Archive for January, 2012

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 29 January 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Judy G. Russell, The Legal Genealogist blog ( : accessed 23 January 2012).  I can’t recommend a single post on Judy’s blog. I have to simply recommend them all. Understanding the laws that created our records, and the meanings of the legal terms that appear in them, is an essential step in our understanding of the information we find in records. Judy, who has a law degree, discusses these and other legal issues vital to genealogists.

Dawn Watson, “More, Please!,” Genealogical Research: A Hobby or an Obsession? blog, posted 20 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). Dawn discusses how research is not just about “finding the records,” but about what the researcher does with those records–how the researcher looks at those records. This is a very important point that gets lost on many beginning genealogists (and sometimes forgotten by more experienced genealogists).

Judy Hynson, “One Slave’s Story,” Stratford Hall Projects Blog, posted 6 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). Judy is the Director of Research at Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee and familial home of the Lees of Virginia. This post is a response to a published story in the Detroit Free Press relating the oral history of an African-Canadian family that claims to be descended from an enslaved sister of Robert E. Lee (that is, the daughter of Robert E. Lee’s father and one of his female slaves). Judy discusses the records that relate to the slaves of Stratford Hall, in an attempt to discover the truth of the family’s oral history.

Susan Farrell Bankhead, CG, “The Proof Is In The Pudding: Citing The Source,” Susan’s Genealogy Blog, posted 12 January 2012 ( : accessed 27 January 2012). There are a lot of blog posts that touch on aspects of source citation. (Heck, I’ve written at least a dozen myself.) What is special about this one? The last section of the post discusses a common problem genealogists encounter: what do you do if you do not have direct evidence? I won’t reveal the answer – visit her blog to find out.

Daniel Hubbard, “The Path of Logic,” Personal Past Meditations blog, posted 8 January 2012 ( : accessed 27 January 2012). In this post, Hubbard discusses the logical–and often illogical (or more appropriately alogical)–paths that we take to discover the evidence that leads from our problem to our conclusion. A very good meditation on the nature of our research.

Robyn Smith, “A Strategy for Researching Freedmens Bureau Records,” Reclaiming Kin blog, posted 20 January 2012 ( : accessed 28 January 2012). Robyn has long been one of my favorite bloggers (and a close “real-life” friend. This blog post is an excellent example of why. Freedmen’s Bureau records are not widely available online, and there are few legitimate indexes–none of which are all-inclusive. Despite the difficulty of working with the records, there are no more useful records for researching African Americans during the Reconstruction era, ca. 1865-1875. In this post Robyn describes her strategy for using the record groups. Well done.


RootsTech Genealogy Idol — At least we won’t be singing

This coming Thursday, 2 February 2012, Legacy Family Tree’s Geoff Rasmussen will be hosting a session at RootsTech 2012 in Salt Lake City: “RootsTech Genealogy Idol.” According to the description on the RootsTech website,

Attend the first-ever RootsTech Genealogy Idol competition as four contestants – 2 live and 2 online – compete for your votes. In the three rounds of competition, contestants will demonstration their gen-tech expertise and try to woo you with their favorite gen-tech secrets. Everyone will learn – but only one will leave with the title of RootsTech Genealogy Idol. The competition will also be broadcast to a live webinar audience who will cast their votes live.

I am excited to have been selected as one of the four contestants. I will presenting remotely from my home in Delaware. The other contestants are Marian Pierre-Louis (one of my favorite fellow genealogy bloggers), who will also be presenting remotely from her home in Massachusetts; and two live presenters, Elyse Doerflinger of California, and Elizabeth Clark of Connecticut.

We will each be presenting three three-minute presentations on the following topics:

  • Round 1: Favorite Technology Tip
  • Round 2: Genealogy Serendipity story
  • Round 3: Technology website or blog

At the end of the final round, the audience–watching live in Salt Lake City and via webinar–will vote on which of us will become the first “RootsTech Genealogy Idol.” I am sure that the voting will be extremely competitive.

If you will not be at RootsTech, be sure to watch the competition from home. To register for the free webinar, visit

And be sure to vote for your favorite presentations!

See also:

Geoff Rasmussen, “Genealogy Idol Competition – finalists announced AND sign up to watch and vote,” Legacy News blog, posted 13 January 2012 ( : accessed 28 January 2012).

Marian Pierre-Louis, “Participate in the 1st Genealogy Idol Competition,” Marian’s Roots and Rambles blog, posted 19 January 2012 ( : accessed 28 January 2012).

Elyse Doerflinger, “Who Will Be The Next Genealogy Idol?,” Elyse’s Genealogy Blog, posted 13 January 2012 ( : accessed 28 January 2012).

Participating in a genealogy writers’ group

Writers in all genres traditionally use writers’ groups to help them become stronger writers. Writers’ groups can take many forms, from those that meet strictly online to those that meet in person and read their writing out loud. Whether you write short articles or novels, science fiction or poetry, a writers’ group offers support, criticism, and motivation to working writers.

Genealogists produce a lot of writing. Research reports. Narrative genealogies. “How-to” articles. Book reviews. Case studies. Blog posts. The list goes on. No matter what kind of writing you are working on, a writers group can offer the same support, criticism, and motivation to genealogists that it would offer to a science fiction novelist.

So how do you join a writers’ group?

The easiest way is to check your local genealogical society. Many active societies have special interest groups (SIGs) that focus on writing. Take a look at the following examples:

Does your genealogical society have a writers’ group or writing special interest group? If not, why not see if other members are interested in starting one?

Online writers’ groups are another option. Do you have a group of fellow genealogists that you correspond with on a regular basis? Whose opinions you respect? Even if you live on opposite sides of the country, you can still form a writers’ group.

When forming your own writers’ group, you will want to consider the following factors:

1. Who should you invite to join?

Writers’ groups, by definition, should be able to both offer and accept constructive criticism of their work.

If any member gets offended by constructive criticism, no one will be able to be honest, and the group as a whole will suffer. On the other hand, if any member is unwilling to give a “brutally honest” critique, then what you have is a cheerleading squad, not a writers’ group.

For this reason, it is very important that you have a good relationship with everyone in your group. No one can allow their feelings to get hurt. At its best, a writers’ group should offer the same level of criticism as the editor who makes the decision whether or not to publish your article when you submit it. Believe me, they do not care whether they hurt your feelings. Editors just want to publish the best writing possible.

And of course, how many members will you have? Will you accept new members if they come along? What are the limits? You have to establish this up front, or you could easily find yourself spending all your time critiquing others’ work, and no time doing your own writing.

2. How will you meet and offer feedback?

If you can’t meet in person, how will you share submissions? By email, with a dedicated shared DropBox folder, or another option?

Will you use Facebook? Twitter? Windows Live chat? Skype? Google+ Hangouts? A private mailing list?

Will you meet monthly for an hour? More than an hour? Less often or more often? Do you even need to all meet at the same time, or can members just post their writing and critiques online whenever they are ready?

Will you have a moderator or coordinator? Will you have set deadlines for submissions and critiques?

In other words, if you are setting up a writers’ group online, you have to consider the logistics. Not just those dealing with the schedules of the individual members, but also those dealing with the technology that you will use to facilitate the group.

3. What are your writing goals?

Do you want help writing a narrative family history that you will self-publish for your family? Or do you write numerous articles for magazines? It is important that you establish your own writing goals before endeavoring to join or start your own writers’ group.

Writers’ groups will help you with the moral support that you need to keep yourself motivated, to improve the quality of your writing, and to reach your writing goals. But that can only happen if you know what your goals are.

These are just a few tips for those among us who write about genealogy.

For more information on writers’ groups, from writers in other genres, read the following articles:

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, “7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group – Writing Alone, Writing Together,” Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog, posted 14 May 2009 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Seth M. Baker, “How NOT to Start a Writers’ Group,” HappenChance blog, post not dated ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Lisa Gates, “How to Start a Writing Critique Group,” Stepcase Lifehack blog, posted 4 March 2009[?] ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Chuck Sambuchino, “7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting A Writers Group,” Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog, in Writers Digest, posted 16 July 2010 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

Kristen Lamb, “Can Critique Groups Do More Harm than Good?,” Kristen Lamb’s Blog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Participating in a genealogy writers’ group,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 24 January 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 22 January 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Kris Hocker, “How to Use the Online Land Records at the PA State Archives,” /genealogy blog, posted 3 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). Kris provides extremely useful information about accessing the warrants, surveys, patents, and other land records that have been digitized by the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Marian Pierre-Louis, “APG Membership Becomes More Valuable,” Marian’s Roots and Rambles blog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). The Association of Professional Genealogists is the only organization supporting genealogy as a profession in the United States. So far in 2012, several new programs sponsored by the APG have already been introduced. As Marian states, APG membership is definitely becoming more valuable.

Barbara Matthews, “Three adjectives to be used with the word genealogist,” The Demanding Genealogist blog, posted 15 November 2011 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). This blog helps to clear up some of the confusion over terminology used for genealogists themselves. Instead of making the primary distinction “hobbyist” vs. “professional,” Barbara promotes the use of “avocational” for those genealogists who do not get paid, “professional” for those who do get paid, and “scholarly” for those who produce quality research–regardless of whether one does or does not get paid. Fantastic post!

The Geneabrarian [pseudonym], “Eliminating the Hobby from Genealogy,” The Geneabrarian Reference Desk blog, posted 6 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012).  This is one of the most important posts I have read in some time. The Geneabrarian observes that the characterization of genealogical research as “just a hobby,” is detrimental to the perception of the field. This can actually hurt us tremendously when it comes to library funding and records access. Whether you are a professional genealogist or an avocational genealogist, we must stop calling genealogy a hobby!

The Geneabrarian [pseudonym], “In Defense of the Field: The Study of Genealogy Does Matter,” The Geneabrarian Reference Desk blog, posted 13 January 2012 ( : accessed 21 January 2012). The Geneabrarian follows up the post mentioned above with this one: another step toward improving the perception of genealogy and genealogists. She draws upon her experience as a trained librarian and archivist, as well as a lifelong genealogical researcher.

Please feel free to add links to other notable blog posts in the comments of this post.


Registration for the Forensic Genealogy Institute now open

Today, 21 January 2012, the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy has announced the creation of the Forensic Genealogy Institute.

According to the CAFG website, the Institute “offers twenty hours of significant hands-on instruction with real-world work examples, resources, sample forms and work materials.” This will be an advanced course designed for professional genealogists, taught by working, experienced forensic genealogists. The instructors include Michael Ramage, J.D., CG; Kelvin L. Meyers; Leslie Brinkley Lawson; Dee Dee King, CG; and teaching assistant Catherine W. Desmarais, M.Ed., CG. Special guest instructors may also be announced.

For professional genealogists interested in exploring the field of forensic genealogy, or simply interested in expanding their set of research skills, the Forensic Genealogy Institute should help fill this need. To my knowledge, no other organization offers an advanced course focusing solely on forensic genealogy.

The Forensic Genealogy Institute will be held from 25-27 October 2012, at the Wyndham Dallas Love Field Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Registration is limited to 25 participants, and is now open.

For more information, read the official press release here, or visit the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy website here.

Reconciling conflicting information

The fourth precept of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.”

For many genealogists, who struggle with some of the more difficult research concepts, conflicting information poses a particularly tricky situation. Conflicting information is inevitable, especially when we have truly conducted a “reasonably exhaustive” search for records.

When records disagree, how can we possibly discover the truth?

The most important skill that we develop as genealogists is the skill of analysis. Genealogy research is far more than just finding the records. Once we have found the records we must determine what relevant information each record holds, and how reliable that information is.

Some of the questions that we must ask ourselves, when faced with conflicting information, are:

  • Who provided the information?
  • What was the level of participation of the informant in the event being reported?
  • What was the level of understanding of the informant in the event being reported?
  • How long removed was the creation of the record from the event being reported?
  • Did any bias or external pressure exist that may have caused the informant to intentionally report inaccurate information? (I know, none of us want to believe that our ancestors would have lied, but sometimes there were “good reasons.”)

Based on your reasoned responses to these questions, regarding each record containing conflicting information, you should be able to determine that one report can be deemed most likely to be more accurate than the others.

An example of this process will follow in a subsequent post.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Reconciling conflicting information,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 January 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

APG Quarterly issues now online back to 2004

For members of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the members-only publication APG Quarterly is now available online in its entirety from its March 2004 issue through the current issue. Prior to this update, issues were only available from March 2008. These newly-digitized issues all appear in the “Members Only” section of the website, so members will have to log in to view them.

The APG Quarterly has consistently produced quality articles on both genealogical research issues and small business issues. Also lying in the Members Only section is a full index to all articles published in the Quarterly since 1979, in PDF format. I would highly recommend all members to review this index. Among the articles printed in the 2004-2007 issues now available are:

  • Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, “The Road Less Traveled: The Power of Indirect Evidence,” APG Quarterly 20 (March 2005): 21-26.
  • Sharon Tate Moody, CG, “Shades of Gray: A Look at the APG Code of Ethics,” APG Quarterly 20 (December 2005): 161-164.
  • Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, CG, “Citing Your Sources[^1],” APG Quarterly 20 (December 2005): 165-166.
  • Maureen A. Taylor, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Self-employment has it all,” APG Quarterly 21 (March 2006): 39-40.
  • Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, CG, “Problematic Words: The Ones that Come off Bad. Or is it Badly?,” APG Quarterly 21 (September 2006): 119-120.
  • Maureen A. Taylor, “Putting on Your Best Face: Dealing with a Professional Photo Request,” APG Quarterly 22 (September 2007): 145-146.

This is just a small sampling of the many, many articles that APGQ has published of benefit to professional genealogists. These few articles cover running a business, writing, research, and business ethics.

If you are a member, spare yourself a few minutes to review these new issues. Your business will certainly thank you!

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