Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Genealogical Legacy of Angeline Harris

I have a confession to make. I am the keeper of the WAITS research records from Angeline "Angie" Harris. Her daughter sent them to me after Angie passed away back in 2010 and apart from briefly going through them to get a feeling for what I would be able to find, they've been sitting here. Tucked away in the closet in my office... largely untouched. I did move them from the shipping box they were sent in to one of my filing totes that was magically the exact size needed for the job.

At a glance, it is VERY organized! Labeled folders and some bound notebooks for each family group. Family Group Sheets. Supporting documentation. Photos. Newspaper clippings that have been photocopied. All obtained through good old-fashioned research. Letters, phone calls, and trips to various locations. Angeline didn't use email (she had her daughter email me) and didn't have anything up online. She actually printed out all of the files that I mailed to her on a disk. There's about 2" worth in the back of the James G Waits folder shown above. =)

Leafing through the filebox, I see lines that I didn't know existed. Family Group Sheets. Photos. Letters. Notes. Photocopied book pages and newspaper articles. Headstones. Obituaries. Military pensions. Here's the photo that I remembered seeing "somewhere" that I only had a cropped copy of. This is genealogical GOLD.

The only picture of James G that I thought I had:

The one I just found in Angeline's File Box (does that say "Jim Waits"?!). It's James G flashing gang signs and holding a big hammer. Ok... ok... he was a stonemason and I'm pretty sure his hand signal is a sign that he was a Freemason?

(Jim... I wonder who wrote that. I wonder if there's something in the box that refers to him being called "Uncle Gus" like I've seen others online refer to him. I'm so glad that this copy is more crisp than the other one.)

And that's just the first thing I saw when I peeked in one of the folders. There are probably thousands of papers here. Like this one that I just pulled out... it's a photocopy of a letter from James G (my 3rd ggf) to his brother Reason (Angeline's husband Hugh's 2nd ggf). It written on Sept 28, 1865 and was photocopied along with a typed transcription. I've never seen or read a letter from James G before! Only between his brothers and sisters and a couple that referred to him (that it turns out, Angeline transcribed)

He had beautiful handwriting, didn't he? Nice flourish!

The more I think about it, the more I think that it was just too much for me to take in. I was still kind of reeling from her passing when I got all of this. Kicking myself for not reaching out again. Feeling a little guilty for having such a reaction to losing someone I'd never met and only spoke to once (and emailed a few times). It wasn't her as a person that I knew so much as the respect that I had for her knowledge. So, to end up with all of the knowledge that she deemed important enough to type up on an actual typewriter... it was a little overwhelming. Especially considering that I wasn't used to finding true historical documentation like that. Here it was, a veritable gold mine. The only thing missing was a big red bow.

It took me FIVE years to dig into my Dad's paperwork. Three years for this isn't tooooo terribly long to wait... right?

I shudder to think of the money I've spent on and the like, and all the time I've spent searching for clues... when they've probably been 10 feet from me the whole time. (this is me shaking my head and rolling my eyes at myself)

So, in the spirit of the Organized Genealogist Facebook Group... I think it's high time that I get to work scanning and preserving and attaching and uploading all of these to an online tree to share with the Waits community at large. I've decided that she needs to have her own tree with her own research made available for public knowledge. Maybe by doing so, I'll fill in the holes in my own tree. But more importantly, her legacy will live on and be a benefit to the countless cousins who go searching for their roots.

I think that if I'm going to get through this, I need to start at the beginning and methodically work my way through each file. If I keep pulling out the "good stuff" I'll never get it finished!

I'll just need to be kind to myself and not expect it to be done immediately. I have a feeling that it'll take longer than I expect if I go about this the right way and only touch each piece of paper ONCE. Especially considering my Scanner nature. All in due time... all in due time...

Thank you for this gift, Angeline! I will treasure it always...

10/20/13 Update: 

I wrote all of this last night, set the autopublish for 10am, and thought I would sleep on it. Woke up bright and early at 6am (thank you very much, Max. You need a doggie door!) Since I was up, I immediately came into my office and started digging through the files looking for a good place to start. I found the Family Group Sheet for Angeline and her husband Hugh, and started a new tree called ANGELINE HARRIS MEMORIAL TREE on my account. I thought about how nice it would be to include the link to that tree in this post, right?

Two hours later... here's what I got done. I entered the FGS, added the photos of AH, filled in her profile with the censuses that popped up, and added just the information on hand for her immediate family. Then the shaky leaves caught me and I found a wedding picture and another one from their later years. Here's a crop of Hugh Harris, my 4th cousin once removed. There is definitely a family resemblance there.

OK. This is going to take a while.

And now... I'm sitting here thinking. Is really the best place for this? I already have a Fleming cousin who keeps getting locked out of her guest account. And unless I specifically add people to my tree, they can't see it. Not to mention the copy/paste people who don't care if the information makes sense or not.

Then I stumbled on someone else's tree while looking for Hugh's obituary (see how sidetracked I get?). They use TNG. Back in 2009, I actually bought TNG during my blog-dentity crisis and got so wrapped up in trying to customize it so it looked like the rest of my site that I didn't actually get it installed completely. I got frustrated and gave up.

So here I sit. In order to use TNG, it needs to be hosted. There's a Wordpress plug-in, but I'm pretty sure that in order to use it, I'll have to get a host again and be locked into monthly fees, which is something I don't want to do. Le Sigh...

I also have Family Tree Maker 2009 that I think I installed once on an old computer but never really used. Does anyone know if I'm able to create webpages with that? Ones that don't need a host? That shows documents and photos? (which I think is what led me to TNG in the first place... it's an actual database program)

I think I know why I haven't dug into this yet. It's "too easy" to just log into, search for documents, copy the info to the tree, upload photos, etc. If only it wasn't locked behind logins and crap that normal non-techie people can't figure out. I get caught up in the details too easily.

OK. I think I know what I need to do to keep the ball rolling.

  1. Photograph/Scan Angeline's files one page at a time, making a small mark indicated that it's been scanned.
  2. Add information from each page to MY TREE at There's no sense in keeping it all separate. It will save time to add it to my existing tree rather than entering duplicate information. Any new information will be absorbed into my tree and then exported at a later date if/when I find a better solution.
  3. Keep it mostly about the data at hand. Ignore shaky leaves.
  4. Photograph/Scan photos and supporting documentation.
  5. Add ONE photo of the person to (maybe one other thing if it's really special, like the letter above)
  6. Upload photos/scans to my external hard drive
  7. Rename files to match content
  8. File appropriately, then move on to the next page.
  9. KEEP GOING until all paper has been digitized. (I would be heartbroken if something happened to it and it hadn't been backed up yet!)

I can keep looking into the perfect solution for how to share with family and the genealogical community at large. My current thought is TNG with a backup at (I need to upgrade to a bigger plan, though. If you sign up for dropbox, please click my dropbox link and they will gift me 500MB for the referral).

The moral of the story is... I can't let the technical details stop me.

I need to keep to the task at hand and Scan, Scan, Scan!!

Update #2 - 10/20/13 - 1pm
I modified my system a bit and wanted to make a note of it. Right now, I'm just taking photos of a bound history one page after another. I couldn't scan it and the photos are actually coming out really well! I have the resolution on my camera set as high as I can so it catches the details and I can zoom in on these 8x14 sheets. MUCH faster than scanning, so I may do this for the whole shebang.

I'm charging my camera now, but once I get up and running again, I'll finish photographing the book. Then I'll load the pictures into a big folder on my external hard drive. It'll take quite a while to get all of the data input into my tree.

I need to keep reminding myself that the most important thing is to digitize and backup. The data entry can wait.


  1. Certainly does sound like you have a treasure trove there! I understand how overwhelming that can be, especially when you can't (or shouldn't!) spend 24/7 getting it all organized and digitized. Sounds like you have a great plan. Congrats!

  2. Thanks! I've been working on it for about an hour now and am about 3/4 of the way through a bound set of FGS's for the Descendants of Reason Waits. Modified my system a bit to stay as efficient as possible and will add another update up there so I can come right back to it again.