29 October 2011

Defining Research, Part One

"Oh, it's my ancestry back to Eve!"
Recently, James Tanner over at Genealogy's Star discussed what he meant when he used the word "research." Now, I appreciate these sort of symantics-driven posts, because, as in most arenas of life, it is always important to define your terms before you begin any sort of discussion. And, as genealogy is full of the necessity of discussion (be it on blogs, on mailing lists, or via email), defining the word "research" certainly is key.

Why? I'd like to proffer an example of a recent exchange I had with a researcher who contacted me regarding information I have on an Ancestry tree. In this instance, note carefully the use of the word "research" by the person who wrote to me:

In this case, a woman wrote to me to notify me that some of my dates and locations for a man in my family tree were wrong. I had been researching this man for a little over five years, concentrating in this time on his life in the United States after his immigration. This woman speculated that my information was inaccurate, due to what her "research" had revealed.

Her "research," as it turned out, consisted of a naturalization index card she had found on Ancestry, as well as family information she had found on various family trees online (all of which, I would note, are iterations of my own research into this hitherto un-digitized family).

My information was faulty, she said, because unlike my family tree information which said that this man had arrived in the United States from his birthplace of Milan in 1839, the naturalization index card that she had found on Ancestry showed that he had arrived in 1848 and was from Austria. My dates, she said, seemed "wrong."

Now, in this case, the extent of "research" that had led this woman to seek to clarify/correct my own research was, it seemed, a piece of indexed information that she had found on Ancestry. I was happy to send along a scan of the gentleman's entire naturalization file which I had received from the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court's office. The file showed that the man in question had, indeed, arrived in 1839, although his declaration of intent was filed in 1848--this date was used on the naturalization card as the man's date of arrival in the United States.

I was also happy to point out to this researcher that the naturalization card was somewhat misleading in suggesting that the man was from Austria; in fact, as per the naturalization file, when he became a US citizen, he swore to revoke any and all allegiance to The Emperor of Austria, who, at the time of the man's naturalization in 1854, ruled over Milan as part of the Austrian empire.

Now, I concede that the naturalization card was somewhat misleading (and a good lesson as to how indexes can lead us to reach improper conclusions in our research). I also applaud her natural tendency to question the information she saw in my tree (I do, I'm sure, have some mistakes in there), but I also question this person's quickness to "correct" without having performed a modicum of true research on her own.

The key word here is "research." To my mind, calling this woman's work "research" is an abuse of the word, if only because what she had done was only half of the process deserving of that word. "Performing a search," "taking an overview of available information," or even "surveying previous research" is, of course, part of the research process. But locating an online family tree and preparing to undermine that research based on research that hasn't even been performed seems overeager at best, a slippery slope toward shoddy research at worst.

I'm happy (sarcastically) to report that the 15-page Genealogy Report regarding this matter that I sent this researcher has now been faithfully transcribed by her into her family tree, without attribution or documentation as to where she obtained the initial research. Of course, seeing as how I emailed her five years worth of research (along with scans) intending to bring her up to speed, and she never took the time to write and thank me for taking time to do so.... well, the move to proudly display my work as her own doesn't surprise me much.

It is, apparently, all part of her diligent "research."

28 October 2011

Blogger Headaches: Stat Spam

If you have a Blogger blog and enjoy checking your site stats, you may be seeing a bunch of links popping up from random sites that don't seem (on the face) likely places that would be linking to a genealogy blog.

I won't humor the idiots foisting fake stats on our blogs by naming them, but if you check your Blogger stats, you're likely to see one or two listed. One I get constantly is a goth site, another is an auto injury attorney's site. All of them, in my opinion, suck.

Anyways, just thought I would give a heads-up to fellow bloggers who may make the mistake of clicking on these false referrers, thereby giving the b*tards the view traffic they so sickly crave.

If you totally don't know what I'm talking about, there's a nice post from a Blogger help guru here. For those who do know what I'm talking about, the post is still an interesting and informative one, when it comes to the web's greasy underbelly.

26 October 2011

Beautiful Books: An Enduring Tribute

One of the most genealogically-interesting (if not also beautiful) donation/collection tags I have seen:


Found in: An Outline History of Orange County (1846).

25 October 2011

Tribune Tuesdays: Hungry Dog

From: The Oakland Tribune, 22 October 1912 HUNGRY DOG ATTACKS FIVE-YEAR-OLD GIRL Attacked by a hungry dog while returning home from a butcher shop this morning, Georgie Santon, a 5-year-old girl living at 2239 Magnolia street, was bitten upon her cheeks several times by the animal. The little girl had been on an errand for her mother. She was taken to the receiving hospital by her parent where the injuries were dressed by steward Platt.

24 October 2011

Got a Good Genea-Mystery?

I was perusing the great Writers & Poets website this morning, when I ran across the following call for submissions:

SMALL PRESS seeking submissions for mystery anthology with genealogy theme. Open to interpretation as long as genealogy is main theme. You never know who’s part of your family! 3,000–4,000 words. Deadline: February 29, 2012. Free book upon publication. Send submissions to M. Dellafera, 94 Wheeler Rd., Hollis, NH 03049. Questions: mdellafera@charter.net or lwatskin@gmail.com.
I figured that I'm not the only genealogy-buff who also loves a good mystery, so all burgeoning writers should sharpen their pencils! The call is for short stories (3-4,000 words).

Maybe a short story called "The Mystery of the Citation-less Death Date"? Or perhaps "The Woman Who Gave Birth to Grandmother"? The possibilities are truly endless!

But seriously... if anyone wants to form a writer's support group let me know!

20 October 2011

Geneablogger Open Thread: The Genealogy Experience

Good ol' Thomas posted an Open Thread for this Thursday in regards to the necessity (and meaning) of the genealogy experience, and as for most other things in this world: I have an opinion!

Firstly, the intangible experience of genealogy, I believe, is vital to the process of discovery that drives all of our research forward. How that experience materializes is, undoubtedly, different for everyone. For me, at first blush it's a Sherlock Holmes-ian desire to root out the truth, discover the details, and see everything correctly in its place.

This part of the experience is exhilarating: there's the thrill of the hunt, running (sometimes in circles) around an ancestor, trying like hell to pin them down, to establish them distinctly. I find a record, or a corroborative link and the first words out of my mouth are "Haha! I've got you!" It's a chase, a pursuit, and the high when I come out on top is unspeakable. This is the part of genealogy I am addicted to.

Then there is the experience that lends itself to more thoughtful research. I call it "coloring inside the lines," and it involves getting the details on people's lives. This is a more-painstaking process, but incredibly gratifying, as the life experiences of the numbers and letters in my database turn into the story of real people, real lives, ensconced in history and reactive to the worlds around them. This is the part of the experience that reminds me that as I live today, so all these people lived... and I feel honored to know more about them. Sometimes I realize that I may be the first person to have thought of these people in decades, if not centuries. That feeling ties me to the people I research, and some of them, strangely, almost become my friends.

That, pared down and simplified, is my own experience of genealogy.

The software, the books, the libraries, the mailing lists and sites... these are all tools, as I see it, and not the central core of genealogy itself. Our mastery of them speaks not to our abilities but to the ways in which they have helped us manifest the true genealogy experience, therefore the tools rank secondary to the process of discovery and experience of genealogy as each of us experience it.

I see it like this: my husband, who is an electrician, is not made an electrician because of the tools he uses. You could never give his tools to an un-trained individual and expect them to perform the sort of complicated and dangerous work he does on a daily basis. The essence of his being an electrician is the extent of his learning, the depth of his experience, and the now-intuitive way that he understands electricity.

And so it is with genealogists.

This may explain why many who are in touch with their own true experience of genealogy balk so much at others who wield the tools and use the words, but seem to have no heart or skin in the game. Maybe we're not so much angry at them for sullying the world with misinformation, or so much peeved with them for their relentlessly fabricated trees as we are sorry for them that they have, in some way, missed the point. The experience of genealogy, the TRUE experience of genealogy, seems to have passed them by. They have the tools, but not the experience, and so seem woefully unprepared for their own research, and seem oblivious to their own family trees.

So yes, I would say that the experience of genealogy is central. Without that core emotional connection to the research, our ways become somewhat blind. We could travel the world and visit every repository, even piece together a remarkable family tree. But without the emotional component of genealogy, all it is is a process, and not an experience.

That, to me, seems somewhat devoid of meaning, and I regret those stuck on process who don't get to experience the subtle changes of perspective and sense of self that comes with the real genealogy experience. I wouldn't be who I am today without such experience, and to have lost the chance by being blind to it would be a sad fate for me, indeed.

18 October 2011

Tribune Tuesdays: Instant Death

From: The Oakland Tribune, 14 October 1912 INSTANT DEATH UNDER FREIGHT TRAIN WHEELS Instant death followed a fall beneath the wheels of a freight train, when A. Nelson, a brakeman for the Oakland and Antioch Railway, lost his balance and fell between two cars. The body was mangled almost beyond recognition. The accident occurred at 10:30 yesterday morning at the junction of the Snake and Moraga roads, in the Piedmont hills. Mason was 33 years of age and unmarried.

Thoughts on Cleaning and Life (and Genealogy!)

I had started writing a comment to Greta over at Greta's Genealogy Blog about her response to the ongoing Geneamommy posts down the street and around the bend at The Scrappy Genealogist. (Ah, the genea-neighborhood). It got so long, I decided to shuttle my response over to this blog, so as not to hog all of Greta's screen space.

Firstly, what a great surprise to hear about Geneamommys! When I started this blog nigh four years ago, I had just had my first son, and I wasn't running into too many women who were trying to balance caring for young children with working on genealogy. My blog was going well, when, well, nature struck and I got pregnant with my daughter, who was born in January of 2010!

After a hiatus from blogging in order to accommodate myself to the new chaos of raising a toddler and a preschooler at the same time, I see that all sorts of new gals have joined the brigade, and I'm so excited about it!

But on to what Greta posted, about her dozen ways to get life in order, in order to get to life.

I particularly agree with #7 and #11. For #7 (chucking paper where digital will do), I know that since I got my Kindle two years ago I have purchased only two books in physical form... this from the person who had shipments coming in from Dover books many times per year. I cleared out the bookcases for donations to a prison reading program, keeping only the books I treasured most or knew I would read again. The bookcases are no longer groaning under the weight of a mass of modernist and victorian lit paperbacks, and I can change my mind about what I want to read in the middle of the night without having to get out of bed. How's that for improvement and making life easier?

And for #11 (sweating the small stuff so that it doesn't sweat you)... it's so true. Being in the "intense" phase of parenthood with a 4yo and 1.5 yo, the little things tend to not get done. When I walk around the house and count the chores, I get dismally tired!

To combat the stress, I scaled back my freelance work load for the rest of the year in order to get our house under control again, and it is making a huge difference. Cleaning out the fridge, defrosting the freezer in the garage, hanging up pictures that have been leaning against the wall for the better part of a year... stuff like that. It makes the world seem so much more serene when I feel like I have some semblance of control.

And that sense of serenity is what I need, what with the busy life I have tending to the kids, taking care of the house, cooking for the family, not to mention helping out my 81yo mother, visiting my father who is in assisted living, completing my freelance writing and editing work, completing the last five chapters of my first fiction novel, and shopping around my nonfiction manuscript to agents!

When my son goes into 1st grade next year, I'm hoping to place my daughter in a full-day care a few days a week, so that I can have some time to work on my projects in an uninterrupted fashion. If all goes well, in a few years, I'll have published my first two books, resurrected my now-dormant research and record retrieval services for the Bay Area, and be running my own team of writers offering editorial services to websites and blogs.

Well, a Geneamommy can dream, right?

13 October 2011

The Strange Road to Samuel O. Tift

Yesterday was an exciting day, because when I opened up my mailbox, there was a lovely (and rather heavy!) packet from the Allen County Library inside... filled with 103 pages copied from the Journal of Southwest Georgia History. How I ended up ordering these pages tells a lot about the strange roads we walk through our research.

One of my husband's ancestors, Louisa P. Harvey, married a gentleman by the name of Samuel O. Tift in Key West Florida in 1842. Louisa and Samuel had two sons together, but in both the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Louisa is enumerated with the household of her parents... no sign of Samuel.

I've wondered for a long time what happened to Samuel, and as my recent research odyssey into the Tift/Harvey family began, I only knew that Louisa disappeared after the 1860 census--whether she died or had re-married was unknown.

The problem has been a perplexing one, so I hired an APGen researcher to check for (among other things) information on Samuel Tift. His search, beyond the couple's marriage registration, came up null.

Now, the Tifts as a family made quite an impact on Key West, making a fortune salvaging wreckage from ships that ran aground of Key West's treacherous reefs. Two brothers, Asa and Nelson, even funded the construction of some of the Confederate navy's first ships. But how Samuel O. Tift was related to the notable Tifts of the area was unclear. I hoped that somewhere in the copious documentation and primary sources related to the Tifts, there may just be something about him.

In the course of learning more about the Key West Tifts, I posted a message to the Tefft mailing list asking if anyone knew much about the family. In response, I was contacted by a gentleman who was kind enough to send me a short report for information he had collected on a Solomon O. Tift, who, it seems, was also known as Samuel! Being a quality researcher, this gentleman's work was cited properly, and his footnote read as follows:
This information originated with Debra Boswell Crosby at the Dougherty County Public Library in Albany, Georgia. It came from various records at the library, among them the diaries of Nelson Tift. She shared it with Judith Mitchell Bennett, a Tefft descendant, who in turn contributed the information to Pettaquamscutt historian A. Craig Anthony. Mr. Anthony kindly passed this info on to me. 

Wow! That's a pretty circuitous route, but I am cheered that the provenance of this information is, at least, documented.  It gives me a trail to walk backwards (dangerous for someone as klutzy as me), which is a lot more than I had before. As an added bonus, the report included a death date and burial location for Louisa, who, it turns out, died in 1863.

As Nelson Tift was a founder of Albany, Georgia, I was pretty sure that a publication somewhere, at some point, would have published out his diaries. And, indeed, a PERSI search showed me that they had been excerpted by the Journal of Southwest Georgia History... leading to the tasty packet that arrived in the mail.

So yes, I'm excited to learn more about Nelson Tift, and to find more information on my man Samuel/Solomon. And what a twisted road to walk... online records, onsite researchers, a mailing list, an email, and an order to ACPL... I like to think that somehow, after tossing in some phone calls and connecting with some of those historical experts, my research trail will lead me to the story of Mr. Samuel O. Tift.

12 October 2011

Beautiful Books: An Unusual Author Portrait

I always appreciate the author photos in many of the older local histories; most usually they're photos of staunch (and slightly stern) looking older men, who have dedicated years of hard work to write the history of their native or adoptive hometowns.

This one, however, from The History of Ritche County, is refreshingly different:

A lot of period detail to enjoy!

11 October 2011

Tribune Tuesdays: A Small Heritage

From: The Oakland Tribune, 17 October 1912

Seek Missing Heir to Small Heritage

Chief of Police Walter J. Petersen has been asked to locate Robert J. McGregor, who has been missing for the past eight years, and for whom a small heritage is in litigation in Seattle, Wash. Joseph Kiernan, a relative of the missing McGregor, sent a letter to Chief Petersen today, stating that his relative had been last heard of in Oakland about eight years ago. Kiernan states that if McGregor can be found, he will help him to gain the fortune, but that if it can be proved that the man is dead, he would like to assume possession as he is the next heir.

06 October 2011

In Which I Stop the Madness, and Start the Research Logging

Wow, when it comes to logging my research, I'm the absolute worst. Really, I'm pretty sure that on a list somewhere--existing, perhaps, solely in the mind's eye of the genea-god(s)--I am at the tip-top of the logging poo-poo list. Not because I've made it a mission to make myself run in research circles, chasing the tip of the same old tail, but because I'm lazy, and I hate to interrupt the mad rush of research momentum in order to make boring notes about something that I've already done. I'm much more interested in what I have yet to do.

That said, the other day, when I spent about an hour pouring through some online records at FamilySearch, only to realize that I had already done this particular exercise in futility, I realized that enough was enough.

So, I succumbed. I started an online research log.

Does this make me insanely pedestrian? Or stridently superior? I can't tell. All I know is that I opted for the convenience of Google Docs to create a spreadsheet that will allow me to track my research:

Each surname will eventually occupy its own page in the spreadsheet, accessible via a tab:

It occurs to me that eventually it will be very crowded down there, but we'll see how it scales, I guess, and go from there! At least I started, right? Surely that must count for something... Anyways, if anyone sees a glaring omission in this research log, let me know!

05 October 2011

Beautiful Books: 1902 Railway Guide

As I run across a number of beautiful books in the indexing I do for my labor of love, the Google Books Genealogy Index GooBooGenI, I thought I would start sharing some of the illustrations and photos that really catch my eye.

To start, this one from the 1902 Rand-McNally Railway Guide. I think it really captures that excitement that goes along with travel, and I love the embellishment:

04 October 2011

Tribune Tuesdays: A San Francisco Butcher

From: The Oakland Tribune, 18 February 1912
John H. Eggers, Pioneer, Is Dead
ALAMEDA, Feb. 17--John H. Eggers, a business man of Alameda, and formerly a San Francisco butcher, died at his home here today. He is a pioneer resident of the State, and is survived by a wife and four children.

03 October 2011

Free Online Newspaper Archives

Recently I received an email on Ancestry from a member of an Iowa-based genealogical society, containing information about one of my ancestors. In the email, this woman kindly referenced their online newspaper archive, which was hosted by NewspaperArchive.com. The newspapers (mostly historical, some more recent), were free to access, and needed no NewspaperArchive membership to view.

Now, I have a subscription to NewspaperArchive, but imagine my surprise when I did a little sleuthing, and came upon the fact that they actually have a number of these sub-sites that offer free newspapers (and, in a few cases, city directories and township records)! These sites span the country (I did find a few international ones), and, I imagine, are available thanks to some working agreements made between these various institutions (publishers, libraries, historical societies) and the site itself. There's some great local and niche publications (schools, military regiments) available, for free, right now, to anyone.

Researchers in Iowa can particularly rejoice; NewspaperArchive is located in Iowa, and as such has made a number of agreements with Iowa libraries, so the pickings there are particularly hearty.

I figured I might as well get these subsites into a list, hoping that there's some useful information here for other researchers. I did not include in this listing sub-sites that require a full NewspaperArchive subscription to view the newspapers. This list is intended to catalog only those sites offering completely free access.










New Mexico:

New Jersey:

New York:

North Carolina:



02 October 2011

Alternative Sources for Obituaries

Barbara over at Life from the Roots had a post up recently about finding an ancestor's obituary information in a book dedicated to obituaries for Yale Graduates. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am almost obsessive in my newspaper research--and an exhaustive search for obituaries is one of the first tasks I undertake on an individual. Of course, life intervenes, and many times those searches come up blank.

So besides newspapers, where else can we turn? Books, as usual, to the rescue.

For example, there are the alumni obituary records such as the one that Barbara cited:

There are society and professional publications that note the passing of members, like this one from the New York Medical Society:

And there are publications put out by religious organizations that mention the passing of active members, like this one from the Reformed Presbyterians:

And then, of course, there are some of my favorites... those found in Pioneer and local history publications, like this one from the Firelands Historical Society, of Norwalk, Ohio:

As you well have noticed, these are all niche publications... not broad interest. While their coverage isn't comprehensive, these niche publications are great opportunities to put the minutia you have collected about your research subject to work. That symbol on their grave, the mention in the newspaper about how they served as President of a club... any of these can be pointers to an obituary in a publication which you'd otherwise probably ignore!