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When writing my blog post on The Importance of Genealogy Societies in an Age of Digital Technology it got me thinking about how much genealogy has changed since I started researching my family history.

 

I have been doing family history research since the mid-1970s. A school project got me started when I was 11 years old. To find out about my Mum’s family letters had to be written to family members in Ireland and England to get information. This required writing the letter on the blue flimsy airmail paper, posting it and then waiting for a response. Everyday you excitedly waited for the mail to be delivered. My Dad’s parents lived near us so a visit to Granny and Grandpa helped me to find out about his side of the family. This is one of the family trees I got from a Grand Aunt.

 

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Every time I visited family in Ireland I asked more questions and gathered information. In the 1980s I started doing actual research. One of the first books in my genealogical library was “Handbook for Genealogical Correspondence” prepared by the Cache Genealogical Library. It was an American book first published in 1974 and I got the third edition from 1980. Writing letters was one of the main ways to do research from a distance.

 

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This book included the “essentials of a genealogical letter” writing to relatives, libraries, archives and other repositories. They gave you tips to write to “church record keepers” and “public officials.” There was a section under “public officials” about writing a letter to get information about a census record. These days we just go on the internet and search a census in a matter of minutes, if you are lucky.

 

There was a section on why letters were returned and the responsibly of the Post Master.  They looked at International Reply Coupons. Who out there remembers these? IRC’s for short, they were purchased from your local post office and were included in a letter to provide return postage when writing to another country. It was always protocol to include a self-addressed stamped envelope when sending a written query.

 

In the mid-1990s I was on the internet researching my family history with my dial up connection. Remember that long loud screech? There weren’t many databases online but you had message boards where you could post information about family branches you were researching. People from around the globe were coming together to share information. You also had email which was faster and less expensive than the postal service especially for overseas correspondence. Sharing information still required the postal service. When I do a google search on some family names those online queries I posted more than a decade ago pop up in the results.

 

The internet opened things up. I used to subscribe to the Genealogical Research Directory. Anyone out there remember the GRD? This was edited by a couple of gentlemen from Australia. You would pay your yearly subscription fee and that would include a certain number of entries in the book. Then you would wait for the large book to arrive in the mail. Near the end of the run they used CDs. When the book arrived you would go through it and see if you could find anyone searching for the same families you were researching. Then a letter, and eventually an email, was sent off and you waited. I found several distant cousins this way. It was something I looked forward too each year. A local library had older versions of the book and I started off searching those for information before I subscribed myself. These books were about three inches thick and took up a lot of room on the shelf.

 

There was a point in the 1990s and early 2000s where people were buying CDs with genealogical information on them. You used to go to the Family History Centre or local library to view census records on CDs. How many computers come with a CD player now?

 

Family history societies were important because their journals would have articles that could help with our research, provide information on a previously unknown local resource and the societies also provide research help for those who were not able to go to the local repositories. Their importance hasn’t changed in the days of the internet. In fact I would say they have become even more important when you are searching a particular area. No one knows the local records better than the family history society, except perhaps the local history librarian.

 

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Then Ancestry arrived on the scene. This opened up a whole new world to people researching their family history. It was the first time that you could access information quickly and at home, or the local library depending on where you had access to the database.

 

Now there are other large companies putting a great number of genealogical databases online. They are not the only ones because some of the larger family history/genealogical societies have put specific databases online for their members. The National archives and libraries of several countries have put digital images of their records online. Some are free to access and some are behind a pay wall. This is not an inexpensive process. It costs millions to provide records in digital format. These records are preserved as long as the format they have been digitized in keeps up with the changes.

 

I have been though all the changes in family history in the last forty years. Some have been good and some not so good, but then that’s life. The influx of genealogical records online has made more people interested in their family history. There are still a large cross-section of countries that don’t have a lot of information online and old fashioned research is still required. Those countries that do have a lot of information online you will find that it’s still not everything and you will have to go and do research in an archive, library or other repository.

 

The online databases are a great tool and they help you to move forward at a quicker pace than forty years ago. Everyone will get to a point where they will have to get down and dirty looking at old records. I say dirty because you will get dirty looking at old records. They have the ages of time on them and it rubs off on you.

 

I like the ease of doing research online but I truly enjoy getting down and dirty in local repositories and doing the research in the actual records. There is something very satisfying about touching an original document that records an ancestor’s baptism in 1769. All hail the dirt of the ages!

 

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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Amy Johnson Crow interviewed D. Joshua Taylor at the RootsTech conference. She posed the question “In today’s world of social media, where everyone is sharing seemingly everything, do we still need genealogy societies.”

 

This got me thinking. Genealogy societies have always been a partner to my research. They had resources that could help me with my research. You could say that genealogy societies were the databases before the internet. The members would visit local libraries, archives, county offices, court houses, cemeteries and churches in their area and transcribe information that was a boon to researchers.

 

In my genealogy library I still have books and pamphlets from these societies that I have used to research my family history. As technology advanced some of these resources found their way onto CDs. Now you can find many of them in member sections on society websites. Thankfully they are still publishing books with information from smaller resources. The smaller record groups are not usually found on the larger company websites.

 

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They publish books on the history of their areas as well as local businesses and trades. This can help you learn more about the community where your ancestors lived.

 

Genealogy societies are important because their journals have articles that could help with our research such as providing information on a previously unknown local resource. Some of these journals are now available electronically. The best place to find past years of genealogy society journals is PERSI (Periodical Source Index) which you can now find on Findmypast.

 

Genealogy societies provide educational opportunities. They have monthly meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences. All these provide the attendees with an opportunity to learn more and to improve their research skills.

 

One thing I wish more genealogy societies would do is to either live stream or video their meeting lectures. They could put them behind membership walls and this would allow members who don’t live near enough to attend the meeting to watch the lecture. I often feel like I am paying a lot of money for membership fees to societies and not being able to avail myself of all they have to offer because I live abroad. These days everyone has the ability to take video with their cameras. You can use YouTube or embed them on your website. As we saw at RootsTech the app Periscope was used to live stream expo hall demos.

 

The majority of people who run genealogy societies are dedicated volunteers who have been with the society for many years. We are missing the younger people who may not see the importance of the genealogy society. There is a theory that we can find everything online. We can’t.

 

Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013

Jane Watt representing Halton Peel Branch Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2013

 

As Josh Taylor said in Amy Johnson Crow’s interview the genealogy society is a community to share information and stories. It is a place to learn new ways of research and keep up to date on all the changes.

 

Every genealogy society should have a social media presence. This will hopefully help bring in some of the younger people. Some of the societies that do have a social media presence aren’t using it to their advantage. There is a lack of knowledge about what genealogy societies have to offer. The first step is to promote their printed publications containing the transcriptions from local records and make these publications easier to access. It would save printing and postage if they were turned into eBooks.

 

Genealogy society memberships have always been part of my genealogy budget. I belong to the Glasgow & West of Scotland Family History Society, The Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society, The Genealogical Society of Ireland, The National Genealogical Society and The Ontario Genealogical Society which includes the Halton Peel Branch, the Irish Special Interest Group, and the Scottish Special Interest Group. These societies represent the areas in which my ancestors lived, where I live now, as well as my current interests.

 

Remember, if you are researching your family history no one knows the records of their town better than the local genealogy society, except maybe the local history librarian. Both places are brick and mortar and they house documents in paper, film and other formats. Both the genealogy society and the local history librarian are important assets to your family history research.

 

© 2016 Blair Archival Research – All Rights Reserved

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Lately I have been reading “A Curious Mind The Secret to a Bigger Life” by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. You may recognize the name Brian Grazer. He is a movie producer and business partners with Ron Howard. Together they have made memorable movies from “Splash” to “A Beautiful Mind.”

In this book he discusses his lifelong devotion to curiosity. He has “curiosity conversations” with well-known people from varying backgrounds. He is at heart a story teller. Brian Grazer says: “Curiosity motivates us to explore and discover. Storytelling allows us to share the knowledge and excitement of what we’ve figured out. And that storytelling in turn inspires curiosity in the people to whom we’re talking.” [Page 82]

This got me thinking about family historians. The main reason we get involved in researching our family history is curiosity. We are curious about our past, our family, the unknowns that are directly connected to who we are. If you don’t have curiosity I don’t think you would ever start on the path of researching your family history.

Many family historians take this a step further. We find a person who has no connection to us but our curiosity pushes us to learn more about them. We find a piece of ephemera, a newspaper article, a lonely tombstone and we want to learn more. Curiosity pushes us to tell the story of these apparently lonely items and the people attached to them. We can take it a step further and try to reunite found items with living family members.

Brian Grazer says: “The vividness of someone’s personality and energy really only comes alive when you shake hands and look them in the eye. When you hear them tell a story. That has a real emotional power for me, and a real staying power. It’s learning without being taught, it’s learning through storytelling.” [Page 90]

This is another part of family history. We interview and connect with the generations before us. They could be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, no matter how distant. We meet with them, connect with them, we look in their eyes and see a part of our own story. They may have parts of the story that we are unfamiliar with and the sharing of the story connects us.

He also says: “…the curiosity is all about the story. What’s the story of your life, and how are you hoping that money or a new hairstyle will help you shape that story and help you share it.” [Page 94] Now as family historians we are not worried too much about a new hairstyle. We may worry about money so that we can pay for the documentation to help us further our research.

Isn’t family history all about the story, our story? Isn’t it the goal of family historians to write our family story? We want to share that story with other family members. Our aim is to have our ancestors honoured and remembered by future generations.

The curiosity of family history usually starts with one person and one link to the past but it is shared with multiple generations with the hope that they can learn something from those that came before.

Wouldn’t you love to have a “curiosity conversation” with one of your ancestors?

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

 

 

 

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National Library of Ireland

National Library of Ireland

Lately I have become a little jealous of the people in Ireland doing genealogy. They have the most remarkable resources available to them and most of them are free. I wish they were available to genealogists outside of Ireland.

What am I talking about? Lectures, usually free, being held at the National Library, PRONI and other venues. Almost daily I get new reports of what is coming up in the way of topics and speakers. I would dearly love to attend some of these lectures but it is hard to do when you don’t live in Ireland.

Unfortunately, when I am in Belfast the lecture PRONI is giving would take time out of my research. The good thing with PRONI is that they sometimes record their lectures and put them on YouTube, so I can sit at home and watch them at my leisure.

The National Library of Ireland have been holding lunch time lectures all summer and they have announced their September line up. It would be wonderful if these were put on YouTube or a podcast.

I have been listening to the National Archives of England podcasts for years and they are very informative. Yes, a podcast is a little less enjoyable than a webinar when slides are involved but you still get the main idea of the lecture and can learn something new.

It would be a boost to the Irish genealogy community, and their link to the genealogy community outside of Ireland, to start making these lectures available to people who can’t be there in person. Since the majority of the lectures are being offered to the general public for free then that should be the same for the viewing/listening audience.

Wouldn’t you love to learn more about “Mapping Ireland’s Industrial Past” or “Using maps for thinking about history: An Illustrated talk”?

©2015 – Blair Archival Research

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Last night was the premiere episode of the US version of the “Genealogy Roadshow.” This is a program that originated in Ireland on RTÉ. The format follows that of the “Antiques Roadshow” a long time BBC production. You can certainly see that format with the presenter and the enquirer at the same table and the crowd surrounding them listening to the evaluation. The crowd around the table provides an extra component to the proceedings as they react to what they are hearing and seeing. The new element is the screen and digital images.

I am a huge fan of the “Antiques Roadshow” and the “Genealogy Roadshow” didn’t disappoint. It would have been nice if we could have found out a little more about some of the documents. I would like to have learned more about who wrote the Austin Peay letter, why it was written and where it came from. The presentation of some of the documents on screen was so fast you could hardly read them.

This show was all about the family stories of everyday people. This is something that a lot of viewers have been looking for according to comments I have heard about the program “Who Do You Think You Are?” and its use of celebrities. What we need to remember is they are only celebrities because they are in the public eye and we are aware of what they do for a living. If they were teachers or firefighters their story would be the same and it would be considered the story of an everyday person.

The main difference for me between the two programs is that you get more of a history lesson on “Who Do You Think You Are?” than you do on “Genealogy Roadshow.” “Who Do You Think You Are?” is all about the story. On “Genealogy Roadshow” they are proving or disproving a family story or they may prove that it is actually a little different than the family thought.

“Genealogy Roadshow” is a fast paced production which fits in with the instant need to know, get the story and move on of most of today’s viewers. As researchers we know this isn’t the way researching your family history works. If it gets more people interested in their family history, in particular young people, then I’m all for it.

How many of us actually knew what we were in for when we first started researching our family history? As researchers we follow good research practices but that is not going to be shown on genealogy based programs. The research is the behind the scenes hard work that makes the program come to life. What I love most about family history based programing is the story. These programs present the stories found in the history of a family.

©2013 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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The Calgary Herald newspaper has an article entitled “Canada’s federal librarians fear being ‘muzzled.

The lack of access to our historic documents has been appalling. Now they are preventing their employees from saying anything about what is happening at LAC.

The new rules are called the “Values and Ethics Code.”

If an employee of Library and Archives Canada is invited to speak at a genealogy conference that is now considered ‘high risk’ by the federal government.

What’s next?

©2013 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Today I went to do a search on The Scotsman Digital Archive website. I clicked on my bookmark link and got a message that a password and user name was required.

A little research online provided the answer. ProQuest has obtained The Scotsman Digital Archive and this means the only way to access it is through their site. The problem with that is the only way to access their site is through an institution or library that has a subscription to their service.

This means that I won’t have access to this site anymore. My local library can’t afford this service. To my knowledge the nearest institution that has a subscription is the University of Toronto Library system. The problem is being able to access the information at the University of Toronto Library if you are not a student.

My last experience trying to access newspapers from ProQuest was that a student ID card and password were required. Since I don’t have one the staff told me I could sign in using a guest name and password but it expired after thirty minutes and the process had to be repeated. Access to computers for the general public is limited.

I am very disappointed that The Scotsman decided to do this with their digital archive. It has made it unavailable to many people. It may be time for ProQuest to open up their subscription service to the general public. They may be pleasantly surprised at the response if they provided a subscription at a reasonable rate.

Genealogists are fighting to have records released to the public, digitized and put online. It is a sad state of affairs when records important to genealogical research were accessible and are now being made inaccessible.

The Scotsman used to have a free search and then you would pay to access a digital image. The subscription price was very reasonable. Now researchers will be lucky if they can access this information at all.

This is a sad day for people researching their Scottish ancestry.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Randy Seaver issued a challenge on his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this weekend. He challenged you to write your genea-bucket list. I have never responded to one of Randy’s challenges before. This one is a little late because of our Canada Day long weekend but here is my Genea-Bucket List. Once I started I couldn’t stop!

“What is on your Genealogy Bucket List? What research locations do you want to visit? Are there genea-people that you want to meet and share with? What do you want to accomplish with your genealogy research? List a minimum of three items – more if you want.”

1. Attend genealogy conferences in Canada, England, Ireland and the United States every year.
2. Go to Ireland to do research every year.
3. Go to Salt Lake every year to research in the Family History Library.
4. Write the family history for all 25 surnames that I am researching.
5. Go to Scotland to do research and visit the places connected to my family.
6. Write articles for genealogy magazines.
7. Visit the places connected to my family in Ireland. This would be a very long trip.
8. Visit Australia and New Zealand to do research and see where my family lived.
9. Break through some of the stubborn brick walls.
10. Meet my cousins in the southern United States, Australia and New Zealand.
11. Find some items connected to my ancestors that I have found referenced in museums.
12. Research and complete some local history projects.
13. Speak at a major US genealogy conference.
14. Scan my family photos.
15. Conduct more interviews with well-known genealogists/bloggers.
16. Take a genealogy cruise.
17. Conduct research trips to Ireland. There is a trip set up for February 2013. You can read more here.
18. Inspire someone in the next generation of my family to be interested in family history.
19. Read a new genealogy book every month. This one is harder than it seems.
20. Create genealogy podcasts.
21. Write more books relating to genealogy/family history.

I am passionate about all things genealogy so this is a long list. There are many places, people and research repositories that I want to visit. My excitement was building thinking about doing all these as I was writing the list. They say when you write things down and put them out into the atmosphere that they have a good chance of happening. Fingers crossed.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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Library and Archives Canada is in crisis. There have been many reports about the massive cutbacks and the decimation of our National Heritage.

Our National Family Record Keeper is a bureaucrat and not a librarian or archivist. A bureaucrat is the member of the family who tosses all the paper and photographs from a family member’s estate into the garbage because they don’t understand what they have in their possession.

The Harper government has no concern about public opinion. They have been given their mandate with the majority government and now they are going to do what they want. It is fairly typical of any majority government.

There have been cut backs before for Library and Archives Canada but this time there seems to be a blatant disregard for the preservation of our Nation’s history.

In five years we will be celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial and there is a project called “Canada 150” to help preserve the stories of families, communities, associations, churches and any number of other entities in this country.

Where are people going to do their research for these projects if they do not have access to Library and Archives Canada? The records are not all held locally.

Local archives, museums and libraries are in difficulty because of the cutbacks. Some will probably end up closing their doors. If they do where do their collections end up? Will the collections be able to go to Library and Archives Canada? Will they have the personnel and expertise to deal with the influx of material?

While attending a lecture this weekend the presenter said something rather prophetic. He said that not even our children’s children will see everything digitized and online in their lifetime. We still have a need for libraries, archives, museums and historical societies to preserve and protect our historical data.

If Library and Archives Canada is only to preserve the information relating to the Government of Canada and not for the people of Canada then it needs to be renamed Library and Archives for the Government of Canada.

Please let your voice be heard.

©2012 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

Save Library & Archives Canada

Send a Letter to Help Save Library & Archives Canada

Daniel Caron letter in Canada’s History Magazine

Saving Library and Archives Canada

The Wrecking of Canada’s Library and Archives

Cutbacks At Library And Archives Canada

Saskatchewan Archives cuts

Nanaimo archives in crisis after feds cut grants

Harper’s Assault on the Past

Cuts to Canadian archives suit the Harper Tories in more ways than one

Why Did Harper Cut Canada’s Library and Archives

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The first few months of this year have proved challenging for me with regards to family history information that I have shared with others. There was the tree on Ancestry that has my information linked to a family that is not related to mine in any way. I can prove this with documentation but there is nothing to be done.

Photographs that were shared with another researcher showed up on Ancestry without my knowledge. The photographs were shared with someone who was directly connected to the people in the photographs. They did not ask my permission to put my photographs online. One was attached to the wrong person. I respectfully requested that they be removed. They were and it was appreciated.

Then the photos showed up on other trees in Ancestry. They were probably copied to other researcher’s files before they were taken down. Now the problem of the photograph being attached to the wrong person is rampant throughout Ancestry’s family tree database and probably will continue throughout the internet.

Another family line was connected to a family tree where the link was minute. The two families married into the same family generations apart and were not direct lines. Still they had the family tree four generations down connected to their family tree.

When I requested the pictures to be taken down from the family trees some of the people could not understand why I would not share my information. One person said it should be online for all to find. Some got rather hostile.

If someone is found who shares a direct line I share my research. Now I only share information from the shared generation back and not forward. Sometimes I wish I knew back in the 1990s what I know now but as Maya Angelou says “You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.”

While all this was going on Marian Pierre-Louis of Marian’s Roots and Rambles had a blog posting called “The Digital Age Discourages Sharing.” Marian discusses the fact that the internet encourages too much sharing and that if it is found on the internet then people feel that copyright does not apply. The sub topics were photos, writing, genealogy and the future. Go and read Marian’s blog posting as it is very informative and provides food for thought on the subject.

Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers has come out with a chart to help people decide whether or not to post an image. The blog post is called “Infographic – Should I Post This Image?”

The frustration for me is that it feels like people are collecting names to add to their tree to make it as big as possible. People are finding information on the internet and not examining it closely enough to make sure there really is a connection. They are not researching the records for themselves in order to prove the connection that was found on the internet really exists.

I understand the elation of finding information on the internet that seems to relate to your family. The excitement of finding distant cousins and family connections not previously known can be exhilarating. Gathering names from family trees posted on the internet is not doing family history research. In my opinion you are missing out on the best part of the research process by only focusing on the internet.

New information is being put on the internet everyday but at the same time less than 2% of all genealogical information is found online. At some point you will have to go to libraries and archives as well as purchase birth, marriage and death certificates to further your research.

The internet is a great tool, I use it everyday, but it is just a tool. To further my research I need to go to the brick and mortar repositories to find more information. Most of my brick walls are broken down with research in libraries and archives.

When I started my research in the 1970s you had to mail a letter of request and wait for a response. If payment was required you mailed that in a return letter. Then you had to wait for a response and hope that the search was successful. Finding distant relatives was not part of the process as they were difficult to locate.

In the 1980s there was the Genealogical Research Directory. You would pay to put in your names, dates and places of interest and a large book would come out each year. If you found a connection in the book you would write the person a letter and hopefully share some information.

I could not wait for the book to come out each year and went through it several times with a highlighter to make sure nothing was missed. Writing paper, envelopes and lots of stamps were purchased, not to mention International Reply Coupons. It was exciting to find a variety of envelopes in the mail box. I got quite a collection of stamps from around the world. A distant cousin in South Africa was found through this book. The family had not been in contact since both our Great Great Grandmother’s wrote to each other in the late 1800s.

In the 1990s when I started online you could use mailing lists to find people and share information but you still had to mail the information to them. It was at this time that it took one year from the time a family tree was sent to a distant cousin and another distant cousin was found who sent my own tree back to me. They did not know it had come from me in the first place. A little research showed it had been through four different people.

Now in the 2010s you can contact someone online and it is feasible that within 10 minutes or less you can have confirmation and information shared. You do not even have to contact anyone you can just download their tree from their website or the online database they are using. People are still sharing information with me that originated with me and they do not know it.

Now this will not stop me from sharing my information but it will curtail what and how much I share in the future. People need to understand the power the internet has and the effect it can have on your privacy. Maybe the pendulum will start to swing the other way and privacy will be in vogue again.

There also has to be a certain respect for the work and effort of the person who did the research on the family in the first place. There are notes in my family tree that tell me where the information came from originally. It includes a person’s name and contact information.

Two questions keep coming to mind – How can you be sure that the family tree you find online is really yours? How valid is the research that was done on the family tree that you have found?

©2011 – Blair Archival Research

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