The Lost Art of Penmanship

This week on CBS Sunday Morning there was a segment about penmanship and how the art of handwriting could be lost. While it is a poignant thought there is far more at stake. The onset typewriters and then computers have changed how we communicate by the written word. Two hundred years ago, even with the printing press, the first draft of any written item was by hand.

Will the great grandchildren of the mid 21st century have letters and diaries handwritten by their ancestors? Will they have letters or diaries at all? How many of you print off your emails to save for future generations? It is just not feasible to do and emails these days are small bites of information. People rarely sit down and write a long letter to family that stayed behind when they emigrated. It is easier and less expensive to send an email, telephone or Skype. People are blogging but will the thoughts, sentiment and information in those blogs be available to our ancestors?

I remember in school learning to write and having difficulty writing the capital letters F and J. When we graduated from printing to writing, and could write clearly, we got a BIC pen. That pen was the most coveted item in my grade 4 class. Everyone wanted to move from the pencil to the pen, it was a status symbol.

I remember the excitement of finding a letter written by my 2x Great Grandmother to her soon to be husband in the early 1900s. It is a simple letter saying thank you for a box of chocolates and not being able to meet the next day because of a previous engagement. This is the type of thing that we would send an email or call someone about today. Since there were no computers in the early 1900s I have that letter in the handwriting of my 2x Great Grandmother. There is cookbook written in the hand of my 3x Great Grandmother with little notations and thoughts in the margin. These are items that the future generations will probably not be getting from this generation. They will not get the thrill of finding something in our handwriting.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Advanced Genealogical Skills: A Seminar with Elizabeth Shown Mills

The Ontario Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists is presenting “Advanced Genealogical Skills: A Seminar with Elizabeth Shown Mills” on Saturday 2 April 2011 at the North York Central Library in Toronto.

Elizabeth Shown Mills will be presenting four lectures and the registration fee is $45.

Registration is now open and you can find out more details here.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Have You Noticed Genealogy Has Gone Mainstream in the Media?

While watching television I have noticed that genealogy is appearing in pop culture. There is a commercial for a vitamin C product and above the bed of the cartoon character is a copy of his family tree. In the television show “Brothers and Sisters” there is now a theme involving family history that is bringing in a new story line regarding the past of one character and the parentage of another. In the movie “Little Fockers” the Focker grandparents, played by Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, research the genealogy of the character Jack Byrnes played by Robert De Niro. is broadcasting commercials in mainstream media. I wonder where genealogy references will appear next. Have you seen references to family history in mainstream media? Where? Let me know by leaving a comment to this post.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Ancestor Approved Award

Kerry Farmer of the Family History Research blog has nominated me for the Ancestor Approved Award, thank you Kerry. Kerry is an Australian genealogist and an instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Her courses “Research: Australian and New Zealand Ancestors” and “Australia: Birth, Death and Marriage” both begin on 7 February 2011.

The Ancestor Approved Award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou of the Ancestors Live Here blog who asks two things of those who receive the award:

1. Write ten aspects of their research that surprised, humbled, or enlightened them.

2. Pass the award along to ten other researchers whose family history blogs are making their ancestors proud.

In no particular order, here are the ten surprising, humbling or enlightening aspects of my research:

1. A surprise in my research was the fact that there was not much emigration in my family. A couple of people from some branches immigrated to places such as Canada, United States, Australia and South Africa and a few were Huguenots. There was a little migration between Ireland, England and Scotland. Once settled they did not really move around much. Most of my direct ancestors stayed in the country in which they were born.

2. There have been a few surprises in my research. One involved my Toppin family. While doing a small cluster research project on the family I discovered a murder in one of the collateral lines. The only records of the murder were the death certificate and a few newspaper articles. He had married a Catholic girl and her brothers were accused of committing the crime. It was soon discovered that someone else committed the murder and had run away to the United States.

3. An aspect of my research that has humbled me was discovering how many men in the family were involved with the military. Service to country was very important. There are many generations of military service in all branches of my family. I have family who served with the British military in India and during the Revolutionary war in the United States. Several branches fought in the battle of Waterloo and another was involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade. In the First World War I have three Great Uncles who fought – two with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and one as an ANZAC.

4. One part of my research that enlightened me was the discovery of a notation in the Register of Corrected Entries for a divorce. It was attached to the registration of the first marriage of my 2x Great Grandfather. This started me on the search for his divorce record. I knew he had married my 2x Great Grandmother in 1876 so the search began at that time and went backwards. After much emailing and searching the information to get a copy of the divorce record was found. It was ordered through the National Archives of Scotland and when it arrived it was very enlightening. There were 71 pages of witness statements including private investigators. There is a blog post coming on this story so keep watching this space.

5. When a copy of a death registration for my 3x Great Grandfather provided a place of death as the asylum of Royal Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow Scotland I was enlightened to find out that he had been admitted due to mental illness. The surprise came when the admission papers were found and it said the first sign of metal illness had appeared eleven years previously in Indiana USA. I knew that the family had been to New York and that they had returned to Scotland. It was twenty years after they had returned to Scotland that he had been in Indiana.

6. A humbling moment was the birth of my 2x Great Grandfather’s twin daughters and the death of one a month later. It is not known if the surviving daughter knew she was a twin.

7. A surprise came from a search of Manchester newspapers and finding the sale of the bakery and fixtures of my 3x Great Grandfather. The sale was due to bankruptcy and he died several years later in much reduced circumstances.

8. I am surprised by how well my some of my ancestors can hide from me and the unusual places some ancestors are found.

9. It is humbling to know that however much things change, they still remain the same. How we accomplish things in our daily life may be different than how our ancestors did it but the things we do are the same. We work to support ourselves and our family. We are trying to improve our lot in life and find happiness and satisfaction in our everyday life.

10. It is enlightening to know that there is always something new to find out about my family everyday.

Here are ten blogs written by other researchers whose ancestors would be proud of their accomplishments. Some of these bloggers are not writing about their ancestors in particular but they are honouring someone’s ancestors. Some may already have this award.

1. Brenda Dougall Merriman
2. Chris Paton: Walking in Eternity
3. Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History
4. Fur Trade Family History
5. Genealogy New Zealand
6. Prairie History Blog
7. The Empire Called and I Answered
8. This Intrepid Band
9. Veterans of Southwestern Ontario
10. Irish Family History

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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Twelve Months of Genealogy – January

This year I have decided to provide a monthly list of items you can do with regards to your genealogy. Each month will be a different theme and suggestions will be made to help with varying aspects of your genealogy.

January is usually the month for organization. How many of us have been meaning to go through all our files, computer and paper, not to mention the piles of paper, photographs, and get them all organized.

Let’s take one item a week and see what we can accomplish.

The first week of January we organize all our computer files and back them up. We label them so that we know at a glance want they contain. When they are backed up it is not just to one place or device. How about using a stick, an external hard drive and/or a cloud to back up your information?

The second week of January we organize our paper. It could mean putting them in file folders, scanning them and adding them to our labeled folders on the computer and if we find something of interest then making a note for future research.

The third week of January we organize our photographs. You can scan, label and file them on your computer. If we have pictures we want to store then archival albums and supplies will be needed to make sure they are kept safe. Remember to store the albums in a safe dry place.

The fourth week of January is organizing all the notes we took while on research trips and adding them to our computer programs. At the same time we can create the research plans for this year. During the first three weeks you probably came up with other places and people you wanted to find out more about while you were organizing your data.

Since this is the last week of the month we need to back up our computer again, especially after all that hard work organizing everything.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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