Genealogical Burnout Strikes Again!

I experienced this same phenomenon after our week-long trip in the summer of 2013 tracking our western Pennsylvania relatives; a total aversion to anything genealogy related. Last year it lasted for months but this time it has only been since I returned from the NGS conference in Richmond earlier this month (May 2014). I think it has something to do with realizing what a gargantuan task it is to fully document and provide source references for each fact about an ancestor. It seems overwhelming and just not as much fun as it usually is.

The difference this year is that I have a blog and I promised myself I would post regularly. So here’s a quick wrap-up on the rest of the conference, after the overwhelming first day. I did learn my way around and by the fourth day I knew how to get wherever I wanted to go. Unfortunately by the second day I realized my allergies were actually the beginning of bronchitis and I felt pretty miserable. On top of that I was up until 1:30 am Saturday morning playing cards with my mother, my former girl scout leader, and two family friends one of whom happened to be in town on her annual visit from Hawaii.  I definitely need more sleep than my 80-year old mother. I wonder if that will change when I’m 80?

So enough of my whining – the conference was good, but I probably won’t make it an annual event. I still have so much I can learn on my own and online in order to get the most out of an event like that. In some of the sessions I was fascinated and excited to learn new things and in others I felt like I already knew most of what they were talking about. The number of choices at each time slot (sessions were at 8:00; 9:30; 11:00; 2:30 and 4:00) made it hard to choose which session to go to. Sometimes there were three or four sessions at the same time I wanted to attend and sometimes there were none. All in all I’m glad I went and will probably go again in a few years.

Fortunately the Library of Virginia was just a few blocks away so I got to do more family history research. I even found out by viewing my great great grandmother’s death certificate (Sarah Elizabeth Jenkins Hubbard) that my family tree on Ancestry.com had the wrong county for where she was born and the wrong maiden name for her mother.

This is how I learned Sarah was born in Cumberland County and her mother's maiden name was Warner not George.

This is how I learned she was born in Cumberland County and her mother’s maiden name was Warner.

To me it is always satisfying to pin down a fact from a source document, even if it disproves some assumptions.  In this case the new information forced me to prune a whole branch of my tree but it’s growing back nicely. I’m using some of the new skills I learned at the conference to be more strategic in my searches by limiting my search to a particular county and year for the US Census. This avoids the tendency to get too many names to sort through and makes it much easier to find who I’m looking for. Of course, you’ve got to be sure you’re searching in the right county or you could easily end up with the wrong Sarah Elizabeth Jenkins. As they mentioned at one of the sessions – we all have “former ancestors” and it is important to cut them loose.

2014 National Genealogical Conference

My Credentials

My Credentials

I just finished my first day at the 2014 National Genealogical Society conference in Richmond, Va. and I must confess I am exhausted! There are so many exhibits and programs to choose from (the program syllabus is 656 pages) and the Richmond Convention Center is so big (it takes up 2 city blocks and is connected by elevated walkways) that it was a bit overwhelming.  I think tomorrow will be better.

On a positive note, thanks to my mother’s great directions, I got to downtown Richmond (on the north side of the river) from where she lives (on the south side of the river) in less than 15 minutes without any traffic.  I thought it was a fluke since I left her house at 6:30 am but I had the same luck when I came home at 5:00 pm.

As an added bonus, on the way to the conference I drive past my first school, the house where my grandmother lived in 1920 and the neighborhood where my mother grew up.

602 West 20th Street, Richmond, VA

602 West 20th Street, Richmond, VA

Not to mention that I get to drive across the Robert E. Lee bridge – just doesn’t get much better than that for this southern girl.

So here are three things I learned today:

1. Farmers’ diaries are great sources for finding out the weather on a particular date at a particular place in the past.  This probably explains why my grandfather Kingsbury’s 1910 diary when he was a student at George Washington University in Washington DC always starts with the weather that day.  He grew up on a farm in Iowa.

2. Searching genealogy records for ancestors from Richmond Va (where most of my mother’s family is from) is difficult because many records were destroyed in what they call “the evacuation fire” in 1865.  The departing Confederates set fire to the warehouses and munitions facilities near the river so the Union wouldn’t have them but the fire spread “up the hill” to the courthouse.  VA records going back to the 1600s were stored there.  It wasn’t only State records that were lost.  When the Civil War started, many of the counties surrounding Richmond sent their local records to Richmond for “safekeeping.” (Surely the capital wouldn’t fall, they must have thought.) There’s a term in VA genealogical research – “burned county” – for those counties whose records were lost in that fire.

3. The Virginia Historical Society (a private nonprofit not a state repository) has 9 million manuscripts and probably one of the best historic portrait collections in the Southeast.  There is a heavy emphasis on Civil War records but they also have the diary that George Washington kept during his first year as President.  They also have the bowie knife that JEB Stuart took from John Brown when he was captured at Harpers Ferry and according to the librarian who was giving the talk – “guns – lots of guns!”

They also have a memoir written by Elizabeth Keckley – the first exposé written by a White House insider. Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave in VA in 1818 but bought her freedom in St. Louis and moved to Washington DC.  She was the seamstress for many women in Washington and became the seamstress and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. (There was a scene in the movie Lincoln of her on the porch talking to Lincoln.) Her biography published in 1868 was entitled Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868).

Well – that’s all for now. I’ve got to figure out which talk I’m going to at 8 am tomorrow so I can hit the ground running.