Family History Writers Challenge

Swiped, Stolen, Borrowed…What To Do When Your Work Is “Shared”: Tuesday’s Tip

Portrait of Unknown Man, Minor Family Album, p.1Light colored eyes, weak from age and illness, stared out from between a headful of thick, wavy hair and a chinful of white whiskers.  The photograph was among a list of search returns for John P. Minor on a major genealogical website. The problem?  This is NOT John P. Minor.  The PROBLEM? Two different users had conducted a google search, found their way to an old Shoots, Roots, And Leaves blog post in which yours truly had misidentified the whiskered gent as my patriarch, John P. Minor.  Without contacting me, they lifted the photo and uploaded it to Ancestry, perpetuating inaccurate family history.

Two things have gone awry here.

1.) My original attempt to identify an old, unlabeled photograph found in an album that belonged to my mother.  I had ascertained a probable chain of provenance, and reached the conclusion that the photographs were collected by Mary Jane Minor in the late 1800s.  With limited technical knowledge of dating photographs and limited contact with other relatives, I made a stab at identifying the guy primarily based on his age and the placement of the photograph in the first page.  I certainly did not have enough sources or experience to make a solid claim–as I did–that the whiskered man was John P. Minor. I have since acquired more skills, and conferred with relatives, to know with certainty that this is NOT J. P. Minor, and I have written two subsequent blog posts about this research here and here.

2) Readers did not collaborate before sharing.  I give my contact information for a reason–to collaborate.  I also have the “comments section” activated for a reason–to collaborate.  Had these tree climbers been willing to use either method I could have shared the newly discovered photographs, and collaborated on a possible identification of Mr. Chin Whiskers.  Instead, the readers perpetuated my error.

What’s a Geneablogger to do?

Well, I sure as heck will not stop blogging and sharing.  The collaborations and contacts have proven to be insightful, stimulating, and fun.  But I have established a few guidelines for error catching and correcting!!

1.)  If the error is perpetuated on  Leave a note in the photograph’s or document’s comment section attributing the original source, your blog, and stating the error that is perpetuated.  THEN contact the user directly with the in-house mail, with the same message.

2.) Review the past post.  Delete the inaccurate information.  If the remaining text is nonsensical, delete the whole darn post.  If a wonderful story still deserves to be told, note that the post has been updated to reflect new information.  Don’t forget to update your tags and photo captions!!

3.) Up your game. If a post’s story is a mere “perhaps”, generate reader engagement.   Ask questions instead of making statements.  Write a piece of fiction, based on a piece of intriguing data, and ask readers if they think that interpretation to be likely given the source.  In short…if you are not confident that the family story is probably or certainly true, then flag the post as a work in progress.

I am a writer, a blogger, a family historian, a researcher, and collaborator.  I know by putting my work out here that it will sometimes be taken, reused with and without attribution to me.  That is the risk I take, gladly, willingly, for ultimately every reader is a potential friend and collaborator.

I am curious to know how other geneabloggers have handled this situation.  I look forward to reading your comments!!


Family History Writers Challenge Howland Surnames

Surname Saturday: Old Family Histories – Gospel or Clue?

I have sworn to produce more and consume less in 2013; write more, research less;  read more books and fewer status updates.  I have stumbled a bit in the last week, as I prepared for the Family History Writing Challenge.

Determined to set a rich social context for my protaganist, Ira Sayles, I returned to accumulated notes hoping to glean early childhood vignettes.  A self-defeating  act, as it turns out, since I spent an ENTIRE day surfing the ‘net for collaborating evidence of the family register and family trees. By nightfall I felt like a zettabyte of information was smothering my writing spark.  Yes, I found genealogical gems, that appear to be well-documented and thoughtfully written.  And yes, they offer conflicting information.


Previous genealogists have gathered quite a bit on this dilemma, as it turns out. I have enough family documentation, indirect and direct primary as well as secondary sources, to rest assured that Ira Sayles was the son of Christopher Sayles and Sarah King Sayles.  Sarah King was the daughter of James King and Merrobe (Rhobe) Howland King.  Rhobe Howland was the daughter of John Howland, Jr. and Lois Eddy Howland.  Now I pause, not quite certain of my sources in tracing lineage back further, not an uncommon dilemma for folks with Revolutionary Era ancestors. I feel fortunate to document this much of the family, for I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the Howlands farmed land that they had purchased in Scituate, Providence County, Rhode Island, where they were free to worship as Quakers.

But there is a tug on my line that threatens to reel me back further, for you see, the Howlands came over on the Pilgrims’ boats.  Intriguing, no?

John Howland was an indentured servant on the Mayflower, and signed the Mayflower Compact.  Henry and Arthur, brothers of John, came over between 1623-1630.  All of the Howland boys were successful farmers and landowners in the early Massachusetts colony, but Henry and Arthur were obstinate troublemakers, from the Pilgrims’ point of view.  Henry and Arthur broke the Sabbath, refused to worship in public, and *gasp* harbored Quaker meetings in their homes.  Finally the two brothers migrated toward Roger William’s colony – Rhode Island. Settling in communities along the southwestern coast of Massachusetts, the Quaker Howland descendants continued to flourish, and in time migrated on into the western and northwestern corner of Rhode Island.

And that is where I find my Ira’s great-grandfolks.  Quaker Rhode Islanders.  That fact serves as a clue pointing to descent from either Arthur or Henry, not John as a 19th century Tioga County, Pennsylvania history purported.  Yesterday’s search uncovered a source, The John Howland Who Married Freelove Wood,  by Frances G. Jenkins, Williamstown, Massachusetts; this well-documented paper gives evidence that John Sr. who married Freelove Wood was a descendant of troublemaker Arthur.

Now I am really intrigued to read the substantial record of Arthur’s life.  BUT I have yet to determine with certainty the John Jr. who married Lois Eddy is the son of John Sr. who married Freelove Wood.

Now what?

I turn to you, fellow Keepers of the Family Lore.

  • How do you use the genealogical work of other descendants?
  • When do you decide that enough is enough, just write about it already?
  • What sources are available from my armchair to confirm parentage for New England ancestors of the mid-1700s?
  • What folks might be able to conduct look ups for sources, and in what archives?

Someday my family history writing will be someone else’s old family history.  I would like them to consider it a reliable story, more gospel than clue.

For me this dilemma is at the core of much family history work.  When do we treat our sources as gospel and preserve the family stories we have uncovered, as is? And when do we treat our sources as clues, to inform the next research question, leaving the story untold, or incomplete?


Family History Writers Challenge

Ready! Set! NO!!!!: Family History Writing Challenge


My countdown calendar fairly shouts at me.  My brain feels like a tangled, sticky mess of dates, lists, register reports, and story ideas.  I have dutifully completed the interactive tutorial with Scrivener, a wonderful writers-specific word processor, and entered an outline for my project, Reconstructing Ira Sayles.  The thought of confronting the dazzling blankness of the editor page tomorrow reduces my keyboard activity to just characters per hour.  AUGH!!!! My wonderful stories are trapped inside my brain, struggling against the mind web, getting ever more buried into its fibers.

I must remember my promise, first articulated by Lynn Palermo, the host of this crazy challenge.  Confront the page, one bit at a time.  The day’s results don’t have to be great prose.  Though I would love to provide Ira admirers with a complete narrative – someday – the best outcome of this next month may not be measured by my word count.  The final result may be the habit of daily writing.

And that addition to my life will ultimately be more wonderful than even the story of Ira Sayles.