31 January 2013

Thriller Thursday - The Evidentia Webinar Post I Didn't Think Would Happen

In an effort to share the workshop webinar I co-presented with Russ Worthington hosted by DearMYRTLE, and provide a little incentive to get your homework done (yes, there was a homework assignment!) I created this screen-shot review of what was covered AND a bit of a preview of what will be covered next Monday.  [Note: this is a long post, and I have to admit to spending far more hours trying to force it to cooperate than I should’ve. Lesson learned!] I’ve had a few people contact me through my Social Media channels; I’m new to this software too (it’s only been available for sale for a month or so) but I will do my best to answer your questions as quickly as I can, so please don’t hesitate to ask! Here you go, and…

27 January 2013

Sentimental Sunday - Organizing. Re-Evaluating. Sharing.

This would NOT be my blog if I didn't get sentimental on Sunday, right? I just don't know what it is about this day, but I always wake up with a bit of a melancholy edge, anticipating missing out on what used to be a 'family' day. And as I've been doing pretty often lately, I had a bit of an 'AHa!' moment while perusing Social Media this morning. 

I am with my family when I'm working on my genealogy. 

I know many of you, especially anyone just starting out, do family history research because you want to find out about your roots and pass that information on to your children. I started because my Mom was asking if I could 'find out' whether or not we could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution (we are, now) and it took off from there. But every once in a while, I think, 'why the heck am I doing this if no one cares?' What?! Yes, I too have doubts as to whether all the work I put into my research will be meaningful. And it won't, if it's not organized and available for others. 

So, once again, I'm going to create a 'goal' for this year (23andme will soon be returning my parent's DNA tests at which point we will prove, categorically, I have the 'procrastination' gene).  First on the list: Organization. Yes, that's right, the Archivist rails against organizing at home. It's challenging. And frustrating. It does not come naturally to me to be well organized. It's a skill I've learned through a variety of detail oriented jobs I've had since I started working. From Accounts Payable clerk to diesel technician to Stock Broker, every single job I've had has required a very high level of attention to detail. So at home, not so much. Well, guess what? It's time to apply my knowledge on the home front to show that it CAN be done. I will have my office space AND my basement cleared and organized by the end of February.

Then comes: Re-evaluation. Having a clear and organized office space and family Archives will allow me to re-evaluate the materials that I have. The most critical aspect of any well run Archives is 'intellectual control'. That means knowing what you have. And while I have neatly labeled folders in boxes, I don't have a Finding Aid created. Wouldn't it be cool to have a Finding Aid available here for researchers to look at? How's THAT for cousin bait?!! Someone doing a Google search for a surname in my tree may very well find me because I've updated my Finding Aid. What a concept! 

At the same time, the re-evaluation truly happens in looking at each document I have and pulling every piece of family history evidence that document contains. What a mind boggling task!! But, I know this task will be made so much easier by using Evidentia, a new software specifically designed for storing information found in the resources you use for your family history. It is NOT a genealogical database, but rather a database that keeps every SINGLE piece of evidence you locate on a given document, photo, coin, in a conversation; wherever you find a shred of evidence about someone in your tree you can save it now so it'll be there for you to review later. Re-evaluation!

Jane Garret(t) Powelson (1824 - 1916)
And the final piece: Sharing. Yep, it's great that I have all this evidence, especially the primary stuff (original documents). But it doesn't do any good if I'm the only one seeing it, right? So, having had the time and tools to gather and effectively analyze evidence for my family history, I'm setting the goal of having at least one line in my family tree ready to take with me when I go to the Allen County Public Library in August to attend FGS's Annual Conference. The ACPL will bind two copies, one for its shelves and one for me. This way, I'll have at least a tiny part of my research truly available for others who may be seeking information on someone in my line. 

I am with my family when I'm working on my genealogy. 

11 January 2013

Thriller Thursday - The Titanic Myth

I was really happy when I received my Fall/Winter 2012 issue of The American Archivist and found this:

"Mythmaking and the Archival Record: The Titanic Disaster as Documented in the Archives of the Seaman's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey." by  Johnathan Thayer

Of course, the title alone would grab most people's attention and I immediately turned the pages to begin reading the article. What a remarkable job Mr. Thayer has in caring for the Seaman's Church Institute (SCI) Archives. Imagine having access to material that surrounded the romantic yet tragic Titanic story!  

As I continued to read he spoke eloquently about how it is Archivists that often control access to material with historical impact, and whether or not the material is processed to provide access to it, can determine how historical events are later viewed. In the abstract, Mr. Thayer alludes to this, "...of the role that archives and archivists play in the process of cultural myth making and in reclaiming historical experience."

I read on further; while the article is a bit lengthy it's chock full of remarkable information about the Titanic historic episode and specifically about the abysmal conditions under which many ship workers had to function at the time. In paraphrasing some of the more poignant reports from the article many of the White Star Line crew who survived the sinking of the Titanic, managing to stay alive in lifeboats or in the water, were denied compensation for the full voyage, denied money to wire home to let their families know they had survived, and were ordered by White Star Lines to remain on the ship Lapland while they were in New York (three days). Adding insult to injury, in some cases literally, White Star Lines made crew members work on their return voyage to London to pay for passage on the ship Lapland. Please, if you have a few minutes, do take the time to read the full article on the SCI Archives website.

And this brings me back to myth making. Mr Thayer states, "...the archival record provides primary insight into the historical event as it happened in real time, stripping away decades of subjective weight..." and "The role of the archivist in this process is to preserve and make accessible the materials that make the study of historical experience within a context that is original and primary. The closer one is to the primary record of the historical event, the thinner the layers of the myth." (my emphasis)

As a Genealogist, I'm constantly trying to bust myths. I don't just want to find the date that John Richards was born, I want to find a record of his coming into being, of his being alive and living, and to document his passing on. What's more I know there are genealogists and family historians out there that are holding primary material in their collections yet, either unknowingly or even sometimes knowingly, don't share it.

This article is a reminder to family historians and genealogists of every stripe to think about the family material you have and DO something with it. Do not allow it to languish in an attic or basement (remain unprocessed), especially if you have original letters or documents. Get that material in archival folders and boxes, label those folders and put them up on your blog or family history website. They're the primary record of historical events, the ones that make that myth layer thinner. Too often we have no way of knowing how many other researchers may be looking for the information our material contains.

If you don't know how to protect and preserve that material, ask! We're great question askers, us genealogists, so there's nothing wrong with asking about resources. Check with a local genealogical or historical society. And if money is an issue, don't let it be. If you have original letters more than 50 years old, let me know. I'll find resources for you to be able to get them in proper storage. Share the research you've done not just with the family you know, but with researchers at large (at the very least, get it to the Allen County Public Library - they'll duplicate and bind it for you).

It's not often I can reference a scholarly SAA article in my genealogy world. Much thanks to Johnathan Thayer for graciously allowing me to reference his article. 

Did you know about the historic events surrounding the Titanic's sinking? Does knowing some of this additional information change your perception of this historic event? Does knowing that an Archives had the material but wasn't able process it until much later cause you concern? I'd love to hear your answers to some of these questions.

08 January 2013

Technology Tuesday - Pulling Evidence from Thin Paper

As I'd posted on Google+ a few days ago, before Christmas I found a piece of software that's absolutely changed how I look at my research. It has nothing to do with genealogy, and everything to do with genealogy. I contacted the owner and asked if it would be alright for me to write about it and he said he'd be happy for me to do that. In the interest of really getting the word out, I told him it'd be my post for today. (Disclosure: I have no connection to the maker of this software, and am not being compensated in any way for this post).
So, with out further ado, let me introduce you to:  Evidentia

Evidentia is an easy to use, inexpensive ($19.95 as of this post) way to capture EVERY piece of evidence something holds. My research is no longer about my genealogy database, my digital files, my physical files, my photos and ephemera. It's all about the evidence they hold. That is NOT to say that I'm not seeking the story of my ancestor's lives: quite the contrary. I genuinely want to ensure that the ancestor's I'm writing about are MY ancestors, and not someone else that I made fit based on my own incomplete research or faulty analysis of the research I have.

Here's how it works: each item that you have that holds evidence about your ancestor (remember, I made an argument that a Brazilian coin helped solidify my argument that an ancestor of mine had been to Brazil in the mid-1800s) can be entered into the database as a Source. There are a large number of templates that you can use, so you don't have to know how to do this exactly in order to get it right. Once the Source itself is entered - for this example, let's say it's a page in a book (each individual page can be entered to narrow down each piece of evidence; not as time consuming as it might seem!) - the database automatically creates the Source Citation for you. *Cheering*  But, the best parts are to come. 

Welcome to the world of "Catalog Claims". That's right: Claims. Because, as we all know, the 'information' that we find may or may not be accurate. Death records and documents always pop into my mind regarding this because far, far too often what's on them is only partially accurate. So, while the document is helpful, it can cause hours of going down the wrong trail. And don't get me started about oral history. I loved my Grandmother, but she was a prevaricator barre none. However, in Evidentia, you can enter 'oral history' as a Source!! ANYTHING can be a Source. Love that flexibility. And did I mention the database creates the Citation for you? 

Going back to our page in the book: let's say it's a family history book with a small genealogy of your family. Every single item in that genealogy - names, dates, relationships, places, events - are Claims. And every single one is entered into the database. Yes, THIS is time consuming, I will admit. But it's not just 'Laura L. Greene was born 03 Feb 1837' that you enter. Each Claim has a Subject attached to it! In this case, Laura Louisa Greene is my Subject. Oh, but wait! I also have 'Date of Birth' as a Subject. And, this is where it gets SO good: each Claim with Subject gets 'Info Quality' as well. This is the place where you attach to the Claim within the Source whether the evidence is Primary, Secondary or Unknown. That's right. The database will hold this information for later, and trust me, the icing on the cake is coming.

So, your Source is entered and you've entered lots of Claims. You've attached Subjects to the Claims and provided Info Quality to each individual Claim. Now comes the fun part:

Analyze Evidence

 This simple little Screen has two pull-down fields at the top: 
Subject and Claim.  In this case, I chose the Subject 'Laura Louisa Greene' and 'Date of Birth'. The screen then populates an 'Assertions' column with all the evidence that's been entered associated with these two Subjects. No rifling through paper to recheck dates, no going back and forth between your database and research notes; every single claim that is associated with 'Laura Louisa Greene' and 'Date of Birth' is listed. What's more, here's the icing part: for each and every Claim, you MUST select 'Evidence Quality'. This is the place where you decide whether the evidence is qualified as Direct, Indirect or Negative. There's also a box to enter your own analysis of each item individually. What's incredibly cool about this step is that you genuinely get to think critically about the evidence you've entered, about the quality of the Source, the Claim and the Evidence as a whole. 

An additional and very important aspect of the 'Analyze Evidence' screen is that there is a tiny little icon you can click that opens up a Research Notes log, allowing you to enter notes, tasks, etc. as you're doing your analysis. So, if you realize that you've forgotten to get that birth record from the Index you found while you were online last week, you can add that Note in your analysis. 

In the end, there is a 'Summary Conclusion'. After looking at all the evidence together, analyzing the quality of that evidence, comparing and contrasting contradictory evidence, evaluating negative evidence, when all that is done - or at any point you wish in between - you get to write a summary conclusion about your Assertion. And, you've just gone step by step through the Genealogical Proof Standard!

Does this sound intriguing to you? In the few days that I had a chance to kick the tires on this software, I realized just how much information I have around that I have NOT used as evidence, that I have more evidence that I need on some people and almost none on others. I re-evaluated the quality of my own analysis and found that though on some claims I have strong evidence, there are others where the evidence is so very, very weak and in one case I have NO evidence at all! That's not a bad thing: this software helped me to refocus on the aspects of my research that need my attention first.

There are numerous reports that can be run: too many to discuss in this post. 

So, what do you think? A lot of work? Perhaps. But, as a budding Professional Genealogist and an avid researcher of just about everything, this is a tool I can see myself using to ramp up the quality of my work exponentially. The ways in which I can use this software in other ways is very wide.

As I mentioned several times, I'm just kicking the tires on this, but was so excited by it I wanted to share it. Check out the website, or the videos on YouTube that show the software in action. I know this won't be right for everyone, but I'm guessing a lot of you may find it very helpful. If you do, please pass it on to those you think might be able to use it also. And for the current cost, what do you have to lose?

03 January 2013

Thankful Thursday - Accentuate the Positive

The beauty of my newly clean email in-box (down to less than 10 from 4931) is I can now take a few minutes to read the blog posts I get via my email. There are SO many great blogs out there, one of which is Kinexxions, written by Becky Wiseman. Her post was awesome; a geneameme created by Jill Ball of Geniaus fame. Since my new year kind of started off on a sad note, this seemed like the perfect post for Thankful Thursday. So, with no further ado, here goes: 

1. An elusive ancestor I found: Nicolaas Jean Francois Wersel. 'Found' is a bit of a misnomer; with the help of Taco Goulooze I confirmed that he took his entire family, wife Maria Hendrina Brinkman and three sons, Francis John (Frank B. Sr.), Gerard (George) and Nicolas (Nicholas) to Brazil in 1848 and that they came to the United States in 1851 aboard the ship Cecrops. 

2. A precious family photo I found: This lovely photo of Laura Louisa Greene (1837 - 1896), my 2nd great grandmother and the woman who I was named after; provided to me by Stephen Burrows Baer (1st cousin, 1x removed). Precious indeed...
Photo of Laura Louisa Greene (1837 - 1896)
courtesy of Stephen B. Baer 2012
3. An ancestor's grave I found: In Kalamazoo, Michigan at the Riverside Cemetery, the plot of my 2nd great grandparents, Phillip Powelson and Jane Garrett Powelson, their daughter Fannie Powelson Jeffrey and her husband George Jeffrey, their daughters Isabel (who died when she was six), Bessie Jeffrey (never married), Adelaide Jeffrey Thurston Koop and her second husband Adolph Koop, and my grandfather Victor Wersel. Poor granddad, there among his inlaws, far away from his beloved Cincinnati. My grandmother, Frances Jeffrey Wersel is the only family member not buried there; her ashes were interred in Illinois (don't ask, it's one of those 'family' things).

4. An important vital record I found: the 1815 deed for the purchase of a piece of Symmes purchase in southwestern Ohio by my 4th great grandfather, Stephen Burrows.

5. A newly found family member who shared: my 3rd cousin, Nancy Wersel Rybolt, who provided me with access to a significant number of our Wersel and Wagner documents dating between 1820 - 1880 and the Strubbe family Bill (William), Mary, Chuck and Laura, my 2nd cousins, who generously invited me to visit them in Cincinnati so I could do on-site research and we could share our history.

6. A geneasurprise I received was: the incredibly detailed research of Taco Goulooze who took my Dutch Wersel family under his wing and located records in the Netherlands for evidence of my family. He admits to being a bit 'Columbo', but I still love the fact that he's taken such an interest in digging into that line. 

7. My 2012 blog post I was particularly proud of was: my end of April 'Why Would You Want to be A Genealogist' post. I'd seriously contemplated giving up on the idea of creating an archival and genealogical services business. After writing the post, rather than giving up, I re-doubled my efforts.

8. My 2012 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was: my birthday post in August, 'A Half Century's Worth'. Odd that a post, not necessarily directly about genealogy, would be one of my most read. Guess there's more of us out there than I thought...heh.

9. A new piece of software I mastered was: Shhh...I can't say yet...that's a post you'll be reading soon.

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was:  all of them! Seriously, social media and genealogy just go hand in hand.

11. A genealogy conference from which I learned something new was:  the National Genealogical Society annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. There was so much I learned, and was able to apply, to my genealogical research. It was also my first genealogical conference, so that was awesome.

12. I am proud of the presentation I gave at: the DuPage Genealogical Society in November. I presented "Who Will Look at Your Genealogical Collection", a lecture about how to protect and preserve all that hard, genealogical, work and ensure that it's stewardship is assured in the future.

13. An article I had published was: on Archives.com, as part of their Expert Series, 'What do I do with all of this Stuff: the Process of Processing', archival processing for family history/genealogical material.

14. I taught a friend how to: inexpensively protect and preserve her family history material. 

15. A genealogy book that taught me something new was: Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills. <--- note, I'm not citing this correctly LOL

16. A great repository I visited was: The Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Go. There.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was: Megan Smolenyak's 'Hey, America, Your Roots are Showing'.

18. It was exciting to finally meet: my genea-Tweeps! I love meeting the people I interact with on Social Media, but especially my Twitter 'friends'.

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was: my trip to Michigan this summer and fall. I got to see the country where my great grandparents were born and raised their family and research some of my roots there.

20. Another positive I'd like to share is: Never. Give. Up. :-)

02 January 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Celebrating 80 Years Young

Frances Jeffrey Wersel celebrates 80th birthday
Celebrating the 80th birthday of Frances Isabel Jeffrey Wersel with family
 Photo courtesy collection of Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana

Back row, left to right: William (Pete) Ill, Michael Hitchcock, Harry Deane Hitchcock, Jacqueline (Jackie) Wersel Hitchcock, Kathryn Hitchcock, Joan Wersel Cosgrove, James (Jim) Cosgrove, Frances Jeffrey Wersel, Virginia Wersel Ill, Elmer Eugene Ill, Jr., Phillip Ill.

Middle row, left to right: Harry Dean Hitchcock, Jeffrey Ill, Jonathan (Jon) Ill.

Front row, left to right: Emily Ill, Virginia Jayne (Janie) Ill, Drew Cosgrove, Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana.

Not pictured: Patrick Hitchcock, Paul Ill