Monday, February 24, 2014

RootsTech 2014: Reflections

What a week! RootsTech 2014 is now in the history books and most of us are home, processing what we learned. This was my third on-site attendance and I found it to be my favorite so far. Although, you might be surprised as to why this one was my favorite (I will outline my reasons below.) I had hoped to blog about my experiences each day as I did at FGS, but I chose to focus on my new role as a speaker at RootsTech. Since official blogging is a closed list, and not something to be joined, I gave myself a break. After all, I would rather have a polished presentation after getting plenty of sleep instead of staying up and blogging each day, contributing to my overall exhaustion. I admire those who do blog officially for RootsTech (let alone those who speak AND blog - oy vey!) takes a huge commitment and a ton of energy! For those who were not able to attend, the syllabus material is still online for you to download, plus streamed sessions are available on the main's not too late for you to join in the fun. At the bottom of this post, I will give you a tid-bit of news on how you can experience more RootsTech action in Central Kentucky on March 8th!

My central reasons for this RootsTech being my favorite are: space and flow of the event! Kudos to the organizers for moving the conference to the larger end of the Salt Palace! I never once felt overwhelmed with the crowd. The rooms were all within an easy walk or escalator ride, and seating was adequate for most of the sessions. I found some overcrowding in the ballrooms, but not nearly as bad as in previous years. The exhibit hall was PERFECT. I hope they never change a thing. Again, no crowding, flow was great. Demo hall was fantastic: sea of comfy couches and chairs which was perfect for just relaxing when needed, plus never breaking your stride in learning! The addition of the soft drink bar and popcorn stand were also very welcome. I am not a big soft drink kinda gal, but when my energy level started dropping in between meals and sessions, a small sugary drink went a long way to help me push further. Plus, it served to take the edge off. Exhibit halls are notorious for their high energy levels.
Session-wise, I still find RootsTech a tad disappointing, but simply from a personal standpoint. I still wish there were more advanced user classes. Although, I will confess that I did not pay to attend any of the advanced workshops - perhaps that would help, but I cringe at having to pay for more after the cost of getting to Utah in the first place! There are plenty of intro-level user classes and developer courses, but the experienced user is often overlooked at RootsTech, and, sadly, this has not changed. But again, this is a personal preference....I'm not sure about the percentage in this area. Is there a decent number of genealogists on my personal level of tech use? I know many genea-buddies who are, but I'm not sure about the number nationally. So, the sessions offered may be more in-line with the widest audience possible. This does not mean that I didn't get anything out of the sessions...on the contrary, I still got a lot of wonderful information!

One way RootsTech compensates for the lack of hardcore user sessions is by asking hard questions and encouraging dialogue that follows those questions. I attended more than one session that addressed serious tech issues within the genealogical community, and I valued the honesty of the speakers/panel, as well as that of the audience. Did we solve the issues that have plagued us for almost two decades? No, but dialogue is the first step in overcoming our challenges as a field.

Transition was also a theme I encountered this year, which is long overdue really. Our technology is changing at a rapid rate and it was refreshing to see the genealogy technologies changing as well....still somewhat slowly...but changing nonetheless. The cloud has finally made full headway into our tech field and was well represented.

I also found it amusing that one main cry among experts this year was "Read the TOS!" (Terms of Service) How many software agreements have we by-passed only to check the appropriate box that allowed the download to continue? I know I'm guilty after so many years of software changes and applications. We hastily do this out of the common assumption that only lawyers can understand it anyway - our experts would beg to differ, and reminded everyone that we have no one to blame but ourselves when it comes to tech companies over stretching their reach. One would think that this is a fairly basic message, meant for tech users from the past - but our increasing rate change dictates we pay more attention to the TOS - more now than ever!
Another issue rearing its head this year was the addition of PERSI to the FindMyPast repertoire. As a valuable resource well known to librarians, this is an interesting development. In our library, we currently subscribe to the older version of PERSI (last updated in 2009) as a part of Heritage Quest, distributed by EBSCO. The new version of PERSI is directed by the Allen County Public Library, where it originated, but will still be locked behind the subscription wall of FindMyPast. As of yet, they do not have a library subscription level to allow us access, but it is said to be in the works. I will weigh in more on this resource if that development comes to fruition.
Another genea-buddy: Jen Baldwin of FindMyPast & #genchat!
I could keep this post going indefinitely with all the goodies absorbed at this year's conference, but I know you all have lives to get back to! A couple of other favorite moments: Tweeting and the conference app were grand this year as was the live streaming portion offered - more to choose from this year. I was so busy that I didn't get to follow ANY of the blogging, but I hope to catch up with some leisure reading over the next weeks. My Mom got to attend with me this year, and even though she only came along to hear me speak, she came away from her sessions with a smile and a favorable vote "Wow, those classes were fun! I really enjoyed them!" Big thanks to the conference organizers who provided a lovely 'Getting Started Track' for low cost - it really allows everyone on a budget to experience RootsTech! She wants to come along next year to attend the full conference and dig deeper into the library! I think we have a new convert!
Mom and I just after my session on Friday!
BTW, as a side note...speaking at RootsTech was a  new experience for me, but a wonderful one! My session, about crowdsourcing events, was chosen as one of the 43 recorded sessions that will be available at the 600 Family History Fairs to be held worldwide over the next year. If you hear of a Fair in your area, keep an eye out for my session! KHS is hosting a RootsTech Family History Fair in two weeks on March 8th. I will post more about our upcoming free event in the next few days!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

52 Ancestors #5: The Last Cup of Tea

It is remarkably sad how life changes all plans. Yes, I know, I'm behind on this prompt (as usual), but I never expected to have to write this post. The week we left for RootsTech was atrocious. Our flight was canceled twice before we finally got a keeper, due to, "officially", the winter from hell. Coming home was no picnic either due to another sudden snow storm between the airport and our house! The week before we left, my Aunt Janet went into the hospital with a still unknown affliction. Things were not looking so great, but while we were in Utah, she came out of the illness for just a few days before slipping back further upon our return. She passed away on Valentine's Day.

For me, this prompt has always had parameters. I only profile ancestors who have passed. Which is why I never anticipated covering someone so fresh in my memory banks. However, this has proven to be enlightening in a different way.

When thinking about Aunt Janet, I came to the realization that I didn't really know her very well. She is the first "Aunt" that I have lost out of the five total I had. I have lost great aunts before, but in some cases, I felt closer to them than to some of my Aunts, with a capital A. I also don't feel too bad about that....we moved away when I was a young adult....and some relationships are just naturally stronger than others. And yet, there is always that pang of regret when you realize you let another memory keeper slip through your fingers.

There is also the guilt of realizing that you let the opinion of others filter your view of someone. I knew her through others. Yes, I grew up around her, visited her house often, and talked with her a little. But our family events were SO crowded and hectic, it was rare if anyone got one on one attention. Therefore, traveling through these life events (birthdays, Holidays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals), always gliding near each other, but not directly into the other's sphere, you lose that sense of personal memory. I remember my father talking to her on the phone, and other people talking about her, but I never really formed my own opinion....until now.

Death has a way of cutting through the crap. People suddenly remember the person more fondly than they might have a week earlier. Relationship struggles seem to fade away as we focus on the essence of the person. So what essence do I remember?

I remember a family hierarchy that I will not go in to....but I will say that my Dad and Aunt Janet were the two oldest siblings, and sometimes in the same dog house according to Dear Grandmama (who is still with us at 93!) And yet...despite those family challenges, I do know that Family was the most important thing to Janet. Even when it took a saint to still call them family, she never gave up on them and continued to swim through the muck of family complexities - with a smile on her face. My branch was not so strong...we moved away...still connected to the family, but not nearly as firmly planted. I admire her for that commitment and dedication.

In fact, our moving away did provide a direct memory I have of her that spoke to her character. We moved away, not only because of family strife, but because of devastating financial problems. As a younger person, I was delighted that the problems allowed us to move to Kentucky, but that is another story :-) Our move here was not smooth. It took years of struggling, trying to make ends meet, and finally giving up, pulling up stakes to join the other side of my family who had a house for us to rent. I do remember that time after time, Janet was the one who always helped my Dad financially throughout the whole struggle, and I know he has been forever grateful for that unpopular act among the rest of the family. I'm not criticizing the other members of the family, but I will say, families sometimes exist through webs that resemble politics. What others may have viewed as a political strategy, we only saw as help that was desperately needed.

Something else I knew about Janet, but also heard through another....she was one of my Grandfather's favorite children. It was not widely known nor ever shoved in the faces of the other kids, but I had heard this before, and I witnessed an affection between them when others weren't looking. Sometimes, I had overheard doubting about this fact, but I think many misunderstood this favoritism. Grandpa only had one sister, but she died when she was a toddler. When Grandpa told me about little Garnet, he described her death and said "I sure did love that little girl." (Imagine that statement coming from a gruff, seasoned soldier.) With the similarity in name, and Janet being his first little girl, I think he was finally able to resolve the missing affections he had had to let go of so many years before Janet's birth. Plus, Janet was born during WWII, and with Grandpa away, fighting during her early years, any family member was doubly precious during those difficult years. They had a double-fold bond that was unique and quite precious.

So....about the cup of tea....
This past Christmas, I had an odd but fun moment with Aunt Janet. As I related earlier, Christmas is usually a chaotic day with pockets of family members roaming around and snatching any empty seat available. As my family had arrived early, we took up residence at the kitchen table - full of sweet goodies. Just as everyone was finishing up their breakfast, Janet came over to take the seat next to mine. We all continued to nibble even though we were stuffed. You know that feeling when everyone has just consumed a large meal, and we all finally slow down, enjoying the digestion stupor? I can remember that feeling, and was sitting there at the head of the table, with my Mom on one side of me, and Aunt Janet on the other side. I suddenly realized a cup of tea would be marvelous at that moment. So I hopped up, announced I was going to hunt down some mugs and make a cup of tea. My Mother expressed interest, and then Aunt Janet seconded, and said "Oh yes, I'll have one too!"

It took a little while to get everything together and heat them all in the microwave, but I finally got everyone's tea ready and to the table in front of them. We were passing around the sugar, and with spoon in hand, I asked Janet if she wanted any sugar. She said, "yes, and heap the spoon!" I heaped the spoon full of sugar....and she said "and another"....and I put in another....and she said "and another"....and my eyes got wide as she made me put in four heaping spoonfuls of sugar into that tiny mug. I asked, "are you sure?" And she laughed, and said "Oh yes, I like a little tea with my sugar!" Of course we all laughed, and then just sat there, drinking our delightful cups of tea, nibbling on some breakfast sweets, and just chatting some girl talk. Even at that moment, I reflected on how intimate that scene was probably the most intimate moment we ever was a wonderful memory, and I'm glad we all had time to make one last memory together on Christmas Day.

As for the particulars about Aunt Janet's life, I will leave much to the obituary link at the end of this post. I would also like to relate that she suffered from MS for many years and was one of the strongest women I knew. She was also a wonderful florist in Cincinnati for over 30 years. I can remember being one of the only girls at HS graduation with a bouquet of roses handed to them after the ceremony, which remains a special memory! Every time I walk into a flower shop, the sights and smells take me back to her flower shop on Cheviot: All About Flowers. Definitely a personal memory unfiltered by others. There are also several kids, grandkids, and former exchange students who could tell you many more great stories about this loving lady.
Janet Louise Daniels Millard: 1942-2014

I know she leaves a gap in the family that cannot be filled: Goodbye Aunt Janet, until we meet again...and give Grandpa a big kiss for me!

Sorry folks, I know this was a long one, but for me, writing is part of the healing process.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

52 Ancestors #4: Roy Watts

Happy Birthday to ancestor #4! When February 2nd rolls around, everyone wishes Roy a Happy Birthday, even though he passed in 2006. Roy Edmund Watts was my Grandfather, affectionately knows as "Pappa". He was born in 1915 in far western Tennessee or Kentucky. His parents were: James Thomas Watts (1891-1953) and Florence Warren (1898-1923). The ambiguity behind his birthplace is due to his many years in an orphanage as a youth. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1923, and since his father was slightly handicapped, the children were placed in an orphanage in Louisville. I wrote a little more about this problem with an earlier post: Hunting Wabbits...AKA Warrens. Anyway....Roy was married to Freida Laverne Beyersdoerfer and passed away in 2006 in Paris, KY. His obituary reads:

Roy Edmund Watts, 91, of Paris, formerly of Falmouth, died Tuesday at Bourbon Community Hospital, Paris. He was a dairy farmer, a former Pendleton County magistrate and a member of First Christian Church, Paris. He worked at Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. during World War II, was a former member of the Cincinnati Milk Sales Board and donated land that became part of Kincaid Lake State Park in Pendleton County. His wife, Freida Beyersdorefer Watts, died in 1997.

Since I already know much about him, I will relate one of his stories below:
"I was run over once by a wagon. I was about 5 or 6; in the mountains of Eastern [Western] Tennessee where we lived near my father's family. Well, it was our turn to go to town for groceries. Everything was grown right there on the farm and canned, so we didn't go for much, just large quantities of a few things to last for awhile; such as coffee, flour, and sugar - bought in big sacks.

It was just me and my dad in the big wagon with the two mules hooked up to the front. Diner was on the right side - she was a mare mule and meaner than a snake. I didn't like her. She looked like part zebra. On the left was Fox. He was a bear mule and black as midnight. But he was a good old fella, and my favorite.

On the way home, I was standing just behind the horses, behind the wagon gate. It was about as tall as my chest. Well, we hit a big rock or something and I flew out of that wagon and landed under it as it moved and the wheel ran right over my chest. My dad thought I was gone because he saw it happen and thought for sure I was dead. Well, all it did was break my ribs. To get me home, he stopped at a neighbor's house and borrowed a feather bed mattress and laid it in the back of the wagon, to let me lie on it all the way home."

We all miss him, but I have lots of stories and great memories of this wonderful is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us together....both napping, after he had come in from the dairy and fell asleep playing with his brand new grand-daughter. Note the strong family resemblance (bald heads). I confess to always being one of his favorites - it must have been a result of this early bonding moment. :-)


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