brainpickings.org

DNA, Genealogical Research and Privacy

Building your family tree is a painstaking process, traditionally comprised of careful historical research. Using advances in science, direct to consumer DNA testing is gaining tractions as a new genealogical tool. You, the consumer, are sent a kit to collect a sample; the company will sequence and compare your results to those within their database. The idea is to match you to your genetic relatives, enabling the discovery of missing links and the ability to close doors on cold leads.

When a company can offer a quick and easy way to discover your heritage, it’s a tempting idea. That’s not to say one shouldn’t use new technologies to discover genealogy, or that there isn’t a place for DNA testing in the new research landscape. However, just as the expanding web comes with a heightened awareness of a long and lingering digital footprint, using a DNA testing service should carry at least equal caution.

What happens when you give away your DNA for testing? Do you know where it will end up, who will see it, or how it will really be used? An Alaska class action lawsuit against Family Tree DNA claims that the company posted personal information on very public websites, in violation of state law.

According to the complaint of Michael Cole, Family Tree DNA publishes the results of its genetic tests on a publicly available website, not just their customer site, as he believed. This additional access on their own site and that of an Ancestry.com subsidiary is what Cole claims is “unbeknownst to and without the consent of its customers.”

The suit claims “Family Tree’s practice of releasing information about its consumers’ genetic makeup without their permission, carries serious and irreversible privacy risks and violates Alaska’s Genetic Privacy Act.”

As with any piece of personal information, caution and good judgment should be exercised. Read the small print to learn how your DNA will be used and shared, as well as who may have access to it.

Source, Kyla Asbury, “Alaska class action lawsuit says Family Tree DNA posted info on public websites,” May 16, 2014.

Image Credit: Brainpickings.org

Carolyn L Barkley

In Memoriam, Carolyn L. Barkley

It is with the deepest sadness and a profound sense of loss that we report the death of our friend and colleague Carolyn L. Barkley.

Carolyn was the creative force behind our blog, but she was so much more. She wrote hundreds of articles for the blog, always emphasizing both the conventional and the most current electronic sources and techniques bearing on the topics. Many of her articles were rated by other bloggers as the “best of the week” on the Internet.

Carolyn also wore many other professional hats. She was a master indexer, who indexed a number of our recent reference works, including Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607-1625, by Martha W. McCartney. Carolyn was a longtime staff member of the Genealogical.com exhibits at the annual National Genealogical Society conferences and other trade shows. She served as president of a number of genealogical societies and other organizations throughout Virginia. In her professional life Carolyn was a distinguished librarian, who served thirty years as the head of the central Virginia Beach Public Library before retiring.

Above all, Carolyn was a wonderful human being. Quick to smile and possessing a hearty laugh, Carolyn was that rare combination of organizational whiz and kind personal friend. She got things done and she inspired and cared about others. We will miss her immensely.

Reprinted below is the obituary for Carolyn Barkley that appeared in a recent issue of The Virginia Pilot newspaper.

Carolyn L. Barkley (1947-2013)
Virginia Beach – Carolyn Linda (Lopes) Barkley, 65, of Wintergreen, VA passed away on Sunday, May 12, 2013 at Augusta Health. Born December 16, 1947 in Springfield, MA, she was the daughter of the late Olivio and Lois (Smith) Lopes. She was the granddaughter of Clifford F. Smith, long time City Clerk of Springfield, and Mildred Carolyn Abbe. In addition to her grandparents and parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, William L. Barkley, in 2010. Carolyn earned her B.A. from Wellesley College and her Masters in Library Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She was employed by the Virginia Beach Department of Public Libraries for over thirty years. After her retirement, Carolyn continued to work as a freelance editor and researcher. She spent much of her time traveling. Carolyn has been the genealogist for Clan Barclay International, served as President of the St. Andrew’s Society of Tidewater, the Scottish Society of Tidewater, the Virginia Beach Genealogical Society, the Virginia Library Association and many more too numerous to list. Most recently, Carolyn was President of the Wintergreen Nature Foundation. Survivors include her son, Kelley, and his wife, Kimberly (Murray) Powell, of Roanoke; granddaughters Megan Murray, Samantha Kate Powell and Mackenzie Grace Powell, all of Roanoke. A celebration of life service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 19, at the Waynesboro Chapel of Reynolds Hamrick Funeral Homes, 618 W. Main St., Waynesboro, VA, with Pastor Matthew Coiner officiating. The family will receive friends following the service. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to donate may make donations to the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, R.R. 1, Box 770, Roseland, VA 22967. Relatives and friends may share condolences and memories with the family online by visiting www.reynoldshamrickfuneralhomes.com.

Published in The Virginian Pilot on May 15, 2013

 

Collegiate Records - Trinity College Library - Nic McPhee

Collegiate Records As Tools For Researching Your Ancestors

With the advent of May, many families are busily planning to attend the graduation exercises for various family members. Such occasions prompt us to consider the role of a college education in the lives of our ancestors. In my own family, my mother, father and I are the only individuals who have a college education, my father and I proceeding on to receive masters’ degrees. The generational immediacy of college attendance and graduation in my family may not be unusual. There are, however, families for whom the opportunity, and perhaps the expectation, that each generation would attend a college or university was commonplace, with offspring registered at birth.

Looking for college records may often be an overlooked step in family research, but it is an important possibility to entertain as we seek to learn more about our ancestor’s lives.

My first experience with collegiate records was during a trip to the National Archives of Scotland (then called the Scottish Record Office) some years ago. At the time I was actively compiling content for the Barclay One-Name Study (now the Barclay Genealogical Database). During the course of my several days in Edinburgh, I discovered a book in a reference section listing many years of graduates of Aberdeen University. As the northeast of Scotland is an area populated by many Barclays, I happily transcribed a long list of graduates for the one-name study (and somewhere in a pile under the eaves that transcribed list awaits the light of day).

What sources are available today if you wish to look for collegians in your family research?

  • School Alumni Lists. This online database is hosted by Rootsweb and includes 284,672 records that encompass 65,350 distinct surnames. The content derives by submissions from visitors to the site. In searching the site, one can perform both general surname and specific surname/given name searches. A surname search for “Barclay” provided a list of thirteen names dating from 1909 to 1979 from schools in Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, New York, and Minnesota. It is important to note that not all entries are at the collegiate level. Of the thirteen Barclay entries, only one was from an institution of higher education (VPI/Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia); the rest of the entries recorded high schools. A surname search for “Barkley” produced a list of ten names; again, the majority of the entries were for high school. However, one 1948 entry for Purdue University provided additional information including the residence of the individual; the date, time and location of the graduation ceremony; the name of the then president of the university; and the source of the information. I came by this additional information by clicking on the “more information” link.
  • School Alumni Lists at DistantCousin. This site provides access to a “free online archive of school alumni records (Yearbooks, alumni publications, etc.) and scanned images from publications concerning school alumni.” A surname search is possible or you can browse alumni lists by location. My standard “Barclay” surname search identified twelve entries including four Barclays (digitized full-text page images) who appeared on page 34 of the Directory of Former Students of Harvard Living in 1919. That entry included years of attendance and address. An entry in the 1913 Alumni Record of the University of Illinois for an individual from the class of 1887 included the individual’s degree, date and place of birth, parents’ names, marriage date and name of spouse, children’s names and birth dates, and address at the time of publication. I also looked for a Barclay cited in the Vassar College Class of 1925, but was unable to find the referenced entry.
  • Ancestry. A card catalog search for “alumni” provided a list of twenty-two links, not all of them pertaining to colleges or universities. Among them, however, are two interesting British databases spanning many centuries: Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900 and Oxford University 1500-1886. The fifty-four Barclays included in the Cambridge database represented several colleges, with Trinity the most prevalent Barclay affiliation. By contrast only twelve Barclays were listed in the Oxford database.
  • Cyndi’s List. A search for “yearbooks and annuals” produced 156 links to sites, including yearbooks and alumni organizations and resources. One of the most extensive is the Dead Fred Genealogy Photo Archive. Some links point to school specific sites such as the Case Western Reserve University University Archives Student Yearbook Collection (Cleveland, Ohio), with yearbooks dating from 1867.
  • Family History Library. A subject search for “alumni” in the Family History Library Catalog  provided a list of forty-nine titles, including such interesting ones as Necrology of Alumni of Harvard College; Princetonians: a Biographical Dictionary; The Historical Catalogue of the University of Mississippi 1849-1909, and the provocative Yale’s Confederates: a Biographical Dictionary. If you happen to know your ancestor’s specific college or university, a Google search will assist you in identifying available resources.
  • Notable Alumni by College. If you have a famous person in your family, you will want to check this site. It claims to offer a “complete directory of famous alumni, listed by individual school. Photos and metadata are included in each famous student’s list – although to be clear, the lists are not definitive for graduates, but rather include all notable students who attended a school at one time, not just the prominent alums who graduated with a degree.” You can scroll through an alphabetical listing of famous and not-so famous colleges, universities, and high schools. Included are such surprising (at least to me) entries as Prince Albert II of Monaco, listed under Notable Amherst College Alumni/Students.
  • Printed lists and indices. In addition to the wide range of online databases and archival resources, you will also want to search for printed compilations of alumni information. A recent example is Jean L. Cooper’s Index of Students of the University of Virginia, 1825-1874 (Shortwood Press, 2011), which contained the following entry:

Surname: Barclay; First name: Shepard; Middle Name: _____; Home City/County: Saint Louis; Home State: Missouri; Session Number: 44 and 45.” (A table identifies those particular sessions as occurring between 1 October 1867 and 1 July 1869.)

Talking with family members and reviewing family documents and photographs may document a college or university graduate in your family. Then, with the help of available print and online sources, you may be able to tell the story of the academic life and experiences of your ancestor.

Photo Credit: Nik McPhee

NERGC – Conference Summary

By the end of the third day of any conference, my brain needs some quiet down time in order to process all of the new information to which I’ve been exposed; my feet hurt; I have finally figured out the layout for the conference meeting spaces. I have found that such feelings are shared by almost every conference attendee with whom I have ever talked. Even though I am tired, however, I am re-energized and filled with enthusiasm to return home and apply new methodologies to a few of my research problems.

I believe that genealogists, almost more than any group I know, are committed to continuing education. New skills and knowledge of new resources help us to continue our search for information with which to discover and share the stories of our ancestors. National genealogical conferences may fall outside of the financial resources of many genealogists, particularly when the cost of travel is factored into the total. Regional conferences such as NERGC, however, are the perfect vehicles to provide geographically-focused education at a reasonable cost. In my experience, the quality of the lectures offered at NERGC is comparable to that of the lectures at NGS or FGS, with several nationally-recognized experts invited to speak in addition to state and local experts.

In addition, regional conferences offer local and regional societies and historic institutions an opportunity to recruit members and gain recognition with regard to their collections. With over 850 in attendance, I would hope that many of the societies represented at NERGC were able to offer their expertise to those visiting their tables and gained new members. Volunteers from such institutions also provide innumerable hours of work resulting in well-run, enjoyable conferences. Couple these experiences with opportunities to network with others attending or speaking, and the cost becomes priceless. Just at this conference in New Hampshire alone, I met an individual from my home state of Virginia who asked me to speak at his local society in 2014; met an individual from my native state of Massachusetts who went to the high school where my father taught; and met several of this blogs readers. My friend and roommate was able to make an Italian research connection that will help continue work she began in Salt Lake City last month, as well as information that will assist her in “Jane Doe” research begun as part of her participation in the Boston University Genealogy Research Program.

Conferences such as NERGC are a bargain at the cost. Be aware of similar opportunities scheduled in your area and support them through your attendance and volunteer efforts. You will be the better genealogist for having done so – and you’ll have lots of fun.

 

Mount Rushmore - Ryan O'Hara

Who Built Mount Rushmore?

A few observations before beginning to write about the workers who built Mt. Rushmore. First, this article would probably have been more appropriate for a Labor Day post, but as a blogger with five years worth of postings (think 260 articles); I have to seize a blog topic when it pops into my mind. Second, some articles sound great when I schedule the topic, but turn out less well – or at least differently – than I expect. This article is one of those that didn’t quite realize the original goal.

The saga starts last July when I visited Mount Rushmore National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Much has been written about Gutzon Borglum–who was lured away from his carving at Stone Mountain (Georgia) to initiate work on the new mountain-side sculpture—and people like Doane Robinson, known as the “Father of Mount Rushmore; John Boland who helped raise funds and monitored expenses; Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota; Congressman William Williamson who successfully realized Congressional funding and brought President Calvin Coolidge for a visit in 1927; and, the mountain’s namesake, New York City Attorney Charles E. Rushmore, who in the late 1880s conducted title searches in the Black Hills area. Scarcely anything is known, however, of the individuals who actually did the manual labor to create the monument.

During my visit, I noticed a plaque, located quite conspicuously in the entrance arcade, listing all the names of the individuals who worked on the monument (a list is available at the National Park Service’s Mount Rushmore website). Those 400 names piqued my interest. Each name documents an enormous effort, despite extremes of weather and physical dangers, over the long span of fourteen years (1927 to 1941) which it took to complete the project. As a visitor standing in the entranceway looking up, I found it hard to imagine the every-day experiences that produced the final monument to our some of our nation’s most influential leaders.

I left the Black Hills with the idea that I would, at some point, discover a little about the workers. One of the first things that I noticed was the imaginative nicknames listed for many of them, which seemed to offer tantalizing snapshots of personalities. Were Edward Anton, nicknamed “Pee Wee,” and Frank Hudson, nicknamed, “Shortie,” really short? Why was Albert Gensler called “Babe?” Did Lloyd Virtue, live up to his nickname of “Lively,” or did Leonard “Red” Zwanziger have red hair? Was Alton Parker “Hoot” Leach, the father of Clyde Arthur “Little Hoot” Leach? (Perhaps we don’t want to wonder why H.V. Huntimer was called “Big Dick!”) Nicknames notwithstanding, I imagined that I would easily be able to identify these men – and occasional women – through the 1930 and 1940 censuses and then be able to provide brief vignettes about some of the more interesting individuals. In actuality, I discovered that the research, if it were to be done thoroughly and well, required far more time than I had available to devote to the effort.

I began by starting with the first name, searching for them in the 1930 federal census for South Dakota. This method quickly proved both time consuming and fairly fruitless; a new strategy was required. I consulted Ann S. Lainhart’s State Census Records (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008) from which I learned that a 1935 state census existed for South Dakota. I mentally crossed my fingers and checked first Ancestry and then FamilySearch and discovered that the latter provided access to digitized images from that 1935 census. I once again began my methodical approach to researching the workers’ names.

In fact, I was able to locate some individuals in the 1935 census. I was ecstatic when I identified an entry for O. E. Anderson (Otto E. on the plaque), aged 33, born in South Dakota, living with his spouse (maiden name Hamilton) in the 2nd township in Keystone (the location of Mount Rushmore), Pennington County, South Dakota. His occupation? Stone cutter! As I began to locate other names from the plaque, I began to see a pattern: many individuals, served by the Keystone Post Office lived in Township 2, section 6E, identified as being in the northern Black Hills area. When I could make a definite match, I discovered laborers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and mechanics, all possible trades that would have been employed during construction.

With the township and section more clearly defined, I re-visited to the 1930 federal census, now focused on a search in Pennington County. Rather than search name by name (there are 400 names after all), I decided to browse the township, line by line, through at least one part of township 2, section 6. I quickly discovered that I could scan down the occupation column as workers were clearly identified when they were involved in the Mount Rushmore project. Thus I was able to confirm that Harvey Brown was a 48-year-old blacksmith, born in South Dakota and residing with his wife and one child, and employed at Mount Rushmore. J.C. Denison was a 58-year-old head of household, born in South Dakota, and working at Mount Rushmore as a laborer. Lodgers in his household included Charles Flathers, a 44-year-old laborer, born in Iowa; and Loid E. Whitney, a 40-year-old laborer, born in South Dakota, both employed at the monument project. Laborers were of all ages, including Charles O. Chaney (Charles O. Cheney on the plaque), who was a 68-year-old widower, born in Ohio. His age provides some insight into his nickname – “Pops.” Harry Burchard, aged 33 and born in Iowa of Germany parents, was a laborer, living with his wife Charlott [sic], and children Ruby, 10, born in Minnesota; Darrell, 8; Kathryn 5; Wayne, 3; and Roger 1; all born in South Dakota. The household of Raymond Groves, a 48-year-old stonemason who was born in Minnesota, suggests that individuals in that trade followed their craft from place to place, as he had a son, Walter, aged 18, born in Minnesota; a daughter Alma, aged 15, born in Montana; and a daughter Vivian, aged 5, born in South Dakota.

Some of the 400 were neither in the 1930 federal census for South Dakota nor in the 1935 South Dakota state census. In some cases I couldn’t confirm that a census-enumerated individual with the same name as a Rushmore worker were one and the same. Was Walter G. Atwell for example,  a construction engineer living in King County, Washington in 1930 and in Tulare County, California in 1940, the same Walter G. Atwell listed on the plaque? Only further research could say. Others may have worked on the project for only a few years between censuses. Still others have their stories available online, such as that of Luigi Del Bianco, the chief carver of the monument. He immigrated to Barre, Vermont, a stone cutting center, from Italy prior to WW I, returned to fight for his native country during World War I, and returned to the U.S. after the war. From Barre, he moved to Port Chester, New York, where he was enumerated in the 1930 census with his wife, Nellie, and sons Silvio and Vincent. He had worked for Borglum at Stone Mountain and other projects, and was brought into the Mount Rushmore project in 1933. In 1940, he was enumerated in Westchester, New York, employed as a stone cutter for a WPA project.

I only wish I had the time to continue delving into the lives of the 400 workers. Further information can be located through diligent searches of newspaper articles, other collections of South Dakota and Pennington County records, and with deeper searching through online resources and printed material. Little by little, this list of 400 names can give up its stories and provide insight into the everyday workings of the monument project. These individuals are indeed more than “just names on a wall” (to quote the Statler Brothers).

Photo Credit: Ryan O’Hara

Get Thee to the Courthouse – Why Visiting in Person is Still Necessary

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

I think that we genealogists may be in danger of falling victim to the need for instant satisfaction. The ability to look at records on Ancestry or FamilySearch, or any number of online resources, is seductive. We like the fact that we don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes – or at least, don’t have to go further than our local library – to do our research. The plethora of materials accessible with ease saves us a great deal of time and effort – and for those of us with asthmatic tendencies — prevents exposure to moldy and musty materials. What could be wrong with this image, you might ask? First, the majority of courthouse records are not available online at this time, although some jurisdictions are more open to digital access than others. Second, in my judgment, when we rely too heavily on easy online access, we risk distancing ourselves from the records themselves, depriving ourselves of a more intimate understanding of their content, organization, and relationship with other records in the same geographical area. What is my solution? Read on…

When at all possible, visit a courthouse in person. If distance prohibits such onsite research, consult microfilm copies of the records. Here are some strategies:

  1. First plan your research trip well. Locate current information about location and hours, including holidays. Learn the rules governing scanning (Flip-Pal), taking photographs, or photocopying records. Rules concerning these activities will vary courthouse to courthouse. Some allow personal scanners, some don’t; some allow you to take photographs, but not photocopy; some allow you to photocopy, but nothing else. Some will allow you to photocopy any book that can be taken apart (ah, those lovely steel rods), some don’t care. Some will allow you to make your own photocopies; some require you to submit a request. In addition, determine the cost of copies. In my experience, the cost can range from fifty cents to one dollar per page. Then there are some curious rules which depend upon the individual county clerk! In Amherst County, Virginia, you must request a specific chancery case file in advance, requiring, then, at least two trips as you probably only identified the case during your first trip. Even though I live only an hour or so away from that courthouse, it is an annoying rule. At the Southampton County, Virginia, courthouse several years ago, when you had identified several record books from which you needed copies, you could not stack them on top of one another. Staff at the Goochland County, Virginia, courthouse have apparently discovered that their photocopy revenue was decreasing as more individuals began using personal cameras and scanners. This courthouse now charges fifty cents per copy no matter what method you use to make your copy – yes, that’s right, even if you take a picture with your own camera!
  2. Identify records that are unavailable online as part of your research plan; do not spend your time looking at material that you can view effectively online. Consider online records for Albemarle County, Virginia. A quick card catalog keyword search for “Albemarle” in Ancestry identifies only twelve entries, only six of which pertain to Albemarle County in Virginia. More importantly, none of the entries provide access to a digitized image of an original record. While Virginia Births 1886-89 and 1890-96, and Virginia Marriages, 1851-1929 may be helpful in your research, they are abstracts only. A record search in FamilySearch, filtered by Virginia as a geographical location, identifies fourteen collections, but none specifically for Albemarle County (the filter is unavailable below the state level). Three entries, Virginia Births and Christenings (1853-1917), Virginia Marriages (1785-1940), and Virginia Deaths and Burials (1853-1912) do contain Albemarle records (32,833 births and christenings, 185 marriages, 8,149 deaths and burials, respectively), but if you read the collection description carefully, you will discover that all three point to the same database which does not contain images of original records. The Library of Virginia’s A Preliminary Guide to Pre-1904 County Records in the Virginia State Library and Archives, however, indicates that original Albemarle records are available for several courts (Circuit, County, District, Superior Court of Law, Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery, etc.), election records, fiduciary records, registrations of free Negroes, land records, marriage records and vital statistics, military and pension records, road and bridge records, tax and fiscal records, township records, wills, sheriff receipt books, etc. What a difference!
  3. Once onsite, visually browse the entire record room collection before you start your research. When I visit a courthouse that is new to me, I always walk the shelves in order to understand what records are available for what years; what records have indices (while deeds and wills are usually indexed, order or minute books may not be); what titles are used for specific record groups (for example, Nelson County, Virginia, calls all non-chancery courts cases “Law Causes”); and understand their arrangement. (I once struggled to locate deeds in the Frederick County, Maryland, courthouse as the record book titles seemed to have no understandable arrangement – turned out that they were arranged by the initials of the county clerk, making chronological browsing of the shelf impossible unless you knew the sequence of clerks.) Be sure to ask the clerk what records may be accessible on request, but are located in the vault; or what records have been transferred to a state archive or library. Such browsing can also locate research gems such as the Surveyor’s Books (spanning the years 1750 through 1853) that I found while browsing the shelves in the Albemarle County courthouse. Many of the early surveys were done by Joshua Fry, who, with Peter Jefferson, is responsible for the well-known 1751map entitled A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia containing the Whole Province of Maryland with Part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. Early surveyor’s books are not commonplace in courthouse collections and can prove invaluable in solving research problems.
  4. Read the source that is as close to the original record as possible and read it in context. All of us know that as information from an original record is transcribed, abstracted, or otherwise interpreted, the possibilities for error increase exponentially. In addition, available online indexing, although in some cases the only indexing that exists, can be vexing at best and misleading at worst. Only by reading the original are you able to analyze the information yourself. Yes, online digitized records provide us with an exact image of the original, but have you ever had difficulty with a clerk’s handwriting? By spending some of your research time reading several records in the same clerk’s hand, you will be able to understand whether that name is “Sand” or “Land,” for example.
  5. If, however, you are unable to visit the courthouse personally, the next best strategy is to look at microfilm of the records pertinent to your research, applying the same techniques as if you had the bound volume or loose paper in front of you. The microfilm may be available through your state archives/library or through the Family History Library. My search for Albemarle County, Virginia, in the Family History Library catalog identified thirty subject categories, including entries for microfilmed courthouse records, many of which were listed in the Library of Virginia’s finding aid mentioned above.

Some resources to assist you in your courthouse research include Christine Rose’s Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures (CR Publications, 2004) and Courthouse Indexes Illustrated (CR Publications, 2006), as well as the classic County Courthouse Book by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009), now in its third edition.

Research in a county courthouse is one of my favorite genealogical activities. Step away from that computer and get up close and personal with the records. You’ll be glad you did.

Contemplations on Music and Family

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

My recent fourteen-day road trip across country and back gave me plenty of time to muse about a variety of matters and how they may have affected our lives and those of our families. Time and again, my mind pondered the role of music in my family and the continuity it provided among generations.

The presence of a piano in the house was a constant as I grew up – first at my grandfather’s year-round and summer homes, and later at my parents’ house. The latter piano now graces my own living room, although I play it far too seldom. Gathering around the piano on a summer’s evening is what my family did for entertainment, as much of a cliché as that may seem. The music would begin while it was still daylight, often stopping only long after there was no light in the room save for the pool of light shed by the gooseneck lamp over the piano. The homely pleasure of hearing music spilling out into the yard would often tempt Ralph, one of the bachelor farmers who lived down the road, to join us, making six voices in the intimate darkness. It remains a lovely memory of a much simpler time.

During these evenings I learned to sing alto, playing not only hymns but the music of the older three generations in the room. I now sadly realize that I am the last in my family to have knowledge of much of this music. These evenings also provided insights into family history: stories about the gospel hymn books that my great-grandmother had purchased when attending Baptist revivals in Springfield, Massachusetts; why we skipped over music that had been sung at my grandfather’s wedding; and the fact that we did not sing Aloha ʻOe (Farewell to Thee) because my uncle had remained in Hawaii after the war and his absence was fraught with layers of unspoken emotions.

I now have ten conservation boxes of sheet music, with the earliest music purchased by my grandmother (before her marriage in 1920), on which she had written her name, Mildred Carolyn Abbe. As a child I was fascinated by this signature, left behind by a person I would never know (she died in 1927, leaving two small children) and who was almost never mentioned “to spare my grandfather’s feelings.” Some of the music belonged to my mother, both before and after she was married, and some is mine from a later era. This music provides an interesting insight into what kinds of music the family liked, but also offers a rich insight into the cultural history of the United States through the decades.

My grandmother’s music is often tattered and fragile, with old Scotch tape holding pages together. Nevertheless, this music features beautiful cover artwork. Just a few of the titles include the Missouri Waltz (1914), a song much on my mind as I crossed this river several times over the past two weeks; I Will Always Love You As I Do To-Day (1915); My Isle of Golden Dreams (1919) featuring the Dolly Sisters on the cover; Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home (1921); and Among My Souvenirs (1927), later recorded by Connie Francis in 1959 and Marty Robbins in 1976.

My mother’s music looks more modern, slowly changing from art on quality linen paper to slick paper with photographs of stars and orchestra directors. One of the earliest pieces, with her maiden name written clearly on the cover, is God Bless America (1939) which includes a cover note stating that its first performance was by Kate Smith on Armistice Day, 1938. The war years are well represented with Remember Pearl Harbor (1941); Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition (1942); I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen (Irving Berlin, 1942), produced for This is the Army, “the new all-soldier show produced for Army Emergency Relief;” Sing With Lucy Monroe: A Community Song Book for Home, Schools, Civic Recreational Groups, Army Camps and Training Stations (1943), and Bell Bottom Trousers (1944). Other music includes songs from motion pictures of the era with cover photographs of singers and actors such as Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Bob Hope, Perry Como, and Rosemary Clooney. The cover of Galway Bay (1947) features an impossibly young picture of Bing Crosby.

My music is much more eclectic, ranging from Ballad of Davy Crockett (1954) – did you know that song has seventeen verses? – to the Everly Brothers’ Let It Be Me (1955) and Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings (1982).

I did find one intriguing booklet among the boxes, one that may have belonged to someone in the family but could also have come from an auction or other source now long forgotten. Published by Oliver Ditson (Boston, 1887), it is a copy of the new and correct edition of  Bugle, Fife, and Drum Signals and Calls as Used in the Regular Army and Militia of the United States. The introduction offers the following information: “On August 1st., 1867, the War Department ordered that ‘Upton’s Tactics’ be adopted by the Army of the United States, and by the Militia, as standard authority in place of all others. These tactics provide uniformity of system in all branches of the service, and therefore many changes have been made, which will hardly be recognized by the old soldier of twenty years ago. The bugle (or trumpet) signals and calls, as well as those of the fife and drum, have consequently undergone a change like the other systems, and are now the same in all branches of the service, excepting such signals as pertain to some individual act of the cavalry or artillery soldier which cannot be performed by the infantryman … In this new book we give these calls, together with the old ones which were in use during the civil war…” From their bugles to our ears…”

Your family archive may not include the wealth of family sheet music as does mine. If not, EBay is a perfect site on which to search for vintage sheet music. A quick look identified thousands of items. Most are auction-priced around $9.95 for a single piece of music – sometimes for multiple titles. I saw several that I already own and several that I’d like to add to my collection. Another commercial site for vintage sheet music is Kampko Vintage Sheet Music Shoppe, while several others provide information about vintage sheet music art and collecting.

There is little online about the connection between genealogy and music. Some websites1 have listed music with genealogical themes including Mark Cohn’s The Things We’ve Handed Down, I’m My Own Grandpa, Iris DeMent’s Let the Mystery Be, and Bon Jovi’s Who Says You Can’t Go Home, but some of the titles represent a bit of a stretch with regard to topic. These songs, however, do not really get at the heart of the music and genealogy connection.

For me, an individual piece of music has the capacity to create a personal connection back to a specific time and place in my life with all its personalities, atmosphere and feelings. Two quotes seem to sum up my thoughts on the music and family connection. In Thoughts of the Cloister and the Crowd (1835), British historian Arthur Helps stated: “Music recalls a state of feeling, and not merely a series of incidents. When we listen to the long-forgotten melody, we do not review the scenes and actions of our childhood in succession, but we become for the moment children once again.” Daniel J. Levitin, in This is Your Brain on Music: the Science of a Human Obsession (Dutton, 2006) stated, “Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there: weddings, funerals, graduation from college, men marching off to war, stadium sporting events, a night on the town, prayer, a romantic dinner, mothers rocking their infants to sleep … music is a part of the fabric of everyday life.” We should always include such memories as we depict our family history, populating it with details of American cultural life as they relate to our family. Fact is, when we pursue this musical connection to our family’s history, those melodious memories add depth, warmth and understanding to our personal histories.

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1 Randy Seaver, “More Genealogy-related Songs,” Genea-Musings (http://www.geneamusings.com/2007/11/more-genealogy-related-songs.html : accessed 31 July 2012); James Gilmore, “Music Ideas for a Family History CD,” E-How (http://www.ehow.com/list_6628999_music-ideas-family-history-cd.html : accessed 31 July 2012).

 

 

 

NGS Conference – Final Day

by Carolyn L. Barkley

At approximately 3:00 this afternoon, the lights dimmed in the exhibit hall and the “pipe and drape” guys quickly – and noisily – began to dismantle the booths. Soon everything was packed safely into boxes and we were ready to leave the exhibit hall. For me, that is the moment which seems most like the last day of camp when we were kids. I may be glad to be headed home, but I hate to part with friends in the close-knit community of fellow exhibitors, speakers, and friends.

I will not be attending FGS in Birmingham (or cruising with TMG) this year because of the timing of my late-summer trip to Scotland, so it will be another year before some of our paths cross again. As I set in my hotel room this evening, savoring my Graeter’s (a Cincinnati favorite since 1870) black cherry chip (think chunk rather than chip) ice cream, I look back on a successful and enjoyable week.

Thanks to all of you who stopped by the booth to say hello and tell me that you enjoy reading the blog…you made my day each and every time this happened.

Please stay tuned for an interim post this coming Monday, and then we will be back on the normal Friday posting schedule on the 18th.

Put NGS Family History Conference 2013 (Las Vegas) on your calendars now. I will look forward to meeting you then.

NGS Conference – Day Three

by Carolyn L. Barkley

Conferences take on a life of their own, with an ebb and flow in the exhibit hall that is driven by the session schedule. Periods of intense activity alternate with quieter hours during sessions. On Friday, individuals who had been browsing all week, began to make their final selections. Some were more cautious as they were flying home (and genealogical books are notoriously heavy); others, who were driving home, were less concerned by size and weight.

I must admit that my fondest desire is to have speakers, when preparing their lectures, contact the publishers (or at least the booksellers who normally have booths at genealogical conferences) and share with them the specific titles that they will be recommending during a lecture. No book seller wants to disappoint potential buyers with “Sorry, we don’t have that title at the conference;” or “Sorry, that book is out of print;” or “Sorry, we’ve sold the one copy we brought with us.” Granted, book sellers can sometimes anticipate popular topics based on early views of the syllabus, but that direct contact between speaker and bookseller would be very helpful.

Several people played hooky from Friday’s 9:30 session to stop at the genealogical.com booth and talk with Elizabeth Shown Mills during a book-signing. If you have not seen her new web-site Evidence-Explained.com, be sure to (and I’ll be writing more about it soon).

I spent the day looking forward to the 100th anniversary of NGSQ reception, for which I had purchased a ticket. Afterwards, I was left wondering why it was not a more festive (meaning celebratory) event. To provide full disclosure, I arrived half-an-hour late (my conference bag was heavy and therefore I took it back to my hotel room). However, a full hour of the reception’s scheduled time remained when I did arrive. Yes, there were lots of people, but they must have been very hungry, as most of the buffet items were completely depleted (often never to be replenished). While I do understand the very human behavior of large groups at buffet tables, I was surprised by the lack of a celebratory atmosphere, almost as if we had forgotten how to throw a party – or at the very least how to congratulate ourselves.  While I’m not asking for clusters of balloons and noise-makers, I was surprised by the lack of formal remarks and introductions to mark the occasion (did I miss them due to my absence during the first half-hour?). The anniversary brochure was nicely done, but the small TV-sized monitors showing pictures of editors and early title pages were lost among the crowd. In this day of dwindling print journals of this stature and longevity, NGSQ’s significant achievements deserved more. In my humble opinion…

NGS Conference – Day Two

Day two in Cincinnati at the NGS Family History Conference. Some of the best opportunities at the conference are the various twenty-minute demonstrations held in the back of the hall. I attended one such presentation on the basic features of the genealogy-specific search engine, Mocavo, and another on the Flip-Pal‘s capability of scanning large documents in separate pieces which the software included with this handy scanner then “stitches together” to create one high-quality digital image of the original. While a twenty-minute session does not provide an opportunity for a comprehensive presentation, it can provide sufficient information to support a confident attempt to put into practice what was demonstrated in the short time available.

I also attended a second lecture on the War of 1812, this time from the British army’s perspective. For anyone interested in both British and  military research, Paul Milner’s presentation was excellent.

The highlight of my day was touring the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I have never toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., but I imagine that the impact might be similar. The museum’s mission of sharing “stories about Freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today” is well portrayed through informative exhibits housed in a spacious and well-designed building in a riverside setting. For me, one of the most moving exhibits was the 177-year-old slave pen building that was preserved by and discovered in a tobacco barn in Kentucky. Excavated and reassembled at the museum, its austere plainness is evokes its original use and time period.

My pile of additions to my home library is growing steadily higher in the corner of my hotel room and I imagine that day three will see a few more additions.