Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

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Oh, THERE you are!

I found my great-great-great-grandparents today in the 1841 Scotland census. This is not the first, second, third, or fourth time I’ve looked for them. But it’s the first time I found them.

Databases are tricky. Census records are available on many sites but they don’t index, filter, or display their information the same way. Add to it that names are spelled as many different ways as humanly possible, requiring searching endless variations but missing the one that actually was used, or relying on “fuzzy matching” to get multiple spellings in one go. It takes patience, persistence, and creativity.

Today I found them.

Robert Brookmire and Isabella McAusland married in Campsie, Stirling, Scotland, on 3 July 1840. He was a calico printer and his father John lived in Belfast, Ireland. Isabella was a spinster and her father John lived in Dunbarton.

In the 1841 Scotland Census, Robert Brockmyce, age 20, Eliz[abe]th, age 25, and 4-month old John were living in the Village Of Thornliebank in Lanarkshire. Robert was born in Ireland and was a Calico Printer Apprentice; Elizabeth and John were born in Scotland. All the men on their street were also calico printers, many born in Ireland.

Finding one answer leads to more questions: Where is Thornliebank? what is a calico printer? What else can I find about young John?  When did Robert migrate to Scotland from Belfast? What can I find about his father, John?

The fun of research isn’t just finding the answer, it’s figuring out how it fits into context, adding to the puzzle until it makes a more complete picture.


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Sources, Information, Evidence

I thought I knew all about sources for research until I took the Boston University Genealogical Research Course in 2014. Genealogists are very particular (and picky) about types of sources and information contained in those sources than what I’d previously experienced. The term “primary source” and “secondary source” were familiar to me in my work life, too, but in genealogy, we have “primary information” instead of “primary source.” The whole reason it matters is to get to the type of evidence the source and information provide.

evaluating_evidence_chartNot all documents are created equal.  When reviewing results of a search, it’s important to also be aware of the type of source you have, what information it contains, and what evidence it provides to answer your research question.  There are three different categories for each:

Sources:  containers of information, not the information itself. Tangible, stable

  • Original records  – written report of an action, event, or observation
  • Derivative records – transcribed, abstracted, translated from original record
  • Authored works – biographies, genealogies, books, journals, local histories

Information: source’s surface content. Tangible, stable.

  • Primary – reported by an eyewitness
  • Secondary – hearsay; reported by someone not an eyewitness
  • Undetermined – unknown origin

Evidence: building blocks. Intangible and changeable.

  • Direct Evidence – one information item that answers a question by itself
  • Indirect Evidence – set of 2 or more information items suggesting an answer only when combined
  • Negative Evidence – absence [not lack] of information that answers a question [e.g., someone not included in a will that should be accounted for]


My great-grandmother’s death certificate is an original record, created at the time of her death.  The information contained in it was supplied by 4 people: clerk, doctor, funeral director, and family member. The doctor and funeral director provided primary information about date, time, and cause of death, and of where the body would be buried.  The clerk provided primary information about the state numbering system. The family member provided both primary and secondary information:  primary about address, name, age, marital status, but secondary about birth and parents, since the informant was her daughter and therefore not present when Jane was born.  Taken together, the death certificate provides direct evidence for the question, “when did Jane die?” but only indirect evidence for “who were Jane’s parents?”

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Little green leaves on researched lines

Ancestry.com has little “shaky green leaves” that pop up on our trees when the system finds what it thinks are possible matches. Many of them are wrong but for my direct lines, I’ve checked them all. But when a new green leaf shows up on a well-researched line, it usually means either a new family tree or a new database has been added.

shakyleavesSunday I found a new leaf for my maternal great-grandmother, Charlotte Ann McCormick. She was born in New York City in 1879 to Irish-immigrant parents. Her mother, Alice Heginbotham, was born in Dublin in 1842, the oldest of eught children to an Irish mother and English father. They came to New York in 1853 on board the Freia. Alice’s father made hats and all of the family ended up in the hat business at some point.

Alice’s family were staunch Protestants but she married Irish Catholic immigrant Peter McCormick, who was a stone mason and builder, between 1870-1879 (still working on finding that record).  The family story is that it was more important to marry Irish than to marry within the church, and that Alice and Peter made an agreement that any girls would be raised Protestant in her faith while any boys would be Catholic in their father’s faith. While that was never documented, they had one of each. My great-grandmother was the Protestant daughter and her brother Charles, the Catholic son.

In 1890 the McCormicks lived on 128th Street in Harlem. In April 1892, when Charlotte was 12 years old, a Charlotte McCormick was confirmed at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, located at 127th Street and Fifth Avenue, just 2 blocks from where my McCormicks lived. The right age, the right location – unfortunately for me, the record doesn’t show names of the parents for the confirmands, but still. This was the only Charlotte McCormick in that database (New York, Episcopal Diocese of New York Church Records, 1767 – 1970) and I’m confident that she’s mine.



Making changes slowly but surely

So it’s been a week since going to the gym for the fitness assessment. And I’ve gone three times already with another visit planned for this afternoon, making 4 trips in 7 days. Yayyy me!  The fitness “workout” is really just a plan, not a lot of work, though walking around the track is very difficult for me – not because of the knees, a little because of lower back pain, but mostly because of difficulty catching my breath. This is actually very worrying so I’m trying not to think about it because I’m already doing what I should be doing to improve things.

I’m to walk for 10 minutes. It takes 16 laps to equal a mile, and the track goes in a big circle on the upstairs part of the building, looking down at the fitness area or looking out big windows to the outside. I just can’t walk very fast without getting badly out of breath so am concentrating on moving more slowly but at a pace I can sustain. Last time I was able to make 2 laps without stopping to catch my breath, then another two laps. My goal by September is to be easily doing 8 laps, which is 1/2 mile. More would be better. But I’m starting from zero.

My other two machines work specific body areas. The “coffee grinder” or arm bike is boring but I can feel the arm muscles working. I do three minutes forwards, then three minutes backwards. Not sure if I’m to build up more time or to increase levels next but will ask someone when this feels like not enough.  The other one is the NuStep recumbment cross-trainer, and I feel pretty snazzy that I’m using such an animal. You push down with your feet on big pedals and pull poles with your arms so it’s a complete workout. I can really feel a stretch across my super-tight lower back area, a problem since my fall last September, and my back and legs are pleasantly happy. I did 15 minutes on that one on Wednesday, more than I’m supposed to but already what I’m supposed to do doesn’t feel like much. On the other hand, I’m doing it.

I’m also working on developing another website (yeah, like I need another thing to keep up), this one for genealogy. Actually, I suppose I could include genealogy stuff on this blog along with other things. Hmmm. Maybe I should consider that. The idea of something specific for that is appealing but I know how hard it can be to keep up with one blog, much less two sites. What do you think?

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Knowing the Ancestors

Keel Sadie & Bill c1949

My great-grandparents, William Jesse Keel and Sarah Annis (Peal) Keel

My dad is 88 and has outlived everyone in his line, older than all of them except Aunt Maglene who died at 98. His memory is spotty and names are hard, but he has strong, clear memories of growing up in his small North Carolina town. I love knowing about the ancestors and being able to prompt questions and appreciate answers because I know who they are and how they fit.

I have an Ancestry app on my phone and can pull up the tree with its details and photo gallery at the drop of a hat. Want to know how much his mother earned in 1940? Who were the neighbors? What did (great grandmother) Mama Jane look like?  Did any of Dad’s grandparents die of cancer? With a few clicks, I can get an answer.

I’ve been researching the family tree since I was 16 and most of the time it just feels like I’m the only one who cares about the results. The exceptions are the drama-queen ancestors that are fun to talk about. But the everyday folks? I know or can piece together their stories. I’m especially glad now that I can share and appreciate those stories with my dad.


I am Many Things, But Graceful Isn’t One of Them

I sit here counting my sore places which are aching, tender, a little swollen, and starting to bruise.  And wishing I was less of a klutz.  Clearly the weight loss has not changed some basic movement competence.

Lunch was in the Dining Hall today because it was raining and I didn’t want to get wet.  I go there all the time and haven’t had a problem wending my way other than the hallways full of students too busy texting to pay attention to the people around them.  Today the area outside the Dining Hall had some weather mats on the floor to absorb some of the wet people were tracking in.

My foot caught on the mat and I could feel my body in the air on the way to fall (it’s happened before so I’m used to the sensation and try to avoid it all costs).  I grabbed the wooden door, slamming my right side against it as I scrambled to keep my balance.  My right forearm is bruised and scraped, the heel of my palm is swollen, tender, and still stings, and my knee was wrenched a bit in the process.  It wasn’t until I was on my way home that I realized that there’s a small bump on my forehead and now I have an achy headache.

I am grumpy.

On the other hand, I finished my big genealogy project and presentation last week.  Not only did I do a PowerPoint and write a script, I also did a handout and created a wiki to provide more information for my colleagues who wanted to know more or couldn’t remember what I’d said – or both.   Here’s the link:  Climbing Your Family Tree Wiki.  It’s still a work in progress but it’s a good start.

There’s been no time for blogging lately because my evening time has been spent looking up relatives of mine or one of my colleagues in census and immigration records, and lately in city directories.  I love puzzles and sorting out relatives is a great long-term activity.  It makes a great evening companion for me while watching TV, plus I love finding new little names, dates, and locations that fill out the picture.

In the meantime, the weight loss is creeping along, and I’m less than a pound away from a 100 lb loss.  I’m not worried about the speed because my body shape is changing most of the time.   I do have a fair amount of excess skin which is starting to drive me crazy.  It was stretched out for 30+ years, and while some of it may be elastic, I’m going to end up with more than I thought.  I’ve worked out something with my doctor to document the skin issues (mostly rashes in skin folds) so that in a few years I can take that to a plastic surgeon to show it’s a medical issue.  It won’t hurt to have documented whether I decided to have more surgery or not, and right now I’m not really inclined to.


Digging Up Roots

I see dead people.  Online in databases, documents, newspapers, city directories, and census, military and vital records –  and buried in cemeteries with headstones, sometimes surrounded by family.

Although I’ve been working on my family history off and on for 40 years, in the last months I’ve found myself helping coworkers dig a little into their histories.  Looking up new names, ethnicities, time periods, and geographic areas has been refreshing, rewarding and lots of fun.  My friends think I’m brilliant which is carrying it a bit too far, but this is definitely something I enjoy doing and I’m happy to share what information I have.

I’m also doing a presentation on getting started with genealogy later this month for the library staff.  We have these monthly “spotlight” presentations and I’ve been dreading having to dream up a work project to talk about.  This, however, will be fun to do if I can figure out how to rein myself in from talking for half a day.

One thing my colleagues and I discovered in the last weeks is how every new bit information (a name, event, location, occupation) will jog memories and bring out even more information.  We learn stories from our parents and grandparents when we are small but often have no reason to remember things like the place Uncle Joe worked during World War II, or the fact that Great Aunt Margaret collected antiques.

Those odd bits make the stories come to life.  Our families were more than just names on a census sheet, will, or tombstone.   And the things that make them real and interesting are the bits that don’t get written down unless we do it now, either in writing or in a video or audio interview with relatives asking simple questions about life when they were growing up – and to sit down ourselves with a bunch of those questions so the things that make us who we are aren’t forgotten.

Even if you’re not interested in digging up past generations, I encourage you to at least write down what you know and can find out from talking to living relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings).   Ancestry.com is a paid site with a limited free option for data access – but they do have some great free resources and tutorials on getting started.  Take a look at their Family Group  Sheets and Ancestral Charts.  They will give you a framework for writing down what you know.  You can then set it all aside for later, including a child’s request for information for a school project.

The other thing you can and should do is go through your pictures, especially older ones of parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., and be sure you record who they are and when the pictures were taken, if you can figure it out.  You can’t actually write on digital pictures and scanned images but you can set them up in online folders labeled by person, and be sure to back them up regularly.

Want to know more?  Check out Cyndi’s List for links to a whole world of genealogical Internet resources.  It’s da bomb.