Saturday started with a General Session. I gave some thought to skipping it for some extra sleep but I’m really, really glad I didn’t. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who considered sleeping in on Saturday because it was a pretty small crowd compared to the opening session on Wednesday. All I can say is anyone who was at NGS and didn’t go to this session seriously missed out.
Jay Verkler, President and CEO of FamilySearch (the sponsor of this session), kicked things off talking about the Civil War Era Records Project and the push to get those records indexed. Click on the link for more information about what records are available and how to volunteer to help get them indexed. FamilySearch also gave away a trip for 2 to Salt Lake City to a lucky attendee.
The main event for this session was “The Hunley: Where Science and History Come Together to Tell Time” presented by Senator, Glenn F. McConnell, President Pro Tempore of the South Carolina State Senate and Chairman of the Hunley Commission. It was clear throughout his presentation that Senator McConnell is passionate about this project and very proud of what they have accomplished (as he should be). I admit to knowing very little about the Hunley. I basically knew it was a Confederate submarine that sank during the Civil War which means I really knew nothing.
The Hunley didn’t just sink. The Hunley sank three different times over a six-month period. Twice she was recovered and sent on another mission trying to free Charleston from the Union blockade. On 17 Feb 1864, the third mission took place and the crew succeeded in sinking the USS Housatonic but something went wrong on-board and she sank for the final time. The bodies of crew members lost the first two times had been recovered and buried each time the Hunley was raised but the third crew remained buried at sea until she was raised 136 years later on 8 Aug 2000.
During the excavation process, research was done into the lives of each crew member and forensic experts have even reconstructed their faces. Senator McConnell closed his presentation by introducing us to the final crew of the Hunley. Amazing! For more information, visit The Friends of the Hunley website.
Following the general session there were four more regular sessions left at NGS 2011. I attended these.
In “The Jones Jinx: Tracing Common Surnames” Thomas W. Jones explained how to build an ancestor’s identity in order to distinguish between people with the same name. Main points included: (1) focus on identities, not names alone; (2) use relatives, neighbors and associates with unusual surnames when possible; (3) leave no stone unturned – be prepared to review large numbers of records; and (4) reconstruct a family by reviewing all records in the location for the surname.
Barbara Vines Little explained in “Convincing Your Audience: How to Construct a Proof Statement” that a proof argument is needed when no specific record exists and your conclusion should be made based on the sum of all evidence (whether negative or positive). She also advised that care must be taken to ensure each item in a proof argument is valid and backed up by documented evidence.
“Identity Crisis: Right Name, Wrong Man? Wrong Name, Right Man?” presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills covered situations when your ancestor’s name doesn’t match from one record to another. Helpful tips: (1) signatures on documents can be used to sort out people with the same name; (2) names & spellings on land records are much more reliable than census records.
For the very last session, I selected “Debunking the Myths Surrounding the Military Personnel Records Center” presented by Patricia Walls Stamm. I had less than satisfactory results with two sets of records I requested several years ago so I hoped I might learn some tips about re-requesting those. I was also interested in learning if it’s possible to obtain records for relatives that I don’t meet the relationship requirement for when they have no living descendants to request their records. The biggest thing I learned in this session is that archived military records are open to the public which means the relationship requirement does not have to be met to obtain those records. Records are archived 62 years after a veteran retires, is discharged or dies so that means I can request the WWI records for several of my grandparents siblings who have no living descendants after all – unless, of course, their records were lost in the 1973 fire. Since 80% of records for Army personnel discharged between 1 Nov 1912 and 1 Jan 1960 were lost in the fire my chances of actually getting their records are pretty slim.
That wraps up the sessions I attended at NGS but I’m not quite finished. I’ll be back later with some final thoughts about the conference.by