.

Above: "Bicycling," 1887 watercolor by Montreal native, Henry Sandham; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Younger Outlook

If you were to attend a local genealogical society's meeting, you would gather, from what you saw, that genealogy was squarely in the domain of the active-retired population.

Perhaps you would be right. However, signs from the thriving online world of genealogy blogging, as well as through establishment of organizations such as The NextGen Genealogy Network, may reveal a different scenario. Apparently, there are genealogists out there—active, intent on their research, fully engaged in the process and a long, long way from retirement age. Though they may not be found in your local genealogical society meeting, they are quite visible in social media outlets, and just as vocal on the blogging scene.

And yet, the question keeps getting asked: "How do we expand to include the youth?"

I guess I got struck with the opposite reaction when I read the article I referred to in yesterday's post. In my mind, it sorta morphed into "Ten Signs Your CEO Genealogy Society Has an Outdated View of Marketing Building Its Membership."

That question, "How do we expand to include the youth?" incorporated into someone else's blog post, ended up being almost seen as inflammatory by some. I can understand why, but it helps to read the responses posted online in other (young) genealogists' blogs, like Elyse Doerflinger's incredulous question, "Young People Aren't Interested in Genealogy?" She observed that while "each person does genealogy and family history research for a different reason" and that each person may have a different end goal for becoming involved in genealogy,
most people from my generation want to discover a family story and tell it—whether that be in a blog, in a book, in a video, whatever.  Because most people feel the best connection to their past when the names and dates become more meaningful with story.

Don't you find yourself agreeing with that statement? In my opinion, that doesn't sound much different than the reasons "older" people give for engaging in family history research. In other words, perhaps we are too focused on labeling a problem as one based on age—the "generation gap"—rather than seeing it in more pragmatic terms. Our reasons for doing research may be what bind us together, rather than differentiating us.

The way we approach coming together to share our common passion, however, may be what is at the crux of our differences. And yet, those varying modes could very well be the key to the synergy allowing us to make progress as genealogical organizations, working together toward a sustained future.

Though I find something vaguely grating about its tone, the blog article posted at the beginning of this month in Young & Savvy Genealogists re-imagines our genealogical societies, set in the future.

Stop yourself before you utter those words, "Well, maybe that's because you are old," and realize we really need to let go of that concept. We've learned in the world of work to engage in communication based not on labels ("young" or "old") but on explanation of observations about behavior. Putting things in terms of beneficial versus non-beneficial actions would be a more productive re-conceptualization of this dialog.

I find framing any dispute in terms of age to be wearying. Truth be told, I shy away from revealing my own age, simply because I hate to be labeled and put in a box. Age really is a mindset. I love the connections granted to us in this current decade by social media, and the immense satisfaction of instantaneous access to mounds of information at the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger on a touchscreen. I love thinking about the possibilities such technological wonders afford us and dream about how I can better apply these resources. My natural proclivity would be to hang with those much younger than my age cohorts, because that is exactly what they find interesting, too.

But in saying that, I generalize and stereotype. And really, it's possible that "not technology savvy" can be said for some "younger" people by some old-and-hip social media junkies. It really comes down to personal interest. Not the number of candles on your birthday cake.

While the succession-planning necessity facing each of our societies will not go away, it troubles me when a genealogist puts this "age" quandary in the terms of "if I don't like it, I'll take my toys and go home." And yet, that is exactly how this analysis comes off. Again, from Young & Savvy Genealogist:
Historical and genealogical societies of the future understand that reaching my generation is crucial to their survival. Embracing new technology means bringing us into their organization by default. The environment the society creates by the activities they engage in will determine if we will choose to stay.
Does technology remain the monopoly of the "young"? Can no one do technology without operating on their terms—and theirs, alone? I find a hard bargain driven by a demanding negotiator to be the very opposite of the grace needed for multiple parties to come to peaceful agreement. There is certainly a better way to arrive at rapprochement between these two camps.

Since we cannot choose our age any more than we can change our skin color, perhaps in seeking a solution, we can start by putting things in terms of behaviors that can be changed. Ironically, in the very article that I started off by mentioning, the author answered his own question by reflecting on the common denominator which attracts people—"young" or "old"—to genealogy (emphasis added is mine):
You cannot simply sell genealogy as a pastime or a fun activity competing with the entertainment industry; you have to communicate a sense of passion for the entire concept of learning about families. Rather than admonish people about their duty to preserve their ancestors, they need to have some idea that the activity will benefit them personally. Some of us will choose to do research and be involved in genealogical projects when there are many other equally as valuable choices, but we cannot expect others to see the value of doing research without providing an emotional connection between the activity and an increase of self awareness and self esteem.
While that may be the common denominator attracting people of all ages to genealogy, it is not necessarily the same thing as what will draw all people to participate in a genealogical society. Yet, that too will have its draw. The challenge is to determine what that draw might be. The pitfall would be to get drawn into doubtful disputations laced with labels. The task must be all about seeking to identify motivations and behaviors around which we can build collective action for mutually-held purposes.

In leading our genealogical organizations through the changes they must face to become relevant in changing times, we can't couch the dialog in terms of age. For our survival, we need to evaluate the situation we face in terms of actionable goals, and address it through all the tools currently available to us and the skills we can bring together as an eclectic team spanning a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. 

Above: "Moonlight," 1874 watercolor and gouache on paper by American landscape painter Winslow Homer; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Learning From
the Other Side of the Fence

The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but even if we can't cross that barrier to get a nibble of the coveted stuff, we can still benefit from what cross-applies to our own discipline.

The other day I was reading something about marketing from a well-known online business resource—I told you I was an eclectic reader—when it dawned on me how pertinent that article was to our own experience in running local genealogical societies. Of course, it helped that the article was recommended by someone known to genealogists—Caroline Pointer in her Twitter stream—so maybe that was why I found it so easy to cross over from the marketing lingo to thoughts of improving our local genealogical society's efforts.

The article—10 Signs Your CEO Has an Outdated View of Marketing—appeared last Friday in HubSpot. (Hmmm...what was it about that title that immediately made my mind fly to thoughts of what younger genealogists say about genealogical societies? Some ideas I'll continue with, tomorrow.)

While I won't take the time here to rehash what HubSpot's blogger Nataly Kelly mentioned, here are a few thoughts prompted by taking the time to read it—applied specifically to updating and further developing our local genealogical society.

Who are you as a Society? We can't just presume all genealogical societies are alike. While, on the face of it, it may seem all societies focus on the same issue—genealogy, of course—there are a thousand approaches to representing that interest. More than that, I'm firmly convinced each society comes with its own personality. Granted, that personality will be a spin-off from who sits on the board, but it also manifests in which potential members end up being attracted to the society and motivated enough to join. Which closely aligns with the next question:

What is your Society's value proposition? If we think of our society's draw not so much as a beacon beckoning lost ships adrift at sea, but as a dialog of peers holding mutual interests, we see what we have to offer more as a process of entering into a partnership for mutually beneficial reasons. If we can't articulate what it is we are willing to provide, how will people with specific interests find us as potential partners? If we can't zero in on what that potential constituency is seeking, how can we address that perceived need?

What problems do you solve for your "customer"? Being able to put into plain language what your society can do for potential members appears self-evident from the name of most societies. "Your County's Genealogical Society" says it all, doesn't it? However, putting yourself in the shoes of someone considering becoming part of your organization may open your eyes to different ways to explain your mission. What does someone from the outside, looking in, expect as a satisfactory answer when wondering whether to commit to membership? I'll guarantee the answer they're seeking doesn't include the lingo we're accustomed to parroting on the inside. Clearly detailing what it is we're offering helps people decide whether to opt in.

What message does it take to build your "brand"? While words like "brand" don't seem to fit the profile of a nonprofit organization, genealogical societies do, in fact, represent their own kind of brand. Rather than thinking that all genealogical societies come with the same generic label, we need to realize what my society offers may be quite different than yours. The specific services offered, the benefits derived from them, and the way all that is packaged and experienced by the potential member—or even current members!—becomes a unique experience not replicated elsewhere. When we think of how much local memberships have fallen off since the introduction of online genealogical resources—and subsequently, how that attendance level may have risen, once customers realized there is something to be said for face-to-face interaction that can't be met via online research—the essence we are sensing is an aspect of branding. It's that irreplaceable something that brings customers back to say, "I choose you—again!"

How are you interconnected? This question has three components: interconnectivity with your members, with the surrounding community, and with other genealogical organizations. No organization can exist in a vacuum. It's my contention that the more we partner with others to achieve mutual goals, the more robust our organization becomes. We need to see our members as more than just those people who show up for monthly meetings; they, too, have resources which, shared, may build our organization. Rather than exist as an island surrounded by our city or county, when we seek out other organizations who share our mission, we build the kinds of win-win bonds that advance community-minded goals—and allow potential members to see the significance of our purpose. When other nearby genealogical organizations—or other community groups aligned with our mission—are willing to work together, the resultant magical synergy allows us to benefit from that value-added whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Before, we might not even have been able to afford that value-added whole.

In what ways can you build those stronger connections? This is a question for which I hope people will continue to jump in with their own input. We can all learn from each other. Every society has some bright ideas and great successes that can be replicated elsewhere. While every idea will need some customization to better craft the "fit" for our membership and our community, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Sharing ideas—through journal articles, membership in such groups as the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and through conference sessions like Jean Wilcox Hibben's facilitation of idea-sharing at Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree 2015—helps all of us adapt to changing times and challenging organizational scenarios.

Above: "A Group of Artists," 1929 painting by French post-impressionist artist Jules-Alexandre Grün; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

To Capture a Micro-History

Very few people realize, when they sit down to pen the opening line of what they consider a very private diary, how much history they will capture in the process. Yet, be they great or be they small, each one of them cannot help but reveal to us, in retrospect, passage through significant times.

I remember seeing, on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II, an offer—limited to one precious month's time—to view online, free of charge, the journals kept by Queen Victoria. The joint effort to provide this digitized gift to the public was a collaboration between the Bodleian Libraries, the Royal Archives and Pro-Quest.

The virtual doors to this national treasure opened, fittingly, on the anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth—May 24, 1819—and for the next thirty days, allowed visitors worldwide to view the remaining volumes of her journals in her own hand, as well as transcriptions of much of the rest of the collection, which at one time numbered one hundred forty one volumes.

Of course, Queen Victoria was the type of person who made history—not just recorded it. Though you may be thinking your lot in life is quite different, you, too, are recording the passing of history if you are keeping a personal record of it.

Many people, over the years and across the world, have had that compelling urge to write down their thoughts, feelings, musings and regrets over the private life they lead as they pass through the upheavals of then-current events. Though it may have been a private in the army whose account was kept, it still may become a sought-after record, many years later.

Case in point: just google the phrase, "civil war diaries" and see how many hits come up. These records of "insignificant" lives afford us, nonetheless, a valuable glimpse of the past—just exactly as it was on the ground floor of life. Is it no surprise that universities maintain collections of such material? And yet, how many of those private people started out their journaling project, intent on producing a definitive volume on the era of history through which they were so briefly passing?

I mentioned yesterday how the loss of friends or family remind us of the fleeting aspect of life, and how it reminds us to treasure our time and use it wisely. One way is to capture the details of events through which our life has passed. We never know where that path will take us—whether through plain vanilla life or mind-boggling upheaval. One established, that practice of journaling enables the subject to stick to that discipline of recording each event as it passes by. Only time will tell whether that record reveals significance in retrospect.

If you are already researching your family's history, you may be accustomed to seeking out the stories behind the ancestors you are documenting. That is not only a reminder that your own is a story that needs to be added to that collection, but a great launching pad to prompt you to write your own recollections of life. After all, someday, someone else in your family—those folks a hundred years from now who will never have met you—will wonder just exactly what kind of person you were, and what kind of life you led.

Don't keep them guessing. Give them all the delightful discoveries you wish you had stumbled upon in researching your own second great grandparents. If you are not a snail-mail advocate full of yesteryear's newsy letters, the next best approach is to keep a journal.

Above: James Abbott McNeill Whistler's "Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge," circa 1872; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Not the Energizer Bunny

Perhaps it seems I've struck a rather frenetic pace lately. I want to do it all: attend those touted genealogical institutes, advocate for our local genealogical society, read a book a day, write a book. Obviously, I can't do it all. But I want to.

It all comes down to a level of energy. I guess I'm not your young and sassy genealogist anymore. But I'm not your grandmother's genealogist, either. I guess that means I've been hung up on a post somewhere as a specimen of what could be dubbed the sandwich generation genealogist.

Or maybe it's a matter of being surrounded by a volley of somber news reports lately. After all, I just got back from the funeral of one of my husband's former co-workers—gone in a flash, right in the middle of a serene fishing trip. Or the report of a sudden heart attack striking an acquaintance during a commute between jobs—a dad of school children, suddenly gone. Even the up-and-coming professionals who haven't quite gotten to the us-four-no-more stage seem to be checking out early, as noted in news of a tragic slaying in our city lately.

Those are the kinds of messages that, translated, tell us to use our time wisely. And provide us a reminder that before we, too, become history, we need to capture our own stories and add that personal history to the collection that future family members will one day look back to, wondering just what kind of person we were in our time. It's those stories—not told in one lump, but unfolding incrementally over a lifetime—that will provide the clearest picture. And, taken bit by bit, that task will not seem as overwhelming as if it were attempted all in one sitting.

I've organized a group of members from our local genealogical society to form a writers' group. Unlike most of that type of group—an assemblage of people with many different writing goals—ours holds a singular purpose: to share our family's stories. The other night at our monthly meeting, two different members brought examples of their story collections. Both were housed in three ring binders of considerable size.

Someone asked: "How long did it take you to do that?"

Each woman had the same approach: work a little at a time, add things here and there, over years. Each bit was not a massive project, but the cumulative result represented many hours' work. The effort, spread out over a long period of time, made the end result possible—something I favor for getting an enormous job done. After all, even people who don't have a lot of energy can get a big project done. Eventually.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

From Blog to Book:
Considering the Possibilities

Here I sit, a blogger currently having just crossed the 1,600 mark, wondering what to do to preserve those posts at A Family Tapestry in a more permanent form. After all, this nearly four year and five month process has terribly inconvenienced a large number of electrons. It's time to add some felled trees in the making of this message.

In particular, I'd like to return to the story of my father-in-law, the seventeen year old Irish-American Chicagoan who couldn't get into the Navy fast enough after that unforgettable day in December, 1941. Embedded within those sixteen hundred posts, it's a story that gets lost in the forest of words.

I've been inspired by the reports of other bloggers who have done just that: convert their blog posts into book form.

I thought the posts by Jana Last were informative and beneficial, explaining why she opted to go with a company known simply as She has already shared two posts, giving her analysis of her decision process and showing the resultant product. She's promised a third post on the subject, which she is planning to share after completion of another book project.

Of course, I wanted to know everything about it, so I was hungry to find more. In addition to visiting the company's own website, I kept an eye out for other genea-bloggers posting on the subject. As it turned out, Heather Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy had posted on that very subject only three weeks before Jana had. In her case, she compared her experience with two companies: and Blog2Book.

There were other resources. Only ten days before that, another blogger had weighed in on the process. This time, it was John Tew of Filiopietism Prism, who posted pictures and a critique of his experience at Blurb.

That wasn't all. This meme-by-installment-plan had an even earlier entry, courtesy of Lynn Palermo, who went so far as to do a price comparison between three companies back in 2014.

There were more, of course, who discussed the topic as well, but I think you get the idea. Just like asking for restaurant recommendations, it's better to glean as many opinions as possible on this—one never knows when another's personal taste will be to your liking. I'm thankful for the input from the genealogy blogging community. The reasons provided for each writer's personal preferences helped me determine what I would be most likely to choose, given the description of parameters.

So now, it's my turn: time to spring for it and make that printed collection of family stories. And of course, I'm languishing in the grip of analysis paralysis. I have to know every detail. I research things to death. But if I'm going to convert these good intentions into viable Christmas gifts, now would be a good time to get busy. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Reaching Out

There is a program in our city, run by the local Chamber of Commerce, dedicated to training young up-and-coming leaders from a wide spectrum of career backgrounds. For our city, the program was dubbed Leadership Stockton. But don't think that is original with them. Fill in the blanks after the first word, Leadership, with the name of your own city, and you will likely discover the same program is being offered by your own Chamber of Commerce.

There are Leadership [fill-in-the-name-of-your-city-here] programs all over this country. If I had looked, upon our flight's arrival in Tampa last month, I'd have discovered there is a Leadership Tampa. If, instead of heading to the coast, I had traveled inland, I would have found a Leadership Omaha, for instance. Or Leadership Nashville. Wondering about a smaller town? How about Leadership Pocatello? You can almost cobble together an A through Z list of Leadership Programs—you know, from Leadership Albuquerque to Leadership Zanesville—except that Zanesville didn't join in with the meme. But at least there is a Leadership Yakima. Maybe that is close enough.

The basic idea of the program is to assemble a class of promising movers-and-shakers-to-be and take them through a series of classes providing a spectrum of the city's challenges and concerns. Leadership Pittsburgh, for instance, provides a typical list of topics their program focuses on:
Economic Development, Inclusion/Race Relations, Neighborhoods and Community Development, Local Government, Arts, Entrepreneurship, Transportation/Transit, Public Education...

And then, of course, the all inclusive last item on the list: "etc."

This, as it turns out, can make an impressive breadth of knowledge about what ails a city—and infuses participants with ideas on just what can be done, with the right know-how and will power. Which is exactly why city chambers of commerce sponsor such programs.

I pay some attention to what happens at our local program because my husband is quite vested in assisting with some of the training. Just before he left for this year's launching event—a weekend retreat in the mountains—it occurred to me to ask him something. The local program takes participants through an orientation of various community programs—everything from city government to health care to social services—but where was the inclusion of heritage? We certainly do want tomorrow's leaders to develop a healthy respect for preserving our local history—both the visible in the architecture and landmarks around us, and invisible via the significance of pioneers and founding individuals and families. How do these leadership programs present that heritage?

As it turned out—my husband followed up on that question—there is a segment in our local program that touches on heritage. Hosted at one local museum—mostly an art museum, but which includes some local history displays—one class segment gives a nod to the concept that history matters.

"But can't we have more?" was my plea. For this whiny proposal, I had two reasons. First, as a member of the board of our local genealogical society, I am—of course—enthusiastic about promoting what it is we do to preserve the local heritage through our educational outreach. But we had also just launched a First Families program jointly with the county's historical society—something we hoped would eventually grow to provide a resource informing our community of its heritage.

Nobody will know about these efforts, however, unless we speak up about them.

It's the same thing with reaching out to other organizations: find a nexus in mutual interests. Genealogical societies can find a willing audience of potential adherents to our pursuit in a number of places. Speaking about our society programs at retirees' organizations, for instance, would be a timely effort, for that is one time when people find their thoughts turning toward how to preserve their own family's stories. Likewise, since first-time parents also find themselves getting inspired to think about those family roots, offering to address groups of new moms and dads might be another ready-made source for future heritage advocates.

The more I look, the more I realize the hunger out there to learn about genealogy. Perhaps that interest is being turbo-charged by popular television programs such as the Genealogy Roadshow or Who Do You Think You Are? No matter what the inspiration, though, it certainly is worth grabbing the opportunity. I think a great deal about the notion of "passing it on"—in whatever form we can.

As for that leadership group at my city's chamber of commerce, apparently they were open to receiving more information, as well. If I can make the deadline and assemble a packet of community-wide resources for people interested in our city's heritage, I'm on.   

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Knowing How Things Got Here

When I was growing up in the New York City suburbs, a number of churches took to offering summer camp experiences for inner city kids—to vacate the city and head for the country. The idea was to allow these young people, locked in a sweltering cement jungle, the opportunity for a different point of view. Whether true or not, a popularly-voiced idea was that "some" people needed to be disabused of the notion that, say, apples came from grocery store shelves. The feeling was that city walls distorted one's perspective—not healthy for children and other living things.

Whether all that stuff about rescuing people from the notion of apples-on-grocery-store-shelves was true—or even necessary—I don't know. I do know a lot of kids who wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity got to spend at least a week out of the summer in a much more rustic setting than they were accustomed to having.

But let's think about that hypothetical apple for a minute: where did it come from? If you are reading this post from somewhere out on the plains of Iowa, for instance, you would think it ludicrous that anyone would have missed the fact that that apple most certainly came from somewhere—and not from a grocery store shelf.

Though I didn't grow up on the streets of New York—well not, at least, the cemented-in part—this illustration got more than its fair share of my thinking over the years. You see, even though I had my very own apple tree in my back yard, I still needed to think about where things come from. How they get here. And what happens to everything else when they arrive.

Perhaps that's an outgrowth of my fascination with Systems Thinking. I find those kinds of thoughts embedded in my everyday life, in the way I approach things, or see stuff.

When I teach a beginners' genealogy class, for instance, I feel the need to delve into explanations of how things got here. Have you ever thought about it? How did those documents from all sorts of governmental repositories find their way into the website? What makes a search of those documents possible? Why is it you can search for words in a document, but not in a photo of a document?

It all reminds me—this indexing thing that transforms pictures of documents into something searchable—of the clichéd René Magritte painting, "The Treachery of Images." It is a painting of a pipe, under which is written (in French, of course), "This is not a pipe."

As Magritte himself explained,
The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture, "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

Why is that painting of a pipe not a pipe? For the same reason that a picture of words is not the same thing as the words, themselves. Just because something looks like a word doesn't mean it is a word. It won't behave like a word—at least via our computers—until we package it up to behave like a word would.

In other words, that set of words on the scanned document—say, that marriage license you've spent weeks searching for—needed to be indexed. And I want my students to know that. Someone has taken the time to convert that picture of a document into a manipulable form—something useful. Something we can search.

Of course, for now, I want those beginners to have a modicum of gratefulness for those who have put in the work, making this system run the way it does. But later, I hope that gratitude converts into a sense of wanting to give back to the community. Some will do that by sharing their research. Or teaching others how to research. But hopefully, others will realize that they, too, can become one of those volunteers who have made this whole genealogical search system work the way it does: they can become indexers, too.

Above: It goes without saying that those aren't really apples in that early 17th century oil on canvas, "Still Life With Apples," by German painter Georg Flegel. (Nor is life really still.) Courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thirst For Knowledge

Perhaps all this talk of mine about learning, books, and genealogical discoveries is merely a symptom of a deeper thirst for knowledge that's been bubbling up, lately. After all, other than opportunities to hear speakers at my own local genealogical society, the last time I sat in on an informative lecture was back in June, when I attended the annual Jamboree put on by the Southern California Genealogical Society.

Who knows? Maybe it was John Reid talking about the recently-held conference put on by the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa that got me jealous. Despite being way too far for me to just drop by, all the online buzz about this year's BIFHSGO Conference did make me wish it were conference season over here on the west coast, again.

I suppose that opportunity will come around, all in good time. To assuage my ravenous appetite for learning in the meantime, I put a copy of one of Elizabeth Shown Mills' tomes on hold at my local library; perhaps those six hundred pages of information will stand me in good stead until Jamboree is upon us again.

Who am I kidding? While reading is great, I've also developed an appetite for other forms of learning. Conference learning is more social than just curling up on the couch with a good book. Putting connections to those new tidbits of information can be valuable. But the next National Genealogical Conference won't be upon us until the beginning of May. The Federation of Genealogical Societies conference won't get here until next September—a whole year to wait.

Although Jamboree will be sandwiched in between those two events, returning on June 3 through 5, 2016—alas, the same dates as the Ontario Genealogical Society's conference, luring away luminaries Judy Russell and CeCe Moore, whom we've enjoyed almost as regulars at our Southern California event—it still is almost nine months away.

That's when I come to my senses and remember what some of my fellow bloggers have mentioned about other learning opportunities in genealogy, like institutes. I've seen it mentioned in several places, almost like a mantra:
Instead of a breadth of topics, like a conference, this institute brings you a depth of knowledge.

That, as it turns out, seems to be the tag line for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy which, unlike the gala conference events of the spring through fall, is held in the midst of winter—a great time to hunker down and settle in for the long haul of serious learning.

I never forgot fellow blogger Michelle Taggart mentioning her experience at SLIG a couple years ago—jealous, I suppose, even then.

But that wasn't the only learning opportunity I made note of. I remember Smadar Belkind Gerson mentioning in her blog her own learning adventure: the genealogical research program at Boston University. A more intense experience than even the institutes, this fifteen week program can provide the foundational understanding needed for board certification. It's not surprising to see that Smadar is now a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Good for her!

The thought of fifteen weeks of intense learning somehow makes me wilt, though. I may have a thirst for knowledge...but perhaps my quest is more for the opportunity to learn by doing. It's been a while since I drove to a significantly-sized repository and sat myself down for a several-hours-long research project.

Maybe it's about time I headed in that direction. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Off the Shelf

I keep telling myself it's time to get back to reading. This time, I really mean it.

No matter how much I wanted to do so in the past, my best intentions hadn't really worked. But this time around, I'm making it a priority to carve out the time to read.

Why? It's been such a boost, in so many ways, since finishing the book that kicked me back on the reading track. I feel like something woke up my brain. The same-old-same-old takes on a new perspective. I find myself thinking more creatively, especially on parallel tracks. Mentally energized. Just by absorbing what other people think. It's like being part of a great after-dinner conversation, every time I open the cover of the next book I'm starting.

Of course, it helped to stumble upon some inspiration for turning back to reading. Books really can make a difference in people's lives. Perhaps that's why one woman—American social entrepreneur Claire Diaz-Ortiz—keeps up with her well-publicized goal of reading two hundred books a year. Yes. Two hundred.

I'll grant that it was during a vacation trip that I found the time to read a book—but it was really during the end caps of that week when I got the chance to do the reading on the plane, traveling in each direction.

Since then, I've opened up the cover of another book I had long promised myself I would read. The time-gift granting me that opportunity was dull, boring jury duty—you know, that interminable part where you languish in the jury assembly room, waiting for your name to be called.

What's good about my new resolution is that I've got a backlog of books, queued up and ready for me to pull off the shelf. I have eclectic tastes; I assure you those are not all genealogy books. But there are still a great many in that stash which are tales from other people's family histories.

When it comes time to finish one of those family history books, I want to do two things. First, I want to write a blog entry reflecting on an aspect of what I've learned in that specific book. After all, you, too, may have long promised yourself to read that very book. Second, I want to become more socially conscious and share my critique in those online resources just clamoring for readers to write a review. If you've ever bought a book via Amazon or through Barnes & Noble online, you know what I mean. When we share our viewpoint on our purchasing experiences, we encourage others just like us to follow suit.

After all, if it weren't for someone else's critique, I'd never have known to read the book that got this all started for me.

Above: "The Reader," oil on canvas by French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard circa 1770; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Not My Forte

I just met a woman—online, that is; these things rarely happen face-to-face—who manages DNA test kits for ninety relatives. Talk about committed. Finding her email address tucked away in my husband's DNA matches—embarrassingly, dated over a year ago—I discovered it showed up for not one, not two, but six individuals, all but one matching my husband at the estimated range of third to fifth cousin.

And here I am, barely able to tap dance while juggling results for three family members plus myself. Going on vacation throws the whole system into disarray. Getting back to work makes it even worse. I can't even chew gum and walk at the same time. Multi-tasking is not my forte.

So it will come as no surprise to you to learn—now that it's time for my bi-monthly progress report—that while I sped ahead in some areas, others narrowly escaped going backwards.

Speaking of my husband's family tree, that was where some tallies looked impressive, like the fact that I made ten contacts with DNA matches—until you realize that six of those ten contacts were to that same genealogical wonder woman conjuring those ninety DNA kits out of her black hat.

Still, the past two weeks brought us eleven new DNA matches, bringing my husband's total at Family Tree DNA to 517. And just this week, we got to celebrate the arrival of one instantly-confirmed DNA match with his Tully cousin.

Making headway on the family tree database, however, was another story. Progress on the Stevens line remains flatlined since mid-August. See what I mean about not being the show-off at multi-tasking? Still, I managed to punch out a measly seventy three additions to his maternal tree. Every little bit counts, no matter how clumsily it arrives on the tally sheet.

The same two-steps-forward-one-step-back jig carried over to my own family lines. My paternal line remained static, too. But I gained sixteen new DNA matches, pushing my total autosomal test connections up to 920, effective with the latest new add yesterday. And on my maternal line—the one where I'm finding all the family stories right now—I slipped in an extra 134 names on my database.

Some people can zoom ahead, leaving the rest of us in their wake, gaping in amazement. I'm glad there are some out there who are so dedicated. It certainly reminds me to not pick up an attitude, even when I think I'm cranking out real signs of progress.

And who knows? Maybe it will be those über dedicated ones who will figure out the answers to those hundreds of "matches" in my family's test results which don't seem to lead to anyone we know, let alone a known relative!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Pulling the Plug

A Detroit woman, who suddenly found herself a single mom needing to support two sons, went to work as a domestic servant in the homes of the city's more fortunate families. When her boys headed home to watch TV after school every day—while she worked several jobs to make ends meet—she noticed one thing about her clients: that "wealthy people read a lot of books."

There was a corollary to her discovery: those people didn't spend a lot of time watching television.

That was enough to clinch it for this observant mother. Her informal after-school program made a radical change. No more television. Afternoons were now spent at the library. And she gave her sons a weekly assignment to read two books. Worse, they even had to write a book report on each one.

That might have been the scenario in a lot of homes over the decades, especially with the advent of the working mom trying to manage a household in absentia—whether single or married. But there is a compelling conclusion to this act of matronly determination.

Of course, I wouldn't have stumbled upon this story if it hadn't been for the gift of reading. I don't personally know the man telling this story—author, publisher and leadership coach Michael Hyatt, who shared it in his blog yesterday—nor do I know the man whose mother this is. But I do know that the subject of this vignette is also, himself, now a best-selling author and respected professional.

And through his story, I'm witness to the phenomenal change that can be bestowed upon a life through the power of reading. As you can imagine, back when this successful man was that young schoolboy, his was not a story of privilege, but of struggle. The transformation of being transported through books to worlds he might not otherwise have known might have been gradual, but the result was palpable.

Reading his story reminded me that we, too, have stories—not only stories of our own life experiences, but those belonging to our family's history. And just as the books this man read made a difference in his life, our stories—if shared—may turn out to bring a change in the lives of others.

Oh, I'm not talking about those dry recitations of genealogies—though those have a place in well-documented research. It's what took place in "the dash"—that individualized space in between the two numbers inscribed on our ancestors' headstones—that can provide the inspiration. When we include stories like those, our family histories not only come alive, their lessons can benefit others.

Just as both Michael Hyatt and Dr. Ben Carson have reason to champion the residuals of reading—expanding personal horizons, instilling a sense of an internal locus of control, and focusing on an uplifted sense of self-image—we as family historians can preserve the personal experiences and lessons of our ancestors and pass down the stories which also provide such benefits of reading. Our stories can reach a broader audience with an enlarged purpose behind our sharing.

You know how enthusiastic I am about encouraging people to share their families' stories. As much as I can, I'm putting that message into practice, too. But whether yet another underdog-becomes-celebrity is a story to your liking—or even one you find in your heritage—you have to acknowledge there is something nearly awe inspiring about the changes reading can bring about in a person's life.

I'm sure no one knew it more than that single mother in Detroit—the one who pulled the plug on life-as-usual for her latch-key children. Not only did she realize the power of those weekly reading assignments for her sons, but she must have felt that conclusion acutely in her own life. You see, though her boys may not have realized it at the time, when she returned those weekly book reports back to them—each one marked like a teacher wielding a red pencil might have done—she had no idea what had been written on those pages. She couldn't read them. She, herself, was illiterate. But somehow, her decision imprinted a priceless message in the heart of the next generation. And left the rest of us—who don't even know her—with an inspiring example.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Confirming Cousins

It sometimes seems awkward to ask a known cousin to take a DNA test for genealogical reasons. After all, if we already are aware of the relationship, why bother spending all that money to confirm what we know?

In some cases, however, it is only that we think we know. And what we don't know can be key. So I asked someone—a very specific someone, who just happens to be devoted to genealogical research—to consider taking a DNA test.

The goal for taking this test was to confirm a relationship on a potential branch of my husband's Tully line. I say "potential," because I could find many indirect signs that our two families were related, but nothing as obvious as documentation. And the documentation just wasn't there. After all, we were talking about a most recent common ancestor parenting children in the 1830s.

Oh, I've agonized over that connection for years now. I posted about whether to include that mystery branch in my Tully database as if confirmed fact, when I can't yet prove it. I wrote about actually meeting these third cousins once removed over lunch during a trip back to Chicago. I even recalled how we first met up—courtesy of an email directed my way by reader Intense Guy. And, after all that agonizing, I told about when I finally bit the bullet and added that whole family into my database—even though I still wasn't sure about the paper trail.

But last summer, the answer to my question about DNA testing came back: yes, one cousin was willing to spring for a test.

Then came the long wait. I'm positive the whole operation in Houston shut down for a summer break. I thought those results would never show up!

But two days ago, they did. Finally.

And you know what? This is not one of those moments to hold your breath, or wonder if there will be a last minute surprise twist to the story. According to Family Tree DNA, the relationship between my husband and this Chicago cousin is within the range of third to fifth cousin. Considering we had sketched out the relationship on a paper napkin—third cousins, once removed—right there during our lunch meeting back in August, two years ago, it was not a bad meet-up, this scientific validation of our unscientific sketch. In fact, it was right where I thought it should be—or close enough.

This, of course, won't be enough to ease my mind about adding Michael Tully as Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully's son. But perhaps, added to this discovery from last summer's serendipitous addition of the Catholic Parish Records to the online collection at the National Library of Ireland, it may assuage my doubts.

Michl of Denis Tully and Margaret Flanery, sp. William Flanery and Bridget Flanery, Tauntina.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Other Other Woman

Trying to locate the full name of someone accustomed to representing himself in public only by his initials can be frustrating. But it is possible—at least, if the person's initials do, in fact, stand for something.

I generally have all sorts of tricks up my sleeves for flushing out stubborn records—and believe me, I tried them, bouncing between databases at and I tried uncovering death records by leaving blanks in the search terms for the individual, adding only surnames for both the father and mother. I tried assuming that there might have been a mistake in the indexing for that 1920 census with the Rowell family intact in one household—after all, the entry for dad as "O. C." was rather unclear.

In the hopes that perhaps—on the theory that fathers generally tend to name their sons after themselves—the father's name should actually have read "E. C.," I tried searching for just that father-son duo in the census records. No results.

Desperate, I turned to the various marriage record collections available online for the state of Florida. Perhaps the solemnity of marriage might inspire the formality of a full name there.

So I went looking for Miss Fannie Belle McClellan's marriage record to Mr. Whoever-he-was Rowell. I knew it had to be in there somewhere, between the 1910 census (when she was still living with her parents) and the 1920 census, when the couple and two sons were listed together in Sumter County.

It was there that I made not one, but two discoveries. Well, actually three.

First was the groom's full name. And yes, those initials for the dad should have been exactly what they were for the son: E. C. Apparently, they stood for Elisha Cleveland.

Yes. Use the initials.

The second discovery was that Fannie McClellan and E. C. Rowell were married in Fannie's hometown in Suwannee County on July 27, 1919. Since the sons in the 1920 census were born before that date, that meant this matrimonial ceremony was number two for the groom.

Finding Mr. Rowell's actual given name opened up quite a few other confirmations. For instance, his World War I draft registration card—where it showed that, if not handsome, at least he was tall and dark—revealed that he was born in Fair Bluff, South Carolina, on October 30, 1887. Curiously, for the 1917 document, he declared himself responsible for the care of "mother + two children," yet claimed he was single. I guess that "mother" was meant literally.

Knowing his name also led me to his whereabouts for the 1930 census, showing his residence still in Sumter County. With his two oldest boys—"Harris" turned out to be Horace—he also turned up in various Florida state census records.

But those records also turned up one other detail. Not only was there a first bride—mother of the oldest two sons was Edna Collier of Sumter County—but there was also a third bride, Flossie Urquhart, over twenty years his junior and mother of his youngest son, Jack.

Somewhere, Fannie and her two sons were sandwiched in the middle—at least from the point of the 1920 census until the unclear indication in the 1930 census that her husband might have remarried by 1924. While E. C. Rowell, senior, undoubtedly went on with his life—subsequently divorcing Flossie in 1932—I have yet to locate him in the 1940 census, nor Flossie and her son Jack, either. While there is a "Jackie" Rowell buried in the same cemetery as Elisha Cleveland Rowell, I haven't been able to determine whether that was one and the same as Jack.

Delving into these details so starkly exposed as we finger old governmental documents, it somehow sterilizes the turmoil through which people dragged their lives. Yet perhaps, having now seen all this, it is easier to understand why, with her two sons with her for all those years she played the "widow" back at her childhood home, not a word was passed down concerning how, exactly, things turned out the way they did for the woman known by generations as the family's story-teller, Aunt Fannie.

Above: Record of the Rowell household in the 1920 census courtesy of and record of the Suwannee County marriage license courtesy of

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Slipped Through the Cracks

When finding someone of note while researching one's family history, it would supposedly be a discovery to put proudly on display. After all, there are countless genealogy enthusiasts out there, more than happy to trumpet their connection to Charlemagne. Or the royal family. Any royal family.

When I stumbled upon the details of just who E. C. Rowell was in Florida state history, of course I was interested. But I wasn't exactly sure he belonged to my family.

There were reasons for this. Not anything solid, like documentation, of course. That would be too straightforward. It was just a gut feeling—a hunch that something didn't seem to line up right, at least from what I could find at the time.

Even with E. C. Rowell's connection to state politics, and despite my mother's stories about our McClellan family's keen interest in politics, that wasn't enough to assure me of the connection. Yes, I did find my grandmother's Aunt Fannie—a McClellan who married a Rowell—conveniently listed in a Rowell household in the right Florida county (Sumter). But something just wasn't lining up right.

By the time of the 1920 census, Fannie McClellan—now Rowell—would have been thirty eight years of age. By contrast, the Fannie in the O. C. Rowell household was listed as being thirty. Granted, people do tend to hedge on their age when they feel the need; if she were older than her husband, perhaps in that time period, that would have provided enough incentive. But that wasn't my main concern.

Along with Fannie in the O. C. Rowell household were—as I've already mentioned—two boys: five year old E. C., and four year old "Harris." Together, they presented a believable package: the dad, being thirty two, his wife at thirty, with two young boys. What could possibly be the problem with that?

For every mention I had seen, in the past, of Fannie Rowell, she always did show up with two sons. The problem was that those two sons had vastly different names than the two in the 1920 Rowell household: Norman and Justin.

Norman, in fact, was born in 1920. And yet, he was missing from this 1920 census.

This is where data may have fallen in the proverbial cracks. Norman was born in June—in Sumter County, in fact—but it just so happened the 1920 census was enumerated in January, months before Norman would have made his premiere on the stage of life.

Rather than be a satisfactory explanation for why my information wasn't jibing with government records, it was only the start of signs of problems. If we trace the records forward through the decades, we can find Fannie and her two sons—Norman was joined by brother Justin in September, 1922—but they were never listed with the elusive Mr. Rowell. In fact, the 1930 census showed Fannie and those two boys—no sign of E. C. or "Harris"—back in Wellborn in her oldest brother's household; for the 1940 census, the same family grouping appeared, still in Wellborn, under the roof of Fannie's widowed mother, Emma McClellan.

In fact, in both censuses, Fannie declared herself to be a widow. If that was so, where were the two oldest boys—the four and five year old listed with Fannie in that 1920 census? Had they died also?

Taking a look at the McClellan family cemetery—actually, a sizeable place with nearly two hundred burials—while I can find Fannie buried there, along with Norman and Justin and each son's wife, there is no sign of the elusive Mr. Rowell, Fannie's husband. Nor those two boys from the 1920 census.

To verify—or at least disprove—my unfounded hunch, my usual tactic would be to follow the two older boys' documentation forward to a point where I could locate a death certificate. Or, barring that option, rewind history until I could find an earlier record of the intact family constellation.

The only problem, in this case, was that the boys showing in the 1920 Rowell household were too young to have been found in the previous census record. Neither would I have found Fannie in the Rowell household in the 1910 census—she was clearly listed as a single woman, still living in the home of her parents. Without access to a birth record for either E. C. (and who knows what those initials might have stood for) or his unfindable brother "Harris," I had no way to resolve that hunch.

Unless, that is, I could make the effort a presumptive close and look for a marriage record for "O. C." and someone else as his wife.

But to do that, I first needed to figure out just who "O. C." might be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wildwood and the Family Tree

There are threads of our own history embedded in the stories that will someday be told about our children. Likewise, when we seek the secrets of our ancestors' lives, we may find them revealed in the catalogs of their children's accomplishments.

I remember stories my mother told me of her childhood memories, succumbing to the drowsy summer twilight's heat, lapsing into fitful slumber punctuated by incessant droning of adult voices. It was always politics they were discussing—Florida politics. Why it never occurred to me that that scenario might have been generational in her family, I'm not sure.

Nevertheless, now pondering the family story of my maternal grandmother's Aunt Fannie, I'm not sure why my discoveries about the Rowell family took me by surprise. As I grasped at straws, attempting to trace the lines of the two boys in the Rowell household, the only viable hint came from the child with the least amount of promise provided in the clue of his name: E. C.

As it turned out, researching the "O. C." given in the 1920 census as Fannie's husband's name led me nowhere. Likewise, the "Harris B. Rowell" entry for the younger of the household's two boys. But turning to search for clues on "E. C." lit up the board for those Google hits. And yes, that clue of politics woven into our McClellan family history seemed to resonate once again.

The search didn't start out in a promising way. I usually make my first stop Wikipedia, where I can gain a rough overview of the subject I'm about to delve into. In the case of E. C. Rowell, however, there wasn't much to be found. He was included in a long listing of state politicians who had risen to the rank of Florida's Speaker of the House, but unlike the others, flush with lengthy bios and ornamented with photographs or portraits, his was a click that led only to what Wikipedia calls a "stub" of an article—an entry that needs a volunteer contributor to step up and fill in the blanks.

There were ample other resources with which to paint the portrait of who this E. C. Rowell might have been. With just a few quotes, the picture began taking shape.

Shortly after his death in 1992, the Orlando Sentinel provided the most straightforward—and least compelling—statement about just who E. C. Rowell was.
Rowell, a Democrat from Sumter County who served [in the Florida state legislature] from 1956 to 1970, was speaker in 1965. He later was chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. After leaving the Legislature, Rowell became a lobbyist for the trucking industry.

It was in commentary from other politicos that I gleaned the more succinct flavors of his personality. Attorney and Central Florida Ag News columnist Michael Martin pegged him as "one of the most feared former Speakers of the House" and reflected on his
cigar smoking, concise words, no bull...La Guardia of New York would have shivered.

Likewise, Florida political commentator, Bob McKnight, echoed the Democrat legislator's characterization as "cigar chewing," and noted that after his tenure—and even into the 1970s—
His legacy was still felt and his record was well established as a legislative leader during very turbulent times.

As sometimes happens with public figures, E. C. Rowell eventually rated a building named after him. Despite being lumped together with the "Pork Chop Gang," the former state legislator lived to see his name planted on the façade of a public library—not in Wildwood, home of the former Florida Speaker of the House, but in nearby Webster, where, according to one small-town tour book, the politician's family had moved, just after the 1920 census where I found Fannie's listing in the Rowell household.

Perhaps that is why, though his 1977 biography was penned by "award winning" Orlando Sentinel Star newspaperman Ormund Powers, it was actually published by the Board of Governors of the E. C. Rowell Public Library. Of the several quotes included on the dust jacket to the hardcover issue of E.C., Mr. Speaker, E.C. Rowell, none seems to capture his essence quite so well as the remark by Don Warne from All Florida News:
Rowell often shook hands while standing on someone's toes.

Despite all that can be found on E. C. Rowell—well, at least if you take the time to look—I still don't have my question answered: if E. C. was one of the two boys in the household of O. C. and Fannie Rowell, how, exactly, did the future Speaker of the House of the State of Florida relate to my grandmother's aunt? Though it certainly looked as if he would be Fannie's son, there was something hinting to me that that might not have been the case.

Above: Photograph of Florida Speaker of the House E. C. Rowell and his family—wife Mildred "Margie" Carlyon, daughters Diane and Barbara—on the opening day of the state legislature in 1965; courtesy of Florida Memory, the State Archives of Florida.       


Monday, September 14, 2015


With this article, consider yourself warned: genealogical research is rife with temptations and distractions. This is one of those opportunities to be snared by such divertissement.

In documenting the family tree of my maternal grandmother, I not only wanted to span the generations of my direct ancestors in the McClellan line, but I decided to round out the study with a listing of all of the siblings in each generation—and then, for DNA testing's sake, all their descendants as well.

Of those peopling the generation of my great grandfather, Rupert Charles McClellan, most have been faceless names. There was one, however, who stood out: my maternal grandmother's Aunt Fannie. Always mentioned as Fannie Rowell—not McClellan—she nonetheless never confused my child's mind into placing her in the wrong family constellation. Though I never met her, I knew, even in childhood, who she was.

Aunt Fannie was the one who always had the riveting family stories. Born in 1882, she seemed destined to someday make the century mark—though she fell five years shy of it at her passing in 1977. With a lifespan of that size, naturally she could have garnered some significant tales of the changing of the times—from a relatively isolated life in rural times of the nineteenth century, through such modern developments as the household use of electricity or the spread of the telephone, she witnessed the turn of the century, two world wars and all the upheaval and progress ensuing in their wake.

Yet it was her stories of lifetimes before her own that made their mark in my childhood memories, for Aunt Fannie must have been an informal repository of the sort that we now might dub the "Keeper of the Family Stuff." Passed down through her letters were harrowing tales of barely escaping Indian raids in the then-frontier settlements of what is now northern Florida.

Though I had heard these stories from my own mother, I see others had been party to her recountings of family history, for in their published McClellan genealogy, Kissin' Cousins, Joe and Bonney McClellan shared an excerpt from a distant cousin's recollections of these same stories.

Apparently, when Aunt Fannie's grandparents had first moved to Florida in 1827, it was indeed an incursion upon Native American territory and, despite what political machinations might have been transpiring in American and Spanish diplomacy of the era, the boots-on-the-ground take on the matter was one of trespassing. According to Aunt Fannie, "When they [the McClellans] moved on this place, it was a wild country, no near neighbors." Naturally, "aggressions" were bound to occur.

Indeed, they did. Despite it being by then only the early 1830s, the McClellan home had become a stagecoach stop. According to Aunt Fannie, the McClellans
built another new home as they took in transient people from the stage coach trading from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. They had plenty of stables built and horse lots to take care of the horses. They would come from Tallahassee then all the passengers would spend the night in Captain McClellan's home, then the stage would come from Jacksonville and passengers and horses would spend the night.

Yet in the midst of all this concourse, raids occurred. Aunt Fannie told of instances when, working in the fields, the settlers would be attacked, jump in their carts and hope the speed of their horses would save them. Just as we discovered when reading about the frontier settlers around Fort Wayne when researching my husband's Ijams and Jackson lines, settlers had a system in which families could retreat to the nearby fort for protection in such raids. In this case, it was to White Springs, where soldiers were stationed.

Much as the settlers in Indiana had also realized, the soldiers didn't always arrive on the scene of the raid in time. In one case, they got there only to find the raiders
gone to a home some miles away. The man's oldest son had gone to Jacksonville for supplies. The Indians scalped the balance of the family except the six month old baby, which they brained on a tree.

Hearing stories like these in my childhood made for wide-eyed wonder—to think how close our family was to having been wiped out entirely! It made no sense when I tried to contemplate how—why?—one family would be entirely gone, yet the destruction be halted just one house shy of where another family lived, unscathed. Those were the kinds of stories a child would never forget.

Yet, I never gave much thought as to the teller of those tales—who she was and why, as a McClellan daughter, she was always called Fannie Rowell, but was never mentioned in conjunction with a husband. There was never any offering of young widowhood or any other device which would make a satisfactory explanation.

Of course, once I was equipped to do genealogical research for myself, I began grasping the tools that would provide me the answer to that question. Still, the explanation came only gradually. It was easy to find Fannie in her parents' home in the 1900 census—one of the nine children raised by William and Emma McClellan in Wellborn, Florida. Even (thanks to subscription services such as when I was able to access the 1910 census, I could see Fannie Belle there—with the still-single woman's age adjusted to a demure twenty six—in her parents' household.

It wasn't until spurred on by my opportunity to visit Florida last month that I located any census entry under the surname by which I had always known her: Rowell. Even then, the listing was confusing. Though it finally included Fannie's husband—for once, he was actually in the same household as she—his name was indexed at both and as "O. C. Rowell."

If it hadn't been for searching via Fannie's own married name—and being truly grateful for having discovered the initial for her middle name, as there were many Fannie Rowells from which to choose—I wouldn't have found any possibilities at all. Still, did it have to lead to an answer which contained only those aggravating two initials?!

I did have an out, however: there were two sons listed in the household. One, happily, did not show up with that frustrating Southern device of the near-anonymous initials; he was indexed as Harris B. Rowell.

Try as I might with the name Harris B. Rowell, I found nothing helpful. That meant attempting to discover something with the other name. Fated once again to search for a name containing only initials instead of a given name, I tried my hand at googling the phrase, isolated by quote marks: "E. C. Rowell."

Almost immediately, I came up with this result from Find A Grave: a headstone upon which was engraved the epithet, "Mr. Speaker."

How dense I was. Because my daughter was a high school debater, that was my instant first thought: a fellow forensics enthusiast. Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized there might be something more to this story.

And there was. Continuing down the trail of multiple Google hits for the phrase, I was about to become educated on the political career of one influential Florida resident—as well as become ensnared in the genealogical puzzle of whose son belonged to whom.

Oh. There was one more discovery. I found out what "E. C." actually stood for. But that came only as the anti-climactic conclusion to the rest of the story.

Above: Photograph of E. C. Rowell, courtesy of Florida Memory, the State Archives of Florida.      

Sunday, September 13, 2015

An Old Woman's Many Children

As things go in today's world, having raised nine children would be an uncommon occurrence. But at the turn of the century—that century, the one beginning with the 1900 census—William and Emily McClellan were not uncommon in the size of their household.

By the time of that 1900 census, my great grandfather, Rupert Charles McClellan, was already out of the home, as was his older brother Frank. Younger brother William Robert McClellan was also missing, although for much sadder reasons—for an as-yet undiscovered reason, he died in August of that same year.

As for the other six—Philip, Asenah, Fannie, Emily, George and Norman—they still called the McClellan property in rural Suwannee County, Florida, home. This, however, would not be unusual. After all, Norman—the baby of the family—was barely six years of age when the enumerator stopped by the house on June 5, 1900. His oldest brother at home, in contrast, was twenty four.

No one left that home for at least another ten years—until Philip took for his bride Annie Hogan on May 14, 1911, following sister Emily's June 2, 1910 marriage to Clifton Price Bullard.

The stories of each of the McClellan children were as different as one child is from another. While oldest brother Frank apparently never married at all, younger sister Asenah Julia married a widower and raised his ten children, apparently never having any of her own. George Sterling McClellan became a physician, marrying Novice Ruth Collier after he established his practice.

Only the baby of the family, Norman Delaney McClellan, seemed to follow the path of any of his siblings—and that was the unfortunate early demise of his older brother William, for Norman, too, died a young death, just before his seventeenth birthday in 1911. It wasn't long after that his father followed suit, leaving widow Emily to raise the remainder of the children in the McClellan family alone.

There is, of course, one more sibling I've yet to mention: Rupert's sister Fannie Belle. Born in 1882—the sixth child of William and Emily—she was someone the family always referred to as Aunt Fannie Rowell. She was the one who made sure to share the family stories, some of which made their way down to my generation with at least some shred based in reality.

But I never really knew anything about Aunt Fannie. Why she was Fannie Rowell instead of Fannie McClellan, I never knew. Once I started genealogical research on this family, years ago, I could see that she had a couple sons—but she always seemed to live at or near the McClellan home. There was never any mention of who the mysterious Rowell was who gave her the surname we all knew her by.

After years of researching every branch of my family tree but hers, I finally returned to see what could be found, using today's newer resources. With the many digital files accessible online today, and the rapid-fire recovery of records which would once have taken the snail's pace of a stamped, self-addressed envelope's cross-country journey, there was quite a bit more to discover.

Yet, even with those tools literally at my fingertips, the first clue I stumbled over—just as I was preparing to leave for my Florida trip last month—had me puzzled. The names I found and the dates that claimed to belong to them didn't seem to add up.

More than that, one detail led to a Find A Grave photo of a headstone, upon which were inscribed the words, "Mr. Speaker."

Even if this led to someone not related to my McClellan family, this was a research trail I couldn't resist following.

Above: "On the San Sebastian River, Florida," oil on canvas circa 1883, by American artist Martin Johnson Heade; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Paying Attention to the Details

When you know you have an interesting ancestor in your roots, it sometimes is hard to exercise that due diligence to equitably research every other relative along the way up that branch of the family tree. So it is with the McClellan line, where everyone who knows the family history wants to jump straight back to George E. McClellan, Florida pioneer and politician—the one with all the stories.

Since I am researching my great grandfather's line—the forebears of Rupert Charles McClellan—I need to resist that temptation and linger a while on the details about his own father, William Henry McClellan, and his mother, Emma Charles.

Putting my second great grandfather in his place in history means realizing his life spanned a great divide in American saga: the Civil War. Or, as he and sympathizers on his side of the conflict might rather have put it, the War of Northern Aggression.

Born in 1845, William McClellan's arrival seemed timed to thrust him, in the prime of life, into the midst of an emotionally-fraught era of history. But since, in our review of his life's history, we are working our way backwards in time—as any genealogist would do—we'll start his story at the end.

Just as William McClellan had started his life in that out-of-the-way rural spot in northern Florida, so he ended it in 1914, on the family's property near Wellborn. Like everyone else, he was a farmer—albeit one with $1000 of real property and $200 of personal property at the start of married life in 1870. Not bad for a start in those days.

Just after the close of war—and, presumably, his return home from service—William married Emma Charles, the orphaned daughter of another long-standing local family. Obtaining license to marry "Miss Emma" from the Suwannee County courthouse in Live Oak on September 16, 1867, William exchanged vows with his bride in a ceremony the following October 23—as noted in a record not filed until the following February 28.

Though William McClellan died in 1914, his wife—and mother of his nine children—outlasted him significantly, not passing away until April 11, 1940. Putting that in perspective, Emma died only three years before her son Rupert did—and well after my own mother was born, making me wonder whether my mother had known Emma, herself. I've heard stories of Rupert's wife—my mother's favorite of her two grandmothers—but little of Rupert. I remember, from my childhood, her vague mentions of a great grandmother, but now that I've discovered Emma Charles was orphaned before her marriage, her status seems to meld with that of Rupert's mother-in-law, also an orphan from a young age. These are undoubtedly those moments that make us wish we had thought to ask more questions much earlier.

Above: Image of marriage license issued by Suwannee County, Florida, to William H. McClellan and Emma Charles on September 16, 1867; courtesy
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