27 April 2012

Yes, But.......How Do You Know?

Boy, Fridays are really starting to creep up on me. I have for some time been working on a post about citing sources properly. I was considering how to boil it down to the basics for the everyday family historian and then provide the sources I've used so you could get a deeper understanding on the subject. The problem was, I couldn't seem to get a good post without it being very lengthy (and honestly, come very close to being plagiarism). I didn't want to drown you in information, but I wanted you to understand the importance of citation and how to make it work for you. And then I got lost in my family research in a forest of unsourced trees and decided to change this from a post of "How To" to a post of "Please Do".

My own tree has been growing, and as I've stated in other posts, I'm currently rechecking my facts and merging several trees into one. That can take a minute. Well, I admit I got bored working on family lines I already had on maternal cousins and decided to set the big project aside and try my father's paternal line. For those of you who don't know me from Ancestry's Facebook page or the many genealogy forums I visit, my father didn't have much information for me when I approached him on grandpa's line. He couldn't remember dates, and barely remembered names (some not in the right order). For months I was stalled due to privacy laws in Kentucky. I couldn't order his birth certificate without parents' full names. I could order his Social Security application, but they'd black out his parents' names due to a recent change in federal law. Through sheer luck, I connected to a third cousin on Ancestry who had a Facebook page dedicated to my grandfather's paternal and maternal lines. She had photos, stories, some dates and proper names. I was even invited as a guest to the family tree.

So for the last two weeks, I've been looking at her family tree and the family's Facebook page for information. I had earlier noted that her tree was new and some censuses she had linked to may be incorrect. So while I used her tree as a jumping off point, I checked for records myself. I took the tree straight up as far as records would support. Every generation brought me new member connections, but I wasn't looking at what they claimed, I was looking for what I could support with documents from Ancestry's search. I started my log with my great grandfather Kemp Gibson. My cousins had photos of him and his father, Marcus. They even had Marcus' marriage record that had his parents' names. Good so far. Marcus lived to 1950, so many living relatives remembered him. The next generations were going to need a skeptic's eye as information was about to start coming second hand. As I said, I had Marcus' parents' names. He had lived with a brother in the 1900 census, so I was able to use their names and ages to determine the correct 1880 census. The hard part was getting over the missing 1890 census (for those who don't know), but thankfully Marcus was the youngest and living in 1880. I was able to follow his father James backwards to 1850 living with his parents, Joel and Frances. I was able to take Joel and wife to 1860 with their young children, but couldn't find them in 1870. The adult children had younger siblings living with them, so I could assume that the parents were dead. I turned to going backwards on Joel, but before 1850, censuses only listed head of household, so I found myself looking for other records. Birth, Marriage and Death are usually my next step, but Kentucky didn't regulate vital records until 1911. It's still possible to find them, but I'd most likely be looking at contacting a local courthouse, historical society or church for records. I was finding a Joel Gibson in a general Ancestry search, but he was in the Revolutionary War and died in 1850. Could he be related? After a very thorough search of Ancestry's categories on newspapers, periodicals, and military records, I decided to turn to the family trees and see what they had.

And what they had was a father named Bailey and his grandfather was the revolutionary Joel. What they didn't have was SOURCES. I had no idea how they made the jump from Joel to Bailey to Joel. Then a dear friend hit me upside the head and reminded me that Joel Jr. would possibly be listed in the DAR or SAR applications connected to Joel Sr. as an ancestor. Sure enough, she found it straight away. Only one revolutionary Joel Gibson and someone had applied using his son Bailey as an ancestor. I was able to order the application for $10, but not see the documents they used. Didn't matter, though, since a quick search of Ancestry showed that most of the sources they listed were now online! Using the DAR application as a secondary source, I used it to find the primary sources and confirm Joel Jr. to Joel Sr. via Bailey.

Then came Joel's parents. Ugh. I had his pension file and now several SAR/DAR applications, but no birth record. I was able to find his grave marker on FindAGrave.com, and a book about Henderson, Kentucky listed him (found via Google). I had a statement from his son Bailey confirming his death and the names of some of his children. Nothing about his parents. And what about family trees? Oh, I found several hundred trees. Some said his father's name was John; others Andrew; still others liked Thomas or William. His father was born in Virginia, or Scotland, or England. The only thing all these trees had in common? Not a single source proving their "facts". Through another Google search, I found another book done by a distant relative that traced his family back to Bailey's younger brother, Berryman. He had a whole appendix about who Joel's father was. Turns out, he didn't know either. The theory was it could be John or Andrew as there was some confusion and few records to disprove either one. There's a John Gibson with a will that lists his wife Mary, but doesn't name his children. Andrew had left land to Mary and her children.  Andrew could just as easily be John's father and John died first, leaving John's wife as the beneficiary in Andrew's will. Mary's will lists her as John's wife (assuming we have the right Mary), but there is evidence that she remarried to a John Cooper, so that could be in reference to him. There is a document (according to the sources in the book; I've not seen it yet) that states the marriage of John Cooper to Mary Gibson wouldn't affect her childrens' inheritance from their father. A website built by another family member put to it that Andrew was Joel's father based on a witness that showed up in the wills and land deeds often and thus tied them together. But again, could be that John Gibson died early and left his family in his father's care. I don't know because no one has a source proving any concrete fact! It's all "maybe" and "probably". And until I find a birth/death record, baptismal record, or some contemporary reference to the facts of the case, this is as far back as I'll take it. Those other trees? Well, some have gone all the way back to the 1500's! Not a dang source to be found for any generation above Joel Sr. How the hell do they know??????

And that's what it boils down to: How do you know? Where did you find the information, what did it say, and how reliable was the source? That's what citations tell us. Every fact on your tree (Name, birth/ death/ marriage dates, residences, military history, etc.) should have at least one source that can help the next researcher follow your lead. I've gotten a lot of help via member connect when there are sources. Saves me time on a search. If it's correct. I can't tell you the number of times that a source isn't for the right person, but may have a similar name. But even that helps me. If I can't figure out how you decided who their father was and your only source is for a census two states over for someone with the same name, but nothing else matches, then I know you are probably wrong about his parentage. And here's something people don't think about, but can help: when looking at a source that is actually an excerpt of another source, knowing where that information was taken from can help me find the initial document. On a friend's family line, I found an abstract of a will in a book. It listed the names of the family, named the witnesses and mentioned that the will divided the property to the children mentioned. I went looking for the will itself; and when I found it, the will happened to name the slaves that were part of the divided "property". Actual names! For someone researching a slave ancestry, they'd not find that will easily as the names aren't listed on the abstract. Making it even more interesting, one of the slaves named was living with the family and counted as a "freedman" on the next census! The census after he was their neighbor with his own family. If I had stopped at the abstract, I wouldn't have this information. The will isn't to be found on Ancestry, just the index. So I added the will (with a transcription of the whole document including the slave names) as another source next to the abstract. That way, the next researcher sees how we got from point A to point C.

So I'll end with this: Please source your facts! The last post I did was about logging your search, and that log should include your source citations. Any unsourced facts in someones tree shouldn't be taken as gospel, so when you know you have the fact right, show me how you got there! There are several books, videos, blogs and wikis on how to source. You can choose any way you like as long as you use that format consistently and it includes enough information to help others find exactly what you found. There is a book, Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, that is a very detailed and wonderful book on how to cite sources for genealogy. It includes an explanation of the different sources and how each can be cited clearly. It even has a Facebook page now. I have also found an online citation generator and a quick page that is printed out and clipped to my note board above my desk. I source as I go, confident that anyone picking up my research will know exactly how to reproduce my research and confirm my conclusions. Can you say the same?

Leave me some bread crumbs, Hansel, so I can follow you home again!

13 April 2012

The Tangled Web We Weave and How To Start Again

Whether we have been researching for six weeks or six years, everyone can fall prey to a messy tree. We know we should've kept a log or record of our progress, but we were so busy making discoveries! Suddenly we realise that "new" relative was already in the tree and we've now researched their ancestors twice and have several duplicate people. Or there are so many cross-overs between our maternal and paternal lines that we can't make heads or tails of the relationships and wish we had made two separate trees. Perhaps the most humiliating, a source we've used isn't actually about our relative and now all subsequent assumptions will need to be reviewed. Even worse, if we'd read the source more carefully the first time, we wouldn't have the wrong relations, town and dates. How do we fix these mistakes? Are there more? What if the whole tree is wrong? We have thousands of names in this tree! Doing them one at a time sounds horrifying! Why has God singled us out for the greatest suffering known to man???????

First, calm down. Seriously, try decaf. Now that you know better, it's time to really get serious about keeping yourself on track. There are many ways to do it, and each person keeps organised differently, so pick what works best for you. In the end, you want to know what you've already found out, where you have looked, what searches you've performed and who you've looked for in those searches. If you search the 1880 census for your great grandfather in Louisiana and then find your husband's second great aunt on the same page, it may not happen on the same day. So if you know you've searched that census, you should be able to look at your notes and say: "I have page 15 from district 33". And if your search lands on page 15 of district 33, then you can make a note for the relative without wasting more money/time getting a second copy.

I have an "action file" that is a research log for each repository/website/book and what I've used them to search for so far. Before I make a trip, I see if I've already covered the search in question. If I have, I've saved myself some time; if I haven't, I make a note of when I do go and what I find. I have a file cabinet that has files for each relative or family group (if I don't have a lot on one person, they don't get their own file). In these files is a main sheet that lists names, aliases, birth/death dates, dates/locations for life events, parents, sibling(s), spouse(s), child(ren), occupation and whether they were in the military. Basically what Ancestry's profile page will provide, but in paper form for when I'm offline. Behind that is a timeline that lists not only those life events in more detail, but adds the dates of their children's births/deaths as well as historical events in a linear way to help me visualise their life. Let's say you have a family group you make a timeline for and you see that several children/ aunts/ uncles/ cousins die in a very short period of time. Looking at a timeline of epidemics in the area may help you to see that Cholera was running rampant. Now you have a clue that could lead you to the local hospital to look for patient records (if available and they aren't sealed for privacy). Or maybe there was a war. Now you can search military records and sources for combat casualties. Behind the timeline is a source log so I know what I've searched for that person and what I've found. I'll get more into a proper citation format in another post. For now, let's just say you want to know Where you found it (online/library/church/etc.), When you found it (especially helpful on Internet sources), What you found (a transcript/excerpt/translation), Who wrote the source (author/court/government branch), How old the source is (publication date), and Which kind of source is it (primary or secondary). Behind that is copies of documents, photos, excerpts..... whatever I have on that person/family group. When I'm researching, I pull out the files and review what I've already searched/found so I don't double up on myself. I also use Goodreads.com to list a virtual shelf with all the books I own or have read on genealogy and my family so I can keep track of book sources. It comes in handy when you're standing in line at Borders about to by your third copy of "The History of Virginia".

Some people are super organised and can do it with some blank paper and really stay on top of things. Maybe you are like me and need someone else to make a form for you to start with. Ancestry has some forms including blank censuses. Print and fill them out, keep them together or in individual files. Family Tree Magazine has free forms that go a bit deeper into logs and sources. And if you want PDFs you can fill out, you can get them from BYUB's show Ancestors. If all else fails, make a spreadsheet or word document to keep the information together. The real question is: "when you look for it again, how will you find it easily?"

Now as for the big debate: is it best to start again and go person by person, or to go the "easy" route if their is one? Well, there are easy options for those who need them, but not on Ancestry's website. If you screw up on Ancestry's online trees, it's a person by person fix. And I'll be honest, that's the way I prefer it. Family Tree Maker software has reports, forms, merge features........ lots of helpful stuff. Need to know who died in one town/county so you can go cemetery hunting? There's a report. Need two trees to be one? Merge it. For some people, I've heard it's a great tool....... and some day I may look more into it. For now, call me old-fashioned, but I like to know I got all the mistakes and one by one is the only way to be sure.

I have six trees right now that I am trying to fix and merge on Ancestry. I have two GEDCOMs from relatives, my tree of 5000 names (which I will admit to some "hint happy clicking" early in my Ancestry usage. HEY! Everybody does it once! Don't judge me.), my father's side on a separate tree, my mother's side on a separate tree, a tree built from a book published in 1899 by a part of the family that does a good job of listing names (not such a good job of sourcing or providing any other information), and my new tree. My original tree with 5000 names was well sourced, but I noticed a few errors. And then I found some double people. And then I found a broken link where I must've deleted the wrong person. And then....... *sigh* it was just easier to start again. The GEDCOMs represent decades of research on my mother's side by her relatives and some of the information is good. But a GEDCOM doesn't give you sources. And I've already found some mistakes in both. The separate trees for the parents did fine until I found at least four cross overs and I really got tired of having the information twice. I can't just click a button to merge the trees, so I have to do it the hard way. So far I've put up the information I can use as "fact", relations I have first-hand knowledge of, direct line ancestors that the oldest relatives have knowledge of, cousins that living relatives know..... everything else will be added when I can double check the sources I have for them (or finally source them). I have a daily research log now and I am making a list of relatives using a genealogical numbering system (which I'll let you know more about in another post soon) so I can keep track as well as prepare a published work of my findings (an ambitious long-term project). It's an uphill battle, but that's what I get for being lazy.

Whether you are starting your tree or starting over, promise yourself that today is the day that you take it seriously and log your progress! Keep a list of websites, libraries, courthouses, churches and cemeteries that you use and what you've found already so you don't waste time finding it again. If you come up empty handed, write that down. You may go back to the source to try something new, but mostly you'll just stop yourself from wasting time on a useless source. Keep a tally of the enumeration districts you've checked for a certain relative so you don't forget and find yourself searching them page by page yet again. And log any sources that others cite in their work. Look them up and see for yourself! It's happened many a time that an excerpt of a will has names misspelled or doesn't have all the names the will mentions. Get a foreign document translated again (or translate it yourself if you know the language) to be sure that they didn't make a mistake. We're all human, so double check everything! It'll be hard. It'll "take forever". You'll feel certain that you are making no headway at all........ until that glorious moment when you realise you missed a source opportunity and stumble upon that one fact you've never been able to find in your disorganised mess of a search.


06 April 2012

The 1940 Census Is Here!..... Uh, Now What?

On Monday, April 2, the U.S. 1940 census was released to the public amid much anticipation. Old researchers and new hobbyists clamored for the records; some with immediate success, some not so much. Ancestry has announced that today by 2 p.m. Eastern Time, they expect to have every image of the 1940 census up and viewable. An amazing achievement that they should be lauded for accomplishing so quickly.

Now I'm going to be quite honest. I wasn't planning on blogging about the census. I figured there were so many sources, blogs, videos, chats, twitter feeds and Facebook pages, that I wouldn't be needed on the scene. I thought that I had only the information everyone else had and you didn't need a repeat at the end of the week. I was wrong. I didn't take into account the people whose foray into the genealogy field would start with this census. I didn't think that people researching a new database wouldn't know where to find information prior to it's release and couldn't make themselves prepared for its arrival. Volunteering my advice on Ancestry's Facebook page has allowed me to see my error. So many questions that many of us "Aces" had thought answered thoroughly beforehand are asked frequently. And the expectations of some have been dashed when they found that a simple search of a name wasn't going to bring them their answer. Again, those who had been feverishly pouring over blogs and videos (as well as remembering the release of previous censuses) were well aware that an index wouldn't be immediately available. Even today I see people ask why a search isn't giving a 1940 census hit at all........ and the question will be repeated for months to come I'm sure. So my intent today is not to reiterate everything to be found, but to link you to the place to find it. I'll also point out some broad strokes that will hopefully answer a few of the more frequently asked questions I've seen.

In the beginning.....
Officially, NARA is the holder of the census. If you don't know, NARA stands for National Archives and Records Administration. The nation's records of legal or historical importance are preserved by NARA. They have local offices in many areas for researchers, but they also have online options. Many of their records are also provided or indexed by genealogy sites like Ancestry.

What I learned:
  • The 72 year wait is a mandatory law enacted by Congress to protect the privacy of the citizens. Which is actually quite lucky considering that many states and countries require 100 years to pass before a record can be released.
  • Certain questions were asked to gauge internal migration and usefulness of public programs after the Depression. These questions can also help a researcher that has lost track of the family sometime around 1930-1935.
  • What all the questions asked and codes used mean. What do the numbers in the education column mean? What is the CCC and WPA? Find out in the FAQ on NARA's site.
  • This census was done door to door. If the enumerator missed someone on a street the first time, they listed the people they caught up with on the final pages of the district (so relatives houses not listed in order may be in the back). Also, people living in a hotel or trailer park were enumerated separately, which is helpful if your family member was in a moment of transition in 1940.
  • Two lines per page were chosen for extra questions that may lead to information for a lucky percentage of researchers. Why only two? Well, that way it was a random sampling of about 5% of the nation. A snapshot of the larger picture, if you will. I only hope to find a family member on one of those lines!

I learn by watching
Ancestry has always had a YouTube channel for it's instructional videos, and I've suggested them before. Now, with so much newness in the 1940 census, they've got a whole new batch of videos to explain the process in which the census will be indexed and how you can use it prior to the index being completed.

What I learned:
  • How to use the new viewer on Ancestry.
  • How to navigate a search without an index.
A quick read can help
Ancestry also has a Sticky Notes blog that has always been helpful, even more now that the census is available. Juliana has been giving her own personal testimony on census searching as well as a few hints even I didn't consider.

What I learned:
  • print out or screen capture the map and make it a diagram to more clearly delineate the ED I'm looking in and easily determine if a street was skipped.
  • Inverse the colors on the census so that the writing is white (and possibly more legible)
As I said earlier, there are hundreds of blogs to peruse. Some of my favorites are Olive Tree Genealogy, Genea-Musings, Archives.com, and FamilySearch. This is just a handful of the ones I keep a serious eye on for this particular topic. There are literally thousands of blogs, so finding information is not as hard as sifting through it.

And I've said it before, but I feel the need to say it again: You may need some knowledge of world, or at least local, history. If you love family history, but abhor the dry world history that your family lived and died creating, then you will stunt the growth of your own research before you even start. And if you have no intent to familiarise yourself with even a brief historical sketch of the time you are researching, then you have picked the wrong "hobby", my love, and should choose something else to spend your time on. It may sound harsh, but it is true. Without knowing where the world has been, you won't know where your family is going.

"I'd rather wait for a search by name feature, tyvm!"
To be honest, I think that's a nonsense idea. If you don't know exactly where your family was from, it is difficult. I have searched at least five enumeration districts so far for my paternal grandmother and still no luck. On the other hand, I expanded my search for my grandfather to include a little town I had a faint remembrance of hearing in passing with family. And there he was on page 14 out of 20. While that's the only direct link find, I was able to locate several cousins and soon-to-be kin in the towns and counties in which the family seemed to flourish. It could take months for an index to be complete, so small searches of page by page in between your regular research is something that could help break a few barriers in the meantime; even if they aren't exactly the line you wanted. Use city directories and other records from prior to the 1940's to narrow your research. It can be daunting, but its immeasurably easier for this census than any other. And for those of you who have never ventured outside of the Internet and your own home for research, take this as a bit of practice for that first time you will have to search a physical index in some corner of an archive. And no matter how much is found online, my dearest Reader, you will eventually have to journey to a far flung library and talk to a blue-haired lady who will be very shocked you've gotten this far without knowing how to use a projector (or why they get so upset when you mention how much easier your Internet searches have been in comparison). Not everything we want will pop up in a search bar for us, even though sites like My Heritage, Ancestry and FamilySearch are trying to make it so.

As of 8 p.m. last night, when I finished up this post, Ancestry had announced two states were ready for name searches: Nevada and Delaware. A great start, but remember, it'll take some time for all of them to go up and hints to start attaching. I'll add updates as I see them.

Want to help create the searchable index? Several societies, companies and sites are indexing and looking for volunteers. Your society members can become volunteers and key a few pages for the community. You never know, you might see a relative on your journey! I've volunteered some of my scant free time to index with  FamilySearch.org. Ancestry isn't using volunteers, but an actual company to make their index. However, their World Archives Project is available for other projects (which are important to our communal history as well). So don't just stop with the 1940 census! Improve your genealogical karma and become a volunteer keyer today; every record is precious.

-And with that, back to the salt mines