Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS-HSC Lesson 1

A couple of weeks ago I gave a quick overview of the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course, which I’ve been working on for the last year or so.  As I mentioned in that post, there are both good and bad points to the course.  Lesson 1 is an example.

The lesson itself is pretty straight-forward.  The goal is to introduce the field of genealogy, including standards for recording and communicating information.  The assignments are fairly simple.  First, fill out and document a pedigree chart.  Second, fill out and document a family group sheet.  Easy right?

It would seem easy, but this lesson, which unfortunately is an introduction to the course, causes a lot of confusion for many people.  The confusion is not so much within the lesson, or the goals of the lesson, but more in what, exactly, a student should send in when they submit their completed assignments.

The confusion, I think, lies in this statement in the instructions for the assignment:

“Be sure to include the source or sources for every item of information, using correct citation form as described, with examples, in Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills or as described in The Chicago Manual of Style.”[1]

Reading through my copy of Evidence! Citation & analysis for the Family Historian, also by Elizabeth Shown Mills, it was clear to me that a source was a physical thing that I was obtaining evidence from.  Books, manuscripts, microfilms, people, etc., are sources.  A citation was a recorded note describing what source I had used.

This is where I, and other students apparently, became confused.  The lesson assignment clearly states “…include the source or sources for every item of information…”  When I submitted my assignment, I also included cited copies of the documents that I used as sources.  When the lesson was returned, the grader noted that it was not necessary to send copies of the documents, only citations of the documents were required.

When the question of what to include came up on the course mailing list, one subscriber responded with something along the lines of “just follow the instructions!”  My response to that was, “I did.”

It was at this point that I realized that I, and others, had read the assignment too literally.  We included sources, when the assignment had really meant source citations.

This is one example of where the course could be improved with a couple of wording changes.  If the instructions clearly said citations, the number of questions to the course’s mailing list would drop, and the number of people doing more work than necessary would decrease.  As I mentioned in the other post, the course’s mailing list is not archived, so the answer to the question “Should I include copies of all of my sources when I submit my assignment?” keeps being asked, and answered, over and over again.

On a positive note, I did receive good feedback from the grader about my citations, and I passed the assignment with a single resubmit.

To see more about the NGS Home Study Course, see my other posts:

[1] Lesson 1, Written Assignments, American Genealogy: Home Study Course, National Genealogical Society, CD-ROM (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2009)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday – Learning How to Spit

My grandmother was a no-nonsense woman.  I was reminded of this a few days ago while visiting with my sister, who brought up the time that Gram taught my sister’s son how to spit.

Gram and my great-uncle raised chickens.  At the time of this story, they both would have been in their 80s.  My nephew, the older of two boys, would probably have been 5 or 6.  As grandmother and great-grandson trundled from the house to the chicken barn, one leaning on the cut-down ski-pole she used for a cane and the other carrying the egg bucket, Gram loudly cleared her throat and spat, sending phlegmy goo in a gentle arc through the air and into the yard.  My nephew, being a boy and therefore prone to copying anything that involved sending bodily fluid through the air, grinned and spit into the dirt at his feet.

“No,” Gram said, “Like this.”  She tipped her head back, cleared her throat again, and spat, forcefully expelling the results from her lips and into the air.  My nephew followed suit, and the two practiced all the way to the barn.  By the time they arrived, Gram had successfully passed her spitting wisdom down to her great-grandson.

From this story, you’d think that my grandmother was uncouth.  The truth is, at that point in her life, she had already been through the Depression, a few wars, countless marriages, divorces, births, deaths, children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and who knows how many hundreds of other things.  Spitting in her own yard just wasn’t a big deal.  There were many other more important things in the world to worry about; however, if you were going to do something, even spit, you should do it the right way.

My grandmother lived to be 98 years old.  While she passed many small bits of wisdom, like the proper way to spit, down to us, what she ultimately taught us was not to worry about the little things.  Family is important, and not all family is related by blood.  You don’t have to be young to be a kid, and it’s okay to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation when someone comes to visit.  If it’s important, the discussion will continue after you wake up.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thankful Thursday – Genealogy Bloggers

Earlier this week, Heather Wilkinson Rojo over at Nutfield Genelaogy was kind enough to nominate my blog for the “Best of 2012” award that was started by the Thought Palette. Heather decided to nominate some new bloggers, which I appreciate since I’ve only been blogging for about a month now.

Being new to the genealogy blogging community, I’d have a difficult time passing the award along to others, as I’m just starting to become familiar with the many blogs that are out there.  I have been enjoying my time reading them, though, and getting to know their authors through their writing.  It’s interesting to see how different people approach blogging.  Some are instructional, others document their experiences, while others record their findings.

In addition to Heather’s Nutfield Genealogy blog, here are few of the others that I’ve started following:
  • Planting the Seeds - Certified Genealogist Michael Hait writes about the profession of genealogy.  I've found many useful articles while reading through his past blog posts.
  • Clue Wagon - Kerry Scott presents a fun blog with a writing style that I really enjoy.
  • Today in Salem - A neat blog that presents the Salem Witch Trials through the eyes of the participants, if the participants had access to social media outlets like Twitter and Pinterest.  Especially interesting at the moment since my daughter is going to be playing Mercy Lewis in a local production of The Crucible.
  • Boston 1775 - Author J.L. Bell writes about the American Revolution.  I've actually been following this one for awhile due to my interest in the time-period.  I like that it's not entirely military focused like many sites about the period.
There are many others that I’ve been browsing.  I’m thankful that all of these authors take the time to write.  Reading their words help me to become both a better genealogist as I can learn from what they’ve shared, whether it be a tutorial on photo preservation, or the description of their experiences while researching a particular ancestor. I'm also thankful for the folks who have been commenting on my posts.  It's nice to know that someone is reading!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS Home Study Course

Last year, in an effort to more formally educate myself in the field of genealogy, I signed up for the National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) Home Study Course (HSC).  After taking their free (to members) basic online courses (more like basic readiness tests), I felt confident that I was ready to start moving onto to the HSC.

I had read a lot about the Home Study Course on various mailing lists and websites.  Before I signed up for the course, I searched blogs, forums and websites for more information.  Almost everything that I read was positive, and almost everyone recommended it as a good beginner course.

In a series of “Tuesday Teachings” posts, I’ll share with you my experience with taking the course.  In this first post, I’ll give a quick overview.

What’s included: 
  • CD: The course is broken down into fourteen lessons, spread out over three CDs.  I ordered the “Graded” version of the first CD.  The graded version of the course means that real, live, actual people will be looking at your work and giving you feedback.  While feedback is sometimes difficult to receive, I think this is the best benefit of the course.  Without feedback, there’s no real way to learn what you’re doing well, and not so well.

  • Paperwork:  There were a few sheets of paper included with the CD.  The most important one included my student number.  The student number is used on all correspondence with the NGS folks who handle the course; so that they know which student they are working with.  There was also an update to one of the lessons, which, unfortunately, I had forgotten by the time I worked on that lesson.

  • Mailing List: Involvement in the course also gives students access to an online mailing list that other students and some of the course graders subscribe to.  In all honesty, I haven’t found the list that useful.  There are no archives of past messages, so you can’t search for the answer to a question before you ask it.  This leads to the same questions being asked over and over again, which leads to members who have been on the list getting frustrated and answering the questions with posts like “This was covered a month ago on this list.”  That makes it difficult for students who haven’t been following the list.  Despite that, there are people on the list who are very open and helpful.

The Process:
 The general process of completing an assignment goes like this:
  1. Read the lesson material on the CD 
  2. Work on the lesson assignments
  3. Submit your work to the NGS HSC administrator
  4. Wait for your work to be reviewed
  5. Receive your work back with either a “Pass” or “Resubmit” grade
  6. Review the grader’s comments
  7. If necessary, fix your work and resubmit it for the grader to look over again.
One nice thing is that you can submit your work in PDF form via email.  In theory it helps with the turn-around time between your submission and your returned grade.  I’ve found the average time of return to be a couple of weeks or more, depending on what’s going on in the genealogical world at the time (National conferences, for instance, will slow things down as graders are usually away).

At the time of this writing, I’m working on lesson six, the last lesson of the first CD.  Overall, I’ve found the course useful in helping me learn to be more disciplined in my research.  I’ve found that some of the lessons need to be updated, as they are not clear, or may be out of date, but the basics are there.  NGS is apparently working to revamp the course, though no details have been released that I know of.  It took me a while to adjust to the idea of doing an assignment without having an instructor available to ask questions of first (in theory that’s what the mailing list is for), but I have found the feedback I’ve received to be very good.  I’ve had a few “resubmit” grades, but mostly for minor issues such as citation format.  These are easily fixed and resubmitted, and that knowledge can be carried on to the next lesson.

For those who may be thinking about taking the course, I’d say go ahead and do it.  I’m glad that I did.  While it does have some flaws, I think the overall lessons are good, and some of the future lessons will take me out of my comfort zone of “Internet Genealogy” and into resources that I’m just beginning to become familiar with.  I look forward to finishing CD 1, purchasing CD 2, and seeing what the HSC folks at NGS come up with in the updated version of the course.

To see more about the NGS Home Study Course, see my other posts:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Survivor - 1941 Bus Schedule

Among the various papers and mementos that passed to me when my mother died was the bus scheduled pictured here.  The card is small, about the size of a standard business card, and would easily fit into someone’s wallet.  This is a case of an heirloom that was passed along, but no story has ever been attached to it.  It probably was never significant enough to need a story, but it somehow survived all these years, tucked in with my mother’s papers.  Even though I don’t know who the original owner was, I’ve held onto it for its historical value.

There’s a scene in the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of The Lost Ark” where the rival archaeologist brings out an ordinary pocket watch, then talks about how it is just a trinket now, but left buried in the sand for hundreds of years it becomes a priceless artifact.  My little bus card is sort of like that watch.  At the time, it wasn’t significant for anything other than its intended use.  Now, though, 70+ years after it was printed, it can tell me a lot about the Capital District of New York in the early 1940s.

The first thing you notice when looking at the card is the bus itself.  While to some extent it helps to date the schedule, what it does for me is to transport me back in time some, when city buses weren’t giant monsters prowling the streets.  I can almost hear the “AHOOOGAA!!” of car horns as the bus makes its rounds, picking up and dropping off passengers as they deposit their dimes with the driver.

The next thing that stands out on the card is the name of the bus company, Albany-Schenectady Bus Lines.  It appears to be a private company, available not just for daily use, but also for “Tours, - Excursions, - Charter.”  The president of the company, C. Bohl, has his name listed right at the top, just before the name of the town of Guilderland, NY.  Guilderland is a suburb of Albany, and Schenectady is just to the northwest of Albany.  These town names give a good indication of which the towns the bus route likely covered.

Next on the card are the fare rates.  I was curious to see how these rates compared to today’s rates.  While it’s not easy to compare a private bus line from the 1940s to a public bus line in 2013, I could do some rough estimating.  Running the fare of 10 cents through an inflation calculator, I found that in today’s economy, 10 cents in 1941 would have the buying power of about $1.57 today.  Looking at the website of the Capital District Transit Authority (CDTA), I found that they sell a 10 trip pass for $13.00, or $1.30 per trip.  It appears that bus fare in Albany is actually cheaper today than it was 70 years ago.

Two other things about this bus schedule stand out for me in a historical sense.  The first is the phone numbers: 2-1010 and 6-1010.  For someone who grew up dialing either 7 or 10 digits to make a call, it’s weird to see a 5 digit phone number.  It’s a small thing, but again, it helps to bring me back in time to an era where phone service was drastically different than it is today.

The second item is the mention of the “General Electric Subway”.  This one had me puzzled, since, as far as I knew, there had never been a subway system in the city of Albany.  A Google search turned up information about a “pedestrian subway” that led to the General Electric plant in the city.  Workers at the plant would use this underground entrance while arriving or leaving work.  Apparently the entrance has been closed down for many years, and the tunnel itself filled in, but the small entrance building and stairs still remain.

Small mementos like this interest me, even if I can’t find a defined family connection.  They show me everyday life as it was during the times of my ancestors.  While it’s always fun to see something like an 18th century musket or a civil war cannon, items like bus schedules can give us large amounts of information about the past, and how life was at the time.  It also helps when the item is dated, like this small card, so that they can be put into historical context.  The rates of this bus schedule, for instance, went into effect on November 10, 1941.

Just 28 days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered World War II.