Saturday, June 30, 2007

CVGS Program today: "The Magic of Rootsweb" with Alan Jones

We had our special 5th Saturday program today, with 30 in attendance. After my welcome and a short summary of the upcoming CVGS programs and events for the next two months, Connie introduced our speaker - Alan Jones on "The Magic of Rootsweb."

Alan used a Powerpoint presentation, consisting mainly of screen captures, to lead us through the many web pages, search engines, databases and other features on the site. He effectively highlighted the features he wanted to discuss with arrows and text boxes with big letters inside.

He covered the following Rootsweb features in considerable detail:

1) Mailing Lists - how to find a surname, locality or topic list (he recommended using the index list), subscribe to it, post on it, and find the list archives, with examples of success stories from his own research.

2) Message Boards - how to find a surname, locality or topic board, access it and post to it, with success stories from his own research.

3) WorldConnect database - how to access it, how to search for people (he recommended not using too much information unless it is a common name), and how to move around on the results pages. He talked about how to contact the contributor, see all of the names in the database using the Index link, how to download the GEDCOM database, and how to add a Post-em note.

4) Social Security Death Index - how to access it, search for people on the index using Advanced Search, how to make a Post-em note and how to download a pre-written letter to send to the Social Security Administration in order to get the SS-5 application.

5) UK Free BMD Index - what it is, how to access it, how to search with it, and how to use it to see the actual entry in the index.

6) The US Town/County Search - what it is, how to use it, how to search with it, and how to find information on Rootsweb concerning that county (click on the highlighted county name on the results list).

7) Web Pages at Rootsweb - there are many surname sites, locality sites, genealogy society sites, transcription sites, etc. at Rootsweb.

Needless to say, this was a quick tour through only some of the free information, contributed by researchers, available on the Rootsweb site. The 75 minutes went by real fast! Alan has a friendly style and uses some humor and research examples in his presentations.

Many attendees thought that this was one of the best presentations we have had - and it opened a lot of eyes as to what the Rootsweb team has been doing over the last 15 years!

Thank you, Alan, for a wonderful talk! We treated Alan to lunch with 6 CVGS leaders, and had a fun time discussing societies, internet genealogy, family stories and the like.

New England Ancestors magazine - Summer 2007

The Summer 2007 issue (Volume 8, number 3) of the New England Ancestors genealogy magazine, published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, came yesterday in the mail.

This issue has the following feature articles:

* A Guide to Genealogical Research in Vermont, by Scott Andrew Bartley, page 19

* Vermont and Beyond: A Kendall Family Migration Story, by Lynn Betlock, page 26

* Popham Colony: The First English Colony in New England, by Dr. Jeffrey Phipps Brain, page 31

* Samuel Morse, Great Migration Immigrant, by Robert Charles Anderson, FASG, page 34

* "An Awful and Tragic Scene:" The Independence Day Accident at Fort Constitution in New Hampshire, by Christopher Benedetto, page 37

* Writing a Family Sketch in Register Style, by Helen Schatvet Ullmann, CG, FASG, page 41

* New England African-American Resources: A Bibliography, by Kenyatta D. Berry, page 43.

There are also NEHGS news items, six regular columns, a list of books in progress and published, and a list of DNA studies in progress.

Even though I have a very rich southern New England ancestry of farmers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, soldiers and housewives, I rarely find anything about my ancestral families in this magazine. This issue was different - the sketch of Joseph Morse (which is in the latest volume of The Great Migration book) is for one of my immigrant ancestors.

I also appreciated the articles about Vermont research, the story about the Popham Colony in Maine in 1607, and the Ullmann article about Register style.

For me, the NEHGS subscription is a great bargain. I get the quarterly New England Ancestors magazine, the quarterly New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and access to the NEHGS web site at There are many databases at the web site behind the subscription firewall - including Mass VRs to 1850s, Mass VRs 1841 to 1910, the America's Historical Newspapers, and many more. Some public libraries have an in-library subscription to the web site (in San Diego county, Carlsbad Library does).

If these articles interest you, you might check your local public library and see if current or back issues of this magazine are on the shelves.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Transcribing records - my new way

Perhaps I am late in discovering this (I won't be surprised by how many will tell me that I am) "new" method to transcribe records that are in digital image form.

I described in my "Back to the FHC" post yesterday the Rhode Island probate records that I brought home yesterday on my flash drive from the FHC - 38 pages of really dark handwritten text. I knew they would be difficult to decipher and transcribe, and I dreaded the task. Last night, I worked a bit with one of my Photo Editing programs and found that I could lighten the images and improve the contrast significantly, and I "operated" on all of the images.

Then I got to thinking about how I could make the transcribing task easier on the eyes and take less time. Here is what I came up with:

My previous method of transcribing documents into the Notes section of my genealogy program (whether from a digital image or from a xerox copy) was to:

1) Obtain a digital image of the document page.
2) Print it out on my printer in 8.5 x 11 size, and put it on my desk pullout tray
3) Open my genealogy software program to the person for whom I will transcribe the document into the Notes. Open up the Notes section.
4) Decipher the words on the printed page (often using a magnifying glass)
5) Type the words or phrases into the Notes section
6) Double check that I haven't skipped or duplicated the words or phrases - this required constantly moving my eyes and head from the paper to the screen and back. I usually cannot reliably remember more than 5 to 8 words at a time.
7) When done with one page, go to the next printed page.
8) Save the Notes in the genealogy program.

My "new" way to transcribe documents into the Notes section of my genealogy software program, from a digital image, is to:

1) Obtain a digital image of the document page
2) Using a Photo program (I used the Microsoft Digital Image Editor that came with Windows XP), adjust the brightness and contrast levels to make the document as readable as possible. Save the adjusted digital image.
3) Open my genealogy software program to the person for whom I will transcribe the document into the Notes. Open up the Notes section.
4) Scale down the screen window with the Genealogy and Notes to the top half of the screen.
5) Open the digital image in a Photo program (I used the Windows Photo and Fax Viewer that came with Windows XP) and magnify it to a comfortable reading level.
6) Scale down the screen window of the Digital Image to the bottom half of the computer screen so that the text you want to transcribe is visible below the window with the Genealogy and Notes.
7) Transcribe the information from the digital image to the Notes. This entails only an up-or-down eye movement. The image is much easier to read since it is magnified.
8) Adjust the digital image up or down (using the vertical scroll bars) to get to the next bit of text to be transcribed.
9) When done with one page, move to the next in the Photo program, magnify as required, adjust for text viewing, and continue transcribing.
10) Save the transcribed Notes in your Genealogy program.

Here is a screen image of my computer screen using this "new" method. (You can make a screen image by pressing the Ctrl key and the Print Screen key simultaneously, then pasting the image into a photo or other program.)

I won't upload the image of this probate record page as I took it off the microfilm scanner. The above image is much brighter with much more contrast than the initial image I came home with - it was almost dark all over.
I used this method for about 2 hours this morning to work through three pages of the will of Nathaniel Horton. Using my previous method, I would have done the same work in twice the time.
Another benefit of using my "new" method is that I don't have to print out the pages and use up my inkjet cartridge contents and paper supply. I printed 38 pages yesterday that were very difficult to read before I used the photo program to brighten the pages. I learn by doing it wrong, it seems!
Another case where this method can be used is in transcribing newspaper articles on web sites that show images (e.g., NewspaperArchives, NewsBank, etc).
Obviously, you can cut and paste from word processing documents, PDF files and web pages right into the Notes section of a genealogy software program, and then edit the text as required.
OK, is this new or helpful to anyone? Anybody have other "efficiency" tips for doing things like this with document images?

Who is George W. Seaver?

Betty on the GENMASSACHUSETTS mailing list mentioned an article from The Lowell (MA) Sun newspaper dated 19 June 2007, titled "A Very Grave Mystery."

The article describes how children found a gravestone in the yard of their home, which had the inscription "George W. Seaver, Died May 6, 1871, Aged 29 Years" and had a Masonic emblem. The writer did some good research and found that George was a civil War veteran, was actually buried in a Lowell cemetery with his wife and parents and has a gravestone there. They even found an 1870 census entry for his father, William Seaver.

My own records show:

George W. Seaver was born 8 May 1842 in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA, the eldest son of William and Sophia (Warner) Seaver.

George appears in the 1850 and 1860 US Census records with his parents in Lowell, Massachusetts.

George W. Seaver, a fireman residing in Lowell, Massachusetts, enlisted in the Union Army on 21 May 1861 at the age of 19. He was in the 7th Regiment, Independent Battery of the Massachusetts Light Artillery. He received a disability discharge on 6 November 1862 in Suffolk, Virginia. He was promoted to full Corporal (American Civil War Soldiers Database, accessed on

The unit he served with was organized at Lowell as Richardson's Light Guard, an Independent Infantry Company and mustered in May 21, 1861. The unit left the State for Fortress Monroe, Va., May 22, and garrison duty there as Infantry till December 25, 1861. Detached on Light Artillery duty December 25, 1861, and duty at Fort Monroe till May, 1862. Designated 7th Massachusetts Battery March 17, 1862. During his service, the unit participated in the occupation of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va., May 10, 1862; Duty at Fort Monroe May 13 to June 19, and at Newport News, Va., till July 25; Moved to Yorktown, Va., and duty there till September 29; Moved to Suffolk September 29-October 2, and duty there till June, 1863 (information from The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System at

George W. Seaver (resident of Lowell, age 27, a mechanic, born in MA, parents William and Sophia, 1st marriage) married Nancy J. Dame (resident of Lowell, age 26, born MA, daughter of Dan'l B. and Betsey, first marriage) married in Lowell MA on 4 December 1869 (MA VR 218.220, available on NEHGS

In the 1870 US census, the George W. Seaver family resided in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA. The household included George W.Seaver (age 28, clerk in store, born MA, male citizen over age 21) and Nancy J. Seaver (age 27, no occupation, born MA). They lived in the home of James and Sarah Richardson (1870 US Census, Massachusetts, Middlesex County, Lowell Ward 4, Family #455, Lines 5-6, Page 75 (top left), 134 (stamped), on National Archives Microfilm Series M593, Roll 628, Page 134, Image 268, accessed on

George W. Seaver died 6 May 1871 in Lowell MA. He was 29y 1m 28d old, born in Mass., parents William (b. NH) and Sophia E. (n. MA), married, died of "veraloid" (MA VR 239.165, available on NEHGS A search at for "veraloid" did not find any definition of this cause of death.

The administration of the estate of George W. Seaver of Lowell MA, filed in 1871, is in File #9843(Middlesex County, Massachusetts Probate Index, 1871-1909 (Part A-K), accessed on

George and Nancy had no children - poor George died soon after their marriage. Nancy J. (Dame) Seaver (resident of Lowell, age 50, born Lowell, parents Daniel B. and Elizabeth Dame, second marriage) married, secondly, to Nathan J. Marshall (resident of Boston, age 53, real estate, born Merrimack NH, parents Joseph and Lucy, second marriage) on 27 July 1893 in Lowell MA (MA VR 434.211, accessed on NEHGS site

Thursday, June 28, 2007 Launches Original RevWar Documents

DearMYRTLE provided the press release from concerning the launch of selected records from the Revolutionary War period. The press release notes:

"As part of the launch, is making a significant portion of their millions of original Revolutionary War documents available for free from today until the end of July. Included in these records are secret journals, intercepted letters from the British military and letters written by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers. Click here to see samples of these Revolutionary War documents."

I read that, and jumped to conclusions. Then I went to the site and tried to access some Revolutionary War Pension files and it says I need to sign up for the premium content. I am not a premium member -- yet! I'm thinking about it.

Apparently, they have selected the documents that are freely available.

They are offering a FREE 7-day trial with access to all of content - at If you can't wait to see what they have available, go for it!

Memories of 1950's Hungary

One of the wonderful outcomes of tagging games like the Thinking Blog meme is that I usually find some great blogs with wonderful, touching and informative posts to read and add to my Bloglines list.

Such is the case with one of the blogs tagged by Steve Danko - "How to Survive Suburban Life" at

While this Canadian grandmother often posts about her current life, the real story gems, for me anyway, are the memories from her childhood in Hungary (before, during and after the 1956 uprising) and the ensuing emigration to Canada.

Her stated purpose for doing this is so that she can pass these memories on to her granddaughter. The girl will be very lucky to have them.

The stories she tells give the reader the "you are there" feeling. They are vignettes of only one day, or even part of a day. I love the memory posts.

Please go read her posts, and comment on them! There is so much on the Internet that it is difficult to keep up with it. Thanks to Steve for the initial link!

Back at the FHC

The friendly folks at the FHC called the other day to tell me that the two films I ordered on June 9th had arrived and would be there until August 4th. Since they will be closed next week, I figured I had better go down today.

I did check to see if the links to the partners of FamilySearch (Footnote, WorldVitalRecords, KindredKonnections, Godfrey Library, HeritageQuestOnline, and the National Archives) were working yet. The links to HQO and the NA work, but the others do not. Why am I so impatient? - it's been 3 weeks!

The two microfilms were probate records of Scituate RI and Foster RI. I had identified two ancestors that had these records in those towns, so I searched them out. Thank God for indexes - even handwritten ones - they saved me a lot of time trying to read terrible handwriting on very dark pages. I managed to collect records for:

1) Nathaniel Horton - who died in 1819 in Foster RI - there is a will, a codicil to the will, an inventory, three additions to the inventory, the executor's account, and the distribution to the heirs. These records prove that Phebe Wade, the wife of Simon Wade, was the daughter of Nathaniel Horton.

2) Richard Pray - who died in 1755 in Scituate RI - there is a will and an inventory. This record names daughter Sarah Pray, who married Nathaniel Horton in 1756. Unfortunately, she married after her father made his will. There was also a town notice accepting Rachel Pray and her children as inhabitants in 1741.

3) Nathaniel Wade - who died in 1754 in Scituate RI (my list of probates did not show him in Scituate, but in Glocester RI). There is a will and inventory for him, which names his wife Ruth and all his children, including his first son, Simon Wade, who married Deborah Tracy.

So I got a bit more than I bargained for! Serendipity is a good thing!

The background color on the images (captured from microfilm) are so dark that it is difficult to read the writing. When I printed some of them out, my color inkjet cartridge ran out of ink, and actually put a pink background on some pages ... and that made the writing clearer! I'm going to experiment with one of my photo programs and see if I can put a yellow background on these images.

The other thing I'm going to experiment with when I transcribe the records is to put the magnified image of the page in a background window on my computer screen and type into the word processor in a smaller foreground window above the page image. I think this will work fine!

I need to finish transcribing the probate records I have before I go collect more from other FHL microfilms. That is not nearly as much fun as blogging, commenting on magazine articles, or even working on the FTM class syllabus.

Ray Gurganus' Genealogy Program

There is an ongoing discussion on the EmergingTech mailing list about the "Our Family Tree" genealogy web site at

Ray Gurganus is a web site and database developer who has created his own collaborative genealogy database program, which is similar in functionality to The Next Generation of Genealogy Software, PhpGedView and PedigreeSoft. He describes it as:

"I have put up, and am constantly developing, a collaborative website for sharing genealogy information between researchers. A short list of features includes: 100% free, no ads, storing all branches in one common tree, pedigree charts, descendant charts, discussion posts, Google map integration, duplicate checks, feasibility checks, and so on. I'm aiming to bring genealogy into the 21st century of internet technology, doing many of the things that other systems and databases don't do. A more thorough description is available online at ->View -> Help."

The discussion on the mailing list centered on the look and feel of the web site - how does it look, how does it work, and Ray requested comments on ways to improve the site.

While Ray's site is not as developed as the commercial software mentioned above, it is remarkably complete. Ray has over 80 other people putting their genealogy data into this database.

When you go to Ray's genealogy home page at, you can select from a number of options, including contributed datasets, a search of all data, county lists, etc. If you click on one of the datasets, you can then select a person in that database. Select a person, and the information about that person and his/her family appears. From this screen, you can then click on the "His Pedigree," "Her Pedigree," "Descendants," and other links. There are links for notes, documents, sources, researchers, etc. The locations of family members are color coded.

My comments to Ray (in blue), and his responses (in red), were:

Randy: First, let me compliment you on a LOT of hard work that you have done to get this site set up the way you have done it. I appreciate your fortitude to ask people to critique it and comment on it. While your pages are busy and colorful, they are also well organized and intuitive for an experienced researcher. I could navigate them easily and could move up and down in your families, clicking buttons - I knew what I was going to get (at least after doing it once). The drop-down menus work really well. The highlighting under the mouse is impeccable. I love the functionality of the site.

Ray: Based on other responses, I'm working on toning down the colors... but for other people who might post to the site, they can choose their own colors if they want. So it's not all in my control.

Randy: Something like this would seem ideal for a large family web site with many contributors (which is what you have), or for a regional web site (e.g., all of the families of Beaufort County NC, or all of the guests at a cemetery, etc).

Frankly, if I had any connections to your data families, I would join your project! But I don't, and I want to ask you some questions:

Ray: Don't let that stop you. It's completely open to anyone who would like to use the system, even if not directly related to mine. I figure if you dig back far enough, we're all related. So it doesn't matter. :) Plus, you could recruit your own research partners, and collaborate among yourselves.

Randy: 1) How do you enter data? Can a GEDCOM or other file type be uploaded? Or is data entry all by hand? Can you cut and paste notes, sources or other text information?

Ray: For my own data, I personally prefer re-keying so that I'm completely aware of what is going in, and not just dragging along someone else's junk. But as part of re-keying, copy & paste is fine wherever you like. You get to see the data entry pages once you register, and go to add a person. Without registering, the only thing you can do is to post discussion messages.

I am working on a GEDCOM upload, because I figure that not having this would be a barrier to some people who would join otherwise. The biggest concern with uploading is in creating duplicates of people who are already in the system, and I'm shooting for 0% duplicates. So part of the import process will be the system checking for possible duplicates beforehand, encouraging users to use the duplicate checker afterwards, and me harassing people who create duplicates.

Randy: 2) Can someone start this process with a blank database and add to it? If so, how would one do that on a different web host and domain?

Ray: Not at this time. My main goal is to [have] everyone contributing towards one common tree (even if branches don't yet connect), rather than planting new trees. This also helps in my general administration and adding new features, as it's only one installation. But since anyone can add as-yet unconnected branches, segregated from other branches, and custom colors, it's about the same as starting with a blank database.

If someone wants their own domain name for it, I suppose they could point their domain to my site, and I could direct the domain into their starting page.

Randy: 3) Is there a capability to include extensive notes about a person - like a biography? I didn't see anything like that, but perhaps I didn't look far enough.

Ray: When adding/editing a person's record, there is one big notes field which can contain about 65,000 characters, which should be more than enough for anything you want to put in it. Each person can also have an unlimited number of documents (deed abstracts, censuses, wills, etc.), as I prefer keeping historical records separate from the general free-form notes.

Randy: 4) Is the web site design and functionality all your work?

Ray: Yes... I work as a web & database developer, this is where work spills over into play (and some times in the other direction, where things I do here inspire what I do in my day job).

Randy: 5) Are you going to market this site capability at any time?

Ray: That depends on what you mean by "market". I have done some, and will do more publicity posts to county & surname lists and message boards, posting to lists like this one, and nudging researchers in other correspondence. But no intentions to market as a commercial product. It is and hopefully always will be free.


If you have comments or questions, I'm sure Ray would appreciate hearing from you. There is an email address on his web site.

Frankly, I was floored that someone could do this much good work and be essentially "under the radar" of my genealogy world. Many of us could contribute data to this type of web site and utilize it. To me, the critical issue is being able to upload a GEDCOM file rather than enter all data by hand - I have thousands of people in my databases and really don't want to enter them again.

I think that this is a good example of what the social networking sites like Ancestry Member Trees, FamilySearch's Pedigree Viewer, Geni, WeRelate and FamilyLink may become (well, maybe they already are, but I haven't worked in them enough 0 at least some of them allow GEDCOM uploads).

What do you think? Would you participate in this type of web site?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Genealogy Research is NOT Bunk!

The article titled "The Family Tree, Pruned" by Richard Conniff, which appeared in the July 2007 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, (no link to the article is available) has caused a stir in the semi-staid world of genealogy and family history. The front page of the magazine quoted Mr. Conniff as saying "...Genealogy is Bunk."

The article highlights some of the "pop culture" aspects of genealogy - the claims to and glorification of royal or notable ancestry, the invention of pedigrees, the purportedly fictional Roots story, the reported stalking in pursuit of DNA, the "we are all related to each other" argument, and other episodes in genealogy lore. I found the article humorous and fairly dismissive of genealogy as a hobby or vocation. He's entitled to his view. I disagree with it.

I decided I had better understand the words here, so I looked up:

1) Genealogy = A study of family and identification of ancestors and their pertinent information (birth, death, etc.) .

2) Bunk = nonsense: a message that seems to convey no meaning. A ludicrously false statement (IMHO, these are the ones closest to the use in the quote).

My opinions on this subject include:

1) The search for one's ancestry and family history is honorable and is interesting and fulfilling to most people that pursue it. Performing this search and investigating a family's history can be educational and exhilarating, and can put a person in contact with other people who share the ancestry and can add to the collective family knowledge.

2) Knowing the names, relationships, birth, marriage and death dates and locations for ancestors is just the start of the ancestral search. Understanding the history of the times, the social interaction between ancestors and other people, and life events of the ancestors (education, employment, service, interests, hardships, accomplishments, etc.) provides social context and a sense that each individual had some worth and contributed to their community and country.

3) The ranks of genealogists range from amateurs interested in finding only grandma's gravestone to academics and professionals who are trained and certified in the field. Most self-proclaimed genealogists are in between those poles - they have some education, some experience, and lots of enthusiasm and interest in finding out about the lives of their ancestors.

4) Just as there are bad "actors" in our present society, there were bad "actors" throughout history, and probably in every family. Some researchers revel in the discovery, and others are ashamed by it. Likewise, some researchers pursue their links to royals or notable people, and when they find them they brag about them. Some people in our modern society brag about knowing celebrities, or worship them from near or far, and connect their identity to them. It's human nature, eh?

5) Many genealogists make misteaks. The errors are mainly due to lack of information, too much conflicting information, and, in rare cases, intentional distortion or fabrication of facts and stories. All other professions have the same problem - in politics, engineering, journalism, science, medicine, law, and education negative issues are often highlighted and publicized. Nobody's perfect - not me, you or Mr. Conniff.

6) The increased volume of online genealogy data - in free and commercial databases, on social networks, and on web sites - has increased the frequency of the "finds" of links to celebrities or notable people, and therefore added to the "pop culture" perception of genealogy. What used to take weeks to find or obtain (e.g., a census record, a naturalization record, a military pension file), or required a visit to the musty archives in courthouses in a faraway state, now may take only minutes using online databases and services. Technology is wonderful, but most researchers understand that they have to critically evaluate all information in the context of time and place.

7) The use of DNA in genealogy research is actually helpful in determining whether one is descended from a distant ancestor. If males of a given surname do Y-chromosome testing and have the same results, then they may prove that they are descended from a common ancestor. If they can identify that common ancestor (say, a 9th great-grandfather) through traditional research methods in recent history, then the paternity of those males since that common ancestor has been proven. DNA testing may prove, by test results not matching - a "non-paternity event" - that two persons are not related to each other.

8) Up until the 1960's, the traditional family of mom and dad with the kids, a car and a TV, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living nearby, was the norm. Many families are now separated by divorce, location, attitudes, etc. I am not surprised by the yearning of many people to know "who am I?" "where did I come from?" and "how did I get here?" Genealogy research helps satisfy those yearnings.

Genealogy research offers opportunities to reconnect with lost family members and help people feel connected to their heritage. The study of one's ancestry and family history can be enlightening and uplifting for those that choose to pursue it and accept the outcomes.

So -- is Genealogy Bunk? NO! By all indications, NO. It is not false or nonsensical. It makes sense when done well and can be a means to learn more about family members, history and sociology. I still think that genealogy research is FUN and fulfilling.

CVGS Research Group today

Our CVGS monthly Research Group meetings are always lively affairs, with members hoping to get help to solve their research problems, and some brimming with enthusiasm over research successes. Today's meeting had 10 researchers in attendance.

After introductions (we had two visitors and a new member), the meeting started with my presentation of the Genealogy News for June. We then moved onto the research problems and successes.

Martha is having trouble finding Hampshire County VA (now WV) records from the 1790 time frame. We suggested that, if she knows the town(s) where her ancestor lived, she figure out the progression of counties that the town(s) were in over the time frame 1750 to 1900. Then look for records for her ancestor in those counties for the time period that the town was in the county. The county USGenWeb site may have the information, and the LDS Family History Library Catalog may have records on microfilm available for rent.

Next up was new member Shirley, who came well-prepared and provided a two-page handout describing her research problem. She, and other family members, have done years of work trying to identify the parents of Evan Harer (born ca 1790 in VA (?), died 1873 in CA) and his siblings - family stories say they were John and Sarah (Watkins) Harer. They have exhaustively searched records in the places where the Harer children lived, but have been unable to find more information on their parentage. We suggested that she read some of the available books (e.g., here) and online articles (e.g., here and here) about "Cluster Genealogy" and review articles in the NGS Quarterly for examples. By identifying and following the people the Harer's associated with, she may find clues that identify the parents.

Dick regaled us with stories about his Uncle Jim, who was a postal thief and safecracker in the 1920's. He has received information about his uncle from newspaper articles and prison records through the National Archives in Kansas City MO, Laguna Niguel CA and Seattle WA. He submitted a request to the "Get Grandpa's FBI File" web site and got a response, but thinks most of it will duplicate the 400 pages he already has received. He passed the fascinating newspaper article around the group - Uncle Jim was quite a guy, and Dick remembers him from his childhood.

Bobbie described their trip to the Seattle area, where they found a gold mine of info on the Gottlieb Wolter family, who emigrated from Baden to North Dakota to Sultan in Washington state (northeast of Seattle). They found his grave, a history booklet with a plat map, an aerial picture of the farm, and visited the farmstead. In the process, they met the town mayor, the current farm resident, and the museum director, all of whom helped them immensely. Bobbie passed around the pictures, the map, and told stories of the serendipitous events on the trip - for instance, the museum was open only two days a month, and they were there on one of the days!

I really appreciate the sharing of research problems by our attendees, and the helpful suggestions made by the group. This is one of the monthly meetings that sets CVGS apart from other San Diego area societies.

CVGS Program on Saturday - Alan Jones on "The Magic of Rootsweb"

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) has quarterly programs on the 5th Saturday in an effort to serve working genealogists and include other San Diego area researchers.

The next "Special Saturday" is June 30th, at 10 AM in the Chula Vista Civic Center Library (365 F Street in CV) auditorium.

Our program speaker is Alan Jones on "The Magic of Rootsweb." Some of our members heard this talk at the Escondido Family History Fair in March and eight of us attended Alan's talk on USGenWeb and WorldGenWeb in April at the CGSSD meeting.

Alan's biography is:

"Alan Jones, a native Californian, holds degrees in business and computer science and is an IT Senior Consultant currently with Southern California Edison. He has enjoyed blending his computer career with genealogy. He pilot tests genealogy software programs and systems that we use today and some that are coming soon. He volunteers in various record extraction programs, and gives presentations on genealogy using computer programs and the Internet.

"As a teenager his dog, Mugs, had a bigger pedigree than he did, which started Alan's journey. He and his wife live in Mission Viejo and their 3 children also live in Orange County."

The presentation summary is:

"Rootsweb is the largest free unaffiliated genealogy resource on the internet. It is growing every day! Even if you know and use Rootsweb regularly, please come and see what features you are missing out on. Walk with us on the paths to the wonderful features waiting for you. We will cover the email lists, finding resources just for the county you want, various tools to help give your family tree those finishing touches, see actual documents online, censuses, share your genealogy, collaborate with others, search massive databases of genealogy and so much more."

If you missed this talk before, consider joining us for an informative meeting on Saturday, June 30th. CVGS welcomes guests and visitors - please come!

NOTE: Also posted on the Chula Vista Genealogy Cafe blog.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

US County Land Ownership Atlases on Ancestry

While reviewing the list of new databases available on, I found the US County Land Ownership Atlases database.

These are map books of counties, usually by town, that show residence and land ownership. In other words, they show where certain people lived in relation to others, the roads, the physical features, etc.

For instance, I chose to look in Worcester County, Massachusetts. There are two map books available - for 1870 and for 1898. I chose the 1870 one, because I wanted to see if my ancestors, Edward Hildreth and Isaac Smith, owned the land in Leominster at that time.

Each county map book has an index, but the page numbers shown for the towns do not match the image numbers in the database. Leominster was listed on page 28, but actually was on images 30, 31 and 32.

On the image for the central part of Leominster, there were E. Hildreth on the west side of Lancaster Street and across the street was I. Seaver. Now I know how how Hattie Hildreth and Frank Seaver probably met - they were close neighbors!

This is a phenomenal asset for genealogy researchers. County USGenWeb sites have had some of these maps available, but there was not a central source for them.

You will probably have to search page-by-page for the township you are looking for. It seems that the order of the images doesn't correspond to the page numbers in the index, at least in the three counties I checked (in MA, IA and IN).

Unfortunately, there are no names in cities and towns with small lots. These maps are great for large plots but not so good for small lots.

There are few maps for some states - e.g., California has only Alameda (1878), Kern (1901) and Los Angeles (1903) available. There are no maps listed for NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, TN, MS, NM, AZ, WY, UT, AK and HI.

LDS Record Search Pilot experiences

I signed up for the LDS "Record Search" Pilot program in order to see what the new Family Search might look like and how it might work, and to see what records are already available.

After I signed up, I received an email from them giving me directions to and asking me to find a certain record in one of the databases that did not have an index. Then they asked for my feedback on the site and on the search I performed.

There is a search box to find historical records - but it only finds records in the databases that have been indexed to date. It also appears that it finds "sound-alike" matches to the search request, probably using a Soundex-type of search.

The individual collections are listed with three symbols - one for those that are indexed and searchable, another for those with available images, and the third denoting new databases. Partial databases are on this list, such as the 1900 US Census.

The databases that have images include at this time:

* 1900 US Census (partial) (indexed)
* 1930 Mexico census (partial)
* NY Passenger Arrival Lists at Ellis Island, 1892-1924
* US World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 (partial)
* Freedman Bank Records 1865-1874 (indexed)
* England Diocese of Durham Bishops' Transcripts ca. 1700-1900
* Ohio Deaths, 1909-1953 (indexed)
* Utah Death Certificates, 1904-1956 (indexed)

Note that there are no images available for the 1880 US Census Index, and it appears that you cannot find all family members using the present index. But you can use the index at for free and see the family units.

There are no images for these indexed databases (you only get transcriptions):

* Ontario Deaths, 1930-1932
* Texas Death Index, 1964-1998)
* US Social Security Death Index

I did send a comment to them about the Index list being confusing, and received a prompt reply that others had also made this comment.

I even took the opportunity to check for John Robinson Hall in the 1942 WW2 draft registrations, hoping to find the back side of the card that is not easily found on I found it (the image after the face of the card), and now my colleague Joan can learn that her JRH was white, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 170 pounds, had blue eyes, gray hair, a ruddy complexion and no physical characteristics that will aid identification. He registered in Philadelphia on 27 April 1942 at age 56.

This web site bears watching over the months for additions, and it will benefit from everybody contributing their time and expertise at The more that volunteer and do indexing, the sooner that ALL of the LDS data on microfilm and microfiche will be available to researchers. It's a very worthy project.

UPDATE 6/26: Several other genealogy bloggers have commented on their experiences, including:

* DearMYRTLE with Browse Unindexed Microfilm Online TODAY - she shows some screen shots and much detail about "how-to". Great post.

* John D. Reid with How do you search genealogy records?

* Birmingham Genealogical Society with New opportunity from FamilySearch Labs

* Becky Wiseman with which includes comments about FamilySearch Indexing also.

I'm sure there are others - please let me know who has posted them.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales

The New England Historic Genealogical Society is offering the new book The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales by Richard K. Evans for $29.95 to NEHGS members ($34.95 cover price). The book covers 12 generations in an ahnentafel format, and is 576 pages with an 8 page color insert.

The advertising for the book says:

Among the interesting details found in The Ancestry of Diana, Princess of Wales:

** A significant twelfth-generation ancestor was Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, whose ambition displeased his sovereign and ultimately led him to the chopping block.

** Queen Anne left no surviving children, but Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, the Queen’s best friend and most loyal servant, is one of the most prominent of Diana’s female ancestors.

** The Princess descends twice from the handsome Duke of Gordon and his wife, Jane Maxwell, known for her vivacity and wit, and famous for raising the Gordon Highlanders from her husband’s estates.

** Another Scots forebear was Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, general of the forces that invaded Scotland in support of Monmouth’s rebellion in 1685. As a result, Argyll lost his head at the same place where his father, the 1st Marquess of Argyll, was decapitated for changing sides one time too many during the English Civil War.

** Through her musically gifted maternal grandmother, Ruth Lady Fermoy, Diana descends from a large cross-section of middle class Scots, primarily in the county and city of Aberdeen. This group includes paint manufacturers, a builder, an architect, a Writer of the Signet, printers, scholars, prosperous farmers, a bank cashier, judges, soldiers, provosts, and a variety of merchants — but also more than a few baronets, lairds and their ladies, a King’s “fool,” a sprinkling of Scots peers, and one Scottish primate, the Archbishop of St. Andrews.

** One of Diana’s maternal great-grandfathers was an Irish peer who married an American “Dollar Princess,” daughter of millionaire Wall Street broker Frank Work. This alliance was typical of many nineteenth-century transatlantic marriages, bringing infusions of American capital to the cash-starved European and British nobility. The marriage gives Diana more than one hundred American ancestors, some of whom were among the early settlers of New England.

** One of Diana’s more prominent American ancestors was Joseph Strong, who served in the U.S. Army as a doctor and became a respected physician in Philadelphia. Among Strong’s first cousins was Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale.

Richard Evans has been an avid genealogy researcher since 1965. He began researching this subject upon the engagement of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Mr. Evans lives in Atlanta, where he runs a marketing consulting company.


Cool. I have always hoped to find a connection to Diana Spencer so that I could brag about a cousinship. This book may be just what I need!

Della's Journal - Week 26 (June 25-July 1, 1929)

This is Installment 26 of the Journal of Della (Smith) Carringer, my great-grandmother, who resided at 2115 30th Street in San Diego in 1929.

The "players" and "setting" are described here. Pictures of some of the players are here. Last week's Journal entry is here.

Here is Week 26:


Tuesday, June 25 (pleasant): Trimmed vine on 2114 [Fern Street] porch & big vines on south. A[ustin] went for treatment, has 5 more. Lyle's went to hear the Marston singers. Ma phoned, I told her to stay longer if she wanted to.

Wednesday, June 26 (pleasant): I went to town to get A[ustin] Absorbin Jr. $1.35 & Barbara $0.49. I sent my lodge dues for July, Aug & Sep. Got a few things for kitchen upstairs. Agent brought woman to look at Flat. Emily worked.

Thursday, June 27: Washed. Ma came home at 6 P.M. Mr Van Beber brought her.

Friday, June 28: Gave Ma bath. Vernon & Mrs. Auble took me out to Ma's house. I painted stoves & went to Garlocks in P.M.

Saturday, June 29: Ed over - he had been sick all week. Was able to cut lawn. A[ustin] went for treatment. Emily worked 4 days.

Sunday, June 30: Lyle's went to Country. Mrs. Penticost & son Vernon went with them. Ma & I went out to her house. L & E took us out. We had Van Beeber change steps. We cleaned in yard & burned the grass. Then Mr. V.B. brought us home. Showed us their new lots.

Monday, July 1: A[ustin] got pay. I went to town, got tax receipt. I paid $72 some cents for lots 10, 11, 12, Blk 61, Seamans & Choates Add[ition] for the West Shore Investment Co. which were advertized they had paid the paving the 29th. A[ustin] treatment, got A[ustin] 3 bottles of Cream of Magnica $1.85.


This seems to be a very calm week - no new visitors, no real hard work, lots of going to and fro. Marston's was the department store where Lyle Carringer (Della's son) worked - stating in 1905, and retiring in 1961. They apparently had a vocal group that entertained occasionally.

We are now 6 months into 1929, and the family seems healthy and doing OK economically. Della keeps the family accounts and is quite diligent in banking and paying bills.

CVGS Program - Anne J. Miller on "Overcoming Obstacles..."

We had our Chula Vista Genealogical Society (CVGS) meeting today at the library, with about 40 in attendance. Anne J. Miller from Temecula was our guest speaker on "Overcoming Obstacles that Interfere with Finding Your Ancestors." Anne's biography and talk summary are here.

Anne used her professional experience as a PhD psychologist in this talk - telling us that our problem solving styles, first impressions and assumptions, our thoughts and beliefs sometimes hinder us from finding our ancestors.

She introduced and defined "convergent thinking" (oriented toward finding the best single answer to a question) and "divergent thinking" (producing many possible answers to a question). A purely convergent thinker would search for only "John Robinson Hall" and no other name variation. A purely divergent thinker would "name collect" all people named Hall, put them in a database, but would never put them into families. The ideal for genealogists is to be a divergent thinker but not obsessively so. We should search for all possible answers, but work toward finding the right answer to a problem.

She noted that first impressions and assumptions may be wrong, but people may subconsciously ignore, excuse or reject information that doesn't fit. One of her examples was a family story about a great-grandfather who was born in Scotland and his family owned a mansion there. The truth was that the fellow was born in Ireland, but the family members refused to believe it because the Scottish story had been handed down over several generations and they wanted to believe it.

Anne showed a list of surnames with just one letter different, and discussed how the Soundex method of finding similar sounding names won't work on them - essentially because of an added or missing consonant in the name, or because the surname was indexed with a different first letter. Examples included Irwin - Erwin, Owens - Owen, Vasquez - Basquez, Niles - Miles, Johnson - Johnston, Thomason - Thompson, Colton - Cotton, Leigh - Lee. Understanding the Soundex system is still important, since and other search engines use it for their "Sound-like" searches.

She recommended that researchers should be aware of their thinking style (see, try to think outside the box, and consider all possible solutions to a problem. You should question your beliefs, assumptions and research findings. Understand how, why and when various sources were created, and then critically evaluate them. You should expect the unexpected - other marriages, divorces, people moving in unexpected directions, name spelling errors, etc.

This was an excellent talk on a subject of interest to all researchers - from an angle that many of us don't consider.

Smithsonian mag cover: "Why Genealogy is Bunk"

Rick Sayre and others on the APG mailing list have discovered that the July 2007 issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article (page 90) by Richard Conniff titled "The Family Tree, Pruned: Its lure is powerful - but genealogy is meaningless, relatively."

However, the cover of the magazine screams out "Why Genealogy is Bunk" ... a little editorial license, I think.

Rick Sayre summarizes the article as saying:

"Thru the selected discussion of controversies such as Roots, he attacks the credibility of genealogical research. His thesis seems to be that we are all in pursuit of famous ancestors, and that connection is irrelevant anyway since it only takes a few generations for our genetic linkage to our ancestors to be unidentifiable."

I have not read the article in question yet - and it is not yet available on the Smithsonian Magazine web site.

I recall that there was an article back in November 2006 by a British woman, Zoe Williams, titled "Ancestor worship" that questioned the motives, usefulness and veracity of genealogy research - along the same lines as Mr. Conniff. There are many interesting comments to Ms. Williams post on the newspaper web page. I blogged about this article here and here, and my fellow genea-bloggers had some interesting comments.

I imagine this will be a subject for several months on the APG and other mailing lists, in the genealogy magazines, and on the genealogy blogs. It's going to make wonderful blog fodder. And the letters to the editor of the magazine should be interesting.


UPDATE 6/26, 9 AM: I had a comment from "Richard," who says he is Richard Conniff (and I believe that it is him), concerning my post. For the benefit of my readers, here it is (between the dashed lines):

Gee, I guess you don't realize that accusing a writer of plagiarizing someone else's work is deadly serious business in the real world of journalism.

But to do so when you are too cheap to go the bookstore, or too lazy to go the library, and actually read the Smithsonian magazine article you suggest is plagiarized, demonstrates reckless indifference to truth.

You are apparently making this accusation purely out of malice, because you hold a different point of view about genealogy.

So, as the author of the Smithsonian article, let me assure you that I have never read or even heard of the article you accuse me of plagiarizing. So now you are publishing knowingly false information.

And, bingo, the combination of reckless indifference, malice, and knowingly false information meets the Supreme Court definition of libel, for which I am entitled to seek compensation.

But a simple retraction and apology would be a good start.

You should also know that scanning the article for publication on your blog would be a violation of copyright law.
To address his points:

1) I wrote my blog post on Sunday, and read the article on Monday at the library. I did not comment on the article contents, only the fact that it was published. Hardly "reckless indifference to truth."

2) I have no malice for anyone who obeys the law and doesn't threaten my life or family. I do have an emotional reaction when someone criticizes my vocation and that of respected professional genealogists. I have no malice for Mr. Conniff or even other journalists.

3) The one paragraph in my post that suggested Mr. Conniff might have taken information from another article was speculation on my part. I used the word "if". My bad.

4) After comparing the two articles, I can positively say that Mr. Conniff did not plagiarize or poach Ms. Williams article.

5) Therefore, I do retract my comment about Mr. Conniff's possibly "poaching" from Ms. Williams' article and apologize to him for writing and posting it. I have deleted the lines from the blog post.

6) I am aware of the "fair use" and copyright provisions of the law, and did not and do not post scans on my blog that would violate those laws.

For those curious about Mr. Conniff's work, there is a good summary at One of his books is "The Ape in the Corner Office." He sounds like an interesting and funny writer and speaker.

When someone makes a mistake, you hope that they learn something from the mistake. Needless to say, I have learned from this experience. Blogging is so "instant" and is usually done without editors (or wiser or cooler heads). I own what I say and write, and all bloggers need to be aware of that ownership. I imagine that is why so few professional genealogists have blogs and express opinions about genealogy issues.

Criticism of journalistic content has a place in blogging and I hope that genea-bloggers will post their reactions to Mr. Conniff's article as time and interest permits.


UPDATE 6/26, 1 PM: I have deleted the two sentences from my original post that Mr. Conniff thought were libelous. The archived post should not contain the two sentences.

After reading Footnote Maven's comment, it behooves each blogger to understand the legal issues involved. "Malice" of a personal nature apparently does not equal "legal" malice. Another lesson learned! Thanks fM!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Tagged again - the "Thinking Blogger" meme

I was tagged by Bill West at the "West in New England" genealogy blog for being a "Thinking Blogger." This started the other day...

The idea here is to "tag" five other bloggers who make you think. The rules as passed down by Bill include:

"The rules for the meme are straightforward...

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;

2. Link to the original post at The Thinking Blog, so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme; and

3. Optionally: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ graphic with a link to the post that you wrote. "

There is a "What kind of thinker are you" quiz on the Thinking Blog page. If you take it, you have to provide name, address and email to get the results. I took the test...and am a ..... well, the connection went down between the time I filled in the form and pressed the button to send my information. Oh well, maybe I'll take it again.

My honorable task is to select five bloggers who make me think (and try not to duplicate blogs that others have tagged - this is hard, because the meme proliferates quickly!). My five choices (based on who I know have already been picked and on my blogroll) are:

1) Boston 1775 (J.L. Bell) -- this is the best colonial history blog site I've found. I read every post and marvel at the information presented.

2) Ancestor Search (Kathi) -- this blog posts genealogy news and many technology articles, especially Google related. I try out everything she recommends!

3) Family Matters (Moultrie Creek/Denise Olson) -- this blog covers technology things, especially as they apply to genealogy. Each article is interesting and informative and makes me wonder "do I want that?"

4) Anglo-Celtic Connections (John D. Reid) -- I really enjoy reading this blog and the activities of the BIFHS in Ottawa, plus his own research posts.

5) The Genetic Genealogist (Blaine Bettinger) -- this blog posts solely on genetics and DNA research as they apply to genealogy. There is excellent information in some scientific detail, which I appreciate, without going way over my head.

Those are my five that make me think, and I could have chosen from many more. Hopefully, they will find my Tag and will then find five more "Thinking Bloggers."

The "Thinking Blogger Award" widget? Well, I haven't figured out how to do those types of things yet on the "old Blogger."

Thanks to Bill West for tagging me. Let's see how far this tag meme goes this time!

Wonderful article on "Personal Names"

Dana Huff, on her Our Family History blog, links to an article titled "The use of personal names" by Roger Darlington in the UK - posted at

This article is long, and fascinating. The Western European naming customs apply to North America also, because of the ancestral connections back to Western Europe. The author goes on to discuss Eastern Europe, Arab, Central Asian, East Asian, African and Australasian naming customs.

Thanks, Dana, for the link, and Roger for the scholarship and information.

"Where are the Records?" Juliana Knows!

Juliana Smith has posted an excellent article on the 24/7 Family History Circle blog titled "Where Are The Records?" She provides a good list of places to search for records that are not online.

Read the whole thing.

Post #1000 of Genea-Musings

Who would have thought that an unknown, mild-mannered but passionate, non-professional but experienced, and addicted genealogist could start a blog in April 2006 and write 1,000 posts in just over 14 months?

My first post is here -- and it was called "Randy's Musings" at the time, thinking I would share my shallow thoughts and deep feelings about a number of subjects. I had high hopes of pontificating not only on genealogy, but also on sports, family, books, science, engineering, politics, etc.

I changed the blog name to "Genea-Musings" in early May 2006 after an inspiration in the shower. Everything but genealogy (well, except for an occasional family post and book review) went off to a separate Randy's Busy Life blog in June 2006, which has devolved to San Diego sports, family news and email jokes. Then I obtained the domain name from Lee Anders (alas, still no web site - too busy blogging!) and started my own Geneaholic blog in March.

1,000 posts seems like a lot, but it really isn't. I look at Dick Eastman's online newsletter that has been going for 10 years and see a wealth of genealogy information - and history of sorts. My guess is that he has posted something about every important (and many unimportant) announcements over this time - that is quite an achievement. I look at Chris Dunham's Genealogue blog and see a lot of original humor together with finding obscure, strange and funny news articles - and many more than 1,000 posts over two years. Then there are the many genea-bloggers who post regularly on their research, news, etc. Many of them write quality posts that are much more valuable, interesting and stimulating than those of some of the "high volume leaders."

1,000 posts over about 430 days works out to be just about 2.3 posts per day. There are days with 0 posts (when I am away from home, usually) and days with 5 or 6 posts (when my geneaholism kicks in and I can't help myself). I've learned to husband my postings - when the subject is an "evergreen" or is not "time-critical," then I will save it for the rainy day when I don't have the time or interest to write something original. There's a rhythm to genealogy blogging - I try to do it every day and fear that if I don't put out a daily dose of musings that I will fall out of the habit and let my faithful readers down (and reduce my daily visits and page count too).

Honestly, I probably spend too much time blogging and not enough time doing research and including the results in my databases. You should see my piles of new data waiting to go into FamilyTreeMaker - I have a 2 inch pile of probate records and church records on my desk waiting to be transcribed and a 12 inch stack of abstracted early Massachusetts land records waiting to be input. Frankly, blogging is more fun than transcribing, abstracting or data-inputting...but still not more fun than "ancestor hunting." Heck, I'm retired - I try to do the "fun" things in life. Who will care if they don't get done? Only me, I think.

Thank you to my faithful readers - you know who you are! I have 47 readers on Bloglines alone, and I don't know how many on other RSS services. Over the past three months, my visits have averaged about 180 unique visits and about 290 page visits. The absolute highest day was May 10 when I had 831 visits and 1,186 page visits (a post of mine about Michael John Neill's census images being removed was mentioned on Dick Eastman's blog).

I have always considered that my primary audience was researchers like me - those on the lookout for new web sites, databases, articles, etc. I really enjoy sharing my experiences doing research, whether in a repository or at home in my snugs. I share them hoping that it will help or encourage other researchers. I do indulge my penchant for the strange or funny by name-whacking in the census, online databases, newspapers, and the like. It ends up being an eclectic mix of posts.

So I've gone from being unknown to being obscure. I'm still passionate about genealogy research, still a non-pro, and still addicted enough to do something genealogy-related for 6 to 12 hours on many days.

What is the value of blogging about genealogy? For me as a blogger, it is being up-to-date on genealogy news and research. For me as a reader, it is reading about genealogy news as it happens, and reading about the research efforts and successes of genea-bloggers.

What about you? Why do you blog? Why do you read genealogy blogs?