Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PSA: Backward Balloons

This Public Service Announcement is brought to you from the past. The little girl in the photo, proudly holding a balloon, is me. The year is probably around 1979 or 1980. My Mother and I are standing outside our Church in Cincinnati, ready for the yearly Vacation Bible School balloon release. This annual tradition served as the kick-off for VBS, and provided two weeks of wonderment for children who eagerly anticipated the return of the cards attached to said balloons. The contest was simple: each balloon had a card attached. As the balloons popped at the end of their journey, we hoped someone would find the card and mail it back to the Church. The winning balloon was the one that had traveled the farthest.

This tradition went on for years....but I remember when it ended. There was a shift in collective opinion regarding the environmental safety of releasing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of balloons into the atmosphere. Once we understood the impact of these repeated and widely popular actions, we just stopped. In fact, several states went as far as to make such releases illegal: California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. In Kentucky, such releases are currently illegal in the city of Louisville.

Unfortunately, I have noticed a huge resurgence in this activity. In 2014, the activity appears to be almost untouchable or irreproachable due to its connection to mourning. It has become the new go-to celebration of a life passed. Yes, I will admit, such releases are beautiful...but the brief moment of beauty does not erase the harm inflicted on wildlife that may come across the balloon remnants once the pieces fall back to the earth.

When history does repeat itself, sometimes the same horrible results follow. I am saddened that we are taking a step backward to make the same mistakes of the past. Instead of celebrating a life passed by releasing dozens of items that could bring death to other creatures, why not come up with alternatives? Some have suggested doves or butterflies or even bubbles. While gardening the other day, I had thought of ladybugs. Gardeners purchase these beneficial little bugs on a regular basis as a natural balance of power when battling flower pests.

Some will argue that this concern is no longer valid because of two things: 

1. The balloons are made of latex which is a natural substance and biodegradable: Not really - natural latex could be, but it takes 6 months for a natural latex balloon to decompose - plenty of time to adversely affect an animal. Most released today are not natural, but modified to decompose after years of exposure.

2. The helium inside the balloon takes it to a height that shatters the balloon's surface, thereby removing the danger of larger pieces falling to the ground: Not really, this can happen in some cases, only if every balloon is tightly sealed or tied closed. If the closure is loose at all, the pressure can cause the end to open and the balloon floats down intact. However, you cannot seal them with anything but the balloon bottom - any other closure, such as string, plastic, or tape is regarded as non-biodegradable and littering according to most local laws. Plus, even the shattered pieces can be large enough to choke a small animal. 

***One special note about closures, strings, or tags: Non of the aforementioned items should be used if you do make the sad decision to release balloons. Unfortunately, when viewing some local releases here in Kentucky, I have observed strings or ribbons attached to the balloons when let go. Which tells me this new and hazardous retro-fad has not even been researched prior to the organization of such events.

For those of you who have lost loved ones, I have every sympathy for your loss, and believe you should celebrate their life in beautiful, grand gestures of love. However, in the case of balloon releases, please take that off your list, and try to think of a celebratory gesture that will not harm the environment or accidentally take a life as a result. Please pass on this word of knowledge from the past. I implore you to make a different choice BEFORE this new collective activity takes too great a hold!

For more info: http://balloonsblow.org/

Friday, May 9, 2014

#NGS2014: Librarian Lessons

The official kickoff of the NGS conference was quite exhilarating this year! Attendees were treated to a lovely talk by Dr. Sandra Treadway of the Library of Virginia. As the State Archivist and Director of the Library, she sees first hand, the challenges faced by researchers, and the staff that serve them. This is one of those libraries that is not only a research facility, but a public library as well. From the administrative standpoint, that makes for a complex approach to serving their patron base. How do you make the collections available to the public, while meeting their changing technological needs, while still managing to protect the archival/rare materials that are under your care? It's certainly not easy, and it's a challenge they have met head on by creating specialized areas for type of use.
Most of you have spent a good amount of research hours in this relatively new facility (ca. 1994). And as beautiful as it is, the administration is eager to change things around to better serve their patrons. According to Dr. Treadway, they are already consulting architects to review options. So far, the report is favorable....they can modify in almost any configuration they desire, fitting in with the budget. The lesson here is multi-faceted. Libraries are ready to adapt their spaces for maximum patron engagement and use. Most all are restricted by budget cuts, but if the economy recovers, be on the look out for new library directions.....directions that serve the diverse patron groups seen everyday! 


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NGS Pre-Conference Sessions

The NGS Conference pre-sessions are well worth an extra day or two. As a brief re-cap of the activities I attended on Tuesday, I will highlight some tidbits learned.

#LibrariansDay
This yearly staple for librarians who handle genealogical collections was held in the gorgeous Library of Virginia. Our opening session featured Leslie Anderson from the Alexandria Library as she covered their transcription project: Virginia Slave Births Index, 1853-1862. The project was originally the child of the WPA back in the 1930s. However, the microfilm copies were atrocious and needed to be re-processed. As a labor of love, they re-transcribed the records and have published them in a book available throughHeritageBooks.com
We were also treated to sessions about re-thinking the contents of your genealogy vertical files, Family Search Wiki, Proquest products, and an exploration of the Civile War Legacy Project based out of the Library of Virginia. This project is focused on digitizing personal Civil War collections throughout the state. If you live in Virginia, be on the look out for a scanning date in your area! They are bringing their digitization equipment to a town near you!
Blogger Dinner Presented by Family Search:
At the NGS blogger dinner last night, Family Search let us in on a few new developments.

They have added more content to their Civil War records to their collections.

Their indexing software is moving to a browser based model, which means you will no longer have to download software in order to participate in indexing projects. 
Since mobile applications are evermore important to users, FS is developing more in-depth mobile apps for both platforms. If you would like to test their new mobile apps, just send your name and operating system (iOS or Android) to: fs-mobile@familysearch.org

The obituary indexing project is their biggest project at present. On July 21-22, they will be hosting another crowd sourcing indexing event to get 20,000 users indexing during a 24 hour period. Be on the look out for announcements about that upcoming fun.

The obituary indexing project is extremely large....when finished, they will be four times as large as the 1940 census! 

That's it for the moment...more to come!
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Saturday, May 3, 2014

NGS 2014: Bag Switch-aroo

For those still packing for Richmond, I have a confession to make. So, ya'll with with your bag advice...telling us to save the NGS bag for later and bring along a different bag to use during the conference...you win...for NGS I am a convert. I had forgotten about the NGS bags. They are not close to the body, but rather open, kind of loose, and not easily slung on the arm. They are fantastic for hauling all of your loot home gathered over the course of the conference and I use them a lot after returning, but on a daily basis, they are not travel friendly.
For any other major conference, I would still use the conference bag. As you can see above, the FGS and the RootsTech bags are designed to hug the body and are much smaller. I know some have been worried about accidentally leaving their bag behind in the mass confusion of duplicate bags. With the NGS bags, I agree. They are not on you physically at all times, so more chance to leave them behind. So, my bag of choice for this conference will be the RootsTech bag given to speakers this past February. It is a cross body style that is large enough to handle the exhibit hall goodies, and yet, stays with me at all times. I admit defeat for the NGS conference, but I'm still not convinced with the other conferences. I am so protective of my conference swag that it rarely leaves my sight, so I'm OK using the body hugging bags. 
Conference packing = such serious dilemmas! JK....See y'all in a couple of days!

Friday, May 2, 2014

NGS 2014: 'A' Begins with Adkinson!

As we all pack the bags, gather the chargers, plan our schedules, and play with the App, I was reminded of a Not-To-Miss session for those with Kentucky roots. When downloading the updates and exploring the conference app, I clicked on "Speakers", and right there at the top of the 'A' section was Kandie Adkinson. The title of her session on Friday at 11AM is (Room GRCC B15B): Kentucky Land Patents: Mind Bogglers or Treasures?  For me, I usually lean toward "Bogglers", even though I know they are "Treasures". Over the past couple of years, I have heard Kandie speak about the Kentucky Land Patent system, and without her years of knowledge, none of us would be able to grasp the complex beauty of these records. She has a wonderful way of incorporating the historical context to help you understand the purpose and process behind these eye-crossers.

If you have ANY Kentucky pioneers or early settlers, you simply cannot miss this session. With over 35 years of experience working for the Kentucky Secretary of State Land Office, this woman is an absolute treasure unto herself! Oh, and after you've attended, buy the CD! Seriously, this will be an hour of unadulterated wisdom that you will want to refer to over and over again. Besides the legalities and access issues surrounding the Patent system, she will also be covering the digitization of these records. Many are available for free on their website, but she will give you an update on where they are in the process, and how to read and use them in your research. Don't get cocky just because you found your ancestor in the land records on their site - the true test is understanding what you found!

This is your opportunity to get some real meat in the genealogy education department - don't miss it!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hard Diversity Questions

Reader Warning: The following post may contain controversial thought processes. I am merely human, and trying to work through my own mental baggage when it comes to diversity in genealogy. After a little research, I am still not certain how to continue this topic appropriately: African American Research, People of Color Research, Black History....I beg forgiveness if I offend anyone. However, dialogue is a necessary step in the path to change.

In the past, I have written about serendipity in genealogy, and for some reason, the past few weeks have bombarded me with serendipitous moments. I would almost call it an onslaught. When one specific issue keeps coming at me without my seeking it out, I pay close attention.

I have always been a little fascinated by African American history. Not to the point of digging much on my own, but if a story or article presented itself, I read it....I cannot explain the draw, but it's been there. Growing up in Ohio, with family from both sides of the river, I had one foot in the north, and one in the south. As a researcher, I have not found slave owners in my family, but that is only a matter of generational reach. For those ancestors in the south without slaves, they were simply too poor to own any. When the Civil War came about, they took up arms to readily fight for the Confederacy. I am certain it is only a matter of time before I encounter enslaved individuals in my family. My point here, is that I have not had a personal family draw to this issue...the personal connection lies in the troubling existence of racism in my family on subtle, insidious levels. As with many northern families who smugly think they are not affected by racism, cue bubble and pin. Pop!

There is much more to that personal connection, but I'll leave all of that for another time. Today I just want to speak to the issue of AA, POC, BH research in the genealogy field. Let me outline some of the serendipitous moments that have hit me upside the head lately:

1. At the end of March, genealogist Valerie Hughes posted a couple of blog posts about the importance of adding slave records to your family trees. She asked a Facebook audience if this was something people should do...and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

2. Even though I did not have this in my own family to report (yet), I had come across many entries over the years regarding folks of slave descent - in various documents at the Kentucky Historical Society. Every time I encountered one, I always had a moment of excitement, seeing another name, another identity....followed by despair, because I had no earthly clue what to do with this information....and I usually just put the film away. Sigh....this happens more often than I would like to admit.

3. I watched a movie about Holocaust survivors who had lost touch after the War because they thought each other dead. Decades later, when one of them witnessed proof that the other was still alive, she called the Red Cross who accessed his "case file" to see if they should re-open it in the hopes of connecting them back to their family. I was saddened the U.S. had never made this type of effort at the end of slavery, to assist with family members connecting back to each other.

4. Number 2 made me think about Valerie's encouragement, and I began entertaining thoughts about slave mapping. Was it possible to record the name of every slave mentioned in a county's document collection? I was thinking on a county-wide level as a start. Pull every will, record the names mentioned. Pull every court doc, record the names, etc. While I was pretty sure it was possible, what about the white owners? If we recorded every slave named in wills and court docs, would that help with anything? Since white names were also duplicated in counties, wouldn't we need to map the white owners, make profiles of them and then link the recorded names to these profiles? And what if it was due to an estate dispersal? If the slaves were transported across county or state lines, did that remove the trace? My eyes were crossing already.

5. A co-worker had left a book on my desk as a review copy for Kentucky Ancestors...it was a compiled list of slaves mentioned in Kenton County, taken from the court records. OK, proof it is possible, sitting on my desk. Freaky! (I have been aware of other transcription collections produced over the decades, but a fairly comprehensive one plopped on my desk at that moment...caught my attention.)

5. After talking with said co-worker about my latest thoughts, we entertained Valerie's "tree" concept. Despite the complex emotions on both sides, should we as genealogists be pushing the family tree software designers to add a new relationship related to slavery? As we got excited, claiming we were going to change the genealogy world, our boss came in with some reason....how would you categorize this type of "relationship"? Ownership, slave of, enslaved by? Sigh....good point...so, now what? We both decided that just a "note" in the family tree was not enough. We need something more significant...more quantifiable. Still have no solution - ideas?

6. Just in from mowing the lawn Sunday and passing the time while my Dad looked at my heating/cooling system (on the blink again), I picked up the iPad and clicked on Twitter. At that moment, True Lewis had posted a link about an ongoing podcast/live call-in show from AAGSAR (African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestry Research). I re-tweeted it and then tuned in...wow, amazing issues being brought forth about how the genealogy profession treats AA records and research. Also, how engaged are we? How do we actively help families re-connect? As a field, are we diverse? Conclusion, not really, and change is long overdue.

So....what does all of this mean, and what are the next steps?
Questions I have for myself AND the genealogy community:

1. As genealogists, what can we do to help? Even though we all seem to have tons of projects on our plate, I don't believe this is a project issue, but rather a support issue. What changes do we need to make in mindset and attitude to effect lasting change and inclusion across the board?

2. A push for more diversity in the genealogy field is about to take place from the AAGSAR crowd, particularly in the national conference arena. How do we support this? What can we do to make sure this issue comes to the forefront of dialogue?

3. Is some of the diversity vacuum in our field a result of terrible, yet comfortable racist habits, or are they amplified by the silo nature of genealogical research? When we host AA speakers for our genealogy programs, they are more attended by the AA community, and much less attended by our white members....However, this is also true of specific ethnic research. We hosted a speaker with heavy Swedish roots and the numbers were VERY low because many dismissed this as a session that did not apply to their research. It is a natural excuse to not attend one session if you do not feel it will cover your area of research - even though MOST have reported that every session teaches them some methodology that has proven helpful in their own journey. NOT making any excuses, but how to we dig deep into the motivation behind behaviors?

4. As an area of research, I have encountered several labels for African American research...as I mentioned in the intro warning...is there a preferred term I should be using when talking about this branch of research? Looking for all of them in Twitter is enlightening. Would a unified consistency help in this area... not only for discussion but for written works and websites, etc?

5. The goal of AAGSAR is to encourage more sharing of AA stories and research. I love the concept that lurkers are not welcome - you have to PARTICIPATE in order to belong. They ask members to create a  social media account of some kind for the express purpose of sharing their research and family stories - hopefully blogs. As mentioned on the podcast, how to we include, encourage, and promote these blogs throughout the community?

6. OK, recording names of those enslaved....I have seen several attempts from various state or regional organizations. All are wonderful databases. But....if we simply record names without enough context, without the family connections (both white and black) are we keeping the chains of bondage in place? Are we locking the information away? Here's what I mean...how does a researcher access their family roots? Without the traditional paper trail that white families are privileged to have access to, how would slave descendants find their family? Do they go back to the 1870 census, find a location and then try to mine the local records for more clues? Death record clues of birth and parentage? I always teach my session attendees to include the local history in your research to put your family history into context. If slave descendants are not allowed to place their ancestor in family/local context, is it almost a blind, disconnected search? If we pushed for more family context in the family tree software, would it help more families connect to each other? Would that lead to more information, and additional links in the family chain?

7. A few years ago, the African American Genealogy Group of Kentucky got started. The first statewide AA genealogy group in Kentucky. That too was a serendipitous moment. I had gotten up early on a Saturday morning (I don't get up early on my days off EVER if I can help it.) after reading about a lost AA community that was being resurrected in my county by Shirl Marks. I had stumbled upon it in the paper the evening before while out to dinner with the parents. My Dad had picked up the local paper, which he NEVER does. I read the notice about the talk at the local library, and went because it sounded fascinating. The following program was the second meeting of AAGGKY. I met people there that day that I have remained involved with and admire greatly! A few have even become good friends. That day as I volunteered to help them with start-up activities (web site, blog, etc) their President Sharyn Mitchell looked at me and thanked me for my help, and then said "Are you going to be there for us?" For a minute I was confused....I had just volunteered to help....but I quickly understood. Was I there to pay lip service, or was I going to come through with my promises of help? I think that is a question we can ask ourselves. Are we going to pay lip service, or are we ready to change things? I would love to see new chains of friendship and family forged to overcome the ugly chains forged in our history.

One last note about timing and relationships: In Summer 2012, Pam Brinegar wrote an amazing article for the NGS Magazine.1 It was about a female slave owner in Lexington who had made provisions for her slaves to not only be freed upon her death, but to inherit her entire farm as a means of allowing them to build a community and financial security in the 1850s. At the time this article was published, the KHS library was actively researching a new acquisition of letters written by enslaved and free African Americans during the 1840s ans 50s. The family connections ran from Lexington, through Hopkinsville, to Mississippi. We had just obtained the letters the month before...and as I read Pam's account, I caught a Hopkinsville connection to the woman in the article. It turns out, that one of the letters in our collection, addressed to his family in Hopkinsville, was written by a former slave announcing his newly obtained freedom in Lexington after the death of his owner. That owner was the woman Pam had been researching. Through Pam's research, we were able to pinpoint the women in Ferdinand's lineage and even found him in a Fayette County court document listed as a toddler years earlier. Talk about serendipity, or something greater....Not only was he declaring his freedom, but the research proved that despite the ugliness of slavery, we are all family. In many cases, by blood, and in others simply by sharing nationality and history. The more we learn about how we are connected, the more we can build strong family ties. Which means, the responsibility lies with all of us to make this change happen.

"Dear Uncles, I am Free.." Ferdinand Robertson [Robinson], Lexington KY, 1850

1. Researching nineteenth-century African American women, by Pamela Lyons Brinegar, CG; NGS Magazine, Vol. 38, #3; July-September, 2012.

Monday, March 3, 2014

RootsTech Family History Fairs (Global)

Alert! The RootsTech 2014 Conference lives on through global Family History Fairs coming to a corner of the planet near you! Read on for more information about the global RootsTech Family History Fairs, and a note about one coming to Kentucky THIS Weekend!

First: This Saturday, March 8th, a RootsTech Family History Fair will be happening in central Kentucky, at the Kentucky Historical Society. For more information, check out the event link on kentuckyancestors.org.

Second: So how many of you KNOW what the RootsTech Family History Fairs are all about?
Let me fill you in...

During FGS 2013, the RootsTech folks announced an open invitation for societies to sign up their venues to host a RootsTech Family History Fair in 2014. As soon as I heard the announcement, I jumped over to the booth and signed us up....without knowing many of the details.

Since then, I have learned a bit more - some that might surprise you - and some that might not.....

The RootsTech organizers were shooting for a global number of Family History Fairs in the neighborhood of 600. Did they make that goal? (apparently, they conducted a small satellite program in 2013 to gear up for 2014) Pretty close from what I've heard, but here's why you haven't heard much about this....

After the FGS announcement, the publicity, or solicitation for societies to sign up, faded among the mainstream channels. As a result, apparently, only 10 general societies, or non-LDS organizations signed up. Why? Because the remaining solicitation push retreated to LDS organizations. As a result, you still might not hear too much about the Family History Fairs outside of the LDS groups.

As a non-LDS society that signed up, we were kept informed as information was made available. Prior to the RootsTech conference, we didn't get a lot of information....but that was not intentional. They did not have a large number of staff members planning this program. We were told that there would 43 sessions recorded and made available to the Family History Fair (FHF) societies as soon as the conference was finished. Most of the 43 sessions recorded were not going to be the same sessions used for live streaming and then later available online for indefinite viewing. The purpose of the 43 sessions was to provide a set group of sessions that would be available exclusively for the use of FHF hosting societies.
By late fall, I was already asking for more information as I began planning the KHS programming schedule for 2014. After talking with the Kentucky Genealogical Society, we decided this would make a great Second Saturday program (Free joint genealogy program offered every Second Saturday of the month at KHS) - with some alterations to expand the day for greater impact. That expanded schedule and joint program is what you see on the event entry.

Still, we really didn't get a lot of information. I was notified that my RootsTech session was one such session selected to be recorded and offered to the FHF hosting societies, which then placed me in a circle of information that was not common knowledge. Speakers who were chosen for recording were given a sneak peek at the list of sessions that would later become available, which helped us pre-plan, session-wise, a tiny bit.

I asked for help in planing the event, such as media/PR packets, or guides for the event, but those never came, even after the main conference was over. Then we got a look at the full list as offered to FHF societies: only about 15 were general sessions. The rest of the recorded sessions were LDS track. SO...we dropped back and planned our event accordingly. I will have to say that the planners did get back to me very quickly regarding the video download links and creating a non-LDS space for this use. They have been very nice and accommodating - so heads up, non-LDS groups thinking about this for next year if it is offered again!

Our event this Saturday in Frankfort on the 8th will contain 10 sessions. Three of which are from the live streamed, current online offerings that anyone can watch. Why are we using some of those when we have other exclusive videos available to show? Because, after a brief, informal survey, most of our attendees are not hugely familiar with RootsTech, and are not watching the available online videos. Plus, some of the videos available online are very popular subjects given by great speakers = wider appeal.
As we expanded the day's schedule, 6 of the sessions will be recorded offerings that are NOT available on the main RootsTech site, and will only be available if you attend a FHF.

Here's the thing about the rest of the global offerings.....there are others slowly coming to the calendar throughout the country. I have noticed that one was offered this weekend on March 1st in Texas, and another is happening on March 8th in Virginia....although, they are both LDS History Centers. I've not heard of any general societies hosting a FHF in the near future.

Are we the only ones? Not sure. Will the local Kentucky LDS Centers host a FHF later? Have no idea. I do know that if you search RootsTech Family History Fair, you generally run into announcements and promotional instructions for the LDS "Stakes". We are no such "Stake", but we are taking full advantage of what they offered.....and we are excited about the event!

If you are even remotely near Frankfort Kentucky, and you have never been to RootsTech, or were just unable to get out there this year, you should take advantage of this FREE event! The full session list is available on the event page which I linked to above.

At the end of the day, I suspect this is practice for the future. I really think the 600 location goal will increase, and they will offer more and more recorded sessions each year. I'm sure this will grow to wondrous proportions someday as technology evolves and expands.....and more than likely, the number of non-LDS venues will increase accordingly....to more closely reflect the RootsTech conference attendance. The only big improvement I hope they make in the future: making the promotional material available to non-LDS events. Otherwise, I'm going homespun on this one....green balloons and color printer, here I come!

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