Archive for February, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Jennie Salisbury

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

jennieesalisburyLooking back through our cemetery photos, this one from a trip to the Woodlawn Cemetery in McHenry County, Illinois caught my eye.

Jennie E. Salisbury. Her name barely fits the width of the stone and the dates, just years, seem to tell her story in the barest sort of way. We took this photo in the fall, but even in the summer it seems as though the concrete base would keep the grass from softening the marker’s edges. And yet, there’s something strong, solid, and appealing about this marker.

Jennie was the daughter of Julius Munson and his wife, Antoinette Maria Smith, a sister of Dean’s ancestor, James Ayer Smith. My notes suggest that she was married to an Edward P. Salisbury and that he died about 8 Feb 1868. Jennie Salisbury was enumerated with her parents in 1870 and with her sister in 1880 but in 1900, she was a patient at the state hospital in Elgin Kane, Illinois.

As I worked on this post, I found myself wanting to know more about Jennie. I logged into my Genlighten account (of course!) and requested her death certificate from Molly Kennedy, a friend and fellow lookup provider  from Springfield, Illinois. It turns out that Jennie died from lobar pneumonia and pyelonephritis at the state hospital. The death certificate doesn’t say much of anything else about her except that her occupation at one time might have been “canvasser.”

The curious thing is that Jennie, who would have been about 12 or 13 at the time,  doesn’t seem to have been enumerated with her family in the 1850 census unless . . .. Is it possible that the Jane E. Munson I see in both the 1850 and the 1860 census records is actually Jennie? I love a good mystery!

If you’re connected to the Munson family from Oneida County, New York, I’d love to exchange notes.

Nine Questions with Banai Feldstein

Monday, February 8th, 2010

banai_feldstein_provider_avatar

I first met Banai in August 2009 at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Philadelphia. I was struck immediately by her intensity and passion, her technical savvy, and the degree to which she was connected to other researchers and leaders at the conference. She was one of only a few attendees who “live-tweeted” from numerous conference sessions. I quietly hoped to one day recruit her as one of our providers, and was thrilled several months later to see that she had signed up.

From BanaiFeldstein‘s Profile

Banai specializes in Eastern European research — including Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Belarus– and in Jewish research. She’s the President of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society and an APG member.

Nine Questions with Banai

1) How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

I was living in Nashville when I had a relapse of the genealogy bug. A few years later,  I wasn’t getting any web design clients, so I figured I could move to Salt Lake City and not get any web design clients there, but at least I could do more genealogy research. I also hoped to turn it into a business, which I have.

I’ve read many times that you should find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it. I’ve always loved puzzles and detective work, and that’s what genealogy often is.

2)      Do you have a genealogy “superpower”? If so, what is it?

I am really good with languages. Some clients ask for records in languages I haven’t worked in before, and I tell them so up front, but they trust that I can do the work anyways. I usually can. Dutch was tricky, but all the Eastern European languages I’ve found pretty easy.

3)      Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

My mother has told me numerous times that she had an older sister who was given up for adoption. Late last year, I found her birth record. We’re still in the middle of trying to find and contact her now.

4)      What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request?

My favorite potential clients are the ones who provide me with specifics: locations, dates, religion. When they ask for something generic like “Polish research”, that doesn’t help. If I lived in Poland, maybe I could do something, but I need to know the exact location to know if I have access to any records. When they openly share their information, that’s the best query and gets the most thorough response as to whether or not I can help. Also, it’s good when they’re at least slightly organized. Figuring out what they’re asking and putting their family information in order takes extra time.

5)      What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

There is nowhere else on Earth like the Family History Library.

6)      What technical tools do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

The FHL provides the equipment for me. I just need to bring along my flash drive.

If I have to order a record from an archive, then I use my trusty CanoScan LIDE, which I’ve had forever. This scanner has travelled all over with me, scanning photos and documents from relatives too. It’s one of those 1 inch tall scanners that fits right into my large laptop bag.

7)      Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Plenty. I can do almost anything at the FHL. It’s just a matter of entering it all into Genlighten.

8)      What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

They should be very familiar with the archive and the records that they want to provide. Know which record types and years are available, the hours of the facility, any costs involved, and be sure that they can get there often.

9)      What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups?

I love improving my house. It was neglected for at least three owners and empty for two years before me, so it needs a lot of TLC. The current project is refinishing the hardwood floors.

I love ice skating and the Utah Olympic Oval is conveniently a few blocks from my house.

I also love to write. I’m the newsletter editor for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society (as well as the president now), so I get some genealogy writing in there several times a year. I participate in National Novel Writing Month every November. And I just started a  blog this year; I’m enjoying the extra writing.

Lookups BanaiFeldstein Offers

Jewish Polish Birth Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Birth Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Marriage Records & Translation, 1830-1900
Jewish Polish Death Records & Translation, 1830-1900

Was Your Ancestor a Lighthouse Keeper? A “Genealogy Long Tail” Example

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

lighthouse_keeperI visited the NARA Great Lakes Regional Archives this last week to fulfill a Naturalization Record lookup for a Genlighten client. As I was waiting for my researcher card paperwork to be processed, I looked through the finding aid brochures to see what other records this facility had. One caught my eye:

Selected Records Relating to Lighthouse Service Employees, 1801-1912

Cool! So if someone had an ancestor who they thought might have been a lighthouse keeper, I could look that person up and perhaps produce a document containing some basic info about them. For example, here’s what NARA says is contained in publication M1373:

Lighthouse Keepers and Assistant Keepers. NARA microfilm publication M1373, Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845-1912 (6 rolls) includes lists of keepers and assistant keepers. The lists typically consist of the names, the district and the name of the light, the date of appointment, the date of resignation or discharge or death, and sometimes the annual salary. Most of the lists do not actually begin until 1849.

The NARA finding aid implies that these records would also include the birth place of the lighthouse keeper.

The Long Tail of Genealogy Records

So I immediately wondered: how many people would be interested in these records (and thus might request my lookup?) I managed to find a Rootsweb message board about lighthouse keepers. Between 2004-2010, there were — get this — 13 messages posted. I looked to see if either Ancestry or Footnote had digitized the NARA microfilm rolls. Nope.

These lighthouse-related collections seem to fit fairly well my definition of “Long Tail Genealogy Records“: to a small number of people they’d probably be quite interesting. But that number’s too small to make it worth Ancestry’s or Footnote’s or FamilySearch’s time and effort to scan them, index them, and make them available online.

Could Genlighten Help? Should It?

I suspect I’ll go ahead and offer a “Register of Lighthouse Keepers” Lookup, just for the heck of it. But if I decide to, I’ll need to ask myself a lot of practical questions first:

  • What happens if I actually get a request?
  • Will the price that the lighthouse keeper’s descendant is willing to pay be enough to make it worth my while to drive out of my way to the NARA facility just for that lookup?
  • Or should I offer a bunch of other lookups from NARA in hopes of aggregating enough requests to justify a weekly trip?
  • What should I call the lookup so it will Google well?
  • What search terms would someone use who was looking for such a record?
  • How should I define the locality for this lookup? By the state or state/county where the lighthouse was located?

Why Our Business Model Matters

A lot of these issues would go away if Genlighten’s business model involved simply quoting an hourly rate and than billing the client for my time. But because we’re all about fixed-fee lookups, it’s trickier. I have to carefully define the scope of the lookup I’ll perform for the fee I decide to charge. And with few requests likely to come in, it will be hard to iteratively adjust my pricing in response to client feedback.

Of course, I could define an “off-the-shelf” lookup for part of the research and then direct the client to use our custom request capability to pursue the remainder. That’s what we encourage our providers to do for probate records and other hard-to-know-the-scope-in-advance lookups. Hmm… lots of possibilities there.

Was Your Ancestor a Lighthouse Keeper?

If so, I’d love to hear from you. Likewise if you need naturalization records for states in the NARA Great Lakes Region, or any other lookup for a record held by NARA Great Lakes that isn’t available online.

Surname Saturday: Smith

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

louise_grant_smith_richardsonHere’s what I know (or hope I do) about my SMITH line.

1. Dean Richardson

2. David Richardson, born 17 Nov 1935 in Erie, Erie County, PA; died 16 Oct 1998 in Stanford, Santa Clara County, CA

3. Owen Richardson, born 02 Dec 1899 in Baltimore, Baltimore County, MD; died 05 Dec 1993 in Edinboro, Erie County, PA

4. Louise Grant Smith, born 01 Apr 1861 in Detroit, Wayne County, MI; died 01 May 1941 in Saybrook, Ashtabula County, OH

5. James Thomas Smith, born 1834 in Waterville, Oneida County, NY; died 18 Feb 1863 in Detroit, Wayne County, MI

6. James Ayer Smith, born 24 Jun 1807 in Paris, Oneida County, NY; died 22 Jul 1875 in Chicago, Cook County, IL

7. Charles Smith, born 1781 in Pownalboro, Lincoln County, ME; died 19 Dec 1871 in Kane County, IL

8. Cheney (“China”) Smith, died 17 Dec 1831 in Oneida County, NY

Most of the early data here is from “Memories”, a typescript authored by Louise Grant Smith (pictured.) She made several copies for her children; we have the copy given to her son Owen in our possession. A microfilm copy is available as FHL Film 1035971 Item 1.

Follow Friday: Lessons From My Ancestors — Sara Beth Davis

Friday, February 5th, 2010

When my wife and I were first thinking about creating Genlighten, we tried to imagine who should make up our initial target audience. We actually found it easier to decide who it wouldn’t be:

  • Complete beginners, we thought, would be too focused on tapping all the online resources, both free and fee-based. They wouldn’t be ready to look for offline records and thus wouldn’t have a need for Genlighten yet.
  • Certified professional genealogists might eventually make use of us once we’d earned a solid positive reputation, but we didn’t expect many of them to be among Genlighten’s “early adopters.”

We finally settled on two categories of genealogy enthusiasts who we hoped would become, respectively, Genlighten’s first buyers and sellers:

  • Advanced beginner/intermediate genealogists — those just starting to explore offline records by visiting archives or ordering records from remote repositories — would be our initial clients
  • Transitional” genealogists — those contemplating the leap into the ranks of professional genealogy but not quite there yet — would be our initial providers.

It hasn’t worked out as we expected (almost nothing about this adventure has!) but I can still say that it really warms my heart when I meet someone on Twitter or at a genealogy conference who I find fits one of those two profiles.

Which brings me (finally!) to my Follow Friday recommendation for this week: Sarah Beth Davis, author of the Lessons From My Ancestors blog.

lessons_from_my_ancestors_blog

In the “About Me” section of her blog, Sara says:

I never really explored anything other than what my family had already and what I could find free online.  For the past two years I have been becoming what I like to call a “recreational genealogist”.  I research when I have time (usually a few hours every weekend) and am using online resources that are available.  In the future I would like to take my research offline by ordering vital records certificates and visiting archives.

That’s exactly what we’re hoping to help all sorts of people do: begin to document their genealogy research using offline records.

Sara writes in a warm and open personal style, mostly about her key surnames, brickwall people, and research discoveries. She’s also a strong presence among the genealogy community on Twitter (one of the most prolific among those I follow) and I love her Twitter “handle”: @InnerCompass.

She’s had some marvelous experiences discovering the diary of her ancestor Sylvia Lewis. It’s her “Sylvia’s Diary” posts that first caught my attention on Twitter. Sara says:

Sylvia is my maternal 5th great-grandmother and her diaries have opened by eyes to a world of struggles, migration, and joy.

The title of her blog says it well: “Lessons From My Ancestors”. I encourage you to subscribe to Sara’s blog… and learn those lessons right along with her.

52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge #5: Trying Out Worldcat.org

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

logo_wcmasthead_enThis week Amy Coffin‘s 52WtBG challenge directed us to explore the online library catalog aggregator Worldcat.org. Here’s how Worldcat defines itself:

WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. WorldCat grows every day thanks to the efforts of librarians and other information professionals.

I wasn’t sure what to expect here… would I find lots of historical records about my distant ancestors, or would most of the results returned in searches be modern ones?

Initial Success

After creating an account and a profile (you don’t need to but I was interested in the social features a personal account offered) I started out by typing ancestors’ names into the search box. My first try was Benjamin Trafford, my great-great grandfather who eventually rose to the rank of Colonel in the Civil War. I had heard he’d authored a book on military tactics, but no luck there. Instead, the following entry was second in the results list:

worldcat_benjamin_trafford_results1

It’s hard to read at this resolution, but the catalog entry was quite a find: military orders issued by Benjamin Trafford to the 71st Regiment, N.G.S.N.Y., New York, February 6th 1865.

Can I View It Online?

Naturally I was hoping Worldcat actually had digitized the “book” so I could view it and download it. But alas, no. Instead, I was shown a list of repositories from which I could theoretically inter-library loan the record (or retrieve it in person if I lived near any of them.) Turns out the New York Historical Society has it.

Sounds Like a Job for Genlighten

Since Genlighten has several lookup providers who live in the New York City area, I could go create a custom lookup request and ask for a provider to retrieve this document, scan it and upload the resulting image to my account. Or, since our daughter works reasonably close to the New York Historical Society, I could ask her to make the trip. Either way, it sounds like it’d be worth it. I would have had no idea this record existed if WorldCat hadn’t found it for me.

What Else Can I Do on WorldCat?

The site offers all the Web 2.0 features you’d want in a modern online catalog. Using nearby links, I can:

  • Add the record to a list of my favorite finds (I can even customize different lists with different titles)
  • Tag the entry to help future searchers
  • Write a review or rate the document from zero to five stars
  • Share a link to the entry via email, on the usual social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or via social bookmarking sites like Digg or Delicious
  • Find similar items in the WorldCat catalog (in this case, a great collection of books about the 71st Regiment, NY State National Guard.)

I promptly created a personal User List (one of the benefits of actually registering and creating an account) and added the Benjamin Trafford entry to it.

Wouldn’t it be Cool…

As I tried each of these social features out, I couldn’t help but wish that WorldCat had the Family History Library Catalog entries available with all of this functionality. But of course, that’s where Genseek is supposed to come in, right?

“Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item”

Missing of course, was the feature we at Genlighten are particularly eager to see: the “Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item from Genlighten.com” button. Not to worry, we’re working on that.

Wordless Wednesday: Grandma Matthews

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Grandma MatthewsGrandma Matthews (reverse side)

The back of the photo reads

Grandma Matthews
(Pa’s mother)
When she came from England (or
Ireland) to visit son
Thomas T. Matthews
She was English

Thomas Taylor Mathews was Dean’s great-grandfather.

Build Something For Yourself, Revisited

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

In a previous post, I mentioned meeting Harper Reed at the last Chicago Hacker News meetup. He asked if I could help him find out about the ancestor he had always heard he was named after: a distant uncle who had supposedly died in a car crash in Colorado.

The Search Begins

With no dates or specific localities to go on, I searched Ancestry for Harper Reeds who had died after the invention of the automobile. Hits in the 1920 and 1930 censuses looked promising, though they were for John Harper Reed (rather than just Harper Reed) and he lived in two different places with different wives in each census. A USGenWeb site listed a date of burial for a John Harper Reed in a Colorado Springs cemetery, matching the 1920 census residence info.

But nothing I found easily on Ancestry or elsewhere online could document the unique “death by car accident” connection that I was looking for. Finding an obituary seemed like the obvious next step. Too bad Genlighten didn’t yet have a Colorado provider that could help me. I advised Harper of my progress and decided to let the project drop for a while.

Finding a “Hidden” Provider

Then this last Friday, as I was going through all our registered users counting those who’d created profiles and offered lookups, I discovered a bunch of “hidden” lookup providers — people who had signed up for Genlighten, who listed their credentials in their profiles, but who didn’t yet offer specific lookups on the site. One of them was Linda Vixie, who goes by the username elfie. To my surprise and delight, I noticed that her research specialities included “Colorado, especially El Paso and Teller Counties.” Colorado Springs is in El Paso County. Hooray! Maybe we did have a provider who could get the obituary for me!

elfies_profile

Asking the Provider a Question

ask_elfie_a_questionNow what I needed to know was, was Elfie willing to track down an obituary (or a cemetery photo) for me? And could she perhaps also visit Lincoln County, where John Harper Reed was enumerated in the 1930 Census? So I went to the “Ask the Provider a Question” box on Elfie’s profile, and submitted my question to her.

Later that same day, an email arrived in my inbox, automatically generated by Genlighten, indicating that Elfie had responded to my question. Her reply was concise, confident, and constrained. She could definitely tackle El Paso County, and the obituary was likely indexed. But Lincoln County was too long a drive.

elfies_1st_response_to_my_question

In a few short sentences, Elfie had managed to convey credibility and demonstrate a willingness to help. I instantly knew I’d found a great lookup provider.

Submitting a Custom Lookup Request

Elfie didn’t yet offer an “off-the-shelf” obituary lookup for El Paso County, so I posted a custom lookup request. I gave Elfie all the info I’d discovered on Ancestry, plus the supposition that Harper Reed had died in a car crash, and my desire to confirm that possibility. I set my target price at $10 and set a deadline three weeks away.

my_harper_reed_custom_request1

Heck Yes, Accept!

I posted again to Elfie’s profile, indicating I’d posted a custom request. She promptly submitted a quote, and outlined in detail how she’d go about fulfilling my request. Her price was half what I was more than willing to pay! I quickly clicked the “Accept” button.

elfies_quote

Wow… That Was Fast!

Two days before the date she had promised to look for the obituary, a notification message from Genlighten appeared in my inbox. “Provider elfie has completed your custom request… They were successful in retrieving the document(s) you requested.” Cool!

email_telling_me_my_request_was_complete

Happy Dance Time!j_harper_reed_obituary

I clicked on the link in the email and logged in so I could see the Manage Quotes Received results page. There was the scanned image of the obituary that Elfie had uploaded. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect headline: “J. Harper Reed Dies at Empire After Accident.”

I gave Elfie a five-star rating and started composing my email to Harper. My day had officially been made.

Surprised and Delighted

As a Genlighten customer, I’d been “surprised and delighted” by how quickly, conveniently and affordably I had gotten exactly the document I needed to move my Reed Family research forward. I’m fully aware that the process won’t always go anywhere near this smoothly. But it was gratifying… so gratifying… to see the vision we’ve had for Genlighten start to be realized. Dogfood never tasted so good.

Build Something For Yourself

Jason Fried had said at the Chicago Tech Meetup two weeks before, “Build Something For Yourself.” Of course, though that was part of our initial motivation, we also want to build something that can become hugely useful to the rest of the genealogy community. A new tool in the holster of genealogy researchers, both amateur and professional. It feels like we’re getting closer to that becoming reality.

Nine Questions with FamHistFinder

Monday, February 1st, 2010

famhistfinderThe Salt Lake City area probably has more professional genealogists per capita than just about any metropolitan area in the US. So it comes as no surprise that Genlighten has several lookup providers who live near the LDS Church’s Family History Library and know its resources well. Barbara Smythe is one of them. She joined our provider network only recently and already offers an extensive collection of vital record lookups covering eight states plus Chicago and Manhattan.

From FamHistFinder‘s Profile

Barbara has a BA in Social Science and Library Science. She’s been a school librarian and teacher of reading and geography in Kansas, California, Hong Kong and China.

Nine questions with Barbara

1)  How did you get started doing genealogy lookups/research?

About thirty years ago a close friend asked me to help her find out something about her mother and we both became hooked.  We lived in Southern California where there was a National Archives and several good libraries.  We then began doing family history for friends and family, we have never stopped.

2)  Do you have a genealogy superpower? If so, what is it?

My “superpower” is my husband of 53 years.  He is an historian and will always go to libraries with me and do his research as long as I want to do mine. We once spent 27 days at the Library of Congress, and have been to many of the State Historical Libraries. I’m a detail person and never tire of going from one lead to another in order to solve a problem, and I love huge libraries.

3)   Describe a tricky research problem you’re particularly proud of having solved?

A friend said that his wife, who was adopted as a baby, wanted to find who her birth parents were.  All she knew was when and where she was born.  She was adopted soon after her birth.  I was taking a trip to the Salt Lake Family History Library and there I started looking at birth records for a female baby born on the date and place given.  There were two girls born that day, one with the right first name, but no father mentioned.  I then looked for the mother in the census.  I found her with her parents at a younger age and found her marriage later, tracked her down in the same town where she still lives.

The problem was how to get in touch with her.  Do you just call one day and ask if she had put a baby girl up for adoption 50 years ago?  I took the information back to my friend, and he said that his wife had decided since her adoptive parents were still alive and lived close to them that she would not try to find her birth parents.  I am pretty sure that my information was correct, but will never know whether this lady ever used that information to find her birth mother.

4)     What are the ideal elements you like to see in a well-formulated lookup request/research query?

It is always important to have a specific goal. Give names, places, dates and any clue about the people who the person is looking for. If they know where the people are during a census year, it is great to have siblings and other people who might be living with the family on a census.

5. What’s the most interesting record source or repository you’ve utilized in your area?

The Salt Lake Family History Library.

6)  What technical tools (hardware, software) do you use to produce the digital images you provide to clients?

Desktop PC with Windows Vista. HP Deskjet 4480 (3 in One, Printer, Scanner, Copier).

7. Any new lookups you’re considering offering?

Any lookup which can be answered with records from the Salt Lake Family History Library.

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started as a lookup provider?

Live near a large library or repository that has a great number of records.

9. What other passions do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing lookups/research?

I’m always working on my own and my husband’s family history. I am a member of a local chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution and help prospective members and friends with their applications for joining the DAR. I have done the research for 14 DAR applications which have been accepted.

Lookups FamHistFinder Offers

Manhattan, New York Birth Certificates, 1866-1897, $10.00
Manhattan, New York Marriage Records, Index to all Boroughs, 1866-1937
Chicago, Cook, Illinois Birth Certificates (not yet online at FamilySearch), 1916-1922
Alabama Death Certificates, 1908-1974
Florida Death Records, 1877-1939
Georgia Death Records, 1914-1927
Idaho Death Records, 1911-1937
South Carolina Death Records, 1944-1955
New Mexico Death Records, 1889-1945
Minnesota Death Records, 1908-1955
Louisiana Death Records, 1850-1875, 1894-1954