Tuesday, December 29, 2015

D.I.R.T. Plans for 2016

We are preparing to put together a syllabus for 2016 and would like some input from all of you. If each of you could answer a few questions, it would help us plan ahead. We want D.I.R.T. to be useful to all of us in as many ways as it can.

Before our next meeting (13 January 2016), take a few minutes and let us know:
  • Why are you participating in D.I.R.T. and what do you hope to get out of your involvement with the group? Don’t be shy. If you are just starting out and need great big gobs of one-on-one help, let us know. If you are struggling with brick walls, we want to hear about it. If you are disorganized, lost and need help - that’s okay, too. We won’t judge. We’ve been there ourselves. Some people who started attending meetings have stopped coming. Was it because the group wasn’t what you thought it would be? Why? 
  • What type of educational presentations, speakers, field trips, etc. would you find helpful/interesting in the coming year? We have talked about finding someone to talk to us about DNA and family history. We are hoping to organize a day-trip to visit the Carolina Room at the downtown Charleston Library and the Family History Library in West Ashley. We are looking into the possibility of a research trip to Washington, D.C. in the fall. We can put together or find educational resources on just about every aspect of family history research. But we need to know what you need to know.
  • What information, expertise, research experience, organizational skills, etc. do you have that you can share with the group? If you have a talent to share, information you think the group would benefit from, or expertise in an aspect of family history research that would be interesting and informative, we would love to hear about it. Would any of you like to put together a presentation? Maybe you would be willing to work one-on-one to help someone who is just getting started. 
Your input will help us create a plan that includes the things that will make the group better for all of us. We want to know where we need to concentrate our efforts and how to organize the group to best suit the needs of everyone - and be flexible going forward. We can only do so much in four hours a month - let’s work together to make it the best four hours of the month!

Please send us an email at diggingtogether@yahoo.com with your input and we will share the results at our next meeting.

Many thanks! We are looking forward to a fun, informative and productive 2016.

Linda and Denise

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A little something from the Globe and Mail that will appeal to the genealogist in all of us.

In a New York apartment, gifts laid out for wish lists Santa missed a century ago

NEW YORK — The New York Times News Service
Published Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 4:41PM EST

Last week, Peter Mattaliano, 66, an acting coach and screenwriter, put up Christmas decorations in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment and laid out presents for the children: Mary and Alfred.

These are not Mattaliano’s children, and they are no longer living.

Yet he has honoured Mary and Alfred every December for the past 15 years, ever since he learned of their existence after moving into his Manhattan home and renovating the fireplace, which had been sealed with brick for more than 60 years.

“My brother does construction, and I had him open up the fireplace,” he said. “We were joking that we might find Al Capone’s money. Then my brother yelled to me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’”

In the rubble and dust, Mattaliano’s brother found a delicate piece of paper with faint children’s scrawl bearing a request to Santa from a century earlier.

“I want a drum and a hook and ladder with an extentionisting ladder on it,” read the letter. It was dated 1905 and signed “Alfred McGann,” who included the building’s address.

There was another item in the rubble: a small envelope addressed to Santa in “Raindeerland.” Inside was a second letter, this one dated 1907 and written by Alfred’s older sister, Mary, who had drawn a reindeer stamp as postage.

“The letters were written in this room, and for 100 years, they were just sitting there, waiting,” said Mattaliano.

He learned through online genealogical research that the siblings were the children of Patrick and Esther McGann, Irish immigrants who married in 1896. Mary was born in 1897 and Alfred in 1900.

The family lived at 447 West 50th Street, where Mattaliano now lives in a fourth-floor apartment filled with books on acting and mementos from his days as a fast-pitch knuckleballer in Central Park softball leagues.

Patrick McGann died in 1904, so that by the time the children wrote the letters and left them in the chimney, they were fatherless and were being raised by Esther McGann, a dressmaker.

Mary’s letter is as poignant as Alfred’s is endearing.

“Dear Santa Claus: I am very glad that you are coming around tonight,” it reads, the paper partially charred. “My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to bring him whatever you think best. Please bring me something nice what you think best.”

She signed it Mary McGann and added, “P.S. Please do not forget the poor.”

Mattaliano, who has read the letter countless times, still shakes his head at the implied poverty, the stoicism and the selflessness of the last line, all from a girl who requests a wagon for her brother first and nothing specific for herself.

“This is a family that couldn’t afford a wagon, and she’s writing, ‘Don’t forget the poor,’ ” he said. “That just shot an arrow through me. What did she think poor was?”

Then there was his amazement that the letters had survived at all, perhaps avoiding incineration by being tucked on a ledge or in a crevice in the chimney.

“I have no idea how that paper made it,” Mattaliano said.

The letters have become “my most treasured possessions,” said Mattaliano, who had them framed and displays them year-round above the mantel of the fireplace where they had been discovered.

This month they are joined by a few vintage tree ornaments, glass bulbs from his own childhood Christmases, along with a dump truck, a miniature wagon and a doll. “I wanted them to have a Christmas present, even if it was 100 years too late,” he said.

The story is well known among his friends, neighbours, acting students and the regulars at a longstanding Friday night poker game.

“I’m the new guy in the group, and I’ve been there since the late ’80s,” said Mattaliano, whose roster of actors he has coached includes Jill Clayburgh and Matthew Morrison, who played Will in the television series “Glee.”

For Mattaliano, the letters summoned a link to his years growing up in an apartment in Jersey City. He would leave letters to Santa under the tree on Christmas Eve.

When Mattaliano was 12, his father, who was 47, died of cancer just before Christmas, leaving his mother, Margaret Costello, to raise him and his three younger brothers on her own.

“So we had a few rough years,” he said. “For the next couple years, our Christmases were a little lean.”

Mattaliano, who has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 36 years, saw the children’s letters as a testament to the immigrant struggle in New York and to the neighbourhood when it was poor and Irish.

“I’m sharing their space,” he said, adding that he adopted the spirits of these children, frozen in pre-Christmas longing. Their spirits remain in the apartment, he believes, forever young, in something of a Hell’s Kitchen snow globe.

He has written a movie script based on the letters, titled “Present From the Past.” It is fictionalized, but includes the letters quoted word for word and the children depicted as spirits in the apartment.

Mattaliano said he had attracted the interest of investors and hoped to start working on the film by the spring, using Broadway actors and shooting outdoors in Hell’s Kitchen and indoors on a set that replicates his apartment.

But even after he had written the script, he knew almost nothing about Alfred or Mary. He wanted to know more, and he wanted to give the letters to their family.

He began looking on genealogy websites and found a 1905 New York state census that had basic information about the family. With the help of a reporter and a researcher from The New York Times, he found out more, including the poignant element of the father’s death.

By 1920, Mary, Alfred and their mother had moved up to West 76th Street. As young adults, Mary worked as a stenographer and Alfred as a printer. By 1930, Mary had married the similarly named George McGahan and moved to the Bronx, and later to Queens. Her brother also married.

But, so far, Mattaliano has not found any living blood relative. Neither sibling appeared to have children and both apparently died in Queens; Mary in 1979, at 82, three years after her husband. She is buried in Flushing. Alfred’s burial location is unclear, perhaps because his birth name was John Alfonse McGann. He seems to have died childless in 1965 in Queens. His wife, Mae, died in 1991.

Mattaliano met with Bruce Abrams, a volunteer at the Division of Old Records in the Surrogate’s Court in Lower Manhattan, and saw documented proof of the 1904 death of the children’s father.

“So their mother became the breadwinner — that’s why they couldn’t afford a wagon,” he said. “She was a widow at 35 with two kids.”

On a recent weekday, Mattaliano took the No. 7 train to Flushing, carrying a small, potted tree for Mary McGahan’s grave site. He walked into the office at Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery and was told her grave location: Division 11, Row F, Grave 108.

The modest headstone bore the name McGahan, but only her husband’s name, George, not Mary’s.

“At least she has a stone,” Mattaliano said, before digging a hole next to the stone and planting the tree.

Mattaliano said he would look into having Mary McGahan’s name added to the gravestone. He put his hand on the grave and murmured little Mary’s Christmas reminder to Santa: “Please do not forget the poor.”

“You know, I might have to come out here every Christmas,” he said as he turned to leave, and then added over his shoulder, “I’ll be back.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ancestral Findings Alternatives to FTM

Ancestral Findings recently posted a great piece on their alternatives to FTM and what it means to the genealogy community.  If you use Family Tree Maker I hope you will take a minute to read this post. Like it or not, many of us are going to have to find other alternatives to this software.

Thanks, Linda, for sharing this with us.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

More Than 250,000 Books On Family History Scanned Through LDS Church

All of you know that I am a BIG fan of volunteer indexing. Whenever I can I try to log onto Family Search and index one or two sets of records.  Just about every item of digital information we find online is there because someone volunteered to index it.

The Idaho State Journal recently published an article on the LDS library and their book scanning project.

I hope all of you will search the LDS database for books that can help you with your research, and take the time, every now and then, to index a set of records.  

It is a great time of the year to make a resolution to "pay it forward".

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The First Christmas Card

For a larger image, take a look at Genealogy In Time's recent newsletter.  The post appears right after the post about their recommendations for alternatives to Family Tree Maker.

Monday, December 14, 2015

But There Is Some Good News!

It's always nice when you can follow some bad news with some good.  Kudos to Larry for bringing a new family history program to our attention.  It appears that Larry has some well-placed friends in the business community who have been working on an educational resource for family historians. What's not to like about that?

Larry has promised to try to get Linda and Denise on a conference call with Larry and his developer friend to find out more about this wonderful program.  We might even manage a presentation to the group sometime in the Spring.

I spent a little time today wandering around the website and all I can say is OMG! If you are one of those who is just starting out on your family history journey and need some step-by-step guidance on getting started, computer basics, family history basics and a whole BUNCH of other useful information, this website is a great place to start.

This project works with FamilySearch - which we all know and love and is still maintained as a free resource. Linda and Denise have been recommending for a while that those of you just starting to build your tree start with FamilySearch.org - not just because it is free (although that is a wonderful advantage) but because it offers some of the best resources out there. Ancestry.com might have the biggest collection of digital resources - but FamilySearch is catching up, and we have the advantage of a Family History Library easily accessible in West Ashley. What they don't have available online they can often supply on microfiche, film, or hard copy.

So wander over to the Family History Guide's "Get Started" page and begin your educational journey. And if you do start using this resource, we would love to have you report back to the group at one of our meetings on how it is going and what you think of the program.

Three Tech Tools Every Genealogy Should Have

The Family Search blog recently posted a great piece on the three tech tools that every genealogist should have.  I use all three of these regularly and have found them invaluable.

Hope you will take a minute to read the post.  For those of you not familiar with Evernote and how to use it effectively - Linda and I are planning on covering Evernote in one of our presentations in the New Year.

Five Reasons We Can't Find The Record We Want

Elizabeth Shown Mills is one of the most respected genealogists in the world and the undisputed expert on citations.  She recently posted an article on her blog entitled, Five Reasons We Can't Find The Records We Want.  For those of you who are struggling with your research (who among us doesn't have a brick wall to two...), you will find this an interesting read.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On a Positive Note ....

BeholdGenealogy posted a great piece entitled, What Ancestry's "Retirement" of FTM Really Means. Kessler's analysis of the situation does a good job of putting this in perspective and looking at the situation from the "glass half full" point of view.

Those of you who are using FTM should take a moment to read this post.


For those of you who are interested in learning more about any (and every) aspect of genealogy from the comfort of your sofa at home - each week Dear Myrtle posts a list of upcoming webinars. It comes from the GeneaWebinars .com and is a very comprehensive list.

I hope you will take a look, subscribe to Myrtle's blog and take advantage of those learning opportunities that interest you and will help you reach your research goals. As I have mentioned in the past, I often attend these webinars and some of them have had a huge impact on the way I approach my research.

Many of them are free! There's a whole world of educational opportunities out there to explore without every leaving home. Doesn't get much better than that!


Friday, December 11, 2015

Legacy News

As a follow-up to our previous post on alternatives to Family Tree Maker, Legacy News just posted a piece entitled, How To Import Family Tree Maker Legacy Plus - Your Questions Answered.  I am not advocating that you run out and implement this change - but I learned from this article that Legacy Plus will sync with your FamilySearch.org tree.  I didn't know a program existed that did that.
The biggest question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to continue using a stand-alone software program such Legacy or if you want to go with a cloud-based program.  It is a big decision. A stand-alone program gives you the security of knowing all your stuff is safe and sound on your computer (until it gets discontinued as is the case with Family Tree Maker) or a web-based program which is less likely to become "unsupported" but might not give you the same warm, fuzzy level of security.

Don't make any rash judgments.  We will continue to follow the news and do some research on our own about alternatives.  In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea to copy any documents, photos, etc. from your FTM software to a file on your hard drive, a thumb drive, or a cloud drive.  Can't hurt! I can't speak for Apple computers, but on my Window's PC which runs Family Tree Maker, there is a file under "Documents" called "Family Tree Maker".  Every single thing, including all the media (documents, photos, etc.) that is on my FTM tree is in that file.  I just copied the whole folder to a thumb drive and was able to access everything from there.  So it shouldn't be necessary to go through every single item and figure out how and where to save it.

Again, don't panic.  There are ways to preserve your hard work and we will do our best to help.

Dear Myrtle Tackles the Family Tree Maker Announcement

If you have an hour to kill and want to hear what a group of well-known and respected genealogists think about Ancestry.com's recent decision as well as getting some insight into what it means to all of us, please click here for the archived video of Dear Myrtle's Wacky Wednesday chat. "Is There Life Beyond Family Tree Maker".

More Information on Family Tree Maker Desktop Software

As promised, we are staying on top of this issue and will keep you posted.  In response to the outcry over Ancestry's decision to discontinue support of its Family Tree Maker Software, this article was posted on their blog on 9 December.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

More Bad News From Ancestry.com

Just when y'all didn't think things could get any worse at Ancestry.com .... yesterday they announced that they are going to discontinue support of Family Tree Maker.  If any of you are using Family Tree Maker, I recommend you read the post on the Ancestry.com blog.  Although they will continue to support the software through 1 Jan 2017, they will no longer sell it to new buyers starting this month.  What this means to all of us who have been using the software for years is unclear at the moment.  If you take the time to read through some of the 7,000 plus comments posted in response to this announcement - you will see that folks are NOT happy with this new development.  The abandonment of FTM - so close on the heels of the launch of the "new and improved" Ancestry.com web format is making for a lot of very unhappy Ancestry subscribers.  They didn't listen to their subscribers when they decided to change the web format - so I don't know if they are going to listen now.

Why do this?  Well, they say that supporting a separate software package makes it difficult to keep the program up to date and functioning properly.  An all-web-based program is the way to go.  I think it is just another way to keep everyone paying for subscriptions in order to take advantage of the things FTM provided.  

Whether or not FTM will still function as a stand-along program after it no longer syncs to Ancestry.com is still a question we don't have an answer to.  Once a company stops supporting a piece of software, it will, eventually, stop working - probably not in the next year or so - but updates to operating systems and other Ancestry.com anomalies will take their toll over time. We also don't know what will replace the functions of FTM - if those functions will be replaced on the website. Why do I think this only means subscriptions will now cost more?  

There are still a lot of unanswered questions.  As we learn more, we will share that information with you.  In the meantime, if you are a FTM user and have a lot of information stored on that program, we recommend you start thinking about what you are going to do with all that information.  If and when we become aware of viable options, be assured we will let you know.  

If you want to read what some other genealogists are saying about this:

Linda and Denise

Holiday Party a Big Success!

We think everyone who attended the holiday party had a good time.  The food was great - as were the conversations.  We welcomed three new members:

  • Lynn Baker
  • Barbara Carroll, and
  • Panky Wasson
We learned a few new things from our new (and old) members and got a better handle on what the group wants to do in the new year. We will share the news and ideas with you over the next few days in subsequent blog posts.

Until then - we wish all of you a very Happy Holiday!

Linda and Denise

Friday, December 4, 2015

Poll Results

The results of our recent poll are in!  Although there is not an overwhelming number of you interested in a research trip to Washington, D.C., there are enough to warrant some investigation. Fortunately, I am headed to Washington later this month and already planned to spend some time at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. I will make some inquiries and get back to you all after the holidays.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ancestry.com - Nothing Is Simple Anymore

Patricia shared some information today about the pricing structure for Ancestry.com subscriptions. Not only is their website becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, but now it appears that their pricing "schemes" are equally difficult to understand.

A recent post in the Transylvania Dutch blog entitled, Old and New Ancestry.com Subscription Packages points out just how convoluted their pricing has become and attempts to unravel the mess so the average person can understand just what it is they are paying for. There is no doubt that Ancestry.com still has the most comprehensive, digital records available, but I am beginning to wonder if the cost is worth it.  I will leave that for you to decided.