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Genealogy Projects in The Works

My genealogy world seems to speed up in the spring. I have several events ahead that get in the way of doing much research these days:

  1. My husband/tech advisor and I will offer a presentation to our Norwegian study group next month. In a program called The Push and the Pull, we plan to discuss why people left Norway and why they settled where they did in the United States.
  2. We have two great genealogy seminars coming up in the Denver area. David Allen Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society will speak to the Colorado Genealogical Society in April. Dr. Fritz Juengling, a German consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, will address the Colorado Chapter of the Palatines to America in May. A new neighbor of mine who is interested in genealogy will attend these seminars with me.
  3. My most ambitious trip this year will be a choir tour through the Reformation sites in Germany and the Czech Republic. My family has been Lutheran since the 1500’s, so I am eager to find my spiritual roots. We will add a few days to the choir tour to visit my husband/tech advisor’s ancestral villages in Germany. In order to get ready for this trip, I am spending much of my free time singing instead of doing genealogy.

Once I have completed the planning for these events, I will get back to my day-to-day research tasks. I cannot believe we are almost through the first quarter of the year, and I am nowhere near finished with all to searching I want to do for this’s year’s project on my elusive German ancestors.

 

A Genealogical Spring Ahead

We have unseasonably warm weather in the Denver area right now. It feels like spring. When that season finally arrives on the calendar, I have some exciting genealogy activities planned:

  1. On April 1, my husband/tech advisor and I will present a Sons of Norway program on the reasons for Norwegian emigration to America.
  2. On April 8, I will attend the annual Colorado Genealogical Society seminar. David Allen Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society will discuss various aspects of New England research. My dad’s Bangs, Burgess, Dunbar, Hall, Hathaway, and Snow families lived in Massachusetts during colonial times, so I am hoping to pick up some tips for researching these lines.
  3. On May 6, Dr. Fritz Juengling, a German research consultant at the Salt Lake Family History Library, will speak at the Palatines To America seminar. I am devoting my research time this year to identifying my German ancestors, if any, and I hope to get some ideas for moving forward on this.
  4. My church choir will tour the Land of Luther in Germany this year as part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I come from a Lutheran family on my maternal side, and the opportunity to see the Luther sites fulfills a lifelong dream of mine. As a bonus, my husband/tech advisor and I will leave a few days early and visit his family villages in western Germany.

Each of these events offers the chance for me to pursue my genealogical education. With this varied mix of experiences, I hope to get some insights into many aspects of my heritage—Norwegian, German, and English. If I am truly fortunate, these opportunities will translate into a spring forward with in my research.

Publishing Your Research: Harder Than It Looks

We genealogists spend hours and hours (and even more hours!) on our research. We interview relatives, wade through online databases, visit courthouses and cemeteries. All of this results in mountains of information for our family trees.

What should we do with all of it? Professional genealogists exhort us to publish, publish, publish our family histories. They advise us to disseminate our information as widely as possible in order to preserve it. Heaven knows our own kids will likely throw out all the lovingly-collected documents and family group sheets once we are gone.

Last weekend I attended a workshop hosted by my local genealogy Computer Interest Group (CIG) on how to take a family history from computer to published page. The idea was that periodically along the way a genealogist should stop and compile the research results so far. Take these and use an online service to prepare a small book for relatives and for placement in public genealogy collections. No need to wait until the research is finished to do this. We all know we never will be finished with it.

For the workshop I attended, the presenter had a family line all ready to go to the online publisher. She has done this several times before. Before the seminar, she had taken her manuscript to a local printer to get a test copy, and everything looked beautiful. As we watched in a live presentation of how to build this into a keepsake book using a well-known online publisher, the service refused to accept her work. They deemed it too short for the book dimensions she had always used before.

What changed, and why? The site gave no warning of new rules. Our speaker now needs to go back and re-format everything to a different size that we hope will be more acceptable.

The first session of this workshop had given me several good ideas for books I could make to preserve histories of my own family and precious belongings. Now I wonder if I can face the same disappointment with the online publisher that we saw at this seminar.

Rules change, seemingly arbitrarily, and with no notice. Taking time to prepare a work that is accepted one day and not the next is a huge waste of one’s time. This experience makes me very wary of trying this myself.

Seminars, Anyone?

Last weekend we went to the fall seminar put on by our local Palatines to America (PalAm) group. They host these twice a year, and I have regularly attended these learning opportunities.

I began going several years ago when the Palatines leadership made the decision to bring in nationally-known speakers for these seminars. They put on great, fun events with good attendance. They would meet in a local hotel, sell German research materials, serve a German lunch, and once a year would stay late for a German dinner. We all learned a lot from these wonderful speakers as we enjoyed our ethnic food and fellowship.

Things started to change a couple of years ago. The group could not find a hotel to take their business. Apparently a bunch of sober Germans does not provide the bar revenue a hotel can get for a wedding reception on a Saturday. The PalAm events moved to the Denver Public Library.

Of course we could not enjoy all our German cuisine at the library, so meals turned into an on-you-own affair. The library does not provide tables for attendees to use. We also have to pay to park while visiting the library. I have not enjoyed these events as much as I used to.

Now this year, the group engaged a little-known speaker. I signed up anyway because the seminar topics looked good. I am sorry to say, I came away disappointed. I prefer to have seminar topics discussed in some depth. This time around, everything sounded pretty dumbed down and repetitive to me. I have been at this genealogy game for a long time, and I wish this seminar had been advertised as appropriate primarily for beginners.

Will I go to the PalAm seminer next time? It depends. I still like the opportunity to see my genealogy friends, and the PalAm group always has an awesome book table at their seminars. But the fun is gone from this event, and there is no reason for me to go if the speaker gives just an entry-level presentation.

I have attended a lot of genealogy seminars over the years. I usually attend most of them in the Denver area in an effort to learn more and to support the local genealogy community. But I cannot afford to waste my time sitting through a presentation on things I already know. When the next seminar rolls around, I plan to be more discriminating in my decision on whether to attend. One size cannot fit all.

Training Time

Seminar season rolls in during the spring months. Many genealogists recently attended the giant RootsTech conference https://rootstech.org/ in Salt Lake City last month. Others will head for Richmond, Virginia for the 2014 National Genealogical Society Family History Conference http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ in May.

I have never attended RootsTech, but I have been to a couple of NGS conferences. In 1998, Denver hosted the event, so of course I went. I even served as a room monitor for a few of the sessions. Ten years later, I drove to Kansas City, Missouri for the 2008 conference. Both times I came away with renewed enthusiasm and much helpful information.

Unfortunately, it costs quite a bit to attend these wonderful conferences—travel, hotel, meals, registration fee. An additional deterrent to February’s RootsTech is that it requires a treacherous drive over the mountains to Salt Lake City in the winter weather. So I usually stay home.

In recent years, the motive for staying put in Denver has grown because so many nationally-known speakers now visit our area. Thanks to the efforts of our local societies working with the Denver Public Library (DPL), I can receive my genealogical training for a fraction of the cost of attending a national conference.

This spring I plan to visit DPL to hear four great speakers:

  • On March 8 the WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) research group will host an Irish seminar featuring Fintan Mullan and Gillian Hunt from Northern Ireland;
  • On March 29 the Palatines to America will host noted German researcher Roger P. Minert;
  • On April 26 the Colorado Genealogical Society is bringing in Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist;
  • On May 17 the Computer Interest Group will host Rick and Pam Sayre from Washington D. C. to speak about tech topics.

Thus I will get four full days of training for about $150, much less than it would cost me to attend a national conference. Call me the Practical Genealogist.

Some Take-Aways from a High-Definition Genealogist

The High-Definition Genealogist, Thomas MacEntee, presented a one-day seminar at the Denver Public Library over the weekend. I enjoyed his talks and came home with some good ideas to pursue:

  • Work to become less isolated by pursuing more genealogy networking opportunities. I plan to check out a site he suggested called GenealogyWise at http://www.genealogywise.com. I am not a Facebook user, and Thomas says this could be a better alternative for a genealogist,
  • Clean up my bookmarks and add some useful ones like Cyndi’s List of Birthdate Calendars & Calculators at http://cyndislist.com/births.htm#Birthdate and Wolfram-Alpha at http://www.wolframalpha.com for historical money and weather,
  • Renew my efforts to track my research electronically. I am guilty of maintaining paper research logs that date back over thirty years. I need set up some spreadsheets and to make better use of the task feature in The Master Genealogist software,
  • Decide whether and when to share my information on compiled trees at WikiTree (http://www.wikitree.com) or Family Search, and
  • Document my goals and results. I like doing the research, but I tend to be lazy about writing up my results. I prepare and distribute a character sketch for one ancestor every Christmas, but I could do more. My husband/tech advisor has some good ideas for writing topics.

As always when I attend a seminar, I find the speaker’s enthusiasm infectious. I want to do all five of these things today! Of course I cannot do that because I am elbow-deep in preparing for a genealogy trip to Norway. So how long can I maintain this energy? We will know in July when I get back.

Busy As Bees on Our Genealogy

We have had a lot going on in our genealogy world over the past week:

 

  • On Saturday, I attended the spring seminar put on by the Colorado chapter of the Palatines to America http://www.palam.org/colorado-palam-chapter.php. Kory Meyerink of ProGenealogists spoke on various topics. As always, they had a good turnout for this seminar. The gentleman sitting next to me traveled all the way from Tulsa, OK. I feel so privileged to live in a city where seminars of this high quality occur regularly.
  • On Tuesday, the Germanic Genealogical Society of Colorado held its monthly meeting at the Denver Public Library. We heard a presentation by our own Joe Beine who runs the Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records website http://www.deathindexes.com/ and the German Roots website http://www.germanroots.com/. These are wonderful genealogical resources.
  • All week long, my husband/tech advisor has doggedly used his lunch hours to search for my Norwegian roots. He has now learned that they lived all along the coastline of Nordland and Helgeland. But even more surprising, many of them lived in the Bergen area before that. No way can we visit every site during our trip to Norway next month. The poor man is now busy re-routing our driving trip to enable us to visit as many of these new areas as possible. Meanwhile, I have been entering his data into my software program as fast as I can.

Whew!

 

Learning to Organize the Chaos

The timing could not have been better. Just as I resolved to organize my photos, the Computer Interest Group of the Colorado Genealogical Society (CIG, to the locals) offered a program on this very topic. Of course I was right there on Monday evening to learn all I could.

The speakers, Nancy and Gary Ratay, have a lot of experience with digital preservation. He is a retired IT professional; she is the Editor of the Colorado Genealogist, the quarterly publication of the Colorado Genealogical Society. These folks have lots of digital images, and they can find one when they want it.

First, they addressed the issue of an organization structure for images. They have images of not just the portraits and cemetery photos that I want to organize, but also images of all their documents. They stressed the importance of using standardized keywords (people, places, and events) to label images and sort them into folders. They created Surname folders for people and Place name folders for items like cemetery photos and county histories. Some items go into both types of folders. Once they had this system set up, they documented it by leaving “help” sheets for their heirs and placing “help” pages and keyword lists in each folder.

Nancy and Gary also discussed types of organizers for images. In addition to mentioning the Picasa software that we have used, they suggested a more robust browser-based organizer: Adobe Bridge. The latter looks like a powerful tool but probably too complex for what I need.

I think I will emulate the organization system they use, but I will stick with Picasa to do it. I already have it installed on my computer, and I have some familiarity with it. Now, thanks to Nancy and Gary, I have an organization plan and can move ahead. Of course, as they pointed out, you cannot eliminate the chaos, you can only reduce it.

The Genealogy Talk Circuit

Because I live near a large city, I frequently have the opportunity to hear nationally-known genealogy speakers. Just this fall, I attended day-long seminars by Dr. Michael Lacopo (sponsored by the Palatines to America), and David MacDonald (sponsored by W.I.S.E., the Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England research group). The genealogy speaker’s market has exploded in recent years, and most of the well-known genealogists make their way to Denver sooner or later.

For those genealogists who live in more remote area, the pickings are not so rich. To view similar presentations, they must attend genealogy conferences. The National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) host large annual conferences around the country. A consortium of societies and vendors sponsors the technology-focused RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City each year. Some state societies hold large conferences as well.

Potential speakers pitch topics to the event organizers. The subjects selected for the conferences often focus on development of professional skills or research in the conference locale. There may be a group of presentations on a current hot topic, like DNA.

The speakers for the upcoming FGS conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana were announced recently, and I was surprised to learn that Thomas McEntee will not be among their presenters. He is well-known in genealogy circles as the organizer of all the genealogy bloggers out there, including me. At this year’s RootsTech conference, he spoke on Twitter for genealogists and inspired me to try it. He has a lot of good ideas about how to use technology in genealogy.

Those in the Denver area will get to hear Thomas McEntee next year even though he will not speak at FGS. The Computer Interest Group of the Colorado Genealogical Society has invited him for their one-day spring seminar on May 25, 2013. I am eager to learn more from him, so I plan to sign up for this seminar. I am lucky to live in the midst of a large genealogy community that provides these opportunities. I wonder who FGS selected to speak next year when they passed over Thomas McEntee. Would it be worth a trip to Indiana?

Say No to the Shotgun Approach

I find that I make more progress with my genealogical research when I focus on one familyline at a time. Recently I am feeling almost disoriented because I have not been following my own advice. All year, I have tried to find the discipline to study only the Finns, but I keep getting distracted.

Earlier this month, I went to Salt Lake City for a research trip. After one day with Finnish records, I needed a break from that difficult task. I spent the remainder of my time at the LDS library investigating my English and Scots-Irish lines in the American Midwest.

I resumed some Finnish research once I returned home, but a week later I attended the semi-annual Palatines to America seminar in Denver. This took my attention away from the Finns again as I spent an entire day learning about German research from Dr. Michael Lacopo.

What a harried month! The Finns, the English, the Scots-Irish, the Americans, the Germans! No wonder my head spins. I need to get everything I collected this month filed and put away pronto. Perhaps then I can get back to the focused research tool that works for me, the laser, not the shotgun.