May 29, 2013

An Ostrich Ride for Evan and Annie Evans: Wordless Wednesday

Evan Evans was a native of Carno in Montgomeryshire, Wales, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1881. He and his wife, Annie (whose maiden name was also Evans), lived in Bratenahl, Ohio. Their granddaughter told me that they took the train out to California on vacation more than once. This was taken at the Cawston Ostrich Farm in South Pasadena, probably in the late 1920s. It looks like they were in for a fun ride, doesn’t it? It’s one of my favorite photos.


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May 26, 2013

Visiting the American Cemetery at Normandy

American Cemetery Normandy France

Humbling. Sobering. Awe-inspiring.

Perched high atop a cliff overlooking the rugged coastline of France, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is a place that defies all superlatives. Everything about it is staggering: the size, the number of graves, the way the sheer beauty of the place contrasts with the desperate battle that waged just below, on Omaha Beach. Looking out over the English Channel on a peaceful day, it's hard to imagine the bloodshed of June 6, 1944.

Visitors enter through a museum that tries to bring some of that enormity down to size. A video tells the stories of a few individual soldiers. World War II uniforms, ration packs, medical kits, letters, equipment, maps, photographs, and more depict the build-up to D-Day and the execution of Operation Overlord. The museum alone could absorb half a day of contemplation. And somehow, it still doesn’t prepare you for what’s next.

For beyond the museum doors lies a sea of green grass and white marble headstones, seemingly without end. Stretched out in neat rows are 9,387 Latin crosses and Stars of David, each marking the final resting place of an American serviceman. Many are unknown. A reverent hush lies over the place as visitors wander through, some looking for a special grave, some just trying to take it all in. There is no doubt that this is sacred ground.

The markers are engraved only with the person’s name, company or division, state, and date of death. Perhaps, as someone suggested to us, it was believed that including the date of birth would make the cemetery seem overwhelmingly sad. We were reminded that 60 percent of the Americans who perished in Europe were sent back to the states for burial, so the ones buried here represent only a fraction of the total losses.

The Memorial, which sits in front of a large reflecting pool, features a striking statue depicting “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” Engraved tablets record the names of 1,557 missing in action, while stone maps show the positions of the D-Day landings and air operations. Fresh flowers at the base of the statue express gratitude to the sacrifices of the World War II generation. The families of Dachau concentration camp victims and survivors send a new arrangement every week.

Memorial American Cemetery Normandy

Two American flags fly proudly over the cemetery. At the end of each day, the flags are lowered, one at a time, while a single trumpet plays Taps.

It’s a sight and sound I hope I never forget, and one that seems especially poignant on Memorial Day. Thank you, all who served, and especially those who rest today in Normandy.


© Shelley Bishop 2013. Please request permission to use photographs and/or written material.

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May 14, 2013

Why Attend a Genealogy Conference?

What is it about a genealogy conference that generates such excitement? Why do people invest the time and money to attend one? What benefits might a genealogy conference hold for you? These are all great questions. If you haven’t been to a large national conference before, you naturally might wonder what the experience is like.

There are many reasons why I like genealogy conferences, and why I’m particularly excited about the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) 2013 Conference, which is coming up August 21-24 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I truly expect it to be one of the highlights of the year. Here are some of the reasons people go to family history conferences, and how you might benefit from attending FGS 2013:

The chance to learn more about records, resources, and skills that can help with your family history research: Many of the presentations at a conference show where and how to find the information you seek on your family. Others focus on developing the skills needed to interpret, analyze, and use information successfully. This can help you make new breakthroughs, reach conclusions, and become a better researcher. You can also learn how to share and publish your family history.

The chance to hear some of the biggest and brightest genealogical speakers: Conferences like FGS 2013 feature nationally-recognized authors and speakers, which means you’ll hear dynamic lectures that will educate and entertain you at the same time—often with a good dose of humor.

The chance to see the latest products, books, and technological innovations: The Exhibit Hall at FGS will be packed with exhibitors showcasing their items, including software, maps, reference guides, books on localities and ethnic research, publishing companies, and online database leaders like,, and You can see demonstrations, talk to representatives, and ask all the questions you like.

The chance to meet and socialize with others who share your interest in family history: A conference is the perfect place to make new friends. It’s as easy as talking to the person sitting next to you, sharing a table at lunch, or striking up a conversation in the hallway. Luncheons and casual evening social events make it even easier to get to know people who share your passion.

The chance to gather ideas to strengthen your local society: A unique feature of FGS is that it offers a full day of programming (on Wednesday, August 21) geared toward genealogical and historical societies. You can get ideas on websites, projects, social media, publishing, funding, and more to take home to your society. Even if you don't belong to a society (and you certainly don't have to to attend FGS), you can pick up tips for some of your own projects.

The chance to research in a world-class library: Ft. Wayne, Indiana is the home of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, one of the nation’s top genealogical libraries. Extended hours (until midnight on three nights!) and close proximity to the conference hall means you can hop over and research to your heart’s content. It’s sure to be a happening place.

Genealogy Center Allen County Public Library
The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library is a magnet for researchers

The bottom line is that a genealogy conference is fun. Yes, you learn a lot from the presentations, and that’s good. But it’s just the beginning of what you get out of the conference experience. My first FGS Conference was the 2011 event in Springfield, Illinois. I was hesitant to sign up, because I didn't really know anyone. Yet I came home energized and ready to dive into my research, armed with new tools and techniques. And I had made a bunch of new friends, just from saying hi and introducing myself—because it turns out that people who like genealogy, by and large, are really friendly! Even though we live in different states, we’ve kept in touch, and several of us are looking forward to meeting again at the 2013 FGS Conference. All that came from taking a little leap of faith and registering for that first conference.

So will I see you in Ft. Wayne in August?

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May 12, 2013

On Mothers

On this Mother’s Day, I count myself incredibly fortunate to have two wonderful women in my life: my Mom, whose love and belief in me has never wavered, and my mother-in-law, who has opened her heart to me as a fourth daughter. I appreciate both of them beyond words. I also cherish the memories of my grandmothers, Nora (Eberhard) Ballenger and Wilma (Steele) Herrel, whose stories, songs, and traditions provided much of the basis for my interest in family history.

And on Mother’s Day especially, I count my blessings for the ones who define my own role as a mother. I have three great kids who constantly amaze, amuse, occupy, challenge, delight, and enrich me. They are the heart and soul of my life. While I don’t talk about them much here on my blog, they’re always on my mind, and I’m so proud of each of them.

Of course, generations of mothers have shared this kind of joy in their children. I think one of the benefits of being a genealogist isn’t just learning to find information, analyze evidence, and draw sound conclusions. It also lies in something less tangible, which is feeling—and valuing—the links that bind one generation to another. From past to present to future. I hope that quality is part of the legacy I’m weaving for my kids—something that helps them know who they are, and where they came from. To me, as a mom and a family historian, that feels like something worthwhile.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

May 5, 2013

Ohio Genealogical Society Conference Wrap-Up

The last day of the 2013 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati was a shorter one for me, as I started late (did I mention I’m not a morning person?) and had to leave early. Still, I managed to get in three great presentations and lunch with a group of fellow bloggers and friends. The sessions I enjoyed on Saturday, April 27 were:

Forensic Genealogy: CSI Meets Roots (S08), by Colleen Fitzpatrick—I’ve seen Colleen speak before, and she never fails to amaze me. Her whole way of looking at things is so eye-opening. She analyzed several photographs for tiny clues which allowed her to identify and date them, showed how she created a database to determine why deaths were occurring in an 1851 community, and then explained a simple and useful model for interpreting DNA results. All in one lecture. As a former rocket scientist, Colleen brings a scientific outlook to her research questions, using the tools of biology, mathematics, and probability in addition to the social sciences tools of geography, history, and culture. It’s a powerful combination, and one I’d like to try to apply with some of my stickier research problems. If this sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend Colleen’s books, Forensic Genealogy and The Dead Horse Investigation: Forensic Photo Analysis for Everyone. If you’re going to be at either the NGS or FGS Conference, look for them at Maia’s Books in the exhibit hall.

A Reasonably Exhaustive 3-D Search: Four Fawkner Wives (S20), by Jay Fonkert—Jay presented a fascinating case study of how he correlated the triple points of time, geography, and associates to track a family back in time from state to state to uncover the four marriages of an ancestor. I really enjoyed seeing his methodology in action. His lecture reminded me that some of the best clues can come from unlikely places, such as a single phrase in the testimony of a witness, and that solving a complex case requires researching multiple generations of a family. Sometimes you have to go forward in order to move back. Jay’s findings on this case were published in an article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in September 2011. This lecture complemented the article well, showing the research process behind it—how he approached and answered each successive question along the way to reach his conclusions. I left feeling like I’d heard “the rest of the story”—and it was a great one. I’d like to see more in-depth methodology studies like this at conferences.

Documents to Narrative: Writing to Engage Your Reader (S23), by Warren Bittner—My conference experience ended on a high note with this inspiring presentation on good writing techniques. Warren gave us seven key points to keep in mind when writing a family history story, and walked us through the writing process, from the first sentence through editing and re-writing. He provided plenty of examples to illustrate his points. It’s always good to get an infusion of energy, advice, and practical tips on good writing, especially as it applies to genealogy. Warren’s lecture provided that in abundance.

In case you missed them, I also wrote about my experiences in “OGS 2013 Conference: Day One” and “OGS 2013 Conference: Day Two.” Another highlight of my weekend was receiving an Honorable Mention award for an article I submitted to the annual OGS Writing Contest. The article, “Turning Forests into Farms: The George Clark Family of Licking and Delaware Counties, Ohio,” will be published in the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly later this year. The contest this year only had a first place winner and honorable mentions (no second or third place), which is different from previous years. I was honored by the recognition and am delighted to know the article will be published.

As I drove away from the conference after bidding friends goodbye, my only regrets were that I couldn’t go to all the sessions I wanted to, and that I didn’t spend more time in the exhibit hall. Oh, and that I didn't take more pictures (but the flowering trees on the way home were gorgeous!). Time and scheduling conflicts are the biggest challenges at any good conference, and this one was no exception. For example, during the time period I went to Jay Fonkert’s presentation, I could just have easily attended sessions presented by Tom Jones, George Morgan, Lisa Alzo, or Thomas MacEntee. And I’m sorry I had to make the choice, because I would have loved to hear them all. That’s why I’m glad Jamb, Inc. recorded most of the lectures. I like listening to them in the car on long drives, or when I’m working on a particular topic. (And no, I don’t have any affiliation with them whatsoever—just saying what works for me.) 

Thanks again to the Hamilton County Genealogical Society for hosting such a nice conference. I'll be listening with interest to reports from those lucky enough to be attending the NGS Conference in Las Vegas later this week. And I’m already gearing up for the FGS 2013 Conference in Ft. Wayne, which I’ll be going to August 21-24. It promises to be a great one. More on that in future posts!


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May 3, 2013

OGS 2013 Conference: Day Two

Today I’d like to continue my overview of what I learned at the 2013 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference, which took place last week in Cincinnati. If you missed it, I wrote about the first day in OGS 2013 Conference: Day One. Word is that nearly 700 people attended the conference, which spanned three days and featured a number of great speakers. Recordings of the lectures should be available soon from Jamb, Inc. The presentations I enjoyed at OGS on Friday, April 26 included:

First Steps in Indiana Research (F06), by Harold Henderson—Harold’s talk was full of inside information and tips for using Indiana repositories and resources, both online and in person. He actually had me enthused about doing Indiana research at 8:30 in the morning—and that’s no easy task, believe me (a morning person I am not). I won’t give away his last line, but let’s just say we all left the room chuckling. Harold will also be giving this lecture at FGS 2013 in Ft. Wayne, for those of you who might be able to catch it there. And, he’s written a handy and thorough guide to researching at the Allen County Public Library that he’s offering as a free download on his website, I’m searching for clues on an ancestor in Indiana, so I really benefited from the guidance of Harold’s experience.

The War of 1812: America’s “Forgotten” War (F12), by Peggy Clemens Lauritzen—Well, if I wasn’t awake already, I would have been five minutes into this talk—and by the end, I was on fire. Peggy presented a riveting, fast-paced synopsis of War of 1812 history, including the various fronts, battles, issues, and key moments. I think I learned more about the War of 1812 in this one hour than I could have in several hours of reading. She also touched on bounty land applications and other resources for finding information about a War of 1812 soldier or sailor. I’m in the process of analyzing my first War of 1812 pension file, so I found this lecture especially timely. I could easily have sat through another hour or two.

Publish & Place Your Family History Writeup (F17), by Sunny McClellan Morton—I felt like I hit a home run on Friday morning after enjoying Sunny’s enthusiastic and informative lecture. She presented a variety of ways to get your family history story out of your head and into print, including some easy, non-intimidating formats. Her talk was full of practical tips and encouraging words. If you’ve hesitated to write a story because it seemed too complicated, or didn’t know how or where to get it published, you might reconsider after hearing what Sunny has to say. As a bonus, she’s generously posted the slides for her presentation on her website, (click on “Speaking Engagements” to find the link) for the month of May. That way, if you order the CD of her presentation, you’ll have the slides to match. It’s the next best thing to being there.

Over the Top: Researching Your World War I Ancestor (F27), by Michael Strauss—this was a good introduction to the records created about World War I soldiers and sailors. Michael went over where to find online databases, as well as the records that have never been microfilmed or digitized, and talked about what information they might hold. My great-uncle, Roy Eberhard, served in World War I. This lecture reminded me I should start looking into his service.

Finding Rejected Claims and Pension Records (F34), by J. Mark Lowe—I must have been in a military frame of mind on Friday—or perhaps I’m realizing how valuable military-era records can be. At any rate, Mark’s presentation opened my eyes to some things I might be missing. Some of the records he talked about are available online through the Library of Congress/A Century of Lawmaking or Fold3, but many others might still be hiding in original federal documents. Even if your ancestor did not fight in a war, he or she may have been affected by it and filed a claim for damages. Because these records have the potential to provide rich genealogical detail, it’s worth the effort to look for them—and I appreciated Mark’s demonstration of how to do so.

With my brain on overload, I spent the last session of the day in the Exhibit Hall. That’s actually one of my favorite things to do at any conference. But I was so engrossed in talking to the vendors that I forgot to take any pictures. I had dinner with fellow members of the Great Lakes Chapter APG and ProGen Study Group. It certainly was another full day. And one more still lay ahead…

P.S. This marks my 200th blog post


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