Monday, August 29, 2011

Oh, the Nuances of Social Media!

The other morning I popped onto Google+ to discover that a quasi famous person was following me.  I checked out this person and while I'm sure that's she's great at what she does I wasn't particularly interested in following her back (or putting her in one of my circles as the Google+ lingo goes).

The problem was that she was following a number of genealogists, people in my community.  She doesn't appear to have anything to do with genealogy. Personally I think she was just looking for more fans to follow her. That in itself is not a problem.  The problem arises as she follows more genealogists in that they appear in her side bar as "people in common."  These are people that she and I are both following.  If someone else where to look at her profile and try to decide whether to follow the person or not, they might receive tacit approval just by seeing my face in common with this person.

I know we are all grownups and can decide who to follow or not but honestly many people just check who is following who and make quick decisions that way.  I mean I feel like I'm endorsing an advertisement or "liking" a page on Facebook.  Yet in this case I'm not really giving my approval.

So what's a girl to do?  I don't really mind this person following me even though I think she is just fishing for fans.  But what options do I have so that I don't appear on her wall?  The only option I have is to block her and then I won't appear in her "people in her circles" sidebar. This is the only way I can think of to remove the tacit approval that will lead to more followers for her.

In all honesty, blocking, just like on Twitter,  is fairly harmless.  It's not like I "reported" anyone which is more serious. And on Google+ you can even unblock someone later.  I just wish I didn't have to take that measure for this particular reason.

This got me thinking about how I can stop this kind of thing in the future.  It is possible to hide your connections on Google+.  In fact, I hide all my connections except genealogists.  This makes it easier for genealogists to connect and spares my non-genealogy family and friends from being followed by genealogists.

But what about these people looking for fans who raid our public circles?  I was thinking about hiding the "Have Marian in circles" display so that genealogists won't find these random people and think they are genealogists.  Or I could hide both that circle and my "In Marian's circles" display.  But I would really hate to do that. I would like to keep the openness in social media.

For the time being I am leaving them both public.  But I reserve the right to change my mind later.

How are you folks handling these nuances?  Or don't you really care?

Friday, August 26, 2011

5 Tips for Creating Meaningful Family Photos

Out in front of the old family homestead in NY
This is a followup to yesterday's post "Be Respectful But Don't Miss a Good Photo Op."

Let's be clear right from the start, I am not a professional photographer.  I can't help you take good photographs. I can however give you some food for thought for taking meaningful family photos.  Here are some things to consider:

1. Go To Extremes

The most meaningful photos show the intersection of generations.  Find the youngest person in your extended family and the oldest person and make sure you have an opportunity to photograph them together.  It is likely that their lives will intersect for a very short time.  Capturing that physical connection in a photograph is critical for encouraging the younger generation to learn about their relatives and ancestors.  Perhaps the baby in the photo won't remember their older relative but they will always know that they knew them and will strive to learn more.

2. Family Units

Gets lots of photos of immediate family units.  I know that seems pretty obvious but as kids get older those photos become less and less frequent.  Future descendants will be grateful for any clues about who was in your family.  Small family unit photos are also easier for folks to identify than the family reunion photos with 50 people in them.  In the larger photos it can be nearly impossible to establish the relationships between the family members.  Start early and continue to take family unit photos of your whole extended through the years.

3. Get Out that Uniform

Uniforms, whether athletic, military or fraternal, provide interesting content and reveal important clues about our family members.  Take photos your kids in their team uniforms during the school year.  Capture your spouses and siblings in their work uniforms and provide a way for your descendents to know what they did for a living.  And don't forget boy scouts, girl scouts, fraternal orders and your relatives in the military.

4. These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Take individual or group photos of kids and adults alike with the things they love.  Take portraits of Dad with his tennis racket, Mom with her iPad, little Susie with her Bratz dolls and little Joey with his favorite books.  Capturing people with their favorites props creates a fun photo where the subject is happier and more relaxed.  And future generations will have a much better sense of what they were like as people.

5. Capture the Homestead

Get out in front of your house and capture the family in front of your homestead.  During your own lifetime  you'll be amazed at how much your house changes.  Perhaps you didn't like that yellow color when you first bought it and you soon painted it blue.  What about the addition you built ten years later?  Capture the history of your family and your home in a single shot.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Be Respectful But Don't Miss a Good Photo Op

I admit I'm a crier, not a wailer mind you, but a crier.  I cry at weddings and at funerals. In fact, I don't even have to know the people well for me to tear up. When I do know the people there is no stopping me.

Funerals can be sad events with lots of tears but let's face it they can also be really good photo opportunities.  Funerals are one of the true family gathering places.  Family members who might skip a wedding because of schedule conflicts or childcare obligations rarely skip a funeral.  People need the chance to say goodbye.

It's important to celebrate the living as much as it is to honor those that have passed.  So the next time you go to a funeral don't forget to pack your camera.  Do take family photos. Do capture those family members that you only see once every twenty years.

At your next funeral pay your respects, console the family and then subtly and with tact, capture the rest of your family for the future.

Here's a great shot of my Dad, my brothers and I at a funeral we attended in January 2002.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Three Cycles of My Research

I've noticed over the past year or so that my work on research projects goes in cycles.  There are three basic cycles: Research, Background Reading and Output.  These aren't the only areas of a research project but when I get deep into research I tend to lose myself in these phases for quite a while.

Here's how I would describe what the mean:


This is the chase.  I've got my mind on a specific goal.  Usually I'm chasing after a gravestone carver, an 18th century African American in New England or a specific historic house.  I do wide surveys of documents and record groups in my attempt to locate something, anything on my target.  This often involves creating a research plan so that my chase is focused and efficient.  All the while I still get lost in the effort and can spend days or weeks on end chasing after my goal.

Background Reading

Often referred to as the literature search.  I typically circle around a topic, reading what seems to be relevant, and then later expanding my circle.  This summer has been an intensive background reading phase for me.  In the past I have read many genealogical works on New England as they related to my research.  This summer I decided I needed to read everything related to New England.  This has been a serious literature search.  I realized I couldn't move forward until I really understood everything that has already been published and what the gaps are in published works.  I started on this to achieve two things: 1) to fill in the gaps of my own knowledge and 2) to provide direction for my own research so I wouldn't waste time researching something that has already been done.  Clearly trying to read *everything* will take me a very long time but I've made great progress in the last few months.


There is where I take everything that I have learned from the research and background reading phases and turn it into something that can be shared.  Most of my efforts to-date have involved preparing presentations or articles.  I'd like to shift that in the future to include books, newsletters, webinars and maybe even a podcast.  Output takes just as much, if not more focused effort than the other two phases.  Often this is when I need my "alone" time, particularly for writing.  Output also takes the most discipline.  I need to give myself deadlines and try to stick to them.  Planning for the output stage typically starts in September, which for me, is a time of renewal and re-energizing.  But  it can also be strongly influenced, not surprisingly, by conference proposal deadlines.

Yes, the three phases do overlap.  It's not realistic to think that I can do one activity exclusive of another.  But each phase seems to take a predominance over the others for awhile.

I'm sure that my research phases are directly related to the cycles of my family life.  I imagine most researchers do all three things on a more daily basis.  Perhaps some researchers have other influences that are impacting the way their cycles work.

Let me know how it works for you.

Photo Credit: Photo by sonictk used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reflecting on Life and Death

I suppose it is an occupational hazard for genealogists to reflect on life and death more frequently than other people.  My uncle passed away on Saturday and that has me thinking about it more than usual.

I can't help but notice that when someone dies the first thing I reflect on is how well I knew the person. Usually there is a tinge of regret where I tell myself that I wish I had known the person better. The reality of life is that we know people to varying degrees based on how much time we spend being with them or speaking to them. 

I read my uncle's obituary this morning and found comfort in the fact that very little information in it was new to me.  I was more pleased that I knew what he loved most and what he was proud of such as his pro bono legal work and acting in amateur theatre.

This past July I had the chance to spend some time alone with my uncle.  The whole extended family had gathered for a reunion and everyone was dispersing to the beach or fishing.  I begged off saying I would stay behind with my uncle.  My aunt, his wife, gently told me he didn't need watching over.  But honestly I was gratefully using him as an excuse to give this overly busy Mom some quiet time.

During our brief hour or two together we got the chance to talk and just be in each others company.  My uncle had a distinctive deep voice which I always found very comforting. He was a man of much fewer words than my own enthusiastically verbose father.  Yet when he spoke, a wisdom and gentleness poured from his carefully chosen words.  Even pauses or silence seemed like a natural part of the conversation.

I'm so glad I had those few hours with my uncle.  It's something that I can call all my own. Somehow it makes up for, just a little, the fact that I wished I had spent more time with him when I had had the chance.

I like the idea of celebrating a life.  I think that when people get together at wakes or funerals that there should be joy in remembering the wonderful ways that the individual lived and touched our lives.

At the same time, as I get older, a little sadness seeps in.  I can't help thinking that I will miss hearing that person's voice or seeing them at the usual time each year.

I guess what death is teaching me is to live life to the fullest, express your love and joy, and hug your loved ones every day.  And when someone passes, it's ok to let the tears fall because it means you loved them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Firefighters Genealogy 911 - Going Beyond Photos

In a recent blog post Susan Farrell Bankhead wrote about a request from her firefighter son.  He wanted to know whether genealogists could help locate photos of fallen firefighters so that they could be properly honored and remembered.  I hope you'll read Susan's post and consider joining in the effort to help.

I learned about the call to action thanks to Randy Seaver's Geneamusings Blog.  I want to acknowledge Randy for spreading the word and doing such a great job of bringing important things to our attention.

After reading this post I thought wouldn't it be great if genealogists took this a step further?  Not all of us are going to be able to help out with the Los Angeles firefighters.  But wouldn't it be great if we helped honor those that have fallen in our local communities?

We could help locate photos just as in this request.  Or we could take it a step further and do some genealogical research on the fallen heroes.  That would be a wonderful addition to a fire station's archives and history.  And what a tremendous gift it would be for the families left behind.

So I'd like to ask you, or perhaps your local genealogical societies, to reach out to fire stations in your area and see if you can contribute to honoring and preserving the memories of lost firefighters near you.

Photo Credit: "Knoxville Firefighters Memorial" photo by Joelk75 used under the creative commons license

Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Ideal Season of Who Do You Think You Are?

I woke up this morning to a great, fun post over at Susan Petersen's Long Lost Relatives Blog. She asks us to imagine we are the producers of Who Do You Think You Are? and wants to know who we would pick for the perfect season.  I loved reading Susan's choices.  Now here are some of my own.  I hope you consider listing your favorites in the comments or on your own blog.

Melissa Gilbert - She played Laura for so many years on Little House on the Prairie.  It would be fun to see if her background even remotely resembles the character she played.

Alicia Keys - She's an amazing singer from New York City.  It would be interesting to find out if her roots are deep in NYC or from somewhere else.

Mark Harmon - The star of NCIS is what I consider to be one fine man. The son of a Heisman trophy winner and an actress/artist, it would be fun to see where his roots were planted before he was born in California.

Mariah Carey - Admittedly she seems a bit flighty but she has the most amazing voice.  Her mother was a singer too.  I wonder if there is a long history of singers in her ancestry.

Derek Jeter - Ok I'm a Red Sox fan but I've always liked Derek Jeter. I would like to know if anyone in his family history helped contribute to getting him where he is today.

Jason Varitek - Here's one for the Red Sox fans.  Jason has always been one of my favorite players.  With a name like Varitek he must have some Czech roots that should be explored.

Beyonce - She is larger than life and she seems to handle fame with such grace. It would be fascinating to learn if her background contributed to her success.

Jane Fonda - (I'm laughing at this one) This is in response to Susan's choice of Jane.  I'm including Jane because of her New York roots.  I have Fonda ancestors as well.  Maybe the researchers on the show can help sort them out for me!

Yes, that would be the perfect season of Who Do You Think You Are? for me! What would your perfect season look like?

Thanks again Susan for such a great idea!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why Do Authors Bother with Publishers?

Subtitle: I'm surprised more authors don't use print on demand.

For the third time in six months I find myself going begging to get a hold of a newer, already out of print book.  It's really frustrating to have to go through hoops to get a copy of a book that should be fairly easy to get. 

First, I had to use local connections to get a copy of Dartmouth: The Early History of a Massachusetts Town by Beverly Morrison Glennon.  Then I had to go begging to the author to get one of the last copies of Joanne Hulbert's book Holliston, A Good Town.  Now I find myself in the same position as I try to find a copy of Forgotten Patriots: African American and American Indian Patriots in the Revolutionary War, A Guide to Service, Sources and Studies edited by Eric Grundset.  This is no longer available from the DAR website.

Ironically, as books are on the way out, as I've heard people say, I find myself trying to buy books faster and faster.  I'm in a race against them going out of print before I've bought a copy.  Perhaps someday (I say with a meniacal laugh) my books will be worth more because very few people will actually have copies.

The thing I don't get is why authors are doing the very old fashioned thing of using publishers instead of print on demand.  Publishers don't seem to be able to make the numbers work to have enough books available for the people who want to buy them.  They are going for a fast hit of a climactic sales in the first year after publication and abandoning the book after that.  With local history books in particular, researchers or history buffs might need the book five, ten or even fifteen years down the road.

Print on demand seems to be a win-win for everyone.  The author gets their book in print and the reader gets the chance to buy it when they need it.  In the meantime there is very little overhead for maintaining the book.

I hope more local history and genealogy authors will choose the print on demand option.  Let me tell you I am getting pretty tired and frustrated of tracking down books that are no longer available first hand for second.

Photo Credit: Photo by Stefan Baudy used under the Creative Commons license

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Planning a Research Trip

I'm hoping to go on a brief research trip to New York before the summer is over.  I'll be going with my genealogy buddy, otherwise known as my Dad.

I have a lot of work to do before I can set foot in the car.  One of the places we'll be stopping is Germantown, New York.  In order to make the trip worthwhile I need to figure out what records are available before I leave home.

For Germantown, my target time frame is 1780 to 1800.  I will be chasing down every person with the Edwards surname in that town during that time frame.

Here's what I need to do as part of my planning:

1. Create a Research Guide

In order to effectively search for records I need to know what is available in Germantown.  I need to create a research guide that provides information on vital records, probate, military, church, land and every other kind of record that I can think of.  I will likely create an easy-to-read chart that separates the items by types of records and dates.  While my main focus will be on the 1780 - 1800 time period I will likely include more than that in my research guide.  I will start by looking in Ancestry's Red Book at the New York chapter.  Then I will hunt out a New York specific research guide.  I'll check FamilySearch too, to see if they have a research guide on New York. Of course, I'll have to check out the FamilySearch Wiki as well.

2. Conduct a Literature Search

Next I'll want to check what has already been published about Germantown, New York.  To accomplish this I'll do a Persi search.  I will also do a search of Worden's Index to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record.  This should give me a good idea about the types of things that have been published about the town.

3. Get Local - From a Distance

Next I'll need to survey the catalogs of the local library, historical society and museums so I can get a good idea of what they have available.  I'll particularly keep my eye open for special genealogical or local history collections.  I'll make note of any that I feel will be helpful in my research.

4. The Hunt for Manuscripts

While I won't physically be going to other locations I will want to check the catalog of the New York State Library at Albany.  They may have relevant items that could help in my research.  And if they have more items than appear available in Germantown, I may need to rethink my research strategy. Other catalogs I'll check will include the New York Public Library, The New York Historical Society and the Library of Congress.

5. Make a Research Plan

After doing all this background research I'll need to create a research plan. The plan will outline specifically what records I want to check and where they are located.  The plan will include blank space for me to include notes about my findings.

6. Prepare a Contact List

The last thing I'll want to do is create a contact list.  You can see a sample here that I created previously (scroll to the bottom of the page to find the pdf sample).  I like to create a contact list with the names of the repository or archive that I'll be visiting along with their physical location, hours, phone and any restrictions, fees or pertinent information.  That allows me to see at a glance when they are open and lets me shift gears quickly if I need to alter my plans.

This is only my second research trip to New York state.  If you have any suggestions that would make my trip more productive please share them with me. I could use all the help I can get.

Photo Credit: photo by basykes used under the creative commons license

Monday, August 1, 2011

Essential NON-Genealogy Books about New England

Yesterday on my Facebook wall I asked my friends what they considered essential non-genealogy books about New England.  The list they provided was diverse and fascinating.  Some of the books I have already in my personal library.  Others I had heard of but never read.  And still other were completely new to me.  The list was so good I'm sharing it here with Roots & Rambles readers.  Maybe you'll be inspired to read one or two of these before the summer ends.

Thanks to all my friends for contributing to this list!

Essential Non-Genealogy Books about New England

Atwater, Edward Elias. History of the Colony of New Haven to its Absorption into Connecticut.

Beston, Henry. The Outermost House.

Boorstin, Daniel. The Americans: The Colonial Experience.

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.

Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten.

Deetz, James. The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony.

Ferrero, Pat and Elain Hedges, Julie Silber. Hearts & Hands, The Influence of Women & Quilts on American Society.

Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere's Ride.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed.

Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and their World.

Hoftadter, Richard. America at 1750.

Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Lepore, Jill. The Name of War.

Ludwig, Allan I. Graven images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815.

Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Family.

Nutt, Charles. History of Worcester and its People. (available for viewing on Google Books)

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower.

Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

Russell, Howard S. A Long, Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England.

Schultz, Eric B. and Michael J. Tougias. King Philip's War: The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict.

Smith, Wynifred Staples. Pines and Pioneers.

Thorson, Robert. Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. (2001).

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her Diary, 1785–1812. (1990).

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750. (1982).

Wagner, David. The Poorhouse: America's Forgotten Institution.

Watters, David. The Encyclopedia of New England.

Wilson, Donald A. Logging and Lumbering in Maine.