If you are anything like me, you look for those opportunities to get the most bang for your buck. The mainstream airing of "Who Do You Think You Are" on network television and "Finding Your Roots" on PBS has resulted in a boom of interest in genealogy by people of all ages. This also means that there is an increased need for genealogical education through low-cost and free webinars, blogs, books, library access to sites that normally you have to pay for (Newsbank, Ancestry, Fold3, etc.), and participating in your local genealogical society's meetings or seminars. Sometimes you do have to pay for access to these great resources, but it's definitely worth the time to do your homework and hunt down those free or low cost events.
Geneabloggers has a wonderful bunch of Google calendars that you can use to find out about the many webinars, conferences, presentations, and so forth. Keeping up with your local Genealogical or Historical Society or the Library can be a bit more challenging as their websites are sometimes not as user friendly or are not updated more than a month ahead of time. In these cases, it's helpful to look for a newsfeed or email list that can notify you of upcoming events. This has been quite helpful for me since it's starting to get hard to keep up with all the gen societies that I've got in my favorites. Luckily, a few weeks ago I was notified of a presentation that I was interested in, but had not heard about yet. The Licking County Genealogical Society had invited Deborah Abbott to speak on "Slave Research: It's a Needle in a Haystack!". I replied to the email to let them know I would be attending. The great thing was-- it was free! Little did I know what a great treat the speaker would be! More about that in a bit.
As I said, sometimes you have to throw a couple bucks at a seminar that you may want to attend. When I learned of the presentations hosted by the Franklin County Genealogical Society at the Ohio Historical Center, I made a point to look at the topics and get the ones I was interested in on my calendar. I had not been to a class there previously so I was excited to learn about the topic, "Understanding the Probate Process" that was presented by Jayne Davis. I knew that probate was something to do with wills, child custody, and inheritances but really didn't know much more. I had been able to register for the class online (via PayPal for just $20) and when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see coffee, orange juice, and pastries on the sideboard. The presentation itself was quite interesting and Jayne was quite personable. I found it surprising when she explained that genealogists often "hope" for the deceased to have no will. These intestate cases result in significantly more documentation and include all of the living descendants information. This could reveal cousins, aunts, uncles, and children that you may not have known about. Jayne did an excellent job of explaining the legal terms involved and where to go about tracking down the probate records. A few interesting things happened while I was there-- first, I noticed the collective knowledge in the room as others shared insights into the records and process. Second, I discovered a fellow engineer in the room! He actually works with several friends and former co-workers of mine. What a small world it is sometimes. Lastly, I realized that when I travel up to Northern Indiana early next month I needed to get in touch with the local County office to see about getting probate files for some of my deceased relatives. I'm curious what nuggets will be tucked away in their archives.
While I drove from Columbus to Newark, Ohio my mind was spinning with all the possibilities. I am often quite energized after a good genealogy seminar and so I was ready to go on to the next topic and learn about Slave Research. I had not done any research ahead of time on who was speaking, but I sure wish I had. She was great! Deborah Abbott was wonderfully prepared and integrated history and storytelling throughout the talk. She even brought hand and leg irons and copies of many of her research documents. Her humor and animated talk helped keep the entire group involved. I could not help but laugh aloud when she said, "I want him to die," when speaking of her potential ancestor. She really needed to look at the probate records, wills, or land transfers in order to understand what may have happen to her slave ancestors. It's hard to imagine that people were treated as property, but that is the fact of slavery. There were probably close to thirty attendees and the ages ranged from the 30's up to the 80's! Everyone was involved and asked great questions and shared their experiences. It was one of those talks where you don't want to leave in case you miss some great story or tidbit. Needless to say, when Deborah mentioned that she has some talks coming up at the Ohio Genealogical Society in the next few months--- I decided that I really had to go! In the past few years I've learned that when you find a great speaker... you should try and see them at every opportunity!
The moral of my story? For just the cost of mileage and $20 for registration; I was able to get four hours worth of wonderful insight into genealogical research. Now I have some leads on my own research and feel better prepared to help those clients of mine that may have slaves in their ancestry. There's always so much to learn and finding economical ways to absorb that information is just plain smart. Therefore, I encourage all of you to check out your local library, genealogical society, family history center, or historical society for their programs on a regular basis. You never know when you might stumble upon an inspiring nugget that breaks down your brick walls. Not to mention that the collective knowledge of those attending these seminars might open your eyes to a new avenue of research or a new friend.
This blog entry was originally written for “The In-Depth Genealogist”.