Friday, March 25, 2011

Learning from Peers

One of the best ways to sharpen your genealogical knowledge is to ask questions, and among the best places to ask questions are the public and member-only lists of the Association of Professional Genealogists. APG is a professional association of more than 2,000 practicing or aspiring professional genealogists. Imagine the combined experience and knowledge of such a group!

Experienced researchers know the importance of understanding the cultural and legal context in which records were created. One of the challenges of genealogical research is that our ancestors did not sit still in time or place. One family I am tracking leads me back through Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky to 18th-century Virginia. Other branches take me back to 18th-century England, Scandinavia and The Netherlands. I can't possibly be expert in the history and culture of all these areas, so I must learn from others who are more expert.

Earlier this month (March 2011), I needed to know more about two things I was encountering in Kentucky records from the late 1700s and early 1800s. The first question dealt with abbreviations of given names. I found a name abbreviated "Jo." in an estate record. I was hopeful that "Jo." stood for John, which is often abbreviated "Jno." But, I knew "Jo." might also represent Joseph, which is more commonly abbreviated "Jos." To make a long story shorter, colleagues on the APG lists weighed in, offering examples of cases were "Jo." did appear to stand for John in records from that time period and earlier. Alas, despite examples of "Jo." standing for John, I have determined that, in the record I was looking at, it stands for Joseph.

My second question had to do with Kentucky tax records. I have found numerous cases where tax records for a particular county listed property located several counties distant. One bit of advice from the APG list-readers was: read the law. I did, and learned that Kentucky statutes explicity permitted taxpayers to list their property from several counties with the authorities in the county where they lived.

Because of the help of more knowledgeable genealogists, I am now a little smarter about Kentucky research. My advice: join APG and follow the members-only list. If you're not ready to join APG, take advantage of the public list. You can find information and APG and the two lists at Two thousands heads are better than just one!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

APG in London

I fell off the blogging train a while back, but just returned from London, I am enthused again about making regular posts about some of my favorite family history and genealogy topics. The excuse for a winter-time trip to cool and rainy London was the big "Who Do You Think You Are" family history expo in London. I spent one day helping out in the Association of Professional Genealogists "stand" ("booth" in American) and rooming through the crowded exhibit hall. I haven't heard any final estimates on the crowd, but organizers were expecting something in the range of 17,000 attendees, and from what I saw, that number is believable.

You can read more about WDYTYA in several issues of Dick Eastman's newsletter from the last week. I got to meet not only Dick, but also genealogists from Hungary, Germany and the UK. We had a nice contigent of U.S. APG people there, as well.

As exciting as WDYTYA was, highlights of the trip were visits to Kew and Devonshire. To a genealogist, "Kew" means The National Archives, located in the western London suburb of Kew, close by famous Kew Gardens. It is perhaps the most user-friendly archive I have ever worked in. It was amazing to hold in my hands documents from a 1690s law case involving suspected ancestors of my wife.

A 2-hour train ride took us to Tiverton in North Devon, where we visited Barb's third cousin, once removed. Ron and Margaret live in a 17th century house on the edge of Exmoor. After a bountiful English dinner, we talked deep into the night about 400 years of family history. Perhaps, you can now tell why I feel regenerated after a 9-hour plane ride back to snowy Minnesota!