I was not in London last week. Nor was I in trouble, nor did I need money. But for a brief time the other morning, somebody posing as me on Facebook made it seem as if all this were true.
At the moment I was literally on the road, driving home from the Poconos, not sophisticated London. It was almost funny. But nobody could be amused by the result — a temporary shutdown of my Facebook account while I shored up security measures.
The frightening stranded in London after being mugged (or whatever) sob story/scam has been around for a couple of years. For a typical version, see the link. I saw it for the first time as an email. It’s scary, getting a message like that from someone you know (whose email has been hacked). Unfortunately, a lot of people are scared enough to send money to help their “friend” get home.
Like many scams, this one takes various forms. There’s an old-school telephone-call version. And now I’ve experienced the Facebook version, in which the scammer impersonates you in chat messages. Somehow, the idea of the sob story unfolding in live, interactive real time is just that much creepier.
Fortunately for me, fast action stopped things relatively quickly. By the end of the day my account was back up and running peacefully (fingers crossed). Lessons learned:
Friends are great. Mine were my strongest defense. I got five calls within 20 minutes, all from friends suspicious of the chat messages “I” was supposedly sending, and wanting to know if I was all right. One of them notified Facebook security, which suspended the account. This was important because it would have been a couple more hours before I could have notified them myself. I was spared a lot of headaches and misunderstandings. The impersonator did de-friend two of my friends, but it could have been much worse.
Couldn’t happen? Hmm: It’s tempting to think this wouldn’t happen to you because you aren’t a gamer/don’t download attachments from strangers/rarely if ever chat/etc. Well, I qualify in all these categories. Still happened. And of course, don’t forget the low-tech version is out there.
Password safety is a moving target. I’ve used passwords that are a mashup of letters and numbers for some years now, and thought they were fabulous, but in the process of changing my security settings, I noticed that protocols rated “extremely strong” a year ago are only “medium” now. So I’m studying up on ways to make passwords stronger.
The link above recommends changing passwords every 30 to 60 days. Once I would have scoffed at the idea. Now, I’m resigned to it. I want to keep playing in the interactive sun, but I don’t want to be a funzone for scam artists.
You can never say never, even with the most stubborn mysteries. A case in point: a recent New York Times report that 100 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan burned, taking the lives of 146 workers with it, a comprehensive list of the dead has finally been compiled.
It’s a bit surprising that such a list didn’t exist before, given how much this fire has been covered in books, articles, documentaries and even a dramatized TV film. The story of “amateur genealogist and historian” Michael Hirsch (as the Times describes him) and what he did to fill in the blanks is inspiring and instructive.
The family historian struggling with their own research dead ends will be interested to learn the ways Hirsch thought outside the box to uncover the names of victims previously lost to historians. Hirsch, who became obsessed with the Triangle story after he learned that a resident of his block had died in the fire, hit paydirt by probing overlooked sources, notably contemporary accounts in Yiddish- and Italian-language daily newspapers. Seeking the grave monument of a young Italian worker, Hirsch found her tombstone, with an inscription in Italian referring to “due sorelle” [two sisters] who died in the fire, which led to another previously hidden name.
It’s an absorbing account — and thought-provoking, too. Interesting to think that vital sources can be hidden in plain sight, just waiting for the right person to think of them. Read the whole thing, (by Times reporter Joseph Berger).
I just wrote about email lists, those quaint little things, and how much I still love them.
One ongoing feature of many genealogy mailing lists is the roll call, in which participants list surnames they are researching. There are no particular rules about how often this happens, or in what format. Roll calls usually start when the list has been sort of quiet, and someone pipes up, “Hey! We haven’t done a roll call in a while!”
The proposition seems quite straightforward to me. You put up the names. Maybe somebody makes a connection. Maybe not. The roll call goes on for a week or two and dies out. It’s repeated in a year, or maybe less, or maybe more. Who cares?
But roll calls spur intense irritation in some readers. I’d guess it’s not the majority, or the roll calls wouldn’t happen in the first place. Still, there are always expostulations: “What are you trying to accomplish here? Do you need help? Do you really think somebody can DO something about your names? WHAT IS THE POINT?”
I waded into one of these debates about four years ago and I’m too lazy to go back and find what I said, but I recall it was something like this:
• Roll calls are mainly a community building exercise. They encourage lurkers to emerge, often giving them a chance to express thanks for the list’s usefulness, along with their research interests.
• Roll calls are a snapshot of a listserve at a given point in time, nothing more or less. Sometimes people do make connections, and that’s wonderful. Often they do not, and that’s OK, too.
• I honestly don’t think people have a huge expectation of a brick wall breakthrough when they post their surnames. Therefore, frustration at not being able to assist them is likely misplaced. It might help to think of a roll call entry as less of a query than a signal flare — Hey! I’m here! These are my peeps! Just saying hi!
• Roll calls are more obviously useful with the rarer surnames. But even if you’re looking for a Smith family, you can increase the usefulness of your roll call post by throwing in a few biographical details: “I’m researching the family of Mary and John Smith, who lived in Brooklyn on Van Brunt Street between 1927 and 1940.”
• Roll calls do clutter up the list while they’re running, and other posts with non-roll-call business get lost in the shuffle. If you really want attention paid to a burning question, best to keep it burning until the roll call passes, if you possibly can.
• If you read a list via individual emails, your inbox will experience a temporary burst of emails labeled “ROLL CALL.” But is this really a reason to start calling for international summits on Roll Call Post Naming Conventions? If you insist upon doing so, I hereby threaten to start a roll call asking for opinions on roll call post naming.
• If the roll call irritates you to the point that it’s wrecking your day, try switching to digest mode, and get your roll calls in batches. Or switch to “no emails” mode, and take a break from the list until the roll call ends. It’s basically harmless, and it does occasionally result in research breakthroughs for people.
I think that’s what I said.
At any rate, it’s what I still believe.
I am well aware that email listserves are old school. How very 1992!
But they have endured well into the Twitter age, and I’m glad. For the family researcher, lists occupy a vital niche between large, helpful institutional sites (Familysearch.org, library websites, archive repository sites) and the personalized, insightful world of genealogy blogs.
Email listserves tackle topics in a way that appeals to a casual visitor who’s on the trail of something too esoteric to be dissected in a Genealogy 101 guide. There’s just something about the format that encourages in-depth and very specific information — information that fills in the gaps left in many standard how-tos.
Lists that are specific to localities can offer a wealth of practical research details that you could never find in a book, and you rarely find elsewhere online. Streetwise researchers will clue you in to the realities behind the pronouncements on the county clerk’s website. (“Hey, these volumes are in a dank basement lit by a single bulb, so bring your flashlight and waders.”)
And unlike blogs (much as I love reading blogs), the listserves offer a range of diverse opinions and experiences on a question. To take another practical example: visiting urban cemeteries. Some urban cemeteries are peaceful oases of green. Sadly, other urban cemeteries require some advance planning if you want to make sure you, your camera and your wallet get home OK. Here, a locality listserve is a godsend. If I read six opinions of how to handle a visit to a cemetery I’m wondering about, and they’re all pretty much on the same page, I feel a lot better that I’m planning my trip appropriately.
Sometimes, a list reader will ask a question that never occurred to me before, but should have. Recently on a list devoted to Tipperary, Ireland, it was asked how likely it would be for rural Irish villagers to move from place to place in their lifetimes. Turns out, quite likely. A couple of erudite responses thoroughly demolished the romanticized image of Auld Sod peasants clinging steadfastly to their ancestral villages for centuries — a cliche that was coloring my view of my own research, although I hadn’t realized it.
Sure, the list archives on RootsWeb look kind of … basic. And before subscribing, you really need to gauge the traffic rate of a given list as well as your tolerance for handling it. (I only subscribe in digest mode; I can’t stand individual messages piling into my mailbox.)
But beyond the old-school interface are posts filled with useful tips. Yeah, I still love those lists.