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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Genealogy Software, Family Chronologies and News


I just received wills of 3 family members:  Artemis Flowers, Henry Flowers and Seneca Odell (who may or may not be related).

I purchased the records from Sampubco.  While I don't think the navigation on his site is as smooth as it could be, he has a lot of really useful information, his rates are reasonable, my order was processed quickly and I received the correct documents electronically and in excellent condition.

The files are jpg format and are sized fairly small but I'll transcribe each of them and upload both the transcriptions and the images to the appropriate Yahoo groups (see the links to your right).

Genealogy Software:

I know I've written about this before so I hope I'm not being too repetitive.  Unless you're going to get quite intensive into your family history, I don't think you need complex software.  

You need the following basic functions from whatever software you decide to get to help you with your family history:

  • You need to be able to store and organize the information you collect about your family/families.

  • You need to be able to connect individuals in your family along familial lines.

  • You need to be able to print reports like family charts, generation family trees and ahnentafels.

  • You need to be able to store notes and source citations about where you got your information, notes on conflicting information, etc.

  • You need to be able to backup your database.

  • You need to be able to share your database with others and to import other people's related databases into your software.

I use PAF, the Mormon Church's genealogical software.  I've used it for years. It's free at the FamilySearch site.  I don't feel the need for anything else.  I have had Family Tree Maker briefly but I found that it interacts with the Ancestry web site in ways that I'm not interested in having done.  I'm a paying member of Ancestry in order to gain access to records that I need frequently.  I have no interest in Ancestry having access to my records; they don't pay me for them, after all.  I've never found a reason, other than that brief experiment to try any other genealogical software.  I have everything I need with PAF.

Family Chronologies:

One of the practices I've had for some time is to try to trace each individual in my families from birth to death; to show a complete chronology for each individual.  I started it to keep myself organized and focused.  It's so easy to get distracted by some little piece of information; this practice helps me stay on track.

PAF software has a section in each person's record to record Notes.  There I record the events of their life with a birth date at the bottom, each subsequent event above that until the death and burial dates at the top.

I record each life event I can find birth, military enrollment and discharge, (marriage is recorded elsewhere in the record but can also be recorded here), each appearance on a census, any additional event that I find interesting or significant, like the assignment of a special guardian to represent the interests of my grandfather, in the estate of his grandfather (his mother had died, his father remarried) which I just discovered and have been added to his Notes.

These are the current Notes for my paternal grandfather, William Joseph Odell:

1961, May 3 - died of complications from diabetes
1945 - NY State Census - ?
1940 - US Census - ?
1935 - NY State Census - ?
1930 - US Census - Delaware Co. - Delhi, NY - 30 yrs - census
1925 - NY State Census - Delaware Co. - Delhi, NY - 26 yrs - listed as William F. - general labor - census
1920 - US Census - Panama Canal Zone, Cristobal, Military Forces at Gatun - Regiment 33rd Infantry, MG & Sup. Co. - 21, pvt 1st class. - Ancestry
1917 - Joined the army at age 17, stationed at the Panama Canal Zone. - get papers
1915 - NY State Census - not found - what counties?
1914, Nov. 23 - Edward O'Connor appeared in court as special guardian for Wm in the reading of his grandfather, Henry Flowers', will.
1910 - US Census - NY, Delaware Co., Meredith - age 10, living with father & stepmother, Ella Zurner.
1905 - NY State Census - ?
1900, Sept. 29 - mother, Fannie Flowers died.
1900, June 6 - US Census - NY, Delaware Co., Delhi - Meredith St. - age 7 months, living with parents & grandparents - bdate, Jan 1900 - census
1900, Jan. 5 - born to George Odell and Fannie Flowers, Delhi, Delaware County, NY

I've removed a few notes that might be sensitive to some family members.

As you can see, there are source notes, I've left notes to myself to send for his military records, I've left question marks where I have gaps where he should have appeared.

The chronology is useful in identifying missing information and in completing the story of an individual's life.  It's also useful in formulating new questions whose answers might be interesting.  In circumstances like my grandfather's where he was still a minor, his birth mother had died his father remarried, is there always a special guardian appointed?  It might be interesting to find out; it might not.  In any case, everything was left to his grandmother so it hardly mattered.

This is my technique, it's worked for me.  I don't now what other researchers do.  I find it helpful and interesting to try to build these chronologies for each person.  They were real people.  Their chronologies give me a sense of them as individuals not just names on paper.

I knew this grandfather.  There are events missing from his Notes, so far, like his father remarrying.  I'll fix that, it'll make his life more real.

I recommend this practice particularly for those who want to write a family history for future generations.  I'm not planning to publish, there's no market; I just plan to leave my database, notes and files to various historical societies and individuals who want copies.

And, I enjoy finding out who and where I came from.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Accuracy is Paramount

I will be the first to admit that I'm a sloppy researcher and very impatient when on the hunt for a particular tidbit of information.  However, in the long run, accuracy is extremely important in doing this research.

We find ourselves looking for a piece of information to fill a gap.  We find something that seems to be it.  We're excited.  We jump on it and insert it into the puzzle.

That's a mistake.  One I've made many times.

It's important to stop.  Make a copy of whatever you can and record the source (something else I often don't do) so you can come back to it.  Look for another source of the same information before you decide that what you just found is correct.

We tend to be in a hurry to move on to the next step that this little smidgen allows us go to.  It's OK to take that next step but keep in mind that the information just collected might not be accurate.  You might have to backtrack to make a correction.

Here's why:

There are tons of people with the same name.  You might have the wrong person.

There's a pattern and logical chronology of most people's lives.  The information you just found, particularly if you didn't check the date, might not fit into the person's life pattern.  (more on this later.)

There are errors in documents, in official documents, don't accept everything you read.

Here's an example, one that's been bugging me a little lately.

My great great grandfather was known as James.  Everyone in the family, in the large extended family knows him as, thinks of him, as James.  It was probably how he preferred to be called.

I have his death certificate.  His name was Thomas James.  I just now found an additional document confirming that he was T. J., Thomas James.  

Many people use their middle name as the name they want to be known as, for various reasons.  It's not really important why, it's how they want to be known.  

It's one thing to record Thomas James as James since that's how he was known and probably wanted to be known.  It's quite another, after someone has found an official document citing his name as Thomas James, to record his name as James Thomas. It's worse than inaccurate, it's arrogant and irresponsible.  There I've said it.  Someone, more than one person, has recorded and disseminated that information that's going to lead someone else  to look for more information on James and they'll be looking for the wrong person.  There are other James with the same surname.

I've recently seen MY great great grandfather's name recorded as James Thomas, which it was NOT.  I've seen it twice.  It makes me angry.

More important, it's important to be accurate, for your own sake as well as for others.  If you jump to conclusions, make assumptions, you end up following a path that's going in the wrong direction and you'll be wasting your own time.

My recommendation is to look for at 2 to 3 records with the same information.  It's like looking for socks in a drawer in the dark.  If there are only 2 colors, you'll have to pull out 3 to be sure you have a matching pair.  If there are more variations, you'll have to keeping trying to match but unless you have a match, someone's eventually going to notice that you've made a mistake.

One more pet peeve:  my families aren't just MY families; my families, all my ancestors, all my relatives are the ancestors and relatives of everyone else in the families.  All the research I'm doing is really important to me but I share. I share information; I share charts; I share my database; I share copies of photos.  Every once in a while, I encounter individuals who don't share.  I don't like it.  There isn't anything I can do about it except stop sharing with that individual but I don't like it.  It's unlikable.

When I share, I do so with the understanding that what I share will, in turn, be shared with still others.

I'm not the only person researching my families.  I respect the work other people are doing.  I respect the privacy and ownership of information and materials of other people researching our families.  I expect my work, my information and my property to be respected.  I've been researching ALL my families for over 35 years.  I often forget who has given me a photograph or some piece of information.  I'll try to improve on that.  It's about being disorganized and sloppy, not because I want to take credit for anything.  

I know some of the individuals who are also researching the same families.  I know who I can ask about some parts of the family.  I sometimes feel insulted when members of our families don't ask me about certain information and then record or post inaccurate information.  Again, not because I want credit but because I want to ensure that there's accuracy.  Being insulted is my problem but I am concerned about those who insist on reinventing the wheel when so much work has already been done by me and by others.

The menu on the right includes a list of family groups I've formed at Yahoo.  Membership is free but is by approval - by me.  I intend only for family members to be members.  The group sites allow researchers to exchange information, documents and photos in a relatively safe environment and to get to know each other and communicate with each other.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Requesting Civil War Records

I was just asked about where to request Civil War records.

Remember, I'm not a certified genealogist.  I am a professional librarian with a Masters degree and have been researching my families for over 35 years but I'm sure professional genealogists know more than I do about records.

Still, I have ordered copies of Civil War records of a few of my ancestors so I can give you the information I have on how to do that.

There are 2 basic varieties of Civil War records that may exist for an individual:
  • There's the service record which consists of their service record from enrollment through  discharge, including any re-ups or service for another.  
  • And, there is a pension record which consists of application for pension through a variety of documentation approving or denying pension, statements by family and other witnesses supporting the decision.  
I have both for one individual and one or the other in other cases.  

Each type contains a variety of details about the individual and family and can be very useful in filling in gaps and verify and correcting family information.  How you can get these records depend on which type you want.

There is a fee for the records.  I haven't ordered any for some time.  As I remember you don't know ahead of time exactly how much it will be but it's not much different from the cost of birth, death and marriage records.  I've paid between $10 and $20 dollars depending on how large the file is.

This is taken from the National Archives site (it is not the most user friendly site as you might imagine of a government site.  It was NOT designed for family historians.):

"Requesting Records by Mail or Online

Military Service Records: Paper copies of Civil War military service records can be requested by mail using an NATF Form 86 for each soldier (Volunteer Army or Regular Army). You can obtain the NATF Form 86 by providing your name and mailing address to www.archives.gov/contact/inquire-form.html. Be sure to specify the correct form number and the number of forms you need.
Pension Records: Paper copies of Civil War pension records can be requested online or requested by mail using an NATF Form 85 for each soldier (Volunteer Army or Regular Army, Union Navy or Marine Corps). You can obtain the NATF Form 85 by providing your name and mailing address towww.archives.gov/contact/inquire-form.html. Be sure to specify the correct form number and the number of forms you need.
You can also obtain the NATF Forms 85 and Form 86 by writing to:
National Archives and Records Administration,
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20408-0001.
Important! There are no compiled service records for Navy or Marine Corps personnel. Do not used NATF Form 86. Instead, contact Old Military and Civil Records (NWCTB), National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001."
Ancestry.com also has a lot of military records.  I'm a paying member so I'm not sure if they are free to non-paying members.  They don't, however, have everything so ordering the official copies from the National Archives is the best thing to do.  I did find a Muster Out record for the individual requested but that particular record doesn't usually contain much information.
Also, many of the regiments have web sites and while they usually don't have actual records, they often do have rosters of men with their specific unit and when they mustered in and out.  If you know the regiment your ancestor was in, you can do a Yahoo or Google search for the regimental number, with the state and you should find some useful information on those pages.
You can always email me at familytracker@yahoo.com with any questions and I'll answer, if I can, or refer you to someone or some place, if I can't.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Old Fulton New York Postcards

Well, that's the title of the web site but the url is fultonhistory.com the column on the right allows you to search 19,648, 000 historical New York newspaper pages.

It's an amazing, albeit somewhat chaotic, conglomeration of old newspapers throughout New York state that have been collected, scanned and indexed for that web site.  

I've found family information there that I've never seen elsewhere.

I found an ancestor that none of us were aware of who slipped through the cracks of the censuses although he's actually there; we just weren't looking for him because we didn't know he existed.

And, you can read that story in the Odell/Oliver Clan page, here, on this blog. I've decided to divide the blog into pages for my primary family lines so that you only have to read this general page and the pages related to the families you're also related to instead of having to wade through families you have no interest in.

I highly recommend that you do some searches at the site listed and there's a link in my links menu.