Posts Tagged ‘conferences’

In the span of one and a half weeks this month, I attended the Massachusetts Historical Society’s conference “So Sudden an Alteration”: The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution in Boston and the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium’s biennial conference (NERGC 2015), run by a consortium of regional societies, held this year in Providence, Rhode Island. I have never done two conferences nearly back-to-back before (for me, there was a three-day break between them) and while it was a bit overwhelming to do, both events were fantastic. Since past experience has taught me that it will take me at least a little bit of time to turn my detailed drafts into blog posts, this post is my initial wrap-up of them.

For those that have never been to one of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s seminars, the basic format is that attendees read the paper in advance, the author talks a little bit, a commenter responds to the paper (and, if they wish, to what the author just said), the author is given the opportunity to respond to the commentary, and then the floor is opened to comments, questions, and suggestions from the attendees. Most of the MHS conference was in a similar format, except that there were two or three authors on each panel instead of just one, and the commenter responded to all papers before opening the floor to the audience. During most of the time slots, the entire conference was a single track, but there were two time slots when we got to choose which panel we wanted to attend.

Not surprising given the format and the mostly-single-track, some of the papers were of more interest and relevance to me than others, but I enjoyed every panel I attended. It was also great to see some familiar faces and meet some new people. The people in attendance seemed to me to be a mix of history professors and other historians, grad students, archivists/librarians, and interested third parties like me. I had prior exposure to the work of two of the panelists (Gloria Whiting and Serena Zabin) through MHS’s seminar series, and their papers were two of my favorites in the conference. I also got to hear Barry Levy speak for the first time; I cited his book Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution in one of my articles.

In two and a half days, I got to learn about things as varied as the African-American community in colonial Boston, British soldiers renting from Bostonians, how Pennsylvanian society grappled with reintegrating Loyalists who stayed after the American Revolution, and Americans’ early efforts at trade in China alongside the behemoth that was the British East India Company. Much more to come.

As longtime readers of my blog know, NERGC 2013 (my first one) fell under the long shadow of the Boston Marathon bombing, which had been that Monday, and the hunt for the living bomber, which was occurring while I was at the conference. I’m pretty sure that not having the stress of, for example, so many of us spending our breaks on Friday standing around a hotel lobby’s TV for updates on the hunt for the bomber at least partially colored my different response to 2013 vs. 2015. But it’s not just that. NERGC’s speakers, attendees, and talk subjects were more diverse than they had been in 2013; there were more attendees, period (a record-breaking number for NERGC); and I know so many more people in the genealogical community than I did then, and met even more over the span of the four days I attended, including several people I’d known online for a while but had never met in person before.

I also was pleasantly surprised that nearly all the talks I chose to attend were excellent, as that had not been the case with the previous NERGC (though I had still had better luck in 2013 than many others I knew). For Tech Day (which 148 of us attended the day before the main conference started), we had to commit fully to one of two tracks so had no options for what talks we attended, but for the three days of the main conference, we had the option of eight talks in each time slot, with each day having eight thematic tracks. The schedule was so well-done that there was only one time slot for the entire three-day main conference wherein nothing seemed particularly of interest to me, so I volunteered at a booth in the Exposition Hall at that time.

This was also my first time volunteering at the New England Chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists (NEAPG) luncheon of special-interest tables; volunteers from NEAPG moderate the tables. I did a table on “Researching in England’s Records” because I thought it was something that was likely to be of interest to enough attendees to more or less fill a table (and indeed, only one seat was empty at mine). For a while I’ve been slowly working my way up to speaking in public in front of total strangers, and I thought this would be a good next stepping stone, which it was. Handouts were optional but I chose to create one with a timeline I created myself and a bibliography of some of my suggested books. (I like handouts.) I thought that including a bibliography of websites would probably be superfluous, but I turned out to be wrong as a number of my questions were about websites.

In four days I learned about things as varied as how to turn my iPad from an expensive email checker into something I actually regularly use, that there were at least 45 different groups in the Hudson River Valley of New York before 1800, much of what’s in the amazing U. S. Sanitary Commission collection at the New York Public Library, the African-American community in pre-Civil-War Vermont, and speculation about where genetic genealogy will be in five or ten years. Again, much more to come.

Edited to add: If I’m calculating correctly, I attended 26 presentations and 9 panels within 11 days (including attending a presentation the day before the first conference and another during the three days between the two conferences).

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Can American genealogical conferences and other events embrace diversity? Back in 2013, I attended my first fairly large genealogical conferences, a regional one and an international one. After the first one, I started a post of suggestions for American genealogical conferences, which I expanded after the second one but have never finished and posted it. Prompted by DearMYRTLE’s discussions on her blog this week, I wanted to pull the point that I feel is the most important from that draft – the issue of diversity in topics and attendees – and expand upon it. Before (or after, if you really prefer) reading my post, I suggest you read Myrt’s posts and the many comments to some of them. Here are the links to her posts:

Following was one of my suggestions for American genealogical conferences that I wrote in 2013 a week or two after attending the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) 2013 Conference, which had been decidedly lacking in seeming diversity both in attendees and topics:

Reach out to organizations that are specifically focused on the history and/or genealogy of people of color, religions other than Christianity, and other so-called “minorities,” trying to get more speakers and attendees from these groups. Most lectures at most if not all American genealogy conferences focus by default on the experiences of white Christians, and while of course I cannot judge the heritage of someone else, most attendees at most of them appear to be white. Even most of the lectures that were focused on various “minorities” at NERGC 2013 and at other regional events that I have attended were given by people who do not personally identify with the group on which they are speaking. This is not to say that someone can’t become experienced at researching people other than their own self-identification; if that were the case, only people with a completely homogenous background would be able to successfully research their own family’s history and historians would only be able to do good research on people just like them. But after attending many lectures, I believe that people who are a part of the group being presented bring a different perspective to a lecture than people who are approaching it from an outsider’s perspective, and I also think that the best presenters are fully cognizant of this. Part of why I think this would be such a great idea – beyond the obvious issue of diversity or lack thereof – is because you cannot judge someone’s research interests based on how they physically appear to you.

Since typing the above and failing to ever post my draft, I have attended many more genealogical and historical events, including a second conference, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ (IAJGS) 2013 Conference. I want to stress again that I cannot speak for others’ self-identification nor their heritage, but based on my perceptions alone, there were significantly more people who appeared to be persons of color at IAGJS than there had been at NERGC. There have also been more people who appeared to be persons of color at historical events I have attended that had to do with slavery in Massachusetts than there were at either genealogical conference, and as I noted in my most recent post, I think this speaks to the fact that if topics of interest are discussed and the event is advertised in a way where persons of color see it, persons of color will attend. This seems to me to be pretty basic, but based on my experiences as a white genealogist and the experiences of a number of genealogists I know from a variety of backgrounds and heritages, it seems to be beyond what the planning committees for many genealogical conferences/seminars and other genealogical events do.

In my humble opinion, these are some things that could be a good start at changing things for the better in the American genealogical world:

  1. If an organization hosting a conference/seminar/etc. comes up with themes or suggested proposal topics in advance, try to ensure that these include a wide variety of topics. While an organizer might think, “This topic wouldn’t be of interest to my intended audience” – how can they know for sure that it wouldn’t unless they try it? And how can they know what their future audience might potentially be unless they offer topics that attract a wide range of attendees?
  2. More widely advertise calls for proposals to reach a more diverse group, and take chances on proposals from speakers that aren’t already familiar to you.
  3. Similarly, advertise conferences, seminars, and other events in a wide variety of ways and places to reach as many potential attendees as possible. I feel that some genealogical organizations and groups create a self-fulfilling prophecy by trying to make everything appeal to their current or most recent attendees, so I feel that (1) and (2) are important for (3), because most people only attend things that they expect to find interesting and/or useful and which they expect to be worth the cost.
  4. As Eva Goodwin eloquently stressed in a comment on one of Dear Myrtle’s posts this week, the default in the American genealogical world seems to be that anyone who is a general genealogical expert speaker is someone who is perceived as white, regardless of the fact that most well-known white genealogical speakers are specialists in one or two “niche” kinds of research and despite the fact that, to use the specific example that Eva used in her comment, African-American genealogical research is difficult to do so anyone who is really good at doing it must also be really good at doing genealogical research in general. We need to work to change this – and by “we” I mean everyone in the American genealogical community.
  5. Please, please, please consider offering a discount on attending a single day of a multi-day conference. Many American genealogical conferences offer single-day registration that is nearly as expensive as attending the entire conference. How many more people could they be attracting if they offered reasonable single-day registration? Before you, dear reader, say “Then it would be overwhelmed on Saturday,” this August I attended the first-ever Celtic Connections Conference, which offered more affordable single-day registration, and there were a number of people who were more interested in Friday’s topics and only attended on Friday, so both days sold out in advance even though a number of people only attended one day or the other of the two-day conference. Without financially-reasonable options for people who are only interested in one day’s lectures or who work on weekdays and can only attend weekend events, an entire pool of people will skip a multi-day event entirely. And yes, I am already well-aware that “Genealogy is an expensive hobby,” to quote a common response to such suggestions. A lot of genealogists are at jobs whose paychecks help fund their genealogical hobby but which they can’t leave just to attend an event.

If we want to have a thriving American genealogical community, we need to embrace a diversity of people – from many different races, heritages, classes, religions, sexual orientations, and so on. The more voices we help to come through the din, the better our community will be for it and the better all of us will be as genealogists.

I want to thank Myrt for her posts as they prompted me to finally post and I also want to thank my Twitter friend who goes by The Descendant for encouraging me to finish and post my suggestions when she found out earlier this I’d been working on my original suggestions post – I’ve kept your encouragement in mind all this time, and hopefully you’ll feel this is better late than never!

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Last month I had the pleasure of attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference 2013 (IAJGS 2013) for the first time, held in Boston, Massachusetts, this year, very close to where I live. My most recent post discusses my Day 1 as well as some of the ways in which it was different from American genealogy events I’ve attended to date. On Day 2, Monday, August 5th, the first session began at 8:15, the way the schedule would start for the rest of the six-day conference. Overall Monday was what I think of in retrospect as “My New England Track Day.”

But I started my day with a second lecture by Megan Lewis, a staff member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had seen a talk by her the previous afternoon, as I mentioned in my most recent blog post. This one was titled “U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s New Collections Catalog and Holocaust Research.” Some of the material was repeated from the previous day’s lecture, but there was also a good amount of different material. Most important to note is that their main catalog does not cover everything. Major things she Lewis noted as not being in the catalog include ITS (which is on its own separate system and software), most of the Photo Archives (for permissions reasons), some historical film clips (again, for permissions reasons), and archives/manuscripts/books/etc. that are still being processed.

In my Day 1 post, I didn’t explain what ITS was, so I should do so here. “ITS” stands for “International Tracing Service.” Here is the (English-language) homepage of the ITS at Bad Arolsen, Germany. Here is the main U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page on their ITS Archive, including a link to an online form where survivors and their families can request information from the ITS Archive.  (Requests of survivors and their immediate families are given priority.) As you can see at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page, they received tons of archival materials from the formerly closed records of the ITS starting in 2007 and opened the materials to researchers. The Tracing Services of the Allies was started in 1943. It went to a variety of other organizations from there, till it became the organization it still is today in 1955. I imagine that the name is at least somewhat self-explanatory, so I will simply quote from the Museum’s ITS FAQ:

The archive was established by the Allied powers after World War II to help reunite families separated during the war and to trace missing family members. The Allies placed in the ITS millions of pages of documentation that they captured during the war. Since then, the archive has continued to grow as new records, both originals and copies, have been deposited there. [. . .]

The archive contains more than 150 million digital images of documentation on approximately 17.5 million victims of Nazism—people arrested, deported, killed, put to forced labor and slave labor, or displaced from their homes and unable to return at the end of the war. Sixteen linear miles of shelving are required to hold all the files.

[From “International Tracing Service Archive | FAQs”]

As an aside, when I was studying abroad in Greece I saw artifacts showing a thriving Jewish community during Antiquity. My professors said that the Nazis had killed 99% of Greece’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, and that the Greek Resistance had worked from the mountains of Arkadia during the Nazi occupation of Greece. I thought of those moments in writing this post because I saw on the sites I linked that Greece is one of the participating countries making the ITS’s archives available to the public.

Lewis closed her lecture with a number of points and tips for those visiting in-person. They have brand new ScanPro 2000 microfilm readers; she said, “They have made some of our unreadable microfilms readable.” You can use a flash/USB drive to save microfilm. You can take non-flash photos. They also have scanning photocopiers, so you can scan book pages to a USB drive instead of making a hard copy. When visiting, you need to keep large bags (such as backpacks), food, water, and other drinks outside of the research area, but you can bring your own notebook into the research area, unlike at NARA. Lewis strongly advised the audience that the best time to visit was mid-September to February. The Museum is closed on federal holidays and Yom Kippur. And as at her lecture the previous day, Lewis stressed it is important to contact the Museum at least a week before you visit in person.

Lewis’s lecture was over quite early, with the explicit reason of allowing a lot of time for questions. After listening to a few questions, I decided to leave the lecture hall. I’d been considering going to the end of a nearby lecture, but instead, I ran into a friend who introduced me to someone else who lives locally and we ended up chatting in the hall. By the time we stopped chatting, it was close enough to the end of the time slot that I decided to look around the vendor hall again while it was less crowded.

There were only 15 minute breaks between most lectures. Next up, I attended “Looking at Boston Resources for Genealogists, 1850 to 1950,” by David Allen Lambert, whom I’ve heard lecture several times before. This lecture was sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), which is in Boston near the conference venue and is where Lambert works. The syllabus was very bare, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect at this one. It turned out to be more of a broad, basic overview than what I’d hoped.

The biggest nugget I got from the lecture was that if you are researching on NEHGS’s website, inputting a woman’s maiden name into their database search form in the given name field is a way to search for married women whose maiden name is included in their death record. [A bracketed further explanation for anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about: For anyone who doesn’t already know, NEHGS’s website has scans of the Massachusetts state copies of death records from 1850 to 1915. (1916 to 1920 are on FamilySearch.) In Massachusetts, starting in 1850, towns sent copies of their vital records to the state; you can also request the town’s copy from the town, and a number of towns’ records are online at FamilySearch and/or Ancestry and/or Fold3.] Lambert also mentioned that early death records in Boston typically listed the cemetery where the person was buried, while the state copy typically did not list it until the 1930’s. Lambert also praised the Boston Public Library’s Microtext Department’s newspaper microfilm and microfiche collection, “the largest collection of Boston and Massachusetts newspapers in the world,” many of which have not been digitized.

Next, I decided to go to the lecture I’d been told about at the SHARE Fair the previous day, “Burlington [Vermont]’s Jewish Community: ‘Little Jerusalem’ 1880-1940,” a collaborative lecture given jointly by Jeff Potash, Ph.D., and Aaron Goldberg, J.D., who are Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Archivists in Burlington, Vermont. Most of the Jewish settlers in Burlington came from a single town, Lekiskes (Tsaykeshik in Yiddish) in Latvia. That was the only note I made at this presentation, but the presentation was an excellent one. Potash and Goldberg had used records, maps, and oral history interviews to reconstruct the Burlington Jewish community, and they showed us many maps of the area and read a number of quotes from their oral history interviews on a variety of subjects. Over time a number of the Jewish families had come to own businesses in the non-Jewish section of Burlington, with a large percentage of their clientele being non-Jews. Eventually the community fell apart and most of the families moved on by around 1940.

An old mural has been rediscovered at the former shul and is now part of a project called The Lost Shul Mural, where they are hoping to restore the mural, and they briefly mentioned the mural and the project at the end. The documentary about it was run on Vermont Public Television last year as a fundraiser for the project, and the woman who talked with me at the SHARE Fair said it was the most successful fundraiser Vermont Public Television had ever run; I said that I thought part of it was that Vermonters generally seem interested in the all-encompassing history of Vermont, regardless of whether it was their own family’s history, and she agreed that this seemed true.

There were several questions and comments from the audience at the end of the presentation, including whether the Jewish families that owned businesses in the non-Jewish section had faced antisemitism (yes and no: whatever people felt privately, these families owned businesses providing unique services in the area and most non-Jews in the town appear to have shopped there regardless of personal opinions), that an audience member’s ancestor had been recruited from New York state to move to Burlington to be a part of the Jewish community there, and whether there were connections between the Burlington community and the Jewish community in the Montreal area (yes, so much so that many of the families moved to Quebec when they left Burlington).

There were pay-to-attend lunches each day, but some days there was also a “brown bag lunch,” a session scheduled over lunchtime where you didn’t have to pay to attend it but had to supply your own food. Monday’s was the only one I attended, “Ask the Boston Experts,” and it was next up on my agenda. The experts were Marta Crilly, on staff at the City of Boston Archives; Meredith Hoffman, a professional genealogist specializing in Jewish genealogy, a fellow Bay Stater (Massachusetts resident), and a fellow alumna of Boston University Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research; David Lambert, whom as I mentioned, is on staff at NEHGS; and an expert from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston whose name I didn’t write down and unfortunately don’t recall. The panel sat at a table and we audience members sat below, many of us with lunches in our laps, and the moderator called on audience members to ask questions of the panel. The questions were a nice mix, from fairly basic to very specialized or very specific, and many of the questions were answered by at least two people on the panel. I didn’t take any notes on this session, but I enjoyed it.

Afterwards I went up to Marta Crilly to ask a question in private. I’m researching a collateral line who lived in Boston in the late 1800’s through early 1900’s, and was wondering whether a tax record set she had discussed at the panel would be applicable to my research subject. It turned out that the tax in question was only for men, regardless of a woman’s income, though she said the woman might be in the Archives’ (separate) personal tax records. We talked for a bit and she told me about Married Women’s Business Certificates, which sounded fascinating but which don’t apply to my research subject as she wasn’t married. Crilly also asked if this woman’s work as a nurse was for the city of Boston (it wasn’t). Crilly mentioned that she would be giving a talk on the resources at the City of Boston Archives later that afternoon, and that she would be discussing more about the tax records, the Married Women’s Business Certificates, and other records they hold there. I’m glad she did as for some reason I thought it had already happened, and I ran into a number of other New Englanders between talking to Crilly and the time of Crilly’s talk and mentioned it to them as well.

With a brown bag lunch (or a pay-to-attend lunch, for that matter), you didn’t get much of a break before the first afternoon session, which started 15 minutes after the panel officially ended and less than that after I finished talking to Crilly. I was headed to one of the large rooms so I wasn’t particularly worried about finding a seat for this session despite the conference facility’s odd lack of middle-sized rooms. Next up on my agenda was “DNA Identification of Missing-Identity Children from the Holocaust” by Colleen Fitzpatrick, whom I’d heard speak on using background information to identify and date photos at New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2013 (NERGC 2013) [see my posts about NERGC if you are interested] and who had taught several people I know in the 2012 Forensic Genealogy course at Boston University Center for Professional Education and would be teaching two more people I know later that week, as the course and the conference were running concurrently this year.

I thought this lecture was really interesting, but I didn’t take many notes on it. It focused on two case studies of using DNA testing with people whose birth identity had been lost when they were young children via dislocation from family due to the Holocaust. Colleen Fitzpatrick recommended a book, Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom, about the (sigh) only 1,400 children that the United States allowed to enter during the time period 1934-1945. The children had to be unaccompanied; had to be under 16 years (the youngest was 4 months); and had to come directly from Europe. A bill in Congress in 1938 would have allowed tens of thousands of children to enter the United States, but it did not pass. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a program called “Remember Me?” for former children who knew their birth identity and are trying to locate people who knew them as children, and there is a website called Missing Identity for former children who are Holocaust survivors, don’t know their birth identity, and are trying to find out what it is.

The above paragraph comprises most of my notes from this talk, but the bulk of the talk itself was after these initial remarks, focusing on the case studies. Fitzpatrick used mapping techniques to map the known locations of the ancestors of the people whose DNA test results matched those with unknown identities, trying to see where the matches were geographically located; she used different symbols for each match’s ancestor. She is working on developing software that will let her narrow it down to specific time periods so that she isn’t defaulted to seeing all matches’ known ancestors and locations throughout all eras, and which will allow her to filter results to only a certain level of match (say, 3rd cousins), and when Jennifer Shoer (@ScrappyGen) and I stopped at her table in the author’s corner later that day, Jennifer asked her if she’d be willing to let us (researchers) buy the mapping software if she’s able to successfully develop it and Fitzpatrick said sure.

I had run into Jennifer at the end of Fitzpatrick’s lecture, and from that lecture Jennifer and I headed to “Jewish Refugee Travel Across the North Atlantic on the Eve of the Shoah,” by Dr. Nicholas Evans of the University of Hull in England, sponsored by Latvia SIG. I confess that this lecture was not exactly what I was expecting from the title, but it was fascinating regardless. I’m recounting this in a different order than the order Evans used in his talk, grouping points thematically and relatively chronologically.

During the period 1921-24, the United States government decided that Eastern Europeans were “undesirable,” and thousands en route were left stranded at Easterly (near Southampton, England), in an encampment called Atlantic Park. The United States government’s decision had a big effect, causing the relative “demise” (to quote Evans) of passenger shipping lines. After this, UK ports shifted to the south, especially to Southampton. Lines also picked up some people in Le Havre in northern France. Polish lines generally sailed out of Gdansk. Movement of emigrants eastward was generally done overland, not by sea, and it was especially common to go to Shanghai.

“Paper walls” is a term used for using laws to limit immigration, particularly of certain groups. By 1930, “paper walls” had been introduced, in order of passing, in: Britain, the United States, Canada, and South Africa, all with a focus on limiting immigration of Jews and other Eastern Europeans. In response, shipping operations reduced the number of routes, further limiting the ability of people to move long distances. In the 1930’s in the United Kingdom, there was a period of increased right-wing politics; as a result, documentation for immigrants became more and more detailed. Unfortunately much of this detailed documentation has since been destroyed. Meanwhile, the 1930’s was “The Golden Age of Cruising” for those that could afford long-distance travel for leisure.

Starting from 1885 and especially so from 1894, Germans had overwhelming control over the Jewish ocean-travel market, particularly through the line known first as Hapag and later as Hapag-Lloyd. Hapag-Lloyd was based out of Hamburg, Germany. But within six months of Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi government combined Hapag-Lloyd with the NDL and nationalized it. Hapag-Lloyd’s chairman was replaced by a pro-Hitler figure, and not surprisingly, immediately there was a vacuum in the market.

In 1936 the Queen Mary was launched by the Cunard-Star Line, with a full kosher kitchen (though many observant travelers were suspicious of just how kosher it was and chose to eat vegetarian to be safe) and other amenities to woo Jewish travelers. Many other lines quickly followed suit. Many British, French, and Polish registered lines equipped both their aging and new vessels with kosher facilities by the end of 1936. The Jewish Chronicle assisted travelers by weekly telling them which lines had “the green flag,” meaning they were safe for Jewish emigrants to travel on.

Evans made the point that the lines could see there would be a demand – to wit, a big wave of Jewish emigrants and other emigrants/refugees fleeing Europe – and took this as an opportunity to make money by catering to the clientele. There were a number of ships, such as the St. Louis, that only allowed first-class passengers, and on those liners, only the richest could afford to flee Europe. The policies of British ships in the 1930’s showed who those lines expected to be in each class: First class had exclusively Anglican services; second class focused on Roman Catholic services; and third class focused on Jewish services.

During World War II, emigrants left atypical ports, NOT what we tend to think of as “typical” ports. Most refugees were listed as “stateless” on World-War-II-era passenger lists.

The University of Liverpool holds archives of the Cunard-White Star Line; the University of Glasgow holds archives of the Allan Line and the Anchor Line; and the National Maritime Museum [UK] holds archives of the Union Castle Line. Evans stressed that if you contact them for research, ask them a very specific question, not a generic one. On the National Archives [UK] site, you can search the shipping lists (what we usually call passenger lists here in the States) by name, ship, or date of departure. The University of Bremen has a lot of 1930’s information related to emigration from Germany. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping has been digitized.

Evans said: “Finding the individual stories is more difficult than illustrating the general experience.”

As a final note, many of the former Hapag-Lloyd liners, once the major way that European Jews traveled by ocean, became part of the Nazi “Work for Joy” program after the Nazis nationalized the line. This part of the “Work for Joy” program was where strong Nazi supporters were given “pleasure cruises” as a way to reward them for their support.

Next up – if you’re not keeping track, this was my seventh session of the day – I attended “Jewish History and Genealogy at the City of Boston Archives” by the aforementioned Marta Crilly.  There was a large regional contingent in the audience at this lecture, including a number of people I know. The lecture was unfortunately held in one of the tiny rooms and was packed, so many people who tried to come in late simply left again instead of standing. The person who introduced Crilly said that he goes to a lot of conferences and that this was by far the most crowded he had ever seen a 5:00 pm lecture, and he gave kudos to us all for attending one.

The City of Boston Archives has gotten a National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) grant from the grant wing of the National Archives and Records Administration [US] (current grants being offered are listed here). The grant is to give a summary and a guide to all of their holdings. Fantastic!

After noting their grant, Crilly opened her main talk with a basic summary of Boston’s historical Jewish communities. In 1649, Solomon Franco arrived in Boston, its first known Jew. In 1796, only one (recorded) Jewish family was living in Boston. In 1840, there were 40 (recorded) Jewish individuals in Boston, with a community forming in Roxbury (one of the towns that was originally independent but has been gobbled up by the City of Boston; more on that shortly). In 1843, they organized as a congregation in Roxbury. In 1844, they requested a Jewish burial ground, which was denied. Later in 1844, they bought land and got approval to use the land they had bought as a burial ground. In 1852, Congregation Ohabei Shalom moved into their first building in Boston’s South End. By 1895, the North End was home to 7,700 Italians and 6,200 European Jews, many from Russia and Lithuania. In the West End there were 6,300 Jews by 1895 and around 40,000 by 1910. The Jewish communities began to shift to Dorchester and back to Roxbury by around 1910. Most Jewish emigres were under thirty and single when they arrived, but most seem to have married quickly after arriving in Boston.

After this introduction, Crilly spent the rest of her talk detailing a variety of records held by the City of Boston Archives that are likely to be of interest to genealogists and local historians. The Archives holds a lot of Tax Records, including Real Estate Valuations, Street Books, Assessor’s Records, Personal and Property Tax Records (which go to 1962), and a Poll Tax on males over 18 (regardless of citizenship status) that was collected from 1822 to 1918. Tax Records are usually organized by Ward, so it is helpful to know the Ward at the time before you begin searching, as well as the street address if possible. They also have Tax Records for most of the City of Boston’s annexed towns prior to annexation. Roxbury and Dorchester, mentioned in the previous paragraph, are two of the several towns that were annexed by the City of Boston. Crilly mentioned during her talk that most of the annexed towns also deposited their other records with Boston upon annexation.

The Archives holds Naturalized Voter Indexes, for people who became citizens and needed to provide details of their achieving citizenship to be allowed to vote in the City of Boston. They also hold Voter Registers, which contain names of men only; some register books just list the country of birth, but others are more detailed. The register books also list the person’s age, height, and weight. They also hold separate Women’s Voter Registers that start in 1884, as women were allowed to vote in school elections (only). While the Voter Registers (of men) are indexed, the Women’s Voter Registers are not.

The Archives holds Business Certificates from 1907 to the present; earlier business records are in the tax records. They also have “DBAs,” which are “Doing Business As” Certificates, which include the owner’s name and address as well as the business name and address. They also hold Married Women’s Business Certificates from 1862 to 1974; they include the woman’s name, her husband’s name, the nature of her business, and the location of her business, and these are indexed. Crilly noted that a large proportion of the Married Women’s Business Certificates are for Jewish women.

The Archives holds a number of institutions’ records, including (?’s are where I didn’t take notes fast enough):

  • Almshouse 1853-1914
  • House of Correction 1848-1979
  • House of Industry 1858-1904
  • Marcella Street Home 1877-1898
  • Children’s Institutions Department 1898-?
  • Lunatic Hospital ?-?
  • Temporary Home for Women and Children ?-?

They also hold a collection of atlases, including Bromley Atlases of Boston from the late 1800’s into the 1900’s; the exact dates they hold vary by neighborhood.

The Archives also holds an extensive photograph collection, including (but not limited to):

  • Traffic and Parking Photos – 1948-49
  • ISD Takedown Photos – 1908-84 – the records of individual buildings that were taken down
  • Urban Renewal Photographs – starting in the 1950’s – photos of neighborhoods that were destroyed for urban renewal, including the West End and the “New York Streets Area” of the South End.
  • Landmark Commission Photos – begin late 1800’s and run through the 1900’s – already-digitized holdings include the North End and South Boston; their Roxbury collection will be going online starting this autumn.

The Archives has digitized over 3,000 images and placed them on the photo website Flickr.

The Archives holds a variety of School Records, including a wide variety of Student Records as well as a number of Teacher Records and Administrative & Building Records. Their School Records are only for public schools and only for Boston. The majority of the records are from the late 1800’s to the present, as well as a small collection from the early 1800’s. To access School Records, you have to fill out a form certifying you area descendant of the person whose records you are requesting, unless they are in the oldest portion of the record set, in which case the archivists may choose to allow you to view them regardless of whether you are a descendant. The Administration & Building Records include Manuals from 1869-1973 (with gaps), Building Photos, circa 1920-1960, and Publications.

The Archives also holds records of City Employees, 1905-1966 (plus one list from 1888).

Crilly then took numerous questions from the audience. Here are some of her answers: Yes, Poll Taxes included residents at hotels. Their website has a number of Finding Aids already on it, including for many of their institution records. They also have a separate website of “Web Exhibits.” On Tumblr the Archives posts a new document or image every single day. The Archives keeps all of their digitized photos on Flickr, and you can keyword-search their photos. They have two Ward maps from the 1840’s and 1850’s; the later Bromley Atlases also show Wards. Scott Andrew Bartley also did a list of the wards and how they changed, which Crilly said has been digitized. She didn’t know the URL offhand and to date I have not located it, though perhaps I have used the wrong web searches or perhaps it is digitized somewhere where search engines do not easily find it.

The City of Boston Archives section of the City of Boston website is here. The City of Boston Archives is also very active on social media, including a Tumblr account, a Twitter account (@ArchivesBoston), and a Facebook fan page, in addition to their aforementioned collection of digitized images on Flickr. For visiting in person to research, Crilly stressed to call in advance and make an appointment, as though they technically have hours of operation, the archivists sometimes go off-site to do things like take custody of records or advise other locations on record management. She also said that it is by far easiest to reach them by car, but that the 36 bus goes past their Roxbury building if that is one’s only option.

After the 5:00 pm lecture slot, some of us in attendance at the conference who had completed BU’s genealogical research program gathered in the hallway to chat and take a group photo. Some couldn’t make it to dinner, but others of us went out to eat together. Those of us that ate together then headed back to hear the evening klezmer music program, “Taking Extreme Measures: The Ongoing Rescue of Jewish Music,” with a few of us who were commuting in every day planning to leave the long evening program early. The auditorium was already packed when we got there, though the program had yet to begin.

The program was much more lecture-leaning than I expected from a music program which had been called a “concert” by some other attendees in advance, though the background information was interesting. The main speaker, Hankus Netsky, talked about some possible strategies for reintroducing rescued klezmer songs, one of which was possibly introducing them in schools. I thought of how, long ago, I had spent a semester of college living on a Reservation and I had been told about how someone had done all the work on compiling their native language 20 years before I was there, but no one taught it; it was just sitting in a cupboard in the Reservation school, and everyone on the Reservation spoke English. There are two steps to rescuing anything cultural – one is the vital task of ensuring that it is preserved, since there can be no further steps without that step having been done, but then there is also the important step of passing on what has been preserved so that it will continue to be a part of the culture or be reintroduced as a nearly lost part of the culture. Each culture has to choose for itself what the best way(s) is(are) to do that. My phrasing may make it sound like culture is passive – something that happens to people – but of course a culture is comprised of individuals, and in the end the individuals making up the culture are the ones who need to determine how to preserve and pass on their heritage.

When I noted that one of us had gotten so tired they had stopped being alert enough to clap, I suggested that those of us that were planning an early exit do so. I arrived home around 9:30 pm, needing to be back in time for the next day’s 8:15 lecture. Commuting to a multi-day conference is not for the faint of heart or, I suspect, for those that don’t drink copious amounts of morning coffee. Or maybe that last part is just me.

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Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference 2013 (IAJGS 2013) for the first time, held in Boston, Massachusetts, this year, very close to where I live. With over 1,000 attendees, it is the largest multi-day genealogy event I’ve ever attended, and also the largest IAJGS Conference so far. It is also the first international genealogy event I’ve ever attended in person. There were a lot of ways that it was different than an American genealogy event.

Three of the major differences bear noting immediately. One is that when registering you could request to have your self-chosen top surnames and locations placed on your badge, so that anyone else at the conference could read them; most attendees had at least a few surnames and/or locations listed on their badges. Another is that these lists were compiled into a book called “Family Finder,” along with the contact information of any attendee that didn’t opt out when registering, as well as a tiny section at the back for people that chose to list their haplogroup(s) from mtDNA and/or Y-DNA test results. This allowed attendees to make connections with people beyond running into them and happening to find out that they were doing some of the same research, and also allowed people to meet without having to stress about giving out contact information the first time or perhaps never meeting again. You just had to remember the person’s name or their location or some of their research interests to be able to find them in the Family Finder and contact them later. Additionally, the list of research interests allows people to go back and consult the Family Finder again if they find a new surname or location in their own family tree, another way it is useful beyond the immediate conference. And the last major difference is that the standard time slot for a lecture was 1 hour, 15 minutes, not the 1 hour typically allotted at American events, and that some of the multi-slot workshops were free, so that you could attend some of the workshops that took two time slots for no extra charge.

The conference opened on Sunday morning, August 4th. American genealogy events tend to start out with a keynote speech or another speech to all attendees, but this immediately opened with multiple tracks. I readily admit that a number of my sessions on Day 1 don’t really make for the greatest informative retellings (I realize in writing this post that I didn’t mention any of this day’s talks in my conference recap for my in-person genealogy group, though the only reason I didn’t mention the Holocaust research talk is because as far as I know, everyone doing Holocaust research who was at the meeting was also at the conference), but if you bear with me through today, I promise there is more information ahead.

Unsure what to pick first, one of my friends and I headed to Nancy Adelson’s lecture, “Jewish Genealogy Research Essentials Part 1,” billed as an introduction to Jewish genealogy. We had hoped it would specifically be an introduction to Jewish genealogy, but almost all of the lecture could be applied to any kind of genealogical research and was thus way too basic for us. Better titled “An Introduction to Genealogy Research,” most of the information in it will be familiar to anyone who’s read good advice to a genealogy newbie or advised one – start with what you know and the family materials in your possession/access; interview living relatives; from the beginning, keep track of your sources and put an organizational system in place.

Next we went to “The Old German Script of the 19th Century,” given by Gerhard Buck, a German. He had some clear difficulty lecturing in a non-native language (English) and was also trying to fit what he’d proposed as a two-slot workshop into the one-slot lecture that had been approved instead. However, I found the information in the workshop useful for reading 19th-century German handwriting, something that I am thus far not very skilled in doing. Much of it consisted of demonstrations of the standard way to write letters and various ways that might be found in practice, so I am not sure how to reconstruct what I learned here, where I can’t write longhand. There are numerous guides and self-tutorials interested persons can view online, such as on the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies website here [link to PDF]. What I found most valuable about the lecture vs. trying to self-educate is the variety of examples from records that Buck had collected in his decades doing historical and genealogical research and showed to the audience. As anyone who’s done research with documents written in old handwriting in any language knows, the way a letter was “supposed” to be written is not necessarily the way an individual actually wrote it, and an individual’s style can vary quite dramatically from what one might expect from guides.

The conference sessions started a bit later due to giving people who arrived on Sunday time to register, so this was the only day of the conference where we only had two sessions before the lunch break. During the lunch break we stopped in the vendor hall. A good number of vendors were packed into a very small space, and it was somewhat difficult even to navigate. There were several book vendors, some with bookshelves crammed with books, as well as a number of other vendors. The area outside the vendor hall had a couple of tables where authors, most of whom were also speaking at the conference, would be selling and signing their books for limited time slots on a set schedule. The area is apparently usually used as a coat closet, presumably for the nearby ballroom, as that’s what it was called on the schedule.

After lunch, we attended Hal Bookbinder’s “The Changing Borders of Eastern Europe.” Hal Bookbinder had been recommended to me as a speaker, and I wanted to attend some sessions specifically about Eastern Europe. I’m not really sure what to say about this session. Bookbinder used maps to illustrate the changing borders, and quotes to discuss various influential Russians’ opinions on Jews. While the information in the talk is good information to have, I’m not really sure how much of it I’ll retain on my own vs. having to consult something to remember, say, what country took over what part of what other country when. He mentioned that most of the maps he used in the lecture were from Atlas of European History, published by The Times [of London] in 1994.

After that I split up from the person with whom I’d attended the first three lectures. The SHARE Fair, a fair for societies, non-profits, etc., to have tables and answer attendees’ research questions, was running from 1:30 to 5:00 – rather inexplicably to me, nearly fully concurrent with the afternoon lectures – so they wanted to go to the Fair instead of attending one of the sessions in the next time slot. I decided to go to “245 Telegrams to a Wedding in Vienna 1907” by Thomas Fuerth. The description sounded fascinating, but to me the lecture wasn’t really about what the description suggested it would be. Much of the lecture was statistical analysis of various things about the telegram senders – such as where the senders lived, which side of the family they were associated with, and to whom they addressed their telegram – and only a few minutes was devoted to what I can only assume was the incredible task of the research involved in tracing the senders, which the description had implied to me would be a major part of the lecture.

I went from there to the SHARE Fair, where I ran into two people I know tabling for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, a group dedicated to monitoring and preserving records access in the state and the country as well as to a smaller extent internationally. After chatting with them a bit I wandered around, with stops including the tables of the Jewish Women’s Archive, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Britain, the Jewish NextGen Network (for genealogists in their 20’s through 40’s), and the Lost Shul Mural of Burlington, Vermont, where I chatted for a while with one of the people staffing the table. It was also her first IAJGS conference, and she seemed a little relieved to be talking to someone else for whom it was their first. I had no idea that there had been a Jewish community in Burlington at all, though some of my Christian relatives had lived there in the 1800’s. She told me that the other two people at their table would be giving a talk at the conference about Burlington’s former Jewish community and the mural. The staff unceremoniously began dismantling the SHARE Fair while I was still wandering around, as it turned out that ‘ending at 5’ meant they were supposed to be packed up and heading out at 5, for the room to start being set up for the next event.

So I went from the SHARE Fair to “Finding Information about Your Family in Postwar Resources at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum” by Megan Lewis, who is on staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She repeatedly mentioned during her lecture that many of the links/etc. that she was putting on screen were also in her handout, which I was glad for since I had missed the beginning of the lecture. The Museum has staff actively going to other countries to collect materials, and Lewis summed up, “It makes us a one-stop shop for you.” They have a tremendous amount of material, not all of which is in their (multiple) catalogs and only some of which has finding aids to date.

The impression I got from this talk and the talk by Lewis that I attended on a different day is that by far the best way to do in-depth research is to visit the Museum in person in Washington, D.C., and that if you do that, it’s by far best to contact them a minimum of a week in advance and tell them what you want to research, as much of their huge collection is in off-site storage and the staff also may be able to advise you of further records beyond the ones you have found in the catalog. However, if you know what you are seeking and are researching long-distance, the staff can do limited amounts of copying for you. One collection that Lewis stressed is extremely well-indexed is the oral histories conducted by the Shoah Foundation Institute, which are indexed by name, place, and experience. The catalog of these oral histories is online at vhaonline.usc.edu; you do have to register to use it, but registration is free.

Lewis discussed postwar newspapers as a resource, and mentioned that their collection is simply commercial microfilm of various newspapers and thus long-distance researchers may be able to find a closer location that holds the paper of interest or can order it. Most of the newspapers are in Yiddish. For years after the end of the War, many of the newspapers ran “pages and pages” of classified ads of people looking for their relatives. Lewis showed a couple of example classified ads and mentioned that after years of working on staff at the Museum, the ads still bothered her. An audience member asked her why. Lewis responded, “No one should have to place an ad looking for where their mother is.”

After this time slot, there was a dinner break and then the plenary session by keynote speaker Aaron Lansky and a dessert reception sponsored by Ancestry. Aaron Lansky has rescued many books of Jewish history. I wish I could say I had gone to the plenary session, but I had slept extremely poorly the night before and was feeling so awful I headed home. The session was supposed to be recorded (as a good number of other sessions were), but somehow the audio failed and it was not. I have been told by many people that it was absolutely fantastic and regret not being there to hear it.

Stay tuned for my post on Day 2.

The following (and final) paragraph is about me and some of why I attended IAJGS 2013, so please feel free to just skip it.

I was not raised Jewish, though there is some evidence that at least one of my lines may have converted from Judaism to Christianity after moving to North America, which was unfortunately rather common for families to do early on; however, that is a complicated question for some future potential post. I have many Jewish friends and doing research on some of their families was a good amount of the first pro bono genealogical research I ever did, many years ago now. At the time I had the skill set to confidently find information on their families in the U. S. A number of them know few specifics about their ancestry, and some are not even sure whether the relatives their families left behind survived the Holocaust and the War. The biggest reason I decided to take advantage of IAJGS while it was near me was to try to build up the skills to be able to provide more answers for my friends, especially by building up more skills in Eastern European research and Holocaust research. When Day 1 began, I felt somewhat nervous at being out of my comfort zone and felt worried that I may somehow unintentionally offend someone. By the end of Day 1, some of my nervousness had already begun to fade. By the end of the conference, I was very glad I had chosen to do something that was out of my comfort zone.

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This year for the first time I attended a full genealogy conference, the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC), held in Manchester, New Hampshire. [See my previous three posts for my three days there.] I wanted to take the experiences of myself and of people I knew there and met there to provide some advice for genealogy conference attendees. If you are an old hat at conference-going, these may seem basic to you; that’s OK.

My tips:

  1. Take along business-sized cards to give to people you meet. It doesn’t matter whether you are a professional in the industry or not; these are a fast way to ensure you are able to keep in touch with people that you meet there. I recommend that, at a minimum, you include your name, email address, and (if applicable) the URL of your blog and/or your other genealogical/historical website. Many people include such additional items as their phone number, their mailing address, and/or ways to contact them on social media. Some people compile a list of major surnames and/or areas of research and include it on their card, which I think is great, but my research is so scattered and the number of surnames I am researching so large that I personally would never be able to fit it all on a business card.
  2. Don’t hesitate to give your card or other contact information out the first time you meet someone in person. There were a number of people at NERGC for whom I did not do this, assuming I would see them again, but then I didn’t.
  3. Bring along some of your research for connecting with possible mutual researchers. This can be as basic as a brief list of the major surnames, locations, and time periods you are researching or as comprehensive as your entire computerized database on a device you have brought with you.
  4. Wear layers. While many advise that U. S. venues tend to run cold year round, in my experience at NERGC, some of the rooms were stuffy, some were chilly, and some alternated between stuffy and chilly depending on whether the air was on at any given moment.
  5. If you have a technology device on which you plan to take notes, bring a back-up pen/pencil and paper just in case. You never know when or how technology might fail.
  6. Circle your “must-attend” talks in advance, and then discuss the talks you are considering attending but undecided with others before and during the conference. There’s little better than getting a glowing recommendation for a specific talk or speaker from another attendee!
  7. Don’t be afraid to sit a session out. If there’s a time slot when no lecture seems compelling, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to skip a session to socialize, visit the vendor hall, spend time updating online, and/or simply recharge your mental and physical batteries.
  8. Keep in mind that the only way to be relatively sure (though still not 100% sure) that you will not run into others who want to talk is to completely leave the venue. A number of people I know who were staying at hotels in Manchester took breaks by literally returning to their hotel rooms. As someone who wasn’t staying over, I didn’t have that option. The one time I tried to find a quiet place to take a break by myself, in the most out-of-the-way spot I could find, I still saw several people I knew. Accept this as an innate possibility beforehand.
  9. Take as little along as you think you will need, but also be careful not to weed out too much. Someone I knew at NERGC felt they’d had too much in their bag on their first day there, and had taken a lot of papers out of their bag before their second day. They discovered after arriving at the conference that they had accidentally removed the schedule they had made for what they wanted to attend at the conference. They said with a rueful chuckle that their hotel maid would know where they had planned to be during each session that day.
  10. Bring along a reusable water bottle. Many people got very thirsty at NERGC, and the water dispensers kept running out of water. Others asked me to help, but a number of people I asked did not even know whether the venue or the conference was responsible for refilling them, and kept deferring me to others to deal with it. The easiest thing is to just have a reusable water bottle along so that you can refill it at a water fountain or sink and carry it with you.
  11. Bring your checkbook along. Most vendors at NERGC took personal checks and, at least at NERGC, many expressly preferred it to a credit card.

For those of you that have attended genealogy conferences before, what would you add to my list? For those of you that are planning to attend your first one within the next year or hope to attend one sometime in the future, what is going into your planning?

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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Like Friday (Day 2), Saturday (Day 3) consisted of 5 lecture slots, starting at 8:30.

I chose to begin my day with “Getting Ink on Paper: Publishing Your Genealogical Material in a Digital Age,” the other lecture Craig Scott gave at NERGC this year. [See my NERGC Day 2 post for some information on his French and Indian War lecture.] For those that don’t know, in addition to being a military records expert, Craig Scott runs Heritage Books, one of the major American reprint publishers. I was a writer and editor before I became a genealogist, and have attended several things on this subject, the most noteworthy being the 2011 session of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s course, “Writing Family History Narratives and Other Genealogical Works,” taught by Dr. John Colletta and Dr. Thomas Jones, and a one-day seminar on writing and publishing held by New England Historic Genealogical Society in 2010. However, unlike Craig Scott’s French and Indian War lecture, I did not circle this as one of my few must-attends as soon as I registered; the most compelling reason I decided to attend it was because he had been such a good speaker at his other lecture. My friend who went with me to this lecture has (as far as I am aware) never attended anything formal to do with writing, editing, or publishing genealogical works and for them, Craig Scott being such a good speaker seemed to be the only reason they decided to go with me.

Continuing from the previous day, we reserved our seats early to ensure we would have spots in the lecture. We knew from the previous day that Craig Scott opens the room to questions on any subject 15 minutes before his lectures officially begin, so though we left to walk around a bit, I suggested we return when I noticed it was less than 15 minutes before 8:30. Indeed, when we returned he was taking questions from the small number of people who were already seated, scattered around the largest room. He spent the longest time on a question about a birth certificate that the questioner reported has a father listed but not a mother. Upon Craig Scott’s questioning of the question-asker, this was ascertained: A child was dropped off at a state home at about 6 weeks old, and the birth certificate for the child lists the person who dropped the child off at the home as the father, but no mother is listed. Craig Scott asserted that the home, which the question-asker said was run by the state of Vermont, had filed a belated birth certificate to have all the paperwork in order. He also noted that while the birth certificate lists the man who dropped the baby off as the father, just because the man dropped the baby off, that’s not proof that he actually was the father, regardless of the birth certificate’s claim.

After the pre-lecture Q&A, Craig Scott began the scheduled lecture. In a lot of ways, this lecture complemented the genealogical writing course I took at BU, which I think is rather impressive given that that was an intensive one-week all-day course and this was one hour. Craig Scott recommended the same books as had been required in the writing course – Evidence Explained (and Evidence! if possible), Producing a Quality Family History, and Numbering Your Genealogy. He also recommended the unfortunately out-of-print Indexing Family Histories: Simple Steps for a Quality Product, which he said consequently sells for ridiculous sums online.

Craig Scott made a lot of succinct comments that I thought were noteworthy. For example, he said, “Quality research is, in my mind, defined as ‘when people read it, they agree with you,'” and if they don’t, you have to define who it is that agrees with you – are other researchers producing quality work the ones that agree with you? Another thing he said really stuck with me: “If you’re not willing to accept scrutiny, you’re not ready yet.” I know a lot of genealogists whom I’m as sure as I can be would produce quality work if they did produce work, but aren’t doing so yet. But maybe my favorite was, “Do you know how I spell a genealogy that has no citations? C-R-A-P.” – a quip which got a lot of laughs and knowing nods from the audience. He summed up the genealogical writer’s dilemma: Too few citations and it’s fiction; too many citations and it’s boring to most readers.

Do your best to strike the balance between history and your family – to put people in a place. More Craig Scott quotes: “Tell the story of your ancestors, not just their vital records.” “A book of family group sheets does not tell a story.” The more scandal and/or secrets about dead people, the more compelling the read. Craig Scott told a story about when he was a young genealogist starting out and found out via his research a secret about his grandmother’s family, and when he asked her about it, she said (approximately), “I’ve been waiting for someone to ask,” and gave him the details in exchange for the promise that he would wait to share them until after she died. Include as many pertinent maps, photos, and other illustrations as you can afford – and Craig Scott did stress the pertinent part. In his opinion, if there’s an illustration, it had better somehow relate to the story of the family, and you had better establish a clear relationship between any artwork and the person(s) to whom it relates. If an illustration does not help to tell the story, it’s irrelevant and should simply be left out.

Craig Scott went on to talk about the nitty-gritty of publishing: Marketing, book construction, publishers and printers, the market, and things like pricing. I will hit a few of the highlights here. Craig Scott stated that part of the market is people who have helped you put the book together (always collect names and addresses from them). A couple more comments: “Do you know when a book is most in demand? Immediately after it’s gone out of print.” “If their name is in the book, they might buy two copies – one for them and one for their local library.” (I can attest to having done this last one with books that mention an area and/or families I am researching.) He suggested putting out a newsletter for such reasons as helping get buzz out for the book, collecting more information and illustrations for it, and generating new content. He said to keep in mind that roughly a third of people who say they will buy a book actually do.

He suggested that every author give a pre-publication offer, announced about two months before the book is ready to be sent to the printer, which also is a month after the three-month time window that he suggests setting aside a book between writing it and sending it off. As he phrased it, “What I do when I prepare a book is prepare it and let it sit for three months.” (So you are setting the book aside, already finished but not yet published, and then one month after you set it aside, you begin offering a pre-order deal.) He suggests providing a discount of about 20% for pre-payment, and to be sure to provide a date when the pre-publication deal ends, which he suggests be about 30-60 days after the publication date. Don’t do any postage-paid orders; keep shipping separate. Also keep in mind that in some states in the U. S., shipping is taxable.

Craig Scott stressed that in this digital age, you have to print a copy of the book at least once to have copyright in the U. S.

Next up, I attended “Family History Resources in the Vermont State Archives” by Vermont State Archives Senior Archivist Scott Reilly. A number of NERGC’s lectures were sponsored by societies that co-sponsored NERGC, and this was the lecture sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Vermont. I had already had the pleasure of emailing with Scott Reilly several times, and he happened to be standing outside the room waiting for the previous lecture’s attendees to trickle out when I arrived, so I introduced myself and said that I didn’t know if he would remember me from our emails, and he sounded a bit surprised as he said that actually, he did remember me. I also noted that the volunteers with whom I’d chatted at the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s booth were in attendance at the lecture. I had pretty high expectations for this lecture, and it exceeded them all.

The holdings of the Vermont State Archives consist almost exclusively of public records, from circa 1760 to the present. There are very few personal papers or similar items. As in most locales, some public records in Vermont are ‘exempt’ from public inspection; in Vermont all exempt records are closed forever except adoption records, which are closed for 99 years. Scott Reilly mentioned at the end of his talk that one of the future plans of the Archives staff is to propose a ‘sunset law’ to the legislature, allowing more exempt public records to become open to the public after a certain amount of time.

Scott Reilly spent a while on an overview of vital records in Vermont. Vermont town clerks have been required by law to record births, marriages, and deaths (henceforth “BMDs”) since 1778. In 1857 town clerks were required to start sending a list of vital events to the office of the Secretary of State annually. These are bound into large volumes and available on-site at the Vermont State Archives. In 1908 town clerks were required to start sending monthly returns to the Secretary of State to create a card index. (These card indexes are probably familiar to researchers who have been keeping up with digitized Vermont records.)

In 1919 town clerks were required to transcribe all BMD records in the possession of the town and the churches, as well as inscriptions on gravestones in the town cemetery(ies), for all individuals who died prior to 1870; in Scott Reilly’s experience, some town clerks were more diligent about doing this than others. Scott Reilly explained that any card that has a cemetery listed lists a vital record that was transcribed from a gravestone, which I’d not realized before; this means that one of my ancestors had a standing gravestone a century ago, though a FindAGrave volunteer was unable to find an extant stone for me last year. My suspicion now – though he was not explicit on this part – is that for the other events where there are two cards, there were two sources in the town and the clerk copied them both; if so, this would explain why I have found the two cards to sometimes conflict or one of the two cards to have more information listed than the other.

The original cards are at the Vermont State Archives. There is an original card index covering c1760-2006. The bound annual returns submitted to the state cover 1857 to 1908. The Vermont BMDs are believed to be “substantially complete” post-1908; if you can’t find the event, it probably didn’t happen in Vermont and you should probably start looking in other states for it. But before 1908, you may simply have to start looking elsewhere in the state for the record. As regular researchers of Vermont may already be aware, Ancestry has Vermont BMDs from 1909 to 2008, and FamilySearch has the BMD card index from 1760 to 2003. So far, no post-1954 BMD cards have been indexed on FamilySearch, though you can browse them by image.

Scott Reilly then moved on to discussing local government records. The Vermont State Archives has copies of microfilmed versions of municipal and county records, which frequently date back to the organization of the town. Depending on the town, they can include:

  • Proprietors’ records
  • Town meeting records
  • Vital records
  • Church and cemetery records

Scott Reilly said, “If it [a vital record] wasn’t recorded in the town, it most likely wasn’t recorded.” FamilySearch has digitized some of the town record films, but has not indexed them yet; so again, you can browse the record set by image online.

Lotting plans divided land amongst the original proprietors (grantees) of a town. They sometimes include the names of grantees on the maps. A list of lotting plans at the Vermont State Archives is at http://vermont-archives.org/lottingplans.asp

Scott Reilly encouraged people to make use of civil and criminal court records. While he readily stated that Vermont court records can be tricky to locate and difficult to access, he asserted that they can nevertheless be a great resource. The first step is to try to identify the court where the case occurred. In Vermont records, all these heard different types of cases at different time periods:

  • Justices of the peace
  • County courts
  • Superior courts
  • District courts
  • Municipal courts
  • Vermont Supreme Court

Scott Reilly recommended calling a court to get advice on locating a specific case.

In Vermont, these types of cases were heard in probate courts:

  • Probate of wills
  • Settlement of estates
  • Adoptions
  • Guardianships
  • Name changes
  • Corrections of vital records

Prior to 2011, there were as many as 19 probate districts in Vermont, with several counties being covered by two districts. Now, each district covers one county. The Vermont State Archives holds microfilm copies of probate record books for every district up to 1850. They also hold up to at least 1945 for: Fair Haven (Rutland County), Windsor (half of Windsor County), Marlboro & Westminster (each covering half of Windham County), and Franklin (Franklin County). The Vermont State Archives also holds naturalization records.

The Vermont State Archives holds a number of records for public institutions, although not all records of them. These include records for many prisons, hospitals, and schools (except most of the town schools). Unfortunately for researchers, most information pertaining to residents of public institutions is ‘exempt’ from public inspection under Vermont law. However, registers of residents may be extant and available, so you may be able to get at least some summary information on your research subject. He also stressed that institutional records may lead to court cases. While he did not explicitly state so, I took from his not explicitly stating so that the court cases regarding institutions are public in Vermont. (I know from frustrating experiences in other states that this is not necessarily the case. In some states, the court case is closed to everyone, forever, regardless of whether the person is [even long] deceased, one’s relationship to the person in the case, or how long ago the case occurred.)

Institutions represented at the Vermont State Archives include:

  • Vermont State Prison: Registers and “description books,” from 1809 to 1975, are available to the public for research. They typically contain biographical information and information about the nature of the crime and the sentence.
  • Vermont State Hospital: The Vermont State Hospital suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Irene, and recently transferred their archives to the Vermont State Archives. Again, the registers are open to the public; they provide basic information on patients admitted to this Waterbury hospital between 1891 and 1969. Register information generally includes name, age, residence, date(s) of admission, and whether the individual was admitted by the state or was a “private patient.” State law permits disclosure of some patient information to “family members.” What this means is not well-defined by the law, so the Archives staff interprets it to mean relatives.

The Vermont State Archives also holds the Eugenics Survey of Vermont (1925-36). Because this was a privately funded organization, organized and directed by Henry F. Perkins, a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont, these records are not ‘exempt’ records like most medical-focused records. Included in these records are extensive pedigrees of many of the families that were targeted by the Survey. There are indexes to lists of informants at the Archives.

The Vermont State Archives also has military records, the Manuscript Vermont State Papers, and annual returns of divorces. Surviving military records are most complete from the Civil War onwards. Mary Greene Nye, the Editor of State Papers from 1927 to 1950, created a name and subject index to the papers, much to my endless delight. The Nye Index from 1760 to 1800 is available as a database on the Vermont State Archives website. Nye’s index goes to c1860, but the 19th century index is only available on-site at the Vermont State Archives to date. The Nye Index is a tremendous help; I really can’t even stress how much. For example, it’s greatly helped me in locating the Treasury Records for my Vermont American Revolution research that I mentioned in my NERGC Day 2 post.

The Vermont State Archives recently got a two-year grant from the grant wing of NARA (known as NHPRC) to do a County Court Records Project, digitizing three counties – Caledonia, Lamoille, and Orleans – from c1780 to 1945. They are about two-thirds done with the digitizing project at present, though there has not been any indexing yet. Scott Reilly and his fellow staff members hope this will serve as a model to digitize the other counties’ court records.

There is more available on their website – both databases and information – than what I have covered here. I strongly suggest anyone with Vermont roots check it out.

I thought this talk was so fantastic that not only did I give it high marks on the surveys we filled out at the end of every talk, but I mentioned it specifically in my general post-NERGC survey in response to the question about whether attendees felt that talks at NERGC 2013 had given them ideas for resources about which they had not previously known at New England repositories as an excellent example of a talk that did this. If you ever get the chance to hear it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

“Unopposed Exhibitor Time” was slated for the next time slot, followed by a lunch break. A few of us were already hungry and decided to eat lunch first, ahead of the rush, and then check out the exhibition hall. The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) has recently started posting blog post prompts for its upcoming conference’s registered attendees, and the first prompt was to blog on why to attend a genealogical conference at all. My Twitter friend Connie Forbis Yen (@SoulSister48) of the blog GeneaHistory posted her top four reasons in a post titled “Why Genealogy Conferences?”

I generally agree with Connie’s four main reasons – education, people, books, and research opportunities – and especially the first three, as the fourth depends so much on exactly where each conference is held. I have already spent much of my blog posts on NERGC discussing many of the educational opportunities I had at NERGC. As for research opportunities, the one that was stressed several times at NERGC was the French-Canadian library down the road from the conference site; so far I have no French-Canadian research, and if they had resources beyond that scope, no one specified so. But the other two reasons in Connie’s post – people and books – are ones that I have spent little time discussing here (primarily because I figure they are generally more interesting to experience than to later read about) but found very valuable at the conference. I had purchased some books from the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s booth on Thursday evening, and during my time in the hall on Saturday I purchased some more from another vendor. Here is one of the books I got Saturday:

photo of book

A book I purchased at NERGC: The Homestead Builder: Practical Hints for Handy-men by C. P. Dwyer. This is a reprint of Dwyer’s 1872 book, with a modern introduction.

The book shown above, The Homestead Builder: Practical Hints for Handy-men by C. P. Dwyer, was a how-to book for someone looking to build a homestead and its accoutrements, such as fencing. As the longest-time readers of my blog know, some of my family homesteaded in North America. The line with whom I started in genealogy came from Scotland to the Upper Plains of the U. S. in 1880 to homestead. The modern introduction of this reprinted 1872 book mentions that the book was available for sale in Europe as well as in the U. S. and Canada. While I cannot say for sure whether my Scottish emigres read the book before they left their old homeland for their new one, I find it interesting to know that it is a possibility.

As for people, it’s so difficult to describe what it’s like to be at a genealogy conference unless you’re actually there and also experiencing it. I already knew a good number of people at NERGC in person from the classes and events I have attended, the local group I run, the repositories I visit, and a variety of other means. I am used to strangers striking up conversations at genealogy and history events, but I discovered two things at the conference: First, a number of people I had not yet met in person recognized me from my online profile photos [hi, Twitter friends who were at NERGC!]; and second, since my name – Liz Loveland – is fairly unusual, a number of people I had not met in person recognized my name on my name tag from things like mailing lists. After the first day, I got used to people peering at my name tag before talking to me, and to people coming up to me expectantly when I did not yet know who they were. By the third day, I had gotten used to intending to do something – say, look through the vendor hall or take a walk to stretch my legs – and instead end up spending almost all of my time talking with people; even if a hallway, room, etc., was fairly empty, there was a good chance there would be people I knew nearby. It is pretty amazing, in retrospect, how many people I talked with at the conference – including strangers who struck up conversations.

After the lunch break, three lecture slots were scheduled for this last afternoon of NERGC. One of the people with whom I’d had lunch had attended a previous version of one of the first afternoon lectures, “Weaving Together New York’s Metro Area” by Linda McMenihan, PhD, and Jill Martin, JD, and recommended it when I said at lunch that I was considering attending it, so I decided to go to it. It was held in the same small room where the Vermont State Archives lecture had been; awkwardly placed up a small flight of stairs topped by a large landing near the hotel’s front desk, I don’t know how I would have found it if we hadn’t had the BU reception there on Friday evening and, after the conference’s hospitality desk hadn’t been able to answer my question as to where the named room holding the reception was, several of us had peered at the map until one of us had finally located it. I had to point the room out to a couple other attendees on Saturday, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if some people had intended to go to lectures held in that room but been unable to find it and simply given up.

As people came in, McMenihan and Martin passed out a double-sided handout literally full of URLs, explaining that they had compiled their syllabus submission several months ago and had waited to print the website handout that week to verify that the URLs were up-to-date. To me this was a good sign, as it showed that they were cognizant of a possible issue with a syllabus and thus probably experienced at speaking. So often I have returned home from an event excited to check out a particular webpage, only to discover upon typing it in that the URL had become invalid between the time the resource was compiled and the time it made it into my hands.

Each lecture at NERGC was introduced by a volunteer, whose styles varied from literally reading aloud from the sheet of recommended introduction points to simply saying something like, “I’m sure you’ve heard this all before, so let me just turn it over to the speaker.” For this one, we had the most comical one I heard at NERGC, who started out with asking who had been at the lecture where in his introduction he’d said that anyone who left their cellphone on during the lecture should be pointed at and called a fool. Several people raised their hands and chuckled, and I would soon discover why, as our introduction volunteer explained that the cellphone of that speaker, Steve Morse, had gone off twice during that talk, and consequently he didn’t want to phrase the cellphone comment the same way again. He went on to ask a number of obscure trivia questions about New York City, and at least one person in the audience knew every one well enough to quickly answer. “What are you all doing here then?” he finally (approximately) asked jovially, and then turned the floor over to McMenihan and Martin.

McMenihan and Martin started out by noting that New York City has been called the “fifty-first state” for research by some American researchers. They split their talk in half, each doing part of it.

1899 is the “watershed” year for New York City, when it became the five-part city we still know today. In 1899, there was a major centralization of records; most records created in the boroughs prior to consolidation were collected and taken to Manhattan to be held as New York City records. However, there are some “Brooklyn remnants,” as they put it: Brooklyn still has a separate library system and the Brooklyn Historical Society, originally named the Long Island Historical Society, is separate and contains a treasure trove for researchers of the area. New since my aforementioned lunch companion had attended this talk at a previous conference, McMenihan and Martin had added three of the surrounding counties – Westchester, Suffolk, and Nassau. Westchester County was home to some of the early Dutch colonists, and originally used the Dutch manor system in its land records. Suffolk County was an original county and primarily consisted of New England founders. Nassau County was formed in 1898 from Queens. They stressed that they had added information on these counties to their talk because there was a lot of migration between them and the five boroughs.

Many of the urban towns and cities began records as early as the 1850’s and 1860’s. (Clarification for New England researchers: Yes, for New York state, that is early.) As researchers of New York City are likely already aware, the older New York City records are held by the Municipal Archives. Recent/current marriages are at the City Clerk’s office. The New York City Municipal Archives does not allow photographing on-site. They recommended searching the New York City vital record indexes on both ItalianGen and GermanGen simultaneously through Stephen Morse’s One-Stop Genealogy Site.

There is a contract with Ancestry to put the New York State Index online. The counties surrounding New York City are part of the state vital records system, like the rest of the counties in New York state beyond the five boroughs that comprise New York City. The index should be going “live” later this year. It will be on Archives.com, one of the multitude of companies which Ancestry has bought.

Burials in Manhattan were banned after 1851. City residents used cemeteries in the outer boroughs and the suburbs, including northern New Jersey. Two major City cemeteries have records online:

  • Green-Wood, which has a database of names & plots
  • Evergreens, which has burials for 1849-1877 and 1942-present and is “actively filling in records in the gap.”

Prospect Cemetery in Queens was a colonial cemetery and there are transcriptions online. Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was another major cemetery but there is nothing online for it to date as far as the speakers were aware. New York City’s “Potter’s Field” (Hart Island) database quite recently went live; records from 1977 forward are searchable.

Probate record highlights: Kings County (Brooklyn) estate files from 1866 to 1923 are on FamilySearch. Brooklyn Genealogy Info GenWeb, a site they mentioned several times during their talk, transcribed early New York City wills. Westchester County’s website has some indexes/etc., and Suffolk County’s site has some for the early period.

They said that in New York City property records, you can often search by address, finding information on the home even if the family did not own it. During the periods of 1939-1941 and 1983-1988, New York City photographed every building for tax assessment purposes. My companion at this lecture and another person in the crowd knew that the latter ones had been put online, and mentioned so in the questions and comments period at the end of the talk. According to my companion, the indexing on these is a bit “funky” and you may have to try multiple search tactics, including possibly searching for another building on the block to find the one of interest. I do not know what the URL is for this photographic set. The website PropertyShark.com is a commercial site that covers all counties in New York state; you need to register to be able to use it, but using it is free once you do.

In answer to a couple of questions at the end, they provided these additional tidbits: Body transport records are extant and open for Manhattan from approximately the 1850’s to the late 1880’s, for both those bodies transported into and out of Manhattan. However, the body transport records are not even indexed, much less digitized. The New York Public Library has lots of old New York City area maps; some are online on their site, and some are only accessible on-site.

At this lecture, my aforementioned companion was someone who has a ton of New-York-City-area research and probably could have given the lecture, but said later that they had thought it was excellent, which I thought also spoke highly of McMenihan and Martin. In my summary of it, I have mostly provided information that I thought would be of general interest and have excluded a number of things I already knew quite well, partially because I did not take notes on the latter. Some of these resources that I didn’t mention are included in my blog’s “Resources (Free)” sidebar, with the ones they most emphasized in the talk being the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online and Old Fulton Post Cards, both of which are excellent newspaper sites.

Next up, I moved from one of the smallest rooms back to the largest room for “Researching a Community,” the second lecture I attended by David Allen Lambert, this one sponsored by NERGC co-sponsor New England Historic Genealogical Society. Quite the opposite of David Lambert’s lecture that I’d attended in a tiny room that Thursday (Day 1), the largest room was crowded with people to hear this lecture that had gotten rave reviews from folks who had attended it at RootsTech 2013. I spotted a good number of people I knew scattered around the large crowd, but I was happy with my seat close to the front and none of them chose to come sit with me. After three days of interacting nearly non-stop with other people, I readily admit I rather enjoyed sitting alone there, and chatted a bit with a few strangers sitting near me while waiting for the lecture to begin.

David Lambert discussed building an online community archive about a location where you live (or perhaps for one of your ancestral locations), using his own work building an online community archive for Stoughton, Massachusetts, for many of his examples. The basic idea is to utilize your genealogical research skills to create a site that will help researchers of a location where you live – wherever these researchers may be and regardless of whether you have any personal research where you live. It’s kind of like taking “doing more photos for FindAGrave than just requests” to a much broader level – and indeed, David Lambert mentioned that he had photographed all of Stoughton’s extant gravestones, put the photos on FindAGrave, and linked to them from the website he had built.

I did not take any notes at this session. Some of David Lambert’s suggestions: Check to see whether someone else has already started a project like this before you begin (don’t reinvent the wheel). Check to see what’s already been put online in disparate locations, and determine whether it’s done in a way you find useful, in which case you should consider simply linking to the item on the other site from yours, or whether there’s something about it that makes you feel it would be worth the effort for you to do it over for your site (e.g., poor quality scans or the information is organized in a way that doesn’t make much sense to you). Get to know your town clerk (in New England) or equivalent staff member elsewhere; if you find your town clerk to not be amenable to your project, try to figure out someone else “over their head” in the town government to whom you can pitch your project. Work with local historical societies, churches and other religions’ institutions, civic groups, schools, etc. See what projects got funded and/or got volunteers but never went anywhere and see if you can get permission to put them online; a couple of specific examples he gave were old cassettes sitting at the town high school from an oral interview project past students had gotten funding to do, and a church that has already scanned their records but not done anything with them beyond putting them on the church’s computer.

Repeatedly throughout the lecture David Lambert stressed the importance of being a sensitive content curator. If records are about people in the 1800’s or earlier, he advocated absolutely putting them online regardless of what secrets or scandals they might reveal. But if records are about people in the 1900’s and may contain information that the person does not know – say, a person in their 80’s may not realize they were adopted or ‘illegitimate,’ things which can plausibly be found in public records in Massachusetts (though in many states they probably would not be found in public records) – carefully weigh being kind against putting information that you found in the public domain online.

Another thing David Lambert stressed is getting to the original records whenever possible; the way he put it during one mention was that he always wants to get to the record that’s handwritten. He told an entertaining story about a prim person who had transcribed Stoughton’s very old church records and left blanks in what seemed to be the juiciest parts. While he guessed that, for example, many of the blanks were supposed to be the word “fornicate,” without the originals he did not know for sure. Some time after he started his project, someone bought the long-missing oldest church records at a yard sale (!!), and he was able to see the originals – and just like he expected, all the juicy parts had been clipped by the prim transcriber, and he had indeed guessed correctly that many of the missing words were variations of “fornicate.”

I found this lecture really inspiring and would recommend it to anyone who is considering a similar project. One of the towns in my area doesn’t have an active historical society and has no centralized online community archive presence (as far as I am aware) and hearing this lecture rekindled my long-time desire to do something about that. There are a few people with whom I want to check first to make sure that I’m not starting a project someone else is already trying to build, so far doing it out of sight.

My last choice for NERGC was difficult for me, with my top two choices being “The Symbolism on New England Gravestones: 17th Century to Present” and “Exploring Your Pioneer Valley Heritage.” I am very interested in gravestones and the history of their symbolism and of graveyards, and spend a lot of time in graveyards; and I have a good amount of research in the “Pioneer Valley,” which is the name by which a large swath of Western Massachusetts is known here in New England, though my biggest reason for considering the latter talk was that one of the allied families in the case study, according to the description and the syllabus, was the Sheldon family, which I am also researching.

In the end I chose to go to “The Symbolism on New England Gravestones” by Donna Walcovy, PhD, who used to be a professor and is now a professional gravestone restorer. She is also a friend of my Twitter friend and gravestone blogger Midge Frazel (@midgefrazel) of the blog Granite in My Blood, and Midge had introduced us that Thursday (Day 1). Many people have sympathized with my descriptions and/or photos of what I consider to be the deplorable state of the Old Burial Ground in Arlington (formerly Menotomy), Massachusetts, but when I met Donna and mentioned a bit about it, she was the first person to ever provide a concrete suggestion for something I could try. I don’t know whether it will work, as it will depend on whether Arlington is participating in something particular, but at least it’s a step I can take.

Donna was an extremely entertaining speaker, though as someone who has spent the last several years visiting cemeteries in my area of New England, with a concentration on the older ones, I turned out not learn much I did not already know. Donna said that she had included more of a variety of information in the syllabus than she was including in her talk because she didn’t have good enough photos for slides for some of the syllabus material and had prioritized including material in her talk for which she had good photos. I subsequently learned that two of the other people I know who have a lot of research in the Pioneer Valley did go to the other talk, and said they left it feeling confused about how the different families in the talk were connected to each other, so I’m glad I chose the talk that was entertaining.

I had considered asking my ride home that day if we could stop in the vendor hall before leaving, but when we left the last lecture, which was in one of the small rooms by the vendor hall, we discovered that the vendors had already taken down their booths and the hall was empty except for some scattered tables and dividers. So we simply headed home from NERGC, running into a few people we knew on the way to the car. It was strange to suddenly be done after three days of “rush, rush, rush” and “learn, learn, learn” and “people, people, people.” As a somber reminder of the area events of that week, as we got close to metro Boston on the highway, we saw a good number of police cars evenly spaced along the highway’s shoulder on the other side of the highway, all sitting silently with their lights flashing, their cars marking them as from a variety of different towns in the area. I would later learn that the MIT officer’s funeral was that day and that they had been there in solidarity. When we had been driving back the previous night, the highway signs on our side of the highway had warned motorists to check local media for the current situation in metro Boston. That evening, as we drove past the silent police cars towards the city, the highway signs thanked passing cars for the support shown to Boston.

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This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending NERGC. Thursday’s schedule was a bit slow-paced, but Friday’s schedule (Day 2) was jam-packed with activities.

On Friday and Saturday, the first lecture of the day started at 8:30. On Friday I first chose “Loyalist Migrations: Leaving & Returning to the States,” given by Chief Paul Bunnell, UE. For those that don’t know, Paul Bunnell has published several books on Loyalists as well as a number of other books. So far, my earliest immigrants to what eventually became the Canadian province of Ontario were Loyalists who left the rebelling Colonies behind. My family eventually came back to the States, but they left many of their relatives behind in Ontario, and most of the folks I’ve met through my research who are researching one or more of these same lines still live in Canada. Loyalists are still a hot topic here in New England after over two centuries, with some researchers whose family all stayed in New England and who believe all of them supported the revolutionaries becoming bitter any time any Loyalist who fought in New England is mentioned, so I had been pleasantly surprised to see on NERGC’s schedule that there was a talk on Loyalists.

I really enjoyed Paul Bunnell’s lecture. He started out with two statutes that were supposed to apply to Loyalists in the new States, one included in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and another passed in 1784. Loyalists were, for example, supposed to get their seized land and other seized property back. I knew from my research that this did not happen, and indeed, he pointed out that not a single state honored these statutes. Turning federal theory into local practice was apparently simply not possible for the young United States.

The thing that struck me the most was that though there were only approximately 3,000 Loyalist claims put in to the Crown, not all of which were approved, he mentioned that since he had started doing Loyalist research many years ago, the total number of Loyalists who left the American Colonies has been significantly revised upwards several times, to the point where it is now estimated to be around 150,000. With a staggering difference of 147,000, he advised that the some of the best ways to try to determine whether your research subject that moved to Canada was a Loyalist if there was no claim are to try to determine when they left the now-United-States, where they settled, and who settled in the same immediate area. He also suggested checking shares in ships as a possible record source for locating a Loyalist and finding associated people, as many times families and associates would all buy shares in one ship.

Paul Bunnell said that the fastest, easiest way to determine who settled in the same immediate area is through the maps of the initial land grants, but unfortunately, as he noted, these appear to primarily survive for New Brunswick. This is great for researchers of New Brunswick Loyalists, but many more people settled in Nova Scotia and the future provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Often people from the same original location in the Colonies and/or the same military regiment would settle in the same immediate area, and he has been able to use the New Brunswick maps to successfully track many people back to their origins in the now-States via their associates. As someone who tremendously loves maps anyway, I remain disappointed that there appear to be so few extant ones for the early European now-Ontario settlements.

Paul Bunnell stressed early and repeatedly that Crown land grants were not given out evenly nor fairly. The high-ranking military officials got by far the most land, and single white men and any black men (single or not, military or not) got the least, at only 50 acres per man, which was very difficult to successfully live off in most of the areas Loyalists settled. Due to this unfairness and other issues, there were a number of riots of white and black Loyalist settlers, especially in certain areas.

Paul Bunnell also noted that there were a number of Loyalists, especially elderly women, still alive in Canada in 1851, and should clearly be marked as “UE” (for United Empire Loyalist) on the 1851 census. After NERGC I tried this with the only one I personally knew was a possibility – the daughter of a UE who got a land grant for her family when the Crown started allowing children of Loyalists to apply – but her entry does not list her as UE. I don’t know if this is because technically it was her father who was UE, not her, or if it’s because the enumerator in this district seems to have been kind of phoning it in; for example, her birth place is only listed as “Cda” (standing for “Canada”).

Next up, I continued with the day’s “Military Track” by attending “Researching Your French and Indian War Ancestor in New England,” by Craig Scott, CG; the conflict that we usually call the “French and Indian War” here in the States is known in Europe as the “Seven Years’ War.” For those that don’t know, Craig Scott is an expert on military records relating to American conflicts, including colonial-era ones. I am generally interested in the history of this war that so impacted the New Englanders and New Yorkers in my tree and have also accidentally found numerous casualties of the Native American raids on colonists’ settlements in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s in New England vital records of the time period [the latter, though more closely tied to the earlier war generally known as “King Philip’s War” than the French and Indian War, is the subject of another draft in my blog files, hopefully to be posted here someday soon]. Additionally, I have at least one ancestor that local histories state was a soldier in the French and Indian War, but I have done very little research on his possible service to date. Consequently, this was one of the lectures that I circled as a must-attend as soon as I registered for NERGC. It exceeded my expectations.

Craig Scott set the stage for his lecture by showing a French map of colonial North America followed by an British map of colonial North America. The differences in their views, including the way they colonized a place, were more starkly illustrated visually than they ever could have been in words, and just looking at the two maps, it was apparent that there was likely to be conflict over the places these views overlapped. Craig Scott expressed the opinion that in retrospect, there was no question at all which of the approaches to colonization would win, and which of the societies would consequently become the permanent new settlers of North America.

Craig Scott went on to discuss some of the colonial wars in North America, putting them into two categories – wars exclusively with Native Americans, primarily over land issues, and wars between colonial powers, most of them starting in Europe. He stated that the French and Indian War is an exception to the latter category; it started here and ended there. While it is commonly called the French and Indian War here in the States, he generally referred to it as the Fourth Anglo-French War, and stated that part of the issue was that the Third Anglo-French War had never fully ended here in North America; though the French had stopped fighting in North America, many of their Native American allies continued fighting between the two “official” wars. In North America, the Fourth Anglo-French War was fought from Acadia (now Nova Scotia) to Fort Niagara down the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers in Pennsylvania and the South.

In 1748 the British Crown approved a 200,000 acre grant near the forks in the river where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stands today. Craig Scott argued that the French built their fort at now-Pittsburgh in direct response to this. The fort became one of the issues that led to war. Despite the war so impacting North America, he pointed out that most of the colonial fighting took place in the British Crown’s top-priority colony of India and that the last battle of the war was fought in Manila Bay. He mentioned as an aside that this same prioritizing of India would stretch the British military thin, causing the Crown to not send enough troops to quickly quell the 1776 rebellion in North America.

Troops fighting on the British side in the French and Indian War/Fourth Anglo-French War included the British Army, the Colonial Forces, two types of militias known as the Colonial Militia and the County Militia, Sailors and Marines, and Native American allies. The Colonial Militia was generally tasked with protecting the home front and had “no great interest in wandering far away.” Many in the British Army treated the colonial soldiers poorly.

The general guideline Craig Scott suggested is to look for possible service of any North American man of British descent who was between the ages of 18 and 60 during the war. No New Englanders successfully obtained bounty land from service in this war, so that would be a fruitless search. Because so much of the war was fought by New Englanders in New York, Craig Scott recommended the New York Historical Society Museum & Library as a good resource for those of us researching New Englanders who served in the war, as well as mentioning multiple times that the National Archives [UK] has a good number of records since anyone serving at the time was technically serving in the British military. He also advised researchers “follow the money” by utilizing treasury records, including people being paid for military service and colonists being paid for logistical support. I can personally attest to this as an excellent strategy; I have utilized treasury records extensively in my research of the American Revolution in Vermont.

My Twitter friend Beverly Hallam (@Beverly_H_) is the volunteer research co-ordinator for the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) and did some follow-up when I mentioned Craig Scott’s comments on the impact the Crown’s heavy military investment in India had on their global interests at this time. On FIBIS’s Wiki, she found some internal and external links on the Seven Years’ War in and near India, which you can read here.

For those of you that have never attended an American genealogy conference before, there are typically conference-sponsored workshops, luncheons, and dinners that cost extra to attend beyond the conference price and generally have a limit, after which further people are placed onto a waiting list. The luncheons and dinners are typically sponsored by a genealogical society, genealogical company, or similar. The only one I attended at NERGC was next up on my schedule – the Friday luncheon sponsored by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) and featuring Laura Prescott giving a presentation titled “Jousting with the Gatekeepers” of records. MGC is an umbrella organization whose primariy mission is working to monitor records access on a state and national level and, if necessary, to mobilize genealogists and others that need to access American records to support or oppose specific legislation.

This luncheon was a bit different than ones I’ve attended at one-day events in the past; they waited until about everyone had finished eating before beginning the presentation. After a brief introduction on what MGC does, the first speaker introduced Laura Prescott. I didn’t really know what to expect from her presentation, but much of it consisted of specific stories regarding people having anywhere from an incredibly easy to extremely difficult time accessing records in specific locations. This wide mix reflected my own experiences, and I’d imagine that anyone who has tried to access records in a variety of different locations has probably had similarly varied experiences. The talk succinctly illustrated how important the “gatekeeper” is to our ability to access records. Laura Prescott ended with some steps we can all take to try to keep the best access to records possible, including being ever-vigilant towards proposed legislation.

Our table was a mix of people I already knew and ones that I had not known before sitting with them. The couple that sat down next to me turned out to live in a town in Vermont where one of my lines settled in the late 1700’s, which is also next to a town where another line of mine settled around the same time. They had moved there from elsewhere and were excited to meet someone who has an ancestor mentioned in the tome* on the history of the town, though I suspect I was even more excited than they were at meeting people who live somewhere of research interest to me! Since NERGC, we have been emailing. (*You probably think I’m exaggerating, but it’s one of the books I jokingly keep in mind at the library as a way to injure an attempted attacker if it’s ever necessary.)

As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vegetarian entree was actually good. As a vegetarian I often find that at catered genealogy events, non-vegetarians take most of the vegetarian choice(s), for whatever their reason(s) may be, and that the vegetarian choice(s) tend to be rather boring and sometimes not very tasty. Thankfully for this luncheon you pre-ordered your entree when you registered, and were served it by waitstaff rather than the much more common self-catering.

On Friday and Saturday, the afternoon contained three lecture time slots, as it had on Thursday. On Thursday I had heard reports from people I knew that they had been unable to attend the lecture they wanted to attend because the room was full by the time they arrived, so by Friday I tried to make it to a room quickly to reserve a seat even if I ended up temporarily leaving between my first arrival and the start of the lecture.

My first choice on Friday afternoon was Steve Morse’s “Genealogy Beyond the Y Chromosome: Autosomes Exposed.” The largest room was crowded for this talk on DNA, showing the great interest in the subject that was also reported by people who attended DNA sessions at RootsTech 2013. Steve Morse made it very clear at the beginning that he was not a genetics expert, but rather a layperson interested in explaining the science behind DNA tests to others. Thanks to his clear, concise, visuals-heavy explanations tailored for fellow laypeople, I felt like I finally fully understood the science behind the autosomal DNA testing my family had done.

At the end of his talk, Steve Morse recapped the different kinds of testing currently widely available to genealogists. According to him, Y-DNA tests can potentially find both recent and “deep” cousins, mtDNA tests are primarily for finding “deep” cousins, autosomal DNA tests are primarily for finding recent cousins and/or testing amongst potential recent-common-ancestor relatives, and the tests that tell you your percent of each ethnicity are junk science that doesn’t really tell you anything.

In the last part of his presentation and again in answer to some questions, he stressed that you are at the mercy of the statisticians to match you and/or interpret your results; for tests where you are matching to recent cousins, it’s much more difficult for the statisticians to make an error that will significantly impact your matches, but once you get back to deep ancestry or if you are taking a test to determine your ethnicity percentages, it is much easier for a statistician to interpret your results in a way that skews your results and/or your matches. He also stressed repeatedly that because autosomal DNA changes with every generation, with potential significant differences even between full siblings, it’s not very accurate beyond about 4-5 generations at the way the technology stands today.

Next I stayed in the large room for Lori Thornton’s “Digging Up the Dirt on Your Farmer.” While I thought the lecture was interesting, it wasn’t what I expected from the title and description. Most of the highlighted records were ones that could apply to people in a variety of occupations rather than specifically applying only to farmers.

For me, my best takeaway from the lecture had nothing to do with farmers. One of the example record sets she gave was the Vermont Religious Certificates, which early Vermont required of Christians who were of other denominations besides Congregationalist, what the Puritan denomination had become over time. I had forgotten this record set existed, as almost all of my New Englanders were Puritans/Congregationalists. I have been trying for some time to figure out what church my great-great-great-grandmother attended at the end of her life; she mentioned it in a letter to her grandson using a church name that appears to have been colloquial, as I have not been able to use the name to successfully determine the church. I was briefly hopeful that perhaps this could be a source to utilize in my search, but unfortunately I later quickly determined that the certificates had stopped being required decades before she would have switched churches, and also that they often don’t mention the specific alternate church the person is attending anyway. However, it is good that I was reminded of the record set and it will now stick in my head as a possible future source.

I was somewhat surprised that when discussing land grants and homestead applications, Lori Thornton only mentioned the low-information one-page land patents that have been scanned onto the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office (BLM-GLO) site, but did not include information on ordering homestead or other applications, what the applications could contain, nor the survey maps that the BLM-GLO scanned onto their site a few years ago. I wondered if perhaps this was because it seemed from her presentation that almost all of her research was in the Deep South of the U. S., and in the federal land states in the Deep South the process was mostly a cash-entry land patent system rather than systems such as the land grants offered to veterans of the War of 1812 (or next-of-kin if they were deceased) starting in the 1850’s primarily in the Midwest and the homesteads primarily in the Plains and West that began via the Homestead Act of 1862. Cash-entry applications, such as those that were common in the South, typically are only a few pages long and typically contain almost no information on the research subject, though I have heard stories from other researchers about surprise gems found in those slim applications as well, a good reminder to never write off any record as automatically being useless in a search.

On the way home that night I asked the person with whom I was carpooling that day, who had been sitting with me at the farmer lecture, if they had checked whether their New Englanders who moved to the American Plains had taken out a homestead. They said they had not, and in response I detailed some of the information that can be found in the applications and they said that they had never realized how much information can be found in them and that they were going to investigate further. I readily admit that I am biased; homestead applications are one of my favorite American and Canadian record sets.

As my last lecture choice of the day, I continued with the previous lecture’s “Occupations Track” and went to Jayne Jordan’s “Indentured Servants in the New England Colonies.” She didn’t have enough handouts so I never received the handout of resources, and she had no working projector so we had no visuals for what she said was supposed to be a visual presentation. I left that talk not really having a better idea of how to research indentured servants than when I arrived. The primary benefit for me personally from that lecture is that one of the examples she gave was of a family that I’m as sure as I can possibly be from the given date and location was headed by a brother or first cousin to my direct line, but is a collateral line that I haven’t thoroughly researched so far. From the lecture I now know that at least according to her research, some of their children were removed from their home and placed into indentured servitude, which provides me with a place to start, even though I will have to figure out on my own how to do the research. She did not state whether she found the information on that family in original records or some other source.

I have had Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580-1865 by Christopher Tomlins (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2010) in my to-read pile for some time. Not having read it, I cannot tell you how good it is, but I can tell you that based on the index, there are many references to indentured servitude, including a number of specific references regarding the various English colonies, with the largest amounts being for Pennsylvania and Virginia.

After the last lecture of the day, I attended a private reception for alumni and teachers of Boston University (BU) Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research program. It was nice to see a number of familiar faces and meet some new folks. Around 50 people attended, though I am sure that there were more program alumni present at NERGC than at the reception. The NERGC Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were pushed back from their original scheduled start of 7:00 to starting at 7:30, so unfortunately I never made it to so much as the beginning of any of them.


My own experiences that day will probably go down as one of the strangest days of my life. We are of course always living future history, but at least for me, only occasionally does it really strike me that I am, at that moment, living history that will be remembered by many around the world.

I woke at 5:00 and turned on the news to discover that there had been a shootout the previous evening between the police and the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Shortly after I began watching the news, the authorities announced that much of metropolitan Boston was now in “lockdown” and the entire public transit system had been closed. I live a little beyond the lockdown area – about a 15-minute walk from the border of the nearest locked-down town – but my friend with whom I was carpooling that day called at 6:00 to say they were on their way and would call back if they encountered any roadblocks or other problems. We were able to make it up to Manchester, New Hampshire, with no issues, though we did see a good number of speeding, siren-blaring police cars zip past going the other direction while we were leaving the metro area. I would subsequently discover that the BU staff member who had coordinated BU’s NERGC reception was not present at the reception because she did live in one of the towns in the lockdown, so I was lucky to have made it there.

When I arrived at NERGC many people who knew me expressed happy surprise to see me there, saying, “I didn’t know if you were going to make it.” I often responded, “I made it here, though I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll be able to make it home tonight.” This was true; I knew it was possible I would have to spend the night outside the metro area, depending on how events unfolded that day. NERGC volunteers had printed out stickers that said “WE ARE BOSTON” for attendees to put on their badges and had put them at the registration desk. Before the first session started and during every break, a throng of people clustered around the hotel lobby’s television, perpetually on a news channel on mute, to see if there were updates, and in the hallways people often asked me if I’d heard anything new recently.

On the car ride home we turned on the radio and discovered that the remaining suspect had been located but not yet apprehended. Shortly after I got home authorities announced that he had successfully been apprehended. I was so busy all day that I did not get the chance to check Twitter until I was home, and many of my Twitter friends had expressed worry over the day. (Thank you all for your concern.)

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This past week, for the first time I had the pleasure of attending the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (known as “NERGC,” and pronounced sort of like “nerk”). NERGC is held every two years in various places in New England, mostly small cities. This year NERGC was held in Manchester, New Hampshire, about an hour’s drive from metropolitan Boston, and I was able to find people with whom to carpool each day.

NERGC opened with a first-timers’ session, which folks recommended I simply skip as they thought the information in it would be too basic for me. After the session I talked with another first-timer who did attend it and said that there wasn’t any useful-to-them information given in the session, so I was glad that I had decided to socialize instead. In the lobby of the hotel where the conference was being held, I met Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the well-known blog Nutfield Genealogy in person for the first time after meeting her online a number of years ago, and saw many other people.

Next on the schedule was what the program called the “opening session,” which was comparable to what many other conferences and events term a “keynote speech.” While I was waiting in the crowd to enter the big hall, another person waiting said that as of that morning, there were 863 people registered for NERGC. While as a first-timer to NERGC I don’t have a basis on which to compare this, reactions of others to that number and generally to the large crowds for the venue suggested that this was a lot for this conference.

For the main speech of the opening session, Sandra Clunies discussed the mill workers of Lawrence and Lowell, towns in Massachusetts that were built on the mill trade, spending a fair portion of her lecture on three specific example mill workers. As regular readers of my blog know, some of my family lived in Vermont starting in the 1700’s. One of my ancestors was born on a farm to a large family. My ancestor was the oldest child and stayed in Vermont, but his three oldest sisters sized up their options in the small, mostly rural Vermont community and decided to head to the booming mill towns around the time they opened in eastern Massachusetts. There is a very good chance that they were introduced to mill recruiting materials in their town and it is quite possible that one of the mill agents actually visited their town, as the agents knew that girls and young women from small farming communities were excellent candidates to recruit to mill work and traveled around talking with them and urging them to sign contracts with the mill they represented and leave immediately. [I have had a partially written post on his sisters and the mills in my blog draft file for months; hopefully one of these days I will finally finish and post it.]

Like one of Sandra Clunies’s three main example research subjects, my ancestor’s sisters made money and met husbands there. All three of his sisters married in Massachusetts and then literally went in different directions from there. I had hoped to gain new insight into the mill towns via the lecture, but as someone from one of the mill towns whom I met at a later lecture phrased it regarding themselves, “I already knew too much.” That’s certainly not Sandra Clunies’s fault.

For anyone who has an interest in the New England mill towns, I recommend reading Loom & Spindle: or, Life Among the Early Mill Girls by Harriet H. Robinson. I particularly recommend the revised edition that was published in 1976 by Press Pacifica. Future abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Hanson Robinson started working in the Lowell, Massachusetts, mills in 1835 at age 10, and Loom & Spindle is the memoir that she published decades later reflecting on her early life in the mills. Press Pacifica slightly revised the work based on notes in Robinson’s own copy of her book and added a succinct, informative introduction by Jane Wilkins Pultz that greatly helped me understand the mill girls’ politics and lives.

Next up was a break, for attendees to have lunch and for the venue to break the large hall where we had heard Clunies speak into smaller rooms for the afternoon lectures; at the end of the talk they requested everyone leave the hall so they could do just that.

After lunch I first attended Laura Prescott’s talk entitled “Spinsters and Widows: Gender Loyalty within Families.” The description led some of the other people I knew there to suspect the lecture would be too basic for them, and as far as I am aware, I am the only person I knew there who attended it. This was a shame, as I enjoyed it and did not find it overly basic. She started out talking about more and more American women waiting longer to marry starting around the mid-1800’s, and cited some specific examples of stories and songs from pop culture of the time period. This is something that I have noticed in my own research, but I had not heard the subject addressed in a genealogy lecture I attended before.

Laura Prescott then moved on to a variety of strategies researchers can use in researching the women in their families, including a variety of types of documents, websites, and repositories. I thought it was particularly interesting that she had found a document in a 19th-century American deed book wherein a woman who had waited some time to marry and thus accumulated some of her own belongings before marriage entered into a contract with her future husband, with a detailed list of a number of her belongings and a statement that these belongings were to be brought to a house secured by her future husband and his family in a specific town. Laura Prescott said she basically thought of it as an early prenup. I don’t think I would personally think of it in those exact terms, but I’m always fascinated to learn there is a record type of which I had previously been unaware.

The other thing I found most noteworthy about Laura Prescott’s talk was that she cited some examples of “spinster” being used in colonial documents to mean a woman legally acting for herself rather than the definition many of us most often encounter, a woman who has never married. When I heard it I didn’t remember ever hearing it before, though on the car ride home I was reminded that Melinde Lutz Byrne gave the same explanation in her National Genealogical Society Quarterly [U. S.] article on Zipporah and the headless baby. This is a good example that sometimes we just forget things! The article Laura Prescott suggested reading for more information is “Spinster: An Indicator of Legal Status” by Eugene A. Stratton, CG, FASG, in The American Genealogist 61:3 (Jan/Apr 1986).

I next attended David Allen Lambert’s talk titled “Massachusetts Native American Research.” Despite the schedule’s title, the description made it clear to me that this was not a general lecture geared towards learning how to research any southern New England Native American tribe, but rather a case study of the tribe known as the Punkapoag. I had already attended a talk of the former type at the Boston Public Library last year so I did not mind. I spent a semester of college living on a Reservation in British Columbia and traveling to other Native communities (or more precisely, “to other First Nations,” as it is phrased in Canada), and Native American tribes’ histories and cultures remain of interest to me. I found the lecture very interesting, though I don’t know how I would summarize it here. The audience for this lecture was one of the smallest of any of the lectures I attended at NERGC, which was too bad.

One thing that especially stuck with me is that David Lambert gave a few examples of people for whom he has only found one extant document for their entire life, and it made him wonder about all the people for whom he has not found any. This is something I think about a fair amount in my own research, especially when I am researching farther back in time and/or researching in frontier areas of North America.

The last lecture I attended on Thursday was Colleen Fitzpatrick’s “You Will Never Look at Your Old Photos the Same Way Again!” Forensic genealogy expert and retired rocket scientist Colleen Fitzpatrick gave several lectures at NERGC, and I chose to attend this one on using background details to help analyze old photos because I felt that it could be immediately useful in helping me to identify my old photos that have no date, no place, and/or no people listed. I was right.

Colleen Fitzpatrick successfully analyzed bits of background details that it never would have occurred to me to even attempt to do. My favorite example was her longest one, of trying to date a photograph of some men in a bar in New Orleans. She picked apart every background detail she could, including the cash register and the items on the wall, and when those didn’t successfully identify the date, she moved on to the items you could barely see outside the bar through the door, such as a car you could kind of see that she and the people she works with were able to identify as a particular type of Model-T, and the first manufacture date of the car gave a precise earliest date that the photo could have been taken. By the end of her work with the photograph, she was able to pinpoint the exact street address of the bar, the approximate date that the client’s ancestor took over the bar, the business across the street, and an approximately year-long time range when the photograph could have been taken.

In the process Colleen Fitzpatrick also found a number of background-information items that she considered interesting but which turned out not to help date the photograph. However, as she illustrated well, there is no way to know for sure whether something in the background of a photograph (or mentioned in a document, or…) will be useful in photo identification or other research until you do the background research and determine whether it is. This is very much the same way I work when I am researching so I found her process very easy to follow and understand. At the end Colleen Fitzpatrick took questions. Someone asked her what software she uses and she said that she does not use PhotoShop but rather freeware called IrfanView. I intend to try it out, but haven’t done so yet.

After the last lecture of the day, there was a structured hour-long break, followed at 5:15 by the “Society Fair & Social Hour” and at 6:00 by the opening of the “Exhibit Hall.” The Society Fair was comprised mostly of some of the smaller genealogical societies, most of them geographically- or surname-based. The vendors in the Exhibit Hall were primarily a mix of genealogical societies and libraries; genealogical services such as educational opportunities, websites, and professional genealogy companies; and private vendors selling such items as books and maps. Thanks to a tip from someone I know, I stopped by the Genealogical Society of Vermont‘s booth to check out the old books they turned out to be selling there in addition to their own publications. I ended up spending much of my hall time looking through their old books and chatting with the volunteers that were staffing their booth.

While we were chatting one of the Genealogical Society of Vermont’s volunteers told me a story regarding Vermont-born Chester Arthur, who was elected Vice President of the United States and then assumed the presidency when President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881. Arthur’s father had emigrated from northern Ireland to Canada, and their nuclear family had initially lived in Canada before moving to Vermont. Though Arthur was born after the family moved to Vermont, the question of whether or not he was an American citizen was a hot political topic during the campaign. The volunteer I was chatting with said that he had attended an event at Arthur’s historic house in Vermont where the staff said that having been unable to prove Arthur’s Vermont birth through vital records or other similar records, the staff had used state directories (small Vermont’s equivalent of city or county directories elsewhere) to prove that the family was residing in Vermont by the time Arthur was born.

I arrived home in metro Boston around 8:30-8:45 and was in bed by 9:30, before the shootout that night between the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and police in nearby Watertown, Massachusetts, had made the news, as I would discover very early the next morning.


Some Tangential Further Thoughts

I know that often people who don’t normally visit a blog will visit certain posts specifically to read about conferences and other special events, so I’m putting most of my personal reflections and more tangential thoughts on each day at NERGC at the end of the post so these visitors don’t need to wade through them to read the rest of the post. Think of them as paragraph-sized bullet points rather than a narrative. You are of course welcome to simply skip this section.

For those of you that have never been to a genealogical conference before, it can kind of be a bit overwhelming, with a mix of information overload and sensory overload. I had hoped to blog during NERGC about the conference, but found that I was just too overwhelmed and tired to do so. I apologize that this first post is being posted a week after the conference. I am working on drafts for my other two days at NERGC as well as a draft of some general food for thought about what various genealogy conferences are doing well and some ideas they could maybe take from the way other conferences do some things. I hope to post all of these within the next few days or so.

My Thursday afternoon lecture choices were ones I consider pretty safe. I had heard both Laura Prescott and David Lambert speak on other subjects in the past, and a number of fellow alumni of Boston University’s Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research Program had taken the Forensic Genealogy course that Colleen Fitzpatrick co-taught at Boston University last summer and raved about her teaching skills. Some genealogists I know prefer to stick to the well-known names in lecturing and teaching because they feel that guarantees a good lecture. But those well-known names became that way because someone initially gave them a chance. Personally I prefer to go to lectures by people I have heard before, speakers and/or lectures that are recommended by people I know, or subjects about which I am interested in learning more. This last one means that I have heard some dud lectures in my lifetime, but it also means that I have heard some gems where I was one of only a handful of people in the room.

One of my good friends says that there are two kinds of genealogists, the type that are interested narrowly and very specifically in genealogy and are only interested in  any history that they believe is directly applicable to their research, and the type that are also interested in history for history’s sake. As readers that are my friends and/or follow me on Twitter are likely already aware, I fall squarely in the latter category. I enjoyed David Lambert’s Punkapoag lecture for its own sake, but I can understand why attendance was small and most attendees chose to instead go to lectures that they hoped would directly* impact their research. (*Almost everyone I saw at NERGC seemed to be white, though of course I can’t speak to other people’s heritage nor research interests.)

As someone without a car, I am limited in what events I can attend by what is accessible by public transit or knowing someone with a car who is attending and willing to take me along. I count myself as lucky that I was able to carpool to NERGC this year and greatly thank those that carpooled with me and the additional person that offered to carpool after I had arranged all my rides.

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