Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Four Things To Remember When Asking a Stranger for Research Help

Charles Crow (and sons) and his Harness & Saddle Shop in SLC.
So you decided you are going to do some family history research. Good for you. Millions of people find it a satisfying, even rewarding endeavor. But like most people (well, everyone, really) you have run into the metaphoric brick wall. You've done the basics, like asking your living relatives, but you have reached the limit of what they can tell you. Public records have run dry and you have no idea how to proceed. There is someone you think might be able to help. You may have seen their name on message boards or in blog posts. Perhaps you noticed they are also working on the same line as you or perhaps they are an expert in the area you are lost in. Whatever the reason, you believe that he or she can help. The only problem is you don't know this person at all.

This is not a primer on how to find someone's contact info. I'm assuming you already have the right email address, but you are not sure what to say. It can be tricky, especially if you are like me and have introvert tendencies. With that in mind I'm going to pull from the scores (I don't think it has been hundreds) of people who have reached out to me over the last 9 years with varying degrees of success. So here we go...

1. Don't expect people to devote their time to your issue. 

This may sound harsh, but hear me out. Many people perform research for a living, or at least wish they could. Sometimes we Mormons expect other Mormons to donate their time and talents to the greater good. And while a bishop may ask a ward member who is a plumber to help out a needy family, it is a bad manners to ask strangers, even Mormon strangers for the same treatment, especially when we are not talking about necessities. While many people will be happy to help others - and I've had the family history consultant calling where I did exactly that - few have the resources to regularly give away their livelihood for free. (I know. I'm a cranky old man)

As an amateur, however, I don't make a living at this. And while I wouldn't lose any income, I have a life outside of my limited time dedicated to this hobby. So I will pick and choose the people I help and the people I direct elsewhere. Honestly, I am far more likely to help someone I know. Which brings me to the next point.

2. Introduce yourself first. 

Remember that although you don't know this person, you do know enough that they might have some knowledge you need. The reverse, however, is not true. They are not even aware you exist. Now is the time to fix that. Tell them who you are and how you know about them and why you think they will be able to answer your question. For Example:
Hi, my name is Bruce, and I am new to family history. My ancestors came to New York in 1854.  I understand from your blog that you are an expert in 19th century LDS immigrants and how they found jobs in New York. 
Notice I started with my name, and added my specific interest. I also stated how I came to know about this fictitious expert.

3. Offer something. 

It doesn't have to be grand or earth shattering. It shouldn't be too large to consume in a brief reading. But it should grab you expert's interest.
One of my New York immigrant ancestors found work making saddles, a job which included a contract for Johnston's Army. He would often have to deal with the procurement officer who had already made up his mind about the Mormons. Charles loved to relate how he told that officer that they were going out west to be licked.
The ones I receive that catch my interest tend to describe a story about a Tennessee Mormon conversion story. They are the hardest to find, especially when the subject is relatively unknown, because they rarely make it into the official record. So when someone offers one that has been locked away in a personal journal, hold me back!

Notice in my example I have yet to ask my question. While I tend to value getting to the point, most requests I receive get to the point far too quickly. Which brings me the item.

4. Don't ask for "everything."

Even if it is just on a particular family, its too much to ask. In some of the email contacts I have received in the last 9 years, the request was for exactly that.
Can send me everything you have on the [X family]? 
Uh, No!

First of all, I have no idea what you have and what you don't. There is no way I'm going to waste time sending you something you already have (see #1, above).

Second, I don't know what you have tried that isn't working. If you haven't even checked the census cause you don't know how, then you need serious help which I'm not inclined to give (see #1, above). Have you overlooked the 1870 census because your search has been too strict? I might know the one piece of info you need for a breakthrough which will let you continue finding more on your own. But because you were not specific about your problem (i.e. you can't find Charles Crow in the 1870 census) I can't tell you that he was listed as Henry Crow that year - his middle name - because his mother who lived with them that year answered the census taker and that was what she called him. (Note to family: I made that example up. Repeat with care.)

Third, I don't know what you really want. Are you looking for citations & references? Are you hoping for journals, letters, or stories? Do you just want enough dates to submit the name to the temple? Are you trying to go back one more generation? All of those things tell me what kind of family historian you are, and what kind of info you might think would be worth my time to send to you (see #1, above) (Note that if you are asking about a relative I just spend 6 weeks fixing, I will get protective)

Instead, pick one thing, THE item that has you baffled, and ask that, just that.
I know Charles' father was a needle maker in England, but I've always wondered how Charles got into the saddle making business once he arrived in New York. Was it a business that hired emigrants? Did the church have emigration agents who helped him find a job? Is there somewhere you can direct me that might have some hints about this?
Then let the stranger set the tone for how much she (or he) wants to share. I could go on about other things to be aware of, such as the size of your first email (Short. No more than 300 words.) and the need to proofread, but I think if we all could get these four right, I'll be happy. All told, a successful first contact with a stranger who might be able to help with your research can lead to years of collaboration. Take the time and the effort to do it right and although you may not get "everything" right away, you will be better off in the long run.

(disclaimer: I may be a cranky old man, but I secretly enjoy being asked, and helping people who share my interest.)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Turkey Creek Branch in 1916

Readers of this blog have heard about Turkey Creek before. Back in 2009 I posted a short history of the branch. I won't rewrite it today, but I have revised a few details I got wrong the first time. You can read it here.

In the summer of 1916 there was a branch conference at Turkey Creek. President Henry Child continued his tour of the Middle Tennessee Conference.
"The following Sunday and Monday [July 30 & 31], Elders Dalton, Ward and Child met in branch conference with the saints of Turkey Creek. In all nine meetings were held. On Sunday three open-air meetings were held, at all of which large numbers were in attendance. Between meetings the members and friends served dinner [aka lunch] on the grounds."
The first 3 members were baptized in 1887, by the start of 1916 there were about 24 members. But even with so many members they were still meeting in borrowed buildings. In 1899 and in 1913 they were using a frame school house, and may have been using that building or another similar one in 1916. The 1913 conference was described as having too many attendees to fit into the school house. The following year in 1917 over 500 people attended the conference. By then it was moved to a "beautiful grove of pine trees" instead of the school house, no doubt to accommodate the crowd.

In the report of the branch conference in July 1916 there was no indication of the composition of the local leadership, but there were a couple of families that had been members for almost 20 years by 1916. There was continual growth, but it was never sustained since younger members moved away in search of work. It would not be until the 1920's however, that the size of the congregation would merit a chapel.  In time it became a dependent Sunday School as the congregations in larger nearby cities grew faster. They combined with members from Waverly to form a modern branch and more recently were rolled in with the Dixon Ward.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Adams Branch Conference in 1916

The mission news report described a branch conference July 23 attended by three missionaries. One was President Henry Child of the Middle Tennessee Conference. He traveled alone for the most part, visiting missionary pairs, providing training and direction.
"Elder Barrus, Rudd and Child met with the Saints of the Adams station in branch conference Sunday July 23rd. Two public meetings were held on this date. Both were well attended by members and investigators and a feast of both spiritual and temporal things enjoyed."
Indeed Adams in Robertson county did have a small branch with baptisms from 1907 to 1919. It appears that in about 1902 a Tennessee convert moved his large family to a the small community of Glenraven, about 2 miles south of Adams. Morris Samuel Robinson had joined the church in 1897 along with his wife. His two oldest sons were old enough to have been baptized themselves in Smith county just before the move and they had many Robinson relatives who had also joined the LDS Church in their old community. But once the Robinson family were in their new home they were the only members there. One historian named the Robinson family as one of two blacksmiths in Adams, though the census describes Morris as a "general farmer."

It is likely it took some time before the missionaries found their way to Adams. But it was 1907 before I can find any evidence of a visit. That year the Robinson's next oldest child turned 8 and was baptized as well. That he was baptized so close to his 8th birthday hints that the Robinson family had reconnected with the Church before that.

But the baptisms weren't limited to the Robinson family. In 1908 three more people joined the Church. They apparently were not related to the Robinsons, but they also moved to the Adams area from Smith county, so ....

There were more baptisms every couple years. Another family joined in 1914; Jady & Minnie Kirby and their children. They were from Kentucky and were not obviously related to any of the existing members. By 1916 there were perhaps 10 members and several children of record. The report above doesn't give a clue about attendance at the conference, but I can imagine a mixture of adults and children and guests of all ages. We can be reasonably confident that there was food.

Eventually the branch stopped growing. People moved away, and Adams had little to attract new members. The Robinson family moved to Colorado after 1912 but before 1920. I have not been able to narrow it down any further. The Kirby family were there. Jady & Minnie stayed in Adams for the rest of their lives. But the children moved away to Nashville in search of work. Like many small communities in Tennessee, Adams had little to entice the next generation to stay.