One Question at a Time: Focused Reports are the Key

For weeks, which actually add up to months, I’ve been working on two complex musician-related research projects for my own personal enjoyment. And, endeavoring genealogist that I am, one of my goals has been to write professional-level narratives that summarize my findings–something I’ve never done before.

Right. Who-knows-how-many hours later, I have a lot of drafts with a few strong paragraphs here and there and a very keen awareness that I am absolutely no good at organizing evidence into proof. I’ve gathered the pieces to many puzzles but I have no idea how to fit them together into a large cohesive whole.

I have learned something important, though, as I’ve been trying to write. I need to take it one focused step if I’m going to successfully wrap my mind around the information I’m gathering and feel like I’m making steady productive progress.

For me this seems to mean

  1. Opening up a new document and typing one very specific question. “Was Frances born in New York?” “Which city directories include Henry between 1890 and 1900?” “Does Sarah appear in the 1900 census?”
  2. Identifying sources, creating citations, and pulling out relevant information.
  3. Writing up my findings in a carefully-crafted report to myself.
  4. Repeating repeatedly.

It’s certainly not a new idea but sometimes you have to be there in the moment to come to an understanding of just how important something is.

So, for now, I’m going to step back, use the framework above to organize the informaton I’ve gathered, and then pick up the writing projects again. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Research Reminder: Look Before Leaping

Yesterday I located an 1844 Chicago city directory entry for Pelag Barker. (1)

1844 Chicago city directory

I wondered what “Farmers’ Exchange” was, so I searched newspapers at GenealogyBank for clues. An 1848 Springfield, Illinois newspaper mentioned a new establishment called “Farmers Exchange, No. 9” (2) and based on that I thought  Mr. Barker might have been a grocery store proprietor before moving into the hotel and boarding house business.

Advertisement from a Springfield newspaper

I checked the business section of the 1844 directory for mention of the Farmers’ Exchange as a grocer, but found nothing. Instead, I found it listed under hotels. (3)

Hotel listing
Hotel listing from an 1844 Chicago city directory

Reading the two advertisements, I assumed that Mr. Barker had changed locations in the year prior to the directory being published. Luckily, I checked the previous  Chicago city directory, too. A similar entry appears in the 1843 directory, (4) meaning the move happened prior to that date.

Hotel listing
Hotel listing from an 1843 Chicago city directory

While I was looking for Mr. Barker, I made another important discovery.

The 1843 directory that is available on is actually a reprint done in 1896 and it includes an obituary section in the back that lists “names, places, dates, and ages at death of some of Chicago’s Old Settlers, prior to 1843, and other well-known citizens who arrived after 1843, together with others prominently connected with Illinois history.” (5)

Mr. Barker’s name didn’t appear in the obituary section of the directory. However, his death was noted next to his name in the alphabetical section. (6)

City directory
P. A. Barker entry in an 1896 reprint of an 1843 Chicago city directory

Moral of this blog post: Be careful, careful, careful not to jump to conclusions and make sure to explore sources thoroughly.


(1) J. W. Norris, General Directory and Business Advertiser of the City of Chicago for 1844 (Chicago: Ellis & Fergus, 1844; re-published by T. F. Bohan, 1903), 23, entry for P. A. Barker; digital images, “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry ( : accessed 1 May 2016).

(2) “New Firm,” Illinois Weekly State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), 9 Aug 1848, p. 2, col. 7.; digital image, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 1 May 2016), Newspaper Archives.

(3) J. W. Norris, General Directory and Business Advertiser of the City of Chicago for 1844, 102.

(4) Robert Fergus, Directory of the City of Chicago for 1843, Fergus’ Historical Series, No. 28 (Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, 1896; originally published in Chicago by Fergus, 1843), 23, entry for Farmers’ Exchange and Lake Street House; digital image, “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” Ancestry ( : accessed 1 May 2016).

(5) Robert Fergus, Directory of the City of Chicago for 1843, Fergus’ Historical Series, No. 28, 105.

(6) Robert Fergus, Directory of the City of Chicago for 1843, Fergus’ Historical Series, No. 28, 34.

APG Membership: Worth Every Penny

One of the first things I did when I decided to level up, was to plunk down $100 and join the Association of Professional Genealogists.

No regrets. I mean, look at the benefits.

I’ve yet to take full advantage of all of them, but I’ve joined the mailing list and I listened in on my first webinar, The Art of Client Management: From Soup to Nuts, presented by Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG.

The two-part webinar was excellent. I have quite a bit of client experience–mostly from doing record retrieval in Chicago–but I learned a few new things and, most importantly, I cam away with a lot to think about. For example, I need learn to manage my time in more artful ways.

There are two more webinars coming up in March and April. It looks like the information might be in the members-only section of the site so I won’t post it here, but just know this: they both look like they’ll be well worth the time. And the nice thing? If you sign up, you’ll get reminders so there’s no chance of forgetting to attend.

I also joined the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists (SCC-APG) and attended their annual Mini Professional Management Conference a few Saturdays ago. (Their website is new and it isn’t quite finished so if you bump into something that doesn’t work, just know that it will soon!)

Quite honestly, I’m not much of one for sitting through anything that isn’t hands-on and I get a bit antsy listening to presentations, but I found myself fascinated by the talks and I had a great time. The highlights? Having a chance to ask business-related tax questions of a CPA, getting a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in doing research for a genealogy-themed television show, and hearing, first-hand, what it’s like to join a ProGen study group.

So, yes. It feels like my APG membership was a worthwhile investment and I suspect I’ll still be thinking that when it comes time to renew.