Monday, March 23, 2015

Shout Out to "Coach" Martin

Yesterday the I encountered the spirit of "Coach" Jerry Martin.

But first, let's back up.  One Saturday during the summer after 9th grade in 1980, my mom and I went to Triangle Sporting Goods at Towson Plaza to buy something, who knows what.  That's when I first met Mr. Martin.  He recognized my mom from high school, they went to Hereford together.  They chatted, he mentioned teaching and coaching at Perry Hall high school and mom mentioned that I would be going there in the fall.

Through my high school years (and after), although I didn't run track or cross country, when I would see him he would always address me by name and ask how my parents were.  Probably the last time I saw him was sometime in the early 1990s.

When he passed away, I read his obituary and realized that not only did he and my mom know each other in high school but that they were distant cousins.  I asked my mom if she knew they were cousins and she said, "oh, yea, that vaguely rings a bell" but she didn't know exactly how they connected.  I got out my tree and we talked about how they were related.

Now to the present.  Yesterday I attended a Baltimore County Genealogical Society meeting for the first time.  It was also my first visit to their library.  I was talking to the Assistant Librarian about what they had in the library and she asked if where I was searching.  When I told her that most of the people I was searching on were from northern Baltimore County she said, "Well you are going to love it here".  She proceeded to show me several things that had been compiled by "a gentleman that had lots of information for all people he could find in northern Baltimore County".  Then she told me that after he passed away his wife donated much of his information to the society.

She showed me the "Martin Files", several boxes of cards files containing information on lots of folks.  She also directed me to some binders organized by names and also by places.  As she opened up one of the binders I saw the name "Gerald Martin".  I thought to my self, "I wonder if that is Jerry Martin?"  Then she opened another and the first page had Jerry's picture.  She asked if I knew him and I told her that I knew him from high school and that I also knew we were distant cousins but I didn't find that out until after he passed away.

I took some time to browse the binders and it was amazing how many articles he had photocopied, organized and pasted into these binders.  Then I went over to the Martin Files and started browsing there.

That is when I got goosebumps.  In the brief time I looked through the cards I didn't necessarily find anything new (although I definitely need to go back and look more thoroughly) but under 'B' I found he had my parents' marriage announcement, my grandparents' obituaries and funeral cards.  Then I flipped to 'H' to see what was there for Henry.  I found my father's obit, my grandfather's obit and funeral card and several obits for my great aunts and uncles.  It was amazing to see all that someplace other than in my home office (and much more organized than mine).

I wish I had gotten into genealogy earlier so I could have talked to him about our family connection.
I know that most who knew him in his capacity of teacher and coach had supreme love and respect for him.  Now I also know another side and how much he has contributed to the genealogy community as well.

I also wonder if he carried his genealogy stuff around the same way he did his grade book...tucked in the back of his shorts.  HA!!

Thank you Coach Martin, my cousin, I will be thinking of you and thanking you for many years to come I am sure!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Miss Letters

Last night about a dozen family members on my Dad's side got together for dinner.  My Uncle John brought some old letters with him.  These letters were written in the 1970s when he lived in Florida.  It was so fun to read and pass around, especially since most of them were written by me and my cousins when we were kids. 
Letter writing, obviously, has declined due to the internet, email and Facebook.  I didn't realize how much I miss letters until we sat around that table and read letters last night.  Yes, you can let your kids type emails, and you can print them out and pass them around the table too.  But to see the handwriting it seems so much more personal.  I hope he shares more letters in the future.
I only took pictures of the 2 letters he brought that were written by me or my immediate family.

The first letter was written in November of 1972 by my mother.  Also included were "snip-its" from my sister and I.
You can tell it was the 1970s because my mother is inquiring if a fondue pot would be a good wedding gift for my uncle and his wife.
First up is my sister, she was 5 and obviously just learning to write.
Letter Page 2 - November 1972
On the next page, I put in my 2 cents. I was 7.
Letter Page 3 - November 1972
I don't have any return letters so I don't know if he answered the question, I am sure he did.  I do know that we did not go visit them in Florida as I am sure that it was cost prohibitive for a family of 4 supported by a surveyor.

The next letter was written solo by me in November of 1974.  Apparently my family only wrote letters in November.  Judging by the address in the upper left and my formal closing, I assume it was written around the time we were learning letter writing in school.  
Letter - November 1974
It seems silly to be overjoyed by these letters but it thrills me that my uncle saved them after all these years.  It would be very easy to toss them away.  I am so glad he didn't.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Asking For Help The Right Way

In general, genealogists are very helpful people.  Most genealogists love putting on their detective hat and helping others solve a mystery.  
I belong to several genealogy groups on facebook.  There are groups for technology, DNA, photo restoration, blogging, specific locations, and ethnicities.  Most of these groups have some of the most notable members of the genealogy community as members.  I have not only gotten help from these groups but offered help as well.

I continually see posts on these groups that are, for lack of a better phrase, set up for failure.
Let me first say that I do not claim to be an expert in the subject of social media requests.  But because of the amount of time I spend on these groups, I see a lot requests that get wonderful responses and others that are a train wreck.

I also see mentions from people that are afraid to post in groups because they are intimidated.  Hopefully, these tips will lessen that feeling and help you to post a request that will get more positive or helpful responses.

Be specific.
  • Include as many details as you can without writing a novel.  Requests like "I am looking for John Smith from Maryland.  Can you help?" require too many questions from the people who are trying to help.  I read a post like this and usually scroll right by it because there is too much missing. Even if you only have a date range or a location guess, include it.  Was John married?  If he was, did he have any children?  What have you already found about John and his family?  Any details you include can help those who are volunteering their time.
Punctuation and capitalization counts. 
  • I saw a post the other day that was about 20 lines long with no capitalization or punctuation.  AT ALL.  I tried to wade through the question but after 3 minutes I gave up.  I understand that often the people posting requests are not native English speakers, but Google Translate does a pretty good job at translating the punctuation.
"Which is best" posts.
I think it is these posts frustrate me the most, not because they are bad questions, but because you are asking for an opinion, and everyone has an opinion!  The four "which is best" posts I see most often are:
  • Which genealogy software is the best?  You will get LOTS of responses to this post, but unless you base your final decision by counting "votes" for each program mentioned, not a good answer.  Most genealogy programs have either a free version or a free trial.  You may have to spend a few weeks playing around with a few different versions in order to make your final decision.  But don't you want to use a program that fits the way you research, not a program that someone else said is best?
  • What newspaper subscription site is best?  This answer isn't an opinion, it is determined by your research location and time period.  For researching my York County, PA ancestors I have found the papers available on to be great!  However, it isn't great at all for researching my Baltimore, MD ancestors.  Visit the subscription sites and see what papers (don't forget to look at the date ranges) are available.  Also, you may want to pop for a month subscription (be sure to check for the renewal policy first) to see if you find the service worth the cost of a full yearly subscription.  Lastly, including a location and date range may get a response mentioning a free resource, such as a library or other repository.
  • What DNA company is best?  This one is tough because depends on several things.  What are you hoping to find out with DNA?  Also, who are you testing, yourself, another family member?  This will determine which test you should take.  Once you decide on a specific company and test, the success you have in finding matches is basically out of your control.  It is all going to depend on who else out there is getting tested.  I see posts where people say things like, "don't test with [Company A] because I did and I only have 4 matches".  Unfortunately, the most likely reason you only have 4 matches is because people who are genetically related to you haven't tested.  I have one branch of my family with hundreds of matches.  I have another branch that I only have a couple matches.  Hopefully that will change as more people test.  Also, taking a DNA test isn't going to fill in your entire family tree.  But hopefully it helps you make some "cousin connections" to help fill in some blanks.
  • I can only afford to pay for one subscription site, which one should I pick?  Again, there are too many determining factors to adequately answer this question.  What is your research concentration area and time period?  What type of information are you looking for?  Even with that information the answers will be largely subjective based on the success other researchers have had with their own research. It is a common question, just hard to give one solid answer.  Also, many public libraries, genealogy societies and family history centers have subscriptions that you can access for free at their location.  In my area, the public library has a world subscription to  I have to go to the library but I can access it through my own laptop as long as I am connected to their wi-fi.  The only drawback is that I have to comb my hair and put on pants.
Be respectful. 
The more respectful you are to other members of the group AND to the administrators, the more pleasant your experience will be.  Everyone, from the admins to the other members are donating their time on these groups.  They don't "owe" you anything, but will most often jump in to help if you are respectful.
  • Be patient.  Many groups are "Closed groups".  This means you have to request to join and an admin has to approve you.  These groups have administrators that donate their time to moderate the group.  It may take a day or two for the admin to get to your request.  The more popular groups may get lots of requests a day from people.  They will get around to you.  Also, different groups have different criteria for their members, but nothing outlandish.  They don't want trolls.  They want people who have a genuine interest in the topic of the group.  In the genealogy groups, they will generally check your profile to see if you have an interest in genealogy.  Depending on your security settings they may not be able to see what other groups you belong to or what your interests are.  In this case, it may take longer to get approved.  But don't sweat it.  Sometimes there will be a pinned post from the administrator on the group page.  You can send them a message if you are worried that you may not get approved, for example, if this is the first group you are joining.
  • Before you join, read the rules.  Most of the groups on Facebook have rules.  This is to make sure the page just doesn't end up being a big advertisement page. Make it easier on the admins and follow the rules.
  • "Someone deleted my post."  I see this many times on the RAOGK group.  99 times out of 100 the post was not deleted, there have just been so many posts that yours may fall way down on the page.  Search the group to try and find your post before accusing the admin of deleting it. Every group has a search field you can use.  It is located on the right side, at the bottom of the group cover picture.
Search this group field
  • Don't hijack someone else's thread.  Do not ask your own unrelated questions on someone else's post.  This can lead the thread off of the original topic which is not fair to the original poster.  Also, your question will probably not get the attention it deserves because it is buried in someone else's post.
  • "Close" your thread once you get an answer.  If you post a question or request and get a resolution, please go to your original post and edit it to by adding "SOLVED" before or after the question.  This will prevent people from trying to help with something that has already been answered.  Don't delete your post though.  Others may come along with a similar question and be able to read through the thread of your post for the answer.
Be appreciative.
Remember, people have volunteered their time to help you out.  You don't have to buy them a new car, but a thank-you can go a long way.  Maybe when you close your thread instead of just putting SOLVED, you can write "SOLVED-Thank you to all that helped!"   If someone has gone above and beyond, send them a message or post a thank you to them in the thread. 

Don't rely on others to do all your research.
I see people that will post 10 requests for research help in a row.  Sometimes it is obvious that the original poster hasn't tried to do any research on their own.  These groups are created to provide help, not do all of your work.  I will tend to bypass posts from people who post multiple requests and never supply any "known" information or information on where or what they have already researched.

"I sent so and so a message but they never responded."  On facebook, if you send a message from someone who is not your FB friend, the message goes into a folder called "Other".  Messages that go into the Other folder do not show up in your notifications.  Many users know not of this "other" folder.  So they may not be ignoring you, they just don't know that message is there.  The few times this has happened to me I have posted in the group something like "Hey so-and-so, I sent you a message.  If you have not seen it, please check your "Other" folder."  Also, if you never checked this folder before you may have some invitations from some very nice young ladies...LOL
The "Other" folder
Some questions may not get a satisfactory answer.   Sometimes I see a post about how a group "isn't helpful at all".  Then I will go to the group, search for the post and read the replies.  Even though the facebook groups have smart, resourceful and experienced researchers, it is possible that you just won't get a clear, definitive answer.  This may be no fault of your own or the group, the answer just isn't there.  Put that question away for awhile and try again in the future.  Again, be thankful for any clues you may have gotten but don't automatically think that the group isn't helpful.

Hopefully these tips are helpful to those who may be a little intimidated when it comes to using facebook groups or for those who scratch their heads because they aren't getting responses.