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 wpthemedesigner.com.   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 Ancestry.com’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 http://www.archives.gov/digitization/digitized-by-partners.html. Thanks.

Here was the response:

http://www.footnote.com/browse.php#31|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 http://www.footnote.com/page/75_civil_war_pensions_index/ 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.

Our McNair Family History is on the Books

A few weeks ago I had a chance to see in person the book,  Edgecombe County Heritage, North Carolina, 1735-2009.  I was thrilled to see in print my contribution to the book that I submitted in 2008.

I contributed an article on my McNair ancestry, going back to my 3rd-great grandfather Rufus Tannahill McNair and his wife, Mariah Wimberly McNair.
I did not photocopy the pages; instead I took a digital picture, but I do want to go back later and get the physical copy.

I am very glad I contributed this information for 50, 75, 100 years from now, hopefully additional descendants will come across the information I share.  I do see that the publishing company messed up my 4th great-grandfather’s name the first time it is mentioned (Allen Wimberly), but as I mention him again a couple of lines down, hopefully a smart reader will figure it out.  I also included a picture of my great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln McNair, with my submission and several references.

I am ecstatic! :-)  And though I didn’t submit this one, there is also a brief bio of Mariah’s brother, Dred Wimberly in the book too.

At least I know that some of my research will continue on in print format.

What the Hashtag?! RootsTech Version

The upcoming RootsTech conference is beginning to get blogged & tweeted about quite a bit.  Official RootsTech bloggers have been announced and I’m looking forward to following along in the conversation.   However, what do I do when I have to work all day and can’t follow along the Twitter feed like I hope? I use WhattheHashTag?!.

The site is nice because it allows you to visualize the Twitter activity around the use of any hashtag.

You can follow along in several ways:

  • visit the page to see the tweets and those that tweet most often about it (UPDATE — the official hashtag was announced on 1/7/11 and is #rootstech11 — therefore, see http://wthashtag.com/Rootstech11 instead)
  • subscribe to the RSS feed (updated subscribe link here)
  • write your own tweet directly from the page
  • generate a day & time-stamped transcript of the twitter activity (example here)
  • the page is a wiki page, so anyone can edit and refine it

Tonight, I went to the site to see if one had been set-up for RootsTech and it had not.   Anyone can create a hashtag archive so after logging in, I created one.  Very easy to accomplish.  Here is some data from the past few days already: you can see the top contributors and which days have more tweets than others.

What makes this site unique is that it creates an archive.  Twitter itself does not allow you to search for hashtags older than a set time period, but with WhatTheHashTag?! you can go back and see the history.  For example, my professional organization – the Medical Library Association, had a conference in May.  The history of our #mla2010 hashtag is not available anymore on Twitter, but an archived transcript can be generated at WhatTheHashTag?!.

Some RootsTech Inspiration

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, is a keynote speaker at the upcoming RootsTech 2011 conference.   I’m planning a couple of posts within the next 14 days or so around the Internet Archive, so this seemed especially appropriate to post about him.  As he, I too am a librarian, and I am absolutely in love with the Internet Archive.   I only wish I would have a chance to see him speak at RootsTech, but here is a speech he made for a TED talk back in 2008 explaining the establishment and processes behind the Internet Archive.  A must-watch for all those attending RootsTech.

My RootsTech Request

The first annual RootsTech conference is scheduled to take place February 10-12, 2011 in Salt Lake City.   The conference is sponsored by multiple partners, including Brigham Young University, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch,  Federation of Genealogical Societies and more.   As described on the website, the conference

will be a gathering of both family history enthusiasts and technologists from around the world. Genealogy hobbyists and professionals alike will discover new and emerging technologies that will improve and simplify their activities. At the same time, technology providers will enjoy a rare, face‐to‐face opportunity to interact with family history enthusiasts to better understand their needs.

I am quite excited by this conference.   I took a look at the planned sessions for the three days and practically drooled.  However,  there is just one problem — I can’t go!

I’ve blogged before about my desire to see more online conference attendance opportunities for genealogy gatherings and in my mind, this particular conference would be a perfect testbed.  For those of us that can’t attend, why not offer videos of some of the presentations (or all of them!).  The conference registration fee is $99 – which is great, but I’d gladly pay almost this much to be able to view the content online – even if a few days after the fact.

This model has been successfully in other domains.  For example, WordPress regularly films their presentations from WordCamp gatherings and posts them online at WordPress.tv — sometimes, presentations are really short – 5 minutes or so… sometimes they are longer.

This is a gathering of technology minded individuals.  I’m sure they can pull off an experiment of this concept!  If television shows like House can be filmed with a $2500 Digital SLR camera, then I’m sure this group of sponsors can afford a few of them for video recordings.  If 100 people signed up for $100 each to *virtually attend* the conference, then the money for the equipment would be easily recouped. Furthermore, special subscriptions could be sold to genealogy societies for group showings.

Your thoughts?

She’s My Aunt Too!

I can’t believe I’m only getting around to posting this, but last week I had a great connection on my Koonce ancestry.  I was contacted by a distant cousin after she saw my great-grandfather, Barfield Koonce, on my tree on Ancestry.com.  She sent me a message and we were able to speak the same night (I’ll refer to her as KM).  We were both so excited to find each other!

It turns out that she and I share ancestry from Isariah/Mariah Koonce (b. 1839  – 1919?) of Craven County, North Carolina.   I am descended from Isariah’s daughter Caroline, who was Barfield’s mom.  MK is descended from a sister of Caroline’s whom I never knew about — her name was Fannie.   MK had been home over the Thanksgiving holidays visiting her great-aunt Mary Koonce and Mary shared with her handwritten notes she’d done about the family tree.

Mary’s list is not quite in family tree format, but the names of my family members are on it. When I started telling MK how I’d come to verify that Caroline was Barfield’s mom – namely by working on information shared with me by a cousin that Barfield had a sister named Agnes, MK replied that yes, Agnes was on her great-aunt’s list!

Here’s a snapshot of Mary’s notes:

my Barfield is there, his mom Caroline, along with his sister Agnes  – and then Isariah is there too as the mother of Fannie.  It was so much to take in!

From MK, via her aunt, I learned that Isariah’s father was white and that the slave master had taught daughter Fannie to read and write.  There are other family stories as well that she shared, including some suspicion that even though Isariah married James Koonce, James may not have been Fannie & Caroline’s birth father.  What?? You mean I’m not a Koonce after all?  I can’t wait to further explore these areas of potential research with MK… utterly amazing!

MK also shared that Mary was married to Harvey Koonce, who was related to Barfield Koonce but she wasn’t sure how.  As  I looked back over my notes, I realized that Mary’s husband Harvey “Lamb” Koonce (1920-1982), is the brother of my grandfather, William Koonce Sr. – MK’s great-Aunt Mary is my great-aunt too!   Wow.  :-)

Headstone of my great-uncle, Harvey Koonce. Buried in Mitchell Cemetery, Craven County, North Carolina

I am very much looking forward to continual correspondence and research with MK – my newly found cousin.

RIP Jassmine McNair

On November 26, 2010, my 5th cousin, Jassmine McNair (b. 1990), was killed in an automobile accident.    I have never met her, but soon after learning the news from a family member,  I could not help but feel sadness and loss.  We share 3rd great-grandparents – Rufus McNair & Mariah Wimberly of Plymouth, Washington County, North Carolina.

Jassmine and daughter Kamerin

Jassmine will be missed sorely by her family and friends and my thoughts are with the family in this challenging time.   It is a tragedy that you were taken so young in life, but your memory will not be forgotten.  RIP with our ancestors.

McClellan Connections

Researching my husband’s potential McClellan slaveholding family has been an ongoing research process for me.   This week,  I have an exciting potential lead for our wish to do DNA comparisons.

On Wednesday I was contacted by a white McClellan descendant – turns out that she is a 2nd great-granddaughter of General William Blount McClellan (see previous posts here).   We exchanged several emails, on which she engaged her sisters as well, and I’ve added more on her branch to the overall family tree I’ve been working on.  What was particularly exciting is that she has male cousins that may be willing to take a DNA test for us!  I’ve been looking for male descendants of the general to compare DNA against Kalonji’s male McClellan DNA to check for matches.  I’m so glad that she found us and I do hope this works out in the end.

Then, prompted by this exchange, I decided to do some additional searching for the white Champ McClellan (grandson of the General) that I had some information about.  Given that Kalonji’s great-grandfather was also named Champ McClellan, I’ve been particularly interested in knowing more about the white Champ.   I found a new Ancestry Member Tree that included him, as well as information about his descendants, so I contacted them to learn more.  As another measure of checking, it would be great if we could get a DNA sample from a male descendant down this line too.

In summary – here’s the family lineage trail

a) General William Blount McClellan — father to Walter Groce McClellan — father to Malcolm Allen McClellan — the lady who emailed me is Malcolm’s granddaughter.

b) General William Blount McClellan — father to Augustus Roby McClellan – father to Champness McClellan — father to Harry Augustus McClellan — father to Mildred McClellan Colonna — the person I emailed is descended from Mildred.  I hope they can help me find a male to test.

So — that would be down the lineage of two of the Generals’ sons.

I remain hopeful that this works out.  Whether we can support the hypothesis that someone in the General’s family was the father of Kalonji’s great-grandfahter or not, I still would love to know!

Keep your fingers crossed for us! It will probably not happen for a few more months but I remain hopeful.