Sunday, October 12, 2014

FRGS Fall Genealogy Program – A Success!!

For the past several months Shannon Bennett and I have been busy organizing a Fall Genealogy Program scheduled for Saturday 11 October 2014 at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg.

The program featured two 45 minute presentations on helpful search techniques for and using the U.S. Census. The third presentation was on a relatively new site, Find My Past.   Immediately following the presentations we offered one-on-one consultations for those who had made appointments - Fredericksburg’s version of Ancestors Road Show.

Over 50 people arrived for the three morning presentations.  Nine people were assisted with their brick walls following those sessions. Four more left their names for future assistance.

What we did right:  We kept the presentations to 45 minutes. The presenters were challenged to keep their PowerPoints to this amount of time, but were thankful when they achieved it.  We had a few minutes break between each session so computers could be switched out, which gave the audience time to visit the restrooms, grab some coffee, water and to sample some of the wonderful baked goods our members supplied.  The one-on-one sessions, called Brick Wall Busters, was also a hit. This concept is new to Fredericksburg, but I wanted to try it because it was a huge hit when we offered this in Newtown several years ago.  We are so thankful to the five volunteers who gave up their time, energy and expertise to assist these folks.

What we will do better next time:  When Shannon brought up the suggestion of doing a fall genealogy program there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm by members of the society.  But we forged ahead working with the library staff over the summer to put things in place.  A sort of holiday weekend (schools are in session on Monday), and apparent lack of the club’s enthusiasm to spread the word made us feel not many would show. Consequently, we did not feel registration was necessary except for the consults.  About 25 people thought they should register so my cell phone and email were busy this past week.  I realized then why registration is important - refreshments!!  Duh!  At first I thought one Box of Joe each for regular and decaf would suffice – I ended up getting 5 boxes (50 cups), which was way too much.  Live and learn.

We see the need for presentations that meet various experience levels. That is also a challenge for the presenters, but our three presenters yesterday met that challenge well.

We are already brainstorming for our next genealogy program!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

And the winner is …

New York City, with close runners-up of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.

By 1913 many states had laws on the books requiring some sort of medical certificate or oath that the male was free of venereal disease before a marriage license would be issued.  New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia required an oath.

By 1925 many states passed laws that required a physical examination of both parties, but there was not much interest in enforcement.

In 1935, however, Connecticut passed the “Premarital Examination Law,” which required a blood test for Syphilis and a physical examination of both parties before a marriage license application could be made.

In 1936, Surgeon General Thomas Parren of the Public Health Service began a nationwide drive for venereal disease testing before marriage.

New York State enacted their “Premarital Examination Law” in June 1939.  Marriages in Upstate New York increased that year from 1938, and we suspect it was to get married before the new law took effect mid-year.

New Jersey enacted legislation in 1938, which may have driven those residents to seek licenses in Virginia that did not require blood tests until August 1940.

On October 1, we sorted the 1,771 1939 marriage licenses taken out at Fredericksburg, VA Circuit Court into piles of 100s.  We will start digitizing them next week, and it will be at that time we will learn when the licenses of the states listed above as the “winners” were taken out.  If the licenses for couples from New York were during the first half of the year, we will surmise it was to avoid the new premarital examination law passed by that state.

For further information on this subject please see Premarital Health Examination Legislation: Analysis and Compilation of State Laws, J.K. Shafer, M.D., published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service. Digitized by Google; original from University of Michigan. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Philadelphia, PA 1940 Marriages

One reason for my blog silence the last couple of weeks is we have been working overtime on your volunteer project of digitizing marriage records at Fredericksburg, VA Circuit Court.

After a month’s hiatus while the circuit court employees got settled into their spacious office space in the new courthouse, we were called back to work on September 12.  That day we digitized 285 1941 marriages, coming down from the 335 1942 marriages done at the end of July.

Easy street we thought.  We knew as we went back in time we would have fewer marriages (less population), and could then possibly digitize two years each week.  Wrong.

Our mouths dropped when we asked to see the boxes of 1940 marriages, thinking that might be the year we could start doing multiple years in one morning.

The most archive boxes we had faced previously was three.  For 1939 and 1940, each of those years had TEN archive boxes.

We did not plan on the effect the war in Europe would have on American couples.  That, and the fact that Virginia is a Gretna Green, and Fredericksburg is easily accessible by rail, and the Court only three blocks from the station, created a perfect storm of marriages.

It took us five hours of steady work just to sort the 1,599 marriages for 1940 into piles of 100s.  It took another four mornings of 3-4 hours each to digitize those.  As we plugged along, the Circuit Court Clerk stopped by and said, “Just think how great this information will be for genealogists.”  We agreed. That is why we were there.

Several days were heavy traffic days, the court overrun with people wanting marriage licenses. The clerk at the time cried out for more help; the circuit court was open on Saturdays to accommodate the crowds.  On Saturday, July 27, for example, the circuit court processed 69 marriage licenses. Another reason for the rush was that starting in August 1940 Virginia required blood tests. Consequently, approximately 1450 licenses were processed by the end of July, with only about 150 for the rest of the year.

These are not Virginia people.  What we noticed as we worked our way through 1940 is many, many couples were from Philadelphia, PA.  If your ancestors lived and worked in Philadelphia in the late 1930s, you just might find their marriage license in Fredericksburg, VA.  Of course there are many other states represented as well, but Philly really stood out in this group.  We shall see what information the 1,000+ 1939 licenses bring us. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Monographs – A way to share

We like to produce monographs of our research.  According to Merriam-Webster, a monograph is, “a learned treatise on a small area of learning.”  In other words, take one family line, follow it, include photos, social, cultural, religious, geographic information about that particular family, and write up that research in a way that makes interesting reading. 

It is not as hard as you might think, and it is a perfect way to share your research to date.  Everyone knows genealogy research is never done. So publish now what you have!

As I ready my next monograph for publication, I came across a handout I received from Patricia Law Hatcher, CG, FASG in 2004 titled, Monographs: Reviving a Respected Publishing Format.

In a nutshell, she advises to keep the topic focused. Not easy when you have lots of branches on that family tree. But your monograph could be: “extended biographies, documentary transcriptions of diaries, limited pedigrees, family that turn out to not be attached to your family tree, and research-in-progress.” 

There is a number of genealogical self-publishing printing companies sprouting up. If you decide to go this route, research these carefully. We like to print an original ourselves on 28 or 30 pound paper. We then take it to the local PostNet or Staples, and give them our 28 or 30 pound paper on which to run the copies.  We usually run any pages with color photos ourselves since sometimes copy centers don’t have the best color cartridges installed.  Another option is we remove the pages with the color photos and pay to have them run separately.  But we always supply our own paper.  After checking each set one page at a time, we then have the copy center bind them. 

Check the pages:  When I was producing Voices of our Past, the oral history project for the Ulysses Historical Society, I had Staples make the copies.  I brought the six sets of 334 pages each home and proceeded to look at every page. On the third set, a quarter the way through, something had gotten onto the drum, and the bottom half of all the pages were blank. I had to go back over and have those copies rerun. Not a fun time.

The title: If you want researchers to find your family, don’t title it something like, The Branches on my Family Tree.  A better title includes the family name and geographic place.  One of my monographs has the title: The Tuckers of Enfield, New York. Include all major surnames on the title page. 

The Devil is in the Details: Develop a table of contents and an index.  When developing your index think like a researcher. If your family had a business, or you talked about a number of farms, index those. Geographic areas in your monograph should also be indexed.

How Many? Before going to print think about the number of copies you will need. How many family members will want a copy of your research? Is there an historical society or library that would want one or more copies?  And there is the Family History Library, the Library of Congress and the DAR Library. Do check their submission guidelines. Some accept only unbound works.

Once the finished product is in your hands, you will have such a feeling of accomplishment.  And it is rewarding to receive all those heartfelt thank you notes from the repositories to which you sent your finished product.

Would love to hear success stories!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Family Search Family Trees – A Problem

The new website has a feature in which you can build your family tree. It is quite sophisticated in that it allows/encourages/facilitates genealogists to add sources, photos, stories, and in time audio clips.

My hubby volunteers at the Family History Center and regularly takes their Saturday classes in order to be on the cutting edge of the new features offered at the FamilySearch site.

One of the family tree features is when you put in a name, the site searches through its “zillion” records to see if there is a match. If so, it gives you the list and if your guy is there, you can then attach that person and all its research to your family tree.  Neat, huh?

Yesterday we found this was not so neat.

Another feature is you can check a “Watch” box that will tell you if anyone has made changes to your family tree.  You can then check those changes and if incorrect, you can contact the person making the changes. If there is a dispute, Family Search will arbitrate.

Yesterday the “Watch” feature notified hubby of changes to his relative Abraham Brown. Now realize, Abraham was a challenge to research, but trips to the Westchester, NY historical society and to Scranton, PA we were finally able to document that Abraham was indeed born in Westchester County, New York.  And from there hubby carefully researched and documented Abraham’s family that ended up in hubby’s home town of Newfield, New York.

Hubby was quite surprised to see that his information on Family Search was now changed to show his Abraham Brown was born in Rhode Island. Hubby contacted the person making the changes as no citation was supplied.  The man replied he had just taken the information off!!!  OMG – when will people learn that information without citation is fantasy, and research is needed!!!!!

Bottom line is the man who linked the Rhode Island Abraham Brown to hubby’s Abraham Brown admitted his was a different one.

Not the end of the story. Hubby found that also attached to his family line were all the children of the RI Abraham Brown that had similar birth dates.  Hubby spent all afternoon correcting his family tree removing all the erroneous information.

To say the least, hubby was not a happy camper. has to come up with a better way for linking families.   We were great advocates but now are discouraged with that site.  We have better things to do with our time than spend it correcting wrong data.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia

I was notified recently of a new book detailing the cultural importance of preserving African-American cemeteries. This book focuses on cemeteries in Central Virginia, but promises to be an interesting read for those interested in the importance of preserving cemeteries. Below is the write-up sent to me:

Lynn Rainville’s book is Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Central Virginia (University of Virginia Press) is now available. In addition to preserving African-American cemeteries for future generations, funerary traditions, gravestones, and cemetery landscapes illustrate past attitudes towards death and community. Because of the historical importance of mortuary landscapes, cemeteries provide a window into past family networks, gender relations, religious beliefs, and local neighborhoods. In this project we take an interdisciplinary approach, combing anthropological, archaeological, historical, oral historical, sociological, geological, and environmental techniques and theories. These combined perspectives are necessary to understand the cultural and environmental context of historic black cemeteries and uncover the rich cultural and religious traditions that produced these sacred sites.

Lynn Rainville received her PhD in Near Eastern Archaeology in 2001. After a decade of work in Turkey, she returned to an earlier research interest, historic cemeteries. She has taught anthropology and archaeology courses at the University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, University of Virginia, and Sweet Briar College. Her research interests range from slave cemeteries to war memorials, from segregated schools to historic architecture, from enslaved communities on antebellum plantations to rural neighborhoods, and from town poor farms to urban life in the 19th-century. Her work has been supported by numerous grants, from the National Science Foundation to the National Endowment for the Humanities, from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to the Wenner Gren Foundation, and from various private donors. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Women’s Suffrage Day

One of my favorite blogs is The New York History Blog.  I try to check it each week to see what’s new in New York State.  This morning I found of particular interest their article on The Spirit of 1776: A New Suffragette Anthem.  On this day in 1920 the 19th amendment was passed giving American women the right to vote.  What I had forgotten was that there were a number of states in which women already had the right to vote.

The western states of Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896) Washington (1910), California, Arizona, Montana, Nevada and Oregon lead the way. New York’s centennial of Women’s Suffrage is scheduled for 2017.  For a more comprehensive list see the timeline at Womens History at

I think this is an interesting piece of information when writing about ancestors who traveled west in the late 1800s.  Did those women, your ancestors, take advantage of the state laws allowing them that freedom?