Thursday, September 24, 2015

My First Genealogical Conference (NYSFHC 2015)

Climbing My Family Tree: My conference bag and name tag
My conference bag and name tag
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I attended my first genealogical conference, the New York Family History Conference 2015, on Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19, 2015. It was very interesting, very well organized, and the attendees and presenters were friendly. I had a good time – actually, a better time than I had honestly anticipated.

As the classes started early on Friday, I only worked a half day Thursday and then drove to Syracuse that afternoon to check into the hotel where the conference was held. The organizers were obviously dead set on no one getting lost, as the conference venue/hotel was directly across the street from the end of the exit ramp off of I-90. I spent part of the evening wandering around the vendors/exhibitors hall (where I bought quite a stash of books over the course of the next two days), stopped into the evening reception and chatted with a few folks who have come to the conference for years, and then went to find dinner before heading to my room for the night.

It’s a good thing that I remembered to set my alarm clock on my phone as a backup since the motel alarm clock did not work. The first class each day was at 8:30 AM. Now, folks who know me know that I normally work 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM (medical accommodation) so I’m not remotely used to being presentable for human company and interaction at 8:30 AM. ;-) That being said, two of my favorite classes were held at 8:30 AM, so it was well worth being up and about at that hour.

I really needed to be three people, though, as the conference offered three classes at the same time throughout the day, and I often wished I could attend all three. I developed a methodology for choosing when I just couldn’t choose, and attended the choice for which the syllabus was the least detailed and hoped that I could learn just from the syllabus for the other class(es) I had wished I could also attend.

I ended up attending on Friday: “Fingerprinting Our Families: Using Ancestral Origins As a Genealogical Research Key” by Curt Witcher (which I found completely fascinating and inspiring); “Introduction to Family History Revealed in Maps” by Matthew Knutzen (– unfortunately I received a call I had to take and had to leave the lecture early); “’No Person Shall… Gallop Horses in the Street’: Using Court Records to Tell the Stories of Our Ancestors Lives” by Judy Russell (a totally fun and fascinating lecture), lunch with a talk by Dick Eastman on finding genealogical books online (I do both e-books and regular books); “Colonial New York Research” with Henry B. Hoff (which covered in an amazing amount of detail/possible sources); and “Tips for Using Most Effectively" (I use for research, but I really appreciated learning ways to use it better). There was a bonus session offered at 4:45 PM, but at that point I was so exhausted that I just went upstairs to my room and stared into space for a while. I did come back downstairs for dinner and a talk by Judy Russell, “Blackguards and Black Sheep: The Lighter Side of the Law” – I don’t remember when I have laughed so much as during that talk; it was great!

I had dinner with a very nice woman from Hastings NY, who I had sat beside at lunch by happenstance and we hit it off, another nice woman from the Capital Region Genealogical Society who I’d been speaking to in the buffet line, and a gentleman who turned out to be the speaker at one of the sessions I attended the next day and his wife.

On Saturday, I attended: “Hidden Gems at FindMyPast: PERSI, Newspapers and More” by Jen Baldwin (she’s convinced me: I really need to join FindMyPast, I would love PERSI.); “DNA and the Golden Rule: The Law and Ethics of Genetic Genealogy” by Judy Russell (fascinating and thought-provoking); “What Is the Genealogical Proof Standard?” By Thomas W. Jones, one of my dinner time table-mates (I also found this fascinating and thought-provoking – it’s a bit like how I have to think in my day job as an ALJ, only on a more drawn out scale – and it hit two of my passions, research analysis and jigsaws. I really liked this class. I know that I don’t have the time/stamina to meet this standard before I retire, but the lecture really drew me in.) D. Joshua Taylor spoke at lunch on “Crossing the Pond: Finding Those Elusive English Origins” (I really need to join FindMyPast … even though I’m not certain I have any English ancestors.” In the afternoon, I attended “Using Autosomal DNA to Explore Your Ancestry” by Blaine Bettinger (who was a good speaker but it was a difficult topic, particularly right after lunch, and I’m afraid I got a bit lost) and the last class I attended was “Finding American Women’s Voices through the Centuries: Letters, Journals, Newspapers and Court Records” by Jane E. Wilcox (this lecture was presented with examples based on her own family research, which sparked ideas of places to look for details about my female ancestors as I go back in time, to bring their stories to life).

Climbing My Family Tree: My Calling Card
My Calling Card - isn't it pretty?
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In the course of the classes, I met and spoke with several very nice people. I even got to exchange cards with a few of them.  (The Olive Tree Genealogy Blog had run a post in the week before the conference, “How to Introduce Yourself to Other Genealogists at a Genealogy Conference”, in which she suggested that each person should have their own calling card/business card listing their website, email address, and Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/whichever social media information desired on it. I had calling cards made up at Staples in one day prior to going to the conference – I have enough to last the rest of my life, LOL!) Two women, from Central Square and Hastings, helped me figure out my next adventure of finding my third great-grandparents graves after the conference, which I wrote about earlier in the week. And I bought a bunch of new books at the vendor’s hall. This was a very worthwhile conference.


I may do this again next year. With that thought, I thought to look at their website again and discovered that they already have information up about the New York State Family History Conference for 2016, to be held concurrently with the annual conference of the Association for Public Historians of New York State (registrants to the NYSFHC conference will be able to attend lectures and field trips organized by APHNYS, and vice versa) and they’ve already listed discount pricing for early registration. Amazing!

Climbing My Family Tree: Books Bought at Vender's Hall
Books Bought at Vender's Hall
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: September 2015 –Finding the graves of Franz Joseph and Phillipina [Blank] Henn, mythird great grandparents

Climbing My Family Tree: Graves of Edmund Henn (1838-1861), Franz Joseph Henn (1800-1863), and Phillopina Henn (1805-1890)
Graves of Edmund Henn (1838-1861), Franz  Henn (1800-1863), and Phillipina Henn (1805-1890)
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I am participating in the "12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds" contest (see’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds Challenge for details) and my most exciting find of September 2015 is finding the graves of Franz Joseph Henn (1800-1863) and Phillipina Blank Henn (1805-1890), my third great grandparents, who had immigrated to the United States in 1853 from Doerlesburg, Baden, Germany.

I’m not the first to find the cemetery. I found directions to the cemetery they were buried in on, but I’m still quite happy and excited to have found them myself and spent time there with them. (Yes, “found”, even with directions the cemetery is still in the middle of a very rural area, in an area I’ve never been before. A very pretty drive, but still…)

I spent the weekend at the New York State Family History Conference (and I will be writing a post about that experience, too). It was held in Syracuse, which I knew put me in the same general part of the state that my third great-grandparents, France Joseph (later “Francis”) and Katharina Phillipina [Blank] Henn lived after coming to the United States. I’d decided to try to find their graves after the conference, having copied the directions to the St. Francis cemetery that were online at “St. Francis cemetery. Route 49 East of Central Square, approx. .2 mi., turn north onto Co. Rte. 37, go approx. .5 mi. cemetery is on east side of road (approximately 2000 feet south of Co. Rte 84) it sits off the road quite a bit.” [Don’t try to follow those directions; they aren’t entirely accurate because the punctuation given screwed up the actual distance.]

Fortunately, I met two people at the conference who lived in the area where I would be going to find the cemetery, who clarified the directions, which was very helpful (I’m more of a visual person and the directions I give tend to say things like ‘turn left at the gray barn’, and things like that, and I don’t have a compass in the car). I got lucky again as I got closer to the Central Square exit off of 81 North and discovered that the cemetery was in Google Maps (iPad app) under the local name of Little France Cemetery. I followed the audio directions given by the nice lady at Google maps, which amounts to: Take North I-81 to exit 32 (Central Square exit) for NY 49. At the bottom of the exit turn right onto NY 49. You’ll pass a Mobil station and the Good Golly restaurant on your left (if you need gas get it there, I don’t recall passing another one). Go 6 tenths of a mile (.6) on NY 49, and then turn left onto County Route 37. It winds through some very scenic country, with cows and barns and horses, and a good chance of a slow-moving combine on the road in front of you.

Climbing My Family Tree: Combine on Co. Rte. 37
Combine on Co. Rte. 37
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Climbing My Family Tree: View from Co. Rte 37
View from Co. Rte 37
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Stay on County Route 37 for 4.2 miles (start slowing down when you hit 4 miles in). You will see a small brown sign hanging off a post by a dirt road into the woods on the right-hand side. The sign says, “St. Francis cemetery. Est. 1848.” If you cross County route 84, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Climbing My Family Tree: St. Francis Cemetery, West Monroe NY (Little France Cemetery)
St. Francis Cemetery, Town of West Monroe NY (Little France Cemetery)
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On the narrow dirt road leading to the cemetery, there is a gate across the road with a sign on it that says open 9 to 4, Monday through Sunday, May 1 through September 30. The first time I saw that sign was at 5 o’clock on Saturday, and yes, the gate was closed and chained. As I could not see the cemetery from the road I did not feel comfortable walking in, and about that time it started to rain anyway. I found a hotel in the area and came back the next morning, and the gate was open by the time I got there about 10:00 AM.

The cemetery is off the road, but not that far off. The road is very narrow and very green. When you get to a Y in the road, there is a wide spot in the road off the left side, park your car there (it’s about a football field length in from County route 37). You will be able to see the graveyard off to the right, up a little hill. It is very well-kept by the Knights of Columbus. And, while you’re there, remember to go over to the big cross on the right side and pull out the drawer. Inside is a visitor sign-in book and some pens inside two Ziploc containers (if everyone who visits the cemetery signs the book, it has gotten about eight visitors a year, since 2006). It is a very pretty little cemetery.

Climbing My Family Tree: Looking back at the road I drove in on to the County Road
Looking back at the road I drove in on to the County Road
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Climbing My Family Tree: Looking up the hill at the right fork
Looking up the hill at the right fork
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The graves of my third great-grandparents, France Joseph and Phillipina, and their son, Edmund, are close to the front and can be seen from the little road in front.

Climbing My Family Tree: Franz Henn, closeup
Franz Henn, closeup
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Climbing My Family Tree: Phillipina Henn, closeup
Phillipina Henn, closeup
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[Edmund's grave is even more illegible in closeup -- almost totally black-- so I'm not posting the photo.]

They have a great view through the trees.

Climbing My Family Tree: from the back
from the back
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Click to make bigger

Walking further into the graveyard, on the right side of the road, near the large cross, is a big more modern looking gravestone that belongs to my third great uncle, Frank J Henn (1843-1928) and his wife, Rosine Besanen Henn (1853-1929).

Frank and Rosine Henn
(the picture is bad, but the best of those I took)
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I spent about an hour in the cemetery, before driving home. I told them how brave they were to come to this new country with their whole family, and that it had been a very good decision, as their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children, and so on, had good lives, with many opportunities, and grew into being good people, and it was all because they’d taken this huge leap of faith in moving here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


(So did you sing it?)

It’s the night before!

Tomorrow I’m going to go to work, but I’m only going to work half a day. And then, I’m going to drive to Syracuse (NY)! Where I will check into my hotel, and register my attendance at the New York State Family History Conference!! My first ever genealogy conference!

I am so excited and so looking forward to this! They are running three tracks of classes on both Friday and Saturday from 8:30 AM until 4:15 PM (plus lunch sessions and dinner sessions and a bonus session on Friday between the end of classes and dinner), and there will be a vendor / exhibitor hall as well. I downloaded the syllabus it’s about 200 pages long (more with ads). I don’t know how to choose! In some time periods, I want to see two classes that run at the same time, and sometimes I want to see all three! (I have to figure out how to choose. I really have to.) 

I am going to take lots of notes!

There will be presenters who are experts in the field. There will be presenters whose blogs I have followed for months or years now – sometimes two of my favorite bloggers/television and /or Twitter personalities are scheduled at the same time. (Drat!) Some of the presenters whose names I recognize are: Judy Russell of The Legal Genealogist blog -- she’s a genealogist with a law degree and teaches on the interplay between genealogy and the law at several venues with lots of initials as well as genealogy conferences; D Joshua Taylor, is a professional genealogist who blogs at his own blog and an occasional column for the JSTOR Daily called The Genealogy Factor  – he is also cohost of the PBS series, genealogy roadshow, and has appeared on “Who Do You Think You Are?” (both the NBC and TLC versions) and teaches at family history events worldwide; Curt B Witcher is the manager of the genealogy center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne IN - which I think is second only to the Mormon genealogical library at Salt Lake City in importance of genealogical collections in the USA; there will be people from the NY State Archives; and, at lunch on Friday, Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter is speaking (HUGE genealogy blog, read by more than 75,000 genealogists all over the world).

I don’t think that I will know anyone there. So if you read this and will be there, and we happen to bump into each other, please say “Hi!” (I assume there will be name tags – aren’t there always name tags at conferences?)


Other updates:

I had intended to put up a new NoteWorthy Reads post last weekend, but, obviously, that didn’t get done. I did work on it, but the authors of the genealogy blogs I follow came back from summer vacation all rested and restored…and tripled their normal output! Over 700 posts in two weeks! (Maybe I’m following too many genealogy blogs….) Since I will be at the conference this weekend, it won’t go up this weekend either; so it looks like NoteWorthy Reads will appear once this month, on or about September 26, 2015.

I’m also working on adding a whole new branch to my tree, and tracing them down a generation or two (before I see if it helps me go up, too), due to the very kind assistance of my new cousin-in-law who is granting me access to her private tree. I’ve done a blog post on her husband’s and my common ancestors, my third great grandfather, George Taylor and his wife Ann McArthur, in which I indicated that I knew virtually nothing about their daughter Margaret and would like to know more. My new cousin-in-law’s husband descends from Margaret and that branch has a lot of people. I’m looking forward to introducing you to some through blog posts when I get caught up. Thus far, that branch has remained largely in Canada (new history to address, oh boy!), although I know some eventually emigrated from Canada to the USA.

And now, I need to get back to packing. In an effort to save time, I did a large load of laundry – too large, now I need to iron whatever I decide to pack. Sigh.