My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Family history is important to your psychological health

I really should be packing for Rootstech, but I was reading the Sunday New York Times this morning and came across "The Stories That Bind Us" by Bruce Feiler.  It turns out that people who know a lot about their families do better when they face challenges in life -- anything from a skinned knee to a terrorist attack. They are able to see difficulties as part of the normal cycle of ups and downs all families experience.  I thought about this in terms of my own extended family.  Over the years we have formed a strong family narrative:  there are the success stories, the sad stories, the happy stories, and the ones you just don't want to think about, but it is all a part of who we are.   (I still say "sorry about that, cheese" even though my baby cousin who uttered that while watching "Get Smart" now has grown children of his own).  We are definitely not the kind of family that refuses to talk in front of the children!

I've written before about my grandfather, a charismatic larger-than-life figure who was full of tall tales, and no one in our family can forget how my grandmother and her twin sister came into the world.  I haven't yet told you about how my grandmother's parents met:
Abel Perminter Lynch and Jessie Lee Seabolt Lynch, ca. 1896
In the early 1890s, my great-grandfather Abel was a traveling sewing machine salesman.  He was from North Carolina, and his territory extended west into eastern Tennessee.  One day he was at the western end of his route, and stopped at a farm to give a demonstration (all the little girls in the area would come to watch because he would sew doll's dresses,which they could keep), and complimented the farmer on the beauty of his wife, saying that if there was another like her, he might just settle down and marry. The farmer said, well, you're in luck, sir!  If you just go down the road a bit, there are seven others just like her still at home and you can take your pick!  So he did, and fell head over heels in love with his Jessie Lee from Tennessee. He had to take out a bond to marry her, though, since her folks didn't quite trust those traveling salesman types.

The family narrative goes back even further in Jessie's family: we are still talking about what happened to them during the civil war!  After their home had been ransacked multiple times by transiting Yankee soldiers, all the family had left was the honey in their beehives.  When yet another group of soldiers came through, the only vessels they could find to take away the honey were the "honeypots" -- and my family has been laughing at them ever since.  I would add that a family that has a sense of humor can probably withstand any challenges the world can throw at them.

I look back at the families I really know about in my own tree, and it is pretty clear that the impetus to tell stories and keep the traditions alive (and talk, and talk, and talk) all come from my mother's maternal family.  One thing I can say is that every male who married into this line has thanked their lucky stars ever since!  Folks on my dad's side were not great communicators -- so it's a good thing I can use online newspapers to fill in their stories (and some of them are really good, too.... but that's for another post!) Others in my family lines might have been good storytellers, but were cut short when parents died young.   In the end, though, uncovering these lost stories is what really drives us all in our genealogy research.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The times they are a changin'

I am so excited to be attending Rootstech 2013 next week, courtesy of a drawing held at Nancy Shively's blog, Gathering Stories. Thanks again, Nancy!!! 

This conference comes at a perfect time for me, because I've been rethinking how I manage my genealogy research in the era of the cloud. Two issues have been particularly on my mind: first, do I even put my family data out there on the internet, and second, how do I manage the storage and citation of all the original data that I find online?

Do I even put my family tree online in the first place?

The answer to the first question has been a resounding no until just recently, when FamilySearch  opened their world family tree project to the public. I have been hesitant to join sites such as and make my family tree public because of the appalling lack of citations in so many of their trees, not to mention that I would hate to have someone appropriate my work and add it to their tree without attribution. Still, I've been intrigued with the idea of crowd-sourcing ancestors, and I've read enough about the citation, discussion, and arbitration modules built into Family Search's global family tree project to think that this time someone might actually have addressed my concerns and gotten it right.  

Quite frankly, I would be embarrassed to upload my own Gedcom to a public site in its current state -- it's a mess.  I've been researching my family since I was ten, and over the years have progressed from paper files and family group sheets written out in long hand, through several different iterations of software programs.  All this took place in fits and starts while I was studying, working, and later raising a family, so consistency is not its strong suit.  I've learned quite a lot about research methodology since I was ten, but my files reflect everything I've ever done, not just the careful scholarship of more recent years.  My children are now in college and I can devote much more time to my family history, so the first thing on the agenda is a grand overhaul of my files.  If I have to clean house and start over, I'd rather do it in a way that contributes something to general knowledge rather than keep my research hidden in a file on my computer that only I can see.

That's not to say I will use the FamilySearch project for every person in my family tree.  I'm inclined to use it for the low-hanging fruit -- in other words, when the evidence is unambiguous, and there is no question about the identity of the person, my research will go out into the world wide web.  I will continue to use my Bento templates to record my research and store evidence for those situations where it is necessary to build a case to establish ancestral identities.

How do I manage digital image files from the web?

The second question, how to manage the digital image files that are proliferating on my computer, has also been hard for me to resolve until fairly recently. As more and more original records are made available online, the process of managing them on my computer was getting awkward:  I would download a file, rename it, make sure I had the correct citation attached to each file, and only then add it to my Bento research management system (and forget about adding it to Reunion... it just wasn't happening).  

Capturing and citing sources has to be fast and easy. I've recently started using two clipping apps, which allow me to save and annotate images on a web page together with their URL. 

 "Tree Connect" is an app that saves online data as a source in FamilySearch. You can drag the bookmark button to your toolbar, surf the web, and when you find a website with data on an ancestor, click the button and that page is automatically saved in FamilySearch. You can then go in later and attach the source to the appropriate individuals in your tree.  

Obviously, the tricky part of research -- and the one area that traditional family tree software does not handle well -- are all those bits of data you find that may or may not relate to your ancestors. You can't attach them to someone in your tree, but you still need to keep track of them for building a case later.  You can certainly save such information as unattached sources in FamilySearch, but that's kind of like putting it in a shoebox under your bed -- you can't easily access the material when you need it.  I use  Evernote together with my Bento templates for research on these "potential ancestors." Evernote's webclipper, which resides on my toolbar and lets me clip data from the web, annotate it, and send it to Evernote, is the other app I'm turning to more and more as part of my online research routine.  Once in Evernote, I can then migrate the data to Bento.

Technology is changing everything in genealogy these days, so you can see that I am really excited to head out to Salt Lake City for Rootstech 2013!  I'm curious, though -- do any of you use these tools for your research?  I'd love to hear about your experiences. Anyway, if you will be at Rootstech, look me up and say hi.  Send me an email, or you can find me on Twitter as @100h2ofan.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

A postcard from your ancestors

I am very excited about a website I've been exploring this week:  Old Fulton Postcards.  It is an amazing source of digitized newspapers throughout the state of New York.  I've known about it for a long time, but never really explored beyond the home page because the title made me think it focused on the town of Fulton.  My ancestors came from another part of the state entirely, so I didn't go further -- shame on me!

Small town newspapers are especially great sources for reporting on the comings and goings of people.  I learned that one of my 2nd-great grandmothers seemed to be a local Florence Nightingale, helping out whenever people were sick.  I learned the married name of her sister, too, when the paper reported that she was visiting from Albany.  This kind of social reporting can be an absolute gold mine for providing the small details that can help knock down brick walls.  A little gem like this:

.....helped me realize that there was still a connection between distant families two generations beyond the only other one I knew about (an indirect mention of a sister-in-law in a census entry more than 30 years earlier).  I still need to work out details (first names would be a nice start) to help me identify the proper New Jersey family, but this tells me they exist.

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of an ancestor's personality.  My great grandfather comes across as a very energetic guy.  He was a horse dealer and was constantly in the paper, either advertising his horses, running them in a race, or coming up with new ideas for making sales -- too bad he didn't live in the internet era or he might have been the one to invent ebay!

And then there are those things you read about that make you cringe, and give thanks that we live in a less dangerous age:

So if you have any ancestors who are from New York.... or even visited New York.... check out this wonderful resource!