We’re not dead yet, posts to resume shortly!

It has been WAY too long since we’ve posted, and we just wanted to drop a quick note to let our followers know that we’re still in the land of the living, and that we’re still here.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole, in addition to an overwhelming amount of family history material we worked to archive over the summer (Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection), we had planned a move to Costa Rica on October 1st. Much of August and September were consumed with that, and then 8 days before the move we found out we were not going to be able to leave the country, and we’ve spent the time since scrambling to find temporary housing, getting a car back from Costa Rica, storing our belonging, finding permanent housing, and getting unpacked…as well as working and living our lives! Needless to say the hobbies of Genealogy and blogging have both taken a back seat.

Last night we were able to access RootsMagic for the first time since late September, and time is starting to free up for hobbies. We’ve got some good insights on leveraging non-indexed resources, updates on the large Archive project (and the first published works from there), a funny coda to the Family Tree Maker vs. RootsMagic saga, and some nice personal discoveries from the last few month.

Thanks for your patience and your interest, we’ll talk to you soon!

RootsMagic is so good, we’ll buy it for you. Seriously.

RootsMagic is so good, we’ll buy it for you. Seriously.

It’s official…we’ve converted all my trees to RootsMagic, synced them up to Ancestry.com without issue, and I’m done with Family Tree Maker. My only regret is that we wasted as much time (and blog posts!) waiting for FTM 2017 as we did. Months after we paid $29.99 to pre-order the version of Family Tree Maker, and four months after we were promised the product, we still can’t sync my main tree with Ancestry.com (Family Tree Maker 2017: 110 day (and counting) since we had working software). I tried RootsMagic as a test, and it’s synced first time/every time, and migration was nearly painless (Quick Review: RootsMagic 7.5 now sync’s with Ancestry.com, effectively killing MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker).

In order to pull people from FTM, RootsMagic is offering those of us who have an Ancestry.com subscription the full version of RM 7.5 (which includes TreeSync) and an E-Book with tips/tricks for using RootsMagic for $20 until July 31st!! That’s less than we paid for the FTM pre-order than never worked!!

We’re not sure you can get your money back from Software MacKiev for their failed product, but we’re happy to give you a reason to get out from underneath Family Tree Maker and on to a product that works and is supported, without having to spend more to do so.

So, here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to buy you RootsMagic 7.5. The first 100 readers that made the mistake of pre-ordering Family Tree Maker 2017 who take advantage of the RootsMagic special (RootsMagic Special Offer) which gives you RootsMagic for $20, by July 31, 2017 will get a check from us for $20. Send us a copy of your pre-order email, and your RootsMagic confirmation email (send to: rick@anamericangenealogy.com), and we’ll mail you check for $20. It’s that easy.

Order Emails
Send us these two emails, and we’ll cut you a check for $20!

We’re not sure you can get your money back from Software MacKiev for their failed product, but we’re happy to give you a reason to get out from underneath Family Tree Maker and on to a product that works and is supported, without having to spend more to do so. As always we are sponsored by no one, and we aren’t affiliated with RootsMagic in any way, this is just an incentive to help others who love this hobby to get back to using the tools they need.

Speaking of which, we’ll have one more deep dive into migrating from FTM to RootsMagic in the next week or so, and then enough talking about software, and back to talking about our person journey!

Quick Review: RootsMagic 7.5 now sync’s with Ancestry.com, effectively killing MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker

Quick Review: RootsMagic 7.5 now sync’s with Ancestry.com, effectively killing MacKiev’s Family Tree Maker

Two quick points. First, as always, we receive no financial benefit or consideration for any product or service we review/recommend here. Everything we discuss is our opinion alone, and we talk about it because we use it. Second, this is a quick review with only about 24 hours with the product. We’ll follow up with more detail, and possibly a more complete opinion shortly, but we’re pretty confident in the what we’ve found in the time we’ve spent with this product.

Quick take on moving to RootsMagic 7.5: This migration was easy, and just over 24 hours after we put a test tree into see how the product looks/works, we’re hooked, and Family Tree Maker is soon dead to us.

The bottom line is this: RootsMagic does everything that Family Tree Maker used to do, and does now, moving over was not painful, and it resolved our issues immediately. Additionally, it does some things much better than FTM, and the switch was painless. We’ll never go back.

To add a little more detail, to test we migrated a Family Tree Maker 3.1 tree that was synced to Ancestry.com (before Software MacKiev missed it’s April 1 shipping deadline, and broke FamilySync) that had both custom data elements and extensive home-grown citations attached to facts. The test was to get the tree into RM, get it synced to Ancestry.com, and after confirming that the data migrated properly, use RootsMagic to attach new sources and facts to the tree, to see how it works vs. Family Tree Maker.

RootsMagic is better than Family Tree Maker at:

  • Adding new family members – Very simple and intuitive, with fewer clicks and easier to run through a page of newly discovered ancestors in an old book.
  • Creating new sources – The kludgy, and totally inaccurate (as it relates to the Elizabeth Shown Mills Evidence Explained format), source/fact process in Family Tree maker is completely blown away by RootsMagic. We were amazed at how quickly and easily we were able to use the Free Form template to enter the Source List Entry, Full Reference Note, and Short Note entries for a source. Quick, easy, obvious, simple.
  • Citing sources to multiple ancestors – Again, MUCH simpler and easier. Two clicks and quick search each time…we were amazed at how easy it was to take a page from a book and source it to everyone listed on that page.
  • Citing multiple pages of a source book – I don’t know why we’ve all suffered for so Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 11.18.52 PMlong with the way FTM approached this, but RootsMagic uses a “Master Source” model that includes the 3 types of source citations you’d use (if you’re making an EE citation), but it allows you to enter a page number each time (if you’re using a book) without additional clicks. So when you turn a page, and add the name and birthdate of a new ancestor, you merely click the Sources… button, click on Cite Source… and enter the page number.
  • Nicknames – Wow!!!! How have we ever lived without this feature in Family Tree Maker? My 2x Great grandfather William Ephraim Tradewell was always referred
    Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 10.49.13 PM.png
    It makes so much more sense than FTM, why have we been struggling with it for so long?

    to as Wesley though out his life, including in his Civil War service records. It’s WAY better to now be able to enter that as his nickname and have it show in quotes than it was to deal with it in FTM.

RootsMagic is the same as Family Tree Maker at:

  • Syncing with Ancestry.com – It worked first time for us, no effort, and we were back using sync just like we did last on May 30! It was a piece of cake, and it has worked perfectly each time/every time.
  • Web searching with Ancestry.com – Neither of them do it very well, both have really bad interfaces to search and merge, but RM worked just as well as FTM.
  • Basic Tree entry/management – You can enter person notes, fact notes, data elements (e.g. Birth, Death, Marriage, etc.), custom data elements (we use 3 different ones for DNA matches), and all of the day-to-day data/management you do in your tool, is the same for both FTM and RM.

Areas RootsMagic needs to work on:

  • Syncing new users from RootsMagic to Ancestry.com via TreeSync – RootsMagic is really bad at adding new users to your Ancestry.com tree. Each one requires you select the user, click the Add… button, and then a progress screen pops up until it completes. You have to repeat the process for each new users added in RootsMagic,

    and so when we went through two pages of an old book, entering the ~15 ancestors listed in those, it took WAY too long to sync with Ancestry. FTM is way better at this.

  • Navigating between parts of your family tree – Let’s be clear right away: The main User Interface in both products is not good. They are both old, dated, and look like they have largely been unchanged since the early 2000’s. Both need to look at the Ancestry.com interface and copy it, while they work to build and improve off of that. But, Family Tree Maker is much better at letting you move up and down your tree, and to expand and select different branches of the family on the fly. RootsMagic essentially only gives you a pedigree view, and limits you into only working on the ancestor you select initially. So, for example if you select your 2x GGF, and you have selected his oldest son, and now you want to select his next child to add a new marriage…good luck. It seems impossible. We still haven’t figured out how to select children from the main Pedigree view.  FTM is not good at this either, but it’s way better than RM.

Quick take on moving to RootsMagic 7.5: This migration was easy, and just over 24 hours after we put a test tree into see how the product looks/works, we’re hooked, and Family Tree Maker is soon dead to us. It’s been 8 days since we opened our issue with their “swamped” support desk (their words, not ours) and we haven’t heard a word from Software MacKiev. In-fact, we’ve never even received an acknowledgement of receipt of the issue. But in 24 hours, those trees are synced in RootsMagic, and we’re back using our tool to further our research.


Family Tree Maker 2017: 110 day (and counting) since we had working software

Family Tree Maker 2017: 110 day (and counting) since we had working software

On April 1, 2017 Ancestry discontinued support for TreeSync, rendering the software largely unusable for many FTM users. Software Mackiev was unready for that change, even though they had not only known it was coming, but they had gotten a 4 month extension from the original target date from Ancestry. Three-and-a half months later Jack is cheerfully trumpeting that we’re at the finish line…but for a large chunk of FTM users, we’re not closer to getting back to the basic functionality we enjoyed on March 30.

I keep seeing Jack (and his wife apparently) complain about how much “free” software they’ve “given away”, and how hard they are hawking $20 hats and other trinkets to recoup their expenses

That’s bad enough, but the kicker is this: once the software works as it once did, you’re likely to be disappointed about how it’s essentially the same software you’ve used for

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.52.09 AM
 I’m not allowed to release screen caps of FTM 2017, but to get an idea of what the “People” tab looks like, imagine the colors are reversed, the boxes are little more square, and the pictures are smaller and hard to see

years. This “update” is nothing more than restoring lost functionality, and a photo feature that has almost no controls and you’ll never use. We’ve waited all this time, paid our money and waited, suffered through not being able to effectively use the tool that is central to our work…for essentially nothing new.

It’s the same interface, with the colors reversed. The SUPER ugly/kludgy Ancestry Hint merge screens? Same. The People/Facts screen? Same. Places, Media, Sources? Same. It look EXACTLY the same. Maybe color coding will be helpful down the road…but I promise you I wouldn’t have taken my trees offline for 4 months for color coding. Or a photo tool that does next to nothing, and doesn’t do what it claims to do very well.

Going back several months, I said my worry was that this software company was over their head with this package (Mackiev’s latest update engenders even less confidence, puts 2017 release 3 weeks behind with no firm date for release). Mackiev is a company that has focused on smaller, offline, products. This was a huge step into a product that had a large, passionate, knowledgeable and that was connected to a 3rd-party, online vendor, and they clearly weren’t ready.

In my support sessions they have indicated that they are “overwhelmed” by the issues related to this “finish line” release, and they can’t deliver ETA’s for either resolution or even response. It’s clear to me that they overestimated how “done” this release was, so they are understaffed to deal with the volume of issues they’re facing.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.07.55 AM.png
Only 24th in line this time…better than 38th last time! No help either time, regardless of the wait

This continues a long line of underestimations by this company, from thinking a handful of beta testers would suffice, then 1,000, then 25,000 to thinking they would release the first beta in November of 2016 when they couldn’t release it until well after April 1st.

I have no confidence this product will survive. Given my decades of software deployment and support, it seems likely they completed this release at GREAT cost to the company, sell the release as long as there is demand, and then sunset the product before they have to do another release. I keep seeing Jack (and his wife apparently) complain about how much “free” software they’ve “given away”, and how hard they are hawking $20 hats and other trinkets to recoup their expenses. Not a good sign…but there’s not a good sign anywhere with this company…

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 9.42.26 AM.png


Unearthing lost treasure: The inventory of our family history windfall’s first box is complete

Unearthing lost treasure: The inventory of our family history windfall’s first box is complete

In my last post (Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection) I discussed how we were hopeful we’d find a balance between protecting this amazing find of a life time, and our family life, work, other genealogy, blogging, sleep, etc. That I haven’t posted in a month or so should give you a good indication of how completely we’ve failed at finding anything close to balance!

However, the first of the three boxes we received has now been inventoried and stored archivally, and it’s given us hints of just what an amazing collection this is. By the numbers, we found over 250 photographs, over 175 newspaper clippings related to the family, and over 250 documents ranging from invitations to the Teddy Roosevelt White House and speeches to Congress, to letters home from college and recipes.

Box 1, Before
Box 1, After

The material has filled 4 Gaylord boxes (actually Hollinger boxes, but everyone just calls all metal-edged boxes Gaylords), a photo sleeve for all pictures 5″x7″ or less, and a 16″x20″ flat photo storage box for the larger pictures. As you can see, we’re still using the cardboard boxes that the 5″x7″ photo sleeves were shipped in to store the photos, but that’s just until the order is placed for the Gaylord “shoe box” to hold them.

Each piece of paper is separated by a sheet of acid-free printer paper, with all staples, paper clips, clasps, etc. removed. Each item was given a number, and inventoried with basic info like date, sender, receiver, # of pages, etc. Once the inventory and archiving of all 3 of these boxes is complete, we’ll go back and scan and catalog each item, and share them out publicly for consumption.

By the numbers, we found over 250 photographs, over 175 newspaper clippings related to the family, and over 250 documents ranging from invitations to the Teddy Roosevelt White House and speeches to Congress, to letters home from college and recipes.

Luckily, it wasn’t all work. About a month ago my cousin Denise, who is working on putting together the Morse family reunion in Oregon in August, asked if we could share photos from this collection for some of the materials. We were able to scan and share more than a dozen pictures that likely haven’t been seen in at least 30 years, as well as several originals that have been circulating through the family as scans of photocopies. It was fun to go through images and piece together which ones were related to the Morse family, and who the subjects in the photos were. It was also very gratifying to share out high quality images of some of these originals that we came to know through copies of old family reunion books, and hoped we’d some how get access to the originals one day.

And, of course, as we were reading through the documents quickly to gather information for the inventory, we came across lots of great information that jumped out at us…even though it was not all flattering.

Sadly there were a lot of dated references to “darkies” and the like as my Great Grandparents wrote home about their first trips to Washington, DC during his first term in Congress. Additionally, my Great Grandfather gave a speech talking about First Nation issues in the early 1900’s that really captured some of the most accurate and honest understanding of how we as a country unfairly destroyed these nations, but in the same speech he both calls for the cultural genocide of these First Nation bands that had survived, and contrasted their strong, positive culture with the “lazy” negroes.

There also was a lot of very personal and touching moments like when my Great Great Grandmother wrote her daughter on Christmas Eve about how lonely she was and how she wished that all of her children could be under the same roof again “singing college songs”.

We also got to follow my Grandmother Catherine’s path through college (she wrote home 2x a week for 4 years, and her mother saved every letter), from how she was dating many boys, to

Catherine (Morse) Leonard, portrait (P17-0018)
My Grandmother Catherine (Morse) Leonard’s senior portrait (college), 1932

how she got in trouble for drawing in the school hymnals and had to pay an $8 fine…which she found very unfair. We are lucky enough to have her father’s response to that letter, which basically said that she should keep quiet and pay the fine now, and give the Dean both barrels once she’d officially graduated!



It came as a bit of a shock learning that my Grandmother dated both the future Governor of Wisconsin Warren Knowles and Hollywood actor Jack Carson, one of the biggest comedic stars of the “Golden Age of Hollywood”.

So, all-in-all it’s been amazing going through all this work, but it most certainly been work. One of our DNA tests came back late last week, and so we spent the weekend working on the Tradewell brick wall we talked about a few months ago, with a little progress, so we’re trying to get back to enjoying all parts of this hobby. But this is a pretty major undertaking!

Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection

Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection

As I wrote about in my last post (The find of a lifetime…twice in a weekend), I was pretty freaked out about the impact of receiving the largest collection of family history items I’m likely to ever receive. By the next day it was clear that someone else had claimed the photo albums that were found in Oregon, so it was just this huge collection that I had to process.

What I was feeling those first few days was basically a powerlessness that soon disappeared once I realized we can manage this if we just took a deep breath and put together a plan.

IMAG1082Luckily I had a few bourbons, relaxed, and we came up with a plan. That helped get us back to appreciating this blessing we’ve received, instead of focusing on anything negative.

Before we get to that however, here’s a quick update on the collection. The first thing that jumped out at me is that this isn’t a single collection; this is the remnants of my Great Grandmother’s, my Great Grandfather’s, my Grandmother’s, and my Uncle’s collections. The first boxes came from my grandmother’s cottage after her passing, and there are many documents from/to/regarding her, however there is a trove of correspondence and photos and documents from her parents. In-fact, there are even some that are from her grandparents! Each generation likely collected what they could from the previous generation, and it eventually grew into the collection that’s on my dining room table. What I’m finding most interesting is the letters that reference events, and then finding the invitations to those events in other parts of the collection. Also, the few letters where I’ve found both sides of the conversation for a letter or two are fascinating. Most excitingly I’ve found many photos of relatives that we’ve had no previous photos!

Here’s how I calmed down, and started attacking the collection, and the impact on my life outside of this hobby.

Research how to archive a collection

My first thought was that I would catalog, inventory, scan, present, and cite each item in the collection, touching them once before putting them into their final archival state. But how should I properly archive them?

I Googled it (of course!), and pretty quickly came saw there was a pretty common approach to these collections. The New England Historic Genealogy Society has a great video walking through the common wisdom on how to archive items (Organizing and Preserving Your Family Papers), and it wasn’t long before I had come up with a strategy. I also visited my local History Museum and met with a very helpful historian there to review some of my questions, and found I was largely on the right track.

Split tasks, focusing on organizing and protecting the collection first

It became clear that we can’t spend the year moving these boxes back and forth from kitchen counters, to the dining room table, to the couch (if the 18-month old is restrained), as we live our lives. It was also obvious that keeping everything in the plastic tubs they came in for months was going to be a good medium-term strategy.

Buy 1000 nitrile gloves, you’re going to need them all! You can also see our inventory log in the background.

We made the choice to focus on collecting an inventory as we move each piece into archival storage first, and when that’s complete (and the collection is organized/protected), we’ll go back and catalog, scan, present, and cite each piece. It does mean touching everything twice, but it also gets the collection protected and in proper storage much quicker.

Make choices on archival strategies, and purchase supplies

One of the things that is immediately apparent about archiving this collection is that nothing is cheap. That inevitably will make us make choices about how to protect items, balancing their long-term survival with the costs of providing maximum protection.

Since we have a nice space that’s largely temperature and humidity controlled, and away from exterior walls/plumbing, the main risk to this collection is the acidity of the papers that makes it up. The best way to protect the paper would be to separate each piece in a sleeve made of polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene (3P’s), but in a collection of what will likely be at least 1000 pages of various sizes, it would be very, very expensive. However, as long as you choose carefully, many copy papers are acid-free and you can separate your documents using these papers, and stop the acid transference between pages that will eventually destroy the documents. The downside to using paper, instead of a 3P sleeve, is that the paper will need to be replaced every 3-5 years since it will become acidic as the historical documents transfer their acids to the acid-free paper over time.

Get the newsprint away from everything else

The most acidic paper in any collection is newsprint, and it’s doing the most damage to the collection, so it’s best to start by getting it out of everything. There were close to 200 newspaper clippings related to my great grandfather’s time in Congress in Box 1 alone, so we pulled them all out and put them in their own folders. The experts are divided on what to do with newsprint, but many archivists suggest making copies of what’s of interest (on acid-free paper), and destroying the originals. We’re taking a little different approach, in that we scanned everything into raw image files, and then put the original clippings in their own folders in their own archival box. Eventually we’ll put a 3P sleeve around the entire batch of clippings, so that the acids won’t leach out of the newsprint, but it will continue to subject the clippings themselves to acid. This will eventually lead to the loss of the documents, but they have largely survived for over 100 years, and so with good digital copies, and limited archiving, we should be able to provide some preservation without going through the huge expense of trying to protect each piece.

We assigned a document # to each clipping, and inventoried them as they were scanned and stored, so we have at least basic information about each.

Separate the documents from the photos, inventory, and store the documents

IMAG1083We decided to attack the documents first, and for them we’re going to categorize them by type (Personal correspondence, Speeches, Misc. documents, etc.), separate each page with acid-free copy paper, inventory the document with basic information (description, date, author, target, etc.) and a document #, and store them. The documents are going into 5″ deep, legal-sized metal-edged archival boxes and legal-sized folders. I already had archival folders, and some of the boxes, so adding more to store the collection makes sense. We are making sure that each sheet is smaller than the copy paper dividing them, so we’ve bought letter, legal, and ledger sized paper.

Here’s the products we’re using for documents:

Sleeve each photo in a PAT-tested envelope

How best to store the photos has been a bit of a dilemma. In the past we’ve used 3P 3-ring binder pages of 4″x6″ and 5″x7″ pockets, and stored them archival binders. However, faced with hundreds of photos of various sizes, it’s taken some work to decide how to archive these pictures.

We don’t have a complete strategy, but since most of the photos are 5″x7″ or less, we started there. We’ve ordered individual 5″x7″ envelopes with PAT-tested clear windows on the front. While some archivists suggest writing information on the backs of photos using either pencil or an archival-quality marker, there’s another school of thought that suggests to use envelopes for photos and to write information on the envelopes. Given the more dense storage of envelopes and storage boxes vs. 3-ring binders, and that we’re more comfortable not writing on original photos, we’ve gone the envelope route. We will likely go with larger envelopes for the larger photos, and a large metal-edged box for them, but we haven’t decided yet. It’s been harder to find a large enough 5″x7″ storage box to hold all the photos than we would have guessed, but ultimately we’re trying the box made for the archival storage of shoes from Gaylord since it will give us 13″ of photos.

Again, once we focus on photos we’ll be doing it two phases: first, inventory, assign a photo #, and store them archivally. Once the collection is completely protected, we will come back and scan them, catalog and identify them, and then cite/publish them.

Here’s the products we’re using for photos (so far):

Books, misc. relics, etc.

Box 1 is only photos and documents, so we’ve only addressed how to approach those item. Boxes 2 and 3 are much more book and relic focused, so we’ll figure out how best to archive those items as we get to them.

Balancing time going forward

One of the main worries we had when the collection arrived home was how we will do any other work now that there is years of work in front of us. It took a couple of days, but the solution was pretty simple: manage the time we have, and live within our means. We’ve decided that Monday and Wednesday nights are genealogy nights, Tuesday and Thursday are family history-free, and we play the weekends by ear. I’ll get up early on the weekends and get a few hours of document work in while everyone else sleeps (I’m used to getting up at 5:30a anyways), and the college-aged boys home from school have been pitching in.

We’re working on the balance of family history projects still, and you see it in this blog. Instead of posting 2-3 times a week, it’s been barely 1 time a week since we received the collection. Additionally, the great document I’ve been working on to better understand how a formal Research Plan can breakdown brick walls (Elizabeth Shown Mills has just the right guidance at just the right time!) hasn’t been opened in two weeks. We’re forcing ourselves to put down the collection and focus a bit on DNA, and a bit on Felice’s lines, but we’re going to have to get much better at this as time goes on.

But the important part, for both the time division as well as the overall archiving of the project is this: there is a solution, and we just have to focus on finding the right tools, the right strategies, and the right balance. What I was feeling those first few days was basically a powerlessness that soon disappeared once I realized we can manage this if we just took a deep breath and put together a plan.

More to come on this amazing collection!

The find of a lifetime…twice in a weekend

The find of a lifetime…twice in a weekend

(Note: I began this post Monday, so it’s a bit dated now that it’s going up, but it’s accurate. The owner of the disposed of photo album has since been identified.)

I can barely process what’s transpired over the past 72 hours. I’m both excited, panicking more than I would have thought I would, and starting to understand/worry that my family history journey just changed radically (at best), or is largely over (at worst).

First, a bit of background. My father’s mother Catherine (Morse) Leonard came from an amazing line of ancestors. Her great-grandparents were some of the earliest European settlers in Wisconsin, arriving among the first 20-30 people in the territory in 1835. Her

My grandmother, her mother, and her grandmother, c. 1910

relatives were Mayflower descendants, DAR, Civil War heroes, and people who wrote the Wisconsin State Constitution. Her father was a 3-term Congressman from upstate Wisconsin, and he participated in the Republican Progressive movement as a close friend and ally of “Fighting” Bob LaFollette. He worked tirelessly with LaFollette to bring down the most powerful man in American politics in the 1910’s, Republican Speaker of the House Joe Cannon, at the cost of his own political career.

Catherine passed away in 1990, and her oldest son John collected boxes of family history from her home, and put those boxes in his basement. Nothing had seen the light of day in decades by the time he passed in 2014, and his surviving daughters decided that since I was now the family historian, his papers (which included his mother’s boxes) should come to me. In 2015, hours before the closing of the sale of my Uncle John’s house, I was able to drive up and save invaluable artifacts. There was over 600 “Magic Lantern” 3″ x 5″ glass slides that Congressman Morse and his wife Myra used to make presentations to Opera Houses throughout the Upper Midwest through the 1920’s. There were dozens of photos, wedding invitations/programs, funeral programs, obituaries, etc. There was even a 16mm home move of my late father’s 6th birthday party with footage of him, his two older brothers, various cousins, and of my grandmother and her mother. That day in 2015 that I retrieved the collection, my cousin Diane let me know that she’d been at the house and saw the collection, and we worried it wasn’t going to get picked up, so she took a few boxes of things and that we could get together soon and she’d turn them over to me. It took almost 2 years, but I received the 3 boxes this weekend…and it’s the treasure trove you always dream of, but you know you’ll never get lucky enough to find.

The additional boxes are larger than I expected, and they are stuffed full of material. There are college yearbooks, over 500 family photos (at least!) going back 150 years, land records, telegrams, scrapbooks, etc. The most amazing pieces, however, are the personal correspondence of Congressman Morse and his wife, as well as at least 100 handwritten notes of speeches given throughout the years while he was in office, as well as after. There’s also dozens of letters to my grandmother, including one from one of her best friends from college imploring her not to marry my grandfather!

I’m completely overwhelmed by the volume and importance of what I’ve inherited. I have found at least a dozen letters, invitations, and table placards from the Roosevelt and Taft White Houses on official stationary. It’s almost frightening when you hold these artifacts in your hands, in your dining room. I feel like I’m in National Treasure and I’ve stolen something that belongs in the National Archives! I can’t stop thinking about how we were one broken sump pump away from never knowing what was lost for the last 20 years. And mostly, I am panicking about the amount of work that lies in front of me now that I have this collection.

Dinner Placards
From a 1911 dinner at the Taft White House

And that’s the really impact of getting something like this. I have a clear responsibility to catalog, image, record, cite, and archive these documents. This is likely the most important contribution I’ll make to my family history for the coming generations, and yet this isn’t necessarily where I wanted to spend my limited time. I have more DNA analysis than I could finish in this lifetime, I’d like to work on publishing more of what I’ve found, I’ve started discovering the power of executing formal a “Analysis and Research Plan”, I’m starting to blog seriously, I have a long list of on-the-ground research in Mississippi and Arkansas we need to complete to break through several walls on my wife’s side, I need to get off of Family Tree Maker to a platform that will be supported long-term, and I need to flesh out my Morse line more formally to fill a large gap in the Wisconsin Morse’s for the Morse Society. But I also only have limited time to pursue these goals, and it’s dawning on me that instead of that work, I’m going to have to focus on how to properly archive this collection, and start the years of work necessary to inventory it, scan it, transcribe it, identify the photos as much as possible, and establish both archiving procedures and a storage method that will keep them as safe as possible for generations to come. That will likely be my focus for years to come, at the expense of the other work, and I’m not yet comfortable with that notion…but it’s been 72 hours.

In the middle of this once-in-a-lifetime find, I stumbled across another, and I’m literally having low-grade panic attacks each time I think about it.

As a part of the new collection I just obtained, I grabbed a book that was on top to read in the hotel Saturday night (since all I really wanted to do was go through each and every item right then…and since I couldn’t, one book would have to do), and it was a personal family history of Gwendolen (Morse) Mitchell, my second cousin 2x removed. It was a fascinating history of the children of the brother of my 2x GGF Addison Morse, and it explain quite a bit of the family movement that I’d discovered, but didn’t understand. The book details her husband’s family a bit, and her children, all of which was new information to me.

My 2x great uncle, from a distant relatives collection, found in the garbage, and now on Facebook

Going off of some of what I learned from this book, and as I was just kicking around while my scanner worked capturing some of the new photos I have, I came across an entry on FindAGrave.com that said Addison’s brother James Morse could be contained in a photo album that was found discarded, and clicked a link to a Facebook group that describes how the Salem, OR Statesman Journal was trying to find the owners of FIVE albums (Help find a home for these photo albums found in Oregon). In that link I saw page after page of my relatives. And all of these photos are of relatives that directly link to Gwendolen (Morse) Mitchell, whose book I first found last night! I have her in my tree, but I knew nothing about them until I read that book. Which had been in my Uncle’s basement since it was published in 1997. The article details the last names of Morse (check), Mitchell (check), Higgins (Gwendolen’s son-in-law’s last name), and Sykes (another of Gwendolen’s son-in-laws), and I can identify the events in many of the pictures as well as the participants.

We all likely see these “lost album” posts all the time. I get them on my Twitter feed, in Facebook, etc. on the regular basis. I never thought I’d see one I recognized even a single photo, and yet here I am posting to FB and to author of the article that I know exactly what those albums are and very likely exactly from whom they came! And, if they don’t find another owner who comes forward, I’m probably the person those albums should go to. I archive everything properly, share with the family openly, have a clear family connection, and I’ll be at the Morse reunion in Oregon this summer where I might be able to find an even better home.

My mind is reeling right now. Two finds that literally are “once-in-a-lifetime” just struck me over the course of a long weekend. I need a bourbon, a little distance from my research, and a good night’s sleep. Funny how getting what you’ve always wanted is always more complicated than you thought it would be!

Click to keep reading about this collection: Coming up with a plan to manage my new, huge family history collection