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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Many Layers of Genealogy

Okay, so I missed the Wednesday Wakeup last week. So here it is this week.

Since I've been reading and watching the genealogy blogs for the past year, I've noticed a lot of discussions and rants about the manner in which some of us research. We all know what that means: the name collecting, the lines without proof, the whole genealogies without sources, genealogies back to Adam, etc.

I know a lot of it is out there, and I bet some of us (me included) started out doing at least one of those terrible things I mentioned above. My intent here is not to rant again about those people. Why? Because I don't want to discourage them from genealogy and drive them out of our hobby/profession just because they don't have the "higher" standards that some of us have.

Let me digress for a minute.

Genealogy, as a profession and hobby, has many layers, like any profession/hobby.

First and foremost, you have the "professionals," those who make money off of genealogy in some way or another, and who set the standard for research. We all know the names of those people, we follow many of their blogs, listen to them at conferences or online, ask them for help or even hire them for our research.

Next you have the amateurs. They generally don't make money off of genealogy. They might have day jobs (and night jobs).  But they try to set the standards for their research at the level of the professionals. It doesn't necessarily mean they feel they are equals to the professionals (they can be), but more like they try to emulate the professionals. I myself, feel that I am in this group.

Lastly, you have the hobbyists. They may be the greatest in number of the groups and they are just as important to our advancement of genealogy as any other group. They may be name collectors, they may dabble a little bit, they may have a tree back to King Arthur, they may not source their work at all or not very well and they likely don't have the time, money or knowledge to get fully engaged in the hobby.

That's okay. Because you know why? I bet most of us started out in that group. We just realized we wanted more out of our hobby. So we set a higher standard for ourselves. And more importantly, a lot of my family information and documents and pictures come from people who fall in this group. Without them, I'd be deficient in my family history knowledge. So they may not have a proper source citation for great great grandpa's death....but they can show me the bible that has that date written in it. And they can show me the picture of him too.

My point here is, we don't want to discourage these people at all! That doesn't mean we can't have high standards for ourselves or for the hobby/profession. But we have to understand that a lot of people aren't going to share those high standards with us. We have to coexist and encourage them to take their interest to the next level, if they can. Otherwise if we berate them at every step, it won't be enjoyable, they won't feel welcomed and we just performed a disservice to our hobby or profession that we love.

Cheers and Happy Hunting

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Favorite Blog Post Feb 18-24 2013

This week, I really enjoyed the following blog post:

Bill Dollarhide's column on the Genealogy Blog website, The 1840 Federal Census: A New Look.

I always enjoy Bill's articles, as they are so detailed and always provide new information on a topic that I never knew and should know! Check it out and find out more about the 1840 census and what was provided on the forms.

For instance, and I'm ashamed to admit this as I didn't know this for a long time, the 1840 census has 2 pages to it. So when you are looking at a census image for that year, make sure to go to the next image. That image tells you about slaves in the household, industries people in the household are engaged in and other information. You might not find anything, but you never know.

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Confessions of a Genealogist

I must be feeling repentant due to it being Lent. So here is my confession to the genealogy community.

If you contacted me today and asked me for information about any of my families, ancestors, etc. I would not be able to provide you with anything updated, coherent, sourced or relevant to your request. There it is. I said it. I'm not proud of it. 

I am a voracious researcher. I love to research and sometimes can't stop myself. It's so much fun and it's so rewarding finding those records. But compiling all that information into a beautiful and complete genealogy? Well not so fun. It's not that it isn't rewarding to see the end product of your research and compilation, but it can be tedious to accomplish. I know there some of you out there who agree with least I hope I'm not the only one!  But it has come to a point where I just have no idea what information I have anymore and I need to get with the program.

So my goal this year was to start the laborious task of compiling everything I have into something organized and coherent. I purchased RootsMagic 6, which I am falling in love with. It has so many features buried into it that I know I haven't even scratched the surface yet. I spent some time earlier this winter watching some of the webinars they have on their website and learning the basic functions of the program. I have used Family Tree Maker before and to my credit I do have some genealogy entered into that program. But it is not sourced very well and certainly not updated.

The biggest task to overcome is providing complete and accurate source citations. I've been doing my best to source everything as completely as possible and provide a trail to every bit of information and proof of relationship that I have. Not an easy task, but I do have to say, it is kind of rewarding. But I have to watch myself, because I can get burned out on all entering and sourcing. Every once in a while, I take a detour and dive off into some great no holds barred research.

So far I've been slowly making my way through all the families in one of my great grandmother's genealogies: Hoard, Merritt, Champion, Brown, Hartsock and others. But for some time now, I've been "stuck" on the Champion family. Not only is there a brick wall trying to find the ancestors of Constant Champion, my 6th great grandfather, but the 1st and 2nd generations down from Constant are so interesting! Ministers and pastors, so many Civil War soldiers and the names these people used and passed down the generations! I'll get into the nitty gritty of this family in later blog posts and share some of my fun finds.

I hope everyone else is taking time to enter their information and provide accurate source citations. It won't always be fun, but you'll appreciate it some day. And many other people will appreciate it as well.

If you're in need of a genealogy program, RootsMagic is really nice. It can be customized in many ways and provides places for every kind of information and source citation you will ever need. It isn't easy to use at first, but it can start to grow on you. They have a free version called RootsMagic Essentials that doesn't include all of the features of the full version. So if you wanted to give it a try, that would be a good place to start.

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Friday, February 22, 2013

Success When You Least Expect It

It never ceases to amaze me how a little piece of information where I least expect it can lead to something much more important. In this case it led to my 3rd great grandmother's death certificate.

My great great grandfather, Lyman Henry Mapes, lived in Alma, Michigan from about 1865 to 1920. His mother, who was Emily Cohoon before she married Seth Mapes, was MIA after 1880. She had married Amasa Allen after Seth left her and Lyman not long after his birth in 1846. (That is a whole different story for another time!) I had followed Amasa and Emily through the 1880 census. But I was unable to locate her in the 1900 census, in the Michigan death records 1867-1897 at Familysearch, in the Michigan death records 1897-1920 at Seeking Michigan and pretty much anywhere else. Neither did my distant cousin, who had researched for years, locate her.

So maybe she is one of those lost people, you can never find? I'll have to admit, I did not do an exhaustive search. I would certainly have done that before ever giving up! But here is how I found her death record completely by chance:

I had a 2 week trial subscription to Genealogy Bank. They have a pretty good digitized newspaper collection, so you should check out if they have any newspapers for your areas of interest. They do not have anything for Gratiot County Michigan, where Alma is located. However....they do have some early Saginaw Michigan newspapers digitized. Saginaw is about 30 miles east of Alma.

Well, to get the most out of my free subscription at Genealogy Bank, I started searching all of my Gratiot families in the Saginaw newspapers. I soon realized that they had an Alma column for news from that area. I then came across this little gem:

In the May 4, 1900 Saginaw Evening News, reported in the Alma column from May 3, 1900

L.H. Mapes returned from Wayne Monday night where he went the latter part of last week to attend the death bed of his mother, who died on Saturday.


So I knew from the newspaper that May 4 (the day it was published) was Friday. The Saturday before would therefore be April 28, 1900. That would be when Emily Cohoon Mapes Allen died.

Of course this isn't proof. But it was pretty good at the time. From there I went to Seeking Michigan to search the death records, where deaths in the year 1900 would be found. They don't have a terrific search, no soundex or anything, so once again, I didn't find her. I resorted to searching for "Allen" in Last Name and  "Wayne County" in county of death. That brought up 319 results. So I narrowed it down and added another search term, year of death "1900."

Jackpot again!

Allen Emley 1900 Wayne

So the name was indexed as "Emley," but that is also how it looks on her death certificate. You can see it here. Died April 28, 1900. The informant was L.H. Mapes of Alma, Michigan.

Golden. Now I just need to order an obituary.

What is the take away from this research story? You can find what you are looking for in places you never thought to look and at times you weren't even considering it. So keep your eyes open to all possibilities. And as for my lack of exhaustive research on Emily's death....well....let me make the excuse that I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. But I will be more careful in the future.

Happy Hunting

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Favorite Blog Post Of The Week

If you haven't checked out The Legal Genealogist, you should.  Judy G. Russell really drives down on a problem or subject and opens up a whole new understanding on an issue.  This week she had a post that detailed a wise choice a woman made in 1900 in Pennsylvania after her husband died. Should she take what her husband left her in his will or invoke her right to dower in his estate? Read Philippina's Choice and you'll find out about this interesting situation.

Incidentally, Judy helped me out with a problem recently, that just goes to show you how much more to something there is when you get into the history behind a puzzling situation. Read The Week-Long Warrior and find out about a little known invasion of Indiana and Ohio by Confederates during the Civil War.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

New Digital Genealogy Magazine

The In-Depth Genealogist has a new digital magazine chock full of great stories and advice for genealogists at their website. The new publication is called "Going In-Depth."  It's free, 73 pages long (!) and you will certainly enjoy it as I did. Go on over to the In-Depth Genealogist blog and check it out and support them in their new endeavor.

Friday, February 15, 2013

FamilySearch Photoduplication Service Revised

Well it appears that the new and "free," photoduplication service from Familysearch has been popular. They've revised their rules a bit to accommodate what I would think is a deluge of requests for this service.

I'm pretty sure the following sentence was not on the page originally:

"If you have a local Family History Center to utilize, please do so before using this service as we do not have the staff to accommodate all requests!  Thank you."

And I know for a fact that the following has been changed:


Before, it was 5 documents per request per week. Apparently, they underestimated how popular this service would be. 

I haven't requested anything as of yet, but will soon. Anybody else request documents and get a response?

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Wakeup - Are Your Memories Real?

I'm going to start a column called Wednesday Wakeup...although, at this point today, it could be called Wednesday Wind Down....But regardless, I'm going to be throwing out some interesting ideas that will make  you rethink your family history.

An interesting article published last year in Wired Magazine, confronts our misconceptions about memory. This lengthy article's real purpose is to propose means by which people may be able to rid themselves of painful memories in the future. This in itself would be a debatable prospect. While painful memories hurt, I believe they create who we are and generally strengthen us. However, in certain circumstances of course, painful memories do haunt and torture people. I can understand the attempt to get rid of those kind of memories.

More importantly, however, the article describes how scientists are coming to understand the nature of memory and how it changes over time. The implications of this new understanding of memory can certainly impact what we think about all those family stories and memories we hear from our relatives.

I won't go into the heavy biological science of this article, but the process of creating and remembering a memory is biological activity in the brain. Scientists found a way to block protein synthesis in the brains of rats, and when they should have remembered something that harmed them, they didn't. It is this biological process which creates and recreates our memories.

So here's the catch, the scientists believe that every time we remember something - say a birthday party, a big vacation or a traumatic event, like a death in the family - we aren't just pulling those memories up from our stored memory exactly as they happened, or even exactly as we remembered them. Our brain erases that memory and then records it again. But in the second, third, fourth or fiftieth recording, we are gradually changing that memory. For instance, say we remember the death of a loved one. But in experiencing that death when it happened versus remembering it years later after the trauma has faded away, we may record different aspects of that memory, and even different emotions associated with that memory.

The scientists in charge of these studies indicate that surveys done of people who experienced first hand the 9/11 tragedy, showed how their stories decayed over time to a point where some people even put themselves in different places when the tragedy occurred. This was all without their knowing they were doing this.

So what's important about this article? Can you even trust anybody's memory at some point? That's hard to say. I always believe that some kernel of truth lies in family stories, but depending on how long ago those stories occurred, that kernel might be very small. Just imagine  how much change has occurred in a story passed down 2 ,3 or more generations, with every person innocently modifying it every time they replayed that memory in their head.

For me, I'm going to continue to enjoy family stories, I think they add depth and fun to family history. But it makes one wonder if it shouldn't be classified as historical fiction?

I'll leave you with an ominous quote from the story:

"In the very near future, the act of remembering will become a choice."

"The Forgetting Pill Erases Painful Memories Forever," Jonah Lehrer; Wired Magazine, Feb 12, 2012, online at:

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mapes

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Well, I've finally taken the plunge and I'm writing my first blog post, even though I technically created this blog months ago. Better late than never, right? I guess listening to Lisa Louise Cooke's podcast has finally rubbed off on me. Thanks Lisa for always encouraging everyone to put themselves out there and test the blogging waters!

So let's start off with an introduction: My name is Matt Mapes and I'm addicted to genealogy. It's not a bad addiction, at least not most of the time. But when I don't get enough sleep because I'm lying awake at night thinking about all the information and documents I don't have, or if I tend to neglect my family a little too much, I suppose my passion for genealogy can be a bit destructive.

I've been researching my genealogy for a good 20 years, since about the time I was in high school. Yes, I was so cool when I was in high school. But I am certainly glad I started early. If I hadn't, I would not have had my maternal grandmother, or a number of other older relatives to guide me and help me understand my family before they joined all the others who have gone into history.

I'm not promising much for this blog. My life is a bit busy, with two kids, a wife, a house and we both have full time jobs (and my wife is also going to graduate school). But I'm going to offer some unique perspectives on genealogy and our ancestors and I'll throw out some family information along the way in hopes of finding some new cousins.

Sign up, comment, email me and enjoy!

Happy hunting...