Gratitudes for Thanksgiving 2015

Posted on: November 25th, 2015 by
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As I was sitting in a car being driven through Chicago en route from Rhode Island to Minnesota, reading compiled military service records and pension files for five Civil War veterans pulled from the collections of the National Archives by a researcher in Washington, DC, and sent to me electronically, I was struck by the large number of quite wonderful things that enabled me to peruse those records in my mobile setting. As a result, I wrote this post.

I am grateful for

  • The automobile that enables me to travel comfortably where I want to go, on my own schedule.
  • My daughter who is driving the automobile safely and carefully though traffic and who curated the playlist we are listening to though the car stereo.
  • The mapping software that is cuing us through the sound system to follow the correct route.
  • The mobile hotspot from my cellular provider that is connecting my iPad to multiple servers all over the world.
  • The iPad whose clear, bright screen allows me to read the CMSRs and pension records, zooming in and out as needed, and which is now allowing me to write this blog post on its built-in keyboard.
  • The easy-to-use WordPress software installed on my website that is allowing me to type and edit as I ride and will shortly publish this post for readers to discover.
  • The Dropbox software that allowed my researcher in Washington to create a link for me to access the files containing the hundreds of record images she created at the National Archives from my iPad or any other mobile device or computer I wish to use.
  • My researcher in Washington, Pamela Loos-Noji, Ph.D., who promptly provides me with high-quality color images of records I need, complete with proper citations.
  • My friend Angela Packer McGhie who introduced me to Pamela.
  • My teacher Elizabeth who showed me how to search broadly, wring information from records, analyze it, correlate it with information from other records, and create conclusions. The CMSRs and pension records I am reading were created by FANs of my primary research subject.
  • The archivists at the National Archives who preserve and care for the records in their custody and make them available to the public.
  • The Pension Office officials and clerks who created and preserved the records I am using. Every time I use a pension record I am awed by the meticulous attention to detail and research reflected in these records.

These are some of the many things I am grateful for as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving 2016. What are you grateful for?

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Teaching Adult Learners

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by
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The majority of us who teach family history research are teaching adults. Adult learners are a special, highly diverse group. There is a huge amount of research and information about characteristics of adult learners available–a Google search today for the phrase “adult learners” brought up 11.9 million results! A second search for “teaching adults” had 443,000 results.

It’s a great idea, especially for those of us who do not work in the education field, to periodically sample the available literature.

For example, today’s searches brought up this article on eight characteristics of adult learners. 1

Another resource from the Journal of Extension discusses the needs of the adult learner, along with an overview of six teaching and learning strategies that best satisfy those needs: lecture, problem-based learning, case studies, educational games, role play, and discussion. 2

A third article explained five principles for teaching adults: make sure the students understand “why,” respect that they have different learning styles, allow them to experience what they’re learning, listen for teaching moments and take advantage, encourage your students. 3

This one offers tips for teaching adult students–treat them like adults, be aware their classroom skills may be rusty, acknowledge the technology gap, be efficient, and be creative. 4

There are lots of other great resources in those search results–take advantage of the information quickly accessible on the web to ensure that your genealogy classes and courses are on target for your audience.

  1. Christopher Pappas, “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners,” eLearning Industry ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  2. Carrie Ota, Cynthia F. DiCarlo, Diane C. Burts, Robert Laird, and Cheri Gioe, “Training and the Needs of Adult Learners,” Journal of Extension 44 (December 2006); Journal of Extension ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  3. Deb Peterson, “5 Principles for the Teacher of Adults,” ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
  4. Brooks Doherty, “Tips for Teaching Adult Students,” Faculty Focus ( : accessed 29 October 2015).
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Reading the Newspapers

Posted on: October 13th, 2015 by

I’m currently working on a research problem where the answers are not jumping forward. The goal is to identify the father of a female ancestor who lived from about 1820 to 1890. The records of the research subject, her husband, and her children don’t identify her father, but I have several candidates. I’ve got the basics

  • Church and cemetery records for both candidates and their documented children
  • Census records for both candidates and their documented children
  • Probate records for both candidates
  • Land records for both candidates.

The records found provide indirect evidence, but nothing conclusive, so I’m going to read the newspaper.

Through interlibrary loan I ordered the newspaper of the town where my research subject lived, covering the period 1874 (earliest availability of the newspaper) through 1895 (after the death of my research subject, her husband, and most of the potential siblings). I’m now in the midst of reading each issue of the paper, hoping to finish as many years as I can before the microfilms have to be returned. I’m hoping to find mentions of my subject, her family, and the possible siblings and their families identifying or suggesting relationships.

So far I haven’t found the direct evidence I’m looking for, but I have been reminded of the value of this practice for areas where substantial numbers of family members lived. I’m learning about

  • Things that happened to family members that I didn’t know about. I learned about smashed fingers, burned barns, and giant radishes they grew. I learned things that put a different slant on facts–for example, a family member’s child who died prematurely was killed when a steam locomotive blew up as it came into the railroad station.
  • The weather, dry or wet, cold or hot. It’s one thing to know that your research subject’s mother died in August, and quite another to learn that she died in the middle of the hottest, driest August on record, when wells and springs were drying up, or that the baby born 15 September 1876 came into the world during the severe storms of Thursday last, with multiple lightning strikes in town.
  • What was in season. As I read the papers, strawberries, cherries, apples, plums, and melons came into and out of season, bringing with them activities like cider-making and apple butter boiling. I learned who had ice in the summer, along with popular recipes. I learned about sleighing parties, and how the sleighing conditions changed in different parts of the area. I read about who went fishing and hunting, and where, and what they caught and shot.
  • What living was like. I read about saloons, soiled doves, mad dogs, runaway horses, and sidewalks in need of repair. (Surprisingly, the sidewalks were brick.) I read about epidemics of summer fever, smallpox, and diphtheria, and who became sick and died. I read about accidents–lots of those in the mines and on the railroads. I read about fraternal organizations and temperance groups. I read about the militia and the Grand Army of the Republic, and what they did in the community. I read who had letters in the post office, and learned that there was a telephone in town in 1879.
  • What was going on in the community. I’ve been fascinated to learn that the circus came regularly to the rather small town whose newspaper I read. There were religious camp meetings in the summers. There were lectures, concerts, and balls sponsored by churches, lyceums, and bands. (Who knew that bands sponsored balls?)
  • Personalities. I got to know the personalities of the newspaper owners and editors (three, so far), and how the editor’s personality and writing style change the content of the newspaper. I learned who the editor’s friends and acquaintances were (they got lots of coverage in the paper), and who belonged to the “in crowd” (not the family I’m researching, so far). I learned who had their fingers in every pie and who could be counted on to subscribe to any civic or charitable appeal. (Some of these either were, or were about to be, part of my ancestors’ FAN club). I could see how the social makeup of the town changed as children grew up and elders became less active.
  • Behavior. I observed the editor’s attitudes toward women, disabled people, tramps, children, veterans, perpetrators of domestic violence, alcohol abusers, animals, young men hanging around on corners staring at ladies going to church, and more. I read about behavior that was exemplary and behavior that was deplorable (women driving teams too fast through town).

I love the details that are emerging–these newspapers are better than a novel–and I can’t wait to read the next installment. Even if I don’t find the answer to my research question, reading these newspapers is really enriching my knowledge of my family and the place they lived, and making me feel I know them in a whole different way.

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