Gen-Fed: “What is Past is Prologue.”

I enjoyed Gen-Fed; those of you who follow me on Facebook know that already! I feel more comfortable working within NARA, with the Staff and the records, and even the website, than I did before I arrived.  Here are some of my research observations of my week.  Specific tips will be covered later.

  • One of the easiest records to pull is a Civil War pension or a Civil War Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR). If you have individuals who served in the Civil War, I recommend that these records be pulled first.  Pick up the military form, fill it out, take it to the desk on first floor. They will review your work and make sure you have entered things correctly. You then put it into the pick up box. And you are done with that request. You can put in a maximum of 4 requests per hour.
  • Picking up the pension/CMSR isn’t that hard either. After the pull of the record, you go to the research room on 2nd floor, turn left and go to the far wall (in the next room) to request your file. Of course, there are security stops along the way but the actual process of picking up a record is simple. Have fun!
  • I call these types of records “episodic;” that is, you request a file by given & surname and you get it. You review one, and that is it. Bounty land records fall into this category as well (with an extra step).
  • “Longitudinal research” is what I call subject research.  Longitudinal research “feels” more like a fishing expedition where you are looking at subject files (not filed by surname) that may or may not directly refer to your ancestor.  NARA is really set up for longitudinal research. Therefore, one week will never seem enough for this type of research.
  • I had to manage my expectations. We get used to “grazing Ancestry” and finding (or not) hits with some regularity. Archival research, especially longitudinal research, is contemplative and strategic– one cannot expect positive results on the hour.  It just doesn’t happen.  If you get a “hit” with one record a day—consider that a good day. Two?–total win.

I think my comments above go to my core issue–NARA research is different, and it has something to do with the fact they file by record group, but there is more to it than that. NARA seems  overwhelming, but like life–you take it a chunk at a time.

In any archive, there is a total dependence on the archivist that is not true of researching in a library.  That is not a bad thing; I love having interactions with a deeply knowledgeable archivist.  I am grateful for the experienced archivists and I am very gentle with those that are still learning the records.  All of us were there at one time or another. In archives, we have to “ask for help.” And, it’s OK if we do!

I could have been better prepared for my Gen-Fed experience, — maybe “better” is the wrong word. Maybe the right word is “differently.” It is one of those things where you say to yourself, “If I knew then what I know now…” I should have done more reading of the NARA publications, particularly of the ones I would most likely access–Civil War Records and land records. I have some NARA directories in my library and I should have reviewed those. I should have spent more time online getting very familiar with the website…shoulda, shoulda, shoulda.

The reality is that now that I have gone through Gen-Fed, those books and the website make a whole lot more sense than they did before, so I question whether I would have been more knowledgeable or just more frustrated, if I have done more reading.

GenFed actually leaves you some time to conduct research during the week–the urban myth of no research time at Gen-Fed is false. Malissa and Debra have done a good job of scheduling. For example, I had the form filled out at Archive II and put into the pull box, before we even started the presentations in the morning. When the morning talks were over, I went and picked up the file. Since I had brought my lunch, I could review the file and then eat lunch all before the afternoon sessions.

Did I mention that I loved my classmates? They were all so smart and so eager to learn. It was great fun sharing discoveries and being supportive even when that special record just didn’t happen! Thanks.

Next blog will be some specific hints for a successful GenFed experience or NARA visitation.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: vacationed with my family on the Cape, presented at the Falmouth Genealogy Society, worked on and submitted my presentations for the International Germanic American Conference; and responded to questions from the registrants for the next Certification Discussion Group and added folks to the wait list. (I already have a long wait list for the Fall and even winter session, but don’t let that impede you from sending me an email and signing up–the list isn’t going to get shorter if you wait.) And, of course, GenFed and some of my own research.


The Importance of Good Note-Taking

courthouse-hardin-iaAt one of my first repositories [1] I visited on my 6 week Midwest trip this summer, I realized I had not really thought about how I should record the findings or lack thereof.  Realizing I would visit a large number of repositories, I stopped and gave it some thought. Here is how I took notes and gathered documents from courthouses, libraries, archives and other repositories.

I record my findings in a Word document. For my Midwestern research trip just completed, I created a separate documents for each geographic area where I researched: northern Iowa, southern Iowa and Illinois. Each document became a journal of my journey. At the top of the page, I titled the document with the name of the region and then I listed the repository and office name, if appropriate, and location, e.g. Hancock County Courthouse, Clerk of the Court, Garner, Iowa. This is in bold and dated. It also might include names of individuals who were particularly helpful along the way.

I then typed what I was looking for (e.g. deeds from 1895-1954) and the name of the person(s) of interest. This exercise formulated the research question for that particular repository and forced me to focus on the individuals who I might find in that particular repository. It also served as a reminder if I went off topic to do some “bright shiny object” research! All this could be done in advance.

Early in my journey, I mostly looked for deeds and I found many. For deeds, I recorded the grantee, grantor, the date of filing, the volume and page number and sometimes the locational information from the index entry.  I did this for all the dates of interest for each of the person(s) of interest. Then, I  gathered the deeds themselves.

An aside:
Most of the courthouses I visited preferred me taking a photo rather than making a photocopy.  A photocopy bends the bindings too much on fragile documents and a photograph can be taken in place and takes no staff time– or paper and ink. That was not true in Illinois courthouses where I could not even take my computer or phone/camera into the building.

If I took a photo, I always asked if they wanted me to pay them for the number of photos taken as if I had made a photocopy. Two courthouses willingly took my money.  Most did not want to be bothered, but I think they appreciated my asking.

But, back to the recording…. Once I found the deed based on the information I had obtained from the index, I would copy it or take a photo,. I then changed the color of the index entry to green. If I didn’t find it (rare), I changed it to red.  It stayed in black type if I decided not to pull it.  I didn’t pull all the deeds I identified. Certainly if there were any anomalies to the deed or it’s recording, I would expand my notes.

For each document type, I made sure I had all the information necessary for a citation by taking a “stab” at writing it up. Then I made sure I captured all the necessary info in the photo for each unique deed.

In Iowa, the county courthouse is the repository for many of the documents genealogists seek.  It was usually my first stop.  The Recorder holds the deeds and the vital records.  The Clerk of the Court holds the naturalizations, probate records and court filings.

Sometimes the office does not have the record but the records has instead been moved to a historical society, genealogical society or even in one case, to a person’s home to be indexed. I make a note of that and the contact information.

I record positive and negative findings.

If I were to start again here are some recommendations:

  1. I would create a separate Word doc for each repository and if a courthouse, for each office of the court.
  2. I would be as diligent about recording negative findings as I was at the end of my trip at the beginning.
  3. I would note if I took a photo of a particular document.
  4. I would be more prepared to take advantage of access to vital records.  (These could only be transcribed; no photos.)
  5. I generally did an online catalog search the night before visiting, but I still made some rookie mistakes such as trying to take my computer into the IL courthouse or arriving 30 minutes before they opened.
  6. I would do more organizing of the past day’s findings at night–but I admit, I was exhausted!

I hope these experiences help you.  Perhaps you have some recommendations to share with me?  I would love to hear them.  Just make a comment in the comment section.

You also might like to hear about how historians record their findings.  Check out this episode of Ben Franklin’s World, hosted by Liz Covart, one of my favorite podcasts which I listened to while driving. I was happy to hear that of all the many systems discussed, a Word document seemed to be the best for Liz and her expert guest.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: yoga, cleaned out the car and getting charged up to work on my KDP tomorrow.

[1] Hardin County (Eldora, IA) Courthouse, 2016; photograph taken 9 August 2016 and privately held by Jill Morelli, Seattle, WA. Ms. Morelli took the photograph on her genealogy research trip to the Midwest in July-September 2016.

Home again!

jacobson-chris-funeral-arrangementsI have now arrived home and am faced with the work of analyzing the mounds of information which I “harvested” on my trip through the Midwest. “Harvest” is the best word, because I recognize that my itinerary and timeline did not allow me to take as much care as I might want with each document at the time I gathered it.

So how will I do this?

  1. I have to focus on my portfolio for certification; therefore, I will separate the items which pertain to the portfolio first.  There are three documents or sets which are important:
    1. Naturalization papers (first and final papers) of John/Jan Cornelius Bode.
    2. Church papers from Christian Reformed Church, Leighton, Iowa, founded by my ancestor in 1895. This is a more arduous task as transcription may be in order and there are many pages.  It is possible also that nothing from these documents will make the portfolio.
    3. Study the will I found in courthouse and compare to online version which I am using in my transcription element of my portfolio. They are different, but how different?
    4. Negative findings are important too.  I have to figure out how these work into my paper.
  2. I need to incorporate my new findings about Dirk Bode into my “Finding Dirk!” presentation which I am giving in October.
    1. New photos taken at the Peoria site of the buildings
    2. New photos taken of the grave of Dirk
    3. information from the conservator
    4. Information found in the probate and conservator packet including that the family visited Dirk while in the asylum, sent Christmas presents annually and “pin money” for him.
  3. Everything else.
    1. Scads of deeds, photos and even the funeral director’s notes on the automobile procession for my grandfather’s funeral (see above.) [1]
    2. Newspaper notices of the bankruptcy of my grandfather, particularly the loss of his bank in 1931/1932. (Note to self: actual court documents may be in NARA in St. Louis.)
    3. Investigation of the individuals at the Elgin Insane Asylum, looking for evidence of PTSD.
    4. Article on what one might find in court minutes at the county level. (I have no idea who might like to publish this one.)

I think that’s enough for a while!  (Couple the above with a 1 week vacation in the San Juans with friends from OK, a 3 part Beginning Swedish Genealogy class starting October 26 and a number of Saturday presentations and seminars, including one in Indiana with Anne Staley–I think I will have a very busy Fall.)

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  traveled to Seattle–14 hours of driving time from my brother’s place in WY.  And unpacking the car–which is no mean feat when you realize I have been living out of it for six weeks. I am glad to be home, as is my cat!

[1] Kenneth F. Boughton, “Funeral Arrangements,” notes for the procession for Mrs. Chris Jacobson, (MS, Britt, Iowa, 7 September 1941); privately held by Betty (Jacobson) Anderson, [address for private use,] Downers Grove, Illinois, 2016. Ms. Anderson is the daughter of Mrs. Chris “Emma” (Anderson) Jacobson.

Repositories I Know & Love!

deeds-in-courthouse-iaI have been on a research “sabbatical” for six weeks this summer, traveling from Seattle to Chicago and back. As I traveled, I researched my family in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.  The trip was a testament to the need to look beyond the internet to find information about our ancestors.

I’d like to say that I was super prepared for each repository and had a written plan for each I visited. But, that would be a lie. Sometimes I had a written plan–3-4 items I wished to find, but sometimes, I was thinking about it on the drive to the building. The latter “Last Minute Planning” did not occur often. I did identify a problem that each repository could possibility assist with; I usually knew what specific record I wanted and I had a methodology for taking notes (the latter I will cover in a blog post later.)

I had some basic themes:

  • find naturalization records for:
    • my paternal grandfather (Chris Jacobson) and
    • my maternal great great grandfather (John C. Bode).
    • my maternal great grandfather (Hendrik J. Bode)
  • Obtain probate records for Henry Bode and church records in Leighton, Iowa.
  • Verify residence of Eda Berg and her family between 1862 and 1871.

Here is a list of all the repositories I visited. There is only one that I visited “online” while on the road!

  1. BYU Harold Lee Library, Provo, Utah: in my previous post I noted that I should have done research here, but didn’t know the extent of their holdings until too late.  Oh, well.  That happens too.
  2. Ostfriesen Genealogical Society of America Library, Minneapolis, MN: New this year was the index to the “Quellen und Forschungen”, the journal of the genealogical society in Ostfriesland’s journal. I was excited as this journal is very difficult to search since there is  not even an index for individual issues and it is written in German. OGSA also had the new Weener OSB. Result? No findings for the “fam” in Q & F (surprising because they owned land.) and nothing new in the OSB.
  3. Newspaper archives of the Britt News-Tribute, held by the Summit newspaper system in Forest City, IA: Great success here! Found my grandfather’s declaration of bankruptcy and my other grandfather’s first advertisement for his new business. While these are filmed, it was far easier to skim the originals as the films were so dark.
  4. Hancock County IA Courthouse: Good documentation here.  No naturalization of my paternal grandfather, but picked up lots of deeds and probate records.
  5. Garner, IA, Public Library: newspapers, plat maps. They had the newspapers from number 3 above on film, but they were too dark to read.
  6. Hardin County Courthouse: This repository was a goal. Probate, deeds and naturalizations. LOTS of deeds here. A deed with my great grandmother’s name established her residency in the county in December of 1871, a previously undocumented date. Now, why can’t I find them in the 1870 census?
  7. Cerro Gordo County Courthouse: Went looking for my grandfather Jacobson’s naturalization records but they had been moved to library. See no. 8.
  8. Mason City Public Library: naturalizations (Grandfather’s naturalization not there. I have now narrowed my repositories down to 97 counties in which to look!)
  9. Wright County Court house in Clarion, IA: found some land records.
  10. Grundy County Courthouse in Grundy Center, IA: Found the probate for my great grandfather in this surprise location. See no. 19 below. I also found, land deeds and naturalizations of collaterals.
  11. Wellsburg, IA Public Library: general genealogical search of collection; I thought they had tax assessments. of the county They did…for the wrong years & the wrong township; others thrown away. But, I had some fun conversations with two Ostfriesen cousins.
  12. Butler County Courthouse in Allison, IA: Found probate, and deeds
  13. Franklin County Courthouse in IA: Probate, deeds and naturalizations. Found that great grandfather (Ryke Berends Rykena) was certified insane by court late in life and son was named guardian.  Access to these records was, of course, restricted . Next task: figure out the access laws for Iowa mental health records.  (Note to self: probably dementia.)
  14. Northern District Bankruptcy Court in Cedar Rapids, IA: I looked for bankruptcy records of John Bode. Clerk stated that records were moved and then thrown away after they were moved to KC NARA. That sounded suspicious.
  15. [Online] NARA catalog in Kansas City, MO: for bankruptcy documents (need to check more thoroughly, but may have bankruptcy documents that no. 14 thought were thrown away.)
  16. Iowa State Historical Society in Iowa City, IA: Iowa has two state repositories and the collections are not exactly identical! I had just a little time in Iowa but more time in Des Moines. While in Iowa HS, I first identified if the record was also available in Des Moines (no. 17 below).  Since I had scheduled more time in DM, I postponed any research that I could do there.  I found a terrific dissertation on the banking crisis from 1929 to 1933 from an Iowa perspective.  My grandfather’s bank one of 7000 private banks in the country in 1930; his bank failed in 1931/2. This was not “research”, which implies analysis.  This was “harvesting.”
  17. Iowa State Historical Society in Des Moines, IA: Spent laborious time looking for the naturalization records of my paternal grandfather Jacobson. There are 99 counties in Iowa. I reviewed the naturalization records of seven of them.  Knowing that my grandfather was also not naturalized in Hancock means I have 91 to go.
  18. Des Moines Genealogical Society Library in Des Moines, IA: The Library is located across the street from the Historical Society. Susan gave me a very nice tour of their holdings.  Alice (CG), Rikkie (on-the-clock) and I discussed certification.  What I needed was in the Iowa State Historical Society (no. 17 above) so I did no research at the GS, but I did put a donation in the cup.
  19. Mahaska County Courthouse in Oskaloosa, IA: I was looking for probate and land records here and found nothing.  I thought that Henry might have owned a farm or a house in Lieghton (pronounced “Lie-ton”) but it appears that they either used a parishioner’s house or a house bought by the congregation. No probate here but I found the probate packet for him in no. 10 above.
  20. Christian Reformed Church in Leighton, IA: Big time win here! Henry, Ed and Dorothy were so helpful!  I was given the deluxe tour of the church and although the original church had been torn down, my guides showed me the items that had moved from the original church where my great grandfather preached, including the Bible.  Then, we went to the bank and rooted around in their original church books. Good people.
  21. Swenson Research Center in Rock Island IL: This was a short stop but Jill Seaholm was very gracious, giving me an indepth tour of the research area and stacks.  Interesting to talk to her about what they accept and reject.  Came away with some great additions for the SGS library. My goal was to meet Jill and establish a relationship. Goal achieved.
  22. Stephenson County IL Court house, in Freeport IL: BINGO! Although I found nothing on the elusive Freidrick Eilers, I found the naturalization of my maternal great grandfather.  But, the big coup–they handed me the probate packets for Dirk Bode (insane). My presentation on insanity just got an added dimension.
  23. Freeport Public Library: (a bit of a stretch to count this one) hot and humid outside and so I decided to visit the FPL. I researched derivative naturalization for children in the 1800s.  My great great grandfather got his citizenship on 13 December 1859 and my great grandfather was just 14 at the time!  He and his siblings became citizens using “derivative naturalization”.
  24. Bartonville IL (Peoria) Hospital cemetery for the mentally ill, in Peoria, IL: Memorable surprise find here! Is a cemetery a repository?  It is when it has my ancestor who was confined to an asylum for his entire adult life. Death certificate not found….anywhere. only two “documents” give direct evidence of his death– a probate document in Stephenson County and his tombstone.
  25. Bartonville IL (Peoria) Museum:  I found some great maps which showed which buildings were present when Dirk was there. Christine was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and changed my view of what happened to Dirk. There really are no records available for Dirk.  They do not exist because they were thrown away years ago.
  26. Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, IL: The presidential library has many newspapers and I reviewed several looking for the elusive Friedrick Eilers (not found), and the original newspaper of the obituary i have (not found) and references to Eda Berg and her family (nada, nothing).
  27. Illinois State Archive: This was a late add to the list.  The WPA transcribed court minutes for Stephenson County in 1940. These records are held at the Illinois State Archives.  I had a great time reviewing these records.  While I learned lots about the community, I found no Bergs, Bodes or Eilerts.
  28. This is totally a late add:  Why didn’t I think of my Aunt Betty!  My cousin and I poured over her albums and loose papers.  I even found the mortuary’s folder which included who would drive the cars to the cemetery, who would be in which cars and the order of the procession.

How did I do?

  • naturalization records for:
    • my paternal grandfather (Chris Jacobson) : not found
    • my maternal great great grandfather (John C. Bode) found
    • my maternal great grandfather (Hendrik J. Bode): his was a derivative naturalization
  • Obtain probate records for Henry Bode and any church records: found
  • Verify residence of Eda Berg and her family between 1862 and 1871: no new info except a verification of their residence in Iowa in late 1871..


Bonus items received but not anticipated:

  • Probate and conservator packets on Dirk Bode
  • seeing Dirk Bode’s tombstone
  • holding Henry Bode’s Bible and seeing his lecturn.

It’s been a great trip!  I am now mentally to head home.  I will be leaving the conference on Saturday and heading back to Seattle.

Happy hunting!



Consider Researching at BYU Library

BYU LibraryThe subtitle for this posting could be “Why you might do your research in Provo, rather than the Family History Library in SLC.”

What?! Heresy!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour the Religion & Family History section of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library located in Provo, Utah, where I am attending the BYU Family History & Genealogy conference. And, I was very impressed.

Here is why it may be reasonable for you to do your genealogy research at this library especially if you are looking at film.  Here are some of the benefits:

  1. The library received a large number of duplicate films (not complete) from FHL many years ago. These are now a part of their permanent collection.
  2. Any film that is requested to be delivered to the BYU library is then held permanently in the Library’s collection–forever. It is not returned to FHL
  3. If you order film and have it delivered to the BYU library, you pay no fee. (However–there is no special expedited service for BYU.)
  4. The Library serves an academic community and therefore, their online databases include over 35 different newspaper databases plus hundreds of others that are helpful to genealogists.
  5. The hours the library is open are much longer than FHL.
  6. The library has terrific equipment which is very sophisticated — multiple scanning machines, film readers, copy machines, slide and book scanners, etc.
  7. You can reserve a scanner in advance and online.

To find if your film of interest is in the BYU library: Using the FHL catalog, find your film.  Click on the hyperlink that refers to finding the film at WorldCat.  If BYU comes up–the film is held in their collection.

THAT’S why you might find it more reasonable to research in Provo instead of Salt Lake City, especially if you find yourself in Provo.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: It has been some time since I last posted, but I have been concentrating on preparation for two conferences (BYU and OGSA), planning for the OGSA conference and prepping for my next 6+ week research “sabbatical” to the MIdwest.

SCGS Jamboree! Last Day

Jam roundtableI was filling out the evaluation of the conference and was struck how difficult it was to outline the TWO things I liked best about the conference. So, here are my expanded thoughts and why you ought to go next year.  (And why I will be going.)

Things I like about Jamboree!:

  • Jamboree has a unique “feel.” It is casual, and fun!
  • The volunteers are truly helpful. Example, the program Chair came by before each of my sessions to make sure everything was OK. This was after two tech guys had already instructed me about how to use the microphones and “rules” concerning video taping (Blogging your Family History) or audio taping (Fire Insurance Maps) and two other volunteers and introduced themselves as they would be monitoring the room.
  • There is a good mix of local, regional and national speakers.
  • There is a good mix of beginning, intermediate and advanced sessions.
  • The round tables are an innovative idea (that’s the pic) to learn from experts and get specific help on specific topics. (I went to the tables for Scandinavia, Italy and Japanese.)  I learned the most at the Italy table; but, had the most fun at the Japanese table with Linda Harms Okasaki talking with a daughter of an internment camp detainee and the map her mother (?) drew of the camp housing.  I decided I could chair the Scandinavian table.
  • Blaine Bettinger’s DNA in Annual Review, was superb.  I had no idea how fast things were changing, but was thrilled (cheap thrill, I admit) when a change he explained to us in his review, was followed up the next day by the formal announcement that I received as an email!  Cool.
  • but, the best thing? Is seeing old friends and catching up with their lives, connecting FB friends with real people and making new ones.  I always love that part.  Nothing is warmer than walking into a hotel and seeing three of your friends there and getting (and giving) big hugs around.

This is a good sized conference, with a nice set of options for all levels that doesn’t overwhelm the beginner or first timer.

Happy Hunting!


What i have done since the last posting: Attended the 2016 SCGS Jamboree! Reviews to follow. You can always tell when I am having a great day or a great conference–I just cannot find the time to blog. 🙂

NGS 2016: Preparation

Well, I am home from my 7 week driving sabbatical and cleaning up many of the items I had still on my “post it” wall I didn’t get to while I was in Tucson. I am now looking forward to the National Genealogical Society (NGS) 2016 conference to be held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL from 4 May to 7 May–just 4 weeks away!  Yikes!

Ah, Florida. The Morelli’s lived in Florida, actually in Lighthouse Point in northern Broward county, contiguous to Dade County where Ft. Lauderdale is located, in the early 1990s. While this Midwestern girl could never figure out when to plant impatiens, my hubby relished the idea of hanging the Christmas lights in shorts and flip flops!  A definite advantage. I worked for Dade County Public Schools and my husband worked for Owens Corning which had a plant located in the Port of Fort Lauderdale–yes, you guessed it–with a little luck our room will overlook “his plant”!

There is no question, I am looking forward to seeing the remaining of his co-workers who still work there, even tho’ it has been over 20 years.

Slide1 My “preparation” for the conference includes working on my two presentations– “On Death and Dying: a Brief Look at the Changes in Medicine in the 19 Century” and “The ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’: Decision-Making of the 19th Century Emigrant.” The former concerns the education and growth of professionalism of medical care staff and institutions and the changing attitudes towards death and the wounded in three eras during the 1800s.  This presentation was last given several years ago to an Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) group. While I was surprised that NGS picked it, I was also pleased, as this presentation is one of a series I have developed which look at how the Civil War changed so much of what we now take for granted.  I ask you to think back 25 years to BC (before computers) and how much your life has changed; the Civil War, as horrific as it was, changed our society as much and maybe more.

Slide1‘Push/Pull’ is a very popular presentation which I have given locally multiple times and most recently for the Southern California Genealogy Society webinar in early January. The presentation asks the question of why did our ancestor emigrate? While most do not have an ancestor who wrote down the answer to the question, there are way to “tweeze” the information from letters and contextual study.

I want these presentations to be as good as they can be and to reflect the quality of work that I do.  It is an honor to present at NGS and I have never been asked before.  I want to make sure 2016 won’t be the last time!

Hope to see you in Ft. Lauderdale.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  submitted 8 proposals for NGS 2017 and 10 for the Federation of Genealogy Society’s (FGS) 2017 conferences.  I will also think about submitted to Ohio GS but I have been rejected twice. It looks like BYU Family History Fair held in Provo the end of July will pick at least five and maybe six of my presentations. I will present all in 2 days–it will be a marathon.



PCA/ACA Conference 2016

Lisa Oberg, UW Librarian, and I had the chance to participate in the genealogy track series of lectures for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) 2016 annual conference held in Seattle a week ago.  This was a special track for the conference and one they had not had before.

Over 250 speakers presented in a wide variety of tracks from Academics and American Culture to Women’s Studies.  I was most interested in the Cemetery & Grave markers, Genealogy, and the Civil War tracks.  Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the Genealogy track and then only part of it. (although I did sit in on a series of short presentations on comics one of which was about one of my favorites, Calvin & Hobbes, and its youth sports parallels)

The genealogy track began with a documentary by Julia Creet, York University, on the business of genealogy, “Need to Know: Ancestry and the Business of Family.”  While not an expert at genealogy she became interested in the business of family history when she started looking at her own heritage.  She interviewed the developers of Ancestry and the CEO of Family Search.  She  journeyed to Iceland to learn how their one country database is unique and even more unique when combined with medical data and DNA studies.  The ethics of privacy were discussed in the film.

Lisa Iversen, a private practice psycho-therapist from Bellingham  (Center for Ancestral Blueprints), spoke on the role of clusters and family in her presentation, “Ancestral Blueprints and the American Soul.”  Individuals who are mentally damaged by trauma are usually very disassociated from their  family cluster, both the descendants and ancestors. These clusters, as they are re-created or re-revealed, are important to “ground” one in the reality of now.  This is great confirmation of what we do as genealogists and the journey we take.  Lisa I., Lisa O., and I had great conversation over lunch.

A look at the bias within the show “Finding Your Roots” was  reviewed in the presentation by Christine Scoldari from Florida Atlantic University in her talk “Recuperating Ethnic Identity through Critical Genealogy.”  She observed that there was an overt supporting of northern Italians over southern, where southern Italians were routinely described as “maybe mafia.” I hadn’t observed that but it was not something I was looking for either.  I will watch for that.

Susan Hutchinson, presented a discussion in support of Coming to the Table, a group which supports using ancestral discoveries of slavery and slave ownership to serve as a catalyst for a discussion about slavery, guilt and racism. Susan was followed by Dionne Ford, independent scholar and present Board member of Coming to the Table, spoke about researching her African-American roots and finding and meeting her ancestor’s slave owner’s descendants. They also spoke of differing reactions of the “stars” of Finding your Roots to the discovery of ancestors as slaves and slave owners. At one extreme was Ben Affleck to some of the “stars who speak of their fear of “turning the page.” But, Dionne also spoke of lost opportunity by Gates to probe the reaction of the guests and a tendancy to attempt to find some “redemption” ancestor–some ancestor that campaigned for Civil Rights or illustrated exceptional sensitivity in life– to balance the slave or slave owner.  This talk fit in very nicely with Lisa and my talk “Rootless: A Retrospective of America’s Fascination with Its Ancestry” and the differing levels of interest in genealogy by a variety of cultures and their motivations.

Lisa and I proposed “Rootless” as a way to look at the interest in genealogy over the centuries.  It was very difficult to fit even a small portion of our findings into the 20 min limit per speaker that was imposed upon us.  But, we also are aware of how much “hit the cutting room floor” and we will present the topic in all its longevity (about 90 min.) to the South King County Genealogical Society on 9 June 2016. We are discussing presenting it to Seattle Genealogical Society after the end of September.

Some basic themes did emerge in our research for “Rootless” —

  • motivations have changed in three cycles since Medieval times to the 1860-1940 to now.
  • fraud has been, unfortunately, a component of genealogy when the societal stakes were high (life/death or proving high society lineages)
  • Professionalism of genealogy has been difficult to advance due to the small number of voices calling for scholarly rigor, although there have been notable exceptions beginning with the 19th century.

Segments I attended ranged from very interesting and even inspirational to simply boring where the author “made much of the molehill.”  But we had a good time, met some terrific people and I learned about how to present at academic conferences.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  conducted two classes in “How Swede it is! Beginning Swedish Genealogy” at the Swedish Club, firmed up a deal with the Nordic Heritage Museum for a class in October 2016, reached out to BYU to find out which presentations they wanted when, set up a time with a client to discuss her outcomes and did an interesting exercise of mapping the birth locations of my ancestors by color.


Nordic Immigration Conference: 15-18 March 2016

This past week I attended and spoke at the “Nordic Immigration in the Pacific Northwest from Then to Now” conference (also called the Nordic Immigration Conference) held in Seattle 15-18 March. The conference was hosted by the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. I was only able to attend two of the three days but I thought I would give a short synopsis of the presentations I did hear and some outcomes of my attendance.

First of all, this was similar to an academic conference with papers presented in 30 min. blocks of time–20 min. for presentation and 10 min for Q&A. The typical day for the conference included presentations in the morning with a lunch break and a tour of some site important to our Scandinavian heritage in Seattle in the afternoon.

Wednesday, 16 March
Keynote presentation was by Diana Pardu from the Ellis Island Museum on “Becoming a National Immigration Museum.” Diana discussed the history of the Ellis Island Museum and site, with special focus on its exhibits and how they have evolved over time. She also discussed the upcoming changes as the exhibits become more comprehensive, including Castle Clinton, and more global in its diversity rather than ethnically segregated. The Nordic Heritage Museum is raising money for a new museum and I am sure that many of her ideas were ones that will be incorporated into the new building.

I was the first of the short presentations with my “The ‘Push’ and the ‘Pull:’ Decision-Making of the 19th Century Emigrant.” I had to cut my usual 50 minute presentation drastically.  I covered the genesis of the terminology “push” and “pull” as it relates to migration (Ravenstein, 1889) and then discussed some reasons why our ancestors made the difficult choice to emigrate from their homeland. It seemed a good topic for the kick-off of the other academic papers. (Diana Pardu nodded her head vigorously when I spoke about how immigrant’s names were not changed at Ellis Island!)

2016 0316 NICHarald Runblom, Emeritus Professor in History, Uppsala University, spoke on “Ways to WA: Scandinavian Migration to the Pacific Northwest in a Global Perspective.” This presentation was very compatible with mine. Harald noted that I had covered some of the principles he was covering but he went on to  look more closely at emigration statistics and global migration patterns. Of particular interest to me was a group that traveled from Sweden > Finland > Estonia > Ukraine > Sweden  before being disenchanted with Sweden and emigrating to the US in the early 1900s! It explains my Swedes who traveled from Sweden > Iowa > Canada.

Next up was Steinar A. Sæther, Associate Professor, Latin American Studies, University of Oslo who spoke on “Norwegian Sailors, Whalers and Workers between Tierra del Fuego and Alaska, 1848–1914.” Steiner described the voyages of a Norwegian sailor who traveled multiple times in the 1800s up and down the western coast of the Americas from Alaska to Chile. He noted that Chile was such a popular spot that a group of Swedes asked Chile if they could establish a colony with their own governance, money, language etc.  Chile government denied their request.

The day ended with Terje M. Hasle Joranger, Lecturer in North American Studies, Department of Literature, University of Oslo, on “Creating a Sense of Place: Norwegian Ethnicization in the Pacific Northwest, 1870–1900,” a look specifically at the town of Poulsbo, Washington, and its Norwegian settlement and heritage.  He spoke of the maintenance of the Norwegian culture and the eventual assimilation but with physical remembrances in the names of businesses, a Sons of Norway chapter, the church and the festivals of the town.

Friday, March 18
Friday morning, we learned about the establishment of the University of  Washington’s department of Scandinavian Studies from Terje Leiren, Professor and Sverre Arestad Endowed Chair in Norwegian Studies Department of Scandinavian Studies, in his paper, “Establishment and History of the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, 1909–2015.  Most are integrated with Germanic Studies; UW is one of those with with stand-alone programs: University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley being the other two.

2016 0318 NICThe history of the Swedish newspapers in the Puget Sound region was also interesting. Ulf Jonas Bjork, (and UW alum) Professor, Department of Journalism and Public Relations, School of Liberal Arts, Indiana University—Indianapolis, covered the mercurial life of a Swedish language newspaper as it moved from Seattle to Tacoma to eventually broaden to be the Puget Sound Posten. His paper, “The Role of the Swedish-Language Press in Tacoma’s Swedish Immigrant Community, 1889–1935,” was a vivid reminder of the importance and unfortunate demise of a foreign language paper.

Knut Djupedal, Director of the Norwegian Museum of Migration, reviewed the life of a single male Norwegian who immigrated, worked his way from Minnesota to Montana to Seattle and then “boomeranged” back to Norway when he was, as Knut said, “not able to pick up the gold off the streets.” Not every immigrant settled and had the “good story” to tell the descendants.

Hans Wallengren, Ph.D. Lund University, Dept. of History and the Swedish Emigrant Institute ended the conference with a presentation of his research into the ethnic composition of “Hoovervilles” in Seattle during the depression in “Scandinavians in the Pacific Northwest—Not Only a Success Story,” which told of the struggle of young Nordic men during the 1930s. The composition of the shantytowns, especially the one south of the (now) Starbuck’s headquarters was disproportionately not native-born and Scandinavian.

So, you can see the range of topics was wide and the lecturers came from a wide variety of Scandinavian country. Each brought unique perspectives to the issue of migration of individuals. It certainly broadened my knowledge of the migration patterns (much more varied than my Sweden > Midwest mindset). There was discussion at the end of the conference to publish the individual papers, so stay tuned.

I met and re-established contact with a number of individuals from the Seattle Nordic Heritage Museum and two of my students from my previous class at the NHM were in attendance due to my inclusion of information about the conference in my post-presentation website–that was cool. I also now have a contact for Pacific Lutheran University as I would love to teach a regular Swedish genealogy class there but we will see if that comes to fruition.

Note: NIC also had the best goody-bag ever: two books, two CDs, the requisite pen and paper and two samples of Aquivit! 🙂

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: worked on the above presentation and the one for next week’s Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association joint conference. I have to submit my proposals for National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies this weekend for their conferences in 2017. I did get my syllabi submitted on time to Jamboree and solidified my two speaking engagements when the family visits Cape Cod in July.

What’s New in the ‘Hood: Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive

Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive
425 SW 153rd Street
Burien, WA 98166
Ph: 206.349.6242
Email: info@PNRA
Hours: The archive is open by appointment.

If you have been a regular reader of this blog you may remember that in 2014 Historic Seattle organized a series of tours of repositories in the Seattle area as part of a “Digging Deeper” series organized by Luci Baker Johnson. Due to popular demand, the program was again offered in 2015 with a completely new set of archive tours. With growing popularity of the program it is again being offered in 2016 with a couple of new features noted at the end of this article.

Because I am on a writing sabbatical, I was unable to attend this tour and so Luci Baker Johnson was kind enough to contribute as a guest blogger!  Thanks, Luci.


RRM groupHistoric Seattle’s “Digging Deeper” 2016 series was kicked off on Saturday, February 6th in Burien. A group of ardent individuals visited the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive (PNRA) to learn about the unique records that are archived and managed by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. PNRA preserves the heritage of the classic railroads that have shaped our region since the 1880s, then makes that information available to everyone over the internet.

Executive Director Gary Tarbox welcomed attendees and explained that PNRA was formed by a consortium of non-profit Railroad Heritage Organizations (RHOs) to own and operate an archive facility in Burien. The RHOs use affordable space and services to preserve the histories of their railroads. He went to explain that the facility is not a museum, but an archive that provides internet access to the collections from the following RHOs:

  • Boeing Employee Model Railroad Club –
  • Cascade Rail Foundation, representing the Milwaukee Road in Washington state
  • Great Northern Railway Historical Society –
  • Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association –
  • Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway Historical Society –


RRM boxA little history and background about the railroad operations. The Burlington Northern Railroad was the product of a March 2, 1970, merger of four major railroads—the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad—as well as a few small jointly owned subsidiaries owned by the four. When this occurred materials (ephemera) was saved by railroad employees, rail historians and fail fans. These items were stored in basements, lockers, barns, etc. By now these ambitious individuals are in their 70s and 80s. The need to preserve was and is prevalent!


So, in 2009 the PNWA was created by a group of Railroad History Organizations (RHO) who pooled their resources to create a World-Class Railroad Archive in the Seattle area. In 2010 their dream became a reality. Through generous donations and loans they were able to purchase a 7,500 sq. ft. building in Burien. They were able to build-out the building to accommodate the vast amount of archive materials that had been previously stored by individuals. These materials include

  • Photographs
  • Station Plats
  • Authority for Expenditure (AFE)
  • Valuation Maps
  • Architectural drawings
  • Track Profiles
  • Time Tables
  • Special Instructions
  • Equipment Diagrams
  • Dispatcher’s Train Sheets
  • Yard Diagrams
  • Property Change Records
  • Annual Reports
  • Manufacturer’s Catalogs
  • Railroad History books
  • Geographic Maps
  • City Guides
  • Newspaper articles
  • and First Hand Accounts

RRM plansFollowing the presentation, Bob Kelly outlined three case scenarios to demonstrate how they assist researchers in their quest for information. There were many questions, all of them answered. 🙂

The bottom line that the archive folks told us was – just ask! That is, if you come across anything that may involve a railroads, which were plentiful in the Pacific Northwest history, send them an email with your inquiry. These expert volunteers – yes, ALL volunteers – will guide you to materials that you may have never dreamed existed!


We have added a couple of new features to the program. Specifically we are offering two hands-on-workshops that will assist researchers in techniques in record searching.

The first 3-hour workshop will take place on Saturday, July 9th and will be conducted by Carol Shenk and Greg Lange from the King County Archives. It’s an expansion on what they introduced in 2014 and was blogged about here: What’s New in the Hood: King County Archives.

The second 3-hour workshop will be the last one of the 2016 year and will take place4 on Saturday, September 24th. “Analyze Your Built Environment, an Observational Approach” will be led by non-other than professional genealogist and licensed Architect, Jill Morelli – the author of this blog.

You can sign up for any or all of these programs by going to Digging Deeper 2016.

Guest blogger,

Luci Baker Johnson