**NOTE** The following is a very serious warning to those in libraries and historical/genealogical societies that may have staff or volunteers researching genealogy requests from inmates. I am passing on a message from a corrections officer – a warning that gave me goosebumps.
One of my many duties as a genealogy library manager is coordinating the research necessary to answer the inquiries that fill our mailboxes (both electronic and snail). One constant in the snail mail arena is the plea from the prison inmate. We receive many of these each year – and I have to admit that they’ve always filled me with a sense of compassion – tempting me to assist in some way. My previous inclination to help them, despite a lack of payment, stemmed from the idea that their terrible life choices had placed them in a situation where learning about family origins was forbidden due to a lack of resources. While they may have access to a library, these libraries do not contain genealogical resources, nor do they provide internet access to delve into online genealogical records – leaving any hope for research to the kindness of strangers via snail mail requests. I completely understand and support the decision to restrict internet access, and yet, a willingness to pay a genealogy kindness forward was the only impetus necessary to send along one research tidbit, despite a lack of funds. That is, until one phone call changed my view of these letters.
After a recent genealogy request was mailed back to an inmate, we received a call from one of the corrections officers. (I will not give any details as to her location.) Her purpose in calling was not to receive a word by word account of the correspondence, but to ask about the nature of the genealogy itself. As an introduction, she explained that she was stationed at a facility that housed some of the most violent offenders in the country. And even worse, the person we had been corresponding with was an especially violent inmate.
As a librarian, I almost thought this information irrelevant. I don’t need to know about an individual’s past nor the purpose behind their information seeking behavior. But then she explained further. Apparently, one of the real concerns they have in this type of facility is preventing any further crimes by the inmates. Either through their own hand, or through the hand of someone they know outside the prison walls. According to information she had about previous genealogical inquiries, she said there is a pattern of research via correspondence that can lead to contact with a living person which violates the inmate’s terms of incarceration. For instance, contact with previous victims, future potential victims, trial witnesses, judges, jury members, or even their own children who may be off limits. After all, she said, they have all the time in the world, and if they can research their way to a helpful cousin who can provide contact information, they will readily exercise the necessary patience for such an endeavor.
To elaborate, she outlined some things to watch out for:
Be cautious when they are asking for you to research a descendant trail. Obviously, as genealogists, we usually seek ancestors in a backwards trajectory. For research requests that may have an ulterior motive, they may list a distant ancestor, give you the line they have worked, and are now asking for you to connect to a generation that quickly leads into the 20th century.
For any request that asks you to connect to recent family or living people, do not respond. We already understand this to be a no-no in sharing our own trees, so this rule should also dictate our response to research requests.
Don’t be lured into sympathy research via an adoption story. They rely heavily on the kindness of strangers, and understand the plea to discover one’s lost origins due to an adoption will likely garner needed information.
Their goal may not be the final piece of information, but rather, for you to just fill in a piece of the puzzle, helping them to write to the next person, seeking the next level of connection.
Just remember that some of them can be extremely charming and artful in their deception. Be very suspicious of eloquent flattery and detailed emotional pleas.
Does her phone call remove my desire to help them? Not really, but it does allow me to analyze their requests with a much more knowledgeable eye. In the new book, Genealogy and the Librarian, there is a wonderful chapter by Katherine Aydelott from the University of New Hampshire, detailing her lengthy correspondence with an inmate, and how she helped him fill in a lot of his family tree – later discovering that they were 8th cousins (pg.203). But even with this rewarding research relationship, she advises that all correspondence should remain professional, and to adhere to your organization’s policies. In my library’s case, our policy clearly states we will not conduct research without pre-payment. Yes, we have bent the rules slightly when someone just needed a small piece of info that was easily provided – which fit well into my previous pattern of helping with one small page of info easily copied or printed out – but her phone call made me realize that even this small tidbit could have serious consequences.
As an information professional I am not interested in the how and why a person seeks information – my duty is merely to facilitate their access to the needed information – without subjecting them to inquisitive interviews, or speculative analysis. But in order to prevent the harm of others, I think the corrections officer’s advice was timely and well intended. It is good information to have – and a good reminder to keep the wall of professionalism up, and adhere to your own policies. In this case, our policies allow us to deny research services without payment, and I will more than likely follow that policy more closely. But as a librarian, I will not discriminate. If they manage to send in an hourly research request with payment, which asks for information found within our library holdings, we will fill their request in as complete a manner as we would for anyone else – regardless of the warnings.
At the end of the day, the situation is very sad – and I personally feel that many requests we receive from behind prison walls are legitimate. With so much time to think, and perhaps when it’s too late do the research, many may want nothing more than to understand where they came from. Just be careful and use the above warning to evaluate your appropriate response.
As a post script: I was filing some older requests and ran across a previous inmate inquiry from a few years ago. One thing I had also done in the past, was given these inmate requests to new staff members as a way to play with the research request – take extra time to research, using it to learn about our collections and the research process. In one of these previous requests, the inmate had started the inquiry with a Civil War soldier – pretty far back, which sounded safe. Then I read all the way through the letter and subsequent letter he sent in the following weeks. He was originally looking for the descendants of said CW soldier, and then quickly asked about someone who was alive in the 1920s. He then added his grandparents to the list of research, and then to his own father, etc. By re-reading these letters after the phone call, I was seeing a potential danger with these letters. His very last letter, which we ignored, was flattering and charming, asking for us to keep writing to him, and that if we had access to Facebook, could we look up certain people on his list, and contact them on his behalf. That was the direction that made all of the corrections officer’s advice resonate with horrific reality. From research about a Civil War soldier to contacting people on Facebook in the very next letter, my stranger danger radar was going off like the wail of the tornado siren.
As much as I hate to say this, it’s time we get smart and vet our memberships to Facebook Genealogy Groups. Just this morning I was scolded and publicly shamed in a very popular Facebook Genealogy group that contains over 16,000 members. My crime? Asking a poster (within a comment string) to consider sharing her state specific story with our state historical society publication – which happens to be a free educational resource for all – created and hosted by a government archival/artifact repository. Good grief!
The ironic point of this interaction, is that I always double check the group rules before posting or commenting – because every group can be VERY different. In this case, they only prohibited advertising services or products “for sell” [for sale]. As a non-profit, free educational resource, I was in no way soliciting anything that resulted in a profit – nor was I even advertising – it was a suggestion at the bottom of a very long comment string.
But here’s how they handled this situation. They removed my comment and then made a new post calling me out for this shameful behavior. Most group admins will take down a comment or post and quietly message the offender – unless this was a repeat offense, or a problem they keep having with many others. Nope. They instead chose to publicly rebuke my “offense” when in fact, I hadn’t violated anyone’s rules. The admin of the day stated that I should have known better, and continued to lecture that I was ignorant of standard “netiquette”.
Unfortunately, my apology and clarification that this was not in their rules (because, you know, I researched their own rules list) simply fanned the flames, and it was apparent that, just like Caesar, the offense was declared, judgement and punishment were handed out and no words of defence would be accepted. So let it be written, so let it be done! Sorry folks, that is an environment that is contrary to the world of kindness I know to be genealogy.
Many of you have witnessed this scenario before as well as become concerned over Facebook abuses in all forms reported in the news. In fact, several users have already left Facebook due to these reports. Over the years, I have embraced Facebook due to the engaging groups of collective advice and dialog. Many of the groups are wonderful! However, I have also witnessed conversations turn ugly in the blink of an eye. Facebook is a place where many people feel it’s OK to be hateful to one another, bully and insult one another, and demonstrate the very worst of humanity.
But let’s take a closer look at genealogy groups in particular.
The best genealogy groups are usually topic or location specific. Local genealogy groups by state or county are research/dialog rock stars! They provide invaluable insights to those of us who are out of town – a true “pay-it-forward” kindness in the form of “boots on the ground” volunteers. It is apparent that they love their community and want to share the historical/genealogical love. I have been the recipient of many acts of genealogy kindness from these research angels, which demonstrates the goodness and kindness of the genealogy community, and why Facebook is still a place to get some rock-solid advice and assistance.
The not so good:
The least helpful groups out there are usually too broad in focus to provide much more than cute memes and a burgoo of stories that might be fun, or might be silly, but do not provide much educational advice or meaningful dialog. Their topics are so various that following along becomes mentally exhausting, with little educational meat to show for your efforts. In worst case scenarios, the atmosphere turns toxic, with rampant criticism, insults, shaming, bullying, which often begins with or is encouraged by the behavior of the admins.
Lessons & Takeaways – please evaluate your membership in FB genealogy groups based on these helpful Tips:
When you become a new member, take a really close look around before engaging with the other members. Read all group policies or rules FIRST before commenting OR posting ANYTHING! Also, be sure to read the comments below these rules – they can be very telling. In the group that bullied me this morning, there was a telltale comment from another victim that had simply posted a small story about a relative that had died, which included a link to the obit. As she was grieving, she didn’t notice the link included a Go Fund Me section for family assistance. She was apologetic, but it was clear from the conversation that the admins would not back down on their rebuke. As she was clearly sad after losing a loved one, this admin behavior was particularly mean spirited. Of course, I didn’t see this until I started poking around after my own rebuke.
READ THE ‘ABOUT’ PAGE! This is vital to getting a feel for the intent behind those who created or admin the group! Unfortunately, once I began digging into the About section, I discovered an advertisement about their new magazine they created as an offshoot of the group. Which leads me to believe they were not upset that I broke an invisible rule – but rather upset that my comment pointed Kentucky researchers to a free educational publication. They clearly viewed my post as content competition, and hid their bullying behind tech shaming and absolutism.
Go over the admin list, their genealogy backgrounds, and their past interactions among the group. I have been a FB group admin many times in the past, and I can tell you it’s a thankless job with many hours spent wrangling trolls and herding cats. But if the admins have no genealogical educational/professional background and they are truly hobbyists that do not help educate others, walk away quickly or their rule police will haul you away at any perceived infraction! Also a red flag: When they declare the group to be a “drama free zone” they’re not talking about themselves – just you! The admins can be as dramatic as they like, and you have no power against it – so again, leave quickly!
Review previous conversations – is the group helpful, encouraging, educational, and welcoming – or are they simply opinionated without educational substance? Might I remind everyone that false trees and unsourced genealogy is the modern scourge of genealogy – if we don’t surround ourselves with educational groups, we don’t grow. And with the fictional trees that have flooded online databases, these types of groups can contribute to the problem with their proliferation of unsourced advice.
Bye, Felicia! How many have seen this dismissal used within FB Group conversations? You will often see this used to dismiss anyone who chooses to disagree with the collective, or more importantly, the admins. The person who dares disagree, and voices their contradictory opinion is dismissed by the group as irrelevant – either just before they leave the group willingly, or are ejected. Make no mistake, this too is a form of bullying. It has become all too common among the hive mind of FB Groups. Whatever you do, do not upset the admins or the most powerful group participants! They surround the lone voice in order to silence it – rejoicing in their victory once the voice has been removed. Just like the Borg mind – Resistance is futile. The moral of this point in the story: once the group dislikes your contradictory stance, just leave. They aren’t worth your time – find a welcoming place that fosters a healthy collaborative environment. Oh, and just a reminder that healthy dialog includes diverse opinions.
And as a supplemental point to the above, defending your actions or even trying to apologize will not be of any help. Admins who enjoy the power too much will not listen and would love nothing more than to vote you off the island, regardless of whether your words make common sense. I had one person remove a post in an abandoned historic structures group because it listed the address, which was against their rules – but the property was for sale! The realtor wanted the address publicized to drum up interest and save the property from ruin! Despite this reasonable exception, the admin loved their power more than saving a historic property, sending a clear signal that they would never listen to reason beyond their own, so I just quietly left the group.
I know this post will not be popular – as it reminds us that even roses have thorns – and ignoring their presence does not prevent us from getting stuck. It is high time we recognize the other heinous part of Facebook beyond the privacy breaches: the bullying and abuse of power to silence diverse thought. More importantly, when the genealogical community has a hard time being civil to one another in this environment, it’s time to reevaluate our participation! Life is too short and the research too long to treat others in this fashion. There are so many wonderful Facebook Genealogy Groups out there – but proceed with caution and BE SELECTIVE – be kind, and if they throw you to the wolves, dust yourself off and find a healthy, welcoming genealogy space.
It is with great delight that I announce my return to RootsTech after a self-imposed hiatus! I was notified last week that one of my proposals was selected for 2019! To be honest, the RootsTech conference is a pricey one, and, even with speaker assistance, I cannot always afford the trek out west to the beautiful Salt Lake City. I am just a librarian, after all! However, each year, my geeky genealogy heart yearns for this kaleidoscope of tech wonderment! It had just been too long since attending, and so I threw my speaker hat back into the ring – luckily, they picked it up, once again!
There are so many reasons why this is my favorite genealogy conference, and I won’t get into all of them, but I will feature many as the conference draws closer. My relationship with RootsTech began with its inception in 2011. That year, my business partner was selected to present two tech sessions which planted the seeds of semantic web structures which we see in use throughout many of today’s family tree software products. After multiple brainstorming sessions with Family Search developers over dinner (at RootsTech, and previously at FGS in 2010), we could see the direction our future was about to take, and today, we all reap the benefits of that first year!
Of course, we could all see the writing on the wall: We had just witnessed the birth of something truly special – a genealogy conference unlike any other! I cannot begin to list all of the great memories of RootsTech over the years! After 2011, I was fortunate enough to attend a few more years, and speak at one. By that time, I was also speaking at the other national conferences, and really busy with my day job in Kentucky. I have been so thankful for the increase in online sessions provided each year – it keeps those of us at home connected to the energy of this wonderful conference!
I know I’ve just used a lot of exclamation points, and I’m sorry, I’ll calm down now….well, only a tiny bit. In 2019, my session will be: Past Forward: Tech Tools and Strategies for Sharing Your Family History Through a Consumable Genealogy Plan. This session will explore emerging communication methods and the technological tools that make these methods possible. We will then explore the concept of “Consumable Genealogy”: packaging your family history into brief nuggets of stories, photos, recipes, audio and video memories, that are perfect for sharing and preserving in family collaboration friendly environments.
As I said earlier, you will no doubt encounter additional RootsTech focused posts leading up to and after the 2019 conference. However, I specifically chose NOT to apply to the RootsTech Ambassador program. In the past, I have praised this conference, while pointing out little areas of improvement that I encountered along the way. As my blog will always be a “truth zone” based upon a foundation of honest analysis and advice, I don’t want to filter my thoughts or experiences. Here’s a link to my previous RootsTech posts over the years, back at Journeys Past.
Thanks for enduring my giddy gushing about RootsTech, y’all! Hope to see you there!
This past February marked a milestone of sorts: February 26th was my 10th Rezzday. For those of you unfamiliar with Virtual Worlds, a Rezzday marks the birth or “rezzing” of your avatar. For these past 10 years, my Virtual World of choice has been Second Life (SL). And, for those of you rolling your eyes right now – scroll down to my “Genealogy in Second Life” section – the opportunities for genealogy collaboration and learning are worth the read.
I cannot begin to explain the depth of experiences and wealth of life changing relationships that developed over 10 years, but I feel it’s necessary to explore the impact of this level of technology. The avatar that was born 10 years ago was different, because I was different 10 years ago. She and I are forever linked in a technological dimension that taught my human a great deal. Right around the same time I rezzed an avatar for the first time, I was just finishing up grad school for my M.S. in Library Science. Ironically, my first steps into the virtual realm came on the heels of my cannonball jump into social media. They were a package deal in a sense, as they all developed through a program at work.
In 2007, the University of Kentucky Libraries developed a program designed to help staff become familiar with social media. It was determined – accurately – that our students were fast adopting a new level of communication that was going to become the new norm – and we had to adapt in order to communicate effectively in the fast approaching future. But as a whole, we were woefully behind in our ability to communicate via social mediatools. Through this program, we learned how to blog (various platforms), use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bitly, Linkedin, RSS Feed Readers, Link Aggregators, and for extra credit: Second Life. It was essentially a ‘play as you go’ structure – we were allowed about 2 weeks per tool for testing during work time. This allowed us the flexibility to learn how to use these tools while avoiding negative impact on our work duties. The balance was perfect, and I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun at work – it gave us new energy, fostered collaboration, inspiration, and built new friendships among the staff – several friendships and collaborations emerged across campus. A lot can be said for allowing adults the opportunity to play in creative ways. I know it was the best investment they could have ever made, and it worked like a charm.
Until they mentioned SL, I had never really heard anything about it – but upon their introduction, we learned that the University had already purchased an island and was developing the space for educational purposes. A replica of our library had already been built, complete with a reference desk for information and a meeting place for several groups, including other Kentucky librarians and educators from across the state. There were other departments on the island such as Fine Arts, Drug Endangered Children Network, Political Science, E-Learning, Admissions, Psychology, Medical, etc. It was a very nice sampling of educational projects, operating together on this virtual island.
The activities on this island built my skills in programming, exhibit design and construction, speaking, event planning, in-world design/construction, and collaboration. What an amazing sandbox of creativity and learning – pun intended for those who are familiar with SL terminology!
And then I traveled OFF the island to discover: GENEALOGY and HISTORY and ART!
I was not prepared for the amazing things I encountered! The educational, historical, and artistic realms were, and continue to be phenomenal! Not only can you tour historical recreations and unique 3D art installations, you can also learn from top professionals in a variety of fields!
Here’s just a sampling of the things I’ve experienced:
Toured art gallery openings and original art installations that can only be experienced in 3D worlds.
Attended live theater and musical performances.
Danced with Abraham Lincoln AND Henry VIII!
Given instructional genealogy and library presentations (more on that in a second).
Attended live performances of Shakespeare plays (while dressed as Queen Elizabeth I) held in a replica of the Globe Theatre.
Participated in a group discussion with reference librarians from around the world.
Toured ancient Egyptian and European Renaissance cities.
Attended memorial services for both colleagues and celebrities – and fundraising events after national tragedies.
Edited a virtual library magazine.
Curated and constructed exhibits – about quilts, the horse racing industry, and now genealogy.
Attended Church services, political rallies, book talks, poetry readings, writing workshops, and toured interstellar space stations.
Formed friendships professional relationships that are on target to last a lifetime.
Genealogy in Second Life:
Genealogy in SL has been here almost from the very beginning – and BTW, SL is now 15 years old! Probably the earliest genealogy activities came from the parcel created by the LDS Church. They have a replica temple and various centers for activity – including a Family History Center. They were the first group I stumbled upon, and their group meetings continue today.
With the recent move of the Community Virtual Library (yes, a real library for avatars, complete with books to read and loads of social/educational activities!) there is a new genealogy exhibit running there from July to September – put together by yours truly – located in the Secret Garden portion of the CVL parcel: Cookie Island. Libraries have been providing a wealth of information and educational resources since SL was born – and under the wonderful direction of Dr. Valerie Hill, that doesn’t appear to be changing!
Several other genealogy groups have come and gone in SL, but genealogy is alive and well in this virtual world! Here are just a few of the opportunities that await:
Just Genealogy: A place developed by genealogy’s own Dear Myrtle (Clarise Beaumont in SL) as a meeting space and social/educational haven for all things genealogy. You will find various groups meeting here for small group discussions, presentations, social gatherings, or just dancing.
Second Life Virtual Genealogical Society: Also meets at Just Genealogy, but is a real organization that requires yearly dues for membership and is a part of the FGS network of organizations. Dues are very small, about $5.00 per year – making you an FGS member! They also host a monthly NGSQ Study Group which provides deeper discussions of a previously assigned NGSQ article. (This year, the focus is on DNA related articles!)
APG SL Chapter: A real APG chapter with officers, projects, and presentations. You have to be an APG member in Real Life (RL) to be an officer in this chapter, but the SL activities are open to everyone. They focus heavily on education through discussions and presentations. This chapter was the recipient of the APG Golden Chapter Award in 2012!
If you’re a big fan of online genealogy webinars and learning opportunities, you should seriously look into attending events in SL – and join the Genealogists in Second Life Facebook Group. You can create an account for free, which includes a ready-made avatar of your choice. If you’re not interested in the other layers of SL, such as clothes, shopping, and appearance, you are free to just treat this as another educational platform – entering for participation on your schedule. If you are truly new to this platform – do yourself a favor and watch a few tutorials to make getting around easier – or attend a newbie class. There are loads of these new classes out there – sometimes, even the genealogy groups hold “getting started in SL” events to ease the transition into a virtual world.
Reflections in 2018:
In 2018, some of the land parcels in SL are not as populated as they used to be, but the activities and inspiring places are still around in abundance (and experiencing a resurgence, IMO) – with the graphics and animations getting better with each year. Some things have changed drastically in SL – such as bodies and clothing – although, you’ll see my avatar running around as a more basic model – I’ve had no time to get into some of the more advanced appearance options. And I will not lie to you – there is a significant learning curve to SL – even sitting, walking, flying, and putting clothes on can be complicated processes to navigate in tandem. But once you get the hang of it, I’m convinced you’ll really enjoy the experience.
In late fall 2017, the University of Kentucky Island was deleted/erased from the metaverse, which really was a full 10 years of use – they purchased the island in 2007, building the first structures and developing infrastructure to open fully in early spring 2008. Such a sad day, but, I know for certain that it was not a rejection of the technology that killed the island – but rather, a series of financial events that created a perfect storm. When the island was born, there was a significant educational discount which most universities took advantage of – but just as the recession was hitting, and budgets were cut, SL removed or drastically reduced this educational discount – effectively ensuring that some of the first cuts to go, nationwide, would be virtual classrooms/realms. Most did not survive this double whammy, and as the collegial network shrank, so did the activity. The only things that appear to continue with gusto, are international educational groups. There are multiple professional conferences that take place in SL each year which draw hundreds of faculty members from around the globe.
New virtual worlds have also been emerging – some with more control or requiring facial devices to make the experience more realistic. A new top runner is Kitely, an open source platform that is being frequented by educators. I predict someday, SL will be replaced by something easier to use, containing an even more realistic virtual reality – Linden Labs has already created a new Beta world called Sansar, and everyone is eager to see how SL residents take to it. But for now, most virtual world enthusiasts have invested a lot of time and money into making SL as expansive and dynamic as it is – It would be very hard to walk away from this world to build a new one from scratch. Time will tell – in 5 more years, SL will be 20 years old – quite amazing!
For those of you who have heard about the seedier side of SL – that is all true. Just like RL, this world is complex with varied experiences – all created by the users or “residents”. And just like RL, no one will force you to encounter or experience anything you don’t want to – you choose where to go and what to experience. I’ve spent a decade exploring, and rarely have I ran into anything by accident. Even your search interface and marketplace shopping can be limited to “General” rating – thereby excluding anything “Moderate” or “Adult” in nature.
One final note: It has truly been a unique, yet odd, experience. Prior to technology, the term “avatar” was related to spiritual activity, namely via Hinduism: “a manifestation of a deity or released soul in bodily form on earth; an incarnate divine teacher.” Somehow, this fits the modern evolution as well. It is truly surprising how the avatar becomes anextension of your RL persona through emotions and relationships and learning. And yet, while I view her as an extension of me in the professional world, after 10 years, it is odd to see that she does not age as I do. When I first created my avatar, I was in my mid-30s and much thinner, and she now reflects that previous appearance – her waistline did not expand as mine has over the years – nor is she forming wrinkles with time. In 20 years, will she still exist, as she does now, without aging, as I continue to grow older? I suspect she will as long as SL exists – but isn’t it ironic? As we age, we do not think of ourselves as older or old – we still view the world as a young person, despite how adulting may alter our attitude. As I said before, do not underestimate the value of creative play and learning – it keeps the noggin young – and as you get lost in the virtual realm of youth and limitless exploration, you can also advance your genealogy literacy skills!
See you “in-world”! (See below for a video about getting started!)
My first attempt at a title for this post included a very naughty word: “My.” You see, this is the biggest obstacle when adding info to the Family Search Family Tree. It is one tree, and we are all a part of its branches – transforming “my tree” to “our tree”. I admit that this concept scared me to my core – and honestly, after using it for five years now, it can still send me into a hyperventilating tailspin when fellow gardeners start pruning or reshaping one of the family branches. But I’ve finally come to terms with this concept, and find that I keep going back to it – drawing me like a video game, of sorts – which can sometimes feel more like whack-a-mole.
After half of a decade, here’s what I’ve learned and why I feel those of us with advanced genealogical skills should be embracing this “one world tree” concept.
My initial purpose in joining this tree:
I first started dabbling with this tree because it was new, and I do love playing with new genealogy toys. As the trees were already connected to Family Search records, I thought it might be a nice genealogy sandbox. I will also be honest about the initial draw – knowing that Family Search servers and the granite mountain would be preserving the information added to the tree, I viewed this as a tool of genealogy insurance. If everything went kaboom tomorrow, including my house and my gedcom, perhaps this remnant would remain?
But then again, how would it remain? After 5 more years, after 10 years, 20 years from now – what would my information look like? I know this is the most alarming part of a one world tree concept. My guilty secret is that I still maintain a personal tree at home sourced with my research – But as the FS tree grows, and implements easy to access tools, I find myself grabbing the FS tree app on my phone when I want to show something to a family member, or just refresh my memory as to a particular branch. So, it’s like a research worm….curling its way into my permanent genealogical consciousness.
For all Intents and Purposes:
My initial, self-imposed limitations, allowed the maintenance of only a few generations. I was surprised to find that my great grandparents were not in this tree, with very limited information about the generations immediately past them. So, I figured it was my duty to fill in some of the research I already had on hand, as well as share some of the older photographs I had of the family – only one or two for identification – I wasn’t going to go crazy with this tree, nor add the whole kit and kaboodle of family gems – those are going into a book someday – and sent to libraries to meet my own comfort level of permanence.
First word of caution with a tip: I would never have guessed in a million years that someone would try to remove or move one of the images that I had added – but sure enough, the shocking moment happened when I got the notification that someone had removed and moved a photo that I had uploaded to my ancestor! I went racing to the page, only to discover that everything was fine – when you get a notification that someone has changed something on your tree – DO NOT rush over and act in furry or haste! Be careful, and look closely at the changes, because FS notifies you for ANY changes to the ancestor profiles you choose to put on your watch list – which includes movements forward and backward.
To illustrate – back to the photo image switch – the person who had removed the image, only removed the attachment of the photo – attributing it to someone else. Sounds horrifying, no? But when I looked closely, the photo was repeated in the list of changes, among others that reversed some of the previous actions. Upon inspection, clearly someone was trying to attach a child, and remove a duplicate couple, and since that process has quite a learning curve, the person was trying to correct the slip that had been made when he/she detached or deleted the wrong person!
In the end, things were just fine, but it made me realize that I needed to spend some extra time and watermark the ancestral photos that were held in my personal collection. Once you upload a photo, people can move them around, but from now on, I will add a watermark that identifies the ancestor, as well as the current owner of the original (maybe not my full name, but initials and surname, or some such configuration – and maybe not a label that can be trimmed off.) Also, add a note as you upload to go with the photo – listing you as the owner, or where you got the copy. It’s the least we can do as an attempt to keep the right photo with the right person.
Plus, I cannot emphasize this enough – take time to learn the ins and outs of the merging, deleting, and detaching processes – for all of our sakes – PLEASE!!! There are loads of YouTube videos out there to help (including a whole channel by Family Search!) – just be sure to watch the most current editions as the specific instructions have changed a bit – we all need to make sure we are doing it right, so we don’t contribute to the problem!
Spring Cleaning/Pruning is a MUST:
I admit that the duplicate entries made me shake my head – it was like Ancestry zombie tree clones all over again, but with even worse variations based on crazy transcriptions in the system (I’ll get to that in a minute) or just terrible “research” – and it was driving me crazy because I would run into this issue quite a bit – as would others working on some of the same lines. Then it finally hit me – the “Possible Duplicates” link is your friend! I was running into duplicates as I attached new sources, added new children, parents, or a new spouse, and it was so confusing to detach or attach existing folk. You can REALLY help the tree a lot if you periodically go in to prune off or merge existing duplicates. By doing this proactively, you help to ensure that the tree grows as a tree and not a bush!
You might be thinking: “Hey – that’s no problem as I’ve already hit that wall and fixed it – removing/merging all my duplicates”: Ummmm, not so fast. The reason you need to periodically go through and prune/merge duplicates is because new ones can show up as new records are added to FS. I recently discovered a duplicate that I was not aware of previously. It came up as I was working on a German couple that had no duplicates. This is a really unique surname and I had been the only one working on this branch – until a new record came up as a hint from FS – I eagerly went to attach the record to my couple, and found it was already attached to a couple whose names were similar, yet not identical – resembling something of a phonetic perversion that was very odd – seemingly related to how the record was transcribed. I clicked on them to learn more about this couple and their lineage – but I quickly hit a dead end. When I clicked one of their individual profiles, and then hit “tree” I found that there was no one attached to them at all – they were floaters with no connections. So, I looked at their history, to identify the original creator, and it was FS Admin! I’m assuming this is a function of newly added records – they were putting a family unit in the tree section as a new record was made available in order to find the family connections (this was a baptism identifying a family unit) – not sure if this was made by a bot of sorts (computer generated), or a real person, but it made me confident in my next changes.
I then headed back to my couple to remove these duplicates prior to attaching that newly found record. CAUTION: When I went back to my couple, and clicked on “Possible Duplicates” that phantom floating couple did NOT appear in the list. Sigh – so I had to go all the way back to the record, take note of the individual profile numbers, and search for the duplicates that way – it worked, but what rigmarole! BTW, so what did I type into the box that requires an explanation for a deletion? Verbatim: “This couple appears to be a FS added couple based on one document with no known family connections – I am that family, and I’m welcoming them home as they are already on my tree.”
With the potential for many other floating family units to appear out there over time – you may want to make your life easier and check the individual lines in your branch of the tree for new duplicate possibilities – in other words, keep the shears handy for spot check pruning.
With all of the above – why should I invest my time and resources into this Family Tree?
For a few reasons:
It’s an open tree that people can see, use, and share with no membership needed. I can easily share this with my family, and not worry about what might be locked later if someone doesn’t pay a membership. (I’m talking about down the road – not current viewable Ancestry Trees.)
As much as my family’s involvement might result in us getting mad over the changes – I’m confident the collaboration will be great in the end (because I KNOW they have some family info that I don’t – and their input will help build a more complete ancestor story) – plus, I think we all live far enough apart that murder will not be a viable option for dispute resolution – just a genealogy joke, folks!
With the new tools that FS is implementing for story/memory collection – this could soon evolve into a very dynamic place for preserving and sharing the family story.
One of the major draws for me is that easy integration with the FS documents – those sources get pulled in and attached with a few clicks, and it makes sourcing information like a video game – fun, serves the purpose, and doesn’t strain my eyes as I make sure there is a comma or period in the correct places – but I’m still careful to make sure it belongs to the right people – after all, a hint is not a given match.
And BTW, I have played with WikiTree as an alternative, but the screen layout just never stuck with me – plus, the ease of connecting actual records in FS hooked me like a duck on a junebug.
How Advanced Genealogists can make this a better tree – Our Responsibility:
Lately, I’ve heard genealogists of varying degrees of experience throw their hands up and reject the one world tree concept. Don’t get me wrong – if I had a dime for every time I got mad and said “That’s it! I’m done! I’ve had it with this thing – If everyone can come in and just changes my work, what is the point??!!!” I’d be a wealthy woman.
But fundamentally, I think we’re getting it a bit wrong. If most genealogists of significant caliber abandon this format, you know who builds the one world tree? Potentially, those who lack the necessary skills to create a valid tree – and yet this tree is preserved and lasts for many generations – Is that really what we want? If we don’t get into the sandbox with the other kids, who know what will be built with the genealogy blocks? And just to be clear, while we abandon the format and stick to our private trees only, this community tree is taking shape and continuing to grow without our input and while we look the other way.
I have also come to the realization that more is more where these trees are concerned. The more information you feed into an ancestor profile: life sketch, memories, etc. – the more solid the profile becomes. And when you change something, put in a good reason, don’t skimp on the reasons – use them as teaching tools for those who come along later. Also, don’t be afraid to change something back if you have a very good reason. Recently, my great grandfather, Albert Pace had his name changed in the FS Tree because someone had added the nickname “Prince” to his given name. The person who came along to take away this nickname was unrecognized by me, but while I thought the change was fine, they also went to the “Alternative Name” section and removed “Prince Albert” from this lower area. Since this person then proceeded to fill out a lot of information about the first marriage and the child born to that union (I’m a descendant of the second marriage), I’m assuming that is the side of the family from which they hail. So, instead of playing tit for tat, I went back and added “Prince Albert Pace” in the alternative name block with a note that said: “Reason This Information Is Correct – All of his children from the second marriage referred to Albert as “Prince Albert” – all of their descendants refer to him as such. I’m assuming this was his local nickname, with no information as to its origins. Please DO NOT remove this as it is a significant identifier from his direct descendants and an important part of his identity on a local and familial level.”
Moral of the story – Beef up the profiles, be kind, but be thorough, and don’t be afraid to communicate why you would like an element to stay. Collaboration is a GOOD THING! So far, people have been relatively nice about things if you reasonably explain the source behind a piece of information. Although, I have been tough on some lines, and chopped off a branch that ran wild with completely unsourced info – I detached with a notice that said “Please do not add parents of this person without citing a source – there are many theories out there, but no proof has been yet uncovered.” It’s a wonderful PSA to remind people about citing sources and the GPS – even if it is one little message at a time.
NOTE: We have a lot of work to do! There have been so many weird changes out there that the clean-up could be pretty intense, depending on your branch of the family tree. And yes, I know, some of them have run wild like a bramble bush that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve – but if we don’t get involved and bring along the pruning shears, it’s like a genealogy villain (misinformation) terrorizing a village with no superheroes to combat their dirty deeds. Just like indexing, I think we have a responsibility to dive headlong into the forest and make it a better place – with a myriad of opportunities to educate about resources as we go along.
OK – Everyone, go get your cape, shears, (and goggles for the mess) – we’re going in!
Today, we’re going to play a game of “Would You Rather – Elimination Round”
The information I am about to share will naturally be a tad controversial. But after years of watching genealogy donations come into a state institution, the severity of this issue has been weighing heavily on my heart for quite awhile. For anyone planning to donate their genealogy research to an organization or even to a capable family member, you NEED to read this post with an open mind and a willingness to take precautions.
Aunt Matilda, the family genealogist, has passed away. Everyone loved hearing her stories at the family reunion, or seeing the charts she would bring along, but her small pieces of genealogy that she shared with the family were the result of decades of research – with 20+ boxes and 6+ file cabinets to prove it. Aunt Matilda was very organized, and loved displaying her binders of family research – they were an impressive site – she even shared some of these brag images with her favorite genealogy Facebook group!
But Aunt Matilda is gone – and her family has been tasked with finding a new home for this valuable truckload of genealogy. It’s precious. It’s priceless. But who’s going to take care of it as it should be cared for? For all eternity!!!???
Usually one of four things happens in a case like this:
The family passes on the collection to another willing family member who will lovingly continue Matilda’s work, and care for the collection as we all envision.
A willing family member volunteers to take the collection, in the hopes of continuing Matilda’s work, and it goes in a basement or attic until they retire and can devote sufficient time to its care. However, if this next family member dies before taking on the work, the collection will need to find another home.
No one in the family wants this, but realizes its value and donates it to a non-profit organization of their choice: Library, historical society, local museum, genealogical society, etc.
The family members in charge of Matilda’s estate have no clue about the value of her genealogical research and toss the many files of research into a dumpster! Oh, the horror!
Considering scenario #1:
This is the rarest of the scenarios. We all know that we carry a sacred mantle – bestowed upon us by the ancestors. We are chosen by a force we cannot see yet which drives us to research until we become one of them. While you can find another in the family to take the charge, you may have to be creative in finding the right person. It may not be a direct descendant. This isn’t royalty, with a title dictated by an entail, but rather a search for the one with the gift.
Considering scenario #2:
This is a pretty common scenario…unfortunately, it does not usually have a happy ending. Well meaning family members can have the best of intentions – but lack of follow through usually results in an even more precarious situation when this person passes = a fast track to scenario #4! Do not be swayed by the willing but unavailable – or incapable. Look for the gift as we just covered above.
Considering scenario #3:
This is the impetus of this post – and the hardest to take.
Donating the collection to a non-profit organization is a smart move for longterm preservation and future accessibility by descendants from multiple branches. I encourage this with every fiber of my being!
A problem is fast arising – at an alarming rate: Collection size in relation to space availability.
I work for one of the lucky ones. We have a very large, modern facility, built to handle incoming donations of all size – for decades to come. Despite our current comfortable space capacity, it will not last forever. For those who are not so lucky, space is at an even greater premium.
Our current collecting practices had to move to a smarter model over a decade ago because at the current rate we were taking things in, we were going to run out of space quickly. So, we adopted a collecting policy – related directly to our mission and mandate from the state. Every item coming into our facility has to be voted upon by a Collections Committee. We base our voting upon historical significance, condition (mold and bugs are pretty quick declines unless there is something stellar inside that warrants conservation.), uniqueness (do we already have 25 of these or is this only 1 of a few?) and subject need. We implemented these policies to not only ensure responsible stewardship, but to encourage collecting in a broader spectrum – we want our collections to cover all subjects and time periods.
For incoming genealogy collections the questions are getting harder and harder because the size of the collections being dropped off are getting larger and larger….and with much greater frequency.
To analyze a genealogy collection for inclusion, we look at the contents to the best of our ability. This is not a full scale archival processing which would come after acceptance. This is a spot review of folders and boxes.
What are we finding in this collection – and should we take it?
Is there original family material inside? If we find original family photos, correspondence, sourced research reports, bible records, diaries, ephemera, etc…..that’s a home run. We LOVE these components because they are unique, tell a story, and in many cases, fragile. Our facility can preserve them, and make the collection accessible to researchers and many future family members.
But more often than not, these collections contain a large photocopy paper collection – with very little to nil original family elements. For instance – print outs from websites such as: Findagrave, Ancestry, RootsWeb, message boards (Genforum), etc. E-mail correspondence can be valuable as cousins collaborate their research, but I’ve seen binders devoted to one family, which includes complete copies of each stage of the e-mail chain – from the first e-mail, followed by each reply, until the final response – repeating the chain as it grew – filling up half of the binder!
Many binders, folders, or boxes contain printouts of census images, wills, death certificates, etc. collected by the genealogist along the way. While these are valuable to your research….I’m going to be blunt:
This is why we practice responsible and thorough citation methods!
You will never see an NGSQ article that contains copies of all of the documentation necessary for a proof argument. Why? Because it would take up too much space! Citation guidelines were adopted in the history and genealogy professions as tools to defend our research conclusions. We have to defend them with primary information – but through citations, not actual copies of the supporting documentation.
Many of you are rolling your eyes right now – “Duh – of course we cite our sources! Besides, who has time to complete the research in a professional report with citations?! All of our branches???! We are never finished! This is why we pass on the research, hoping someone else will complete the work!”
Point taken – but I’m here to pour a bucket of cold water over your head: Which would you rather have, a research report with full citations donated to a non-profit collection that your family can access for generations – OR – would you rather see your decades of hard work tossed into the dumpster?
Here’s the bigger problem that accompanies the material I described. Even though we, as archivists, are trying to evaluate an incoming collection as to its research value and historical/genealogical importance, there is always a possibility that we could get the assessment wrong. Not overall, mind you, but the sheer volume of print outs from the genealogy web could obscure the original family elements that might be lurking inside. And remember, we’re not talking about assessing a binder of material….we’re talking about assessing 6-20+ boxes of binders or folders….within a half hour or so, to make a donation recommendation.
Passing the Ball to your Court:
So, what can you do to ensure your collection is handled appropriately to survive in the longterm?
It is MANDATORY that you reduce the genealogy collection footprint. Here are some ways to do this.
Begin to prioritize. Most genealogy organizational how-to articles will help you organize your research into color coded folders, binders, boxes, cabinets, etc. Forget that for now. Your prioritization should begin with the most important pieces of your family collection. If you walked into the office/closet during a natural disaster and had to pick one box to take with you, what would it be? If you can’t lay your hands on one to two boxes of original family material or research, you’ve already lost the estate battle.
One way to reduce, as I mentioned earlier, is through citing your sources without keeping a photocopy of the original. I know that makes you nervous, but it’s the goal we should all be striving for in our research. Caveat: The copies I am referring to include items that can be easily pulled up via Family Search or Ancestry, Internet Archive, or Photocopies from other books that are readily available, etc. If you have a photocopy of a record that has never been digitized, and it took a trip to the courthouse to retrieve, by all means, keep that copy. The same goes with family group sheets and family Bible record copies from relatives – these are not things you can cite and find anywhere else (usually) – so retention is a must.
Photo albums are their own beast: consider decreasing the amount by eliminating images taken of landscapes while on vacation, blurry images, and duplicate images – pick the best – eliminate the rest (of these photo categories).
Ephemera – While I’m a big fan of ephemera, there should be a limit on what you keep. Travel brochures, postcards with little to no family info, restaurant napkins, matchbooks, receipts, canceled checks, should all be reduced or eliminated unless there is a great story or sentimentality to the item. If you do have a large ephemera collection tied to places over the years, consider pulling those out and donating to an appropriate institution on the collection’s own merit.
Always separate publications away from your genealogy collection. Sure, they can be in the same area during your research years, but separate them out during the organizational process. Someday, these can be donated to local libraries, or discarded if there are multitudes of copies already out there – but don’t muddy your genealogy waters with outside, mass produced publications.
Breaking the Hoarder Mentality: Document the Important Stories and Tie them to the Objects you want to Pass on to Future Generations.
On a personal note, my grandmother died a few years ago – but due to the hoarding that went on in that household, unchecked for decades, it took the full 2 years allowed to settle the estate. Even after her house had sold, we were working through the last portion of her belongings that were stored off-site in an environmentally secure storage facility. Up until the very last hours, going through that last batch of family significant items, the sheer volume of “things” and lifelong remnants was mentally and physically exhausting.
By the end of the final day allowed for the probate settlement, my father and his siblings agreed to split up the remaining boxes without knowing what was inside – in the hopes of making the last divisions equal. So after 2 years of work, the last divisions were made blindly – a scenario we all want to avoid.
At the conclusion of all the angst associated with an estate dispersal, there are still many times when I will look at something today and wish I could ask my grandmother or grandfather about its significance. Sure, it’s old, I grew up seeing it in their house, but is that the end of the story? Did they purchase the item, or did they get it as a gift – OR, did it come from the previous generation? Sadly, those stories are lost forever.
My exasperated point here is: Do not place the same value on your stuff. Prioritize the important things, connect them to you with stories, and work on getting rid of what is not as important. Because the biggest tragedy of all exists when the really important things cannot be seen due to the hoarding around them. In our attempt to keep everything, we are at risk of losing the most important elements of our heritage.
A Few Last Pieces of Advice:
There are a few other things you can do to ensure your family history survives, from housing the items, to labeling photographs, to estate planning.
Once you have prioritized the most important sections of your collection, go through them with a fine toothed comb of analysis. Label all of the photos. Re-house the important documents and photos into archival safe folders and boxes (this is also a nice way to differentiate between the important and less important segments).
For each box of documents related to a surname or family, write a research report that fits into the first folder – serving as a family introduction to what’s inside and where this collection fits into the family history. This is your opportunity to use the citations I mentioned earlier – but in smaller reports that do not seem as daunting. Include photos of heirlooms in the report to connect them in family context. You can keep these electronically active as you research, updating them periodically, and placing an updated version of the report in the file every year or 6 months depending on the research activity for that branch.
Think about the odds of the entire collection surviving – and then explore ways of sharing copies of the history. The more copies that exist out there, the better the chance of connecting to future researchers: Making a photobook history through the many self publishers out there. These books come in slick professional looking products that your family will love to pass on as important keepsakes. Also, if you don’t plan on donating the entire collection to an organization, make copies of the research reports or photobooks you wrote and donate to local libraries and museums – this allows them to survive on file for researchers.
Do you want to donate the collection you just put together? Consider getting advice from a local professional. Contact the museum/library of your choice and ask to consult with an archivist about your genealogy collection. They can advise you on best practices, and whether they would be interested in obtaining the collection – if you already know that they woudn’t be interested, or wouldn’t make a great fit, shop around for a place that does, and then consider estate planning to make the donation a legal agreement. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them about their collection space and future collecting policies – as well as staffing levels – as this affects processing time and the future access of your collection.
But….you have a different scenario: your research is well sourced, not bulky, but stored neatly as a digital file on your PC or in the cloud. You’ve used a wonderful genealogy software that allows your files to be shared with multiple family members. That’s great! But what happens when the software you are using upgrades after you are gone – and the file can no longer be read – save as a gedcom? Perhaps. But since we cannot see the advanced technological environment coming along, it’s a safe bet to store your reports in multiple formats, including printed reports, and make sure you keep up with best practices of data migration.
Conclusion and a Last Word of Caution:
I am NOT suggesting that you have to reduce your collection to one box or binder. In some cases, that is not possible – in others, that isn’t practical. However, when we archivists process collections, we are allowed to discard elements that do not fit the collection – categorized as “processing discards” = superfluous papers with duplicate information, blank sheets, commercial (widely published) brochures/publications, damaged elements, etc. Knowing this, you may be tempted to dismiss my entire post – after all, an archivist can process my collection as they see fit after I’m gone. Really? Do you really want the reduction filter to come through someone who does not know your family and related collection?
NO – you want to retain that power and prepare to donate a unique and useful research collection.
Everyone thinks their genealogical research will be valued and preserved for future generations. However, unless we are proactive in ensuring its survival, it may not last past our generation. I understand the need to keep all of our research on hand while we work, but we must be more organized in the research, keep clear goals in mind for each branch, and then wrap up our work with reports – on a periodic basis. Just remember, reports can be amended in the future – but lost genealogy is an irreversible tragedy we all want to avoid!
I hope this makes everyone think about what I consider to be an emergency epidemic – one that I face every week. Please take this advice to heart – it is well intended and shared in genealogy love.
Question:One of our academic researchers was following the life of a single African American woman in the late 19th century. As she turned to City Directories to track residences over the years, she posed a question to us regarding the creation of these directories. She wanted to know who was included in these yearly guides. Obviously, not an entire household, but not always the head of household either. Was everyone included in a City Directory or did you have to pay to be listed? After all, these were valuable resources for advertising your business during that time.
What a great question! As many as I had used over the years, I really hadn’t closely examined the creation of these resources. The impression I had of City Directories came from the gaudy fonts and large advertisements speckled throughout each volume. I suspected that inclusion was fee based, but I didn’t know that for sure. I was just happy that they listed some of my ancestors (sometimes with spouse), their occupations, and addresses over the years. Little did I know about the process of gathering these names.
As I started digging for more information, I noted that most of our directories, regardless of year were produced by outside companies – not city, state, or federal government entities – nothing official – very much like today’s phone books.
Throughout the many decades of their publication, advertisements can be found each year in the local newspapers, announcing the availability of a new City Directory – obviously offering said directory for sale, or better yet, offering subscriptions to the yearly updates. The popularity of these directories also drove sales for large advertisements within them – a pretty lucrative endeavor for the publishers!
But then I stumbled upon an amazing article published in the Louisville Courier Journal in 1888: Looking for Names – The Experience of a Canvasser for the City Directory.
This long article detailed the yearly process: from hiring the canvassers, to the questions they ask, to the people they seek for information…despite the horrible prejudices exhibited in this article (many racially disturbing descriptions) we can learn a lot from the description of the canvassing process.
From this article we learn:
Canvassers were hired to begin work in the fall of each year.
Each large city required a canvassing force that was 25-30 men strong – a hard choice as the applicant numbers ran into the 250-300 range!
Obviously, the ideal candidates possessed advanced reading and writing skills (according to the article).
Instead of a large book of sheets like the census enumerator might have carried, the City Directory canvassers carried around strips of paper to gather the information on each person employed in any type of occupation. One strip of paper for each person.
Everyone working an occupation was included in the City Directory – as long as they could be found and counted by a Canvasser. All occupations were sought, both legal and illegal, according to the article (“opium joints” and “gambling rooms”) – how they labeled illegal occupations is beyond me – but it makes me want to take a closer look at the types of occupations listed.
Money was NOT a part of the inclusion process, unless a business owner decided to purchase a prominent advertisement (or large/bold font) in the Directory.
Canvassing took place from around 7am to 6pm.
Much like the census taking process, the city was divided into districts and assigned to individual Canvassers.
If a Canvasser was good at his job, he might be employed throughout the year to assist with the production of the Directory, through the publishing process – but for the most part, canvassing work was grueling with low pay, resulting in heavy turnover each year.
Sometimes, our ancestors did not want to be recorded – as it is noted in this article, those who were running from creditors, or the law, or involved in illegal activities might give an alias – just our research luck!
Confusion was rampant throughout the canvassing process – heavy accents and ethnically diverse names meant misspelled or phonetically butchered entries. As large cities were immigration hubs, many of our immigrant ancestors might have been overlooked by the Canvasser – or they may be there – just be sure to look for any possible pronunciation.
The African American community was represented in an anecdotal story that demonstrates the precarious relationship between anyone of authority and this population group. The Canvasser complained that they were perceived as government officials and, therefore, false or reverse names were given with each subsequent year. The example given was “Andrew Jackson” given one year and “Jackson Andrew” given the next year. It was even noted that they suspected it was a list being compiled for police use.
The Canvassers also complained that many women were not included in the Directory because many believed women performing any occupation was a sign of low class status – resulting in a refusal to admit any occupation at all – regardless of the report of neighbors.
One of my favorite stories from this article came from a household of just women: a single mother/widow – who happened to be a business owner. The household was wealthy enough to employ servants – thereby creating a brief period of confusion. The woman’s young adult daughters were of no occupation, and spent their days at home attended by the servants. The Canvasser arrived and asked about the head of the household and her occupation/business, and then asked about other residents in the home – inquiring about their profession. After first denying their mother’s occupation, the young women thought the City Directory was something of importance at first, and pressed the man to include their names. When they realized that he kept focusing on occupations they became even more offended, declaring that they were NOT of any occupation! The Canvasser then focused on their servants to add to the Directory – which offended the girls even more – apparently, their mother was a large purchaser in the southern region, but the fact had been hidden from their neighbors and social circle as this was considered to be a low class activity. Due to his experience that day, the Canvasser changed his entry for the mother to list “purchasing agent” as a matter of revenge.
After reading this article and its portrayal of the difficulties of canvassing, I can safely say, count yourself fortunate if your ancestor was listed in a City Directory. But also, much like the tax lists, it’s important to look through many consistent years of Directories – simply because our ancestors were mobile, and maybe away visiting with family to miss the Canvasser – present five years, missing for two, and then back again. Plus, note if your ancestor was a day laborer, or first generation immigrant, or one of the many disenfranchised classes of the time. For all of these groups, they may have been excluded from the City Directories, or merely listed with altered names – just because the Directories are typed, doesn’t mean the errors are any less extreme than the errors we are used to seeing in the census records. Understanding the context of your family’s place in history, and their social/racial/cultural challenges can help with your research and analysis strategies!
Happy researching! Cheri Daniels, MSLS Your Genealogy Librarian
It’s quite a mouthful: Interlibrary Loan. But it would be wise to remember this phrase as it could be your new best friend!
Depending on your local public library, Interlibrary Loan (ILL – sometimes known as Resource Sharing) may be a service that is promoted, simply extant, hidden, or not available – you may need to read the services fine print to learn about your library’s ILL offerings.
Most public libraries are eager to borrow the items you need for research, when feasible. However, the research needs of the genealogist can be challenging for Interlibrary Loan services. Let’s explore the obstacles, tips and tricks of this underused, and often misunderstood service.
What IS Interlibrary Loan?
In a nutshell, this is a networked loan program between libraries, allowing patrons to borrow from outside collections. Most of these libraries are connected electronically through their membership in OCLC: Online Computer Library Center – which also happens to run WorldCat, the world’s largest library catalog.
Tip #1:Remember these terms: Borrower and Lender. They are exactly as they sound, but the Borrower is not you – you are the patron or customer and the library borrowing on your behalf is the Borrower. The lending library is the Lender. Contrary to perceptions, the ILL transaction is a contract between the two libraries – NOT between the patron and the lending library. This way, both parties agree to certain standards during the transaction, even if things get damaged or lost in the mail, there is already a protocol in place to resolve the situation.
Through OCLC, each library will request materials on your behalf via the ILL software of their choice that will talk to OCLC, asking if the lending library is willing to lend an item. Each loan is considered based on a few questions:
Is the item available for loan? (Many items do not circulate due to various factors: Is it currently checked out to someone else? – Is it rare or archival, and does not circulate?)
Can they supply the item within a few days? (4 days is the standard turn around time)
Does the library charge a fee to loan?
Are there special use restrictions?
Is the item an article? – Articles are also available through this type of service.
Tip #2:You can be proactive in determining the likelihood of your ILL success. When using WorldCat to look for your needed title or article, you can make note of a couple of things for your librarian: The OCLC number, which can be found in the details section of the book record in OCLC – this will ensure that they borrow the exact edition you have found. Also, read the fine print: Is this an e-book edition, or an archival item? (Look for a print edition of your needed title as these are best for ILL – except in cases of e-resource agreements between certain libraries) Neither may be able to be borrowed, but if you are desperate, you can discuss photocopy options with your librarian.
What does ILL cost?
This program may be free for you, but depending on the location of the needed item, you may incur some fees. Many libraries belong to nearby or specialty networks that agree to free loans under reciprocal agreements. Sometimes, articles are included, but sometimes they are only supplied for a fee. So, be prepared for a fee structure running from free to about $20.00 per transaction.
Tip #3:Ask about ILL fees prior to submitting a request. For some libraries, they have decided to offer ILL services at no cost to the patron. Others provide this service for free IF they can borrow from a free lender. If they can only find your item through a fee-based lender, they may pass the charge on to you – it is safer to ask about their fee policies prior to submitting an order.
Let’s Talk Genealogy Materials
This is the bad news about ILL. We genealogists are usually on the hunt for obscure material. What exactly falls under the term “obscure”? Microfilm, family histories, local histories, archival/manuscripts or rare books. These items have a high chance of falling under “restricted” material.
“So, what is the point of this post, if I can’t borrow genealogical material?”
You can – but not always. This is just a word of caution to be realistic in your expectations.
Access versus Preservation:
While libraries are in the information providing business, many of them are also in the preservation business. Your natural inclination may be to argue that since you can’t get this information elsewhere, they should be willing to provide it. (Trust me, I’ve heard this argument more times than I care to count.) But think about it, if there is only one or two copies in existence, why endanger the item by placing it in a mail service where it could get lost? – As in, FOREVER, so that no one sees it ever again! Depending on the number of copies available worldwide, preservation can sometimes outweigh access – just be prepared for that scenario.
Tip #4:What to do if your material falls under this category? 1. Look for a copy to purchase online, through Amazon, Ebay, or the librarian’s friend: Bookfinder.com. 2. Look at the description of the book, is it small or really large? Does it have an index so that you can request look-ups or copies of certain pages? If archival, does it have a Finding Aid to help you identify the portions you would like photocopied? Many libraries are willing to copy portions of restricted material, because, after all, they still enjoy providing access to information. 3. Look at the publication year, is it old enough to be in the public domain and may have been digitized in its entirety through Google Books or the Internet Archive? Many of the older family and local histories are available for free download through these sites. Also, don’t forget to try the books section of FamilySearch.
The above section was only meant as a caution – not to discourage. Regardless of what you find, ILL is a program in place to help patrons get the information they need – so use it! One of the really great uses for ILL is genealogy education and historical context study. Did you see a great new genealogy or history title out there that you’d like to use, but it’s just too expensive? Try ILL – the more recent titles (even recent local histories), owned by multiple libraries, have a high chance of being loaned out.
Tip #5:If you borrow a book through ILL, READ IT – and do not dawdle! ILL books will usually arrive with a generous loan period of around a month, but many do not allow renewals. So, get cracking on that title once it comes in!
The Gems in Those Smaller Libraries
OK, I’m talking very small libraries. The ones so small that they do not pay for membership in OCLC. Since your method of requesting material began with a WorldCat search, just remember that not every library can afford membership in this service. If you find out that a smaller non-OCLC library owns the title you need, you can still ask your librarian about ILL. There is a paper form that can be used between the libraries for these types of transactions.
Tip #6:So, you can’t find the title you need in WorldCat. Look at the title from a regional eye. Where was it published, and where is the subject material from? Then canvas the local area for smaller libraries and archives – they may have their own catalog – or, give them a call. You might be surprised at the number of small libraries “off the grid” that house those obscure titles and archives.
What About Historical Societies?
As a state historical society library, our catalog is connected to OCLC. However, it was only recently that we began loaning our books. As a new option for access, we decided to loan out duplicate material, or material small enough that we could create a circulating copy. Much of our library still does not circulate, but we have a lot of duplicate local/county/family histories that just might be the key to your research. As for other state historical societies, it depends. I’ve seen some connected to their local universities for the service, or some that just do not loan at all. In those cases, you are encouraged to call and discuss photocopy options.
Last Word About Microfilm:
As the Family Search microfilm lending program ended, we are resigned to waiting for digital copies of records. However, for many local newspapers, only a portion has been digitized through online databases. Multitudes await your use through the microfilm reader. Some libraries are great at lending these, but many are not. Different types of libraries, such as university libraries are much more eager to loan microfilm than public libraries – but don’t forget, all of these OCLC connected libraries loan to each other, regardless of library type – so, again, it’s well worth a try!
Happy researching! Cheri Daniels, MSLS Your Genealogy Librarian
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tea Party
As you may have read in my Preface page, I also blog about tea – usually focused on the equipage necessary to make tea over the centuries (I have a really bad teapot/tea cup addiction) – but often about the tableau settings that demonstrate how tea was presented on a social level. Just last year, I purchased a turn of the century photo that really resonated with me on multiple levels. Not only was this clearly a photo of a “Tea Party” in action, but it was also a southern photo with an uncomfortable tableau. While the tea equipage looked to be in order, large teapot with cups and saucers, the people in this scene presented a remnant tableau of the old south. Even though this was turn of the 20th century (confirmed around 1910) – the white ladies are being served tea by “Uncle” Jerry Steves – a scene reminiscent of southern enslavement. Despite poor Jerry’s continued servitude over 50 years after the end of slavery, the other women were also named on the back, which led to a much larger story – one slightly connected to Kentucky, and the horse racing industry.
Let’s start by analyzing the photo.
The front speaks for itself: Formally attired black ‘servant’ pouring tea for the well dressed white ladies, with two little girls sitting on the ground in front of them. One thing I find to be humorous is the outdoor setting – including: Fancy chairs and table with tasseled rug draping the top, complete with china tea service of some kind. Upon closer inspection, this is not a lush pastoral lawn scene with meadow and garden flowers – oh no – the tiny blades of grass are so sparse that this resembles a dirt side area, complete with chicken running around in the foreground! So, this appears to be somewhat of a faux tableau. Despite their efforts at refinery, it appears that they are having a tea party in a chicken yard – I understand that chickens often roamed around a farm, near the house, and I do see some very tiny blades of grass….but a far cry from their intended luxurious tea tableau.
The back of the photo says:
“The Tea Party. ‘Uncle’ Jerry Steves. Rhoda Moncure. Elizabeth Moncure. Jacqueline Moncure. Edith Moncure.”
Finding the Moncure family:
Luckily, this last name, with the family unit containing a Rhoda and Edith, I was able to track them down pretty quickly. In 1910, this household is living together, sans Jerry Steves (I’ll get to him in a second) – but with an additional male, Elizabeth’s son and Rhoda’s husband, Ambler Moncure.
Elizabeth is a widow by 1910, and if you look closely at the children’s ages, Edith is 10 and Elizabeth J. (very likely our Jacqueline) is 6. Does this match the ages of the girls in the photos? Pretty darn close, I’m going to guess more like 1911 or 1912. The hairstyle and dress was my first guess at a year, and I was spot on with census confirmation.
All members of this family were born in Virginia (except for Rhoda as later census records place her birth in Ohio), with this census being recorded in Dinwiddie County. The widowed matriarch, head of the household, Elizabeth is 73 years old.
Looking at Elizabeth alongside Jerry Steves, I guessed they were of similar age. Now, one thing to note right away: The Moncure household had an Irish laborer in the household, but Jerry Steves was nowhere to be seen. Several pages forward and backward did not yield any clues.
However, a black man named Jerry Stevens was found as a head of household in the same county, but different precinct. He is 74 years old, and living with his 39 year old wife, Pinky! What a hoot! Go, Jerry! Living next door but in the same unit number is a 50 year old widow, Bettie Brown, with her 25 year old single daughter Lizzie Brown, and three young grandchildren with the same last name. Is this Jerry’s daughter and her household? Quite possibly. Of course, they could be Pinky’s sister and family.
The most important part of this photo is the fact that this may be the only extant image of Jerry, who was more than likely a former slave as he was born in Virginia (according to this census) in the 1830s. Which is why, after this post, I’m going to contact a local or state archive to inquire about donating the photo. It looks pretty special to me.
Raceland, the Wynns and Moncures:
When looking up the Moncure family in Findagrave, I located a few right away in Dinwiddie County, buried in a family cemetery on a farm/plantation called “Raceland.” Not all of the Moncure family were buried here, but those who entered some of the individuals in Findagrave also posted some links to the other members of the family. This gave me enough of a lead to locate the other members of the Moncure family buried in another local cemetery.
Here’s where history got creepy really fast. With this connection to Raceland, I did a simple Google search for Moncure + Raceland + Virginia = and bingo, some really cool pieces popped up – including a blog post by a former KHS colleague, Tim Talbot, written THIS YEAR! Cue the Twilight Zone music, because I ain’t done yet!
Tim did a lovely job filling in the backstory about the Wynn family who owned Raceland more than likely prior to the turn of the 19th century. To quote the historical marker at this site – BTW, the house still exists – the land and dwellings were developed as early as 1750.
One of the earliest Wynn family members to own Raceland was William Wynn who was known for his horse racing acumen. According to Tim’s blog, William Wynn owned the racehorse, Timolean, who later sired Boston, who was the sire of Lexington, the famed racehorse of Central Kentucky who became the patriarchal line of most modern thoroughbred pedigrees. I am even more familiar with this horse because of a family connection to a historic property we had been trying to save in Cynthiana, Kentucky – who would have thought that this one photo of a tea party would connect me back to the genealogy of a most famous Kentucky horse?! Huzzah!!
Some side notes:
Tim relates that the Wynn plantation was sold to the Moncure family (Marshall Moncure) in 1883, but what he probably did not realize is that Marshall’s wife was Elizabeth Wynn Moncure – so when it was sold to Marshall Moncure, it was staying in the family through Elizabeth.
A note about the enslaved groups on Raceland – Tim listed the number of slaves owned by the Wynn family over the decades – from 35, to 65, to around 38 near the Civil War. Which makes me think more and more about Jerry. With Elizabeth and Jerry so close in age and the label calling him “Uncle” Jerry, I’m going to make a leap and suggest that Jerry was probably owned by the Wynn family prior to the war, and therefore, probably from Raceland.
Of course, I can’t be 100% certain on this summation, simply because there are too many mixed up trees and reports out there regarding which Wynn owned which place – and which Wynn children belonged to which Wynn patriarch – you get the idea. We do know that Raceland was owned by William Wynn, owner of the horse mentioned above. We also know that this William did not stay there permanently, and moved to Arkansas to continue his horse racing endeavors. Somewhere in this timeframe, John Wynn became the new owner of Raceland. Tim reports that John was William’s son, which is possible, knowing the birthdate of William (1784) – but other family members out there are reporting that John was a son of Robert – I know nothing about Robert – and so I will leave the sorting out to the descendants.
It is clear, however, that John owned Raceland during the pre-War decades, at least according to the historical marker – but did he really? According to the 1860 census, John had no real estate value, although he listed $58,000+ in personal property – most likely a combo of livestock and slaves. Ten years earlier, in 1850, John lists 35 enslaved individuals in his slave schedule entry. But, going back to the 1860 census, a William G. Wynn was living next door to John and his family and listed $215,000 in real estate value along with $53,000+ in personal property. The William living next door was not John’s father as they are too close in age. So, who really owned Raceland? A question to be answered by another researcher.
I was curious as to the enslavement taking place between William G and John Wynn who lived next door to each other. Between the two of them (it should be noted that William also listed a group who had belonged to the estate of Mary Jones) there were 78 enslaved individuals. Drumroll please, did any of the black males in either slave schedule match the age Jerry would have been at the time? Sadly, nope. Jerry should have been 13 in 1850 and 23 in 1860, and the closest I could get in these households were 16 and 26, although, while there isn’t anything close in 1860, there is a 12 year old boy in John Wynn’s household in 1850.
So….why aren’t Jerry’s details matching up?
When reviewing the 1910 census, Jerry was living just two residences from Richard Wynn, who, according to the John Wynn household of 1860, was Elizabeth’s brother. The age in 1910 for that Richard is an exact match.
While it would be convenient to associate Jerry to Richard Wynn, Jerry threw us a huge curve ball:
According to the 1902 marriage of Jerry and Pinky, Jerry gives his name as Jerry Stephens – with a birth year of 1837 and his birthplace as Mississippi – NOT Virginia – even though his birthplace is listed as Virginia (as well as that of his parents) in the 1910 census. As a bonus, he gives the names of his parents: James and Esther Stephens. Pinky’s parents were also included: Abram and Charlotte Coles. Pinky, on the other hand, listed her birthplace as Dinwiddie County Virginia.
Was the photo taken at Raceland, the residence of the Moncure family? Despite Jerry’s residence elsewhere in the county, did he work there as a domestic – thereby explaining the common, yet pretentious endearment, “Uncle”? Did Jerry happen to work for Richard instead and perhaps the picture was taken at Richard’s house during a visit to Elizabeth’s brother? Pure speculation.
Does Jerry’s birthplace indicate that he had no pre-war connection to the Wynn family? Quite possibly. However, let us not forget that slave sales extended beyond borders, and Jerry’s presence could be a matter of pre-war sale happenstance. Also, remember, that the Wynn family relocated to Arkansas, and based on a couple of others buried at Raceland, the family members did travel back and forth between these states. Jerry could have been an acquisition during those years – OR – was he, instead, connected to the Moncure family?
This family also owned large plantations in Virgina, and Marshall Moncure’s parents both died in New Orleans (according to a couple of older local history books) – with the Louisiana and Missisisippi slave markets so entwined, we cannot rule out a Moncure relationship for Jerry. It should also be noted that Jacquelin’s name comes from the family name and plantation name associated with the Moncure ancestors – as their number of enslaved workforce had to be huge – they cannot be ruled out as a pre-war connection for Jerry.
It is tremendously sad that Jerry’s pre-war life is so shrouded in mystery – although, having the names of his parents might help those in further research. Jerry’s roots may be firmly entrenched in Mississippi, and he may only be connected to Dinwiddie County by his new wife. But, remember the Brown household living in the same unit as Jerry and Pinky? As a post script, the 1880 census listed another Brown household living between the households of Marshall Moncure and his brother Dr. James Moncure. Marshall was listed as a servant in the hospital, while his brother James was a doctor there. The black family living between them was the household of Martha Brown, listed as a cook. Does this give us a directional clue as to Jerry’s connection? Again, we cannot say for certain.
I’m hoping someone out there will recognize Jerry Stevens/Stephens and his family (Pinky, James, Esther) – regardless, hopefully, others can resume Jerry’s research after it arrives at a Virginia archive. Once it is placed, I will amend this post to report its final destination.
Ah, the family group sheet. We’ve all made them, usually in the early days of our research…either by hand, or printed from genealogy software. The standard, hand-completed family group sheet has always been intended as a tool….a worksheet, a place to gather basic family facts. But so many of them have been left behind as evidence of research…sometimes becoming the only trail we have for our family’s previous efforts.
The big question is: Are they valuable – at all?
In a state genealogy library, we collect family information of all kinds – often, people bring us their “research” collections in bulk. Multiple boxes full of research bits and pieces – such as – family group sheets, census, birth/death certificates, maps, research notes, etc.
One of the main draws we have in our library is a giant island of surname vertical files that includes many of those research bits and pieces left behind by previous visitors. Each time a person gets excited over this massive magpie collection, we urge caution. If it’s not sourced, be very careful how you record the information – please copy and place in standby until you can confirm the information in other documents.
In most cases, the family group sheet comes to us with no citation information. It has been completed by the researcher or a family member, and contains the information necessary to fill out the provided blanks. They rarely contain the name of the person who provided the information, and they always earn a serious eye of caution each time I see one.
However, there are some family group sheets that I treat with more respect than others.
Here are a few elements to look for when gauging the research value of a family group sheet:
Does it include the name of the person who provided the information? If not – make a copy, and note where you found it – use for clues later down the road.
Does it include any attached sources/citations? These could be on the back, or in the following pages, but if there are none to be seen, use the form as a breadcrumb only until confirming with documentary sources.
What time period does the information cover? Does it detail the family group of the Duke of Royaltyland from the 12th century, sans sources? If so, disregard….back away slowly….this is genealogy sorcery of the worst kind.
Level gold – does this sheet contain information that reaches into the 20th or 21st
centuries? I have learned to place more value on the family group sheets that provide information about contemporary ancestors/descendants. When the likelihood of personal knowledge on the part of the provider is high, I start to lean into the area of Family Bible Records. Just think – we all hold the family Bible record to a pretty high value. Some lineage societies love these and accept them readily as proof of birth or death – primarily because many of them cover a time frame when the recording of vital statistics was lacking on the official level. Plus, they too value contemporary information – in other words – a personal witness giving information.
Caveat – regardless of the proximity of the information provider to the generation listed on the sheet, we can never rely on one document to prove relationships or reach a conclusion. This goes for anything we find as we build evidence, but these family group sheets may provide the only research directional clue you need to break through your brick wall.
Last tip: With your own family group sheets – PLEASE include a note about the preparer or information provider with a date of completion! This can be a simple line at the top or bottom – remember, even with Family Bible Records, many lineage societies require the frontispiece of the Bible to prove publication date – thereby placing the origin of the information in a contemporary time period as it relates to the ancestor.