Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, November 29, 2019

Don't Hold Our History Hostage
Any genealogist or anyone related to an immigrant who has ever tried to obtain a copy of a record from a government agency at any level should be alarmed at the attempt by the Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to raise the cost of obtaining historical records by 492% which could make the cost of obtaining a single paper file as high as $625.

The resistance of the various government agencies in the United States to make available historically and genealogically important records is well documented and absolutely shamelessly maintained. For years now, Reclaim the Records has been successfully filing Freedom of Information Act court actions to obtain access to records that should be freely and readily available to the public. Now, in the explosively politically controversial area of immigration, the government wants to try a different tactic: raise the cost of obtaining public records to dissuade the public from access to support blatantly political, anti-immigration policies. It cannot be a coincidence that this huge increase in user fees for immigration records is occurring when there is such a huge political battle going on over this very issue.

As I have written many times previously, the Federal government of the United States has no ongoing,  comprehensive digitization projects. The National Archives' website talks about their digitization partnerships but the actual number of documents digitized is vanishingly small compared to the huge number still on paper. Now, instead of providing digitized copies, they want us to pay for their irresponsible pile of paper.

Here, quoting the blog post is a summary of what you need to do to have your voice heard.

Step 1: REVIEW
You can also read our summary of the issues and check out some example files to get a better idea of what kinds of records would be impacted.
And you can download this one-page overview (PDF) to share with others.
Step 2: WRITE
Write your comments for the Federal Register, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin. Be sure to specifically note both the Genealogy Program and DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 in your comments.
Step 3: SEND
Send your comment to the Federal Rulemaking Portal BEFORE 16 DECEMBER 2019 and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments.
Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!
More about this later. SEE

Thursday, November 28, 2019

22 Million Completely Searchable Books and Records on the Internet Archive

One of the least known valuable genealogical resources is the Internet Archive or This website is rapidly becoming the largest, free, downloadable, completely accessible collection of books and other records on the Internet. Unlike many other collections of "public domain" books and texts, the Internet Archive has added recent books that have released or lost copyright protection in the United States.

Some of the most valuable sources of genealogical data in this vast collection are the local county histories. Here is one for an example:
This history was published in 1909 and contains a detailed index with hundreds of names of people from Dutchess County, New York.

In addition, the item is completely searchable, word by word.

Many of the items recovered by Reclaim the Records from making freedom of information requests and filing lawsuits are also featured in the Internet Archive.
You can see the records that have been "reclaimed" on the website and many of those have links to the Internet Archive.

This is definitely a website you need to take some time and learn to use.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Black Friday Sale by MyHeritage

MyHeritage is lowering the price of its popular genealogical DNA kit to the very low price of $39 in the United States. There is also a U.S. discounted price for the DNA Health kits for $79. If you have purchased a MyHeritage DNA kit in the past and wish to purchase a Health upgrade, this is definitely the best time: it costs only $59.

This offer is only valid until November 27. It includes free shipping for 2+ kits, and gift-wrapping for an additional $3 per kit. I highly recommend you take advantage of it.

Here is the link to the offer. Act today before it is too late.

Amazing Black Friday Deal for the genealogy DNA kit

Amazing Black Friday Deal for the MyHeritage Health Kit

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Freedom began with Jenny Slew, A History of the beginning of the end of legal slavery in America: Part Three

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan.  Thomas Jefferson From the third panel of the Jefferson Memorial.

The Oldest Laws Concerning Slavery

Just laws are the foundation of civilization. Lawlessness is antipodal to freedom and liberty. The legal definition of "just" is as follows from, "Just Law and Legal Definition."
The literal meaning of the term 'just' is fair, impartial, evenhanded, candid, or reasonable. It can also mean right or fair according to law. The term can be defined in a wider sense to mean ethically, morally and legally correct or right; lawful. Depending upon conformity to or in opposition to law all human actions are either just or unjust. Anything just would be in perfect harmony with the rights of others.
By definition laws that allow people to be enslaved are unjust. See also,

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.].” Accessed November 19, 2019.

Injustice and oppression have been imposed by unjust laws since ancient times. Chattel slavery existed in England from the Roman occupation. Quoting from the following article:

“Roman Slavery: Social, Cultural, Political, and Demographic Consequences - Slaves, War, Farmers, Punic Wars, Latifundia, Cicero.” Accessed November 23, 2019.
Rome began as a small agricultural community about fifteen miles off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and its earliest inhabitants advocated hard work, determination, and devotion to duty. These qualities gave Rome a core of stability and self-sufficiency that preserved its society and helps to explain its continuity and expansion. For almost two hundred and fifty years it was ruled by a monarchy and its first king was the legendary Romulus. Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek rhetorician and historian who lived and taught in Rome in late 1st Century BC. He wrote a history of Rome from its humble beginnings through to the First Punic War. Dionysius gives information, which suggests that from its very foundation, there were slaves in Rome. It is traditionally accepted that Romulus founded the community in 753 BC and was its first king. (Citing the following: Blair, William. An Enquiry into the State of Slavery amongst the Romans: From the Earliest Period till the Establishment of the Lombards in Italy. Edinburgh, 1833.
Further quoting from Wikipedia: Slavery in ancient Rome:
Slaves were considered property under Roman law and had no legal personhood. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture and summary execution. Over time, however, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters.
The laws of the United States of America have been borrowed extensively from English law which is based, in part, on Roman law. Many of the important legal precedents arrived at by judges in the United States over the years are derived from and based on case law from the law in England, Scotland, and Wales. It is still entirely proper in the U.S. courts today to cite English law in the absence of specific case law from U.S. courts. It is important to understand that the law in the United States concerning slavery did not arise spontaneously from local conditions. Here is an additional quote from the Wikipedia article on Slavery in ancient Rome:
A major source of slaves had been Roman military expansion during the Republic. The use of former soldiers as slaves led perhaps inevitably to a series of en masse armed rebellions, the Servile Wars, the last of which was led by Spartacus. During the Pax Romana of the early Roman Empire (1st–2nd centuries AD), emphasis was placed on maintaining stability, and the lack of new territorial conquests dried up this supply line of human trafficking. To maintain an enslaved work force, increased legal restrictions on freeing slaves were put into place. Escaped slaves would be hunted down and returned (often for a reward). There were also many cases of poor people selling their children to richer neighbors as slaves in times of hardship.
Why do genealogists need to know any of this? The answer to this question about slavery is measurably less complex than the history of the subject. As I have mentioned previously in this series, if you are not a student of African American history, you are very unlikely to know more about slavery than the highly superficial and highly editorialized version of history that is taught in American high schools and in beginning history courses in colleges and universities. For example, the following 1153 page popular history of the American People only superficially mentions what is most commonly known about slavery and most of what is written deals with the period of time just preceding the U.S. Civil War.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. New York: New American Library, 1965.

To understand the current laws of the United States concerning racial prejudice, it is important to go back to the earliest colonial laws and trace the history behind those laws and to understand the significance of what is and what is not available in the historical record for genealogical research, it is important and necessary to understand the legal history of slavery in Colonial American and in the United States.  Those laws are primarily based on a direct inheritance from Roman law through English law to the Colonies and then to the United States of America.

Read the previous posts:

Part One:
Part Two:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

How to take better photos for genealogy: Part Four: Quality

Historically, the only way you could obtain a copy of a photograph was to take another photograph of the original. My Great-grandmother, Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson, was a professional photographer and I have several examples of her attempts to make a photographic copy. Unfortunately, we do not seem to have the original photo so we cannot determine the quality of the original, but it looks like the original was likely overexposed. If you look at the face and hands you can see that they are almost white with no detail. When the copy was made, Grandmother Overson tried to compensate for the overexposure by underexposing the copy.

When a film photo (or any photo for that matter) is overexposed the overexposed area lacks detail and is often referred to as "blown out." This commonly occurs when the light illuminating the subject is uneven with areas of both bright light and dark shaded. When a photograph is underexposed, the parts in the shade or even the entire photo appear dark. The example above has both problems. The original was overexposed and the copy of the original was underexposed.

Here is a photo I took in Segovia, Spain. There was a high contrast between the dark area in the shade and the bright area in the sunlight.

Segovia, Spain
Grandmother Overson's efforts to make a copy of the photo could not compensate for the overexposure of the original. The detail in the hands and face are permanently lost unless it was possible to take another photo of the same person. I can assume that the reason the photo was being copied was that the original person was no longer available to photograph. The photo above from Segovia, Spain is a digital image and although it would be both expensive and time-consuming to return to Segovia, I could possibly do so but it would be very unlikely because of the cost and the fact that I have hundreds of other photos.

Fortunately, with digital photos, I have some latitude for correcting the problems using programs such as Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Here is a first pass at correcting some of the issues with the photo.

Segovia, Spain
This particular photo was taken with a camera that only supported the JPEG format so there are some limitations to the amount of manipulation available. If the camera had supported the RAW format, the ability to edit the photo would have increased. More about that later in this series. However, even with Camera RAW digital photos, there is a limit to what can be done with extreme overexposure or underexposure. The easiest solution is to make sure that the exposure is as accurate as possible when the photograph is taken.

Even cameras in the newest smartphones are now allowing the user to adjust the exposure level. Even when you are using a camera with automatic settings, if you are not aware of the light and dark in your potential image, you will not get acceptable photos all the time.

The photo of the lady, however, is probably unique. It may be the only image of that person in existence. Is there any way to enhance a photo of a photo? Here is what the photo at the beginning of this post looks like with a little bit of work with Adobe Lightroom.

If you carefully compare the two photos, you will see from this version that she is wearing gloves and that her hair is split braided. You can also see details in her face and dress. Just because we can make such dramatic edits to photos, this is still no excuse for not taking the time to make a good photograph at the time the image is recorded in the camera.

Stay tuned for more insights into taking better photos for genealogy.

See the previous posts here:

Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:

To see some of my images go to Walking Arizona or

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

How to take better photos for genealogy: Part Three: Composition

Leroy Parkinson Tanner and Eva Margaret Overson Wedding Photo
The main difference between a 'snapshot" and a professional level photograph is the composition. What the photographer sees is the relationship between the people or objects out there in reality and how those people or objects will appear in the photograph. The photograph captures a version or interpretation of reality and so the intent and thought process of the photographer becomes the overriding factor in the image. If a person "snaps a photo" without thinking about how the final image will appear then the image will usually fail to contain any of the impact of the emotion of the photographer or the subjects. Snapshots may become famous but not usually for the same reasons that a well-crafted photograph becomes valuable.

The above photo was staged and was taken by a professional photographer. I could crop the image to improve the composition.

This automatically makes a better image but from a genealogical standpoint, much of the context of the original photo is lost or compromised. In the original, there were some things on the mantel of the fireplace. The knickknacks on the mantel can be dated to give a more complete picture of the environment of the couple. In some cases, an image could show a house, a car, or other recognizable items that could help identify the people and date the image. Here, since we know the wedding date of my grandparents, the other items shown in the complete image are still an important part of the history of the event.

You might notice that there is another photo within the photo above. Here is the photo on the mantel.

Eva Margaret Overson
Once again, we have a great composition and you have to notice her dress and the design of the chair. If you were going to take this photo with a studio background, you might want to crop it like this:

Eva Margaret Overson
Back in the days of film photography using large plates, the person developing the image could crop, rotate, and edit the image in a variety of ways. Now, with digital images, we have an almost unlimited ability to change the image with a few keystrokes. This image, for example, could be enhanced like this:

Eva Margaret Overson
Of course, you should never make changes to the original photo. All changes should be done to a copy of the original. There is a significant controversy among genealogists about the propriety of the "restoration" and manipulation of historic photos. This photo has few challenges and the changes I made to the original are minimal but a restored photo is not the original especially if there was significant damage that needed to be "repaired." The argument goes that we are making a more acceptable or more satisfying image and therefore that consideration outweighs the issue of historicity. I can go along with this line of thought so long as the original image, no matter how damaged, is preserved and acknowledged as the original. For example, people have a tendency to remove scars, especially those that disfigure the individual from smallpox or some other disease. The person with the scarring would have lived with that so we are going to make sure his or her posterity do not know about that suffering?

Now, if you are taking a photo, you might intentionally include some background or objects that give the time and location of the photo. You might also think about moving in a step or out a step (careful not to trip) to get a better or tighter composition. You might also remember the purpose for the photo in the first place assuming you have one. Photos like the one above are equal to any work of art in any museum in the world if they are photos of your family.

Stay tuned for more.

See the previous posts here:

Part One:
Part Two:

To see some of my images go to Walking Arizona or

Monday, November 18, 2019

White House Photographer David Kennerly to Keynote RootsTech 2020
RootsTech 2020 is quickly approaching and the Keynote Speakers are starting to be announced. Here is the first one announced from a post by FamilySearch.
RootsTech 2020, the world’s largest family history convention, is pleased to announce David Hume Kennerly, Pulitzer Prize—winning White House photographer, as the featured keynote speaker on Friday, February 27, 2020, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kennerly will share some of his incredible stories as part of RootsTech 2020’s 10th anniversary celebrating genealogy and technology innovation. 
David Hume Kennerly has a rich legacy of impressive contributions to photography and history. His photos have appeared on more than 50 major magazine covers. He has photographed 10 U.S. presidents and served as a contributing editor for Newsweek magazine and was a contributing photographer for Time and Life magazines. American Photo magazine named Kennerly “One of the 100 Most Important People in Photography,” and Washingtonian magazine called Kennerly one of the 50 most important journalists in Washington, D.C. 
Kennerly is on the board of trustees of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation. As a member of the board of directors of the Eddie Adams Workshop and Creative Visions Foundation, Kennerly continues to give back to his community. He is a member of the Canon Explorers of Light program. Kennerly is brought to the RootsTech 2020 stage by Canon, where he will share some of his incredible stories with the RootsTech audience. 
RootsTech 2020 offers 300+ classes, one-on-one coaching corners, exciting discovery experiences and an exhibition hall filled with the latest in genealogy and technology. RootsTech 2020 Salt Lake City runs February 26—29, 2020. Find out more at
I will be attending RootsTech in person once again. This is the tenth year of the RootsTech Conference and I have attended all of them in person except for 2018 when we were serving as Record Preservation Missionaries for FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Maryland State Archives. I have been an Ambassador/Blogger for every RootsTech Conference since the beginning and I was once one of the Keynote speakers myself for MyHeritage. Great experiences and a wonderful opportunity to meet genealogists from all over the world.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Freedom began with Jenny Slew, A History of the beginning of the end of legal slavery in America: Part Two

Guinea Propria, Nec Non Nigritiae Vel Terrae Nigorum . . . Aethiopia Inferior . . . 1743
Ideally, genealogical research should be well-grounded in history. There is a major movement to encourage contributors to online family trees to support their entries with specific citations to historical documents. Notwithstanding that effort, many genealogical conclusions in online family trees are lacking in historical authenticity. In addition, some genealogists and even historians accept superficial, traditional conclusions rather than questioning easily found but inaccurate information. The history of slavery in America is rife with unsupported and inaccurate generally quoted historical facts which are not historical or factual and, in some cases, have become quasi-mythological.

One of these quasi-myths is that slavery dates the arrival of the first African enslaved people in America in 1619 in Jamestown, now in the state of Virginia. The actual date is more accurately around 1502 when Juan de  C√≥rdoba sent several of his black slaves from Spain to Hispaniola. See

7. Slave Trade, Exploration, American Beginnings: 1492-1690, Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature, Toolbox Library, National Humanities Center.” Accessed November 11, 2019.

There are well over four centuries of the history of African slavery in America up to when Brazil finally abolished slavery in 1888. You can see from this fact alone that the other commonly repeated myth, that it is impossible to do genealogical research about African Americans before about 1870 is also false. Some of the ancestral lines of the originally enslaved people in America are difficult to research and others are not any more difficult than other people who came to America as servants, slaves, indentured servants and in other capacities. The main challenge for genealogists has been the general lack of specific vital records and other similar and easily located public documents. It is, therefore, necessary to rely on probate records and other less available and more difficult to use documents.

Slavery, as an institution, dates back into prehistoric times in many parts of the world. Ancient records, including the Bible, talk about slavery and the European countries began dealing in slaves. By the time of the U.S. Civil war in the 1860s, slavery had existed in both North and South America for about 300 years.  African enslaved people were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese as early as 1501. The usually quoted date for the beginnings of slavery in North America is 1619 but that is really the date of the first English enslaved people. The Spanish brought slaves to North America beginning as early as 1526. For more commentary, see the following:

Ponti, Crystal. “America’s History of Slavery Began Long Before Jamestown.” HISTORY. Accessed November 16, 2019.

“The African Slave Trade and Slave Life | Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Accessed November 16, 2019.

Another commonly repeated myth is that slavery, itself, was never widespread in the northern part of what is now the United States. In fact, the Southern plantation pattern of slavery usually depicted in history books was a late development. From the very first settlements, slavery was a part of colonial life in the Northern States. By the early 1800s, tens of thousands of enslaved people were living in Northern towns and cities. See the following:

Klein, Christopher. “Deeper Roots of Northern Slavery Unearthed.” HISTORY. Accessed November 16, 2019.

The Chesapeake Bay was the gateway for the first Africans brought to the colonies. The much-quoted date of 1619 is when a Dutch slaving ship brought the first enslaved Africans to the Jamestown settlement.

However, it is not my purpose in writing this series to attempt a complete history of slavery in the world although such a work would be an interesting challenge. My focus will be on the development of the various laws of nations that were primarily involved in the Atlantic slave trade and the further development of those laws, particularly in the United States. As an initial illustration of the process, here is a brief list of the dates by country for the beginning and the end of slavery in the countries most involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade. It should be noted that various efforts to end slavery date back into antiquity.
  • Portugal: 1501 to 1818
  • The United Kingdom from about 1562 to 1808
  • France 1763 to 1794 then again in 1826 and abolished in 1833
  • Spain  from 1501 to approximately 1820
  • the Netherlands 1612 to 1872
  • The United States from 1776 to 1863 and 1865
These dates are approximate and the process of developing a slave trade and then abolishing it occurred over time and not on any one date. 

You can see from this list that the laws concerning the Atlantic Slave Trade will cover more than three hundred years. I also intend to further discuss the development of the civil rights laws in the United States from the end of slavery to the present. 

Read the previous post:

Part One:

Cumulative Bibliography

“7. Slave Trade, Exploration, American Beginnings: 1492-1690, Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature, Toolbox Library, National Humanities Center.” Accessed November 11, 2019.

“41189.Jpg (2071×1800).” Accessed November 11, 2019.

Adams, John, and Charles Francis Adams. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Diary, with Passages from an Autobiography. Notes of Debates in the Continental Congress, in 1775 and 1776. Autobiography. Little, Brown, 1865.

“Britain-and-the-Trade.Pdf.” Accessed November 16, 2019.

African Studies Centre Leiden. “Dutch Involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Abolition,” June 24, 2013.

Ipswich, Historic. “The First Church Clock.” Historic Ipswich (blog), August 18, 2017.

The U.S. National Archives. “John Whipple House - Ipswich, Massachusetts.” Image, January 1, 1935.

Klein, Christopher. “Deeper Roots of Northern Slavery Unearthed.” HISTORY. Accessed November 16, 2019.

Moore, George Henry. Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts. New York, D. Appleton & co., 1866.

Ponti, Crystal. “America’s History of Slavery Began Long Before Jamestown.” HISTORY. Accessed November 16, 2019.

“Slavery in the British and French Caribbean.” In Wikipedia, November 7, 2019.

“Slavery in the Spanish New World Colonies.” In Wikipedia, November 15, 2019.

“The African Slave Trade and Slave Life | Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Accessed November 16, 2019.

Smithsonian. “The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History.” Accessed November 8, 2019.

“Timeline of Abolition of Slavery and Serfdom.” In Wikipedia, November 13, 2019.

“Transatlantic Slave Trade | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.” Accessed November 16, 2019.

“Unearthing the Human Stories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade – AAIHS.” Accessed November 8, 2019.

Wright, Donald R. African Americans in the Colonial Era: From African Origins through the American Revolution, 2017.