google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: April 2010

Follow Friday - Conference Time, Get the Latest News!

It's conference time and the grand-daddy of them all is happening right now as I post, The National Genealogical Conference in Salt Lake City. Certainly, having the conference in the mecca of the genealogy world; next door to the Family History Library in Salt Lake, added to the appeal of the conference this year. Why am I not there? Unfortunately, other obligations have kept me away.

In my absence I have been keeping abreast on the latest news coming out of the conference. Therefore,  this Follow Friday, I thought I would share with you some links where you can keep current on what is happening at the NGS conference in Salt Lake City.

Genea-Musings - Randy is reporting in daily on his events, keeping us informed on news and new products and well as giving us a run-down on the lectures he is attending and his take-aways from them.

Dear Myrtle   is bringing us her expereinces on the NGS activities, a veteran of genealogy and conferences, she is sharing her experiences this week at

Genealogy Geek is sharing daily, Elizabeth is also tweeting frequently, if you want the play by play as it happens check in with the Genealogy Geek on twitter or at her blog.

Geneabloggers is also offering a running list of information coming out of the conference from Geneablogger members.

Don't forget to tonight is the final episode for the first season of Who Do You Think You Are? Tonight's feature celebrity is Spike Lee. You can catch it on NBC, check your local listings for times. And check in tomorrow for  my commentary on tonight's show and what Season 2 may bring.

Who Owns Your Family History Story?

I am not talking about copyrights but rather, how much of your family story belongs to you? How much should you tell? What stories should remain unwritten?

When you decide to write your family history, these are a few of the questions you will likely face. Did you think you were going to tell it all? Unfortunately as the family historian, you are given the responsibility of learning information that you may be concerned about sharing. What secrets are yours to tell and are they necessary to the story?

Often times in taking an oral history, you are entrusted with a secret. As the writer, you need to determine if those secrets should be shared. Some secrets may seem harmless to reveal, while others may be deemed sensitive among your relatives. Some stories may best be left as oral history, and should perhaps be used only as a means of adding depth to your knowledge of your family and your ability to write about them. On several occasions, I was given information but then asked not to include it in my story, and of course, I honoured that request.

I learned some time ago to let history be kind. When I began the task of writing my family history three years ago, I was entrusted with a great deal of stories. Those stories helped me to understand why my ancestors made some of the decisions they did. However, not all make it to the page. Particularly, if the story is going to affect living relatives who may not want a parent or grandparent portrayed, in a less then flattering light.

I was reminded on Friday night when I was watching Who Do You Think You Are? Susan Sarandon was in search of her Grandmother’s history. Her story was proving to be scandalous by some families’ standards. However, like most families, what may appear on the surface to be regarded as appalling, once unravelled such as in the case of Anita, Susan’s grandmother, compassion begins to arise. Your readers who may have once judged an ancestor harshly may now be able to see the reason behind their choices.

Therefore, when deciding what should be in your family history story, ask yourself the following questions.

Is it necessary to the story? Is it kind? Is the story true? Who is your audience? What do you wish to convey by telling this story?

When telling ancestors secrets show kindness and compassion. Perhaps you uncovered, a child born out of wedlock, alcoholism, a history of crime or a victim of crime, an adoption. Some we would not even deem a secret today, while others may still be considered taboo to discuss. You must understand your audience. What will they be comfortable seeing in writing? It is your story, but it is also up to you to be responsible and not distort it. Although you may uncover certain information, which effects living relatives, if those living relatives still keep it a secret , then it’s not yours to tell, you do not own that story. I have always said it is not my job as the family historian to break the news to a living relative that they were adopted, or born out of wedlock, or their favourite grandfather had committed a crime. If they are aware of the story and want the truth told then I will tell it in the most compassionate, kind manner possible. However, I am not here to disrupt a family. Genealogy should bring families together, not drive them apart.

The further the story is removed from the current generation, of course the easier the story is to tell. We are not invested emotionally in an ancestor we have never met. We can be more objective about their decisions.

In Susan Sarandon’s case, she uncovered that her Grandmother worked in a speakeasy in the 1920’s and may have been considered a ‘loose women’, and a bad mother for leaving her family. As more information was unravelled, we learned of Anita’s devastating childhood, and being wed at 13 years old. We could certainly have empathy for Anita’s choices. We did not get to see Susan telling her mother what she had found. I can imagine it was a painful exchange. Susan certainly had empathy for her Grandmother, I wonder if her mother felt the same. Of course, NBC made the right decision; the show was not intended for us to be voyeurs into someone else’s pain.

Therefore, when writing our family stories, keep in mind, that having not lived the life of our ancestors and walked in their shoes, it falls to us, as the writers of these stories, to let history be kind.

Genealogy Magazine Ends Publication

I would like to share this announcement that I received this evening. We must say good-bye to another genealogy magazine, Discovering Family History. As a contributor to this magazine, I am particularly disappointed in this news. However, I am also contributor and fan of Internet Genealogy and Family Chronicle, so I hope if you are not already a subscriber please check out these two magazines. Here is a portion of the message from the Publisher and his reasons ending this publication.

From the Publisher of Discovering Family History

We recently made the decision to end publication of Discovering Family History. The last issue produced was March/April 2010. It was a tough decision but one we felt we had to make to improve the profitability of the company. Family Chronicle and Internet Genealogy are still extremely strong and popular publications and we'll incorporate the "beginner" content into these magazines. Any finished articles already submitted will be rescheduled into FC or IG. Any articles for the future that are in the works will still be accepted and scheduled into the future issues as well. We will honor all author payment commitments. Although DFH was selling very well on the newsstands, with the stores taking an increasing number of copies each issue, we simply weren't able to get the new subscriber numbers to increase at a fast enough rate. The economy has been tough on us for the last several months, in particular the rising value of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar. The short of it is that we rely on a strong US dollar because 85% of our circulation is in the USA. It's not something we have much control over; we just need to do more to offset the effects of the currency situation. We're seeing an uptick in advertising which is nice because this area has been very quiet through the recession. We need to move forward with a tighter focus on FC and IG. The decision to close DFH makes this task easier.

If you are a subscriber to Discovering Family History, you will receive notice in the next week or two and you'll be given the opportunity to switch your subscription to Family Chronicle, or if you're already a Family Chronicle subscriber you will be able to extend your subscription on a pro-rated basis. For more information visit

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding the above announcement. If you are attending the NGS conference in Salt Lake City next week, please feel free to drop by our booth on the exhibit floor in the Salt Palace Convention Center and we can discuss any questions you may have.

Follow Friday - How Green Was My Valley

I been very busy of late trying to put a 200 page family history book to print. So I haven't been posting as often but the end is in sight and I will pick up the pace again very soon. However, today on this Follow Friday, I want to share a quote I came across that we are putting in the family history book. I thought it was a beautiful quote that family historians could find great meaning in.

From How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn:

"I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come, I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes.
As I felt, so they had felt and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning and no end, and the hand of his father grasped my father's hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, made in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father."

How Green Was My Valley is a 1939 novel by Richard Llewellyn,  based on his Welsh family and the community where they lived. It was later proven that Llewellyn was English born and the story was created from conversations with local mining families. The book was later made into a movie and there were subsequentlly follow up books to the story. I have not read the book, but after discovering the quote I am intriqued. If you have read the book, please let us know what you thought.

A Call to New Genealogy Bloggers....What Have You Learned?

Last week I was graciously bestowed a blogger award, the Ancestor Approved Award, from Dr. Bill (William L.)Smith, Texicanwife at Mountain Genealogy and Lisa Swanson Ellan at The Faces of My Family. Thank you guys for the recognition. Part of receiving this award is to list 10 things in my genealogy research that has surprised, humbled or enlightened me. Here is my Top 10 List. 

1. I am enlightened by the risk and sacrifices my ancestors took, from getting on a boat and travelling thousands of miles to a wilderness, inorder to seek out a better life for their families, to living with so little, and working so hard each day just to survive.

2. I am enlightened by their way of life, it re-enforces for me every day,  how life can and should be much simpler, we have complicated things.

3. I am surprised that over the course of 200 years of history, some things don’t change at all, while others change greatly.

4. I am surprised that some prejudices that existed in 1750 Ireland still were rearing its ugly head in 1950 Canada, and towards children who had no knowledge of why they were the object of such hatred. A lesson some just refuse to learn.

5. I am enlightened at the trials and tribulations my ancestors faced in life, and I marvel at how determined they became with each obstacle.

6. I am humbled, not everything can be blamed on our genes.

7. I am humbled to have met so many cousins along the way, and look forward to meeting so many more.

8. I have learned from my ancestors that their stories, are important and are meant to be told, everybody’s story is important and I am humbled to be able to tell their stories.

9. I am appreciative of the wonderful genealogy and blogging community who are so generous, with their comments, time, support and encouragement.

10. I am eternally enlightened by my ancestor’s stories, how far we have come and how much we have accomplished and grown as a family.

The second part of this award is to recognize 10 other blogs who deserve the Ancestors Approved Award. Now this becomes difficult since there are many great blogs, but the many that I read daily have already received this award many times over. Therefore, I am going to change things up. I want to hear from you.

I am giving this opportunity as a platform to other genealogy bloggers, who feel they have learned something from their ancestors and are eager to share how they have been surprised, humbled or enlightened by their ancestors during their genealogy research.

If you are one of those new genealogy bloggers,  I encourage you to post here. Post in comments a link to your blog, and a brief description of most important thing you feel you have learned from your ancestors. Feel free to direct us to your 10 surprising, humbling or enlightening aspects of your research and post the Ancestors Approved Award alongside your Top 10 List. Looking forward to discovering your blog and reading your discoveries.

Attending a Genealogy Conference - Five Tips to a Great Experience!

Planning to attend a genealogy conference? Read these five tips to help ensure your experience will continue to benefit you long after you have left the building.

1. Choose sessions you find interesting

Sounds simple. However, names of lectures can be misleading. Be sure you read your syllabus in advance and seek out lectures that are focused on your specific interests and your level of experience.If you are at a genealogy conference then it is understood you are quite interested in genealogy and have already dipped your toe in the water. However, keep in mind that there is a wide range of experience levels and topics at any given genealogy conference. When you attend a lecture you never know what bits and pieces you will take away, but if you are pushing your level of experience you most likely are going to take away more than playing it safe. Alternatively, if you sign up for something far exceeding your experience level you may find yourself sitting in the dark.

2. Resist taking too many notes.

With your head down scribbling away notes, you are destined to miss the important points of the lecture. Be Present. You will retain more if you stay focused on listening and less writing. Most lectures come with a syllabus (an outline of the key points of the lecture). Use the syllabus to your advantage and only add when you feel necessary or take a highlighter and simply highlight in the syllabus what were learning points for you personally.

3. Mingle

Walk around and talk with people between sessions. Introduce yourself to your neighbours at the lecture. During meals, sit at a table where you don’t know anyone. Take this opportunity to network and exchange ideas with other genealogists. Don’t be shy we are a friendly bunch and love to talk shop with other enthusiasts. Other genealogists are a wealth of information and just might be the source for your greatest opportunity to learn.

4. Talk less, listen more, and ask concise questions.

You are here to consume the knowledge of the experts, not distribute yours. Don’t be the person who interrupts the lecture with a 20-minute story of his own personal experience or problem. Other conference attendees are here to listen to the lecturer not you. Make an appointment with the lecturer after the session is over for a personal chat so you don’t take up everyone else’s time.

5. Use It Or Lose It

Attending the conference is the fun and easy part. Taking your knowledge home and using it to extend your family history and overcome brick walls is the difficult part. We often file our information away instead of putting it into practice immediately - often only utilizing one or two key points. Allow the conference to motivate and energize your genealogy juices by consciously putting into practice what you learned immediately. Review your notes and make a plan to put them into practice. You paid good money for the opportunity to learn at a conference, continue to make it work for you.

(picture copyright of David Duncan Davidson)

Related Reading
My Trip to the National Genealogy Conference 2009

Great News for Genealogy - A Second Season of Who Do You Think You Are?

Here is an excerpt from today's press release :

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - April 5, 2010 - NBC has picked up three freshman alternative series as "The Marriage Ref," "Minute to Win It" and "Who Do You Think You Are?" are renewed for the 2010-11 season. The announcement was made today by Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios.

"All of these new series have demonstrated increasing popularity and generated far-reaching interest among viewers," said Telegdy. "Equally important, each has a compelling and innovative format, and a second season will allow these shows to grow creatively and attract an even wider audience."

"Who Do You Think You Are?" from executive producer Lisa Kudrow is averaging a 1.6 rating, 6 share in adults 18-49 and 6.8 million viewers overall in "most current" results for its season thus far. In preliminary results for last Friday, "Who Do You Think You Are?" won the 8-9 p.m. ET hour in adults 18-49, marking the first time any regular competitor in this slot has beaten an original episode of CBS's "Ghost Whisperer" in 18-49 rating since November 17, 2006. "Who Do You Think You Are?" has improved the time period by 23 percent in adult 18-49 rating versus NBC's average for the traditional 2008-09 season in "live plus same day" results.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" is produced by Wall to Wall productions (a Shed Media company) in association with Is Or Isn't Entertainment. Alex Graham from Wall to Wall, and Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky from Is or Isn't Entertainment, are the executive producers. The unique, award-winning series is based on the popular BBC television documentary series created and executive-produced by Graham.

You can read the press release in its entirety at

German Genealogy - A Reader Shares Her Tips and Resources

I recently had the opportunity to orders some German records through my local LDS library. I was quite nervous about the entire affair and I blogged to my readers about it. However, one such reader Kathy, came to my rescue and was a wealth of information. Kathy is not a blogger, had not commented on a blog before and had yet to order microfilm but she had the opportunity to work with some German records for her own family research and she provided some tips for me along with an extensive list of resources.

After taking her advice, along with using some of the links, (I will be honest I haven’t made my way through all of them yet) I would like to take this opportunity to share her words of wisdom and her resources with my readers. Therefore, if you have some German ancestors in your history then this is your lucky day.

 Kathy’s Tips and Resources for German Genealogy:

From my experience, I’d suggest that you spend your time while waiting for the arrival of that microfilm you ordered by studying up on these areas:

1) How to read old German handwriting (hint: there’s more than one kind of handwritten script--it depends on how old the records are)

2) How to translate common terms used in German language records (because, really, most of the time you don’t need to read much German—especially if you understand how the documents tend to be organized).

3) A keen understanding about life in Germany back in the time you want to research is helpful. It’s the subtle things that elude those of us who are not natives and educating yourself about the cultural and social history of that time and specific area can help.

4) Download digital copies of any potentially useful records. Print copies wouldn’t leave you with as much detail in the image. With a digital image you can easily enlarge a section or use other software to enhance it that would be impossible with a paper copy.

Kathy’s resource list was so extensive I have provided a link to a downloadable copy for ease of use.

Resources for Reading and Translating German Records

(Since acquiring Kathy’s help, and taking a stab at my first set of German records with some success, I am feeling quietly comfortable in obtaining further documents.)

Related Reading
Your Family History Research-What's Holding You Back?