Privacy and the Genealogist Part 1

Have you ever Googled yourself? If not, take a moment and do so. If you have, then you know how much information about you is readily available at the click of a few keystrokes.
I understand why many people are greatly concerned that their personal information is “out there.” In the uncertainty of today’s world, we’ve all heard horror stories of identify theft and Craig’s list murders. It makes us more cautious and fearful.
Recently, I took an interactive webinar by Thomas MacEntee about finding living persons. Why would you want to find the living? It’s the best way to make contact with folks you are related to that may just have the information you are seeking. I though it very interesting and I totally agree with Thomas that using snail mail is the most effective way to make initial contact. People are more apt to respond to you if they have the time to process the contents. Additionally, the distance between you and them provides a sense of security. Think about it! If you telephone the individual you have caught them off guard and no one likes to feel that way. Emailing can work but may go to spam. I never tried texting someone I don’t know but if I received a text from a stranger I certainly wouldn’t respond.
When I write a letter to an individual I do not type it. I typically print as cursive can be difficult for older eyes (and though I haven’t written to anyone under 20, if I did they most likely wouldn’t be able to read it since it isn’t taught in school any longer.) Printing also sends the message that you took the time to be personal. I keep it short which is often difficult for me to do! In the first paragraph I introduce myself and explain my connection. The second paragraph explains what I’m seeking – a Bible record or a photograph, for example. The third paragraph gives ways to contact me that are more expedient than mail, such as my phone and email address. I also offer to pay for the cost of copying and mailing. I always end with “looking forward to hearing from you soon.”
Does this always work? No, but it might and has so give it a try! I’ve been successful in many cases. I can only think of once where I didn’t get a response and possibly, the individual did not have the information and being in his 90’s, was not able to let me know that. In two other situations I did make contact but the individuals were “too busy” to get the information to me. Both emailed me that they would but after a few reminders over the course of a year it didn’t occur. I haven’t given up hope yet as last fall, I connected with the son of one of my deceased’s mother’s friends. The friend had recently died and the son, while cleaning, found my name and contact information as I had sent a Christmas card 15 years ago right before she moved from our area. The son had newspaper clippings of my wedding and events my mom had attended with his mother. So you never know who has your personal information! In my next blog I’ll continue discussing privacy and share some examples of why I believe, like Thomas, that we have more privacy today than in the past.

Just Two Tiny Words

Originally published on on 18 June 2016.

Last time I blogged about the discovery of one of my husband’s great great grandpas wearing some type of insignia in an old photo I had not previously noticed.  I intended to work towards identifying it this summer when out of the blue, a descendant of that two times great grandpa emailed me.

The cousin believes it may be Masonic so I’ll be exploring that angle soon.  In the meantime, her email had me in a tizzy!  Cousin wanted to know if I was the Ancestry tree that had placed the same grandfather’s first wife as the sister-in-law of his second wife.

It wasn’t my tree that she was referring to but when I investigated the owner of that tree I noticed he had borrowed the photo I was now hanging on my office wall and a Bible page that I had posted.  There were no source citations as to the marriage.  I emailed him and although he’s had a tree for a number of years and was on the site recently, he didn’t respond.

I haven’t researched that line in at least 6 years so I went back over my own notes and realized that I had come to the same conclusion he did.  (Well, maybe he didn’t reach that conclusion and instead, borrowed it, whatever!)  Thankfully, my notes were clear as to where I got the information – from a transcription of a letter written by the granddaughter of the couple.  It was the only record of the marriage from upstate New York in the early 1800’s that has ever been found.  I emailed the cousin a snippet of the letter.

Her response was not what I expected; she snipped a copy of a letter authored by the same person that had completely different information!  It stated that the grandfather’s first wife had been the sister of the second wife.

Neither letter was dated but the letter I had a copy of displayed shaky handwriting, punctuation was lacking and there was many misspelled words.  The letter she had a copy of was well written and clear.

I received my version of the letter from the cousin’s now deceased mother who never told me about an earlier letter.  The cousin had gotten her letter also from her mother and wasn’t aware of the older letter.  All of the mother’s genealogical information resides with a niece who planned to carry on researching.   Why we each only got half of the information I don’t know.  Why the information conflicts I can’t explain, either.  Was it faulty memory of an elderly relative or a correction to an earlier mistake?  Whatever the reason, this definitely confirms you can’t believe everything you read and the importance of seeking out more than one source. I will now ask, “Is that all?” when meeting with family and clients to make sure I have everything that is available.

All I know for certain is that I’m thankful I kept notes and citations.  Originally, I had transcribed the word “her” as “his” and had come to the same conclusion as the cousin.  I looked at the letter several years later and re-transcribed it.  The second time, however, I had scanned and blew the letter up to 200 times when I made the transcription.  It was then that I determined that “her” should have been “his.” That small difference provided me a different maiden name for the first wife and through that, I was able to identify two other siblings who connected with this family in two different states.

Last blog I mentioned how valuable it is to take a look back at your old photos.  I’d add it’s equally important to take another look at other documentation you may have.  You might be able to break through a wall with information that is in front of you all along.

Just two little letters can make all the difference and change the direction of  your research.