Monday, May 22, 2006

Have you had a "Problem Solving Workshop" at your local society?

I am the Program Chairman for the Chula Vista Genealogical Society (south of san Diego CA), and wanted to share a summary of our program today.

Every so often (usually when the Program Chair fails to find a speaker in time!) we run a "Problem Solving Workshop" as our monthly program. We had one today which I moderated, and it worked out quite well. Our expert panel was three highly respected and experienced members of our society - Shirley Becker, Bernice Heiter and Susi Pentico - who were asked to provide suggested research avenues to help solve the problems. The goal was to help the members research further, not to stump the panel or to have them do the research for the member. We allotted about ten minutes for each problem.

We solicited the research problems of our membership, and used the first six that we received. I had them fill out an "Elusive Ancestor" form (similar to the one in Everton's Genealogical Helper magazine) to summarize their problem statement, what they knew about the subject, their sources and additional information. I then made an overhead of each completed form for the audience to see while the problem was described by the presenter and addressed by the panel. I provided a copy of each problem to the panel last week so that they could gather thoughts. The panel had the society's set of Research Guidelines published by the Family History Library for each state, plus several resource books, at their table in order to help address the problems.

The members' problems were:

1) Identity of parents of William Reynolds Spencer (1806 Greene County NY - 1883 Iowa County, WI), married to Tarry Hopper, parents of Nancy Spencer (b 1826), resided in Greene County NY and Allegany County NY.

2) Identity of parents of Jesse Lee Jones (1855 MO - 1947 KS), married to (1) Sarah Gregory, father of Ferdinand Clark Jones (b. 1874 in MO).

3) Records for life and ancestry of John Robinson Hall (1886 NY - ???), married to Anna Schrader (b. 1895 NJ), had son Louis Robinson Hall (b. 1918 in NY). The only data found for JRH so far is a WWI draft registration card when he resided in 1918 in Los Angeles and was an "Aviation Director."

4) Identity of Sarah Pulver (?) (??? - 1874 MI), who married Henry Sharpsteen in the 1860's and had son Verne Sharpsteen (b. ca 1868) in Calhoun County MI. The Pulver surname shows up only in the son's marriage record.

5) Identity and ancestry of Mary Tirez (?) (1854 IL - 1915 IL), who married Lorenzo Titus and had 4 children. The Tirez name shows up only in her marriage record in 1872 (but the handwriting is difficult to read, and the spelling is different in the marriage authorization and in the priest's return).

6) Proof of the parents of Sebastian Arney (1775 VA - 1810 VA), who married Anna Maria Phillippi in 1795 in Wythe County VA, and had many children. He may be the son of Christian Arney (1750 PA - 1834 NC), a RevWar veteran with a pension file who resided in Lincoln County NC after 1775, but Sebastian is not mentioned in Christian's will or Pension File.

The panel did a nice job on the six problems presented by the members. These were all difficult research problems that the members had worked on over a long time, and they are typical of the research problems we all face in the time frame and localities mentioned. The panel made several excellent suggestions for further research to each of the presenters. State census, federal census, land records and probate records were often suggested to hel psolve the problems.

If anyone reading this blog knows something about any of these problem families, please contact me at

Has your society had a program like this? If not, you might consider it, especially if you have a hard time finding a speaker.

I am currently booking speakers for two programs in September and then in all of 2007, so if you would like to offer to present a 60 minute program in Chula Vista, please contact me at We can offer a receptive audience of 30 to 40, a free lunch and a small honorarium to defray expenses.

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