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Uncovering Malaga Island

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Ninety-eight years after residents of Malaga floated their homes away from the island they called home, Marnie Darling Voter stood near where a schoolhouse once stood and listened to Gov. John Baldacci say “I’m sorry” for an episode of Maine history that some thought was better left untold.


In 1912, nearly 40 black, white and mixed-race people lived off the coast of Phippsburg on Malaga Island. Most earned a living fishing waters around the island and lived in dirt-floored houses. All but five were descended from Benjamin Darling, a black man who bought a nearby island in 1794.

 

Read the full story in the Portland/Cape Elizabeth Sentry.  

 


Research Recommendations: Creating a Winning Family History

(Research Recommendations) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

The National Genealogical Society recently published a revised 2010 edition of Creating a Winning Family History by Carmen J. Finley. NGS sponsored its first Family History Writing Contest in 1984. In 1988 they first published Write Your Family History to accompany the contest. It has been updated and expanded several times before the current edition.

 

The first section deals with standards for research and writing. This area includes reference to three NGS publications that can help authors:

  • Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, by Joan F. Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray (rev. ed. 2008)
  • Evidence: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ 87, September 1999)
  • Putting Family History Into Context: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ 88, December 2000)

Each of these works is extremely beneficial to the potential author. Unfortunately, the two special issues of the NGSQ are not currently available for purchase on their website. Hopefully NGS will consider bringing them back into print. There are also links to numerous standards for research and writing available on the NGS website.

 

The next section discusses six elements of a good genealogy:

  • Research includes a broad variety of records
  • Sources are carefully developed
  • Conclusions are based upon a thorough analysis of the evidence
  • Text is written in a clear and engaging style
  • Each information item is documented
  • A standard numbering system is used

Each of these points is discussed further in the text, although some get more extensive treatment than others. The last section includes a detailed list of publications for further study. The list includes a variety of guides to assist in genealogical research and writing, but it is by no means exhaustive.

 

The compact guidebook also includes two appendixes that serve as a guide to the NGS Family Writing Contest. Even those who are not submitting an entry to the contest will benefit from the rules for submission, which will help you become a better writer.

 

Creating a Winning Family History is available from NGS at a price of $10 for NGS members and $12 for non-members. You can find more details at www.ngsgenealogy.org.


NPR’s Michele Norris on her Family’s Hidden History

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

National Public Radio host Michele Norris set out to write a book about the nation's hidden conversation about race. She ended up unraveling the secret painful history of her own African-American family, including the circumstances surrounding her father’s being shot. The Christian Science Monitor reports on her story.

Spotlight: Library Databases

(Spotlight) Permanent link
 
Valerie Beaudrault

Valerie Beaudrault
Visitors Services Representative

Vital Records Database, Winneconne Public Library, Wisconsin

www.winneconnelibrary.org

 

Winneconne is located in Winnebago County, in east central Wisconsin. The Winneconne Public Library has made a vital records database available on its website. Scroll down on the library’s homepage to find the Winneconne, Wisconsin, Vital Records index. The index includes births, marriages, and obituaries from all surviving issues of Winneconne newspapers from 1871 through 2009. The records were found in the Winneconne Globe, Winneconne Item, Winneconne Local, Winneconne News and Winneconne Weekly Item. The database can be searched by last name and first name. Searches may be limited by date, including before, after, or between particular dates. Click on the search tips link to learn more about how to search this database. The search results returned are in alphabetical order and include all variations of the name you enter. The data fields include last name, first name, event, newspaper, date, and page. Maiden names will also be included in the searches. Photocopies of the notices may be requested from the library. A link from the library database to Winneconne Historical Society’s cemetery database is included on the search page.

 

Online Historical Collections, Acton Memorial Library, Massachusetts

http://www.actonmemoriallibrary.org/histcoll.htm

 

Acton, a small town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, is located about twenty miles west-northwest of Boston. The Acton Memorial Library has made two historical collections available on its website. Click on the Online Historical Collections link in the site’s contents list to access them.

 

Early Town Records

This collection contains the Town of Acton's official records from its founding in 1735 up to 1764. The records include Acton’s earliest town meeting records and selectman's minutes, plus financial accounting and surveys of roadways and town boundaries. You will find digital images of the pages, original records that are part of a single bound volume covering the period from 1735 to 1797. The image is paired with a transcription of the page. There is an alphabetical Name Index with links to the page images and transcriptions. While the spellings of names in the Name Index have been standardized, they have not been standardized in the transcriptions. The database may be searched and the table of contents browsed. Click on the Enter link to read the records from page one.

 

Civil War Records

As noted on the website, the Acton Memorial Library was founded in 1890 as a memorial to Acton citizens who fought in the Civil War. In 2008 the library opened a permanent exhibit of historical documents and artifacts related to the Civil War, entitled "Not Afraid To Go." They have also developed an online Civil War archives. The archives includes an index to soldiers and sailors, regimental histories, United States Navy, pension files, Isaac Davis Post No. 138 Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), obituaries, burial records, documents and manuscripts, photographs, the Memorial Library and Soldiers' Tablets, and a bibliography. Researchers may search the archives or browse through the records.

 

Cemetery Database, Spirit Lake Public Library, Iowa

www.spiritlakepubliclibrary.org/Index.html

 

Spirit Lake, located in northern Iowa, is the seat of Dickinson County. The Spirit Lake Public Library has made sixteen separate cemetery records databases available on its website. First click on the Cemetery Records tab to open the database page. To view an alphabetical by surname list of the individuals buried in them, click on the cemetery name. The data fields include cemetery abbreviation, lot number, last name, first name, date of birth (month and day), year of birth, date of death (month and day), and other. Maps of all but two of the cemeteries have been provided. In addition, a ‘cover page’ with photographs of the entrance to the cemetery and the address of the cemetery has been provided. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the map and cover page. The cemetery records for the sixteen cemeteries have also been merged into two alphabetical databases. The data fields for the merged database include cemetery abbreviation, last name and first name.


Scientists Construct T. Rex Family Tree

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Building family trees is not just for humans anymore. United Press International reports that scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City have constructed a family tree for the Tyrannosaurus species of dinosoaur.

Ancestry.com Acquires Footnote.com

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

PROVO, Utah, September 23, 2010Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) announced today it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire iArchives, Inc. and its branded Web site, Footnote.com, a leading American History Web site, for approximately $27 million in a mix of Ancestry.com stock, cash and assumption of liabilities.  This acquisition will provide the company with a complementary consumer brand, expanded content offerings, and enhanced digitization and image-viewing technologies.  
iArchives digitizes and delivers high-quality images of American historical records of individuals involved in the Revolutionary War, Continental Congress, Civil War, and other US historical events to Footnote.com subscribers interested in early American roots. iArchives has digitized more than 65 million original source documents to date through its proprietary digitization process for paper, microfilm and microfiche collections  
Footnote.com is highly complementary to Ancestry.com’s online family history offering,” said Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry.com. “By promoting Footnote to our Ancestry audience, we hope to expand its reach among researchers who care about early American records. iArchives also brings outstanding image-viewing technology and content digitization capabilities that will improve our leadership position in bringing valuable historical records to the market. We welcome the iArchives team to the Ancestry.com family.”  
Upon completion of the transaction, iArchives will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com. As part of the transaction, Ancestry.com currently expects to issue approximately 1.0 million shares of common stock. The transaction is subject to various closing conditions and is expected to close early in the fourth quarter of 2010.   
Ancestry.com also announced today that its Board of Directors has approved a share repurchase program of up to approximately $25 million of its common stock. Under the authorization, share repurchases may be made by the Company from time to time in the open market or through privately negotiated transactions depending on market conditions, share price and other factors and may include accelerated or forward or similar stock repurchases and/or Rule 10b5-1 plans. Part of the rationale for the repurchase is to offset dilution of equity resulting from the iArchives acquisition. No time limit was set for the completion of this program. The share repurchase program may be modified or discontinued at any time by the Board of Directors.

Research Recommendations: Genealogy Lessons I Learned in Marching Band

(Research Recommendations) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

George N. Parks

 

While walking to work last Friday morning I received a text with the devastating news that my college band director, George Parks, had died. George was more than just a band teacher. He was a mentor, colleague, and friend to all who came in touch with him. He believed in the positive in people. He was so beloved by his students, past and present, that the morning after he died his name was the top search on Google, and more than 9,500 people joined his Facebook memorial page by Monday. He taught us many lessons over the years, applicable not only to band, but to life in general. I have used a number of them in genealogical research, and would like to share a few with you.

 

"The first thing you need to be successful is a goal."
In genealogical research we have many of them. The number of unidentified individuals can be daunting. The number of women with no maiden names can sometimes make one want to scream. Research needs to be subdivided. Create goals for yourself. Make sure that they are specific and measurable; that way you will be able to definitively say that you succeeded in accomplishing that goal, and move on to the next one.

 

"If you fail to plan, plan to fail."
Genealogical research, like so many other areas of life, requires thoughtful planning. For any genealogical goal, you should develop a research plan that outlines the steps you will take and the sources you will utilize. The plan should be flexible, so that at every step of the way, as you obtain new evidence, you can update the next steps. Research plans are your roadmap. Without them, you can easily get lost, going down roads and following tangents that are far removed from your original goal.

 

"Working together, you can accomplish anything."
As a part of a band, you all must work together to successfully entertain your audience. The same holds true for genealogical research. We can each go off on our own, but we are so much more successful when working together. When researching a specific family, reach out to see if others are researching the same people. Reach out to those who have researched in that locality to discover what information and resources might be available. And find people researching in that locality so you can share experiences and resources.

 

"There are no problems in life, only tests of your creativity."
Genealogical puzzles are common. It is part of the fun, and one of the reasons we enjoy research. The thrill of the chase is half the battle. So when you are looking at a genealogical problem, try approaching it from different angles. How creative can you be about listing potential theories or potential resources to examine? Enlist the help of others, who can look at the problem with a fresh eye, and one that is not vested in all the research you have already performed.

 

"Raise your left hand in the air. Now raise it an inch higher. THAT is what’s wrong with your life!"
Too often we think we are reaching for our goals, but we don’t stretch ourselves enough. We give up too easily, saying we’ve done our best, when we can actually reach farther. The answer is out there somewhere. Keep looking, keep stretching, keep thinking, and don’t give up.

I'll bet you never thought you'd get genealogy advice from band practice! Many of the lessons I learned in band from George apply to all areas of my life, including family history. My friends and I are forever grateful to him, and he will be greatly missed. The eyes, George, though always With Pride, for now are also filled with tears. Thank you.

  


Tower's Past a Present Puzzle

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

No one knows for sure who built a 28-foot tower in the hear of Newport, Rhode Island. Despite legends of construction by Vikings, Chinese explorers, Portuguese noblemen, the Knights Templar, or R.I. Governor Benedict Arnold, no one has been able to prove the origins of the mysterious tower. At a meeting of the Newport Historical Society last week, Danish researcher Jorgen Siemonsen reports that evidence now shows when the tower was actually constructed. Boston Globe staff reporter Brian MacQuarrie provides details of the meeting, and Siemonsen's findings in "Tower's Past a Present Puzzle."

Frank Paul: Artist Hopes to Pen Own Chapter in Family History

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

British artist Frank Paul is the son of Lucian Freud and Celia Paul. He much prefers to discuss his own work as an artist than his family. Paul's great-grandfather was the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. The Yorkshire Post conducted an interesting interview with him, on the eve of an exhibition of his works. Paul's father Lucian, himself a well-known artist, was profiled a few years ago in The Times.

Appeals Court Records Can Reveal Colorful Family History

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

 Appeals Court Records Can Reveal Colorful Family History
Tampa Bay Tribune correspondent Sharon Tate Moody discusses the value of using court records in genealogical research.

Research Recommendations: A Medical Miscellany for Genealogists

(Research Recommendations) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

As I sit here fighting my regular asthma/bronchitis battle brought on by seasonal allergies, my thoughts turned to the medicine of the past. In genealogical research, we often find references to diseases, treatments, and other medical information that may escape our modern knowledge. The Internet can be helpful, but in my experience I often find that the answers I find online are not quite right or accurate for the historical period in which I am researching.

 

One excellent print source to help you is A Medical Miscellany for Genealogists, by Dr. Jeanette L. Jerger. The Miscellany is composed of:

  • medical descriptions reflecting 19th century understanding of the most prevalent diseases;
  • definitions of obsolete or infrequently-used terms that assist in contextual understanding;
  • popular herbal remedies;
  • treatments for prevention and cure of disease;
  • ethnic variations in cause, prevention, and treatment of disease;
  • and historical reference points.

 

Jerger consulted dozens of historical and modern references to compose her list. The alphabetical list includes cross-references for multiple terms that refer to the same thing. From Abdominal Dropsy to Zwischentrager, this reference book will help you in deciphering causes of death, or illnesses and treatments mentioned in family diaries or writings of the time. A random check of items listed in the book found a significant number that were not readily available online.

This book is an excellent addition to your home library. It is available for $22 from Heritage Books.


Spotlight: Virginia and West Virginia Cemetery Databases

(Spotlight) Permanent link
 
Valerie Beaudrault

Valerie Beaudrault
Visitor Services Representative

Chincoteague Cemeteries Online, Virginia 

Chincoteague Island is located in Accomack County, Virginia. The Chincoteague Cemeteries Online website began as an individual effort to document family gravesites. It was expanded to document twenty-one cemeteries on the island. Enter the website from the welcome page to view the list of cemeteries recorded here. To access the burial databases and photographs of gravestones, click on the image above the cemetery’s name. This will open a new page with information on where the cemetery is located and a notation on whether or not the cemetery has been completely documented. In addition to the images, there is a caption giving the deceased’s name and birth and death dates.

 

Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia

Blandford Cemetery is located in Petersburg, an independent city in Virginia. Located on the Appomattox River, it is about 25 miles south of the state capital of Richmond. This large cemetery has been used as a burying ground since the early eighteenth century. The cemetery records database may be searched by name only—last name, first name and middle name. The data fields in the search results include last, first, and middle name; date of death; parents names, if known; and a link to additional information. Click on the link to view a detailed record. The additional data fields in the detailed record include birth date, interment date, race, sex, age, birthplace, place of death, residence at the time of grave purchase, doctor, funeral home, and grave information such as location details, grave number, old or new grounds, and type of vault.

 

Cemeteries in Parkersburg, West Virginia

Parkersburg, the seat of Wood County, is located in northwestern West Virginia, at the point where the Ohio and Little Kanawha Rivers converge. In my search for cemetery records online, I found Christy and Jeff Little’s Parkersburg, West Virginia, Nostalgic Gazette website, which contains records and images for six cemeteries, in addition to historic images and maps of Parkersburg. The cemetery information provided on this site includes historical background on the cemeteries, an alphabetical list of the known burials in each cemetery, and, in some cases, photographs of the gravestones. Where a gravestone has been photographed, the deceased’s name is a link to that image. Click on the link to view the photograph. The burial lists are well documented. Information about the individuals buried in these cemeteries has been compiled from headstone readings, newspaper obituaries, and veterans’ lists, to name a few sources.


Pilgrims in the Family Tree

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Descendants of the Mayflower's passengers may be legion, but proving the lineage is no easy task. Boston Globe correspondent Christine Legere reports on the increased interest in joining the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in Pilgrims in the Family Tree.

Research Recommendations: Chiacgo Manual of Style, 16th Edition

(Research Recommendations) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

At long last, the University of Chicago Press has released the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). The Press accurately bills it as “The essential guide for writers, editors, and publishers.” No writer or editor should be without the CMS.

 

People often ask about books: “Is this new edition worth buying when I have the last edition?” The answer to this question regarding CMS is “Absolutely!” Major changes and updates have occurred, especially in the realm of digital writing and publishing. Among the updates are :

 

  • Comprehensive updates reflecting the latest style and usage, technology, and professional practice
  • Expanded coverage of electronic publications, including procedures for proofreading web-based and other electronic documents
  • Electronic-editing checklist for editors and writers
  • Expanded section on bias-free language
  • Expanded coverage of fair use and electronic rights, including an overview of the NIH Public Access Policy
  • New section on parallel structure
  • New and improved hyphenation guide, presented in an easy-to-use tabular format
  • An introduction to Unicode, the international computing standard for letters and symbols required by the world’s languages, including tables with Unicode numbers
  • More references to organizations that publish their own guidelines and standards online
  • Newly uniform stylistic treatment of elements in the two major systems of documentation
  • Updated advice on DOIs versus URLs, including more examples
  • More tips for citing blogs, podcasts, and other electronic sources
  • Streamlined advice on citing legal and public documents
  • Thoroughly revised coverage of production processes, including an overview of electronic markup and XML
  • An updated glossary that includes more terms related to electronic publishing
  • Expanded headings on numbered paragraphs and more cross-references for ease of navigation, especially online
  • A logical and intuitive reorganization by chapter and paragraph that brings together closely related concepts wherever possible, to help readers find what they’re looking for
  • Firmer rules and clearer recommendations, to help authors and editors make the right choices

 

Another major change is an online version of CMS that is fully-searchable. With the online version, you can add notes, bookmarks, and create style sheets in your personalized version of the manual.

 

The 15th edition of CMS was published in 2003. The world of electronic writing and publishing has undergone dramatic shifts in that period, and this new version is indispensible in helping you navigate this world. I can’t recommend this new version strongly enough.

 

The print version is available through bookstores for $65. The online subscription is $35 per year. The University of Chicago Press is currently running a special offer for new subscribers to the online edition. With a one- or two-year subscription, you will receive $5 off the subscription and 50% off the purchase of the print version. That means you can get both the book and a one-year subscription for $62.50 (less than the price of purchasing the book alone). More details are available at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.


Spotlight: Hawai'I State Archives

(Spotlight) Permanent link
 
Valerie Beaudrault

Valerie Beaudrault
Visitor Services Representative

Hawai'I State Archives


The Hawai'I State Archives is located in the state capital of Honolulu. They have made some digital collections and genealogical indexes available on their website. Click on the Digital Collections link under Quick Links on the homepage to access them.

 

Indexes
All of the indexes may be searched by name or browsed through page by page. Click on the appropriate link above the Search box to browse an index. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the index pages or cards. The indexes include:

 

Genealogy Index
The indexes were prepared by Hawai?i State Archives staff and contain information extracted from a variety of records preserved by the Archives. The information provided in the indexes includes the book/volume, section, page, or case number of the original record. There are indexes to marriage records (1826–1929), divorce records (1848–1915), deaths through probate indexes and wills (1852–1916), naturalization records (1844–1894), denization records (1846–1898), and passports (1845–1874). Denization records “document the admission of an alien to residence or conferred certain limited rights or privileges of citizenship.”

 

Passenger Manifest Indexes
There are four alphabetical indexes in the collection. They are a Chinese passenger manifest index, which contains nearly 40,000 documents; two Japanese passenger manifest indexes, which contain more than 30,000 records in these indexes; and an index to Portuguese passenger manifests for the period from 1843–1900.

 

Land Indexes
This section contains 2 partial indexes to land records. One is organized by ‘people names.’ It covers the period from 1838 to 1918. In general, more index cards from the end of the alphabet (R–Z) have been digitized and uploaded to the website than from the beginning (A–Q). The second one is organized by place names. It contains records for individuals with surnames beginning with the letters A, E, and U. Records are being added periodically.

 

Name Index
This is an index to records and letterbooks of the Hawaii Interior Department and Foreign Office and Executive, some private collections, library books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers and periodicals. Some newspapers for the period from1836 to 1950 are also included. The Name Index is organized alphabetically by personal or business name. Currently only surnames beginning with A through Bishop are in the collection. Entries are being added on a monthly basis.

 

Digitized Records
Some records and photographs have been digitized and uploaded to the website, including:

 

Judiciary Records
This collection includes frequently used Hawaiian Kingdom probate case files. Currently only First Circuit Court Probate Case Files for the Estate of W. P. Leleiohoku, and the Estate of Kamehameha IV have been digitized and uploaded to the website. Using Acrobat Reader 8 or higher to view these documents is recommended.

 

Mahele Book
The Mahele Book has been digitized and uploaded to the website. Written in Hawaiian, this book documents the source of all land ownership titles in the Hawaiian Islands in 1848.

 

Photograph Collection
A selection of photographs in the state archives collection has been digitized and uploaded to the website.

 

Tax Ledgers
The Tax Assessment and Collection Ledgers for Hamakua and Hilo for the period from 1847 through 1900 are in the digital collection. The ledgers include the following information: the name, age, and residence of taxpayers, type of property (personal or real), property value, and taxpayer exemptions. The majority of the ledgers for this period are in Hawaiian. Some are in both Hawaiian and English. After 1899 all the ledgers are in English.

 

Vital Statistics Collection
The Vital Statistics Collection includes births, marriages and deaths for the period 1826–1929. All of vital statistic records for Kauai, Molokai and Niihau are online, as are all of Maui's birth and death records. A few marriage records are also available. The documents may be browsed by name or by location by clicking on the appropriate button.

 

World War I Service Records
This collection contains images of index cards, which document the World War I service history of Hawaii residents and some non-Hawaii residents, who were in the armed forces during World War I. The records cover the period from 1919–1926. The source of the information found on the cards is enlistment records.


Stories of Interest: Cook Co. Website Gives Quick Access to Old Genealogical Information

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Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

Daily Herald correspondent Eileen O. Daday on the website of the Cook County Clerk's office, CookCountyGenealogy.com, which offers access to digitized documents from the Bureau of Vital Records, including pre-1936 births, pre-1961 marriages, and pre-1990 deaths.

 

"We were frustrated as an office, because we want to give good service," [County County Clerk David] Orr says in tracing the website's roots. "Putting this information online makes it available to people looking into their own genealogy."

 

Read the full story at the Daily Herald website.


Stories of Interest: DNA Points to Royal Roots in Africa

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

DNA Points to Royal Roots in Africa

MSNBC reports on William Holland, a genealogical researcher living in Atlanta who has seen some pretty strange twists in his family tree. Several years ago, he found out that his great-grandfather was a black slave ... who wound up serving as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. But this year Holland's research resulted in something even stranger. Thanks to DNA testing, Holland is being welcomed as a long-lost relative by a ruling family of the West African nation of Cameroon. 


Name Origins: Cathleen/Kathleen

(Name Origins) Permanent link
 
Julie Helen Otto

Julie Helen Otto
Staff Genealogist

CATHLEEN/KATHLEEN (f): Irish form of CATHERINE. Note the intervocalic R to L shift.

Past is Present in Genealogy

(Stories of Interest) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

The Boston Globe reports on historian Buzzy Jackson's journey into genealogy, Shaking the Family Tree:

 

More than simply a whirlwind journey into her family’s past, historian Buzzy Jackson’s account is a deep look inside the often-obsessive world of genealogists, people notable for their “willingness to just keep at it and never give up.’’


Research Recommendations: A Cautionary Tale

(Research Recommendations) Permanent link
 
Michael J. Leclerc

Michael J. Leclerc
Director of Special Projects

On a Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago I got a telephone call from my mother at 10:30 p.m.. After panicking for a brief moment (my mother is normally in bed by 9:00 p.m.), I realized she was up late because she was staying at her sister’s house. They were doing a major cleaning of closets and things at my aunt’s house. My mother said “We had this on the throw out pile, but I thought I’d call you first, just in case you were interested. Would you want a big family portrait of your grandmother, her parents, and her brothers and sisters?”

 

What escaped my lips was the sigh heard round the world. I have lost track of the number of times I have told my family that instead of throwing away photographs, papers, documents, etc., from family members to please put them in a pile and give them to me. When my folks downsized from a four-bedroom colonial to a two-bedroom modern house ten years ago, I had to go diving into trash bags to save the bride and groom from the top of my parents’ wedding cake, a bracelet my mother wore on her wedding day, and numerous other items of memorabilia. I even had to convince her to save her wedding dress so that they could use parts of it to create dresses for her granddaughters.

 

Back to the telephone call. I responded that yes, I would very much like to have the picture. She described it as a very big picture that used to hang on the wall. I said that was fine, I still wanted it. “Are you sure?” she asked. “Yes, Mother, I’m sure.” I finally went to see her this past weekend for a visit and to pick up the picture. After spending some time talking, I asked her where the picture was. We went out to the garage, where she opened a box and pulled out the “very big picture that used to hang on the wall.” It was an 8”x10” picture in a photographer’s frame. On the back was a built-in easel for standing on a table, with some string wrapped around the easel that someone used to hang it on the wall at one time. Needless to say, it was a bit smaller than I anticipated.

 

She then reached into the box again and pulled out another picture. I recognized it immediately. It was a 12”x15” cardboard frame, with an 8”x10” photograph of my great-aunt and her husband on their wedding day, and an 8”x10” photograph of my grandmother (in her bridesmaid dress) on the reverse. Along one side: the tattered remnants from where it had been bound into my great-aunt’s wedding album. I had seen the album many times growing up, and after it fell into my brother’s possession.

My great-aunt and great-uncle had no children of their own. My brother, sister, and I, were like grandchildren to them. My brother was their special favorite, and he inherited everything from their house when my great-aunt passed, including the wedding album. Despite having told my family multiple times I wanted the album if they ever decided to get rid of it, they had apparently pulled out the only images that meant anything to them, and thrown the rest of it away. I was crushed. The album contained pictures of other great-aunts and great-uncles, my great-grandparents, and others. And I knew even without asking that it was gone forever.

 

I write this as a cautionary tale. Try to make copies of images and documents as quickly as you can after you discover their existence. This is especially important if they are in private hands. Even if the relatives who own them are close and want to give them to you later, this may never come to pass if they die and distribution of the estate is left to an heir who doesn’t understand the value of the items.

 

By the same token, do not assume that your genealogical and family materials will be passed on as you wish. Even if you make specific arrangements, your wishes may not be followed. The only way to be certain your research, photographs, and other family items will be preserved is to entrust them to another person or institution while you are still alive and have control over the items. If you have made provisions for their disposal in your will, the best way to make certain materials will be preserved according to your wishes is to make an attorney your executor. They are impartial and make no value judgments (as your family might).

 

Donating your research and heirlooms to a repository is the best way to insure that they will be available for family members for generations to come. Such donations are the basis of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections at NEHGS, and we are grateful to all those who have donated materials. It is never too early to start thinking of this. Although I have thoughts of my life coming to a close anytime soon, many of my papers from my terms on the boards of nonprofit organizations have already been donated to a historical society, and I am in the process of organizing some of my genealogical research to NEHGS.

 

Whatever arrangements you make for your materials, don’t wait. Act now. No matter how many times you tell your family members, if they are not genealogists your valuable items may be lost.


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