Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Coming Soon: Second Edition of Planning a Future for Your Family's Past

September 1 is publication day! 

I'm releasing a new, thoroughly updated edition of my popular genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

The new table of contents is:

  • Chapter 1: Organized storage for your genealogy collection
  • Chapter 2: Organize your photos, images, and movies
  • Chapter 3: Organizing digital files and emails
  • Chapter 4: Inventory and index your genealogy collection
  • Chapter 5: Record your family tree
  • Chapter 6: Family artifacts: keep or give away?
  • Chapter 7: Find outside homes for artifacts
  • Chapter 8: Who wants your genealogy collection?
  • Chapter 9: Write your genealogical "will"
  • Chapter 10: No obvious heirs? Try these ideas
  • Chapter 11: Keep family history alive for the future
The paperback version is now available through Amazon.com (US, UK, Canada). Later in September, the paperback will be available at  AmericanAncestors.org

As of September 1, Amazon is accepting preorders for the digital book, to be released on September 15.

Please watch for more details to come. Thank you!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

How a FAN Club Member Identified an Ancestor for Me

I've been scanning old photos and negatives left by my father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986). 

At left, a 1919 image I blogged about just recently, remarking on the fashions.

This came from a set of negatives that Ed had marked as "Baker family, 1919."

I know the names of these two sisters, who were Ed's first cousins, but not which is which in the photo.

At right, a photo that my hubby and I believe shows Ed with these same two cousins, 50 years later. No caption, but a family story gave us confidence that these were the Baker sisters. Which is which? We had no idea. Until now.

Hearing from a FAN club descendant

This week, I received a message from a gentleman (Pat) who noticed the Baker names on my public family tree.

Pat is not related to the Bakers or to my husband. 

Here's where it gets a little convoluted. Pat is the executor of the estate for a lady who was the executor for the estate of one of the Baker sisters. In other words, he's the descendant of a FAN club member.

Connecting through my public family tree

When Pat's mom died, he inherited her boxes of stuff, including boxes from her  dear friend, Edith, who died a few years earlier. Pat's Mom wanted her friend's photos and letters to survive, so she bequeathed them to her son. (She wisely planned ahead before she joined her ancestors.)

Now Pat is sorting the bequest and looking for descendants who would like to have some of the items he inherited.

Pat noticed Edith and her sister on my Ancestry public family tree and sent me a message. I confirmed how Edith was related to my father-in-law and thus to my husband. 

Then we exchanged photos. He shared a photo of Edith in her later years. We are so grateful he did.

Eureka! Thanks to the FAN club, I now know exactly which of the ladies in both of these photos is Edith and which is her sister. Edith is on the right in the later photo, on the left in the younger photo. And Pat can see how lovely Edith was in her youth.

A good reason to have a public tree...even without photos, it serves as cousin bait and FAN club bait, with ancestor names/dates/locations visible and the option to send a message. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Celebrating My 13th Blogiversary

Today is the 13th anniversary of ClimbingMyFamilyTree.blogspot.com!

On August 25, 2008, I wrote my first genealogy blog post, about searching for my great-grandpa's death date and place. 

Now, 13 years later, I'm still discovering new things about the life and times of great-grandpa Mayer Elias Mahler (1855?-1910), with even more research in my future. Between my ancestors and those of my husband, plus new techniques and experiments, I never run out of genealogical activities to blog about.

There are still plenty of family history projects in my future as I work to keep ancestors' names, faces, and stories alive for the next generation. These days, many projects (such as 10-minute videos) are bite-sized, but I do have other ongoing projects, such as photo and slide digitization, preservation, and storage.

The ancestor landing pages across the top of my blog summarize what I know about the main surname groups...and serve as cousin bait for distant relatives who "land" on my blog after doing an online search for someone in their family tree. 

A heartfelt thank you to the many cousins worldwide who have been part of this ongoing journey and generously share what they know about our family tree.

Also, special thanks to my genealogy buddies all over the planet, who continue to inspire me. It has been fun to participate in #AncestryHour, #GenChat, #OurAncestors, and GeneaBloggers Tribe, plus be a member of (and sometimes a speaker at) virtual and in-person genealogy groups and conferences.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Emotion and Family History

The latest in a series of bite-sized family history videos are in progress. As I wrote recently, we're using old photos and headlines as visual cues in a slide show while my husband or another family member narrates the story for a brief video. 

The stories are family history for the younger generation, but we, the narrators, actually lived through these experiences. Then and now, the experiences evoked emotions that we want to share.

The first story my Sis and I are going to video is about going to dancing school and performing in recitals. The story was inspired by one of our favorite family photos--this adorable little dancing tomato girl.

Narrating the video combines facts and memories, sometimes with a bit of research to support (or disprove) parts of the story. I was able to research the location of the dancing school, among other facts. I also remembered how my parents complained about the extra cost for costumes, at a time when the household budget was increasingly stretched.

Adding emotion to family history

Emotion plays a role in our choice of topics for these videos, and in our enthusiasm for telling the stories we want future generations to hear. Enhanced by our positive or negative feelings, if the overall story can touch the heart in some way, it will be remembered. 

If we merely recited names, dates, places, and relationships as old photos appear on the screen, our audience members would probably not respond as strongly. Not every story will be "fun" but we hope that the next generation will remember at least one or two points from each video.

Family history foundation beyond emotion

There has to be a solid family history foundation to any story, beyond nostalgia or reminiscences. For instance, the "history" part of the dancing school story is that it was a tradition in my mother's family to send children for lessons, often music or dance (or both). 

Our first cousins all took lessons of some sort, I know from family tree letters and documents (and from personal memories of the past). The athletic cousins took up sports. Some cousins had piano teachers come to the house or went to photography camp, etc. 

Other "history" elements in the dancing school story: how our parents managed to pay for these lessons...and their pride in our performances and sharing our (fairly slow) progress with the wider family. 

We didn't grow up to be dancers or musicians, but our parents gave us an opportunity to widen our horizons. And we have photos that remind us of that history and of how we felt about it, photos that help tell a family history story for future generations.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Experiment: Bite-Sized Family History Video


This week, my hubby and I experimented with videoing a bite-sized family history story from his childhood. Every Sunday, his Dad would take the kids (pre-school age) to church while Mom stayed home and cooked a big dinner. 

After church, it was still too early to bring the kids home. Mom needed another 30 or 60 minutes to finish cooking and set the table. So Dad took the kids to a nearby railroad yard, where they all watched trains being made up. When they returned home, Sunday dinner was on the table. 

Here's the three-step process we followed to get from "story" to "bite-sized video."

Step 1: Find visuals

Visuals are, of course, a big part of any video. We had a couple of good photos of the kids at the rail yard and in the car.

To add more to the story, I found (via Pixabay.com) free, somewhat generic photos of a railroad yard and a church. These would be good enough to convey the sense of childhood Sundays.

Step 2: Create a slide show

Next, I created a slide show (I use PowerPoint) with a simple colored background, making the photos the center of attention. 

I added headlines at the top of each slide, partly to guide the narration and partly for viewers to read. I used present tense for these headlines, to make the story feel "in the moment" rather than "in the past." Example: "After church, Dad drives to..."

Not visible in this illustration are the names superimposed on one of the photos, to clearly caption who's who even though one of the children is narrating the story. Also, I included an approximate date on one of the slides.

Step 3: Record the videoconference

Once my husband was happy with the four slides and had thought about what he would say as a voice-over, we began a videoconference (in this case, Zoom). He shared his screen with the slide show, and then I began the recording. He narrated the four slides in about eight minutes. I stopped recording, waited for it to be converted to mp4 video, and then we played the video. 

Our first try was pretty good. We did a second take, and that one was better, with my husband adding a few specific details he had not mentioned the first time. 

More ideas to try

Because the video was short, we were able to email it to recipients. (A longer video, too large for email, would have to be sent a different way.) Although we're still waiting for reaction, hubby and I enjoyed the process so much that we're already thinking about our next bite-sized video of family history.

Next time, we'll figure out how to have the narrator (my husband) visible on screen as he tells the story and advances the slides. Or we might include a recent photo of him next to a photo of him at the time of the family-history story he's telling.

Another plan is to have a sibling reminisce with him, via videoconference, with slides on the screen. The headlines could be a starting point for discussion as the photos stimulate memories from the past.

Also, I need to add my husband's name and the date of recording to one of these slides, so future viewers know who is narrating and when.

Have you tried videoing a family history story? How did it work? What did your family think?

--Post is part of the August Genealogy Blog Party  https://www.thefamilyheart.com/

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

No Captions - A Loss for Future Generations

Now that I'm scanning, inverting, and enhancing negatives from the collection left by my late father-in-law, James Edgar Wood (1903-1986), I'm finding clues to family history--and so many mysteries.

A few (but not many) of the negatives had dates scratched into the edges, sometimes very specific dates. Most of the negatives were in small paper folders with titles such as "Summer, 1919" or "1917-1918-1919."

Help from genealogy folks on social media

With a bit of help from the wonderful genealogy folks on social media, I'm getting ideas about where some of these photos were taken, the groups, the clothing, etc. 

Genealogical folks identified the uniform worn by a young man in several 1919 photos as Royal Air Force. I know from previous research that one of my husband's ancestors from Canada served in the RAF during WWI. Very quickly, I found a US/Canadian border crossing card for him during the same month as that 1919 photo. As a result, I've been able to caption a series of photos with names and dates. Thank you, genie friends!

More research is in my future

The group parading in the image at top holds a banner indicating it's a lodge from London, Canada. Thanks to a Canadian genealogy social media group, I now have some leads to follow up.

Also, I'm interested in the group shown in this parade (date uncertain, sometime between 1917 and 1919). This is not necessarily from the same parade as the previous photo, not from the same batch.

Most of the men are holding what looks like a ceremonial staff, perhaps from a lodge? More research is in my future.

Not having captions for my father-in-law's photos would be a real loss--a family history tragedy for future generations. 

--"Tragedy" is the theme for week 33 of Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Decoding Why Ancestors Died

Thanks to the Summer 2021 issue of American Ancestors from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I have a new tool for analyzing death certificates  filed in the 20th century.

Genealogist Hallie Borstel wrote about the International Classification of Diseases code, either three or four numbers added to a death cert to categorize the cause of death.

Look at the Wood ancestor's death cert above. See the three digit code 131 in the red circle? That's the ICD.

I looked up 131 in the 1929 ICD listing for causes of death, and see the classification is chronic nephritis.

The doctor's written cause of death on this particular cert is: "cardio-vascular renal disease."

Not exactly the same as code 131, but very closely related. If the doctor's handwriting had been illegible, the ICD code would have given me insight into cause of death.

To use the ICD, look for the most recent version adopted before the ancestor's death. In this example, the ancestor died in 1936, so I used the 1929 version (excerpt shown above). If she had died in 1939, I would have used the 1938 version. 

Another tool in my genealogical tool kit! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

"Big City" Cleveland Ancestors in 1950

As I continue to prep for finding ancestors when the 1950 U.S. Census is released in April, I'm using my RootsMagic7 genealogy software's reporting functions.

When Census documents are initially made public on April 1, the only way to find ancestors will be to browse the proper Enumeration District. If I wait a few months, the Census will be indexed and I can search by name. But I really want to learn more about my ancestors sooner than that, which means preparing to browse by finding specific addresses and turning those into individual Enumeration Districts.

Who was there?

Above, an excerpt from one of the "Who Was There" lists I created with RootsMagic 7. This list covers ancestors who were in Cleveland in 1950. The report lists ancestors by surname in alphabetical order, shows birth and death dates, age in 1950, and a chronological listing of places for each ancestor (based on my research). As the image shows, the listing includes street addresses from my sources.

Interestingly, the software allows me to indicate an average life span to be considered when compiling the report. Sometimes I don't yet know an ancestor's death date, so this parameter helps me cast a wider net and include people who might be still alive and in that area, based on their last-known address in my database. I like this flexibility.

Edgar James Wood, my father-in-law, was one of many ancestors in my husband's tree who lived in metro Cleveland in 1950. By grouping these ancestors according to where they lived, it's more efficient for me to look up and browse their 1950 Enumeration Districts (see step-by-step process here). 

Context: Cleveland vs the Bronx

In 1950, Cleveland had 914,800 residents. It was truly a major city, the seventh largest in the United States, thanks to the influx of industrial workers during and after World War II. That year was a population peak for Cleveland, which had only 318,000 residents in 2019. 

My husband, a Cleveland native, often says he was born in an "Eastern" city. Because I'm a Bronx native, I respectfully refer to his home town as being solidly in the Midwest!

In 1950, the Bronx had 1.45 million residents. This will be the first Census where my parents are enumerated as a married couple, living in the Bronx, New York. If counted as a standalone city instead of a Big Apple borough, the Bronx would have been the sixth largest U.S. city in 1950. In other words, well ahead of Cleveland, where hubby's parents were living in 1950.

Just mentioning this factoid to put the 1950 Census in context for both sides of my family. Ahem.

-- "In the city" is Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors prompt for week 32.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Researching Ancestors in Photos from 1918

My late dad-in-law (Edgar James Wood, 1903-1986) took thousands of photos in his life, beginning in 1917. 

We've inherited many of the negatives, which I'm steadily scanning, inverting, and enhancing, one batch at a time.

Family and more from 1918

I just finished working on 20 negatives in a batch titled "Negatives, 1918...prints in album." Although the album itself doesn't seem to have survived, I can identify some of the people now that I've turned the negatives into positives.

From earlier negatives and photos, I recognize members of my dad-in-law's immediate family. Here is one of Edgar's younger brothers, in an outdoorsy outfit (note buttons on belt). Also in this batch were negatives showing other brothers and, of course, Edgar's beloved mom, Mary Slatter Wood (1869-1925).

Mystery photos

At right, a nurse whose portrait appears in two negatives. Who is she? 

Other "unknowns" are two brothers, who appear to be about 6 and 12, and a 20ish guy in a uniform (no military insignia visible).

There are no place clues visible in the photos, and no inscriptions other than dates scratched into the negatives by my dad-in-law. But the Wood family tended to motor around the countryside in their 1917 Ford and visit relatives, so more than likely, these mystery people are folks on the family tree whose faces I don't recognize (yet).

So many ancestors to research

James Edgar Wood (1871-1939), Edgar's dad, came from a large family. To try to identify mystery people in these photos, I'm looking closely at children of his six siblings who were still alive in 1918. The younger generation would be around the age of the folks in these negatives.

It's possible some of the mystery people might be from the family of Edgar's Mom, Mary, of course. Most of her nieces and nephews lived in Canada. I have to consider that possibility, as well.

Without a doubt, more research is in my future. If I can connect with descendants and get identifications, I'll gladly share photos privately with them and, I hope, swap family history stories.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Should You Rely on a Website to Perpetuate Your Family History?


There are many pros and cons of posting family trees online--and many choices of where to post. Family Search, Ancestry, My Heritage, Geni, WikiTree, FindMyPast, and more. Parts of my family tree are on all of these sites, because I want to share with other researchers and I hope to connect with cousins worldwide. 

Such sites reach many thousands of people who otherwise would not know of my ancestors, and enable folks to connect with me when we discover ancestors in common. These sites are and will remain an important part of my everyday genealogy activities.

Library or storage?

Yet Cousin Russ and Dear Myrtle make a very good point in their recent video. (You can view it here.) These genealogy websites are more like libraries than storage facilities. The safest place to "store" family trees and family history is at home, even if we want to have trees on various websites. They demonstrate ways to have online trees without personal photos, if that's what you want to do. 

Any website can, of course, change its terms and conditions at any time. The recent change by Ancestry is a wake-up call to understand the terms and conditions when deciding about sharing all or part of our genealogy materials online. In fact, as Dr. Leah Larkin, "the DNA Geek," points out, all of the genealogy websites have some terms and conditions that affect user-submitted content like photos. Caveat emptor.

Plan for your trees and materials

Most of us have more than just a tree. This is the time to consider what will happen to our genealogy materials, research and photos, in the distant future when we join our ancestors.

My trees will remain on the many websites where I've planted them. However, I'm deleting nearly all personal photos, except perhaps those of ancestors who are long, long gone. But I'm also giving passwords to my genealogy heirs so in the future, they are able to access trees and decide whether to leave them online, add to them, or delete them.

Please consider who will have access to your online trees, your physical photos, and original documents in your possession. Even if you have no obvious heirs, there are still ways to keep your family's history alive for future researchers. Physical materials need good homes, not always in the family but in appropriate institutions that will preserve and study them. 

For the sake of future generations, I encourage you not to rely only on a website (or even two) to perpetuate your family's history. Start now to make a plan!

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Deleting Photos Instead of Adding to My Family Trees


For the next few days, instead of adding to my trees, I'm deleting personal photos from my Ancestry trees (but leaving gravestone photos and other selected items). Why?

Objections to Ancestry's new terms of service

On August 3, Ancestry emailed a notice to all subscribers, announcing a change in its terms of service. An excerpt from that notice is shown below. 

The headline is: "Your privacy is important to us." The next sentence states: "...being good stewards of your data is our highest priority." 

However, the Legal Genealogist (Judy G. Russell) warns that the change actually gives Ancestry a "perpetual, sublicensable, worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free license" to do whatever it wishes with user-submitted content, forever. -- UPDATE from Aug 6: Judy discusses Ancestry's updated terms here.

If I upload a personal photo (or a story or other content) to my Ancestry trees, I still own the copyright

But by uploading, I agree to the new terms allowing Ancestry to use that photo in any way it chooses. The company can use my photo on any of its Ancestry sites, including Fold3 and FindaGrave, or perhaps use my photo in its advertising, without further permissions or notifications.

In the past, I've created bite-sized ancestor bios and uploaded them, with photos, to Fold3 (a subscription site) and FindaGrave (free), among other sites. This was my individual choice, for specific ancestors. It was not my intention to have this content shared across any and all Ancestry platforms (paid and free) without my permission. 

I strongly object to Ancestry's changes and I have some small individual power to act by removing selected content that I originally uploaded. (Note: Randy Seaver has submitted so much content to his trees over the years that he is leaving it there, as he explains in his blog post--while calling this a "major unforced error" by Ancestry.) (Another note: Roberta Estes is deleting her photos before Sept. 2; she also confirmed with MyHeritage that they do not handle user-submitted content in the same way as Ancestry.)

NOTE: If you have uploaded photos of living people to your Ancestry tree, please consider carefully whether those should remain or be removed. I deleted all of mine. Even though the person should not be visible to any public viewer of my tree, the photo would now be "licensed" to Ancestry under the new terms of service. I do not want that to happen, so deleted to protect privacy.

Sync (or download) first

The clock is ticking--the terms apparently will go into effect 30 days from notification.

My first step was to sync my Ancestry trees with my RootsMagic genealogy software, including media items connected to those trees. Before I do another sync, I'll make changes so that I don't overwrite my media-rich trees with non-media trees.

If you can't sync, be sure to download anything you are going to delete. Yes, you put it on Ancestry originally. If you can't find it easily in your digital files, download again just to be sure. Better safe than sorry.

Decide what to delete and what to leave

I've decided to leave on Ancestry any gravestone photos I've taken, as well as vital records I paid for and uploaded on my own. Also, I'm leaving any obits, photos from nonpersonal sources, and selected genealogy content such as an ancestor's handwritten notes about his ancestors (see above). 

None of this content is particularly personal and it may be valuable to others researching the same ancestors, so I want to keep it available to other Ancestry users.

However, I draw the line at personal family photos. Those I am deleting. Amy Johnson Crow created a video explaining why and how to remove photos from your Ancestry tree. You can view her video here. After I watched, I followed the instructions for viewing all media in a tree's media gallery, and selected those I want to remove from the tree (not just the gallery).

At top is a screen shot showing part of the media gallery for one of my trees. I decided to remove the photo of Chester Carsten (see red rectangle). I can always share it privately with any relatives who are interested, by my own choice. My f-i-l took this photo and I object to Ancestry having the right to do whatever it wishes with Chester's image.

Ancestry-based photos for profiles

I do want ancestors in my trees to be represented by photos or images wherever possible. Not flags or ships, not DNA strands, but photos. Luckily, Ancestry has helped me do just that. 

Remember a few years back, when Ancestry began digitizing school yearbooks? 

I had fun searching for ancestors in the yearbook files and attaching those to their profiles.

Now I'm using yearbook photos as ancestor profiles, as shown at right from the media gallery of one of my trees. There will be photos from other collections, I'm sure, but these are the most accessible for 20th century ancestors.

If not photos, I'll use part of a pertinent document (vital record, city directory, etc.) to add visual interest to that ancestor on my tree.

Amy's suggestion: add web link as a source

Amy Johnson Crow also suggested that we add a web link as a source for selected ancestors. If you have a blog or a website for genealogy, this is a good idea. The blog or website is yours, not Ancestry's, and you control that content.

To follow Amy's suggestion, go to the ancestor's Ancestry profile page, look at the bottom of the column of sources for facts, and see "Add web link" area. Click and paste in the web address, with a title you choose.

I'm currently adding my blog's ancestor landing page for the Wood family of Ohio as a source for ancestors who are part of that family. This allows me to send users to a page that I control on my own blog, with photos I post and other content that is mine. 

Should you delete content? Or add content?

There are many choices of places to plant a family tree online. I have trees on multiple websites, not just on Ancestry. Although I value Ancestry's research tools, and will continue as a subscriber, I do not appreciate the company changing the terms of use in the way it has.

My decision to delete personal family photos (or anything else) doesn't mean you should do the same. I won't be adding any more personal photos, even though I'm currently scanning dozens from the early 1900s. Please, take a look at the situation for yourself and decide whether you are okay with what Ancestry wants to do. 

If you have no major objections, just leave your content. On the other hand, some users are angry enough to download their trees (not just photos) and then delete them from Ancestry. 

This is a decision only you can make.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Mystery Man in Uniform, July of 1919

My late father-in-law (Edgar James Wood, 1903-1986) received a camera for his 14th birthday, the start of a lifelong love of photography. 

In addition to snapping photos of his family in their Cleveland, Ohio home, he photographed their driving vacations to see family in other areas. 

Ed didn't always print his photos, but he usually saved the negatives. Now I'm scanning, inverting, and enhancing the negatives to reveal faces and places not seen for many decades. 

One packet of negatives was marked "Neg. Summer of 1919." 

Inside were photos of Ed's parents and brother, and some other people, including a mystery man in uniform. 

Also in the packet were a couple of photos of airplanes (see bottom).

Who was that man in uniform?

During the summer of 1919, World War I was finally over and those who had served were returning home.

Ed snapped a number of photos of this young man in uniform and dated the negatives as July 27, 1919.

My genealogy friends on Twitter were kind enough to identify this is a Royal Air Force or a Royal Canadian Air Force uniform (note the wings over the pocket and the design of the cap, as well as the general look of the uniform).

After looking at the Wood family tree, I suspect this young man is Ernest Slatter, one of my f-i-l's first cousins. 

I think Ernest was the only close relative who flew in World War I. 

He was a nephew of Ed's mother and the son of a military man born in London but transplanted to London, Ontario.

Ernest Slatter of the RAF

Research uncovered some paperwork about Ernest's World War I military career. He was in the RNRT (Royal Navy), 1657 D.A. before being discharged to join the RAF. He "attested" in March, 1918 and became a flight cadet in the Royal Air Force Canada in September, 1918.

By June of 1919, Ernest had been issued a protection certificate for "soldiers repatriated overseas"--meaning he was going home to Canada, with the rank of 2/LT (EXC). 

In fact, I found a record of Ernest crossing the border from Canada to the US in July, 1919 and again in August, 1919. The officials noted: "Came to Buffalo in uniform to visit relative and has decided to remain and work for brother-in-law." (That bro-in-law was the husband of Ernest's oldest sister, Maud.) 

So did Ed and the Wood family travel to Buffalo to see Ernest and Maud? Or did Ernest travel to Ohio or elsewhere to visit with the Wood family? Perhaps I'll find some answers as I continue to scan, invert, and enhance more of Ed's negatives.

Airplane, August 23, 1919

Here's one of two photos Ed took of an airplane on August 23, 1919, part of the "summer of 1919" packet of negatives. 

No notes, no captions, unfortunately. But a delightful photo to enjoy.