I recently stumbled upon a random newspaper article, “Deaths on the Plains this Season.” Other than the title, the article provides little in the way of detail about why, or how, or from where came the list of names of 250 people who perished as they journeyed to a new life in the west. Nearly all the names are associated with a death date, such as “C.S. Carter, June 5.” Some, like “John Holeman, June 5, age 19” are accompanied by a bit more information, but with “Joseph Langley, age 47,” readers don’t know when he passed.
A man known only as “Battsford” died July 26, “shot by his captain.” T Miller, age 26, was murdered June 15 by R. Tate. But possibly Mr. Tate received his due – “Lafayette Tate, hung June 15, for murder of T. Miller.”
M. J. Henderson died the same day. He was from Wisconsin, age 1 year, 2 months and 15 days.
The Hardcastles were hit hard in their migration – W. C. died 16 August, age 23; R. P. died, 23 June, age 25; Mrs. D. A. Hardcastle died 6 June, age 26; J. M. Hardcastle died 7 June, age 6; and Mrs. D. J. Hardcastle died 16 June, age 25. Who were these people who shared a surname? Where were they from? Where did they hope to make their new home?
A portion of names are associated with locations. Thomas H. Foster who died 18 May at age 25 hailed from Cumberland, Md. R. H. Nelson from Monroe, Michigan died 26 May at age 25. Illinois, Ohio, St. Louis, Pike county Mo., Harvard, Ind., Rarrington, Ohio, and Fairfield, Whoknowswhere all lost sons and daughters who once called those places home.
When I first ran across the article I considered how many genealogists who’ve had ancestors “just disappear” have thought about searching newspapers in far-flung locations? Does anyone researching the Baxton family from Ohio City, Ohio wonder what became of G. C. Baxton, born about 1830? He died – somewhere on the plains – 24 June 1852. I tried to find the back story on some of the faceless names from the column, searching 1850 census records to see if I could identify any of those who had a specific location and an age associate with their names. Sadly, I struck out on the handful I investigated.
But a Google search led me to David J. Langum’s “Pioneer Justice on the Overland Trails” with more news about two of those 250 deaths in the 1852 newspaper - T. Miller’s and Lafayette Tate. T. Miller, (unnamed in Langum’s article,) was a cattle overseer in the Brown emigrant party who fought with one of the drivers by the name of Tate. The driver's brother, Lafayette Tate, 19, ran up, stabbed Miller in the back, then slit his throat. Based on multiple diary accounts cited by Langum, we learn about the speedy frontier justice – with quickly assembled jury, judge, prosecutor and defense counsel. Witnesses were examined, Tate was found guilty and thirty minutes later hanged. According to the diaries Langum cited, the brother who originally fought with Miller was allowed to continue on with the company. For those interested in more about pioneer justice on the trails, be sure to read Langum’s article.
But even for those whose relatives might have disappeared in a less dramatic fashion, I hope this post might inspire researchers to not stop at just the local paper in their ancestral locations, but consult even far-off papers for details on their families’ lives.
 “Deaths on the Plains this Season,” Sacramento Daily Union, 2 November 1852, p. 2, col. 5; digital image, California Digital Newspaper Collection (www.cdnc.ucr.edu : accessed 7 July 2020). A search on The California Digital Newspaper Collection for “death on the plains” led to other articles in Sacramento and San Francisco newspapers, some of which were repeats of each other.
 “Death on the Plains this Season.”
 Langum, David J. "Pioneer Justice on the Overland Trails." The Western Historical Quarterly 5, no. 4 (1974): 421-39. Accessed July 7, 2020. doi:10.2307/967307.
ProGen is a study group to encourage professional and aspiring genealogists. Each month, participants read sections of Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice and Standards and Genealogy Standards. In conjunction with the readings, they write up an assignment, and review the work of their fellow students, offering constructive comments. Each month, students meet online in an hour-long discussion about the readings or assignment. The strength of the program is the peer-feedback.
I described it to someone recently as “the ultimate pyramid scheme” – but in a really really good way! Think about it. You read a chapter and write up an assignment. Then you turn in your assignment and you get to see seven other people’s take on the same assignment! They give you feedback on your work – a great benefit. But even better is you get the chance to analyze their work. You think about “Why did they include that?” “Will I include that when I do something like that in the future?” “Does one format work better than another for this kind of product?” “Paragraphs or bullet points?” “Hyperlinks – yes or no?” “How would I approach my colleague’s problem?” And then, you get to read each other’s feedback on the other assignments. “Hmmm… I didn’t even notice that thing that he pointed out… I’ll have to look out for that in the future.” There is learning on so many levels in this kind of a peer-feedback environment – when you write your own work, get critiques on your own work, mentally analyze someone else’s work, formulate useful coherent comments on other’s work, and read the analyses of other people on the same work.
As I said, I now have the chance to mentor a group of ProGen students. This month their assignment was to write a locality guide. As a group they’ve turned in guides for Italy, Ireland, Belarus, Connecticut, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Indiana and more – sometimes at a county level, sometimes at a state level. Each one of these I read has resources I’ve never seen. While I might not have ancestors in each specific locality, I can learn about types of records and strategies from each of them. “Hmm… Franklin County, Pennsylvania has xyz? Does Blair County where my people lived have those same kind of records? I’ll have to look for those!”
I did many of the same assignments when I was a student in ProGen four years ago. But I’ve decided that I’m going to do the same assignments as the students in my group are doing. I’m in the thick of some research on my Bradley family – my great-grandfather Peter Bradley (1808-1861) and his nine siblings – five brothers and four sisters – at least eight of whom emigrated from County Tyrone, Ireland and settled in several counties in western Pennsylvania between about 1830 and 1850. I think a locality guide for each of these counties will help me to understand more about my Bradleys.
For a link to my locality guide for Blair County, Pennsylvania, click here.
 ProGen Study Groups (https://www.progenstudy.org/).
 Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, ed. Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2018).
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry.com, 2019).
I ran across a newspaper item this morning while looking for my family. I don’t have any reason to believe the article specifically refers to anyone I know, but the tale is timeless…
A new-born babe was left on the door-step of a house in Boston, with this touching note: - ‘To the tender mercies of this cold and wicked world this little infant is committed. – Whoever receives it, cares for it, and adopts it, may yet live to bless the day that thus their kindness has been bestowed. Born of a victim of misplaced confidence, yet the heart and affection of the mother never die.’”1]
It just made me think of the many cases of unknown parentage I have worked to solve. The heartbreak of the mother, that victim of misplaced confidence, is palpable. I hope the child was loved.
 Untitled, The Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania), p. 2, col. 5; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/278498074 : accessed 21 Feb 2020).
A lot of genealogists read the good stuff, scholarly journals such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. They are both great publications, and you’ll see many examples of well-written case studies and compiled genealogies. In them you will see example after example of precise, efficient citations. The articles have undergone multiple levels of review that have cleaned up mistakes and filled in gaps in research.
I know from personal experience that an article I submitted to “The Q” had holes in my research, things I hadn’t addressed. And my first round of citations was something I am currently less than proud of. But the editors saw potential and worked with me to fix the text and citations so they would meet the publications standard, and hopefully be an example to other genealogists.
When you read an article in The Q, you’ll look at the citations to see what kind of resources the author consulted. You might even go look at some of those specific references yourself, and in so doing perhaps learn about a valuable resource you haven’t thought about using in your own research. Those are good lessons.
But what you won’t see between the covers of those hallowed periodicals are the crappy citations that don’t really document what they say they do. There’s plenty of sloppy citations out there. You probably have some in your own writing. I know I do. I’m sure your friends do, too.
Somebody might write a citation to the gravestone of Charles Kircher on his FindAGrave memorial in Marin County, California and say that he was born 25 April 1879. The gravestone does not have the birthdate. It has a year, but not the actual date. (And until sometime after his wife died in 1968, Charles’ stone didn’t even have the years of his life span on the stone!) So, no, that stone does not tell you he was born 25 April 1879. The memorial does, but what made the memorial poster make the leap from the simple 1879 that the stone says to a specific date? So that’s something you ought to dig a little more into if you want to be thorough. Somebody knew (or thought they knew) something about the actual date. You’ve got a clue now – can you prove it?
Another example – 1870 census. You know that man is your great-great grandfather, and that woman is his wife, and those three children are all their sons and daughters. Because you know the family. So you say that Fred and Wilma’s children were A, B, and C, and you cite as your source the 1870 census. But the 1870 census does not state relationships. Those people could be five random strangers who share similar names to your family. You need think about and understand what that record says, and what it doesn’t say. And you need to be precise in writing your text and your citations so you reflect that analysis and understanding.
These examples of imprecision in writing are likely to be dealt with before they hit the pages of the lofty journals we read. But imprecision is present in all our writing. If you’re willing to pass your pages on to a trusted friend for review, and return the favor by reviewing theirs, you’ll begin to see how to improve your precision in your writing and your citations. They’ll call you on your mistakes, you’ll call them on theirs, and the next time around you’ll think before you make those same imprecise assertions.
Read a little bad writing. It’ll make you a better genealogist!
 Find A Grave, (http://findagrave.com : accessed 9 February 2020), memorial 59231349, Charles Arthur Kircher (1879-1952), and digital image of Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery (San Rafael, Marin, California, Charles Kircher gravestone; memorial contributed by Carl Bennett 26 September 2010 and gravestone photo contributed by “FosterFamilyTree, date unknown.
 Charles and Agnes are my paternal grandparents. My dad told me that, even though Charlie and Agnes used to enjoy taking picnics to random cemeteries and had a grand old time mentally recreating the lives represented by the names and dates etched in those granite markers, when Charlie died, Agnes had nothing but his name put on his gravestone. Their daughter Mary waited patiently for another 14 years, and when Agnes died in 1968, Mary had Agnes’ name and years put on her stone, and amended Charlie’s to get his years, too.
I hate to recycle content. I wrote “A Call to Action,” two months ago. But it is sooo important, particularly for my fellow SLIG 2020 graduates.
Before you pack your syllabus for your trip home, before you stick it on your shelf when you arrive there, open it to the inside of the cover and answer this question – “What is your plan for continued advancement in 2020, 2021 and 2022?”
As I reflect in the next few days I’m sure I’ll find a few more plans and goals. How about you, fellow SLIGsters - What is your plan?
A teacher turns over the classroom. This week at SLIG, I’m taking “Meeting Standards with DNA Evidence.” Karen Stanbary CG® is the course coordinator. She has taught several sessions, but joining her is an all-star cast. Each day we have had at least one or two other instructors. Today we had LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, CG® and David Rencher, AG® CG®.
It has been wonderful to see genealogical problems presented by such high caliber speakers this week. Each has shed light on how to approach a problem, decide when DNA testing might be appropriate, determine what kind of DNA test(s) could be most useful, establish how to organize the massive amounts of data, define what the assumptions being made are, and more. I have so enjoyed the chance to visualize a genealogical problem and its solution from each of their perspective. Each has shone light from a slightly different angle.
But Karen has taken this a step further. She went out on a limb with “DNA Dreamers,” an optional session at the end of the day where students were invited to present their own research, and have their classmates in the “think-tank” suggest additional research strategies and come up with recommended next steps. I was lucky enough to get to share my problem. On tap for next week – put some of those suggestions to the test.
Thank you Karen for having the vision and courage to try something new. It has definitely enhanced my learning experience!
Certified Genealogist and CG are proprietary service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, whose name is a registered trademark. The Accredited Genealogist® and AG® registered marks are the sole property of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.
Great day today. I’m learning a ton in class, but it’s wonderful to also be able to take the opportunity to network.
At lunch I showed my friend how I use a spreadsheet to help me with my citations for a large project such as a Kinship Determination Project, one of the elements in a portfolio for certification. I can sort my citations in a spreadsheet which serves three purposes – I can make sure like-types of citations are consistent from one to another, I can easily see when I use the same citation a second or third time and need to make it a subsequent (short) citation, and I have models that I can easily copy and edit for other uses. Another friend came to say hello, and seeing what I was doing, encouraged me to try to find a way to share this with other genealogist. Hmmm…knowing someone is interested in the way I do things has encouraged me to think about a new business venture. Definitely something to work toward.
I had an invitation for dinner with my friend Kristen who lives in the opposite corner of the country. It’s nice to get to see her at a genealogy event or two every year. Another friend of Kristen, Susan, also joined us. And now I have a new friend! From Pennsylvania. Who knows all about the wonderful resources at the Blairsville Historical Society – in the exact locations where I recently discovered a whole bunch of new relatives! I’ve got some planning to do.
And this evening we were treated to a networking social at SLIG, were I met more new people and had a chance to visit with some old friends. It made for a very nice evening.
One more little bit I want to share. We are given a bound syllabus, 220+ pages for our course. I realized on day one that there would be a couple of pages – the table of contents and the schedule for the week – that I’d want to refer to frequently. I had a little book of sticky-tabs that were a promo item from another conference I attended stuck in my computer bag. I used blue ones on those two pages. But the next day, as I took a note on a page, I thought “This would make a good blog post.” On another one, “Hmmm, here’s a resource I should investigate.” Let’s see… I’ve got lots of tab colors – I can use green ones from blog ideas, pink for personal research, and for those “golden nuggets” our instructor wants us to keep track of, I’ve got yellow ones. I’m going to make sure at future conferences, I’ll bring book of tiny colored post-it flags to make my syllabus review that much easier.
I signed up to take a class at SLIG – “Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence – Research Strategies.” I’m not sure what I thought it was going to be. More about writing, I think. I’m so glad I was wrong.
I signed up for the class because I thought I was going to learn how to write up my DNA research. I am getting so much more than I bargained for. It’s two word, right up there in the front of the title, “Meeting Standards.”
Karen Stanbary, CG® is the facilitator. In addition to her deep knowledge, other teachers today included Catherine B. W. Desmarais, Melissa A. Johnson, Thomas W. Jones, Angela Packer McGhie, and Richard G. Sayre, all of them credentialed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. We have more instructors taking center stage in the next couple of days.
With each of new, I’ve had the chance to see how they plan and execute their research in order to meet the standards. I see the choices they made and hear their explanation about why they made those choices in that particular case. And what they might do differently next time.
It’s been a great couple of days of learning. I can’t wait til tomorrow to fit more pieces into my brain.
Certified Genealogist and CG are proprietary service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, whose name is a registered trademark.
The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy – SLIG !- I’m finally here! I arrived last evening. My flight from Seattle was nice, with an empty seat beside me. We arrived early. Things were great. And then there was BAGGAGE CLAIM. Several of my fellow travelers shared the dreaded luggage fiasco – we were in Salt Lake City but our bags were in Seattle. Alaska Airlines promised they’d deliver the bag to my hotel, whenever it arrived.
So suitcase-less I hopped on TRAX, the local lightrail to get downtown. I got off at the nearest stop, walked the block and half to the hotel, rode the elevator up to the conference floor and entered the ballroom for the orientation at 5:29, one minute before the start of the orientation session. And at 5:38, my pulse rate down to normal, I looked around my seat… under my coat… next to my backpack… and I had... no purse. I think I must have left it on TRAX.
On Sunday evening, calls to the TRAX lost and found went to voicemail. I’d just have to wait til Monday morning to talk to someone. I posted my tale of woe on the SLIG facebook group, told a few friends and in minutes my phone messenger app was filling up with so many offers of support – “I’m sending my husband with cash – what room are you in?” “I’ve got a Starbucks card for you.” “Can I do anything for you?” “I can lend you a spare set of pajamas” and more…
This is such a wonderful community. Attending my fifth SLIG, I’m greeted with warm hugs and beaming smiles. I love coming here. And after the wonderful offers of support in my time of stress I love it even more.
My suitcase did (finally) show up, late late late last night. Still hoping for a good word on the purse. But I know that any twinge of sadness if my purse remains lost will fade to nothing as I continue to bask in the warm embrace of this wonderful genealogical community.
I’m nearly finished with a six-week course, the All-DNA Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum, one of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy’s offerings. Each Saturday we get a new puzzle and have six days to come up with the solution. (I have a stack of Sunday crosswords sorely in need of my attention. It seems I’m too excited about the real-life DNA puzzles I’ve been working on.) On the following Saturday, the instructor walks us through their solution in a guided discussion. And then a new instructor comes to the mound and pitches the next mystery.
I like this class on so many levels. We’re getting case studies and solutions from some of the top DNA instructors in the country. My fellow students aren’t too shabby either. Some have been willing to share their solutions, which gives me a peek into another genealogist’s mind about how they went about tackling the problem. In their reports I learn different ways to set up tables and present data, as well as verbiage to try to succinctly explain some challenging concepts. We;re learning about new tools to use to solve our problems.
One of my favorite reasons, however, has to do with record sets. Studying groups of people sharing DNA with one another is only part of the solution. Documentary sources in which our ancestors and those of our matches appear must also be studied to determine which people were in the correct location to create the exact chromosomal combination in our mystery person.
I think I’ve looked at records from close to 20 different states and a few countries to solve the five cases in the practicum. Some locations appear in my own family’s history. Some record types are part of my regular playlist. But in working through these problems I’ve been exposed to record sets I’ve never used.
One recent case used a particular record set in a particular county of Pennsylvania I hadn’t ever used. I have several family lines of my own (and ones I’ve researched with my dear friend, Barb, the person who sucked me into the fascinating world of genealogy). As researched the DNA case I made a mental note to see which other Pennsylvania counties had records in that same set. As it turns out, A LOT! I’ve now got a whole list of Pennsylvania township assessment records from a whole list of Pennsylvania counties to follow-up on. Maybe, just maybe, I can make some headway on Barb’s brick wall ancestor.
I think you should expect to learn something in every class you take. And if you’re lucky you might learn something – a new record set, for instance – that you never expected to learn.
For more about attending SLIG, click here.
Disclaimer – The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy has provided me a discount on my SLIG 2020 tuition for my participation as a SLIG ambassador.. The opinions expressed are my own.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.