Current Affairs

Grieving Families Protest ‘Duplicitous’ Website that Reposts Death Notices in order to Sell Flower Deliveries

When does crass advertising go too far? Here is one strong candidate for that label: Everhere.com.

An Alberta man who, on the advice of doctors, is trying to keep news of his father’s death from his dementia-stricken mother, is the latest grieving family member to complain about a new website that reposts online obituaries alongside ads for flower deliveries.

His fear is that a bouquet and card will show up on his mother’s doorstep, and thus interrupt the delicate balance of what she knows about her husband, what she is capable of understanding through her dementia, and how it will affect her.

“I can handle it if she hears it from me,” Rick Laursen said. But finding out from a delivery would be needlessly traumatic. He has now put a sign on her front door directing any flower deliveries to a neighbour’s house.

Rare Maps, Books, and Prints Stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh

A 1787 document signed by Thomas Jefferson. “Four Works Bound Together,” John Calvin, 1557-1572. And pages and pages sliced from rare books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh are among more than 300 items valued at more than $8 million were stolen over the last 20 years.

The former archivist of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rare book collection told investigators he conspired with the owner of an Oakland bookseller since the 1990s to steal and resell items taken from there.

Happy Fourth of July

Adopted Woman Finds Long-Lost Sister Right Next Door

What are the odds? Hillary Harris was adopted as an infant. She searched for her birth family as an adult, and after many years, her search was incomplete. She knew she had a half sister, and she knew the sister’s name from her adoption file, but she couldn’t find her. Then one day last year, a strange thing happened. A couple moved in next door to the home Harris and her husband own in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The woman’s name was Dawn, and she was from Greenwood, Wisconsin, the same place Harris’ sister lived, according to the adoption file.

I suspect you have already guessed the rest of the story. However, you might want to read the details of earlier adoption search and the eventual reunion in an article by Allison Klein in the NewsOK web site at: http://bit.ly/2IMsB6i.

Music CDs, R.I.P.

A bit of history has faded away. Best Buy has stopped selling CDs at its stores. The sales of music CDs apparently is no longer profitable, due to digital streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and others.

Now CDs have gone the way of buggy whips. You can read more in an article in the MoneyWatch web site at: https://cbsn.ws/2KvkSzv.

Follow-up: The U.K. National Archives is Investigating the Use of Blockchain for Records Sharing

I wrote about this on June 7 at http://eogn.com/20180607a. Now an article by Alex Green in The National Archives Blog provides more information. Alex Green writes:

“Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology which is both tamper-resistant and decentralised. The ARCHANGEL project is creating a prototype using this technology which aims to enable archives to generate and register hashes of documents (similar to unique digital signatures) into a permissioned blockchain (in other words, one which can only be added to by authorised organisations). Where the record has been legitimately changed, hashes of the content, alongside hashes of the code used to make the change, can also be registered on the blockchain. This would mean that whenever a digital record is modified, an audit trail is created and we are able to know exactly how a document has been edited.

MyHeritage Offers Free DNA Tests to Help Reunite Separated Migrant Children with their Parents

The following announcement was written by MyHeritage:

We have just announced that, following the recent separation of immigrant parents and children in the United States, MyHeritage is expanding its pro bono initiative, DNA Quest — which helps reunite adoptees with their biological families through DNA testing — to help those parents who were detained at the US border reunite with their children. We are pledging 5,000 additional free DNA tests for separated parents and children who are interested in this opportunity.

For the DNA kits to reach the affected people, MyHeritage has begun contacting relevant government agencies and NGOs that are able to provide assistance with distribution of the DNA kits — to parents in detainment facilities and to their children placed in temporary custody. MyHeritage is also calling the public to assist — anyone who can help with the distribution of the DNA kits and is in touch with the separated families is requested to contact dnaquestsupport@myheritage.com. The DNA results will be processed by MyHeritage and not shared with any third parties.

Should Government Offices Store Paper Documents? or Digital Images?

I received an email message from a newsletter reader asking about a recent experience she had with a county records clerk. I answered her in email but decided to also publish my reply here in this newsletter because I suspect her experience is going to become more common with every passing year.

I deleted the name of the city, county, and state because I believe this is a nationwide and even international issue. It could have happened anywhere. Let’s focus on the issues, not on the location:

“Hi, Mr. Eastman

“I wanted to share this with you. I am researching genealogy for a friend of mine. He told me that his parents were married in {city and state deleted} and wanted proof of that. He did not have any more information than that.

“Today, I contacted the County Clerk to verify that they were married there. The clerk found the record. I asked how much would it cost to get a certified copy. She said that ‘I will mail the original to you.’ I said, ‘The original?’ She replied, ‘Yes, we do not keep original documents anymore. We scan them into the computer system and mail them to the nearest family member.’

Update: A Fire at the Aberdeen (Washington) Museum of History Destroys Much of the Museum’s Collection and a Genealogy Society’s Library

This is an update to the article I published yesterday at: http://bit.ly/2JKz3Mq:

I received an email message this morning from a newsletter reader whose name I will not divulge for privacy reasons. She wrote:

“I live in Aberdeen, WA. Just so you know, they have already started to recover items from the basement. They have been able to find pictures and documents, floating in water. Many of the pictures are already showing signs of mold. “

A Fire at the Aberdeen (Washington) Museum of History Destroys Much of the Museum’s Collection and a Genealogy Society’s Library

Here is a story that every genealogist, archivist, historian, and museum manager never wants to read: On Saturday, a fire destroyed the Aberdeen Museum of History in Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, which included items from his early life.

NOTE: The late Kurt Cobain was an American singer, songwriter, and musician. Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Cobain formed the band Nirvana with Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard in 1987.

No one was in the building at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported. It took 77 firefighters 10.5 hours to suppress the fire. The fire started from within the building, a cause most typically related to heating or electrical malfunctions. At around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, firefighters from multiple agencies responded to the fire in the Armory Building. It spread through most of the building, and collapsed a majority of the roof. It caused serious damage to the museum and other organizations located inside like the Coastal Community Action Program, the Senior Center, and the Grays Harbor Genealogical Society research library.

Man, Presumed Dead, Returns Home a Year After the Family Cremated the Wrong Body

“Honey, I’m home”

“BUT YOU’RE DEAD”

“I got better”

A man in his 40s, who was reported missing last year, and later “found,” then confirmed dead by police and his family who had him cremated, has shocked his family by returning home alive and well.

Grave Robbers Steal Bones from Miami’s Historic Cemeteries

One has to wonder what motivate anyone to commit crimes like this. A rash of vandalism and an increase in trespassing at three of Miami’s oldest cemeteries has not only disturbed the repose of the deceased but complicated the struggle of protecting and preserving historic sites that have been neglected for years.

Thieves also steal American flags placed at soldiers’ graves.

You can read more about this sad story in an article by Linda Robertson in the Miami Herald web site at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article212504519.html.

Muskegon County Genealogical Society Holds Ceremony and Provides Headstones for Children Buried in Unmarked Graves

Seventy-two children buried in unmarked graves in the Shady Rest cemetery in Muskegon, Michigan are receiving new headstones and will be remembered a special ceremony today.

The Muskegon County Genealogical Society over a year ago approached the county’s board of commissioner with the idea of making May Cemetery Awareness Month. When the board approved the request, the society quickly got to work restoring and cleaning up cemeteries and grave sites throughout the county.

“We are doing a cemetery project for the Muskegon County Genealogical Society,” said Bill Hansen, cemetery committee chairman. “We are attempting to map all of the cemeteries in the county into an interactive mapping system, and we have done seventeen so far, and as part of that we sort of unofficial adopted this cemetery to work on.”

Fire hits National Archives of the Philippines, No Critical Genealogy Documents Lost

The Juan Luna Building in Binondo, Manila, which houses the National Archives of the Philippines (often abbreviated to “NAP”), caught fire Monday morning. 30 firetrucks were deployed to the site.

The National Archives of the Philippines keeps more than 60 million official documents dating back to the Spanish era that can be used by Filipinos as primary sources.

Initial reports simply stated that a fire was raging at the National Archives of the Philippines. Obviously, the initial reports caused concern amongst archivists, historians, and genealogists. However, the fire did not touch any of the historic documents. National Archives employees said the office in Binondo is only used for administrative services as the actual documents are stored at a different location: the National Library at Kalaw Avenue, Manila.

National Archives of Australia to Lay Off 10 Staff Members

A “downsizing” at the National Archives of Australia has left it less able to give access to records, its boss David Fricker says. The agency that describes itself as Australia’s memory will lose another 10 staff this year after staffing cuts in 2017-18, he confirmed at a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday. It comes as the archives faces more applications from researchers to access records.

Budget papers this month showed the institution’s staffing would drop to 355 this year, compared to 429 reported in the 2013-14 budget.

You can read more in an article by Doug Dingwall in the Sydney Morning Herald web site at http://bit.ly/2IETqOE.

Caribbean-Americans Searching for Their Chinese Roots

The Atlas Obscura web site has published an interesting article by Eveline Chao about the search by Chinese-Jamaican-American or Canadians who wish to find their family history. Author Chao describes the good work done by Hakka Conferences and others to help each other find information about their ancestors.

It seems that many people originating in China with a distinct set of customs and a language also called Hakka left the country and moved to Jamaica in search of better economic opportunities. The British first brought Chinese and Indian workers to the Islands to replace slave labor on sugar plantations after Britain abolished slavery in 1834. (Initially, they used indentured servants from Ireland and Germany, but quickly turned East.) From 1853–1884, a recorded 17,904 Chinese—mostly men from Guangdong Province in southeast China—migrated to the British West Indies as indentured laborers, according to scholar Walton Look Lai. Some 160,000 migrated to the Caribbean overall (including Cuba).

Many Chinese immigrants intermarried with Afro-European-Chinese-Caribbean people. In later years, many of their descendants moved to the United States or to Canada. And you thought you had problems finding family records?

Hart Island, a Potter’s Field where New York City’s Poor and Unclaimed Dead are Buried

This sounds more like a Charles Dickens novel than it does about a 21st century news story. It seems that millions of formerly impoverished but now deceased citizens, along with many whose bodies were unclaimed by family, are buried in Hart Island. The 101-acre sliver of land in the waters far, far north of the Manhattan is the final resting place of more than an estimated 750,000 deceased persons. Hart Island is not open to the public.

Most of the graves are unmarked. The records of the coffin row-and-column placement are kept between five and 10 years, depending upon the effect of plot soil conditions on attempted disinternments. When disinternment attempts are no longer practical and appropriate, those plot burial records are turned over to the Municipal Archives.

‘Aboriginal’ Redacted from Australian Birth, Death, Marriage Certificates after Being Deemed an Offensive Term

Vital records worldwide are becoming more and more politically correct. A West Australian bureaucrat has deemed the use of the term “Aboriginal” may be regarded as offensive and exercised a little-known power to redact it from birth, death and marriage certificates. However, not everyone agrees with this decision.

It has shocked historians, who were unaware of the practice and say Aboriginal is considered by most to be an inclusive term. “Way back in the past people might have hidden their Aboriginality … it’s now a source of pride for many people of Aboriginal descent today,” according to Jenny Gregory, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Western Australia.

Some Genealogy Sites Closing Due to EU’s General Data Protection Regulation

The following is a message posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen:

The IAJGS Records Access Alert has written about the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) numerous times—including how in the Netherlands they are removing certain genealogically-relevant documents from their website due to the GDPR. The GDPR becomes effective May 25, 2018

In DNAeXplained-Genetic Genealogy by Roberta Estes she reports that several genealogical firms are also closing down due to the privacy provisions of and compliance with the GDPR:

Artificial Intelligence is Cracking Open the Vatican’s Secret Archives

The Vatican Secret Archives is one of the grandest historical collections in the world. Located within the Vatican’s walls, next door to the Apostolic Library and just north of the Sistine Chapel, the VSA houses 53 linear miles of shelving dating back more than 12 centuries. It’s also one of the most useless. If you want to peruse anything else, you have to apply for special access, schlep all the way to Rome, and go through every page by hand. It isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible. However, thanks to modern technology, access is changing.

Known as In Codice Ratio, a new project uses a combination of artificial intelligence and optical-character-recognition (OCR) software to scour these neglected texts and make their transcripts available online for the very first time. If successful, the technology could also open up untold numbers of other documents at historical archives around the world.