Philosophical Observations on Blueberry Picking

Posted on: August 30th, 2014 by
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This being the end of summer, my husband and I decided that we needed to pick some blueberries before the farm closed. It was a beautiful morning, not too warm, not too cool, slightly overcast, with a breeze blowing. Late in the season, a lot of fruit had been harvested, but the farm told us there was plenty left in the fields.

It had been a long time since I picked blueberries, and I’d forgotten how relaxing blueberry picking is. As I picked, I began to notice things about the process of picking. I noticed also how my thoughts about picking blueberries apply to harvesting information about ancestors. (Warning: philosophical observations.)

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Blueberries don’t shout out, “Here I am, pick me!” Most of the time, neither do records about our ancestors. You have to look.
  • You have to slow down and see what’s there. Once I stopped trying to move down the rows of bushes quickly in order to fill my bucket, I began to appreciate how much fruit really was left. Sometimes we search databases or indexes in registers fast, taking a quick look and moving on. I wonder how much fruit we miss by doing that.
  • Sometimes you have to step back to go forward. The blueberry bushes were in rows, with plenty of space between the rows but not a lot of space between the bushes. I found myself getting into a bush, noticing berries on branches I couldn’t reach, and backing out so I could move into a better position to reach the fruit I wanted. I also had to position my feet so I could reach without falling. I do this often in research too–it’s not all forward movement and collecting. You have to back up and look at what you have in order to position yourself to get that new information. Sometimes you have to get your feet under you with new skills, languages, or vocabulary before you proceed.
  • You have to care for the bush and pick without breaking branches. Native Americans are said to thank the plants and animals they harvest for food. Careful genealogists handle fragile materials appropriately. They thank the clerks, librarians, and archivists who care for the materials for their help, and they support efforts to maintain collections and preserve materials. (As I write today, Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist; D. Joshua Taylor; and colleagues raised more than $50,000 at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio to digitize War of 1812 pensions, at once preserving the fragile originals from the wear and tear of use and making digitized copies free forever online at fold3.com. Genealogists at the conference and all over the country contributed.)
  • Some of the best fruit isn’t easy to reach. In genealogy, not everything is on line. Not every set of records has a index. Not every courthouse register is on an accessible shelf. Not every arrangement of materials is user-friendly. But some of the most valuable information is in those hard-to-reach places.
  • There is lots of good fruit that is low-hanging. Like blueberries, there are a lot of great genealogical resources that are easy to reach–online, well organized, accessible.

I wish you luck with your blueberries and your ancestors. I’m going to enjoy my harvest now.

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Summertime, and It’s Time to Travel!

Posted on: August 7th, 2014 by
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It’s summer, and I’m on the road again.

So far this summer I’ve attended my second season at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh at La Roche College in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. This time I was a student in Law School for Genealogists, led by Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL; Rick Sayre, CG, CGL; and Marian L. Smith. Marian is the wonderfully knowledgeable woman from NCIS who works with their genealogical program and the author of those terrific Prologue articles that clarify so much about naturalization. (See, for example, Marian’s article on naturalization for women.)

The course was very well structured and informative. We started with an overview of common, civil, canon, and statutory law, then moved on to federal and state courts and their records. Next we examined the Library of Congress’ Century of Lawmaking website and its resources, and dug into the U.S. Serial Set, American State Papers, and Territorial Papers. After that we explored aspects of estate law. Next came immigration and naturalization law, followed by federal and state land law, military pension law, family law, and claims. We wrapped up with a session on prisons and investigation and case studies. All in all, this was a very well thought out and well presented course that will be of great value going forward.

In addition to the classroom activities, it was fun to see genealogy friends from previous institutes. As last year, one of the highlights of the week was the group viewing of the Who Do You Think You Are season premiere. So much fun exchanging significant looks with other genealogists and engaging in the collective oohs, aahs, and coaching–”You could have found out when she died by looking at her pension record.”

GRIP organizers Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, and Deborah Lichtner Deal did their usual super job of making sure that everything ran smoothly and attendees had everything they needed. Two thumbs up for GRIP!

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Saluting Military Ancestors

Posted on: July 3rd, 2014 by
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From the American Revolution to the present, Americans have served their country through military and patriotic service. The records they created are a cornerstone of family history research

As we once again approach our nation’s birthday celebration on July 4, it’s a great time to review the contributions of our military ancestors. We are normally aware when spouses, siblings, parents, and grandparents performed military service, but often we don’t know about more distant relatives who served.

Here’s a quick summary of American military actions–check for military service for ancestors of military age–generally teens through forties–during these conflicts.

    • 1775-1783–American Revolution. Military actions took place from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown in all areas of the colonies, including the western frontier areas. Ancestors serving in the military–continental and state–left traces in service records, muster rolls, pensions, and compensation records. They may have received or applied for bounty land from federal or state governments. Those who were still living in 1840 should be listed in federal census records (whether they were heads of household or not).
    • 1812-1815–War of 1812. Most Americans know about the siege of Baltimore and the burning of Washington, and they may know about the famous frigate actions that took place during this war, but the threat of British military action affected virtually all areas of the country. Serving ancestors left traces in service records, muster rolls, pensions, and bounty land records.
    • 1811-1858–Indian Wars. These include the battles in the Northwest Territory (Indiana), the three Seminole Wars (Florida area), the Creek War (Alabama area), the Black Hawk War (Illinois, Wisconsin), the Navajo Wars (New Mexico, Arizona), and the Yakima Wars (Washington, Oregon, Idaho). Serving ancestors left service, pension, and bounty land records in federal and state sources.
    • 1846-48–Mexican-American War (Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, California). Serving ancestors left service records, pension files, bounty land, and other records.
    • 1861-1865–Civil War. Although most military action took place in southern and border states and Pennsylvania, soldiers and sailors from all areas of the country served. Look for records from the country’s first draft registration, service records, and pension records. A special veterans census was conducted in 1890; veterans census records for the District of Columbia, Kentucky, and states alphabetically following Kentucky survived the general destruction of the 1890 census records.
    • 1865-1900–Indian Wars. These include the Sioux and Cheyenne Wars (Dakotas and Montana), the Apache Wars (Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico), the Modoc War (California), and the Nez Perce Wars (Idaho and Montana).
    • 1898-1902–Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection. Look for service and pension records at the state and federal levels. Veterans should be identified in the 1930 census; one of the supplemental questions in the 1940 census also asked about military service.
    • 1917-1918–World War I. Records of the three World War I drafts encompass virtually all men aged between twenty-one and forty-five in 1917 and 1918–about 24,000,000 men born between about 1873 and about 1901. World War I servicemen left service records, although up to 80% were lost in the 1972 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. Many states conducted special military censuses or offered bonuses to veterans, and World War I service should be recorded in the 1930 census.
    • 1941-1945–World War II. More than 20,000,000 men between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four registered for the draft. Other records include enlistment records, service records (again affected by the 1972 fire), casualty records, and bonus records.
    • 1950-1953–Korean War. More than 300,000 Americans, including many World War II veterans, served under arms. Look for service records, casualty records, and bonuses. Access to service records may be restricted to veterans and next of kin because of privacy concerns.
    • 1954-1975–Vietnam War. More than 500,000 Americans served during this war. Because of privacy concerns, access to service records is restricted to veterans and next of kin. Look for casualty and burial records.

For information on specific wars and records, start with the Ancestry and FamilySearch wikis. The following books will also help you find more about your ancestors’ military service:

James C. Neagles. U.S. Military Records: a Guide to Federal & State Sources, Colonial America to the Present. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1994.

Christine Rose. Military Pension Laws, 1776-1858.San Jose, California: Rose Family Association, 2001.

Christine Rose. Military Bounty Land, 1776-1855.San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2011.

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