Friday, May 30, 2014

Darned Boys in Dresses

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things:
Darned Boys in Dresses

Note this family in the 1870 census.1


Here’s the same family in the 1880 census.2


“Harriet Gray, a female born about 1865 in the 1870 census, has become Harry, a male,” wrote Melinda Daffin Henningfield in an article about the family.3

Other, independent, evidence corroborated the name “Harry.” At that point, I would have been all done. Problem solved.4

But the genealogical proof standard requires another step: resolution of conflicting evidence.5

That step had always been a bit of a mystery to me until Thomas W. Jones’s book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.6 In my mind a matter is not resolved until it is proven. Jones clarified what is needed. “Resolving the conflict requires us to separate the evidence into likely-correct and likely-incorrect answers, discard the incorrect answers, and justify or explain that separation and discarding.”7

In Melinda’s article, I saw this practice in action. She wrote,

The informant for the Gray family in the 1870 and 1880 censuses is unknown. In the 1860s, “[u]ntil about age five, boys were kept in skirts.” (Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 [Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 1995], 210) The enumerator in 1870, perhaps not being familiar with the family, may have seen Harry in a skirt and heard Harriet.8

Simple, direct, and a reasonable explanation for the conflicting evidence.

Thank you, Melinda for helping teach me about resolution of conflicting evidence.


     1.  1870 U.S. census, Mississippi County, Missouri, population schedule, James Bayou Township, p. 9 (penned), dwelling 71, family 74, Harriet Gray; digital image, FamilySearch (( : accessed 4 May 2014); NARA microfilm M593 roll 792.

     2. 1880 U.S. census, Hickman County, Kentucky, population schedule, Columbus Magisterial District #1, ED 113, p. 10 (penned), dwelling 95, family 104, Harry C.; digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 May 2014); NARA microfilm T9, roll 420.

     3.  Melinda Daffin Henningfield, “Susannah or Mary: Who Was the Mother of Robert White Gray (1858-1935) of Hickman County, Kentucky,” Crossroads, Winter 2014, 16-25.

     4.  I wrote about growing knowledge and practices—maturity—in a series of articles. “Genealogical Maturity Model,” The Ancestry Insider, blog ( : accessed 4 May 2014). This post contains links to the other articles in the series.

     5.  Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogical Standards, Thomas W. Jones, editor, 50th Anniversary Edition (Nashville, Tennessee:, 2014), especially pp. 1-3. Also see “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for the Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 4 May 2014).

     6.  Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

     7.  Ibid., 74. He continues with three situations in which the reasoning can be applied. I’ll not detail them here. Buy the book.

     8.  Henningfield, “Susannah or Mary…”, 20.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 Adds Linking Tool to FamilySearch Collection

The new feature doesn't work on all trees.Amy Johnson Crow, spokesperson recently wrote about a new feature on the ability to link a record from an image-only collection to someone in your tree. They fly a bit under the radar, but both and have collections that haven’t been indexed. I’m on a bit of a crusade this year to get people utilizing these collections better. If you find a record of an ancestor in one of these collections, it used to be impossible to attach the record to someone in your member tree.

To try this new feature, I attempted to attach a map of Marshall, Oneida, New York. Clicking the orange save button produced the message to the right.

I was disappointed that didn’t have the capability that Crow suggested. I thought maybe it was just a limitation on books—some of which handles a little differently.

I tried an image from the “Associated Press, The AP World, 1943–2001” collection. That too, could not be attached.

I decided to try the collection that Crow demonstrated, “North Carolina, Confederate Soldiers and Widows Pension Applications, 1885-1953.” Interestingly, the source information for this collection stated that it is from FamilySearch. I randomly browsed one of the options, “Rainey, William - Reed, William H.” It was a FamilySearch microfilm header. I clicked the orange Save button and it worked as advertised.

The Save button has an option to save the record to a person in your tree.

I selected a tree and began typing in a name. A list of matching names dropped down and I selected one of them. I could then select from a dropdown list of event types consisting of birth or birth substitutes (baptism, christening, confirmation), death, marriage, and residence. Beneath that I could specify the basic information about an event: date, place, location, and notes.

Specify the tree, person, and event information.The example date was “Nov. 1, 1980.” I tried the genealogical standard date format and it worked fine. It showed “Country, State, County, City” in the location field, but when I started typing in a location, the dropdown listed locations in the more conventional smallest-to-largest format. These are trivialities but I bring them up because they show that software designers at and FamilySearch often don’t do genealogy themselves and sometimes don’t consult with genealogists as they implement their products.

I clicked Save and it showed a confirmation message inviting me to go to the person’s profile page or save the record to another family member. That’s nice because records usually mention more than one family member.
On the person’s profile page, the event was entered into the timeline with the information I specified and a link back to the record.

The event is placed in the person's timeline.

This is a slick feature. Too bad FamilySearch can’t do this. Maybe someday they will implement timelines too. In the meantime, use it on I don’t know what determines if the feature is enabled on a particular collection—maybe its just image-only collections from FamilySearch—but I hope they extend it to all collections.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mother’s Day Videos

Better late than never. Click each thumbnail to watch each video.

From “Here's to the mothers who fought, who farmed, who loved us, who raised us, who taught us right from wrong. Celebrate the mothers - today, and everyday.” Mothers Day video

From FamilySearch: “To Every Mother: Is there any title more honorable than that of ‘Mother’? Are there any stories more inspiring than those of loving mothers?”

FamilySearch Mothers Day video

My favorite Mothers Day video this year: “Unlimited hours. No breaks. The most important job is also the world's toughest job.”


Happy—belated—Mothers Day.

Monday, May 26, 2014 Updates Find-a-Grave iOS App

The Find A Grave app support background upload.Just in time for Memorial Day, has released several often requested features for its Find-a-Grave app.

The app can now upload photos in the background while you continue to take photographs. This can be a big help when you are shooting grave after grave, particularly when connection speed is slow in a distant, rural cemetery.

You can set the app to upload photos only when connected via Wi-Fi. This avoids use of costly minutes from your cell phone’s data package.

You can set the app to automatically delete photos after upload.

These Memorial Day features follow the release last month of other features. (I’m a little behind on updating you about mobile apps.)

You can view profiles and edit your own profile. You can take a selfie for your profile. You can see your contributions, your photo requests, and your claims.

You can create virtual cemeteries to organize groups of memorials.

Last month also tweaked some of the features of the app.

By default, the app searches all locations, not just those near you. For specifying locations, the app gives you a list to select from. This ensures the location matches those in Find-a-Grave.

The app can rotate a photo.

The app displays GPS coordinates, where known, for a memorial. If you click the coordinates, the app displays the location on a map. The app displays both memorial contributor and, when different, manager. The app links these to their profiles. The app makes it more obvious how to add a memorial. first released the app in March 2014. The app gives you access to more than 100 million graves in half a million cemeteries around the world. Look up a grave anytime, anywhere you have cell phone coverage. Request a photo from over 200,000 volunteers or snap one yourself. Honor ancestors by creating memorials with bios and photos.

The Find-a-Grave app is available for free from the iOS App Store.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Darned Brazilian Records: Actors and Apostles

Photograph from Janet Leigh Curtis's 1961 Brazilian immigration cardWe depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Famous People Have Visited Brazil

My thanks to Whitney Petersen who pointed me to some interesting records in the “Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965” collection on It seems many famous people have travelled to Brazil over the years.

Orson Welles went to Brazil in February of 1942 to film "Carnaval" (also known as "The Story of Samba"), which was supposed to be an episode for his film, It’s All True. Click to see which of his three wives was married to him at the time.

Orson Welles's Brazilian immigration card, February 1942 filming of "Carnaval" for It's All True.

Welles returned to Brazil a couple of months later to direct another episode, "Jangadeiros" (also known as "Four Men on a Raft"). He must have been a workaholic. See which of the Big Five he lists as his place of residence.

Orson Welles's Brazilian immigration card, April 1942 filming of "Jangadeiros" for It's All True.

In 1940 while in Brazil promoting his film, The Sea Hawk, a romantic swashbuckler campaigned for Pan-Americanism and against Nazi alignment. At the end of his visit he arrived back in Hollywood on a stretcher.

Eroll Flynn's 1940 Brazilian immigration card, promoting his movie, The Sea Hawk

Visiting at the same time, another young actor was described as “inelegant, wearing old and very crumpled clothing.” (See Antonio Pedro Tota’s 2010 book, The Seduction of Brazil: The Americanization of Brazil during World War II, pp. 82.)

Henry Fonda's 1939 Brazilian immigration card

Errol Flynn returned to Brazil in 1954. His Hollywood career had ended in 1950. He went abroad and in 1954 produced and starred in Crossed Swords. Click to see where he resided at that time. I wonder if this hotel’s owner knows of the connection.

Eroll Flynn's 1954 Brazilian immigration card

Recognize this cute, two year old girl? Search for her address on the web and you may discover other celebrities that lived previously in her Beverly Hills mansion.

Jamie Lee Curtis's 1961 Brazilian immigration card

She was travelling with her famous father…

Tony Curtis's 1961 Brazilian immigration card

…and mother. It was on that trip that Janet met Jorge Guinle.

Janet Leigh Curtis's 1961 Brazilian immigration card
Janet Leigh Curtis's 1961 Brazilian immigration card

Another star linked to Jorge Guinle visited Rio in February of 1962.

Rita Hayworth's 1962 Brazilian immigration card

Tony Curtis stared as Antoninus in Kirk Douglas’s 1960 movie, Spartacus. That same year, Douglas obtained his Brazilian immigration card. The origin of the name of his movie company, Bryna Productions, can be seen on his card.

Kirk Douglas's 1960 Brazilian immigration card

A few months before the February 1948 release of Bob Hope’s Road to Rio, he was, literally, on the road to Rio. He travelled to Brazil with his wife and two of his children.

Bob Hope's 1948 Brazilian immigration card

Some clerk couldn’t resist the urge to take this souvenir.

John Wayne's 1952 Brazilian immigration card, sans photo

Members of FamilySearch sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be interested to see a number of apostles and prophets in the collection.





Actors and apostles. Yes, “Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Planning Your Time at a Conference

I really liked how I planned my time at the National Genealogical Society’s 2014 annual conference. I thought I’d capture it here so I can remember what I did next time. Perhaps it will be of value to you too. The conference app was key and while a smart phone is most convenient, a laptop works with the app as well.

A great thing about an NGS conference is that with ten tracks to choose from, there is always at least one session I want to attend each hour. The problem is with ten tracks to choose from, there is always at least two sessions I want to attend each hour. Planning your time is key.

Before the conference I go through the available sessions. The app allows browsing through the sessions in different ways (below, left). I usually browse by day (below, right).

NGS Conference App - Browse sessions NGS Conference App - Browse sessions by day
The app provides session titles, descriptions, presenters, skill levels, and track designations (right). I bookmark sessions of interest by clicking the star on the upper-right. The app places the bookmarked class on an in-app calendar (below). I check to see if there are session times without a bookmarked session. If I’ve missed any, I go back and add one or more sessions to those times.

NGS Conference App - My Schedule

At the conference I make final plans for each day on the evening before, choosing from among conflicting sessions. For each session time, I review conflicting sessions and choose one. Sometimes I’m still unable to narrow my chooses to one per session time. I download the handouts for those sessions (below). If you don’t have a supported smart phone, download the entire syllabus to your device before coming to the conference.
NGS Conference App - Session page
NGS Conference App - Session handout download NGS Conference App - View Session handout in App

Handouts show different levels of preparation, organization, educational skills, presentation skills, and presenter qualifications. I can usually decide among sessions based on the handouts.

  • Sometimes a handout communicates a topic so well, I opt for another session!
  • Sometimes a handout makes it clear what the skill level of the presentation will be and I can tell if I will be learning new material.
  • Sometimes a handout contains a small outline filling less than the allotted four pages. I assume the presenter didn’t have the discipline to prepare his handout until just before the deadline. I usually skip these sessions.
  • Sometimes a handout consists of a four-page bibliography. It reflects the presenter’s extensive library of the best texts collected over an entire career. I can understand how this is valuable for some people. I personally don’t derive a great amount of value from it. I’ll never buy or read that amount of material for a single subject. Give me a list of the sources used for the session, but highlight a handful of the most valuable. A strictly bibliographic handout makes it difficult to judge the value of a session. The presenter is probably an expert, but it is impossible to judge their skills as an educator.
  • Sometimes a session lacks a handout, demonstrating the presenter’s lack of respect for attendees. I avoid these sessions when I can. Unfortunately, since the Ancestry Insider’s editorial focus is and FamilySearch, I should attend their sessions. presenters and FamilySearch product managers are among the worst offenders, for which I’m sorely ashamed. Their marketing departments pay big bucks to sponsor conferences, which gives them maybe a single page in the syllabus. Yet they regularly pass up the opportunity to get a four-page handout in the hands of self-selected interested users? Unbelievable.

As I finalize my choices, I leave all interesting sessions bookmarked. If a session is cancelled or the room is full, I already have alternate choices identified.

Having identified my final choices for each session time, I use a feature in the NGS conference app to copy my choices onto my smart phone calendaring app. I like the integration that provides me with my calendar in Outlook. I imagine it works with other cloud-based calendaring systems as well. If you lack a smart phone, run the conference app on your computer before the conference and print your schedule from there.

During the day the app is useful for the built-in maps. From the app calendar, click the session, then click the hyperlinked room number. The app will open a map and zoom to the room.

Once I get to a session I can pull up the syllabus; I’ve already downloaded it (above, right). When viewing is initiated from the session page, the handout must be viewed in the in-app viewer. But initiated from the Downloads page, the handout can be viewed in other viewers. I prefer this option, as it gives me more powerful viewing options, the ability to backup the handout in the cloud, and the ability to keep my handouts when the conference app goes away.

Some handouts in iBooks (top row)
Some handouts in iBooks (top row)
A handout in iBooks
A handout in iBooks

The system worked so well, I can hardly wait until next year!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Thank You to Attendees

The National Genealogical Society's 2015 annual conference will be in St. Charles, Missouri on 13-16 May.The National Genealogical Society sent a thank you to attendees of their 2014 conference. It included some interesting information.

Thank you for attending the NGS 2014 Family History Conference in Richmond, Virginia. The final registration was 2,593 which included conference attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and volunteers.

Next year’s conference will be 13–16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. You can make hotel reservations already with the conference discount. See

The Society declared their first foray into live, video streaming a success. They said they had 406 people sign up for live streaming. They also announced the on demand available of those same sessions. (I published their official announcement yesterday.) Interestingly enough, I talked to several people at the conference who also signed up for live streaming so they could attend other sessions and afterwards view ten more.

At the NGS Banquet we announced that NGS was extending registration for viewing the recorded live streaming sessions through 31 May 2014. This extension will give you a chance to view sessions you missed or let you view them again. Or if you have a friend who missed the conference, tell them they still have a chance to view ten of the conference presentations. The On Demand recordings will be available for viewing through 10 August 2014.  The details and costs for the On Demand recordings, previously offered as ten live-streaming sessions, are available at

The message included information about the Genealogists Declaration of Rights, with a link to a site where you can electronically sign the petition.

The Genealogists' Declaration of Rights is available to review and sign online at Please encourage other genealogists to sign the Declaration.

NGS presents several awards each year.

Don't forget to submit nominations for next year. See

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Recorded Sessions Available Online

Some of the lecturers:
Elizabeth Shown Mills
Elizabeth Shown Mills

Barbara Vines Little
Barbara Vines Little

Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones

David Rencher
David Rencher

The National Genealogical Society has announced that the ten lectures it streamed live during the conference are now available for viewing online. (See “National Genealogical Society Streaming Conference” for my pre-conference article.) For members, either of two tracks (five lectures each)are available to members for $65 or all ten lectures for $115.

Previews of the lectures are available online.

Here is the complete text of their announcement:

National Genealogical Society Announces Post-Conference Viewing of Ten Sessions

Register Through 31 May 2014

Arlington, VA, 15 May 2014: The National Genealogical Society (NGS) announces that registration for post-conference viewing of ten lectures from the NGS 2014 Family History Conference which was recently held in Richmond, Virginia, will be extended through 31 May 2014. Over four hundred people signed up for live streaming before the conference and post- conference viewing is being made available at the request of many who did not learn about the live streaming before the conference.

Details of the post conference program can be found on the NGS Conference website at NGS has selected some of the most popular topics and nationally known speakers for the two featured tracks. Registrants for the recorded sessions can select either track or the bundled package that includes both tracks.

  • Track One: Records and Research Techniques. Learn about best practices and research sources.
  • Track Two: Virginia Resources and Migration Patterns. Learn about Virginia

Registration for post-conference viewing will close at 11:59 p.m., 31 May 2014.

All registrants will receive an electronic version (PDF) of the NGS 2014 Family History Conference handout for each session. Registration is discounted for NGS Members with a checkout code.


Track Selection

Included Formats

Member Price

Non-Member Price

Track Descriptions

Track One or
Track Two

Access to Track One or Two through 10 August 2014


Use code at checkout


Records and Research Techniques

(five lectures) or

Virginia Resources and Migration Patterns

(five lectures)

Bundled Package

Track One and Track Two

Access to both Tracks through 10 August 2014


Use code at checkout.


Records and Research Techniques

(five lectures) and Virginia Resources and Migration Patterns. (five lectures)

You can view the sessions as many times as you want through 10 August 2014. NGS has selected PlayBackNow to provide the recorded sessions for later viewing. Instructions for viewing will be sent to registrants as they sign-up.

Founded in 1903, the National Genealogical Society is dedicated to genealogy education, high research standards, and the preservation of genealogical records. The Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit is the premier national society for everyone, from the beginner to the most advanced family historian seeking excellence in publications, educational offerings, research guidance, and opportunities to interact with other genealogists.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Using Case Studies to Learn

Thomas Jones addresses the 2014 National Genealogical Society conferenceThomas Jones presented several sessions at the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. I attended the lecture “Using Case Studies to Learn Research Methods and Share Family Information.”

Jones’s lecture was a breakthrough for me. Maybe I’d missed the point when it came to case studies.

“Nobody wants to learn about somebody else’s ancestors,” Jones said. He was reading my mind!

My friend Terry presented several NGS lectures this year. One was a case study titled “Upside Down Migration: South Carolina to Nova Scotia to New York.” Why would I want to hear about Terry’s ancestors migrating from South Carolina to Nova Scotia? And assuming they made it that far safely, why would I want to follow them the rest of the way to New York?

Conference lectures are only one place I’ve run into case studies. My friend Laurel’s article in the June 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly is titled “Parentage of Martha Smith of Alabama and Mississippi: Overcoming Inconsistent, Incorrect, and Missing Records.” Do you think I care who Martha Smith’s parents are? I could care less! (I know that phraseology bugs some of you. I’m just seeing if you’re paying attention.)

Ironically, I’d also run into case studies when I took Tom Jones’s course at the British Institute in Salt Lake City. Now here he was at the NGS conference telling me that people are not particularly interested in other people’s ancestors.

What gives?

“[A case study] is told for the purpose of teaching a technique,” said Jones, “What can be learned about the methodology and the records.”

That was an “aha-moment” for me. Genealogy is all about sources and research techniques and case studies teach about both. Case studies are like mysteries that draw you in, said Jones. Unlike a mystery, however, you learn the answer at the beginning and then learn how the author solved the mystery.

Isn’t that a better way to learn than sterile study?

Speaking of “ahah-experiences,” Jones mentioned that epiphanies occurring during your research may indicate you have a candidate of your own for publication as a case study. Other good bases for case studies are doing something special to solve a problem, using unusual records or using records unusually, or solving a problem about unusual ancestors or unusual situations.

Don’t those sound like interesting ways to learn about methodology and records?

Jones said that well written case studies repeatedly refer to the principles being taught.

The title might reference both narrative and the lesson being taught. That explains the long title of Laurel’s article. While it addresses the subject, the “parentage of Martha Smith of Alabama and Mississippi,” it does so to teach research techniques, “Overcoming Inconsistent, Incorrect, and Missing Records.” I’ve had to deal with missing records. If there’s a technique that worked for Laurel, maybe it would work for me!

The introduction might reference both narrative and lesson being taught. The introduction from Terry’s syllabus states both “a New York born confectioner’s Halifax marriage reveals his Canadian wife’s South Carolina roots” and “Loyalist records uncover her family’s unusual migration.” The first is just a vehicle to teach the second. This lecture might help me on a number of fronts. Could unusual migrations be causing any of my brick walls? Could Loyalist records help me with any of my research?

Case studies are more than just recitals of other people’s ancestors. Jones pointed out that they can help me unblock my brick walls, they can teach me how to use particular records, and they can teach me how to solve difficult problems.

Yup. I had missed the point.

- - - : - - -

Jones recommended genealogists regularly read a couple of the five big genealogical journals. He follows all five. The National Genealogical Society Quarterly (for which he serves as coeditor) is included with membership in the National Genealogical Society. The American Genealogist is available by subscription.
The Genealogist is available by subscription. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register is included with membership in the New England Historical Genealogical Society. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record is included with membership in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Using Evidence Creatively

Elizabeth Shown Mills addresses the 2014 conference of the National Genealogical SocietyAttending a national conference is not complete without attending a session from each of Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. The Mills session I attended was in a huge room. We filled every chair and then turned people away. I’m guessing that 50% of all those attending the conference that day tried to attend that session.

Mills spoke to the topic “Using Evidence Creatively” at this year’s annual conference of the National Genealogical Society.

Mills started by having us imagine we were in a thunder storm. Benjamin Franklin was in that situation and looked at it in a whole new way. “Creativity in genealogy doesn’t mean creating evidence,” she joked. It means devising new ways to look at our evidence, form hypotheses, and test those hypotheses.

Let me share a few thoughts and quotes from her presentation.

We need to be thorough.

“Innovative ideas require a good, sound store of both information and knowledge.”

We get some evidence from records that don’t even mention our ancestors. It is called indirect evidence.

“Names the same, doesn’t mean the person is.”

Some people are interested in filling in the blanks and not filling in the details of a person’s life.

Tax rolls might have clues showing a person’s neighbors. Even alphabetized lists might indicate the date that the tax was collected.

Dr. Alex Osborn in Applied Imagination said to let your imagination be guided by stabs such as “what if” and “what else”.

When it comes to problem solving it is not a matter of whether we will find evidence—we’re going to find evidence—but if we can recognize and fully utilize it.

Her presentation reminded me of a column Mills wrote in the New York Times last November. Readers sent in questions and she responded. One reader from Alexandria, Ky. had a letter from his grandmother, some family lore, and a mention in the 1920 census. He wanted to find her birth and marriage records. In her response we see some of the creativity Mills mentioned in her lecture. She said, in part,

What exactly does your grandmother say in that letter? Did she include a return address? Does she mention any other person or any event that had just happened in her life? To whom did she write the letter? Where did that person live? Do you know the identity of any sibling, parent or other kin? Do you have your grandmother on the 1910 census, taken just four years after she wrote that letter? If so, who did she live with? What was her address?

Read the entire response on page 2 and page 3 of the article on the New York Times website.

Then, try to stay dry in that rain storm.

Monday, May 12, 2014

#NGS2014GEN Framing the Problem for Overseas Research

David Rencher presented at the 2014 NGS conferenceDavid Rencher, the Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch, presented a session at the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. It was titled, “Framing the Problem for Overseas Research.” Rencher has noticed that when people make genealogy trips overseas, they often fail to accomplish their objectives. Thinking about frames can help us have success.

Each of us has a frame in which we view a problem. Identify your desired outcome and then frame your objective.

You need to manage your frames. Recognize that your frame is not complete. If you know the boundaries of your frame, you recognize other frames lying outside of those boundaries. For example, if you are used to using U.S. land records, and you try to apply that to, say, Irish land records, you will have problems. Only the upper 10% of people owned land in Ireland. The indexes are different. Applying the same frame to both does not work.

At the end of WWII an American Intelligence Officer was asked to find war criminals. The officer thought through the problem, thinking about how the criminals would think. Rather than trying to hunt down each one of them, he ran an ad in the Berlin newspapers asking for security experts, figuring they would apply. Sure enough, many applied for the job. That young officer was Henry Kissinger.

You know you need a new frame when you’re getting poor results, having surprising outcomes, and having difficulties communicating your frame. If you’re driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, you see one view through your front window. If you’re in a boat driving under the bridge, you see a different view. If you’re in an airplane, you see yet another view.

Ask yourself some basic questions. What boundaries do I put on the question? How do I measure success and failure? What metaphors do I use in thinking about the issue? Why do I think about this issue the way I do? What does the frame emphasize and minimize? Do others think differently about the issue?

Identify your desired outcomes for travelling overseas. Some might want nothing more than to stand on the old homestead. Others might want to identify and meet living relatives. Others want proof that they came from a particular parish. Some may want to visit the homeland area, learn the history, and visit historic sites in the area.

Your objective frames the research problem. You need to stay lasered on your objective. Depending on what you want to do, you prepare differently, you plan to visit different archives, and you plan to look at different records.

Say you wish to find the property where your ancestor lived. You’re going to check tax records, detailed survey maps, deed and mortgage records, and landed family estate papers.

For this objective, you should plan to visit the National Archives, the Ordinance Survey Map Office, map collections at national libraries, and local record offices.

For other objectives, you approach the objective differently. (Rencher went through each of the objectives he’d listed earlier and outlined the different records and archives. The records and archives varied accordingly.)

If you go overseas and you have not locked in where you’re going to go and what you’re going to look at, you’re not going to be as successful. Be lasered on the objective.

Think of many alternatives to pursue during a trip. Have backup plans. Build in consistencies. Say for example, you can’t find a person in a particular parish. What are you going to do? What adjoining parishes might have the record? What places might have duplicates of the records?

Our minds usually ignore evidence which does not fit into our frame. Sometimes we try to dismiss it. Challenge your assumptions. Some of you have made assumptions about your family and don’t have evidence about it. Ask others about the problem. Then listen; don’t interrupt with comments like “done that.” Label knowledge as known, presumed, or unclear.

Be realistic about what can be accomplished in a day. Visiting an archive may involve waiting late in the morning for the archive to open, registering, receiving instructions, looking through indexes, waiting through staff breaks, waiting for records to be delivered from storage, and leaving at the close of the business day. Dinner is a 2.5 hour process there. Realistically, you may get in only four or five hours of productive research.

Lastly, have fun!

Friday, May 9, 2014

#NGS2014GEN English Research and the FamilySearch Wiki

Nathan Murphy of FamilySearch presents at NGS 2014Nathan Murphy of FamilySearch presented a session titled “FamilySearch Wiki Guide to English Research” at the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. Murphy is a senior research consultant at the Family History Library.

Murphy started by asking everyone to silence their cells phones while giving him leave to leave his on. You see, his wife is just about to have a baby and he didn’t want to miss a call from the hospital. Needless to say, he planned to be on a plane the minute the session was over.

In the past, the Family History Library published a series of research guides. With the Internet, websites were being added more quickly than the guides could be updated. Consequently, FamilySearch established a wiki that could be updated by both FamilySearch staff and researchers at large. That’s where the information from the guides migrated. Over 75,000 articles are now present in the Wiki. The wiki and its use is growing. In the next month or two we expect to get a million plus visitors each month.

The wiki contains resource information that can be used in conjunction with the FamilySearch catalog. For example, the catalog entries for Somerset County list no online resources. However, if you go to the Wiki article, the article contains many links to online records. The links include both free and paid resources. You need to be aware of all the resources available and articles in the wiki include parishes that aren’t available in the records from the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

In the Wiki search for articles by location or by topic. For example, from the article about England, you can link into related topical articles, or you can link to counties within England. From county pages you can link to topical articles, but you can also link to parishes within the county.

If you went to the England page, this is what you would see:

FamilySearch Wiki article about England

You have links to record types in the left column. And further down the page you have links to each county.

If you go to you can see the parish boundaries for all the jurisdictions in 1851 England. Much of the jurisdictional information from that project is now available in the wiki.

At the bottom of each parish page is what is called a nav-box. It has links to all county-related record types, parishes, probate courts, and county archives.

Glastonbury, Somerset, England page in the FamilySearch wikiBeneath the article title on a parish page is a bread crumb trail that shows you the hierarchical path going back up to England. Beneath that is a table of contents for the page.

If you click on the history tab you can see a list of edits and the editors. Click on the username and you can see a page about the author. This can help you judge the quality of the information in each article.

Besides browsing or search in the Wiki, Google can be used to find the parish pages in the Wiki.

An example showing parish register information online is Chediston, Suffolk. FindMyPast and FamilySearch are both publishing its records online.

Links to online parish records of Chediston, Suffolk, England

Another example is Burnham Westgate, Norfolk. “We don’t always know exactly what we have online, so I had to put “undefined.” In some instances you can find an index on FreeReg and the images on Where multiple indexes exist, if you can’t find your ancestors on one website, you may be able to find it on another.

Links to online parish records of Burnham, Westgate, England

London Church Records shows online, published, and microfilm records for marriage licenses. The marriage licenses contain more information than present on the church registers.

One strategy to find missing baptism entries is called radius search. In Wing, Rutland under Maps and Gazetteers you can click through to the England Jurisdictions 1851 map site. There you can specify a radius search and see a list of all the parishes within that distance. You can then use online indexes for a quick search. Then you’ll need to recheck the microfilm, since indexing errors can exist.

It can be difficult finding wills and probate records in England. Depending on where you lived, you’ll go to a different court to find the will. In Kent, you could go to a dozen different places. (Blue text is a hyperlink. Red text is a hyperlink to an article that hasn’t been written yet.) We have most of the English wills on microfilm at the FHL.

Published abstracts of wills that index all names are rare. “England Everyname Probate Indexes” gives some examples, some of which have been published online. Every name indexes are useful. For example, you can find a daughter’s father’s name.

English census records have been published up through 1911. They have all been published online.

Chancery court records deal with things like family disagreements, divorces, and so forth. Ronald Hill has allowed us to publish an article he wrote about finding them.

We’ve also tried to show which of the old Heraldic Visitations pedigrees have been published online. Go to the county page and look for the Heraldic Visitations link.

Another valuable source is called lay subsidies. These are tax lists and go back to the 1200’s. FamilySearch went in and microfilmed thousands of these, but no one knew we had them. We have originals from 1272 to 1678 of hearth tax records. Because it covers the whole country, it was cataloged under England Taxation records. The catalog can help you find what has been covered. The E 179 catalog entry on the National Archives website gives some information. These can give you an idea of who was living at the time previous to coverage by parish registers.

One of the curious things about these online parish records [I didn’t note what parish or website he was showing] or other records is that there is no online information about coverage of databases. In some of these cases we have better coverage information than the websites where the databases are located.

Murphy finished his presentation without cell phone interruption. Go home, Nathan. Your wife needs you.