The Sky Is (Not) Falling

Ancestry succeeded in rocking the world of a large number of genealogists today with their surprise announcement that they would be retiring Family Tree Maker genealogy software at the end of 2015.  Cue Chicken Little and hoards of unhappy genealogists bearing pitchforks and flaming torches.

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

Angry Mob (clipartsheep.com)

But hold fair citizens of Genealogy-land!  All is not lost and, nay, the sky dost not fall today!

First dear reader, I strongly encourage you to go read Ancestry’s blog post here.  Knowledge is power and Ancestry spells out exactly what their short-term plans are for Family Tree Maker software.  If you didn’t run off to read their much-discussed blog post and are still with me, dear reader, here’s a short recap of what Ancestry said:

  • Ancestry will stop selling Family Tree Maker software as of 31 December 2015.
  • Ancestry will continue to support the Family Tree Maker software at least through 1 January 2017.
  • All software features (including TreeSyncTM) will continue to function and Ancestry will offer support, bug fixes and compatibility updates at least through 1 January 2017.

So take a breath, dear reader, your Family Tree Maker software will not turn into a pumpkin at the end of December.  As a user of Family Tree Maker myself I freely admit that losing FTM sucks.  A few years ago I reconsidered whether I wanted to continue using FTM, tried out some other programs and discovered I was still happy with FTM so I dove into learning to utilize all available features in FTM.  I recently had started going through and making sure I had all my sources attached and properly cited (a project that I’m still currently working on).  Having put all that effort into my FTM file I was initially devastated when I read about Ancestry’s intention to discontinue FTM.  Genealogy isn’t just a hobby for many of us.  It’s a very personal crusade to find and remember our ancestors.  When we partner with organizations and allow them to be a part of our genealogical passion it becomes the ultimate betrayal when said organization doesn’t behave as genealogists feel it should.  But no matter how personal of a relationship we believe we have, these organizations are still businesses in the end and must do what they can to survive and thrive.  And there’s always another side to every story, though we may never know what it is.

At this point you may be grabbing your pitchfork or flaming torch and asking yourself what the point of this post is.  Quite simply the post is merely my opinions and intentions as a user of Family Tree Maker.  Change is never easy, but sometimes it’s for the best.  There are several other programs and apps on the market to try and choose between.  And here we arrive at my first opinion: there is plenty of time to research, review and choose new software.  There’s no need to dive headfirst into purchasing new software right away.  Many of the companies that are still offering genealogical software provide a free trial of their software.  Go download the trial versions and use them to the fullest capacity allowed by the trial version.  Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy is writing an ongoing series called “Plan ahead for genealogy research without Family Tree Maker ~ Part 1 of an ongoing series” that I highly recommend following along with.  She lists several good resources that have already been posted on the WWW.

Which brings us to my second opinion: look at this as an opportunity…an opportunity to wrangle those loose ends and clean up your genealogy.  Thomas MacEntee started a great, free program called the Genealogy Do-Over.  There are different ways to participate in this program and it’s an excellent way to check your research, make sure everything fits the way it’s supposed to, cite your sources and (in general) clean up your genealogy.  Besides the Do-Over website, Thomas has created a Genealogy Do-Over Facebook Group which is a great location for discussion and resources (even if you don’t plan to participate in the Do-Over!)

And for the trifecta, my third opinion: continue learning and trying new things.  Sometimes as genealogists we get stuck in a rut.  Running the same searches, looking at the same databases, checking the same sources over and over hoping to find some new information.  We must be careful to avoid becoming stagnant and try hard to remain flexible.

Also keep in mind, Ancestry hasn’t really made mention of long-term plans.  While they may be choosing to discontinue FTM at this point in time, there may be another idea currently in development.  Or they may choose to focus on other things instead.  New technology isn’t an overnight creation.  It takes time, effort and manpower.

So, dear reader, take a breath and look to the future.  It has a bright and beautiful sky.

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

Untitled Photo by Reymark Franke (Unsplash)

My First NGS Conference

I had the opportunity this year to attend the National Genealogical Society conference.  The NGS conference is held each May and this year it was held in beautiful St. Charles, Missouri.  I spent a good deal of time prior to the conference reviewing session abstracts and carefully choosing the sessions I wanted to attend.  There were so many interesting sessions it was very difficult to choose which to attend!

Day One (rarin’ to go!)

Exhibit hall entrance

Day one started early with a visit to registration to pick up my registration packet.  The process was very quick and the volunteers and NGS staff were very helpful with directions on where things were located and assistance with a small registration hiccup.  The opening session was crowded but very good.  We were paid a visit from “Charlie Floyd” (portrayed by J. Mark Lowe), a descendant of Charles Floyd from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, who shared with the audience stories of his family and some of his own memories.  He illustrated his reminiscences by using pictures of some of the hand-painted murals in the St. Charles Convention Center, managed to get the audience to join in singing “This Land Is Your Land” and finished majestically by hosting a visit from Lewis the Bald Eagle.  Lewis was an injured bald eagle who was acting as an ambassador to the local bird sanctuary.

"Charlie" and Lewis

“Charlie” and Lewis

 

Mural from the St. Charles Convention Center

After the opening session I had some time to spare before my next session so I went to the exhibit hall to peruse the exhibit booths.  It was packed!  It was somewhat difficult to talk to any of the vendors due to the sheer number of people in the exhibit hall and I was confident I’d have time later in the week to speak with vendors so I made one pass through the hall and moved on to my first session.  Wednesday’s sessions included “But I’ve Looked Everywhere” by Barbara Little, “Professional Genealogy: Conduct, Courtesy, Common Sense, or Ethics?” by Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, “Valuable Illinois Pre-Statehood Finding Aids” by Diane Renner Walsh and “Confronting Conflicting Evidence” by Pam Stone Eagleson.  All the sessions were very interesting but my favorite was probably Pam Stone Eagleson’s session on conflicting evidence.  I felt like I learned a lot from the case studies she presented on.

Day Two (let’s go!)

Thursday started with “Proving Native American Ancestors” presented by Billie Stone Fogarty and “Certification: Measuring Yourself Against Standards” by Elissa Scalise Powell, Michael S. Ramage, and Judy G. Russell.  Then I spent time braving the exhibit hall again, with less of a crowd and better results trying to speak with vendors.  After spending a couple of hours checking out booths and talking to people I headed off to “Genealogical Research & Writing: Are You A Saint, Sinner, or Bumfuzzled Soul?” by Elizabeth Shown Mills and “A Methodolgy for Irish Emigration to North America” by David E. Rencher.  I learned a lot from all the sessions I attended but Thursday’s favorite was probably David Rencher’s session on Irish emigration.

Day Three (forging ahead!)

By Friday I was starting to feel a little bit of information overload but I forged ahead with “Navigating the Best Online Sources for Irish Research” by Donna Moughty, “The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Scots-Irish Research” by Robert McLaren, “Illinois: Research in the Prairie State” by Diane Renner Walsh, and “Using DNA as a Genealogical Record” by Angie Bush.  I also spent some additional time browsing the exhibit hall and networking with other attendees.  I made it a point to stop by the MoSGA booth so I could place a pin on my Missouri ancestor’s location.  The map was looking really good by that point.

MOSGA Map

MOSGA Map

By far the most enlightening session of the day was Angie Bush’s session on DNA.  I’d set aside my DNA results for a bit because I’d been feeling a little overwhelmed trying to learn about the results but Angie’s session re-invigorated me and I left with a new determination to figure out what my results were trying to tell me.

Day Four (the end is near!)

By the last day the crowd of attendees had noticiably declined.  Sessions were still full but not over-full.  I spent the day in sessions, attending “What Grandma Did & Did Not Tell You” by Jan Alpert, “Smiths and Joneses: How to Cope with Families of Common Names” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Military Bounty Land-As Good As a Pension” by Rick Sayre, “Have You Tested Your DNA?  Is There a Non-Paternity Event in Your Family?” by Jan Alpert, “Beating the Odds: Using Indirect Evidence in Problem Solving” by Vic Dunn and “Five Proven Techniques for Finding Your Ancestor’s European Origin” by Thomas Jones.  Elizabeth Shown Mills’ session on common names was the most enlightening and her case studies were excellent to learn from but Thomas Jones’ case studies were equally as good and very interesting.  I left the last day feeling excited to return to my research and disappointed knowing the conference was over.

Overall I enjoyed the conference.  I met some great people, learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The NGS staff and local volunteers were wonderful and happy to help with any questions or concerns.  The crowds were somewhat frustrating at times but it was nice to hear the conference was so successful with over 2,100 registered attendees.  I certainly hope I have the opportunity to attend next year’s conference.

Projects, projects, projects!

My two most recent projects seem to have taken me away from blogging lately. I can’t believe how long I let my blog go without writing. Color me embarrassed. One of the projects I’ve been letting occupy all my blogging time is that I signed up for one of the Mastering Genealogical Proof Standard study groups. It was a very good course and I highly recommend the study groups for all genealogists. The groups work through the book “Mastering Genealogical Proof” by Thomas W. Jones and participate in discussions about the items covered in the book. It was a great opportunity for me to continue expanding my genealogical knowledge-base. I learned a lot about the standards I should be employing in my genealogy research and was happy to see that I had actually been unknowingly trying to incorporate some of the recommendations made by Jones into my current research. Of course, that does jut create another project LOL. I need to review all my proof and make sure it meets the GPS. While some of it might, most of it probably does not.

The other project I’ve been allowing to occupy my blogging time has been the DNA test I took several months ago. Not being a very technically-minded person I’ve set my sights on learning more about DNA for genealogy and how to understand the results I received from my test. It’s been very interesting so far. My test was originally taken with AncestryDNA but I’ve uploaded my matches to GedMatch as well and have been playing around with the tools available on GedMatch. (reference GedMatch blog posts) I’ve seen several people talk about FTDNA’s transfer option so I’m considering the possibility of uploading my results to FTDNA as well and see what kind of matches I get there.

What projects are currently occupying all of your time? 😉

Genealogy Basics: The 1930 Census

A couple of weeks ago we started talking about census records and looked at the 1940 census.  Today we’re continuing to look at census records and the focus is on the 1930 census.

The 1930 census was enumerated beginning 1 April 1930.  Let’s take a look at an actual census record to see what kind of information can be extracted from this census.  Last post we looked at my Grandpa Edward’s census listing.  I haven’t located him in the 1930 census yet but I have a listing for my Great-Grandpa Edward (Grandpa Edward’s father) to use for our example:


Edward Bell Conwell, Sr. family listing on the 1930 U.S. Census

Edward B. Conwell is listed here with his wife, Zella M., and children, Milford R. and Frank R.  As you see, listed below the Conwell family, also living with Grandpa Edward, is his son-in-law John Crouse, daughter and wife of John, Mildred and granddaughter Evelyn J.  Breaking the record down into three parts will help us view the information a little easier:


Section #1 of Edward Bell Conwell, Sr. family listing on the 1930 U.S. Census

Columns #1-#4 contain information on the abode:

  • Street, avenue, road, etc.
  • House number (in cities or towns)
  • Number of dwelling house in order of visitation
  • Number of family (in order of visitation)

This is great information because I can take the house number and street name and see if that house is still standing to see where my family lived in 1930.

Column #5 is the name of each person whose place of abode on April 1, 1930, was in this family (surname first, then first name and middle initial if there is one) and column #6 is the relationship of the person to the head of the family:

  • Conwell, Edward B. – head
  • Conwell, Zella M. – wife
  • Conwell, Milford R. – son
  • Conwell, Frank R. – son
  • Crouse, John – son-in-law
  • Crouse, Mildred – daughter
  • Crouse, Evelyn J. – grand daughter

Columns #7-#10 are home data:

  • Home owned or rented
  • Value of the home, if owned, or monthly rental, if rented
  • Radio set
  • Does this family live on a farm?

From this we can see that Edward Sr. owned their home and it was worth $2,000.00.  I can’t tell for sure whether they owned a radio or not.  The enumerator marked “R” in the columns next to other families who obviously owned radios, but there is an “X” next to Edward Sr.’s census listing so while I suspect they did own a radio, I can’t be certain.  And further up the census listing, the enumerator indicated “No farms in this block”.

Columns #11-#15 are personal description data:

  • Sex
  • Color or race
  • Age at last birthday
  • Marital condition
  • Age at first marriage

This is pretty self-explanatory information.  Great information to get off this census is the age at last birthday because it can help pin down a birth date if you don’t already have that and age at first marriage because it can help you pin down a marriage date for the first marriage of the person listed.  Keep in mind that if the spouse listed on the census listing isn’t the person’s first marriage this could cause a little confusion but it can also clue you in to when the first marriage occurred.  It’s somewhat of a double-edged sword.

Columns #16-#17 are education information:

  • Attended school or college any time since September 1, 1929
  • Whether able to read or write

None of the family attended school that year and all but baby Evelyn were able to read and write, which says a lot about the family since many people still struggled to get a decent education in 1930.  Many people had to stop school and go to work to help support their families, resulting in an incomplete education.

Moving to part #2 of the census record:


Section #2 Edward Bell Conwell, Sr. family on the 1930 U.S. Census

Columns #18-#20 are information on place of birth:

  • Person
  • Father
  • Mother

This is a gold mine of location information.  The enumerator has taken the time to list each person’s birth location and the birth locations of their parents (as provided by the person providing the census information).  As you can see, everyone was U.S. born and most were born in the Midwest in either Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois or Nebraska.

Column #21 and #21a-c are questions about the person’s native language:

  • 21: Language spoken in home before coming to the United States
  • a: (Code) State or MLT
  • b: (Code) Country
  • c: (Code) blank on the form

Columns #22-#23 are citizenship information:

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Naturalized or alien

By this time, this part of my family was all U.S. born so these columns didn’t apply.

Column #24 is whether the person is able to speak English or not.  The entire family was able to speak English.

Moving on to part #3 of the census record:


Section #3 Edward Bell Conwell, Sr. family listing on the 1930 U.S. Census

Columns #25-#27 are occupation and industry information:

  • Occupation (trade, profession, or particular kind of work, as spinner, salesman, riveter, etc.)
  • Industry (industry or business, as cottonmill, dry goods store, shipyard, public school, etc.)
  • Code
  • Class or worker

Most of the family worked as laborers, but Zella was working as an operator for some type of factory, Milford was a sales clerk for a grocery store and Frank was working for a nursery.  I can’t tell where John Crouse was a laborer at, it almost looks like he was a laborer for grading.

Columns #28-#29 are questions about employment:

  • Yes or no (whether actually at work)
  • Line number for unemployed

It seems Edward Sr. was unemployed at some point.  Because he was unemployed, he has an additional line number associated with his census line.  Unfortunately the FAQs about the 1930 Census indicate the unemployment schedules no longer exist, so any information on this schedule has been lost.

Columns #30-#31 are veteran information:

  • Yes or no (whether a veteran of the U.S. military or naval forces mobilized for any war or expedition)
  • What war or expedition

None of this family served as veterans.

Column #32 is “No. of farm schedule”.  The farm schedule was a supplemental set of questions for farms and didn’t apply to Edward Sr. and his family.

The 1930 census can contain a wealth of information for genealogists.  There are several ways to access the census records, from using Ancestry.com (if you don’t have a paid subscription to Ancestry, check out your local library or Family History Center for free usage opportunities) for indexed images to using some of the non-indexed sites and paging thru the census record pages one by one.  I prefer the indexed version, however, going through page by page can wield treasures of its own.  Additional family members have been discovered in this manner and it can also give you a picture of who was living around your ancestor.

Genealogy Basics: Death Certificates

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve talked about birth records and marriage records, which can be used in your genealogy.  Today I want to talk about death records.

Before getting started I want to rewind to last week’s post about marriage records.  In that post I neglected to mention a valuable piece of information.  If you’re searching for a marriage record by the bride’s last name and you’re unable to locate it, consider the possibility she may have been married before and didn’t use her maiden name on her new marriage license application.  This happened to be the case with my grandparents’ marriage record.  It was a good thing I was able to provide the names of both the bride and groom when I requested the record copy because my grandmother used her last name from her previous marriage (Woods), not her actual maiden name (Brown).


Edward Bell Conwell, Jr. and Edith M. (Brown) Woods’ marriage license

Now, back to the intended subject of this post: death certificates.  Now, keep in mind that prior to 1900, many states had incomplete vital records.  Most birth, marriage and death records were kept by churches prior to when standardization occurred in the U.S.  A good resource to refer to when trying to determine if you’ll find birth or death records in the state you’re looking at is the ProGenealogist website.  You can pretty much assume the East coast states are going to have earlier standardized records than the Midwest or West coast states, simply because of when the states and state governments were formed.

So what type of information can you find on a death certificate?

  • Name of deceased
  • Age of deceased
  • Date of death of deceased
  • Place of death of deceased
  • Time of death
  • Cause of death
  • Place of burial
  • Date of birth of deceased (if known)
  • Place of birth of deceased (if known)
  • Name of parents (if known)
  • Birth locations of parents (if known)
  • Spouse’s name (if spouse is a wife it may include the maiden name)
  • Current residence
  • Occupation
  • Marital status
  • Name of physician or medical examiner
  • Name of informant and relationship to the deceased

Let’s take a look at an actual death certificate.  We’ll be using my great-grandfather’s death certificate as an example:


Death certificate for my great-grandfather, Edward Bell Conwell, Sr.

This death certificate is a veritable gold mine of information.  It shows most of the information on the bulleted list above.  The only thing I don’t see on the certificate that is listed above is the place of birth of his parents.  In addition I can tell that he only resided in Kansas City, Missouri for 6 months and the time between the claimed onset of the cause of death and his actual death was 2 months.  This would lead me to believe he moved from his prior residence to the place of death for health reasons.  I happen to know the place of death was the house my grandparents owned at the time, so he died while living with his son.

Something that stuck out at me on this death certificate was the answer to his marital status at the time of his death.

The answer itself is not odd.  Great-grandma Zella died two years before in 1948.  What’s interesting to me is that is looks like the number two is listed in that box with his widowed status.  I’m possibly reading too much into that because I’ve never heard of great-grandpa having been married before he was married to great-grandma Zella, but stranger things have happened.  I also double checked the family history book my grandparents made for me when I was a child and nothing is listed there for a second wife so I suspect it may have just been a notation of some sort but I’ve added it to my list of things to ask the parental unit in the future with the hope that she’ll know for sure (just in case I’m wrong).

The other thing that was included with the scan of this death certificate was the statement by licensed embalmer.  However, as you can see it wasn’t actually completely filled out.  I wonder if they chose to not embalm him or if the embalmer just didn’t bother to fill out the appropriate blanks on the form?


Statement of licensed embalmer from Edward Bell Conwell, Sr.’s death certificate

 


Great-grandpa Edward Bell Conwell, Sr.

Typically death records are some of the first records genealogists will try and locate.  This is because it’s usually the most recent record of the research subject and can contain a great deal of information.  But genealogists should always make an effort to verify the information provided on the death certificate before assuming it’s correct because the information being provided isn’t being provided by the subject of the record but by a person who knew the deceased and that person may not have all the information or completely accurate information.

It’s also important to remember that information included on death certificates may vary by location so the information you would find on a Kansas death certificate may very well be different than the information you would find on a New York death certificate.