December 31, 2012

Auld Lang Syne and Happy New Year 2013

As we close out the old year and welcome in the new one, I’d like to share with you my favorite version of “Auld Lang Syne,” performed by James Taylor. I confess to listening to this haunting yet hopeful tune when I’m feeling reflective year-round, not just during the holidays.

According to Wikipedia, the original poem that provides the lyrics was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. The music is a traditional folk song. In fact, the origins of the song may stretch back to an earlier ballad printed by James Watson in 1711. However you figure it, that’s a lot of New Year’s Eves ago.

But what does it mean? The original Scottish title can be loosely translated to “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” The lyrics ask whether old times, and old friends, should be forgotten. They seem to remind us, in the words of a traditional camp song, to “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver, and the other gold.” It’s sung on New Year’s Eve in English-speaking countries around the world, and played on other occasions as well.

As family historians, we do our best to keep the memories of old times, and the legends of people who lived long gone, alive. We are preservationists at heart. The message of “Auld Lang Syne” is one that speaks to what we do each time we research and tell the stories of our ancestors. When you think about it, it could be the patron song of genealogists.

I hope you enjoy this rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” May you enjoy a new year filled with peace, prosperity, good health, and good times!


December 27, 2012

A Sense of Family's Top 10 Posts of 2012

In true New Year’s Eve countdown fashion (and a la David Letterman), I’m counting down my Top 10 Posts for the year 2012, with a list of the pieces that have generated the most overall readership. It’s a wide variety of topics, including research strategies, personal experiences, and ways of learning about genealogy.

And so, without further ado, the countdown begins with:

The crowd begins to chant louder as the big moment draws near…

…and a drum roll for the winner, please:

1.  15 Websites for Genealogy Education--now with a bonus list of websites for genealogy webinars, too! 

As the year draws to a close, I would humbly like to thank all those who have taken time out from their busy days to read my various observations, musings, suggestions, and reflections on family history at A Sense of Family. I want to say an especially big thanks to those who have left comments. Your comments let me know when something I’ve written has interested and engaged you, and your words of support keep me plugging away. Cyberspace can be a vast and chilly place, but I like to think I’ve found a cozy little corner of it, and I’m grateful for your company here.

Here’s hoping you find all the ancestors you’re searching for in 2013!

December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to All

Today is Christmas Eve, one of my favorite days of the year. I’ll spend the first several hours finishing up the preparations—wrapping presents, running to the store for groceries and last minute items, making an appetizer, setting the table, and hoping that the package I’m still waiting on finally arrives from UPS.

But at some quiet moment as day slips into evening, the time will come to make the mystical transition between Preparing for Christmas and Celebrating Christmas. For me, that moment, that pause, often comes at the Christmas Eve service at church. Crossing the threshold from the hustle and bustle to simply enjoying the here and now, for me, is a conscious shift. It’s laying aside what may not be perfect and may not have gotten done, and embracing the family around me, while thinking of those I love who are far away. I truly will be counting my blessings tonight.

My hope is that you too will have a relaxing and blessed Christmas, wherever you are and whoever you are celebrating with. May we all come to know peace on earth within our time.

Merry Christmas!

December 23, 2012

The Ballenger Family, Christmas 1942

Charles Ballenger Irene Clark Ballenger

This is my favorite picture of my paternal great-grandparents, taken on Christmas day, 1942. My great-grandfather, Charles Ballenger, looks happy and relaxed, and my great-grandmother, Irene (Clark) Ballenger, is beaming. I love the tinsel-draped tree, with its big electric bulbs and what appear to be Christmas greeting cards stuffed into the branches.

Charles Cleveland Ballenger was born July 15, 1882 in Delaware County, Ohio, and Irene Pearl Clark was born November 28, 1887 in Delaware County. They were married in Delaware County on December 12, 1906. I never knew Charles, who died January 7, 1953, in Columbus, Ohio, but I’m told I did occasionally visit my Great-Grandma Ballenger when I was very little. Irene (Clark) Ballenger died October 21, 1965, in Columbus. It’s strange—I have no memory of her, yet I can recognize her face in pictures. My sole memory is that the house she lived in had a little cast-iron wagon pulled by a horse, and when you rolled it along the little wheels moved. I think they used it as a doorstop. There was also a miniature cast iron stove with tiny pots and an oven door that opened and shut. I inherited that piece, probably because I was their only great-granddaughter at the time, and have it packed away in my basement. That’s a kid for you—to remember the toys better than the people!

This picture was taken the same Christmas day in 1942. That happy little guy in the center of all the activity is my father, who had recently turned three years old. Looks like he had a railroad cap on and had just received a wonderful gift—a child-size workbench with a tool belt and hammer. He must have gotten a tricycle, too. No wonder he was so happy! Charles is sitting by him, and I believe the man in the foreground with his back to the camera is my grandfather, Lloyd Ballenger. The woman in this picture is Charles’ sister, Cecil (Ballenger) Parker, my great-grand-aunt (1896-1993). My grandmother, Nora (Eberhard) Ballenger, must have been the one taking the picture. I bet she was delighted to see her little son enjoying his presents so much.

Isn’t it fun peeking into Christmas past with pictures like these?

Related Post:
Surname Saturday: Ballenger Family

December 14, 2012

Blog Caroling: Let It Snow!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again—blog caroling time! I’m delighted to be able to add my voice to the chorus in the annual tradition hosted by footnoteMaven. The hard part is picking a carol. I have 74 songs on my Christmas playlist on iTunes, and am always finding more.

But as soon as I saw this video on YouTube, I knew it had to be the one. When I was growing up, we listened to Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers’ Christmas albums on the stereo over and over and over again. My mom loved them, and so did I. My favorite was this album, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, released in 1962 by Columbia Records in Stereo “360 Sound." Luckily, I still have it.

Ray Conniff We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The first track on side B is a medley of three songs: “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!; Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep); We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” My mom would set the record on the spindle and we’d watch it drop down onto the turntable and start spinning. After a few moments the arm would reach out and lower the needle, and following a brief hiss the room would fill with sound. This sound:

This video must have come from an old Christmas television special. Isn’t it fun?

To see the carols that other bloggers have shared, visit footnoteMaven’s blog after she compiles the list on December 19th. Last year I shared two songs in one post: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Kenny G and “The Christmas Can-Can” by Straight No Chaser. If you like, you can hear them at Blog Caroling: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Hope your holidays are merry and bright! 

December 7, 2012

Five Tips for Searching FamilySearch Databases

Do you have any ancestors who seem like they just don’t want to be found? Thought so. Even when you know they were in a certain place at a certain time, the records just won’t cooperate. Sometimes this is because the record in question simply wasn’t created. Other times, your ancestors may have switched venues on you without warning—say, run off to get married across county or state lines. But when dealing with online databases, much of the time the problem lies not with the record itself, but with the indexing we’ve come to rely on to find it.

I recently encountered this when searching for the death record of my husband’s great-great-grandfather, John Franklin Beum. From John's obituary, I knew the exact date of his death: December 17, 1909. I knew he died in one of two counties: either Franklin County or Delaware County, Ohio. But for the life of me, I couldn’t seem to coax his death record from, even though Ohio began keeping state-mandated death records a year earlier, in December 1908. I last looked for it about 18 months ago, when I set my work on that branch of the family aside. I picked it up again last month, while preparing an application to Century Families of Ohio. I’m happy to report success this time around, and although I don’t profess to have all the answers, I thought I’d share the five techniques I used to get there.

1. Pick the specific database(s) you think should hold the record.
In this case, John should have been in the “Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1953” database, which offers digital images of the records. To get to it, I went to the FamilySearch home page and bypassed the main search box. Scrolling down to “Browse By Location,” I chose “United States.” On the next page, I scrolled down to select “Ohio” in the left-hand sidebar. A list of 19 databases for Ohio records came up. I then selected the database mentioned above. The advantage of doing this is that it provides a more focused search and weeds out the records of, say, a John Beum who lived in Wyoming. It also allows you to try some of the more advanced search techniques listed below.

2. Use the asterisk (*) wildcard.
On, as with many online search engines, the asterisk symbol can be used to stand in for any number of unspecified letters. It’s a useful technique for overcoming variations in spelling, and has often helped me find a miswritten or misindexed record. In the past, I’ve seen this short but tricky surname spelled Beum (correctly), Beam, Bearn, Berne, Beaum, Benns, etc. So knowing my previous difficulty, when I went looking for John this time, I tried entering his first name with the last name Be* (the only consistently correct letters). FamilySearch, however, requires at least three letters in a wildcard search. For a surname with only four letters, this presents a bit of a problem. I tried Be*m, Be*n, and others, but none of these returned the result I was looking for.

3. If a surname search doesn’t work, try alternative search terms.
Fortunately, FamilySearch offers a number of search fields that may help in difficult cases. You can search by location, by the year of a specific event (birth, marriage, or death), or by the name of a spouse or parent. I decided to ditch the troublesome surname altogether. Even though John is a common name, I had a middle initial, an exact year, and a probable county name to help me. I entered the following terms:

  • First name: John F.
  • Last name: (blank)
  • Life event: death; death place: Delaware County; year: 1909

4. Read through the results carefully, and consider partial matches.
Even though I had a lot of results to go through, I took my time with them, looking at the dates, places, and parents’ names on each one. If you get a bingo! moment on the first page, consider it a bonus. I didn’t. But on the third page of results I found the one I was looking for:

So what happened? From what I can figure, John’s death record was not completely indexed. Whoever indexed it apparently couldn’t make out the surname beyond the first two letters, and it entered the database as “Be…” No wonder the three-letter wildcard search didn’t work! What I didn’t expect to find was his entire middle name. I could have included that in the first name search field, if I had known. Oh well. I had my prize: an image of John Franklin Beum's death certificate.

So what’s my last tip?

5. If you still don’t find what you’re looking for, try a different database, or make a note to search again on a future date.
The good news is that FamilySearch is continually adding to its databases and bringing more and more searchable records online. When I have to suspend a search for awhile, I make a note of the date of my last search, the database(s) I tried, and the search terms I used. I put this information in the person’s “notes” section in my genealogy software program, and also jot a quick handwritten reminder to myself and stick it in the front of my surname binder. That way I can pick up the search again another day.

So if your ancestor is playing hard to get, even when you think he or she should have left a record in a particular database, try these tips and see if they help. Sometimes coaxing an ancestor out of hiding takes a combination of trial-and-error, perseverance, and—let’s face it—just plain luck. Here’s wishing you success with your hunt!


Related Posts:
John F. Beum - Sunday's Obituary

December 2, 2012

My 2012 Genea-Santa Wish List

Randy Seaver issued an invitation for this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun on Genea-Musings that I just can’t resist:

Come on, everybody, join in and accept the mission and execute it with precision. Here's your chance to sit on Genea-Santa's lap (virtually) and tell him your Christmas genealogy-oriented dreams:
1) Write your Genea-Santa letter. Have you been a good genealogy girl or boy? What genealogy-oriented items are on your Christmas wish list? They could be family history items, technology items, or things that you want to pursue your ancestral quest.
2) Tell us about them in your own blog post, in a comment on this post, or in a Facebook status or Google Stream post.

What am I waiting for? Let’s get this letter started!

Dear Genea-Santa,

I’ve tried to be a good girl this year, and can’t wait for your visit. I’ve volunteered my time on the boards of two local genealogical societies, put out four society newsletters, paid close attention in my classroom at GRIP, and did my homework diligently (okay, so I didn’t get the answers right, but I tried!). I've spent a lot of time trying to hook myself and other people up with our ancestors. I know this is a busy time of year, but there’s a few things I could really use, so here’s what I’d like to ask for:
  • An iPad Mini, so I can play with some fun new apps and load it up with books to read. I’ve never had a tablet or e-reader, but this one looks so darn cute and portable, and will sync with all my other devices and my Reunion database. Pretty please?
  • The digital version of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, to put on the iPad Mini and my Mac. I already have a well-bookmarked copy in hardback, but the e-book will be way lighter to carry around.
  • A one-week trip to Genealogy Fantasty Island, where I can focus exclusively on my research and writing. No phone calls, no repairmen, no obligations, and—much as I love my friends and family—no visitors. Just uninterrupted time. Oh, and an instant transporter to the archives I need, too.
  • A visit from Mary Poppins. You know her, right? Remember how she and the children tidied up the nursery just by snapping their fingers? I need that, Santa. Just give me one day with Mary and I bet we can have my office, my photo collection, and my kitchen spit-spot.
  • Dinner dates with each of the three mystery men whose parents I’ve been searching for:
    • Charles Ballenger (1815-1891) of Athens County, Ohio
    • Fitch Bishop (1811-1868) of Sheffield, Massachusetts and Freedom, Ohio
    • George W. Self (c. 1805-c. 1875) of Buncombe County, North Carolina

I hope this isn’t too much to ask for, Santa. I imagine you probably get pretty tired of milk and cookies at every house, and at some point during your long journey you could use a little pick-me-up. So tell you what: I’ll set out a nice big margarita with chips and salsa for you, and some munchies for your hard-working reindeer, too. Just a little something to make your night merry and bright. Deal? Thanks, Santa!



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