Is It a Line or a Blur?: Controversy and the Art of History in Blog Posts

In musing upon how much to include in a blog post, I recently read an article from Mantra about what to and what not to include in conversations and on blogs. While most of the advice is helpful, I also remember reading from Dan Cohen’s book, Digital History, about how Public Historians are not into controversies that traditional historians are. I agree fully with Dan Cohen. I like presenting the information, and I’m not normally into making things rock, splash, or otherwise changing things unless they need changing. Half the time, I do not think that it is my call about whether things need changing because I am a student.

I have to admit, though, that whenever I told a professor at the AHA meeting that I was a student, they never treated me badly. Most of them actually wanted my opinions on things until I admitted that I probably knew a lot less about a given subject than they did. There was a particular Chinese historian who was simply fabulous who actually asked me why I had not gone directly into a doctoral program. When I told her my course of career and study, she commended my abilities to see the economy for the way it is and for attempting employ-ability in keeping my options as open as I could. apparently she is a retired teacher, and I would love to talk with her more.

Since starting graduate school, I have never felt so small and simultaneously had people who actually took my opinions seriously before. I am a serious person by nature, but that is due to the opposition that I normally face from literally every side for years. Gives a person strong muscles in the tenacity department. That said, I do not like being a controversial person but it seems the only way for distinction here. That is not a good enough reason for me to become that way. I like the ways of the nostalgia associated with gentility. I do not hurt others, and wish the same in kind. Peace is my goal, but I seek not for riches and honors of men but simply being good with God. Talking about religion openly on a blog seems something that is expressly controversial. Politics? Not so much into it, but I do not want representatives that treat people badly and I am sick with the inter-laced corruption divesting the people of any rights while other groups add to the band wagon. Conspiracy theorists argue such things for years as:

Icecream Shop Picture of Media Conglomerates

Ice Cream Shop Picture of Media Conglomerates

Icecream Parlor Picture

Rising Journalism Mediocrity Swamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will not take a stand on either issue here. But I do know I want to learn more,  gaining my own opinions on things, and dig down to the truthful heart of a matter. There are biases ranging everywhere driven by frequently septic purposes. I wish to remove the nasty, crude-oil layer of filtration and find out what really is happening. Maybe I am more like traditional historians than I think. That said, I want to facilitate and allow the people to crunch their own numbers and to do their own history. I see history as being an “everyman’s game” and not held by an elite class of people educated for the one purpose of educating more people in their way. I want history to matter to an individual specifically. That is the point of teaching it. Making a difference in someone’s life paradigms is what it is all about. Here’s to controversial soap box posts.

The GenealogyDr–More genealogical posts coming up.

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Commentary on the Bohemian National Cemetery Website

As noted in prior posts on this site, I have a love of Bohemian National Cemetery. Why? No idea. I came to this city seven months ago and although I have the inclinations towards cemeteries as any other genealogist in the idea that they’re  stone tablets of information. This cemetery and the Eastland Disaster hold something for me that does not make sense in a traditional academic setting. It pulls on me and I want to know why.

The only time that I was able to drive there, I looked at the entrance way and noticed a stone tree trunk  within the roundabout. Across the street on Pulaski is another cemetery, St. Luke’s. I saw it when I exited the cemetery after only having three minutes to examine it on my first trip. My Flickr post gave that information already.

In examining the website this time around, I noticed the site is a little dated in appearance. That said, I am sure that its maintenance comes from volunteers who are doing their best. For cemeteries, although the land is paid for, it is unlikely that anything else happens to them other than upkeep on a few holidays. Memorial Day was not originally the first day of beaches and BBQs. It was meant for cleaning up cemeteries and giving homage to the dead. Hence, MEMORIAL. Also, Veteran’s Day is of similar nature. Most of the national holidays for America deal with dead people. It’s just how things go. Whether they are religiously-inclined or not, the commercialization of any holiday came after and because of the wish for people to celebrate or mourn in kind. Strong, visceral emotions accompany such things.

The site is adequate for a small cemetery but seems a little in need of help for anyone who wants to do research who is not living in Illinois. My initial searches on this site brought me to the friends page, to the Eastland Disaster Society page, and I even checked the Family History Library Catalog to make sure that there was something there for the group. There was something in the catalog, but on the site it appeared that there is only extracted information. The society may only have a portion whereas there is more outside of the society, maybe. I have not yet made adequate contect with the society in order to be able to speak appropriately on the subject concerning what they do over there. I want to know more, rather desperately.

Concerning the site, I’m not asking for Flash and Java or for Photoshop, cursable bane that is in my life at the present. I want information about who is in the cemetery to try to learn why this place pulls at me as if I was the object of the Puppet Warp tool in Photoshop. Following notice of the site, I also saw Friends of the Cemetery and proceeded to find out more about the present efforts at restoring the dome and keeping it all together. I have Slovak ancestry, but this appears to be a Czech place from when the Cezh Republic and Slovakia were merged. The ethnicities of Chicago teem and roil with undercurrents of homelands not more than two generations away for some, while four or further for others. What New York used to be, a seething mass of the masses, is now the convoluted twisting of enterprise dependent upon who was there last and who survived the churn.

I want and need this site to improve and I am willing to help do it. Whether it is a partitioned search engine of people’s names or simply a list that is easily searchable in a CTRL+F format, the information is as important as the place. The site gives very basic information found easily in on any telephone directory site. The Flickr images need to combine into a quickly and easily-searchable map crossed with the photos and the information that works with these people. Sounds like an independent research project to me. Takers? I need funding as does the rest of the world to make this happen. Funding, and better knowledge of how to program for designers. SOS.

Mockup of Genealogical Repository GIS App Using Photoshop

Note: All ideas on this page (with the exception of the pictures and references to other software: Padmapper and WikiMapia) are subject to intellectual copyright protections

Assignment for this week is to make a mash-up picture of some sort that works with what we’re learning in class. My Photoshop skills need improvement as it’s been nearly a decade or longer since I last used the software even part-time. That said, it’s time to play. I would love to create something that would help in visually conceptualizing how I want the App to work. To make a prototype of sorts that aids in the structural building blocks later.

Basic details of multiple plans fusing together:

Ethnographic Layer Potential

Layer One (meaning individual layers in the app, not necessarily on Photoshop) and pictorially represented: crisscrossing of the ethnographic layers, possibly in a form akin to the crime detector on Padmapper:

padmapper crime rate view

Padmapper crime rate view, with mass transit overlay of Chicago, no addresses highlighted

I would prefer a view that was more cross-hatched, especially since ethnic groups are not the same as crime rates. Unfortunate thought process for comparative analysis, honestly. But the basic modeling for choosing whatever cross-section is still part of the idea. No idea if I could do this in Photoshop, but I think that I will work on some other layers there.

Naming Scenarios

I think of this application as WikiMap, but that is so generic a name that it needs help. And, it’s also close to WikiMapia which is already being used elsewhere for similar although not the same purposes.

GIS v. GPS?: Crab Cakes Fishing with Chicken Legs

As I search for a name, I also search for elements in the functional processes. The whole application (thus far) is a compendium of different open source formats munching together to make for a new, dynamic medium. Adding the GIS coding (is that inherent in GPS? I have no idea and need to learn.)

The idea is making a crab cake, so to speak. The initial data, censuses and other government documents already encoded and threaded for massive number crunching quality time is the zooplankton that feed off the plant matter (data made from 1850 and onward marching). 

Next, the different web programs that mesh them together is akin to a crab, eating the mussels or chicken legs (yes, crabs eat chicken legs) in the path, scurrying along under the auspices of life expectancy built upon previous good harvests. Finally, I am a fisher woman. I harvest crabs and clean them for my purposes. The cleaned crabs go to users who further mix them with their resources (say, documents and genealogical databases, for example) and then the final product is

Maryland Style Crab cake from Dining Out Chicago

Maryland Style Crab cake

Maryland-style crab cakes. Enough breading, egg, etc. just to barely keep the lump and claw meat together. The stuff that creates legends in the seafood world. I’m not looking for legendary status. I like to know how to fish and to see what other nice little morsels come up for me, too.

Using Padmapper as an example again, this time of how the Wikimap (current name) functions with using random addresses upon the present map, the idea would be a cross between Google Map’s inherent ability to find just about anywhere, and show it live-time with where the cemeteries, libraries, and other needed vital repositories are, akin to the options available for mapping on Padmapper.

Padmapper Example with Various Random Addresses Shown

Padmapper Example with Various Random Addresses Shown in Place of Genealogically Relevant Repositories, Cemeteries, etc.

The final touch, albeit in the future is adding the ability to add the GPS mechanism to the application. It would have the option of being turned on or off. That way, if a person is in any given town, they may instantly see all of the repositories and how far away they are from their present location. If not this tool on the walking or driving or mass-transit routing paths, then simply plugging in the address and performing the same operation is an incredibly useful application.

The final thing to show or prove is how this would work or what I envision it looking like. This does not do it justice whatsoever. I cannot get Photoshop to do the kinds of effects that I need it to do, but this is a beginning.

Ethno-cultural overlay in artistic expression a la Photoshop and Padmapper

Ethno-cultural overlay in artistic expression a la Photoshop and Padmapper

Best efforts from the drawing board of the GenealogyDr.

Note: All ideas on this page (with the exception of the pictures and explicit references to other software Padmapper and WikiMapia) are subject to intellectual copyright protections as published on 23 Feb 2012, and prior during December 2011 to the future.

Once in Seven Months

This post is or anyone who wants to hear how I think. More raw emotion, but observations nonetheless. Chicago’s homelessness problem has me severely upset. There isn’t a good reason for it. I’m not a socialist in the tradition sense, but I do not want anyone ending up on the streets. It’s not something people aspire to as children unless they knew someone very kind who happened to be homeless. In that case, it is the aspiration for kindness and not the condition of being without stable food or shelter that inspired them.  I have two friends who survived that way and they only bring up the parts that are applicable to a given situation. It’s something looked down upon in American society, and something seen as more of a “problem” than as people who need help. This makes me sad. My friends are not problems. They are real people. Their circumstances were also real, and I did not know them at the time when they were living on the street, or else I would have done something.

Today a man on crutches who obviously needed more help than I could do anything about asked for cash. Normally, I never have means to give. It’s just part of life- being a student and trying to stay out of excessive debt while supporting yourself. Today was different. I gave him what I could. How he used it was not my business although I will admit that fleeting thoughts of potential drug use floated through my mind. All the same, though, any person is worth helping and not ignoring.

When I was a kid, my Mom had a TV show recorded called “V” on the VHS label. After an IMDB.com search for Cliff de Young, who I think may have been in the show, I think that the actual show was something else all together. I checked over his filmography, and nothing matched quite right, but here is what I remember from it. A self-absorbed person committed a crime or something that was caught on these floating cameras and then he had a mark on his forehead where they were shunned for a year. During this time, they could walk about in society anywhere, but no one acknowledged their presence. They couldn’t work, but their meals were taken care of, etc. They were just alone, honestly and thoroughly. After this year, whatever the mark thing was was taken off and they were again back in society. The one guy that this happened to learned his lesson well. The next time that someone came by him bearing this same mark, he acknowledged their presence even though he was supposed to be part of the shunning group. He probably would have that same mark again for another year, but the point was well-done.  My Mom always did her best to help when she felt like she should. Part of my life ambitions concerned modeling my life after the best version of my parents possible. They leave a big wake, and it is an incredibly hard road.

Life feels like the homelessness issue is simply as “issue” and does not have any faces associated with it. I see a lot of the same people day in and out and there seems to be nothing that can be done for them. I wish that I knew where all of the local city shelters were and didn’t worry about transporting a random person there.   As it is, that’s not the case. I feel guilty for not being able to do anything so often.

All the same, this was a chance to do well. I’ve lived in this city for seven months and I donate to my Church and want to live a life that includes values like charity whenever possible. This was the first time in seven months where I was able to do anything although I see homeless people every day and it makes me want to cry regularly. I was praying for a warmer winter. I’m not ready for a “full-blown” Chicago winter. I am not prepared this winter, and feel like it’s been a huge blessing that the severity lessened up to this point. March is another issue, but I will take it and be grateful for what is the current experience.

So all that happened was giving a homeless guy pocket change. I try to have some quarters around for the El and for parking in emergencies, and so I gave him what I could. It made me consider society, life, the universe, and everything, thank you Doug Adams.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Doug Adams

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Doug Adams

That said, it also made me wish that I could do more with less effort. I’m not currently capable of taking the time, means, and other resources necessary to honestly pick someone up from life on the street and help them live a different life. And no, no one directly asks me to do that. Homeless shelters can’t do enough, and my guess is that by the time someone gets to that point, they don’t typically have anywhere else to go or the situation is otherwise unbearable. I did not stop to ask.

Usually I feel better when I do something like this. I may be too naïve to know when someone is high or not, but he looked like he hadn’t slept in three days. I should know how that looks. My sleep schedule is not in line with regular society due to stress and learning new things in a semi-comatose state. Welcome to grad school sans caffeine.

I probably and likely sound like a ninny writing this, but someone has to do something. I cannot compare where I last lived to here and be fair to either side. That place was not heaven. This place is not bad. Each has its good points and I wish not to make accusatory comments on either. the cultures are simply different. My friends there were genuine and lovely. Here, it is the same case and I am highly lucky and/or blessed in that regard. Having good friends who care is actually pretty rare and a quest for the faint of heart not to try.

Culturally, there, I did not see homelessness as much. I did not ignore it, but when it was there, it was so obvious that it was more shocking than the daily thing it is here. There, homeless shelters are rare. It probably is not in the municipal budget to fund such shelters, and that is heinous. Here, homelessness is on every street corner coming off every off-ramp and at most major intersections and it is increasing. I remember more people there who professed to being good and who didn’t care a lick and more people here who have enough problems to need a decent therapist, and yet they care and do the most that they are possible of doing on any given day. You’ll get the same in reverse depending upon the person in any place.

I already mentioned Church and yes, I am religious. I like people who are genuine no matter what their race, creed, culture, gender preferences, and simply are themselves and try being good people. People who are real, admit that life is hard, and still attempt positivity despite or because of how much the world drags on them. The idea being that God looks on the heart whereas mankind tends to see shiny metals and equates that with nobility. For anyone keeping up, reference for that last sentence comes from Samuel about the Lord looking on a person’s heart. I like the American ideal where a person can become what they wish with hard work, effort, and talent. All of that said, those things need backup or resources to work.

There is no good answer to this other than the “love one another” phrase that is easy to quote and harder to put into daily life practice consistently and-or constantly. Either the government tries to solve the problem with inefficient bureaucracy and way too many forms, or someone needs to step up and really honestly help with meals and job training to help people get their lives back together and help lessen problematic issues instead of creating new ones. It’s feeding a man a fish versus teaching him how, but in the meantime making sure that there are some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the side to help him out while he is learning a new concept.

There’s my soapbox. I want the real world to be better than it’s been. For my piece of it, I wish to help in some way. If by no more than giving a guy some quarters to try to make sure that he could get a dollar menu item, it is not the best that I could do, but it was better than nothing. Seven months of wishing that I could do better and I wish that I could do more.

From an aching heart,

The GenealogyDr

Flickr Makes Cemetery Research Easier

I will admit to a bias against Flickr until recently. Considering Yahoo a part of the old Internet regime of the middle 1990’s, I fought joining or using it and never cared that much about anything to do with it. I joined Pinterest, another photo-sharing site, before joining Flickr.  As usual in my media biases dealing with Internet applications of late (meaning Twitter), I was wrong. Dead wrong, literally.

My recent research brings me to looking into a cemetery dealing with the Eastland Disaster.

eastland disaster picture

Eastland Disaster picture from 1915

Most of the people interned from this disaster are at Bohemian National Cemetery off Foster near Jefferson Park. Although I pass by the cemetery semi-regularly, I have no relatives from the Midwest that I know about and thus have absolutely no idea why this cemetery draws me in. I can think of theories on the topic, but until I physically get there and try to make sense of it, I’m not postulating here yet.

Besides this interest, I happen to love cemeteries. I’m not a goth, and I have no funky-odd intentions towards cemeteries. I’m a librarian by current training. All that I’d ever want to do with them is to write information, make sure that it was accessible to everybody, make sure that the gravestones didn’t sink so far that they aren’t read-able (difference between readability and legibility) and leave the dead alone. Pretty harmless stuff dealing with organization of information and sharing it. That, and cemetery artwork is just plain cool. For my intentions, there is nothing bad about it.

I get to Flickr due to a school assignment. Fine, I’ll do it. Previous to this, I read articles on how others used Flickr in annotating historical pictures. While this was an intriguing read, the catalog was in French. Sorry, I don’t read French. I can speak/read  Spanish, and very basic Russian, Japanese, Korean, and some Portuguese pronunciation, and can read Latin and basic Hungarian-Latinized script. I’m learning German while writing this in English, but French… not there yet. So while interesting and sounding like a great idea, I did not want to look up the project even though I had heard of it and the Library of Congress’s Commons is very well-known and reputed.

With this background in mind, I got on Flickr being an overly late adopter. The first group that I see on the home page is Graves and Tombstones. Now we’re talking. A few searches later, and presto: Eastland Disaster victims and Bohemian National Cemetery pictures arrive with beauty and sadness. A few flashes of Dr. Who’s Weeping Angels also went through my mind while looking at the pictures. Who are these people? What were their lives like? Prior to this, I already looked up the Disaster and found books on the subject, the Society which deals with this, and that there will be a Broadway-style play coming out on the disaster in June. It is a Chicago Disaster, like the Iroquois Theater fire, which led to changes in safety laws for the better. That said, it is hard to make beauty from disaster, but that is the best way of celebrating the deceased. And now to find out why that cemetery pulls on me. Mysteries continue.

Family History Basics: Part Three (Home Sources)

A previous post in this series mentioned home sources. This post may help a new researcher recognize what is a home source and what is leftover paper. Anything that helps to prove a name, date, place, or gender has potential of being a “home source.” Mediums vary widely from paper to fabric and even painted wood,   or glass but anything that is a family heirloom with particular reference to family Bibles “counts.” IRS tax records after some time are useful. Medical records, old pictures, photographs or paintings, furniture, or anything that a person typically might find in older historic museum with more than one person’s history displayed are fair game.

Preservationist Intentions

My family has had a lot of deaths in recent years. That said, funeral cards/books and programs feel almost like baseball cards (no irreverence intended) with collecting the deck. Although this is a rather unique way of seeing those items, I prefer paper to ephemera personally. Smaller, lightweight, portable, easily scanned and preservable in the digital realm. Do not get rid of originals. I cannot stress this enough!

Preserve for sharing purposes and in case something bad happens as in a natural disaster. Given the insane state of most weather phenomena over the past five or more years, this is more of a “when” than an “if.” My very first post on this blog mentioned using a fire-proof lock box. Well, that takes care of fires. Now how about floods, hurricanes, typhoons, lightning (it’s possible), bugs, extreme heat, earthquakes, something shattering, and generally anything that can hurt you is also possible for hurting documents. Documents are not more important than people. That said, scan your documents and keep them in multiple online repositories in addition to a tiny multi-gig flash drive on a key chain.

Any place where a person may host a blog can become an instant archive. Also, sites like DropBox.com play host to the Internet’s seemingly never-ending supply of data storage space. I regularly use my email as a storage facility. I remember who I sent what document to, and if I use my keyword system then it’s not too hard to find something quickly. My only reservation is that it is harder to find documents older than 2006 using Gmail, especially when there are a few thousand emails in the box.

What Counts As a Family Source

Preservationist intentions aside, start with the most recent document that shows a name and a date or a place to it. Job offers, business cards (I keep a few of these from each different job; at the least, it helps with remembering for resume purposes), ecclesiastical certificates, insurance information, birth, marriage certificates, school transcripts, immigration materials, immunity boosters and shot records, passports, drivers licenses, school IDs, and generally anything that a person would use normally for identification are things that count. Military IDs and information, letters, diplomas, certificates of completion, wedding dresses, sampler stitchery pieces, quilts, ceramics, and in some cases even older bureaus may give hints and clues.

Don’t forget scrapbooks. These may or likely may not look like modern scrapbooks. Most likely not. I love old leather-bound volumes that usually have no identification as to provenance, source materials inside, etc., excepting that the materials were in a newspaper once upon a time. Hunting down newspaper articles is also a passion. If a person notices an errant newspaper kept whole in a separate or special area, do not throw out the paper until combing through all sections for possibilities of a relative reference. The reference might not be highlighted. Start with obituaries and then work through other areas like weddings and births, and then check the regular articles. Worst case scenario, look through classifieds and ads.

This should help to start on the path of home sources. If not, leave a comment for more discussion on the topic.

The Genealogy Dr

Family History Basics: Part Two (Internet Sources for Kicks and Giggles)

This is a continued series following a request for information on getting started with genealogical research, without using Ancestry. The author has nothing against using Ancestry, but wants to show that there are alternatives as the request stated.

Internet Resources: More Sites

Internet genealogical sources are myriad and scattered across the upper levels of the World Wide Web. There are plenty of deep-level web sites for individual family sources, and things that are kept behind paid or unpaid firewalls for accessibility restrictions due to membership (read: profit) concerns.

Ancestry is the biggest gorilla on the block, but there are also sites like WorldVitalRecords.com, HeritageQuest.com, and Fold3 that do similar functions. Their resources may overlap in a few places, but that depends upon the business model, profit-sharing strategies, and strategic planning.

This is by no means a thorough list, but a small compilation of a few of my go-to resources when at a library. I use Ancestry due to its profundity, but will need to start a Fold3 account soon after reviewing its source possibilities for military records. For someone living in the Windy City, the public libraries are under-staffed due to extreme and severe budget cuts. When you cut a library, you’re cutting your life. That said, there is at least HeritageQuest that is accessible for home use via one of those precious little green library cards. Since HeritageQuest has the censuses (the biggest draw for any US-based online genealogical database image-viewing site) I recommend using that green card and reaping happy benefits.

Client Practice Methodology for the Inclined: Time Needed for Starting Out

Future blog posts will highlight or give more depth to these and other sites in addition to other facets of research. There are myriad ways of starting out, and I typically recommend reserving an hour for beginning and two hours if you want to dig just a bit. The time goes by FAST! Just trust me here. I’ve given enough people a small taste to know that time becomes irrelevant outside of the cost structure. That said, four-hour increments are what I normally see people charge for when performing research for another person. It’s long enough to get some basics together, although not so long that it’s onerous on a client or their pocketbook, typically. For friends, I suggest two hours for simply helping them out in getting started, but will start with one hour and see whether they have more time than that. Once a person starts and gets into it, stopping is close to or nearly impossible.