15 August 2016

Serendipity? Nah! Google.

One of the topics I did not get to speak about in a formal manner at the recent IAJGS conference was blogging. I did have a chance, however, to talk with several people about why I am such a blog-reading junkie and blogging proponent.

Someone asked why I started my blog and whether it has been useful. I told them, honestly, the reason I'd started the blog was to generate interest and conversation with my relatives. And, it has been an utter failure as far as that is concerned.

But, then I told him about the power of blogs as cousin bait - especially via search engines such as Google that include blog content as they crawl the web. On 17 April 2013, I posted an article about my great grandfather Louis Liebross' sister Ruchel who I had just found. Ruchel Liberas Gottfried showed up in a Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (JRI-Poland) index. I used the link to a digital image of the original record in the AGAD Polish State Archive and determined that she was, indeed, the daughter of Mane and Tsiril (who were also Louis' parents). The challenge was figuring out where Ruchel had been living when this record was created in 1885. The community name read as Schulhanowka. There is no place with that name today and it took some research to figure out that it is now the town of Shul'ganuvka in Ukraine.

Nearly two years later I received an email from a man named Eli in Israel. He was looking at the same record indexed by JRI-Poland and wanted to thank me for blogging about the current location of the town. He had Googled Schulhanowka, trying determine where it was. And there was my blog post providing the answer he sought! Turns out that Eli's family is related to the husband of another (previously unknown to me) sister of Louis Liebross, Rivka Liebross Schaffer. So Eli and I are, I guess, "shirt-tail" relatives (although I will definitely not try to explain that idiom to a non-native speaker like Eli!).

Some might call episodes like this serendipitous, I call them the results of good research practices. We know if we follow the Genealogical Proof Standard that we must conduct reasonably exhaustive research. But, I also think we should not just write up our research for posterity, but also publish it so it may be found by others using search engines. I want other researchers who are seeking the same families to find my research. That won't happen if all I do is post online trees on Ancestry or MyHeritage. Those websites do not allow this kind of content behind its login fire wall to be Googled.
So, did I tell you about the Thursday night banquet at the IAJGS conference? 

It was odd - er - great - er - interesting. Well, everything was typically pleasant until Judy Russell rose to speak - and then it got a tad weird.

I'd heard Judy's talk, "Don't Forget the Ladies - A Genealogist's Look at Women and the Law," this past spring when she was the featured speaker at the Family History Society of Arizona's Spring Seminar. I knew back in March that this talk had already been selected by the conference for her IAJGS Banquet speech and she and I chatted, then, about how she planned to add some Jewish genealogy-relevant records to her discussion for the IAJGS event.

So there I was Thursday night alertly listening for Judy's new material, when the New York City death record (at right) filled the two screens on either side of the ballroom. Judy announced, that this record of Sarah Morris who died in 1956 in the Bronx was particularly interesting because it provided not only Sarah's name, but also her maiden name, and her daughter's married name. Huh??!!

I was facing the screen that was actually further away from me and could not make out the small print (I've posted here a small image so you can see about what I saw from a distance). Did she say Sarah Morris who died in the Bronx in 1956? Why my great grandmother was named Sarah Morris and she died in the Bronx in 1956! I thought for sure that the informant on Sarah's death certificate would have been my great aunt Esther Blatt but I could not quite make out her name in that location on the form.

After the talk, while the everyone was eating I went over to Judy's table and tapped her on the shoulder, "I need to see that death certificate. My great grandmother was also Sarah Morris who died in the Bronx in 1956." The next morning I emailed Judy my Sarah Morris' death certificate. Match.

Here's a larger version to read:

Judy wrote a blog post about this titled "Serendipity in action:"
"...And guess whose great grandmother was that Russian woman reflected in that death certificate?
"It was Emily’s great grandmother’s death certificate I had happened to choose out of all the examples I might have had available to make that point..."
Serendipity. The term is often used by people who say that their dead ancestor was calling to be found. This is not an explanation that usually pleases my inquisitive nature. [I recall years ago taking a meditation course and having a strange visualization of light during one meditation. The instructor excitedly informed me that is was, of course, God (actually, he didn't say, "God" - he said, "Jesus."). Needless to say, I did not find that explanation as illuminating as my meditation experience. Perhaps I had just gotten into a place in my brain that I'd not experienced before. That was my explanation, anyway!] So, I commented on Judy's blog post:
Then, I tried a similar Google image search . . .  and there it was - the sixth one from the left on the top. 
Sometimes with Google image searching it is not always clear where the image came from. And the first time I located it, clicking on it took me to some odd webpage that had compiled bunches of death certificates from many websites with no links or citations. 

But let's get back to serendipity. Because I blog, my stuff is out there to find by good researchers. Judy found Sarah Morris' death certificate not because of serendipity, but because I blog my research for others to find and she is a good online researcher. That's it. Call it serendipity if you must (OK, I was in the audience). Google-accessible publishing and exhaustive research - two sides of the GPS coin.


Comments on posts are always welcome but will be approved before posting. I actually prefer to just let people comment without going through this rigmarole, but I've recently had to delete some posts that I had not vetted before publication. So, please don't be offended. I love to hear from you!