Archive for ‘From a Researcher’s Viewpoint’

December 29, 2012

Calendar, Calendar on the Wall

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again, time to dust off the New Year’s Resolutions and plan for the coming year’s work.

This year, I’ve resolved not to make any more resolutions. My to-do list is already quite full, thanks to my conversion to David Allen’s organizational system. If you’re wondering, I use OneNote as my base note-keeping device, but I’m having a problem finding a good calendaring system. In 2012, I used my standard annual pocketbook-sized calendar (a day planner) and experimented with coupling it with Google’s online calendar. It didn’t really work out as well as I had hoped, so for the coming year I’m trying something different. I’m keeping my day planner but moving up to the notebook size. I’m also using an office-oriented (i.e. no pictures) wall calendar with one month per page so that I can see everything that’s going on each month and plan my days accordingly.

I put a lot of things on my calendars, from the standard family birthdays to mileage to all of the genealogy institutes and society meetings that are important to me, even if I don’t plan to attend. Deadlines go in a different color and are underlined if they can’t be revised or missed. All events go in my day planner in one to three places, depending upon the event. Institutes, for instance, are entered under Important Dates, the pertinent month-at-a-glance, and then on each day they’re scheduled to be held. Finally, they’re written onto the wall calendar. Again, I do this even if I’m not planning to attend a given institute, if for no other reason than so that I can keep up with some of the major comings and goings in the genealogy world.

Hopefully, this system will help me stay on track in 2013. I’m not a super organized person, but the older I get, the more things I have going on. All these calendars may seem like overkill, but if they keep me from missing something important, then that’s good enough in my book.

December 28, 2012

Home(work) for the Holidays

It may seem like an odd thing to do, but at the end of a project I often suggest specific resources for clients to study, on the (perhaps misguided) belief that an educated client is a happy client. This homework, so to speak, often takes the form of reading material, especially research articles that highlight a problem similar to the one the client is trying to solve or that cover families in the same geographic area.

These suggestions are drawn from material that I’ve found particularly helpful, and I’m constantly looking for new articles or studying ones with which I’m already familiar in the hopes of refining my own understanding of research techniques and strategies.

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December 3, 2012

Things That Make You Go Hmm

Google Reader is perhaps one of my favorite tools. I have several blogs I follow religiously, and Google Reader makes it incredibly easy for me to keep track of all of them. One blog I particularly like is Craig Scott’s As Craig Sees It, where he recently posted The Angels, the Donkeys, and the Prodigal Son.

I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of genealogy angels, but I’ve also had the misfortune to run into a donkey or two. One memorable experience occurred a few years back, not long after I began researching professionally. I made the mistake of posting to a mailing list in search of guidance. I was writing an article about a family of mine, hoping to correct a genealogist who had incorrectly linked a family together in a publication. But I was stuck and needed a bit of help.

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November 22, 2012

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.
–John of Salisbury, Metalogician, 1159 (via Wikipedia)

A sincere and heartfelt Thank you! to all those who have helped me during the past year, either through questions directly answered, or through your individual publications, message board posts, mailing list responses, lectures, seminars, classes, and discussion. I am fortunate enough to know many giants who readily lend their shoulders.

Many thanks also to those who have lent support in other ways, whether through purchases of books, requests for lectures or research, publishing articles, exchanging ephemera, or through friendship and kindness.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

November 14, 2012

Books Galore, Round 2

Our second trip to Elaine and Bill’s to pick up more books netted another filled car…and still there are books left! We estimate that this time there really will be only one more trip needed. This picture shows the number of books brought home from the two trips combined, somewhat sorted into stacks by locality and topic.

This batch held quite a few research guides, including some by authors Noel C. Stevenson and George K. Schweitzer, on topics ranging from Southeastern research to German research to researching military ancestors. I feel like I’ve hit the mother lode.

The Absorene came in a few days ago, so I’ve been cleaning books. Here’s what I’ve cleaned so far.

Yes, I have a ways to go. Any volunteers? No? Well, I had to try…

November 13, 2012

This Time Next Week

In spite of looming deadlines, this time next week I will be taking time off from genealogy to shop and prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I’ll still be working. Lord knows, my laptop is a fifth appendage. But I’ll be cutting back so that I can clean, bake, and spend time with family.

The holidays are a Big Deal for us. Throughout most of the year we try to have family time at least once a month, but for some reason, we spend most of our time together as a family from about September to the following February or March. Part of that is the holidays, and part is due to basketball season. Some must be attributed to winter weather, when the nights fall early and a chill is in the air. This is when we all have the urge to gather ’round the card table for a competitive game of Canasta or two.

When we were little, Thanksgiving was divided between the homes of my two grandmothers. Mom always began preparing days ahead of time, either at our home or at her parents’ home in the Longview community of Macon County, just a few miles up the road. The children were always drafted into helping. We hauled and carried, chopped and washed, cleaned and swept. Ours were the menial tasks requiring little thought but much effort, so that the skilled hands of our mothers could continue apace.

When all the cooking was done, the counters were so full of pies, cakes, stuffing, my grandmother’s special rolls, and other goodies that there was no room for anything else when the feast began. And when everyone was too full to move, the children were called upon once again to expedite the massive clean-up.

My grandmothers are now gone, as is my mother. I imagine they’re sitting up in Heaven looking down on us, thankful that their good work is being carried on to another generation.

November 6, 2012

Books Galore

The past month has been very hectic here, and I apologize for not posting more often. Amongst other things, I’ve been working on two book-length transcriptions, both of which should be available by January.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit a dear friend, Elaine English, and her husband. Elaine wanted to clear out her book cases, and I volunteered to assume custody of the books she has no need for. During our visit, we boxed up and carted off about half of the those books. Elaine and Bill acquired most of these from Allen’s Book Store, which was located here in Clayton, GA, but which went out of business in the ’80s, I believe. Mrs. Allen was herself a genealogist. I remember going into the bookstore and standing in awe before her personal collection of genealogy and local history publications, which ran the length of the wall behind the counter. Now, part of that collection has come into my hands.

There are about 200 pieces all together, bound in a variety of ways from three-ring binders and coil-bound pamphlets to paperbacks and hardbacks, as well as forty or fifty reels of microfilm. Localities covered include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut, New England, and Germany. Topics include census records, church records, newspapers, the Pennsylvania German Society, marriages, and no telling what else. Some of the books are quite fragile, but most are in excellent condition. We hope to pick up the other half of the books from Elaine this week or next, after which I should have a better idea of what’s what.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some Absorene to clean some of the books, which have a little mildew and dirt from being in storage over the past few decades. Some of the books are cloth-covered, and I’ve been told that Absorene is not an appropriate cleaner for those particular books. If anyone has suggestions for the care of cloth-covered books, I would appreciate the help.

I will be keeping many of these books, particularly the ones covering Pennsylvania and New England, but may be looking for good homes for the remainder. We’ll see!

September 24, 2012

If You Can’t Prove It, It Ain’t a Fact

I recently had a conversation with a fellow researcher that I thought was a mutual complaint about undocumented research.1 I’m sharing the gist of my remarks because I think they’re relevant to the problems encountered when sharing information with other researchers.

Now, I want to start this off by saying that I’m just as guilty as the next researcher of making statements of “fact” without having adequate evidence…or was, when I was beginning researcher, a stage it took me a long time to leave for a variety of reasons I shan’t name here. Unfortunately, and much to my present embarrassment, some of those statements are still hanging around, although I’ve retracted as many as I could and am correcting what I could not.

Secondly, it’s difficult in certain forums to give specific documentation, message boards being the one that comes to mind because that’s where the above conversation took place. So, please do not read this as a criticism necessarily of those who have not named sources with their message board posts. I understand how difficult it is to do so. As long as you’re willing to share that documentation when asked, that’s probably the best one can hope for (although I know many professional researchers who would disagree with me).

The problem I have, then, is not necessarily with people who don’t name sources, but with people who refuse to name sources when asked. I’ve encountered a number of those, including the person I was ranting about the other day. I find it particularly hypocritical when someone complains about the circulation of undocumented lineages in one breath, but in the next won’t name, specifically with identifying details, the record from which he or she gleaned a piece of information he or she is touting as fact.

Here’s the thing, though: If you can’t prove it, it ain’t a fact.

Now, I’m not trying to be a hardliner here. Believe me, I understand about research foibles, having made plenty of my own with enough left over for two or three others. But when someone asks you for documentation, be prepared to man up (or woman up, if you prefer). You don’t have to share the actual document, but you should be ready and willing to share enough information about that document that someone else can chase it down. Citing a “birth record” found in a “newspaper from Virginia” doesn’t tell anyone diddly squat. What newspaper in what location? What issue and page number, and where is that newspaper held? Or if you took it from microfilm, what was the title of the film and what was the agency that filmed it, or where did you access the film? And so forth. I’m not talking about academically correct citations here, but about giving enough identifying information that a document can be retrieved by someone else.

If you’re not willing to share the documentation, then, respectfully, don’t share the information. Withholding the former while spreading the latter only makes the problem of undocumented lineages worse. It’s certainly not helping anyone with their research, particularly those who don’t understand what does and does not constitute proof, let alone the differences between proof, evidence, information, and sources.2

So please, share your sources when asked for them. If you have no intentions of doing so, then perhaps you should think twice before “helping” the unwary with undocumented assertions.

* * * * *

1. The other person apparently was in another conversational realm entirely. S/he thought I was demanding that s/he turn over all of his or her research, which of course I was not. (I’m being gender-non-specific because this person refuses to attach his or her name to any message board posts, etc.) I merely wanted to know exactly where this person obtained the information s/he was widely purporting to be fact, which s/he only did after a great many requests, and then only in the most vague manner possible.

2. Many thanks to Elizabeth Shown Mills for making discussions about proof (linked to above) freely available online through her web site, Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage. The web site is a companion to her book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Ed. I highly recommend both to all researchers.

September 18, 2012

Surprise! (Although, I Should’ve Seen This Coming)

The 118th Annual Anderson Reunion was this past Sunday, and a good time was had by all. Especially me, as I had the pleasure of playing with my new cousin, Izzie, who is not quite five months old. Yes, she is adorable, and my only regret is that I couldn’t also spend some time with my other new baby cousin, who is three months old and also adorable. And that is the joy of a family reunion: seeing old friends, and making new ones as well.

If you’re wondering, this reunion is for the descendants of Mansfield and Harriet (Black) Anderson, who lived in Blount and Sevier Counties, Tennessee, before moving to Macon County, North Carolina, before 1850. I’m connected to the family through my maternal grandmother, Ruth (Anderson) Ledford, who was Mansfield and Harriet’s great-great-granddaughter. I’ve spent a little time researching Mansfield and Harriet, but have mostly left them alone because so many others are researching the family, including Roy Duane Collier, who published an article on the couple in 1987,1 and a cousin-in-law, Steve Beck, with whom I corresponded a little in the early 1990s, among others.

After the reunion, I spent some time on the Internet looking through FamilySearch‘s wonderful online database. I thought I’d see if they had any records online in Tennessee for Blount and Sevier Counties, something I hadn’t had a chance to look at yet. Honestly, I was really just piddling and didn’t expect to find anything.

Funny how those things turn out.

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September 16, 2012

Yet Again, the Georgia Archives Scheduled to Close to the Public

O. C. G. A. ยง 50-18-70

(a) The General Assembly finds and declares that the strong public policy of this state is in favor of open government; that open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society; and that public access to public records should be encouraged to foster confidence in government and so that the public can evaluate the expenditure of public funds and the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions. The General Assembly further finds and declares that there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay.

As many of you have probably heard by now, the Georgia Department of Archives and History is scheduled to close to the public on November 1, 2012 due to budget cuts. After that, appointments will be available to those needing access to the Archives’ holdings on a limited basis dependent entirely upon the number of staff available at the Archives to handle such appointments. Since the Archives now has just enough staff to maintain its primary function (processing and storing certain governmental records), it is clear that the number of appointments available after November 1 will be low.

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