#genchat: Reclaim the Records

Graphic courtesy of SirLeprechaunRabbit, co-host of #genchat

On February 1, we had a very special guest at #genchat: Brooke Schreier Ganz, to discuss Reclaim the Records.  (In case you don’t know, Reclaim the Records’s mission is to “identify important genealogical records sets that ought to be in the public domain but which are being wrongly restricted by government archives, libraries, and agencies. We file Freedom of Information and Open Data requests to get that public data released back to the public.”)  The discussion was so informative, I felt I had to capture much of it for future reference; thus this blog post!  I will feature our questions, Brooke’s answers (with permission), and other useful information that was shared.

As during #genchat, the following abbreviations will be used:
FOI = Freedom of Information
records = government-generated/curated records
RTR = Reclaim the Records
ICEBREAKER:  What is “Freedom of Information”? Who does it apply to?
Freedom of Information generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information.
Q1.  How do you know which records you should legally have access to?
Brooke:  First of all, you need to know which law applies to your situation. Is it the famous FOIA, which covers only federal records? Or is one of the 51 state (and DC) FOI laws, which all vary a bit? If so, you’ll want to check out that law’s details.
These state-level laws all have different wacky names: FOIL, OPRA (no, not *that* Oprah), GRAMA, Sunshine Law, Public Records Act, Right-To-Know Act, and so on. They’re all pretty similar, but some are better at what they cover, or what they exempt.
The best websites to find out what the law you’re interested in is called, and what it covers, and what its quirks are, is the BALLOTPEDIA page on state Sunshine laws:
 
Another great website that has a round-up of these state laws is @NFOIC, the National Freedom of Information Coalition. They’re kind of aimed more towards journalists who need to use these laws, but their info is still very helpful.  
  • @mdiane_rogers: 1. Share facts / concerns/ Freedom of Information how-tos for your jurisdictions widely [Note: Diane is from British Columbia, Canada; so even though RTR only covers the United States, the principles here can apply just about anywhere!]
Q2.  What steps should you take to obtain records?
BrookeOkay, so you know you want to get a copy of certain record set under a state FOI law. Go you! So what now? Well, you need to read that state’s law thoroughly. See what it explicitly says is NOT covered.
For example, Maryland’s state FOI law, which they call the Public Information Act (PIA), explicitly says that all kinds of educational records are exempt. So you can’t use the MD PIA to get copies of your great-grandma’s high school records.
But on the other hand, Maryland is one of the rare states where the judiciary is covered in their state FOI law! (Most states exempt it entirely.) So you can use the PIA to get copies of court-related genealogy records, such as naturalizations, wills, and so on.
In short, go read the law. The whole thing.  
  • @mdiane_rogers: 2. Join together with other individuals / groups with similar historical interests (e. g. in BC, Canada, I’m a member of the BC Historical Federation’s Advocacy Committee )
Q3.  What things should you do if you get pushback?
Brooke:  Of course, if every government archive or agency followed the law, there would be little need for a group like Reclaim The Records in the first place. But, they don’t. And so here we are!
If you make a request for a certain records set, like a copy of a microfilm or a database, and you get pushback — or get ignored entirely — don’t panic. There are people and groups who can help you. First off, double check with a “helper organization”, if possible.
Some states have publicly-funded groups or ombudsmen or records councils, or things like that, who you can literally just call up on the phone and talk to. Or e-mail them, whatever. They give free advice! And they’re usually very nice. You can literally just call them up and be like “hey, I wanted X and the archives are saying no, are they breaking the law?” In NY, there’s the Committee on Open Government: dos.ny.gov/coog/ In PA, there’s the Office of Open Records: openrecords.pa.gov Other states, but not all, have publicly-funded helper groups like that too. They’re experts in their own state law. They can even do research for you in their previous caselaw. And they can write Advisory Opinions for you, should you need to file a lawsuit. Advisory Opinions are basically a letter from the state organization saying that they think your request was totally legit and fine, and citing cases X, Y, and Z. The opinion itself isn’t legally binding, but it’s great to have one in your pocket, should you sue. And these state organizations will be happy to help any government agencies with questions too, not just requestors. So you can always tell your archive or city clerk’s office “uh hey, before you keep saying no to me, how about you call this org and double check?” 
  • @seekingsurnames: I just requested military records through FOIA, a virtual stranger (expert in military research) helped me. #genchat #thepowerofsocialmedia
    @_genchat: That is great! Use your connections (remember, your #genchat friends are all over the world!)
  • @packrat74: #genchat Just like graduate school, know all the rules and be persistent.
    @Ghyxion: And polite
Q4.  When should you contact RTR?
BrookeWell, first off we should emphasize that we’re not lawyers! No one on our board has a law degree. So we can’t immediately assess whether a records request is truly valid or not. We need to call out the big guns, with the JD’s. We’re happy to take suggestions and talk on the phone or over e-mail. And if it sounds reasonable, we add it to our “to-do list” and eventually start work on it. But we’re also limited by time and budget. Non-profit life, you know. But we have so much we want to do!
Q5.  When should legal action happen?  What kind of attorneys deal with FOI requests?
BrookeWe’ve been fortunate to find awesome attorneys for all our cases, but that was honestly one of the hardest parts of our very first case, in 2015. We were so lucky to find @DaveRankinNYC after initially chasing down many false leads. He led a NY Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) case to get the Hart Island burial records released. That’s the New York City potter’s field, an island that has been use for burying the indigent for over a century. He got the books for his client, an artist! And when we stumbled across a newspaper mention of that case, we were like THAT’S THE GUY WE SHOULD HIRE. And we did.    
Fun fact, but totally a coincidence: his mom is a genealogist! We’ve also found some of our attorneys through diligent web searching for new stories about lawsuits for their particular state FOI law. For example, in New Jersey, we found the awesome @CJGriffinEsq at Pashman Stein who is THE top lawyer for their state law, OPRA. Another good place to find a lawyer for the state you’re interested in is the FOI-L listserve run out of Syracuse University by @nfoic. It’s a low traffic e-mail list with the top FOI (mostly FOIA, but not all) attorneys and journalists: https://www.nfoic.org/about/programs-services/foi-listserv
That’s how we solicited recommendations for a Missouri attorney to help us with our MO Sunshine Law requests for the state birth and death index. We got several names sent to us, some with personal stories attached, and we called up Bernie Rhodes at @lathropgage. And by the way, for those of you wanting to hear updates about Missouri, which is our longest-running FOI lawsuit (two years and counting!) there’s some news: we are JUST about to submit the paperwork to ask for summary judgment. *crosses fingers*
  • @cferra1227:   These types of lawyers seem to specialize in it: https://www.rocketlawyer.com/article/how-to-file-a-freedom-of-information-act-request-cb.rl as do http://www.foiadvocates.com/  Legal action should happen when all other avenues have been explored.
  • @packrat74:   If you’re doing #genealogy on the cheap, it helps to touch base with your local society — local to you, or to where your research is.
  • @JoAHenn:  or contact local Facebook genealogy group for that area, often someone will volunteer to go get it for you and/or find it and snap a pic to send you. Over 3000 Facebook genealogy groups, bound to be a relevant one.
Q6.  How can we help RTR’s efforts?
BrookeWe at Reclaim The Records are so thankful for all the support we’ve gotten in the community over the past few years! We became a registered 501(c)3 non-profit org in February 2017. And yes, we gratefully take donations. Our work is funded by donations from fed-up genealogists and historians and journalists — like all of you.
Every record set we win goes online for free public use: no paywalls, no subscriptions, no usage agreements, none of that stuff. It’s public data!
Q7.  How do we fight against existing & forthcoming restrictions?
BrookeOkay, first of all, let’s give a shout-out to another group of genealogists doing great work, who are keeping their ears to ground for news of potential restrictions in every state: RPAC, the Records Preservation and Access Committee. RPAC is a joint committee of @FGSgenealogy, @ngsgenealogy, and @IAJGSConf. They are a great early-warning system for news about potential records restrictions that may be coming down the pike in various localities. Learn more about RPAC here: https://fgs.org/community/rpac/
But once a vital records jurisdiction is starting to make noises about restricting records, what can genealogists do? Well, for one thing, we can write letters, we can petition, we can make calls, we can use the traditional persuasive methods to try to stop that. But if that doesn’t work, if the government agency totally ignores the public outcry — see, for example, what happened in NYC in October 2017 with their awful new rules — there is something else we can do. We can sue.
Now, this is not traditionally what genealogists do. We tend to be homebodies staying up too late with our records, or who are the most happy in quiet archives. We’re usually not rah-rah activist types. But we need to be, or else we risk losing more records access. And so one of the things RTR has been thinking about in the past years is not just “how do I get record set X using that FOI law” but also “how do we push back against the erosion of public records access?” And lawsuits are, frankly, an underused tool for that.
  • @packrat74: Know your elected representatives, for whatever level of jurisdiction that applies. If you hear about bad legislation, let them hear why you think it’s bad. You’re a constituent and they’re *supposed* to be representing you.
  • @milhistbuff3: Get/stay educated & active. Will second @halfacadian‘s suggestion re: existing/ pending legislation/regulations, for all levels of governance & making your opposition heard. e.g the NYC Dept of Health issue last fall.
  • @milhistbuff3: Genealogy may be our primary interest in these records, but would suggest expanding the scope to modern day business/personal uses as well. E.g need to trace for health history/prove citizenship, wider social history etc. That may be more likely to cause rethinking it.
  • @packrat74: In addition to following RTR, read The Legal Genealogist (Judy G. Russell’s blog) — look for the posts tagged ‘Records Access’ — to get news about what’s happening around the country.
For more information regarding Reclaim the Records, be sure to visit their website at reclaimtherecords.org.  And to see some of the records they’ve reclaimed, be sure to visit their section on the Internet Archive.  You may find an ancestor waiting for you there!

New York State Family History Conference, Part 1: All the Feels

When I first heard that the New York State Family History Conference (NYSFHC) was going to be in Tarrytown, NY in 2018, I said to myself, “I’m going!” and I kept a sharp eye out for details to be released. After all, it is within driving distance from my house – all I would have to pay is the conference fee!

Finally, the conference arrived on September 13 – 15. I didn’t sign up for any pre-conference workshops or tours, but I was okay with that.

The Venue

NYSFHC, put on by the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, right along the Hudson River (and I did not take time to take in the views, but I’ve seen the river plenty of times). For those who attended NYSFHC and stayed in the hotel, I’m sure it was super-convenient. The hotel had its own restaurant, but it seemed to me (the one time I ate there) that it was not used to handling a conference crowd. There were no other restaurants located conveniently nearby; having food trucks would have been fantastic!

The space that the conference was held in was sufficient. Classrooms were (usually) not too crowded, though for the smaller rooms you had to get there early enough to ensure you had a seat. A couple of rooms were either too cold or too warm, but this Goldilocks was prepared by wearing a blazer! The main exhibit hall was a bit crowded at times, but there was always the option of checking out the exhibitors/vendors out in the hallway.

Old Friends/New Friends

You’ll read in other blogs that the unique part of a conference experience is interacting and networking with others in person. That is so true!

I was feeling a little shy when I first arrived, but then I reached the exhibit hall and saw Jen Baldwin at the FindmyPast booth right away. She recognized me immediately from when we met at the Global Family Reunion and greeted me with a hug! Once again, the FindmyPast booth was a great place for home base.

Jen Baldwin at the Findmypast booth. Author’s collection.

Another touchstone was the OldMaps booth, where fellow Virtual Genealogical Association member Sara Campbell was handing out VGA ribbons for our badges. Little did I know, I’d actually met Sara two years before at a New England geneabloggers meet-up! At NYSFHC, I was tasked with taking a VGA group picture (which turned out to be two), and Sara helped redirect members outside of the exhibit hall for the pictures.

Meeting some of the other VGA members (Susan Schuler, Kim Cotton, Gail Gannotti, Carol Poulos, Karen Ramon, Ellen Healy, Jo Henn, Eva Kujawa from Sweden, and Marian B. Wood, who I’d heard speak a few months before) was awesome! Contrary to the conference being New York-based, these folks were from all over the world! And here we were, virtual members meeting together in person.

Virtual Genealogical Association meet-ups. Author’s collection.

But of course, I was most excited to meet up with my peeps from #genchat – complete with the #genchat selfie sign, created by Jenna Mills! There were a few people I knew would be there, based on Twitter feedback (like Jen & some VGA folks), and others that I was pleasantly surprised to see, like Molly Charboneau (who I met at the 2014 Genealogy Event) and Michael Cassara (aka @digiroots). Ironically Friday night was also a #genchat night, so meeting at the conference was a nice reminder to everyone that #genchat was still around!

Jen Baldwin, and me with Jen! Author’s collection.

Jo Henn. Author’s collection.

Molly Charboneau and Michael Cassara. Author’s collection.

Susan Schuler and Kim Cotton. Author’s collection.

Diahan Southard and Marian Wood. Author’s collection.

A Word About Badges & Ribbons

Now, I know that at conferences, you get ribbons to put at the bottom of your badge, but I didn’t know much about how you got them or why. I did have #genchat ribbons to give out to the #genchat folks, and I knew I was entitled to a VGA ribbon. I picked up a few that I knew I qualified for. (One guy I spoke to thought that I was a professional since I had “so many ribbons.”) What I didn’t know was I could actually get a lot more!

I found out from Jen via Twitter that “Ribbons are essentially free marketing… of course we all want our logos carried around by attendees and on social media. So in most cases, it’s a free for all. Each attendee can choose to be a part or not.” I guess if you’re in doubt whether or not you can have a ribbon, just ask!

Ribbon-decked badge! Author’s collection.

In my next post, I’ll be highlighting the talks I attended and what I learned.

#genchat Treasures: African American Genealogy

One of the cool things about #genchat is being able to discuss the genealogy of different ethnic origins. You may not have that ethnicity yourself, but you may learn of new resources and methodologies that you can apply to your own research. Personally, I like to approach it thinking, “if I were ethnicity, where would I look?”

This past February 2, we discussed African-American genealogy led by Renate Yarborough Sanders. Before I list all the wonderful resources that were shared, I just want to say that this was one of the most moving #genchats we’ve ever had. Not only did we learn of the unique experiences and challenges of African-American ancestors, but we explored the difficult topic of having a slave-owning ancestor. All this was done in a spirit of honesty and empathy on all sides. I’m a little choked up as I write: if only the rest of our divided society could come together like this, there would be so much healing.

Courtesy Library of Congress.

So the following resources mentioned during and after #genchat are listed here, not only to aid African-Americans with their research, but also to educate everyone about the research challenges and what you may be able to do if you have a slave-holding ancestor.

Resources:

Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute

Black Pro Gen

Hidden Cemeteries of Essex County

Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches list of African-American Genealogy blogs

Kentucky Historical Society – US Colored Troop Muster for KY 7th-9th districts

Kentucky Historical Society – letters mentioning slave names

Mississippi Dept of Archives & History – Sovereignty Commission Online

Library of Congress – African American History Month site

Articles/Blogposts/Podcasts:

African Roots Podcast

Ben Franklin’s World (podcast) – episode 118 – The business of slavery in Rhode Island

New York Post – College Compiles Index of Slaves and Their Owners

Roots Revealed – Genealogy Mishap Case

Southern Poverty Law Center – quiz – How Much Do You Know About American Slavery?

Life in the Past Lane – In the Shadow of Charlottesville

The Atlantic – The Freedman’s Story

Into the Light – Restore My Name

Family Tree Magazine – How to Trace African-American History Through Oral History

Slave-Holding Ancestors:

Reclaiming Kin – Suggestions for White Descendants of Slaveholders

Slave Name Roll Project

As always, if I’ve missed any resources that were mentioned or if you have something new to add, please reply in the comments!

#genchat: The Next Generation

As you probably know, I’ve been involved in the popular genealogy Twitter chat, #genchat, since its beginning in 2013. Which means that as of this month, #genchat turns five years old!

Courtesy genealogygenchat.com

Late last year, #genchat’s host Jen Baldwin asked Kale Liam Hobbs (aka “Sir Leprechaun Rabbit“) and I if we might consider taking over hosting. Jen was looking to focus more on her own genealogy, writing and family at this time, but didn’t want to see #genchat fall to the wayside, since it had benefited so many. After our initial shock 🙂 we decided that yes, we would take this on.

Since Liam is in Canada and I’m in Connecticut, we’ve started this long-distance coordination of what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it via emails and messages. We’re still in the process of figuring it all out, but it is starting to come together. (So please be patient!)

You can still view the schedule on genealogygenchat.com (we’re working on getting the calendar working again). As you can see, we have lots of guest hosts with some exciting topics to cover, and 2018 looks to be shaping up to be the Year of the Archive.

Please join us again on January 19 when Christine Woodcock will be talking to us about “Planning Your Ancestral Tour”. #genchat starts at 10pm Eastern, 9pm Central, 8pm Mountain, 7pm Pacific, and as usual, Treeverne (our virtual bar) opens a half hour beforehand for some casual conversation. Always remember to use the hashtag (#genchat) in each tweet so that we can be sure to see you*, and for each question (Q1, Q2, etc.), answer with A1, A2, etc. to make the conversation easier to follow.

*For some reason, not all tweets are showing up on the tchat.io platform, so you may want to try TweetChat, TweetDeck or another Twitter chat platform.

#genchat Treasures: French-Canadian Resources

This past Friday, I got to play host for #genchat, and the topic was French-Canadians. Normally during #genchat there is a lot of give and take and sharing of information. This time, there were a LOT of resources shared, so I thought I’d share them here.

Carver, Jonathan, and Robert Sayer And John Bennett. A new map of the Province of Quebec, according to the Royal Proclamation, of the 7th of October 1763. London, Printed for Robt. Sayer and John Bennett, 1776. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/74694799/. (Accessed October 15, 2017.)

Special thanks for those who contributed information: Jan Murphy, Diane Tourville and especially Rob Gumlaw.

Books:
French-Canadian Sources: A Guide for Genealogists – https://books.google.com/books/about/French_Canadian_Sources.html?id=svJKKvIWfUcC
French-Canadian Genealogy, by Rhonda R. McClure – https://www.americanancestors.org/education/learning-resources/read/french-canadian-guide

Societies:
NH: https://acgs.org
RI: http://afgs.org/site
CT: https://www.fcgsc.org
CA: http://www.fchsc.org
IL: http://www.hvgs.org
MI: habitantheritage.org/home
NY: http://www.nnyacgs.com
sgcf.com

DNA:
French Heritage: https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/frenchheritage/about
mtdna: https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/quebecmtdna/about
mothers of Acadia: https://www.familytreedna.com/groups/mothersofacadia/about/background

Places:
Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center: http://www.genealogycenter.org/pathfinders/guides/frenchcanadian.aspx

Webinars:
US & Canada Research (10/16 – 10/20): https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/United_States_and_Canada_Research_Seminar

Podcasts:
maplestarsandstripes.com

Websites:
Drouin collection on Ancestry, 1621-1968: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1091
Quebec, Catholic Parish Registers, 1621-1979 (FamilySearch): https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1321742?collectionNameFilter=false
Bibiloteque et Archives Nationales due Quebec: http://www.banq.qc.ca/accueil/
French Genealogical Word List – FamilySearch Wiki: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/French_Genealogical_Word_List
Quebec Archives: http://pistard.banq.qc.ca/unite_chercheurs/recherche_simple
Maple Stars and Stripes – dissecting records: http://maplestarsandstripes.com/shownotes/mss-013-dissecting-a-french-canadian-baptism-record/
Notarial Records in New Orleans: http://www.legalgenealogist.com/2016/07/27/notarial-records-online/
Dit names: https://genspotters.com/dit-names-and-what-if-your-surname-was-not-the-original-one/
Tackling the Quebec Drouin Collection for English Speakers – http://reachingtheheartwood.blogspot.com/2013/04/tackling-quebec-drouin-collection-for.html
Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) – https://www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en/home
Parish locator tool: https://www.genealogie.umontreal.ca/en/carte
Quebec Notarial Records, 1637-1935 (Ancestry): http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=61062
Library & Archives Canada: https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/genealogy/Pages/introduction.aspx
francogene.com/genealogy

National Archives: https://www.loc.gov/search/?in=&q=french+canadian&new=true&st=
Medical issues: http://habitantheritage.org/french-canadian_resources/medical_issues_dna


If you have any other French-Canadian resources, please feel free to share them in the comments!

What’s In Your GEDCOM?

In December, when Ancestry announced that they would no longer be selling Family Tree Maker, it seemed to shake up much of the genealogy world. People wondered what would they do, where would they go with their data?

Although I was not an FTM user, I watched the fallout and the reaction with interest. I guess part of me wondered, if this could happen to FTM, could it happen to Legacy (what I use)? Or any other genealogy software for that matter? I didn’t want to be caught unawares, like the FTM users seemed to be. I wanted to be ready for whatever changes the future of genealogy might bring. On December 14, The Genealogy Guys had a very timely themed podcast on genealogy software. In it, they touched on GEDCOMs and how they worked. I realized that there was a lot that I did not know!

As you know, I participate in the bi-weekly #genchat on Twitter. On January 15, the topic was “What to do with…Changing Technology?” and circumstances arose that enabled me to host the chat for the evening. We talked about how we handled change, how we backed up digital and non-digital data, understanding what was in our backups (in particular, GEDCOMs), petitioning our software companies for futures changes, and the future as we saw it. Because I know I needed a greater understanding, I gave a homework assignment of just taking a look at one of those GEDCOMs that we’ve backed up, just to see what it looked like and what was in there.

Little did I know that I was in for a bigger learning experience than I bargained for! (But that’s a good thing!) Below are some of my “lessons learned” and my thoughts on them:

  • despite how Legacy’s zip file backup is named, it is not a GEDCOM nor is a GEDCOM file in there!
  • what is in the zip file is Legacy’s database back-up. So if I were to transfer to another genealogy program, I would not be able to load that back up into it.
  • I learned how to export a GEDCOM from Legacy (File/Export/GEDCOM file) and have opened it up in Notepad. As everyone promised, it does look messy, but I recognize a lot of what is there.
  • I need a much better understanding of the contents and structure of a GEDCOM. I’ve learned from the Genealogy Guys that some event types do not transfer over exactly, and I know that media and documents typically are not included. This means I need to know what other files — besides a GEDCOM — needs to be backed up.

Thanks to the Legacy Family Tree Users Facebook group, I picked up a couple of handy tips:

  • A link to the GEDCOM 5.5.1 Standard document. I’ve found it myself on the internet to share with all of you. Yes, it looks dry, but it’s the go-to document about GEDCOM today!
  • There is a freeware program called GedPad that allows you to look at your GEDCOM in a more visually friendly way, as well as perform any edits (which I have no desire to do at this time).

Below is just a little excerpt of the beginning of my GEDCOM, so you can see it too:

GEDCOM sample

Next week, I’ll go back to our “regularly scheduled program” of blogging about my Strong family, but I just wanted to let everyone know my latest thoughts on this topic. As I learn more, I’ll be sure to pass it on!

Global Family Reunion

Yesterday, June 6, the Global Family Reunion was held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY and I got to go! Because it was so close to where I live and the price was right, I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity. If you follow me on Twitter, you got to see a lot of comments and pictures!

Let me first tell you how the day went for me personally, then I’ll give you my overall impressions of the event.

First of all, it was quite easy to get to. I just took Metro-North into Grand Central (about an hour), then the 7 Subway over to 111th Street (about half an hour), then a five minute walk three blocks away. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the neighborhood, I realized it was just an urban working-class area. I arrived about 10:45am and immediately made friends with new “cousins”/genealogists in line, one being from Chicago! It took past the scheduled 11am start time to actually start checking people in, and I’m still not sure why. We were directed to the “Cousin Check-in” area, which had two lines; apparently I was in the wrong one, and the other was very long, so I said to myself, “I’ll check in later!” (which I did).

Waiting to get in.  Author's colleciton.

Waiting to get in. Author’s collection.

First thing was first: I had to stop in on the Find My Past booth to meet #genchat founder, Jen Baldwin. Her red hair made her easy to spot, but I was not easy for her to know right away (since my Twitter avatar is a gingerbread man). Once I introduced myself, though, she gave me a big hug and said we just HAD to get in the

#genchat friends:  Jen Baldwin and me!  Author's collection.

#genchat friends: Jen Baldwin and me! Author’s collection.

obligatory selfie. After that, the Find My Past booth was sort of “home base” for me throughout the day.

The Main Stage schedule probably varied the most from what was

Cousin AJ.  Author's collection.

Cousin AJ. Author’s collection.

on the website, so AJ Jacobs was not first up, but close to it. He apologized for the delay, saying we could forgive him since he was family, and gave us a hearty welcome and a little speech as to the Global Family Reunion came about.

Not able to decide what to eat, and still not terribly hungry, I downed an old-fashioned New York pretzel and went to the Theater area so I could catch Henry Louis Gates. Alas! The 300-seat auditorium was completely full and I couldn’t get in. Not to be deterred, I put in my earbuds and accessed the live webcast of Mr. Gates as I sat in the sun (which fortunately finally came out). Basically, he spoke of his background and how he ended up being a genealogist. The most exciting part was announcing his plans to help get genealogy into the classroom in science (through DNA) and social studies, starting with the inner city first (as they stand to benefit the most from it). Keep your eyes peeled for more on this development!

I spent a little time wandering around before catching D. Joshua Taylor (one of the hosts of “Genealogy Roadshow”, among many other roles) talk about Genealogy & Hollywood in the Viscusi Gallery room. Josh sure has a way of presenting! Not only did he tell us some neat things about genealogy and entertainment (such as the fact that Walt Disney made sure all his characters had a family tree), but he also drove home the fact that we must verify our on-line findings.

I was able to catch most of Dr. Oz on my way out. He spoke of what

Dr. Oz.  Author's collection.

Dr. Oz. Author’s collection.

motivates us to change, particularly from the perspective of staying healthy so we can enjoy our families.

Finally hungry, I had the biggest Falafel sandwich ever (delicious and filling for the rest of the day) as I watched the goings-on in the kids’ area. Boy, they were having lots of fun! Kicking soccer balls, hula-hooping, origami folding and other games. As I tweeted, I didn’t see one whining, crying kid. They were having fun! Older children and teens sharpened their storytelling and writing skills in the Storytelling Tent, and if that wasn’t enough, families got to play miniature golf or explore the museum itself (which looked pretty interactive and cool).

Origami fun!  Author's collection.

Origami fun! Author’s collection.

Paul Williams had just enough time to sing “The Rainbow Connection” before he had to leave. It was cool to see him, as I remember him from “back in the day”! Later on, I even got to meet Daniel Horowitz, Chief Genealogy Officer from MyHeritage. He was happy to hear that I was a MyHeritage user and I was happy to hear that he was able to find some family graves nearby in Queens.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines.  Author's collection.

Tammy Hepps, founder of Treelines. Author’s collection.

As a Treelines user, I absolutely had to catch Tammy Hepps in the StoryTelling Tent as she spoke about her “Margarine Outlaws”. She

had given this talk during RootsTech, and I wanted to see what new developments she may have uncovered! (Needless to say, she learned a whole lot about margarine!) I also got to say a quick hello to her.

It was finally time for the big event: Sister Sledge on the Main Stage! Everyone gathered around, the music started, and out three of them came, singing a song to warm us up! One more sister came on stage and the familiar notes

Sister Sledge sings!  Author's collection.

Sister Sledge sings! Author’s collection.

started: “We are family!” everyone sang. The music, the joy, the hands holding up “I Am A Cousin” signs! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many happy, celebrating people in one place at one time.

Just part of the crowd!  Author's collection.

Just part of the crowd! Author’s collection.

Finally, we “posed” (?) for the big family picture and we listened to AJ’s lovely wife Julie talk about the fundraising portion of the event: supporting Alzheimer’s research and care. AJ was also given several bits of recognition, including an honorary membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society and a double-helix guitar (which did not make it to the stage, but he promised he’d post a picture of!).

Afterwards, I went back to the Viscusi Gallery to hear Randy Whited speak on “The Future Is Now”. He spoke of everything from advances in technology to telling our own story. My favorite point was to make it obvious which part of the story comes from us versus which part comes from records (another score for well done genealogy).

Back to the Main Stage to see Marilu Henner speak on improving

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire!  Author's collection.

Marilu Henner, memory extraordinaire! Author’s collection.

our memory recall (important in light of the focus on Alzheimer’s).  One big tip I remember was using your primary sense to tap into memory: if a visual person, take pictures; if tactile, write it down, etc. What will I remember most from this talk? Her scolding the chatty security guards backstage for being too loud while she was talking! Ha, ha!

Well, it was closing in on 6pm and I had better start making my way home. I got another picture with Jen AND Josh Taylor, then had the

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor.  Surrounded by genea-awesomeness!  Author's collection.

Me, Jen, and Josh Taylor. Surrounded by genea-awesomeness! Author’s collection.

honor of snapping the official Find My Past team photo! Said goodbye to Jen, until we “see” each other virtually again!

One screwy thing about getting back: there was no Manhattan-bound train from that subway station that weekend! It seemed we had to take the train to one stop up (where the Mets play), then take a Manhattan-bound train back. But this turned out to be a good opportunity, because I met some other genealogists (cousins!) who were headed back as well, and we got to talk about the day and our favorite online people (DearMYRTLE and Michael Lacopo were theirs). When it comes to genealogy, there are always friends to be made!

So that was the day. Here are my overall positive impressions:

  • fun, festival-like atmosphere
  • the genealogy tents (Find My Past/Mocavo, Family Search, and MyHeritage/Geni) were hopping with people who wanted to make discoveries, and they did!
  • good genealogy speakers, placed in the right rooms (for the most part), with topics designed to capture your interest if you’re new to genealogy and to encourage you if you’re not. It was sometimes hard to choose who to hear speak!
  • good non-genealogy speakers, with a great focus on strengthening family (we sure need that today, don’t we?)
  • good food, short lines
  • ample supply of port-a-potties; no lines, relatively clean, and wash-up stations too

What could have been better:

  • coffee. There was no coffee anywhere. We need coffee!
  • proper signage to direct folks to appropriate lines. When entering, there was a line for VIP’s and General Admission, but it was hard to tell which was which. Also, at Cousin Check-In, they needed signs for those who had sent in their family history info and who didn’t. It was kind of like being at the DMV.
  • more volunteers at the entrance gate and especially Cousin Check-In.
  • I wish I could have seen Henry Louis Gates; he was obviously the biggest draw there. If he didn’t have slides, I’d suggest he should have gone on the Main Stage.

Overall, a good time and worth the money. Next time, I want to bring some friends to spread the fun!