Thursday, June 30, 2016

Back to Those Dusty Old Files

Somewherelong, long agoon a nearly-forgotten trip to Ohio to dig through those prized source documents without which genealogical facts cannot be supported, I decided to do something smart: photocopy the entire Perry County index of births and deaths for my prime surnames. Included in that lot was the surname Gordon.

Where, oh where, is that file, now that I need it?!

Printed out on legal-sized paper by what surely was then still called a Xerox machine, the copies were too unwieldy to fit into my standard sized file cabinet. I had to come up with some other place to store them, so the edges wouldn't become frayed.

That is the rub: where was that place I tucked them so that they wouldn't become worn?

All is not lost, of course. It's a snap they aren't in my file cabinet. Nor in my storage boxesalso standard size folders.

Meanwhile, pending resolution of that search, I have an alternative to resolving my discrepancy over which George and Sarah Gordon are the ones I'm currently seeking. I can grimace and hold my nose and take a peek at one of those "indexed" collections put together by places such as You know, the ones with the squishy citations, likequoting here in its entirety from the "citation" box in the drop down resource online

Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.Original data - "Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2011. Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled re

"Compiled re" what? One wonders such thoughts as, "Why does the title of the collection not match up with the title of its 'original data' source?" After all, the collection's official titledubbed so by Ancestry itselfis "Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, 1800-1962." Where, exactly, did it come from? Who drew up the original index? What material was used as the source documents for compiling that index? How reliable were those indexers?

I could go on with such questions. I want to know whether the data I'm relying on are actually, you know, reliable.

Let's just call this a stop-gap measure. After all, I'm still trying to sort out my Georges and Sarahs. Surely some baptismal records can lend me a handeven if they were indexes of copies of transcriptions of the original thing.

Here's all I could find:
  • A baptismal record for Hugh M. D. Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sarah Dittoe
  • A baptismal record for "Agness" Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sara J. Dittoe
  • A baptismal record for Samuel B. Gordon with father George Gordon and mother Sarah Dittoe

Remember that fork in the road I hit yesterday, with the one George Gordon family remaining in Perry County, Ohio, and the other moving to Douglas County, Illinois? Let's take a look at which family had Hugh, Agnes and Samuel with them.

You thought this was going to be easy, right? Well, the 1880 census for neither household had anyone named Agnes Gordon. But there was a Hugh. He wasn't, however, in the same household as the one which had a Samuel.

This complicated matters. I had already assumed the George Gordon family living close to the other Gordon familiesMark in 1860 and Adam in 1870would be the correct household. However, Samuel complicated matters by turning out to be a child in the other Gordon household.

But wait! Not so fast! Let's check ages. The Samuel in the 1880 census was born in 1875. Going back to that baptismal entry in the Index, the Samuel who was confirmed to be the son of Sarah Dittoe was born in 1881too late to have even made it into the 1880 census.

And this Samuel—the late arrival to the Ohio Gordon scenewas the Samuel who had moved with his family to Arcola in Douglas County, Illinois.

So, once I can properly compile the list of all Samuel's older siblings, I'll have a tentative fix on just which George and Sarah was which.

Of course, finding that legal-sized copy of the actual Index to Births for Perry County would be optimal. I know that was the document kept in the courthouse in Perry County. Barring any clerical errors in the official transcription of documents into that courthouse index, I can be fairly certain just whoamong births post-dating 1866, when the county began recording thembelonged to which Sarah Gordon.

That, however, brings up a different question: just who was this other George Gordon? And where does he fit into the family pictureif at all?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Trail of Two Georges

When it comes to errors in genealogical documentation, I guess the main question is: how badly does that bother you?

You know that squishy feeling. You look at a record or two concerning your target ancestor, then take in someone else's work, and think, "This doesn't look right." Perhaps you can't articulate why, but you don't get a good feeling about the splat of it all.

It is so easy to grab the first record you find in the family's county of residencesay, the 1880 censusand decide, "Yep. This is it. I've found my family."

That may not be the case, at all. But you didn't look far enough to determine that, yet.

When it comes to a surname like Gordon, it pays to look twice. While not as common a surname as Smith or Jones, the surname Gordon occurs frequently enough to make me want to proceed with caution on this research trail.

Couple that with ethnic tendencies of past centuries to employ traditions such as naming patterns, and the likelihood that extended families may have emigrated en masse to their new frontier homeeach married brother naming his firstborn son exactly the sameand you have just doubly doomed yourself to the possibility of same name relatives living within close proximity of each other.

A case like that prompts me to come up with alternate hypotheses when looking for family records. And those hypotheses are formulated to attempt to prove myself wrong.

So, when I came upon my ancestor in question todayGeorge Gordon and his wife Sarah, living in Perry County, OhioI didn't want to prove that he is my man when I found him in the census. I want to prove that he isn't my guy. In other words, I want to search for someone else who can prove Find Number One to be in error. If I don't succeed in that forced false response, only then can I consider my discovery safe.

Let's take a look at George Gordon. As far as I know, I'm looking for the youngest son of William Gordon and his second wife, Mary Cain. Since George's father William died before the 1850 census, it's no surprise to see youngest child George in his widowed mother's household at that point. Since there is no reference to relationships in that census, and since Mary is admittedly also a common name, such a record may also be prone to duplication. So we can't rest our laurels on this one discovery. There are too many missing details we still need to fill in.

Still, we can glean from that record that our George (if this was the right George) was unmarried, eighteen at the time of the 1850 census, and was born in Ohio. That's a start.

Let's assume, for the moment, that his age was reported correctlyyes, a huge assumption, as census enumerations gowhich makes his year of birth approximately 1832. And let's take that hypothesis out for a spin with the brand new census model in 1860.

It seems like smooth sailing on this road out to Reading Township in Perry County, location of the old William Gordon farm. There, right next to his older brother Mark, is the entry for George Gordon. Just like clockwork, the man has aged precisely ten years, showing his current age now to be twenty eight. As can be expected from a marriage record giving the year of their wedding as 1858, he and the former Sarah Jane Dittoe are now proud parents of a one year old son. In honor of George's father, and with a secondary possible nod to Sarah's father's name (which I've yet to uncover), they named their child William Jacob Gordon.

All was not perfect with this record, though. True, George's widowed mother Mary was still with themalthough her place of birth had somehow morphed from Maryland to Pennsylvania. But that was an understandable minor detail. More puzzling was the presence of another childa four year old named Harvey Taylor. Admittedly, two households away from the Gordon farm lived a family by the name Taylor, but what was their (supposedly) four year old son doing here? The most likely scenario in that time period was that there would be some sort of family relationshipbut none that I've discovered, so far.

Setting aside those small discrepancies, let's move onward to 1870. There, once again, we find George and Sarah in Reading township. Gone was his mother, Mary Cain Gordon, who had died three years earlier. Gone also was any mention of that mystery Taylor boyor the neighbors by the same name to which he might have been related. Nor was George's brother Mark in the vicinity, eitheralthough in his place was the young family of Adam Gordon, George's orphaned nephew who had been in Mary's household along with George in the 1850 census.

Thankfully, positioning near these other Gordon relatives had helped persuade me that I found the right George Gordon, as one other missing detail from this 1870 census entry was the only descendant whose record I had gleaned from the earlier census. Where William Jacob was gone, he had been replaced with stair-step siblings: Mary, Rebecca, Martha, Charles and Thomas.

All would seem convincingly complete, if we concentrated solely on the assumption that, having found one entry, it was the only entry possible. However, nine pages further into the enumeration for the very same townshipReadingwhat do we find but another entry for a George Gordon. And yes, this one was also complete with a wife named Sarah. This couple also had a son they named Jacob, followed by two other young children, Israel and Mary. Had I found this George and Sarah firstand not felt prompted to continue looking, after this discoveryI might have made the wrong assumption. After all, how many times do we see census discrepancies in locations or dates of birth?

To follow through and insure we haven't stumbled upon a flukeyou know those inscrutable census enumeratorslet's check out the 1880 census, just to make sure.

And there they both were, residing in Reading township againthe two Georges with their respective wives Sarah. Onewhich used to have a son Jacobnow without a Jacob, while the other household has one. Both households with a son Thomas. And a whole lot of other children.

This is one of those instances where the absence of the 1890 census is keenly felt. Whatever. Let's see what the 1900 census brings, after that twenty year record absence. 

This is where we run into road hazards in Perry County. More than that, we have an entire fork in the road. One of our George Gordon households is entirely gonenow living in Douglas County, Illinois, it appears. Because of the twenty year gap, it is hard to compare the names of the children to the previous census record. The only possible overlap occurs if the hard-to-read 1900 entry for "Chris V." Gordon is actually the Charles Gordon of the 1880 census.

The George Gordon family remaining in Perry County includes two children too young to have been included in the 1880 censusone tantalizingly named William H. Gordon, same as our George's oldest full brother, father of the Adam Gordon George grew up with.

What to do? The two Georges reported birth years varying, at the most, within a five year range of each other. They each had wives named Sarah. Each had a son named Jacob, and later another son named Thomas.

Of course, I can always reconstruct the history of each of those children, delineating each child by the maiden name of his or her mother. But that does little to confirm which Sarah belongs to the George who was son of William and Mary. And that is the key. After all, I'm tracing the line of George, son of William, son of John, the immigrant.

Of course, it may turn out that both Georges are descended from John. It is very possible, considering the path for both of them led to Ohio through Pennsylvania. But you know I can't rest until I have each George in his proper place in the Gordon family tree. Any less would never do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two Curious Georges

You know how it goes: you decide to go back and comb through the trail of all your research and make "a few" adjustments. Only you've been doing that genealogical pursuit for tenmaybe twentyyears. This is not going to be a simple double-check.

Sure enough, you run across a note to yourself, dated at least ten years ago, and begin to groan. It was a mess back then, but now you've even forgotten just what it was that made that file such a mess. So now you have to go back and re-acquaint yourself with all your doubts before you can proceed to solutions.

In my case, it was a file of Gordons which I stumbled upon yesterday. Still working on my project to hand transferso as to check, point by point, each step of the research wayall that Gordon clan from colonial Pennsylvania onward, I ran across the file of one George Gordon.

Or maybe it was two George Gordons. Now I'm not so sure.

Whoever it was, he was a man with multiple children. Granted, back in the 1800s when large families were a necessity, those head counts of family members could easily exceed ten. But even with that reality, I was beginning to doubt the numbers. True, I had a copy of the birth registers for Perry County, Ohiowhere this branch of the Gordon family had settledto follow the documented details. But even with that, I was beginning to feel I had missed something.

It was plain from the register that there were two different wives listed for George Gordon. It didn't help that the name for each of them was Sarah. However, some of the children had, for mother, a listing as Sarah Ryan. Others were listed under Sarah Dittoe, a longstanding surname in the Perry County area.

I had been collaborating with other Perry County Gordon researchers on this project, those ten to twenty years ago, and now that I'm reviewing all my notes, I've been reminded of our doubts over what we were finding back then, when resources weren't quite so handily at our fingertips. On a note affixed to one Gordon child, I had entered, "There is much confusion among some researchers as to which children of George Gordon belonged to which mother."

Indeed, one of these fellow researchersa retired professor of history at a respected midwestern universityhad noted, concerning this George Gordon, that he "has been a BIG problem because his wife is sometimes listed as Sarah Jane Dittoe and sometimes as Sarah Jane Ryan."

It was easy to see that, if one took a look at commentary on genealogical forums or Ancestral Files or IGI records on the Gordon family, that many researchers at that time framed this as a question of which children belonged to which wife of George Gordon.

Now, looking back, I'm not so sure. There are a lot of problems with the assumption that this was a case of one manGeorge Gordon of Perry County, Ohiomarrying two different women. For one thing, I can locate a marriage record for a George Gordon and wife Sarah Dittoe, but not one in Perry County for a George Gordon marrying someone named Sarah Ryan.

Frustratingly, according to birth records, there was a Gordon-Ryan combo for some children, and a Gordon-Dittoe set of parents for others. Even more important, now that I look back on it, is that some census years show two entries for a household of George and Sarah Gordon. Of course, that is from our current vantage point of online access to census records for every decade of George Gordon's lifespan, rather than the sole 1880 census transcription available, back when we first attacked this research question.

Granted, census records are notorious for including information that is only as accurate as both the enumerator and the reporting party are careful to provide. Dates of birth shift upward a year, then downwardor wobble two or three or five years difference in the interval between enumerations. People forgot where their spouse was born. Parents reported children using first names for one decade, then middle names for another.

Still, reviewing all the census years in which I could locate George-and-Sarah combos in Perry County, there was too much of a variance to let me remain complacent about our research conclusions from decades past. The best thing to do is set up a document itemizing each detail for each census, so that at a glance, I can spot the differences. That way, I can articulate just why it is that our former conclusions about this George Gordon were in error.

Sometimes, we can only produce results as good as our resources enable us to do. When our research reach extends significantly beyond what we once could easily access in times past, we need to reconsider our former conclusions, document and articulate the reasons for revised conclusions, and set the record straight.

Let's see what can be done with this George Gordon, son of William and Mary Cain Gordon, on this next pass through the records.   

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Matter of Money

Every now and then, someone in the genea-blogging world brings up the topic of genealogy as profession rather than hobby. While this is mostly not the realm of my own efforts, I am part of a small family business and naturally take an interest in reading business topics. In addition, because I participate in genealogical endeavors as a board member of a local genealogical society, I have an additional vested interest in following these posts.

Last Wednesday, Blaine Bettinger took up the topic in his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in a post entitled "Charging for (Genetic) Genealogy Services." Not only was the post thought-provoking, but one that generated a great deal of conversation through nearly fifty comments appended to the bottom of the page.

Examining just why it is that genealogical services are undervalued in comparison to a number of other businesses, Blaine points out the cost involved in properly equipping one's self to become a qualified genealogistespecially a genetic genealogist. He touches on issues of cost of education and training, supply and demand, even the ethical considerations surrounding the expectation of pro bono services.

Blaine's conclusion wrapped up all these considerations in the statement (emphasis his):
The genealogy community must be careful about...fostering a general expectation of free or cheap services while still being sure to offer pro bono services. An expectation that all genealogy should be free or cheap devalues who we are and the highly specialized skills we have worked so hard to develop.

While he brings up some valid points, I couldn't help but think that genealogists cannot expect others to adequately value them and their skills without first showing that same respect for each other. In reading this post, my mind went immediately to the instance of a meeting, back during the first year of my position on the board of our local genealogical society.

Granted, such societies are often the venue of non-professionals taking a lead role in self-help for fellow enthusiasts. However, it is these same organizations which rely mainly upon the services of professional genealogists, particularly in the realm of providing speakers and training for meetings.

How much do those societies generally pay their speakers for a worthwhile hour of instruction?

Before you answer that question, consider the numbers on the flip side of this equation: how much effort and knowledge go into the making of those hour-long educational programs? I can vouch for the likely numbers in answer to this question, as my family's own business produces educational programming requiring many more hours to design than to execute. Plus, before that training session ever begins, the instructor often has to invest time in travel to and from the meeting location. All of this time investment should be reflected in the formulation of the program's value.

I don't know what the current answer is for other genealogical societies, but I can safely say that, before our society decided to step up their game and offer quality programming for our monthly meetings, we weren't paying our speakers much at all. Even now, though we do provide a much more reasonable "honorarium," if the amount were divided out over the full time it takes to formulate and deliver such a program, the hourly remuneration would be embarrassing.

Yet, if we feel the services of genealogists ought to be valued more reasonably, why aren't we as societies leading the way in this issue? It does no good to talk about the problem if we aren't willing to serve as examples through our own collective actions. If we want others to value the services of professional genealogists, we need to first do so, ourselves.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gleanings From the Back Channel

Every now and then, someone stumbles upon an old post here at A Family Tapestry and adds a comment about how a name mentioned happens to be connected to the reader's family. That, of course, is precisely what I love to seeespecially if it means I can connect with a previously unknown part of this extended family I'm researching. However, getting deeper into the details of the relationship is not always something appropriately done in such a public setting, so I try to take such discussions into a more private venue.

That is exactly what's been happening lately, as much-appreciated visitors arrive, usually courtesy of Google searches, and offer their perspective on some of the posts here, dating back a year or more.

I've just had an online conversation with a researcher who is pursuing all the branches of his tree, which coincidentally happen to intersect with a Kelly branch on my husband's tree. How timely that note is! This Kelly line is the one of the families which oncearound 1850settled in Lafayette, Indiana. And Lafayette just happens to be one of the stops on our upcoming trip back east.

Lafayette, not much more than an hour's drive from Chicago, was where my husband's second great grandfatherthe mysterious and untraceable John Stevens from County Mayo in Irelandended his immigration journey and settled down. It was his New World.

While I can find quite a bit on his descendants, there is not much documentation on John or his first wife, poor Catherine Kelly, who likely died shortly after the birth of her third child. We are so fortunate that her parents had also immigrated to the United States, for her widowed mother performed the grandmotherly duties of raising Catherine's three young boys while John presumably workedand likely looked for another wife. The third son, William, probably knew no other parents but his grandparents Kelly, and even after his father, John, remarried, I couldn't locate him until I discovered the census entries for his grandparents.

There he was, not only in the 1860 census with his brothers, but even as late as the 1880 census, found in the Kelly household, along with a cousin in much the same circumstances.

It's that cousinlisted there in 1880 as A. M. Crahanwhose direct family line was the one in question in my email conversation yesterday. A complicated line to document, it involved the death of another sister of William Stevens' own mother. Documents providing details in conflictsuch as differing dates of birth or name variations like "Stevenson" instead of Stevensmade me very wary of what I was finding. I really want something more than just this tenuous paper trail, but sometimes, things like that are the only documentation we are going to get.

What I'd really like is for some Kelly descendants to surface, do their DNA tests, and show up as matches on my husband's results.

I do, actually, have one potential Kelly match alreadybut for yet another Kelly sister whose marriage documentation has somehow eluded me. You can be sure I'll be stopping in Lafayette to see if I can find any records of this other Kelly woman's existenceand marriage. But now I'll be adding yet another Kelly female to my search to-do list.

It's conversations like thesecomparing notes with fellow researchers in the backgroundthat help build these shaky cases. When we delve further back in time, beyond the time when civil records duly noted the very events genealogists need to have confirmed, it sometimes hinges upon the clues held privately in family collectionsa family Bible, or letters, or cherished papers handed down from generation to generationwhich can sometimes reveal what we suspected all along. Sometimes, these items are the only way to confirm relationships.

Well...that and DNA testing. A match on a Kelly descendant's DNA test would certainly help me feel a bit more confident about what I'm finding.

So, in those back channel conversation with newly-met possible relatives, you can be sure I'll not only be asking, "Are you my cousin?" But I'll be following that up with a request for participation in DNA testing.

It's always good to find a new cousin. Even better to find additional ways to confirm the relationship.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Something Old for Something New

The dates are set, the tickets bought. We're heading back east to visit family and attend to some research business.

Among the goals for this trip is one to finish old business: identify through solid documentation the link from my husband's two sisters back to John Jay Jackson's father, Patriot Lyman Jackson. I've been working on this process for quite some time, but now that the travel dates are set, the deadline seems to be rushing toward me faster than I'd like.

To insure I'm not retracing steps I've already taken, I've been spending a lot of time sifting through all my files stored on my dinosaur computer. Yes, the old fossil still works, though I try not to boot it up too often. One never knows when that switch will click on for its very last time.

This week, though, I've been putting the thing through its paces. It's amazing how many digital files one can accumulate over the years. Unlike tangible files like the twenty-something-year-old paper folders stored away in boxes, these electronic files can be gonepoof!with a mere glitch of the operating system. Even though, yes I've got that whole system backed up, that tenuous situation makes me nervous.

Systematically going through each of these folders, I've come upon some references to old websites which I once found useful. Curious to see whether these sites were still in existence, I entered some of the addresses in my new computer. To my surprise, some of them actually came up.

One site, listed as "Geneocity" and appearing to be the work of someone calling himself Rick, included a composite readout of headstones from the old sections of the Saint Joseph's cemetery near Somerset in Perry County. This, of course, is a record of transcriptions which will come in handy for me, once we arrive back in Ohio.

The listing on this website was actually the blending of four separate sets of records. The oldest among them, presumably, was the actual Saint Joseph burial register. That was augmented by the transcriptions by Monsignor Herman E. Mattingly during the late 1970s. An 1986 reading of "stones in a pile"an ominous indicatorwas provided via the Catholic Record Society of the Columbus Diocese. In addition, two other resources were credited: the notes of Donald Schlegel and Rick Jackson (perhaps the same Rick as the one behind the website).

The discouraging thing about records is that old things crumble, get weathered and worn, and eventually cease to reveal the aged secrets we seek. While we may not consider the notes of researchers in the 1970s or 1980s to be from a bygone era, they do preserve what may have since disintegrated in the last thirty five or forty years, leaving us at least that one step ahead. Every little bit helps in this research race against time.

While this website provides only one snapshot of information I need from this regionPerry County in Ohio, childhood home of my mother in law and generations of her ancestorsthere are, or at least were, several other such sites scattered throughout the vast universe encompassed by the Internet. These little genealogical gems tucked away hither and yon were likely the impetus for the success of genealogy go-to sites like Cyndi's List, which catalogs their existence and location.

In my Fibber McGee's digital closet, there's no telling where such genealogical delights will come tumbling out. I've been tucking away these genealogy URLs for decades, now. Now that I'm resolved to clean out that old clunker of a computer, though, I'm unpacking and rechecking every single lead I've parked in the Perry County folder in my genealogy file. There are, surprisingly, still some keepers which can yet be used.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Almost Drank the Kool-Aid

Despite the snarky outlook I may have portrayed as I reviewed those articles by a proponent yesterday, all was not negative reaction. As I said yesterday, reading the Schoenberg blog posts regarding the World Family Tree was a journey likened more to a "both/and" experience than to an "either/or" dichotomy.

There were points that were quite alluring. Persuasive. Convincing. I almost...

Wait! What was I thinking! I took a serious look around the siteadmittedly, a limited tour, as one needs to both sign up for the service and, if really serious, commit to a monthly payment for the "Pro" version of the site. The more I looked, the less impressed I was.

On the other hand, I like the theoretical foundation the tree is built on: collaboration. From the many books and articles I've read on crowdsourcing in general, deliberate or even innocently-originated errors are quickly policed by a crowdsourced site's advocates. That's why Wikipedia provides so much reliable material. When the ratio of correct input to sabotaged errors heavily favors the former, you have a viable operating model. It doesn't have to be perfect to work.

The reasons I felt enticed to consider had mainly to do with my problem-ridden side of my own family tree: my paternal side. That's the realm of paternal grandfather John T. McCann, alsoI'm sure of itknown as Theodore J. Puchalski. Yeah, the guy who insisted to my cousin that he was really adopted. Who raised his kids and grandkids to parrot that unbelievable line that they were really Irish. Anything but the Polish immigrants they really were.

Another aspect of Geni is that it represents itself as widely international in membership. This is supposedly not just an American phenomenon we're observing here, but one with a worldwide draw.

Put that all together and perhapsjust maybeI could find some collaboration among those in that international community who have more insight into my Polish-American problem than I have.

So I went hunting through what I could find at Geni, as an unpaying visitor. I searched every off-the-wall Polish surname I could recall from my crazy paternal ancestry, with very little luck. For Aktabowski, only one family came up in the results. For Gramlewicz, none. Laskowska and Laskowskithe respective female and male derivatives of that Americanized surname Laskowskibrought, predictably, many more results. But I shudder to recall how many of those entries portrayed the uninformed work of unidentified participants who apparently weren't even aware of such general genealogical conventions as listing a woman by her maiden name, even if she was later married.

Details like that tend to scare me away from such public participation. I'd sure appreciate some help...but maybe not that kind of help. That would turn into an exercise of sheer frustration.

Then, too, I have to pull back and realize something: the limitations I face. They're the same as the ones you face. They generally have to do with a finite amount of time in any given day, overlaid upon a burgeoning splay of activities to be pursued. How carefully we must choose our battles. And, with the recent addition of that DNA project management role on my crowded plate, plus this year's current research goals, it's all I can do to keep up with a day's demands. With a to-do list like that, who needs another straw to lay upon that camel's back?

So, as convincing as that series of blog posts might have been, urging people to consider participation in the World Family Tree at, it looks like the best choice for me, right now, is to turn and walk away.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Piece That Got Me Thinking

That struggle between free and expensive, encapsulated in the Stewart Brand quote I mentioned earlier this week concerning the dichotomy inherent in the nature of information, can all be blamed on something I read earlier this month.

It was a long and rambling piece recognized by genealogy blogger Randy Seaver in his "Best of the Genea Blogs" week in review on June 12. Since I rely on Randy's takeamong many otherson what's new and interesting in the world of genealogy, I noticed his mention of this particular post.

The post came with a title which seemed innocuous enough"Is Your Genealogist Certified or Certifiable?" Don't let that title fool you into thinking the subject matter was one straightforwardor blanddeclaration of opinion. Above all, don't convince yourself that you will either agree or disagree with the body of his contention. This article is a journey. And it is not an either/or proposition; it is both/and. Don't let the consuming sense of violent opposition keep you from mining the nuggets embedded within the screed.

Before I start sharing some excerpts from this article, let me mention a few background details. For one thing, being unfamiliar with this bloggerE. Randol SchoenbergI had no idea he was likely the very man sitting behind the table underneath the banner for at the conference I just attended earlier this month.

Still, since I am not familiar with, being a staffer at their table at a conference exhibit hall would not be a compelling enough reason to draw me aside. So I didn't stop by.

(Now, if someone had told me that this very man was a grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg, for that I would have stopped.)

Granted, if earlier, I had been introduced to this man's blog posts, I likely would have wanted to have some face to face interaction. But now I can only hope to have a chance to connect in the future with someone who remarked,
If you don’t publish your work and allow it to be reviewed (as all scientists and academics do, for example) you really cannot advance the field or find out if you made a mistake. A field in which no one publishes their work so that it can be verified is not rigorous enough to be taken seriously.
About what circumstance did he make this comment? He was concerned with genealogists who do not make their own treesresearch on their own familiesavailable for public scrutiny. (Read here: those who do not post a public family tree, which is not necessarily one and the same as an academic publication of one's "work," in which responsibility for the veracityor valueof the work may be fixed upon a specific individual or team of researchers.)

Of course, this man has a vested interest in encouraging people to make their trees public: he is an advocate for, home of the "World Family Tree."

As compelling an argument as Schoenberg can make for your participation in this public tree project, he can turn scathing in his replies to those recoiling from that open access. Take his remarks about that protest I've been writing about this week, the one complaining about who "stole" someone else's family tree.
No amount of explanation can temper their ire. The mere suggestion that they might not have the right to tell other people what they can and cannot put on a family tree sends them into a fit of fury. No, their family trees are highly valuable trade secrets that must be kept out of the public domain.

He continues with his apparent characteristic flair:
And of course, their work is always 100% correct, although no one is ever allowed to check it to make sure. They cannot be associated with the work of others who certainly don’t meet their high standards. Indeed, their work must be protected from the masses who are all just chomping at the bit to alter their trees and intentionally insert mistakes into their otherwise error-free data.... [N]o matter what privacy protections a company might offer, they aren’t enough to protect their family members from the marauding hordes that are just waiting to peek at their family trees to torment them and steal their identities.

This acerbic treatment continues in his other posts. True to blogging form, Schoenberg hyperlinked some of his references to expanded treatment in previous posts, including one about the World Family Tree, asking "Why Aren't You A Part of It?"

This is where I found myself getting a bit testy. True, the blogger starts out innocuously enough. "Most people start genealogy with a pretty narcissistic it’s-all-about-me approach," he begins. "But as you mature, you should start to think about how you can contribute your work to something larger than yourself."

His conclusion? "The best way to do that is not to work alone."

But he can't just leave nice enough alone.
Let's face it, you're lazy. I know why you haven’t put your tree on Geni. You think it’s a lot of work, and you don’t want to have to redo everything you’ve done for the past umpteen years.

Continuing in a third post, "Answers to Geni Skeptics," hyperlinked from the second post mentioned above, he begins to take on the air of a Yiddish grandmother.

About "someone stole my tree"...
You don’t own your mother and father, even if you call them “my mother” or “my father.” So, no one can “steal” your family tree.... The bottom line is that anyone is allowed to create a family tree [on] using the data on your family tree. So, get over it.

About demanding that a family member be deleted from the World Family Tree:
Please. Let your sister take care of herself. You aren’t responsible for her.

About dislike over the lack of control on a public tree like the one on
If, when you were in Kindergarten, you got a “Needs Improvement” in Works Well With Others, then Geni is not for you.

About finding mistakes on a collaborative tree:
You didn’t bother to try to fix the mistake because you’d rather criticize Geni than actually do genealogy. You think you are the greatest genealogist in the world, but you have no clue because you have never worked on a collaborative site like Geni and seen how other genealogists work. There are folks on Geni who do more serious genealogical work before breakfast each morning than you do in an entire week. But you wouldn’t know that, because you are too old-fashioned to try something new.

But most of all, what irks me is that, though the author goes to great lengths to compare genealogy with science in general (ah, now you see the inspiration for yesterday's post), he dismisses the efforts of genealogical research with a brusque comment,
that beautiful little tree that you spruce up and polish and admire is going to simply disappear into oblivion when you are gone.  No one is going to care.

And reduces genealogical work to the mere assembling of facts, as if, unlike a scientific exploration, the effort of a case study would not add anything of conceptually original work.
The basic facts on a family tree...are neither original nor authored by you. They are not protected by copyright. This is true even if you did a lot of work or paid a lot of money to compile the information. The bottom line is that anyone is allowed to create a family tree using the data on your family tree. So, get over it.

I've thought long and hard about these three posts by this southern California attorney. While I may not be as eloquentnor as bitingas he, I still disagree. Genealogical research is not merely the assembling of publicly-accessible facts. Not, at least, if you take the time to construct a thorough proof argument in support of the way you chose to do the assembly of those disparate—and often hiddenparts.

While this author may contend that a "field in which no one publishes their work so that it can be verified is not rigorous enough to be taken seriously," if no one may receive credit for that hard-won work, it is likely there will not even be such work published.

Rigorous work requiring peer-reviewed examination also includes holding the workers responsible for their own work. I'm concerned that "work" which magically appearsor is subsequently magically adjusted (maybe to the better, maybe to the worse)without any responsibility affixed to insure its accuracy may, in the long run, not provide enough incentive for qualified participants to continue contributing to the increase of that body of knowledge.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where Credit is Due

Why is it that the very group of people who expecteven demandfootnotes for even the most basic mention on a genealogical blog post are quite content to heap scorn upon those who'd like a little credit for the time and expense they've invested in compilation of their own family tree?

Okay, perhaps that's not an entirely fair statement. It may not be the very group. But within that general group identity of genealogists, we can include those among the footnote police and the free-family-tree proponents.

Wouldn't it be more consistent to give credit where credit is due all the time?

Here's my case. Rather than stick with the realm of genealogy, I'll use something a bit more generic to make this more of an academic argument: science.

Suppose a scientist got a brilliant insight into a problem resolution in her field and wanted to test her idea. What would be the process to achieve that?

Remember the scientific methodthat old phrase every elementary school student was obliged to learn? The scientist would begin by formulating a hypothesis, then running that idea through its paces in a step-by-step process ingrained into the scientific community. Within that process would be a review of the literature, a sort if "if then, then that" litany of every discovery leading up to this brilliant insight that was about to be tested.

Within that review of the literature, if the scientist on our hypothetical research team neglected to give credit for any of those first mentions in that litany, she would be remiss in her approach. Even past experiments that contradicted her assumptionsor even failed to demonstrate what she hoped to explorewould be considered to be rightfully included in a thorough review of the literature.

And credited, of course.

Now, let's switch back to a field in which we're a bit more familiar: genealogy. Why is it that, if a professional researcher publishes an article or case study on a specific aspect of genealogy, we expect there to be citations for each fact previously borne out in other researchers' writing, and yet, if an everyday "citizen genealogist" (thank you, Blaine Bettinger, for suggesting that possibility) makes the effort to travel great distances and invest hours or even days poring through microfilms or reading through old probate records to ascertain the true identity of a person previously not linked to a specific family, and then adds that confirmed entry to her family tree, we merely laugh when that researcher becomes incensed if her work has been lifted without any credit?

What is the difference between a scientist formulating a hypothesis, then checking that line of thought via a thoroughand correctly creditedreview of the literature, and an avocational genealogist reviewing the work of other such genealogists to see what would support a genealogical hypothesis? The only difference I can tell is that we, as genealogists, may blithely dismiss the work of others with the tra-la-la of that oft-repeated tune, "genealogies cannot be copyrighted."

If we seek to elevate genealogy to a higher professional standard, wouldn't it make sense to respect the work of others with the same courtesies other professions accord fellow researchers working in their body of knowledge? Yes, a fact may be a fact, but even scientists in other fields will give credit to those who were the first to point out what that fact was.

Why can't we?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Behind the Shroud of Privacy

Information wants to be free...

So goes the saying, oft repeated by technology activists advocating for free access to everything from newspaper articles locked behind paywalls, to proprietaryand privilegeddetails of patents.

Strangely, that sentiment has found its way into the world of genealogical research, too, especially when mouthing the oft-repeated assertion, "Genealogical events cannot be copyrighted."

The instance prompting such an assertion is, of course, the howling protest of a researcher who has just realized her decades of hard work have been, with the click of an electronic wand, copied onto the online tree of someone who never bore the burden of such research effort. There seems to be no sympathy for those crying, "You stole my tree!"

Of course not. Nobody can steal a family tree. The fact that each of our ancestors has lived and diedand when and where such events had befallen themis duly noted in many public documents, all of which are available for the asking, if you know how to pursue such information. There is no way one researcher can claim exclusivity via copyright on such material.

And yet, despite the apparent glee with which some critics address the angst of such hardworking researchers, these downtrodden devotees of research persistence may well have a reason for the righteousness of their claim. It is not necessarily the facts embedded in the information that can be stolen, but the workmanship in stating one's genealogical hypothesis, formulating and executing the research approach, and publishing the findings of that process that should be honored as a specific researcher's contribution. And credited as such, as well.

I've recently been reading the usual screed on the subjectgenerally by one quite willing to heap the scorn of ad hominem attacks upon his opponentand it must have pushed me over the limit line. To save today's post from becoming too long, I'll continue this argument later in the week. Suffice it to say that, prompted by two brief events occurring just yesterday, I need to step up and deliver my mind on the topic. Perhaps those disabused researchers aren't as justly reamed out as we might suppose. There may be another side to the argument.

What came to my attention just yesterday, courtesy of two entirely opposite events, tipped my own opinion on the matter towards those maligned researchers. What happened was this: first, I ran across someone's family tree on Ancestry which gave every appearance of having wholesale copied my own. That, in and of itself, would not be a problem; I love helping others with their genealogical researchand besides, when it appears the interested party is actually a distant cousin, I love to meet such people and then enjoy the serendipity of then working jointly to solve genealogical puzzles of mutual interest.

The chill was that this researcher was not a relative. In fact, this researcher may have taken that material, turned around and sold those "discoveries" to someone who is a relative. I don't know how the professional genealogical world views such instancesafter all, those "facts" are publicly documentable (thus "free" to be shared), despite having cost me a considerable amount in having done sobut in my book, such behavior would border on unethical. If you get paid for the work, you should be the one who did the work.

I spent the better portion of the morning grumbling about the inequities of such sentiments of "information" being "free." Uppermost in my mind, by that point, was the relative advantages of hiding my own work safely behind a wall of its own: converting my trees from public to private status. Then, the only people who would be able to see my work would be the ones I carefully vetted and granted permission to access. I could police my own private world, and protect myself from any further such abuse.

It was a wonderful email that snapped me out of that foul reverie. Thankfully. From a fellow researcher whom I'd love to nominate as Genealogist Role Model of the Yearif there ever were to be such an awardI received a brief note powerful enough to brighten my mood and change my mind.

This writer began by explaining the context of her message: researching one of those messy families with multiple marriages, to each party of which were attached multiple children. She explained her quandary with that setting, and how it, somehow, connected with my tree. After providing her resolution, she concluded with the statement,
I just wanted to tell you how helpful your tree was in my search.

Did the lowering clouds just break up and give way to glorious sunshine? Did the flowers lift their faces upward, the birds start their cheerful response? Was that an angel choir I just heard singing?

Have you ever gotten a comment as encouraging as that? Who was this person? And where is she hiding her wings?

Had I tucked my tree behind that shroud of privacythat option for the hyper-vigilant, ever guarding their material so no one will "steal" their treeI would never have made contact with such a sterling fellow researcher. I would have kept that tree in its pristine condition, true, but in taking the risk to face the messy aspects of real life, I get to do just thathave a life. A life full of connections with real, living people who can share the kind of stuff I'd never otherwise find—and whom I can benefit, too, by reciprocating in kind. A life of enjoying friends in the research world whom I'd otherwise never have had the chance to meet.

Funny, but the very quote used by those seeking to force information out into the public, where it can be "free"free, also, to be stolen, misused, misattributedwas itself mis-represented.

The "information wants to be free" line was first credited to Stewart Brand of Whole Earth Catalog fame. But that is only half of the story. The full statement was first presented like this:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Later, Stewart Brand explained his thought in this more succinct form:
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive.... That tension will not go away.

So the very phrase co-opted by those wanting to shame people for expecting any proprietary claim over the hard work they've done actually turns out to be misdirected. It is no such case at all, but an observation of the effect of opposing forces.

In the case of genealogy, it is easier to get one's tree out thereas also it is to assemble the information more completely and correctly. While "the right information in the right place" in a family tree may not be what "changes your life," I'm certainly glad to access it.

When it turns out that I'm the one who put that right information in the right place, I'd certainly appreciate credit for it. Even if it was gotten for freeor for the mere $298 of an annual world subscription to Information may want to be free, but I prefer some acknowledgement.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Stop on the Patrilineal Line

Using the Y-DNA test to determine one's patrilineal roots should be easy, right? After all, you go from yourself (if you are a man) or your male relative (if you're like me, researching my husband's line), and you work your way back from his father to his father to...

Except this Y-DNA test is powerful. It can reach far back to that deep ancestry. The kind that happened before surnames were invented. Before genealogical paper trails were created. Before a lot of the stuff that we take for granted in family history research ever existed.

So it doesn't come as too much of a surprise to see Y-DNA results containing matches pointing every-which-way except Stevens, our targeted surname.

Although we've made progress back to the early 1800s, that progress has not budged its position for the last several years. We've gone from the World War II years of Frank Stevens to his dad, Chicago real estate broker and insurance salesman Will Stevens. We've returned to Will's roots in Fort Wayne and documented the life of his dad, street cop John Kelly Stevens, and traced his roots to Lafayette, Indiana and an Irish immigrant called John Stevens. And there, we're stuck.

It would be nice, on our upcoming trip back east, to unearth at least a clue leading us to a previous generation. Yes, I have the Declaration of Intention showing John Stevens to have arrived in Lafayette in 1850, via a journey up the Mississippi from New Orleans. I can't even find the passenger records, though, linking the initiating leg of his voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans.

It doesn't matter how many new documents have been digitized and placed online. Nothing new seems to be coming up.

I'd like to not waste an opportunity to scour the records in person in Lafayette this year, but how? I'll be therebut where else to look?

A very slim possibility recently opened up with a DNA match, not on the Stevens patrilineal side, but on that of second great grandfather John Stevens' first wife, the mother of John Kelly Stevens. Her name was Catherine Kelly, and like her husband, she came from Ireland. Only she came with her parents and several siblings. One of them, it turns out, may have had a descendant whose DNA test just happens to match my husband's results at the appropriate distance of third cousin.

There are a number of reasons why I'm hesitant to jump right on that indicator and consider it full proof that this person's most recent common ancestor is one and the same as our Kelly forebears. For one thing, Catherine Kelly's siblingaccording to this other family's recordsmarried a railroad man and promptly moved out of state. Another problem is that marriage records of the time didn't generally show parents' names. Since this young bride's name was Ann (or Anna) Kelly, the field is wide open for mis-identification. I need something more convincing than that simple marriage record.

This, of course, opens up another slot on that travel to-do list: to see what additional records may be found on our way from Chicago to Columbus this summer. Conveniently on the Interstate an hour's drive just outside Chicago, John Stevens' former hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, makes a nice stopping pointprovided we start our journey early enough in the morning.

I'll have to do a little reconnoitering behind the scenes before we go, just to check out possibilities for further records. The target marriage date was 1872. By the time of the 1880 census, the newlyweds were out of state, residing in Kansas. However, well before that point, their first child was born in Indiana.

Hard to tell what can be found. But it's worth a try.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

How Much we are Like Them

In preparation for Father's Day, my husband posted a photo of his father on Facebook, along with the comment, "In the past few years, I have discovered I am more like him than I ever dreamed possible."

Reading through all the letters Frank Stevens sent home from the war front during the mid 1940s revealed to us a personality that was as uncanny as it was familiar. True, those first five years of life are the most formative ones, but stillhow did this father imprint so much of his character on a son who never saw him again after that young age? There is something intangibly lasting about what we are gifted with by our own fathers.

After I lost my own dad, my visits to my brother often substituted for a "dose" of the man who was no longer here. As he aged, it was amazing to see how much a son could turn into his own father, yet somehow be entirely his own person.

That scenario is shared by so many of usthough perhaps not yearned for quite so much when we have that person in our lives and can interact with him any time we wish. It's accentuated, though, with that keenly-felt vacancy after a dad is no longer with us.

Yesterday, my husband attended a graduation ceremony for the daughter of his best friend. Her dad couldn't be there himself because...well...he died of cancer five years ago. But she and her sister brought a poster of their dad to include in all the photos commemorating the day. As they were making memories, they wanted to include his memory. In a way, it was as if they could feel his presence with them. Perhaps he may have beennot just near, but inside.

In a way, we are our father's presence. The code that made our dad who he was is also part of who we are.

Perhaps that's why adoptees yearn so much to learn who their birth parents were. They have something inside them that seeks to connect with an external manifestation of the physical appearance of that reality built inside them. It's already in there; it wants to find the one out there who mirrors what they know is inside. Whether they ever find a physical presence to hang that yearning upon is immaterial. The presence is already there.

There may be some who have had a rocky relationship with their own father. Maybe some who turned out to hate their own father. As much as there are some who would beam with pride at the comment, there are some who recoil at the accusation, "You're just like your father!" Or would just as soon never see their father again.

But it's too late for that. In a real way, your father is in you. Whether you ever become "like" your father, that code making him who he was is in you, too, making you who you are. That DNA is a powerful messenger.

On Father's Day, we think in terms of what we can give our fathers as a token of our appreciation. In reality, it is our fathers who have already gifted us. Whether we're grateful foror disappointed inthat gift is immaterial. It's an indelible gift which keeps on giving, whether our fathers are here with us, celebrating their day, or only in our memory.

Above: "An Old Man and his Grandson," 1490 tempera painting by Italian Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Opening up Possibilities

It's amazing what a little work, consistently applied, can do for research results. For years now, I've puzzled over DNA test results, wondering "Who are all these people?!"

One by one, I'm now beginning to find some of the answers. It hasn't been easy. And certainly not quick. It's mostly thanks to that plodding strategy to build out my family trees to represent all the descendants ofrather than ancestors ofkey people in our family's trees.

It's interesting how, a hundred years ago, genealogy books would often represent a family's line in titles such as "The Descendants of..." Not so today. With our pedigree chart construction serving as inspiration, it is you at the center of the universe, not your revered ancestor. What used to be the standard genealogical tome of the last century is now blithely dubbed "reverse genealogy."

Since when did we reverse engines?

Using a bit of that reverse genealogy techniquea.k.a. old fashioned genealogical researchI've been building family trees which do show all the descendants of key ancestors. And through that process, I'm finally breaking through to find the nexus with all these "matches" that never seemed to match up with my tree before.

I mentioned one such match earlier this week, when I found a Snider immigrant to Minnesota who married a Larson. Finally, a way to connect to a DNA match whose tree didn't quite reach back far enough to confirm connection with a name as common as Snider. These things only seem to happen as I push out the margins on the trees of all my ancestors' siblings' families.

If it seems that my trees are growing inordinately fast, that's the reason why. All those Catholic families with a dozen childrenmultiplied over several generations of descendantscan add up to a sizeable tree.

So here's where we stand this week.

An extra ninety four entries on my maternal tree brought the count there up to 7,995. Better yet, focusing on specific branches of my mother in law's tree, 161 additions upped the number there to 6,440.

Admittedly, progress slowed somewhat in the last half month owing to my trip down south to attend the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree and genetic genealogy conference. But the key is to keep working at it, no matter what. Slow is better than nothing.

The DNA test results keep generating more matches, as well. I'm up to 1,226 matches for my results at Family Tree DNA, an increase of sixteen over the last half month. And for my Ancestry DNA results, I now have 307 matches, up nine.

My husband's DNA test results are on the rise, as well. He has 755 matches at Family Tree DNA, a modest increase of six since the last tally, and 129 at Ancestry DNA, up seven.

Of course, this adds up to some encouragement to keep plugging at those mystery matches. I was able to contact two of my husband's matches at Ancestry, and two at Family Tree DNAtwo on behalf of his maternal side, the other connected to his father's side, which may turn out to be very helpful where I'm stuck there.

Even more encouraging was seeing my match increase at Family Tree DNA include two on my own paternal side, where I have been sidelined for ages. I have some ideas for breaking through that stalemate, but in the meantime, it's good to find some matches turning up, finally!

Yes, week after week, it may seem like the numbers go up so slowly, but over the long haul, this incremental process does work its own wonders. I'm certainly grateful for any progress made in connecting with distant family members. You never know which distant cousin may hold the key to answer the family history questions that have kept us stumped for years.

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Couldn't Have Done it Without You"

How many times have we heard that statement at an awards ceremony: "I couldn't have done it without you"? A gracious response coming from the recipient of recognition, of course, but do we take the time to considerwhether it's spoken aloud or merely impliedjust how accurate that thought is?

Whether a group effort brings accolades for the leader or for the entire team, this can be said of most of what we accomplish collectively. How can it be otherwise? We may think of the perfect leader as one having super-human attributesdoing everything excellently, being everywhere seemingly all at once, never tiring of offering up that expert contributionbut even if one person can pull off that routine for a season, it can't last for ever. Even the superhuman need to stop and take a breathor a vacationsometime. Being "on" twenty-four/seven is a surefire prescription for premature expiration.

It comes closer to the truth to realize that many accomplishments evolve thanks to the contribution of many. When we build our organizations, remembering thatrather than lusting over the mythical leader with all the solutionshelps to build a longer lasting, more stable entity.

This doesn't just apply to trans-national corporations. It works for our own local associations, as well. More to the point, as we get closer to the grass roots, that team effort is a more organically-nurtured imperative. The needs we uncover in our own "backyard" are so visible to passers-by that they just can't be ignored.

Think barn raisings of generations gone by. Community gardens. Community chests. Team boosters. Sure, each locally-organized drive calls for an adept leader. But the leader can't go it alone. There's a reason why previous generations often repeated that saying, "Many hands make light work."

That was generations ago. Perhaps the Bowling Alone conundrum has chipped away at that work ethic. Are things different now?

When we think of local organizationstake our local genealogical societies, for instance, since we are so familiar with themwe think of a group run by a board. The board makes everything happen, it seems. Yes, some people volunteer for specific, limited-time, projects. But there are so many instances where that small body of leaders puts out a plea for helpassistants to shadow board members, contributors to specific ongoing projects, members to serve on steering committeesand the plea goes unanswered. Everyone loves what the society is accomplishing. But only a few seem to love it enough to put some effort into that love.

And so, those small boards are left to labor alone, inevitably without any back-up plans for unexpected downturns. After all, it's hard to do contingency planning when there's only one person willing to handle each vital task in a project.

I'm thinking of an example from this past week, a time of coinciding unfortunate events that made me wish we were more like the Can Do generations of the past. A local situation, it has to do with our small genealogical society. Last night was supposed to be our monthly meetingin this case, our annual potluck event.

While potlucks are theoretically laissez faire events where everything somehow comes together, our board has learned that such "magic" does not generally coalesce at the very moment of that annual get-together. While everyone loves the relaxed atmosphere and chance to socialize with fellow members, it takes a fair amount of work to make that fun become the fun it is.

One member of our board hosts the event at his home. In order to provide seating for the dinner, he hauls in tables and chairs, plus canopies for shade, before the event even starts. Another board memberour presidentattends to the organization of the evening's activities and program. And the word has to get out via newsletter announcements and invitations requiring RSVP. All of this is seamlessly coordinated by the society's board members.

Seamlessly, that is, until this week, when trouble seemed to conspire against us. A heart attack and subsequent surgery tied up one board member. A death in the family took another board member out of town. And a back injury put yet a third board member flat on her back. All in the same week.

It is times like this when those oft-repeated but seldom responded-to pleas for volunteers to share the burden come back to haunt us. Succession planning is a laudable goal, and certainly much preferred to the line-in-the-sand scene experienced by some societiesthe "I'm quitting; if you want the group to continue, someone's going to have to step up to be President" ultimatum. But isn't there a happier medium somewhere closer to the point of finding people to learn the tasks enough to pinch hit when the need arises? What happens when the Vice President needs a Vice President?

I can think of dozens of ways to theoretically approach such difficulties, but there is one thing missing in all that theorizing: you. "You," the member who loves the events, always shows up, can sometimes be caught vocalizing that "what's in it for me" outlookthose many individuals who once surely thrilled to the oft-repeated line from the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy:
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

I humbly beseech my fellow genealogical society membersand those members of all local societies in our nation and around the worldto re-phrase that famous challenge by inserting the word "society," and see if we can't all join together and make a difference. In our own societies. In our own neighborhoods. Where we can reach out and touch the actual stuff that needs change.

Because, after all, we couldn't do it without you.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The NADs are Back !
. . . And Not so Bad

There must be an ebb and a flow to the arrival of new ancestral discoveries for our family's DNA tests. It sometimes seems there is absolutely nothing matching either my results or my husband's with other test takerswhether at Ancestry DNA or Family Tree DNAfor weeks on end. In fact, for most of the time since we first tested, well over three years ago.

Of course, the results that showed up when I looked yesterday proved all that wrong. And good thing, for these are some of the questions I need answered before our trip back to visit family this summer.

It all started with an email from Family Tree DNA. Since I am now a newly-minted volunteer project manager there, I discovered that status includes receiving advance notice on sales. This is a helpful thing, considering I am now also serving as coordinator for our local genealogical society's special interest group on genetic genealogy. (And yes, there is a Father's Day sale at Family Tree DNA now going on through Monday evening for those wishing to do Y-DNA testing, as well as Ancestry DNA's ten percent off sale for the autosomal test.)

Receiving the advanced notice on the sale prompted me to take a look at my own matches at Family Tree DNA, to see how things were going. And, of course, to wander over to Ancestry DNA to do the same there. Surprise, surprise, there were a few unexpected results awaiting me.

The first thing was, over at Ancestry, a new connection which I hadn't been able to figure out before. The "DNA Circles" showed my husband had a connection with a Larson from Minnesota that had kept me puzzleduntil yesterday, that is, when I was dutifully working on my mother in law's various lines of descendants from the Perry County gang. Remember John Jay Jackson and his ill-fated wife, Sarah Ijams, whom I was discussing yesterday? Seems their daughter Nancy Ann Jackson married a Snider, and one of their children left the hometown to head to Iowa, and later to Minnesota. Working down the line of that couple's descendants, I finally figured out where the connection was with that outlier Larson name which Ancestry had insisted matched up with our test results. Sure enough, there are now two fourth cousins confirmedat least on my paper trailvindicating Ancestry from aspersions cast in their direction over puzzling match results.

Then, too, a match I had found on Family Tree DNA last yearindicating the possibility of a Kelly connection in Indiana's Tippecanoe County, one of the old family homes we'll stop at on our trip this summershowed up in a test result over at Ancestry. With renewed communication, hopefully we'll partner to determine just how this Kelly nexus links us. That will become one of the items on my to-do list for documentation to seek while driving through Indiana this summer.

Usually, the matches I see for our family's testsno matter whether at Ancestry or Family Tree DNAare for very distant relationships. I turn green with envy at our annual DNA conference, hearing those happy stories of connections and discoveries among numerous close matches in other people's results. It never seems to turn out that way for us. A third cousin result seems a luxury in our myriad fifth, sixth, or "distant" cousin returns.

How can I explain the feeling yesterday, of pulling up my husband's account at Ancestry DNA and seeing a result for a first cousin? And, having seen the name of the person, knowing exactly who it was? (Bonus thrill: and not having paid for the test, ourselves, nor pushed or cajoled the person into participating.) Not that it will advance our understanding of the far reaches of our mutual family tree, but it's nice to see a result for a close relative.

Remember those "NADs"New Ancestor Discoverieswhich, in Ancestry's latest revision, had swallowed up and spit out my husband's entire set of bad NADs? While my bad NADs had simultaneously disappeared in that same algorithm adjustment, it seems they are back. More to the point, the first three disappearing names have been replaced with an equally as puzzling trio.

Well, I don't have any specifically good news to mention about them. I'm still puzzled as to who those three people were to whom I'm supposedly related. But based on what happened yesterday in discovering that Larson match, I can see that, given time, patience, and more research, the right surname may well surface and give me a whole new perspective.

Yes, the old NADs went away after Ancestry's most recent revision. And new ones took their place. But that lesson of the other newly-discovered family link reinforces that slow-and-steady approach to DNA matching. There are a lot of relatives in between our own nuclear family unit and those fourth great grandparents who gifted us with all our fifth cousin matches. Tracing each of their descendants may seem tedious. But it's informative. In the long run. If we have the patience to start at the beginning and work our way, step by excruciatingly detailed step, to the end goal.

Above: "An Indiana Road" by American impressionist painter Theodore Clement Steele, 1889; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Disclaimer: No reimbursement or other consideration has been received for mention of either of the two companies above, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA; their sale status has been passed along to you as a service to readers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In Search of Some Patriots

While current-day Daughters of the American Revolution may be celebrating the organization's accomplishments at the 125th session of their Continental Congress this week, I will be at home, scheming how to appropriately document two pathways to D.A.R. membership for my sisters in lawand include a supplemental patriot for my daughter's own membership.

This would all have been long done if it weren't for a few details. The first detaileasily remedied, I know, if only I'd give up my impossible insistence on pursuing this avenueis that one of those pathways is on a maternal line of a mother who died young. In 1829. When there wasn't much documentation of such facts.

The second detail, much easier to document, needs simply be pursued when our family returns to Perry County, Ohio, where John Jay Jackson, Sarah Howard Ijams' husband, once lived. That is why I'm pulling together all the details now, so that when we get there, all I need do is show up at the right governmental or church office and request a copy for my files.

I've written about this couple before. In fact, quite a while ago. Some projects just take time to finish. I've already seen indications that John Jay Jackson came from a paternal line involved in the American Revolution. All I need do, at this pointaccording to my Genealogy Angel and local D.A.R. Registraris show the paper trail.

The path from John's wife Sarah back to her D.A.R. Patriot is much more convoluted. Because of her early death, documents are harder to find. I can, for instance, locate a collection of will abstracts for Perry County during that time frame that includes an entry for her brother, Isaac Ijams (or, as it alternately was spelled, Iiams). Note how the abstract, from Gateway to the West, Volume II, lists Isaac's sister as Sarah Jackson (her married name), and also lists her husband John as executor.

IIAMS (IJAMS), Isaac H. - dated 9-12-1845. Wife, Elizabeth.... Sisters: Comfort Stevenson and Sarah Jackson.... Executors: Ephriam Koons and John J. Jackson.

Looking at a digitized copy of Isaac's will, itself, allows us to see the details of the two items addressing Isaac's sisters.

Item: I give and bequeath to my sister Comfort Stevenson fifty dollars. Item: I give and bequeath to the heirs of my sister Sarah Jackson deceased one hundred dollars to be equally divided.

It's helpful that Isaac mentioned his sister Sarah had predeceased him. But could he have just mentioned the names of those heirs of his dearly beloved sister?!

My problem, of course, is that, having become a widower with several young children still at home, John Jackson wasted no time in remarrying. And having more children. Which ones descend from Sarah, and which ones descend from John's second wife, Mary Cecelia Grate, becomes the key question. My mother in law's line descends from John and Sarah, through their daughter Nancy Ann Jackson. And, as Nancy Annafter her own marriage to Simon Sniderdied in 1905, the only death record I have shows nothing, as far as her parentage. It's a long line of circumstantial evidence that links Nancy Ann to John Jackson and Sarah Ijams, but nothing so elegantly simplified as one single document.

I'd like to draw up a supplemental D.A.R. application on both linesJackson and Ijams. Jackson would be quite simple; John's father, Lyman, is already a proven Patriot. His son John is already mentionedalong with his first wife Sarahin another member's verified line. The drawback is, as I discovered after purchasing the D.A.R.'s copy of supporting documentation, the paper trail was not as thoroughly completed as official expectations now would like to see. Still, it means all I have to do is document the genealogical pathway from my sisters in law (and my daughter, for her supplemental) to John and Sarah.

But it's the principle behind wanting to apply through Sarah Ijams that goads me onward. I want to document the trail through this maternal side, as well. After all, Sarah's own fatherWilliam Ijamswas documented as a Patriot. Her descendants need to be able to recognize her part in the pathway between Patriot and the present.

So, it's time to huddle with my Genealogy Angel once more, pull out all those family documents I've been hoarding in storage boxes for the past umpteen years, and decide which documents, specifically, will be sufficient proof to tie these family members togetherand to my own family. 

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