Sunday, August 31, 2014

In the Beginning...Why Genealogy?

There are probably as many reasons why people get into Genealogy, as there are people into it - each with their own individual reason.  But, we can make some generalizations.  People want to know where they came from.  Most everyone has some idea...something their family has told them.  But, much fewer really know.  For many of us, "really knowing" is what takes us into a more directed inquiry.   Others don't have that generalized idea...or they been told conflicting information, so they check it out for themselves.  Still others see a television show, or an Ancestry dot com advertisement, and this gets their interests fired up.  For good, or bad, I don't fit into any of these categories.  For me, it started as a challenge.  A challenge to myself, to take the simplistic (and frankly unsupported) work that our "family historian" was employing and do a better - much better job.  I'm a 'processes' guy.  One step leads to the next, a framework is constructed over time, on a firm foundation.  Things get done the right way, no matter what the cost in time and resources.  My work would involve the application of processes I was using to conduct complex criminal investigations to family history.  When asked how I knew something, I'd be able to present an iron clad case - proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  My investigative mind would shift from 'bad guys' to 'dead guys', with nothing else changing in the transition.  Moreover, my analytical approach to most everything would be the engine running my new found passion.  Mine, would be a work of perfection.  So I collected what were purported to be 'facts', and said "I can do way better than this!"  And I have.  That was then...1993.  Today, I have succeeded in accomplishing my self directed challenge to a very high level.  But, now some 20 plus years later, it's no longer just a challenge.  Somehow, somewhere, it changed for me.  Slowly, and without fanfare.  Today, Genealogy is a Calling.  What I was suppose to be doing.  A Calling, to represent the subjects of my focused research.  To speak for them.  To tell their stories.      

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Center of the Genealogy Universe...the Salt Lake City LDS Family History Library

I originally wrote this article in April of 2012 for my local genealogy society's newsletter.  For some reason they never published it.  Oh well, I think it is informative.  Hope you agree, and that you concur with me as to the future of real books and the libraries that hold them.

Spring brings for me a struggle of sorts…a struggle between my two major passions, Gardening and Genealogy.  During the cooler days of fall and rainy days of winter, sequestering myself inside the house surrounded by the books, folders, and websites of genealogy is easy.  But right around the start of April, I need to be in the garden.  This year my ancestors won out over gardening, at least during the first of the season.
This April I found myself visiting both cousins and libraries.  All the while checking off items on my ever growing Genealogy “To Do” list.  Visiting with my cousins was easy...They would  give me a big box of old family photographs and I would send a few days scanning each and every photograph.  The libraries offered a similar experience, but in a much more purposeful way. 
Having dappled in genealogy since 1993, I had always wanted to visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Circumstances and the ever expanding wealth of online resources had kept the Library at bay for decades.  But this April, I finally made the pilgrimage of sorts to what should be called the Center of the Genealogical Universe.  The Library is an amazing place for the genealogist of any skill set.  I would like to share my impressions, what I found, and how I made the most of my limited time in Salt Lake City.
The Library itself is in downtown Salt Lake City, just a mile or so from the state capitol.  It is easy to find, immediately adjacent to Temple Square, but beware of the many one-way streets in the area.  For the unfamiliar, one wrong turn could require several blocks of travel before you can turn around to get back on track.  I found some very limited paid parking ($8 per day) within a block of the library, but I would recommend the very large lot boarded by North Temple, South Temple, N 300 West, and N 200 West streets.  At only three dollars a day, and free on Saturday, it’s a bargain.  The walk was not bad either, two blocks and only took me about five minutes. 
The Library has five floors, three above ground to two below.  Each floor has an information desk and what seemed to me to be an army of LDS volunteers and missionaries ready to help you find whatever you are looking for.  Throughout the Library, things seem to be in a state of flux because of the digitization effort.  I was told every book will be digitized and eventually be made available online.  I have no idea what this will mean for the Library.  My concern would be that someday the brick and mortar institution of libraries in general could become a thing of the past.  And the change was evident at the Salt Lake Library.  For example, about half the books of surnames were gone.  Gone, not in the Library!  And as is my luck, everything concerning my surnames was among the missing.  I was assured that anything I wanted was already online “inside the Library”, and soon to be on the Internet also.  Large signs told of the digitization project, but I still saw lots of confused faces. 
I made the most use of the third floor, which the top floor of the Library.  This is where you will find the United States and Canadian books.  Other Canadian books are located on the ground floor in the International section.  Everything is arraigned geographically, as you might expect, so just check the front of the isles for the state you are interested in.  Because the Library uses the Dewey Decimal system, individual counties or parishes are not on the shelves alphabetically.  There is a guide at the information desk to locate the call numbers for any given state and county/parish.  And herein is my concern about completely doing away with books.  Often times I find great information just by checking the shelves for a particular geographic area.  It’s a mode of research you can do most efficiently by looking at a shelf of books.  For anyone without any type of research plan going in, simply knowing where an ancestor lived would be enough to keep you busy for hours using this approach.  I suppose in a digital library, one could search call numbers for a given area, but that would not be has much fun!
On this trip, I approached my research a little differently.  Through the work I had already done at home, I already knew the books I wanted to review.  Because I can always go online for “online” books, or order films sent to my local Family History Center, I focused solely on books I could only see in the Library.  From home, I went online to Family Search and obtained the call numbers for all the books I wanted to review.  (By the way, I have also looked for these same books at the Sutro, and they have some of them.  But the Family History Library had all of them.)  The Family Search Catalog will allow a search by book title and author’s name, book title, call number, etc.  The online catalog will also so the location of the book in the Library or at any of the major Family History Centers.  Because much of my work tends to involve south and southwest Louisiana, many of the books I wanted were all in the same general area (same floor and call number range).  Using the Family Search catalog I learned that most of the books I was interested in were also in the Los Angeles Family History Center.  I made a note of this, as I might plan a trip to the Center in Los Angeles which is of course at considerably closer than Salt Lake City. 
With a list of the books I wanted in hand, I then incorporated the titles and call numbers into my To Do list.  I use an Excel spread sheet for this document.  My To Do list is list of every single thing I want to accomplish on future field trips.  For instance, if I want to visit a given cemetery I will list the cemetery’s name and address leaving a column for a Zip Code.  I can then sort by zip code and line up all the outings geographically.  For my trip to Salt Lake City, I put the book’s call numbers in the zip code field.  Then I had a top to bottom list of every book I wanted, nicely lined up.
Next came the fun part…photography!  While you can copy what you want at the Library, there is a fee.  Purchase a library debit card and stand in line for a copy machine.  Or, just do like several people were doing, take digital photographs of the pages you need.  I have a system for this.  I always take a picture of the outside of the book (spine and cover) and then the page showing the publisher and ISBN number(s).  Next I photograph the pages that interest me, being sure the page number of each page is also in the picture.  Over the course of the two days I had to spend in the Library, I took nearly 500 photographs.  The library staff has no problem with researchers taking photographs, just as long as you are not using a flash.  The flashing would be a major distraction if everyone were doing it! 
I spent very little time doing actual “research” in the Library.  I had no need for the computers, or online materials.  All I wanted were photographs of certain pages, from select books.  And I typically took several pictures from each book.  Generally, every page concerning the surnames I am interested in were photographed.  In some cases, I was verifying a source reference made by earlier researchers.  In these cases, I even knew the page number of the book.  I made sure to get that page, or pages, and then anything else concerning the person or family being researched. 
And that’s it!  Now that I’m at home, I have sported all the pictures I took into folders on my computer by book.  Because I took pictures of the book covers, nothing gets mixed up. 

I would highly recommend the Family History Library.  It was well worth my time and I’m sure worth yours also.  If you plan ahead, your visit will be even more successful.  As for my garden, I planted everything a little late…early May, so my first harvesting has been a little delayed.  But I have lots of research to keep me busy in the meantime.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Legal Stuff...Copyright

Okay, some not so fun stuff up front.  Please consider all of my (Aaron Tassin) original writings as protected by all applicable international Copyright laws.  I don't plan on coming up with anything earth shattering, but I might - purely by accident to be sure.  Please obtain my permission before using my writings for any purpose.  The exception here is for non-profit historical or genealogical societies.  They may copy out these writings for use in news letters or other publications solely in support of their non-profit missions without asking for my permission; I am granting these societies license, just as long as I have been given credit and only if they use whatever is copied in its full, unedited entirety.  For my part, I make every effort to obtain permissions or use information in the public domain.  Credit will always be given.  Any photos appearing here were taken by me (Author) unless otherwise stated.  Thanks for understanding.

What is a "Cat Box" genealogist? Or, Just what the World needed...another Genealogy Blog!

Who, or What is a "Cat Box" genealogist????  Well, the term hearkens back to my days in computer forensics when, as a young police detective working in Los Angeles California, myself and others were first puzzled by what to do with this thing called the 'personal computer' owned by the crooks we were investigating.  Back in the day, we'd serve Search Warrants and take evidence in
many...many forms.  For the financial crimes I normally found myself tangled in, this 'evidence' typically took a paper form...boxes and boxes of paper, books, bank records, ledgers, files,

heck...even file cabinets.  But, what to do with the computer the suspect owned??  Unplug it and take it too!  My Evidence Room soon filled up with computers that none of us knew what to do with.  We needed a way to dig 'clues' out of those old clunky PCs in a matter that would hold up in court.  Computer Forensics was born.  And, for the few of us performing this sort of became just about a full-time job.  We had our cases, as well as the cases of our peers.  There we after day, night after night..seemingly all the time, staring at computer screens.  This was a young discipline and we therefore took advantage of any and all training on the topic we could find.  Once, at such a training venue, a presenter used a term that made me chuckle.  It was something like "Cat Box" computer nerd, or hacker, or something along that vein.  The picture drawn?  I guy who sits at his and night, never leaving it.  Because he never got up from the computer, there was a Cat Box under his desk.  The Cat Box met the predictable biological necessity of never getting up from the computer...not even to use the bathroom!  I confess to you, the reader of the one bizzionth genealogy blog on the Internet, that I am in truth, and in fact, a "Cat Box" genealogist.