A New FamilySearch Database Causes Me Genealogical Grief and Questioning

Most of you ( perhaps, “both of you” might be more correct) who regularly read my blog know that I am a bit of a goofball. If you happened upon this post via some random search terms, just understand this is so. For me,  like many who use the same mechanism, comedy is a defense.Those of us who are practitioners of the ridiculous find it far easier to be funny than serious. In fact it’s actually better, because most people who pride themselves on being very proper and dramatic make us giggle, and comedy makes them mad…so we win. However, despite my silly exterior, I am a very serious researcher. As such, I normally get all excited when new databases come online.  This was not necessarily the case with a recent addition to FamilySearch: “Ohio, Stark County Coroner’s Records, 1890-2002

Let me preface these thoughts/questions with some information. My father, Terry Lee Staats, who lived in North Canton, was killed in a car crash outside of town on 31 Oct 1971. The more astute among you will realize that was Halloween (it took me years to figure that out). If you are familiar with the area, it was basically at the intersection of Middlebranch and State Roads. My dad was the driver – two were killed, three injured. My dad was one of the killed.  I was only two, so I have no memory of him. I often  thought I did have one “memory,” but it could just as likely been a dream that later turned into a “memory.”

Upon first seeing the database, my thoughts were purely genealogical: “Awesome, I wonder if there is a file for Terry Lee Staats?” So I fired up the browser and looked at what was there. The actual case files only go to 1927, but the index is complete. And there he was, my father, Terry Lee Staats, in the coroner’s index. Was I ready to look at a coroner’s report? Was I ready to learn about what happens in cases of death by auto accident? As I pondered these questions, the thing that kept going through my mind is this: if this file had been about my 3rd great grand uncle, I wouldn’t have even hesitated to order it. I never knew my 3rd great grand uncle. I never knew my father. I never knew any of my clients’ families. So why would it be different? But somehow,  it is. I’m not ready to order this file.

I’ve always thought, or at least assumed, that one of the primary reasons I became interested in genealogy was that I never knew my father. But when it comes time to apply the methodology and thoroughness with my own father that I would use with a “regular” ancestor, I find myself struggling.

I can’t say for sure what the theme of this post even is, but I felt compelled to write it. It made me question some of the things I’ve dredged up about my ancestors, and whether or not I would have done so if I was more closely connected to them. I did an obit look up for a client today, and discovered I was a little uncomfortable using the section title  “Death Notices” in the citation. Is the quest for complete genealogical knowledge really that important? Did it matter that my father (or substitute YOUR ANCESTOR HERE) died by such and such a method, and what the circumstances were surrounding his death, contributing factors, etc?


My answer, after much mulling over, is: yes. Yes, it does matter. The devil is in the details, as they say. Those details will tell the story generalities don’t. And like it or not, it’s the truth, and isn’t that what we’re after as much as anything? (Records don’t lie, right? 

I guess the important thing is how we as genealogists (and descendants) treat that information. But I’m still not ready to order that case file.

Enjoyed Speaking, Would Do Again: My Analysis/Newbie Support Post

…and I didn’t even get the shepherd’s crook like performers sometimes do in the cartoons. Yesterday, I gave my very first genealogical presentation at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s Library in Bellville, Ohio. I’d like to thank Margaret Cheney for taking a chance on a newbie speaker such as myself. Hopefully, at the end of the presentation she was more inclined to pat herself on the back than slap herself on the forehead. Overall, I think for the first time out, it was a success. The presentation was an hour and half long, the topic: “Using Deeds In Your Genealogical Research.” Afterwards, I stayed and answered questions – both about deeds and general genealogical problems – for about forty-five minutes. I suppose that’s a sign of interest, right? Why am I writing this post? Because I must say, I was more nervous about this than anything in recent memory. Maybe the last time I changed an electrical outlet live, but probably not. I want to put this out there so that when someone else is thinking about, or getting ready to do this speaking thing and are as nervous as I was –  perhaps they’ll find this post, and be encouraged that things turned out okay, and provide some things to think about for their own situation. Here’s my breakdown of yesterday:

The Good

  1. No one asked me to leave, called me names, or threw anything at me…at least that I’m aware of.
  2. I actually seemed to have made almost all of the points that I wanted to make.
  3. After the first few minutes – basically once I made it through the introduction and remembered to breathe every now and then, I started to relax a little. Towards the end, I felt that I was starting to actually talk rather than regurgitate what I’d practiced.
  4. The material seemed geared to the appropriate level, and I did hear those precious words from a few people, “I learned something today.”
  5. I learned things, too: I learned about another county in Ohio that has online deed images, and I realized a new tip I should add to the presentation (that people can use their census records to help determine if their ancestor owned land)
  6. The Best: I included a list of all of the deed indexes and records in the handout that the OGS Library had listed in their catalog. As I was talking to the last few stragglers and putting the computer away, when an attendee came back into the room with a photocopy of deed she had gone into the library and made, and wanted to ask me a question about it. I thought it was pretty cool that she immediately went out to dig into these records, and it’s a nice thing that people are able to do that at a facility like OGS.

The Bad (and how I plan to fix or improve them):

  1. First, I never got around to making a critique form, so most of these comments are from my own perspective. (I think I will make one, duh.)
  2. Many of the things I had planned to try NOT to do, I still did. I said “umm” a little too much. Also, my presentation was example-heavy, so I ended up turning my back to the audience quite a bit to read the examples, or point out things in them. (It’s really hard to not do something to fill the space when you pause to remember the next point, but I need to be more aware that silence is okay. 1 second of real-time silence while you are speaking equates to 1 hour of “feels like” speaker-time. I need to figure out a way to better read and show the examples. The computer monitor is too small to try and read, so perhaps I need to print out all the text from the examples, so at least I am facing forwards. Given enough presentations, I could probably memorize all the examples.)
  3. Here’s something you don’t think about practicing at home: make sure your audience can see the screen. I didn’t think about it and set up the computer on the podium, which happened to be a spot that blocked the bottom center portion of the screen and didn’t realize it until about 3/4 way through. (I think I will move it next time, duh.)
  4. I did overlook one important point I should have made, and meant to make – that you will probably still find metes and bounds descriptions within a section in in the PLSS. I discovered that afterwards, when someone asked me about her copy of a deed. (I think I will try not to overlook it next time, duh.)
  5. I felt the last part of my presentation was probably the weakest, material-wise, and the end is a bad place to have less-interesting stuff. (No duhs here – this is a little trickier. Re-word or rework it? Re-order things or incorporate them in with other parts? Drop the majority of the last section and include it in the handout? This would have the added benefit of cutting the presentation to a more standard, hour-length presentation. I’ll have to work on this one.)
  6. I also need to find an example for the group analysis that is a little easier to read, but the same short length. (Adding a transcription to the copy I pass out would do also. That would have the added benefit of everyone seeing an example and realizing the importance of transcribing.)

The Ugly:

Now, I’m not going to say that I’m not photogenic, but damn. No, rather than me being non-photogenic, I prefer to think that they just haven’t invented a camera fast enough to capture the flashes of brilliance and speed of wit that comprise my appearance…or something like that.

So at the end of the day, I survived, and am ready to take another shot when I get the chance. I am also going to start developing some new talks, probably along the same topic lines. I’ll probably work on one for platting/locating property, and am thinking about one discussing all of the different land grants and survey areas that make up Ohio.

If you’re out there thinking about taking the plunge, let Nike’s marketing be your guide (that means Just Do It, for you non-athletes/TV-watchers)

Apparently, I am also qualified to talk about how to turn a blog post that was intended to be more of a blurb into a really long post. Thanks for sticking with me!

My First Genealogy Presentation: Using Deeds In Your Genealogical Research


Well, kids – the clock is counting down. In just a little over twelve hours, I’ll be on the road to Bellville, Ohio to speak at the Ohio Genealogical Society’s new library tomorrow morning at 10am. My topic is “Using Deeds In Your Genealogical Research.” I get to share some of the geeky knowledge I’ve acquired on the subject over the years. Hopefully I don’t get too nervous and forget share the parts I practiced, but hey – even if I do, you won’t know the difference 

Assuming I don’t die of fright in the first 3 minutes, or am suddenly struck mute (I’ve seen this happen to a speaker – it wasn’t pretty), I can cross off one of my goals for 2011.  If you have nothing else to do on a sunny Saturday in July, come on out and hear about hereditaments and appurtenances. What could be more fun?

Putting together a presentation covering something which I am  really interested in seemed like it would be easier than putting together one about something I wasn’t (like bus driving, for example), but I have to say – the opposite is true.  I hope this goes well and I am asked to give this talk again somewhere, because I need to reduce the preparation time-to-presentation time ratio! Whelp, off to go review and practice some more. Wish me luck! updates to follow…

Beep, beep! Researcher Coming Through!!

Hopefully none of you are reading this on your iPhone at a red light (or worse, on the road)

Harold Henderson posed the following analogy for consideration on the Transitional Genealogists Forum:

“One thing that sometimes causes difficulties for professional genealogists
is that there are a lot more amateurs (or hobbyists) out there than
professionals. That’s not a problem in itself, but on occasion a few
amateurs do things that place all genealogists in a bad light (such as
telling a busy clerk all about their great-great grandparent, or talking
loudly in the archives, or even defacing documents, for example).

It occurred to me during a road trip that professional drivers — usually
truck drivers but also buses and other vehicles — are another professional
group that swims in a sea of amateurs. How do they think about this and deal
with it on a day-to-day basis?”

Just as a preface to my thoughts on this, I

  • have held a commercial driver’s license and been an Ohio Department of Education certified bus driver since 1996
  • have been a state-certified on-board school bus driving trainer since 1997
  • receive at least four hours of in-service training each year
  • have taken a number of advanced driving courses over the years
  • have not had a ticket since 1992.

There were a number of replies to this post, but none that I felt addressed Harold’s original question. Not having internet access on a regular basis has slowed my blogging to a crawl, but has given me the time to hopefully distill my thoughts on the subject to a more concentrated, concise response. – not usually my forte. You may still feel it’s not my forte after wading through this.

So here it is: whether on the highway or in the courthouse, professionalism is not determined by who gets paid, who has passed which tests, or who drives what vehicle. Professionalism, rather, is an approach to what you do.  It requires an awareness of what the standards (laws) are, and a consistent application of and adherence to, those standards. A third piece of the puzzle is respect for the other parties you interact with in your travels. Whether you have passed some tests (CDL/BCG), taken some training courses (Defensive Driving 101/IGHR), or saw it on Cops or WDYTYA: if you know the rules, follow them, and treat people with respect – you are a professional, and people will perceive you as such.

Think about your commute to work and a typical bad experience on the road. Let’s say you narrowly avoid getting t-boned by someone running a red light. Do you care (aside from the physics involved) whether it was a smart car, mom and the kids in a minivan, a limo, or a semi? No – all you care is that someone wasn’t paying attention and almost killed you. The experience most likely shaped your impression of that ride as a whole. Whether or not they were “professional” is an afterthought at best. When you get home that evening you say, “Man, there were some real idiots out there on the road today!” You don’t walk in the door and comment “Wow, those professionals were okay, but the amateurs almost did me in.” On any given day, your impression of the road is forged by ALL of the driving behavior you’ve encountered that day.

Similarly, a court clerk or archivist doesn’t care whether or not you do this for fun, get paid, or have some letters after your genealogical name. Either you followed the rules, showed awareness and preparation, treated them with courtesy…or you didn’t. They don’t have a good or bad experience with a professional or amateur genealogist – they have a good or bad experience with a genealogist. Period. If the experience is bad, they go home thinking, “Man, if I never see another genealogist in here, it will be too soon.”

So how do we, as genealogists (and drivers) combat this? What is our approach – knowing that the previous person might have chalked up a strike against us before we have ever even walked in the door? Simple: we make ourselves as aware as possible of standards, records, and repositories. We always act in accordance with the rules and standards – even when it might be faster or more convenient not to do so. (I would bet that a large percentage of problems both on the road and in the courthouse are caused by impatience and hurriedness…speaking from my personal experience in both arenas). And we always, always, always treat those we encounter with respect – even when they prove they may not necessarily deserve it. Even if it’s that title searcher who has had the book you need on their table for the past hour.

How many times have you had a bad experience on the road redeemed by the courteous act of someone else? Back there, when you almost got t-boned, you pulled into the gas station on the corner to get gas and regroup – perhaps change your underwear. In heavy rush hour traffic, you realize it might be a futile task trying to get back on the road – especially since the light in the next intersection just turned red and cars are starting to back up towards you. But just then, a driver who is aware and courteous also recognizes this and rather than pulling up on the bumper of the car in front of them, leaves the exit open so that you can pull into the lane.

That is exactly what we need to do as genealogists acting professionally – whether we are getting paid or not. In fact it’s all we can do. By acting professionally yourself, you are not just projecting a good image for you – you might even be undoing a negative impression created by someone less aware.

Now get out of my way – I’m on my way to do some research.