Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Genealogy Resources Are Like eBay

I can already hear some of you muttering out there:  Barely two months in Portland, and the rain has already turned her brain to mush.  I know it sounds like a weird comparison, but hear me out.

I search for lots of different kinds of items on eBay related to my family's history, particularly historic postcards with images of ancestral towns.  Something I've noticed over the years is that the sellers who post items on eBay generally target only the market they are involved in and don't think about any cross-marketing.  For example, a postcard with a scene from Tukums, Latvia might be listed as a postcard, with details about the postmark and/or the stamp, or possibly a description of the scene.  But practically no one includes the sender's and recipient's names written on the postcard, even if they are in Roman characters and easily readable, in the item's description.  I believe that happens because those sellers are totally focused on their own communities — collectors of stamps, postmarks, postcards, etc. — and don't see other value to the items beyond that focus.  It never occurs to them that there might be a descendant or other family member of the person to whom the postcard was sent who would be interested in the item.

So, for example, the image shown above is the address side of a postcard with postmarks from 1900.  It has a May 14 Warsaw postmark and one from May 29 from Paris.  The front of the postcard has two views of Kamenets Podolsky, from the north and south.  The description of the item mentioned the postmarks and that the images were of Kamenets Podolsky.  It did not list the addressee — Mademoiselle Suzanne Lambert, Chez Madam sa Mére, Rue de la Rochelle, Bar-le-Duc, which translates to Miss Suzanne Lambert, c/o her mother, Rue de la Rochelle, Bar-le-Duc — even though it's pretty easy to read.  If you were related to Suzanne Lambert, wouldn't you love to find this card available online?  But the odds of you doing so would be diminishingly small without her name in the listing.  So you need to think of other ways to search for items, such as looking for the towns your family members were in.  One man I knew used that method to find some postcards sent between relatives and then followed the sellers, who continued to post more over time.  Eventually my acquaintance acquired more than half a dozen postcards, which were instrumental in learning more about his family.

And how does that relate to genealogy resources?  Something many, many people forget is that the vast majority of resources genealogists use in our research were not created for genealogical purposes.  While the mega genealogy sites (FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast, and MyHeritage) have made it much easier to find records based on any individual's name, not all indices are that thorough.  Probate records are still often indexed only by the name of the decedent and not any of the heirs.  Many records in archives may not have a finding aid at all.  We can't count on the repositories to create indices that cater to us, because as I said, those records weren't created for us.  We need to keep in mind why records were created and how a repository uses them and then tailor our searches to fit those parameters.  It's nice if a repository allows something such as an every-name index to be made, but we can't count on that.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Make an Ancestor's Timeline

 I haven't participated in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun for the past few weeks, partly because I'm still unpacking mountains of moving boxes (will it never end?!) and partly because the themes weren't really up my alley.  This week, however, Randy Seaver chose a topic that looked a little more fun to me.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music) is:

(1) Have you created a timeline for one of your ancestors using a genealogy software program (e.g., Family Tree Maker, RootsMagic, Legacy, Reunion, etc.), an online family tree (e.g., Ancestry Member Tree, FamilySearch Family Tree, Geni, MyHeritage, etc.), or a spreadsheet (e.g., Excel)?

(2) If not, try to create a timeline using the program/Web site of your choice.  If so, create another one for the ancestor of your choice!

(3) Show us your timeline creation and tell us how you did it:  which program/Web site, the process you used, and how you captured the images to display your timeline.

(4) Share your timeline creation on your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or on Facebook or Google+.

1 and 2.  I have created a timeline before.  In fact, Randy used this idea in 2016, and I posted a timeline then.  In addition, the program I use, Family Tree Maker, automatically creates a timeline with the facts that you enter about each individual.  I created the timeline I'm posting tonight specifically for this exercise.

3.  I use Family Tree Maker v. 16.  I created a Genealogy Report that included all the facts I had for my great-grandfather Thomas Kirkland Gauntt.  I exported the information in an RTF file, then added additional facts and edited the file in MS Word.  I copied and pasted the text from Word directly into this blog post.  I have found that makes it easier to read, as opposed to doing a screen capture.  As Randy commented, it's pretty plain, but the benefit of exporting the file and opening it in a word processor is that I can add as much information as I want to it.

May 25, 1870, born in Fairview, Medford Township, Burlington County, New Jersey
June 28, 1870, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Medford Township, Burlington County, New Jersey
June 15, 1880, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Mt. Laurel, Burlington County, New Jersey
May 15, 1885, enumerated in New Jersey state census in Centre, Camden County, New Jersey; occupation farm laborer
September 2, 1891, married Jane Dunstan in Greenland, Burlington County, New Jersey
May 15, 1895, enumerated in New Jersey state census in Centre, Camden County, New Jersey
June 27, 1900, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Mt. Laurel, Burlington County, New Jersey; occupation farm laborer
June 1, 1905, enumerated in New Jersey state census in Burlington County, New Jersey
April 27, 1910, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Mt. Holly, Northampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey; occupation insurance agent
June 1, 1915, enumerated in New Jersey state census in Mt. Holly, Northampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey
February 1920, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Burlington, Burlington County, New Jersey; occupation farm laborer
April 23, 1930, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Mt. Holly, Northampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey
1935, living in Burlington, Burlington County, New Jersey
April 15, 1940, enumerated in U.S. federal census in Mt. Holly, Burlington County, New Jersey
August 1, 1954, died in Mount Holly, Burlington County, New Jersey of a pulmonary embolism
About January 23, 1951, buried in Brotherhood Cemetery, Hainesport, Burlington County, New Jersey

Monday, October 30, 2017

Photographs: A Cautionary Tale

Harriet Gordon,
bar mitzvah, 1960
I have posted before about the benefits of showing unidentified photographs to older family members to see if they recognize any of the faces.  It's important to do that as soon as possible — multiple times, if necessary — because once those older family members have passed away, no one else in the family may recognize the faces in those old photographs.  And sometimes it doesn't even have to be as dramatic as someone passing away for the opportunity to be lost.

Several years ago, in 2003, I visited my grandmother, Bubbie, in Florida.  We had lunch with several of her cousins, and she remembered that she had photos that were important to them:  "I have a photograph of your parents on their wedding day."  "I have a photo of you when you were a baby."  When we returned to her apartment after the luncheon, she had me drag out four big boxes of photos and we went through them looking for those she wanted to give to the cousins.  Bubbie wouldn't let me label any of the photos, but we put aside the ones she wanted to give to the cousins.

Fast forward two years to 2005.  Bubbie's memory had started to fade a little.  She hadn't actually begun to forget things, but she was repeating herself several times in one conversation.  I remembered those boxes of unlabeled photographs and thought I better do something.  I was already planning to visit a paternal cousin near Orlando, Florida for Thanksgiving, and my grandmother lived near Fort Lauderdale.  That was pretty close, so I  told Bubbie I wanted to visit her and quickly added a flight to Fort Lauderdale to my schedule.

This time Bubbie was much more amenable to labeling the photos.  I brought piles of sticky notes.  We went through all four boxes again, and she let me put a note on every photo.  This not only meant that every photo was identified, it led to the discovery that one photo was of my great-great-grandparents.

And why is this a cautionary tale?  The visit to my grandmother was in November.  The next summer, in 2006, she had a severe stroke.  While her brain and memory functions were left relatively intact, she was functionally blind.  She could no longer see the photographs and would not have been able to tell me who was in them.

I am very fortunate that I took advantage of the opportunity to visit my grandmother and convince her to let me label the photographs she had.  If you have a lot of unidentified photos in your family, don't wait.  Talk to those older relatives and ask for their help in letting you know who is in the photos.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Top 10 (or 20) Surnames in Your Family Tree

In this week's installment of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver is updating another of his statistical analyses of his family tree database.

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

Go into your genealogy management program (GMP; either software on your computer or an online family tree) and figure out how to count how many surnames you have in your family tree database.

(2) Tell us which GMP you're using and how you did this task.

(3) Tell us what the top 10 (or 20)  surnames are in your database and, if possible, how many entries.  How many different surnames are in your family tree?

(4) Write about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, in a status or comment on Facebook, or in a Google+ Stream post.

I last did this analysis in 2015, although Randy mentioned that he ran it in 2016 also (I must have missed that day).  I am still using Family Tree Maker 16 on a PC (if it ain't broke, don't fix it).  To find the total number of different surnames, I go to the Tools menu, then Family File Statistis, and then click on Calculate "Total number of different Surnames."

I have 2,004 different surnames.  Two years ago I had 1,952 surnames.  I have made a little progress.

My program does not provide me with a handy list of the top surnames.  I have to count them manually.  Even though I have added more than 50 surnames to the database, the top ten are the same, and the numbers have not changed much.

1.  Gantt/Gaunt/Gauntt, 879 people
2.  Sellers/Söller, 633 people
3.  Allen, 142 people
4.  Mack/Mock, 132 people
5.  Fuller, 103 people
6.  Crawford, 66 people
7.  Dunstan, 64 people
8.  Eckman, 61 people
9.  Wickham, 52 people
10.  Smith, 50 people

So the only changes are in the top three names.  I know I've done work on the Gauntts and Sellerses, so I understand why they increased, but the additional Allens don't make sense to me.  But statistics don't lie, right?

And I still don't count "unknown" as a surname.