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!

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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.

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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
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