What you missed if you missed my brief sojourn at Tumblr: not much – plus a Friday link

Ancestry has their Sticky Notes blog on Tumblr, but microblogging just didn’t seem to fit with genealogy blogging for me. In my head, my blog is the chatty current front matter to the family history information I put on separate pages. Tumblr has pages but the blogstream is completely separate from them; no one even sees your pages unless they leave the Tumblr stream and go directly to your blog. It’s easy to forget that Tumblr pages exist. Tumblr also has complicated and confusing commenting. So I’ve returned to Blogger.

My ongoing Blogger issues: I am in the process of updating my family history pages from my old WordPress blog; the pages area will populate eventually. I’ve started linking to PDFs of my research on each family because it’s easier to update my research document with all its footnotes than it is to update a webpage and figure out the formatting workarounds. I have chosen to stick with Blogger comments for now rather than turning on Google+ comments because G+ comments require all commenters to have G+ accounts, and I’m not sure everyone does.  [ Edit, Nov. 2013: I have abandoned Blogger and returned to WordPress, so the struck-thru comments are no longer accurate.]
My Friday link is an old (2001) but interesting essay about the myth of the “Black Irish” by T. P. Kunesh. I got a comment on Tumblr where someone (perhaps from Ireland?) said they had never heard this term. I heard it many times growing up in Boston. It was used to refer to people of Irish descent with black hair. The Spanish Armada myth was invoked. Very often, the term was used jestingly to refer to a racial situation, such as a Black person with an Irish surname or a Black person patronizing an Irish bar.  I like the article at the link because it talks about the survival of cultural memories in an otherwise fairly nonsensical term.

I’m back, and I’ve tried Ancestry.com’s Facebook app

OK, I could not stay away for very long and this blog is functional again. I don’t guarantee how often I’ll update though, as I haven’t had as much genealogy time as I’d like.

I had a few days off work due to Hurricane Sandy, though, so I spent some time playing with Ancestry.com’s Facebook app. I had been hesitant to try it for fear it would be creepy, but it wasn’t that bad. At least it didn’t post random things to my facebook page.

First it identified me, and then it rifled through my facebook friends and suggested connections. Confirming them was a little tricky as there was an intricate panel of dropdown menus for specifying relationships. For example, that cousin is my father’s brother’s son. Some distant relations required workarounds in that I had to specify how they were related to other relatives (chosen from another dropdown menu) to get them to connect. I ran into a few instances of confusion about where to assign children in cases of multiple marriages. (People on Facebook don’t generally specify “step” when they name their relatives because it doesn’t sound warm. Also, subsequent spouses often adopt children of previous marriages.)

As I connected people, their Ancestry entries were updated with their facebook profile pictures and often some personal information, such as a birthday if they had that available on their Facebook profile. If they had other relatives listed who had not been in my Ancestry tree, they were also added.
I found the app useful. I discovered relatives on Facebook and realized I could not properly place them: they were someone’s kid but whose? The process inspired me to sit down and add all my cousins to my Ancestry tree — putting a lot of trust in Ancestry’s privacy safeguards for living people. Once they were in Ancestry, though, all their records popped up right away, so now there are obituaries attached to late cousins, etc.
Working through it made me realize that I am getting older. I started my genealogy project more than ten years ago. At that time, I only included people from my grandparents’ generation and earlier in order to respect people’s privacy. Now most of my grandparents’ generation has died, and I am just one generation down from the elders. It used to be easy to keep my cousins’ families in my head, because they were young people with only a few children. Now they have grandchildren of their own, and I need to make a little chart.
So what about the privacy issues? My personal offline database includes information on everyone, but that is never uploaded anywhere, and I carefully scrub reports it generates so as not to expose anyone. You will never see living people’s personal information here on this blog, for example. However, I am putting everyone on Ancestry and trusting Ancestry’s privacy safeguards. Although I hesitated about this, the app is only importing information people have themselves posted to Facebook. And Ancestry is password protected and their personal information is hidden if they are alive. So I feel like it wasn’t that creepy after all.
Have other people tried it? What was your experience?

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Circling around Irish parish records online

The latest Ancestry.com newsletter featured a great article by Juliana Smith on their new collection of Irish Catholic parish registers, which are said to be digitized versions of holdings at the National Library of Ireland. I am pleased to have these records as an integrated database and have already located a great-grandfather in them, but the fact is that I had already found the identical record at the Irish government’s free Irish Genealogy site.

I would love to see a clarification of the relationship between these two sets of records, both apparently emerging in digital format under the aegis of a government initiative. Are they the same collection? Or do they just overlap? I thought the Irish Genealogy site was stalled in its digitization project due to the economic problems in Ireland. The site says it anticipates adding more records on October 4th, which is almost as exciting to me as the new iPhone release :)

In a related point of interest, the Irish Times reports that the National Library of Ireland is making legal inquiries into the release of these Irish records on the UK branch of Ancestry.com, with concerns that there are copyright violations. The report says that a private company digitized the records on behalf of the library. Is this private company by any chance the company Irish Genealogy Ltd. that is mentioned on the government’s Irish Genealogy site? Because that would imply that these are the same set of digitized records, wouldn’t it?

I don’t know if these are good questions or stupid questions, because I feel like I am just beginning to learn how to research Irish ancestors. Smith’s article links to the Irish Ancestors site sponsored by the Irish Times newspaper. She was linking specifically because the site reflects John Grenham’s work on civil parishes versus Catholic parishes. But the site also features a surname search, with links to surname histories, bibliographies, and link lists.

Naturally I typed my surnames Hegarty and Costigan into the little search box. Imagine my surprise when I found the Irish Times site linking to me! And not even to this site but to my now defunct Earthlink site. I was so disheartened; it is like when Ancestry.com tells you there are new hints but the hints are only people who have linked back to you. I don’t know whether to email the Irish Times and give them my new URL or not. I don’t feel I am an expert, but apparently no one else is researching these names — or if they are, they’re not doing it online. (N.B.: There is another Costigan researcher listed — she is my 3rd cousin with whom I traveled to Newfoundland. The other Hegarty researcher is working on the Donegal branch, not only not mine, but a whole different region.)

An unrelated linkage note: Now that Google+ is open to everyone, I am there. There are a lot of genealogists networking on Google+, though I also use it for academic stuff. Feel free to follow me!

Is it me or is it the software?

Lately I’ve been experiencing a disquieting little glitch when using my generally lovable Reunion software. Source citations are attaching themselves to facts in an apparently random manner. For example, I will look at a family in the 1890s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I will click on the citation number to see what my source was for that date of birth. I am expecting a census, or maybe a Massachusetts vital record. Instead I get a Newfoundland town directory. I recognize the Newfoundland town directory, which is a source for a completely different family not even related to the one under consideration.

Of course I delete the Newfoundland town directory from the record as it’s the wrong source, but now my date of birth lacks any source at all.

Did it have a source and somehow the source numbers got swapped around? Is there a Newfoundland family linked to a Massachusetts census? Or did my Massachusetts person never have a proper source for date of birth and somehow a record was randomly attached?

The first time I saw this I thought it was user error; that I must have clicked the wrong thing when adding sources. That is still a possibility. But now that I’ve seen it three or four times, I’m getting a little worried about the integrity of my source list. The only thing I’ve done differently of late was to sync the Reunion database to the Reunion iPad application. However, I haven’t done any real researching with the iPad. I doubt I’ve made any changes at all to the source list on the iPad, so I don’t think it’s a syncing problem.

I don’t know what it is and there are no references to similar issues on the Reunions website or chat forum.

I would love to know if anyone has run across this. I wish I knew whether it was a software bug or whether I’m doing something wrong when I input and link sources. I don’t really want to switch software because otherwise I have Reunion all set up the way I like it.

social networking genealogy peeve

Someone on Ancestry.com who has some relatives in common with me keeps uploading little images of national flags and attaching them to ancient relatives from before the time of photography. Like, we have no photo of this person, so here is a flag of his country. Too nationalistic for my tastes (oh, Happy 4th! and no, these are not American ancestors, so not really a 4th of July activity).

But because we have these relatives in common, every time one of these flags is uploaded I get a notice that there is NEW INFORMATION! But there’s not new information; there’s a national flag .gif. *eyeroll*

Maybe this is the ancestry.com equivalent of the person who tweets too much?

Coombs page updated

I updated the Coombs page.

I’ve been cross-referencing between my Reunion database and my Ancestry.com account. (After that I will go back through my old papers and scan old photos. Such is the joy of a new computer!)  Anyway, I found a birth date for my great-uncle Henry Francis Coombs — it was right there in the Social Security Death Index. He was born in 1898.

For years I had believed, and had been told, that my grandmother was the eldest child in her family, and that there was a ten year gap between her birth and that of her nearest sibling. There was a lot of speculation about this. One aunt told me that my great-grandfather had run away to England where he had a whole second family. (But not so, as he turns up in a directory of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland residents.) There was other speculation about how my grandmother had been so much older that she was really a second mother to her siblings and helped to raise them, and perhaps that’s why she was eager to emigrate on her own as a young woman. But finding Frank’s birth date ruins all that speculation, because he was born just three years after his sister, and there is no long gap of a missing husband and a decade-older sister.

The other story about the Coombs family is that it is somehow closely related to England. I can’t find anyone in it who was born in England. The family probably originated in England, but they emigrated to Newfoundland in the 18th century. I wonder now if the emphasis on being English wasn’t really just local politics about distinguishing themselves from the Irish, whether the Irish of Newfoundland or the Irish immigrants of Boston? My grandmother wasn’t always embracing of other immigrant groups. She used to tell me the story of how when she was a young immigrant she worked in a shoe factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, commuting on the train every day from her home in East Boston. She said she hated the commute because the trains were full of Italian immigrant men who groped her and stank of garlic — it made her hate garlic, she said. (I don’t know where the Italian men were headed, maybe to work in the quarries of Essex County?) On a more positive note, my grandmother told me how she learned everything from the woman who worked beside her on the sewing assembly line: the woman told her how to do the job, and where to shop, and how to make cake. She said she brought all her questions to her coworker and was so grateful for her help. But then that raises the question of why she didn’t just ask her aunt with whom she was boarding? Or brainstorm with the best friend with whom she’d emigrated? I think sometimes there was a happy spin put on memories of what were really pretty tough times.

I found some photos of the shoe factories in Lynn, although they may be a bit earlier than when my grandmother was there in the 1920s. The photos are by early woman photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and are now in the Library of Congress.

Woman distributing work in a shoe factory, Lynn, MA by Frances Benjamin Johnston

2 women at work in a shoe factory, Lynn, MA by Frances Benjamin Johnston

British digitization project fails

The British government spent millions of dollars to have their birth, marriage, and death registers from 1837 until the present scanned and presented to the public via the internet. Now the project has been abandoned. I feel oddly comforted about the time it’s taking me to get this blog up and running.

via Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter