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Family History Expo Day 2: New Research Ideas

Okay. I'll be honest. The Springfield Family History Expo memory that will stay with me the longest--maybe forever--was my encounter with the warm pecan buns that were available as the final stop on the breakfast buffet that I splurged on the morning of the second day. They were delicious beyond words and I ended up eating four of them. (They were small. Really.)

After breakfast, I headed to the patio on the 14th floor, played a few fiddle tunes to relax and start the day off right, and then I headed to class.

First up, "Tracing American Ancestors Who Lived in Cities," a double-session workshop taught by Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D. She shared many wise insights but here are three of my favorites:
  • People move within cities. First they live on the top floor, then they moved to the basement. From there, they move to the first floor and then (I'm pretty sure I have this right) they move on to better neighborhoods. How many of us have followed families through address after address in the Chicago city directories? That might be a reason.
  • Cities are big. Lots of people, right? And imagine how many births and deaths there would be to record in a single day. Imagine what it would be like for a single clerk handle that. Cities might  have kept multiple registers for events that happened during the same time period. Just because a name doesn't appear in one record doesn't mean that the event didn't happen in the area. Look for other records. This is relevant to Chicago/Cook research. For example, you WILL NOT find a "Chicago" birth recorded in a "Cook County" birth register even though Chicago is in Cook County. Why? Because Chicago births were recorded in "Chicago" birth registers. 
  • Some occupations are tied to a geographic area. Makes sense, right? If you are a coal miner, you live where there's coal. If you are a commercial weaver then you live where there's a mill. If your immigrant ancestor had a trade, you might be able to use that occupation along with other clues to figure out where the family lived previously. 
As a side note, Arlene uses an overhead projector and carries her transparencies around in notebooks. It's refreshingly old-school and it gives her lectures breathing room and flexibility. I liked it.

After a short lunch break, I sat in on James L. Tanner's "A Review of Major Genealogical Libraries and Repositories." The take-away from that? Two and I was aware of both, but hadn't really explored either in much depth. But, what's a lazy Sunday afternoon for if it isn't for that?
Census records to 1930 are there, free, in an easy-to-browse format. And, of course, there are thousands of scanned books of interest to family history researchers.

I'm fascinated by the media section, though. t took a bit of digging through some modern uploads, but I stumbled on a number of Chicago-related movies. If you missed Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, it's not too late to take a tour (no sound). Or maybe you just discovered that your ancestor was a sign monkey. A what? Check out this informative movie about Chicago's Chevrolet sign. (I wonder what happened to it? Anyone know?) And where could a family turn for a small depression-era loan? Check out Financing the American Family
You'll want to explore this site in some detail, but this morning I followed up on the class suggestion to look at the Historic Newspaper section.  I typed in "valentine smith" with "chicago" (Valentine, the subject of one of my long-term research projects, worked tirelessly to promote and preserve Chicago's history during the early 1900s) and got two results.

The one from Maysville, Kentucky caught my eye--I've visited there for research--and so I clicked through.

I have long sensed that Valentine was a "society woman" but it was nice to see that someone else viewed her that way, too. I knew that she was involved in Chicago's centennial celebration, but I didn't realize, specifically, that she'd written a poem for it and I had no idea that writing had been a passion for her since childhood. If James Whitcomb Riley was an "admirer," how did he become acquainted with her work? Did their lives cross paths? Did she publish any of her writing? And why would a Maysville paper mention Valentine and James? Research-wise, I'm off and running again.

My final class of the day was Jennifer Holik's "Branching Out: Teaching a Youth Workshop" presentation. She's recently published a series of books called Branching Out and she shared tips for introducing children to family history research. Jennifer will be teaching workshops for the younger generation at the upcoming Illinois State Genealogical Society Fall Conference in Rockford. Check them out.

The conference wrapped up with a closing keynote titled "Holly Shares Her Personal Research Magic and Awards the Grand Prize  Drawings" by Holly T. Hansen, president of Family History Expos, Inc. Her story highlighted the magic that she's seen in her own personal research quests and I suspect most people in the room were thinking what I was thinking: "Yes. Exactly." We've all experienced that magic. 

But, what do they say? 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. I don't really like that saying and you'd never find me saying it but I think it applies here. Much of the magic happens when we put the time in to learn the resources, create a plan, and  follow through without giving up. I came home with a number of new ideas for research and the motivation to follow through on them. Magic has already sprung from that.

Thanks to the Family History Expo folks for putting together a worthwhile (and delicious) weekend.


Arlene is a walking encyclopedia of genealogy. I enjoy her sessions. Thanks for the recap for those of us who couldn't make it.

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