I realized quickly that I’d have to “think outside the box” to learn about my ancestors. I LOVE to interview people, and listen to stories about "the older days" when life seemed a little slower and simpler. I study USGS maps, plats, read chanceries, look for long forgotten cemeteries and try to help preserve memories people share with me. This blog is ad free, so it's easier to focus on sharing stories. Feel free to sign the guestbook, or join the FaceBook group. Even if we aren't related by DNA, I'd still love to hear about your research efforts and family stories. I am interested in posting (to this blog) stories relevant to the Mecklenburg-Brunswick families.

12 September 2017

Organizing Research Thoughts: Mostly Digital, With a Little Paper

 I decided it was time for a little shift in my paper verses digital organization. I completely stopped keeping paper files about 10 years ago. There are some great digital record keeping tools that I use. Firstly, I love Evernote, it’s perfect for my organizing needs. I also love having Microsoft Word documents and Excel sheets as my research notes. I have several thousand genealogy documents on my computer. I prefer digital information retrieval as opposed to looking through a paper file cabinet. I love my trees on Ancestry.com and that I can pin sources to people in my trees, like a digital bulletin board. Even so, sometimes my body can only handle looking at a computer screen for short periods of time. And also, sometimes I want to remember more than what I typed up for others. So, I keep stacks of cut scrap paper in my desk drawer, ready to scribble thoughts or notes on as I think of things, until I can come back later to that topic. Sometimes this leads to having huge stacks of words and phrases written down, that I never did get back to, days or weeks later. They aren’t usually complete thoughts either. Lately, I’m often only typing up partial files. Once I start typing, I realize there are still questions I need answered, incomplete source notations, or further research is needed before I feel like I can share. When I have a lot of partially finished things, it makes me feel very irritable and frustrated with myself. My solution? Go back to keeping a paper journal, in addition to my digital organization method.

I like to think of myself as a detective, for my genealogy. I enjoy reading old public domain mysteries, and historical fiction mysteries. Lately I’ve been reading stories Alan Pinkerton wrote about his company’s real cases.  There were so many great detectives with smart research methods, all before the days of computers and databases! Alan Pinkerton’s stories are amazing to me because of how many undercover detectives were involved, sometimes months of investigating for just one person. I also thought it was pretty genius that everyone had to regularly write up reports to Alan, with their thoughts, ideas, what they’ve done, etc. They used regular telegraph reports in code and a paper write up at the end of a case. Other authors write about detectives that map out their ideas on paper. By writing it out, you can see how people, places and events fit together, and patterns are easier to spot.

I have kept a small and simple temporary file system for the last 15 years, that has worked well for me. I have only 6 folders for genealogy. I keep them in my desk drawer. One folder is for my volunteer work with genealogy. The other 5 folders are for different subjects such as: my Polish research, my Irish-Mecklenburg VA group, and notes people have sent me about DNA matches they have with me. The folders are pretty thin, nothing is meant to stay permanently in any of these folders. It’s information I haven’t put into the computer yet, pages with notes I took during a phone call, planning pages for a trip to the archives, or notes from a courthouse or cemetery visit I haven’t organized yet. Last month I added something new that has been helpful. I put a sheet of bright card stock in each folder so that I can write questions as I think of them, on that folder’s subject. It helps me to have the questions all on one page. I also have a page for blog post ideas and blog posts I started writing, with what info I still need to finish that post. In the Mecklenburg, VA Facebook group I’m moderating, I’m trying to post “a question of the week” every Tuesday. I have a sheet of card stock with ideas for the questions on one side. The other side of the page has notes on the questions I asked with the corresponding dates.

A few years ago, I kept 2 journal notebooks: one for on my Polish research, the other my Irish research. I felt I needed the notebooks then, since the research was all so new and foreign to me, with so much to think about. I filled in two composition notebooks for my Polish research, that I still review 5 years later. I stopped keeping a journal because I thought it might be more efficient to just use Evernote tags and notes. But I’m finding that because of the way I think and process information, I still need to write things out on paper. My Polish notebooks for Chicago research really helped me think things through when I couldn’t find people, and I was studying maps to manually look people up through census maps. I usually write paragraphs on the right side, and draw stuff out on the left side of the page. In my Mecklenburg, VA notebook, I drew circles for property, writing which neighbors were to the north and east around those circles. I drew squares for Census maps showing city blocks in Chicago. I wrote the enumeration district number inside the square, then the street names around the square for that location. I also wrote whether I found the person in that district or not, and where I found the address that I was looking up on the Census maps, then the Census. I also wrote out timelines for that house, family, or individual.

Instead of waking up and jumping right into emails and work stuff, I’m trying to make it a priority to do what has consistently helped me before, but seems hard to maintain. First thing in the morning, it helps me to sit on my deck and ponder the words I scribbled onto scraps of paper. Writing out complete sentences in my journal helps me complete my thoughts or write out a more detailed story. It helps me think about what I know, what I still want to know, who might know the answers, etc.  The pictures in my mind get sharper and more focused. It becomes easier to share information, because I’ve already processed my thoughts and formatted them in paragraph format.

My conclusions? I love being mostly digital, but I need a little paper too. When I feel limited on how much I can look at computer screens, I can still write with a pen and paper, and add colored pencil notations. I especially love writing with my 1930s fountain pen.  I will continue to use Evernote and digital files, I’m just adding journaling back in. I've realized when I do genealogy, I need that writing, composing on paper process. I can type things up later, so I can avoid looking at a computer screen while I’m thinking about how I want to write something. I do keep my research log notes in my genealogy database. I use my paper journal as more than just a research log. It includes things like where I looked for answers, why a record says that, my thoughts during an interview, my descriptions of places, something I learned and my curiosity about if it could apply to this person I'm researching, things I learned or found interesting at a genealogy presentation, notes on books I’m reading for genealogy… and whatever else I need it to be. Writing in complete sentences and paragraph format helps me process my thoughts and helps me visualize things better, see connections, and feel more focused. Journals helped me before, so I’m returning to that process again.

Note, this post was written for both my Mecklenburg, VA and Polish blogs

08 August 2017

Collaborative Questions and Stories

I'm trying a few new things with genealogy. Often the best help for my complex research projects, is talking through an idea with someone. I also find it helpful, to learn how other people discovered things. I enjoy listening to stories, which sometimes gives me ideas for my own projects.

With that in mind, I'm going to try something new in the Facebook group: a Question of the week, every Tuesday. I have pages and pages of questions I've already thought up. I'm focusing on questions that I hope could help the whole group. I'm impressed the group has grown to 76 members, for a relatively small research area. I'm also thankful that sometimes people post their questions or things about their family.  Hope to see much more sharing soon. As a moderator I regrettably haven't been very active except to screen each post to make sure it isn't spam, etc.  I am ready to be more involved now. I'm hoping a question of the week might help us learn more from each other, and encourage others to speak up about their own research questions. I recently got the Facebook Groups phone app, so I can immediately see requests to join, and check posts the second they post. This helps me see posts before they get lost in my feed. I'm seeing you can pre-write posts to send to FaceBook groups. So even if I'm having a bad day that Tuesday, I can still have a post written earlier, to try to keep things consistent.

Facebook Group link. https://www.facebook.com/groups/MecklenburgVAGen/
I also hope people understand that I never really wanted to just hear myself or only share stuff I learned. Preservation of history and stories is what I want the most. So if you have ancestry from Mecklenburg, (or neighboring areas with Mecklenburg connections), I'd love to read and/or post your stories. Here or in the Facebook Group. Even if we aren't related. I enjoy and prefer collaboration. I feel preserving stories and family history is very rewarding. 

20 June 2017

Interview: Virginia Oakley Shutt

June 2006 Virginia and Julie (me)

I wanted to find Virginia Oakley because I thought she could tell me some good stories and help me understand some things about my family. I heard she lived in Winston Salem. I mailed out 15 letters to people there with the surname Oakley, even though I knew she was married. Amazingly, almost everyone replied back saying sorry, they weren't related and wished me luck. But thankfully her nephew also replied and Virginia and I got to be pen-pals for about 3 years. I really enjoyed being pen-pals. And I was really excited to go meet her in 2006. She enjoyed playing card games, a favorite was gin rummy. I challenged her to a game of Skip-Bo for our visit. In one of her letters, Virginia told me she collected thimbles from tourist shops. When I went on two trips to Annapolis and Niagara Falls I got her a thimble from each place. Two thimbles for her and I got matching ones for me. I do try to type up interviews right away before I forget things, and I like to type in paragraph format as things were spoken. Unfortunately, I didn't transcribe this until a year later. So, I typed up exactly as I wrote my notes while the interview happened (which was in bullet format), so I wasn’t assuming or making errors. I especially loved the stories about sewing and their amazing gardens. That’s two subjects we liked to write each other about.
Martha was born in Mecklenburg, Virginia 27 July 1884. About 1895 the Dortch's moved to Southampton VA, then Petersburg VA, then to Kankakee IL near Chicago. That included Martha’s parents and unmarried siblings. Virginia and her siblings were born in Chicago Heights. Several relatives worked in the Hanes knitting mill. Artie Oakley, Virginia's father worked there and got a transfer to Winston-Salem about 1925-ish. Martha and Virginia lived the rest of their lives in Winston Salem, their houses close to each other. Here's my notes about two amazing women that I admire and respect a lot.

*Note 20 Jun 2017: Appreciation and much thanks to Virginia's nephew for coordinating the visit, helping with the interview, giving me copies of pictures, saying prayers for me on my bad health days, and being my friend since then. 

Some Memories of Virginia Oakley Shutt
By: Julie Cabitto
2 Jun 2006

Winston-Salem, North Carolina (in a hospital)
Assisted by Virginia’s nephew
Transcribed 17 Mar 2007

Info on Virginia’s parents Martha Dortch and Artie Oakley:
  • Did not remember how her parents met
  • Artie’s brothers Edgar & George lived in Virginia
  • Grandma and grandpa Oakley lived in Horsepasture Virginia. (Southern VA, not too far north of Winston-Salem) There’s a family cemetery at Horsepasture with Dunavents and Marshalls there.
  • Artie’s siblings:
    • George: policeman in Winston Salem
    • Edgar had a store in Petersburg
    • Beula married and became Beula Sink
    • Blanche married and became Blanche Matthews. Virginia loved and was friends with her.
    • Also Aunt Davis, aunt Hunter, Aunt Novel, and aunt Mamie
    • Totaling 7 sisters and 2 brothers
  • Artie was a superintendent at the chem. plant, sold insurance in Winston, was a watchman at Haynes.
    Martha Dortch Oakley
  • I pointed out on a Census he was listed as working with furniture. Virginia said her father Artie was a furniture maker before he was married, while living in Virginia. After he retired from Haynes, he worked at a concession stand at the Country Club.
  • John Henry Oakley was the father of Artie Oakley.
  • Martha’s brother went west
  • The Dortch’s were thought to be from Ireland.
  • The Oakley’s were from England and it was spelled “Oakleigh” in England.
  • Mary Belle Dortch came to her sister Martha’s house for a week when she (Virginia) was 8 years old.
  • Hoyt (Gray-Brown) took Virginia horseback riding the summer she was 16.
  • After Martha died, Artie got emphysema and moved in with his son Robert. Robert quit smoking then.
  • (A note that Burly Tobacco was grown and smoked to dry. Did Oakley’s grow it on farm in Southern Virginia? Can’t remember now)
  • They used to eat grapes on the way to visit Martha and Artie. Martha made Fried chicken and gravy every Sunday.
  • When asked what she remembers of her father she replied, “He was just a good ol’ daddy!”
  • Her sister-in-law Gyneth (married to Robert) was called “Gynie”. Virginia said Gynie was one of her best friends.
  • Martha made doilies and crocheted afghans. She was an excellent seamstress. Virginia said she took home-ec but didn’t learn much there. What she couldn’t do for sewing over the years, she took to her mother to learn how to do it. Virginia was taught by her mother and also self-taught. Martha sewed all her own clothes. Virginia never bought a dress ever. She made all her own clothes. When Virginia’s husband Fred died, she bought a pair of dress pants and wore them to the funeral.
  • Virginia and her mother grew grapes. Artie would go fishing and bring home fish for dinner. Virginia loved gooseberries and snowball bushes. But she did not like gardenia. She thought they smelled terrible. But Martha loved them. Martha grew lots of flowers. Virginia liked the sweet bubby bushing and the Carolina sweet shrub. The Carolina sweet shrub was red and smelled good. Virginia grew big blue hydrangeas and used Martha’s chicken manure. Virginia had a pecan tree in her back yard and made pecan pies from it.
  • Martha liked her coffee with 2 creams, no sugar. She also liked to get saltine crackers and dip slices of cheese into her coffee, scoop it onto the crackers and eat it.  Martha also liked rum and coke.
  • Martha had sinus surgery

Information regarding Virginia:
Jun 1959-Virginia with son Pete
  • Virginia raised parakeets, about 40 at a time. She had two sheds and kept the parakeets in the middle between them
  • Once she had 1 hen and 15 babies
  • Had a cockatiel
  • My son Samuel wanted me to ask Virginia if she ever rode trains or saw them. She said she’s been on a steam engine train. She also said in the 1950’s Haynes had a mail bag with a hook and a train would deliver the mail to the mail hook across the street from the factory.
  • Virginia’s husband Fred is buried at the New Phil. Moravian church. It used to be a white building. They built a new church and it’s all brick now. (I took picture of the brick building. Very near Virginia’s house)
  • Virginia was a substitute and Home Economics teacher at South Fork School. Her nephew went to school there and taught there for 15 years.
  • The picture Virginia sent me of Fred with the car, was just before he married. While married to Virginia, he only worked at the Country Club, within walking distance of their house.
  • Virginia’s fish at her fish pond ate oatmeal
  • Virginia loves horses
  • She loved Peach brandy #47 and made a great cake with it.
  • Virginia and her sister Marion sold Moravian Molasses cookies
  • Virginia remembers splurging and paying 250$ for a piece of material about 40 years ago.
  • Virginia was at a baby shower for her nephew. She suggested his name, and that’s the name he goes by.
  • Fred’s sister was named Mildred.
    Abt 1944-Fred and Virginia
  • Virginia had a cat that loved baths.
  • Virginia didn’t think hyacinths grew tall enough but she loved foxgloves. She also loved “red hot poker” that grew and spread all over.
  • Virginia loved to make a sugar cake that was from a Moravian recipe. It used potatoes and the water the potatoes were soaked in.
  • Virginia’s son Pete was in the Army.
  • Virginia made dolls (took picture)
  • Virginia collected thimbles on trips and asked family to pick up thimbles on their trips (took picture)
  • Virginia loved violets and still has some very old ones in her house   
  • 1930s-Artie and Martha Oakley Family
  • Virginia, sent me this picture 2003, in her garden