Saturday, August 23, 2014

Grandchildren, Ancestors and YouTube

Sterile facts and dates doesn’t elicit much interest in genealogy in the hearts andship minds of our digital world grandchildren.   They live in a world of always on digital eyes into almost anywhere or anything.  Static pages of names, dates and places not only make their eyes cross, but they put them to sleep.

I’ve told ancestral stories to our grandchildren all of their lives.  Their ancestors come to life in their minds based on the words in my stores.  When I show them the same information on my website, the dreaded eyelid closer syndrome launches and its lights out.

It is important for them to have a sense of their place in history both of the world but especially in their ancestral tree.  They love the stories but relating them to historical events didn’t happen in the process.

What tools could I use to bridge the gap between facts and the scenes that the stories evoked in their minds and turn them into long lasting loved memories?

The answer was actually simple.  Turn the stories into movies on YouTube.  The solution captures the facts, stories, technology and long lasting scenes in one.

My wife and I invite sets of our grandchildren to spend time with us every summer based on ages and sex.  By the end of the summer, all of them have spent time with us and with their cousins in the same age range.  We add couple of gatherings a year that includes everyone, even busy parents, to keep familial relationships, giggles, food and fun functioning as it should in a family.

When our older granddaughters were with us, I scheduled a ‘grandpa’ day for one day of their visit.  I told them that I wanted to work with them to create a video for YouTube about one of their favorite ancestral stories. 

It was the right way to further engage them in our family history.

  • We wrote the script on a shared Google Doc using a laptop and their tablets.
  • We chose speaking parts for everyone and created another Google Doc listing the color coded voice actors names and changed the corresponding lines in the script to the correct color.
  • We found many of the photos, document images and graphics that we wanted to use.
  • Late in the evening, we recorded the voice files using the free app, Audacity.
  • We used the free app, Irfanview to crop images and put names and dates on them.
  • We stored our audio digital files on Google Drive, DropBox and OneDrive accounts along with the backup copy of the Windows Movie Maker template we created..
  • After the young folks completed their stay, I assembled the parts using Windows Movie Maker and posted the video on YouTube.  

Along the way but still based on a ‘free’ solution for tools used to create the project, we learned some lessons. 

  1. We needed a better microphone
  2. The voice lines for the narrator needed to be broken down into shorter lines both for editing and for voice inflection work.
  3. It takes a lot of time to find Public Domain images and to gather the pertinent genealogy documents that you want to use in the video.
  4. Editing shared Google Docs is easy and our young ladies quickly polished their script working on it together.
  5. The free software tools we selected worked pretty well.  The kids could use them in the future for all kinds of projects in school and in their online social lives.  Even starving students will be able to create good digital products with them.
  6. You can’t assemble a video out of images, audio files and video files using the Video Manager on YouTube.  You have to build it first and then upload it.  The Video Manager gives you a full set of tools to add tags, ratings, balloons and other enhancements to your video.
  7. We laughed too much while writing the lines and recording them.  No, wait.  That wasn’t a problem!  That was a big part of the fun and the reason for the project in the first place.
  8. The most important discovery.  Making a video about your ancestors with grandchildren is a joy, especially when they do most of the work!  Trust me on this.  Give them concept of the desired output, the story(ies), reserved time, snacks, and love and they’ll turn your sterile facts and images into magic. 

The video about some of the adventures in the lives of our ancestors, Charles Joseph Gordon Logie and Rosa Clara Friedlander has been published on YouTube. If you want to entice your young folks into the wonderful world of Family History, consider a similar solution.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Death of George Radcliffe Hutchison in World War II

Memorial Day enticed me to spend time looking for information about a distantHutchison_George_Radcliffe cousin who I assumed had died as a result of action in World War II.   Facts proved his death, but it wasn't due to battle but was due to the war.

George Radcliffe "Hutch" Hutchison was born on 2 Jul 1917 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to Gerald Milwood and Helen Ewing Radcliffe Hutchison.   His father was an interior decorator who opened his own store that was popular in the area around Pittsburgh.  

When old enough both George and his younger brother, Robert went to work in the store.    George was a salesman and Robert took care of ordering, stocking and shipping.  The family business had grown into a success when on a Sunday morning in early December 1941, America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor and at other locations in the Pacific arena.

On 27 Mar 1942, George enlisted in the Army Air Corps in Pittsburgh.   By the end of the war, he was a 1st Lieutenant in the Corps flying a B-29B-60-BA Superfortress. 

You can imagine the celebration that occurred with his air crew when VJ Day was announced on 2 Sep 1945.   The war was finally over on all fronts.   None of them realized it was the last day of their lives.




They were ordered to fly a mercy mission taking supplies to Osaka for U.S. POW's.  The huge B-29 took off only to experience mechanical trouble a few hours after takeoff.  They radioed that they were returning to the Northwest Air Field on Guam and everything looked fine until the landing.  The big craft swerved at just as it was touching down causing a wing to clip a tree which resulted in a huge explosion.   Breaking in two, the three gunners in the back of the plane escaped the fire although one of them subsequently passed away.  The pilots and remained of the crew all perished in the flames.

Their bodies were interred on Guam until March 1949 when they were moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

George never returned home to his wife and family.   Nor did the other eight men who died in the crash.  The war was over but it was still claiming victims, a theme that unfortunately continued for many years after the active cessation of battle.

The other crew members who lost their lives on that September day were:

  • 1st Lt. Lester R Nahouse
  • Capt. Lewis D Town
  • Capt. James O. Clark
  • Sgt Thomas C. Passarello Flight Engineer
  • 2nd Lt. William E Bradley
  • 2nd Lt. Carl W. Strait
  • 2nd Lt. Robert H. Yost
  • Sgt. Leonard V Steveson
  • Sgt. Melvin E Berkey


Map picture



  • U.S. World War II Enlistment Records
  • U.S. Veteran's Gravesites
  • Find-a-grave
  • U.S. Census Records
  • U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records

Unique Names and Cousin Teams

All genealogists hope to find that they had ancestors with unique names. team


So we can trace them.  It's a lot easier to find Americus Vespucius Tirrill than it is to find William Bennett or Elizabeth Smith. 

I hoped that the name Isaac LeFever would be prominently displayed on census, marriage, land and other records but alas, the 'correct' Isaac only appears once along with my cousin Agnes Bennett on a census record.  Forty hours of focus haven't found a further recorded trace of ether of them.  Other folks have speculated about their whereabouts, death years and family, but unfortunately, all they have done is spin a tale without any proof based on reality.

It isn't unusual to not find records about an ancestor.  We all have holes in our ancestral trees for that reason.  In the case of Isaac, he and Agnes have remained elusive over a period of thirty years of searches by several of us cousins working together.  As a group, our team has proven to be a fairly formidable puzzling solving unit, but alas, we have sent far too many "NJ" (no joy) emails to each other in the quest for Isaac and Agnes.

It looks like another trip to local libraries and records in Ohio will be required in this case.  Between the members of our team, we have subscriptions to all of the major and most of the minor records sites online as well as easy access to all of the major family history research libraries in the U.S., yet all of these resources have only provided 'goose eggs' to date.

We have over 500 years of research experience between us.  There aren't many if any research tricks and tools that we haven't employed.  We know that the couple existed.  The were clearly recorded in the 1880 census.  Were they listed by their little known names during the conversation with the census enumerator?   Possibly.  We've looked at the records of every LeFever in a 200  mile radius of their home location in the census without finding them again.  

Folks moved with some frequency in that day when new land became available to homestead.  We've surfed the waves of westward expansion.  We've retraced their probable routes back to the birth states they reported in the census.  We exhausted the records about their known family records hoping to find a trace of them.   "NJ" notes have been mailed in every case.

Eventually one of us will find them after looking at the problem through a different window.  It will happen.  The team is like a pack of junk yard dogs looking for their favorite bone.  Once the hunt began, it is impossible to call it off.  We've tasted 'blood' too many times in impossible quests in the past to give up on the trail of our prey when we've had such a strong scent to mark the trail.

Cousin teams are wonderful.  We bring a wealth of unique perspectives, skills and resources to the table.  Well functioning cousin teams magnify these resources.   In our team, the sum of our research acumen and success is not directly proportional to the linear values of our respective skills and resources but are rather multiplied far exceeding Orwell's 2 + 2 = 5 dogma into real synergetic magic.

We laugh at times wishing that we enjoyed more common ancestral lines.  Not only does the team enjoy a huge success rate but we have a lot of fun working together.  Imagine your birthday present being the focused research of a seasoned team all working to crack 'your' genealogy brick wall.   Sometimes we fail but typically the walls fall into a pile of pulverized dust.   Once the keystone plug is removed, the structure falls en masse.

The team finds itself with a brick wall today in the case of Isaac and Agnes, but the wall will fall eventually just as soon as we find that single weak brick  or fact that has held it intact thus far.  Once it is removed, the story of their lives will flow forth for the enjoyment of all of our family.

If you aren't already a member of a cousin research team, find one or create one.  The communication and data sharing tools that grant almost instant feelings of success are are readily available.  Try it Mikey.  You'll love it!

Cousin Lost in a Snow Storm

My 2nd cousin, James Lawrence Ashton, was a lineman for Utah Power and LightAshton James Lawrence Company in the early years of the Twentieth Century.   Utility linemen frequently engage in activities to keep the power on that 99% of society would never consider doing of their own free will. 

Think about it.  When a major storm or disaster happens somewhere, who do we see in the television coverage of the event?  The reporter, cameraman, police, fire and medical personnel and power company line and ground men.  Linemen are involved in even more nasty weather conditions than those in the 'big' events.  They are constantly called out in the nastiest weather conditions to repair downed power lines so the rest of us stay warm in well-lit homes.

Early in 1951, the power line that crossed the mountain from the hydro generationAshton Lawrence lost snowstorm2 plant at Snake Creek, Utah to American Fork Canyon in Utah County, failed during a record breaking snowstorm.    The line failure caused the voltage in Utah County to sag due to storm and cold related line loading.  it was dark.  It was cold.  People used more power and part of the supply wasn't available, so voltage sank until sections of the system was systematically turned off to protect the rest of the customers.  The related power outages weren't acceptable in those weather conditions.

On Monday night, two power company linemen, Alma Earl and Lawrence Ashton, started walking the line route on snowshoes from the American Fork side to slog through over 5 ft of new snow looking for the downed wires.  By late that night, they still hadn't returned home nor contacted the power company dispatcher.     Concern mounted that the men had become trapped in the record breaking snowfall.   Tuesday came and went and there was still no contact from the men.  On Tuesday evening the two families started calling asking for volunteers to go look for the missing men.  Just as the rescue party started to organize, the men returned home.

The severe snow storm had brought the lines down in multiple locations and the repairs took a lot longer than the men had anticipated before they left early Monday morning.  They spent the night in a ranger's cabin protected from the weather and finished the repair work before walking back down from the top of the mountain pass to the valley far below.

Rescuers on both sides of the mountain were quickly notified of the safe return of the two men. 

Why is the story so interesting to me?  My father was a lineman.  I managed linemen and construction crews for years.  I know of the bravery and hard work that this group of folks do to keep the power flowing to our homes.   Beyond that, even though I had a photo of my cousin Lawrence Ashton, I had little knowledge of he and his family.   The storm story added a lot of context in my mind about his life and the lives of his family.  We shared common reference points and to a degree, similar events in our lives due to our common occupations.

Genealogy research isn't just about names, dates and places.   They are only theAshton Lawrence lost snowstorm3 base framework in the lives of our ancestral family.  It's the stories that add the flesh to the barebones fact.   It's the stories that bring them to life in our minds.  It's the stories that make them memorable.  Be sure you are searching for the stories while you look for your ancestors.  The stories will make your ancestors real in the minds of your children and grandchildren too.

Broken Headstones Need A Little TLC

Visiting cemeteries before Memorial Day unfortunately revealed many broken tombstones.  Broken stones littered the grass as testaments to the rampage of a couple of bad egg teenage boys.  The reasons for brain-dead characterless young males is a theme for another discussion.  Unfortunately, others of that ilk had similarly devastated tombstones in the same cemeteries numerous times in previous years.

How do cemetery sextons and workers repair shattered sandstone markers?   Even when repaired, do they have any promise of a long life?  Possibly, but the loss of structural integrity will result in early failures in their projected life span.

It is hard to add just the right amount of epoxy glue to the broken seams of a tombstone.  The epoxy resin and hardening agent expand when mixed.  Only a little of mixture is needed between the faces of the broken stone. Misjudging the amount needed results in permanent waterfalls of adhesive on the faces of the stone.  A lot of experience with the adhesive product is needed by the person making the repairs if they are to minimize the adhesive overflow issue.   Hopefully that experience is missing in the life of the repair person because the headstones in their cemetery haven’t been damaged by vandals and equipment.

We appreciate the repairs of any broken headstone.  Without them, the pieces of the stone would be lost to us almost immediately.  With them, our ancestors still have a grave marker that will last for a decade or more if it was properly repaired giving us time to replace the broken marker.

Have the tombstones for your ancestral families been similarly broken or damaged?   If they were repaired are the repairs holding them together OK?  Did the adhesive overflow?  Were any of the pieces lost before the repairs were made?


Hoggard Jedidah headstone

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Genealogists Should Use ACME Mapper

Genealogists are always looking at maps and for mapping tools that help them find locations related to the lives and stories of their ancestors.  As a single category, I've saved more map related bookmarks than for any other topic.  Why?  Because of my need to understand how locations related to events in the lives of the people at the focus of my research.

My most frequently used mapping site is ACME Mapper.  Mapper includes a number of tools that help in research including a location feature name search tool. 




For example: Finding small rural cemeteries is often impossible on normal mapping sites, yet is relatively easy using the tools on Mapper.




If I needed to look for the location on a Topo map, that format is only a click away.




Satellite photos often help us find features like cemeteries but we have to spend a lot of time scrolling across surface images to to find the feature.  In the case of cemeteries or locations that are dependent on visual topographical clues, photos from space don’t necessarily show features that we recognize unless we accidentally happen across the exact location in the photo.




Standard maps offer no references to this cemetery.  Mapper usually comes to the rescue with it plethora of tools and map types.

Mapper includes the marker, links and tools that are familiar to us on other mapping sites, plus a lot more.







Try ACME Mapper in your own ancestral quest and see if you also appreciate its power.  It will probably become one of the most used tools in your genealogy quiver.