March 30, 2012

Giving Back by Indexing the 1940 Census

It’s hard to miss the anticipation building over the release of the 1940 U.S. census in just a few days on April 2, 2012. Initially, I admit the idea of the census release didn’t stir up a ton of excitement for me, since I know where my grandparents were living at the time, and I don’t have any missing relatives. But I’ve found a new reason to get enthused: the idea of giving back to the community that’s given me so much.

As Jim Erikson said in a Google+ hangout last night, “We’re building something big.”

The 1940 census is a big deal, and indexing it is a big challenge. Personally, I’m impressed by the spirit of cooperation we’re seeing among some major names in genealogy—,, and The way they’re working together to recruit and train volunteers for indexing efforts is a good sign, I think, for the future of genealogy research.

I also found out that not only can you give back to the community as a whole by indexing, but you can also give back to specific societies. That’s right, you can assign yourself to a volunteer group, and the group gets credit toward incentives for the indexing you do. So if you have a local or state society you’d like to support, and they’ve signed up with FamilySearch to sponsor volunteers, you can attach yourself to their efforts. It’s easy to do. The article “Join the Crowd” on the 1940 U.S. Census Community Blog gives a link to a short flyer listing the few easy steps. There’s a video and a list of participating societies, too.

Since I had already registered as an indexer, it only took me a couple of minutes to join a group. I chose to link with Franklin County Genealogical and Historical Society in my home city. They’re a small but dedicated bunch, doing a lot of work with limited resources (and hopefully they’ll be getting a new website soon). So I’m happy to be able to support them. 

But I had lots of choices—Ohio alone has 35 different societies registered. You can choose one from any state--perhaps where your ancestors lived, or one that had given you help from a distance, or whatever you like.

You can even give back to yourself! The Census Community Project is running contests in which participants can win gift cards, Kindle Fires, and iPads, among other prizes. There's games and drawings. Visit the contests page to submit your name and be entered into all the contests.

So if you haven't already, join me in giving back to the genealogical community by signing up as 1940 census indexer. And give back to a local or state genealogical society while you’re at it. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. Together, we can get this big thing done!

March 29, 2012

The Best Library Video Ever

Today’s edition of Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter contains a brief article and a link to a wonderful video from the New York Public Library. Now I just spent a great weekend at the Allen County Public Library, and I’m fiercely loyal to my local Columbus Metropolitan Library, but this video makes me want to hop on the first plane to New York City. Check it out for yourself:

Is that cool, or what? “Know the past, find the future.” Speaks to the sleuth in all of us.

Kudos to the New York Public Library’s Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy on their video, and thanks to Dick Eastman for sharing it.

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Researching at Columbus Metropolitan Library

March 26, 2012

Basking in the Midwest Genea-Glow

I had the most wonderful time this past weekend researching at the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Even though I didn’t break down any of my brick walls, I found some interesting things that I can’t wait to analyze further. What made it even better was the company there. About twenty genealogy bloggers from the Midwest (and Canada) gathered for a weekend of research, camaraderie, and laughter.

When Tina Lyons (Gen Wish List) and Terri O’Connell (Finding Our Ancestors) announced they were organizing a get-together for Midwestern genealogy bloggers, I jumped at the chance to attend. The Genealogy Center at ACPL is renown for its collection of U.S. and international resources. Since I’m starting to dip my toes into Irish research, I was particularly eager to take a look at those materials. I watched the orientation video that that the library has online, and began making my research agenda. Family histories. State and county record abstracts and mug books. PERSI. Irish cemetery transcriptions. Microfilm. Online databases. Like a kid in a candy shop, my list grew and grew.

Before I knew it, the weekend arrived. Stephanie Fishman (Corn and Cotton Genealogy), Jennifer Alford (Jen-Gen’s Family History), and I talked non-stop in the car the whole way to Ft. Wayne. I walked into the library with that sense of unbridled anticipation I always have for research trips. Anything is possible!

The first person we saw was Tina. She showed us where Diana Ritchie (Random Relatives) and Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana (The Last Leaf on This Branch) were sitting and gave us an impromptu tour around. Studious little genealogists that we are, we grabbed some books and quickly got down to work.

Then Thomas MacEntee (Geneabloggers, Destination: Austin Family) and Terri O’Connell walked in, soaked from the rain, and the party started. Susan Clark (Nolichucky Roots) joined us from the microfilm room, where she had been secretly hiding out getting things accomplished. We crammed as much research in as we could until the closing announcement. 

L to r: Stephanie Fishman, Jennifer Alford, Tina Lyons, Laura Lorenzana
Thomas MacEntee
We trekked to a nearby Irish pub for dinner and refreshments. I think that fit nicely with my Irish research goals, don't you? Jennifer Holik (Generations), Kathryn Lake Hogan (Looking4Ancestors), and a few others joined us there.
L to r: Terri O'Connell, Laura, Jen Holik, Stephanie
Susan Clark and yours truly 
Jennifer A., Susan, and Tina
The next day at the library our numbers increased. Margel Soderberg (2338 W. Washington Blvd.), Brenda Leyndyke (Journey to the Past), Lisa VonLanken (The Shy Genealogist), Linda Swisher (Round Tuit Genealogy), Harold Henderson (Midwestern Microhistory), Lisa Ellam (The Faces of My Family), Patricia Biallas (Genea Journeys), and Diane Biddell (Adventures in Brown County History & Genealogy) were among those who joined us. A librarian treated us to an official tour of the Genealogy Center.

Back at the tables, it was so quiet you could hear the pages turning and the wheels in our heads spinning. I’ll share some of my discoveries once I’ve had a chance to analyze and process the information. Derek Davey (Genealogy—Northwest Ohio) stopped by to visit.

Tina and Lisa VonLanken

Jen Holik wowed us by showing us copies of Branching Out, her newly released genealogy books for kids. Her six workbooks—two each for grades 1-3, grades 4-8, and high school—look amazing. They’re sure to become a hit with teachers, scout groups, libraries, societies, homeschooling parents, and anyone who wants to help kids discover their family history. She's selling the books now on her website.

After closing down the library that evening, we drove to Tina’s house. She had graciously invited us all over for a pizza party. The beads, food, and conversation flowed into the night. Diana shared her father’s famous cookies. It’s hard to wear out a group of genealogists, but I admit to being one tired cookie myself as we drove back to the hotel.

Laura, Tina, Margel Soderberg, Linda Swisher, and Diana Ritchie
The next morning after breakfast we reluctantly said good-bye and headed back to the cities we had come from. I had such a good time. Thanks to Terri and Tina for organizing the get-together. It seems incredible to think I'd never met a single one of these people until the FGS Conference in Springfield last September, and many I just met for the first time this weekend. There’s already talk of doing another Midwest Geneabloggers event this fall, so if you weren’t able to come this time, keep a look out. I’ll share the news once a date is set, so you can join us. One thing’s for sure—Midwest Geneabloggers know how to have fun!

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March 21, 2012

Polly Scheirer Comfort: A Fearless Female for Wordless Wednesday

This is the only image I have of my great-great-grandmother, Polly Scheirer Comfort. It’s scanned from a photo that belonged to my grandmother, Nora Eberhard Ballenger. On the back she wrote “Mom’s Mom.”

Nora’s mom (my great-grandmother) was Mary Comfort Eberhard. Our family is lucky enough to have Mary’s baptismal fraktur, written in German, from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. I wrote about this family treasure in Baptismal Fraktur of Mary Comfort. The certificate names Polly Scheirer as Mary’s mother.

I’m still searching for details to document Polly’s life. Polly was a common nickname for Mary or the German name Magdalena, so one of those was probably her given name. I know she was married to Louis Comfort by 1870, and that they lived in Lehigh County. In addition to her daughter Mary, she also had a son, Henry Comfort.

I chose Polly’s picture today in keeping with Lisa Alzo's “Fearless Females” theme for Women’s History Month on The Accidental Genealogist. Even though I don’t know much about Polly, she looks like a pretty strong woman to me. 

March 17, 2012

A Hatful of Irish Resources

Recently my pint glass inbox has been overflowing with posts about Irish records, resources, and databases. I felt compelled to scoop them up in one place so I can come back to them again and again. I’m hoping some of you might feel the same way. So in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a collection of Irish research leads--with a grateful tip of the hat to the authors:

Blog Posts:
Resource Compilations:
Web Radio Shows:
Education Announcements:
Heritage/Family History
As you can see, it's been a great month for discovering Irish resources. There are undoubtedly even more that I didn’t catch. If you wrote or read something that could be added to this list, please let me know. Where do you turn for help with your Irish research?

And finally, here's a wee Irish blessing for your St. Patrick's Day:

               May your pockets be heavy
               And your heart be light,
               May good luck pursue you
               Each morning and night.

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March 13, 2012

How I Use Reunion for Mac as my Genealogy Database

In her recent post Getting Down to the Basics, Susan Clark of Nolichucky Roots asked readers to share what they use their genealogy software program for, and why. It’s a great question, so I started to leave a comment. But as it grew longer, I realized I could write a whole post on this. I wasn't the only one. So far I've seen Jasia of Creative Gene, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, and Denise Levenick of Family Curator weigh in too. Here's my response: 

My genealogy software program of choice is Reunion 9 for Macintosh. I use it primarily for organization, record-keeping, and as a place to gather my thoughts on each individual in my database. The program seems relatively simple compared to others I hear about—not a whole lot of the latest bells and whistles—but its simplicity and flexibility work well for me. It complements my work rather than requiring me to learn a lot of complex details.

Naturally, I enter the facts I’ve gathered on each person—birth, baptism, marriage, immigration, occupation, death, etc.—into the database. That helps for sorting and indexing people. But the heart of the program, for me, is the “Notes” section for each individual.

I’m a big believer that writing up your research in narrative form helps you to see the big picture, as well as the little details you might otherwise overlook. Reunion gives me unlimited space to create running narrative notes on each ancestor. I structure this in chronological order, with sources attached to each point.

In the narrative, I write about all the details I find in census records, draft or military records, deeds, family histories, probate files, and so forth. I include full transcriptions of obituaries and other short records, and abstracts of longer ones. I even write reminders to myself right in the narrative about ideas I want to pursue or records I should check. Gradually, what I’ve written becomes something of a cross between a biography and a research report on the ancestor.

Granted, this takes a lot more time than just entering facts and sources. But the advantages seem worth it to me. I find that if I put a particular family on hold for awhile, having this narrative in Reunion allows me to pick it up and get back to speed again quickly and easily. It helps me see at a glance what I've already done so I don't waste time repeating my efforts. And perhaps most importantly, reading through it helps me analyze and correlate information.

So what do I do with conflicting evidence? Reunion allows you to add additional fields for any event, so if I have three death dates for an individual, I could record all three. But what I prefer to do is write about all three events in the narrative notes. That allows me to process my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each record, and develop a hypothesis or conclusion. Then I enter one date into the death field. If I still haven’t reached a firm conclusion, I put the qualifier “abt” before the date, as a clue to myself that more work is needed.

The other thing I like about Reunion is that the mobile apps, which cost about $15 each from the iTunes App Store, allow me to carry my entire database, including the narrative notes, with me on my iPhone or iPad. I can access it anytime, anywhere, even if I'm offline. So when I go to a library or archive I'm familiar with, my phone is all I need to take along. I can leave my computer at home much of the time. I can sync from the computer to the iPhone and vice versa. No cables are required for syncing; the devices just recognize each other.

Reunion exports GEDCOMs nicely. It also can create family tree web pages--a feature I haven't explored but want to. I found it pretty intuitive and easy to learn. There's a help manual built into the program, and for more help there's an active ReunionTalk forum. There's also a phone number that users can call to get a quick answer to a question from the company.

Reunion has its limitations. It’s not the most visually appealing program, and produces a limited assortment of charts. It won’t format source citations automatically in Evidence Explained style, and there are only 16 templates (the freeform template, however, is usable for even the most complex citations). At $99, it's expensive. And I wish Leister Productions, which makes Reunion, kept a higher profile in genealogy circles. Is it possible I might shift over to different software in the future? Yes. I’ve considered trying RootsMagic, using Crossover to run it on the Mac platform. But for now, Reunion meets most of my needs.

So that's how I use my software program. What about you? Do you use a genealogy database program, and if so, why? What makes it valuable to you?

(Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Leister Productions in any way, and paid for my own copy of Reunion several years ago.)

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March 11, 2012

Tribute to an Irishman: Harry Baxter - Sunday's Obituary

Harry Baxter
Harry Baxter, who operated the Baxter Plumbing Co. in East Cleveland, and later the Mayfield Plumbing Co. in Cleveland Heights during his 11 years here, died yesterday in Garrettsville. He was 50.
         Mr. Baxter was born in Belfast, Ireland, and served four years in the British Royal Marines in World War I. At his death, he was head of the Baxter Coal & Supply Co.
         A resident of Garrettsville since 1931, Mr. Baxter was a past president of the Rotary Club there, a trustee of its Methodist Church and a member of its Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of the Garrettsville Masonic Lodge, the Lake Erie Consistory and Al Koran Shrine.
         Surviving are his wife, Leatha; a daughter, Mrs. Winifred Bishop of North Canton; his father, Robert C., now of Garrettsville, and two sisters, Mrs. Margaret Twigg of Cleveland Heights and Mrs. Nan Jones of Garrettsville.
         Services will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Mallory Funeral Home, Garrettsville.

From unidentified clipping, collection of Winifred Bishop.

Harry Baxter was my husband’s grandfather. He was born August 26, 1900, in Belfast, and came to America after World War I. He married Leatha Evans in Cleveland, Ohio on May 27, 1925. Harry died unexpectedly on September 19, 1950. He never got to meet his grandson. But the simple epitaph on his obituary, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” speaks volumes.

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March 6, 2012

Irish is an Attitude

Ha'Penny Bridge Imports of Ireland, Dublin, Ohio

Do you have roots in Ireland? Are you Irish American, even a little bit? Or, like me, do you secretly wish you were every time you hear Irish music? Then I have one quick suggestion for you: run to the iTunes store or your music vendor of choice and get the song “American Land” from Bruce Springsteen’s just-released album, Wrecking Ball.

The song is a celebration of the Irish spirit in American culture. And it's a tribute to American immigrants from every nation. It’s so much fun that I dare you not to smile and tap your feet as you listen along.

The city I live in—Dublin, Ohio—was named after Dublin, Ireland by John Shields. He surveyed the land for the town’s founder, John Sells, back in 1810. Here in Dublin, the slogan is “Irish is an Attitude.” Each year, as the St. Patrick’s Day parade rolls down Bridge Street in March, and again in August as the city welcomes thousands of visitors to the three-day Dublin Irish Festival, it truly does feel like everyone is a little bit Irish. So today, I invite you to feel a little bit Irish, too.

And while you’re at it, stop by and say happy blogiversary to Jennifer at On a Flesh and Bone Foundation: An Irish History. She writes a lovely blog about Irish resources, heritage, and places, and takes the most beautiful pictures. See her post on Free Online Sources for Irish Family History and Genealogy for its helpfulness, If today was your last day on earth for its message, and then enjoy Dublin Streetscapes and Looking back from whence we came: The Wicklow Mountains, Ireland for their sheer beauty.

Thanks to my music-loving husband for discovering “American Land." His maternal ancestors—the Baxters, Flacks, Carmichaels, Cleelands, and McIlwaines—hail from County Antrim in Northern Ireland. I haven’t written much about this side of his family yet, but I can feel the inspiration rising with every beat. 

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March 5, 2012

Moving Along in March: Motivation Monday

March came in like a lamb in Ohio, and hopefully will go out the same way (we don't need any of that lion stuff). In time-honored midwest tradition, I’ll be taking a week off for spring break in Florida (can anyone say Margaritaville?). But before that, I hope to make a good start on my March goals.

  • Continue researching the Sanborn and Crites families
  • Go through my files, study the online catalog, and prepare a research plan for my upcoming visit to the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne
  • Research at ACPL during the Midwest Geneabloggers Get-Together
  • Finish organizing my last three surname binders
  • Add entries to my Family Archives Inventory
  • Scan family photos at my brother’s house 
  • Watch two webinars online, taking notes with Evernote 
  • Begin formulating a business website 
What do you hope to do in March? Whatever your goals, best wishes for a productive and enjoyable month!

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(Lamb image courtesy of

March 4, 2012

Doing Genealogy Research at the Ohio History Center

Last week I wrote about researching at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. My other favorite place in Central Ohio is the Ohio Historical Society Archives/Library. Located on the third floor of the modernistic Ohio History Center (OHC), the Archives/Library holds a massive amount of documents, books, newspapers, photographs, and other materials for family historians.
The Ohio History Center
Stacks of books ring the walls of the library. County histories and record compilations for all Ohio counties, some out-of-state guides, reference works, military indexes, and a large collection of Ohio city and county directories are available for browsing. Some newspapers and atlases are also on display. The majority of the library’s collection, however, consists of materials that must be paged. You’ll need to fill out a request slip for the items you want and a librarian will bring them to you. Because of this, it’s a good idea to consult the library catalog to make sure you don’t miss things of interest to you.

Part of the spacious Archives/Library reading room
The big wood tables provide plenty of space to spread materials out. You can bring your computer, but hand-held scanners are not permitted. In order to take pictures of documents with my digital camera, I signed a brief photography policy agreement and had to keep my flash off. If you want copies of something, the librarians will make them for you.

When I visit, I tend to spend a lot of time in the microfilm room, which feels small and cramped compared to the airy reading room. The library has extensive microfilm holdings of county records, state records, original land grants, and newspapers, among other things. To make the best use of your time, it's essential to use the online catalog to identify what you want and get the film numbers in advance. You load money onto a copy card to make printouts from the readers.

It’s worth noting that the OHS Archives doesn’t hold all the locally-created records for the entire state of Ohio. It’s one of seven facilities in the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers. Each of these regional facilities is the primary repository for certain counties. OHS is the designated repository for eight counties in Central Ohio, as well as 18 counties in Southeastern Ohio that it recently inherited from Alden Library in Athens. For an explanation and listing of all seven facilities, with links and a network map, click here.

The OHS Library/Archives homepage contains a lot of helpful links in various categories. Its online catalog search is a useful tool once you understand its quirks. It helps to ask yourself, “Where would this record have been created?” That will usually be a county or state government office. Enter a term such as “Delaware county births” in the search box (don’t abbreviate county). For land grant records, enter the name of the land office, i.e. “Marietta land office.” If you get a message saying no results were found, try different search terms.

Microfilmed newspapers have their own search tool, the Ohio Newspaper Index, which is not readily apparent on the Archives homepage. A huge number of papers from throughout the state are available.

The Ohio Historical Society, Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Franklin County Genealogical and Historical Society have partnered together to offer some great genealogy classes on various topics. To read about upcoming classes, click here, or select “Genealogy Workshops” on the Archives homepage. 

To visit the Archives, you first need to register for a researcher’s card at the front desk, which is on the ground level. Although there’s a charge to visit the Ohio History Center museum, access to the Archives/Library is free. Parking is also free. On the third floor are ample lockers for bags and coats (you’ll get the quarter back when you return the key). No purses or bags are allowed in the library. OHC is conveniently located right by the I-71 freeway at the 17th Avenue exit, just north of downtown Columbus. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am-5 pm (closed Sunday-Tuesday). The phone number is (614) 297-2510.

If you have any time left on your way out, you might want to stop by the gift shop. On my last visit, I picked up some really cool maps--one a reproduction of the first state map in 1804 and another of the Ohio canal system. There's nothing like a good map to give help you visualize the places your family called home.

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