25 May 2012

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Did you know gender is a fact? It's true. Except for genetic anomalies, every human is born male or female. They will identify themselves as male or female. Their names, however, aren't always so forthcoming. Assuming the sex of a child based on their name can lead to some embarrassing moments. It can lead to errors in your tree! Which means that you need to find supporting documents (Birth records, marriage contracts, military records) that confirm the gender of your ancestors!

Used to be all boys

These names are more often thought of as female names now, but were exclusively male names at some point in time. At any given moment, it could change from a popular feminine name back to the boys. In fact, Ashton started as a boy's name, became a girl's name in the late '80's, and returned to popularity as a boy's name after Ashton Kutcher became famous!
  • Alva, Ariel, Adelaide, Alexis
  • Balie, Beverley, Brett
  • Carol, Casey, Clare, Courtney
  • Dominique
  • Gail
  • Hillary
  • Jesse, Justine
  • Kimberly
  • Laurel, Leigh, Leslie, Lynn
  • Madison, Marion
  • Shelby, Stacey
  • Taylor, Tracy
  • Whitney
Now may be girls

These names may lead you to assume they are boys, but actually could be girls. In fact, if you know a girl named one of these, you may be quick to assume it is a girl based on your own experience! And it isn't impossible that your "tom-boyish" great grandmother had one of these names, she'd just be in the minority.
  • Addison
  • Blake, Blaine
  • Cameron, Conner, Cooper
  • Darcy, Declan, Dorian
  • Elliot, Evan
  • Grady
  • Harley
  • Jordan (while still dominantly male, there were female Jordans in the early 1900's!)
  • Kirby
  • Morgan, Monroe
  • Noah
  • Quinn
  • Rory
  • Tristan
Who Knows?

These names could go either way and there may be no way to know for sure. And time period isn't going to help as they seem to always be interchangeable!
  • Nature- Dale, Glenn, Lake, Reed, Robin, Sage, Skyler, Star, Storm, Warren
  • Places- Asia, Brooklyn, Dallas, Paris, Raleigh
  • Depends on spelling- Braelyn, Devin, Jalen, Frances/Francis (used to be e= girl and i= boy, but it has become interchangeable now)
  • Miscellaneous- Angel, Gray, Innocent, Jazz, Justice, Pleasant, Scout, True
Nicknames that don't help either

Is Joe short for Joseph or Josephina? Is Chris short for Christopher, Christina, or it really just Chris (or Kris)? A "nickname" can actually be a shortened form of their given name, but it could also just be their name with no other clues.
  • Alex, Andy
  • Bennie, Bernie, Billy, Bobby, Britt (Is it Brittany or Britton or Brighton?)
  • Charlie, Chris
  • Dean, Denny (Dennis or Denise?)
  • Eddie (Edward or Edwina?)
  • Gabe, Gene
  • Joe, Jo
  • Kelly
  • Max (Maximilian or Maxine?), Mel (Melvin or Melina?)
  • Nick
  • Ollie (Oliver or Olivia?)
  • Ray (Raymond or Raylene?)
  • Sam, Stevie
  • Toby (Is he Tobias or is she Toby?)
  • Winnie (Winfred or Winifred? Again, all it takes is a vowel to change the sex of this name!)
  • Vinnie (Vincent or Lavinia?)
It's very easy to assume one gender or another on a name and it is going to depend on your experience with that name. I'll admit the first time I heard Valentine, I thought it was a girl's name. My great uncle wasn't amused. And then there are misspellings. My dad tells a great story of the navy: he was ordered to get his routine pap smear. He refused. He was told that he'd be sent to the brig if he didn't keep the appointment. So he went in and told them if they could figure out how to do it, he'd be happy to comply. Seems Louis E. became Louise on an incorrectly typed form! And then there are my cousins Willy and Willie. William married Willie (her full name) and now even cousins call them "Aunt Willie" and "Uncle Willy" to keep confusion down (of course, now younger generations are confused on the relationships to the family).

Of course there are "obvious" gender specific names........... well there used to be. As more people wish to have neutral names or "erase gender inequality", they are naming girls traditionally masculine names. Fewer are naming boys feminine names, but even that is becoming blurry. No longer is it just a song to know a boy named Sue (or rather Sioux). So just like any other fact, find a source that proves it!

Is Johnnie a boy or a girl?

17 May 2012

Faith Is Not a Source

I'd like to talk to you about two very important qualities that every genealogist, if not every human being, should have: Pride and Responsibility. I want you to consider how much time you are putting into your ancestral search. How much money you have spent in order to find the truth. With whom do you plan to share your discoveries? Your mother? Your ailing grandfather? Your children? The genealogical community? I want you to picture it in your mind. How your heart will swell with pride as you show off all your hard work. How you will wait for the onslaught of accolades for the interesting, powerful story of your family that you have unearthed. What will they say? "Wow! That's amazing!", "I wish I could find something so cool!", "Can you teach me how to be as awesome as you?"............ how about "You're wrong"?

That last one is painful and all too often stated. It comes about when people are so busy gathering interesting people to place in their tree that they don't properly source their facts. It can be embarrassing for the person who has made the mistakes, but I can't think of one family historian that hasn't experienced it at least once. I want you to be proud of your work. I want you to boast and share all that you learn with anyone that'll give you the time of day, but I also need you to be responsible. When I talk of being responsible in genealogy, what I mean is that this isn't about you. One day, you won't be the family historian anymore. Someday everything you've researched will go to someone else in the family (or be donated to a historical society). Heck, right now there are millions of users on Ancestry that could potentially copy information from your tree. Every error you make is something they'll have to correct. And every error made decreases the validity of every fact produced from or around it. Meaning that the next generation is going to have to fix your work rather than build on it. Meaning that your legacy will not be revered and remembered, but torn apart and ridiculed.

Do you know why so many people with no Native American ancestry have rumors of a "Cherokee Princess"? Someone somewhere in their past made it up and each generation has passed it down as the truth. I've had heated conversations with people trying to explain to them that if they can't find proof of it, then it may not be true. "Grandpa wasn't a liar." Never said he was. He may have heard it from someone else. The fact still remains, however, that all the evidence you've found shows his family is from Italy, with no variation. There are people that are desperate to find a link to royalty, history, and fame. They will bend facts, omit contradicting information, and "assume" to get what they want. And I have seen people boast about taking themselves back to Adam and Eve on Ancestry's Facebook page almost daily. These people come in all puffed up with self-importance, wanting to be given some pat on the back or encouragement. Instead they get questioned on their sources (if not their mental capacity). Invariably these people become defensive. They call the responses cruel, irresponsible, and unnecessary. I understand; they're hurt. There is one question in it all, however, that they never answer: "what sources did you use?"

They don't answer, because they don't have any. Well, there's a few that use Ancestry trees. NOT A SOURCE. The Bible....... I'll give you that one, but you still have to make a leap from the present to a book gathered and edited at least 400 years after the last fact in it. Not to mention the errors in translation that are inevitable. So, I'd not say this was an accurate source even if I were to allow it. What else you got? Royal trees? Okay, royals keep up with their genealogy for the purposes of ascension to the throne....... but they don't follow every line. And did you find your ancestor in the tree or did you jump over a gap to make the connection? Any other sources? Wikipedia? GTFO.

What's a good source? There are many. Birth certificates, baptismal records, marriage licenses, wills, deeds, land grants, death certificates, letters, photographs, oral history.......... and many more. But what really makes a good source depends on how it stands up to a critical evaluation:
  • When was the record made? The closer to the time in question, the more accurate. A death record is great for the date of death, but a witness gives the date of birth. A birth or baptismal record will be more accurate for that. A journal from your grandmother, written at the time she was a child, will be more accurate than an oral history recorded in her geriatric years. (Though the change in perspective can be helpful). Accounts of the war of 1812 written during the conflict will yield more than histories written 100 years later.
  • Who made the record? If the informant is the person in question, the information will be more accurate. If the neighbor gave the census taker information, some things may be incorrect or omitted. However, if the wife gave the information, it's very likely that she knows her childrens' correct birth dates and what year she married.
  • Where was the record made? A news article about the Revolutionary war from Britain isn't going to have the same tone or facts as one made in America. Also, if it's been translated from it's original, there may be errors. You can't learn every language of the world, but if your family seems to originate in Russia, learning Russian might be helpful to your research.
  • What sources does it use? If it's not the first time the event was recorded (an index, historical accounts of a war or plague gathered decades or centuries after the fact, excerpts of a deed), then where did it get it's facts? How accurate were the original sources? Find them and independently evaluate them. This is why Wikipedia isn't a source! It's made from a compilation of sources (if it is sourced) by someone who may have an agenda to withhold or invent facts for the article they want to write. You can start with Wikipedia, but check and use their sources. NEVER cite Wikipedia. If nothing else, it makes you look simple-minded and lazy.
  • Are there statements in the one source that contradict themselves? Can they be resolved? Are there facts that are not physically possible? (was a blind man used as an eye witness? would your ancestor had to have travelled faster than the modes of transportation available to him to be where the documents seem to place him?)
  • Once a source is verified on its own, can you back it up with other sources? Can you refute it? To connect two or more together, do you have to make a lot of assumptions? If you have to ignore half a record to make it fit with others, it may not be your ancestor.
Each and every fact in your tree needs at least one source. You may use yourself as a great source for things that happened when you were alive (grandparents' death, childrens' birth, your life). You are a secondary source for things you heard, but weren't alive for (parents' birth, great grandparents' marriage). You would want a document to back up what you've heard. Don't discount a source entirely based on what you "know" unless it would be impossible for it to be true. Find another document to prove or disprove it. Every source should be able to stand up on its own, but must be questioned if other sources contradict it. Read an entire document. A good example is my great great grandfather Patrick Whitfield. A cousin of mine had used another person's tree to build hers. When I got to Patrick, she had him listed as Eugene Patrick. Even had census records. The names seemed to match for the wife and some of the kids. But what she didn't notice is that in the 1920 census, Eugene was living on a military base (separate from his wife and children) and the 1930 census stated Patrick had never served in the military. I pointed this out and she said she was investigating the possibility of it being different people, but she hadn't noticed the military thing. She'd look into his military career and get back to me. It didn't take that long for me to figure it out by myself. I found Eugene Patrick in 1910..... a county over from Patrick 1910. Since I knew my grandfather was born out of wedlock and I knew his mother's name, I searched them out in 1930. I confirmed they were listed with the Patrick that had no military career. Patrick had lived in Morganfield in 1910 and 1930, so it stood to reason that he lived there in 1920. This is where my cousin had placed him in a military base, but that didn't mesh with the 1930 census. Sure enough, I found Patrick on the same farm in Morganfield in 1920.

My cousin was willing to do two things: 1. Make a leap of faith that Patrick had been in the military and that the 1930 census was wrong. 2. Ignore that his youngest children weren't listed with him or his wife in 1920. This error had been copied by over 100 trees. I can't imagine contacting every member to tell them they were mistaken. And it wasn't the only time I found errors in the tree. She had all the right records for a great uncle, but had conflicting censuses for his wife. I mentioned that the wife's censuses showed the same husband and wife names, but were for another state with different children. "Oh he had two wives with the same name". When did he have two wives? I asked if she had marriage records or maybe the children's birth/death records with parents' names. No, but the names on the censuses matched, so he had two wives. At the same time? Two states apart? When did he sleep??? In the end, no matter how nice I started my conversation, I eventually had the difficult duty of telling her she had the wrong information. At first she was apologetic, but soon she became defensive. Why was I ruining her fun? She was just starting out! I wasn't the all-knowing genealogist! Maybe I was wrong!

How would you feel if I told you I was going to add your grandmother to my tree, because I was just having fun? I'm not going to use your sources, I'll make up my own. I'll add pictures from another website and say the women in them are her. I'll have her married four times with 20 kids, three of which are born after she dies. How would you feel when my tree is copied 50 times by other members, perpetuating my lies? How would you feel when you contact those other members to correct the mistake and get nothing but rude emails back about how they know it's right because of all the other trees that say so. Now, what if it was your great grandmother? Your great grand aunt? Your fifth cousin three times removed? Does the distance in relationship change your opinion? Probably. I would bet hard currency that's why no one seems to care that they are adding themselves to trees for famous people even when they can't prove a relationship. Spend any time on Ancestry's Facebook page and you'll find the "fantasy tree" makers. William the Conqueror, Constantine, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Moses... you'll hear again and again how high a probability that just about everyone in the world is related to one or more of these people. And that's probably true. But you can't prove a link with a statistic. You need reliable documents. Again, I'm not here to debate the existence of Adam and Eve or the veracity of the Bible. I simply want to know what records are supporting your tree to make that connection. If you can prove that link, I want to know how. That's something I don't know how to do and it'd be something to improve my skill. But ask for sources and the poster will become very defensive. They'll admit that they may not have a 100% accurate tree, but they are just having fun. Why won't I let them have fun? Because it's irresponsible of me to allow it. It's irresponsible of you to create it.

Whether you would term genealogy a hobby or a career or something in between, one thing you should never consider it is a game. When you build your family tree, you are creating a unique and special masterpiece. Your family may have been researched a thousand times before, but what you are doing now is new because it is new to you. No matter your experience level, you are working on your family history. This isn't just about collecting names. You are gathering the evidence of lives lived. You bring forth your ancestors from the nameless void of Time into the consciousness of Now. Because of you, they can once again say "I have lived. I existed. I still matter." Shouldn't you put forth your best effort in getting their story straight?

Let's leave the fairy tales to the Grimm Brothers

11 May 2012

Mother Made Me

Grandma Charlene, Her mother Margaret, Grandmother Martha
My mother Jean, myself, my father Louis
Grandma Naomi, her grandmother Eva, Eva's mother Elizabeth
  I'm not one for following the herd. I have attempted to make posts that were timely to discussions I have had offline or participated in online. As Mother's Day is this Sunday, there is some assumption that most, if not all, of your favorite bloggers will be covering the subject. I thought I might do something different.

And it started out that way. I began a post about my father, Louis. You see, when I was 11, my parents divorced. My mother and father had a rocky relationship and it strained my relationship with my mother. I lost touch with my mother and her family for a long time. When Mother's Day would roll around, my teachers would have me make a card for my mother. I made them for my father. (And isn't it odd that Mother's Day is during the school year so we get to make cards, but Father's Day is not?) The schools were naturally "concerned", but for no good reason. While my father didn't know how to raise a girl, having never been one, he did know how to raise a strong human being. One only needs to see us together to know how much alike we are. We can be sarcastic, bull-headed, straight to the point, fiercely loyal and uncommonly charming. Dad says that out of his three children, his only daughter is the son he always wanted. Not that his boys aren't the sweetest, kindest men on the face of the earth. It's just I'm the one most like him. And there are times when "sweet" and "kind" aren't in our vocabulary. While others would think being called his "son" is insulting, I wear it as a badge of honor. I am someone he is proud of. What child doesn't want to hear that?

I love my mother dearly. As I was writing the first draft of my post, I began to think about how much she had influenced me. Take just one look at us and you know we're related. And get us mad, the same look will be burning a hole through you. She is the heart of me. My mother had done all she could to open my mind to life's "options". She taught me to draw, paint, make soap, read tarot, palmistry, and bullshit my way around any problem. To her, life has always been a rushing river of moments. When someone throws up a dam to block your way, or the stream you're following runs dry, you just turn down the next path. If you get caught in dangerous rapids, or face a waterfall where the result at the bottom is unknown, keep your head and work the solution. The end game is already known, it's how you navigate it that matters. If I came up with something wild I wanted to do, she encouraged it. Not because it might work, but because there was a lesson in it- win or lose.

I was shopping in the mall for a gift for my mother this week. One of the salespeople I was conversing with was trying to pad the sale and suggested that my mother wasn't the only mother in my life. I know what she meant; that now was the time to buy a gift for my aunts, grandmothers, cousins, and friends with kids. Well, it didn't work, as my father and I are of the same opinion on that: they aren't my mother, let their kids get them gifts. On the other hand, it struck me like lightning. My mother and father aren't the only mothers who have made my life.

My grandmother Naomi, my father's mother, was my angel. She taught me to knit. I taught her how to haggle at a yard sale. I thought the world of her. She thought I hung the moon. Her life wasn't always easy or fun, but she always laughed. She had six children, but ask anyone that grew up on that street and they'll tell you she was their mother. She would tell me I could do anything I wanted. Not because that's what people tell children, but because she believed I'd make what I wanted happen- hell or high water. She saw my dad's stubborn streak in me, because she saw it in herself. Not that she'd admit it. She's stubborn like that.

While my grandmother Charlene, my mother's mother, wasn't as involved in my life for several years. I do have fond memories of her from my childhood. More than that, I have fond memories of her from the past month. My only still living grandparent, she has taken a special place with me. Nothing brings me as much joy as watching her and my mother interact. I sympathise with my mother in those conversations, because for the moment, she is playing my part. As frustrating as she can be to me, her mother is to her. And that is actually a beautiful thing. It's a heritage that only a mother and daughter can understand. It's like a glimpse of my future selves. One day I will be my grandmother watching my daughter and her child try to politely not claw each other to death and I will see my past. And I will think of the days when I was on the other end of that spectrum, and miss them.

My grandmother Naomi's paternal grandmother, Eva, was much like Naomi. I never met Eva, but dad talks about her like I talk about grandma. She was the ultimate lady, kind and smiling. He cannot talk about her without calling her "the great lady". And to deserve that title from such a man, she must've been the greatest lady of her time. I don't know much about her mother Elizabeth. I do know that they are buried, mother and daughter, not far apart from each other in the same cemetery. And just up the hill from my grandmother Naomi.

My mother's maternal grandmother, Margaret was alive and somewhat well when I was a child. I remember her being short, having shrunk from osteoporosis. I remember her accent. She was born and raised in Scotland, but she spoke Lithuanian when she was a child. She loved everything Scottish. She had a map of Scotland on her bedroom door. We bought her a doll in Scottish dress for her one year. For a long time, she wouldn't talk about her Lithuanian heritage. She was Scottish and that was that. Her mother Martha, was Lithuanian born, however. She and her husband immigrated to Scotland in the early 1900's. I can't imagine what it was like for Martha. She was Jewish, an immigrant, a woman and spoke no other language than Lithuanian. I don't know much else about Martha. What I do know is she must've been tough. And she made her daughter tough. Her influence will make her descendants tough for generations.

Our life is a tapestry. The threads of gentic and cultural heritage are woven together to make us who and what we are. Every generation adds, none subtract. My father gave me a love of history, my mother a love of the present. Naomi gave me a love of humanity, Charlene a love of family. Eva gave me honor, Martha strength. Margaret gave me patrotism, Elizabeth a mystery.

I love languages......... who gave me that?

04 May 2012

I've Got Your Number

There are many ways to keep the people in your tree straight. And to be quite honest, I use a few of them. I have the family group sheets and the individual profiles. I have surname lists. I even have location lists. However, when one wants to keep the big picture together (or possibly publish their work), one needs a numbering system! What is a "numbering system"? Well, in genealogy, it's just our way of keeping people in order by assigning them their own number. If you've ever seen a lineage book, you've seen a numbering system in play.

Now this link will provide a wiki article about all the different kinds, but I'm going to introduce you to my three favorites. There's Ahnentafel which starts from the end and works it's way backwards to the beginning. This one's nice since you'll see how each surname combines into the next generation. Most published works deal with a single surname from the progenitor down to the latest generation. A standard system I've seen in books about my family has been the Register Style first made for NEGHS. Emphasis is still given to those who've been productive- so those who've died young or without descendants may not be listed/numbered. Then there's the d'Aboville system that gives each person a unique number based on generation and birth order. I have one list for each surname I'm tracking and I add as I go.

Ahnentafel is very popular. This one begins with the descendant, say my Grandfather Householder, and goes up through the ancestors. A person is assigned a number, 1 for the root. Then the father is double that number, 2. The mother is double plus 1, 3. So the men will be even's; the women odds.

1. O. Householder
2. E. Householder, 3. F. Martin
4.  R. Householder, 5. G. Kemper, 6. C. Martin, 7. M. Mayfield

This one's easy when beginning your search or when you're only interested in straight back lineage. I could have a hundred people in my line and know that 32 is the father of 16, husband of 33 and son of 64. There are other options that use 1's for men and 0's for women (or the M/F marker), but they are confusing in comparison. So if you're doing a lineage, do this one.

Register System
The Register System was created for the NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society). It uses numbers and Roman numerals for the individuals and organises by generation. Every child gets a Roman numeral (i, ii, iii, iv), but only receives a number (1, 2, 3, 4) if they are going to be in the next generation. A modified version that assigns everyone a number is below. Each generation is separated out as the example shows.

d'Aboville System
This one is my personal favorite. You can organise by generation or not. Everyone gets a number based on their birth order. The progenitor is 1. So, as an example, my grandfather Gibson would be 1. His eldest child (my dad) would be 1.1. Dad's sister Evelyn would be 1.2. Brother Don 1.3. and so on. This makes it easy to see where a person fits in.

1. John/Andrew Gibson
1.1. Joel Gibson
+Eleanor Davis
1.1.1. Burgess Gibson
+Louisa Turner
1.1.2. Robert Gibson
1.1.3. Greenberry Gibson
1.1.4. Margaret Gibson
+Josiah Shelton
1.1.5. Bailey Gibson
+Catherine Sights Joel Gibson
+Frances T Mary Gibson George Gibson James H Gibson
+Nancy Fannie Frena Gibson Zackariah Gibson Marcus Tilden Gibson

In this example from my Gibson line, my great grandfather Marcus is the third son of James. James is the third son of the first son of the fifth son. I add the wives/husbands in with a +, but they each have their own ancestry list if I've traced them farther back. I'll carry the daughters down to their children, but any farther and it gets it's own list via the patronym. If I ever find out more about John/Andrew Gibson, it will be easy to add his parents to the top of the list and add a number to the front of everyone's lines. If I discover a new child for someone, I can add them and make a few adjustments as I go. In the end, I'll probably publish my work using the Register System, but I keep myself on track with the d'Aboville system.

Whatever you choose, stick with it. Consistency is key to organisation. Work what works best for you. Numbering systems can really help you keep the larger picture in mind. And starting your organisation from the off-set of your family research can keep you from having to go back and do it later..... ya know, when it's grown so big you'd become overwhelmed?

Off to prune my tree!