Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prof. Luis von Ahn

I just finished watching the PBS show, Nova Science Now, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/ and saw an amazing profile of Professor Luis von Ahn, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0401/04.html. He helped to invent CAPTCHA, which is the box with the morphed words that you have to decipher when using Facebook and other websites or setting up a new email account. It is a security feature meant to stop computerized spam programs. Humans can decipher the letters but computers cannot. So it basically determines if the thing accessing a website is a person or a computer. (If you want to see an example, check out the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAPTCHA)

At one point, von Ahn decided that people were wasting a lot of time typing those letters into boxes. So he decided to take his creation one step further. He wanted to use this technology for something useful.

So he came up with reCAPTCHA, http://recaptcha.net/. reCAPTCHA uses this technology to digitize books, newspapers and old time radio shows. Old books that are being digitized by OCR scanning technology often have words that cannot be read by the scanner for various reasons. These words are gathered and used as CAPTCHAs that allow humans to decipher the words that the computer cannot. According to the reCaptcha website, reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly. Currently this re-imagined technology is being used with books digitized for Internet Archive and old issues of the New York Times.

You can help in this effort by using reCaptcha on your website of anywhere you post your email address. For more information consult the website at http://recaptcha.net/learnmore.html.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Church Record Sunday: Newberry Library

The great thing about Manuscript Collections is that you never know what kind of records you will find until you start checking out online card catalogs and websites. A good example is the Newberry Library, located in Chicago, Illinois. You can read more about the library at their website, http://www.newberry.org/general/generalinfo.html

Within the Newberry's Manuscript Collection are some religious records that would be great for anyone with ancestors living in Illinois. From the online list entitled, Modern Manuscript Collections: Religion, http://www.newberry.org/collections/ReligionAbstracts.html, you will find the following two examples of religious manuscripts, including primary records. I am just highlighting two of the collections, to see the complete list, consult the website above.

  • Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. Zion City (Ill.) records, 1890-1974, bulk 1899-1907. 16 cubic ft.Mainly scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings from national and international newspapers, but also correspondence, photographs, and other materials relating to John Alexander Dowie, founder of the Christian Catholic Church (later Christian Catholic Apostolic Church) and his establishment of the Christian utopian city of Zion, on Lake Michigan near the northern border of Illinois.

  • First Presbyterian Church (Chicago, Ill.). Records, 1833-1999.90 cubic ft.Parish records, church bulletins and programs, business records, artifacts (including missionary artifacts), etc., of this church founded at Fort Dearborn in 1833 and now in Woodlawn. The congregation has included many prominent Chicago families such as the Shedds, Buckinghams, and Fields, and became one of the first racially integrated congregations in Chicago, in 1953. Subjects: Clubs and Organizations; Religion

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to Contact Living Relatives

Researching the dead is easy. Contacting the living can be a whole different ball game. There can be many different reasons why you may choose to contact a living relative. These may include:

• Responding to a post on a message board;
• Finding new cousins on the internet through genealogy sites or online people finders;
• Reconnecting with a relative from your younger years;
• Following up on a lead given to you by another cousin;
• Following up on a lead based on your own research.

However you find a new cousin, except for genealogist cousins, the most important thing to remember is that not everyone is thrilled about their family history. In fact some people could care less (a collective ouch is felt by many of us). So make sure to tread softly as you choose how to contact the person and what you will be discussing with them.

I would suggest that you try to contact them in the least intrusive way as possible. Responding to a genealogical query from a researcher is much different than contacting an unknown cousin out of the blue. With the unknown cousin, I would consider writing an e-mail, if the address is available, or mailing a letter. I would call first if that is my only option, if I had an heirloom to give them, or if time were of an essence.

I know that some genealogists don't think twice about calling an unknown cousin. I would hesitate just because some people may find it intrusive to get a call from someone asking or telling them about their family history. I would love it but not every non-genealogist would welcome such a call. If you choose to make a call, try to write out what you will say and be sure to be short, sweet, and concise. Don't overwhelm the person, and be prepared if the person does not want to talk to you. I remember one phone call I made to a distant cousin, who was a genealogist, was met with less than kindness. Later, after we had swapped letters, things changed. But it took a while for her to know me and want to discuss "her" family history research with me.

If you are requesting information from someone, be sure you are specific. Telling a genealogist you want anything and everything to do with Great-Grandma Harris is probably not going to get you much. But asking for her death certificate and obit might get you what you need. When writing a letter or e-mail, I would recommend that you provide the person with some information and then make your request. An example follows:

Jane Doe
123 Main St
Beach City, Ca 92399

Dear Mrs. Doe,

My name is Gena Philibert Ortega and I am researching the Martin Chatham family. I have recently discovered that you and are I related to Martin through his son Moses. Your grandmother was Moses' daughter.

I am trying to trace all of Martin's descendants and would like to know more about your grandmother, Ethel Ann Chatham Smith. Do you happen to know where she is buried? Also, would you have an obituary for her that you could provide me a copy? I would be more than willing to reimburse any copying or postage fees.

I would be happy to provide you with information that I have gathered thus far. I am enclosing a pedigree chart for you, detailing you ancestry back to Martin's grandfather.

I look forward to hearing from you


If you are requesting documents or other items, even the person's time to look up something, make sure you offer to reimburse them. Taking time out of their lives to make copies, mail something or get information for you is worth something. The person may decline any money but at least offer it. You may even consider sending something as a thank you based on how much the person has supplied you. A thank you card, or a gift certificate might be much appreciated it. One time, someone thanked me by sending a book of stamps. That is something any genealogist can use!

Also, remember to offer to provide them with copies of your research. Your contact may inspire them to learn more about their family history or bring up questions that they have. Consider sending completed family group sheets or pedigree charts to them so that they can know more about your shared family history. You may also consider putting together a blog, wiki, or web site that updates family members on your findings.

Your communication can go one of two ways. You may make a new friend or you may get the cold shoulder. I, like many genealogists, have had the experience of contacting a relative who either ignored us or made it clear that they did not want to be contacted. In this case, you have to go back to the drawing board. You may need to get the information elsewhere. This may result in extending your research or trying to find another relative that can help you.

However, you decide to contact the living, these contacts can often lead you right where you want to be…finding the dead.

Monday, June 22, 2009

When is Your Birthday?

Well, today is my birthday and I thought it would be fun to look at what life was like back then. In an effort not to reveal my real age, I won't tell you how far back 'back then' was.

If you want something fun to do with your genealogy, check out a time capsule website like http://dmarie.com/timecap/. InfoPlease has a time capsule that goes back to 1900 at http://www.infoplease.com/yearbyyear.html. This might be interesting to use to check out life in your grandparent's or great-grandparent's time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Church Record Sunday: Reading Church Records in Latin

Part of researching records is being able to actually read the records. I know that I am intimidated when forced to read records that are not in English. But please, don't let the prospect of another language stop you from acquiring documents on your family.

Have some Catholic records that are written in Latin? Well, don't go off and buy an expensive foreign language program, here are some other ideas for getting them translated.

1. Find a High School or College/University Latin instructor. Ask them to help you translate the records that you have.

2. Try A Word List. FamilySearch Wiki has a work list for Latin at https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Latin_Genealogical_Word_List. Other Latin word lists can be found at http://www.bmi.net/jjaso/Latin_Terms_and_Phrases.html and http://www.genealogy.com/00000012.html.

3. Use an online Latin dictionary. One from Notre Dame can be found at http://archives.nd.edu/latgramm.htm and http://www.sunsite.ubc.ca/LatinDictionary/.

Monday, June 15, 2009

E-Resources at the Library of Congress

The webpage, Databases and E-Resources at the Library of Congress, History and Genealogy, http://www.loc.gov/rr/ElectronicResources/subjects.php?subjectID=13, is a great list of links to various databases found at libraries and archives that can be beneficial to your research. You will find newspapers, documents, and finding aids.

While some of the links are locked and can only be used at the Library of Congress, there are many that you can access from home. Links include:

A2A-Access to Archives: English archival information from the 900's to the present.
Africa Research Central: A clearinghouse of African Primary Sources
Alaska and Polar Periodical Index
American Memory
Archives de France
Australian Historic Records Register
Belgian Newspapers Online
Black Americans in Congress
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1841-1902
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

...and much more

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Church Record Sunday: Church of the Brethren

Church of the Brethren is an Anabaptist church founded in 18th century Europe. Early believers structured their church based on the belief that Jesus wanted his followers to take part in "peaceful action, plain and compassionate living and a shared search for truth." For more information about the history of the Church of the Brethren and what they believe, consult their website at http://www.brethren.org/site/PageServer?pagename=visitor_about_history.

The Church of the Brethren Network of Genealogy and History Resources, http://www.cob-net.org/genchurch.htm, is a great place to start your search for Church of the Brethren ancestors. This website contains Congregational histories, photos, lists of libraries with Brethren collections, online databases, and other websites that provide information about the church.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some of the Forgotten Ones

In some of my presentations I discuss the role of institutions in our ancestor's lives. Our ancestors were institutionalized in insane asylums, hospitals, sanitarium, facilities (whatever term was being used) for a variety of reasons. Women could be institutionalized at their husband's whim. Children with mental disabilities were institutionalized. The elderly were institutionalized when their families could no longer care for them.

What happened when those that were institutionalized died? In some cases, family members claimed them and had them buried elsewhere. Two of my ancestors were institutionalized at an advanced age and once they passed, family members made arrangements for them to be buried in city cemeteries. But this did not always occur, maybe because of a lack of money, shame or even when there was no family left or they couldn't be found, those that were institutionalized were buried on the grounds of the institution. No headstone with their names and dates were placed on their graves. Just a very small marker with a number documented their final resting place.

(There are even some places, I know of one I'm sure there are others, where if the deceased was not claimed by family, their bodies were donated to science and later cremated).

I remember my cousin who went on a search for her grandmother's resting place. The mental health facility were she had passed told my cousin that there was no cemetery on the grounds. It was only when she went outside and started looking around that she found a janitor who admitted to where the long neglected cemetery was located on the grounds.

There are people trying to do something about these long forgotten people whose graves are often either not marked or marked with a number and no name. This link, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/31184847#31184847 is a touching story of one man's mission to give a field of numbers their rightful names.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Church Record Sunday: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America

From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/ is an online exhibit that is part of the Library of Congress' Manuscript Collection. The home page for this exhibit states,

The exhibition features more than two hundred treasures of American Judaica from the collections of the Library of Congress, augmented by a selection of important loans from other cooperating cultural institutions.
Aside from the history and documents, there is an interactive timeline that begins with Columbus in 1492 and concludes with the year 2004. A bibliography provides examples of further reading materials on the history of Judaism in America. Documents featured in the exhibit can be individually clicked on and read. This is a fascinating historical portrait that sheds light on the life and persecutions of American Jews.

Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers

I believe that it is no secret that I think manuscript collections are vital to genealogical research. As I was researching links for my Social History of the Day websites I came across a collection that I thought I would share.

Through the Library of Congress you can can access a digital manuscript collection about Alexander Graham Bell. This collection consists of correspondence between Bell and other family members as well as lab notes, articles, speeches and other documents. These are all available to you digitally and for free at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/bellhtml/bellhome.html.

What a great source for those related to the Alexander Graham Bell family.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Heirlooms: You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Do you have an old BB gun at your home? Maybe one of your family heirlooms is an older BB gun. The Daisy BB Gun company provides information about old BB guns for owners.

Daisy has been around since around since the 1880's, though it didn't start as a BB gun factory, they started out making windmills and decided to diversify. The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company later became known for their Daisy BB gun. You can read more about the gun and the company that makes it at their history page at http://daisy.com/history.html.

Do you have an old Daisy? Maybe, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, you received a Red Rider BB gun as a present. Your grandfather may have even owned a Daisy. You can actually find out more about an old Daisy BB Gun, including it's age by writing to the Daisy Museum. For the address and the form to send to Daisy see http://www.daisymuseum.com/html/antiquegunform.htm.

BB guns can be fun-but be careful, don't shoot your eye out;)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Maywood Nebraska

William W White
35 Division World War I
July 26 1888
August 17, 1950
Medal marker next to gravestone says US World War 1917-1918