Friday, April 19, 2013

Tennessee State DAR Conference 2013

Today I attended my first DAR State Conference. I admit I was fascinated by this subculture taking place around me today, and did my best to figure it out. It was a big learning curve. I'm still not sure I understand it. I really could have used a DAR 101 handbook....if it exists.

My first puzzlement happened with registration and the first session. Both began at 8:00 a.m. I thought surely this must be a typo, alas it was not. I quickly got through the registration process, and then found a seat in the Lineage Research Workshop. The speaker was Robert S. Davis, who is the director of the Family and Regional History Program at Wallace State College. Wallace State College is located in Hanceville, Alabama, just north of Samford University in Birmingham. I've looked at their collection catalog online in the past, and it is impressive. I was going to make a stop there last summer, but ended up spending time in hot/humid cemeteries tracking down my ancestors. Aahh...such is the life of a genealogist!

Anyway, Mr. Davis discussed land records as they pertain to Revolutionary War soldiers. I've mentioned before how I enjoy land records, so I was thrilled with the topic. I was particularly interested to learn about following the paper trail of letters that ancestors may have written to the various government departments, i.e, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the War Department, or Freedman's Bureau. The letters were assigned a code, abstracted and recorded in the endorsement book by the clerk, and then possibly sent on to another department or person. What happened to the original letter can remain a mystery, but the endorsement books still exist. So while the original letter may be lost, the essence of it remains in the endorsement books. These books can be found at NARA. There is conveniently an index to these letters on microfilm at NARA, M495 Index to the Letters Received by the Secretary of War.

I also learned that many records can be found at a state level for your Revolutionary War patriots. Did you notice I didn't say soldiers in that last sentence? Turns out that if your ancestor gave the soldiers chickens or any other type of aide, then they are considered a patriot. The aide could have been recorded on a voucher, that your ancestor then turned in to the state for reimbursement. This means you could be eligible for DAR membership even if you do not have any Revolutionary War soldiers. You just have to find the record stating the aide to prove it.

Next, it was time for "Coffee with the Candidates." The title is pretty much self explanatory. There was coffee, pastry, and the candidates for the incoming NSDAR term. I'm a little fuzzy on the fine print of it all, but my impression is that these candidates are already a done deal, and the vote this weekend is a formality. At any rate, each candidate got up and spoke briefly to the room about the upcoming term. Some told funny anecdotes, explained their responsibilities, or expressed varying degrees of anxiety infused excitement.

After lunch I attended a workshop presented by Hamilton Jewelers, who are the official jewelers of the DAR. The presenter was not very experienced or knowledgable. In fact, the lady sitting next to me said, "Boy, she's not very good is she?" I think this was an opportunity for the presenter to get her feet wet. When she was done with her slide presentation (that she read directly from, without much embellishment), the more experienced company representative came up to the podium for the audience questions.

There is all sorts of bling, I mean pins, one can purchase. Some of these pins you have to earn, some you can buy outright, and some have prerequisites before you can buy them. Then there are rules about when you can wear some of them and their placement on the ribbon. I don't really understand the rules, but I'll cross that bridge when/if I ever get to it. The collection of pins some of these ladies have, that were in attendance, is pretty impressive. One woman must have had at least 10 or 12 ancestor pins (those represent DAR qualifying patriots/ancestors).

Overall it was an interesting experience. Although I have to say I think an opportunity was missed. The conference events seemed to be focused mostly towards State Officers and Pages (those are DAR members over 18 and under a certain age). What about the members in between Officers and Pages? This was a time that could have been used towards promoting involvement in the organization. Discussing all the different ways to volunteer. Maybe even pinpoint areas that needed volunteers. There could have been other lineage workshops that focused on another area of research. In our chapter there has been talk in the past of doing a cookbook. A how-to session on producing these types of projects could have been helpful. The possibilities of topics are endless.

Let's face it, if you are attending the DAR State Conference then you are an eager member ready to be encouraged, right? Most of us "in betweener's" only attended the sessions discussed above, didn't go back tonight, and will skip Saturday and Sunday altogether. In my humble opinion, for a conference to be successful, that encourages participation and attendance, you have to address the needs or potential of the majority not just select groups within the organization.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Italians...Again

My husband's Italian ancestors continue to be a strange subject for me to deal with. Why? They can't seem to decide how they wanted to spell any of their surnames, and the direct descendants (my husband's grandmother for one) can't seem to get their facts straight. Hhhmmm...perhaps this is a family trait. At any rate, the story is that when the family immigrated to the United States they changed their name after they got here. Is it true? I have no idea...yet.

Several months ago I sent away to New York State for the death certificate of James DeCiutis/DeCuitus/DeCuitiis. Last week I finally received it and I was excited. My main objective was not necessarily to see how the surname was spelled, that was secondary, I was more interested in the names of the parents, his birthdate, and the informant. This information would prove to be exciting, at least for me. Strangely, my husband and mother-in-law were so focused on the surname spelling that they virtually ignored the other goodies on the document, at least until I pointed them out. Their reaction was a bit underwhelming, but I was determined to be excited.

Firstly, the informant was Lucy Rocci. Lucy was James' sister, and incidentally would later spell her surname Rocca. This was a good informant to have, since she would know of her brother's birth information, and their parent's names. His birthday is listed as 3 April 1895 and James was born in Italy. I already knew he was born in Italy but confirmation is always a good thing.

Then, Lucy gave the name of James' wife as Mary Selvestor. This was curious. My mother-in-law has been told, and therefore told her son and me, that Mary's last name was Silvestri. They sound similar. So the question is; Is this a mere spelling error? Is this Mary's actual maiden name? Or, upon immigration did Mary's family change their name from Selvestor to Silvestri? I need to investigate this more.

Next, I had a theory that James' father was named Francesco. In a Newburgh, Orange County, New York directory, James' mother Rose was listed as a widow and in parentheses was the name Francesco. On the death certificate the father is listed as Frank DeCiutis and the mother's maiden name (drum roll please) Rose Manelli. I have to admit this caused a little bit of giddy happy dancing on my part. After a couple of minutes I did wonder if this was a true spelling of Manelli, but no matter, I had a lead! And the name Frank would be an English version of Francesco. Yay!

Finally, is this document a reliable answer to all of the above questions? No, of course not. They are leads though. I have some ideas of other records to access, for additional evidence or proof. Right now my goal is to eventually find an immigration record. My hope is that the immigration record will bring me to a place of origin in Italy for this family. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Education on Your Shelf

The conference and institute season for genealogy is fast approaching, or perhaps it has already started with RootsTech. At any rate, it is an exciting time filled with learning, networking, and brain storming. You may walk away feeling energized, perhaps a little exhausted (okay, a lot), and then you go home to apply your new knowledge. Once home, you attend to your life that has been put on hold for the past week, and then deal with the demands of the weeks to come. You think back to the conference or institute experience and wish you could attend more, and gain additional knowledge from the fabulous speakers/instructors. Well you can...without even leaving your home.

Each conference and institute gives you a comprehensive syllabus. The instructors spend a lot of time compiling all of this material for your benefit. It is filled with sources that they feel will help you on the given topic presented. In short, it is a gold mine of information. The instructors are (hopefully) experts on their subject or field. They know what sources of information are out there, and which ones are good to go to for more in depth information. So instead of you trying to figure out what text is worth your time and/or money, they have done it for you. 

I am constantly going back to my syllabus materials for ideas. Sometimes it may be for a NGSQ article to read, or a book on a topic I need to learn more about. Remember, the instructors started out as newbies too and along the way they became experts. Don't you wonder what they read to become the experts they are? Well, check out that syllabus sitting on your shelf and you will find out.