Got NJ Images? Get Digitized

Do you have old family photos that help tell stories of New Jersey days gone by?

Then check out MyJerseyRoots, a project being  launched by the Rutgers University Libraries as part of Rutgers Day — Saturday, April 30, when all sorts of events run campuswide from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Stephanie Bartz of the Genealogical Society of New Jersey list (and Rutgers University’s Alexander Library), MyJerseyRoots offers New Jersey citizens the opportunity to “document the everyday life of our cities, small towns and rural communities from past to present,” an excellent idea. Today’s family keepsake can be tomorrow’s historical treasure! If you think you can drop by the main campus in New Brunswick with some interesting old photos, read on.

On Rutgers Day you can bring up to five images to the Alexander Library (169 College Ave., 4th floor), where Rutgers Library personnel will scan, digitize and record information that documents the photos. The library says the sorts of images they’re seeking include:

  • photos of people, families, and/or neighborhood groups
  • street scenes
  • pictures at street fairs, parades, and other events
  • pictures of houses/farms/office buildings/businesses
  • pictures in and of religious institutions
  • school photos – either of classes or activities
  • photos of clubs, organizations, and civic groups

An added bonus: The first 25 participants in the digitization program will receive a free USB flash drive. There will also be brochures prepared by library staff, containing basic tips for photo preservation.

For more information on MyJerseyRoots, take a trip on the New Jersey Digital Highway. Full press release on the photo-preservation event is here. And for other interesting programs at the Library on Rutgers Day, click here.

Freebies of Choice

A classic conversation is going on about genealogy, earning and freedom to choose whether you earn or not. I do not use “classic” in the snarky sense — this really is a tremendous outpouring of thoughtful posts and comments. I guess I’d start here, if you haven’t seen some of them. Or over here, where Thomas MacEntee adds to his GeneaBloggers roundup on the subject. Or maybe here, where Amy Coffin explains how “free” genealogy is never really free. You get the picture. Lots of good stuff.

As a professional writer, I know all about attempts to guilt you into working for free, as typified in the No Money, But Plenty Of Exposure want ad, whether in print or online. (Does anyone else find that phrase as pervy as I do?)

I really, really get irritated by the phrase “labor of love,” especially when it involves projects where writers are welcome to “contribute” for “nothing.” It implies that only money-grubbing meanies would scorn Labors of Love, as opposed to maybe being a person with people they love, whom they wish to help support with their talent. Or simply, people who don’t want to go broke.

So I’ve never been thrilled at the something-for-nothing mentality with regards to genealogy.

(I’m frankly amazed at how many individuals generously share extensive data on their websites and never even run an online fundraiser. As Amy points out, servers and domains aren’t free.)

Do labors of love have their place? Sure — depending upon the person, and the labor, and the love. And that is a person’s own choice — no matter how many examples one cites on either side of the aisle.

There is a fabulous story about the writer Colette being asked to contribute a piece to a literary journal. Upon inquiring as to her fee, she was told, well, 0 francs. She declined. The journal editor exclaimed, “But [Andre] Gide has agreed!”

Colette replied, “Gide is a fool,” and unleashed a terrifically stylish Colette diatribe about how writers who work for nothing do ALL writers a disservice by devaluing ALL writers’ work.

Should we be as harsh as Colette about those who ask for no renumeration? Nah. We can’t all be Colette, even though she had an interesting point.

But tell you what. Let’s also refrain from being harsh about those who strive for a return on their work. It’s an individual call.

Irish Family History: The Other ‘Hungers’

Last Saturday here in the Northeast was cold, rainy and windy; not charming. Fortunately I was warm, dry and inside, listening to a day of  lectures on Irish family history at Emigrants and Exiles: An Irish Family History Symposium at Drew University in Madison, NJ. Among them was Professor Christine Kinealy’s talk on why Irish people left Ireland and why, as she said, “the Famine is only part of the story.”

Co-sponsored by Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies and the Genealogical Society of New Jersey, this conference contained an ideal mix of individual case histories and broader historical perspectives. And the talk by Kinealy, who teaches at Drew, was a great example in the second category.

Kinealy is actually an expert on the Great Hunger of 1845-52, so the title of her talk was intriguing. A key point was that the Great Hunger, while certainly the biggest, was just one of many disasters to hit Ireland over the years. In the 18th century alone, for instance:

1717-18: Drought.

1725-29: Generalized economic downturn; “poverty, wretchedness, misery and want” force a wave of Scots-Irish emigration from Ulster.

1740-41: Famine (concurrent with a “Little Ice Age”).

1754: Another drought.

1771-75: More poverty and evictions, resulting in between 25,000-30,000 emigrations, mostly Presbyterians.

These dates are particularly important  for descendants of Irish families (like my husband’s) who emigrated prior to the 19th century. As a couple of the lecturers mentioned, if your Irish left Ireland in the 18th century, there’s a good bet they were Scots-Irish. Within a hundred years of the era in which the British established Protestant “plantations” in Ireland, economic and agricultural downturns forced many of these families’ descendants to emigrate, mainly to North America.

As researcher Clare Keenan Agthe noted, there’s a rule-of-thumb emigrant timeline drawn from patterns noted by Irish researchers, to wit:

1600s: Native Irish

1700s and early 1800s: Scots-Irish

Mid-1800s: Native Irish

It’s only a general guideline, of course. However, for those just starting out on their Irish adventures, these lesser-known timelines are worth keeping in mind. It’s easy to assume our people left in the Great Famine years because, so often, it’s true — how could it not be, with such a massive population shift? But it’s also possible that they left at other times, for other reasons.

Irish history is like that.

(I’ll be posting other tips from this conference as I go through my notes. There was so much great information and — by the way — Megan Smolyenak dropped by to show everybody how to give a great genealogy lecture and be funny while you’re at it!)

Links, 4.18.11

Originally these links led off with a nifty little item about Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, founder of the G.A.R., but it ran away and became a post of its own, which you can go read now if you want. The other links and I can wait. We’ll only be a little bit insulted.

O Canada: Diane Lynn Tibert writes that Ellis Island records can be of use to Canadian researchers, too. She illustrates with examples drawn from an index of Newfoundland family names found among Ellis Island arrivals. It’s one of those things that makes perfect sense once someone else points it out to you.

Royal stuff: In other Canada news, Kate Middleton has a Canadian connection. Her grandfather, Peter, served at an R.A.F. airbase in Alberta during the Second World War, and, in happier prewar times, visited Quebec as a schoolboy. I have not been keeping up with all the Kate genealogy news, so consider this a belated apology. (edited to add: Hey! Here is Kate’s family tree!)

Bronx memories: Always good to see a glimpse of big-city genealogy, this time from the Bronx. Mehroz Baig at Digital Bronx talks to family researchers with an interest in this corner of the world, including a woman from Yorkshire, England, who tracked down some long-lost cousins.

State treasures: Tampa Bay columnist Sharon Tate Moody, whose articles are consistently top-notch, scores a particular winner with this look at state archives and how much they can help your genealogy research. As she points out, not everything is digitized — so sooner or later every researcher who gets serious should consider a physical visit to the archives.

Customer data: Here’s a business-writer view of, courtesy of Investor’s Business Daily, which gives the online genealogy giant a nod of approval for attracting new customers. They also credit Ancestry with a “reasonable churn rate” — i.e., the amount of customers lost over a given period. Apparently Ancestry loses about 4 percent of its customers per month, compared to telecom and cable companies’ 2 to 3 percent. (The churn rate drops to about 2 percent for Ancestry subscribers whose memberships extend beyond six months.)

Fun and games: Aaaand … We now reach the intersection of gaming and genealogy with Family Village, a Facebook game launching next week. It will allow you to build a virtual town and populate it with avatars of your ancestors. They’ll be able to build houses, work jobs and buy stuff, all keyed to their own timelines — as the Salt Lake City Tribune points out, your great-grandfather can buy a Model T. The meanie in me considers that all this may not be so much fun as it sounds — “Whee! Great-grandma doesn’t have the vote!” But it does sound like it could be terribly educational.

Video pointers: Have you seen some of the National Archives videos on genealogy research? Here’s a nice one on researching regular Army soldiers. I will totally admit that once upon a time, I wasted much brain space wondering where a couple of my ancestors’ military service records were because I did not understand the distinction between volunteer and regular Army stuff. Don’t let this happen to you.

Happy Pesach if it applies — first seder is tonight, yes? Meanwhile the Archaeologist is warming up her vocal cords for the multi-service choir marathon known as the Triduum. Oh yes, and hiding candy from young people. Enjoy your week!

A G.A.R. Remembrance

The Springfield, Ill. State Journal-Register ran a nice recollection of  Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, the founder of the G.A.R. He was honored last week at a gravesite ceremony in Petersburg, Ill., 146 years after he created the flagship support organization for Union Army veterans.

The Grand Army of the Republic, to use its full name, was a real landmark — the first and largest U.S. veterans’ organization, instrumental in creating an awareness of the challenges faced by returning Civil War veterans and by survivors of the fallen. The institution of the service-based Civil War pension benefit owes quite a bit to the concerns of citizens like Stephenson, a major and regimental surgeon. (So thanks for all those pension files, Dr. Stephenson!)

At its peak, the G.A.R.’s membership was nearly half a million, with 7,000 posts throughout the country. (The last member died in 1956.) With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that the G.A.R. acronym required no explanation back in the day, any more than “V.F.W.” would now. Memories fade, of course. As a reporting intern, I covered the ceremonial opening of a time capsule from the 1880s, found in a building in in New Brunswick, N.J. Among the papers inside was memorabilia from the now-mysterious G.A.R.; a local historian had to explain what it was.

G.A.R. post records can be quite illuminating for researchers with Union Army veterans in their tree. This is good to keep in mind if you ever find the “G.A.R.” insignia on an ancestor’s tombstone.

As far as I know these records aren’t collected in any centralized way, but if you know where your ancestor lived, it’s worth checking into G.A.R. post history with local research societies, or with regional chapters of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Links, 4.13.11

Call it spring fever, call it tax season, call it anything you like — perhaps Late Links? Sorry about that. How about these:

Bohemian rhapsody: Via the Prague Post, an interview with Julius Müller, founder of Toledot, a nonprofit Jewish family history center based in Prague. A major focus is digitization: Toledot is working on getting dozens of important genealogical source volumes online for those interested in Czech-Jewish ancestry.

Missing numbers: In Mobile, Ala., the regular “Yesterday’s News” feature has a noticeable dearth of yesterdays from 1860-61. The problem: a gap in the otherwise extensive microfilm collection at the public library. A librarian notes there are occasional dark mutterings about “underhanded manipulation,” given the crucial timepoint, but says the newspapers just aren’t extant, despite extensive efforts to find something. “It isn’t the only [gap], though it’s the biggest one.”

Real people: At RealScreen, Kelly Anderson describes how National Geographic Channel used a genealogy-based approach to craft a “people’s history” in its three-part series on the American Civil War.

A thousand times no: At the BBC blog Anglophenia, we hear Ricky Gervais explain why he will never appear on Who Do You Think You Are? So for the two of you who were writing the BBC wanting to know when the Gervais episode airs, just stop.

And on we go. Enjoy the rest of the week.


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