Tue, 10 March 2015
This episode features our interview with Christina Baker Kline, the author of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured book Orphan Train. The book spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list as well as time at the top of The Bestsellers List in Canada, and by now after reading the book you know why. Christina will share how the book came in to being. And why she first hesitated to write it. And how, although this is a novel, in fact the details of Vivian’s story are true thanks to her extensive research. And Christina sheds light on the effect that being an orphan had on the children of yesterday and the children of today.
PRISON RECORDS. Kingston, Canada, Penitentiary Inmate Ledgers, 1913-1916, are now available on Flickr. According to GenealogyCanada.blogspot.com, “The ledger includes frontal and profile mug shots, the inmate’s name, alias, age, place of birth, height, weight, complexion, eye colour, hair colour, distinctive physical marks, occupation, sentence, date of sentence, place of sentence, crime committed, and remarks of authorities.”
And speaking of Flickr
But wait, there’s more! An important part of the Flickr world is Flickr Creative Commons, which describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.”
Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others. Like what kinds of groups? Well, there’s the British Library photostream, with over a million images in its photostream! And how about the (U.S.) Library of Congress, with over 23,000 photos?
Look for your favorite libraries and historical societies–and check back often. New additions post frequently. For example, as of December 2014, The Netherlands Institute of Military History now has a photostream. According to a blog announcement, “The Institute exists to serve all those with an interest in the military past of the Netherlands. Its sphere of activities covers the Dutch armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, from the sixteenth century until now. The staff of the NIMH administer a unique military history collection containing approximately 2 million images, of which they will be uploading many to the site.” At this posting, only a couple dozen images show up so far, like the one shown here. Check back–or check with the Institute to see what they’ll be posting soon–for more images.
Here’s a tip: Those who post images to Flickr Creative Commons offer different rights to those who want to download and use their images. Described here (and searchable here by the kinds of rights you want), those rights may include the ability to use a photo as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes and proper credit is given. Perfect for a responsible, source-citing genealogist!
CEMETERY HEADSTONES. The Canadian Headstone Photo Project is now also searchable at FamilySearch.org. The original site with over a million headstone photos isn’t new. But some people don’t know about the site, and its search interface isn’t as pretty or flexible. So we think it’s nice that FamilySearch is hosting that data, too. According to FamilySearch, the collection is still growing. “This collection will include records from 1790-2013. The records include a name index of headstone inscriptions, courtesy of CanadianHeadstones.com, which is a family history database of records and images from Canada’s cemeteries.”
HISTORICAL PROPERTIES MAP INTERFACE. The state of Delaware in the United States has launched an updated version of its CHRIS (Cultural and Historical Resource Information System) GIS tool. Use this interface to explore houses, districts and National Historic Landmarks in your ancestor’s Delaware neighborhoods. Maybe a place they lived, worked, shopped, worshiped or attended is still standing!
Not sure how to find record sets like these for YOUR family history? Here’s a tip! Use the “numrange” search operator in Google to locate records from a particular time period. Do this by typing the range of years to search (first and last year) into your Google search box, with two periods in between (no spaces). For example, the search “Kingston Penitentiary” 1900..1920 brings up the ledgers mentioned above.
This tip comes to you courtesy of the book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke–the fully-revised 2015 edition that’s packed with strategies that will dramatically improve your ability to find your family history online.
The next visit I made was two weeks later with my parents accompanying me. We arranged for my aunt and her younger sister to be there. Bringing stories and photos, we had a marvelous evening! Besides recording animated conversation and anecdotes, I was able to use my tablet to "scan" pictures. With their permission, I have since edited and shared photos online along with their stories.
As circumstances would have it, one of my aunts suffered a stroke only a month later. This has been a great sorrow for my family, but in thinking back I am so grateful I had the time to visit with her; what an opportunity to have preserved those precious conversations and photographs!
Thanks for your podcast and for the valuable tips and stories.
P.S. I posted about this experience in my blog along with the value of using tablets in family history work in July last year. There is a picture of me and my Aunt Connie with my impressions of the first visit"
From Terri: "I am so glad I found you and all the fun things you have to offer to all of us working on our Family History. I was listening to a webinar with Gena Philibert-Ortega and she mentioned your Genealogy Gems Podcast and how useful it was. So I went on immediately and downloaded it on my iPhone. It has been so much fun and I have already gleaned so many helpful hints from it. Recently, on my drive from San Antonio to Houston and back, I listened to many the ones in your archives. Well, the Podcast led me to your website where I decided to become a premium member and have already taken advantage of many of the videos and podcasts. I then signed up for the newsletter.
I have installed Google Earth on my computer and have already begun plotting my Family History. It is so much fun! With your great video on using old pictures to help find places you lived, I have been able to find the home we lived in right after I was born, 57 years ago. It still stands, and except for a few minor renovations and a paint change, looks very much the same. I have attached the old pics and the one from Google Earth. It was a very exciting moment! (I am the little one crawling around on the right of the picture)
My father is 79 and he has been the one, for many years, encouraging me to delve into the family tree. We have some interesting story lines out there that have been fun to look into. One of the things I found was an American Revolutionary Ancestor, in my father’s line, which led me to apply for the Daughters of the American Revolution and my app was accepted in December. I was inducted this last weekend and my dad was there to see it. That was a very special moment.
After watching your videos on YouTube, I have started a blog, "Unearthing My Family Roots”. It is in it’s infancy but I am enjoying it and hope to start incorporating family history and genealogy into it after the “Cruise Log” is complete. You can find the blog here.
As you can see, I am taking full advantage of my membership, so you can imagine my disappointment when I found out that you are coming to my local genealogical society meeting (Genealogical Society of Kendall County) in March and I can’t be there. We are expecting our second granddaughter around that time in Missouri and I am going up to help. :) I know you will be wonderful and everyone will go home with lots of takeaways. Thank you for all you do and I look forward to all your future GEMS!"
From Lisa: Thanks for writing and I'm thrilled to hear you have become a Genealogy Gems Premium Members and that you are enjoying it! And I'm particularly happy to hear that you are putting Google Earth to good use.
Congratulations on your new blog. You are a talented writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed your series on the day you found the family bible and shared it on Google+. It is so similar to my own introduction to the family history obsession!
I'm sorry to hear I won't get an opportunity to meet you at the upcoming seminar. I'm really looking forward to Kendall County because all of my dealings with the folks there so far have been delightful.
Recently I heard from Sue, whose story offers a compelling reason to use Google Scholar for genealogy research! Read it below–then I’ll tell you a little more about Google Scholar:
“I’ve been using computers for genealogy research (among other things) for about 30 years and am pretty good at finding most anything on the internet whether it pertains to genealogy or something else. It’s a continuous learning experience because computer, the internet and genealogy on the internet are always changing and updating.
After hearing your seminars at RootsTech 2015], I tried out a couple of Google searches for my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather Silas Fletcher. Silas lived on Indian Key in the Florida Keys in the early 1820s.
My husband and I and our son visited Indian Key several years ago and the young lady who took us out in the boat had actually written her college thesis on Silas! Of course, we didn’t think to get her name or any other information. So I Googled “scholar paper Silas Fletcher’ and the first item on the search turned out to be her thesis!
I also found a second thesis on Indian Key and a research paper a third person had written–and they both contained information on Silas. In the footnotes I found references to deed books (book number and page number) that contained statements written by Silas, his wife Avis, their daughter Abigail and Mike’s 2nd great grandfather William H. Fletcher about their lives and movements in the Florida Keys.
With that information I went to Familysearch.org and found the deed books I needed for Monroe County. I was able to go find their statements very easily instead of having to ‘browse’ through the books on the off-chance I would find something (which I do if I don’t know the exact book where the record would be).
I can hardly wait to try out the rest of what I learned at your seminars to see what else I can find!”
Sue’s experience is a great example of using Google to dig for your family history. One little-known feature on Google is Google Scholar, which would help Sue and anyone else more easily find material like what she describes: doctoral dissertations, theses, academic papers and more. Your keyword searches in Google Scholar will target results from academic publishers, universities, professional societies and more.
Though scholarly literature gets a bad rap sometimes for being boring or highbrow, they do something genealogists love: THEY CITE SOURCES. Sue cleverly read the footnotes of the materials she found and they led her right to a key source she needed.
Here’s another resource she could find using the details found on Google Scholar in a Google Image search: a map of his community!
My newly-updated, revised book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox has an all-new chapter on using Google Scholar. Among other things, I show you advanced search strategies and how to use Google Alerts with Google Scholar for continuous updates on your favorite search results. Click here
GEM: Interview with Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list and is now on top of The Bestsellers List in Canada. When you read it you’ll see why. Here’s the storyline:
Vivian is an Irish immigrant child who loses her family in New York City and is forced to ride the ‘orphan train.’ Orphan trains were a common solution in the late 1800s and early 1900s for care of abandoned or orphaned children in New York City and other places. The children were loaded onto trains and paraded in front of locals at various stops across the countryside, where they might be claimed by just about anyone.
After following Vivian’s life through her childhood and young adulthood, we fast-forward. Vivian is 91, and a teenage girl named Molly comes to help her clean out her attic. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who is in the modern foster care system. Gradually they realize they have a lot in common, and you’ll love the ways they each respond to that.
To me, the book is about the importance of family identity. Each of us has a family storyline that existed before we were born and brought us into being. Vivian’s and Molly’s experiences remind me how important it is to know and value our family backgrounds. Of course I loved learning more about orphan train riders, too. That chapter of history is now a vivid reality to me.
Northwest Genealogy Conference
The Northwest Genealogy Conference will feature 3 full days of classes from speakers like Cece Moore and Judy Russell, and I will be there as well teaching 3 classes on Evernote and mobile technology. And there will be an exciting exhibit hall where you can see genealogy products and services up close.
If you’re new to genealogy, they’ve got something just for you too! The Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society is sponsoring free Beginning Genealogy Classes in conjunction with the Northwest Genealogy Conference that will be held on Wednesday 12 August from 1:00pm to 5:00pm at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center. Seating is limited, and pre-registration is required.
Registration opens on April 1, 2015 Head to http://www.nwgc.org/
Profile America: Deadly Influenza
Mon, 23 February 2015
In this episode we are going to check in with our Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton on our featured book Orphan Train, and some additional books you’ll want to add to your reading list that also provide insight in to how you can approach writing your own family’s history. And Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, Diahan Southard, will be here to tell you how to Social Network Your YDNA with Surname Projects
But first I’ve got the RootsTech Run down for you. Last week I spoke at RootsTech 2015 which was really a two-fer conference of both RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies national conference. So needless to say it was bigger than ever. If you didn’t attend, why should you care? Because FamilySearch which is the organization behind RootsTech has really, and I mean really, upped the family history game if you will. Even though they are a non-profit, they are really leading the industry, and having a huge impact on the types of genealogy resources and services that are being developed, which directly affect your family history research.
And “Family History” is the key phrase there. At a FamilySearch VIP event I attended the leadership made a point of saying there is a distinct difference between genealogy and family history. We may often use these terms interchangeably, but they made this point with purpose, to drive home the fact that they are concerned with more than just genealogy; the building of your tree and tracing of your lineage. They are extremely focused on “family history”, and from what I know about you, you are too. Family history is the holistic approach – the stories, the photos, the legacy you are creating through your research. It’s not that its critical which words you use, but I think they focused on the distinction to really help the community understand what their focus is.
For example, the keynote speakers included Former first Lady Laura and Jenna Bush, (who by the way did a phenomenal job and were witty and thoroughly enjoyable),
as well as Donny Osmond, and American Idol star David Archelta. There were some negative comments about these choices floating around on social media before the conference, but for anyone who attended and saw the presentations it all made perfect sense. They all spoke, and sometimes sang, to the heart of family history. I know for all you listening, your heart is certainly in it. They offered incredible inspiration and I think everyone walked away rejuvenated and recommitted to their research. And research just isn’t the right word. They came away motivated to continue on the legacy of family history they are building. And really that is the job of the keynotes. To set the tone and inspire and motivate, because there were plenty of indepth classes and a huge variety of topics to fulfill the educational component of why we attend conferences .
Let me give you a run down on some of the stats:
FamilySearch, which was formerly the Genealogical Society of Utah, celebrated its 120th birthday last fall. It now operates 300 cameras in 50 countries around the world collecting digital genealogical sources. They released two mobile apps in 2014, FamilySearch Tree, the mobile companion to Family Tree on the FamilySearch website, and The Family Search Memories app which helps you collect, preserve, and share your favorite family photos, stories and spoken words. They are launching a new indexing program which will be part of the FamilySearch website which can be used on most desktop computers, notebooks and tablets. And to give you an idea of the scope of FamilySearch Indexing , there are 321,000 volunteers who have indexed 160 million records in 2014 alone, bringing the total of records indexed to 1.26 billion. These are records being made available to all of us free on the familysearch.org website.
In June of 2014 FamilySearch surpassed publication of 1 billion images. It took 7 years to get there and the billionth image was published in FamilySearch’s growing collection of Peruvian records. IF you consider that a single digital image can have several historic records on it, that means there are actually billions of record images on FamilySearch. FamilySearch projects that it will take just 3 to 5 years to publish the next billion images.
And as for new record collections, in 2014 FamilySearch published 38 million obituaries, 10 new Freedmen’s Bureau field office collections, and new and updated collections all around the world.
One of the coolest things they unveiled is their new Discovery Centers. This is something that they announced last year, and our contributing editor Sunny Morton got a chance to go through the one in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City while at the conference. Here is a link to her blog post.
The FamilySearch Discovery Center is focused on offering families simple and powerful in-person family history experiences. Each visitor gets a unique, personalized experience where they learn about themselves and where their family came from, and how they lived. They can even record a video about themselves or a family member. You’re in luck if you live in the Seattle area because a center is expected to open there in June of 2015. The two centers will serve as a testing ground to fine tune the centers and then open more around the world.
(Image above: Amy, Sunny and Lisa at the Genealogy Gems booth)
So while I was at the conference I presented three classes for FGS which included using Evernote for Genealogy which was a packed house, using criminal cold case strategies for your brick wall genealogical cases, and video marketing for genealogy societies. For RootsTech I taught Turn your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse and, and building a genealogy business which was for the Rootstech Innovator Summit.
(Image above: Lisa and Diahan filming a segment at RootsTech)
And of course we had the Genealogy Gems booth in the massive expo hall where we teamed up with FamilyChartmasters, The Photo Detective and Family Tree Magazine to once again present our Outside the Box booth sessions where folks could join us for ½ hour session on topics like Google Search, Evernote and a whole lot more.
NEW! Map for African-American Genealogy Resources after the Civil War
The time period after the U.S. Civil War is a messy era for searching for African-American ancestors from the South. Millions of people were emerging from slavery, without documented histories of who they were or who they were related to–many without even consistent first and last names.
A new website helps researchers locate important African-American genealogy resources from the post-war Reconstruction era. Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau is a map-based tool for helping you find the Freedmen’s Bureau offices and hospitals, Freedman’s Bank offices, “Contraband Camps,” U.S. Colored Troops battle sites and other locations nearest your ancestors that may have created records about them. Many of these record sets are just coming online or are newly indexed and are free to search, so the timing couldn’t be better.
What it is a fantastic tool! I’m so pleased to see this site. Now those who know what location they’re starting with can easily glance at a map and click to see which of these resources exist in a specific locale and where to find them online or offline.
Listen to my interview with African-American genealogy research expert Deborah Abbott, PhD, in the FREEGenealogy Gems Podcast episode 159.
“Danish national censuses, including approximately 9 million images and 31 million records, covering the years of 1787 through to 1930. One of the most enlightening sources of historical content, census records provide a glimpse into a family’s past listing information about each household including the names of occupants, information on residence, ages, places of birth and occupations.
Church records (3.9 million images) containing approximately 90 million names from 1646 to 1915. The Parish Register provides information regarding anyone who was born, baptized or confirmed (after 1737), married or died in a particular parish. The records include rich information about a person’s family: for example, for baptisms they list the date of birth, date of baptism, name of the child, parent’s names, occupations and residence, and often names of witnesses and godparents.”
According to MyHeritage, “The records, spanning almost 300 years, provide a window to the lives of Danish ancestors during fascinating periods in history including the Napoleonic wars, liberalism and nationalism of the 1800s, the Schleswig Wars and industrialization.
“The records will illuminate the lives and times of noted Danish historical figures such as Kierkegaard and Niels Bohr. Celebrity fans will be able to look into the family history of Danish Americans such as Scarlett Johansson and Viggo Mortensen for clues on their success. Many of the records will be made available on MyHeritage as early as April 2015 and the rest will be added during the year.
MyHeritage is a leader in family history for those with Nordic roots and is “the only major company providing services in Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish. With more than 430,000 users in Denmark and an additional 600,000 registered users in Sweden, 500,000 in Norway, and 280,000 in Finland, MyHeritage has amassed the largest Nordic user base and family tree database in the market.”
Just one more reason we at Genealogy Gems are pleased to have MyHeritage as a sponsor of the Genealogy Gems podcast.
From Judy: "After reading your message about "getting materials back home", I thought I'd share something I've begun. Because of working on family genealogy, I have become the recipient of several family items. We have no children, just a niece and nephew who do not live nearby. So...To make sorting things easier for family at the end, I've begun a photo album with pictures of family heirlooms with a message included that tells whose item it was or who made it and/or a story about why it has been special. I'm in hopes that at least they can try to find and save these items instead of trying to guess or having to take the time to go through all of the family binders where most are also recorded."
From Sharon in California About Nov. 13 newsletter: "Lisa, in today’s email you talked about walking through your front door and seeing things differently. Since you are a big fan of Google and Google Maps, I wanted to tell you about a speaker that we had at our San Ramon Valley Genealogical Society meeting one time who talked about using maps in genealogy. And he said the first map we should use is the map of our house. I thought that was a little Silly, until I thought about the first house I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old (and I’m now 74). As I walked up those stairs to our apartment, I remembered so many things about that house. As I “mapped” the layout of the house, each room brought back Memories. Memories of my bedroom where when I had measles and my Dad brought me little Scotty dog magnets and we played with them on my bed. In the kitchen, where my Mom taught me to eat vegetables that I didn’t like by piling on the butter. The back porch where the ice Man delivered blocks of ice. And many, many more. Each house, and it’s map brought back individual memories. Maybe this isn’t genealogy, but it is family history, or maybe only MY history, but it was fun going through all those memories."
From Deanna: "I was very touched by the story of your husband's relative whose mother took her own life due to what sounds like depression. I have a loved one who has anxiety and depression, and I am so thankful we live in a time where education, resources and medical options are available to assist those who are struggling. I am also thankful for your podcast, Genealogy Gems, which was a great source of encouragement to me during a difficult season of being the caregiver of my struggling loved one. The research tips inspired me to keep looking for those elusive ancestors, and the many stories reminded me that most life journeys have difficulties. Most importantly, however, I was reminded that we humans are quite resilient. Thankfully, my loved one is doing much better now, yet I still look forward to each and every Genealogy Gems podcast. In addition, I am planning on attending the upcoming seminar in Vero Beach, FL, which is being hosted by the Indian River Genealogical Society. Although it's a bit of a drive for me, I couldn't miss seeing you in person! Thank you for all you do, and may God bless the life journeys of you and your family!"
GEM: Genealogy Gems Book Club
Our current featured book, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, is getting some nice thumbs-ups from Genealogy Gems readers. Just to catch you up, this is the story of two women. It starts with Vivian, an Irish immigrant child who loses her family in New York City and is forced to ride the ‘orphan train.’ She’s placed with several different families across the Midwest, with different results, but it’s the same premise at every home: her life starts over fresh there, with new rules and expectations and little or no recognition of her past or personality.
After following Vivian’s life through her childhood and young adulthood, we fast-forward. Vivian is 91, and a teenage girl named Molly comes to help her clean out her attic. Molly is a Penobscot Indian who is in the modern foster care system. On the show, I read a passage from when Vivian meets Molly. On first glance, they are so different: an old white lady with money and a Native American teenager without resources. Molly immediately judges Vivian. But Vivian’s response totally disarms her. And that’s when it starts to get fun. I hope you will have a chance to read Orphan Train before our interview with Christina Baker Kline next month!
More Good Reads from the Genealogy Gems Book Club:
I think a lot of people make genealogy goals at the new year: goals like writing up your research. I’ve noticed that one of things people often stumble over when they try to write family history is what style of writing to use. Do they want to write like a college professor, scholarly and objective? Or should their personal feelings and opinions be part of the story? Or, even more nontraditional, should they fictionalize their ancestors’ stories like a novel?
My book recommendations this month are three published family histories—all fascinating reads—that happen to be examples of different kinds of writing.
Mordecai: An Early American Family by Emily Bingham is perhaps the most engaging scholarly family history I’ve read. It’s based on thousands of letters and other documents that make me just go green with envy—like, how did she FIND that document??? There are more than 50 pages of endnotes.
I don’t think the author is related to the Mordecais. My sense is that she’s a historian who came upon a gold mine of a family, in terms of documentation, personality and themes she saw emerge down the generations of this family. I do like to read well-written scholarly history, especially about families and religion. I am fascinated by how religious beliefs make people tick, and their effects on family and community life, especially for a family like the Mordecais who belonged to a marginalized faith at that time in U.S. history.
On the show I read the opening paragraph of the introduction, to give you a sense of her voice. Many of you may have read Family by Ian Frazier, which came out several years ago and was popular among genealogists. Ian also wrote the best-selling books On the Rez He’s an expert observer, insightful, compassionate, funny and honest. So it’s no surprise he also uses a first person voice, or the use of “I” when writing about his explorations into family history.
On the show I read a passage from page 9 where he is writing about his ancestor’s hometown of Norwalk, Ohio, and we compare how different his voice is, but how effectively he wraps together his own experience with his research.
The Worst Country in the World by Patsy Trench is a first-person narrative about her Australian ancestors, who were among the first European settlers in that fascinating country. Patsy actually quit her job and traveled from London to Australia several times to research the story of her fourth great-grandmother and other relatives. She describes the book she wrote as “a hybrid: part family history, part memoir, part novel. The skeleton of the story…is as true as I could make it…. But I have put flesh on the bones, invented personalities for real people, circumstances behind the facts, all in the cause of turning my family saga into what I hope is an entertaining read. The dramatised scenes are from my imagination but the outcome of them is fact.” (Introduction, page 5) She cares a lot about her research, so she tries to make it clear in the text what’s based on evidence and what’s speculation, and she includes a detailed appendix that spells out where she took liberties.
On the show I read a passage from page 86 about something her ancestor may or may not have done upon her arrival in the colony. You can hear the author’s playfulness as she openly decides to buy into an unsubstantiated account for the purposes of good storytelling. Then she tells a good story, and we have a sense of the setting, other characters, social life and current events in her ancestor’s new life in Australia (whether or not that specific incident actually unfolded as it did).
All in all, these three books—great reads in and of themselves—are also great examples of the different kinds of storytelling methods and voices we might choose to adopt when we write about our ancestors’ lives. Happy reading from the Genealogy Gems Book Club!
GEM: Your DNA Guide at Genealogy Gems, Diahan Southard
Family history organizations and studies based on individual surnames have been around for years. They are now integrating YDNA research into their efforts. Use surname projects to enhance your paternal DNA research!
Surnames are the flagships of our genealogical research. We name our files after them and we tag our research with them. We wear our last names proudly on pins and necklaces and T-shirts.
But surnames can also be misleading. Illiteracy, language barriers, and just plain carelessness led to misspellings and alterations, not to mention those ancestors who blatantly changed their name to avoid detection.
The advent of YDNA testing has changed the way many genealogists view surnames and their role in their genealogy. Because a man’s YDNA is the same as the YDNA carried by each of the ancestors in his direct paternal line, the YDNA can act like a filter, clearly indicating which men with a particular surname, or variant, truly share a direct paternal line.
So how has YDNA testing affected family organizations that do surname research? I asked Debbie Kennett, a regular contributor to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki and Facebook page who is also involved with the Guild of One Name Studies. The Guild of One Name Studies was established in 1979 to promote public understanding of one-name studies and preserve the information obtained by those studies.
“Virtually every common surname is now the subject of a DNA project,” says Debbie, including “just over 500 Guild members who are running a DNA project. That number has jumped up considerably just in the last couple of years.”
The quality of those projects varies. Debbie tells us that a quality YDNA project includes three elements: “presenting the DNA data, recruiting people from different countries and also correlating all of the genealogy information.”
Jean Morrison, a member of the Morrison surname project, says that because of DNA testing, “identifying where in Scotland this family originated prior to coming to America ca 1728 has become a realistic goal. The Morrison Q Group has identified through Y line testing at 111 markers, 22 individuals with an MRCA (most recent common ancestor) within eight generations.” In plain English, this means that a definite YDNA pattern has been associated with her Morrison surname and with a common ancestor eight generations back.
Noel and Ron Taylor were two early adopters of YDNA testing for their Taylor family project. Their first samples were submitted to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in 2000. The former president and currently the head of the board of trustees for the Taylor Family Society, Noel says that using DNA “caught the attention of many people in our organization….It renewed great interest in the hearts of many people who had been doing research for many years [who may have] lost interest and were somewhat discouraged.” The Taylors have made significant breakthroughs with their DNA testing. They have connected several Taylor lines back to a common ancestor, verified their paper trails, and even found a line of Hodges that were actually Taylors!
It appears that YDNA is becoming part of the research plan for most family societies. But Debbie tells us that there is still much room for improvement in her organization. “Not all Guild members are running [DNA] projects. We have something like 2,700 Guild members so we are still not at the stage where the majority of Guild members are running projects.”
Besides The Guild, other organizations have been created to assist genealogists with their surname research, including a new organization just launched in November. The Surname Society’s goal is to “to build a collaborative environment where members are encouraged to develop their own approach to the investigation of their surname.”
Kirsty Grey, chairman of the Surname Society, says that DNA testing has taken a front seat role in the research of one of their founders as well as several early members. “DNA is one of the many strands of family history research (and to a greater extent, surname studies) which can connect individuals, often where genealogical research cannot.”
That really is the bottom line. DNA, especially YDNA, can tell you things about the surnames in your pedigree that you can’t learn in any other way. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to jump on the YDNA bandwagon and see what your DNA has to tell you.
DNA for Genealogy Resources:
Quick Reference Guides by Diahan Southard
(purchase all 6 laminated guides for the best deal):
Get the NEW AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA 2 guide bundle Click here
es: Click here
Visit Diahan's website to learn about expert consultations with me. You’ll get customized guidance on which tests to order and how to maximize your results for your genealogy research.
New! MyHeritage Digital Guide:
(Click image above to order)
Pre-Order the 2nd edition of
Watch the newly updated iPad Premium Video
Wed, 7 January 2015
I’m pretty excited about this episode because it’s just jammed back with all kinds of fun stuff! (image right: my Grandson Joey excited about his new wagon!) First, Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton will be here to announce our new Book Club read for this first quarter of 2015. And it is fantastic! Even better, the nationally acclaimed author who wrote it will be joining us on a future episode to give us the back story.
Then, since it is January that means that a lot of television shows are ramping back up, and one of those is the Genealogy Roadshow on PBS. And not only will it be back with new episodes, it will also feature a new addition to the panel of hosts. Professional genealogist Mary Tedesco is joining Genealogy Roadshow and she will join me a little later in this episode to talk about her experience on the show and also about her specialty which is Italian research, which I couldn’t be happier about since we haven’t had a chance to delve into Italian genealogy until now.
Our Genealogy Gems DNA Guide will also be here. And I have a very special announcement for you at the end of the show.
Epitaphs from Genealogy Gems listeners on Facebook:
From Cindy:"One of the most fascinating epitaphs I've ever seen is in Monticello, Florida. It reads, "Remember reader as you pass by, as you are now so once was I, as I am now so you shall be, prepare for death and come with me." The date of death was in the 1880s. The tombstone is made of metal instead of stone."
From Jan: "Most memorable epitaph to date: In Memory of Elizabeth Palmer who should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer who died Aug 1776. This in the Old Commons Cemetery, Rhode Island."
Jillian writes in about the story of Mary Ann Munns Cooke’s untimely death
"What an amazing, heartbreaking - yet somewhat uplifting - story. I feel compelled to share a similar struggle on my family tree - it is a bit long (for all of the details, I would advise reading my blog at www.burgessgenealogy.wordpress.com), but the shorthand version involves my great-great grandmother being widowed by the Spanish Influenza, and her children being taken from her by a corrupt politician, who uses his connections to incarcerate her in an insane asylum to gain control of her late husband's property and mineral rights.
She survived it, miraculously, and went on to live a happy life, even getting to see her great grandchildren being born. My grandmother told me that her father was forever changed by what his mother endured, but he was the most forgiving man she'd ever met. It reaffirms your statement that bad things may happen, but you don't have to let it determine your outlook, your path. Much love to you and your family for overcoming and living out a legacy that recognizes the struggle, and the acts involved in overcoming."
GEM: Book Club with Lisa and Sunny Morton
Our last featured book, She Left Me the Gun, was a memoir by a woman raised in England who researched her South African past. This time, we fly across the pond to the new world, to a bestselling U.S. novel, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (image right).
Orphan Train is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it twice and recommended it more times than I can count.
I thought a lot about whether a genealogy book club, which is based on researching real history, should incorporate novels. But genealogists are three dimensional people; we’re not all fact and no fun, right? I have loved historical fiction from the time I read A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by EL Konisburg. It’s a kid’s chapter book about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine told from her point of view as she and the cast of characters from her life were sitting on a cloud in heaven waiting for her husband King Henry II to get into heaven. That novel bred in me this love for re-imagined history, in which the stories and lessons from past lives are repackaged in a way that’s meaningful to us, in a way that we’re willing to listen to.
But back to Orphan Train. I’m guessing that many of you have already read it and loved it—if you have, raise your hands on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and tell us so! If not, here’s a teaser for you. Orphan Train follows the story of Vivian, who as an Irish girl immigrant with another name entirely loses her family and is forced to ride the orphan train.
What was the orphan train? It was an early, special urban brand of foster care in which homeless or neglected children were gathered up and put on trains out to the country. They advertised ahead of time their stops in little rural railroad depots, where essentially the children were lined up and local residents could come pick up kids and take them home. Essentially the children were advertised as free labor sources for farm families.
So, Vivian rides the orphan train and we follow her childhood through some challenging placements with a few families and then into young adulthood when she is still trying to pin down an identity for herself. Then we move ahead in time. As a 91-year old woman, Vivian meets Molly, a teenager in today’s foster care system. Molly comes to Vivian’s home to help her clean out her attic because she’s gotten in trouble and needs community service hours. Molly thinks this old lady has nothing in common with her, not knowing anything about Vivian’s own trials as an orphan rider.
So what makes this a good read for family history lovers? The core of the story is about family identity. Both these girls were separated from their families at a young age—they were told their past wasn’t good enough and they were re-booting their lives from scratch. You can’t do that to a person without serious consequences to their psyches. This book reminds me how important it is that each of us has a storyline from the past that existed before we were born, and brought us to who we are today. It’s perilous to break that story up or to be ignorant of it. The author spent a lot of time with the real stories of people who have lived in foster care or who rode the orphan trains, so the feel of the book would be authentic and real even though it’s not wholly factual. The orphan train history is so fascinating itself and this is a great way to be introduced to that chapter in history—which I have read is not limited to the U.S. I have read that about 100k children rode orphan trains in Canada, too.
Read the Genealogy Gems Book Club Book for 1st Quarter 2015: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
Next month Sunny will be back with a few more suggestions for fun things to read and a teaser from the book, and then in March we’ll have an interview with Christina Baker Kline.
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Profile America: Ellis Island Opens
Thursday, January 1st. The place where many of our ancestors first stepped ashore when they came to America seeking a new life opened on this date in 1892 — Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The very first immigrant processed at the new facility was a 15-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore. Over the course of more than 60 years, some 12 million people flowed through the center. Some sources say the number is considerably higher. The peak year was 1907, when just over a million immigrants came to Ellis Island. The complex now belongs to the National Park Service and is visited by several million people a year. In 1910, the foreign-born represented nearly 15 percent of America’s population. Now, after falling through 1970, that figures sits at 12.9 percent.
GEM: Mary Tedesco on Genealogy Roadshow and Italian Genealogy
Mary M. Tedesco is also the founder of ORIGINS ITALY at originsitaly.com, which is a firm specializing in Italian and Italian-American genealogical and family history research. She speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy where she conducts genealogical research and visits family.
Watch the new season of the Genealogy Roadshow
Read about it on the Genealogy Gems Blog:
Visit Mary at Origins Italy at http://www.originsitaly.com/
Mary’s favorite websites for Italian research:
Things to know about Italy:
Your DNA Guide with Diahan Southard
I think with the implementation of DNA circles Ancestry is trying to implement tools in the areas where they are comfortable, and actually capable. Yes, they are making mistakes. But so are the other testing companies. Yes the trees are flawed. They did release the DNA circles as Beta. I too have ready many concrete accounts of how this tool is making mistakes. But they are in uncharted territory here. No other company is trying to so fully integrate traditional genealogy with genetic genealogy, and there is something to be said for that. And, you will probably agree that one of the biggest frustrations with any testing company is getting people to post their family trees and/or respond to your inquiries about their family trees. By making inclusion in the Circles contingent upon having and linking your sample to a family tree (even a flawed one) it does encourage more people to post public trees. Of course, it does completely ignore anyone without a family tree- again, frustrating.
Pre-order Sale Price: $19.95
Completely updated with loads of new content! Everything you need to know to stay up to date on using Google for your family history.
Mon, 8 December 2014
In this episode I'm going to share a personal story from my own family history just recently uncovered, and pull from it 3 powerful strategies that you can start using right away to further your own genealogy research in newspapers.
My husband's grandfather, Raymond Harry Cooke, was born March 6, 1894 in Tunbridge Wells, England.
Ever since I first started researching his family I have been aware that Raymond's mother, Mary Ann Cooke, died at a young age, around 40 years old. What I didn't realize was that in the back of my mind I sort of made some assumptions about what happened to her.
I knew she had lost one child in child birth, and had one living child, Raymond. Though the answer as to her exact date and cause of death have been elusive, I haven't been in a big hurry to find the answer, because I guess deep down I assumed that she had lost her life in a third pregnancy. So it remained one of those genealogy projects I put off for a rainy day.
This hypothesis was unexpectedly shattered last week!
Not long ago I posted on the Genealogy Gems blog about BritishNewspaperArchive.com hitting over 9 million digitized pages. Last Wednesday evening I decided to take an hour out for my own genealogy (which I rarely get to do these days) and do some digging to see if I could find anything about Mary Ann's death.
With the site's powerful advanced search engine I located the answer within minutes. And it was devastating. (Image left)
3 Tips for Finding Family History in Newspapers:
Look for "Search" Clues in the Articles You Find
After absorbing the story of Mary Ann's untimely death, there was still work to be done. I went back through the article with a fine tooth comb making note of every unique details that could possibly be used in a future database search such as addresses, name variations, neighbors, friends, occupations, etc. This will lead you to:
Look Beyond Known Names
In my case, I noticed that Mary Ann Cooke was referred to as "Mrs. Cooke" in one article, and "Mrs. Cook" in another, so I omitted her first name and ran searches under both options, resulting in even more articles. And in the article about "Mrs. Cooke", her son Raymond was referred to as "Master Cooke". Indeed even more articles existed under that name as well.
Go Beyond People
Search for the addresses of locations where they lived. And don't necessarily include their name. Simply searching the address can give you a kind of "house history" set of search results, revealing who lived there before, descriptions of the home and its contents and who moved in after your ancestors left. In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home (by the address) being up for sale several years before they owned it. That article included a fairly detailed description of the property. The final article found in the British newspapers was also found only by address (as the Cooke name wasn't mentioned) and it detailed the contents of their household up for sale. The auction was held in prepartion for their move to Canada.
Resource: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke
GEM: Interview with Emma Brockes, Author of She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me, and More Reading Recommendations
"When a parent dies, you the child, your relationship with that history changes almost over night. It suddenly becomes much more relevant to you. because you feel like you're the only one left in a position to remember it. So, having never wanted to know anything about my mother's life, suddenly after her death it seemed imperative to me to find out absolutely everything. And to remember her that way. It felt to me that I couldn't, how does one put it, I couldn't stake out the parameters of what I had lost, until I knew everything there was to know about her, and of course there was this huge black hole in her background which I knew nothing about." Emma Brockes
Read Sunny's blog post Genealogy Gems Book Club: MORE Great Books Recommended to find out about two more excellent books for genealogists.
GEM: Your DNA Guide at Genealogy Gems: Ancestry DNA Update
Read Diahan's blog post AncestryDNA Review and Breaking News! Updates Launched at the Genealogy Gems blog.
Tue, 11 November 2014
We all need a little inspiration now and then, and in this episode I hope to bring you some through good books, inspiring comments from other listeners, and some new ideas to try.
Once I got past the organization of my new office, what I’ve really enjoyed doing is devoting time to display family photos and artifacts, and just decorating the room. It may seem frivolous, but I don’t this it is. We spend a lot of time in our offices, and you may have a home office, or corner of a room where you work on your genealogy. Considering the importance of the work and the time you spend doing it, I think it’s time and effort well spent to put effort in to inspiring decorations and displays.
(Lisa's new office display)
Feedback on the “Lizzie” interview from Alvie
They were so very interesting reading but I had no use for them so I turned them over to our local museum in Lakeland, FL. I don't know what became of them.
Kay loves MyHeritage too
"Loved this podcast today - I listened while I walked my 3-mile loop. Just want to share a MyHeritage story.
GEM: BOOK CLUB conversation with Sunny Morton
“When [your] parent dies…your relationship with their history changes almost overnight. It suddenly becomes much more relevant to you because you feel like you are the only one left who is in a position to remember it. So having never wanted to know anything about my mother’s life, suddenly after her death it seemed imperative to me to find out absolutely everything….It felt to me that I couldn’t…stake out the parameters of what I’d lost until I knew everything there was to know about her.” -Emma Brockes, on She Left Me the Gun
Suggestion from Mary:
Here’s one along a similar theme of secrets in a mother’s past and the mother-daughter relationship. One of our listeners, Mary, wrote to us about it. She said, "I just ordered this book and thought you might be interested in reading it. I am looking forward to reading it myself.” The book is The Woman in the Photograph by Mani Feniger. Here’s a little blurb on the book: Mani Feniger wanted nothing to do with the relics of her mother's life before she escaped from Nazi Germany in 1936. But when the fall of the Berlin Wall exposed the buried secrets and startling revelations of her mother's past, she was drawn into an exploration-of history and family, individuality and identity, mothers and daughters-that would change her life forever."
Listener suggestion from Mike:
"Here's a book I found that you and your listeners might also enjoy. The Lost German Slave Girl recounts the story of a poor emigrant family and what happened to one of the daughters. I found it fascinating. The story is non-fiction and takes place around New Orleans in the first half of the 19th century. There is much family research involved, some heart-wrenching descriptions of what the emigrants suffered, and delightful insights into the New Orleans of that time period. It's the kind of research that we family historians love to do but is more dramatic than many of the personal stories we work on."
Profile America: Thursday, November 13th
Improvements in Using Autosomal DNA for Genealogy
You may recall from our recent DNA discussion on the Genealogy Gems podcast (Episode 168) that Ancestry.com recently discontinued their mtDNA and YDNA tests (the two that trace our direct maternal and direct paternal lines) to focus on autosomal DNA (which delivers information about both your mother’s and your father’s side of your ancestral tree).
Well, recently I attended an all-day meeting hosted by Ancestry.com: a summit to talk about current trends and accomplishments at Ancestry DNA , and ideas about the future of DNA testing at Ancestry.com. Free Shipping on Ancestry DNA Kit w Code: FREESHIPDNA
The meeting included a diverse group of Ancestry representatives, from CEO Tim Sullivan to members of the marketing, scientific, communications, and even computer science departments, as well as some of the top voices in genetic genealogy. It was an open and lively discussion, and I walked away with a few gems I want to share with you today.
More Powerful DNA Hints Coming
In AncestryDNA, the ‘shaky leaf” hints are meant to help you find a common ancestor between you and your DNA matches. The computer code behind the old hints was not very efficient. Lazy, in fact. It started at the bottom of your tree—and the bottom of your match’s tree—and slapped on a shaky leaf at the first sign of a shared common ancestor.
While this method worked for a large number of cases, it was leaving a lot of stones unturned. But the IT guys at Ancestry have beefed up the computer power, allowing them to cover a much greater distance through our trees and the trees of our matches before making a judgment about the best place to assign that shaky leaf.
The result? Better hints about how you and your match COULD be related. Remember, the leaf is still just a SUGGESTION on how you and your match might be related. It is not a crystal ball.
Did You Know?
There is no question that the genetic genealogy industry is rapidly advancing, and our discussion with Ancestry certainly didn’t disappoint. While I will be sharing with you in future posts about some of the exciting changes, I do want you to be ready for one that will be coming online fairly soon.
It has to do with your matches. If you have been tested by AncestryDNA, you may have been initially excited, then nearly immediately overwhelmed, by the number of individuals listed in your match page, all claiming to have some kind of connection to you and your family tree.
All three major genetic genealogy testing companies (AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) are using basically the same laboratory methods to glean information from your DNA. What differs is how they use that data to draw conclusions about your ethnic heritage and about your relationships to other individuals. As it turns out, AncestryDNA has been reporting far more individuals as your relatives than it should have.
You can think of it like this: You have sent out tickets, in the form of your genetic code, to an exclusive party where you (of course!) are the star. However, you have lost the guest list and you are counting on the testing company to check the ticket of each guest before they enter your party to be sure they were really invited.
AncestryDNA was relatively new in the role of party bouncer, and in the interest of not turning away any VIP guests, they initially allowed guests into your party who had (gasp!) forged tickets!! But as AncestryDNA admits more guests, the experience it’s gained in party monitoring is starting to show.
You see, each of the forged tickets has some unique qualities that have started to send up red flags to the team of scientists at AncestryDNA . They are now in the process of carefully documenting what each forged ticket looks like and tossing those unwanted guests out on their ear.
The short of it: in the near future your match list at Ancestry will be much shorter. Which is good news to you, as it means only those invited genetic cousins will be around eating hors d’ oeuvres and ready to talk about your shared common ancestry.
Each testing company has its strengths and weaknesses. It was good to have a bit of insight into this one company and come to a greater understanding about why it is they do what they do. It is a great time to be in this young genetic genealogy industry, with so much room to grow and change. I will let you know when I find the next genetic gem.
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GEM: Couple Celebrates 80 years of Marriage
Watch the video and see photos through time of the successful couple at KVAL.com
Mon, 20 October 2014
In this episode I've got some exciting news, a cool free online tool, advice on translation, stories of inspirational finds, DNA for genealogy, and a Star Trek take on the innovations of yesteryear!
FamilySearch’s free interactive map
What Has Replaced Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness?
If you don’t see a group that meets your needs, create one! From your Facebook account:
1. on the left side of the page under GROUPS click “Find New Groups”
2. Here you can join groups (Facebook will likely recommend some based on your profile interests)
3. In the upper right corner click the green + CREATE GROUP button
4. Give your group a name and select whether it is public or private
5. Start posting content to your group page
6. Start promoting the page on your profile page while also friending other genealogists and soon you will likely have a vibrant group that can assist each other based on a shared interest.
From Dot: Australian Newspapers - I had to let you know how grateful I am to you and your podcasts. Thank you so much for helping our family put flesh on the bones of our ancestors. In Episode 167 of Genealogy Gems you mentioned Paul Nauta at FamilySearch let you know “that the National Library of Australia has added an additional 35 historic newspapers to their online collection at http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper.
In the last couple of weeks we have found over twenty articles referring to our great grandparents and family, Charles and Margaret McIntosh. Charles McIntosh came to Australia from Scotland in 1856 and worked for the NSW Railways in various locations before settling in a Gate House Cottage in Moss Vale As well as finding obituaries for family members including our Great grandmother, we have found other interesting articles.
I have included a few examples: Charles lost two sovereigns between the pub and the house , about $300. An unwelcome visitor was found in the house – a big black snake, A cousin in California sent a description of the Golden Gate Bridge.
From Kathy Needs Help Translating Swedish Gems - I just returned from an amazing trip to Sweden. Through the help of the local genealogical societies I was able to locate the descendants of an older sibling who did not emigrate to America. My new found Swedish cousins were so delighted to meet my husband and myself. They knew they had American cousins, but had no idea where we lived. They had pictures and letters sent from California in the 1890's, describing my great grandparents' experience. My grandfather even wrote inquiring about a nice Swedish girl who might like to come to California. Priceless. (He did find a nice Swedish girl in California).
During this trip I picked up brochures, books etc....all in Swedish. I remember that you had a question from one of your listeners about how to translate a book in another language. You talked about scanning the pages and then what? I would appreciate any ideas, thoughts you might have on this subject.
Lisa’s Answer: Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 96 covers translation tools.
Check out the chapter on Google Translate in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox
Amy and Jillian’s recorded comments
Jillian’s genealogy blog: www.burgessgenealogy.wordpress.com
Win a free PDF article! If you would like to receive a copy of the article I wrote for Family Tree Magazine called “Technology RX” which includes 10 of my top favorite tools for managing technology, a 5 page pdf article. All you need to do is call and leave a voice mail comment or question at 925-272-4021 Be sure to clearly leave your email address too and if we use it on the podcast you will receive the Technology RX pdf.
Do you love to read? Then you’ll be happy to hear that we are launching the new Genealogy Gems Book Club! This is an idea we’ve been percolating on for quite a while, and many of you have sent in recommendations for riveting books to dig into.
I can’t think of anyone who reads more voraciously than our own Contributing Editor Sunny Morton. So I’ve asked Sunny to be our Genealogy GemsBook Club Guru!
The first month of each quarter Sunny will introduce our featured book. The next month we’ll talk about it, as well as introduce you to a few more book gems in case you need a few other good reads to hold you over until, and our final month of the quarter where we’ll give you a sneak peek at our interview with the author to get their insight.
As always, Premium members get to take this feature to the next level. In that last month on the Premium Podcast, Sunny will join us for an extended chat with the author about the family history aspects of their book.
Our first Genealogy Gems book is She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. She’s an award-winning journalist from the UK who, after her mother’s death, began investigating hints of her mother’s difficult childhood in South Africa. Here’s a bit from the back of the book jacket, “Brockes begins a dangerous journey into the land-and the life-her mother fled from years before. A chilling work of psychological suspense and forensic memoir, She Left Me the Gun chronicles Brockes’ efforts to walk the knife-edge between understanding her mother’s unspeakable traumas and embracing the happiness she chose for her daughter.”
This is an amazing, page-turning read. It’s a memoir that is also, as one reviewer described, part family history, part investigative reporting, part travel narrative. It’s beautifully written, funny in parts, very self-aware that she is working her way around a sensitive topic with relatives she’s never met.
Sunny tells us what she thinks you will especially appreciate about this book: "I think they’ll love the way the writer describes her research and discovery process: online research, the South African archives, her discovery of her grandfather’s conviction of a serious crime that her mom’s family didn’t even know about, on top of his crimes they did know about. Then there’s the historical context: how her mother’s life straddles apartheid-era South Africa and the UK. It’s a first-generation immigrant’s tale. I think they’ll appreciate the difficulties she describes in intruding into people’s lives to ask very personal questions about the family past, and her description of the relationships between her aunts and uncles. One marvelous take-home for family historians is her ability to absorb the tragedies of the past without being sunk by them. And finally, anyone who has ever written their own family history will be absolutely inspired by the way she writes so compellingly, with such compassion but without being too sentimental."
In a couple of months, we will have an interview on the show with the author Emma Brockes. The interview is fascinating whether or not you’ve read the book, but the reason we’re telling you ahead of time is that you’ll love it even more if you read the book. Sunny gives us a hint: "So I’ve done the interview already and I’ll give you a teaser. My favorite part of the interview is something she only touches on briefly in the book: how to tell the stories of living relatives in print without hurting their feelings or your relationship with them. That was one of my favorite parts of our conversation because I can tell she cares about her family a lot. I’m really excited to share this book with GG audiences. Again, the book is She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes."
Your DNA Guide: National Geographic and New Zealand with Diahan Southard
Recently a group of 100 residents from a very cosmopolitan city assembled together to determine what exactly it was they had in common. What they learned about themselves that evening, has a direct impact on you, a genealogist interested in identifying your ancestors.
Those 100 residents were from Wellington, New Zealand. Their host? Dr. Spencer Wells, Director of the National Genographic project. Their admittance fee to this party? A cheek swab.
You see, 800 years ago the first inhabitants of New Zealand were just beginning to explore their new territory. They had arrived from the eastern islands of Polynesia and lived in relative isolation for over 500 years.
While first discovered by the Dutch in 1642, New Zealand wasn’t regularly visited by Europeans until the late 18th century. Therefore the study of New Zealand’s populations can give us a relatively recent look at what has been going on all over the world for thousands of years: indigenous populations being mixed with outside population groups.
For Spencer Wells and the National Genographic Project, sampling people of New Zealand would provide a rare opportunity to study the genetic effect of a recent collision of populations.
We can think of mixing populations like adding a tablespoon of salt to a glass of water. At first it is easy to see the two different substances co-existing in the same location. But soon the salt becomes part of the water- creating a new substance, with only a small portion of the original substances remaining. This is what happened throughout history as outside groups arrived and intermarried with indigenous populations.
The goal of population genetics as a field of study, and specifically of the National Genographic project, is to look at the modern day population (in our example the salt water), and be able to identify which ancestral populations are present (in our example, determine which parts are salt, and which parts are water. This of course, without knowing beforehand that you were dealing with salt water!).
The National Genographic project has identified 9 ancestral regions from which they believe all modern populations descend. These nine would be like our salt, and our water. They have then described how 43 reference population groups (our salt water) are comprised of their own unique mix of these 9 groups. They can also describe the origins of your direct maternal line, and if you are male, your direct paternal line.
This information was gathered for the Wellington residents and it was determined that the original Polynesian population, and a small East Asian population, are certainly the minority among a predominately Western European population group.
This information will help groups like the National Genographic Project to determine the possible migration patterns of other peoples and cultures.
What does this mean for genealogy? This kind of research helps fuel the Admixture results (the pie charts and percentages) reported to you by a genetic genealogy testing company when you take an autosomal DNA test. It is this research that helps genetic genealogists look at your DNA and pick out the essential, ancestral elements- your salt and your water- and determine how your unique mix- your salt water- reveals information about the origins and migration patterns of your ancestors.
Get Diahan Southard's Genetics for Genealogists Quick Reference Guides at the Genealogy Gems Store.
GEM: A Star Trek Journey Through October Innovations
You know, through history October has turned out to be quite a month for technological innovation, particularly those that affect our every day lives through modern conveniences. In this very special Profile America segment, come with me as we boldly go where no man has gone before!
Tuesday, October 21st. An invention was demonstrated on this date in 1879 that lit the way for a dramatic change in the rhythm of Americans' daily lives. At his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, Thomas Edison set up the first incandescent light bulb, which burned for almost 14 hours. Within a few years, some cities had installed electric streetlights. The number of homes across the U.S. with electricity grew steadily, but even in 1940, more than one-in-five houses was without power. Today, there are over 10,000 electric power generating establishments. American homes on average use nearly 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. The national average bill for this power is just over $107 per month, but over $203 in Hawaii.
Wednesday, October 22nd. "10 - 22 - 38 Astoria." That cryptic sequence indicating date and place was the very first photocopied image, created on this date in 1938 in Astoria, New York. A man named Chester Carlson developed a method of making dry copies of documents on plain paper, known as xerography -- which we take for granted in using photocopiers today. Before his invention, copies were made either by using carbon paper when typing or by a mimeograph machine for large numbers of copies. Both were messy and cumbersome. The first commercial copiers became available in 1959. Now, 76 years to the day after the first photocopy, making copiers is a $2.2 billion a year business in the U.S.
Saturday, October 25th. A melted candy bar led to the invention of one of today's most-used kitchen appliances. Percy Spencer of the Raytheon company was working on a military radar device in the mid-1940s when he noticed that his snack had gotten soft. Intrigued, he experimented with irradiating some kernels of popcorn, which promptly burst. Further work led to the first microwave ovens, which cost only a little less than a new car. On this date in 1955, the first consumer models were introduced, but they required installation and cost $1,200. Countertop models came along in 1967. Now, more than nine out of 10 homes across the country have microwave ovens, and manufacturing microwave ovens and other electric cooking ranges is a nearly $2.5 billion a year business.
Sunday, October 26th. Doing laundry was a wearying, time-consuming chore for many centuries. The industrial revolution and American inventiveness attacked the ancient chore on this date in 1858, when Hamilton Smith patented a rotary washing machine. But it was hand-driven and proved to be hard on both the operator and clothes. People continued to use the tub and washboard, even after the first electric washer came along in 1908. A few years later, the agitator-type machine appeared and gained immediate popularity. Finally, in the late 1930s, the fully automatic washer with a spin cycle went on sale. Today, over 85 percent of the nation's nearly 119 million households have a washing machine.
Wednesday, October 29th. The scene on this date in 1945 at Gimbel's department store in New York City was shopping chaos. Big ads the day before had trumpeted the first sale in the U.S. of a new writing instrument that guaranteed it would write for two years without refilling -- the ballpoint pen. By the end of the day, the store had sold its entire stock of 10,000 at $12.50 each. The idea of the ballpoint pen was first patented in 1888 by John Loud of Massachusetts, who never made any pens. Now, ballpoints are the standard. Vast selections are offered by the nation's 7,400 office supply stores, which employ some 94,000 workers.
Tue, 16 September 2014
Do you have enough time to work on your family history the way you would like to? How about taking on someone else’s family history? In this episode I’ve invited someone who has jumped over his own family history to diligently working on a perfect strangers…or did he jump over it? It’s a very interesting story! We’ll also be talking later about coping and in fact excelling even in the face of technological change.
I’m home for a week before I head back out on the road. And the next stop is Naperville Illinois and the Fox Valley Genealogical Society where I’ll be presenting a full day seminar on Sept. 27, 2014. The following week I’ll be at the Pima County Genealogical Society in Tucson AZ and then in October the Heritage Quest Library in Sumner Washington. I hope you’ll check out my full schedule at http://lisalouisecooke.com/lisas-schedule/ and perhaps join me at one of the upcoming events.
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Family History Jewelry
“You are a genius. I just received my bracelet from lisa lisson. I did a generation picture of my Mother and 4 Mothers going back to my 3rd Great Grandmother. It is beautiful, and sacred. Thank you for hooking up with this website, I am thrilled. You really care about me and my needs.” Marlane
You can find the jewelry created by Esther’s Place at our store. You’ll be amazed how quickly they will create your jewelry and affordable it can be. I’ve got them working on a bracelet right now that features the women in my family tree.
Silver Surfers: Internet Use by Older Adults
Here’s what you had to say on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page:
From Sheri: "Lisa, My sister and I met you at RootsTech this year. We're already planning next year’s trip! I read the article about silver surfers and just wanted to say that when I was a kid (Fairbanks, Alaska) we had party-line phones, one TV station! My mother wrote letters to her family in Idaho regularly and long distance phone calls were very rare! I'm a baby boomer and have always been interested in technology. I do most research online with Ancestry, Fold3, FamilySearch, etc. I haven't jumped into the blogging pool but who knows! I'm currently starting to work on suggestions from your Google Earth CDs, putting together family tours. Love your podcasts. You are my favorite "source". Sheri"
From Diane: "Thanks for the article about the silver surfers. I saw you when you spoke to the San Diego Genealogical Society and learned a lot. I am a major social media user. I am on many FB groups, use Twitter, Pinterest and have my own genealogy blog. I am a baby boomer. Party lines were in use when I was a kid and for parts of my growing up our household didn't even have a phone. Here is a link to my blog."
From Sandee: "When I was a kid, we communicated mostly by letter -- which soon fell by the wayside because they took so long to write, were full of scribble-outs and add-ins, and had a long turnaround time. Phone calls were for really important stuff and emergencies. When I went to college, my parents gave me a tape recorder and several REELS of tape so I could send oral "letters" home (which I don't think I ever did). My dad read the Dick Tracy comic strip and said that someday we really would have wrist-worn telephones and would be able to see each other as well as talk. In spite of all the complaints about constant contact via cell phones and text messages and emails, modern-day communication seems to foster friendships."
Candace says: "When I was young we had a party line with 8 families. We weren't supposed to listen in to other conversations, but we all knew which ring indicated the best news."
Candace’s memories remind me of the Andy Griffith show!
From Lynn: "You asked about seniors and 'net usage. I mostly use e-mail and delight in being able to stay in touch on a daily basis with my 94 year old cousin in Michigan. She is the only person in her assisted living facility with a computer.”
Thank you to our sponsors:
Natalie in TX has success with one of Lisa's Tips:
So I clicked on the 1995 article and it was a picture of New Hope Baptist Church and the first two sentences said "New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1833. It was given in a land grant by Williamson Tucker in memory of William C. Bailey." Then the 2001 issue which was a listing for Hawkins County churches and had New Hope on it, and it gave a little more info that William Bailey gave land to the church but never made a deed for it. He then died and then my ancestor Williamson Tucker acquired the land from the Baileys and then deeded it to the church. Wow, I did not know that, and I probably would have skipped over those two hits because they were so late dated. So thank you for the tip! I've been writing a paper on my grandfather the Rev. Ellis Birl McLain who was a Methodist minister who lived in many places and so far I have found him in 15 different newspapers in six states so I really do know the importance of searching newspapers.”
Linda from South Australia writes in about Dealing with Chaos:
The harder part will be putting something in there, leaving it for later, and then going back to what I was looking for in the first place – I’m easily distracted! Especially when someone I’m NOT looking for turns out to be more interesting than the one I AM looking for.”
Del in California has been busy using Google Earth for Genealogy:
GEM: Project Lizzie – An Interview with Ron Ploof
Storyteller Ron Ploof is here to share how and why he took on such an endeavor, and some of his successes and challenges along the way which he is documenting on his new website Project Lizzie at www.projectlizzie.com
In this interview we head back to 1976 when Ron was 13 years old, and helping his uncle who had just bought a house in Massachusetts. Exploring as 13 year olds do, Ron found something intriguing in the attic of that house – a stack of 99 postcards tucked away. He’s held onto them for the past 38 years. Ron was always fascinated with the pictures on the front of the cards, but in 2012, he started studying the stories on their backs. And that's when he could see that 86 of them were addressed to a Mrs. Lizzie Milligan and postmarked between 1904 and 1925.
He has spent the past year-and-a-half trying to learn as much about her, including a trip from California to Massachusetts to find her gravesite. Ton started publishing Lizzie's story online in February of this year.
Ron has asked his readers to join in the hunt, which begs the question: Why should his readers care? It’s a very important question, because we all have had a non-genealogist relative ask us the question: Why should I care? Even when they are related to the person! If we can share the why, we can more successfully share the journey.
Profile America — Wednesday, September 17th
Sources: Kane's Famous First Facts, 1104, 3804
Coping and Exceling through Techological Change
This is a perfect example that we really need to cultivate our problem solving skills in today's constantly changing online environment. I totally get that it can be frustrating to visit a familiar website or refer to something in a book (or a class!) and find that things are not as they used to be.
In this case, Google removed the "Advanced Search" link from the Web Search and Image Search home pages. And I’ve had situations where I went to teach an iPad class, and the night before a new operating system was released changing practically everything!
However, if we come to expect change then we won’t have to be quite so surprised and frustrated when we run into it. And of course in most cases that change is really an attempt by the website to improve and evolve, although that can seem debatable when it's something you enjoy or depend on.
When you run up against change, you are better equipped than most to deal with it. As Genealogists the sleuthing skills we have honed become our greatest assets!
The quickest way to determine what's going on when something changes online (which again can happen nearly every day) is to just "Google It!"
After reading the student’s message, that's exactly what I did, because I didn’t have the answer on the top of my head either. So I went to Google.com and searched on: google advanced search no longer on home page.
The results quickly led me to the answer: At both the Image Search page (google.com/imghp) and the Web search page (www.google.com) the Advanced Search has been moved to "Settings." Simply click "Settings" in the bottom right corner and you will find "Advanced Search" there as one of the options.
The good news is that chances are, if we've noticed a change, others are already talking about it online, and often will have already shared the answer. "Googling it" is often the easiest way to determine what's going on, so that you can get on with your family history work. So until we meet here again, get on with your family history work!
Wed, 13 August 2014
Lisa shares her recent research successes:
GEM: Sunny Morton’s interview with Lisa Kudrow, Executive of the U.S. TV series Producer of Who Do You Think You Are?
Celebrities that will be featured on the U.S. TV show Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Do You Think You Are? season five (and second on TLC) features popular celebrities from TV and film. Tonight's episode features Valerie Bertinelli (One Day At a Time, Hot in Cleveland)
Set Your DVR: Who Do You Think You Are? Season 5 Wednesdays.
This episode was sponsored by:
Wed, 23 July 2014
Who Do You Think You Are? has become a worldwide television phenomenon, starting in the UK and making its way around the world, telling the stories of well-known celebrities in search of their family history. July 23, 2014 marks the debut of season 5 of the series here in the U.S. and the show’s Executive Producer Dan Bucatinsky is here to tell us more about it.
We hope you enjoy the free access to this Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode! Click here to subscribe today Benefits of Membership:
All for just $29.95 a year. Don’t miss another day… BONUS: For a limited time new members will receive the exclusive digital PDF ebook of a collection of Lisa’s most popular articles from Family Tree Magazine! (the ebook will be emailed to you within 24 hours of purchase)
About Dan Bucatinsky Dan Bucatinsky won the 2013 Emmy Award in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series category for his portrayal of James Novack on the hit Shonda Rhimes series, Scandal. Bucatinsky wrote, produced, and starred in the 2001 indie romantic comedy All Over the Guy (Lionsgate).
In 2003 he and partner Lisa Kudrow founded Is Or Isn't Entertainment, which produced the cult, Emmy-nominated HBO comedy The Comeback co-starring Bucatinsky as publicist, Billy Stanton. Thanks in part to their rabid fanbase, The Comeback is returning to HBO for six episodes beginning this November.
Dan and Lisa’s acclaimed docu-series Who Do You Think You Are? recently received its’ second Emmy nomination, for Outstanding Structured Reality Program. The show returns for a fifth season on TLC this month.
Who Do You Think You Are? Season five (and the second season on TLC) will feature six popular celebrities from TV and film:
We hope you enjoyed this special episode of the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast.
Sun, 13 July 2014
Catch a glimpse of the silent movie era and how it was an integral part of your ancestors’ lives. In this episode, I find out more about the silent movies my grandmother catalogued in her diary, and how they molded a generation.
The cultural influences of the “Picture Shows”
Below is a page from my grandmother’s journal documenting the silent films she saw that year, including the actors who starred in them.
Just like today, the stars who light up the silver screen were mimicked and followed for fashion trends, hair styles, decorating ideas, and moral behavior. Understanding who the role models were at the time gives us a better understanding of the cultural influences of the era. Films are NOT primary resources, but they certainly paint a picture of life at any given time in history.
Finding silent films in my area
To learn more about silent films, I started with a simple Google search, altering my search criteria until I found movie theaters that showed silent films in my area.
The first theater I found was the Stanford Theatre, located in Palo Alto, California. It was first opened in 1925 and stood as Palo Alto’s premier theater house for several decades. In 1987, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation bought the theater and restored it. It is now owned and operated by the non-profit Stanford Theatre Foundation.
www.stanfordtheatre.org - The website provides all the movie schedules from 1929-1961, compiled from ads that appeared in the Palo Alto Times. Vaudeville acts were also regularly included in the lineup. And the Wurlitzer organ live accompaniment was a staple.
Grandma’s Diary Entry – Sunday, April 22, 1928
I have to lead singing at church. Walter and I went to the lake. Met Helen Weathers and Jesse Jay and Ed Taylor. Helen and I went in swimming. Went to the show afterwards. The vaudeville was keen. Lew Cody in “Adam and Eve.”
The first silent movie I saw was “Diary of a Lost Girl”, a German movie starting Louise Brooks. It was a late entry silent film released on April 24, 1930. It tells the story of an innocent young girl, who is raped by the clerk of her father’s pharmacy. After she becomes pregnant, she is rejected by her family and must fend for herself in a cruel world. It was not the wholesome far I expected but was riveting nonetheless. (I must acknowledge the organ accompaniment of Dennis James because he added a drama and magic to the film that was priceless.)
The next film I saw was the classic 1923 comedy “Safety Last” starring Harold Lloyd. This is a must-see, full of laugh-out-loud humor. I was starting to get a feel for what drew Grandma to the pictures as a young girl. It was magical, glamorous, and hugely expanded her social network.
Society’s views on the silent film era
To learn more, I was combed through newspapers from her home town in the 1920s at the State Archives. I came across two newspaper articles: “Getting Back to the Home” from January of 1925, and “Harking Back to those Old Home Days” from February 5, 1925.
The first article leads in…
“Much has been said as to the methods of checking the crime and rebelliousness among the young people of today. The automobile, trains and other means of travel as well as moving pictures, dance halls, etc. that attract young people, and so lead them to seek amusement away from home have contributed to the fact that the home is not the center of attraction for the majority of families as it once was.” The article went on to say that there were plans in the works for a community get-together.
The February 5th article reported the events of that evening, which was called “Back to the Home.” The local residents ate pumpkin pie, sang songs, listened to speeches and music, and comic readings. (And I happened to recognize the name of the cellist in the orchestra as being the man who signed as witness on my great-grandfather’s naturalization papers!) The even was a huge success and was deemed “something that will in surely bear repeating.”
Immediately my grandmother’s diary entries bemoaning her mother who was “from the old country” started to become clearer. Grandma felt that Great-Grandma just didn’t understand her. Having experienced the thrill of the old movie theater experience myself, and reading in the newspapers how it was affecting society, I began to better understand that she lamenting more than just the woes of being 15 years old. Society was changing. And as a mother, I began to sympathize with my great-grandmother’s plight of trying to raise three teenagers in the new world.
Enjoying Silent Movies at Home
I live 25 minutes from a little town that has a Silent Film Museum devoted to a company that produced hundreds of them locally back in the teens. Every Saturday night, they show two shorts, and one full length movie each week with live piano accompaniment.
Last week my husband and I went to the regular Saturday night show, and we found ourselves watching the original full-length versions of two movies about San Francisco in 1906. In the last podcast, I covered the San Francisco Earthquake and other historical events, and included a Youtube.com playlist that I created full of old and new videos about the earthquake.
The first movie short was called “A Trip Down Market Street.” This is in my Youtube.com playlist under the title “San Francisco 1905 - 1906 (short form).” The Archivist at the museum said that research has uncovered that this film was shot just about four days before the earthquake hit in April 1906. The filmmaker shot the entire movie from the back of a cable car slowly moving down Market Street toward the Ferry Building. He told us that the reason the movie survived is that the filmmaker shipped the film to their New York offices for processing just one day before the quake.
The second movie short was produced by Blackhawk Films immediately following the earthquake, (www.filmclassic.com/Blackhawk.htm) and was aptly titled “Destruction of San Francisco.” Portions of this film can also be found on the YouTube playlist.
If you don’t live within driving distance to a theater showing silent films, here are some options for viewing at home:
Netflix (UPDATED) – They have an incredible catalogue of films that can be hard to find. You can stream movies from any device at home at www.Netflix.com. Type “silent” in the search box and click the GENRE matches tab. You can also search by your favorite silent movie star (Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, Jackie Coogan, etc). Not all films are available to stream, but many can be delivered in DVD form with a subscription to www.dvd.netflix.com.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) – www.tcm.com/index.jsp - Go to the website and type SILENT in the search box, then click GO. Scroll down to the KEYWORD MATCHES to see what’s available. They often run “Silent Sundays.” I find the best way to approach TCM it to review the schedule for the week on my cable TV menu, and set movies of interest to be recorded.
The Public Library – A quick search of my local library catalogue online showed dozens of silent movies. I found that searching a particular silent era actor as an “author” worked better than searching ‘silent movies’ alone. Beware, movies held over the one week time limit incur hefty fees. But the titles were free, and in the case of my local library, I can place a request for a movie from another library in the same county system, and they will deliver it to my local branch and hold it for me for pick up free of charge. For a global search of libraries try www.worldcat.org
Amazon.com – If you have a specific title or actor in mind, a quick search will tell you if Amazon has it. And if it’s been released, they probably do. However, browsing is more challenging. To narrow your search to only silent movies, select DVD in the SEARCH area, and click GO. Then click “BROWSE GENRES.” From the next page click CLASSICS. Then, in the Browse box on the right, click SILENT FILMS. I got over 400 results. If you’re not looking for a Charlie Chaplin film, add “-Chaplin” to your search and you’ll get the results down to 282 films. You can help support this free podcast by always starting your searches in our Amazon search boxes located throughout the Genealogy Gems website at www.GenealogyGems.com
Ebay.com – If you’re looking for a title that is particularly hard to find, EBay may be the best source. www.ebay.com
Grandma’s Diary Entry – Friday, November 2nd, 1930
“Alfred, Len, Mama and I went to the show in Merced. “Four Son’s.” It was sure good!”
I looked the movie up at IMDb.com, the biggest movie database on the internet. The description stated that the movie revolved around a mother and her four grown sons living happily in a German village prior to WWI. The oldest son, Joseph, yearns to go to America, and his mother gives him her savings to realize his dream. After the war begins, two of the sons go off to battle and are killed. Meanwhile, Joseph becomes an American citizen and joins the army to fight against Germany. The youngest son then leaves to join his battalion, and is killed in battle. After the war, Joseph goes home to New York and sends for his mother. She makes the journey through Ellis Island and they finally reunite.
My grandma’s parents had emigrated from Germany in 1910, just prior to the start of the war. Great-grandfather came over first to find work. When great grandmother discovered she was pregnant with Alfred, she followed three months letter, which was sooner than planned. She secretly made the trip with her 3-year-old daughter. I had to get a copy of this film!
I couldn’t find “Four Sons” at any of the usual places, so I went to Ebay.com. There I found someone who had a copy, and I bought it. The movie was extremely moving, and I cheered for the naive yet faithful mother as she made her way alone through the confusing world of Ellis Island and the streets of New York. This movie must have been very touching for Great grandmother to watch, and I would guess that it generated conversation about her own trip. Many years later, Grandma fulfilled a life long dream and made the trip to Ellis Island to see it for herself. Before her death, she told an eager granddaughter all about Mama, the journey through Ellis Island, and about her love for the moving pictures.
GEM: Interview with Sam Gill – April 19th, 2007
(Image: Sam Gill introducing a silent film)
Do you by chance research your own family history?
Not much now. As a child I helped my mother quite a bit with her genealogical research, joining her on trips to libraries, helping at home, typing up manuscripts, filling in sheets, etc. My mother published a little pamphlet on the John Ashton family of London, Ontario, Canada for which I’ll provide a link to a recent description.
In my youth, I also recorded via reel-to-reel tape, important family members (father’s mother in depth; mother’s step-mother briefly; mother and father, and siblings casually) in the 1960s and 1970s. They—the older family members-- are all deceased now, and I am very glad I did this. I am currently transferring these tapes to CD.
My brothers George and Paul are very interested in family history, too—now, actually more so than I am, which is very surprising considering my brother Paul showed very little interest in family during his youth. I was extremely interested in family history in my youth, but not as much now, unless it be to discover whatever I can about the personal relationships family members had to one another, as well as to their friends and other loved ones.
How accurately do you think they portray life at that time?
One needs to be very careful with film, today as well as yesterday. Most film—even documentaries—often depict people as they want to be seen, or to perform in stories the way they themselves want to appear, or the way the filmmakers specifically want their characters to appear.
I have a friend who once coordinated the locating of antiques in the Los Angeles area for Christie’s in London, who commented that frequently the furniture he saw in teens silent films of the fairly common society-drama type, were extremely high-end antiques that would command extremely high figures in current auctions, and are the kind of antiques never seen in today’s films, or at least very rarely.
I mention this because it’s a good example of the fact that each person may see something of interest that another person would not even notice or care about. Also, films from the silent era can be important historically and culturally in showing us the way life was; but as with any photograph, it may take a lot of interpretation and understanding to know exactly what it is that we are looking at.
(Image right: Sam and Lisa in the Niles
What influence do you believe the young medium of movies had on the culture of that time?
Huge influence. I believe films from the very beginning had an enormous impact on our culture, and the culture of every country when and where films began to be shown. And as sound was added, even with radio, and later with the immediacy of television, the impact has become even more profound. Many immigrants have commented, too, then as now, on the importance of going to the movies to learn the language and culture of their new country.
I believe youth especially has been affected, but probably all ages. I mention youth because young people are so impressionable, and so things such as fashion, dating techniques, job aspirations, desires of where one might live and play, attitudes toward family and community, nearly every aspect of life has been represented and thus made available to audiences for their “selecting,” taking what each person wants or “needs” and leaving the rest. With what they take, they can mold their lives, or re-define what it is they believe they know and want.
How would you advise a family historian to approach the silent movies as a resource?
See as many films as he or she can, starting with whatever seems of most interest—documentaries; travel films; comedies; dramas; westerns; whatever. For more of the genuine “feel” of the movie-going experience, I believe what we are doing here at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum on Saturday nights, is very important. These silent films were shown with music accompaniment, which aids greatly the impact and accessibility of these films.
With what movie or actor / actress would you recommend they start to become introduced to silent films?
That’s an interesting question, and one that gets at the root of what I mean when I say these films can have a profound impact on a person—especially youth. Just as someone today may be enormously impressed with Johnny Depp or Christina Ricci, or a film about the mafia life, or corporate life in New York City, or even a horror or fantasy film, the same holds true for silent films seen today.
Each of our audience members seems to relate in a highly individualistic way to a film, often to a particular “star”—perhaps being impressed with the steely reserve of William S. Hart; laughing at the often-surreal physical stunts of Buster Keaton who becomes a kind of Every Man against the harsh realities of our physical world; the adventurous-spirit of Douglas Fairbanks; the spunkiness of Mary Pickford who never let anything get her down; and so on.
The film A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1906) has become a great favorite here, where a camera was placed on the front of a street-car heading down from about 8th Street to the Ferry Building in April 1906 just a few days before the earthquake and fire. Horse-drawn wagons, cars and vehicles, automobiles, people on foot, bicycles, you name it, all these methods of transportation are fascinating; but most fascinating, we are watching the people themselves, some oblivious to the filming, others intensely interested, staring right at the camera!
Any other thoughts on the subject as it pertains to folks interested in learning more about the era of 1900-1930?
There are more and more films available on DVD but I still love books, and what one can discover going to the library and pulling film books off the shelves to read at one’s leisure—historical works, cultural studies, picture books (even coffee table books), encyclopedias, biographies and autobiographies, corporate histories of film companies, on and on.
It’s all fascinating, and it’s all out there…to be discovered. Many years ago, someone told me he thought I “lived in the past,” and implied that that was a pretty terrible thing to do. I answered, “I don’t think of it as LIVING in the past, but of EXPLORING the past, like an archaeologist.” I think the truth of that may be the same for genealogists, to explore the past through the discovery of family history, which is after all, human history.