Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cape Cod Vital Records Go Digital

Typically I don't write about new digital records but in this case it's coming from an unusual source that is under the radar of most people.

The Sturgis Library in Barnstable, Massachusetts on Cape Cod is reporting in its newsletter a joint effort with the Boston Public Library to digitize Cape Code Vital Records.  This is a tremendous resource for people with early Cape Cod ancestors.  The digitized records, as indicated below, are already online.

Here's the snippet from the newsletter:

One of the most-used resources at the Sturgis Library is the 50-volume handwritten set of vital records entitled Genealogical Notes of Cape Cod Families, (aka the "Green Books.")  The set compiles Cape Cod births, deaths, and marriages from a variety of publications into one resource.  The information was assembled by three tireless and dedicated women in 1966, and the only print copy resides at the Sturgis Library.  It is also available on microfilm.

We have been working with the Boston Public Library on a project to scan and digitize items from our collections, and the opportunity arose to have the set digitized at no cost through the BPL's grant-funded project.  The digitized set now resides in the Internet Archive, and is available online for the first time to researchers doing Cape Cod research and genealogy.

To see and use this important resource, CLICK HERE and choose the volume you are interested in.

For those still interested in using the print version of this resource, the Green Books are back from BPL and available for use in the Hooper Room.

Thanks to Janine Penfield for finding and sharing this information.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Camera People vs. Scanner People

There really aren't that many controversies of any serious nature that stir up the genealogical world (with the exception of the same one or two that get revisited every year).  I've noticed, however, that there is one topic of conversation that tends to get people a bit heated.  That is the preference for capturing digital copies of items either by a camera or by a scanner.

Now, let me say right at the start that I am a firm believer in calling ahead to a library or archive and asking them what their policy is. Regardless of your technological preference, following the repository rules is key.

But what if you have a choice? What if the archives says you can use either? Then which do you select?

I'm going to use deeds books as an example for this particular discussion.  You know deed books, those big, awkward to hold and photocopy books?  My preference is to use a wand scanner to capture the images of the page.  The reason for that is the wand scanner lies flat on the book and curves with the large awkward curve of the book to give a nice flat, curve-less image when finished.

Cameras on the other hand, will capture all the text but also capture the curve.  The result is that your line of text is not straight as with the scanner.  In a low light situation that can make your photographs blurrier and more awkward than what is already created with the curve.

Mind you, many deed books are modern copies of original or older deed books. For this reason I have no problem with using a wand scanner. However, if this were an original document I wouldn't dream of using a hand scanner. In that case, I would use a Flip Pal, flatbed scanner or digital camera (digital camera being the easiest to transport to an archive followed closely by the Flip Pal).

It's not so easy picking your digital capture device is it?  There are so many factors to take into consideration. The preservation of the documents being first and foremost and our digital capture preference next in line.

I've gotten into some serious "going no-where" discussions with folks who insist that using the camera is always better than using a wand scanner.  Clearly I think the wand scanner has its time and place.

What about you?  Which camp do you fall into and why?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Best Topic Isn't Always the Most Obvious Topic

I mentioned in a previous post that I am currently in the midst of a large oral history project focused on my local community.  Conducting oral history interviews is front and center on my mind these days.

One of the challenging parts of interviewing someone is knowing what to ask them.  There are a number of websites that provide sample questions for interviews.

Here is a selection of sample questions to get you started:

While I happen to be conducting a large project, oral history interviewing could be as simple as talking to your mother or father over a cup of coffee. The key thing is to ask them questions and to record their answers so that you have them for the future.

While the above guides provide lots of sample questions keep in mind that the best topic isn't always going to be the most obvious topic.

For instance, during the course of my interviews I wanted to get a sense of how local residents were affected by major historical events.  I used various events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the first landing on the moon. I had hoped that events of national or international scope would elicit responses from everyone.

I was wrong! Not everyone reacts the same way and with the same depth of emotion to major events. Ironically, it was a local event that really got my interviewees talking. The one event that generated the most dialogue and most passionate, animated response was the "Blizzard of '78" that hit the northeastern United States in the winter of 1978.

Perhaps there is a local event or storm that impacted your area. Create a list of a few possible subjects so that if you don't get much response with one topic you can move on to the next. When you find that "golden topic" that everyone wants to talk about, write it down so that you can continue to use it in the future.

Remember, once they get talking, sit back, relax and let them talk! Capture history and memories from their eyes. Your job is to record it and save it for the future.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What is the Genealogical Community?

I was just catching up with my email and read a post on the APG membership list from a 20-something genealogist who wanted to know where the conversations were taking place about encouraging young genealogists like her.

Likewise, the genealogical community loves to talk about blogs and bloggers and their role in the community. The perception, I believe, is that bloggers carry great cred within the online community.  I present both talks and workshops about blogging. The irony of this is that most people in my talks or workshops don't regularly read blogs. I usually use Dick Eastman of Eastman's Online Newsletter and Randy Seaver of GeneaMusings as my test cases. Most participants have heard of Dick Eastman but not of Randy Seaver. If someone hasn't heard of Randy Seaver then they really aren't acquainted with blogging. That suggests to me that is a great disconnect about what is the genealogical community.

The "community" I believe is that bunch of us that get online on the APG or TGF lists or on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and prattle away about genealogy.  When "we" are talking about the "community" that is who "we" are referring too.

But from my experience as a speaker, I know that the definition of the genealogical community is much greater than that.  There are many active genealogists who participate in their local societies but don't participate in "our community" online.  Does that mean they are not part of the genealogical community? Or are they part of a different community?

And then there are folks like my uncle and Dad, who use and actively do research but don't engage with any society. They operate completely on their own or only with other family members. Perhaps in their searches online they bump into information by bloggers but rarely do they engage blogs on a regular basis.

So if we are going to be honest, what exactly is the genealogical community? Is it the folks who are trying to define the community, is it the broad group of society members or the even broader group of lone mavericks out to discover their family history?

Let me know. I'm curious to hear what you think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Just the Hint of a Smile

I've started a new oral history project in my community. I've wanted to do something that centered on my local community for a long time. As a house historian I thought perhaps I would do something related to house histories. But as the concept evolved I broadened it out to engage local residents to talk about the history of their homes and the changes in their neighborhood and town in general while they've lived there.

I've been at it for a few weeks now and I can't express what a tremendous experience this has been. Capturing oral history is that fuzzy gray area in genealogy between resurrecting the secrets of the dead and living your own life in the present. Much of what is still in the living memory, such as World World II, is slipping into active history as the participants and eye witnesses pass away.

I've been learning, too, during the course of this project about what makes a good oral history interview. All genealogists, whether beginners or those with 30 years experience, have the unique opportunity to take advantage of recording family, friends and associates to capture genealogy and history.

Some people may hesitate to get started. I know I did. Or some may feel that they are not qualified or experienced enough to conduct interviews. To encourage you forward and get you started I want to leave you with one tip. Look for

Just the Hint of a Smile 

As I have been interviewing folks I have been trying to remove myself from the conversation to let them lead the topics. I want them to talk about what is most important to them.  Often, I need to probe further for clarification by asking questions.

Every once in awhile I will hit on a general topic that will elicit a specific response and just the flicker of a smile.  The mention may be very minor and insignificant.  But if you see that smile, stop dead in your tracks.  You need to go there! Whatever was said at the moment that smile flickered across the person's face needs to be probed further, even if it is off topic.  There is a story hiding in that smile that is worth finding.  Perhaps it was a positive memorable experience and something the speaker would be happy to talk about.

Today I probed further and I was rewarded not just with events and history but with fond memories of close relationships.  The associations and relationships that people develop are just as important as jotting down the dates and facts. Knowing who made someone feel special and why will turn your interview from historical information to dynamic memories.

The next time you conduct a family history interview don't just listen closely to your subject.  Take the time to read the subtle unspoken language of their responses. Your experience and your interviews will soar as a result.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Curious Abbreviations on Probate Records

I work with probate records quite a bit. Mostly by choice because I love probate records so much. It's doesn't take much prodding to get me to go to the probate court to do research.

I have noticed some abbreviations written on the outside of original documents and I've been curious about what they mean. I started some dialog about this yesterday on my Google+ wall. My quest has taken me on a journey greater than I had expected. I still haven't found an exact answer yet but I'm getting closer.

Here are the abbreviations in question: C., C.R. and R.  They appear on the outside of will or administration file documents and I would like to know what they mean.  Here's an image to show you exactly what I mean:

Then I found a document that had typed out indicators : Filed, Returnable and Allowed. Perhaps the R. refers to the instrument (document) being returned? Notice the abbreviated R. appearing again below the form text.

Next I found another document with an extended abbreviation - Cet. Ret. - which I am guessing is a longer form of C.R.

Perhaps C.R. and Cet. Ret. stand for Certificate Returned. That is my current guess. If you have the definitive answer to this mystery please feel free to comment. I feel like I am getting pretty good at interpreting probate documents but these abbreviations are still tripping me up.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

WDYTYA: The Rashida Jones Episode

Photo by Arnold Gatilao (cc 2.0)
Did you watch the Rashida Jones episode last night on Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA)? If you haven't seen it yet be sure to watch it (if you're in the US) on What a great episode!

I have to admit that before last night I had no idea who Rashida Jones was. The biographical profile at the beginning cleared things up when they proclaimed her the daughter of Quincy Jones.

Rashida was probably the most natural and relaxed celebrity to-date that they have featured on WDYTYA. I find that both funny and ironic considering that all the guests are celebrities who are used to being in front of a camera and the public eye. I have always been astounded at how uncomfortable some of the celebrities have been.

In addition, Rashida was one of the most genuine of the guests. Perhaps it's her youth that makes her more open to the experience than some of the others. Rashida struck me as a very down-to-earth, intelligent and an interested adventurer on this family history quest. I'm not a big fan of celebrities, yet Rashida checked her celebrity status at the door and went on this journey as a daughter and granddaughter seeking to uncover the mysteries in her family history.

At one point Rashida said "It's a miracle that I even exist." I don't think she was exaggerating or overstating. Her background is quite unique. On her father's side she comes from enslaved African Americans. On the other, Latvian Jews, most of whom were killed by the Nazis at Rumbula during World War II. If her great grandfather hadn't been the one family member to leave Latvia for the United Kingdom in the late 1800s she wouldn't be here today.

The end of the episode showed Rashida and her mother, Peggy Lipton, visiting the memorial site of the Rumbula massacre, the place where 24,000 Latvian Jews were killed. I thought it was a genuinely heart-felt moment for the two as they were overcome with the emotion of what had happened there. I appreciated when they said that perhaps their branch of the family survived so that could remember and provide testament to those of their family who didn't make it. I admit that even I needed a hanky at this point.

I hope that Who Do You Think You Are will continue on for another season. They have highlighted the importance of family history and reminded all of us of critical moments in U.S. and world history.

Photo credit: photo by Arnold Gatilao and used under the creative commons license