“Brick Walls” and Hats!

What do brick walls (of a genealogical kind) have to do with hats?

I was reading an article in “Success,” a type of magazine that I used to read a lot–motivational, leadership, and management sound bites given by people who say they have work force experience and wisdom that might pertain to me.  I don’t find that type of magazine interesting any more, except from a historical perspective– what are the pundits saying now that is different from before? One article caught my eye. It was about how to solve tough problems using the analogy of hats–different colored hats. I then immediately applied its premise to genealogy.

Perhaps this article and its approach will help you solve your latest “brick wall” problem.  So, pick one of your brick walls and see if “wearing a different hat” suggests to you different approaches to solving your particular puzzling research question:

  1. hat whiteWhite hat[2]: look at what you have already gathered. Do you see anything glaring that stands out that needs to be researched. If so, keep a list of your findings.
  2. hat redRed Hat: Trust your intuition.  What is your intuition telling you to do?  While we cannot rely on our intuition, it can lead us to evidence that perhaps is a little out of the ordinary. Be adventuresome and add your thoughts to the growing list of tasks and your thoughts.
  3. hat blackBlack hat: Ask yourself, “what if I am wrong?” Go back over your assumptions you have made….start one, two or even three generations before your research question in order to make sure you have made all the correct decisions in the first place. Are there any gaps?  Where? Identify the gaps and add each one to the list.
  4. hat yellowYellow Hat: As yourself, “What if I am right?” If the assumptions are correct, are there conflicts? Multiple names or years of birth, unanswered negative evidence or unidentified location of an event? Each conflict should be described independently and added to the list.
  5. hat greenGreen Hat: Now it’s time to get crazy.  Stand in front of a big white board with a marker and right down all your thoughts about the problem and how you could possibly solve it.  Perhaps the trip to the locale of your ancestor is in order?  But, there are many options. Add them to the list.
  6. hat blueBlue Hat: Collaborate with someone else and share your problem.  Can you articulate your problem?  Can you describe what you have completed so far in five bullets?  Can you do it? If you can’t, you need to work on the articulation of the problem; If you can, consider writing down “assignments” that you would give to a collaborator on your list.

Now look at your list of disparate entries.  Is there a pattern?  Is there some prioritization you want to do?  Rearrange the elements and what they suggest.

Looking at our brick wall with different hats may actually help get them solved! But, don’t worry–for every problem solved it seems to me that two more problems appear–they’re called “parents”! 🙂

If you want to know more about the “hats” see Carol Jacoby’s blog.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I have been working on the family of my son-in-law, an interesting combination of Italian, England and famine (and later) immigrants from Ireland. They moved to Massachusetts and often worked in the woolen and cotton mills as winders, watchmen, carders and weavers. I also took a vacation on the Cape where I spoke to the Falmouth GS. Always a fun, engaged group to speak to.

[1] Cecilia Meis,”Brain Games,” Success, January 2018, p.66-68.
[2] “multi-colored hats,” Google search, using the Images Labeled for Reuse. Cluster of hats broken down into individual hats.




NARA: Office of Strategic Services Files

[I just found this post in my drafts file.  For those of your heading for Gen-Fed, this was written a year ago after our trip to College Park. Sorry for the delay.]

My dad, Harold Jacobson, served in the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA. I loved the idea that perhaps my dad was a spy or he managed spies. Sigh. I now know my brother was right–Dad was a clerk.

I wondered what I could find out about this role during World War II. I knew that NARA would be the source of the information, specifically Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Stories, of course, had been told:

  1. Harold Jacobson was pulled out and separated from everyone else for 6 weeks after basic training. He read the newspaper and waited, but had no idea why he was singled out.  After that wait (supposition is they were checking his references), he was assigned as a clerk to the OSS.[1]
  2. Harold worked in London for most of his military career. Every morning he would walk across Hyde Park to get to the office.[2]
  3. Harold started with a large bulletin board with one note on it and by the end of the war the board was covered. He wasn’t a spy but he knew every spy, including double and triple spies.[3]
  4. Harold was never in a combat zone until Paris was freed. Harold arrived 3 days before the official date of the take-back and as a consequence he was able to get a medal for being in a combat zone. He saw Charles DeGaulle march down the Champ-Elysee’. [4]

I pulled the file.

Wait a minute–all/most of the WWII service files were lost in the 1974 fire in St. Louis, weren’t they?  Well, yes, except the OSS files were not stored in Saint Louis, but rather in Washington, D.C. These files were only released a few years ago for viewing by the public. The OSS files and my Dad’s WWII service record are instead located at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Perhaps my father’s file will help others whose records were destroyed, an idea of what was contained in those files that were lost nearly 50 years ago now. (WWI and WWII Army records were mostly lost.)

The records were fairly simple to pull, Harold was indexed as “Harold Jacobsen.” Notice the spelling of the last name with “–sen”. I thought perhaps this was a different person, but it was the only Harold Jacobson/Jacobsen in the index. The index noted the box number (368). I then filled out a request form. Unfortunately, someone had rearranged the contents of the box and I had to request box number 367 instead. This is not uncommon, but you lose an hour when this happens because you have to wait for the next pull time.

I was excited to read about all the secret “stuff” my dad did! Here is what was in the file:

Harold Jacobsen, OSS personnel file, service number 37672330; World War II: Office of Strategic Services, U. S. Army, entry A1224, box 367, multiple documents; National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

Extract from Service Record, front: This document (1 page) reviewed his file. On it was clearly marked that he had received the “Br. Sv Star for No. France” or the Bronze Service Star for Northern France. This confirms at least a portion of story no. 4 above. Both his character and his efficiency were excellent. No surprise there either. He left for the foreign service on 27 February 1944 and left London for the US on 9 November 1945. His residence was 428 Locust Street, Britt, Iowa, and his emergency addressee was Gertrude Jacobson, his wife. The latter was known information. Notice that this and subsequent records spelled his name Jacobson. I have no idea why it is misspelled in the index.

Extract from Service Record, back: This long narrow form on the back of the Extract listed what Harold owed the military and what the military owed him. The form was a bad mimeograph (remember those?) and difficult to read. His last pay date was 30 September 1945; he was due some money at the date of transfer and he had some other accounts to settle.

Duty Orders: This document ordered my dad and 20 others to Washington, D.C., Office of Strategic Services for duty on 10 November 1944. Their point of departure was Camp Kilmar, New Brunswick, New Jersey. The orders are dated 9 November 1944. This document is stamped “RESTRICTED.”

Time card: The form has no entries for the status of his duty (rows were the months and columns the days); however, there were other notations. I will have to have my brother (career Navy) “translate” these for me. On the back of the time card are additional military notations; the only one I can “read” is “Repted for duty 21 Mar 44.”

Report of Delinquency: This restricted document reported that my father, on 3 June 1945 at 1710 hours,  was reprimanded for “Transporting a civilian girl around in Jeep in St. Germain. Name of road offender was stopped La Rue de la Republique. Jeep No. 20496305.” Report was made out and “Soldier ordered to report back to Unit.” What a rebel!–of course, he was married at the time…..

Theater Service Record, page 1: This document is labeled confidential and “Subject must not see this.” It listed Harold’s Name, grade (T/5), serial no. (376??330), DOB (29 August 1911) physical condition (satisfactory, No physical complaints.), theater (ETO, branch K-3 (?)), length of service (“arrived theater Feb, 44”), procured (March 44) and comments by Theater Security Officer (“no comment”). His education was listed as “Britt Junior College- University of Iowa” and he knew slightly Spanish and French. Harold had no special skills and his principle civilian experience was as an “Independent Oil Jobber” and “Banking.” I knew most of this before but was unaware of his slight skill in Spanish and French–the latter probably helped him out when he was driving around the civilian girl in St. Germain! His education within the military is listed as was his promotion to T/5.

Theater Service Record, page 2: Harold was noted as having “superior” motivation and “excellent” judgement, maturity, tact, leadership ability, and physical ability. There were no remarks and he was returning to the U.S. because he had “sufficient points.” He was not being recommend for further work in the OSS.

Separation Process: This document is a record of a separation interview with Harold conducted on 13 November 45. He was in the OSS branch X-2 and his number was 37672330. (These are much clearer on this document.) He is identified as a “Registry-Clk.” and does not wish to return to the Army.

There are no other documents in the file. So my Dad was not a spy, but perhaps he knew some!?

There were some outcomes to this that rippled down to my brother and I. My dad could type very fast (over 100 words per minute). Since he knew how to type (and his other attributes) he was eligible for a desk job during the war. When my brother and I were in high school, my mother made sure both he and I both knew how to type. My brother was a clerk in Vietnam at a time when very few males knew how to type.

Happy Hunting!


[1] Interview with Jim Jacobson, my brother, notes are in the file.
[2} Personal recollections of what my father told me.
[3] Interview with Jim Jacobson.
[4] Personal recollections.





FHWR: Social Time

TR 423What would a Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR) be if you didn’t retreat with some “old” friends and meet some new people? Not as much fun, that is for sure. If you are working hard during the day on your writing project, then shouldn’t the night time be fun? So we have designed some fun things to do in the evening.

Relaxing with friends by the fireplace will set the tone for the evening adventures. Taking off the chill (yes, it gets chilly in the mountains when the sun goes down) while drinking a great glass of wine is a terrific end to the day. But, wait, there can be more. To the extent you wish to, sharing the progress of your project with others is always a fun thing to do.  You will see your own progress and support others if they have a question or are considering options.  Your advice will be invaluable to them. You may wish to ask their advice as well.

As a group we will head into town for dinner. Colorado Casual is the level of dress for all occasions.

I have two favorite restaurants–Fiesta Jalisco and my BBQ joint in Dillon.  Frisco restaurants might be on our list as well. All these will be up to the group to decide. We could even order cook-your-own pizza (Nick & Willie’s) and bring it to the condo to prolong the conversation time. the cost of dinner is our personal cost.

After dinner, it’s back to the condo for discussion and dessert. This may take the form of a more formal “presentation” on writing family history by Valerie or a Q & A session, “Pointers for Your Portfolio,” by Jill.  We are also prepared to discuss Self-publishing.  Topics, if desired, will be decided by attendees.

And, at the end of the day, we can all walk out to the back deck of the condo and see the Milky Way in all it’s glory, a sight we city slickers rarely get to see.  Make sure you have the one of the star gazer apps downloaded on your phone before arrival!

Certainly, hiking, outlet mall shopping, touring, etc. are also all possible for you as well.

We look forward to seeing you at the Family History Writers’ Retreat.  If you have questions do not hesitate to ask Valerie or me.

Previously published:

FHWR: Writing Your Family History
FHWR: Writing Your Portfolio
FHWR: Colorado & Silverthorne
FHWR: Evening Activities

Valerie and I certainly hope you will join us. Contact us for more information.

Happy Hunting!





FHWR: Evening activities

TR condosAre you considering the Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR)? We hope so. It is a chance to retreat from the daily responsibilities in a lovely location, and have someone else cook for you which gives you the gift of time to write the family history, portfolio, memoir or other writing of your interest. Our basecamp will be Timber Ridge condos located at the top of the base of Buffalo Mountain in Silverthorne, CO.

The daily schedule (20th-22nd) will look something like this, with “quiet time” being self directed time to write or to take a Colorado mountain break. Quiet time will be strictly enforced.

  • 7:00-8:00: breakfast (Valerie and I cook and clean)
  • 8-12:00: Quiet time
  • 12:00-1:00: lunch (Valerie and I cook and clean)
  • 1:00-5:00: Quiet time
  • 5:00-6:00: wine o’clock
  • 6:00-8:00: out to eat
  • 8:00-10:00: presentations, discussions and dessert back at the condo

The 19th and the 23rd will mostly be getting settled in or out.

Previously published:

FHWR: Writing Your Family History
FHWR: Writing Your Portfolio
FHWR: Colorado & Silverthorne

Valerie and I certainly hope you will join us. Contact us for more information.

Happy Hunting!


FHWR: Colorado and Silverthorne

Condo viewValerie and I are so excited about the Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR)! We are especially excited because it will be held in Colorado from 19-23 of September.

The “base camp” will be the Timber Ridge Condominiums, on Wilderness Road in Silverthorne, CO.  The condominiums abut the National Forest and are located at the base of Buffalo Mountain.  Two great beginner hiking trails are right outside our door–Lily Pad Lake Trail and Buffalo Cabin Trail. (Photo taken out the dining room window, 29 September 2017; deck is to the right.)

But, wait–what does this have to do with writing?

The FHWR will be a wonderful experience for all who attend.  Valerie and I will cook breakfast and lunch; we’ll go out as a group for dinner then return to the condo for discussion and dessert. This leaves about 8+ hours to write….your family history, your memoirs, your portfolio, etc.

But, you may find you need a nature break every once in a while. The condos are right across the parking lot to the clubhouse which has a pool, two hot tubs, a sauna, a large meeting room and quiet areas and racquet ball court. Outside the tennis court awaits.  If that is not enough, take a hike! Many trails are in the area–short and long. It will be fall and the aspen will be turning golden! You won’t want to miss it.

Oh, did I mention the outlet shops at the base of the hill? And the free bus service up and down the hill?

We will pick up folks at the Denver Airport on the 19th, if you land before 1:00 pm.  For those of you who come in later, shuttle service can be procured at DIA which will take you to Frisco. We can pick you up there. On the reverse trip, we will take the early morning departure group.

Other activities in the area include touring old gold mine towns (the cemetery in Leadville is fascinating), shopping in Vail, festivals in the towns that dot the area and other activities.

Oh, and you can write too!

There is one caution: the condo is at 9600 feet above sea level. You may need time to acclimate. Some of you may have a propensity towards pressure related headaches; if so, you should probably avoid this retreat.

If you have more questions, read my two previous blogs on writing Family History and Portfolio writing. If that doesn’t answer your questions, contact Valerie or me.

Happy Hunting!




FHWR: Writing Your Portfolio

Wilder PassCome to Colorado to the Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR) and work on your portfolio! Of course, neither Valerie nor I can comment on your specific work, due to the requirements of the portfolio, but you will have unfettered time to write in the same space where I wrote my case study!

There are other questions about the process and your strategy that we can answer.

Genealogists write research reports, proof arguments and kinship studies for themselves and for clients. These skills are tested in the portfolio writing process in order to apply for certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This genre of writing is often different than family history writing for your family, a topic covered in the blog post of the 21 June.

Valerie and I cook breakfast and lunch and provide you with the time to work on your portfolio.  Wifi is provided that will allow you to do any last minute research. At least one evening we will discuss portfolio writing of Case Studies using Warren Bittner’s outline of things not to forget.  We will even bring our reference library so you don’t have to. The evening session on portfolios will go in any direction that helps you. Numbering systems seem to be a topic of discussion these days. Anyone want to hear more about how I write my client reports and how I am implementing “write as you go” to improve my efficiency? Ask and I’ll see if we can answer.

SAVE THE DATE: 19-23 September, Silverthorne, CO. For more information contact Valerie or me.

Happy Hunting!



FHWR: Writing your Family History

Have you tried writing your family history or stories and cannot get started?  Or you start and you cannot figure out how to end it?  I’m with you.  For the next six blogs over the next six days I will be blogging about an opportunity for a writer’s getaway where you will receive the gift of time without distractions, except of your own making!

elkins ValerieValerie Elkins of Family Cherished blog and writer extraordinaire, and I have put together a Family History Writers’ Retreat (FHWR) in September in Colorado and you are invited. The event will be held in Silverthorne, CO from 19-23 September. Ask your questions of the two of us and perhaps you can resolve your dilemmas with the advice of “experts.”

You are invited to write about your family history in perhaps ways you had not thought of before.  Valerie is the expert here, but I may have a few things to add. Writing is like climbing a mountain, one has to exercise a little before making the big ascent. Family History Writing is similar—we need time to exercise these writing skills to accomplish our task. We provide you with lots of time to work on your product, unfettered by the need to do the laundry, or the demands of family.

If you have an idea and want time to work on your idea, this is the place for you! Family history writing can take many forms and Valerie can get you started by discussing goals and audience.  Perhaps you have stories from your Aunt Maude; perhaps you have documents; or perhaps you have artifacts, such as WWI memorabilia–all of which can form the nucleus for your writing. Whatever your have, Valerie can get you started or can help sharpen your goals.

You may be working on your memoirs or The Book. What ever the topic, we invite writers of all genres to join us in the Colorado Mountains, with a view of the Continental Divide and hiking trails outside your door.

Write your stories.  Blog about your artifacts. Interested in writing but not genealogy?–we’re happy with that, too.  Share your experiences of the day, or not, but along the way, we guarantee you will get a chunk of the writing done–a big chunk. Valerie and I will cook breakfast and lunch for you, and provide the wifi.  We also provide the dessert and wine at the end of the day when we discuss what we have been working on.

Now, we are not talking about a big group, but our minimum is seven writers (we already have two people signed up!) with a maximum of 12.  The intimacy of the group will make for great discussions and developing friendships. The cost is VERY reasonable, contact one of us if you are interested.

Tomorrow I will cover portfolio writing.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: spoke to Fiske Genealogy Library (not as easy as it sounds–had to rebuild the presentation because Ancestry posted new record sets AND I had dental work done in the am), set up for the SGS membership meeting on Sunday and sent a revised copy, incorporating the comments from the peer reviewers for the NGSQ, back to the Q.  I have no idea when it will be published and there are some steps to do in advance. I’ll keep you posted.