Genealogy takes a back seat to life

They say that moving house and a death are two of life’s big stressors and I have experienced both this year.

In January my Mum decided to move house leaving our family home of 50 years to move into an apartment. My Dad is in long term care and the house was getting to be too much for her. It was all her decision and thankfully she had cleared out the clutter years ago it was just a matter of downsizing. I say just a matter of downsizing but it was a big job. She donated a lot to charity, family, friends and friends of friends. She was happy just to know things she loved had gone to a home that would love them too.

The work to be done before the house was sold stressed my Mum out as people had to come into the house and move her things for the staging. As soon as the house was sold everything was moved back. I was with her every step of the way. The house went on the market just in time for the Victoria Day weekend in May and was sold before the weekend ended.

She moved out almost 50 years to the day after we had moved into the house. She found a lovely apartment in an area of town she liked so that was half the battle. On the day of moving my brother took over organizing the move and I did the clearing and cleaning after everyone had left. My nephew stayed to help me for a while but work beckoned. I also had the job of doing the final walk through and making sure everything was clean the day before the closing. I always get these jobs and I don’t know why.

Shortly before my Mum moved my Aunt passed away. This was rather sudden but she had been ill for a while. She was my Dad’s sister. My Aunt had no family of her own so the five nieces and nephews took care of everything. We organized the Celebration of Life and started clearing out her home which it turns out was a huge job.

Now when someone moves and someone dies what does the genealogist end up with? A dining table full of photo albums, boxes of photos and various family papers and ephemera. There are four boxes of slides that will have to be looked at to discover the secrets they hold. I have been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to start sorting through them. I did a quick sort through of the photographs as some were needed for the Celebration of Life. Gathering all the photos for the montage was a trip down memory lane.

 

 

I came across some very interesting family documents and some items that had a family connection but were not directly connected to family. There will be blog posts coming with regards to these lovely treasures.

So this is why the blog has been quiet most of this year. My hope is to start blogging more regularly but please bear with me if it takes a while.

Hope your summer was filled with wonderful genealogical finds!

© 2017 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

Oh The Changes I Have Seen in Genealogy!

When writing my blog post on The Importance of Genealogy Societies in an Age of Digital Technology it got me thinking about how much genealogy has changed since I started researching my family history.

I have been doing family history research since the mid-1970s. A school project got me started when I was 11 years old. To find out about my Mum’s family letters had to be written to family members in Ireland and England to get information. This required writing the letter on the blue flimsy airmail paper, posting it and then waiting for a response. Everyday you excitedly waited for the mail to be delivered. My Dad’s parents lived near us so a visit to Granny and Grandpa helped me to find out about his side of the family. This is one of the family trees I got from a Grand Aunt.

 

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Every time I visited family in Ireland I asked more questions and gathered information. In the 1980s I started doing actual research. One of the first books in my genealogical library was “Handbook for Genealogical Correspondence” prepared by the Cache Genealogical Library. It was an American book first published in 1974 and I got the third edition from 1980. Writing letters was one of the main ways to do research from a distance.

 

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This book included the “essentials of a genealogical letter” writing to relatives, libraries, archives and other repositories. They gave you tips to write to “church record keepers” and “public officials.” There was a section under “public officials” about writing a letter to get information about a census record. These days we just go on the internet and search a census in a matter of minutes, if you are lucky.

There was a section on why letters were returned and the responsibly of the Post Master.  They looked at International Reply Coupons. Who out there remembers these? IRC’s for short, they were purchased from your local post office and were included in a letter to provide return postage when writing to another country. It was always protocol to include a self-addressed stamped envelope when sending a written query.

In the mid-1990s I was on the internet researching my family history with my dial up connection. Remember that long loud screech? There weren’t many databases online but you had message boards where you could post information about family branches you were researching. People from around the globe were coming together to share information. You also had email which was faster and less expensive than the postal service especially for overseas correspondence. Sharing information still required the postal service. When I do a google search on some family names those online queries I posted more than a decade ago pop up in the results.

The internet opened things up. I used to subscribe to the Genealogical Research Directory. Anyone out there remember the GRD? This was edited by a couple of gentlemen from Australia. You would pay your yearly subscription fee and that would include a certain number of entries in the book. Then you would wait for the large book to arrive in the mail. Near the end of the run they used CDs. When the book arrived you would go through it and see if you could find anyone searching for the same families you were researching. Then a letter, and eventually an email, was sent off and you waited. I found several distant cousins this way. It was something I looked forward too each year. A local library had older versions of the book and I started off searching those for information before I subscribed myself. These books were about three inches thick and took up a lot of room on the shelf.

There was a point in the 1990s and early 2000s where people were buying CDs with genealogical information on them. You used to go to the Family History Centre or local library to view census records on CDs. How many computers come with a CD player now?

Family history societies were important because their journals would have articles that could help with our research, provide information on a previously unknown local resource and the societies also provide research help for those who were not able to go to the local repositories. Their importance hasn’t changed in the days of the internet. In fact I would say they have become even more important when you are searching a particular area. No one knows the local records better than the family history society, except perhaps the local history librarian.

 

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Then Ancestry arrived on the scene. This opened up a whole new world to people researching their family history. It was the first time that you could access information quickly and at home, or the local library depending on where you had access to the database.

Now there are other large companies putting a great number of genealogical databases online. They are not the only ones because some of the larger family history/genealogical societies have put specific databases online for their members. The National archives and libraries of several countries have put digital images of their records online. Some are free to access and some are behind a pay wall. This is not an inexpensive process. It costs millions to provide records in digital format. These records are preserved as long as the format they have been digitized in keeps up with the changes.

I have been though all the changes in family history in the last forty years. Some have been good and some not so good, but then that’s life. The influx of genealogical records online has made more people interested in their family history. There are still a large cross-section of countries that don’t have a lot of information online and old fashioned research is still required. Those countries that do have a lot of information online you will find that it’s still not everything and you will have to go and do research in an archive, library or other repository.

The online databases are a great tool and they help you to move forward at a quicker pace than forty years ago. Everyone will get to a point where they will have to get down and dirty looking at old records. I say dirty because you will get dirty looking at old records. They have the ages of time on them and it rubs off on you.

I like the ease of doing research online but I truly enjoy getting down and dirty in local repositories and doing the research in the actual records. There is something very satisfying about touching an original document that records an ancestor’s baptism in 1769. All hail the dirt of the ages!

 

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

The Importance of Genealogy Societies in an Age of Digital Technology

Amy Johnson Crow interviewed D. Joshua Taylor at the RootsTech conference. She posed the question “In today’s world of social media, where everyone is sharing seemingly everything, do we still need genealogy societies.”

This got me thinking. Genealogy societies have always been a partner to my research. They had resources that could help me with my research. You could say that genealogy societies were the databases before the internet. The members would visit local libraries, archives, county offices, court houses, cemeteries and churches in their area and transcribe information that was a boon to researchers.

In my genealogy library I still have books and pamphlets from these societies that I have used to research my family history. As technology advanced some of these resources found their way onto CDs. Now you can find many of them in member sections on society websites. Thankfully they are still publishing books with information from smaller resources. The smaller record groups are not usually found on the larger company websites.

 

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They publish books on the history of their areas as well as local businesses and trades. This can help you learn more about the community where your ancestors lived.

Genealogy societies are important because their journals have articles that could help with our research such as providing information on a previously unknown local resource. Some of these journals are now available electronically. The best place to find past years of genealogy society journals is PERSI (Periodical Source Index) which you can now find on Findmypast.

Genealogy societies provide educational opportunities. They have monthly meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences. All these provide the attendees with an opportunity to learn more and to improve their research skills.

One thing I wish more genealogy societies would do is to either live stream or video their meeting lectures. They could put them behind membership walls and this would allow members who don’t live near enough to attend the meeting to watch the lecture. I often feel like I am paying a lot of money for membership fees to societies and not being able to avail myself of all they have to offer because I live abroad. These days everyone has the ability to take video with their cameras. You can use YouTube or embed them on your website. As we saw at RootsTech the app Periscope was used to live stream expo hall demos.

The majority of people who run genealogy societies are dedicated volunteers who have been with the society for many years. We are missing the younger people who may not see the importance of the genealogy society. There is a theory that we can find everything online. We can’t.

 

Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013

Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013

 

As Josh Taylor said in Amy Johnson Crow’s interview the genealogy society is a community to share information and stories. It is a place to learn new ways of research and keep up to date on all the changes.

Every genealogy society should have a social media presence. This will hopefully help bring in some of the younger people. Some of the societies that do have a social media presence aren’t using it to their advantage. There is a lack of knowledge about what genealogy societies have to offer. The first step is to promote their printed publications containing the transcriptions from local records and make these publications easier to access. It would save printing and postage if they were turned into eBooks.

Genealogy society memberships have always been part of my genealogy budget. I belong to the Glasgow & West of Scotland Family History Society, The Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society, The Genealogical Society of Ireland, The National Genealogical Society and The Ontario Genealogical Society which includes the Halton Peel Branch, the Irish Special Interest Group, and the Scottish Special Interest Group. These societies represent the areas in which my ancestors lived, where I live now, as well as my current interests.

Remember, if you are researching your family history no one knows the records of their town better than the local genealogy society, except maybe the local history librarian. Both places are brick and mortar and they house documents in paper, film and other formats. Both the genealogy society and the local history librarian are important assets to your family history research.

 

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

Summer Reading: “A Curious Mind The Secret to a Bigger Life”

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Lately I have been reading “A Curious Mind The Secret to a Bigger Life” by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. You may recognize the name Brian Grazer. He is a movie producer and business partners with Ron Howard. Together they have made memorable movies from “Splash” to “A Beautiful Mind.”

In this book he discusses his lifelong devotion to curiosity. He has “curiosity conversations” with well-known people from varying backgrounds. He is at heart a story teller. Brian Grazer says: “Curiosity motivates us to explore and discover. Storytelling allows us to share the knowledge and excitement of what we’ve figured out. And that storytelling in turn inspires curiosity in the people to whom we’re talking.” [Page 82]

This got me thinking about family historians. The main reason we get involved in researching our family history is curiosity. We are curious about our past, our family, the unknowns that are directly connected to who we are. If you don’t have curiosity I don’t think you would ever start on the path of researching your family history.

Many family historians take this a step further. We find a person who has no connection to us but our curiosity pushes us to learn more about them. We find a piece of ephemera, a newspaper article, a lonely tombstone and we want to learn more. Curiosity pushes us to tell the story of these apparently lonely items and the people attached to them. We can take it a step further and try to reunite found items with living family members.

Brian Grazer says: “The vividness of someone’s personality and energy really only comes alive when you shake hands and look them in the eye. When you hear them tell a story. That has a real emotional power for me, and a real staying power. It’s learning without being taught, it’s learning through storytelling.” [Page 90]

This is another part of family history. We interview and connect with the generations before us. They could be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, no matter how distant. We meet with them, connect with them, we look in their eyes and see a part of our own story. They may have parts of the story that we are unfamiliar with and the sharing of the story connects us.

He also says: “…the curiosity is all about the story. What’s the story of your life, and how are you hoping that money or a new hairstyle will help you shape that story and help you share it.” [Page 94] Now as family historians we are not worried too much about a new hairstyle. We may worry about money so that we can pay for the documentation to help us further our research.

Isn’t family history all about the story, our story? Isn’t it the goal of family historians to write our family story? We want to share that story with other family members. Our aim is to have our ancestors honoured and remembered by future generations.

The curiosity of family history usually starts with one person and one link to the past but it is shared with multiple generations with the hope that they can learn something from those that came before.

Wouldn’t you love to have a “curiosity conversation” with one of your ancestors?

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

 

 

 

Irish Genealogy Lectures Series – Only in Ireland

National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland

Lately I have become a little jealous of the people in Ireland doing genealogy. They have the most remarkable resources available to them and most of them are free. I wish they were available to genealogists outside of Ireland.

What am I talking about? Lectures, usually free, being held at the National Library, PRONI and other venues. Almost daily I get new reports of what is coming up in the way of topics and speakers. I would dearly love to attend some of these lectures but it is hard to do when you don’t live in Ireland.

Unfortunately, when I am in Belfast the lecture PRONI is giving would take time out of my research. The good thing with PRONI is that they sometimes record their lectures and put them on YouTube, so I can sit at home and watch them at my leisure.

The National Library of Ireland have been holding lunch time lectures all summer and they have announced their September line up. It would be wonderful if these were put on YouTube or a podcast.

I have been listening to the National Archives of England podcasts for years and they are very informative. Yes, a podcast is a little less enjoyable than a webinar when slides are involved but you still get the main idea of the lecture and can learn something new.

It would be a boost to the Irish genealogy community, and their link to the genealogy community outside of Ireland, to start making these lectures available to people who can’t be there in person. Since the majority of the lectures are being offered to the general public for free then that should be the same for the viewing/listening audience.

Wouldn’t you love to learn more about “Mapping Ireland’s Industrial Past” or “Using maps for thinking about history: An Illustrated talk”?

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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