Lineage Societies – What gives?!

I am trying hard not to make this a rant so I’ll let you know up front that I’m very frustrated with many of the lineage societies’ directions and interpretations of what they consider acceptable.

In the past year, I’ve completed a number of society applications for clients and myself.  It seems each time there is something a society had a problem with that I couldn’t see was an issue.  In the past month alone, I’ve had to have lengthy discussions with their genealogist over several sticking points.

I could certainly understand if the problem was lack of a record for proof of relationship.  I could also understand if it was because the person could not have been in two places at the same time; in other words, analysis of existing records couldn’t determine which John Smith was the John Smith who would be a qualifying ancestor.  If the application directions were completely disregarded, I could also understand a rejection.  I cannot understand the following:

  •  Applying for membership that says “send proof of [military] service”  and when more than one proof is sent, such as the enrollment application, pension application, 1890 veteran’s census, newspaper clippings, and family letters to two different organizations for two different U.S. wars and being told in one situation that the sources were “a little thin” and in the other, that a record that was housed at the National Personnel Records center were necessary.  So, they never heard about the 1973 fire that destroyed the records they wanted?  Makes you think twice of the level of genealogical understanding of the organization.  How can a pension application, enlistment paperwork and veteran’s census be considered “a little thin?
  • Applying for a designated individual and then being told that the ancestor doesn’t qualify because he was a nobleman and not royalty.  Had to initially laugh at that one because one of the sources for this disputed ancestor was titled, “The Interim King.”  I was able to obtain qualification based on the nobleman’s wife’s father but for the life of me, I don’t understand the difference between a nobleman serving as king and someone who inherited it from his father.  The individual who inherited the title came from a line that at one point had the first ruler.  What made that person royal?  I just don’t understand.  The organization has yet to explain it to me.
  • Being told the application was being rejected because the year for sources was omitted.  When I asked the application number that purportedly occurred I didn’t get a response.  I always keep a copy and I couldn’t find anywhere where I missed a date.  A week later I received an email that no further information was required.  I understand people make mistakes but own up to it.
  • Being told that your application was accepted and two weeks later receiving an email stating that your application wasn’t accepted.  Huh?  In that situation, the membership chair had obtained a list from the genealogist and assumed that names placed on the list had all been verified but evidently that wasn’t the case; the list was for everyone who had submitted an application.  I understand errors happen but you’d think that the board would all be on the same page.

I’m not knocking lineage societies.  I think they serve a tremendous purpose.  Not only is there fraternity and hopefully, camaraderie, the ideals and promotion of the area of history they represent is important.  They are also a wonderful place to save genealogical information and honor our ancestors.  That said, I really wish they would get their act together.

Take Care With Those Hints!

When I was a newbie genealogist I loved the hints that Ancestry.com provided.  Now all of the online sites offer the same.  I was surprised to recently hear that a colleague of mine still happily accepts every hint that is shown.  Her reasoning was that she could always sort out later if something was amiss.

“Later”  like in never is what I say.  Here’s a perfect example of why you need to be careful of those hints:

The hint above flagged for my uncle, George Joseph Kos who did live in northern Indiana and was born in 1921.  Family stories say that, although his attendance area high school was Lew Wallace in Gary, he somehow un-enrolled himself and re-enrolled in another high school at the urging of a football coach.  Of course, his parents found out about it and my grandmother was livid with all parties – the zoned school who allowed a minor to remove himself, the new school and coach for enrolling  him without permission and my uncle, well, for being my uncle.  So, the hint looks legit. 

My trusting colleague would have clicked “save” while I would have clicked “ignore” if I didn’t have time to check it out.  Ignore is a way to really save the hint to look at later while getting the leaf to disappear.

Now I’m going to analyze if this is a correct document for my uncle so I click “Review” on the hint and this displays:

Wow, that does look legit.  According to the family story, it was Roosevelt High School where he wanted to play football but  he was 15 when that happened.  I could rationalize that he was 15-16 years old during the 1936-1937 yearbook so the age is feasible.  But Roosevelt High School was in Gary, not East Chicago, a nearby town.  Could the towns boundaries have changed?  We see that so often in genealogy.  I’m still wary so I’d click view and this is what is displayed:

So, the Hint was really for a George KOSTIN not George Kos.  This was not my uncle. Then I remember, there were two Roosevelt High Schools.  Duh!

Hints are just that – hints – they are not guaranteed correct information.  Use with caution.

Simple Tips to Maximize Your Genealogy Research

Recently, I volunteered to provide free genealogy assistance through a local genealogy society to which I belong.  I try to help twice a year – fall and spring – which is advertised throughout our county.  Every time I attend, I learn something new about genealogy practices.  Here’s my latest revelations:

1.  Keep your email accounts current – My first “client” had gotten everyone in her family to test.  That included her siblings, children and herself.  She had a DNA question for me but she couldn’t readily access any of her accounts because she had used an old email address she no longer had. I recommended she contact the DNA test companies to update her records.  But that led to the next problem:

2.  Know where you did your DNA test and when – She recalled she had last tested with 23andMe but when we clicked “Forgot your password?”, it was sent to her current email  The problem was that kit  was for her daughter.  She then recalled she had purchased the kit two Christmas’ ago intending to use it but gave it to her daughter instead.  We tried FTDNA, but couldn’t get in because that was the older email account.  She thought she had used Ancestry.com for her sister but it turned out those were her results.  Clicking around used up a good deal of time we could have spent analyzing the results.  I shared how I save my info; I use Excel to keep a list of the Kit numbers, date the test was ordered, who the test was for and the company that was used.  On a second tab, I record contact information from others after the results are returned.  This way, I avoid duplication of effort.

3.  Try, Try Again – Last fall I assisted a woman trying to find an obituary from the mid-1950’s.  Her grandmother had been active in the community where she resided but she couldn’t find the obit in the nearest big city newspaper.  I had recommended she contact a research librarian to find out the names of newspapers that were publishing at the time in that location and where the microfilm of those papers were held.  She said, “I called and someone said they’d get back with me but nobody did.”  Here’s a lesson we all need to heed, don’t think that call is going to happen now, months later.  Call again.  Ask to be connected with the Reference Desk.  If a few days pass with no results, email.  I love the Ask-A-Librarian online contact.  Not only do you have a record that you made the request, it saves you a phone call and having to spell out the surname while the librarian is trying to take notes.  

4.  Two Heads Are Better Than One  – I love paper but I don’t love having to sort through a ream and a half of every item ever discovered on a brick wall ancestor.  In other words, be organized.  If the information had been presented in time line order, we could have gotten through it much more expeditiously.  The woman used the method of last found information was placed on top.  I recommended she sort the information on a table by the year that the record was created.  Sure, the immigration paperwork completed when the ancestor was in their mid 30’s had the date and place of birth but keeping the documents in created age order helps to determine the accuracy of the information found.  She told me her method drove her uncle nuts but she was so into the hunt for records she didn’t like to take the time to organize them.  I recommended she  get with her genealogy buddy, the uncle, and see if he was more adept at organization.  Then, they could put their heads together and make a timeline on paper (she hates software programs) to find holes.  This approach also helps in finding information that was out there that you initially glossed over because you focused on something else.  For example, she had the ship manifest so she knew where the ship sailed from.  She also had a birth location from the immigration record.  She had scant information between the birth and the immigration.  I recommended reading the history of the area at the time the ancestor was born to determine if the family had relocated soon after (hint, it was probably the potato famine).  If she wasn’t interested in that type of research, her partner could do it and then they could discuss where she could research further.

5.  Know What You Want to Know – Your research question is imperative.  “I want to know everything about my great grandfather” is not a question.  You might be able to eventually get to the point where you know a lot about your great grandfather but to do so, you’ve got to start with a name or a place and a time from which to build.  If you start small, you don’t get overwhelmed and quit.  INMHO, that’s why people give up on genealogy.  It is a practice in patience, analysis, and sometimes, dumb luck.  You can control two of the three components.  My recommendation for this individual was to focus on one area of a person’s life, like their career, and see what you can find.  Then move to why that individual held that job.  Perhaps there was indentured or apprenticed paperwork.  Maybe the great grandfather or another relative was in the same line of work.  Here’s an example I shared; my husband comes from a long line of carpenters.  The original carpenter, however, didn’t build homes.  He was a ship’s carpenter.  That would have been a modern job when ships provided the largest means of transportation.  His son was a ship’s carpenter early on in his career but switched as he aged to building homes.  That man’s son moved farther inland and continued with the trade.  That original research question could disclose a wealth of family information over generations.  It pays to be specific about what you’re looking for.

Happy Hunting!