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.