Archive for the ‘Genealogy’ Category

Once in a cycle the comet
Doubles its lonesome track.
Enriched with the tears of a thousand years,
Aeschylus wanders back.

—John G. Neihardt [1]

When my mother died in 1991, the director at the mortuary asked me how did she like to wear her hair and did she wear lipstick or eye shadow? Her remains were being prepared for burial, but he spoke of her as if she still existed, as if she still lived. In Mexico and among many Native American tribes, there is the belief that you experience death three times. The first death occurs when your spirit departs the body; the second, when your body returns to Mother earth. The final death occurs only when there is no one who still remembers your name. It is only after the third death that are you truly dead. My mother lives still.

Sometimes, in a quiet moment among microfilm and dusty records, I will sense ghostly encounters with ancestors. Something fleeting and formless will flutter from a page. A voice, whose tone and tenor is too effaced to be clearly heard, will echo across time. I wonder what the shamans would say about my endeavors as a family historian. By discovering the name of an unknown parent, can I resurrect those who have experienced that third death? I suspect that the answer is ‘no’ because my efforts are formed from fragments of a life, not memory of it. Still, there is this vague disquiet that comes with the prolonged study of a life long gone from human memory. I have never asked other genealogists if they, too, detect apparitions hovering at the periphery of their research. Perhaps to do so is to seem unscholarly, non-objective in one’s work.

Loren Eisley encountered a similar cadre of apparitions. He often wrote about them. As a paleontologist, he understood that the essence of being human is not contained in a solitary skull vault. He described it as shadows dancing on the walls of a cave, a word uttered by the fire. This essence eludes us and is gone when we come with spades upon the cold ashes of the campfire four hundred thousand years hence. Eisley also believed that it is the creation of the written word, giving birth to history, that has enabled us to survive as a species. Perhaps he is right. Through myth, then through written history, we have extended human memory beyond the individual lifetime. Perhaps, we can hold back that final death with our re-search for forgotten family memories.

Like the comet of Neihardt’s poem, my mother, indeed all my loved ones who have passed, returns periodically in memories of conversations, in photographs, in letters and documents. Each cycle of recalling those past events denotes an opportunity to discover something new. Sometimes about them; sometimes about me. Eisley believed that this was the real process of scientific research, seeing ourselves as part of the scientific question.

I began this blog in July 2007, a mere nine months ago, not sure that anyone would read it. But, apparently, some people have because, as of today, the stats at WordPress, report that people have stopped by more than 5,000 times since last year. Another statistic informs me that some of you have found what is posted here promising enough to add this blog to a reader list or a feed. Other than a few comments left here, none of these numbers tell me if you like what you read. Nor do they tell me who you are, but I thank you for visiting. I hope that you will come by again.


  1. Neihardt (1881-1973), whose quote appears above, may be unfamiliar to many of you. Although he is better known as a poet, he was, in fact, a historian who wrote about the American Midwest and its native inhabitants. He published his research in a variety of genres, including epic poetry.

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I just discovered a website that I plan to put on my list of favorites. The site is owned by Mark Turner from Scottsdale, AZ (USA). Mark is a software designer by day and an avid genealogist every other waking moment. I recommend his visual map of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a quick guide. It can be found at www.thinkgenealogy.com.

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A standard is like a yard stick. It is an measure of comparison for a quantity or quality; a criterion. As a matter of fact, a yard is a standard, as is an ounce, a dram, a meter, an acre, a degree, or any number of terms of measurement that we commonly use. Yet, these standards are standards of quantity. In other words, no matter who uses the standard (the yard stick), the value of that measure is independent of the person doing the measuring. Use a yard stick to determine the length of a piece of wood, the results will be the same whether you run the measurement or I do. However, unless qualitative standards are operationally defined using some objectively measurable equivalent, they are not independent of the person doing the measuring. Confused? Let’s see if I can simplify it a bit.

I stand at 5’4″. My grandmother was 4’11”. I consider my grandmother to be a short woman. My friend, Lucy, is 5’11”. I am a short woman to her. “Short” is a relative or qualitative standard. Here’s another example. Around 1800, Franz Josef Gall, a German physician, developed a theory that qualities of human traits, such as intelligence, honesty, loyalty, could be determined by examining the bumps and fissures of a person’s skull. Phrenology, the study of these bumps and fissures, was very popular throughout the 19th and even into the 20th century. (See a phrenology map at Wikipedia.) Later, some historians of psychology made a not-so-surprising observation about the interpretations of these maps used by Gall and later adherents. Those better, more refined traits were found on heads which were curiously shaped like the heads of the men who made the maps. There was not a criminal, a con man, or an idiot among these phrenologists. The important point to take away from these examples is: Unless you can separate the standard (of measurement) from the person applying the standard, you will have variance. Where you have variance, you have a pseudo-standard. Now, let’s turn our attention to the first step of the Genealogical Proof Standards.

The BCG Standards Manual describes the GPS as a 5-step process. The first of these steps is to:

conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.

I underscored those phrases that lack independence from the person applying the measurement. As a pseudo-standard, one cannot not know if what is being evaluated has achieved full measure of the standard. Exhaustive is a fairly objective term. It suggests that “no stone is left unturned.” However, reasonably is harder to pin down in any precise way. Depending upon the research question, the breadth of resources accessible to you, “reasonable” can vary. It can vary even among experts in the research area. How can you know that your search has been reasonably exhaustive? The truth is, you cannot know with any certainty. You can apply a series of “checklists” but still miss that critical source that was hidden.

For those researchers whose confidence or experience in the particular research area is still developing, consider starting with a checklist constructed from the seventeen chapters in Part II of Val Greenwood’s tome, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Greenwood discusses the more commonly used types of source found in genealogy today. Of course, as you discover other source types, add these to your checklist. For living ancestors, I add their oral histories, where applicable. For a few states, bibliographies and union catalogs have been published to give the genealogist an overview of what is available. Finally, talk to people, especially reference librarians at university libraries about collections. You can often work with a local reference librarian who can help you submit interlibrary loan requests (ILL) for items not available locally.

Another strategy that I use is reading social histories about the time and place where my research is focused. I read for two reasons: (1) to gain an understanding of the records that I expect to research and (2) to examine the book’s bibliography. Where social historians use original records, I can hope to find original documents pertinent to my own research.

I will address the fuzziness of reliable sources in another post.

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a service on its website, called the Nationwide Gravesite Locator. The database shows the interments of veterans in more than 120 cemeteries, some national cemeteries. However, some are privately owned or “family cemteries” containing the remains of veterans. For example, I entered the surname FLANARY. The search engine returned 71 names, including information on several veterans of the Civil War. Image my surprise at two of my Civil War finds in private cemeteries:




DATE OF BIRTH: 11/25/1843

DATE OF DEATH: 04/14/1910





DATE OF BIRTH: 11/10/1844

DATE OF DEATH: 07/12/1914


DRYDEN, VA 24243

I had not considered using this site for my Civil War ancestors because they were not buried in a military cemetery. The lesson here is “check your assumptions.” They may be preventing you from locating that elusive record.

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After thoroughly writing and editing an article or book–aside from publishing it somewhere–it is a good idea to submit it for a writing award. With most competitions, you can expect feedback on your work even if you don’t win an award.

In this posting, I will note different places where you can submit “ready for the public” items. If you know of any other places where genealogical writing may be submitted for an award, please let me know so that I can add it to this post. Check back from time to time as this particular posting will be updated as I get new information.

Don’t be shy. There are categories for even novice writers.

 Dallas Genealogical Society – neither criteria nor categories is posted on the website. Contact DGS President for details. At this point, I assume that it is open only to current members.

Genealogical Forum of Oregon – Open to all family history writers. Members can enter for free; non-members must pay a $10 entry fee. Each year they select a topic. The 2008 topic is “Saga of a Soldier,” which must be a story centered upon a military experience. Details on website.

International Society of Family History Writers and Editors – open to current members. Details on website.

National Genealogical Society – the website does not say that it is limited to member submissions. You may want to verify if you are not a member.

Oklahoma Genealogical Society – appears to be open to all writers, except members of the Society’s board. See website for details.

South Carolina Genealogical Society – no information available from their website, but criteria includes membership in a SCGS chapter (I belong to Old Pendleton District Chapter) OR an article published in one of the chapters’ newsletters. I don’t think that the chapter newsletters limit their articles to members only. So this may be a loop-hole, so you may want to contact the society before submitting if you are not a member. Notice of the next competition is published annually in the Winter issue.

Southern California Genealogical Society – this competition is national in scope. You do not have to be a member of the society to submit items.

Southwest Louisiana Genealogical & Historical Library – Contest appears to be open to all. The contest closes at the end of December each year. Each year focuses upon a different theme, which is announced in the website’s e-newsletter. In 2006, it was “Rembrances of Rita or Katrina.” In 2007, the theme is “Your Ethnic Ancestor.” See website for details.

Texas State Genealogical Society – open to current members and members of partnering societies (DGS is a partnering society).  I was originally informed that associate members were eligible. I have since been informed otherwise. Details on website.

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Hammering Cracks into Brick Walls: Numident Records

SSA-5 applications are wonderful sources for birth information and parents’ names. A related source is the database that is maintained by the Social Security Administration. While not an “original source,” it offers details not evident on the application. In some cases, it is the only remaining record available from the Social Security Administration.

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Organizing Documents with Software You Already Have can offer ideas on how to organize your genealogical documents on your pc.

(If you previously attempted to open the file and you use an older version of MS Word (I use 2007), there were some glitches. So, I uploaded the file in pdf format which should resolve the problem. However, you will need Adobe Reader. Most people have this already installed on their pcs. If you don’t, there is a link to on the right of this page, under “Blogroll.”)

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