Saturday, July 24, 2010

Church Record Sunday: Western European Ancestors

Genealogist Leslie Albrecht Huber has a new book out, The Journey Takers.  This book is based on her research into her ancestors who left Germany, Sweden and England for the United States.  Though I cannot provide a full review of the books, since I just started reading it, you can read what Randy Seaver has written in his review found on his blog Genea-Musings

Leslie has a website, Understanding Your Ancestors, which also has some great information for those genealogists researching their Western European ancestors.  In particular, check out the Religion page.  This page goes into a discussion about the religions these ancestor's practiced and some ideas about where to find records.  Don't forget to check out her article on Parish Records also found on her website.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Church Record Sunday: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a good example of why genealogists need to check out museums for genealogical research. By exploring the links located under the Research link, found on the left hand side of the website page and on the top toolbar, you can explore online exhibits, learn more about the Museum's collections and even ask questions.

By clicking on Search the Collections, you will see a list of the online catalogs you can explore including catalogs for the library, archive and photo archives.  The Holocaust Names List Catalog is a searchable database of Holocaust-related names. However, it is not searchable by the name of an individual. To learn more about using this databases click here.

The Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center has a mission "to ensure that the individual experiences of survivors and victims of the Holocaust and Nazi-era persecution are collected, preserved and disseminated for future generations." In keeping with this mission, the Center collects information about  Holocaust victims and survivors.  On this page of the Museum website you can learn more about the Survivors Registry and the International Tracing Services.

Not sure how to start your research into your Holocaust-era family? Check out the Museum's Frequently Asked Question or check out their Ask A Question page, a virtual reference desk, "intended to help you find information concerning the Holocaust that is not available at your local library."

Friday, July 09, 2010

What is Privacy in Genealogy?

Tomorrow I am speaking to the San Diego Genealogy Society on the topics of Copyright, Plagiarism and Privacy and their affects on genealogy.  These are important topics that affect us all as genealogists.  Plagiarism is one that has affected me quite a few times with those who have taken content off my blog, handouts and articles without citing me.

Privacy is an interesting topic.  We all want it.  We all want to have our "private lives" left alone.  The irony is that we are pursuing an interest that is all about uncovering family secrets, stories and legends.  By the very nature of the research we pursue we are delving into the private lives of others.

So how should we look at privacy as genealogists?  One unspoken rule of genealogy is that you don't publish family trees or information about the living on the Internet.  That seems obvious.  Most people don't want their birth date and place on the Internet.  But what if you were born in California prior to 1997 and your birth date, place of birth and mother's maiden name is on the California Death Index?  We like to have that Index available to us to research but should it include people who are still living?  What about other ways of finding people like through various public record searches.  Through one public record search I was able to find my birth date and year as well as every address that I have lived at.  This particular search is a genealogical search and is helpful for finding living cousins so we can compare family history research but in some aspects it does infringe on privacy.

People have all sorts of reasons for wanting privacy.  It may just be that they feel their lives are no one else's business.  In the work I use to do, working with domestic violence victims, privacy can mean the difference between life and death.

What about family secrets?  Maybe a divorce or out or wedlock birth? What about a mental disability?  In some cases medical information can mean the difference in treating the lives of those who are living. But with HIPAA laws access to that information is almost impossible. While we may not think that is scandalous, other family members may feel it causes shame. 

A person whose presumed  father really isn't her birth father may not want other people to know that.  I once had a client whose parent's in the 1920s were divorced.  The father shortly thereafter died in a car accident.  In between those two incidents the woman was conceived; Her parent's were not married at the time.  However, she had no idea of that fact, she didn't even know they were divorced.  As a genealogist hired by her I was in a difficult position.  Do I tell her that her parents were divorced at the time of conception or do I leave it be?

Well my personal genealogical code is that I think we should do no harm.  I decided in the above case that it would serve no purpose to explain a timeline of her parent's lives. It would most likely be more harmful to her to know that fact.  There was no greater good to be  served.  What once was shameful may still feel shameful to someone if told.  Privacy in genealogy means not causing harm to the living.

Because of the work I use to do, confidentiality is important.  I think as genealogists we need to consider the living, and the recently dead when we compile our family histories and share those histories with others. We need to not share what would not be appropriate, respect the living's wishes and in some cases not print things about the recently dead that would be harmful to those who are still living.

Part of privacy is also checking out sources.  A participant in a recent presentation I did told me that there is a tree on Ancestry that has her listed as being deceased.  She has tried to get a hold of the tree contributor but the person has not answered.  This tree provides her birth date and place and a death date and place that is actually another relative.  This is a good example of conducting thorough research and citing our sources. When you don't, you may be infringing on other people's privacy.

Friday, July 02, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 12, Jury Duty Excuses

This week's source seems apropos since I have jury duty next week.  I came across the following example when I was doing research at the California State Library a few years ago for my book, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra.  I was looking at a collection of records from the Mono County courthouse and thought these were a unique and interesting resource.

This collection, called "Excuses of Jurors" (Box #27, folder 16) is unique in that it includes hand written letters from residents to the court asking to be excused for jury duty.  Some of the letters include the names of other people, including friends, the judge and notaries, and provide a snapshot of the person's life.

The above example from a man in 1903 begs to be excused  due to "Having been eaten out by grasshoppers last year and not wishing to go through that same misfortune this year. I have commenced to cut my hay which is laying in the field.  And my absence from my property at this present time will cause me great financial loss."

Financial loss was but one excuse for missing jury duty, there were also people who asked to be excused for health reasons.  One man went to the courthouse and testified to the judge that his friend "he believes him to be now, in feeble health having Chronic Diarrhea, that he is in the opinion of the ..unable  to attend as a juror, without endangering his life and impairing his health." (September 28, 1880).  Such a find for a genealogist might help to explain a death or decline in health in an ancestor.

These jury excuses show that people have always been people.  You may need to be excused from jury duty and so too did your ancestor.  These excuses prove once again that doing a search for all kinds of documents will provide you with the gems you want to enhance your family history research.