Posted: August 2, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: newspapers, Records, Relatives
Oh, dear. Should I really quote the already-widely-quoted Mormon Times article about librarian Curt Witcher’s speech and the coming genealogical Dark Age?
But ignoring it is a little like visiting Chicago on a certain day in 1871 and neglecting to mention they’d had a fire. So many points and posts! Randy Seaver at GeneaMusings did a nice summary, in which James Tanner’s careful reasoning stood out, as usual.
So here’s my only two cents: As a former writer of newspaper articles, I recognize the technique of cherry-picking eye-catching quotes to make a snappy story. Not to say that this reporter turned in a bad story. I’m just saying that we as readers have to be aware when our hot buttons are being pushed, slow down and read carefully.
For instance, there’s the alarming quote: “People are losing interest and focus on keeping the thoughts and the words for future generations.” On second read, this is a bit unclear, and the reporter didn’t expand upon just what Mr. Witcher meant by it. If it means that the rush to digitize may be leaving important records in the dust, well, that’s a definite concern.
But if it means that we as individuals are losing this focus, I think the jury’s out. Certainly the rich profusion of genealogy blogs indicates an interest in sharing our personal thoughts and research. And yet (again): How are we archiving ourselves? Not an idle question … I wrote for an Internet startup in the dark ages of 1998 and can testify to the pain of belatedly realizing that many of my “clips” are no longer clippable!
So although I count myself among the hopeful, I appreciate Mr. Witcher’s remarks (as reported) as a timely wakeup call. We are living in an age of wrenching transitions, and we need to be keeping an eye on the repositories as they negotiate these changes. And on ourselves, too.
A dose of well-placed concern can be a good thing.
Posted: July 19, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: Link Love, Records
On the road .. but with wireless! Blog posting will probably be lighter than usual this week, but since I’m at a family reunion, who knows?
DNA basics: Ever consider participating in a DNA surname study? If you’re wondering about what’s involved and what you can find out, this article by Katharine Garstka is a nice introduction to the idea and process.
Fresh ideas: Via the Jewish Chronicle online, exciting news: JewishGen has teamed up with Tel Aviv-based My Heritage.com in an initiative designed as a boost of fresh energy for the Family Tree of the Jewish People project (FTJP). My Heritage.com is a genealogical social networking site in 36 languages, and its holdings of 15 million family trees should certainly generate leads out there. More at the JewishGen blog.
For beginners: I always like to see newspaper-based genealogy columns and blogs. Seasoned researchers may not always find them exciting, but it’s great to see more starting points in the news stream. Two more that I noticed this week: Your Alabama Genealogy and New Jersey-based Tracing Your Roots.
My ancestor is a relic: Australia, Australia. Can you guys tell genealogy stories or what? Case in point: This article about one woman’s conflicted feelings about the presence of a real live (um, deceased) martyr in the family tree. I don’t know how I’d feel about my gggggg-uncle’s head being venerated as a relic, I really don’t. I do know I couldn’t resist a good ancestor story, so I’d certainly write about it, too.
Posted: June 14, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: Cemeteries, Link Love, Records
Call this the week that Wall Street noticed genealogy, I guess.
Ancestry.com in the news: Both Barron’s and the Wall Street Journal took due notice of Ancestry.com, which went public last year and recently projected higher-than-expected earnings for this year. Wall Street, of course, does not really get into the technicalities of what consumers get for their Ancestry buck, or who really owns all those family trees online. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Ownership, continued: One person who is discussing ownership and copyright issues in the genealogy universe, and discussing it in absorbing detail, is James Tanner at Genealogy’s Star. His multipart series (for example, here and here) is a must-read for anyone interested in this topic.
A genealogy love story: Now for something romantic — the story of a couple of genealogy buddies who met online, bound by their common research interests, and discovered romance amid the courthouse trips and cemetery walks. I wonder how often that happens? Maybe more often than we’d think.
Arlington fallout: Various stories are popping up in the wake of the disturbing news that personnel at Arlington National Cemetery mishandled the remains of 200 troops. For instance, USA Today reports that Arlington still uses an index-card system for its records, which might contribute to its difficulties. (Yes, card indexes are hardly unprecedented in cemetery offices, but Arlington is pretty massive.) The Washington Post asks about procedures at other national cemeteries. Arlington is one of only two national cemeteries administered directly by the Defense Department. The vast majority are overseen by the Veterans Administration, and 14 are under the direction of the National Parks Service.
Trust fund windfall: Here’s a nice bit of luck for a historic cemetery. In Allentown, Pa., volunteers at the Union and West End Cemetery were pleasantly surprised to discover that the cemetery would receive nearly $30,000 in old trust-fund money. Apparently Wachovia Bank is unloading many vintage trust-fund assets, some of which date back to the 1880s, and were originally set up to maintain gravesites. Because of this, the bank decided to send the money to the cemeteries where the original depositors were buried. $30,000 might be a drop in the bucket on Wall Street, but it’s big money to a struggling 156-year-old cemetery with a $19,000 annual budget. Congratulations, folks!
Posted: May 28, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: Follow Friday, NY, Records
If you think one of your ancestors was born, or died, or married in New York City, this is for you: a database of New York City vital records containing thousands of entries.
This miracle is made possible by the volunteers of the Genealogy Federation of Long Island. According to the site, members of the Italian and German Genealogy groups have scanned more than 30,000 pages of documents and amassed an online database of over 2,760,000 death certificates. That’s the death certificate index alone. There are also marriage and naturalization databases well worth exploring.
The indexes are easy to search by surname. You can specify exact spelling, Soundex or use a wildcard.
If you search the death index and get a hit, you’ll see a chart showing the person’s last name, first name, age, date of death, the certificate number and the borough that issued the certificate.
The date range covered depends upon the type and location of records. For instance, the death index covers 1891 to 1948. The database is a work in progress, so if someone doesn’t turn up in a search, it’s never a bad idea to check back after several months and see what new updates have been entered.
Thanks to this database, you could order a certificate by mail without springing for a potentially costly search. Or you can go to the Municipal Archives in Manhattan armed with the exact certificate numbers you need, which is a godsend if time is short.
When you click on the link you are initially taken to a page with a stern warning — “No More Databases — Unless.” It’s eye-popping, but makes the point. (Scroll down, and a button takes you to the indexes.) Efforts like this are only possible through goodwill — whether it’s volunteers donating time or well-wishers donating funds.
Link: New York City Vital Records Indexes
Posted: April 6, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: Records, References
My great-uncle Leo's death certificate (1901).
As a genealogy enthusiast I forget not everyone hears the words “death certificate” with excitement. And truly, some death certificates are always hard to read, like this one for my grandfather’s brother Leo Haigney, who died a little ways past his third birthday, in 1901.
Leo died from tubercular meningitis; there wasn’t much hope in pre-antibiotic days. The doctor was called on February 15; Leo died a week later, on the morning of the 22nd. Convulsions were listed as the secondary cause of death. I can’t imagine what it must have been like as a parent to watch a death struggle like that. More accurately, I could if I really tried, but as a mother, I just don’t want to go there.
Instead, I will imagine what it might have been like for my great-grandfather Joseph, Leo’s father, giving the information for the death certificate. This is not a task you’d do in a calm state of mind. My parents died twenty-five years apart, but the extreme fog on my brain was exactly the same each time, and it didn’t really lift until about a month after the funerals.
So, I’m not terribly surprised at what transpired on Leo’s certificate:
Father: Joseph Haigney, born U.S.
[Correct, given information from other sources.]
Mother: Mary Haigney, born Ireland.
[Incorrect, according to other sources. Leo’s mother was the former Catherine Connors, born in New York State.]
Why is “Mary Haigney” on Leo’s death certificate? Well, this information fits Joseph’s mother, whose name was Mary and who indeed was born in Ireland, according to census records. What seems likely is that upon being asked the question, “Mother’s name?” a grieving father responded with his own mother’s name, not the name of the deceased child’s mother.
This little story shows why death certificates, though valuable, must be treated with a lot of caution.
Genealogical material can be divided into two important categories: original and derivative. Original material is based on firsthand knowledge of the people and events being described. Derivative is everything else. Death certificates can fall into either category. For example, a deceased’s widow can’t automatically be expected to have firsthand knowledge of her inlaws’ birthplaces. But she might, if everyone grew up together in the same town.
So we find ourselves asking, who was the informant, and how likely were they to be right about the information they were asked to supply?
And we also have to factor in the state-of-mind problem. Does the information make sense given what we know from other sources? Even an informant we could expect to be right might get it wrong, as my great-grandfather did.
Here is a frank and informative discussion on how grief and disorientation can affect one’s ability to provide accurate information for death records. And here is another discussion about how to evaluate what’s on a death certificate.
Posted: March 1, 2010 Filed under: Genealogy | Tags: Link Love, Records
Among this week’s links: a worrisome report about NARA – sorry! – a pair of apologies and an inspiring genealogy search story. (I had to end on an up note.)
Records access: Concerns are growing about changes at the New York facility of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In 18 months, NARA/NYC will move from Varick Street to a 5,000-square-foot space in the Customs House. It is possible that only about 20 percent of NARA/NYC’s current holdings will move there too, according to one report. Much of the remainder may end up in a storage facility in northeast Philadelphia, to be pulled by request to be transported to New York for researchers. Read this report by Jan Meissels Allen of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. The IAJGS’ Public Records Access Monitoring Committee has a lot of interesting material about records-access issues at the federal and state levels; click here and go to “Alerts Page.”
Mistakes were made: A pair of governmental apologies last week shed renewed light on two traumatic historical episodes, and might interest some family history researchers.
• First, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for a British program that sent children from London overseas to labor in British colonies. About 100,000 “home children” journeyed abroad from the 1860s to 1939 to Australia and Canada to serve as cheap farm and domestic labor; working conditions were often harsh. “It’s a beginning,” said one Canadian “home child” descendant.
• Another apology concerns the community of Africville in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a mostly black neighborhood which was dismantled in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal. (Students of Robert Moses’ highway projects in New York neighborhoods might find this story sadly familiar.) Unfortunately the apology by the city of Halifax doesn’t seem to have ended disagreement among heirs over how best to move forward. However, the Africville Genealogy Society backs the current plans for financial and civic restitution, saying it’s what the former landowners would have wanted.
The uplifting part: I promised we’d go out on a high note, didn’t I? Well, it doesn’t get more inspiring than the story of Susan Hadley, a Washington D.C. psychologist and genealogy buff who became determined to unravel the mystery of what happened to her mother’s sister Elinor, the relative nobody talked about. Elinor was institutionalized in 1936 with a diagnosis of “postpartum psychosis,” and remained so for four decades before being released to live in a group home. Amazingly, Elinor was still alive when Hadley finally tracked her down in Ohio in 2008, and what happened next is just fantastic.
Makes you feel good to have this as a hobby.