Sunday, May 11, 2014

Finding and Documenting African-American Families (July 20-25, 2014)

My friends J. Mark Lowe and Deborah Abbott are teaching 4 and a half days of workshops on the subject of "Finding and Documenting African-American Families".  For more information, visit

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The mystery of Dorit Kum, aka Darr Imon

Quite recently, someone posted a death certificate (they didn't say from where, but probably from a New England state), where they were trying to puzzle out the mother's name.  Half of those guessing opted for "Dorit Kum".

The other half of us had a different idea.  But before I reveal that one, I should mention that I have also looked to see if there are any records for a Dorit Kum.  I checked FamilySearch and  Nothing popped up in FamilySearch, but one Dorit Kum popped up in Ancestry, and it happens that she was listed as the mother on a death certificate for a North Carolina death.  I looked at that image, too.

Two different Dorit Kums?  Whose only fact in common (their only discoverable fact of any kind) was being the mother of a deceased individual?  I did some more digging, and discovered a woman named Darr Imon.  She too was the mother of someone who had passed.

Alas, I would wager that all three women were the same, but not in the sense that they were an actual human being.

No, I feel quite confident that the name of the mother on each death certificate was, in actuality, "Don't know".

As my good friend Cyndi Ingle might say, it's truly best not to overthink what you see handwritten on a genealogical document. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why Copyright Is Important to Me

In a recent posting to his blog, James Tanner writes: "I am talking about all the other stuff, blog posts, notes on family trees, biographies, surname books etc. that have absolutely no expectation of making a dime for their authors. What then is the benefit of copyright to these people?"

First, all the stuff that I write on my blog may not pay me *directly*, but may pay me *indirectly*, by enhancing my reputation, so that societies may pay me to speak, and publishers may pay me to write.

Second, I have the right to *control* how my copyrightable material gets used.  The reality is, there are individuals and organizations who I support, and individuals and organizations who I do not support.  If someone I support asks me to use my material, I may happily give them permission.  If someone I do not support asks me, I may choose to refuse.  Without copyright protection, I would not have this option. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Expertise is Neither Dead nor Sequestered

In a very recent posting on his own blog, James Tanner wrote a response to a posting by Michael J. Leclerc, who himself was following up on an article in The Federalist by Tom Nichols.  (Are you with me so far?)

In a nutshell, Nichols was lamenting that the print-world distinction between expert opinions and general public opinions was being erased by the Web, which leveled the playing field for access to eyeballs.  As an academic librarian, I fully understand his concern.  Pre-Web, students had *some* reason to believe that the material that they found in libraries, in other words, material published in books, journals, magazines, and newspapers, had been vetted by professional publishers and editors and librarians, and therefore, these professional gatekeepers kept out uninformed opinions to the extent possible in a free society.  In a Web world, we academic librarians have to explain to students that it falls to them to use their critical thinking skills to evaluate the information that they find online, and that anyone (and we do mean *anyone*) can post an opinion on a blog (yes, I recognize the irony that I'm posting this on my own blog) or on a message forum.  But just because everything now can be found in the same "place" (the Web), does not mean that it is all of equal research value (or of equal educational value). 

My friend Michael built upon Nichols' work by commenting that here in the world of genealogical research, anyone can now post online any genealogical conclusion that they choose, even without a shred of evidence to support it, and that anyone who criticizes them for doing so is often labeled "elitist" (or referred to in similar terms).  You can hear the arguments: It's all opinion, after all, and one opinion is just as good as another.  It's just a hobby, I shouldn't have to cite my sources.

And now James Tanner has added his own views, agreeing in part with Michael, but claiming that the experts themselves are part of the problem, because they want credit for the research that they do (imagine that!), because the scholarly genealogical publications are "inaccessible" (Translation: They aren't made freely available on the Web, despite the fact that they are probably no farther than a short drive to a nearby large library for most people), and because the authors of the articles claim a copyright.  As one of my research institution's copyright librarians, I can assure pretty much anyone that a research article deserves copyright, and nobody should be criticized for asserting the rights that they deserve.

James takes experts to task by saying "I would suggest that those same experts realize that they have a duty and an opportunity to teach others."  Yes, James, we do, and we fulfill that duty when we publish our copyrighted material in journals and magazines or blogs or when we present at national, state, and local conferences.  But we have no duty to do all of this for free, or to do it all online.

We also have no duty to give up our copyright to our own materials, because there are times when we need to be financially rewarded for what we do, there are times when we want (and fully deserve) credit for what we do, and there are times when we want to control, to the legal extent possible, the use of our material.  James says "Any attempt to copy the research is met with hostility. This is true of many (if not most) academic journals."  No, what is met with hostility is not when people copy an article for their personal educational use (which almost always falls well within the U.S. fair use guidelines).  What is met with hostility is when people *publish* someone else's copyrighted material without permission, because that's a violation of copyright. 

People *do* still become educated by subscribing to magazines and journals, and if they can't afford them, then, as a librarian, I do suggest that they discover the nearest library that subscribes on their behalf.   I'm not the first to point this out.  Janis Gilmore did so in a comment response to James' article.  James responded with the idea that it's hard to get new genealogists to look at published print books and journals.  This is the fault of the experts?  No, this is the fault of those who think that education is not worth the trouble of visiting a library in person.  It's not all online, and that's true both of genealogical records *and* of genealogical educational materials.  The sooner that new genealogists learn this, the quicker that they'll broaden their educational horizons. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Martin - personal trees and unified trees

So far, my family tree experiment has not garnered any responses from cousins on my Smith line, so I'm continuing with my Martin line:

My mother, Altha Corinne Martin (she's listed as Alta Corene Martin on her birth certificate), was born in Moon Township (near Chappells), Newberry County, South Carolina, on 19 December 1920.  She died in Newberry, Newberry County, South Carolina, 16 June 2007.  She lived her early life in Newberry County until she met and married my father, and after World War II she and Dad lived in East Orange until 1960, when they returned to Newberry County.  She lived there until her death.

She was the youngest child of George Washington Martin, born 12 January 1882 in Edgefield County, South Carolina, who died 12 November 1964 in Newberry.  He lived most of his life in Edgefield County and Newberry County.

Granddaddy Martin was the son of Edmon Manley Martin, who lived primarily in Edgefield District/County from about 1827 until his death between 1894 and 1900.  His burial location has not yet been located.

Edmon was the son of James S. Martin, who lived in the Pleasant Lane area of Edgefield District/County.  James was born about 1797 and died after 1880.

When I added Edmon Manley Martin to my MyHeritage tree, I was immediately notified that there were two potential matches to other trees.  One was from a person I didn't know (but who definitely had the right wife and children for Edmon), and the other was from a tree maintained by my first cousin once removed, James (I didn't know he had put up a family tree).  I confirmed the match for these two trees.  I then synced my updates to my Family Tree Builder tree on my Mac.

Adding my Martins to my Ancestry tree, I encountered a number of helpful hints (both records and family trees).  I added the records that matched, again keeping in mind that I would need to follow up on the trees belonging to other people at a later date.

I added the Martins to WeRelate, but there were no matches.

I went to WikiTree to add the Martins.  When I went to enter a death date for Edmon Manley Martin, I found that I could not enter a range (that he died between 1894 and 1900).  I left it as "after 1894" for now.  So far, no matches for my Martins on WikiTree.

I completed my Martin updates by going to FamilySearch and adding sources to the Martins that I had previously entered. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Find A Grave - an experiment to transfer memorials

On Facebook (in some genealogy group) there was a thread that discussed experiences in having Find A Grave memorials transferred.  I decided to test this myself today by going to all of my parents', grandparents', and great-grandparents' memorials and requesting that they be transferred to me.

I now await the results.

UPDATE: My first 3 requests from my SC hometown (all from the same cemetery under the control of the same person) were honored in less than 4 hours.  

UPDATE 2: 3 more requests, this time from New Jersey (as with the previous set, from the same cemetery under the control of the same person) were just honored.  That set took a little over 2 days.  This leaves 1 in Florida and 3 in South Carolina. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Smith - Some concluding thoughts

1.  I like putting folks up on MyHeritage (and synced with Family Tree Builder), but I've no luck yet with matching anyone else with Smart Matches on my Smith line.  I may find that some of my other lines will have better luck in that area.

2.  I have a number of people to contact on Ancestry regarding my Smith line (at least one is someone I've been in some contact with for years), but I'm worried that most of them have simply copied their data from others, so it will be difficult to track down the originator.  The hints to sources were generally useful.

3.  I don't think I'll go forward with at this point, considering that there are free alternatives.

4.  WeRelate and WikiTree were ok, but I probably won't see greater value until I am looking at my oldest lines. 

5.  The FamilySearch tree has been interesting.  I discovered some new sources for my Smiths, or sources that I didn't know had been indexed online, but I probably won't face having to untangle some mismatches until I get to my Bodie line (which won't be for a little while).  I enjoyed the process of looking for matches, choosing whether or not to merge them, and basically cleaning up some oddities (I found one of my set of direct Irish ancestors, not in the Smith line, that had been entered using Italian first names!  Very strange!). 

Now on to my Mom's direct line, the Martins.  A very different geography from my Smiths.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Smith - Unified Trees

It's time to look at the options for unified trees.  I'll save the RootsMagic/FamilySearch sync for last.

First,  I entered my Smiths, and when I got to great-great-grandfather James Smith, I was told that there were 40 possible matches.  I then entered additional data (a date and location of death), and the number dropped to 20.  However, in order to see those, I would need to be a Geni member. So I'll hold off on that for another future date.

Next up, WeRelate.  I first searched for each of my Smiths to see if they were already there.  None appeared to match, so I began the process of adding them.  It took me a few minutes to master the system of adding pages to the wiki structure, but eventually I was able to add my Smith line and come to a reasonable conclusion that these individuals were not already in the WeRelate tree.

I next went to WikiTree, where I had some time ago entered my own name, my father's, and my grandfather's.  I now focused on adding Charles Henry Smith and James Smith.  First, I searched for Charles Henry Smith (basically, anyone with a real birth year within 2 years of my great-grandfather), and there were no matches that would have been him.  I did the same for James Smith, and again, didn't see any obvious matches.

Finally, I created a new, empty tree in RootsMagic, and then downloaded 10 generations from my tree in FamilySearch.  There was an error message at one point, but it appears that it successfully pulled down a copy of my tree.  I went back to the tree on FamilySearch that I had worked with previously, where I had entered all of the direct-line Smiths, and had processed possible duplicates.  That left my immigrant ancestor, James Smith, with 15 possible duplicates.  So my remaining task before I leave the Smiths is to work down that list and merge my James Smith with duplicate men. Update: I reviewed all the possible matches and determined that conflicting information or insufficient information could not justify any matches.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Smith - Personal Trees

It seems appropriate to begin the experiment with my Smith line, since here we are the day before St. Patrick's Day, and my immigrant Smith ancestor was from Ireland.  I've previously written about these Smiths just last August.

So we begin with the personal trees.  I entered my known Smith line into MyHeritage, and synced it with my copy of Family Tree Builder 7.  So far, I'm the only one who has viewed my MyHeritage tree, and I don't yet have any Smart Matches™.

Then I turned my attention to (with the intent to sync to Family Tree Maker 3 for Mac).  While entering the data for my father, George Thomas Smith, I saw two public trees that gave an incorrect county name for his death.  So I have emailed the two people who had the incorrect data (I assume that one got it from the other).  As I reviewed the hints for Dad, I saw one referring to an obituary.  But the name of the paper listed at the top of Ancestry's screen was incorrect.  The obituary was clearly from the Greenville (SC) News, not from a newspaper in Massachusetts.  How odd!

Adding my grandfather, William Henry Smith, resulted in 6 hints from public trees.  These all had information that I already had, but I left them for now as people I might want to contact.  As I reviewed the other hints, I saw the one for him in the 1910 census.  Interestingly enough, it had an incorrect middle initial for him (L instead of H), but it was clearly the right family. 

With great-grandfather Charles Henry Smith, there were 9 hints.  One was for a hint from 10 public trees.  Again, I left these for a later date (one had what appeared to be an incorrect mother's name).  One of the things that I noticed is that the baptisms for the Irish Catholic church in Newark had been added to Ancestry, which I had previously viewed on microfilm some years ago when I was at the Family History Library. 

Finally, I added James Smith, but so far, no hints were forthcoming.   UPDATE: 2 hints were eventually suggested.  One was the usual from public trees (I won't bother mentioning those in the future).  The other was a New Jersey death and burial index, which actually gave a more precise date for the death of James (15 November instead of just November).  I then went over to FamilySearch to see the records on that.  I may have to find out if I can get a source for that particular date beyond the indexed film.

Having added all my known Smiths in the direct line, I then downloaded the to Family Tree Maker and linked it.  So far, no particular problems.

It is time to move to the unified tree options.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Summary of the experimental tools and process

Although this repeats some content from the previous posting, it is worth summarizing the tools I plan to use to run this experiment.   They are:

Personal trees:
  • Family Tree Builder 7.0 (running on a Mac under CrossOver), synced with MyHeritage
  • Family Tree Maker 3 for Mac, synced with (public tree)
Universal trees:
  • RootsMagic 6 (running on a Mac under CrossOver), synced with FamilySearch Family Tree
  • WeRelate
  • WikiTree
To make this a manageable process, I plan to use only my direct ancestry, and only for those individuals for whom I have sufficient source documents that I can attach.

I also plan to focus on one surname at a time, in Ahnentafel number order.  

A genealogy experiment involving public trees

In the past few years I've read numerous debates on the topic of whether one should have one's genealogical tree available to others as a public tree, or hidden away (discoverable only in the sense that it exists but one does not share the details in a public manner) as a private tree. 

As with many debates, it is not either/or, since one can have both.  This would make sense if one considers the public tree to represent research work that you feel is sufficiently sourced and argued, while the private tree represents a work in progress that is not quite ready for prime time.  In any event, this posting, and the related postings that will follow, are not really about that particular debate.  If anything, these postings will be about a very different debate, namely, the experience of having a personal tree (a standalone tree that either you alone can edit, or only a limited number of people chosen by you can edit), or of participating in a unified tree (a single, shared tree that can be edited by anyone in the world, much like a typical wiki).

Before it became reality, I made some predictions on the Genealogy Guys Podcast that it was only a matter of time before we saw a company link its online trees (providing access to others) with desktop-based software (personal editing). was in a position to do this since it had both its website for hosting trees and its Family Tree Maker software for desktop editing.  In 2013, FamilySearch certified a number of software programs for synchronizing data with the tree on FamilySearch, including one that I was already using, RootsMagic (on a Mac under CrossOver).  MyHeritage is now offering this via a sync to its Family Tree Builder software.  [Note: Is anyone successfully running Family Tree Builder under CrossOver?]

In addition to the personal trees on and MyHeritage, and the unified tree on FamilySearch, there are other sites that provide for unified trees. (owned by MyHeritage since November 2012) provides such a tree, so there you have an example of a company providing both options.  WeRelate (at hosts a unified tree using a wiki model, as does WikiTree (at 

Which brings us to the experiment: What would happen if I began to enter my direct ancestral lines, fully sourced, into each online tree?  Who (if anyone) would contact me?  Whose other trees would I encounter in the unified model, and how would we resolve conflicts?  And how can I actually do this experiment in an orderly fashion so that it doesn't get too crazy? 

Stay tuned.