Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: Year in Review

Well, for the most part, 2015 was a very productive year for growing a number of databases for Heritage Charlotte. First off, the “Charlotte County Database of Interments/Burials” surpassed 31,000 entries. This database, row by row, represents individual burials in Charlotte County. Each person’s entry includes surname names (maiden name), dates of birth and death, relation information (info on their parents and spouse) as well as the local of their burial (the cemetery). While all cemeteries in the county have been added, I am still slowing picking away adding entries for St. Stephen Rural Cemetery and the occasion unlisted burial when sorting through death certificates at the Provincial Archives (which often mention the location of the burial). Just as morbid is the fortunate/unfortunate growth of the “Charlotte County Obituaries & Death Notices” collection which ends the year at over 865 pages. On a more pleasant side, there have been additions to the “Charlotte County Soldiers of the First World War” database. Throughout 2015, another 40+ soldiers were added to the list, bringing the total to 1,307. In addition, the central “family tree” for Heritage Charlotte, known as the “TreeRoots” project has grown to over 12,495. This project intends to link the generations of people in Charlotte County through a single, common “community” tree. While it does not suggest everyone is related, it does highlight earlier generations living in small communities throughout the county. While many of these databases received additions in 2015, I believe things will slow down considerably in 2016 due to other commitments and some new focus.

For me, one of those new focus will be the renewal of the Charlotte Branch of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society. The society in this area has declined in membership and experienced little activity in recent years. While some have called to disband the branch, I feel that there is still potential. And perhaps for me it’s a case of not wanting to witness the end of an era. The local branch has a rich past and, through the tireless efforts of its members, has contributed greatly to the knowledge of the region’s genealogy. I will be dedicating my time and efforts in restoring the branch in 2016.

And finally, in 2015 we lost a valuable member of the local history/genealogy community. Doug Dougherty, who was very active with highlighting and preserving the history of Charlotte County, passed away on August 30. Doug put together histories on communities such Getchell Settlement/Mayfield, Todds Point, Milltown and St. Stephen. Doug was also a key member of the Charlotte County Museum and like many of us, dreamt of a day when the region would have a new museum and archives. Doug was a regular contributor to the Saint Croix Courier with his articles on local history. During my many trips to the St. Croix Public Library, I would run into Doug. We would chat about research that we were conducting and occasionally Doug would share a tidbit on history that would never be put into print. Those stories were insightful but always humorous.  Doug will be missed.

Here’s to 2016 and a goodbye to 2015. Another year without your own obituary is a good year!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ancestry's Family Tree Maker to be retired?

On December 5, 2015, Ancestry announced that it would be retiring its genealogy product, Family Tree Maker. They will continue to support the software until January 2017 so you have 1 year to get the most out of Ancestry and its connection with “hints”, if your tree is sync to Ancestry online. From what I read on forums and blogs, the news has been met with sadness and opposition. I, for one, use FTM for the last few years and enjoyed it greatly especially when the tree was sync to my Ancestry account and then accessed via the Ancestry mobile app. This feature provided readily access to my family tree and was very beneficial when chatting with people on the go. Rather than take up torches and chase Ancestry down, I will start to look for a new software replacement but intend on using FTM beyond its supported time frame as the program is designed to work offline anyways and will continue with current PC operating systems such as Windows 10. In ways, I am somewhat happy with the break from Ancestry. Too often, Ancestry is the viewed as the “end all, be all” in the world of genealogy. But the fact is, as many true researchers know, Ancestry has caused more issues than we care to mention. When an amateur family researchers say things such as “I took all of my information from Ancestry”, it simply makes me cringe! Did they obtain information from a poor researched tree which based its own research off data that it “found on some guy’s website”?
So for me, using FTM over the last few years was like paying the power bill for the local drug dealer. Ok, perhaps that analogy is a bit harsh. I will admit that through uploading my tree and using Ancestry’s “shaky leaf”, I have been able to clear up a few road blocks, saving some time in process.

In the end, I will miss FTM however that void will no doubt be filled by another family tree maker software. Its just ashamed that, once again as with respect to other Ancestry projects, we in the genealogy community are left with confusion and the feeling of mistrust. As I have said all along, Ancestry is not your small town archives or genealogy group. Its a large corporation trying to take and make a buck. What it will take is your research and a few of your dollars. For me, retiring Family Tree maker is more about retiring see ya!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

LACs Long Road To Digitization of WW1 Records

On a number of occasions I have requested records of First World War Soldiers only to receive a reply that they are unable to provide copies of the records due to the fact that the particular records are pending digitization. Today, I went through many of the 1,291 causalities of Charlotte County NB and find a very interesting trend. It appears that only those soldiers that I requested in the last few years have been digitized and most of which I had to pay a cost to duplicate the records and have them mailed to me. To be clear, I am not complaining about the cost aspect but I am upset that only records are being requested, are they actually being digitized. A sort of "well, someone is already paying for these records to be placed on a copier so we might as well digitize them at the same time". Now, I am only half way through search through the list of Charlotte County causalities but it was such an interest trend that I needed to share.

I am anxious for LAC (Library and Archives of Canada) to complete this project but, as I have mentioned earlier, it couldn't have come at a worst time. Being told that records are not accessible due to digitization when you're completing a project to mark the 100th year anniversary of the war is a major disappointment. How many others are out there, who are only now researching a great-great-grandfather, are being told to "check back". And now, for me, to find out that their efforts are stalling out and that they are not even close to being half way completed is yet again another disappointment. We are at a great moment to celebrate these great men and what they did for our country, let's not lose this opportunity to remember.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Database Continues To Grow...

I am pleased to say that the “Charlotte County Interment/Burial Index” that I started compiling back in 2006 has now surpassed 27,000 entries! I have made great strides over the winter in completing cemeteries in St. Andrews and Campobello. At this point, I feel that I am close to 25% complete with St. Stephen Rural Cemetery. The St. Stephen Rural Cemetery is the last of the mainland cemeteries to be entered and with a reported 15,000 interments in this cemetery alone, I am not sure if I will ever be fully completed in adding to it. This summer, I hope to start adding burials for cemeteries on the island of Grand Manan. Once completed, all cemeteries for Charlotte County will completed in the database. And what a resource that will be!!
As the database grows, entries seems to be slowing down. This is happening namely due to one reason: when searching for a specific death certificate, I tend to search death certificates for all those that had that specific surname. Since the database is so large, I can quickly add possible “strays” and also check my work on previous entries. And since St. Stephen Rural Cemetery is the last “mainland” cemetery, why not just search common mainland names to ensure that I “have everyone”. With a large cemetery such as St. Stephen Rural Cemetery, there are plenty of straws that are not listed with some of my sources, particularly the book “St. Stephen Rural Cemetery: Tombstone Inscriptions, Volume 1". This book was published in 1996 by the New Brunswick Genealogical (Charlotte Branch) and is a limited print by Picton Press. This book has been a huge reference for adding in burials but as mentioned, sometime as surname search on death certificates tends to uncover deaths/burials not listed in the book, particularly in the case of many infant deaths.
It is amazing to see how some large families spread out in Charlotte County. While added burials for St. Stephen, I notice a few entries above, the parents of the said deceased and that they buried in another area. A few items that make this project interesting is the change in spelling in some surnames or the errors that happen when surnames are spell similarity. Such is the case with “Johnson” and “Johnston” but also with many of the “Mc” and “Mac” prefix in surnames. But the database itself has already helped to correct some of the confusion but it still doesn’t clear up entries where a son has decided to spell is surname different than his father’s or siblings surname. And don’t get me started on the confusion when you realize that an adoption has taken place. Thankfully between using census, birth certificates and marriage records, one can start to make sense of the life of a stranger long departed. Such is life, right?
However head scratches are not reserved to understanding the lives of the departed Charlotte County residents. Try adding entries for burials of those that are not even from New Brunswick (or Nova Scotia, or Maine). This was very common when entering data for cemeteries in St. Andrews, particularly the St. Andrews Rural Cemetery. There was one section of this cemetery that I tend to call “the penthouse”. Many of the burials in this area where once affluent, wealth people who had retired in St. Andrews from Ontario, Quebec or the New England states. St. Andrews, still a resort town for those of us living, certainly had its share of “outsiders” that came to the town late in their life and are buried here for eternity. As with each and every entry I tend to spend some time research data on the deceased. In the case of “the penthouse” section, I discovered lives of once well connect people. In one case, I found a newspaper article of one, now deceased, couple that once hosted a glamorous party at their home in Florida for fellow high society Canadians in the area. And there they were, a photograph showed the couple sharply dress. Now, some 40 years later, a lonely guy in New Brunswick reads their story and adds their life data to entry on their burial in a now cold cemetery in January. Was that a little too morbid? Perhaps, but one thing that I have learned from this project is this: regardless of your place in life, your place in the cemetery means very little. Regardless of the society elite planning and buy plots in a “penthouse” section in the “locals” cemetery, it makes little difference in the end. In this database, there is no spot for data on your net worth.