Genealogy Basics

Family History Research for Ancestors from India by Smita Biswas -” भारतीय मूल के लोगों के लिए परिवार के इतिहासका रिकॉर्डिंग”

I am delighted to introduce guest author Smita Biswas. She is a Team Leader at the West Auckland (New Zealand) Research Centre where she specializes in Indian genealogy. She is an expert in family history research in India as well as an accomplished lecturer and author.

NOTE: Some of the images in this article were reduced in size in order to fit in this newsletter’s format. To view a full-sized image, click on the small image within the article.

Here is Smita’s article:

Photo donated by Sheth Family, Lalbhai Bhogilal Lallubhai Sheth family photo, 1932, Shahibag, Ahmedabad, India

The culture of India has been shaped not only by its long history, unique geography and diverse demography but also by its ancient heritages. Regarded by some historians as the oldest living civilization of Earth, the Indian tradition dates back to 8,000 BC and has a continuous recorded history for over 2,500 years. But due to the influence of Western culture and migration of Indians to foreign shores, the rich culture, values, and family history of India are disappearing.

There is a lack of awareness in the migrant Indian community in New Zealand about the importance of documenting their family history. Most Indian family history has been traditionally maintained only within families and has been often passed down from generation to generation, with children hearing the stories from their “elders” from early childhood.

My Comments about Black Sheep Ancestors

I have always been interested in the less than perfect people in my family tree. These folks often may be found in various court records that have been preserved. At the RootsTech2017 conference, I was asked about such ancestors and my comments were videotaped by the RootsTech crew. You can view the video on Twitter at https://t.co/KdFInLZkqh.

Videotapes Are Becoming Unwatchable

How many videotapes do you own? Are any of them videos made at family reunions or videos of your children or grandchildren as they grew? Would you like to preserve them for a few more years? If so, you need to take action NOW!

Research suggests that videotapes aren’t going to live beyond 15 to 20 years. Some call this the “magnetic media crisis.” The problem is that many people don’t realize their tapes are degrading.

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.

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.

Read Me! A Self-Correcting Tool for Reading Pre-Modern Handwriting

According to an article in the Echoes from the Vault web site:

“Palaeography skills develop with greater exposure and even experts will tell you that their ability to decipher a particular hand improves with acquaintance.”

The article then continues:

Backup TAO

The novice asked the backup master which files he should backup.

The master said: “Even as a shepherd watches over all the sheep in his flock, and the lioness watches over all her cubs, so must you backup every file in your care, no matter how lowly. For even the smallest file can take days to recreate.”

The novice said: “I will save my working files, but not my system and application files, as they can be always be reinstalled from their distribution disks.”

The master made no reply.

The next day, the novice’s disk crashed. Three days later, the novice was still reinstalling software.

The above is the introduction to The TAO of Backup by Ross Williams. There is more at http://www.taobackup.com. I suggest you read all of it. Someday you will be glad you did.

 

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.