Found a Cousin In An Old Yearbook

I love when I come across small gems.  One of my side projects is to index names from the North Carolina college yearbooks that the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center has been actively adding online.  I do this to put them in a searchable database for the NCGenWeb Project.   Along the way, I find people of interest (including the father of a work colleague) and tonight I’ve found a cousin!

I won’t put her name on the photos but check it out.

Cousin in 1947.  From her yearbook photo I see that she has the characteristic “long hair” that ran in the family due to her great-grandmother being Native American with hair down her back (as described by a descendant that knew her).   I’ve not met my cousin whose pictures are below, but she lives only 4 hours away from me and I do hope I have the chance to meet her one day.

and in 2002.

Rest in Peace Grandma

Sadly,  yesterday morning, Mother’s Day, my maternal grandmother, Alice Elizabeth McNair Robinson, passed away. She was 86 years old.   Affected by Alzheimers these past several years, she fell ill a few weeks ago from an infection and never fully recovered.  She was the last one of all her parent’s children and my last biological grandparent.

Alice is truly the inspiration for my family research.  While the grave of my father’s grandfather Barfield was my initial hook into wanting to know my family; Alice was very much my line and sinker. :-).  Alice always knew what was going on with her many family members and always kept in touch with everyone.  I was fortunate enough to have learned many details from her one day when I was in college from an oral interview I conducted and when I picked up genealogy in 2006,  my notes from that interview were the basis of my family tree.   From there, I began to actively seek out additional sources, information, and family members.

I have to share an amazing story though.  My mother often said that Grandma would find a cousin wherever she went. She was naturally outgoing, so would talk to people all the time and invariably find some connection.   Grandma passed away at 5am EST, but I had a Grandma “moment” yesterday afternoon that I undoubtedly know was her doing.

I am in DC right now on a business trip. The hotel agent who checked me in had excellent customer service skills.  I was impressed by it,  so planned on letting management know and I wanted to be sure I had her name.  I did a double-take when I saw that her last name was McNair, same as my grandmother’s maiden name!  It’s hard for me to pass up the opportunity to ask about a surname I know, so I asked her about it and it turns out her husband’s family is also from NC; as my own McNair ancestors and cousins. We spoke for awhile and she indicated that his family was related to football player Steve McNair.  I’ve heard from extended cousins that we are also, though right now I don’t know exactly how.  If true, I came all the way to DC and found a cousin – a total Grandma moment indeed.

Rest in peace Grandma. We love you and miss you and I will do my best to fill your family history shoes.

Meet George Fortman – A Brickwall Bust

George Fortman Sr. (abt. 1852 – d. unknown) is the last known patriarch of my husband’s aunt, J.  He was born in Kentucky as a slave around 1852, lived in Illinois for awhile, and his son, George Fortman Jr. (1878-1934) married Martha Sanders and had 11 children, one of whom was J’s father.  George Jr. too was born in Kentucky,  had a career with the Illinois Railroad and lived there before moving the family to Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana.  In Evansville, George Sr. worked as a janitor.

Let’s look at some curiosities regarding George Sr.’s name — it seems there is some variation in the documentation.

In the 1930 census here is at 78 years old living with George Jr. and family, but his name is George Ford here. Even more curious, it looks like the census taker made a mistake – the name originally in the surname position had a “ge” at the end and then was written over with the word “Ford.” hmm…

In another oddity, on the death certificate of George Jr.’s wife Martha, in the “father” space is the name “Forte George.”  This is very likely a reference to her father-in-law, not father.

Almost two years ago I happened across a slave narrative of a former slave named George Fortman aka Ford George aka George Ford.  This interviewee was born in Kentucky, worked for the Illinois Railroad, moved to Evansville later in life and was a janitor, and lived in the same neighborhood as J’s family.  Just how much of a coincidence could this be?  The interviewee describes life in detail living in the Caldwell County, Kentucky area.  So, I hypothesized that the two men were one and the same and began to try and collect more information to help document it but I did put it away for awhile.

Last week J emailed me to ask for help on her family tree again and as I searched, I found a tree in Ancestry Member Trees of a person who seemed to be related to her.  I sent a message right away and the next day was talking on the phone with J’s 80 years young cousin who’s been researching the family for 30 years.  The cousin (we’ll call him W), did not have much information about George Sr., but guess what he did have — him having lived in Caldwell County, Kentucky!!!!

Brickwall busted! I am fairly sure, now having had independent verification of the specific locale in Kentucky, that the two men are the same man. Besides, the name variation as I found in the records matches the name variation reported in the slave narrative and the life details are so strikingly similar.

With the info in the narrative,  3 more maternal generations and 2 paternal generations are added to the family tree.  I now feel confident enough to add it to my online tree for this family and am excited to see where this takes me.  I still plan to search for additional records of course but this is a great enhancement.

My Genea-Wish List

This week Randy’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun is one I could do quite easily without a second thought.  Here’s the task:

1)  Think of the genealogy related wishes you have – what education, database, or information would make your genealogy research dreams come true?  Be specific – as many wishes as you want to list!

2)  Tell us about some of your genea-wishes in your own blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a status or comment on Facebook.

I have one wish:

that every issue of every extant newspaper was fully name-indexed and searchable at the county level

See how easy that was? :-)

I hope genealogy database vendors are paying attention to this week’s topic – there are some excellent suggestions circulating the blogsphere!

 

The Genealogy Digital Bookshelf

How familiar really are genealogists with the wealth of materials available on the Internet Archive (IA)?  Since RootsTech, I’ve seen more discussion and awareness than I’d seen before then as the IA’s founder, Brewster Kahle was a keynote speaker, but the site is still, in my opinion, vastly under-appreciated.  I’ve been using IA extensively for several years now and only continue to be amazed by the books that are added on an ongoing basis.

As a user, I faced a big challenge though – how was I going to keep up with all the books! What if I saw a book/item that I wanted to be sure I did not lose sight? In the past I’ve used bookmarks, spreadsheets, and other conventions, but was never truly happy.  I wanted to be able to share what I was finding, promote the material, and try to get it in the eyes of people who could really use it.  Unfortunately, the native IA and Open Library interfaces don’t make it the easiest to find resources by geographic location nor formats (two key considerations for genealogists), as their keyword & subject terminology is not standardized.

So, using my favorite content management system, WordPress, I started my Genealogy Digital Bookshelf (GDB) website.  I formally made it in December, but over the past few months have been tweaking it & debating with myself if others would find it useful.  But you know what? I find it useful, so I’m sure someone else will!  I set up one for the NCGenWeb Project, the NC Digital Bookshelf,  exactly a year ago and that has been well-received.  Thus, the GDB does not have NC materials, but you’ll find items relevant to other states.

Genealogy Digital Bookshelf Website

 

Books are organized by format first, then by geographic location and added as I have time to do.  I started monitoring additions to the site in late 2009, so most books will have been added since then.  I am a big fan of the FamilySearch Research Wiki so will add links to books I find at IA to the appropriate wiki page too, but I find value in the grouping by format that I’ve established so will do both as I can.  Let me know what you think of the site!

P.S.  I have to say that I was inspired by several others in the geneasphere.  I rely on each of them to help me locate pertinent materials!

 

 

 

 

Our House on Wilson Street

I’ve learned a new vocabulary term this week – “heir house.” Never heard of it before, but this has been my opportunity to learn. Let me explain.

Yesterday I learned from my mother that her grandparents house at 502 Wilson Street in Plymouth (Washington County), NC is up for consideration to be turned over to the city of Plymouth. Our cousin who used to maintain it is really not able to anymore and he approached the city to see if they would be interested in it. The house sits on property right next to a ball park and they could use the land. We are not yet sure how things will develop, but we will continue to work through it. The house is in such bad shape that I think the best thing would be to turn it over to the city.

My great-grandparents bought the house March 14, 1945 for $400 from a family in nearby Martin County. This is an early view of the home:

My great-grandmother Martha in front of it in 1959

My cousin Lawrence McNair on the front porch just recently

And, a picture of the house. You can see how rundown it is

Seeing the pictures of the house has me feeling so nostalgic in a sense. I’ve only ever been to Plymouth once (at 9 months old), but Plymouth has a special place in my heart.  :-)  I really need to plan a trip out there…

I have a copy of their original deed somewhere and could not find it – however, the lawyer handling this process sent me a copy so I now have another one.

502 Wilson Street Deed

Free Newspapers through April 24th!

I’m a newspaper freak and I am loving Gale Cengage company right now.  From now until April 24th they are offering free access to several databases in honor of National Library Week.  This is just a quick post to send you over to the NCGenWeb Blog for more details and the link to access it.

If you’re doing non-NC research, be sure to download the title list to see what papers they have for other states.  This is not to be passed up!

 

 

 

Test a Website, Win A Prize!

Would you like to help me test a website I’m working on? If so, you could win a prize!

What You Could Win: A 12-month Geni.com PRO account

Geni.com is a collaborative genealogy website with more than 100 million individual profiles.  The free account gives you the ability to create an online family tree w/ unlimited storage space for photos & documents.  Your family members can sign-up, also for free, to collaborate and help build family trees.  The PRO account provides additional features.

How To Enter:  Share your feedback on a genealogy website I’m working on

I have been working on a site for the NCGenWeb Project – a database of extracts from historical newspapers.  Most of the content comes from an amazing collection of abstracts from the Raleigh Register newspaper (1799-1893) that was created in the 1940s-1950s by the then State Librarian, Carrie Broughton.  I’ve only so far worked my way through the deaths from 1799-1830 years but that alone is more than 3,600 names.  The rest of the content has come from my indexing efforts of a few town newspapers, plus various extracts here and there, and a few contributions from others.

I’m still in the early stages of building the site and I’m eager to have user feedback and learning if information can be found as easily as I envisioned it.  Therefore, I’ve created a list of 5 tasks and invite you to answer the questions and then provide me with your overall thoughts on your experiences.

Click here to grab the questions. Once you email them back to me, along with a link to your Geni.com profile,  you’re entered!

Rules:

  • No purchase necessary.
  • Winner will be chosen at random.
  • Odds of winning are directly related to how many people enter the contest.
  • You can enter anytime between 9am EST March 29, 2011 and April 4th, 2011.
  • You are responsible for anything in regards to the legality of entering a contest in the area in which you live.
  • Rules can be updated at any time without notice.
  • The winner will be notified via their provided contact information the week following the end of the contest.
  • The winner will have seven days to claim their prize.
  • One entry per person.
  • You must have a free Geni.com account.

 

DISCLAIMER: I myself won a 3-month PRO subscription a couple of weeks ago, and in exchange for my continued use of the site and occasional blogging about my experiences, the Geni team upgraded my PRO subscription to 12 months.  They may come to regret that! Just yesterday I sent in 4 items to the help desk w/ comments about things I encountered on the site — to say I’m an engaged user can be an understatement! In any case, I do think Geni has a great concept and I would love for others to explore what it has to offer also! See an earlier blog post of mine about it.

 

 

Bringing Black Nashville to Life

Marriages from a 1906 issue of the Nashville Globe

One of my favorite local sources for genealogy information is the former black-owned and operated newspaper, The Nashville Globe.  It was founded in 1906 and ran until 1960.  Over the past several years I’ve extracted data from the paper and posted it on my blog, Black Nashville.

Soon after starting that blog, I learned that the Nashville Public Library had an index of sorts available on one if their in-house computers.  Local professor and lawyer Lewis Lasker, created this massive project where he extracted names and full articles from the paper.  It truly is an amazing feat.

Me being me though, I’m not content with it living on a local computer in the public library and I emailed Mr. Lasker asking if I could have his permission to turn it into an online database.  I spoke to him today and he agreed; I’m now ecstatic!  We are planning to meet soon to work out the details, but I’m hoping that we’ll have an initial version of the site up an running sometime this summer.

More to come later….

My Foray into Geni.com

 

A week ago Friday night while participating in the GeneaBloggers Blog Talk Radio session I won a 3-month “Pro” subscription to Geni.com. I am quite excited!  When I read the description of the session and learned that Noah Tutak, CEO of the company, would be interviewed, I knew I needed to listen.  I have had a Geni.com account for a few years, but haven’t used it much.   I love the potential of the shared family tree building approach so knew I needed to revisit the site.  I strongly support collaborative/social genealogy efforts and feel Geni has great potential in this space.

After several days of really using the site, here’s my overall synopsis of what I like about Geni, what frustrates me, and how I think it compares to other platforms that also seek to promote online, collaborative, & social genealogy. I look forward to seeing how my impressions evolve as I use it further.

What I Like about Geni.com

  • collaborative family tree building – multiple people can easily work together on the same tree
  • easy to use interface — creating & editing profiles is easy with their point & click interface.  Unlike WeRelate and other person wiki-based projects, no knowledge of wikitext is needed. This reduces barriers to use.
  • Their goal of having one World Family Tree and trying to connect as many profiles together as possible. Quite laudable.  Unlike Ancestry Member Trees with their multiplicity,  redundancy can be minimized by merging profiles.
  • Built-in calendar – dates entered into the profiles are turned into notifications to family members of events like birthdays and anniversaries.  I’ve not seen this in other collaborative family tree programs.
  • Daily Digests - sent via email to summarize activity for the day.  a great way to stay informed on who’s doing what
  • Good Search Engine Optimization — results from Geni appear in search engines. I don’t believe this to be the case with Ancestry Member Trees?

What Frustrates Me

  • Editing Others’ Profiles – If I find a profile for which I can contribute information to, I have to request collaboration with the person who manages the tree before I can add to it.  This is seriously hampering my like for when I want to make a substantial contribution, I’d like the flexibility to do it right away.  I can add pieces to the profile, but not family members.  I would prefer an even more open model for collaboration where more edits could be made right away. This feature is a standard in wiki-based collaboration projects and I would like to see it adopted here.  I still haven’t heard back on both of the collaboration requests I made 7 days ago.  :-(
  • Relationship management — when adding a relationship, such as a marriage, to a person, the options on screen lead you through the process rather nicely. However, on the screen to manage a relationship you can only add one relationship and you’re not able to add more.  To add more, you have to go to another part of the profile.  My mother has been married three times — adding her relationships was cumbersome to say the least.
  • Counties not used in Place Names– at least not by default.  I would prefer not to have to enter county names  - especially if I’m entering a city.  That data element can be automatically defined. And some place names have zip codes in them that can’t be erased, while many don’t.  That’s odd.
  • Adding unconnected people — as is the case with Ancestry Member Trees, here you also can’t just add someone initially unless they are connected to an existing person on the tree.  If you don’t wish this to be the case, you have to add them, then remove the relationship.
  • Search Box – should have an option to search the entire site, or search just your tree.  Current set up has you enter a name, then the resulting screen lets you specify options to look at just your tree or the entire site.  Would like to see this moved to appear next to the search box itself in order to reduce a few clicks.  This is a common feature with site searches that use Google Search.
  • Path View – at the top of each profile in your tree is view that shows you how you’re related to the person you are looking at.  This is represented linearly, but there should be an option to view it hierarchically.  It can be hard to understand the steps up and down a tree unless you can represent hierarchy.  My genealogy program, TNG: the Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding, does this well.  The Geni team could consider an option to do something similar.
  • Descendancy view – does not include those not biologically related.  I understand the desire to keep it adhered to bloodlines, but it would be nice to have an option to include step-relationships in the Tree View; even if they were color-coded differently.

With a longer list of what frustrates me vs. what I like, you may get the impression i’m dissatisfied - but rest assured that is not the case! I like Geni more than the other wiki and wiki-type user tree sites I’ve come across for the following reasons.  I hope the Geni team considers these thoughts as they continue to make the site better.

How It Compares to other Social Genealogy Sites

  • WeRelate — with no WYSIWYG editor, I find WeRelate too cumbersome to enter data into — even though I am quite adept at HTML and Wiki Markup Language — it just is a time issue for me; it’s faster to do WYSIWYG rather than markup language.  Geni’s interface is point, click, enter – much easier to use.
  • AncestryMemberTrees — Ancestry has a huge user base and is highly visible.  The integration with records is undoubtedly an advantage.  The number of multiple records and how bad information gets rapidly duplicated is a limitation.  Geni is seeking to overcome this and for my purposes when I want to share information I like Geni’s approach better because I would only need to do it once — not to multiple people as is the case with Ancestry Member Trees.
  • WikiTrees – editing a profile you find is also not instantaneous – requests have to be made to the person who manages the profile. I also do not like the layout and structure of WikiTree pages and the ads are obtrusively placed  - often in the center of your screen.  Geni’s profiles are well-structured and ads are placed at the bottom of the page.
  • OneGreatFamily – primary goal is to create one large connected family tree.  I haven’t used this site in several years, but it is a complete subscription based service.  Nothing is visible without the subscription.  Geni.com and Ancestry use a fremimum model, where some information is available for free with additional content/features only available by subscription.  Freemium is better in my book.
  • MyHeritage – the site have a focus on sharing genealogy with those you select.  Thus, the openness of data is often restricted.  I’m not as likely to use this one  given its focus on restriction.

What do you think of Geni.com?