Friday, December 23, 2011

Chains Shall He Break...

Just over a month ago, I was searching for a family's records in Cumberland County Kentucky when I came across the following entry from Chesterfield County Virginia, dated 1790:

"Know all men by these present that I John Baker of Chesterfield County do believe that all men by nature are Equally free, and from a clear conviction of the Injustice & Criminality of depriving my fellow creatures of their natural rights, do hereby Emancipate or set free the following men, women and children, towit,

Bob & Daniel, December 25th......1790
Grace and Amy(?), December 25th......1790
Barbara......December 25th......1790
Tom, to go out, December 1793
Sally, to go out October 1796
Betty & Polly, to go out December 1802
Oliver, to go out November 1805
Indy, to go out September 1806
Hannah, to go out January 1807
(??), to go out February 1808
Peter, to go out December 1809
Amy, to go out March 1811

      I do hereby relinquish all rights, title, and claim to the said people after they (??) arrive at the dates above mentioned and not before; In certainty whereof I have herewith set my hand and seal this 9th day of June, 1790.
John Baker (seal)"

Without knowing anything about John Baker or the slaves he freed in 1790, I was instantly moved by this lone document hidden among the general deeds of Cumberland County Kentucky. Just reading the strong language used in this document brought some goosebumps and tears. Despite his obvious role as a slave-owner, he eventually felt strongly enough to boldly let this group of slaves go. I am in no way romanticizing his part in this process, but the document itself made me stop and think what freeing slaves might have been like in the late 18th century. In Virginia, slave-holders were the norm. We of course think of Jefferson who resided only a couple of counties over and whose own history of slave ownership is still controversial. In 1790, slavery was a hotly debated subject, but not yet within the realm of unmendable discourse.

I believe my goosebumps moment came from the strength of the language used, coupled with the dates in which he chose to give some of his slaves their freedom. Setting a number of slaves free could have been no small task in 1790, let alone filing such a proclamation with his local county officials, who were more than likely, his slave-holding neighbors. And it is true that he did not free them all at once - keeping some of them for ten more years. In a vulgar consideration, he was also choosing to disregard the cost associated with such an action. We are not accustomed to putting a price or value upon another human being, but they evaluated cost and value everyday - which is another testament to his strong feelings concerning the injustice of slavery. But.....the truly beautiful part of this document is that for the first batch set free, he picked Christmas Day to begin their new life!

He did not construct this document in December, choosing instead to plan ahead, having it drawn up in June of that year. After the document was in place, did he tell them in advance to prepare them for their freedom in December, or did he leave it as a surprise - a gift presented on Christmas Day? In either scenario, what must that first Christmas of freedom have been like for those five men and women? I think it is safe to say the celebration had to have been the most memorable of their lives. It has also occured to me, that perhaps the delay in freedom for the others could have been due to their age at the time. Were they under age? Was he keeping them on the plantation while letting their parents go - a way to keep the parents working while earning a small living - or was it too dangerous to set a large number of slaves free? If the locals were not receptive to such an idea....perhaps he was protecting them in a way?

These were just some of the questions that floated around my brain for awhile. But when I hear that extra verse in "O Holy Night", I will forever remember how important that verse truly is. Our world has not changed all that much since 1790. There are still places where slavery is accepted, and there are various forms of slavery in our own country. Despite what our own neighbors think, and what our pocket-book says, how much would we sacrifice to secure the freedom of another? Those are the questions we must ask ourselves each Christmas. He did not come so we might open tons of gifts, stuff ourselves and throw perfect glittery parties. He came to set all men free. Yes, it is a wonderfully joyous occasion and spending time with those we love is a perfect way to celebrate this amazing eternal gift - as long as we take some time to remember why we celebrate. I know there was some serious dancing going on in that cabin on December 25th, 1790! Let us take a moment and dance, just for Him, in grateful celebration for the freedom He bestowed upon all of us - for we were all slaves until that Holy Night so long ago! Merry Christmas Everyone!

"Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease!"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Perspectives: RootsTech 2012

Wow! I LOVE when genealogists get all fired up! We think we librarians can rock the social media outlets with outrage....I'm thinking genealogists may have the upper hand on this! If you don't believe me, just do a Twitter search for 'RootsTech' and watch the feed that has been tearing up the cyber-sphere for the past 24-48 hours! The issue? Conference planners purposely excluding all Book and/or Arts & Crafts vendors in the RootsTech Exhibit Hall. For the blog post that first reported on this amazingly shocking decision, check out Leland and Patty Meitzler's informative post here at: The Genealogy Blog.

I refuse to re-hash what everyone has said. The response posts, comments and various commentaries are so very informative and righteously indignant that I truly encourage everyone to spend some time today just absorbing the controversy first-hand. Even the official RootsTech bloggers are writing up a storm and being 1000% honest about their opposition - which is awesome!

So, as another blogger who also happened to attend last year, what's my take? Ok, they mentioned the Exhibit Hall Coordinator by name and are pretty much vilifying him across the board. Due to our Pastology talks with Family Search, we are personally acquainted with Mr. Clarke and find him to be a very nice and extremely intelligent person - who happens to be passionate about genealogy. And he is much more than the Exhibit Hall Coordinator - his official title is "Web Services Product Manager/ Affiliates Manager" for Family Search. However, he is a self-professed techie - through and through. After talking with Mr. Clarke on many occasions - about technology and genealogy specifically, I think I know where he and the rest of the RootsTech planners were headed, but also where they took a huge wrong turn. There are certain areas of technological development that he would like to see the genealogy field move toward. As a technological field, genealogy is only just now finding its tech wings within the past 15 years or so. We are a little behind in advancing....I think we are advancing fine....but in the developer realm, the hugely talented developers do not flock to genealogy for cutting edge development or large pay checks. So, in a way, I really think he was trying to bring in developer interest that looked more cutting edge and truly techie than anything we had done before. Also, by bringing in the users and developers I think he was also trying to show developers that there is a hungry user market waiting for new advances - and a VERY unique market at that: a group very passionate and devoted to the field, yet very helpful and tech savvy! 

The thing is, I agree with him - to a point. This is a different conference. This is not NGS or FGS, nor any of the other jamborees out there....this is a technology conference....and technology conferences look different. Any attendee from last year can attest that things looked and FELT different - which was why we all loved it! It was NOT the same conference we were all used to. Someone had just combined what we love into something new....something that allowed us to give input into the development of future products.....while adding the fast paced social media interaction....all covered in sparkly gravy!

However, with all of that taken into consideration we all noted a few oddities that just didn't fit our field.

When I spotted the huge area devoted to video games and pool tables, I actually stopped in my tracks with my mouth open. So many little thoughts were bombarding my mind at that moment. 

Here is the train of thought as it happened:

1. Very interesting and a very unique addition.
2. Wow, my 28 year old brother would LOVE this!
3. Oooh, so just like a REAL technology conference - play areas! Cool!
4. Great way to think outside the box!
5. This is WAY different than any other genealogy conference I've ever been to - which is what they promised!
6. Boy, all those young guys are sure having fun!
7. I don't think those are young genealogists hogging all the video games and Foosball tables.
8. (Looking around) Come to think of it, where ARE all the genealogists? Oh there they are! Being interviewed in the sound/video booths and taking up massive space in the media centers to blog their experiences - in other words, working and not playing - being passionate about this conference!

Another area of concern was the mix-mash of sessions that didn't really allow for much developer/user interaction, but fostered birds of a feather learning opportunities. I really felt this could be improved upon for the next year, and I hope they make changes accordingly. For more on my RootsTech hits and misses from last year.....see my previous posts.

A concern that is growing for me since I witnessed it first hand last year and now hear of others complaining about the same issue, is a lack of communication from the RootsTech side. By not responding to exhibitors on a timely basis, they seriously hurt genealogy businesses, and present an unprofessional appearance. After our communication struggles as presenters last year, we thought this would be fixed for year two....but it sounds like the unprofessional qualities are gaining in reputation = bad form guys, you really need to step it up in this area! Especially with a cutting edge popular conference of this magnitude!
"You're taking away the books!? But the children LOVE the books!".....sorry, it's Christmas, I had to quote Elf for this one! Taking away all books and arts/crafts is silly and and a fundamental misunderstanding of your base audience. This is another fundamental flaw in conference planning. You have to UNDERSTAND your audience.....not just the tech developers you've invited, and who may be coming over from California (that's a joke, I know some are travelling great distances)....the real, everyday users who are paying TONS of money to fly out to Salt Lake in February to attend.....and who will ultimately anoint or sink your future developments!

Solution? Simple.....develop your conference exhibit hall policies around technologies and enforce them reasonably, on a case by case basis. I have no problem with them wanting to keep this a technology conference - I like the fact that when I walk into the exhibit hall, it's going to be different. It's not the same as all the other genealogy conferences out there - and it's ok to be that way. However, books are the fundamental basis of learning any new technology anyway. Seriously, I know that most user manuals are electronic these days....but there are still developers who learn new code through print manuals (XML Bible anyone?). And they must remember that THIS audience favors learning about new technologies through print! We love books, it's our nature - don't ask us to just set that aside to fit the developer mold. We will be paying YOU for the products, not the other way around - so accommodating our preferences is a GOOD idea!!!
So.....if we want this conference to look different, how do we compromise? RootsTech needs to tailor the acceptance policy around technology based products - including books! I think it would be acceptable for officials to limit products sold......for instance....someone mentioned Maia's books wanting to exhibit.....I LOVE her stuff and have blogged her praises here before....but require her to bring along a tech heavy inventory to make sure it fits in the atmosphere of the overall conference. Not forbid certain titles, but encourage tech-heavy material. I know most vendors would be happy to comply - and this should apply to tech publishers and arts/crafts people. Make sure they understand that they are exhibiting material that is in some way related to a technology product or process.

Someone commented earlier that it would be beneficial for the developers to be introduced to our reading material to LEARN about what we are passionate about! I wholeheartedly agree with that! How does a developer enter a citation template/format into a genealogy product without having Evidence Explained on hand? They do need our input or they would not be having this type of conference - well this is their turn to show us that they really do value our viewpoint and want to bring both perspectives together, not just bring the genealogists into the tech world. After all, without the Roots in RootsTech, they just have the same old technology conference.....booooring. Oh! And how about, instead of having the huge play area consist of Nintendo and Microsoft games, it is only filled with tech play that is genealogy related!!! Let's make the tech vendors play by the same rules! Genealogy ONLY tech related items allowed on the exhibit hall floor! How awesome would it be to have a line of stations with various genealogy tech products to play with? Roots Magic, Legacy, Flip-Pal, e-publishing/heirloom creation.....ok, that scene gets me really excited! If only.....hope they are listening!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breathing in History

Every Thanksgiving our family continues a newish tradition by renting a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Under normal, warmer circumstances, my personal Smoky Mountain mission includes spending as much time as possible in the mountains, hiking the trails or dangling my feet in the streams, while breathing in that fresh air. I'm not a huge shopper, but when Thanksgiving roles around, the weather prevents a lot of mountain time, and forces more shopping time. To make the best of this enforced shopping hiatus from the mountains, I try to make sure we hit as many "local" places as possible - i.e.: off the beaten and suffocating strip. One of my absolute favorite places to shop when in town is Ely's Mill. Follow me as I show you around this little hidden gem of retro shopping.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to quickly get immersed in the mountain atmosphere is to follow the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Yes, I know, you drive an automobile through the mountains - a contradiction of my previous paragraph - but not so! There are MANY places to park and hike or wander through fascinating stops along this paved trail. Since the tour is within the National Park boundaries, they have preserved many little former homesteads that existed before logging and tourism changed the landscape forever. However, once you get to the very end of this trail and cross just outside the Park lines, you encounter a collection of structures that has been preserved in a very different manner.
I will not attempt to portray the long history behind the existence of Ely's Mill. There is a web site where you can learn all about it. But in a nutshell, it was begun sometime back in the 1920s by a very educated man who wanted to get as close as he possibly could to in this small mill tucked away along a mountainside stream that has a magical beauty all its own. This man lived off of the land, but did so in an appreciative way that honored the beauty around him.
Fast forward many decades to today, and his descendants are still keeping that small little cluster of buildings full of delights and long standing mountain traditions for the curious tourist. Among the many wonderful treats that await are: hand woven rugs, table runners, scarves, etc. Antiques of all kinds. Locally made honey - which my mom has fallen in love with. Welcoming cats of all sorts. Historical tidbits, informative books and artifacts from the region. And stories/lessons galore. If the family is not giving a local demonstration of their weaving tradition, someone will be more than happy to sit a spell and explain the difference between locust honey and wildflower honey - and the specific seasonal sequence that has to occur to produce either.
This adorable hodgepodge of culture is sure to charm anyone with eyes attuned to the convergence of history and present-day traditions. I not only adore each visit for the sake of what I can buy from the present, but for the experience of wandering through an atmosphere overflowing with tidbits of the past. In fact, I feel more connected to history when wandering around Ely's than I do in the stark "preserved" homesteads within the park. Here, history is still alive in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a multi-generational legacy.
And besides......
Who can resist a place that has history AND kittehs?! Seriously!

P.S. Just remember, like the motor trail through the mountains, Ely's shuts down for the winter, so you best wait until spring to enjoy this special treat!


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