Saturday, April 27, 2013

Last Day of Ohio Genealogical Society Conference

I went to more interesting sessions today at the conference.  The first session was on how to do research for a house history.  I've been wanting to do that for a while with my house, which was built in 1910.  I started the research a while ago, but now I have more good ideas on places to look for information.  After that I went to Colleen Fitzpatrick's session, "Forensic Genealogy:  CSI Meets Roots."  Unfortunately, this really wasn't a talk about forensic genealogy (see my recent post about the Forensic Genealogy Institute I attended two weeks ago to learn more about what that actually is).  Her talk was really about DNA and using science in your research.  So I was a little disappointed, but right at the end of the lecture she talked about her family connection to a surname I am researching in County Cork, Ireland, so that helped salvage the talk for me.

We had a three-hour lunch break today, which gave me time to catch up on four days of e-mails.  After that I headed back downstairs for a case study by Jay Fonkert, where he discussed how he tracked down four wives for an ancestor of his wife's where people originally thought there was only one.  He used several less common record types and had to prove several condlusions through indirect evidence, and it was interesting to see how it all came together.  In the next session James Beidler gave an overview of German Palatines, the area they came from, and the historical governmental structure in that area and how it affects research.  My family, Sellers, which was originally Söller in German, were Palatines.  Currently I have the family tracked back to 1615, but I want to see what else I can find.

The last session was on using estate papers and deeds for Irish research.  Richard Doherty had lots of wonderful information and links, which I hope to use for my research in Cork, Roscommon, and Sligo counties.  The Irish estate records seem to be very similar to the Polish magnate records which many Jewish researchers have been finding in archives.  Feudal landlords preceded governments in many areas; they owned the land, and they kept track of who was renting land, how much they paid, repairs that were made to buildings, etc.  So if you can find out who owned the land, you look for that person (or family's) archives and see if your ancestors appear in the records.  It's an excellent way to look for people who were not landowners.  And to celebrate a great convention, I took myself out to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House!  (Well, it wasn't much of a splurge, because someone gave me a gift card, but it was still a treat.)

Tomorrow I have allowed myself more time for research at the Cincinnati Public Library.  I'm going to see what else I can find on my con man and maybe do a little research on my Columbus relatives.  Then I head back to California on a nonstop flight (yay!) and get ready to go back to my regular schedule on Monday.

Cincinnati is a really nice city, and I've enjoyed my visit a lot.  I also got along great with my roommate for the conference, Luana Darby.  She is also a professional genealogist, and it was amazing how many things we have in common -- we've both done musical theater; we know multiple languages; we like NCIS, Criminal Minds, Chopped!, and Iron Chef America; we love to cook and sew; and we love to talk!  We stayed up late talking every night.  I'm glad I got to meet her, and I'm sure I'll see her again at another conference.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Days 1 and 2 of Ohio Genealogical Society Conference

I am having a great time at the Ohio Genealogical Society conference in Cincinnati, Ohio!  It's the end of the second day, and I finally have time to write about it.

The opening keynote on Thursday was by Tom Jones, the well known genealogist.  The topic was "Strategies for Finding 'Unfindable' Ancestors."  He discussed many excellent strategies for difficult research situations and gave several case studies that demonstrated some of those techniques.  I didn't get to hear any other talks that day, however, because I was helping in the exhibit hall.  I manned the table for the Warren County and Clinton County genealogical societies and handled their sales.  I was next to the Family Tree DNA booth and got to meet founder Bennett Greenspan (who knows a cousin of mine from Omaha, Nebraska!).  We talked about the next tests I should be doing with my father's DNA, and I ended up ordering an mtDNA test for him.  And that evening, the Cincinnati Public Library stayed open late just for conference attendees (they called it a "research lock-in").  Several staff members worked late in the genealogy and newspaper departments, and everyone who was there got great help all evening (except for not letting me get a library card, just because I'm from California).  They let us stay there until 11:30 p.m.!  I found two more marriages for a con man whom I am researching, who was originally from just outside Cincinnati (I think that brings him up to six marriages), and one of them appears to overlap with a marriage I already knew about -- so maybe he was a bigamist in addition to being a con man?

Friday I had a full slate of sessions.  In the morning I went to "Using Land Records in Slave Research", "Using State Court Records to Locate Slaves and Slaveholders", and "German Territories and Maps:  You Can't Research without Them" (yes, I have broad research interests).  While they all covered some material I knew, I learned something new in each session.  The afternoon started with my presentation, "Using Online Historical Black Newspapers", which everyone said they enjoyed very much.  The talk was recorded, and I already have my copy, so I'll get to hear one of my own presentations for the first time, which should be interesting.  Later in the afternoon I went to "Finding Rejected Claims and Pension Requests", which unfortunately really didn't talk much about rejected claims, and "Researching World War II Ancestors", which was an excellent talk with well explained information.  Then I was one of the experts on the panel for the African American Roundtable, where we had about 20 attendees asking all sorts of questions.  The evening ended with about twenty APG members and ProGen graduates getting together for dinner at Arnold's, which was featured on the TV program Harry's Law.

I started off my trip with a one-day stop in Columbus, where my aunt's sister lives.  In addition to getting to visit her, her daughter, and her granddaughter, we went to get some documents for relatives of her late husband's, which will help me with my research on his side of the family.

Saturday has a slightly shorter schedule because it's the last day of the conference.  I'm planning on attending sessions all day, and I'm hoping to meet Colleen Fitzpatrick, with whom I've had several entertaining e-mail conversations.  But I better get some sleep soon, or I'm going to miss those morning talks!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Big News in Online Newspapers

I received a message this morning saying that, one of the two best online newspaper sites and the first site I start my searches with, has been purchased by ProQuest, one of the multinational conglomerates that control much of the online information in the world today.  I wasn't able to confirm that by searching online, but I did find several references to ProQuest now handling NewspaperArchive's marketing.

One effect of the situation is that is currently not available through the Family History Library portal at FamilySearch Centers and Libraries, while ProQuest and the LDS Church/FamilySearch negotiate a new licensing agreement.  (I'm sure Godfrey Library has also had to renegotiate, as NewspaperArchive has been available through its portal.)  It is believed that ProQuest and the church will work something out, so NewspaperArchive should return in the near(ish) future to the portal.

I hope, however, that ProQuest does not change the current individual subscription model for NewspaperArchive.  Most ProQuest newspaper databases are available only through institutions such as universities and research libraries, and I would hate to see NewspaperArchive go that route.

Phone App Tells Two People How They Are Related

satellite image of Iceland
In Iceland, three software engineering students have written a smartphone app that can immediately tell two people how they are related.  Iceland is probably the only country where such a program could be written, at least for now, because most people descend from the 9th-century Vikings who settled the island, and therefore are distantly related (at least) to each other.

The app is based on the Islendingabok ("Book of Icelanders"), an online database of residents and their family trees that goes back 1,200 years.  The database was created using information from censuses, church records, family records, and other sources.  The company that developed it claims it includes 95% of all Icelanders who have lived in the past 300 years.  The database is available to any Icelandic citizen or resident; the app makes the database accessible from a smartphone.  When two people with the app "bump" their phones, the app tells them their family connection.  There's an article about the app at Huffington Post.

I suppose if we ever get to the point where everyone's family tree is online and connected (pretty much what the LDS Church is aiming for with the new Family Tree) non-Icelanders will be able to do the same thing.  That's probably a long way off for the rest of us, though.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

IAJGS Conference Preliminary Program Online

It's time to start planning your schedule for the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference in Boston this August!  The preliminary program has been posted online.  Besides simply browsing the complete list, you can search by topic, geographical focus, speaker's name, date, and more.

I already have a busy conference planned for myself, with sessions marked in almost every time slot.  Some of the priority sessions I've marked are "Interpreting 19th Century Russian Language Documents" on August 4 (even knowing how to read Russian, these are hard to work through), "Researching Your Ancestors' Food" on August 5 (what can I say, I like to eat), "Kishinev: History of Jews and Genealogy" on August 7 (my great-grandfather's six younger siblings were born in Kishinev, and the family lived there for more than 15 years), "Early American Jewish Research: Before 1870" on August 8 (I'm still trying to prove the connection of an 18th-century Jewish man in Virginia to his possible brother in Charleston and then to the family's origins in Germany), and "A Very Short Course in Hebrew for Family Researchers" on August 9 (I *really* need to learn Hebrew!).  The most important item on my schedule is my own talk on August 6 on finding and using online historical Jewish newspapers!

The conference runs August 4-9 and is being held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers.  While I'm in the area, I found research I can do in person.  I have cousins who live near Boston, and we're going to get together and talk about our family.  In addition, I realized that Brockton is not far away, and I need to visit some cemeteries there.  I'm going to have a week crammed full of family history!

Can you OD on genealogy?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Free Screening of Port Chicago Mutiny Documentary

On July 17, 1944, the Port Chicago disaster occurred in the San Francisco Bay area.  It was the largest mainland explosion during World War II, instantly killing 320 and injuring 390, most of whom were young enlisted black sailors.  The number of black men killed and injured accounted for 15% of all black naval casualties during World War II.  The subsequent refusal of fifty of the remaining sailors to resume loading munitions until their safety was assured resulted in one of the most significant mutiny trials in U.S. history. Their cause was supported by Eleanor Roosevelt and Thurgood Marshall, and ultimately led to desegregation of the Navy and later the entire military. A ceremony commemorating the explosion is held annually by the National Park Service.

On May 7, 2013, a free screening of The Port Chicago Mutiny:  The Real Story (1999) will take place at Bingham McCutchen LLP, 3 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.  This documentary was produced and directed by Ron Frank and is narrated by Louis Gossett, Jr.  There will also be an introductory panel discussion about the disaster and racial justice in the military.  The evening is being sponsored by the Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial, Bingham McCutchen LLP, and the Equal Justice Society.

Registration is available through Eventbrite.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Galitzianer March Issue

The March issue of The Galitzianer is being printed and distributed this week.  I keep getting closer and closer to an on-time delivery.  I am really optimistic about June!

The star of this issue is an article about Jewish education in the city of Kraków over several centuries.  Other articles discuss Galician family lineages that include capitalists and rabbis; a recent visit to Ivano-Frankivsk, formerly known as Stanislawów, the birthplace of the author; and reflections on the possible roles and responsibilities Jewish researchers who visit their ancestral shtetlach might encounter.  There is also quite a bit of information about the new, totally redesigned Gesher Galicia Web site.

The Galitzianer is a quarterly journal that is sent to members of Gesher Galicia, a nonprofit organization focused on researching Jews and Jewish life in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia.  Articles are accepted from both members and nonmembers.  If you submit an article that is published, you will receive a copy of the issue with your article even if you are not a member.  Submissions may be articles and/or graphics, both original and previously published, and must be relevant to Galician Jewish genealogical research:  articles about recent trips to Galicia, reports on your own research, historical and recent pictures relevant to these matters, etc.  Electronic submissions are preferred, though not required.

I'm looking for regular book and movie reviewers for The Galitzianer.  If you are interested and have some experience in writing, send me some writing samples and we can discuss.

If you wish to submit material for consideration, please contact me at  We accept submissions year-round, but the deadline for the June 2013 issue is May 15.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Forensic Genealogy Institute in Dallas, Texas

For the past few days, I have been in Dallas, Texas, where I participated in a great genealogical educational opportunity.  I attended the Forensic Genealogy Institute, offered by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (the second time they've done this).  Forensic here means "genealogical research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications" (from the CAFG home page).  I and about two dozen more genealogists -- most of us professionals, but some just starting to test the waters -- had more than 20 hours of instruction that included real-world work examples and resources.  Sessions covered an overview of different applications of forensic genealogy, legal and ethnical considerations, the role of the forensic genealogist, and business aspects.  We each earned a Certificate of Completion (not to be confused with being certified!).

I have been researching my own family history for almost 40 (!) years now, and other people's for close to 15 years.  Working as a genealogist has no set educational or experience requirements, so the background I already had in history, research and analysis techniques, writing reports, multiple languages, indexing, etc. was enough to get me started.  Over the years I have attended many, many talks on genealogical topics and techniques and have learned quite a bit.  But I was impressed with how much information the institute managed to cram into our heads over such a short time.  The case studies and real-world experiences related by the instructors were by far the most valuable part of the institute.  I recommend that anyone considering forensic genealogical work watch the CAFG Web site and sign up the next time the institute is scheduled (current plans are for next March).

Another enjoyable aspect of the institute was actually getting to meet several people I've previously communicated with only by e-mail.  It was a pleasure to meet Dee Dee King, Leslie Lawson, Kelvin Meyers, Michael Ramage, Debbie Parker Wayne, Amy Coffin, Janis Martin (who has the same birthday as I do!), and Charlene Pipkin in person.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

FindMyPast: .com versus

When brightsolid, the parent company of the British genealogy site (and brightsolid is itself owned by publishing group DC Thomson), decided to break into the U.S. genealogy market, it made a big marketing push for people to subscribe by offering discounts on subscriptions to the American counterpart of the site,  The price was good, and it is convenient to be able to use subscription sites at home at 2:00 in the morning (and FindMyPast has several useful databases), so I splurged and paid for a year.  But because I spend so much time at the Oakland FamilySearch Library (there have been jokes about setting up a bed in the corner for me), and the fact that all Family History Library satellite libraries have subscriptions to, I hadn't actually used my personal subscription.  Then one day while I was at the library our subscription to wasn't working, so I tried using my personal subscription instead to do my research in the outbound passenger lists.

That was not as successful as I had hoped.

On, when I want to search in only the migration records, I mouse over the search button:

click on "Migration Records", and then I get this screen, which allows me to choose which database I want to search in:

If I want to search in the outbound passenger lists, I click on the link and get a search form:

Here's I'm searching for Harris Doctors.  I get my search results:

When I click on a result (in this case the second one on the list), I get the page the person appears on:

The information at the top tells me what page of this ship's manifest I'm looking at (3 of 19), and there's a convenient link to the first page of the manifest, which has the ship's name, departure port and date, and destination port, which are not included on the subsequent pages:

This all works very nicely.  On .com, however, when I do the same mouse-over:

I also click on "Migration Records", but this is what I get:

Really?  30 million + results?  What happened to the the nicely laid-out list of databases and the search form?  They do allow you to restrict your searches at this point, but only in stages.  When you click on one of the filters (in the lower left of the above image), it automatically updates, for which you have to wait.

Then you can use the second filter.

And so on.  When I search for Harris Doctors via this interface:

I get a similar list of results:

When I click on the same person as I did on the site, I get the same page of the manifest, but no header with helpful information.  I don't know how many pages are in this manifest or what page I'm on.

And on another search, when I did go back page by page to find the header (I think it was about 40 pages), I tried to download it -- but the page that downloaded was the one I had clicked through to from the search results.  No matter what page I viewed and tried to download, the interface was set up to download only the page that I clicked through to.  To download the header page, I had to look at the names on that page, search for and find one through the (horrible) search interface, and then click on that result.

The census interface is also different between the two sites.  Here's the British site,

and here's the American site, .com:

I didn't check every section, but I'm guessing that it's the same across the board.

The first thing that is confusing about this is why anyone would create the poor interface that is on .com.  Beyond that, however, is the question of why FindMyPast/brightsolid would hire programmers to create the second interface when there was already a good, working interface:  the one on  Maybe there's a logical reason that interface couldn't be used on the U.S. site, but I haven't been able to think of one.

My first thought when this happened was, "Well, so much for ever renewing that subscription."  I don't need to do my research at 2:00 a.m. badly enough to put up with this interface.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Irishman Buried at Duffy's Cut Returns Home

Many young Irishmen arrived in Philadelphia in June 1832 aboard the John Stamp from Northern Ireland, looking for work.  About 120 men ended up working in Malvern, near Philadelphia, for a contractor named Duffy, leveling ground in preparation for a train line to be constructed.  An outbreak of cholera that summer affected the men at their work site, which was called Duffy's Cut.  The official count was eight dead, and the shanty that had been their living quarters was burned down and buried.

Fast forward to 2002.  Two brothers, William and Frank Watson, a history professor and minister, respectively, discovered among old family papers a file that their grandfather had had since the late 1960's.  It had extensive information about the 1832 deaths at Duffy's Cut.  The brothers became intrigued.  They did historical research and then assembled a team to begin excavations at the site.  Over the next few years they eventually began to discover artifacts and human remains from the time when the workers had died.

The first body that was uncovered had a rare dental anomaly that connected it to families in County Donegal.  By checking the passenger list from the John Stamp, the research group believed they had enough information to identify the young man, and his body was returned to the town from which he came.

Nowadays so many stories focus on DNA being used to identify people.  It was interesting to read about a different way to accomplish the task.

You can read more about the research and excavations in a story from the New York Times.

My thanks to Stephanie Hoover for posting about this interesting article.