Our first Genealogy Family History VR Meetup in Altspace was a success, believed to be the first genealogy meetup in virtual reality. Today is “episode two” in our Altspace Genealogy Family History VR Meetup.
Due to popular demand at the last meeting, I and my team of volunteers have been asked to offer some some workshops at this and the next few meetups on the basics of family history research. Many have recently purchased DNA tests and wish to know more about the process of researching their genealogy, so here is the first of these Basic Family History workshops.
Family History Basics
We played two family history games during this meetup, Interviewing Yourself and How Many Records, two ways to begin to think about the process of family history research.
The simple basics of family history research are:
At this meetup, we focused on the first step: Plan.
The Research Plan: Interviews
To begin any family history research, you begin with making a plan. When planning for an event, activity, or project in life or work, we tend to list everything we need to do to get it done. In family history, we’ve learned that this can quickly overwhelm a researcher, new or advanced. So we work with simple questions, research questions, that begin with:
- What do I know?
- What don’t I know?
- What do I want to know?
- Where will I find answers?
As with all family history research, you should start with the living and move onto the dead. Ask yourself the above questions of all living people in your family, then move on to ask them to help you answer these questions about their lives.
Many family history researchers focus on the BMD, the Birth, Marriage, Death events of a person’s life. Just as there is more to your life than these three events, there is more to everyone in your family tree. It is critical to gather as much information about the story of a life.
The Interview Yourself Game
To demonstrate this process, we introduced the “Interviewing Yourself” game. By starting the interview process with yourself, it is easier to apply to other living members of your family or others researching their family tree.
Signs with template fill-in-the-blanks paragraphs were posted around the room and participants were invited to gather in pairs under each sign. They had 3 minutes to complete the template paragraph without discussion, just nudges of help if necessary. Then participants moved to the next sign, and so on until all six signs were completed.
The template paragraphs were:
- Birth: I was born ___________. My parents were __________. I was ___________.
- Childhood: My earliest childhood memories are _____________.
- School: I was _____________ in school. My favorite subjects were ___________. My least favorite were ______________.
- Work: My career started with ______________ then ____________. I succeeded with ______. I struggled with __________.
- Relationships: I started dating when I was _________. Significant experiences included __________. I am now ________________.
- Life in General: Regrets: __________. Wishes: ____________. Happiest Moments: _________. Want people to know: _______________.
This is a fun activity, formal or informally presented, at reunions and family history meetups and meetings. Other topics could have included Family Life (childhood and adulthood), Health, Finances, Mental Health, Family Details (great grandparents, parents, siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.), and so on, but we decided to keep it brief for this first round as an example.
We then discussed some discoveries and how we would apply this to other family members to start our research.
Moving onto developing a research plan, we briefly tackled the concept of Where to find the answers?
How Many Records Game
Before playing the game, “How Many Records,” we discussed two of the three types of evidence found in researching family trees.
- Direct Evidence: Information that answers the question directly.
- Indirect Evidence: Information that infers an answer but isn’t the answer.
Using the example research question, “When did Martha Bell marry Todd Edlestein?,” we listed examples of the two types of evidence:
- Direct Evidence:
- Marriage Certificate
- Marriage Records
- Newspaper Article(s)
- Living Witness
- Indirect Evidence:
- Wedding Invitations
- Living Witness
Comparing the two, a marriage certificate or record and newspaper article are created after the event as verification of the event. The first two are typically signed by or list the participates, officials, and witnesses to the event, and the newspaper article(s) contain information supplied by witnesses and easily corroborated evidence. These are direct evidence of the event taking place.
A wedding invitation is indirect evidence. Why? Because the marriage might not have happened. Same with other types of records such as marriage applications, intentions, and bonds. They are pledges and agreements that a marriage is to take place, but we don’t know if there was follow-through.
Scrapbooks, diaries, and photographs are evidence of a marriage, with photographs of the ceremony and participants, but sometimes the information in these are vague. If specific, listing the date and including copies of the marriage certificate would transfer these to the direct evidence column, but often they contain information such as “A June Wedding” or “Marriage August 1965” with no other information about the actual date, location, or other relevant information that answers the research question.
Notice that “Living Witness” is on both lists. This is where we learn about the quality of the evidence. In genealogy, we measure the quality of the evidence of living witnesses (or testimonials by now deceased individuals) by their direct involvement in the event, their relationship to the parties involved and the event, the distance in time between the event and the testimony or record creation, and other details.
“I was there,” isn’t good enough any more. While it lends credibility, the family history detective must find collaborating evidence to support their testimony. Once the quality of their testimony about the event is collaborated, then it could be direct evidence or indirect (“I’m sure it was sometime in May 1965.”).
We don’t judge the evidence as good or bad. We analyze and evaluate it. We collaborate it. Part of the Genealogical Proof Standard of ethics and practices genealogists live by states that “complete and accurate source citations” or evidence must come from at least two separate, verifiable, informants. In other words, two witnesses, so to speak.
For example, to determine my grandfather’s birth date, a man raised for many years in an orphanage in Portland, Oregon, who knew his parents, I have no birth certificate, but dozens of records indicating he was born on Sept. 29 or 30th, 1903, 1904, or 1906 in Michigan, Washington, or Canada, or somewhere in between. After years of research, I could’ve concluded he was born on 29 Sep 1904 based on the quantity of answers. Then I realized that he provided information for every record. He was the informant. Someone must have told him that these were his birth days, and he played around with the birth year for gain, lying to get into the military at an older age, pensions collected early, etc. We may never know, but in analyzing the information, I learned more about my grandfather and his relationship to his birth.
Onto the game, “How Many Records,” we asked participants to come up with as many record sources to answer the research question:
What is the birth date of Sally Smith born in the US in the 1960s?
My team came up with almost 50 answers, so it was fun to see how many the group thought of.
- Baptismal Records
- Birth Certificates
- Birth Records
- Cemetery (tombstones)
- Census, Federal
- Chancery Court Records
- Church newsletters
- Church records
- Compiled Genealogies
- Confirmation Records
- Consent Papers
- Court Records
- Criminal Records
- Death Certificates
- Divorce Certificates
- Divorce Papers
- Draft Records
- Driver’s License
- Employment Records
- Family Bible Records
- Family Pedigree Books
- Funeral Home Records
- Funeral Records
- Hospital Records (Archives)
- International Genealogical Index
- Land/Property Records
- Marriage Applications
- Marriage License
- Marriage Records
- Military Records
- Newspapers (birth)
- Newspapers (death)
- Newspapers (marriage)
- Online Family Trees
- Parish Records
- Pension Files
- Personal Letters/Papers/Diaries
- Photo Albums/Scrapbooks
- Probate Records
- Returns and Registers
- Social Security Death Index
- Tax Records
- Town Histories
- Ask the living
Again, these may offer either direct or indirect evidence to answer the question.
When you start any family history research plan, this is the process to go through. You create a very specific research question, list all the sources that may provide an answer, then make a plan to find each of the records until you have enough information to draw a well-formed conclusion on the answer.
We highly recommend you become involved with your local genealogy and family history society or group. Check out a list of them from the US Federation of Genealogy Societies (FGS), FamilySearch Wiki’s List of US Genealogy Societies, and your state and providence historical societies and governments. Also consider joining the Virtual Genealogical Association, a new society based on the web and irrespective of geographic locale.
RootsTech has announced two conferences this coming year, one in Salt Lake City, Feb 27-March 2, 2019, and a new one in London, England, Oct 24-26, 2019. The Salt Lake City conference opens registration September 20.
The Annual Free Virtual Genealogy Fair with the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is Wednesday, October 24, 2018, from 10AM – 4PM EDT. We will be Live Streaming the day-long event in Altspace, so please join us. Desktop/2D access is recommended.
For information about local and international genealogy and family history events, check out ConferenceKeeper and their calendar.
Q&A and Things to Know
As this was our first meeting, much of the meeting was spent discussion the future of this meetup.
Please note that because we will have speakers over time as well as educational and informative events, it is good to know that there are two free ways to access Altspace.
- Virtual Reality: Using a headset, such as Samsung Gear, Oculus Go, Rift, or another, means your eyes will be covered, making it a challenge to take notes.
- 2D/Desktop: Altspace installs directly to your computer or phone as an independent program or app. Once installed, you may enter Altspace in 2D on your Windows or Mac machine, using your mouse and keyboard to navigate, or your phone with the option “without headset.” Both methods are “eyes-free,” meaning your hands are free to type or take notes during the meetup.
We will be continuing with these basic family history workshops for the next month or so. We are also working on presenting and bringing in guest speakers on the following topics per your feedback (keep it coming):
- 3D Tools and Modeling
- AR Tools and Apps
- Genealogy Technology
- Research Organization
- Industry News
- Regional Research
- Research Techniques
- Society Issues and Challenges
- Study/Research Groups
- VR Applications
- Genealogy Software and Applications
- Genealogy Mobile Apps
Much thanks also goes to my assistants, Darrell Gulstrom (“Darrell”), professional genealogist, and Kelly P. Leonard (“Kelly”), teacher and family historian.
If you would like to volunteer to help or present on a family history topic, please let us know. I am “Relle” in Altspace or you may also use the contact form on this site to connect with us.
The next meeting is 8 Oct 2018 at 6PM PDT. Hope to see you there!