12 May 2013

NGS: Day 3

NGS day 3 was busy and, since my evening was spent at the banquet, I am behind in my posts about the conference. Let's catch up.

"Kinship Determination Are They Really My Ancestors?"

by Kay Haviland Freilich

I'm very careful about whom I place on my family tree. So, I was quite interested in what Ms. Freilich had to say. I seem to be on an indirect evidence binge during this conference and this presentation fit right in. How does one document relationships when there is no one document - no direct evidence - of that relationship?

Freilich proposes starting research with an action plan and posing a research question. The components are:
  • Determine research question; 
  • Research thoroughly; 
  • Document research carefully; 
  • Analyze evidence; 
  • Formulate theory; and
  • Test theory. 
She presented several case studies and embraced the concept of using a wide variety of records and and techniques of analysis. She suggested that while no one record may point out relationships, a compendium of records, analyzed for patterns of evidence may put us on the correct branch of our tree.

Helen F. M. Leary Distinguished Lecture: "Trousers, Beds, Black Domestic, Tacks, and Housekeeping Bills: 'Trivial Details' Can Solve Research Problems!" 

by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Mills' talk centered on the concept: if direct evidence is lacking,"we can glean the contours of the answers we seek by thoughtfully considering peripheral items." 

She noted that successful researchers spend more time on analysis than searching for names and dates. To be successful, we must use indirect and negative evidence.

Her talk walked us through numerous record types and analyses of a variety of records, including: tax records, probate, and deeds. Mills' syllabus for this session includes a wonderful variety of records and suggestions to develop clues into solutions.

During my first 2.5 days at the NGS conference, I've gravitated toward the BCG Skillbuilding and Methodology and Research lectures. This afternoon, however, I changed emphases, at least temporarily, and took in some presentations on research techniques and record sets.

"Microsoft Excel: A Little Known Genealogy Research Tool"

by Jill N. Crandell

I feel I use Excel spreadsheets when appropriate in analysis, but after Crandell's session I could barely contain myself. I wanted to run home right away and continue work on my spreadsheet analysis of one of my toughest research problems: sorting out the correct Moses/Morris Epstein from the numerous ones in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. 

Excel is great for displaying timelines and sorting through large quantities of data. Crandell posed some solutions to problems in Excel that (quite frankly, due to the fact that most of my relations weren't in the USA until the 1890s and after) I didn't know I had. The solutions were clever and included functions in Excel (e.g., CONCATENATE) that I'd never before tried.  

Crandell walked us through a manifest record analysis using results in an Ancestry search. As I whispered to one of my neighbors in the hall, one may do the same cut-and-paste procedure with Ellis Island records in Steve Morse Gold Form search results. Crandell also presented use of a spreadsheet to help locate a child in the 1850 Census.

"Behind the Institutional Walls of Nineteenth-Century New York City: What's to be Found?"

by Joan Koster-Morales

I don't know why, but I loved this lecture. Perhaps it was just that this was getting down to the stuff of direct evidence research dreams after so much discussion of methodology and technique. 

Koster-Morales walked us through numerous collections associated with New York City's charitable history. A variety of Records were created by by numerous private and public agencies including alms houses, orphanages, and mental hospitals. These records are important not only for the information they may provide, but also because they may provide clues that lead us to additional records.

We learned about the impact of the Health, Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on records access and current New York State Freedom of Information law. Koster-Morales also discussed how to access records, when available, online and in archives. 

"My Grandfather Came from Poison: Resources and Strategies for Discovering and Deciphering Jewish Names"

by Meredith Hoffman

Imitation is, I am told, the sincerest form of flattery, so while I am at the point in my genealogy career where Jewish genealogy 101 or 102 will not likely improve my research, I always like to hear how others present the material. 

The crowd was, understandably, sparse but I thought that Hoffman did a nice job outlining strategies for determining Jewish names. She also touched on a topic near and dear to my heart (one I will be presenting in-depth at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Boston, August 3-9, 2013 [1]): determining village/town names. Meredith told me she will be giving several presentations at the IAJGS Conference.
I had a very pleasant time at the banquet chatting with my interesting table mates, including a member of RPAC whose relatives sound very different (and much more quirky and fascinating) than mine.

Several well-deserved honors were announced a the banquet. See the NGS blog for these recognitions. The announced attendance at the conference is 1,981.

Of note, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak announced a new initiative: Lucky 13 Grants. She invites genealogists to go to a pawn shop, find a family treasure, and do the detective work to find the item's owners. I do not yet see a place on her website for this program, check back for further information.

1. My presentation at IAJGS will be: "Beyond the Manifest: Confirming One's Ancestral Origins Using Alternative Sources." It is scheduled for Tuesday, August 6 at 8:15 am.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your summaries of the NGS conference and I look forward to meeting you at IAJGS in Boston this summer!

  2. Thank you Elizabeth. And I am also looking forward to meeting you!


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