Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Thin Line of Assumptions

I grew up in New Jersey. When I was 8 years old we moved onto a 46 acre farm that was at the end of a mile long driveway. Yes, New Jersey is not all Atlantic City, Newark, and turnpikes. There is a very pretty part that is rural and filled with farms.

Anyway, on this mile long driveway were three other houses with separate driveways branching off of it. In one house lived a lovely elder German couple with a sign at the beginning of their driveway that said, "WARE DO." One day I asked my parents what it meant. Their response was that it must be some German saying. Keep in mind none of us spoke German, but I accepted the answer. Eventually we asked the couple what "WARE DO" meant. It turns out that over time some letters had fallen off the sign. The sign originally said, "BEWARE OF DOG."

We all make assumptions everyday about any number of things, like people or places. Genealogy research is filled with assumptions that we hope to prove or disprove. For example, my ggg grandfather Hugh Luttrell moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to Missouri as an older teenager. His parents and most of his siblings stayed in Knoxville. I make the assumption that Hugh moved to Missouri with a family member, possibly his older brother that also disappears off the Knoxville tax rolls at the same time. As of yet, I have no proof to back up this assumption but I'm working on it.

Assumptions are a part of life and a part of research. It's walking a thin line between truth and fiction. Just remember to keep an open mind and that there could be an alternate possibility.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do You Have a Master Plan?

Last week at Samford somebody told me I was lucky to get into Course 4. I replied that it was all part of my master plan. This person looked at me surprised and said, "You have a master plan?"

Of course I do, don't you?

In January everybody was posting their New Year's resolutions. I generally don't do those. It's too much pressure to come up with something on the spot, and really by January 1st I'm worn out by all the festivities. I can't begin to think of what I need to work towards. Instead I make goals around the time of my birthday, for the year until my next birthday. After all one's birthday is a natural time to reflect on your life, and where you want it to go. So here goes:

  1. Create and put online a website for my business. This is the one goal that is a carry over from last year. I attempted to use Weebly to create a website, but got frustrated with the limited options. The delay has worked out, as I've discovered some items I would like to add to the site. So this goal is currently in the research and development stage.
  2. and 3. Research and Write. My plan is to start working on my case study and the kinship determination project for certification. I want to have these two elements well underway, or complete, by the time I start the clock. 
That's it. These three goals may not appear to be much, but I'm not very tech savvy and research/writing takes a lot of time. A lot of time. 

Oh yeah! I also have a plan for what course I want to take at Samford next June too. But I'll fill you in on that after registration in January 2013.

Friday, June 15, 2012

IGHR 2012-Day 5

Today was the last day at Samford. It's bittersweet. I wish I could stay, but I just don't think my brain could process anymore information. I'm also excited to see my boys. I've missed them.

We spent the last day with Elizabeth, and started out the morning going over our assignments that we handed in yesterday. I did well, and even got a "Good job!", but I see how I could have done better. Which is a good thing, since we are here to learn. After this Elizabeth presented a session on developing research plans, and how to go about analyzing the material we have. Next, we reviewed the reading homework from last night. Finally we received our certificates of completion, and our "I Survived Samford IGHR 4" pins. It was a satisfying moment for all of us.

After saying good-bye to friends, I loaded up into my car for the 2 1/2 hour drive home. The drive was fairly uneventful, which is a good thing. There was much excitement caused by my homecoming and I've been smothered with hugs, kisses and affection. However, the exhaustion has caught up to me. I can't believe how tired I am. I'm sure this upcoming week I'll be able to reflect more on what I learned, but for now I need to catch up on some sleep.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

IGHR 2012-Day 4

I can't believe it is Thursday already and tomorrow is the last day! This week has been a quick one. Perhaps it is because of all the new information to process and how busy we have been. Certainly today was not an exception.

The basic theme for today was land and probate records, which of course includes land. So really it was all about land. The morning started out with Elizabeth presenting a lecture on Public Land Records. In the discussion she showed us examples of how tracking land ownership, the placement of land tracts, and looking at land entry files can help you determine relationships and ancestors. I've seen her present similar lectures before, but I still find her examples and the thought process behind them fascinating. It is truly inspiring. In fact one case study Elizabeth shared with us, of how she determined the relationship between two families had all of our heads spinning.

Our next session was "Probate Records: Analysis, Interpretation and Correlation" presented by Tom Jones. He discussed how probate records can be used for genealogical research, the general concepts of them, and how to get the most out of them. We also had two in-class examples to work on. I found this task a little challenging, simply because people were calling their ideas out and it was too distracting. I would have loved to have had a few moments of quiet to study the examples and formulate my own solutions. However, I'm familiar with the methodology Tom was discussing, so I don't feel like I missed out on his point.

After lunch Elizabeth was back with us discussing more about land. This time the focus was on using strategies for ancestors that lived on rural lands, otherwise known as "living out in the sticks." The methodologies she presented are to help with finding that ancestor you think never owned land, or was too poor to own land. The basic idea is that, most people left some sort of paper trail behind. You just need to apply some creative thinking to find that paper trail. Once you figure it out, then you can at least go back another generation or two.

Our final presenter of the day was Rick Sayre, who discussed "Urban Strategies: Correlation of Deeds, Maps, Directories." He demonstrated how using Sanborn Maps along with deeds and city directories can  help you identify ancestors and where they lived. Knowing this can really give a better understanding of your ancestors' lives. It certainly can make it more interesting than just birth, marriage, and death dates. Let's face it, everybody's life is more than just three dates. Right?

We had a little extra time today between the last class and our banquet dinner. At this point, many of the attendees are walking around looking a little dazed. We have all been bombarded with information and our brains are spinning with ideas of how we can apply it to our research. Before dinner I tackled the homework.We need to pick one of two articles to analyze and critique. I have scribbled all sorts of notations on mine, and I'm sure there are more to add.

The banquet was nice and relaxing. The speaker was Dr. Larry H. Spruill and his presentation was, "The Lazarus Factor: Genealogy and The Calling Forth of the Dead." He was entertaining and recognized the importance of genealogical work. It's important to recognize and give life to your ancestors. In essence you are an extension of them, as your descendants will be an extension of you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

IGHR 2012-Day 3

Today has been a good day. The morning started out with two sessions from Craig Scott. His first lecture was on Military Research Strategies. Various record groups were pointed out and the benefits of the material that can be found in them. Craig said that many people stop their research after getting the Compiled Military Service Cards and Pension Records. However, there are so many other possibilities to learn more about your military ancestors and their lives!

The next lecture by Craig was still on Military Research Strategies, but this one focused more on the details of Pension research. The emphasis was on Record Group 217. Ultimately the underlying theme is for you to consider what relationship your ancestors had with the government. Once you figure that out, you will have ideas of what records to explore. The idea is that this interaction will have created paperwork. This paperwork will give details about your ancestor and what transpired in their life, giving a fuller and more detailed story.

After lunch we spent the afternoon with Elizabeth. The focus of both sessions was on land records. I was looking forward to these sessions. I've worked with land records, am familiar with the metes and bounds measuring system, and I generally enjoy working with them. First the public land states were covered and then the state land states were covered. Elizabeth gave basic strategies of working with both and her examples showcased these strategies. This made it easy to understand. She says to plat each piece of ancestral land. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it can solve some of your brick wall problems.

We ended the day with reviewing our homework assignment to be done for this evening. It involves locating and identifying a published Government Document. Elizabeth reviewed the various elements she wanted to be included in the assignment, and then sent us on our way.

The cafeteria tonight was pleasantly quiet and easy to navigate. Our table had a discussion about Second Life and the benefits of going to the Just Genealogy center within it. Then it was time for the evening sessions. I have to admit that I skipped these tonight. I was anxious to get started on the homework, and unsure of how much time it would take to complete it. Surprisingly it didn't take too long and I hope to get a little more sleep tonight. Tomorrow will of course be another full day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

IGHR 2012-Day 2

Today has been an extremely full day. This morning started out with a lecture by Craig R. Scott, on "Federal Research: Finding Aids." He discussed Record Groups (RG), Preliminary Inventories (PI), and researching at the National Archives (NARA). It was the first of several mind boggling discussions of the day. During the discussion I somehow managed to achieve the distinct honor of making Craig blush. Apparently this is a difficult thing to do. Later his wife said he probably deserved it. If you know Craig, then you understand that remark.

Anyway, the next presenter was Rick Sayre. He covered a very broad and a somewhat confusing discussion on Government Documents. This included details on the Serial Set and the American State Papers. I'm not going to attempt to explain either of these here, because a) it would take too long, and
b) I'm not sure my understanding of them is complete enough right now to describe them properly. That may change by tomorrow night, as I hear we will have homework involving these resources.

The afternoon was spent with Marian L. Smith, who discussed Immigration and Naturalization Records. This was a fascinating topic! There are all sorts of records and possibilities to acquire more information than what is listed on ship manifests. In fact, our homework tonight involved looking up immigrants listed on a INS Subject Index card. All of the people listed on this card were detained for one reason or another when they arrived in New York. Most of them were ill and required a medical exam, however one person on the list was a stowaway.

At the end of the day Elizabeth had a short session with us. During that time we did an in class exercise using the Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, a text written by Lucille H. Pendell and Elizabeth Bethel. The purpose of this exercise was to get us familiar with the text, and I suspect it will have something to do with homework later in the week.

When we left for dinner, my fellow classmates had a dazed look about them. I really can't do justice to the amount of information that was thrown at us today. It's a bit overwhelming. After dinner I attended an evening lecture on BCG Certification. The people attending this lecture, who have achieved certification, gave advice on the process. I'm glad I attended. Believe it or not, one bit of advice was to read the directions for certification and follow them. We were also told that the fee for the application and certification was going up as of January 1, 2013 to $75 and $300 respectively.

My homework is done and now it's time to get some sleep. The schedule looks like it is going to be just as full tomorrow. I can't wait!

Monday, June 11, 2012

IGHR 2012-Day 1

Today class started bright and early at 8 a.m. sharp! We spent the entire day with Elizabeth Shown Mills (ESM). She started out with a lecture on the Genealogical Mindset. This was followed by the "Chain of Life" of one's ancestors. Other topics covered in the morning session were analysis of the research problem, analysis of the records, and analysis of statements within a record.

One of the many things that I admire about ESM is her ability to milk out every detail in a record, and make an interpretation of it that is significant to the research. We used this skill on a few examples in class today. We also had a pop quiz on citations! This led into the homework, which is to do a much better job on the same citations and compare the two results. Both are due Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon we discussed Tax Rolls, and census records. We learned that it is important when analyzing the census records to be familiar with the instructions given to the enumerator. With this in mind, we did an in depth analysis of a family in a census record. By the end of the day we were all a little tired.

Dinner in the cafeteria was loud and extremely crowded. It is freshman orientation here so there are a lot of people crowding into the cafeteria all at once. After dinner I attended the evening session titled, "The Library of Congress: An Introduction and Overview for Genealogists" presented by John Colletta. As always John is an entertaining lecturer and his presentation was very informative. He gave a lot information on materials located at the Library of Congress, and websites where some of this material can be found. Once this week is over I have a lot of websites to explore.

Finally, I came back to my room to start homework. It's a good night to be inside as heavy rainstorms are passing through the area. During the storm I completed my homework in a timely manner (yay!) and I think I've done pretty good. Well, at least respectable anyway. We'll see. Time to rest up for tomorrow.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

IGHR 2012-Arrival

For over a week I have been in high anticipation mode for IGHR at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Today I drove down without any problems and check-in was smooth. For those that don't know what the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) is, it is basically a week long genealogy camp. Genealogists register for one out ten possible courses for the week, attend evening lectures, and talk genealogy shop with fellow genealogists. It's great!

This year I registered for Course 4: Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis. The instructor is Elizabeth Shown Mills. She is a leading genealogist in the profession. It's akin to taking a music lesson from say... Billy Joel or Elton John.

After check-in I unloaded my stuff into my dorm room. They have put us in suites this year and the room is pretty nice. Although I must say when I walked into the room, it kind of smells like Cheech and Chong were the previous roomies here. Dorm living is as close as I like to get to camping. I remembered last year the mattress was lumpy and thin, so this year I brought a foam mattress topper. I'm hoping my back will be happier this time around.

Once settled it was off to dinner. I was thrilled to meet new people, along with seeing familiar faces and catching up. Orientation after dinner was brief and then the ProGen group had a meet and greet. Right now all of the attendees are fresh and full of energy. I'm sure by Wednesday some of us will be dragging a little. And if I seem to be a little more relaxed than usual... you can blame the remnant atmosphere that Cheech and Chong left behind in my dorm room.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How Do We, as Genealogists, Measure Our Progress?

Yesterday I received my ProGen 9 certificate of completion. Even though I was thrilled in April when I finished the program, it was very gratifying to hold the certificate in my hands. It suddenly felt very official. A symbol of progress. Or is it?

For the past few days I've been kicking around the idea in my head of, how do you measure your progress as a genealogist? The obvious answer is certification. That carries a stamp of professional recognition and competence. However, what if you are a transitional genealogist? My goal is to eventually become certified, but until then how do I know I'm getting better at my profession? I've attended conferences, institutes, and completed home study courses. They have all added to my knowledge base and skill. There is always that lightbulb moment, when you learn something, that you apply to your own research.

Working as a genealogist is a very solitary endeavor. The majority work out of their homes on the computer, or at repositories. When working at repositories, one usually is neck deep in microfilm, manuscripts, or books. Solitary work. Sure, occasionally you ask the librarian for help locating a source, or ideas about how to find out a piece of information. However, these are most likely not people who can measure how your skills have improved based on this interaction.

The only true judge of your skill advancement is yourself. It requires being honest with yourself, which is not always an easy task. Sometimes your acquired knowledge may take you by surprise. A few months ago, I glanced down at a citation and thought, "That's not right."

As soon as I had this thought, I was surprised. Sure enough, the citation was missing an element. For a moment I was impressed, but quickly decided that it was just one citation out of many and I shouldn't get too carried away. A month later I caught two more citations that needed fixing. My skill set had improved, it wasn't a fluke. Now, this is not to say that I am master at citations. Far from it. However, it is a measurement of improvement from a year ago. A year ago I wouldn't have been able to recognize if a citation was wrong.

So is a certificate of completion a symbol of skill advancement? I think so. It is hard to participate in a course, or a week long institute and not walk away with more than knowledge than what you started with. How do you measure your progress?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

An Unexpected Bonding Over Genealogy

As parents we often wonder how we can get our children interested in things we are interested in. It is a natural tendency to do this, as a way of sharing our interests, a way of communicating, and perhaps trying to bond with our children in some way. Sometimes our children show a keen interest, a polite interest, or... well... absolutely no interest.

For the past year my 7 year old has been trying to make sense of what I do. Just trying to pronounce genealogist was the first hurdle. At first he was saying geologist, to which I informed him that would mean I study rocks and land formations. Then the pronunciation evolved to gemologist, and I explained that was the study of gems, which are a different kind of rock. Finally, he got it down to genealogist and I was thankful he didn't progress onto gynecologist (my mother-in-law gets confused with that one), since I didn't want to enter into that discussion with my 7 year old.

So I've taken him to cemeteries. We've gone to a Civil War reenactment where I tell him in passing about an ancestor who was a cavalry man. A couple weeks ago we went to a rodeo and I told him about his great great grandfather who was a cowboy for a time. And of course I show him photos occasionally. I never make a big deal out of any of this, it's just conversation and a little sharing of family history. He shows interest in the moment and then moves on with his life, and that's okay.

Last night, I was not feeling well, and decided after getting my boys to their rooms for the night that I wasn't up for watching a two hour movie (a usual Saturday night activity). Instead, I decided to catch up on an episode of "Finding Your Roots" on dvr and then call it an early night. The episode featured Robert Downey Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhall. I had seen a portion of this episode, but was really interested in seeing all of it. I was particularly interested in Robert's German line. Robert's German ancestors came to Pennsylvania around the same time my German ancestors (the Fry/Frye/Frey's) did. He also had a relative apply to the DAR through a chapter in Huntington, Pennsylvania, which is where a different line of my German ancestors (the Brumbaugh's) were living for a time.

Anyway, shortly after I started watching the program I heard a noise behind me and it was my 7 year old. I don't know how long he had been standing there, but he said, "This looks very interesting. Can I watch it with you?"

I was surprised and patted the space next to me. We watched the show together for about 40 minutes and he was completely fascinated the entire time. At one point he wanted to know if I had been born in 1842 (gak! note to self... I need to show him a timeline). He enjoyed watching "Finding Your Roots" so much that he asked if he could watch future episodes with me. I never would have thought that such a sophisticated program would have appealed to my 7 year old. It just goes to show that bonding over genealogy with family (or friends and strangers) can happen in the most unexpected ways.