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Citizen Genealogist

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my brother. He was telling me about how he was helping record data for online experiments and he referred to himself as a “citizen scientist.” Maybe it’s just how he talks, but I laughed out loud and then mercilessly made fun of him to no end. I was going to make him a t-shirt that said “citizen scientist” and I wasn’t going to let it die. This was funny stuff!

Tonight, with my first free night in quite a while, I’m spending these fresh, new hours by indexing the 1940 Census via Family Search…and it occurred to me, who’s the dork now? Not very different from what my brother is doing; he’s charting stars, I’m charting people. Citizen Genealogist.

Nope, citizen scientist is funnier.


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Unknown No Longer

The Virginia Historical Society has announced the launch of a new Virginia slave name database. Drawing on the millions of documents in their collection, the database provides free online access to sources from the 17th through 19th centuries. You can search for individuals by name, occupation, age or location. Known as “Unknown No Longer”, the database finally gives the dignity of identity to many of the enslaved people in Virginia’s past and will most definitely be a boon to genealogical researchers.

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I was lucky enough to see Paul Simon live this week. A highlight of the concert was hearing and watching him play the namesake song of my blog, Hearts and Bones. This is not my video, but it’s the same tour and the best one I could find online. (it also includes their cover of Mystery Train by Chet Atkins)

You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones
And they won’t come undone
Hearts and bones
Hearts and bones

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I DO want 1890 back!

Who doesn’t? This great shirt might just have to be added to my wardrobe. But how many times would I have to explain it? Would people ask? Would I be stopped in the grocery store and asked to expound? Would people be as horrified as I was to learn that the original data for the 1890 Census, groundbreaking for its use of punch-card technology, was lost to fire? Or would people just think I was some kind of reenactor?

The 1890 Census is for me is the twist in the game, the wrench in the works. If I had access to 1890, I might know how Lewis Hirsch got from rural Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. It would be a small chink in a brick wall, but big enough to peer through and see just a little more.

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A little down time

In November I canceled my subscription to Ancestry.com. I was paying for it for months and not even visiting the site; my Masters degree work taking up the majority of my free time. During my holiday break, I’ve had some time to evaluate how I spend said free time and think up new ways to squeeze things in during 2011. While my class in American Art and Architecture is sure to be loaded with lots of reading, research, and writing, surely I can find the time to do more in 2011 – maybe even genealogy work.

I blame it on Buzzy. Halfway through reading Buzzy Jackson’s Shaking the Family Tree, I’m struck with the idea that I am probably due for some organization. I have binders for each surname, computer files, and several envelopes of documents that need alignment. About this time in the book (page 89) Buzzy is on the genealogy cruise listening to a lecture by Elizabeth Shown Mills, citation guru of genealogy. Buzzy comments a couple of time about how useful Shown-Mills’ techniques would have been in grad school. When the stars align, I pay attention. Shown-Mills’ book Evidence Explained is now on my wish list ($50 lowest price I can find…maybe I’ll check the library first).

I think back to the days before the internet – when I used to write away to the LDS and received their newsprint updates every so often or the trip to the Library of Congress with my sister, waiting in the lobby for our number to be called, sharing the microfiche machine. I think I’m at the point where Ancestry.com has served me well for several years and it is now time, when I have the time, to get back to the grassroots of the job and get organized. Ancestry.com and it’s contemporaries have a way of enticing you to the point where your searches end up going in circles, you linger for hours getting lost in Census records and “what ifs.” Taking some time to regroup will be good.

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Since I started my Masters program this past fall, I’ve had to let go of my genealogy work temporarily. I love history and I love learning – and I love learning my history most! But I’ll have to be satisfied for now with the temporary breaks that allow me to dip my toe into genealogy, like reading Buzzy Jackson’s Shaking the Family Tree. I just started the book last night and am already negotiating with myself to get certain chores done before I sit down to read.

Interesting that she opens with the question as to WHY we do this, this genealogical research. I struggled with that question, as most of us have, and still have not found a satisfactory answer except to say that, in addition to loving history and learning, maybe I also like making paperwork for myself.

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Looking forward to this show tonite  – preview on The Colbert Show and the commericals have me intrigued. I’ve been wondering about asking for a DNA test for my birthday…takers?

And after a day of research , this is going to be a great way to wind down and enjoy someones genealogical victories – even if they are not  my own.

Trace Your Family History | Faces of America | PBS.

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