12 December 2011

Tech Tuesday: Research Manager in RootsMagic

Last week, I previewed the RootsMagic 5 Research Manager during a webinar (you can view the recorded webinar here). In the last week, I tried this new tool for myself and compared it to Microsoft OneNote, which is what I have been using to log my research. Here are my thoughts as to the advantages and disadvantages of using the Research Manager:

  • The free-form fields provide a lot of flexibility and, although I do not know for sure how many characters each box allows, I was not able to max it out with any of my lengthy notes. I like to combine my correspondence log in my research log and the free-form fields make that possible.
  • It is easy to transfer To Do items to a Research Log - the To Do items prefill and open in an edit screen.
  • The Research Manager Report is nicely formatted and sortable according to several criteria, including the two I use the most-date and reference number.
  • You cannot view previous entries while typing in a new entry - being slightly obsessive-compulsive, I like to make sure that I am consistent in my data entry in free-form fields.
  • The report column sizes are fixed, which bothers me somewhat because I think that if the date and reference number columns were narrower, the result column could be widened slightly - this is flexibility I have with OneNote.
  • Perhaps the most important of the disadvantages is that there is no way to export information from the Research Manager to an individual record. For example, once you enter the source in the Research Manager, you have to retype or cut and paste to get that information into the Citation Manager. Although this is frustrating, I have to do the same thing when using OneNote.
I have decided that, since the Research Manager allows me most of the flexibility I get from OneNote, but with the advantage of being in my existing database with links to individuals, families, and to do lists, I am going to switch. The disadvantages of using the Research Manager outweigh the inconvenience of having my research in a separate program, especially because I can use RootsMagic To-Go on any computer.

01 December 2011

Follow Friday: Polish Genealogy Podcast

Thank you to the Genealogy Guys Podcast for announcing the new Polish Genealogy Podcast, which started in November. This once-a-month podcast is one episode in and, although it was a short introductory podcast, I am eagerly awaiting the next. Host David Newman has promised an hour-long podcast each month, citing both the Genealogy Guys and Genealogy Gems podcasts as inspiration.

Currently, the podcast is available for download from its Facebook page, but I am hopeful it will eventually be on iTunes for more convenience. Being an avid genealogy podcast listener, I am glad one will be focusing solely on Polish research.

30 November 2011

Thankful Thursday: RootsMagic 5 Research Manager

RootsMagic announced the release of version 5 earlier this week and held a webinar on Tuesday to present the new features. The webinar was recorded and you can view it on their website. There are many new features, as well as changes to existing version 4 features, but the one I am most interested to try is the Research Manager.

This new feature includes unlimited research logs, which give you the option of linking to a person, family, event, place, or not linking to anything in your database. In addition, you can now move your to-do list items into your research log if you choose, rather than just marking them as complete. Within the research log are predefined fields for a date, reference number, subject, source, repository, and results. All log items are sortable and all logs are searchable by title and content.

I currently use Microsoft OneNote to hold my research logs, since I was not satisfied with using the To Do List in RootsMagic as my research log, which is what they previously recommended. I am very happy with the flexibility and ease of use with OneNote, but I will be trying the Research Manager once I download my upgrade. I am hopeful that this will simplify my process by housing more information in one central location without compromising the functionality of my existing process.

01 November 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Interlibrary Loan

Until recently, the interlibrary loan service offered by my local public library was not on my radar. That is, until I needed to look at an out of print book, Maryland in the World War, 1917-1919: Military and Naval Service Records. The two volume set was published in 1933 by the Maryland War Records Commission. My library did not have this in their collection and a quick search on Amazon.com showed used copies in excess of $130 and a collector's copy for $750. I put in an interlibrary loan request and, surprisingly, I was called to pick up the volume I ordered within about a week. The librarian explained to me that even she was surprised they were able to find a copy, and I was surprised they allowed me take the copy home for several weeks (I even asked if they realized how much the book was worth!).

At the recommendation of Cecile Wendt Jensen in both her book, Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy, and her online videos on Family Search (see my previous post), I decided to purchase a copy of Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings by William F. Hoffman. The second edition of this book was published in 2001 by the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). There are no copies left for purchase on the PGSA's website and another Amazon.com search revealed that a used copy will run over $100 (three times that for a first edition). The PGSA's website does note, however, that the author is working on another edition to be published this winter. While I will purchase a third edition copy when it becomes available, I want to utilize the resource now. So, I entered another interlibrary loan request and within about an hour I received an email that the request was successful and I will be notified when I can pick it up.

I highly recommend checking your library interlibrary loan service the next time you need a book that is not otherwise available to you. Not all resources may be available this way, but it is at least worth a try. In my experience, it not only saves money, but is also extremely convenient. My library accepts requests on their website, so I don't even have to go in until I have a book to pick up.

31 October 2011

Polish Research Videos

Since today is the last day of Polish American Heritage Month and I have been busy working on my personal research this month, I thought I should take a moment to recommend a learning resource.

FamilySearch's Learning Center includes several videos on Polish research. Cecile Wendt Jensen recorded two videos: Introduction to Polish Research and Advanced Polish Research, which are excellent companions to her book Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy.

While you are watching the videos, you will want to take notes. There are many websites she recommends, including those for archives in Poland with options to view the content in English. She also dispels some of the myths surrounding genealogical research in Poland and provides sound research advice for records in the United States, as well.

Below are links to the offerings at Family Search, as well as the Jensen's site, Michigan Polonia.
Family Search Learning Center: Poland
Cecile Wendt Jensen's Michigan Polonia

04 October 2011

Tech Tuesday: Genealogy with Kindle

Last Christmas, my husband surprised me with a Kindle, which I have been in love with ever since. I have read articles on how useful iPads and other devices can be helpful with genealogy and decided to do a search for using my Kindle for genealogy. I stumbled upon the Long Lost Relatives blog post "Kindle for Genealogy" by Susan Peterson. In the post, she explains how she, too, has a soft spot for her Kindle and has transformed hers into a portable research notebook.

Here are a few of the items I added to my Kindle:
  • Genealogical society newsletters
  • Research reports
  • Pedigree charts
  • Cheat sheets
  • Current to-do-list
I wish I had thought of Susan Peterson's ideas, but I have no problem following her example and using my Kindle to make me more effective in my research. I strongly recommend that you use the link above to read the post - I know you won't be disappointed.

27 September 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Conflicting Age & Dates

This weekend I was looking at a World War I Draft Registration Card and recording all the information it contained. I noticed some conflicting information with regard to the age, date of birth, and date the form was signed.

The date on the form is September 12, 1918. The form states that the individual's age is 37 and the date of birth is October 15, 1873.

If the individual was born on October 15, 1873, then on September 12, 1918, he would have been 44 years old (a few weeks away from his 45th birthday), not 37. He would have turned 37 in the year 1910. However, if he really was 37 on September 12, 1918, he would have been born in the year 1880.

With about 24 million cards completed in a two-year span, I wonder if this type of error is common. I wish the Registrar would have caught the error in the math. This serves as a reminder to me of why it is so important to analyze each piece of information contained in a document and take nothing for granted.

30 August 2011

Tech Tuesday: Ancestry Free Access Week

If your to do list includes researching immigration records available at Ancestry.com, but you do not have a paid subscription, you are in luck this week. August 29 - September 5 is Free Access Week to immigration and travel records on Ancestry. This includes U.S. records plus international immigration records from a handful of other countries, including Germany.

One new record set that might be of particular interest to Polish-American researchers are Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956. Many Polish immigrants in Canada eventually emigrated to the United States.

The link below will take you directly to the free search page:

23 August 2011

Tech Tuesday: Research Tools in RootsMagic

Last week, I attended the webinar "Research Tools in RootsMagic." I have been using the RootsMagic genealogy software for about two years and, although I knew there were probably features I was not familiar with in the software, I contemplated whether an hour-long webinar would be beneficial to me. Before long I said out loud "they did not charge me enough for this software!" Here are a few of the features I learned more about.
  • Fact List: This allows you to run a query for certain fact criteria, such as facts without sources, facts of a certain quality, or missing facts. This is a useful tool in helping to determine what research needs to be done or where should focus your research time and efforts.
  • To Do List: This is a feature I was under-utilizing. I was deleting items after I completed them instead of marking them as complete. By marking them complete, I can keep track of negative results (or research that did not yield a result), which should eliminate duplicating my research.
  • Web Search: With the click of a button, you can search numerous sites, such as Ancestry, Find A Grave, Family Search, or Google, for a highlighted individual using the information you have already entered. RootsMagic will even remember your passwords for subscription sites.
  • GenSmarts: They saved this for last, and quickly had me sold on the $24.95 add-on program. GenSmarts can be run with a single click on any person in your database. It analyzes that person's information and makes suggestions on specific resources to research and why, as well as where the resource can be found. You can even load the suggestions into your To Do List for the future, making that feature even more powerful.
The hour-long webinar was free and was recorded for playback and posted to the RootsMagic website at the link below. There are twelve webinars so far and another two coming up this month. Whether your are already a RootsMagic user or are shopping for new software, I highly recommend watching a few of these webinars. The hour I spent last week has already proven beneficial in my research.


08 August 2011

Motivation Monday: Generations Project

Looking through my TV channels recently, I discovered BYUtv and a show called The Generations Project. Although it appears this show has been on the air for a number of years, until that moment, I did not know BYUtv existed. I programmed my DVR to record all episodes of this show and have been catching up on new and old episodes alike.

I describe The Generations Project as Who Do You Think You Are minus the celebrities. It is motivating to me to watch each person ask questions and discover the answers throughout their journey. However, the most recent episode I watched was a little different. Instead of following an individual through their story, the topic was how to do your own Generations Project.

At first, it seemed pretty simple--I did not see much of a difference between what the subject of the show was doing and what I do (except they have a team of researchers, a camera crew, and the ability to travel around the world in search of their answers). As I watched, though, I understood why what they do is more interesting to a larger audience than what I do.

The Generations Project encourages going a step beyond this and walking in your ancestors' shoes. This has inspired me to think of ways I can put together my research and its historical context with a way to experience a part of that ancestor's life. Perhaps I can make a recipe that they would have made, or I can try a tradition they may have had, or I could visit a historical site that would provide context to their life.

I encourage you to watch the program at the link below and try to think of ways to make your research significant to non-genealogists, or even to live a small part of it yourself. As genealogists, we already feel a connection with people we have never met...imagine forming a greater bond by experiencing part of their lives firsthand.

BYUtv - The Generations Project

21 June 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Porcelain Photo

I have read about porcelain photographs of the deceased being added to their headstones, but never imagined any of my ancestors would have had the money to do so. On my recent research trip, I accidentally found the headstone of my great-grandmother's brother, who died in World War I. It was between his father's headstone and the headstone the woman I hypothesize to be his mother.

Two things stood out to me immediately. First, his name is listed as Antoni, rather than Andrew, as I found in the census and an index for his military record. Not unusual, as his other family members' headstones are written entirely in Polish as well.

Second was a photograph of him in his military uniform. I was ecstatic! I have precious few photographs of this part of my family and I would have never expected to find one of this young man, who died at age eighteen. I have since ordered his National Guard records from the Maryland Archives.

You never know what genealogical finds await you...even ones you did not know you were looking for.

16 June 2011

Thankful Thursday: Baltimore, Maryland

Last weekend, I visited the Baltimore County Genealogical Society library during my research trip. The last time I was there was about a year ago and I used a book of transcriptions from St. Stanislaus Cemetery in Baltimore. This time, one of the volunteers handed me a new book of transcriptions from St. Stanislaus, 1892-1910, which is a compilation of the earliest records from the cemetery and enabled me to find two names I was researching that were not in the book I used originally. This new book was published by Historyk Press, which is a great resource for research books on Baltimore's Polish community.

In an earlier post, I wrote about looking for my great, great-grandmother. Before I left for my trip, I ordered a death certificate for a woman I thought might be her. I found this same woman's name in the transcription book with a notation that she died in childbirth. It also listed her husband's and children's names, which matched my family.

With this information, I headed out to the cemetery. When I located my great, great-grandfather's headstone, to the left was one of his sons, and one more to the left was the woman I have hypothesized to be my great, great-grandmother. I took several photographs and left with the satisfaction of making significant progress in my search.

Following are links to the resources I used this past weekend for researching my Polish ancestors in Baltimore:
Baltimore County Genealogical Society
Historyk Press

13 June 2011

Motivation Monday: Research Trip

For months I had been planning a research trip to the Baltimore County Genealogical Society library. I had four hours on Saturday morning to cover my list of four things, and my husband in tow as my research assistant. The first item on my list was easy - a copy of the title page from a book I missed last year when I was at the library. One down, three to go.

I came up empty handed for everything else. However, my husband did find tombstone transcriptions for a few individuals with the same surname as some of my ancestors buried in the same cemetery. Not knowing who these new individuals were, I decided we should head out to the cemetery as long as we were in the area.

On the way, it started pouring, but I wasn't going to walk away from the weekend without any success. We were in luck, though, as the rain broke when we pulled into the cemetery. We knew my ancestors were in one of two sections and picked the one we wanted to start with. A few rows in, I spotted the surname we were searching for. I was so excited, I forgot about my previous disappointment. There, I saw the two names I knew, along with two others next to them with the same surname that I did not recognize. I snapped lots of pictures and reveled in one success and was excited to get back to the hotel room to research my new finds.

The clues I received in the cemetery, along with the book my husband copied proved to be my brick wall busters! As a result of what I thought was a disappointing trip, I have more to share than I can possibly fit in one post...and I found it all before I even went home. Over the next few posts, I am going to share my amazing finds, a few resources, and even a very helpful piece of technology, all of which I hope will give you the motivation to keep charging at your brick walls because you never know when they will start to crumble.

07 June 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Not My Ancestor

In a previous post, I shared my experience with one of the first things a fledgling genealogist should do - interview family. Through interviewing family, I learned the names of my great-great grandparents and was told stories about them, including the fact that my great-great grandmother only spoke Polish and her grandchildren only spoke English.

I quickly located my great-grandmother living with her parents in the 1920 Federal Census, just as I was told. Next, I was able to find the family together in the 1910 Federal Census. Nothing unusual so far...until I look past the names. The 1910 Federal Census asks a few questions not included in 1920: Number of Years of Present Marriage and, for women, Mother of How Many Children--Number Born and Number Now Living. What I saw looked something like this:

My great-great grandfather, as shown on the top line, is noted as "M2" for marital status (married more than once) and his wife as "M1" (married once). Interesting. The next thing I see is that the couple have reportedly been married for four years. She has two children and none are living. The problem? My great-grandmother is listed on this record as living in their household and is thirteen years old. If this record is accurate, who is her mother?

My great-grandmother's death certificate, from 1942, does not have her mother's name, only "Unknown."  This supports the hypothesis that my great-great grandfather's wife is not my great-great grandmother, as she supposedly did not pass until the 1950s. It appears I have more research to do to get to the bottom of this mystery.

My tip to you, therefore, is not only to verify everything you learn in an interview with documentation, but also to take advantage of special questions asked throughout the various censuses. Go back and look beyond the names and ages...there are more clues on these records than you may realize. In my case, the census raised more questions that it answered, which is the blessing and curse of genealogy...there is always more to research.

18 May 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Finding Their Story

I am fortunate to have this photograph from my great-grandparents' wedding that my father gave me shortly after my own wedding. Although I am accustomed to finding a document and never finding a visual representation of the event, in this case, I have no documentation or any idea where and when they were married. While beginning my research on their marriage, I have been considering potential sources of  information that could help me.

Depending when and where your ancestor was married, they may have left the civil records we most often think of--the marriage license and marriage certificate. However, there may be other sources recording this event, which can be beneficial to our research--church records, newspapers, Bible records, and invitations.

The couple may be presented with a marriage certificate unique to the church, which could hold information other than what appears on the civil certificate. For example, I have seen such certificates that contain the names and home addresses of the maid of honor and best man. This could be interesting, and potentially helpful in your research, to know if these individuals were relatives or neighbors of the couple.

Also, newspapers are used to announce engagements and marriages and may contain more personal information on the couple, such as where they plan to live after the wedding, who was in attendance, and a description of the dress and reception festivities. In the absence of a photograph, a first-hand account can be an exciting find. I came across one such article on a different couple, which described the bride's dress and even named out-of-town relatives they were to visit after the wedding.

Finally, Bible entries, or a Bible presented to the couple at their wedding, may also provide details about the wedding and the family, such as the date, location, and the bride's maiden name. You may even be lucky enough to find a wedding invitation, which could provide as much information as any of the other sources, such as a maiden name, parents' names, and locations of the families and ceremony.

Their story may be been forgotten over the years, but seeing my ancestors' faces gives me motivation to seek out these sources in an attempt to piece it together.

02 May 2011

Mappy Monday: Born in Multiple Countries?

I have seen a lot of questions on message boards about whether a place is in Poland or if a particular person is actually from Poland. This is a common question among Polish researchers and the answers have a lot to do with the time period being researched.

For me, this question started with my great, great grandfather, who arrived in the United States around 1888 or 1889. I have located him in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Census records. In 1910, his place of birth is listed as "Ger/Polish." The, in 1920, his place of birth is "Posen" and his native language is "Polish," although the Ancestry.com index shows his place of birth as "Germany." Finally, the 1930 census clearly shows his place of birth as "Poland." So how could the same person be born in multiple counties...or why does his birth place change depending on when he is asked?

The answer lies in Poland's history. Over the course of time and even in our lifetimes, the borders and names of what we know today as Poland have changed. In 1910, Poland was not recognized--rather, Polish lands had been divided among Prussia, Russia, and Austria. A birth place of "Ger/Polish" would indicate Prussia, or the German Empire. In 1920, these lands were once again known as Poland, which explains the response of Posen/Polish. Although Posen (Poznan) is a clue, it is a large city and does not necessarily indicate where my ancestor was born or lived before moving to the United States. For example, he could have been from a much smaller town, but indicated Posen, as it was the largest city close to where he actually lived. It is important to note, however, that Posen was part of the German Empire in 1910. Finally, 1930 was prior to another division of the country by Nazi Germany, so it was still known as Poland.

It is helpful to consult a historical map in locating the origins of your Polish ancestors. For the time period I am researching, I referenced this Historical Map of Europe 1871-1914, at EmersonKent.com, which shows city names, as well as color-coding for the controlling territory. For example, Posen is part of the German Empire (in blue), situated between Berlin and Warsaw, which was part of Russia at the time.

Understanding land divisions of Poland during your ancestor's lifetime and consulting historical maps is extremely beneficial in determining where they lived. Be careful not to overlook clues in census, immigration, and other records created by your ancestor. Records are likely to refer to the location as it was known to the rest of the world at that point in time.

26 April 2011

Tuesday's Tip: PDF Searches

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was able to locate a few ancestors in the Maryland Death Index online and order copies of their death certificates. The index is available in the form of a PDF file embedded within the page, which is not uncommon among electronic records.

At first, I used the Find box at the top of the PDF file with no luck. Then I decided to test the feature--I typed a name that appeared at the top of the page in the Find box and the search returned a message that no matches could be found on the page. I had to start at the beginning again and look at every entry before I could locate my ancestor.

My tip to you is this--before you potentially overlook the information you are seeking by using a Find feature in electronic records, test it using something you can clearly see on the page. If it works, great! If not, unfortunately, you will need to proceed with your search the old fashioned way.

23 April 2011

Interviewing Family

Time and time again I read that I should start with interviewing my own family. This is one piece of advise I did not heed...at least not right away. I always put it off because I was afraid of prying too much or being a nuisance.

When I finally decided to give it a try, my great uncle was generous enough to spend an hour on the phone with me discussing our family history. I was nervous, but well prepared. Before I called, I printed out his pedigree chart and wrote a list of questions and topics I wanted to cover. Here are a few of the questions I asked:
  • When is your birthday and where were you born?
  • What is the birth order of your siblings? (I got their birth years)
  • Do you know why your grandparents moved from Poland to Baltimore? (He did not)
  • Did your father have any siblings? (I got names of his siblings and some of their children)
  • What were your parents/grandparents like?
  • What was it like growing up with you siblings?
By the end of our conversation, I not only had a page of notes to type, but I also had a few great stories about my ancestors. Talking to someone who knew my ancestors put them into a context I could not have learned from records alone.

But I also got clues that propelled my research. I knew that one of my second great-grandmothers went by Pearl, but since I learned the names of her other children, I was able to locate a census record that identified her given name as Peliagis. My great uncle was able to narrow down my other second great-grandmother's death year for me. This information helped me find both of them in the Maryland Death Index, so I was able to order their Death Certificates, which I hope will include their places of birth in Poland and their maiden names.

I cannot stress enough the importance of interviewing your family members before it is too late. My breakthroughs were possible because of information from my family. I finally stopped spinning my wheels and started asking for what I needed...and I am still thankful that I did.

17 April 2011

Fledgling Genealogist

My interest in genealogy started when I was a kid. I would ask my mom to show me my second great-grandfather's bible. Together, we would look through the huge leather book-she would point out the beautiful illustrations and the family record. Births, marriages, and deaths, mostly for people I never knew. I would look at my birth entry, written by my mom, and marvel at the fact that I was related to all those other people somehow. She would carefully take out my great-grandparents' marriage certificate, crumbling apart even back then, and show me the thick paper and colorful illustrations around the names. I would watch her expression change when she would come across my cousin's obituary and she would tell me that she could never bring herself to write his death in the bible. As a kid, I did not understand her reasoning, but I could see how upset the sight of the newspaper clipping made her, so I never asked.

About two years ago, my mom passed away after a short battle with brain cancer, three days after her 58th birthday. A few days after her funeral, I pulled out the family bible to add her funeral card with my cousin's obituary. Only this time, I added my cousin's entry, as well as my mom's. But I also added my nephew's birth record, which never got added four years prior. My dad took notice as I transcribed all the records to a sheet of paper that I could take back home on the plane with me. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I wanted to know more about these people.

A short time later, my father gave me the bible and I have become known as the family record keeper. I now have a room in my house devoted to books, photographs, files, and other memorabilia. I am finally learning who my mysterious ancestors are, and have fallen head-first into genealogy in the process. The flood of emotions I saw in my mom all the times we looked through the family bible together are starting to make sense to me now, as I experience those same feelings every time I work on my genealogy research.