18 September 2014

Vision -- something we take for granted. What did our ancestors do?

Source: Flickr via Creative Commons, Kent Landerholm

The other day my husband and I were talking about my poor eyesight.  I’m not blind and let’s say that without my glasses my whole world (except at about 4 inches from my nose) is a complete blur.  My vision is good enough to get me to the bathroom in the middle of the night and read in bed and that is about it.

This came to mind because I was mulling over signatures – you know, those things that we compare to see who is who when we have more than one individual living contemporaneously with the same name.

And I got to thinking about vision ... or, really, the lack thereof.  Yes, we may see images of Benjamin Franklin wearing his spectacles and do we honestly think that all our ancestors were running around wearing glasses?  I imagine that there were many many people running around with blurry vision – maybe not as bad as mine and some even worse!

According to Eyeglasses Through the Ages [emphasis mine] ...

During this period, spectacles also came into more common use in the United States. John McAllister, Sr. (1753-1830) arrived in America from Glasgow, Scotland in 1775 just before the Revolutionary War. He began selling hickory walking sticks (canes) in 1783 and, soon thereafter, riding whips. In 1799, he decided that spectacles might be an appropriate addition to these other wares so he established the first optical shop in America in Philadelphia. Until the War of 1812, McAllister imported all of the spectacles he sold in his shop. However, as a result of the conflict, the major trade embargo with Great Britain forced all Americans to rethink their dependence on imported goods. McAllister, a perfectionist, began producing his own gold and silver frames in 1815. Astigmatic lenses came into being in the U.S. in 1828 when McAllister and his son John, Jr. began importing cylindrical lenses for the correction of astigmatism. 

So, pre-1799, getting spectacles was really hard.  And, post-1799, I don’t think too many North Carolinians (where I live) were traveling to Philly to get eyeglasses!

Then, what about hitting the age of 40 (I did hold out until 45 and then that switch flipped off) and all of a sudden many of us lose our near vision, hence have trouble reading.

What about glaucoma and cataracts?  So, not only have I lost my near vision, I’m now at risk for cloudy vision, reduced vision, or possibly a loss of vision.

To be honest, I cannot imagine what life was like with everything a blur for a person with reduced vision – can you imagine working in a kitchen over a hot fire?  What about sewing, chopping wood, grabbing containers of “stuff” for which you cannot read the labels, etc.

In addition to the household and work hazards that come with poor vision, now imagine that you are asked to write your signature!  I cannot imagine what my signature would like if I couldn’t “see” to write it, though I can guarantee that it wouldn’t be as neat (a matter of opinion) as it currently is. So, though, I have often thought that a person might switch from writing a signature to making a mark as they write their will due to being feeble, injured, or otherwise incapaticated, it’s also very likely that someone who had a glorious signature in youth may have found it impossible to have the exact same signature as their vision deteriorated.

Keeping with the theme of signatures, I also know that my signature has morphed through time.  Where I used to write with a somewhat cramped style, with the passage of time my signature got a bit more dramatic (though my husband and daughter I think were aiming for the unintelligible writing associated with doctors).  I actually kind of have fun writing my name – after all, signing credit card receipts and contracts is about the only practice I get!

Since I’ve worn glasses since I was five, I imagine that without the aid of glasses, my signature would have been quite different than it is.

I’ve realized the though I have understood the value of signatures, I may not have fully understood the complexity of the signature of any given person when correlated to vision issues.

I take for granted my glasses (as invaluable as they are).  What if I didn’t have any?












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16 September 2014

If your ancestor lived ... well, really died in 1870 ... check out these infographics



I’ve mentioned the Vault on Slate before and posts by Rebecca Onion.  Well, she’s shared another neat post of interest to genealogists and family historians.  Though we strive to learn as much as we can about our ancestors lives, we also value what we can learn about how they died.


This set of charts shows causes of death in the United States, according to the 1870 census. The page appeared in the Statistical Atlas of the United States, a project spearheaded by Francis Amasa Walker, then the superintendent of the Census. Here, the atlas employs a data visualization technique described by Edward Tufte as “small multiples”—a series of little illustrations presenting bits of a data set.

The article goes on to share some of the results presented along with some thoughts about why certain patterns emerged in certain states for certain age groups and/or causes of death.  There is a link to a zoomable version of the original chart either via the blog post or at the Library of Congress’ digital archives (part of the Cultural Landscapes section of the Map Collections in American Memory).

So many neat documents so little time!  À la Rebecca Onion have you come across neat infographics that really gave you an informative visual perspective on something related to your ancestors?  If so, please share ...



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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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15 September 2014

Do You Live in the Philly Area? Have an Interesting Genealogy Story? Genealogy Roadshow is Currently Casting for Philadelphia



We often talk about Who Do You Think You Are (see Related Articles below) and that is not the only genealogically-themed TV show for us to view.  We have previously also mentioned Genealogy Roadshow, History Detectives, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr, and others.

You can currently catch this season’s episodes of Genealogy Roadshow – Austin, San Francisco, Nashville, and Detroitonline

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you still have a chance to participate in that episode (taping in October), since the show is currently casting there.  Watch the same website for any future casting notices.

Is there a family legend you would like to explore? Is there a missing piece or person in your family tree you’ve always wondered about?

Do you believe you might be connected to our nation's rich history and folklore?

Have you discovered an ancestral link to a founding father or an American icon?

Is there a family story passed down for generations you would like investigated and finally answered?

If so, we’d love to hear from you! To apply to have your story told on national television, please complete the application form. Please note our casting staff will contact you if your information is being considered.

The neat element of Genealogy Roadshow is that the stories are all the stories of readers like you and I.  Not to say that “our” readers are not famous in their own right !

If you have previously participated in a Genealogy Roadshow program, tell us what you thought about the experience (the not just what was shown on TV elements!).


Related Articles:






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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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12 September 2014

Old Roads and Trading Paths -- the superhighways of our ancestors!

Indian Trading paths in North Carolina (conjectured routes) by Mark Anderson Moore
courtesy Noth Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh
source: NCpedia -- Indian Trading Paths (by Tom Magnuson, 2006) 

Roads, roads, roads ... we love them, we hate them.  They get us places, they are clogged with traffic.  And, compared to our ancestors and how they traveled, often the same roads and yet very different experiences.

This came to mind since old paths and colonial roads have very much been the news locally!

The Joel Lane Museum House last Sunday held this event  "Applying Technology to Find Colonial Roads in Back Country NC" by Dale Loberger where Dale’s presentation told the story of how he was finally able to tease valuable information from old documents that were never intended to reveal such specifics.  Through his quest, he learned an appreciation for the historic construction of maps to allow him to properly deconstruct them for use in modern Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.  

In mid-August the “Tar Heel of the Week” published by the News and Observer was Historian Top Magnuson who charts old roads that help explain the Piedmont in the 1700s and founded the Trading Paths Association (FB Page).
Just a few miles from Tom Magnuson’s home, a trench 12 feet deep and 10 feet wide cuts through a patch of woods.

Hundreds of years ago, this road would have bustled with wagons and oxen, Native Americans, laborers, tradesmen and slaves – all looking to cross the Eno River at the same place year after year.

The old road is one of dozens that Magnuson has charted across the state and beyond – largely forgotten paths that he prizes for their insights into a time and place that is scarcely recorded in written history.


Additionally, NC has an organization called the William P. Cumming Map Society (FB Page and website) whose goal is to bring together individuals who share a common interest and enthusiasm for maps.  Many of the maps discussed are colonial maps and directly relevant to our pursuit to understanding the lives of our ancestors.

As you can tell, I’ve been doing 1. a lot of driving lately, and 2. trying to imagine how our ancestors traveled and what a different experience that was.  A trip that takes me minutes, took them hours.  A trip that takes me hours, took them sometimes days.  Though it’s nice that I can get places quickly, I do sometimes wish the pace of my life was sometimes slower.  As is often said “Life’s a journey, not a destination” and when we zoom by everything, we often miss the details of the journey that our ancestors had more awareness of.  You can find much more along this “train” of thought by reading ...
Ramblings from a train ... using travel as an opportunity to "see" the world as it is now and as it was!

All of the efforts by the individuals and organizations mentioned definitely enrich my understanding about how and where people traveled in the 17th and early 18th centuries here in North Carolina.

Do you have similar local efforts and programs?











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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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11 September 2014

FBI Digitizes Millions of Files -- I wonder if in the future genealogists will benefit ?!?!




The era of sliding drawers full of aging FBI files is drawing to a close. Millions of fingerprint cards, criminal history folders, and civil identity files that once filled rows upon rows of cabinets—and expansive warehouses—have been methodically converted into ones and zeroes. The digital conversion of more than 30 million records—and as many as 83 million fingerprint cards—comes as the FBI fully activates its Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a state-of-the-art digital platform of biometric and other types of identity information. 

Do watch the video and read the box “A Dying Art” which gives insight into how finger-print matching used to take place.

Though we don’t often want to think we have scofflaws in our family, they leave such a rich paper trail that it is actually kind of nice to find one or more in the family.  You can at least count on there being some paperwork about them. We have previously talked about Using FBI Files for Genealogy Research.

Some other neat resources if you are interested in pursuing research into FBI files are:
+ A Guide to Conducting Research in FBI Records -- detailed information about the records of the FBI
+ "The FBI and Your Ancestor?" by Melchiori, Marie Varrelman NGS NewsMagazine 32:4 (October/November/December 2006), pp. 24-28. [NGS members can access for FREE] 


What do you think?  Might future genealogists be able to more easily access these FBI files given that they are now digitized?






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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
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Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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10 September 2014

Two Cautionary Tales about Genetic Testing & Families Were Recently Published


On the same day, two articles were published about Genetic Testing and families.


For the former article, there have been many comments posted about it on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Facebook page.  

Obviously these articles raise very complex questions regarding rights to information and so much more.

Whenever a client asks me about doing genetic testing for genealogical purposes I always tell them “if you don’t want to know the truth, don’t do DNA testing!”

Also regarding the first post, the comments on FB include some discussion about why similar articles aren’t written about people making similar discoveries (e.g. dad had another child with someone else) through other means?  I do believe that such articles are being written and even books, though, what DNA brings to the table is the incontrovertible evidence of relationship which we cannot ascertain (unless all the involved parties are still alive and/or they left a detailed and explicit document about what occurred) from the horses mouth exactly what happened.  So, a paper trail may give us a very good level of “certainty” and it’s not proof in the way DNA testing has become.  This, to me, makes DNA testing a “great” (or we can substitute “easy”) lightening rod for articles like these.  

A DNA test is “easy” to blame for the actions of ancestors.  Yet, in many (though clearly not all) cases, all the adults involved were willing participants in the producing of future generations, regardless of surname and circumstances.  The test just provided “proof” of those long-ago events and there is nothing we, as researchers, can do to change history.

Unfortunately, even those not involved in genealogical research or DNA testing, may learn things they didn’t want to know because their extended family has pursued research and DNA testing.  It’s kind of like when your neighbor tells you something about another neighbor which would have never come up in a conversation with that other neighbor – it’s hard to get that information out of your head and it sometimes changes your relationship with both neighbors.  What can you do to prevent it?  Bury your head in the sand?  Not talk to anyone?  I don’t have an answer ....

Again, these do represent cautionary tales about the unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes that genetic testing can lead to.

Do read these articles.  Do share your reactions to them.  Have they changed your perspective on DNA testing for genealogical purposes?




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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
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NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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09 September 2014

US Museums Explorer -- a neat way to quickly locate cultural heritage where you or your ancestors lived!


We are always seeking data and much data is hidden in the most interesting places.  Sometimes though we are challenged to identify where to look for where we might find interesting “stuff!”  Once you get beyond ... Archivegrid ... it talks a lot of persistence to identify local repositories, especially if they have no online presence and/or no online catalog.

Given this, it was interesting to read Omeka Developer Connects Museum Data to Wikipedia with Surprising Results. The outcome of this project is something called (US) Museums Explorer.  As the creator states ...

To my delight, being able to put the museums on a map and search by what’s nearby led me to discover the quite charming and informative Arlington Historical Museum not far from where I live. I doubt I would have discovered it without the data file. How many others might have a similar experience?

It is a neat tool where you put in your zip code and it gives you a list of Museums located within so many miles of that zip code. you can narrow your search to a particular type of Museum (e.g. Historical Societies, Historic Preservation).

Not to boast and NC created, starting in 1999, something called NC ECHO (shorthand for North Carolina Exploring Cultural Heritage Online).  If I ever need to seek out cultural heritage, this is the first place I go.  There are so many diverse places where one might find history and records (including those of genealogical value) in NC and it used to be hard to determine where all these gems were hidden!  Though you cannot access these via a zip code search (as you can for the Museums Explorer), you can select a county and see a list of both cultural institutions as well as information on historical documents, maps, images and much much more!

Has your state created a similar type of resource?





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copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
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Think your friends, colleagues, or fellow genealogy researchers would find this blog post interesting? If so, please let them know that anyone can read past UpFront with NGS posts or subscribe!
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Suggestions for topics for future UpFront with NGS posts are always welcome. Please send any suggested topics to UpfrontNGS@mosaicrpm.com
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Unless indicated otherwise or clearly an NGS Public Relations piece, Upfront with NGS posts are written by Diane L Richard, editor, Upfront with NGS.
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