Thursday, December 31, 2009

I love it when an experiment succeeds

Today I went into Jacksonville to the headquarters public library (a Library Journal "Star Library") to try something which some have been talking about on the Transitional Genealogist's Forum -- photographing an image on a microfilm reader screen.

JPL (Jacksonville Public Library to me; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is on the OTHER coast!) has a digitizing microfilm reader, but the images it produces are Adobe pdf images, and they tend to be rather stark. They can be hard to read when they are of old handwritten documents that have been subjected to bleed-through of writing from the other side, blotching where a scribe did not take care with his pen nibs, tearing, and worm damage. I prefer jpg images, which are not as stark, and which my Paint Shop Pro software can read and on which I can use NeatImage, a freeware program that is great for cleaning up cluttery backgrounds on images.

I took several photographs from Reel 148 of the East Florida Papers. I will be using the EFP extensively in my project on St. Augustine. I held the camera about 10 to 12 inches from the screen, and used mainly the "intelligent ISO" setting on my camera (a Panasonic). I took a few shots on the "macro" setting, but really there is not that much difference between the two. The shots taken with the "intelligent ISO" setting (mainly, there is a built-in light meter) may have come out only slightly better.

But the experiment is a success. Now I can bring the images home, load them on my computer, and use another nifty little program called Transcript to transcribe them. In Transcript, the screen is split between the digitized image at the top, and a work area for transcribing in the lower half. The transcriptions are saved as RichText files. I love it!

And I can work on the images at all hours, not just during library hours. I'm a night owl!

It is great when an experiment succeeds!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Getting Ready for the New Year and the New Term

This week, this hiatus between Christmas and New Year's, I'm doing a little preparation for the new term at the University of North Florida, mainly for my grant project on the family structure of St. Augustine, Florida, from 1783 through 1820, the "Second Spanish Period." I have collected a bunch of journal articles and am beginning to read them (and weed them) for relevance to the project. Some involve background information on family life of the period, particularly in Spain, where many of the St. Augustine colonists originally came from, and continued to be from, throughout all the time of Spanish colonization of the town beginning with its founding in 1565. I had not suspected how many of the townspeople had migrated in from Mexico or the Spanish South American colonies as well, including Indians and African slaves.

This week, probably tomorrow, I am going to the Jacksonville Public Library main branch to look at microfilms of the East Florida Papers, my major source for information about the people of St. Augustine at the time, and to test the idea which we have been discussing on the Transitional Genealogists Forum, that of taking photographs of a frame of microfilm as displayed on the microfilm reader screen. Digitizing can sometimes enhance the readability of a document in one way: I have found that even scanning a paper copy of a document can bring out even a tiny bit more of the writing on the document which does not show up well on the copy itself. That is how I discovered the birthplace of my 4x-great-grandfather. If this method of photographing the microfilm frames on the screen works, it will make the project even easier, as I will be able to do a lot of the transcription work on these St. Augustine documents at home.

I have a dandy little piece of freeware that I found on the web, called Transcript. It presents the user with a divided screen, at the top of which is displayed the document you want to transcribe, and in the bottom half is a work area where you do your transcription. I have used it on some of the older Spanish documents I transcribed for my paleography classes, and which I have been using also to keep up my skills. It is a terrific software for the task. I love practical things, and this software is practical! Genealogists and family historians will also find it useful for transcribing wills, inventories, letters, and other original documents.

It is also time for me to plan my schedule of research trips to St. Augustine and Gainesville (day trips) to the archives there, and a three- or four-day trip to Tallahassee to research at the State Archive, probably over spring break. And, if I can swing it, perhaps a research trip to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which houses the originals of the East Florida Papers.

It is going to be a busy year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Technology of Memory

This week my family -- me, my husband, our two daughters, our son-in-law, and our grandson -- have been at Walt Disney World celebrating our grandson's fifth birthday, the actual day of which is tomorrow. We have been to one Disney park per day -- the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each place, we have had access to technology for preserving memories.

First to come to mind is probably the camera, in various forms. With today's digital cameras, we can edit our memories instantly: we can delete the fuzzy, out-of-focus, ill-lit, over-exposed or blurred photograph right at the camera. In the old days of the Brownie Hawkeye camera we were stuck with the photographs we took, and it was not until we had already paid to have them developed that we could sort through them and discard the ones that did not turn out well. These days, we can have printed only those pictures we want, and we can get this done either in a store or online.

Today's camcorder technology puts more power into a smaller package, such as the camcorder my husband recently bought, and which he can hold literally in the palm of his hand. Small as it is, it makes clear, sharp home movies. It is, believe me, a far cry from the home movies of the 1950s, when he and I were children. What was that stuff they used? Oh, yes -- film.

Film would break, become brittle, or in some climates like ours here in Florida, turn into a jelly if not properly stored. Film could be edited, but it was a clumsy, imprecise process for most people, involving special equipment and materials. It was not, in its basic form, terribly expensive, but again it was imprecise due to the imprecision of the less expensive equipment. Film was carried through the movie projector on pin-like sprockets. The film had sprocket holes, which would tear, causing the film to break or stop and burn from the heat of the projector lamp.

Also today we have personal computers, on which we can view or edit our photographs and movies. Don't like that tourist who got into the left side of your photo of Mickey Mouse with your grandson? Open the photograph in image-editing software and crop him out!

With the computers, too, we can share photographs with family members and friends all around the world, instantly. One thing we had better be able to do: label those photographs!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Calendar: The Dreaded Fruitcake

I am not going to mention a brand name, but there is a rather infamous brand of commercial fruitcake manufactured in the state of Georgia which has, from time to time, surfaced in the family and in the presence of friends as well. It is to be dreaded: it is dry, it is not very good. Frankly, it is a brick.

Have I ever regifted a fruitcake? I would not wish one of the above-referenced bricks on my worst enemy.

However, I have tasted some really good fruitcake, too. Done right, it can be delectable. My friend Amanda does it right. She uses the right ingredients, of good quality, and soaks the thing in brandy until it staggers down the walk of its own accord! Oh, yes, it is good!

So take heart, friends: there is such a thing as good fruitcake.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Kudo in a Full Week

I am honored that Elizabeth O'Neal, who blogs at Little Bytes of Life has nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award.

So this requires that I (a) reveal seven heretofore unknown things about myself (unknown to most everyone except my family who read this) and (b) nominate seven other genealogy bloggers to receive the award.

So here goes the first part (be prepared to be amused or bored . . .)

1. I was in the U.S. Coast Guard, active and reserve, and made it from Yeoman Third Class to Lieutenant (junior grade). I am the first woman in my family to serve in the military.

2. For a long time, I had an uncontrollable fear of spiders. I've gotten better about that (and there's a family story behind the phobia; I might reveal it one day).

3. I have developed an aberrant affection for cheesy disaster movies. They're such fun!

4. I am very fond of acoustic guitar music, and took advantage of the opportunity, while I was at Florida State University in the 1960s, to see and hear Andres Segovia play. Marvelous!

5. My three favorite composers (I love classical music) are Richard Rodgers, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin.

6. I like to read about forensic science (and yes, I do watch the "C.S.I." TV shows).

7. I collect frogs -- ceramic, wood, stone, stuffed, all sorts of forms. When I was a child, I collected real ones.

And now for the nominations:

Elyze's Genealogy Blog
Genealogy Frame of Mind
Miles's Genealogy Tips
The Armchair Genealogist
Spence-Lowry Family History
Night Before Noon

Stop by and give them a read. Some are on hiatus at this busy time of year, but I'm sure they'll e back once all the brouhaha of the holidays simmers down! Happy reading, and happy blogging, and happy holidays to all!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I got the grant!

A few weeks ago, I mentioned applying for a grant to conduct research in the family ties of St. Augustine in the Second Spanish Period (1783-1820) and examine how those family ties influenced and were influenced by the events of the period.

In my university e-mail this morning, I received word that I have been awarded the grant! I think what I'm going to do with it, or most of it (it's $500 for me and $1000 for my mentoring professor) is go to Washington, D.C., to use the originals of the East Florida Papers, which have most of the censuses I need to use, as well as letters, tax lists, and other documents. The originals, so one researcher has commented in his works, are better than their reproductions on microfilm.

I am going to look at the microfilms anyway, and maybe make note of those which are too hard to read (due to faded ink, over- or underexposure, or other factors), and which might be more readable in the original.

What a nice Christmas present!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Calendar: Christmas Cards

And today's entry for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories from Geneabloggers:

Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

I am the world's worst at sending out cards! And it's exacerbated in recent years by my being a college student once again, and having papers and exams at this time of year! So I usually don't get them out. Sigh. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is way too busy!

We usually put the ones we receive either on the counter between the kitchen and the family room, or we hang them on the curtain. There are one or two which survive from our parents or grandparents. I haven't kept many, myself, though I do have the last one that my brother and his wife sent out, the Christmas before his death. I also have a few sent by my high school best friend, which have photos of her and her husband and their son. I also have a few of those dreaded "Christmas letters" that friends have sent me -- after all, they are informative of the year's doings. And I have kept a few cards I have received from friends overseas -- Italy, England. They're usually pretty.

Not much chance I'll get any cards out this year, either. Maybe my husband will sit down and do it!

Advent Calendar: Ornaments

I'm late with my 3rd Advent Calendar installment. Finals are coming up, papers are due!

Anyway, here it is, with the instructions from Geneabloggers:

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn and cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

When I was young we had some of the old fashioned glass ornaments which dated from early in my parents' marriage (16 July 1937). There was a house, and a car, and a bird, a Christmas tree, and a bell. They were not very big, but I loved them. When my mother and I lived in an apartment during the 1960s, when I was in high school, someone broke into our storage cabinets, in the complex's carport, and broke every last one of them. Why people feel like they have to destroy the property of people they don't even know is way beyond me. Ever since, I have fondly remembered and pined for those ornaments.

We have since bought other glass ornaments which I also love. Every year we try to buy one new ornament, sometimes we have done so on our travels, so we remember those trips anew at Christmastime. Sometimes we buy ornaments to represent events we have enjoyed. We have a couple Jacksonville Jaguars (local NFL football team) ornaments, commemorating the first three years, when we had season tickets. We have a couple of Coast Guard ornaments, too, as my husband and I both served in the Coast Guard. And we have handmade ornaments sent by friends. All of these bring wonderful memories and associations at Christmastime.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My book is out!

My husband came in this evening bearing a rather heavy box that had been left on our doorstep. It was addressed to me and when I opened it, there were 10 copies hot off the press of my new book,Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, available from McFarland. The link takes you to the page where you can see a photo of the cover. I'm very pleased with it.

I'll take some of those copies and give them to libraries -- the genealogy departments of the Clay County Library and the Jacksonville Public Library main branches, the library of the University of North Florida, where I'm a student, and the library of the Southern Genealogist's Exchange Society, of which I'm a member.

Nice to see a real product at the end of a few years of work! Now to get to work on the next one!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar: Breakfast!

Well, not really breakfast -- I guess you could call it "pre-breakfast." It has been a tradition since our daughters were babies that I make hot rolls on Christmas morning and serve them with hot chocolate, to be consumed while we are delving into our stockings.

For the first many years, I made cinnamon rolls. But at about the age of 15 our younger daughter developed a true allergy to cinnamon. She can't even smell the stuff or her breathing passages swell up in an anaphylactic reaction. It has the potential of being fatal. All cinnamon left the house at that time, and hasn't been back. So for the past twenty and more years it has been orange rolls. I use a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens bread cookbook. If I ever fail to make the rolls, the reaction is swift and sure!

So we eat our fresh-from-the-oven orange rolls and drink our homemade hot chocolate (from Hershey's cocoa powder) while we see what silly things have been stuffed in our stockings. Then it's time for real breakfast, and then the opening of the main presents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendar: The Ersatz Christmas Tree

Back in the 1970s, when our daughters were small children, we had bad economic times. The economy was doing what it pretty much as been doing, again, these past couple years. We had very little money that year for Christmas, and in order to be able to afford some presents, mainly for our kids, we did not buy a Christmas tree.

But my husband very much wanted one. So he came up with a ridiculous solution: he went out into the yard and cut a raintree sapling. Not hard to come by -- the raintree that grew in the back yard, though it was beautiful to look at, was a wanton among trees. It reproduced with great abandon, to the point that the most prolific weed in our yard was raintree saplings! He stripped the sapling of its few spindly branches. He cut a bunch of ligustrum branches. We had no problem attacking the ligustrum -- we hate the nasty things. These branches were tied or otherwise affixed to the raintree sapling.

And there was our tree -- ridiculous to look at, but decorated to the nines, anyway. We laughed at the poor thing then, and we still laugh about it today, when we recall how, despite being scrawny and jury-rigged, it brightened what could have been a dismal holiday season. I do have a photo of it, but with papers and final exams looming, and being sick the past couple days, I have not had time to hunt for it.

The poor thing is long gone, but it still keeps on giving us joy every time we remember it and laugh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I got my daily Geneabloggers newsletter, and in it, Thomas MacEntee said:

"As many genealogy bloggers are either traveling over the river and through the woods, or getting ready to host family, most of us will take some time and say thanks - either through a blog post, in a prayer, or perhaps aloud to our family and friends.

"I would like to thank all the readers of GeneaBloggers for helping to build a vibrant community of genealogy and family history bloggers. Whether engaged on Facebook, or Twitter or blog posts, it continues to amaze me what a great time it is to be a genealogist!

"GeneaBloggers will have its 500,000th visitor (yes, can you believe it?) sometime next week and I want to thank everyone for their support."

To that I say: Thomas, thank you! You got me into this, and I'm glad you did. You do a great job -- and it is a LOT of work, we can all see that -- with Geneabloggers. Thank you for all you do.

As for Thanksgiving, ours is a bit weird. My husband is up in Darien, Georgia, with his mother's people. I didn't make the trip this year, because it's fatiguing, and I am using this day to rest from the rigors of classes and child care, and do some studying and paper-writing. Our younger daughter, who lives with us, pulled a muscle at work yesterday, and is in her bed resting the affected leg and keeping it warm. She stepped wrong or something, and pulled a hamstring, probably. Not fun.

Our other daughter and her husband and son are at her mother-in-law's today, with that family, celebrating with a lot of good food, I'm sure!

So our family celebration will be Saturday. We're not doing it tomorrow because two sisters who live in the area, friends of the family, will be celebrating with us, and they have to work tomorrow, as does our hamstrung younger daughter. These two sisters are a pair of characters, and are always fun to have around. Their only local family is their father, who is slowly fading away under the influence of Alzheimer's, and is in a nursing home. They'll visit with him today, and celebrate with us Saturday.

A bit unorthodox, but we'll get the job done, even if a bit late.

And now for the list of what I'm thankful for:

My husband of nearly 39 years (next February), for his support and belief in me over the years.

My daughters, for being good hardworking people, each with a great sense of humor!

Enough to get by on without having to struggle too much.

The opportunity to go back to school and study some fascinating stuff!

Some great professors, who genuinely care about their students, and who give fascinating lectures.

Great, caring, active, funny friends.


Monday, November 23, 2009

SNGF -- Late Again

Well, once again it's Sunday night and I'm just -- excuse me, it's actually Monday morning, and I should be getting to bed because in less than 6 hours I have to get up and take care of my four-year-old grandson!

However, before hitting the hay, even though I am as usual a day late (never mind a dollar short), I'm going to do the latest in Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun:

1) Who is your MRUA - your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor? This is the person with the lowest number in your Pedigree Chart or Ahnentafel List that you have not identified a last name for, or a first name if you know a surname but not a first name.

2) Have you looked at your research files for this unknown person recently? Why don't you scan it again just to see if there's something you have missed?

3) What online or offline resources might you search that might help identify your MRUA?

4) Tell us about him or her, and your answers to 2) and 3) above, in a blog post, in a comment to this post, or a comment on Facebook or some other social networking site.

My MRUA is my great-grandmother Augusta Hetherington, number 9 on my pedigree. The only thing I can say about her is that she was born around 1851 and that she married my great-grandfather Oscar Merry Packard in Bloomington, Illinois, on 17 August 1871 (unfortunately, it wasn't until 1872 that Illinois began collecting a LOT more information than just the bride and groom's names and the date! I do wish they had waited a year). I do not know who her parents were, though truth to tell, I just have not had the time to do the searching yet.

So what I probably need to do is search the 1870 census of Bloomington and see if I can find Augusta (whose name may have been Sarah Augusta) living with her family, as that would have been the year before she and great-grandpa Oscar got married.

She apparently died in California, for they were there in the 1930 census. So I need to check the California death records for her death certificates (and Oscar's while I'm at it). That could also give some useful information.

And now, good night all!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Journey of a Thousand Li

An old Chinese saying is: A journey of a thousand li begins with a single step. I've taken the first step on a journey that could literally cover a thousand miles before I'm done.

I have plans for my next book, to be an examination of the history of St. Augustine, Florida, during the second Spanish period of Florida's history (1783-1820) through the lens of genealogy, as I have mentioned before. I haven't yet heard about the grant I have applied for, but I do have one step toward the goal accomplished. The Chair of the Department of History at the University of North Florida has approved my proposal for a Directed Individual Study (DIS) which will be an examination of the family structure of St. Augustine. I will have only one term, from January into May, to complete the study, so I cannot do the entire ball of wax I plan for my eventual book during that limited time. So what I propose to do for the DIS is to produce a series of short genealogies of the families of St. Augustine just during that 37 year period.

I want to see how the families were related during that time. Who married whom will be an important question. I will be examining censuses, land and tax records, and birth, marriage, and baptism records. For these, I will be looking at the East Florida Papers on microfilm, which can be very difficult to deal with due to issues of faded ink, poor microfilming, tearing of the original documents, and other damage to the documents, as well as some instances of absolutely atrocious handwriting! Other documents I will be using will be some land records at the Florida State Archive in Tallahassee, so that will be another visit to that repository. I previously spent three days in Tallahassee at the state archive for my forthcoming book on the sources to the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida.

I will also be examining records at the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, at their archive. These will be the birth, marriage, and baptism records.

If I receive the grant, I am thinking of using it to go to Washington, to the Library of Congress, to examine the originals of the East Florida Papers, which may be better than the microfilms. One thing I'm going to try with the microfilm is to take digital photographs of the screen image on the microfilm reader. The problem with my local source, the Jacksonville Public Library, is that their scanning microfilm reader produces only .pdf files, which I don't like for this particular purpose. I prefer .jpg files, which I can manipulate and work with to improve the readability of the image. Some genealogists have said that they have had good results from taking digital photos of the image on the screen, so I'm going to experiment with that over the holiday break.

This will be a new approach to the history of St. Augustine, and I hope I will be able to make some definitive statements from this new perspective. I also hope it will make just one more little step -- in a journey that could take more than a thousand miles -- toward bringing genealogy to the academy in a meaningful way.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SNGF -- A Nice Thing

Has it really been a week since I last posted? It has gone by so fast! And I guess it will continue to go by until I get to catch my breath a little -- but just a little -- after Dec. 11, which will be my last day of finals for the term. Between now and then there is Thanksgiving as well as a few more papers and tests, and on top of that, getting together my request for a Directed Independent Study for next term, and speaking to the local chapter (Jacksonville, Florida) of the Sons of the American Revolution this coming Thursday, on Spanish and English paleography.

Anyway, here's the latest of Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, and it comes with one of those Easy buttons:

1. What is the Nicest Thing another genealogist did for you, or to you, in the last week or so? (If you have no examples for this past week, go back in time - surely someone has done a nice thing for you in recent years!).

2. Tell us about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, in a comment on Facebook, or in a tweet on Twitter.

This one is really easy, because something extraordinary happened to me in the last week which might get me a lot of information about a segment of my father's family line. Though this isn't exactly according to Randy's instructions, because the individual who did a Nice Thing for me is a historian. I don't know if she does genealogy.

A historian in Illinois, Rhonda Kohl, has my enduring gratitude! She contacted me after reading one of my blog posts involving my great-great grandfather Matthew Hale Packard's family, including one of his many brothers, Thadeus (we have determined it is one "d" not two) Bullock Packard. Thadeus served in the Civil War in the 5th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. Another brother, William, was in the same unit, but Thadeus did something it looks like William may not have.

He kept a diary. Rhonda used that diary in her research on the Illinois 5th cavalry, about which she has written articles and now a book. She let me know that Thadeus's diary is in the Illinois State Archives, and I can get a copy. As soon as I can come up for air, I'm getting that copy!

So, Rhonda, if you are reading this, you were my genealogical Nice Thing for the week (and I'm sending you the muster rolls tonight). Thank you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SNGF -- REALLY late: Surname Distribution

I'm really late this week with Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, but it is getting toward the end of the term, and I have lots of reading to do (including the entirety of Boccacio's Decameron, which was considered terribly salacious in ages past, but is mild compared to what we see on television these days!) and papers to write and other stuff going on.

So here it is: This week, according to Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, we are to look at the geographic distribution of one of our surnames.

1) Find out the geographical distribution of your surname - in the world, in your state or province, in your county or parish. I suggest that you use the Public Profiler site at, which seems to work quickly and easily. However, you cannot capture the image as a photo file - you have to capture the screen shot, save it and edit it.

2) Tell us about your surname distribution in a blog post of your own (with a screen shot if possible), in comments to this post, or in comments on a social networking site like Facebook and Twitter.

Searching on my paternal surname/maiden name of Packard at the website recommended by Randy in his instructions, reproduced above, I found that the worldwide distribution shows the surname mainly in Europe and North America, with a smattering in India, Australia, and a bit more densely in New Zealand. Europe shows the surname distributed thus:

What stuns me is that the name shows up in Spain and a tiny bit in Italy. What is even more surprising to me is that in Spain, the surname is present in Andalucia, which is where I was in the month of May a couple years ago, when I went to Seville to research at the General Archive of the Indies. If I'd known that, I would have grabbed the phone book and done some looking. It would have been big fun to have met my primos españoles (Spanish cousins).

Another stunning thing about the map is Great Britain, where my 8x great-grandfather was born. The concentration of the surname is shown as being very low in England except for the teal spot on the Channel coast. That is East Anglia, part of which is the county of Suffolk, where my ancestor Samuel Packard was born. He emigrated to Massachusetts in 1638, to join other separatists (which we call Puritans) who could no longer stand the Church of England. (And here's another irony -- I was raised in the Episcopal Church, a member of the Anglican -- that is, Church of England -- Communion.)

The next map has a lot to say about where the Packards are most heavily concentrated now:

On the world map, the most dense concentration of the Packard surname is in the United States. There are some also in Canada -- where my father's line spent three generations, in between being residents of Massachusetts and ending up in Illinois. In the U.S., we Packards are in every state except North Dakota. My own line went from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Vermont, which was my 4x great-grandfather Richards Packard (yes, there is an "s" on his first name, which is from the maiden name of his mother, Mercy Richards) in an ever-northward quest for land after the American Revolution, in which he fought in two different Massachusetts regiments. This search for land ended him up in Canada. Not every American who went to Canada after the Revolution was a Tory -- many of them went because in Canada they were giving land away and they didn't much care who they were giving it to!

After a couple or three generations in Canada, my great-great grandfather and a fistful of his siblings came back to the U.S., some by way of Massachusetts, some (including my ggf) by way of New York (Chautauqua County), and some directly to end up all of them in Bloomington, Illinois. From there, my great-grandfather Oscar Packard, who was a real estate developer, went to California in the early 20th century, a great time to have been in real estate in California!

Me, I live in Florida, and here's where the surname occurs in the Sunshine State (which, with the remnants of Ida meandering around, is not experiencing much sunshine this week!)

There are some in the panhandle, and the rest distributed from northeast Florida, where I live, down the peninsula. See Jacksonville up in the upper right? See the county which is completely white -- completely devoid of the surname -- just below Jacksonville (which comprises nearly all of Duval County)? That blank county is Clay County, where I live. I don't count in this because my surname for the past 38 years has been Rhodes! By the way, the surname Rhodes is shown to be present in Clay County in moderate density -- including one reprobate listed just below us in the telephone book, who apparently did not pay his bills and for whom we were getting collection calls for a while. I had to resort to recommending that the caller employ a straight-edge when looking up numbers in the phone book!

I have to say I was unaware that there were any Packards in Bradford County, which is the little triangle just to the west of Clay County, but apparently there are. None of these Packards are close relations to me. But I suppose I should at least try to get in touch with them and see if any of them are interested in genealogy and share some ancestors with me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Disappointment and Frustration

This evening has been an experience in disappointment and frustration, albeit mild ones, in the Great Cosmic Scheme of Things.

Waiting for my daughter to get off work after I finished my Spanish Literature class this afternoon, I sat in her office (the waiting room of the Mathematics and Statistics Department at the university), got my computer out, and did my e-mail and Twitter. I saw tweets about World Vital Records offering a free 6 months. So I thought, this sounds good, I'll sign up. I called and got signed up. Nowhere in any of the information, and at no time when I was talking to the very nice young lady on the telephone, was I told that this free 6 months consisted in anything less than full usage.

Well, it does consist in something less than full usage. I signed on tonight and searched on my great-grandfather Oscar Packard. Some links were returned. When I clicked on the links, I either got an external link (to for a census image citation, for example) telling me that I could sign up for a Footnote subscription or buy a single image for about 2 and a half bucks; or I was redirected to a screen within World Vital Records urging me to sign up for a paid subscription. I did not get access to images on World Vital Records with this free trial. So I know that there was an article about an Oscar Packard in the Logansport, Indiana, Pharos-Reporter, but I can not yet determine whether this was "my" Oscar Packard or not. Could I at least get some sort of abstract of the article in my search, so that I could make at least a good guess whether this was my guy or not?

That's a disappointment. And since I have not been able to fully test drive the complete functionality of World Vital Records, so that I really do not know whether what they have would be in any way useful to me, I'm not sure I'd sign up for a paid version. For one thing, if I got the paid version, would I be able to access the census image from Footnote as part of the World Vital Records subscription, or would I still have to buy a subscription to Footnote, or at least pay the two and a half bucks for the single image? I like full disclosure when someone wants to induce me to sign up for something, and I do not feel like I have been given full disclosure here.

I'll poke around it some more -- maybe there is a workaround. A citation would be helpful, so I'll look for citations. There is not a full citation to the newspaper article, but there was a citation to the census information. If the World Vital Records result comes from a free database, such as one I uncovered for an Oscar Packard (not mine) from Find A Grave, you are given access to the complete information and the images, through a redirect to that website. The convenience of having the links to a variety of free databases concentrated in one place might be worth money to some, but not to me. I am familiar with many of the free databases, have most of them bookmarked, and can do that sort of search for myself. I really don't feel a need to pay a third party to be a gateway.

And if anyone can demonstrate to me that I have a misimpression, do say so. I'd be happy to learn what I may not know about how to benefit from this free trial.

The frustration came from, for which I do have a paid subscription. I went to access an image, and since I use Mozilla Firefox, I got an error message saying that I would have to use Internet Explorer to view the image. That has not happened previously. The last time I searched on Ancestry and found images, just a couple weeks ago, Mozilla Firefox worked just fine. Is this somehow related to having gone public (that is an IPO I would like to have got in on . . . if I could have afforded it . . .)? At any rate, it is just a bit irritating. When they have something that works just fine for the greatest number of people (who use a variety of browsers), why all of a sudden should that change to a more restrictive stance, requiring the use of one specific browser? I like choice as much as I like full disclosure, and I don't like my choices limited, especially when they were previously unlimited.

I will grouse loudly and mightily, but I will grudgingly use IE on Ancestry from now on.

But can anyone please tell me how to turn off that d----d annoying popup that comes up on every page, sometimes multiple times, asking me if I want ActiveX to operate?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Some may believe, along with Daddy Warbucks in "Annie" that "Progress is the Root of All Evil," but not me. Progress towards one's goals is good, and progress in just being is also good.

Progress Note #1: I have just been notified that my post for yesterday, Data Backup Day -- My Story, was selected one of three winners of the GeneaBloggers DBD Blog Contest. I won a free copy of Handy Backup, which will be nice for future backups to that rugged external hard drive I wrote about.

Progress Note #2: Last week, in the midst of having a cold and an unrelated gastric distress, I finished proofreading my book and finished creating the index, getting all of that back to the publisher, thanks to my husband, who schlepped the manuscript to the post office. The book, Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, will come out later this month or early next month, should all go as planned.

Progress Note #3: Tomorrow my grant application gets handed in, for the grant I'm seeking to help me do research as an undergraduate at the University of North Florida, and which will lead to my next book, a genealogical-historical investigation of St. Augustine, Florida, during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1820).

Getting that -- and the last of my Medieval History papers done -- does make me feel like I've done something, and does get some weight off my shoulders as the end of the term approaches. Now I have papers and quizzes in Spanish Literature, and a presentation to the Sons of the American Revolution to get through. Then -- the holiday break!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Data Backup Day - My Story

Several years ago, I had a catastrophic computer crash. It happened during the summer, in July. I lost a lot of data, most importantly the records I kept in my genealogy database software. I was able to reconstruct most of it from documents and printouts I had made and stored in the family binders on my bookshelf. as I tend to hang on to paper far beyond those documents which I will part with only when my will is probated and the documents are either passed on in the family or donated to the Southern Genealogists Exchange Society. The next summer, again in July, my computer crashed again. I took two actions: (1) I bought a new computer, and (2) the next June 30, I tunred my computer off, and didn't turn it on again until 1 August! Yeah, as the daughter of a naval aviator -- they being a superstitious lot -- I have my own quotient of superstition!

These days, I have generally been backing up my data, my photographs, genealogy database information, and other files onto CDs. My husband, a former civilian computer programmer for the Navy, supplied me another forum for backing up. He bought each of us an external hard drive which is constructed to Department of Defense specifications for ruggedness and durability. These are the kinds they are using in combat zones. You can run over it with a Hum-V and it will keep on ticking. You can jump out of a helicopter with one strapped to your back, land on it, and it will keep on ticking. Not sure it would stand up to an IED, but it will generally stand up to whatever I might do to it, up to and including running over it with my Chevy Tracker. That's where I keep my data.

One problem that we need to address concerning backing up to CDs is: when is the technology going to change again -- and it is going to change again -- and what are we going to do about it? One consideration in migrating to new technology for backing up data will be cost -- will we have to buy some sort of equipment? Inevitably we will -- some sort of writer/reader to create and use the data backup format, whatever it may be. I don't see an immediate prospect for that happening, as CDs seem to be a rather stable and dependable means ot storage.

What I think may change sooner than the physical format is the virtual format -- the programs we use for putting the data on the CDs and for reading it off the CDs. Will these be able to read older CDs which were created using older programs? And how about the operating systems? Will Windows 7 be able to read the CDs I created using Windows 98? Or even my current OS, Widows XP Professional? This is the nexus at which we need to be aware of changes, and keep "migrating" our stored data to the newer virtual formats. Microsoft has not been noted lately for its conscientiousness in providing "backward compatibility" through the various iterations of Windows.

So it's time for me to do some more CD backups . . .

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I know I haven't blogged in several days -- I've been sick, for one thing, a cold complicated by stomach problems and fatigue. In between naps, I've been trying to get the index for my book finished. I have finally finished, and mailed the manuscript and page proofs back to the publisher, and will e-mail the index probably later today (it's just after midnight).

And I have fallen behind in reading for classes, I have a quiz tomorrow that I hope I will be able to show up for, and my grant application to finish and get in before the Nov. 4 deadline.

I'm looking forward to December!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting Genealogy Into the Academy

I have come to be of the opinion, in the last few years of my serious pursuit of genealogy as a profession, that genealogy is a social science and should be classified with the other social sciences on an equal footing. Genealogy has its own theoretical base, propounded by Donald Lines Jacobus and Val D. Greenwood. It has its own methodology, made more rigorous by the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills and others. And it produces -- and has for many years -- academic-level work product in professional journals.

And we're getting there. Boston University has recently begun offering coursework in genealogy, though not yet a degree (and, of course, Brigham Young University has been offering a degree in genealogy for decades in an ever-improving program). And there are individuals out there who are both qualified historians and certified genealogists, and who are breaking new ground in combining the sources and methodology of genealogy with the pursuit of historical inquiry of academic quality.

One of these is Carolyn Earle Billingsley, with whose work I became familiar today, when my copy of her book Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier arrived. I found out about the book last week, through a curious set of circumstances which had put me on a similar path as Dr. Billingsley, though on a smaller scale, before I knew about her work.

As I am down to the wire with my present book, Non-Federal Censuses of Florida, 1784-1945: A Guide to Sources, I was casting about for an idea for a subsequent book. I really cannot describe the process by which I arrived at this idea. I'm not sure myself how it happened, as the events of the past couple weeks have been fast and furious. Anyway, about two weeks ago, while I was crossing the campus of the University of North Florida on my way to a quiet uninterrupted morning of study in the library, I saw a sign announcing an undergraduate research grant. I inquired into it and decided to apply, but needed a subject.

At times, we have various ideas amorphously formed in the back brain, where they stew and percolate, and come pouring out in what seems a concatenation of events pushing us in a particular direction. That is what is operating here. I am at UNF studying history and Spanish, and having taken two courses in learning how to read very old Spanish documents, because I have decided based purely on my location to study the old Spanish lineages of Florida. I wrote my book on the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida as a means of familiarizing myself with the extant sources in my area. So to apply for the research grant, I thought I would take a genealogical approach to the history of St. Augustine during the second Spanish period (1783-1820). I want my approach to be one not often used -- to first establish the family relationships of the population of St. Augustine, and then examine the historical events during that thirty-seven year period through the lens of those family relationships.

In perusing the literature as part of preparing my grant application, and as part of a personal inquiry into further educational opportunities for myself, I came across mention of Dr. Billingsley's book. I ordered it from Turns out that my idea is quite similar to hers.

Dr. Billingsley studied the kinship of one family, and its allied lines, through a longer period of tiem over a larger geographic area, but the basic idea of studying history though the lens of genealogy is the same for her as it is for me. I read the introduction of her book today (I'm home in the process of becoming increasingly miserable through the process of having a cold), and with every paragraph, I liked the lady more and more. She and I are thinking along extremely similar lines! It's exciting.

The professor I have chosen to direct me in my study, as the grant will be used in a directed individual study next term, is the professor who taught the paleography courses. He seems to think I have a solid idea with considerable potential, and is on board with the genealogical angle of it. This is a logical approach for colonial St. Augustine, as kinship ties were very important to the Spanish in those days (not to say they are not important today).

Well, it's quite a feeling being a pioneer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where there's a will, there's often paleography

My cousin Ginger, who has been a museum director (and therefore appreciates good research and good citations), returned not long ago from a trip to England, the lucky dog! I wanted to stow away in her luggage, but that would have far exceeded the weight limit!

She went to Suffolk, ancestral home of our 8x-great-grandfather Samuel Packard. She brought back copies for both of us of a few wills from ancestors a little further back, including one from probably our 10x-great-grandfather Moses Packard, who died in 1604. The writing is florid, though it is a hand I am familiar with from paleographical studies in connection with the course of study I took from the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, Toronto, Ontario Canada (through the University of Toronto, which records the grades and issues the transcripts and the certificates of completion). I can read a little bit of it right off, but to read it completely will take study and time I do not have right now.

Many of the letter forms used in these documents are similar to those I find in the Spanish documents I sometimes work with. The scribes who wrote these documents were not isolated and insular fellows. Many of them traveled around Europe. Many of them were taught by instructors who had traveled around Europe, and who might be from a different country. So they used many of the same letter forms and often the same or similar abbreviations.

Abbreviations were used to save penstrokes, because after all, they were doing this all day -- writing documents laboriously by hand. With quill pens. It makes my arthritis-riddled hands ache to think of it!

The other fun of paleography is the lack of orthogaphy - that is, there was no regularized spelling, no "correct" way to spell a word - in those days. Thee other funne of palaeographie is ye lacke of orthographye - thatt is, there was noe regularized speling, no "corect" way to spelle a worde - in thos daies. That's how the sentence might have looked in the 16th or 17th century. Makes for interesting reading, for sure.

I'm looking forward to continuing to be a blatant history nerd (and genealogy nerd, of course) and studying the wills over the holiday break in December. Ginger and I are hoping they will open up new leads to the study of the family, especially of those who remained behind in England while Samuel - an outcast because he had abandoned the family's affiliation to the Church of England and become a Separatist - left England for Puritan Massachusetts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deconstructing conventional wisdom - checking history

Today I'm going to talk about those "facts" of history that we were taught as children and which we take for granted, even though it turns out we should not always do so.

When I was a child, here in Florida, we had some coursework usually in the fourth grade on the history of the state. I even remember the textbook, a green-covered slim volume called La Florida, which is how the Spanish referred and refer to the state. One of those tidbits of conventional wisdom we learned was that in 1513, Ponce de León discovered Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth.

Um, no. It turns out that this is not really the case, though it sounds good.

Actually, it was 1513, though the date itself -- recorded in most histories as 2 April, might be a little off. Spain converted to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian in 1584, and in the month of October, people went to bed on the night of the 5th and woke up on the morning of the 15th, ten days having gone "poof" in an adjustment required by the calendar having gotten off by those ten days, skewing the schedule of Easter.

Juan Ponce de León (the name "Ponce de León" translates as "lion's paunch") did not discover Florida. It was here all along, though those who lived here did not call it Florida. They probably just called it "home." Those who were here were the Timucua (which wasn't a distinct tribe, but a group of loosely-federated bands speaking dialects of a common language), the Ais, the Calusa, the Apalache, and a few others. Ponce de León merely hit Florida while he was looking for Bimini. Navigation was not a precise science in those days. Ponce de León did name it -- "Pascua Florida" (festival of flowers) because it was around Easter, and from the ships, the men could see lots of flowers in bloom.

And he wasn't looking for the Fountain of Youth, he was looking for Bimini, because he had a contract with the Spanish Crown to settle it and become the adelantado, the King's on-scene man with broad powers to grant land and head up the colony. He had already been governor of Puerto Rico, eventually losing that post in a squabble with Diego Colón, son of Cristopher Columbus.

Ponce de León -- yup, that was his name.

So don't always just accept the history you learned as a child, when you're investigating family history. New developments in historical analysis are constantly being made as new information and new techniques come to light.

For further reading, see David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America, chapter 2: "First Encounters."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day -- Climate Change

"Change is the law of life," I remember John F. Kennedy saying. Certainly he was right. Some changes take eons; some only days. Right now, we're in a period of climate change which I particularly don't like. I am a fan of cool weather. I like wearing sweatshirts and sweaters and long pants. I don't like heat, which is an unfortunate thing, as I live in Florida.

I really do not have any concrete information about how climate over the centuries has affected my ancestors. My ancestors were not journal-keepers of any sort at all, apparently. At least, nothing has survived to come down to me. There is other evidence, though, which give some hints as to how climate may have affected my ancestors.

Samuel Packard, the colonial progenitor on my father's side of the family, came over from Suffolk, England to Hingham, Massachusetts in 1638. According to one book I have on life in colonial America, the climate on this side of the Atlantic was harsher both in summer and winter than in Europe at the time. Winters were colder and more severe; summers hotter and plagued with insects. It was a difficult time to begin a farm, much less doing it on a wild and unknown continent. At first, settlers had to depend on what they brought with them, and the list of recommended items was long, indeed, including cooking utensils, farm implements, tools and tack for handling livestock and domestic animals, clothing, medicines (until the natives taught the colonists herbal medicine), right down to fishhooks and sewing needles.

As time went by, they became more self-sufficient, producing textiles, furs for clothing, blankets, and other necessities. And in order to keep their homes warm -- and, indeed, to build the homes in the first place -- they pretty much deforested the area around them. That deforestation in itself would have affected the climate further. I know from experience that having an abundance of trees in an area has a definite effect on the local ambient temperature. Driving out of the city into the country around here, when you get away from the sprawl and into the country where there are many more trees, you can feel a perceptible drop in the temperature.

My great-great grandfather Nelson Reed McKee, of whom I've written as the black sheep of the family on my mother's side, began as a farmer. Evidently he did not succeed at it -- or possibly he just did not like it -- for he soon switched professions to jeweler and watchmaker. Did weather or climate have a hand in his decision? I have not yet had time to investigate that to any extent, but it is certainly possible.

Weather affected my husband's great-grandfather Daniel McLeod Marshall, who migrated from Alabama to Florida after the Civil War (with, according to family lore, five or so of his brothers). He first settled in Apopka, in Orange County, where he raised citrus fruit and cattle. There was a freeze in 1883, and his crop was ruined. He was not fond of Apopka, his opinion of it being that it would never amount to much, and he moved further south to Lakeland, in Polk County. There he again grew citrus, and also strawberries, and again he ran cattle. There was another freeze in about 1895, and the frozen oranges fell off the trees. He thought that would make fodder for the cattle, and he turned them loose in the grove. Apparently, too many frozen oranges are not good for cattle, for they all bloated up and died. oops . . .

My husband has an amusing climate-related story. Here in Florida, it is not only hot, it is very humid (which makes it feel even hotter). Humidity around here can run between 80% and 90% or more. A few years ago, my husband and some of his co-workers were sent to California to install a network or some such. The trip took place in June or July, when it is, of course, extremely hot and humid here. When the plane landed in California, they immediately felt the dryness in the air, it being noticeable. The individual who greeted them at the airport, however, was apologizing all over himself for the extreme humidity they were experiencing. The Floridians, feeling dry as bones, looked at each other and wondered what was wrong with this guy. When they got to the base (my husband and his co-workers were Navy civil service computer programmers), another official apologized profusely for the horrible humidity they were experiencing. My husband and the others shook their heads.

When they got into the conference room where everyone was meeting to go over what was to be done, another individual apologized. This time, the Floridians burst out laughing, unable to contain themselves any longer. The Californians were baffled, again emphasizing how awfully humid it was, and that they just knew everyone must be grossly uncomfortable. My husband asked what the humidity reading was that had them so apologetic. Oh, it was about 35%, according to one of the Californians. The Floridians laughed again. My husband explained the levels of humidity we routinely put up with, and also explained that when they got off the plane and realized that their shirts were not sticking to their backs, they were extremely glad, and thought it felt just fine.

Finally, in 1998, we had an unusual year in which the humidity plummeted to the levels that would make Californians uncomfortable -- around 35% to 40%. We had been experiencing drought for a few years already; our rainfall levels were drastically below normal. With the unusual and extreme dryness in 1998, we began to have fires. Eventually, half the state was on fire. Our younger daughter, on her way to visit a friend in Brevard County, on the east coast of Florida, a trip that usually takes less than 2 hours, took over 8 hours and had to detour over all the way to the west coast of the state to get there, being redirected here and there and yonder by fire officials because roads were impassable. We live on the edge of a state forest, and one day we had fires coming our way from two different directions -- one up the country road which is the only way in or out for us, and another from the other side of the forest. The fire breaks that the forest service plowed on the edge of the forest seemed irrelevant when we saw video on the television of fires jumping the interstate highways! Fortunately, those two fires were controlled before they got to us.

Along with the plummeting humidity levels, we had a dry west wind that would blow every day, very contrary to the usually moist south or east wind we normally get. The wind reminded me of the dry, hot westerly wind that blows in California, called the Santa Ana. I'm from southern California originally, and a neighbor who is also a transplanted Californian understood what I meant when I told him that if I wanted the Santa Ana, I'd go back to California.

This time, we are in more danger, I believe, than we have been before. Around the world, habitats are changing or disappearing, endangering not only animal species but also plants -- both of which we depend on for our sustenance. There are few who doubt that there is a change occurring which does present danger to us. There are things we can do, and should do. And if we do do these things we need to do, we'll all be healthier in the long run.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Festival of Postcards -- Quadrupeds!

Here are some more postcards from the Andrew Lewis Rhodes collection. What do quadrupeds have to do with genealogy?

Well, some of them may spark family stories . . .

Like this old (1930s or 1940s) photo of a deer at the "United States Government Game Preserve, Okefenokee Swamp, Southern Georgia." My husband's father was traveling for his job with Western Electric (a subsidiary of Southern Bell, in those days, the early 1950s), and on his return trip home, on a narrow road in rural Georgia, he hit a deer. It made quite an impression on the grille of the car, and unfortunately on the radiator. My father-in-law was stopped and alone. Eventually a good old boy came along and offered to help get my father-in-law to town for repairs -- as soon as he finished butchering the deer. He told my father-in-law they had to gather some "meeta fans." My father-in-law was totally baffled, until the old boy elaborated: "Pal-meeta fans," and then my father-in-law understood that he meant palmetto fans, the very large fanlike leaves of the palmetto plant, which grows all over the place in Georgia and Florida, and most of the rest of the lower south. The fellow butchered the deer, wrapped the meat in the "meeta fans," and gave some to my father-in-law. Then he hooked up the car to his pickup truck and towed it into town.

I don't like deer -- they come out of the state forest that forms our back yard, and eat all of my plants, ornamental and edible. I had a good garden the first few years we lived here, but the deer soon found it and ate everything down to the ground. So I don't like deer. However, our younger daughter announced this evening that a co-worker of hers whose husband hunts has a surplus of venison, and we might be getting some. I don't think it will come wrapped in "meeta fans." I might learn to like deer, after all!

Other quadrupeds, like these horses at Miami's Hialeah race track, could spark other family stories -- about black sheep, who may have gambled away the family's substance betting on the ponies! Or there could be a jockey in the family tree, with stories about races won and lost, horses loved and loathed. Or there may have been a family member who just loved watching the horses run, like a friend of mine does. Or maybe even someone in the Ocala, Florida, area who worked with the race horses raised there, or even owned them.

Other family stories may center around vacations, such as those my husband's family spent in North Carolina, where these bears formed a "happy native family in the Great Smoky Mountains." In the summer in North Carolina, you will see a lot of Florida license plates (and in the winter, you see North Carolina plates down here!). Of course, North Carolina is not the only place you see bears. There are some folks in suburbs in Florida who have stories of finding bears in the trees in their yards (and some with stories of alligators in their swimming pools!) Recently, there was a story about a woman who woke up to find a bear in her bedroom! That delighted us, as it gave new meaning to the title of one of my grandson's Leap Pad books -- One Bear in the Bedroom!

Finally, here is a delightful humorous postcard probably from the 1940s, which gets to the very root and wellspring of genealogy. After all, we descendants are what resulted when our ancestors monkeyed around!

The Festival of Postcards is hosted by Evelyn Yvonne Theriault at her blog, A Canadian Family. Drop by and see other entries in this fun festival.

She's even got me adding to my husband's grandfather's collection!

Price Check on Aisle 3: Social History from the Newspaper

I was reading my blog feed on Feed Demon, when I came across a post from Free Genealogy Tools, and they mentioned finding out what items cost in your ancestors' time. The article mentioned a website which has historic prices of goods in Morris County, New Jersey, from 1900 to 2009. That's pretty doggone specific, and my family is not from anywhere near Morris County, New Jersey, but it is obvious that we all can benefit from checking old newspapers, from the place where and the time when our ancestors thrived.

All sorts of newspapers are available online, at a variety of websites. For those of us who live pretty much in the area where at least some of our ancestors lived, the local public library is also a resource, with newspapers on microfilm. A local university library may also have relevant newspapers on microfilm, and most good-sized libraries will have such papers as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Los Angeles Times, for example.

Local papers will be good places to look for grocery prices -- the sort of thing that can vary from region to region. One may also find in the grocery ads specific items that may have been regional in character, as well. Might this spark a memory of your mother or aunt or grandmother fixing collard greens or a New England boiled dinner or fresh-caught salmon?

National papers can be places to find prices of nationally-distributed items, such as automobiles or clothing. Another source for this information would be the magazines of the time -- The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, or other magazines popular at the time your ancestors flourished. When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for a doctor who had a collection of old Vanity Fair magazine from the 1930s, and I used to enjoy looking at the ads as much as I enjoyed reading the articles and stories.

Another item which could be amusing to investigate is the advertisement of pharmaceuticals, supplements, and patent medicines. Did you ever see a bottle of Lydia Pinkham's in your grandmother's medicine cabinet? Did your grandfather use Hess Hair Milk to keep his hair from turning grey? My husband's grandfather did, but when he was hospitalized one time for a few days, without access to the preparation, his hair turned snow white! I guess the stuff really worked!

If you have any of your ancestors' high school yearbooks, from about the 1920s onward, you will find in them advertisements for items the students or their families might have bought, the "trendy" things of the day. And city directories will also have advertisements, and in addition, you can pinpoint the location of stores in the town with the address listings. Most city directories also have maps, so you can get a visual idea of where your ancestors might have shopped for the items or services in the advertisements.

If you are as keen as I am on fleshing out your ancestors' lives with social and economic history, get thee to the newspapers! You may also want to look at the Free Genealogy Tools website (check the link in the first paragraph of this entry). They have a lot of great suggestions, and links to all sorts of sites rich in social history resources.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun -- Satisfying Moments

Once again, it's time for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver's gift to bleary-eyed late-night (or early-morning) bloggers who haven't the foggiest idea what to say today. Here are the rules:

For today's SNGF, if you choose to participate (cue the Mission Impossible music!), please:

1) Tell us about one (or more) "Satisfying Genealogy Moments" from your family history and genealogy research. What was it, and how did it make you feel? You can make a Top Ten list if you want to!

2) Write your own blog post, or make a comment on this post, or make a comment on Facebook, and tell us about your "moment in time."

He's basing this, as he reveals in his blog (let the FTC take note . . .), on Leland Meitzler's Top 10 List. I have some really good ones, I think, so here's my top 10:

10. Learning more about my father through genealogical research.
9. Entering the genealogical blogosphere and finding such fine folks in it.
8. Going back to college to sharpen skills to use in genealogical work, and learning new ones.
7. Joining an active genealogy society.
6. Scrapbooking my family heritage.
5. Becoming a genealogical speaker.
4. Finding cousins on my father's side living in Quebec, Canada.
3. Finding a cousin on my mother's side sitting right in my Spanish class!
2. Getting close to having a book on Florida census research published.
1. Finding my maternal grandmother, or at least her final resting place.

How do I feel about these? They have left me by turns astonished, elated, satisfied, pleased, proud, happy, delighted, excited, and intrigued.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Can I Pick 'Em, or What?

A couple weeks ago, I participated in Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, the object of which, that particular week, was to pick your three favorite genealogy blogs, explain what you liked about them, and vote for them in the Family Tree Magazine 40 Best Genealogy Blogs contest (it's basically a popularity contest, but we genealogists, of course, choose on quality). It was very difficult to choose only three, and there were others that were close contenders.

My three choices were The Professional Descendant, Genealogy's Star, and West in New England.

All three have made it into the semi-final round.

Can I pick a winner, or what?

Congratulations to these three and the other semi-finalists. I also want to mention Allium Spence's Spence-Lowry Family History blog as another excellent blog which has made it to the semi-finals! You go, girl!

Now, lemme see . . . I need to pick six numbers . . .

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Genealogy in some Serious History

I am taking a bleary-eyed break from composing a grant application for a $500 undergraduate research scholarship to talk a little bit about using genealogy in some academically serious history.

As mentioned in my profile over there ----->, I am a History and Spanish major at the University of North Florida, concentrating on Spanish Colonial Florida. That interest is already proving to be a small bit remunerative, as I have a forthcoming book on the colonial, territorial, and state censuses of Florida, to be published later this year (as soon as I can finish the proofreading and the construction of the index!) . The project I'm planning for this scholarship, which would fund work to be done as a directed independent study under my major professor, Dr. J. Michael Francis in the Department of History at UNF, is designed to be a study of the social, economic, political, and military history of St. Augustine during the Second Spanish Period (1783-1820), using the methods and sources of genealogy.

Having written the abovementioned book on the censuses of Florida, I am already familiar with the extant Spanish colonial censuses which can be accessed from within the state of Florida. Other original sources I plan to use include military records, church records (of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and including BMDB), newspaper records, land records, tax records, letters, memoirs, and court records. Most of these are part of the East Florida Papers, a collection of papers siezed by the United States forces taking over Florida in 1820, when Spain ceded the territory to the U.S. The originals of these papers are in the Library of Congress, but they have been microfilmed and are available locally.

Other sources, such as Spanish land grants of the period, are digitized and online from the Florida State Archive. And the church records are available at the Diocesan archive in St. Augustine, the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History in Gainesville, and the Florida State Archive in Tallahassee.

The focus will be on the families of St. Augustine, but instead of following one line vertically through time, as we usually do, I am going to follow several families horizontally within a very short (genealogically speaking) span of 37 years. Through the experiences and travails of these families, documented in the abovementioned records, I hope to reconstruct a more intimate and complex picture of the history of St. Augustine during this period. I will also, of course, be using the records of history and archaeology.

It is quite a project. Even if I do not succeed in securing a scholarship, I will go ahead with the directed independent study, Dr. Francis and the university willing, because it will add to my own stock of knowledge about the Spanish lineages of Florida, which I am choosing as my genealogical specialty, and I am very sure I can get another book out of it! That alone is reason enough to go through with the project, scholarship or no.

I'll let you know if I am successful in securing the grant.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

SNGF: Favorite Song of All Time?

(Cue announcer . . .)

Live, from Genea-Musings! It's Saturday Night!

Yup, it's time once again for Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Here's the deal tonight:

"Here is your assignment for the evening - if you wish to participate in the Fun (cue the Mission Impossible music):

1. What is your all-time favorite song? Yep, number 1. It's hard to choose sometimes. If you made your favorite all-time Top 40 music selections, what would be #1?

2. Tell us about it. Why is it a favorite? Do you have special memories attached to this song?

3. Write your own blog post about it, or make a comment on this post or on the Facebook entry."

Mine is: "The Wedding Song," sung by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. And, yes, sadly I do know that Mary Travers died recently. She's missed.

So why is it my favorite? For one thing, it's a lovely song. Nobody's shouting at me, screaming unintelligible lyrics at the top of a very strained-sounding voice. That is one aspect of popular music I cannot stand. For another, Paul plays a mean guitar, and it's beautiful. I love a good acoustic guitar. And for another, my husband and I were always fond of "Pizza, Pooh, and Magpie," as he and his sister affectionately called the group that was so much a part of our young lives.

And for another, one time many years ago, I was in training at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, some 1500 miles away from home and husband. I was feeling right blue and lonely, and I went into the enlisted club to have a drink. And there on the small stage, really just a very slightly raised dais, was a guy with a guitar, singing "The Wedding Song." Perked me right up, and made me feel warm and fuzzy, thinking about how much my husband loves me and I him. It was the cure for the blues.

It wasn't difficult to pick that as my favorite; no other song has quite the kind of meaning for me. Then, too, I favor instrumental music, and tend to listen more to classical music than anything else. But this one, such a simple and beautiful song that speaks of very simple and beautiful meaning in life, is way above all others.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mr. I Want It Now

In the class I'm taking at the University of North Florida called Interpreting Hispanic Literature, we read an essay by the critical/satirical Spanish essayist Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837), titled "Vuelva Usted Mañana" (Come Back Tomorrow), which was written in 1835.  The point of the essay is to skewer what Larra saw as Spanish indolence and bureaucratic obstructionism.  In this narrative-dramatic essay, Larra's alter ego, whom he refers to as Figaro, has a guest, a Frenchman whom he calls in French Monsieur Sans-délai (Mister Without Delay) or in Spanish Señor Lo-quiero-en-seguida (Mister I Want It Now).  The Frenchman has come to Spain to file some sort of claim having to do with his familial affiliations before the courts.  In one early paragraph. the action proceeds, in my translation, in a way that sounds eerily familiar nearly two hundred years later:

 ". . . Tomorrow morning, we'll go looking for a genealogist to handle my family matters, that afternoon, he will consult his books, search for my ancestors, and by tomorrow night I will know who I am."  Never mind Larra's opinion of Spanish indolence, there's no way any genealogist worth paying was going to find the Frenchman's family that quickly in 1835, unless he was the King's first cousin!  My young classmates wondered why I was chuckling as we went over the essay.  "Soy genealogista," I told them.  I am a genealogist.

It seems like some things never change.  Some people new to genealogical investigation become Mr. (or Mrs. or Miss or Ms., take your pick of the feminine appelations) I Want It Now.  They come into it with the idea that it won't take very long at all and they -- or someone they engage to do the investigating -- will have all the answers, and very quickly.  Alll they have to do is consult their books, right?

Bzzzt!  Wrong answer, but thank you for playing.   Those of us who have been in it any length of time have been disabused of that notion.  I certainly was, when I discovered that -- horrors! -- there are errors in books about genealogical lineages.  And when I ran into my first brick wall that took some years to break through. 

But sometimes I wonder if some genealogical websites and magazines and software programs aren't exaggerating just a little -- maybe this much >< -- when they promise if not the moon, at least more stars than really can be delivered.  Not that this is as serious a problem now as it was several years ago, as I recollect.  I do think that the main websites and the big magazines and the software programs have, for instance, become more aware of the importance of proper sourcing, to the extent that there are articles and seminars on source citation, and most of the more popular and well-known software packages use Elizabeth Shown Mills's citation models.  This is a good thing.

And I am aware that advertisement will always be with us (sometimes I add the word "alas" to that phrase), and that we have come to expect a certain level of hyperbole in it.  Fortunately, there is an antidote to that hyperbole, and that antidote is the presence of genealogical societies at the national, state, and local levels, which provide solid guidance through newsletters, journals, monthly meetings, seminars, and other programs to set the new family historian's feet on the right path.    When I think of the programs and speakers and other features of my own genealogy society, I become Mrs. I Want It Now!

So . . . have you hugged your genealogy society today?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ahnentafel Roulette!

Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings has created his latest Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Our instructions:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission Impossible music, please!):

1) How old is your father now, or how old would he be if he had lived? Divide this number by 4 and round the number off to a whole number. This is your "roulette number."

2) Use your pedigree charts or your family tree genealogy software program to find the person with that number in your ahnentafel. Who is that person?

3) Tell us three facts about that person with the "roulette number."

4) Write about it in a blog post on your own blog, in a Facebook note or comment, or as a comment on this blog post.

5) If you do not have a person's name for your "roulette number" then spin the wheel again - pick your mother, or yourself, a favorite aunt or cousin, or even your children!

If my father were alive, he would be 98 (born 29 April 1911). 98 divided by 4 is 24.75, so we'll round off to 25. Number 25 in my Ahnentafel is my great-great grandmother Clarissa Haney Wright, born 19 July 1844 in Xenia, Green County, Ohio.

Three facts about Clarissa:

1. She married my great-great grandfather Charles Reed 16 September 1860 in Jay County, Indiana.

2. She lived with her widowed father and siblings just a few houses down from the family of Vinson Nidey, which had a lodger -- Charles Reed, who would soon be her husband.

3. She bore Charles Reed 14 children, 13 of whom lived into adulthood.

I don't really know that much about her, but I sure want to know more!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Treasure Chest Thursday: Treasured in Memory

When I was a young girl, I went over to my grandma Mary LeSourd Reed's house one day. We were in her bedroom, where she had opened her cedar chest, a plain-looking chest with a tapestry runner on top. In the chest were a number of items, including an old christening gown, bits of tatted lace, and the photograph which appears here.

The baby in the photograph was Wilmer LeSueur Reed, her oldest child, who died in infancy. She told me that he could not keep his food down. When I obtained his death certificate from the city of Chicago, where he died 13 October 1909 at just under one year old, I discovered his cause of death to have been ruled an acute gastritis.

Through my grandma and my mother, I came into possession of the cedar chest and its contents. The christening gown is still in it, as are the pieces of tatted lace. I've added my own items to it. The photograph is on one of my bookcases.

The cedar chest to me was a treasure chest of family history. The christening gown in the chest is the one in the picture, and it also appears in a photograph of Wilmer's younger sister Elizabeth, who was born 10 December 1909, about two months after Wilmer died. She lived into adulthood, and served as a public health nurse and Director of Health Information for the State of Florida in the 1950s and 1960s.

Wilmer lives on a little bit in me, as his middle name was given me as my middle name. It is always sad when a baby dies, but Wilmer always lived in his mother's memory, and he lives still in my middle name and in the photo on my bookshelf.

That's a family treasure.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Historic Days

Thomas McEntee suggested in his Geneabloggers e-mail today that we blog about how we remember 9/11. I'm going to go a little farther afield and talk about significant historical days in three generations.

For my parents, the watershed day was 7 December 1941. My father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy (1934), had been medically retired about 1939 due to a service-connected disability. He was a naval aviator with the rank of Lieutenant when he was retired. He was called back to active duty in October of 1941. There had to have been knowledge that something was afoot, if the Navy was calling the medically retired back to active duty. My father was ordered to report to Naval Air Station Miami, Florida. He took up his duties as a Naval aviator once again, and that was his status when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place.

Not long after that, something like two months, he was found, because of the disability for which he had been retired, to be not fit to fly, and was grounded. That has to have broken his heart, for my mother said that he loved flying, and in fact, he had been a member of his school's Aero Club in high school, in Pasadena, California. But he also loved the Navy, and would do his duty, wherever the Navy sent him. He was made a flight instructor. He became the lead flight instructor at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Still, even as a grounded pilot, he was ranked by his commanding officers within the top 5% of Naval aviators on his fitness reports.

One of his Naval Academy classmates, a man for whom my brother had been given his nickname of Ned, died at Pearl Harbor. My father eventually was sent to the Empire Flying School in England, outside of London in a district called Hullavington, to learn the tactics the British had developed in fighting the Germans in the air, and to bring those lessons back to his students at NAS Jacksonville. That was in 1944. After the war was over, my father retired, this time at the rank of Commander.

For my generation, the watershed day was 22 November 1963. I was in the tenth grade at duPont High School in Jacksonville, FL. Enrolled in the college-prep track, I had elected to take shorthand because I thought it would help me in note-taking in college classes. I was in shorthand class that day, when the news came. We had a substitute teacher that day, as our regular teacher, a delightful woman named Mrs. Love, was ill. One of the girls had gone to the office on an errand, and came back, ashen-faced and subdued. Then the loud-speaker system was turned on school-wide, and we heard the news that the president had been shot. At that point, the substitute teacher showed me that she was -- to put a nice face on it -- shallow and self-absorbed. She didn't worry about the president or about the country, but about her stock portfolio. I was negatively impressed.

School was let out, and I drove home (having just got my license the previous spring). Later on, I got in the car, which I had parked in front of the fourplex apartment building where my mother and I lived, getting ready to drive to the hospital where my mother worked, to pick her up. At that point, an elderly woman came walking quickly down the driveway between buildings, hailing me. She asked for a ride, with a thick foreign accent, which I judged to be Eastern European. "Where you go?" she asked. I said I was going to pick my mom up from work. She said she needed to go to a place near the hospital, and I gave her a ride. I turned on the radio to hear further developments, and we shared our shock and grief at what had happened. We were both worried and frightened. I think on that day, we all wanted to reach out to others.

I spent the weekend watching the developments on TV, and there, at the age of 16, I witnessed a murder as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a dark and frightening weekend.

For my daughters, the watershed day was 11 September 2001. My younger daughter worked for a large national bank, in the adjustments department. I was at home, doing some daily chores, and had the television off, because I have a very low opinion of daytime television. My daughter called me and told me to turn on the TV. I turned it on and saw one of the Twin Towers burning, and not long after that, the other airplane came and plowed into the other tower. I was horrified. It was without doubt the worst thing I had seen on television since that awful weekend in November of 1963.

Here again was a day in which we all wanted to reach out to each other, to cut across the artificial divisions which have become too important to too many people, and which really do not matter at all. It is a divided world in many ways, these days, over things which, in the great cosmic scheme of things, aren't that important. And we have allowed these superficial divisions to take on labels which are used to frighten, control, and divide us further, when we should be concentrating on the things which unite us, and the things which are important for today and the future.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Madness Monday -- Where was Ida Dewey?

A couple months ago, I posted a Madness Monday about Samuel Rhoades/Rhodes, who is driving me nuts because I cannot find him anywhere! He isn't in censuses, except for one possibility. I haven't found a marriage record or death record. He's definitely a man of mystery. His wife is not as mysterious, but I'm having a hard time finding her, too.

The best mention I have of Samuel is in his son Andrew Lewis Rhodes's Railroad Retirement papers. Andrew states that his parents were Samuel Rhoades (spelled that way; Andrew spelled it Rhodes, and that's the way we spell it today) and Ida Mae Dewey. Andrew indicated with a question mark that he did not know his father's middle initial. That was on a form dated 19 November 1938. On a later form, from 1952, Andrew gave his father's name as Samuel H. Rhodes (without the "a"). The individual I found on the 1870 census is Samuel H. Rhoades, with his family in Ohio, in the same town where the family of Ida Mae Dewey lived. This is the strongest possibility.

But between that 1870 census and the 1900 census in which she is the wife of Andrew Shuster, with her younger son Harley in the house, I cannot find Ida Dewey. So the search continues, as does the madness. I hope someday to travel to Ohio (I have family history research to do in Illinois and Indiana, too) and clear up this mystery once and for all.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Fave Blogs

Randy Seaver, over at Genea-Musings, is at it again. His instructions for tonight's fun:

The assignment for this Saturday Night, should you choose to accept it (cue the Mission Impossible music again), is:

1) Identify three of your favorite genealogy blogs to nominate for the Family Tree 40 list, and fill out the nomination form for them.

2) Tell us which three you chose, and a reason why you chose it, in a blog post on your own blog, in comments to this post, or in a Note or comments to this post on Facebook.

3) For purposes of this assignment, please don't name Genea-Musings as one of your three (obviously, I would be honored to be nominated, and you can do so at your pleasure). What I'm hoping is that by writing about three of your favorite genealogy blogs, that you will introduce many blog readers to more outstanding blogs, for the benefit of all of us.

Good. Here are my nominations, though there are others I like, too, and it wasn't that easy a choice:

1. The Professional Descendant. For one thing, that's a great title for a genealogy blog. For another, it's entertaining as well as informative. I don't know yet whether I have Scots roots (one family name could be Scot, English, or Irish, and I haven't gotten back that far yet), but I enjoy reading the blog entries.

2. Genealogy's Star. James Tanner's blog is short but to the point. He provides excellent information about new developments in genealogy. He is the go-to guy for information on the latest developments over at This is a power blog!

3. West in New England. I have to confess that Bill West, the blogger, has turned out to be a cousin of mine, related through collateral kin in my father's line from Massachusetts. One of the reasons I enjoy the blog is that relationship to New England. But the blog posts are entertaining, and he occasionally does some fun stuff like the "Write Your Own Lyrics" contest he had recently.

There are my three (I may go back and nominate more, if I have time). Go nominate your favorites! And go back and vote beginning 5 October.

And if mine is one of them, thank you!


First ProGen4 Assignment - A Mission Statement

Our first assignment in ProGen4 is to write a mission statement for our genealogical enterprise. Many of my ProGen4 classmates are doing client work. That isn't my cup of tea for a bevy of reasons; my preference is to speak and write. I enjoy running my mouth about genealogy, and I enjoy the solitary pursuits of research and writing.

I am ambivalent about the idea of a mission statement. While I recognize that a clear statement of purpose can be a powerful guide in any endeavor, I also have seen a lot of awful, pretentious, overblown, windy mission statements that really sound more like something to make the potential customer (or patient or student or whatever) feel good about you rather than to provide any clear statement of purpose. And there is an awful lot of "California touchy-feely school," as one fellow Coast Guard officer I once served with put it, in what has been written about mission statements. (And don't anyone jump on me for that characterization; I was born in California!)

And it too frequently happens that the windy, overblown, feel-good mission statement is not adhered to all that well, but rather is nothing more than window dressing. That is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

So the other day, as my daughter and I were coming home from the university (she works there), we talked about mission statements. Neither one of us is generally impressed, as my daughter has many of the same reservations I do about them. However, the discussion got me thinking, and while we were talking about that and other things, my back brain was working away, and I came up with this:

My mission as a genealogical speaker and writer is to produce presentations and write books and articles for audiences interested in genealogy, to inform them about sources and methods which will help them be more effective in their genealogical research.

What do you think? Let me know. This mission statement will be critiqued by my fellow ProGen4 students, and I like more input.