How You Can Honor America’s Second War for Independence

American’s Second War for Independence? Didn’t we only have one? Yes… and no.

While there was only one war where America formally declared its independence from Britain, it took the War of 1812 to cement America’s position as an independent nation. Though this war is largely (and regrettably) overlooked in many history classes, it was a pivotal time in American history.

Almost Lost to Time

The pension files of the War of 1812 veterans total nearly 7.2 million pages. These are pages filled with information about these men and their families. It isn’t unusual to find pages from family Bibles, marriage records, and affidavits about family relationships.

These pension records have never been microfilmed and are among the most heavily used records at the National Archives. All of that handling takes a toll on the paper. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Preserve the Pensions Project

The Preserve the Pensions project is a joint project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives, Ancestry, and Fold3. The goal is to digitize those 7.2 million pages of War of 1812 pension files and make them available to everyone for FREE. (Yes, free!)

They’re making great progress. They’re already posted pensions files for veterans A through L and are starting in the M surnames. See the pensions that are already available!

Marriage record found in Lewis Clemmer's War of 1812 pension file.

Marriage record found in Lewis Clemmer’s War of 1812 pension file.

Think of the Possibilities

Think what research possibilities will be opened when 7.2 million pages of these files are available. Yes, they will be a boon to genealogists. (They already are!) But they’ll also be a great resource for history students. With dwindling education dollars, teachers are looking for free resources. Not only is this free, but it’s the actual primary document, not just an index.

Making Donations Count

It costs 45 cents to digitize and add metadata to each image. (If you know anything about large-scale digitization projects, you know what a low price that is!) So normally, a $45 donation would digitize 100 pages. However, Ancestry is matching all donations dollar for dollar — making your donation go twice as far.

I’ve Helped — and So Can You!

I’ve set up a recurring donation for $18.12/month. My total donation of $217.44 will digitize 483 pages. Plus, Ancestry’s match will digitize another 483 pages. So for less than the cost of a pizza per month, I’m helping to digitize 966 pages of War of 1812 pension files!

Donating to Preserve the Pensions is easy. You can do it online or mail in a donation to Preserve the Pensions, P.O. Box 200940, Austin, TX 78720-0940. Do it today!

preserve-the-pensions

5 Things to Do When Applying to a Lineage Society

You’ve decided this is the year. You’re finally going to apply to that first families program, the DAR, or whatever your lineage society of choice is. Before you fill out the form and send in your check, here are five things you should do first.

books

1. Read the Current Rules

Different societies have different rules about what they will accept as proof. Some require certified copies; others will accept regular photocopies. Some will accept sources like a book of tombstone readings; others won’t. The society’s rules for documentation should spell it out.

Even if you’ve applied to that society before, don’t assume that the rules are the same now as they were then. They could have tightened up the requirements. They also could be like the DAR and started accepting DNA as proof.

This is also a good time to see how the society wants you to label your documentation. Some will want a citation written on the front; some will want you to number the document and put the citation on a separate numbered list.

2. Make a Work-in-Progress Copy of the Application

There are a lot of things that will need documentation. Generally, you’ll have to document each person’s birth, death, marriage, and proof connecting them to the generation before. You’ll also need to prove whatever criteria your ancestor fits. (If you’re applying to the DAR, that would be proving your ancestor’s patriot service. If it’s for a first families program, it’s proving residency before a certain date.)

What I’ve found helpful in applications that I’ve done is to take the application form, fill it out, and make a red checkmark next to every event that I have documentation for. It’s an easy way to see exactly what I still need to compile. When I’m ready to apply, I fill out a new copy to send in.

3. Make Copies of Your Documentation

Never EVER send in an original record or photograph. Always send a copy. First, you probably won’t be getting your application back. (Preserving your research is one of the reasons for applying in the first place.) Second, if your application would get lost, that documentation would be gone. Lots of copies keep stuff safe. Send a copy.

While we’re on the subject, put those copies in a file folder just for your application. This will save you a TON of time later when you’re ready to send it in.

4. Ask Questions

You might have questions even after reading the current rules for that society. If you do, ask! The registrars and chairpeople want you to succeed. They want you to honor your ancestor. They’re not trying to trip you up. (If there is a registrar or chairperson out there who IS trying to trip up applicants, stop it! This is supposed to be a positive experience!)

Not to say that they won’t enforce the rules — the rules are there for a reason. They will help you interpret them. But you need to ask.

5. Start Early

If the society you’re applying to has a deadline, don’t wait until the week before to start working on it. Believe me, it will take you longer to compile than you expect, especially if it’s your first time applying.

Give yourself time to compile and to ask questions. You’ll also want to leave yourself time to get any further documentation that the society asks for.

When I was chair of First Families of Ohio, we had a December 31 deadline for induction at the OGS annual conference in April. It never failed that the majority of the applications came in during the last two weeks of the year. The applications were reviewed in the order received. I felt bad for the ones that arrived on December 31, as they usually weren’t reviewed until late January. It often happened that at least one of those applicants didn’t have time to get more proof that was needed. Start early.

How About You?

If you’ve applied to a lineage society, what advice do you have?

Et Al and Et Ux: Two Latin Phrases You Need to Know

Finding a resource you want to dig into is a great feeling. It’s even better when it has an index! But did you know that not all indexes include every name?

Records like deeds and court records can contain the names of numerous people. Sometimes the clerk who created the index didn’t make an entry for each person. Instead, he could have used two common Latin phrases: et al. and et ux.

Et Al.

Et al. is an abbreviation for et alii, meaning “and others.”

Let’s say that John Ramsey died intestate (without a will). His heirs would have sold or released their claim to his land. If several of them did it in one deed, there could be any number of people listed as the grantor (seller). It could read something like, “James Ramsey, William Fullerton and Elizabeth his wife, George Ramsey, Margaret Ramsey, Francis Murphy and Ellen his wife, and Thomas Ramsey, heirs of John Ramsey deceased.”

That’s all well and good — yay! we have a list of at least some of John Ramsey’s hers! The problem is that the clerk didn’t feel like making entries for all of those people in the index. Instead, he made one entry using the first person listed:

Grantor: James Ramsey et al.

That’s fine if you’re looking for James Ramsey, but what if you’re looking for George? He’s in the deed, but he’s not in the index. Instead, he’s hidden in the “et al.”

Et Ux.

Et ux. is an abbreviation for et uxor, meaning “and wife.”

This is commonly used in deed indexes. Rather than making a separate entry for the wife, the clerk will make an index entry only under the husband’s name with the notation “et ux.”

Grantor: David Stephens et ux.

(Would it have killed him to make the entry “David Stephens and his wife Ann” or “David and Ann Stephens”? Sigh.)

You need to keep this in mind when you’re researching females. They could be in the record, but are hidden behind the “et ux.”

What We Need to Do

When we’re researching, we need to think about those other people associated with our ancestors, especially the siblings. When we see a record that lists a sibling and it has the phrase “et al.,” we need to take a look at that record. Our ancestor might be in there, but not indexed.

When we’re looking for females, we need to consider her husband. When we see a record with his name and “et ux.,” we should take that as a sign that we need to look at that record.

et-al-et-ux

Genealogy and Elitism: It Isn’t What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Imagine that you’re in a painting class. You’ve only dabbled in painting — bought a small paint set when it went on sale, watched a video or two on YouTube. But you want to get better, so you sign up for a class at the local rec center. After a few sessions, you’re feeling pretty good about what you’re creating. You show your handiwork to the instructor… who rips it apart.

You don’t have enough contrast.

There’s no clear focal point.

The technique is sloppy.

Now stop and imagine how that would make you feel. You’d probably feel deflated, dejected. You probably wouldn’t feel inspired to keep trying, and you certainly wouldn’t feel encouraged to do so.

university-206683_1280It Happens in Genealogy

Michael John Neill recently republished his post “The Genealogy Elite and the Genealogy Police.” He defines the elite as inhabitants of ivory towers, passing judgment on all things genealogical. The genealogy police “protect the genealogy elite and dispense genealogy justice.” He goes on to say, “I don’t believe in the existence of the genealogical elite and I don’t believe in the existence of the genealogy police.”

When defined that way, I have to say that I don’t believe in them either. However, to say that there isn’t at least the perception of judgment misses the issue.

Most of the “top” names in genealogy are incredibly giving with their time, talent, and expertise. But that isn’t who or what people are referring to when they say they’ve experienced the genealogy elite (or the police).

“Elite” isn’t a person. It’s an attitude. It’s a perception.

Misplaced Passion

Genealogy is inherently personal. When people start digging deeper into their family’s history, it’s easy to become passionate about it — both what is found and the process for finding it. That passion is a good thing. It keeps driving us to find more and to become better researchers.

The problem is when the passion is misplaced. The problem is when we allow our passion for doing genealogy correctly to overshadow our passion for doing genealogy.

Consider that art instructor at the rec center. She is passionate about painting. She wants everyone to experience what she does when she paints. But she allowed her passion for doing it correctly to be louder than her passion for painting. So instead of inspiring you as a novice painter to keep trying, she ended up frustrating you and making you reconsider your desire to pick up a brush.

It Isn’t What You Say. It’s How You Say It

I was researching at the library one day when a person came in and asked for help at the volunteer desk. He had recently started climbing his family tree. As he talked to the volunteer, he pulled out notes and photos and documents and scribbles and everything else he had collected about his family. He had amassed quite a pile of “stuff.” There was a ton of information, but it was a jumbled mess. So what did the volunteer say to him?

“I don’t know how you expect to do anything without filling out a family group sheet.”

Really? This was a person just starting on the journey of discovering his ancestors and you’re going to scold him about not filling out a form that he’s probably never heard of?

Yes, he needs to organize what he’s found. No, he’s not going to be able to make much progress without doing that. But scolding him isn’t the way to do it.

Scolding can work for employees and children. It doesn’t work to scold someone who is doing an activity that they don’t have to do. After all, they can simply stop doing the activity and move on to something more enjoyable.

What that volunteer could have said was “You have a lot of information here. There’s going to come a point where you’re not going to be able to keep track of it all without some help. Have you ever used a family group sheet?”

Same message, but without the scolding.

The Elephant in the Room: Source Citations

When you hear discussions about “elitism” in genealogy, the topic eventually hits on source citations. Here’s the thing about source citations. Nobody started doing genealogy because they were looking for a hobby where they needed to create great footnotes.

Citations are incredibly important. There will come a point when you will need to know where that particular piece of information came from. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast, let alone remember where great-great-grandpa Starkey’s death date came from.

But if you don’t have source citations, my scolding and shaming you about it likely isn’t going to convince you to add them. Instead, you’re going to feel like a grade school student who got a D- on her book report.

Stay Positive

Genealogy is supposed to be enjoyable. When someone asks us for help, we should always find a way to be positive first, before offering any constructive criticism.

On the flip side of that, we shouldn’t take it personally when we run across people like that volunteer at the library. As Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Try to pull out the “constructive” part of the criticism and see where you can improve. Don’t let that bad experience keep you from your journey.

What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear what you think about attitudes in genealogy. Feel free to leave a comment!

Scolding doesn't help anyone in genealogy.

Scolding doesn’t help anyone in genealogy.

How to Decode a WWII US Army Serial Number

Gerald Ridenour, an Aviation Cadet in the U.S. Army Air Force, died in World War II. He was just shy of his 21st birthday. When my mom showed me his grave at Highland Cemetery in Perry County, Ohio, I knew I had to find out more about him.

The Casualty List

I found him listed on the WWII Army and Army Air Force Casualty List on Fold3. The information includes name, serial number, rank, and something pertaining to the death.

ridenour-casualty-list

From World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing: State of Ohio. Online at Fold3 (titled WWII Army and Army Air Force Casualty List).

It was when I looked for the meaning of “DNB” that I discovered there is meaning in the serial number, also referred to as a service number.

WWII US Army Serial Numbers: Meaning in the First Digits

The U.S. Army began issuing serial numbers to help avoid mixing the records of people with the same name. (A genealogist’s dream come true!)  When we dig a little deeper into the number itself, we can learn a bit about the person.

Look at the First Number or Letter

Some prefixes were used in World War I. However, the following system began shortly before World War II.

The first character gives us a lot of information.

  • 1 = Enlisted in the Army (in other words, volunteered rather than drafted)
  • 2 = Federally recognized National Guard
  • 3 = Drafted
  • 4 = Drafted
  • O (that’s the letter O, not a zero) = Male commissioned officers
  • W = Male Warrant officers
  • T = Flight officers (Army Air Force)
  • L = Commissioned officers of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
  • V = WAC Warrant officers
  • A = WAC enlisted women
  • R = Hospital dietitians
  • M = Physical therapy aides

Looking back at the casualty list, we now know:

  • Gerald Ridenour enlisted
  • Arthur Porter was in a federally recognized National Guard unit
  • Robert Pratt and Wilfred Ratliff were drafted
  • William Petruzzi was a commissioned officer. (We also knew that from him being listed as a 2 Lt. But if his rank hadn’t been listed, we would have discovered he was a commissioned officer based on his serial number.)

Look at the Second Number

When you have an 8-digit serial number, the second number shows the Service Command. This narrows down where the person enlisted or was drafted. If you have a serial number for a member of the WAC, look at the number after the letter prefix.

There’s an exception. Remember those serial numbers that begin with “2,” showing National Guard service? You need to look at the 3rd digit. (The second digit for those will always be a zero. You knew there’d be some exception, didn’t you.)

  • 1 = Connecticut Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
  • 2 = Delaware, New Jersey, New York
  • 3 = Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • 4 = Alabama, Florida, Georgia Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
  • 5 = Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia
  • 6 = Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
  • 7 = Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming
  • 8 = Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
  • 9 = Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington
  • 0 = When the first number is 3, the zero means he was drafted outside the U.S. (301 indicates Panama; 302 indicates Puerto Rico)

Since the second digit of Gerald Ridenour’s serial number is 5, we now know that he enlisted from either Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, or West Virginia. The same for where Robert Pratt and William Ratliff were drafted. Arthur Porter, from the National Guard, also enlisted from one of those four states, since the third number of his serial number is 5.

A Note About Twins

According to the introduction to the World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing:

“Serial numbers are assigned with great care and according to a set of regulations. Consecutive serial numbers, for example, are not assigned to twins since this might cause confusion of identity between two persons with the same birth date and same general physical characteristics.”

Other Resources

References

eisenhower

“General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, ‘Full victory–nothing else’ to paratroopers somewhere in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe.” Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Why You Should Consider Applying to a Lineage Society

Lineage societies have a bad reputation. Elitist. Snobbish. Some have even had to shake a reputation for racism. It’s easy to discount them as a way to climb our family trees. But if you think that all lineage societies are about promoting “I’m better than you because of my ancestors,” you should take another look.

Young-Thomas-Mary-Robert-Clara-sm2

My great-great-grandfather Thomas Young is the man with the beard. I joined the Society of Civil War Families of Ohio based on his service in the 189th Ohio Infantry.

It’s About the Ancestors, Not You

It isn’t about bragging rights. I’m not better — or worse — than you because of who my ancestors are. My ancestors are not better — or worse — than yours. That’s not what lineage societies are about. They’re about honoring our ancestors and recognizing their contribution to history.

Types of Lineage Societies

There are three main types of lineage societies:

  • “Pioneer” or “First Families” programs, often sponsored by state and county genealogy societies, honor people who were early settlers of an area
  • Military lineage societies honor ancestors who served in a war; the Daughters of the American Revolution is the most famous military lineage society
  • A common trait, such as sailed on the same ship, have the same occupation, etc.; the Mayflower Society is one such organization

Why You Should Consider Joining a Lineage Society

1. It will improve your research

The documentation requirements for lineage societies, overall, have become more stringent in the past few years. Some societies, such as the DAR, won’t allow new applicants to “piggy back” on old applications because the older ones don’t have sufficient documentation.

There’s nothing like having to prove your descent from someone and prove what it is that ancestor did to qualify. I have an ancestor who qualifies for First Families of Ohio (resident in the state before 1821). However, there’s a link between two generations that, while I have a great circumstantial case, doesn’t have sufficient proof. But it’s making me look in new places — and that’s a good thing.

2. It will improve your documentation

“Grandma told me so” isn’t sufficient for most lineage societies nowadays. And that marriage which has a source citation of “Cousin Bob’s GEDCOM file”? Well, let’s just say that you’re going to have to track down a more credible source.

3. You’ll gain a fuller picture of your ancestor

I’m not referring to photographic evidence. What I mean is that you’ll have to look at a variety of sources. In doing so, you’ll learn things about your ancestors that you didn’t realize before. As I was putting together my application for the Society of Civil War Families of Ohio, I picked up details in a pension file that I had glossed over previously.

4. It’s a means of preservation

Most lineage societies keep the application and the supporting documents. That means that your research on that line would be compiled and preserved somewhere other than your computer. As I’ve mentioned before, lots of copies keeps stuff safe.

5. It’s a way to pay it forward

Most of us have made discoveries based upon the works of others. Maybe a family tree that someone put together gave you a clue on where to look for great-great-grandpa. Maybe you found an ancestor’s diary in an archive somewhere. Someone put together that tree and donated that old diary in the hope that someone else would find them meaningful and useful. We can do the same for future generations. By applying to a lineage society, we put that documentation in a place where others can use it and benefit from what we have discovered.

(If you’ve decided to do this and aren’t sure where to start, check out my 5 tips for applying to a lineage society.)

How About You?

Have you ever thought about applying to a lineage society? Why or why not? Have you ever applied to one? What was the process like for you? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Why You Should Download Your Files From Ancestry and Every Other Website

for-saleNews has been circulating about the possible sale of Ancestry.com. Reaction in the blogosphere and social media has ranged from “Run! The sky is falling!” to “Yawn…” A common theme among many of the posts has been to go download your GEDCOM file — now.

You know what? They’re right. You SHOULD go download your GEDCOM and other files from Ancestry… and any other website where you have them.

Note that I said “download,” not “delete.” It isn’t that I think that Ancestry or any other website is going anywhere. It’s a matter of sensible data management.

Eggs and Baskets

The great thing about electronic files — GEDCOMs, digitized photos, audio files, etc. — is that you can easily have multiple copies of the same data. (It’s also a challenge, but that’s a topic for another post.) When you have multiple copies, you don’t need to have all of your eggs in one virtual basket.

LOCKSS – Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe (LOCKSS) is an archival principle that does just what it says. There’s safety in numbers.

One of anything is vulnerable. If that one thing is destroyed or lost, that’s it. It’s gone. With lots of copies, you increase the odds of that item surviving. Losing one doesn’t mean you lose everything.

While I don’t think that a sale of Ancestry would mean the shuttering of the site (I mean, do you pay $2.5B – $3B for something and then shut it down?!), you shouldn’t have the only copy of your files there. You shouldn’t have the only copy of your file anywhere. You shouldn’t have only one copy. Period.

Let’s say that the site where you have your data has trouble with a server; the site is down while they fix it. Your data is inaccessible during that time. Same if you lose your Internet connection. If you can’t reach the web, you can’t reach your data.

And there’s the possibility that the site where you have your data goes out of business.

On the flip side, don’t let your computer store the only copy you have. When that computer dies — and it’s when, not if — you could lose it all. Utilize the Internet as off-site storage.

We Can Play It Safe

Genealogists use many types of data. We have GEDCOMs, photos saved as JPGs and TIFFs, PDFs of family histories. It takes us a long time to compile it all and we don’t want to have to recreate it.

We owe it to ourselves to not have only one copy — not on Ancestry, not on our laptop, not anywhere. When we use the LOCKSS principle, we help ensure that our data lives on.

Locks keep our things secure... and Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Locks keep our things secure… and Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe

Why, yes, I am a librarian, thank you

For someone who has been trained in organization and classification, I am sometimes frustrated by labels. I see it in the genealogical world and in the library world. We are sometimes quick to label people or — what really frustrates me — reserve labels because a person doesn’t quite fit the mold we have constructed in our minds.

When I was first hired at Archives.com as Genealogical Content Manager, a few of my friends and acquaintances said, “Huh? I thought you were going to be a librarian.” Apparently, to them “librarian” is a title reserved for those who work behind a desk at a library.

They apparently haven’t been to a library or a library website lately.

When I worked at Archives.com and later at Ancestry.com, on any given day I could have been evaluating a new potential collection, working with the engineers to prepare a new collection for publication, writing collection descriptions, or writing educational content for the site. Hmm, that sounds remarkably like selection and acquisition, organization, metadata creation, and instruction.

I had to have an understanding of the users, what they are looking for, and how they expect to interact with the materials. In my freelance work, I have to have those same skills. I need to figure out what it is that someone is trying to find, which isn’t always as straightforward as it might sound. (People don’t always ask the question they want answered.) I need to be able to find meaningful sources for people and explain how (and why) to use them.

In short, I’m doing things that I was trained to do in grad school.

The Mummy (1999). I knew someday I’d be able to work this movie into a blog post.

I do not work in a traditional library setting, but for those who say, “Huh? I thought you were going to be a librarian,” I relay one of my favorite scenes from The Mummy. Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is talking with Rick (Brendan Fraser) and trying to tell him a little bit about herself, which is not an explorer, a treasure-seeker, or a gun-fighter:

Evelyn: …but I am proud of what I am.

Rick: And what is that?

Evelyn: I <pause> am a librarian.

 

(This post was updated after my attendance at the 2015 American Library Association annual conference.)

Notes from a 1940 Census Arbitrator

My name is Amy and I’m an arbitrator for the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project.1940 U.S. Census Community Project

Ok, you can stop throwing things at your monitor now. (And really, would your mother be happy to hear some of the words that just came out of your mouth?!)

If you’re not familiar with the project, arbitrators are those who referee between the sets of values from the two independent indexers. If Indexer A said the first name was David and Indexer B said the first name was Daniel, the arbitrator has to decide which one was right. (If neither was right, the arbitrator enters what he or she believe is the correct value.)

Since the 1940 census indexing project started, and particularly in the past three weeks, arbitrators have become, at best, persona non grata or, at worst, pariahs of the project.

Indexers can review their batches and see where the arbitrator chose a value other than theirs. This was intended to help indexers see where they’ve made mistakes and to help them be better indexers.

Since nobody knows who the indexers or arbitrators were of any given batch, the indexers don’t know who specifically to complain about. Consequently, indexers complain about arbitrators as a whole.

I gotta tell ya, the past few weeks have not been easy for some of us who are arbitrating the 1940 census.

Let me continue by saying this: There are some bad arbitrators out there. There are some who have not read the updated rules on the FamilySearch wiki, nor the update that appears every time they open the indexing program. There are some who don’t choose “<Blank>” for a 1935 if the person was under 5 years old. (Hello — if they were less than 5, they weren’t even living in 1935!) There are some who expand “R” to “Rural.”

Of course, what bothers people the most is when an arbitrator changes a name (either a person or a place) that the indexer knows is right. Hey, I feel your pain! Been there, done that! I had an arbitrator change my “Broyle” to “Boyle” (there was definitely an R in there) and change “Uhrichsville”, Ohio to “Yrichsville”, Ohio.

But before you go to string up the closest arbitrator by his or her toenails, I’d like for you to think of a few things:

  • Arbitrators are human. As such, they will occasionally make mistakes.
  • You don’t see how many times the arbitrator chose your value instead of the other indexers. Think about all records with strange names and bad handwriting where the arbitrator said you were right.
  • Ask yourself if the different value will really make a difference in someone finding the record. I just explored Broyle/Boyle by doing a search on FamilySearch in the 1930 census. Turns out that searches for John Broyle also gives me results for John Boyle and John Boyles. So even though the arbitrator changed Broyle to Boyle, it should still be discoverable. Similarly, changing that “R” to “Rural” isn’t going to keep anyone from finding that entry.
  • If the arbitrator changed the name to something with a wildcard, it is still discoverable. For example, if they changed your “Burns” to “B*ns”, it can still be found by anyone doing a search for Burns, Byrns, Benns, Borns, Bynns, etc.
  • FamilySearch keeps all of the indexed values: Index A, Index B, and, if applicable, what the arbitrator entered. They’ve said that they will eventually add a search option to go across all values; however, they have not announced a time table for this.
Yes, there are some doozies of names being changed and it is never fun to see your entries changed when you believe they’re correct. But remember that the change often does not affect the ability of someone to find the record….  and arbitrators are human, too.

The Laws of Genealogy

Photo by s_falkow. Used under Creative Commons license.

You’ve heard the rules of genealogy. Cite your sources. Start with the known and move to the unknown. Run for office and have it done for you. What you may not have heard are the Laws of Genealogy.

The Laws of Genealogy guide our research. They explain why things behave the way they do. You would think that they’d be widely known, yet this isn’t the case. My friend Stephanie (of the amazing Corn and Cotton blog) said that she was “Jabba the Researcher,” because she had spread out her things so much at the Genealogy Center in the Allen County Public Library. I was surprised that she had never heard one of the Laws.

So here are some of the Laws of Genealogy, as I have come to know them:

The Law of Horizontal Space: Genealogists shall take up all available horizontal space. Those books, papers, laptops, scanners, notebooks, more paper, office supplies, peanut M&Ms, more paper, file folders, computer bags, and yet more paper will spread out as far as possible. Corollary to this law: There is not enough horizontal space in the world.

Photo by Earls37a. Used under Creative Commons license.

The Law of Last Call: Genealogists will make their biggest discovery after the library or archives announces it will be closing in 15 minutes. This Law is more stringently enforced the further the genealogist had to travel to get to said library or archives. Similar to this is the Law of Departure Time, which states that a genealogist will make his or her biggest discovery within 15 of the agreed-upon departure time from the library (ie, if the group is going to leave at 4:00, the biggest discovery will be made after 3:45). Do not attempt to trick the Law of Departure Time by stating a time earlier that what is really planned. The Laws of Genealogy know this and will punish you by not allowing you to find anything.

The Law of Copies: The likelihood of a library or archives using a copy card system is  inversely proportional to the number of coins you brought with you. Bring lots of coins and you won’t need them. Bring none, and all the copiers will be coin operated.

The Law of Vital Records: At least one member of the family tree will have been born or died 1-2 years before the start of civil vital records. This is to expose the researcher to alternate sources. (Yeah, that’s it… )

The Law of Thumbs: When a record is microfilmed, the camera operator’s thumb must obscure the researcher’s ancestor’s name. You just thought Princess Diana held the record for “most photographed person in the world.” No, it’s the man who ran the microfilm camera. You never see his face, but his thumb is known around the world.

There are other Laws, but these are ones that seem to be the most strictly enforced. What other Laws of Genealogy have you discovered?