Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Death of 'Chuck' Hadden

Chuck was our pet dog, a little fellow who believed he was much bigger and fiercer than his fifteen pound body suggested. Chuck was "my best pal" and Ellen's shadow.

I know that my some of my ancestors had pets, especially dogs, but Chuck was of course special! He recognized me as being the 'alpha' dog in the family, at least that is my interpretation of his behaviours over the last eight plus years. I was the one in the family who could scratch behind his ears just the right way and rub his tummy best. But he was Ellen's constant companion, a protector who ensured that no one came to the door or even strolled past the house without knowing that a ferocious guard was keeping watch over the lady of the house.

Chuck had a mischievous side as well. Despite Facebook's rule that one had to be over 13 years of age to have an account, Chuck broke new canine ground in setting up a Facebook page, despite only being a couple of years old at the time. Chuck sent 'friend' requests to his 'brothers and sisters' who all originally accused me of being behind the Chuck on Facebook prank. Eventually it was found out that Chuck was secretly using my computer for his social media exploits and we caught him "red pawed" at the keyboard. It was through Facebook that Chuck asked our daughter, Jenna, if her female dog 'Ivey' was seeing anyone - proof that he knew the power of the net!

While I was in the hospital last fall, what was later diagnosed as a cancer appeared on his upper lip. The tumour was treated with steroids, with some initial good results at first, but of late his condition worsened. Today, on the advice of our veterinarian, Chuck passed away peacefully and quietly, finally suffering no more.

Rest in peace, little pal. And, thanks.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Preacher's License

I admit that I had never seen one nor had I thought of looking for one - a Preacher's License.

My wife Ellen's paternal great great grandfather, Rev. Jacob Wagner (pictured left) had been a minister of the Evangelical Association and there are several records that provide evidence of this fact. His association with his brother-in-law Phillip Louis Breithaupt is well documented in local histories, family papers, and books on the Breithaupt leather business in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada.

Fortunately, Ellen's uncle Gordon Wagner, when compiling a substantive family history in the late 1970's and early 1980's, left behind a group of Jacob's Preacher's Licenses. Finding and holding these 150 plus year old occupational certificates provides a connection to the person and provides fact evidence I likely would not have thought to even look for. Pictured below is Jacob's Preacher's License from February 1848.

According to a compilation of Evangelical Association Annual General Conference proceedings, compiled by S. C. Breyfogel in 1888, Jacob was accepted by the church as a 'Preacher on Trial' or on probation i1847 at the Eighth Annual Session of the church held in Fayette, Seneca County, New York State. This conference was held between February 23 and March 3, 1847 under the leadership of Bishop Joseph Long. In addition to being accepted as a preacher, Jacob was appointed to the Buffalo, New York circuit.

The following year, in 1848, Jacob was appointed at the general session held at Allentown, Pennsylvania to the Waterloo circuit in the Canada district under the supervision of Presiding Elder M. Lehn. While 'working' the Waterloo circuit, Jacob, who was just 24 years of age, would visit and perhaps stay at the home of Jacob and Margaret (nee Riehl) Hailer. The Hailers were known to be very welcoming of their church's visiting circuit preachers. In 1849, Jacob married the Hailer's eldest daughter, Margaret, with whom he had three children.

Margaret was in fact pregnant with their third child when Jacob died suddenly in April 1858, shortly after Jacob and his brother-in-law Louis Breithaupt had formed a partnership and opened what would become a very successful tannery business. The third child, a boy was born 5 months after his father's death, and was appropriately enough named, Jacob.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tracing Ancestry to Adam and Eve

While I researching the recently concluded series about the Vermilyea murder and trial, I read many old newspaper pages from the Toronto Star's Pages of the Past newspaper archive. Reading old newspapers can be fascinating and I was especially taken by the prices of houses, goods and services through the 1930's period that I was reviewing.

One story on the front page of the February 25, 1935 edition caught my attention in particular. Genealogists may not get mentioned often but here they were on the front page of the daily newspaper in a major Canadian city debating the topic. Here for your enjoyment is the story.

The story's headline reads:

Tracing Ancestry to Adam, Eve Absurd, Say Toronto Genealogists

There are many people in Toronto with the name of Stewart who are descended from the Stewart kings, but they can't prove it, Col. Baptist Johnston, a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, told The Star today, branding as "absurd" the claim of Mrs. Christian Sells Jaeger of Columbus, Ohio, that she has succeeded in tracing her ancestry back through 159 generations to Adam and Eve.

Col. Johnston declared, however, that Harry Drummond, of Deer Park Cres., is able to trace his ancestry back to the Earls of Perth, whose pedigree can be proven to approximately 1200 A.D. So quickly does the human race multiply, he pointed out, that Edward III of England now has tens of thousands of descendants.

"Some people have become almost insane on the topic of genealogy," Col. Johnston commented. "Very few people can prove their ancestry prior to 1100.

"The late Henry O'Brien K.C. [King's Counsel], of Toronto, was a descendant of the earls of Thomond, one-time kings of Munster."

"In the first place I don't think there is any such individual as Adam," declared Rabbi M. N. Eisendrath. "How can she trace her pedigree back through Zedekiah, David, Enos and Seth to Adam" he asked, "when many biblical names are not names of persons, but of tribes. In the Old Testament the union of two clans is expressed as a marriage."

"It is quite impossible to go back with any degree of accuracy beyond the time of the Norman conquest." observed Prof. R. Flenley of the University of Toronto. "Even the ancestry of kings cannot be traced accurately much more than 1000 years."

So now we know, we who "have become almost insane on the topic of genealogy."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 4

This is the 4th and last post in a series recounting the events associated with the murder of Catherine Aureila Vermilyea on the night of Thursday, October 4th, 1934. Mrs. Vermilyea was the mother-in-law of my wife Ellen's second cousin, twice removed, Dr. James Albert Faulkner. The murder case and the ensuing murder trial of Mrs. Vermilyea's son, Harold Vermilyea (pictured on the left) caused a sensation in 1934 southern Ontario that was followed across North America.

Bringing a Murderer to Trial

When Harold Vermilyea, the son of the murder victim returned to his home in Ontario, California on Saturday, October 6th, he was greeted by the police who arrested him on a charge of murder. Harold professed his innocence stating that he had been away in northern California seeking employment at the time of the murder. On October 17th, Harold left Los Angeles where he had been held in custody and boarded a train, accompanied by two police officers from Ontario, Canada.

While on the train, Harold told a Toronto, Ontario newspaper reporter that he was glad he was going back to Belleville. "I want to get it over with." The crime was reported on across both Canada and the United States. Police boarded the train car in which Harold sat every time the train slowed or made a scheduled stop to provide additional security. By October 20th, Harold's trip 'back' had brought him to Toronto and an overnight stay in the infamous Toronto 'Don' Jail. The police made good use of Harold's short time in Toronto to construct several police 'line-ups' to allow potential witnesses, taxi drivers and hotel employees, to try and identify Harold. Not having enough men for the purpose, Toronto police reportedly went to the streets around police headquarters and 'recruited' passersby until they had sufficient numbers for the line-up.

On Sunday, October 21st, Harold was admitted to the Hastings County Jail in Belleville, Ontario, a place that was to be his 'home' for the next several months.

The Evidence

There was such interest in this case that crowds waited for hours, sometimes in the rain, in order to get a seat in the courtroom. Harold was identified by Miss Mountney, the maid, as the man who came to the Farley home on the night of October 1st, refused to give his name and left abruptly before Mrs. Vermilyea could greet him. Next, four hotel workers testified that Harold had stayed at the Walker House hotel in downtown Toronto, under the name of Mr. Carter, from Septmber 30th until October 5th. A taxi driver, named John Bannas, testified that he had driven Harold from Toronto to Belleville and back on both October 1st and October 4th. The round trip fare that they had agreed upon was $15.00.

A medical expert testified that blood stains were found both on the pants that Harold was wearing and that blood stains were also found in the taxi that Harold had been in for the return to Toronto. As this was before DNA testing could provide more definitive evidence, all the expert could provide the court was that the blood was human.

The evidence showed that Harold upon returning to his hotel in Toronto learned that the Belleville murder was already in the early editions of the newspaper. He immediately checked out of the hotel in the early morning hours and took a taxi to Hamilton, Ontario where he boarded a train, using the name of B. F. Collins, bound for Chicago, Illinois. Arthur Iszard was the porter on that train and he was able to identify Harold as the passenger named Mr. Collins who, upon entering the United States at the Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan border, wired ahead to Chicago for an "aeroplane reservation." The pilot on that Chicago to Los Angeles flight along with a passenger, the publicity director for the Metro-Goldwyn Moving Pictures Company, also identified Harold as being on the flight to L.A., occupying seat number 11.

And finally, the evidence showed that Harold had stored his car in a garage from September 25th until October 6th and then tried to have the operators of the garage erase the record of the car's stay.

The Defense

Two well respected lawyers were appointed to defend Harold at his trial. Both Charles A. Payne and Col. Richard H. Greer had received the honourary title of King's Counsel or K.C. in recognition of their legal work. They depended on the evidence of Dr. J. J. Robertson, a Belleville physician, to show that Harold was insane. Dr. Robertson testified that, based on his examination and interviews, Harold had thought up "the plan for weeks and weeks." Harold, the doctor continued, thought his mother should divide up part of her estate (which was valued at $40,000 at the time of her death). Harold's proposal was that he and each of his three siblings could be given $5,000 by their mother. As Dr. Robertson stated, "His mother was well off, a sister was well off and they didn't need any money, but his his children did need help." When his 'begging' letter was responded to by his sister, Harold saw this as a sign that they were conspiring together to ruin him, at least that's what the defense wanted to the jury to believe.

The Decision

Mr. Justice Jeffrey, the presiding trial judge, in his charge to the jury stated, "Some might say that it was only circumstantial evidence, but sometimes circumstances linked to form a chain of evidence beyond any reasonable doubt." The jury took four and one half hours to reach a verdict. During this time, the courtroom spectators refused to give up their seats but rather waited in the courtroom, in some cases sending their children home to bring food and drink. When the jury returned, they pronounced their verdict of guilty as charged.

The following day, Mr. Justice Jeffrey pronounced sentence on Harold - "The sentence of the court upon you, Harold W. Vermilyea, is that you be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement until the second day of May, and upon that date you be taken to the place of execution and be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul."

After the trial and sentencing, Harold's brothers, Arthur and Clarence told a reporter, "He got justice. He got a fair trial. What has happened is best for him and everyone else." His lawyers appealed his case unsuccessfully and on May 2, 1935, the sentence of the court was carried out in the yard of the Hastings County Jail ending the sensational trial saga of the mid-1930's, believed at the time to have been one of the longest murder trials in Ontario history to that time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 3

This is Part 3 in a series of posts about the murder of Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea (nee Farley), mother-in-law of my wife Ellen's second cousin, twice removed. The murder case and the ensuing murder trial of Mrs. Vermilyea's son, Harold Vermilyea caused a sensation in 1934 southern Ontario that was followed across North America.

Catching a Killer

On the night of Thursday, October 4th, 1934 the normally quiet town of Belleville, Ontario was shaken to learn that a long-time, prominent member of the community, Mrs. Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea had been found murdered. The crime had in fact taken place on the lawn of her daughter's Bridge Street home.

The Belleville police force immediately began their investigation. First they fond the murder weapon, a lather's hatchet, near the murder scene and next they believed they had the discovered the identity of the killer, the victim's son, Harold Vermilyea. Police later testified that they had narrowed their search for the killer to Harold within three hours of the crime. However, the mystery to solve was that Harold lived about 3,000 miles away from Belleville in Ontario, California. Undaunted, Belleville police contacted the police in California and requested their assistance in apprehending the suspect.

Harold Vermilyea was the oldest of four children born to Nathaniel and Catherine Aurelia (nee Farley) Vermilyea. Nathaniel was a prosperous farmer who provided for his family in the village of Thurlow, just east of Belleville, Ontario. According to the 1901 Census of Canada, the Vermilyea household included the parents, children, a lodger and a domestic servant. According to the 1930 U. S. Census, Harold indicated that he left home and made his way to California in 1909 where he was employed in the citrus fruit industry as the manager of a fruit packing operation.

All was well for Harold, his wife Clarise and their two children, a daughter Catherine Aurelia (after his mother) and a son Douglas Than until the Great Depression era took hold. Harold lost his job and for the first time was unable to pay the bills.

In June 1934, Harold wrote to his mother what he later described to be the "begging" letter. In his letter, which was printed in it's entirety in the October 6, 1934 edition of the Toronto Star newspaper, Harold explained his financial predicament to his mother, how he consulted with several prominent people about even broaching the subject with her, and asked for her help by giving him some money. He wrote, "If you could spare $1,000 now, it would be a life saver for this family. But whatever you do for us, should be done for others of the family. In other words, nothing is settled unless it is settled right."

His mother did not send any money and in fact, it was his sister, Mrs. Helen Faulkner, who replied to his letter offering some advice.

The Belleville, Ontario police sent a telegram asking about the whereabouts of Harold Vermilyea to the Ontario, California police on October 5th, 1934. California police went to Harold's residence and were told that he was away on an auto trip in northern California. So they did what was to be expected, they staked out his house and on October 6th, Harold returned, was met by the police and arrested.

Harold, a U. S. citizen since 1922, was held in custody at the Los Angeles County jail awaiting an extradition hearing. The process was shortened considerably however when on October 13th, Harold voluntarily agreed to waive extradition and return to Canada. Harold maintained his innocence stating that he was in northern California seeking employment at the time of the murder.

His trip back to Belleville, Ontario began on October 17th when he boarded a train, as Transcontinental Western Airlines reportedly "refused to carry a manacled man," handcuffed to Detective Frank Izard of the Belleville police force and accompanied by Inspector Gardner of the Ontario Provincial Police force.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Murder Near the Family Tree, Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series of posts about the murder of Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea (nee Farley), mother-in-law of my wife Ellen's second cousin, twice removed. The murder case and the ensuing murder trial of Mrs. Vermilyea's son, Harold Vermilyea caused a sensation in 1934 southern Ontario that was followed across North America.

The Crime

Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea lived at th
e home of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Elizabeth Farley on Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario. The town of Belleville in Hastings County has a rich history as an early settlement area for groups of United Empire Loyalists who were granted land in respect of the loyalty to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War and to compensate them for losses they may have incurred 'south of the border' during that war. Bridge Street, in particular, is a splendid avenue, lined with large Victorian homes whose occupants tended to be people of influence and means in the town.

Both Catherine and Elizabeth were widows who enjoyed the benefit of having two maids to look after the household chores and needs. On the night of Monday, October 1, 1934, one of the maids, Miss Eunice Mountney, answered the door of the home to a man who asked for Mrs. Vermilyea. The man however refused to give his name as he wished to "surprise her." The man left suddenly when he learned from the maid that Mrs. Farley was having guests that evening.

Three nights later, on Thursday, October 4th, the two
maids had the evening off duty and so Mrs. Farley and Mrs. Vermilyea were occupying their time in the library of the home with another of Mrs. Vermilyea's sisters-in law, Miss Mary Kelso who had come for a visit, when the doorbell rang. As she customarily did in the absence of the maids, Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door. She returned to the library moments later explaining that it was someone asking for food. On two subsequent occasions that evening Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door. On the last occasion, at about 9:30 p.m., Mrs. Vermilyea answered the door but found no one there. On checking about the home, Mrs. Vermilyea found the office door ajar and when she entered the room she was heard to say "Is it you back again." No one was able to identify the caller nor state whether the person was a man or a woman.

Miss Kelso later testified that Mrs. Vermilyea and the 'visitor' went to the upstairs of the house and about ten minutes later they came back downstairs. At this time, Mrs. Vermilyea stated that she was going out for a few minutes. The time according to Miss Kelso was 9:40 p.m.

About this time, George Gorman was returning home from an evening at the theatre and he passed a man and woman "walking hurriedly" in a west direction along the south side of Bridge Street. Shortly after the two people had passed him, George reported that he heard a single groan so he stopped and walked back to find on the lawn of a home "a bundle." Mr. Gorman stopped a passing car and when someone lit a match to provide some light, Mr. Gorman saw that the 'bundle' was in fact a severely injured woman.

The lawn on which the victim was found was at the home of Mrs. Helen Faulkner, the wife of Dr. James A. Faulkner, then the area's new Member of Provincial Parliament and Minister of Health for Ontario. Hearing voices outside her home, Mrs. Faulkner called out and asked what was wrong. She allowed Mr. Gorman and Mr. C. B. Smith, the driver of the car stopped for assistance by Gorman, to carry the victim into her home and place the injured woman on an emergency operating table that her husband kept in the house. In the light of the home, Mrs. Faulkner recognised the victim and exclaimed "Oh, it's my own mother."

Catherine Aurelia Vermilyea died in her daughter's home, the victim of a brutal attack. The police immediately arrived and began their investigation. Police Officer Isard found the murder weapon near the home, a lather's hatchet (see image above of a lather's hatchet courtesy of the Florida Center for Institutional Technology) . Police also learned from the next door neighbour of Mrs. Faulkner, a Mr. Hunt, that "angry words" had been heard outside at the time of the attack, followed by the sound of several blows and a man saying, "Take that." No one saw the attacker fleeing the scene.

The hunt for a murderer was on!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Murder Near the Familly Tree, Part 1

Last week, I shared that I had found 'new-to-me' information about one of my wife's cousins, Dr. James Albert Faulkner. James is Ellen's second cousin, twice removed and was, in addition to being a noted physician in the Belleville, Ontario region, the Ontario Minister of Health in the provincial government Cabinet from 1934 - 1937.

I got an additional surprise when checking information available on the Find-A-Grave site about the James Faulkner family when I found that James' mother-in-law, Catharine Aurelia Vermilyea (nee Farley) had been murdered. Mrs. Vermilyea suffered a violent and untimely death on the evening of October 4th, 1934, on Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario. Although I would not usually pursue research into a family that is not directly related to either Ellen or myself, I will often at least record any vital record type information about a relation's in-laws to complete 'the picture' and for future reference. It was through this that I discovered the note on Mrs. Vermilyea's Find-A-Grave 'memorial' page that referenced the manner in which she died.

Thirty-six hours after the murder, her son, Harold W. Vermilyea, was arrested in Ontario, San Bernardino, California (Harold is pictured above with the arresting officer William Hammond of the Ontario, California police department). And so began a story that competed on the front pages of newspapers in Canada and the United States with the Linbergh baby kidnapping and the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for the crime as well as the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. The Vermilyea murder story was gripping as there were no witnesses to the crime, the son of an affluent Belleville family was accused of matricide, and everyone wanted to know how someone, in 1934, who lived in Ontario, California could murder someone in Belleville, Ontario and be back home in California thirty-six hours later.

In the next couple of posts, I will re-tell what many pages of newspaper articles from the Toronto Star's Pages of the Past told captive southern Ontario communities about Harold, the Vermilyea family, the crime and the punishment.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Attending SCGS 2011 Jamboree Without Leaving Home

I'm not quite ready for any extensive travel as I continue to recover from last fall's sudden illness so attending the Southern California Genealogical Society's (SCGS) 2011 Jamboree was out of the question. The Jamboree has for many years been one of North America's premiere genealogy conferences, one that I have heard glowing reports about and promised myself that one day I would get to attend.

Yesterday, thanks to a generous sponsorship from RootsMagic, I attended a number of the conference sessions from the comfort of the 'computer room' in my home. These sessions, talks by noted speakers in their fields of expertise, were 'streamed' or broadcast live over the Internet. Thanks to SCGS and to RootsMagic for this treat!

Genealogists have always been quick to embrace technology with all of the new applications, gadgets and voodoo that it offers. Live 'streaming' of conference sessions is just another step in the right direction. It does not and cannot replace the networking and socializing opportunity that live attendance at a conference offers but it can do a lot to further the education of the genealogy community, for both beginner and experienced researchers.

I 'sat' in on presentations by Lisa Louise Cooke from the Genealogy Gems podcast, Curt Witcher from the Allen County Public Library, and Kerry Bartels from the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). All three presented their material with depth and clarity, providing key points of learning for researchers accompanied by meaningful examples to illustrate their research methods and techniques.

I noticed in particular a thread of research advice that each presenter covered - go beyond the vital record! Don't be satisfied with the hunt and capture of that elusive death record but see what else was going on in your ancestor's community that affected their lives. Each of the three presenters illustrated the types of resources and, yes, records available that are often forgotten as we scour repositories and the Internet searching for a surname. From my perspective, this is certainly a sign of a maturing genealogy community.

Clear evidence was provided that the saying "An historian doesn't have to be a genealogist but a genealogist has to be an historian" can never be forgotten!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Citing Sources Finds James Albert Faulkner, M.D., M.P.P.

Thanks to the viewing of a RootsMagic webinar, I was able to get more organized in achieving my goal of recording source citations for all of the facts in my genealogy (RootsMagic 4) database. Unfortunately, also thanks to the same webinar and the subsequent listing from my database of the the facts needing a source citation, I can see how large a task I have in front of me.

Although I wrote down source citations when conducting research before the computer age, once I started using electronic data and was able to save document images, citing sources in my database seemed pointless. After all, I had a copy of the original record electronically saved and filed on my computer hard drive. The more I researched, the more documents I gathered. Things seemed good, going the way they should. That is, until I realized that I couldn't possibly remember which of the hundreds of electronic records went with which facts.

So I started citing sources but frankly did a poor job of it, so poor in fact that some of these citations are now meaningless to me let alone someone else who might review my work. Forunately, I am much better at citing sources now, with proper form and detail.

I decided to start the task of citing my sources with large family branches that I haven't 'visited' that much lately. The first large family branch I set out to tackle was the Faulkners, the family of my wife's paternal grandmother, Charlotte Marion 'Lottie' Faulkner.

Lottie Faulkner lived her life in Saskatchewan, Canada but her family's roots go back to Ontario, to New York State, to Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Revolutionary War era Massachusetts. It was Lottie's great grandfather, Sylvester Faulkner who moved the family into present day Ontario, Canada in the early 19th century. While Lottie and my wife are direct descendants of Sylvester Faulkner and his wife Mary Cram, another descendant whom I was already aware of was James Albert Faulkner. Sylvester and Mary had nine children and all lived into adulthood so there are many descendants.

Like Lottie, James was also a great grandchild of Sylvester and Mary. James was born to Sylvester and Mary's grandson, Dr. George Washington Faulkner, in 1877 in Stirling, Ontario. As a young man, James attended first McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and then McGill University in Montreal, Quebec where he studied medicine. Upon graduating as a physician in 1904, James returned to Hastings County, Ontario and established his medical practise. Numerous Faulkner family histories indicate that James served as the Medical Office of Health for Thurlow Township in Hastings County for as long as thirty-seven years.

While checking my sources for information and completing proper citations about James, I discovered that he also served the Province of Ontario in a political role. The year was 1934 and the majority provincial Conservative Party government of Premier George S. Henry had fallen out of favour with rural farmers and with the population at large who were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression. James accepted the rival Liberal Party nomination to stand as a candidate for the provincial legislature representing the riding of Hastings West. On 19 June 1934, James was elected along with 68 other provincial Liberals who swept to power with a majority government under the leadership of newly elected Premier Mitchell F. Hepburn.

James only served a single term as a Member of Provincial Parliament but during that term, according to the Ontario Legislature's history of past members, he held the prestigious Cabinet role of Minister of Health, in addition to serving on several legislative committees. Although Premier Hepburn's government was returned with a majority again in the October 1937 general election, James left politics and returned to work in the region of his birth.

James died in Toronto, Ontario on 27 April 1944 at the age of 66. An obituary in the June 1944 Canadian Medical Association Journal noted, "During his term of office as Minister of Health for Ontario, Dr. Faulkner was active in the fight against cancer, mental disabilities and streptococcal infections."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Webinar Explosion

Without a doubt the genealogy world is filling up with webinars. These Internet or 'web' based seminars, from which the term webinar is based, have become a popular and practical means of instruction for beginners and experienced genealogists alike.

The technology is really not that new, at least in 'technology' terms - it's been around for a few years. Initially I was introduced to the technology through my 'day' job. Web based meetings were a means to providing instruction and explanations of new business processes with colleagues and/or clients irrespective of their geographic location. The technology also allowed people to collaborate by meeting on-line to view and work on a document they could all see and discuss at the same time.

Training, for example, could be offered without the costs to participants and their organizations for travel and accommodation to attend 'traditional' in-class "courses." The ability to record these sessions meant that the training could be offered time and again as new staff joined the organization and the 'webinar' content only needed to be changed if the business processes changed. Although viewing the recorded version of the training lacked the interactive component
of the 'live' version, that is the ability to ask questions, it was still was an efficient means of training.

The genealogy community, always quick to embrace advances in technology, has picked up on this impressive means to share best practises, tips and techniques. I have enjoyed attending a number of live webinars but because other commitments also impose on my time, I have greatly benefited from viewing recorded sessions. Although I can't raise my hand and ask a question when viewing a recorded webinar, I still benefit from the core instruction. I still learn.

I have two recommendations. First, check the website for your favourite genealogy database software. The software providers have certainly discovered that webinars are a powerful way to help those using their product get the most from the software's features. I use RootsMagic 4 and enjoy learning about the features and shortcuts that I probably would not have found on my own. Maybe it's a 'guy' thing but I tend not to read the instruction manual (hardcopy or on-line) and sometimes wander around the software menus hoping that intuitively I'll just figure it out. I have used and own most of the major genealogy database software available so I don't limit myself to one 'brand' on software webinar but pick and choose the instruction I think best suits my needs.

My second recommendation is that you visit the Utah Genealogical Association site and take advantage of their 'special time limited' offer to view a number of webinar presentations. My favourite so far - "How Mature Are You (Genealogically)?" by Robert Raymond, Deputy CGO of Robert explains a genealogy maturity model that allows you to systematically complete a self-assessment of your present genealogy skill or practise levels in some key areas. The real benefit of this evaluation is to then provide you with the basis to determine your priorities for establishing a self improvement plan. Robert explains the model in easy to understand terms with the added benefit that the presentation syllabus is available through the FamilySearch wiki. The Utah Genealogical Association is making this and other presentations available until August 1, 2011 so don't delay too long in checking it out.

If you are looking for a break from searching through records or you're feeling a little down about not being able to attend every genealogy conference on the continent, relax and learn in the comfort of your home by inviting the experts in through a webinar.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with RootsMagic nor have I received any form of compensation for noting that RootsMagic is my current preferred genealogy database software.