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!