Starting a new archive project is like opening a handwritten letter

Just like a letter is a window into its writer’s soul, the papers, photos, and ephemera a family treasures enough to pass from generation to generation, reveal infinitely more of the character, heart, and values of that family than the public records they left behind.

So, meet the Karch Family: my newest archival processing project at the Erie County Historical Society! I haven’t had a chance to really get to know them yet, but these two beauties, sisters I believe, immediately captured my heart and piqued my curiosity.I’m pretty sure I know their names, but I’d like to learn a little more about them before sharing their stories with you.

p.s. The history center is still in the process of moving collections to its new home at the Watson-Curtze mansion and has limited hours, so it’s best to call ahead if you need to do research in the Library & Archives. This particular collection will not be available to the public until it has been processed, catalogued, and preserved in archival quality storage.

Is your family history research at a stand still?

The Erie Society for Genealogical Research holds a brainstorming session once a month, where members who’ve run into a wall with with their research can share their problem and together we offer suggestions and ways to break through that wall. Once a quarter, that meeting is open to the general public, and tonight’s the night! We are meeting at the Heritage Room, on the second floor of the Blasco Public Library at 6pm. No reservation is required and the meeting is free.

Feel free to just come to listen, but if you’d like to discuss your problem, we’ve found it’s best if you bring your notes, so you can tell us what records you’ve already searched.

Hope to see you there!
All best

Never Stop with an Index

I was born in the 1960s, and just about everything I knew of technology came from watching Star Trek. The coolest thing for me had nothing to do with transporters and warp speed. For me it was all about the little communicators Kirk and the others wore on their shirts. Keep in mind those were the days before cordless phones. I’m not even sure we’d discovered touch tones yet.

In college, there were a couple kids with enormous clunky computers set up in their dorm rooms. We thought they were freaks. Around that same time my family got an Atari game console, which we plugged into our television and played Asteroids on for hours. My first experience with computers, not counting the FORTRAN class I took my senior year (why I did that is beyond me now) was the DOS computer I used at my first job. It ran LOTUS, an early spreadsheet program which I used to track financials for my boss, the VP of Finance who was afraid of computers.

Sometime in the early 1990s, maybe 1993?, the MIS manager where I worked at IDX pulled me into his office, absolutely beside himself because he’d found a way to connect to something called “The Internet. ” He used his computer (the latest IBM clunker featuring a wireless mouse–TOTALLY cutting edge…) to bring up the bus schedule for Washington D.C. The value of knowing what time the busses ran in a city 800 miles away escaped me, but I was happy that it seemed to be making his day.

Flash forward to today…. every member of my family has a laptop computer sharing a household network and three wireless printers. We scan, fax, and make paper copies whenever the need arises. My children carry their entire music collections around with them at all times, read textbooks online, submit assignments to their teachers on a cloud called Google Docs, have instantaneous conversations with friends across the country, and network with friends around the world, sharing news and photos which were taken with their digital cameras. And I do all of those things too! The difference is they think this is the way it’s always been.

My laptop weights three pounds, so it’s effortless to bring along when I work onsite at repositories. When even that seems like too big a burden, I just rely on my WAY COOL Android smartphone: one gadget which fits comfortably into a pocket, and makes James T. Kirk’s communicator look like a party favor at a preschooler’s birthday party 🙂

It handles with ease all my phone calls, emails, chats, and tweets, often simultaneously! I use it to keep up with my Facebook friends, navigate to places using GPS and Google maps, identify celestial objects in the night sky, keep track of the phone numbers, addresses, websites, dates with and birthdays of everyone I know, and (theoretically) never miss an appointment. It has a 16 megapixel camera and takes amazingly clear video that I use to capture those random spontaneous family moments no one ever used to have a camera nearby to catch. It holds my favorite family photos and about a million pics of my cats, lists of all sorts, my entire genealogy database, audio recordings of my favorite genealogy lectures, the latest research reports on all my current genealogical projects; and, I can, on the fly, view and edit documents, watch a webinar, attend a video meeting, lookup or edit an Evernote, access my favorite websites, and use it to scan original documents in a repository.

What it cannot do, and what, despite a constant streams of technological advancements, it will never, in our lifetimes, be able to do, (and finally, she comes to her point) is make it possible to do quality genealogy research, the kind that meets current industry standards, the kind that reliably and provably solves our brick walls, on the Internet alone. Certainly, online databases and digitized records make our research infinitely easier than pre–Star Trek days, but they represent only a minuscule part of the records our ancestors left behind. And so, for this last issue, I leave you with a last thought, a phrase really, never let the last record you check be an online index or transcription. When it comes to genealogical research, the Internet is neither a beginning, nor an end, it’s just a tool to make the journey a little easier.

Using Tax Lists to Fill in the Gaps


The July ESGR meeting is tomorrow, July 12th, at the Hagen History Center, Watson-Curtze mansion on Sixth Street, 6:30pm-8:00pm. I will be speaking about tax lists, and how to use them to fill in the gaps in your genealogy research. We are fortunate, here in Erie, to have access to long runs of tax rolls-many counties in Pennsylvania are nearly complete. Although they are not the easiest of records to use, they are one of the richest sources of information about our ancestors, and I have found them an invaluable resource in my own research.

The lecture is open to the public, and doors at the Carriage House open at 6:15. There will be a brief membership meeting before the talk begins.

June Meeting of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research


The June 2016 monthly meeting of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research will take place at the new Thomas Hagen History Center, adjacent to the Watson-Kurtze Mansion on West Sixth Street, Tuesday, June 14th, at 6:30pm. Our speaker this month is David Newman, from the Polish Society of New York. He will be talking about Understanding and Exploring Your Polish Genealogy.

Our meetings are free and open to the public. Mr. Newman’s talk will begin at 7pm, immediately following a brief society meeting. Please arrive between 6:15pm, and 6:30pm. Free parking.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 ESGR Lecture:
Women in World War II


The May 2016 monthly meeting of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research will take place at the new Thomas Hagen History Center, adjacent to the Watson-Kurtze Mansion on West Sixth Street, Tuesday, May 10th, at 6:30pm. Our speaker this month is Sarah Felmlee: Women in World War II.

Our meetings are free and open to the public. Ms. Felmlee’s talk will begin at 7pm, immediately following a brief society meeting. Please arrive between 6:15pm, and 6:30pm. Free parking.

Hope to see you there!

ESGR Meeting Tonight: Brick Walls


Tonight’s monthly meeting of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research is all about brick walls. In place of a speaker, members will have an opportunity to present a specific genealogical problem and meeting attendees will brainstorm strategies for solving the problem. The brick wall portion of the meeting will begin at 7:00pm, at the Hagen History Center, and will be preceded by a brief membership meeting.

To make the most of our time together, please bring notes about your problem, including details of the ancestor, i.e. dates and places, and a list of the records you’ve already searched.

Even if you don’t have a brick wall to discuss, please join us anyway, as listen to discussions on others’ problems may help you with your own research strategies.

Hope to see you there!

ESGR Breaking Down Brick Walls Special Interest Group (SIG)

The Erie Society for Genealogical Research has decided to offer some special interest groups (SIGs) that will meet outside of our regular monthly membership meetings; and, I’m excited to announce, I am spearheading the Breaking Down Brick Walls SIG. We will meet on the 4th Tuesday of each month in the Heritage Room at the Blasco Public Library 6pm-8pm. The group is only open to members of the genealogy society; however, once a quarter, the meetings will be open to the general public. The first public meeting will be April 26, 2016. Closer to the time, I will create a Facebook event on my Lantern Genealogy Facebook page inviting everyone to attend the meeting. The library will also be publicizing the event. If you aren’t on Facebook, it would be helpful if you could post a comment here, to indicate you’ll be attending the public meeting, as the library’s staff would like to know how many guests to expect that evening.

The group is still in the formative stage, but my initial thought on the meeting structure is it will be something like this:

Any attendees looking for help with a particular brick wall will have a chance to explain their problem and the group will brainstorm ways to push beyond the wall. Meetings are two hours long, so, depending on the number of problems, we’ll have to limit the brainstorming time to, say, 15 minutes per problem. It might be a good idea for people to post a summary of the problem on either the Facebook page or here, in a comment, ahead of time, so there’s more time for problem solving during the meeting. I’d also suggest bringing a list of the sources you’ve already searched.

If there’s any time left, we could end the session with a discussion on strategies for solving brick walls: perhaps one strategy per meeting, with a handout.

Here is the tentative schedule for the year:

March 22, 2016

ESGR members only

April 26, 2016

Open to the public

May 24, 2016

ESGR members only

June 28, 2016

ESGR members only

July 26, 2016

Open to the public

August 23, 2016

ESGR members only

September 27, 2016

ESGR members only

October 25, 2016

Open to the public

November 29, 2016*

ESGR members only

No December meeting

Happy holidays!

January 24, 2017

Open to the public

*This meeting will be held on the fifth Tuesday, to avoid Thanksgiving week.

These meetings will be work sessions. If you have an active library card, you will be able to access the Internet using the library’s Wi-Fi, so feel free to bring a laptop or tablet. We will also have access to the Heritage Room’s resources, including their computers, and the library has generously offered to make additional staff available to us on the nights we open the meetings to the public.

As I mentioned, we are still in the planning stages for this SIG. I welcome any and all comments!