Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Gedney family of Illinois, and why writing is still compulsory for genealogists

Suddenly more than one-third of 2017 is history! Two other articles of mine have seen the light of day:

“Yes, Writing Is Compulsory! Here’s How to Make It Work,” Federation of Genealogical Societies Forum 29 (Spring 2017): 18-21.

I hope this will inspire others to turn their research into readable and documented stories, and not leave an indigestible lump of disorganized notes (which is generally what I start with!). It is not enough to leave a database or a stack of papers. Thanks to FGS's Julie Cahill Tarr for making sure I got it done.

“From Fens to Farms: William and Rebecca (Wright) Gedney of Cowbit, Lincolnshire and Lebanon, Illinois,” Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly (Spring 2017): 30-34.

Thanks to ISGSQ editor Terry Feinberg for helping nudge this into the right length and shape (William and Rebecca and their children), and for instituting footnotes instead of endnotes in the quarterly!

This is my maternal grandfather's mother's line; the bulk of the family came to the U.S. in 1842 (John Tyler was president), sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans and then traveling up the Mississippi to St. Clair County, Illinois, opposite St. Louis. Some children arrived earlier; it was a chain-like migration. William and Rebecca's twelve children, born 1805-1832, had a total of more than two dozen grandchildren. Seven of the twelve lived to have children, and married into families surnamed Green, Wilson, Flint (twice), Lord (twice), Sims, Frost, Eastwood, Barton, Thornton, and Sowers.

I need to figure out the best way(s) to publish the much longer four-generation story, as many family members spilled into Missouri and Kansas while others stayed rooted in Illinois.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Good times at the 2017 NGS conference

* Being present Friday when my friend and colleague Karen Stanbary was presented the award for outstanding article published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in 2016: "Rafael Arriaga, a Mexican Father in Michigan: Autosomal DNA Helps Identify Paternity." Even readers not fluent in DNA will be able to glimpse the power in this technique.

* Hearing LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson's eloquent and nuanced talk at the BCG luncheon Thursday, "Condemnation of Memory: Recalling that African American Genealogy Is American Genealogy" -- which introduced me to some new tools as well.

* Hearing presentations by David Ouimette on Thursday ("Silent Border Crossings: Tracing the Elusive Immigrant Who Left Only Breadcrumbs for Clues") and Thomas W. Jones on Friday ("Converting a Bunch of Information into a Credible Conclusion"). Assemblage is a key intermediate stage between gathering evidence and writing it up. Sometimes we can do it in our heads, but in the more difficult cases we need to lay it all out in plain sight.

* Talking with genealogists, both vintage and new. It seems that is now the main thing I do at national conferences.

* Spending several days within a few blocks of the North Carolina State Archives . . . without ever actually getting there!

* Appreciating the ongoing work to establish good standards for the use of DNA in genealogy.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Letting it go

 What do you throw away? What do you keep? What do you restore? What do you allow to deteriorate?

These questions in historic preservation -- the English call it "heritage," which doesn't presuppose as much -- are addressed provocatively, philosophically, and concretely by cultural geographer Caitlin DeSilvey in her new book Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving. She mostly discusses buildings, but in chapter two she reflects on her graduate work on a recently abandoned Montana homestead that was "not yet old enough to be interesting to (most) archaeologists and too marginal and dilapidated to be a straightforward candidate for historic preservation." When does an old book cross the line from a memory receptacle to mouse food?

Anyone who has ever dealt with the household goods and papers of the recently deceased will find rich food for thought  -- not always comfortable thought -- here.

"Dust to dust" is not the preservationist's motto, nor is it the genealogist's. But it is a fact. Not everything can be preserved. (And if it could we would soon drown in it.) Saving, preserving, restoring, remembering, all run against the entropic tide of nature. If we don't focus those efforts we're just hoarding.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Never ignore childless siblings!

One of my immigrant ancestors had six children between 1795 and 1815, one of whom apparently died young. Two of the six were daughters who married but had no children. Their husbands both left wills.

One husband's will left everything to his wife if she survived him. If she did not, he divided his estate in half -- one half to be divided among his surviving siblings, and the other half to be divided among his wife's siblings . . . He named them all, including the one we thought had died as a baby, with her married name. Both had common names, there was no other way to find her.

When I started reading his will, I thought, well, this is pretty far out on a limb. But in genealogy, "out on a limb" is a wise place to be.

Friday, April 28, 2017

After a fifteen-month nap (er, hiatus) I will try restarting this blog on a weekly basis.

* The big genealogy news is Karen Jones's planned retirement as editor of one of the top five US scholarly genealogy journals. Those who have worked with and for her at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record wish her the best (and longest!) retirement, with many delayed ancestors found and published.

* Speaking of the Record, I have a short article in the January issue: “‘A continual claim and struggle’: DeGrove Gleanings from the Appellate Court,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 148 (January 2017): 61-64. It's a brief addendum to William DeGrove's ongoing saga of this New York family in the 19th century.

* It's never a mistake to draw up a timeline! I prepared one just to cut out a lot of boring text in a family history. It showed some interesting connections and unexpectedly provoked more city directory research, leading to some original records that may shed light on a Pennsylvania-Ohio family that is visible in only one census between 1860 and 1900. With luck this could be a publishable article in itself.

* GRIP may be the only genealogy institute capable of bilocation, with Deb Deal representing it at this weekend's Ohio conference and Elissa Powell doing the same in New England.

Monday, February 8, 2016

From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write Proof Arguments! at GRIP

This summer -- July 22-27 at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh -- Kimberly Powell and I will again be coordinating a week-long course that focuses on tools we can use to meet the last three prongs of the Genealogical Proof Standard:

* analysis and correlation,

* resolving conflicts, and

* writing a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion (without which no genealogical conclusion can be considered proven).

We don't mean to neglect the first two prongs -- thorough research and good citations -- but we think many genealogists are ready to zero in more closely on these three. (If you need citations consider this June offering.)

Much of the course involves taking apart published articles and considering how they work and (in some cases) how they came to be. There will also be daily interactive analysis and writing exercises and discussions.

There's a reason for this case-by-case and hands-on approach: every genealogical problem requires different tools and approaches; very few general rules work. Every confusion is different, and it reaches conclusion in a different way. So we will try to fill your toolboxes, and not say that you should solve all problems by using (say) a screwdriver.

Thomas W. Jones PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, and Melissa Johnson CG will each be teaching two sessions.

Quick info here.

A bunch of additional details, day by day, here.

We're in the process of updating the linked information to reflect the fact that William Litchman cannot be with us this year and Melissa Johnson will be bringing knowledge gained from her publications in NGSQ and NYGBR.

Signup for this second session of GRIP begins [CORRECTION!] Wednesday, March 2, at noon Eastern, 11 am Central, 10 am Mountain, and 9 am Pacific. For many inhabitants of the first two time zones, Pittsburgh is within reasonable driving distance. 

When last offered, the course filled very quickly. This year we do ask students to be familiar with the concepts presented in the relevant chapters of Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013). We hope to see you there!

[slightly amplified about an hour after first post]

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Try to remember . . .

The science-fiction writer who coined the term "cyberspace" reflects on how difficult it is to recapture a world without television or recorded sound. I've always thought of this in the future tense, in that I have no idea how to write a memoir addressed to the future, because I don't know what will have become unfamiliar, but I think he's struck a deeper chord. What exactly was it that I did when there was no ever-present screen to interact with? (Emphases added.)

"It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.

"My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted."

William Gibson, interviewed by David Wallace-Wells, The Paris Review, Summer 2011