NGS Conference – Day 3-4 #NGS2017GEN

I had a plan. In the middle of it, I changed it. Friday morning I decided that my brain was in danger of exploding, so I headed to a fun lecture to just relax and enjoy. And my head exploded anyway.

I had planned to hit up the well-known speakers and thought-generators. I did and they were great as expected. Let me tell you about the unexpected.

Lisa Louise Cooke, of Genealogy Gems, spoke about using a mash up of Google Earth Pro and genealogist’s favorite map collector, Dave Rumsey. Can I tell you how much I appreciate a woman who knows her tech? It was might have been the only lecture that I gave an all 5-star review. (I don’t hand them out often not because speakers aren’t doing a great job, but because all 5 stars aren’t helpful.) I also loved that whomever was running her powerpoint for her, was step by step alongside her fluidly thru the session. Great job being so well-rehearsed and prepped – much appreciated! This was the only session when I immediately went online afterward. Get the audio on this one. Or subscribe to her site and track down the tutorial. It was jaw-dropping.

My favorite track for the conference: African American.

For my own research, Tim Pinnick‘s session on “Reconstruction 101 for African Americans” gave great resources for my great, grandfather, James Morrissey, a Radical Republican representative to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, but also gave a detailed history of the Reconstruction Era. Andre Kearns also did a great job recounting how he’s combined DNA and paper research to trace his family’s history in remarkable ways. Both of these sessions were also recorded.

I had hoped to make some new connections with other genealogists.  But, I’ve made some new friends in addition. The conference exceeds expectations!


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NGS Conference, Day 2, #NGS2017GEN

I attended some great sessions today. There’s a lot to process and a lot that I could say. I have my own filter for this information though. The session content filters through my own experiences and intellect and personality and passions. So, let me tell you what I heard today and how I’m processing it. There’s a thought thread here, I promise.

One speaker commented on her mother, who’s an adoptee. How, although raised in a loving adoptive family, she never could complete her medical history forms. How her mother was adamant about medical check ups and mammograms. How finding out her maternal haplogroup gave a sense of identity for the first time. Her mother had no biological past before DNA testing helped her uncover it.

Another speaker was an expert on a particular set of records that were created immediately after the U.S. Civil War in the South. She challenged the audience to begin thinking of the word, “slave,” as plural. Not “slaves,” as plural. Because even without the “S” at the end, the word still implies a large group of people.

The BCG Luncheon speaker was a homerun for me, though. The speaker, an African-American, dared to whisper that genealogy can be an agent of social change. She gave examples of how our African-American community, historically, as been left out of our narratives. Her example of a state’s World War I memorial that only recently added it’s African-American soldiers was most stunning.

I sat by a librarian from Virginia Beach at the luncheon. She expressed frustration that she couldn’t find a newspaper article about a family member’s death. In the early 1900s he was murdered in his home in Richmond. She’s looked online and at the Library of Virginia, but couldn’t find any notice of it. My new friend is African American, you see. Richmond newspapers during that time frame, probably wouldn’t have reported his murder because he was black.

Ultimately the speaker called the genealogical community to include African-Americans in their research case studies and in their lectures. Don’t simply note that the your ancestor’s owned slaves. Record those enslaved ancestor’s names, ages, locations, bills of sale, or other transfers of ownership. Uncover their identities and experiences in order to bring those stories into the light.

What must it be like to not have a story?

What must it be like to have your story ignored?

As a native and lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia, these ideas are powerful in the light of my hometown’s history. They light a fire in my own heart. Because genealogy (either paper or DNA) is a force to uncover what has been hidden. Because we cannot change in ourselves that which we don’t acknowledge.

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NGS Conference – Day 1 #NGS2017GEN

Today was the start of the National Genealogical’s Society’s Annual Conference.

Good news or bad news first?

They are tricky things, conferences. So many moving parts! Not everything can be absolutely perfect. Such was the opening session. Technical difficulties, poor transitions from one speaker to the next, speakers who shouldn’t be speakers…  Sorry NGS, but it was a dud. Even the main speakers message (a worthy one!) was overshadowed by a video with sound problems. The video’s production was painfully amateurish. But, maybe my expectations were too high?

The in-house conference center food vendors closed up shop shortly after lunch. For those of us who need an afternoon caffeine hit, it was deadly. There were at least a half dozen others longingly looking for coffee for the few minutes I stood at the counter.

On the other hand. Volunteers are friendly and helpful.

The conference app is awesome, though I’ve had trouble uploading to multiple devices. I caulk that up to user error.

The conference location choice has been tricky, as it appears that there haven’t been enough hotels close to the conference center. Veteran attendees tell me that the hotels near the conference center sold out in minutes. My hotel is … maybe I’ll leave that review for TripAdvisor.

The exhibit hall was busy and crowded. A good thing! And attendees were polite and courteous. Genealogists are some of the nicest people that I know! So navigating the masses was about as easy as possible. Conference goal #2 failed before lunch. I’m not sad.

Speakers. Genealogy giants speak at this conference. I saw two of them today, and they delivered. Start to finish, they were top notch. Content, slides, delivery, humor, engagement: out of park! I did attend 3 sessions though. Great content and slides for the third, but the speaker’s dynamic, while professional and polished, was not approachable. I have a great deal of notes, and plan acting on the new ideas I’ve learned from all three speakers when I get back home.

There is a “pig pickin'” scheduled tonight that I won’t be attending. See my goals for the conference from my previous post. I’m quietly hanging out in my room with my sore feet up, and a glass of wine getting warm as I type. That’s my signal to end for now. Warm wine = bad.

Looking forward to tomorrow. Particularly the lunch session by LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson titled, “Condemnation of Memory: Recalling that African American Genealogy is American Genealogy.”


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I’m a Newbie: NGS Conference, May 9-13, 2017 #NGS2017GEN

I’m attending my first conference by the National Genealogical Society and I’m pretty excited. Follow along as I give my first impressions of the conference experience, and as I reflect on seminars I’ve attended. I have a few goals:

  1. I will improve my professional skills. Some of the giants in genealogy will be there. I intend to listen early and often. I will attend the BCG Certification Seminar.
  2. I will set a spending budget and stick to it. I won’t blow my budget on the first day in exhibit hall.
  3. I will focus other time on African-American and Virginia-focused lectures.
  4. I will meet some new friends and network with other Richmond area genealogists.
  5. The conference is non-stop for 4-5 days with over 2,000 attendess. I will take breaks to find a quiet place.
  6. I will exercise and make healthy eating choices.

The car’s gotten a tune up. A playlist is forming. Phone and tablet chargers are ready. Comfy shoes are packed. The schedule is uploaded. I’m ready.


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Virginia Genealogical Society – Spring Conference, 22 April 2014

I was a first-time attendee this past Saturday at the Virginia Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference. So, I thought I’d record a few thoughts.

First, a caveat. The conference took place in the greater Richmond area. I’m a local, so there are parts of the conference that I did not attend. For example, VGS set up a research time at the Library of Virginia with a archivist on Friday afternoon. I’m a frequent visitor to the Library, so I didn’t participate.

VGS did a great job. They were organized and all directions were clear. Volunteers were well-trained and helpful. The venue was praised by several of those at my table.

Saturday was dedicated to 4 sessions with Shannon Combs Bennett who spoke on “DNA and Social Media Search Strategies.” They sessions were “Genetic Genealogy for the Beginner,” “Creating a Research Plan for DNA Testing,” “Organize Your DNA Data,” and “Crowdsourcing Your Genealogy to Break Down Brick Walls.” Shannon is a scientist and genealogist, so her command of the DNA material was obvious. She is a well-rehearsed and well-edited speaker with a winsome and approachable style that creates a wonderfully easy and engaged audience. What a great choice to lead this conference!

It was difficult to measure the attendee experience with genetic genealogy. Most had already tested. Many administered more that one test. Questions from the audience ranged from the basic to the highly complex.

If I had a criticism, it would be very minor. Shannon is a scientist. My experience is that most experts have trouble drilling complex ideas down to easily understandable concepts for the layman. This is always a challenge for science and math-types because there is a line where simplicity overcomes accuracy. Scientists are trained to be bulls-eye accurate. Shannon was able to, in most cases, and especially during Q&A to overcome the expert-layman barrier.

Any historian-type (genealogists included) walking in cold would have to be prepared to activate the dusty parts of their brain, that haven’t been accessed since high school biology class. A great place to start are the short video series on the University of Utah‘s site on “Introduction to Molecular Biology.”

After the lunch break, VGS honored Peter Broadbent. A former director of the the National Genealogical Society, former Presidents of VGS, and Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. This was absolutely deserved. His tireless, effective and widespread work on behalf of the genealogical community in Virginia is laudable. While his accomplishments are many, the most recent was a successful Virginia state budget lobbying campaign for the restoration of funds on behalf of the Library of Virginia.

Finally, these events are always great for meeting new folks, learning with them and from them, hearing their stories, encouraging their work, and enjoying your common passion together. My new friends are a highlight.

Join VGS. Visit their webpage. Fall Conference brochure.

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Photo: Robert James Sanner

My father-in-law brought a large, blue Rubbermaid storage box to the house a year or so ago. It was filled with his father’s genealogy research (there’s one in every family, right?) It was unorganized, but filled with fantastic family information … and a Nazi flag.

When I saw it, I had to walk away. I had a hard time even touching it.

I only knew Grandpop Sanner briefly. He had a wonderful smile. I’m 5’10’ and had a nice view of his shiny bald head. He liked to keep his house warm; hot, really. He was a hit at my wedding because at 85 years old, he was cutting some serious rug! I wish that I had spent time getting to know him better before we lost him in 2002.

Robert James Sanner enlisted in the U. S. Army in Feb 1937 when he was 21 years old.1)Robert J Sanner I, personal journals and research, privately held, [address held for private use.] All Robert Sanner’s military records are from his personal files, unless otherwise noted. He was assigned to the 34th Infantry Band out of Fort G. G. Meade in Maryland. Grandpop Sanner was a great musician and played in bands throughout most of his early life. He served through World War II (hence the flag), Korea and ‘retired’ in 1959. Then he started work for the N. S. A. Yep, that N. S. A.

But, let’s get back to World War II. Robert Sanner organized and led the 6th Armored Division, 68th Armored Regiment Band. Grandpop himself noted that band musicians, while ETO played various roles including, combat infantrymen, truck drivers MPs and prison guards.

Robert J. Sanner, band leader is on the far left.

Among the many photos, newspapers and research files was hidden this one page, typed letter.2)W. A. Meehan, U.S. Army, Camp Chaffe, Arkansas, to Robert James Sanner I, letter, 11 May 1942, inquiry into Sgt Band Leader’s female acquaintance; Robert James Sanner I, Personal Genealogy Research, privately held, [address for private use.] It’s one of my favorite items.

It’s a letter from William Aloysius Meehan of Bronx, N. Y. He enlisted in Oct 1941 at Fort Dix, New Jersey and served as a clerk in the Army.3)“U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records,  1938-1946,” William A. Meehan, enlistment date 2 Oct 1941, Fort Dix, New Jersey; online database, Ancestry, ( : accessed 29 Mar 2017), citing U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, National Archives and Records Aadministration, College Park, Maryland, Record Group 64.

Mr. Meehan writes to inquire of the sargeant who lead the band regarding the beautiful woman at his side (my grandmother-in-law, Hazel.)  Her refers to her as a “bundle of loveliness who has so captivated me.” She apparently turned him down for a dance 3 times. He notes the ring on her left hand, but calls himself a “patient waiter.” He closes his letter with the plea: “in the interest of better morale among the soldiers. ” It’s an incredible letter… humorous and sassy, bold and articulate. It’s a classic representation of the Greatest Generation.

These two great items, a photo and a letter: I can almost hear Glenn Miller playing in the background. My foot is tapping and my head might be bobbing a little while I type. And while both Grandpop Sanner and William Meehan survived the war, their service and sacrifice weren’t trivialities. The soundtrack to their lives might be closer to “Taps,” than “In the Mood.”


References   [ + ]

1. Robert J Sanner I, personal journals and research, privately held, [address held for private use.] All Robert Sanner’s military records are from his personal files, unless otherwise noted.
2. W. A. Meehan, U.S. Army, Camp Chaffe, Arkansas, to Robert James Sanner I, letter, 11 May 1942, inquiry into Sgt Band Leader’s female acquaintance; Robert James Sanner I, Personal Genealogy Research, privately held, [address for private use.]
3. “U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records,  1938-1946,” William A. Meehan, enlistment date 2 Oct 1941, Fort Dix, New Jersey; online database, Ancestry, ( : accessed 29 Mar 2017), citing U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, National Archives and Records Aadministration, College Park, Maryland, Record Group 64.
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Photo – Jerome Campion

Jerome Campion (1923-2005) is the man I consider my grandfather (my own passed away years before I was born.) “Romie” was my husband’s maternal grandfather and welcomed me into the family fold. He had a 5th grade education, and knew how to fix everything. He wore a green shirt, matching green pants, and a matching green hat every day. Even in Summer. He loved cheap beer and blue crabs. He ate a huge portion of pancakes and fried eggs almost every day. Often I couldn’t understand him because age had stolen his speech. He adored his wife. He would do anything for a friend or neighbor in need of a hand. He passed away while I was pregnant with my daughter. She’s named after him and inherited his stubborn and feisty spirit.

Though he never mentioned “feelings,” I knew he liked me. One visit with him, he gave me a pile of garden catalogues that he’d saved for me. He knew that I have a green thumb. Then, there was the shore. The Campions vacationed on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and one Summer I visited with my toddler-aged son. When I arrived after lunch, Romie was waiting for me. He waited impatiently for me to unload the car, then we headed out to the #9 bouy on Harris Creek in his canoe that he fit up with a questionable outboard motor. More than once, I thought I might have to swim home. Either the engine wouldn’t start or the boat was leaking. We hoped for rockfish, but only got croaker. I made him promise never to tell anyone that I caught a toadfish that day. He took the nasty thing off the hook for me and never told. When the entire family visited the Shore, long games of canasta were always on the agenda. He always sat next to me and saved all of his black 3s. He kept them separate from his hand, face down on the table. He’d tap on the top card and say my name. He taunted me with them. I loved spending time with him doing what we both enjoyed. He kept my secrets and teased me endlessly. I miss him.

There are stories about Romie’s WW2 service from before I entered the family. Like the night terrors that left him attacking his beloved wife in a dream-like trance. We would probably characterize it as PTSD, and he handled it alone over time. He had Japanese artifacts from his 3 years of service. But, he never talked about details really. He hated the Army or maybe what he had to do in it. When the U.S. entered the Korean War, Romie was very anxious about being called up again.1)Personal interview, Campion, Doris (Ring), [address privately held], 28 Jan 2016; audio files, by interviewer, Jean Morrissey Sanner, [address privately held], 2017. Doris was Romie’s wife of 59 years.

Jerome Campion, WWII separation papers, page 2.

Recently two fantastic items came my way. This photo was taken when Romie was in PTO, probably in New Guinea. He looked so incredibly handsome, and debonair here; like the movie stars, Errol Flynn or William Holden.

Then there are his military “separation papers.” These are the discharge orders and service summaries of World War II veterans. Romie’s are a treasure. They reveal an incredible amount about his service; more than he ever would have volunteered. An infantryman who was good with a pistol. He never missed a roll call. He serviced heavy artillery and small arms weapons. He fought in the East Indies, New Guinea and the Philippines. A hero.

He embodied so much of what characterizes the Greatest Generation and he was my Grandpop, too.

References   [ + ]

1. Personal interview, Campion, Doris (Ring), [address privately held], 28 Jan 2016; audio files, by interviewer, Jean Morrissey Sanner, [address privately held], 2017. Doris was Romie’s wife of 59 years.
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Planning Your Cemetery Visit

I took a road trip to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago to visit some newly discovered family at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Visiting cemeteries is valuable time spent for the genealogist. Here are some suggestions to prepare for your next trip.

  • Before you travel, check the cemetery’s website for visiting hours and other restrictions.
  • Call the office and ask about their rules for photographs. Genealogists should respect their restrictions about posting information and photos online.
  • If you’re visiting multiple markers, ask the office for specific location information, including the section, lot, and plot information. Consider asking the office to see the account information.
  • Get a cemetery map and mark grave locations for future reference.
  • If you’re visiting a small family cemetery or rural one where there is no office, be very specific about the markers’ locations and its condition. Transcribe the marker carefully. In particular, get permission from the landowner to visit as you may be trespassing. [These markers are harder for most people to visit, are often swallowed up by brush, and landowners may be hesitant to allow others to visit in the future. If you get the chance to visit, be generous with your information, please.]
  • If there is a family plot, diagram it on paper. Include all markers, as well as landmarks like trees or shrubs or other larger markers to make it easier to find later.
  • Record on paper what’s written on the marker. Sometimes elaborate fonts/scripts can only be clearly read in person. Sometimes touch is the only way to read it accurately. For example, in photos, my 2x great grandfather’s middle initial appears to be “C.” In person, it’s clearly a “G.” Remember that polished stone reflects light and glare, which effect photo clarity. Your camera will never see the detailed relief that your eye can.
  • Photograph: all sides of the marker, the marker’s writing close-up, the marker in relation to other markers/trees/shrubs, the cemetery map and the cemetery signage. Record which digital photo # ID matches your notes.
  • Take some gardening equipment:

Kneeler-pad to protect your knees and pants.

Sturdy, water resistant shoes (You don’t want to have to dig your fancy kicks out of a mudhole!)

Sunhat and sunglasses (wear your SPF!)

Flowers or other special honorifics (check with the cemetery beforehand.)

Garden trowel to clear away grass/weeds that have encroached the markers.

Sturdy, thin pole to poke through grass to locate smaller markers that have been covered. Sometimes the marker is there, but hidden. You may have to work a little to see it.

Heavy hand shears for cutting away grass and debris around the edges of markers.

Gardening gloves.

Wet wipes for hands.

  • Take some office equipment:

Clipboard with paper, pens and pencils. Please, don’t lean on the markers to bare down to write.

Digital voice recorder for notes.

Digital camera.

Smart phone to record GPS locations of the cemetery and markers.

I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to scout out a local coffee shop or restaurant with Wi-fi for customers. After my visit, I head there to grab a refreshing beverage. I check my photos against a check list and for clarity. I make sure that I’ve recorded all of the information I came for. It’s frustrating to take the time, make the trip and forget something.

When you return home, download photos to your computer, rename the files according to your naming convention, transfer them to the appropriate folders, print out copies, and upload images to websites like FindAGrave or Billiongraves. On those sites, consider how others may contact you for permission to reuse your images and record that information in your user profile.

If you print copies of the photos or post them online: record (on the front of the image, preferably) the transcription, the photographer’s name, date of photo, cemetery name, location of the cemetery (There are two Mount Olivet Cemeteries in the DC/Baltimore area!) and the marker (using street directions or latitude and longitude, as needed.) Also, consider recording the condition of the stone (which might affect legibility) and the type of material used.

Type up your visit notes and include the appropriate citations.

I’ve yet to visit a cemetery and not come back with more that I expected. It’s always a worthwhile trip.

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Finding “Bad” News

This is a map of the locations of newspapers that reported the criminal assault (a sanitized version of attempted rape) of my grandmother.1)I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.

Each map pin represents a town where a newspaper reported her assault with her name, and often her father’s name. Sometimes newspapers reported graphic details; for example, her attacker almost bit through her lip. Some newspapers focused on Judge Witt’s quick action to avoid a lynching. Others focused on the heinous nature of the attack. Still other focused on my grandmother’s incredible fight for her virtue (she was headed to confession before Mass) and her life.

The kicker: No one alive in my family knew this. What do genealogists do when a “secret” gets uncovered? Some thoughts:

1. Check your feelings. Then don’t.

This is my grandmother. Even though I never knew her (she died 3 months before I was born), I was given her first name for my middle. Time gives emotional distance, of course. But, putting myself in her shoes… I simply can’t. It’s clear from reports that she was very badly beaten. Facts from court records, state that she testified against her attacker 4 days later and again 2 days after that. Can you imagine?

But, try very, very hard not to let your personal feelings cloud your research.

2. Only the facts, ma’am.

Keep to what records tell you. Don’t speculate. But be curious. What else is out that that might shed more light on the story?

3. Own your ancestors, but not their actions.

Slave owner? Criminal? Tory Loyalist? Dishonorable discharge? These stories do not reflect on you AT ALL. Keep your good emotional boundaries.

4. Research every detail of the story.

In my grandmother’s case, I have a list every person from the arresting officers, to jury members, to the accused’s sisters are being researched. I have a city map that I’ve marked with locations. I have a timeline of the crime. I’ve created family trees for the major players in the story – the judge, the defense attorney, the jurors and the accused. I’ve begun researching Jim Crow laws (her attacker was black.) Find the larger context and expand the story. My grandmother’s attacker has a story, too. One worth telling.

What do you do when you find “bad” news?


References   [ + ]

1. I only used for this search and used the filters “Stumpf” and date range of 9 Jan 1909-28 Feb 1909. There were 77 locations.
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Your Story is Worth Recording

Under my photo on this website, I wrote, “We all love a great story.” Then, “We all have a story to tell.” Most of us don’t consider our stories worth telling. We may not characterize our stories as dramatic, historically significant, uplifting, or tragic, so not worth telling. Rather we would tend to use less exhalted words like boring, mundane, unexceptional, or normal, so not worth knowing.

Is there something lovely about the boy who marries the girl next door, has a bunch of kids, works hard, and dies having lived a so-called “boring” life? There’s nothing “boring” about happiness, faithfulness, diligence, and love. It’s not even less dramatic.

A recent blog post over at, called “Define Your Dash” is a great guide to starting to record your personal history. They’ve created writing prompts for each week of the year. It’s a great start and an excellent way to begin.


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