Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Teachings – NGS-HSC Lesson 3

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my experience with taking the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course.  In past posts I gave an Overview of the Course, and then wrote about Lesson 1 and Lesson 2.  Here I’ll cover Lesson 3.

Lesson 3 is about communication.  In particular, the lesson’s focus is on the querying side of communication.  That is, asking questions to receive information as opposed to reporting information back to someone.

As genealogists, we are often looking for information that others may have.  As such, it’s important that we are able to clearly and concisely ask for the information that we are seeking.

The first assignment of the lesson is to create an interview plan.  The plan states who the person so be interviewed is, why they should be interviewed, what questions may be asked, and how the interview is to be recorded.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not comfortable interviewing people.  Keep in mind that the goal of this lesson is to create an interview plan.  Actually carrying out the interview, or not, is really up to the student.

In my case, I focused my interview plan around my wife’s aunt.  I chose her as I know that she has an interest in family history, grew up in the area that I was researching, and has done some genealogy work herself.  She also lives near the cemetery where many of her family are buried, so I planned my interview as if I’d be talking to her both in her home, and while taking a walking tour through the cemetery.  I came up with a list of nine interview questions, starting with her memories of childhood, moving onto her memories or stories of her grandparents, then moving outward to other or older branches of the family.  In my interview plan I noted that I would plan on recording the conversation using a digital voice recorder, written notes, and drawings of the cemetery, all to be compiled and put into a digital format after the interview.

The second assignment of the lesson was similar to the first, except that the form of communication was a written letter instead of an oral interview.  Like the first assignment, the goal is to write the letter.  Sending the letter is then up to the student.

For assignment two, I wrote a short formal letter to a family historical society, asking if they might have, somewhere in their archives, information regarding why an ancestor of mine may have moved from Vermont to Ohio.  I provided birth, marriage and death information that I had.  My goal for the letter was to ask a single question that an archivist could answer without needed to do unnecessary research.

My final letter ended up being only a couple of short paragraphs long.  The grader for the assignment commented that my letter was clear and should elicit a positive response from the recipient.

The third and final assignment for this lesson was to write a short genealogical query that could be used in a publication.  The idea behind this assignment was to ask a concise question using very few words.  Most publications have a standard that they use for these sorts of queries.  For my assignment, I chose to use a limitation of 50 characters as specified by the guidelines of the Vermont Genealogical Society.  The query (which I’m actually still looking for an answer to) was as follows:

JENKINS: Seek birth place of Charles Wesley JENKINS, b. circa 1840, Indiana. Married Laura A. DERBY (b. circa 1842, Grafton, VT). Children include Ida JENKINS (b. circa 1867, VT) and Minnie Laura JENKINS (b. 27 Sept 1872, Peru, VT). Elroy Davis, P.O. Box 184, Manchester, VT 05254, e-mail:

I found Lesson 3 very useful.  Though I haven’t interviewed my wife’s aunt (yet), or sent my letter, I did find that the process of creating the questions helped me focus on exactly what information I was looking for.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Summary Sunday – NERGC 2013 Day 3

I’m home from my trip to the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium 2013 conference.  Before I settle back into day to day life here at home, I wanted to take a few minutes to review my final day there.

Fortunately, I was feeling better yesterday than I had the day before, so I was able to attend the full day.  I started with David Ouimette, CG, going through a case-study of finding a woman’s parents in upstate New York in the 1850s.  His research led him from New York, to Vermont, Massachusetts and Canada.  It was interesting to listen to his process, and I learned a new term that I hadn’t heard before.  He considered the family he was researching to be a “sparrow”, or people who “flit from place to place”, leaving records in many places.  I have a sparrow of my own in post-revolutionary New Hampshire that I’d like to track down someday.

My next seminar was about records located in the VermontState Archives in Middlesex, Vermont.  The folks there have been helpful to me in the past when I’ve emailed requests to them, and it sounds like a visit to the facility would be no different.  Many Vermont records are already online, but it might be fun to spend a day there anyway.

In the afternoon I attended a similar session in regards to the New Hampshire Historical Society library’s collections.  I made a note to look into joining the Society.  With the amount of family that I have who migrated through New Hampshire, I’m not sure why I’d never thought of it before.

The next session was an interesting look at researching and setting up an online document repository for a community, presented by David Allen Lambert.  Lambert set up a website for his hometown of Stoughton, Massachusetts.  He spoke about the process of gathering material, posting it, and most importantly, selling the project to townspeople to help get them on board and volunteering time and information.  I chatted with him quickly after the presentation to see if posting material online had helped to create a snowball effect of more information coming to him.  He nodded and told me a quick story of how someone that had heard him speak about the site at another conference had found him at NERGC and given him some tintypes that she had found.  The important take-away from this seminar, for me, was to put your research online, even if it’s not “complete”.  It could help with future research.

My final seminar for the day was a presentation by DonnaWalcovy, PhD, who showed examples of gravestone art from the colonial period up to the present.  It was clear that she loved the subject, and she was fun-going and relaxed throughout the presentation.  My wife and I, a several years ago, had talked about putting together a book about gravestone art.  After attending this session, I may have to look into the project again, though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at another flying-skull carving without thinking about “Light-bulb Head”.

Overall, I had a great time at NERGC 2013.  I’m definitely going to look into attending the conference again when it heads to Rhode Island in 2015.

Friday, April 19, 2013

First-Timers Friday Part II – Day 2 of NERGC

Unfortunately my second day at NERGC 2013 started out with a horrible migraine.  I did manage to make it to a few sessions, but my mid-afternoon I had to call it quits and head back to my room.  I was hoping to head back over to the Radisson to attend the bloggers SIG this evening, but after a nap and an attempt at food, my migraine is still winning.

Here’s a quick break-down of what I did get to see today.

First, I attended a session about records held at NARA in Waltham, MA.  While the record examples themselves were neat to see, I was hoping to learn more about actually visiting NARA.  There was some information that came out during the Q&A session, but most of the presentation was about using the NARA website to locate the offline records that you might want to see.

The second session that I attended was “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England”, presented by Craig Scott,CG.  As I chose a spot to sit, people in the room were already laughing with the presenter.  Apparently he had to buy one of his own books in the exhibit hall, as he didn’t have a copy with him for his presentation.  The laughter and fun continued throughout the presentation, which I found very informative, as the French and Indian War is one of the colonial eras that I don’t know much about.  My favorite quote from the session: “Most forts are not original.  Like courthouses, they tend to burn down.”

After the second time-slot, there was “Unopposed Exhibitor Time” (an *excellent* idea, by the way), plus time for lunch.  I actually reversed the time and grabbed some fresh air, caught up on emails, grabbed a small bite to eat, then went to the exhibit hall.  Of course, the things that drew my attention were no surprise; maps and books.  I kept my promise to my wife, however, and didn’t buy anything new (“No books.  Read the ones you have first.”).  I wrapped up the free time by writing-up and posting yesterday’s experience.

My final session of the day was about using the Library of Congress website.  Unfortunately by this time, my migraine was getting the better of me, so I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have.  I did take a note to check out the digital preservation area of the site.  Directly after this session I headed back to my hotel, which meant skipping the last two sessions, but given how I was feeling, I think it was a wise choice.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.  There are several session about local resources that I’m hoping to attend, in particular regarding Vermont and New Hampshire.  I texted my wife to thank her for letting me attend the conference.  The next step is to convince her to come along to NERGC in Rhode Island in 2015.

First-Timers Friday - NERGC, Manchester, NH

I was too tired yesterday to write about my first day at NERGC.  In a word (or three) it was awesome!

I left my house later than expected, and stopped for breakfast somewhere along the three-hour trek, but I still managed to arrive in Manchester in time to find parking and to grab my registration packet before things got started.  I spotted Heather Rojo in the lobby, but didn’t get a chance to introduce myself.

My first stop was the First-timer’s session.  The purpose of the session was to orient newbies to the convention.  I didn’t really learn anything that I couldn’t have learned from reading the paperwork in my registration packet, but it was nice to have some time to adjust to being in conference-mode.

The next stop was the opening session in which SandraMacLean Clunies, CG, spoke about mill workers in the Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts areas.  Using three specific individuals that had been researched, she was able to bring the time-period to life easily, providing a bit of humor to go with it.  Looking around the room at my fellow attendees (850+ was the count that I heard), I could see that I was clearly among people like myself.  We weren’t learning about history like it was taught to us in school.  We were getting to know individuals as clearly as if they were standing in front of us, being introduced by a mutual friend.  The side-affect was learning a bit about the history of millwork during the early to middle 19th century.  My take-away, actually, was to check if millwork may be why my Charles Jenkins may have ended up in Massachusetts before the Civil War.

In between the opening session and the next session I remembered something about conventions and conferences.  People don’t walk as fast as I do.  It’s not that I hurry, but I have long legs.  I had to keep reminding myself to take smaller steps while negotiating the lobbies.

In the afternoon I was able to follow the “Photographs” track of the agenda.  While I’m not sure that I learned anything that hadn’t been covered in the reading that I’ve been doing.  It was fun to listen to the speakers, and how passionate they are about what they do.  Especially entertaining was Michael Strauss,AG (“…and my son Levi. -pause-  Yes, Levi Strauss…”).  I loved his stories about finding old photographs of his hometown and family.

The last session of the day almost literally left me with my mouth open in amazement.  ColleenFitzpatrick, PhD, walked through the processes she had used to identify a few photos.  First, she talks quickly (at least for this New England boy).  Next, the amount of information that she gave was staggering, and the logic that she used to solve the mystery of a bar photo was more than a little impressive.  I left with a mental note to check out her books when I get a chance.

So, my first day plans of immersing myself in conference culture and learning about photographs were both successful.  I did notice, though, that none of the speakers talked about photos much past the turn of the 20th century.  I’ve also noticed this in my reading.  That leaves about a hundred year span of photography that doesn’t seem to be covered much.  I wonder if there’s an opportunity there, or if I just haven’t come across anything authoritative yet.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Waiting Wednesday – NERGC 2013

At this time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting in the First Timers Session of the New England Regional GenealogicalConsortium’s 2013 conference.  Today is waiting day.  The day where I look forward to the conference, and where I begin to reflect on what needs to be done before I leave.

I should mention that I’m not a very organized traveler.  In fact, I don’t really like traveling.  I like being places, but not traveling to, or preparing for them.  My usual mode of preparation is to look at a map to make sure I know how to get to my destination, then pack some clothing last minute when I remember that I’m staying overnight.

In this case, I’ve been to the location where NERGC is being held on a few occasions, so I already know how to get there.  You’d think I’d be ahead of the game, but no.  As I dressed for work this morning, I realized that I need to pack for the weekend.  Fortunately, I’m only driving a few hours, and not flying cross-country, so packing should be light.

So, what have I done to prepare for the conference?

I’ve read through my agenda and the syllabus papers that were emailed to me in the last few days.  For me, it breaks down like this:

Thursday Morning: Get oriented and immersed in the conference culture.
Most conferences have similarities on the surface, but they are all different in their own way.  After registration, I’ll attend the seminar for newbies like myself, then the main opening session.

Thursday Afternoon: Photos photos photos!
All of my afternoon sessions revolve around old-photos, which is a big interest of mine.  Some of the information may overlap, but I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn.

Friday: High-level research
The Friday sessions that I selected are of a high-level interest to me.  That is, I don’t have an immediate need, but the sessions look like they might hold some information for future research.  I have a fascination with the colonial era of America, to the session “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England” is appealing.  “Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer” is another that I’m looking forward to, as I’m descended from long lines of farmers on both sides of my family.

Saturday: Local research
Saturday is the day for focusing on “my” states.  That is, states that my immediate ancestors hail from.  In particular, I’ll be attending sessions regard research in Vermont, upstate New York, and New Hampshire.  The day will be wrapped up with a session on gravestone symbolism, because, let’s face it; old gravestones are cool to look at.