Links, 2.28.11

The timer is on — I’ve got some tea-soaked paper drying in the oven. No, I am not forging documents; there’s  a crafty school history project in the offing. Here’s a recipe in case any of you ever get roped into a similar middle-school adventure.

An era ends: America’s last surviving veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, has died at the age of 110. He was only 16 when he signed up; he did some fast talking to convince an Army captain that he was actually 18. R.I.P. and thanks, Mr. Buckles.

Survivors: A two-post series about photos, printing and photo “survivability” was linked to in Dick Eastman’s newsletter, which means it probably already got a lot of glances, but it’s just too interesting not to mention — particularly the author’s distinction between what’s preserved and what actually survives, and why.

Archives: Speaking of Mr. Eastman, he has been in London attending “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” and sending back lots of interesting dispatches, including one from a visit to the National Archives in London. Well worth a read if you think you might ever have to browse there.

Archives, continued: Congratulations to the genealogy enthusiasts of Fort Worth, where the National Archives facility has just opened a new genealogy research room. “I think we are going to be very busy,” administrator Preston Huff tells the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Texas? Genealogy? Ya think?

Walking the line: At Slate, Daniel Scharfstein considers the story of Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall, abolitionist, Civil War hero, pioneering educator — and a lost figure of history, partly because as an African American, his achievements were obscured as Reconstruction faded, and also because with the rise of Jim Crow, his descendants chose to pass as white. An absorbing look at the twists and turns of an important historical legacy.

One more hint about that tea-soaked paper: Don’t try putting it through your ink-jet printer, unless you want authentically chewed-up edges and (possibly) an authentic printer-repair bill. You’re welcome. And have a great week.


OT: London Calling (NOT!)

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.


Reclaiming the Lost, 100 Years Later

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).


Links, 2.21.11

The Archaeologist has been attempting a number of winter sports this weekend. Links were scheduled before she left, in case her typing abilities were compromised during these adventures.

RootsTech Reverberations: No denying the sense of excited discovery that continues to bubble up about an event for which the operative term appears to be “rock concert”. I’m sure there will be many more references to RootsTech in our futures, but here are some recaps:

Kerry Scott of Clue Wagon found her tribe (of collegial feeling) there.

Marian at Roots and Rambles states succinctly What Genealogists Want! — Conference Organizers Take Note.

Conference blogger Joan Miller puts up an interview with Genealogy Gems podcaster Lisa Louise Cooke.

RootsTech inspired Taneya Koonce  to create an iPhone App.

More wrap-up action from Amy Coffin, Dick Eastman, Illya at Genealogy Today and DearMyrtle (also Myrt’s further ideas on RootsTech’s message to NGS and FGS).

And while we’re talking tech: OK, so I managed to miss Randy Seaver’s initial post about genealogy’s three (or more) worlds, which kills me, because I love meta-think. And his observations of the traditional, transitional and technical genealogy populations so perfectly capture today’s overlapping colonies of genealogy enthusiasts. Not surprisingly, this sparked some lively responses and observations, so do not miss the follow-up post. A genealogy society considering how to extend its reach should find much food for thought here.

Myths and realities: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates gave a speech in Evanston, Ill.,  recently, listing and debunking three myths of African American genealogy. The Daily Northwestern has the details.

Bad Change! Bad! After all the cutting-edge excitement out of RootsTech, it was an odd change of pace to read James Tanner’s acerbic post Family Search hits a goldmine of luddite comments. A useful reminder that, however exciting it is to many of us, innovation and tension often go hand in hand.

May your week be full of spring thaws and major discoveries.


Roll Calls: You Don’t Have To Say ‘Present’

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.


Loving Lists (Still)

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.


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