GenSmarts: Reminder to Not Assume

GenSmarts: Reminder to Not Assume

In a recent article on using Gensmarts to research a research facility more effectively, I began to look at GenSmarts Genealogy Software differently.

Part of my goal in researching my genealogy, and that of others, is to tell the story of these people. They aren’t just a bunch of names, dates, and places. They are people. People who lived vibrant lives. They didn’t just make children, and some of them didn’t. They contributed to society, be it as ditch diggers, cattle ranchers, farmers, truck drivers, politicians, religious leaders, or home makers. We wouldn’t be where we are without them, good and bad.

One of the features of GenSmarts is to guess where and what an ancestor might have done. These are labeled GSEST or GenSmarts Estimates.

This opened my mind to new possibilities.

While researching Walter E. West and Lula Bell Pinder attempting to find the conception and true birthplace of my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr., GenSmarts recommended some locations for events such as their marriage, Howard’s birthplace, and immigration records for Canada. Continue reading

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Gensmarts Saves Your Family History Research Life

GenSmarts - logo.Recently in Salt Lake City for RootsTech, I had only two days to explore and research my genealogy at the Family History Library.

Imagine a major city library and you have the Family History Library – physically. What you may not realize is that connected through their vast index files, microfilm, microfilche, and computer databases are records stored in a giant “cave” inside of a mountain as well as other buildings and parts of the Family History Library building not often accessed by the public. Okay, it is, in a word, VAST.

I didn’t have time to play, to wander around and figure it out as I went. I needed to jump in and use every minute, no breaks for food, to find every millimeter of information I could, and possibly break through some serious brick walls.

To prepare myself, I hooked into GenSmarts Genealogy Software through the integration with RootsMagic. I’ve been using GenSmarts for years but as of 2013, it is better than ever, and worth every penny of it’s $25 USD. I saved hours with this program, saved days, weeks, months with this program.

While the interface is a little 1999, it works brilliantly in Windows 10. Sorry, Mac users, though try with an emulator on the trial version.

The goal of GenSmarts is to make you reseach smarter and more efficient. The software program indexes your genealogy program file (RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, Brother’s Keeper, and many others) and generates a list of suggestions for your research. Continue reading

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Digging Through Historical Newspapers Online

As my research into the mysteries in and around the conception and birth of Howard W. West Sr., and confirmation of his parents, Walter Ellsworth West and Lula Bell Pinder, I’ve recently discovered that all of the major players, save Lula, came together in Perry, Michigan.

Pinder, West, Metcalf Family Google Map of Perry and Adrian Michigan.

I’ve exhausted the vital statistics for most of the parties involved in Perry, Michigan. Now it is time to find how they came together and connected within their community. It’s time to hit the newspapers.

Finding which newspapers were active during the 1880-1910 years in Perry, Michigan, was a little more challenging than a search engine search. I could only find current papers, and not all clearly stated where their archives were and how far back they went.

First stop was Data Visualization: Journalism’s Voyage West of the Standford Rural West Initiative, an Adobe Flash-powered map that traces the history and expansion of newspapers across the United States from 1690-2011. While not the most comprehensive listing, it gives the researcher some starting points. It also allows filtering of the publications by language and publishing frequency, allowing the user to restrict the results to a specific language or type of news media such as weeklies or dailies.

Stanford Rural West Initiative Growth of Newspapers Interactive Map - Adrian Michigan.

The circles on the map cover the estimated subscription and local news coverage area. The map lacks city names or geographic identifiers unless the user hovers over one of the bubbles, so you must know the general area you are researching.

I started with 1890 in Adrian, Michigan, where Perry Saville West and his wife and children lived before moving to Perry, Michigan. I thought there might be a mention of their move or why they moved from their long-time family farms and Quaker community north near Lansing.

A click on Adrian, Michigan, for 1890 turns up four newspapers: The Adrian Daily Times, Michigan Messanger, The Weekly Press, Blissfield Advance, The Petersburgh Sun, The Tecumseh News, The Tecumseh Herald, Dundee Reporter, Monroe Commercial, The Monroe Democrate, The Monroe Record, and Adrian Weekly Times and Expositor. Each of these ranged through the time period when I had family there.

A shift to 1900 and move to Lansing, Michigan, and around the east side of Lansing to include Perry and Fowlerville communities, I found The Lansing Journal, The State Republican, The Beacon, The Lansing, The Perry Journal, The Livingston Democrate, The Livingston Hearld, and Livingston Republic, not to mention all the newspapers in and around Detroit, not that far away, and part of the story of Walter and Lula.

Instead of finding nothing, I now have over a dozen newspapers to research through.

Click on the newspaper details at the bottom of the map and the link forces open a new tab to a wiki-style information page about the newspaper from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project. I started with the Blissfield Advanced, published in 1874 and continues today. It is a weekly paper in English and covers Blishfield Michigan and Lenawee County, long-time home of my West family ancestors.

Below the title is a list of the “Libraries That Have It.” It was fascinating to see that the historical archives are not kept in Michigan but found in the Boston Public Library in Boston, Massachusetts, The American Antiquiarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the Chicago Historial Society Library in Chicago, Illinois. And I thought I’d have to make a try back to Michigan to access the newspapers.

I started with the Chicago Historical Society, which is now the Chicago History Museum. They do not have the newspapers digitized, and the range of newspapers dates is unclear as it is called “Kellogg Vol. 1, #142.” It does, however, include the Raisin River Advocate, a newspaper not on my list likely covering Raisin, Michigan, the West family farmland area.

The American Antiquarian Society Newspaper Collection is vast, covering newspapers from across the United States. According to the description:

The American Antiquarian Society is this nation’s chief repository for early American newspapers, and a significant portion of research done at the Society draws upon the Society’s collection. The primary goal for the collection is to acquire, preserve, and make available for research newspapers published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies. To this end, the Society adds, through gift and purchase, an average of 15,000 issues a year to its holdings. Building on Isaiah Thomas’s gift in 1812 of 382 titles in 551 volumes, the Society has accumulated over 18,000 newspaper titles. Today, AAS has more than two million issues on five miles of shelving.

A partnership with Readex is a huge digitization project and some of their collection maybe found through Newsbank, available only through specific local libraries.

Another interactive newspaper map is Newspaper Map. This ties into Google Maps with all the Google Maps features including geographic landmarks, highways, etc. Newspaper Map maybe filtered by language, newspaper name, and location.

I found this map not as helpful as I couldn’t determine the time period, and it shows the printing office location not the coverage area, which may or may not be the same. In and around Perry, Michigan, I found Williamston Enterprise, State News, Towne Courier, Lansing State Journal, Livingston Daily, and Argus Press in Owosso, Michigan. Down near Adrian, Palmyra, Blissfield, and Raisin, Michigan areas in the south, I found the Daily Telegram in Adrian and not much else. Still, for currently active newspapers, this could be helpful.

Let’s see where this research leads.

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RootsMagic and Ancestry: Perfect Marriage

I was thrilled to get the news in my RootsMagic genealogy software program that RootsMagic has partnered with Ancestry to finally connect with their API. What does this mean? Oh, get excited.

Currently, RootsMagic connects with two APIs, MyHeritage and FamilySearch. With the FamilySearch API, RootsMagic links with the FamilySearch site and database connect ancestors. Make changes through the FamilySearch interface of RootsMagic and you can quickly and fairly easily update your FamilySearch tree and history data. While there is definitely room for improvement, such as linking sources with matched data instead of forcing the user to reconnect the source dots after linking the data, causing more errors and mismatched sources in RootsMagic than there should be, this connection opens up a vast range of data from other FamilySearch members and research.

RootsMagic taps into the MyHeritage API to bring hints only, as it does with FamilySearch data. The information must be added manually, but it does help you easily find those wonderful hints.

The news is new and there isn’t an update available yet for this new partnership with Ancestry, but expect something soon. Ancestry has been protective and cautious about their API and it is well past time when they needed to see the big picture and link beyond their gates.

This comes not long after the announcement of Ancestry going on the auction block in May 2015. Permira Advisers LLD bought it in 2012 and last year’s subscriptions grew to $553.8 million in 2014 over $334.6 million in 2012, and Permira issued a $215 million special dividend from Ancestry in August, indicating that the service is still viable and in demand. According to general news, Ancestry is still on the auction block with Permira currently owning 50%, but there is little concrete news.

The sale of Ancestry made many nervous, even more so when Ancestry announced last month that they were terminating their Family Tree Maker software, recommending RootsMagic as an alternative, and RootsMagic jumped to provide Family Tree Maker (FTM) users step-by-step help to get on board their program with a special discount for FTM users.

Today it was announced that The Software MacKiev Company has bought the popular Family Tree Maker program. With FTM staying on the market with fresh new developers, the competition could benefit genealogy and family historians as these two leaders in the field battle it out in the genealogy research industry.

Personally and professionally, while I was nervous about Ancestry’s auction, the demand for genealogical and family history research is higher than ever. Ancestry has a vast investment in data, valuable data, and they are buying and digitizing more and more every minute of every day, adding to the wealth of historical information for genealogists and family historians.

After switching from The Master Genealogist to RootsMagic over a year ago, I’ve found it easier than ever to do my research from the comfort of my desktop computer. This doesn’t mean I won’t be on the ground digging through papers and maps stuck in dusty file cabinets in the back of old crumbling city office buildings somewhere in the world, but it does make the process of uncovering the basics much easier, and my tree is growing daily. With the inclusion of Ancestry, and hopefully MyHeritage and other genealogy services expanding their APIs, it could be an exiting next few years!

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Choosing Between RootsMagic and Personal Historian

When the news came that The Master Genealogist was being discontinued, I waited with the rest of the fans of one of the world’s best genealogy research and tracking programs to see what would happen. While there is noise of an open source version and suggestions that it be purchased or taken over by others, I haven’t found any compelling activity. I have to continue with my genealogy research, so I did a ton of genealogy software research and narrowed my choices to two:

Both have won plenty of awards and honors, some years top notch, others down a few pegs but bouncing back up over many years. I wanted a program with history itself, longevity, and a community base of fans and support.

Years ago, my father didn’t realize I was using TMG and bought me the full Legacy Family Tree package with like a dozen CDs, books, and all packed into a big hard case. I experimented with it and others, but kept coming back to TMG. I say this because I’m familiar with several different programs, but TMG won hands down. Finding something that compared to its power with even more features was the goal.

What finally pushed me over the edge were the following things that might help you with your decision.

Easy Importing from TMG

While both now have import tools for The Master Genealogist (TMG), RootsMagic went out of their way with step-by-step instructions (PDF) including highlighting the downsides and problems with importing, and how to prepare TMG for export to RootsMagic.

This saved me a ton of work and worry.

What was more amazing is that RootsMagic offers the ability to search your hard drives for TMG project files. With all the hard drive crashes, massive backups, and other computer woes over the many years of genealogy research with TMG, it found over 47 files, mostly duplicates, helping me to find all the missing pieces of my family history research. I copied them all into a single folder for processing and management, cleaning up my hard drive at the same time. I did a single zipped backup to the cloud and another to a portable backup drive, and felt better about protecting the old research while working on the new. Continue reading

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Sharon Knapp Lee 1944-2014

It is with great sadness that I share the news of the death of my dear cousin, Sharon Knapp Lee. The following is her obituary from the Skagit Valley Herald.

Sharon Mae Lee of Mount Vernon, born, Sharon Mae Knapp, March 6, 1944, died peacefully on September 12, 2014 of acute leukemia. Her son, Dr. Kelly McCullough, was instrumental in coordinating the care she received from her doctors during this illness. Her beloved husband, Don Lee, was with her constantly throughout her struggle and was holding her as she passed.

Sharon was the only child of Wayne P. and Letha Myrtle Knapp. She grew up in Seattle, attended Franklin High School, and taught first grade after graduating from Seattle Pacific College. It was at SPC where she met her first husband, Robert J. McCullough, with whom she had, and raised, her three children, Mary E. Kudenchuk (Peter), Kelly D. McCullough (Kristin), and Robert W. McCullough (Michelle Arab).

Sharon met Don in 1997. They made their home in Shelter Bay on Swinomish Channel. Sharon loved their waterfront beach property, a great place for gardening and entertaining the grandkids. They moved to Mount Vernon in 2012.

Sharon was born to nurture, and one of her great contributions was caring for the children of others through her daycare in Woodinville, WA. She loved reading and always had great book recommendations. She was masterful in the kitchen, making meals seem effortless. Flower gardening and her pets gave her much joy. She especially treasured her five grandchildren, Elizabeth H. Kudenchuk, David A. Kudenchuk, Ava G. McCullough, Ronan R. McCullough, and Oscar M. McCullough. She loved her cousin Ramona Fletcher and her dear friend Delwin Rimbey.

Sharon’s faith in Jesus Christ gave her a secure future. We grieve her passing and profoundly miss her. She will always be a part of the fabric of our lives. We wish to thank Puget Sound Blood Center for making these past months possible.

Donations in her memory can be made to Puget Sound Blood Center.

Published in Skagit Valley Herald Publishing Company on Sept. 16, 2014

Legacy Obituaries

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When Family Gets in the Way of Family History

Family gets in the way, even for a family history researcher.

Recent family events have taken the heart out of my family history blogging efforts, and I’m slowly struggling to put the emotional aspects of living family aside and get concentrated back on blogging about my dead family.

Family interferes by protecting or preventing access to family history in many ways. We dig and dig, but road blocks from the living prevents us from learning more about the other living and recently deceased for reasons often not provided.

Uncooperative family is also a road block. While they want to help, they just don’t see the value nor interest in what you are doing, dragging you down with them. Honestly, why bother?

Family gets in the way by providing too much information sometimes, though I’ve found this is rare among many researchers. Their enthusiasm distracts as well as overwhelms, consuming more time and information processing than you may have originally anticipated.

For the most part, some family members are very cooperative and supportive. Others are completely disinterested.

How do you handle it when the struggle to document your family’s history is more work that its worth?

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Library of Congress Railroad Maps Collection

The Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, has put together the Railroad Maps Collection, an amazing collection of more than 600 maps of railroads across the United States.

Compiled by Andrew M. Modelski in 1975, these maps go back through history to showcase the growth of rail travel and settlement across the country, as well as the development of industry and agriculture.

My family on all sides were influenced by the rail lines, traveling by rail for work, travel, migration, and business. On my maternal side, my grandparents’ families united in Taylor Rapids, Wisconsin, the end of a rail line that served the logging industry, hauling fresh cut logs out to the rest of Wisconsin and the world for use in buildings and paper products. One of my family members in the DesRochers family just retired from the railroad system in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, carrying on the family railroad tradition of ties to the rails.

Here are some other historical map collections worth investigating in the United States.

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Flickr and Library of Congress Open Archives

Kevin’s Meandering Mind reported om 2008 that the US Library of Congress has joined with Flickr to put thousands of photos from its archives up on Flickr for viewing and use by us, the people. And oh, how lucky we the people are!

I may jest, but it’s been a few years since Flickr started hosting the images and I wanted to take a look at how many had been added since then. The quantity and quality is impressive.

The Flickr stream is identified as Library of Congress and feature images of people throughout history, going back through wars, lifestyles, all of American and world history.

I look through the faces of “unidentified soldiers” and wonder if one or more of these is related directly to me, their images preserved forever but their identity not.

[Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with bayoneted musket, knife, revolver, canteen, and knapsack]  (LOC)[Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with three unidentified women in bonnets and one unidentified man]  (LOC)

Were any of my female (or male) family members in the protests for women’s right and suffrage?

[Hedwig Reicher as Columbia] in Suffrage Pageant  (LOC)

My family history is full of soldiers, loggers, nation-builders, and nation-destroyers. We’ve got them all in my family tree, so I wonder if a family member was a part of this war-time destruction of a bridge in a stereoscope image.

Destruction of a railroad bridge (LOC)

I know that many family members joined up in Michigan to fight in World War I, so maybe they passed through Camp Custer in Michigan, captured with this unusual panoramic portrait with the camera elevated 500 feet into the air. I’d like to see the picture of the camera setup!

Camp Custer, Michigan, photographed from kites, camera elevated 500 feet (LOC)

Who knows what you may find as you dig through the sets on Flickr. It’s a wonderful visual tour through history, especially our own history.

I look forward to more images being added to the set as I know the Library of Congress must have millions of photographs to share with the world.

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Howard W. West Sr. Timeline

Howard William West Sr as a cadet circa 1925 - Bremerton, Washington - from family. From Howard W. West Sr. Photo Album.I’ve had some challenges researching long lost relatives, but the mysteries and myths in and around my grandfather, Howard W. West Sr., continue to amaze as I dig through his history. The following is what I have at the time this was published. I will edit it and update it as I uncover more information.

Updated: April 2015 In April 2015, I was cleaning up the papers inherited from my father and found the Service Record log book of Howard W. West Sr. with all of the vessel discharge papers charting most of the course of his naval career in the 1920s and 30s. The information dated journeys to the Orient, as they called it. This will help to date the photographs from his photo albums and gives us more of a picture of his early years and adventures.

Biography about Howard William West (senior) from interview by Lorelle VanFossen with father, Howard William West (Jr.), March 12, 2006, Mobile, Alabama. The biography includes notes from the Farlin-West Family Bible, the David West Descendants family tree, and family stories gathered over time.

  • Louella Pinder Parret and son Howard W. West Sr. From photo album of Howard W. West Sr.Howard William West (senior) was born circa September 29, 1905 in Michigan or Canada. Died June 1968, Bridgeport, Washington. Mother, Louella Pinder (?-c1930). Father, Walter E. West (1881-1965).
  • Howard traveled with mother and/or father to Portland, Oregon, area. Walter worked in the camps. Possibly faked marriage to Pinder, so is considered illegitimate by family history stories.
  • Howard W. West as a child in Portland, Oregon, circa 1907 - from Howard W. West Photo Album.Circa 1909, he was abandoned by mother (Louella Brunner Pinder) and taken with half-sister, Carmen (of Pinder and Clyde Moorhouse), to Catholic Convent Orphanage in Portland, Oregon. Records from Rescued by father circa 1919, at age 14. Howard could not read or write.
  • Circa 1919, Howard ran away from home in California and lied about his age and joined the Marines (according to family stories). Traveled the world including crossing the Panama Canal and traveling to Japan, Philippines, and other nearby areas. He was on the USS Arizona 1924-1925. He learned to read and write from his shipmates. He joined the Merchant Marines or Merchant Service which eventually became the Coast Guard in 1939.

    From Howard W. West Sr.Photo Album. Believed to be USS Arizona c1924.

  • Married Faye Vaughn March 31, 1925, in California.
  • From the Service Record log book, Howard spends much of each year away from home. He served on the SS West Cayote, SS Oregon, SS Ryder Hanify, SS San Angelo, SS Admiral Farragut, SS Kentucky, SS Oakridge, SS West Nixton, and other vessels traveling mostly in the San Francisco to Portland Pacific coast waters, though some of the voyages took him to “The Orient,” “Transpacific,” and “foreign” lands and waters. His job on the ships was as an oiler, wiper, or fireman, positions considered entry-level marine and described by the Coastal Vitality Project – “Guide to Basic Licenses and Endorsements in the US Maritimes” as “the most junior crew member in the engine room of a ship. Their role consists of cleaning the engine spaces and machinery, and assisting the engineers as directed.”
  • Howard W. West Sr. on ship in tank top and sailor uniform pants and cap, circa 1924.Daughter, Reta June West, born July 4, 1928, in southern California (Long Beach?).
  • Coast Guard duty (Light House Service) moved him to the Pacific Northwest Coast where he manned light houses in Friday Harbor, Washington.
  • In September 1931, we have record of a certification for smallpox vaccination in the Philippine Islands.
  • Son, Howard William West, born April 20, 1937, Everett, Washington.
  • The West family lived at Sholtes, Washington. He was on a light ship, the Swift Shore Light Ship, with six weeks on the ship and three weeks off home. He lived next door to Madge (Smathers) McClure, his step-sister.
  • Circa 1939, the West family moved to Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island, to supervise the lighthouse.
  • In 1945, the moved family to The Dalles, Oregon, where Howard tended the river lights (aids to navigation), in the Coast Guard Ship, the Lollipop (possibly nickname). This is the only evidence we have from a story by my father that the family lived in The Dalles, but it makes sense as Reta June married and raised her children there. Currently seeking military reports to support this information.
  • Circa 1947/48 transferred to Seattle to the ship, Watusis (Watchusus?), Destroyer Escort Class. Left family behind in The Dalles, Oregon.
  • Wife, Faye Vaughn, died 1949 of heart attack, possibility of also compilations from obesity and diabetes. She was sick for at least one year before her death, and spent a lot of time in the Marine Hospital in Seattle, where she died. Death certificate credits death as Bilateral Massive Pulmonary Embolism, a complication of obesity and heart disease. Son believes they forced her to lose weight too fast, which put tremendous pressure on her heart, strained by polio as a child and too many years extremely obese. Body was buried in The Dalles, Oregon.
  • Howard Sr. returned to duty in Seattle immediately, leaving son, Howard, with sister, June, and her new husband and baby, Rochelle.
  • Met and married Ana Mae Larmar of Ritzville, Washington, in October 1949.
  • In 1952, after three years of marriage to his new wife, returned for Howard Jr. and brought him to Seattle, Washington, where they lived on Valley Street, on Queen Anne Hill.
  • Howard W. West Sr in Coast Guard Uniform outside Friday Harbor Lighthouse, Washington State.In 1952, the family moved to Illwaco, Washington, to man the Northhead Lighthouse. Howard Sr. suffered several heart attacks, and the family moved back to Seattle, setting up home at the base of Queen Anne Hill, at one block off Mercer on First Avenue West (second house in from Mercer – a Safeway Grocery Store sits there now). Howard Sr. worked for Boeing for a short time and then applied for the Core of Engineers, and moved to Camp Hayden in Port Angeles, Washington, and then was moved to Hudson Point, Port Townsend, Washington, then moved to Whidbey Island, Washington, on various jobs. Ana Mae and Howard Jr stayed in Seattle so the teenager could complete his high school education.
  • Unemployment documents find him in Port Angeles, Washington, in 1956-1957.
  • March 23, 1962, Howard Sr. and Anna Mae moved to Chief Joseph Dam, Bridgeport, Washington, where he worked as a guard. The date is remembered because his grandson through Howard Jr. was born on that date and they didn’t stop in to welcome the new member to the family as they passed through on their way to Eastern Washington. Howard Jr. had gotten special permission from the military hospital to permit his father to visit the newborn, and he was a no show.
  • Most summers until Howard Sr’s death, Howard Jr and his family would travel to Bridgeport to visit Howard Sr. and Anna Mae in their mobile home in the desert, surrounded by cherry, plum and other fruit trees.

Continue reading

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