Current Affairs

Grace A. Dow Memorial Library in Midland, Michigan Sustains $1.5 Million Flood Damage

Here is still another example why we cannot depend upon paper documents alone to be accessible in the future. Homes, streets, businesses, parks and city buildings in Midland, Michigan got soaked in a flood several weeks ago. In the city alone, more than 1,000 homes had some type of damage. Of interest to genealogists, the hardest hit city building was the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library. The early estimate puts clean up and repair work for the library at $1.5 million.

The library had never flooded before.

Hard Drives and Storage Space Continue to Become Cheaper and Cheaper

The following isn’t directly related to genealogy but it is related to something that concerns all genealogists: storage of information that we have found. Today, it is easier and much, much cheaper to save information in our own computers or in the cloud than ever before. Saving things in digital format is also much, much cheaper (and safer) than storing paper. However, there are signs that consumers are saving less and less these days.

For the past 35+ years or so, hard drives prices have dropped, from around $500,000 per gigabyte in 1981 to less than $0.03 per gigabyte today. See http://www.mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update for details.

Somewhat surprisingly, manufacturers are selling fewer disk drives to consumers these days than they used to. Consumers are not downloading and saving as many files as they used to, be it text information, music, videos, or anything else. Why not? It appears that the primary reason is that all those things are increasingly more available upon demand in the cloud. There is less need than ever to save things yourself when you can retrieve those items again and again in the future at any time. Even better, the version you retrieve in the future may be updated or be an enhanced version, such as a higher-resolution image or video or contain higher-fidelity sound.

Live Cannonball (or is it a Mortar Shell?) from the Battle of the Plains of Abraham found in Old Quebec

A cannonball fired by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 has been unearthed at a building site in Old Quebec. The rusted, 90-kilogram projectile was unearthed during excavation work last week at the corner of Hamel and Couillard streets and still contained a charge and gunpowder.

One person took the cannonball back to his home, and noticed it still contained a charge. A team of army munitions technicians was dispatched from CFB Valcartier to collect the ball and neutralize it.

Fire Damages Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana

Fire caused extensive damage to Eckhart Public Library early Sunday morning, July 2. The fire appears to have been intentionally set. The damage will force the 106-year-old main library building to close indefinitely, according to the library leaders.

The library’s entire collection of DVDs and audio books was lost. However, the library’s digital collection of eBooks and downloadable audiobooks remain available along with the many online databases. Luckily, the library’s extensive genealogy collection appears to have been spared.

Details may be found at http://bit.ly/2vooPdb and at http://www.epl.lib.in.us.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) Announce Collaboration

The following announcement was written by the New England Historic Genealogical Society:

NEHGS to Digitize the Fifth Generation of Mayflower Descendants from GSMD “Silver Books” and 50 Years of Mayflower Quarterly

Mayflower Databases to Be Searchable on AmericanAncestors.org

GSMD Members to Enjoy Discounts on Membership in New England Historic Genealogical Society

July 13, 2017—Boston, Massachusetts—New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has partnered with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) to bring invaluable genealogical resources to their members. New searchable databases—to be found on AmericanAncestors.org—will be created from authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies and from 50 years of published Mayflower passenger scholarship from the Mayflower Quarterly as the program advances. In addition, GSMD members will enjoy generous discounts on new memberships in NEHGS, the founding genealogical organization in America.

BYU-Idaho Genealogy Library to Relocate

On July 18 the Family History Center in the David O. McKay Library at Brigham Young University-Idaho will be shutting down. Everything in the present genealogy library will be moved to the Rexburg Family History Center.

The Family History Center has been in the McKay Library since the 1960s.

You can read more in an article by Adam Jacobs in the (Rexburg, Idaho) Standard Journal web site at: http://bit.ly/2suD7qN.

Australians Provide Fake Names Amid Census Privacy Fears

In the 2016 census, many Australians provided fake names and withheld their date of birth. A sharp drop in the number of respondents allowing authorities to keep their data archived for 99 years was also noted.

The first batch of data from last year’s bungled census was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday with authorities insisting the information collected is useful. Privacy concerns plagued the half-billion-dollar exercise in the lead up to Census night on August 9 with several politicians, including independent senator Nick Xenophon, vowing to risk a $180-a-day fine by refusing to provide their names and addresses.

FamilySearch to Discontinue its Microfilm Distribution Services

This announcement shouldn’t surprise any genealogists. The end of microfilm has been predicted for years. Microfilm and microfiche has become harder and harder to purchase. Most of the manufacturers have stopped producing microfilm and microfiche so the companies and non-profits that release information on film have been forced to abandon the media.

Over 1.5 million microfilms (ca. 1.5 billion images) have been digitized by FamilySearch, including the most requested collections based on microfilm loan records worldwide. In addition, many records that FamilySearch has not yet published can be found online on partner or free archive websites. FamilySearch plans to finish microfilm digitization by 2020.

The following is an extract from the announcement from FamilySearch:

On September 1, 2017, FamilySearch will discontinue its microfilm distribution services. (The last day to order microfilm will be on August 31, 2017.)

The change is the result of significant progress made in FamilySearch’s microfilm digitization efforts and the obsolescence of microfilm technology.

Unclaimed Persons Celebrates Ninth Anniversary and Launches New Website

The following announcement was written by Unclaimed Persons:

Every life is worth remembering, and this month Unclaimed Persons (UP) celebrates its ninth anniversary helping to unite the remains of deceased individuals with their next of kin.

Alone in death and tucked away on dark shelves or cold gurneys in morgues across the country, thousands of deceased individuals whose names are known to coroners, medical examiners, and a handful of friends have no known family members to claim their remains. Homelessness, mental illness, long-term estrangement, deaths of all apparent next of kin, and other circumstances have severed familial connections. Ever-increasing caseloads and shrinking budgets make it nearly impossible for many medical examiners, coroners, and investigators to find these individuals’ relatives without help.

Reclaim The Records Wins Another Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request: New York State Department of Health Concedes the New York State Death Index is to become Available to the Public under Open Records Laws

I often write about bad news in which legislators and bureaucrats keep blocking genealogists from accessing records that legally qualify as public domain. Therefore, it is great to report another victory from Reclaim The Records!

An announcement from Reclaim The Records states:

“After seventeen months of work, we have now forced the New York State Department of Health to concede that this data is, and should be, available to the public under open records laws. We secured the first ever public copies of this important state death index, which the Department of Health has digitized for us, scanned from the original vault copies. They are high-resolution greyscale images, with the entire set comprising about 3/4 of a terabyte of data on a portable hard drive. (That’s a lot of dead people.)

How Private is Your Genealogy Information?

A newsletter reader asked a question that I think many people are asking. I replied to him in email but thought I would also share may answer here in the newsletter in case others have the same question.

My correspondent wrote:

I am relatively new to genealogy technology. Are there tips you can provide to ensure the security of personal information? Would building a family tree in software only [in] my computer be more secure than syncing it to a webpage (like MyHeritage)? Is it a good idea to not include details (name, date and place of birth) for all living relatives and maybe back a generation or two? Thanks.

My reply:

No. In fact, quite the opposite.

The End of an Era: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Closes

The “Greatest Show on Earth” is no more. For many of our ancestors and even for our children and grandchildren of today, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus provided entertainment not found elsewhere. Perhaps we should all take note of the passing of this once-gigantic entertainment enterprise. The founders were the epitome of American entrepreneurship, an excellent example of why America welcomes immigrants.

The Ringling brothers were the seven American-born sons of harness maker Heinrich Friedrich August Ringling (originally spelled as “Rungeling”), (1826–1898), an immigrant from Hanover, Germany, and Marie Salome Juliar (1833–1907), an immigrant from Ostheim, in Alsace (now a part of Bavaria, Germany). One Ringling sister, Ida Loraina Wilhelmina Ringling also was part of the family although she apparently was not involved in the circus business. [Reference: “Ringling brothers” on Wikipedia.org]

Genealogist Who Helps Heirs Obtain Fortunes in Estate Cases Accused of Using Forged Documents

Every year, millions of people die worldwide without making a will (called dying intestate), often leaving substantial cash and property estates which, if not claimed, goes to the state. Worth billions, this provides vast income opportunities for genealogists who trace missing beneficiaries to these valuable estates.

Heir tracing is the business of seeking living descendant relatives who often have lost touch with their distant kin and, in most cases, have no idea of their family link. Many professional genealogists also are heir hunters, also known as probate researchers. Heir hunters are the ones who start with the information of a wealthy deceased person and then find the previously-unknown relatives who stand to inherit the estate.

In return, the heir hunter charges a percentage of the inherited wealth, typically 30%, 40%, or more. For some, heir hunting has turned out to be a lucrative business, paying much, much more than traditional genealogy research. Vadim Tevelev is one such heir hunter.

Remains of a Little Girl in a Forgotten Casket are Identified

This story combines detective work, genealogy, DNA, and public records.

A little girl about 3 years old died and was buried about 140 years ago in an unmarked metal casket in a wealthy San Francisco neighborhood. When workers recently discovered her elaborate coffin beneath a concrete slab, there were no markings or gravestone to say who she was. A team of scientists, amateur sleuths and history buffs worked tirelessly to solve the central question in this Bay Area mystery: Who was the little girl in the casket?

She has now been identified. The girl’s DNA was matched to that of a relative now living in San Rafael.

The story of the investigation is intriguing. Investigators found a scale plan of the cemetery development in 1865 at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. That provided an approximate location of the grave.

Santa Rosa County, Florida, Will Open a New Genealogy Library

The Santa Rosa County (Florida) Library System is officially opening its genealogy library on Monday. The building, located at 6275 Dogwood Drive (north on State Route 87) in Milton, Florida, is located down the hall from the county library system administration offices. It holds a variety of resources — printed material and digital — to help people investigate their family history.

The collection includes books, journals, microfilm, microfiche, obituaries, magazine and files of clippings from Santa Rosa County and beyond. The most extensive part of the information covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Louisiana’s Archives are in a ‘State Of Emergency,’ According to Local Historians

Louisiana’s archival and historical records are in a state of emergency. Their destruction “would represent nothing less than a devastating and irreparable loss” of the state’s historical and cultural heritage, according to historians who recently gathered for the Louisiana Historical Association’s annual conference.

A summary by the Louisiana Historical Association called Louisiana’s historical archives “endangered treasures.”

Looking for Bodden or Bawden Ancestors With Relatives in the Cayman Islands

If your surname is Bodden or Bawden then it might be time to dig out the family tree – as you could be in line for a free holiday.

The Cayman Islands have launched an appeal to try and trace the descendants of their Cornish founding fathers, with the aim of flying them to the beach paradise to meet their distant relatives.

London FamilySearch Centre Microfilm Collection is Transferring to the Society of Genealogists

The following announcement was written by the Society of Genealogists:

The London FamilySearch Centre microfilm collection, which is currently temporarily located at The National Archives, is transferring to the Society of Genealogists in Clerkenwell. The move reflects a partnership between the Society of Genealogists and FamilySearch to ensure that the microfilm collection continues to be available to family historians. The London FamilySearch Centre will continue to provide its research support services at the National Archives.

The collection of about 57,000 microfilms complement the SoG’s remarkable library of genealogical sources and both bring together, in one place, an unparalleled resource for family history researchers in the UK. Having been carefully curated over many years, the FamilySearch Films include many thousands of copies of original church and local records from the United Kingdom and Ireland; probate records for England and Wales before and after 1858 and selected items for Caribbean research.

Naturalization Index CrowdSourcing Project on the SeekingMichigan.org Web Site

This sounds like a great new project: “The Archives of Michigan is pleased to announce the launch of a digitization and indexing project to make naturalization records from nearly 70 Michigan counties freely available online. In a partnership with FamilySearch, and with the support of the Michigan Genealogical Council, the Archives of Michigan is asking you to help transcribe key genealogical information from the records. Once completed, the collection – including both the images and index – will be freely available only at Seeking Michigan.”

The project uses FamilySearch’s indexing software which is probably the best available software for the job.

You can learn more about this new project from the SeekingMichigan.org web site at: http://seekingmichigan.org/naturalization.

My thanks to newsletter reader Kim Wickman for telling me about this project.

Spring Forward into Daylight Saving Time

Most of the United States will “spring forward” this weekend, as we enter Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 a.m. – which will immediately become 3:00 a.m. – Sunday morning. There is a lot of history connected with Daylight Saving Time.

Benjamin Franklin proposed a form of daylight time in 1784. He wrote an essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” to the editor of The Journal of Paris, suggesting, somewhat jokingly, that Parisians could economize candle usage by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead. This 1784 satire proposed taxing window shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise. Despite common misconception, Franklin did not actually propose Daylight Saving Time. In fact, clocks were not synchronized in Europe at that time; each owner of a clock would set it to whatever time he or she thought was correct. Standardized time did not occur until railroads became popular. Train schedules had to be planned for designated times.