2011 Blog Design

Happy New Year everyone!  If you read this in a feed reader – click through – my blog has a new look.

For my 1st post of the 2011,  I am sharing my new blog design.  In January 2010 I also updated the look of my blog.  At the time, I was aiming for a more structured & clean-cut look along a 3-column template so I could share more on the sidelines of the blog.  At that time I chose to use the WordPress theme “Parchment Theme” by   My genealogy blog used to look more or less like this:

screenshot of my genealogy blog in 2010

However, as the year went on, I realized that the middle column was a bit too narrow for my tastes — I tended to write longer blog posts and I felt as they went down the page forever.  Also, I like to change so a few days ago I looked around for a new theme and found my current one.  This time,  I’ve chosen OneRoom 1.0 by Jeremie Tisseau.

I particularly liked the colors in this theme and that I still have 3 columns but the middle column is a little wider.  Also, I feel like I didn’t really need as much info in the sidebars as I had so I reduced that as well.  Within 30 minutes of choosing the theme I had it up and running.  This is due to the flexibility of WordPress.  I couldn’t be happier.

I also updated a couple of aspects of the blog:

  • I expanded my ABOUT page — wanted it to look more *professional* and give a better picture of the scope of my genealogy activities.
  • Added a SURNAMES page – still need to add to it, but it should be helpful to anyone who visits
  • I kept my  “Connect w/ Me” icons and my cartoon avatar. I love those so much.
  • I also kept the feed of my posts from all the other blogs I have – all so you can enjoy more of me

I still need to make a few tweaks here and there but overall, I hope you like the new look!  Now, if I could update my home as quickly as I can update the blog…..

Insufficient Customer Service

Fellow genealogy blogger Tony Masiello recently posted about a less than satisfactory experience with’s customer service.  Reading his blog post prompted me to also share a less-than-satisfactory customer service experience I had with a genealogy library.

I asked a question about a NARA microfilm set that is freely available in its entirety online.  Let’s just call it Record Set ABC.  I identified this library as one that had a high likelihood of  knowing the answer to my question.  My specific question was:

Has [Record Set ABC] been indexed in any print resource?

Their 1st response:

Not in print, but Footnote has some (not all as yet) at their (subscription) website.

That’s all.  Hmm… so, I have one answer, that it is not indexed in *print,* but to mention that Footnote has it on their subscription resource without providing any indication of where on their site I can find it is decidedly lacking.  What if I want to follow-up on Footnote? From this response I still don’t know if the Record Set I asked about is there.  I fortunately know my way around the Footnote site well, but would the average person know how to navigate to the descriptions of their collections? Some guidance on where to look on the Footnote site would have been preferable.  So, I wrote back:

Thanks for the reply. Do you have a URL to the collection online? I did think of Footnote, but I was not able to find it listed on their site as part of their collections.  [Record Set ABC] also does not appear on NARA’s Digitized Records page at Thanks.

Here was the response:|27436 but I don’t know if you can actually get there.

Now I have a link, but what does it mean “I don’t know if you can actually get there?”  Does that mean because it’s a subscription site so I’d need to have a paid membership to see it? If so, then they should have stated that.  Does it mean that the person responding thinks the link may not take me deep enough into the site?  This was a mystery to me.  But, I followed the link anyway and it takes me to the wrong Record Set.   I quickly realized this b/c Record Set ABC is not organized by state levels and that is the first categorization option you see when you follow the link to Footnote.  Just to double-check, I clicked on the “i” icon for more info about the collection for which I was given a link to view.  Quite prominently it is clear that the years of this record set do not match the years of the record set I asked for (the years are part of the title of the record set I asked about) and Footnote provides source information for all their collections.  This was not what I was looking for so I wrote back:

Thank you again, but this is not the right record collection.  The link you provided is for the “Civil War Pensions Index” and the Footnote page about this collection at states that it is from NARA Record Group T289.  The record group I’m inquiring about is [Record Set ABC] and is described at [link removed].  Perhaps you meant another link? Thanks for checking again.

At this point though I was frustrated that the responses I was getting were not exactly helpful. As you can see, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they sent the wrong URL?  Here was the last reply

We have [Record Set ABC]  on film, but I have never seen it in any other format.

Now I have given up.  I have been a librarian for more than 10 years and I provide electronic reference in my current position.  The quality of the email exchange I have shared is far below standards we set in our library and I am quite disappointed.  What was wrong and what was I expecting?

  • Rule of thumb for customer service – do not give a “No” answer — we try to be as helpful as we can so instead of just telling someone “No” and leaving them empty-handed, we always offer further suggestions.  In this exchange,  it would not be inconceivable for this library to have suggested I follow up with NARA directly since it is NARA microfilm I’m asking about.  Or, perhaps share with me resources they may have consulted in order to determine that it has not been indexed.  Or, perhaps suggest I follow-up with Footnote to find out if they plan to include this record set in their database.
  • Tone — tone is very difficult to express in email; I understand that.  However, these answers were very short and thus come across as clipped to me.  For email communication I would expect a much more gracious tone to come across and use more terminology that indicates *helpfulness.*
  • Personalizing – what about addressing me by name and starting off the email with “Hello Taneya….”  Doing this would help with the tone – make me feel less like a number in the queue.
  • Incomplete information — try to give as complete answers as possible. To tell me that Footnote has digitized *some* of the NARA microfilm without addressing the set I asked about is not complete.  What if  I did not know what Footnote was?   Some explanation of what Footnote is and how they operate would have been helpful.  We do not give a recommendation to visit a particular database/website without some explanation of what it is and what the person can expect to find there.
  • Wrong information — giving me the URL to the wrong collection? Take the time to look at what you’re sending me.  If you give a patron the wrong information, it makes it less likely they will believe you the next time around – if there even is a next time around – they may not come to you anymore.

I’ll share this post with management at the library in hopes they can use it as a training experience for whomever it was that interacted with me yesterday and today.  To top it all off, I still don’t have the answer to my question.  Telling me they have not seen it in any other format does not tell me that it’s not available.   Their “seeing it” is not a credible enough source for me at this point and I’m not sure I can trust the original answer that it is not indexed in print given the exchanges that came afterwards.  Now I will be following up with NARA & Footnote on my own accord but not because this library was actually any help to me.  How disappointing.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving for tomorrow to those in the United States!  For Wordless Wednesday this week, I’ll share a photo of Bristol (Sullivan County), TN.

Bristol is has a sister city just across the state line, in Virginia.  For Thanksgiving one year in college, I went home with my friend SJE who has family roots there.  We visited her grandmother, who had lots of land around the house.  After lunch,  SJE and I went for a walk and came across big cows.  They were just resting and on the ground, but still intimidated me! I’m a city girl – had never been so close to a cow in my life.  So, to avoid walking past them, we decided to climb over the fence to head back to the house.  I was worried about the fence supporting my weight and SJE said to me, “Taneya – those fences are designed to keep those animals in.  I’m pretty sure they will support your weight!”  That was all I needed to hear.  Back to the house we headed.

I’m prompted to do this post because via Ancestry Recent Member Connect Activity, I made a connection with a 2nd cousin of SJE’s who’d been working on the family tree.  This then prompted several email exchanges between SJE’s family members talking about their ancestors along with a few pictures thrown in from yours truly.  I love spreading genealogical love!

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

How can you can resist reading a fiction mystery book that begins with a family tree?  Last week on a trip to Target I was browsing the paperbacks for a book to read and saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the run of the movie ever since reading Eastman’s blog post about the movie back in March.   In his post, Eastman mentions that there is a genealogy subtext to the book – a fact very much evident from the first few pages -specifically with the fact that a family tree is displayed.

As Eastman mentions, to solve the mystery the main characters do much research — including spending time researching the ancestors, researching photo & newspaper archives, analyzing old photos, and interviewing the Vanger family members and friends.  For us genealogists, this is sure to be a book you’ll enjoy.

The book is the first in a trilogy; the second book is The Girl Who Played With Fire, and the third, soon-to-be-released book is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I plan on reading both of the remaining books.   The movie is playing at one of our local theaters so I hope I can get to it soon.

I put a video of the trailer on my blog right sidebar.

I’m Honored

I’ve discovered that my genealogy blog was featured on’s Top 100 Genealogy Sites.  How very cool! They purposely sought to highlight lesser known blogs.  Their criteria were

1) high quality content

2) originality in topic choice, approach and design; and

3) frequently updated

I’m honored to be on the list and I look forward to exploring many of the others they highlight.  Thanks!

New Updates Icons

Taking a tip from a blog I follow for professional purposes, I’ve added a new series of icons to the right sidebar of my blog.  If you read this through a feed reader,  here is an image of it just for you.

Through the icons you can follow my RSS feed, get email updates, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Google Buzz, or find me on Facebook.  Isn’t this cool? :-)  I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile now, so finding this setup was perfect.   Now I just need to add this on all my other blogs!

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to the new blog location!

I decided to move my blog to my own web server so please update your links and bookmarks accordingly. Why the move?

  • I needed additional flexibility in the look of my blog. When hosted on WordPress’s site, I am limited to small selection of themes. Now, I have hundreds to choose from!
  • I also wanted to use my own web server. Since I am paying for the space, I might as well use it
  • Now that I’m self-hosted, I can incorporate all kinds of neat functions that I couldn’t do on

Apparently, I chose a perfect time to do this too.  WordPress just released a new version of the software, and they unveiled a directory to select themes. The installation was also very easy. I still have some work to do in updating links, but I plan to move some of my other blogs first and then do that.

Roots and Truth in Genealogy

This past week, I’ve had all of my stepsons visiting.  We had a very busy week. Part of our activities this week was to get them watching Roots. I love this series and the book.

But, I also have some great disappointment today that I am pondering over.  Yesterday, I went to the state archives and while there, I photocopied two articles by Gary B. Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills about their work to assess the genealogy behind the Roots story.  The two articles were

  • Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “Roots and the New ‘Faction’: A Legitimate Tool for CLIO?”, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1981
  • Mills, Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots“, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, March, 1984

After reading about their work to trace Haley’s genealogy compared to what is reported in the book, I feel  disappointed in Roots as a book.  I completely understand the great cultural significance of the story of Roots and what is symbolizes – what it *could* look like if we could trace our ancestry back to Africa as in the story of Kunta Kinte.  Roots was an important and needed phenomenon that jump started a lot of people’s interest in understanding where they came from. I don’t believe that could ever be taken away from it.

But, once you start to look at the work of the MIlls’ and the work of others that have also done research in to Haley’s ancestry and work, it becomes fairly obvious rather quickly that there are historical inaccuracies and misinformation in Roots and that there are major limitations in some of Haley’s genealogy processes.

I hypothetically wonder if I were a Haley family member truly interested in applying the highest standards to genealogy research of the family tree, how would I reconcile the historical documentation w/ the book in a way that does not come across as disrespectful of Alex’s work? Even the Alex Haley Foundation’s website has the tree up as presented in Roots, but surely they have to know that this is not entirely supported by the genealogical evidence?  What do you do about misinformation that gets represented to others that may be part of the tree?

A couple of years ago when we were living outside of Memphis we took the kids to the Alex Haley home in Henning, TN where he is buried. At that time, I learned of the controversy around Roots, but did not pursue learning too much more.  However, I remain fascinated, so do plan to continue reading.

Here is a picture of his home and grave that I took when we visited in 2006.

Moses Wright (1889 – 1966)

In my last post about my uncle’s wedding, towards the end I mentioned that his wife’s uncle, Moses Wright was part of a very tragic event. That event was the abduction of Emmett Till.

Emmett Till, which if you are not aware of the history you can read the details on Wikipedia, was taken from the home of Moses and his family. Moses was Emmett’s great-uncle and from what I have been able to tell so far in my research, most likely the nephew of Moses’ wife. I will need to go back to my family to clarify exactly how.

I first learned of this a couple of years ago as I began to get more into the family genealogy. My great-uncle’s daughter shared this with me. A few months ago, Kalonji & I watched the documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Till, which was an extremely heartwrenching story to watch. The strength that Emmett’s mother had to persevere through such a hardship is amazing to me.

Moses died in 1966, just four years after giving my great-aunt away at the wedding. This picture was one I took of a picture she had of him when I was in Chicago last weekend. A couple of Moses’ sons were at my great-uncle’s funeral last weekend – including those that had been in the room with Emmett when Bryant & Milam came to take him away. Moses faced a tough situation as a black man testifying against two white men in deep south Mississippi in 1955 and for it he had to leave Mississippi for Chicago. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for the whole family during this horrific ordeal. My familial connection with Moses, with Emmett, certainly makes history a living, breathing entity.