Wednesday, October 26, 2016

National Archives Virtual Fair

Let's All Go To The Fair!

Image from WikiMedia - NOT this kind of fair!

Do you sometimes feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? I DO!

I received two emails this week that told me about an event I had never heard of before. First, my co-worker and friend, James, sent me a link to the Press Release, then The Legal Genealogists'  post covered the same event. Thanks to both of you!

National Archives Press Release

Legal Genealogist's Post

The National Archives will be offering their 12th two day Virtual Genealogy Fair. For those of you who aren't familiar with the National Archives:

The National Archives holds the permanently valuable records of the Federal government. These include records of interest to genealogists, such as pension files, ship passenger lists, census and Freedmen’s Bureau materials. For information on National Archives holdings see
(From their web site.)

These are the people who hold the historical Service Records and Pension Records of our military ancestors. And they have so much more! But finding and accessing their materials isn't always easy. So I am thrilled to be able to participate in this fair. No sign ups required. If you can't view the sessions in real time, they will be available on You Tube.

These are just some of topics that will be covered:

  • Introduction to Genealogy at the National Archives
  • The Best National Archives Records Genealogists Aren’t Using
  • National Archives Innovative Online Resources and Tools to Help with Your Genealogical Research
  • You too can be a Citizen Archivist! Getting the most out of the National Archives Catalog
  • Department of State Records for Genealogical Research
  • Nonpopulation Census: Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Social Statistics
  • What’s New in the Lou: A Look at the Latest Accessions at the National Archives at St. Louis

Thursday's You Tube Link

I plan on viewing these sessions. How about you?

On another topic, have any of you encountered problems posting questions or comments on the RootsWeb mailing lists? I typically post this blog to the OH-Medina mailing list and the posting has bounced back as "undeliverable" for the last 3-4 weeks. I contacted RootsWeb support and received this answer:
"We are currently in the process of upgrading our technical infrastructure. Some processes are on hold until this upgrade is complete. This currently includes some Mailing List processes and features including the ability to send and receive postings. Once the work is finished everything should be working as normal again. Unfortunately, we do not have a timeframe as to when this work may be completed."

Hopefully, they will resolve this issue soon. If you routinely get the blog from the mailing list and don't want an interruption, you can always sign up to receive the blog directly in your email. In the upper right corner, look for "Follow by email" and a box for entering your email address.

Till next week...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

But I Found it in a Book!!!!

... or on the Internet! Or my uncle told me so!!


When I can't verify the information in a family story,
I consider it a piece of interesting fiction.

As genealogists, we all must evaluate the sources that we use ALL THE TIME.

Lisa and I struggle with this constantly as we work with library members who come to us for help with their research. We try to gently remind them that they must have reliable sources for all of their information.

Unreliable sources fall into three main categories:
  1. Oral family stories
  2. Family trees uploaded to the Internet or or
  3. Unreliable Books
We will examine each of these.

1. Family stories are tales that get passed down from generation to generation. Most of us can spout several family stories that everyone will swear are true. But unless you have documentation that proves they story, that is all it is. A story.
Wilma Mankiller - First Female
 Chief of the Cherokee Nation

  • If you have a tradition of Cherokee ancestry, find the family in one of the several special rolls that document membership in the Cherokee Nation. Or track the family to a location that the Cherokee were known to inhabit and examine all sources on the tribe in that area. 
See why you are not related to a Cherokee Princess

  •  If you have a tradition of a famous ancestor, do your research. Work backwards on your family history from the present (yourself) towards the past to see if there is a connection. Avoid the tendency to bend the facts to support your cherished belief. And NEVER start with the famous person and try to work towards yourself.

I am not saying that family stories are useless. They can be great guideposts to help you point the way for your research. But if you rely on them without documenting them, they remain fictional stories.

2. Family trees that are uploaded to the Internet, or or Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with these sources. But you have to look at them critically. They are only as good as the research capabilities of the person who uploaded them. So many people just follow the "little green leaves" on Ancestry and accept what they find there as their family.  They may be. But most likely they are not. And that kind of clicking isn't research. That is more like playing a video game than serious researching. Then they upload their trees and perpetuate the mistakes.

Look for family trees that list where they find the information and use primary resources. If they have a way to contact the person who uploaded the tree, do so. Compare notes. Ask what sources they used.

Evaluating Family Trees on
3. Books 
 I LOVE books, as you might expect from someone who works in a library. There is a clear distinction between fiction/make-believe and non-fiction/based on fact.

However, some non-fiction books have blurred that distinction. Here are a couple of examples:
  • Frederick Virkus published a 7 volume Compendium of American Genealogy in 1925. It was taken at face value for many years and is often cited in published genealogies.  But now, it has been discredited. On page 228 of The Family Tree Problem Solver, author Marsha Hoffman Rising states that the Compendium is wrong 30% of the time.  But the Medina Library still has the books on the shelves of the Franklin Sylvester Room. Why? Because it is right 70% of the time. We expect you, the serious researcher, to verify the information within its pages in other sources. Rising's book goes on to say that "computerized census indexes have an estimated 10 to 20 percent omission rate, and a 30-40 percent inaccuracy rate." 

Bad books? Yes, 30% of the time.

  • Lisa touched on these next two books in her recent POSTThe Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio and The Official Roster of the Soldiers of the American Revolution Who Lived in the State of Ohio. Mike McCann of Medina County Graves ran into this problem also and contacted the National and the State of Ohio DAR offices and got these responses:
    • From  Genevieve Shishak, Historian, NSDAR:   The volume that you mentioned–‘The Official Roster of Soldiers of the American Revolution Buried in the State of Ohio’ was not compiled by the National Society of the DAR, but under the direction of the state of Ohio, –published by direction of Frank D. Henderson, Adjutant General, and John R. Rea, Military Registrar, and compiled by Jane Dowd Dailey, DAR State Chairman of Historic Sites and Revolutionary Soldiers’ graves of Ohio, 1923-1932. Though our library has copies of these volumes, we do not have any records relating to their compilation, as this was not a NSDAR undertaking.It seems that Ohio DAR chapters collected the information contained in the volumes, in an attempt “to present an authentic and complete list of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in this state,” according to the Foreword, by Jane Dowd Dailey, who also stated the following: “The Roster is not designed as a genealogical reference book, although it may be of service in tracing pioneer ancestry.” You might wish to contact the Ohio Society of the DAR to see if they have any records relating to the compilation of this roster. 
    • Then from Laverne Ingram Piatt, OSDAR State Chairman, Lineage Research, Registrar, Jared Mansfield Chapter, DAR:“Frankly, the publication “Official Roster of Soldiers of the Revolution Buried in Ohio” is worthless. It is not accepted by National Society DAR as a valid source of evidence for service. I don’t know when it was published and I don’t know the requirements for research into the listings of the men included. Personally, I believe that a disclaimer should be pasted into the front cover of every copy of the book still in existence….. Your Fred Jones error is not the only one in the book, I’m afraid. And that’s why the book is not held in high regard.”
  • Bogus Compiled Family Histories: Halberts of Bath, OH, and Morphcor of Denver, CO, are two companies who preyed on susceptible people for years. They promised to send heirloom quality family histories. What their victims received were a few pages of generic genealogical information and a phone book listing of all the people in the country with the same last name. Halberts was forced in 1995 by the U.S. Postal to cease their false advertising. Reportedly the company moved out of state and continues operations.Morphcorp ran a similar scam and was forced by the Colorado Attorney General to change their business practices.  More information here.

What to look for in a reliable book, web site or family tree:

Reliable sources:
  • Show documentation- where did they get the information? 
  • Include complete citations so you can track their research. 
  • Use Original/Primary Sources - written at or near the time of the event by someone who had personal knowledge of the event 
  • Performs reasonably exhaustive search - see Lisa's blog from a few weeks ago Have all the records that are available been searched?
  • Completeness of Research - Is some vital information missing? Are there gaps in the timeline?
  • Analyze their conclusions. If primary source documentation isn't available, have they considered alternate scenarios? Have they scrutinized the information?
  • Resolve conflicting information from different sources. Do they use qualifiers like "probably" or "likely" to describe their conclusions that are not based on documented facts?
  • Make sense. 5 year old girls and 64 year old women do not give birth. Check to see if the information given makes logical sense. 

As always, don't miss an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating and demanding hobby. Take classes and attend conferences. There is always more to learn!

Evidence Explained: Cite History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills
Genealogical Standard of Proof

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Franklin Sylvester

Franklin Sylvester as a younger man.
From the Medina Library Collection

Franklin Sylvester


Franklin Sylvester was born on March 28, 1831 in Bristol, Ontario County, New York. His parents were Francis Sylvester (1798-1878) and Cynthia Hatch Sylvester (1812-1881). They left New York in 1833 and settled in Granger Township in Medina County.

The Sylvesters had seven children. The elder Sylvester was a wagon maker. They family scraped by, but the times were tough and there was little opportunity for much in the way of education for Franklin.

But at a very early age he learned the value of hard work. At 9, he started working for the neighboring farmers. He saved up his wages and started trading in livestock. He started with sheep and cattle and moved on to horses. At 16, he bought a team of horses and a wagon and hired  himself out as a hauling contractor. His twentieth birthday found him the owner of a farm and "one of the best judges of stock anywhere in the country." By the age of 25, he had saved up $3,000. He went into the mercantile business with R.N. Hickox at Grangerburg. He also ran an ashery* and continued to deal in livestock.

On Oct. 4, 1857, he married Eunice Reid, also of Granger Township.

He continued trading in livestock and also started dealing in real estate transactions. In 1878 he is listed as the executor of the estates of several of his neighbors. This was a real mark of respect and trust, both from his neighbors and by the magistrates that oversaw the transactions.

Sketch of the Sylvester homestead from the 1874 Combination Atlas Map
of Medina County

Map of Granger Township with Franklin Sylvester's holdings outlined in red.
From the 1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County

In the 1881 History of Medina County and Ohio, he is described as "a self-made man...(of) excellent judgment, a remarkable business tact, and indomitable energy and perseverance, a strict integrity in dealing and a power (which few men possess) of keeping his own counsels." It continues, "Through all his pecuniary prosperity, it is but simple justice to say he has been notably magnanimous in the use of a wealth that a propitious Providence has thrown into his hands. His donations for educational, religious and other charitable purposes have been very considerable..."

Picture from a 2001 Medina Gazette article,
showing Franklin, a dog,  his wife Eunice, an
 unidentified girl and a servant

Franklin and Eunice never had any children, but the couple enjoyed and assisted their many nieces and nephews. (16 are listed as beneficiaries in his will.) They cared for and helped several other struggling youngsters, including Etuna Heyl (also a beneficiary).

Franklin Sylvester Portrait
From Medina Library Collection
Eunice (Reid) Sylvester From
Medina Library Collection

Franklin continued to deal in cattle and real estate. He became know as a successful breeder of fine cattle, specializing in short-horns. He accumulated land until he owned 1,500 acres, of what was considered the best land in northern Ohio.

A.R. Webber claims that he inspired Franklin to make his biggest charitable donation. A la Andrew Carnegie, Franklin's name could live on when placed on the side of a library. Personally, I cannot imagine that a man with so many siblings and niblings** would be worried about the perpetuity of his name. But Franklin did believe in a good cause and had a desire to better the world.

Toward that end, he donated  the money for a dedicated library building in the county seat- The Franklin Sylvester Library. He donated $10,000 towards the building and not satisfied with the look of the roof, donated another $1,000 to have it remedied. He also provided $4,000 for the library in his will.

The Original 1907 Franklin Sylvester Library
Franklin died May 1907.

The Board of Directors of the Old Phoenix Bank were his pall bearers. Part of his obituary read: "Showing a mark of final respect to the man who had been so highly representative of all that is best in our county and who had so generously given to the welfare of Medina Village."

The Franklin Sylvester Library opened up for business on 29 September 1907. Franklin never got to see his dream realized.

Franklin Sylvester Local History & Genealogy Room

In a Medina Gazette editorial, a call went out for a life-size portrait of Franklin to be gifted from the citizens of Medina, and to hang in the library that bore his name. Perhaps the citizens stepped up to the challenge, for Franklin Sylvester's portrait in charcoal still hangs in the room that bears his name - The Franklin Sylvester Room.  

*Ashery - is a factory that converts hardwood ashes into lye, potash, or pearlash.
** Nibling - The child of one's sibling (in other words, one's niece or nephew), especially in the plural or as a gender-neutral term. 

The History of Medina County and Ohio, pub. Baskin & Battey, 1881.
The Medina County Gazette,  7 June 1907, p. 1.
The Medina County Gazette, 20 March 2001, p. C-1
1945 Letter written by A.R. Webber to Earl & Elbridge Gibbs urging the citizens of Medina to enlarge the library. (in the Medina Library's collection)
1874 Combination Atlas Map of Medina County
Franklin Sylvester's will. (copy in the Medina Library collection.)
Discover Medina

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

We All Have 'Em

Black Sheep*

We all have 'em. The ne'er-do-wells. The rascals. The "not mentioned in polite company". And the criminal. (read to the end to learn about my family's many "Black Sheep") Many families never do mention their black sheep relatives. And then there are those who celebrate them: Black Sheep Ancestors.

Question is, what do we do with them when we are documenting the family history?

First of all, we do document them. We document them just like any other ancestor or relative. And luckily, they turn up in the written records more often than their tamer cousins. You will find them listed in the newspaper accounts and in the court systems. You might even find these ne'er-do-wells in the history books.

And we interview our living relatives about these characters. And this is where it can get a little sticky, because not everyone will see these individuals in the same light as a genealogist looking to flesh out the lives of ALL of the relatives. Some people would really rather NOT talk about them. Or they might try to gloss over the perceived shortcomings of the eccentric members of the family. And just how hard to you push your living relatives about these "oddballs"?

Recently, I read an article from a respected genealogist who said that you pressure the reluctant relative to reveal all they know about their more infamous ancestors because "you will find it out one way or another". And by answering your questions they at least have a chance to give their side of the story.

I do not agree with this tactic. To begin with, by pressuring someone to reveal family history that they are not comfortable revealing pretty well guarantees that you will never be invited back for more interviews. You could cause real grief and possibly a rift in the family. Also, that person will never want to talk to anyone else about the family either, thereby closing off an avenue of discovery.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, recently posted about this topic on her blog:
The Legal Genealogist and she re-posted from another blog hosted by her friend and Certified Genealogist, Debbie Parker Wayne, Deb's Delvings in Genealogy. Deb says that these sensitive situations should be dealt with using Context. Empathy. Time. 

Basically, you want to treat ALL your relatives, the living and the dead, with respect. (EMPATHY) You don't pressure them into revelations that they will regret later and you don't broadcast all of their misdoings for the entertainment or edification of others.

TIME. If an incident happened 100 or 200 years ago and everyone immediately involved is long since dead, the effects of revealing an indiscretion are going to be minimal.

So you will want to "shield" some of your family information and not publicly broadcast it while the interested people are still alive. This is just a common courtesy. You don't lie about it. And you can share the information in a respectful manner.

And while I have a number of "black sheep" stories about my living relatives, the following events all relate to individuals who have long been dead:
Not just for sinners

  • One of my great grandfathers was often quoted as saying "Stop Signs are for sinners." It was always said to indicate that he never heeded stop signs.  A newspaper article about his traffic violations seems to confirm this little tidbit. (But as we are all "sinners" wouldn't this indicate that stop signs were for everyone?)
  • Another grandfather went to prison for 5-10 years for attempted manslaughter. He told the judge that he was just trying to scare the victim into telling him where his wife was. As he was an avid hunter and only wounded the victim, I suspect the he was "under the influence" at the time of the incident. He was also wounded during the exchange and was found walking up and down the street in front of his house by the sheriff. When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was afraid to go into the house by himself because he believed he would bleed to death. I would like to nominate this relative for an episode of America's Dumbest Criminals.
  • This same grandfather was arrested as a young man for "disturbing the peace on the Sabbath" as he raced his horse past a church during service, whooping and hollering at the congregants.
  • And in yet another example of bad decision making, this man left his wife and 3 young children for his sister-in-law, eventually having a fourth child by her. His wife, not to be out-done by her errant husband, also took up with another man and had his child before finally filing for divorce some 9 years later.
  • One of my 2 X great grandfathers was arrested for not showing up when was drafted
    Battle Flag of the 76th OVI
    for the second time during the Civil War. In his defense, he did show up the first time and was part of the Bloody 76th OVI. He had a medical discharge from that unit due to a "head injury received in camp, but not related to any battle injury". When he was later called up for the Ohio 43rd, he just did not show up. So they came and got him. Thirty years after the Civil War ended, his wife had him committed to an Insane Asylum for locking her out of the house. His commitment papers sound a lot like he was suffering from Alzheimer's which has been passed down on that side of the family.
  • Another, more distant, relative was sentenced for horse theft in 1820's Delaware. The Governor commuted his sentence, but the commutation arrived too late. The "corporal punishment" had already been administered. I am still researching to find out what that corporal punishment was.
I could go on, and on, and on... Yep, we all got 'em.

*Wikipedia definition of Black Sheep.