25 July 2013

Expanding My Research Comfort Zone: Visiting A County Courthouse

     Today I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried something new: I visited a County Courthouse.

     I have been doing genealogy research for about 10 years now, but have never visited a courthouse.  In part, this is because much of the historic documents housed there have been microfilmed and are available at the Georgia Archive.  On the other hand, I haven't done it because I get nervous about trying new things.  But I decided to take the plunge and today I visited the Lincoln County Courthouse.

     The courthouse visit was actually stop two in a three part trip that also included a cemetery and a library.  I headed out with my partner in genealogy (hi Mom!) and after a two hour drive we arrived at the cemetery.  Only a short while later we were at the courthouse.

     Lincoln County, Georgia is extremely rural and their website did not provide much information regarding their records.  Add to the fact that I didn't plan to go until 6pm the previous day and could thus not call for information, I was going in blind.

     Mom and I arrived and entered the lobby, which consisted of four doors.  Two closed doors were marked Probate Judge and Clerk of Courts.  I wasn't sure which office held the records, so I stuck my head into an open office and asked the lady there were the genealogy records were.  She directed us to the Probate Judge. Inside the Judge's office, the very friendly staff showed us into a vault - a literal vault with thick metal door! - and found this:

     Que magical music.  There were also another 50 or so volumes stored under the counter in the middle of the room, as well a numerous file cabinets that we did not have access to.

     The room itself was pretty tight.  You can judge the width of the bookcase by comparing it to the ladder.  Add about two feet to the right, and that was the width of the room.  The room was only about 12 feet long with a counter in the middle.  To say it was cramped was putting it mildly.  There was just enough space in the room to reach all most of the records and review them while standing at the counter.  But really, what genealogist wouldn't give up comfort for more records?

     My goal for the day was to research Mary Glaze, my 5x Great Grandmother.  I don't know much about her, including her maiden name, and hoped to connect her to another relative.  I didn't have too much luck, but I did find out some folks who were not her parents.  I did get a copy of her will, inventory and appraisements, and notes in minute books.

     I made copies two ways: with my camera and my FlipPal Scanner (when I first arrived I asked the lady at the desk if I could use it and received permission).  I didn't ask, but I got the feeling that if I wanted copies of the books I would need to ask for the pages to be scanned, which would have been a hassle.  Instead, I was able to scan them myself.  The volumes varied in size, but for the most part it took 8 to 10 scans to fully capture the page.  It did take a few minutes to scan each page, but the results was worth it:

     Pretty darn good!  I need to work on making sure that I get all of my edges, but I didn't miss any of the text with my scans.  One thing that is important though: after an hour and a half of almost straight scanning, I started getting a low battery warning.  I need to remember to take extra batteries next time.

     I also really enjoyed looking through the books, as opposed to scanning microfilm.  First off, I'm holding a book that someone wrote in 200 years ago!  They are letting me touch this! History in my hands! Exclamation marks cannot explain the happy! 

     Secondly: although some microfilm readers have computer scanners attached which is very helpful, it is about a million times faster to look through a book than it is to scan through a microfilm.  Is your record on page 400?  Wouldn't you rather grab a handful of pages and skip right to it rather than scroll through 400 frames of microfilm (especially on a hand-crank machine?).  

     All things considered, I didn't learn anything new from this tip, though I did get some nifty scans and some supporting documents.  The most important part of today was the experience itself.  I now feel more confident about visiting county courthouses and have quite a few that I want to visit sooner rather than later. 

22 July 2013

Two Saturday Arrivals

     Saturday was a pretty exciting day for my family tree.  At 7:31 am, almost 12 hours after my sister arrived at the hospital, little baby Jasper arrived.  He's the first grand-baby for both sets of grandparents, and we're all really excited.  For those of you who didn't see this on Facebook, here's a cute little video of him:

     Secondly, I also received my Flip-Pal scanner.  Not really as exciting as a new human being, but still exciting in its own right.  I've been using it for a good bit at this point and I'm very happy with my purchase.

     I found the Flip-Pal very easy to use: put the batteries in (which are included), slide the on switch, put your photo on the plate, close the cover and push the green button.  If you want to scan something besides a 4.6 or smaller photo, you pull the cover off (a little tricky the first time, but easy after that) and lay the scanner face down, as shown in the photo.  The glass screen on the back allows you to easily frame your photo inside the scanning area.  The green scan button is on the side of the device, so it's still easily accessible.

     I think that most people who are familiar with all-in-one printers will be able to intuitively figure out how the device works.  And that's a good thing, because it doesn't come with any paper instructions.  Instead, the user guides are included as digital files on the SD Memory card that comes with the device and you have to put the SD card into your computer to access the files.  Until you figure this out, you're on your own.

     Also included on the SD card are a few pieces of software, the most important being EasyStitch.  This software allows you to take multiple scans of a larger image (like in the photo above), and then have the software put them together for you.  Here's an example of a photo that I took three separate scans of and used EasyStitch to put back together:

          I find using the Flip-Pal to be faster than scanning on my all-in-one or flatbed scanners.  I only have to use one device, instead of constantly moving back and forth between my computer and scanner.  I look forward to using it on a road trip as well.

     All together I'm very happy with the Flip-Pal Scanner.  There's really just one thing that I would like to see changed: it can be hard to pick up one handed (and for me, using the scanner one handed is simply the way I've been intuitively using it).  By this, I mean that the width of the scanner is just smaller than the width of my stretched fingers.  I can just barely get my fingers on either side of the scanner to pick it up.  It's also a little difficult to pick up on the side, as the sides are mostly flat, with just a small indention at the edge.  I would suggest that future versions of the scanner be shaped a little bit differently, with a narrower section on the end, like a paddle. Or it could have a bigger indention, that would allow you to wedge your fingers under the bottom of the scanner.

     Based on the past few days, I would recommend the Flip-Pal scanner to those in the market.  It's simple and easy to use, though I would recommend a few small design changes.

19 July 2013

Photo Bonanza

     I went to visit my Great-Aunt Ree the other day for her birthday (happy 83rd!), and left with a present of my own: family photos.  She'd given me some before, mainly of her mother (my great-grandmother) and her siblings.  After this last visit, I now have another 60, plus four large albums that she let me borrow.

     The first thing I decided to do was to go ahead, take the leap, and get a FlipPal scanner.  With these four albums, plus others from my mom's childhood that I still need to get scanned, I have more than enough work to get done.  I ordered the scanner on Wednesday and my USPS tracking says I'll get it tomorrow.  Fingers crossed!

     After scanning all of the loose photos on my all-in-one, I decided that I wanted to organize these photos in a way that presented them better than inside an envelope inside a storage box.  I also wanted to present the photos in a way that was somewhat more contemporary to their creation.  There's not a single 4x6 photo in the bunch, so a modern album wouldn't work anyway.  So I made this:

   I created this album using chipboard, archival safe card stock (paper), decorative scrapbooking tape, metal page corners, a decorative sticker, and a Bind-it-All machine. We already had the Bin-it-All and the corners, so the rest of it cost about $30 to make, which isn't any more than I might have paid for a large scrapbook album.

    I filled the album with 25 pages of black card stock and am adhearing the photos using black photo corners.  I'm then lableing the photos using a white Uni-ball Signo pen.  I've loosely organized the photos chronologically by generation, with my Great-Great Grandparents first, followed by their children, then their children, etc.  I'm still debating on whether or not to add some newspaper clippings and letters that I have as well.

05 July 2013

Happy Birthday to the Zip Code

     The other day I heard an interesting piece on NPR about the 50th birthday of the ZIP code.  It's kinda strange to think about something as every-day as a ZIP code not having been around when my mom was born.

     During the radio segment, they said that ZIP codes came out as a way to help sort mail more quickly by machine during an era when the US Post Office was booming.  ZIP codes were introduced only a short time after Area Codes were, and it took folks a while to adjust to all these numbers.  I can't even imagine being bothered by three or five new numbers when I have 20 million different online passwords that I have to remember.

     I recommend that you listen to the story here, which includes the nifty jingle they came up with to help promote the new code.  Also, check out these neat trivia tidbits and maps about ZIP codes.

01 July 2013

I Know Where My Ancestors Where 150 Years Ago Today. Do You?

     150 years ago today five of my ancestors were brought together on a battlefield in Pennsylvania.  There, they fought on the Confederate side of one of the most famous battles of the Civil War: Gettysburg.  Were your ancestors there as well?  If you don't know, I'll share how I traced my ancestors to the battlefield.

     I started by making a list of all male ancestors in my family tree who were between the ages of 14 and 60 in the early 1860s.  I then searched for Civil War Service Records for those men, using the indexes available on Ancestry.com and images on Fold3.  Once I found their records, I made a list of my Civil War soldier ancestors with their enlistment date, regiments, and discharge date, as listed on their Civil War Service Records.

     Next, I researched the regiments and units that each soldier served in, to find out which battles they fought in.  This can be difficult, as each regiment has been researched to a different extent.  Some regiments were large and part of even larger armies, others were small and participated in smaller battles.  Regiments were often reorganized, becoming part of a larger army (ex Army of Northern Virginia).  Here, Google was my friend and will be yours as well.  There are lots of small websites out there, dedicated to particular regiments or units.  I also found good information on Wikipedia, in some cases.  For those doing Georgia research, the website, Georgia Confederate Units, will be very helpful to understand the organization of regiments.  But don't neglect books either!  Check out the collections at nearby libraries and archives to see if there is anything available.

     As you can see in the service record shown here, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Nathan W Hyler, enlisted with Company C of the 15th Regiment South Carolina Infantry on 7 April 1862.  This record shows that he was "Present" with his unit during the months of July and August of 1863.

     The dates on this record are key; I know when he joined the war (so I don't need to look earlier than this date) and I know that Nathan was with his regiment in July of 1863.  From researching his regiment, I know that at that time they were fighting at Gettysburg!

     Using the information I uncovered about my ancestor's military units, I came up with the following list of ancestors who fought there:

  • From my Paternal line
    • William Anderson Craft of Elbert County, GA, with the 15th Reg GA Infantry, Co F
    • Wiley Powell of Elbert County, GA, with the 38th Reg GA Infantry, Co F
  • From my Maternal line
    • William Washington Sprouse of Abbeville County, SC, with the 1st Reg SC Cav, Co A
      • detached to Hampton's Brigade
    • Franklin Edwin Leaphart of Lexington County, SC, with the 15th Reg SC Inf, Co C
    • Nathan Washington Hyler of Lexington County, SC, with the 15th Reg SC Inf, Co C

     I then visited CivilWar.org to look at battlefield maps from Gettysburg.  I was able to find each of my ancestors' units on the maps.  This image shows a portion of "The Wheatfield Fight."  You can see where the 15th Georgia and the 15th South Carolina fought in this battle.  That's three of my ancestors fighting very close together.  Hopefully one day I'll visit Gettysburg and will be able to walk where my ancestors fought.  Hopefully you found some helpful tips here and will be able to walk where your ancestors fought too.


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