Thursday, May 21, 2015

Answering Facebook Genealogy Questions

Due to a new job I haven't been spending much time on genealogy research or even reading the posts within the various genealogy related Facebook groups. However, I decided to spend some of my "free" time this past weekend reading and answering some of the queries recently posted in several on the Canadian focused groups.

I know I shouldn't be surprised but the number of responses where all that is given is an answer with no indication of the source or how it was found still bothers me. Sometimes it is a image from a record collection behind a paywall such as from Ancestry or Findmypast. Other times it is a copy and paste of the text from a web site. Besides the issue of copyright, something that both Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist and James Tanner of Genealogy's Star write about often, there is the issue of education. If you, my gentle reader, just spoon feeds the information without any form of explanation of how or where it was found then the original poster won't learn how to find the information for themselves in the future.

For example, if someone was to ask a question about trying to find the obituary which is the better answer:
  1. Copy and pasting the obituary without any citation or indication of where it came from.
  2. Walking them through the web site used and providing the links so that they can learn how to do it themselves plus they get the question answered.

Note that I didn't say the right answer. Both are good answers since they provide an answer to the original question. However, if you said that "2" was the better answer then you are ready to start helping someone to learn about the "how to" of genealogy.

Of course this means that the original poster has to do some work1 by actually reading what you wrote and following links but it may mean they find additional resources to help them answer even more of questions. It also requires those that may be in the position to answer the question to read your posting. This takes work2 and I've noticed that is often not done.

Additionally, by teaching or showing how you found the record you give back something to the genealogy community. At the same time you get a better understanding of how you do your research.

So, although it may take a few minutes longer to answer the question and you may not be the first one to post, try providing a link to where you found the answer. Maybe even take the time to explain how you found it.

1. Oh no! I'm actually expected to do something?
2. See footnote #1

Monday, May 18, 2015

Searching the Files of Rejected CEF Volunteers

Sometimes, despite everything we do and know, we can have problems when following instructions given to us by another researcher as we try to duplicate a search result. A few weeks ago I helped another researcher in her attempt to search a collection on the Library and Archives Canada web site. She had sent a query to LAC and the instructions sent back looked like they should have worked but she was just not having any luck.

It all started off with receiving instructions on how to search the Files of rejected CEF volunteers. The description of this collection, from the LAC web site, is as follows:
"Sub-series consists of personnel files belonging to CEF volunteers who were not sent beyond Valcartier, generally on medical ground. Shortly after the British declaration of war in August 1914, Canada offered an initial contingent of twenty-five thousand men for service overseas. Volunteers gathered at a hastily-erected camp at Valcartier, Qu├ębec, prior to being despatched overseas in October. Most files contain simply an attestation paper. Completed at the time of enlistment, it indicated the recruit's name and address, next-of-kin, date and place of birth, occupation and previous military service, and distinguishing physical characteristics. In the case of those rejected on medical grounds, the reason is recorded on the attestation paper."
As you can see, this collection can be quite useful in finding out more about those that volunteered yet were not fit to serve overseas.

The instructions to search this collection is to go to the Advanced Search page, enter in the MIKAN number of 136933 and also the last name. Should be simple, right?

Regrettably it wasn't. Below is my search using the MIKAN number and the last name. The initial query was to look for records concerning George John Seale in this collection. Instead of using his full last name I used '*' as a wildcard just in case there was a spelling issue. The result was not what was expected:

"Library and Archives Canada Archives Search - Advanced using MIKAN number." Library and Archives Canada.

"Library and Archives Canada Archives Search - Advanced using MIKAN number search results." Library and Archives Canada.

So where do you go from here?

I decided to just search on the MIKAN number and it brought me to the description page for that collection and I then clicked on the "3280 lower level description(s)" link to see what was going to be shown.

"Library and Archives Canada - Description of MIKAN 136933." Library and Archives Canada.

"Library and Archives Canada - MIKAN 136933 Lower Level results." Library and Archives Canada.
Now I wasn't about to go through all the 3,280 possible lower level records to look for the person that may or may not be there but what I was looking for was something that may be common to all of them. Notice that "RG9-II-B-13, R180" appears in all the search result entries. Let's give that a try for the search instead of the MIKAN number.

"Library and Archives Canada Archives Search - using RG9-II-B-13, R180." Library and Archives Canada.
"Library and Archives Canada Archives Search - using RG9-II-B-13, R180 search results." Library and Archives Canada.
That worked much better! There isn't a George Seale in the list but there is a George Searle. Since this isn't a digitized collection, without ordering the record, we don't know if this is a transcription issue or it is a different person. However, a check of the Soldiers of the First World War: 1914-1918 database would seem to indicate that there were also several George Searles that enlisted in the CEF. Unfortunately the resulting page in the "Files of rejected CEF volunteers" collection for George Searle doesn't provide a regimental number or any other descriptive details and without seeing the records we just don't know if this is the right person.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Five Ws (and an H) and Genealogy

When it comes to any sort of research, whether it be journalism or criminal investigation, there are  five or six very basic questions that have to be answered. The same goes for genealogy research. These questions are: who, what, when, where, why, and sometimes how.

Let's see how these questions can be applied to your genealogy research.

Who are you looking for? Since genealogy and family history research is tied to the people in the family this is one of those obvious questions. Are you looking for a spouse? Maybe a sibling?

What are you looking for concerning the person from the Who question? Are you looking for a name or a date? Are searching for a specific document such as a birth, marriage, or death registration? Possibly the What you are looking for is more specific such as "What did the Who die from?"

When might the person have lived? Figuring out the time period can help you determine what sorts of documents exist in order to answer the What. Did the Who live in the years prior to civil registration? If so, then looking for a birth registration document (a What) might be a futile exercise since now you may have to look for a family bible or baptism document as the What. You might just have to refine the What question.

Where did the person live? Knowing Where the Who lived can often help you answer the What question since the documents are often created where someone lived. The Where can be the name of the country, province or state, county, township, or town. Yet here we can run in to a little problem. Borders are man-made and due to war or other disputes the borders can move. Even names of places can change. If you are looking for someone that lived in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s then you might be out of luck if you only look for them in "Kitchener" since before 1916 that place was called "Berlin". The When can help you determine the borders and names of the places for the time in question. Then you will know where to search.

Why did something happen? Once the first four questions are dealt with often most people stop and move on to the next Who. Yet the Why can often lead you learn more about the history of an area or the driving forces in your ancestor's life. "Why did the Who die of the What in Where in the When year?" can lead to finding out more about the 1918 flu pandemic and the effects it had on the soldiers and civilian populations. Maybe you are tracing a relative that in one census they are living in Scotland and the next census they are found in New Jersey, USA. Your question could be "Why did they leave their family and go across the ocean?" Answering that can help bring your family to life.

How did it happen? I'm not talking about the birds and the bees here. Instead this question often is important when trying to figure out the Why. If your ancestor travelled from one coast to another look at how they made the journey. Was it by ship or by rail? Depending on the time and mode of travel that could indicate a certain amount of wealth or social standing. If they were well off at a particular time in their life yet when they died they were a pauper then looking at the social and economic history of the time may shed some light into their life.

Answer these questions for each person in your family tree and you will find that their lives will start coming to life for you.

[Corrected the new name for Berlin, Ontario thanks to some observant readers.]

Monday, May 4, 2015

Genealogy and Continual Learning

The more we learn about our family roots the more we realize that what was taught in our high-school history class just scratched the surface. Events like how a nation was formed or the major events in our ancestors lives were often distilled down to a few key dates and a page or two in the history text book. So where can we go to learn more about historical events, those apparently tiny (yet important) changes in borders, or the changes to village and town names?

We are fortunate that there is a wealth of information and videos being made available to us. Here are just some of the sites I go to when I'm seeking help or just wanting to learn about genealogy research tips.

Wikipedia: This is a community built encyclopedia where anyone can create and edit articles. I often go here to quickly check the history of places and dates of events. Of course, with anyone being able to edit the articles, you need to verify the sources used to make sure you aren't being led astray.

FamilySearch Family History Wiki: This is another site that has community build content much like Wikipedia. Here though you will find articles of a more genealogical focus. A big plus with this site is that in addition to a bit of history the articles will also point you to where you can find those documents you need to prove you are descended from a Loyalist. You will also find articles on how to do genealogy research. Perhaps you are looking for ideas on how to look for information from American places where the records have been destroyed due to fire. The article "Burned Counties Research" might just hold the clues you need to go around that stubborn obstacle in your research. Maybe you are just starting your family history research and you are using Ancestry for the first time. Then drop by the Learning Centre for tips on the collections and how to use the search features.

Ancestry Wiki: For some unknown reason the Ancestry Wiki doesn't appear on the Learning Centre page for the Canadian version of Ancestry. But don't worry since you can access it by going to Like Wikipedia and the FamilySearch Family History Wiki content can be created and edited by just about anyone. However, there are two key books that have been added that are invaluable when doing research on our ancestors that lived in the United States: The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy and Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. What is really great about the Ancestry Wiki is that you don't even need to be an Ancestry member to access it.

GENUKI: For those doing research on their ancestors in the United Kingdom and Ireland then GENUKI is the place to check out. There you will learn a bit about the history of that tiny village that almost no one has heard about plus a synopsis of what records may be available and where the records are kept.

Ancestry Webinars: This is an archived collection of various Ancestry videos with subjects like "Common Surnames: Finding Your Smiths" to "Finding Collections with State Pages".

Ancestry Academy: Here you will find both free or member only tutorials on a wide range of genealogy subjects. If you already have an Ancestry account (not necessarily a subscription) you may already have access to the free tutorials. For the non-free courses you can subscribe to the Academy for $11.99 per month or $99.99 per year. The Academy subscriptions include unlimited access to all of the courses.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars: In addition to creating the Legacy Family Tree software Millennia also has the Legacy Family Tree Webinars hosted by Geoff Rasmussen. The webinars are usually held on Wednesdays and Fridays and are available for free for 7 days after they are held. A monthly membership to view all the webinars is normally $12.95 with an annual membership of $79.95 (but they sometimes hold sales).

YouTube: For videos YouTube has become one of those go to places on the Internet. Search for subjects like "Genealogy OGS" to find videos of the various Ontario Genealogical Society meetings or "genealogy webinars" to find Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems or DearMyrtle as a few examples.

Of course, don't forget about visiting or contacting the local library, archives, historical association, or museum. There you will find people knowledgeable in the local and often unwritten history of the place. They may be able to point you to books on the subjects you are interested in or introduce you to the local people that are the subject matter experts.

Finally, attend genealogy and historical society meetings and conferences. There you will have the opportunity to directly interact with the speakers and experts that are interested in the same genealogy subjects that fascinate you.

No matter what you do just keep in mind one thing:

Keep Learning!