Riddles and Signatures

Originally posted 13 September 2012

There is a certain magic and sense of mystery that keeps me addicted to genealogy.  There is always a new riddle to solve, a curious phenomenon to encounter. Sometimes beneath the stack of dates and facts my ancestors seem more like an abstract idea than actual person who was very much alive and breathing at one point in one time. But, then there is at that moment. That breathless moment where my heartbeat and everything around me seems to stop, that moment when another voice seems to whisper, “Yes, they were really here.”

These breathless moments always catch me off guard. For one ancestor it may be a picture that causes this, for another a ship manifest, but more often than not it happens when I see their signature. The first time this happened for my five great grandparents Joseph Guillaume and Catherine Delaitre was earlier this summer when I saw their signatures on their marriage record. But every once in a while, I am lucky enough to experience that same breathless moment about one of my ancestors more than once.

ImageThere were many unexpected treasures in Joseph’s probate record. I had not expected to find tantalizing clues about the type of person Catherine was.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that a woman who died a hundred years before I was born may have actually been a lot like me.

Catherine’s signature appears numerous times throughout the file, mostly on receipts from the year of her husband’s death in 1878 through 1885 when she died. My favorite of these is a receipt dated April 1882. A comparison of her signature from when she married in 1829 to this receipt shows that her handwriting had shaky and it appears writing may have become difficult for her. This in of itself is not surprising, but, it makes me wonder if the she perhaps suffered from some of the same ailments that affected my grandmother and great-grandmother. Then I noticed something else about her signature. Below the ‘G’ there is ‘Del.’ I do not think it would be an unreasonable deduction to make that she had started signing her maiden name Delaitre, caught her mistake and wrote her married name over the top.

 Image

There could be many reasons why Catherine had started writing her maiden name. Perhaps a bit of senility, perhaps just run of the mill absent mindedness (I still from time to time sign my last name as Rice not Nelson), or it could be something to do with French culture and traditions.

The next discovery I made was a letter written by the executor, August Cazalet, to his attorney A. Simpson which by itself contained some curious verbiage but this was accompanied by a very curious and eye-opening letter. This second curious letter is a copy August made for A. Simpson of a letter that Catherine sent him.

ImageImage

Perhaps I am making too much out of her letter, but, I am struck by how Catherine reiterated that these notes were in her possession. She used the exact phrase “my possession” in back to back to sentences. She seemed very adamant that they would remain in her possession. While she did not state her reasons for holding onto the original notes I cannot help but admire the spunk it took to disobey the executor of her husband’s estate at a time when women’s rights were severely limited. A high level of obstinacy is made apparent by the document that this letter was ultimately filed along with to the court- a request for a citation to be issued against Catherine. Two words things that I am often told are that a) I have a lot of spunk and b) I am extremely stubborn. Apparently these are family traits with deep roots.

Was it just good old fashion stubbornness that made Catherine hold onto those notes with all of her might? Was she worried she would not receive her share of the notes? Unfortunately, without an explanation documented all I have are clues. This was the first of several clashes between August Cazalet and Joseph Guillaume’s heirs over finances and the handling of the estate. Accusations went both ways over the course of 26 years. It leaves my cousins and I wondering if this was the start of a feud between the family’s descendants and that of a family with whom August Cazalet was banking partners with? More on that another day…..

Image

Image

Joseph Guilliaume estate, Christian County Probate File No. 1006, Christian County Circuit Clerk, Vandaila, Illinois.

 

How Much Do Professional Genealogists Charge?

Originally posted February 20, 2012

I have been considering overhauling how I charge for my services with the goal in mind of streamlining and simplifying without sacrificing flexibility. I decided to surf the net Friday night to get a feel for #1) what other genealogists charge as well as how (in advance, expenses separate, retainers, etc.) and #2) what potential clients see when they research hiring a genealogist. I typed in the search field on Google how do professional genealogists charge. I came across a message board on Yahoo Answers (link will be inserted at the bottom of this blog) under a thread entitled How much does it cost to hire a genealogist. Two responses were posted and both provided some great guidance, but they also contained some guidance I find to be disturbing.

The first responder posted the following:

“Most charge by the hour, and you tell them how many hours you can afford for them to work. Professionals charge $25 – $100 per hour, usually with an 8, 12 or 20-hour minimum.

A poor but honest widow might do it for $10 – $15 per hour, cash under the table (Not completely honest; fiddle dee dee to the IRS).”

The second responder posted the following:

“A professional genealogists depending on experience and ability could charge $100 or more an hour with a minimum number of hours up front depending on the information you want and the amount of documentation needed. A non-professional, again depending on experience and ability would charge less.”

Comments like this, even though they are generalizations, are dangerous and irresponsible ones to make. They falsely plant the seed in people’s minds that professional genealogists who charge less than $100 are defrauding the U.S. Government and/or lack ability and experience. Comments like these hurt the image of many professional genealogists. So let’s itemize my problem with these posts shall we?

1: “A poor but honest widow” is an archaic and sexist comment to make. I do not think it is ever appropriate to use the term widow in a manner such as this. It degrades the hardships that real widows have gone through and continue to face.

2: From the quick research I did this weekend, I think the statement that most professionals charge between $25-$100 is a fair assessment. However, just because you charge less than $25 does not mean you take cash under the table or fail to report even part of your income to the IRS. That implication is unfounded and unfair, there are always a few bad apples in the bushel, but, there are probably a few who do make more than $25 an hour who do not report their income or all of it.

3: To use the term non-professional to refer to those making less than $100 is absurd. The APG has been debating what it means to be professional and if that should entail education, credentials, etc., but, in the true sense of the meaning of the word professional if you charge for your services you are one. Again, the generalization that if you charge less than this means you do not have a lot of experience or ability is a dangerous one to make.

I obviously know these comments were made out of ignorance and are over-reaching generalizations, but, I do still take it somewhat personally. I am in the opinion that just because you can charge a certain amount does not mean that you should. I could not look myself in the mirror if I charged someone $100 an hour; I would feel like I was taking advantage of them. Just because I do not charge that much does not mean that my time is not valuable. I have often found that the impact knowing your family history has a value attached to it that cannot be accurately assessed in monetary terms. I am not in this for money. I am in this because of the passion I have for it, part of that passion is the ability to give someone a part of their history they did not before, and seeing the meaning it has for them. When I see someone get a look of awe, tear up, or smile when I hand them their family history report- I know I have done my job well. I charge under $25 an hour, I realize that as the cost of living increases or if I move somewhere with a higher cost of living I may have to raise my rates; but you can bet I will agonize over the decision and put off doing so for as long as I can.

This question was posted over a year ago, unfortunately Yahoo does not let me see the exact date it was posted or when it was posted. I am neither overly thrilled nor impressed with the profiles of these responders and obviously have a problem with their responses. My concern is that others who stumble across this thread will not do the same, that those who do not know better will read these will take them seriously. I will be contacting the gentlemen who posted these comments and posting my own comment. It is something that I cannot simply ignore. I’ll let you know how it goes! Meanwhile, if you would like to check out their responses for yourself follow this link:

 

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101024195021AAFoCPr

 

Five Lessons From a Transitional Genealogist

Originally posted on 27 March 2012.

It’s been a little over a year since I launched my business and what an interesting road it has been. In the past year I’ve had to figure out not only all the business side of Cedar Tree Genealogy but also how to balance it with my home life (which includes caring for my 18 month old son and 6 year old daughter) and schoolwork. So far I have had a total of 4 “clients”. I call everyone I do work for a client whether it be a pro bono project, a project stemming from a donation to a local charity auction, or someone who is actually paying me.  Here’s a bit of what I have learned about the differences between being a hobbyist and professional:

1-      When I first started my business I had in mind certain ways that I would and would not conduct my business, ideals if you will. One of the hardest lessons to accept is that the way you think things will be and the way they actually are, is not the same. Now, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic or for that to be a blanket statement by any means. This has proven to be true for me especially when it comes to determining how much I should charge. I’ve blogged about this before and to clarify just because you may charge over a certain amount does not mean you are greedy just like just because you charge under a certain amount does not mean that you are unskilled. Unfortunately, the perception that unless you charge over $25 or even $40 that you are unskilled is a very real one. As much I want to change perceptions and be one of what must be many others leading the charge against it, I still need clients and cannot expect long held perceptions to change overnight if at all. If a client is assessing my worth based off of what I charge, then I will likely have to raise my rates.

2-      Marketing a genealogy business is extremely difficult. When I started out a year ago I did not have a lot of funds for advertising and I still do not. There are an increasing number of ways to get the word out free of charge, such as Twitter or Facebook, and I have been fortunate to come across some more savy ways to market. For example, I frequently receive positive comments about the appearance of my website. It looks great but I paid less than $100 for it last year during a special put on by http://www.wix.com. Apart of that fee included a  flash template, my own domain name and advertisement credits for Facebook and Google.  My business cards are from http://www.vistaprint.com that also frequently runs specials. I give business cards to everyone and anyone. Unfortunately, I have heard “I’d love to hire you to look into my family tree but I can’t afford it” a lot over the past year. I am not sure if people are just being polite about not wanting to hire me, if they check out my competition and go with them, if it’s the area I am in, or the economy still- that’s the next marketing puzzle for me to figure out. Getting people’s attention is only half of the marketing puzzle, once I have their attention I have to keep it long enough to convince them that I am capable and qualified. I do not think it would be going out on a limb to say that second part is something a lot of transitional genealogists struggle with. It’s the old conundrum, need professional experience, but, how do you get that without someone giving you a chance to prove yourself? So far, word of mouth has been my best marketing tool. I have a client lined up as a result.

3-      Transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional is a lot like preparing for litigation. You may have done a massive amount of research- from statutes to case law and maybe even borrowing from nearby states or districts (depending on if its civil or federal) if there is no legal precedent, but if you show up to the courthouse without knowing what paperwork needs to be filed, or with incorrect citations, and do not use the proper font, font size, margins and paper weight (yes there are some courts who do specify that)… well the phrase “Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200” comes to mind.

4-      I currently have on my website that I treat every family tree as though it was my own. I may have to refine that statement.  I have been surprised at how emotionally invested I become in my client’s research. For example, the Yeager family tree that my last blog was about. My worst fear is having to tell my client bad news. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the business I am in and is something I know I will always struggle with. I know how to reign in my emotions and remain calm when delivering bad news- as a Quality Coordinator at an insurance company I frequently had to do so- but you can bet I will have ice cream waiting in the freezer for me at home.

5-      I am not alone. Hallelujah for that. There are people out there who are quick to dismiss “newbies” or anyone without a degree/certificate but there are just as many people who are helpful. Simply knowing that I am not the only one who feels the way I do has been a great relief. I feel as though a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It also has me thinking. I am not taking summer courses for my Masters this summer. I am going to be pursuing education in terms of genealogy- from attending workshops starting in April to something as simple as watching videos on Familysearch.org. I am also considering joining a ProGen study group. I think more of my blogs may focus on these educational pursuits and the overall challenges that I face as a transitional genealogist. I would love to become more active in supporting others in indirect ways (such as my blog) and direct ways through more involvement in the genealogy community.

Reflections of a Grad Student

“Reflections of a Grad Student” was originally posted on December 19, 2012. I was very nervous when I posted this as I have strong opinions and people who do not agree with me do not always do so in a polite or constructive manner. This post ended up going a bit viral and received lots of positive feedback. I hope it’s enjoyed just as much the second time around!

This past Friday another semester of grad school wrapped up. I have survived three semesters and currently hold a 3.934 GPA. I do not mean to brag by saying that, I will elaborate momentarily. Next semester I start work on the historiography portion of my thesis. Up until now my thesis was something I was working towards and now that the time is here to actually start working on it …well it’s very surreal and has me in a bit of a reflective mood.

Every semester is extremely difficult. There are days where I feel like I’m getting a better handle on it then there are days where it feels harder than ever.  The last two semesters were not nearly as scary as the first. The first semester I seriously questioned if I had done the right thing. I should explain briefly that my bachelor’s degree is in business. But, I had a lot of political science, history, and art history electives that together met the requirements for admission. I heard a lot of new things in my first semester, like the term historiography. That semester shattered the way I looked at history. You see before that semester I thought history was a constant, things only changed when new evidence came up. There is something comforting about something never changing, I never realized how much that aspect of history mattered to me until that semester. Instead I found out that the world of history is constantly changing, new theories emerge was to why something happened or the way it happened, old schools of thought come under attack and are replaced by new ones. It is dynamic and constantly being revised.

For those who are scratching their heads wondering what the blazes historiography is, here is a definition: in general terms it means “history of history writing,” but to truly understand what I mean the “narrow meaning” should be clarified as the study of “the variety of approaches, methods, and interpretations employed by historians on a particular topic.”[1] As much as I may complain about writing a historiography paper as I am writing it, I am actually starting to like the whole process. There is such great value in it that I could devote an entire blog to that alone…..but I’ll skip that for today. In brief, why I like it is because of what it represents and means. In the world of academic and professional history there is an unexpected element of creativity. New perspectives are not only wanted, they are thirst for. Sometimes in the world of professional genealogy I feel like while yes my opinion is wanted it is not valued in the same way and it’s only wanted if it falls within set parameters. Those of you who follow this blog already know that not voicing my opinion or only voicing it if the rest of the flock agrees just is not me. But why do I feel that way? Well mostly because of the reactions I get when I say I am getting my degree in history as well as history degree bashing articles that are out there.

I’ve even come across articles that suggested history degrees are not an accurate reflection of one’s research, analysis, and writing abilities because there is no testing involved and degrees are essentially given away to make sure that colleges graduate x amount of students in order to keep the enrollments (and subsequently money) up. Articles like this are ignorant and dangerous. I did not get into the Master’s program just because I said pretty please with a cherry on top. I got in because I worked my butt off when I got my bachelors (graduated magna cum laude) and passed the application process – which included submitting letters of recommendation and the writing of an essay. I have the GPA I do not because someone gave it to me but because of the long nights I stayed up reading until 2 am or the all-nighters I pulled to make sure my essay exams were just right and because of my refusal to turn in any work worthy of anything less than A. Ask any graduate student and they will tell you, graduate school is one long test. It tests you intellectually, emotionally and physically. Then as you reach the end you endure an even harder test- either a comprehensive exam or go through the process of researching and writing a thesis only to have to verbally defend it in front of a panel. Call me crazy but perhaps people who do not have degrees, undergrad or grad level, in history or have not been through a program in the last twenty years should refrain from writing articles like that.

The more I think about the way that my degree in history and career as an independent historian will dove tail with my career as a professional genealogist (subsequently researching opinions going both ways about it) the stronger I believe that professional genealogists need to rethink the way they look at history degrees. This is not to say that history degrees are completely unappreciated…it’s that they are not appreciated enough. The value of history degrees goes beyond the gain of supplementary knowledge in regards to historical context (something in of itself that is underappreciated). The research and analysis taught by universities is too easily written off as not being specific enough. Furthermore, there seems to be a myth that genealogists and historians do not use the same sources…..Guess what?? THEY DO!!!!  Genealogists could greatly benefit from looking at what historiography means and ways they can incorporate it to their work. Perhaps instead of looking to other occupations such as lawyers and doctors for models, the field should model themselves after historians.  They may find that by doing so, by truly allowing for the introduction of new perspectives that more of my generation just may toss their hat into the ring. These are all things I will be blogging about more and more through the course of next year.

Recommended reading: Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing by Anthony Brundage

[1] Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, Wheeling Illinois: Harlan Davidson , Inc. (2008), p.  71

A Place to Call Home, My Hope for 2013

The following is  re-post from my former blog cedartree.blog.com.

For quite some time now in my profile I have had the following line: Kassie actively encourages the genealogy community to find innovative ways to spark the interest of the next generation.  As of late I have been re-evaluating how I go about doing this. Sure I’m on Twitter, keep a blog, talk about it a lot on both my personal and business Facebook pages, and I like to think my presence as local chapter President of the APG helps. Every now and again I am told that I have helped spark interest in someone. Despite all of this I feel like there is more I could do.

I rejoiced when one of the reoccurring themes at this year’s RootsTech conference was ‘the Next Generation’ but saddened when yet another blog post bashing the abilities of my generation was published. This blogger is just one person, but, unfortunately this one person is a part of an apparent growing trend. For every person who speaks in this manner there has been at least one member of my generation who provides a rebuttal. This has all left me wondering– is it time for my generation to create a place of our own?

Some may be quick to say aren’t there enough genealogy resources and communities out there to support the younger generation? Surely one or two bad apples aren’t enough to ruin the whole barrel? Or won’t creating a separate place for the younger genealogists only exasperate the problems? My answer to this is everyone needs a place to call home. A safe place they can go, a safe place where there are others like them and where they can voice their opinions without fear of having them dismissed without merit. No matter how friendly a genealogy society/organization is, when the majority of the members are old enough to be my parents some part of me will always feel out of place. Gathering with others who not only share your interests but your age bracket is a basic social need, particularly when a group such as ours is consistently and erroneously attacked. In a place my generation can call our own, we can have open conversations about the future of genealogy, the role we want to take in dictating that future, how we want to go about achieving those goals, support one another in our endeavors, and ask for help without fear of being talked to like we are two years old. It is a way to help my generation go from talking to doing.

I am inviting all members of my generation regardless of your experience level, whether you started researching your family tree a day ago, a year ago or when you were still a kid to join a Facebook group page I started called the Next Generation of Genealogists. This group is only for members of my generation commonly referred to as Gen Y, Millennials or the ‘Next Generation.’ My hope is that this Facebook group page will explore the option of creating a formal genealogy society….I hope I am not the only one who thinks this is a good idea!

UPDATE 6/28/2016: Please note that the original vision I discussed here evolved and culminated in the founding of the Rogue Genealogist in 2016. The link to the aforementioned Facebook group has been removed as I am no longer affiliated with nor support the group.