Thursday, February 19, 2015

More Rootstech lectures

I attended Audrey Collins' Talk Scandals in the Family. I had heard the talk before as a downloaded podcast from the National Archives, but it is just such a cracking good yarn that I thought I'd listen to it again.  As Audrey says, it's definitely in the "you couldn't make it up" category.  It revolves around the Boynton family of Burton Agnes and their shenanigans over a couple of generations. If you have never heard the podcast, I recommend you listen to it or download it from here.

I then attended Deciphering Old Handwriting Online, given by Amy Harris.  It was focusing on the training and resources available on the BYU website, which I had been completely unaware of. As well as interactive tutorials, the site also has a lot of articles on the background to writing - how the parchment was produced, how the pens were made etc. Amy said she always makes her students practice writing in the old scripts with old-style pens, as the act of doing the writing help you understand why some strokes are fainter than others and therefore helps build skills in deciphering the old texts. It was an excellent session and I look forward to exploring the site.

I have been reading Michael D Lacopo's blog Hoosier Daddy for some time and really enjoying it, so when I saw he was speaking I definitely wanted to attend one of his talks. She Came from Nowhere: A Case Study Approach to Solving a Difficult Genealogical Problem was based on the search for a woman from Virginia.  Despite the fact that I have absolutely no American connections, far less Virginian ones, I thought it was a great session and the general approach to finding the identity of a female ancestor was worth listening to. The important lessons from this lecture included the following:
  • If your brickwall is insurmountable re-assess the situation: are you looking for the right brickwall?
  • You MUST understand the social history that bound the people at the time. When you have a tough research problem put yourself in your ancestors' shoes.
  • Don't just look for your ancestor within a source - evaluate the source itself.  Are there gaps, was it made at the time, is it an original or a transcription, etc.

My next talk was Using Word for writing a Family History by Penelope Stratton. A lot of the session was devoted to how to make a NEGHS-style register report or ahnentahfel report, which is their standard. I personally think that most people would rather receive a more interesting style of report, but there are occasions when the more formal report is appropriate.  I learnt quite a few tips from the session which I can see myself using in the future, so it was worthwhile having attended.

Finally I went to a hands-on lab: Historical Photo Restoration with Photoshop Creative Cloud, run by Nancy Barnes.  This was a bit of a disappointment.  Not because of any problem with the teacher - Nancy was very, very good - but because there really wasn't enough time to get to the point where I really learnt anything except some new keyboard shortcuts (and those are actually very useful).  I have been using Photoshop for nearly 20 years, and most of what was covered was beginner level stuff. I really would have preferred this to be an advanced course. But then again, it's not as if it claimed to be one. It's a pity that living on the other side of the world I'm unlikely to get to another of her sessions on Photoshop that will go further than this session did, because (as I said) she was a very good teacher.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Final Rootstech Keynotes

The third day of Rootstech had two keynote speakers.  The first was A.J. Jacobs, journalist, author and editor of Esquire Magazine. He is also the instigator of the Global Family Reunion.  He had previously decided to spend a year living by every single "rule" or edict in the bible (not just the 10 commandments).  One of those was not to gossip - not an easy task for a journalist.  The bible also says not to shave the corners of your beard. As he wasn't sure what constituted the corners of the beard, he decided not to shave at all for a year.  He also spent a couple of weeks looking for an adulterer to stone.

A.J. Jacobs in front of a picture of himself unshaven after a year
More recently he was contacted by someone claiming to be a very distant cousin, saying that he had 80,000 people in his family tree.  This sparked Jacobs' interest in genealogy, and led to his conclusion that we are all related, and all cousins (I'm not going to enter into the debate - it would take much more space than is appropriate for a blog).

He regaled us with tales of his very obscure connections to Gwyneth Paltrow, President Obama, Donny Osmond and even Judge Judy. 

Just to show you how obscure some of these connections are, he has played his own version of "Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon". Jacobs' first cousin twice removed's wife's niece's husband's first cousin once removed's niece's husband is Kevin Bacon. Close family, then. Hmm.

He says that this inter-connectedness is important to help us understand how certain diseases are passed down.  He also said that discovering you are connected to someone famous like Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein can help bring history alive for younger people.  Fair enough.

Out of the discovery (or, at least belief) that we are all related, all cousins and part of one big family he came upon the idea of throwing a giant party - the Global Family Reunion (taking place in New York on 6th June) - to celebrate our shared heritage. He has Daniel Radcliffe, George Bush Senior and of course, cousin Gwenyth taking part. For those who can't be in New York they can hold Branch Reunions. All proceeds from the Reunion go to Alzheimer's research.

It is his hope that this event will help use realise that we are all related and that we'll be a little kinder to each other since we tend to treat family kinder than strangers. 

On each of our chairs in the hall was a sign saying "I am a cousin".  We all had to hold them up while he took a selfie (one to rival Ellen Degeneres's one), which was a bit of fun.

Now, I'm not going to try and prove or disprove the connections he is claiming because I am sure some of them are based on unsubstantiated and unsourced trees out there on the internet, but I promise the following is true:  my cousin's aunt's mother's milkman was Benny Hill!

The second keynote speaker was Donny Osmond.  I was not a Donny Osmond fan growing up (nor a fan of the Osmond Brothers), but I have to say his presentation was interesting - after all he's had 50 years in the public eye to refine the art of being an entertainer.

Donny Osmond loves family history. For him it is all about the stories. He says that the more you discover about your ancestors, the more you discover about yourself. This is what I believe too, as the experiences of our parents influence their characters and personalities, which influence the way they bring us up and also our characters and personalities. In turn, our parents were influenced by their parents, who were influenced by THEIR parents and so on back ad infinitum.

Donny sang a bit of his big hit Puppy Love with a video of a young Donny performing the song on the big screen. I was made to feel very old when our 23 year old Australian genealogical friend Caitlan Gow posted on facebook that she had never heard of Donny Osmond. She did know Puppy Love, but didn't realise that he had done the original.  Oh, dear.

The Donny of today singing in front of the Donny of the past

Donny then recounted the story of how the Osmonds learnt that they had achieved their first Number One single with One Bad Apple, which was an amusing story, and then backtracked to tell how they had been discovered by Walt Disney and then had appeared on The Andy Williams Show.  Much to the delight of the audience he then sang Moon River with lots of pictures of himself and his brothers when much younger showing on the screen behind him.

A young Donny with Andy Williams

Andy Williams with the young Osmonds

Andy Williams with slightly older Osmonds.
Those hairstyles certainly stand out

He made the point that his entire history has been documented and recorded since he was young, but was that true for the members of the audience? Aren't their lives as significant? Don't their children and  grandchildren deserve to know what they were like?  So he encouraged everyone to record their story, even if only on the voice recorder on their smart phone.

The ancestors of the Osmonds who came to America.
They didn't inherit their smiles from her

The full Osmond family

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rootstech Speakers

I attended a couple of good talks today.  The first was by Rosalind McCutcheon and was entitled Irish Records: Beyond the Obvious.  Roz is responsible for the creation of the Early Irish Marriage Index, which collects marriage information from all sorts of unusual places.  It is definitely worth checking.

She was a very interesting and engaging speaker, and I certainly learnt about some new records.

She also informed us that an brand new Early Irish Birth index had been launched today. What wasn't pointed out was that full access is only available to members of the Irish Genealogical Research Society, but a surname search is available to anyone.

The Second was The Margarine Moonshiners from Minsk: How Curiosity and Persistence can uncover Buried Secrets by Tammy Hepps. Instead of being satisfied with collecting just names and dates, Tammy kept digging and discovered a story almost too incredible to be true.  Each time she thought she had discovered all their was to know she she had a few unanswered questions. It was a very funny talk and very interesting.  And I even learnt something.  Who knew that in the early twentieth century margarine was made from rendered animal fat and milk?  I certainly didn't!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Rootstech official opening

Rootstech has now officially opened. I was privileged to be amongst those given a preview tour of the Expo Hall this morning before it all started. It is HUGE. The expo covers two giant exhibition halls and has 170 exhibitors. Rootstech itself is 35% bigger than last year with 21,927 registered attendees.  There are people from 37 countries and 49 states (there are no attendees from West Virginia).

A tiny part of the Expo Hall

After the tour we were escorted to our reserved seats ready to watch the keynote speeches.

Steve Rockwood, VP of FamilySearch, introduced each of the speakers.  First appearance was a message from Josh Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Mary Tedesco from The Genealogy Roadshow about the campaign to "Preserve the Pensions", by which they mean the pension records for the War of 1812.  So far over 50% of the target amount has already been raised. Once it is done, these records will be digitised and put online for free.

Next on stage was Denis Brimhall, the CEO of FamilySearch International.

FamilySearch have been busy indexing more records, adding hints to the FamilySearch Family Tree, and partnering with Ancestry, findmypast and MyHeritage in order to make more records available and accessible.  One example is Mexican civil registration records. FamilySearch had scanned them, but Ancestry are using their Spanish-speaking indexers to index the records and make them accessible.

Denis then read a letter from a woman who had pieced together much of her tree - each of the partner sites had a piece of the puzzle that helped her build her tree.  This is such a true situation - you CANNOT rely on just one source to find your data.  Even if you have an Ancestry subscription, you should consult findmypast and other sites.  English censuses are a good example of why this is so.  You may not be able to find your missing ancestor on one site, but another (which uses a different version of name variants) might show them up.  And of course, some data sets are only available on one site.

He then described the "Museum of Me", which is the FamilySearch Discovery centre, which I discussed in a previous blog.  There will be a new Discovery Centre in Pittsburgh, focusing on the Revolutionary War, and they are also looking to open one in London.

The main speaker of the day was Tan Le, a Vietnamese boat person who came to Australia in 1982, became Young Australian of the Year in 1998, and was one of the founders of the start-up company Emotiv, specialising in brain-computer interfaces.

She spoke of her family's history using a metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle, with bits of it coming together as time passed.  She started with the death of her grandfather after the fall of Saigon, then moved to her mother's marriage and the birth of two daughters, to their escape from Vietnam by boat.  The risks were enormous - capture by the Vietnamese forces, ship wreck, failure of the boat's engines, or capture by pirates.  Her mother carried with her a vial of poison in case of capture, not wanting her daughters, her mother or herself to suffer after such capture. Tan's father stayed behind in case they were captured and needed him to get them out. But, luckily, they made it to a Malaysian oil rig, and three moths later three generations of women were able to settle in Melbourne. Ironically it was her father who was captured and gaoled for ten years.

She went on to describe her life and career, and when she talked of her grandmother's death her voice broke at the memory.  And at the same time many of the audience needed to wipe a tear from their eyes (including me).  She very much deserved the standing ovation she received.  A wonderful speaker with a powerful story.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Curt Witcher says Societies should embrace change

This year's Rootstech is combined with the Conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and for a small amount extra you could add a registration for FGS onto your Rootstech registration. I did that and this morning, which was a pure FGS day, I attended one of the presentations.  The talk was "Connecting, Exploring, Refreshing: Marshalling Change in Your Society" by Curt Witcher (former president of FGS and NGS and founding president of the Indiana Genealogical Society).  He certainly is an interesting an inspirational speaker.

His message was that change is inevitable. The only constant is change.  Yet we often tend to fight it and shy away from it. This is particularly if/when it is faced by our Historical/Genealogical/Other Societies.

One of the important changes that we should tackle is how we handle any complaints or negativity.  We should see them as pointers to things that we could change or improve. We should also look for a variety of viewpoints (which is really something that we should strive to do in all aspects of our lives), and look at similar organizations and dissimilar organizations and see how they do things.  What do they do well, and what could they improve on that we can learn from.

He also made the point that if you are having a meeting or an event where it might be hard to get people to attend, then serve food!  You'll get a lot more attendees.

Think, do and say "Yes!"  Ask "Why not?" more than "Why?"  Dream new dreams and have new visions. Engage with new people and their ideas.  If you fail, then be positive about it, learn from the experience and move forward. Don't cast blame. Ignoring challenges doesn't make them go away. And for heavens sake, don't fall into the trap of thinking "because we've always done it that way".

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Nearly time for Rootstech

Well here I am in Salt Lake City to attend my second Rootstech.  It doesn't start for a couple of days but there is plenty going on in the lead up.  There has been time to do some research in the Family History Library (and I have already made some new discoveries), and on Monday I was a panellist for a short while on Dear Myrtle's Mondays with Myrt which took place in the Family History Library this week. I have met lots of new people and caught up with old friends.

Family History Library in
Salt Lake City

Mondays with Myrt

This morning I joined a group of other bloggers on a tour of the new Family Search Discovery Centre.  It will be officially launched tomorrow, but we got a sneak peak in advance.  

You are given an iPad which you use to login to your FamilySearch account, and then go around various stations where you "plug in" your iPad (it was located onto a magnet, which obviously had a reader built in) and you are then given a personalised tour around the system. Amongst other things, you are then told you about the origins of your given name and surname, and their frequency in America (but nothing about any other countries). There was also a station where you saw the migration paths of your ancestors as they came to the United States.  Hmm, bit of a problem there, since none of mine did - they all went from the British Isles to Australia! At another station you had to stand at a particular spot and use hand gestures to control the station, allowing you to have your face superimposed into a person in period costume.  I had terrible trouble getting the hand gestures to work - it took ages, and the picture was not at all flattering.

There was also a "scavenger hunt" kit for kids. I have to say, I think the whole thing was probably only relevant to kids, and getting them interested in their family tree and their origins, or at least people who've never looked into their family histories.  I couldn't see much value to it myself, though the technology that allowed you to "plug in" and be identified was very interesting.

At the end of the time the iPad had to be given back (darn!). 

The Discovery Centre

One of the stations with
iPad on dock at bottom right

About my name

I don't think I made a good-looking English woman