All posts by Banai Lynn Feldstein

JGSLA 2010 – Day 1 Recap

Sunday started a bit slowly for the conference as it usually does, but just for me. Things were already in full swing in terms of sessions for attendees. Usually Sunday has a couple of meetings, lunches, and beginner sessions, but there was a lot more to do this year.

Missing the early session that interested me, I visited the Resource Room, the Vendor Room, and the Market Square, which was new this year. I wandered around a bit talking with people. There are always plenty of people at this conference that I know and others that are happy to talk about their genealogy with complete strangers.

I spoke with Eileen Polakoff for a bit where she was sitting at the APG table in the Market Square, along with the people at the Washington DC and France tables, where we spoke about upcoming conferences. I even stopped at one table and bought a book. I had her session marked for another day and I’ll likely still go.

I went to lunch with Mark and Kathy and Bob Wascou, who had just arrived to register before we saw him.

A little more schmoozing time and I went to the first IAJGS Management Seminar which was led by Thomas MacEntee teaching about 21st Century Marketing. He went through the usual suspects of Facebook, Twitter, web sites, blogs, newsletters, email marketing. He said a lot of things I knew but also threw in some things I hadn’t thought of. Watching the time, he basically skipped over LinkedIn, and that’s one site I haven’t really used yet but was curious about.

From there, I went to the President’s Reception where I schmoozed some more. There’s a lot of schmoozing at these conferences.

I spent some time talking with Barbara Hershey from Portland, Oregon, until it was time for the opening ceremony.

The conference co-chairs were introduced and it was explained that outside is not fog but the “marine layer”. They got very detailed announcing who was already registered, giving counts by country and by US state. Eleven people are here from Utah. I know seven, are they counting the vendors from Ancestry for the rest? So far, 1016 people were registered for this conference.

The winning poster for Jewish Genealogy Month was revealed and it was a nice one. I never much paid attention to those, but I don’t think they’d ever been that classy looking.

We were treated to a comedy film that probably ran a little longer than it needed to, a parody called Who Cares Who Do You Think You Are? which added a new episode into the series featuring Jordan Auslander. Eileen Polakoff, Ron Arons, and Karen Franklin also appeared in the episode.

Steven Smith (or Stephen?) introduced himself and then the keynote speaker, Daniel Mendelsohn.

Daniel is the author of two books, the second called The Lost. His speech started out by talking about errors in records while doing genealogy research, but it turned into a story about the difference between family history and genealogy. He didn’t call it that, but that’s how I refer to it. In genealogy, we collect records to learn the facts about people’s lives. In family history, we collect the stories. Unfortunately, some of us can’t get any stories, so we are missing the narratives of the lives of the people who came before us. He shared some incredible stories from his family, including the one about a record he found on which he knew everything was a lie except for the person’s name. It makes you wonder how much you can rely on some of these records, but most of us have no choice but to believe them since we have nothing to contradict them and no narratives to go along with them.

Then the crowds headed out to the dessert tables. I got out pretty quickly and grabbed something, then went back into the ballroom, where it was less crowded. Pamela Weisberger was working her way out of the room and she introduced me to Daniel. He stood around talking to me and a few others for a few minutes. It’s good to know the people in charge. :-)

I eventually talked to a few other people, grabbed a few more snacks, then headed up to my room where I was too tired to blog and went to bed pretty quickly.

And that was just the first and usually slowest day. Today, I present my computer lab just before lunch and I have a few other things in the schedule that I want to attend.

JGSLA 2010 – 0.3 – Registration

I am now registered for the IAJGS conference.

Getting here wasn’t as smooth as that registration. I didn’t get much sleep so I was tired during the drive.

Registration for the hotel could have gone smoother. I saw a few familiar faces in the lobby while dealing with the front desk. I found my way up to the room with my roommate. The rooms here are quite spacious and I like the decor. It’s kind of retro and I really like the look. Usually I think hotel decor is tacky. Our room looks out over the Staples Center.

Roommate Judi Missel went to the pre-conference banquet and I went out to dinner with Mark Heckman and Kathy, Ron Arons, and Jonina Duker. Returning to the hotel and jumping in line for registration, I talked to far too many people to list here.

The day ended on a high note and now it’s late am I’m heading to sleep. I think I’ll try to blog more this week before midnight.

JGSLA 2010 – 0.2 – Preparations And Glitches

I finished up all my client work and even did some of my own genealogy organizing. I got my family newsletter sent out, finally, and updated the book just a smidge. I am teaching a computer lab on using Microsoft Publisher and that book is my example, so I thought I’d get reacquainted with it again before the conference.

This Friday morning, I woke up early and packed and cleaned a bit around my house. The garbage had a very late pick-up which I had to wait for, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. And then finally, off I went.

An hour later, when I got to the Springville exit, my car died. This car is 19 years old and she’s never had something break that actually stopped her from working before. Looks like it was the transmission. But Murphy and his laws didn’t get me completely. If I’d gone past two more exits, I would have been in the middle of nowhere and completely stranded. This way, at least I was in Spanish Fork. So I left my car at a repair shop without even asking him to fix her and Enterprise came and picked me up.

And so I was finally on my way again. I must say, cruise control is a wonderful thing and I don’t know how I survived so many drives across the country or across multiple states before without it.

And now I’m in Mesquite. I was hoping to make it to Las Vegas for the night. I even got half an invitation from a friend, and I called her, but I didn’t really feel like driving anymore and it was already dark. She went online for me and found an obscure little motel with free Internet included and here I am writing this blog entry. In the morning, I’ll stop in Las Vegas for breakfast with her and then I’ll be in Los Angeles in the afternoon for the IAJGS Conference.

JGSLA 2010 – 0.1 – Before I Leave

I had a bit of a blogging black hole in there where I made no entries. I’ll try to be better. In the meantime, it’s time to prepare for the IAJGS conference. Actually, it’s probably past time to prepare, but I’m just getting started.

I plan to drive down to Los Angeles in advance of the conference, but the time to get there in advance is shrinking. I want to meet some more of my relatives; I have a few in the area that I’ve never met.

I’m teaching a computer lab and still need to make preparations for it. I gave the same lab last year, but wanted to improve on what I did and part of that improvement will take me some time working at home.

I will be helping in the Resource Room and introducing a couple of other computer labs that I volunteered for. This will be my first time as introducer. I was just curious about a couple labs and there I went volunteering again.

In the meantime, I’ve been flattening the weeds in my yard and it’s just slightly possible that someone will give them a serious death spray while I’m gone. I also fixed an old leak in my swamp cooler, so I shouldn’t have to worry about turning off the water to that while I’m gone.

NGS 2010 – Part 2

It was quite unfortunate that I missed the third day of NGS. I only had one session highlighted in my schedule, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t have gone to any others. It was just the lack of sleep all week that caught up to me. So I really had to make the most of Saturday.

I got started a little later than I meant to so I missed the first lecture I had planned to go to. As I was about to head to the next lecture session, Beau Sharbrough came around and I got to talking to him, was introduced by him to a few people including his wife, and missed another lecture.

Lectures

By the afternoon, I’d had enough vendor room socializing and found a new addition to the schedule: J.H. Fonkert’s Anatomy of a Genealogy Research Report. I followed that with Maureen Taylor’s Every Picture Tells a Story: Dating Family Photographs. Both research report lectures I attended were filled with good information. Photo dating is a weakness of my genealogy skills, so those lectures are always helpful. Maybe someday I’ll pick up some of the books on the subject and really learn something.

I missed all the evening events during the week like the concert at the conference center (I really wanted to go to that) and the group watch of Who Do You Think You Are?.

Social Networking

This conference further reinstated to me that when I attend IAJGS conferences, I go for the social networking more than attending lectures. At my first IAJGS, I attended as many lectures as I could, but found that I didn’t learn very much because I already knew so much. I viewed the NGS lectures about the same way. I’ve chatted with many Twitterers and bloggers online, but many of the ones I talk to the most weren’t there. I did get to briefly meet several of them including Dick Eastman, Randy Seaver, Ancestry Insider, Lisa Alvo, and Kathryn Doyle. I was upset that Megan Smolenyak only attended the day that I missed. I was really thankful that I had some friends tethered to their vendor booths so I could visit with them often. (I hope I didn’t drive them nuts.) I stopped at many other vendor booths just to chat a bit, which I rarely did at IAJGS.

Conclusion

I was really hoping to really meet the bloggers and spend more time with them, but we didn’t know each other so I didn’t get invited to their impromptu get-togethers. I know I judged some of the conference a bit unfairly due to my IAJGS experience. For instance, I know everyone who runs those conferences and many of the regular attendees, so there’s no lack of people to socialize with all week. Also, there were several times when I couldn’t decide what lectures to attend because I had no interest in any of them. At IAJGS, there’s usually something that I have at least a mild interest in learning about because it’s all on-topic for Jewish genealogy.

All in all, I enjoyed the conference. I will definitely consider attending future NGS and FGS conferences.

NGS 2010 – Halfway Through

This year is my first year attending the National Genealogical Society conference. It is taking place in Salt Lake City, so I really didn’t have an excuse to miss it.

Monday

My week started on Monday when Michael Goldstein came into the city in advance of the conference and I met with him for lunch, some research at the Family History Library, and then dinner along with Daniel Horowitz, Kahlile Mehr, and his wife.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, I brought boxes to Ron Arons at the Salt Palace Convention Center. He had shipped his books to me in advance of NGS for his booth in the vendor room. This was beneficial to both of us as I had no idea where the conference would be in the very large Salt Palace. He thanked me with dinner and then we went to the FHL for a UJGS meeting where Daniel Horowitz spoke to a crowded room about MyHeritage. I only left 30 flyers at the FHL the week before and I was absolutely thrilled at the guest turn-out along with the large number of members in attendance.

Wednesday – NGS Day One

By Wednesday, the first day of NGS, my sleep deprivation was really catching up to me. I have two rare sleep disorders and one of them sometimes dictates that I am basically awake all night and asleep all day. I am in the midst of that one now, but forcing myself to stay awake during the day does not cause me to sleep at night anyways. I was working on only 3-4 hours of sleep each day.

I was only a few minutes late for the 8am opening session. Sitting so far in the back, I mostly listened as there were too many heads in front of me to see much. I was most interested in watching the video of the Granite Mountain Vault and was glad to see later that the FamilySearch booth in the vendor room was replaying it.

After the opening session, everyone crowded into the vendor room as the opening session room was set up for regular sessions. I walked around and spoke with people, picked up some snacks, and learned what some of the companies were about.

I attended some of Laura Murphy DeGrazia’s Prove It! Evidence Analysis for Genealogists, and stepped into Thomas Jones’s Five Way to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was, which was standing room only. Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation was catching up to me and I was wiped out. I headed home early.

I obviously missed a couple sessions I wanted to attend on Wednesday, and the Ancestry presentation, but I learned about the major points overnight from Twitter.

Thursday – NGS Day Two

On Thursday, I again arrived late for the first session I wanted to attend, but this time I could partly blame the weather. Claire Bettag’s Research Reports: Meeting the Standards was not quite standing room only, but I stood outside the door with a small group instead of trying to find the few remaining empty seats.

Again spending time in the vendor room, I spoke to Ron Arons for a while and several other vendors. I stopped at the Genlighten booth (many times during the week) to speak with Dean Richardson and his wife, and the MyHeritage booth to see Daniel Horowitz. I somehow spent enough vendor room time that I didn’t go to an 11am session. I had nothing marked in my calendar, but I’m surprised while typing this blog entry that I don’t recall attending any sessions.

During the lunch hour, Ancestry had a session to speak with bloggers, which I attended. I saw mention on Twitter of the Geneabloggers meeting in the vendor room but never found this elusive location. So I finally saw a few of my tweeps (Randy Seaver, Lisa Alvo, Ancestry Insider, among others) at this meeting.

Afterwards, I sat with Tony Macklin for a while to discuss the Ancestry web site. We ended up looking at the new search and trying to find my great-uncle’s 1930 census page, which caused a great deal of difficulty. Did the transcription get changed (incorrectly) since I first found it years ago or did I have such a hard time finding that one record? In the end, we did find it, and submit the transcription correction.

At 4pm, I went to Thomas Jones’s Organizing Evidence to Overcome Record Shortages. This time, there were still some seats left. I was on time and actually heard the introduction, which he gave himself. I stayed for most of the session, leaving only when he was on his second example near the end. Again, the lack of sleep was catching up.

I wanted to go to the Conference Center for the evening concert but knew that it was unlikely I would be able to stay awake while sitting still in a darkened room for two hours. I checked in again with Ron and, while realizing that I’d be driving home in rush hour traffic, he suggested dinner again to wake me up a bit and delay the drive. (It worked. Thanks again Ron.)

Upon arriving home, I started to catch up with Facebook and Twitter, only to leave that unfinished to go to sleep. I woke up around midnight, but went right back to bed to wake up around 5am. Finally, some sleep! (And in the dark, almost like a normal person.) I don’t suppose I’ll be without the feeling of sleep deprivation all day, but it should help.

Two more days to go at NGS. What do I hope to accomplish? I’d really like to talk to my Geneablogger friends some more and get to know them a little. I only have a few sessions marked in my schedule, but I’m sure I’ll drop in on many of the others.

WDYTYA – Episode 5 – The Nitpicker’s Version

From the previews, we already knew that Brooke Shields was going to find that she was descended from royalty. Reading some of the articles that have been written recently by people who don’t like genealogists, this is what they think the field is all about: finding where your family intersects with the royalty of Europe. Although Brooke has this on one side of her family, the majority of genealogists do not. Or maybe many of them do, but not in Jewish families. Either we run out of records to trace, or Jews were simply so isolated from the rest of the population that our families don’t intersect with the European royalty that everyone else is trying to find in their families.

Why Do The Research?

I think that most people find an interest in genealogy because they inherit old items from parents or grandparents, or are involved in helping someone downsize from the old family house to a smaller place.

For Brooke Shields, it was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I didn’t really understand what it was about that event that made her suddenly interested in her family history based on what she said, but I can understand that people reacted very strongly to that moment in time and that was simply her reaction.

No Family Visit

Brooke started by going to New Jersey, where her mother was born. Apparently she had no family to talk to in the way all the other episodes started. There was no mention of any other relatives. Were there none alive or did she not have contact with them? Either way, sometimes you have to start without.

Michelle Chubenko was her first contact, a genealogist who worked in New Jersey. They searched through microfilms for the birth record of her grandmother and sister. Can regular people do that if they go to the archives? I have never been to the New Jersey archives but I’ve been to others, and such things didn’t happen. You have to request the record, giving specific details, often the details you are trying to learn, in the hopes that they will find the record for you. Oh, the privilege of celebrity and a camera crew.

Looking up her grandmother and sister, they saw that there were four children in the family, which Brooke didn’t know about. She was “in shock” that there were two more siblings, but Michelle found the records of the other births. Just because she hadn’t heard of them, why would she be surprised to find there were more?

Come to think of it, my grandfather was one of twelve. When I was told there were two others that had died in infancy, I was surprised. Not because I didn’t think it was possible but just because I hadn’t been told about them before. Watching the first time through, I didn’t think of this and took her shock at the revelation to be wrong, but now I see that it was probably the same kind of reaction I had.

From the birth records, they determined that of the two brothers, one died in infancy while the other was still alive when the fourth child was born. Brooke suddenly wanted to know everything about him, saying she felt like a detective. That is exactly what genealogy research is about.

To Newark

Going back to the old neighborhood, historian Tom McCabe showed her a 1910 picture of the street where the family lived and pointed out the buildings where they lived and where two of the siblings were born.

Meeting with Michelle again, now in a restaurant, Michelle “did additional research”. I always like when they mention that they did research and didn’t just produce all kinds of information out of thin air. She found Brooke’s great-grandmother’s death certificate, when her grandmother was only ten years old. She also found the death for Edward when he was 13, along with a newspaper article about his drowning.

Why do they meet so many genealogists in restaurants? Are there no better places? Just seems odd to me. Sure, that may happen in real life when you’re meeting a stranger and need a public location, but that’s not the case here. Maybe they just like the bad lighting conditions for the episodes.

From Mom to Dad

Once Brooke had discovered enough to understand more about her grandmother, she switched to her father’s side. When I look at how far back in time the research went for her father’s family, I can only hope that they did more on her mother’s side but didn’t find anything TV-worthy.

At the New York Historical Society, genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts unrolled a family tree scroll going back to the early 1700s.  (We later see the other side of it goes to the 1600s.) This is one of those moments that I don’t like, where they skip over far too much of the research and just suddenly produce all kinds of results. Not only that, but he traced that far back and all she could ask about was what came before.

Of course, she may have asked questions about every person in the chart and none of that made it into the episode, but not only does this show that genealogists can magically produce detailed charts going back several hundred years, but that the person receiving the information should only ask what came before that and expect to find more going even further back in history. Usually, when time and money aren’t an issue, whatever information is found is all that can be found. This also suggests that no matter what information is available, if you get on a plane and go to another country, you’ll find so much more when you get there. Is that true? If so, I need to start racking up more frequent flyer miles.

To Rome, Italy

Daniela Felisini, a professor at the University of Rome, who had written a book about the history of the Torlonias, brought Brooke to the location of the original textile shop and bank where her ancestor began building his businesses.

Villa Torlonia was one of the palaces that her ancestor bought for the family’s summer home. Wouldn’t we all like to find a place like that in our family’s history?

Once again, she wanted to know more about where Giovanni came from, which was her original goal. That family tree scroll went back to Marino, Giovanni’s father, and that was who she wanted to know more about. Going back to his birth in 1725 wasn’t enough.

From the wedding certificate of Marino, they discovered a French origin for the family.

Not the Best Part of the Show

Before the commercial break, a clip is shown where Brooke is standing in front of the house and says “This is where it all began.” (This is not shown later in the episode but just in the previews.) She is not the only celebrity to say this in the show previews. Each part of this particular episode was about finding what came before whatever research she was given, so why does it begin at that house and not several generations before? Is that as far back as the research went in that family so it became the beginning of it?

This is like when people say they are finished with their genealogy. No, they probably aren’t. They may be finished with the records that are available, but their genealogy goes back a lot further.

The narrator’s voiceover after the commercial was also disturbing. “She thought her father’s side was Italian, but now she’s just discovered she may have very strong French roots.” I remembered this a little differently after the first viewing, but it still sounds a bit wrong. To me, it sounded like her family could be traced back to the early 1700s in Italy, but she wasn’t really Italian?  If you can trace your family back 300 years in a country, I think your family is from that country. Just because they came from somewhere else before that doesn’t negate your link to that country. After all, we’re really all from Africa, if you trace back far enough into the history of the species, but we don’t all claim African roots.

Augerolles, France

On the trail of Marino Torlonia, she went to France. Historian Carene Rabilloud showed her the baptism, where he was born in France. Next, she visited the house where the family lived 300 years earlier.

Brooke felt “linked” to the family and it was repeated a few times that she studied French literature in college and she was amazed to find that France was part of her ancestry. Moments like that are some of the bonuses you get from studying your genealogy; finding specific connections to your ancestors.

Again, The Chart Was Not Enough

After tracing beyond one side of the scroll, she wanted to go back on the other branch that went back to the early 1600s.

“Not being satisfied without the least bit of royal blood in my veins, I must find out about her.” As I stated before, this is what some people think genealogy is all about. Brooke sounded like she wasn’t quite so serious as that may read in this blog, but it was what several writers have complained about recently in those anti-genealogy stories.

This is where Ancestry.com finally got their plug. What train was she on that had Internet access? I want to take that train when I go to Europe.

Paris, France

Charles Mosley, a genealogist who specializes in royal families, was her contact at the Louvre. Christine Marie’s father was Henry IV. This seems like a pretty important bit of information. Why did the genealogist in New York not have this information on that fancy scroll? Hopefully only because they wanted to break this information later in the episode.

At Saint-Denis Cathedral, she got to touch the actual heart of Henry IV, which seemed macabre. (Borrowing that word from David Tennant in his BBC episode, when he handled a skull found under the church floorboards.) Charles said that the heart was her property more than anybody else; well, hers and all the other possibly hundreds or more descendants, right?

Of course, once you get to European royalty, it all traces back to Charlemagne, so Charles was able to tell her more about her royal ancestry going back even further.

Considering how far back in time you have to go to get to Charlemagne, it makes me wonder about the so-called Borg Tree on Geni.com. Is that tree based on descendents of the royal lines? A cousin of mine married into a family that also traced back to those royal lines. I was sent a file of the genealogy that just went straight back until it got to Charlemagne’s grandfather. If you combine all the information including siblings, cousins, and descending down the families, how many people alive today would be connected to that family tree?

Conclusion

“Being able to sort of find your place in the grand scheme of things, there’s something empowering about it.” That’s a nice way to sum up genealogy research. There are lines like this in each episode. We are all the sum of the people who came before us, whether we inherited something from them in our appearances, our talents, or if it’s just a matter of a change of geography that changed the course of our family forever.

I was kind of disappointed with this episode the first time I watched it, with perpetuating the search for royalty in her family and constantly asking what came before that family tree scroll instead of showing that she could be satisfied just knowing that much. I think it was done that way deliberately to continue the story and show her searching for her ancestry beyond what was written there, but when you take that much care to put together a large scroll in fancy calligraphy that way, you don’t stop at the interesting parts.

Rewatching the show, I was not as disappointed as during the first viewing, but I think this was my least favorite episode so far. And considering how much I enjoy watching every episode of this show, saying it’s my least favorite isn’t really saying anything bad.

This article is the fifth in a series. Previous articles:

Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 3 – The Usual Suspects

Each floor of the Family History Library shares many traits.

Information Desk

On every floor, there is an information desk as you exit the stairs or the elevators. The second floor has a bit of an “outer lobby”, but look around and you can’t miss the information desk. There are always people at these counters waiting to help you, so ask questions. (Don’t wander around trying to figure out something when a quick question can save you time.) At any given time, you may find the desk staffed with volunteers or expert consultants. On the International floor, the desk is staffed with people who can help you read the records in foreign languages. (I have been told that a German translator is always available.)

Access Services

There is an Access Services room on each floor. These are small rooms located by the scanners. If you need a restricted microfiche, you can pick it up at the window (in exchange for a photo ID). This is also where you order microfilm from the vault; films must be ordered on the floor where they will be filed, i.e. International films must be ordered on the International floor and cannot be ordered on the US floor.

Very important: This is also where you get items from high density storage. If you have looked for a book or microfilm and can’t find it, and the catalog says it’s available, it’s usually in high density. The catalog will not indicate if an item is in high density, so you have to ask. These items are retrieved immediately; no need to worry about ordering them days in advance like films from the vault.

Microfilm

Microfilm Drawers

Most floors (not the main floor or the third floor) have microfilm. The microfilm are self-serve.   There are signs at the end of each aisle to tell you which numbered films are there. Each drawer displays the number of the first film in the drawer. Try not to take too many at a time because someone else might need the film; stick with five or six at most. You must refile them when you are finished. There are usually two small, rolling step stools in each aisle to help you reach the films that are too high; sometimes you have to check other aisles to find them.

Each floor with microfilm has aisles of microfilm readers. There are some special readers with more magnification and for left-handed use that are clearly labelled.

Microfiche

Floors with microfilm also have microfiche. There is a cabinet on each floor. Red plastic markers are on top of the cabinet to help you mark the place to refile the fiche. There are usually a few fiche readers near the cabinet. As stated before, some microfiche are restricted and must be picked up at the Access Services windows.

Maps

Maps can be found on many floors. Some you will find on special map tables containing large books with collections of maps; others are in cabinets.

Books

The main floor has family histories; books that people have written about their own families. The second floor has no books; US and Canada books are found on the third floor. Both basement floors have books. As stated before, many books (especially on B-1, the International floor) are in high density and must be requested from Access Services.

There are usually two sections of books: reference books are found near the information desk on each floor while other books have their own areas on the floor.

Computers

There are rows of computers on every floor. You can access the FHL catalog and many subscription genealogy web sites for free. You can access most of the Internet (they do have some filters set up to block some things). You can also use the FHL wi-fi network with your own computer (but it has even more filters — I’ve never connected to email on my own computer).

Scanners, Printers, and Photocopiers

There are some printers within the computer area as well as one by the scanners. Scanners are on all floors except the main floor. From the scanners, you can save digital images from your microfilm or microfiche to your own flash drive, burn them to a CD, or send them to the nearby printer. There is also one flatbed scanner on each floor for scanning books.

The third floor has several photocopy machines instead of film/fiche scanners, whereas other floors have just one photocopier.

Disclaimer

Just in case some of my details are incorrect, keep in mind that sometimes things are changed at the FHL, I don’t spend much time on some floors, and I’m writing this article from memory.

This is the third part in a series. For previous articles see:

WDYTYA – Episode 4 – The Nitpicker’s Version

Matthew Broderick had a similar problem to me. His father’s side of the family was the big mystery; my paternal grandfather’s family is the biggest mystery to me, with the earliest record being my grandfather’s passenger ship list to America.

Start with the Family

Matthew started by visiting his sister Janet. Together, they carried a huge trunk of old photos and possibly other items. The part I missed from this scene was the big “Oh wow, this stuff is amazing!” No such trunk exists in my family, certainly not for my paternal grandfather’s family. Any genealogist would love to find such an item.

I like when Janet told the story about the card joke, how their grandfather called a bad poker hand a foot, and how their mother thought it was a dumb joke but used the same expression her whole life. Even little bits like that are interesting to learn about our ancestors.

Matthew hoped that he found nothing embarrassing, hoped it was a good story, but said he was “ready for anything”. That is a good attitude. Studying your ancestors’ lives, you never know what you might find.

National Archives in NYC

Matthew read from the military record of his grandfather, James Joseph Broderick, seeing that he was in the medical department, transferred to Le Havre, and therefore headed to France to find out what happened. Again, someone watching might think that the only way to find out about your ancestors is to fly across the world, when that is rarely ever the case. It is certainly interesting to go to the places where our ancestors lived, but how many people ever get to do that?

France

On the Meuse-Argonne Battlefield, Peter Barton, a World War I historian, explained to Matthew what the battle was like, further explaining what the medical personnel’s job was like, and how important his grandfather was to every man on the field.

Producing a copy of a document, Matthew learned that his grandfather was awarded a purple heart. He was wounded in 1918 and received the medal in 1933. What they didn’t explain was the large gap in time. Do all medals take that long to be awarded? I would like to know.

Going to the cemetery, they visited the graves of men from his grandfather’s division. Producing another document from the file, Peter handed Matthew a letter that recommended James Broderick for the Distinguished Service Cross. Another missing point: did he get the medal? The letter was a recommendation, but they failed to state if it was awarded. The previous document stated that the medal was awarded.

Switching Families — to Connecticut

Changing his focus to his grandmother Mary, Matthew went to the Connecticut State Archives, where he met with Richard Roberts, the archivist. Ancestry.com got their usual plug when they searched the census.

They found that Mary was living in an orphanage which Matthew was shocked to learn. It almost seemed like he realized that that could have been the end of the line for that family’s research. But Richard told him that there were more clues. They looked through the coroner’s records to find what happened to Mary’s parents.

“These cold, little facts get more and more human. As you put them together, you get a story of a life of a human being and it’s just fascinating.”

We all learn about history in school, but when you find that it’s your own ancestors who lived through the events, it makes it more personal. This is part of the beauty of genealogy and family history research. I wonder if I would have been more interested in learning about history in school if I had also researched how my family played their part in events.

“It’s funny to know things about your parents’ parents that maybe your parents didn’t know.”

I can relate to this as well. When I began my own research, my father could not even tell me the names of his grandparents. He had his parents’ ketuba (the Jewish marriage contract) which listed both his grandfathers’ names, and he was named for one of his grandfathers, but he didn’t know.

Who Has Seen the Census on Paper?

Mel Smith, an archivist at the Connecticut State Archives, brought out books of the 1870 census. Has anyone ever seen census pages on paper? I didn’t even know they had such things. Did they do this because they already plugged Ancestry.com in the previous section? They were searching for William Martindale, Matthew’s great-grandfather.

Mentioning that the 1870 census does not define the relationships in the household or specify whether someone is single, married, or (in this case) widowed would have been a nice addition to the voiceover. Someone who doesn’t normally work in these records would not know that. I had to look it up myself, as the research I usually do rarely goes back that far in American history. But these kind of details are usually skipped over in the show, and this one is insignificant compared to many other things I mention that are overlooked in the final cut of the episodes.

Back to the 1850 census, they found the same family again, including William’s father, Robert. Why did they skip the 1860 census? The voiceover soon explained that the family was missing from that census. I’m glad they explained it, and so quickly. It’s good to point out that not everyone can be found in every census, just as not everyone can be found in records even where you expect them.

By the age on the census, Matthew determineed that his great-grandfather, William Martindale, probably fought in the Civil War, so they followed up on that.

More Paper Records

Breaking out more boxes of old paper records, I wondered why I didn’t notice so many genealogists on Twitter freaking out because neither Matthew nor Mel were wearing white gloves.

Matthew read from the enlistment papers of Robert, stopping to revel in seeing his signature and then looking at his physical description.

They continued by looking through muster rolls. The pages were folded and looked delicate. Did Matthew open each page to see where the regiment had been? They found a page that showed the regiment fought at Gettysburg. In a voiceover, Matthew said that the muster rolls showed the regiment went from Tennessee to Savannah, Georgia, but how did they know that Robert’s trail ended in Atlanta? Another fact skipped over in the episode. Obviously the research was completed, but as usual, not explained.

To Atlanta

Gordon Jones, curator of the Atlanta History Center and Civil War Exhibit, brought Matthew out to the location of the Battle of Peachtree Creek. Another document was produced for Matthew to read, stating that Robert died in that battle.

Brad Quinlan, a Civil War historian knew more about what happened to Robert after he was killed. They visited the original burial location then went to the Marietta National Cemetery where the bodies were later moved. Robert was buried as an unknown soldier. Brad created a list of all the men in the regiment who were buried there and found only one that was unknown, thus finding Robert.

The preview from the show stated that Matthew’s search helped to solve a 160 year old mystery. It sounded like it could have been solved if someone had really tried before, since Robert was the only one who was missing from the list, but it was very touching to see an unknown soldier mystery solved, especially noticing in the scene how many small stones there were, clearly more unknown soldiers.

Conclusion

“We’re all related to the generations that happened before us. What they went through shaped our time.”

They’re really good at getting the right sound bites from the celebrities in these episodes. Matthew had quite a few good ones.

This was another great episode of Who Do You Think You Are? filled with important events in American history. I find these episodes fascinating because I learned about these events in history classes in school, though I may not have paid much attention back then. Even so, they are not so much a part of my history because all four of my grandparents were born in Europe. Nevertheless, I think I’ve learned more about history from movies and documentaries than I ever did in school. This episode just brings those same stories to life even more. By learning about what happened to a single person, and going through the emotional ride with that person’s descendent, it just makes it seem more real and more personal, like it was something that happened to real people and not just something that was written in history books.

This article is the third in a series. Previous articles:

Additional: By email, Roger Lustig informed me that the Purple Heart was reinvented for George Washington’s bicentennial in 1932, which was when World War I vets could apply. Thanks Roger.

Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 2 – The Building

FHL

The Family History Library is conveniently located in downtown Salt Lake City, near the Trax line within the Free Fare Zone, across the street from Temple Square, and down the street from the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The library has five floors, two of which are basement floors. When you walk in the entrance — using the door on the right — there will be someone immediately to your left who will likely greet you. Don’t be surprised and just say “hello” back. Also, if someone greets you walking down the sidewalk, don’t be suspicious; people are just really friendly in SLC sometimes.

Straight ahead from the door is an information desk. I believe this is where you get the “First Timer” sticker (they didn’t have them my first time) and they can direct you to an orientation session if you want to go. The orientation room is to your left when facing the desk. There are also stairs up to the second floor on the left. To the right of the entrance is another stairway and the elevators.

The main floor has the orientation room, lots of computers, family history books, a break room (with food and drink machines), and some classrooms.

The second floor is the US/Canada floor, with computers, microfilm, microfiche, microfilm readers, and a printing/scanning area.

The third floor houses US and Canada books, with several photocopiers and one digital scanner. There are also extra tables, many with electrical outlets built in, where you can spread out to work or organize. They recently expanded the number of computers on this floor.

Downstairs, B-1 is the International floor. This floor houses both microfilm and books and has computers, readers, printers, and scanners.

B-2, the lowest level, is the British Isles, which includes Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other areas.

When you look for items in the FHL catalog, they will state whether they are US/CAN, INTL, or BRITISH, which tells you on what floor of the building you will find them. Remember that US and Canada books have their own floor separate from microfilm and microfiche.

This is the second part in a series. The first part can be found at Beginner’s Guide to the Family History Library – Part 1 – Plan Ahead.