Friday, June 30, 2017

Sometimes, Families are Like That

There was one other reason why I wanted to take my time over the puzzle of the duplicate Mary Frances Gordons this past week: the possibility of cousins, despite being born about the same time, who are given the exact same name.

We see this sort of thing happen all the time, if we are studying family histories from eras or cultural backgrounds honoring naming systems. I've seen it quite often, for example, when working on my father in law's Irish ancestry. It can be downright frustrating, for instance, working on his great grandfather John Kelly's line, or even his Tully line, with all their Margarets. When individuals are duty-bound to honor their ancestors by bestowing specific names to certain offspring—no matter how close that child's birth to another cousin destined to bear the same name—it can be confusing to sort the matter out.

That, of course, was not the operative specifically coming into play in Mary Frances Gordon's situation—but when I first encountered the double entry, I couldn't be sure.

Here, incidentally, was what I was faced with, as far as the two fathers, Thomas R. Gordon and Thomas V.. Gordon, were concerned.

Thomas R. Gordon, older of the two men and husband to the Elizabeth who turned out to be a McCann, happened to be related to Thomas V. Gordon. So, on top of both having wives named Elizabeth, not only did they live in the same small, rural county in Ohio, but they were closely related.

Let's take a quick peek at the pertinent section of their respective pedigree charts. First, for the elder of the two men, here's Thomas R. Gordon's line. You can see his wife listed as Elizabeth McCann, and that he was son of James Gordon and Sarah Rinehart.

Then, let's take a look at the section of the pedigree for the other Thomas, whom we now know as father of Mary Frances Gordon, along with his ill-fated first wife, Elizabeth McCabe. Note the appearance of those same ancestral names I've already mentioned: James Gordon and Sarah Rinehart.

The older Thomas was actually uncle to the younger Thomas. Thomas V. Gordon's father, Basil Gordon, was brother to Thomas R. Gordon.

Though Thomas R. Gordon and his wife Elizabeth were much older than the other Thomas Gordon couple, they lived long lives blessed with many children, including a daughter born in 1884, same as Mary Frances. It's just that their youngest daughter was not named Mary Frances; her name, it turns out, was Rose.

Fortunately, we can now rest assured that our Mary Frances Gordon has been placed in the right family constellation. With all the records of her marriage, her children and her grandchildren now placed in the right family line, it is now safe to merge the duplicates and do away with the false lead—despite the fact that, out there in the back rooms of Perry County records, Mary Frances' marriage record still asserts that her mother's name was Elizabeth McCann, rather than Elizabeth McCabe.

At least, now we know better.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Spring Cleaning, Take Two

What a relief to have finally determined the cause of those "duplicate entries" for Mary Frances, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Gordon. It is always worth it to backtrack and double check all the supporting documentation for each entry in a family tree—particularly keeping in mind that sometimes, even the documents themselves can lead us astray.

One lesson from this foray into my genealogical spring cleaning project was that, especially in the case of family members with similar or exact same names, it is best to confirm information with more than one document. If I had looked for a second document confirming Mary Frances' mother as Elizabeth McCann, I would have been hard pressed to proceed. I would have been more likely to find a multiplicity of documents confirming that mother's maiden name to be Elizabeth McCabe.

It also helps to look to other resources, as well. Granted, there aren't really many other reliable sources besides governmental or church records, but in some cases, family members who are closer to the person being researched can be helpful. (Or not; people sometimes have the worst memory for details seemingly closest to them.) That said, Mary Frances was my mother-in-law's second cousin once removed, so not likely someone she knew personally; that option was not open to me in this case.

Another resource I like to double check is the local newspaper. Yet, once again, I of all people have constantly bemoaned the inaccuracy of some editorial oversight. But really, all we can ask for is the gathering together of several different documents and sources which, each in their own right, are nothing more than records composed by fallible people. Much better to assume that is the truth of the matter, and put your reliance on a multiplicity of reports.

It wasn't hard to see, for instance, in the one September 30, 1963, report bearing her name in the Zanesville, Ohio, Times Recorder, that Mary Frances' mother's name was Elizabeth McCabe. It said so, right in her obituary.

Mrs. Mary Frances Hennessey, 79, of 445 Van Horn avenue died at her home at 2:10 a.m. Sunday after an illness of six months. Mrs. Hennessey was a native of Perry County and was born April 13, 1884, a daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth McCabe Gordon. She had lived in Zanesville the past 23 years.

Adding this to the other documents we've already located combines to create a convincing case that the clerk of the probate court in Perry County got that maiden name wrong, when Mary Frances and John Patrick Hennessy filed for their marriage license back in September, 1912.

And so, here I am, freshly supplied with an updated (and more reassuring) collection of supporting records—on the theory of genealogical safety in numbers—ready to reassess the situation of my "duplicate" entry in my mother-in-law's family tree. But not so fast, here: I can't simply delete the other Mary Frances Gordon, the one who turned out to be a duplicate, after all.

Before I return to my genealogical spring cleaning errands and begin a wholesale deletion of that Mary Frances, supposed daughter of Elizabeth McCann, I have to rescue all the details associated with that file. You see, I have descendants for that family down to the level of her grandchildren, tied into that entry. If I delete that Mary Frances, I lose all the records associated with her from that errant side of the family.

First, I have to go back, cross check each child's file—and their spouses and children, as well—to make sure I've transferred all the correct information to the new record established under Elizabeth McCabe's daughter Mary Frances. For, you see, as luck would have it, the Mary Frances originally residing under the correct mother was the one for which I hadn't made any progress at all. It was the false Mary Frances whose file contained all the family goods.

Above: Excerpt from the obituary of Mary Frances Gordon Hennessey in the Zanesville, Ohio, Times Recorder, Monday, September 30, 1963, courtesy 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Just For the Record

In the case of determining just which Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gordon should be shown as the parents of John P. Hennessey's bride, Mary Frances—notwithstanding what her Perry County, Ohio, marriage license may have indicated in 1912—we are not without other resources. The wife of Candidate Candidate Couple Number One—Thomas R. and Elizabeth Gordon—actually sported a maiden name of McCann, just as the application for marriage license had indicated. This couple had several children, at least some of which should show up, given a diligent search, with baptismal records which could also confirm that fact.

Though the wife of Candidate Couple Number Two—Thomas V. and the other Elizabeth—was known before her marriage as a McCabe, not a McCann, she was one of the unfortunate women of that era who did not live long after giving birth to her second child. Thus, to confirm her maiden name for her eldest child Mary Frances' sake, we'd have to hope her second daughter left a paper trail up to genealogical standards.

Mary Frances' younger sister Blanche was born in January of 1886. Fortunately for our purposes, not only did her marriage application twenty eight years later include her by-then long-deceased mother's maiden name, but thanks to a collection provided online via, known as Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, we can see the transcribed collection states Blanche's mother's name was Elizabeth McCabe. Thus, Mary Frances' only full sister comes through with the provision of the right maiden name for the woman who married John P. Hennessey, regardless of what the document said.

If, that is, we can trust these other official documents. We've already seen—at least in this one example—that government-issued records aren't always correct. Better to make sure that the other couple can assuredly be ruled out as the potential parents, so let's use the same treatment to look at records for a sibling in that other family.

Let's take another child from the family of Thomas R. and Elizabeth Gordon, say, one from approximately the same year of birth. In that family, the candidate to examine would be their daughter Rose, born in 1884 in that same county in Ohio. Taking a look for what records could be located for Rose, the Ohio, Births and Christenings Index comes through again. Sure enough, the record for Rose is transcribed, showing her parents to be Thomas R. Gordon and Elizabeth McCann.

What a relief to have that settled. However, of course, that means there is a mess left for me to clean up, back on my database. And the very first step may have been triggered by noticing the date of birth for the Gordon daughter, Rose. After all, not only was Rose born on July 3, 1884, but Mary Frances, herself, was said to have been born in April of 1884—a sure clue that not only was her mother not Elizabeth McCann, but that I really didn't have duplicate entries at all.

There were no two Mary Franceses. The only thing I can figure out is that, at one point in my research, I must have noticed the mother's maiden name was listed as McCann, not McCabe, made the switch in my database, and added Mary Frances to the wrong family constellation. Then, another time, saw another record indicating Mary Frances should have been under the McCabe descendancy, made another entry, and added an entirely new line there, as well.

Now, as Wendy likes to say, "Clean up on aisle three."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Not the Only One

If conflicting bits of information gleaned from public documents showed that even Perry County record keepers couldn't keep it straight about which Elizabeth was mother to which Mary Frances Gordon, I can't be too hard on myself for getting things wrong. After all, I was apparently in good company. The volunteers at Find A Grave were struggling over this same issue.

Granted, Find A Grave is a volunteer-driven organization. What we may sometimes feel are helpful links added by volunteers to an ancestor's burial record may turn out to not always be correct. Though Ancestry, as their host, seems to encourage wholesale acceptance of all entries on Find A Grave when they offer them up on "hints" to be added to one's tree, I've learned to view these with a critical eye. Some volunteers seem to get a bit carried away with their assumptions.

So, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that while the photograph for each Elizabeth's headstone clearly indicates a different woman—different dates, primarily, but also different middle names for their Gordon husbands—it was the volunteer-designated entry for each memorial that threw a curve into the search.

For instance, the Mary Frances whose mother died young, just after her sister Blanche was born, clearly had the older headstone. Besides, the engraving showed that this Elizabeth was "wife of T. V. Gordon." The headstone also emphasized her youth, stating that the woman died at the age of twenty four years and six months at her passing on January 6, 1887.

The headstone for the other Elizabeth was a much more recent engraving, and the style of the design is a clear visual affirmation of that. This Elizabeth, according to the engraving, was wife of Thomas R. Gordon, not Thomas V. Gordon. Her dates indicated a birth in 1843 and her death in 1919, about eight years after her husband's passing.

For the Elizabeth who passed in 1887, a volunteer has linked her memorial to those of her parents, stated at Find A Grave to be William McCabe and Catherine Pluck.

Ah, you think, So the other Elizabeth must be the one who was the McCann daughter.

If you drew that conclusion, apparently you did not share the same thought processes used by the volunteers who worked on these entries, for each of them was headlined with the name, "Elizabeth McCabe Gordon."

Whatever was used to arrive at that decision, I cannot tell from the Find A Grave records provided. But I certainly understand why there can be so much confusion out there about two similar family lines. Clearly, to get to the truth of the matter, we'll have to dig a bit more deeply to see what else can be uncovered about these parallel Gordon lines.

Monday, June 26, 2017

If This, Then That — Or Not

Some of the logic of genealogy has to rely on inferences—those conclusions you feel safe arriving at, despite not having any documentation specifically stating the case.

In our current predicament with my two Mary Frances Gordons—one whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe, while the other's mother was Elizabeth McCann—I thought perhaps I'd be safe in utilizing a little inference work where documentation was lacking. After all, back in 1884 when these two women were born, there weren't many birth certificates issued. I had to have another way to link each woman to family members.

I've already mentioned that the ill-fated Elizabeth McCabe died shortly after her second-born daughter, Blanche, was born. While I didn't feel secure about the few documents I had found for Elizabeth McCabe Gordon's eldest daughter Mary Frances, I thought maybe relying on the records for other family members might shed some light on which Elizabeth was which.

Sure enough, when Blanche Gordon came of age, her marriage record stated her parents' names as T. V. Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe. As added security for this hypothesis, I found another Ancestry record, "Ohio Births and Christenings Index," giving a transcription for Blanche's parents as "Thos. V. Gordon" and Elizabeth McCabe.

Ergo...if Blanche was Mary Frances' younger sister, then Elizabeth McCabe was Mary Frances' mother, as well.


This is the type of exercise that firmly cements one lesson into my mind: even the people we trust to get things right often fail us. Miserably. I'm thinking of the numerous times I've spotted errors in newspaper reports—okay, granted, these are not "official" documents, but still public record—and even found errors engraved in stone, marking ancestors' burials.

But government documents? Apparently, we can now add those to our list.

I'm certainly happy the collection of Ohio marriage records from has made its appearance at as well—something I didn't have access to, back when I first worked on this line in my mother-in-law's tree. All I had to rely on, back then, was a photocopy of the index of marriages listing Gordons that I had gleaned during a visit to Perry County—and the help of a lot of other enthusiastic, sharing fellow researchers congregating in online genealogy forums, ten to fifteen years ago.

Finding one other marriage record, now, did not help this predicament. In double checking all my supporting evidence for these two Mary Frances Gordons, at first I was glad to see the FamilySearch marriage collection included a record for Mary Frances—but then, not so sure what to do with the result I found.

In short, when Paul Hennessy applied to take Mary Frances Gordon to be his wife, someone at the courthouse recorded her mother's name not as Elizabeth McCabe—what we'd expect, seeing Mary Frances' sister Blanche's application—but as Elizabeth McCann.

No wonder I'm so confused! I can't even find records that can get the facts straight!

Excerpts from each marriage license application shown above courtesy via

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Getting Things Right

It took only a few minutes of playing with that Ooh-Shiny genealogical divertissement I found yesterday, when I realized what I really needed to do was attend to my genealogical duty. That, in case you've forgotten, is to rectify the error I discovered while doing some spring cleaning on my mother-in-law's oft-intermarried family line.

Just to recap, I was scrolling through the list of all persons in that tree, searching for duplicate entries, when I spotted one which seemed to qualify. It was for a Mary Frances Gordon, born in Ohio in 1885, and passed away in the same state in 1963. One of my two entries for this person said she was married to John Patrick Hennessey, the other claiming her husband was John P. Hennessy.

All seems well at this point—until I check her parents' information. In one record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCann. In the other record, she is daughter of Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth McCabe.

There seems to be a problem here.

I can't simply assume these two Mary Franceses are duplicate entries with that discrepancy, now can I?

This calls for digging in further to check out the rest of the details. Admittedly, this was probably a Gordon line I had worked on nearly twenty years ago, given the amount of shaky-leaf hints generated by a fresh click on that entry now. And there are certainly other details that don't quite mirror each other.

For instance, the Mary Frances whose mother was Elizabeth McCabe was one of only two children. Her mother died soon after giving birth to Mary Frances' sister, Blanche. Within three years, her father, Thomas Gordon, married once again, to Mary Alice Cull.

The other mother—the one for the Mary Frances Gordon whose mother was Elizabeth McCann—married her Thomas Gordon in 1862, and had many children before Mary Frances' arrival in 1885.

This required going back through all the documentation I had saved for each of these "duplicate" people, checking for discrepancies. It was clear to see, from the headstone photographs posted on Find A Grave for each of the Elizabeths, that they were certainly different individuals.

But as I went, document by document, to double check each entry for accuracy, I began to realize that perhaps I wasn't the first to have gotten confused by Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Gordon. A clerk in the Perry County Probate Court may have made a similar mistake, himself.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gone Fishing

Despite good intentions to complete this seasonal genealogical cleaning process, a suddenly-appearing ooh-shiny bauble appeared before my cyber-eyes yesterday, and I had to follow it to its source.

The bauble was the FindMyPast offer to explore their British and Irish records online for free. There was, of course, one caveat; that deal wasn't going to last forever. In fact, it's only good through the end of the weekend—a long weekend, for some of our friends up in Canada—closing at 6:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight time on Monday.

I simply cannot be sitting here, dutifully scrubbing my genealogical records until they squeak, when such an attractive offer is tapping on my shoulder.

So, it's off to see what can be found on my father-in-law's tree—everything from that scoundrel Stephen Malloy, who left town in such a rush, his young wife grabbed their baby and went after him all the way to Boston, to the predictable Denis Tully, who is now quite findable on the County Tipperary records where our trip to Ireland proved he would be.

Only, this time, I don't have to go scrolling through illegible microfilms at the National Library of Ireland; I can search for further gems all in the comfort of my—ahem, still air conditioned—home.

As with all good things—nothing is ever truly free—in exchange for this wonderful opportunity, one needs to sign up for the offer. That, of course, means giving up your email address—and, presumably, means you may be subject to further offers from offers to explore their international records for a limited, but free period. Sure, I'll take that.

In fact, I had signed up for a great opportunity from a prior offer, in which I have a very limited subscription for one year at this same company. I'm operating on the principle that the more places where I can post my tree, the more opportunities I will have to attract the interest of a distant cousin who may also be researching my hard-to-find ancestors. And I'm all for crowdsourcing the answers to those difficult genealogical questions.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Facing Those Uncomfortable Facts

There is one hazardous fallout from the spring-cleaning approach to genealogy: every once in a while, "duplicate" files turn out to be two separate individuals with similar names and dates. Those of you researching those ubiquitous Irish couples, say, John and Mary Kelly, whose sons all dutifully named their firstborn sons after their father—and all at the same time—know exactly what I'm up against.

Since my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, line is riddled with circumstances producing similar results—in that case, something I've dubbed "Endogamy-Lite"—I've had to face up to some duplicate entries in her family tree. Still, I have to tread carefully through that list of potential duplicates. Sometimes, those "doubles" turn out to be separate individuals with very similar life scenarios.

Yesterday—still hunkered down in front of my computer as an escape from the heat wave bearing down on us outside—I ran across that very problem. I had been working on my mother-in-law's Gordon line because, well, lots of duplicate entries. I ran across two entries for a Gordon descendant named Mary Frances. Both showed dates of birth in 1884, and dates of death in 1963. Both were Ohio residents.

One of the entries for Mary Frances Gordon showed her marrying a man named John Patrick Hennessy. The other entry had the husband's name as John P. Hennessey. Each one of those Mary Frances Gordons were listed as daughter of Thomas—only in one record, the name was Thomas R. Gordon and the other record showed Thomas V. Gordon.

This was clearly a case of duplicate entries. With, perhaps, a case of a hard-of-hearing census enumerator to top it all off.


Of course, now that I've asked that rhetorical question, you know the answer isn't necessarily a slam-dunked "yes." That would be too easy.

The one stumbling block was the mother's name for each of those daughters named Mary Frances. One mother was listed as Elizabeth McCabe. The other one was identified as Elizabeth McCann.

Close. But not exact.

Back to the drawing board. I can't simply assume I made a transcription error. I'll have to pull out all the old documents and re-examine to see where I went wrong. Then, because each Mary Frances was only one of several siblings, I'll have to re-sort the whole family unit to make sure the right children are aligned with the right parents. Worse, since each of those children include records of their own spouses and subsequent descendants, I've got a long trail of names that will require meticulous attention to sort out properly.

Our simple (and well-intentioned) genealogical tasks can sometimes inadvertently end up with mistakes which can echo down through the generations. Better to take some time on a regular basis to double check what work has already been done. Sometimes, we've placed the wrong grandchild under the wrong John and Mary Kelly. Or Mary Frances Gordon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Double, Double

Toil and trouble: removing the list of duplicates from a ten-thousand-plus family tree. And a tree like mine is bound to have duplicates, if it's a tree with intermarried branches.

Every now and then, I remember the need to go back and review my family trees for duplicates. After all, if I'm dealing with a family where cousins married cousins—albeit in the distant past—I will eventually run into branches which were, in reality, branches I've run into before.

That's the case with my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, family. Not that we're Ashkenazi Jews. Or have Cajun ancestry. But Perry County has its own kind of intermarriage. I call it endogamy-lite.

So, from time to time, when I get on a genealogical organizing kick, I remember to check the full listing of all people in my mother-in-law's tree on What I'm looking for are duplicate entries on that master list—those double entries where the names I entered when working on one side of the family show up in the work I then do for the other side of the family.

This can be tedious work. First I pull up the "list of all people"  tab on my Ancestry tree, then start scrolling through the universe of names, letter by letter, stopping when I find two in a row of the same first and last name. I wish there was a quicker way—some magic button which scans for consecutive entries containing the same name.

Granted, some of those duplicate names belong to father and son duos, for neither of which I've managed to glean any other telltale clues—like dates or places of birth or death. Still, each of those pairs need to be individually inspected for other similarities. Some—a significant enough number to make this pursuit worth my time—turn out to be exactly that: duplicates.

And so my tree shrinks by a small percentage each time I trim these two-headed twigs. It's yet another way I try to check for accuracy and prune those superfluous entries—something I've dedicated this week of outdoor extreme heat to doing, safe inside where I can enjoy the air conditioning. I can safely say this is one tree trimming exercise not many genealogical researchers ever need to do—except for those whose tree contains a good number of intermarriages among the same families. See what small, closed communities can do for your genealogical pursuits?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Taking Those Hints

Sometimes, when faced with an enormous task, the easiest way to start take the easiest way.

Since I've decided, during this sizzling summer week of stay-inside warnings, to go back to each of my family trees and spruce things up a bit, I climbed right up before thinking about organizing strategy. Now, at least, I'm realizing I need to grab some well-thought-out tactics for my approach. Why? Because I'm faced with a sheer mountain of shaky-leaf hints. Thousands of them. Attacking this problem one ancestor at a time will not bring about a quick resolution.

That was the way I was handling this project yesterday. It made sense at the time, since the two trees I was working on had such a small universe of entries. But I have two more trees to handle, and each of them claims upwards of ten thousand individuals. This calls for working smarter.

This, of course, is not a problem peculiar to my research alone, of course. I see by a recent letter to fellow genea-blogger Randy Seaver that others have complaints about keeping up with that constant barrage of oncoming hints. Seems every time another Ancestry subscriber gloms on to the same photograph being circulated among distant cousins, the hint pops up on each one's tree. And so, we enter a realm of perpetual genealogical Whac-A-Mole, deleting the hint once again in Sisyphean despair.

While there may be no escape from this dilemma, there is a shortcut to its resolution: head straight for the tree's drop-down menu and select "All Hints."  Then, systematically choose subcategories, such as "photos" and click "ignore" for each one you wish to poof into oblivion.

There is a caveat to this solution, however. It seems the faster you work, the more likely it is that the mechanism will choke up and simply refuse to cooperate. I've had to approach this task in waves, working through pages and pages of hints until the system insists I have no more hints to remove (clue: there are), then clicking over to another task and returning in a few moments, when suddenly, more hints are released from their cyber-cell to face my ruthless delete button.

Gone, with that determined effort, are the well-meaning comparisons to family trees of other researchers, the photos of distant cousins, the cute little avatars hobbyists like to use to decorate their trees—Confederate flags, maps of the counties of Georgia, DNA double helix sketches, banners that proclaim, "Second cousin twice removed." Poof. And poof again!

The sad part is that they will almost certainly be back, tomorrow. Reincarnated, re-issued, or whatever "re" the case may be, those genealogical dingle balls and gewgaws will surely reappear in my hints list as soon as someone else thinks they're cute, or useful, or who-knows-what-else...and adds them to her tree. Right on the spot for a person who just happens to also be in my family tree.

And the whole scenario will repeat itself all over again.

In which case, I've learned to wait a few months before attempting to clean house once more. After all, there will surely be another heat wave hit here before the summer is out; I'll need something to keep me occupied in air conditioned comfort then, as well.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When It's Been Too Long

I love genealogical research, so it's no surprise to discover how time flies—after all, I've been having so much fun traipsing after my recalcitrant ancestors, I've hardly paid any attention to how much time I've devoted to the effort.

When I determined to use the time this week to go back and spruce up my genealogical database, I had no idea how long it had been since I last passed this way. There was a time—apparently longer ago than I care to remember—when I could keep it straight in my mind just who populated which lines in my family tree. Not so, anymore. After all, who can recall ten thousand family names? (And that's just for one side of the family.)

To my dismay, I discovered yesterday that the reason I can't remember as many names as I'd hope is that I haven't run across some of them for years. Perhaps decades.

I decided, since I've been so remiss in working on our family's two paternal lines, that I'd begin my genealogy clean-up with the lines of my father and my father-in-law. Call it penance, prompted by Father's Day.

Now that I've rolled up my sleeves and begun applying the elbow grease to this effort, I've made a discovery: when you've not only done genealogical research for years, but for decades, you miss all the new stuff that has popped up in the meantime.

Like the 1940 census. Oops.

Yes, it's been that long since I reviewed some of the branches of my father-in-law's tree. Even I was surprised to discover that. And if that was missing from my documentation, you can be sure there have been many other records which have since been digitized and added to the holdings at and which I have yet to add to the people in my family's trees.

I have a long row to hoe, ahead of me.

Above: "Kahaluu, Kaneohe," oil on board by English-born American painter residing in Hawaii, Helen Thomas Dranga (1866 - 1927); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No Hot Prospects

There's a heat wave coming our way. The weatherman has promised us a high of 111 degrees later this week. I don't know about you but my strategy, in withering heat, is not to go out and attend to my garden. Nope, you can be sure I'll be parked inside in the welcome air conditioning—and probably in front of my computer.

Perhaps this is the season which shapes up to be the genealogical equivalent of spring cleaning. I've already come to the end of a few surprising family history stories—and believe me, those critters don't show up easily on my research doorstep. I've wrapped up those projects, but haven't yet found any tantalizing new ones to share.

Sometimes, the lull in research excitement is the perfect time to dig in and clean up the mess from past frenetic genealogical endeavors. No more travel for a while, either, so I'm home to stay focused on the Great Big Genealogical Cleanup.

Only problem is: no great chance for exciting headlines here. Just the grunt work of cleaning up. Still, it helps to focus on the reward ahead. Just think of how good it will feel (I keep telling myself), getting those files organized. I can clean up duplicate entries, marrying parallel lines of identities which turned out to be one and the same person. I can seek new hints for old, old entries, since is always adding more records. I can correlate my more recent collateral lines with searches in newspaper databases to see if I can glean additional information on family members, besides the usual BMD routine.

All for well over twenty thousand people.

Ready? Let's begin.

Above: "The Jonquils," from a painting by American artist Childe Hassam reprinted in The Booklovers Magazine in 1904; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Seeking a Father's Fathers

The other day, my brother posted a family picture on his Facebook page, asking if anyone knew the identity of one particular ancestor. The photo showed a family grouping of my father and his sister when they were kids. It was a dress-up photo, and my father was the only male in the group—thus the likely explanation for the iron grip my grandmother must have had on his shoulders.

My grandmother and the only other woman in the photo were wearing outlandish hats, likely the type in style during that early 1900s era. Everyone was looking quite smart, including my father—the poor little guy who probably couldn't help it, anyhow.

There was only one problem with that picture: who was the other woman? According to the cousin who long ago shared the photo with the rest of our family, the woman standing behind my aunt was someone known to the family as "Aunt Rose." A designation like this prompted both surges of interest and simultaneous groans of frustration; this Aunt Rose was connected to the paternal side of the family, and yet my paternal grandfather always insisted he was a lone orphan. So how did he manage to come up with a sister?

It's been years since I last tackled the question of just who Aunt Rose was. It's also been years since I made any progress with that pursuit.

Since today is Father's Day, I thought I would do penance and try to work on my father's family line, since I've made near-zero progress on it for longer than I care to remember. I tried my hand at it for days leading up to today, yet made little more headway than I had done in prior years. His is an immovable brick wall, it seems.

Still, there are corollary lines which did yield some slight movement, so I've been able to add to the number on my dad's family tree. I'll take any progress I can—even if it is only seven additional names. With that improvement, I celebrate a miserable 410 people on my paternal family tree. Perhaps today would be the ideal moment to work on that situation further.

Equal time for my father-in-law's tree: that one has had zero progress in the last two weeks, still holding at a count of 1,187.

Worse, as far as the mothers' lines are concerned, I've been trying to artificially control the research race by concentrating on my mother's line, since it is so easy to make progress on my mother-in-law's line. For my mother's tree, the count is now 10,358—an improvement of 157 individuals' new records in the past two weeks' work.

Still, it pales when comparing to my mother-in-law's tree, where the count is 11,511. I couldn't help myself; without even trying, I found thirty nine extra people to add to her tree. It's just so easy to research this woman's heritage. It seems as if all those ancestors just knew I'd come looking for them. Who knows? Perhaps they were all just naturally cooperative people.

The men in our family's life, though, do not seem to follow that favorable pattern. Either following the most circuitous of immigration patterns or wishing to cultivate an aura of mystery, the men in my father's and my father-in-law's lines have certainly put me through my research paces. Still, it sure would be nice to honor these fathers of centuries past for Father's Day—if only I could figure out who they were!

Photograph, above: Providing a glimpse of the mysterious "Aunt Rose," this family grouping sporting their outrageous fashionable hats included my father as a young boy, at some time between 1910 and 1915, along with his younger sister and their mother. Aunt Rose is the woman on the left.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Off the Shelf:
Real Artists Don't Starve

I admit it: the book I want to talk about today is a title published just this month. Deviating from my original intent for this column—returning to my bookshelves to actually read those books purchased with good intentions, months ago—after this week's discussion here at A Family Tapestry, I couldn't help but mention this new release.

The author, Jeff Goins—who by now is billed as a "creativity expert"—has in his several previous books touched at least tangentially on the writing life. Though he co-opts the term "artist" for this latest release, Real Artists Don't Starve, the subject he covers largely applies to writers as much as any other creative.

The gist of the book is that choosing the path of the creative—writer, artist, actor, dancer, musician—does not doom one to a life of financial insecurity. He offers a sequence of five strategies for allowing that creative spark to thrive, coupling that with not only historical examples but current-day case studies. And yet, he encases the whole plan within the caveat: working at your craft will be more likely to see success if the approach is slow and steady.

Many of the tidbits of advice are infused with earthy practicality. "You become an artist because you decide that's what you're going to be," he flatly states, "and then you do the work."

Going back, time and again, to that slow and steady theme, he observes, "Most significant change begins with a simple step, not a giant leap."

And again, "Doing something so small and gradual that it almost looks like you're doing nothing—often leads to much more sustainable success" than the flamboyant leap of faith into the realm of your creative passion.

These are not beaches once reached that require the boats to be burned behind you. In Goins' book, this is more like sidling to the edge of the pool and nonchalantly dipping your big toe in, just to check out the water before making any further moves.

In that sustainable one-step-at-a-time approach, it calls to mind one aspect we've been discussing this week: persistence. Only in Goins' book, that persistence can take a shape so small, it shrinks from the mammoth and impossible, and morphs into the infinitesimally do-able. Something so minute that, with modest commitment coupled with the passion to see it happen, we can do this.

There's much more to Goins' plan, of course. That's just the initial realization—the encouraging door opened to bid you come further inside. Once he gets deep within his five step analysis, you begin to realize this writing life does require effort—perhaps agonizing effort. You know an honest assessment must always include a full disclosure, and Goins delivers:
Art is always found on the fringes, at the edge of our discomfort where true change occurs.

This, of course, is true of all learning. When we move from what we confidently know to that realm of skills we haven't yet accomplished, we enter a state of disequilibrium. An unfamiliar point requires us to stretch, if we wish to succeed at a new task.

Of course, while we see ourselves as those concerned with family history, the vehicle we use to transport our ideas and stories is none other than the skill of writing. And that skill can always use improvement, which is why I like to keep an eye on books with solid advice on how to better craft this blogging work.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Have Gumption — Will Travel

If you have the gumption to start something and get the job done, you will go places. At least, that's the prevailing opinion. Perhaps it applies well to those one-shot deals. But when it comes to "jobs" which require repeated effort, day after day, it takes more than that initial spark of gumption. It takes persistent follow-through.

That's one thing I've noticed while knocking out posts, day after day, on A Family Tapestry—and, apparently, so have some of you, if comments like one shared by Gayle from Family Research and Me a few days ago are any indication. Whether you've chosen to blog once a month, once weekly, or spring for the overly-ambitious once a day—what were we thinking?—it takes a lot more than that initial spurt of gumption to come back, time and time again, and crank out something not only coherent, but useful (or at least inspiring).

So it's persistence that we need to add to our arsenal of character traits if we wish to show up, no matter what, the next time. And granted, persistence is no second-class quality. It is indeed a rare commodity, in the realm of the human condition.

Why would I say that? Because I know. I suffer terribly with that writer's disease known as procrastination. My self-talk is a skill finely honed to talk me out of anything—as long as I can convince myself I can do it later.

That, as you can imagine, doesn't work when you've committed to a once-a-day schedule. "Later" becomes a no-show when it's a daily schedule you've promised yourself.

Fortunately for me, I've long ago learned to promise myself one thing: the task I commit to doing daily, I'll get done, even if it means hauling myself out of bed at midnight because I forgot to follow through.

I didn't learn it with blogging, of course. I learned it with a tiny project I started, years ago: a promise to myself to do one specific task every day, no matter what. Granted, it was a task that took all of five minutes to complete, but sometimes I forgot my promise—hence those post-midnight episodes of laying my weary head down on my pillow, only to realize with a start that I couldn't sleep...yet.

Habits always start small, and so do changes to habits. That's why I've never been a champion of New Year's resolutions. Or even to-do lists. I already know I won't do them, so why try? Each time I fail only ingrains that sinking-pit-of-the-stomach feeling even more deeply. I don't want to entrench that groove of failure more deeply. I want to learn success, not failure.

Of course, that was a mind trick which worked for me: choosing something small to do every day without fail, because choosing an incredibly fail-safe smallness, when completed successfully, day after day, builds the confidence to win. Again.

What works for you may be a different approach. That is likely why GeneaBloggers was first formed. And why, despite Thomas MacEntee's recent take on business prospects for blogs, GeneaBloggers still fills a need in encouraging bloggers and has morphed into the new GeneaBloggersTribe. There, a host of prompts and encouragements served up by the new Tribe team should suffice for encouragement to keep that blogging inspiration going.

However, only you can determine what works—for you. Hence the need to experiment. Perhaps even cast an eye on reports of what works for others, as long as you remember that each one of us is different, and what works for your best friend—or even your worst enemy—may not make the slightest dent in your own will power.

With the gumption to start, the willingness to experiment in growing a new aspect of "you" and the commitment to keep at it, time after time, you will eventually build that persistence muscle which will power you through bigger, more demanding tasks. Like keeping at your blogging project.

Gumption, after all, is what provides the spark to get going. Once you've lit that fire, you need to provide the fuel it needs to keep burning, and fan the flames to supply what it needs to continue operating. That's persistence—the regularly scheduled follow-through that insures your spark of genius will continue to thrive and, eventually, to go places it's never been before, encounter people who will be glad to meet you, thanks to the project you and your gumption have birthed and nurtured.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Smallest Possible Audience

Today, because noise is everywhere, we're all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters.
~Seth Godin           

The rant isn't over. Just when I thought nothing further could be said on the topic, Seth Godin's pithy post of daily thoughts slid into my in-box. How timely that was.

Granted, what he was referring to is the topic of marketing—in its current state, more noise tossed into an already noisy environment or, as he put it, "just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana."

What made his post timely for me had nothing to do with marketing per se, of course. I'm not a marketer. But I am a communicator for whom an audience of zero would be a painful kiss of death.

Like most family history bloggers, I like to think what I am doing will—for someone at some time—eventually make a difference. I'm finding myself a blogger for whom the continual thrumming mantra of the demise of blogging is depressing. Whether there is an audience or not, I still have much to say. To think that audience has disappeared, though, could induce a withering away of the verve required to say what needs to be said.

So encouraging, then, to see Seth Godin's response. His advice, whether in the marketing dilemma he described or in facing the current flux in the genea-blogging world:
To stick to the work, to the smallest possible audience, to building something worth talking about.

In Seth Godin's viewpoint, what actually works in a noisy environment isn't more noise. It's getting that one person to listen, take notice, and benefit from what was heard—and then pass it along. A word fitly spoken can evidently go a long way in building a solid blogging reputation, if it's useful enough to be commented upon—"the smallest possible audience, to build something worth talking about."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

About Yesterday's Rant . . .

If you were taken aback by yesterday's detour from my customary nonchalant review of family history, I suppose an explanation is in order. While it is true I've been troubled by Thomas MacEntee's analysis of the future of genealogical blogging, that is not really the triggering issue for this week's rant. What really caused me to notice details that may support Thomas' assessment was something that occurred during the weekend's Jamboree conference.

Traditionally, during and after the event each year, one of my fellow genea-bloggers, Randy Seaver, has compiled a listing of blog posts regarding the Southern California Genealogical Society event. His compendium would usually make its first appearance toward the beginning of the conference, and he would add to the list as others notified him of their Jamboree-related posts. Over the course of the four days in Burbank, the list would expand to include several entries—twenty bloggers posting fifty entries for the 2016 Jamboree, for instance.

It's now Wednesday, three days after the doors were shut following the last presentation in Burbank, and yet this year—so far, at least—the count is down to seven bloggers and seventeen posts. An even more drastic reduction was the impression received when I viewed Randy's list on Sunday night, right after the end of the conference: only nine posts added by that point.

A far cry from fifty.

Perhaps that reduction is partially owing to less people blogging, in general. After all, it takes gumption to start a blog and persistence to keep it up; some people just run out of steam.

Then, too, it could just be that fewer bloggers attended the southern California event this year. Or, taking a different tack, that some bloggers are now also speaking at genealogy conferences, adding duties where those energies once were diverted to writing only. I know that was true of Melanie Frick of Homestead Genealogical Research and Deborah Sweeney of Genealogy Lady.

Underlying it all, though, may well be the possibility that Thomas has spotted something afar off and made his assessment, devised his escape plan, and headed for greener pastures—all based on solid analysis of business fundamentals. There are all sorts of aspects of modern life that take on the ephemeral. The sure thing today will be the fleeting fad tomorrow—and all but forgotten the day after that. Better to not be the businessman caught in the aftermath.

Knitted deep within that fabric of modern life, though, are strands that may tell a different story. I touched on some of them yesterday—the niches which don't tend to go with the flow, but yearn for a deeper experience. Examining the reasons why family historians—as opposed to entrepreneurs—seek an outlet via blogging may inform us of a much different focus on the use of this tool of communication. It may be possible that we need to consider that not all blogging is the same.

Then, too, the history of people who take up genealogical pursuits—the history, essentially, of us—has gone through several iterations since the marriage of genealogy and technology. Yet, an underlying current in that story has been the sharing nature of the participants and their willingness to be open about their discoveries. The purposes a genealogist may have in sharing research progress might be as varied as the type of genealogist initiating the communication. A researcher looking for lost cousins has a vastly different reason for sharing than would a professional genealogist in search of a client. It wasn't lost on me that the number of professional genealogists posting on Jamboree in their blogs this year outnumbered those who wrote for other reasons.

It's been said by some writers that an author needs to "find his tribe" in order to continue producing material of pertinence. Perhaps that's a mantra to adopt in the niche of genealogy writing, too. But blogging, like any form of communication, also needs to consider that it requires a partnership. While bloggers may have something they wish to say—and choose this medium as their way to say it to the world—they also are in need of an audience which wishes to hear what that specific blogger has to say. Not that this is necessarily a zero-sum game—audiences themselves can expand and contract, depending on fluctuating levels of interest in any given topic—but it does represent a relationship, a sort of equation.

And that sort of equation may include more variables than any assessments we've seen so far on the state of genealogy blogging in general.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Doubting Thomas

During last week's Jamboree conference in southern California, I noticed one thing: I barely managed to Tweet one item.

Yes, me. Actually, I haven't posted on Twitter much for the past several months. Nor on Facebook. As far as connectivity goes, I guess I've been losing my touch.

Wondering whether that might have been the case for other Jamboree attendees, I took a look at the official hashtag designation on Twitter, #SCGS2017. After all, despite thirty minute breaks between each conference session, I found myself running all day long, every day. Besides taking notes, checking the online download of syllabus material for each class, making conversation with fellow attendees, and cruising the exhibit hall, I hardly had time to think of anything else, much less talk about what I was doing.

Perhaps the classes were packed with more noteworthy material this year? I did find plenty of stuff to write down—but that sort of one-liner entries makes for more Twitter-worthy fodder than the mug shot plus look-which-class-I'm-attending-now comments. In my book, Twitter should be a conversation, not a monologue. So why couldn't I post a few entries of my own? Was I really that breathless and focused on just being there?

When I gave that social media question some thought—admittedly, in the relatively rare lulls encountered in the week's proceedings—I couldn't help but dwell on Thomas MacEntee's very depressing assessment of the State of Blogging:
Over the past two years I have been able to document a notable decline in genealogy blog traffic while at the same time a greater increase in social media traffic by genealogists and family historians.

Granted, my main focus when reading Thomas' statement was his report of the "notable decline" in blog traffic. For a blogger, that sort of report hits hard. After all, this is a blog you are reading. If enough of you don't bother coming by here anymore, I might not have enough of an audience to want to continue using this blog as my virtual stage. I do, if you haven't noticed, enjoy having an audience.

However, there have been other eras in flux, in which the then-current technology has been forecast as doomed to fall into disrepair and neglect. Technologies come and go—even books have been predicted to be among the formats soon to be forsaken. Besides, in the MacEntee assessment, Thomas did later add, "Blogging is not dead; it's just that the blog post itself cannot garner enough traffic without social media as a partner."

So what about that social media? Yeah, those Tweets I didn't churn out throughout that information-ripe weekend conference run. What about that?

While analysis of data will always trump a snap decision about what's current, I can't help but recoil from such assessments. Statements have come and gone about what's hot and what's not—even genealogy itself has taken the heat for sliding numbers in the past, with predictions that the "fad" will eventually lose traction. In our increasingly niche-market-inspired world, though, it's my guess these dire predictions won't turn out quite as assumed.

In some cases, we might see either-or yield to both-and scenarios: books and e-books, blogs and Facebook, in an ever-expanding information market. On the flip side, with ever-shrinking free time versus expanding content, perhaps it will become the battle between doing and being. After all, I can't get much actual, you know, work done while I'm posing for selfies in all the right places.

Then, too, there is a difference between what's possible to achieve as a content generator and what's possible to consume as a media customer. As the media ramps up more dense information squeezed into the same space, it becomes harder to dive for deeper meaning per unit of time invested. The more information coming at us at the same time, the less of the message we are able to grasp per information unit.

Perhaps what Mr. MacEntee is really signifying by his dismaying assessment last month is that the kind of blog traffic which would generate click-throughs to other material (most likely ads) has, for online content entrepreneurs, gone down. In other words, the type of reader who lands on one virtual property but can be quickly lured away by a bright-shiny to another web space is now failing to show up in sufficient numbers on blogs-as-commercial properties.

Breathe a sigh of relief, all ye who blog for altruistic purposes. Your goals are not the same. It is still okay to generate content for purposes other than income generation—especially in the traditionally giving field of family history. It is still okay to think large thoughts and transmit them in mere, humble words. It is still just fine to take the time to craft your work unhampered by the kind of frenetic multi-tasking said to assure simultaneous appearance in all the "right" virtual places.

Doing a project takes time. Often, that action cannot yield sufficient results when sabotaged by demands to simultaneously talk about what you are doing. Sometimes, it's got to be do first, then talk later. If that's the way it was at a simple conference last week, it's surely the way it will be for the more significant accomplishments of life—at least, if we actually hope to ever make them. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Beyond What's Expected

It seems as if there is a tacit contract struck between conference organizers and potential attendees: "Come to our event," these planners imply, "And we will present you with useful learning opportunities."

For their own part, attendees supposedly register in the hopes that topics they want to learn will be covered adequately by speakers who will hold their interest. They register in faith that this is exactly what the outcome will be three, four or five months later, once the event for which they snagged "early bird" rates actually comes to pass.

And yet, sometimes I wonder if that is what conference-goers say they wish to receive, but not what they really want to get, once they arrive at the event. Maybe we don't really even know what we want when we sign on to attend a conference. Could there be an intended "contract" for attendance, while beneath the surface, there is a hidden, wished-for outcome?

Some may find that presumed contract is never consummated, of course. Witness those who fail to return in subsequent years, perhaps owing to disappointment over understandings left unfulfilled.

Some, of course, do return—often, year after year—demonstrating by their presence that they are satisfied with the planners' outcomes.

In some rare instances, though, the deliverables are so far beyond what's expected, it leaves a satisfied customer wishing for a megaphone to metaphorically shout their recommendations from the rooftops.

I'll satisfy myself with simply mentioning an unexpectedly pleasing outcome from Jamboree on today's post here at A Family Tapestry.

Granted, you may be too far away to attend the yearly Jamboree, put on by the Southern California Genealogical Society in Burbank every June. Perhaps you even live too far away to ever catch a session by this particular speaker I first heard this past weekend. But in case you ever cross paths with this researcher, you need to take the time to listen.

When I decided to make this speaker's session my first of the morning on Saturday, I must have been in a much more energized frame of mind. Come Saturday morning, I was in no mood to do anything at 8:30, let alone face a group of chirpy genealogists eagerly awaiting perhaps the first day of their Jamboree experience. After all, attendees are given the choice of registering for each day's events, or the whole Jamboree conference—or super size it by adding on the prequel DNA Day on Thursday, as well. I had chosen the extended version, and restless nights of sleep in an unfamiliar hotel room since Wednesday night hadn't done much to augment my learning readiness, come Saturday.

Then, too, I had gotten this inkling of a déjà vu experience from last year—reading workshop titles and thinking the class would address one topic, when it turned out to cover something entirely different. I had run across a few experiences like that already, this year, too.

So, what the speaker ended up doing with a title like the one on Saturday morning might be just what I hoped for—or it might take a totally different direction.

I'm glad I decided to attend the class, mood and lack of coffee or not. The session, "Descendancy Research: Another Pathway to Genealogy," did not disappoint.

Um, let me restate that: Michael L. Strauss' hour on Saturday morning left me wishing he was afforded much more time than that fleeting hour. The way he covered his topic was masterful. Inspiring. Powerful. It left me thinking, "Now, how did you do that?"

It was not just the topic itself—basically his rationale for hearkening back to the old way of doing genealogy, what we so naively dub now as "reverse genealogy"—but the way he presented his argument that made the difference. Slow and steady, he pieced together his case. He wrapped it around a story—about tracing other branches of his family to find living descendants, and what became of his pursuit of these previously unknown family members—and kept the audience's attention so wrapped up in the details that, surprise, the hour was over in moments.

Of course, it never hurts when a speaker is personally vested in the topic. More so, when that speaker goes beyond the academic to the realm of heartfelt commitment. In this hour, though, we were treated to goose-bump inspiring episodes—those moments of intangible connection so far beyond academic recitation as to be nearly other-worldly.

The result, for those who witnessed that Saturday morning transformation from mere "conference speaker" to masterful motivator, was far beyond the tacit understanding expected between conference organizers and their customers.

The receipt of their deliverables by those witnessing the unfolding of such an inspiring presentation may have been unexpected in its impact, but it will go far in encouraging those of us in attendance to keep coming back for more. After all, what's a conference for, if it doesn't exceed expectations and provide us the encouragement we need for another year?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ideas Versus Time

I've been here at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree since DNA Day started last Thursday. There has been a lot of material to absorb—plenty of inspiration to spark new ideas. By Saturday's close, my mind was brimming with plans for new projects.

Help me. I'm overloaded. And I haven't even begun the long drive home.

I've been toying with the idea of participating in the Guild of One-Name Studies by launching a surname study of my own. However, it wasn't an English name—or any from the regions in the British Isles—but a Polish surname. Knowing the Guild is hosted in England, I concluded my Polish study would never do in such circumstances, and gave up toying with the notion.

It just so happened that two champions of One Name Studies—Debbie Kennett and Tessa Keough—were both speakers at this year's Jamboree. I don't think I missed one of their sessions. At the end, I summoned up the courage to mention my idea, and ask whether it would seem untoward of me to suggest a non-British name to these kind surname hosts. Not at all, came the response.

Project idea number one now meets no resistance.

Then, it seemed there were a good number of workshops centered around the idea of writing up one's family history. I gravitated toward those, for obvious reasons. By the end of the weekend, I found myself more convinced than ever that I need to just stop dragging out the excuses and write. I have some book ideas—most of which were birthed in research for this blog—and they need to find their voice in between two solid (and well-designed) book covers.

That is all well and good. Summer is coming, and that has been the season traditionally set aside in our family for all the projects the busy school year's schedule has hampered, from September to May. Now—the time reserved for pet projects like these—also tends to be the time of year when all the loose ends of life gather to sabotage progress in any area at all. Summer is the time for everything from "you deserve this" to "you know you're too tired to take on something new at this date." It will take some concentrated will power to resist those inside voices of "reason."

Project idea number two—the big one—meets a mountain of excuses taking the place of the vacuum of spare time.

No matter which way the summer turns out, launching myself into its warm embrace from this idea incubator at Jamboree is quite the experience. Rubbing elbows with people who are doing fascinating things—researching, writing, scaling the heights of brick walls—always leaves me inspired to go out and do likewise.

Just that inspiration alone is sometimes worth the price of conference admission.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Trouble With Conferences

And no, I'm not talking about the expense. Or the preference to just stay home and bypass the crowds, now that there's live streaming of hand-picked features. The problem with conferences, in my book, is that while you can't do it all—there are too many simultaneous best picks—sometimes, you can't do any of it.

It is so hard, from an organizer's standpoint, to arrange an event where there is something for everyone. Many conferences—and this is not just relegated to the world of genealogy; I've experienced it elsewhere—seem to focus on narrow strata of interests or skill levels. The majority of sessions are geared to the entry level, convincing potential attendees there is nothing to return for, the following year. Or plans pinpoint the far-advanced, and soar over everyone else's head. Even selecting a roster of speakers on the "track" approach—beginners, intermediates, and advanced—can backfire, when speakers, themselves, slate their topics as befitting of all three audiences simultaneously.

Apparently, the Southern California Genealogical Society, hosts to the Jamboree genealogical conference I'm attending this weekend, have not only succeeded in finding an answer to this dilemma, but have demonstrated that they are willing to listen to customer feedback at the same time. SCGS launched a "workshop" approach, which it incorporates into two days of the event. While the rest of the conference runs on its traditional hour-long session schedule, a second ring of events offers extended, hands-on learning experiences dedicated to a more intricate topic.

Those workshops require separate advanced registration, but that serves to insure that participants are fully informed about what they are getting themselves into. It also provides a smaller venue for the instructor and fellow class members. And it affords us the time to delve more deeply into a specific topic—not just breeze over it lightly, as might happen in the traditional hour-long conference session.

This is not a new approach for Jamboree. SCGS offered this approach last year. Unfortunately for me, last year I had looked at the offerings too late to register for the ones I was interested in. But this year, I didn't miss the chance, and I'm glad I got in on it. There were two different DNA workshops offered on Friday morning, extending the genetic genealogy offerings beyond the Thursday DNA Day, and I snatched up the class on chromosome mapping. It's a huge topic to swallow, but the extended time frame made it more possible to break it into bite-sized pieces.

Though I've always enjoyed attending conferences, over the years I've found myself repeating yearly attendance until reaching a jumping-off point—feeling like there is nothing left to glean from the organization's offerings, yet feeling like there potentially could be so much more to learn in the field. Perhaps that's why institutes—such as the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—have found such a niche. Perhaps others have sensed that same sort of lack from conferences.

Yet, I think the approach adopted by the SCGS at Jamboree holds out promise as a way to meet those many varied learning requirements, concurrently and all under one roof. Bravo to their organizers for being willing to innovate to address such disparate learning needs!

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Can't-Miss-This Day

Yesterday was a day for genetic genealogy All-Stars to shine. The Southern California Genealogical Society always manages to make a spot for the best DNA speakers to assemble in one place at one time. Yesterday was that day.

With exceptions, of course (Judy Russell is still in New Zealand, not beautiful downtown Burbank), the speaker lineup was everything regular attendees have come to expect from DNA Day—with a few additional treats. For one, getting to listen to Debbie Kennett from London was a highlight—and oh, how I wish she had been given more time for her presentation!

I've benefited from classes by Blaine Bettinger, Angie Bush, and Paul Woodbury in the past, and am always grateful to absorb more of their insights. Blaine Bettinger, in particular, tackled a topic yesterday which I've hoped would become an ongoing source of dialog: the concept of how to deal with uncovered family secrets. Not that DNA is the only medium by which those hushed life episodes come to light, of course, but DNA testing has come to be seen as a potentially divisive device, simply on account of its powerful ability to tell about things as they really are.

Not that there aren't new faces in the presentation lineup. In addition to the regulars in the DNA constellation, some other favorites have come to add their expertise to this one-day event. I was pleased to see Michael Lacopo among the presenters this year; his longstanding blog favorite, Hoosier Daddy? not only catalogued his DNA-testing experiences in assisting his adoptee mother to find her birth parents, but has been a whopper of a story best appreciated from its beginning. Yesterday, he spoke on a project—talk about an exhaustive search!—utilizing mitochondrial DNA in a way no other genetic genealogy tool could provide. Perhaps it was because this was the last session presented in a very long day, but the presentation left even me feeling exhausted—and I only sat and took notes!

There were many other sessions offered during the day, as well—an impressive variety of subjects all centered around the field of genetic genealogy. The organizers did an impressive job with the wide array of choices. It is easy to see why so many consider this a one of its kind event. And yet, as we bridge the boundary between DNA Day and Jamboree proper with this morning's schedule, I've got another four hour block of DNA training to look forward to in this interim. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Jamming to Jamboree

Yesterday, I spent a good portion of time driving to southern California. Not that that is one of my favorite go-to spots; I tend to avoid that part of the country. However, there are some occurrences that will draw me in, despite my inclination to head in the opposite direction.

One of those exceptions is the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree—their annual event featuring the double-header of a conference plus the add-on "DNA Day."

While most people may be using today as their travel day to the conference (which officially starts on Friday afternoon, but keeps expanding to satisfy their supporters' genealogical education wish list), I find this day's offerings to be the main draw of the extended weekend.

When it comes to the world of genealogy, my continuing education focus has been the realm of genetic genealogy. The plus to this weekend's events is the draw of the many recognized speakers featured in sessions here—in some cases, traveling internationally to offer their presentations. The DNA Day, in particular, does not disappoint.

Featured this year will be Debbie Kennett, an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. For a long time, I've known her as the blogger behind Cruwys News—a great source of information for those wishing to improve their grasp on how to apply genetics to genealogy. Besides that, she is known as the author of two books and co-founder of the ISOGG Wiki. You can be sure I'll be absorbing her every word during this opening day's sessions.

Perhaps some might think, "What's there to learn about DNA?" After all, once you grasp the basics, other than those intent on a profession as a geneticist, there might not be a need to delve into the topic further, at least for genealogical purposes. However, the more I am exposed to that cadre of genealogists who have grabbed onto the world of DNA testing to blast through their research brick walls, the more I see the possibilities they see. I want to be able to apply those concepts in my own work.

There will, of course, be much more than just genetic genealogy in the offerings this weekend, and you can be sure I'll be sharing some of my observations as I go through the remainder of the weekend. But the featured high note of this event, for me, will always be the lead-in to the conference, that separate DNA Day on the Thursday before Jamboree starts.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cleaning the Genealogy Junk Drawer

We all have it: the handy drawer we pull out to capture those odds and ends of life we encounter. We're not ready to toss them, but we're not ready to do anything else with them at the time, either. What starts out as a drawer with just one tiny item eventually gets filled to the brim. And then it's time for some serious cleaning.

Being part of a genealogy society founded in 1952, I've discovered organizations can encounter a lot of odds and ends within their tenure, as well. Some parts are important to preserve—not only the books and research resources we store on the shelves of our library collection, but the history of the organization, itself, as it grows and evolves. What starts out small eventually flourishes—and witnesses changes along the way.

Recently, our board experienced the sad change of losing one of our members who had, in the past, been tasked with overseeing our reference collection and coordinating the volunteers we provide as a public service at our downtown library's genealogy section. Since we had been amassing resources since the year one, you can imagine how many odds and ends might have found their way into a box set up for just that purpose. Call it our genealogy junk drawer.

The box included blank forms to give to patrons wishing to start their family history journey—only over the years, while the methodology might have remained basically the same, the look of subsequent versions of the forms definitely obtained more up-to-date appearances. The older ones—the ones not yet used, but saved with good intentions of thriftiness, or conservation, or wise stewardship—got set aside in the box. One here, one there, over the years adding up to a file folder full of stuff.

There were printed resources, as well. One-page listings of website addresses now gone defunct, mixed in with more up-to-date—or at least more long-lasting—references. Clippings of articles once thought pertinent. Brochures that might help someone—if that someone seeking this obscure resource ever showed up to ask just the right question.

It's a melancholy task to go through this genealogy junk drawer. For one thing, these items simply cannot be viewed without remembering the person—and the one serving in this capacity even before she did—whose hands had placed them there, and whose mind had decided to save, rather than toss, in hopes of further usefulness.

Why is it that paper is not always just paper? That would make a job like this so much easier to complete. Perhaps, now that I'm experiencing this process, I'm only sensing the same feelings experienced by the one who last was tasked with that duty—charged with handling the paper, but seeing beyond the paper to the intentions of a fellow board member who once cared very much, while she was still here with us, for the assignment she was given to fulfill.

Perhaps the worst person to assign to the charge of cleaning out the genealogy junk drawer is a genealogist. We are built to remember. And it is paper we use to carry those memories into the future.

Above: "Paysage de labour" ("Landscape of the plow"), 1929 oil on canvas by Swiss artist François Barraud; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Into the Air

It was an American Eagle that one of Burley Chaney's friends had recently purchased, and the two men had decided, one Sunday afternoon, to take it up for a spin. The "field" they had used for takeoff was literally that: a field on a farm just outside the city of Zanesville, Ohio, where Chaney had recently secured work following his return from a disastrous stint in California.

The plane was said by witnesses to have "made a good takeoff," following which spectators had watched as it "soared gracefully into the air." The pilot—whether Chaney or his friend is not clear—circled his craft to the north and the east for quite some distance, eventually returning to approach the field for a landing.

Before that could happen, though, the plane was observed to have dipped at an unusual angle, but it quickly righted itself. Following that, the sound of the motor was heard to have "turned on full speed," but the plane dipped again. Going into a nosedive, the craft crashed into a ravine at the edge of the field.

Chaney and his companion—Chaney was seated in the forward seat—were both badly injured, and rushed by car to a local hospital. The Zanesville newspaper, The Times Recorder, reporting the next day, provided details of the injuries sustained by each of the two men and noted that Chaney died while in transit to the hospital. His companion, having never regained consciousness, survived only a few hours more.

Chaney was said to have taken the plane up several times before this episode, and had never before experienced trouble with the machine. This time, however—at least, according to the newspaper—"hundreds of persons" were drawn to the scene of the crash. What was billed as a "spectacular nose dive" was said to have been the area's first air tragedy.

According to the March 17, 1930, report, Chaney was described as "a good flyer." Though a follow up report was filed in the next day's edition—including paragraphs bringing up Chaney's unfortunate past in California—no mention was ever made as to the suspected cause of the crash.

Just as had happened barely three years prior for his fellow aviator friend from Ohio, at age thirty three, the last chapter had abruptly closed on a man for whom other burdens had eclipsed his underlying love for flying.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Lure of Those Flying Machines

It may have seemed the logical move for the Chaney family to return home to Ohio after all they had been through in California. Not only was the shooting at the Gardena airfield a shock, but the resultant arrest, trial and conviction for violation of immigration laws must have made it hard on the family to find work—perhaps even maintain social ties.

After the family's return to the Chaneys' Coshocton, Ohio, hometown, it wasn't long until further devastating events caught up with them. There's a reason why, by the time of the 1930 census, we can only find Burley Chaney's wife and four children enumerated in Coshocton. Though all six of the family had arrived in Ohio recently, by the time of the census that year, Burley was no longer with them.

In fact, it was shortly after he had finally secured work for himself that the change had occurred. Burley had extended his job-hunting efforts, since Coshocton was such a rural area, to the nearby city of Zanesville—the very town where he and the two Perry County boys, the Daugherty brothers, had, five years earlier, met to head west to California.

It was a snap, considering his recent history, that he would no longer be able to seek work with his former employer, the Coshocton police department, where he had once been the town's first traffic officer. Perhaps it was that same personal history that had made it necessary for the family to leave California in the first place. Falling back on his previous occupation, Burley once again found work as an auto mechanic at a garage in Zanesville, only a month or so before the 1930 census.

The lure of those flying machines still had a grip on Chaney, though, and he found ways to connect with others who were as fascinated with them as he was. Whether Burley Chaney was as knowledgeable about the craft as he gave the impression of being, I'm not sure. Still, whether a lack of experience or the bad luck of a mechanical malfunction, it was a surprise to see the headlines in the Zanesville Times Recorder on March 17, 1930, and realize one of the names below was that of Burley Chaney.

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