Links, 9.26.11

Jumping right in …

Gravestone spiff-ups: Out of Bangor, Maine, an article in which the ever-treacherous gravestone-cleaning wars are revisited. In this case, water, a natural bristle brush and elbow grease are the recommended cleaning agents. Discuss.

Washingtonians: The National Society of Washington Descendants got together in Annapolis, Md., over the weekend. An interesting article ensued in which members reflected upon the nation’s first President, even though strictly speaking, nobody there was descended from him, as he had no children. But they are all descended from other Washingtons in George’s family, and most important, they all had a good time.

Census milestone: CNN does a nice job explaining why the release of the 1930 Mexico census is a bonanza for so many family historians.

Jamaican studies: A profile of the UK’s Patrick Vernon describes how his passion for uncovering his family’s Jamaica roots led to his founding the Every Generation website, which focuses on family history for the African and Caribbean communities in Britain. (While it seems to have interesting info, I haven’t linked to Every Generation because, frustratingly, it keeps kicking off Google warnings about the site harming my computer. Anyone know what’s up with that?)

Biz buzz: launches online forums devoted to Irish genealogy topics. Press release here. Also, in case you missed it, acquires the BackupMyTree service. Here’s their press release.

Willing it: Kenneth Thomas of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asks whether you’ve put your genealogy files in your will. If you haven’t, it’s something to consider.

Homeless suitcase: Now, that’s sad — Four months after spreading the word about an orphan suitcase full of vintage family memorabilia, Hartlepool (UK) resident Edward Powell hasn’t been able to locate any descendant to claim it. The suitcase has marriage and birth certificates, a diary and a Bible, among other items.

Immigrants’ chronicler: The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Oscar Handlin, whose pioneering studies of immigration helped changed perceptions of its role in American history, has died aged 95. The New York Times obituary pays tribute and notes his innovative use of such resources as census data and immigrant newspapers in making the case that immigration is the “continuing, defining” event in U.S. history.

Here’s to the rest of the week — may it be full of interesting discoveries, or at least neater filing cabinets.


Blog Note: Pardon Our Dust

Wait. Did I just try to slip quietly back into the blog with a Follow Friday post?

You bet I did. I call it subtle. Some might also call it sneaky, but then they’re not writing the blog, so there.

We have been plowed under at the Ancestral mansion, and it has not been pretty. It has been covered with drop cloths and sawdust and a fair amount of paint spatters, many of them on me. The kitchen is being reconstructed, and in a fit of insanity we decided to repaint an upstairs bedroom, which in our 1917 house is a painting-prep nightmare (plaster walls, six layers of wallpaper, all of which have been painted over at least once).

My poor house has suffered through decades of well-meaning but misguided renovations. The epicenter was the kitchen, where a back porch was enclosed (awkwardly) and a powder room was tacked onto the back right by the stove. (And I mean Right. By. The. Stove. Dinner parties at my house have such panache!)

We’ve spent nearly a decade trying to figure out how to fix it. I shed no sentimental tears when the wreckers came; it was time. And after the kitchen was gutted, the floor leveled, a beam moved and a wall straightened, I went into it to look around – carefully, as there wasn’t any subflooring down yet.

I loved the way it looked – the bones of the old house taken down to their well-designed basics.

And it occurred to me that it was a perfect metaphor for genealogy adventures. You begin at a starting point that might not make a lot of sense. Stories have multiplied and contradicted over the years; documents dovetail in some places and diverge in others. Your job is to try to uncover the nice, clean lines of the original structure behind years of tweakings.

Astounded at my poetic insight, I spun around to share it with the rest of the household. But then I tripped over a dropcloth and forgot.

Follow Friday: Genealogy Research Process Map

I’m sure somebody else has written about this already. Positive. But I figure something this good really can’t get enough press.

It’s the Genealogy Research Process Map – a .pdf file containing a clear, attractive visual scheme to walk us through the core principles of sound genealogical research — goals, plans, sourcing, making the case.

We owe this very, very cool device to Mark Tucker at Think Genealogy. It reminds me of the old Life board game, but with genealogy methodology instead of little plastic cars.

Sooner or later if we plug away at this long enough, we start wondering how to do it right, for real. If you’re at that point, the Research Process Map is a detailed yet easy to follow introduction to genealogical proofs the way the pros see them. Truly, a thing of beauty.

Be patient; the page may take a while to load. Particularly if, as is often the case with yours truly, you are on a fussy wireless connection. But it is worth it.

Blog Note

1890s English cyclist (not me). Image from Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been quiet around here lately, I know.

Now that I’m done preparing for/almost chickening out of/still going on a 200-mile Battle Against Hunger bicycle ride that concluded this past weekend, this space will freshen up a bit.

Links will return on Monday, for instance.

Springfield: A Totally Unscientific Guide

It’s ridiculous that I’m not going to the FGS conference in Springfield, IL. I have an unused airline ticket from a canceled wedding, plus in-laws in the area who wouldn’t mind having me visit, as long as I didn’t throw wild genealogy parties every night.

But instead, I will be home in New Jersey, watching my kitchen being gutted. Yeah, I know.

To show I am not bitter, or at least only somewhat bitter, I will share some of my travel highlights of Springfield, from my Extremely Expert™ background of visiting my in-laws there lots and lots of times over the last 20 years. A caveat: It is a shame you are missing the Illinois State Fair, with the butter cow and the great ice cream in the dairy pavilion. And you will probably not have the time to buzz around Lake Springfield on a powerboat.

But never mind. There are other important things in Springfield.

• Yes, yes, yes, take advantage of FGS’ behind-the-scenes tour of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. If your young children are along, I highly recommend the Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic area. When my kids were older, they also enjoyed exhibits like the Treasures Gallery.

• Speaking of young kids: They may well end up liking the museum a lot more than the actual historical sites in the Lincoln Home area downtown; at least mine did. I suppose they liked their historical experiences a bit more dressed up. Obviously the Lincoln neighborhood is a must-see, just observing that when my kids were young I had to work around their attention spans a bit.

• But what the heck, sometimes kids have to deal with stuff. So go ahead, drag them through the Old State Capitol, and make them admire the Greek Revival architecture. Then take them around the back of the Old State Capitol and admire the marker commemorating the departure of the Donner Party in 1846. Snicker darkly when the kiddies ask why the Donner Party is a big deal.

• The kids may well perk up at the New Salem historical site, where the village of Lincoln’s youth is re-created 20 miles northwest of Springfield. You could even picnic there, if you want. If you still feel like picnicking after admiring the Donner Party marker, that is.

Oak Ridge Cemetery and Lincoln’s tomb are another must-see. It is vital to rub Lincoln’s nose for good luck. You won’t forget because the nose is polished to a golden sheen by repeated rubbings. Oak Ridge, a beautiful place to stroll through, has always been an interesting mix of the personal and historical for me. In addition to Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, there are other historical notables like Vachel Lindsay and John L. Lewis (who happens to be right across the way from my father-in-law).

• Based on information at their website, I’m not clear on whether the gorgeous Dana-Thomas House will be open for public touring by the time FGS rolls around. They are currently renovating and saying they will resume tours in fall 2011. If you have the opportunity for a tour, it’s a really exceptional example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s talents, complete with many of the original, Wright-designed furnishings and decorative objects.

• You (and about seven of your friends) should try a horseshoe sandwich.  This construction of bread, meat, french fries and melted cheese must be seen to be believed. The Wall Street Journal tried to quantify it in a video report last year. You can also order a smaller version called a “pony shoe” if none of your friends will help you eat the horseshoe. Mr. Archaeologist, who grew up in Springfield, says that the now-defunct restaurant Norb Andy’s was once the definitive horseshoe spot, but nowadays aficiondos go to D’Arcy’s Pint.

• Also, it is just plain wrong to visit Springfield and not have a Mel-O-Cream doughnut. I am not really a doughnut-for-breakfast type, but when in Springfield, I have a way of forgetting this. I don’t have a favorite flavor. They’re all good, especially with a cup of strong black coffee.

Bon voyage, you lucky duckies.