Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Royal Mystery Solved?

Bone shards identified as that of Crown Prince Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria ending century-long mystery of the whereabouts of the heirs to the Russian czar.
"It was 99.9 percent clear they had all been killed; now with these shards, it's 100 percent," said Nadia Kizenko, a Russian scholar at the University at Albany, State University of New York. "Those who regret this news will be those who liked the royal pretender myth."

1) Shards? How many shards? Too many to survive without? If a leg is injured, you can amputate the leg, but go on living.

2) At best, we really only know that the two heirs died and their remains ended up in the same forest where their parents died. Right? How does this end the mystery? Or at least, how does this end the myth?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Decline of Letter Writing

It’s not difficult to find news stories lamenting the decline of letter writing. The main culprit almost always seems to be email. Personally, I find this laying of blame a good example of post hoc propter hoc fallacy. That’s Latin for, “after this because of this.” People notice the decline of letter writing, look around for something that has happened recently to blame it on, and email appears to be a likely scapegoat.

But I look at the things I send and receive most often via email, and they’re not the things I think prior generations put into letters. Jokes. Arrangements to meet for lunch somewhere. Yes, photographs that would have been enclosed in letters get sent via email. But I think the real culprit is the telephone, and in some instances, email is bringing back the art of letter writing, not causing its decline.

Yes, the telephone has been with us since the early 1900s. But long distance phone service was expensive until recently. My mother was recently telling me that the daughter of one of her aunts who lived in El Paso, TX was an early Bell Telephone employee, and was able to call long distance for free…and did, regularly. She also sent my mother a few letters over the years, but I am sure if she couldn’t call long distance for free, she might have sent more. And today many have calling plans allowing unlimited long distance.

Email can be just as easy as picking up the phone, though, and the other person doesn’t have to be on the other end in order to send the message. And email can be saved, either digitally, or printed out. It is true, a lot of people delete all their email. But it is also true that in the past a lot of people disposed of the letters they received. I’ve heard some complain that the handwritten letter has disappeared, but the nail in that coffin was the typewriter, not the computer. Most of the letters I have that were written by my maternal grandmother were typed, and she passed away in 1951. They do have her signature, but that is the only thing handwritten. I am thrilled to have the letters I do, and it doesn’t matter to me that they aren’t handwritten. Actually, I am kind of happy they aren’t because typed letters are easier to read.

In November of 2004 several members of my family had a lengthy email discussion about the results of the election. My email provider – Gmail – allows you to view an entire email thread, and print the whole discussion as one document. And one option is to print it to a PDF file instead of the printer. Which I have done. I’ve had Gmail since June 15 of 2004, and I have never deleted any email I have received from a relative. Not even the “are you available for breakfast on Saturday” emails I’ve gotten. I think I have all of those. (Maybe not all – a quick search suggests I only have 70, and I should have a few more of those.) I have issues 153-298 of Volume 3 of the APG Digest. I know the archives are online, but I haven’t yet seen a reason to delete them. I have 585 emails (6 a week) from providing me with a word for the day. All 6415 messages I have sent to anyone between June 15th 2004 and now are also still in my sent folder. Not everything is saved as a PDF though – I’m not that insane. And at some point I will probably have to go through and start deleting, but I am only using 20% of my email space, so theoretically I have at least 16 years before that is a problem if my usage remains constant, and if the space available remains constant, and the latter is constantly growing. (Furthermore, before I deleted email from relatives, there is a lot of other email I haven’t deleted that could be deleted first. Perhaps the Word of a Day emails. I do own a dictionary.)

The biggest problem is that your descendants aren’t going to find a stack of your emails in a box in your attic after you die unless you do print them out, or provide instructions on where to find them on your computer. So it's not a bad idea to let your children or a close relative know your passwords.

Monday, April 28, 2008

April Scanfest

Sunday afternoon I participated in the April Scanfest. I scanned five or six letters written to and from my maternal grandparents and their supervisors while they were employed at the post office.

1) There was the letter in 1933 from my grandfather to the Chief Postal Inspector in Washington DC, accepting a promotion and a position in St. Louis. He also requested the spelling of his name changed from Deutsch to the way it was pronounced Dyche. I don't have the response, so I don't know whether the request was denied, or my grandfather changed his mind. However, when I showed my mom the letter, she expressed gratitude that it never happened.

2) There was a letter from the Chief Postal Inspector in December of 1936 congratulating my grandfather on his recovery from an attack of appendicitis, as well as congratulating him on his engagement to my grandmother. I don't have the letter that my grandfather sent informing him of both of these events.

3) There was also a letter congratulating my grandparents in January of 1937 on their marriage, and a letter from my grandfather requesting vacation.

4) I also have a letter from my grandmother in 1944 resigning from a war-time position in St. Louis, as she wished to join her husband who was now stationed in the states in Florida. Her war-time employment in the Post Office was not part of her Personnel File which I received from the archives. I am rerequesting it under her married name as I suspect that somehow the two files were kept separate. I find it hard to believe that when she applied for the position she didn't make it clear that she had worked for the post office for sixteen years between 1920 and 1936, and if she had, I don't know why her employment between 1942-1944 wouldn't have shown up with her earlier records. But perhaps "it's the government" is simple explanation enough.

I should note that none of the letters from my grandparents are signed copies. I have no evidence they were sent as typed. They could have retyped something else and sent it, and kept the first draft. I don't know why they would have done that, but they could have.

I also scanned about 30 photographs. Here are two of my favorites from the bunch.

An oldtime postcard. Nothing was written on the postcard, so it appears it was in my grandfather's collection for the humor, and for its relationship to his postal employment.

And an excellent photograph of my grandmother laughing. It's unknown what she was laughing at.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Trying to trace your ancestry back to William the Conqueror, Jesus, or Confucius is sort of like a chicken trying to prove it's descended from a T-Rex.

Apparently, The chicken is, though.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Do the Missouri Sanborn Maps tell me where my great-grandfather went to school?

Thanks to the Missouri State Genealogical Association blog I learned that the Missouri Sanborn Maps are online.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Company, established in 1867, compiled and published maps of U.S. cities and towns for the fire insurance industry to assess the risk of insuring a particular property. The maps are large scale plans of a city or town drawn at a scale of 50 feet to an inch, offering detailed information on the use made of commercial and industrial buildings, their size, shape and construction material. Some residential areas are also mapped. The maps show location of water mains, fire alarms and fire hydrants. They are color-coded to identify the structure (adobe, frame, brick, stone, iron) of each building.
If one isn't sure about street name changes, or renumbering, the Sanborn maps can help you plot where an address is on a current map by pointing out cross streets and other landmarks that don't change with time, such as parks. You can also find out what else was in the neighborhood, such as businesses, schools, or houses of worship.

The Missouri Sanborn maps online for St. Louis city are mostly from 1909. All four of my paternal second-great grandfathers were in St. Louis in 1909 - Selig Feinstein, Moshe Leyb Cruvant, Morris Blatt, and Samuel Newmark. They all moved around a bit as well, and when I added in some work addresses I had, there were a lot of addresses I could look up.

From the city directories I knew that from 1896 to 1906 the Feinsteins were at 1122 North 8th. My great-grandfather, Herman Feinstein, was age 10-20 during those years.

I think I have a good idea where my great grandfather probably went to school. The map above is from 1909, so there is no guarantee that the school behind where my great grandfather grew up was there for the decade prior.

The cross street at the top of the map is Biddle, and the Cruvant family lived at 701 Biddle briefly during 1897. The Blatts lived in the 1000 block in 1896. So the three families weren't too far apart during those years.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Transcribing Letters

I'm seeking input from others who have transcribed family letters -- how exact were you in your transcription? Below is a sample paragraph from a letter from my great-grandfather, Melvin Van Every to his daughter, Myrtle. It contains some great information on his brother George, but there are several grammatical issues:

There are several logical sentences in that paragraph, though only one period at the end. Melvin will often not use upper case letters to start a sentence. Usually it is possible to tell where one thought ends and another begins, but there are times where there is some confusion. The 'and' written vertically is very common in his letters, and I've seen it in one of his granddaughter's letters to my mother as well. I don't know where he learned it as I have been unable to find references to it online. For conserving space the traditional ampersand is much easier to use, especially the version that resembles a plus-sign.

I lean towards adding the capitalization and creating the sentence breaks, where I feel they should be, especially since I am putting links to the images next to the transcription on the family website, and as I've mentioned before, it utilizes wiki software, so if anyone in the future feels I've transcribed it incorrectly, they can make the necessary changes.

However, I have come up with a shorthand method of indicating the vertical 'and' so I can differentiate between that usage, and when he will occasionally write it 'normally'. I've been using &d, but the frequency of its appearance makes it quite noticeable. I've been maintaining spelling errors, even the ones that make me cringe.

My general feeling is that if someone wants to see exactly how it was written, the original scans will be there, but the transcription is to convey the content so that it is easily readable, while also maintaining as much of the writing style, and it's that balance which is troubling me.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat's Children

Many are familiar with the wonderful children's poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888) entitled The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.

However, less familiar is the sequel that Lear wrote. It was, unfortunately, unfinished, but it was found in draft form in his notes. When I read it for the first time this morning in a collection of comic verse, it occurred to me:

1) It could have been fun to post this as part of my entry on family traits for the recent carnival
2) It definitely is a poem many Family Historians, young and old, would enjoy

"Our Mother Was the Pussy-Cat"

Our mother was the Pussy-cat, our father was the Owl,
And so we're partly little beasts and partly little fowl,
The brothers of our family have feathers and they hoot,
While all the sisters dress in fur and have long tails to boot.
We all believe that little mice,
For food are singularly nice.
Our mother died long years ago. She was a lovely cat
Her tail was 5 feet long, and grey with stripes, but what of that?
In Sila forest on the East of fair Calabria's shore
She tumbled from a lofty tree -- none ever saw her more.
Our owly father long was ill from sorrow and surprise,
But with the feathers of his tail he wiped his weeping eyes.
And in the hollow of a tree in Sila's inmost maze
We made a happy home and there we pass our obvious days.

From Reggian Cosenza many owls about us flit
And bring us worldly news for which we do not care a bit.
We watch the sun each morning rise, beyond Tarento's strait;
We go out ____________ before it gets too late;
And when the evening shades begin to lengthen from the trees
____________ as sure as bees is bees.
We wander up and down the shore ____________
Or tumble over head and heels, but never, never more
Can see the far Gromboolian plains _____________
Or weep as we could once have wept o'er many a vanished scene:
This is the way our father moans -- he is so very green.

Our father still preserves his voice, and when he sees a star
He often sings _______ to that original guitar.
The pot in which our parents took the honey in their boat,
But all the money has been spent, beside the £5 note.
The owls who come and bring us news are often _____
Because we take no interest in poltix of the day.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Honor of Patriot's Day

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes - by Helen F Moore (1896)

I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause,
I answer only, “My name was Dawes.”

‘Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear –
My name was Dawes and his Revere.

When the lights from the old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and gray
As I rode, with never a break or a pause;
But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!

History rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because
He was Revere and I was Dawes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Estate Planning tip from Ellen Goodman

I always thought that genealogy was for people whose blood ran blue. It was for folks who traced their ancestry to the Mayflower or the American Revolution, not those who came over in steerage one step ahead of the Cossacks.
Ellen Goodman writes a good column for the International Herald Tribune on some research she had done by the NEHGS, and what she learned.

She concludes:

There are other bits of paper in my genealogical binder. It's moving to see the name of the actual ship that brought my family to America and the naturalization papers that required them to "renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity" to the Russian czar, which they must have done with pleasure.

But what we really want from the generations past are not just the facts or the DNA.

We want the stories. Love, passion, success, disappointment, humanity. There may be no way to know - really know - their interior life. But how many of us would trade in the data for one good diary? Will we remember that in our own "estate planning"?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Carnival of Genealogy

The 46th Carnival of Genealogy has been posted, everyone writing about their family traits. I noticed a few that dealt with diseases that run in the family. I'd considered mentioning again the colon cancer that I'd blogged about back in January, but decided to focus on happier traits. Though the message of getting yourself tested if you know there is a family history is one that can bear repetition.
The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: A Place Called Home. It's time for a geography lesson. Pick out a city/town/village where one of your ancestors once lived and tell us all about it. When was it founded? What is it known for? Has it prospered or declined over the years? Have you ever visited it or lived there? To a certain extent, we are all influenced by the environment we live in. How was your ancestor influenced by the area where they lived? Take us on a trip to the place your ancestor called home. The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2008.

National Poetry Month

As others have pointed out, April is National Poetry Month. I haven't done much to celebrate it here. I've posted a lot of poetry here in the past. And I've been posting a poem on my personal blog every day so far this month.

Here's how I started the month:

Line-Up for Yesterday:An ABC of Baseball Immortals
by Ogden Nash

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.

B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.

C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren’t born.

D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who’s the tops?
Said correctly, I is.

Rest of poem

And here's an audio recording of Walt Whitman reading his poetry with a slideshow of photos of Whitman.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

National Library Week

In honor of National Library Week, Randy at GeneaMusings has listed his 10 favorite genealogy libraries.

He then lists three libraries he most would like to visit, and on the list, is the one I find myself at at least twice a month, if not more. The St. Louis County Library Headquarters Branch. I wasn't surprised to see my library on his list. Why is he interested in traveling halfway across the country to St. Louis, MO?

Back in 2001, the National Genealogical Society transferred a 20,000 volume collection to St. Louis. However, while previously they were available only to NGS members, now the volumes are circulating, available both for check-out and interlibrary loan. You can go to your own local library, and have them request St. Louis County library to ship the books your way. Naturally, you can't ask for all 20,000. The procedures here suggest two at a time. (And you can search the catalog online.) So if there's a particular book in the NGS collection you want to look at, don't wait to come to St. Louis. You might discover on the weekend you choose to visit, the book you want is somewhere else.

St. Louis does have a huge microfilm collection in addition to the 20,000 NGS collection. This isn't available Interlibrary Loan.

LA Times 1982-current
Washington Post 1986-current
Boston Transcript (Genealogical Queries Only) 1896-1941
40 separate newspapers from scattered locations across Missouri ranging in dates from 1828-current
New York Times 1851-current

Extensive list of documents on microfilm

I count 18 different states that are represented. e.g.
Miss. Death Index 1912-1943
La. Orleans Marriage Index 1831-1949
New Orleans Passenger Lists 1820-1902
City Directories for St. Louis, East St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City, and several cities in Mississippi.

I've barely scratched the surface of the holdings in the family research I've done, and I realize how lucky I am to be living where I am. I also realize that there are a lot of people in St. Louis who have no idea what is available to them.

I have three library cards. Every single town in St. Louis County used to have its own separate library, and then they began to merge into one conglomerate. The St. Louis County system now has 19 branches I think. There are nine towns that refused to join, and they formed their own separate system (The Municipal Library Consortium of St. Louis County). And then there is the St. Louis City library system. The three have agreements with each other so that residents can get library cards at any or all of the three, which I have done. However, I spend most of my time at the County headquarters now. The main branch of the City library is a few blocks from where I work, and they have a good genealogy section too, but nowhere near what the County has.

With Apologies to Uncle Sam

Sam was the brother of my grandmother, Myrtle Van Every Deutsch. We (me, my mother, and her sister) didn't know too much about him. Family notes passed down said he was an optometrist who married a woman named Esther Dahlin, had a son named Everett who drowned at age 17, and Sam died in Kansas City, MO from a flu epidemic.

That was the extent of knowledge with no documentation to back it up when I began my research a year ago.

I found him in the census records easily enough. In 1910, he was living in a lodging house, a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. No dependents. In 1920 he was a Route Agent for a newspaper, still a single lodger with no dependents, but now living in Oakland. No question it was him, as the middle initial matched, and the birth place for himself (Texas) and his parents (Texas and Michigan) were correct. In 1930 he was finally an optometrist in Kansas City with a wife named Myrtle. The census said she was his first wife, and they were married in 1927. With my grandmother's given name, I was suspicious, but the birthplaces of this Myrtle, and her parents, did not match my grandmother's data.

Samuel's 1933 death certificate, with my grandmother as the informant (certificate listed her St. Louis address), lists him as a widower. The cause of death: cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism. I could find no record of death for Sam's mysterious wife named Myrtle, and all the Missouri death certificates up through 1957 are online. (Kansas City is on the border, and it is conceivable she could have died in Kansas.)

My suspicion then, and still is, that the Myrtle on the census was made up. The census taker asked Sam if he was married, and he decided to say Yes, and gave him the name of his sister, along with some random states for place of birth for her and her parents. Maybe he'd been drinking when he answered the door.

However, once I believed that he made up a story on the 1930 census, I began asking myself about the other censuses. He was supposed to have had a son who died at age 17. You can't get married, have a child, and have that child live 17 years, within the span of a decade. On the 1910 and 1920 censuses he was single, no dependents. (In the 1900 census he was still living with his parents in Texas.)

The rest of his family (except my grandmother) remained in Texas, and later, his father moved to New Mexico. His father states in a letter to my grandmother, that the letters from Samuel were few and far between. Did the rest of the family know about his wife Esther and son Everett through his letters? While the tragic loss of a son could understandably propel someone to alcohol problems, I began to question the existence of his wife and child.

Searches on the name Esther Dahlin brought up some possibilities, but no marriage records. Searches on Esther Van Every brought up nothing. There were two Everett Van Everys on Ancestry, but with different parents.

The absence of records isn't proof that the records don't exist, and I knew that my searches so far didn't meet the definition of reasonably exhaustive that professional genealogists use. GeneaBlogie mentioned today that there were some new Texas Death Records at FamilySearch Labs. With so many of my maternal grandmother's family spending the past 100 years in Texas, I had to see if they had anything I hadn't found yet elsewhere. (On my father's side there are also some distant Cruvant cousins who moved to Texas from St. Louis, but I wasn't thinking of them when I went to FamilySearch.) I found about a dozen Van Everys and Denyers, including:

Name : Everett Van Every
Death date : 01 Apr 1924
Death place : Austin, Travis, Texas
Birth date : 01 Aug 1908 1
Birth place : Texas
Age at death : 17 years
Gender : Male
Marital status : Single
Race or color : White
Spouse name :
Father name : S. Van Every
Mother name : Esther Daklin
Digital GS number : 4167165
Image number : 238
Collection : Texas Deaths, 1890-1976

Of course, this raised some more questions. What was Samuel doing in San Francisco and Oakland in 1910 and 1920? He also shows up for the first time in the St. Louis city directories in 1922, two years prior to Everett's death in Austin.

Some research turned up the Dahlin family living in Austin, Travis TX in 1910. Parents Andrew and Lonie,2 a daughter named Alma, another daughter named "Van Every" (no first name, but it's probably Esther). And young Everet Varleny. (Darn indexer.) I should have seen this record before, but there are enough Van Everys that I don't look at the record of each I find in a search. I'm usually looking for specific given names. I haven't found Esther and Everett in 1920 yet. But it appears shortly after Everett was born, something happened in the relationship between Esther and Samuel, and Esther kept the child. I'm going to try to find young Everett's obituary.

And I apologize to Uncle Sam for thinking his wife and child could be fictional.

1) I've written down that Everett was born in 1906. Sixes that look like eights aren't uncommon, and Aug 1908 - Apr 1924 is only 15 years.
2) The actual spelling of Esther's parents names seem to be Andrew and Lovisa. There's a very nice paragraph on Andrew and Lovisa from a 1918 book entitled "Swedes in Texas", along with a photograph.

Monday, April 14, 2008


For several years now I've used very few stamps. All my bills are paid either through direct deposit, or an electronic check. I don't send letters, I send emails, or pick up the phone.

However, that's changed in the past year. There's the letters I'm sending to distant kin, to county clerks, etc.

Blair, a (non-genea)blogger, mentions that the price of stamps is going up again on May 12. Somehow I had missed the announcement. He also reminds that you can purchase as many forever stamps as you want, before May 12, at the current prices, and they will be good, forever. (At least theoretically. The US Post Office could always go back on their word.) I realize that Forever Stamps are a year old and all, but as I said, I haven't been using stamps much until lately.

Family Traits

A couple months ago I had a lot of fun with MyHeritage's Face Recognition software, trying to see which members of my family looked more/less like their parents and grandparents. I was reminded of this by the topic for the latest Genealogy Carnival: traits.

Physical traits are the easiest to see. Hair color, eye color, the size of one's ears, the shape of the nose, amount of body hair. When young my hair color was blonde, almost white, unlike either my mother or father. However, the children of my mother's sister all had similar hair color, as did my aunt. So there was probably a recessive blonde gene from my mother that combined with a recessive blonde gene from my father. However, over the years, my hair has grown darker, and most people would say it is now brown, and whether it turns grey, or disappears first is a race that should be interesting to watch.

Though the non-physical traits in some ways are more interesting to me.

My paternal grandfather attempted to solve the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle daily. My paternal great-grandfather was a 'self-taught' man and a tailor, but I am told he read voraciously. My love for words and language might come from my father's side. However, when in the mid-90s I became obsessed with the French author, Victor Hugo, and his novel Les Miserables, my mother mentioned, regretfully, that her father had had an old copy of Les Miserables on his bookshelf before he moved to a retirement home, and his library had to be trimmed. (I reassure myself that my grandfather, born in 1907, wouldn't have had a copy older than himself, and I have one from the late 1890s, but the possibility that he might have underlined passages of interest, or left comments in the margin, makes me wish I had read the novel a decade earlier.)

Where does my interest in religion come from? My mother's tree has been traced back the furthest with ancestors in the US as early as the 1600s. I have several Reverends for direct ancestors. My maternal great-grandfather, Melvin Van Every, was clearly very passionate about religion from letters he wrote to my grandmother. I don't know of any Rabbis in my family tree, but my paternal great-great grandmother, Minnie Mosjabovsky Cruvant's tombstone says she was the daughter of a "Tzaddik" (a righteous/learned man.) My mother has a first cousin, and my father has a second cousin, who both converted to Catholicism and became a nun. So while the particulars may vary, there seems to be an overabundance of individuals who are passionate about their beliefs in my family tree. (This can be seen also by several members who are passionate about their secular beliefs, which isn't all that different.) The one thing my family doesn't have a lot of is ambivalence. We all have opinions, and we aren't scared to share them.

Which of my traits are genetic, and which are 'learned'? Scientific studies of twins who were raised apart have shown that there are a lot more traits that appear genetic than one might think. Who knows, maybe at some point in the undefined future, I will be able to tell through DNA analysis which side of the family the 'procrastination' gene came from that caused me to delay doing my taxes once again this year. (They will be mailed tomorrow morning, so I won't have to sit in my car, in line, at the one area post office that remains open until midnight tomorrow. I did that only once about ten years ago.)

Google Trends

Kathi at AncestorSearchBlog uses Google Trends to compare the 2004-2008 trend history for those searching for the word 'genealogy' compared to other hobbies such as gardening and scrapbooking, and other interests such as politics and religion.

It's an interesting comparison. My biggest initial surprise was the graph for religion, for while it remained fairly consistent, it was clearly seasonal, dropping drastically every year at the end of December. The suggestion that people lost interest in religion at the end of December was fairly disconcerting, until I factored in the drop during the summer as well. That's not because there are no religious holidays in the summer, my initial suspicion. A large number of people who use google, go on vacation every summer and at the end of December. (And during that period of time, when they're on computers, they're searching for other things.) You can see a similar effect with the graph for politics, though there is an unexplainable spike in November every two years.

However, I decided there were a few more genealogy related graphs I was curious about. And my investigation led to additional queries.

1) I wondered how many people searched for "Genealogy" but didn't know how to spell the word correctly. I was also curious about other key words/phrases such as ancestry, family history, and family tree.

It turned out that back in 2004, 'genealogy' was the #1 searched for phrase out of this group, but in 2008 'family tree' has surpassed it. The other three are less frequent searches in comparison, but I did note that it appeared that in 2004 'geneology' was more popular than 'ancestry'. In the past 4 years there has either been an increase in spelling skill, or perhaps the popularity of a particular website has influenced the results (by a tiny factor).

Since everything is relative in Google Trends, I decided to look at this comparison in greater detail by focusing just on these two terms.

The search frequency for 'geneology' and 'ancestry' became neck and neck at the beginning of 2006, and 'ancestry' surprassed 'geneology' in 2007.

But one of the interesting features of Google Trends is that while the default gives you the results for the entire world, you can narrow it down geographically. Here's the same comparison above, but just for the US.

As you can see, there are similarities, but 'geneology' is definitely more popular in the US than elsewhere in the world. What this says about our schools is up to you.

Google Trends allows you to get even more geographically narrow minded. I was satisfied with just the US for the comparison above, so for the next chart I decided just to see the general trend for 'genealogy' in my home state. The graph was indeed extremely worrisome.

Prior to about March or April of 2007 there was basically no interest in Genealogy in the state of Missouri. And then there was a dramatic spike. This corresponds with my genealogical research. Coincidence? Could this just be me?

I decided we needed more information.

Genealogy, Beer, Cardinals, Rams (State of Missouri)

George Bush, Clinton, Genealogy (state of Missouri)

I think I can say with relative certainty that there is an issue with the amount of available data skewing these results. So if you narrow your search down to the state-level, be forewarned...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Stop me if you've heard this one...

Here's a joke I heard over lunch today:

Little Billy asks his mother, “Mom, where do humans come from?”
His mother responds, “If you look in the Bible, we are all descended from Adam and Eve.”
Little Billy then goes to his father, and asks him the same question.
His father responds, “Modern science tells us that we are all descended from monkeys.”
Confused, Billy returns to his mother and tells her what his father said.
His mother thinks for a moment, and then responds, “The monkeys, that’s his side of the family.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Genealogies of Biblical Proportions

There's a fun article in the Tampa Tribune on a Genealogy of Biblical Proportions. The article is about a genealogy discovered on Ancestry (in their Family Trees section)

If ever there was a tangled web, this was it. I got lost just looking at one line of it, but sure enough, it did go back to what someone has entered as "Joseph, father of Jesus" and "Mary the Virgin." This genealogy showed only one child of that union: Joseph Arimathea. Jesus was not mentioned, but perhaps the compiler of this lineage thought that went without saying.

This compiler did give a date of birth for Joseph as the year 100 in Bethlehem. The date alone makes the relationship questionable: How could Jesus have a brother born 100 years after he was? I am not a scholar of the Bible, but this was the first time I had seen Joseph Arimathea linked as the son of Joseph and Mary, although some have speculated that he might have been related to Jesus. According to medieval legend, Joseph took the Holy Grail containing the blood of Jesus to England.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

2010 census - will genealogists care in 2082?

Terry at Hill Country and Blaine at The Genetic Genealogist mention the US Government's plans to go low-tech with the census count in 2010.

Related, I've seen a few bloggers over the past few months discussing what will be asked in the census, with the fear we are headed to shorter census forms, with less information on them. There's also a fear we might go to statistical sampling, and thus not get a complete count. Valid concerns for genealogists.

But how bad would it really be if we completely lost the census as a research tool starting, let's say, with the 2010 or 2020 census? I've been giving this some thought.

Certainly, when I am researching ancestors from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the online census forms have been a godsend. So, one can extrapolate, in 100 years the future generations will find the census forms I am on a godsend, too, right?

I'm not so sure. Records on people prior to 1900, and in the early part of the 20th century are sparse. That's a lot of the reason we love the census. In some cases, it's all we've got. But it's not like relatives are untraceable after 1930. Record keeping starts to improve greatly in the 20th century.

Vital Records are going online. In 2082, 72 years after 2010, when the 2010 census is released, I'd be surprised if there was much information on it that wasn't obtainable easily somewhere else. Maybe genealogists will welcome it as a verification of what they have learned elsewhere. Or maybe we will enjoy reading what our ancestors "said" as opposed to what we we already know.

Back when there was discussion about the "Mother of all Genealogy Databases" I had doubts that such a concept would ever exist because the logic it takes to connect "John Smith 1" with "John Smith 2" will be too complex for computers. Especially with the data available prior to the computer age.

However, with the 2010 census, we're talking about data available now. I can easily envision a government database where one enters the social security number of a deceased individual, and retrieves a display of public information. This display could be just about anything the government knows about that individual not deemed private information. If you're not sure of the SS#, you will naturally be able to look it up like you are now. Sure, lots of our ancestors don't have Social Security numbers, but if we were born in the US, we all do now. (And legal immigrants get id#s too.) This database isn't available now, and probably isn't possible now, but by 2082?

I haven't been doing this very long, but the greatest part of the census seems to be the family groupings allowing you to trace a family back. But recently uploaded the IRS records from the 1860s and 70s, with a handful of later ones as well. I've never had to list dependents on a tax form, alas, but I believe when one does, one names them.

With the Texas marriage and birth records available at Ancestry I was able to find distant cousins born within the past ten years. By 2082 I expect the birth information of everyone reading this will be as easily available to their descendants.

There are probably other reasons to fight against statistical sampling. (I don't entirely trust statistical sampling to be an accurate count, and since the amount of representation is dependent upon the results I suspect there could be political shenanigans with sampling.)

However, while the future is always difficult to predict, I suspect the census won't be as useful a tool for genealogists of the future as it is today.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Car-nival of Genealogy

The 45th Car-nival of Genealogy has been posted, with 36 participants sharing stories about family cars. Lots of high-octane reading. (Insert groan here.)

And the theme for Carnival #46 has been announced:

What traits run in your family? Which of them did you inherit? Do you have your mother's blue eyes? Your grandfather's stubbornness? Your aunt's skill with knitting needles? Is there a talent for music in your family? Or do you come from a long line of teachers? Have you ever looked at an old photo and recognized your nose on another family member's face?
More info on submitting here

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Polish Suburbs

Back on March 17th I joked about my great-grandfather Barney growing up in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, known as Warsaw.

A few minutes ago someone left a comment on that post that yielded an interesting discovery. The commenter had a grandfather who insisted the family came from Scotland. It turned out his family came from Schotland, a suburb of Danzig (Gdansk) Poland.

My great-grandfather didn't merely say the family was 'from' Dublin, Ireland but claimed to have attended school there. So this possibility of generational geographical confusion isn't enough to explain away his fibbing. However, it might provide an interesting source for the idea of the fib. So I started looking through towns of Poland just for kicks.

And I discovered: Deblin, Poland, just over 100km from Warsaw.

View Larger Map

I will certainly have to keep this possibility in mind.

So You Want a Wiki?

Here's the post I promised awhile back on the Technology themed Carnival of Genealogy.

You want a genealogy wiki. What are your options? As I see it, there are two basic options.

Option One: Find a public "Genealogy Wiki"

Is there a "One World Tree"-type website, but in wiki format? There is at least one: FamilyPedia, which is on Wikia. Wikia is a product of the same company that is responsible for WikiPedia. Basically anyone can create a Wiki about anything on Wikia, and someone's already created one for genealogy, so there's no real reason to recreate the wheel.

However - I see serious problems with using a public Wiki for family genealogy. I've seen some of the gross errors in Ancestry's "One World Tree", and I suspect there will be a lot of fighting ultimately between different users over ancestors, as one tells another that they have the wrong "John Smith" married to the wrong "Jane Green"

There is an "Alternate Surname" of "Newmack" on Ancestry for a local relative in a census. That means someone researching a relative with the "Newmack" surname found my family, and decided they were their family, and decided to be "helpful." On a Wiki I certainly could tell them "hey, sorry, you're wrong" and change it back. But what if they don't think they're wrong, and a fight ensues? Who's going to resolve these disputes to the satisfaction of both sides?

Option Two: install a wiki on a private website.

What do you need?

First, and foremost, you need a website where
1) you can install scripts written in languages such as PHP
2) you have access to MySQL databases
3) you can password protect your site

Wait! I don't understand those words!

PHP is a computer programming language. MySQL is a type of database. You don't have to know anything about either, as there are pre-written applications that you can install without knowing the languages themselves.

Every host that provides space for websites will have a list of features that they are able to provide. (Or at least every professionally run one will.) So you will only need to look through the list of features for the words "PHP" and "MySQL".

If you decided to skip #3 - password protection

you will likely find yourself coming back to it. You might not have a problem with anyone seeing the information on your website. However, wiki software allows anyone to modify the information. And while there aren’t going to be a lot of people interested in vandalizing your family history, there are computer-programs scouring the web looking for wiki pages to turn into spam. Think about the emails you receive. If it’s not password protected, you will have to spend some of your time fighting spam. If it is password protected, you will be spending zero time doing this. Password protection also allows you to put “family only” stuff on the site you might not otherwise.

Choosing a Host

To achieve #1 and #2 you are going to need to pay a host, but prices have come down from where they once were. There are a lot of hosts to choose from. I am only going to mention two that I have personal experience with, and feel I can recommend.
$5/month (if you buy 2 years), $10/month if you buy 1 year
1000 GB of storage space
Unlimited bandwidth
Maximum 10 websites per account (maximum increased 1 website per month)
10 MySQL databases
PHP, MySQL, Perl
Lots of Extras
$9/month if you buy 2 years, $10/month if you buy 1 year
500gb of storage space
5TB of monthly bandwidth (increases by 40gb each week)
Unlimited MySQL databases
Unlimited domains
Lots of extras

[Note: You may be familiar with one that has better prices. As I said, there are a lot of hosts competing against each other. I have had several years experience with both Hostrocket and Dreamhost, and have received good customer service from both of them. They have also both been in the business for awhile. Since 1999 for Hostrocket, and 1997 for Dreamhost. They're not likely to disappear tomorrow.]

While some of the figures look different for these two, for 90% of all people, they are the same. You probably know how many gb of space your computer holds. 1000 may be double 500, but both are probably more than you’re going to need. I am currently using about 3 gb of space to host six websites, including two family-wikis, A research site for a 19th century French author, and a literary magazine.

5 TerraBytes of bandwidth isn’t unlimited, technically, but you aren’t likely going to get that much traffic on a family website – no matter how large your family is. Due to its educational nature, my research site actually gets a fair amount of visitors, and it uses about 500 mb of bandwidth a month. (0.5 gb or .0005 tb)

One thing you may notice is that it is possible to host more than one domain ( on one account. It might be possible to find somebody (or multiple somebodies) to split the cost of the account. In that case, Hostrocket’s limit on MySQL databases and on domains might make a difference in favor of Dreamhost at some point.

The domain names themselves cost about $10/year at

Many hosts will have something they call ‘one-click installs’ or something similar, where they have a list of programs that can be installed almost with the click of a button into your account. This list can vary. Both Hostrocket and Dreamhost do have wiki-software in their one-click install list. However, there’s a difference.

Hostrocket lets you choose between PhpWiki and Tiki-Wiki. Both of these work well, but they have a different look-and-feel from the software that is used to run Wikipedia, which more people are familiar with. If you are actually familiar with editing pages on Wikipedia, you will probably want to install the software it uses. There’s nothing stopping you from installing it on HostRocket, but you’re going to have to install it manually (or get HostRocket support to install it for you.)

Dreamhost has MediaWiki (and PhpGEDView - a popular genealogy app) on their one-click installs.

So if the website is going to have a Wiki as one of its requirements, Dreamhost is slightly favorable between these two options, and it is where both of my family wikis are currently hosted. I have never attempted to install MediaWiki manually, so I am unable to give any advice on that, though the instructions are online.

Let me know in the comments if there are other aspects about maintaining a Family Wiki that you are interested in.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Janice, at CowHampshire, has challenged other GeneaBloggers to post Lolcats.

I have nothing against Lolcats, but there are two types of families with family pets. There are cat families, and there are dog families. (And then there are the rare families where cats and dogs have learned to live in peace together, and it is the owners of these pets we should be appointing as diplomats to foreign nations...but that's an argument for another post.) Anyway, my family has always been a dog family.

I am also going to violate another tradition of Lolcatdom, and the text in this picture isn't coming from the dog's mouth. It's coming from the invisible kid, but it's in the invisible kid's real handwriting, and real words, written down 34 years ago, and scanned in from a scrapbook tonight.

Elsewhere in the scrapbook the kid mentions Daisy as a dog, so the kid probably wasn't confused. This is likely his first known recorded usage of a metaphor (age 5). And as April is National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate.

Yes, the invisible kid is me. Daisy was half Springer Spaniel, half Poodle, and probably the most intelligent dog I've ever known. All the dogs I've known have had their own special qualities, but Daisy cornered the market on intelligence. She even taught herself, without any assistance, how to ring the doorbell to indicate she wanted to come inside.

And she certainly had a foolish appearance at times - as illustrated in the photo - which makes it even more appropriate for today.