27 September 2009

NGS Launched UpFront Blog 1 September

by Jan Alpert, NGS President

In case you missed UpFront last month, the National Genealogical Society announced the launch of UpFront in blog format. “Blog” is short for “web log,” an Internet communications tool that has been growing rapidly in recent years. This format will extend all the conveniences of a blog to UpFront readers. You can find it online at http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/
Here are some of the major advantages of a blog:
  • More content sooner - You can see the latest articles as soon as they are available instead of waiting for the next monthly mailing.
  • Convenience - You can choose the articles you wish to read and view them whenever you like. When used with an RSS newsreader, you can gather articles as they are posted.
  • Readability - In addition to a cleaner look with appropriate font variations, web addresses noted in articles are hot links that you can click on to immediately view the web pages mentioned. You will even see illustrations for some articles!
  • Reliability - Some e-mail services block messages that their software deems as possible spam. There are no spam issues when you read blog articles - either on the web or in an RSS newsreader.
  • Comments - You can share your thoughts with other readers by posting a comment at the end of any article.
If you want to learn more about the NGS Blog, you can read last month’s UpFront, which can be found at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/index/NGS/2009-09. Each article is also on the blog at upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/.

October 2009 is the last issue of UpFront in this e-newsletter format. As part of our transition to blog format, please note that everyone will now view events and reunions exclusively in the "Conferences & Events" section of the NGS website at www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/conferences_and_events. Please remember to send your event items to [email protected] and include your NGS membership number in your e-mail submission.

NGS appreciates your continued readership and looks forward to welcoming you to this new era of online communication. In addition, the UpFront blog will remain free to everyone. You can find it online at http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/.

You can also continue to send any comments or submit articles to UpFront Editor Pam Cerutti at [email protected].

Bookmark or Subscribe to this Blog

As noted earlier, October 2009 is the last time UpFront with NGS will appear in e-newsletter format. There are several ways that you can ensure your continued receipt of UpFront news and articles:
  • You can use your browser's menu to either "bookmark" the UpFront blog (as with Firefox) or add it as a "favorite" web page (as with Internet Explorer).

  • You can use the "SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL" option on the left side of the UpFront blog window. Just enter your email address and click the "Subscribe" button, and you will them receive an email telling you whenever there's a new post.

  • You can use an RSS newsreader to receive articles when they post and then read them at your convenience. UpFront's RSS newsfeed is available at http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/feeds/posts/default. For an explanation of RSS, please see Dick Eastman's article, reprinted below with his permission.

A Really Simple Explanation of Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

by Dick Eastman

Editor's Note: The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at http://www.eogn.com.

The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee when he launched the first web site on 6 August 1991. That web site described a new protocol that Berners-Lee had invented, called "HyperText Transfer Protocol," or http. Tim Berners-Lee's invention has become very popular in the eighteen years since that modest beginning!

How info-glut wastes valuable time

Of course, the World Wide Web has encountered various problems and "growing pains" in the past eighteen years. One of the biggest problems, in my mind, is simply that of popularity. There are millions of web sites available today. I like to check frequently with a rather large number of web sites to see what has been added recently. However, I find that checking each web site by using the 1991 technology that uses http protocol is time-consuming. Going out to each site and manually scanning to see what is new can consume quite a bit of time, especially if you want to check several hundred web sites!

Luckily, there is a simple solution: skip the http and use RSS instead.

The newer, easier, and faster way

Instead of you going out, make the new info come to you. In effect, your computer can retrieve all the new information and store that information on your hard drive.

The new RSS (Really Simple Syndication) protocol simply adds a method of automation: instead of performing repetitive tasks yourself, let your computer do them. After all, computers are really good at performing repetitive tasks.

In the old-fashioned http method, you (the user) open a web browser and go out to various web sites of interest and retrieve information. That process works well but is really slow. Checking a few hundred web sites might require hours.

In the newer method of using RSS protocol, your computer (or web program) will go out to the Web and retrieve any new information on web sites that you have specified in a list. You manually create the list, but the computer does the repetitive checking and retrieving of new information. The new information is then stored on the computer's hard drive, waiting for you to read it. Since the information is already stored for you, there is no waiting for web pages to display. Reading new articles that have been stored on a local hard drive is as fast or perhaps faster than reading new e-mail messages in an e-mail program.

Speed is the key here. In fact, if you connect to the Internet via a dial-up connection, you need RSS! However, even users of the highest speed fiber optic connections will find RSS to be pleasantly faster than retrieving information in the old-fashioned way. You can now check hundreds of web sites for newly-added information within a very few minutes, not hours.

What you need: a reader and subscriptions

First, you need an RSS reader. There are many to choose from for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Palm, SmartPhone, and Apple iPhone operating systems. Most of them are available free of charge; a few with advanced features cost a few dollars. I'd suggest that you start with a free RSS reader and use that until you become experienced enough to understand the advantages of a commercial reader. I suspect that most users never upgrade; they keep using their free RSS readers for years.

An RSS reader might be a bit of software that you install on a local computer or it might be software that runs on a distant web server in the best "cloud computing" manner. Free web-based RSS readers are available at Google.com (www.google.com/reader/), Newsgator (www.newsgator.com/individuals/newsGatoronline/default.aspx), Bloglines (www.bloglines.com/), and many others.

Installing an RSS reader in your own computer usually results in faster operation, especially for people who do not have high-speed internet service. Hundreds of such newsreaders are available. However, if you are new to RSS, I would suggest that you start with one of the following:
You can easily switch to a different RSS reader at a later date if you wish to. Your list of monitored web sites can be exported as an OPML file and then imported into any other modern RSS reader; you won't have to manually create your list again.

Next, you need to “subscribe” to the web sites you wish to monitor. In this step you find web sites that offer information in RSS format. Luckily, millions of web sites do just that today. Most major news services, stock market information services, weather forecasts, sports reports, and much more are available as RSS feeds. I even monitor my checkbook entries via an online RSS feed!

In addition, almost all blogs offer RSS feeds. One estimate claims there are more than 50 million blogs, and that the number is increasing rapidly.

My EOGN web site has offered RSS feeds for more than five years, and there are many other genealogy web sites that also offer RSS feeds.

Subscribing means creating a list of sites you are interested in monitoring. The exact process will vary from one RSS reader to another, so you will need to read the program's documentation to find the exact steps for creating that list in the RSS reader you selected. With most RSS readers, you use a normal web browser to first find a web site of interest, then switch to the RSS reader and give it a command to "check this site often." In many cases, you can simply enter the URL for a favorite web site in a subscription search box. If that site offers an RSS feed, it will automatically be added to your list.

Most RSS readers check for updates at least daily; most can check even more often than that. Should you wish to, most RSS readers will even check hourly.

Use your computer for automation

Instead of manually going out to find new information, you can make that info come to you. In effect, your computer retrieves all the new information and stores that information on your hard drive or on the hard drive of a single web server. The end result is simpler, easier, and much faster operation.

New articles will start arriving in your RSS reader without any action on your part.

I can say two things about RSS readers: they simplify your life, and they are almost as addictive as genealogy!

Ancestors who provide a bridge in family migration

by Jan Alpert, NGS President

When my father and I first visited the Oak Grove Cemetery in Lawton, Michigan, more than twenty years ago, the tombstone for our ancestor, Solomon Waters, looked lonely by itself. From the census, I knew that in 1880 he was living with his daughter and son-in-law in Williamsfield, Ashtabula County, Ohio. At that time I did not know the events that caused him to move to Michigan so late in life and then die of dropsy less than a year later. I assumed he had come to Michigan to live with his son Solomon in Decatur, Michigan. However, if that was true, why was he buried by himself in Lawton?

Born in Connecticut in 1793, Solomon Waters is one of those ancestors who not only lived a long time, but also was the bridge connecting my Waters family from its early roots in Connecticut to the Connecticut Western Reserve in northwest Ohio and finally to western Michigan. What I have only recently begun to appreciate is how many of his family were already in Michigan when he arrived. Our ancestors rarely moved alone. They usually moved in family groups or in a chain migration, where the more adventurous moved first and the siblings and cousins followed.

Solomon Waters and Anna (Reed) Waters had seven children I can now identify. It has taken me a while because most left home before the 1850 U.S. Census enumerated everyone living in the household. Only Oliver, aged 17, was still living at home in 1850. Although I found several of Solomon’s siblings living nearby in Andover, I didn’t find any of his other children. Four of the children were daughters, so I had to identify their maiden names at a time before there were vital records.

Solomon Jr. provided many of the clues. He died in 1907, and his obituary said he was one of seven children and only a sister, Mrs. James Wade in Pennsylvania, survived him. The obituary also listed the names of those attending the funeral and said seven of his nephews were pall bearers.

Solomon Sr.’s children had moved to Williamsfield, Ohio; Crown Point, Indiana; Crawford County, Pennsylvania; and Van Buren County, Michigan. His oldest son, William Boyd Waters, had died in 1852 and was buried next to Solomon’s wife Anna in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. William’s son moved to Van Buren County, Michigan, after he served in the Civil War. Solomon Jr. arrived in Decatur, Michigan, in 1865. By 1860 his eldest daughter, Elizabeth Stone, and his youngest son, Oliver Waters, were living in Lawton, Michigan.

In, November 1880 Solomon was living with daughter Julia Clark in Ohio when she passed away. This is why, despite his age and health, Solomon went to Michigan to live with eldest daughter Elizabeth. In this case, tracking the father helped me locate some of the children and nephews who also migrated west. I want to thank Toni Benson at the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society who provided copies of many obituaries which helped me fill in missing pieces. All in all, by the time of Solomon Sr.’s death, three of his children and numerous grandchildren lived nearby. His daughter, Elizabeth Stone, is buried next to him, and ironically she has no tombstone. Several more of his descendants are buried elsewhere in the Oak Grove Cemetery.

I am still filling in the descendants, hoping to find a living Waters male who can participate in a Surname DNA study so that we can build the Waters bridge into the twenty-first century.

Do you have any ancestors who provide a bridge for you as they migrated from the east to the mid-west or perhaps from the mid-west to the west? What other ancestors can they help you find?

Update on the Library of Michigan

by Jan Alpert, NGS President

Progress was made in September as a result of the support received from the genealogical community across the United States. NGS wants to thank everyone who signed the Records Preservation and Access Committee petition, which has been delivered to Governor Jennifer Granholm with over 6,500 signatures. I also want to thank ProQuest for providing red T-shirts for the rally in which they were very visible.

As a result of two rallies in Lansing and a barrage of letters, faxes, and calls to state legislators, Governor Granholm amended her Executive Order on 11 September 2009. Although the Governor has indicated she will not to break up the collection, the Michigan budget is still being negotiated, and we will not know the impact to the Library of Michigan until the budget is approved. On 23 September 2009, bills 5423-5446 were introduced in the Michigan House of representatives to have the Department of History, Arts and Libraries report to the Secretary of State. We will keep you advised on the UpFront with NGS Blog.

23 September 2009

Genealogy News and Issues - October 2009

by Charles S. "Chuck" Mason Jr., CG

From time to time the topic of not receiving a reply to either a letter or an email that someone has written comes up in genealogy circles. There are a number of reasons that cause professional genealogists either to not reply or to simply turn down a request for research. An email that I received earlier this week prompted me to write about this issue this month.

I received an email from someone I do not know. Actually, there were two identical emails, sent exactly six minutes apart. The email stated that I was “REQUIRED TO VIEW THE ATTACHED FILE BELOW.” The file was regarding the estate of a Dr. Girard Mason. The entire message was typed in capital letters and gave no explanation regarding who this person was, who the person sending the email was, or why they were contacting me.

My first reaction was that this might be an attachment with a virus. My second reaction was, “How dare you tell me what I am ‘REQUIRED’ to do?” I have not opened either copy of the email. I did reply to the sender that I was not required to do anything, especially when I do not know who you are. So far, I have not received a message back. However, this incident brought to mind other emails and, back in the dark ages, snail mail letters I have received.

Since I do research for others, and I have a website, I often receive emails from potential clients. In the mid 1990s I was secretary of a genealogical society. Today that society has a website and often receives inquiries from people seeking help. A number of years ago I came up with some guidelines for letters. They also apply to emails and may be helpful in explaining why you may not receive a reply to your letter or email.
  • Contact the appropriate research facility, organization, or researcher. Today the majority of these organizations and professional genealogist have websites. If you are seeking information about someone that lived in one part of the state, do not assume that a facility or organization many miles away will be able to help you. They may not even have a research facility of their own.

    A professional genealogist may list the facilities or counties where they research. They may not research in other facilities; especially if they are a considerable distance away. They may list specialties or locations where they research, and those locations may not be where they reside.

    The facility, organization, or researcher may have information about areas not listed on the website or may do research in areas or facilities also not listed. However, do not assume this is true. Contact them and ask. It is wasted time to send a lengthy letter or email requesting research outside their resources or areas of expertise.
  • Write clearly and concisely. Sometimes I have received messages with sentences that run on and on. Unscrambling what the person is trying to say is next to impossible. This can be extremely difficult if you are dealing with two or more people with the same name or several generations of the same family. You might try designating which person you are talking about with a descriptive note like William [the father], William [the son], and William [the grandson]. If the problem involves several generations of the same family, clearly identify which generation of the family you are talking about and identify each person.

    Another problem I often encounter is mixing dates and places of birth, marriage, and death for two or more people. If you have some of this information for both a husband and wife and are requesting the missing information, identify what you have for the husband and what you are missing. Then do the same for the wife. The same would apply to the children of the couple.
  • Use proper grammar and spelling. I know that the use of email has caused many people to relax their use of grammar and spelling. However, it can be extremely difficult to absorb the information in emails that are full of misspellings and poor grammar. In some cases, because of misspelled words and grammar, the message does not make sense. The lack of punctuation can also make the message hard to understand.
  • Clearly identify what information you have, what resources revealed the information, and what resources you have checked. Identify the resources that also produced negative results. Professional genealogists often hear complaints that they searched records that the person had already searched, but the person did not tell the genealogist that they had already done this research.
  • Keep your expectations reasonable. Do not expect to find everything in one place or in a short period of time. Sometimes brick wall problems may be simple to solve, but often they are not. Many different records may need to be searched in a number of facilities.

    Also, requests like “send me everything you have on a certain family” may be unreasonable. I once received a request that our genealogical society send the person everything we had on the Lee family of Virginia. First, we did not have a research facility, so we did not have any information about the family. We would have had to research at a local library. Second, the Lee family came to Virginia before the American Revolution. There are many generations of the Lee Family and many books, articles, and other information about this family. The request was unreasonable to try to fill, not to mention very costly. This person may have only needed a small amount of information.
I try to work through the problems with the information or lack of information in letters and emails and always reply to the person. However, in some cases I turn the person down because I do not want to deal with the issues I mentioned above. Sometimes facilities or individuals will not answer your requests. In some cases it is not because of anything you did; but in other cases it may be because of some of the reasons I have included here.

20 September 2009

NGS Magazine Highlights for Q3 2009

NGS Magazine (ISSN 1529-4323) is sent quarterly to all members as a membership benefit of the National Genealogical Society and to libraries by subscription. Members can also view and download the magazine in PDF form from the NGS website, which makes it convenient to enlarge text and pictures at will. Beyond the current news features, here is a summary of the article highlights for the July-September 2009 issue:
  • “From microfilm to digital” - NGS Magazine Editor Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, CG, CGL, describes her experiences with a device that scans microfilm and the included software that makes the final image more readable than the original film.

  • “Wikipedia & Citizendium” - Barbara Fay Boudreau, 2008 winner of the family history writing prize from the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists and a computer consultant, describes what one may – and may not – find in the way of genealogy resources when searching these two popular websites.

  • “Cross country 1850: Tracing your ancestors’ westward journey” - Author David W. Jackson, who is also archives and education director for the Jackson County (Missouri) Historical Society, uses examples from his own family history to explain how one can approach the task of researching your family's migration across the U.S. He includes a list of online sources to get you started as well as lesser-known migration-related resources available to you.

  • “African American veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic” - Scholar, lecturer, and author Tim Pinnick explains how to use GAR records to learn about African Americans who served the Union during the War Between the States. He describes the important details to be gleaned in these records and includes web sites and other resources that can point you toward the individual you are researching.

  • “Exploring the economy” - Award-winning author John T. Humphrey, CG, whose credentials include leader of the National Genealogical Society German Forum, explains the impact of our ancestors' economic conditions on their lives and describes how a researcher can better understand how their earlier family lived through information in ledgers of those times.

  • “Case study: They did NOT die about 1820” - Professional genealogist Anne J. Miller, PhD, unravels the mystery of Charles Colton's supposed death, as claimed by a son. In the absence of a death record, further research in a variety of sources brings to light an abundance of new information about Charles and his family.

  • “Child of no one: Researching illegitimate ancestors” - Sharon Tate Moody, CG, past president of the Association of Professional Genealogists among other credentials, uses successful research examples to explore the best places to seek information about a child born out of wedlock. She describes the kinds of facts available and explains them in the light of contemporary cultural and legal perspectives.
In addition, the columns for this issue are as follows:
  • National Archives column - "Enumerating religion in the federal census: The 1926 Census of Religious Bodies" by John P. Deeben, Genealogy Archives Specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration

  • Beginning genealogy column - "Identify treasures now" by Gary M. Smith, second vice president of the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE) and national conference coordinator of the Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG), and Diana Crisman Smith, central region director of ISFHWE; treasurer of the Genealogical Speakers Guild; and chapter representative and webmaster of the Great Lakes Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists

  • Software review column - "[Review of] Google Your Family Tree: Unlock the Hidden Power of Google" by Barbara Schenck, 30-year genealogist and novelist under the name Anne McAllister

  • Technology column - "Where in the world? Technology tools for locating a place" by Jordan Jones. 33-year genealogist, also editor, publisher, and webmaster

  • Writing family history column - "Courts, land claims, and murder on the frontier" by Harold E. Hinds Jr., PhD, a distinguished research professor of history at the University of Minnesota Morris, lecturer, associate editor of Minnesota Genealogist, and director-at-large of the NGS Board of Directors.
To sign up for NGS membership, or to read the NGS Magazine in the members-only section of the website, please visit www.ngsgenealogy.org.

Archived Publications Provide New Resources for Genealogists

Editor's note: The following is a press release from Gale, part of Cengage Learning, and The British Library.

Gale and The British Library Bring Nineteenth-Century Events to Life with Online Newspaper Archive

Farmington Hills, MI, September 10, 2009 – Gale, part of Cengage Learning, along with The British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), have made nineteenth-century British newspapers available on the internet. The database, known as “British Newspapers, 1800-1900” and available at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/, gives users access to over two million newspaper pages from 49 different national and regional newspapers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Chosen by leading experts and academics, the newspapers represent a cross-section of nineteenth-century society and contain illustrated materials on a variety of topics, including business, sports, politics and entertainment.

Providing the historical news content needed to track the lives of ancestors, “British newspapers, 1800-1900” is a powerful new resource for genealogists and family historians, providing access to property and legal notices, marriage and birth announcements, illustrations and photographs. Users are able to search for relatives by name or keyword with additional resources available including biographies, timelines and publication histories.

This web site also offers users a unique opportunity to travel back in time to uncover rarely read accounts of nineteenth-century events as if they were historians stumbling upon long-lost artifacts. Whether it be a fascination with the East End of London at the time of the Whitechapel murders, “the hunting grounds of some of the lowest and most degraded types of humanity” (Penny Illustrated Paper, Sept. 1888), or an affinity for Civil War history and Abraham Lincoln, a man who “had in him not only the sentiments which women love, but the heavier metal of which full-grown men and Presidents are made” (Penny Illustrated Paper, Oct. 1861), this database offers historians, genealogists, researchers and anyone with a curiosity for nineteenth-century history the opportunity to read first-hand accounts of momentous events.

Many key anniversaries and world-changing events -- the Economic Panics of 1857 and 1873, the abolition of slavery, the Great Potato Famine, the California Gold Rush, the settling of the American frontier and many more -- are documented and available via a few keystrokes. Users can also access work from celebrated authors of the nineteenth-century, including Charles Dickens and William Thackeray.

“‘British Newspapers, 1800-1900’ places the fascinating events of the nineteenth century at the fingertips of genealogists, researchers, historians and consumers,” said Jim Draper, vice president and publisher, Gale. “We are honored to be able to give audiences around the world access to content that was once only available to a small audience who had access to local library reading rooms in the United Kingdom.”

To make this collection available to users, Gale turned The British Library's collection of nineteenth-century newspapers into a high-resolution digital format with searchable images. The database presents online access to a key set of primary sources for the study of nineteenth-century history. For the 49 newspapers selected, every front page, editorial, birth and death notice, advertisement and classified ad that appeared within their pages is easily accessible from what is a virtual chronicle of history for this period. Users of the database can search every word on every page.

“This web site was developed with the researcher in mind,” said Simon Bell, Head of Strategic Licensing and Partnerships, The British Library. “There is a huge appetite for wider online access to this kind of resource and we are pleased that so many researchers and journalists have used the web site to research material which enables users across the world to delve into this unrivaled online resource.”

Searches of the site are free and downloads of full-text articles are available by purchasing either a 24-hour pass or a seven-day pass. Content from The Penny Illustrated Paper and The Graphic is available free.

For more information, please visit http://www.gale.cengage.com/DigitalCollections/ or http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/.

About Cengage Learning and Gale
Cengage Learning delivers highly customized learning solutions for colleges, universities, professors, students, libraries, government agencies, corporations and professionals around the world. Gale, part of Cengage Learning, serves the world's information and education needs through its vast and dynamic content pools, which are used by students and consumers in their libraries, schools and on the Internet. It is best known for the accuracy, breadth and convenience of its data, addressing all types of information needs – from homework help to health questions to business profiles – in a variety of formats. For more information, visit www.cengage.com or www.gale.com.

About The British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers, photographs and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. www.bl.uk.

About JISC
The Joint Information Systems Committee – is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching, and research. It is best known for providing the JANET network, a range of support, content and advisory services, and a portfolio of high-quality resources. Information about JISC, its services and programmes can be found at www.jisc.ac.uk/.

17 September 2009

Is Your Librarian Worth $1,000?

ProQuest and the National Genealogical Society Wish You Would Help Us Honor Them

ProQuest and the National Genealogical Society will honor an outstanding librarian during the NGS Family History Conference in Salt Lake City April 28 - May 1, 2010. The Filby Prize for genealogical librarianship of $1,000 is sponsored by ProQuest and is awarded to a librarian who has made significant contributions in the field of genealogy.

The deadline for nominations is January 31, 2010. If you know a librarian who is worthy, please nominate them today. Individuals may nominate themselves. The nominee need not be an NGS member but must be a full-time librarian whose focus is in genealogy and local history. They must have at least five years experience in the field and be employed in a public, academic or special library.

The criteria for judging includes:

1. Significant contributions to patron access to information, or to the preservation of historical records.
2. Development of an imaginative reference tool or similar outstanding contribution of enduring consequence that fills the gaps in existing information, accuracy, scope or usefulness of genealogical and local history materials.
3. Publication of a book or body of articles that have contributed significantly to the field of genealogy or local history and that are of interpretative nature.
4. Other activities that have significantly advanced genealogy and local history.
5. Work that has encouraged others to be innovative in the field.

Nomination letters should include personal and professional contact information. For a list of previous winners and complete directions for submitting a nomination, go to: