Showing posts with label indexing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indexing. Show all posts

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Genealogist as Indexer-in-Chief

As genealogists, we should also be indexers-in-chief. Alas, family history rarely comes with a ready-made index, so we have to make our own. Here's a case in point.

My maternal grandmother Hermina Farkas Schwartz was the oldest daughter of the 11 children of Lena Kunstler Farkas (1865-1938) and Moritz Farkas (1857-1936). As the Farkas children grew up, married, and had children of their own, they formed the Farkas Family Tree to keep the family close-knit. Members met up to 10 times a year (taking summers off because relatives scattered to the beach or other cooler places outside the New York City metro area).

Five years ago, my 1st cousin once removed lent me his bound books of family tree minutes from 1933 through 1964 to scan, collate, and index. I included a "who's who" of the 11 Farkas children, their spouses, and their children.

However, the bound books didn't have all the months from 1940 to 1944, a dramatic period in the family's life because of WWII. Earlier this year, my 2d cousin kindly provided the 1940-44 minutes, saved by his mother for decades. Now that we have 600-plus pages of monthly minutes to read and enjoy, a detailed index is even more important. That's my specialty!

As shown at top, I like to start with a legal pad and pen, listing the names by hand along the left as each one appears in the minutes. Then I jot down the month and year when each name is mentioned in the minutes, such as 9/40 or 11/42.

Later, I type up the index alphabetically by surname and expand the dates a bit so they can be read at a glance. A typical entry in the final index would be:

         Farkas, Peter Feb 1940, March 1940, Oct 1940, Dec 1940 . . .

To make it easy for later generations, I list married women by their married surnames AND include an entry for their maiden names, with the notation "see ___[married name]." Here's why: Younger relatives, in particular, may not know an ancestor's maiden name, but they will recognize the ancestor's married name. (I don't list dates twice, only next to the married name). The goal is to make the index as intuitive and reader-friendly as possible.

Also, I think it's very important to indicate when someone is NOT in the immediate Farkas family.

  • If I know the person's exact relationship, I include it. My listing for Roth, Bela indicates that his first wife was Lena Kunstler Farkas's sister. He was known as Bela "Bacsi" or "Uncle Bela" by Lena's children. 
  • If I don't know the exact relationship, I say what I do know. My listing for Hartfield, Jenny notes that her maiden name was Mandel and she was always referred to as a cousin, possibly related through the Kunstler family.
Sometimes the minutes include names known only to one particular family. Good thing one of my cousins clued me in that "Tommy" was a canine, not a kiddie. But if I don't say so in the index, how will future generations know?! That's why a genealogist should also be the indexer-in-chief, with explanatory notes. It doesn't matter what system you use, as long as you index with your readers in mind.

PS: Cousins, the full index will be completed soon!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Found: Farkas Family WWII Letters

In 2013, I first learned about the existence of written records covering most meetings of my mother's Farkas Family Tree stretching from 1933 through 1964. This family-tree association, which met 10 times a year, consisted of all the adult children (and their spouses) of patriarch Moritz FARKAS and matriarch Lena KUNSTLER Farkas. I remember attending meetings when I was a tiny tyke, but of course I had no idea of the elaborate administrative framework created by the family.*

Once a cousin kindly let me borrow the meeting minutes and annual historian's reports, I scanned all 500 pages. Then I indexed and identified each person as a relative/in-law (by relationship) or as a family friend. Indexing helped me solve several family mysteries!

However, the World War II meeting notes were mostly missing, as were letters written by family members who were in the service during the war. Five years I've tried to find these missing documents, with no luck. I feared they were lost forever.

Until a lucky break last month. I reconnected with a 2d cousin, who mentioned his search for some of the minutes and records I'd scanned. And lo and behold, he has in his possession the missing family-tree minutes and letters from the war years!

We swapped. Now I'm scanning (and indexing) all the new-found minutes and letters from the 1940s. At top, the title page of the scrapbook he lent me. At right, a letter written by my Auntie Dorothy Schwartz exactly 75 years ago this month--when she was a WAC in training, prior to being posted overseas for World War II service.

Lucky, lucky me to be able to assemble a complete set of minutes and letters for the Farkas Family Tree and keep them safe for the next generation (and beyond).

Thanks to Elizabeth O'Neal for the Genealogy Blog Party prompt "As luck would have it" for March.

*One of Mom's first cousins had bound books of meeting minutes and documents and when he and I got together for the first time in decades, and I began to ask him about the family, he casually mentioned having those books. I then volunteered to scan and produce a spiral-bound book. He thought it would take me years. It took less than 3 months, including indexing, because another cousin volunteered to retype anything that was illegible. So remember: Always reach out to cousins and let them know of your interest in anything even vaguely related to family history!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday's Tip: New Page of Sample Templates

Before I become an ancestor, I want to have all my genealogy materials organized and analyzed, ready to pass to the next generation.

Getting organized means figuring out exactly what I have, who's mentioned in which materials, and the significance of those mentions. With Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over in mind, I've been inventorying, indexing, and analyzing diaries, letters, and other materials for my side and my husband's side of the family.

Now I've added a "tab" at the top of this blog to show the various sample templates I've been using. (Please feel free to borrow my templates and adapt them to your own needs!)

Not only do these templates help me keep track of what I have and remember where everything is, they also summarize what I've learned. My goal is to help keep the family's past alive for future generations--so my genealogy heirs won't have to reinvent the wheel.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mystery Monday: Indexing Your Family's Records to Solve Mysteries

You finished indexing your grandfather's diary, your mother's letters, your grandmother's baby book. Now what?

In my previous post, I outlined how to index letters or other documents or books from your family's past. Before you file your index (a copy with the document you indexed and copies inside the files of the main surnames mentioned), mine it for clues to family mysteries. You’re not indexing simply for the sake of getting organized—the process is important for making progress on your genealogical research.

Here are five ways you can use an index to deepen your knowledge of family history and to solve family mysteries:
  • Check dates against what you know. Does the index help you narrow down possible birth, marriage, death dates? Does it fill in the blanks on where ancestors were during key periods? Who is missing on key dates? During indexing, I noticed that a great-grandfather was suddenly absent from the documents after being mentioned year after year. That was a clue to his approximate death date, which I’d been unable to pinpoint.
  •  Look at relationships. Does the index shed light on whether family members were estranged or close? Does it confirm relationships that you suspected? Who is present at family gatherings, and how often do they show up? One set of family meeting minutes I indexed showed how warmly a widowed in-law was welcomed, along with her second family. The same index reflected the rare attendance of an uncle whose marriage outside the faith was frowned upon.
  • Look at occasions. Who’s visiting on holidays? Which holidays are celebrated? Are weddings, birthdays, funerals mentioned? Who’s giving gifts, who’s receiving gifts, where and when? One baby book I indexed gave me a clue that someone was more than a “family friend” because she gave a surprisingly valuable gift. Sure enough, she turned out to be the ex-spouse of a close relative.  
  • Cross-reference the index against other items. Do you have photos of the people mentioned in the index during the period covered by the documents? See whether the index can help you identify mystery people in your photos or give you more context for when, where, and why the photos were taken.
  • Verify details. If a diary mentions someone’s birth, marriage, or death, compare the dates with official documents. A century ago, official records weren’t always filed on time, so a birth date on the vital records form might be a day or a few days later than the actual birth. Maybe the index will point you to the actual date, or explain why the date differs from the official record. Also, names on Census forms weren’t always accurate, so check your index against what you see on the Census. Use the index to match nicknames with full given names on your tree. You might find a variation via the index that you can use to when you research that person.

Solving a mystery: My sister-in-law remembered a cousin Edith, quite a tall lady, attending her wedding. Now, years later, no one remembered Edith's last name or how she was related. When I indexed my late father-in-law's diaries, I found repeated mentions of Edith in the 1960s and 1970s. This led to a hunch about Edith's parents. 

Putting together clues from Census data, Cleveland directories, and my husband's and sister-in-law's memories, we solved the mystery and figured out where Edith fits on the family tree. Using the dates and approximate ages, we also identified her and her sister in the above photo with my father-in-law. Without the index, this mystery would have taken much longer to solve.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tuesday's Tip: How to Index Your Family's Documents

Whether your relatives left you a small bundle of letters or 25 years' worth of diaries, you'll learn a lot about your ancestors by indexing what's in your family's documents. You'll also be able to tell your relatives details about their ancestors, by referring to your index. And you may uncover clues to family ties you weren't aware of!

Even a baby or wedding book can be indexed if it includes a family tree and/or names of people who visited or gave gifts. This has helped me trace more distant relatives, by the way.

My index for my father-in-law's 25 diaries (shown here) has a few headings. I use the "comments" column to add details referring back to particular documents, a way of reminding myself of the exact source:

Name (alphabetical by surname)
Relationship (as specific as possible)
Date/place (again, be specific if possible)
Comments (details, context, significance; identifying the particular document)

Indexing is not difficult if you take it one step at a time. Remember: Life by the inch is a cinch--life by the yard is hard. So build your index little by little:
  1. Organize the documents into chronological order. That way, you'll be able to follow along as the narrative mentions upcoming events or evolving relationships. I did this with letters to my mother during the time she was dating my father. It was exciting to read what led up to his proposal and their future plans!
  2. Focus on one document at a time. Don't try to index everything at one sitting. Just pick one letter, one month of the diary, one of anything in your collection. Complete one, and if you feel like it, complete another. Keep your place so you can pick up the indexing when you have a few minutes. Use your index to summarize the most critical info from each document before moving on to another.
  3. Identify the people and their relationships. Use a pad and pencil or, if you prefer, a spreadsheet or database. The first time you see a name mentioned, write it down in full and note the relationship, if you know it. Also jot down the date or some other way of going back to that document for the full reference. If you see a name mentioned repeatedly, note it even if you don't know the relationship. 
  4. Compile your list of people, dates, and brief explanations for each. For instance, say the Wood diaries mention a second cousin named Mac McClure for the first time on May 3, 1963. The next time Mac McClure is mentioned is July 4, 1963. My entry in the diary index might read: McClure, Mac (second cousin to E. Wood?). Visit to Wood family in Cleveland on May 3, 1963. Call on July 4, 1963 about birth of Mac's baby Julie. If baby Julie is mentioned later, you can cross-reference by saying something like: McClure, Julie (daughter of Mac McClure).
  5. Watch for groups of people and repeat appearances. Maybe a letter or diary mention of several people getting together is really a mention about a family occasion. If certain names pop up regularly, especially on significant dates (such as a birthday or a holiday), chances are they have some close connection to your family. It won't take long to determine who you should be following closely and who seems to be just a casual friend. 
  6. Watch for disappearances and enigmatic mentions. Sometimes people are mentioned once and never again--did they move away, was there a quarrel, did they pass away, was there a divorce? This is the puzzle part of our genealogy research. Maybe someone else in the family will have some insight if you mention what you're trying to figure out.
  7. Type up your index neatly, date it, and enclose it with the documents and with the main surnames mentioned. That will give you a handy reference when you're looking someone up and will also be available to anyone who takes care of your documents in the future. Return to update your index as you learn more about the relationships and who's who. Also note the "update date" so you can keep track of your most recent copy of the index. Colleen, in her comment below this post, suggests noting the location of the documents--an excellent idea!
  8. Talk up your index! Tell your relatives what you've learned, and offer to copy for them a few relevant sections of the documents. Who doesn't want to know something new about their parents and grandparents, whether just a hint of personality or a particularly surprising anecdote?
One of the most maddening things in my father-in-law's diaries was when he would write something like: "B called with disturbing news." What was the news? I knew who B was (figured it out as I indexed his diaries). But what did B have to say? Ah, the mysteries of family histories.

PS: See my next post here for ideas about how to use the indexes to solve genealogical mysteries.