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A visit to the Family History Library

As an ambassador for the upcoming Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in February, 2015, to be held in connection with Rootstech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have a lot of work to do to get ready for this conference.

I am arriving several days in advance of the conference to use the Family History Library.  It will be my second visit.  I am really, really looking forward to it, and preparing much more than you would think.

The notebook idea

I will only get to the Family History Library every few years, at most.  Since it’s a chance to access all the microfilm in the world, and lots of books, I need to prepare well to get the most benefit from this.

A couple months ago I was visiting a local city hall archives and ran into a man who was researching a local historical topic.  He was asking me a few questions and we got to talking, and he pulled out his notebook.  I have to admit I was fascinated by it.  He had developed pages of typed notes with pictures and maps, in color, scattered through the pages. I suspected it was, essentially, a draft of the book he hoped to put together.   He had the materials printed double sided in color and spiral-bound.  It was just maybe 200 pages with the spiral binding.  It was lightweight, portable, and easy to use even on cramped tables.  He scrawled some notes on it; it was clearly his working copy.

My spiral bound book

My spiral bound book

I couldn’t stop thinking about the little notebook and decided, in November when a coupon came up for a big discount at lulu.com, that I would try it.  I put together my tree charts, color coded according to sections of the tree. I copied into Word some of my blog posts that I thought I would be most likely to want to refer to in the library, downsized the pictures, and saved those as pdf’s.  I forgot to add my pdf Evidentia reports, but I would do that another time.  I uploaded these separate pdf documents into lulu.com, then combined them into one book.  I made a cover and ordered.

When the spiral book arrived, it was attractive, but I was disappointed at how heavy it was.  I forgot lulu uses extra heavy paper for color printing.  I think the point of the notebook is that it should NOT be a lot to lug around.  And, the paper was shiny, not good for writing on.

A page from the red portion of the chart

A page from the red portion of the chart

Looking at the notebook gave me some new ideas.  If I really wanted to write in it, I should leave space for that.  And, I decided during my last trip that I might prefer to bring my list of microfilms on, say, a clipboard, instead of using an electronic device.  What if I combined these ideas into one custom, spiral notebook?

The workbook for FHL

I realized that what I really wanted was a workbook for my library visit.

So I created a form for collecting my microfilm lists.  I wanted to copy the details of the film from the familysearch.org catalog.  My pages should be suitable for taking a few notes, since I will mostly be saving scans of each page I need, but I would like to document what I saw and what I saved, and some notes about the content.  I also wanted to note in advance on each page what I was looking for, and to check the item off after I was done. I wanted an indication along the edge of which research problem this was part of.  I think I will add an extra ruled page on the reverse of each sheet.

My micorfilm form for the notebook

My microfilm form for the notebook

I’ve spent several weeks gathering about 25 pages, and I will work on this for about another month.  I’m trying to focus on no more than three or four research problems and to look for unique resources that are either inconvenient or impossible to obtain elsewhere.  So far I have found some unusual local records, plus some records from Nova Scotia and England. Given the restrictions in some Rhode Island repositories, I also will be looking at some records that it would be hard to print or photograph elsewhere.

I like to search the FamilySearch.org catalog by place name or family name, and I’m finding such interesting stuff.  Of course, some family genealogy books have now been digitized and I guess I would have to access those on site through a computer.

Another page from the microfilm sheets

Another of the microfilm sheets

I will try, when I am there, to concentrate on reading records and NOT race through trying to capture as many screens as possible.  This is difficult for me to do, but I will try.  I always feel like I will concentrate better at home, reading what I’ve copied, but then I lose the chance to use new ideas to find additional materials.

Sometimes I dropped images into place that I know I might want to refer to. dropping text and images into the Word document was surprisingly easy - if my ruled lines went over onto the next page, I just deleted some.

Sometimes I dropped images into place that I know I might want to refer to. Dropping text and images into the Word document was surprisingly easy – the form accommodated all that.

I will want to look through the books, and I usually park myself in the stacks for a while looking through everything related to certain locations.  I also have started a book list.

The book list, for the notebook

The book list, for the notebook

So the NEW spiral notebook, which I will order in black and white about a month before I leave, will contain:

  • The tree charts
  • Some useful posts from my blog
  • The few Evidentia reports I have made so far
  • The microfilm worksheets
  • The book list

I will probably carry this spiral bound book around for about a year to libraries.  It will cost less than $10.

The Word document used for the microfilm page is HERE.

The conference

According the the FGS website, combining with Rootstech means “the Expo Hall may possibly be the biggest ever at a U.S. genealogy conference.”  Well, that’s exciting, and possibly I may learn about some new products or features when I’m there.  I love talking to people who are building new products, and I love asking questions about services I already subscribe to.  And no doubt, I will be making a few purchases and I will report on all that when I write about the conference.

I plan to attend about 3 talks per day.  I find it hard to listen to more than that.  It is hard to choose, and I still haven’t even decided about adding a Rootstech registration for only $39. Plus, I should buy lunch tickets if I want them, before they sell out.  Decisions, decisions.

I will have the chance to see people I know and meet new people.  I’m really looking forward to it.

Did someone say Door Prizes? 

There are fabulous genealogically-related door prizes for FGS registrants during the month of December.  These are available to everyone who has purchased a full registration.  Don’t miss out!

The post you are reading is located at: http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/12/11/a-workbook-family-history-library

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Registration opened this week for the New England Regional Genealogical Conference which will take place in Providence, Rhode Island, April 15-18, 2015.  The conference is held in New England every two years and this time, the location will be at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.  I am really looking forward to it.

Enjoy the conference

The conference program is now available to download as a pdf.  I am looking forward to keynote speakers Judy G. Russell and Lisa Louisa Cook, and I won’t miss an opportunity to hear Cherry Bamburg Fletcher speak about Rhode Island research.  Personally, I am planning to add Barbara MathewsDocument Analysis special workshop to my registration.  There are over a hundred other sessions to choose from, with excellent and knowledgeable presenters on a wide variety of topics.  Choosing will probably be the hard part.  There are also an Exhibit Hall, the popular 20-minute personal consultations at the Ancestors Road Show, Special Interest Group gatherings, Librarian and Teachers’ Day, and Tech Day.  Even those not attending can submit a “Genealogical Query” for $5.00 which will be visible to conference attendees; the deadline for that is January 15 (see page 3 in the downloadable brochure).

South Main Street historic area, Providence

South Main Street historic area, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Volunteer

This impressive conference is run by volunteers representing many local genealogical organizations.  The conference only exists because people step forward to volunteer.  If you attend, plan to spend a couple hours in a volunteer job.  This will NOT lower your cost of registration (as I said, it’s ALL volunteer efforts) but will make you feel like a good citizen, and you’ll meet more people doing that.  Last time, I helped out in the registration booth for a few hours, but there will be a wide variety of jobs to choose from, closer to the event.  And if you are a local genealogist who doesn’t plan to register and attend, but you can still give a little volunteer time, they would also welcome your help.

Be a tourist

NERGC has some good tips for seeing the sites during your stay. I like their suggestion of the self-guided “telephone tour” of downtown which allows you to follow the “Independence Trail” and phone in when you reach each designated stopping point, to hear recorded guidance about each historical spot.  It’s 2-1/2 miles of walking, but it’s free, and you could go at your own pace and stop along the way.  There is also a guided local Explore Providence Tour that includes transportation and sounds wonderful (see page 3 of the program for cost and reservations).  The Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau also has a thorough list of historical sites in the area.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls.  The materials are well organized and available.  They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls. The materials are well organized and available. They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Do some local genealogical research

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.  If you have Rhode Island roots, you may want to try to fit in some research, and it would be best to start thinking about that early, and prepare for a few local visits at repositories.  A great place to start would be the excellent guidance in Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s newly revised Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

While this list is by no means complete, these are some local repositories I’m familiar with:

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Rhode Island State Archives.  About a six block walk from the Convention Center.  This is a government department which primarily records state government activity.  It has a reading room with a wonderful index of R.I. vital records from about 1853 up to the legally allowed cutoffs – about 1915 or so (after using the index volumes, you can look at the state-compiled entries on microfilm), a fair collection of books and guides, a Revolutionary War index card file and other military resources, an index to Rhode Island General Assembly actions (most frequent appearance for my ancestors? “An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors … “ ), the 1865 and 1875 Rhode Island state census records, and MANY special little index guides to state government activities.  See my posts here and here.
  • Providence City Archives.  About three blocks from the Convention Center, and next to the Biltmore Hotel.  If your ancestors lived in Providence at any time since 1636, you may want to do some research at the Providence City Archives up top of the picturesque 1878 Providence City Hall. On the fifth floor, the space is cramped and tiny, and the collection is not browsable, so it’s not a great place to just stroll around, but it is a valuable resource if you have real requests to make.  I mostly go to request Providence vital records and to view probate records (remember “probate” sometimes includes guardianships or adoptions).  See my post here.
  • The Providence Public Library.  About a five block walk from the door of the Convention Center, the library has some useful features.  I have never been in the special collections, and I’m not very familiar with them.  I mostly appreciate the extensive collection of Providence newspapers that they carry on microfilm, particularly since most of these are not online anywhere.  You can view microfilm and print, for a price per page.  They also have a large card index of Rhode Island events, well-known citizens, and news.  See my blog post here.
The State Archives reading room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The State Archives reading room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

NEARBY BUT NOT WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Library of the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Perhaps some may argue this is walkable from the Convention Center.  If you have good health, good shoes, good weather, an intrepid companion, and a little time, you might look into it.  On the map, it won’t appear THAT far away – maybe about a mile.  What the coy map won’t reveal to you is that it’s UP HILL. And I mean UP.  HILL.  You would be going through some lovely and historic parts of Providence, so you would, for sure, enjoy the scenery if, well, you could breathe and everything.  No matter how you get there, this is probably Rhode Island’s premier research destination.  Non-members pay a small fee and fill out paperwork for a day pass, and will not be allowed to photograph anything at all.  There are some local records from various towns available on microfilm as well as the state’s most thorough collection of old newspapers on microfilm – very few are online anywhere (however, there is very little in the way of indexing available).  There is a large collection of genealogy books and journals as well as local books.  There are manuscripts which may be requested.  They have valuable collections and the structure, rules and process of visiting there is fairly severe. Bring a smile and some well thought out questions.  Explore their holdings thoroughly beforehand here.
  • The Rhode Island Judicial Archives is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, maybe 5 miles away.  I would encourage anyone interested in the archival record of any particular case to contact the archives in advance to see if the case is on file there.  Nothing is browsable or searchable in person, indeed, you will be lining up with the criminals and lawyers to request your case records.  Ask for the historical records, and that clerk will be summoned. Older divorce cases from Rhode Island will be on file here, as well as many other types of court cases. You would need to know some details of the case (a name and rough date, to start with) in order for the clerk to try to find it. Documents can be read and photographed there.  See my post here.
The Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker.  This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

A Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker. This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland (“Cumberland 19″). Photo by Diane Boumenot.

FARTHER AWAY

Cemeteries.  The tradition in Rhode Island was to bury family right on the family farm, because early Rhode Islanders were very firmly against any centralized powers belonging to the churches.  In a growing city like Providence, many of these early plots were eventually relocated to the North Burial Ground, or they just disappeared.  In most other areas, tiny historical cemeteries remain in place.  You can research recorded graves at the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission website.

The city and town halls of Rhode Island are the place for vital records, deeds, probate, town council, and a random variety of other early records.  In Rhode Island, you won’t find materials at the county level except for some court records.

Keep in mind that town boundaries shifted over the years, meaning the records you seek may be in a different town than the one you associate your ancestors with (see this summary from the R.I. Genealogical Society to see if you need to explore this question).  Some of the local town libraries have local history rooms or special collections which can he useful.  My recommendation would be that if you are going to the town your ancestors lived in, go to the (correct) town hall but make sure you at least check out, from home, what the local library is offering as well. Less often, there is also a local historical society or historic building – those can have extremely limited hours.

Rhode Island has 39 cities and towns and each town hall has a completely different arrangement for access to records, seating areas, photocopying, picture-taking (usually allowed), access to books, ability to answer questions, and record sets available.  Going to each one is like arriving in a brand new country.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for town/city halls would be:

  • Never go into your genealogy story. Dress neatly, be polite, ask about the materials you need and possibly give the impression you are a historical researcher or lawyer.
  • If there is any archival staff, yay, but if you are dealing with the normal town clerk staff, they really have other jobs to do and can’t spend much time on non-town business; they don’t always know much about the “old stuff.”  At best, they expect to lead you to an area of old volumes and leave you there, at worst, they expect you to request one item at a time which they will reluctantly attempt to find for you.
  • There are usually (but NOT ALWAYS) tables and chairs, but if there are other researchers, don’t count on a lot of room.  A laptop may be too complicated for these settings. I would suggest a camera and a paper notebook.  I sometimes bring a tablet or just rely on my cell phone if I need to look something up.  I suspect there would be a LOT of problems using photocopiers in town halls; a camera is better.
  • Sometimes there is an official room where researchers go (particularly people doing title searches) but there may ALSO be an old archives collection hidden away in a basement or something.  Try to be sure you are seeing all that’s available.
  • If staff say you should have called, reserved, warned them, written them a letter, etc, agree with that, keep smiling, keep them talking, and usually when they see you haven’t left yet, they tend to help you anyway.
  • Genealogists are nice people. But town staff have to deal with some real, real cranks and crazy people (as I have witnessed in sitting around those offices over the years), so give them a few minutes to realize you’re not one of those.
  • Follow ALL usual archival rules, whether stated or not – no pens, no food or drink, no talking on the phone, be extremely careful of the books, try to remove and use only one at a time, always replace them in the exact spot, lay them flat on the table.
  • The index volumes may be in a completely different area of the room from the record volumes.  Give a good look around.
  • The only true problem you are likely to encounter is a flat denial of access to vital records because “it’s the law”, “because of privacy” or “the record is not about you” (like I’d be asking for my own death record).  If you need post-1914 records you may not be able to solve this one.  If you are asking for pre-1914 records, stand your ground and politely say that under Rhode Island law those records are public records and you have a right to see them, if they exist.  Keep smiling, and say that you’re probably going to need to talk to the Town Clerk. The Rhode Island law changed recently to include some new restrictions but none of that applies to pre-1914 records.
Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for local libraries or historical societies:

  • Definitely mention genealogy, this sometimes gets you ushered right away into the special “Genealogy Room”.
  • If possible, write a week or two in advance.  Sometimes the best person to help you is only available at certain times.
  • Make sure you are seeing an index or catalog to the special collections or manuscripts.  Sometimes old materials are cataloged separately.
  • Look for unique manuscript items like indices to local newspapers, obituary collections, index lists to local town records, inventories of historic houses, local newspapers, genealogy card files, local pictures, and manuscript genealogies.  These may not be available anywhere else.
  • If you gain admittance into any local historical society or small museum, either pay admission or buy something.  They need the money, and it will help them to see that you appreciate their work.

In closing

For a more detailed review of repositories, check out Michael Leclerc’s Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, 5th edition, (Boston, NEHGS, 2012) and Diane Rapaport’s New England Court Records (Burlington, Mass., Quill Pen Press, 2006), as well as the previously mentioned Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

Sign up for the conference e-zine today!

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/10/26/providence-for-nergc/

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This week I attended GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.  I registered in late winter and managed to get into the “Law School for Genealogists” class led by Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL and Richard “Rick” G. Sayre, CG, CGL.   The institute was held at LaRoche College, and I stayed, along with many other attendees, in the dorms, and ate meals in the cafeteria.  Others took classes on genetic genealogy and a variety of other topics.

My dorm room was a large triple - there was also a microwave, mini frig, and bathroom to myself.

My dorm room was a large triple – I had the room (as well as microwave, mini frig, and bathroom) to myself.  Since I was driving, I was able to bring a couple things. I was glad I brought the quilt, lamp and extra pillows from home.

Day 1

I arrived on Sunday and moved into the dorm.  I knew several people who planned to attend, but that’s not a necessity – genealogists are friendly.  Some people shared dorm rooms and even those staying at local motels were welcome to pay by the meal to eat conveniently in the cafeteria.  The schedule on Sunday was to check in, get settled, and have dinner in the cafeteria.  This was followed by a welcome session and some door prizes.

I was in for a surprise at GRIP, though, because after the class lists came out, I heard from a young woman named Sara that she was my husband’s third cousin and would be there, and in the same class, and she was looking forward to meeting me.  I had to look back at my email to remember that my husband and I had corresponded with Sara several years ago, and she was obviously an accomplished genealogist who had done some excellent work on my husband’s difficult family tree.  I was very happy to be able to meet her.

Our classroom during a break.

Our classroom early in the morning.

Day 2

Monday morning, my first class was at 8:15.  I enjoyed the talks and quickly realized this was a pretty intense learning experience – for people who truly want to learn more about methods and resources for family history research, these institutes are excellent.

And I discovered there was homework each night.

A takeaway from day one:  get an old copy of Black’s law dictionary and look up each new term you encounter in probate, deeds, etc.  A late 1800’s copy should be available for free download from Google Books.  No point in buying a new one; the old terminology was removed a couple decades ago.

The lunch line, with the table area in the background.

The lunch line, with the table area in the background.

Day 3

By Tuesday I was getting used to things.  Judy Russell is a superb and experienced teacher; she is a clear speaker and very interesting.  I was far less familiar with the material being covered by Rick Sayre, about federal laws and how to find documents related to the federal government, but the wheels were turning as he got me wondering about all sorts of records I’ve never looked for.  Clearly, there are many research projects ahead for me.

Tip for the day:  Try this website: “A Century of Lawmaking” for index entries to government records that you may need to further track down and obtain.

Using my Galaxy Note tablet, I could keep the screen open for writing notes, plus another window for the pdf app to look at the syllabus.  My friend Minda McAully showed me how to open the syllabus in Acrobat Reader so I could also highlight, write on it, etc.  She's brilliant!

Using my Galaxy Note tablet, I could keep the screen open for writing notes (with the stylus), plus another window for the pdf app to look at the syllabus. My friend Linda McCauley showed me how to open the syllabus in Acrobat Reader so I could also highlight, write on it, etc. She’s brilliant!

Day 4

On Wednesday we were treated to two sessions with Marian L . Smith, who leads the Historic Research Branch at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (Department of Homeland Security).  Marian has immense knowledge of immigration and naturalization records and she gave us excellent advice about what records might exist in what era, and about the laws (and purposes) behind the various questions, forms, and records.  Since naturalization procedures were only moved to the federal government in the 1890’s, prior records – like the 1840’s records I am seeking – could be in any state, county or local court of record.  As I listened to Marian I realized I could definitely obtain, at some point, my grandparents’ naturalization records from when they came from Nova Scotia in the early 1900’s.

My takeaway from Wednesday was to pay the $20 for a Genealogy Program Index Search to obtain the correct record numbers for an ancestor processed after 1893 (but not ship manifest records, or records from port locations).  Then I could pursue getting the actual records.

That night I ate dinner with a friend from the DNA class and asked her about some questions I had about testing.  That’s almost the best thing about being here – the mealtime conversations about genealogy.

The season premiere of Who Do You Think You Are? was enjoyed by the crowd Wednesday night.  There were many aspects of the show that related to knowledge of the law for the time and places mentioned.

Some of the crowd enjoying the season opener of Who Do You Think You Are?

Some of the crowd enjoying the season opener of Who Do You Think You Are?

Day 5

On Thursday, the content was focused on laws about women, children, marriage and divorce.  There were also sessions on military pensions and Claims Committees.  I am on a mission to find supporting papers for my ggg-grandfather’s 1878 claim for reparations after the Civil War.  I feel like I have some more things to try now.

Takeaway from this day:  when using those faulty OCR-produced index services on the internet (in other words, indexing NOT produced by humans) try to use as many services as possible (like maybe Ancestry.com, Fold3 and Family Search) since they will all have different index entries.

My books from the Maia's Books exhibit.  She is willing to ship them, also.

My books from the Maia’s Books exhibit. She is willing to ship them, also.

Day 6

On Friday, I finalized my book purchases from Maia’s books, we had our last sessions, received certificates and prepared to depart.  Our teachers sent us a set of electronic documents they had gathered just for us, which I look forward to exploring more at home.

The major point of this week: find the law that will help you understand more about the document you’re reading, and also the reverse of that: continue to learn more about laws that might have impacted our ancestors, and produced record sets we’re not even  thinking of.  The whole process this week was one of reading the informative articles in the syllabus (over 100 pages), listening to and occasionally participating in the lectures, and following that up with homework each night, and, when I return home, with a lot of research I would like to do using my new knowledge and skills, plus the extra documents to go through.

There were interesting talks each night for the whole group, and I heard wonderful things about each one, but didn’t attend them.  I had some quiet evenings with friends or just doing homework.

In closing

I can heartily endorse this program.   The company was wonderful, the classes truly excellent, things ran smoothly and I know that’s not easy, and I am going home with a list a mile long of things I should be trying and ideas for specific problems. Nothing is perfect, and staying in a dorm is never a dream vacation, but overall I have no complaints. I have had more genealogy conversations here (along the lines of Did you try this?  Did you look here?  What about … ?) than probably any other venue I have ever been in.

I am grateful to my teachers Judy Russell, Rick Sayre, and Marian Smith.  I learned this week that there are laws (or occasionally some other motivation) behind records and we need to understand those purposes, look up national and local laws, and think through what was allowed and legal for the time and place that our ancestors lived.  Knowing the law can give us data and genealogical information that never appears in any index.  If person A did x in a certain year, and x could only be done by people of a certain age, that gives you a piece of data you may not find anywhere else.  And legal records are absolutely filled with direct evidence too, for instance when certain facts had to be documented for, say, a pension application.  Did our ancestors ever lie?  Well sure, but that’s just part of the fun.

You can see the 2015 program here.  I had a great week and I look forward to similar events in the future.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/07/25/grip-2014/

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The conference of the Federation of Genealogy Societies is being held this year in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center is located next door to the convention center, and many participants spent as much time as they could in that amazing library, between sessions or during the extended hours.  This post is about the conference.

The new Direcotr of the Family History Library, Diane Loosle

The new Director of the Family History Library, Diane Loosle

Bloggers Dinner

The Bloggers Dinner was held on Tuesday night, sponsored by Family Search.  Blogger Jenny Lanctot checked people in and had the blogger beads.   Paul Nauta of FamilySearch had a lot of new initiatives to talk about – new story collecting resources, expanding their camera teams to digitize records around the world, the Family Search Family Tree, the growth of the winter RootsTech conference, and new partnerships to expand their services.  The new Director of the Family History Library, Diane Loosle, was introduced and talked a bit about her exciting plans for the library, including collaborative research areas around the library. As usual, FamilySearch wanted to thank the many indexers who keep the production of online indexed records going.  Paul closed his remarks with a brief video about the value of indexing which I think everyone might enjoy, called “Indexing is Vital.”  A little play on words there.

Opening Social

On Wednesday night I attended the FGS Opening Social at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory.  Although the line was long, I was fortunate to meet genealogist Angela Walton-Raji while waiting, and she was really nice about chatting about a couple of genealogy problems I had.  I asked her about her session on Civil War Matrons and Nurses and how to find them, it was a fascinating story.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in any session to purchase the recording (either on CD or download).  Judy G. Russell’s blog post gives you more details.

I enjoyed the exhibits and bought a few books.  Sharing a room really improved the conference budget and allowed for that.

FamilySearch was introducing a story-keeping program in the Vendor Hall.

FamilySearch was introducing a story-keeping program in the Vendor Hall.

Sessions

Due to my long hours at the library I only attended a few sessions, but I completely enjoyed them:

  • Judy G. Russell, The Who, What, Why, When Where of American Divorce.  Judy reviewed the long history of divorce in the United States and the shift from divorces by legislative decree to “judicial” divorces handled in the courts. Early on, a divorce might have produced a separation, with no permission for the parties to remarry.  Records should be sought with legislative or judicial records.  And the full records should be sought in either case, and can offer enormous details.  Newspaper ads or stories may also point to a divorce.  Knowing the law in the location you are researching would be helpful; at various points people sometimes moved temporarily to enable then to take advantage of more lenient divorce laws.
Barb's Branches was selling ancestry-related jewelry in the Vendor Hall

Barb’s Branches was selling ancestry-related jewelry in the Vendor Hall

  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, Trousers, Beds, Tacks & Housekeeping Bills: Problem-Solving with “Trivial Details”.   Always a superb speaker with excellent advice to offer, the point here was such an important one:  use OTHER details, not just documents that mention your ancestor, to put the story together.  For instance, the example of the “Beds” was about a list of buyers of an estate inventory, and her contention that the widow, son and daughter were the purchasers of the beds … thus revealing the previously unknown family members.
  • Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, Lost Children: Orphans, Half-Orphans, Vagrants, Dependents, Surrendered, Adopted.  Jeanne is an expert on this subject and explained about the history of orphanages, adoption, and child custody.  I really enjoyed this session.  My husband spent some time in an orphanage.
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, Finding Fathers: Bridging the Generation Gap.  Again, this session had such an important genealogical message:  Look for the clues you need outside of documents that actually name your ancestor.  ASSEMBLE the string of evidence from known facts, such as from court documents.  One example was finding a nephew of the person she was researching, then finding the father of that nephew, then finding a third and then a fourth brother of the person – and finally the fourth brother had a father’s name recorded in a document.  So now we know the father of the person we were researching.  When you can move from index-checking to this type of analysis, you know you have really increased the quality of your genealogical research.
There was an auction of a DNA test, an Ancestry World Membership, a Dell computer, and a 2014 FGS registration package

There was an auction of a DNA test, an Ancestry World Membership, a Dell computer, and a 2014 FGS registration package to benefit the War of 1812 pension record project

I purchased a number of lectures on MP3 audio (to be sent to me) and I would encourage others to do that as well, through these instructions on Judy Russell’s blog.

In summary

Conferences are inspiring because of the content but even more so because of the relationships and conversations that form over lunches, dinners, and drinks.  It is wonderful to have conversations about genealogy 24/7.

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NERGC is held every two years in various locations around New England. This time the location was Manchester, New Hampshire.

Thursday
I arrived early Thursday morning to have breakfast with some Facebook friends. That was really nice and I met a woman from Concord Mass and someone from Nova Scotia, as well as Facebook friend Jennifer Zinck. They had some French Canadian roots. I don’t have that but I do have lots of Nova Scotia connections.

Reg Desk at NERGC

Reg Desk at NERGC

NERGC relies on volunteer help so I did my bit at the reg desk for a while on Thursday.  Then I attended a session sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, “Access to Records for Genealogists: An Open Forum”.  Recent confusion about SSDI (Social Security Death Index) access was presented as an improv skit, and panelists answered many questions after that.  The point was stressed that methods of identity theft are constantly shifting and changing, and in fact the biggest danger recently has been theft through details copied illegally from medical records.  Branches of the federal government should be responsible to check the SSDI (and not be fooled) and ultimately, identity theft of living people is far more common and damaging.   Massachusetts remains one of only a few completely open vital-records states, and this group works to keep things that way.  From time to time, supportive genealogists may be called upon to contact their legislators on certain issues. After the session, I asked some questions I had about access to family medical records, and it was the most helpful discussion I’ve had on the subject, and I was given a contact in Rhode Island which I will follow up.

The exhibits opened at 6 p.m., and I enjoyed some special pricing on used books.  I found several books I have wanted for a while, plus two old books on Fitchburg, Massachusetts I’ve never seen before.

Maia's Books in the exhibit area

Maia’s Books in the exhibit area

Friday

On Friday morning I attended a session by Craig R Scott on “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestors in New England”.  Craig is an entertaining speaker.  I don’t know of any ancestors of mine who participated in that war, but I now have a better idea of the chronology and geography of this complicated war, as well as an overview of the literature available.  I have heard Craig speak before, and he likes to help the audience understand the issues behind the conflicts, for instance, in this case, by showing us contemporaneous maps of eastern North America, one by the French, one by the colonial British settlers.  It was pretty obvious from the maps that the two sides had very different views of the territory. The books I plan to find next time I’m in a genealogy library are the set “In Search of the “Forlorn Hope”: a Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records (1640-WWI)” by John M. Kitzmiller II.  Apparently the book contains some FHL microfilm numbers to help you find the original records you need. I will also look at the compiled red Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers books.

The busy registration area

The busy registration area

I was able to have lunch with fellow Rhode Islander Barbara, and Jennifer Zinck.  Jennifer was generous enough to answer a lot of questions I had about DNA testing.  One piece of advice, which I hadn’t really considered before, was to use testing on the earliest DNA possible, for instance, my mom and dad. If I ever get started on that, I now have some specific recommendations to explore.  Thanks, Jennifer!

Next, Jolene Mullen presented “Town Meeting Records of Connecticut and Rhode Island during the American Revolution”.  Jolene has made a study of these local records for the period of the Revolutionary War and had a lot of insight to offer on how to find the records and what information they may reveal.  It was a reminder of the wealth of information held in early town records, which I have heard before, and I think any difficult problem from these early New England towns could benefit from a reading of several years of town council records.

“Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer” by Lori Thornton came next, in which she reviewed a wide range of record sources for agricultural settings.  One resource that Lori mentioned, available in some libraries, is the Evans Early American Imprints.  Other sources mentioned included special census schedules, tax lists, patents, and sources for newspapers, particularly newspapers aimed at the farming community like “The Farmer’s Wife”.

Meanwhile, back in the exhibits, I purchased the first 11 volumes of the periodical “The Mayflower Descendant” for $11.  I visited the findmy past.com booth where I was able to search for records (in my case, from Surrey, England) on the laptop they had set up.  I also got a coupon for 40 credits which I can use at home to do some further searching, and decide about subscribing.

I loved this booth in the exhibits:

The Gravestone Girls make casts of actual gravestone art. Each piece comes with the details of the actual marker.

The Gravestone Girls make casts of actual gravestone art. Each piece comes with the details of the actual marker.

I think there would be many uses for these pieces, which were beautiful.

I think there would be many uses for these pieces, which were beautiful.

The day ended with dinner with two genealogists followed by a bloggers’ Special Interest Group meeting.  Many bloggers attended – some of whom I met for the first time.  Heather Rojo was very involved in planning the event, assisted by several long-time bloggers including Midge Frazel.  Some people new to blogging also showed up, with questions.  It was a very interesting session.

Marian Pierre-Louis and Heather Rojo before the blogging event

Marian Pierre-Louis and Heather Rojo before the blogging event

Saturday

On Saturday I was interested in the session “Immigration Records at the National Archives” presented by Jean Nudd. This was an area I am not very familiar with and since there are few records for Canadian immigration, I really only have one person I will be hunting for. I took many notes about resources to pursue.

Queries board in the Registration area

Queries board in the Registration area

I checked the Queries board one more time before leaving.  I would like to have attended the Saturday lunch, sponsored by the New England Chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists which features tables on focused genealogical topics, for discussion, but I hadn’t been aware of it in advance, and didn’t purchase a ticket.

I think some of my discussions in between sessions and events were just as enlightening as the events themselves.  It was great to meet so many genealogists for the first time, and to catch up many genealogists I already know.

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FGS 2012, Last Day

Today was my last day at the conference, although a few festivities will keep going until brunch on Sunday. I attended only one session.

J. Mark Lowe presented “Finding Your Civil War Ancestors.” I was surprised when he began with census records. If you believe your ancestor served in the war, he detailed strategies for compiling a record of the service.  He pointed out that there are a lot of incorrect or incomplete reports out there.   Next he looked through Civil War Soldiers and Sailors. Then he looked at pension records. Ancestry.com and Fold3.com contain similar but not identical index card sets for this.  Ancestry.com has some NARA lists of hospital deaths, prisoners of war, etc. He went quickly through many helpful resources. Like many presenters he recommended NUCMC or WorldCat for locating obscure documentation, and also a Civil War collection at LSU. I found his style to be very accessible and helpful.

The trip to the airport was fun because I met a representative from GRIP, the weeklong summer Institute located in Pittsburgh. We chatted about the program and I hope to make it one of these years.

My impressions of my first conference are that it was a wonderful experience and something that I will do again from time to time when I can. I met so many of my social “network” and so many bloggers. I learned a lot. I sent 22 pounds of books home and I look forward to reviewing the syllabus and to the arrival of the three sessions I purchased on mp3.  I am grateful for the many bloggers who welcomed me and became friends.  I can’t thank you enough.

 

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FGS 2012, Day Three

Thursday was Day Three at the Federation of Genealogy Societies 2012 conference in Birmingham, AL.

I began the day with an 8:00 session by Craig Scott called “Researching Your War of 1812 Ancestors.” Craig is a wonderful presenter, incredibly knowledgeable and interesting. I learned a lot about military records and the war itself. For those not attending Craig mentioned a Family Chronicle magazine publication with a similar title. Also he said military searches would benefit by consulting the NARA holdings on microfilm. Check out Archives.gov and the NARA finding aids. It’s very clear that Craig’s research benefits from his familiarity with the story of the war itself, something that few Americans can claim.

Allen County Public Library exhibit – FGS 2013 will be very close to the library!

Next was Dean Hunter presenting “Doing English Research in a Computer World.” I was interested because I have not yet tackled the problem of my gg-grandmother Catherine Youngs who arrived from Surrey around 1843, family unknown. Immediately I could see there are sites I wasn’t aware of. Sites covered included FindMyPast.co.uk (now covered by a newer FindMyPast.com product), FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, FreeBMD.org.uk, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk, www.genuki.org.uk.

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The Fun Stuff booth in the exhibits

The third session was “Smiths and Joneses: How to Cope with Families of Common Names” with Elizabeth Shown Mills. I won’t attempt to summarize here since her work involves many important principles. Visit her web site to get some inspiration at www.EvidenceExplained.com.  She is planning to put up a QuickLesson 11 which contains an example used in the class.

Find My Past booth

At lunchtime I was attending the NARA luncheon. The topic was the 1940 census. I had not really noticed the topic in advance and was not looking forward to a droning PowerPoint going through the census column by column.  So I was rather delighted with the presentation from NARA archivist Constance Potter. She chatted knowledgeably about interesting stories that can be found in the census, the purposes and strategies behind the questions, and encouraged us to take a good look around at this 1940 snapshot of America.

Some nice people at the DAR booth in the exhibits

Next was Pamela Cooper presenting “Pensions of the Poor.” Pamela discussed some military pensions, early care of the poor and the gradual evolution of the idea of supporting mothers with dependent children: “Mothers’ Pensions.”  The biggest incentive for the state was the idea that work would distract single mothers, and children would be neglected and turn out badly. She also pointed out that the questions you see in the early 1900’s census (for women) about children born and children living were a way for the states to gauge, statistically, the situation of mothers prior to developing programs of support.  These programs began in many states in the early 1910s. They generally ended around 1935 when the federal Aid To Families With Dependent Children program began. Finding these state records can be difficult; see her web page for some known sets.

Book purchases so far. Maybe this is it?

The Extended Exhibit Hall Hours were tonight from 5 – 8.  Prizes were given out and it was a fun time.  sigh.  I didn’t win anything.

FGS President Pat Oxley offering some final prizes in the exhibits. Oh yes, those ARE cupcakes waiting to be served.

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Thank-You board offered by FamilySearch, signed by 1940 census Indexers.

The next post in this series is located here.

 

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I am at the Federation of Genealogy Societies 2012 conference. Yesterday was Day Two. I attended sessions and visited the exhibits.
The first session was with Thomas Jones, Finding “Unfindable” Ancestors. The room was huge, so I sat way up front where I would be able to see the speaker. As it turns out, I was sitting right behind him as he was waiting to begin, and we had a nice chat. I found his talk very interesting; he stressed the point that you need to go on the assumption your mystery will be solved, and in most cases, probably not by finding one record that proves everything. He pointed out many areas along the way where you may have made a false assumption, missed something because you felt it was unimportant, been misled by records, books or stories, neglected to assemble partial clues. Often, in-depth perusals of surrounding folks will be needed to solve a mystery.

The Exhibits opened at 9:45 and I looked through them a couple of times. There were organizations I’m very familiar with:

New England Historic Genealogical Society Booth – I purchased the new Winthrop Fleet book.

And some booths for organizations I’m not familiar with:

American Civil War Ancestors

I found vendors for a couple of new products that I’d like to try out and see if I can make a good report on.

My lunch featured a talk by Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Walkabouts and Chicken Men: Tales of the U.S. Census Taker.” She has previously worked as a census taker, and her talk featured highlights of her experiences and focused on the difficult work of the census taker over the centuries, and the challenges of that role, in a humorous way. I really enjoyed it, and met a nice genealogist at my table.

The next session was with Laura Prescott, on “Treasures Within The Ivory Tower, Finding Ancestors in Academic Archives.” Laura has had some good fortune finding details about her ancestors in academic archives, and gave an interesting overview of how to find the online catalogs and finding aids, how to approach the archives staff, and pointed out that there are many, many reasons why material might exist there even if your ancestors had no connection to the college. It is an interesting idea that I will definitely be pursuing. For those who would like to “try this from home”, go to a college site near where your ancestors were, or where later generations may have been, and look for library special collections or archives. It’s not as unusual as you might think to actually find a “genealogy” link within special collections, giving you an overview of the collection from a genealogist’s perspective.

The last session was by Amy Crow onTaking Great Tombstone Photos Without Breaking the Bank. She stressed the proper use of any camera – larger resolution sizes, control of the flash, a spare memory card, proper distance from the object being photographed, and zooming. She also had practical tips on the composition of the photographs themselves, including lighting. One audience member offered a tip that foil car windshield reflectors can make a handy light reflector in a cemetery.

The evening was spent at the Find My Past party; karaoke was involved, and hopefully details and film are not making the rounds of Facebook and YouTube.

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