Thursday, December 10, 2009

Military Records Burnt in Fire? Try Morning Reports

We all know that between 16-18 million Military Personal Files were destroyed in the fire of 1973 at the St. Louis National Personnel Records Center. This fire destroyed about 80% of Army records from Nov. 1 1912 to Jan. 1 1960; and 75% of all Air Force records from Sep. 25. 1947 to Jan 1. 1964. So how can you get military information on your ancestor?

NARA National Personnel Records Center has always had access to Morning Reports to recreate records lost in the fire. These Morning Reports for the Army and Air Corps units are for 1940-forward. Although reports are not based on an individual, they do give a daily account of the unit. Individuals are listed in the case of promotion or demotion, being killed, wounded or missing in action, or going to a hospital for treatment. Monthly, quarterly, and semi-annually Unit Rosters are also included.

In order to access the correct Morning Report, the veteran’s exact unit of assignment must be known. Morning Reports and Unit Rosters are available on microfilm and not indexed by individuals. These reports, now available to researchers, gives additional ways to recreate your ancestor’s service. But prior to reviewing the Morning Report for details of that incident, the exact unit will be needed. One customer was looking for a veteran who was wounded while “taking a farm house” in Holland during the “Battle of the Bulge. The approximate date given was Oct 15, 1942, but the exact unit was not known. It is possible, however, that his discharge date and the battalion listed on his payroll will provide us with the first Morning Report to research. Additional reports may need to be researched to pinpoint the exact incident.

Each related film must be read, and searches are often needed for several years. This must be taken into account when budgeting for research. 

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Winter Projects – The Genealogy To Do List

(Photo by

I always wind down right before Thanksgiving. Winding down this year includes finalizing projects, closing the books for 2009, and writing a list of needed changes and implementation strategies for 2010.

This year I sent a 72 page genealogy Christmas booklet to ColorMark, the local professional printer, the Monday before Thanksgiving. Right on time. I’ve already finalized the printer’s proof, and when the printed pages are complete it will be bound in burgundy leatherette with gold foil typeset from Engle Bindery. My goal is to deliver it to the customer the first week of December, but at least it is off my desk.

Because I like to eat, I did take on a small freelance job, writing for an online Genealogy magazine (Genealogy Archives). This is the only project I have for the month of December with the deadline of December 19. Then off to holiday heaven.

Although I will enjoy a short vacation from the cold weather, in Kansas City, I go into hibernation in the winter due to breathing issues that are exacerbated when exposed to the cold weather (and the heat, and wind, and too much pollen – you get the picture). But, it’s during this time of being locked up in the home/office, that I get to do research, finish the last chapter of the Morris book, make changes to and publish the Tinberg Tales, and work on my to do lists.

Ah yes the “to do list.” I keep it for 12 months of the year, and tackle as much as I can between December 19 and the planting of the onions season. Here in KC that is March. I will update forms, research conferences, work on blog topics, close up personal genealogy projects, work out volunteer efforts at the Mid-Continent Genealogy Center in Independence, schedule spring/summer speaking events, etc. All of this, in addition to working on new/repeat customer projects that pays the bills, must be accomplished between the planting of garlic (Dec) and the planting of onions (Mar).

The best part about the winter months for me, is I get extra hours in the day, since I’m limited on distractions. I love snowy cold days…work, work, work. It’s my most productive time of the year. And I hope it will be yours too. Start planning now and began listing all of your definite, hopeful, and maybe projects now!

Hope you make the best of winter!

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Under Priced a Project?

As I worked on the rush of hardbound family books, I found myself making notes of the things I need to change, update, and renew. I will have to alter my price structure for these 40-75 page books I create. I often price by the job based on my estimated hours. And in one particular case, my old calculation, lost me about 25-30 hours of work. That’s a lot of dough!

Allow for Growth in the Contract
One project began with the Tinberg and Schmotz families, but grew to include wives. In the end, the customer received an overview of six families: Tinberg, Andersson, Schwarz, Schmotz, Waymire and Sieg. My pricing structure was not specific enough for me to estimate my costs. Of course Tinberg was married to Andersson, she couldn’t have just dropped in from the sky, so background info, social standing, etc., was needed to make the text cohesive.
Lost 15-20 hours

Allow for Scanning and Cropping Pics
The customer provided over 100 family pictures and newspaper articles that she wanted to be considered for the text. Whether or not I use all of them, each photo had to be scanned. My current price structure did not take this into consideration. Even though the high tech scanner used can scan 10 pics at a time (and place them in separate documents) is fast, I still had to name each file, crop each picture, and have a few cleaned up for publication.
Lost: 3 hours of pay.

Give Client a Checklist
I actually have a personal relationship with this client. And although I believe every client should have a special relationship it is difficult to reign in the time spent over labeling pictures at her dining room table. A checklist of things needed from the client may have assisted in cutting out the excess time with post-its. So, my newly created checklist includes: “client must label each photo on the back or with sticky notes, or distinguishable file names.” I even provide examples. Maybe next time, I can enjoy that peach tea over a chat at the table, not for work.
Lost: 6 hours.

Outline Binding Options
This client began with a GBC book, which is standard, but through her excitement, she upgraded her family book to hard-bound, preferably leather-bound. Just working with the client in choosing, working out minimums, and working with various binders, requires a surcharge.
Lost: 2 hours

How to Recoup Your Losses
But all is not lost. I will be publishing this booklet, with the client’s permission of course, so that it will be accessible to others through the Interlibrary Loan System and available for sale.

In the meantime, my price list for these kinds of projects, will include options, but with the pricing itemized. My per project pricing will better reflect the hours worked.

Hope you never under bid, but, the more you publish, the more clients you will have.

Accurate, Accessible Answers

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Searching in the Maryland State Archives

I visited the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis. I was looking specifically for militia and volunteer Revolutionary War records for a client in hopes of getting birth information of his ancestor or additional family data. It’s not everyday that we find an ancestor in the states during the Revolutionary War, but believe me, there were a lot of Tucker’s.

Needless to say, the search became a needle in the haystack, but the experience was quite successful. The Maryland State Archives’ staff was the most helpful and knowledgeable group I have worked with in a State Archive (and I have visited many for research). The volunteer, that day, was resourceful and had experience in searching for that allusive soldier. She was able to suggest many overlooked options. Unfortunately, time was limited to too few hours and after giving the Tucker family about 5 hours Pro-Bono (do genealogist get to use this word?), my search had to come to an end. Anytime, I go to a new State Archive, I give my customers about 2 hours free. I chop this time up to my “education – learning the repository, retrieval system, and the online website and resources.” But, in this case, I was so intrigued; the customer got a full five hours, in addition to his paid time. (I applied the customer’s paid time to the NARA and DAR research I promised to do in DC.)

I was guided to the Maryland online site to begin my research. I would suggest you do this prior to going: I also suggest you review the “Reference & Research” site: Be sure to go to “Special Collections.”
This is where you can obtain more information on church records, maps, newspapers, etc.

Your choices are many and for this reason you should limit your search prior to arriving, based on your time. It will take a couple of days to get access after you set up a username password online. Note, however, at the Archive you have immediate access.

For me, I count this visit as educational hours; and for the client, well, he got a lot more than he bargained for and that’s always a plus. What’s even better is I’m familiar with the Maryland Archives, (in Spanish I would still use conocer not saber) and although I didn’t find that Tucker needle, my research for the client at the Md. State Archives, was thorough.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are You Analyzing Your Data?

Anna Charlotta was NOT Alma Charlotta
Swedish Research
I suggest to beginners to collect their data, but don’t just pull document after document to prove your ancestor’s existence without understanding what the data is telling you. What is your ancestor’s story? It is written between the lines, hidden within one word, or in one obscure date.

I recently pulled no less than 30 pages of Swedish records on a Samuelsson family that I was following. I copied birth, marriage, household examinations and death records for a period of about 50 years. Then, I paused!

The best way to analyze your data is to write about it. Begin writing for yourself or your client, not when the project is finished - since it will never be finished – but when you believe you have sufficient data to tell a story. Then, you will find your holes, which will keep you focused toward finding “the rest of the story.”

With magnifying glass in hand, I realized that my Samulesson’s marriage record revealed that he was a soldier in the Swedish military and had served in both France and England. It was buried between his homeplace and date and marriage date. Just “aft. sold P. France, Lon England”meaning formerly soldier. . Why not find out what was going on in the 1850’s in Sweden that would warrant such a service?

I mistakenly assumed two children as being one: Anna Charlotta and Alma Charlotta (Samuelsdotter). But in analyzing church records and various household examinations, it was clear that these were two different daughters born within two years of each other. With this knowledge, I was able to find the death record of Anna Charlotta and her losing battle with smallpox. She was born and gone, before her sister Alma ever entered this world but who was given Charlotta as her baptismal name also. With the quality of the microfilm copies on Genline, it was easy to mistake Alma for Anna and not realize that they were two individuals not one. But, by reviewing all the documentation, the one household examination with Anna’s birth date was uncovered. Was smallpox in an epidemic stage in Sweden in 1860?

By analyzing data, you not only can prove a hypothesis, you are able to uncover social history and culture and make your story more interesting. Sure the dates are useful, but it’s the story we are after.

Happy researching and analyzing. Hoping you uncover your story!

Kathleen Brandt

Originally printed 9 Sept, 2009, Are You Analyzing Your Data?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fun Emergency Projects

I have this rule that I don’t do emergency projects for clients. First of all one would have to wonder, what is an “emergency project”. Well, it’s the one that you have less than two weeks to do, the deadline is immoveable, and the job was not scheduled or expected so it has to be fitted in the work schedule.

So what am I doing right now? An emergency project. I have been 99% successful in saying “I’m sorry, but I would be unable to assist you on this project.” But what do you do, if the project is for one of your best clients and he has a business trip in 10 days in the area of his GGGGrandparents. Let me add, he is traveling from California to Missouri. For me, the answer was easy – you assist the client and plan on sleeping very little for the next 8 days (the package should be in the overnight and to arrive on day 9).

I pulled the needed file from my archival system immediately and reviewed my final report before I even answered the request. I sketched out a plan of how to attack his specific requests of land locations and living direct lineage or distant cousins in three remote counties of Missouri. Yep…I can do this in 20 hours (all I could possibly give up in 8 days) and have the package prepared for him.

I am half way through with the project now - Day 4. I will finish up county two today, and start with county three. I have already sent him what I considered to be time sensitive data and have actually given him a page and a half of a preview of what to expect based on a few questions he has sent me for his preparation. His excitement vibrated through his email response. He actually called me “heaven”.

No, I’m not a travel agent, but 27 phone calls later, I have found him local hotels, places he must see with directions, and very needed host/hostess names for the area. This is a remote area with directions given as “the oiled road south of town”. No name, just that it goes between the church and the cemetery and over the hill. It took me a few questions to figure out that the “oiled road” was a blacktopped one. Opposed to what?

This is the interesting part. As a genealogist, I would not normally call half a town to see if they knew of my subject. Time is limited so I normally spend it on county courthouses, city halls, libraries, genealogy societies, etc. I don’t normally spend client hours talking to a farmer on Rt. 1 who starts a chain of telephone numbers and names accompanied by failing health anecdotes and recent family deaths worthy of a town directory and a gossip column. No…I don’t usually start any project like this. But, it is a great way to get social history and a feel for a location if your client is off to the wilderness. And, I have gathered gads of additional genealogical tidbits of his family by doing so, including finding a local genealogist, who happens to be a distant cousin, and has a database of over 27000 relatives. We were easily able to pinpoint that they were 6 cousins, once removed. Now this is the contact your client really needs. And I will probably lose his business to this distant cousin, but isn’t that what we all want – an exhausted history of our family?

Hope you are saying yes to the possible, and breaking a few of your own rules for a little genealogy fun!

Accurate, Accessible Answers

Need a Break

I had an opportunity to assist a client in planning a genealogy trip. At my regular fee, my client asked me to find direct line or distant relatives in the area, telephone numbers, repositories of family information, and a listing and location guide of sites of interest. This included land sites of his forbearers.

Now this project might not sound like fun for some, but for me, it was a blast and a welcomed break. Besides that, it was an unexpected revenue generator for my upcoming vacation.

After having worked in genealogy dungeons for the past 12 weeks (court house basements, dusty moldy archives and my 13x15 office at a computer, my eyes and back (from lifting 20lbs ledgers of wills, estates and court records) needed the break.

So after reviewing the customer’s folder for Scotland and Schuyler County, MO, clarifying my client’s goal and defining the length of time of his visit, I began planning my attack.

Having never done this for a client, I applied rule Number One: Do it as you would like it to be done! The result was a fifteen page visitor’s guide customized for my client. I began the guide by giving him a weather review for his upcoming trip. And then I addressed his four goals. I had spoken to over 30 people in Scotland and Schuyler County in the areas he was to visit and in doing so was able to identify the experts of Bible Grove, Memphis and Downing Missouri and who were excited about being a host/hostess for his 3 day visit. I attached land plats with sketchy directions to family cemeteries and the original family church, where one of his ancestor’s pictures still hung.

I talked to a half dozen distant relatives and gathered as much as possible about the culture of the area. Many of the members of the community were non-alcoholic drinking church goers, so why not let my client know that suggesting the local bar might not be appropriate.

Upon several references, I was even was able to recommend a local hotel where one of his distant cousins was the operator and a native of Bible Grove.

I guided my customer to the local museums and contacted the Genealogy/Historical Society in advance so they would expect his arrival, this also allowed me to confirm hours open.

And the coups de gras, was my names and address list, alphabetized by both county and interests.

Alpha by First Name
and then by county, for example -

Associations in Scotland County

I have to say that I don’t have aspirations of being a travel agent, but this was twenty hours of remembering why we do genealogy: to get to know just a bit of the path of our ancestors.

Plan a trip for you or a client. Why not follow a bit of their trail?

Accurate, Accessible Answers

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Genealogy Library Visit

Tools and Resources - Genealogy Library Visit Recipe

1 genealogy notebook *see Recipe for Efficient Preparation
3-4 sharpened pencils (or ink pens preferably with an eraser)
1 library card (if not a member, you will need to apply immediately, so take ID)
1-2 hours (depending on the resources available at the library)
1 knowledgeable reference librarian
1 tools and resource checklist

Your first library visit should be at a genealogy library. Find the genealogy section of the library or the reference desk and introduce yourself to the friendly knowledgeable reference librarian. They will have the tools you need, so take the checklist of needed tools and don’t leave the library until you have asked about the following: family tree forms or descendent forms, list of available genealogy resources, local genealogy clubs and contact information, library sponsored genealogy workshops/seminars, location of genealogy books and how they are sorted, access to, remote access to library databases, especially HeritageQuest. Be sure to take lots of notes while at the library, because by the time you go home, do chores and make dinner, you will have forgotten the details.

While you are there have the librarian start you on How do you long on? What does it provide? Remember you are just exploring, but put in a grandmother’s name and information and play with this database while at the library.

Verify that your library card is up to date and you have remote access to the library’s databases ( normally is not available remotely). Your library should have at minimum the following databases. Be sure to ask which of the following are accessible from home, and have the librarian show you how to access their databases remotely if you would like to do research at 3:00am from the comforts of your laptop:

America’s Genealogy Bank – historical newspapers and books and documents
America’s Obituary & Death Notices – wide-range of newspaper obituaries
Digital Sanborn Maps – fire insurance maps from 1867-1970
Heritage Quest – census records up to 1930

This week become acquainted with all of these databases by searching a relative (grandparent) that was born before 1930. Just play and see what you find. If you were born as late as 1970 you should have at least one relative’s name that was born before 1930. If not, ask you parents or aunts about someone interesting in the near past that you would like to begin with. Do not start with the “coming to America”, just someone a name within two generations of you if possible. Keep a log. This is just to familiarize yourself with the various databases.

The only other database you should discover this week is “”. You can access this from your library’s internet or from home. Be sure to thoroughly review each tab to see what is available. Be sure to look under Research Helps to see what is available under different states and countries.

Remember, we haven’t begun research, but we are getting to know the resources. Happy playing and remember this is a life project, so pace yourself.

Kathleen Brandt
a3Genealogy - accurate, acessible answers

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beginners Genealogy Recipe Book - Preparation

I get 10-12 requests a week for mentoring newbies into the life of a genealogist. So, why not break it up into a seven course recipe book? We can move slowly from one step to the next. If you have questions, need more detail information, or just plain confused, send me a note and I will address to all. Enjoy the Preparation Step.

Recipe for Efficient Preparation

1 computer, preferably laptop
1 genealogy software database (check the used bookstore)
1 printer (preferably a 5 in 1 type setup for copies and fax)
1 external backup system (may be a flash-drive or CD)
1 telephone
1 online directory (your favorite)
1 local library (or more based on convenience and resources)
1 large notebook binder (may substitute the equivalent of a yellow pad, but will want a storage unit for papers)
3-4 sharpened pencils (with an eraser)

Setting Up:
Set aside a block of time. Call your local library branch to find the best genealogy library in your area. In the first page of your notebook, start a directory page of resources. Be sure to make a checklist of the following: Library Name, telephone number, genealogy reference librarian’s name, Heritage remote access availability from library, and library access. Be sure to ask if there is a dedicated area for genealogical research. Also, check if there are time limitations for computer use and if this time limitation applies to the genealogy area. Mark off any library that does not allow for extended computer for research. You will need to do some research using library databases (i.e. at the library for now. (No need to purchase this software yet, will address later).

Your Genealogy Software:
Install genealogy software. You’re just getting started, so you only need the basics for organization – a names and data database with a notes page and a place to store photos. Try your used book store for an inexpensive one.

If you are using a CD or flash drive as your backup, be sure to label them and set aside. If you are using an external backup system, I suggest you set up the file folder now.

You are now ready to visit your genealogy library.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Balancing Crisis and Clients

I could have just as easily called this blog “don’t forget your clients when you have a family crisis of spousal Leukemia diagnosis and a month of hospitalization and upheaval and mayhem in your life.” Or, I could have called it “prioritize, prioritize, prioritize, and be realistic!

So, on day three after the diagnosis, a bone marrow biopsy, admission to the hospital, and beginning chemo, I had to address a few business issues. I had one deadline for a final report in 2 days, luckily for me all research had been completed and the first draft of the report had been sketched; I had just signed on a new large customers not due until November; was in mid search of the Wochenschau films; and ending the search on the allusive Wm. Williams. Right…William Williams. And, on the day, I received a down payment for customer number four who I didn’t have to start for a couple of weeks, according to the contract.

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog, but I schedule my jobs according to the estimated time of a job, and I usually have one large and two small jobs going every month. Very little overlap occurs on large jobs, except I usually am writing a final report, while doing a set up on another. This is a career, not a suicide attempt!

I think the “check in the mail” thing jolted me into reality. Three precious days had past and only two days left before my final report was due. Well, I was not about to cheat my client. My reputation is based on very few things, but one of them is timeliness, the other is thoroughness. And, although I don’t believe my personal affairs should in anyway affect my customer, I did realize that I needed more days to complete the report. So, I grabbed the laptop, that had been with me at the hospital and home, and began to communicate. I had to let the client know that I was finalizing the final report, but due to this “life problem” I would need an additional week. Yep, clients are human and compassionate, especially if you keep them abreast of progress all along, giving them frequent updates, and my client was no exception. Plus the word Leukemia does not equate with sore throat. He granted me the week to finalize, compile, double check, and recheck my cited work. This was to both of our advantage, because reports need to be clear and concise to limit follow up questions or confusion. And this client was a respectable genealogist himself, and a repeat customer.

Wm. Williams posed a bit more of a problem. But, the truth is travel was out of the question for now, and I needed to research some files that could not be removed from an archive about four hours a way. What good is networking if you don’t consider it as a resource. Reality: I couldn’t go. Resolution: use my trusted genealogists peers in the field. Not any genealogists, but one who worked at the archive. This allowed for my research to continue and move forward. Time not wasted!

Wochenschau, although a tedious job, was do-able from the laptop, but once again, I had to use my resourceful peers. This time genealogists at the NARA in D.C. Believe me, I don’t pull these favors normally, but it was nice to know that I had developed the relationship and was able to take care of customers seamlessly. Again, time was not wasted, and the end of the month deadline was met, exceeding expectations.

My point is not to juggle customers and workload, but to be resourceful, and face reality. Reality: I couldn’t do anything in the hospital but stare at my husband and talk to him. Resolution, I had a laptop and a phone at my disposal.

We, as genealogists, have contacts throughout the nation in archives, in societies, from conferences, etc. It pays to do “random acts of kindness” periodically, and in return others remember your good deed, and are willing to pull together in a pinch. It is also important to remember not to abuse your resources. But most of all, communicate with your clients, and never cheat them of the job they paid for: thorough research, and a comprehensible thorough final report. With a little creativity and setting of priorities, it all can be done.
Hope you are keeping all balanced and providing the best research for every client! A page out of Sponge Bob: This is "the best (genealogy) day ever!"

Accurate, Accessible Answers

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Volunteer for Your Local Genealogy Center?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by Make Family Tree ( to do an online interview for their website. Of course I agreed once I reviewed their website and deemed it to be a useful tool and an exciting approach to educating customers and genealogists. Actually, I was honored to have been asked.
While answering the interview questions, I realized the breath and depth of what I have experienced as a genealogist. And what was so amazing, is that much of my experience has come from volunteering, which of course is good since I can’t think of one paying customer who wants to pay me to learn with their project.
Of course we volunteer to give back to our community, to have what the author Paulo Coelho terms in El Zahir (I’m not sure of the title in English, I read all Coelho books in Spanish) as “The Bank of Favors Account” (my translation, which should be correct, unless he uses something else in his English translated books). The theory is that you deposit in the Bank of Favors account so others are indebted to you or to pay back a favor; or you withdraw from the account where you are amassing debt, or cashing out.
Well for this very reason, I volunteer. I like to have mi cuenta del Banco de Favores[i] balanced in all of my active communities, so of course I have volunteered for various genealogical projects and of course I still volunteer at the Mid-Continent Genealogy Library in Independence, Mo (KC Area). Through these volunteering opportunities, I have been able to gain experience working with records, genealogical technique and translations that may have never passed my desk at a3Genealogy. I often work with patrons, who need assistance in the basics or with those who have just hit a brick wall. What is amazing is that from my eyes often their brick walls are very transparent, but mine are solid through and through! I’ve had chances to collaborate with other genealogists, analyze data, and assists with tracing down resources.
Every time I volunteer, I seem to learn at least one more thing. I’m now working on an indexing project of the vertical files. Often I spend my break taking a one hour seminar, as I did today, on the History of Jackson County, Missouri. Just being in the library, has given me these learning opportunities and notches in my knowledge belt.
So, somewhere between researching impossible maiden names, or some other needle in a haystack, I still take out time to volunteer and to learn. It’s not just to deposit in mi cuenta del Banco de Favores anymore, I’ve seen many other benefits!Hope you are continuously learning and gaining from your volunteering opportunities.
[i] Mi cuenta del Banco de Favores = my Bank of Favors account

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What is Genealogy?

“Genealogy is more than cold dates and endless hours of research. It is more than who was born, who was married and who died. It is more than who a family was, and more than what they did or where they lived. Through the study of the names, dates, migrations, census information and DNA, the cold dates become milestones in the life of someone connected to us. The births of the past become as momentous as a birth today, the marriages, jobs, and setbacks as poignant. It is not only discovering a history but also uncovering a human journey. It allows for a grand perspective and realization that we will be the birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates of a future generation. We will be the nameless faces that stare from a faded picture. And so Genealogy becomes our future. By honoring our past we teach our children to honor theirs. When we honor the struggles and triumphs of our fathers and mothers, we honor the struggles of all families at all times in all places.”

Kathleen Brandt, Edited by John Brandt
For Wiley J. Morris Family
June 2007
In 2009 the 3rd annual Wiley J. Morris Family Reunion was held in Las Vegas, NV. Like most family reunions, the family genealogist or historian, researches the past to find the present. Cousins seem to be in abundance, and so are new friendships. The family history was presented at the first reunion in Kansas City and the second family reunion in Louisville. The emphasis was just to get to know one another, to share family stories, and explore the new connections.

By the third family reunion in Las Vegas we had familiar faces and names associated to our once unknown cousins. By then we were no longer “the people off David’s branch", or Tobe’s branch, or Sarah Adelade’s branch, we were just the Wiley J. Morris Family. There was an ease to the acceptance that the Morris family was comprised not only by the Morris surname but Cox, Carson, Howell, Ray, Thompson, Strader, Brown, Hilliard…oh the list goes on, but so does our family.

The youngest in Las Vegas was about six months old, the eldest a spry ninety-five. We ate together, laughed, and shared DNA. In Las Vegas our theme was “Where Roots Grow Deep”. It was the platform for discovering our Morris Genetics. Family stories had some betting that the Morris’s were Russian-Jews, German-Jews, American Indian (pick-a-tribe), and Irish. Oh, we had some that were hoping for African ancestry – Angolan, West Indies, or whatever Oprah was touting from her recent DNA results. But in the end, it didn’t matter that the Morris Family was R1b1 (European Population) with what appeared to have been an Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales migratory combo. We were still related – the light, the dark, the freckled, the thin, the stout, the young and the old.

We are connected by the past – our ancestors. And most of all, we are family!

Accurate, Accessible, Answers

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Intruder - Genealogy and the Internet

While searching for your family or trying to fill in holes the size of Texas on that one branch does not increase the Internet’s credibility. You might as well ask the person holding the Tarot cards at the Psychic Fair to verify that Sallie Davis really is your 4th Great Grandmother. Sure she lived in the same county as expected! Sure she is about the same age based on the 1880 census! And, heck…her name was Sallie after all – you saw that in the family will and in the 1880 census with 4th Grandpa Morris.

But the social network and plethora of genealogy postings from every genealogy-expert-cousin across the county spouting that Sallie is the same Sallie you are looking for should not be accepted. For one, they did not provide any sources, or cite anything verifiable.

So, my question to you is “why do you want SOME Sallie hanging off your tree that may or may not be any blood to you or even an adopted family member? Why would you want to trace this Sallie into the 1700’s when you have no idea who she is, or where she came from, or if she was even distantly related to you?

What if the origin of Cousin Ted’s posting was from great aunt Jessie who ended up in the State Mental Hospital? Perhaps Cousin Ted got it from the county marriage records, and since this was the only John Morris in the county and he was married to a Sallie, it must be the right one. So for 8 years you have been chasing the wrong John Morris, or have been interweaving several of them to put the pieces of your family puzzle into one large conglomerated mess.

I have just gone through such a search (actual names withheld), and seem to get several a year where I reject the wrong Sallie from the family tree, and off to search for the real one. Searching for maiden names is one of the most challenging searches for genealogists.

Why am I telling you this? Because, you cannot, and should not, trust anything you read on the internet, including Cousin Ted’s post, unless you have verified it all yourself, analyzed it to a very high probability based on evidence, can prove genealogical evidence (as Elizabeth Shown Mills likes to say), or at minimum cite a reputable source. It is better to leave the maiden name as unknown, rather than have the wrong person.

If you can’t prove it, just leave Sallie off your tree and consider her an intruder, like a weed, a dandelion, or a fungus, but not a leaf or a branch!

Happy family searching and take the time to cite your sources or to footnote your reasoning before posting. That distant cousin will appreciate the extra information, since it will be easily verifiable.

Accurate, Accessible Answers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Civilian Personnel Records at the NARA

It’s not often that a customer will request civilian personnel records from the 1940’s. It’s even less likely that they want research for a worker on an American Indian reservation who isn’t a native American. But I’ve received several requests to write about how to search non-military NARA personnel records, and I decided to use this case as a teaching tool, but respecting my customer’s anonymity.

The only information known was that the search was for a “medical doctor” on an Indian reservation during WWII, amongst the Sioux Indians, perhaps in South Dakota, based on a photo with a member of Chief Sitting Bull’s family. With the help of the customer, we were able to narrow the reservation to Standing Rock (or at least to start there).

Luckily for me, I live within two miles of the Kansas City National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and they have a GREAT staff! Upon verifying that they had at least payroll documentation for Standing Rock, I was feeling pretty lucky!

Who knew that the Kansas City NARA also had boxes and boxes of stuff? They wheeled in five years of boxes, filled with what seemed to be an eternity of loose leaf payroll papers, into a private room, made me sign away my right to breathe should I remove a piece of paper, and closed the door. Crying wasn’t an option, so I began to dig.

Sometimes everything just falls into place. The second page, literally the second piece of paper I picked up had his name, position and salary on it. But what I needed was the beginning and ending of his service. So, jumping around years, I was able to find all I needed, with handwritten notes on his start date, his contract date, and even his resignation date, shortly after the war , on the ledgers.

But I was hired to find his service records, not his payroll. So, I weaved through the paperwork for the Civilian Personnel Office in St. Louis to have the records pulled. They needed the employment dates to pull the personnel file, but it still took over two weeks before the folder was accessible to me. Maybe they were stuffed in a cave somewhere?

Finally the papers were ready for viewing. I left Kansas City with the sun shining, but expecting 1-2” of snow, but St. Louis had a surprise for me. I was scheduled to meet my contact at the Personnel Office at 8:30am the next day, but a 7-9” snowstorm decided to fall overnight. Well, I’m from Kansas! I was there at 8:15am, and with a bit of shuffling from the poor understaffed persons in the office who braved the weather, they found the complete folder (with my name on it) on my contact’s desk. And I was off to work! I copied pages and pages of pertinent personnel information, and even a photo. The bonus for my customer: his parents names – they were from Russia, so they were pretty much unknown before then (I believe). It also appears as though, this service fulfilled military service requirements during WWII, but that is another topic!

So, using the phone as my first tool, I was able to stay within budget. I learned more about the KC NARA while doing my pre-search, even though I visit there all the time, and worked with the Civilian Personnel Records in St. Louis, because I truly believe my life purpose is to master government forms!

I hope your experience is as smooth as mine was. I have attached the website for your perusal, should you need such a search:

Happy Searching!
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

Monday, February 23, 2009

Disappointed Customer

Although I religiously send out customer satisfaction surveys, I do not get them returned as often as I wish. Never do I want an unsatisfied customer; that is not to say I won’t have disappointed customers. What’s the difference? An unsatisfied customer believes you took them for X-amount of dollars, and did not apply the work or your professed skills into the job. But a disappointed customer may have hoped you would fine a needle in the haystack in the 10 hours, 1 month, etc., timeframe, and you did not prove their theory or family folklore to be true.

Getting a disappointed customer’s from time to time is inevitable, but as genealogist we must keep the expectation realistic. If I’m pulling military records, I always send to the customer information beforehand on the 1973 fire and its affect on military records, and an estimated timeframe for the job to be completed. But what happens if there aren’t records, or the records found and reconstructed aren’t clear enough to get copies. Well, I do the next best thing, I transcribe, and I send them any and all information that I do have. It might just be a draft registration card, or payroll information.

I realize the customer does not know what goes into getting military records, the pre-search required by a3Genealogy: obtaining of release forms, coordinating the meetings with the NARA, verifying that the information they gave you guarantees that the John Doe you are searching for is the correct John Doe, etc. But, I must be accountable for due diligence - maintaining a log and action report, not just for the customer (included in part of their final report) but also as a checklist for me to keep that tinge of guilt, caused from disappointing them, at bay, (although it never goes away).

Of course there are other options that you can offer a disappointed customer. What about a Morning Report? Yep, it costs more, but let the customer decide if that solution is within their budget. I try to be creative and provide other options in their final report.

Now, an unsatisfied customer says “something needs to be put into action.” But how would I know, if they did not send back the survey? How can I make amends? How can I redeem the only thing I really sell: my service?!? My pledge is to serve the customer with his/her genealogical needs utilizing my research skills and willingness to try creative ways to possibly obtain the information (even if I’m doing research on a William Smith!)

By using the survey, I can not only learn from what I did right, but why I have an unsatisfied customer. Now, based on information given, I can resolve an issue, or at minimum analyze the situation: Does the customer feel cheated because he was certain in 10 hours you could find his family legacy in 1840?, or was it you who did not read all the documentation that the customer sent you carefully enough, and you missed a vital part of what was expected? The list of what could go wrong is endless, but the best part, is the list that can go right is also infinite.