What is a "tiehacker"?

"Tiehacker" is a term originating in the Ozark hills of southern Missouri. It referred to a class of people from WAY back in the hills that made a living cutting trees into ties for the railroad. I first heard the term from my wife shortly after we married. I had been working outside all day and was dirty and stinky. She had learned it from her father, and thought it just meant "a bum". Never having heard it before, I looked it up. Although I am not really a bum, I thought it was interesting, and I do have a life-long love affair going with the Ozark hills, so ... there you have it!

Friday, December 26, 2014

I want to feel festive, but it just ain't happenin', ya know?

Well, 2014 is almost over. And I have to say, I'm glad to see it go. It has been a rough year in many ways.

So many losses.

left to right:
cousin, Vern Buske, on New Year's Day
brother-in-law, Dan Green, on April 2
mother-in-law, Mary Hicks, nee Miles, on September 16
cousin, Jerry Cline, on Christmas Eve 
(Also, lost a very dear friend, Donna Westenberger, for whom I do not have a decent photo, to Lou Gehrig's Disease on Dec 16.)

My beloved Debster has had two major surgeries, one in June to replace her left knee, and one just two and a half weeks ago to replace her right knee. She has been laid up for most of the last six months recuperating and rehabbing, and still has a quite a way to go.

I've been battling a bad case of cellulitis, which almost put me in the hospital; only some fast talking, almost begging to tell the truth, with the doctor convinced her to allow me to try home treatment first. My leg is still a mess from that. Probably will be for several more weeks, according to the doctor.

And besides the Debster's knees and my leg, we both have other health problems that just keep nagging at us, some semi-serious, some just annoying.

Our van decided to to blow a head-gasket and crack the block. It had to be junked. The Blazer, with almost 260,000 miles on it, is on it's very last legs. Our only reliable car, at the moment, is the 1992 Oldsmobile that we bought from her mom's estate. Only has 96,000 miles on it, but it is still 22 years old, and won't hold up forever under regular daily use. So we're going to have to break down and buy a much newer vehicle by spring, at the latest.

Had to change employers at the end of October. My old employer lost their contract for the job I was on. I got picked up by the new company that got the contract, but although the hourly rate is the same, I lost a lot of benefits, not to mention some hard-won seniority.

My beloved home town of St. Louis, MO has virtually gone up in flames in the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson in August; the northern part of the county will not fully recuperate any time soon, if ever.

I'm not even going to get into the state of national politics and events; all that does is make me see various shades of red and want to start throwing things.

For years I have detested the American version of Christmas. A holiday to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child is fantastic. I could get into that. Only Easter is more important, as far as I am concerned. But, in the nation, it is all about consumerism and greed, with a thin veneer of charity and love and cheer. Not about Jesus Christ at all. Even in the best of churches, as they supposedly celebrate "The Reason for the Season", it usually winds up being primarily a showcase for parents and other relatives to ooh! and ahhh! over their children in the "Christmas play". The Child has been forsaken for the sake of the children.

Well, you all will just have to forgive me for this, but, as a well-known personage once said, "Bah! Humbug!"

Happy New Year, everyone. 2015 has to be better than 2014. It couldn't be much worse.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I promise, I'll get back to my normally cheerful self in  a week or so, after the "holiday" season is over.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A family loss, a pet saved, and more ...

We lost my mother-in-law a month ago. At age 92, Mary Miles Hicks finally went home to be with the Lord. I haven't written about that yet, because we are still trying to come to grips with it. But soon I will devote some space here for that wonderful woman, whose greatest accomplishment, in my eyes at least, was giving birth to the Debster.


Well, I didn't make it to the gym today. That makes five years in a row now! A new record! Go me!


Earl and Bubba were sitting in the boat, quietly fishing and drinking beer and chewing 'baccy. Earl suddenly says, "I think I'm gonna divorce the Wife. She ain't spoke to me in months."

Bubba thinks on it for a spell, leans overboard to spit, takes a long slow drink of beer, and finally says, "Well, you better think that over some more. A woman like that is mighty hard to find."


Mom didn't live long enough to see her beloved Cardinals choke in the NLCS against the Giants. She would have been very disappointed in her team. I know I am. But, they are still my team, and always will be. A TRUE fan is ALWAYS a fan, even when things don't go as well as we would like. Those fair-weather "fans" that bailed just because the Cards lost the series can go sip their wine and stick their snoots in the air. The rest of us will root for the Kansas City Royals, the other Missouri team, to whip the Giants all the way back to California and into the Pacific Ocean in the World Series. And then, we will sit and stare out the window and wait longingly for Spring Training to begin again in February.


Gotta give a shout-out to my wonderful niece, Jessica Johnson. She trained as a veterinary technician, and it came in useful for us this week. 

The Debster has an old black cat named Bull. The other day, she asked me if I had seen the cat recently. I thought about it and replied that I hadn't seen him in a couple days. Now, the cat has had a habit in the past of staying out of sight for long periods, only making his presence known if his food, water, or litter box needs attention, so I hadn't paid any attention.

Well, later that day, I went into the pantry in the basement, and found Bull on the floor curled up in a corner. I thought for a second he was dead, but he opened one eye and looked at me, then closed it again. But he wasn't moving.

I picked him up and took him into my office. The Debster called Jess to see if she had any ideas. Jess came over and checked him out. She thought he might have low blood sugar from not eating right. (The dogs sometimes steal his food when he isn't looking, and we don't always catch that right away.)

So, on her advice, we fed him a little Karo corn syrup, just a few drops off the end of the Debster's finger. He perked up some. We got some good moist food, and he nibbled at that, again off the Debster's finger. So, we put him in a box with bowls of food (dry and moist) and water, and continued giving him a little Karo a couple times a day.

Three days later, he is wandering around and pestering everybody, just like his old self. He's lost a little weight, and seems just a little weak and wobbly yet, but definitely on the mend.

Thanks, Jess!


Many of you have probably heard of the puzzle game Sudoku. I have been doing them for quite some time myself. Well, recently, I discovered a new puzzle game, called "Kakuro". The only place I have seen it is in the web version of our local St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper (StlToday.com), under the Entertainment / Comics & Games tab.

It is a lot like a numeric crossword puzzle. 

Here is one from the other day:

Here are the rules, as they appear on the website:

And here is the completed puzzle:

I wish I could find a print version of this that I could take to work with me, to work on during slack periods.


Speaking of work, I mentioned before that the company I work for had lost its contract with the railroad, and we were all going to lose our jobs. Well, God is good! The company that is taking over the contract has agreed to hire most of us, at our current pay rates. There will be some losses in terms of accrued vacation and so forth, it won't be a union shop, and in general perhaps not quite as good to work for all around. But, at least I will continue working, pretty much as if nothing happened. Same thing, just in a different vehicle. 

Actually, in that respect, I'm looking forward to that aspect of it. The Ford Expeditions that the new company is bringing in are much better suited to the rough'n'tumble usage in a railroad yard than the Dodge Grand Caravans we have been driving. The Dodges are great vans for family use on regular roads, but just aren't built for the rough bouncing and pot-hole filled gravel pits that pass for roadways within the railyard.


That's enough for today. As always, thanks for reading, and may God bless you!


Monday, September 29, 2014

Baseball, football, losing a job and getting a new one ...

Gotta love the Cardinals! Here's looking forward to a long run through the post-season, ending with yet another World Series Championship.

As much as I dislike the Yankees as a team, it is kind of sad to see the end of Derek Jeeter's career. He was a real class act.

AND, for just a bit more sweetness, the Packers whooped the Bears. YAY!!

OK. Got all that outta my system, sort of, for now, anyway ...

The Debster is doing so much better. Only uses the cane and/or walker occasionally. Will be a lot better when she gets the other knee done, hopefully soon. Ideally, I'd like to see it done and have her back home from the rehab center before the snow and ice season gets here. Otherwise, maybe wait till next spring. But I really don't want to have her wait in pain another 6 months.

Been babysitting my six-year-old grandnephew for a couple hours in the afternoon four days a week. That little guy is such a joy. Going to be a little sad when his mother finally gets her day-care situation straightened out and won't need us for that anymore.

The company I work for has lost its contract with the railroad. We will all be out of work as of midnight on October 31, when the new company takes over. The new company says it will be hiring most of us, if we are interested. I've heard a lot of bad things about the new company and its personnel-handling policies, making me somewhat leery of them. But, for now I can't afford to be picky. Jobs are just too few and far between.

So, I put in an application about a week ago, and on Saturday morning went to meet with them. They took copies of my Social Security card, driver's license, and DOT physical certificate. Gave me a check-ride'n'drive, which I aced. So I guess they will be hiring me; should know within a week or so. 

One surprise is that if I am hired, my new boss will be my old boss. Brenda left our current company recently, and when I showed up for the check ride, she was there. Found out she has been hired to manage the new branch office they are setting up just for this expansion.

Here's a chuckle for you:
While driving in Pennsylvania, a family caught up to an Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humor, because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign... "Energy efficient vehicle: Runs on oats and grass. Caution: Do not step in exhaust."
(Compliments of Backwoods Home Magazine

Well, that's all for now. God bless! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our food supply is killing us

Couldn't help myself; I thought this was hilarious!

The Debster is doing great. She is transitioning from the walker to a cane, and has regained most of the flexibility in her new knee. Her pain level has diminished a great deal also.

Now, for the "meat" of this post:

Bluntly put, our food supply is killing us. This is from a Federal Government website:
While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually—the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
The US Dept. of Agriculture, responsible for inspection of meat and poultry, and the Food and Drug Administration, responsible for inspection of all other kinds of food, actually inspect only a tiny percent of the food that we buy.

Much of our food is produced on huge factory farms, and the number of traditional family farms dwindles more and more every year.

The vast majority of our seafood is imported from Asia. Tilapia, shrimp, catfish, and many other types are grown in huge fish farms all across Asia. These farms are NOT subject to the standards and limits applied to US suppliers, and often utilize known carcinogenic chemicals and additives. They are usually severely overcrowded and thoroughly unhygienic. 

Proposed laws and regulations attempting to stem the flow of tainted foods from foreign sources are usually gutted or even killed by legislators that are fearful to anger a trading "partner". 

Inside the US, large-scale food producers often go for years without seeing an inspector. And if a producer is determined to be producing tainted foods, there are few consequences. The worst that they will usually get is a sternly worded letter. 

What can you and I do to protect ourselves?

First and foremost, grow as much as possible for yourself. Even apartment dwellers can grow some foods using container gardening methods. Even a small yard usually has room for a garden, and techniques such as Square Foot Gardening can maximize output from a small garden.
(Stock photo from Google Images)

Even urban areas in the city will often allow for at least a few chickens, rabbits, and the like, although you would obviously want to check your local regulations. 

Very few people, even those on large rural homesteads, will be able to grow EVERYTHING they need, and will have to purchase some foods. As much as possible, buy from local farmers markets or even directly from the farmers. If you must buy from a supermarket, talk to the produce manager. Even large national chain-stores often use local suppliers for much of their produce and so forth.

Be picky about the meat and dairy products you buy. One good option is to patronize a local butcher. Make sure the meat he is selling is chemical- and antibiotic-free. You can save a great deal of money by buying a quarter or even half a cow. The up-front cost is obviously high, but the per-pound cost is significantly less than small packages. Perhaps splitting the purchase with a friend or few will enable you to exercise this great deal.

Make sure you follow safe handling practices. ALWAYS wash your fruit and produce, even if the package says "Pre-washed and ready to eat". 

Make sure your foods are thoroughly cooked, especially eggs, poultry, and pork.

Leftovers should be promptly packaged and refrigerated, not left sitting out for hours.

There is much that you can do to protect yourself from botulism, e. coli, listeriosis, salmonella, and many other types of food poisoning. Don't count on the government to do it for you, unless you actually enjoy playing Russian Roulette.

God bless,
Ron and Deb

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A good chuckle; "reforming" Social Security once and for all

Here's a chuckle for you: 

Social Security has come to be known as the "third rail" of politics. In other words, a politician's career will die a horrible death if (s)he so much as touches this most sacrosanct of government programs. Fortunately for me (and perhaps for the nation in general), I am not a politician and never plan to run for ANY office, so I can say whatever I want without fear of being booted from office.

Way back in the 1930's, the Roosevelt administration pushed through a whole boatload of legislation to set up a "safety net" for American citizens, especially those that were hit the hardest by the Great Depression. One of the biggest parts of this was the Social Security Act in 1935. Originally, it called for a small percentage of everyone's income to be taxed, and their employers had to contribute a matching amount. 

When a person reached the retirement age of 65, they could then draw a monthly stipend to augment whatever savings and other income they might have, allowing for a better standard of living for at-risk senior citizens. It was not meant to be a sole, or even primary, source of income. There were provisions for widows and minor children, but there was no such thing as "Disability Income", "Medicare", and the like. These were all added later.

In 2013, Social Security, Medicare, and related expenditures by the Federal Government totaled a whopping 38% of the Federal Budget. As the "baby boomer" generation continues to age and retire, that number will only grow larger.

One of the major drawbacks to this program is the disincentive it provided to saving for retirement, especially among lower-income workers. Why scrimp and save and do without, when the government will pay for your retirement? Savings, even among those with robust incomes, has decreased dramatically over the years.

In my opinion, it is time to do away with this whole system. It is obscenely bloated, horribly corrupt, and a huge drain on society. Young people today are paying over 15% of their income, half directly in the form of a tax, and half paid by their employer from money that could and should otherwise be paid directly to the worker. Yet, by the time these workers reach "retirement age", there will be little available for them to draw on themselves.

Here is my proposal:
  1. Incentivise direct retirement savings by expanding the IRA and 401k programs, allowing for full  tax deductions for any amount placed into some sort of retirement account, removing restrictions and limits.
  2. Immediately eliminate the FICA tax withholding from paychecks. STRONGLY encourage employers to take the share that they had been paying to FICA and pay it directly to the employee. Create incentives for employers to do this rather than to pocket the savings for themselves, and perhaps create penalties for employers that do not. (I am not so sure about that last part; I have never been a fan of forcing businesses to spend or not spend in any way.) 
  3. Stop issuing Social Security Numbers. They will no longer be needed, and their role in identity theft will soon disappear.
  4. Since doing away with this huge program will throw a LOT of federally employed accountants and bookkeepers out of work, create temporary jobs for some of them to handle the following calculations and disbursements.
  5. Senior citizens already retired and receiving benefits will continue to receive them as usual. They worked their whole lives for them, and it would be a gross injustice to yank it away from them.
  6. Immediately stop all other "benefit payments", such as SSDI, Supplemental Security Income, and the like.
  7. For each non-retired worker that has paid into the system but not received any benefits, treat what (s)he has paid in (including employer matching funds) as a series of savings account deposits. A total amount should be calculated, including accrued interest at an equitable rate. That total amount should be paid directly to that employee as a one-time disbursement. Tax free, of course, as it simply a refund of a tax already paid. Older workers, especially, that have paid in a substantial amount over the years, should be encouraged to stash this money in a retirement fund of some sort.

There are obviously holes in this plan. For instance, funding the continuing payments mentioned in section 5. Better brains than mine could fine-tune this plan. 

Something similar needs to be done with Medicare, but I wouldn't know where to even begin.

The biggest obstacle, of course, will be finding some brave politician that is willing to risk political suicide by working this up and presenting it as proposed legislation. Something tells me that will never happen.

Oh well, it was fun to think about it, anyway.

God bless!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Update on The Debster, and cousin Crazy George goes off-grid

I thought this was worth a chuckle ...

Well, the Debster has been home for a couple of days now, and life is settling back into some semblance of normalcy. She is still pretty limited in what she can do, but is improving daily. She gets up and down the stairs from the bedroom fairly well, and is doing her prescribed exercises with only a little bit of prodding from "the management of this torture chamber", meaning me. Her incision is healing nicely. She is normally a very slow healer, so that is VERY good news. And she has begun to cut back on the pain meds, also great news. One other thing that I really hope to see happen is that as the pain recedes and she gets some normal motion back, she will be able to work on strengthening herself all around. She has been in so much pain for so long, and hence virtually an invalid, that she has allowed her muscle strength to atrophy to an alarming extent. This is going to be a long process, but I hope that by the end of the year, after the other knee has been replaced, it will speed up quickly.

I received a letter the other day from my cousin Crazy George.
Hey Ronbo! [I'll explain that later]
Well, Patsy and I finally did it! We bought a spread near [name of town redacted]. You been yammerin about self-sufficiency and going off the grid for so long that we decided you just might be right.
 We have about 100 acres. It's kind of hilly, par for the course here in the Missouri Ozarks, too rocky to be great farmland. Most of it is wooded, but there are a couple of acres fairly level and clear, with a nice sized spring-fed crick running through it.
The nearest town is about 5 miles away, and our property is about a mile down a dirt road off the county road. The closest "neighbor" is about a mile away. There are NO utilities run out here at all.

This is a stock photo of a 1971 Airstream similar to George's.
He doesn't allow photos of his. Or of anything, for that matter. Kinda paranoid.
For the moment, we are living in our Airstream camper. We haven't decided what we are going to do about a permanent abode, but we are leaning towards building a log cabin. There is no shortage of building material, that's for sure!
There is a small outbuilding that hasn't fallen down yet. I'm going to do some repairs on it, and use it to house our garden tractor and our ATV. 
We had the crick tested, and the water has no chemical pollution. So I am going to put up a 500-gallon cistern, and a generator-powered pump from the crick to keep it filled. A good charcoal filtration system should take care of other remaining impurities. Eventually we will have to figure out a better water supply; that generator uses a lot of diesel fuel. Even adapting it to run on waste oil, and bio-diesel which I will be able to make myself, it is not economical enough to be a long-term solution.
I need to run into town and pick up some supplies, so I'll be mailing this from there. Give me a call. Although I don't have cell service out here, you can leave a message and I'll be able to get it when I get to town.
Hope to see you out here visiting soon.
Well, I have to go as well. Time to get the Debster up, get her breakfast, and finish the laundry. More to follow soon.

God bless!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I'm back to writing again!

I know, I know. It has been awhile. Sorry about that.

The Debster and I have both been dealing with health issues. Working full time plus taking care of the Debster, the house, and the animals has really eaten into my time.

After going to the trouble of staking out the edges of my garden, and renting a small tiller to get it ready, I wound up planting .... absolutely nothing. My feet, legs, and back have just been too sore to allow the labor involved in the garden. I have even been paying my nephew to keep the grass cut for me.

Thyroid disease finally claimed the life of one of our cats. We had two, named Cow and Bull. Brother and sister. Cow was black and white; her uncanny resemblance to the Holstein breed engendered her name, and Bull's name followed sort of logically. He is coal black. We buried Cow in the Debster's mother's back yard, where so many of the extended family pets are buried. She was a sweet thing, as cats go, and is sorely missed. 

One unforeseen result of Cow's death is the total transformation of Bull's temperament. He had always been a bit on the arrogant and stand-offish side, just a little abusive of his shy, retiring sister, and not very friendly to most people, even close family. But within a few days of Cow's death, Bull became an altogether different animal. He now sticks close to us, often sleeping with, or even on top of, me or Deb. He hangs out in the same room with us. He has even, recently, begun playing with Daisy. At least, I think he's playing. Or maybe she is driving him nuts and he is just too old to really put serious effort into tearing her apart. Whichever one it is, they both seem to be enjoying themselves.

The Debster had knee replacement surgery a few weeks ago. After a few days in the hospital and couple weeks at a rehab center, she came home Friday, on the Fourth. I don't know who was happiest to have her home. Deb, me, or the critters. Chelsea had been pacing the house two or three times a day, searching for her "Mommy", and then coming to me with a little whimper because she couldn't find her. So she is happy. Stempey and Daisy have their favorite lap to nap on again. Bull has his favorite belly to sleep on at night again. And I have my wife back! Until she is fully healed and ambulatory, my own work load will be a lot heavier, as I handle all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and so forth the next few weeks. But it sure is worth it! You just never know how much you'll miss someone until they are actually gone for awhile.

Well, I gotta go for now. Need to get a brunch put together for us, and the laundry has piled up a little. 

Until next time
God bless!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Just a short note ...

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything in a couple of days, but I've been kinda busy. Putting in a lot of overtime at work, stuff like that.

One thing of note. I've posted a couple of times about Roy Bennett's obituary. Originally, that began as a random obit for my Monroe County genealogical website. But as I've been researching his family connections, I was a bit astonished to find out that his wife is a 2nd cousin of the Debster. So it really is a small world!

More to come soon, on the genealogy and gardening and other stuff.

God bless

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cell phones and gardens.

Somebody posted this on Facebook. Kind of funny.

At my age, 54, I remember when phones were these clunky black things that were wired to the wall, and the headset had a coiled cord that would occasionally get tangled, and to call someone you had to literally turn the dial seven times.

Then, along came the push-button "tone" phone. Then, a real revolution, the cordless phone. The base was still hardwired, but the handset was cordless and could be carried around the house, and even out into the yard.
The cellular phone was the big revolution. The bag phone was a clunky thing. I never had one but a couple of my friends did, and they thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread! 
The earlier self-contained cellulars were approximately the size of a brick, and about as heavy. I did have one of those.
Fast forward to today. We continue to call them "phones", or "smart phones", but in truth, they are not really phones anymore. They are miniature computers that have a cellular phone function. It seems like everyone has one now. And we can't figure out how we ever lived without them.
But maybe we should. As wonderful as those things are, all the stuff we can do with them, they have a real dark side, that isn't spoken of very much. They are easily tracked and their location pin-pointed to a precise location. Early cell phones could be triangulated by which towers they pinged, but the best a tracker could do was pin-point a neighborhood. All the new phones, however, have GPS tracking built into them, that allows them to be pin-point located to within a few feet, in real-time.
And we have heard so much about the NSA spying on our phones. It is a scary world out there, and getting scarier by the minute. Big Brother is watching you!

Have been thinking about my garden, and how I want to do it this year. I think I am going to do a raised-bed version, with concrete blocks around it. The raised bed will have the tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers, onions, and so forth. And the holes in the blocks will have various herbs, and perhaps some flowers. 

It is a little late now for this year, but I have also thinking about ways to start seeds. I have thought of a way to utilize cardboard toilet-paper tubes as seed pots. And, I have been looking at those plastic containers that contain the strawberries that the Debster buys during the off-season. They hold two pounds, and are a convenient size. Black plastic with a clear lid. Can't help but think they would make decent miniature green-houses for those seed-pots. I think I'll start stocking up on this stuff, and see what happens.

Another project, that I will be working on soon, involves stuffing those little cat food cans, or tuna fish cans, with paraffin-soaked cardboard, to be stored and used as emergency stoves. Will have to experiment a bit. And I doubt they will be good for anything extensive, but in an emergency situation would probably be great for at least heating canned soups and such. Watch for more on this in the near future.

Until next time
God Bless

Monday, March 17, 2014

Common genealogical mistakes. (I am an expert in making them!)

Just like anything else we do in life, we make a lot of mistakes when we first begin. It is part of the learning process. Doing genealogy is no different. Trust me. Been there, many times! The good thing is, the mistakes we make in this particular endeavor don't hurt anyone and are relatively easily fixed. If a carpenter makes a mistake, an entire house might be off-kilter. A cook makes a mistake, and an entire dinner party makes funny faces and gagging sounds. A chemist makes a mistake, and a building blows up. A nuclear scientist makes a mistake, and a whole city blows up. But if a genealogist makes a mistake, well, you tear up a family group sheet and start over. The worst that can happen is that you spend a lot of time chasing down the wrong trail. So, expect to make mistakes, don't beat yourself up over them, learn from them, and move on.

Mistakes in genealogy work generally come from either faulty data, or faulty conclusions drawn from good data. Either way, a little thought and logical thinking will keep you from the worst of them.

Let's look at the first part, faulty data.

The information, or raw data, that we use comes from a myriad of sources. Some of them are great, some are questionable, some are, well, pretty useless.

Sources are generally divided into "primary" and "secondary". A "Primary" source is a document or artifact that was created at or very shortly after the event, by a person directly involved, and hence is probably quite accurate. A "Secondary" source is one that has information drawn from elsewhere, and may or may not be accurate.

Most genealogy mistakes come from failing to recognize the vastly important distinction between the two.

Some examples of primary sources would be original birth and death certificates, baptism certificates, marriage licenses, census records, and so on. Note that word "original". It is important!

Secondary sources might include obituaries, published indexes of all sorts, headstones and grave markers, published histories and genealogies, and so forth.

It is important to note that most primary resources usually contain some information in the "secondary" category, as well. For instance, a death certificate is a good primary source for information about the death of a person: who died, where, when, and usually how. It is a secondary source for such things as date of birth, parentage, marital information, and so on.

Let's take a look at my mother's death certificate:

The information circled in red could be considered "primary", including her name and date and place of death. In blue is secondary information, her date and place of birth, and her parents' names. (My sister was the informant for this document.) As it happens, most of it is correct, except one piece of data which my sister got wrong. Our mother was actually born in East Saint Louis, Illinois, not in Missouri. How do we know? We happen to have a copy of her actual birth certificate with the correct information. If some future genealogist was depending on this death certificate to have correct birth information, they would be sadly mistaken.

Any time you look at a document, question everything you see. I'm not necessarily speaking about metaphysical certainties here, but simple reason and common sense. What are the chances that something is incorrect? Who is providing the information, and how likely are they to be correct or incorrect? Could they be mistaken, or possibly have reason to, well, be a little less than truthful? What are the chances that there are typographical errors, or that sloppy handwriting is being read wrong? 

Census records are a fabulous source of information, but they are also notoriously unreliable. Perhaps the family information was actually provided by a neighbor, if the family wasn't  home, and he/she was misinformed. Could the children "belong" to the father, but not the mother due to a death and remarriage after the birth of the children. Perhaps vanity caused the wife to fib about her age or that of her husband. That sort of thing happened a lot! From 1880 through 1930, the place of birth of the parents of each individual was recorded, as well as that of the individual herself. This is information to be used very cautiously. In several census records, my grandmother stated that her mother had been born in Illinois, but in one census she said her mother was born in South Dakota. I did a double-take  when I saw that. But, later on I learned that her grandfather had moved his family from Illinois to South Dakota (it had been part of the Dakota Territory at the time), when her mother was a small child. My great-grandmother lived most of her childhood in South Dakota, until her father died and her mother moved the family back to Illinois. So, when my grandmother said that her mother had been born in South Dakota, she was wrong, yet there was some truth behind the statement.

Worse are published indexes. Well-meaning folks have been indexing records ever since records have existed. They will go through the files of, say, birth certificates, and make a list of names and dates, sort them alphabetically or by date or some other criteria, and publish the list. The potential for error is great, due to typographical errors, mis-reading the original documents, transposing numbers, all sorts of ways. Indexes are very useful, but only as a tool to find original documents.

Probably the absolute worst type of record that a genealogist can use as a source of "information" is the "genealogy" that someone else has produced. You would not BELIEVE the utter nonsense that I have seen published by self-professed "genealogists"! If you are looking at one of these things, ask, "What sources did they use? How diligent were they in pursuing accuracy?" You have no way of knowing. So you may make use of these things, but only as a tool for looking for the real deal. Even if they do a good job of citing their sources, you still want to verify for yourself by obtaining and analyzing the original material.

Well,again I have gone on for too long. The next in this series will delve into the other source of error, that of faulty reasoning and jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

Until then, 
God bless

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dogs or cats? Seriously? You really need to ask?

Just for giggles:

I am a dog person. One hundred percent. I have owned a couple of cats over the years, but always because some person of the female persuasion begged me to take in her cat for one reason or another. I have never sought to have one. Don't understand why anyone would, really. Maybe, if I had a large garden or a farm, with a couple of outbuildings, I might have one, neutered to prevent multiplication, wandering around the outside to keep down the rodent population. But otherwise, what is the point? Every cat I have ever seen sits and stares at you with an expression that says, "I know things about your mother, and I will not tell you what they are." Dogs are never that rude and arrogant.

Dogs, on the other hand, are indispensable, period. The more of them, the better. The bigger, the better. I have had a lot of dogs over the years, often more than one at a time. They were all wonderful, each in their own way. All but one were mutts.

Just a partial list would include, in sort-of-chronological order, King, Puppy, Sam, Lady, Princess, Teddy, Tee-Rex, Killer, Highway, Brandy, Fritz, Sammy, Chelsea, Stempey, and Miss Daisy.

My first dog was King. Here I am, about 4 years old, with my buddy:

This one was Ted, probably the best dog I ever had, about 1980 or thereabouts:
Ted's father was a pure-breed Labrador Retriever, his mother a pure-breed German Shepherd owned by my aunt. He was the result of a "cross the fence accident", and the runt of the litter. Full grown, he could stand on his hind legs and rest his chin on the top of my head, and I am almost six feet tall. A smarter and more steadfastly loyal dog could not be found anywhere. When he was around, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, could so much as look cross-wise at me and get away with it. I was still in high school when he was given to me, and by the time he reached maturity, I always knew ahead of time if my mom or dad was going to scold me about something, because they first would politely ask me to lock my dog in my room or put him outside so they could "talk" to me. It got to be kind of a joke in the family, because at any other time, he loved my folks almost as much as he loved me. He also had an uncanny ability to almost instantly judge a person's character, and react accordingly.

Another great dog was Highway, my "gospel dog". A small-ish Lab mix, he had been found by some friends of mine as a half-grown, mangy, underfed stray wandering the shoulder of the interstate (hence his name). Although he was "their" dog for the first couple years, he became so attached to me that they eventually told me to just take him home and keep him, because they couldn't bear to listen to him whimper every time I left their home. I came to call him my "gospel dog" because of an incident in 1996. In a previous post, I described a day I spent fishing with my friend Daryl, and how he told me about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had Highway with me that day, and Daryl remarked upon how close the dog stayed to me, never allowing more than a few feet between us. I laughed and told him that it was a little weird, because if I put a leash on him, he fought it and did his best to run away, but when it was off and he was free, he stuck to me like glue. Daryl got a thoughtful look, and then said that was a lot like the difference between Law and Grace. It was an off-the-cuff remark that later Daryl didn't even remember making, but it struck home, deeper than just about anything else he said that day.

This one was Sammy
He was a Lab-Spaniel-Chow mix. Sad day last year when we were forced to have him put down.

This is Chelsea, a Lhasa Apso - Poodle mix.
She technically belongs to Debbie. We got married on Chelsea's 2nd birthday. She will be twelve this year, when we celebrate our tenth anniversary. She is affectionately known as "Fuzzy-Butt".

This is Stempey. He is a Dachshund - Golden Retriever mix. (Go figure, right?)
He was a puppy of about 10 months when he was given to us shortly after we were married. He turned eleven this past January. He's my little buddy. As you can see, he loves a comfy sleeping place, and arranges himself in some weird positions!

Our most recent canine companion is Miss Daisy. She is a terrier of very indeterminate heritage.
She is another foundling that came to us last year from a woman that I work with. Her daughter had found the pup wandering their neighborhood. They tracked down her owner, but he said he was washing his hands of her and didn't want her back. Janet and her daughter kept her for awhile, but finally decided that they couldn't keep her, and asked me if I wanted her. The Debster and I went to meet the tiny mutt, and fell instantly in love with her. She is now about 18-24 months old, and very energetic, feisty, and playful. She and Stempey are virtually inseparable. She torments him unmercifully, goading him into playing longer and harder than he ever has before. At his age, he conks out early, climbing into the Debster's lap for a nap. Even then, Daisy has to stay right with him. Chelsea usually keeps her distance, not allowing herself to be drawn into playing with the younger ones. She prefers to lay off to the side and just watch.

That's enough for today. I got home from work a couple hours ago, and I am whupped. That pic of the snoozing dogs reminds me that I too need a nap, and then lots to get done today.

God bless

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Doing genealogy: Working from an obituary, Part Two

Earlier this week, we took a look at an obituary for Roy Bennett, and began building his family tree. The basic structure was derived from the obit, and we now have basic family units for Roy and his wife, each of his 4 children, his parents, five of his siblings, and his in-laws. 

It is time to start filling in some blanks.

Starting with his wife and children, I use a combination of the website Intelius.com and the Public Record Indexes at Ancestry.com to determine birth dates for them. 

Intelius is one of many public databases that can be used to search for basic information about people.
Although no residence was given in the obit for Roy's wife Sheila, most of the family seems to be in or around Murphysboro, IL. So I plug in her married name, Sheila Bennett, and that town and state, and hit "Search". Bingo!
I get a hit on her name in that town. It gives her age as of the date of the search, and also lists several people that are related to her. Since most of those names correspond to other people named in the obit, I am confident that I have the correct person. If I wanted to, I could have then paid a small fee to get an in-depth report, with an actual date of birth, and more information. But, this is sufficient for my needs. I highlight, copy and paste the info to a text file, which I name "31133-info.txt" (31133 is her RIN in my database) and file it in the (computer) folder for their MRIN. I will continue adding to this text file as I come across other records for her. Once I have pretty well exhausted the possibilities, I will print it out and put it in the paper folder. That way the information is safe in the event of a computer crash.

My next stop is Ancestry.com's Public Records Index, which is included with their paid subscription package. I imput her married name, approximate year of birth, derived from her current age, and the county and state of residence. 
And, once again, Bingo!
 I am given two results. Same name, date of birth, and town, but with two different street addresses. I choose the second one and open it.
I highlight, copy, and past the text into the text document. 

I then click  the "Save record to someone in my tree" link, and add it to her information in the Ancestry tree. I also add the information to my genealogy software.

I repeat this process with their four children and their spouses. And, I run into my first anomaly. One of the children seems to have a date of birth about 3 years prior to their marriage date, and also the same date of birth as her husband. Hmmm. There are a few possibilities:

  1. The date of marriage as given in the obituary is incorrect.
  2. Both dates are correct; this is far from being an uncommon situation, especially the last 50 years or so.
  3. The date of birth is incorrect in the index, possibly due to a corrupted record.

As things stand at the moment, I have no way to verify for sure which is correct. Further research would be required. But, my guess is the third option. What has probably happened is that the child's date of birth has been mixed up with that of her husband's, who is probably older than she by a couple of years or more. But, pending further research, there is no way to know for sure. So, to be on the safe side, I simply record her date of birth as a possible range of years, and leave it go at that for now.

Another minor problem is that the two younger children, and  their spouses, are found on Intelius, but not in Ancestry's PR Index. So, I leave each of them with an approximate year of birth. I could pay the fees and get the exact information, but I am not going to worry about it. Genealogy is, after all, more about searching ancestors than living progeny. If it ever becomes an issue, I can always go back and get it. Most public genealogy trees, such as the one on ancestry and the one on rootsweb, to which I also contribute, redact all information on living individuals anyway.

I don't even bother searching for birth dates for the grandchildren; they are probably too young to appear in either of these databases.

Before moving on to Roy's parents and siblings, I do a "Search Records" on ancestry for Roy, just to see what comes up. Another anomaly! It turns out that "Roy" isn't his true name. His full name is "Herbert Roy Bennett". He is listed in several records as H.R. Bennett, Herbert R Bennett, and Herbert Roy Bennett. OK, not that uncommon for a man to go by his middle name, especially if his true first name is a bit unusual or "old-fashioned". So, I copy all the appropriate data to a text file, and update my trees with the corrected information and the source citations.

Now we will move on to Roy's parents and siblings. Things get interesting and confusing real quick! So, I'm going to leave that for the next installment in this series.

God Bless!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Organizing your records and research doesn't CAUSE headaches, it PREVENTS them!

Before I go any further into how I researched Roy Bennett's family (see the blog post Using an obituary in genealogical research from a couple days ago), let's talk about everyone's LEAST favorite pastime, that tedious chore known as record keeping.

Trust me, the better organized you are, the saner you will remain. If your idea of keeping records of your research is a box full of little pieces of paper with cryptic little notations on them, you are headed for a full-scale meltdown of frustration and hair-pulling. Been there, done that, don't ever want to do it again!

There are as many ways to organize your research as there are genealogists. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as your heart desires. Me, I like simple. I'll explain my system, and you can adapt it to your needs, or devise something completely different.

To begin with, it doesn't matter all that much what software, if any, that you use. People did wonderful genealogy work for many, many years before computers were ever heard of. So don't get yourself bogged down trying to decide what program to use. Here is a link to a page at FamilySearch.org that will help you browse most of the various software options available.

Each individual in your tree needs to be assigned a unique Individual Record Identification Number, or "RIN". Likewise, each marriage needs a unique Marriage Record Identification Number, or "MRIN". Nothing fancy here. Just use sequential numbering. If you are using a genealogy software program, these are done automatically. If you are going "old-school", without the software, you will need to do it manually. In that case, I strongly suggest using simple spreadsheets to keep track of these two sets of numbers and to whom they belong.

Although many genealogists use 3-ring binders to store their research, I prefer third-cut manila folders. They can be purchased inexpensively, and filed in a filing cabinet or even appropriate size cardboard boxes. I use one folder for each family. The tab has the husband's name and years of birth & death, and the same info for the wife. It also has the MRIN. On the outside of the folder I also write their relationship to me. If one of the people had more than one spouse, I make separate folders for each marriage. I then file them alphabetically by husband's last name, first name, date of birth, date of death (the last two in case of men with the same name). Filing by MRIN would work as well, provided you keep an accurate list of those MRIN's. Other filing systems are also possible. Some file by relationship to the researcher. Find a system that works best for you, then keep to it.

Each folder has a minimum of two sheets of paper in it. One is a Family Group Record Sheet.
The other is a Source Summary Sheet.

These can be downloaded and printed from Rootsweb.com's "Charts and Forms" webpage. Or, you can design your own. The key is to have the basic information about each family collated on one page, and the details of the sources of each piece of information on another. I STRONGLY suggest that you do the Family Group sheet in pencil, not ink! Trust me, you will find yourself doing a lot of erasing and re-writing as your research goes deeper and deeper.

Two other useful forms to have are a Research Extract
and a Research Calender
Again, you can download and print these, or you can make your own. The "Extract" records all the information and details from a source, especially one that you were unable to make a photocopy of, and the "Calender" lets you keep track of what you have done so far in researching a particular individual and family. This may seem unimportant at the beginning, but as your tree grows, you will eventually lose track of where you have searched and where you haven't. The calender will help to prevent duplicating your own work unnecessarily. 

What else goes in the folder? Simple: whatever you have that pertains to that family. Photocopies of documents. Photographs. Correspondence to/from other researchers, both snail-mail and e-mail printouts. Web-site print-outs. You get the idea.

I also keep a list paper-clipped to each Family Group Sheet of problems that need solving and missing information, and ideas of where/how to solve them.

There is an awful lot of information that has never been digitized and put on the web, and trips to cemeteries, libraries, historical society archives, and so on become inevitable. When it comes time for you to make a research road-trip, and you WILL, believe me, it helps to have a list of what you plan to look for in each location. So you will want to jot down each of these things as they occur to you. I use a pocket-sized notebook with separate pages for each location I want to visit.

Well, this has gone on longer than I had planned, so I will cut it off here.

Until next time
God Bless