Thursday, January 29, 2015

52in52: Mary "Polly" Ferguson Graves, b. 1798-1799 Vermont, m. Daniel Graves, d. ???

I was chatting on Facebook with a distant cousin the other day, and I realized I had never fully shared the story of Mary "Polly" Ferguson on this blog or anywhere else. Week 3's theme for 52 ancestors in 52 weeks was "Tough Woman" and I think Polly is the epitome of "tough".

Years and years of family lore and documents from the children of Daniel Graves have listed Mary Ferguson of Vermont as being the wife of Daniel Graves. When I was at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I found the below in their early newspapers collection, from the Bennington, Vermont Bennington News Letter on 6 July 1813. Polly is a common nickname for Mary, so it fit like a glove.

Problem solved, right? WRONG! ;-) This newspaper publishing is the only mention of this marriage. There is no record of it in the town clerk's records, nor in the town's church records, nor in the state of Vermont's vital records.

So I did the logical thing - I hired the local researcher from the museum at Bennington to help me figure out what the heck is going on. Unfortunately, this only added to the mystery:

"Then there an official record of the marriage of Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager on Nov. 18, 1834, signed by the town clerk of Bennington. So, what do you suppose happened to Daniel Graves? There is no death record for him in the Vermont vitals and no burial record in any Bennington cemetery."

I started looking into Polly Graves and Sebastian Wager/Wagar, and realized that this Polly Graves referred to is someone else, Polly Thomas Graves:

(Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954," index and images, FamilySearch ( ), Polly Wagar, 27 Apr 1866, Death; State Capitol Building, Montpelier; FHL microfilm 27,716.)

So Polly Thomas married a Graves (researchers are currently unsure of who, as of 2012), and then married Sebastian Wagar. So that's a dead end as well.

About this time, I found an 1850 census entry in Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York that fit the family well:

(Year: 1850; Census Place: Gouverneur, Saint Lawrence, New York; Roll: M432_589; Page: 192B; Image: 392)
Which clearly show  Polly as alive and well, age 52, born in Vermont with her children John, Justus, Sheldon "Hawley", Hazelton, Lewis, and Betsey (where Enoch, Hezekiah, Rebecca, and Pittman are...well, that's another story).

It was about this same time that I was able to reach Michelle Knoll of Ontario, who has done quite extensive research on the Ferguson family in Vermont. Her research is where I believe we are going to find more information on just who Mary "Polly" Ferguson really is.

As you can see here, Michelle believes that Mary "Polly" Ferguson fits in as the first daughter of Thomas Ferguson and Lydia (possibly Lydia Fraser).

As you can see by the text style, this was some years ago when I contacted Michelle, and I had completely forgotten about her work with this family until I started piecing together Daniel Graves and Mary Ferguson for a week 1 "52 ancestors in 52 weeks" blog. Daniel's going to have to wait, but I think Mary "Polly" Ferguson's story deserves to be told. She's a "tough" woman in that she lived in early Vermont and traveled through Vermont to multiple residences in New York, Ontario, and back again, but also in that what information we have has been pieced together extremely slowly and with a lot of off-line genealogy. This is not an ancestor where you can click twice and have a full ancestral profile!

Mary "Polly" Ferguson's life is not yet complete - we know she was in Bennington, Bennington, Vermont around 1798 through her marriage in 1813, Aurelius, Cayuga, New York in 1820, Auburn, Cayuga, New York in 1830, Lyme, Jefferson, New York in 1840, and Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, New York in 1850. Where she lies today is still a mystery. As I chip away at the years of missing time between when the Graves children leave New York and come to Michigan, I hope to find more about her. For a relative back far in my past with little documentary evidence, she has captured my imagination and I've continued to work on her slowly but surely since I started in genealogy nearly 24 years ago and will continue to work on her as I progress through new records coming online every week.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Buona Epifana e Befana! with regular and gluten free options

La Befana, courtesy of JD Adams

After my last couple columns talking about Christmas, I had an offline conversation with another Italian gal about a curious custom in Italy to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, 12 days after Christmas. As she explained, first La Befana was a witch, just giving children sweet coal if they were naughty and toys and treats if they were good. But then it was taken over by the Christians, and so La Befana, the good witch, became a part of Christ's Epiphany story. 

Epiphany: 5 traditional Italian sweets recipes for la befana coal
(Sweet coal from Flagranta delicia, a unique Epihany treat for the naughty. Gluten free naturally, here's her recipe.)

As such things go, there became a whole event around the introduction of La Befana to the story. She was supposed to be part of the 3 wise men group. She was too busy doing her housework to go, so she told them she would catch them later with the new infant Christ and steered them in the direction to go. Only they went back another way, and they missed her. D'oh! So she spreads her gifts and sweets around to good children (and sweet coal to the bad), hoping to find the Christ child she missed seeing the first time. What I love about this story is that it embodies what the world thought the Italian woman was like. Hardworking. Bossy in a way only a Nonna could be. Generous to a fault. And spreading around tons and tons of sweets! 

Invariably at this point when I start talking about this people at the table go off about one of three things:
1. "You hate Christians, don't you?" No, I just happen to be honest about my family's religious choice. In fact, I rather think the early church leaders were models of efficiency - why not take advantage of already planned festivities and use them to further the goals of the religion?
2. "Why the heck do we need another holiday?" and 3. "Isn't Christmas enough? I don't understand".Well, actually, there's really a smart reasoning to the pair of holidays...

What the problem is that with recycling holidays and adding local legends into them is that invariably, some parts of the tale get mish moshed around. Where most nativity sets include the three wise men, the actuality was that the three wise men didn't arrive until the twelfth night, where Christ was proclaimed him as the son of God. So you can see where people get confused - there really is two separate holidays, one the birth of Christ and the second his proclamation, called the Epiphany. Whether you choose to celebrate them or not, I think they are actually quite effective as a pair, and here's why: 

(a very close relative to Pinza Veneta, from Wikipedia)

In Italy, as I've mentioned, there's the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas, with lots of Christmas sweets. Nougat. Candied fruits. Pandoro. Panettone. Etc. Etc. Etc. It can quite frankly be overwhelming and there can be oodles of food leftover. In the spirit of La Befana, the efficient cleaning housewitch, Epiphany is the time to reuse those leftovers and make them into something new. Pinza Veneta is a good example of that. Old bread lying around? Extra candied fruit? Ground too much corn meal for polenta? Throw that puppy together and make it a sweet new dessert so the kiddos don't get tired of eating it. You can make it with regular bread and flour and even throw some grappa in there for good measure (here's the recipe, scroll down for the English version) but you can also just as easily make this a gluten free delicacy. Alessia Piva's gluten free version is in Italian but if you can't read in the Italian, it translates very well with Google Translate (surprisingly!). So you see - you can overindulge in baking at Christmas, and have a neat holiday with which one can clean up the larder. And the cool part about Epiphany? People go from house to house, helping you clean up your leftovers! It's like an impromptu progressive dinner, without all the organizational pains.

Now, my family lived hundreds of miles away from my Italian grandfather, so I don't know for sure if they ever celebrated this or not (I really need to talk to my aunts and father about that!). But I like to think that my grandfather would totally approve of this holiday, because he was a "waste not, want not" kind of guy. Extra pie filling? Make fruit pancakes the next day. Random mechanical gadget? Weld it to a base and we have a rotating Christmas tree stand. My grandparents' garage was a garden of interesting mechanical and wooden things that my brother and I would sneak into during the summer to find interesting things to play with (and some things that we probably shouldn't have, like Jarts, but we survived, all limbs intact). My sort-of-Irish grandmother loved Christmas and kept it up until mid-January, so they just as easily could have had a nice dinner with the nativity sets and Christmas lights. 

Isn't that a great picture? That's my grandparents from 26 December 1984, in the Lake Orion Review. You can read the full article on page 24 of the edition in iDigOrion, which is like, the best thing ever for Lake Orion researchers! In fact, their Christmas display got even larger after that, with dozens of people visiting and my grandfather starting to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Desserts for Italians (with gluten free options)

Pandoro cut 01.jpg  

My family is not one that's big on desserts. For whatever reason, we never extended the Christmas traditions beyond pies, and I think birthday cake was as fancy as it got when I was younger. If you were *really* good, you got the German chocolate cake with real coconut in the frosting for your birthday. My mum made a fruitcake for my English grandfather every year, I just don't think we're a "sweet" driven kind of family - there was always more fruit in the house than anything else, and my mum would do wondrous things with vegetables, so I always wanted those first. 

But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good dessert now and then. My husband's ice cream comes first to the list (especially the lemon/vanilla one he did a few years ago). After that, all the desserts I explored with him as we learned about my northern Italian heritage, so I hope you all don't mind indulging me in a roundup of the things I learned about Italian desserts during the holiday season.

When I started dating my husband, we started exploring the Twin Cities and found Cossetta's Restaurant in St. Paul, which became a highlight of some of my most cherished memories of that time period (and some very entertaining ones, too!). Cossetta's introduced me to tiramisu, the first wonderful and remarkably Italian dessert I had ever had, full of rich mascarpone cheese and crunchy ladyfingers. When we walked downstairs into the deli portion of the restaurant, along with the many different kinds of antipasti, pizza doughs, and pastas, we found a new product that I had never seen before, panettone. I bought a small one (I was on a high school's paycheck after all) and tried it at home with my dad. I was hooked! Light, softly flavored sweetness and bits of dried fruit for fun, the panettone was the best version of fruitcake I had ever tasted. When I discovered my celiac disease, well, I had to find a recipe for it that tasted just like I remembered that first time. Nichole from Gluten Free on A Shoestring really delivered (though I changed her fruits to more traditional ones). 

As my husband and I continued to date, got engaged, and eventually married we found other forms of tiramisu that were just as good as Cossetta's, but in different ways. Buca di Beppo's version was delightfully boozy and over the top in flavor. Franchesca's was light and fluffy with a fabulous espresso flavor. I wasn't surprised when Treviso, the province of my grandfather's family in Italy, came out in 2013 and asked for tiramisu to get a SpecialitĂ  tradizionale garantita status, giving it a heritage dating back to 1970s there. Even in the comments, the ingredients are debated and changed, depending on the family recipe that they were using. So when Udi's Gluten Free winner Bonita came out with a recipe, I didn't hesitate to try it even though it would be different than all of the other tiramisus I remember. Rich and meringue-y, it tastes different than any other version I've had. With my husband no longer drinking, the recipes will morph yet again as we change to a booze-free version of tiramisu. In all honesty, most of the time the booze was not necessary for the dessert - Buca's is really the only one that has done it well. I prefer to think about it as going back to the heritage of the dish, as the story says tiramisu is an after dinner pick-me-up that was invented to help prostitutes get back to work after long Italian meals. 

But when we actually went to Italy for our honeymoon, my world was opened to a whole new set of ideas of what my beloved Italian ancestors would have in their Christmas celebrations. Fresh torrone from the candymaker's stall at the market, stiff and chewy, full of nuts and fruit and all the things that nougat makes better :-) Naturally gluten free, it was one of the first desserts I turned to in order to remember the sweetness of the holiday. Martha Stewart's recipe is pretty decent if you want to try making some of your own, or get some from Cost Plus World Market fresh. It hardens too much if you let it sit too long and then you're liable to crack a tooth on it. 

Pandoro cut 01.jpg

Pandoro was next (the name STILL irritates me as the spelling and grammarian in me wants it to be properly "pan d'oro").Warm, sweet, and bread like, the best part of it in Venice was that they cut squares of it to serve with rich vanilla gelato and sprinkled with spicy cinnamon to create a wonderful sweet and spicy dessert. Pandoro being from Verona I was surprised to see it served there, but true to Venetian style, there was a multitude of desserts from many Italian provinces available. Schar's bread mix makes a wonderful base for this for the gluten free crowd, and their recipe is quite easy to make, Of course, you can't stay mad for long in Venice, because they're already feeding you the next amazing thing. The next item on my dessert list is a uniquely silly and Venetian thing, because only they would think to do something like make a rich creme dessert even richer. I've not found this recipe in the gluten free world yet (though when I have some free time it might be one I develop), but its good for non-gf crowds. Crema fritta all Veneta or Crema fritta alla Venezia. Fried cream. Yep - that's right! Thick curdled cream inside a delightful puff of fried dough and breadcrumbs that you serve with little bowls of more cold cream sweetened with sugar. A ridiculously simple recipe to follow (yes, it is in Italian but its easy to translate) that I'm thinking could be done using King Arthur's gluten free baking flour and any number of breadcrumbs (maybe the Schar variety?). 

panevin treviso bonfires northeast italy

With a little searching in Venice, however, we found the REALLY cool desserts. Pinza Veneta or Pinsa Veneto (depending on who you ask), is traditionally made for the lighting of the Christmas Bonfires around the Venetian province of Veneto, including Vittorio Veneto, where my grandfather's family was from. While not one of the larger fires in the province (the one above is a beautiful one from Arcade, a little over a half hour from Vittorio Veneto), there is still a small one with plenty of pinza and brule (a hot, spicy mulled wine). The panevin, as the fires are known, started out as a pagan tradition on the winter solstice and then later became known as a way to help the three wise men find their way on a cold winter's night to Bethlehem. Grandma Bruna's recipe for pinza is delightful (note: not MY grandma LOL), and Schar comes to my rescue again with a gluten free recipe for pinza (though I would add some cornmeal to it to make it more authentic to what I remember). 

If you are eating la pinza on a plate instead of standing around the panevin, the BEST thing to have with it is a uniquely northern Italian condiment called mostarda. Mostarda comes in a jar that looks like this: 

but its actually better if you make your own, because then it doesn't look like some off colored mustard. Mostarda is a combination of fruits and mustard essence, and its a sweet and spicy condiment that helps clean out the cupboards while making something tasty. This recipe from Food52 makes a lovely version that's simple and requires little work (though a lot of time is involved, most of it is in non-active tasks...). And its naturally gluten free, so of course you can use it on tons of stuff, not just pinza! Pureed up more, its good with a lot of meat dishes, it can be used in the place of cranberry sauce, and its excellent with cheese and crackers. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The battle of the holidays on social media (warning: contains Elf on the Shelf)

(this really cracked me up. I love Grumpy Cat! Photo courtesy of SlapCaption)

With the advent of the season of the holiday, my social media networks across the board explode with people spouting off about the various holidays, presence or lack thereof of religion, and the creepy factor of various holiday traditions. (sorry this gets a wee bit long...)

Case in point: 
Thank you Melissa Hillier for a much cleaner photo of the little Elf than I've seen! 

There's some debate about him. Evil? Not evil? Preparing children for a police state? Creepy? Not creepy? And goodness gracious, the stream of pictures from all the folks that have to move this elf once a day in order to play by the rules of the game as written. (though I do think some of the more adult ones are kind of funny, like this one!)

Here's the thing. When I was young (which was not that long ago!), I was taught that Santa is a representation of the spirit of generosity. He might not be a real person, but as a spirit of generosity he represents the idea that we all should give to one another. I mean, even the bad kids get coal, which can be used to warm one's house, so life is not all bad! 

It was your job to honor the goodness in the world all year long or you would be put on the coal list. There was nothing in these lessons about religion, about all year long stalking, or even a requirement to call him St. Nick and not Santa Claus / Kris Kringle. So you can be Jewish or Muslim or Atheist and still enjoy festivities and just don't bother with the "Christmas" name for the holiday. 

It wasn't until I was older that I even realized that there was a religious component to Christmas in the name and the motivation behind the holiday. As usual, it is because the Christians tried to borrow from various Pagan celebrations in an attempt to gain more converts. Pieces of the holiday belong to the Romans (Saturnalia and Kalends), Druids (mistletoe sacrifice), Norse Mythology (Balder is killed by a mistletoe poisoned arrow while fighting over a female), the Asheira Cult (Christmas trees), German and Celtic pagans (the cult of Nicholas), Asian culture (Nimrod, the fire god, was nicknamed "Santa"), the Irish (the "Yule Lads" left presents and played tricks on people), and even some work in the holiday belongs to marketers (i.e. Coke's depiction of Santa Claus). This muddled mix of sources thrown together into a holiday makes it easy to pick and choose which pieces of the holiday you choose to observe. Celebrate Santa but not poison or Christ's birthday or a celebration of the slaughter of thousands of Jewish people? Absolutely you can! can also celebrate Christ's birthday. And you can also sacrifice a goat to Balder or pagan gods. That's the beauty of living in modern culture - unlike the 4th century CE when the Christian church borrowed Saturnalia to form the basis of Christmas, we have CHOICE. 

So getting me back to this little guy:

The tradition of the elves actually starts a LOT later than Christmas itself. It wasn't until the 1800s that the elves of the world were demoted into only existing to help Santa Claus do his work. Prior to this, elves were a sort of fun little creature that could help you or harm you - in Germanic and Scandinavian literature, elves were guards against evil and bringers of light and magic but if they were mistreated or you were a bad person, the elves would play tricks on you. But again, the sources get mixed. In the Netherlands, Santa travels with a sidekick named Zwarte Pieter (Black Peter), and in France, there's Père Fouettard (Father Whip) for Santa's sidekick, both of which are characters of very mixed good and evil. 

The Elf on a Shelf idea sort of brings back that idea of the "little people" or the "Wee folk" that can be good to you if you're good and bad to you if you are bad. And yes, I've always found that idea creepy. That someone or something is watching me 24/7. No person is ever going to be perfectly good 100% of the time - even sleeping people sometimes kick people in bed! So do I find Elf on a Shelf creepy? Yep. I wasn't even surprised when a Washington Post article proclaimed "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns"

You've probably all already seen the arguments, so I'll skip to the good part - the comments. They are a lively bunch of folks who have a range of opinions, but the most interesting delve into the WHO is buying these things. You see, there's a strong belief that its mostly young mums out there buying these because they want to validate that they are good mothers just like their friends who are posting their "Elf on a Shelf" pictures on social media. It's all a scheme for validation, and in some cases, they even do it after the children are scared off by the "Elf". 

The thing I think young mums are not remembering is that they have a CHOICE. If you are bullied into using "Elf on a Shelf" and its other overpriced products than you are in the same situation people were in the 4th century CE - being told how to behave and how to validate your celebration as legitimate. There are wonderful young mums out there who don't tolerate this nonsense and have great kids. There are wonderful young mums out there who find the whole thing entertaining and do it for fun without the "rules" and involving their children in the process. 

You always have a choice in what you choose to buy and celebrate (unless you're in a totalitarian country like China or North Korea, then...I apologize). Don't let your social media feed bully you into needing validation just like others or trying to argue for "Putting the Christ back in Christmas" or "Banning Happy Holidays" or any other such nonsense.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The cacophony of the holiday sales begins...

(Poor kitty! From

Over the weekend, the holiday sales season officially began. I don't even know if we should call it the holiday season any more. By far and away, the amount of people, places and things crying out OMG PLEASE PAY ME was just ridiculous.

Did I indulge? A bit. Much less than other years. Maybe I'm getting more self control as I get older.

Mostly though, its just tiring. Why the heck does everyone need a new tv this time of year? Or yet another crock pot? Do people throw these things away on a monthly basis? I don't understand. I got a couple of movies, and some surprise packages from Julep (my husband would probably argue I do NOT need more nail polish, but...) and a pair of pants I needed to replace one that broke on vacation (duct tape no longer holds the pockets together). Oh, and some patterns (feeding the addiction, lol).

I think most of all, it really just came across as a sea of people, places, and things trying to stimulate buying, and none of it really had the effect that it would have had five years ago, even a year ago! Black Friday sales numbers were down, and I think its because of that reason - a sea of external stimuli with no way to differentiate it. Even most "deals" sites were saying the deals were bleh this year.

I think back upon Thanksgiving 1900 and wonder...what would they have thought of all this nonsense? I think they would have gone crazy from a sea of crazy around them. They wouldn't have known what to do with so many advertising messages blaring at them.

Sorry for the ramblings today but that's where my thoughts have been over the last couple days . This week to come: updates on projects completed!

If you are at your computer hiding from the madness, enjoy this cute puppy video:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Memorial to Osgood (update on the Osgood scarf)

I feel like I haven't shared an update on Osgood's scarf in awhile. She's coming along nicely. I've been weaving in the ends as I go so I love that its going to be finished when its finished.

According to my calculations I'm just under 70% complete. I looked back and I started this back in December 2013 so I think its progressing on target. In the wake of what happened to Osgood in Death in Heaven, I've been using it as anger management to get over the loss* of her character.

*Well, we all know she had a Zygon clone and we don't know where she is. And we're not sure if the thing Missy used on her is a full TCE or a miniaturization one, and well, this is science fiction so who knows, she may come back for no other reason than Moffat decides to bring her back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don't corrupt your dolls - A note about thinking about the image of crafting and the treatment of women

(tee hee from Quick Meme)

Those who know me know I am no prude, not by far, but some things that I've seen online recently have even made me wonder about where people's minds are heading. And the funny thing is that the things that have really been making me wonder are on their head, very innocent looking. 

I am a huge fan of amigurumi (crocheted toys of animals and dolls). I follow a lot of different fandoms including Lalaloopsy, Lalylala, Rabbiz, NerdyKnitter, etc. and so many of them are so much fun. Who doesn't want a stuffed pony dressed like Doctor Who, for example? 

As a part of this, fans create their dolls and animals and post them online for others to admire, rate and give compliments. Which is awesome that they have a place to go and do that, be it on Facebook, independent sites, Deviantart, Etsy, etc. What's giving me pause though, is the recent trend that seems to be cropped up online, in which these innocent little dolls, with their wide eyes, impossible size, and inability to stand on their own, are used to mimic pornography. 

A recent post, for example, gave the image of a little doll in a wide circle skirt with wide eyes, a tiny waist, and teeny legs that stood only by the virtue of the weight of the skirt. Then a series of photos was posted in which the doll strips down to her underwear while posing provocatively. Another post had a series of cat dolls with wide eyes and big eyelashes "mating" to make kitten dolls. Other posts feature the dolls whipping each other with yarn "whips" with hearts and stars, male and female dolls "mating", still others are in what would be considered a strip club position when real humans hold that position in place.

I can't help but think of the similarities to video games with many of these scenarios. My first thought was that these were male fans doing these poses, but that was wrong of me. Its just as many female fans doing the "naughty doll" thing. 

What does it say about us as women that we want to make our dolls handicapped versions of reality and then place them in abusive or pornographic situations? Are we so deeply ingrained as a society in the mistreatment of women that we do it to ourselves? 

I think what bothers me most about this is that they are dolls. And toys. Kids can see these things very easily - if you image search for dolls or particular brands, 25-30% of the results are images that I wouldn't want any kid to see. Heck, I don't want to see a doll getting violated and I'm in my 30s. Dolls are mini-humans, and how kids treat them will become how they will treat real humans as adults. 

We don't want to teach anyone to do this. I say we stop allowing this now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Craft Yarn Council Survey

I'll keep this short and sweet - do this survey!

It's US focused, so sorry to the international knitters and crocheters reading this. If you are in the US, you can win a $25 gift card for filling it out. This is the annual survey that determines how popular knitting and crocheting are that the Craft Yarn Council does every year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Think about what image represents your ancestor


I'll be honest...this is a little of a rant. If you aren't into genealogy, I understand if you come back later. I've been working on my Ancestry trees, slowly working my way through all of the hints and records that it suggests. Yes, I have issues with hints but those are for another day.

What's getting me ticked off is the number of these (above) sort of graphics being included with every ancestor in a tree that is before the age of photography. I am comfortable with my ancestors. They may be represented peacefully with a silhouette until I happen to see an image that has a relationship with them, such as a burial site, their house, or perhaps a relic of their time in a particular area, like a maple tree from their property, or an example of their masonry or silversmithing.

Why is everyone so obsessed with putting a photo in that silhouette that they use canned clip art to show that its "their" ancestor because there's a flag or a ship? Does that have any connection to their life? Just because they immigrated, should their entire image be represented by their passage? Didn't they do something else with their life?

And if you are going to do something like this and thinking about actually making a connection to your ancestor, why not research the CORRECT flag to put into the tree? For example:
United Kingdom flag of Briton today
This flag is the flag of England AFTER 1801 (above). Before 1801, the flag looked like this (below):
Union Flag 1606-1801: combination of English and Scottish National flags
Prior to 1606 ( when James I took the throne), however, England had an even simpler flag (below):
English National flag during the reign of Queen Elizabeth: red cross on a white background

So if your ancestor immigrated the US in the 1770s, then the middle flag is correct. Not the top one, nor the bottom one. The ancestor would have had no connection to either the top or the bottom flag, which makes your graphic meaningless.

Similarly, if your ancestor came from Cologne to the US in 1774, this should be the flag:

NOT this one:

This flag was adopted after that period and so therefore, it doesn't make any sense to have your ancestor tied to a graphic that didn't exist in their time period.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, its okay to NOT have a picture of an ancestor. And if you are going to do it, at least take the time to think about the image and its context, and make sure that you get the right graphic that actually has a connection to your ancestor.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fact Checking - A philosophical discussion on approaches to genealogy

Photo snapshots from 5 days of emails.

Forgive my absence, folks, as I'm developing new ideas for the blog. I recently had an exchange with an user. I won't name him here or quote from the experience, as I think what was said and done warrants more of a philosophical thought than a direct experience. 

Over the last week I received five update emails from Ancestry on this person's tree. Each day, there were a few pictures and sources and this listing that over 100+ people have been added. I started to check the lists and yes, they were actually new people. Each day, over 100 people were being added to this person's tree. 

This naturally got me suspicious, as I find that more and more, as I check over what I am adding to my tree, I am lucky if I get through adding a family of 3 to my tree on a single day! How could he get through this many folks at once? And then do that breakneck speed for four more days?

"Blah, blah, blah - you've whined about this before, about people adding things without checking"

Aye, I have, which is why I want to go somewhere else with this post. What I thought about was that there is a fundamental difference in how people approach genealogy and that is why there is a disconnect between the two camps of folks. 

Camp 1. The experienced genealogists, the professionals, and the folks striving to get to either of these points. They tend to be the slow adders - checking each person, one at a time, adding sources, then moving on to verifying the relationships, then moving on to adding a new person to a family.
-Pro: things tend to be well sourced and easy to follow.
-Con: they miss out on new data as they are often too slowly working through existing data.

Camp 2. The newbies, the part timers, and the bucket list folks (i.e. "I must finish my genealogy to give my kids"). These folks tend to be fast adders, clicking and dragging from one family to the next, matching the names they think match, and adding anything easy to attach from and its network and sometimes FamilySearch.
-Pro: there tends to be an explosion of data available for any family. Whether its right or not, well, who knows?
-Con: an explosion of data means none of it is checked. Often there is a host of errors, and many times whole family lines are mismatched.

Which brings me to my last point - could each camp learn something from the other one? I believe the answer is yes

Camp 1 - they sometimes seem like the most hardest working folks in genealogy. The problem? It sometimes gets to be a bit too much like WORK rather than a hobby, a profession, or even dare I say - fun? (sorry James Tanner...). 

Solution? Something new that I heard about this weekend as well - "blitz genealogy". With all the technology and advice out there, practicing short spurts of searching and detective-ing with high productivity can lead to a flurry of new information to help clear up old troubles. In blitz genealogy, you set a research hypothesis that can be solved in a short period of time, say, two days. A good one might look like "I need to find marriage records for Daniel Graves in eastern Michigan from 1870-1890." Then you go out and you save every document that might meet that criteria. Lastly, you then sift through the material, holding the ones that aren't the right guy in an appropriate holding bin (I have a folder on my computer labeled "Searches by subject area" and then I add the folder number to a list that corresponds with the research problem). 

Another way to do blitz genealogy is to do tasks like this - write a one hour life history on one of your ancestors. How can that help you? By taking the time to analyze your ancestor's life as a whole, you can often spot holes in their story that are easy to fix. A missing time record, some tax records, etc. 

Camp 2 - these guys just seem like they are flurrying around with little direction or investigation of their connections. 

Solution? I've taught this technique to a few dozen folks, and they all giggle at the name "Search and Destroy". You take one family, and look through all the evidence, and weed out what doesn't fit. Then you move up the chain, each time, taking one family and looking at it. Sometimes the answer is that the whole family doesn't fit and the whole name chain can be released from the tree. I try to encourage folks to only keep the names of family they are pretty sure about and delete the rest. 

What does this do? It gives them quick focus and helps them see the importance of being sure. Note I didn't say right or wrong here - those come later. What you want to be is sure that the basics are correct. Folks have the right name, they match up to the census years, they match up to the names on the certificates (if available), that the pictures look like they came from the right era, etc. If they added things from websites other than FamilySearch and Ancestry, the documents have notes on where they came from so others can find them later. These tasks increase the quality of their genealogy very quickly, yet also helps them down the path should they want to become part of Camp 1.

A little bit quicker, a little bit slower, and both sides can increase the quality of their genealogy and still have - dare I say it? - fun in their hobby. And they can find some common ground in learning from one another, without the derision on both sides.