Friday, January 31, 2020

Remembering our Members

What does an enticing genealogical society look like to you? Is it an academic atmosphere where wise speakers whose names are appended by initials like "Ph.D." address experienced researchers? Is it a place all a-buzz with the exciting chatter of people who just smashed through their latest research brick wall? Or a place where people seek to up their reporting game by professionally writing about their research progress—and learn how to better document that progress?

These and many other vignettes can represent the image of a successful genealogical society, and there's one reason for that variety: different people need different types of organizations to help them achieve their family history goals. Some people want more online resources, or the people to coach them through the wide variety of research options available. Others craze a more social setting, while some just want the "stuff" to get their work done better.

Bottom line: the best society for any given member is the type of place which addresses their specific needs. The reason why a person seeks out a genealogical society is what drives their decision to move forward and join. And that reason can vary widely from one person to the next.

Your mission as a society leader, if you choose to accept it, is to determine which membership options are most attractive to your prospective—and renewing—members, and to work as a team with the rest of your board to achieve that vision.

But how do you discover what it is that your members are seeking? That, in itself, is a type of research your board needs to engage in. Much like the quest for the "whole product" mentioned in the book I discussed yesterday, it takes getting to know what your customer wants, especially in that chasm of indecision where the prospective customer will either come to the conclusion that she wants to press forward to membership in your group, or decline taking that action.

Great ideas abound for integrating new members in an established group—even yesterday, reader Marian shared in a comment what her society may do to help welcome and integrate these new members. In fact, the way Marian put it--seeking cohesion among new members--is an apt way to put it: finding what works best for that specific group in its current membership goals. That's the quest of any board of directors seeking to offer a "whole product" experience to members.

In whatever way we develop an approach to facilitate the needs of our society members, we'll have to be facile at drawing out the feedback to guide us. Members' ability to communicate what they want out of a society may vary from person to person; as Steve Jobs demonstrated when shepherding Apple through the development of their earliest technological offerings, customers sometimes don't even realize what they'd like to see in a product.

Coming to conclusions about what prospective members might want from a society is definitely an art—but also a treasure hunt. Finding the best answers can be golden for a society—until the terms change, or the membership shifts, or the world of genealogy brings us new options. The organization needs to reflect the requirements of its current as well as prospective members. However, before members can experience buy-in in a local genealogical society, they need to feel that the input they provide regarding the direction that society takes is appreciated—and applied. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Reading Redux

Looking around at all the computer screens flickering around my seat on my flight to Florida this week, it was obvious which of two time-gobblers was preferred by most of my fellow passengers. Hint: reading was not the winner.

A good book, however, is my mainstay for cross-continental flights. Even so, I can't manage to finish an entire volume in the time it takes to go from California to Florida, so I'll have more to think about on the return trip.

The book currently captivating me is the one I mentioned earlier this month, Crossing the Chasm. Reading the updated version of Geoffrey A. Moore's now-classic book is slow going for me. It's not that it focuses on how to market leading edge technological developments. It's specifically for the reason I've latched on to this book that I'm taking so much time to make it to the back cover: the material prompts my thinking processes. And my thoughts are firmly anchored in the decidedly low-tech stance of our genealogy society world. I'm trying to determine how to apply this marketing guru's advice to our much more conservative collective.

The gist of Moore's advice is to formulate what he calls a "Whole Product Model." In contrast, what we are used to—what he terms the "generic product"—is the item that was packed in the box and shipped to the purchaser by the company. It could be, for instance, a computer or a cell phone. For our purposes, let's say that "generic product" is a genealogy society. It's basically the stripped down version of the "product" our potential buyer is buying.

Moore goes through a progressive list of ways the customer can view this product. There is, for instance, the "expected product" (what the customer thought she was buying), or the "augmented product" (the tricked out version, complete with all the peripherals, bells and whistles). The main point, though, is to determine the potential for the "product" and its room for growth to become the "go-to" device the end user couldn't live without.

The user needs to be able to see herself being able to use the product—fully and satisfactorily—or there will be hesitancy in even stepping up to purchase that product in the first place. On the producer's side, being able to envision the entire package of what a potential customer really wanted—in many cases, before the customer could even imagine those uses for herself—may mean providing training, coaching, and other ways of coming alongside the customer to help bring her to that full realization. That is far more than just helping a customer pull a gizmo out of a clunky box.

Since this is a marketing book, it was no surprise to see the author's punchline regarding this sales problem: "By solving the whole product equation for any given set of target customers, high tech has overcome its single greatest obstacle to market development."

In other words, Moore warns these high tech entrepreneurs,
If you leave your customer's success to chance, you are giving up control over your own destiny. Conversely, by thinking through your customer's problems—and solutions—in their entirety, you can define and work to ensure that the customer gets the whole product.

Now, let's shift our focus from that ethereal world of high tech, and float back to the earthbound turf where we live: coordinating services for our (decidedly low tech) genealogical societies. What is our purpose as a local genealogical society? What do our members want from their society? What would that "whole product" be?

Whether our members have been drawn to join a society to share their family history triumphs, or to learn how to better find those elusive ancestors, one thing is sure. With the progress and changes in our own field, even the most entrenched Luddites among us are grappling with using programs to build our trees, search for historic documents, or even analyze DNA matches. And those society members seldom want to buy that "product" and pull it straight out of the box, uninitiated. They want knowledgeable coaches to help them bridge the gap toward informed and complete use of these new resources.

Others among our potential members are people who, having never researched their own family history, have been attracted by the seemingly ubiquitous advertisements promoting genealogy companies like or They want to try out this family history thing for themselves—but how to start?

It's groups like our own local societies which stand in that gap between the "generic product" of genealogy and need to be prepared to provide the augmented product for confident "customers." Perhaps we've never seen it that way—as catalysts between the low tech world of the neophyte user and the confident application of new tools—but that's the position in which we should see ourselves, as societies.

With all the tools and techniques now within our reach as genealogists, the greatest proposition we can offer to new family historians is to be their guide along an increasingly high tech path. To do that successfully, we need to examine just what that "whole product" actually would look like to our genealogical customers.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Getting to Know the State of my Roots

Yesterday was a different day for this family history hound: we set aside the questions and the conversations we'd been following, and just took a drive through the countryside. I may have roots that reach back deeply into Florida's history, but I really don't know the state up close—at least, not personally. I know family stories, but not the places which inspired those stories.

Florida as a state has a very different look than the state in which I grew up (New York), and certainly is much different than the state where I've lived for most of my life since college (California). Remember, I've only set foot in this state for the first time just a few years ago. And it's not yet a familiar sight to me.

So yesterday, we went driving. And discovered that Florida is a state where "you can't get there from here"—at least, that seems to be the case as far as the interstate highways are concerned, particularly if you are traveling from one small town to another.

I don't know what I was expecting, but knowing that Florida has long been a haven for retirees from the colder northern reaches of the east coast, I had imagined the state would take on the more metropolitan ambience of its transplanted residents. That, as it turns out, is not so. Not, at least, for the rest of the state outside the real estate of the largest and most well-known Florida cities.

To get to our destination yesterday, we stayed on roads which, though numbered as state highways, consisted merely of one lane in each direction. Get stuck behind a truck hauling gravel, and that's where you'll be for the next thirty miles—unless you have a route which requires turning off onto another highway of equal capacity...with another gravel truck backing up traffic.

Other than that, we drove through countryside which could have looked this same way fifty or one hundred years ago. I could let my imagination run with thoughts of what life might have been like for my great-great grandparents with such bucolic scenery. It was that easy.

While I accomplished no great revelations to push back the family tree even one more generation, it helps to be able to gain a sense of place concerning one's ancestors—especially if those ancestors claimed occupations which tied them to the land in one way or another. Those tall, thin pines from which my ancestors likely produced turpentine? I saw plenty of those. Likewise, orange groves, part of another branch of my maternal line.

Though I had a dentist and mayor as one of my ancestors in Florida, even those "professionals" had property which produced an income for them through agriculture. And the land we drove through represented the types of soil and topography my ancestors would have not only found to be familiar, but would have cast a keen analytical eye on, in passing through on their route. The soil of the place held a far more important place in the life of our ancestors, something I needed to remember during this "down" time on my research trip.

Perhaps "getting to know our roots" may represent more than one way of looking at things. Those roots, after all, thrived based on the soil in which they were grown. We can learn a lot about our people by taking a closer look at where they were planted. We may be far removed from that turf now, but we still owe a lot more to those roots than we think.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Assembling a
Targeted Research Bibliography

While I was regretting, on this family visit, not bringing the book I had found at SLIG—the Tenmile Country book which contained so much information on my mother-in-law's Gordon ancestry—it occurred to me to look online and see if anyone had digitized it. I knew there was only a slim chance that I'd see that Leckey book online, as it wasn't old enough to have lapsed into the public domain, but I searched for it, anyhow.

And found another book on the Tenmile Country.

As luck would have it, there weren't any mentions of my mother-in-law's family in that tome, so no chance for me to share with interested parties. However, in the process, I discovered a few other books. There was one on Greene County, Pennsylvania, where my mother-in-law's Rinehart ancestors once lived. Then, too, I was able to find a "mug book" for next-door Washington County, Pennsylvania. And yet another volume tantalizingly specific to the Genealogical and Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia.

All these books contain background information on the region—one that meanders along with its namesake river through the two different states of West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania. Even better, they include mentions of specific families, including a good number which married into my mother-in-law's lines.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, each time I want to research ancestors from this region surrounding the Monongahela River, how much easier it would be for me in the long run to keep a listing of all the digitized books in my own personalized "card" catalog. After all, if we heed admonitions of bloggers like James Tanner, we'll put to practice the realization that so many of the world's books are already digitized—we just need to know how to find the volumes we're seeking. Case in point being this very example of my mother-in-law's roots in the Monongahela Valley region, an example making me wonder just how many books I can find on that very topic which will yield me information on her own direct lines.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Another Kind of Family "Interview"

It isn't often that we, as our family's historian, actually get to meet up with someone who will show even a modicum of interest—instead of MEGO—in her own family, but in the case of this week's visits, I do have a chance to share with yet a few more relatives. I've mentioned researching my paternal line with one cousin and my maternal grandmother's line with another cousin, but how could I forget to prepare for yet another part of the family? And yet, that is what I didn't think of until my sister-in-law mentioned that very detail to my husband.

The request: show that family tree in diagram form. Simple. Visual. Helpful for instantaneous comprehension. And something I hadn't thought of. I guess I just carry that stuff around in my head. Besides, one click of a mouse and I can pull it up on my computer, any time. But this week, we might just do a family project of printing a huge copy of what we've got, so far. Maybe that will help track progress a bit better, especially for those DNA matches which are showing up on all branches of the family.

I've sat down, during past family visits, and shown my sisters-in-law their family tree as it appears on my account. I've sent out links to them, so that they, as guests, can view the tree online for themselves. But there's just something gratifying about being able to get your hands on something. It somehow helps you wrap your brain around the too-much-data feeling. So this week, we'll try printing various takes on the family trees.

In this case, that will not only mean the Irish Stevens and Tully trees of my father-in-law, but the colonial trees of the Gordon lines, as well as the Flowers and Metzger trees of my mother-in-law. There are so many permutations to explore.

Speaking of Gordons, of course, reminds me that my recent find of the used book on the Tenmile Country might better have been a book brought with me than the brick-left-behind. It is really a heavy thing, and I opted to not bring it—and yet, there is something decidedly thrilling about seeing your own family's names in print in a real book that I could have shared. Yep, I should have thought to bring it, despite its tome quality. Choosing actions based on the assumption that no one will be interested always turns out to be a poor option. Better to be prepared for when the opportunity springs itself upon us.

Needless to say, in the meantime, I've been doing some housekeeping on those lines in my mother-in-law's tree in preparation for our family visits later this week. With so many of my family's relatives moving to Florida, this yearly visit eastward is turning into quite the marathon.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Can't Count on Counting
When You Count on Lots of Work

It's been a busy week. No, make that a busy month. Thus, I wasn't too surprised, when it came time to count my research accomplishments for the past two weeks, to see I hadn't made much progress. I'm not too disappointed, though. Sometimes, the work we get done isn't the stuff on our regularly-planned to-do list. In my case during the past two weeks, some of my progress was definitely off the charts.

However, I still want to keep tabs. And so, though it will be no surprise to anyone, during the week I was away from town at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—learning all about colonial Virginia research and scouring the Family History Library for clues—I only added twenty three names to my mother's family tree and zero to each of the family trees of my father and my husband's father. My husband's mother's tree, on the other hand, did gain an unexpected eighty two names—and not because of that wonderful reference book I found, but only because of the compounding result of finding just a couple obituary notices in that soon-to-disappear RootsWeb mailing list I subscribe to.

Still, that leaves me with 20,302 people in my mother's tree, 658 in my father's tree, 1,584 in my father-in-law's tree, and 17,381 in my mother-in-law's tree.

Those are still strong benchmarks to start off the research year. It's always encouraging—at least, for me—to see how those numbers grow over the years, simply by keeping at the task, week after week. I already know that my mom's tree will continue to grow, simply because of my current research goals. I know, too, that my mother-in-law's tree will grow, simply because the many distant cousins in her tree tended to have large families, and I can easily track many of them because of helps such as the RootsWeb Mailing Lists. (And even though those will soon disappear, I'll find new ways to connect with that active pool of family history researchers looking for their Perry County, Ohio, ancestors.)

As far as my father's forsaken tree goes, one look at my new DNA matches this week tells me there are new connections leading me back to the origin of that side of the family, so I'll have new "cousins" to start corresponding with. Hopefully, these new matches—especially at MyHeritage, where I have 103 in just the past two weeks—will be willing to corroborate with me so that we can help each other discover our origins. Likewise with my father-in-law's tree, where his 88 new MyHeritage matches look promising, and his Ancestry matches include at least three from Australia. Hmmm.

While learning new skills and resources is enticing, yes, it does displace time for my usual research routines, but in the end, even that new material will help accelerate my quest to find more ancestors. What I've learned about colonial Virginia might not have added to the count for this two-week sequence, but at some point, it will yield some encouraging new discoveries, as I look in places I'd never thought to search before.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Off the Shelf: The Tenmile Country

Well, make that a book off someone else's shelf. But now I can say it is safely on my own bookshelf.

I mentioned, after coming home from a week of classes at SLIG last week, that there are some things you just can't plan in advance. Like coming down with the flu. Or getting a surprise contact in response to an old forum post.

You realize, of course, that my list of those unexpected occurrences is far longer than just those two examples. I had another sweet little surprise during the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. And that is why I can now say the book I'll tell you about today is actually coming off my shelf, and not just from a library shelf hundreds of miles from home.

See, during SLIG, we have a wonderful break area called, predictably, SLIG Central. That's where the much-needed coffee break is held after the first session of class each day. SLIG Central is a large meeting room set up with comfy chairs for sitting and chatting with other SLIG attendees over tea or coffee, or tables large enough for a group to meet over a brown bag lunch. The major genealogical accrediting organizations have representatives at tables there, too, for those of us who want to discuss the process in detail. And, of course, there is a photo-op booth for group pictures and other fun activities, right next to the tables with "SLIG Swag" from the sponsors of the week-long training event, the Utah Genealogical Association.

That, however, is not all that happens at SLIG Central. A full third of the amply-sized room is dedicated to a large spread of genealogical books, courtesy of Maia's Genealogy and History Books. I usually find some gems to take home from Maia's during each SLIG, but for some reason, this year I hadn't stopped by until nearly the end of SLIG.

This time, I hadn't found much of anything to tickle my fancy, so I hadn't bought a single book. If you suspect books are my weakness, you would be rightly surprised to hear of my stellar resistance. And yet...

On this last pass through the shelves and shelves of books, once again, I found...nothing. For some reason, I decided to circle around just one more time. This time, I bumped into a friend and started talking, and ended up by a solitary push cart with the sign "Used" affixed to the handle.

Almost immediately, I broke off the conversation when I spotted a big brick of a red book on that used book cart. As I reached out to grab it—quick, before anyone else realized what I had found—my eyes confirmed the item was indeed what I was hoping it was: historian Howard Leckey's The Tenmile Country and its Pioneer Families.

Now, you may be wondering, what is the Tenmile Country—or, more precisely, just where might it have been located. (Of course, you might also have wondered just why I might have cared about such an unusual title.) This, of course, takes a little 'spaining.

As the subtitle of the book continues, the Tenmile Country is a region in the Upper Monongahela Valley which, translated into today's terms, comprises the areas around present-day Greene and Washington counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

You may be wondering if my family had a penchant for settling in the southwest region of whatever state they called home, and you might be on to something. However, in this case, the beauty of Leckey's book—to me, at least—is that those nearly eight hundred pages show me the history and geography of the region where my mother-in-law's Gordon line once lived. Even better, there are several pages of entries on her specific Gordon line, an amazing find when you consider the odds.

I had found the book decades ago, thanks to an interlibrary loan—something most jurisdictions no longer provide—and though I had taken copious notes (and photocopies), there was just not enough time to absorb all the background information that provides the rich contextual setting so valued in recreating the stories of our ancestors' lives. Of course, once I realized how much I wanted to get my hands on that book again, the opportunity was long, long gone.

Until that last day of Maia's book sales. When I snapped up that one copy of Leckey's book. Honestly, I don't think I even had to take a look at the title; it's size and cover give it a distinctive appearance. But I took a second look, just to be sure.

And, as I've said before, so much for plans. While this is to be the year of pursuing my mystery paternal grandfather's line while constructing a solid paper trail to link my mother's line back to the Mayflower, I guess I'll have another task to insert in the plans for 2020. I'll certainly be wringing every detail I can from the Leckey book to polish the details in my mother-in-law's tree on those Gordons. After that, I'll scour the index for any mention of other lines I subsequently discovered from my mother-in-law's roots.

The best news about all this is: after I'm done with that project, I won't have to ship that book back to any distant library by the due date. There is no due date. This brick of a volume is mine to keep, this time.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Overlapping Timelines

By the time you read this, I will hopefully be winging my way eastward on a research trip to Florida. Unlike last week's trip—when research meant pulling old books from stack after stack of genealogical resources at Salt Lake City's Family History Library—this type of research trip involves face to face meetings with relatives I already know. Questions are much different here, too: instead of asking myself just what kind of document I can locate to prove that my fourth great-grandfather Peleg Tilson was actually born—to parents from Massachusetts, no less—on the forbidden back end of colonial southwest Virginia, I will now be asking living people for their own recollections of family members they knew.

While my approach in discussing my mystery grandfather's line with my paternal cousin will take the approach of recalling specific names, with my maternal cousin, I'll stick to what I call overlapping timelines. Because my McClellan great-grandfather was one of at least nine siblings, that means quite a few second cousins might be among those names that ring a bell with the maternal cousin I'll be visiting next week. To zero in on the right names to mention, I'll be sketching out the timelines of all these overlapping cousins and second cousins. After all, not all will be in my focus for this experiment. Some of my great-grandfather's cousins died young, or never married, or never made it beyond childhood. Ditto for the subsequent generation. The ones which will fall into my cousin's memory will be those whose life trajectory crossed hers, if even for only a brief moment during her own childhood.

Then again, I need to remember that this is the family with stories. Aunt Fannie's heritage still lives, and this cousin I'll be meeting is a wealth of such memories. My visit with her will be spent with pen and notebook close at hand. There is so much to be remembered.

Thankfully, a cross-continental flight gives ample time for me to get those last-minute thoughts together, so I'll have plenty of time to line up all those cousinly timelines before we meet for lunch on Monday. As usual, it will be a time to look forward to. You never know when one surprise story will lead to new discoveries. Genealogy, after all, is a chain reaction just waiting to be touched off by the tiniest clue.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Family Quiz

So it's time to think of all the things I'd like to ask the elder members of my family—at least, for the ones who are still with us. After all, come this weekend, I will have the opportunity to do so with a senior member of my father's side of the family. And that is the side with all the secrets and mystery identities. Surely, some additional clues can be harvested from this visit.

But...what to ask? After all, several of us cousins and assorted siblings have mulled over our joint dilemma for decades now—ever since that kid cousin of ours discovered my dad and his sis weren't Irish after all, but Polish. I've asked all the basic questions, and then racked my brain to come up with scenarios that might have been encountered by my grandparents if, indeed, those new reports were indeed correct. Questions like, "Did he have an accent?" After all, how could a man pass himself off as Irish if he were born and raised in Poland?

Putting myself in my ancestors' shoes is turning out to be a helpful technique. It at least has the virtue of helping me come up with more questions. Learning the history of the places where they supposedly originated also helps get the bigger picture, as does becoming more familiar with the local geography.

For this research trip, however, I am going to be quizzing my cousins about their cousins. Actually, I'll be asking them to recall the oldest of their relatives that they can still remember. After all, if I ask an eighty-year-old to tell me about the oldest relative he can remember from his childhood, that increases the reach of our oral history another couple generations. The personal remembrances reach far further than what I can glimpse of these people from the cut and dried reports from government documents.

My task for the next couple days, then, will be to compile a list of all the cousins on my father's side of the family that might have been alive during my cousins' lifetime. Perhaps names and locations will trigger memories. After all, it seems odd that our family would live in a complete vacuum. Since I've last visited this paternal cousin, I've learned that several relatives from both sides of my paternal grandparents' lines emigrated from Poland to various parts of New York. And then, too, there are those relatives of my grandfather's ill-fated mother who, as I discovered from DNA matches, ended up in Milwaukee. Why doesn't anyone in the family mention recalling those names?

It's a theory, so who knows the outcome of the experiment. But it's worth a try. Certainly worth the time to compile the list. If it doesn't yield any results, there will be plenty of other family history topics to discuss. After all, I only get to travel that way once in a long while. Every minute of our time will be valuable.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Now You See It, Then You Won't

Remember RootsWeb? The wonderful online resource where people could upload and share their family trees, created by Brian Leverich and Karen Isaacson, has had a long and much-appreciated history. Now, however, things are about to change. Again.

I don't suppose many people still use the old RootsWeb Mailing Lists. Once offered to host the RootsWeb properties, those Mailing Lists were folded into the offerings they hosted, even though it seemed a duplication of Ancestry's Message Boards.

Despite what might seem like diminishing numbers of participants, a hue and cry went up when Ancestry announced that they are going to discontinue "functionality" on those old RootsWeb Mailing Lists. Well, that is not entirely correct; may have sent the original notice out to "many" RootsWeb users, but somehow, I missed that fact.

To the rescue, Dick Eastman posted the notice on his Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter. For anyone who cares, the deadline—and in this case, it does mean dead—is March 2. After that point, no messages can be sent or received through that resource.

This may seem a minor point for those who no longer use the old RootsWeb utilities—or for those who never even heard of that resource from the early days of online genealogy. For those of us genealogists who take our tracing of how-we-got-here seriously, it would do us good to remember the evolution of such resources as RootsWeb. Those stories, particularly from the pen of its founders, remind us of a halcyon time when collective cooperation ruled and we helped each other trace our roots.

But now, as of March 2, they will be gone. Sad, when I remember the many times I met—and developed ongoing relationships with—fellow researchers tracing lines they shared with my family. Sad, too, when I realize the examples such as the one I mentioned yesterday, in which my query became the cousin bait that brought an answer to me from half a world away.

Granted, there will be some aspects preserved. And there may be alternatives. The RootsWeb mailing list archives will remain available and searchable, according to the Ancestry announcement, as shared on the Eastman newsletter. And, thanks to Eastman's many readers who commented on that post, there is apparently a favored alternative showing up: Dick Eastman took the hint and posted a second article in which he reviewed

Change is not easy to take. Especially for those of us who gravitate to the preservation of history—our history. Then, again, over the years, my usage of the RootsWeb mailing lists has whittled down to one: the list which provides links to obituaries for the county where my mother-in-law grew up. A useful device, indeed, for someone tracing all the descendants of my mother-in-law's roots for DNA matches, but perhaps it is not the same for other users.

It's mostly over the nostalgia of remembering the place where I first met distant relatives who are seeking the same ancestors that I mourn such a loss. Hopefully, the utility will be updated—somewhere—and we will still have those resources which have historically been such a great help to our research. Hopefully.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Some Things, You Just Can't Plan

So much for good intentions. I'm planning an upcoming trip to Florida to interview some cousins about their recollections of their most senior relatives, and I only have a few days to prepare. After all, when one takes a glorious week to attend SLIG, one doesn't do much else but focus on class. The window between arrival home from Salt Lake City and departure for Orlando was quite slim, indeed, but I knew that. I could do that.

I thought.

Sometimes, things happen that we didn't plan for. Like coming down with the flu. Even writing on my computer in bed was too exhausting for this go-round. I think I managed to send out two emails over my phone yesterday, and slept the rest of the day. Advice: don't do this. At least, don't do it if you haven't already been smitten and can take a flu shot.

There are other surprises that popped up yesterday. Thankfully, even though these occurrences also can't be planned for, some of them were delightfully received. For one, I heard from a distant cousin in Poland, one who is related to my paternal grandmother's line.

Although not as difficult a line to trace as my mystery grandfather's line—the man whom she married here in the United States—Sophie Laskowska's line was also a challenge to research at first. Laskowski is apparently a fairly common surname in Poland. It certainly is in America. That's why I sprang for following her father's mother's maiden name. Thankfully, it was recorded in Anton Laskowski's death certificate: Gramlewicz.

This is where the unplanned part comes in: cousin bait. You just can't predict when you'll hit the jackpot with cousin bait.

Many years ago, I had posted a query on an online forum, mentioning Elżbieta Gramlewicz's name. Fast forward a few years and, unlike what happens in today's preferred Facebook groups for genealogy, someone actually found my post. Fortunately for both of us, it was not only a bona fide cousin on my Gramlewicz side, but a relative who was able to tell me the rest of the Gramlewicz story. Evidently, the reason the family disappeared from census records in New York after 1910 is because they decided to return to Poland—-and after that point, had a son who became this woman's grandfather.

From the point of the first contact with this Gramlewicz cousin, we exchanged emails. Her information was so helpful and thankfully, I could piece together a fuller picture of what this Gramlewicz tree looked like. Apparently, when Elżbieta's son Anton moved his family from Żerków in Poland to New York City, so did some of his relatives. Anton's sister Marianna, who married a Gramlewicz man, had a son who followed his uncle Anton to that same harbor. That son turned out to be the one who, with his family, decided to go back to Poland around 1910.

It may have been exciting to connect with a distant cousin over the Internet, but though we had a few years to correspond, I eventually lost touch with her. We'd connect, and then, she would disappear again. I always wanted to ask her more questions as I made discoveries over the information she had just given me.

After years had passed, just a few days ago, I found someone with the same name had a tree on MyHeritage. I was elated! I sent a message, but got no answer. Then I was off to SLIG. And upon my return—straight to bed with the flu—what should show up but a message from my long lost Gramlewicz cousin?!

There is no way to predict these serendipitous discoveries, but I'm still glad they happen. One thing I realize is that they can only happen because someone had the foresight to set up a system to enable such surprises. And when such systems eventually become seen as "old fashioned" or not high-tech worthy and are dismantled, we all lose.

That, however, is a topic for another day. For now, I'll be retiring for some more much needed rest. For the next few days, apparently, this will be my latest plan.

Monday, January 20, 2020

And Now, for the Next Trip

If this had been a month in the summer, it would be one of those times when you could say I don't let that green grass grow beneath my feet. But since it is wintertime, that grass wouldn't be growing, no matter how long I dallied between assignments—if, that is, I had any time to waste in between scheduled trips.

As it turns out, I'll have less than a week until I'll be off for another research trip to Florida. This time, my quest will take on more of a personal tone: I'll be visiting with cousins I haven't seen in a long time. As one cousin put it recently, I'll need to set aside enough time to "talk about old times" and not be so quick to rush off to the next visit.

There is a melancholy ring to such a plea. That is the generation which, sadly, is shrinking every year. The generation who can tell me about relatives I never got to meet—with stories of their own memories of my own grandparents on my dad's side. People who were gone before I even arrived on the scene. The oral histories provided by these cousins are my only recollections of the anecdotes of everyday life, the keyhole to peek at the everyday life quirks of the kind of close relatives everyone else takes for granted.

Job number one for me this week thus becomes getting my head around the immediate family trees of my cousins. One cousin from my paternal side has been in communication with me over my discoveries, last summer, of our connection to a place in Poland once known as Pomerania. Apparently, those are our common roots, though I know so very little about that line so far. Of course, that is the branch I think belongs to the mother of my mystery paternal grandfather; I have yet to decipher where that woman's husband originated. The only thing I can tell so far is that he didn't come from the same place where she grew up. So much for the notion that people in the "old country" stayed in the same place for hundreds of year. Sometimes, family trees are quite messy.

The other cousin connection will be a visit with a relative from my mother's side of the family. Though I have been able to trace that Florida line back a few generations—my third great grandfather George McClellan's family supposedly came from a place in South Carolina called the Barnwell District—the family's rich heritage in the state tells me I need to keep looking for more information. And my mother's cousin is more than willing to make sure I know all she can tell me about these McClellans.

Despite the opportunity to glean the details of our family's oral history from these two willing research partners, I can't just walk in and spend the time chatting. I need to refresh my memory with what we've already discovered, so we can take a few steps forward from that point.

So, for this week, I'll be using this time for a refresher course on not only that maternal McClellan line, but the latest discoveries on my paternal Puchalski (a.k.a. Puchała) line and my paternal grandmother's Laskowski line, as well. At least, by this point, I've learned enough facts about each of these families to run the risk of forgetting some details. It's nice to realize I've come that far, but important to not lose the momentum by neglecting that due diligence of refreshing my memory in preparation for these visits.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Promise of Another Year

The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy may be over for another year—well, mostly; there was the "SLIG Extended" and by-invitation-only SLIG Colloquium (I was invited) over the weekend, and the SLIG Academy coming up next week—but the promise of another year of SLIG in 2021 can keep us looking forward to next January.

As is their custom, the SLIG team announced the upcoming year's tentative course offerings at the close of the Friday evening banquet. Of course, I wasn't able to stay there long enough to hear the news—had a plane to catch—but thanks to a fellow genea-blogger and SLIGster, I didn't have to wait long to receive the news.

Let's just say that I will be torn as to which of many tantalizing course offerings to choose for 2021. The inestimable John Philip Colletta will return to lead a course in "Writing a Quality Family History Narrative." I'm torn between that and Gena Philibert-Ortega's "Advanced Practices in Social History." But there's also LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, whose plenary presentation in 2019 made a lasting impression on me; next year, she'll lead a course on African American Genealogy. Favorites Judy Russell, D. Joshua Taylor, and Michael Lacopo will be there, too. Folks wanting to broaden their skills in researching their Missouri, Pennsylvania, or Russian roots will be happy with course offerings, as well. And DNA will get not one, but two berths on the lineup for next year.

Registration opens on July 11, 2020, at 9:00 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time. I'll race you to the computer first thing that Saturday morning.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

It's Over . . . And Just Begun

It's amazing what a week's worth of earnest studying can do for one's knowledge base. In this case, one week of learning the research work-arounds to burned county courthouses in Virginia has opened up so many new vistas for this SLIG attendee. I'm already home from Salt Lake City and, with a good night's sleep, I'm ready to explore some new-to-me online resources. I expect I'll have a front row seat to watch some brick walls come tumbling down.

What a fulfilling week it has been, not only for all four hundred of us who attended the Institute, but for those who have put so much time into organizing this week and attending to the thousand details which go into a smoothly operating program. SLIG celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary this week, and the SLIG team deserve a standing ovation for their consistent work over the years.

And now, I can hardly wait to hear the announcement about what classes will be offered next year. You know I will be joining those four hundred plus attendees lining up to come back again next January, snow or shine!

Friday, January 17, 2020

So Soon, we Get to "So Long"

Was it only last Sunday when I hopped a plane for Salt Lake City to attend SLIG? And yet, at today's close it will be a wrap for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020. It's always my intent to "be present" when I'm in the midst of an experience, but even that practice of mindfulness did not stall the rushing passage of time. But for the last hurrah of SLIG's banquet announcements of next year's course lineup, it's all over this evening.

Sitting in on the colonial Virginia research course under instructors Barbara Vines Little and Victor Dunn, I've gained information on more resources than I can possible scope out in one week—although I did try out my research training wheels at the Family History Library a few nights this week.

It hasn't been all work and no play. I did get some time to just sit back and socialize. There are people here to meet from as far away as Canada, Ireland, and Australia, but I also got to visit over dinner with a fellow genealogist from a town barely ten miles to the north of my home. Small world!

And the bloggers! Fellow blogger Cathy Naborowski, taking the same Virginia course as I am, wrote about her experience on her blog, Connecting the Skeletons. Though I haven't yet met her face to face, blogger Cyndy of Love My Ancestors provided an introvert's take on being a first-time SLIGster in a recent post. Though she hasn't blogged in a while, it was fun to reconnect with Ohio genealogist Shelley Bishop. Even my fellow bloggers who weren't here this week were on my mind; future SLIG attendee and indefatigable blogger Linda Stufflebean went with me in spirit when I put her advice to good use at the Family History Library this week.

But now...well, now it's time to pack that suitcase and ready my notes for the last of a very profitable series of days at SLIG. Here's to another year: I'll be mulling over your essence for many successful research sessions to come.

Note: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thoughts From the
Head Beneath Two Hats

All is not a drink from the genealogy fire hose at this week's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Eventually, even the most dedicated family historian needs to come up for air...or at least water. And food.

One of the unexpected snags to expecting that nothing will ever change at SLIG was the discovery—too late, alas, to make rapid amends to my strategy—that my go-to place for sustenance while holed up at my computer, researching, was closed. No more evenings glued to my computer while scarfing down food from the restaurant just steps from my hotel door. I'd have to walk a ways to find anything more than a snacky—or pricey—lunch (or a time-consuming dinner at the hotel's steak house).

The solution to this year's dilemma became a national chain Asian fusion restaurant less than half a mile's walk—the place where a fellow SLIG attendee and I usually go for a once-yearly dinner. So, after class ended last night, I logged on to the restaurant's website and ordered food to go, then headed out the door to pick it up. I had work to do that evening.

Still a half hour before sunset when I stepped outside, it was a beautiful time for a walk. This Californian needed to re-acquaint herself with actual sunlight, and the break from snow was welcomed.

Walking has a way of letting visitors see a city up close—close enough to keep a good eye on all the cracks and crannies. On my way, I spotted a sign posted in front of a parking lot which gave me enough food for thought to keep my brain churning long after I returned to my room.

The sign trumpeted the domain of the Museum of Change. This, I discovered after pulling up their website, is officially dubbed The Temporary Museum of Permanent Change.

Now, there's something for your brain to chew on: a place traditionally the preserve of the past promoting it's diametric opposite, the condition of never staying the same. How could change be housed in a museum?!

If you know me well enough, you know my brain works by ricocheting from one thought to another. After mulling over the conditions traditionally placed on the concept of a museum, and trying to rub that—kinda like a balloon against a sweater in a static-y Salt Lake City winter—up against the transience which is the essence of change, my thoughts flew to the barriers restricting another oxymoron.

Hint: it has to do with the two hats I'm currently wearing.

I may be a lifelong genealogist—that is why I'm still at this learning gig at SLIG, for instance—but I also have responsibilities as current president of my local genealogical society. Like almost all other societies which still have managed to maintain a foothold in an era when genealogy is shifting from a social, person-to-person engagement to a "touchless" online milieu, I'm searching for ways our organization can gain some traction on this slippery slope.

Sometimes, that brainstorming can lead far afield of, well, just "doing" genealogy. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that metaphor I just had stumbled upon—the idea of a "museum of change"—might be key to how we, as local societies, see our updated mission.

Here's why. If you take a close look at the website for Salt Lake City's Museum of Change, it is apparently a consortium of local associations and businesses (and creatives and archaeologists, even) which have learned to embrace the sometimes awkward but always annoying inconvenience of construction. Apparently, Salt Lake City has had to endure—and is continuing to have—more than its share of construction projects. But why grumble? Embrace the challenge. Find a way to own it. Add the flair of the jiu-jitsu of taking advantage of the "opponent's" weakness. Re-invent ourselves as pertinent to our future's constituents, despite seeking to preserve our past. Do the old in a new way.

We are at an unprecedented inflection point in our trajectory as genealogical organizations. We can ride the wave of increasing public interest in "finding ourselves" by tracing our roots—including the new tools brought about by genetic genealogy. While I still doubt the now-years-old appearance of that meme of genealogy as the "second most popular" hobby, the thrust of a more widespread pursuit of family history can be harnessed by the very organizations designed to serve such interest.

We can't, however, just assume we can do more of the same programs we've offered in the past—or market it to the same demographics we've reached in the past. Face it, our fascination with our familial past is not always a burning desire shared in exactly the same way with others. But there are others out there who would—if they knew how—want to delve into their own family's past.

And yet, history can be everyone's story, and offers each individual a connection to a shared identity. Local societies can be the hands-on personal interface so helpful for introducing others to the skills they need to start their own journey of discovery. If we can brainstorm those as yet not-thought-of ways to connect people with the fascinating details of their family's past, we can reshape how our societies reach out to communities and how we can negotiate a nexus between our search skills and their quest to construct and connect with an overarching story.

As much as genealogy—and the societies we've created in its pursuit—may seem rooted in an unchangeable past, the search for our family history can, after all, have something to say about identities still under construction. Not unlike a museum of change.

Note: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Moving From Possibility to Practice

The gift of learning comes with the promise of moving from the realm of possibilities—"can I find my second great-grandfather?"—to the domain of regularly putting a tool or skill into practice. Bridging the (sometimes very wide) gap between the two positions may require a great deal of determination. However, as I sit in the first few days of my selected course at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—the course on colonial Virginia research—the mental haze lifts so imperceptibly that I hardly realize I've stepped into a new position. I can see more clearly, now.

Overviews can be simultaneously breathtaking—"slow down, you move too fast!"—and tedious. There is so much to cover on the basics of record sets for this specialized area of research. But once we've covered the overview of resources, I'm beginning to gain a new sense that my several research challenges are yielding to the force of those new-to-me record collections. As long as I can access the records we discussed over the past two days—and as long as they include some reference to the counties and surnames I'm targeting—I may see many more mystery ancestors gain new identities.

Last night, I tried my hand at putting these new resources through their paces. In seeking my second great-grandfather, William Alexander Boothe, I took my cue from some family lore: widower Alex, it seemed, beat a hasty exit from his home territory—the now-nonexistent Nansemond County in Virginia—to move to nearby Tennessee on account of some overwhelming debts. What better place to look for his trail, back in his former Virginia home, than financial and property records?

While many such record sets need to be accessed through Virginia repositories—including the online resources at the Library of Virginia—it did turn out that some of the very documents I needed to review were also available at the Family History Library, only a couple blocks away from where I am staying for SLIG. Conveniently, SLIG provides a shuttle bus for attendees, a good thing in tonight's snow flurry. I grabbed the first bus out of the hotel and wandered through the Nansemond County tax records, pinpointing the years that Alex Boothe was still listed in the state.

Meanwhile, I realized how I could put some of these new approaches to work on many of my other early Virginia lines, so I will be regrouping after class today to formulate some new research plans. After all, I have a couple more opportunities to spend the evening at the Family History Library. If I can line up the exact resources I need before I return for my next research session, I can hit the ground running again.

It's incredible to think I'm moving from standing stock still to running through these records at full speed, but that is exactly what's happening. I'm not sure I'll ever get over that breathless-at-first yet bogged-down feeling on the first day of learning new realms of information, but at least there's that confidence that the initial daze of the data dump does give way to the solid ground of practice and experience.


Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tackling that First Step
on the Learning Curve

If you guessed that the first hurdle on this night owl's learning curve is getting up early in the morning, you are correct. But there is so much more to fielding the world of genealogical information coming at me, full speed at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. And SLIG—this year or any year—is the place to practice learning fast.

Just think of it: a week-long opportunity to focus on one specific area of family history research. The ins and outs of the subject, the insider secrets, the nitty gritty: call it what you may, there is a lot of information to absorb in those (nearly) thirty hours of class time. For instance, in my selected course on Virginia research from the Colonial Period to the Civil War, the first day's sessions covered the state's geography, settlement and migration issues, plus an overview of the state's vital records, military records, and various court records.


With a start like that, I'm torn. I realize I need to stick to my seat to hear the rest of the day's information, but in my mind, I'm simultaneously wanting to be down the street, already searching for copies of the kind of records we've been discussing in class. Those mental cogs can't help but start churning through all the research plan options. That's the energizing sort of talk that makes me want to jump up and take action. I'm beginning to see light at the end of these dark research tunnels.

Today's sessions will take the class a step deeper into the details. We talked about the state's geography yesterday; today we'll start discussing land records. We had an overview of court records yesterday; today, we'll examine just how the court system ran, prior to 1850.

And that's a good thing. Rumor has it that my most-wanted Virginia ancestor just happened to be a scoundrel escaping from bad debts left behind in Virginia when he—suddenly, apparently—immigrated to Tennessee. Imagine the paper trail he must have left behind.

One of the most valuable aspects of the SLIG class format, as opposed to conference sessions, is that, given the small class size and more ample time frame, instructors are readily available to address specific questions. I may not have much in this life, but I certainly have questions.

I particularly appreciated Barbara Vines Little's approach at the beginning of class, of taking a brief survey of class members' individual goals for being in class. When I brought up the one candidate among my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors, that renegade debtor from Nansemond County, her response about the research challenges I was up against—now non-existent county plus "badly burned" county—not only confirmed what I had already found, but also helps focus the delivery of class content for the upcoming sessions.

The nitty-gritty of learning the details—the survey of "what's out there"—is not all there is to SLIG. One of the most valuable aspects of the week, in my opinion, is the Plenary Session at the close of the first day. This is the session where, last year, LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson gave that masterful presentation which so deftly coincided with a turning point in my own research as I pursued the family tradition recalling the unnamed but long-remembered enslaved woman connected to my McClellan line and got to learn the story of her son, King Stockton.

This year's general session, in keeping with SLIG's silver anniversary, featured FamilySearch's Chief Genealogical Officer David Rencher. While his presentation was slated to be "A Look at Genealogy's Past, Present, and Future"—a topic on which he would be eminently qualified to speak—you can be sure he delivered so much more than just an overview, but cast the vision for what could be possible in our future. With a day starting me spinning my wheels in anticipation of peeling out and getting to work on the minutiae of my own research, it's quite gratifying to close that same day with such an inspiring outlook.

Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Monday, January 13, 2020

It's Finally Here!

It's finally time for SLIG—the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, of course. I've been waiting for this week, ever since I registered for Barbara Vines Little's course, Virginia from the Colonial Period to the Civil War, back in July. That's a long wait.

You know I've been preparing for this learning and research adventure. For months. Sometimes, it feels like I'm never quite ready to actually go do the research; I keep wanting to complete just one more thing before I hit a library as comprehensive as the one I'll be visiting. But this is the week.

I'm here with plenty of company. There are well over four hundred other learners here to benefit from SLIG's 25th anniversary event, from—if I remember the stats from last night's welcoming ceremony—at least forty three states and five countries, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Ireland.

The lineup for the week includes sixteen different courses, including two separate sessions for the Virginia course, filling the week with seventeen separate classrooms devoted to their one specific topic in depth. Church records, land records, federal records, early immigration records—all are specific courses devoted to that one, and one only, topic. Besides my Virginia course, there is another course (I was sorely tempted) on research in Maryland. And courses on genetic genealogy, Chinese, and Hispanic research.

But my goal this week is to learn all there is to learn about researching my colonial Virginia ancestors. And that is the difference between an institute and a conference, the format we are more familiar with, which is more of a smorgasbord of learning opportunities served up, one hour-long bite-sized piece at a time. In contrast, by the time I emerge at the other end of this week's twenty seven hours of information, this institute will have given me a thorough introduction to all there is to know about how to find my family's early Virginia settlers.

The next challenge is to keep up the energy level to insure I don't fall asleep from exhaustion on the cushy shuttle bus ride to the Family History Library after class is done. I have some ancestors I'd like to pursue.

Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Back to Counting

I thought about giving up on counting ancestors in my trees. My biweekly task of checking for research progress has been a multi-year habit, but I'm not afraid to give it up. But then, I think about the benefit of keeping track: it helps me realize that, even when I feel stuck, I may be making more headway than it seems. We all can use a little encouragement from time to time.

Still, it's been a month since I last checked my research progress. During the busy holiday season, one hardly expects to make any progress on anything other than cooking, cleaning, and wrapping packages. Despite that, I had a few pleasant surprises.

For one thing, though I had forsworn work on my mother-in-law's tree, I actually added thirty two names to her tree in the past month, owing mostly to the sad fact of finding obituaries for more of her distant cousins back in Perry County, Ohio. Her tree now stands at 17,299 individuals.

As for my own mother's tree—the one I've been working on feverishly in preparation for that colonial Virginia research class at SLIG this coming week—I didn't make much progress. This past month added thirty five more relatives to her tree, which now has 20,279 individuals.

The happiest news came with the small additions to both my father's tree and my father-in-law's tree, where I added four, and twenty one, respectively. My dad's tree—the smallest of the four, with my mystery paternal grandfather still taunting me with his secret origin—now has 658 names. My father-in-law's tree, thanks to some clues from recent DNA matches, is up to 1,584 names.

What was most interesting to see, over this past month, was the lull, at first, in DNA matches, and then the spurt in growth. The most remarkable jump was with MyHeritage, where my match count went up by 830 in the past month, and my husband's match count increased by 707.

While the other test companies advanced by much more modest proportions, they also demonstrated that post-holiday spurt we've come to expect. Whether it turns out to be as large a leap as in past years is yet to be seen, but I hope the trend doesn't die out quite yet; I'm finding some of my most helpful matches have been showing up in these most recent months. Discoveries like these DNA results sure make a difference in constructing a few more twigs on some very sparse branches in that family tree.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Off the Shelf:
Crossing the Chasm

It's been a long time since I wrote anything about the books I've been reading—not since November 30, to be exact. And then, it wasn't even a post about a book I was reading; it was only about a book I hoped to read. (Update: hints so well taken, I received two copies of said edition for Christmas. Now I can share.)

As it turned out, A Rebel Came Home, that reading project for December, contained several references to my extended Pendleton kin, amply meeting my expectations. The book also helped set a framework for the era and location in which the story was set, further amplifying my understanding of this set of third great-grandparents and their extended family and social circles.

Now, on the eve of traveling to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I'll be focusing on Virginia colonial research, my choice of readable traveling companion turns out to be radically different. At one point, despite everyone here knowing about the foibles of my eclectic reading tastes, I hesitated to include this book in my blogging lineup. After all, the main reason you stop by to keep up with A Family Tapestry is that you, too, are specifically interested in genealogy.

Clue: this month's book is not about family history. And then, again, yes it is. It is, at least, if I have my chance to explain myself.

It was only on account of something mentioned yesterday by one of our genealogy society's board members that I decided to mention this book. You see, at our monthly board meeting yesterday, our vice president, who happens to also belong to another local society, mentioned a desperate letter issued by this neighboring society to their membership. According to the letter, their board was sending out a call for help. Many of their board members had resigned or were unable to complete their term, and the current operating board had been precariously whittled down to only a couple directors.

The catch: no one else, among their members, was stepping up to take anyone's place. This board—and the society it direct—is dying by attrition. No new volunteers, no society. Simple as that.

In the face of that, in this hopeful start to a new year—who can resist the encouraging pull of being in the midst of focus on 2020?—I had just cracked open the cover of a book by high-tech start-up advisor, Geoffrey Moore. Moore's first book, Crossing the Chasm, has become somewhat of an industry standard, undergoing two revisions to bring the original 1991 text up to date with this 2014 paperback third edition.

Of course, my main reason for reading this book wasn't genealogy, despite the fact that family history is always on my mind. The reason was really connected to our family's business. A training company, ours is an outgrowth of serving other businesses with organizational development needs, particularly in leadership issues and the strategic planning so vital to growing a business. The goal of the book—providing advice on "marketing and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers"—aligned neatly with some new projects we are planning. I wanted to see what this author had to say.

The concepts of growth outlined in Moore's Crossing the Chasm aren't new, or even original with him. The "Technology Adoption Life Cycle" that he refers to in his work with high tech companies is basically the life cycle of how any innovation moves from the brainchild spawned directly from a creative's mind to the pervasive product which ends up changing an entire culture (or at least, that's the hope). While Moore examined case studies from the technology sector to build his argument—and has ever since been used by those in that field to model their revised approach for upcoming projects—my contention is that the basic concepts found in Crossing the Chasm can be applied to other applications, even if they are far from the "high" in high tech.

Take the example of what we are experiencing in genealogy right now. For the past several years now, we've seen leading companies—whether for-profit or non-profit—reconfigure the process of researching family history and present those results so close at hand that almost everyone is "doing it," whether subscribing to or taking a DNA test or just watching a genealogy-oriented program like Dr. Henry Louis Gates' Finding Your Roots. We are riding the wave of interest generated by these big organizations—and yet, there is a gap between public interest and our ability, as local genealogical societies, to connect with that potential participation level.

My question, of course, is how to equip societies to intersect with this potential interest level and bridge the chasm between public interest by the individuals "out there" and societies' array of services to help convert that potential research energy into kinetic research energy.

I often learn by watching others do; in this application, that's why I'm reading Crossing the Chasm. Other than the computers we use to access digitized records at genealogical companies, you can't get more "low tech" than family history, but when it comes to the question of how societies can help individuals now awakened to the fascination of finding our roots, we can benefit from the play books of these high tech companies. After all, as organizations, we have our own chasms to cross, too.   

Friday, January 10, 2020

Updating Your Genealogy Go Bag

It's been a while since I last took to the road to do some serious research at a genealogical repository. Since I'll be heading to class next week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, it occurred to me that this might be a good time to re-familiarize myself with rules and expectations at my library of choice for the week, to prepare myself for any curve balls that might be thrown in my direction. After all, if hotel elevators can hold me hostage from my intended destination in sunny California, anything is possible, once I venture out into the winter wonderlands of the rest of the country.

That's why I thought this might be a good time to update my genealogy go-bag. You know what a go-bag is: packed and ready for any moment's notice, it contains all the necessities for you to survive on for a set number of days; twenty-four and seventy-two hour kits seem to have grabbed the preferred positions for preparedness. The term originated with the military, where the concept was once known as a "bug-out bag," but usage evolved when the idea was adopted by law enforcement and emergency-response professionals. Now, it's not only residents in the path of fires, earthquakes, or tsunamis who get their go bags ready; people like expectant mothers or organ transplant candidates talk about their go bags, too.

If you really think about it, the very same concept can be used in many different applications. Anyone who wants to have a bag packed with specialized supplies or equipment—the type of stuff we'd rarely otherwise use—is, in essence, keeping a go bag at the ready. For my genealogy research trips, I've always had a go bag of sorts. Over the years, it generally held stuff like pedigree printouts, note pads, extra pens and pencils, and coins for photocopy machines.

But over those same years, research life has changed. While my Flip-Pal might have had a berth in my bag in prior years, it seldom goes on trips with me anymore; the camera in my phone or iPad does just as well for capturing the information on a document or a page from a book. Same goes for even the most rudimentary supplies. Coins for parking or copy machines are now sometimes displaced by credit card readers on parking meters or printing services. I can save details from library catalogs directly to my phone or laptop, bypassing the need for notebooks—or even pens or pencils, in some cases.

The key is to assure ourselves of what, in each library, never changes, and re-orient ourselves to what specific details have been upgraded. That's why I find it helpful to review what otherwise might be considered as the beginner's basics: I go back and look up the rules, maps, details, and contact info for the facilities where I've planned upcoming research trips. One serious remodeling project can turn everything I remembered about the place on its head.  

If you are a consistent researcher, you know the rules of the research road. Those rules, while seeming like standards, are always changing. Some archives expect visitors to give them the white-glove treatment, but others do not. Some want every possession but the pencil they provide you locked up until you leave the premises, while others kindly grant concessions. Some allow you to snap your own pictures or take your own scans, while others insist on doing the honors—for a hefty fee.

It's been a while since I spent any serious time at a genealogical library—in fact, not since attending the FGS Conference in Fort Wayne a couple years ago. Though I've been to several Salt Lake Institutes, I don't always avail myself of the city's giant genealogical resource: the Family History Library. It's about time to update myself on the current scene at the library.

Thus, I'm keeping the Family History Library's rules handy, as well as a map of the floor on which I'll be spending most of my time (pursuing Virginia, of course). I can access those pages from my phone, making quick double-checks easy.

On that same phone—or iPad, or laptop—I can also keep a running list of all the reference material I want to view, materials I've already earmarked from the Family History Library catalog. From that same electronic portal, I can refer back to my trees on Ancestry, MyHeritage or FindMyPast, in case I can't remember a detail, or want to see if any new discovery aligns with my previous understanding of the family situation.

It is a continuous evolution of how we have done research, this migration from the analog pen-to-paper approach to these digital tools. It certainly impacts which components of my go bag keep their valued position, and which ones give way to newer tools. Of course, each of us may have different versions of our can't-live-without research accoutrements. But I think each of us has found our own list to be changing, over our years of genealogical pursuit.

Yet, there are some components which will keep their corner of the go bag layout, no matter what. Two pairs of reading glasses in firm cases—always remembering the pair which got mangled in a research mishap years ago—will be one standard. And I suspect while my desperation snack of peanut M&Ms may give way to a more carb-responsible replacement, I'll always keep an emergency stash of work-through-lunch staples for when I'm hot on the microfilmed trail of that elusive great-great-grandmother's mother-in-law. Or whichever female ancestor whose maiden name has stumped me. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

When There are Less of the Ones to Ask

When I mentioned, a couple weeks ago, about losing my older sister, some asked if I would be sharing stories about her. In a way, I'd love to, but I can't. Not because the grieving has incapacitated me or's just that this wasn't the type of sisterly relationship you might have had in mind. It's not like I can share wild stories of teenaged indiscretions or escapades where we snuck off together in a fit of mischievous abandon.

With a sister who was old enough to have been my mother, I have a far different set of stories. After all, this is the woman who, when my parents needed a few days away, volunteered for child care. Her daughter and I went to high school together—and amazed all our friends with the realization that it was possible for a niece to have an aunt who was in the same grade. This is the kind of sister with whom to share a very different set of secrets. It wasn't until I was properly schooled in "adulting" that I became closer to a sister like this.

Not to say we weren't close; she was a very loving person. All her children deeply mourn her passing. Time has not yet made this loss any easier.

As the years passed, our talks were filled with memories of family members no longer with us. My sister had the advantage of personally knowing relatives whom I only knew by names and stories. This included my paternal grandparents, both of whom had died before I was even born.

My sister—along with some of my cousins—was my partner in crime in cracking the mystery of my paternal grandfather, the one who kept his Polish roots so deeply hidden from everyone, even those in his own family. I would ask her crazy questions, the kind of stuff only those with face-to-face experience could answer, like, "Did he have an accent?" After all, how did a Polish immigrant pull off a stunt like reinventing himself as an Irishman? But somehow, he did. I wanted to know how.

My sister was the one who told me what my Grandma Sophie was like, how she kept the apartment so immaculately clean. My sister would describe the smell of the cleaning soap she used, or the route to get to her grandparents' home. And, of course, she'd share some of the fun little secrets kept with relatives now long gone.

Together, we'd puzzle over how the story of our grandparents' lives did not seem to add up to what we'd expect from the reality of where they came from and how they got here. Every now and then, my sis would pop up on Facebook or in an email and say something like, "Do you remember ever hearing this story?" Or, "This may sound crazy, but..." Even the wildest recollections were preserved, just in case anything came of such stories.

Almost all I ever learned about the grandparents I never met, I learned from talking to my older sister. In a way, I met them through her, a vicarious—and one-sided—relationship with the grandparents I never knew.

Losing my sister reminds me that there are, every day, fewer of this generation left for us to reach out to, or visit, or chat with, or share with in reminiscing. And yet, it's not as if we can feverishly make the rounds of everyone left in that oldest generation and compel them to immediately recall the details we seek.

I can't help but think of a family friend whose young daughter has recently taken up an interest in genetic genealogy. For Christmas this year, she got to become the family scientist and administer DNA tests to her grandmother and oldest grand-aunt. Just that experience itself—the asking for permission to test, even—precipitated the aunt's curiosity about a branch of her family long gone and barely remembered. Whatever became of those relatives? Now, the aunt wants to know—and may be one of a very few who even remember any of the details to help guide them to the right answers.

As we have the chance, these opportunities to chat with the younger generations help keep the family stories alive. Our oldest generation has a priceless treasure—one which they can either share with those who want to know, or take with them when no one thinks to ask. Anything that sparks that chance to talk precipitates the recouping of a family treasure on the verge of vanishing from the family's collective memory. While wills or marriage licenses may run the risk of courthouse fires, the tragedy of the risk of loss our family stories face is that it is entirely preventable with the simplest of solutions: just ask. While we still can.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Some Days . . .

There are some days, filled with good intentions, which take a wrong turn somewhere, and land us far from our expected destination. Like days when we—almost, thankfully—get stuck in the elevator (or at least can't access the ground floor so far below us). Or lose a credit card. Or get stuck in the rush hour traffic that wasn't supposed to happen until well after we reached our destination.

If that was the day intended for genealogy research, oh well. Things happen. There will always be another day.

When the unexpected happens, I'm still seeing the value of having a research plan. That way, I can always see my way toward my research destination. When detours knock me off the research track, at least I have a homing sense that allows me to right my course.

For the rest of this week, in my case—at least, if I can actually make my way home from this trip—I will be preparing for the research highlight of my year. I'll be leaving for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy this coming weekend, where I'll be attending the class I've been looking forward to, ever since SLIG registration opened last July: "Virginia from the Colonial Period to the Civil War: Her Records, Her People, Her Laws," with lead instructor Barbara Vines Little.

That is not the only goal for the upcoming week. On those precious free evenings after class is over, less than two blocks away from one of the world's largest genealogical libraries, I will be zeroing in on reference material from the Family History Library's card catalog, looking for my colonial Virginia ancestors.

Of course, I have several items already targeted for my week of research, but I know there are more I have yet to identify. That's where my grumbling about "some days" comes in. I could still use a few more days to check out the library's extensive collection and eliminate holdings which don't look as promising as others. After all, I only have so much time. True confessions: I'm a slow reader. And I generally don't get to the first book's punch line until five minutes before I have to leave for home.

In the meantime, planning does help eliminate some wasted time, and mitigate unexpected roadblocks like losing elevator service in hotels where I've been trapped on the ninth floor. I've learned to laugh about stuff like that. It sure beats the alternative.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Revisiting Those Research Plans

Those twelve days following Christmas—the time I like to dedicate to rethinking research plans for the upcoming year—are now completed. I now have my Twelve Most Wanted Ancestors for 2020. But you know me: I still have thoughts. Mostly, I'm thinking about all the advice I hear about constructing research plans, and how, bulldog-like, the dedicated genealogist must grab on and never let go, never be shaken from her persistent tracks, until that one sought-after goal has been reached.

Clue #1: research goals are sometimes never reached.

My "but what about" brain wrestles with these off-the-beaten-path exceptions to the rule. After all, for as many years as I've dedicated to this pursuit, there are plenty of unanswered questions I've wrestled with for decades. For me, research—and thus, pursuing a research plan—is more like following the waves washing up on the seashore. The tide goes out, the tide comes in; sometimes, answers wash ashore like driftwood, even after I've struggled mightily, against the tide, in countless failed attempts.

When answers show up in an unexpected snap, after I know I've wrestled with the problem fruitlessly for umpteen attempts, of course I say "thank you" to the unknown provider, and move on to the next question. But often, that cyclical sequence of getting a bit more, each time I look, means that following a research goal is more like testing and revision, repeat, repeat, than a linear process of seek and find.

Clue #2: sometimes, what I need is simply not there to be found...yet.

I learn to be patient. To wait. I learned that when I realized I couldn't hop on a plane and fly to Poland—or Canada, or even somewhere closer like Virginia—just because I needed a record to complete the answer to my research question. But, in learning patience for this never-ending research process, I also learned something else: I learned another application for being able to wait. I learned that, if I just give a problem time, it may sort itself out without my straining to force an answer. The Internet grows. Organizations add to their online collections. They provide new ways for me to connect with people who do have the answer I need, or the document I've been seeking, or a way to re-configure the problem so that two or three other pieces of evidence can add up to more weight than the missing document I'll never find in the ashes of that southern courthouse.

Clue #3: if I can redefine the issue, maybe that will reconfigure the proof required.

I learn to think outside the box. To redefine the research problem. To think omni-directionally instead of linearly or sequentially. I look for the many routes from the issue to the answer. My Irish research friends who learned to look for ancestors' information on applications for dog licenses have left an indelible mark on my understanding of escaping the one assumed route from question to answer, and to redefine, reconfigure, re-imagine ways to find the information I need.

Even if I fail to find Missing Ancestor #12, that doesn't mean I've failed the mission. Lacking the answer to the mystery of Most Wanted Ancestor #1 does not bind me with the orders to Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect 200 Ancestors; it simply means I can set aside that puzzle for this time. I can make my research notes about what I attempted already, and what failed. And I can plan to revisit it again later. Some genealogical answers really do show up tomorrow.

Above: "Fifth Avenue in Winter," oil on canvas by Frederick Childe Hassam circa 1892; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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