“Because I Know He Is”: Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 1838

Each time I post about this subject, I wrestle with whether or not I should be airing the family laundry here in cyberspace. However, as genealogists, we are most interested in the truth. Sometimes the truth is not what we would like it to be. It’s perhaps not like we had hoped it and envisioned it to be, and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. The main characters in this family story have been dead over 100 years, and I think that this is not only a tale worth telling, but also a lesson in just how incredibly valuable– or perhaps invaluable— court records can be in conducting our research. How-many-ever years ago, this was my first foray into Common Pleas records. The moment I found this case in the index–a dusty book that was long forgotten and stuck in a little-used storage room– is to this day the single-most exciting find I’ve had.

Granted, this is my own family so it’s likely more compelling to me than anyone else. However, more than all the combined documents I’ve found, more than any county history I’ve read, this court case makes my ancestors human–with all their strengths and weaknesses– in a way nothing has before or since. It’s a slice of life that gives me chills and I swear to you, I can see and hear this case as it’s being tried. I can hear the silence…the uncomfortable silence, as witnesses are brought before the judge and jury to testify for and against their children, friends, neighbors, and associates in rural Harrison County, Ohio that day in May of 1838.1

This is not a good guy/bad guy tale– simply a story of two people; one that also happens to be the story of how my branch of the Staats family came to be.


Edith Staats was the second youngest child of Elijah Staats and Margaret Chandler, born 12 Apr 1818 in Freeport Township in Harrison County, Ohio.2 The Staats family came to Freeport from Luzerne Township, Fayette, Pennsylvania in 1815.3 Jesse Brock Pickering was born two days before Christmas, 23 Dec 1818,4 a son of Abel Pickering and Nancy Brock.The Abel Pickering family was also in Harrison County by 1817, when Abel was taxed there.5 In the 1830 census, the families are enumerated a page apart – the Pickering family in the city of Freeport, and Staats family in Freeport Township.6

Jesse Brock Pickering married Elizabeth Manlove Whealdon one day before his 18th birthday, the 22nd of December 1836.7  Both the Whealdon and Manlove families were Quaker8, and migrated from Kent County, Delaware– just across the New Castle County line where Elijah Staats’s family lived. Their first child, Able, was born 22 Sep 1837.9 Elijah Staats’s wife, Margaret Chandler was also Quaker.10 These families were no doubt, well-acquainted with each other. 

This case focuses on the events of one day in June of 1837.11 Edith was a nineteen-year old single girl, and Jesse eighteen, married, his wife, Elizabeth expecting their first child in a few months. 

The State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering:
Court of Common Pleas May Term, A.D.1838. Bastardy.

Passages in italics are quoted from the Common Pleas Record entry. All other information is paraphrased from the same entry unless otherwise noted.12

Be it remembered that heretofore to wit on the fifth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight: John Knox Esq. one of the Justices of the Peace of Freeport Township Harrison County and State of Ohio filed in the Office of the Clerk of the Common Pleas Court of said Harrison County a transcript of the proceedings before him had in a certain action of bastardy…

On the sixth day of February 1838, Edith Staats an unmarried woman entered complaint under oath against Jesse Pickering the defendant setting forth that she, the said complainant is now pregnant and that he, the said Jesse Pickering is the father of said child.

A warrant was issued and Constable Cree returned the same day with Jesse Pickering. The defendant refused to make any compromise. It had been a cold Ohio winter13, and it was about to get even colder, as John Knox began the questioning:

Knox: What reason have you to believe that Jesse Pickering is the father of the child with which you are now pregnant?
Edith: Because I know he is.

There’s no hesitation, no beating around the bush, and indeed no sign of backing down. I picture Edith casting a steely stare directly at Jesse as she makes her statements.

Knox: When had he sexual intercourse with you?
Edith: The twenty fourth day of June.
Knox: Had he intercourse with you more than once?
Edith: No.
Knox: Where were you at the time you had sexual intercourse together?
Edith: At our own house (Staats’s)
Knox: Was it at night?
Edith: No, it was in the daytime.
Knox: Were any of the family at home?
Edith: No. There was nobody there but myself.

In that direct, no-nonsense line of questioning, Edith points to a single moment during that day, the 24th of June 1837. She points to one instance of weakness between two people who probably should have known better– who almost certainly did know better. Further testimony would reveal it was likely that Jesse and Edith had a previous, amorous past, but nothing leading up to that moment would prove to have as lasting an effect as that solitary encounter in June. An agent for Jesse, R.R. Price, took over the questioning:

Price: Was this before harvest or after harvest that this took place?
Edith: Before, in June.
Price: Was Mr. Pickering in the habit of paying his attentions to you at that time?
Edith: No, not after he was married. 
Price: Was there not any other young men paying their respects to you about that time?
Edith: No.
Price: Did you not, after Jacob was married, say that you would match them yet?14
Edith: No. I never said any such thing.

Having already withstood questioning by the Justice of the Peace, Edith is now facing these questions by the agent – presumably an attorney for Jesse. She never backs down, and fires right back. The agent’s questions imply less than subtly, that there was a previous relationship between Edith and Jesse, and perhaps a bitter ending when Jesse married another. It’s easy enough to picture, and clear where the attorney is going with the questioning – that she had a motive to lie. Next up, Jesse himself asks the questions:

Jesse: Do you not remember, Edith, at the time I came to your house to get a piece of paper, did you not consider me clear at that time?
Edith: No. You never denied it to me.
Jesse: You recollect the paper you gave me to clear up this do you?
Edith: No. I never gave you any.

Whereupon the said Jesse Pickering still continuing to refuse to compromise with the said Edith Staats he was required to enter into recognizance in the sum of three hundred dollars…

Standing tall in the face of questioning by a Justice of the Peace, an attorney, and Jesse himself, Edith persevered and took the case to court. As the record shows, Jesse never denied the encounter, but instead focused on a piece of paper– presumably a written statement by Edith absolving him of responsibility. The case went to trial and carried on for at least five days. Twenty three witnesses took the stand including Edith’s mother, and several relatives of both plaintiff and defendant15– this in a township of less than 1300.16 Anyone who’s lived in a town that small will understand– there are no secrets.

When the dust settled, the jury returned a guilty verdict. A notice of appeal was mentioned, but no appeal has been found.17 Based on comments included in the original case files for this case, the defense was trying to prove that Edith had relations with other men during the same time frame, but the testimony was disallowed. Original documents also included the doctor bill for the the birth of Alexander Allan Staats, my great great grandfather.18

What did one have to pay for child support in 1838? Jesse was ordered to pay $36 plus court costs up front, and  $0.75 per week for five years. It appears payments were made quarterly, but only though 1841.19


Edith married Daniel Toms in 1847.20 They had no children together. Alexander Staats went on to attend Marietta College, Starling Medical College, and graduated from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery. He served in the 88th OVI in the Civil War, and practiced medicine in Summerfield, Ohio until a short time before his death in 1913.21 Edith passed away in 1901.22 Family legend is that she kept a detailed diary, and that on her deathbed, she asked one of her granddaughters to read the diary and then destroy it. The rest is history…or more accurately, lost to history.23 The Alexander Staats family has many descendants still alive and kicking, including your author.24 I’ve taken a yDNA test to try and confirm the court’s findings  I’ve had three close matches. They are all Pickerings. And to think– it all goes back to that single fateful day, the 24th of June, 1837.

Ready to check into court records now and see what details they might hold about your own family? I hoped that you would be.

  1. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Record, E:313, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  2. (Caldwell) Noble County Leader, 27 Feb 1901, p.2, c.1. []
  3. William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings) (1946), p. 352; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Jan 2009). []
  4. Find A Grave.com, database (http://www.findagrave.com: accessed 10 Nov 2012), entry for Jesse Brock Pickering, memorial no. 38545482, citing Friends Church Cemetery, Springdale, Leavenworth, Kansas. []
  5. Further research is needed to confirm the organization of FamilySearch.org’s Ohio Tax records entries for Harrison County. Abel Pickering is listed as early as 1816 in Cadiz Twp, but that information is not consistent with deeds stating Freeport. []
  6. 1830 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 226, line 13, Elijah Statts household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Dec 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M19, roll 133. For Able Pickering see 1830 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 225, line 6, Able Pickering household. []
  7. Harrison County, Ohio, Marriage Records, B:486, Pickering to Whealdon (1836); Probate Court, Cadiz. []
  8. For Quaker references, see Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings). []
  9. For information on the Whealdon and Manlove families, including Able Pickering’s date of birth, see Jeffery Bryant, Descendants of Isaac Whealdon (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bryajw/whealdon/index.htm: accessed 5 Dec 2012). []
  10. Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings). []
  11. Harrison Co., Oh., Common Pleas Record, E:314. []
  12. ibid. []
  13. “Review of the Cincinnati Market,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 7 Feb 1837, p.3, c. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 4 Dec 2012). []
  14. Jesse is mistakenly referred to as Jacob in this line of the transcription. []
  15. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Execution Docket, G:260, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  16. 1840 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 236 (stamped), population totals (bottom of the page); digital images, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 2 Dec 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M704, roll 409. []
  17. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Journal, D:175, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  18. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Case Files, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  19. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Execution Docket, G:261. []
  20. Washington County, Ohio, Marriage records, 2:242, Daniel Tom-Edeth Staats (1847); Washington County Probate Court, Marietta. []
  21. L.H. Watkins, History of Noble County (Chicago: L.H. Watkins & Co,: 1887), p. 193. []
  22. (Caldwell) Noble County Leader, 27 Feb 1901, p.3, c. 1. []
  23. Unrecorded conversation between the author and Marguaritte (Cleary) Miller, granddaughter of Alexander Staats, 2005, Barberton, Ohio. The granddaughter referred to in the story was either Mrs. Miller’s mother, Elizabeth (Staats) Cleary or aunt, Violet (Staats) Reed. []
  24. Personal knowledge…at least I think I’m still alive. You guys really read these footnotes? []

Ohio Historical Markers Online

Husbands, we know we are all on a tight schedule while traveling hither and yon, and those arrival times must be kept. Even though we might be interested, we simply can’t stop for every “LOOK, a historical marker” demand. Ask my wife and she’ll claim I actually speed up. Sometimes I spot them first and try to distract her. Truth be told, I want to know what they say, too.

Fortunately, there is an answer: Remarkable Ohio: Marking Ohio’s History. This great site offered by the Ohio Historical Society is easy to navigate. You can search or browse for markers by location, keywords, and other criteria. You can even click a link to get a map to the markers. Pretty Slick. Check it out.

Of Boilerplate and Black’s Law Dictionary

“Legalese” is an oft-cited reason researchers give for their aversion to using deeds. I won’t waste time on my soapbox, preaching about the miracles to be found in the Book of Deeds – just trust me that those miracles are in there, waiting to be discovered. To be sure, the terminology can be a little daunting. Many resources are out there describing the more common (and important) terms to understand such as quitclaim, fee simple, deed of warranty, etc. Most resources, quite correctly, mention learning to recognize standard legal phrasing – commonly called boilerplate.

Let me suggest that the very best thing you can do to get a better understanding of the language of deeds, is to both transcribe and abstract every deed of interest in your research. These are topics unto themselves, but in brief: Transcribing is copying the deed word-for-word, letter for letter (warts and all), while keeping the line breaks and page layout as close to the original as possible. Transcribing forces you to read every word on the page (and think about those words) without the mental “blah, blah, blah”  skimming that is easy to do when encountering a particularly wordy passage. Abstracting is the process of keeping each piece of the transcription (preserving the original order) that is unique to the document you are working with, and removing the rest (boilerplate). The purpose is to create a concise version, accurate to the original and containing all the pertinent information – a version that  is far easier to work with than the original.

Now it’s all well and good to say “remove the boilerplate,” but how do you go about knowing what is important and what isn’t? The short, but not necessarily easy answer, is experience . By doing the transcriptions and abstractions faithfully and regularly, you will begin to recognize the phrases (with variations, of course) that are standard. It’s not easy to maintain that discipline, but I guarantee you it is worth it in the long-run.  And as you start on the path to deed enlightenment, let Black’s Law Dictionary be your guide.

Black’s Law Dictionary is an invaluable reference, not only for deed and property research, but also probate, Common Pleas, or any other record generated by the courts. Take the time to look up words which with you are unfamiliar. Curiosity and relentlessness in the quest for understanding should be a trademark of your research as a whole, so why not take that same approach with the individual pieces? Even better, you can access a free online version of the Second Edition HERE, While it’s not necessarily inexpensive, you can find an print versions of Black’s Law Dictionary at a reasonable price at half.com, Amazon, or other used or discount retailer. I personally have the 8th edition.[1]

So how about that boilerplate? Ever wonder what some of those words actually mean – those words that Microsoft Word tries to tell you aren’t words? Those words that no matter how sophisticated your voice recognition software, you find yourself arguing with your computer? Here are just a few:

1. Appurtenances

Something that belongs or is attached to something else <the garden is an appurtenance to the land>[2]

2. Hereditaments:

1. Any property that can be inherited; anything that passes by intestacy. 2. Real property; land.[3]

3. Messuages

A dwelling house together with the curtilage (land or yard adjoining a house), including  any outbuildings.[4]

4. Mesne

This is often seen in the chain of title (“…and through mesne conveyances…”) – “Occupying a middle position; intermediate or intervening, esp. in time of occurrence or performance.[5]

5. “To have and to hold”

This is pretty straightforward language in itself, however, this phrase ordinarily marks the beginning of something called the Habendum Clause – “The part of an instrument, such as a deed or will, that defines the extent of the interest being granted and any conditions affecting the grant.” [6]Even though this phrase is a marker for boilerplate, and is often fairly standard, you really need to be sure to read the section that follows “to have and to hold” carefully to note any exceptions or interest withheld in the transaction. Below are a couple of terms dealing with future interest you might see in that section.

6. Remainder

1. A future interest arising in a third person – that is, someone other than the estate’s creator, its initial holder, or the heirs of either – who is intended to take after the natural termination of the preceding estate…2. The property in a descedant’s estate that is not specifically devised or bequeathed in a will.[7] This is one of those definitions that is almost more confusing than the term. However, you usually see this in the habendum clause – that any such remainder is also being transferred to the grantee.

7. Reversion

This one might hurt your brain – “1. The interest that is left after subtracting what the transferor originally had; spec., a future interest in land arising by operation of law whenever an estate owner grants to another a particular estate, such as a life estate or a term of years, but does not automatically dispose of the entire interest…2. Loosely, REMAINDER.[8] Similar to remainder, this clause is generally assuring that any rights of reversion of interest due the grantor is transferred to the grantee by the deed.

Again – with the above  terms, or any boilerplate really, it is still important to read through carefully to note any exceptions from standard wording. Those exceptions can be clues that are easy to overlook, as they are buried in terminology. Again, Black’ s Law Dictionary is your friend. As you can see, sometimes, the definition isn’t all that much clearer than the term. In those instances, turn to Google to help find examples that you might be able to better understand.

Sometimes, you may still not be able to completely get your head around a term or concept, but the important thing is to take the time to try, to work at it, to not pass it over because it is confusing and makes your eyes roll back in their sockets.

[1] Bryan A. Garner and Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Thompson West, 2004).
[2] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.111.
[3] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.743.
[4] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.1011.
[5] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.1011.
[6] definition of Habendum Clause: Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.728.
[7] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.1317.
[8] Garner and Black, Black’s Law Dictionary, p.1345.

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.