Friday, October 18, 2013

Swept off my feet...by Genealogy!


Hello, World! What a week this has been! Fortunately, the government did not default, although it did veer perilously close to it, and the shutdown cost the American people something in the range of 24 Billion dollars. The good news is that, as of today, Friday, the 18th of October, 2013, the government has reopened, including the National Archives (NARA)! See for yourself: http://www.archives.gov/.

This means that one of the six main books I need, Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, published by National Archives and Records Administration, in 2000. is available. The year listed is a very important thing to make note of if you are thinking about buying this book. Why? Well, while the government was shut down, I was doing some book shopping in preparation for my certification. Not having this particular book bothered me, especially since I am fortunate (read: super-lucky!) enough to live about 30 minutes away from a branch of The National Archives and I am sure that I will be making that trip quite often in the coming months. But, I digress (my trademark) so back to book shopping. I had quite a list of supplemental books, suggested but not required, by the BCG. I went browsing online and quickly found lots of editions of used copied of Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States. Score! Some booksellers had very specific details about the books that they were hawking, others did not. When I found a book that I had been looking for since 2005, I was giddy. Browsing became shopping as I was finding copies of used books for fabulously low prices. Then, I noticed down at the bottom, in small print, the description. This one book caught my eye because it mentioned the condition as “smelling of cigarette smoke.” I backpedaled like mad. My stomach was turning as I went to my shopping cart and virtually went through my bargains, one-by-one, reading every tiny detail. When I came to Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, a major bargain at just $3.95, I saw something. The details explained the price. It was from 1986. That was 27 years ago. It occurred to me that they may have added some things ( like computers) and rearranged just a bit in the past 27 years. I checked the BCG’s list and saw that they specifically listed the 2000 edition, which I admit isn’t exactly cutting edge. However, in this case, newer is decidedly better. After lots of quality time, I had a nice little order of bargains on order, making the hunt worth it!

Speaking of books, a few days ago, I was reviewing the  list of the main books required to follow my path to my goal of becoming certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). At the time, when I came to one of the books, Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones, I realized that it was all over the web, sort of like when Oprah comes out with a list of books for her book club, only bigger. It was weird for a genealogy book to cause such excitement. Note: This is not hyperbole but real excitement, such as book clubs and reading groups getting together for web meetings, etc., all over this book. I stopped in the middle of writing my blog and decided to order it, before saying anything more about it. I kept thinking that either this Jones guy was either some media creation or that I was overlooking something. After all, I have read a considerable number of genealogy books and, while they often contain important information, I can’t really say that any of them have been exciting. 

So, in planning my blog (yes, I have finally learned that the only way to actually produce a continuing blog is to have some idea of where you’re going ahead of time) I decided that my order of Mastering Genealogical Proof logically would take at least a week to arrive. I needed more material, so I decided to do a blog entry on DNA tests for genealogy. Of course, what I did not realize was that even though I was (finally) focused when I began to read the research about the DNA tests that are currently available, was that there was so much information to digest that it was not going to be simple. It wasn’t the “just keep reading, it’ll get better,” sort of information, but the really, really complicated kind. I started the blog anyway and that is when my cousin, Ginny, emailed me. Ironically, she wrote to tell me that she had received the results of her DNA test, one that she neglected to tell about ordering and taking in the first place. I love Ginny.

Ginny and I are cousins. I know, I know! I already stated that but what I mean is that she is so-o-o my cousin. I don’t need a DNA test to know this and neither would anyone else upon meeting us. We think alike and, well, trust me to say, some of my personal favorite qualities are the ones that we share. Even writing that, I have to laugh out loud. 

About Ginny’s DNA results: She got a colorful map showing Scandinavia (not Norway, but all the Scandinavian countries) and a few more relevant countries in pretty colors, as well. There were percentages and that was about it. She called the company (a very popular, well-advertised, genealogy company) and asked about her results. What she got was all of it and the teleperson added that her siblings could get entirely different results. My research came to a screaming halt. What were they talking about? It did not end there, but the rest of the story will have to wait until next week’s blog, regarding DNA testing. You see, after talking to Ginny, I knew that my DNA blog entry needed way more research than I possibly could put forth in a day, or even two days. Thus, you can look forward to my DNA blog appearing next week, but for now, let’s go back to what I was talking about before that digression. 

I was talking about Mastering Genealogical Proof, which I’d ordered but thought that I wouldn’t see it until next week. I was trying to figure out what to do because the DNA blog wasn’t ready when...Poof! Mastering Genealogical Proof arrived in my mailbox. I ripped it open and flipped through it, expecting to see the typical, genealogical book stuff, all boring and relevant. Except it wasn’t! I could see this simply by flipping through a scant few pages. This book was wonderful. I think I gasped a little. Something happened because my husband noticed and asked, “What?” I think I said something like, “This guy must be a teacher. A really, really good teacher.” My husband, asked, “What?” again and I did not answer. I was too caught up in the fabulous book in my hands. Seriously. 

Now, I have to explain that I used to be a teacher, so I’m used to teaching materials, both good ones and bad ones. The book I held was exceptional in so many ways and I was merely looking at the part covering how to cite a book in a bibliography. I used to teach this stuff and thought, Why didn’t I think of doing this? It is so simple, but so elegant! 

I looked through it for some evidence that this guy was an English teacher and found that he has been a professor at Gallaudet University and is a past president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (He could be one of my judges! Gulp!), plus he teaches in Boston University’s Genealogy Research Program. This dude knows his stuff!

Okay, so why am I so excited? He breaks down the stuff I have dreaded all my life, such as bibliographies, into bubbles showing, in order “Who?”, “What?”, “Where is?”, etc.


I understand that might not sound exciting, but each chapter is laid out in an interesting way (instead of the way some are written, where you could swear that some unhappy, multiple cat owner, wrote it sitting home alone on a Saturday night). The words just breeze by until you realize that you’ve read the whole chapter! You know that you’ve come to the chapter’s end because the format changes, asking about the material that you’ve just read. Sounds boring, right? It gets better! Yes, it reviews things but it also addresses “those” questions - the ones that you’ve always wondered about but nobody can ever answer. Issues like how to stand your ground when someone does something or wants to do something that is wrong (genealogy-wise, that is, but I’d bet he has some good parenting ideas as well). Here, he tells you how to handle it! As a genealogist with nearly seventeen years of experience, these are the questions that make me squirm, but as I am becoming a pro at this (or hope to), these are issues that I have to be able to address, squirmy or not.

Thus, if you are any sort of a genealogist, or even a teacher, it is worth your time to check out Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof. The way he presents his material makes it so easy to learn and equally easy to remember (which is ultimately what my goal is with these books). I may have to add Boston University’s program to my list of potential programs, seminars, and institutes to attend. 

Next week, plan to learn all about the pros and cons of the major genealogical, DNA tests currently on the market, and in between, have a great weekend!