Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Posts of 2014

I'm still very new to blogging, but it occurred to me that I'm coming up on my fourth blogiversary and I've never looked to see which of my posts people had found the most interesting, based on the number of views.  These are my ten most popular posts for 2014.  I have to admit, some of the results surprised me a little.

Would you have guessed that transcription could be a popular subject?  Well, #10 on the list is my commentary about the episode of Antiques Roadshow when we finally saw an appraiser suggest on air that a guest transcribe his important historical materials.  Sure, the guest wasn't excited about the idea, but baby steps, right?  At least genealogists know that transcription is important.

Now, a story about a bride I definitely can see generating interest, especially when a mystery is attached.  #9 in popularity is the story of Sheri Fenley and her family's search for a photo of Jeanette Augusta Meir wearing her wedding veil.  (The best news about that story is that a photo was found, a great Christmas present for the family.)

It appears that forensic genealogy is interesting to a lot of people, as my review of the sessions in the Advanced Forensic Evidence Analysis track at this year's Forensic Genealogy Institute came in at #8.  I'm particularly happy to see this, as I am a proud member of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy and want people to recognize the difference between real forensic genealogy and merely matching the edges of photographs.

Another surprise for me is that a family photograph I posted for Wordless Wednesday was the #7 post of the year.  It's a nice photo of part of the Sellers family, but I don't know why this one caught people's eyes more than any other.

These four posts were all relatively close in the number of views.  The top six had significantly bigger gaps between them.

Speaking of forensic genealogy, I was not at all surprised that my post about how Dick Eastman declined to approve my response to his item came in fairly high, at #6 to be specific.  This post also had the highest number of shares that I could track.

Many people have told me that they enjoy reading my write-ups of Who Do You Think You Are?, so it makes sense that three of those posts placed high:  Cynthia Nixon at #5, Jesse Tyler Ferguson at #4, and Valerie Bertinelli at #2.  It's no mystery to me that the McAdams sisters didn't do as well, as I didn't think the episode was that compelling, but I thought Kelsey Grammer would have been up here also.

Another surprise for me in the top numbers was that #3 is a post about the new newspaper links I had added to the Wikipedia page I regularly contribute to.  It's gratifying to see such interest in newspaper archives, but none of the other newspaper update posts during the year came close to this one.

And at #1, with 25% more views than the next closest post, not Who Do You Think You Are?, but the Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown episode that was part of of CNN's "Roots:  Our Journeys Home" series.  The surprise for me about this is not only that it came in at the top, but that it continually adds significant numbers of new views.  That's interesting, considering how little genealogy was actually in the show.

What did I learn from this?  First of all, I noticed that half of my top posts are about television programs.  To me, that indicates the recent explosion of programs about genealogy really is a great way to connect with other people who are interested in family history.  I hope people who come to my blog and read those posts stick around and find other interesting material.  Second, the only other topic with more than one post in the top 10 is forensic genealogy.  It's hard to say how much of a groundswell of interest that indicates, but I'll take it as a positive thing.  And third, as with the family photograph, you never know what will pique people's interests.

While I was looking at these numbers, I also figured out my top post in the past four years.  Would you believe Lionel Ritchie on Who Do You Think You Are?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

This is my niece Miriam and nephew Adam in their first Santa photo.  I wish them and everyone else a very happy holiday and a productive and fulfilling new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Finding Your Roots" - Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo

I recently had some relatively minor surgery on my left wrist.  You'd think being off work would give me lots of time to catch up on blog posts, wouldn't you?  It is amazing how much energy even a small surgery can drain from you.  I'm recovering just fine, but suddenly I'll be totally wiped out and need to take a nap.  And the fact that the surgery was on my wrist means that typing for long periods is totally out.  But I'm still working on catching up on my backlog of Finding Your Roots episodes that I haven't posted about.

"Born Champions" opened by posing the perennial question of where superstar athletes get their incredible talents:  Are they inborn, or do they come from hard work?  The question was not actually resolved during the episode or even really addressed again, reminding me of poorly constructed high-school reports.  As it turned out, all three guests — Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, and Rebecca Lobo — had ancestors who were athletically inclined, even if not to the level of our celebrities.  But all three celebrities also worked very hard to attain the success they did.  So the question remained unanswered.

As for the research, well, it had its ups and downs, as usual.  One of the more annoying moments was when our host, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was discussing Derek Jeter's ancestry.  Jeter is biracial; his father is black, and his mother is white.  Gates described how the researchers searched for whites with the name Jeter in the area where Jeter's family had lived to try to determine the former slaveholder.  It's frustrating enough that hobby genealogists use that deprecated method, but Gates must know about Freedmen's Bureau records, which are a much better way to do slave research.  He is supposed to be a highly regarded professional.  And he also talked about how many slaves took their former owners' names.  You'd think he would also mention how current, modern research has shown that the majority of former slaves did not do so, so it is not necessarily the best approach to assume they did.  Well, I would mention it.

In talking with Billie Jean King about the 19th-century adoption of her grandmother, Gates declared that "adoptions aren't part of the public record."  They certainly were part of the public record prior to the early to mid-20th century.  They were usually indexed with the probate cases in civil court records.  To the best of my knowledge, very few states retroactively closed early adoption records when they began to seal adoption records in the 20th century.  I have not only found adoptions listed in the probate index, I have gotten the records.

And now to pick on the ever-popular autosomal DNA results (cocktail-party conversation, remember?).  Gates told Rebecca Lobo that we "all inherit 12.5% of our DNA from each of our great-grandparents."  Well, not exactly.  While it's pretty safe to say that we each inherit 50% of our DNA from each of our parents, the random mixing that happens with each generation means that the percentages beyond that can vary, and after a few generations you might lose all DNA from one of your lines.  (I know that Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, wrote about this in one of her posts, but I can't find the specific one.)  So depending on exactly how far back Rebecca's hypothetical Jewish ancestor would be, she might no longer have any of that person's DNA.

We know that the celebrities don't do the research on this program, any more than they do on Who Do You Think You Are?  One of the differences between Finding Your Roots and Who Do You Think You Are?, however, is that in the latter, the celebrities actually visit several of the locations associated with the histories of their families.  On Finding Your Roots, Dr. Gates is the only person we see visiting those locations, such as in this episode when he is filmed at Ellis Island.  Sometimes I wonder if that makes the celebrities on WDYTYA feel more connected to the information they're learning about their relatives.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Where in the United States Is Dave?

David Brainin
(taken in Butte, Montana)
I believe in "whole family research."  This means that I research not only my ancestors but also their siblings, spouses, and sometimes further out.  I do this because you don't always find the answers to questions such as parents' names in your ancestors' records, and also because you get a fuller, richer picture of what your family was doing and how people interacted when you look at everyone in the family.

When I started working on my Brainin line, I ran into a lot of problems.  First, as is common in general, the name was spelled all kinds of different ways.  It particularly showed up a lot as "Brennan" and similar spellings, which caused all kinds of confusion, becuase most of those were Irish or English, whereas my family were Jews from Russia.  But over time, as I worked through multiple censuses and as more finding aids (such as online databases) became available, I found all of my family members in almost all the censuses after they arrived in the United States.

Except Dave in 1910.

I had found Dave (Dovid) arriving at Ellis Island with his sister (my great-grandmother) Sarah and their older sister Lena on the Caronia on August 2, 1905, so I knew he was here before 1910.  (I even found the three of them on a Special Inquiry page, listed as likely public charges, because they were two young unmarried women and a teenage male with no skilled trade.)  I had found all the other family members in 1910.  They were all living together at 236 East 103rd Street in Manhattan — my great-great-grandparents Max (Mendel Hirsch) and Rose (Ruchel) Brainin with their children Lena, Sarah, William, Bessie, and Benjamin — except for the oldest son, Max, who was already married.  He was living at 101 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan with his wife, Nellie, and their son, Sidney.

I found Dave in 1920, still living with his parents.  This time they were at 1575 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, the address my grandmother remembered for her grandparents (and where she was born).  I have a copy of his 1927 marriage license, again in Manhattan.  His children were born in Manhattan in 1929 and 1931.  By 1940 the family had moved to Cumberland County, New Jersey.

But where was he in 1910?

Everything I knew about the family in general, and about Dave in particular, was associated with New York and New Jersey. I turned the search pages on Ancestry.com upside-down and sideways trying to find Dave in one of those states.  I tried variations of first and last name, first name only, last name only.  I tried birthplace and age with no name.  I bought a copy of the New York City 1910 index that was available on a CD and checked it.  I went crazy going in circles.  But still no Dave.

At this point I thought about just giving up.  After all, I had several records attesting to Dave's life in this country.  I knew when he arrived, where and when he was married, where his children were born, where he died and was buried, even when he adopted his nephew.  I didn't really need to find him in 1910.  I knew he had to have been here then.  I was pretty darned sure he hadn't traveled back to Russia to visit, since the whole family had come here.

But I'm stubborn.  I wanted to find him.  I wanted to know why he was hiding from me, laughing at me.

So one day, after having unsuccessfully tried some new permutations of the search, I thought, "Well, why don't I just look around the whole country?  It couldn't hurt."

And instead of restricting the search to only New York or New Jersey, I looked through the whole U.S.  And what did I see?

Hey, who's that in . . . San Francisco?!  That couldn't be Dave, could it?

I looked at the census page itself.  The address was 1018 Webster Street (which no longer seems to exist, but the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce is at 1006 Webster).  It sure looked like Dave — age, birthplace, arrival in U.S., occupation, all jived with the information I knew.  But what was he doing in California?

I still wasn't sure it was Dave, but keeping in mind the possibility that it could be, I looked for other possible records for him out west.

I found his World War I draft registration — in Butte, Montana.

I found an index entry for a naturalization — in Washington State.

After obtaining the naturalization (a fast-tracked U.S. Army one at Camp Lewis that didn't have much information in it) and piecing everything together, I was very sure it was my David Brainin.  There were no conflicts in information.  Apparently, he was the only member of the family who heard the call of "Go west, young man" and left the East Coast to see more of this new country to which he had immigrated.  He was out west at least between 1910 and 1918.  And by 1920 he was back in New York with the rest of the family.

Considering all the stories about the family I heard while I was growing up, I was surprised that I never heard about Dave's adventures out west.  No one ever mentioned it.  And at this point I suspect that no one still alive would really know why he did it.

I did learn a valuable lesson in searching for Dave in 1910 — people aren't always where you expect them to be.  And as usual, I want to find more.  For example, since I live near San Francisco, it would be cool if I could find a photo of the building Dave used to live in, and maybe other records from when he was here.  But I'm happy I finally found him in 1910 and learned a little about his travels out west.  And I don't think he's laughing at me anymore.

After I had found these records, I came into possession of several photographs that belonged to my grandmother.  Amazingly enough, one of the photos was of Dave, taken in Butte, Montana.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's That Giving Time of Year: World War I and II, Missouri Death Certificates, Vishniac Photos, Kilts, and More

It seems there are always more genealogy projects and mysteries that volunteers can help with, doesn't it?  I'm posting some of these later than I planned to, but all still appear to need assistance or answers.

More large institutions are turning to crowdsourcing to make information available.  The Smithsonian opened its Transcription Center to public input this past July.  After having digitized many handwritten documents, volunteers are now sought to transcribe the often difficult-to-read writing.  As with most such projects, each document is transcribed by multiple volunteers to try to ensure the highest accuracy.

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also following the trend.  The museum has worked with the International Center of Photography in New York to digitize and place online the work of photographer Roman Vishniac.  Many, probably most, of the existing captions did not name the individuals in the photos.  If you can give names to previously unidentified photos, your help is wanted.  Visit the Vishniac collection and see if there's someone you know.  If you recognize a person or a place, click the link below the photo to send a message.

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Now this is a project made for family historians.  To help commemorate the centennial of World War I, the New York Times is asking people to share stories of their ancestors' roles during the war, along with the efforts made to learn about those stories.  So instead of just the bare facts, you can tell about the research you did and where you went to find out what happened to your great-grandfather.  One woman's story about her grandfather, who fought on the German side, is online.

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Every January 2, under Missouri state law, the Missouri State Archives receives another year's worth of death certificates from 50 years previous.  The archives processes and scans the certificates, and then volunteers do a transcription marathon.  It takes the volunteers only about four days to transcribe and check the year's worth of certificates, around 50,000–60,000 images.  The archives usually adds the images and the transcribed entries to the death certificate database by the middle of February.

Volunteers work from the comfort of their own homes, as with the FamilySearch Indexing program.  Also similar is that each record is transcribed twice and then checked.  If they don't match, however, a third person transcribes the record.  If none of the transcriptions match at that point, a staff member reviews the certificate.  Unlike FamilySearch, this program has no software you must download, but you do need to create a free account.

Mary Stanfield is the eVolunteer Project Coordinator.  If you or your society is interested in participating this January to transcribe 1964 death certificates, or if you have any questions, contact her at archvol@sos.mo.gov.

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The Jews of Frankfort DNA Project is both a regional and a surname Y-DNA project.  Male participants are sought who are Jewish; have a surname found in Frankfort/Worms in the 16th century; and have a documented lineage back to a male ancestor in the 16th century or earlier living in Frankfurt, Worms, Mainz, Alsace, Prague, Vienna, or another major Jewish center.  If you fit the criteria, the project would like you to take a Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA and submit the results.  More information, including the known list of surnames, is available on the project Web site.

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A Glasgow seamstress sewing a kilt intended to be part of a World War I uniform included a note tucked into the stitching.  It's possible that Helen Govan was looking for a future husband:  "I hope your kilt will fit you well, & in it you will look a swell. If married never mind. If single drop a line. Wish you bags of luck, & a speedy return back to Blighty Town."  Now that the note has been discovered, the family that owns the kilt is searching for descendants or other relatives of Govan to learn more about her and the reason she included the note.

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A man who purchased a World War I medallion, and his father, are now trying to determine to whom the medal belonged.  They have done some research and learned that six men who served on the SS River Clyde at Gallipoli earned the Victoria Cross and this medallion, which was given by the Imperial Merchant Service Guild for bravery.  You can read the story of the men's service here.  The names of five of the men are included in the article.

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An online Michigan newspaper has been searching for the 39,000 World War II veterans it estimates are still alive in Michigan at the present time.  MLive created a database to share the veterans' names, photographs, and experiences and to honor their service.  The big push was to include information by Veterans Day, but information is still being sought.  An announcement about the project is available, and the database and submission form can be found here (scroll down for the submission form).

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At the Battle of Bannockburn, the outnumbered forces of Robert the Bruce defeated the English army of King Edward.  The 700th anniversary of the battle has passed, but if you believe you are descended from one of the men who fought there, researchers would still like to talk to you and help you determine if your ancestor was there, using modern DNA techniques.  Stewarts and McDonalds particularly are encouraged to contact Graham Holton, who was the head of the family history project for the anniversary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

More Newspaper Links!

Here's another batch of links that have been added to the Wikipedia newspaper archives page.  I'm a little behind schedule on posting because of some recent health problems (just had surgery this morning!).  This is another interesting group, with more university student papers.  And all of the new links are free!

• England:  The Illustrated London News has posted an archive for the News and seven additional titles covering the years of 1914–1919, in conjunction with the World War I centennial.

• Ireland:  The Church of Ireland Gazette has added 1914 to its online archive.

• Alabama:  The University of Montevallo has a collection of newspapers from Montevallo and Shelby County.  So far there are five titles, with plans to add more.

• California - The Berkeley Public Library has an index to obituaries that were published in the Berkeley Daily Gazette.  The obituaries range from 1894–1979, but several years are not included.

• California:  The B'nai B'rith Messenger has been added to the collection of Jewish newspapers available from the National Library of Israel.

• California:  The Sacramento Public Library has purchased a digital archive of the Sacramento Bee for 1900–1983.  Currently the years 1940–1959 are online, with the rest to be added over the next four years (1960–1969 in 2015, 1970–1979 in 2016, 1980–1983 in 2017, and 1900–1939 in 2018).  You must have a Sacramento Public Library (available to all California residents) to use this NewsBank database.

• Illinois:  The Chicago Sentinel, which had a broken link for a while, is no longer hosted at the Spertus Institute but has become part of the Illinois Digital Archives.

• Illinois:  The Rock Island County Illinois Genealogical Society has posted obituary indices for the Rock Island Argus and Quad City Times for 2005–2013.  They will send copies of obituaries for a small fee.

• Iowa:  The Fort Dodge Public Library has a collection of 54 newspapers and two directories online.

• Michigan:  The Loutit District Library has searchable databases for birth announcements (1891–1959, 2001–present) and obituaries (1891–1979) from the Grand Haven Tribune.  These are indices only.

• Michigan:  The Flat River Community Library has two Greenville newspapers online for free:  the Greenville Independent (1857–1923) and the Daily Call (1922–1923).

• Missouri:  Scenic Regional Library in Franklin County has been working with the state historical society to digitize many historical newspapers from the area.  Currently fourteen newspapers from three counties, covering 1875–1950, are available.

• New Jersey:  An index to death announcements published in the Elmer Times from 1901–1940 is available from the Gloucester County Historical Society.

• New York:  A collection of fourteen newspapers from the Hudson River Valley, ranging from 1831–2013, has been put online.

• New York:  The Tompkins County Public Library has several newspaper indices available as PDF's.

• North Carolina:  The first 70 years of the Technician, the student newspaper from North Carolina State University, are now searchable and browsable online.

• Ohio:  The Tuscarawas County Genealogical Society has two index databases of death notices and obituaries, for 1954–1967 and 2003–2011.

• Oregon:  The student newspaper for Willamette University, the Collegian, has been digitized from 1875–2012 and put online.

• South Carolina:  The Richland Library has an obituary index for 1875–present for the Columbia area.

• Texas:  The Calhoun County Genealogical Society has created an index for local birth, engagement, and marriage announcements and obituaries, for the letters A–M.  They will send copies of items for a nominal fee.

Have you found a great item in the newspaper recently?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm Going to RootsTech and the FGS Conference!

Right now I feel like an incredibly lucky person.

Randy Seaver, who publishes the Genea-Musings blog, is a blogging ambassador for RootsTech.  He ran a contest for a free full-conference pass to RootsTech, taking place February 12–14, 2015 in Salt Lake City.  Randy asked entrants to list a session they wanted to attend and a vendor they wanted to visit.  I said:

1.  I want to attend the "School Daze—Finding the School Records of Our Ancestors" session because I know several schools associated with my family members and I would love to be able to find school records for them.

2.  I hope NIGS is one of the vendors, so I can stop by and visit with the always pleasant Louise St. Denis.

Randy had stated that the choice would be made by a random draw.  For some reason, only seven (!) people entered his contest.  And I was the winner!!  So I started doing the genealogy happy dance.  And Louise even wrote to me to say thanks for the mention.  (She really is a very nice person.)

But it gets better.

Dee Dee King of Forensic Genealogy Services very generously has provided scholarships to a small number of genealogists every year since 2010.  Through her assistance, I was able to attend Jamboree in 2011 and the Forensic Genealogy Institute in 2013.  This year I applied for a scholarship to attend the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference, which is being held in conjunction with RootsTech next year and starts a day earlier.  And yesterday Dee Dee let me know that I had won a scholarship for FGS.  So I was able to add an FGS pass onto my RootsTech registration, and I'll be attending the ProQuest library event the day before the FGS conference begins.  More genealogy happy dance around the house!

And of course I'll post from the conference about all the great stuff I'll be learning.

Hmm, maybe I should go out and buy a lottery ticket or something . . . .