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genealogy

Feb 24 2012

Leap year, the end of the World and 1940

by Patricia D

2012 is a really special year.  We’ve got an entire extra day to mess with at the end of February, which will be nice since according to some folks the world is going to end (again) in December.  We’ve got all the excitement and discussion (because that’s what we call it in my bi-partisan family) of a presidential election.   However,  there is something else.  Something that only comes every 10 years.   Something that has me a’quiverin’ with anticipation.  Yep, it’s time for another federal census to be released.  Access to each census is restricted for 72 years, and for the 1940 census that 72 years is just about up.  The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will release the 1940 census on its website on April 2, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.

There are some good things and some things that will get better.  For example, although the records will be available FREE at the NARA website, it’s going to take some time to get them indexed.  For a while, unless you have an address or enumeration district,  looking for your folks is going to be a little frustrating.  The NARA has a great FAQ regarding the census, ideas on how best to construct searches without an index, and will have enumeration district maps available on-line to help with tracking down your quarry.  This will be a little frustrating to new genealogists who have only ever known the indexed information available online, but to those folks who remember reading an entire enumeration district to hit paydirt it will bring back strong memories—in my case memories of nausea from watching the microfilm whiz by.

Along with the NARA website, Ancestry.com will also have free access  but only through 2013.  Indexing will be done by volunteers.  If you’re interested there’s a webpage where you can register  and download the templates you’ll need. There’s also a Twitter feed (@the1940census)  and a Facebook page.  All of this is great, but leaves my head spinning when I think back to the release of the 1920 census.  It was quietly done, and we had to wait a loooong time for an index and an even longer time for digital access.

So.  Leap Day will be fun, I don’t really think the world is going to end on December 21, and I love the excitement of a presidential election.  2012 is all good for me.   April 2 will just be the buttercream (real buttercream, not that stuff the grocery store calls buttercream) icing on the cake.  In the 1940 census, people were asked 45 questions about their households and identifies, for the first time ever, the person giving the information.  Not only will I finally be finding people I have met (I know exactly where six of my great-grandparents were in 1940,)  but I’ll finally know which of my grandmothers liked to play fast and loose with the facts.

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Feb 10 2012

Stories for African American History Month

by Patricia D

I think history is best taught through stories. Facts and dates are fine for knowing, but it is through story that we can best come to a deeper understanding of what those facts and dates mean. I think that’s why genealogy is such an addictive hobby—the facts are easier than ever to track down with all the tools available on the Internet (sites such as  Heritage Quest, Ancestry and Rootsweb) but it takes going to the place, finding the people who know the stories that go with those facts, for the facts to matter—at least that’s how it works for me. In honor of the month, I’ve pulled together a list of children’s titles that I think give heart and that deeper understanding to various points of African American history.  Most of these are picture books, a few are novels. This list is by no means comprehensive, just some things I’ve loved over the years.   The DCPL collection is loaded with lots of wonderful non-fiction for children, as well as for adults,  so once you’ve cruised through my list, type  “African americans literature” in the keyword search section of the catalog and browse the collection.  Don’t forget to use the word juvenile in the keyword search to narrow the selection down to children’s materials.

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Jun 14 2010

You just gotta be there. . .

by Patricia D

You know, in these modern times genealogy as a hobby is  easy.  You have the census on-line through DCPL’s reference databases which contain Ancestry and Heritage Quest, both keyword searchable.  No more trips on the odd Friday off to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Southeastern branch. Thanks to Google Books and Heritage Quest you’ve got access to digitized county histories, most of which did not have indexes but are now keyword searchable.   Many counties now have their historical records on-line so the six to eight week ordeal of getting a death certificate is  a thing of the past.  As a hobby genealogy is now cheaper, quicker and a lot of it can be done from home.

So much can now be done from the comfort of an easy chair, a Wi-Fi equipped laptop balanced on your knees and a beverage of choice at your elbow, but there is still nothing as thrilling as being there.  When your fifth great-grandfather writes from 1869 that his  sister married a man named Erp, sometimes it takes driving  into Monmouth, Illinois, your car filled with the heavy, golden light of a late afternoon autumn sun,  for you to suddenly go, “Oh, snap!  Grandpa couldn’t spell!” because of course  Monmouth, Illinois is the birthplace of Wyatt Earp.  Yep,  they have a great  big sign right inside the city limits proclaiming it.  This puts a whole new spin on your research because you are suddenly not tracking down a faceless person who lived and died in upstate Illinois but someone whose sister married Wyatt Earp’s uncle.  You now know you are tied to a piece of Western mythology.  You are so overcome with this revelation you have to go sit in a diner, drinking coffee and eating very good butterscotch pie, wishing that you had paid more attention to Kurt Russell instead of Val Kilmer in Tombstone.  Because you are smart as well as friendly, you’ll talk to the folks around you and they will introduce you to one of the Earp descendants,  who just happens to be eating butterscotch pie with his grandson.   He will offer to send you scans of letters from your ancestor to his that the family has been keeping for over a hundred years, and then he will draw you a map to the private  cemetery where your folks, and his,  are buried.

So here’s my advice.  Use the books we have (929.1072 on the library shelves) to learn how to set up your record keeping and get started.  Use the DCPL databases to begin researching—Heritage Quest is available from home but due to licensing restrictions you have to be in the library to use Ancestry.  Do as much work as you can from the comfort of your armchair but make the time to visit the right courthouse, town or cemetery.  It’s the only way the facts become stories, and the whole point of genealogy is the stories.

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