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    Posted on July 20th, 2014 admin 2 comments

    Had a great time calling at Trek 2014 out east of Cherry Grove, AB.

    Dawn in a borrowed bonnet

    Dawn in a borrowed bonnet

    The trek — a simulated re-enactment of the Mormon hand-cart migrations to Utah in the mid 1850s — saw an estimated 190 youth and 50 adults in an approximation of period clothing building hand-cart kits, loading up their sleeping bags and gear, and hauling them some 25 km over rough terrain.

    We pulled the rig in on Thursday afternoon, in time to go and watch the group playing various “pioneer” games such as tug-of-war, cow-patty toss, log-sawing, and the like.  Fun to watch, and despite having trekked some 15 km the day before, up and down hills and through swamps, the kids seemed to have a lot of energy.

    Wow, a cow-patty frisbee!  (Painted polyurethane foam)

    Wow, a cow-patty frisbee! (Painted polyurethane foam)

    The hoe-down was Thursday night, about mid-way into their trek.  Not sure if all the participants danced, but they sure spread out in the field.  I had chosen dances and music of the period to add to the authenticity of the experience.  I called some old-time circle dances, a contra, and a reel, which saw enthusiastic and lively participation.

    Mounted mobbers arrive at dusk.  "Git offa our land!  Move, varmints!"

    Mounted mobbers arrive at dusk. “Git offa our land! Move, varmints!”

    I was just starting Cumberland Squares, with plans to move into some old-time square dances, when a group of masked horsemen (“mobbers”) broke up the dance and drove the campers off the land–something that also happened in the historical migration.  One dancer complained, “But we’re having a hoe-down!”  No matter — clear out!

    The group was packed up and moving fast within a surprisingly short time.   Although I had not been directed by the mobbers to clear out, with the dancers gone there was no point to my staying; I packed up and left too.

    In preparing for the dance, I learned a lot about the trek migrations, the early history of the Mormon church, and about songs and dances of the 1800s.  And calling for all those folks in an open field was a unique experience!

    A big thank you to all those who helped with setting up equipment and dance formations; thanks especially to the Bonnie Doon Stake for organizing the Trek and for hiring me to call the hoedown.

    Followup:  Trek II, the Hoedown Continues

  • Montague Folding Bike – A Bit of Cycling History

    Posted on June 28th, 2014 admin No comments


    Last winter, at an estate sale in California, I found a bike with an interesting-looking frame labeled “BMW Wireline”.  It was a full-sized bike, but was obviously designed to fold.  It had no tires, the handgrips were melted, the wheels wouldn’t turn, the rear derailleur was bent, the headset was frozen, the brake pads were like rock, the chain was rusted in place.  Still, it had a CrMo folding frame in good condition, alloy wheels, decent quality caliper brakes.

    The owner had no idea of the provenance except that it had been in his sister’s garage for decades and he wanted to get rid of it.

    “Make me an offer,” he said.  I offered $1.  He accepted.   I threw some breadbags over the tar-like handgrips and stowed it under the RV.

    When we returned in the spring, I hauled the bike home and set to work.  The California heat had been hard on the bike.   I scraped the melted hand grips off (a sticky, icky job!) and removed the distorted pedals.  Every bit of grease was hardened to resin, so I had to soak, clean, and re-grease the bottom bracket, both wheel hubs, and the headset.  None of the cups showed wear, and I reused all the ball bearings.  I replaced the rear derailleur, grip shifters, hand grips, and chain; replaced a couple cables; put on new tubes, tires and brake pads; and tuned everything up. Oh, I also added new Globe round rubber pedals, because I thought they looked interesting and because they snag on things a lot less than the old square platforms.

    This amounts to a frame-up rebuild.   It was the most money and most work I’ve put into a rescue bike.  Still,  the outcome was an unusual bike that’s fun to use and ride.

    The frame had a sticker showing the manufacturer as Montague, which was easy to research.  Around 1988, the Montague Corporation, of Cambridge, Mass., began producing full-sized folding bicycles with 26” or 700 mm wheels. In the early1990s, Montague began working with the automobile industry,designing bicycle models for various companies including BMW, General Motors, Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru, Toyota, Honda and Peugeot. In 1996, Montague folding bikes gained international attention when the Montague BMW folder was chosen as the first ever official Olympic mountain bike for the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. “Two thousand of these bikes (painted red, white, and blue) were featured in the Games’ closing ceremonies. Olympic athletes and staff rode in formation on Montague bikes to make the image of the Olympic rings,” reports the Montague web site.

    My Montague would have come in the trunk of a new BMW, and is similar to the 1996 Olympic version.  Montague staff identified this individual bike as being “from 1994 to 1995″

    Now I have a neat folding bike that I can stow in the RV or even the back of my wife’s tiny Chev Aveo.

  • Paper VS Digital in Genealogy Research

    Posted on November 22nd, 2013 admin No comments

    Mocavo sent out a “Genealogy Survival Kit” as a holiday (they’re afraid to say Christmas) gift to its subscribers.   One part of the “Kit” was a list of tips, which included this:

    Even though many people use a computer for much of their work, paper charts and forms can be very useful when you are at a research repository. Blank family group sheets can easily be filled in with information, and can also show what information is missing. Pedigree charts quickly fill in with more generations.
    It can be much easier for you to carry pieces of paper into the stacks than trying to carry a notebook computer all over the building.

    I suppose this makes sense of a sort, but I don’t find it true of my own work.

    • My handwriting is not the best, and if I want to be able to read it three years from now, or if I want anybody else to read it anytime, I’d better type it.
    • I can’t keep track of a pen or pencil for more than a few hours.  Whenever I need one, it has crawled under a table somewhere.
    • I am a touch typist with recorded speeds of up to 120 wpm on a real keyboard.  I can’t write nearly that quickly with any accuracy.  Cursive is slo-o-o-o-w!
    • My laptop is not that cumbersome and I don’t mind carrying it.   “He ain’t heavy, he’s my laptop.”
    • I’m not about to hand write or even transcribe most documents.  I carry a digital camera, I photograph documents, I use OCR software to transcribe the image into a file.    And I’m not about to try to sketch images.   That’s what the camera does best.http://ed101.bu.edu/StudentDoc/Archives/fall05/malily/pencil-n-paper.jpg

    Paper and pencil are so yesterday.  At the very best, they’re a last-ditch backup.

    What do you use.   Paper?  Smart phone?  Tablet?  Laptop?

  • MyHeritage Improves Record Matches

    Posted on November 19th, 2013 admin No comments

    MyHeritage offers a social-networking site for amateur family historians.  It’s a relatively new company that’s been working hard to establish itself in the genealogy software niche.

    One thing they offer is called Record Matches (kind of like the little green leaves at ancestry.com). I checked a couple of Record Matches this morning, and found that they have been vastly improved over the last time I looked.

    Census data is now extracted for each member of the family, either manually or automatically.  (In a census, it works if you start with the head of the family.  Start with wife or child and you get only one record.)  I’ve tried half a dozen and it works almost flawlessly.   No longer do I have to copy data one by one into other family member records.  Hooray!

    After confirming a RM for the 1900 US Federal Census, I synced to Family Tree Builder (FTB, MyHeritage’s family tree database software) and checked the eight individuals involved.  The fact “Census” had been correctly added for both parents and all children.   I was a bit surprised that the citation was not attached to the fact but was instead under the Citations tab.  It turns out that the More Options for each individual allows the citation for each individual fact (birth and census, in this case).

    So there is the flexibility to attach the citation either way, which is a nice touch.  If you want to have the citation with the fact consistently, you have to repeat this with each individual, which is not nice.  In a family of 14, this is a lot of work.   Perhaps there is a way to set this as the default, but I haven’t found that setting.

    I had thought that an image of the census page would be attached in FTB under fact photos, in the way that the census image is appended to Media in Ancestry.com.   Nope.   However, the Citation contains a link, and a control button that opens to the original record in my browser, so this is all you need to review the original document for further clues.  And of course, an image link to the original record is in the individual’s online Profile.

    The More Options allows you to enter a Biography Note, which after sync shows up in FTB under the Notes tab for each individual.  Not sure how I’ll use this just yet; comments and suggestions are welcome!

    There are a few quibbles and one serious issue.

    • Parts of the citation in FTB are not properly formatted. Specifically, the identification line is run together, with missing spaces.  Here’s an example:  Census: Township:Noble TownshipEnum. District:87Line:92 County:NobleRoll:1240395Image:165 State:IndianaSheet:2 Date:1900Family:50   This will probably be easy to fix and I expect it will be taken care of soon.
    • Why does it say “Residence” in the left pane and “Census” in the right pane?  The census is simply the source for the place of Residence, not the fact itself.  The census shows where they lived (and sometimes, the occupation and many other facts.  The facts in the family tree should be “Residence” and “Occupation”.  It’s as silly to put Census as the fact for Residence as it is for Occupation.  It’s like putting “Book” for a fact, or “Website”.
    • The Extract control is a [>>] button and a hover tool tip says  “Take this information into your family tree”  After you click it, it remains [>>] , though the tool tip now reads “Undo taking of information”.  Really, this control should change to [<<] after you’ve added the info.  Would make a lot more sense to have it point the way you want the data to move.
    • When there are children listed on the census that aren’t in the tree, RecordMatch doesn’t automatically list them, the way ancestry.com does.  Nor does MH even allow you any way to add them from this screen.  The best way I could find to do this was to open FTB, tile the two screens, and manually add the names of the additional children, then sync the two, then run the record match again.   While this did work, it’s terribly clunky.    Maybe there’s something I’m missing?
    • The biggest hassle is one that was present in the original Record Match.  If you already have one census in an individual record, this function REPLACES it.  If you have the 1860 census for an individual, the Record Match for the 1870 census will replace the data of the 1860.  Why on earth would I want to replace one census record with another?

    I had informed MH of the replacement bug on 11 Oct 2013 but it is still present.   On the MyHeritage user forum, staffer Marianne offered a workaround for this, which involves a couple of steps that are totally not obvious:   Click the “Show more options” [on the right side]  and check the “Add as alternate” checkbox [appears on the left side after the first step]. This will extract the new information in addition to what already exists and will not override the information on the individual’s profile.

    Thank you, Marianne.  This does work.  But consider this:  for a family with 14 children, for whom I have just entered the 1900 census, I need to do these two steps SIXTEEN TIMES to add the 1910 census.  And another SIXTEEN TIMES for each subsequent census I add (or as many times as there are children present in the residence at the time).

    Gotta wonder what the programmers who designed this were thinking.    Didn’t it strike them that it would be far easier from a user viewpoint if “Add as alternate” were the default mode?   Evidently not.

    Overall, though, this version of RecordMatch is a significant step and a vast improvement.   There is a lot of power and flexibility in this function and once they fix the various quirks and the “replaces data” mess,  they’ll have it nailed.

    A big THANK YOU to the MH developers for getting this working at least provisionally.

  • Gray Land Records in Noble County, Indiana

    Posted on November 17th, 2013 admin No comments

    One reason I enjoy doing genealogy is that I enjoy solving puzzles.

    In 1989, some of our family put together a collection of family writings and memoirs called Ancestor Pioneers.  In that booklet was a hand-drawn map of Noble County Indiana which showed land holdings of various ancestors in 1856.   The map showed section numbers but unfortunately did not include pertinent information such as the township name or the meridian.   Copies of the original land records had not been among the records I got from my parents.   I had never quite gotten around to tracking down whatever cousin had made the map to see if she had them,  nor had I yet begun searching online for these land records.

    A few days ago, I got a letter from another cousin (Thanks, Jenny!) who happened to include a sheet from Ancestry.com showing a parcel of land purchased in 1837 by a many-greats grandfather. Since I happened to have my copy of  Ancestor Pioneers open on the desk, I checked — yes, it was one of the parcels on the hand-drawn map.

    The hand-drawn map of Gray Land Holdings in Noble County, IN

    Never mind what I wrote last week about focus!  Here is a wonderful distraction!  I needed a break from the JK Gray biography anyway (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

    With Jenny’s lead about where to look, I dug into ancestry.com’s databases and found not only the other parcels on the hand-drawn map, but others in a township to the north.  Cross-checking against census records to confirm that these were likely our people, I pushed further into the land records,  and have so far located a baker’s dozen of parcels in York and Noble Townships, Noble County, IN owned by our kinfolk.  I’ll continue looking this afternoon and expect to find even more.  With the legal land descriptions, I may be able to dig even deeper and find who got them after the family sold out (or who inherited them).

    So I have a satisfactory outcome, having solved a minor puzzle,  found a lot of new information, made a note of clues for future research, and taken a break from a long-term project.  A pleasant way to spend a couple of cold winter days

  • A Single Family History Focus

    Posted on November 10th, 2013 admin 1 comment

    One tip that has been given in a couple of genalogy seminars I’ve attended:  Focus.

    “When you first start doing  family history, everything is new and exciting,” said the presenter, forensic genealogist Lyn Meehan.   “It can help if you learn to focus on one thing at a time.  It helps keep you from being distracted.  The focus might be on one specific ancestor or one particular geographic area.  Then, when you hit a ‘brick wall’ — which you inevitably will — you can start to find a way around it by looking at collateral branches and other techniques.”

    John Kepford and Phoebe Ellen Gray, c. 1910

    I had already decided to work on the life and times of my great-grandfather, John Kepford Gray, so I was pleased to hear Lynn’s advice.  It meant that I was on the right track.

    We have an amazing amount of material on this man, once I started to put it all together.  Mom and Dad had started with some of the physical records, gathering his letters and papers, looking up some census records (back when there was no Internet).  His grandchildren, my dad included, had recorded stories and anecdotes.  There were clues in the letters and other family documents that opened fascinating stories, such as

    • His treatment for alcoholism in the Keeley Institute in Kansas City Missouri in 1893
    • A letter from the probate court in the administration of his father’s estate, referring to a smallpox outbreak and the local pest house
    • References to family squabbles, misfortunes and trials
    • References to friends, relations, get-togethers, church events
    • His participation in buffalo hunts, including the last great hunt of 1878 that drove the southern herd to extinction

    “Genealogy is not just names and places and dates,” said Meehan. “It’s the story of people, who they were and how they lived and why they moved around.”

    And once you start to focus, you see that.  Great-grandpa, a man I never new, is becoming real to me in a way that would never have happened without an interest in family history.

  • Genealogy scam, bam, thank you ma’am

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments

    Clicked on an ad today for archives.com.   Got to a page that offered me various vital statistics certificates “complete with government stamp”.   I thought it looked pretty scammy.  But of course, now that I want to include the URL, I can’t find it…

    Just for a trial, I clicked “Birth Certificate” and entered information about a specific relative.  I quit when I got to where it wanted my credit card because it wouldn’t tell me the cost before I entered the credit card info.  I’m going to give you my card number and I don’t even know what it costs?  Yeah, Right.

    Hm.  I can just see it coming.   A pretty certificate nicely done up in MS Word using exactly the information I’ve just put in, with a nice gold seal affixed, maybe embossed with the words “US Government”, for $39.95.  About as authentic as a $3 bill.   Total cost to make up?  Maybe a buck or so.  Total cost to mail?  Maybe a buck or so.   Total profit?  Marvelous!  It’s almost a license to print money.

    Okay, so maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe they’re totally legit.  They claim to have 2.6 billion records and to be the lowest-cost site for family research.   They’re owned by ancestry.com, which probably means that anything archives.com has you can also find at ancestry.com, but not vice versa.   Yes, ancestry.com is many times the cost  (if you don’t access it for free through your local library or LDS Family History Center), but maybe you get what you pay for?

    I did a quick Google search for “archives.com scam” and the result is an eye opener.   Randy Seaver at Genea-musings didn’t seem to impressed.   Joan Miller at Luxgen gave it a fairly positive review then got slammed in the comments with people complaining about

    • bait-and-switch,
    • being charged even though they cancelled within the “free trial” period
    • results being found only in sites such as Find a Grave that are free anyway
    • not being able to find anything not readily available elsewhere

    Found numerous complaints at various scam sites such as sitejabber.com, ripoffreport.com or scambook.com.  Scary.

    Many people mention that the bait (enter the name of a relative) always indicates that  information is available, but that after you pay, a search for the same relative produces no hits.  This is almost classic bait and switch.  One commenter said, “…Just try typing in fictional names, cartoon names etc. They will always show matches.”

    The company itself has a page arguing that they’re NOT a scam.  Methinks they doth protest too much.

    I didn’t even sign up for the seven day free trial.

  • Name That Baby!

    Posted on October 27th, 2013 admin No comments


    Baby Thomas

    Baby Thomas Albert, circa 1922

    It was apparently a tradition in the family of Leonard and Enola Gray to have each baby photographed.  These baby photos are probably scattered throughout the family.

    There are currently photos available of six of the WL offspring. Please help us to complete the set and  identify the infants in the photos so we can put them in the proper spot in the Gray Family Tree.  Go to the web site Grays Going Back, click the Photos tab at the top of the page, then in the Albums menu at left, click Gray Babies.

    They look like they’re wearing Christening gowns, but Thomas Albert Gray recalls that none of the kids were baptized.  “The old man (William Leonard Gray) didn’t believe in that, no way.”  It would seem that babies were simply dressed in gowns in those days, which was probably an advantage for changing diapers.  It was a time, I guess, when babies wore “baby clothes” rather than miniature versions of adult clothing.

    If you know one of the photos,  click on the baby’s face.  If you’re a member of the site, you can type in the name.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Organizing the Family History Stuff

    Posted on October 22nd, 2013 admin No comments

    In the late sixties when we first started out, our family history research was stored in a cardboard box.  A few things were in binders.  A few more things were in file folders.

    When personal computers came along, I purchased Broderbund’s Family Tree Maker to help sort things out.  It came with forms for pedigree charts, family group charts, and so on…all of which went into the box.   Changes in our family moved the history hobby into the background, and the box went somewhere into my parents’ basement.

    When I started up again forty years later, about three years back, I could see a need for better organization.  My cousin, who’s been doing family history for decades, had her stuff in plastic boxes and seemed to be able to put her hands on whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.  Hmm…

    I contacted the local genealogy club, whose president recommended Mary Hill’s color-coded filing system.  I purchased the recommended materials, took everything out of the cardboard box, and sorted it as required.

    My color-coded file case

    It was a good first step.  It got various bits of paper and handwritten notes grouped together.  It showed me where my parents and I had concentrated our early research, and showed where there were big gaps.  It helped me to understand my parents’ research focus (direct paternal ancestry line and immediate family) and set the other lines aside.   The box is now overflowing and ready to expand.

    But more and more, I was finding online records.   The MyHeritage software (Family Tree Builder) helped display photos and images of historical records, but I was basically just dumping everything into the MyHeritage folder on the hard drive.  I had them sorted by topic — photos, census records, obituaries, marriage records etc. — but basically they were all in the same folder.

    Nobody’s fault but mine.  At a workshop last weekend, Lyn Meehan, the professional genealogist who presented an “Introduction to Genealogy”, mentioned almost in passing how she organizes her computer files.  It was parallel to how I had organized my physical files, with a folder for each individual ancestor.  A “eureka” moment (“Doh!”).

    Took an afternoon to get it set up (it’s not complete yet) and move files into the proper computer folders.   Now all of great grandpa’s stuff is in one place.  Birth documents, census records, marriage license, land holdings, anecdotes, family stories, anything that concerns him is in his folder.  Does it ever make things easier!

    Pays to listen to the pros.

  • Family History, Forty Years Later

    Posted on October 21st, 2013 admin 1 comment

    When my mom and dad first started doing family history research in the late sixties, they kept everything in a cardboard box.  I typed up some notes (on a portable manual typewriter) and started a binder with some of the finished stuff, with photos in glossy plastic page protectors that cost $1.39 each at the time.    Mom’s declining health put an end to family research on their part, while my marriage and three kids turned my attention elsewhere.  When mom died, I inherited the box along with two trunks full of stuff.   Busy and frankly not too interested at the time, I stowed the lot under the basement stairs and forgot about them.

    When we sold acreage, and moved to Leduc, we moved the trunks…to be stowed under the stairs and forgotten in the new house.The Family

    Four years later, in 2009,  we moved to a smaller house, and put all the stuff into the larger and more sturdy of the two trunks.  While the trunk  is still under the stairs, some of the contents — including the box of family history materials — found their way upstairs.  Going through the box, I got interested again in the family tree.

    How things have changed!

    Today, I work on a laptop, attached to a printer/scanner/copier/fax.  I can now buy a box of 100 acid-free protectors for under $10!  Records that Mom and Dad drove to Kansas to find are now available online, either free or at a modest cost.  For a few dollars a month, I can access census records, vital statistics, cemetery indexes, newspaper archives, and more.  The Internet has become a treasure trove in which I dig daily to find new gems.

    Unfortunately, most of my best sources — my aunts and uncles and older cousins — are now gone, a richness of history forever lost to me.


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