Thursday, May 19, 2011

NGS Conference in Review - Day 4

The one and only...Elizabeth Shown Mills!
Day had to happen eventually but I hated to see it arrive!  Of course a 4 day genealogy conference is very tiring, but we all were having so much fun!  The difference between the Opening and Closing Ceremonies was incredible.  It was packed that first day and at least half empty on that last day.  A shame too, because those special sessions are worth attending!

Jay Verkler the President and CEO of FamilySearch spoke to us.  He basically put out the same information that we Geneabloggers got at our dinner which you can read about here.  Seriously, though, if you haven't started helping to index the various projects that FamilySearch has, why not?  These are important.  They are trying to bring more and more records to you with the images.  This is so vital to our research.  To be able to see an image of the document we are using is a necessity!  You don't have to sign your life away to indexing.  Just do it.  One or two...or lots more!  You aren't making a promise to sit there and index all day every day, but one is better than none and it benefits us all.  Know a Scout that is looking for a project?  This is a great opportunity and it really benefits the research community.

The second part of the Closing Ceremony was with Senator Glenn F. McConnell giving us all a presentation on the H. L. Hunley.  A confederate submarine that was so ahead of it's time.  It sank for the last time after destroying the Union ship, the Housatonic, in February 1864.  At the height of its glory, the vessel and crew were lost.  They would be found over 100 years later in May 1995 and it would be another 9 years before the submarine was completely raised, conserved and the crew given a proper burial.  I didn't know anything about the Hunley before this presentation, but I can tell you that I was on the edge of my seat during Senator McConnell's presentation.  At the time I didn't know if the recovery was a success, failure, or even still in progress so I was hanging on his every word for the outcome!  He was riveting.  A proper story-teller! If you would like to learn more about the H. L. Hunley, it's recovery, crew, etc check out the Friends of the Hunley website!

9:30am - "Research Reports:  Meeting Standards" presented by Claire Bettag, CG, CGL - An excellent class by Ms. Bettag and well worth attending.  She covered the various types of research reports and where to find examples (about halfway down the page you will see the subject "Research Reports" and then links to some examples).  Not only did she talk about writing a good research report, she drove home the point that you need to include time to write these reports in your billable hours.  The report is as significant to a client as the documents you obtain (even though the client may not appreciate it's significance until that finished report is presented to them with the research!).  I really enjoyed hearing about reports especially since I haven't done any.  What was the juiciest bonus was being able to listen to Ms. Bettag talk about how she billed clients, what you need to make sure is itemized in the billing statement and why.  Honestly, that should be a class in and of itself!

11am - "Convincing Your Audience:  How to Construct a Proof Statement" presented by Barbara Vines Little, CG, FVGS - another great class!  Essentially there are 2 types of proof statements, 1) a proof summary, you've got documents to provide the proof, and 2) proof arguments, where you do not have documents showing direct proof of a relationship and you need to "argue" your research with documents that you used to come to the conclusion you arrived at.  Again, the BCG Standards Manual (affiliate link) is referenced  as well as the necessity to conduct a "reasonably exhaustive search".  These are recurring themes so if you don't have the Manual, you really need to check it out!  Essential element of information...make sure you resolve all conflicts that arose as you conducted your research.  If you haven't resolved each conflict, your argument will not hold water.  The conclusion you came to may be correct, but you will not have proven it without a resolution of conflict.

2:30pm - "Identity Crises:  Right Name, Wrong Man? Wrong Names, Right Man?" presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA - Honestly, I did not take a ton of notes here, but it wasn't because I was drooling on my notebook (as was my fear in a previous lecture).  Elizabeth Shown Mills is the most exceptional speaker I have ever had the privilege to hear!  I was completely engrossed in her lecture and had to urge myself to break away and take notes!  The amount of knowledge she has is incredible.  She covered various reasons why people from all walks of life may have changed their names from assuming a loved one's name after their death, to names becoming truncated, to assuming a name after the region/land they lived on (which could end up changing if they moved!).  A riveting lecture, but these characters could certainly leave their descendants cursing their names for the changes and ensuing difficulties in tracking them!

4pm - "Debunking the Myths Surrounding the Military Personnel Records Center" presented by Patricia Walls Stamm, CG, CGL - turn away now unless you want brutal honesty!  If you were looking for the magic code to get the folks in St. Louis to respond to a request, you have not found the Holy Grail!  I (and I suspect many of the others that sat in on this lecture) hoped to find out why it seems that we only get back a form-letter response from the Military Personnel Records Center (MPRC) informing us of a fire or of a next-of-kin relationship that is needed (or both).  Well, I can at least let you know that as to the next-of-kin bit...if you are not the spouse, child (think direct line here, people), then you ain't getting the record.  That means my great uncle's record, (never married or had children) will not be sent to me...until (and thankfully there is an "until") 62 years after the discharge of the servicemember.  At 62 years the records go from the hand of the military to NARA and can be accessed (and for me it's been at least 62 years).  This doesn't help in regards to the fire though...  We were assured that the staff does their best to fully service all requests, but when receiving 500 new requests a day, they are back-logged and it can take 6 months or more before a request is fulfilled.  I can accept that, if they were actually taking time on my request!  Allow me to go off on a tangent....

Three weeks prior to attending the NGS conference I sent a request to MPRC in St. Louis requesting information on my great uncle, Thomas Brown's, service in the Army.  I found his record showing where and when he enlisted on  I not only filled out the appropriate SF180, but included a cover letter with additional details regarding my uncle.  I effectively included every detail of information I had on him with my submission.  One week before leaving for the conference I received a letter from MPRC.  Enclosed was a form-letter explaining to me the whole "next of kin" bullshit as well as the fire.  They enclosed another SF180 and asked that I fill it in with as much information as I had in order for them to see if any portion of his record survived the fire of 1973.  I was livid.  Had they looked at my original request  at all?!?!?!  I know they are busy and I'm certainly prepared to wait for a response, but don't send me crap to try to delay the search!  At least that was my interpretation...and they should take that interpretation, because the only other one I have is that they are grossly incompetent!

So my take away from this lecture was:

     -Researching in person is much more effective then sending in a request, but you still need to contact them, forever and a day in advance with your travel plans to ensure that there is a chance of a possibility of a maybe that they may find the records you are looking for in time for your visit. 

     -Make sure that you have the appropriate visitation pass to grace their site because if you've got a pass for NARA in DC (or any other branch throughout the U.S.) it doesn't work there.

     -If they tell you that they couldn't find the record you are searching for, wait a awhile and resubmit the request, and resubmit the request and resubmit the request, because eventually the fairies that stole the stash of surviving burned records and odd socks, drop them on someone's desk and you may be lucky enough to see a copy of the record (if you get the right person...apparently the fairies don't like them all).

     -The magic number is 62 years...then you can screw the next of kin crap and instead deal with the previously mentioned fairies.

One last tip that was given to us (and I just know you'll love this one) is to not inundate MPRC with requests.  Wait until one request is fulfilled before submitting another. long were you planning on living?  Me, personally, I don't have that kind of time!  I don't want to have to will my research on to my great grandkids!  I can understand not sending in 5 requests at once, but you've got to be drinking some wacky stuff if you think I'm going to wait for those staffers to fulfill a request before I start swimming through their river of bullshit again to submit another!

Tangent complete.

So not the best way to finish an absolutely incredible conference, but please walk away knowing that the conference was truly an excellent and repeatable experience!  If you haven't gone, you really need to start saving those pennies because it will be worth every one that you spend!

I'll be getting into reviewing some of the goodies I purchased and looked at as well as some of the booths I visited, in the next few days.  I survived today's PTA meeting, but have a Pack of wonderful little Cub Scouts that want their awards and advancements on Monday.  I'll get out the next post as soon as possible!