Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Note to Self: Get Off the Internet and Research the Old Fashioned Way

Last week I took a genealogy "vacation".  I didn't go far in miles but I did in years.  As I live where the majority of my ancestors did going back to (at least) the 1800s, my trips were local.

I love the convenience of internet research.  But I also LOVE on-site research.  I love walking into a library, archive or society and getting that first whiff of old books, flipping through big, bound volumes of records and chatting with other researchers.  So, I decided to take a few days and do some on-site searching. 

The main focus of my research was to explore the Whitaker line on my mother's side.  Most of the information I had to date came from census information, I had done no in-depth research.  Some searching on ancestry.com revealed that this line had a long history in the county that I live in.

So I made some preparations for a couple weeks beforehand.  I normally wouldn't spend quite this amount of time but this line has gone largely unresearched, so I was essentially starting with nothing but some names and estimated dates.
  • First, I spent some time with my database file, getting familiar with the names, dates and locations for the family I wanted to research.  One thing I realized is that this family has been in Harford County longer than the county existed.  So, I may also need to search Baltimore County for records before 1774.
  • Then I spent an evening in my local public library.  They have a "Maryland Room" with extensive local history resources.  I found some additional information in books and compiled data.
  • I hopped on ancestry.com to look at some other trees for "clues" I was missing and made notes.
  • One of my favorite types of records are land records, so I spent some time with mdlandrec.net plowing through land records.
  • Based on the sources listed in the books from the library and others' information on ancestry.com I knew I should visit the Historical Society of Harford County, the Maryland State Archives and the Maryland Historical Society to start.  So I double-checked their websites to check the days and hours they were open so I could plan my research week.
  • I had never been to the Historical Society Harford County before so I wanted to spend more time there to get the lay of the land. I decided I would go there Tuesday and Wednesday, the Maryland State Archives on Thursday and the Maryland Historical Society on Friday.  There would be no cemetery visits during my week because we have gotten so much rain recently that I was afraid it would either be too soggy, plus there was more rain in the forecast.  I will save that for another time...and advantage of being local.
Then my research week arrived:
Monday - None of my repositories were open so it was back to the library for more searching there.  I found some more references to church records and tax lists.

Tuesday/Wednesday - Off to the Historical Society Harford County across town.  They charge $5 for non-members to do research but I went ahead and joined for $30.  I am certain I will get my money's worth.  I got a tour and an overview of the collections.  I decided I would start my searching with the vertical file.
I pulled the Whitaker family file and the first thing in the folder was a 1973 article from the local paper (complete with a picture) about how, when demolishing a house, the workers discovered a burial plot marker being used as a back step.  The over 500 pound marker had the names of my 5th great-grandparents and several of their children.


Second, an article written by a Whitaker descendent in 1984 about the Whitaker family that was published in the Maryland Historical Magazine outlining the family.  This article had lots of references to wills, other land records and sources for dates and marriages.  Awesome information!
Including the time it took to signup and get a tour I have been here 25 minutes and already found 2 great pieces of information I never knew existed!

By the end of my second day there I had lots of new information as well as sources for names and dates that I had "collected" in the years previous.
But I think the coolest thing I had and was able to hold in my own hands was a letter, written by my 4th great-grandfather Dorsey H. Whitaker.  Dorsey was born, married and raised a family in Harford County but later moved to Baltimore County and then Baltimore City, where he died of throat cancer in 1876.  It seems that as he got older he had money problems (based on land records and legal records I found) and this was confirmed when I found a letter written in 1855 from Dorsey to Otho Scott, a Harford County lawyer (and I think a cousin to Dorsey as well).
Dorsey H. Whitaker letter.  Found at the Historical Society of Harford County.  Archives folder Whitaker A-1191
Maybe at some point in the future I could have found this on the internet, but there is something special about holding the same piece of paper that your ancestor held almost 160 years ago.

Thursday - My longest trip of the week, a 45 minute drive to the Maryland State Archives.  I have been to the Archives many times and always have a hard time staying on task because there are so many records.  This time was no exception!
I only found a few Whitaker records before the "BSOs" (bright shiny objects) got to me.  But I crossed several records from my wish list so the trip was successful.

Friday - Unfortunately my Friday trip to the Maryland Historical Society did not happen as I had to take one of my dogs to the vet.  However, I do visit there often so I wasn't too upset.  I will get there again very soon and hopefully cross a few more items off my list.

I am so glad that I took that time to do on-site research and I kick myself that I don't do it more often, especially since I have such great facilities so close to where I live. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Ability To Transcribe Deeds Just Got A Lot Faster

I hate to type.  I love land records.  These two things do not go together.

I have found so much great information in land records and I am lucky that many of the records I need are in Maryland.  In Maryland, all verified land instrument records are on-line (and free) through MDLANDREC.  All that is needed to access the records is a username and password, offered with a free registration.

The problem with getting all these great records is that the older records are hand written.  In general the copies are good, but they are tedious to read and even more tedious to transcribe, especially when you hate to type.

SOURCE - BALTIMORE COUNTY COURT (Land Records) WG RR, p. 0172, MSA_CE66-92
So since I had some gift cards burning a hole in my pocket, and a bunch of records to transcribe, I decided to spring for Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  I had heard some good things about the software and several administrative people in my office use it.

After my purchase I installed it and have been using it for about a half an hour.  So far I love it! In fact, I'm not typing this blog, I'm having Dragon do it for me.

I was hesitant on buying a voice recognition program because I have problems with phone systems that can supposedly use verbal cues in their menus.  But to this point I haven't had any issues.  During set up it had me read a few paragraphs of text so the software could learn my voice.  Also, I have the TV on in the background and Dragon doesn't seem to have an issue with picking up that noise.

I still have a lot to learn about the software, but to be able to go from installation to using it successfully in ten minutes is awesome.  I'm sure the cost of the software will be prohibitive for some, but for me the amount of time it's going to save his worth that cost.  I purchased the Premium version which is supposed to work with spreadsheets, so I may not even need to worry about using Google Forms any longer.

Oh, and not only does this software type better than I do but it spells better than I do too!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Using Google Forms to Collect Information from Newspapers

I have been doing a lot of newspaper research recently.  I like to track what I find in a spreadsheet, it allows me to quickly sort my information and color-code cells for analyzing the data.  The problem is I hate to fill out spreadsheets.  I just don't like the layout when typing in all the stuff I need to put in the spreadsheet.
I use a lot of spreadsheets at work but I rarely create a spreadsheet from scratch.  Usually my spreadsheets are created from some other application that "exports" to the spreadsheet format.  I guess since that is what I am used to, that is what I like.
Also at work I recently discovered Google Forms.  I had to survey some of my co-workers and Google Forms was suggested as a way to create a quick, free survey.  Once I create the survey in Google Forms I can send it to my co-workers and once they fill out and submit the form their responses are collected within a spreadsheet.
As I was learning more about Google Forms I thought, "this may be a tool I can use for genealogy".

I started doing a little googling.  I was sure I wasn't the first person to come up with using Forms for genealogy.  I stumbled upon a webinar that Thomas MacEntee did way back in 2011 for the Legacy Family Tree webinar series (Google Forms for Genealogists).  I haven't heard him really mention Google Forms recently, so maybe he isn't using them as much as he was then.  Some of the "quirks" he mentioned back then have been addressed in updates to the Forms app, some haven't.  But I think for my use it will be fine.

So my first step is to figure out what fields I want in my form:
1. Name of paper
2. Date of item
3. Page
4. Column
5. Type of article (Birth, Marriage, Death, Court, Land, News)
6. Transcription of article
7. Link to Image of paper

Based on the type of news item I will then have different fields I want to collect.
For example, if it is a birth notice I want to collect:
- Name of baby
- Name of father
- Name of mother
- Date of birth
- Place of birth

If it is a marriage item I want to collect:
- Name of groom
- Name of bride
- Date of marriage
- Place of marriage
- Name of officiant
Once I figure out what fields I need on the form I will create the form.  Since I will be the only one using it (for now) the form doesn't need to be fancy.  But it can be customized and themes assigned to the form if you want.

Then when the form is designed I can start using it to collect my newspaper information.

I'll be experimenting a bit with my form and next time I will have more detailed instructions on the process of creating the form and using it.
If this goes well I am thinking of using a form as a replacement for my vital records spreadsheet as well.
Stay tuned...