Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Farewell - A Time-Out in Memory of Christopher Hitchens

The sad news hit the wires, the mainstream, the social sites, and blogs late last night as Vanity Fair announced the death of Christopher Hitchens at the age of 62. Though it was not always easy to agree with "Hitch", his gift for writing essays, books, and whatever else came from his mind was staggering in its depth of knowledge and was of an eloquent style rarely seen today. Always in the moment and never at a loss for the perfect word, Christopher Hitchens surely will be remembered as one of the top essayists of my lifetime.

Tributes abound today, and his Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter, provides a touching remembrance of his friend and colleague:

I'm not sure what Mr. Hitchens would have said about genealogy, and I'm not sure that he had ever had reason to comment on it, so it may seem odd that his death is the subject here. But I enjoyed every word he wrote, knowing full well that he used every word purposefully and passionately, each bit of verbiage thoughtfully included as if to choosing or omitting a word or phrase might destroy an entire work. If only all writers could capture the reader like Hitch did. If only.

Thank you, Hitch, for sharing your gift. I'll be sipping a scotch later just for you.

Removal of Social Security Numbers from SSDI

It seems that political pressure has led to the removal of social security numbers from one of the most accessed databases in genealogy - the SSDI or Social Security Death Index, and the removal of the entire database from RootsWeb.

You can read Kimberly Powell's article for more details. What do you think about this move, and how much will it impact your research?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Tiny Cemetery – Dangerous Deeds

As promised, I return now to finish the story and intrigue surrounding my family’s tiny cemetery. We last left off with my cousins in disbelief, earth-moving machines tossing grave markers into a creek bed while looking down the barrel of a shotgun, and both sides believing that they were the rightful owners of the land in question.

I am the fourth great grandniece of Keren Reeve, born in about 1816 and daughter of the memorial subject of the tiny cemetery, Isaac Reeve, my fifth great grandfather. Keren never married, and lived the farming life with her brother, John, for many years until her death. Prior to her death on 14 May 1885, she deeded the land for the cemetery as “one acre, more or less” for the purpose of a family burial ground, a very common custom at the time in Illinois. Her parents and other family members already were at rest there, and it was Keren’s desire to preserve this land officially for that purpose.

In the 1880s, it was still commonplace in Illinois for a document such as a deed to be written, signed, and witnessed, and then taken to the court clerk for filing and affixing of the clerk’s seal. Filing at that time consisted of the clerk copying the document by hand into the clerk’s record. The dutiful clerk in Morgan County, Illinois, did just that, and as far as Keren Reeve knew, the land was preserved perpetually as the family cemetery.

Now we’ve all copied things by hand before, right? Maybe it wasn’t a deed, but some record? Or something simple, like a friend’s Christmas cookie recipe? A phone number while standing at the mall after you’ve run into someone you haven’t seen in ages?  Did you ever make a mistake and copy it wrong?

To make a long story short, that’s what the clerk had done.

I’m going to stop for a second and apologize to the reader for not having the deed images available to post here today. I wanted to finish this story for those who might be waiting to find out the gory details, but having moved not too long ago and being in the midst of planning a wedding (mine), I have not unpacked the most “precious” of my genealogical goodies. So I’m doing this next part from memory in the midst of about 30 boxes of family history materials.

The clerk of Morgan County at the time the deed was filed made an error in transcription. Illinois follows the township mapping system where everything is nice and neat and square. So instead of the cemetery being located, for example, in the NE1/4 of NE1/4 of Section 16 Township 15N Range 9W (which is actually Antioch Cemetery, just down the road) as Keren had written in the original deed, the clerk wrote “the SE1/4 of the SE1/4 of Section…”

So the comparison of the original deed in possession of my cousin and the deed as transcribed and recorded by the County Clerk showed that in essence, both parties were correct (though I have often wondered about the moral turpitude of someone bulldozing a cemetery). The moral case prevailed at this point, mostly because the damage had already been so extensively done. The new landowner stopped his destruction, and my cousins were left to tend to what was left of the tiny cemetery, which they did for many, many years. This spring, I am mounting a huge clean-up effort to bring the tiny place of rest back out of the bushes that have now overtaken it while I have been away from caretaking it. My cousins entrusted me with Keren’s original deed and all of the affidavits and research that was done to save the cemetery and it is the least I can do to continue to preserve it.

So what did I learn from this story? Original documents are original depending upon what the meaning of “original” is. The best original document you can possibly find as “proof” of the existence of a person or place is THE best source to use. It’s important to know the provenance of such an original – who had it and where was it kept for the past 100 or so years? Search, search, and search again until you are certain you have exhausted every angle, every record. Listen to the stories your relatives have to tell, because they may give you a lot of information, and be quite entertaining to boot.

And no matter how beautiful their handwriting, former clerks of the court were human, too. 

Advances in Data Storage - Since 1862

The "Abraham Lincoln Observer" blog from the Springfield, Illinois, State Journal-Register comes up with some real goodies as it seeks to protect the name of our city's favorite son. I thought this was pretty cute.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

RootsTech 2012 Can Sniff My Kindle

I belong to the Facebook page “I have more books than friends”. It’s not a high-volume site, but their posts are interesting, and I find it very comfy to belong there, sort of like relaxing on the couch with an interesting read. I’ve rarely met a book I didn’t like, especially where the topic is history or genealogy or some associated subject.

I’ve gotten over the fact that my daughter has utilized online textbooks for a few years now, though she occasionally stresses the seams of her backpack. I love the ability to download new books, and to find out-of-print books online. I keep thinking that I should have saved space by now using digital books instead of more tall shelves, but alas, I need more shelves. A couple of people who shall go unnamed have gently suggested that I might prune my library. Ummm, no.

I mention this because of a startling development in the RootsTech  2012 Conference ( This is an annual conference geared toward genealogy through technology – a very worthy undertaking and an educational opportunity that many of us cannot do without. I say that not having attended the conference personally, but by virtue of reading and hearing tons of useful output from it last year. This year, however, the RootsTech group has decided that we really only need that technology to do our research, that technology is the only concern one would have while immersed in their educational seminars.

They have banned booksellers from the conference.

I’m all for technology. It makes my life easier, and at times, it’s darn fun. I hope the group at RootsTech will rethink their position, though. If you close your eyes and sniff a Kindle (please forward me photos if you do), does it have that paper pulp woody smell, or the leatherbound feel of a slightly worn favorite book?  Maybe it’s possible to have a book’s author sign their work from your mobile phone app, but won’t it slide off into mobile oblivion when you run your fingers over it? (yes, this could be an issue with me and my touch screen Android, but I digress) And honestly, for those purists out there (makes guilty face), is a digital image really the exact same thing as the original page from the book that's in your hand?  Seriously, can you imagine a major genealogy conference without booksellers (who also sell technology books)? I say pish-posh.

To assume that attendees at RootsTech 2012 would not want to peruse the many booksellers of the genealogical sphere is absurd. A book is still a book. I have autographed genealogy books that, to me, are absolute treasures. Why not be a well-rounded genealogist, and utilize technology AND good old-fashioned books? That’s what I’ve done, and will continue to do. Hopefully, RootsTech will re-examine their position, and remember that kindness and sharing takes the genealogist just as far as technology, and sometimes, just a little bit farther. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

BlackSheep Sunday - What Ever Happened To Arthur?

As genealogists, what would we do without our Black Sheep ancestors? They often provide us with immense challenges and great entertainment, which translates sometimes into fits and starts during eons of research hours that ultimately end in a rather large brick wall. In the spirit of the "hunt", I prefer to celebrate these less than model citizens. It also helps to remind myself that it was their conduct or situation that branded them as Black Sheep to begin with, and that I had nothing to do with it, and thus, am free from guilt. 

One such infamous character of mine is one Arthur B. Alexander. I know so little about him that he barely qualifies as a Black Sheep, but as many of us have uttered, "something must've happened and it must've been very bad." 

Arthur was the grandson of John A. Alexander, a Civil War veteran from Illinois. Arthur's father, Charles, married Lucy Zook in Morgan County, Illinois, on 25 January 1883. Arthur was born near LaBelle, Missouri, on 21 October 1898. At some point between 1900 and July 1907, Arthur's mother, Lucy, disappears from the genealogical picture (at least for now, as I am unable to locate her in any fashion anywhere after 1900, but am told she had died). In July 1907, Arthur's father is in Roosevelt, Oklahoma Territory and marries one Hattie Harris Adams. 

Arthur is living with his father and stepmother on the 1910 census, and in 1920, we find him living with his married sister, Naomi Alexander Diehl and her husband. His next appearance is on a marriage license in Hobart, Kiowa County, Oklahoma, on 6 April 1920, where he marries Beulah Slater. Two daughters were born of this union - my grandmother and my great-aunt. 

That is the last we find of Arthur B. Alexander.

In a divorce petition filed in Illinois by Beulah Slater Alexander, it is claimed that Arthur left his wife and two children on or about 21 December 1927. Despite public notices of the filing, no response was ever received by Arthur to the court, and the divorce was granted in 1934. Both my great-aunt and my grandmother passed away never knowing for sure whatever happened to their father, although the subject was "touchy" for some reason. 

Being the inheritor of their genealogical notes, I set out to find out what happened to Arthur. Collaterals are always a great way to look around brick walls, so I found tons of information on Naomi, his sister, including locating living descendants of hers in Oklahoma. Eureka, I thought. Maybe they know something. 

They knew something alright. They knew enough to the degree that I was asked not to contact them on the subject ever again. 

It seems that Naomi, Arthur's sister, would not allow any mention or discussion of her brother because of some actions on his part that were less than admirable. One relative said he may have embezzled some money and left the country, but they really weren't sure, and out of respect for Mrs. Diehl (who passed away in 1978) they weren't going to discuss it with me any further. The daughter of this relative contacted me and asked that I not contact their family ever again on the subject, and of course, I have obliged. 

I may never know what happened to Arthur. At this point, it doesn't really matter, except that it leaves a blank where a date of death should be, and leaves a hole where a story might be passed on. I still look online occasionally as new records are digitized, and one day must research local newspapers from Oklahoma to see if I might uncover something scandalous and public there. That newspaper search is likely my last hope in knowing something of the story that so shocked one family and tore another apart. 

Arthur, one day I may just uncover your secret. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

GeneaPress: ISGS Announces New “Shop and Support ISGS” Page

GeneaPress: ISGS Announces New “Shop and Support ISGS” Page

Do you shop at, GenealogyBank, Legacy Family Tree Store, Shop Family Tree, and other similar sites?

If you do, you now have a way to support the ongoing projects at the Illinois State Genealogical Society through a new affiliate marketing program with the above vendors (and then some).

Members of ISGS and non-members can use the "Shop and Support ISGS" page, located at

As an ISGS member, I can assure you that we are busy, busy, busy with some very exciting new projects that will deliver even more information to anyone interested in Illinois ancestors and Illinois history.

'Tis the season to be shopping, right??? Enjoy...I'm going to go make my list right now! 

Tuesday Technological Tirade - Citing and Documenting Sources

I read with interest Randy Seaver's blog post, "What's Bad about Genealogy Software", which is a discussion of Louis Kessler's Behold blog and his list of items he finds disconcerting about the current offerings available to genealogists. 

The one thing that I found most disturbing about this discussion was the shifting of emphasis from using the gold standard for citing sources as published in Elizabeth Shown Mills' work "Evidence", and encouraging genealogists to just document their sources and then draw their conclusions. Perhaps my reading of Louis' comments was too literal, but I do not think so. 

There is a reason that Mills' tome is the gold standard and should be on the desk of every serious genealogist out there. The field needs and will require a continuity of standard for citations. To say that one can document a source and then draw infinite and proven conclusions does nothing to improve the field-wide standards we all seek that will allow us to duplicate and double-check any prior work done by another genealogist. It makes a difference "when" you viewed a certain set of records, "where" you viewed them, and the "context" in which you found yourself analyzing them. Records are lost, transcribed incorrectly, moved, re-ordered, and handled every single day, and it behooves us to track ourselves so that others may ultimately track our research.

To encourage genealogists to just document, rather than carefully create  proper citations is a step backward, in my humble opinion, and does nothing to further the standards so desperately needed in genealogy. We are striving to better our information and documentation and analysis rather than relying on the research practices of yesteryear. Websites are chock-full of "conclusions" that are drawn from poorly cited, rarely documented information that is basically meaningless except to serve as an example of what NOT to do with your family history. There is a proof standard, and it should be applied to every bit of information we gather, especially before it is set out for public consumption. 

Granted, some genealogists are perhaps not as serious as others about their family history, but for the sake of generations to come, instead of making things less cumbersome for the casual family researcher, we should embrace them and help them, and teach them how valuable their information is, and in what fashion it can best be preserved. I do not think this point can be stressed enough. You simply cannot have documentary proof without proper citation. An experiment in any other field must be reproducible. Genealogy should be no different if it is to be worthy of its legacy.

Louis, we need you to keep working on the GEDCOM conversion standards. Your sorting of tags and the things that I see as "gobbledy-gook" most certainly must be improved if we are all to preserve our work in a communicable manner. But let's keep the standards high in all aspects of what we do, and whichever part of the field we're involved in. 

Thank you, Randy, for your wise analysis of Louis' post. 

And yes, I do have a copy of Mills' book on my desk at all times. We all should. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Manic Monday Thank You

Wow! Thank you to Thomas at Geneabloggers for the blog plug, and for all of my new readers, and those who left such kind comments about my new endeavour. 

I hope to sprinkle in some good, sound genealogical principles and research tips as I talk about my family history research. Who doesn't need tips on organization, good sources properly cited, and offbeat ways of bringing those people in your pencil box to life?

Ahh, yes, the pencil box. Perhaps I should provide a photo and an explanation for that very soon. 

More photos, too. Some that are truly amazing and bigger than a pencil box.

Original papers? Yep, have those. 

Speaking of where did I put that deed I was talking about the other day *wink*. 

Again, thank you for your kind and welcoming comments. I hope to continue to pique your interest and have you coming back for more. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

148th Anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Check out this marvelous celebration and recitation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, originally given 148 years ago today. 

"The Gettysburg Address recited by some of the best voiceover talent in the country: David McCullough, Ken Burns, Sam Waterston, Matthew Broderick, Stephen Lang and Medal of Honor recipient Paul W. Bucha. Musical score provided by Oscar-winning composer John Williams. Video was created in opposition to a proposed casino 1/2 mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park. All celebs, crew, editors, and musicians volunteered for No Casino Gettysburg."

And to think that this speech was originally thought a failure by many, and doubted perhaps by Lincoln himself. 

Back to the Tiny Cemetery - Markers and Dozers and Shotguns, Oh My!

You will recall from an earlier post that the "tiny cemetery" was, indeed, quite tiny and contained a wooden sign and three headstones. Two of the three stones were original, the largest marking the grave of one Isaac Reeve, born in North Carolina, who died in Morgan County, Illinois, in 1860. 

There was one other large modern stone in the cemetery listing all of the "known" burials. It was placed by the Reeve Family Association in 1993. 

Immediately it was clear that something was seriously amiss. Where were all of the other stones and markers? Surely this cemetery had to encompass more land than what I was standing on. Where did it go?

It was at this point that I met my distant cousins and caretakers of this cemetery, known as the "Isaac Reeve Memorial Cemetery". They were a delightful older couple, and I could instantly tell that this was a story they very much enjoyed telling. I only wish that I had recorded their voices as they explained to me what had happened, because the inflection and the give-and-take between Raymond and Lytha (my cousins) only made the telling of it at that moment worth solid gold. 

Lytha began by telling me about the family association, and how it was formed. She showed me the original deed to the cemetery that they had kept all of these years, showing that Keren Reeve, Isaac's daughter, had deeded a portion of her farm for the purpose of a family burial ground, as was customary in many families in this area in the mid to late 1800s. She gave me a photocopy of the deed to keep.

It was about this time that Raymond began to speak. As a matter of fact, in his earnest to tell the tale of the tiny cemetery, he would interrupt Lytha with little comments about this person or that timeframe such that it was almost comical. Then Raymond took over, and I finally learned what happened years before.

Lots were being sold in the 1950s along the county highway where the cemetery is located. Apparently, a gentleman bought the lot adjacent to the cemetery with the intent to build a home there. Not a big deal, right?

Raymond was driving home one afternoon after work, and to his disbelief, there were bulldozers on the land - the cemetery land - turning over dirt and grave markers (and heaven knows what else). He immediately stopped alongside the road and asked what was going on. He was told that the dirt was being moved to make room for the foundation of the new home. Raymond pointed to the tossed stones, some of which had fallen down into a nearby creek, and said, you can't do that, this is a cemetery. Nope, said the new landowner, this is my property now, and I can do with it whatever I want. 

I wish I could convey to you the animation with which Raymond told the next part of the story, but sadly, you will have to bear with my narrative. 

Raymond proceeded to go home, called the sheriff, grabbed his shotgun, and flew back down the road to where the cemetery and bulldozers were. He demanded that the bulldozing stop or else, and I can honestly say I give the man in the bulldozer credit for ceasing his dozing, as I think Raymond very much meant what he said. The sheriff showed up and tried to calm the parties down, and eventually after an exchange of words, both Raymond and the new landowner agreed to go their separate ways and to investigate the boundaries of the land before anything further was done. 

Lytha then picked up the story, as she was instrumental in visiting the courthouse and double-checking on the property boundaries. Of course, she had the original deed, so in her mind and in Raymond's, there was a clear demarcation, and that the land had been trespassed upon and the cemetery destroyed. They also went back to the cemetery to rescue the turned-over markers, but found none. Affidavits from older residents in the area were collected, and all of them stated that there had been a dozen or so grave markers in that cemetery before the bulldozing incident. Raymond and Lytha had their ducks in a row, it seemed, and had covered all of the bases.

At about that time in their storytelling, I happened to glance down at the photocopy of the deed Lytha had given me, and I noticed a few words underlined in red pencil. Those underlined words would be the crux of the entire existence of the cemetery from its beginning to its near-demise.

Just a few words in a deed. Not just any deed either. 

Next:  What I learned about 19th century deeds, the hard way...

Historians to dissect "Killing Lincoln" at presidential museum - Springfield, IL - The State Journal-Register

Historians to dissect "Killing Lincoln" at presidential museum - Springfield, IL - The State Journal-Register

This should be a most interesting gathering of Lincoln scholars as they discuss Bill O'Reilly's handling of the Lincoln Assassination. I just might "have" to go!

By the way, if you have never been to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, it's quite a treat. We are fortunate to be surrounded by this man's legacy, and to nearly walk the same paths he once walked.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thankful Thursday - They're Not New Here

I used to be jealous of all of those genealogists out there who found their ancestors' names in the vast rolls of those coming through Ellis Island to become American citizens. To have such a monument one could point to, that one could visit, just seemed to me to be the ultimate in genealogy fame. Early on in my research, I looked at names on the Ellis Island lists and hoped that just maybe, "that one" belonged to me. 

No such luck. 

As I continued on my path, however, I began to realize that maybe I was the lucky one. There was no Ellis Island in 1628 when the Winthrop Fleet arrived in Massachusetts, but my ancestors got off the boat anyway. New Amsterdam was geographically close, but my ancestors lived and worked there without having gone through those turnstyles and gates. One ancestral line arrived in New Orleans, traveling by boat to the frontier of Illinois, writing letters back to England about the opportunities that could be found here. Those folks from Massachusetts eventually came to Illinois by flatboat down the Ohio River. An entire North Carolina family braved Cumberland Gap, stopped in Tennessee, and came on to Illinois before statehood in 1818. 

Both my maternal and paternal lines, and most of their branches, were established in Illinois before 1840. That's 170 years of being neighborly, considering that 90 percent of them have lived within two or three adjoining counties. When I think of the convergence of these lines (and utter a slight giggle at the rather "close" convergence of a couple of them), I realize just how thankful I am that I need not go far from home to bring my ancestry to life. They're not new here. 

Perhaps that says something about how exciting my ancestors were. Perhaps that says something about the constitution of my ancestors, about their goals and dreams, and their strengths and weaknesses.  

Or perhaps, just perhaps, they knew I was coming. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...almost

The "original" sign at the "tiny cemetery". It's now in my garage. Honestly.

I'm jumping ahead a bit in my story, but think bulldozers, law enforcement, a rifle, and old original deeds. Oh, and also a commemorative plate. 

Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

And in honor of Tombstone Tuesday...The Tiny Cemetery and Me

The Tiny Cemetery

In yesterday's maiden post, I dropped a couple of hints at how I began my foray into genealogy. Any beginning genealogy course or book will tell you to first document what you already know, and then start talking to your family members about what they know. I didn't do this, as I really wasn't seeking any particular information, and really didn't know what genealogy was all about. Instead, I had a very random, yet serendipitous, conversation with my paternal grandfather one day that changed my life. 

We were talking about "the mayor", a man you will meet later on in the story who happens to have been my 2nd great-grandfather. Out of the blue, my grandfather said, "Well, you know there's that little cemetery outside of town, right?" Of course, I said no, I had no idea. Had I been photographed at that moment, I'm certain my jaw was resting on my chest. Shortly thereafter, my grandfather and I made the one-hour trip to Morgan County, Illinois, to see this cemetery he was talking about. 

I was in awe. 

Atop a small hill and alongside the road, a white painted fence protected 4 grave markers. A nicely-carved wooden sign commemorated the place, including the fact that one of the individuals buried therein was the first blacksmith in Morgan County. 

I went from marker to marker, taking photographs and just touching the stones. There before me was my 5th-great grandfather's burial place, alongside his wife. Next to them was their maiden daughter. And in the corner, a very large boulder with a plaque inscribed with a list of all of the burials in the cemetery that had been placed there by the Reeve Family Association. There was an association. A sign. A place. Family I had never known about until that moment. 

I'm taking all of this in, and my grandfather says to me, "Oh, the old farmhouse is just down this way if you wanna go look at it."  The old farmhouse. We had a farmhouse, for heaven's sake, and no one had ever mentioned it. 

I think I beat him back down the hill to the car, and we traveled the short distance down the road, and there it was. The old prairie-type saltbox-ish homestead wasn't in great shape, but I didn't really care because it was "there". Not just "there", but "still there". My grandfather then explained to me that my distant cousins owned the farm, and took care of the cemetery, and that I really should talk to them sometime because he was sure they had lots of information to share if I wanted it. 

Thus began my foray, my interest, and ultimately, my passion. I was to discover much about this paternal side of my family on the one hand, and yet, over the years, so very little that their origins became my first official "brickwall". As it turns out, they have become one of my favorite lines to research, as I have found out much that has brought them to life as people, not just dates and names and places. One of them was quite the character, another the mayor of a city, yet another a tireless midwife who made socks for the Union soldiers in the Civil War. You'll hear more about all of them later. 

Within a year, I had written letters, made phone calls, met relatives I never knew (living ones), and had a good grasp on what this genealogy stuff was all about.

And I was all of 19 years old. 

Next:  The cemetery's sordid past, fun at the courthouse, artifacts, photos, and early Internet genealogy...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jumping into the Bog...erm, Blog

Today, I make my first blog post. 

This is a blog about my 25+ years in the genealogy world. One might think I'd be famous by now, but I've been a sole searcher (pardon the pun) for that long, and have only learned really "how" to do quality research in the last decade. Where I used to write letters, I now send instant messages and emails and make posts and comments all over the Web. Yes, I'm an old-timer by some standards, but a n00b by many others. 

Here I hope to continue my work by sharing my thoughts and ideas with others as they journey through their own ancestral weeds. I mean trees. Okay, maybe we should call them horribly convoluted, twisted, vine-enshrined messes. But if they were all neat and tidy, we'd have no more to do, right? Yes, that's what I keep telling myself. Repeatedly. Often late at night when I should be sleeping but I'm staring at the computer screen. Or those times when I just "knew" this was the right country road to get to that old cemetery so-and-so had mentioned to me in a note 10 years ago. 

Do you remember why you started working on your family tree? What led you to spend hours researching Great-Great-Great Grandma Gert in the first place? 

For me, it started with a tiny cemetery, and began in earnest with a yellow school pencil box full of people I didn't know.