Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time To Close The Door

The year has finally come to an end. As I do every year, I try to take a look back and remember the events, the good and the bad, for the past twelve months. I try to celebrate the good events, and learn from the bad events. I hope that taking stock of events allows me to learn and grow as a professional, and as a human being.

Personally, this has been a good year for me. I have had the pleasure of serving a third year as the President of the Georgia Genealogical Society. Working with this group makes me appreciate the generosity of the many people around me. Every member of the board and some folks not on the Board of Directors, give a great deal of time and energy to guarantee the success of GGS. I admire them for that.

Beyond work at GGS, I was able to visit my Grandparents home in Nebraska, for the first time. I had never been to Alliance, Nebraska. My lovely and tolerant wife was patient enough to endure a very long road trip, to travel to western Nebraska to visit the old homestead. After my visit in August, I am really looking forward to a return trip. I hope my wife will remain tolerant of my traveling eccentricities and keep me company for another long drive.

This year, I was also able to begin publication of my own periodical/newsletter. After several years of internal debate and planning, I was able to launch the North Georgia Family History Bulletin in October. It is truly an emotional rush to publish this electronic magazine and send it out to people who might be interested. I can only hope that the interest remains and the publication continues to grow.

The failures and the stress in this past year come from the economy. It is discouraging to read of so many genealogical societies and historical institutions that are forced to reduce services as a result of the economy. Just today, I was reminded of this when the Missouri Historical Society posted their reminder that, because of budget cuts, public hours of access have been reduced. Just searching through my blog posts reveal a number of other institutions that have suffered and taken similar steps. Nationally the economy has taken its toll on libraries and museums.

But, there is a positive side to the economic stress. With the realization that “there by the grace of God …,” the suffering of other institutions reminds me that we need to take steps to insure that our homegrown institutions do not suffer similar problems. I have written several grants and tried to develop an annual financial appeal for GGS. Hopefully, with more work in the coming year, a solid foundation will be created for the Georgia Genealogical Society.

As the year comes to a close, I am proud of much that I have accomplished in 2009. With the help of so many people, it has been a successful year. Now, I have the challenge of creating goals for 2010, goals that will help me grow and develop. I am closing the door on 2009 and opening another door to opportunity in 2010. May the coming 365 days be as productive and successful as the past year.

And to everyone, May you all have a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Digitized Newspapers in North Carolina

The following webpage came courtesy of Laura Carter and Elaine Nell. Some interesting digital newspaper pages have come available, on-line, from North Carolina.

You may want to check this out:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Well, the holidays have arrived. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the season. The shopping (hopefully) is done. The tree and house are both decorated. And, the Christmas dinner is planned and ready to cook. So now, turn off the all of the lights in the house. Turn on the Christmas tree lights. Cue the music and enjoy the quiet time of Christmas.

Now is the time when thoughts of Christmas past come rushing into my brain. Several times, this past week, I have told my wife about the aluminum Christmas tree my family had. It lasted only a couple of years. And with the passage of time, the ugliness is forgotten and I now know that was a beautiful tree! The silver of aluminum spinning on a music stand, playing that symphonic rendition of “Jingle Bells,” the color wheel spinning blue, green, red shades on the shimmering aluminum; if you look beyond the nauseously garish decorations, it had to be a beautiful tree.

The more important traditions also come to mind. Many years ago, long before I was even a cognizant being, Uncle Jack Brubaker made Dad two Christmas tree ornaments out of walnuts. Every year, to this day, those walnuts hang on the tree. Often they hang right in front, at eye level, so that everyone can see them. Both Dad and Uncle Jack have died, but generations of Brubakers remember these two men that loved each other and loved their families. Those two tree ornaments are more than simply walnut decorations.

The traditions and memories we have accumulated with our families, these are important details to think about during the season. So, take some time in the next few days. Sit back and enjoy the memories of holidays past. Think about the traditions for a few moments.

And finally, have a safe and happy holiday season.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Life During the Civil War" Reviewed

I have found an interesting new study that may be worthwhile for any one that has any interest in the Civil War involving their family history research. Family Chronicle Magazine has recently published a 100 page collection of articles that may provide some new direction for Civil War research. Life During The Civil War details the day to day life of participants in the Civil War. The articles were all written by David A. Norris and cover a variety of topics on daily life during the war period.

Every wonder what camp life was like for your great-grandfather? Or, how did my ancestors pay their bills while working on the farm? What were the greenbacks that great-grandfather kept referencing in his diaries? What was the music like that they used to sing in the 1860s?

All of these details, and more, are included in the pages of this magazine. The information on these pages makes for an interesting read. The down side of this work is that there are no references, no footnotes, nothing to direct for further reading. But, for research, for the opportunity to get a feel for how our ancestors lived during the Civil War period, this is a brief study that can help provide some information.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays: Best Time To Collect Memories

Okay, the holidays have arrived. Since the end of October we have celebrated Halloween, Day of the Dead, and Veteran’s Day. In the immediate future, we have Thanksgiving, followed by Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, and News Year’s Day. This is truly the time for the family to gather and share memories.

This is truly the perfect time for collecting more information for family history and genealogy. With the family visiting, now is the time to sit down and collect the details about missing members of the family tree. Who out there remembers Aunt Molly? Where did she live? Where is she buried? In addition to the details for the lineage charts and genealogy, we can also collect the family history stories. Who remembers how we celebrated Christmas in Grandma’s House? What were the traditions of the holidays in the 1940s? Did you really receive just a pair of socks and an orange?

So many of these traditions and family stories can be lost if we don’t take the time to record them now. The opportunity is perfect, it is right in front of us. So, bring out the digital recorders and the DVD cameras and interview family members; record their memories and feelings. Someday these memories will truly be the most valuable gifts of the holiday season.

And, remember, once these memories are recorded, be sure to make duplicates of the tapes and the digital recordings. In addition, be sure to transcribe these tapes so that the memories, if not the actual voices will last forever.

If collecting oral history is not in the cards, maybe identifying old family photographs or filling in details on lineage charts might bring the family together. Now is the perfect time to reminisce and share family memories. Bring out the photo albums, or set up the tape, and digital, recorders and ask questions about the family. This may prove to be the best opportunity to collect and save, or build on to, the family history.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DNA Technology At Its Best

Although many people would accuse me of being a Luddite, a person that hates technology simply because it is new technology. I would suggest that too often technology is misused and abused. published an article that points to the true value of technology and using it to aid in Family History research. This is the type of research and technology that excites me.

Be sure to read this at:

This is a fine example of how best to use technology.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More Bad Economic News

The nightmare continues as two more state institutions have suffered significant budgetary cuts. It seems as though more and more states are looking to save money by eliminating their history. To say the least, this is a short sighted idea that only serves to harm the states in their long term.

Earlier this week, the State Historical Society of Missouri announced cutbacks in staff and hours as a result of budget with holdings of 25 percent for the 2010 budget. In the future the hours of the Historical Society will be from 8 to 4:45 Monday through Thursday. Researchers will no longer be able to work on Fridays or Saturdays. The change in hours will have enormous consequences on students and professional researchers. Genealogists traveling to conduct research will particularly suffer.

This announcement comes on the heels of the Governor of Massachusetts announcing the closing of the State Library. This institution has been open since 1826 and houses some of the more important documents in New England and Colonial American History. There is still hope to save the Massachusetts State Library, the friends of the library are circulating an electronic petition to present to the Governor. Simply go to the website to add your name to the petition to stave off the closing of the Massachusetts State Library.

Please sign the petition and help save our history, and our libraries.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Memorial for Cremains

With the increasing popularity of cremation, a major concern for family historians has been the documentation of our ancestors. When a body is cremated, there are not many opportunities to create a memorial for the departed. Now, a new method of memorializing our ancestors, the individuals who have been cremated, is being introduced.

Read on, this is very cool.

This is courtesy of the Delta County Independent newspaper, and thanks to Leland Meitzler and for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cemeteries as Tourist Spots

Here is an interesting piece in

Cemeteries are being recognized as resources to document the culture and history of communities in the United States.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chinese Genealogy and Architecture: An Interesting Combination

Here is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the centrality of genealogy and ancestry worship in China. It is eye-opening the extent of the respect and honor held for ancestors in China.

Thanks the Laura Carter, Tom Kemp and the Genealib list for bringing this article to my attention.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Shame of the Southern Cemeteries

A few years ago, I was traveling through the counties of North Georgia in search of a grave for a client. A long lost uncle had been buried in a Georgia county whose name will remain anonymous. At one stop in the County Clerk’s Office, an employee of the office suggested the grave may have been plowed up and become part of a farmer’s field of corn. At the time, I disregarded the comment as a simple attempt at sarcastic humor. But now, after several years of work in exploring and documenting cemeteries in Georgia, I realize this comment has more than a little bit of truth to it.

It seems as though Georgia cemeteries are often regarded as inconvenient hindrances to developers and urban expansion. Too many times I have encountered stories of cemeteries, some abandoned, some not, that are getting in the way of real estate development and the developers are working with county, or local officials to disrespect the final resting places of our ancestors.

A recent case in point: an African-American cemetery in the ritzy, Atlanta, neighborhood of Buckhead is being threatened by a developer. The cemetery has been abandoned for some time. It is, however, clearly a cemetery. At least one large tombstone is visible from the road. As abandoned property, the city took control of the land because of unpaid taxes. The developer then bought the land with the intention of building high rise condominiums on the property. Descendents of the cemetery residents are currently suing to stop the development. Yet, the simple fact they have to resort to litigation to stop the development is a truly shameful statement about the respect for the dead in the State of Georgia.

Disrespecting the dead is not a recent phenomenon in Georgia. An example from the not too distant past also comes to mind. In the 1970s, Georgia was developing the interstate system through the city of Atlanta. In the construction of the off-ramp for Cleveland Avenue in South Atlanta a cemetery was uncovered. At first, it was believed this cemetery was the remains of an historic slave cemetery. Later it was determined this was the neighborhood cemetery most often referred to as the Gilbert Cemetery with burials as early as 1847. It was an African-American cemetery. After more investigation, archeologists determined the cemetery was a relatively large burial ground; an estimated 700 to 1000 graves existed at one time. With development in the area in the 1960s, portions of the cemetery had been paved over for a liquor store parking lot. And, with the construction of I-75 the remainder of the cemetery had been uncovered.

Today, a memorial plaque, with some stones has been erected in the green space in the clover leaf exit of Cleveland Avenue. The memorial has made an effort to document some of the internments in the Gilbert Cemetery. But most of the dead will forever remain unknown. More than a memorial to the dead of Gilbert Cemetery the plaque at Cleveland Avenue more appropriately highlights the shameful treatment of the dead and the cemeteries in Georgia as they compete with development in the urban south.

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Documents Every Day

The National Archives has a backlog of 400-500 million pages of records that need to be processed. Footnote has uploaded 60 million images and is adding more than 1 million news records each month. Meanwhile, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has committed to digitizing their entire collection of more than 2.5 million reels of microfilm.

This information came courtesy of an editorial by Tony Burroughs on His point is one worth emphasizing, that new records are coming available every day. Because of this enormous increase in accessibility of information, the work of family history is never done. Because of this ever increasing abundance of information, Genealogists and Family Historians can never say we have searched every record and every document to find our ancestors.

The discovery and release of new records and documents is not simply an event from national institutions. Everyday, local historical societies and libraries make available new resources. As a local example, the Atlanta History Center acquired a spectacular newspaper collection in 2001. It has been processed and has been available to researchers for the past three years. The finding aid is just now being prepared for on-line research. In this collection are newspapers from North Georgia that were unknown to exist fifteen years ago! As these papers become more accessible it is exciting to think about the new information about our ancestors that will emerge from these pages.

Other examples of new document discoveries include plantation records becoming available in South Carolina after a repository re-processed a finding aid. Or, in South Georgia, loose records from Tattnall County have just recently been indexed and abstracted.

Militia rosters, orphanage records, and other resources are being uncovered each day. Truly, the access to information and resources increases with each sunrise. This is good news for all of the Genealogists and Family Historians in the world. This means our work is never done, and new resources are constantly being made available for use.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Benevolent Societies: Another Source for Family Research

Just recently, I have been working with a couple of fraternities to organize their papers into, a relatively, accessible archives. As I started to sort through the many minute books and rosters of members, I realized once again the value these books have for Family Historians and Genealogists. For someone who understands the history of a fraternity or benevolent association, the information contained in these pages could be invaluable.

Fraternal organizations and benevolent societies have been in existence since the times of Greece and Rome. The development of the Freemasons and their organizational scheme in the 1700s was a watershed time for all fraternal societies. Some historians go so far as to suggest that all benevolent organizations owe some credit to the Masons for leading the way in recruitment and membership.

The popularity of all fraternal organizations in the United States is particularly unique. Dating back to the Age of Jackson, the peculiar tendency of Americans to join fraternal societies was noted. In his work “Biography of a Nation of Joiners,” Arthur M. Schlesinger noted the popularity of fraternities in the United States. Membership seemed to expand exponentially after the Civil War. With the rise of industrialization, farmers moved to urban centers to find jobs in the factories. Increasingly, these farmers felt isolated, alienated, and living of the edge of financial ruin. In the event of death of the main bread winner a family could be left impoverished and with no means of survival.

The tendency towards sudden, violent death in the factories of the United States encouraged many workers to join benevolent societies and fraternal benefit organizations for financial security. These organizations guaranteed death benefits to families whose members died in the factories. Some of these groups evolved into labor unions, while others remained fraternal benefit organizations.

For Genealogists and Family Historians, all of this information is important as potential clues and direction to new research about our ancestors. Lists of members, benefits paid out, transfer requests, and simple minute books are all potential sources of information that may provide us with new information about our ancestors. Was your ancestor a member of the Royal Order of Hibernians? Or, were they members of the Order of Railway Conductors? After the Civil War, was an ancestor a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, or the Sons of the Confederacy?

There were hundreds of fraternal organizations and benevolent societies in the United States. If their records can be found, the membership of our ancestors may tell us a great deal for our family history.

Friday, October 9, 2009

In Praise of Newspapers

These days, it seems appropriate to remind readers the importance of newspapers to American society. For genealogists and family historians, newspapers are particularly valuable as sources of local information. Only in the pages of the newspapers in small town America can we learn of the local gossip, the travels and travails of our ancestors. Today, I want to acknowledge the value and importance of newspapers in greater society.

I have been informed that National Newspaper Week is coming up. Unfortunately, I feel as though I am writing the eulogy when I say that newspapers in the United States have played a vital role in the development of the country. It is not an exaggeration to describe the newspaper industry as the fourth column of defense in the promotion and advocacy of democracy in the world.

If you look back over time, newspapers in the United States have played a role in almost every major event in history. Beginning with the publication of the Declaration of Independence, when there were only 13 newspapers publishing in the country, and continuing up to the most recent coverage of the war in Iraq, or the recent Presidential election; news coverage has had an impact on the United States and world events.

At times, this influence has not always been positive; thinking back to the period of Yellow Journalism and the beginning of the Spanish American War. But, newspapers and editors have learned from their mistakes and more often than not, journalists have had a positive effect on United States events and history.

The bad news is that newspapers are slowly dying. The internet as the latest source of information, coupled with the sparseness of advertising, is slowly spelling the demise of paper copies of information. This is truly unfortunate. But the many causes of this death and the ramifications to American society are appropriate for another time. Today is simply a day to acknowledge the value of newspapers, the hard work of journalists and editors, and their influence on society. To everyone in the profession: Thank you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reading the Cemetery

The personality of a cemetery, like the character of a city, becomes obvious almost as soon as you enter the front gates. The green grass around well tended monuments, for example, suggests a character of quiet, noble honor. Elaborate mausoleums with excessive design adornments speak of gilded age excess. Flat brass markers suggest a love of nature; possibly this is an attempt to enhance natural vistas around the final resting place of our ancestors.

All of these examples, and so many more, serve to announce the character and personality of the cemetery. By learning to “read” the cemetery we can better understand the ancestors who are buried there. Even before we explore tombstones and monuments for symbolic meaning, we need to look at the landscaping, the design and craftsmanship found in the cemetery.

When a cemetery allows only flat brass markers, buried at ground level, the property ceases to be a cemetery and becomes a memorial park. Does this say something about the community that supports a memorial park? Do we accept that the community is striving to protect natural vistas? Or, is this simply an efficient and inexpensive method of maintenance?

In the western United States, some cemeteries have very little maintenance. Grass is not planted. Paths are marked with pea gravel; while plots have fences or raised beds of dirt. This may say something about the desert climate and the harsh living conditions experienced by our ancestors. Even in death, the cemetery underlines the hardiness and fortitude of our kin. Or, am I reading too much into the imagery? Are these, actually, signs of a partially abandoned cemetery?

Just these few examples highlight what it means to “read” the cemetery. Before we examine the tombstones and monuments for symbols and personal meaning, we need to look at the bigger picture. The character of the burial ground, like the larger community or our ancestors, can tell us a great deal about their personality.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October is Family History Month

With the coming holiday season, it seems appropriate to begin the season by thinking about family and family history. October is Family history month. As the months wind down, we have Halloween; then Thanksgiving is just around the corner. By the time we have finally digested the full turkey dinner, Christmas and the New Year are upon us. Mixed in between these dates, to commemorate diverse cultures and heritage, we have Dia de Muertos, Columbus Day, Kwanza, and Hanukah.

Regardless of which holidays you commemorate, the next three months is a time for celebration and family togetherness. Now is the time to think about adding to the family history and genealogy. Consider the possibilities. In the past, a number of ideas have been presented as ways to build our family history. There are a variety of ways to add new light to family history, or present the old material in different ways. Collecting oral histories, creating family websites, or blogs; or preserving and scanning family photographs are just a couple of ways to honor the family.

As you gear up for the coming holidays, enjoy family history month. This marks the beginning of three months of celebrating and honoring family. Happy Family History Month!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Memories of Weather

Now that we have survived the Great Flood of 2009, here in Atlanta, Georgia, I am reminded that as we write memoirs and family histories, we need to keep in mind the impact and influence of weather. We have all heard the stories about our parents, as children having to walk to school in the middle of winter, when the thermometer measured below zero temperatures. Our parents were barefoot and walking uphill, both to and from school, and grateful they were able to do it! But what was it really like? What sort of impact did the weather have on our parents and grandparents? These are important questions to answer.

Just recently, I was interviewing a lady who had lived through, and experienced some of the most deadly hurricanes in Miami, Florida. She was just a young girl when the Hurricane of 1926 hit. Her family stayed in their home, on Cocoa Beach, during the storm that killed an estimated 375 people. Just two years later, her family spent the night in the Cocoa Beach jail house (her father was a police officer) when the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane hit. This storm killed more than 2800 people. Then, seven years later she sat through the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane that killed more than 400 people. Her husband was one of the men volunteering to search for survivors and recover bodies from the train wreckage of the Key West railroad extension. The train, fully loaded with evacuees, was blown off the tracks and into the water off of Upper Matecumbe Key.

Yet, this lady has never been terribly disturbed by the threats of hurricanes. As she told me in her interview, “You know when a hurricane is coming. You can prepare for it and survive. I would rather live with hurricanes than tornados. You never know when the tornados might hit.”

Just this small portion of her interview provides some fascinating and dramatic information. So, you see, consider weather as a topic of discussion in oral histories, memoirs, or family histories. Snow storms or tornados; hurricanes or floods; a discussion of weather and its impact on our lives is always worth discussing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Guatemalan Archives Sheds New Light

Here is an interesting report out of the Smithsonian about a recently discovered police archives in Guatemala. Here are millions of documents that may shed light on the 30 year Civil War in the country as well as document the outcome of many cases of the "desaparecidos" from the war.

Simply processing, or even becoming familiar with this huge collection may be an overwhelmingly long task. Yet, the information will prove to be a historians dream.

Read more:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oakland Cemetery: Atlanta’s City of Angels

Exploring the cemeteries of Atlanta provides some interesting insight into the character of the city. Examining the mausoleums of Oakland Cemetery suggests a city of opulence in the midst of the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was the time between 1870 and 1900 when great industrialists and great wealth emerged. Outward displays of this wealth were evident in every facet of life, including in death. Other cemetery symbols reveal the sorrow of death and the innocence of life, a child’s life, cut short.

At Oakland Cemetery; the city cemetery for Atlanta, Ga., from 1855 until the mid-1900s, a dominant feature seems to be an abundance of angles as grave markers and memorials. Each of these stone figures reveal a number of symbols, hope sand beliefs for the men and women buried in Atlanta’s silent city.

Some angels are the recorders of lives well lived and directional chaperones to a better after life. Angels holding books, with a quill pen, and possibly pointing heavenward, are common in the streets and paths of Oakland Cemetery. These figures could also serve as memorials to great and influential deeds, again going back to the “life well lived.”

Still other angels are angels of kindness or sympathy. These monuments are the memorials, generally to women, that highlight a life of blessed thoughtfulness and devotion; or “true sainthood.” Such is the case of Mary Glover Thurmond, who regularly would visit the sick and deliver flowers from her own garden. Her nephew arranged her monument, a tribute to a true angel and her compassion

Perhaps the most prominent of angels is Gabriel. He is the angel of glory; holding his horn ready to announce the second coming. At Oakland, he is the focal point of several family plots. The Joseph Brown plot is an outstanding example of Gabriel preparing to blow his horn.

There are an abundance of angels in Oakland Cemetery. Each of these angels, as with every symbol, represents something special for the dead and their families. Each of these silent figures gives a brief statement about the hopes and dreams, beliefs and expectations of the residents, and former residents, of Atlanta.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I’m Not Dead Yet!

Cemetery traditions of the nineteenth century include multiple tales of individuals, inadvertently, being buried alive. After all, prior to the invention of the stethoscope, there was no really accurate way of testing for a heartbeat. Best practices included holding a mirror to the mouth of the dead, to see if they were still breathing.

In order to reassure surviving family members that their kin would not be buried alive, coffin builders and morticians provided coffins with bells attached to the lid. A string would run into the coffin and tied to the finger of the dead. If the person stirred in the coffin, their hand would move and the bell would ring. In this way, the deceased could announce to the entire world, “I’m not dead yet!” And in this way save themselves from being buried alive.

Some historians suggest this fear of being buried alive was the original cause for the three day wake. Family members were expected to stay with the body for three days, giving close attention to witness any stirring or movement that might suggest there was still life in the corpse. This fear of being buried alive might also explain why early wakes were in the home. If someone were still living, they would find themselves lying near their own bed, in the comfort of their own home

Many cemeteries throughout the country built “bell rooms” for family members to continue the wake process.

A well known tale from Atlanta about this fear concerns the death of Dr. James Nissen, a physician visiting Atlanta at the time of his death. Nissen spoke to his good friend Dr. Noel D’Alvigny about his fears. He also extracted a promise from his friend that before he was covered in the ground, Dr. D’Alvigny would slice his jugular vein to insure Dr. Nissen was dead. As best as I can determine, the wish was carried out.

So, you see, the caring for the dead is a very tradition-rich process. Not only does it carry a number of associations with Judeo-Christian ethic, but there are many practical applications for the actions connected with preparing someone for burial. Perhaps, most important is the opportunity to announce: “I’m not Dead Yet!”

More Discouraging Economic News

There is more bad news on the economic front. The Free Library of Philadelphia will close its doors! This is perhaps the most tragic of recent events. The closure of an entire library is absolutely devastating news. It is an unspoken truth that needs to be vocalized over, and over, again: this action will hurt more than it will help. We need to rethink our priorities and economic policies when such ignominious actions result.

The official announcement follows:

All Free Library of Philadelphia Customers,

We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

Specifically, the following will take effect after the close of business, October 2, 2009:

All branch and regional library programs, including programs for children and teens, after school programs, computer classes, and programs for adults, will be cancelled

All Parkway Central Library programs, including children programs, programs to support small businesses and job seekers, computer classes and after school programs, will be cancelled. We are exploring the possibility of relocating the Philadelphia Author Series programs to other non-library facilities.

All library visits to schools, day care centers, senior centers and other community centers will cease.

All community meetings at our branch and regional libraries, and the Parkway Central Library, will be cancelled.

All GED, ABE and ESL programs held at Free Library branches will be discontinued, students should contact their teacher to see if other arrangements are being made.

In addition, all library materials will be due on October 1, 2009. This will result in a diminishing borrowing period for books and other library materials, beginning September 11, 2009. No library materials will be able to be borrowed after September 30, 2009.

Even as we remain hopeful that the State Legislature will act and pass the enabling funding legislation, we wanted to notify all of our customers of this very possible outcome. If you have any questions about impacts to Free Library services, call 215-686-5322, or visit the Free Library of Philadelphia website at If you have questions about changes to City services, or if you want to be kept informed about this situation, we encourage you to contact Philly 311 by calling 3-1-1 between the hours of 8am and 8 pm Monday-Friday, and 9am-5pm Saturdays, e-mail, or visit the City of Philadelphia website at

Finally, recognize Dick Eastman and his diligent work for bringing this news to the broader public audience.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Too Much Trust in Technology

Here again is an article that just reinforces my skepticism about technology. Just imagine the consequences of this!

And, thanks to Eastman's Newsletter for bringing this New York Times article to my attention. Thanks Dick.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Praise of Maps

I just recently returned from a week long research trip to my ancestors’ homes in Nebraska. While there I uncovered new information from local obituaries and cemetery plots. Yet, the truly amazing material came from maps.

It is impossible to describe the absolute thrill of opening a plat map and finding your ancestor’s name attached to a piece of land. There it was, as plain as day: J.H Brubaker, owning 360 acres just a few miles south and west of Angora, Nebraska. Just south of Brubaker was Alice Tiernan, a sister-in-law, with the school house located in the corner or her property.

The family folklore always said that the local ranchers had to provide a schoolhouse and a school teacher for the local children. They were too far from town to commute to and from school. Here was verification, there was the schoolhouse! The family lore went on to say that three brothers each married the new school teacher. It was always hard to keep a teacher because of the warm smile and wily charms of the Brubaker boys. I wonder if this was also true?

Maps are truly a wonderful, and under utilized resource from family history. Locating this land and driving so close to it, has given me a special sense of my family and their lifestyles in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Plat maps, road maps, topographical maps, and birds-eye views are truly amazing and informative resources. And a great thrill to find. Not only can they tell us street names and property names, they can give us a sense of location. These treasures of information can tell us how someone lived by telling us where our ancestors lived. The proximity to cities, or transportation, or education all provide clues and details about the daily lives of our families and our ancestors.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yet, Another Lost Cemetery Found

This makes for some interesting reading.

The Lively Family Massacre

Imagine searching through your family history, hitting a brick wall, and receiving national attention and assistance to smash through that brick wall. In recent years several programs have been developed to provide entertainment and, at the same time, assistance in genealogy research. The latest of these programs is called “Legend Seekers,” a production Madonna Davis and Ken Marks to help researchers track family legends and folklore.

I have had the pleasure of viewing the first program in the series, and it receives high marks. Titled “The Lively Family Massacre,” the program documents the folklore of the Lively Family that was killed by Native Americans in 1813, Illinois. A daughter from the family survived only because she was living with another family at the time. Her descendents were introduced in the program, and using genealogy and local history professionals, the site and graves of the Lively family members were tracked down.

In what was an amazing bit of research, investigation, and luck the original burial sites of the Lively family were located on timber land owned by a private lumber company. Only through great fortune has the graves not been disturbed by almost 200 years of progress and development. It is also a very emotional highpoint when the ancestors find what is presumed to be the grave markers.

This is a great video. It is certainly worth viewing. And, the series promises to be equally valuable and entertaining. I would urge everyone to contact their local public broadcasting station and urge them to schedule “Legend Seekers” as part of their programming.

Friday, July 10, 2009

More Economic News

Well, the economy continues to hurt every aspect of life. For genealogists and historians, the news seems particularly bleak, this week, as more and more libraries are cutting back hours, laying off staff, and reducing access.

Just last week, the Gwinnett County Library announced a reduction in public hours at each of the branch libraries. The libraries will close on Sunday and Monday, and reduce hours the rest of the week, for a savings of 28 hours per week, per library. On the national level, Ohio libraries have announced closures and staff reductions, and in this morning's e-mail the Sutro Library, the major genealogy library in San Francisco announced early closures.

I realize there are no easy answers for this economic crisis. New ideas need to be explored to continue to provide long term funding for greater access to libraries and other research institutions.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Declaration of Independence Found

Imagine working through collections at an archives and suddenly finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence! Well, here is that story. This is absolutely fascinating.

I wish I could claim credit for finding this article, but thanks goes to Dick Eastman and his genealogy newsletter for passing on this article.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Misapplication of Technology in Genealogy and Family History Research

Okay, I am aware of the irony here. I am using the newer technologies to attack that same technology. But, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the over-reliance on technology. It is time we stepped back and gave some serious thought to what we are doing.

So, here is my rant on technology...

Several weeks ago, while reading postings on a list serv the question was presented: how do you reference, or write a footnote for information from Facebook? The author of the post was updating her family history and a recent wedding was announced on a Facebook page. My initial response to the post was to think about simply writing a letter requesting a copy of the marriage certificate or at least a wedding announcement. After some further thought a number of questions slowly formed in my brain: Have we gone too far? Are we so reliant upon technology and the promise of instant gratification that we can’t be bothered to write a letter or pursue more in-depth documentation? What is happening to our research skills that we rely upon instant messaging, e-mail, and blogs, text messaging and scanned image databases to provide us with the information we are seeking? With the growing capacity of information storage on computers, we seem to be moving closer to a paper-less society. Is that a good thing?

Another example of the shortcomings of researchers is the expectation that all information is stored on the internet. How many of us have encountered beginning genealogists who have searched one of the several on-line databases of the United States census and failed to find their ancestors? The most common response from these novice researchers seems to be, “I guess they just can’t be found.” This reflects the failure of all genealogists who don’t explain the serious limitations to on-line information. We need to do a better job of understanding and teaching the short comings of the on-line resources. We need to de-emphasize the value of computers and get back to the books and original documents as research tools.

We need to realize and emphasize the short comings of technology.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Value of Seminars

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting Savannah, GA, as part of a weekend genealogy seminar. The information was great. More important than the information, I came away from the seminar rejuvenated, ready to do more in my family history research.

This is the great benefit to attending and participating in seminars and annual meetings. It seems as those every time I attend a local or national meeting, the energy in the classrooms and during the breaks between sessions generates a rebirth of interest. Not only do I come away with new ideas, but I am always anxious to put those new ideas into practice. I wonder if this isn't the case for most people attending these meetings.

So, for anyone that has the time and inclination, I urge you to take part in local, regional, or national genealogy meetings and seminars. They can have a wonderful effect. And there are an abundance of meetings to attend.

The National Genealogical Society is meeting in May in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Federation of Genealogical Societies annual meeting is in September, in Little Rock.

local organizations generally meet on a quarterly or monthly basis:

The Georgia Genealogical Society meets quarterly, and they have an variety of topics for Genealogical and Family History research.

A regional course that has an interesting format and is incredibly valuable are the Family History Expos that are staged throughout the west. Holly Hansen and this group put together an interesting and informative series of programs. They are held throughout the west and each weekend offers different lectures. I have been to a couple of these, in Ogden, UT, and Mesa, AZ, and I a looking forward to attending more. This is a great way to learn Genealogy and Family History research techniques.

So, take in the available seminars. Not only are these relaxing weekends away from the office, they provide a wealth of information and they also serve to rejuvenate the researching spirit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Researching Outside of the Box

In a recent seminar about researching Irish ancestors, David Rencher made an interesting point. Because many Irish records were destroyed in 1922, researchers have been forced to think outside of the box and use creative methods to develop clues to find ancestors. This same idea can be applied to any research in any location that presents a challenge.

As an example, in the counties of Georgia where courthouses have been burned, alternate resources can be found with a little imagination. Tax records might replace deeds. Wills have multiple copies, if the courthouse record is gone, search the lawyers. Archival collections generally contain a huge number of copied records. A case in Atlanta, a Fulton County Justice of the Peace kept his copies of legal notices and court orders. Those have all been donated to the Atlanta History Center. A huge collection of records that document the daily legal system of North Fulton County sits waiting to be utilized by genealogists and other historians. A large number of names of individuals living around North Fulton County are available for anyone willing to search.

A more common example is with the 1890 census. Since a majority of these records were destroyed long ago, new methods to search the decade of the 90s needs to be found. Again, tax records and court records need to be explored. In addition, for metropolitan areas, city directories can be used. Farm directories and almanacs may also serve the purpose in place of the federal census.

So you see, although David Rencher was making a point specific to Ireland, the same ideas have a universal application. As genealogists and researchers we need to think outside of the box, move beyond the conventional resources and find our ancestors in other, more accessible records and documents. They are out there, we simply need to use imagination to find these hidden treasures.

Monday, March 2, 2009

There Is No Such Thing as a Boring Life

In a recent conversation with a professional historian, she confessed that she really hadn't fully explored her family history. "After all," she said, "they were a bunch of boring farmers in the Midwest." After thinking about our conversation for several days it strikes me that this lady's ideas about history are unfortunate. She seems to hold onto the concept of monumental events as the only worthy history.

I have the urge to stand on the rooftops and declare how detrimental this concept is to the larger field of history. If you will excuse my flashback to Christmas, the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" makes an important point. Every life is exciting and worth recording for posterity. And every life has an unforeseen impact on the world. Only after we sit back, document and interpret that life do we truly appreciate the impact.

In the case of my family, my father was a railroad worker; my grandfather worked for the railroads; my great-grandfather worked for the railroads. For three generations my family helped move people and business across the country. For three generations my family was part of the most influential and powerful segment of the United States economy. If you talk to retired railroad workers you will find out this was one of the most exciting and romantic jobs in America until the 1960s.

By the same token, my friend's "boring farmers" helped feed the world. In economic crisis in the 19th century, and during two world wars and post war periods, these "boring farmers" provided life giving sustenance to the world.

So, you see, there is not such thing as a boring life. In family history it is our job to revel in the daily adventures of our ancestors and document their contributions to the world. There is no such thing as a "boring farmer," and as family historians it is part of our job to make that clear.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Family Histories Need To Be Written

"Your friends don't tell you to record everything that you remember about the dead person because you will indeed forget many things over time"--Bliss Broyard, pg 315 of One Drop

How often do we sit, after the death of a loved one and think about writing their biography? We want to capture the memories before they completely fade away. Yet, we allow the memories to fade. We never get around to writing about the live that has passed. And, this is probably the greatest tragedy of family history research, we don't write it down. Now granted, the process of recording the life of someone who has just died is incredibly painful. I have been trying to do exactly this in the past two years since my Dad died. I have only managed 20 pages. So, I know it is incredibly stressful and difficult, but to keep going I keep telling myself, "Dad deserves more," (excuse the cliche).

This is one of the few times I need to make the distinction between family history and genealogy. I am not referring to basic genealogy--recording the name and vital statistics of each of our ancestors. I am referring to family history--the collecting of stories that define the character and personality of each individual ancestor. The stories that help us understand the lives of the people we love. This is what we need to write down and save for future generations--the biographies of all of our ancestors.

As I have said, recording and writing the memories, or memoirs, or biographies, of our ancestors is never easy. Recording the lives of those closest to us is perhaps the most difficult. But in the end, after the struggle to put pen to paper is over, the product is probably one of the most rewards treasures we will ever create.

As a stray note: while you are thinking about writing biographies, you might write your own memories. Why not create that autobiography? In generations to come, how would you want to be remembered? What wisdom and advice do you want to pass on? Writing your autobiography may help, may provide a practice run, for writing future biographies.

There is an old saying, something like: "one man's death diminishes us all." In other words, we are all important in this world. We all have some worth, some contributions to make, or leave, before we die. So consider, sharing your worth, sharing your live, and at the same time, share the lives of those before us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hi, I'm Back

Okay, so it has been almost a year since I last posted a blog. And, I am resolving to do better. The challenge I have, like everyone else in the world, is that there simply isn't enough time in the day to do everything on my agenda. But, I promise to do more with this blog.

Something that I have been thinking about lately is the lack of family histories in the world. I am told that genealogy is the single most popular hobby in the world today. In the United States, alone, more than 75 percent of adults have expressed interest in their family history. It seems that we should be writing more. It is a straight forward process: Tell me about your family. Yes, I understand it is so much easier, and less time consuming, if you simply repeat the stories passed from generation to generation. The oral history is great, but we need to write it down.

A good friend once suggested to me that anything worth saving is worth writing down. The old cliche, "talk is cheap," applies here. Repeating stories does not guarantee the stories will be remembered. So, we need to write them down. The blogs, the web pages, the Internet resources are all ephemeral. If you want to make it last, WRITE IT DOWN.

Okay, enough of my soapbox rantings for today. And, I promise to visit again soon.