Friday, October 20, 2017

Day Twenty: "F" is for Family

Where does a month disappear to? We're already two-thirds of the way through October, and I can't say I've made quite as much progress in the Fall Cleanup as I would have liked. This project has been more of a triage exercise: deciding which file folders yield projects that must go on life support immediately and which ones can survive without attention long enough to be lumped together into a subsequent project.

The "F" file looks like it will be worth a long trajectory. Full of folders with information on immediate family, it merits sub-projects of its own.

Like this one: the file was labeled "Family Christmas Letters." For all of you just primed for that cozy holiday season in the offing, imagine your family Christmas letters coming back to haunt you, years after you wrote them.

Yes, I am that relative.

Every year since I don't know when, I took every family letter enclosed with the requisite holiday greeting card and stuffed them inside this file folder. Every new child, then every new grandkid, complete with birth dates, first steps, first tooth, first missing tooth—they're all in that folder. Just in case I missed transferring any of those important firsts into my digital genealogical database, I need to go back through these kept records and make sure I didn't miss a detail.

Actually, I'm thinking of transcribing the letters. Or maybe scanning them. Or both. After all, as one computer whiz once told us—about our then-new 128 megabyte purchase, incredibly enough—"you'll never run out of room on this computer." I should have space to squeeze in at least all these letters. Right?

This puts the "family history" back into Family History. It's probably the closest I'll come to having diaries to transcribe from the words of my siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles.

But it will be a project that will take a lot of time to complete. You can be sure I won't blog about it; grunt work like this seldom makes for scintillating reading. It will be a labor of love worth having, however. Just think of all the possibilities that can grow out of a database like this:
  • Facebook post to nieces and nephews: "In this Christmas card from 1978, your mother bragged about victory over dirty diapers."
  • Tally, per year: how many greeting cards included announcements of new arrivals.
  • Treasure hunt: How many holiday family photographs can you find which include missing members who were photoshopped into the scene?

As it turns out, my year-after-year discipline of saving Christmas letters extended to include all birthday cards, anniversary cards, graduation cards, and other messages which contained information about the family. I have a lot of family details to compile from this decades-old trove.

Final verdict on this folder: set it aside for future transcription. New year's resolution: get to this project a.s.a.p.

Above: "American Homestead Autumn," undated Currier and Ives lithograph; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Day Nineteen: "D" is for "Done"

Sometimes, they bog you down. Sometimes they speed you up. I may have spent forever—or at least a good portion of the month—deciding what to do with the contents of the "B" folders, but I'm apparently making up for it now. This is encouraging news for my flagging Fall Cleanup project.

There were only two folders in my "D" section. Neither of them was for surnames. Nor were they for topics which require a lot of consideration. This is good. I dispatched them quickly.

Of course, I can't just move on without saying just what those two folders contained. But this will be easy. Remember that most of the contents of this file cabinet was assembled in the first few emergent years of online genealogy research.

One feature of the time was the sheer enthusiasm over discovering—be that surname ever so common, like Jones, or unusual, like Taliaferro—that we could connect with fellow researchers via email. Sight unseen, family history enthusiasts were sharing notes with fellow researchers all across the country—no, make that all around the world. (I can vouch for that, having reviewed some responses from Australia and England, as well as the more commonplace Minnesota or Tennessee.)

One way these researchers were able to find each other was through electronic forums. And notes from one of those became the sole resident in my file for "D": the Delphi Forums.

Now, don't go looking for the modern-day version of the Delphi Forums. My sign-in instructions told me to access the site by using the address I tried that, just now, and didn't get anywhere, so I guess that was a website that fizzled around the time of the dot-bomb.

That was an easy journey through the file folder! I was on to "E" in no time, where the story was similar. (You can guess the same is likely to happen when I get to "X," but I was as surprised as anyone to discover I hadn't filed anything in either of these two preceding letters.)

Another forum for genealogy chatting provided the papers stuffed in my "E" folder—for an entity named, logically enough, e-Groups. This was where I met up with some Catholic researchers for Pennsylvania and Ohio, so I owe them much in helping point me in the right research direction. Still, don't think you can access their resources nowadays—unless the company which swallowed them up (Yahoo!) still makes the e-Groups archives available.

Without a second thought, I tossed all those notes in either the recycling bin or the shredder—for those pages with personal information attached.

And just like that, I'm on to the "F" folder. There, unfortunately, I won't be keeping up that brisk pace. Remember, my mother-in-law comes from the Flowers line, and there are several files to inspect, just in that one folder. This will take a while.

Above: "Boulevard Montmartre à Paris," 1897 oil on canvas by Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day Eighteen: Finally! An Emptied Folder!

For as imposing a topic as the American civil war, you'd think it would take me much longer to dispatch with the folder I pulled out of my nemesis file cabinet today. Under "C" for Civil War, it was the item I was due to tackle today, and thinking of all that conflict meant to our nation's history, it should have given me more pause to consider.

Thankfully, it didn't. The only research question I've faced—at least on the Union side—was whether I could find any records of my husband's great grandfather, John Tully, having served. After all, according to a long-winded version of his obituary, the man had served under "General Hooker." I can only presume this means Brigadier General Joseph Hooker.

Despite that note in John Tully's obituary, I never could locate any record of his having served. The folder I encountered in today's installment of The Cleanup reminded me of my attempt, back in 2004, to locate anything at the National Archives. I had saved files containing instructions on how to research the matter, back at that time, and records of my having located a possible John Tully—and paying the fee to gain a copy of his record.

Even so, that attempt was short-circuited when a kind employee, in the process, mentioned to me that he thought I might not be ordering the file for the right John Tully. I recall—though there is, unfortunately, no record of the exchange in this file folder—that the employee mentioned this John Tully had moved, after the war, to North Dakota. Thinking, at the time, that my John Tully had returned to the family home—then in Chicago—that North Dakota wasn't in the picture for our family history.

Of course, it was only later that I learned John's sister Johanna had moved with her branch of the family to North Dakota, so there was a connection, no matter how slim. If only I had thought to continue with the process. After all, what's another thirty seven dollars?

Now, with subscriptions to Fold3 and other research resources, surely I could replicate those files—or at least some smattering of something that could verify the information contained in that email exchange. At least, that's what I thought, as I worked through that Civil War file. But some things just need to be snatched when they are first spotted; I haven't been able to find anything now.

In the end, most of the links provided in the articles saved in that folder are so outdated that I decided to toss the entire folder. Score one for "progress." I'm on to the Ds.

Above: Civil War, Picket Duty in Virginia; oil on panel by American artist Albert Bierstadt; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day Seventeen: Finally at "C"

I may have gotten bogged down in the Bs in The Cleanup, but don't think it will be clear sailing, now that I've emerged into the Cs. If you've ever noticed all my tags at the end of posts and concluded that I don't have many surnames beginning with that letter, you would be correct. Out of the twenty one topic labels beginning with C that I've used in the nearly six and a half years I've been blogging at A Family Tapestry, only four of them refer to surnames. And even two of those are surnames which are tangential to my families' lines.

So as we journey into the section of my file cabinet reserved for genealogical topics beginning with the letter C, there really isn't going to be much that is directly affiliated with a surname.

That may seem to be a good sign. After all, I've been working at this re-organization project for seventeen days now, and I've only conquered two letters of a twenty six character alphabet. But don't think the lack of folders for surnames will speed me along. Each of these folders is labeled with a research topic, sure to be filled with tips on where to find more information on the background subjects which allow us to see our ancestors come alive again (at least in our mind's eye).

For instance, today's folder bids me reconsider what I've learned about researching the genealogy of Catholic ancestors. This is not a compact issue. There is much about the structure and culture of the Catholic Church which has enabled researchers to find out more about their ancestors, thankfully, but even this presents a learning curve for a novice researcher—just as I was, twenty to thirty years ago—particularly for someone who is not personally of the Catholic faith.

Many of the pages saved in my "Catholic" folder referred—not that you'd be surprised—to books. Some volumes were relatively new; others centuries old. One recommended title, Catholic Trails West: The Founding Catholic Families of Pennsylvania, was actually published in 1988, "only" twenty nine years ago. It apparently came in two volumes, though the second volume doesn't seem to be available anymore—a problem, since my mother-in-law's family would be listed, if at all, in the second volume. What a wonder has unfolded, in those ensuing years, as at least the first volume of the book is now available to Ancestry subscribers online.

The trick is finding those old resources now. Another long-pursued resource, I was told, would be the "Goshenhoppen Records," but where to find them, according to these old 1999 file folders, was the main question. It took some current-day googling magic to uncover the hiding place for one online stash of transcriptions of those Goshenhoppen records—both baptisms and marriages—but stuff like this is now out there, if you are willing to hunt for it.

Before you can know to look for it, though, you have to know it's out there—and to know why you would want to look for it. In my case, it was years of putting in time in background reading to learn that the Catholics in this time period were likely to move as a group—and did, often, from chapel to chapel to chapel, as priests established new places of worship as they moved westward. That, in fact, was what brought my mother-in-law's family west to Ohio; her ancestors settled where the state's first Catholic Church had been established. I had to learn that before I could know to look for the records of each stopping place along the way.

Above: "On the Saco," undated oil painting by American artist Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Day Sixteen:
Digging Deeper Into that File Cabinet

For those who've noticed how I've gotten stuck, in my Fall Cleanup project, at only the "B" files, you may have wondered if I found any answers with another surname starting with that same letter.

The short answer: maybe.

The longer answer has to go around the detour of another file folder: the one I set up for "Books—sources for rare book publishers." Apparently, those well-informed, diligent researchers I met in my early-online-genealogy researching days were hot on the trail of out-of-print books sure to produce answers to their genealogical questions. Since some volumes having to do with Frederick County, Maryland, were among the publications being sought, I had to hold on to those pages in the folder. Yet again, my intent to toss these files has been foiled.

The verdict rests upon whether I can conjure up those website addresses after, yea, these many years.

In the meantime, I moved on to that next file folder—and yes, it was for my Broyles line. A thick folder. This stack of papers will take quite a bit of consideration. While I don't recall having stumbled upon any answers to my migration mystery of the past month, I'll be sure to check the contents of this file carefully.

Once again, this file contains numerous very old website addresses, plus a lot of email correspondence with distant cousins. One letter was to someone who turned out to be a ninth cousin in that Broyles line. How I wish some of these old contacts had been around to do a DNA test!

As it turns out, one researcher had actually sent me a copy of the Arthur Leslie Keith manuscript, so while I've been checking it out via its online source in the past month, I had a paper copy of it, all along. Truth be told, I'd much rather go through the digital copy, for it's handily searchable, speeding the research process. But I'm glad to have one at hand to refer to, if needed.

Better yet, the copy included a hand-written note with the email of the helpful Broyles cousin who had provided it to me. I have often thought of that Broyles connection, as I struggled over my research questions in the past month. Another distant Broyles cousin, this man was well versed in the many branches and descendants in this line. His own part of the Broyles family tree included a Broyles ancestor who had gone west to California during the Gold Rush era. You can be sure he had some colorful stories to share about his ancestor's experiences. I've often wondered if I could still connect with him. I guess now, I won't need to wonder much longer.

As the process continues, I'm afraid I'm not much of an organizer of old files. The more I search, the more I find that I can't bear to live without. Even trying to re-organize, consolidate files, and put in newer formats doesn't seem to be a workable strategy, for every step mushrooms into a larger to-do pile than what I started with, originally.

One thing I can say, though: at least I'm now out of the "B" folder and into the "C" section. Progress may be slow, but at least it is moving forward.

Above: "Berlin: Victory Avenue with Victory Column in Autumn," undated pastel on cardboard by German artist Lesser Ury (1861 - 1931); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Day Fifteen: Some Things
Just Aren't There any More

As wildfires tore through the landscape in the northern California wine country this past week, I received several concerned phone calls. "Are you alright?" was the question, though the fires in Sonoma County are over one hundred miles removed from my home. Some people don't comprehend the enormity of a state this size, and it takes a phone call to put it all in perspective for well-meaning friends and family.

Though our family is far removed from harm's way, in a different way, the fires still touch my life. It wasn't even two years ago when I wrote about a break in my schedule for a few days' getaway to Santa Rosa, county seat of the same Sonoma County which, this past week, has been so devastated. That historic round barn I wrote about in that post from November 18, 2015? Gone. Completely.

It's not just the historic landmarks—not to mention the many beloved favorite places—that have been lost, but, for me, a more personal connection, as well. Santa Rosa was the childhood home of my first husband, the one whose story I shared four years ago, starting with this post. Today would have been his sister's birthday, but—along with her brother and both her parents—she is no longer with us to even see all the devastation hitting her hometown.

It's sobering to see the before-and-after photo recap of some of the losses, such as the one offered in Santa Rosa's local newspaper, The Press Democrat. In linking to those photos, I've cued the sequence to begin with the photo of the round barn as it once stood; clicking through to the next photo shows you what is now left, after last Monday's fire.

With devastation like this, it's not just the tangible that has been lost; it's as if the soul has lost something, as well.

While so many people were scrambling for their lives only one hundred miles away this past week, I was going through my file cabinets, trying to find and extricate myself from all the "stuff" that bogs us down—the clutter we can most certainly live without. With each file I review, however, it seems my resolve to divest myself of my holdings has gradually weakened. There is so much to remember.

As I worked on that Ambrose file, then followed along both the alphabet and my mother-in-law's family's migratory pathway, the papers I saved reminded me of what I had found in research efforts nearly twenty years ago. The end of the trail, going backwards in time from Ohio, through Pennsylvania, then closer to the Atlantic seaport where the immigrant founder families surely stepped off their tiny sailing vessel in the early 1700s, was likely near the place where they first settled in Frederick County, Maryland.

The only problem has been that the place I saw named was a place I could never find: Monocacy, Maryland. I always satisfied myself, in the face of that puzzle, with calling it simply "Frederick County," and leaving off any designation of a town.

Curiosity finally got the best of me, and this week I googled it. Entering "Monocacy" in the search box didn't seem to produce any helpful results, though. I found information on the river, the Civil War Battle, and the National Park commemorating the site. But no town by that name.

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon it, but I finally found out why I couldn't find the place called Monocacy—the place where my mother-in-law's ancestors once lived. The reason? The village, probably founded sometime between 1725 and 1730, is no longer in existence. Even as recently as the end of the next century, people were no longer sure of its original location.

That's a haunting thought: could people forget something as heart-important as someone's hometown as soon as the close of the next century? What about those blackened hundreds of homes and businesses all across Santa Rosa? Will all that turmoil—and the people whose lives have been upended—be forgotten as soon as 2187?

Above: Remembering the Fountaingrove Round Barn of northern Santa Rosa, as it stood in 2015; photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Day Fourteen: Turning Analog Into Digital

One of my hopes, during The Cleanup, was to take my old paper copies of genealogical significance and convert them into digital files. Gone, with the magic of a scanner, would be pages upon pages of old notes and records. I had visions of empty drawers in no-longer-necessary file cabinets.

This, however, was not to be—if I kept discovering papers I still can't bear to part with.

By the time I got to the file folder for "B," I discovered one detour around that problem: many of my notes in the "Berks" file were for old, mostly out-of-print reference books I had meant to consult long ago—if I could ever find a copy.

The solution, I figured, would be to check those old titles now and see what could be found online. After all, places like Internet Archive, HathiTrust, the Digital Public Library of America, among others, make it possible to find research resources that otherwise might only be apprehended on a grand safari to the legendary Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

The problem is: that option only works for books now in the public domain. One of the books referenced in my notes in this file folder was entitled Epitaphs: Handbook of Historic Family Graveyards, Berks County, Pennsylvania. The book was published by the Berks County Association for Graveyard Preservation in 1999. Not exactly an antique.

As it turned out, antique or no antique, the book is now out of print. At least, that's according to Amazon—and I figure they would know a thing or two about books. Still, a title like that made me think it might be a book that would come in handy for my mother-in-law's Flowers family heritage in Berks County, so I tried taking a different approach.

If I can't buy the thing, perhaps I can borrow it, I thought, but no—the nearest library for me, according to WorldCat, other than the one at the end of a six hour drive down to Los Angeles, would guessed it...that library in Salt Lake City.

Still, there were other books listed which were classified as publications in the public domain, thankfully, and I was able to locate, online, a digital copy of one referenced in my many emails with other Berks County researchers: Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania. This is the type of resource that the Internet Archive is appreciated for. Not only can I peruse the volume at my convenience in comfy clothes, sipping a hot chocolate at three in the morning (if I please), but I can make an electronic note of the whereabouts of the tome, and chuck the offending bit of paper upon which I had scribbled the reminder to myself twenty years ago.

This, page by page, is how I make progress in emptying my old file cabinet and re-purposing it for more current uses.

Above: "Autumn Landscape," 1870 oil on board by New Hampshire native Alfred Thompson Bricher; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Day Thirteen: Made it to "B"

I know, I know: at this rate, I won't make it to the end of the file cabinet before I run out of days in this month. Nobody ever promised that this Fall Cleanup project would come to a neat stopping point at the end of October. Cheer up, though: I am making progress.

Finding old notes from, say, 1998 sure can boost one's research progress. I'm stumbling upon hints I promised myself I'd follow up on, nearly twenty years ago. Of course, I've forgotten about most of this material. But I'm certainly glad to have rediscovered it.

Today's folder, the first in the "B" section of my slowly-revamped file cabinet, held the contents for a geographic area once home to my mother-in-law's family. I have to laugh when I think of all the material I had saved for my mother-in-law's tree; when I first interviewed her to get started on this research project, she felt certain that I wouldn't find much. After all, according to her, this family had likely just "gotten off the boat" only a couple generations before hers.

The geographic spot detailed in my file folder for her family was for Berks County, Pennsylvania—at the start of the 1770s. Apparently, at that point, Berks was a new county in Pennsylvania, having been formed from three of only four counties which existed in the colony prior to the 1752 Berks County formation. That, in the 1770s, became the home of my mother-in-law's immigrant ancestors Henry and Rosina Flowers.

The Berks folder contained many reprints of online articles and personal emails to me from other researchers, dating back to 1997. Most of them had references to books or website addresses.

I thought it might be interesting to see if any of those sources would be available today. Though the search was worth the try, I doubted I'd find anything. Still, once having found the answer, I could then toss the paper and downsize my research holdings in all good conscience.

Remember Geo-Cities? How about the user pages at These were the types of references I ended up putting through their paces. To nobody's surprise, the Geo-Cities reference led to a generic Yahoo page, scoring me one basket in the throw-away contest. And gone were the user pages at familytreemaker—though I found, thanks to Google, some of those addresses were redirected to the User Home Pages section of  No surprises there. But I was surprised to see how many other references still existed online.

One resource still available turned out to house the updated version of some reports written by a researcher named Bob Reinsel. Though the URL was slightly altered from the original one I had noted in my records, it still contained the very items I had printed up for future reference, back in the 1990s. These were spot on for my mother-in-law's migrating Catholic family, including articles on the changing geography of colonial Pennsylvania and the migration patterns of the Catholic church through Pennsylvania.

While the original articles I had in my files included details that obviously needed some correction—provided in the updated version of the website—they were useful in a trailblazing sort of way. They provided me keywords and tips for where to pursue further record searches. The only down side was that the records these articles pointed me to were, in and of themselves, difficult if not impossible for me to access. Thus, the reason behind my saving them in a file for future use.

Hopefully, that time may well be now. The next step, in evaluating what to keep from this "Berks" folder, is to see which of those old books and websites can be accessed now, nearly twenty years since I first discovered them, thanks to the email and forum friendships I had struck up with fellow researchers so long ago.

Above: "Autumn in America, Oneida County, New York," undated oil on canvas by American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Day Twelve: Value of the Back Story

There is absolutely no way to simply purge a file cabinet full of folders of genealogical material. I knew, in this Fall Cleanup project, that I would run into a roadblock somewhere.

I wasn't expecting it to come with the letter "A."

Sure enough, no sooner had I flipped through the first few papers in my file for the surname Ambrose than I uncovered some long-forgotten resources providing me the back story to some colonial ancestors. Many of these treasures were from pages posted online by other researchers—tucked away in user pages at the FamilyTreeMaker website, or the "freepages" at Rootsweb, or on a person's own website back in the 1990s—which shared much more than just pedigree charts.

Looking through the clippings I had saved, it was obvious that many of my fellow Ambrose researchers—indeed, of researchers in that era pursuing any of the same surnames as I was—were concerned with far more than the bare bones facts of name, dates and locations. They wanted to know the reasons why their ancestors did what they did. The wanted to understand the life surrounding those people and what motivated them to make the choices they did.

For the most part, that goal takes an understanding of history, but often, that history was local. I was grateful for anyone who had taken the time to understand what was happening in the area where my ancestors once lived, three hundred years ago and more. Whenever I found an article explaining a key aspect of life in the neighborhoods where my ancestors lived, I tried to print up a copy of the material and file it in the appropriate folder.

And now, look at me: going back over these now-forgotten notes from nearly twenty years ago with that déjà vu feeling—yet knowing I had read them before, and that I was right when I thought it was important.

The only problem is: how can I toss those papers now? Saving them will mean incorporating them into my current research system by scanning them as an e-document or transcribing the significant parts as notes in my research journal. These are not blips of details that can be shoved into the fields in a genealogical database management system. Articles of substance really do need a place of their own, if they are materials that need to be consulted over and over.

Some of the material explained the reasons behind situations much like the ones I wondered about when I was pursuing my Davis, Broyles and Tilson lines in the colonial Virginia wilderness last month. One article discussed the waves of migration westward—in the 1700s, before the American Revolution. Another reviewed the reasons why it was hard to track a specific surname in records of that era (a combination of multiple languages, liberties with phonetic spelling, and inability to double-check what was written due to illiteracy). One valuable article reviewed the main migration routes and chapels of the Catholics in Pennsylvania.

All of these articles were important to me, because they were the very topics that concerned the history of my mother-in-law's family, one of the families which, of course, I've been dedicated to researching over the years. Understanding the back story on these movements through time, across the continent, helped me see the fuller picture on just who those ancestors really were. The greater history also helped me zero in on the micro-history of my family, helping me to learn where the best resources might be for the specific documents I'd want to find to verify my family's story.

Along with emails providing the names of useful books on these topics—and the likely places where I could access that material back in 1999—the articles and letters I kept will likely take a lot more time to save, in my current digitized system, than merely deciding, yea or nay, whether to save them.

The material, itself, serves to provide an enriched version of my family's story. In my mother-in-law's story, it means appreciating the struggle of Catholic families escaping the war-torn turmoil of their European homes only to find themselves moving westward through the states of Maryland and then Pennsylvania, seeking a haven where they could, finally, put down roots and call a place home.

I had forgotten that many of the answers to those broad questions were all filed in a slim folder with the simple label "Ambrose" up on top.

Above: "Autumn Landscape in Rybiniszki," 1902 watercolor on paper by Polish artist Stanislaw Maslowski; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Day Eleven: "A" is for Ambrose

With the two lowest drawers in my erstwhile genealogy file cabinet emptied of all their former paper occupants, it's time to move on to some real old family history notes. I'm jumping over the nitty gritty of the mundane side of this Fall Cleanup project—the part about moving files, fixing the frame for my hanging file system, emptying and adjusting old folders—and going straight to my first file folder in that top drawer.

As much as I could, I filed stuff by surname, in alpha order. Sure, there were other topics listed (which, once upon a time, were stacked in alpha order in a drawer all their own, before Life got in the way and evicted them for more urgent topics). This, now, becomes my first chance to take a long look at each folder and decide what to keep and what to add to the next recycling pickup's shredding pile.

Nothing is ever simple, of course, and as much as I'm currently obsessed with the history of us as digital-age genealogists, I couldn't even make it through one measly file folder without getting sidetracked by all the fascinating details.

This was, after all, a folder complete with all my correspondence exchanged with other researchers pursuing the surname Ambrose—circa 1999.

Ambrose is a surname way at the other end of my mother-in-law's family history—the point at which they arrived in the New World from places as-yet unknown. I know they were once living in Frederick County, Maryland, when Maryland was merely a colony in the expansive British Empire, not a tiny state in the U.S.A.

The patriarch of this particular line, best I can tell from those 1999 inquiries with other Ambrose researchers, was a man named Matthias Ambrose. Born in Germany in what, on his headstone from 1784, looks like the date 1696, he was buried in Frederick County.

His namesake son, however, died in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, having listed the two daughters of interest to my mother-in-law's line in his 1804 willthankfully—before his passing. Those two Ambrose daughters—Elizabeth and her younger sister Susannah—happened to marry two Flowers men, Joseph and his older brother, John Henry, and eventually settled in Perry County, Ohio. That line of Joseph Flowers and Elizabeth Ambrose eventually became the far end of the patriline ending with my mother-in-law's father.

Long before became the go-to online resource it has become today, researchers had several options available to them, besides the typical on-site route. Services such as my Prodigy connection hosted online interest groups, and you can be sure there were several options for genealogy enthusiasts there. Anyone who used a desktop-resident genealogical database management system could usually find a users' group, or even a special website devoting space to "User Home Page Reports," such as the one dedicated for that purpose at the erstwhile Family Tree Maker's Genealogy Site, where I found one user's "home page" detailing all her Ambrose connections.

I developed long-term email relationships with researchers at both of those online resources, and from other resources as well. One helpful site was the one known as Rootsweb. Now hosted by Ancestry, the free site included mailing lists for geographic locations as well as surnames. I preferred using the geographic lists, organized first by state and then by county, where I could sign up in "digest" form to receive all communications on Frederick County, Maryland, and could inquire about other researchers seeking those Ambrose ancestors.

The same went for another online message board, GenForum. At both places, I'd regularly post inquiries seeking other researchers working on the same lines. Some of those connections led to diligent researchers, who often were situated closer to the geographic area, making it easier for them to access cemeteries or newspaper articles of interest to the other kazillion distant Ambrose cousins also seeking the same details.

Sometimes, the connections were as simple as the cheery note from one Ambrose researcher:
I'm also working on the Matthias Ambrose line, being a descendant of his daughter Catherine, who married Johannes Weller. From which child are you descended?

Some of those notes I've saved from 1999 led to bigger discoveries and sharing of resources. A note that began, "It's always great to find another Internet cousin!" connected me with a direct descendant of the Ambrose grandparents of Elizabeth and Susannah—but don't let that dizzying genealogical distance distract you; it's the amount of information she was willing to share, via email, that was significant.

While some researchers showed up to humbly ask for help, others checked in online as a resource to others. Their offerings were often impressive, like those of one woman who I first met on account of her query about land records and "liber abstracts" in Maryland. It turned out she was willing to share extensively her discoveries on the Ambrose surname in general and the family tree in particular.

Of course, for each significant exchange I engaged in, I felt compelled—in that 1990s style—to print up those emails and file them under the applicable surname. Thus, the folder labeled Ambrose, my first job to tackle while decluttering my file cabinet.

Now, I'm not so sure I can just chuck those items; they call me back to an era in which like-minded researchers shared their keen interest in specific details of ancestors long gone. It was a time of collegial courtesy, an opportunity to share as well as receive.

After I had helped one Ambrose researcher with a particularly insightful question, he sent his cordial thanks, along with this remark:
In a world so troubled as the one we live in, I cannot express the joy that I have gotten from genealogy and the wonderful people I have been lucky enough and privileged to meet.

How can I toss a correspondence like that? It has not only become a document of the path we collectively took to rediscover our forebears; it has become an example of one era in the ongoing history of genealogical pursuits that, in retrospect, takes on the aura of a golden age of cooperative effort.

Above: "Autumn on the Hudson," 1875 oil on canvas by Hudson River School landscape artist Jasper Francis Cropsey; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Day Ten: Killed It

Besides my errant pursuit of rabbit trails yesterday, there was another reason the sound of my grinding away at that paper shredder came to an abrupt halt: I think I killed it.

Other than proof that, see, I was working hard on this genealogical Fall Cleaning project, having the contraption fail on me was actually an inconvenient event. Around our neighborhood, today is our biweekly recycling pick-up day, and I wanted to have the whole of that paper mountain shredded and out at the curb. By the time the thing quit on me yesterday afternoon, I was far from finished.

There were three options at the root of my dilemma. First was that the thing needed a good oiling. After all, I had been working it nonstop for quite some time. Second, possibly owing to the same cause, was that the machine had overheated and simply needed to cool its engine for a while. Third was a problem of an entirely different type: the shredder was eligible for antique status and had simply met its demise.

Always one to stick to the middle ground, I cheered for the second choice.

Meanwhile, I couldn't just sit around and wait for the verdict. The shredder's engine could cool, but I needed to jump to another project. While the cleanup project was on hold, my brain was working on ideas in the background.

I've learned a long time ago that down time is not always the problem it seems to be. I've long been fascinated by the study of creative thinking, and remember stories of inventive people who, though stymied with a problem which they had to set aside for lack of progress, came up with a breakthrough while in their sleep, or taking a shower, or, in one case, simply stepping off the bus on the way home from work.

As it turned out, even my momentary pause—as I waited for the shredder to take its break—turned out to be productive. While attending to other tasks, my eyes lit on just the thing to use to fill in those empty bottom drawers in my reclaimed file cabinet: those old tax records that need to be saved, "just in case." That certainly qualifies as something I won't be consulting on a frequent basis, yet something heavy enough—and definitely something that needs to find a home to sit in. Right now, those old records are just taking up space on a shelf in a closet, but I'm liking the idea of moving them to the bottom drawer of my file cabinet.

Meanwhile, the paper shredder's motor having cooled down, I tentatively ran a few more sheets through, and was relieved to see that it was back to its usual grinding ways. Not having learned my lesson, I plowed through almost the rest of my paper mountain when the same symptom showed up again.

So close, yet so far away from my goal, I once again had to let the decrepit thing go through its paces. Don't get your hopes up for any mental breakthroughs on this break, though. I took a close look at the problem and realized that, this time, there was a bit of paper which seemed stuck in the wrong place. With a little work, it was loose again, and the task was finally completed.

With a huge garbage sack of shredded paper out at the curb for pickup before dawn this morning, it was gratifying to know I had accomplished yet another small part of the project. It's worth cheering myself on, even for these little steps. Some people just need the encouragement, and I'm willing to admit I'm one of those people.

And the paper shredder? Apparently, I hadn't killed it, after all—though I did slay an entire paper mountain in (almost) one swoop. What I did "kill," though, was one of those nagging problems that sit in the back of the mind, pestering my subconscious for an answer. For the issue of what to place in that bottom drawer of the file cabinet—something heavy, but not something I'd need to lug out of hiding on a frequent basis—I "killed" the problem with an answer that mentally percolated behind the scenes until my brain had some down time for processing.    

Monday, October 9, 2017

Day Nine: Snared by the Bright Shiny

You may have heard the incessant noise of my paper shredder stop in the background before that suspicious telltale silence gave me up. Yep, I was up to no good. That Fall Cleaning project had gotten the best of me; I was ready for something new.

The temptation to veer away from my goal of cleaning up that four-drawer genealogy file cabinet had been building over the weekend. There is only so much drudgery one can stand, before the desire to get back to researching overtakes a soul. (Can you tell that is why I'm in the mess I'm in?)

It was only one peek. I promise. But I caved on my resolve to move, file by file, through that third drawer with that determined glint in my eye to heartlessly shred every paper not worthy of keeping as proper genealogical documentation. Curiosity got the best of me, and I started wondering what fun details I'd rediscover in the file folders in those drawers just above my current work assignment.

It was the top drawer that melted my resolve. That was the one drawer I knew still held genealogical material from the last of my paper-based research days nearly twenty years ago. I carefully opened up the drawer just the tiniest crack—so as to not topple the entire cabinet, of course—and pulled out the first few items my hand could grasp. Three slim file folders and a box of papers were all I could snag.

The box was labeled, "Genealogy Papers to File." Set right in front of the top drawer, it was supposed to be Stop Number One, every time I opened up that drawer to do anything, but as I could tell from its full contents, there hadn't been much filing done in a long time. Still, there were many treasures to explore inside, so I set that item aside for another work break.

To assuage my guilty conscience for not having stayed on task, I took the thinnest of the three file folders and worked through them. One was labeled "Computer Info," which sounded like the title for contents which would take some serious consideration. I had to laugh when I realized those mind-numbing computer documents turned out to be mere advertising blurbs for our first online service, No convoluted decision tree to determine what to do with that stack of papers.

The next folder was labeled "" If you've been around the genea-world long enough to recognize that name, you'll probably recall that it was host of the online message board known as GenForum. While GenForum is still accessible online—in a read-only format to which commenting capabilities have been added to already-existing posts—you can be sure I won't be saving any records from that file folder, either. Another snap decision taking only about three seconds. I'm thinking if I can move through the rest of the folders that quickly, this job won't be so bad, after all.

It was the thickest of the three folders that snared me, though. And really, I couldn't help it. The thing was, essentially, a container of material on the history of us as digital genealogists.

Labeled, innocently enough, "," the folder contained stuff all legitimately from that company—only it was stuff from Ancestry, circa 1999, a very different company than the format we've come to recognize today.

Ancestry, back then, provided the Ancestry Weekly Digest by email to anyone who cared to subscribe. You can probably guess I had signed up using my handy-dandy new Prodigy email account. True to 1990s form, I made sure to print up the weekly copy so I could read it in detail, off-line—and then save each issue for future reference.

Interesting to note, the weekly publications included articles by researchers we still consider to be the mainstays of conference fare, webinars, and online publications. DearMYRTLE wrote for the March 27, 1999, issue that "Our Knowledge Base is Expanding." Ya think?! Even Ol' Myrt has reinvented herself multiple times since that date.

That Ancestry publication featured a column by George G. Morgan, another now-familiar name, who has kept up with the times since that early shift in genealogical research. Michael John Neill was there, too, with a featured article, "I'm a Genealogist; I Don't Need to Watch Soap Operas." So true.

The entire multi-page e-publication was put together for Ancestry subscribers under the careful guidance of editor Juliana Smith. Going on the theory that the names on these pages had genealogical durability, I wondered if I could find any current reference to Juliana.

Hmmm...I don't know, but it's interesting that there's a reference for an employee still with whose current name still shows up under the website's subheading for authors as "jsmith" but reads with the name of someone who's been with Ancestry for "more than 19 years." That would put us back at 1998, just in time to rev up the early editions of the Ancestry Weekly Digest. I'm guessing her name wasn't Juliana Szucs back then, though that's what is showing on the website now.

Amazing how the history of us in the genealogy world includes names with long-term stick-ability.

Above: "Rowan Trees in Autumn," undated oil on canvas by Russian landscape artist Ivan Shishkin (1832 - 1898); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.    

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Day Eight: It's a Grind

After finishing up my first week of the big Fall Cleanup project, I've amassed quite a pile of papers to be shredded. No surprise here: it's been quite a while since I've been down this route before, and a lot has accumulated. Spending an afternoon grinding away at the shredding machine can be quite dull, no matter what joy I might have felt at unearthing some space in my file cabinet for future genealogical organizing. It's definitely not worthy of an entire post of its own.

Not to worry, though, for today is time for my regular biweekly tally of research progress. Even though there's been a flurry of activity in the cleanup department for half of that time period, I did manage to keep researching behind the scenes.

I've increased the tally on my mother's side by 124, giving me a new total of 11,529 individuals in her tree. For my mother-in-law's tree, I added 109 to total 12,737. My father-in-law's tree jumped fourteen to total 1,335. My father's tree, unfortunately, stood stock still at 450—but at least I had the good fortune to make two solid DNA contacts on my paternal side, one of which has already been confirmed by the administrator for that match. I'm ecstatic! Finally I have a DNA match on my paternal side!

In general, those DNA matches keep piling on, yet I'm seldom able to fathom just how they relate to me or the family members for whom I'm serving as administrator. When I finally light on one match whose tree makes sense—or at least whose surname rings a bell—it is very encouraging. Despite the number of matches I've received for some trees, there are very few which I've managed to confirm.

For instance, I now have 2,433 matches at Family Tree DNA, a jump of forty nine in the past two weeks alone. For my fourth cousin and closer matches at AncestryDNA, the count now stands at 741, an increase of thirteen. Even at the ever-decreasing 23andMe, my 1,155 count actually increased this past week by two. But of all those declared matches, I've yet to demonstrate the connection on any of them, other than the two I found in my father's line.

It's much the same for my husband's DNA matches. He received twenty seven new matches from Family Tree DNA in the past two weeks, for a total of 1,561. At AncestryDNA, he has 358 matches, up twelve. And he lost four matches from his total at 23andMe, which is now at 1,203.

Granted, many of those matches are for distant cousins, which I am disinclined to pursue. I've set a personal cut-off range of second to fourth cousin, and seldom, if ever, check out a connection beyond that level. The only exceptions might be for an unusual surname which figures prominently in our trees—like Taliaferro or Broyles in my case, where those colonial-era intermarriages tamper with the usual indicators of degree of relationship.

Yet, on the other side of the equation, I rarely see anything closer than a second cousin relationship. Most of the ones I've confirmed have been third cousin, or third cousin once removed, or even fourth cousin. Scouring those matches' family trees for similar surnames can turn out to be a grind, too, for it is seldom that I run into a fellow test-taker who has a tree neatly lined out to the level allowing us to determine most recent common ancestor for a fourth cousin (in other words, to the third great grandparents).

Sometimes, to make progress—whether in the chores of a fall cleaning project or in the throes of finding the right DNA match among hundreds—it just takes that constant grinding away at the process. It may be long, it may be tedious, but to get results, it's going to require a serious dose of patience.

Above: "Forest Stream in Autumn," undated oil on canvas by German landscape artist Walter Moras (1856 - 1925); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Day Seven:
Checking Inside Those Old Envelopes

Sometimes it pays to be compulsive about looking inside those old envelopes. Yes, I know: it slows down progress. But even if one slip of important documentation is rescued, it's worth the effort.

I found that one slip of paper today. Make that two.

I've made it up to "R" in my file folders—alphabetized, can't you tell?—but it was much before that stopping point when I made my discovery in this Fall Cleaning project. I use a hanging file system, so each file folder is actually suspended. It takes a little work to slip my hand inside each file folder in this cram-packed cabinet drawer, but I do it because, well, one never knows.

So, from "A" through each successive letter of the alphabet, I worked my way through each file folder, slipping my hand inside to check for papers left behind. Most were the standard paper size, so they were easy to retrieve. Some, though, were mere slips of paper—everything from old "Welcome to Prodigy" blurbs to glitzy annual retirement reports promising the howlingly ridiculous "this is how much you'll get annually if you retire at sixty six." I sent a lot of that material to the shredder stack, but the recycling bin got its fair share, as well.

And then there was this small manila envelope in the "F" file for "Family Papers." A business-sized envelope, it contained only two documents. One was my husband's first official birth certificate—the kind where the hospital inks the baby's feet to make footprints on the page, just below the section for "Family History" (and right above the stern advice that "this certificate should be carefully preserved; it is an important record of the facts pertaining to your child's birth"). The other item was a copy of my father-in-law's untimely 1966 death certificate.

Being organized may have its pluses, but in our case, one of those points wasn't necessarily the ability to put our fingers on our important documents the minute we needed them. I can't tell you how many times we've wondered whatever happened to those items. Perhaps it's because we actually have too many filing systems—more than one place to keep those things. They are, after all, important papers. Sometimes, though, those backup plans get forgotten entirely. See? It's good to clean out everything once in a while.

Even better to check every folder and envelope before assuming they are empty enough to be tossed in the trash.

Above: "The Washerwomen of Bougival," 1875 oil on canvas by Impressionist landscape artist Alfred Sisley; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Day Six: Now Comes the Grunt Work

Decisions, decisions...a day full of these can be wearying, indeed.

Since I need some wiggle room before jumping in to fill that now-empty fourth drawer in my file cabinet, my fall cleaning schedule requires me to consider what I've stowed in the drawer directly above it.

That's where my progress hit its first brick wall. Yes, I've already unearthed some old calendars and checkbooks; that was easy. But all those file folders? They come filled with stuff made to spirit someone right down ye olde memory lane.

Sometimes I surprise myself with the stuff I've stashed. In today's case, it was a bunch of files on family obligations. In the folders I encountered today, I've come face to face with all the medical records tracking my mother's progress—outcome poor, I assure you—after she suffered a broken neck from a car crash over ten years ago. Less than a year later, she was gone—all, that is, but the important papers I snatched up for reference when we went to clean her house before putting it on the market.

Then, there was the reminder of an eerie repeat of the broken-neck scenario when my aunt slipped and fell in her own front entryway, right before Christmas a few years ago. The same struggle to regain her health continued bravely until her own passing almost a year after that accident. Of course, I have all the medical notes from long-distance conversations with caregivers on her behalf, as well.

What to do with these documents? Obviously, the need to hold on to these records is no longer imperative. Perhaps it's the emotional need that superseded it. I may be ready to move on now, but that strange compulsion to thoroughly go through each page once again haunts me.

Such is the emotional baggage that lingers with each piece of paper we feel the need to save "until later." One never knows, ya know?

Progress is pretty slow at this stage. At least I found a way to speed up the process: separate the papers into two files. One stack is the non-medical, non-personal pile of stuff: office supplies that can still be used, once stored in the right place, or clippings from old magazines that once seemed useful—but for reasons I now have forgotten. The other stack becomes those medical files and other records I'll need to consider carefully, then likely shred.

It's odd to realize how the importance attached to papers really represents the people about whom we care so deeply. We—or, at least, I—have almost as much difficulty saying goodbye to those pages as I did when I said goodbye to the person the papers represented.

Needless to say, this part of The Cleanup will take an inordinate amount of time. That, however, is okay. I wouldn't trade this problem for a life in which nobody mattered. Despite all that glib advice about tossing stuff that hasn't been "used," nobody ever said getting rid of clutter would actually be easy. It's not the clutter we're facing in this project; it's the meaning behind it.

Above: "Grainstacks in the Sunlight, Morning Effect," 1890 oil on canvas by French Impressionist painter Claude Monet; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Day Five: Location, Location, Location

Having achieved my first decluttering goal of emptying one file cabinet drawer, I'm not only ecstatic, but eager to complete the implied second step: filling it once again. There is an entire storage box of family history files which would fit in its empty space just perfectly—if only for one thought.

That thought came, courtesy of my favorite real estate agent. Perhaps you know that time-worn bit of real estate advice, too: the realtor's mantra about the three most important things about buying property.

Not that I'm buying myself more real estate in this fall cleaning transaction; I'm only hoping to transfer ownership on the stuff that gets to claim this drawer as home base. I have boxes of files just waiting for the chance to see the light of day—or at least a more accessible way to be the kind of documents I need.

However, I got to thinking, now that I've cleared a spot for those storage files to claim. Just how often am I going to want to bend over and pull out that floor-level drawer? Would it really be the wisest move to just start filling that drawer with the first files I lay my hands on?

Of course not. (You knew that answer was coming.) There has to be a plan—well, besides the plan to chuck every document I no longer need to keep in a tangible form.

Enter the concept of convenience in my re-organization plan. There are folks who want to organize their family history alphabetically by surnames. Others may want to organize by time periods or geographic locations—or create a cross-referenced file for three-way access. Now that the floor seems so much farther away than I remember it being in the past, I think I'll add the criterion of convenience to that list.

In order to figure out just which items would win the coveted spot for greatest accessibility, I'll have to know something more about what I have in those storage boxes. Even more to the point, I'll need to determine which of the items will be kept, at all.

This sounds like a triage moment in the making. Not a moment to blithely forge ahead. Progress is stalled, once again.

That means, of course, peeking ahead to what I hope to accomplish tomorrow: start cleaning out the next drawer in that four-drawer file cabinet. Yep: a mess. A drawer full of everything from once-important papers in hanging file folders to a back end stacked high with old calendars and old checkbooks.

I got a jump on tomorrow's task by snatching up every item that could be shredded, and moving it out to the bin where I keep that sort of stuff. Gotta have a system, you know.

The calendars will take some thought. I used those old "day minder" type calendars differently than my pretty wall-hanging varieties. With entries listed hour by hour, those books turned into journals of past accomplishments and records of all sorts of mundane tasks. I can likely glean what's important—milestones in life, for instance—and, like the old checkbooks, chuck the rest of them.

Still, that all takes time—but not as much time as the rest of the drawer. Going through each of those file folders will take a lot of consideration. Hopefully, they will also require a lot of garbage bags, for I'm hoping those contents, too, will mostly merit a simple case of recycling the paper. Otherwise, there will be a long stretch of transcribing details into a more permanent—and, likely, electronic—repository.

Meanwhile, heeding that real estate mantra—location, location, location—I'll be pondering what will be the most worthy use of that rock-bottom drawer in my nearly halfway reclaimed file cabinet. I assure you: it won't be anything heavy. And it won't be anything I'll be pulling out to consult on a daily basis. Perhaps the bedrock-foundational documentation we genealogists require will be the most logical choice for that important location.

Above: "Last Gleams of Summer," 1922 oil on canvas by Russian emigre artist Konstantin Gorbatov; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Day Four: Making My Trash
Someone Else's Treasure

It may come as no surprise to you to learn that, back in the days when people actually hung paper calendars on the office wall, the calendars I tended to purchase for such use featured reprints of paintings by famous artists. By year's end, I couldn't bear to toss such treasures, so I concocted a promise to myself: cut out the pictures and frame them. They would make a classy addition to my office walls. No one would judge me for not displaying the originals; it would be no big deal to think I had merely clipped them from last year's calendar. Besides, I wanted my money's worth.

On December 31, I would take down the Monet calendar from the old year and replace it with one by another Impressionist artist. The old one got chucked in—yes, you guessed it—the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. Along with the recycled manila envelopes.

You probably also guessed that, even after all these years, I've yet to clip one picture and get its framed self up on the wall. In any office I've had.

And now, it's my sad duty to grimace at the thought, but still go ahead and toss those beauties. After all, if you haven't used it in—what is it? six months?—then you need to toss it.

But wait! What about the warm-fuzzy advice? You know, if you hold it close and get a warm feeling, then it deserves the reprieve: keep it.

I did, unfortunately, have that warm feeling attack the minute I pulled those calendars out of the wreckage of my fourth file drawer. Doomed. Now what?

That's when I remembered re-gifting. If it works for college students just bestowed gift certificates for places where they'd never get caught dead, it could work for me, too. Handily, my daughter, now magically transformed from a college student to a teacher, has a great need for magazines her students can cut up and reconstitute in other guises. No sooner did I ask than I found a new home for my old treasures.

Of course, there was more to be found in that second half of the bottom drawer. Much of it deserved the boot, but some qualified for a second look. I found old newsletters for which I had served as editor, records from my own first "real" post-college job, correspondence regarding a statewide nonprofit organization's board of which I was a member. I even found a letter from a pen pal in Manitoba, addressed to me at my first college dorm.

It's memorabilia like that Manitoba letter which makes me stop in my tracks when the organizing urge strikes me to toss everything. I did that once, years ago in a fit of decluttering: tossed my collection of hundreds of postcards assembled over my high school years from pen pals around the world—who would ever use them again? Years later, it sickened me to realize my daughter would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing that collection.

Though a handful of calendars with Impressionist artists' best reprints hardly fills that bill, at least it reminds me there are other ways to declutter than to simply throw everything away. Even if the item is something I no longer need, if it becomes a welcome gift to someone else, it not only lightens my load, but brightens the outcome for others, as well.

Above: "Rye," 1878 oil on canvas by Russian landscape artist Ivan Shishkin; courtesy Google Art Project via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Day Three: Garbage Out, Part One

It's trash pickup day at Chez Stevens, the perfect time to begin hefting large piles of no-longer-needed office material, including my stash of genealogical leftovers.

I started the clean-up project in earnest last night, after a long day of meetings and other obligations. It would have helped to consult my calendar first, before promising myself it was time to start The Cleanup, but I didn't. Determined to keep my word no matter what, I put my toe over the starting line and stepped off into the marathon. At nine o'clock.

I had a strategy, which helped counterbalance that late start. My plan, in attacking that four-drawer file cabinet needing a do-over, was to start with drawer number four. The reason? It had the least amount of paperwork to sort through. Don't be making snide comments about that approach, by the way; that drawer was still pretty full.

The reason I opted for that strategy is simple: when you start a task, you need something early on in the tedium to encourage yourself to keep going. If I can finish that one drawer fairly quickly, I'll feel better about keeping on with the project—something I desperately need to do, anyhow. A little extra pat on the back, mid-process, would be a welcome touch.

Going through that file drawer was a trip through memory lane. Have you ever found yourself picking up work habits from one place, early on, and carrying that habit through the rest of life? In earlier times, I held a government job—back when budget times were more lean than they seem to be now—when the custom in offices was to save manila envelopes to re-use for inter-office mail delivery. When I left work at that agency, that frugal habit followed me. I saved envelopes for re-use even when I didn't have any inter-office mail delivery to fuss with anymore. They all got chucked into a drawer for possible re-use later.

I'm sure you can guess which drawer those envelopes landed up in.

Why I also have that compulsive need to check inside each of those envelopes to insure that no paperwork was left behind, I'm not sure. That—plus checking the return address and remembering the person who sent the envelope—slowed down my progress. Before I knew it, though, that stack was vanquished and my resolve to keep working was stoked.

Today, I'll continue the process—there's about half a drawer to go before I complete this one, filled with an entirely different kind of old stuff—and hopefully meet up with the bare bottom of that metal file cabinet by the end of the day. Best part: most of the material already lifted from this repository simply goes into the trash, into the recycling bin, or gets redirected to another use—far away from this corner of my office.

Above: "Autumn - Banks of the Seine near Bougival," 1873 oil on canvas by Impressionist landscape artist Alfred Sisley; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Day Two: About That Paper Trail

When it comes to genealogical research, it's a slam dunk that the process will involve paper. Every detail in that family tree is just screaming for proof. You say your grandfather was born in Tennessee in 1897? Fine; prove it. You'll likely pull out a piece of paper to show me the documentation supporting that statement.

It's the multiplied iterations of that proof process that have gotten me bogged down in an organizational impasse. It's likely I have plenty of company in that predicament. And I'm using this month to help alleviate the tangles in my paper trail.

However, I recently stumbled upon a startling revelation about that paper trail problem: things aren't the way they used to be. Some people just have a greater need to touch that paper—piece by piece—than do others.

The other day, I was chatting with some fellow members of our local genealogical society. We were meeting for what our organization calls a special interest group, an informal gathering of peers where we share research resources and try to crowdsource the troubleshooting when a member gets stuck on a specific research problem.

In the course of the meeting, I had brought a list of links to sites which I had found helpful for tracing my ancestors from Scotland and Ireland. One particular resource—actually, it was a blog—included a long article, complete with maps and charts regarding migration pathways to colonial America.

After I described that post, one of the members stated, for such a resource, she would have to print it all out. Somehow, that comment floored me; why print out a web page—complete with awkward page breaks on account of scrolling—when you can simply refer back to the original site whenever you need it?

Yes, yes, of course, there will be the objections about broken links, etc., etc., but even then, there are digital ways around those computer woes. Still, a person could save the material just as easily by cutting and pasting or snipping the article—citing the resource location, author, date accessed and all the requisite attribution details for research etiquette—and file that in one's computer records. I have boxes and boxes of literal file folders stashed away in the spare corners of my home; why add to those woes by printing even more paper records?!

As the other women in the circle nodded their agreement, I realized something: I was odd man out, when it came to this go-to problem-solving mode. Here I was, wanting to cut the clutter when everyone else was blithely perpetrating the crime all over again.

The first woman explained: she wanted to be able to make her own notes in the margins of the printout. True, that would be useful—but couldn't there be a computerized way to achieve the same effect?

That's when I realized something. Some people have a greater need to touch what they are working on than do others. To some, if they touch the page they are reading, it becomes more real to them; it helps them focus on the task at hand—literally.

There is a corollary to that observation. Perhaps—since I'm not quite to the point of making this a full-blown hypothesis—there is an inverse relationship between the comfort felt when a person holds the paper being worked on, and the ease with which that person can transform work tasks into a computer-based solution. There are some people for whom snipping and annotating the discovery found on a web page is a simple process; there are others who still cannot fathom why their email program doesn't seem to work for them.

For those in the former camp (and I'm afraid I'm a hybrid here) it is quite a simple matter to scan everything into digital files, make some notes on a word processing program or database management system, and poof!—blow those paper files into smithereens (or at least haul them out to the curb with the recycling). For those firmly ensconced in the latter group, I can understand their need for paper. It becomes a security blanket as well as genealogical documentation shield in the face of a cyber-struck world.

So, for those to whom the thought of shredding all paper may strike sheer terror, I feel for you. I understand the importance of touching the page you are reviewing. I get that paper makes things seem more real. For that type of person, an entirely different form of genealogical organizing may take place than what I hope to attain in the following twenty nine days.

Bottom line on this organizing thing: foundational to the start of the process is an understanding of yourself and what you feel comfortable with. In my case, I foresee some important documents getting scanned into an appropriately-labeled computer file, but then saving the original as a tangible back-up—like the Davis family Bible with the entry about my grandfather's birth. But for many of the resources I've accumulated over the years, I anticipate confirming they have a place in my digital world, then chucking them for good. And I'm okay with that, because that's the comfort level I've discovered works best for me in this project.

Above: "Moonrise," 1878 oil on canvas by German landscape artist Walter Moras; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Day One: Surveying the Damages

It's been a long time since I last took inventory on my genealogy-in-storage legacy. This month, though, I want to divest myself of some very old family history papers, and the best way to start is to take stock of the current situation. That snapshot-in-time will reveal all the tangible material remaining from a pursuit started over forty years ago.

Naturally, at this end of the research timeline, the paper trail is minimal—mostly handwritten notes kept in spiral notebooks from research journeys that were supposed to be transcribed on my arrival back home. That was the plan, at least—until life's realities got in the way. For a few of those notebooks, I'll have to go back and check that I at least transcribed the information into a more permanent form upon my arrival home. Otherwise, I've got some work to do.

The reason there isn't much paperwork to deal with lately is that my repository of choice for several years now has been a digital one: I keep my trees on Oh, I do have a desktop-resident program, as well—a throwback to earlier years before Ancestry shed its training wheels and raced ahead to the winning genealogical position—but it desperately needs an update of its own.

In fact, the deadline for that FamilyTreeMaker update looms within hours, at least for those procrastinators like me who put off upgrading to the newest, sync-able version, but wish to still get it at a decent sale price. That, frustratingly, puts me in the position of sticking to my new fall cleaning task while simultaneously trying to download a computer program and make sure everything syncs correctly. (Warning: the new FTM has a forty eight hour "Co-Pilot" check-in offer, to make sure the download and syncing process went well. That, of course, means the customer has to actually, you know, do the download and sync before that forty eight hour check.) All part of organization, I realize, so it's on the to-do list for sure.

The research era predating my FTM years is where the paper mountain begins. That was the file cabinet era. I have a four drawer cabinet which once was filled with genealogical records. As life progressed, I found myself taking one drawer after another and displacing those genealogy files with other material—financial records, business records, research for other topics and...well...stuff. The genealogy cast-offs that were displaced didn't get tossed, though. They got boxed. And stored. Hence the need to re-inspect those very old papers and decide what to toss.

Before that came the notebook era, a natural outgrowth of the file folder era. Believe it or not, I still have those old notebooks. Before I forsook that storage device, I had made it to the point of organizing one three ring binder per surname—one for each grandparent's surname, mine and my husband's. They still have a spot in my home, although that spot is tucked at the back end of my office.

Since, for me, step one in any project is to do a needs assessment or inventory, I took a look at that old file cabinet today. I dreaded the thought of having to clean everything out before I could even start my fall cleaning process. To my delight—I had forgotten what I had done in the ensuing years—nearly three of the drawers were completely empty of genealogy material.

While I'll have to decide what to do with the material now in there which had displaced those stored genealogy files, at least it's a simple move to take that stuff out. Then I can go straight to the triage moment of deciding which of the storage boxes' files to put back in the file cabinet. It feels so much better to know that, than to face going through storage box after storage box, deciding with each one where to put all those papers. Taking time to survey what needs to be done was a stress-reliever in itself. The emptied file cabinet will be a welcome repository.

Above: "Autumnal Lane," undated oil on canvas by German landscape artist Walter Moras (1856 - 1925); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Welcome to Fall: Now, Start Cleaning

Everyone talks about spring cleaning, but it isn't often I hear any mention of fall cleaning—at least not around here in "sunny" California. This season, however, I think I'm ready to do some fall cleaning, despite the blue skies and lingering balmy temperatures.

Back east, where I grew up, there was a definite list of fall cleaning tasks to do before the winter set in. That included everything from washing the windows after taking down the screens to make way for that second set of storm windows, to getting everything spruced up before the beginning of winter holidays. Some tasks were fun, of course, simply owing to the anticipation of good times ahead. Others were jobs that simply needed to be done to get ready for the howling winds, rainstorms and snow that could arrive as early as mid-October.

With sunshine and a high of eighty five predicted here for today, it's not likely I'll be spending this Saturday on such grunt work, though. However, for the coming month, I want to set up a plan for a different kind of fall cleaning: cleaning out my decades worth of genealogical records. We're already in a decluttering mood here at Chez Stevens, so why not add that massive obligation to the cleaning list?

I realize that is a rhetorical question, but there are actually some reasons why I haven't already done a genealogical cleanup. Foremost among them is the fact that the thrill of the hunt is much more alluring than the tedium of the aftermath. With the number of ancestors to research doubling with each successive generation, there is always an elusive relative taunting me from behind the firewall of yet another online research repository.

Second is the situation of the constantly changing database storage scenario. When I first started researching, I could house the records I found in notebooks. Then folders in file cabinet drawers. Then boxes in storage. Then, with the dawn of the magic of digital record keeping, on a desktop-resident program (like, in my case, FamilyTreeMaker). Then, even easier, online via programs at Ancestry or FindMyPast or MyHeritage. Each new option had its pluses—and also its downside. Each new option also demanded its own time sync in the form of a steep learning curve and requirements for upkeep. I kept tap dancing to keep up—while scattering the litter of bygone records management tools in my wake.

As I stall out on my latest ancestral quest—that of seeking my migrating Broyles, Davis and Tilson lines heading through colonial Virginia—I think I'll put all new research projects on hold and see if I can take a month to sort out some very old documents and decide which ones to keep, which ones to toss, and which ones to follow up on. I'll revisit that trio of mysterious migrants later, but for the month of October, I'll be in search of some ideas for organizing what I've already gleaned from several decades of genealogical fun. 

Above: "Hook Mountain on the Hudson River," 1867 landscape by American artist Sanford Robinson Gifford; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

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