May 15, 2016

NGS 2016 Conference: Photo Recap, Part 1

While it may have seemed quiet here at my blog the past few weeks, real life has been anything but. I went from the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati from April 28-30 to the National Genealogical Society Conference in Fort Lauderdale from May 3-7, then spent a week on vacation at the beach with my family. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that experiencing things to their fullest often doesn't leave much time for writing. Happily, I'm now able to offer a brief recap of NGS 2016, which I plan to post in two parts.

I arrived in Fort Lauderdale a day early to attend Tuesday’s “Putting Skills to Work” workshop sponsored by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Education Fund. Several of us ended up walking all the way around the exterior of the conference complex before finding an open door, so I was a bit harried when I finally arrived at the right place. It was a pleasure, then, to be greeted by three friendly BCG associates at the reception desk. This was my first time attending a BCG workshop, and it was every bit as helpful and informative as I hoped it’d be.

BCG Workshop registration with Sara Scribner, CG, Stefani Evans, CG, and Melinda Henningfield, CG
My morning workshop was “Spreadsheets 201: Manipulating Data to Dismantle Brick Walls,” presented by Jeanne Larzalere Bloom. It was illuminating to see the types of spreadsheets Jeanne creates and the various ways she sorts data to draw comparisons. The classroom setting and extended time gave her a chance to really get into the subject. Three takeaways from this workshop were:
  • In addition to logging research, spreadsheets are also a powerful tool for correlating information
  • Break data down into small pieces for easy manipulation (for example, use separate columns for first and last names)
  • Color coding is a great visual tool for identifying patterns and similarities

Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG

In the afternoon I learned to “Reach for the Power Tools: Transcriptions & Abstractions” with David McDonald. In this workshop, we transcribed documents from various time periods, learned to strike out unnecessary verbiage, made abstracts, and considered what research questions the documents suggested. The time went fast. Three takeaways were:
  • Exact means exact—every mark on a document must be noted in a transcription
  • Study other records from the same time and place to judge what is boilerplate and what is not for your abstract
  • This is more art than science, and practice helps

David McDonald, D.Min., CG
By the time the workshops concluded, conference registration was open and people were starting to pick up their materials for the next day.

The conference opened bright and early on Wednesday, May 4. Keynote speaker Connie Lester spoke about some lesser-known figures in Florida’s past. She’s working to preserve and improve access to Florida social history sources with a digital initiative called RICHES. Since social history plays a big role in learning about our ancestors’ lives, I think this is a great program.

The exhibit hall opened at 9:30 am. As sessions weren't scheduled until 11:00, most people took the opportunity to make a first pass through the vendor booths. There's been some discussion about attendance and exhibit hall traffic at NGS 2016. Here's my observations, for what they're worth:

  • There were a good mix of vendors, with genealogical institutes, societies, magazines, podcasts, software developers, and more well represented
  • Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and FindMyPast all had large displays with special programming
  • A space was set aside in the back for social media use and interviewing
  • The BCG Certification booth was consistently busy with people looking at portfolios 
  • The exhibit hall was unfortunately located on the first floor, far away from the lecture rooms on the third floor, making it impractical to visit the exhibits during the 30-minute session breaks
  • It was missing a big bookstore vendor (such as Maia's Books) to draw people in 
  • The food concession had a very limited menu and long wait, so a lot of people went off-site for lunch, meaning less traffic for vendors
  • The three biggest vendors (Ancestry, FamilySearch, and MyHeritage) were all right up front as people came in, so the buzz was concentrated there rather than being distributed throughout the hall

Personally, I was surprised by how quiet the exhibit hall felt in contrast to the speaker presentations, which seemed well attended considering how many were running at the same time and how spread out the rooms were.

Hourly sessions began at 11:00, with ten lectures per session. That’s a lot of choices, and most of the time I was torn between two, three, or even four lectures. To kick things off, I chose “When Worlds Collide: Resolving Conflicts in Genealogical Records” with Judy Russell. I’m glad I did. Judy spoke about different methods to deal with conflicting evidence in order to reach a credible conclusion. Her lecture, like most others, is available for purchase from PlaybackNGS, and I highly recommend it.

Judy Russell, CG, aka The Legal Genealogist
After lunch, I attended “A New Document! Now What?” presented by J. Mark Lowe. I’ve heard Mark talk about research planning before, but find I always pick up something new because good speakers are continually updating their presentations. Besides, I’m in a different place, learning-wise, than I was three or four years ago. One takeaway from this lecture is that the more specific your research question is, and the more specific your plan is, the greater your chance of success.

I finished the day with Gail Miller’s “Developing a Successful and Efficient Research Plan.” While the description of her lecture sounded similar to Mark’s, in fact it complemented it well. I liked Gail's emphasis on knowing all about the locality you’re working with before you even attempt to develop a research plan. I also appreciated her advice to literally lay everything you currently have on a problem (including a map) out in front of you, then ask yourself what’s missing.

J. Mark Lowe, CG, Linda McCauley, and Gail Miller, CG
After a full day, it’s always nice to go out for dinner with colleagues and friends—especially when the view from the restaurant involves palm trees and water.

I enjoyed meeting many of my blog readers at NGS 2016, and hope you all had as much fun as much as I did. I'd love to hear your thoughts or comments about the conference. Stay tuned for Part 2 shortly...


April 17, 2016

Meet Me in Ft. Lauderdale

It’s hard for me to believe, but in just two weeks I’ll be flying to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the NGS 2016 Family History Conference. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, and suddenly it's just around the corner. Here are some of the things I'm most excited about:

Several of the nation’s leading genealogists are presenting new lectures that I hope to hear, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Tom Jones, Mark Lowe, Judy Russell, Rick Sayre, Josh Taylor, and many others. There are so many good speakers and topics that it’s going to be very hard choosing between them for each time slot.

I’m also hoping to hear presentations by some speakers that are new to me, and on subjects I’m less familiar with. Exploring new territory is one of the most beneficial aspects of attending a National Genealogical Society conference, I’ve found.

My week kicks off with the BCG pre-conference workshop, “Putting Skills to Work,” with Jeanne Larzalere Bloom and David McDonald. A chance to hone my skills with an awesome duo from the Board for Certification of Genealogists in an interactive, small group setting. What could be better?

The exhibit hall promises to be a buzzing place, with big displays by the likes of Ancestry, FamilySearch, Find My Past, and My Heritage; tables offering help from national and state genealogical societies; and a host of vendors demonstrating and selling genealogy-related books, maps, software, archival products, and services. Good thing I’ve been saving up for this.

Speaking of demonstrations, the Genealogy Gems booth will be offering free 30-minute power sessions by Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard, Jim Beidler, and Lisa Alzo. These are always fun and informative.

I can't wait to spend some time with friends and colleagues from other cities and states—without a doubt my favorite part of any big conference. I also hope to meet new friends and readers. I love talking with others who share my passion for genealogy, and life in general. (As if you can’t tell.)

Last but not least, Fort Lauderdale is a beautiful place, and the weather should be fabulous.

Will I see you at #NGS2016GEN? If you haven’t registered yet, you can get all the information you need at the conference website, but you’ll want to hurry, because pre-registration ends April 22. Of course you can always register at the door, too. Hope to see you there!

- Shelley

March 25, 2016

Emma Scheibel Steele, 1894-1952

March is Women’s History Month, and it’s a good reminder for us to tell the stories of the females in our family tree. Today I’d like to tell you about my great-grandmother, Emma Scheibel, who married Homer B. Steele.

Emma Scheibel Steele and Homer Steele, with daughter Wilma, 1919

Emma is an important branch on my family tree because she’s my mother’s mother’s mother. In DNA terms, that means she’s my direct mitochondrial line ancestor. From her, and her mother before her, and her mother and so forth through umpteen generations, I’ve inherited my mitochondrial DNA type. It’s a genetic pathway to the past that I don’t have for any other ancestral line.

Emma Laura Scheibel was born on 6 March 1894 in Columbus, Ohio. Her parents were Ludwig Scheibel and Pauline Treebte or Treebto (which I’ve learned is actually spelled “Treptow”). On the birth register, her name was recorded as Pauline.[1] I don’t know whether that was an error on the clerk’s part, or whether her parents later changed their minds about her name, but she appears as Emma in every other record created about her.

Emma’s father, Ludwig Scheibel, was born on 29 September 1839 in Germany, possibly W├╝rttemberg.[2] He sometimes went by the American name Louis. Her mother, Pauline Treptow, was born in Blumenfelde, Kr. Konitz, West Prussia, on 25 February 1855.[3] They married in Columbus on 13 April 1880. It was Ludwig’s second marriage.[4] A widow, he already had a son, Peter Scheibel, from his first marriage.

According to my grandmother, Wilma (Steele) Herrel, Ludwig and Pauline retained a lot of their native customs and spoke German at home. In public, they spoke English with a heavy German accent. Knowing this, I imagine Emma grew up speaking both English and German.

When the census was taken in June 1900, Emma was six years old and not yet attending school. Ludwig Scheibel, age 63, was a harness maker, and owned the family’s home at 428 E. Fulton St. He had immigrated to the U.S. in 1852 and was a naturalized citizen. Pauline, age 45, had immigrated in 1875. She had given birth to nine children, but only five were living. They were Louisa Scheibel, age 15; Willie Scheibel, 13; Augusta Scheibel, 9; Emma; and Albert Scheibel, 4.[5]

On 11 April 1907, when Emma was 13 years old, her mother Pauline Scheibel died of tuberculosis.[6] Those had to be difficult years for the family, as her brother Willy died as well. By summer 1910, Emma’s school days were behind her. She was 16 years old and working as a nurse in a hospital.[7]

But there was another blow yet to come. On Christmas day 1910, Ludwig Scheibel died of apoplexy (stroke).[8] Emma and her siblings were orphans.

I’m not sure how Emma met Homer Burdell Steele, a native of Cheshire, Gallia County, Ohio. Homer worked as a shipping clerk for the Federal Glass Company in Columbus, and lived in the same part of town. Perhaps their paths crossed at church. Rev. Hines married Emma and Homer on 20 May 1915, when she was 21 years old.[9] Their first child, Wilma (my grandmother), was born 23 September 1917.[10]

Emma and Homer’s second daughter, Rosemary Steele, was born 28 November 1919.[11] After Rosemary, they had four boys in succession: Kenneth Steele, born 1 March 1925[12]; Homer G. “Junior” Steele, born 26 November 1929[13]; William “Billy” Steele, born 2 February 1931[14]; and Ronald Steele, born in 1932.

In addition to her children, Emma also cared for her invalid father-in-law. Wilma explained, “My grandmother Minnie King Steele lived with us many years as Grandfather George Steele had a stroke & could not work. Grandmother worked at Federal Glass Co. (now out of business) with my father. My mother took care of Rosemary, me & Grandfather.”[15]

Wilma identified the picture below as the last one she knew of that shows the entire family. It was probably taken in the summer of 1939. In the back row, from left to right, are Wilma, Emma, Rosemary, Kenny, and Homer Steele. In the front, from left to right, are Billy, Junior, and Ronald.

Tragedy struck on 14 November 1939 when Billy, playing in the basement with a friend, accidentally started a fire. “The buckle on his shoe caught on a wire on baled wax paper & he lit a match to see what he could do,” Wilma recalled.[16] The waxed paper ignited and Billy, unable to free himself, perished in the fire. He was eight years old.

I imagine that was something that haunted Emma the rest of her life.

Time went on, although it seems Emma was not well as she reached middle age. “My father always took care of my mother as she had a heart condition,” Wilma noted.

Sadly, Emma lost another son to another accident. Junior had enlisted in the Navy after high school, and, at 20 years old, was posted in the Panama Canal Zone. He was off duty but helping a friend do some repairs on radar equipment when he touched a live wire. He was electrocuted instantly and died on 18 May 1950.[17]

Emma succumbed to congestive heart failure two years later, on 23 November 1952. She was 58 years old. She was buried in Sunset Cemetery in Columbus, along with her sons Billy and Homer Junior.[18]

My grandmother remembered Emma as a good mother and home maker. While she had few outside interests, she strongly believed in God, home, and family, and wanted her daughter to be happy and prosperous.[19]

My mother remembers Emma, too, particularly the way she made homemade German noodles. She would roll the noodle dough out and cut it into long strips, then slice it into noodles. Those raw noodles looked really good to a little girl! But Grandmother Steele wouldn’t permit anyone to taste before cooking. Now that I think about it, maybe that was a result of the challenges of feeding a big family through the Great Depression.

There’s something that struck me as I wrote this. You see, I’ve had this information about Emma for quite a while; it’s not new research. But it wasn’t until I sat down and wrote this profile that I actually began to see her life. I think there’s a big difference between bits of information in a database and a story that pulls them together into a cohesive narrative, even a short one like this. The process of writing it out as a narrative somehow creates something bigger and more engrossing than you think when you’re only looking at the pieces individually.

It also makes me realize I have more research to do on Emma’s family. Writing does that—it stimulates you to fill in the gaps and reach further into the records. Yes, it takes time, but it’s time well spent in the end.

Is there a woman in your family tree that you’d like to understand better? If so, you might try writing a little profile or vignette for her. Lisa Alzo offers a month’s worth of “Fearless Females” writing prompts to help you (see her March 2016 blog archive). Gena Philibert-Ortega shares some of her favorite tips and resources for researching females in her Women's History Month 2016 series. I hope you enjoy finding and telling the stories of the women in your family history, too.


[1] Franklin County, Ohio, Probate Court, birth records, vol. 6, p. 30 (1894), Pauline Scheibel; Ohio History Center (OHC) microfilm #BV10,944.
[2] “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” digital image, FamilySearch ( accessed 3 Nov 2013), death certificate #66095 (1910), Ludwig Scheibel; citing original records, Ohio Dept. of Health, Ohio History Center, Columbus; Family History Library (FHL) microfilm #1,952,768.
[3] Evangelische Kirche Grunau (Kr. Flatow), “Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1850-1859,” p. 107-108, entry 17, Auguste Pauline Treptow (baptized 11 March 1855); FHL microfilm #1,496,973, item 2.
[4] “Ohio County Marriages, 1789-1994,” digital image, FamilySearch ( accessed 3 Nov 2013), Ludwig Sheibel and Paulina Trabtan (1880); citing Franklin County, Ohio, marriages, vol. 15, p. 285, Probate Court, Columbus; FHL microfilm #285,148.
[5] 1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, Ward 4, E.D. 55, p. 6A, dwelling 123, household 141, Ludwig Scheibel; digital image, Ancestry ( accessed 3 Nov 2013), citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1267.
[6] Columbus, Ohio, Board of Health, death certificates, 1907 vol. 2 (1 March – 30 April), no. 351, Paulina Scheibel; Ohio History Center, Columbus, OHC microfilm #GR9874.
[7] 1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio, Ward 2, E.D. 43, p. 1, dwelling 13, household 14, Lewis Scheibel; digital image, Ancestry ( accessed 4 Nov 2013), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1180.
[8] “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” FamilySearch, death certificate #66095 (1910), Ludwig Scheibel.
[9] Franklin County, Ohio, Probate Court, marriage records, vol. 60, p. 315, Homer Steele and Emma Scheibel marriage (1915), Columbus.
[10] Ohio Department of Health, birth certificate #77908 (1916), Wilma Lucille Steele; Office of Vital Statistics, Columbus.
[11] “U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry ( accessed 21 Mar 2016), Rosemary Naomi Steele Rhoten.
[12] “U.S. Social Security Death Index,” database, Ancestry ( accessed 6 July 2014), Kenneth N. Steele (1925-2013).
[13] Ohio Department of Health, birth certificate #98192 (1929), Homer George Steele; Office of Vital Statistics, Columbus.
[14] Ohio Department of Health, birth certificate 11272 (1931), William Steele; Office of Vital Statistics, Columbus.
[15] Wilma Steele Herrel, Grandmother’s Book, scrapbook, 1989; privately held by Shelley Bishop. This 9” x 11” book contains notes, descriptions, photographs and memorabilia ca. 1917-1989; the author (now deceased) gave it to Bishop in 1989.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid. Also, Homer G. Steele obituary, The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), 20 May 1950, p. 2A.
[18] “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” digital image, FamilySearch ( accessed 21 Mar 2012), death certificate #70642 (1952), Emma L. Steele; citing original records, Ohio Dept. of Health, Ohio History Center, Columbus; FHL microfilm #2,246,396.
[19] Wilma Steele Herrel, Grandmother’s Book.

March 14, 2016

A new badge: NGS 2016 Conference Social Media

The National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference committee recently sent me an email announcing that I’ve been accepted as part of their official 2016 social media team. I’m happy to have the opportunity to share my excitement for the conference with all of you!

The NGS 2016 Conference will be held May 4-7 in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Not that long ago, some of us were joking about how national conferences seem to favor cold locations and dates over warm, tropical climes. Guess we can’t complain anymore. Margaritas, anyone?

NGS has a dedicated 2016 Conference website with all the information potential attendees need—a full program brochure, information on hotel accommodations, and online registration. This year's theme is "Exploring the Centuries: Footprints in Time." They’re offering an early registration discount through March 31. Interest in the conference has been so strong that they’ve added more hotels to the original block.

I’m actually going to Fort Lauderdale a day early so I can participate in the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Workshop, "Putting Skills to Work," on Tuesday, May 3. This is a full-day immersion in two topics for intermediate and advanced genealogists. Current BCG President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, will delve into “Spreadsheets 201: Manipulating Data to Dismantle Brick Walls.” Past-president Rev. David McDonald, CG, is presenting “Reach for the Power Tools: Transcriptions & Abstractions.” I’m really looking forward to these small group workshops with two of my favorite lecturers.

But that doesn’t mean the conference is just for experienced researchers. Everyone, even those just starting out, will find plenty of opportunities to learn, grow, and connect with others who share their passion for family history. Add in a bustling exhibit hall and after-hours social activities, and you’ve got a fun-packed schedule. Oh, and did I mention that some of the hotels even have free shuttles to the beach?

If you have any questions about the conference, feel free to ask in the comments box below and I’ll try my best to answer. And do let me know if you’re planning to be at NGS in May. I’d love to see you there!


March 5, 2016

Got Irish Ancestors? You're in Luck!

View from the Wicklow Mountains

If you’re researching Irish ancestors, there’s a lot of good news these days. New databases and digitized original records are making it easier than ever to find your family in the Emerald Isle.

Yes, Irish research still has its difficulties. Nothing is going to bring back the historic records lost when the Four Courts building in Dublin burned down in 1922, or the census records of 1861-1891 that the government destroyed. But the clamor for genealogical resources has inspired some helpful substitutes, as well as wider access to surviving records.

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, companies are also offering special discounts and access to their Irish collections. Here’s a rundown of some recent announcements:





National Archives of Ireland, Dublin

To keep up with the latest releases and developments, I recommend following the Irish Genealogy News blog by Claire Santry. Her companion website, Irish Genealogy Toolkit, provides a wealth of information and links to help you with your Irish family history research.

The photos you see here were taken during my trip to Ireland in May 2015. We had a great time, and I can’t wait to go back. Hopefully we’ll be able to see some ancestral sites next time. My husband has recent Irish roots—his grandfather, Harry Baxter, and great-grandfather, Robert Baxter, both immigrated from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 20th century. I believe I have Scots-Irish ancestry as well, but it’s much further back in time, and I still have a lot of research to do. But each new database, finding aid, and online record collection helps bring that goal a little closer. I hope it does for you, too. Slainte!


February 8, 2016

Getting a GRIP on Education

Here in the middle of winter, the long, hot days of summer seem far away. I don't want to say they'll be here before you know it, because I see no need to rush time. But there’s a great opportunity to sharpen your genealogical skills coming up this summer. And now’s the time to reserve your spot for it.

The Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, widely known as GRIP, will open registration for its first 2016 session on Wednesday, February 10 at 12:00 noon EST. There are six courses to pick from for that first session, which runs June 26-July 1:
  • Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age
  • Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy for the 21st Century
  • German Research Resources
  • Master the Art of Genealogical Documentation
  • Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State
  • Women and Children First! Research Methods for the Hidden Members of the Family

Instructors include Tom Jones, Judy Russell, Warren Bittner, Michael Lacopo, Denise Levenick, and Cathi Desmarais, to name just a few. You can read about the June course offerings here; click on the course titles for more details.

I'm happy to announce that I'll be co-teaching a couple of classes in Denise Levenick’s course, Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age. You might know Denise as The Family Curator, and the author of How to Archive Family Keepsakes and How to Archive Family Photos. This is the first time she’s offered a course in family history preservation, and I'm vey excited to be a part of it. Students will get hands-on experience and be encouraged to work on their own ideas during the course, so they can hit the ground running when they get home. If you’ve been wanting to get an organized start on preserving your photos, heirlooms, and family history, this is a great chance to learn the best techniques to make it easier.

The second session of GRIP, slated for July 17-22, will feature seven course offerings:
  • Advanced Genetic Genealogy
  • Diving Deeper into New England: Advanced Strategies for Success
  • From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write Proof Arguments
  • Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper
  • Practical Genetic Genealogy
  • Resources and Strategies for Researching Your Italian Ancestors
  • Advanced Research Methods

That makes 13 different courses to choose from. Each one features five days of instruction by leading genealogical educators and the chance to interact with others who share your passion. Plus, it’s just plain fun!

GRIP is held at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh. Students can opt to stay on campus in a dormitory just steps from the main classroom building, with meals included. The dorm rooms aren’t luxurious, but they have private bathrooms, a mini-fridge and microwave. Think of it as going to summer school for a week with a bunch of genealogy buddies. If you’d like some idea of what it’s like, take a look at some photos and recaps I posted in previous years:

Like I said, registration for the June session begins February 10 at noon EST. Sign-ups for the July session follow on March 2. You’ll find registration information here. Some courses tend to fill up quickly, so if you have a particular favorite in mind, you’ll want to get in as soon as possible. There's even a Countdown Page that takes you straight to registration. Enrollment usually remains open until a few weeks before classes start, with wait lists for full courses.

Here’s to warmer weather, and to hopefully seeing some of you at GRIP this summer!



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