NARA Record Retrieval: Interview with Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches

Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Webpage

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy has been changing the way researchers receive documents held by the National Archives. It is a NARA Record Retrieval Service. They perform access to records held at Archive 1 (Washington D.C.), Archive 2 (College Park, Maryland), the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Since NARA and the NPRC have been working to restore many of the Army or Air Force service record veteran’s military records that were “lost” in the 1973 Fire, Twisted Twigs can help you find out if your ancestor’s record is among them.

We recently had a chance to ask the Owner of Twisted Twigs Genealogy National Archives Record Retrieval Services, Deidre Erin Denton, about how NARA records can help your genealogical research and why a data retrieval service may be a good choice to access these records.

 

Why should genealogists consider using the National Archives?

The National Archives is perceived to be mainly a source of broad historical government information rather than containing the more personal kind of information usually sought by genealogists. However, the history of our country is made up of the history of our people – the records held at NARA were created by and for those people, and can hold an incredible amount of personal information that’s often overlooked. It also holds records that can flesh out the story of our ancestors in addition to the dry facts of dates and places that are the bedrock of family history research. To truly understand the stories of our ancestors, we also need to look at the broader world in which they lived. NARA holds a fantastic amount of information that can help to do that.

 

When does it make sense for a genealogist to hire a data retrieval service at NARA locations?

The most satisfying ideal would be for everyone to have the ability to do their own hands-on work in the Archives. However, that’s not always possible; when someone has a limited budget for research and records just the costs of a trip to the Archive can cut into that budget drastically. Each Archive facility has different holdings, so factoring in multiple destinations to obtain complete sets of records puts it out of reach for many people. Additionally, navigating the vast collections at the Archive can be overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with them. This is where professional help can be invaluable.

The type of professional help available for NARA records is usually either a traditional research firm or a record retrieval firm. The two services are often conflated, but in reality, each primarily performs a very different type of service with just a bit of overlap. A research firm is typically more expensive and can be a good fit for someone who needs extensive research help. Research firms usually include additional services as well, such as organizing all the information into a polished narrative package for you. By contrast, retrieval services focus on copying specific records based on information you provide; expect to pay considerably less for this service, but don’t expect them to perform extensive in-depth research for you.

Hiring a professional should be considered when you need a way to get records that will push your own research further along and allow you to obtain documents that aren’t otherwise easily available to you. Hire a retrieval service when you generally know what kind of information you want, you have solid research information to begin the search, and you want to get the maximum record value for the money you spend. A professional retriever can cut straight to the most valuable records and usually obtain them faster and with greater accuracy. Great ones can also suggest other records of interest based on their experience in the Archives and help you sort out incorrect information as well.

 

How do you recommend that someone chooses a data retrieval service?

Find an established company that specializes in the type of records you seek and works regularly in the repository where the records are held; they’ll have the best success rate at locating records because they already know the ‘tips and tricks’ of the collections.  Solicit recommendations from a variety of people, including other professionals. Remember that no company will satisfy every client because in genealogy research each client has different needs and different expectations. Don’t stop at happy or unhappy – ask for details on why a person thinks a company is good or bad. If they are unhappy solely because a company provided records that proved a treasured family legend was false, that’s a company you still want to consider hiring. Finally,  look for a company which will provide everything you need without excess fees for services that don’t benefit or interest you.

 

What is the most exciting find you have made at the National Archives?

So many it’s difficult to pick one.  It’s really a privilege to handle all these original records. A favorite truly exciting find is an original Walt Disney cel drawing tucked into a unit history folder and forgotten for decades. It was created as a ‘mascot’ for the 56th Signal Battalion. As soon as I pulled it out, the archivists allowed me to photograph it then whisked it away to be placed in the preservation vault due to its value. It was not something I ever expected to see in a military unit history file.

 

You have great genealogy memes on Facebook. Where do you get your ideas?

They come straight from real life experience. I inherited a both a love of family history research and a wicked sense of humor from my family. I’ve been doing research since I was very young, so I’ve seen all the bizarre kinds of things that can happen when you look for ancestors. Sooner or later every genealogist will run across similar situations; sometimes all you can do is either laugh or cry, and I’d rather laugh. It’s great to have such a lot of people in the Twisted Twigs community who both understand the problems and appreciate the jokes. I love sharing my passion for genealogy with them!

 

You can find out more about the records and service offered by Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy on their website Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy. While there, you can read “Testimonials & Kudos” from satisfied customers at https://twistedtwigsgenealogy.com/kudos. You can also check out the blog on the website, including “Happy New Years! Time to Tally Up Your Family Tree for 2019“.

Twisted Twigs posts, memes and advertisements of current specials can be found on their Facebook page: Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy.

They can also be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Twisted Twigs is currently having a Shutdown Sale with special offers on Pre-1917 Pensions and 20th century OMPF files. It will end the day the archive reopens. The Twisted Twigs Swag Shop has all kinds of wearable funny genealogical goodies is always open.

 

Deidre Erin Denton is a well-seasoned genealogist who has worked with clients since 2005, and who specializes in National Archives record retrieval in Washington DC, College Park, MD, and in St. Louis, MO. She believes at all researchers should have affordable access to NARA records. Twisted Twigs started offering NARA record retrieval services in the summer of 2015 and record retrieval services at The National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis (WWI/WWII/Korean War military records/ Personnel Files) in June 2016. As of July 2018, Twisted Twigs has retrieved over 2300 military pensions and 3500+ service records in 42 months.

7 Ways to Research WWI Veterans in Your Community


Seventy First Regiment Leaves for Camp of N.Y. Division.(NARA RG165-WW-288C-067)

Congratulations on taking the first step of wanting to learn more!

Ryan Hegg of the WWI Centennial Commission for New York City asked me if I believed that the WWI Generation was really the Greatest Generation. What a thought provoking question! Ryan makes a great case. WWI was a defining point in our Country’s history as a participant on the world stage. Theirs was a generation who decided to go overseas to fight the Great War for Civilization. They experienced the Great Depression.

Students have a number of resources to find WWI veterans who were  residents in their communities. The ideas below start with those that take least effort to those that require more advanced skills. (For those who do not know if they had ancestors who served in WWI, a future blog post will cover that topic.)

  1. Locate a WWI Memorial in your city or town. There may be a statue in a park or a plaque in a public building. You can contact your city or town office to ask if such a memorial exists. When you locate the memorial, you can take pictures of it and copy the names that you find. If you want to learn more about those individuals try some of the other steps.
  2. Ask at a local cemetery about WWI veterans’ graves. The tombstones for service members who died during the war or later should show the branch of the military, the war, and their military organization. The cemetery office should be able to help you locate the graves of WWI veterans.
  3. Go to your local library and ask to speak to the research librarian. The library may hold special books telling about local men and women who served in WWI. There many also be files of materials donated by local researchers, which may be called vertical files. They may have fold local newspapers or files of newspaper clippings.
  4. Contact the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Each Post is unique and has different polices pertaining to its community service efforts. You can visit VFW’s Find-A-Post feature here to locate a VFW Post and its contact information. Ask to speak with the Commander or Quartermaster.
  5. If there is a local historical society, genealogical society, or historical museum in your area, call or send an email. I have found WWI collections in unlikely locations, such as the Laws Railroad Museum and the Holland Land Office Museum
  6. Research local newspapers of the time. You can check the Library of Congress Chronicling America website to find out what newspapers existed at the time, and see if any of them have been digitized. Many community newspapers printed articles about the men and women who served. Search for WWI and your community name. 
  7. Head back to your library and find out what databases are available. Your local library may have access to Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and ProQuest and other Historical Newspapers. Librarians should be able to help you search for more about a specific WWI Veteran using his or her name.

Beyond these steps, much of the research involves looking for material about a military organization in which the veteran served. There are several posts on this blog about learning more about WWI Veterans.

Good luck!

NARA’s History Hub

Have you used the History Hub at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)?

Who better to ask about NARA Records than NARA itself!

The History Hub is a place on the web where you can visit and ask questions in different communities at NARA. Do you have a question about finding military records or want to learn more about a topic? Then one of the related communities might be a place to look for information that has been posted, or post a question of your own.

To view content and ask questions, you will need to register for a free account.

If you want to be able to post questions and make the most of the History Hub, you will need to register for an account. Select Register in the upper right corner of the webpage. The first step is to provide an email address.

After you enter your email address, and select Confirm address, you get a message in your browser.


If you do not see an email from the History Hub soon after the request, be sure to check your email spam folder. Sometimes emails can be automatically marked as spam.

Follow the directions to confirm your email address and fill in a short registration. You are led to pick a username and a strong password for your account. Be sure to read the hints about what characters need to be in the password.

There are different communities, each with its own manager. You can search for information about a topic, or ask a question. Inside the community, you can find Featured Content.

So, do you have questions about a topic you have been researching? Do you wonder if NARA has any records related to the topic? This is the place where you can ask. A NARA staff member will answer your questions. Other researchers may also share their insights about the topic, too.

For example, I was interested to know which records NARA had about Base Hospital 37 during WWI. I had an answer in a day, telling me what records were available and where they could be found. There were two records groups with information about this Base Hospital, 120 and 112, and the reply included information about which boxes to access. My next step would be to email the archivist and get further guidance about their availability.

When you make a post, it will be reviewed by the moderators. You will receive an email letting you know when your comment or question has been approved and is visible to the community. You will also receive an email when someone replies to your post.

From your profile, you can add a photo or select to view your content. Selecting Your Content shows the posts you have made.

Another great place to post a request for help is the “Researchers Help” Community.


When you view a post, you have options to follow, bookmark, share or like the post.

So, get onto the History Hub and see what answers and resources await you!

Have you checked out TimeMapper?

Recently, one of the people I follow on Twitter mentioned using TimeMapper to create timelines with maps. If you have attended one of my lectures, or read my books, you will know how important it is to build timelines. Maps are also vital to understanding our ancestors. So imagine how exciting it would be to combine timelines and maps together. TimeMapper is a is free, open-source tool that is a product of the Open Knowledge Foundation Labs. TimeMapper. can be found here.

On the main TimeMapper page there is a 1 minute tutorial to show you how it work. I recommend taking the minute to watch it.

There are three steps: Create a Spreadsheet; Connect and Customize; and Publish, Embed and Share.

You can create an account by signing in with your Twitter account. Ny using your Twitter account, you could use TimeMapper as a Twitter app. As an app, it can read the tweets from your timeline and see who you follow. I chose to use it anonymously, using a spreadsheet published on my google drive.

You don’t have to sign in, or upload your own spreadsheet to see how this works. You can use an example spreadsheet on the webpage to view a TimeMap for “Medieval Philosopher’s Timeline”. Using their sample is a great way to get started. On the left you can scroll through the events in the spreadsheet, with the timeline under them. On the right is a map with the events.

It is easy to use the spreadsheet template, by copying it to your google drive. The spreadsheet with the TimeMapper Template can be found here.

When you create your own TimeMap, the locations for events have to be given in latitude/longitude (or JSON) format. The google spreadsheet contains a google docs formula to look up latitude and longitude, so that the location names can automatically be translated. Add the web addresses (urls) of any images you want to appear with an event in the spreadsheet. You have to delete the top row in the spreadsheet with the instructions. The last step is to publish the spreadsheet to the web. 

I copied the timeline to my google drive, then entered data into the fields to create a timeline for my Grandfather. I followed the instructions in Step 2 to Connect and Customize. Step 3 was to publish.

Use the arrows to cycle through the events, and a corresponding caption location on the map will be displayed. There is a timeline under the events.

The map can be expanded portion can be expanded to get a view of locations that are close together.

 

The TimeMap cannot be downloaded to your computer., but the link to it can be shared. There are options to share your TimeMap to Twitter, or you can copy and paste a link to your TimeMap.

Many thanks to @MNdoughboy1918 for sharing this tool on Twitter.

Are you a “Genealogy Detective” or a “Genealogy Engineer”?

At a conference a while back, I noticed how many of the presenters were engineers. That got me thinking about how engineering skills help in genealogical research. Then I wondered if genealogists might be more like engineers than detectives.

Usually, genealogists think of themselves as detectives. That makes sense as we interview people, dig through records, and scan for the smallest details of an ancestor’s life. We try to connect the dots and align different versions of an ancestor’s life to establish the truth. We use timelines. We look for good quality resources to use in our exhaustive searches. We focus on including the largest and the tiniest details to build our case.

Engineers and detectives use similar practices in their work. Detecting is certainly a part of engineering. Like detectives, engineers stay focused on a problem. Engineers also bring all the resources that they can to bear on solving a problem. In flight test engineering, I have had to research a system and all its details, employ strategies to compare and combine feedback, and interview participants to solve problems.

Engineers know when to use an estimate and move on with the bigger problem. They keep a list of assumptions and revisit the estimates to make sure that they remain reasonable. Seeing the similarities then brought me think about the differences between detectives and engineers.

How are detectives and engineers different?
I asked several friends what they saw as the difference between detectives and engineers. There were interesting themes that emerged. While there are different goals in their work, engineers and detectives employ a similar skillset.

However, detectives are limited to interpreting the facts in front of them, and engineers look at what can be built using what is available. Engineers look to the future and have to consider safety.

A case for being a “Genealogy Engineer”
Engineers have to look backward to analyze requirements, solve a problem, then look forward to prevent the problem from happening again.

Like an Engineer: In genealogy, we want our conclusions to be relevant in the future. We also do not want to make the same mistake twice.

Detectives can usually go into the field to observe clues. Sometimes engineers don’t get this luxury. They are told what went wrong and have to figure it out without touching the original system. In flight testing some reports simply cannot be duplicated on the ground. It can take a good amount of research, dissection and imagination to figure out what caused these problems.

Like an Engineer: Until there are time machines, we cannot return to an ancestor’s lifetime to view all the facts right after they occurred.

Engineers focus on reproducibility. An example of this was in the recent series about Tesla and his Death Ray. After the engineer proved that a scale model of the death ray would work to destroy a flying drone, his first thought was to see if he could have the same results again. (Spoiler: he did!)

Like an Engineer: Given the same information, would other genealogists reach the same conclusion? If you reanalyze all the information starting over, would your conclusions be reproducible?

Result: Perhaps, I am more of a genealogy engineer.

Special thanks to: David, Dave, Andrea, Beth, Deb and Mark for your insights.

Family History Outing: Holland Land Office Museum

Although online research lets us visit places virtually whenever, wherever, and wearing our pajamas, there are definite benefits to traveling to visit museums, chat with experts and historians, and meet with local researchers. This Spring I had a chance to do all that (and more).

Beginning in 1801, the Holland Land Company sold the land from the Holland Purchase, from its office in Batavia, NY. Agents opened offices in other areas of the purchased land. By 1840, all their land was sold. Much can be learned about the Holland Land Company in online databases, and maps.

Our visit started with a phone call to check on the Holland Land Office Museum’s hours for the day of our trip. We asked if someone would be able to help us locate the purchases on the map. The answer was that they were open and would certainly try. Finding expert about the Holland Land Office land purchase was reason enough to drive over to Batavia.

The Museum is housed in the original Land Office building in Batavia, Genesse County, NY. A transaction could be done at this building for any of the purchases, for any of the counties. In addition to the history of Holland Land Office, there were information and exhibits about the local area and its history. The items in the exhibits are informative and help place ancestors in their context. Another blog post covers the WWI Exhibit.

The Museum has Livsey’s volumes of “Western New York, Land Transactions” which are extracted from the archives of the Holland Land Company. The extractions are indexed and thoroughly document the names and dates of the transactions. (These are also available online.) But the lists of transactions do not indicate whether the transaction was a payment or a reversion back to the company. You need to check the county land records for the nature of the transactions. If you had ancestors in this area, at this time, it is worth checking these books in case your ancestors tried to buy a property in the area but did not complete the sale. One of the big surprises was that an ancestor had purchased land in Erie County, which would later revert to the Holland Land Company

We learned that the Museum also holds the Land Records for Erie County, from about 1809-1840. Executive Director Duffy retrieved these books from storage, put on his gloves and handled them himself.

Just as outlined in our Land Tutorial, the way to use these books is to look for the name in an index then find the page for the transaction. This book also contained map details for the sales.

The recording of his sale was on Page 27

Lumis Lillie’s lot was in Township No.11 Range No. 5.
His property on the map was labeled with 27.

Lumis Lillie’s lot was in Section 6 shown marked 27 for the page number.

In the pages of these original Land Books we found the names of prominent members of the community for whom streets were named. Unfortunately, these books were too early to contain records for other ancestors in Erie County.

When you visit, be sure to check out their store for their selection of books and pick up a very reasonably priced map of the Purchase area.

A local researcher also advised immersing myself and my research team in local culture near the Museum, at Oliver’s Candies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

The Holland Land Office Museum

The Reed Library in the State University of New York at Fredonia has Archives of the Holland Land Company on microfilm

Click on the image of Ellicot’s Map of the Holland Land Company Purchase in New York to view and right clock to download.

The New York Heritage Digital Collections contains Holland Land Company Maps. You can search for the County name, Township and Range to get a specific map.

Search Livsey’s books on Ancestry.com: Western New York Land Transactions, 1804-1824 and Western New York Land Transactions, 1825-1835.

For those with access to Hathitrust, you can search Western New York land transactions, 1825-1835, and view other books about the Holland Land Company.

On Google Books, you can search Western New York Land Transactions, 1804-1824

Many other resources and references can be found online by searching on Google.