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Busting Down Brick Walls: Organize Your Project (Part 1)

Every genealogist has a brick wall ancestor – that ancestor with the record trail that seems to just stop.  One of the keys to busting down that brick wall is to organize your project in a way that lays out what you already know about the ancestor, your research problem, and a research to-do list.  Having this summary and plan written up, will make it super easy to follow through and bust down those brick walls.

Busting Down Brick Walls: Organize Your Project

There are 7 steps to organizing your brick wall project:

1.) Write Down Everything You Know and How You Know It.  I prefer to do this in a timeline format – starting from birth and listing every event I have my ancestor until their death and/or burial.  Under each event, I list the source from where the information came from.  I also like to write a summary sentence or two about the weight of each piece of information.

A source is where you got the information from.  Original sources provide information that is not derived by another source.  Derivative sources, just as the name suggests, is a source that has been abstracted, transcribed, summarized, or in some way derived from another source.  It is usually best to see the original source whenever possible to be sure exactly what it says.  Derived sources like transcriptions and abstractions can sometimes contain errors.

There are two types of information that can be found within a source.  Primary information comes from records created at or near the time of the event with information by an person with close knowledge of the event.  For example, a birth record (unless it is delayed) will contain primary information about the birth of a child.  This information was probably provided by the parents that were present or the midwife/doctor that was present during the birth.  Secondary information is information found in records created after a long period of time has passed from the event or was contributed by a person who was not present at the event.

The complicated part is that one source may have multiple types of information within it.  For example, a death certificate is an original source with primary information regarding the death date and place, but secondary information regarding the names of parents and date of birth.  The secondary information will need to be assessed and it will probably be best to search for more records created closer to the time of the event.

2.) Identify the Problem: Now that you have a clear picture of what you know about your ancestor, it’s time to identify exactly what question you want to answer.  If there are multiple questions, list each one separately and clearly.

Examples: Where was George Monroe Rogers born?  What was the name of his parents?  Where was John N. Morris living during the 1900 census?  Did Adolph Doerflinger become a naturalized citizen?  Where was Julia Morris Rogers buried?
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Stay tuned for the next post in this series of blog posts about busting down your brick walls!

[Photo: Flickr User Jayel Aheram, text added by Elyse Doerflinger]

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Treasure Chest Thursday: Grandma & Grandpa Doerflinger’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Album

As many of you know, I’ve been slowly working on organizing my family history closet.  I’ve bought a few nice boxes for storage and been scanning lots of pictures with my Flip-Pal.  I’ve been categorizing the different pictures and taking assessment of what materials I still need to buy to complete the project.  It is slow, but I am making progress.

Family History Closet

This is my family history closet in my house. It looks pretty disorganized, but I promise you that it is better than it was a month ago. It is just a *slow* process.

I bought a large flat box to store Grandma and Grandpa Doerflinger’s 50th wedding anniversary album.  The album has fallen apart and I now have all of the pages.  Each page has a letter or card from a family member or friend with memories of my grandparents.  Nearly all of the pages also have photos to accompany the letters.  It has been so neat to read all the family stories and memories about my grandparents that I never met.

While putting all the pages in the box, I found the page my mom put together.  For today’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’ve decided to share the letter my mom, Sharon Doerflinger, wrote to my grandparents:

June 9, 1984

When I was a kid and other little girls were out selling girl scout cookies or lemonade from stands, I always felt alittle left out.  I wasn’t a girl scout and my lemonade left alot to be desired.  Dad caught on to this and came with the idea of opening up a roadside stand selling chayote squash.  He said I could corner the market and that the financial awards would be endless.  Squash?….. I thought my old man must be off his rocker, nobody eats squash, so why would anybody buy it.  Well, Dad persuaded me to do it, besides, the squash plant was taking over the backyard, and if someone bought it I wouldn’t have to eat it.  To my surprise squash eaters came from miles around to buy my squash, I was the most successful little sales-person on the block.  I made bunches of money, even ended up liking squash and learned that once again, Father does know best.

Before my operation, I was having alot of trouble with my leg  Every night around midnight I would wake up with the worst pain in my leg that would only go away if I kept moving.  So every night Mom would get up and walk me around the house for at least one hour until the pain subsided.  This went on every single night for three months and she never complained, she was always there, and when the doctors could find nothing wrong she never gave up until they found out what was wrong and corrected it.

Dear Mom & Dad,

There are just two of the many memories I have of both of you.  The memory I treasure most is one I can’t remember, although it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.  That is, adopting me.  In taking me into your home, you gave me the best darn Dad, Mom, sisters, brothers, and family anyone could ask for.  Thanks much.  Happy Anniversary, I love you both.

Love,
Sharon

Sharon Doerflinger's Page

Sharon Doerflinger’s page for Max & Margaret Doerflinger’s 50th Wedding Anniversary Album. Sharon (my mom) wrote a letter and included two family photos on the page.

The operation my mom is referring to above is the operation that removed the bone cancer in her leg.  When my mom was 11, she was diagnosed with bone cancer in her leg that required surgery to remove the cancer – and she had the 7 inch scar on her leg to prove it.

At the time, the doctors were not sure if they could remove the cancer without amputating her leg.  My mother, determined not to lose her leg, decided to run away from home with her niece, Carrie (who was 3 years younger than her).  My mom gathered most of the supplies (a bag of clothes and canned food).  Carrie’s only job was to bring the can opener from the kitchen.  Once everyone was asleep, the girls carefully crept out of the bedroom window and made a run for it.  They only got a few blocks away when they decided to stop, review their supplies, and discuss their next step – leading my mom to discover that Carrie had forgotten the can opener.  Carrie began to cry as my mom scolded her at their now ruined plans.

At the time, the girls had no idea that my mom’s big brother, Larry (who was an adult at this point), had heard the girls sneak out of the house and had stealthily followed them.  Calming the girl’s down, he escorted them home and never told my grandparents of their escape.

As you can tell, this album has given me some great family history stories to tell and I am loving getting it organized so that I can gleam even more family stories from it!

[Are you trying to organize your family archive of stuff?  I highly suggest that you get Denise Levenick's new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes.  It is AMAZING!  Denise is amazing!  Her passion for saving these the family "stuff" is infectious and the book is written in a way that makes you feel like she is cheering you on the entire way.  Plus?  The book sales will help fund the Winsor Student Genealogy Grant (of which I was a recipient of last year with A.C. Ivory).  So go buy it - cause I promise you that you will love it!]

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The Basics of Organizing Your Genealogy

Will the 100% organized genealogist please stand up?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Hello?

Organizing our genealogy and family history stuff is on everyone’s mind – especially now with the start of 2013.  But for most of us (except for maybe the total beginner), we have a lot of stuff.  Organizing all of this stuff takes a lot time and here are some reasons why:

  • You have to figure out what stuff you have.
  • You have to figure out how you want to store all that you have.
  • You have to figure out the best way to sort all of this stuff so you can find it.

Since getting organized is a big project (and something that will require your continued attention), I will be creating a video series to walk through the process of getting organized.

The first video covers the absolute basics – so watch it below!

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My 2013 New Years Resolution

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It’s Nearly Christmas!

Every family has traditions that are practiced every holiday season.  Things like baking, spending time with family, the food that is eaten, the decorations that are up – all of these things are time honored traditions.

One of the traditions that I have is getting sick.

That’s right.  You read that right.  Every single Christmas from the time I was 2 until I was about 8 was spent with me being sick.  Since then, I’ve traded off, sometimes being sick during Christmas and sometimes I am sick the week before or after.  But it just wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t get sick.

So I leave you with this photo of myself taken on Christmas morning of 1992 – taken shortly after I woke up to find Santa had visited and left me lots of presents.  My parents tried desperately to get me excited, but all I wanted to do was curl up with my blanket on the couch with my new doll and go to sleep.  In fact, I only opened this one present and left the rest until that evening.

Elyse Doerflinger, Christmas 1991, with doll

Elyse Doerflinger, Christmas 1991, with doll.
Copyright: Elyse Doerflinger

As the year comes to an end and many of us celebrate various holidays, I wish you all a wonderful season full of love, good company, and good food.  Happy Ancestor hunting!

 

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Why Join a Genealogy Society?

A few days ago I wrote a Some Thoughts for the Genealogy Societies in the World.  I’ve given genealogy societies some words of advice, but I think it is time to discuss why you should join a genealogy society.  These are my reasons for joining a genealogy society:

  1. Social Networking: While I love keeping up to date with all of my genealogy buddies on Facebook and Twitter, it isn’t the same as in-person socializing.  I crave social time with people that get the whole, “I search for dead people” thing.  I don’t just want someone to have a conversation with (although those are nice) but I want someone I an truly call a friend.  Someone who I can take field trips to libraries and archives with.  Someone to share a hotel room with during conferences.  And someone to get together with and talk about our latest research struggles.  I want a genealogy social life and a genealogy society is the best way to create the social life.
  2. Education: I am always looking to learn about other resources, methodologies, and technologies to help me research my ancestors.  Genealogy societies not only have members with knowledge, but also bring in speakers or conduct classes.  Sometimes they release newsletters with lots of good educational information or articles to learn from.  Some societies even host webinars to bring in speakers from all over the country (and the world).
  3. Access to Stuff: Lots of societies have a library that sometimes requires a small fee for nonmembers to research.  Being a member of that society can give you free access to the library.  Some societies also offer at-home access to subscription sites so you can do research at home in your pajamas.
  4. Support History: Sometimes, it makes sense to join a society because you want to financially support the cause of the society.  Many societies are doing projects to preserve and record the local history – without these societies (and your financial support), the local history could be lost forever.

Those are my 4 reasons for joining a genealogy society.  Why do you join genealogy societies?

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Some Thoughts for the Genealogy Societies in the World

Here is a bit of a confession: I’m not the only 20-something genealogist out there.  Surprisingly, there are a bunch of “younger” genealogists and family historians out there – I get comments and emails from them on a regular basis.  But the one thing I’ve noticed we all have in common?  We’re all pretty darn shy when it comes to actually going to a genealogy society or conference.  So how do you pull us out of our shells?
Here are my words of advice based on my own experiences and thoughts:

1.) Please don’t look at me like I’m a lost child that wandered into the wrong room.  No, I’m not lost.  Yes, I mean to be in here.  No, I was not dragged here against my will.  Yes, I actually want to be here.

2.) Don’t assume my grandparents (or other older relatives) are alive.  Some people my age are fortunate enough to have their grandparents still around.  However, I’m not one of them.  My mom was the youngest child in her family and was the last of her siblings to have children.  My maternal grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather died shortly after.  My dad is also the youngest child of his family.  However, both of my paternal grandparents were alive when I was born.  Around my toddler years, my grandmother developed dementia and died in 2002.  My grandfather lived across the country and although it was his refusal to tell me anything about my family that got me interested in genealogy, he died in 2003.  So no, I’m not so lucky in that department.

3.) Please don’t assume I’m a beginner.  Often times when I walk into a new genealogy society or library, people assume I’m an absolute beginner.  I’m not saying I’m Elizabeth Shown Mills or anything, but I know my way around a pedigree chart.  Instead, ask me how my research is going.  Ask me where I’m stuck.  Ask me about what kind of ancestors I have.  Then offer me help or just let me enjoy the company.  We got something in common – let’s chat!

4.) Have a website, blog, and Facebook account.  I want to keep up with the happenings of your society and these are all easy ways for me to do it.  Keep me updated and informed, and I’m more likely to be there.

5.) Have an open mind.  I don’t expect every person in your society to be the most tech-savvy person on the planet.  All I ask if that when I mention a technological something (like DropBox or Facebook) and look at me like I’ve just spoken in Chinese or something.  Instead, ask me about it.  I swear, I won’t bite.  I won’t get mad.  I won’t think you’re stupid.  I want to share.  I want to tell you about it.

6.) Have a Decent Tech Set-Up: I understand that technology costs money and right now, the last thing any society has is money.  But, having a decent tech set up makes a speaker’s life so much easier.  And when you have great speakers who can easily show off their lovely presentations, then you have happy attendees.

7.) Don’t let my age define me.  When I went to SCGS’s Jamboree for the first time, I kind of became a legend to attendees.  On the last day of the conference, a woman walked up to me and excitedly introduced herself.  She added that, “It really is true!  There really is a young person here at this conference!  There’s been rumors going on about you the entire time but I just didn’t believe it!”  At the time, it was cute and flattering and kind of embarrassing – I was just happy that people were accepting me.  But now, I want to be judged and valued based on my knowledge, on my personality, on who I am and not hold old I am.  I get it – it’s so exciting to see a 20-something at a genealogy society or library.  I know that I’m young enough to be your daughter/granddaughter and how much you wish one of your family members would catch the bug like I have.  But once that excitement settles down, would you mind actually getting to know me and judging me based on that?  Cause I want to get to know you too.  I want more genealogy friends – people that get that I would rather go to a cemetery or spend an entire day in a library than go to a bar on a Friday night.  We already go so much in common – so let’s be friends!

So that’s my list of advice for genealogy societies hoping to attract a bit of a younger crowd.  Got anything to add to the list?  Pop it in the comments section.

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Cousins Bring Treasure: Finding a Photo of Matilda Clawson

In the last month or so, I’ve been so fortunate to find about 3 new cousins from 3 different lines.  And all of these cousins have amazing research to share and lots of stuff that I’ve never seen before.  I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot in the lottery.

One of my wonderful new cousins has shared with me a picture of my great grandmother, Matilda Clawson.  I’ve never seen a photo of her before.

Left to Right, Standing to Sitting: Fate Clawson [Male], Matilda Clawson, Walter Clawson [young boy], Polly May Clawson, Robert Dayton Clawson (baby), James Clayton Clawson (baby). 

Having this photo of Matilda Clawson is even better because she has been such a source of mystery for me.  Ten years ago, while visiting my grandfather in Tennessee, I asked him to tell me about his mother – Matilda Clawson.  He instantly tensed up and didn’t want to talk about it.  At the time, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to talk about her.

As I started to fill in the family tree, I learned that Matilda died on 8 August, 1935 when my grandfather was only seven years old.  Losing a mother at such a young age is hard enough – but the wound only because bigger when his father quickly remarried.  The remainder of his childhood was difficult – he became a rebel and as soon as he was able, he joined the US Navy and left home.

Matilda Clawson was born on 21 March 1886 in Tennessee (probably Carter county) to James L. Clawson Jr and Edna Jane Vines.  She married Monroe Dugger around 1908 and she died on 8 August 1935 in Carter county, Tennessee.

I am just so overjoyed to have found this picture and finally put a face to my great grandmother, Matilda Clawson.

[Photo sent to me by email by Lincoln Clawson]

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Getting the Next Generation Involved in Genealogy Societies

Here is my latest video and it is all about how to get the next generation involved in genealogy societies.

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The Genealogy Generational Disconnect

Recently, there was a post on the Transitional Genealogists Forum from a young twenty-something genealogist that has sparked a lot of great conversation.  If you haven’t read the post yet, you should read it here.

Reading about Eva’s experiences as a young genealogist, especially her experience while at NGS this year, I realized how much I can relate to her.  Her experiences sounded eerily similar to my own and I could definitely feel for her.

I was very lucky with my first conference.  Going to SCGS Jamboree in 2009 was a wonderful experience and nearly everyone I met was kind, funny, knowledgeable.  People were certainly surprised that I was there but no one made me feel as if I was not knowledgeable about genealogy simply because of my age.  People remarked how shocked they were that someone my age was here and many people wanted to know why I was so interested in genealogy.  Many people wanted to quiz me on how to get their own children, grandchildren, or other young family members into genealogy.  Only one person choose to question my knowledge and practically treat me like someone with a complete lack of basic US history knowledge – and while I was polite, I quickly got away from him.  But perhaps the positive conference experience was based on the fact that this conference was practically in my own backyard.  Or maybe it was the fact that this was the first time I met so many bloggers in person – therefore, I already had a group of people behind me and cheering me on.  Or maybe it was just that all of that didn’t phase me because the conference was just so much fun.

However, at other genealogy events, I have not been so lucky.  My local society held a genealogy meeting one month that I decided to attend.  From the moment I walked in the door, people treated me like a complete newbie.  It wasn’t that it bothered me that people assumed I was a total newcomer to the genealogy world – but it bothered me that after I showed my pedigree charts and my notebooks and had a few discussions and yet, still, they treated me like a total newbie.  The whole event was honestly embarrassing and made me never want to come back.

But fortunately, most people haven’t been that way with me.  In fact, I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to be welcomed into the community with open arms of love and acceptance.  I don’t feel that anyone looks down on me or questions my skills.  People have loved me for the crazy, loud, Energizer Bunny kind of person I am.  I’m out there in left field a bit and wearing a tiara for most genealogy events.  And yet, everyone accepts me for exactly who I am and my knowledge.

The reason why?  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I “knew” a lot of these people before I went to conferences or went to genealogy events.  Thanks to my blog and social media, I already have a bit of a social media family.  I knew so many genealogists before I had even met them in person.  There were no awkward meetings – in fact, meeting everyone for the first time felt like I had known these people forever.  We instantly connected, instantly had stuff in common and to talk about.  We knew each other’s research interests and could relate to one another.  It was wonderful and I’m so grateful for the technology that made it possible.

So my fellow genealogists – how do we help bring out these young kids into the world of genealogy?  The young research set exists, hiding away from the crowds and just lurking on the web.  What can we do as a community to get more people like Eva out in the open and comfortable?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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