Showing posts with label online research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label online research. Show all posts

Friday, March 8, 2019

Meet NERGC Speaker Dave Robison

Dave Robison
Are you searching for ancestors who spelled their names in creative ways, never the same way twice? Or perhaps you're planning to interview a relative about family history? Then don't miss Dave Robison's presentations at this year's NERGC conference, full of great ideas to take your genealogy research to the next level.

Dave is a professional genealogist and owner of Old Bones Genealogy of New England. Not only is he President of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists, he is also President of the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society, a past president of the New England Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (NEAPG), and the Registrar for the Pomeroy Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (MASSAR).

In my role as an official NERGC blogger, I caught up with Dave during a rare break in his busy schedule. He answered a few questions about his involvement in genealogy.

1. One of your presentations is about interviewing relatives to record the past for future generations. What happened when you first interviewed your own relatives?

Initially, I interviewed an aunt simply for a reason to have a conversation! For a variety of reasons, we were driving back from an event at my sister’s in upstate New York. We just got to talking about how she met my uncle, what was life like for them in the mid-50s, what was it like raising 5 children all born within 6 years, where did she go to school, where did she work before her marriage to my uncle, and on and on. It was a 4 hour drive so we talked a lot.

2. What inspired you to become a professional genealogist and help others explore their family trees?

I grew up in a household where, at a very young age, if I asked a question of my mother, her response was, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” When I’d ask my father, his response, “Go ask your mother!” That’s bit of an exaggeration, but basically it was the culture of our little family. Of course, I’d be all ears at holidays and other occasions when a larger group of relatives got together. I learned that my maternal grandmother, Hazel, was raised by her grandparents because her own mother had died, that her cause of death had been “milk leg,” that her grandfather (my 2nd great grandfather) came from England, that my father was in the US Navy during WW II but never heard any details, and lots of other stories that I couldn’t connect until I grew a bit older.

As a genealogist, many of these tidbits surfaced and when I had time, I’d run down the details. For example, “milk leg,” it turns out, must have been their euphemism for cervical cancer as that was the cause of death of my grandmother’s mother. In the 1950’s, no one would dare say the word “cervical” out loud! I discovered this when I went to the Worcester, Massachusetts City Hall and ordered her death certificate.

There are hundreds of family history jewels where I only had hints. Here’s the best story: My father was born in Evergreen, Conecuh County, Alabama. I contacted the Conecuh County Historical Society to request information. I was strongly advised that if I was going to do any family history research in Evergreen, I should contact Mrs. Sarah R. Coker who had been researching the families of Evergreen and surrounding communities for decades. “Write clearly” I was advised, as Mrs. Coker was elderly and had vision problems. I quickly fired off a letter that I printed in large fonts to make sure she could read it. About 2 weeks later, Mrs. Sarah R. Coker replied. She was delighted that I finally contacted her. She was my paternal great-aunt, my paternal grandfather’s sister. By the way, I had never met, spoken to or seen a picture of my paternal grandfather who had died in 1964. When I visited her in her home in Evergreen, she regaled me with stories and shared mountains of research. Wow!

3. Do you have a favorite ancestor story from your family's past? 


I would have to say that currently, my favorite story begins with one of my many pilgrim ancestors who found their way to Plymouth Colony. In Springfield, Massachusetts, there’s a statue of one of the founders, Deacon Samuel Chapin who came to what was then called the Agawam Plantation (later renamed “Springfield”) at the behest of William Pynchon, a wealthy businessman from Springfield, Birmingham, England. The statue stands in Merrick Park next to the main branch of the Springfield Library. My sister and I attended grammar school about a block away and often ran over to Merrick Park to play or run through the many museums that are next door in what is known as “The Quadrangle.” By the way, the new national museum dedicated to Dr Seuss is here at the Quadrangle. At any rate, Diane and I had no real idea who the Deacon was or what his history might be. 

Years later, as I was researching ancient local families, I discovered a pattern of family names in a certain section of the Springfield Cemetery. The “Ancient Burying Grounds” from the original settlement had been moved there in 1848 as it was right on the river bank and had suffered from many floods but was also going to be split off as a result of the railroad coming through separating the city from that area. The railroad, ironically was being built by a prominent Chapin descendant, Chester William Chapin. Many coincidental names began to come together and as it turns out, I  am the 8th great grandson of the Deacon! I use this story in many of my genealogy classes and my favorite closing for the story is to ask the class, “…and what does that get me??” They toss out a few suggestions, but the real answer is this: “A good genealogy story!”

4. What tools and discoveries keep genealogy fresh and exciting for you, even after years in the field?

First, I have to state for everyone’s benefit that you don’t know what you don’t know. So the discoveries keep on coming! Naturally, the internet is a useful tool but understanding that it isn’t the only tool is critical. The discoveries just keep on coming, whether it’s a new collection that gets added to a website, a new discovery at an archive or repository, a DNA connection to someone who knows a great deal about a newly discovered branch of my family or just the chance to talk with people whose names and dates I’ve had for years but have finally able to connect with.

5. What is your game plan for getting the most out of your NERGC experience?

I’ve been heavily involved with NERGC for the past 2 or 3 conferences with many duties. I’m still involved but not to the extent of previous years so I hope to actually get to attend the presentations that interest me! I won’t be pulled in dozens of directions. So my game plan is simple: Make sure that the societies I represent fully comply with our volunteer hours commitment and beyond that, attend as many sessions as possible including luncheons and dinners, network with as many colleagues as possible, meet other genealogists who I may not have had a chance to meet in the past, and seek out the dozens of colleagues I know from interaction on webinars and social media whom I’ve never met in person.
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Dave Robison is presenting two programs at this year's NERGC conference:

Session T-113, The Interview: Recording the Past for the Future (Thursday, 4:30-5:30 pm) - sponsored by the Connecticut Society of Genealogists
Session S-150, Speelin Duzn't Cownt - and Other Online Search Rules (Saturday, 1:45-2:45 pm) - sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

WorldCat Search Tip: Author and Title

My aunt was a WAC during WWII and also the historian of her unit. I have a water-damaged copy of the book* she wrote, passed down in the family for decades. Still, I wanted to read an undamaged copy to be sure I had all the details correct.

Searching WorldCat

Off to WorldCat to search, I entered her name as author. I quickly discovered that a library not far away had a copy in the reference department. My librarian arranged an inter-library loan! I photographed key pages that are not in good condition in my personal copy, and returned the book with a thank-you to my library and another thank-you to the other library.

However, if I had searched using the title of the book, as well as the author, WorldCat would have shown me the above results. Notice the arrow, pointing to the ebook available with a single click?!

Yes, WorldCat included HathiTrust Digital Library in its search results, and there, for all the world to read (and/or download), is my aunt's History of the WAC Detachment, 9th Air Division, Sept 1942-Sept 1945. Professionally digitized and in great condition. Here's a link to the book.

Today's Search Tip

So today's tip is: remember to search WorldCat by author and title. Even if you know the author, as I did, be sure to search by title to see slightly different search results, including ebooks that may not pop up in an author-only search.

* These WAC histories were written and privately printed, paid for by members of the WAC detachments who chose to order a copy--in advance. My aunt purchased several copies, for family and for her good friend in the British intelligence service, a woman she met during her harrowing trans-Atlantic crossing in the midst of German sub threats.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Targeted Search on HeritageQuest


HeritageQuest, "powered by Ancestry," has a lot to recommend it to genealogy researchers at all levels. Most libraries offer HQ as part of the free ProQuest databases available for access to cardholders, in the library or from home. It is so convenient to fire up my laptop at any hour, log into HQ using my library card number, and search whenever I wish! Did I mention it's FREE?

At top, a brief list of what you can find from the search page on HQ. The site is uncomplicated and easy to navigate. Anyone who's ever used Ancestry will find the search interface familiar. Even if you've never used Ancestry, it will take about five seconds to figure out the HQ search forms. And remember, this is FREE.


What I find especially helpful is that HQ offers quick access to targeted genealogy databases without digging down through catalog listings. This is how I get the most out of Heritage Quest, by searching only one database or set of records at a time to narrow the results to the more likely possibilities.

Here's an example: I wanted to look for one of my husband's ancestors who I believed had served in the Civil War. He died in 1924, so I decided to search in the 1890 Veterans' Schedule. Yes, this special schedule did survive, even if nearly nothing else from that 1890 US Census survived! So not only will I find out whether this guy served in the war, I'll also find out when--and get his 1890 location as an important bonus.


I plugged in his full name (Benjamin Franklin Steiner), date/place of death, and added his wife's name. It wasn't necessary to have all those elements, but it helps narrow my search, at least in the beginning.

In fact, only a few results popped up--but one was exactly what I needed. 

The schedule lists Benjamin F. Steiner, living in Oceola, Ohio, in 1890. He served as a private in Company L, 10th Ohio Cavalry, from 1862 to 1865.

The "remarks" section had nothing about him, although others were noted as being disabled due to various ailments. But now I know he was in Oceola in 1890, and I can look for city directories, newspaper stories, and other sources of additional information from that time and place.

FREE, easy to use, loaded with valuable databases--lots to like on HeritageQuest!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Beyond "Google Your Family Tree"

I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Dan Lynch talked about the 6 most important search commands needed to "Google Your Family Tree." Having seen Dan speak a number of years ago, and having read his book cover to cover (it's now out of print), it was very educational to hear him update this important topic.

One of the Google "operators" (commands for searching) was new to me, not even mentioned in his book. (BTW, a command he used to advocate using, the tilde, is no longer a Google operator, so he suggested we not bother using it.)

Dan showed how to filter the millions of search results to focus on the most relevant genealogy results by using these key search commands, alone or in combination:
AND
OR
"" (quotation marks)
- (minus sign)
* (wild card)
AROUND(insert number here).

Here's what was new to me: AROUND(#) instructs Google to search for a word or phrase in proximity to another word or phrase by defining the number of words between them. 

To try this kind of search yourself, first do a search for "Google" and go to the Google search home page of your choice. I usually use the US home page, but if you want to search in another country or language, start on that home page (such as Google Canada).

The point is to go fishing in the Google ocean closest to where you would like Google results. Of course, Google often presents results from many countries and in many languages. But by starting on the home page of the nation you particularly want to search, it's more likely that results from that nation will be closer to the top of the list.


Next, choose two phrases (such as names or a name and a place) and choose how many words should separate those names or phrases. Above, my search executed on the Google Canada home page. I'm looking for hubby's great uncle, Captain John Daniel Slatter, who was the long-serving bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders regiment of Toronto.

This search is very restrictive because I'm telling Google to look for highly specific results--only results that have the exact phrase "John D. Slatter" within 4 words (no more than that) of the exact phrase "48th Highlanders." If the words or phrases are 5 words apart, they won't appear in my results. If the words or phrases are 3 or 2 words apart, they will be in my results.

Doing this search, Google tells me I have "around 2,150 results" which sounds more reasonable to check out than, say, 150,000 results or 1,500,000 results. Of course, I already know enough about Capt. Slatter to know he was part of the 48th Highlanders. In this search, I'm trying to locate new material about his role in that regiment.

In reality, Google filtered my actual results even further, omitting results that were very similar to the ones presented on the two pages of results I actually saw. This is typical, and I'm sure you often see that as well. We always have the option to click and repeat with duplicate or similar entries included in the results. Dan hammered home the point that we should always, always click beyond the first page of results. You just never know when an important nugget will be at the bottom of page 2 or even page 5.

In my example, the entire first page of results consisted of entries in my own blog, plus two "we found John Slatter" entries trying to get me to click for his phone number, etc.
However, the second page of results had an entry I'd never seen! It was for the Toronto Conservatory of Music year book of 1914-15, posted for free on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org).

I clicked and then, to save time scrolling and scrolling for the highlighted text, I searched within the book. Capt. Slatter appeared twice. The first appearance was in a listing of lessons being offered to students. Here it is, in the wording and typeface as it appeared in the year book:

         TUBA— John D. Slatter, Bandmaster 48th Highlanders 15.00 

This is how AROUND(#) works. It found me something I hadn't found in the past. I'm going to experiment with different versions of Capt. Slatter's name and different number of words for proximity with his regiment, his wife's name, and other family members.

Have you tried searching the Internet for your ancestors using the AROUND(#) operator? If not, go ahead and give it a try!

PS: Don't forget to look at image results. Maybe you'll get really lucky and find an ancestor's photo.

PPS: This post is the most popular of all-time on my genealogy blog, as of 2019!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy, Free or Fee, Part 5: Ask the Historian

A lot of genealogical treasures are not online. But local historians may be able to help you solve a mystery or two, at little or no cost (often, just the cost of copies and postage).

Case in point: My husband's Bentley ancestors lived in upstate NY. I need to connect his 3d great-grandfather, William Tyler Bentley (1795-1873), with a specific town and then trace further back.

I believe I have him in the 1830 census in Sandy Creek, Oswego county, NY. But is this the right guy? I searched for Sandy Creek and the website above popped up. Take a look at what the wonderful local historian, Charlene Cole, has at her fingertips:
I called her, she checked her records, and then she emailed me some documents from her surname files, contributed by a long-time researcher who was also tracking down the same Bentley family. By getting in touch with this other Bentley researcher, we were able to put more pieces of the puzzle together.

So Tuesday's Tip is: Try a web search for the town or county where an ancestor lived, and you may be lucky enough to locate the local historian who knows where the treasures are buried. Even if you don't locate the actual information you need, you will likely get a clue on how to proceed or the name of others who are in search of the same surname.

For more "Genealogy, Free or Fee" posts, please click here.