Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The genealogy WORLD is on Twitter

I previously wrote a post called "Where do genealogists meet on the internet?" which questioned where genealogists go to discuss ideas and network.  There were many possibilities and a nice discussion ensued.

Since then I have been spending more time on Twitter.  I didn't go willingly onto Twitter (just as I didn't go willingly onto Facebook).  A friend of mine (that would be you, Rob!) declared he was abandoning Facebook for Twitter.  Not wanting to lose his witty company, I followed.

It took me awhile to get the hang of Twitter and to understand what this mysterious form of communication was all about.  Do you know what I discovered?  The WORLD of genealogy is on Twitter, not Facebook.

What do I mean by that exactly? Well, while I was on the APG list and Facebook I had a very American centric view of genealogy.  It seemed to me that it was mostly American genealogists who were utilizing the web.  When you have limited streams of information it is easy to fall into that kind of assumption.

On Twitter I discovered Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and the British of course as well as genealogists from other countries. It took a little getting used to the realization that these other groups had thriving genealogical communities of their own. How could I have been so wrong?

Part of the answer is that Twitter is a public forum while Facebook is private.  When you post on Twitter everyone on the internet can see what you have "tweeted".  When you use the tag #genealogy, everyone who follows that tag can immediately see the tweet.

Facebook on the otherhand, is based on "friending" people.  If you are not friends with a particular person you will not see their posts.  Some people on Facebook limit their friends to people they know in person.  Others, like me, will friend most anyone who is a genealogist.  What you see is based on how big your circle is.  As a result your circle becomes more national-centric than worldly.

Twitter is not, however, a larger audience than Facebook numbers-wise.  Twitter has far fewer members than Facebook.  I don't have any statistical evidence for this but I would say that Facebook has many more genealogists than Twitter.  Yet at the same time I would say that Twitter has greater impact with fewer people because those people potentially reach a far greater audience.  Unfortunately, there is no way to calculate just how many people view an individual tweet.

So the next time you want to know what genealogists are doing in the rest of the world - get on Twitter!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Family Memoirs: Fascinating Magical Objects

This post is one in a series intended to help and encourage people to write down their memories in short, manageable segments. These memories will in time build to become a memoir that can be passed down to future generations.

Fascinating Magical Objects

Was there an object during your childhood that captivated your attention and fascinated you? I was recently reminded of my magical object after many years of forgetting about it.

As a child one of the things that captivated me was my mother's button box. Everything about the box was interesting. It was an assortment of hundreds of buttons on the inside in all different shapes, colors and sizes. I used to pour out the box just to look at what were to me, magical buttons. The box itself was special too. It wasn't an ordinary box. It had a design that reminded me of embroidery. And the corners, instead of being square, were notched into a slight groove that a child could slip its finger into. We didn't use the button box much for actually retrieving buttons but it was there when we needed it. Mostly it was a mysterious item that received new buttons and seldom lost them.

Think back to your childhood and try to remember if there was any object that captivated your attention.  Write about what it looked like and why it captivated you.  You'll enjoy the trip down memory lane and your descendants will have another way to get to know you better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaker Tip: "Heading Out the Door" Check List

Checklist for Speakers

Heading out the door to go to a talk can be a hectic time for speakers.  It's handy to have a checklist available so that you don't forget anything.  This is the checklist that I use.  What would you add to it?

Navigation Tools

  • GPS
  • Printed Mapquest
  • Gas in the car 
  • Train/Subway/Airplane tickets
  • Spare cash for tolls, parking etc


  • Laptop
  • Projector
  • Remote for PowerPoint Presentation
  • Extension Cord 
  • Spare Batteries
  • Thumbnail drives with backup presentation and handout files

Presentation Materials

  • Printed bio in a large font so that people can read it without their glasses
  • Printed copy of presentation slides
  • Printed copy of Audience Handout (This is an extra. Handout has already been sent in advance)
  • Detailed notes in case anyone follows up afterwards with very specific questions


  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Coke/Apple/other item to keep you awake for the ride home


  • Digital camera
  • Business Cards
  • Books for Sale
  • Sample Reports (if appropriate)

Family Memoirs: Comparing and Contrasting Childhoods

If you haven't done it already, start a file on your computer where you can record your memoirs, the memories of your life and those who were a part of it.  By completing short exercises like this one every so often, you will leave the gift of your life to future generations.

Some of my earlier posts on this topic included:
Today I'd like to ask you to think back to your childhood and jot a few notes down.  Ah, but it's not that simple!  

Think about your childhood and then think about your kids' childhoods.  What was your childhood like?  What is childhood like for your children?  Compare and contrast what's different between the two.

For instance, my childhood was devoid of parental attendance at after school activities.  It just didn't happen.  Both of my parents were working.  But I think, at that time, it wasn't stressed for parents to attend games or other events.  However, today I seem to have spent most of my boys' childhoods on the soccer field.  I have missed very few games.  The amount of time I spend with my children is vastly different from what my parents spent with me.  I don't think either is right or wrong.  It's just different.

Also, think about the things you didn't like about your parents. We all had conflict with our parents at one time or another.  Was there something that your mother or father did that you said you would never do when you became a parent?  How did that turn out?  As an adult did you become opposite of your parents or did you, as the joke goes, become your parents?

Remember, this exercise is about contrasting and comparing childhoods not getting too in depth into analysis.  If you know about your parents' childhoods, you could turn this into a 3 generation exercise.  Write about how your childhood was different from your parents and how your children's is different from yours.

Future generations will love to hear about the differences in childhoods through the generations.  Take 15 minutes and get writing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Canvassing a Town for Historical Resources

The next time you take a trip to a town where your ancestors lived don't just stop at Town Hall or the library. There's a lot more that you can do to really get a sense of who you ancestor was and how they lived. You can do this by canvassing the town for historical resources.

Hopefully, before you go on your trip you will have created a research plan so that you know precisely what is available at the library or town hall. Haven't done this yet? Then head back to your computer and check out the local library catalog online or the Family History Library catalog online.

When you schedule your trip, add an extra day ahead of time to canvass the town. Canvassing the town will reveal the physical elements of history that are still present and re-directs you to look for more records.

During the process of canvassing the town you will visit all the town graveyards, make note of the historical homes that are still standing, root out physical elements of the past such as old bridges, mills, historic town animal pens, veterans monuments, etc.

What's the point of all this? Canvassing the town for physical features will give you a sense of what the town looked like when your ancestor lived there and help you familiarize yourself with the layout of the town.

Not only do cemeteries provide genealogical information they are also a physical connection to the past. If you have a number of family members in the local cemeteries, then your ancestor(s) may have been there a number of times to send off other family members and friends. They may have stood in front of the very stones that you are standing in front of today.

While at the cemetery make note of the sections and the general age of the gravestones. Take a look at the landscape of the cemetery. Try to imagine what it looked like when your ancestors were alive.

Historic Houses
I love to visit historic towns and often read the plaques on the historic houses to see when they were built and who built them.  Any homes built before your ancestor's death would have been a house that your ancestor actually viewed during their daily life.  Not all homes will still be standing from that time, but the ones that are provide a physical connection to your ancestor.  You will likely find most old homes in the center of town.  Perhaps even your ancestors home is still standing.  You can mentally erase the more modern homes to get a feel for what the town used to look like.  If you write a biography you can include photos of local historic houses to show how your ancestor viewed the town.

Do you know what religion your ancestor was?  See if the church they attended is still standing.  Take photos of the outside and inside if you can.  Sit the pews where your ancestor sat for so many Sundays.  The church I attend was built in 1838.  I often think about what it might have been like for folks attending church back then.

Stone walls, pounds and other physical features
New England, more than any other part of the country, is full of what we now consider quaint stone walls.  Many of them were built during the late 18th and 19th century.  Observe any stone walls you find and photograph some if they are around historic farms or houses.

Another stone feature to be on the look out in New England is the town pound.  This is where the wandering animals were placed until their owners paid a fee and retrieved them.  Animals on the loose were serious business to early New Englanders who needed to make sure their crops didn't get eaten by stray animals. Many towns still have town pounds preserved.  If your ancestor was a farmer perhaps his animals spent a few hours here and there in the pound.

Also be on the lookout for other old-time physical features such bridges, mills or perhaps mile markers along the old post roads set up by Benjamin Franklin.

Veterans Monuments
Most towns have monuments to their veterans.  Some of them may be historical and others more modern.  Either way, they will likely list the veterans from the town who participated in the war.  Stop and enjoy seeing your ancestor's name included on the monument.  And make note of those who served with him.  Perhaps they could provide further clues to researching your ancestor's life.

Archival Records
Now, I know you've already done your research plan.  Save that for tomorrow.  Stop by town hall, the historical society, the library and any local museums you find and assess their collections.  Resist the urge to open a book and start researching.  Make note of the collections of resources they have.  Jot down any you didn't know about that might provide information about your ancestors.  Later in the evening you can add them to your research plan if they look like good sources.

Meet the Locals
If you go to the local historical society, call them in advance and try to have someone meet you there.  No one knows the town history better than the folks at the historical society.  If they don't have the answers you are looking for about the town or your ancestors, they will know exactly who to send you to for the answers.  The only problem might be that there are too many people you'll need to talk to and not enough time reserved on your trip to do it.  That's what happened to me when I went to New York.  I could have spent a whole day talking to the old folks who knew about my family.

Wrapping it up
At the end of your day write out a summary of all the resources that you discovered.  In particular, make note of specifics regarding the photographs you took.  The next day when you head out to do archival records research you will have a much better sense about the town.  Then when you find relevant information in the record books it will mean much more to you.  You will find you also notice items that would have otherwise not caught your attention.

Canvassing a town is fun.  It's physical, visual and involves all your senses. It will give you a much more comprehensive impression about the place where your ancestors lived.  Remember, the next time you go on a research trip to the home of your ancestor, schedule an extra day to canvass the town.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Re-visiting the Revolutionary War

Today I went to my first Revolutionary War Battle Re-enactment.  I have to admit that I'm not really the re-enactment type that's why I haven't been to one before. But given the opportunity to visit a re-enactment that wasn't at Lexington, MA (ie parking might be a reality), I thought it might be a great way to get my boys interested in history.

I have to admit that it was really fun.  We arrived just in time for the battle.  Instead of a solemn event, there was definitely a sense of levity.  And the kids loved it.  It's a two-day event, so there will be more activity tomorrow.  It's being held in the town of Millis, Massachusetts.  If you would like more information such as the battles they are re-enacting and the participants then please visit the Millis History website.

Here are some photos from the event (click the photos for a larger image):

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prove Genealogy Backwards, Read History Forward

As genealogists, we are taught to start with the present and prove our genealogy backwards in time. For each generation we gather enough information to prove our connections and only then do we step back to the next generation. The idea behind this is if you start with an ancestor way in the past you could end up researching someone who is not really in your family tree at all.

Imagine my ears perk up as I was driving this week and heard Professor Gary W. Gallagher tell me to read history forward.

When I go on long distance driving trips I love to listen to a series of CDs called The Great Courses. These CDs cover a multitude of topics from art history to music appreciation, philosophy, history, etc. My local library has a number of different topics but my favorite set is the History of the United States, 2nd Edition.

Typically I listen to the CDs that cover early American history but for my most recent drive to Connecticut I chose to listen to Civil War history for the first time.  The lectures are presented  by Professor Gary W. Gallagher of the University of Virginia.  They were fascinating. 

In the midst of listening to all the political and military details of the times, Professor Gallagher said "Read History Forward."  In the course of the CDs he repeated this not once but twice.

Here's one of the examples that he used to explain what he meant.  The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most important battles of the Civil War.  It was the battle with the largest number of casualties and was considered as the turning point in the war.  Professor Gallagher cautions that how we regard the Battle of Gettysburg today is based on knowledge gained after the war was over. Our historical retrospective provided greater importance for how we now view those events.

Professor Gallagher argues that at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg Americans did not feel that it was a turning point in the war.  His hope is to impress upon listeners the importance of reading contemporary history forward from the time of the actual event to learn how contemporaries really felt about the event.  He stressed that it is important to put historical events into proper contemporary context and be sure that we are accurately recounting how the people at that time felt rather than how we now view an event.

This was like an aha! moment for me.  I had never really considered with such precision the concept that Professor Gallagher presented.  Yet it occurred to me that this philosophy is crucial for everyone who wants to add flesh to the bones of history or genealogy. 

To accurately represent historical figures or our own ancestors we need to not only do extensive research using primary and secondary sources but we need to accurately interpret the context of the times by understanding contemporary point of view.  Contemporary context of public (and private) interpretation of historical events seems as important as adding social history facts to the lives of our ancestors.

Not only should we be saying that the Civil War occurred during our ancestors lives but we have the opportunity to show how people in America felt about those events as they happened.  And we should be accurately representing their contemporary point of view rather than how we feel about those events today.

"Read history forward."  It's definitely food for thought.  I'm going to embrace it and add it to my tool box.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Speaker Tip: Let people know about your blog and website

I typically submit a bio and description of my talk to organizations whenever I give a talk. I've never thought much about it. It includes the basics with a little effort to try to make my talk and bio sound good.

For several years I have participated in the New England Family History Conference which is held every March in Franklin, MA.  I was scrolling through the speaker bios and I noticed one of the speakers had an active link to their web page. "Hmm, that's interesting," I thought to myself.  I checked the bios of the other speakers.  No, they didn't all have links to their websites.  Clearly this speaker knew something that all the other speakers didn't - "If you include it, they will print it". 

I learned something very important that day.  Ever since then I have started including a link not only to my website but also to my blog, in my bio.  The worst that can happen is that it will get edited out of publication.  If you're lucky, and most of the time you will be, at least one of the links will remain for readers to follow through and learn more about you.

Just tonight I was checking my presence on the web.  I have an upcoming house history talk in Swampscott, Massachusetts on October 12th.  What do you think I came across? A live link on the local newspaper website with both my blog and my website included as active links.  What better chance for people to learn more about me before coming to hear my talk.

I knew that people were making it to my blog from this newspaper because I was seeing the hits in my stats. But this newspaper is a large franchise covering many towns, so until tonight I wasn't sure where exactly they were coming from.   Now I know it was because I inlcuded the links in my bio for that specific talk.

The next time you send out your bio for a talk,whether for a conference or a society meeting, do yourself a favor and include links to your blog and your website.  You'll be amazed at how often they do get published.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Schedule time for analysis after your research trip

When it comes to genealogy research, I'm pretty good at planning research trips. I determine which repository I need to go to, how long it will take me to drive, print out my route maps and figure out where to park.

I'm also good about making a research plan ahead of time. I determine what I'm going to research, print out a plan and make sure I have all the supporting documentation available to me during my trip. That allows me to stay focused so that I can accomplish what I set out to do. Since I typically have very restricted time frames to do repository research that is very helpful and keeps me focused.

The one area I'm not so good at is scheduling analysis time afterward. If I were very organized I would schedule a couple hours immediately after my trip. My family life, however, typically prevents me from spending time on analysis right when I get home.

Ideally the analysis or "round up" time should happen within 24 hours of your trip before you forget. You can wait up to 48 if necessary but try not to put if off any longer than that. You are undermining all the benefits you got from your research if you wait too long.

*If* I were to follow my own advice, my round up time would look like this:

- Create a folder for the project (if not done before your trip)
- Create proper citations on the documents themselves
- Scan documents into the computer (I don't like paper, I prefer everything in the computer where I can find it. I'll just lose the paper.)
- Type up any handwritten notes taken during the trip
- Spend time carefully reading through copies of the original documents (determine if a transcription is needed)
- Update any charts with new information
- Analyze the documents to determine what impact they have on your understanding of your research
- Create a new research plan based on clues that lead you in a new direction

I'm looking forward to the time when I can do this immediately after my research trips. For now I'll have to settle for doing it within a few days of the trip.

How are you at reserving time to round up a research trip? Do you do anything different in your round up/analysis process? Let me know! I'd love to hear your ideas for improving this.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Follow Friday: A Scandalous Topic that will Help You Improve Your Research

Polly Kimmitt over at Pollyblog has written a terrific 3-part blog that takes the reader through document transcription and analysis and then demonstrates building a research plan for future research.  Even more exciting is that the posts are on the very colorful topic of bastardy and fornication in 1802.

Polly examines Justice of the Peace records for two women who claimed paternity suits against the same man on the same day. Not only will Polly show you how to analyze these unusual records but you will learn how  cases like these were historically handled.

Part 1 and Part 2 deal with the individual document and their transcriptions.  Part 3 analyzes the records, puts them into historical context, analyzes the quality of the document source and then presents a research plan for future research.  The research plan alone presents a wonderful example of how to create a plan for your own projects.

If you haven't read this 3-part series yet please do!  You'll enjoy a fascinating topic and improve your research at the same time.

Part 1 - Justice of the Peace Records and Silvanus "Who's Your Daddy" Savage, Part 1

Part 2 - Justice of the Peace Records and Silvanus "Who's Your Daddy" Savage, Part 2

Part 3 - Justice of the Peace Records and Silvanus "Who's Your Daddy" Savage, Part 3