Archive for August, 2011

APG Events at the FGS Conference

The 2011 national conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be held in Springfield, Illinois, next week, from 7 September through 11 September 2011. For more information, visit

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has scheduled several events to take place at the FGS Conference:

  • Tuesday, September 6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Annual Meeting & Roundtable. Rendezvous Room, Hilton Hotel. J. Mark Lowe, moderator of group discussion, “Those Difficult Situations…how do I come out smelling like a rose?”
  • Friday, September 9, 8:15-noon, APG Board meeting. Plaza 3, Hilton Hotel. APG members are welcome. Please let Kathleen Hinckley know if you plan to attend so seating can be arranged.
  • Friday, September 9, 12:15–2:00 p.m., APG Luncheon and Awards Presentations. Luncheon presentation by Kenyatta D. Berry, “Discovering a Genealogical Treasure Trove with A.B. Caldwell.”
  • Friday, September 9, 2:00-3:00 p.m., APG PMC. “The Small Business Administration and the Transitional Genealogist” by Mary Clement Douglass.
  • Friday, September 9, 3:30-4:30 p.m., APG PMC. “Developing Genealogical Skills: Mentoring from Novice to Expert” by Melinde Lutz Sanborn.
  • Saturday, September 10, 8:00–10:30 a.m., PMC Workshop, “Think Like a Targeted Marketer: One Marketing Plan Does NOT Fit All” by Natasha Crain.

Updated on 9/5/2011:

When the initial message was sent, one event was inadvertently omitted from the schedule of events:

  • Friday, September 9, 5:00 p.m., PMC presentation, “Apps Galore for the Professional Genealogist” by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG.

The blend of genealogy and history: the future of both?

Not too long ago I was reading the book The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925by Herbert Gutman (New York: Random House, 1976). This book is considered a standard in the field of the study of enslaved families, though it also has many opponents.

Reading the book through the eyes of a genealogist who specializes in the study of enslaved families, I was struck by a weakness in Gutman’s methodology. While he does indeed utilize a wide variety of record groups, making the greatest use of Freedmen’s Bureau records and manuscript plantation records, Gutman only uses a single record group for any individual slave or group of slaves. As a genealogist we know that we must examine all relevant records in order to come to a genealogical conclusion. Gutman’s conclusions about the families he discusses should have been bolstered through the use of federal census enumerations, tax lists, probate records, and the combination of deeds and maps. Yet he does not use these records and his identifications of enslaved families suffer because of this negligence.

But the bottom line for Gutman was not how specific slaves were related. His identification of the relationships between various slaves served only to demonstrate the truth of his conclusions. This is the difference between historians and genealogists. For the genealogist, the identification of an individual or specific relationships among various individuals are the conclusions we seek. For the historian, these identifications are the evidence upon which their conclusions are formed. The conclusions are much more generalized. Gutman believed that “enslaved families did this” while his detractors and opponents believe that “enslaved families did that.” Whether these conclusions are true for a specific family is beside the point.

I read quite a bit of historical research to improve my genealogical research. Books, journal articles, and dissertations all express the latest thoughts of this or that historian. I appreciate these perspectives because they help me blend my genealogical research methodologies with more generalized historical research methodologies.

Understanding the generalities can provide significant insight into the families I am researching. Did they behave in a manner common to others of their background in that location during that time period? Or were they “odd men out”? This may help to explain and identify their actions throughout their lives.

This is just a single example of how historical research can inform genealogical research.

I began this essay by speaking of the weaknesses of Gutman’s study. Had his conclusions been based on a more methodological–and genealogical–study of the relevant evidence, rather than a select group of records, his conclusions would have been far more, well, conclusive.

This is a single example of how genealogical research can inform historical research.

I recently became aware of the work of Mark Auslander. Dr. Auslander is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, Washington.

In an interview concerning his book, The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family, Dr. Auslander described a research trail that will sound familiar to genealogists:

I had learned at the National Archives in Washington D.C. that Kitty’s second son was named Russell Nathan Boyd; might he have been named for his father I asked Tolstoy, who purred approvingly.  So I called up Freedman’s Savings Bank records on, and lo and behold, there was a “Nathan Boyd,” opening a bank account in Atlanta in 1871, listing as his wife “Catherine, Dead” and as his eldest son, “Alfred Boyd.”  That led me and my wife to Keosauqua, Iowa, where Alfred had settled after the Civil War, and along the trail of African Methodist Episcopal churches he had pastored in the midwest, leading to the church in Rockford, Illinois where his great grandson Mr. Caldwell, an enormously kind man in his eighties, served as trustee.[1]

Dr. Auslander even used!

In another post, on his blog Cultural Productions, Dr. Auslander illustrates his philosophies on blending historical and genealogical research:

My recently completed book manuscript (The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of the American South) attempts to integrate restorative cemetery work and genealogical research–in a way that is linked to a single institution of higher learning, Emory University.[2]

I have not yet read The Accidental Slaveowner, but it has been placed at the top of my “to-read” list.

I would like to applaud Dr. Mark Auslander, and his recognition of the value that genealogical research can have for historians.


[1] Derek Krisoff, “Mark Auslander interviewed about The Accidental Slave Owner,” in Mark Auslander’s The Accidental Slaveowner Blog, posted on 1 August 2011 ( : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

[2] Mark Auslander, “Slavery and Academic Reparations,” Cultural Productions blog, posted 4 Sep 2010 ( : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

Turning your genealogy hobby into a career

Every professional genealogist I have ever met started out by researching their own family. I did. The most difficult part of becoming a professional is the transition – making the decision to turn your beloved hobby into a career.

Last week, I read an absolutely enlightening article about this very subject on the American Express Open Forum website. This website is highly recommended for all those considering entering the world of small business. In “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” Rebecca Thebault considers some of the factors that should affect your decision. Ms. Thebault describes her transition from investment banking into a career as the owner of a bakery–something she loved to do!

Ms. Thebault recommends the following four questions:

“1. Are you realistic about what you’ll gain?”

Ms. Thebault recounts the story of returning to work days–not weeks or months–after delivering a child. I often joke about never sleeping. (Well, it’s kind of a joke.) Being “your own boss” is not easy. It is often not very fun. And you have to make all of the hard decisions yourself. As a small business owner, you will be 100% responsible for the success or failure of your business.

Another recommendation Ms. Thebault makes under this heading is to “Be realistic about how much time it will take to achieve your goals.” When I made the transition into the career as a full-time professional genealogist, I had enough money saved to pay my bills for several months. I barely made it. It is vital that you keep in mind just how long it may be before your business can support your goals.

I would also add that you have to think about what you’ll lose. I live 20 minutes from the beach, and though my wife and daughter go swimming at least once or twice a week in the summer months, I have not been swimming in over five years. I miss birthday parties, barbecues, and other social events on a regular basis. My top priority is keeping the business afloat, not having fun.

“2. Are you ready to start at the bottom?”

“You may be extremely good at your hobby, but when people start paying you for it, you’re subject to a new set of standards,” Ms. Thebault writes. This is an important distinction.

You may be great at researching your own family, but can you do the same thing when you no longer have access to the same “family knowledge” of recurring given names, oral history, photo albums, and “stuff Grandma told you”?

Do you know about the Genealogical Proof Standard and other accepted genealogical research standards?

Do you already know how to write a professional research report of your findings?

Create an educational plan. It is important that you continue to raise your own standards up to that of other professionals. This is done through continuous education.

You will want to join the Association of Professional Genealogists. You may also want to consider accreditation through ICAPGen or certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

When you first begin to take clients, no one will know who you are. You will not have a reputation. It is your responsibility to change these facts.

“3. Do you really want your hobby to become your job?”

Ms. Thebault notes, “Hobbies are typically things you enjoy as a distraction from work, so what happens when your hobby is work? Will it make you enjoy your work more or your hobby less? Chances are it will lead to a little bit of both.” I couldn’t say it any better.

I must also add that I no longer have the time for a hobby. All of my time is spent researching other people’s families, not my own. So if you are passionate about researching your own family, you may want to reconsider whether or not becoming a professional is right for you. I love the hunt, the problem-solving aspect of genealogy, even if that family is not my own. I would love to be able to apply my education and experience to my own family. And hopefully I will later be able to do so – I just don’t have the time now.

“4. Are you prepared for an emotional roller coaster?”

Running any small business will have its highs and lows — and the more you love what you are doing, the more emotional these highs and lows will be.

I would recommend that anyone thinking of turning your hobby into a career read this article, and then consider long and hard whether this is really what you want.

SOURCE: Rebecca Thebault, “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” in American Express Open Forum blog, posted 18 August 2011 ( : accessed 2011).

When the weather is bad…

I was evacuated from the Maryland State Archives during a 5.8 earthquake on Tuesday. I had to go back to the Archives on Thursday to pick up my belongings from the locker, and then return home to tornado warnings. As I write this from my home in Delaware, I am waiting for the worst of Hurricane Irene to arrive and praying for it to move past quickly.

Some week.

Thinking about the past, I wonder what extreme weather may have affected my ancestors’ lives. The website GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives collects and compiles weather and accident-related events of the past.

Back in August 1884, an earthquake was felt from Baltimore up to Maine. Certainly my ancestors in the counties surrounding Albany, New York, felt it. According to the newspaper report transcribed on the GenDisasters site,

Last Sunday afternoon there was an earthquake shock in this country, which was felt as far south as Washington and as far north a Maine, and in the intervening territory.  In Baltimore the sensation was as a wavy tremor.  It was not near as pronounced as elsewhere, but was sufficient, in a number of cases, to arouse people form their afternoon naps, crack plaster, slam doors and toss furniture about.  From other parts of Maryland there are reports of similar character.  No one was hurt but the shock occasioned considerable excitement. … [1]

More recently, in September 1944, there was another hurricane wreaked havoc up and down the Atlantic coast. Among the news reported on GenDisasters:

Winds up to ninety miles an hour battering the Atlantic Coast last night as a severe hurricane sped toward New England forced many seaside residents to flee for safety, dashed a 250-foot freighter upon the shore and caused widespread damage.

The ninety-mile-an-hour reading was recorded at the Coast Guard station at Manasquan, N. J., about eight miles south of the resort city of Asbury Park. Winds as high as 83 miles an hour were recorded earlier on the Virginia coast.

Water five to six feet deep, all from rain, blocked highways in the vicinity of Hicksville, a Long Island community in an area hard hit by the famous hurricane of 1938. …

The Homestead restaurant on the Ocean Grove, N. J. boardwalk near Asbury Park, was washed into the sea. The restaurant had a capacity of 300 persons, but was believed to have been unoccupied when it was destroyed.

A pier was reported washed out at Asbury Park, but details were unavailable.

Many residents of Fire Island, off Long Island’s south shore fled their homes Wednesday. Four large Long Island airplane plants halted operations last night. …

Gov. LEVERETT SALTONSTALL of Massachusetts broadcast an appeal to shore dwellers to leave their homes for safer places and Rhode Island state police issued a similar warning.

Two vessels described as coal barges ran aground at Rehoboth Beach, Del., and were being battered by a severe gale. Whether crews were aboard was undetermined.

Power and telephone lines were downed in some areas.

In Atlantic City, N. J., the weather bureau reported wind velocity of 65 miles an hour. A report stated Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier was split in half by mountainous waves, the Heinz Pier had been washed away and parts of the million dollar pier have been destroyed.[2]

The reports sound familiar on both accounts to what I have been listening to over the last five days.

The GenDisasters website can be browsed by disaster, by state, or by year. Within in each state, you can browse by disaster, to find, for example, an earthquake in Maryland or a hurricane in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, you cannot browse each state by town or county–which would be an easier way to locate information relevant to a particular area–or browse each state by year. When browsing the results also do not appear in any chronological order by disaster, so you often have to move through dozens of pages of disasters in no particular order.

There is a Google search box that can be used to search for specific place names or surnames. This can ease the search process significantly.

GenDisasters is a unique site. No other single site offers this sort of information for locations around the United States. The only other way to locate this information (and not a bad idea for thorough researchers) is to manually search through historic newspaper collections. Using GenDisasters, this process can be significantly shortened.


[1] Jenni Lanham, “East Coast Earthquake, Aug 1884,” on GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives, posted 27 Dec 2009 ( : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

[2] Stu Beitler, “East Coast, VA, DE, NJ, NY, MA, RI, CT  Hurricane,  Sept 1944,” on GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives, posted 31 Jul 2008 ( : accessed 27 Aug 2011).

Follow Friday: Litemind

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

This week I would like to highlight Litemind, written by Luciano Passuello.

The subtitle of this site is “Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently.” This line is what drew me in a few years ago. I am extremely interested in how the mind works, how people learn, and how to increase creativity and productivity. Litemind discusses all of these issues and others.

Luciano and I share some of the same interests in this area. Like myself, he also employs mindmaps as a way of incorporating visual (“right brain”) thinking with organizational (“left brain”) thinking.

Here are links to a few of my favorite articles:

While these are some of my favorites–and most of them introduced me to new concepts such as “lists of 100” and “E-Prime”–I can only conclude by stating that these are only a few of the many great articles on the site. I enjoy reading every single new article that Luciano writes. Many of them have directly assisted me in accomplishing my personal and professional goals.

I can offer no higher recommendation.

10 Lessons Learned from the “Other Side of the Microphone”

Before becoming a professional genealogist, I spent ten years as an audio-visual technician. As a frequent public speaker myself now, finding myself on the “other side of the microphone,” I try to apply what I learned in those years to my experiences now.

Working as an audio-visual technician in Washington, D. C., I saw many different speakers and presentations. I worked on contract at two major national corporations, as well as at the National Press Club, the Washington Convention Center, nearly every large hotel in the city, and several smaller companies. In the course of this work, I had the opportunity to set up and operate the audio-visual equipment for everything from national (and even international) conferences to small in-house presentations, including some events that aired on C-SPAN.

Though technicians are trained to accommodate each presenter individually, sometimes the presenter is so unprepared technologically that his presentation, and therefore the audience, suffers. Here, therefore, are ten tips (in no particular order) to optimize your presentation and take advantage of your equipment. Please note that these tips are more applicable to those speakers at large events with a dedicated audio-visual technician as opposed to smaller events where you have to do it yourself, but you may find them valuable even in these smaller events.

1. Let the technician know of all of your needs beforehand. Though most major events are handled by an event coordinator speaking with a sales representative, the needs for your presentation should always be carefully explained. The details will eventually filter down to the technician, who should have it all set up before you even arrive. Last-minute changes on your end may throw a wrench into the works. Some equipment requires an elaborate set-up “behind the scenes,” and some equipment may not be available without prior notice. If changes are necessary, let your coordinator, or the technician, know immediately.

2. Upgrade. Throw out those old 35mm slides and well-worked transparencies. Though many audio-visual departments may still own the old slide projectors or overhead projectors, they do not get used very often, and may not be in the best condition. These machines are disappearing from the market, and the number of companies that still service the machines is growing fewer and fewer each day. Both slides and transparencies can be easily converted to digital files, which you can show as a slideshow or upgrade to a PowerPoint presentation. These digital files have the added benefit of a long life. They will not degrade dramatically over time the way your slides and transparencies will. And the upgrade will also improve the audience’s perception of your presentation, from antiquated to cutting-edge!

3. Be specific. If you are doing a straightforward PowerPoint presentation, then feel free to say so. But if you have video or sound embedded in the presentation, let the technician know ahead of time. Don’t just say “PowerPoint.” Depending on the construction of the room or hall where you will be speaking, different set-up requirements may be necessary to accommodate audio or video from a laptop. If you require Internet access, also let the technician know. The audio-visual technician is not always the “go-to guy” when it comes to network access, meaning that a third party may have to be brought in to deliver on your needs. And in these cases, you should always test the website prior to the beginning of your presentation. You do not want to discover in the midst of your presentation that the site central to your theme is blocked by a firewall.

4. Show up early. If you are scheduled to speak at 10 a.m., be there by 9:30 a.m., at the latest. Even if you are not the first speaker, you should still plan to arrive prior to the beginning of the entire program. Often, this is the only opportunity you will have to express your audio-visual needs to the technician, who may be tied up with other presenters later in the day. If your needs can be expressed early, they may be prepared early, and the transition into your presentation will proceed much more smoothly, leaving the audience with a favorable impression.

5. PowerPoint Tip #1: Keep it simple. Microsoft PowerPoint has a lot of bells and whistles, and a dynamic presentation may use them. But you should also recognize that what looks great on a computer monitor does not always look great projected on a screen. You may have a vast spectrum of colors to work with for your background and text, but these do not always project well. Nor do text effects like shadowing and embossing, and fancy fonts. Keep it simple: Black text on a light background (or the reverse) shows up the best. If in doubt, try it out. Projectors are available at a relatively low price now. If you do a lot of presentations, this may be a worthwhile investment.

6. Create a script. Especially if your presentation has multiple parts or sections, a script should be provided. A script can be as loose and informal as a list of audio or video “cues,” or as detailed as a word-for-word copy of your presentation, with photos of the slides. However you want to do it, it will certainly improve the impression that you give to the audience, if you do not have to stop to say, “Raise the lights,” or “Next slide.” In coordinating specific cues with an in-room technician, you should be able to weave through your presentation effortlessly.

7. Be aware of your microphone, and project your voice. There are many different kinds of microphone, but most of them need you to talk in their general direction, at the least. I once worked at a national conference for a certain department of the federal government, where the keynote speaker pushed the microphone out of the way and spoke without it in a normal, conversational voice. In a large hotel ballroom. Needless to say, no one beyond the first two or three rows could hear a word he said. We technicians in the room tried every trick we knew to try to improve the situation, but there is only so much that can be done if the speaker refuses to mind the microphone – interrupting the keynote speech to explain this to him was simply not an option! But even if you are using a microphone correctly (and your in-room tech should make sure you do), you should still project your voice as well as you can. Do not yell, but speak loudly and clearly. This will ensure that what gets amplified throughout the room – that is, your voice – sounds as good as it possibly can.

8. PowerPoint Tip #2: You are the presentation. Remember this when designing your presentation. Do not put every word in your PowerPoint presentation. The audience came to see you, not your PowerPoint. When you have a lot of text on-screen, it distracts the audience from what you are saying. People cannot generally read and listen at the same time. And never, never use anything smaller than a size 16 font on a PowerPoint slide. Not only do small fonts usually mean that you are putting too much information on a slide, chances are that the text will be unreadable anyway. Some projectors cannot handle an ultra-high resolution, which means that small text could contain too much detail for the projector to display properly. Even with the best equipment, however, there will still be those in the audience with poor eyesight, and the only way to reach them is with large, bold lettering; they simply will not be able to see—or read—small text.

9. Sometimes it is better to address your own needs. For smaller devices, like a portable mouse and a laser pointer, it might be better to invest in your own. First, the cost of renting your equipment from the facility will be lower, in that these devices can be left off the list. But more importantly, you can practice using your own devices while practicing your presentation, rather than learning to use a new device (however simple) “on the fly.” Looking down at a portable mouse to locate the button that proceeds to the next slide, detracts from your overall effectiveness as a speaker.

10. Talk to your technician. You want yourself to look and sound good. You want this to be your technician’s goal, as well. Form a relationship with him, and you will be the one who benefits. After all, in today’s increasingly technological world, it is the technicians who can achieve this.

Ancestry Errors Wiki is picking up steam

Just a short note about the progress of the Ancestry Errors Wiki.

Since its creation on 1 August 2011, quite a few errors have have been added to the Wiki. There are now pages available for counties in ten states! While quite a few of the errors concern missing or misplaced locations in census enumerations, there are also entries for place names being misspelled and document pages being out of order, missing, etc.

If you have not already done so, please take a look at the Ancestry Errors Wiki. Explore a few of the pages to see if you have anything to add!

If you are aware of any database errors on any of the online sites–, (formerly, or other noncommercial sites–please feel free to create a page and write it up. Don’t worry if it is not perfectly written–there are editors on hand to help you out.

You can also post questions to me on this blog post, and I will try to help out.

Only with the help of the whole community can we turn this into a resource that will help all of us search more effectively!

The Ancestry Errors Wiki can be found at

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