Being A Good Genealogy Ambassador

Sometimes, things just don’t go our way when we try to get our research done. Other times, not only are they not going our way, they’re definitely going against us. It’s easy to get frustrated when a clerk tells us that a particular record doesn’t exist when we know it does, when the one volume we drove half a day to use is “out being rebound”, or when we simply run into someone having a bad day and looking to pass it on to someone else. But it’s precisely those moments of adversity that allow us to make the best impression.

On one particular research trip, the man sitting at the next microfilm reader over from me was photographing the film. The rules clearly stated that you could take photos but you had to pay an additional (and rather ridiculous) fee to do so. He obviously hadn’t read them. The librarian came over to tell the man that he couldn’t take pictures unless he paid the fee. I can’t imagine while crossing the library to shut this guy down, that she thought it would go well. It didn’t. Have you ever seen Bill Cosby’s Himself – the part describing his wife having a conniption? That was this guy.

She got exactly the reaction she probably expected. In the end, everyone was aggravated  and each of their spouses probably got a lengthy, expletive-laced description of the encounter as soon as they got home. But what if – what if – in that moment when his free photographic world came crashing down around his ears, the guy apologized profusely and thanked her for pointing out the rules he forgot to read. You know she would not have expected THAT. He wouldn’t even have had to pay the fee – just apologize, thank her, and stop taking pictures. How much better of an opinion of genealogists would that librarian have than she probably does now? How much more likely would she be willing to help the next genealogist rather than simply endure him or her. While it’s not easy, and unfortunately, we all have our moments, I think it is important to bear in mind that we are all ambassadors of genealogy each time we walk though the library, courthouse, or archive doors.

I’m not trying to toot my own here, but I feel pretty strongly about representing the hobby and profession well. Recently I had to stop myself from creating one of “those moments.” In the past, I had gotten copies from a particular county recorder by ordering all the filmed deed indexes, and then getting copies of the deeds from the county recorder themselves once I had the volume/page references. It was cheaper and faster than ordering a zillion rolls of film. It cost me $1 per page and I had them within a week.

So this week, when I needed some more deeds from that county, I hopped on my email, fired off the list of deeds I needed, and waited breathlessly to find out how cheaply I was going to solve all my ancestral mysteries. The answer rather surprised me. If I wanted to pick the copies up in person, it was $28. The office was about 8 hours away, which made it a little unlikely I was going to jump in the car to do that. However they would mail them to me for an additional $28. As you might imagine my initial reaction was something like “ARE YOU KIDDING  #$%#$% ME? $28 TO PUT THEM IN AN  %^$%@! ENVELOPE?!

But I waited a day, until I was more calm, to respond. While I still felt (and still feel) that it is a ridiculous policy, it IS their policy. Me going gonzo in an email isn’t going to help that, and would probably have the opposite effect.  So I sucked it up. Here is the slightly edited, names-changed-to-protect-the-innocent-version. Though it probably doesn’t whether they were or not, the nice things I said are actually true:

“Thank you for your response. I am in Cleveland, Ohio, which would be kind of a long commute to pick them up :)
I don’t remember such a large charge for mailing, but it has probably been 5 or 6 years since I have gotten copies this way. If that’s correct, at $2/page, it would be less expensive to work from LDS microfilm.

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to look up the deeds for me, and hopefully I will get a chance to make another visit to [YOUR OFFICE] this summer. [YOUR] Recorder’s office is definitely one of the nicest county offices I’ve worked in, and I love going there!”

Here is the response I received back from this message:

“Mr. Staats,
It certainly would be a long commute, but we would be happy to have you! Our current charge is $2.00 per page for mail copies. Please visit us if you ever come to [OUR STATE].
I think our office is a nice office, as well. Thank you for the compliment. Have a great day and maybe our paths will cross one day.”

I think I made the right decision.

Looks like I better get to the FHC catalog and order some deed microfilm (DO YOU KNOW THOSE ^&#$%*#  FLIPPING THINGS WENT ALL THE WAY UP TO *#$&#$&!* $7.50??!!!)

Please comment below. I’d love for you to share how you were able to be a good genealogy ambassador.

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 5 Comments

Ohio University No Longer an Ohio Local Records Repository?

In Ohio, there are several designated repositories for county records no longer in regular use. Each repository (such as the University of Akron, Wright State University, and others) are designated for a number of surrounding counties. Ohio University in Athens, Ohio was the repository for several Southeastern Ohio counties.  While checking this evening to see what some of their holdings were, I found this message on their Special Collections page:

Notice: Removal of Local Government Records

The Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, working with the State Archives (Ohio Historical Society), is divesting its Local Government Records holdings. The Mahn Center is in the ongoing process of returning records to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, Ohio, as well as to other organizations.

Please note that Athens County will packets have been transferred to the Athens County Historical Society & Museum.

After consulting this list of local government records that have been in our holdings, please contact the Mahn Center before traveling to consult any of these records.

Thank you.

May 15, 2012

I’ll try and follow up, but does anyone know anything about this? Hopefully nothing disappears in the process.

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Guernsey County (Ohio) Map Department Online Resources

Those who do a lot of research in Guernsey County, may already be aware of this, but I recently discovered that the Guernsey County Map Department – an arm of the Auditor’s office – has digitized and placed online a number of maps that might be helpful in your Guernsey County property research. And I know you all are making property research a key piece of your research plan, right? (Hint: the correct answer is, “Yes, yes I am.”). Take a look around, and i hope you’ll find something of use in your searches.

The table below shows the maps currently on their site. Clicking on the links will take you directly to those pages.

 

I love this map of the towns of Centerville and Easton (click for larger size):

Cropped from the orignal at http://www.guernseycounty.org/mapdept/images/misc-1800-plats/PG_12.pdf

 

Most of us could probably figure out the complicated numbering scheme for the twenty or so lots in each town, but I appreciate the effort! Notice, however, (with the exception of the National Road) the widths of the streets and alleys shown here: 16.5, 33, and 66 feet. While those measurements may seem odd, they are the base measurements for almost every street you’ll find. It all comes back to surveying and the surveyor’s chain. 66 feet is one chain which is comprised of 100 links. Therefore, 33 feet is simply half a chain (50 links), and the seemingly ungainly measurement of 16.5 feet is a quarter chain (25 links).

The Gunther chain is quite a brilliant invention, and the simple fact of the matter is that our country was surveyed end to end, one chain at a time. For an in-depth history of Gunther’s chain and the surveying of America, I highly recommend, Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy, by Andros Linklater. If you’re a geek like me, you’ll love it!

Posted in How-To, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

1860 Constitutional Concerns of Benoni Staats

Timely that just a day after the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, I should sit down and start to transcribe letters written by my 3rd great uncle, Benoni Staats in the 1860s. In the first letter in the collection, Benoni focuses on his interpretation of the first article of the Constitution, and is asking for the opinion of his Congressional candidate on the issue. These letters are part of the Ephraim Cutler collection in Special Collections at the Marietta College Library. You never know where stuff is going to turn up. You’ll find all kinds of cool things in college libraries, so make sure that you investigate them in the areas you research.

Here is just a snippet of that first letter. A little enlightened for his time — especially living in the area that he did. Although a poor farmer most of his life, it is clear from his writing that he was quite well-educated.

Vincent,” Barlow township, W. Co. O. [Washington County, Ohio] Sept 17th/60 [1860]

To the Hon. Wm. P. Cutler – Sir, as you are a Candidate for Congress, and are now canvassing this district for that office, I design to have your opinion on the First Article of the Constitution (I have tried your predecessor in vain).  In the first place the Articles of Confederation existed and were in force until this Constitution was adopted by the requisite number of states; and in the Preamble to the Constitution it says, “We the people of the United States,” – now I contend that “people” means “persons,” that is to say “we the persons of the U States.”

Thus, the Preamble to the Constitution, denominates the people of the U States thereafter as “persons,” and nowhere denominates them as property of the U States, nor does it anywhere say “We the property of the U States.” Now Sir, from these deductions, it is plain that these U States are composed of “persons” and not “property” and the three fifths clause which is said to relate to slaves and free colored persons, they are still denominated “persons” and not “property”— and as such are numbered by the U States Marshals for the Representation in Congress and are a part of “We the people of the U States.”1

This is just part of the first letter – an impassioned argument for the equality of “Indians and negroes.” There are five or six in the collection. Each are interesting, and I will post them as I can.

Letter from Benoni Staats to Congressional candidate ,William P. Cutler, 17 Sep 1860.

  1. Benoni Staats, Vincent, Barlow Twp., Washington County, Ohio, to William P. Cutler, letter, 17 Sep 1860, requests Mr. Cutler’s opinion on the First Article of the Constitution; Ephraim Cutler Collection, 1860, Sept 17 ; Marietta College Library Special Collections, Marietta Ohio. []
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One Weird Trick To Improve Your Online Networking Experience

Hello kids, I’m back and posting. Consider yourself warned. And, yes. The title of this post is taken from those bizarre ads you see online where “One weird trick” seems to exist to do everything you might be wanting to do.

Here’s my one weird networking tip:

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, oh my. There are so many online ways in which genealogists can meet and greet these days, it can be a confusing landscape. Each platform has its own terminology, etiquette, and challenges – friends, connections, followers, requests, introductions, and more. For non-techy folks, it may seem more trouble than it’s worth. Believe me, though, it is WELL worth the effort. One way to simplify things is to understand that networking online is really no different than networking in person. You just need to adapt the tools of each platform to do electronically what you would do in person.

One of the things I’ve noticed is an increase in the amount of blind connection requests I get from genealogists (and others, to be fair). On LinkedIn, this is a request from someone I don’t know, but can usually figure out that they are somehow connected to genealogy. All that’s included in the request is the boilerplate “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” On Facebook, this is the default way to “friend” someone, as there’s no way to send a message directly with your request. If I see you are a genealogist, or we have common genealogy friends, I usually accept the request.

However, on both LinkedIn and Facebook, I think you will have much more success building your network, and the quality of that network will be greater, if you personalize each request. We have reasons that we want to connect with someone. We need to tell them what they are; whether it’s because you might want to hire them, they share a specialty with you or have a specialty you might need down the road, or maybe you are just looking to expand your network. Say that. While Facebook doesn’t allow you to send a message with the friend request – send them a direct message to go along with it.

As part of the request, make some comments and ask some questions that go beyond “I’d like to add you” and the reasons. Open a discussion that allows you to get to know each other a little bit. I’ve probably gotten five or six connection requests on LinkedIn the last few days, and not one of them changed the standard “greeting.” In most of those cases, I haven’t communicated with them besides accepting the connection request. That connection is really doing neither is us any good. I kinda don’t like the term “networking.” What we are really doing is building relationships. I don’t want to amass a giant database of people. I want to know each of you that are in there – even if just a little bit.

You can connect with me using the buttons on the right of the page. I look forward to meeting you!

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

Long Time Gone: Mail Service In the 1830s

Heading off to work bright and early every Monday at 7am doesn’t sound so bad. Neither does heading home from work on a Friday evening. But when that Friday evening ride is the return leg of the Monday morning commute, it begins to sound a little less appealing. Throw in the fact that you’re either on horseback or on a horse-drawn cart, travelling the rough southeastern Ohio terrain, it’s 10 or less degrees outside, and you’re not exactly a spring chicken anymore- you can keep that job.

In order to keep the job, you first have to get the job, and that’s exactly what Benoni Staats tried to do in 18381. The route Benoni placed a bid for covered 146 miles one way – a daily route between Zanesville, Ohio and Maysville, Kentucky. The path of the route was then a part of Zane’s Trace, and is now Ohio Route 50.2

Page showing Benoni Staats’ bid for a post route in 1838.





What is unclear is the exact definition of daily. Was it five days? Six days? As the route description details, it would take a little over two days to get there and a little over two days to get back. Clearly, the contractors bidding would have to have several people in their employ to be able to deliver mail daily, so the amounts here are not even what they themselves would actually make. Given the fact that a number of people would be needed, it seems likely that a lot of these guys probably had agreements to work for whichever one of them won the bid.

Notice how John Yontz spit up his bid. The first and lowest price is for a two-horse wagon. When a four-horse coach gets thrown into the mix,  using a four-horse coach during the summer and fall months then switching back to a two-horse coach during the winter and spring, the price jumps. Add a few months in the four-horse coach, add a few thousand dollars. If the government prefers four-horse service all year, they’re going to pay through the nose for it. I assume that tells us something about the expected conditions of the road they traveled – and one wonders if the reason James Bryan failed is because of the larger rig.

What does that route look like on a map today? Below is a Google Map with all of the stops from the description marked:

Zanesville-to-Maysville mail route on a modern map.


Let’s be honest – that route would not be fun for very long in a car, let alone in a wagon or horseback. Rough roads, exposure to the elements, and who knows what else makes this a job for the hearty folks. At the time of this bid, Benoni was likely about 38 years old. He appears to have been involved in mail delivery through at least 1865 – at least as an advocate3 . Later, his grandnephew (my great grandfather), Wilbur Staats also delivered mail in the Summerfield area.4 It would be one tough way to make a living. So let’s tip our hats to all those rural mail carriers – both yesteryear and today.

  1. U.S. Congress, Executive documents: 13th congress, 2d session-49th congress, 1st session, H. Doc 220, “Abstract of Bids Under Advertisement of May 17, 1838…,” 229; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=3owFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=false: accessed 5 Aug 2012). []
  2. for general background information on Zane’s Trace, see: Beverly Whitaker, “Zane’s Trace,” article, Genealogy Tutor,  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/Zane.pdf: accessed 5 Aug 2012). []
  3. U.S. Congress, Journal of the House of Representatives Being the Second Sesson of the 38th Congress (1864-1865), 202; digital images, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/: accessed 5 Aug 2012).  []
  4. Roger Pickenpaugh, A History of Noble County, Ohio, 1887-1987 (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1988), 125. []
Posted in Family Findings, Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

One From the Photo Album: Will Deemer, Beaver Twp, Jefferson, PA

While not exactly wordless…or Wednesday, but:
I’ve always found this photo very compelling. I don’t know for sure where this was taken, although I assume it is in Beaver Twp, Jefferson, Pennsylvania. The subject is Will Deemer, b. abt 1868. I would guess this photo is in the 1920s, although it is literally a guess based on age. With the opening of PA’s death records, maybe I can finally get his death certificate to help date this photo a little better.

It’s one of those images that is not only full of emotion, but different emotions. Sometimes I look at it and it is so bleak and depressing, I can hardly stand to look at t for more than a few seconds. Other times, it is a story of survival in tough times. Still others, it’s not only about survival, but actually looking to take on adversity and beat it into submission.

He’s yet another in my tree that had no descendants (that I know of), so this is my way of keeping a small part of my 2nd great-granduncle alive.

Will Deemer. Taken, by estimation, in the 1920s, probably Beaver Twp, Jefferson, Pennsylvania

Posted in Family, Thoughts and Musings | 2 Comments

Family Lore: Is a Staats Family Mystery Documented In This Record?

Preface: While the evidence suggests a possible conclusion, more research is needed to confirm the family story and determine its validity. Another very good reason to write about this particular subject is because she left no descendants, and I feel the need to in some small way document the memory of those lives that might otherwise be lost over the course of time. Feel free to add your opinions on the case in a comment to the post.

Earlier this summer while visiting with my aunt, she asked whether I knew anything about a child that, according to a story she had heard, was left with my great great-grandparents and raised as their own. I had never heard anything about this and pretty much forgotten about it until today. I was updating the cover photo on my facebook page to a scan of the Dr. A. A. Staats family album page that recorded all of the children of this family.1 As I was playing with the photo in Photoshop to try and get the dimensions correct to display properly as the cover photo, I noticed something new about the entry for their daughter, Margaret Staats.

Margaret “Madge” Staats’ birth record shown below matches the date recorded in Noble County Probate Court. That county birth register lists the parents as A.A. Staats and Maggie Summers, although no name is given for the child despite the fact that A.A. Staats provided the information himself.2  Madge never married, and died in Columbus, Ohio on 1 Mar 1925 of heart failure at age 42. The informant on the death certificate was her uncle, E.L. Summers.3

First, when looking at the family record written in different hands, an effort is needed to try and determine who made which entry to better gauge when the original entry was likely written.

Family Record of A.A. Staats and Maggie Summers

Looking at the entries, you can see there are a number of different hands at work here. Comparing other sections of the album confirm that all of the original entries in the “Family Record” page, despite the differences in the “M”s, are written by Maggie (Summer) Staats. A close up comparison of the crossed out family entry with a signed narrative entry in 18924 show that the original entry was made by Maggie:

  • M: both start with a mid-line loop and have slightly smaller and narrower second humps
  • g: in both examples, the shape and slant are the same, and the first g ends rather than connecting to the second g
  • i and e: the shape, slant, and stoke of the letter combinations are identical


Signature comparison reveals that both entries are made by Maggie (Summers) Staats.


What about differences in those M‘s? Comparison of names from the family record with another marriage entry5 shows:

  • The M in the marriage entry shows the same Ms in the first two entries of the family record
  • Although the “Alexander” entry in the family record begins with a rounded A, the marriage entry As match the middle initial in the family entry.
  • The “Summers”, “Staats”, and overall hand are clearly the same. Comparing the family entries, signed narrative, and marriage entries together, it is clear that all are written by Maggie (Summers) Staats, although they were likely written at different times.:



Comparison of family record and marriage entry showing same hand and different formation of the “M”.





Is it possible that Alexander Staats had a similar hand and made some of the entries? Possible, but not very likely. Here is the title page which presumably features the hand of A.A. Staats, as he is gifting the book to Maggie. It also establishes the earliest date of the book as Christmas 1888.6

  • The “Maggie” does look similar, although th humps in the M are roughly equal, the g‘s connect, and the stroke of the ie combination is different.
  • The capital A and S and D are considerably different from those in the family register
  • The crossing of the t‘s in Staats is entirely different, as is the final s, which crosses over the beginning stroke here, whereas it doesn’t touch in the family entries.

Title page showing A.A. Staats handwriting





Looking back at the family record, the original entries were likely written by Maggie (Summers) Staats – probably near to the time the book was given to her, and likely before the signed 1892 entry used for the handwriting comparison. All of the other entries are written first name followed by the surname Staats. However, Maggie is listed as Maggie Mayood, with the Maggie later crossed out and Margaret written in a different hand, as well as what appears to be a third hand adding “[Staats” above the original entry.

As a doctor, A. A. Staats would have likely had a number of experiences delivering babies who needed a welcoming home. If in fact Maggie was one of those babies, and the family chose to raise her as one of their own, it would make sense that the county birth register reflect that decision. From that day forward, Maggie would be thought of as a true part of their family – one of their own children. Any information provided later by the family would also reflect that decision. But the family entry, written in the hand of the matriarch suggests, however subtly, the possibility that something was different about Maggie. Whether or not that’s true needs more investigation. Ultimately, it makes no real difference whether or not she was a blood child of the family, as she was clearly accepted and loved as one regardless.

Looks like yet another project has made its way into the queue.

 

 

  1. A.A. Staats and Margaret (Summers) Staats family album, ca. 1880-1930, “Family Record,” handwritten entries of birth and death dates, unpaginated; privately held by author, chris@staatsofohio.com, Euclid, Ohio, 2012. Entries after Margaret’s death in 1919 were likely written by her daughter, Violet (Staats) Reed, who had possession of the book. []
  2. Noble County, Ohio, Record of Births, 2:57, unnamed Staats (1882); Noble County Probate Court, Caldwell. []
  3. Ohio Department of Health, death certificate, no.14532 (1925), Margaret M. Staats; Ohio Dept. of Health, Columbus. []
  4. Staats family album, Maggie (Summers) Staats, signed entry noting the death of daughter Mina in 1892. []
  5. ibid., “Marriages,” first entry on page. []
  6. ibid., title page, dated 25 Dec 1888. []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 3 Comments

Losing my GRIP: Days 4 and 5

The tower bells tolled high noon, cars were loaded, and GRIP 2012 came to an end. But what a whirlwind week it was.

All of us blogging from GRIP missed posting about Day 4, at least as far as I know. After a difficult homework assignment Wednesday night followed by the fourth full day of classes, Thursday was definitely the low tide of student energy. Up to that point, we bloggers had done a pretty good job of balancing the grueling schedule with our need to write and inform. As homework assignments mounted and available neurons became scarce, we gave in and decided not to post on Thursday night.

Lest you think I am complaining, I certainly am not. I loved the challenge, although I have to admit a certain amount of frustration at not being able to easily solve the problems with which we were presented. But you know what? At breakfast each morning we would gather and discuss the previous assignment and it became clear we all shared that common feeling of frustration. It would be one thing if only one or two of us were confused, but here we were, a group of experienced (and certified, in some cases) genealogists all in the same boat. We all doubted ourselves. None of us were completely sure we had the right answers. Then we came together, talked, and realized that we struggled largely because we were presented with truly difficult problems. There were no easy or obvious answers. There were no neat and clean resolutions – no smoking gun. That was the beauty of Tom Jones’ class.

Thursday night, we all needed a little break, which was conveniently provided by Cathi Becker Weist Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, who threw a release party celebrating the publication of their first NGSQ article1. Four articles appear in this issue, and the authors of three of them happened to be present (Tom Jones and Karen Maurer Green being the other two). Where else does this happen? Not too many places, I would guess. A couple hours later, everyone was off to their rooms to tackle more homework.

Friday was a mixed bag of emotions for me. Although my brain was about full, it was also the last day before returning to the real world. We reviewed the homework, and despite the fact I could only find one of the two documents we needed, I felt better about this assignment and glad I ended the homework on a positive note. I really enjoyed Friday’s first class: Identifying female ancestors and techniques for finding common poor folks were the first session. By the second session on Friday, we had actually caught up to Friday! This session was the highlight for me. We learned different methods of correlating information and evidence: using tables to compare evidence, making time lines to sort out identity, and creating ordered lists to make things more understandable to your readers. It really helped open my eyes to different approaches that will certainly improve some of my current projects.

To this point, I’ve not quoted any of the syllabus material in my recaps, but the final 20-minutes of the last session focused on continuing your education as a genealogist. It featured one of the biggest take-aways of the week for me. As someone who writes and is really self-critical, I would never think of submitting something for publication that I didn’t deem completely perfect. That idea is wrong. Instead, Dr Jones encourages: “Don’t expect yourself to produce work the quality of what you see in print. Few people can do that on their own – most articles result from the work of a team of editors and readers working with an author.”2.

And so it ended. I learned more than I can easily summarize. I benefited not only from the knowledge of our instructors (who were without rival), but also from conversations with classmates. There are so many personal research projects I want to revisit with my new genealogy smarts. Many of us are on the BCG clock, or will be soon. Our conversations, along with input from BCG trustees, really helped clarify how we are going to approach our portfolios. I made some potential connections that will likely bring some business. And best of all I got to know some really great people, and know them better than if we had met at a conference. While you can probably meet MORE people at conferences, the institute experiences really enables you to get to know people a little BETTER.

In short – I loved it. I don’t know what next summer will hold for me personally, but I do know that Elissa Powell and Deb Deal have really created something special here – something top-notch. Take a look at next year’s schedule (go to Stone House Research  – GRIP’s site is not yet updated), and trust that if any of the courses interest you, you will be in for one awesome week in the genealogical bubble.

Goodbye ’till next year!

  1. Cathi Becker Weist Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, “Who Fathered Jacob and William Northamer: Pennsylvania Tax Records Help Determine Kinship,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (June 2012): 123-132. []
  2. Thomas Jones. “Continued Advancement,” Advanced Research Methods, prepared for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (July 2012): 3. []
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GRIP Day 3 (AKA, My 20th Anniversary)

I don’t know how you guys celebrate anniversaries, but I’m guessing there only a few of us fool-hardy enough to do it by leaving our spouses and heading to a genealogical institute for a week of intense learning. I’m lucky I found a good spouse…make that a great spouse, and really, I’m not just saying that so I won’t be beaten when I return home. Really.

Yet another rocking day here at GRIP. After a late night of homework and blogging, I was a little groggy this morning. When you need to jump right in and get going, starting off the day with Claire Bettag is a good thing. It also helps that we share a favorite topic – land records. Most of what I know is more at the deed level, so I really enjoyed learning more about federal land records – primarily original land entry files, but also bounty land and private land claims – all instruments by which land passed from the government to an individual, granting original title.

Because the government only holds records for the 30 federal land states, Claire said anyone who didn’t have any interest in those states could take a break or leave…ya, right. As if anyone was going to miss out on this gem. Interesting things learned included the fact that the indexes on the BLM-GLO website index both a preemption file and commuted Homestead file as a cash sale, and there is really no way to know until you order the file and see, Why is that important? If your ancestor was involved in one of those transactions, you can find lots of additional info such as marriage information, children, affidavits of the applicant as well as neighbors, and even naturalization records. I also learned I probably need to spend more money getting records from NARA. Don’t we all?

Next up was Tom Jones. How intense is the class? How much info is packed into it? Well, coming into today, we were still in the middle of Monday. Documentation and citing sources may not seem like an exciting topic, yet somehow it is. Often genealogists are told that we primarily cite sources so we can follow our trail backwards or so others can re-create our work. In reality, we do it so we can better understand the sources we use, and so that readers can assess the quality of our sources and decide for themselves the soundness of our research. Yet another gem of a quote from Tom in this lecture: “Placing two footnote numbers separated by a comma is like wearing a T-shirt that has ‘AMATUER’ [sic] written across the front – and it’s spelled wrong.” Classic.

We then raced through census and census-substitute strategies, finally making it to Tuesday morning by lunch on Wednesday. Lesson of the class: Genealogists often fail because they focus too narrowly rather than broadening their search geographically or chronologically, One of the examples from this session featured another quotable line: “This was not a very literate family, or a very sober one.”

After lunch, we were off to the races with Rick Sayre and Map Strategies – basically documenting resources and techniques for using maps in your research. You all probably know I’m a land geek, but I have much less experience with maps, so this was a good one for me. Many excellent resources were mentioned, including: the online map room at the Library of Congress, David Rumsey, USGS Map Store, as well as other sites like Historic Pittsburgh and Places In Time (Philadelphia). The summary seems a little short, but the demonstrations are something you’d want to have seen. Another great lecture and lecturer. I am hoping I can make it back to GRIP 2013 to take his land class.

Last, but certainly not least was Tom Jones again. We took on two presentations – Tax roll strategies and the beginning of the land records session. Again – especially to the non-genealogist – sounds like a pretty boring afternoon, but ohhhhh the stuff you can learn from tax records: estimates of birth, death, marriage; actual direct evidence of those things; and much, much more. Tax research can be tedious, but as Tom warns, the year you skip to save time is guaranteed to be the year in which the taxman noted your ancestor’s father’s name. We didn’t get too far into the second lecture about land – a topic near to my heart, but I agree with Tom’s assertion that land records are probably the most reliable genealogical record – although we all know that ALL records can lie to us.

The day ended with yet another Tom quote: “I know you all are dying to get to the homework…or just dying.”

And what a homework assignment it is, so I better get to it. I had to skip the evening lecture tonight to make sure I get some time in on the assignment. Too bad, as this was a two-hour presentation by Rick Sayre about Pennsylvania research and I would have loved to have heard it.

So long today from GRIP. See you all tomorrow!

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