Read, Record, Write, Repeat: Tuesday’s Tip

Within the windowless library, area genealogists gathered to review records on screen, microfilm, and in hand.  I was a novice family historian, with little reason to use the local data, just seeking the opportunity to mingle with fellow enthusiasts.  I was set the task of transcribing funeral home ledgers for the microfilm index.  As I steadily worked through the one hundred year old volumes each week, I asked questions about the area prompted from the names, places and customs detailed in those lines of script.  Over time I struck up a friendship with a particularly clever genealogist, computer savvy and very familiar with the local databases and collections, and I seized the chance to talk about my research with its puzzles and twists.  My friend recommended some universal rules of research:

Identify your starting ancestor.

READ as many records and newspapers as you can.

RECORD your sources and your information so it can be stored easily and retrieved easily.

WRITE up your research every so often and uncover the next set of questions you would like to answer.

The most important tip she passed on was this: REPEAT THAT PROCESS!  What an historian learns in the second, third, and fourth reading are the connections between the small details. Details that seemed inconsequential at first suddenly tell an important story or offer an amazing insight into your ancestors’ lives.

Case in point.

I have very limited information about the women in my families: maiden names, federal census data, brief register report descriptions, and every once in a while, a mention in a document like a deed or mortgage.  On the occasion of Women’s History Month I devoted some time last week to rereading those records and attempting to write brief biographies of four female ancestors alive during the Civil War.  Six hundred words later I had gotten up to 1864 in the life of one woman. My very limited assignment took on the feel of a dragon pulling me into a deep, bottomless cave!  Given the time I have for writing I had to refine my assignment, and so began looking for a connection among all of the data, a spark of insight, a piece of sticky tape that might paste a story together.  In other words, I repeated the process–again.

I began with another read-through of the Minor Register Report for Mary Jane Gwynn Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania, wife of Francis Marion.  She bore five children:

John P. born 18 December 1852.  Alfred born 31 December 1855.  Sarah born 23 February 1858.  Leroy born 15 April 1864. Robert, my great-grandaddy, born 29 July 1869.

Wait.  Leroy was born on April 15, the birthdate of one of my children! Hmmm.  Seems like something else happened on or around that date.  Rifling through my Lady Papers, I found my essay on Greene Dodson.  There.  April 15, 1864–William Greene Dodson, eldest son of Sarah Jane Rowlett and James H. Dodson, enlisted in the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army, at Christiansville, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Three women connected across time, place and circumstance.  At this intersection waits my story, which will require yet one more repeat of the read, record, write.

Follow Friday: The Museum of the Confederacy

Back when I was a kid, in the 1960s, every southern child learned about the yell, the high decibel, primal yell that rebel soldiers were reported to have uttered as they charged into the blue uniformed aggressors.  Speculation held that it sounded like a pack of wild men; the eerie screams stopped Yanks in their tracks, made them reconsider their positions and examine their reasons for fighting.  The Museum of the Confederacy in  Richmond, Virginia has a vodcast in which this mythic cry has been recreated–and it is indeed eerie, primal, menacing.  No wonder northern soldiers wrote home about it.

This site contains this clever reconstruction, as well as, several other short lectures covering subjects such as:  Mourning in Civil War America, Creativity in Captivity, Emancipation and the New Black Vote, Encouraging Hearts and Strengthening Hands.  Anyone attempting to understand the cultural transformations and political consequences of the Civil War will find this set of videos helpful.  Even if you are a Yankee. ;)

Uncle! : Tuesday’s Tip

I minorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminorminormino

dodson PROMISE dodsondodsondodsondodsondodsondodsondodsondodsondodsondodson

saylessayles TO STOP saylessaylessaylessaylessaylessaylessaylessaylessaylessaylessayl

stricklandstrickland GOOGLING stricklandstricklandstricklandstricklandstricklandstrick

cattledrovercattledrover MY ANCESTORS cattledrovercattledrovercattledrovercattledr

teacherteacherteacherteacher UNTIL I ORGANIZE teacherteacherteacherteachertea

farmerfarmerfarmerfarmerfarmerfarmer RESEARCH I HAVE farmerfarmerfarmerfar

Google, you have me crying UNCLE!  I can’t stand the information overload, or rather the product of my search overload.  I give up!!! Time to start thinking like the cloud–how do I store data so that I can retrieve it when, where and how I like.

I have purchased a big box of manila folders, a set of heavy duty alphabet tabs; cleaned out a file drawer in my work space; sharpened my pencils, assembled my pens.  A sheaf of computer paper stands at the ready, to be inserted for web print outs or to record my thoughts.  Each folder will be labeled with a category hierarchy and filed by broadest category:  CENSUS> 1860> Dodson> James and Sarah.

All paper accumulated must be filed–NOW.  All paper generated must be filed–as generated.  All computer file lists must get copied, pasted and printed–and filed NOW–so I remember how I organized and stored things on the blinkin’ computer.  All doodles explaining events and relationships–saved and filed.  All correspondence saved, printed and filed.

Filing resembles writing.  Just the act of creating relationships puts down more neural pathways in my brain, creating greater retention and synthesis of diverse ideas and media.  I only wish I had taken the advice of more experienced family historians sooner–start with a organizational system and use it!!  Oh, well.  Better late than never, right?

And until that table is cleared, the floor folder-free, the odd drawer emptied out, NO MORE GOOGLING ANCESTORS!!!!   :)

Pssst…Here’s a Tip! WordPress Hyper-Links To A New Tab!: tech tuesday

I get a wee bit frustrated when I try to have my blog cake and eat it too–when I try to link my reader to a great site or post without driving them from mine!  As with many blogging platforms, a click on an embedded WordPress hyper-link refreshes the current page with the linked page.  I have tried, in vain, to have the linked page open under a new tab.  I have had a “Voila!” moment, folks!

In WordPress,  a blogger highlights the word to be hyper-linked, and goes to the unbroken chain icon in the toolbar above the text box.


Upon clicking, a pop-up window gives the writer a field to enter the linked web address, its URL, and a field to enter a title that will hover over the designated word, giving your reader an idea of why you are sending them away from your prose. Directly below those two fields is box with the option to open this designated hyper-link in a new tab.


Voila!  Your text will be linked to its appropriate post, map, photo, or websitein a new tab, and your reader can navigate back and forth between the your blog and your related site with ease!

Our Government Rocks! : Follow Friday

I am in many ways exasperated with the state of our national government with all the picky nonsense, the garrulous quarreling.  LEAD already!

But there is no set of institutions better at creating databases than ours, and lately these civil servants have been digitizing the records and making the database searchable from your home!  The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management–General Land Office website receives this week’s TOP HITS award!

I have the honor of being custodian and researcher for a batch of family documents, many of them related to land transactions in the 1840s-1860s.  Armed with the family surname, Minor, and the county and state mentioned in the document–Moultrie, Illinois in this week’s search–I was able to draw up all of the land warrantees and patentees for the Federal distribution of public lands.  

What an experience to confirm with government documents that my ancestors participated in the westward expansion of our country.  In this case, Abia Minor, son of John Pearson Minor, is assigned the land originally warranted to War of 1812 veterans.   By clicking on the far left hand paper icon I can access the original document.  I can even order a certified copy of this document without leaving the page.  Clicking the details tab on that page gives a second page that succinctly states the specifics of the land now to be in Abia Minor’s name.  

As I reread my satchel stash of transactions between father and son, this newfound government information will enrich my understanding of family dynamics and of government policy impact on those interactions.