Saturday, May 18, 2013

NGS Conference Recap

It's been a week since I came home from the well-organized National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference. Four days of great workshops--five for those who arrived a day ahead to participate in the field trips. Although I didn't do any of the field trips, I did hear some positive responses about them. The trips included visits to the Hoover Dam, Ethel M Chocolate company, the the Clark County Museum. The curator of the Clark County museum is a pretty famous guy--Mark Hall-Patton--better known as "the museum guy" on the television show "Pawn Stars". Mark was the featured speaker at the NGS banquet on Friday night.

Other well-known speakers included Warren Bittner, Lisa Louise Cooke (of Genealogy Gems Podcast), Jay Fonkert, Harold Henderson, Ronald Hill, Thomas W. Jones, Mark Lowe, Kory Meyernick, Elissa Powell, Megan Smolenyak, and Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Many of you know of Elisabeth Shown Mills' website "Historic Pathways" and her seminal works on evidence citation, including "Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace". It's a must-have for all serious genealogists, especially if you are writing client reports and writing articles for journal publication.

But the "hot" book to buy at the conference is written by Thomas W. Jones, entitled "Mastering Genealogical Proof". The line just to buy the book wrapped around the already-large NGS booth. Additional lines grew each time he appeared to autograph the book. A few attendees won a copy of the book via the many raffles that occurred.  Alas, I was not a raffle winner, but I bought the book anyway.  It's a great reference for those writing proof arguments for journal publications, but it is also useful if you are studying in a genealogy course and need to learn to write proof arguments.

I hear that next year's NGS conference will be in Virginia.  In the meantime, I'll be attending the Southern California Genealogy Society's (SCGS) Jamboree conference in June. By the way--for those of you interested--the SLIG conference (Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy) opens their registration on June 1st. Their program takes place in January in Salt Lake City, and located within walking distance of the Family History Center library. Registrations are quite limited, and tracks fill up fast. My calendar is marked--is yours?
SLIG information can be found at

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS; has their conference in August. I won't be able to go--but it will take place in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Why Fort Wayne? Because Fort Wayne is home to the Allen County Public Library, the second-largest genealogy library, and second only to the Family History Library in Salt Lake. Worthy of trip, with or without the conference, from what I hear. The library itself is on my to-visit list. My grandmother, her parents and grandparents all lived in Indiana, so I'm hoping to visit the state soon. It's part of my "dream" genealogy trip--to travel to Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin to visit the ancestors. Now if I only find the money......

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Back from the NGS

I just spent the last few days in Las Vegas--but not to gamble!  I attended my first NGS (National Genealogical Society) annual Family History Conference, and it was worth every penny spent. One of the many highlights was meeting with fellow Pro Gen members at the Pro Gen breakfast. For those who haven't heard of Pro Gen, it is a study group program that has been around for a number of years. I had the pleasure of meeting Terri O'Connell, Patricia Stenard, and Brenda Wheeler. Terri, Patricia, and I are in the Pro Gen 15 group. Patricia and I have met before, since we both live in Los Angeles. Terri is just as I imagined--a down-to-earth friend with a fabulous sense of humor and fun. Meeting Brenda was a special treat for me. She was my mentor/consultant when I working on my American Certificate program at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS). She is also the one who encouraged me to sign up for Pro Gen 18 months ago, to which she serves as a mentor to our entire Pro Gen 15 group. Here's the cool part--she and her husband flew in from their home in Queensland, Australia to attend her first NGS conference. Yes, Brenda is an amazing Aussie!!

By the way--the Pro Gen program is an entirely on-line program. Each group (#22 is just getting started!) meets once a month to chat for one hour. In between, the group reads chapters from the book "Professional Genealogy", compiled by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  The major element is that each member submits a writing assignment that is critiqued by the other members of the study group. It runs for 19 months, and each member is challenged to be the better genealogist. I highly recommend the program. For additional information, go to the website:

Another highlight occurred at the NGS banquet on Friday night. The guest speaker was Mark Hall-Patton, better known as the Amish hat wearing, museum guy from the TV show "Pawn Stars".  He delighted the audience with his stories from the show. According to Mark, the Old Man is really a lovable grouch, Rick is the brains behind the show, and Chumlee is not that dumb--he'll just never qualify for MENSA.

For my last highlight, I want to share something from the Family Search luncheon speaker, Dan Poffenberger.  Yes, Poffenberger! BTW, Family Search is the website run by the LDS (Mormon) Church, and one of the most popular genealogy websites around. Dan spoke of his grandmother's family.  And it's complicated! Her mother married young, had her first child. Then her husband died, under still-unexplained circumstances. She married again, had another child. Husband #2 died from still-unexplained circumstances. She married again, had another child. Husband #3 is killed by the enraged husband of a neighbor. This is all before she turned 23. 

She married a fourth time--to a man that already had 3 children from his previous children. So, that's 6 children so far, right? With this husband, she had 5  more children, including Dan's grandmother. One of the daughters, suffering from a lack of normal growth, appeared in the movie, the Wizard of Oz as one of the Munchkins. She would eventually grow to about 4'10".  So, now she's up to 11 children. And then she dies from a bug bite! (The needed penicillin wasn't around). So, the husband is now raising 11 children--and marries a women with three children of her own from her previous marriage. That's now 14, and they're not done. This couple would have three more children, before the husband dies. So, now, the most recent bride is now in charge of 17 children! Talk about a mixed, blended family!  Makes the Brady Bunch pale by comparison. Some of the younger children spent several years in an orphanage, because the Mom couldn't care for so many children, especially during the 1920's and 30's. Dan's grandmother was one who spent time in the orphanage. Can you imagine how that family celebrated Mother's Day? Father's Day!

Next time--genealogy things I learned at the conference.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cemetery Week

Well, it's been a cemetery week for me. No, I did not attend any funerals! I decided I was long overdue to visit some of my ancestors buried in and around the San Fernando Valley (suburb of Los Angeles), where I just happen to live. The first visit was to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. This particular cemetery is well-known as the final resting place for many legendary performers: pop legend Michael Jackson, the Andrews Sisters, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Walt Disney, L. Frank Baum (author of "The Wizard of Oz"), Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.  But my attention was for my great-great aunt, Lillian Schmidt and her second husband, Emil Goetschel. Lillian is the younger sister of my great grandmother, Annie Schmidt Hendel . Although I had the chance to spend time with Grandma Annie as a young girl back in the 60's, I never had the chance to meet Lillian, even though she lived several decades here in the L.A. area. What struck me the most is that Lillian died in 1990, several years after I began my genealogical research. I can only imagine the conversations we could have had.

My second stop was to Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood to see my great-grandfather Shirley L. Gates.  Yes, his name is Shirley. Seriously!  Shirley is buried with his wife Florence (Kinne) Gates. Again, I re-discovered that Florence and I could have met--she died in 1976, when I was a teenager. Next to Florence is her mother, my great-great grandmother, Jennie Mae Kinne. Jennie is the oldest of my ancestors buried locally.  What also saddens me about not meeting Lillian and Florence is that they are my father's great-aunt and grandmother, respectfully. It makes me wonder why that side of the family did not have any family reunions or simple get-togethers. At least Grandma Annie (sometimes with her daughter Bea) would occasionally fly in from Minnesota to visit. How sad!

My third trip was to San Fernando Mission Cemetery, in Mission Hills. Like Forest Lawn, this cemetery is known as a resting place for a few celebrities--comedian Bob Hope, 1950's singer Richie Valens, and actor William Frawley (Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy"). But, this time I was visiting members from my mom's side of the family. I took some time to be at my mom's gravesite, her parents, Dutch and Helen Wombacher, and three of Helen's siblings--Bernardine, Paul, and Uncle Bob. This time, I left a single red rose for the ladies.

My fourth and fifth cemetery trips were not for me.  A few months ago, I decided to volunteer for, a website focusing on posting online burial plot information. The website makes it quite easy to post written information about our deceased ancestors, and to post photos of grave-markers as well.  The job of volunteers is to photograph grave-markers for those who are unable to visit and record the information for themselves.

My fourth cemetery was Oakwood Memorial, set against the rustic, oak tree-filled mountains in Chatsworth.  Legendary dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are resting in this cemetery.  The rustic, oak tree surroundings really set this cemetery apart from the others in the L.A. area.  The fifth and last cemetery was Eden Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery right up the street from San Fernando Mission Cemetery.  Eden Memorial is the final resting place for comedians Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce, actor Howard Caine (most famous role was a Gestapo officer in "Hogan's Heroes"), and Dan Curtis, producer of the 1960's gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows".

I know the idea of visiting cemeteries, especially to take photos, sounds macabre, but I don't wholly agree with that sentiment. As a genealogist, burial information can be very important in the research process--especially in the absence of death certificates and obituaries. And, so far, my experiences with the cemetery staff has been stellar. Without their help, I would not have found the burial plots I needed to find. So, a special thanks to the staff of these five cemeteries.

Now onto the NGS conference!! In Las Vegas!!