31 January 2013

One Worth Watching

Copyright Ancestral
Journeys, 2012-2013
My continuing education is incredibly important to me. I value the gift I am giving to myself to further my knowledge base and allowing my imagination to expand within the confines of real world research challenges. I believe it to be one of the best activities to engage in that will truly add depth and meaning to the idea of professional genealogist.

In 2013, I have committed to a goal of two genealogy webinars, four FamilySearch lessons and at least one business related webinar each month. That averages to five hours a month. That is obtainable, and I was able to meet that goal in January. I chose the FamilySearch platform for the year because they have so many options, varying in depth, scope and length. Generally speaking, I have enjoyed them.

This was different.

On the 28th of January, I watched “Thinking Creatively About Research Problems”, while doing the dishes. Multi-tasking at its best, right? I’ll be honest. I was floored. The 39 minute lesson is presented by  Apryl Cox, AG; and was first put online 4 May 2010. It is essentially a case study, and Mrs. Cox describes how she gets around some very difficult obstacles to find a member of her own family. The lesson is listed as intermediate level.

I was fascinated. Honestly, it was one of the best sessions I have ever listened to. Period.

So much so, that I watched it a second time later that evening, when I could really focus. So good that I looked her up in the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Directory and sent her an email with my compliments. I was happy to receive her reply, in which she indicated that she presents this as a live session, as well.

It wasn't that Mrs. Cox offered me my own brick wall ancestor (Oscar) on a silver platter; it was the way she spoke. Naturally, fluidly, comfortably. And it made all the difference. We've all said it, and I’m sure we will say it again: there is nothing worse than having someone “present” by reading their presentation slides like a script. This lesson was filled with entertaining – and real – stories, of a real person; with real life problems. Her challenges included getting around her ancestor’s own lies, and then having to admit to herself that he lied.

I nearly lost a plate.

Creative Commons
When my "lightbulb" went off, I was up to my elbows in bubbly dish water, with a dinner plate mid-scour. It almost hit the floor. Oh my! What if Oscar didn't want his father to be identified?? I have five theories as to who Oscar's father was. Did he hide the truth, did he give a different name, different story, different identity on every record to distance himself from his actual Dad? 

Every record that I have been able to identify that Oscar would have had some influence on - his marriage license, his political campaign in the local newspaper, the information given to family members used in his obituary - all contain a different name for his father. I have always assumed (there's that nasty word again!) that I was making a mistake in my research; that I was "not seeing" something. Human error on the part of the clerk. The father's first and middle names were used interchangeably. 

I had not once before considered the idea that this could be an intentionally hidden truth.

The questions only continued to expand from there. Was he ashamed of his father, or some other member of his family? Was he, Oscar, in fact the "black sheep?" Was he adopted or illegitimate? I know that one of his sisters, Mary (Brown) Collins, was said to have been "crazy" when she died. Was there more stigma attached to the family that Oscar was running away from? 

The simple truth is that when the research becomes so personal, when the challenge drives you to search through record sets until dawn; admitting that the ancestor you seek may have not shared your own values is difficult at best, if not impossible. That is one of the greatest lessons of Mrs. Cox's lesson: you must distance yourself emotionally and think "creatively" to find the answer. I will leave the rest of the lesson for you to discover from the source; as she says it far better than I ever could. 

If you watch any webinar or session in the near future (excluding perhaps the live stream of RootsTech 2013, which I’ll be glued to); watch this one. You can bet that if I ever have the chance to see Apryl Cox speak live, I'll be first in line. I hope you'll be there with me. 


  1. Jen - Thanks so much for sharing Apryl's presentation! I just watched it and it really is excellent,. I now have some new ideas for a brick wall that no one has been able to break for decades.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Barbara. I literally stumbled on it, and am so glad I did. I hope you can gain some traction on your brick wall! Thanks for reading. ~ Jen

  2. I enjoyed this as well. Goodness, I need to span my research beyond the normal 2 years before and after the approximate date of event. This was an excellent lecture. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Barbara, thank you for taking the time to comment! I also find myself limiting my search parameters a lot - especially with Oscar, since the surname is Brown. It's easy to get lost in a sea of results. Now I'm thinking I just need to change my actual search process to refine the options in another way. Best of luck! ~ Jen

  3. I like your solid, substantial ideas in this post. I've been meaning to watch those FamilySearch lessons (scheduled one for 1/31, but couldn't make it), and now I will redouble my efforts and watch for Apryl Cox. But mainly, I think you're really hit upon a truth about our ancestors and relatives. They might be hiding something, or ashamed, or feel stigmatized.

    In the past, there were even more stigmas around than there are now. One branch of my family still hides the death date of a cousin, because he may well have died of AIDS. I know his real death date and place because I looked it up, but I'm certainly not going to confront them. People want to feel safe, above all else, and yet here we genealogists and family historians go, poking about . . . but with the passage of enough time, no one will be hurt by the facts and truths we find. Very thoughtful post!

    1. Thank you, Mariann, very much. I have found many of the FamilySearch lessons to be very helpful, but this one especially so.
      I've considered the idea of social stigmas in other parts of my research, especially in my maternal side, as my Mom grew up in Birmingham, AL in the 40s/50s/early 60s. But, as my post reveals, applying this thought process to Oscar has been something I've not yet done. Honestly, I'm still trying to really embrace the idea and get to the research part.
      As always, thanks for reading! ~ Jen

  4. Thank you Jen. I feel like I have found a sister in search.


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