Friday, June 23, 2017

Facing Those Uncomfortable Facts

There is one hazardous fallout from the spring-cleaning approach to genealogy: every once in a while, "duplicate" files turn out to be two separate individuals with similar names and dates. Those of you researching those ubiquitous Irish couples, say, John and Mary Kelly, whose sons all dutifully named their firstborn sons after their father—and all at the same time—know exactly what I'm up against.

Since my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, line is riddled with circumstances producing similar results—in that case, something I've dubbed "Endogamy-Lite"—I've had to face up to some duplicate entries in her family tree. Still, I have to tread carefully through that list of potential duplicates. Sometimes, those "doubles" turn out to be separate individuals with very similar life scenarios.

Yesterday—still hunkered down in front of my computer as an escape from the heat wave bearing down on us outside—I ran across that very problem. I had been working on my mother-in-law's Gordon line because, well, lots of duplicate entries. I ran across two entries for a Gordon descendant named Mary Frances. Both showed dates of birth in 1884, and dates of death in 1963. Both were Ohio residents.

One of the entries for Mary Frances Gordon showed her marrying a man named John Patrick Hennessy. The other entry had the husband's name as John P. Hennessey. Each one of those Mary Frances Gordons were listed as daughter of Thomas—only in one record, the name was Thomas R. Gordon and the other record showed Thomas V. Gordon.

This was clearly a case of duplicate entries. With, perhaps, a case of a hard-of-hearing census enumerator to top it all off.


Of course, now that I've asked that rhetorical question, you know the answer isn't necessarily a slam-dunked "yes." That would be too easy.

The one stumbling block was the mother's name for each of those daughters named Mary Frances. One mother was listed as Elizabeth McCabe. The other one was identified as Elizabeth McCann.

Close. But not exact.

Back to the drawing board. I can't simply assume I made a transcription error. I'll have to pull out all the old documents and re-examine to see where I went wrong. Then, because each Mary Frances was only one of several siblings, I'll have to re-sort the whole family unit to make sure the right children are aligned with the right parents. Worse, since each of those children include records of their own spouses and subsequent descendants, I've got a long trail of names that will require meticulous attention to sort out properly.

Our simple (and well-intentioned) genealogical tasks can sometimes inadvertently end up with mistakes which can echo down through the generations. Better to take some time on a regular basis to double check what work has already been done. Sometimes, we've placed the wrong grandchild under the wrong John and Mary Kelly. Or Mary Frances Gordon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Double, Double

Toil and trouble: removing the list of duplicates from a ten-thousand-plus family tree. And a tree like mine is bound to have duplicates, if it's a tree with intermarried branches.

Every now and then, I remember the need to go back and review my family trees for duplicates. After all, if I'm dealing with a family where cousins married cousins—albeit in the distant past—I will eventually run into branches which were, in reality, branches I've run into before.

That's the case with my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, family. Not that we're Ashkenazi Jews. Or have Cajun ancestry. But Perry County has its own kind of intermarriage. I call it endogamy-lite.

So, from time to time, when I get on a genealogical organizing kick, I remember to check the full listing of all people in my mother-in-law's tree on What I'm looking for are duplicate entries on that master list—those double entries where the names I entered when working on one side of the family show up in the work I then do for the other side of the family.

This can be tedious work. First I pull up the "list of all people"  tab on my Ancestry tree, then start scrolling through the universe of names, letter by letter, stopping when I find two in a row of the same first and last name. I wish there was a quicker way—some magic button which scans for consecutive entries containing the same name.

Granted, some of those duplicate names belong to father and son duos, for neither of which I've managed to glean any other telltale clues—like dates or places of birth or death. Still, each of those pairs need to be individually inspected for other similarities. Some—a significant enough number to make this pursuit worth my time—turn out to be exactly that: duplicates.

And so my tree shrinks by a small percentage each time I trim these two-headed twigs. It's yet another way I try to check for accuracy and prune those superfluous entries—something I've dedicated this week of outdoor extreme heat to doing, safe inside where I can enjoy the air conditioning. I can safely say this is one tree trimming exercise not many genealogical researchers ever need to do—except for those whose tree contains a good number of intermarriages among the same families. See what small, closed communities can do for your genealogical pursuits?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Taking Those Hints

Sometimes, when faced with an enormous task, the easiest way to start take the easiest way.

Since I've decided, during this sizzling summer week of stay-inside warnings, to go back to each of my family trees and spruce things up a bit, I climbed right up before thinking about organizing strategy. Now, at least, I'm realizing I need to grab some well-thought-out tactics for my approach. Why? Because I'm faced with a sheer mountain of shaky-leaf hints. Thousands of them. Attacking this problem one ancestor at a time will not bring about a quick resolution.

That was the way I was handling this project yesterday. It made sense at the time, since the two trees I was working on had such a small universe of entries. But I have two more trees to handle, and each of them claims upwards of ten thousand individuals. This calls for working smarter.

This, of course, is not a problem peculiar to my research alone, of course. I see by a recent letter to fellow genea-blogger Randy Seaver that others have complaints about keeping up with that constant barrage of oncoming hints. Seems every time another Ancestry subscriber gloms on to the same photograph being circulated among distant cousins, the hint pops up on each one's tree. And so, we enter a realm of perpetual genealogical Whac-A-Mole, deleting the hint once again in Sisyphean despair.

While there may be no escape from this dilemma, there is a shortcut to its resolution: head straight for the tree's drop-down menu and select "All Hints."  Then, systematically choose subcategories, such as "photos" and click "ignore" for each one you wish to poof into oblivion.

There is a caveat to this solution, however. It seems the faster you work, the more likely it is that the mechanism will choke up and simply refuse to cooperate. I've had to approach this task in waves, working through pages and pages of hints until the system insists I have no more hints to remove (clue: there are), then clicking over to another task and returning in a few moments, when suddenly, more hints are released from their cyber-cell to face my ruthless delete button.

Gone, with that determined effort, are the well-meaning comparisons to family trees of other researchers, the photos of distant cousins, the cute little avatars hobbyists like to use to decorate their trees—Confederate flags, maps of the counties of Georgia, DNA double helix sketches, banners that proclaim, "Second cousin twice removed." Poof. And poof again!

The sad part is that they will almost certainly be back, tomorrow. Reincarnated, re-issued, or whatever "re" the case may be, those genealogical dingle balls and gewgaws will surely reappear in my hints list as soon as someone else thinks they're cute, or useful, or who-knows-what-else...and adds them to her tree. Right on the spot for a person who just happens to also be in my family tree.

And the whole scenario will repeat itself all over again.

In which case, I've learned to wait a few months before attempting to clean house once more. After all, there will surely be another heat wave hit here before the summer is out; I'll need something to keep me occupied in air conditioned comfort then, as well.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When It's Been Too Long

I love genealogical research, so it's no surprise to discover how time flies—after all, I've been having so much fun traipsing after my recalcitrant ancestors, I've hardly paid any attention to how much time I've devoted to the effort.

When I determined to use the time this week to go back and spruce up my genealogical database, I had no idea how long it had been since I last passed this way. There was a time—apparently longer ago than I care to remember—when I could keep it straight in my mind just who populated which lines in my family tree. Not so, anymore. After all, who can recall ten thousand family names? (And that's just for one side of the family.)

To my dismay, I discovered yesterday that the reason I can't remember as many names as I'd hope is that I haven't run across some of them for years. Perhaps decades.

I decided, since I've been so remiss in working on our family's two paternal lines, that I'd begin my genealogy clean-up with the lines of my father and my father-in-law. Call it penance, prompted by Father's Day.

Now that I've rolled up my sleeves and begun applying the elbow grease to this effort, I've made a discovery: when you've not only done genealogical research for years, but for decades, you miss all the new stuff that has popped up in the meantime.

Like the 1940 census. Oops.

Yes, it's been that long since I reviewed some of the branches of my father-in-law's tree. Even I was surprised to discover that. And if that was missing from my documentation, you can be sure there have been many other records which have since been digitized and added to the holdings at and which I have yet to add to the people in my family's trees.

I have a long row to hoe, ahead of me.

Above: "Kahaluu, Kaneohe," oil on board by English-born American painter residing in Hawaii, Helen Thomas Dranga (1866 - 1927); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, June 19, 2017

No Hot Prospects

There's a heat wave coming our way. The weatherman has promised us a high of 111 degrees later this week. I don't know about you but my strategy, in withering heat, is not to go out and attend to my garden. Nope, you can be sure I'll be parked inside in the welcome air conditioning—and probably in front of my computer.

Perhaps this is the season which shapes up to be the genealogical equivalent of spring cleaning. I've already come to the end of a few surprising family history stories—and believe me, those critters don't show up easily on my research doorstep. I've wrapped up those projects, but haven't yet found any tantalizing new ones to share.

Sometimes, the lull in research excitement is the perfect time to dig in and clean up the mess from past frenetic genealogical endeavors. No more travel for a while, either, so I'm home to stay focused on the Great Big Genealogical Cleanup.

Only problem is: no great chance for exciting headlines here. Just the grunt work of cleaning up. Still, it helps to focus on the reward ahead. Just think of how good it will feel (I keep telling myself), getting those files organized. I can clean up duplicate entries, marrying parallel lines of identities which turned out to be one and the same person. I can seek new hints for old, old entries, since is always adding more records. I can correlate my more recent collateral lines with searches in newspaper databases to see if I can glean additional information on family members, besides the usual BMD routine.

All for well over twenty thousand people.

Ready? Let's begin.

Above: "The Jonquils," from a painting by American artist Childe Hassam reprinted in The Booklovers Magazine in 1904; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Seeking a Father's Fathers

The other day, my brother posted a family picture on his Facebook page, asking if anyone knew the identity of one particular ancestor. The photo showed a family grouping of my father and his sister when they were kids. It was a dress-up photo, and my father was the only male in the group—thus the likely explanation for the iron grip my grandmother must have had on his shoulders.

My grandmother and the only other woman in the photo were wearing outlandish hats, likely the type in style during that early 1900s era. Everyone was looking quite smart, including my father—the poor little guy who probably couldn't help it, anyhow.

There was only one problem with that picture: who was the other woman? According to the cousin who long ago shared the photo with the rest of our family, the woman standing behind my aunt was someone known to the family as "Aunt Rose." A designation like this prompted both surges of interest and simultaneous groans of frustration; this Aunt Rose was connected to the paternal side of the family, and yet my paternal grandfather always insisted he was a lone orphan. So how did he manage to come up with a sister?

It's been years since I last tackled the question of just who Aunt Rose was. It's also been years since I made any progress with that pursuit.

Since today is Father's Day, I thought I would do penance and try to work on my father's family line, since I've made near-zero progress on it for longer than I care to remember. I tried my hand at it for days leading up to today, yet made little more headway than I had done in prior years. His is an immovable brick wall, it seems.

Still, there are corollary lines which did yield some slight movement, so I've been able to add to the number on my dad's family tree. I'll take any progress I can—even if it is only seven additional names. With that improvement, I celebrate a miserable 410 people on my paternal family tree. Perhaps today would be the ideal moment to work on that situation further.

Equal time for my father-in-law's tree: that one has had zero progress in the last two weeks, still holding at a count of 1,187.

Worse, as far as the mothers' lines are concerned, I've been trying to artificially control the research race by concentrating on my mother's line, since it is so easy to make progress on my mother-in-law's line. For my mother's tree, the count is now 10,358—an improvement of 157 individuals' new records in the past two weeks' work.

Still, it pales when comparing to my mother-in-law's tree, where the count is 11,511. I couldn't help myself; without even trying, I found thirty nine extra people to add to her tree. It's just so easy to research this woman's heritage. It seems as if all those ancestors just knew I'd come looking for them. Who knows? Perhaps they were all just naturally cooperative people.

The men in our family's life, though, do not seem to follow that favorable pattern. Either following the most circuitous of immigration patterns or wishing to cultivate an aura of mystery, the men in my father's and my father-in-law's lines have certainly put me through my research paces. Still, it sure would be nice to honor these fathers of centuries past for Father's Day—if only I could figure out who they were!

Photograph, above: Providing a glimpse of the mysterious "Aunt Rose," this family grouping sporting their outrageous fashionable hats included my father as a young boy, at some time between 1910 and 1915, along with his younger sister and their mother. Aunt Rose is the woman on the left.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Off the Shelf:
Real Artists Don't Starve

I admit it: the book I want to talk about today is a title published just this month. Deviating from my original intent for this column—returning to my bookshelves to actually read those books purchased with good intentions, months ago—after this week's discussion here at A Family Tapestry, I couldn't help but mention this new release.

The author, Jeff Goins—who by now is billed as a "creativity expert"—has in his several previous books touched at least tangentially on the writing life. Though he co-opts the term "artist" for this latest release, Real Artists Don't Starve, the subject he covers largely applies to writers as much as any other creative.

The gist of the book is that choosing the path of the creative—writer, artist, actor, dancer, musician—does not doom one to a life of financial insecurity. He offers a sequence of five strategies for allowing that creative spark to thrive, coupling that with not only historical examples but current-day case studies. And yet, he encases the whole plan within the caveat: working at your craft will be more likely to see success if the approach is slow and steady.

Many of the tidbits of advice are infused with earthy practicality. "You become an artist because you decide that's what you're going to be," he flatly states, "and then you do the work."

Going back, time and again, to that slow and steady theme, he observes, "Most significant change begins with a simple step, not a giant leap."

And again, "Doing something so small and gradual that it almost looks like you're doing nothing—often leads to much more sustainable success" than the flamboyant leap of faith into the realm of your creative passion.

These are not beaches once reached that require the boats to be burned behind you. In Goins' book, this is more like sidling to the edge of the pool and nonchalantly dipping your big toe in, just to check out the water before making any further moves.

In that sustainable one-step-at-a-time approach, it calls to mind one aspect we've been discussing this week: persistence. Only in Goins' book, that persistence can take a shape so small, it shrinks from the mammoth and impossible, and morphs into the infinitesimally do-able. Something so minute that, with modest commitment coupled with the passion to see it happen, we can do this.

There's much more to Goins' plan, of course. That's just the initial realization—the encouraging door opened to bid you come further inside. Once he gets deep within his five step analysis, you begin to realize this writing life does require effort—perhaps agonizing effort. You know an honest assessment must always include a full disclosure, and Goins delivers:
Art is always found on the fringes, at the edge of our discomfort where true change occurs.

This, of course, is true of all learning. When we move from what we confidently know to that realm of skills we haven't yet accomplished, we enter a state of disequilibrium. An unfamiliar point requires us to stretch, if we wish to succeed at a new task.

Of course, while we see ourselves as those concerned with family history, the vehicle we use to transport our ideas and stories is none other than the skill of writing. And that skill can always use improvement, which is why I like to keep an eye on books with solid advice on how to better craft this blogging work.


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