FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Data Mining and PJ’s

I’ve spent several evenings reading through the Revolutionary War pension application and supporting documents of my 4th great grandfather, Abiel Chandler this week. I originally ordered the documents from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) several years ago and dutifully logged them into my Clooz records database, put them in acid-free sleeves and then filed them in a storage binder. Unfortunately, even though I’d read the data in the pension documents, I must have become temporarily addled, because I hadn’t transcribed the family history related info they contain into my records.

One of grandpa’s letters included the names, ages and occupations of his family members as well as their health conditions. This is great information! Why didn’t I extract it earlier? I think all of us are guilty of slipups like this. I often teach folks to spend part of their research time doing ‘data-mining’ in the records they already have in their possession.

For some reason, we tend to become excited over finding a fact in a document and often leave nuggets lying on the floor as we hasten to record the new factual treasure. Our minds say, “I’ve recorded the information from that document” and we promptly file it away in an acid-free sleeve in an archival binder where it hands in the dark for months or years without seeing the light of day again.

What prompted me to look for my filed copies of Abiel Chandler’s pension application again? I happened to be looking for something else on Footnote.com and while there saw the title of Revolutionary War Pensions listed and decided to go spelunking in that data cave. After searching for the records of several other ancestors who also fought in the Revolutionary War, I remembered grandpa Abiel and searched for his records.

There they were and they were much more readable than the photocopies I’d received from NARA years ago. I saved all 28 of them to my local machine and printed them out again. Obviously, I wanted the digital copies and new easier to read hard copies for my files.

While still logged in to Footnote, I wrote a story page that included all of Abiel’s pension documents as well as four military pay receipts for him that were on the site. The story thus far is about ‘found’ data in records I already owned. Once again, I thought of the ease that I’d enjoyed finding Abiel’s records online. It was after midnight, while listening to some smooth jazz, in my PJ’s, drinking egg nog at home. Nice!

If I’d ordered the same packet from NARA, the cost is $25 for the packet plus $15 for the handling and I’m sure I’m missing some costs now that NARA has substantially increased their fees. My cost for all the records on Footnote was an annual subscription of $59.95 (sometimes less if you watch the site for specials). Additionally, I’ve found Revolutionary War pension files for other ancestors on Footnote that I would have ordered a copy from NARA a year ago. Add the other records on the site that pertain to my ancestors, and the subscription price is a steal.

The same is true for subscriptions to Ancestry, World Vital Records, and other similar sites. Do a free search on these subscription sites and see if you find records that pertain to your family. Calculate the cost to obtain the same data from the Family History Library or a library near you and then determine how quickly the expense of visiting the libraries eclipses a subscription to an online research site. If you are like me, the answer is one trip to the library and unlike the subscription website, when my day is over at the library, so are my research discoveries from their records. However, the subscriptions last all year long and I don’t have to fight the traffic on I-15.

Smooth Jazz, PJ’s, egg nog. My family history research life is great!

Happy Holidays! Tell your sweetheart you want a research site subscription for Christmas!

29 November 2007 Posted by | Ancestry | 1 Comment

It’s A Small World – After All!

I’ve spent part of the day involved in a worldwide family history conference webcast on familyhistoryliveonline.com. We heard from commercial vendors, subject matter experts and researchers from around the world. The interactive presentations and discussions were in real time. Participants and presenters sat in the comfort of their own homes while attending the no-cost conference.

Ten years ago, I started using the Internet for web meetings with my far flung U.S. and international cousins. These cousins groups enjoy a synergy of skills, resources and opportunities that exceeds the sum of the abilities of those involved. My cousins and I have jointly produced amazing results on research ‘problems’ that had stymied other family history researchers for centuries. The key word here is ‘Team’.

If each member of these research teams actively engages in research and openly shares findings and participates in research discussions, amazing progress and discoveries result. The math a little different than we learned in grade school because in these teams one plus one equals two’ish and four plus four equals ten or twelve’ish. There is a great multiplying factor when the various members apply their unique perspectives in solving the problem(s) at hand.

Tonight I participated in a live webcast via UStream and a chat client. UStream resides on the wild, wild, web, but you don’t need to delve in to the oddities created by others. You can create your own shows on UStream for free! Just create an account and then create your own show(s). Then tell your guests the web address and the time to join the show. You control the content, so the program will be as good as you make it.

The presenters tonight broadcast live video from their home den teaching the attendees how to maximize the technology that is so readily available. This technology has a surprisingly low threshold of learning. Its use can significantly increase your effectiveness in family history research by engaging far flung members of research teams. How far is far flung? They may be on the other side of the earth or two doors away, but if they aren’t sitting by you, they are ‘far flung’. Electricity travels at the speed of light and even though traffic on the Internet isn’t quite that fast, it ‘almost’ is, so distance isn’t much of a factor any longer.

Ok, that all sounds great, but what equipment do I need if I want to host a broadcast or similar meeting session? All you need is a fast (broadband) internet connection, a webcam and a good microphone, plus the ability to talk intelligently, while reading the chat postings and keeping everyone focused on the subject, goal or task at hand.

Anyone can be the host of a webcast like those that I’ve participated in today. Anyone can be successful at it with a little planning and practice. You’d be surprised how quickly folks learn to use and engage in these forums.

There are hundreds of broadcast tools available. I found an open source product (meaning free to use) called DimDim and installed it on a server at work. It is great! I can send video of me, along with my voice and real time views of my computer desktop, applications I’m running, Powerpoint presentations, etc., to folks around the world and never have to get up from my desk. When one of my business contacts needs to see how to use some of the software tools we supply, I can show them step-by-step instructions using the tools doing real work in real time! All they need on their end is a broadband connection, a computer and a web browser like Firefox, Opera, etc. (Internet Explorer will work, but I don’t like it).

DimDim would serve equally well among family history research groups. Go to the home page and watch the demos.

Don’t think you want to install software on a server but want to use a webcast to teach your family history class or host a family history webcast? Drop a note to the great folks at familyhistoryonline.com and ask them if they will let you use their system and tools. You may be surprised at the response! Download the free ReGL viewer / control and ask Gena and Tex for some tips and pointers and you’ll be ready to go. (P.S. They are particularly fond of family history library support staffs).

So why all this tech talk in a family history note? Am I a geek? Sure I am and so are a lot, if not most of you. If you aren’t now, you soon will be when you tumble to the perspective of how much technology enhances your ability to do family history research, both alone and in teams of others. The tools are here. The cost is little to nothing. Don’t say you can’t learn to use them, because ‘that dog don’t hunt’ argument doesn’t cut it any more. Anyone can learn to use the great online social interaction tools that exist now. Keep your eye on the ball and out of the gutter when looking for solutions on line and you’ll be amazed at what you find.

Call, write or e-mail your cousins or fellow researchers today and get the group involved in your (their) own webcast. Better yet, call them live using your (their) Skype software and set the agenda, time and date as soon as you finish reading this note. Try it, you’ll like it.

19 November 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe…

I’ve looked at several family history related pay sites for several weeks trying to decide if signing up for ‘just one more subscription’ was worth the investment. I’ve been a subscriber to Ancestry since the site was launched and also have subscriptions to other research sites. Did I want to subscribe to another one because I have a weakness for them or is there really some benefit to having multiple memberships?

The answer in my case is yes, it is worth having the multiple accounts. Especially since my two-year membership to World Vital Records only cost $39.95 as a special offer for users of Progeny Software. I added my super deal subscription to Ancestry that only cost me $16.95 when I purchased Family Tree Maker version 16 and decided, that “hey, this is letting me do a lot of research without the cost and hassle of traveling to a library”.

A year subscription to the worldwide records on Ancestry and World Vital Records for less than $40 is good news isn’t it? Well, let’s seehow good the news really is. I live about 35 miles from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. My vehicle gets around 30 MPG on the freeway, if the freeway isn’t a parking lot and if I keep my lead foot flat on the floor rather than on the ‘go’ pedal. The price of gasoline at my nearby gas station was $2.99 a gallon this week. The round trip to the Family History Library is 70 miles or 2 and 1/3 gallons of gas which equates to $7.00 for fuel. Is that the real cost to visit the library?

The Federal Government tells us that it costs us 48.5 cents per mile to drive our car anywhere. This figure is supposed to cover all the costs associated with the vehicle; purchase price, maintenance, taxes, licensing, insurance, fuel, etc. Is that all it really costs me to drive a mile? In my case maybe it is because my vehicle is pretty old and was paid for the year that I purchased it, but when I have to purchase a new vehicle that figure certainly won’t be true. It will cost a lot more to drive a mile regardless of what accountants at the IRS tell me. I pay the bills and know how much it costs.

Unfortunately we don’t use my vehicle strictly for service to a charitable organization, because it only costs 14 cents a mile to drive those miles according to the IRS. Maybe the church will ask me to drive to work every day and around the area constantly, so my operational costs will go down.

If I calculate my driving costs using the IRS figure, the trip to the Family History Library is $33.95 for a round trip! Add parking and the inevitable lunch from the vending machines to the cost of the visit and I easily spend $40+ per visit.

Hmmm…. $40 per visit to Salt Lake or $40 for a year subscription to two huge resource sites. I think I made the right choice for my $40 expenditure.

You can’t beat the resources available at the Family History Library, but then you can’t do research in your PJ’s eating popcorn there either.

I shopped around and got super deals on my subscriptions. Even at the full subscription prices, you don’t have to make many trips to a library to offset the cost of an annual subscription. We are all going to spend our research bucks on trips to cemeteries, interviewing relatives, purchasing birth, marriage and death certificates and ‘cool’ family history software, but we all need to consider purchasing research site subscriptions first.

You’ll have to decide what gives you the most bang for your research buck. You know you’ll eventually visit the FHL or another local library, (we all visit Disneyland at least once), but for much of your daily research, a subscription to Ancestry, Footnote and World Vital Records provides a ton of records at your finger tips at home any time any day you have a few minutes free.

14 November 2007 Posted by | Ancestry | 2 Comments

Family History Tales

Welcome to FamHist Blog.

It’s time to get started finding our ancestors and putting life back into their stories.

Let’s listen to Grandma’s Song to start the show..

2 November 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment

Naming Traditions

Over the past few years, I’ve traced the lineages of several of our sons-in-law. My own research long ago passed the stage of ‘easy pickings’ or in other words, ‘easily’ found records about my ancestors who lived well documented lives in the same location for generations. Like many of my readers, my current research is focused on my ‘brick wall’ lines where progress is measured in gaining the hint of a name or location, not in ‘easy pickings’.

Working on the lineage of our sons-in-law has allowed me to again enjoy the harvest of ‘easy pickings’. I’ve always been fascinated by family naming traditions and sure enough, the traditions were easy to spot in their lineages.

At times, I’ve wondered aloud why people living 150 or more years ago didn’t use a wider variety of first names for their children. How could they keep all the Elizabeth’s, John’s, Mary’s and George’s straight at family gatherings? It seems like almost every family had a very small name pool to shop from. Fortunately for me, I only have a couple of instances of Smith ancestors and one Bennett line. Others of you have been ‘blessed’ to descend from the wonderful but hard to research, Brown, Jones and Anderson families as well as many other families with common surnames.

Research life isn’t as good for someone looking for John Brown or Mary Anderson as it is for someone looking for Americus Dayton Zabriskie. There aren’t many folks named Americus Dayton Zabriskie, but John Brown and Mary Anderson share their name with Legions of other people.

In my own lineage, the name David threads through almost every generation. My 2nd great grandfather was the fourth David in a row and the name can be found in almost all of the families of his descendants.

Since we all encounter ancestors with common names, how can we leverage that information to help us find additional lineage? Years ago, I was given a handout in a class that covers the naming conventions found in most western families. I have found it to be extremely useful in my own research when I’m knocking down those ‘brick walls’. Hopefully, it will help you too.

“Children were often given the names of grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Knowing this can help identify potential parental lines. A first son, for example, might be named after his father’s father; the first daughter after her mother’s mother; the second son after his mother’s father and so on. Subsequent children would probably bear the names uncles and aunts as follows:

1st son = father’s father
2nd son = mother’s father
3rd son = father
4th son = father’s oldest brother
5th son = father’s
2nd oldest brother or mother’s oldest brother
1st dau = mother’s mother
2nd dau = father’s mother
3rd dau = mother
4th dau = mother’s oldest sister
5th dau = mother’s 2nd oldest sister or father’s oldest sister

Inheritance factors (such as a rich uncle) could break the pattern. In addition it is not uncommon to find more than one child of a couple with the same given names. This normally occurred when the one of the children died and a subsequent child was given the same name. In the 19th Century in the United States, boys were often given first names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin in honor of the Founding Fathers.”

1 November 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | Leave a comment