28 January 2012

Foraging in Forums

I love Ancestry's Facebook page. I'm on there a lot answering and asking questions, checking news and connecting with people. What surprises me is how many people post queries like "anyone researching Jones family?". It's not a bad idea to ask, mind. It's just that Facebook's a stream of consciousness and that post will be invisible in a day. I've even seen people ask if the Facebook page is searchable so they can find information and queries that have long past. It's not, but there's hope! In most sites, you'll find a plethora of information not found readily anywhere on the web. This magical forest has it's own hazards of dead-ends and misinformation, but to a wary traveller, it can bring about the most fascinating finds! What is this wonderland of genealogical beauty? A forum!

Forums or Message Boards are places where people put up a message hoping that a living breathing person like themselves will happen past it and they can connect and share information. When used properly, you can find new relatives, new sources of information and help on some of your thorniest issues. When mishandled, you can find yourself lost in a maze of nonsensical postings, forever hiding the gems to be found. However, you should devote some time each month in searching forums, as a breakthrough can pop up at anytime from anyone.

How to use what's there

My two favorite and regularly checked forums are on Ancestry.com and Genforum. Different sites and societies will have their own for the special topics they cover, but I find these two to be well used, maintained and covering the most topics. Both have a surname, regional, and general discussions section. Ancestry adds things peculiar to it's site like announcements, information on their record collections, ethnicities and royal lineages. The message boards on Ancestry are also found on their affiliate site rootsweb.com.

There are two ways to use the forums. The way most people do, and the way a serious hard-core gotta find it researcher would. Most people will read a few of the topic sentences hoping to see a name they recognise, or they'll type a name into the search bar at top and hope to find something of use. These people usually get bored one or two pages into a forum. This isn't a good idea. First, titles can sometimes have no information ("OMG help pleasssseeee!!!!!!"). Second, most recent activity is at the top, so something from a seasoned relative may be farther back. Third, it's kind of a hunt and peck method that leaves most people believing the forums have nothing for them and they give up.

Now let me ask you something: When you know your relative was living in Oklahoma during the 1920 census, but you can't find them in a regular search, do you give up? If you do, you are a "most people" researcher and you need to stop that right now! If you don't, then what's your next step? Why, you try to narrow it down as best you can to the right district, but if you have to you will go page by page in the entire state's census just to find that relative! And that's what you may have to do on a message board. Not to say that a hunt and peck can't find you what you are looking for, but it has to be a pretty big needle (or a pretty small haystack) to immediately yield results. PLUS, searching more thoroughly than for just what you are looking for right now can bring you new avenues to explore!

Kemper Surname Message Board on Genforum.com
The first time you enter a message board, this process will take longer. Once you've caught up with it, however, you only need to periodically check on it (or set it so you get an alert when new messages are entered). I love surname message boards. It's where most people will begin. You'll of course want to search the way you know it is spelled and then any other close spellings to see if there is a separate board. I also check locality message boards if a family founded or was centralised for a long time in one spot (or if I need to know more about an area, culture or time period to help me break out of a research rut).

What I always start with is the earliest messages, which means I hope the board has a quick button (like Genforum) for having listing all messages or going to the earliest. Ancestry doesn't, so if there's 3000 messages, I have to page through them 50 at a time. That's a pain, but I tend to scan the titles to see what catches my eye. Either way, I want to start at the back and move forward so I don't miss anything. When I went to the Kemper forum (pictured above), I found more information in the older posts than I did the new. I also was able to find a few cousins via their old posts. Never worry about the date on the message. You may not get a response if you reply to something over a decade old (maybe they don't have that email anymore), but when you do it's so much fun! I found one cousin that had posted back in '98. I thought for sure I'd never hear from her. Much to my surprise, she did message me back and we shared what we knew and have kept in touch since.

I try to keep myself organised with forums like I would any research. I have a great old program from FranklinCovey that is like a dayplanner on your computer. It's pretty outdated for most stuff (it doesn't sync with smartphones), but you can print to the notes section and it comes off just like it would if you used paper. It also has pen functions, so I can just mark out the messages I've used up and make notes right on the "page" for follow up. I also separate into folders marked "round 1", "round 2", etc. so that I can search first for names I know, and then go back again for less obvious links. You can organise your notes with notepad or word or whatever, but I always try to keep a copy of the message titles so I know what I've searched and what I could look at again. Even if a message means nothing to me the first time through, I might find something that needs a second look later! For example, a woman was asking about a relative and I didn't recognise the name. Months later, I found a census that listed him as son to a person that was in my tree. I was then able to contact her and add what she knew to that information and share what I had for the line as well! By keeping track of all the messages and periodically checking over them, I find I can answer more questions without having to clog the board with a new query on an old topic!

Adding to What's There
  It is very important that your question gets answered. So how do you go about making sure people see it? Well, first, PLEASE check to see if it's been asked before! I've seen way too many repeated posts from different people and I just wonder if they ever get to one another. If there are tens of thousands of posts, no one will read all of them and yours could be the one that is ignored. After checking to make sure the question hasn't been answered yet, make sure you're message will get a response!

Obey these simple rules:
  1. Make your title count! In the below example, the first title is so vague most people won't even bother to read it unless really curious. Try using a name, location, date, anything specific to your query, but keep it brief.
  2. Post in the right forum. Make sure your post is topical. If you are searching for Smiths, naturally you'd want to put that in the Smith surname board. But if you're looking for Corporal Smith of the Union army, posting it in a war or military board may yield more results from someone familiar with battles that person was in.
  3. Give what you know to get what you need. In your message provide all you know. "Looking for Genevieve Bootyshaker" doesn't get you what something like this will: "Genevieve Bootyshaker married to Tom Bootyshaker. Born October 1818, died May 1876 in Oklahoma. She had three children Archie, Ned, and Jules. Need to know her maiden name, parents, birthplace and if she had siblings." Don't make people ask you for what you know (or assume you know nothing) leading them to be less than helpful or ignore you completely.

Ancestry.com message board for Indiana Cemeteries

In Conclusion

If used properly, forums can be another tool in your toolkit. You can post to a forum and know that if you don't receive an answer right now, one may come down the pipeline at anytime. Searching message boards can lead you to new information, new relatives, new experiences. If you add them to your regular record searches and facebook connections, you will greatly increase your chances of finding what you need. It takes time to go through, and you can narrow it down with search features. But taking the time to comb through a board can lead to some great finds. Happy hunting!


23 January 2012

Share and Share Alike

I can tell you I troll a few Facebook communities and genealogy forums and I watch what people are saying. One thing that has come up quite often on Ancestry's Facebook page is whether or not to make a tree "public" or "private". And since I was trapped this weekend at a relative's house looking through all her old photos, and the repercussions that followed, I got to thinking.

First, the weekend's conversation (in short form):
Me: Aunty, I've been looking for birth records on Great Uncle RumRunner and I can't seem to find them. Do you have a copy or know more about him?
Aunt Kooky: Well he was adopted. But that still means he's family.
Me: Of course he is. Did he know he was adopted? Do we know his birth relatives? Just for history's sake, really. It's not about him not being family, but maybe his kids will one day want to know about it and adoptions are hard to trace.
Aunt Kooky: Oh, well, yes he knew. Uncle RumRunner was the son of Great Grandma's first marriage. Grandpa adopted him when he was three. But you can't put that on your tree. I know you have a public tree on Ancestry and he might see it and feel like he's singled out.
Me: Uh, okay. Well it's not exactly how the tree works. *Explains how I can set Great Grandpa as "preferred" parent and being a public tree just means that if his "real" father had more kids, we may connect with some half-siblings and cousins, "and isn't that exciting?"*
Aunt Kooky: Oh well that makes sense. Here's photos of his real father and Great Grandmother. You can share those on your tree now that I am understanding it a bit more.
Me: Oh make me copies of these family reunion photos please!!!!
Cousin Helpful: No problem, I have a scanner and I'll make you a file to take to your computer. Let's spend the next several hours noting who is in each and every shot.
Me: Well if we're on the computer, let's add them to my facebook for the family!
Cousin: Splendid idea!!!!
*Phone rings early next morning*
Me: *half joking* Who is this?
Aunt Overreactive: I don't like my information just floating in the ether of the internet! I know your Facebook is friends only, but once something is on the internet, it never comes off. Dateline told me so! Now get up and get rid of those pictures before they're cached or something! And say hi to your dad when you see him Sunday.
*Not wanting to get into the "If you're worried about privacy, why do you have a Facebook account, I go to the computer to comply with her request*
Me: Well, golly, did every one of her kids have to email me about removing their mother from my pictures???? And there's an email from Cousin Somewhat Related saying some of the older photos are copies he gave to my cousin and didn't want them shared online........crap on a cracker.

Now, this is very truncated from the whole three days I spent with family trying to whittle information and photos out of them, but it seemed to really bring home some points people were making on the forums. Once something is on the internet or in someone else's hands, how much control do you have over anything? I've seen many complaints by people who's information and photos have been attached erroneously to someone not even related to them in another tree. They bemoan the heartache of their family member being used so unjustly. Their request to have the error fixed goes unanswered. There are those who have private trees specifically to protect the privacy of their relatives and they share only upon request. And what happens? Much to their horror, someone adds their private information on a public tree!!!! "I asked them not to share it and they did anyway!" Again, their request to rectify the mistakes goes unheeded. The weird one is the people with public trees that want to make it so private trees can't save their information. Why? "Because if they aren't sharing, I don't want to share with them." Really?

A note on the types of trees:
When you use Ancestry.com as a place for your tree online, you have three options:

1. The public tree. All that you add will be searchable. People, stories, photos, news articles.... all of it is available and anyone can find it and attach it to their tree. I use public trees. I want to help others by making the information easier to find and hopefully connect with another relation that may have different pieces of our collective puzzle.

2. Private, searchable tree. This means that when someone searches for information about their relative, they'll see a connection to your tree, photos or stories, but won't see the actual information. They'll need to contact you to get it. This is for those people who for whatever reason don't want the stuff just floating around, but feel they should be willing to share with a legitimate relative.

3. Private, unsearchable. This means that it won't show up in searches and no one knows it's there unless you tell them it is. This is a good option for those worried about privacy or if they know their information may be filled with errors and they want to correct them before compounding the problem by sharing the information.

There are many reasons why someone would want to privatise their information. A belief in personal privacy is the biggest. Wanting to share information with legitimate family or serious researchers is another big one. People who have just started (or have little information to share) may not want a public tree until they've gotten used to the system. They don't want to add to the myriad of already incorrect trees. On the other hand, sometimes a well-seasoned researcher can make someone feel awfully low for being wrong. Newbies are sensitive, sometimes overly so, and they take it as a personal attack when someone else is trying to be helpful by reminding them to check their work. So they hide until they have the confidence to jump into "the big leagues". These are just a few of the more often cited reasons I've seen, there are more I'm sure. And not everyone who makes a private tree is unwilling to share..... they just want to be asked first.

When it comes to what you pick for yourself, it's just preference. Now, I'm going to say this and take it how you like, but- no matter how "private" you make your information, it is on the internet and stored in someone else's server. If you truly do not want something to get out of your control, DON'T PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. While Ancestry and many sites like it are very secure, you are accepting a level of risk by putting it out of your hands and into the web. I don't put anything out that I don't mind people finding and as such, I have had only one private tree. When I got a GEDCOM from an Uncle, I privatised it simply because I didn't know what he had. What he had was a load of errors. I've since added much of that tree to my public ones and I am slowly pulling it apart one person at a time. I have connected with a few private tree members and follow their wishes to keep their information off my tree. That stuff is saved on my computer or printed out. It makes my organisation a bit harder, but that's the agreement. More often than not, however, the private tree member has no problem with me adding it to my public tree if I cite where I got the record properly.

Now, when it comes to what other's choose to do with their tree, and this is important.....You have zero control.  I've found that most public member trees are ran by those with an altruistic approach to genealogy. They figure why make someone hunt it down if they've already done the legwork and can help. That's awful nice of them, and they usually understand that that means it'll not always be reciprocated. They may connect to someone who has less than they do, or is unwilling to share what they have. People may abuse their generosity and connect it to the wrong people on accident or purpose. Sometimes they express frustration, like private tree owners, that they message a member and get no response (or a rude one). But what can you do? Maybe the other person is no longer using Ancestry. The information doesn't get deleted, so it's out there forever. Maybe they don't want to connect to other people. Or maybe they aren't actively checking that branch or person and are engrossed in fact-finding elsewhere on their tree. It's on their "things to do", but just not "to do right now". Or maybe they are really that silly and believe that they have all the proof they need to make their case that their tree is right and your's is wrong. (Isn't everyone able to find their royal connections within the free 14 day trial?)

Whatever the case, trying to change them is like trying to scream at the wind. It'll do what it's going to do and all you get is high blood pressure and a sore throat. With that, I conclude by asking that you always try to see the other side's view and collaborate rather than contaminate. We are all at different levels of expertise and everyone needs a helping hand. Respect the wishes of your contributors and family on private matters, but also remember that privacy means different things to different people. I've learned my lesson on this one. I've asked permission from my relatives to make the information I'm given public. We also have an understanding that anything that should be kept "private" will be, as long as they tell me. I've taken the time this last weekend to explain to those concerned just what I am putting up there. I even invited a few of them to the tree and helped them set up their account to view it. And Cousin Somewhat Related gave me a happy email on Sunday with all the permissions I needed to have his photos.....for which I traded several family recipes and the promise to visit him soon.


13 January 2012

How to Date a Photograph- Part II

The last post covered how one dates a photograph by the method and type of the photograph. We've got a starting point, since photos started in 1839, the photo certainly can't be older than that! Our next step is to use the image itself to date a photo. I've got a few examples we'll go through together. Now, it should be noted I'm no expert and that we all get better the more we look at photographs. These are just some examples with a load of guesswork involved to show what a layman can find out.

 First photo we'll try is this one of a young woman. Now, there are no names or dates on the photo itself, so I'm doing a bit of research and guessing. This photo is a 4" x 6" in an oval mount. That size was popular 1860's to 1920's The card stock is light. The back is a grey color. Popular 1890's. The studio "The Lloyd Studio, Troy, N.Y." is stamped at the bottom.

First thing, let's google that studio! Lloyd Studio, Ltd. has been around since 1880... okay, that's narrowing our search a bit isn't it? Card colours were different front and back during 1880-1890... still good. 1880's were light card stocks.... still within that decade, good, good.
Now the girl! Head and shoulders only, popular in 1889. Her clothes don't tell us much, but the sleeves seem loose. Hair is pulled up and to the sides.... and that seems to be popular late 1880's to early 1890's. Well, I think it's pretty obvious we've got a late 1880's photo on our hands!

Another 4" x 6". This handsome gentleman is on a heavier stock. Still no name or date. Worse yet, no photographer! Well there is in the corner, but it's faded and I can't seem to use the embossed lettering to make a rubbing with a piece of paper and a pencil (little detective tip, that). Too faded to make an accurate guess at least. Different color backing still, so that helps narrow it down. That became popular 1890's. Embossing still puts it as 1890's and on......
 Okay, now on to our fella. Let's start with coat. Buttons, lapel and pin striping all hold clues for us.... Now, men's fashions don't change as radically as women's, but when taken as a whole you can get a good guess going. Okay, so suits as we know them started sometime in the 1870's. Stripes were also fashionable on and off since the start. However, the rounded lapel looks like it fits more with 1910's. The necktie would've been popular late 1900's to 1910's. The short hair with a side part became popular right before WWI for the most part.... but his waistcoat isn't high enough for the 1920's. So we're back to 1910's or so. I'd feel comfortable with a decade of 1900-1910 and if I knew more about this one, I might be able to pin him down a bit more.

 Now this next one is a cabinet card on heavy stock. I only took the one copy of this one, but the card stock is light front and back. The bottom is ornate with "J. Penna, Brazil, Ind." A Google search didn't bring up a quick answer, but a newspaper article from 1935 mentioned J. Penna moving his photo studio. Now, obviously this photo wasn't made in 1935, but he was in business for a while it would seem. Still a 4" x 6" photo. Full body photo's were popular in the 1860's, but I think we're back in that 1880-1890 time period. Why? The hairstyle is severe and pulled back; the dresses have pleats; the sleeves are tight. That would seem to put itself late 1880's, early 1890's. All in all, I'd place this late 1880's. Now, it could be off by a few years depending on if these ladies were at the height of fashion, or lagging a bit behind.


Now this last one is from my own personal stock. This is the family Brown (my maternal Grandmother's line). After talking to Grandma, I know she is the baby being held on the right. That makes this photo early 1930's. Of course, if I knew it was Grandma, but didn't know her birth, I could still use the mode of dress (of which there are a plethora of examples) to date this photo and narrow her birth date down! Short hair on women came into vogue in the 1920's. And a quick google search of images of dresses and men's ties can give me a healthy example of different styles popular from 1920-1940 to narrow it down more. A quick search of children's fashion can also give me some clues.

And that's it! Just like that, we've checked out four photographs and got a pretty good idea when they were taken. With more information on the subjects, we can narrow these dates down even more. And it really only takes one person in a group shot to make it easier to date the rest. Knowing Grandma's birthday and which one she is in this photo lets me pick out her mother (holding her), her father (behind), her half-brother from her father's first marriage (behind right), her half siblings from her mother's first marriage (boy and girl in front, right), brother (in the middle of half-siblings, front). Her Uncles, front left with two of her cousins. Her paternal grandmother, middle. Possible aunt behind grandmother. Just look how fast the picture gets identified!

Again, I'm no expert. And there are people who will, for a fee, find out when the photo was taken. But just look what we were able to accomplish on our own! That should give you at least some hope that you can do a lot of the leg work on your own. At the bottom here I've put the sources I've used to date these (and other) photos in my collections. Practice makes perfect so I always try to narrow dates on new photos as I come across them. One last note: Try to use as many sources for your references as possible. I'm a big fan of wikipedia; not for accuracy, but for the sources of their articles. ALWAYS check the source of your source if it's a blog or online community. Don't want someone blowing smoke up your kilt!


Fashion History
Costume Gallery
Dating a Photo

03 January 2012

How to Date a Photograph- Part I

How was your holidays? Mine was full of travel and family, sadly tearing me away from my precious blogging..... but bringing me more stories and interesting facts to add to my family history. So now I'll just dive back into this whole thing:

One thing I see on a lot of message boards is, "How old is the photo I have?" We all have those photos that don't have a name or date on them and God knows who the people are. So what to do? Well, there are actually two places to start, the Image and the Photograph itself. There are some who propose dating a photo from one way or another, each having it's pros and cons. I think that using both methods can be beneficial in estimating dates. We're going to start with the more technical approach as best used by an amateur. An expert can go into greater detail of each process, but as one is usually just trying to get a "guestimate", we'll not go so far into it. As you progress in your finds, you'll become used to how certain eras of photography look and it'll be easier to accurately guess the date of your photos. Now this will only cover the more popular types of photographs that you're more likely to run across. As with any technology, there are castaways; attempts to make something new that doesn't catch on (8 track players, Beta max, and Vanilla Ice come to mind). We won't cover those here, but you may be the lucky duck that finds one, so note that this is just a sketch of photography. Also, things pick up at different times in different countries; so take into account where the photo is possibly from to help narrow down the era.

Daguerreotype (1839-1860)
  • 2 1/2" x 3 1/4"
  • Image is made on a silvered copper plate- very easy to scratch off the image!
  • Because of the fragile medium, these are usually cased in glass
  • Americas- usually framed in wood with a leather or paper covering
  • Distinguishing feature: depending on the angle of the light, the picture can appear as a negative.
Ambrotype (1851-1860)
  • Like Daguerreotypes, they are usually mounted on glass. However, they appear as a positive image no matter the angle of the light.
  • Using a dark background or dark piece of glass creates the positive image
  • Usually mounted in a metal frame
Tintype (1854-1950)
  • Sized ranged 3/4" x 1" to 11" x 14"
  • Bon-Ton style sized 2 3/8" x 3 1/2" to 4" x 5 3/4" and was popular from 1865-1910
  • Not actually tin, but a thin sheet of iron!
  • Because of the speed of exposure, these were often taken at fairs and carnivals
  • Not as delicate as Daguerreotypes or Ambrotypes, Tintypes didn't need to be mounted in a case
  • Tintypes lost popularity with the introduction of amateur cameras by Kodak and were a curiosity piece after the end of the 19th century even though a few people still made them in the '50s
Card Mounted Photographs
These various sized card mounted photographs are what I've found just about everywhere when antiquing. The size, card thickness, card color, and photographer's logo can all be helpful in dating these photos. The following list is from Wikipedia's article on Cabinet cards and is very helpful.
Card Stock
  • 1866-1880 Square, lightweight mount
  • 1880-1890 Square, heavy weight card stock
  • 1890s Scalloped edges
Card Colors
  • 1866-1880 Thin, light weight card stock in white, off white or light cream. White and light colors were used in later years, but generally on heavier card stock.
  • 1880-1890 Different colors for face and back of mounts
  • 1882-1888 Matte-finish front, with a creamy-yellow, glossy back.
  • 1866-1880 Red or gold rules, single and double lines
  • 1884-1885 Wide gold borders
  • 1885-1892 Gold beveled edges
  • 1889-1896 Rounded corner rule of single line
  • 1890s on... Embossed borders and/or lettering
  • 1866-1879 Photographer name and address often printed small and neatly just below the image, and/or studio name printed small on back.
  • 1880s on... Large, ornate text for photographer name and address, especially in cursive style. Studio name often takes up the entire back of the card.
  • Late 1880s-90s Gold text on black card stock
  • 1890s on... Embossed studio name or other embossed designs
Carte de Visite (1854-1900)
  • 2 1/2" x 4" (the photo usually was 2" x 3 1/2" to keep a border around the photo)
Boudoir (1880s)
  • 5 1/2" x 8 1/2"
Cabinet Card (1863-1920)
  • 4 1/4" x 6 1/2"
Imperial Mount (1890s)
  • 7" x 10"
Cigarette Card (1885- 1895, 1909-1917)
  • 2 3/4" x 2 3/4"
  • Used mainly like a trading card
  • 3 1/2" x 7 or 5 x 7
  • 3D image that required glasses to view
Dating the back of a card mounted photo can help as well! http://www.cartes.freeuk.com/time/time.htm is an excellent UK dissection of photo backs as well as other great tips (just remember that the Americas would probably be later dates for the same style as it "hopped the pond"). He has some great photos for examples, so I often check his site to figure out my photos.

Also note that some photos are actually photos of older photos. Sometimes, they would make a copy just by rephotographing a picture simply because it wasn't easy to make a copy (like a Daguerreotype which can be copied only by taking a photo of the photo). Heck, even I take pictures of pictures. I'm just too cheap to buy a scanner!

It can be a chore trying to find out how old a photo is, but it can be rewarding as well. Before Kodak came along and put a camera into the hands of every John Q. Public out there, it was an important thing to get one's photo taken. They usually dressed well and made a big deal out of the whole thing. As soon as we were able to make a picture, we were figuring out ways to get it into the hands of every family member and friend we had. We made business cards (the visiting or "calling" cards) out of it to trade with contacts. With the advent of amateur cameras, we were making wallet size and poster size and everything inbetween! This meant something to them, make it mean something to you and treasure it.