07 January 2015

Wisdom Wednesday - Getting Over Source Snobbery

I am eating my words. I am noshing on them like they are an incredible delicacy. I had been a source snob (a nod to Dr. Thomas Jones for providing me with that phrase) ever since I started my own "do-over" about three years ago. I refused to acknowledge anything that didn't have a source attached to it, including my own 'newbie' research that I started in 1996. Today, to prove just how right Dr. Jones is (as if any proof is needed) I'm saying "Thank you, Ancestry.com, for providing a place for people to input the information they know about their family history and to upload documents and photographs that they have of their family." Because I just found a mother-lode.

In December of 2011, at the invitation of my second cousin Bill Strubbe and his wife Kim, I took my first trip to Cincinnati. I had never met them; Kim and I connected through Ancestry and after just a few short weeks they offered for me to come to stay with them a few days to discuss our shared family history and for me to do some on-site research in and around Cincinnati. 

'Selfie' by Bill Strubbe with Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana 2011
We really hit the jackpot when Bill invited our third cousin, Nancy Wersel Rybolt, for a casual dinner to introduce us and discuss what Nancy knew about our family. It was Nancy’s father, Robert Wersel, who I’d first written to in 1996 to get information about our Wersel family. I nearly lost my mind when Mr. Wersel told me that he had documents from the 1820s – 1850s!! In our correspondence, he promised that he’d locate the documents, since he’d given them to his daughter for safe keeping. Fast forward back to 2011, and on that fateful evening, Nancy showed up with a shopping bag (yes, a ratty old shopping bag) FULL of pre-1880 documents and papers! Some of them had been encased in cellophane and were virtually impossible to read; most were not in English. 

As I stood looking at them in utter disbelief, the discussion around me was what a shame that no one knew what they were or how to read them. I remember thinking how lucky I was that I'd spent the time to learn French and German as I discovered documents in German, Dutch, French and Portuguese. I was able to assess most of them on the spot; but after a short while we decided that I should scan what I could (I was scheduled to leave in the next morning) and I would transcribe and translate the scanned images. Right before Nancy left for the evening, she turned to me and said that she’d decided I should bring the documents home with me to properly stabilize and archive them and that I could bring them back “the next time you’re in Cincinnati.” Of course, you know I didn’t turn her down!

The document that caused me the most concern was what I believed to be a letter, which clearly was from 1851. Here’s what it looked like the first time I saw it:

After conservation (being removed from the cellophane and humidified to remove the wrinkles), it looks like this and is much more legible:

The letter is signed “Nicholas Ravold” a name I’d never seen before. Recently, with a few hours on my hands for research, and armed with my more open mind about sources, I decided to see what I could find on the Ravold line.  Right there, on Ancestry.com, is a tree that has PHOTOGRAPHS of Nicholas Ravold, his wife, Elizabeth Hensgen, and most of their children and children's children. Stunning! Is all the research sourced and accurate? No, it's not. But, it's a fabulous start and with this letter and another one written in 1864, I'm able to connect other research with what I have. I asked permission from the owner of the tree to use the pictures, which was granted without limit (I’m not sure she completely appreciates that scope…lol).

Nicolas Ravold (b 1799) Elisabeth Hensgen Ravold (b 1803)

So, once again, I have primary documentation (an original letter) to help support the research I have on this family. All because of collateral lines and “bad genealogy” from Ancestry.com.  MMMMMM…nom, nom, nom…

04 January 2015

Sentimental Sunday - The New Year Brings New Evidence

Happy New Year! I’ve been following a bit of Thomas MacEntee’s Genealogy Do-Over, and thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about what happens a bit down the road. I began my own ‘do-over’ about three years ago; I started a fresh database and began re-foldering all the research material that I wanted to keep. This also meant culling (that’s an Archives term for throwing stuff out) what was either duplicate material or unsourced material.  Anything that I could not identify a source for or all the pre-Ancestry/FamilySearch/HeritageQuest copies of Census records got tossed. Anything that was an original or that I’d purchased was put into archival acid-free folders, labeled in pencil and put into archival boxes to become the base for my ‘new’ research.

At the same time I was beginning my ‘do-over’, I was also learning about best practices in genealogical research (yes, Margaret, there are ‘best practices’). I learned about citations and, more importantly, started looking beyond the ‘regular’ record sets to find information about my ancestors. As a beginner, we tend to focus on the easily obtainable records such as online Census records and other compiled genealogies. We know to look for BMDs (birth, marriage and death records) but there is just so much MORE out there. Not just more records, but records with more high-quality evidence of our ancestors. And that brings me to the heart of this post: Civil War Pension Files. Not Service files, but Pension files, a completely different set of documents.

Disclosure: these documents are NOT cheap. As a matter of fact, they are heartstopping-ly expensive. The National Archives and Record Administration has a webpage that explains what records are available and their corresponding cost: here’s a link to that page. A pension file costs $80. You read that right. But, here’s why I ordered a copy of the file of my 2nd great grandfather, Daniel Beightler: in other personal material I’d received from a collateral relative, she noted that there was information about Daniel’s first wife, Amanda N. Barnes. The same Amanda Barnes who has eluded every family member I’ve ever talked to about her. One *tiny* thing caught my eye while looking at this document during my ‘do-over’: that there was an affidavit by Amanda’s BROTHER in Daniel’s pension file.

I’d recently connected Amanda to a set of probable parents through a DNA match to myself and my Dad, as well as a Census record with incorrect information provided (imagine that), but to have a notarized affidavit from her brother? I coughed up the $80 (this was my Christmas present from my husband.) When I got home yesterday, there was a package in the mailbox. I’d ordered the record on-line December 16th and it arrived on January 3rd! Unbelievable!! Granted, I had all the pertinent information requested on the online form, so there wasn’t a lot of research to do on NARA’s end, other than to digitize the file. But still, great job!!

What did I get for my $80? A treasure trove of information about my ancestor, the people he knew (affiants), the communities he lived in, and…an affidavit by Isaac H. Barnes who states, “…his first wife [Amanda Barnes] was my sister.” 

There are also two later affidavits from a niece and nephew of Amanda that provide additional information for me to research. There’s more…much, much more, which will take some gathering and analysis to determine the usefulness of it. But, had I not gotten this record set, I would not have this volume of excellent quality evidence to use.

Plus, I wouldn’t be using the sentence “I would not have this volume of excellent quality evidence to use.” had I not focused my ‘do-over’ on the quality of the information that I use to move my research forward. So, what's your first observation in your do-over? I also have seen lots of posts from people who think a do-over is unnecessary; do you find yourself going back to 'old' research and reviewing it?