What are the “Lessons Learned” after lecturing at the WSGC 2014?

WSGC 2014I was honored to be selected to present at the Washington State Genealogical Conference 2014 in Arlington, Washington this month.  Of the five ideas for presentations that I submitted, the conference planning committee selected “Just Do It! Writing Your Memoirs & Self-Publishing.”  The venue was terrific and was attended by 300 + attendees.  Josh Taylor of Our Family Heritage was the keynote speaker on Saturday. Eric and Karen Stroshien did a great job in planning it.

I had an audience of about 40 who were totally engaged and a delight.  They asked terrific questions of which I could even answer!  I was so energized by the audience, I felt good all day.

My good friend Steve Morrison attended the session and like all good friends he gave me a great critique.  He thought I truly engaged the audience at the beginning but lost them at the end.  (I tried to do an actual publication but due to a mix up in the timing, I did not quite complete.  This is a big no-no!).  I should focus more directly on the topic–probably shouldn’t have taken questions during the presentation as they consumed too much time and he thought it siderailed the presentation.  He noted that some of my slides had a point size of font that was too small.   (The experts say 32 point.  I increased mine to 24.).  It is better to stop early than to run out of time.  He also thought my handout could be much improved.

I agree with all his suggestions and when I gave it again that next weekend to SGS I incorporated much of what he said.  (I actually had a person who attended both.  She was disappointed at first because she thought it would be repetitive.  It was; but with a much smaller audience, we could get more personal.  She confessed that liked hearing the presentation again and thought it was good to have heard it twice!)

So, I am also excited that I will be presenting three presentations to the Jefferson County Genealogical Society in March 2015.  This will be an all day event.  While we have agreed on terms, they have not decided which of my presentations they wish to hear.  I will find out that information in September.

I asked the Association of Professional Genealogists listserve for comments specifically geared to day-long presentations. Here are their recommendations:

  1. Know your topic inside and out
  2. Start early to deal with contractual issues
  3. Start early with presentation preparation
  4. Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Take questions at the end of each segment or you cannot get through the prepared presentation
  6. The time in-between sessions must be managed to allow yourself time to “reset” (physically and mentally) for the next presentation.
  7. Have a table to place your brochure, business cards, publications etc. (Bring a nice tablecloth and other items to “dress” the table.)
  8. If you have a product to sell, include in the contract the rights to sell at the event.

i don’t have anything to sell but I do have a little “give-away”.

I have applied to two other conferences to speak and am waiting to hear from them. I have already heard that I was not accepted to present at FGS in February. I plan on submitting to at least two others soon. This is fun!

In addition to my 3-day gig, I will be speaking at four SGS events in the coming months.  Drop by and learn something new.  These sessions will be:

  • 28 September: “I Found my Family on the Internet! Now What Do I Do?” Evaluating genealogy, specifically those with family information, websites
  • 12 October: “Soldiers, Spies & Farm Wives: the Changing Roles for Women during the Civil War” A look at how Rosie the Riveter was not an anomaly.
  • 9 November: “Using the Non-Population Schedules” For context and even restricted records, nothing is better than the non-population schedules–short of paying the lawyer!
  • 7 December: “Family Myths: Using Analysis & Correlation to Resolve” Do you have an Indian Princess in your family?  Well, somebody has to!  We will explore how to resolve this often puzzling family stories–and sometimes they are true!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  Well, not exactly, but I really worked on the presentation for the 28th of September.  It was lacking a construct which popped into place this weekend.  I really feel like it is in a good place now.  I need to revisit the content of my lecture proposals; I do not believe I have done a very good job of pointing out the uniqueness of the different proposals.  I am getting very comfortable with my hardware.  That’s good.  The new laptop is doing great.  I worked up a lecturing contract for Jefferson County and worked on a client report which is very interesting–Scotland!



A Year in the Life of Jens Dahle: ~ 30 August 1864

Belle IslandOn or about this date, the Confederates moved Jens Dahle, and James Everhart, the diarist, from Libby Prison, crossed the James River to Belle Isle.  This prison was located an island overlooking Richmond, Virginia.  Jens and James stayed at Belle Isle until October of 1864. [1]

Belle Isle was a “tent” type prison in that there was no permanent structure to house the prisoners who were housed in tents. The James River served as  a deterrent to escapes. [2] This view  in the photo is taken looking at Richmond. [3]

Early in the war, prisoners would be exchanged between the two armies.  In April of 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant recognized that this exchange program was advantageous to the Confederates as the Confederate exchanged soldiers went back into the Confederate Army contrary to their oath upon release, whereas the Union soldiers went home.  Grant cancelled all further exchanges.  Prisons like Belle Isle, sized for 1000 prisoners, swelled almost overnight to many times that number. [4] This was true for prisons in the north and the south.  As a consequence, housing became crude, food shortages were chronic and deaths mounted as sanitary conditions became rudimentary and pathogens infiltrated what water supplies were available.  Death became common place. [5]

Next posting: 8 October 1864. Jens is transferred to Salisbury Prison.


[1] CMSR, Jens Dahle.
[2] “Civil War Prisons,” Civil War Home (http://www.civilwarhome.com/prisons.htm : accessed 24 August 2014)
[3] “Belle Isle, 1863,” NARA.
[4] “Exchange of Prisoners in the Clvii War,” Civil War Home, online (http://www.civilwarhome.com : accessed 18 January 2012)[4] McLaughlin, 245.
[5] “Civil War Prison,” Civil War Home.

A Year in the Life of Jens Dahle: 27 August 1864

Where was Jens Dahle 150 years ago today?

Dahle confederate rosterJust two days previously, the Confederate Army led by Hampton captured 1000 Union soldiers at the Battle of Ream’s Station, Jens Dahle was one.  He and his fellow prisoners were loaded onto a rail car and taken to Richmond, Virginia.  As with most Union prisoners, Jens was processed through a warehouse conscripted by the Confederate army and called Libby Prison.  The photo on the left is the original Confederate roster of Union prisoners processed at Libby on 27 August 1864.[1]  Jens Dahle is noted with the red box.  Officers were imprisoned on the upper floors; the lower floors were for the processing of prisoners before moving the regulars out to other locations.

The record of the capture, transference by train, intake at Libby and subsequent details of prison life are taken from the diary of  Sergeant James Everhart of Allegheny, Pennsylvania (Company G, 8th PA RES, Volunteer Corps) who kept a diary during his concurrent stay with Jens.  It is doubtful James and Jens knew each other as each unit would stay with its own.  And while Jens’s experience would have been different (e.g. he was already weakened by the bout of dysentery he had suffered the year before) James’s experience and the dates they occurred are almost mirrored day to day until their release in February 1865. [2]

Libby no longer stands but is memorialized by a plaque on the side of a flood wall on the James. [3]


[1] Confederate Record of Jens T. Dahle.  List of Federal Troops Captured at Reams Station, Virginia on August 25, 1864 and Recorded at Confederate Military Prison in Richmond, Virginia August 27, 1864, NARA, Identifier 616054; Record Group 249, Records of the Commissary General of Prisoners, 1861-1905.
[2] Florence C. McLaughlin, editor, “Diary of Salisbury Prison by James Everhart,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, July 1973,
[3] Personal observation by Jill Morelli, July 2013.

A Year in the Life of Jens Dahle: 25 August 1864

The year 1864– 150 years ago– was a pivotal year of the Civil War.

On this day, 150 years ago, Jens Dahle, a Norwegian immigrant, was captured at the Battle of Reams Station.

We know what lies ahead– Petersburg campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, Lincoln’s reelection (not a forgone conclusion), the fall of Richmond, the surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of Lincoln. Let’s watch these events through one soldier’s eyes– those of Jens Dahle of the 2nd Minnesota.

To the extent known by me, I will post the activity of Jens on the date of the 150th anniversary of key and known activities. The activities are obviously not regular and thus the postings will be irregular as well.

The last posting in the series will be 30 April 2015.

But, who is Jens Dahle?

Jens Dahle  was born on 25 March 1839 to the unmarried couple Torkel Torkelson and Unni Olsdotter in Leikanger parish, Sogn und Fjordane district. Torkel and Unni married, but not to each other, within the following three years. [1]

As the stepson of the husband of his mother, Jens would not inherit the farm which instead would go to the eldest biological son. Jens could look forward to a life in Norway as a day laborer or a small tenant farmer without rights of inheritance for his own future family members. [2] Others from his parish emigrated to the Midwest including his biological father. The mass migration from Norway to the United States was just beginning and ultimately would send 11% of its population, the largest as a percentage of any country except Ireland, to the United States. [3]

Jens left the parish for “Nord Amerika” on 14 April 1858 for Minnesota. [4]

After four years in Minnesota and with still few prospects but with a reasonable command of the English language, Jens enlisted in the Union Army on 20 January 1862 and was assigned to the Minnesota Sharpshooters. [5] Doris Gilpin Faust described “sharpshooters” as “killing machines”  in her book, The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War because they were the ones selected for their accuracy with a gun and who served as snipers.

The next few years saw Jens in and out of the hospital system with dysentery, one of the diseases that caused over 2/3s of the deaths associated with the War. [6] This weakened him for regular duty and placed him in Provost Guard, ostensibly “light duty,” where he served until 21 June 1864.  This could hardly be considered light duty as he was still involved with four of the ten bloodiest battles of the War and traveled New York City to quell the riots in that city responding to the draft. [7]

reams stationWhere was Jens 150 years ago today?

25 August 1864:  Jens captured at the Battle of Ream’s Station, Virginia. [8]

This was a minor battle characterized by strategic blunders by the generals of the Union Army in their positioning of troops on the hill.  Jens was under the command of Brigadier General John Gibbon and positioned on the south side of the hill which was attacked by Confederates units under Hampton’s command. Jens was not alone–over 1000 Union soldiers were captured at this time.

As you can see from the map, the blue lines indicate the Union forces and the red were the attacking Confederates.  You do not need to be a General Patton to figure out that if the Confederates shot at you and missed they had a second chance at hitting a Union compatriot in the back on the other side of this tight “V-shaped” formation.  Jens was stationed with his regiment on the lower right hand side of the V-shaped formation. [9]

Over the next two or three days, he and the others captured travel to Richmond, Virginia.

Our thoughts are with you, Jens and all the POWs who have sacrificed for this country.  I respect and honor the courage it took to face the long odds you endured.


Next installment: 27 August 2014, Richmond, Virginia.

[1]  Leikanger parish, Sogn of Fjordane County, Norway, Jens Torkelson birth entry (25 March 1837); original parish records online  Digitalarkivit (http://arkiverket.no : accessed 23 October 2011) entry 44, 11.
[2] Theodore Christian Belgen, Norwegian Migration to America (1825-1860), (North Stratford, New Hampshire : Ayer Company Publishers, In., 1969) 5.[3] Belgen, 22.
[4] Leikanger parish, Sogn og Fjordane County, Norway, Jens Torkelson Tjon moving out record (14 April 1858); original parish records online Digiatarkivet (http://www.arkiverket.no: accessed 23 October 2011) 248.
[5] Compiled Military Service Records (CMRS) of Volunteer Union Soldiers, National Archives and Record Administration (NARA); Jens T. Dahle (private, 2nd Company, Minnesota Sharpshooters). Copy of record in the possession of Mary Swenson [address for private use.]
[6] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[7] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[8] CMRS, Jens Dahle.
[9] “Maps of Reams Station, the Second Battle of Reams Station,” Civil War Home (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/reamsstation/maps/reamsstationmap.html : accessed 19 November 2011).

OTC: Elgin Watch Works

watch 1(I am sorry–I couldn’t resist the pun!)

How much more “on the clock ” can one be except at the Elgin (IL) Historical Museum–touring the exhibit about the Elgin Watch Factory?  Yes, Elgin watches were made in my genealogical destination of Elgin, Illinois.  I was there not to see the watches and other time pieces or to learn about Elgin Watch Works but like so many of our adventures, we learn something about a topic we had no idea we would be interested in.

I had a special tour of the Historical Museum by William Briska, who wrote the history of the Elgin Watch Factory. While most of our time was spent discussing his other book, The History of the Elgin Mental Health Center, I had a few moments to tour the watch exhibit before going on our road trip out to the asylum.[1]

Elgin Watch Works produced its first movement in Elgin in 1867.   Individual Elgin watch models were known by a name much like automobiles are now.  These high end timepieces were often made of gold and msot were pocket watches.  Later, the wristband type were made.  A single watch could take months to make and the machinists who made them were more artists than craftspeople. [2] Notice the photo.  This is clearly a woman’s timepiece. embedded in a cigarette case of mother of pearl and gold. It brings visions to me of a “Great Gatsby” type of a setting.  I would feel glamorous just holding it!

In the months ahead I will be highlighting some of the beautiful watches and timepieces designed and created in Elgin, Illinois.  Most timepieces I will show are ones that are on display in the museum as I explore the process of being “on the clock” or OTC.  The inclusion of a timepiece in the blog posting will let you know that the article is about being “on the clock”.  Like my work product right now, not all timepieces will be glamorous; some are down-right “homely.”

I am also glad to report that the attitude of giving back to the community is still strong in Elgin and is manifested in the persona of William Briska. William rattled off six, seven, -or was it eight? — different organizations that he actively supports with his time and talents. He is the type of guy  every organization wants as a member and every town wants as a citizen.

Thanks, Bill. It was truly a pleasure to meet you and one I will remember for a long time, including the BLT at Al’s-I owe you lunch!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  This posting sat while I became totally engrossed in the conference planning for the OGSA Family Reunion, a genealogy conference for Ostfriesens.  We had 130 attendees from across the country and Germany.  The 3.5 day conference culminated in a banquet with party hats and clappers!  I have done no BCG work this past month.  I got out the SGS newsletter to the proofreaders.  I print next weekend.  Then I start work on a major article for the SGS Bulletin which prints in November.  I had better start carving out time for the BCG or I will get caught up in that renewal thing-y!  I did write a note to Nicki of BCG with a question about what constitutes “publishing” per the Application Manual’s directive that you cannot use something that has been published previously unless you use it as it was submitted.

[1] The Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy. The docents there will, for a fee, assess the historic value of your Elgin watch. So, check them out if you have that old watch in the box you do not know what to do with.  http://www.elginhistory.org/museum.html

[2] Kevin James, The Watch Guy (http://thewatchguy.homestead.com/pages/ELGIN.html : accessed 23 August 2014), “Elgin Watch Works.”

What Kind of an Historian Are You?

As you may know I am coming off an intensive month of conference planning for the 2014 OGSA (Ostfriesen Genealogical Society of America) Family Reunion.  The conference culminates in a banquet where we honor our attendees and volunteers for the year.  This year I volunteered to present some thoughts to the group as a whole.  They are presented here in almost the way it was presented.

Comments to the 2014 Ostfriesen Genealogical Society Annual Conference Banquet

Delivered 6 August 2014;  based on the book The Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide by Conal Furay and Michael J. Salevouris.


What kind of historian are you?

What is your reason for being at this conference? …to have access to the Ostfriesen Library collection? …to meet with Ostfriesen friends? …to learn something new about Ostfriesen culture or genealogy? Each of us attended this conference for different but similar reasons–but ultimately to deepen our understanding of our ancestors and their Ostfriesen culture and customs.

The ties that bring us together every two years are strong as we make new and renew friendships. I hope that you have met some new Ostfriesens these past few days–I know I have, but what ties us together in-between conferences is our common love, some times obsessive passion for, the deeper understanding of our ancestors. It is our sense of that historical string that ties us, not in a genetic sense although that is real, to those who came before us.  And like us our descendents will continue the connection. It is by understanding the customs and traditions of the past that we understand better the discussions of today.

This makes us not just genealogists but historians.

But, what kind of historian are you?

Remember when you were in high school and you took history tests? My goal was to memorize the dates and places and be able to give a sentence (at most) about why that event was important. But the “whys” were just another fact to memorize. I did history because I had to.

Think of that as a Stage 1 Historian. Is that you today? A genealogist at this Stage would gather the dates and places to fill out the pedigree chart and be done.

Or, are you a Stage 2 Historian–one who sees that history of your ancestors, and of the events that shaped their lives, as a sequence of events over time. You are beginning to see how your ancestors might have been influenced by history. But, ultimately you wish the historians would just decide on what happened when and tell us! I mean, certainly there is only one version of history and they should just teach it. And can’t it all be reduced to a tidy timeline?

The genealogist at this stage will record the facts but also realizes that other documents may be of interest and seeks them out. They are interested in those court cases where one brother sued another or what the experience was as a Civil War soldier. but interpretation of those events is seen as just too much speculation and not worthy of deep thought. A genealogist sees that they have information that conflicts but doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

A Stage 3 Historian instead sees history as a complex conglomeration of events and is so complex that you cannot see where to begin to make sense of it. At Stage 3, we now understand that history can be taught with an economic overlay, or focused on religion or on the societal impacts–and they all may be right–and all different. History certainly isn’t like the mathematics or chemistry where there are theorems and those theorems are not broken.

This stage is interesting because we, as genealogists, are more confused and feel like we lack more knowledge than we did in the previous two stages. In other words–we now know what we don’t know–and it’s intimidating. But, we also now are starting to understand how macro history issues can directly influence the decision making of our ancestors–or our personal microhistory.

We see that there are different points of view and each historian is conveying a unique point of view. We are starting to be critical thinkers and have what I call, the ability to do “mindful analysis.” We start to unravel and re-assemble those conflicts and see that we can identify errors in documents and understand why they may have been made.

But, there is a Stage 4, — where we start to see that the historian is interpreting history in their own writings. The writer-historian picks some things to write about and discards others; sees that some events are more meaningful than others. He then interprets those events into the context of the time and the decision making of people of long ago.

At this conference, we have had the luxury of hearing about the fate of the poor, and the Dutch emigrants of the 16th century while sitting in the comfort of a nice hotel in Minnesota—will that 16th century perspective change how we feel now about the poor and the immigrants of the 21st? Should it? Will we read our newspapers with a question that asks—”I wonder what the writer is not telling us?”—as we now know that this question is just as important as reading what he IS telling us.

Our understanding of our ancestors and the events that shaped the decisions they made is deepened by the swirl of historic events around them just as we, too are being shaped by the events which swirl around us.

This year I challenge you to write some portion of your personal story or to write about your ancestors. There is no single act you can do that will influence your microhistory for your descendants than that simple act. In the process, I guarantee, you will move from one stage to the next on your own genealogical, –and yes, your personal historical journey.

The question really is not “What kind of an historian you are?” but rather “What kind of an historian do you want to become?”

Genealogy as Pastime and Profession: comments upon reading

Jacobus bookI have been doing research in vintage genealogy journals and have run across several articles by Donald Lines Jacobus. These have intrigued me for a couple of reasons. Mr. Jacobus was an early advocate and is considered an icon of the movement in genealogy to raise standards to a scholarly level. Milton Rubicon in the introduction to the book and an icon in his own right, describes Mr. Jacobus as “the ‘father’ of scientific genealogy.” And who can resist reading the words of the author of an article titled “Confessions of a Genealogical Heretic”? [1]

To satisfy this curiosity I read Donald Lines Jacobus’s Genealogy as Pastime and Profession, originally published in 1930. [2] As a tribute to its appeal over the years, the book was revised in 1968 and reprinted in 1971, 1978, and 1986.

Let me allay your fears — this is a very readable book. Jacobus himself describes the advent of the the book — “I can still recall sitting before my typewriter one of the hottest evenings of that summer,….clad only in jockey shorts, and with an electric fan playing on me, pecking out a chapter in two-fingered style…” [3] I can feel the heat of that day!

The book is a combination of great wisdom and excellent examples. While the book is east-coast and colonial centric (e.g. “Early Nomenclature” only describes naming patterns of New England settlers), the examples are as topical today as the were 85 years ago, pointing out how creative thinking and wide knowledge is necessary for successful genealogical outcomes. [4]

Jacobus organized the chapters in the reverse order one often sees in other books professing to initiate the individual into genealogy. While the stated goal of the book was to provide a “readable introduction to the topic,” the chapter titled “How to Trace Your Ancestry,” was the last chapter of the book and only five and a half pages long. The earlier chapters prepared the reader to begin their own familial investigation and introduced some of the complexities associated with genealogical research. These lessons are not lost on any genealogist of today.

Mr. Jacobus did not suffer genealogy fools well. Scattered throughout the book are unflattering references to those who leap too quickly to an undocumented answer, accepting another’s word, written or otherwise, as truth. He discounts those who seek out only the famous in their family lines as he recognized that the rogues are often hidden from our view. He also recognized that most ancestors probably fell into the category of “passably good citizens, mediocre and common-place.” [5]

We have all heard the quote:  “Genealogy and chronology have been called the hand maids of history.”  That was penned by Mr. Jacobus. [6]

Here are the characteristics of a good professional genealogist:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Ability to grasp and retain an infinite amount of detail
  3. Imagination
  4. Special knowledge
  5. Accuracy
  6. Not opinionated [7]

These are true today. Thank you Mr. Jacobus.

Donald Lines Jacobus was born 1887 and died 1970. He was the publisher and editor of TAG and its predecessor for 43 years. He was the first person inducted into the Genealogy Hall of Fame and a Fellow of The American Society of Genealogists.  The Donald Lines Jacobus Award is awarded annually to the individual who best exemplifies the high level of scholarship which Mr. Jacobus encouraged and practiced his entire life. [8]

Happy Hunting (and reading)!


What I have done since the last posting:  Spent 10 hours of my life on a plane and 10 hours driving in Chicago traffic!  I attended a conference for University Architects (I used to be one) and had a great time; drafted two blogs including this one; met with William Briska, historian, from Elgin, IL who kindly gave me a tour of the Elgin Historical Museum and the Elgin State Mental Hospital where Dirk resided for 27 years.

[1] a blog about this article is coming.  Stay tuned!

[2] Donald Lines Jacobus, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, Co., 1930, revised 1968, reprinted in 1971, 1978 and 1986).

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 76-88.

[5] Ibid, 18.

[6] Ibid, 27.

[7] Ibid, 42-44.

[8] Wikipedia.com, search for “Donald Lines Jacobus.”