Saturday, December 15, 2007

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up!

An interesting new field of study has been brought to my attention. It sounds to be a challenging occupation that demands a variety of skills that are unique to historians, memoirists, and genealogists. The new field is that of Peronal Historian. The demands of the job sound absolutely fascinating.

The basic job description is to ustilize a variety of tools to assist patrons in composing their memoirs or biographies. By using video, or audio, recordings; a collection of oral histories; and personal documents, the Personal Historian would take on the task of writing the biography of the patron. With a completed manuscript, the option is then avaialble to carry this through to the publication of a book, or simply present the finished project to the patron.

The job requirements make this career sound challenging to say the least. The skills required for this job would include: the abilities to conduct, and carry through to completion, oral history projects; the knowledge of history and the ability to place individuals into the great historic context; extensive writing and editing skills; and the research abilties to track family information through generations.

As I said, the challenges suggest that this would be a fascinating career path. The collection of oral histories and the publiction of the memoirs open up new possiblities for the future.

I am only fifty years old, but I think I have found a new career!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holidays Are The Time For Family Histories

Okay, I have just stated the obvious. The upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are the ideal time to reach out to family and collect oral histories. And, these oral histories are the details that enhance our family histories. So, now is the time to begin collecting memories and providing new and interesting stories to the family history. Get out there and record those memories!
There is one challenge to this mission. Keep in mind that a recorded oral history is only as good as the transcription that is made afterwards. Once you have collected that oral history, don't forget to have the tape transcribed. This is the permanent record that will entertain and inform future generations in the family. Have the tapes transcribed and edit it all into the story. Unfortunately, I have learned this lesson the hard way. I have four hours of tape from my father. It was recorded more than 20 years ago. I never had it transcribed. Today you can barely hear the voices on the tape. My father died in April and the tapes are all but lost. I am hoping I can find some magical audio shop to save it for me. But, right now it appears as though the tapes have been lost.
Learn from my mistakes. I know I have. I just finished an hour of tape with my mother. The tape has already been transcribed.
So, remember that now is the ideal time to collect family histories and traditions. The holidays are the perfect time to inspire memories.

Friday, November 2, 2007

One Peson's Trash...

I was speaking with a lady earlier this week, she reminded me of an important consideration in Archival Studies, Genealogy and Family history. We all want to remember that "one person's trash may be another person's treasure." We can never really say for certain that papers, documents, photographs, and other ephemeral materials are valueless. The information contained on these records, the records we are inclined to discard, may provide tremendous clues for other researchers.
This reminder came about as we were discussing her reserch on families in Georgia. She mentioned that, somehow, she encountered a family that was discarding papers from the estate of their deceased mother. The woman immediately went into "dumpster diving" mode and came out with collections of sports memorbilia and, more importantly, three family bibles that documented family genealogy lines going back generations.
So, as a reminder to anyone that chooses to read this, keep in mind that the documents you think to discard may be of great value to someone else. Offer up that research to some research institution or archives. Just maybe, an archives somewhere will be interested and take on the job of saving the family history.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm Baaaack!

I realized it has been almost a full month since I have written. It has been a very chaotic month as I am trying to recover from several weeks of travel for Genealogy conferences and personal time. I am amazed at the energy that is require to attend a conference. After one month, I am still trying to absorb all of the information I acquired from the Utah Genealogy Conference and the Northern Utah Genealogy and Family History Jamboree.
An item I feel I need to comment upon, is the preponderance of technology sessions at conferences. Don't get me wrong, I am not some Luddite that is opposed to using technology. But, we have to keep a perspective upon the value and capabilities of technology. Computer programs, websites and on-line resources are great assets for research. But we need to keep in mind that anyone can load information onto a website. Simply because the information is on line doesn't mean that it is accurate. I think we need to keep repeating the adage: "Trash In, Trash Out." We need to continue to verify and confirm all of the information and facts we have accumulated from on-line, as well as published sources.
In addition, with technology we need to keep in mind that computers and other electronic gadgets are temporary storage facilities. None of the new technologies that have arrived on the scene over the past few years is capable of lasting more than ten years. Even the best compact discs, with optimum storage, is estimated to last seven to ten years. High quality paper will last over one hundred years, if stored under optimal conditions.
So, as we move into new areas of research, keep in mind that technology, if used correctly, is an incredibly valuable tool. Yet, we have to keep in mind that computers and other electronic resources have serious limitations.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Honey, I'm Home!

Okay, I've been away for quite some time. I have spent the past two weeks visiting a variety of small genealogy conferences. At the Utah Genealogical Association meeting and the Northern Utah Genealogy and Family History Jamboree, I was able to revitalize my spirit. Once again I am ready to share ideas and resources with fellow genealogists.
It is very exciting to attend and present a program at a conference. The enthusiasm is infectious. New genealogists, along with the experienced researchers, all come together to share information and skills. It was a pleasure to lecture to the groups at these two conferences. At the same time, the exhibition hall always introduces new publications and tools that open new doors for further research.
I am consciously working to avoid any type of recommendations, yet there were some programs that warrant mentioning. I find it always valuable to attend sessions on migration patterns in the United States. The questions will continue for as long as we have genealogy: why did our ancestors move from point A to point B? And, how did they get there? In addition, technologies are changing so rapidly that any sessions offered on new technologies and tools of research are worth sitting in.
So, it has been a very busy couple of weeks. I am still trying to mentally absorb all of the information presented in the Utah conferences. But there is no doubt that attending several conferences each year, whether as a presentor or simply an attendee, the event always invigorates me and inspires me to strive for greater achievement.
I suppose I should mention my own program. I lectured on identifying and using Southern Archives for Genealogy and Family History Research. I personally thought it was a great topic and well received. But, the reviews will come in in a few weeks. Regardless of my own success, it was an invigorating and challenging couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Military Service Records at NARA

A recent publication from the National Archives has come to my attention. It is an interesting new resource for family history and genealogy research. Military Service Records at the National Archives, Reference Information Paper 109 is a great resource for anyone doing military research. In a brief 120 pages, this booklet spells out the multitude of resources available at the National Archives. In addition, if the Archives doesn't have the information, alternate resources are provided. Finally, each chapter concludes with a brief bibliography of alternate resources that deal with specific topics within the chapter. Generally, the references are to the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives, or to the National Archives journal, Prologue.

For me, one of the interesting chapter sections concerns Confederate pensions for the Civil War. I find it fascinating that Congress did not authorize pensions for Confederate veterans until 1959! Assuming that a Confederate enlistee was as young as 16 at the end of the war, that would mean he would be 110 years old when the Confederate pensions were authorized! Although the records for 1959 are not yet available, it would be interesting to know how many Confederate veterans actually qualified for a pension.

More important, though, is that this book provides resource information for the 14 states of the Confederacy and the state pensions that were provided.

This is just one example of the multitude of resources that are provided in this slim volume. Mr. Trevor K. Plante compiled this work and he has done an excellent job in briefly summarizing the many sources available for military research in the National Archives

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name ...

Some new discussions have recently arisen regarding names. I recently read an article by Ken Thomas in the Cobb County Genealogical Journal, Family Tree Quarterly, on the topic. In addition, Christine Rose has recently come out with the 5th edition of her work on nicknames and popular names. These works, along with others, raise some interesting questions.
In my own family, the children's names have created some interesting comments. My parents managed to find two unusual and three very mundane names for their children. My deceased sister is named Trula. Contrast that to Michael, and you have to wonder what my parents were thinking! After some investigation, and it took some significant digging, I found that Trula is of Germanic origin for the word truth. Other sources suggest the name is a variation on Gertrude, with Hebrew origins. My dad was always proud of his family heritage. He had an aunt Gertrude. So, in a sense my parents' naming patterns make some sense. I am omitting the names of my other siblings out of a sense of privacy. You will have to trust me when I say they tend towards family naming patterns.
The point of all of this is that as we develop family histories and genealogies, we need to consider name origins. They may provide some significant clues to the mindset of our ancestors and open up new avenues of consideration.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Who's Your Daddy

I have just been introduced to Carolyn Billingsley's book: Communities of Kinship Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier. For the general historian she introduces some new and exciting ideas about kinship becoming a new category of analysis alongside the trinity of race, gender, and class. This, in itself, is an exciting promotion of genealogy as a substantial topic for consideration by historians and social scientists.
Even more exciting, for genealogists, she has introduced an interesting consideration. According to her research "a significant percentage of children who were not fathered by the man who thinks himself the father, the most often cited figure is about 10 percent of births." I will forgo the standard footnote here, but this quote can be found on page 11 of her book. She goes on to suggest that in some areas, the numbers can reach as high as 25 percent of children have a father that is not the biological father.
Consider this concept. If ten percent of us do not really know our biological father, what is the implication for genealogy? Do we utilize DNA practices to open wide the doors of knowledge and information? Or, do we accept the idea that parentage is more of who raised us rather than who was involved in conception? Legal definitions further reinforce the idea that parentage is more social construct and less a biological concern.
Imagine the possiblities and confusion that can be generated if her information is correct. Lineage and parentage, in the future, may take on a completely different meaning as DNA tests begin to challenge or reinforce the statistics proposed by Dr. Billingsley and other researchers. If Dr. Billingsley is correct, genealogy is going to become a whole lot more interesting.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How They Treat Paupers

The burial of paupers and the records this creates is an interesting resource for local and family history. These records, if they can be located, can provide an abundance of information regarding the less fortunate members of society. Because these records concerned the finances of the city, some accounting was maintained. By examining cemetery records and city records, some details can be uncovered about the impoverished and destitute in our communities. In addition, these records tell us a great deal about the communties in which our ancestors lived.
As an example, in the the City of Atlanta, Georgia, paupers were buried in the city cemetery, Oakland. For a time the cemetery kept a careful listing on the paupers' graves. A list of burials from 1870 to 1876 is contained in the manuscript collection of Oakland Cemetery. The collection is held at the James G. Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. It is manuscript number 618. In that time,the 1870s, annual negotiations between the city and coffin makers of Atlanta determined the treatment of paupers' remains. In 1875 the city paid $1 for each paupers' coffin. In 1880, the contract for paupers' coffins was awarded to Y. B. Cragilo, who would produce coffins at a cost of 88 cents per coffin. In 1884, the city moved the paupers' cemetery to West View Cemetery.
Close scrutiny of city and cemetery records may provide genealogists, family historians, and local historians with new information and new resources about our ancestors and the communties that they lived in. Exploring these resources can be enlightening and aid our research in a variety of ways.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Some Comments on Conniff

Just some brief comments of Richard Conniff's article in the July issue of Smithsonian magazine: "The Family Tree, Pruned" has stirred some passionate comments. I think we all need to step back and take a deep breath. Although his attempt at humor has generally insulted genealogists throughout the contry, Conniff brings up some intesting thoughts concerning the basic discussion of "nature vs. nurture". The true offense, though, is that he has suggested that genealogy is an inexact science that has no real purpose beyond entertainment value. Here is where he offends.

Genealogy, like any other craft, has the potential for shoddy work. But, with attention to detail a family history can provide the most insightful, and accurate, tidbits into the lives of our ancestors. He sites the uses of DNA to suggest that all of Genealogy is flawed. But he fails to acknowledge the built in limitations of DNA studies that are commonly recognized.

DNA is a new tool for genealogists. We are using it to provide new evidence, new leads, to direct our research. Most genealogists would recognize that the paper trail, the records we have used in the past, are still the best sources for documentation.

In short, Richard Conniff's article, although entertaining, is very flawed in his research and understanding of genealogy and family history. He needs to revisit his sources to better understand the topic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

This week in Atlanta History 30 June to 6 July

This is an important week in Atlanta History. In 1868, on 30 June Atlanta was named the capital of Georgia. It is the fifth site of state government, behind: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville and Milledgeville. Macon was also a seat of government during the Civil War, but official legislation was never passed naming the site.
In addition, this is also the week Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone with the Wind was published in 1936 and led to her winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
Clearly an important week for the city.
Happy Fourth of July.