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The holidays always get me even more reflective than usual, which is pretty hard to do for such an analytical person as myself. I was thinking the other day: in terms of my genealogy research , what would be my dream find or dream occurrence?

Of course, like all of you, you know there’s not just one. But here’s my list of what I would consider the answer to my genealogy dreams:

  1. To discover where and when the slaveowner Giles Holt acquired my ancestor, Malinda.
  2. To discover anything about the Georgia roots of my ancestor John Smith (arrgghhhh).
  3. To connect with any living descendants of my John Smith and Walter Springer lines (beyond the very few that I personally know.)
  4. To find out where, and possibly find the headstone of, my ggrandfather Daniel G. Waters.
  5. To find a picture of my ancestor Margaret Barnes.
  6. For closed record states not to exist.
  7. For the ability to order FHC microfilm online, instead of having to go there in person.
  8. For the Social Security Administration to have mercy on us po’ struggling genealogists, and cut us a discount on those SS5s.
  9. For me to not have to still work full-time, and be able to spend all day researching, transcribing, compiling & meeting with my genealogy buddies.
  10. For the fires that destroyed the 1890 census and the bulk of 20th century Army records to not have happened!
  11. For more interest on the part of family members in preserving our precious family history.
  12. For my two grandparents, Luther Holt & Pauline Waters, to magically come back to life so I could actually interview them about their families. Hey–we are dreaming right?

I also read an intriguing article in the NGS Magazine where the President called upon us to make a list of our genealogy goals for the year. So, while my dreams at the moment remain only that, I’d like to share my tangible goals for the year as well:

  1. Publish at least 3 articles about my family in various journals and newsletters.
  2. Finish adding complete source citations to my genealogy software program & my Ancestry online family trees.
  3. Distribute the documented family history on at least 3 of my lines to the Library of Congress, the archives of that line’s state, the public library of the county and the county’s historical society. My descendants will find my work!
  4. Contribute at least 3 bodies of work to the genealogical community to help others–abstracts, transcriptions, compilations, etc.
  5. Continue to meet and encourage others to research & especially to publish our histories.

So…what are YOUR genealogy dreams and goals?

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Casefile Clues

In a previous post, I talked about the need to continue learning and developing our genealogical skills. Recently, I subscribed to Michael John Neill’s Casefile Clues. It’s been a good addition to my toolbox and I want to recommend his newsletter to others.

I’ve always been partial to case studies because I am able to learn best when  genealogical methodology is illustrated using a real-life scenario. Michael’s newsletter is subscription based: for $15/year, you get a casestudy every week. It is a well-written narrative that tackles diverse problems and includes source citations. Michael also talks about what to do next at the end of each study that I think is particularly helpful.

I was familiar with Michael’s work because I’ve read many of the articles he’s written for Ancestry over the years. I will say, I initially balked at paying because I pay so much for all of my subscription genealogy databases, as I’m sure we all do (except Aaron:). But I read so many terrific reviews of Casefile Clues, for example, Randy over at Genea-Musings, and Thomas at Geneabloggers, that I decided to give it a spin. I’m so glad I did. Michael is very responsive if you have any questions or comments about his case studies, which I think is wonderful. I find myself every week looking forward to the next issue.

So, think about checking out Casefile Clues. Honestly, $15 is nothing compared to what you get in return. If you email Michael, he’ll send you a free copy. And, I promise you I have no connection with this endeavor other than wanting to share good genealogy resources when I come across them.

If you do decide to subscribe, let me know what you think.

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Oh Mavis (of Georgia Black Crackers), you made me BLUSH! I can’t thank you enough for including lil’ ol’ me in your selection for this award. I just was notified that Renate over at Into the Light bestowed upon me the same honor. Thank you ladies! It means so much to me that the random genealogy thoughts running around inside my head actually do provide good reading and support to others. We start these things and they sort of take on a life of their own. I was telling someone recently that there’s whole little world of bloggers that I now know, and although we’ve never met in person, it feels like we know each other deeply. I love that.

I’m simply flattered to have received this. The award comes with the responsibility to share 7 things about myself and then pass it on to 7 more bloggers.

Here goes:

1. Although I’m an engineer, I’m really an artist in my heart & spirit. I always wanted to be a writer and filmmaker & the fat lady hasn’t finished singing yet, so watch out.

2. I’m a terrific cook.

3. I am a voracious reader of all kinds of literature, a habit I have had since childhood. I just finished Nina Simone’s autobiography &  now I am reading “Why Evolution Is True.”

4. I started roller-skating when I was 13 years old, joined a skating team (yes, like in that movie ‘Roll Bounce’), and still love to skate even though I don’t get out as often as I used to.

5. I love movies and music. Especially old movies, and classic old-school R&B.

6. My sister, Alice Smith, is a singer.  Her wonderful CD, “For Lovers, Dreamers and Me” has been out a few years, she was nominated for a Grammy, her 2nd CD will drop soon and she tours all over the country. Check her out! You can find clips of her all over YouTube.

7. I’m extremely directionally challenged. If I didn’t have a GPS, I’d get lost going around the block;)

And I pass the torch to the following 6 blogs. I’m trying to spread the fire, so I’m attempting to name blogs that haven’t gotten one already and I could only pick 6:

1. The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation
2. The African American Genealogy Examiner
3. The Hope Chest
4. Genwriting
5. Virginia Family Tree Genealogy
6. John Brown Kin

I love this ! Let’s keep it going, family.

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I got a chance to hang outwith a bunch of my genealogy buddies a few Saturdays ago after an genealogy meeting. We were throwing down at Miss Shirleys on some good ol’ Southern food. I’m talking about somebodys-grandmother-is-in-the-kitchen good food! We had a great conversation about all kind of genealogy tidbits. Michael’s post reminded me not just of all the wonderful people we meet on this journey, but also all of the ways we can keep getting smarter and better at this genealogy thing. Here’s my list of ways I have used and continue to use to sharpen my skills:

  1. Take a class. There are local classes at many community colleges like this one at Howard Community College; check your local listings for the non-credit program. The National Archives does a free genealogy lectures series each and every month, as well as a longer, more advanced fee-based class on using their records every year. The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has a free online refresher course for members, as well as fee-based training, covering topics such as Working With Deeds.   The Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) operates a renowned weeklong genealogy class at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama every year that I hear fills up as quick as it is announced (that’s on my personal ‘to do’ list). I take a few classes every year, of all kinds.
  2. Join a local genealogy group (or 2 or 3). I can’t stress the value of this enough. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people I meet who have been researching for years and are not connected to any local group. People perceive that because they don’t live in the area they are researching, the local group won’t be helpful but that’s not the case. You need that energy and that connection–you’ll learn things at every meeting because the eyes and ears are multiplied to share the latest gen news, latest resources, websites, etc. It’ll keep you inspired when you hit that brick wall. Especially when your relatives are tired of hearing you talk genealogy; your genealogy “buddies” will understand the excitement of your latest find..LOL. And there are genealogy groups for almost everybody. There’s usually a group for your county, but there are regional groups & ethnic groups as well. For African-American research, find a local Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS) chapter.  I’m also in my state’s genealogical society (Maryland) and in a professional genealogy networking group (the Association for Professional Genealogists). These groups are also an additional route to training, as most groups have speakers come in every month and give presentations on topics of interest. So get out & mix it up. I think Michael in his post did an excellent job of discussing the benefits of this kind of networking.
  3. Utilize the full spectrum of online resources. Don’t just limit yourself to Ancestry.com. You should be a member of the mailing list for each of your research counties and the message boards for your surnames (go to Rootsweb to sign up.)  Read blogs (DUH…I guess you already know about that one:)) I recommend everyone researching African Americans join the Afrigeneas mailing list. Whenever I have a question, you can count on the collective knowledge of the folks at Afrigeneas. It’s also a great place to keep abreast of all the great local stories about African-American history and genealogy. Stay plugged into your research State Archives website as well as the area historical and genealogical societies (many times, those are two DIFFERENT groups). More and more resources are being digitized and uploaded to these sites, but you’ll never know about them if you don’t periodically browse the sites.
  4. Start going to annual genealogy conferences. The big ones every year are NGS and FGS (The Federation of Genealogical Societies), but there are any number of regional, state-level and local conferences as well. I didn’t go to conferences the first few years I researched and I can demarcate how my skill level jumped substantially when I started to attend regularly (every year) and learn from some of our field’s best minds. I recently missed the International Black Genealogy Summit, and I’m still upset about it, especially after all the posts and reviews from my friends. This is what happens when you still work a day job. ARRGHHH.
  5. Most people read Family Tree and Ancestry magazines, and they are good. But I highly recommend that as you progress, you start to read professional genealogy journals on a regular basis. You will learn methodology, analysis and resources that will advance your thinking in big, big ways. I prefer NGS Quarterly, but as I mentioned in my previous post listing slavery related articles, there are many different genealogy journals and I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste. There are also state-level genealogy journals like the one for Maryland. As a member of NGS, I get a subscription to NGS Quarterly as well as NGS Magazine, which is also an excellent publication. Membership in APG gets me the APG Quarterly. All of these types of publications will contribute to your growth as a genealogist, whether you intend to pursue it as a business or simply are completing your own research.
  6. Read genealogy books. This seems intuitive, but again, I encounter plenty of people who research for years and years and haven’t read any of the many excellent books out there. Many libraries have pretty good genealogy collections, I’ve found, or I am a big fan now of purchasing used books from a website such as ABEBooks. My list of “key” genealogy books would probably get too long, but at a minimum, I suggest:
  • “Evidence Explained: Citing Historical Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace” by Elizabeth Shown Mills
  • “A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African American Ancestors” by Emily A. Croom and Franklin Carter Smith (Excellent case studies!)
  • “Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree” by Tony Burroughs
  • “Finding A Place Called Home: A Guide to African American Genealogy” by Dee Parmer Woodtor
  • “Courthouse Research for Family Historians” by Christine Rose by Patricia Law Hatcher (fabulous book)
  • “Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records”
  • “Google Your Family Tree: Unlocking the Hidden Power of Google” by Daniel M. Lynch
  • “The Family Tree Problem Solver” by Marsha Hoffman Rising
  • “Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case” by Christine Rose

Whew! Where in the world do I find all the time to do this stuff? Hopefully, this post gave you a few ideas about how to get and how to stay informed and how to continually educate yourself. You’ll run into me a a conference sooner or later & please do come up and say hello;)

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j0440428 You want to take all the joy out of a genealogist’s day, just bring up the subject of source citations. I have seen faces go from glitter to gloom when you bring it up…LOL. Nevertheless, it’s one of my 10 Key Genealogical Principles, and sooner or later, if you want any of your research to be taken seriously, you’ll have to get around to doing it.

I speak from experience, as I spent the first few years of my genealogical journey happily having no knowledge or understanding of this concept. And today, because if that, I have some very critical pieces of my research that I have no idea where I got them from. You kinda think that’s never gonna happen to you.  Ahh, such sweet deception.

The uptick is, it’s not at all as difficult as it appears and once you get the swing of it, it becomes 2nd nature. You become a stronger researcher because you tend to zoom in on source citations for everything you read.   I thought I’d at least point you to a few resources online on this subject you don’t want to miss:

  • 1. Of course, Elizabeth Shown Mills is the recognized genealogy goddess in this area and her colossus Evidence Explained! is a must have for all genealogists, period. I also recommend purchasing the PDF file of this book –it is immensely useful when you are on the road and trying to reduce weight. You can get it here from Legacy or from Footnote.com. Let me note that Ms. Mills has excellent explanations for each type of source and you should take some time to actually read the sections of this book (over time of course!).
  • 2. The Board for Certification website has some of Ms. Mills articles which succinctly explain why we need to all be correctly and diligently citing our sources. No one explains it better than she does. Click on the left link marked “Skillbuilding” to access the other articles.
  • 3. All of the major genealogy software packages do source citations now. I’m a Rootsmagic fan, so of course I’ll say I like theirs the best. They incorporate all of the templates from Evidence Explained!. There are also lots of good websites that will do automatic source citations for you. I like EasyBib-it will freely create MLA style citations. Citation Machine is useful too. A good list of citation software can be found here.
  • 4. My favorite free online citation guides are the Quick Reference Card Thomas MacEntee created at Geneabloggers and the website over at Progenealogists.
  • 5.  Other nifty stuff: I like the “Cite Your Sources” sticky notes available from Fun Stuff for Genealogists. You slap one on a copy you’ve made, and it’s got all the data you need to remember to fill in for the citation. They also have “Cite Your Sources” stamps.
  • 6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to Mark Tucker’s excellent video post on “A Better Way to Cite Online Sources” over at ThinkGenealogy. Check it out.

I usually pick a day where I devote a few hours to updating my source citations, either in my genealogy software or in my notebooks. I have white 3-ring binders for each family line & most of my sources (census, vitals, deeds, etc.) are printed out in each binder. Then I buy those neon-colored envelope labels, type up a page at a time and put a colored label on each source in the binder containing the correct source citation. It may sound like a lot of work, but  consider that the great bulk of your citations are the same 4 or 5 times, be they census, vitals, deeds, probate, social security, world war I drafts, etc. Then you pretty much ‘cut and paste” and change the specifics.

Here’s hoping you are all remembering to cite your sources, and that some of the points above have contribute to making that a little easier. Please chime in via comments any tips and tricks you use for source citation.

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When I teach my classes, I start with the following list of what I call my “10 Key Genealogy Principles“. I have garnered these from the best & the brightest and take no credit for any of them.  These are the most useful techniques and methodologies I have learned in my years of research that I keep coming back to again & again. I hear one or more of these principles taught at every conference and in every article I read, even if they are called different things, and utilizing one or more of these has been responsible for every breakthrough I’ve ever had.

So, I share them here with you, my family–they are in no particularly order. And, I’d love to hear what principles you’d add to this list?

Robyn’s 10 Key Genealogical Principles:

  • 1. Proof is Not A Document
  • 2. Always Seek Original Sources
  • 3. Always Cite Your Sources
  • 4. Any Source Can Be Wrong
  • 5. Search Broadly and Deeply (Use Multiple Locations, Types of Records & Generations)
  • 6. Research to Uncover Identities (Not Names)
  • 7. Rebuild Communities (Don’t Collect Individuals)
  • 8. Use Evidence to Build A Case
  • 9. Watch Your Assumptions (And Revisit them Often)
  • 10. Don’t Isolate Records (View them in Context)

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j0439485The best way for me to interpret and analyze any sort of data has always been to represent that data as a drawing, picture, tables or a chart. Even in engineering school, I could never solve those advanced mathematical problems if I couldn’t visualize it. We all have different learning styles and types of intelligence and its been a natural progression for me to apply this knowledge to my genealogy. I recently shared this with my class and thought it would be a good topic to blog about. Of course, the core documents for genealogy are charts—descendant and ancestor charts and family grouping sheets. You’ll also notice that many NGS Quarterly articles include the use of charts—I think it greatly helps to organize your research with regard to clarity if you are publishing.

The third step in the Genealogical Proof Standard involves analysis and correlation of your data. I find that tables are perfect for helping to do this. Most of the time I find it easiest to create a table in Microsoft Word, although sometimes I will use Microsoft Excel.

Here are some of the custom tables and charts I have created in my own research. Most of us are familiar with census tracking charts and timelines, so I’ll omit those, and most of these are several pages long so I’ll just show the first page. The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination:

  • Birthplace Tracking Chart: I’ll organize birthplaces from a set of census records (say 1870-1930) in order to figure the most likely place of birth:
    Birthplace Tracking Scan
  • Birthdate Tracking Chart: Using a set of census records to estimate a birthdate range for individuals
  • 1870 Neighbor Chart: Because analyzing the neighbors in 1870 is especially crucial for African-American research, I have a chart where I track them. I also use the Formatting options to shade and color certain cells. Here, my family is shaded yellow and a potential slaveowner is blue:Neighbor Chart Scan
  • Tax Tracking Chart: Self-explanatory.  On this chart, the index listings are yellow and my primary families of interest are blue:
    Tax Tracking Scan
  • Land Records Chart: I saw this in Emily Croom’s book Unpuzzling Your Past. She made a chart where she traced each piece of land for an ancestor, but also recorded where that land went (i.e., showing the person selling the land, and showing who bought or inherited that same piece of land). I do charts like these for all the members of a particular family, for example. Here’s Emily’s example in the book:
    Land Scan
  • Slaveholder Tracking: I do lots of different slaveholder tracking. I have charts of “potential” slaveholders, showing their slaveholdings from census records. I have charts of their family structures, their deed transactions involving slaves, and of their entire probate processes. Here are 2 examples:
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan1
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan Probate
  • Slave Charts: This is related to the slaveholder charts, but once I amass enough information on a group of slaves, I will typically chart those separately.
  • FHC Film Charts: I chart all the films I order from the FHC. Over the years, I’d forget what I’ve already viewed if I didn’t:
    FHC Film Scan

On all these, I usually include the FHC film number (if that’s what I used), book numbers (if applicable), the dates I did the research, the location if it’s done at a repository, microfilm information, page numbers, and any special notes or comments.

Of course, there are plenty of good websites online with blank charts of all types to use for your genealogical research. Cyndi’s List has a category for Supplies, Charts, Forms, also Ancestry, Family Tree Magazine , and Rootsweb have assorted charts and forms. My favorite census forms are Gary Minder’s at the Census Tools website. He’s also got plenty of other useful forms. There are also a wide array of private vendors who offer these sorts of products, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my buddy Michael Hait again and his terrific disk called Family History Research Toolkit, available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

If you haven’t expanded beyond the basic genealogy charts, I encourage you to take a look at some of these downloadable charts and also don’t be afraid to create your own. You may see something in a new way or notice something you’ve never seen before. In the comments to this post, please feel free to make any other chart suggestions that you utilize or any other websites you know about that have unique forms.

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Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings always has such terrific Saturday night fun, and I finally have a chance to participate. He asked us to recall one of our favorite memories growing up.

I came of age in the 1980s, and I was shaped by the music and culture of that time. But one of my favorite memories–group of memories, really–are the times I shared with my childhood best friend Brandon growing up in Prince George’s County, Maryland in a sprawling apartment complex on Branch Avenue. Brandon looms very large in my memory, because we were two highly adventurous children who were really artists in our hearts.

We spent most of our time dancing, drawing, acting, singing, making books, creating “shows” we would put on for our friends and parents, and generally inhabiting a play-world all our own. We had clubhouses in the woods. We climbed trees and roller-skated. We watched every episode of “Dynasty” and “Knots Landing”. We got in trouble together. We’d get teased for being best friends (as a boy & girl) but we didn’t care and thankfully neither did our parents. We were two little dreamers and the apartments where we lived served as the perfect backdrop for our escapades, with its large pool, rec center, and tennis courts. I’ll never forget all the good times we had from about the age of 9-10 until we graduated high school.

Brandon moved to New York where he later became a professional dancer with the Alvin Ailey School of Dance. We’re still great friends and often wonder how in the heck we got to be 40 years old. Recently on a visit, Brandon and I went back to that apartment complex of our childhood, and walked around with a video camera, reminiscing (oh the genealogist in me never quits;)). My childhood is the bright & shining color of yellow because of Brandon. In my mind’s eye, we’ll always be those two oddball kids, ready to take on the world.

robbran

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I just started a new sister blog today called Giving Back to Kin. The purpose is to have a place to upload all of the data I’ve gathered over the years and continue to gather in my genealogy research to share with others. I’m excited about it and enjoy the opportunity to perhaps help others as I have been the recipient of endless generosity during my journey. I figure if I’m going to spend 1-2 hours looking a roll of microfilm, why not copy information others can use as well?

I will mainly post data from my primary areas of research, Tennessee and Maryland, but now and then I have other areas from doing research for other people. My inaugural edition today contains:

  • an index to court records for Hardin County, TN for Book I: 1869-1875
  • tax releasements for the year 1888 in Hardin County, TN
  • Freedmen’s Bureau marriages from Hempstead County, Arkansas
  • Labor Contracts from Freedmen’s Bureau records in Rocky Mount, NC.

They are all downloadable PDF documents. I hope you’ll visit from time to time, and let me know if I post something that helped you.

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After 12 years of genealogy, I am constantly amazed that I still have a very long list of things I need to do. Things I needed to do yesterday. Things I understand the importance of, but am usually too embarrassed in polite company to admit I haven’t done them yet. I am painfully reminded of this every time I attend a genealogy conference, especially FGS and NGS. I wish there was some magical Time Fairy who could add more hours to each day with a flick of her fairy-dust wrist.

Here’s what’s on my “Needed To Do Yesterday” list for the 2009-2010 Genealogy Year:

  • Maps. I still haven’t utilized maps to their full extent, though I’ve taken umpteen classes and KNOW this is a serious untapped resource for me. Maps have lived very much on the periphery of my research. Ditto for platting out land.
  • Timelines. Sad to say it, I have probably done exactly one timeline. I have a folder marked “Timelines”. I know they can help point out holes and put some order to the thought processes. I have grand and glorious plans to exploit timelines, but haven’t yet. ARGHH.
  • Me. One of the cardinal rules in genealogy is to start with yourself and I have tried to start writing about MY life many times and gotten sidetracked at the archives or the courthouse or whatever ancient record has cast its spell over me. I did spend one afternoon in my old neighborhood taking pictures & videos of my schools & homes & old jobs, but other than that, I still haven’t adequately written about my life thus far. ARGHH.
  • Organization. I’m not sure—see, I’m about to tell a lie—I’m SURE I don’t have a workable system of organization. It’s sort of cobbled together over the years & marked by fits of fear  & backing up marathons. I can pretty much find things when I need them but I still have many moments where my mind says : Is this backed up? Is it properly sourced? What if my computer crashes? Where are my pictures? I do backup to external hard drives & DVDs but somehow I’m still not at peace with my process.

That’s enough for tonight. I might have well have streaked naked across the internet, the way I’ve bared my genealogical embarrassments, LOL. But I thought I’d share this in the hopes that you could make your own “Shoulda Been Done This” list. And pledge, alongside with me, to get a movin’.

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