New Family Tree

Family TreeAs I promised in my previous post, I will be sharing more about digital storytelling in a future post, but I wanted to share that I have found a family tree sitebuilder I’m excited about. My cousin Rick Zeutenhorst uses it on his site. I really liked the look of my cousin’s site, and based on his recommendation, I decided to get it for two reasons:

  • Having a site in the cloud will make it easier for me when I migrate. I know I can save gedcoms from software programs, and I have done so in the past, but I have also lost things in the transition, and I think this solution will work for me as well. I can back it up so that I always have a copy of my data, should losing data ever become a worry.
  • At this point, the only place I have my data is Ancestry.com, and there may come a day I don’t want to use the site anymore (right now, I’m happy with it, and I obtain tons of information quite easily that I would have to spend a great deal more money to obtain). It’s probably not a good idea to put all my genealogical eggs in one basket, though.

In addition to these two reasons, I also like the idea of having control. I have set living individuals to “private,” but collaborating family members can register for an account.

I opted to start building from scratch rather than using a gedcom because over time, I know errors have crept into my Ancestry tree, and untangling the errors seems to me to be a more daunting task, if you can believe it, than starting over.  I also will be able  to standardize conventions for dates and place names if I start over. Starting over allows me to be careful and cite sources for information as I work. I am a much more careful and thorough genealogist than I was when I started. I will admit it—I fell prey to the lure of looking for famous ancestors in my tree and often attached unproven connections that appeared uncited in other trees.

I know starting over is a lot of work, but it will prevent me from introducing errors and will allow me to go slowly. As such, the tree is a little spare at the moment. Rest assured I will be adding people, and if you have information to contribute, feel free to contact me.

Some things I really like about the sitebuilding software, which is called TNG: The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, are the ways in which photographs are handled and the “Most Wanted” feature. I have really only just begun to explore the possibilities. The site is easy to manage after a small learning curve. The most difficulty I had with it was my original upload didn’t work, so I had to re-upload it to my site. I happen to feel comfortable with managing the back-end of my site, but others’ mileage may vary on that score.

You can view the family tree by clicking this link or by clicking the permanent link in the menu at the top of the page.

Digital Storytelling to Capture Family Stories

Genealogists long ago adapted family stories and photographs as a means of sharing their family history, but I have not seen a great deal of digital storytelling in family history yet. Digital storytelling is a relatively new mode of storytelling. Depending on your level of expertise, you might want to take a class to learn how to do it. If you do, I can’t recommend the Center for Digital Storytelling more highly. I took one of their three-day courses for educators last summer in Denver. However, they offer workshops for people from all walks of life.

Because my grandparents are still living and actually live in the Denver area, I took the opportunity to interview them. I had most success capturing their voices with my computer, but if you have a good camera for taking video, you may choose to capture video instead. Even if you are not able to interview family members, you can still tell a digital story about them. Take a look at this guideline for writing good digital stories:

This presentation was created by Joe Lambert and follows the Center for Digital Storytelling’s elements of creating a good digital story.

The first step, Owning Your Insight, involves finding your story and deciding what story to tell. One important thing I learned is that somehow, even if you are telling someone else’s story, the story also needs to be about you. You need to bring insight and connection to the story you tell. It is easy to fall into the trap of telling an ancestor of family member’s story and taking yourself out of the equation, but your story will offer more to connect to if it is also about you. The facilitator in my workshop recognized this problem in my own digital story idea, and she challenged me to figure out “how is this story about you?” That is not to say you can’t tell the story of a family member or ancestor, but you want to identify why you want to tell their story. What do you connect to in their own story? Are you proud? Embarrassed? Consider your own insight and what it will bring to telling the story of your family. This video is a good example of what I’m talking about:

Holly McClelland was one of the facilitators in my workshop, and what she does in this story is really turn the focus on herself and her own feelings about her relationship with her father rather than discuss her father, whose story she can’t truly tell. You might not feel comfortable sharing these types of stories with an audience. It’s up to you to decide how personal to be.

Next, CDS recommends Owning Your Emotions. This part is tough. Family stories can sometimes be very personal, and you should only share what you feel comfortable sharing. Your feelings should come through in the story. Sometimes I find that I discover how I feel in the process of creating the story itself. Here is a video that I think is a great example of owning your emotions:

Daniel Weinshenker is the Rocky Mountain/Midwest Region Director at CDS.

Step three involves Finding the Moment. This is the part of the story you want to tell. It’s best to keep stories fairly short. In fact, my CDS workshop facilitator recommended five minutes or less. So you need to get to the essence right away. What is the moment of change? What is the turning point? That moment will determine what story you decide to tell. I like the way this story zeroes in on one moment:

The moment in this film, as I see it, is discovering that what was lost was found again in a discovery of old film.

Seeing Your Story involves selecting the images and video you want to use. Don’t necessarily put this step first, but it is okay to begin selecting images as you are thinking about the story you want to tell. You might find that the images suggest a story you want to tell. Images do not have to be your own, but you will want to use images that are either in the public domain or licensed by Creative Commons unless you want to pay to license copyrighted images. Here is an example of a video made with only a handful of images. The rest is public domain footage from Archive.org.

Josef: A Digital Story from Brad Johnson on Vimeo.

As Johnson explains, “95% of the images and footage is from archive.org. I have about 5 shots of my grandfather in there that are mine.” He adds, “I was experimenting with telling a personal story using footage that was ‘public’ and that was about the ‘larger, American immigrant’ story that seems part of our collective identity (or at least for many of us).”

Hearing Your Story is your opportunity to either use interviews or your own recorded narration to tell the story. As I said, we were advised to keep the story to five minutes or less. That’s between 300-500 words, and really should be on the lower end. Once you draft your script or storyboard, you will quickly discover it’s not very long. It will be important to zero in on one story. Remember, you can always make other digital stories to tell other parts of the story. The best digital stories clock in from two to five minutes or so. Five minutes is really on the longer end. They are snapshots of a moment in time rather than a full documentary.  Some video-making software comes with sound effects and music, but you will probably find that you want to explore options for music. It’s important to be careful of copyright concerns when using music. I look for music that is Creative Commons licensed. The perfect piece of music will really pull your whole video together.

What strikes me most about this particular video is that the music is perfect and perfectly timed to go with the pictures and narrative. I find it to be a great example of the power of a simple but perfect piece of music to create a digital story.

When you begin Assembling Your Story, economy and pacing are important. You want the images and video clips to line up well with the narrative and music. You shouldn’t feel the need to fill up the entire space with words. Sometimes you can allow images and music to fill in and speak. “Lost and Found” by Susan Becker above is a well-paced story.

Your last consideration is Sharing Your Story. Who is the audience? How do you want to share it? There are lots of online video sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo. You can also create DVD’s and share the videos with loved ones who might want a copy.

I created these two videos based on interviews I did with my grandparents.

I used some images footage of the Seabees in World War II and some images taken of the Army’s 7th Division on Attu as well as censored letters, but aside from those pieces, the images all belong to my family.

I liked how this came out, but I wish I had done more with the music and practiced a bit more economy in the storytelling. My video with my grandmother integrated these two elements a little better.

I am very happy with how the music works, and I like the pacing. I found this story, even though it is my grandmother’s story, really has the personal connection, the “moment,” when my grandmother reveals she hasn’t been able to sew. She had just recovered from a serious illness, and she has since been able to sew a little bit. It’s sad to me to enjoy something so much and not be able to do it.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the more technical aspects, such as where to find images and music and how to record yourself. Because all software is different, I won’t post a tutorial as such, but should you decide to create a video, either taking a class or finding online tutorials for your specific video editing software will help.

The Genealogy Blog is Back!

I have not written in this blog for nearly three years, a time period that coincides precisely with my move from Georgia to Massachusetts to accept a new teaching position. It’s been busy, and I have had little time to devote to family research, but I am glad to be back, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with family, fellow genealogists, and other readers. In the time that I myself have been fairly absent, the comments sections on individual blog posts have been quite active.

You might also notice things look a little different around here. I changed the look of the site. As such, some items might be in different places, and if you can’t find something you used to be able to find, please just let me know. I think everything is in place, but it’s entirely possible I missed something.

Thanks to all of you for your patience.

1940’s Census Blog

Did you know that you can learn a lot of information about the 1940 Census from the 1940 Census Blog? The blog includes posts about famous people found in the census and how to find them, informative posts about the indexing project, and even great contests. You can keep up with news about the 1940 Census Community Project. The blog has an RSS feed that allows you to receive updates in your RSS feed reader, too.

I’ve been working on indexing the 1940 Census a little bit in my free time, and I even managed to find my great-grandparents, my grandfather, and the rest of their family in Lockney, TX—mainly because I knew exactly where the family would be in the 1940 Census. I don’t know where the rest of my family was (for certain, anyway) in 1940. The project needs volunteers willing to transcribe certain information on the census images so that a searchable database can be created to help us all find our relatives in 1940, even if we aren’t sure where they were.

I was really interested to discover the education level attained by my family members, and I was really intrigued to see my great-grandfather was still working for the WPA in 1940 and that my great-uncle Alvin was a shoe shine boy and shop cleaner at a barber shop. No one mentioned that job before to me, so likely the family didn’t consider it significant.

You can learn more about the project and how you can help at the 1940 Census Community Project.

As part of the1940census.com ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for an iPad.

1940 Census

By this time tomorrow, the 1940 Census will have been released. This is exciting news for genealogists who need data from that census to get past brick walls. Personally, I’m hopeful the 1940 Census will help me answer some of the following burning questions I have:

  • Do I have the right Frank Chatman or Chapman as my great-grandfather? I think I found him, but I’m not certain, and a later census with a bit more information could help.
  • What happened to my great-grandmother Gertrude Nettie Perkins? She is missing from the 1930 Census, or at least, I can’t find her, but I know she lived until 1971. The 1930 Census was taken during a time of turmoil in her life when many of her children were adopted into different families. I also want to find all of them.
  • What do my mother’s parents’ families look like in 1940?
  • I’m also intrigued to find out more about my husband’s families on the 1940 Census.

What are you looking forward to learning? By the way, until it’s indexed, you might find this infographic for how to search the census helpful.

Margaret: The Story of a Name

My younger daughter is named Margaret for her grandmother, my husband’s mother. We call her Maggie. Her name means “pearl,” and there is a version of the name in almost any European culture you can think of. Right off the top of my head, I can name the French Marguerite, the Italian Margherita, the Spanish Margarita, the Welsh Marared, and the Scottish Marjorie. It is an old name, too, and may even have its origin in Sanskrit. At one time, it was a very popular name: It was the second most popular girls’ name in the early 1900’s. It is less common today, but if you look at the name’s statistics in Wolfram-Alpha, you notice it enjoyed a tiny uptick in popularity in the years prior to my daughter’s birth (around the time of the new millennium), which could explain why my daughter has encountered at least two other Maggies at school when we were sure she would likely be the only one.

What my husband and I didn’t realize when we gave our daughter this name was that it would connect her to a family tradition that dates back at least 300 years, possibly longer. The name is a thread that has run through my husband’s family since at least the early eighteenth century. After I learned this information, my daughter’s name became even more meaningful to me, and I am so glad we chose it.

My husband’s mother, the Margaret we named our daughter for, was likely named for her mother, Margaret Emma Ledbetter (1916-1995). Margaret Emma Ledbetter was the daughter of Clarence Ledbetter (1868-1935) and Rosanna Belle Beasley (1881-1946). The family was from Hickman County, Tennessee. Rosanna Beasley’s paternal grandmother was Margaret Etta Pugh Beasley (1827-1898). Here is a picture of her with her husband, Littleberry Beasley (1817-1895):

Littleberry Beasley and Margaret Etta Pugh

I also found a photograph of her headstone:

Margaret Pugh Beasley

She is buried in Lyles, Hickman County, Tennessee. Her mother was Prudence Jane Nicks (1794-1887). Prudence was born in Guilford County, North Carolina and died in Hickman County, Tennessee. Her paternal grandmother, Margaret Doaks Nicks (1752-1798) is likely the inspiration for her daughter’s name, but Margaret Doaks Nicks’s mother-in-law was Margaret Edwards Nicks (1717-ca. 1756). She is the earliest Margaret I can find, but I have a hunch that if I could trace the line further back, I would find more Margarets. I like the idea of passing this name along. I hope that we will have more Margarets in the family, but this name has (unfortunately) fallen in popularity, and it may be that our Margaret and any descendants she might have might not feel as strongly about passing it on as I might wish.

Book Review: The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Winter Sea is the story of writer Carolyn McClelland, who relocates to Cruden Bay in Scotland in order to get the feel of the location for the novel she is currently writing about the 1708 Jacobite uprising—one of the lesser known skirmishes of the Jacobite Rebellion. Carrie takes a cottage in the village near Slains Castle and becomes friendly with a local family, Jimmy Keith and his two sons Stuart and Graham.  After her agent suggests she try telling her story from the point of view of a female character, since Carrie can’t seem to find a male character’s voice, Carrie decides on a whim to write one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson McClelland, into the story. Suddenly she is writing faster than she’s ever written before, and when she discovers that many of the things she’s writing actually happened, even though she hadn’t consulted history books before she wrote, she begins to wonder if she is remembering her ancestor’s life. Meanwhile, both Keith brothers begin to show an interest in more than Carrie’s writing, but Carrie finds herself drawn to the one with eyes like the winter sea and begins modeling her hero, John Moray, after Graham, a history lecturer at the university in Aberdeen.

One of the reasons I liked this book was the genealogy thread that ran through it. Genealogy happens to be one of my own interests, and I can always sympathize with characters who find it interesting, too. Carrie’s discoveries about the lives of her ancestors fascinate her father, who is able to trace the family tree back one more generation due to Carrie’s insights as she writes. I expected to find myself more interested in Carrie’s novel, the part of the book that takes place in the past, because I have an absolute fascination for Scottish history. However, I found myself more drawn to the characters in the present—Jimmy, Graham, Stuart, Carrie’s agent Jane, and even Carrie herself. This book covers a topic that I myself have wondered about: is it even possible that memories can be passed down genetically? It seems far-fetched, but it works well in this novel. It’s a fun idea, anyway, and a nice alternative to some of the other paranormal tropes that have gained traction in recent years.

Kearsley is able to capture the past vividly in the sections of Carrie’s novel intertwined with the present-day story. She has included a historical note, and explained her painstaking attention to historical events as much as possible. I was surprised to discover that few of her characters were invented. It can sometimes be hard to make real historical people do what you want them to do when you’re writing about them, which is why, I think, that some writers of historical fiction prefer to use fictional characters.

The ending of the novel satisfies both the requirements of history and the requirements of historical romance. It’s a solid novel, and I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Scotland or genealogy.

Cross-posted from Much Madness is Divinest Sense.

Why Kate Middleton’s Relation to Jane Austen is Not a Story

Catherine MiddletonIn recent weeks, a news story has been making the rounds of all my favorite Jane Austen blogs (I am a huge Jane Austen fan) about the Duchess of Cambridge’s distant relation to Jane Austen. They are eleventh cousins, six times removed. According to Anastasia Harman, a researcher at Ancestry.com, their connection comes from a distant shared ancestor, Henry Percy, who died in 1455. Of the discovery, Harman says, “Given what Kate has done and what Jane wrote about and how those intertwine so much—to find a connection between them is very exciting.”

Not really. Most people are probably connected to Jane Austen about the same degree as Kate Middleton is, which is to say, hardly at all. Ancestry.com users may know that Ancestry.com has a feature that allows users to compare their data with that shared in the OneWorldTree to see their degree of relationship to certain famous individuals (I can’t figure out what algorithm they use, as I have actually been able to prove distant relationships to Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams, and it never shows me as related to them).

In order to use this Ancestry.com feature, click on the profile of the person you want to see, mouse over “More Options” on the right, and select “Find Famous Relatives.” The feature relies on the accurate reporting of the users who have contributed to OneWorldTree, hence it’s not very accurate and should not substitute for research. For example, the first famous relative listed on my own profile is Stephen Hopkins, Mayflower passenger. He is supposedly my 12th great-grandfather. The only problem is that the claim rests entirely on my supposed descent from his daughter Bethia. He had no such daughter. As one might imagine, Mayflower passengers and their descendants are fairly well documented, so this connection is easily disproved and yet can be found in OneWorldTree—or I should say could. Bethia “Hopkins” seems not exist in the tree anymore, but bizarrely is still used as a placeholder for the connection.

According the OneWorldTree data, I am actually more closely related to Aunt Jane than Kate Middleton, as they say we are fifth cousins, seven times removed. Do I believe it? Not really. Our connection supposedly comes from our mutual descent from William Howard and Mary Eure. I supposedly descend from Charles Howard, their son, while Jane descends from their daughter, Mary Howard. I imagine the connection, at least in my own family, involves some leaps, as I cannot trace the line back nearly as far as the OneWorldTree line seems to go.

My point in bringing all this up is that eleventh cousins, six times removed is not a close relationship. In fact, the Duchess’s in-laws, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, are more closely related to each other at seventh cousins, once removed. I found this interesting blog post that explains how the math works when determining probability of relationship between two individuals. The author closes his post: “The upshot of all this: If you discover that you share a common ancestor with somebody from the 17th century, or even the 18th, it is completely unremarkable. The only thing remarkable about it is that you happened to know the path.”

Essentially, the only story behind Kate Middleton’s connection to Jane Austen is that genealogists were able to trace the connection. That the connection exists is not a story.

For more information about distant relationships and how common these sorts of connections are, you might find these articles interesting:

Photo via The London Evening Standard.

Walter Swier

Laura Helen Schmidt and Walter SwierIn some recent posts, I have discussed my natural great-grandfathers on my father’s side, Frank Chatman (or Chapman) and Omar Alfred Gearhart. After Omar Alfred Gearhart’s death, his family sunk into dire poverty. Some of the children, excluding the older children and the baby Omar Alfred Gearhart, Jr., were put up for adoption. My grandfather was adopted by Walter Swier and his wife Laura Helen Schmidt Swier.

I have written about this adoption before. Essentially Gertrude Perkins Gearhart brought her plight—she had heard state authorities were moving to remove her children from her home—to her pastor, who discussed the matter with his church congregation. The members of the church congregation came forward to adopt the children and enabled most of them, with the exception of my grandfather’s brother Frank, to grow up knowing each other and their natural mother.

At the time of the adoption the Swiers had no sons of their own, but they had three daughters: Helen Marie (born 15 March 1921, about nine months older than my grandfather), Carol Mae (born 12 December 1925), and Naomi Ruth (born 2 October 1928).

Swiers circa 1930
Swiers circa 1930

Later the family would welcome Elizabeth Ann on 4 October 1931 and Dorcas Pauline on 13 March 1933.

 

1940 Swier Children
1940 Swier Children

From everything I’ve learned about Walter Swier and Laura Schmidt Swier, as well as the rest of their family, I am convinced my grandfather was supremely lucky to become a part of their family. They were kind, generous, intelligent people.

Walter Swier was the son of Dutch immigrants Dirk and Aaltje Swier. He was born on 1 May 1894 in Sioux County, Iowa, after his parents had emigrated to America in March, 1893. Dirk’s decision to immigrate followed the advice of his doctor, who advised him to move to a place with a hot, dry climate to alleviate a lung condition. I’m not sure what his lung condition was, but tubercular patients were often advised to move to warmer climates. They eventually settled in Moxee, Washington, near Yakima.

Walter married Laura Helen Schmidt on 15 March 1920. By the 1930 census, the family were living in Cowiche, Washington, where they held huge family gatherings that my dad recalls attending. Walter grew apples, which seems to be one of most typically “Washington” occupations to have.

I cannot find his World War I draft registration card, but the 1930 Census lists him as a World War I veteran. There is a Walter Swier who appears on muster rolls for the US Marine Corps during the war, but I cannot be certain he is my great-grandfather because another Walter Swier born the year after my grandfather in South Dakota does have a World War I draft registration card.

On the occasion of his parents’ 50th anniversary, Walter Swier wrote a tribute to his parents that was read at a family gathering by Walter’s daughter Betty.

Because of adoption and other more mysterious family events, my father has four grandfathers instead of two. Of the four grandfathers, Walter Swier is the only one he knew in his lifetime, as his other grandfathers were either deceased or not a part of his life. My father has very fond memories of Walter Swier. Before he shipped out for service in Vietnam, my father visited his family, including his grandfather Walter, in Washington. It would be the last time he would see his grandfather, who died on 5 July 1974.

Civil War Pension Application of William Jones Bowling

William Jones BowlingWhat follows is a transcription of the Confederate pension application filed by my great-great-great-grandfather, William Jones Bowling (pictured) in 1911.  Underlined portions are written in either W. J. Bowling’s hand or that of the clerk in order to fill out the application.
Form A

For Use of Soldiers, Who are in Indigent Circumstances

The State of Texas

County of Donley

I, W. J. Bowling, do hereby make application to the Commissioner of Pensions for a pension to be granted me under the Act passed by the Thirty-first Legislature of the State of Texas, and approved March 26, A. D. 1909, on the following grounds:

I enlisted and served in the military service of the Confederate States during the war between the States of the United States, and that I did not desert the Confederate service, but during said war I was loyal and true to my duty, and never at any time voluntarily abandoned my post of duty in the said service; that I was honorably discharged or surrendered in Camp Douglass [sic] prison in Illinois when war ended.  Liberated about 1st of May 1865 (Give date and cause.) that I have been a bona fide citizen of this State since prior to January 1, A. D. 1880, and have been continuously since a citizen of the State of Texas.  I do further state that I do not hold any national, State, city or county office which pays me in salary or feeds one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor have I an income from any other employment or other source whatever which amounts to one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor do I receive from any source whatever money or other means of support amounting in value to the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars per annum, nor do I own in my own right, nor does any one hold in trust for my benefit or use, nor does my wife own, nor does any one hold in trust for my wife, estate or property, either real, personal or mixed, either in fee or for life, of the assessed value of over one thousand dollars; nor do I receive any aid or pension from any other State, or from the United States, or from any other source, and that I am not an inmate of the Confederate Home, and I do further state that the answers given to the following questions are true:

  1. What is your age? 71 years
  2. Where were you born? Haywood Co. Tenn.
  3. How long have you resided in Texas? about last of 1875 to present
  4. In what county do you reside? Donley
  5. How long have you resided in said county and what is your postoffice address[?] 3 years[,] Lelia Lake
  6. Have you applied for a pension under the Confederate pension law and been rejected?  If rejected, state when and where[.] never]
  7. What is your occupation, if able to engage in one? Minister of Gospel
  8. In what State was the command in which you served organized? Tenn and Miss
  9. How long did you serve?  Give, if possible, the date of enlistment and discharge[.] 8/1861 to discharge 1865
  10. What was the letter of your company, number or name of battalion, regiment or battery? 1st Ala. Tenn & Miss Regiment & Company K Inftry. surrendered under McCall Island no. 10
  11. If transferred from one command to another, give time of transfer, name of command and time of service[.] Exchanged at Vicksburg in 62 then to Miss [indecipherable]
  12. What branch of service did you enlist in — infantry, cavalry, artillery or navy?
  13. If commissioned direct by the President, what was your rank and line of duty? not comm
  14. If detailed for special service, under the law of conscription, what was the nature of your service and how long did you serve? was volunteer
  15. Have you transferred to others any property of any kind for the purpose of becoming a beneficiary under this law? no

Wherefore your petitioner prays that his application be approved and such other proceedings be had in the premises as required by law.

(Signature of Applicant) W. J. Bowling

Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 25 day of March, A. D. 1911

J. H. O'[name indecipherable]

County Judge Donley County, Texas.

Affidavit of Witnesses

[Note: There must be at least two credible witnesses.]

The State of Texas

County of Donley

Before me J. H. O'[name indecipherable], County Judge of Donley County, State of Texas, on this day personally appeared J. B. Cope, who are [sic] personally known to me to be credible citizens, who, being by me duly sworn, on oath state that they personally know W. J. Bowling the above named applicant for a pension, and that they personally know the said W. J. Bowling has been a bona fide resident citizen of the State of Texas since prior to January 1, A. D. 1880, an that they have no interest in this claim.

(Signature of Witness) J. B. Cope

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A Genealogy Blog by Dana Huff