Tuesday, October 23, 2012

First Impressions: Using Family Tree on FamilySearch.org

I have started using the Family Tree feature developed by FamilySearch.org. As you may know, this has been available for use by LDS members for some time. Well, now it is out of beta testing and available to non-LDS members.

Development continues on Family Tree, which is termed an update that will eventaully replace FamilySearch.org, believe it or not. You can experience Family Tree for yourself by registering to use it at http://familysearch.org/invite/familytree_tab.

I was particularly interested in trying out Family Tree to research my parternal ancestry in Finland. I entered some preliminary information through my paternal great grandparents and Family Tree found and added several more generations--to the middle 16th century, in fact. I'm pretty comfortable with what it generated for my paternal grandmother's line, but my grandfather's line appears to me a bit shaky. The new information is based on family relationships researched by others and on the International Genealogical Index.

At the moment, there are few sources included in my FamilySearch Family Tree, but I am confident that I can find and add them as the parishes in central Finland kept good records. It's just a matter of checking each generation of ancestors back through the records, which are becoming available online.

A reference guide for using Family Search Family Tree is available at http://broadcast.lds.org/eLearning/fhd/Community/en/FamilySearch/FamilyTree/pdf/familyTreeUserGuide.pdf.

I will also be adding information on my mother's ancestry, which happens to go back to pre-colonial days in America. That also should be interesting.

Wow! I Knew Ancestry.com was Valuable, but ...

Ancestry.com has annouced that it has arranged a sale to take it private. The genealogical database provider has been listed on NASDAQ for several years (Nasdaq:ACOM), and now the major stockholders believe that they can enhance their holdings by taking it private.

Yesterday, Ancestry.com and Permira, a European private equity firm with global reach, announced that a company owned by the Permira funds plus co-investors have entered into a definitive merger agreement to acquire Ancestry.com for $32.00 per share in cash. The total value of the transaction: $1.6 billion.

The good news is (I think) that Tim Sullivan, Ancestry.com’s President and Chief Executive Officer, and Howard Hochhauser, Ancestry.com’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, will maintain a majority of their equity stakes in the company as part of the transaction. Spectrum Equity will also remain an investor in the company.

The current thinking is that this move won't affect the way that subscribers are able to use what is claimed to be the world's largest provider of genealogical data online. We'll see.

If you would like to read the official annoucement, go to my other blog, NEOH Genealogy Blog at http://neohgen.blogspot.com/ to see the news release.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

FamilySearch Posts Last 5 States

FamilySearch has sent out the following statement about indexing the 1940 Census:

We did it! The final five states of the 1940 US Census Project have been posted on the FamilySearch.org website! These states include Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, South Carolina and Tennessee. We have posted the indexes for Guam, Panama Canal and Virgin Islands, as well. American Samoa is nearly complete and Puerto Rico is 25% complete. These last two territories will be posted as soon as they are ready to post.

The 1940 US Census Project started on the April 4th of this year. With the posting of the last states today, we have published the census 73 days earlier than expected! What a great thing to brag about. And it was all due to a great group of dedicated volunteer indexers like you.

Once again we want to thank every one of you who have worked so hard to help create this valuable census index. Your efforts have been remarkable. Many will benefit from your hard work for many years to come.

I’ve said this before and would like to repeat it again. We hope you will continue to visit the FamilySearch Indexing site and index some of the many other collections we currently have available. Your indexing and arbitration skills are seriously needed. We invite you to continue using your skills to make more records freely available to all who want to discover who they are and where they came from.

Thank you for being a part of this great project.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brecksville Bicentennial Book Offered for Sale

I just obtained a copy of the book commenorating the bicentennial of Brecksville, my home town. The bicentennial of Brecksville Township's founding actually was celebrated last year in a year-long celebration, with a specially emphasis during Home Days in June. A historical subcommittee had been working for a couple years on the book and originally hoped to have it available during the Bicentennial Year, but the deadline for copy was gradually pushed back until December 31 2011. Then came the production process of copy editing, submitting photographs, laying it out, and proof reading the pages.

I am proud to have been a subcommittee member working on the book. I researched and wrote the first draft of the first chapter which summarized the founding of Brecksville. It was an interesting and challenging assignment.

Honor the Past, Embrace the Present, Envision the Future can be purchased for $45. The book also comes with a 2-hr DVD containing videos and photos of the 2011 year-long Bicentennial celebration. You can purchase the book at the following locations:
Brecksville City Hall, 9069 Brecksville Road
The Human Services Center, Two Community Drive
The Brecksville Historical Association Archives, Blossom Hill, Oakes Road
Western Reserve Bank, 8751 Brecksville Road
Faulhaber Funeral Home, 7915 Broadview Road

Books will also be available at several events during the coming months. 
August 26, Concert on the Square
September 8, Firefighters’ Clam Bake
October 7, BHA Apple Butter Festival
October 28, Booville
November 4-5, Heartfelt Holiday Alternative (maybe, maybe not)
November 8, Chippewa Garden Club Design Program
December 2, Christmas Parade

Please pass this information on to your friends and neighbors. Thank you for your support of the Brecksville Bicentennial!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

FamilySearch's Index of 1940 Census Appears Well-Done

I've had a chance to use the updated index to the 1940 Census for Ohio on FamilySearch.org, and it appears to me that it is very well done. Using it, I was able to find a couple of families very easily that presented some problems with the 1940 index on Ancestry.com.

For example, my overall search for my boyhood neighbor, Lawrence Betts, led directly to him on FamilySearch. In Ancestry's index, he was indexed as Lawrence Betta, and I had to scroll through a list of results before I spotted him, along with his father, Harold.

Good job, FamilySearch!

Friday, August 17, 2012

1940 Census--FamilySearch Adds 9 More States, Including Ohio

Below is the latest status report released by FamilySearch.org on indexing the 1940 Census. Note that Ohio is being added in this latest round of index uploads to FamilySearch:

August 16, 2012 By Steve

Many of you have asked what the latest status is for posting the remaining states that make up the 1940 US Census project. Today we will be posting 9 more states to the FamilySearch website. These states include Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, for a total of 37,575,945 additional records.
As it looks now, we will have one more release before the end of the month, at which time the entire census index will be posted as a searchable index. Next week we expect to publish the remaining states of Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Tennessee. At that time we will also post the territories of Guam, Panama Canal, and US Virgin Islands. After that, we will have only the two territories of American Samoa and Puerto Rico, which we hope to have posted by the end of the month.
Once again we want to thank the tens of thousands of you who have worked so hard to help create this valuable census index. Your efforts have been remarkable and the results are applauded by many throughout the entire country.
As we bring this project to a close, we hope that you will continue to visit the FamilySearch Indexing site and index some of the other collections we currently have available. Now that you have been trained and have such great experience indexing and arbitrating, we invite you to continue using your skills to make more records freely available to all who want to discover their ancestors and their history.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Newspaper Article about a Dog Named Buster Adds Information

One day last week I received a phone call from Carl Feather, a feature writer for the Ashtabula, Ohio, Star Beacon. He was calling at the suggestion of Penny Redmon, my wife’s first cousin once removed, to see if we had a photo of Buster, the beloved pet of my wife’s grandfather, James Van Court. He was writing a feature article about Buster, and his devotion to James, even after James’ death.
We didn’t have a photo in our family files, but I did a Google search for “Buster” and “Dog Mourns His Master.” Several search results showed up as appearing in the online database, NewspaperArchive.com. I have a subscription to this database so I signed in and searched for Buster.
Many results appeared in papers across the country on or around June 15, 1936. It seems that an article was distributed by a newspaper syndication service that told the story of Buster up to that point. Some of the search results included a photograph with the story.
Accompanying this article is the photo that appeared in the June 15, 1935, issue of the Circleville, Ohio, Tribune—on the first page no less. [A side note: the price for the issue was three cents.]

James Van Court was a farmer in Richmond Township in Ashtabula County. He moved there with his wife, Mary, and sons, Richard and Clyde, from Ritchey County, West Virginia, before the 1910 census, which shows them living in Richmond Township. James died in 1928, well before my wife, Mary Jane, was born. She grew up living on James’ farm so the setting of the story about Buster was very familiar to her. Otherwise, she knew little about her Grandfather Van Court.
I reported back to Feather that we didn’t have an original photo of Buster and forwarded to him a copy of the photo printed in the Circleville newspaper. In return, he sent me a copy of the article he had written. It is reproduced below:
Dog Mourns His Master
By Carl E. Feather, Staff Writer, Ashtabula Star Beacon
The most famous resident of the Richmond Township Cemetery rests in an unmarked grave.
At the northwest corner of this cemetery are the graves of James and Mary VanCourt, who migrated to Richmond Township from Richey County, W.Va., around 1915 [sic] and purchased the farm immediately west of the cemetery. A muscular man with a head of thick hair and a large, bushy mustache, VanCourt was a farmer and skilled horse handler.
However it was his herding dog, a tan-and-white Scotch collie named Buster, for which VanCourt would become most famous. And the fame would not come until after VanCourt’s death in the spring of 1928.
From that point on, Buster, who was 7 at the time of his master’s demise, kept a vigil beside VanCourt’s grave until the day of his own death, nearly eight years later.
Buster’s poignant story made headlines in at least 50 newspapers and was retold in A Book of Famous Dogs, by Albert Payson Terhune, published in 1939 by The Sun Dial Press.
The late Jim Fenton VanCourt [Mary Jane’s cousin], who died in January 2011, was probably the last living person who could claim to have known Buster. Jim was the grandson of James S. VanCourt and was named after him and his maternal grandfather, Fenton Gould. Jim VanCourt grew up in Richmond Township about a half mile from his grandparents’ farm. After his grandfather died, Jim and his father Richard cared for the herd, rising at 4:30 a.m. to walk the half-mile to the farm.
“Every morning Dad [Mary Jane’s uncle, Richard] would say ‘Come on son, we got to go milk cows.’ I used to walk behind him to help break the cold wind,” said VanCourt in a telephone interview in 2003.
James S. VanCourt hand-picked Buster from a litter of pups and trained the dog to be a herder, driver and watchdog.
“He was among a litter of pups that Uncle Perry had. Uncle Perry and Aunt Lena lived near Conneaut,” Jim VanCourt wrote in a letter. “They had a farm as well as ... orchard. My mother and dad went there to get peaches and pears.” [Perry migrated to Conneaut Township, Ohio, sometime before the 1930 census.]
Terhune, in his Famous Dogs volume states that Buster was taught the precise boundaries of the farm and that he was never to broach those boarders.
Jim VanCourt recalls Buster as a smart canine who knew a variety of commands.
“Dad would say, ‘Buster, go get the bull,’ and he’d bring up the bull. Or he’d say, ‘Buster, go get the horses,’ and he’d bring up the horses,” VanCourt recalled in the 2003 interview.
As a youngster, VanCourt used Buster’s intelligence to his own advantage. If he were responsible for rounding up the cows for the evening milking, VanCourt would simply get a milk bucket from the barn, rattle it near Buster, and the dog would proceed to the pasture to herd the animals into the milking parlor.
“He’d hear that pail rattling and away he’d go,” VanCourt said.
He also recalls Buster as being very protective of him and his grandmother. “He’d always stand between her and any one who came into the driveway,” Jim VanCourt said.
Buster also protected the lad from ornery roosters that roamed the farm.
“My grandmother had this old rooster that would get me cornered,” VanCourt said. “She’d say, ‘Buster, get him!’ Boy, the feathers would fly then. He was quite a dog.”
VanCourt does not recall what illness claimed his grandfather, but Terhune’s book suggests it was a lingering one. [James Van Court’s death certificate states that the doctor attended him for five months before his death from apoplexy.] Buster stayed by his side throughout it.
Buster followed the funeral procession to the cemetery, and after the dirt was mounded upon the grave, the collie laid down upon it, a living bouquet of faithfulness. Mary VanCourt and the cemetery superintendent unsuccessfully tried to coax him from his watch.
The shadows of the barn slowly crept across the pasture and eventually enveloped Buster and the grave of his master. Some other animal or person had to round up the cows that night. Buster had a vigil to keep.
Day after day, Buster remained on the grave, despite the daily visit and coaxing of Mary VanCourt. She brought sustenance to him, as did neighbors who heard about his dedication and came to see this phenomenon for themselves. But he ate and drank little.
Word of the collie’s stunt spread beyond the hamlet, and Buster’s story was soon printed in both local and regional newspapers. It seemed as if the more press and visitations he received, the more determined the dog became to waste away on the grave of his master.
“At these increasing signs of pining away, human attention redoubled,” writes Terhune. “In scorching suns, in sluicing rains, Buster maintained his queer vigil; while the farm work suffered acutely from the chore dog’s absence.”
Eventually, the sight of a farm dog starving himself on his master’s grave no longer became a novelty. The crowds stopped coming. Buster got lonely. And very, very hungry.
On some unrecorded resurrection morning, Buster, by this time a skeleton with matted, muddy fur hanging from it, rose from the mound and galloped down the hill to the farmhouse. His arrival was greeted by the family’s joy and rewarded with a hearty breakfast and long stop at the watering tub.
His body thus nourished, Buster returned to the farm and resumed his duties of keeping things in order until evening, when he returned to the pasture and brought the cows in for milking.
But when his duties were done, Buster cast his eyes toward the knoll, trotted across the pasture, crawled under the wire fence between field and cemetery, and, with a sigh, laid down upon his master’s grave.
The next morning, Buster was back at the farmhouse, ready to begin his duties.
For the next seven years, this became Buster’s life: work on the farm when duty called; climb the hill to the cemetery when the grief became overwhelming. His myriad trips, always taken along the same direct route from farmhouse to grave, made “afresh each season a well worn path across fields of summer grain and winter snow,” according to an Aug. 11, 1932, article in the Ashtabula Star-Beacon.
The years of sleeping in wintry torment, of barking commands at the cows and living with a heavy heart finally took their toll on Buster. Age was wearing away at Mary VanCourt, as well, whose poor health often confined her to the same room where her husband settled his debt to youth.
Buster transferred his vigil to the widow, choosing a spot outside the kitchen door where he could monitor her well-being while keeping an eye on the grave across the pasture. His trips to the grave became less frequent as arthritis took its toll on his joints and time clouded his once bright eyes.
On March 31, 1936, Buster attempted one more trip to the grave of his master, but his tired body could not make the journey. Family members found him lying exhausted in the meadow. They carried him to the back porch of the farmhouse, where he lay whimpering and crying through the night, “his shaggy head between feeble forepaws,” according to a newspaper story.
At 4 a.m. April 1, Mary VanCourt awoke and instinctively listened for Buster’s whimpering. All was quiet, except for the wind moaning across the cemetery knoll.
Jim VanCourt’s father and his uncle, Clyde, buried Buster at 10:30 that morning, at the eastern border of the farm, just a few feet from the grave of James VanCourt. It was Mary VanCourt’s wish that the beloved, faithful dog be buried near her husband’s grave, at the spot in the fence where he had entered the cemetery countless times.
They chose for his coffin a treasured wooden toolbox that had belonged to his master.
Mary VanCourt died in 1945. Jim still cried when he thought of her and those days on the farm. “I can still see my grandmother going out to gather the eggs at the hen house and Buster tagging right along with her,” he said. “It was a good life.”
The farm passed to Clyde VanCourt, then to his son, Syd, who died in 2000. The VanCourts, like Buster, have faded from the Richmond Township scene.
No stone marks the grave of this faithful companion. Seventy-six cycles of life and death have reclaimed the path that Buster’s massive paws once cut across the pasture. Terhune’s book is long out of print and the sheets of newsprint on which his stories were printed are yellowed and crumbling.
“Many of us humans live too long,” wrote Terhune. “But I think all dogs die too soon.”
Standing on the Richmond Cemetery knoll on a summer afternoon, looking west toward the old barn and pasture, one who knows the story of Buster can imagine a happier scene in an ethereal world beyond our own.
“Today, one likes to believe,” a newspaper reporter wrote on April 1, 1936, “Buster trots beside his master in the warm sun of eternal springtime, happy; his body and eyes young once again, forever.”
Special thanks to Penny Redmon of Jefferson, the great-granddaughter of James and Mary VanCourt and daughter of Jim VanCourt, for providing a copy of the rare Terhune volume and family photos for this story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

1940 Census Research Proving to be Very Rewarding

My genealogical research has taken a big step forward, with the launch late last week by Ancestry of the  complete index to the 1940 Census. If you wish to read the announcement from Ancestry in its entirety, you can go to my other blog, NEOhio Geneology Blog, at http://www.neohgen.blogspot.com/

Not only is the 1940 Census completely indexed and the index linked to the census images, but I'm really pleased that I can use Google to conduct my searches--often faster and more efficiently than with Ancestry's own search engine. I posted about this on this blog a few days ago. Click on this link "Use Google to Research in 1940 Census" to read that post.

In many cases, I am finding that people lived somewhere other than where I expected them to be. And sometimes the people living in a household are a surprise to me.

You are missing a huge genealogical resource if you are not working the 1940 census for all your ancestors living in 1940.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Breaking News: Use Google To Search in 1940 Census

I just discovered something interesting: You can use Google to search in Ancestry.com's version of the 1940 Census database.
I was searching for information on my uncle, Wallace Dingman, using Google, and up popped a hit on his 1940 census record in Buffalo, New York. It actually was the No. 4 hit in the list generated by Google for Wallace Dingman when I entered no other information.
Then I tried the search again, this time entering "Buffalo" and "1940" along with his name. Guess what popped up first in the list: Yes, the same 1940 census record popped up but now it was first in the list.
I tried the same approach with other ancestors, including my mother and father, and the same process worked. It is much simpler than going to Ancestry.com and opening the 1940 search function.
I also learned that you can refine the search by adding additional terms. I looked for "Walter Dingman" and "1940 census" and the first hit was not my great uncle but another Walter Dingman. So I added "Ohio" to my search terms and now he appeared as the No. 1 hit immediately.
Apparently the programmers at Ancestry have figured out how to make their 1940 census database searchable by Google. I don't know how they did it, but the results are wonderful. It will speed up the process of working my way through my list of persons of interest in the 1940 census. 
So here is my working approach: Start with a first name and family name, particularly if the names or the combination are somewhat unique. My name is an example: Wallace Huskonen. This is a combination of a somewhat uncommon English given name and a Finnish Surname. So if you enter "Wallace Huskonen," that's all you need to search in Google to find me in the 1940 census. My 1940 census result pops up first in a list of results for me. 
Another example of a direct search is my father-in-law: "Clyde Vancourt." His 1940 census result comes right up first, in a list of results for Vancourt.
With "Walter Dingman," I had to add details to come up with my great uncle's 1940 census listing. With Google, it is easier and faster than using the search window built into Ancestry.com.
Now, there's a caveat: the person you are looking for has to be in a state that has been indexed by Ancestry.com. At this writing, the number of states indexed stands at 38 states and territories. With the rate states are being added, we should be able to search the entire 1940 census by the time summer is over.
Is the indexing perfect? Sorry, but from my experience I can't say that it is. I was attempting to look up my boyhood neighbor, Lawrence Betts. No luck in Ohio, so I tried Pennsylvania. No luck there either with the Google approach. 
Being persistent, I went to Ancestry's search window and entered "Lawrence Betts" along with his birth year, "1937." He wasn't in the first 50 hits, but scrolling down through the second 50, there was Lawrence Betta, with his father, Harold, and mother, Mary. Bingo! They were living in Pennsylvania just across the state line from Andover, Ohio, where we both grew up.
So, technology marches along and we have even more tools with which to do our research.
Oh, by the way, if you don't have an Ancestry account, either paid or free, you will have to give your name and email address to be able to see the search results. Viewing the 1940 Census on Ancestry.com is free for now, but they do want to be able to let you know about new databases and subscription offers. In my view, that's a very small price to pay to be able to use the research power programmed into Ancestry.com.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ancestry.com Discovers President Obama Related to First Documented Slave in America

The latest press release (see below) from Ancestry.com describes how staff research connects our first African-American president to the first African slave in the American Colonies. The connection is on his white mother's side.

PROVO, UTAH – July 30, 2012 – A research team from Ancestry.com (NASDAQ:ACOM), the world’s largest online family history resource, has concluded that President Barack Obama is the 11th greatgrandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved for life in American history. Remarkably, the connection was made through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s side of the family.
The discovery is the result of years of research by Ancestry.com genealogists who, through early Virginia records and DNA analysis, linked Obama to John Punch. An indentured servant in Colonial Virginia, Punch was punished for trying to escape his servitude in 1640 by being enslaved for life. This marked the first actual documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before initial slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.
In the 372 years since, many significant records have been lost – a common problem for early Virginia (and the South in general) – destroyed over time by floods, fires and war. While this reality greatly challenged the research project, Ancestry.com genealogists were able to make the connection, starting with Obama’s family tree. 
President Obama is traditionally viewed as an African-American because of his father’s heritage in Kenya. However, while researching his Caucasian mother, Stanley Ann Dunham’s lineage, Ancestry.com genealogists found her to have African heritage as well, which piqued the researchers’ interest and inspired further digging into Obama’s African-American roots. In tracing the family back from Obama’s mother, Ancestry.com used DNA analysis to learn that her ancestors, known as white landowners in Colonial Virginia, actually descended from an African man.  Existing records suggest that this man, John 
Punch, had children with a white woman who then passed her free status on to their offspring.  Punch’s descendants went on to be free, successful land owners in a Virginia entrenched in slavery.
An expert in Southern research and past president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills, performed a third-party review of the research and documentation to verify the findings.
“In reviewing Ancestry.com’s conclusions, I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living,” said Mills. “A careful consideration of the evidence convinces me that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate. Genealogical research on individuals who lived hundreds of years ago can never definitively prove that one man fathered another, but this research meets the highest standards and can be offered with confidence.”
“Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” said Ancestry.com genealogist Joseph Shumway. “John Punch was more than likely the genesis of legalized slavery in America.  But after centuries of suffering, the Civil War, and decades of civil rights efforts, his 11th great-grandson became the leader of the free world and the ultimate realization of the American Dream.”
More details and supporting information on this discovery and additional research on President Obama’s family lineage can be found at www.ancestry.com/obama.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Identifying Year of a Photograph, with help from Google

Today, I was comparing notes with my brother, Walfrid, trying to guess when a photograph of our grandmother, Ida Maria (Hytönen) Huskonen was taken, probably by our father. I was able to enlarge the digital file of the photo large enough to be able to read the days of the month on a calendar hanging on the wall behind Grandma Huskonen. The month was January, and the first day of the month was on a Thursday.
Using Google, I found a website, Perpetual Calendar, at http://www.searchforancestors.com/utility/perpetualcalendar.html
With this tool, I was able to determine that in 1948, the first day of January was on a Thursday. After comparing notes, we agreed that this was the proper year.
In our emails back and forth, Walfrid came up with some other events at home around this time. While I didn't remember all of them, I did take note so that I can compile a time line of our growing up in Andover, and especially our house at 496 South Main Street.
That got me to wondering exactly when an explosion destroyed the Isaly Restaurant in Andover. I did a Google search for "Isaly Fire in Andover." Google returned three hits with news reports of the blast and fire. Needless to say, these reports brought back memories of the horror of the event. 
The first report I looked at, published in a Van Wert, Ohio, newspaper, has a list of victims and I quickly scanned it for a high school classmate, Ruby Shellito, but she was not listed.
I did another Google search for "Ruby Shellito" and found a Find-A-Grave listing where she is memorialized along with her parents in the Padanarem Cemetery (about four miles from Andover). That search result provided the following information:

Ruby H Shellito
Birth: 1938
Death: Aug. 10, 1955
Ashtabula County
Ohio, USA
Ruby was killed in an explosion at Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio. She was a waitress working when Andover Islay's and Gateway Restaurant exploded.

These are just some more examples of the value of using Google as a genealogical research tool.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Finnish Detective Novel from James Thompson

I've just learned that the latest detective novel by James Thompson is now available. It is named Helsinki White and features Inspector Kari Vaara. The new book is the third by Thompson with Vaara as the main character.

James Thompson, eastern Kentucky born and raised, has lived in Finland for over a dozen years and resides in Helsinki with his wife.  His debut novel, Snow Angels, was selected as a Booklist Best Crime Novel Debut of the Year and was nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and the Strand Magazine Critics award.  Before becoming a full-time writer, Thompson studied Finnish—in which he is fluent—and Swedish, and worked as a bartender, bouncer, construction worker, and soldier.

In addition to Snow Angels, Thompson has written Lucifer's Tears, also featuring Inspector Vaara. I have read both earlier books, and look forward to reading Helsinki White, as it combines my interest in detective novels and current-day Finland.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Act Now to Avoid Restrictions on Access to SSDI

The genealogical community needs your help now! The Social Security Death Index is in peril.

The press release below was released yesterday. Please visit http://wh.gov/khE and sign the petition. If you don’t have an account at WhiteHouse.gov, see the instructions at http://fgs.org/pdf/rpac_petition.pdf (opens in PDF). Also please pass this information on to your friends, family, fellow genealogists and society members. We need 25,000 votes by March 8, 2012 in order to have our petition reviewed by the White House.

For Immediate Release
February 7, 2012
Genealogy Community Responds To Efforts To Remove Access to Social Security Death Index and Other Records
February 7, 2012– Austin, TX: The Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) – a joint coalition of international genealogical societies representing millions of genealogists and family historians – announces the launch of its Stop ID Theft NOW! campaign with its We The People petition posted at WhiteHouse.gov.
Call To Action For IRS To Do Its Job
Each year, fraudulent tax refund claims based upon identity theft from recently deceased infants and adults are filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The current target is the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) or Death Master File since this file, as found on numerous genealogy-oriented websites, could possibly be the source of identity thieves acquiring a deceased person’s Social Security number.
The IRS could close the door to this form of identity theft if, in fact, it were to use the Death Master File for the purpose for which it was created: to reduce fraud. If returns claiming a tax refund were screened against the Master Death File and matching cases identified for special processing, the thief should receive a rejection notice for the filing.
Tax Fraud and Identity Theft: Genealogists Are Not To Blame
The House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security is proposing to completely shut down use of the SSDI by genealogists as well as other industries such as banking and insurance that rely upon its information. Such an attempt is short-sighted and runs counter to the original purpose of the SSDI: to actually combat fraud.
Loss of Access to SSDI Affects More Than Genealogists
The SSDI is accessed by many different companies, non-profits and other entities besides individuals researching their family history. Forensic specialists utilize the SSDI when reuniting remains of military veterans with their next-of-kin and descendants. Law offices, banks and insurance companies utilize the SSDI to resolve probate cases and to locate heirs.
All of these entities would be required to spend more money and more time leveraging other resources of information when the SSDI has served this purpose, uninterrupted, for over a decade.
RPAC Petitions Obama Administration
The We the People petition, now posted at http://wh.gov/khE and accepting signatures, has a simple yet effective mission:
Take immediate steps that would curtail the filing of fraudulent tax refund claims based upon identity theft from recently deceased infants and adults.
No need for lengthy hearings in front of a Congressional committee. No need for filing statements for or against any House action. No need to waste time and effort which could be directed to more pressing national issues. In fact, the National Taxpayer Advocate in 2011 issued suggestions which do not require additional legislation but can be implemented collaboratively between the IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA) almost immediately in time to impact the current tax filing season.
About Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC)
The Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC) was formed to advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to historical records of genealogical value in whatever media they are recorded, on means to affect legislation, and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices.
The genealogical community works together through The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), which today includes The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) as voting members. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), ProQuest and Ancestry.com serve as participating members.
To learn more visit http://www.fgs.org/rpac/.
Contact: RPAC
c/o Federation of Genealogical Societies
PO Box 200940
Austin, TX 78720-0940
phone: +1 (888) 347-1500
fax: +1 (866) 347-1350

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

WDYTYA Cast Is Revealed by NBC; Series Kicks Off on Feb 3

I'm looking forward to Season Three of Who Do You Think You Are, the genealogically oriented reality show broadcast on NBC. 

I missed the announcement of the "cast" which was revealed back on January 6. If you didn't see the news release on another blog, I'm reproducing it below. You also might want to check out the WDYTYA website at http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are/.


Martin Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Reba McEntire, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, Jerome Bettis, Jason Sudeikis and Paula Deen Take a Look Inside Their Family Histories on NBC's Genealogy Alternative Series Produced by Lisa Kudrow
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.-- January 6, 2012-- Viewers can take an up-close and personal look inside the family history of some of today's most beloved and iconic celebrities when NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" returns for its third season on Friday, February 3 (8-9 p.m. ET). The celebrities who star in the series are Martin Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Reba McEntire, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson, Edie Falco, Rashida Jones, Jerome Bettis, Jason Sudeikis and Paula Deen.

From executive producers Lisa Kudrow ("Friends," "Web Therapy") and Dan Bucatinsky ("Lipstick Jungle," "The Comeback") - through their production company Is or Isn't Entertainment and Shed Media U.S. ("Supernanny," "The Real Housewives of New York City") -- "Who Do You Think You Are?" is an adaptation of the award-winning hit British television documentary series that leads celebrities on a journey of self-discovery as they unearth their family trees that reveal surprising, inspiring and even tragic stories that often are linked to crucial events in American history.

"We're very excited about the stories we have this season. This fantastic group of people we have will take us to countries we haven't visited before which is thrilling and gives us glimpses into crucial details of history that not only shaped their families, but our world," said executive producers Kudrow and Bucatinsky. "This is what we love about this series; it's so enriching for us the viewer, as well as the participants and their families."

From Ireland's freedom fighters to the American Revolutionary War, and from the African nation of Cameroon to Bulgaria, "Who Do You Think You Are?" will reveal the fabric of humanity through everyone's place in history. Each week a different celebrity takes a journey into their family's past, traveling all over the world. While giving viewers an in-depth look into their favorite stars' family tree, each episode will expose surprising facts and life changing encounters that will unlock people's emotions, and show just how connected everyone is not only to the past, but to one another. 

Ancestry.com continues in its role as NBC and Shed Media's official partner on the series, helping to provide the exhaustive research used to build each story. "'Who Do You Think You Are?' is such a beautiful showcase for the type of discoveries people can make through family history research," said Josh Hanna, Executive Vice President for Ancestry.com. "We are extremely proud to help produce a program that inspires so many to begin their own journey of discovery and are excited to see it grow more this season."

"Who Do You Think You Are?" is produced by Shed Media U.S. in association with Is or Isn't Entertainment. Alex Graham, Kudrow, Bucatinsky, Jennifer O'Connell and Al Edgington are the executive producers. The unique, award-winning series is based on the popular BBC television documentary series from Wall to Wall Productions, created and executive-produced by Graham.

Shed Media U.S. is noted for its strong characters and memorable casting, and produces several popular television shows including: Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York City," "Bethenny Ever After" and "It's A Brad, Brad World," Lifetime's "Supernanny," VH1's "Basketball Wives" and TLC's "All American Muslim." Is or Isn't Entertainment has been developing and producing television, features and online content since Kudrow and Bucatinsky formed their partnership in 2003. It is best known for the critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-nominated series "The Comeback," which made its own comeback on The Sundance Channel in 2011. The company's critically lauded web-series "Web Therapy," won the 2010 and 2011 Webby Awards for Best Online Comedy and was just nominated for a 2012 PGA Award. 

The series made a ground-breaking web-to-TV move on Showtime this summer with 10 critically acclaimed half-hours triggering a season two pickup for Summer 2012 with an unprecedented line-up of guest stars including Meryl Streep.

Ancestry.com Inc. (Nasdaq: ACOM) is the world's largest online family history resource, with approximately 1.7 million paying subscribers. More than 7 billion records have been added to the site in the past 15 years. Ancestry users have created more than 29 million family trees containing over 3 billion profiles. In addition to its flagship site www.ancestry.com, Ancestry.com offers localized Web sites designed for nine countries that empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Senator Brown Responds to Concern about SSDI Restrictions

In mid-December, I sent an email to my Senator, Sherrod Brown, expressing concern about his move to limit access to the Social Security Death Index. Yesterday, I received a reply from Sen. Brown explaining his beliefs on this matter. First some background:

Brown and three other senators contacted Ancestry.com and other providers of the SSDI to genealogists and requested that they stop providing access to social security records of deceased persons. What prompted them to do this was a case in which unscrupulous individuals requested and received a refund of the Internal Revenue Service for the a child that was deceased. Supposely, they were able to do this because the child's social security number was available in the SSDI. The case gained public attention when the parents filed a legitimate return and were turned down.

You can read my post on this issue at my other blog, NEOhio Genealogy Blog by clicking here.

I'd suggest you read two other reports that discuss the issue: Kimberly Powell at About Genealogy (click here) and Megan Smolenyak on her Roots World blog (click here).
Ancestry.com did take action and redacted social security numbers going back 10 years. We still have access to earlier social security numbers to aid in requesting social security applications for our ancestors. I have confirmed this by searching for records of family members who passed away last year and just more than a decade ago.

I believe that other measures could have been taken rather than even removing SS numbers from more recent deceased persons SSDI entries. For example, the IRS could make computer runs against the SSDI to assure that no fraudulent tax returns were filed against account numbers of deceased persons. That is the purpose, after all, of compiling the SSCI.

In any case, because Sen. Brown was thoughtful enough to respond to my email, I am providing his response in its entirety here:
Dear Mr. Huskonen:

Thank you for getting in touch with me regarding the posting of Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

Social Security numbers of deceased individuals are available for public purchase through the Death Master File (DMF). Due to the fact that an individual’s right to privacy is extinguished upon death, websites such as Ancestry.com are able post the Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

Unfortunately, posting such personal information can provide unscrupulous individuals with the tools needed to commit consumer fraud, including tax and credit card fraud. No family should ever have to discover that a loved-one’s personal information has been stolen and used for ill-intentioned purposes. This is why I wrote to the Ancestry.com and several other genealogy websites urging them to remove Social Security numbers from their websites. I am pleased that Ancestry.com has agreed to this request.
I have heard from a number of genealogists and historians who are concerned that the removal of Social Security numbers from genealogy websites will hinder their ability to trace family ancestry. While I understand Social Security numbers are be a valuable tool for tracking a family’s history, I believe the unintended consequences of this practice outweigh the benefits.

I appreciate you sharing your views on this issue with me. Thank you again for writing.

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

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