Genealogy Basics

Incomplete Birth Certificates Create a Bureaucratic Morass in Many Places

I had to smile a bit today when reading an article in the Boston Globe about the “problem” of incomplete birth records. It seems the city of Boston has many birth records from years ago where the baby’s name is simply recorded as “baby girl” or “baby boy.” The reporter wrote, “A generation ago — when more families had six or more children — babies without official first names were surprisingly common. Overwhelmed new parents would leave the hospital without completing birth certificate paperwork.”

You can read more in the article by Andrew Ryan in the Boston Globe at: http://bit.ly/2pedZ7w. The same article tells how to amend a record and add a first name by providing documentation.

Actually, the “problem” is not unique to Boston nor to any particular area of the United States. An experienced genealogist probably can tell you of numerous similar examples. I have seen it many times, especially in the case of my mother and her siblings.

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

And You Thought You Had Problems Researching the Ancestry of Your Last Name?

In the United States, the most popular family surname is Smith. As per the 2010 census, about 0.8 percent of Americans have it. In Vietnam, the most popular surname name is Nguyen. The estimate for how many people answer to it? Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s population.

You think tracing the Smith family is difficult? Try tracing the Nguyen family!

An article by Dan Nosowitz in the Atlas Obscura web site states:

“Nguyen doesn’t indicate much more than that you are Vietnamese. Someone with the [surname of] Nguyen is going to have basically no luck tracing their heritage back beyond a generation or two, will not be able to use search engines to find out much of anything about themselves.”

What to do with Your Genealogy Collection When You Downsize or Die

Many of us have collected all sorts of genealogy information. Not only do we have our personal data, most of us also have collected books, magazines, photographs, and more. Someday, somebody will have to dispose of all that material. Perhaps your heirs will make that decision soon after you die. If it was me, I would prefer to make those decisions myself long before my demise.

Another reason for planning to get rid of materials is a word that I fear. This word sends shivers up and down my spine:

DOWNSIZING

Again, I prefer to make decisions about downsizing while I am still able to do so. I don’t want to wait until someone else makes the decision for me.

It’s a Grave Misunderstanding

I have written frequently about the preservation of tombstones. Apparently, one person did not “get the word.” A rather old article in the Los Angeles Times describes how one well-intentioned person has caused potential long-term damage to many Civil War tombstones. He thought he was helping preserve the tombstones but his efforts had the opposite effect. Not only did he not realize the damage he was causing, he even received commendations from cemetery officials, Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

For three years, Gene-o Platt cleaned tombstones, removing fungus and lichen. He then brushed several layers of white-pigmented sealer onto the Georgia marble tombstones. Using drills and grinding tools, he also enhanced worn lettering and then painted them gold. He invested thousands of hours and dollars in the project, hoping his example would be copied nationwide.

What Mr. Platt did not realize is that the sealer will cause the marble to deteriorate from the inside out because moisture in the rock can’t escape. In addition, black lithochrome paint should be used for lettering, not gold.

Presidential Ancestry

With Presidents’ Day in the U.S. next Monday, this is a good time to look at the ancestry of the U.S. presidents. After all, if your ancestors have been in the U.S. for 100 years or more, there is a strong possibility that your ancestry intersects with at least one of the U.S. presidents. The same can be said for many others of Canadian, British, Scottish, or Irish ancestry, as well as a few from the European continent.

presidents

You can find many sources of information about U.S. presidential genealogy. Probably the most scholarly resource is Gary Boyd Roberts’ book, Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies or the United States.

The Web is full of information about U.S. presidential ancestry, but with varying degrees of accuracy. Here is a list of some of those pages:

The Genealogy Library Inside Your Computer: How to Increase Your Personal Genealogy Library without Additional Bookshelves

old_books_and_new_ebooksThousands of genealogy books are available to you right now. You can search for them and, if you find some that look interesting, you can be reading them within minutes. There is no waiting for the post office to deliver them. Best of all is the price: most of them are available free of charge!

NOTE: a few of the ebooks are only available on CD-ROM which obviously does involve a postal delay and normally costs some money..

As you may have guessed, these are out-of-copyright books printed prior to 1923 plus a handful of later books. Luckily, there were a lot of genealogy books published in those days. After all, the records weren’t as old back then!

In addition, I will list sources for many newer genealogy books that are for sale at modest prices.

Perhaps to Best Place to Start Your Search for Online Genealogy eBooks

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month as well as the first day of the year. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

The Myth of Wearing White Gloves

whiteglovesArchivists and curators have long required the use of white cotton gloves for handling very old paper or old books, when the paper is brittle and threatens to crumble. In fact, on one episodes of the popular television series Who Do You Think You Are? the guests and even some of the experts shown in the program were criticized for not wearing cotton gloves when handling old documents. However, experts now say that the use of white gloves not only provides a false sense of security but even can induce more damage than handling the same documents with bare hands! On the other, um, hand, simple frequent washing and drying of the hands may be the better solution.

In an article that first appeared in the December 2005 issue of International Preservation News, conservation consultant Cathleen A. Baker and librarian Randy Silverman argued that for the handling of most types of materials, white gloves don’t help and actually may contribute to the damage. As they pointed out, handling books with gloves is apt to do more harm than good. Gloves are just as likely to be dirty as fingers, especially if they have been used a number of times previously and have already absorbed dirt and chemicals from previously-handled papers. Once absorbed into the cotton, dirt, abrasive grit, and chemicals are easily spread from one old document to another. Washing the gloves frequently is only a partial solution since chemicals from detergents are retained in the cotton fibers and then spread to documents handled later.

Online Genealogy Dictionaries & Other References

The Web is fast replacing reference books. References to almost any information can be found online quickly. In fact, it is often faster to look up information online than to look in a book already on your bookshelf. Of course, an online lookup is also much cheaper than purchasing a reference book.

Here are some reference sites that I have found to be useful to genealogists:

Abbreviations Found in Genealogy: http://www.rootsweb.com/~rigenweb/abbrev.html and the Encyclopedia of Genealogy at http://www.eogen.com.

A List of Occupations, many of which are archaic: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~usgwkidz/oldjobs.htm.

Archaic Medical Terms: Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms at http://www.antiquusmorbus.com/, Cyndi’s List of Medical Terms at http://www.cyndislist.com/medical#Diseases, a list of archaic medical terms and meanings used in various English speaking countries at http://www.genproxy.co.uk/old_medical_terms.htm, and theEncyclopedia of Genealogy at http://www.eogen.com.

The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names: http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabulary/tgn/index.html

Borrowing Library Books on Your Phone and Tablet

The New York Times recently published a “how to” guide for borrowing library books on your phone and tablet computer. The article points out:

“E-books are available for borrowing from about 11,000 libraries around the country, so confirm that your local library lends them and offers the Kindle format. You can find this out from the library’s own website or at OverDrive.com, a digital service that works with libraries to lend digital content to the public.

“If your library lends Kindle books, you just need a valid library card and PIN code from the institution itself. You also need an Amazon account, a Wi-Fi connection and a Kindle e-reader, Kindle Fire tablet, Kindle mobile reading app or the Kindle Cloud Reader.”

This and a lot more information is available at https://goo.gl/HiK5g8.

Recommended Reading: Using and Compiling Indexes by Judy Webster

I don’t believe this is a new web site but it is new to me. Judy Webster, a keen family historian, has compiled and published many indexes. She has also been employed by Queensland, Australia, State Archives to help with guidelines and data entry/checking for their indexing projects. Judy has created a web site to share practical tips based on her own experience. If you are interested in using indexes, and especially if you are involved in creating indexes, you need to read Judy’s advice.

Topics on the web site include:

  • How to avoid the traps involved in using indexes.
  • How to compile a good index (advice for individuals, genealogical groups, family history societies, historical societies and local studies librarians who want to index various types of material).
  • How to publish and promote your index.

You can find Judy Webster’s genealogy tips and indexes at: http://www.judywebster.com.au/methods.html.

What Was Your Ancestor’s Property Worth?

Genealogists often find references to money in old deeds and other documents. Even census records frequently recorded estimates of a person’s real estate. The natural question is, “I wonder what that would equal in today’s dollars?” There is a web site that can answer this question.

S. Morgan Friedman’s Inflation Calculator can convert a U.S. dollar amount for any year from 1800 through 2015 into the equivalent amount, adjusted for inflation, in any other year of that range. In other words, if you find that your ancestor purchased land for $400 in 1805, the Inflation Calculator will tell you that the money he spent is equivalent to a purchase of $6371.39 in 2015.

The Security of Your Mother’s Maiden Name

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

dunceI was driving down the road recently, listening to a local news station on the car radio. The newscaster was interviewing a so-called security “expert” about proposed legislation supposedly designed to prevent identity theft and credit card abuse. This “expert” claimed that we needed legislation to prevent access to birth records by “unauthorized” individuals. Sound familiar? Yes, we have heard and seen this song-and-dance act before. This guy wants to lock genealogists out of the records that we have used for the past century or so.

The so-called “expert” claimed that the Internet makes it too easy for someone to find your mother’s maiden name, and that, of course, is the foundation of all security systems, right?

Let me press the button for that obnoxious sounding buzzer. BZZZZZ! Wrong answer!

Talk to Your Family This Holiday Season

1943-03-06-saturday-evening-post-norman-rockwell-articleMany of us will be enjoying dinners and other festive occasions this month and next with our relatives. I would suggest this is a great time to compare notes with the relatives. Indeed, older members of the family may know a few tidbits of genealogy information that you have not yet found. However, there is another, more serious, reason for comparing notes with relatives: family health hazards.

Compiling a family tree can offer more benefits than discovering stories of war heroes or family dramas; science and preventive medicine are getting a look in, too. The skeleton in the cupboard could be a genetic predisposition towards disease that, once uncovered, might provide potentially life-saving indicators.

Do You Have Backups or are You Simply Synching?

“I don’t need backups. I’ve got my files synced.”

Wrong!

I have written many times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups I won’t repeat all that here. You can find my past articles by starting at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+backups&t=hu&ia=web.

However, I have to ask one question: Do you have backups or are you simply syncing your files?

In fact, there is a huge difference.

Boolean Basics – Part #2

Last week’s article introduced the concept of Boolean search terms for use on Google. That article is still available at https://blog.eogn.com/2016/10/27/boolean-basics-part-1. You might want to read that article again now to refresh it in your mind before proceeding with new topics. This week I will describe several advanced topics.

Quotation Marks

google_searchLast week’s article described the use of the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT (minus sign), and the concept of placing terms inside parenthesis. These search terms work well for single words, but you may find you need to include multiple words or phrases. For instance, you might be searching for an ancestor with an unusual name but perhaps not as unusual as you first thought. Perhaps there were two or more men of the same name who lived in different places at different times. For instance, as mentioned in last week’s article, I frequently search for the name of Washington Harvey Eastman. I have found two men of the same name. If one of them has many online references and the other has only a few, finding the person with fewer references can be problematic.

Let’s make a hypothetical assumption: two men of the same name are listed in Google’s indexes. We will assume that one man lived in Maine and is rarely mentioned on Google while the other lived in North Carolina and has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of references on the search engine. Of course, I am interested in the rarely-mentioned man, the one in Maine. I might be tempted to specify the following search:

It is the First Day of the Month: Back Up Your Genealogy Files

BackUpYourGenealogyFilesIt is the first day of the month. It’s time to back up your genealogy files. Then test your backups!

Actually, you can make backups at any time. However, it is easier and safer if you have a specific schedule. The first day of the month is easy to remember, so I would suggest you back up your genealogy files at least on the first day of every month, if not more often.

Genealogy Record Keeping in India

Hindi is one of the official languages of the Union of India. The Hindi word for genealogist is “panda.” While it is amusing that a Chinese word for the “big bear cat” is pronounced the same way (at least, when speaking English), the Hindi word is not related to the Chinese animal in any way. I first heard of Indian pandas during my visit to India a few years ago. I have since tried to learn more about these Indian genealogists, and now an Indian web site has given more details than I have ever found before.

Pandas are usually found in the holy city of Har Ki Pauri, jotting down recent births, deaths, and marriages. Brahmin Pandits (Priests) or “Pandas,” have maintained records of thousands of Hindu families from across India for centuries in records called Vahis (Bahi). Not all priests (pandits) are genealogists (pandas). Most of the pandas apparently reside and work at Har Ki Pauri, along the banks of the holy Ganges River.

A 300 years old scroll has handwritten data written in both Hindi and Urdu.

A 300 years old scroll has handwritten data written in both Hindi and Urdu.

The registers are handwritten, having been passed down to today’s pandas over generations by their Pandit ancestors, and are classified according to original districts and villages of one’s ancestors. In many places these records trace family history for more than twenty prior generations, stretching across many centuries.

Boolean Basics – Part #1

NOTE #1: This is part #1 of a 2-part article.

Probably all genealogists have used Google for genealogy searches. For many of us, we go to http://www.google.com, enter the name of an ancestor, click on SEARCH and hope that a reference appears that points to the person we wish to find. Sometimes the name search works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, many genealogists give up and move on to something else. This is especially true with common names when a standard Google search may find hundreds of people with the same name. However, with just a little bit of effort, you may be able to quickly narrow the search to a single person or at least to a manageably small group of people. The trick here is to use some search terms defined more than 150 years ago.

George Boole

George Boole

150-year-old search terms? They didn’t have computers back then! True, but they did have mathematics, and computers are basically mathematical machines. Boolean algebra, as developed in 1854 by George Boole and described in his book, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, is a variant of ordinary elementary algebra differing in its values, operations, and laws. Instead of the usual algebra of numbers, Boolean algebra is the algebra of truth values 0 and 1. In the case of computers, we usually think in terms of the logic statements of true or false. A zero is false and a one is true, as in, “This search result is a TRUE match to the terms entered.” Whether we use one and zero or true and false, all search engines work on Boolean algebra.

By applying a bit of Boolean algebra to our searches, we can be much more specific about the information we seek. We can specify not only the words we seek, but also how those words relate to each other. For genealogists, the results can sometimes be amazing. By specifying Boolean search terms on Google or other search engines, we can sometimes find ancestors or other topics of interest that have eluded us previously.