Tuesday, July 31, 2012

FGS2012 Brainstorming Sessions

This is the first in what might be several posts I write about the upcoming 2012 Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in Birmingham, Alabama, August 29-September 1, 2012.

FGS just announced the upcoming brainstorming sessions on their blog. These classes all happen on Society Day, which is Wednesday, August 29. All the sessions on that day focus on society issues such as membership, publicity, fundraising, etc.

Last year's brainstorming sessions were such a hit that they're back for another round. I love this style of session because the audience is the teacher. We all come together as a group and pool our collective wisdom. What works for your society? How can I fix this in my society? It's like having many experts for any given question.

Here's the lineup for the August 29 brainstorming sessions:


Programs and Education
Facilitators: Sue Tolbert and Cindy Foreman

Websites and Social Media
Facilitators: Linda Woodward Geiger and Bruce Buzbee


Recruiting and Managing Volunteers
Facilitators: Paula Stuart-Warren and Pat Oxley


21st Century Marketing
Facilitators: Thomas MacEntee and Amy Coffin (no, really)

Modern Publication Options
Facilitators: Lisa Alzo and Polly Kimmitt


State and Umbrella Society Issues
Facilitators: Billie Stone Fogarty and Diane VanSkiver Gagel

Doesn't that sound great? I'm a little bummed that I'll miss Modern Publication Options, but that's ok. I can't wait to help facilitate a discussion on 21st century marketing for genealogy societies. Bring your questions and ideas and we'll have a good (and productive) time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chaparral Genealogical Society July 2012 Meeting Recap

On Saturday, I went to the July meeting of the Chaparral Genealogical Society. My pal Caroline Pointer was there, too. We were well behaved. I promise.

The business part of the meeting was pretty short. It was announced that the group has 97 members. There was some good news concerning the relocation of the society library and possibly the meetings, too. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to share, since it's not technically public, but the news was very encouraging. Stay tuned for more details.

Celeste Graves was our speaker. Her talk was called "Magnolia Memories" in reference to Magnolia, Texas.  I don't think Ms. Celeste would mind me telling you that she's 93 years old, though she looks much younger than that. She brought along a presentation full of photos and she added information from her own memory for each one. 

This was one of the better talks of the year. It was so nice to hear about the local history from someone who has lived in the area for over 90 years. She named all the buildings in the photos and told stories of some of the people, too. Good stuff.

After the meeting was over, a party of 16 headed over to a local Mexican restaurant for a meal and conversation. We talked about genealogy and the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics.

The next meeting of the Chaparral Genealogical Society is Saturday, August 25 at 10am, on the 2nd floor of Amegy Bank (use the elevator), 28201 Business 249 in Tomball, Texas. I don't remember the name of the speaker but he will be talking about the history of the Texas flag. Let me know if you're going and I'll save you a seat. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Lynn Colbert Williamson

July 22, 2012 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Lynn Colbert Williamson. He was the middle child of Dr. Sam Williamson and Frankie Jones. Lynn's younger sister was my grandmother. 

I only met him 2 or 3 times that I can remember. The first time was when I was 4 and the second time was when I was 19, and then maybe another. He and his wife lived in Texas most of my life, while I was in California.

Lynn grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma. He married the girl across the street. They had one son.

Lynn and his son, about 1940

Lynn was in the oil business. As with many people in that industry, he and his family moved often and all over the place.

Lynn, his mother, his sister (my grandmother), his nephew (my dad)

Lynn looking sharp during his oil days.

Lynn retired in the 1970's and moved to Houston. He played a lot of golf and was an active member of the community.

This looks like Pebble Beach to me, but I can't confirm it.

In the 1980's, Lynn was struck with Guillain–BarrĂ© syndrome and essentially paralyzed. He eventually walked again with the aid of a walker but never fully recovered physically. Mentally, he was sharp as a tack. When his legs quit working, he took to writing on his typewriter. 

Lynn wrote about his life and his family. I am lucky to have copies of many of these pages, as he is one of the only people in my family to record history. I have few papers.

What I remember most about Lynn was his positive attitude. It was more than just being happy. It resonated from him. He wasted no time feeling sorry or sad. He was truly grateful for life. 

When I talk on this blog about living each day and building memories with your family, it is because of the writing Lynn left behind. Life really is short, and you must treasure it. If you spend all your time dwelling on the negative things, you'll completely miss out on what's important.

Happy birthday, Lynn. Hope this crew is throwing a party for you:

The Fearsome Foursome:
My grandparents, Lynn and his wife Imogene

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Library School Taught Me About Genealogy

Amy Johnson Crow wrote a blog post about her job and the general perception of librarians in the genealogical public. I've been meaning to write something along the same vein for a while now. Her post makes a good jumping off point and this is a fitting opportunity to add to the discussion.

I share Amy's frustration in the labels people place on each other, including generalizations and perceptions of librarians' purpose and value. Librarian doesn't always equal book shelver. Often they deal with the organization and classification of information and all facets of a user's experience (you = user). In fact, many MLIS (graduate degree) programs are moving away from "library school" and instead switching to "i-school" where the "i" stands for information. There's a lot of information out there and more is being generated every day. Today's MLIS students are studying ways to create it, save it, organize it, share it, access it, preserve it and make the entire process easier for users.

Each library school/i-school graduate takes a different path to meet different goals, but they share many of the same skill sets which are used in various aspects of the workforce. I'm going to tell you what I learned in library school and then you can see how it has helped me in genealogy.

Building a foundation
In my program, there were three introductory library fundamentals classes all students were required to take. This is where I learned how to define a research issue/question and plan the steps to solve it. I also learned how to search for and retrieve good information and omit results outside of my intended search, This comes in very handy in genealogy and helps me use my time efficiently. I also learned to analyze different types of information and determine which would work best for a given information issue.

I'm "special"
With the prerequisite classes under my belt, I concentrated on my selected Special Librarianship track. I've always been interested in research in a corporate setting and the rest of my classes reflected that. I had units in patent searching, competitive intelligence, market research and more in order to give me experience searching many different types of subjects. I use these skills today when I research the family history field including searching the genealogy business market, recent records and living people.

Fear no citations
You can run, but you can't hide from source citation manuals. My program used the APA Publication Manual. I wasn't a fan of APA. However, it did give me a greater appreciation for Elizabeth Shown Mills and her contributions to genealogy. I don't fear Evidence Explained at all. I'm just glad it's not APA.

Records management
You have files. Lots and lots of files. And books, and images, and journals, and maps. You get the idea. How do you organize those? How to you ensure that they are preserved in current media formats? How do you decide if and when to thin the collection? These are some of the things I learned in my records management class. This knowledge has helped me immensely in one of my current client projects which includes the organization of thousands of family history digital files.

Writing and more writing
I had to write a lot in library school, but it wasn't as awful as it sounds. It's very easy to write when you enjoy the subject matter. In my last assignment for the program, I had to take a position and bring the facts to back it up. I went against the status quo and introduced a new idea in library services. It was a risky position because my paper was being judged by faculty and I needed to "pass" this pass/fail grade to graduate. All the research and writing skills I picked up in the program must have worked because I passed and didn't get any negative feedback.Years later, this experience gave me the skills I later used for my ProGen proof argument and many other instances where I had to make a statement with my writing.

Search way beyond Google
My favorite classes were "Online Searching" and "Advanced Online Searching" taught by one of the foremost leaders in this industry. I love, love, love the search process: deciding what to search for, how to tell the database what you want, and how to get only the results you want without the unnecessary results. In these classes we had free access to some fancy tools and normally expensive subscription databases. Imagine being charged for each result you get in a search. You learn very quickly how to be specific and thorough in your search. I learned how to play in the parts of the Web that Google doesn't cover and to search databases filled with incredible information to which most people don't have access. It was so much fun and I learned such valuable skills in these classes. I don't know of a genealogy education program that teaches the research skills I learned, though they would be valuable to know. I'm very glad I got this experience in library school as it has been essential in my daily genealogy work. 

All the little extras
I also had classes in reference, systems analysis, government resources and a seminar pertaining to special libraries. They might not sound exciting, but when you love research like I do, they were very enjoyable. Plus, most of them offered skills or information that translated easily to genealogy resources.

Information abundance
I really did enjoy graduate school because it was all about information. The assignments were flexible, so I had the choice to study different kinds of libraries and analyze many types of collections. This has helped me immensely in working with genealogy collections and determining the best online and print resources for whatever project is on my table. 

I didn't go to library school specifically to do genealogy research. I originally trained to be a general business researcher in a corporate or independent setting. Life is funny, however, and I found that I enjoyed genealogy more than the other subjects in my wheelhouse. The rest is history.

If you've read this far, I thank you. Often my info-nerd talk elicits blank stares. However, Amy's blog post and my similar observations compelled me to share how my own library school experience shaped the genealogy work I do today. 

I was very impressed when Archives.com brought Amy Johnson Crow on board. The same with brightsolid's acquisition of D. Joshua Taylor. These companies know the value of good MLIS-packing talent when they see it and their user experiences are better for it. Librarians and other information professionals do so much more than shelving books and their value is found in many places including but not limited to traditional libraries.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ode to the Railfan: a Different Kind of Family History

This blog has been a tad quiet this week, mostly because of family things. Yesterday was a full day with my railfan. We went to one of his favorite local spots for train viewing: the Rosenberg Railroad Museum.

The museum backs up to three train tracks and sees lots of train action during a given day.

The best viewing spot (according to my railfan) is the ramp of the museum's caboose exhibit. It's a real caboose that was made in 1972, the same year I was born. That makes it about 29 years old, right?

This railfan is a pro. He has a scanner programmed with radio frequencies so he knows when trains are coming. Then he shoots video of them for his YouTube channel, where he has made connections with other railfans.

Talk about serious, this railfan even wears the company clothing. BNSF needs to hire this kid.

While the railfan filmed outside, I sat in the air-conditioned caboose with my iPad and book. It's like it was made for the parents who  play taxi to their railfans.

The final tally was eight trains and eight train videos. The railfan considers this a success. What I find even more of a success is that he has a passion and is actively pursuing it. We should all take a page from the railfan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What I Scanned

Each week I drive across town and scan someone else's stuff as part of a larger family history project. Here's a description of what I scanned this week:

One folder included documents and photos pertaining to the 1947 Texas City explosion. The family in these files lived in Texas City at the time of the disaster. Right after the explosion, the family headed to a relative's house in Houston for shelter. They took some photos of the black smoke over Texas City as they drove away. I digitized those and tagged them.

Another item I scanned was a Western Union telegram sent by the family to their relatives up north. This was an era with limited news resources and before television on wide scale. To hear on the radio that an explosion killed hundreds would worry anyone. This family wanted to make sure their relatives knew they were ok. The telegram said:

"All unhurt and at Houston house / damaged home / terrible explosion."

I just can't imagine how terrifying that must have been. 

When the family returned to their damaged home in Texas City, they drove around town and took more photos. The black and white set included images of damaged buildings, houses off foundations and blown tanks. If you didn't know the truth, you'd think these were tornado photos.

The next folder I scanned included an interesting set of letters. One of the subjects in this family graduated from college in 1940. In 1947, one of the classmates wrote to others in the class and asked them for updates on their lives, families, etc. That person collected all of the letters, typed them, stapled them together then sent booklets to each member of the class of 1940.

My task is to scan, but I couldn't help but read these letters as I was scanning them (thank goodness the scanner is slow). What made these "where are they now?" vignettes so special was that between graduation and adult life, there was World War II. 

Most of the letters had updates that were influenced by WWII. The former male students served in the military, and the former female students married men who served. Almost all of the updates included descriptions of base locations and relocations. After the war and in 1947 when they provided updates, these Midwest college folks were spread all over the country, and on all coasts. Did the war do that? If there hadn't been a war would they have stayed closer their Midwest college?

This was such a unique and interesting document. My description doesn't do it justice so you'll just have to trust me. Everyone has a story and each one is fascinating.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Twitter's New Simpler Search

Twitter recently unveiled an improved search experience. It didn't make giant news in the genealogy community, but it is worth a brief mention.

The challenge in searching Twitter has always been Twitter itself. The microblogging site is an excellent source for things happening now, though the ability to filter results or search in specific parameters was--to use a scientific term--really wonky.

What's new? Twitter explains it best in their blog entry titled "Simpler search." Spelling corrections (auto-correct), related suggestions, and results from people you follow are all in the mix.

For example, when you search for a specific term now, you can filter your results by "top" results (as determined by Twitter), all results, or people you follow.

These are great options if you want to find information on a specific term, person, company, location or more. All of these apply to genealogy in one way or another.

  • Search the name of a speaker (or your name) to see what people are saying.
  • Search for genealogy events in your area.
  • Search for unusual surnames.
  • Search for information in specific geographic areas, especially if you're traveling to another town for a conference.
  • Measure reaction to a genealogy company or news in the field.
  • Professional genealogists discover potential clients and reach out to them.
  • Locate an article you read but forgot who tweeted it.

Deep archive searching through Twitter still isn't there (though other sites claim to do so). Twitter's own "simple search" is good for the most recent content.

Twitter also has an advanced search option, giving you some more ways to use microblogging in your searches.

Will this revolutionize the genealogy industry? No. But it's another implement for your family history toolbox, and that's why I mention it here. Plus I'm a giant search nerd so this was right in my wheelhouse.

You can follow me on Twitter at @acoffin, but your results may vary. I use it as a news feed first and foremost and don't always follow back. It's not you, it's me. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fun with Search Terms

It's time for another round of "Fun with Search Terms!" People type certain words or phrases into search engines. If the combination is right, my blog turns up in the search results. Sometimes the searches are funny. Sometimes I can provide more information to users, if only they'd comment on my blog. Either way, I enjoy the process. Please note that these searches are anonymous so I don't know who is stumbling on my blog. I just comment in the hope that they find it again.

Now on with the show. Actual search phrases are in bold.

ancestry libraries in Houston
I'm going to interpret this to mean you are looking for libraries in the Houston area that hold genealogy materials. The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research is the obvious answer, but don't forget to check out the Conroe branch of the Montgomery County Library System. The George Library in Ft. Bend and Rosenberg Library in Galveston also have historical materials. I've also found good stuff at the Woodson Research Center, Houston Metropolitan Research Center and the Central Branch of the Houston Public Library where newspapers (and obituaries) are held.

cameron parish civil war memorial louisiana

Cameron Parish Courthouse

Here it is. I took photos of it including most of the names on it, and the World War II panels to each side. You know what else? People that contact me and ask nicely get those photos with their ancestors' names on them. Keep it in mind for next time.

grandma was in DAR, am i?
No. However, if your grandmother was in Daughters of the American Revolution, your path to qualify might be easier than others. Usually you have to prove (with a whole bunch of documentation) your direct relationship to a patriot. If your grandmother provided appropriate documentation for her application, you might only have to prove your relationship to grandma (or so I've been told by several DAR members as I have the same situation as you do). Consult your local DAR chapter for guidance on exactly what you need to begin the process and attain membership.

How to join genealogy societies
Show up. Bring a checkbook. If you want to join a society as a distance member or in an area where you don't live, register online or send in the appropriate forms and funds. Easy peasy.

best genealogist houston, texas
Yes. This search string leads right to this blog. My evil plan is working.

marriage of noel h thibodeaux and josephine bourgaux in Louisiana
noel thibodeaux and wife josephine b
noel thibodeaux and eliz eldridge married
I have information on all of this for both my great-grandparents and great-great grandparents. It's too bad you didn't contact me.

family tree for william minor quesenbury
Sorry, but family history isn't that easy. This is the point in the Quesenbury research where it gets challenging to go back further, so you thought the internets would just drop a complete family tree from the sky. That's not how it works. This is the point where you find my blog and see that William Minor Quesenbury/Quesenberry is my 4th great-grandfather. You are supposed to contact me. We have a friendly exchange and work together to fill in the Quesenbury line. That's how it works. Or you could just search "someone do my family history for me" on the Google. Know what happens when you do that? NO QUESENBERRY FOR YOU. Good day, sir.

That's all, folks! Go forth and genealogize.

P.S. I created a tag called Fun with Search Terms. Now you can read the whole series! Or not.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Genealogy Blogging in the FGS Forum

Back at the FGS 2011 conference in Springfield, Illinois. Someone came up to me and said, "George Morgan is looking for you." Hmmm....it is never a good sign when someone is "looking for you" at a conference. It means he or she wants something. A favor. Sometimes to chair something to be on a committee.

Now I know George and consider him a dear friend, but he is a Very Important Genealogist with lots of acquaintances. Why was he looking for me?

Because George is a very busy guy (FGS Vice-President, successful businessman, equally successful podcaster, etc.), I did not see him right away at the conference. This led the curiosity and worry to fester. I thought about all the horrible imaginary possibilities of volunteer opportunities passed on by everyone else. He probably had me in mind for the one post nobody would cover, like the complaint booth or committee to oversee paint drying on the walls.

Finally, after a day and a half at the conference, I did see George Morgan on the exhibit floor. It was time to meet my fate.

He said that the FGS Forum was changing some things and wanted to know if I was interested in writing a column about genealogy society blogging.

I was so relieved not to be relegated to the complaint department that I said yes before he was done with his sales pitch.

Fast forward many months and my first "Genealogy Blogging" column just came out in the Spring 2012 issue of FGS Forum.

Thank you to the FGS officers for the nod and vote of confidence. Since I am so evangelical about the power and ease of genealogy blogging, this writing gig doesn't even feel like volunteer "work." It's what I preach every day.

My first column highlights blogs from the Tri-State Genealogical Society of Evansville (IN), Wood County (TX) Genealogical Society, Indiana Genealogical Society, Hamilton County (OH) Genealogical Society, DuPage County (IL) Genealogical Society and the FGS Voice.

FGS gave me ample control of the intended direction of the "Genealogy Blogging" column. Topics will vary with each issue, but the common theme will be the use of blogs for genealogy societies. If your society has a blog, let me know. I'm always looking for blogs to feature, topics to cover and questions to answer.

So join me as we help genealogy societies raise their online presence and reach out to a growing audience that's been raised on technology.

It's a great time to be a genealogist.

Don't subscribe to Forum? Get it here for only $15, or $25 for 2 years. Or better yet, encourage your genealogy society to join FGS and get all the wonderful perks and benefits that come with membership.

SOCIETY FREEBIE: 25 Great Topics for Genealogy Society Blogs. Free download. Share it with your friends and fellow society members. I told you I was serious about genealogy society blogging.

Monday, July 2, 2012

We Tree is Four Years Old

Today marks the fourth anniversary of The We Tree Genealogy Blog.

I started this blog as a conversation with myself since nobody around me wanted to talk genealogy with me. If you look at the majority of my posts, I still write that way. This is my outlet and I'm cool with that.

I also used this blog as a tool to publicize some of my more unusual surnames in an attempt to reach out to new cousins. I'm pleased to say that I've been rewarded 100 times over in this department. Sure I've received photos and records, but I've also met and corresponded with so many friendly cousins. This has been the best part of blogging.

What I didn't expect was to be part of a vast growth of genealogy blogging. I've met so many other genealogists this way and I love my blogger friends.

One of those friends even encouraged me to write a book on genealogy blogging so I did!

Thank you to my readers, those who comment and those who stop by quietly. I appreciate it.

Hmm...wonder how may genealogical discoveries I can make in another four years? Stick around and see...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Houston Genealogy Events for July 2012

Just as the temperature is heating up, so are the genealogy events in and around Houston. Here is a list of events happening in the region, or of interest to those in Texas.

July 4
Independence Day
Expect libraries and courthouses to be closed.

July 7
FamilySearch.org Day
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
Learn about the FamilySearch catalog, how to order microfilm, research courses, wiki and more.
Registration required.

July 13-14
Summer Institute with J. Mark Lowe and Lloyd Bockstruck
Dallas Genealogical Society
at the J Erik Jonnson Library, 1515 Young Street, Dallas

July 14
10am - 12pm
Harris County Public Library Northwest Branch
"A Genealogy Family Reunion Affair - An Evidence Based Approach"
Sign up here. This workshop is taught by academic librarian and avid genealogist Kimberly Gay.

July 19-21
Angelina College Genealogy Conference
Angelina College Campus, Lufkin
A 3-day conference complete with speakers, exhibits and vendors.

July 21
Clayton Genealogy Library Orientation
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
Learn your way around the Clayton Library and it's holdings in this free tour. Registration is not required. Meet at the information desk at 10:30am.

Daughters of the American Revolution Day
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
Representatives from local DAR chapters will be available to assist you with consultations, research help and guidance in submitting your lineage application to DAR. Registration not required.

July 27
7pm (6:30pm socializing)
Bay Area Genealogical Society Monthly Meeting
Speaker Eric Sandifer presents "The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth"
Meeting at University Baptist Church, 16106 Middlebrook Drive, Houston

July 28
Chaparral Genealogical Society Monthly Meeting
Speaker TBD. Everyone is welcome. Meeting is on the second floor of the Amegy Bank, 28201 Business 249 at Medical Complex Drive in Tomball.

Did I miss a genealogy or family history event? Email me at the address listed on the top of this page and I'll add it to the list.