Monday, May 14, 2012

Indexing the 1940 census

   I'm really enjoying indexing and arbitrating the 1940 census. Generally speaking, the work is pretty easy. Except when the census taker's handwriting gets wobbly or the spelling gets too creative.
   Some of the census takers really had good handwriting. I'd thank them on bended knee or kiss them on both cheeks if I could. I assume they were using fountain pens, but I recall that in 1951 when I was in sixth grade, we were required to write with "dip" pens. I hated them.
   Which brings up a question I've been wondering about. Are there any 1940 census takers still living? It's possible. If they were in their 20s in 1940, they could now be alive in their 90s. What an interesting story they could tell us.

   The following is how I index. I'm not saying you should do it my way, but if there are any ideas in the following that you think may help you then be my guest to try them.
   Four things I do before I start:

  • Set magnification to 100 percent. This is easier to me to read.
  • Adjust the highlights. I don't want to index a value into the wrong field. I go to the View menu and select Adjust Highlights. I find each corner of the highlights box with my mouse and click and drag them where they should be. Then turn Adjust Highlights off. I find the highlights are either very close or way off. If you want to read more, go to the User Guide, page 93.
  • If I'm indexing, I make seven of the columns narrower -- Line Number, Number of Household, Titles or Terms, Sex, Color or Race, Age and Marital Status. Easier for me.
  • If the handwriting is at all suspect, I try to remember to scan down the name field and say the names to myself. If I stumble on one, I start checking for those troublesome letter pairs like a and o, e and i, S and L, u and n and v and r.
   I get a kick out of some of the names that are in the "accepted" list and some that are not. For example, "Bigah" is in the accepted list but "Ed" isn't.
   Just because I've never seen the name, doesn't mean it isn't valid -- like Lenual.
   Then there are the ones that bring a chuckle, like the first name "C. Shell."
   And the ones you are suspicious about, like Olga, the name of a son.
   Generally speaking, I follow the census taker's entries "out the window," as we used to say in the newspaper editorial department about following copy regardless of what it says.
   But there is one exception to that rule. If the given name is a generally accepted female name and the relationship is Daughter, feel free to change the sex from M to F. And vice versa for a male name and relationship.

   I asked at the NGS 2012 conference about an alternative situation -- a female name, F in the sex field but Son in the relationship field. It was suggested in this kind of situation to follow the entry "out the window."
   I also asked about those names that are little more than blobs -- should you give it your best guess or use wildcards. The answer was less than certain, but leaned toward best guess unless the letters were completely obliterated.
   Back in the days of typewriters, you remember those clickety-clack devices, the golden rule was "Never Overstrike." I wish our census takers had had the rule "Never Overwrite."
   I've never really had a reason to use this idea, but there are two lines on each page for which additional information is entered at the bottom. The name is repeated on those lines and could help in a bad situation.

   I've been able to speed up my work by breaking some habits. 
  • Reaching for the shift key when you start a word. Unnecessary -- 99 percent of the time the first letter of the word is capitalized for you.
  • Using the tab key to go from field to field. This was a particular bugaboo for me since I would invariable hit the caps lock key instead. Enter does the same thing as tab and is on the opposite side of the keyboard.
   The prefills the indexing program offers are also a great time saver, with one caveat. I'm a touch typist of sorts and if I'm flying along only watching the census schedule area, I can get myself into trouble. I've arbitrated more than one batch where the indexer's previous "s" entry in the relationship field was "Son-In-Law" but the schedule said "Son." That's one field where I try to check myself.
   The other is the "city, town or village" field in the 1935 residence area. "Same House" and "Same Place" can look very much alike and the previous one pops up by typing "s." 
   By the way, you only have to type 3 letters to change from one to the other. When you get to "m" in Same, the entry changes and then you can press Enter to accept it.
   There is a down side to all these keyboard shortcuts that become habits. When you switch to another program, particularly a spreadsheet, it's a nightmare.  

   Lookup lists (Ctrl+f) are great for analyzing names, although not all valid names are in the list. It's also great for checking the form and spelling of relationships. I can generally remember that Grandson and Granddaughter are not hyphenated, but the " -In-Law" relationships, like "Mother-In-Law," are. The one I had earlier today I hadn't seen before, so off to the Lookup list to find "Half-Brother" and "Accept Selected."
   One last thing -- I don't agonize over arbitration rates. I hope you don't. If you see a really low one, look to see why. It  could be something as simple as entering a "W" repeatedly instead of "White" or adding the local county and state to "Same Place" instead of "<blank>."
   In one of my previous lives, I was a reporter and editor for a newspaper. On a newspaper, everyone gets edited from the executive editor on down. The writer does his best and the editor does his best and then it goes into print. And woe to the reporter who goes behind the scenes to change the copy back to the way he wrote. it. A great way to get fired.
   If we accept that indexers do their best and arbitrators do their best, there's no reason to ever get upset.

   What tips do you have for indexers or arbitrators?    

Saturday, May 12, 2012

NGS 2012 Day 4

   Home again!
   A fine fourth and final day at the National Genealogical Society's annual convention in Cincinnati and a relatively quick drive home.
   My schedule changed a bit from what I listed in yesterday's blog. There was so many great lectures to choose from it was hard to decide.

   The first of the day was "Trails West to the Ohio and Beyond" by Barbara Vines Little. I was fascinated by her insights on why and how my pioneer ancestors might have labored over the mountains and down the rivers to find new homes.
   The last lecture of the morning was the one that originally inspired me to attend the convention.
   Elizabeth Shown Mills spoke at the Kentucky Genealogical Society / Kentucky Historical Society annual seminar last year, describing her research techniques and how they applied to research cases. She promised then to be speaking at NGS 2012 about data management -- how to cope with all the information a researcher could gather by following all of the family, associates and neighbors.
   So this morning the topic was "Information Overload? Effective Project Planning, Research, Data Management and Analysis."
   The technique uses word processing templates to create research analyses and plans, research notes and then research reports. It would be a paradigm shift for me from the way I have been doing research over the past 45 years.
   But, you can't argue with success. Since most of my ancestral research now involves the tough, end-of-line. brick-wall ancestors, I think it's worth an honest test. It will take more time, but perhaps be more rewarding in the end.

   Kip Sperry was the speaker for a luncheon sponsored by FamilySearch.
   I was interested in some of the statistics he had about what was on the FamilySearch website -- 1,139 collections including 2.78-billion names. I was unaware that microfilming, the film we can now order through the FamilySearch website, started in 1938.
   Of course that microfilming has been replaced by digitization and the films in the granite mountain are being digitized. Sperry said there were an estimated 2.4-billion images in the vault at the mountain and 530 million had been digitized. The original estimate of finishing the task was 100 years, but currently they think they will be done in 4-5 years.
   My day concluded with the talk by Thomas W. Jones on "Solutions for Missing or Scarce Records." He emphasized that we need to acquire the knowledge and skills to know where to look for records that have survived and how to assemble the pieces. Jones discussed two case studies in which researchers were able to successfully build a case from fragmentary records.

   I hope I've picked up some knowledge and skills over the past four days to apply to my research. Perhaps with that knowledge and Mills' management system I can break through a few brick walls.
   This was my first national genealogical convention. Will I do it again? The next NGS convention will be in Las Vegas. I won't be there. I heard it will be in Virginia in 2014. That's not too far away. Maybe.

Friday, May 11, 2012

NGS 2012 Day 3

   It's almost over.
   Not that the National Genealogical Society 2012 convention here in Cincinnati hasn't been great, but fatigue is starting to set in. Several people I talked to today expressed the same thing.
   I'm anxious to get home and try to put into practice some of the things I've been told. I refrain from saying "learned." That remains to be seen.

   The day started with Elizabeth Shown Mills presentation "Okay, I 'Got the Neighbors,' Now What Do I Do with Them?!" The large meeting room was packed for the discussion of Mill's FAN Club principle -- Family, Associates and Neighbors -- which could be developed to create a proof argument for identity or origin.
   I had two programs today on research in Pennsylvania.
   In the morning, Kay Haviland Freilich, discussed research sources and techniques. In the afternoon Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer showed how to get family records out of the massive Pennsylvania Archives, either through the 138-volume printed set or the free fold3 online version.
   Just before lunch, Suzanne Hahn outlined "Navigating the Maze: Finding Indiana Records Online."
   Shortly before the last session of the day I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Richley-Erickson, better known on the web as DearMYRTLE. It was the first time I had met her in person, so I introduced myself by my SecondLife user name. We had known each other through SL for several years.
   Shortly after that I ran into fellow official blogger Linda McCauley and we both headed to one of the demonstration areas to hear an introduction to a new online genealogy system called Geungle (say it as jungle). It's still pre-beta so not much can be said at this time. See Linda's blog for a picture of the young couple developing it.

   Tomorrow, the last day:

  • Harold Henderson: "Indirect Evidence: What to Do When Perry Mason Isn't on Your Side"
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills: "Information Overload? -- Effective Project Planning, Research, Data Management & Analysis
  • Thomas W. Jones: "Solutions for Missing or Scarce Records"   

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NGS 2012 Day 2b

   I made it to the "A Night at the (Cincinnati) Public library", although the 10-minute walk turned into 20 since I started out going west and north instead of east and south. Two kind Cincinnatians pointed me in the right direction.
   What a crowd!
   Every desk and chair was filled. The librarians were wonderful and strove valiantly to keep up with the lines of people looking for help. Two tables of snacks and punch had been set out.

   The one book I wanted to see, a history called "The Headwaters of Cheesequake Creek" by Alvia Disbrow Martin was not on the open shelves so I handed my printout to a librarian who had it paged from the stacks one floor below.
   Cheesequake is a community in Old Bridge Township, formerly Madison Township, in Middlesex County, New Jersey. It's just north of Monmouth County where my wife's Hendrickson ancestors came from.
   One of her great aunts, Joanna Hendrickson, was married in Cheesequake to Erick Matchett in 1821 and I was hoping the book might shed some light on the community and some of the families there.
   It did give some background on the minister, a Methodist circuit rider who settled in Cheesequake after being injured in a wagon accident. There was no index so I paged through hoping to spot a name I recognized. No luck there. A closer reading may be in order if I can ever find a copy to buy.
   The walk home was much shorter.
   Tomorrow morning includes

  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Okay, I 'Got the Neighbors' Now What Do I Do with Them?!"
  • Kay Haviland Freilich, "Tracking Pennsylvania Ancestors: Keys to Successful Research"
  • Suzanne Hahn, "Navigating the Maze: Finding Indiana Records Online"
   My afternoon is open, but I suspect I'll find something.

NGS 2012 Day 2

   FamilySearch is one of the many organizations that has invested heavily in exhibiting at the National Genealogical Society Convention in Cincinnati.
   Not only do they have a large booth where they are demonstrating and teaching people how to use the website, but they have two smaller areas where they are recruiting and teaching new indexers for the 1940 census project.
   I was amazed when one indexing helper estimated they had recruited 200 new indexers at the two areas. And this was only a day and a half into the four-day event.

   How could that be?
   I would have assumed that at an NGS convention they would have been "preaching to the choir." All genealogists know how important indexes are.

   Every time I'm led to a record on the FamilySearch site I'm reminded that someone created the index that made it possible. Now it's my turn to create an index for the next researcher.
   Giving back, as they say.

   Attended four great sessions today. The limit my brain could absorb.
   Diane VanSkiver Gagel kicked off the morning ("Gateway to the West: Researching in Ohio) by emphasizing how lucky people are, like me, who have Ohio ancestors. A wide variety of records of Ohio townships and counties are open and available for research. I'm anxious now to get back to researching my wife's Hendrickson family, particularly at the regional archives.
   The second session ("How to Find People Who Don't Seem to Be There") was packed despite the fact it was a huge room. Elizabeth Shown Mills talked about principles for using indexes, problems to work around and strategies for eliminating them.

   The morning concluded with Patricia Walls Stamm discussing "Obtaining 20th Century Military Records from the St. Louis Personnel Records Center." Her talk included some ghastly pictures of the fire in 1973 that engulfed the then record center. There's bad news and good news, she reported. Many records were lost, but not all.
   After a quick hot dog for lunch, there was plenty of time to tour the exhibit hall and talk to vendors about their products. I'll have to go a little more in depth with some of them before I leave.
   Tonight . . . research at the Cincinnati Public Library until my energy runs out.  I particularly want to see a book At the Headwaters of Cheesequake Creek. I'll tell you tomorrow what I find.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NGS 2012 Day 1

   The National Genealogical Society's 2012 annual convention kicked off today at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
    As you can see from the photo at right, there are a lot of vendors and societies represented in the exhibit hall. It had been jammed a few minutes before this but everyone was heading out to get to the first lecture of the day.
   My first session speaker was Dr. Thomas Jones on "Strategies for Finding 'Unfindable' Ancestors." He discussed several reasons why ancestors may be "unfindable" and methodologies for locating the unfindable.
   In the afternoon I heard Suzanne Russo Adams outline some online search strategies and techniques.
   My day concluded with Barbara Vines Little discussing proof statements -- list-style proof summaries, narrative-style proof summaries and proof arguments.
   As I mentioned in my previous blog, I planned to carry my netbook and take notes within a text version of each speaker's syllabus. What I found was I took very few notes, certainly not enough to warrant dragging the netbook around. 
   So, tomorrow, I'll try paper and pencil. I'll carry a clipboard, printouts of each speaker's syllabus and a pen. I'll let you know how that works.
   On the schedule for tomorrow, tentatively:
  • Diane VanSkiver Gagel: "Gateway to the West: Researching in Ohio"
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills: "How to Find People Who Don't Seem to Be There"
  • Patricia Walls Stamm: "Obtaining 20th Century Military Records from the St. Louis Personnel Records Center
  • Jana Sloan Broglin: "Ohio's Common Pleas Court"
   If I have enough energy after that, the Cincinnati Public Library will be open in the evening for NGS conference attendees.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NGS official blogger

   In less than a week the center of the genealogy world will be in Cincinnati. I'll be there.
   Although I've been researching my family history for more than 45 years, this will be my first national convention of any genealogy organization.
   I won't have anything to compare it to. I'll just try to use my newspaper background to tell it like I see it.

   I only live a little over an hour away in central Kentucky, so it would have been foolish to miss it.
   At first I was only going to go for one day -- then two. The economies of joining NGS and staying the whole four days made sense. So I did join and I am staying for everything.
   I've been trying to prepare myself to get the most out of it. I got business cards printed (more than I will ever need) and mailing labels as suggested by NGS. I will wear comfortable walking shoes and a sweater for cool meeting rooms. I've submitted my ancestral names for the surname catalog.

   I had been wanting a small, light laptop so I settled on an Acer Aspire netbook plus a light, over-the-shoulder carrying bag. One motivation was to take it to NGS, but I'm struggling to figure out how I'm going to be taking notes.
   I had hoped to import the syllabus/handout of each of the talks I wanted to hear into either a Google doc or an Evernote note. That's a lot harder than I thought it would be. Many of the syllabuses are the product of page makers and do not translate well from the huge PDF into separate text documents. Amazing what gibberish a simple copy and paste produces.
   Although we are supposed to have wifi throughout the convention center, I think Evernote would be a safer choice than Google docs since Evernote would be available for note taking even if wifi disappeared. Google docs would not.
   I could always fall back on paper and pencil.
   Going through the syllabus has had one advantage. I may change my mind about some of the lectures I planned to attend.

   When I first registered many months ago, I hoped to sign up for one of the "consultations." But after looking at the application form I realized I would need a consultation just to fill out the application.
   I'm looking forward to Thursday evening at the Cincinnati Public Library. I've been there before and can go again, but might as well take advantage of being close by. It's a great place for research.
   So, what am I forgetting?