Saturday, October 12, 2013

Society Saturday – GSV Fall Meeting

Today was the Fall meeting of the Genealogical Society ofVermont (GSV), which took place in Rutland, Vermont.  I joined the Society last year, but wasn’t able to make it to the Spring meeting, so this was my first exposure to the group outside of reading the newsletters and a couple of interactions with the Facebook group.

I was very pleased with the meeting.  There were just under 30 people in attendance, most of who seemed to have known each other for some time.  Despite being a newcomer, I didn’t feel unwelcome at all.  I chatted with a few people, and found some common research interests.  The highlight of the meeting, however, was definitely the three presentations that were given.

The first speaker, William Powers, Jr., gave numerous examples of the importance of finding several sources of documentation before coming to a conclusion.  Cases ranged from incorrect tombstone inscriptions to census records with similar, but not correct names.  The presentation was entertaining, and the speaker was excellent.

Michael Dwyer gave the next presentation, which was a summary of his search for third great-grandmother’s husband, Silas Hall.  Again, the speaker was entertaining and the information interesting.  He showed how some ancestors “flavored” their stories, sometimes making them more difficult to track down.  In some cases the flavoring may be an innocent embellishment of facts.  In other cases, such as Silas Hall, the flavoring may be more purposeful (such as having three wives).

The final presentation, given by Jim Davidson of the Rutland Historical Society was my favorite.  Mr. Davidson outlined numerous sources available for information on the Rutland area, beginning with the late 18th century and working up to the early 20th century.  Many of the sources have been put online by the Historical Society, or are available either at the Historical Society building or the Rutland Free Library.  Since my wife’s family is from the Rutland area, I now have several new options to check out for information.

After attending this meeting, I’m looking forward to attending more next year and possibly becoming more involved with the Society as I get to know the organization more.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Founding – The Start of My Life

Prompt 2 of The Book of Me is “Your Birth”.

I don’t have many baby pictures of myself.  I know I’ve seen a few, but somehow they haven’t come into my possession.  The photo shown here is of my family, about 5 months after my birth.  We’re standing in front of my grandmother’s house, which was just below the house that my parents built when my sister was small.  Based on this photo, I’d say that I was a pretty typical bald little infant.

The start of my life, however, based on what I’ve been told, wasn’t boring.  First, my mother, due to a medical condition, wasn’t supposed to have any children after my brother.  Not only did she give birth to me, she lived long enough to see me graduate from college.  Next, I arrived a month earlier than expected.  My mother always told me that I didn’t want to miss 1972.  Being a month premature, I was transported from the hospital in Springfield, VT to what is now Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where I spent my first few days in an incubator.

Everything must have turned out well.  At some point, I’m guessing before Christmas, my parents brought me home.  Since I was a near Christmas baby, they brought me home in a stocking.  I remember my mother showing me the stocking one time when I was a kid, but I’m not sure what happened to it.  The stocking, apparently, was a gift from the hospital to all of the December babies.

The best story from my birth?  I have a small flat spot on the end of my nose, roughly the size of a fingertip.  My mother used to tease me by telling me that I when I was born the doctor put his finger on my nose and said “Awww…  He’s sooo cute!” and my nose stuck that way forever.  The story may have been a fiction, but my flat-tipped nose always makes me smile and think of mom.

Friday Find - Unnamed Batchelder Comes Home

A few years ago I traded a friend of mine some maple syrup for a box of Walton's Vermont Register books from the late 1800s. The original owner of the registers kept daily notes in the front of them. It was obvious that he was a farmer, and that he lived near where I grew up, based on some of his entries. There were mentions of "Went to S. Derry", "Went to Weston", "Went to Landgrove". I always thought it would be neat if he had been from Peru (where I grew up), but I never really thought much more about it.

Tonight, I started reading through the entries of the 1898 edition. In addition to place names, the names "S. Stiles" and "Simmonds" were frequently mentioned. Stiles and Simmonds were families in Peru way back when. I kept looking through the entries, till I got to October 31st. The entry was "Edmond Batchelder died." Edmund Batchelder was my great-grandfather's name, though he didn't die until the 1930s. I flipped the page. November 2nd, "Edmond Batchelder buried." November 3rd, "Fannie Cross buried."

Fannie Cross was my great-grandfather's first wife. I'd never found a death date for her. I checked FamilySearch for the date and place, and sure enough, there she was. Fannie Cross, wife of Edmund Batchelder died from "Shock after child birth" on 1 November, 1898. I checked my database. I had an unnamed baby girl, stillborn to Edmund and Fannie on 1 November, 1898. It appears that the unnamed baby girl may actually have been a boy, named after his father, and born late on October 31st or early on November 1st. Unfortunately mother and child didn't survive.

I've heard of ancestors finding us instead of us finding them, but I've never had it happen before. Not only did the writer of the daily entries live in Peru, he knew my great-grandfather's family. Weird how a penciled entry by someone who knew my great-grandfather found it's way out of Vermont, down to Connecticut to a friend of mine, then to me, taking 100+ years to travel.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Follow Friday – The Book of Me

I’ve been seeing the title “The Book of Me, Written by You” pop up in various readings over the last few days.  Last night, I decided to check out exactly what it was all about.

Julie Goucher at Anglers Rest has kicked off an interesting idea: Tell your story, from your point of view, for future generations.  The basic concept is that each week Julie will post a prompt or question.  Participants then use that to tell their story.  I’ve considered writing a sort of autobiography before, but usually end up asking myself if my children or grandchildren would really be interested.  I am, after all, just a guy who goes to work every day, then comes home, then does it all again the next day.

But, so were my ancestors.

Writing about yourself seems weird at first, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if great-great-great-grandma had written her own story down?  Maybe her children wouldn’t have cared to read it, but I certainly would.  So, for myself and any future folks who might be interested in reading it, I’ve decided to participate in “The Book of Me”.  I can use this as a prompt to get me writing again, and perhaps one day someone will read my words and get a sense of what life in 2013 and before was like.

Prompt 1 is something that I’ve done before: Ask yourself 20 times “Who are you?”

For this one, I went back and found the notebook from a couple of years ago where I had done this exercise.  At the time, I was at a low point in my life where many events came together at the same time, causing stress, heavy depression and anxiety.  I was literally questioning who I was, and used this exercise to help myself focus on the important parts of my life.

Instead of twenty answers to the question, the original exercise that I had done asked for ten answers, which were than organized by order of importance.  Here are my original answers.

Who am I?

I am a father – I enjoy raising my children. I value their friendship, and I am delighted by their curiosity.  I’ve enjoyed watching my oldest grow into a person I can be proud of, and I like watching my youngest experiment with new toys and games

I am curious – I love to learn how things are done.  New skills.  I’m also curious about how people work, and why they do the things they do on an individual level

I am an artist – I enjoy being creative and bringing new things into the world. I appreciate the art and talent of others. I like being able to expand on those ideas, and to bring my visions and thoughts into a tangible form.  Writing, sculpting and building are all the same

I am a craftsman – I enjoy building and working with my hands. Crafting combines my artistic and practical sides.  I enjoy making something useful or different out of raw materials. I’d build a house starting with an axe and a stand of trees if I could.

I am a knowledge seeker – I love to learn and research. Once I know how something is done, I look for the next thing to learn.  I sometimes lose focus when a new skill crosses my path, as I want to learn it immediately.

I am a Lost Boy – I like to play. I sometimes think that I am still 10 years old.  I still make up stories and play pretend.  I enjoy games and toys and stories.

I am analytical – I analyze ideas, looking at them from a practical side. At work, when ideas are tossed out, I immediately begin thinking about how it can physically be achieved. I’m frustrated by timelines that are shorter than what I know to be practical. I research my own projects, looking for the best way to achieve my goals. I try to look for the best way to solve a problem. Sometimes this leaves the problem unsolved, as I continue to look for the best answer

I am an old Vermonter – I feel connected to the mountains. I miss “the old ways” and my family. I want to keep our culture alive.

I am a husband – I chose to be.

I am a thoughtful person – I think all the time. It seems that my head is always busy coming up with new ideas or analyzing old ones, including processes that I wish could be better.

Could I add ten more items to this list?  Probably, but they would all be variations on the same theme.  Looking back at this list from a few years ago, I find that my answers are still basically the same.  In short, I’m an artsy/crafty family man with an intellectual side.  While it’s true that I go to work each day, then come home, then repeat the routine again, you can see from my answers that work is not who I am.  Work is just what I do to earn a living.  This is something that I'll keep in mind as I research my ancestors.  They may have been listed as "tinsmith" or "farmer" on paper records, but it's likely they were so much more than just their occupations.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday - Something Fishy

One of my favorite genealogical activities is walking through cemeteries, checking out the names of those who have gone before us.  Every so often, though, I come across a name that makes me stop and say, “Wait. What?”

Such is the case of this stone that I walked past in Ira, Vermont a few weeks ago.

Gravestone of Anna Fish, Riverside Cemetery, Ira, VT
1804 – 1846

“Really?” I thought.  “Someone named their child Served Fish?”

It gets better though.  As I got ready to write this blog post, I looked up Served’s birth record.  His father: Preserved Fish.

Sometimes you really can’t make this stuff up.

Birth Record, Served Fish. Vermont, Vital Records, 1720-1908 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: State of Vermont. Vermont Vital Records through 1870. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.State of Vermont. Vermont Vital Records, 1871–1908. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Fears – Ancestry’s “New Search”

It’s been an interesting few days on the APG mailing list.  Ancestry has announced that it will end access to its “old search”.  This means that all users will have to use “new search”.

Before I go any further, for those who don’t follow Ancestry, “new search” has been in place for years, so it’s not really all that new.

What’s been interesting is watching the outrage from professionals on the APG mailing list.  Many of those folks, it seems, have been using the “old search” as it gives them better results than the “new search.”  For the record, I’ve been using the new search for so long that I had forgotten that there was a different way to search.  This may be why I’m having so much trouble understanding the annoyance these professionals have been showing due to Ancestry’s business decision.

What Ancestry has done really isn’t any different than what any software company does.  They come up with a new product, and end support for the old version.  Microsoft does this with operating systems every few years.  Like Microsoft, Ancestry supported the old system for a number of years, but now, likely for business reasons that users are not privy too, must end support for that system.  As a developer myself, I can tell you first hand that it’s no fun trying to support different systems, especially when you know that one is unprofitable or, as Ancestry has stated in regards to “old search”, little used.

To a point, I understand the user’s frustration.  No one likes changing their habits.  However, my personal opinion is that Ancestry gave folks plenty of time to learn the new system before retiring the old.  The most common complaint that I’m seeing is that the new search returns too many results.  Understandable, but these complaints are coming from folks who routinely browse old records on microfiche, often with no help from any sort of search engine.  They should be used to sifting through large amounts of data.

A few weeks ago, on the Transitional Genealogist’s mailing list, there was a discussion about computer algorithms and how they could be used in the future to sift through large amounts of genealogical data.  The general opinion that I saw with that discussion basically boiled down to “a computer could never do what I do.  It will miss results.”  Ancestry’s new search sort of swings the pendulum in the opposite direction.  It doesn’t miss results, because it’s willing to show unrelated results (and often does).  It leaves it up to the user to filter the obvious misses out.

Okay.  So one group says that computers can’t refine data as well as a human.  Another group says that they want the computer to refine the data they look at.  Which group is right?

Both, I’d say.  This, I believe, is one of those impossible tasks of trying to please everyone.  There’s probably a middle ground, but Ancestry hasn’t found it yet.  Keep in mind that Ancestry is also a business.  Their product is crafted for a wide audience.  Maybe they are missing their target demographic, or maybe they know exactly what they are doing based on their own business analysis of years’ worth of “old search”/”new search” data.  Either way, Ancestry changed their method.  It works for some, but not others.  The others will either adapt, or leave Ancestry.  It’s a natural process.  Users can fear it (it is change after all), or try to embrace it.  My hope is that genealogists will adapt.  That is, hopefully, what we do.  If we didn’t, we’d always be looking for the same information in the same places, never learning anything new.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Find – Unknown Siblings

First, I’ll apologize in advance for writing this without my research notes in front of me.  I have documentation, but I won’t be able to cite it here (Bad genealogist!  Go lie down by your reference manuals!).

While researching my great-grandfather, Edmund Batchelder, the other night, I found something that I didn’t expect.  My grandfather had three sisters, not just one.

While growing up, I had only ever heard of and met my great-aunt Helen.  She was the younger sibling of my grandfather, and the only girl.  When her mother passed away, she took on part of the role of raising her younger brother, my great-uncle Ken.  Aunt Helen and Uncle Ken had always been close, living on opposites of the mountain from each other, but visiting frequently.  Family and relations were always a topic of conversation at family reunions and other gatherings.  So why had I never heard of the other two sisters?

Both were stillborn.

While researching Edmund, I naturally looked at census records.  The 1900 and 1910 Federal Census records list the number of children born to mothers.  In Edmund’s case, I noticed that both his first and second wives had more children than I was aware of, and in each case, the unexpected child was not living at the time of the census.

Digging into birth records, I found the reason why.  I found the two girls, both children of Edmund, one born to each mother.  On each birth record, only the surname was listed.  For the child of the first mother, I found a death record, dated the same day as the birth.  The death record noted “stillborn”.  In the second case “stillborn” was noted right on the birth record.

I doubt that Aunt Helen, Uncle Ken and my grandfather ever knew that they had other sisters.

The point of this, and what I reminded myself, is to always pay attention to what the records are telling you, even if it doesn’t match the reality that you’ve come to expect.  In my case, I “knew” that the family had only one girl.  As it turns out, the family really only had one *surviving* girl.  The other two died before even being named.  It also told me something about my great-grandfather.  We were raised to believe that he was completely grief-stricken due to the death of his second wife, which is how my relatives described his behavior in later life.  In truth, losing his second wife was one more loss in a line of losses.  As strange as it sounds, knowing this makes me feel a little closer to a man I’ve never met.