Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Just the Right Touch

Maybe the old-fashioned phone call can still be the best choice for adding just the right touch for isolated and socially-starved people.

Yesterday, I received what seemed like a routine phone call from our company's insurance broker. She had already sent out an email announcing her retirement at the end of this year, outlining her plans for continuing services for her customers. Naturally, I assumed the call would follow up on those details, but it didn't; she was just calling to see how we are doing in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Although we have a friendly relationship stretching over years, it was nice to talk, despite—or perhaps because of—the current situation. It doesn't matter how much people usually keep themselves isolated at their work space, cubicle, or office—when they have to stay put in place, it becomes an entirely different matter. No taking a coffee break from this assignment.

In the phone call, we discussed reaching out to touch base with everyone we know. While I have been yearning to get back in touch with those I know, this woman took action. In her additional role as the head of a nonprofit women's organization, she urged her board to reach out and call each member of their group, just to see how everyone was doing. What the board discovered, in gradually rolling out those calls to members, was that as we all move further into the timeline of this crisis, personal outlook and situations change. What might have been a "no-problem" shrug at the beginning of this quarantine has, for many, turned into a "how are we going to" worry by the end of the second week.

While we have no end of social messaging apps at our fingertips now, isn't it interesting how just being able to have a real-time conversation with another real, live person by such an old-fashioned method can be so comforting? I wonder how many people have made more phone calls to relatives now, in these few weeks, than they have for quite some time, before all this struck us. Of course, I've called my sister quite a few times, so I wouldn't use that as a gauge of how our behavior has changed, but I sure have talked with my first cousin once removed more in these two weeks than for quite some time. And I'm thinking of all those other cousins and once-removeds than I have before.

Of course, phone calls are so much more ephemeral than the comfort-conversation our ancestors might have employed during times of high stress. Those of us who have had letter-writing champions among our forebears can attest to how much could become preserved in family history when a pen and paper were the only ways to express—or soothe—angst among family members and friends in previous centuries. Once the phone call is over, the details can easily vanish; there is no trail to follow.

Yet, it is the old-fashioned phone call which, in our current situation, can bring a substitutionary feeling to those of us who most keenly feel the deprivation of not being able to gather together. While some say they are reveling in all the spare time they can devote to the solitary pursuit of building out their family tree, I suspect we all need some sort of counter-balance to that isolation eventually. If genealogy is your passion, take some time to push away from your computer and reach out to talk to a genea-friend, or compare notes with a real live person who is also researching your family's lines. Check in on the other members of your special interest group at your genealogical society. Do something that requires talking to another person.

We may not be able to actually reach out and touch another human being, but at least we can keep in "touch" with our voice through a good conversation. It is, after all, one of the ways that makes us uniquely human.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Learning How *Not* to Get Zoombombed

What? Is zoombombed not yet a term in your vocabulary? You say, as a genealogist, you don't need to add that one to your lexicon? Think again.

With COVID-19 sweeping the world, and trickling down to each of our own communities, its impact includes disrupting many of the activities of daily life we take for granted. Far, far down on the list—far, that is, beyond "essential activities"—is the monthly genealogical society meeting. Here in our neck of the (California) woods, we've already had to cancel our March meeting, which would have occurred one week after the governor's executive order implementing "social distancing." At that point, how could we have known how much more this threat would have exploded?

By now, people from many walks of life have learned how to work from home. Forget work; about the only way to keep in touch with other people, whether for work or social reasons, is through technology. Apparently, if we are to hold any meetings at all, we will have to take to this technology, ourselves—which is why, in the weekly email from ConferenceKeepers, Tami Osmer Mize observed, "Lots of new Virtual genealogy events added" to their website's listing of family history learning opportunities.

If it seems odd to see a group of people dedicated to preserving family history reach out to embrace the newest in technology to do so, welcome to the post-COVID-19 world. If I am going to hold a board meeting for my genealogical society in April, I am going to have to do it remotely. Same with our April membership meeting, if the situation lingers long enough.

Which means mounting the video-conferencing learning curve, and fast. In our case, the "textbook" will be any Google search results for Zoom. Hence my stumbling upon the warnings about not getting Zoombombed.

Perhaps we can thank the Coronavirus for introducing such new terms to our everyday vocabulary. It was in a Zoom videoconferencing meeting when a hacker stole in, co-opted the controls and subjected scores of participants to racist rants and/or hardcore pornographic images. Not just an isolated case, such events occurred in corporate meetings as well as distance learning sessions at colleges across the country.

Thus, what was a simple device to help people work together despite their remote locations just acquired a steep learning curve of "if you want to avoid that, do this."

All I wanted to do was learn how to invite my six fellow board members to this new way of conducting meetings. And here we are, zooming into a digital Wild West.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Grasping for Goals

If, regardless of all the time now heavy on our hands, you are grasping for some sort of meaningful goal, you are not alone. Granted, much can be accomplished from a home office—not to mention, a home kitchen—but the variety pales in the face of limited options. Many of us stuck in this "shelter-in-place"—or "safer-at-home" or whatever your government entity calls it—are wearying of the sameness of those infrequent "essential" trips into town. We find ourselves restless, aimless, purposeless.

It seems strange to think I can better concentrate at getting yet another load of laundry done than I can at curling up with a good book. I have plenty of candidates for a good read, all stacked up at the ready—but I'm too restless to simply curl up on the couch and open the cover.

I decided today that what I need is a good goal. Like research goals, which focus one's attention and energies on one specific purpose, I could use a set task with a limited time frame—something which, upon its completion, will provide a sense of accomplishment. It would be a relief, actually, to feel the sense of getting some work done where I can sit back and enjoy seeing the results.

Thinking about that need pointed out how vital a sense of purpose is to our existence. I couldn't help but think of a comment a fellow Polish researcher once made in a forum—now back over twenty years ago—about how the Polish people thought it odd that Americans were always pursuing their roots. Going through the hard times experienced in Poland over the past two centuries, apparently no one but the most privileged had the time, energy or even inclination to wonder about the ancestors they never had met. They were too busy planting seeds, watering and weeding, harvesting and preserving food so they could survive the long winter.

When you think of the pursuit of ancestry that way, it does open our eyes to how blessed we are to be able to chase such details without any worry over how our next meal will arrive on our dinner table. It is in the incubation of just the right amount of curiosity, combined with the optimal range of prosperity that we can reach out and seek such data. When the slightest disruption to that delicate balance shakes us from that preferred perch, we lose our ability to concentrate on the chase.

While I have spent more of that idle time in genealogical pursuits than I care to admit right now, it still seems somewhat futile in the midst of this threat of the unseen and unknown. Plugging a name in a branch on a tree is not scintillating news to read, so I don't write much about it, though it is continuing in my genealogy database daily. But it would be so helpful now—therapeutic, even—to select a goal, a very small one, to write about.

Perhaps that is the very thing you are casting about, trying to find, yourself. And at the start of a fresh week, this could be the perfect time to launch that new project. While you may not feel like finding anything to actually do—I know I'm not keen on it right now—this is the time when we need to just make ourselves do something productive. Work with a purpose overcomes so many bleak thoughts. And that's the very prescription we need right now as we wait out this pandemic swirling somewhere around us.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sock Rabbits

While certainly not as devastating as the threat of the deadly coronavirus, cabin fever seems to be sweeping the country in the wake of quarantine orders. Though no communicable germs are exchanged in the process, the symptoms are nonetheless passed despite—or maybe because of—social distancing. Lack of focus, irritability, restlessness: all are experiences shared when we can't share each other's company.

And so, behind the scenes in this place where I'm "sheltered"—certainly at more than the acceptable six feet of distance—I plug away at building my family trees, at least while my mind can stand to concentrate for a while. I enter a new branch of a tree, follow each sprouting leaf to add the next generation, and move on to the next branch.

Something may have gone wonky this week while working on my mother-in-law's tree. (It always seems to happen when it's her tree.) I was following this particular daughter descended from her Gordon line when it happened. Gordon, remember, is the line whose progenitor, as far as I can tell, was the George whose land got re-appropriated as Georgetown. By now, I had made it down that Gordon line from George in Maryland and Pennsylvania to his descendants who moved to Ohio, then to Iowa and Minnesota and parts beyond.

Perhaps I was as stir crazy as the clerk who wrote down the boring details of the birth of the man who was to become groom to one of the daughters descended from this line, but it did make me stop short when I tried to enter the young man's place of birth: Sock Rabbits, South Dakota.

Suddenly, I felt like it was Saturday night, and I was playing along in Randy Seaver's "Saturday Night Genealogy Fun." The question: what's the weirdest place of birth you've encountered among your ancestors? Your mission, should you decide to accept it: reveal the true name behind that misnomer.

In this case, Googling for answers didn't help—it only brought up entries for stuffed bunnies and craft stores. Scouring maps and Wikipedia were no recourse, either. It was only after sticking to my research routine for several more iterations that I finally found another document confirming the real place of this man's birth.

Want to know where Sock Rabbits, South Dakota, really is?

Brace yourself: it wasn't in South Dakota, at all; it was in Minnesota. And not only did this clerk not know his geography, he needed a hearing aid, as well. The true place of birth was in Sauk Rapids.

The moral of this story is several-fold. First, of course, is when confronted with puzzling documentation in vital records, keep looking for confirmation or correction in a second document. Then, too, is to always use alternate ways to cross check what seem to be unusual reports. But above all—especially in these uneasy times—when confronted with family history details that just seem to make your eyes cross, push away from the computer, get up out of that chair and go outside for some sunshine and fresh air.

Or maybe, if it's Saturday night, give up that notion of being serious about your research and go play Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with your genea-friends at Randy Seaver's Genea-Musings.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Think of the Children

We may feel like we are going through unprecedented times, but—surprise—that is not necessarily so, as a recent blog post by my genealogy mentor Sheri Fenley demonstrates. Headlines in the wake of the Spanish flu eerily echo the rise in case count—and ensuing legislation—today.

It is another episode from history which has my attention today, though, and for good reason: I'm thinking of all the children who, same as the rest of us, are absorbing all the stressful news reports while not being equally equipped with the psychological distancing tools we adults can resort to.

Think back, for a moment, to September 11, 2001. I'm sure you can remember that day as clearly as I can—especially the continual replaying of the video clips of those horrific moments.

And then, almost as suddenly as if someone had issued a nationwide gag order, those images went away. There was a moratorium on the replay. Why? It was for the children. The children who, being young and unable to handle the stress quite the same as all those adult viewers, would be saddled with a psychological impact which would take immense effort over time to relieve. So we stopped talking about the scariest parts of that pivot point in our national history. At least, in front of the children.

With everyone now constantly exposed to frightening news reports of an ongoing attack—albeit invisible to the naked eye and, thankfully, the news camera—I'm wondering why no one is concerned about the impact to our children with this stress-inducing life change. I see so many adults admitting that they are so distracted that they can't concentrate on one job or task at a time. If that's true for us, what about the little ones?

Thankfully, I see some individuals and companies taking the initiative to make a difference for our smallest citizens. Billion Graves recently offered a list of activities for parents who are now "instant homeschool teachers" to do with their students while they are suddenly stuck at home. Of course, Ancestry.com has also offered free access to teacher-developed history lesson plans to assist these suddenly-teachers, as well.

Janet Hovorka of FamilyChartMasters, better known to some for her 2013 book, Zap the Grandma Gap, decided to take her message of the value of learning resilience from our ancestors to social media with the hashtag #ResilientRoots. She'll be sharing her observations not only on her blog, but on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her company newsletter.

Of course, there are far more resources that can be of encouragement to our children, in the midst of all this angst, than can be listed here. But more important than the techniques we might use to teach our children in the absence of their usual teachers is the redirection of attention toward material which will be positive for them as we all go through these uncertain times.

Children may not understand all the facts or statistics, but they certainly can absorb the emotions that are flying around them, particularly from those to whom they are the closest. Perhaps the best thing we can do for our younger generation right now is provide them an uplifting atmosphere of calm in the midst of calamity. In whatever way we can, let's not forget to harbor them safely, not only from germs, but from the emotional strain that wears down all our resilience. Come to think of it, what's good for the children is likely good for the rest of us, as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Multiply, not Divide

As genealogists, we pursue the multiplying of generations, so we get that idea. We see value in multiplying. We've also likely spent a lifetime rehashing that maxim, "divide and conquer," and yet, "divide" has never had the positive spin enjoyed by the concept, "multiply."

"Divide and conquer" has had a long and very political history, being a phrase attributed to various military leaders, from Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, to Julius Caesar, and even more recently, to Napoleon. Lest you think it a remnant of a bygone era, one need only to click over to your preferred channel of social media and take a quick glance around. Unless your online social media consumption is "sheltered in place" in a specific group with a limited topic of discussion (like those many genealogy groups), it doesn't take long to soak in the vinegar of division.

Yet, at a time like this, that is one of the last things we need to absorb into our already news-numbed spirits. It doesn't take long to move from reading (or listening) to negativity to partaking of it, ourselves, and then, spreading the mental infection. As much as we need to find alternate ways to surround ourselves with people—if not people we love, at least people who love the same things we do—we must step carefully through our options. Dividing words help no mind thrive.

If you are like me, in these past few weeks, you've found yourself migrating to social media to keep in "touch" while we need to maintain our physical distance from those whom we work with, socialize with, or connect with in the course of our everyday business. And yet, the way through this alternate, digital path seems strewn with mental hazards—complaints and disinformation add to the disheartening realities of the facts we already face. Why add to the disparaging part?

We can make a choice to use our voice to make a difference. For those who are hungering for encouragement and connection, we can be the one to sound that positive note, even if it is only to post our own photos of the first signs of spring. For those who do better, in the face of crisis, by taking action, we can share our ideas for projects of interest, or resources we've found to be helpful. We can find the ones who resonate with uplifting vibrations and sing that tune.

Ever notice how those efforts seem more likely to multiply than to divide? There are just some sounds which draw people together, some colors which attract. We all know instinctively which ones they are; they multiply, not divide.

Even though, at first, some of the stories from our own family history may seem negative—especially for those whose ancestors faced daunting challenges—they do, in the end, present us with that uplifting encouragement. In the face of troubles, this is how our ancestors persevered.

We gain courage from those illustrations. And now, we may be going through some challenges, ourselves. We can remind ourselves of what we've learned about how our ancestors survived. Heeding their lesson provides us with a gift—a gift that multiplies through our use. They've passed it along to us. We may as well pass it along to others. And someday, they'll find a need to carry the story forward yet another generation. With words. That multiply. Not divide.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whistle a Happy Tune

When stuck in a sticky situation, feeling no escape, it helps to heed the advice of the governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam—or at least Rodgers and Hammerstein's version of it—and whistle a happy tune. It may do nothing for the situation, but it can ease some frayed nerves...and perhaps coax a few people to turn off that incessant newscast and focus on more positive efforts.

I don't know whether there's a market for whistling genealogists, but humor me here; I'm looking for a salve to soothe the spirits. Have you noticed how distracted people have been getting? I can't even sit down and read (an admittedly complex book) or plod through a convoluted research plan with all this commotion. Hence, the need for activities which keep me up and physically moving, like cleaning out all those old notes-to-myself.

In the face of all that unfortunate inability to concentrate, we have been graciously showered with offers of free services in the genealogy world. Have you noticed lately? MyHeritage, for instance, has opened their MyHeritage in Color program for use for free, through April 23, to not just those on their "Complete" plan, but to everyone. Added to that, they've set up a drawing, giving away one free "Complete" MyHeritage subscription per week to those who share their photo colorization results on social media with the hashtag #ColorBeatsCoronavirusBlues.

Just searching that term on Twitter provided a tour of selected photos from family heritages around the world, in itself a spirit-boosting diversion for me.

And at Ancestry.com, where they have been offering their AncestryK12 services to teachers for nearly a decade, the company announced just yesterday that they are opening up their history lesson plans to parents of school-aged children, as well as their collection of millions of images from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The only requirement for access is to create a free account on Ancestry, using your email address. As an added bonus, Ancestry.com is also making available some of the basic instruction videos from Ancestry Academy during this unspecified time period. Details and clickable links are on Ancestry's blog post here.

Of course, these are only two of many such offers making their appearance (and hopefully getting us unstuck from the news)—enough, at least, to get a whole lot more of us whistling a happy tune despite being sequestered in the face of this health crisis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Getting a Handle on That Round Tuit

So many tasks, so little...wait! We've got more time on our hands now than we've had in a long while. It seems this month has been raining down "round tuits" and all we have to do is reach out and grab some.

This week, since all the time I used to swallow up by driving to meet people has been redeemed by staying at home, I've had plenty of opportunities to come up with creative solutions to time wasting usage. Last week, all I could think of was to wonder how all my family and friends were doing, stuck in their own ivory towers. This week, thankfully, I'm more energized by the thought of tackling some hands-on projects that have long needed the attention.

Surprise! I've finally tapped into a wealth of round tuits! This week, it seems, we all are rich in round tuits.

There are quite a few genealogy-oriented tasks that fall in this category. The main goal is to do something active, instead of just sitting around, looking at a computer. Of course, going to the library is out. Nix a trip to the archives, too. But there has got to be something that gets us moving while accomplishing a long-neglected item on our genealogy to-do list.

I've got plenty of candidates for this. Remember all those photos which need to be scanned? (And labeled, too!) Documents in old files which could better be handled if scanned and stored digitally, instead of collecting dust or hogging space in boxes out in the garage? You get the idea. We may think our family history is kept in tidy electronic folders and databases, but those of us who started this research journey before the advent of online FamilySearch or Ancestry.com know better. We have papers to show for it.

I don't know what mountains of paper you have yet to move from your back office or garage, but I know what I have to face: I'm a lifelong writer of notes-to-myself. These are the little bits of scrap paper upon which I've scribbled a reminder to check up on a name, get an obit, or mind another task which goes far beyond the problem I currently was handling. It represents those to-do items that don't fit in just now...but then never seem to fit into the picture at any later time, either.

I started conquering that mountain of notes-to-self yesterday, and I realized the hazard of such a move. One tiny three-by-four card with a name and a date and "get obit" scribbled across the face of it opened the door to an hours-long process of cleaning up an entire branch of my mother-in-law's family tree. (Why it always impacts my mother-in-law's tree, I'll never know; it just seems like it.)

Now, I have even more notes-to-self telling me where to go back and straighten out the mess I made yesterday, while "cleaning up" that item the reminder was prompting me to attend to yesterday. Work multiplies. I can vouch for that. It may take me the rest of this entire week to clean up that one well-meaning attempt to organize yesterday. But who cares? Those of us who do not succumb to the corona virus may have another month, sequestered at home, ahead of us. And enough round tuits to fill the void for each of the days ahead.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Leaning in to the Malaise

If you find yourself sinking deeper into a sense of malaise, you are not alone. "Safer at Home" may have a more comforting ring to it than the you're-stuck-now "shelter in place" directive, but the abrupt about-face in everyone's day-to-day schedule is beginning to wear.

Last week, I had a strong sense that, despite not being able to get together with friends and fellow genealogical society members, the most therapeutic thing we could do for each other was to keep in touch. Not physically, of course, but by reaching out through text messages, emails, social media, or even those old-fashioned phone calls where, you know, people still can talk to each other.

This week, I'm taking my personal pick-me-up cue from a friend, and focusing on taking action. That friend, in a social media post last week, mentioned that she had just cleaned out a closet which she had apparently not attended to for thirty years. Imagine the history. Or at least the dust.

At first, it inspired me to find something to do—and I mean physically do. There are always a lot of items on that to-do list that never seem to see the light of day. There is always too much else to do to get it all done, but now that we have the "luxury" of more time on our hands, well, there ya go.

But then, I realized there was a second reason this would be a worthwhile idea for our current situation: the psychology of the activity. It can be downright depressing to think there is "nothing we can do" in the face of this crisis. It seems like a hurry-up-and-wait dilemma, with no end date in sight. Taking action—any type of positive, physical action—in the face of this barrier can give us an opposite feeling of taking charge or making a difference. Even if it is just cleaning out that forsaken storage closet.

Taking steps toward a worthwhile goal helps kick in those creative juices we call upon for problem solving. While the problem we solve will certainly not be as weighty as finding a cure for a newly-generated virus, the action of solving our problem will generate its own sense of accomplishment. That, in turn, leads to encouragement and the sense that, in doing something, we are taking back control over our own lives.

There are plenty of tasks out there, er, in here to conquer. Some may be work-oriented or focused on home life. Others, especially for those of us who are drawn to family history, may help us achieve our genealogy goals in a more organized manner. After all, who doesn't have files, documents, photos, or family papers yet to organize? And this week, we can all get around to it. And begin to feel better about our situation.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

When Time Doesn't Fly

When I think of all the moments in the past two weeks when time seemed to become rather dull, you'd think in turning to do what I often do almost mindlessly—patch up the connections on my family trees—I'd have made more progress. Now that it's time to check my biweekly progress, though, that apparently was not what happened. It makes me wonder: just what was I doing in all those stolen moments of idly working on my family trees?

Here's how things look right now. My mother's tree only advanced seventy eight names to close this week at 20,657 substantiated individuals, admittedly not my usual breakneck speed. On the other hand, my mother-in-law's tree did make up for that when I added 188 names to total 18,027 individuals. And though my father-in-law's tree is still stuck at 1,688, this time it was my own dad's turn to step ahead; there, I found ten new names to bring his total up to 668.

Part of the reason for any advances at all this time was the chance to take a look at DNA matches. While it is easy to tap away at names and dates in a pedigree chart, it takes quite a bit more concentration to determine where a random fourth cousin might fit into a tree pushing up to twenty thousand names. To be sure, I can't keep all those details in my head anymore.

The past week afforded me the time to take a long look at those DNA matches, compare notes between trees (for those who actually do post their tree online), and reach out to connect via email. Some of the connections came surprisingly easily, upon which discovery I filled in all the necessary blanks to draw the lines between the match's ancestors and my own. Sometimes the journey from third- or fourth-great-grandparent to the present filled in quickly, and thickly—hence the 188 new names on my mother-in-law's tree, for instance.

Another gift of time, this past week, was the chance to revisit 23andMe's new beta tree. I had mentioned, a while back, that the launch of their auto-generated tree had some of my husband's cousins listed as aunts. I'm glad to report that has been rectified—although I'm not sure that's owing to self-generated tweaking on the part of their computer system, or a real human reading the feedback I sent them on Day One, when I was chomping at the bit to try it all out.

With the additional time I'll have in the upcoming weeks, owing to my classes being cancelled, I'll be pouring my energies into seeing how to add information to this 23andMe tree. While out of the five major DNA companies this one hasn't generated the greatest number of matches, it does capture some branches of our families not represented at the other companies. This, of course, was one theory originally behind testing at each of the available DNA companies, and though the result is mostly just the luck of the draw, it certainly bears out that hypothesis.

Another task I'll need to attend to, in those empty spots in my stay-at-home schedule, will be to update my desktop-resident program and get the sync mechanism updated. This same new era of anything-can-happen developments can just as easily throw another curve at us. I'm thinking I want to cover myself when it comes to my genealogical research, and prepare with as many back-ups of that hard work as possible. At least now, I'll have the time to attend to some of those chores.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Off (Someone Else's) Shelf:
The Leverett Letters

With the sun attempting a comeback, it would seem the perfect time to head to my favorite coffee shop and enjoy reading a book while sitting out in the spring weather. But not this season; all the outdoor cafe ambience now comes wrapped with a lock and chain around the chairs and tables.

Not to be outdone—after all, with so much time on our hands, this is the perfect time to get lost in a book—I figured I could replicate the outdoor seating stunt on my front porch. Now, all I have to do is locate a ceramic pot and fill it with cheery blooms that my cats won't be tempted to eat. Besides, I already have the book selected.

With thanks to my daughter for such a thoughtful gift, I'm looking forward to opening the cover of The Leverett Letters, a volume put out by the University of South Carolina Press twenty years ago. It must have taken some searching to find it—I'm now reading a gently-used copy from someone else's bookshelf, although it is possible (for a price) to obtain a "new" copy—but I'm glad I can now add it to my collection of eyewitness narratives of life in the state of South Carolina where my ancestors once lived.

I stumbled upon this book, back when I was exploring what else was available from the publisher of Emmala Reed's journal, A Faithful Heart. Learning that that book was part of a series, "Women's Diaries and Letters of the South," I started following the trail to pick up similar resources. That was how I found A Rebel Came Home, the collection of Floride Clemson's letters and diary (even though it is not currently listed on the series' web page).

Though this book does not contain the written works (or even the mention) of people in my own family tree—at least, not that I know, so far—the purpose of it is to grant me a sense of the times and an appreciation of what life must have been like for my own ancestors, as well. With well over five hundred pages, the volume flows from a collection of over three hundred letters written over a period of fifty years, the majority of those in the book spanning only seventeen years.

Most of the letters were from members of the large Charles and Mary Maxcy Leverett family, and portray the solidarity between the siblings and their parents through jointly-held values of writing and education while various members were far from the home they loved. The benefit of being able to read the results of these prolific writers is that the reader can snatch a glimpse of how life used to be, in that state and at that time in history.

Granted, a book this size will not be a snap to read. I may well get the chance to sit out at my favorite coffee shop and finish up the last few pages, after all, considering the speed at which I read—or perhaps that is just wishful thinking.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Staying Put

It may not seem bad to have to work from a home office—after all, my family already has been doing that, every day. But when someone says we have to stay put in that one location, it starts being another matter.

The fourth day of this stay-at-home week started dragging, but nothing as drastic as the feeling when, after the close of the workday, the governor issued an executive order which basically said, "Stay home."

So much for advanced notice. I suppose I should have gotten a clue. Still, after all the scrambling on behalf of our business, it seems we are in a good position. At least we are not in solitary confinement. Yet.

So what does one do when forced faced with something that was not on our regular schedule? I know some people pull out their knitting. Or binge-watch Netflix. I hardly hear anyone talking about reading a book—not even those book lovers who always have a stack waiting in the wings. And, unbelievably, I'm about to discover how simpatico I've become with a sentiment like that. Who can concentrate with so much uncertainty swirling around over our heads?

Last night, I found myself mindlessly re-arranging the deck chairs on my family tree. Yes, I know, you just shot back a volley of question marks about that statement. What I mean is that, like some people find knitting in the midst of crisis, I often see maintenance on my family trees to be a relaxing diversion. I take a spin through the entire pedigree chart, cleaning up sections where additional hints cry for my attention, adding new generations or recently-added digitized documents to support the skeletal outline of my tree.

I got started on that jag when I realized I hadn't checked my DNA matches lately—and discovered there were some promising links on my paternal side. I hadn't revisited that tree in quite a while. One thing led to another, and soon I was adding details on several branches of my paternal grandmother's line. And that's a good thing; I haven't worked on that side for quite a while.

Perhaps that isn't exactly your idea of a relaxing diversion in the face of breaking news exploding all around us. You may have better suggestions. I suppose the main reason I've always continued work on my family trees is because I like doing that sort of pursuit. Yet, just as much as it relieves my stress, it may induce yours.

Meanwhile, for others, the workload continues. Responsibilities keep piling up. Children must be cared for, and older relatives checked for well-being. Somehow, the surreal atmosphere at the nexus of daily routine and blown-out-of-proportion hype makes it hard to see the reality of what we each must do next. It can be a very paralyzing thought juggernaut.

In the midst of that swirling disorientation, it was so helpful to see the recent blog post at MyHeritage, which simply was a stack of photographs of staff members' new digs as they worked from home. Somehow, sharing the mundane details of how each of us is adjusting to the new situation has a calming effect, passing around a sense of how we all can get around this roadblock of life. 

Whatever works for you, as you maintain your "social distance" in relative isolation from family and friends—let alone the world outside—I hope you find a way to build a haven of peace in the midst of the shelter where you're placed.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Keeping in Touch

...er, touchless contact. It's just another day of corona virus lockdown, and I'm missing all the people I'd usually see today. After all, this is when our genealogical society usually meets—but this month, no meeting.

On the work front, our business has learned to keep in "touch" by virtual means. We've certainly put Zoom through its paces in the last few days, and we're thankful there is such a technology available to those who still need to keep working, but can't go out and meet. This even applies in school settings, and, with the help of parents, even with younger students.

Because we are a training company serving a broad spectrum of clients, I need to keep an eye on developments across several different industries. The other day, a short post in another blog caught my eye. Even though it was written by someone well known in the marketing arena, it addressed the topic of education, so it grabbed my attention. The bottom line: instead of meetings featuring one talking head speaking to a virtual room of people who are, in actuality, zoning out, why not create an environment in which everyone can participate? Why not facilitate a meeting with a goal to "produce powerful and engaging discussion" about the topic we've come together to address?

The blogger—author and creative Seth Godin—calls his idea "transformative online learning" and he outlines a way to achieve this through a series of guided conversations. The whole process is aided by technology, of course, which is why the article caught my eye. Right now at our own company, we'd be nowhere if we didn't have Zoom. His discussion about that idea of guided conversations mentions a feature at Zoom which enables virtual breakout sessions within videoconferencing meetings.

Reading about such an option, I couldn't help but juxtapose two personal beefs about conferences (yes, even genealogy conferences). The one is my own complaint: conferences are so huge, all that really gets accomplished is to go hear a talking head (if even a nationally-known talking head) lecture for an hour; attendees rarely get to delve into problem-solving on issues that personally challenge them, except for the serendipitous occasional one-to-one connection in passing. The other issue—which is more an issue for groups which organize these big conferences—is that fewer and fewer folks seem to spring for attendance at such big-box events.

Why not experiment with the technology to enable guided small group conversations within a class topic at virtual conference settings? Now that I know about the Zoom offerings for breakout sessions, I'm chomping at the bit to try that option in a learning application.

Meanwhile, here we all are, isolated in our own homes, keeping our school-less kids busy or aiding our elderly relatives who can't go out in public right now. I don't think there are many who see this crisis as an opportunity—even those of us who miss seeing each other right now. We are quite pressed out of shape by the challenges ahead of us. We've somehow lost the spitfire inspired by the motivational speaker's meme of the Chinese character for the word "crisis" (the juxtaposition of "danger" and "opportunity"). We just want to stay away from the danger.

And yet, no one likes to sit still and remain a captive audience to a script spouting crisis. People always find a way to find a way. It's amazing what we can learn about ourselves in the face of disruptions such as this, and I hope some of us will piece together new options to salvage the ruins of old complaints. After all, we might be together in this for the long haul. May as well find a way to creatively keep in touch.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Wuhan Flu Journals

While we are all stuck sheltered in place, time can be heavy on our hands. Those who usually work in an office may be realizing at first how peaceful it is to work from home—and then, a few days later, notice how easy it is to get a lot of work done in so little time. It's a short leap from that discovery to witnessing how slowly the clock drags after all that work is done with still more workday to get through.

For those with young children staying home, the realization hit sooner—perhaps because it is not as peaceful as it would otherwise have been in that haven we call home. Maybe that is why, not far into last Monday's routine, #homeschooling ended up trending on Twitter.

The fact that the fears swirling around us about this year's flu echo those of almost exactly one hundred years ago inspired some family history researchers to suggest we journal our day-to-day experiences as this crisis unfolds. "Imagine what we'd have learned about our ancestors if they kept a diary of their flu experiences," these folks say.

I imagine our ancestors had a little bit much on their hands at that moment.

Still, it's a valid point, and those of us willing to write about such things should consider the opportunity. After all, we may have a long slog of it with continuing "shelter-in-place" orders. Just think: if we do write our daily thoughts about these experiences and manage to keep them organized in one place, and if we keep it up for as many days as this thing takes to unfold, and if we don't chicken out and toss the whole mess after this episode passes, and if—and this is the big one—our children (and then their children and then their children after them) don't neglect to preserve our precious, aging little journal, then our story will make it to touch a generation beyond our own lifespan.

How quaint.

I wonder if more of the attraction of such an idea comes from the therapeutic effect writing itself has upon us. Writing gives us a moment to pause and replay the highlights—or low-lights—of our day, to rehearse the pleasing parts or nurse the hard parts through our memory. If all that therapeutic benefit transforms into a log of our life—if even a small sliver of it—and someone else benefits from it, all the better. But it is likely the chance is as good as if a total stranger from a future age found a message in a bottle washed up on the seashore. A curiosity, at the least.

Certainly, I'm grateful for the letters our family his preserved, and the diaries that have made their way into book form from upheavals such as the many wars our country has faced. They do provide us a glimpse not only into the times of our ancestors, but the character of the people in our families from those past generations. But they wrote not to preserve a historical document of what would someday become important; they wrote because they felt a pressing need to express themselves—in some cases, a desire to connect with others who were important to them.

If there is any need to write in the midst of this crisis, it is in that that we should take pen to paper and preserve our thoughts. There is something therapeutic in that act. And we all know how much we need that balm right now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Social Media Over Social Distancing

It's Saint Patrick's Day, but there won't be any parades. They've been cancelled or at least, um, postponed. We've moved from advisories on hand washing and social distancing to lock-down orders shelter-in-place. It's another day with COVID-19 in America.

Among the many other cancelled shreds of everyday life, our genealogical society meeting for March got chopped. It's a small token of the willingness to "flatten the curve" to do our part in respect of our members' health needs. But it leaves us all, well, stuffed in our own corners of the world...apart.

As press release piled on press release and news of more dire limitations hit the airwaves, I realized we not only are cancelling our little educational outlet for sharing research techniques, by cancelling society meetings, we are also displacing an important social outlet for many of our members. I don't know about your local organizations, but our genealogical society is a very social group. We thrive on getting together, sharing our research victories, connecting with others who are fascinated by what fascinates us.

But we won't be doing that this month.

How to replace that "social" in the face of "social distancing" becomes the challenge. I can't help but feel the need to somehow connect with our members, despite the ban on connecting. Even if we can't get together literally—let alone reach out to give a hug—we can connect virtually. We can put to good use the many ways of connecting over social media.

Of course, there's one drawback to that social media idea. Ever since politics took over the social media world, I've vacated that virtual universe. And now would not be a healthy time to expose anyone to more vitriol. But how to connect without utilizing the tools already in place? Perhaps we can all take back that common space, one by one, through turning the tide on negative blather. Let positive, helpful, encouraging, uplifting fill the space. There is no time like now, when people need a word to lift them up. Especially when everyone is so disconnected through physical isolation.

With those thoughts running through my mind, it was so encouraging to see a Tweet by photographer/speaker/documentarian/genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith of BlackProGen. She had the energy and determination to put the right spin on this current situation in the face of the negative unfolding all around us.

If nothing else, I hope to follow that example, and connect with those who need that positive human touch right now. If nothing else, I hope others will take their cue from messages like this, too. If nothing else, I hope many will let what little part they play—while "stuck" at home with no other options—radiate out from them and bring a little encouragement to others, as well. We may be physically distant from each other, but more than ever, it's a time we need to bring out the human "touch" to make a difference for each other.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Relative Isolation

So much has happened since last Friday, when I simply thought I'd be continuing the search for my mother-in-law's roots on Monday. While we certainly will pick up on the search for clues on the Sniders and the Stines—with the addition of one Moses Petty of unknown connection to that family—in Perry County, Ohio, I feel the need to put that on pause for right now.

By the end of last week—as I'm sure also happened near you—the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 jumped in our relatively-untouched county. By Friday evening, every school district in our county had declared their campuses closed for at least the upcoming two weeks. Conferences and seminars in the genealogical world, as elsewhere, were postponed or outright cancelled.

That left our local genealogical society with a decision to make about this Thursday's meeting. While our board took the prudent approach—err on the side of caution in respect for the heightened risk to the majority of those in our membership—it has left many of us, genealogists or not, awakening to the realization that we have two weeks ahead of us bereft of our normal plans. Now what?!

While I think most of us have had the routine drilled into us by now—wash hands, cover mouth and nose for coughs and sneezes, wash hands, stay away from those who cough or sneeze, wash hands—we have not given as much attention to what we can do now as to what we can't do. We may be isolated, in our home-based outposts, but thanks to technology, we aren't entirely disconnected from each other.

My sister, who lives in a state in which the COVID-19 cases are relatively low so far, happens to work across the state line near a city now dubbed the epicenter of that state's "Wuhan Flu" outbreak. In synch with that city's "containment zone" policy, her office ordered all employees to telecommute. Working from her kitchen in the midst of all this uncertainty, she woke up to one realization: it's so peaceful to work from home. It's so much easier to get a lot of work done—and yet not feel stressed.

With my genealogy classes cancelled at local libraries and on the campus of the local community college, I'm beginning to realize that, as well. Suddenly, my calendar has been wiped clean—ostensibly, in the face of a gripping pandemic—and yet I bizarrely realize all the possibilities of what can be achieved in that scheduling vacuum. It dawns on me all the family history pursuits I can load into a now-empty schedule. That thought has not been mine alone; witness these suggestions from another genealogy blogger with a DNA-testing slant.

Of course, with this shift in priorities, it is best to remember that it can get lonely for some of our more vulnerable society members who may live alone and need to remain isolated because of their higher health risks. For those, we need to find ways to still connect, to interject some human company into an otherwise scary scenario, something we can do with the abundance of social media options or even the plain ol' fashioned telephone.

Reach out and touch somebody—virtually. Make sure he is okay. See if she needs anything. Just be a friendly voice to counterbalance the swirling stress around us all. And in the lull from that hectic schedule, chase after those elusive relatives from bygone centuries. It may not be safe to wander through those crowded venues in town, but even if isolated at home, we can still seek out those missing ancestors sequestered in the midst of those online resources.  

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Stories we Tell Ourselves

Most people may not realize it, but the stories they recall about their families can have a stronger impact upon their life than they think. The message we glean from our family history can come to define us, as well as identify our ancestors. That, of course, can become a force for good—or, in other cases, a personally destructive force. And yet, some of that effect can be owing to the spin we choose to put on the facts.

There's no doubt our family's history can have an impact on us—especially that of our most recent past. Some of those family history details were not merely facts set forth on paper, but episodes we lived through. We recall the stories, sure, but we also remember the emotions connected to those events. More importantly, though, is the evolution of those stories to where they become part of the self-definition shaping who we are.

The power of stories—stories of our own family's history—has often been acknowledged for its ability to build up...or to hold back. From the point in 2013 when New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler published his reflection on the strength of families in "The Stories that Bind Us," he pursued that essence of family stories. Bottom line, he realized,
The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

In that relentless pursuit of the power of stories, Bruce Feiler relied on research by a wide spectrum of academics, and also by continuing to reach out, himself, to people across the continent to glean their examples and illustrations about the stories in their lives. In one of the 2010 studies influencing Feiler's writing, researcher Robyn Fivush noted,
Adolescents who report knowing more stories about their familial past show higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning.

More recently, that same researcher commented that "stories about our family tell us who we are in the world and who we should be." Stories about our grandparents, for instance, "provide models of both good and bad times, as well as models of overcoming challenges and sticking together."

Bruce Feiler, convinced still about "the power of personal stories to give us strength in challenging times," has moved on to issue his latest book about what he calls "lifequakes"—those personal disruptions that rocket us into unexpected life transitions. Life is in the Transitions could not have come out at a more timely season; in fact, the wait until the May 12 issue date may be more of a stretch than some now going through those "lifequakes" would like to see.

While I obviously do not know exactly what this champion of the value of personal narratives might say in his latest book, I suspect a world in flux right now would like to hear it—and as soon as possible, too. Right now, someone who is very close to me is struggling with the news of a diagnosis of cancer. Already, I can see in the stories she is telling herself that the battle may not really be with the medical issue in her body, but with the narrative she allows to run through her mind. Those stories are vital. The ones we choose to rehearse the most will shape our future.

Those are not the only stories we have to draw from our reserves of family memories. There are others, of course. Some, though positive and uplifting, we oddly manage to forget; it's others in our family who need to be there to remind us that, yeah, those things happened, too. From the collective family reserve of stories, we can remind each other of those story riches, rub them into each other's memory like psychological salve and let the healing balm do its work.

Many of those stories may not be written down anywhere, but they are still there, stored up in our memories. Those are the family treasures that get applied when the need calls for them, but we can preserve them, hold them in reserve for the times when we best can apply them.

More than writing these stories down for later recall, though, is the importance of developing the skill of knowing when to apply a story—and which one will best achieve its purpose in uplifting the family member who needs to change which story is playing in his or her head. Knowing how to shift gears is one skill; being able to apply that direction-changing motion is yet another art.

No matter what, where, with whom, or why, though, we need to develop a healthy respect for the power of those stories. While yes, we need to preserve our family's oral heritage to pass on to the next generation, we need to understand the power of those stories which are now playing in our heads, and the imperative to change the story channel when the need is there for a more empowering narrative, then reach down in all that store of heritage to bring up just the right jewel.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Stories They Told Us

As far as I know, my mother only had two children. I say that because even the most sainted, apple-pied mothers among us have been revealed to have birthed unexpected others. We've learned that DNA can now tell us those most hidden of our ancestors' secrets.

That said, our mothers can turn out to be two totally different people in the eyes of their descendants, even when they were ever-present and always accounted for. We discover that when we learn how different the stories told to us turn out to be, when compared with the stories told to our siblings.

I've been thinking, lately, about one such eye-opening experience when I realized that the stories my mother had told my sister were totally different than those she shared with me. Not that I'm inferring that my mother fabricated events or experiences, but simply that the course of conversation with one person can lead to revelations which were never shared with another person.

Think about it: if you have specific interests, it would be no surprise to learn that, in the course of conversation with others, your favorite topics would naturally come up as subjects to discuss—if the others in the conversation shared that interest. If, in moving to another group holding no interest in common with that first group, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that the topics discussed with that second group would be quite different than those in the first.

Since my sister and I are two totally different people—I have a bent for the creative, pursuing music and writing, while my sister is all about business and finance—it is no surprise to learn that the same woman who was mother to both of us would nevertheless engage in totally different topics of conversation when she visited each of us in our adult years. Yet I never gave that dynamic much thought until my sister nonchalantly mentioned something about my mother in one of our phone calls a few years ago.

"What?" was my immediate response. "When did she tell you that?" I had never heard such a thing.

It might sound as if my mother were two different people from an incident like that, but it's likely that you may have experienced the same thing, too, if you have siblings. I can think of moms who drag themselves to their kids' sporting events—all the while secretly hating the dust mixed with sweat under the roasting sun—leaving their children to assume that their mother loved baseball. Or dads who would never otherwise have stepped inside a theater to experience a ballet performance, if it weren't for the fact that his little cherub was up on stage with the rest of those angels in tutus for this year's iteration of The Nutcracker.

All that to say, last week I was teaching my beginning genealogy class and going through the usual routine of urging students to begin their research by gathering the oral history of their family from family members. When we were younger, we could perform such information-gathering exercises by reaching out to parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. But this was a lifelong-learning class comprised of retirees, many of them who can no longer discuss such questions with their parents. Some of them are now left with only their siblings—sometimes, only the younger siblings who weren't around in those early years to even have met the older relatives.

In that case, I suggested, ask your siblings about what they do remember. After all, if the stories my mother told my sister were so different than those she shared with me, if the two of us piece together our joint memories, we'll have a more complete picture of the person my mother actually was.

Not only is that relative someone each family member experiences differently, but each of us interprets our memories differently, too. As detectives have learned, in questioning witnesses to crimes and other traumatic events, one person may notice a specific detail in the episode while another witness might focus on a totally different part of the scene. It's not that their memories are flawed, but just that each person takes in a different picture as the event is unfolding. Because the same process impacts our observations about everyday life as well, it makes sense to share our family stories with each other as we compile our reflections on our recent ancestors.

I sometimes view compiling a family history much the same as seeing an artist create a scene in mosaic form. Each tiny chip of tile or glass, while in itself merely a flat color, is worked into the broader picture to not only create the nuances of an accurate portrait, but to reflect the flavor of each beholder's subjective experience in the portraying of that life. Preserving the full aspect of the stories our parents and grandparents told us means inserting that multi-faceted mosaic of viewpoints we gain by encouraging the others in our generation to contribute to the process.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Following That Opportunity

When settlers from the original thirteen United States decided to move westward, you can be sure they chose that route because they saw the chance to gain personal benefits. Their impetus to move westward was an unprecedented opportunity to obtain farmland.

There were, of course, incentives available to anyone hardy enough to take up the challenge of moving to the frontier. By the late 1700s, that had become the heritage of almost every immigrant arriving on American shores; they had come to expect that immigration could improve their situation, and perhaps had seen that very scenario play itself out in the generations preceding their own lifetime.

For those who had fought in the Revolutionary War (and subsequent service), there were military bounty land warrants to be claimed. Following the issuing of those first offerings, additional congressional legislation served to open up what was then called the Northwest Territory to wave after wave of settlers.

Whether the families I am researching served in the Revolutionary War, I don't yet know. All I know at this point is that the Nicholas Schneider family from Adams County, Pennsylvania, made it to Perry County, Ohio, in time for his son Jacob to meet and marry Elizabeth Stine, daughter of a family who had moved to Ohio from Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Their wedding in 1825 thus serves as a marker to help us delineate the approximate time of their families' arrival in Perry County.

Why did they head to Ohio? Though I don't yet know of any involvement with the Continental Army for either family, I do know of other opportunities which opened up land for settlers. First was the Harrison Land Act, which was passed in 1800, enabling people to purchase land in the Northwest Territory directly from the government, even on credit.

The drawback to that land act, though, was that it required people to purchase at least 320 acres of land. At a price of at least two dollars per acre—a steal in today's economy—the cost was still prohibitive for many, hence the revision in terms with the Land Act of 1804. The newer act, while keeping the price of the land the same, reduced the mandated size of the parcels to 160 acres, a more affordable option.

To facilitate the sale of the territorial lands, Congress authorized the opening of land offices in 1800. Three possible land offices which might have played a role in the sale of land to my mother-in-law's ancestors were opened around that same time. One, at Marietta, would have been of particular interest to those arriving in central Ohio by way of the river route from Pittsburgh on the Ohio, as it was the town at the mouth of the Muskingum River leading northward toward Perry County; that office was in operation from 1800 to 1840.

Another land office, opening only a few years later, was at nearby Zanesville, conveniently upon the overland route known as Zane's Trace. That land office was established in 1804 and, like the Marietta office, continued operations until 1840. Though farther to the south, the land office at Chillicothe also served the area from 1801 to 1876.

Sure enough, in looking for signs that the Stine family might have taken up the offer of land in Ohio, the General Land Office Records of the Bureau of Land Management revealed one Jacob Stine had purchased land in what was to become Perry County. He did so in partnership with someone named Moses Petty. The document was drawn up through the Chillicothe Land Office and was dated July 6, 1816.

A few years later—in 1820, to be exact—Nicholas "Snyder" and another Snyder by the name of Jacob, likely Nicholas' son, obtained their own parcel through the same Land Office, demonstrating when they officially became land owners in Perry County, and at the same time, allowing us to more closely zero in on when each family arrived in the area which, in 1818, officially became designated as Perry County.

Knowing when each family arrived in Perry County, and discovering that each family became landowners, helps us find additional clues about their situation. Considering that we know very little about Elizabeth Stine besides the date of her marriage, that leaves us with few hints about her family, other than her father's name. It would have been more helpful to discover that the other party to the land transaction was also a member of the Stine family. That leaves us with the question, who was Moses Petty, and why did he choose to purchase land as "tenant in common" with Elizabeth's father?

Hopefully, discovering information about Moses Petty will allow us to learn more about Elizabeth's family, as well. 


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Rollin' on the River

When we research our families from the early 1800s in the nascent United States, we can easily see when they came from one location and, eventually, landed in another, more western location. But how much thought do we give to the consideration of how these people moved their families hundreds of miles? It is not hard to stumble upon references in history books about the lack of roads or, in the case of their existence, how awful those trails could be. In the case of many of our ancestors as they faced such conditions in their migrattion westward across the North American continent, they did have an alternative: river travel.

In puzzling over my mother-in-law's great-grandmother, Elizabeth Stine, I can see from historical records that she was born somewhere in Pennsylvania, yet she lived her adult life in Perry County, Ohio. Of course, my main question is: with whom did that young, unmarried woman make that wilderness trek of hundreds of miles? It helps, in delving into that question, to see what options were available to her migrating family.

The same scenario likely played out in the case of her husband-to-be, Jacob Snider, whose family also came west to Ohio from Pennsylvania. I have it from other Stine and Snider researchers I connected with, decades ago—back when online genealogy was in its infant stages—that the Stine family may have come from Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and that the Sniders removed from neighboring Adams County. With both of those counties pressed firmly against the southern border of the state, and facing the challenging route of crossing the Appalachians to their west, one option for migration in those early years was to hit the road.

The road, however, was often a co-opted ancient trail used by native populations long before the arrival of European settlers, and certainly not built to accommodate the wagons or stagecoaches preferred by the emigrants. Such would be the "road" leading through the land which eventually became Perry County. Known as Zane's Trace—after Ebenezer Zane, from whom nearby Zanesville took its name—it afforded a westward-bound settler one route to central Ohio.

A more reasonable route, in those days before established roads in the Northwest Territory, was to take to the waterways. With this choice of transportation, a migrating family need only haul their earthly belongings westward on the less-than-desireable roads of central and western Pennsylvania until they could reach Pittsburgh or another suitable jumping-off place. From there, they could purchase a flatboat to move their goods down the Ohio River.

The Ohio, being a tributary of the Mississippi River yet possibly the main stream of the whole Mississippi River system, could move people and their goods down river to lands in Kentucky and beyond—eventually, even to the Gulf of Mexico, if one wished. Our families migrating to the Perry County area, though, need only travel the Ohio River as far as the newly-established town of Marietta, where the Ohio met the mouth of the Muskingum River.

From there, the Muskingum could—depending on the season and the year's level of rainfall—bring a family northward to tap into a system of rivers and creeks circling the north and east of Perry County.

No matter which way the Stines or the Sniders chose to travel from south central Pennsylvania to the middle of the new state of Ohio, there were, indeed, options on how to arrive there.

But the key question to ask is not just how they got to Perry County, but why they decided, in those early years of our country, to go through all the trouble to get there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Seeing the Past From Its Future

The problem with genealogical research, of course, is that we are trying to see our ancestors' past from a time period which remains in our forebears' future. In some cases, that means imagining what life was like for our grandparents during the early 1900s from a perspective embedded with one hundred years of experience; after all, we don't "get" outhouses or ice houses or even telegrams. (Some of us can't even comprehend phones attached by cords to walls.)

To stretch that effort of comprehension to the lengths of our second or third great-grandparents' era requires a lot more than mere empathy. We need to delve into a broader perspective of the time period and the local history to help us better see what life was like for those ancestors.

Right now, I'm trying to unearth the basic outline of the life of my mother-in-law's great-grandmother, a woman born in the early 1800s in Pennsylvania. Though I know her maiden name was spelled Stine, it could very well have taken a more German appearance when her parents or grandparents spelled that surname—if, in fact, they knew how to write at all.

Such details, though, are on the far end of her past, and from my researcher's vantage point at the far end of this woman's distant future, I can't see very much about her life, at all. So I start from the end of her life to introduce what I've been able to discover about her so far.

On this end of life, that Stine daughter was known as Elizabeth Snider—but even that presents some research challenges, among them the spelling of that surname. In some records, the surname was spelled Snider, in others as Snyder. Looking far into her future, as her many children immigrated away from the state where she married and raised them, those who moved to Iowa or Minnesota took to spelling their name as Snyder, while those who remained in Ohio seemed to favor Snider.

When I face difficulties in researching a common surname, I often take in the bigger perspective by first learning what I can about the surname. In the case of Snider or Snyder, I learned that the surname took on more variations in spelling than even I could imagine. Apparently—at least, according to Wikipedia—Snider is an anglicized version of the Dutch word meaning tailor: Snijder. Another way it was originally spelled was Sneijder. Of course, there is the German version, Schneider, but there is also a Swiss-German form spelled Schnyder. Just seeing all these forms of the one surname opens my eyes to other possibilities for this family's land of origin.

Elizabeth Snider's married surname was a popular one in the state in which she lived as an adult. At least today, more Sniders live in the United States than any other country in the world. The surname ranks in the top one thousand names in this country. Eight percent of all the Sniders living in the United States live in Ohio.

All that to say, finding the right Elizabeth Snider, wife of Jacob, could be a challenge, even back during the time in which she lived. But since we are taking our first look at her history from the perspective of the end and working our way back to the beginning, we can see that she lived a long life settled, mostly, in the same place. We also can glean some information on her family by looking at all her children, of which she birthed at least ten. Because she died in 1881, her long life affords us the ability to gaze into her personal life at least through the decennial snapshots of each census record from 1850 through 1880.

However, tracing the lives of her four sons and six daughters did not reveal much about their parents' origins. Their lifespans did not reach far enough into the future to avail us of handy documents which would include such clues as mother's maiden name. And wills, when found, did not show the kind of information about that distant past that I seek.

Pushing back beyond that barrier of the 1850 census does reveal a few Ohio connections, at least in Perry County, to other Stines in the area. Some of those claiming the same surname as Elizabeth's maiden name might or might not be related to her father's family. But one thing I can be fairly certain of: if Elizabeth—or "Eliza"—were married in 1825, that seventeen year old surely did not travel by herself to Perry County in the early years of Ohio's statehood. If Elizabeth got married in Perry County, at least one of her male relatives surely had traveled there with her.

The question then becomes, which Stine men in Perry County by 1830 might have been Elizabeth's kin? In her future, she lived in a part of the county surrounded by farmland owned by her many Snider brothers-in-law, but what of her earlier years? Who were those other Stines? And how did they arrive in Ohio from their previous residence in Pennsylvania?

To answer that, we need to take a broader look at another aspect of life in that time period: the way people got around in the early 1800s—and why they chose to do so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Close Relationships and Long Generations

Sometimes, I look at the relationships on those barely-complete branches of the family trees under my care and think, "That is such a close relationship to know nothing about."

In today's case, we'll be looking at a woman of whom I know very little, despite her relationship to my mother-in-law being as close as great-grandmother. When I realize that there are many people in this country who actually could remember spending time with their own great-grandparents, I begin to wonder why this woman's history slipped through her family's fingers.

On the other hand, we have to consider the span of generations in any given family. For some families, a generation can be counted off, every twenty years or so, providing the newly-arrived infant in such a family a great-grandmother who might only be her sixties—not an unreasonable scenario. In stark contrast, take a family such as mine, where a generation might stretch as far as fifty years before the next one comes along, and children might not even have had a chance to meet their own grandparents.

Such was the case in my mother-in-law's family. On her paternal branch, the years between generations started with a first leap of forty-five years. By the time we get to her paternal grandmother, we've added another forty two years. Before you know it, we're talking about a great-grandmother who was born in 1808—not exactly someone whom she could invite to even her first birthday party.

Of course, I don't have any proof of Elizabeth Stine Snider's year of birth; I need to rely on reports found on census records from her later years. Thankfully, this woman lived until 1881, affording me a peek into her life from documents dated 1850 through the 1880 census in Perry County, Ohio. And despite her many children, they, too, all died before state records kept the kind of details a genealogist seeks.

Besides what can be gleaned from census records, it was thanks to a personal visit to the courthouse at Perry County that I was able to ascertain her marriage information. According to the "Male Index to Marriages, Perry County," there was an entry for an "Eliza" Stine who married Jacob Snyder on 14 November, 1825. Thankfully, I had a copy made of that record, since the marriage information posted either at FamilySearch.org or at Ancestry.com is now barely legible.

Jacob, as it turns out, was part of a large family of German immigrants, many of whom traveled through Pennsylvania to settle in the same place in Ohio: Perry County. And like his parents before him, Jacob's own family was large—and prone to keep traveling west.

Perhaps it was that his time span—and that of his wife Elizabeth's—put him falling in all the historical cracks which defeat a researcher's hope of discovery. Short of making another trip to central Ohio—not in my future, at this point—it will be hard to go digging through the kind of documents which have yet to make their appearance online, but can be found (with difficulty) through a hands-on search in person.

Then again, perhaps searching for someone with a name as common as Snyder—or whatever German spelling equivalent it might have taken, two hundred years ago—can become a defeating effort in its own right. Couple that with the common surname Stine—perhaps at one point spelled Stein—and mix in the uncertainties of surviving documentation from that time period in the then-frontier region of the northwest territory, and you have a recipe for the kind of research woes that have confronted me regarding this couple.

There is, of course, the Find A Grave entries for both Elizabeth Stine and her husband Jacob Snider. Find A Grave memorials, however, are informational entries put together by volunteers. Though all volunteers are dedicated workers, thanks to the passion they bring to the endeavor, not all volunteer-originated entries are one hundred percent correct. In this case, thankfully, I do recognize the name of the volunteer responsible for the entry and recall that she once told me she had published a genealogy on this family line. Hopefully, the trail she is blazing will be a reliable path for other researchers.

All that said, tomorrow we'll look at some of the initial research challenges in an introduction to Jacob Snider and his wife—the object of my research goals for this month—Elizabeth Stine.

Monday, March 9, 2020

It's Later Than You Think

So, we let those clocks "spring ahead" Saturday night, only to wake up in the grayest hint of light Sunday morning, thinking, "Go back to sleep; it's too early"—and then bolting awake, realizing that I'd have to readjust my estimation of the time versus assessment of sunlight. I had to remind myself: "It's later than you think."

Same thing here, while I'm head-bashing against a genealogical brick wall: it's later than I think. I'm struggling, once again, with an ancestor who refuses to budge and give up his secrets. In the meantime, while I had twelve research goals outlined so nicely on the eve of this new year, back at the end of December, I've let two of those months slip away without gaining the upper hand on those research plans. Both William Alexander Boothe in Virginia and Simon Rinehart in Ohio have managed to evade me, even after a full month's pursuit of each ancestor.

I do have some plans that evolved from last month's research experience. For one thing, learning to pay attention to witnesses as well as executors when they are not obviously the decedent's own son, has become a helpful addition to my research toolbox. While I wish there was a handy way to search online for those named as executors and witnesses, as well as searching for the name of the testator, I won't bemoan that lack.

Instead—and in the background so I don't drag you through this research monotony—I'll set up a database of all my mother-in-law's Gordon and Rinehart ancestors who have left wills in either Perry County, Ohio, or Greene County, Pennsylvania, listing the executor named as well as the witnesses for each decedent's name. Then, I can add any notes about relationships, which hopefully will lead me to some helpful clues in sorting the members of these extended—and multiply-intermarried—families.

While I have that chore progressing in the background, for this new month, I need to move on to another of my Most Wanted ancestors. Since March is Women's History Month, I'd like to move on to my next research challenge among those Most Wanted: a woman in my mother-in-law's tree about whom I know very little.

Like my Boothe and Gordon challenges from the previous months, this woman claims both a maiden and a married name which could be considered quite common, making the task of discovering additional information about her even more challenging. Like the Rinehart puzzle from February with its link to the Gordons, this woman's family traveled to Perry County, Ohio, from Pennsylvania. And, also like the Rineharts, her family's origin was in Germany.

Unlike the others on my Twelve Most Wanted list, for whom I have nearly given up on account of research fatigue, this woman is one of whom I know so little only because there really was no call to pursue her further. But in this Women's History Month, perhaps this is the appropriate time to let her voice be heard among the chorus of ancestors in my mother-in-law's tree.

Tomorrow, we'll begin the process to discover what we can learn about Elizabeth Stine, wife of James Snider.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Things Aren't Looking So Bad, After All

Those who spend their genealogical research time banging their head against a wall don't get much else accomplished. Perhaps that's why I'm wearying of that quest to find my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather Simon Rinehart's parents: I'm not making progress anywhere else in my research while I'm stalled out on my ol' buddy Simon.

With that in mind, I wasn't looking forward to my biweekly count for today. Getting stuck on Simon meant not making much progress on the rest of my Twelve Most Wanted, let alone anyone else. Not so, as it turned out. That's why keeping a count can be valuable: it can lift you up when you are dejected about stalled research progress.

Here's how the past two weeks looked, despite Simon.

For one thing, my mother-in-law's tree did not stand still in the research lull; I managed to add sixty four additional names to her tree. I'm not sure how it all added up to that new count of 17,839 individuals, but perhaps it was on account of the few obituaries I needed to add to the records, over and above Rinehart wrestling.

Nor did the Rinehart riddle keep me from progressing on the other trees under my care. On my own mother's tree, one hundred and one names managed to materialize over the past two weeks, mainly thanks to some emails which prompted me to tie together a few connections with other researchers, one of whom actually found me via some older posts on this very blog. My mom's tree now has 20,579 individuals.

Although my dad's tree is again standing still—a big fat zero for progress there in the past two weeks—a DNA match which showed up just this weekend caught my eye because it belongs to that mystery family of my paternal grandfather. I'm hoping this connection, though another distant cousin, will help me confirm the origin of that grandfather's parents. Maybe then, I can increase his tree's count from the same 658 names which have been there for weeks, now.

It was DNA again which put a spurt into research for my father-in-law's tree, as well. I'm still working my way through the family lines of a couple DNA matches who are third cousins, once removed. While such matches seem like distant relationships, they are still close enough to enable finding the most recent common ancestor, simply by comparing trees. The paperwork going backwards in time from the present cousin connection leads to the right ancestor—it's just unfortunate that, back in that time period, no documentation survived to confirm on paper what DNA can confirm by test matches.

These past two weeks confirm once again that genealogy can be a case of "line upon line" as each barely-noticeable detail is added to the family tree. Each bit of a hint seems so insignificant, when viewed alone, but when taken in the aggregate, can add up to an encouraging amount of progress, after all.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Now Indexing:
From a Different Approach

Sometimes, it just helps to stop wrestling with frustratingly unyielding puzzles, and find something to scrape take one's mind off the brick wall in the research pathway. So today, I spent some time helping out with someone else's genealogy problem: I did some indexing at FamilySearch.org.

This time, though, I took the back door in to find a suitable batch to index. Usually, I go straight to the "Indexing" button on the drop-down menu after signing in to FamilySearch. There, I can just conveniently click on "Find a Project" and search for one in a region of personal interest. That way, I can, say, work on naturalization records in New York City in hopes of someday finding my grandfather's family, or work on Chicago records to trace my father-in-law's Irish immigrant roots.

This time, though, I tried a different way to access a record set to index. A short while back, I had noticed that FamilySearch had made some more changes to their website, one of them being that when you search for a specific location's record sets, the website conveniently suggests available training opportunities related to that geographic area—and then, also mentions specific record sets that are in need of volunteers to index them. You can see this in action if, instead of cutting straight to the chase on the "Search - Records" route and filling in names and dates in the dialog box, you let your cursor hover over the various parts of the big map that fills the other side of the page.

Have you ever noticed that, if you hover over a region on that map and then click your mouse, a pop-up box lets you drill down to more specific locations? For instance, if I hover over the map of Europe and click, the site gives me the option of choosing from each of the specific countries which comprise that continent.

I have done that for North America—and particularly the United States, where most of my research is concentrated—so many times before. But last week I noticed that, once I selected the specific state I was researching, a column on the left suggested specific indexing projects for that state which were in need of help that very moment.

Since today was my specific day to complete some volunteer indexing, I thought I'd find a batch that way, instead of my usual route. I headed to Ohio, where I am currently floundering around, trying to locate old records—especially wills—having to do with my mother-in-law's uncooperative Rinehart ancestors.

While I couldn't find any current projects for my specific interest in Perry County, Ohio, I did notice a project on that left column looking for immediate help with Western Division Naturalization records in Cincinnati, Ohio. I thought I'd spend a few minutes on that project, and in no time, added a set of ten declarations of intent and petitions for citizenship to the available records which are now searchable (instead of browse-only).

I have found a few other such indexing suggestions in my research over the past week or ten days—some even in my own state of California, which rarely shows up in the list of needed indexing projects. Hopefully, this extra exposure is helping dispatch those record sets to the ranks of those we can easily search, benefiting so many people worldwide with the ease of finding those mystery relatives we seek.

And, strangely enough, it was nice to set aside thoughts of struggling with my impenetrable family mysteries for a day and just do some routine typing—and yet, know that, even if not for me, it's helping to make progress for someone out there.
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