Researching Your German Ancestors

These notes are from today’s genealogy program at work. The speaker was Joseph Lieby. Handout

I didn’t quite get as much as I’d like out of this presentation mostly because I’ve sat through a dozen or so now. I have a pretty good idea what’s going on. So my notes are less comprehensive than last time.

************ for German family
International Genealogical Index at Familysearch.
Many naturalization records are available via ancestry. Could happen at any port of entry.
1811-1820 2,617 immigrants. Famine of 1816-1817. Thanks to Java volcano.
1821-1830. 2,302
1831-1840. 7,248. July Revolution of 1830. French in origin, but disrupted business
1841-1850. 19,241. March revolution of 1848-1849. Germany was not a country yet.
1851-1860. 73,462. Consequence of 48/49 Revolution. Most southwest states in Germany were Catholic. Merchants, newspaper, bankers were being lost to Germany. These were not poor people. Came with skills, money, and business savvy
1861-1870. 31,149. American Civil War. Some because they supported the Union’s anti-slavery stance. They also wanted the US to be stable since their own country was not.
Ask your relatives now. They won’t be much help once dead.
Records from Brinne are almost non-exist. You may have to reconstruct them.
Don’t take what you read as goodie truth.
An ancestor may be physically described in passenger lists with German words
There were no ships straight to the US. Everyone had to stop in another country. Many switched ships in England.
Many people were pressured to leave the area after the revolution.
Boston was not a great entry point. Baltimore, Texas, and Philly were better.
Naturalization records: look for Declaration of Intent
Naturalization and marriage records have birthplace listed.
Can’t find info? Check the marriage records of younger children whose marriage may be in a newly founded vital records office
Check the German archives sites online
Church records. Protestant Northern around 1520. Catholics in the south after Council of Trent in 1563
Civil records 1870s
Look up book, MeyersOats. Lots of info up until 1911
Germans love abbreviations

Historical Newspapers Notes

I attended a genealogy program on historical newspapers on Saturday as the liaison to the genealogy society. Here’s what I learned…!


Greenwich Library will be putting the entirety of their local paper online soon.
Darien Library has the Darien Times digitized on DVDs. Ask the reference librarian.
Optional Character Recognization (OCR) is what allows computers to read scanned text. It’s not perfect with around 85% accuracy.

She found out that her great-great grandfather was murdered in 1894 in Syracuse, NY. Each newspaper had a wildly differing account of what happened. The journalists rode around on bicycles.

According to the murderer, he thought the gg-gf was having an affair with his wife. The gg-gf had once lived as a boarder in the murderer’s house years before and had been “firm friends.” The gg-gf was across the street from the killer’s house talking to some construction workers hoping to pick up some work. The killer brought a gun out, hung around the construction site for 20 minutes before killing the gg-gf.

The Union Press and the Associated Press, the country/language specific papers told different stories. Especially the non-English papers. There was a big German convention/anniversary that weekend, so everyone gossiped.

Look up images of the scene across town + Google Street View + map overview to learn about the area. When you get a newspaper for such a big incident, you want to look at the surrounding area to see what was happening nearby, who lived where.

Look for misspellings which can be wildly wrong. Check the death certificate and the casket plate. If the name is wrong on the casket plate, they may have shortened it to save money.

Look out for Reporters goofs with misspelled names.

Relatives spin tales to cover up and make their family look better.
People lie about their age, people mishear, or misread, or someone being in an asylum. People’s genders are switched by their names being miswritten (e.g. Martha becomes Marvin)

As a professional genealogist, you have to do an exhaustive search.
Keywords: right name spelling, wrong name spelling, initials, abbreviations, street names, “killed instantly” “Pearl Street”.
E.g. William may be Wm.

People can show up years later when they’re mentioned in widow’s obituary or if the house is sold.

How do you know that the OCR has gobbly-gook?
Highlight the text and paste into a Word document to see what the machine read.

Keep lists of the wrong ways that your family name is written by census takers and newspapers.

Look beyond known locations that make sense (e.g. not just your state). Lively stories like murders may spread to other states. This story happened in NY State, but showed up in Colorado…in 1894!

Searched for a variety of misspellings

Big printers would put together 3-6 pages already printed with big news. Then sent the half-filled paper to small towns. Those towns would then fill in local news on the blank pages.

Papers in the US were originally political but around the Civil War became advertising. — free site from the Library of Congress (check URL) is a free site.

State libraries often have better newspapers and better scans since their papers were less likely to be manhandled so much.

Watch out for victims and killers’ names being switched. Or victims killing themselves.

You can sometimes check to see which illnesses run through a family.
Her 3rd great grandfather was listed as an endorser of a doctor and his condition was listed in a newspaper.

Cocaine and morphine were legal for everyday people to access until 1895. People in the 1870s-1890s were often self-dosing with cocaine for their pain. Reporters were given drugs by their editors.

Her great-grandfather’s death in a mine fall showed up in a newspaper 220 miles away.

Use boolean or fuzzy search to help you find stuff.
Fuzzy search is what you expect to have
Substitute vowels with asterisks to help find better info.
Go to her Cos Cob presentation on 10/31 for more details.

Your ancestors traveled around to other places. They had friends and family elsewhere. They may show up in other places where they had friends.

Keep notes with your sources.
Write an abstract of what was originally written as well as the OCR text
Name variations
Facts that you have proven
Conflicting information

Use spreadsheets
— Name
— Location
— Date

Her fields
— City, State
— Website
— Newspaper
— Date published
— Link to story
— Names or words to find story
— Number of times you found that word/keyword in that newspaper

Keep images within notes.
— includes photos of what they were doing
— e.g.

Look for how people traveled to/from their home, work, church.

PowerPoint slides to keep notes
For labeling photos
Put the photo in a PowerPoint, then add text box underneath of who is in the picture
300 DPI min.

In 100 years ago, men may have only had an obituary. Or maybe only important men.
The people who wrote the obit may have purposely put in the wrong info.

Class idea:
— Using Picasa for family photos for tagging and location

She ultimately puts her stuff in PowerPoint to make it easy for her to use.

Many ways to stay organized (by person, by newspaper, keywords)

Searching keywords vs. names
“almost instantly killed” in papers for this time period

Initials, Nicknames, Abbreviation, Maiden, Husband’s names
Look at how they write all these crazy things
In sports reporting, you’ll only have last names.
Mrs. _____ ________
— misspellings
— using husband’s name only
— nicknames
— repeated marriages
— listed with previous marriage names. She may be John Smith’s widow, but she was also a divorcee, so she’s Jane Gray Smith. Gray was her previous husband.

Look at

People sometimes looked for XX years after their death. Old classmates, colleagues, etc. may be looking for them.

Adjacent day: people may not be in the paper from the next day but the day after.
Especially for obituaries.

Look for the police reports. Her gg-gf was charged with assault by his wife a year prior. Thus they weren’t living together.

Great-aunt was put in an asylum for the last 20 years of her life after “being a disturber” for laughing in church.

Look for photos across different sources (e.g.,,, etc.). They may have different quality photos or scans

Furniture makers/sellers and undertakers were often the same person in 19th century

Write Tom Trinisty for better photos (of

Hoe’s Cylinder was a great printing press machine

Newspapers poached each other to hire the best talent. Then you get crap people in the other newspapers.

Papers had different circulation rates and different number of staff.

A Better Way to Serve Book Groups

Last Friday I was interviewing a colleague about the library’s website when she mentioned a point of confusion for patrons. Our book group titles show up in the same record as non-book group books. That is, when a patron looks at our website, they see that we have 10 copies of the hottest title and may hurry in to snag it. They’ll check the shelves only to discover it isn’t here. The front desk staff then explain what a book group title is within the catalog.

That got me to thinking. Previously I had made a form for book groups to request their books online. Before that, they had to email directly or call in. The trouble though is that the form does not show up on the same page as book group books in the catalog. So a form submitter already has to have the title in mind when they go to a separate page to make their request. I didn’t find that to be the best process, but I couldn’t get the catalog updated to put a form in on the page (or a link to the form) from the catalog records. Back then, the book group books were not merged with all the other physical books of a specific title like they are now.

Now onto my idea: why don’t we pull the book group titles out of the catalog completely? If we do that though, how do we make them available? A Drupal webform. I could make a new content type for this specific case. Then add custom fields like: genre, type (e.g. short story, poetry), links to review sites, the book cover upload field, and a summary alongside the webform. On the backend, the webform would have a hidden field which takes the title of the node. When a group submits a request, our book group people would get an email which has the relevant information they need in an easy format for them to read.

But how does the group get to the individual book record? I’m glad you asked. There would be a grid layout of book covers for all the book group titles. At the top, you could filter by genre or type, or search for a book. There would probably be additional fields to filter/search by, but those were my starting point. I took this idea to book groups that loved it. I told them that it’d be best if we could recruit a few other hands to help with getting the 300 books in the collection to the new format. However, we had to have final approval before whipping this new experience together.

My idea has been tabled for now. With a new website coming out next year, it would not make sense to invest time getting these 300 books into our current site. We may have to just redo the work on the new site if we run into any trouble with migrating the data. In the short term, I am disappointed. However, I understand the reasoning. Right now I’m still in the discovery phase of the new website (interviewing patrons next). This idea can wait. I look forward to sharing the reality of it next year.

Linking to Different Formats in Library Emails

Property of Darien Library

Property of Darien Library

A couple months ago, I was putting together our book groups email for my colleagues when I thought, “What if we make it easy and let people select their preferred format from right here instead of sending them to just a list with all the different format types?” When I showed my colleague, she was so thrilled that she told her boss about it and CC-ed me. Yay! Note: creating an email newsletter this way takes me 90 minutes.

Now I’m trying it in a second email newsletter. You can see the two versions I was looking at in the image above. Ultimately I went with the second one. On Monday, we’ll be sending out an A/B test comparing this version with one which is just large covers that link to a search of that book’s title in our catalog. Part of me hopes that this new version wins, while the other part of me would sigh in relief at how much quicker the book-covers-only version is to put together.

Two Upcoming Learning Opportunities

I have was given the good fortune to present three times this fall. The third one’s information isn’t online yet, so you’ll just have to settle for two for now.

Creating Low-Cost Interactive Displays for Your Library
Monday, October 5, 2015 at Farmingdale Public Library from 10 a.m. to 12 noon
More information

If you were to look at my eBay history, you’d see that I’ve been buying some cheap digital photo frames as demonstration pieces. I’m still looking into other hardware pieces to bring along for this hands-on workshop.

Getting Started with Usability Testing Webinar
Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 12 noon PST
Register Online

Infopeople have a very thorough onboarding process and high expectations of their instructors, so this workshop should be great! It will be focused to library staff in general as this LSTA grant funded project looks for practical and easy educational opportunities for their students.

Voiceover Mode on iPad

I was assisting someone today who was nearly blind and was using Voiceover mode on her iPad. How extremely difficult and unintuitive it was made me clumsy. It takes 3x as many keystrokes to type in anything. We were trying to use one of our 3rd party vendor sites and ah…

I’m not an accessibility expert. But I felt such burning shame at how difficult this equipment was to use. In order to type, the patron needed to be able to see the keyboard. The letters were too small. What is the point of a search box if the text within it is itty bitty?

This was not the first time I’ve had a patron come in with an iPad for accessibility help. Each time they leave so disappointed because they simply can’t size up the text large enough. I’m not sure how Android or Windows tablet handle in this area. But surely, someone can do better.

The Opening Act

After four years, my work is going to result in the main project I was brought on board for. I’m excited about it. I’m terrified. When I first arrived, I did a big Trello board that tracked requests, issues, ideas, and tasks as they moved from To Do to Done. The corkboard of design concepts from other sites has been taken down. Too much time has passed for them to be relevant any longer. So I replaced them with analytics data to study. I then connected them with embroidery thread.

Outside of my office, I have been meeting with staff to get their input. They’re surprised and happy that I’m asking them. I find this strange since my MO from the beginning was asking them to tell me their ideas. I’ll then put them in my Trello board to track. Now I’m typing up my handwritten notes and putting them into Asana. I was thrilled today when I realized I could assign subtasks to people. I like using project management software, but let’s see if it catches on.

I’ve also begun to poke at the latest edition of the CMS. Since it hasn’t been released yet there isn’t too much officially on it yet. Bugs are still creeping in. Theming looks like it could potentially be a pain to learn a new system. However at this point, I’m more concerned about the information architecture that needs to be put in place.

Regarding content strategy, I’m strict about branding guidelines and presentation. I want libraries to look their best. If you’re going to post, you need to stick to the standards. Don’t write one vague sentence for a program and toss that up. I suppose this comes from my corporate retail background where you had to adhere to strict standards. I don’t think retail is any better than us. Libraries can look just as professional in our copy. Sure, the content types can have lots of lovely help text (and I wonder if I can set the system to refuse to publish any post with a link that is shown in the text as click here). However, will people understand why it’s important to look our best? We’re not just a library. We want our community to be proud of what their tax dollars and donations support. Metaphorically hiding dirt under rugs isn’t going to cut it.

Now how to express all this in a way that makes people care will be my challenge.

A Flexible Skill Set

(or skillset?)

I was carefully going over a power of attorney form for a patron before notarizing the paperwork when my coworker appeared over my shoulder. “After this, go downstairs to fix a banner printer issue.” While applying my seal to multiple sheets, a thought crossed my mind — my duties at work are quite varied. After thanking the patron, I carried my notary supplies to my office. From there I went to the Technology Center to investigate the issue. Thus began a half hour process of assisting a patron with setting up a banner print. I got to turn it into a “teachable moment” by showing her the advanced image search options that Google offers like searching by size, color, and type (photo, clipart, animation).

Afterwards, I headed back to my office to edit the training video footage I had (reluctantly) starred in earlier in the day. Periodically I’d check the Library’s Twitter and Facebook accounts while I worked. Then webmail would ding and I’d respond to whatever message I had received. Oh, yes, I also attended a meeting to plan out a program for this fall. Towards the end of the night, I fielded some questions from the Help Desk staff person on how they can handle a patron issue for next time. Next it was making a gif for the Library’s Tumblr account. Finally, I reviewed some paperwork regarding copyright and hunting down the image credits for a patron.

Why am I writing this? It’s because you may notice my #UXlibrarian posts on here have become sparse. Or as someone once told me, it’s no longer unknown work so I don’t exert as much mental energy on it. Therefore, at the end of the day I don’t feel like I had an experience which is worthy of being shared. This post is just a tiny peek at one of my days that I wouldn’t normally post about.